HC Deb 31 January 1828 vol 18 cc69-83
Mr. Jenkinson

brought up the report of the Address on the King's Speech.

Mr. Brownlow

said, that, previous to the report being read, he wished to express the feelings which influenced his conduct on the present occasion. Fie should support the Address, subject to the explanation which had been offered by the noble Secretary at War, regarding the objectionable portion of the King's Speech —an explanation, without which he would not consent to the Address, and unaccompanied by which the Speech from the throne would be received, throughout the country, with sentiments of sorrow and regret. He did think that some explanation was due to the House on the matter. One had certainly been given, which, though it prevented him from opposing the Address, was scarcely adequate to the occasion. Even after the explanation of the noble lord, he was still of opinion—and he was confident that the House and the country united with him in the sentiment —that, the expression, "untoward event," was, to say the least of it, an ungracious one, when applied to so glorious an achievement as the victory of Navarino. He was willing to fall in with the general disposition of the House to preserve that unanimity which was so desirable, when voting an answer to his majesty's Speech; but he at the same time wished it to be distinctly understood, that if that Speech could be interpreted as conveying a particle of censure upon the conduct of sir Edward Codrington, it was his decided opinion, that a very different Address ought to be voted. That gallant officer had acted, under circumstances of great difficulty and delicacy, with the plain, straight-forward, unsophisticated understanding, of an English sailor, and had displayed equal wisdom and firmness in the management of the early part of the task committed to his hands, as he had displayed irresistible valour in the celebrated battle which afterwards occurred. He would assert, that a more glorious achievement never adorned the naval annals of this country; that there was no deed of arms related in our history which could exceed the gallant affair of Navarino —a victory than which, of all naval victories, none could redound more to the credit of the brave officers and seamen by whom it had been won.—He wished it to be clearly understood, that he was as hostile as any member to an undue and uncalled for interference with other countries. He was as ready as any member of the administration which had existed a year ago, or of the present administration, which was a remnant of it, to admit that this country ought to preserve the straightforward rule of honour in its relations with other nations. But, had not the administration to which he alluded countenanced, on several occasions, and adopted an active interference with foreign nations? Did it not interfere with Spain, with Austria, with Genoa? Did it not permit the spoliation of Norway and Saxony; and was it now, for the first time, that the members of that administration had discovered, that there should be no interference on behalf of the independence of Greece? He was as much opposed as any man to an unnecessary interference; but it was one thing to run headlong into an unnecessary and unwarrantable interference between other countries, and it was another and a very different thing, to stand by and behold, with unfeeling and stupid indifference, the wanton and barbarous effusion of human blood. Interference was in such an instance loudly called for, not only for the interests of humanity, but for the protection of the rights of neutral nations. It was plain and obvious, that any person who admitted the necessity of the treaty of the 6th of July, between the three great powers, could not condemn the battle of Navarino. He could, indeed, understand the man who would object in the first instance, to that treaty, and allege that we had enough to do without meddling in the affairs of other countries. To such a man the affair at Navarino would furnish only an additional argument in support of his reasoning. Why were the combined fleets of England, France, and Russia, assembled in the Mediterranean? After that, were the Greeks and Turks to be allowed to go on? Were the piratical attacks upon the commerce of neutral nations to go on unchecked? Was the assembling of those fleets to be a mere braggadocio—an idle menace, intended for no practical purpose? Had Russia, France, and England, of whose honour he would be more chary, entered into a treaty which they never intended to execute? Or was it only to be followed by a display of diplomatical chicanery; and were all further proceedings to be abstained from with fear and trembling, There was, in truth, a great deal of false feeling and false sentiment abroad on this subject. An outcry was raised, by the Jonathan Doubikins of this country, because Turkish blood had been spilled, and Turkish vessels sunk and burnt. There were persons who started with horror at the