HC Deb 04 February 1824 vol 10 cc86-100

Mr. Rowland Hill having brought up the report of the Address in answer to the King's Speech,

Mr. Hobhouse

said, that with respect to that most important part of the Speech from the Throne which related to foreign affairs, he rose to protest against it being supposed that he, as an independent member of parliament, had concurred in the least degree in the Address. If he could have agreed to that address, he would have considered that he had disgraced himself—he would consider himself unworthy the constituents he had the honour to represent—he would consider himself unmindful of the renown of their ancestors. He had two questions to put to the right hon. gentleman opposite. He had attended with the utmost anxiety to the speech of the right hon. gentleman; all Europe, indeed, was attending to what he said; conscious that, on his words depended, in some degree, their very fate. The point to which he would, in the first place, direct himself to the right hon. gentleman, was with respect to South America The right hon. gentleman, in the course of his speech had touched on that important point so lightly, as not to satisfy any person who had heard him, save his own colleagues, who perhaps felt the policy or the convenience of having the thing kept secret. The right hon. gentleman had said, "that he considered it a matter of grace and favour to Old Spain that she should be allowed the opportunity of attempting to recover the possession of her colonies in South America. He certainly agreed with the right hon. gentleman, that Spain of herself should have the right of recovering her colonies if she could exercise it—if the king of Spain were master of the resources of his country—were master of his capital—were master of his crown—of none of which he considered him master—he might, under such circumstances, be allowed, without any interference on the part of any other state, to attempt to recover his trans-atlantic possessions. But, when 70,000 French troops were "stationed in Spain—when every port of any consequence from Gibraltar to Cadiz was in the hands of the French—when every fortress was in their possession—he would ask the right hon. gentleman, whether it was not a farce to talk of the Spanish government at all? He hoped the right hon. gentleman did not mean to say, that because at the present moment there was no movement in Spain—because the constitutional party was put down, and the expression of freedom was for a moment suppressed, that, therefore the king of Spain was free. The contrary was obvious to every body. If he were a prisoner in the hands of the Cortes, how much more so was he now? He was hemmed round with foreign bayonets; and every body who was acquainted with the state of Spain, knew, that if the French army were to withdraw from that country to-morrow, the unfortunate king—unfortunate he meant, only with respect to his bad character, and his loss of all possible respect—would be driven from his throne. Under these circumstances, without wishing to extract from the right hon. gentleman any secrets, which he might not feel himself at liberty to disclose, he would yet ask him, and he conceived that the right hon. gentleman was bound to give a decisive and satisfactory answer, whether the nominal king of Spain would be allowed by this country to seek to recover his trans-atlantic possessions, whilst French troops remained in possession of Spain? The House had heard a great deal during the last session from the right hon. gentleman, disclaiming and denouncing the idea, that French troops should be permitted to occupy Spain. State papers to that effect had also been published; yet the right hon. gentleman, now that the French troops actually did occupy that country, did not say one word on the subject; he did not intimate that he had even asked the French minister, viscount Chateaubriand, how long it was the intention of France to keep possession of that country. Of 100,000 who had marched to invade Spain, 70,000 were left behind: that army occupied the capital, and every position of the slightest importance. It certainly was a matter of great importance to ascertain whether the French troops were to remain in the permanent occupation of Spain. The right hon. gentleman, although he had not imparted any information to the House on that most interesting subject, had nevertheless, he hoped, not overlooked it. He hoped, too, that the right hon. gentleman, as an English minister, would take care to have better assurances on that head, than the word of the French minister, or even of the French king—that king, who had pledged his sacred word and honour, that the army, which was called the Army of Occupation, should never be suffered to cross the Pyrenees to act offensively against Spain [Hear, hear!]. After the scandalous violation of that solemn pledge—after the open breach of faith and honour—after the commission of a palpable and downright falsehood, such as would have covered any gentleman in private life with shame, little, if any reliance was to be placed on the word of that king, or of his minister Chateaubriand, however solemnly and gravely pledged.—The next point to which he would wish to call the attention of the right hon. gentleman, re- lated to a proclamation issued by sir Thomas Maitland, Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands. Now, considering the importance of this personage, and the many titles which in regular gradation were attached to his name, it was really a matter almost difficult of belief, that he could have published a document such as that to which he was now alluding. It was a document which one would be almost disposed to think was written in a drunken frolic, bearing about it nothing but signs of intemperance and folly. His excellency had thought proper, by that proclamation, on account of something which had occurred, and which he had not distinctly stated, to put two islands under a quarantine of thirty days; but he had done worse, he had taken occasion in that proclamation to thunder forth his anamethas against men who were struggling for freedom—who were fighting for that which even sir Thomas Maitland might be supposed to have some respect for [Hear, hear!]. The proclamation complained, that some Greek vessels, under the command of a person, who called himself prince Maurocordato, had committed a flagrant violation of territory, and to prevent the government of the Ionian Islands from being in any manner accountable for the terrible slaughters and atrocities which on that occasion, and on many others, had marked the conduct of the persons engaged in the war, the measure of quarantine had been resorted to. He (Mr. H.) considered that as a direct attack upon the Greeks; it was a most uncalled-for attack, and he would wish to know, whether his majesty's government at home had received that proclamation, and whether such a measure was authorised or approved of by them? He had received a letter very recently from Ithaca on the subject, and from that letter, it appeared, that the flagrant violation of territory to which the proclamation alluded, was caused, not by the Greek chief, but by the conduct of the Turks. Prince Maurocordato, of whom sir T. Maitland thought fit to speak in so slight and so insulting a tone, bad done every thing he could on the occasion to restrain his men, and had made, and was willing to make, every possible apology to the government of Great Britain. The facts of the case were these:—a Greek squadron had taken a vessel belonging to the Turks: whilst the Greeks were in the act of boarding, they were fired upon by a detachment of Turks from the shore at Ithaca: the Greeks upon this landed, and in fair fight put a number of their assailants to death. That was the whole of the case; that was the violation which sir T. Maitland so vehemently condemned; taking care at the same time to pass over in perfect silence various infractions of the violation of territory committed by the Turks. The hon. gentleman concluded by saying, that in stating, the matter, as it came under his immediate observation, to the House, he did not mean, in any possible way, to throw blame upon the government at home: he did not mean to say, that they in deed or in thought had sanctioned this extraordinary act; and he trusted that they would show that they did not participate—that they did not approve of the denunciation of sir T. Maitland; because a denunciation of that public nature, if suffered to go abroad uncontradicted, might be of the most serious injury to the cause of the Greeks at this most interesting period of their fate. He had the original Italian proclamation in his hand, and was ready to present it to the right hon. secretary.

