HC Deb 19 June 1835 vol 28 cc905-17
Mr. Thomas Duncombe,

in moving according to the notice which he had given, for the production of papers relating to the Convention that had been entered into respecting the prisoners taken by either of the belligerent armies in the north of Spain, could not help observing that there was no similar instance in our Parliamentary history where foreign politics and the relations of foreign powers with this country had been so much disregarded—he might almost say totally neglected—as they had been during the present Session: therefore it was, that he was particularly anxious to call the attention of the House to the subject. He was satisfied that it would have a mischievous effect on the internal affairs of Spain, if the lips of Members of that House remained longer closed on the subject of the Convention. He lamented that he did not see in his place the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and he regretted it the more particularly, for if there was one branch of foreign policy more than another in which the noble Lord had evinced a lively interest in the establishment of freedom abroad, it was in the conduct and opinions he had manifested with regard to the Peninsula, to the distracted state of which he (Mr. Duncombe) wished to call the attention of the House. When Lord Eliot and Colonel Gurwood were sent to Spain, he put a question to the noble Lord, then Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, to ascertain whether the object of the mission was to promote or oppose Don Carlos in endeavouring to obtain the Crown of Spain? This question was asked in consequence of an observation made by the Duke of Wellington in a speech he delivered in August last year. On the occasion he alluded to, Lord Melbourne was asked respecting Colonel Caradoc being sent into the Peninsula, when that noble Lord answered, that the gallant Officer had been sent there, that the British Government might be more quickly as well as more accurately informed as to the state of affairs in that quarter. The Duke of Wellington then observed with respect to the mission of Colonel Caradoc, that it was not usual to send persons to the head-quarters of an army unless as a sort of ally, and with the intention of giving countenance to the cause. His object, then, was to know whether Lord Eliot and Colonel Gurwood went to the head-quarters of Don Carlos as a sort of ally. The noble Lord (Lord Mahon) replied, at the time he had just alluded to, that the object of the Government in sending out the two Commissioners was to put an end to the system of warfare then prevailing. He alluded to the destruction of the villages, the massacre of the inhabitants, the putting to death the soldiers taken on each side, and said that no part of the object they had in view was to support in any way the cause of Don Carlos. Now he would ask whether any mission that could be sent out was more likely to advance a cause than this was to promote the success of the usurpation of Don Carlos. He wished the House to bear in mind the relations this country bore to Spain and Portugal and France in August last, when the treaty had been entered into which was known by the name of the Quadripartite Treaty. In this treaty Spain and Portugal mutually engaged to assist each other in expelling the persons who attempted to usurp the thrones of those countries from Spain and Portugal, and England and France were contracting parties to this treaty. France engaged to co-operate in any manner that the other three Allied Powers agreed, to promote the objects of the Treaty, and bound herself that no arms, ammunition, or armed men should depart from that country for the service or to promote the cause of the Pretender to the throne of Spain; and England engaged to co-operate with a naval force and to afford assistance by arms or ammunition to the legitimate sovereign of the Peninsula. This had been designated an abominable treaty in another place, he supposed because if it had been carried properly into effect that it must have put an end to Don Carlos's progress in Spain. Notwithstanding this treaty it appeared that British Commissioners had been sent to Don Carlos under a plea of humanity, although he had been proclaimed a traitor in Spain, and had been virtually acknowledged to be so by both England and France. The convention which had been entered into with him could have no other result than to give a more permanent form to that person's authority than otherwise would have been the case, and to continue that waste of human life and those acts of treachery and cruelty which the parties who promoted it con- tended they entered into with a wish to stop. With both Colonel Gurwood and Lord Eliot he had been many years acquainted, and for both of them he entertained the highest feelings of respect. He believed that a more amiable man in private life than Lord Eliot did not exist, or a more upright man in public life; but he only complained of them now as agents of a Government whose system of foreign policy he was opposed to. He found, by the public papers, that the Convention was to place the soldiers of the usurper, or rather these traitors to their country, on the same footing as the soldiers of the Queen. The object of those persons who were to be protected was to subvert a Government which this country, by a solemn treaty, had declared to be legitimate. One of the articles of this Convention stated, that "during the present contest no person whatever should be deprived of life on account of political opinions, without being judged and condemned previously according to the laws, decrees and ordinances existing in Spain." He should like to know how this agreement could operate, unless to give force to the decrees and ordinances of Don Carlos. That person contended that, as an absolute monarch, whatever he made a decree became a law of the land. He should like also to know what difference there would be in the treatment of the Spanish soldiers or the British volunteers, in any decree made by the person he alluded to. In his opinion, there never had been anything more monstrous than this part of the Convention, for it conferred power on men in a country where, by their conduct, they had divested themselves of all the rights they had previously possessed. He had an authority, which he would quote, which authorised him in saying that Don Carlos had put himself out of the protection of the law of all nations. The authority he alluded to was Vattel, who said that those who took arms with traitors might be charged, and were responsible, for all the horrors of the war, and for the outrages and crimes committed in it. In this, case, however, the rights of loyal soldiers were put on exactly the same footing as rebels; and yet they were told that the Convention had only been entered into from a feeling of humanity. He should like to know where was this humanity the late Government was so anxious to display, when they suffered. Poland to be devastated, and that brave people to be removed into distant and barbarous countries? What would the Autocrat of Russia have said, if we had sent to him Commissioners, to say that no Poles should be punished until they had been tried and condemned by the Polish laws? There was another occasion in Spain, when it might have been thought that humanity would have dictated interference; he meant when Torrijos and his companions had been murdered at Malaga. They never heard of interference dictated by humanity in such cases as these, because the cruelties were perpetrated by despots. The late Ministers made no attempt to put a stop to the outrages on one side, but they determined to prevent the extreme punishment being inflicted on those who had carried civil war into the country. This was not the only form in which liberty had been injured by the late Convention. They had had an intimation of what had taken place in a conversation between Louis Philippe and the British Commissioners, a conversation most complimentary and encouraging to Don Carlos and his party, and injurious to the cause of the Queen. He trusted that he should have that conversation explained at least, for he knew that it could not be denied. If this was not explained satisfactorily, he should like to know how they could place any reliance on the Commissioners. He knew that arms and ammunition had been sent from this country to Don Carlos, and nobody could doubt that the Neapolitan Court sided with that person. Was not the promotion of the liberties of the Peninsula a fit subject for British talent? Spain now looked to England alone, as she had repeatedly done before, to protect her independence. Her liberties now trembled in the balance; and he believed, that if the House of Commons would speak out, and would repudiate the terms of the Convention, that it was not too late. He would not trouble the House at greater length, but would conclude with observing, that he did not wish to ask for any papers that would affect any negotiation in progress, but only for such information as would throw a light on the subject of the negotiations. He concluded by moving that an Address be presented to his Majesty, praying that he would order to be laid before the House a Copy of the Instructions sent to Lord Eliot and Colonel Gurwood upon their late mission to Spain, together with Copies of all Reports and Communications made to the British Government by those Commissioners; and also for a Copy of any Convention for the exchange of prisoners proposed by Lord Eliot, and signed by the Commander-in-Chief of the armies in the provinces of Guipuscoa, Alava, Biscay, and the kingdom of Navarre.

