HC Deb 30 June 1828 vol 19 cc1545-56

On the order of the day for going into a Committee of Supply,

Sir James Mackintosh

said, he wished to make a few observations upon a recent measure of his Majesty's government, which measure it was his wish to contemplate only so far as it affected an ancient friend, who was engaged in an arduous struggle to uphold that law and that liberty which had been conferred upon her by her lawful sovereign; He would not enter into any discussion of international law. He would not deny that, in cases of civil contests in a state foreign states might recognize either of the contending parties, as in possession of the sovereign authority, and treat with the actual possessors of that authority. Neither would he deny that a foreign state might not recognize in each party the possession of the ordinary belligerent rights, and treat both on equal terms as far as respected those rights. He would not dispute any of those points, nor would he have felt it necessary to call the attention of the House to the subject at all, but for the language used on a recent occasion by our government, which appeared as if it was intended to apply to one party in Portugal, though no doubt it was meant for both. He did not charge the government with any intentional partiality on the occasion; for he had no doubt that if the Junta of Oporto had sent a squadron to blockade the Tagus, and interrupt the communications with Lisbon, which was unfortunately still under the domination of Don Miguel, we should have recognized it as effectually as we had done that which was now declared by rebellious subjects under the orders of a rebel and usurper. For the sake of the argument, he would lay aside a thousand considerations which crowded on his mind, and which would afford a moral justification of our interference. He would repeat, that he did not deny the right of a foreign state to recognize the possession of the sovereign authority in either of the contending parties in a state, acting at the same time with neutrality to both; but there were departures from that neutrality in a tone and temper in which one of the parties was spoken of in the present case, which was to be deplored, however unintentionally it might have happened; but if it were intentional, it would require the application of a stronger word in its condemnation. He did not complain of a breach of neutrality towards the contending parties in Portugal by our government; but he did complain, that in the publication of the notice of the blockade of Oporto, there was a use of technical formality, which, though not intended, had a tendency injurious to the one party, and highly beneficial to the atrocious designs of the other. In this sense he condemned the late notification of the blockade. He did not mean to say, that the government were not bound to give substantial warning to all British subjects of the risk to which they might be exposed by entering the harbour of Oporto but, he contended, that they might have done it without all that parade and technical formality, which would be used in noticing a blockade by powers whose authority was legitimate. To apply all those technical terms in noticing the act of a ring-leader of rebels was calculated to produce false impressions as to the light in which his conduct was viewed by the party using them. He could not see what more was necessary than the most informal mode of announcing the fact, that the commerce of Oporto was interrupted, and that merchants entering the harbour would not be secure. He did not see why it might not have been intimated—not by our ambassador, for his functions were suspended— but by some of the captains of our ships on that coast, that his majesty would not take any part in the contest going on in the country, but still that he was so circumstanced with his ally the king of Portugal, whom alone he recognized as the sovereign of the country, that he would not allow the commerce of his subjects with a part of the kingdom to be interrupted by either party, until the opinions of his majesty Don Pedro should be ascertained. This would not be an infringement of the neutrality which we might be disposed to observe to either party. This case of the present state of Portugal was not like any of those to which it had been likened. Both the contending parties claimed the same authority for their acts: one of them had fraudulently assumed that of Don Pedro, and the other was acting in obedience to the constitution which he had given. The dispute was, with which the authority lay. In this case, it would have been quite sufficient for us to have said—"Without taking any part in this dispute, we will not allow either of you to interrupt the commerce of the ally of your sovereign but will wait until the will of that sovereign shall be known." This, without a single act of violence, would have been sufficient on our part. He would not ask how far this was done. The usurped authority of Don Miguel was not more than four weeks old when he declared the blockade of Oporto. Now, would it be contended, that his was legitimate authority at that moment — a moment when he had renounced the only legitimate power he had? He was not aware of any precedent in the history of nations, whore foreign states had recognized so screen a usurpation of power. If no limitation of time was necessary to the recognition of a power assuming the supreme authority, a banditti getting possession of a number of fish-boats, and declaring any small port in a state of blockade, at the mouth of which they might bring their forco, would have a claim to rights of blockade; and we should be bound to recognize the legitimacy of the claim. He had also a strong objection to a ring-leader of rebels being styled the prince regent of Portugal. What was the meaning of those words? Did they not imply, that the person of whom they were used was exercising legitimate authority? He did not say, that jurists would construe the recognition of the blockade into a recog- nition of the authority of the party declaring it; but when that blockade was admitted, and when the party declaring it was styled "prince regent of Portugal," would it not convey an idea that the legitimacy of the act was admitted? We