slightest attack upon our "most faithful" ally, the grand turk. Did they, however, bear in mind the savage butcheries committed at Scio? Were they forgetful of the dreadful effusions of human blood which had taken place, for the last six years, in the fairest portion of Europe? Was it not plain that the object of the horrible warfare carried on there was the extinction of the Greek race in that devoted land? It would be said, that they could know nothing of the treaty, until it was laid before them. It certainly was not on their table; but he, for one, was sufficiently acquainted with it to express his entire approval of it. It was warranted by the circumstances of the case—it was conceived in a good spirit— it emanated as a love of independence— it contained nothing contrary to the law of nations—it was the offspring of plain, straight-forward, statesman-like British policy. He did not stand up there to vindicate that which required no vindication—the glorious battle of Navarino. No one had insinuated censure against the illustrious commander in that celebrated engagement; his character, therefore, did not stand in need of his feeble eulogy.— Having said so much upon this portion of the King's Speech, he would now advert, with feelings of regret, sorrow, and disappointment, to a subject which was altogether omitted in that Speech—a matter of which his majesty's councillors seemed to have been quite regardless. He alluded to the reprehensible omission of the name of that country from which he had been deputed to that House, and whose interests it was his duty to protect to the best of his ability. It would appear, from the silence of the Speech, that ministers either cared nothing for, or knew nothing of, the state of Ireland. Did they know, that two thirds of the population of that country were either totally unemployed, or could procure only so much employment as barely gave them the means of subsistence? That there existed discontent in Ireland, no one would be foolhardy enough to deny. Was it known to ministers, that every day hundreds of people were there dispossessed of their lands, and banished from their native country? He would not say that such a measure was not necessary, with a view to the improvement of the condition of the peasantry who remained behind; but, it was a fact notorious as the sun at noon-day, that this depopulating system was going on—that men were thrown upon the world without any species of employment or of subsistence, and with starvation and death staring them in the face. There were other features in the present state of Ireland which ought to have drawn the serious attention of ministers to that unfortunate country. Were they aware that, a very short time since, upwards of thirteen hundred parishes assembled, upon the same day and for the same purpose—that at the same moment seven millions of people raised their concentrated voices to demand the restoration of their civil rights? Would it then be said, that disappointment and deep discontent did not pervade the population of Ireland? He did expect that the name of Ireland would not have been totally omitted.—He did expect that some allusion would have been made to the state of its population, and that it would not have been thus passed over with contemptuous neglect.— If he were asked, whether he confided in the present ministry, he would answer, that he had every confidence in the honour of its members. If he agreed upon political subjects with the duke of Wellington, there was no man in whom he would be more ready to confide. But he differed— widely differed—from the noble duke, with respect to the great question which so nearly affected his native land; and with that difference existing between them, he could not give his support to the noble duke's administration; unless, indeed, he were to desert his political principles, and make a humbug of the Catholic question. Upon that question he had differed with his nearest and dearest friends; and it was not likely that he should relinquish it now. It might be said, that the ministry were neutral upon that question, and that each member of the cabinet was at liberty to vote upon it as he pleased. But, if he were to support such a ministry, what should he, in fact, be doing? As far as his humble vote would go, he should be giving them his support during three hundred and sixty-four days in the year, and then, upon the three hundred and sixty-fifth, he should vote for the Catholic question, while he had been all the while giving his aid to those who were armed with power against it. It might be a very good thing to support ministers; it may be a very pleasant thing to sit on the benches opposite, and to vote with the government. He would give the government his support, whenever it acted in accordance with the principles which he professed, and while its object was the good of the people: but, upon those principles he took his stand, and from those principles he would never depart.

