HC Deb 22 April 1841 vol 57 cc1006-17
Lord C. Fitzroy

in calling the attention of the House to Ionian affairs, was fully aware of the difficulty of the task that he had undertaken, not from want of conviction of the justice of the cause he was about to advocate, the defence of the Ionian people against their Governor, but from having opposed to him the Gentlemen on the other side of the House, whose principles of government arc so much in accordance with those of the present Lord High Commissioner and with them on this occasion were joined the Liberal Government of her Majesty, and all those whose prejudices condemn these people as nothing but Ionians. But he must have erred most deliberately if it could be shewn by any, but the advocates for absolute rule, that the Ionian people had no ground of complaint against their Governor. If it could be shewn that an intelligent, industrious people, of not less education than many countries, and counties of countries that he could mention, whose higher classes were wealthy, and possessed of talents of the highest character—if it could be shewn that after a thirty years protection under the British Crown, these people were unfit for a further advancement in the scale of civilization by an extension of their political rights, then had he (Lord C. Fitzroy) not only mistaken the character of these people, but had been more mistaken in what he had conceived to have been the paternal duties of the protecting Government. What would have been the position and condition of Ireland, at this moment, but for an extension of their political rights, and a change in the system of government which established a more just, in a more equal, administration of the law. He (Lord C. Fitzroy), while Governor of Zante, had realized the good effect of the principles of impartial justice; he had obtained through it the entire confidence of the people of that island. But how was it possible for Sir Howard Douglas to obtain that confidence while he governed entirely by the high police power vested in him by the Constitution to be used only on great emergencies. And whilst that was the case it was impossible that the good intentions of the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, could be carried out.

He (Lord C. Fitzroy) now wished to proceed to the object of his motion—to obtain a Committee to take into consideration the papers relating to the Ionian States, ordered to be printed by the House of Commons 22d. June, 1840. These papers (four in number) consisted of two letters from the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies; a memorial from an Ionian, (Mustoxides), and the fourth an answer to the memorial from Sir H. Douglas. The first of these letters he could not too highly extol. In it the noble Lord said, That, if it were not intended to advance farther in the grant of political rights, it must be admitted that there was little wisdom in the establishment of a government of this sort. And yet, in the second letter, the noble Lord virtually annulled that, by saying that he Yielded to the strong conviction that changes of this kind were dangerous. Still, however, the Ionians clung to hope, and annexed to that former letter the motto of their islands, "auspicium melioris œvi." Now, it was true, that there were exaggerations of statement in the memorial of Mustoxides. But were there not in the public despatch of Sir H. Douglas, the answer to this memorial, misrepresentations, and mis-statements without end? Was there not a material difference between the one endowed with a strong poetical imagination, exaggerating, in some degree, the grievances under which his country laboured? And the other, the Lord High Commissioner, from the archives of his office, misrepresenting and mis-stating to show his the better cause, to extol his own merits, and trample down a feeble adversary? Now, if Sir Howard Douglas was neither justified in his injurious attacks against the character of the Ionian people, nor his representations and statements correct, he (Lord Charles Fitzroy) thought that it was not too much to ask, that this despatch should be withdrawn from the records of the Colonial-office; and that the noble Lord's first letter (21st December, 1839), should form the basis of instructions to all future Lords High Commissioners.