Lord John Russell

said that, in the first place, he had to apologise for the absence of his noble Friend, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He would have been present, had it not been that he had been required to attend his Majesty at Windsor. With regard to the Motion of his hon. Friend, he begged to state that he had seen the Convention that had been entered into by Lord Eliot and Colonel Gurwood between the commanders of the contending armies in the Biscayan provinces, and his Majesty's Government would have no objection to lay it before the House. With respect to the instructions given to Colonel Gurwood, he begged to observe that he did not believe that there was any instance of any instructions having been made public; and he doubted whether it would not be found extremely inconvenient to lay instructions of this nature before Parliament. With respect to the second part of the Motion, that all the reports and communications of Lord Eliot and Colonel Gurwood should be laid before the House, he must say that such a course was most unusual, and it would not be for the convenience of his Majesty's service, or for the promotion of the public good, to lay the papers before Parliament. His hon. Friend was aware that the contest going on in Spain had been carried on with great fierceness on both sides, and a Convention had been entered into between the two parties, through the intervention of the Commissioners, to diminish the shedding of human blood. He did not think that it would be proper to lay before the House any portion of the documents, until they could be wholly laid on the Table. With respect to the general argument of his hon. Friend, he would only say, that the object of sending the Commissioners out was to put a stop to the useless bloodshed going on in Spain, and to the manner in which the war was carried on in Spain. From the papers he had seen in the Foreign-office, the Duke of Wellington seemed to have carried into effect most fairly and strictly the provisions of the treaty signed last year by the Four Powers; therefore he did not agree with his hon. Friend in the charge he had brought against the late Government of not having acted with good faith with respect to that treaty.