Lord Morpeth

said, he perfectly agreed in the sentiments expressed with regard to Ireland, by his hon. friend. No man was better acquainted with that subject and, no one could do it more justice. He had heard with astonishment the expression applied in the Speech from the Throne, to the battle of Navarino. He had also heard the explanation given by the noble Secretary at War, and he would say, that, but for that explanation, the Speech would have excited universal regret. During the last two days, he had carefully considered that explanation; and he was of opinion, that the expression in the Speech, was unjustifiable; unaccompanied as it was, by any distinct denial of political blame, either on the part of the ministers who signed the treaty, or the admiral who fought the battle of Navarino. To the distinguished merits of that gallant officer, cordial testimony had been borne by all sides of the House. But yet, without the explanation of the noble Secretary at War, the obvious inference from the Speech was to the contrary effect. Why use such an ungracious expression, unless it was intended to condemn that which all the good and great hailed with delight? Could the English language apply no other epithet to one of the most brilliant achievements in the naval history of this country?

Sir G. Warrender

bore testimony to the great merits of sir Edward Codrington. He said, it could not but be matter of congratulation with the friends of that gallant officer, that it was unanimously agreed that he had acted with zeal for the honour of his country, and that whatever differences of opinion might exist as to the policy of the measure, all were ready to bear testimony to his exalted merits. Differences of opinion certainly existed as to the political part of the transaction; but by none was sir E. Codrington's conduct impugned. He regretted the language which had been employed by ministers in speaking of the battle of Navarino, and was glad to have heard the explanation of the noble Secretary at War.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, it was not his intention to apply himself to the topics adverted to in the Address. He rose for the purpose of asking the noble Secretary at. War— the only knight of king Arthur's round table in the field—whether it was the intention of ministers to propose a vote of thanks to sir E. Codrington? and next, whether it was their intention to lay on the table of the House the documents connected with the battle of Navarino, and more particularly the report which he understood had been drawn up by sir John Gore, who had been sent out for the express purpose of inquiring into the particulars of the transaction? That gallant officer had returned; he had seen sir Edward Codrington, and had, of course, made minute inquiries into the details of the battle of Navarino. It, therefore, would be extremely satisfactory to have his report laid before them.

Mr. Duncombe

rose to bear his testimony to the merits of sir E. Codrington. Whatever might be thought of the circumstances under which the battle of Navarino had been fought, there was but one opinion, as to the bravery, gallantry, and skill, displayed on that occasion. He did not think that the expression used in the Speech from the Throne was intended to impute any censure to those who had signed the treaty of the 6th of July. If it was intended to convey such a meaning, one of those ministers, who now formed a part of the present administration, would never have given his consent to the use of it. He was confident that sir E. Codrington had acted according to the spirit and letter of his instructions; but he could not but think that the battle of Navarino was an untoward event.

Mr. Spring Rice

wished to put a question to the noble Secretary at War. He thought the omission of all mention of Ireland was a proof that ministers were blind to the condition of that country, unless their silence might be explained by motives not now before the House. Three years had elapsed since a message was brought down from the Throne, calling the attention of parliament to the existence of an association in Ireland, said to be pregnant with danger to the constitution, and to the connection between the two countries. The measure introduced as a remedy, had met with the most decided opposition, but, at the same time, with the most anxious attention. In a single se'nnight, it was discussed for five successive nights. That bill expired in the present session, and he wished to know whether it was the intention of government to propose its renewal? From the absence of all notice of the subject, he inferred that it was not their intention; and although he could not applaud their consistency, he could highly praise their wisdom. It might be in the recollection of gentlemen, that on the occasion of the intro- duction of the bill alluded to, it was admitted on all hands, that either such a bill was necessary, or that some other course should be adopted. Now, the bill in question had been tried, and it had totally failed of effect. He should therefore like to know what were the other remedies which government was now disposed to try? He expected that several measures would be introduced by government during the session, to which he should be most happy to lend his support. He would give his support to a system of improvement in the Corn-laws. Though he did not belong to the present government, and though his dearest friends did not belong to it, yet, whenever its measures were right, he would support them. He expected to see them maintain the principles of free trade. As long as the measures proposed by government conduced to the good of the people, they should have his support, whether he sat upon that or upon the opposite side of the House.