Mr. Secretary Canning

said, that he should feel happy to give to the hon. gentleman who had just sat down, or to any member of that House, every information in his power to give, which he could with safety disclose. He should confine himself simply to the questions put by the hon. member: and, first, with respect to the independence of South America, the hon. gentleman complained, that he had not last night entered more minutely into details; and here he must say, that the hon. gentleman seemed to have confounded a statement of principles with a statement of facts. The part of his speech to which the hon. gentleman alluded, had been in reply to that part of the speech of the hon. and learned member which related to South America. What he had said last night respecting the relative international situation of a mother country and her colonies was this—that in principle, a mother country had a right, if she thought she had the power, to endeavour to recover possession of any colonies, which had, by any effort of their own, thrown off her dominion; and that no other country in amity with her, would, upon the naked principle, be justified in intercepting her efforts, or interfering, in the first instance, to endeavour to prevent them. She had a right, bonâ fide, to a resumption of her colonial possessions, if she were in a condition to reclaim them, and it would not be correct in a friendly power to prevent her. When he said correct, he meant upon the strict principle of the law of nations, for circumstances might render it correct to go to war, and the interference, in the first instance, might be deemed a declaration of war. This was the abstract principle he had stated, and which he maintained; otherwise they would be avowedly interfering with a legitimate right net abjured by the mother country, and would be aiding the governed against the governor. The hon. gentleman had gone on to put certain possible violations of neutrality. Now, he would not follow the hon. gentleman by arguing upon assumed probabilities, or possibilities, which might demand a departure from the abstract principle he had laid down; but he would most distinctly state, that Spain, that Europe, knew most unequivocally, that whilst England admitted the right of Spain to recover her late American possessions, she denied the right of any foreign power to interfere in aid of the mother country in the attempt [Hear, hear!]. With respect to the ultimate intentions of France, with regard to the military occupation of Spain, he felt a difficulty in satisfying the hon. gentleman, in consequence of his observation, that the British government ought not to give credence to the declarations of the French king, or of his minister; for he knew not how to satisfy the hon. gentleman if he refused him access to the official channels of communication which the government had always maintained with the other powers in amity with them. But, if the hon. gentleman would permit him to resort to the regular information of his office, he could inform him in reply, that the government had the most positive assurances from the court of France, that they did not contemplate the permanent occupation of Spain. He gave credit to those assurances, and would continue to do so, notwithstanding the doubt which the hon. gentleman had cast upon them. And when he stated this, he begged also to say, that he retained all the sentiments he had last year expressed, respecting the French aggression upon Spain; but, whilst he retained those sentiments, he must be permitted to add, that, the vice of the aggression apart, the conduct of the French armies (always sepa- rating their conduct from the principle of their entrance) was as unexceptionable as it could possibly have been, under any circumstances of military conflict. He doubted whether history furnished a similar example of the discipline of a foreign army engaged in the invasion of another state; or rather, as in this instance, called in by invitation, to assist a predominating party in putting down a rival faction. He hoped he had said enough to explain the principle he had laid down respecting Spain and her colonies: he denied the right of England to interfere: he equally denied the right of any other power to interfere in the contest. How far a species of connivance to blind the plain meaning of his principle might hereafter be set up by one power or another, he could not say, and he would not now argue. He wished to be judged solely upon the principle, according to its plain and fair construction, and that he thought enough to argue on the present occasion. As to the hon. gentleman's second question, he had only to repeat, with the same confidence he had stated it last year, that he apprehended there was no danger of the permanent occupation of Spain by France. If a question were put to him, how long the duration of that occupancy would continue, he should reply, that that was an event so entirely dependent upon circumstances, as to render it impossible for him to give an immediate answer; but there was one question to which he was ready at the moment to give an explicit answer. If he were asked, Ought the French army to evacuate Spain tomorrow?—as a friend to humanity, he must say no. With respect to the affairs of Greece, he believed he was in possession of the requisite information upon that subject. He had not at present, although he had received the document, an exact impression upon his memory of the facts of the outrage to which sir Thomas Maitland's proclamation referred; but he believed them to be these: A small Greek squadron had pursued some Turkish vessels into the harbour of Ithaca, where the crews of one of the latter landed; they were pursued ashore by the Greeks, who butchered, in cold blood, 90 out of 120 Turks, of whom the crew was composed. This scene occurred on an island guarded by British neutrality; and he left it to the House—he left it even to the hon. member—to say, whether the government of the Ionian Isles could possibly pass over in silence a transaction of that description. He had only, in conclusion, to say, that his majesty's government, at home and abroad, had endeavoured, under all circumstances, to act between the contending parties with an even and impartial hand, ever since its neutrality had been declared. That outrages on both sides had been committed was as clear as it was to be lamented; but not the smallest desire had been evinced by the British authorities, to incline the balance either to one side or the other.

