HC Deb 18 June 1839 vol 48 cc428-40
Mr. Cressmell

said, that knowing the interest that was taken in the motion of which the hon. Member for the City of London had given notice for that evening, it was with great reluctance that he pressed himself upon the attention of the House, hut he feared that he should not get another opportunity of bringing forward this subject. He would not detain the House long, he could state the facts to the House, in a few minutes— the question was a perfectly simple one. It was not his intention to enter into the particulars of the losses which had occurred in 1807. The question had been discussed last year, and settled by the opinion of a considerable majority, and as he could not believe that the House would now consent to rescind the vote to which it had come last year, he would not enter into the discussion of that part of the subject, unless he should be forced to do so by the conduct which the Chancellor of the Exchequer might pursue. The simple question was, what was the meaning of the vote of last year—as to the meaning of that vote, the right hon. Gentleman and himself were at issue. If he were right, the House should follow up the vote of last year by agreeing to his motion. It was well-known that several merchants, subjects of this country, had suffered losses in consequence of the seizure of their property by the Danish Government in 1807, at the time of the attack on Copenhagen by this country. From time to time the subject had been brought forward, and other persons had put forward their claims, stating that they were entitled to receive compensation for losses. In 1834, the Government yielded, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Althorp, stated that he was satisfied of the justice of those claims. In consequence, directions were given to the Commissioners for examining French claims, to receive and examine Danish claims. The Commissioners considered these directions as empowering them not only to receive these claims, but to investigate them for the purpose of ascertaining whether they were just or unjust. Every one must feel that it was incumbent on them to have taken that course; what signified it being informed that there were a certain number of persons who had made claims for compensation to a certain amount, unless they were, at the same time, informed whether those claims were just or unjust. The Commissioners had stated that claims had been made amounting to 5 or 600,000l., and they had adjudicated on about 140,000l., which they had decided were just claims. There were two separate classes of claimants which the House had determined were entitled to compensation. The first class consisted of those English merchants who were owed debts at the time by Danish subjects, which debts were confiscated, the Danish Government having ordered these debts to be paid into the public treasury. Another class consisted of those whose goods on shore had been seized —this class was at first objected to, but it was afterwards allowed that theirs constituted a case for investigation. Some of these persons had omitted to bring forward their claims within the time allowed by the Order in Council for their so doing, and, in 1837, the hon. Member for Bridport had brought forward their case in that House. The hon. Member for Bridport, on that occasion, moved that an humble address be presented to her Majesty, praying that her Majesty would be graciously pleased to direct the Danish Commissioners to enter upon the examination of those claims. That address was agreed to, and her Majesty had been graciously pleased to comply with its prayer. That instruction must have authorised them to proceed to adjudication, because on the occasion of that Address, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had provided funds for the purpose of meeting those claims. He could not see any difference in principle between those whose goods had been seized and confiscated on shore, and those whose goods had been seized and confiscated on board ship, together with the ships on board which were those goods. The House had adopted his views in the Address to her Majesty which he had moved, and he had couched his address in precisely the same terms as those of the Address of the hon. Member for Bridport. Therefore the instructions were the same, the Treasury minutes were the same in substance, but the results produced a most extraordinary difference.—whether there were any private instructions or not be did not know, but it was most curious, but no less curious than true, that the results had been different. He could understand that there might have been some reason why the House should not be told what the amount of the claim was, because the House might have been terrified by its being a large amount. He would ask the House whether they did or did not in their vote of last year adopt the principle that those who had their ships seized should be indemnified? If they did adopt that principle, then he would ask why should they not adopt the course he proposed to pursue, namely granting an address to her Majesty, praying that she would be graciously pleased to direct the Commissioners to adjudicate upon this claim? The right hon. Gentleman opposite, upon his asking the question had told him that he had not directed the Commissioners to adjudicate, because the case was very different from that which was before Parliament. Unless the House was prepared to rescind the vote that it came to last Session, they must follow it up by voting the Address. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that the present was a very different case altogether to the question that was discussed last year; he could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in that statement; the matter was then very fully discussed, the money was voted, and when a Minister of the Crown had taken the judgment of the House and that judgment was against him, he thought it was uncalled for that he should persevere against the sense of the House. If the present motion was granted then the means would be had of knowing what the parties were entitled to, and then they would be enabled to see whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would say, after two votes against him, that he would not consent to the present vote. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving —"That an humble Address be presented to her Majesty, praying that she will be graciously pleased to direct the Commissioners to whom it was referred to examine the claims of certain British subjects, in respect of losses sustained by the seizure of ships and cargoes by the Danish Government in 1807, to proceed to adjudicate upon the claims which they have received, and upon which they have made a Report to the Lords of her Majesty's Treasury."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