He must be tedious to the House in pointing out these mis-statements; they were to be found particularly in pages 25, 33, 35, 36, 39, 42, 44, 53, and many mis-statements with regard to education. Now, in p. 25, what said Sir Howard Douglas in his despatch:— The same agents, the agents of the Philorthodox Society moved by the same influence, their views directed to the same end, are the framers of this memorial. This statement was entirely refuted by Count Viaro Capodistrias and Petrizzopulo, They shewed that the accusations made against the Ionians, individually and collectively, on account of the Philorthodox Society (existing in Athens) were calumnies, as all accusations without proofs became, and more particularly when there was an eager desire, as in this case, to avoid them. Again, in p. 36, Sir H. Douglas said, With respect to the false and slanderous remarks, &c., &c., Signor Dondi, for malversation of office, fraud and peculation was subjected to a criminal prosecution. In this I however took no part, further than to stay the proceedings during the sitting of Parliament, that it might not be charged against the Government as an act of vengeance to remove an opposing member. All that was true; but on Signor Dondi being acquitted of the charge brought against him by Sir Howard Douglas, before the Supreme Court of Justice, Sir Howard Douglas addressed a circular letter to the regents and presidents of the different islands to the effect of maintaining the culpability of Dondi, and blaming the judges for their acquittal of him. In p. 53, Sir Howard Douglas said,— And not by words only have the Ionian people shown their contentment, for at the late elections consequent upon the dissolution of the Sixth Parliament, they flocked in unprecedented numbers to give their votes in favour of the candidates brought forward. " Now, Sir, it is not possible to conceive that such a statement made by the Lord High Commissioner (representative of her Majesty) should not be correct. But what was the fact at this election for the members to form the Seventh Parliament? At this election, after the dissolution of the Sixth Parliament, the soldiers for duty j were doubled, the artillerymen stood to their guns, the agents of police went through the country obliging all the electors to leave their occupations and go and vote, marking down on a list, the names of those who refused. And who were the persons selected by the Lord High Commissioner as candidates for this Seventh Parliament? The most ignorant and time-serving men who could be found. And all this can be proved. And this election, it should be borne in mind, (where the people showed such contentment) was carried on while the prohibition of intercourse between the islands and Greece existed, under the pretence of danger to the country, through the Philorthodox Society (in Athens). At a time, too, when all newspapers were prohibited, in order not to distract the attention of the people from the calumnious statements put forth in the only newspaper of the islands (The Government Gazette) as to the ulterior object of that society through the agency of Roma, Mustoxides, &c., &c." He (Lord Charles Fitzroy) complained, of the inconsistency of Sir Howard Douglas' charges against Mustoxides, Roma, Petrizzopulo, Plessa, &c., (almost all of whom served in the sixth Parliament), and whom he (Sir H. Douglas) addressed, on the 5th March, 1839, in these words:— I have much pleasure in meeting the sixth Parliament of the Ionian States, and I congratulate the country, that the constitutional functions and electoral rights have been exercised so judiciously and beneficially, as to have assembled in this House, persons of so much consideration, character, talents, influence, and stake in the country, as those whom I have the honour to address. Never has the electoral body more spontaneously, cheerfully, and numerously, discharged their electoral rights, than upon the recent occasion. " With these excellent men, Sir H. Douglas quarrels in six weeks; he prorogues the Parliament, and afterwards dissolves it; and selects a new Parliament (the seventh Parliament), of whom he only says, "They do everything that I desire." These men, amongst other things, passed the new codes of law, as he desired them, without any deliberation. Now, Sir, one word with regard to these codes of law (civil and criminal). These codes have not passed the Legislature according to the Charter of the Ionian Constitution. Another Ionian Parliament may moot the question of difference which existed