Mr. Western

expressed his surprise at the declaration of the right hon. gentleman, that, if he were asked, whether the French army ought to evacuate Spain tomorrow, his answer would be no. Such a declaration opened the door to other powers to prolong the continuance of a daring aggression upon the rights of an independent state, according to their notions of the indefinite duration of motives of humanity. It was his intention, last evening, to have moved an amendment to the address, had not his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Brougham) anticipated what he had to say, in the able and eloquent speech which he had made on the occasion. He was decidedly opposed to the policy of the present cabinet respecting our foreign relations, founded as it was upon a determination to preserve peace at all events. He appreciated the value of peace as much as any man could do; but still he could not go the length of the right hon. secretary, in looking calmly upon aggressions like that of France against Spain, and in considering the infringement of the right of an independent nation to regulate its own concerns, as a matter of little importance to the interest and security of the British empire. Such an interference with the internal policy of an independent state, as it had been our misfortune recently to witness, would have called forth the strong reprobation and decided opposition of our sturdy ancestors; and he, for one could see no reason why we should abandon the heroic policy which they had bravely pursued at every hazard, in various periods of our history. The principles which the Holy Alliance had avowed on different occasions, and particularly in the state papers which they had sent forth from Laybach, had opened the eyes of every man in the country, except his majesty's ministers, to the infamous nature of their designs. It would be in the recollection of the House, that when the hon. member for Yorkshire had moved for the production of those papers, lord Castlereagh had objected to the motion, on the ground, that the papers in question contained nothing more than a promulgation of principles on which there was no intention of acting, and the motion was in consequence negatived. The House had, however, recently seen the principles then promulgated carried into practice; and, what was more important, had seen them carried into practice, without any attempt at resistance from the British government. He should not press this point any farther at present: he merely mentioned it, that it might not be supposed that he concurred in the approbation which had been bestowed on the policy of the present cabinet. He could not describe the painful mixture of surprise and indignation by which he was affected, when he had heard the right hon. secretary declare last night, that we ought not to interfere, even if the minor states were going to be annihilated. He agreed with him fully, when he said that it would be Quixotic in us to become the champion of all the minor states upon every case of grievance which they had to adduce; but it was one thing to become their champion, and another to remonstrate against manifest injuries which were inflicted upon them. To uphold the cause of the weak against the strong, to watch over the relative interests of the different states of Europe, and to hold the balance of power between them with an impartial hand, was formerly the distinguishing pride and policy of Great Britain; and he trusted that we should soon return to it, notwithstanding the temporary aberration we had made from sound principles, under the guidance of the present cabinet.