Dr. Bowring

said, he would be the last person in the House to urge the production of papers in any case in which their being furnished would be likely to embarrass the Members of the Government. He felt bound to add, however, that it was with great gratification that he saw this subject introduced to the notice of the House. The people of Spain were looking, with great anxiety, to what was the feeling of this country with respect to the great struggle in which they were engaged. In that country existed all the elements necessary to the establishment of their future liberty; the slightest expression of sympathy on the part of England would insure their complete developement. No one who had not visited Spain could judge of the degree of affection which was there felt towards this country, or of the extent to which she relied on us for countenance and encouragement; no one who had not visited Spain could know how completely our interests were associated with hers, or how intimately were connected with her success, in her present struggle, the cause of Reform in this country, and of general freedom. If there was any deficiency of sympathy in this country with the cause of good government in Spain, it might be referred to the fact that the Spanish government had not rendered justice to the Spanish people. Don Carlos, in the North, bad associated himself with certain popular feelings; and the existing government of Spain had experienced much difficulty, because it had not, by liberal measures, sufficiently identified itself with the interests of the people. The name of Don Carlos had been associated by the people with ancient and popular institutions, and the government of the Queen had perilled its cause from a want of liberality. It had not found a response to its call in the hearts of the people; it had not even courted an alliance with them; it had shackled the press, and instead of acting on principles of freedom and liberality, had adopted the maxims of arbitrary power. If the Spanish government acted as it ought, there was no danger for the cause. No country in the world was better calculated for popular institutions; and the time might arrive when Spain would be as great as at those periods of her history with which everything exalted was associated. It could not be too often repeated that there was no country in which more of the elements of freedom existed than in Spain. He hoped, therefore, that its government would associate itself with the recollections of ancient greatness, and establish a system of constitutional freedom on a sound and enduring basis.