had used the very title which he himself had used. What could he and his partisans desire more? It was most important, that in all wars a great state should not lightly make a recognition of the legitimacy of the authority of a party claiming sovereign power; but in popular warfare, the danger of lightly making such recognition was ten times worse than in any other. The leading men of a government might not be misled by such a course as we had taken in the case of the blockade of Oporto; but how would it be understood by the ignorant multitude —by a Portuguese multitude? Would it not be considered as a recognition of the acts done by Don Miguel. He would put it to the right hon. gentleman opposite, whether the course which had been adopted was not calculated to have an effect on the temper and feelings of multitudes? We had not received the notice of the blockade of Portugal through the regular diplomatic channel; there was therefore no occasion for the manner in which we had noticed it. There was no instance of a country where the same course was adopted in the case of a disputed title to the sovereign power. We never, on those occasions, had adopted the title by which the parties claiming the power designated themselves. Was it fair then that the exception should be made in favour of Don Miguel? Was ho. entitled to it by his rebellion against his father and brother—by his cruel and oppressive conduct in public and private—by his repeated perjuries and his breach of faith with all the powers of Europe? He did not charge government with intending to advance the treasons of Don Miguel; but he complained of their conduct as having that tendency. This course, taken in the face of Europe, was one of deep regret, and required explanation. He would not say, that we should refuse to give to Don Miguel his proper title; but would it be contended, that because the title of prince regent of Portugal was a just one before he broke faith, that it was so afterwards? It should have been avoided, since it had a natural tendency to perplex men's minds in Portugal. But, was he entitled to be called "prince regent" since the month of May? If so, why had the diplomatic intercourse with the country been interrupted? He held in his hand a passport, in the name of Don Miguel 1st, dated on the 7th of May last. Was it true, then, that he was king of Portugal and prince regent of Portugal at the same time? The titles were incompatible: the acceptance of the one was a direct abdication of the other. In the Lisbon Gazette would be found a variety of addresses, imploring him to take upon him the title of king. He would not rest even on these facts. On the 3rd of May, Don Miguel published a decree, convoking the ancient Cortes, and the object for which they were called together was to consider of a constitution. Now, this was as an act utterly incompatible with his authority as prince regent of Portugal. It was a treasonable assumption of much higher power. He would suppose the case of a lord-lieutenant of Ireland, in the year after the Union, issuing his proclamation for the assembling of the Irish parliament in Dublin. Would not such an act be instantly declared treasonable? But if, in addition to this, the same person were to issue a decree, declaring Liverpool in a state of blockade, what power would recognize it? Would not such acts put an end to his character as lord lieutenant of Ireland? No one could deny, that the whole of such a proceeding would be considered treasonable. He would go the length of saying, that the acts of a foreign prince should be scrutinized by other states, to see whether he had or had not observed the constitution he had sworn to defend; but there were some acts which were so flagrant, that their import could be no longer doubtful. This was the case in Portugal; and of the conduct of Don Miguel, there was but one opinion with a majority of the Portuguese nation. The ambassadors from the courts of Europe, at Lisbon, wore of the same opinion; and the ambassadors from Portugal at other courts looked upon the acts of the prince, as a rebellion against the authority of their lawful sovereign. To prove that there were circumstances in this case which would justify the interference of foeign powers, he need only call the attention of the House to what took place at Vienna in October last, and in in which originated the return of Don Miguel to Portugal, He did not know officially the circumstances he was about to state, and he violated no confidence in mentioning them to the House. On the 8th of October a conference was held ar Vienna, at which were present Prince Metternich, representing the Emperor of Austria, lord Cowley (at that time sir H. Wellesley), on the part of the king of England, and the count de Villa Real, representing Don Miguel. The basis of this meeting was a note read by the count Rezende, the minister of the Emperor of Brazil, appointing Don Miguel to the regency of the kingdom of Portugal. On the 12th of the same month it was announced, as the result of the proceedings of those ministers, that Don Miguel had accepted the regency, and that he had declared it to be his intention to exercise the duties of regent according to the charter, which had been given by his brother Don Pedro. Now, he would contend that this, though not in form, was in substance a treaty, and as binding on Don Miguel as if it had been carried through all the forms of such a document. Indeed, if he had not been misinformed, Don Miguel himself had, a few days after, declared in person to the Emperor, that it was his determination to maintain the charter. Soon after he wrote to his brother Don Pedro, that it was his intention to proceed to Lisbon, to take upon him the authority with which he had been invested, and to exercise it according to the provisions of the constitutional charter. On the 19th of the same month, it was announced, that he would speedily repair to Lisbon; and this fact was not only communicated officially to the Emperor of Brazils, but also to the kings of England and France, and even to the king of Spain. This, he repeated, was in effect a treaty, and the condition of it was, that on his promise to observe the charter, he should be permitted to return to