Colonel Palmer

said, that he rose under the strongest feelings of shame and indignation, to protest against the conduct of his majesty's government: he had not opposed the address against the general sense of the House, but being convinced that not only Europe, but the world at large, had never yet been reduced to such a state of actual and prospective misery as at the present moment, and that such state was to be imputed solely to the conduct of the British government, he considered it to be a duty to his country, as a member of that House, to declare his opinion upon the subject. If it were true, as the ministers had told them, both in and out of parliament, and more especially in a late speech of the right hon. secretary, that the country had been so long prepared for war, they had sacrificed its honour and most vital interests, by suffering France to conquer Spain: if it were false, they had equally betrayed their duty, by deceiving the country to support the system of their government. But, whatever the real state of the nation, the conduct of his majesty's ministers towards Spain had been wholly indefensible; as, looking to the avowed intentions of France and the Holy Alliance, neutrality on the part of England was impossible, and could not be maintained: for what had been the late measure of the ministers in sending consuls to South America, but an act of hostility to those powers, which, if not resented, would be a further proof, if any were wanting, that if England had acted with firmness at the Congress, and declared herself the ally of Spain, France would not have dared to invade her? If, on the other hand, after abandoning Spain, the country was to be involved in war for the independence of her colonies, what excuse could be made for the ministers, who might have secured the liberties of both at a less expence to the nation, than had already been incurred by the active measures to which their crooked and inconsistent policy at last compelled them? The ministers in the last session, to cool the ardour of the people in the cause of Spain, had declared, that any interference in her behalf would involve all the expences of the former contest. But he (colonel Palmer) had then stated to the right hon. gentleman, what he now repeated, that no such expence was necessary: all that honour and policy required of England was, to render Spain the assistance which her means afforded; and those means were more than adequate to the object; for to have sent but half the force of our naval peace establishment, lying ready in our ports, to the defence of Cadiz, would have prevented all the disasters to the cause of Spanish liberty, which the consummate folly or treachery of the British government necessarily led to. Yet this straight and prudent policy, which every consideration for the honour and interests of the nation demanded, had been termed Quixotism by the right hon. gentleman. Would that his conduct, as minister, could have borne the same comparison! but unfortunately, it had betrayed all the insanity of the character, without a spark of that chivalrous feeling, which, however romantic in its origin, or thankless in the end to the mind of the right hon. gentleman, was, in his (col. P's) opinion, the best foundation of a great or good name, either for states or individuals. The right hon. gentleman, too, in his late speech, further to mark the distinction between his Quixotic opponents and himself, had openly declared, as the minister of England, that in the conduct of political affairs, the grand object of his contemplation was the interest of his own country. And what had been the result of this most wise and liberal policy, but to combine the whole world against her? For, where was the nation wherein, both with the government and people, the name of England was not justly held in detestation? She was necessarily hated by all the governments of Europe, as the only nation wherein that liberty of the press existed, which, if not destroyed itself, must eventually destroy their tyranny; and she was equally hated by all other nations, because, in every instance of a struggle for liberty, whether in France, since the commencement of her revolution, or latterly in South America, in Greece, in Italy, or in Spain, the British government had invariably opposed it. Thus England, through the system of its ministers, was the enemy of the whole human race; and, whilst the right hon. gentleman had been exhibiting himself about the kingdom, trumpeting in all directions the praises of himself and colleagues, there was not a nation but abhorred them, nor a power in Europe that was not pledged to destroy the liberties of the country committed to their hands. And, after all his fine speeches, what, in fact, had been the measures of the right hon. gentleman to oppose France and the Holy Alliance