HC Deb 17 March 1837 vol 37 cc656-61

The House went into Committee of supply.

Mr. C. Wood

then moved, that 33,700 seamen and marines should be ordered for the service of the ensuing year.

Mr. Hume

said, he should like to have some indication of the necessity that existed for so large a force. He wished also to know, why it had been thought necessary to send six ships of the line to Portugal.

Mr. C. Wood

said, that with regard to the ships sent to Portugal, they were sent there in the fear that disturbances might occur affecting the property and perhaps the lives of British subjects, and, if necessary, to protect the embarkation of the Queen of that country. They were especially instructed not to interfere politically, and he believed the circumstance had had a great effect in preventing the effusion of blood. With respect to the necessity that existed for so large a force, he would only observe that other maritime powers were maintaining a large force, and he agreed with the hon. Member for Bath that the best way of preserving peace was to be prepared for war.

Captain Boldero

wished to know under what head the marines who were serving in Spain were included—whether among those in service on land, or afloat. When he had voted the number of marines last year he little thought they would have been engaged as they had been.

Mr. Wood

replied, that both were included under the same head.

Mr. Maclean

said, if they did not serve in or near their vessels,—if they were carried into the interior of the country, as now in Spain—if, in fact, they acted not as marines but as infantry, he should like to know if the widows of officers who might be killed would be entitled to pensions. With regard to Portugal, was it for the purpose of protecting British lives and property, and securing the embarkation of the Queen, that the marines were landed, or was it not rather with the intention of supporting a political party?

Mr. C. Wood

said, he had before stated what the real object was of sending the six British ships up the Tagus, and of landing the marines. Whatever the hon. Member might have read to the contrary in some journals the object was as he stated it, and the force had strict orders not to interfere. They were landed only to protect the embarkation of the Queen, if it should be found necessary.

Mr. Buller

said, however the case might be with respect to the marines landed in Portugal, those marines in other places killed people without going to war. He did not wish to see their maritime force reduced now, but that force ought not to be a mere sinecure. It would seem as if the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) preferred settling the differences of the country rather by lawyers and ambassadors than by a navy. He recollected that when the present Ministers sat upon the other side of the House they were very stringent upon the employment of a force of 10,000 men in Portugal to protect the Government of that period. That pretence was laughed at by the present Ministers. In the present case there was a conspiracy, the Queen herself being the chief conspirator, and 600 British marines were landed to protect her. The case was about the same as if a French squadron came up the Thames, and a force of French marines was landed, while the King was proceeding to seize upon the opposition Members in that House. He was glad to see, however, that the noble Lord, however slow and inactive he might appear as regarded great and powerful States, had at last begun to vindicate the honour of the country vigorously as regarded New Grenada—and that already three sacks of flour had been seized in the port of Carthagena. When a weak State offended, then the majesty of the British empire was put forth, but when a powerful State gave cause for quarrel the noble Lord, had recourse to lawyers and negotiation.

Viscount Palmerston

said, that few words were necessary in answer to so good-humoured and jocose a speech as that of the hon. and learned Gentleman's. He spoke not only as a senator, but in his professional character. He could assure him that impartial justice was exercised equally towards small as great states. After the force of 1828 was landed in Portugal a despotic Government was established. Was that an attempt made here? The marines upon the late occasion remained upon the water's edge, and when asked to go forward, the Admiral and the British Minister refused. They said no. We will not interfere. Settle your differences yourselves.

Mr. Hume

insisted that the marines were landed to protect the Queen in case she could not succeed in overthrowing a popular Government, with the assurance that if she failed she should be protected. What did the people of Lisbon think of their conduct? Why it was ridiculed every night on the stage, in a piece in which Admiral Gage, Lord Howard de Walden—and the British marines, were represented running away, and the Portuguese thrusting them out. This was never the case before. The very landing of the marines was an interference. They had no right to protect any traitor. If a King or Queen became traitors to the people let them take the punishment they deserved.

Mr. Warburton

concurred in the opinion of his hon. Friend that the landing of the marines was an interference. In India they had an agent at the tributary Courts to guide the operations of the Government, and to support it by a promise of military aid if necessary. Was not this interference; for, in fact, the fear of losing his life was the only protection the people had against a despot? He hoped another case like the late one in Portugal would not occur again.

