HC Deb 19 June 1833 vol 18 cc997-1001

Mr. Parker moved the Order of the Day for the resumption of the Debate on the claims of English subjects on the Danish Government.

Mr. Grote

said, that he had some time ago presented a petition upon the same subject from claimants in the City of London. He thought that a clearer case had never been established than by the petitioners. The claims arose from the confiscation and sequestration of the property and book-debts of British merchants by the Danish government, which sequestration was resorted to in consequence of a prior act of seizure of Danish property in British ports by the British Government. Immediately afterwards, the British merchants made a representation of their case to the British Government, and were told that their claims should be duly considered in the event of a treaty of peace being concluded. In 1814, however, when that treaty was made, so far from those claims being provided for, it actually legalized the confiscations of the property by the Danish government. The British Government had declared, that the original sentence of confiscation was wholly at variance with the law of nations, and had urged in 1809 as a reason for not then pressing on the Danish government the necessity of paying the claimants, that the treaty of peace had not been concluded; and yet when that treaty was signed, not a word was inserted even to recognise the claims. He thought the case one of great injustice. Up to this horn the claims had been suffered by successive governments to remain untried and unattended to. When he referred to what had been said by Mr. Goulburn in the year 1828, he thought the country had every reason to complain of the neglect and delay that had taken place. He must, in conclusion, express his regret that no one of his Majesty's Ministers was present to signify to the petitioners the intentions of the Government.

Lord Morpeth

added his testimony to the reality and justice of the claim. He thought, however, that in the present state of the finances of the country, when the House considered the great claims that had been made upon it during the present Session, and the splendid exertions about to be made in the cause of benevolence and justice, the present Session was not a suitable time to press upon the Government any claim, however well founded. He joined in the regret expressed by the hon. member, for London that no member of the Government was present, and hoped that the intimations which had been made to them from so many quarters, backed by the speeches of so many Members of that House, would induce them to take the claim into their serious consideration before the expiration of another Session.

Colonel Leith Hay

believed, that there never was a case brought before the House in which the merchants of this country had been treated with greater injustice than in the case of the petitioners. In his opinion, although the present Government was not identified with the transactions that occasioned the claims of the petitioners, it was their imperative duty specifically to perform the terms of the contract which had been entered into. There never was a class of his Majesty's subjects who had been treated in a more unworthy manner for the last twenty-five years, than the petitioners.

Mr. Mark Philips,

as a commercial man, felt called upon to support the prayer of the petition. When he looked to the fact, that 1,200,000l. had been received as droits, and when he recollected the small amount of those claims, he could not help thinking that they ought to have been settled long ago. In his opinion the petitioners had been most grossly ill-treated; and if no previous Administration had thought the subject worthy of consideration, he hoped the present would, not taking into consideration the statute of limitations.

Mr. Warburton

said, that no lapse of time would justify Ministers in not granting to the petitioners that justice to which they were so deservedly entitled. At the end of the French war the emigrants from France obtained a compensation for their confiscated property, and surely the settled Government of England could not be less just than the Government of France. The Government had then more than ample funds in their hands for this purpose, and he thought if the debts of branches of the Royal Family were paid out of it, the petitioners' case was deservedly entitled to the consideration of his Majesty's Government.

Mr. Strickland

was old enough to recollect the circumstances which gave rise to this claim, and that on that occasion what was called the law of nations was stretched too far. it was considered by the Danish Government to have been an not of enormity; and he considered that the British Government, after having received 1,200,000l. by the confiscation of Danish property, was bound to see, that no act of injustice was committed, in consequence of that confiscation, on British merchants. Government was simply called upon to pay about a tenth of what had been received; and he thought the moral maxim was as applicable to nations as to individuals, that, "Honesty is the best policy."

Mr. Cobbett

protested against the principle of the people of this country, or of any other, being called upon to make good the losses of merchants, whether arising from a state of war or otherwise. If, as had been stated, the money received from the sale of the Danish property went to the members of a certain family as droits of the Admiralty, he (Mr. Cobbett) would say, that such members of the Royal Family as had received the money should be called upon to refund it. He protested against any portion of it coming out of the hands of the people of this country.

Mr. Tennyson

had understood, that in consequence of a long negotiation on the subject between the British and Danish Governments, the former became bound to indemnify the present claimants. The British Government was therefore called upon to satisfy those claims upon every principle of justice; and when the question came regularly before the House, he should feel himself called upon to vote for the liquidation of these long out-standing debts. He thought, however, that this discussion would be entirely useless unless his hon. friend, the member for the city of London, gave notice that he would move for a Select Committee, or bring forward some precise Motion on the subject, which had now been hanging over for several years. Public justice required that some inquiry into the subject should take place; and he was sure his Majesty's Government would give every opportunity for such a discussion.

Mr. Pryme

hoped the hon. member for the city of London would bring forward some specific Motion on the subject.

Mr. Marshall

said, it appeared to him this was not merely a case of great hardship, but of gross injustice; and he had yet to learn that any government could deny that these claims were just. He had heard no one as yet state that they were otherwise than just and if that were so, he felt confident such claims being just, the House would see that they were amply satisfied. The country, whatever may have been the way in which the droits of the Admiralty had been distributed, had appropriated the money by Act of Parliament. The country was in possession of the fund out of which these claims ought to be satisfied, and he hoped that some hon. Gentleman would, in the early part of the next Session, bring forward the question whether, aye or no, these claims were to be paid.

Mr. Denison

thought these claims were just against the Government, against the country, and against the Parliament; and it was but an act of justice that they should be speedily satisfied.

Mr. Parker

intimated that if Government did not, during the recess, take some step in this matter, it would be brought before Parliament in a substantive and specific form next Session. There were assets, out of which the money ought to have been paid—it was no fault of the petitioners that it had not been—and if something more decisive were not done, the subject must be renewed in that House.