up to the total destruction of Spanish liberty by the fall of Cadiz? Nothing whatever, but intemperate abuse of their conduct, and a positive declaration of strict neutrality. This was not a Quixotism certainly; nor did he know a parallel to such conduct in history or romance. The only resemblance he could find to it was in the case of the late atrocious murder, wherein the Holy Alliance was the bold villain who went straight to his purpose, whilst the right hon. gentleman was the humane and consistent accomplice, who, after furnishing the rope and sack, resolved, "come what may," to have no share in the transaction; for precisely with the same feelings that this miscreant had hung back whilst the deed was perpetrating, so the ministers of England, who had gene hand-in-hand with their accomplices in their plot against liberty for the last thirty years, now stood aloof, whilst their victim was expiring under the blows of its assassins. As to their accomplices, compared with themselves, they were honourable, upright characters; for their conduct had been consistent throughout; and whilst he detested their policy, in justice to their private characters, and what he believed and knew upon the subject, he could not agree in all the odium cast on persons, to whom every allowance was to be made for those prejudices and impressions which, however hostile to the liberties of mankind, were inseparable from human nature, and would be felt equally by others, under similar circumstances. For the same reason he could excuse the ministers of those despotic powers, who were, in fact, their slaves; but he could find no excuse for the ministers of England, who were not the slaves, but the tyrants of the Crown and people, and of all others the most base and cruel that ever infested the earth. Even the king of Spain, madman or monster as he was, had been less base and inhuman; for his conduct had been consistent with the feeling of bigotry and divine right; but, where had been the consistency or the humanity of ministers? For at once to have declared against Spain would have prevented a struggle equally disgraceful and deplorable in its consequences to the victors and the vanquished. But, what had been the refined policy of England's minister, and of that heart which, by its own account, beat so high for the interests of humanity, but to create this confusion of horrors in Spain by the means of a treacherous neutrality; and, having so far succeeded, it was now to perpetuate the miseries of that wretched country, to prevent France from reaping the fruits of her victory. So much for the humanity of the right hon. gentleman; and as to consistency, let him reconcile his prayers for the Spanish constitution, and his contemptuous answer to the Regency, with his subsequent congratulations to Ferdinand on his success, and the treatment of the patriots who sought for refuge in Gibraltar. When he had answered this charge of apostacy from radicalism to divine right, let him answer the charge of ultra-apostacy from divine right back to radicalism, in now declaring for the patriots of South America, in the teeth of the Foreign Enlistment bill, expressly enacted against them. And now as to the real situation of the country, he remembered that long since, upon a question of the same nature in that House, it had been told by an hon. and leading member of the landed interest, that "it was time to speak out, and look the danger in the face." If that had been his opinion then, what did he think now? when during eight years of a peace establishment, no reduction whatever had been made of the burthen of the public debt; when, in spite of all the retrenchment which, session after session had been forced upon the ministers, the load of taxation still pressed too heavily upon all classes to admit of any increase; when, such was our state of real weakness, that the ministers, who in the last war expended millions upon millions to deliver Spain from the power of France, now suffered her to fall without even an attempt to save her: when France herself, whom so lately in conjunction with our allies, we had humbled to the dust, was now again on foot, more great, more powerful, and more inveterately our enemy than ever; and lastly, when these same allies, who first combined with us against her liberties, were now combined with France against the liberties of England—and the storm so long gathering around, was now at last ready at any moment to burst upon its head;—if, in such a state of things, so humble an individual as himself might venture to speak out, and look the danger in the face, the hon. member believed he could state the cause, and the only means to remove it; but he should no longer trespass on the House on the present occasion, but reserve for a future opportunity the delivery of his sentiments on that subject.

