HC Deb 29 July 1842 vol 65 cc837-41
Mr. Hull

said, he would detain the House very short time. He could assure the House that it was width considerable reluctance that he had been led to bring on a new subject, at so late a period of the Session. but the parties who had entrusted the case to his hands, felt that their interests would be prejudiced by delay. The Danish claims had existed since 1807. In that year an expedition was fitted out, for the purpose of guarding the Danish fleet, by this Government. The Danish Government naturally felt exasperated by such a proceeding, and reprisals took place, and the Danish government; confiscated the book debts of certain British subjects; and, proceeding further, they seized all British vessels and British cargoes which they were enabled to lay their hands upon. In regard to the first of these, compensation had been granted; but the Crown had refused to make compensation to the other parties, on the ground that they were involved in the same situation as the subjects of all other nations, whose property fell into the hands of enemies at the first outbreak of a war. On the mother hand, these parties said this was net a true description of the case, as the war had not taken place at the time of the capture of their property, and they were not apprised whether they were reprisals. That was the view taken by the claimants themselves, and that was the light in which he looked at that subject. The point for the consideration of the House was, whether or not the course that had been pursued was a declaration of war. It had been maintained that the Government of Denmark was, at the period to which he alluded, at war with the Government of this country; that the Danish Government had seized upon British property by way of reprisals, and that, therefore, war had commenced between the two states. The late Attorney-general, the Member for Worcester, who had made the most elaborate and complete defence of this case, was of opinion the war had actually commenced. Bat, unfortunately for his learned Friend's argument, no such document as had been alluded to had been found in the office. It was true that a document had been found in the office which was considered as a declaration of war, but the document was not looked upon by the Sovereign of Denmark, or the people of that country, as such a declaration. That document emanated from a small town in Denmark, and it was signed only by the authorities of that town, It was, therefore, with great astonishment that he had heard his learned Friend, the late Attorney- general, describe that document as a declaration of war. It was not considered so by Denmark, nor by the authorities in this country. Now, with respect to the facts of the case. A Danish vessel, called the Orion, was captured in the year 1807, and the subject of the legality of the capture was brought before the Admiralty shortly afterwards. Lord Stowell had decided, that any vessel taken previous to the month of November was not a prise of war. Neither the Danish Government nor the British Government had ever considered that we had been at war, previous to the declaration of war by the Government of Denmark. If that were the case, he contended that the parties now in question were justly entitled to the compensation which they sought. But, even though they had not such a title as could be strictly enforced, the House would recollect, that the equitable right of the parties had been admitted by themselves upon various occasions. He really thought they would, now, be hardly justified in reversing their own repeated decisions. And, after the House had allowed the claims, it would not become the Government of this great country to shelter themselves under forms or technicalities in refusing them. They should consider what was due to the dignity of the House of Commons, and not decline to accede to the repeated manifestations of its wishes. He would not press the subject further upon that occasion. He should only say that, if compensation were denied to these parties, such a course would be discreditable to the Government, unworthy of the character of Parliament, and would remain a scandal on the annals of this country. He would say no more upon the subject, and would not press any motion respecting it. He should not have brought the matter under the consideration of the House that evening, in the midst of the many public questions which called for their immediate deliberation, and, in the present unsettled state of their finances, were it not that the parties interested felt that their case might be prejudiced by observing a total silence. He had introduced the subject, principally for the purpose of reserving the rights of parties, and, in order that it might not be supposed, upon any future occasion, that they had abandoned their claims.

Mr. Hume

was glad that his hon. Friend did not intend to press his motion, at the same time he was anxions to make one or two observations. This question was one in which the national honour was concerned, and it had been longer before the House than any other. Twenty-three years ago he had first divided in favour of these claims. Then the whole of the claims were refused. Since then, after a lapse of twenty years, two-thirds of those claims had been granted, and one third only now remained. After three decisions of the House in favour of those claims, faith ought to have been kept with the claimants. He thought that both the late Government and the present Government in refusing the demands of these claimants, were wrong. If there were any error in regard to dates, that ought not to stand in the way of their doing justice. In the estimates for the present year they bad voted a sum of 10,000l. to settle some Portuguese claims, which were due in 1810. Therefore, the length of time which had elapsed ought not to prevent justice from being done. Her Majesty's Government were willing to pay away money where there was no claim, but they refused to pay a just claim. This obstinate denial of justice was discreditable to the Government. They had voted a sum to liquidate the claims of M. Sampayo, which had accrued from 1808 to 1814. There had been no objection made to pay foreigners why should there be any objection to pay English claimants? He hoped that the Government would see the propriety of taking the question into their serious consideration before the next Session, and would pay the last third due to the Danish claimants; who would, even if that was paid, suffer severe loss, inasmuch as they would only have been paid the principal, and have lost the interest for thirty-five years

Question again put,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he should be perfectly ready, when the hon. Gentleman brought the subject forward, to express his views upon it. At present it could not have been discussed without causing the delay of other business. He had already expressed his opinion on those claims, which expression of opinion had not been given merely since he sat on that side of the House, for when he had sat on the other side he had supported the then Chancellor of the Exchequer in his opposition to these claims. He agreed with the hon. Member for Montrose that if a claim was a just one, length of time could be no bar to its admission, but he could not agree that because they had voted a sum of money to Mr. Sampayo, therefore, they ought to vote a sum of money to the Danish claimants.

The claim of Mr. Sampayo,

was admitted; the only question in debate was as to amount, in the ascertaining of which time, of course, had been occupied. The discussion of the Danish claims rested upon a different footing. He could not admit the justice of those claims. The concession of them would involve the country in incalculable expense on some future occasion.

Subject at an end.