Portugal. This promise was given on his part, and he was bound to fulfil it. It had been contended, that the parties to the conference had no right to exact such a condition. He denied the fact. Those powers had a perfect right. They wore interested in preserving the peace of Portugal, and the peace of Europe; and they had a right to take such steps as would best tend to promote those objects. He did not say that those courts were bound to interfere in consequence of the non-fulfilment of the conditions which were annexed to their consent, but he did contend, that their interference, if they chose to make any, would be justified by those circumstances. There was another circumstance on which he touched with great unwillingness. He alluded to the untoward correspondence of a noble individual, holding a high appointment under the Crown. It was well known, that the person to whom part of this correspondence was addressed, had represented in Lisbon, that the secret views of our government were at variance with their avowed policy, and that they were, disposed to favour the cause of the rebels. God forbid he should insinuate, either that such was the fact, or that it was the wish of the noble person in question, that it should be so understood; but there could be no doubt that the thing was so represented in Lisbon; and that the effects of that representation was highly injurious to the cause of the constitutional charter. When he considered the characters of the two men who were successively ministers at Lisbon, he could not doubt that one, if not both of them, had communicated to the government the effect produced in Lisbon by the correspondence of the high officer to whom he alluded, and the very bad use that was made of it. He could not suppose that two such men as lord Heytesbury and sir F. Lamb could have been acquainted with the effect of this correspondence, without communicating the fact to government, that such gross misrepresentation had been made of the correspondence of the noble lord, and of the views and intentions of our government. He had alluded to the fact for the purpose of impressing on the House the necessity of caution on the part of government, in abstaining from every thing which could have the appearance of partiality. The very last accounts shewed us, that the agents of the usurper had declared, that although the noble lord, to whose correspondence he had alluded, had dissuaded Don Miguel from the step he took, yet nevertheless, he as well as the British government, were secretly favorable to their plans. There was one point more to which he would allude. He would not either blame or approve of the withdrawal of the British troops from Portugal; but seeing that that circumstance had occurred at the very moment when the usurpation took place, and coupling it with the fact, that representations were at the same time circulated through the country, that some of the highest servants of the British government were, by their correspondence, countenancing the usurpation, which must have had a powerful effect in disposing the people of Portugal to watch the language of the British government with respect to the conduct of Don Miguel, it ought to have led to the exercise of the highest decree of caution in drawing up the notification. He never should have forgiven himself, if he had not stated his opinions fully on the subject; and it would afford him the greatest pleasure to have his doubts removed.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that in replying to the right hon. gentleman, he would endeavour to avoid any expression which could be construed to be inconsistent with his former declaration, that the highest disapprobation was felt by his majesty's government at the course which had been pursued by Don Miguel. He must, however, contend, that it was the policy of this country, in cases of this nature, not to seek out for exceptions to the great general principles, but to observe that course of conduct which we wished to be observed with respect to us, under similar circumstances, and that course, too, which was consistent with the doctrines which must be held as governing the practice under international law. It might be very unfortunate that certain inferences should be drawn from particular expressions. It might be, that the Portuguese multitude were so ignorant as to be liable to draw those inferences. It might be, that a correspondence had existed which had led to false expectations; but it was the duty of the English government, in determining the course they should pursue, with respect to the notification of an effective blockade, to put all such extrinsic circumstances out of view. Now, with respect to the correspondence to which the right hon. gentleman had alluded—before the notification to British merchants of the existence of the blockade, he, as the organ of the government in that House, had expressly declared, that lord Beresford, in whatever he had written, had no authority whatever to express the sentiments of any confidential adviser of the Crown. But when the right hon. gentleman put a construction upon the correspondence of lord Beresford, he begged the House to have some regard for the declaration of his lordship himself, and not to adopt the construction which was made by parties inter- ested in making it unfavorable. Lord Beresford bad not only stated in his correspondence that be was not authorized to speak the sentiments of any minister of the Crown, but had expressly abstained from giving any countenance to any attempt to overturn the constitution in Portugal. Then, as to the fear of any misconstruction of the real sentiments of the British government arising from the terms made use of in the notification of the blockade, he thought be bad distinctly declared their total disapprobation of the course pursued by Don Miguel. If the expressions of ministers were not sufficient, was not the formal suspension of the functions of our ambassador satisfactory evidence on that head? Even if the expressions were incautious, in which it had been notified to British merchants, that an effective blockade existed, could that countervail the moral force of the declarations previously made, of the disposition of the British