between the Legislative Assembly and the Senate, in the sixth Parliament; other Crown lawyers may give a different opinion, and reverse the decision upon which the seventh Parliament now acts; which would render the codes an illegal act. The question ought to have been discussed before her Majesty's Privy Council. Arguments would have been heard on both sides; it was a slovenly mode of proceeding, deciding a point of importance on the undivulged opinions of Crown lawyers. There may be an anomaly in the Ionian Constitution, but one that may have its use. The Ionian Legislative Assembly meets every two years. The senate (consisting of five persons) is always sitting as the Executive Council, under the Lord High Commissioner, who uses it as his mouthpiece. Therefore, in the framing of fundamental laws, it might be quite right, that the Senate should take no part in them. And the codes are fundamental laws. Now Sir, Sir H. Douglas talks of the country becoming quiet. It never was disturbed. He himself provoked the Patriarch of Constantinople to an act for which Lord Ponsonby obtained most unjustly his (the patriarch's) dismissal. What had Sir H. Douglas required of the patriarch? To alter the religious ceremony of marriage, which, in the Greek Church, is one of the sacraments. Properly indignant, the patriarch refused; and addressed a pastoral letter to the clergy in the islands on the subject. Wantonly eager, he (Sir H. Douglas) makes use of the Philorthodox Society as a pretext for the exercise and abuse of his high police power. He (Sir H. Douglas) talks in page 42 of the despatch of a faction. "That the people rejoiced in the destruction of—" Why, Sir, there was no faction. Sir H. Douglas, when he raised his storm, must have his thunder, or otherwise the people, he thought, would not believe, that there was a storm. But this whole theatrical exhibition has turned against Sir H. Douglas himself. And was not Sir H. Douglas himself doubtful of his extreme popularity from his acts; otherwise, why did Mr. Gisborne (secretary to Sir H. Douglas) think it necessary to write to the Residents at the different islands (which Sir H. Douglas intended visiting at that time, to prepare for him a good reception. The agents of police were again actively employed on this occasion. The message sent to the Patriarch of Constantinople was, on the part of the Lord High Commissioner, most unjustifiable, and the dismissal of the Patriarch obtained through Lord Ponsonby, was an act of positive injustice." He (Lord C. Fitzroy) had the whole of the evidence to lay before the committee, by which it was clearly shown that there was not the slightest ground for accusing the patriarch of meditating anything injurious to the interests of Great Britain in the Ionian Islands. The seizing the papers of some of the most respected persons in the islands, on account of the Philorthodox Society, and neither bringing them to trial, nor opening those papers, and yet holding them still guilty, calls for inquiry. With regard to the finance he (Lord C. Fitzroy) feared to be tedious going into it at length. He should content himself with the fact of the excessive expenditure. But first, he must allude to a letter which had been sent to Corfu in April last, requesting information on this subject, which letter was detained in the post-office there many months. And he must likewise read a letter from Mr. Courage, a merchant in Corfu, who says— Our post-office is invested with very great power and may at pleasure open letters. Now, as to the finance. It could be proved before a committee, that the public works, for which the excess of expenditure was to be attributable, and detailed for that purpose in Sir H. Douglas's public despatch (page 35) in these words— As having been established or decreed since my arrival in these islands "— were, in truth, works constructed by Sir T. Maitland, Sir F. Adam, &c., &c., one or two only being Sir H. Douglas's and of no moment. And many of these works were constructed out of the municipal funds of the respective islands, drawing nothing from the public treasury for them. The Valle di Roppa is still a marsh, though stated (page 33) to have been drained and cultivated. It could be proved, that Sir H. Douglas had swallowed up the surplus left in the treasury by Lord Nugent, l26,000l., the pension fund,40,000l., the amount of reduction of many salaries, and has incurred a debt of 77,000l., to meet which Sir H. Douglas proposes a duty of upwards of ten per cent, on the importation of all grain.

