HC Deb 21 May 1823 vol 9 cc387-8
Sir J. Mackintosh,

seeing the secretary of state for foreign affairs in his place, wished to put a question to him on a subject of high importance, and nearly connected, not only with the honour and dignity of his majesty's crown, but with the interests of all lawful and practical navigation. It would be recollected, that in the course of the last session, he had addressed a similar inquiry to the late marquis of Londonderry, with respect to certain wild, monstrous, and extravagant pretensions of the emperor of Russia, to exclusive authority over vast dominions by sea and land, on the north-west coast of America; those dominions embracing on shore, several extensive territories now occupied by subjects of his Britannic majesty, and others which were possessed by citizens and subjects of the United States of America: and by sea, including an extent of ocean, stretching from the north-west coasts of America, to the north-east coasts of Asia. On the occasion to which he alluded, the noble marquis informed the House that he had, by the command of his majesty, protested on the part of the British government against those principles of dominion which had been recently set up by Russia, and which he justly described as principles that were injurious to the maritime rights of all commercial I nations, and especially obnoxious to those of the first commercial nation in the world. Since that period, however, and indeed but a few days since, information had been received in this country from America, that Russia no longer rented upon unwarrantable pretensions; but, that Russian ships of war had been actually employed to warn off the ships of all countries, from the whole extent intervening between Nootka Sound and Japan, as part and parcel of the Russian empire. He had been informed, that they had driven away American vessels which were sailing in those latitudes; and the same principle of exclusion would extend to any British ships which they might find there, as matter of course. Doubtless, as a preliminary step to that universal dominion by land and sea, which the recent plans and views of the Russian emperor seemed to contemplate. In the first place, therefore, he begged to ask the right hon. gentleman, had his majesty's government received information that such acts of exclusion, as had occurred in the case of the American vessels, had been committed by the Russian government? And, in the second place, whether any answer had yet been returned by that government to the protest of Great Britain against its preposterous pretensions? It might be desirable to know, also, whether any negotiations were pending on the subject.

Mr. Secretary Canning

said, that to the question of fact which had been put to him by the hon. and learned gentleman, he could only reply, that his majesty's government had hitherto received no information upon the matter, except through that channel by which the statement in question had been published to all the world. He had, therefore, no means of verifying the fact on which the hon. and learned gentleman's inquiry was founded. In the second place, as to the situation in which this country stood with Russia, in respect of the general question, it was true, that they had entered a protest against her claim, upon the first promulgation of those principles. That protest had been renewed, both at the congress at Verona, and in subsequent negotiations. Those negotiations were still pending, and in activity at the court of St. Petersburgh.