ministry. The right hon. gentleman did not find fault with the notification of the blockade. He admitted it to be very possible, that there might have been no other course open to government; but he quarrelled with the particular expressions in which that notification was made. The right hon. gentleman had, indeed, intimated that another course would have been more agreeable to his feelings; though he doubted whether it would have been more consistent with the advice which the right hon. gentleman would have given to the Crown, if he had been called on to do so. He could not help thinking, that the course recommended by the right hon. gentleman would be much less prudent than that which had been pursued. The right hon. gentleman advised the observance of perfect neutrality; and that we should publicly notify, that we would respect the blockades of neither party, considering them to be utterly inconsistent with the rights of British merchants. That, in fact, would be a declaration of war against both parties. If the principles advanced by the right hon. gentleman were to govern the country, we should soon be involved in wars in every corner of the globe. The right hon. gentleman wished, that the term "blockade" had not been made use of; but that it had been merely intimated, that the port of Oporto had been placed under interdiction. He did not know what other term could be used to describe an effective blockade. It was the term always used, but the right hon. gentleman said that it implied the recognition of a legitimate and perfect authority [No, from sir J. Mackintosh]. He had taken down the words, and could not be mistaken. If the right hon. gentleman admitted that to be the fact, it was impossible to draw any unfavourable inference from the use of that term with respect to Oporto. There was no legitimate, recognized authority in Greece when the persons exercising the powers of government there declared Napoli di Romania to be in a state of blockade. The British government, although we had no established relations with the persons exercising the government in Greece, recognized that blockade. Sir F. Adam told the British merchants, that if they violated the blockade they could make no claim for restitution or compensation. Again, the persons exercising the powers of government in Chili in 1819, with a most inadequate force, determined on a blockade of about 500 leagues of coast. The fact was never notified to us, but arrived, he believed, through the channel of the newspapers; nevertheless, government thought it their duty, in fairness to British merchants, to notify the existence of the blockade.— They did not, however, notify that the blockade was effective, because it was admitted not to be effective. If the blockade had been confined to the port of Callao, instead of extending over five hundred leagues of the western coast of South America, it would have been respected as an effective blockade. If, then, the term which had always been used, was employed in notifying the blockade of Oporto, how could it be contended that an unfavourable use could be made of the circumstance. He was therefore warranted in saying, that there was nothing in the objection of the right hon. gentleman, with respect to the use of the term "blockade." The right hon. gentleman then said, that we ought not have stated that the blockade had been instituted by the Prince Regent of Portugal. But before the British government could resolve on disclaiming the designation usually applied to a person exercising the powers of government, it would be necessary to take into consideration a variety of circumstances. At the time when intelligence of the blockade arrived in England, the functions of our ambas- sador were suspended, it was true: but he had not then, nor up to the present moment, been withdrawn. The British Consul also remained. We had marked our disapproval of the conduct which Don Miguel had pursued, and the suspicion which we entertained of his intentions; but as yet no step had been taken by the British government, tantamount to a declaration that executive authority in Lisbon was dissolved. It was not for him to say when the period would arrive which would warrant the making of such a declaration; he would only state, that it had not been made when the intelligence was received of the blockade of Oporto. In consistency with the course which the government of this country was pursuing, they were bound to give Don Miguel the title by which alone we had recognized him; —namely, that of Prince Regent of Portugal. What remonstrances the British government had made against the course which Don Miguel was pursuing— what hopes might have been entertained of the effect which those remonstrances, combined with the almost unanimous voice of Europe, would produce on the mind of the young prince, to induce him to abandon his criminal intentions, it was unnecessary then to state; but he thought that those who viewed the subject dispassionately, would admit, that it was not for a foreign government, even with reference to those most improper acts; namely, the presentation of addresses in which Don Miguel was requested to assume the title of king—to declare that the government in Portugal was dissolved, by denying the title which had been delegated by the sovereign of that kingdom. The more prudent course was to try, in the first instance, the effect of the strong remonstrances which had been made on our part, and the combined remonstrances which had been made on the part of the other great powers, rather than to declare that all our relations were broken off; which would be tantamount to a declaration that authority was at an end in Portugal. All our ministers were still in Portugal. Our consuls were in communication with the officers of the government acting under the authority of Don Miguel, In conclusion, he denied, not only that any thing had been done by the British government which was calculated to imply the slightest approbation of the course; pursued by Don Miguel, or inconsistent with the previous declarations made by the government, of their total and unqualified disapproval of that course of conduct.

After a few words from Dr. Phillimore, the House went into the committee of Supply.