Mr. Hume

said, that be merely rose for the purpose of preventing a misconception from prevailing with the public, in consequence of what had fallen that evening from the right hon. secretary. He had himself received information from the Ionian Islands, fully corroborating that which had just been stated to the House by the hon. member for Westminster. A letter, which he had received from Ithaca, led him to believe, that the statement of the right hon. secretary was far from cor- rect; for, instead of the Greeks firing first upon the Turks, the fact was, that the Turks had first fired upon the Greeks from the shore. The objection to the Proclamation of sir T. Maitland was, that it held up the Greeks, not merely as the first, but as the only violators. In the course of the hostilities between the Turks and their noble and gallant adversaries, many atrocities had undoubtedly been committed on both sides; but they did not begin with the Greeks, but with their enemies. No man in England had at one time been a warmer friend to revolutionary principles than sir T. Maitland, and all that he (Mr. Hume) wished was, that he should hold the balance evenly, and not allow it to incline to the stronger side. He felt persuaded that it was the desire of ministers that the neutrality should be equally observed towards both the contending parties. He knew that the Greek government had with the utmost readiness, stated their anxiety to make amends for every violation of that neutrality which had been alluded to; and certainly they could not do more. He most sincerely wished, in justice to those brave men who were now gallantly struggling for their freedom that sir Thomas Maitland had not issued his proclamation, until all the facts of the case had been regularly laid before the government. In conclusion, he felt it to be his duty to protest against the partiality which the Ionian Government had shown, in opposition to the cause of genuine freedom.

Sir T. Lethbridge

said, he should not have addressed the House on the present occasion, had it not been for the allusion which had been made by the hon. colonel to an expression which he had used in the course of the preceding session. He was well aware of the observation he had then made, when speaking of the situation of the landed interest. He certainly had said, that he considered it the wisest course if the country were in danger, to look that danger in the face, and to meet it resolutely and manfully. He had felt as strongly as any person in the House or out of it could feel, the severe distress that pressed on the landed interest; and he was happy to find, that a great change for the better had taken place in the situation of that important class of society. He entirely approved of what was said in the Speech from the throne on that subject. It was pleasing to him to observe that a considerable amendment had taken place in the state of agriculture. He hoped, and he believed there was every reason to suppose, that that great interest was not improving by mere accident, or through the agency of temporary circumstances; but that it was advancing in prosperity, in consequence of causes that would give permanency to that prosperity. With respect to our situation as it regarded our foreign relations, he must say, that he thought this country stood high in the opinion of Europe, and of every other part of the world. Instead of the British character being detested (as his hon. friend had rather strongly stated) by the other nations of Europe, and by the world in general, he must contend, that at no former period did the character of Great Britain stand on higher or more enviable ground. As to the affairs of Spain, he should have considered it a most fatal determination of this country, if she had interfered with the Spanish cause; and he thought the result of the policy pursued by England had been most fortunate for Spain and for this country. The line of conduct pursued by ministers had been the best for England, as well as for the parties concerned in the contest; and however strong the feeling of a party in this country (he believed a very small one) might be for war, he conceived that it was the duty of the representatives of the people to give to ministers all the support in their power, when they saw them exercising their functions, in that prudent manner which had conferred such signal advantages on the country. He cordially approved of the Address, in answer to the Speech from the throne.

Mr. W. Smith

said, he could not let this opportunity pass without expressing his most anxious hope and wish, that no negotiation for the termination of the differences between Russia and the Porte might be successful, which did not leave the Greeks in a better situation than that in which it found them. He regretted that the situation of the right hon. secretary did not permit him to do that which he was sure would have been consistent with his inclination; namely, to give an assurance to the House, that this country would not be a party to any arrangement which did not protect the Greeks from the barbarous revenue of one power, and the insatiable ambition of the other.

The address was then agreed to, nem. Con.