HC Deb 30 August 1831 vol 6 cc877-80
Mr. Courtenay,

in rising to move for papers relative to the late invasion of Portugal by the French, according to the notice he had given, said, that it had been intimated to him that it was intended to concede not only the first part of his motion, relating to Portugal, but also to give the papers relating to the negotiations with France upon the subject. This placed him in a situation so different from what he expected, and having had no opportunity of consulting others upon the subject, that he scarcely knew how to proceed. He thought it would be most unfair to impute to Ministers any fault when he had but an imperfect knowledge of the transaction; and under these circumstances, he thought the most consistent course to pursue would be that of moving for the papers without making any further comment, it being understood, however, that the noble Viscount (Palmerston) also was to abstain from comment, and that there was to be no unnecessary delay in the production of the papers. He was desirous of knowing if this arrangement would meet with the concurrence of the noble Lord?

Viscount Palmerston

said, that there should certainly be no unnecessary delay in laying the papers before the House He would just suggest, however, that the wording of the motion of the right hon. Gentleman did not embrace all the information which would be required upon the subject. It was confined to copies of the representations made by the English Government to that of France, relative to the invasion of Portugal, and the answers thereto; together with copies o the representations made by the English Government to that of Portugal; with the answers thereto. As this was insufficient, he should reserve to himself the right of moving for such other papers as might make up the necessary information. He should move for copies of the correspondence between the British Government and its Ambassador at Paris, and also of the correspondence between the British Government and the British Consul at Lisbon, upon the subject of the invasion of Portugal.

Mr. Courtenay

should prefer making his motion as it stood, and should be happy to receive any additional papers which the noble Lord might think necessary. The hon. Member then moved, "that an address be presented to his Majesty for copies of the representations made by his Majesty's command to the Government of Portugal, concerning the insults and injuries to which his Majesty referred in his most gracious Speech from the Throne; and of the answers received from, that Government, containing a compliance with his Majesty's demand;—and also copies or extracts of any application which his Majesty may have received from the Government of Portugal, in reference to the demands made upon that Government by the king of the French, and to the proceedings of the French squadron in the Tagus; and of the answers returned by his Majesty's command to such applications, and of any representations made to the Government of France thereupon, and of the answers to such representations."

Mr. George Robinson

said, the arrangement which had been come to between the noble Lord and the hon. Member precluded him from making the remarks which he had intended to submit to the House. He could not, however, avoid repeating the question he had put last night, and which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had declined answering. He wished to know from the noble Viscount, whether his Majesty's Government had received any information to the effect that the French Admiral, not content with receiving compensation for the injuries the French said they had suffered, had demanded that the French should be placed in their commercial intercourse with Portugal, on the same footing as the most favoured nations, and had proceeded in negotiating a treaty to that effect? There was also another point upon which he wished for information. He held in his hand a list of the names of eight Portuguese ships of war, composing the fleet, of the present government of that country, which had been forcibly abstracted from the Tagus by the French squadron. He wished to know in what light this transaction was viewed by his Majesty's Government; and, if allowed, upon what principle, for it was not denied that the French government had received ample compensation without including these ships of war? He would not then go further into the question excepting to remark, that although the Governments of this country and of France professed perfect neutrality with respect to the parties claiming the Crown of Portugal, yet surely the forcible abstraction of this fleet would give an advantage to one party. He begged not to be understood as expressing himself favourable to Don Miguel or his government; but the transaction he had noticed required explanation.

Viscount Palmerston

would answer the last question of the hon. Member first. As to the point to which that related, he could only repeat, that according to the best legal advice which the Government had been able to obtain, it appeared that, by the law of nations, the French government was entitled to consider those vessels as lawful prizes of war. He need hardly observe, therefore, that this Government had not interfered to prevent the French from retaining what were their lawful prizes. As to the first question of the hon. Member, he had to state, that by accounts which had been received from Paris and Lisbon that morning it was learnt that all the French fleet had left the Tagus, with the exception of a single frigate, which would remain for the protection of the subjects of France resident in Portugal. He had also to inform the hon. Gentleman, that it did not appear, from any information which had been received by his Majesty's Ministers, that there was the slightest ground to suppose that any commercial treaty had been entered into, or was projected, between the French and the Portuguese governments. The British Ambassador at Paris had been informed by the French Minister, that orders had been sent to the French Admiral to quit the Tagus, and when the despatch of the Consul-general at Lisbon left, it was understood that the fleet was under sail to return home.

Mr. George Robinson

said, it was a matter of public notoriety that the French Admiral had demanded such a treaty as that he had alluded to, and he was glad to understand, that the demand had not been complied with. With regard to the other point, he would only remark, that this country having forced the passage of the Tagus, the example had been followed by the French, who in addition had seized the whole of the fleet of our most ancient ally, and placed this country in a most humiliating position.

Motion agreed to.

Viscount Palmerston moved, "that an Address be presented to his Majesty for copies or extracts of communications received by his Majesty's Government from the British Ambassador at Paris, and from the Consul-general at Lisbon, relative to the English and French expeditions to the Tagus."—Agreed to.