Viscount Mahon

concurred with the noble Lord in regretting the absence of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Foreign Department, because, though that noble Lord was, of course, bound to obey the summons of his Majesty, yet it would have been much more satisfactory to have heard from the noble Lord himself, who, from the office he held, must be much more conversant with them, a statement of some of the details connected with this subject. He only expressed his personal feelings when he declared his regret that the noble Lord opposite thought it his duty to refuse the papers for which the hon. Member for Finsbury moved; but the noble Lord having said, that not to refuse the papers would be to establish a bad precedent, and to take a course which would be inconvenient to the public service, he considered himself bound to yield his assent to the noble Lord's objection. He begged to inform the House, however, that he was authorized by the Duke of Wellington to state that, as far as his, the noble Duke's, feelings and wishes were concerned, he was not only willing, but desirous that his instructions to Lord Eliot, his dispatches to Lord Eliot, and also that the previous correspondence from Madrid—indeed, that everything which could bear on the present Question should be produced. He was, at the same time, authorized by the Duke of Wellington to state, that he did not in the least wish to press on his Majesty's Government to produce papers that they thought ought, under the circumstances, to be withheld; but the noble Duke was persuaded that the more closely this question was examined in all its bearings, the more it would be seen how completely unfounded were the attacks which had been made on his Administration. He confessed he had witnessed, with great surprise, the attacks on the Duke of Wellington in connexion with this subject; and he alluded not merely to those of this evening, but also to others out of this House. If ever there was a transaction which he should have thought was beyond the reach of party spirit—which was founded on no principles but those of justice and humanity—which was stained by no motive mean or sordid—he should say, it was that convention which the Duke of Wellington so judiciously framed, and which Lord Eliot so ably and judiciously executed. He trusted he might be allowed to add that, in his opinion, and, if he were not misinformed, also in the opinion of his Majesty's Government, Lord Eliot had done himself great credit by the skill, judgment, and temper with which he had conducted that difficult negotiation. He hoped the country would, at some future time, derive the great advantages of Lord Eliot being employed in some still more difficult and important mission. To return to the Convention: he really could scarcely believe that the hon. Member for Finsbury could be aware of the system of barbarity which previously existed. In Navarre the prisoners on both sides were, on being taken, cruelly treated, and a few hours afterwards killed. If the hon. Member had been more fully informed on these points, he would surely not have indulged in the observations he made, he would surely not have disapproved of a transaction which tended to put an end to such a system. He was persuaded that the hon. Member would have taken a very different view of the subject, if he could only have witnessed that which the letters of Lord Eliot and Colonel Gurwood described. They stated, that on the very evening when Lord Eliot reached the head-quarters of Zumala-carreguy there were twelve or fifteen prisoners that had been taken in the course of the day, and were ordered to be shot the next morning; but Lord Eliot interceded to save them, and Zumalacarreguy acceded to his request. When the prisoners were informed that they owed their lives to Lord Eliot's humanity, they naturally expressed the greatest joy and the deepest gratitude to their deliverer. If such facts as these had come to the knowledge of the hon. Member for Finsbury, and to the House generally, he was confident that a very different feeling must prevail. He thought the question one in which all civilized nations were interested. Not only ought nations to be bound together by the common feelings of civilization and humanity, but as they were all exposed to the chance of civil war, it was to their interest to pre- vent a precedent being set for a most rancorous and exterminating animosity being indulged in. But the hon. Member for Finsbury stated that this Convention was unfavourable to the established Government of Spain. So far from that being the case he could assert that the mission was undertaken with the full concurrence of General Alava; the Convention was submitted to him before Lord Eliot's departure, and he most completely concurred in it. He would refer, also, to a declaration made by Martinez de la Rosa, a statesman whose talents and public character were, as they ought to be universally respected. In answer to an attack made in the Chamber, of Procuradores by Signior Galiano, that eminent statesman took the opportunity of defending every point of the Convention as favourable to the Queen's interest, and to the Queen's Government. Martinez de la Rosa not content however with that, went on to bear testimony to the conduct of the late Administration in a manner so gratifying to his feelings that he trusted the House would allow him to bring it to their recollection. The Minister to whom he was adverting stated with reference to the Duke of Wellington and his right hon. Friend, the Member for Tamworth that "He must say all their official conduct towards Spain had been marked by a strict and honourable fulfilment of the treaties, and every act of theirs bespoke a wish to befriend the Queen's Government." This was after the Duke of Wellington and his right hon. Friend had resigned office, so that there could not have existed any political interest to prompt the gratifying testimony borne. He would also beg leave to refer the hon. Gentleman to a letter he perhaps had seen in the public papers from General Cordova, and which appeared in the Spanish papers on the 19th of last month. That General, who was second in command in the army of the Queen of Spain, entered, in that letter, into a defence of every article of the treaty. The letter stated that the lives of not less than five hundred of the Queen's soldiers, and one hundred of the urban-guards, had been saved in consequence of the Convention. Perhaps, however, the hon. Gentleman would say, "Yes, but much greater advantages were derived from the Convention, by the Carlists; how many of them were saved?" His reply would be—not one. General Cordova stated that not one of Don Carlos's army received any advantage from the Convention. Now, unless the hon. Member for Finsbury thought he better understood the interest of the Queen of Spain than the Queen's Prime Minister, or than the Queen's own General, or than the Queen's own Minister in London—unless the hon. Gentleman thought this, it really did appear to him that he had given such testimony as must change the opinion of the hon. Gentleman on this subject. In the Convention as at first proposed, the Queen's General suggested several alterations, which were agreed to. He would also add to the list of facts he had furnished, that after the Convention was proposed and signed by Lord Eliot and General Zumalacarreguy, at that time it being considered only a stipulation, the Queen attached great importtance to its being converted into a Convention, so that the Convention was as much the act of the Queen of Spain's Government as it was that of the late Administration. He would take this opportunity of adverting to a notice he had thought right to give of a Motion relating to the recent Order in Council; he had no wish to interfere inconveniently with the business conducted by the Government, but he thought the House would feel that if the subject was to be discussed at all, there ought not to be much, delay in bringing it forward. When that Motion came before the House he could enter more fully into matters respecting Spain, than he should feel himself justified in doing on the present occasion. He believed, however it would be found that the Convention concluded by Lord Eliot would be honourable to the English Government, beneficial to the Government of Spain, and worthy the high character this country had always borne, and which he trusted it would always be the wish of this House to adhere to and maintain.