Lord Palmerston

said, that before he answered the questions which had been put to him, he hoped the House would allow him to explain the meaning of a certain term in the Speech from the Throne which was still misunderstood. Nobody would be more sorry than he should, to be understood as meaning to say, that blame was imputable to the gallant admiral whose name had been so often alluded to. What he meant to have said, was, that the epithet "untoward event" was not intended to imply the slightest censure on that gallant officer. That epithet had been employed, because the collision between the fleets was unexpected. Whatever merit attached to the military movement itself, there could be no doubt that such a conflict must have had a tendency to interrupt the negotiations which were pending, to produce an alteration in the civil disposition of the Porte, and oppose considerable obstacles to the adjustment of the differences which were under discussion. It was impossible, he thought, to deny, that, in that sense of the word, the battle of Navasino was an "untoward event." But, as far as it related to the character of the country, and to the fame of its arms, no human being could suppose that the epithet "untoward" was applied in that sense. In no fair construction of the passage did it imply any censure on the gallant admiral who commanded on that day. The hon. member for Westminster had asked, whether it was the intention of government to propose a vote of thanks to the gallant admiral for this victory? In reply, he had only to say, that he was not aware of the existence of any such intention; and for this reason, that it was not usual to propose a vote of thanks for an action of this nature, when not performed in a time of open war between the nations to which the combatants belonged. As to the papers to which the hon. member alluded, it was not, he believed, intended to lay them before parliament. No censure whatever was implied against sir E. Codrington; consequently, no production of papers was necessary for the vindication of a character which no one attacked. To produce papers where conduct was un-impeached would be a novel proceeding; and publication of such documents might have an injurious effect upon negotiations still going on. The next question which had been put to him referred to the views of government with respect to the Catholic Association act. As the administration had only been very recently formed, it had not been possible to give that, as well as other topics, the necessary consideration. With respect to the omission of Ireland in the Speech from the Throne, he could assure the House it was not intended to set aside the strong claims of the sister-country to have her condition fully considered. Whether the government were for or against the Catholic claims, the condition of so large and integral a portion of the kingdom must be an object of serious attention. It was not usual for the King's Speech to advert particularly to any portion of the empire, unless some remarkable change had taken place in its circumstances, subsequent to the preceding meeting of parliament. Nothing had occurred in Ireland during the recess, to call for any marked observation. True it was, that there did unfortunately prevail in Ireland much want of employment; true it was, that plans of emigration were promoted, by arrangements of which he disapproved, and to which he wondered that men of property could have assented; true it was, that there prevailed in that country an intense anxiety to know what were the views of parliament with respect to the Catholic question; but the hon. gentlemen opposite should bear in mind, that an hon. friend of theirs (Mr. W. Lamb), a man of great discretion and conciliatory temper, still continued secretary for Ireland. Surely the continuance of that hon. gentleman in office ought to to be taken as a guarantee, that every means would be taken to calm the angry passions of that part of the kingdom, and, as far as possible, to allay their conflicting animosities. Hon. gentlemen seemed to think, because certain individuals formed a part of the present government who were known to be hostile to the Catholic claims, that therefore the whole influence of that government was to be exercised to give effect to their opinions. Let the House look at the confidential servants of the Crown, and they would find that the majority consisted of supporters of the Catholic claims. How, then, could the administration be said to be constructed on a principle adverse to that measure? For himself he could only say, that if he did not think it was constructed on a principle of fair and honest neutrality upon that question, and that patronage and influence were to be fairly exerted, he, for one, would not longer remain a member of that government.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, that, as it was not the intention of government to propose a vote of thanks to admiral Codrington, he now gave notice, that on the 14th of February he would himself introduce such a motion. As to precedent, there was one in point, which it was strange the present administration should have overlooked. He meant that of the vote of thanks to sir Arthur Wellesley, the present prime minister, for his share in the victory at Copenhagen—a state which we were, at the time, in friendly alliance.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, he did not find fault with the use of the term "untoward" in the king's Speech; especially after the explanation which had been given. He thought the government were justified in their application of the term. He would not, at that moment, question the policy which had led to the battle of Navarino: the time would arrive when the principle of the treaty of London must be discussed. If it were approved of, then they ought to do the admiral justice who had enforced it. He was most anxious to have the whole conduct of that gallant officer inquired into. There was a great dictinction to be drawn between not censuring an officer and praising him. Caution with respect to the latter, might be justifiable until the treaty should be dis- cussed. As to the present administration, he would judge of them by their acts. He saw no reason to doubt their good intentions; nor did he believe the condition of Ireland would be overlooked by them. Changes might possibly take place in the opinions of some persons upon the Catholic question; and, if they should, the country would, he had no doubt, have the benefit of them. They had, in the hon. member for Armagh, one of the purest instances of such a change of opinion. An upright man would always avow such an alteration, when it became the deliberate conviction of his mind. That great question had gained ground in public opinion. The more it was dispassionately canvassed, the greater support it would obtain.

