HC Deb 05 March 1824 vol 10 cc752-5
Sir James Mackintosh

said, that having carefully perused the papers which were last night laid upon the table of the House, he rose to put to the right hon. secretary for foreign affairs one or two questions upon subjects connected with them. The first of these questions would be, whether any answer had yet been received from the court of Madrid to the despatch from this government, dated the 30th of January? If such an answer had been received by his majesty's government, he presumed there could be no objection on their part to lay it before the House. His second question was, whether his majesty's government possessed the decree, or, if not the original, an authentic or accurate copy of the decree, said to have been made by Ferdinand 7th, professing to regulate the commerce of vast countries in South America which had long ceased to acknowledge his authority? If such a document was in the possession of ministers, he supposed there could be no objection to its production. He should also be desirous, that there should be laid before the House a copy of the treaty entered into between Great Britain and Spain in the year 1810; which treaty was referred to in the despatch of the 30th of January, as granting to British subjects a right of free trade with the subjects of Spain in the two hemispheres. Now, it was possible that that treaty might have been printed, or have been, in some shape or other, already laid before parliament. If so, he was not aware of the fact; but he presumed that the treaty alluded to could not be that which was made with admiral Apodaca; for that was made in 1809. If it had not been printed, he should either move that it be printed, or give notice of a motion for its production, according to the answer which he might receive to his questions.

Mr. Secretary Canning

observed, that to the questions of his hon. and learned friend he would answer separately; but he would invert the order in which those questions had been put. And first, as to the supposed treaty between Spain and Great Britain. No such treaty was in existence to the best of his knowledge. In the year 1810, when this country proposed to interpose her mediation between Spain and her colonies in America, it was merely upon an understanding between the two governments, that the coast law of Spain should be suspended, as between the subjects of the two nations. No instrument, as far as he had ascertained, was in existence, in which this agreement was recorded. Any motion, therefore, by his hon. and learned friend, upon the subject of this supposed treaty would be unnecessary, for there would be nothing to produce. As to the second question propounded about the decree, he knew of that only as a matter of public notoriety; but he really could not say whether it had yet been communicated to his majesty's government in that authentic shape that would entitle it to be considered as a document in their possession. He rather thought it had not been so communicated, but that any knowledge of it which might be possessed by his majesty's government was derived from its having appeared in the ordinary way in public journals. If, however, such a decree had been communicated to them, they would undoubtedly not object to lay it before parliament. As to the third question, whether any answer had been received from Spain in reply to the despatch of the 30th of January, he had no objection to state all that it was in his power to state about the matter. He believed that an answer simply acknowledging the receipt of the despatch had been received by this government. In reply to the remaining part of what had been addressed to him that evening by his hon. and learned friend, he would merely say, that there were circumstances which would prevent his stating to the House at present any thing further as to the precise state in which this country now stood with respect to America. The despatch in question was not laid before parliament, while it was yet upon its way to Madrid, because, had it been laid on the table at an earlier period, it was obviously possible, that the court of Madrid might have read the important despatch in question in the public papers of this country before it reached them in its more authentic shape. It was upon this account he begged his hon. and learned friend to postpone his motion. The moment that an official answer should be received to that despatch, it should be laid before parliament. The scope of his hon. and learned friend's motion (for though it was not shaped in this manner, it clearly went to this extent) was, to induce his majesty's government to lay before parliament such documents and papers as might show to the House the principles upon which government had hitherto acted, and intended in future to act, in regard to South America. But he freely told his hon. and learned friend, that if the communications which ministers had already made on this sub- ject had been such as to entitle them to the confidence of parliament, he should resist every attempt to extort further information, or to compel the production of further papers relative to these matters, under the present circumstances. If, on the contrary, the communications which government had made, had not entitled them to the confidence of parliament, his hon. and learned friend would be at liberty to take hid own course upon this important affair.

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, he had listened to every word that had fallen from the right hon. secretary; but, as at present advised, he saw nothing to induce him to alter his original intention of bringing the subject before the House.