could have wished that the hon. Member had taken a night for bringing on the present subject when it would have interfered less with other business, and when it might have been discussed more calmly than it possibly could be on that evening. The hon. and learned Gentleman not having thought fit to pursue that course, though he knew the difficulty there would be to obtain the attention of the House to the subject, when one of greater public interest was about to be brought forward, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), felt bound, in discharge of his duty, to call the attention of the House to the principles involved in the claim of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He would not go into details on this question, but he would shortly state to the House the ground upon which he felt it to be his duty to resist the present motion. In the year 1835 he had proposed a vote of 130,000l. for the relief of the sufferers in the Danish squadron. In 1836, he had proposed a further vote of 78,000l. for the same purpose; and in the estimates of the present year he had proposed an additional sum of 87,481l., making a total of 295,481l. which had already been voted for this purpose. He adverted to this in order to show that there was no desire on the part of the Government to refuse relief where a just case had been made out. The ground of distinction between the cases that had already been relieved, and those brought forward by the hon. and learned Member, was clear and decisive. In respect to the former class of claimants, the wrong sustained was contrary to the usages of European warfare, while, in the present instance, the wrong which the claimants had sustained was incident to the customary course of ordinary hostility. The question for the consideration of the House was, whether it would now, for the first time, sanction the principle that subjects of the Crown having sustained an injury under circumstances that were recognized by the law of nations, might come to that House and ask for compensation. If such a principle was to be recognized, he would ask where was the war in which the subjects of the Crown did not sustain damage? and if they were to be allowed to come to that House for the purpose of obtaining an indemnity, no gentleman living could contemplate the extent to which those demands might be made? Such was the distinction between the two cases, and such were his reasons for not calling upon the House to take any steps to affirm the liability of the country to make good losses sustained in ordinary warfare. It was true that a great public principle was involved in the former vote on this subject, as well as in the present. If he had entertained any doubt before upon it, that doubt had been removed and turned into certainty by the statements of the hon. and learned Member—for what had he said? Why, that because the House had affirmed the address, to which the assent of the Crown was not required, that therefore the House must be assumed to have affirmed the proposition for a money vote. The hon. Member had rested his argument fairly enough on that ground now, and called upon the House to admit that, because they had previously voted an address, that therefore they were now bound to vote the money. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to think, that because he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), had not acted with respect to this address as he had with respect to those which had preceded it, therefore there was a necessity for the second address he had moved Now he must say, that in his opinion, the cases were not at all analogous, for with respect to the other vote, there was no contest in respect of the principle. It was undeniable that the injury complained of had been received in violation of the law of nations. He had already stated, he was determined to oppose this motion, and even should he have a majority against him, he would resist it in its future stages and progress, whatever might be the result of the division. As long as he had a seat in that House, he would take care that the subject, if it came to be finally discussed, should be discussed in a full House, with a full knowledge of all its details, and not in a thin House, where the hon. Members in attendance were few in number, and without a knowledge of the facts, and where they had been canvassed to come down for the purpose of supporting a money vote. He thought, if the House did not at once set its face against the adoption of such a course, it would place itself in a most awkward situation with the public. Considering the serious consequences that might result from such a vote, he would not undertake the responsibility of preparing any estimate, or of signifying her Majesty's assent to any subsequent motion. The hon. Gentleman had stated by way of supporting his argument, that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), had not directed these claims to be adjudicated upon, and reduced in amount, in order to terrify the House by the extent of an exaggerated demand. He could assure the hon. Gentleman, that he had proceeded upon no such ground; in the other cases, it was true, that he had directed the Commissioners to adjudicate; but, in the present instance, he did not think it right to do so, being prepared to resist the demand to the utmost, indeed he would at once say, that be was not disposed to submit to the House any provision to be made for these claims, unless there was something done to recognise it as a money vote. If the hon. and learned Member would meet this question fairly, he should be ready at any time to grapple with him, let him only bring forward a motion that would raise the question of a money vote, and then if the House affirmed that they were ready to pay that amount, he would direct the Commissioner to adjudicate; but he would not, until then, pursue a course directly at variance with his sense of public duty. The House would have the goodness to recollect, that by endeavouring to defeat the claim, he could not have any interested motives on behalf of the Government; he did it solely, because he considered, that it behoved those who were placed in situations of trust, to adhere to principles, and, as far as possible, to prevent the House from incurring the danger of acting upon ex parte statements. If the proposition of the hon. Member was carried, then the parties making the claim would consider that claim to be strengthened materially, and they would come to the House, and would ask the House what was meant by acceding to the second address moved by the hon. Member for Liverpool, and they would tell them that the vote meant a money vote, and nothing else. Now, he would ask, was the House prepared so to understand it? Let it be supposed that the vote of the night committed the House to a question of money, and upon that supposition he would appeal to the House as a body, whether they would, by a side wind, allow a money vote to be opened, except under the authority of the Crown. He had to apologise to the hon. Member for the City of London, for preventing him, by this discussion, from bringing on his motion, of which he had given notice that night, he had not the fortune to agree with the hon. Member on that subject, but he thought it was due to him to say, that his duty to the public had alone caused him to address the House at the length he had done. If it ever became necessary, by a vote of the House, to discuss the question as a money vote, involving the country, as that vote would, in large pecuniary responsibility, upon principles hitherto unrecognised, he would move a call of the House, in order that the House might understand what it was about; and until the deliberate opinion of the House was 80 pronounced, the hon. Member for Liverpool would find him, on every stage of the proceeding, a most inflexible opponent. Considering the course proposed by the hon. and learned Member to be one that would be considered by the parties to pledge the House to grant the money required to satisfy these claims, he must give it his most decided opposition.