Mr. Cressett Pelham

was understood to argue against the principle of interference in the civil wars of neighbouring States, and the danger of establishing a precedent for foreign interference in England. What, he would ask, would Oliver Cromwell have said if Louis 14th had claimed a right to interfere to protect the Royalist prisoners taken during the wars of the Commonwealth, when England was struggling for liberty? As he had mentioned the name of Cromwell he must do him the justice to say, that he had humanely interposed to protect the French Protestants who had been driven from their country. He must own that this Convention appeared to be undertaken in a spirit of humanity which claimed the approbation of all enlightened men. In his opinion, the late Administration had wisely interfered for the promotion of humanity without running the risk of incurring expense or provoking further contest.

Colonel Evans

could not see the necessity which existed for the present Motion. The Members of the late Government did not think it necessary to call for the production of any papers to vindicate their characters respecting the objects they had in view in the formation of the Convention. Neither did the present Ministry attempt to arraign those motives, or to cast any blame on the conduct of the Commissioners who executed it. On the contrary, they had given their predecessors unqualified praise for this portion of their foreign policy. There was, therefore, a perfect coincidence of opinion on this subject between the parties in England whose characters and interests might be chiefly affected by it. For my own part (said the gallant Colonel) I at first felt somewhat uncertain what had been the effect of this measure in Spain, and made anxious and particular inquiries with respect to its operation on the parties whose conduct it was intended to influence. I have now, however, great pleasure in stating that, from all which I can learn, the conduct of the noble Duke throughout the negotiation has been marked by an entire fidelity to existing treaties—to the honour of England and the obligations she had entered into relative to the recognition of constitutional liberty abroad. I now feel convinced that he has pursued a sound and faithful as well as benevolent policy in his late measures adopted towards Spain. If there has been anything that can fairly be complained of in connexion with any part of the transaction, it is the subsequent indiscretion of a gallant acquaintance of mine, (Colonel Gurwood) relative to a reported conversation with an illustrious individual abroad (the King of the French) as stated in the newspapers. I have little doubt that the opinions and sentiments attributed to these individuals are much distorted in the statement which appeared; but, however that may be, no blame attaches either to the noble Duke for the spirit in which he originated the Convention, or to the Commissioners for the manner in which they carried it into operation. On the contrary, the conduct of both is the just theme of approbation amongst those whose opportunities of observing its effects on the spot entitle them to every confidence.

An Hon. Member

congratulated the House that the Question had been brought forward, as it had elicited so much to be approved of in the conduct of those who had the management of the humane negotiation as well as the honour of England in their hands. He was inclined to give credit to Lord John Russell for his motives in withholding the papers referred to at this crisis. It was highly gratifying to find the successors of those who had filled the most important trusts coming forward to vouch for the integrity, honour, and regard to public faith which their predecessors had evinced in the discharge of their duties. Indeed, it was a subject of just congratulation to Englishmen, that notwithstanding the frequent changes which had lately taken place in the Government of this country which tended to give to foreign countries an impression of the instability of our country, but one feeling prevailed as to the execution of the treaties which had been entered into. The British Government might be prevented from any direct interference with the state of Spain, but he thought it advisable that on every occasion the subject should be brought under the attention of the British public, and that every possible opportunity ought to be taken to express a sentiment which might strengthen the relations of amity that subsisted between the two parties.

Mr. O'Connell

said, after the satisfactory statement of the noble Lord he would suggest to the hon. Member for Finsbury that the right course would be for him to withdraw his Motion. The House must be perfectly satisfied with what this Convention had effected. It was delightful to understand that the first result of this stipulation, or Convention, or whatever it was, was the saving of human life. It appeared that the Queen's ministers and generals were satisfied with the Convention; therefore he did not see why any one in this country should quarrel with it. He would once more express his hope that his hon. Friend would not persevere with his Motion.

Mr. Thomas Duncombe

would leave his Motion entirely in the hands of the noble Lord, trusting that he would furnish as much information as he conveniently could.

Motion withdrawn.