He (Lord C. Fitzroy) thought he had shewn sufficient reason for asking for a committee, he should therefore move for a committee to take into consideration the papers relating to the Ionian Islands, ordered to be printed by the House of Commons on the 22nd June 1840.

Lord John Russell

The noble Lord has stated his opinion at considerable length; but I cannot gather from his speech any reasons why this House should appoint the committee he asks for. The noble Lord should recollect that we are not speaking of a colony under the direct dominion of the Crown, or with a representative government and under the direct control of the Crown, but of the Ionian Islands as constituted under the treaty of 1815, and over which her Majesty presides under the title of Protecting Sovereign. The peculiar nature of the constitution of the Ionian Islands requires, that whatever authority her Majesty may exercise as Protecting Sovereign, she ought not to exert any direct interference over it. I do not say that some special occasions may not arrive when the Minister for the Crown of the country, or the Lord High Commissioner, may so conduct himself as that some inquiry should not be called for; but the House of Commons should be very cautious before it should appoint any such inquiry, and not at all unless upon the strongest grounds. This I know, that after the noble Lord's motion last year I received strong complaints from the Ionian Islands as to the proceedings taken in this House on that occasion. The present state of the Ionian Islands shows the whole authorities acting in harmony together, and according to the constitution, the Legislature having lately assembled and passed Acts without any difference of opinion. There are no disturbances of the people, who are generally employed, and that at high wages, and is this a state of things where it is fit for the House of Commons to interfere, and to enter into questions before its committee, and to receive evidence of every sort from gentlemen, some of very lively imaginations, of great literary ability no doubt, but who, when they come to treat of political questions, allow their literary and romantic imaginations to enter into their statistical facts, and whose evidence might excite great indignation at first against the Ionian Islands' government, but which would be succeeded by the opposite indignation, that any such evidence should be given. My noble Friend has told us, that various public works have not been carried on, but I trust Sir Howard Douglas's authority in these matters, and conclude that they have been completed The question of the Philorthodox Society, I will not go into. The Greek government have not thought it necessary to go very deeply into it—the danger of it has passed—and I do not think that Sir Howard Douglas has taken any very severe measures upon it. My noble Friend said, with respect to the question of finance—on which I thought he was going to make some important statement—that a letter sent out to Corfu had been opened by the Post-office. I can give no answer to that complaint. Sir Howard Douglas frequently urged on the Government, attacked as he was by those who said he was hostile to giving free institutions to the Ionian Islands, strong representations in favour of a diminution of their burdens—a fact so highly credit- able to him, that I cannot refrain from mentioning it on this occasion. Under these circumstances, then, i cannot see, Sir, that the Ionian States present any object for u committee of the House of Commons to inquire into, and particularly when I consider that no later than last year there was a very general opinion expressed in this House that there existed no necessity for making those alterations which my noble Friend appears to think requisite; and I am sorry my noble Friend has again thought it necessary to agitate this subject, because, knowing the extraordinary political activity and restless spirit of many parties connected with these islands, and the manner in which they may look at this motion, I cannot but consider the result likely to lead to still further desire for political changes, which it is impossible to realise, rather than to promote and contribute to the development of that improvement which would, otherwise, take place in the Ionian States. I shall, therefore, oppose the motion of my noble Friend.

Sir H. Hardinge

must defend the conduct of his absent Friend (Sir H. Douglas) from the insinuations which the noble Lord opposite had made against him, but at so late an hour he would not go into (he various details into which the noble Lord had travelled in connexion with the subject. At the same time he must say, he had read the letter of the noble Lord, to the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, respecting Sir H. Douglas with the greatest pain. With respect to the charges made against his absent friend, that he was hostile to granting freer institutions to the Ionian States, he considered the noble Lord (J. Russell) had, in his letter of the 30th of November last, sufficiently answered all those charges, and particularly when he said that, if the changes that were claimed were granted, the people of those islands themselves would be the first sufferers in consequence. Sir H. Douglas was an active and most able officer, and he had the concurrence of the Secretary of State himself in saying that the Ionian Islands were not in a fit state for free institutions. With respect, however, to the charge or insinuation of the noble Lord (Lord Charles Fitzroy) as to Sir H. Douglas having opened a letter and replaced it in its cover, he begged the noble Lord would be kind enough to state to the House whether he really intended to make such a charge against his absent Friend, for he could not conceive that such was his intention.

Lord Charles Fitzroy

presumed, that the gallant Member had not heard the letter read from Mr. Courage, who distinctly states, that the Post-office was invested with the power to open letters. An authority that could only emanate from the Government. The letter that he (Lord Charles Fitzroy) alluded to, had been detained four months in the Corfu post-office, and came out from thence on delivery, with the Corfu post-mark upon it, although this letter had been sent under cover to a merchant who never received it.

Sir R. Inglis

thought the conduct of Sir H. Douglas highly creditable, and that he was fully deserving of the testimonials in his favour which had appeared in the Ionian papers.

Mr. Hume

said, the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies seemed to imagine that the House of Commons had no right to interfere in the matter; but he (Mr. Hume) contended that there was no other tribunal to which an appeal could be made. He supported the motion, and was astonished that the friends of Sir Howard Douglas did not court the inquiry which was sought for. The Parliament of the Ionian Islands had been curiously elected under the auspices of Sir Howard Douglas. The members of that legislature had, in fact, been elected at the point of the bayonet. Under such circumstances could it be a matter of surprise that a body so elected should be loud in their expression of devotion to the party who had caused their election. The freedom of the press, too, was annihilated under physical restraint. If the House of Commons did not allow this inquiry, they neglected their duty. If the noble Lord were supported by no other Member than himself, he would advise his noble Friend to divide the House.