Mr. Hume

had only a few words to say. Time had only added, in his opinion, to the validity of the claims of the individuals. He thought the preceding Government had acted most unjustly, when, having had in its hands 1,200,000l., it had refused to give these British subjects any compensation. The Government had recognised the point to this extent, that if parties made out that they had claims, those claims were entitled to consideration. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was of opinion that the vote of the previous Session did not imply a vote of money. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in that, but then it implied that inquiry should be made by competent persons to ascertain who were the claimants, and what was the amount of the claims. After that vote he should have considered himself bound not only to receive the claims, but to direct the Commissioners to ascertain the nature and the amount of the claims; nor could he think that justice could be satisfied until that was done. If the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite did not know what the claims were, he did perfectly right to try this address, for the address, as he understood it, simply prayed in effect that her Majesty would be pleased to direct an inquiry to be made into the nature of the claims, in order that the House might afterwards take the question into its consideration whether those claims should be paid. If this had been an ordinary war, he was prepared fairly to state, that he should think the claimants had no right to come to that House, but if ever there was an extraordinary case in the annals of British history the conduct of the British Government with respect to Denmark, on the occasion referred to, presented that extraordinary case. From the correspondence that had taken place it appeared that the merchants having heard rumours of war between England and Denmark, they went to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day to inquire if England were going to war with Denmark and the answer they received was, that there was not the least chance of it. And, if he understood the claimants, their case was, that, by that statement from Government they were misled. If it had been an ordinary case of warfare, every merchant was considered bound to insure his ships against the ordinary chances of war, and in that case if a war had taken place, there would have been no hardship to complain of; but here there was a certainty of war, and which from the statement made by the Government no ingenuity or attention on the part of the merchants could possibly have enabled them to foresee or to provide against. That circumstance made the present an extraordinary case. He had no hesitation, therefore, in thinking that whatever might be the result of the address as to paying money, it was due to our countrymen who had been thirty-two years kept out of their claims, at least to ascertain if anything was due to them; and now that they had done all they could towards satisfying other claimants, it would be but barely just that they should give their attention to this last class of claimants. It was but right that the right hon. Gentleman should not allow a shilling to be paid away till a clear case was made out, but he ought not to oppose a proper inquiry. He (Mr. Hume) bad fifteen or twenty years ago advocated this case, when it was but ill-received by the House, and almost scouted by the Government of the day. The right hon. Gentleman then acted wrongly, as he had told him at that time. Injustice had been done throughout, but he hoped the House would do justice now. In supporting this motion he did not consider that he pledged himself to a money vote, but he considered himself bound to assist in ascertaining what the claims of the parties were, and if 50l, or 500,000l. was fairly due to them it would not become the Government of a great country like this to withhold payment of that which was justly due. The address was a proper address to be moved, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought not to oppose it.

Lord John Russell

was rather alarmed at the doctrine propounded by the hon. Member who had just sat down. He stated that it was an extraordinary war, and that it had been commenced in a most unusual manner, and especially as thirty-two years had elapsed, the claims of the parties more particularly merited the attention of the House. He was afraid that if the House laid down the principle that they were to consider all claims that might be presented to them, and that lapse of time was to be considered an additional recommendation of the claims to the attention of the House—if the hon. Member was to send that forth as an advertisement, the House would very soon be inundated by claims; and if they were to entertain the present claims, he did not know why claims in the time of the war in 1797 should not be sent in—nor, indeed, why claimants should not be found to go back to the time of Charles 2nd. The House of Commons might depend upon it that if it entertained these claims for losses in times long gone by, the House would very soon have scarcely anything else to do than to hear the merits of claims argued. He hoped the House would not continue the discussion of the subject unless it was prepared to pay millions in the satisfaction of claims of one description or another, that might be brought forward.

