HC Deb 03 June 1834 vol 24 cc139-42
Lord Dudley Stuart

called the attention of the House to the distressed condition of the Polish Refugees in tins country. The noble Lord briefly described the events which had recently occurred in Poland, and winch had terminated in the overthrow of liberty, amid the establishment of the cruel despotism of Russia in that ill-fated country, and expressed a hope, that the House would not turn a deaf ear to the claims of the brave men who had sacrificed everything but honour in the struggle for freedom. It was well known, that a remnant of the gallant Polish army, escaped from the slaughter of which so many thousand of their compatriots were the victims, had sought an asylum on the shores of happy England, where they knew that they had a right to expect to be received with hospitality. When he reflected upon what England had in former times done to assist the oppressed of other countries, he could not suppose the House of Commons would neglect the unhappy Poles, who had greater claims upon our sympathy than any of the former objects of the national generosity. The House had formerly voted large sums for the relief of distressed foreigners, almost without remark. Since the commencement of the present century, no less a sum than 3,000,000l. had been voted for objects of that kind, and much of the expenditure continued up to the present day. Even during this Session, money had been voted for refugees who stood in the same situation as those whose cause he humbly pleaded. What claim had the French refugees, clergy and laity, upon our benevolence, which the Poles did not possess? Having shown our liberality to the distressed of all other nations, would it not be shameful now to begin to hold our hands in the case of the Poles—a nation whose claim to the admiration and gratitude of Europe was universally allowed? Much eloquence had, at various periods, been employed in the British Parliament, to show the necessity for Poland being an independent nation; ought we, then, to allow the men who had gallantly stood forward in the bloody struggle to achieve their national independence to perish on our shores? He had, through his Majesty's Ministers, obtained the formal consent of the Crown, which was necessary in order to enable him to bring forward the Motion with which he meant to conclude, and he hoped, that it would not be opposed by the Government. England was almost the only country in Europe in which a portion of the public money had not been applied to the relief of the Polish refugees. Even in despotic Austria relief had been extended to them by the state, and France had distinguished herself by the generosity of her conduct towards the unfortunate exiles; the Chamber of Deputies having voted no less than 3,000,000 of francs (a sum equivalent to about 140,000l.) for their support. The sum which he was about to ask for, would be insignificant when compared with that given by the French, and could not be objected to on the score of economy, for it would not be felt by any one in the nation. The money which he asked for would not be sent out of the country, as had been the case with other parliamentary grants, and so far this was an argument in favour of Ids proposition. On a former occasion the House had cheerfully voted 200,000l. to be sent to sufferers in Russia, and I00,000l. to sufferers in Germany. There was no ground upon which it appeared to him his Motion could be resisted, except, perhaps, the fear of giving offence to the Russian government; but he would not for a moment believe that Ministers could be actuated by such a base motive. The noble Lord drew an affecting picture of the distressed situation of the Polish refugees in the metropolis, and read a letter addressed to him by a distinguished Pole, in which the writer said, that his countrymen looked forward to his Motion as their last hope. He did not ask the country to make any great sacrifice; in fact, he was quite willing that the grant should be restricted to those who were at present in this country, and that all future claimants should be held excluded from the benefit of it. The noble Lord concluded, by moving, "that the House resolve into Committee to consider the propriety of an humble address being presented to his Majesty, praying that his Majesty would be graciously pleased to direct that some pecuniary assistance be afforded to the distressed Poles at present in this country, and to assure his Majesty that the House would make good the same."

Mr. Buckingham seconded the Motion.

Lord Althorp

said, he very much feared considerable inconvenience might arise from a general grant, as it would invite an indefinite influx of Poles into this country, and, therefore, he was pleased to find that his noble friend had consented to confine the grant to those who were at present in the country. With respect to the Polish emigrants, it was undoubtedly true, that they were now suffering extreme distress. The causes which had led to that suffering were certainly such as to excite very general and deep commiseration; but the distress itself, even apart from those causes, was quite sufficient to account for the very generous sympathy which had been so extensively felt on their account. In these circumstances, feeling that private subscriptions were the proper means by which the objects of charities of this sort ought to he accomplished, but apprehensive that the funds thus derived were nearly, if not entirely, exhausted, his Majesty's Government had come to the determination not to oppose the Motion of the noble Lord, on the understanding, that those who pro- moted the grant would concur in limiting it to those Poles who were now in this country.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

was heartily grateful to his Majesty's Ministers for their assent to this Motion. He must, also, cordially express his approbation of the restrictions imposed by Government, as well as gratitude for the liberal and generous spirit which had induced the Ministers to accede to the request of his noble friend.

The Motion was agreed to; and it was ordered, that the House should, on the following day, resolve itself into the said Committee.