Sir R. Peel

referred to a report of a finance committee on the annual expenditure of the Ionian Islands, for the purpose of showing that the state of the finances under former governors was no better than at present, and said, that if such a thing could be done as to call for a committee of inquiry of the House of Commons with respect to Sir H. Douglas, an officer who, for six years, had served his country in a post of great difficulty, it would be only equally fair to do the same with reference to all former Governors. This would lead to endless vexation, and would certainly be the very thing to make the Ionian Islands feel, not that they were under the protection of this country, as the noble Lord had pointed out, but that they were a dependency of the British Crown. The noble Lord approved of the manner in which Sir H. Douglas had executed his high functions, and it could not be said that the noble Lord had any bias in his favour. The motives and prudence of Sir H. Douglas had been approved of by the Government, and he believed that the only reason why Sir H. Douglas had been recalled, was because he had held the office of Governor of the Ionian Isles for the ordinary period, and not because the manner in which he exercised the office of High Commissioner had been disapproved of by her Majesty's Government. He was satisfied that the offensive expressions which had fallen from the hon. Member for Kilkenny in reference to Sir H. Douglas were not warranted by any thing which the noble Lord bad stated, and he would appeal to the noble Lord in confirmation of this assertion.

Mr. Hume

admitted, that the noble Lord had not censured the conduct of Sir H. Douglas, but still he thought there was sufficient ground for inquiry, although the whole of the papers had not been produced.

Lord J. Russell

said, that the hon. Gentleman had not understood him, because what he stated was that, under existing circumstances, no such inquiry as was asked for ought to be granted.

Sir H. Hardinge

said, that if the noble Lord disapproved of the conduct of Sir Howard Douglas he would have voted for the inquiry.

Sir C. Grey

said, if the motion were pressed to a division, as he thought there were grounds before the House to justify an inquiry, he should vote for it.

Colonel Rawdon

supported the motion, and expressed his belief that if Sir H. Douglas knew that his conduct was impeached, he would be the first to call for inquiry.

Sir H. Vivian

denied that either the honour or the integrity of Sir H. Douglas had been in the least impeached.

Lord Charles Fitzroy

, in reply, begged leave to state, that all his remarks must be considered as solely against the government of Sir Howard Douglas, having unfortunately read the despatch, the character of which he (Lord Charles Fitzroy) had not the slightest notion when he moved for it last year; but, having read it, he felt that he had a public duty to perform, to endeavour to obtain its removal from the records of the Colonial-office, as being a dangerous precedent from the many errors it contained for future Lord High Commissioners.

Sir H. Hardinge

was satisfied with the explanation given by the noble Lord.

The House divided on the Question, "That a Select Committee be appointed to take into consideration the Papers relating to the Ionian States, ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on the 22nd day of June, 1840.":—Ayes 10; Noes 28—Majority 18.

List of the AYES.
Evans, W. Scholefield, J.
Greg, R. H. Strutt, E.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir C. Wood, B.
Morris, D.
Muntz, G. F. TELLERS.
Rawdon, Col. J. D. Hume, J.
Salwey, Colonel Fitzroy, Lord C.
List of the NOES.
Ashley, Lord Maule, hon. F.
Barrington, Viscount Paget, Lord A.
Blackburne, I. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Brother ton, J. Praed, W. T.
Dalmeny, Lord Russell, Lord J.
Dundas, D. Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A
Estcourt, T. Smith, R. V,
Gladstone, J. N. Sotheron, T. E.
Gladstone, W. E. Trotter, J.
Gordon, R. Tufnell, H.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H Vivian, rt. hn. Sir R. H.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J Wyse, T.
Grey, rt. hn. Sir G.
Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H. TELLERS.
Inglis, Sir R. H. Stanley, E. J.
Labouchere, rt. hn. H. Parker, J.

House adjourned