Lord Normanby

said, that of all the governments he had ever seen, the present was the one which held out the least chance of a favourable consideration of the Catholic claims. A majority in the cabinet afforded no security, when he recollected of what individuals it was composed. Of the noble lord's colleagues friendly to those claims, one of them had not long ago declared that he considered the question not to be of so much importance now as he had formerly attached to it: another noble lord in the cabinet, it was understood, thought the question had better be deferred: while a third noble lord had quitted office last year, only, as it would seem, because he was afraid that too many of his colleagues would be of his own opinion. What was there to balance against this great majority The noble duke at the head of the government was decidedly adverse to any further concessions to the Catholics; and for the first time, since the days of Mr. Perceval, the leader in the House of Commons was also opposed to the Catholic claims. To these facts he could not shut his eyes; nor could he forget what that right hon. gentleman had openly stated in his place last session; namely, that he had quitted office because he could not retain it under Mr. Canning, without giving his support to an administration too friendly to the Catholic question. The right hon. gentleman's return to office was therefore, a great obstacle to the favourable adjustment of that question. That was his only objection to the right hon. gentleman's return to office. There was a report, that it was intended to grant a portion of the Catholic claims. He should be delighted to find it true. Come from whom it might, any measure of concession should receive his support.

Mr. M. A. Taylor

perfectly agreed that the battle of Navarino was an "untoward event." He considered it a most unfortunate event for this country. He did not deny the talent and skill with which the gallant admiral had fought the battle; but he did question the policy of the instructions under which he had acted. Unless he heard a satisfactory explanation of the grounds of the treaty, it should never have his support. He trusted that tranquillity would be restored with the Porte. The consequences would otherwise be serious. Look at the situation in which we had placed our old ally. Look at the situation in which we had placed Russia and France. View the long-continued policy of the Russian government; and then let the country judge whether the battle of Navarino was not an "untoward event." He was satisfied that this was the general opinion. He was in London when the news of the battle arrived, and he had heard the most anxious fears expressed as to the probable consequences. God grant they might not happen! Was there a man in his majesty's government who did not shudder with horror when the news reached him? In no point of view could he approve of the treaty, or of its results.

Lord Euston

expressed his approbation of the conduct of the gallant admiral in the battle of Navarino, and lamented that government did not intend to originate a vote of thanks to him, for his skill and valour on that occasion.