Viscount Sandon

would put the question at present on this footing, whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer had acted in accordance with the assurance which he gave to the House on a former occasion, or whether he was not now going in direct variance with that assurance. The address now proposed was upon the same footing as the address that had been agreed to before, and he thought it ought not to be opposed.

The Chancellor

of the Exchequer could assure the House that he believed he now took the same course that he had always taken when this question had come under discussion. He was not now prepared to propose an estimate, and therefore he could not take a different step at present to what he had before taken.

Sir Stratford Canning

was ready to admit the principle on which the right hon. Gentleman had placed his opposition on this occasion, but still it was to be recollected that a war expedition had been sent out to Denmark, when almost all mankind thought this country was in a state of profound peace with Denmark, and that that war was undertaken with the utmost secresy of intention, so that the shipping trade was exposed to unusual danger. Certainly it was but fair, with a view to satisfy the spirit of justice of the country, that inquiries should be made into these claims.

Mr. Goulburn

could not but adhere to the opinions he had always expressed on this subject. He objected to setting the example of listening to these claims. If this precedent was laid down, applications would be continually made, from time to time, of a similar sort, and every night would be occupied with the discussion of them. The hon. Member for Kilkenny had put it upon this, that the Foreign Office would not tell the merchants whether this country was going to war or not with Denmark. He would put it to the House to say, whether the Foreign Office was bound to state such a thing to merchants generally? This proceeding meant nothing, unless it meant a money vote, and he for one must oppose it.

Mr. Warburton

said, the question before the House was not whether it was fitting or not that money should be granted to those claimants. The only question was, whether reasonable expectation was not held out to them, that the Commissioners should proceed to inquire if there were not a certain class of these petitioners whose claims were valid. He thought the reasonable interpretation to be put upon the carrying of the motion of last year was, that the Commissioners should report which of these claims were to be considered valid. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had opposed the vote to the utmost of his power, had stated that he did not consider that to be the object and interest of the vote, or that they should be included in the estimates. It would, however, be a second question, whether these clauses should be included in the estimates. When that came before the House for discussion, they could go into the general merits of the question.

Mr. Creswell replied

, he could not pass by the observation of his right hon. Friend below him, who said, that if the present motion was agreed to, the claimants would plunder the country. He could not understand upon what ground it was stated that those persons whose property was taken from them in consequence of the proceedings of Government, would plunder the country because they sought compensation for the losses they had sustained. It might be said, that the Danes, who had taken 1,200,000l. of the property of the people of England, had plundered the country, but it was too much to say that the parties who had suffered losses to that extent could be charged with plundering the country, when they claimed compensation for these losses, The ground taken by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, on the present occasion, was precisely the same as that which he had taken last year. The right hon. Gentleman said, that subjects were bound to take their chance during the time of war, and he stated that the captures were made flagrante bello. He denied that. The English nation, for great and important purposes, had committed an irregular act, by seizing the property of a nation in time of peace. Lord Cathcart had stated that he came there as a friend, and he seized the property of the Danes, as he alleged, to prevent its falling into the hands of their enemies. The Danes made reprisals, and, according to the law of nations, the country was bound to make compensation for property lost by its subjects in such cases. Any hon. Member of that House who knew anything of the law of nations, would at once admit that principle. The right hon. Gentleman (the Attorney-general) had, on a former occasion, admitted that very principle, but his argument was, that the property had been lost, flagrante bello, therefore no title to compensation had been made out. Another argument urged by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, that the question should be discussed in a full House. What could he do more? He had watched his opportunity, and had fixed his motion for an early hour, when there was some probability of a full attendance—he had selected the very night fixed by the hon. Member for London to bring forward the question of the ballot; and if the subject had been considered of importance by the Government, why had they not brought down a full House to discuss these claims in? He had brought the question forward as an independent Member, not because his constituents were interested in it, but because he was satisfied that the claim was a just one. The captures which had been made of the property of British subjects, was now matter of history, and he hoped the Government would allow its own Commissioners to investigate what the amount of these losses was. The right hon. Gentleman stated, that he would oppose the wish of the House so far as he could, and he had given fair notice, that he would resist the motion so far as he could. That was an intimation to the House, and if the right hon. Gentleman had declared that he would resist the wish of the House, that was its affair, not his. It was said, that the Commissioners ought not to adjudicate, lest the parties might be put to expense, and in the same breath the Commissioners are told to receive evidence, but not to pronounce any opinion, lest it might excite false hopes in the parties claiming. Now, he contended, that the right hon. Gentleman, having put these parties to the expense of bringing forward their evidence, was the person who had raised false hopes. It could not be supposed that it was mere idle curiosity, or an anxiety to learn precisely the amount of the losses sustained, that induced the Commissioners to require evidence on these points. He trusted, that the hopes which had been excited in the minds of those parties who had lost their property some thirty-two years ago, by the vote of last year, would now be realised.

