HC Deb 28 July 1842 vol 65 cc758-61
Mr. Goulburn

moved that the Order of the Day for the committee on the Common Law Courts (Ireland) Bill be discharged.

Mr. Divett

would take that opportunity of asking a question of the right hon. Member for Tamworth, as to the present state of the joint French and English commission on the claims of certain English merchants for serious injuries to their ships and property by the French authorities in the Bay of Portendic. He preferred endeavouring to elicit information on the subject by putting a question, rather than by making a motion for papers; because he was aware that it might be inconvenient for the Government to produce them at the present moment. The outrages to which his question referred, were committed by the French upon English commerce, as far back as 1832. The subject had several times been brought under the consideration of Parliament, and an opinion uniformly prevailed, that the French had acted with great atrocity towards our merchants. In consequence of the representations which were made to the French Government, it appointed a commission to determine upon the claims of the British merchants; but that proceeding led to nothing but quibbles and protracted discussions, and no attempt was made to meet the question fairly. He was conscious how desirable it was to maintain amicable relations with France, but he really thought it would be better to make up our minds at once for some serious consequence, than to allow irritating questions of this nature to continue from year to year. The object which he had in view, was to elicit from the right hon. Baronet some strong expression of opinion with respect to these proceedings. In February of the present year, the right hon. Baronet expressed himself on the subject in a manner worthy of the Prime Minister of this country, and condemned, in the strongest terms, the conduct of the French government in postponing the settlement of the claims. The right hon. Baronet also stated, that in his opinion the late Government had not acted in the matter with the vigour which they ought to have displayed. He (Mr. Divett) was aware that there had been difficulties in the way of the settlement of the question by the late Government, but at the same, time there were circumstances which, perhaps, in some degree justified the observations of the right hon. Baronet. In December, 1838, the following letter was addressed to Lord Palmerston:— MY LORD—We have abstained from troubling you since the prorogation of Parliament upon the subject of our claims; our patience is, however, now nearly worn out. We have waited from month to mouth, fully expecting that some communication with reference to these just demands for redress might have arrived from Paris, but we have waited in vain. Your Lordship's vigorous remonstrances of February last; M. de Gabriac's promises that the report of the consultation committee should be sent in to his government, before the end of June; the solemn pledge given by the Count Mold that upon receiving the report he would lose no time in making himself master of the case, and in obtaining from his cabinet a resolution upon it; the hopes held out by Lord Melbourne in the House of Lords, towards the close of the Session, that our grievances would be speedily adjusted, appear, so far as we are informed, to have been down to this moment utterly barren of effect. We confess that we cannot contemplate, without feelings of the deepest mortification, the very different sort of precedure which has been adopted by the French ministry in behalf of French subjects, in cases where the latter complain of injuries inflicted upon them by foreign states. Witness the example of Mexico and Buenos Ayres, whose coasts the king of the French has placed under blockade, in consequence of the refusal, or rather the hesitation of those Republics, to satisfy the claims of French merchants, claims by no means so unquestionable as ours, and not' much exceeding, in the whole, the amount of our demands against France; and yet, for four years, we have been seeking compensation from that country for injuries of the most positive nature, aggravated by circumstances the most humiliating to our pride as British merchants, as well as fatal to our general trade with Africa. We feel ourselves compelled to ask your Lordship most respectfully how much longer we are to wait for justice, and through what species of instrumentality we have any chance of procuring it? Can the executive do anything for us, or are we to wait untill Parliament be opened next year; and are we again to go through the process of interrogation and motion for papers, and all that circuitous course of solicitation for redress, from a state within three hours' sail of our own shores? We should feel extremely obliged to your Lordship if you would have the goodness to consider the very painful situation in which we are placed, and the great injustice inflicted upon us by the French system of diplomacy, which, independently of the hardship upon us as individuals, we humbly submit is derogatory to the honour of our country; a system of diplomacy that seems an utter stranger to the settlement of accounts, excepting when the balance is entirely on its own side.

"We have the honour, &c. &c.


(Signed)"M. FORSTER.


The Right Hon. Viscount Palmerston, &c. "London, December 3, 1838."

At the present moment the question remained still in the same state. The French government had evinced nothing but a disposition to put off the settlement of the question by resorting to trickery, and the lowest species of petty-fogging practice. He had no hesitation in saying that the conduct of the French government was disgraceful to a nation holding such a high position as France occupied. He would ask the right hon. Baronet to explain the present state of the proceedings of the joint French and English commission on the claims of certain English merchants for serious injuries to their ships and property by the French authorities in the Bay of Portendic?

Sir R. Peel

said, that as the hon. Gentleman had determined to bring the subject under the consideration of the House in the form of a question rather than of a motion, he thought it incumbent on him, in replying to that question, to adhere to the ordinary rules by which the conduct of Ministers, in answering questions, was regulated. He was not at liberty to enter into discussion, but he was justified in answering the question put to him. Whatever feelings he might entertain on the subject of these claims—and they were strong—he thought the wiser and more dignified course to pursue was to abstain from all harsh and contumelious expressions. And if he used forbearing and temperate language, he trusted it would not be thought inconsistent with the strong feelings which he entertained as to the justice of the claims of those persons whose interests were involved in the subject. At an early period of the Session he held out strong expectations that those claims would be satisfactorily arranged, and his noble Friend, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, held out similar expectations. He was not, however, enabled to confirm these expectations, but he could assure the hon. Gentleman that he held out no expectations which he was not justified in exciting, in consequence of the assurances which the Government had received. The hon. Gentleman, who was interested in these claims, more from a sense of their justice, he was sure, than from any personal interest he had in the matter, was aware of what had taken place on the subject between the British Government and the French government. The feelings of the British Government had been conveyed to the government of France in the ordinary diplomatic manner, and it was much better that they should be expressed in that way than through the medium of speeches. He would be very sorry to give an opinion, or express any feeling, which was likely to throw an impediment in the way of the amicable settlement of these long-pending claims. He entertained a confident hope that a great country like France, animated by a sense of justice and jealousy of the national honour, would feel it incumbent on it to make a speedy adjustment of the claims. He would not say more on the subject. He thought the hon. Member had exercised a sound discretion in putting a question only, and not making a distinct motion. He trusted, however, that the hon. Gentleman would not construe the forbearance and moderation with which he had spoken on this question into any indifference as to the importance of the subject.

Mr. Divett

said, he should be quite content with the statement of the right hon. Baronet on the assurance that the subject should not be allowed to stop, but would be followed up by the Government.

Sir R. Peel

said, that within the last few days, a communication had been forwarded to the French government the presentation of which had been only postponed by the lamentable event which had afflicted the royal family of France, and which, whatever feelings of jealousy the French people might entertain towards this country, had excited the deepest sympathy of the British people. He was sure, that the British House of Commons would respond to the expression of deep regret for the dreadful misfortune which had befallen the royal family and the people of France.

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