Sir F. Burdett

said, that while he was ready to admit the inconvenience of going into discussions of this kind at present, he could not help observing, that so far from thinking that the battle of Navarino ought to be described as an "untoward event," he considered it in the highest degree creditable to the character of the country, and that it had raised it in the estimation of the civilized world. He had hoped, that those who had the manliness to have projected the enterprise, would have had the vigour to maintain their position. He was sorry to see them sink beneath the execution of their own conception, and die, as it were, of diffidence, after others had expressed so much satisfaction at what they had done. For his own part, he should when the proper time came, be prepared to defend the policy and the wisdom of every measure connected with the battle of Navarino. He could not too much admire the ability displayed by the admiral and his fleet in the execution of their perilous duty. The admiral was, indeed, beyond the reach of the censure of those who trembled for his act. He had already received the sanction of the executive government, and honours had been bestowed upon him by his sovereign. It was too late, therefore now, to call in question the merit of the achievement. He had executed the provisions of the treaty in the spirit with which it had been originated; and he ought to be thanked, whether there was a precedent or not. If there was, well and good: if not, let the subject be discussed upon its own merits. With respect to the omission of any allusion to Ireland in the King's Speech, the noblelord had informed the House, that that country was in a satisfactory state; or at least that nothing had occurred, since last session, to call for particular notice. He hoped that this would appear to be the case, when Irish subjects should come under discussion. He confessed he entertained different anticipations upon that subject.

Mr. V. Fitzgerald

deprecated discussion at that moment upon questions which must hereafter be debated in a regular form. He would only make a passing allusion to the omission of Ireland in the Speech from the Throne. If he could believe by this omission, that the new government intended to cast aside the consideration of the state of Ireland, he could assure his hon. friend, that he had taken his seat next him, and called for an inquiry into the state of that country. Surely when his hon. friend knew that the government of Ireland was intrusted to such hands as had been alluded to, he could not doubt the desire of the administration to do justice to his country. When the government had only been in office a few days, it was too much to expect that they should be prepared with all those details; unless, indeed, it could be shown, that their predecessors in office had left them matured in their bureaus ready for use. He could not see the necessity for introducing Ireland in the Speech from the Throne, unless circumstances of a peculiar nature demanded a notice of that kind. It had been done when the state of that, country required measures of special rigour; but, happily, such was not now the case. Besides, when it was borne in mind, that the government of that country was confided to those who were appointed by the government which the hon. gentleman approved, and of which he had been a member, where was the necessity for introducing Ireland into the King's Speech? He would not conceal from himself, that, with respect to the great question of Catholic emancipation, much alarm had been excited in Ireland by the change in his majesty's councils; but when they recollected the opinion which had been stated in that House, by those who had presided over succeeding administrations; namely, that the success of this important question could not be hastened, but might be retarded, by being made a cabinet question, then those who admitted this could not fairly complain that it was not mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. He would not place the success of this question on the balance of votes in the cabinet. It was, in his opinion, an unwise and unworthy mode of treating a great public question, which had marched forward by the force of public opinion. Most of them must have seen it rise from minority and defeat in that House, to success and triumph; and, what was still more remarkable, they had seen it, by degrees, gaining a victory over the public mind, and winning the support of those who had long opposed it. Therefore he contended, that it was an unworthy and an unwise way to balance its success on the votes in the cabinet. If there was one characteristic which, more than another, distinguished the noble person at the head of his majesty's councils, and which was almost as conspicuous as the talents that had accumulated glories of imperishable lustre around him, it was his firmness, his straight-forwardness, his honesty of character. Whatever might be the fate of this question,—whatever course might be taken with respect to it— he had proved, that the influence of the Crown should not be exerted on the occasion. He had evinced this feeling, by retaining in the councils of the country, some of the most distinguished champions of Catholic emancipation. The only two new members of it held, upon this subject, the same opinions; they had both proved themselves to be sincere advocates of Catholic emancipation. He must consider those individuals to be in error, who would embattle against the present government all who supported the Catholic question, because that government was divided upon the question. He trusted, however, that they would pause before they determined to take such a course, and that they would riot retard a cause which had been advanced by discussion, and which, by discussion alone, would be ultimately successful.

The report was brought up, and agreed to.