Mr. Borthwick

said, he had heard with as much delight the sentiments of the hon. Gentleman who spoke last as he did with surprise the answer of the noble Lord (Palmerston) to the speech of the Member for Liskeard, who spoke as he ever did, with good sense. For his part it mattered little to him, if the honour of the country and justice towards their allies were supported, whether that object was effected by their navy, or by lawyers and ambassadors. If the marines were not permitted to act in Portugal, why were they allowed to act in Spain? In both cases it might perhaps be non-political interference; but what were they to say to General Evans, who spoke of himself as representing the sentiments of the people of Westminster? What description of interference was this? What interference called upon the people of England to pay 500,000l. to support the cause of the Queen? Was it not the object to give stability to the cause of the Queen, and to propagate certain political principles against the wishes of the people? He did not use unguarded words here. He spoke the language of Colonel Evans himself, who, in his letter to the electors of Westminster, said that, though he was not fighting the battle of liberal institutions at St. Stephen's, he was fighting it in Spain. What were those opinions, and what was the humanising philosophy he was spreading over Spain? Was that a liberal interference which stopped the mouths of the people, which permitted them no choice, and said, "We will sooner cut your throats than permit you to think for yourselves." The noble Lord (Palmerston) expressed his confidence last Session that the cause of Queen Isabella would be ultimately successful, and justified the Quadruple Treaty. He fully admitted that the spirit of the Quadruple Treaty ought to be adhered to, but still he was at liberty to question the wisdom and justice of entering into it. [Oh! Oh!] He should expect to hear more grave reasons advanced in support of the treaty than mere exclamations. If this treaty was put in force against one section of the Queen's subjects why not against another? If Don Carlos was a pretender, what were they who compelled the Queen to relinquish the Estatuto Real? What he (Mr. Borthwick) found fault with the present Government for was, not that they had done too much, but that they had not done enough in support of the Queen of Spain. What they had done had signally failed—for they had permitted her subjects to take from her, and by force, the Constitution she had sworn to support, and by which she sat on the throne. He objected that his Majesty's Ministers should require the people of England to vote a sum of money for the purpose of supporting a system which was not only opposed to the national interest and policy but which would be ultimately more prejudicial to Europe at large, and perhaps lead to more disastrous consequences than the state of things which produced the late war. He believed the consequence would be that the result of sanctioning such institutions as were now rife in Spain would be, either a state of anarchy or the establishment of military despotism in every country in Europe. He could not, however, take the sense of the House upon a vote which it would be inconsistent with the satisfactory operation of the public business to interrupt. All he would say was, let the army and navy be kept in an efficient state, but never let them appear under such circumstances and in such a form as could not fairly and reasonably be defended.

Sir Henry Hardinge

agreed in many parts of the speech of the hon. Member for Evesham, but thought that upon the whole, considering the present stale of Europe, the vote was necessary. If the country entered into a treaty, they were bound to adhere to it; but he certainly objected to the manner in which the marines were employed in Spain at present. But what he had risen for was to protest against the sentiments uttered by the hon. Member for Bridport. When that hon. Gentleman said, they ought not to interfere to save the life of a Sovereign when in danger, he would say, that that was a sentiment which (with all deference, and without any discourteous intention to the hon. Gentleman) involved what he could not but designate a ferocious principle—and he thought the only reasonable excuse that the Government offered for landing the troops on the occasion referred to was, that they thought it absolutely necessary for the protection and safety of the Queen. If such was their reason, they were fully justified; but if those troops had been landed in support of such democratic principles as those laid down by the hon. Member for Bridport the conduct of those at whose orders they were landed ought to be denounced in the strongest possible terms. He thought the noble Lord opposite ought really to rise, and fully satisfy the House upon the subject.

Viscount Palmerston

said, he was called on to repeat what he had said more than once. It was distinctly one of the orders of the admiral who commanded the British fleet in the Tagus to afford the necessary protection to the Queen in case of danger. He was instructed to place himself in communication on the subject with his Majesty's minister on shore, who was more likely to be well-informed of the course of events: and it was to protect the person of the Queen from danger, which was considered imminent, that the troops were landed. They retired, however, the moment the danger ceased, much to the disappointment, he believed, of one party, who thought, that because they had landed they were about to interfere in the political question; but the moment the danger ceased they re-embarked, and left the two parties to decide their quarrel.

Mr. Hume

begged to ask, whether any arrangements were made with the French court to co-operate against the liberties of Portugal? He wished to know whether the reports circulated in France were correct, which stated that there was an understanding between the French Government and the British minister, that they were ready to aid the Queen and her party in their conspiracy against the constitution which the Queen had sworn to defend. Did the hon. Gentlemen opposite mean to contend, that there was a distinction to be drawn between sovereigns and subjects as regarded a violation of the law—that if one were to be executed for treason, the other was to be allowed to escape.

Viscount Palmerston

said, it was no part of the Instructions, nor was it the intention with which the English fleet was sent to Lisbon, nor did he believe it was any part of the instructions to the French fleet, to co-operate to overturn the constitution in Portugal; and the best proof that the case was as he had stated, was afforded by the fact, that though the forces were certainly strong enough to exercise a decided influence on this question, it exercised no such influence, and the two parties were allowed to settle their own differences.

Vote agreed to, as were several other votes.