The House divided, when there appeared:—Ayes 94; Noes 32: Majority 62.

List of the AYES.
Alston, R. Hume, J.
Attwood, M. Hutt, W.
Bagge, W. Hutton, R.
Barnard, E. G. Ingham, R.
Ball, N. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Bentinck, Lord G. James, Sir W.
Berkeley, F. H. Kelly, F.
Bethell, R. Kemble, H.
Blackett, C. Knatchbull, Sir E.
Blennerhassett, A. Lambton, H.
Bodkin, J. J. Langdale, hon. C.
Boldero, H. G. Lascelles, W. S.
Bolling, W. Lefroy, Dr. T.
Bramston, T. W. Liddell, H. T.
Broadley, H. Mackenzie, T.
Bruges, W. H. L. Marsland, T.
Bryan, G. Molesworth, Sir W.
Buller, C. Ord, W.
Burroughes, N. N. Philips, M.
Busfeild, W. Phillpotts, J. F.
Butler, Colonel Plumptre, J. P.
Cayley, E. S. Polhill, F.
Chapman, A. Pryme, G.
Christopher, R. A. Round, C. G.
Chute, W. L. W. Round, J.
Collier, J. Sandon, Lord
Craig, W. G. Scholefield, J.
Darlington, Earl of Scrope, G. P.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Sheppard, T.
Duke, Sir J. Sibthorp, Colonel
Dundas, W. D. Smyth, Sir G. H.
Dungannon, Lord Somerville, Sir W.
Eaton, R. J. Staunton, Sir G. T.
Ellis, J. Strickland, Sir G.
Feilden, W. Stuart, Lord J.
Fielden, J. Style, Sir C.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Talfourd, T. N.
Gaskell, J. M. Thompson, W.
Goddard, A. Vigors, N. A.
Grote, G. Vivian, J. E.
Hawes, B. Wakley, T.
Henniker, Lord Warburton, H.
Hinde, J. H. Ward, H. G.
Hodgson, R. White, A.
Hogg, J. W. Wodehouse, hon. E.
Holmes, W. A'Court
Horsman, E. TELLERS.
Houstoun, G. Cresswell, C.
Howard, P, H. Wilmot, Sir E.
List of the NOES.
Baring, F. T. Sanford, E. A.
Brodie, W. B. Seymour, Lord
Brotherton, J. Sharpe, General
Bulwer, Sir E. L. Slaney, R.
Clements, Lord Smith, R. V.
Divett, E. Stock, Dr.
Eliot, Lord Tancred, H. W.
Goulburn, H. Troubridge, Sir T.
Grey, Sir G. Wilbraham, G.
Hodges, T. L. Williams, W. A.
Howick, Lord Wood, Colonel T.
Melgund, Lord Worsley, Lord
Milnes, R. M. Wynn, C. W.
Parrott, J. Yates, J. A.
Pusey, P.
Rice, T. S. TELLERS.
Rolfe, Sir R. M. Maule, hon. F.
Russell, Lord J. Wood, C.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said: In consequence of the adverse vote which has just taken place, I will take care that there shall be placed on the Table of the House a full and entire account of these claims, to the fullest extent they can be carried out. Sir, I enter my caveat against any complaints being again made against me upon the subject. Having done so, I will tell the hon. Gentleman that I shall still think it my duty to oppose the next step he takes, which must be the proposal of a money-vote. I will resist that vote, and tell the House, that if it votes away the money it is the public money that it is dealing with. Although the hon. and learned Gentleman has carried the Address against me, still I must protest against it, and until the House carries a money-vote to pay these claims, I will be no party to the cause in any way. I feel quite persuaded, that there is no Gentleman in this House who imputes to me any motives, or thinks that I am or have been actuated by any other motives in this case than a deep sense of public duty. The day will come when resistance in matters of this kind will be looked upon in another light, and it will be then found that the House has set a bad example upon this occasion, and that it has too much relaxed the rule. The question can be carried no further now than the money-vote, and that remains still an open question.

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