HC Deb 14 March 1842 vol 61 cc514-9
Mr. Sheil

wished to put a question to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government with respect to recent events which had taken place in Spain. In order to make the question intelligible, he should be obliged to offer a few introductory remarks. It was notorious, that the French government had sent M. Salvandy to the court of Spain to deliver his credentials to the Queen. He, however, was not received, and the Spanish government passed resolutions highly condemnatory of the proceedings of that of France. M. Gonzales, the president of the council, declared, on the 24th of February, that, although the British Government had at first approved of the proceedings of the French court, yet, that the Earl of Aber- deen had afterwards seen fit to change his opinion upon the subject. He felt that any references either to the debates in the Chamber of Deputies or the Cortes were generally to be deprecated, but he did feel, that, if a French minister made statements affecting the character of an English minister, that the House ought to be in possession of a full knowledge of the truth. He found it asserted, that M. Guizot had stated, that he had official know ledge of a despatch written by the Earl of Aberdeen to our minister at Madrid, in which the Earl of. Aberdeen had given his fullest sanction to the proceedings of the French government. M. Guizot had added, that he had too much confidence in the firmness of mind and honour of the Earl of Aberdeen to suppose that he would have retracted his previously declared opinion. The questions which he wished to put were, first, whether the Earl of Aberdeen had written to Madrid, expressing his concurrence in the proceedings of the French government in reference to the course which it had pursued with regard to the presentation of M. Salvandy's credentials? And next, whether, if the Earl of Aberdeen had acted in that manner, he had afterwards ex pressed any different opinion?

Sir Robert Peel

cordially concurred with the right hon. Gentleman, in lamenting that any necessity should arise for making reference in that House to de bates and discussions in popular assemblies in other countries. In order that he might properly explain the course pursued by the British Government with respect to the matter alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, it would be necessary for him to enter a little into detail. Whatever opinion the Government might have entertained or expressed on the subject, it had not had the slightest practical influence on the course pursued by the Spanish government with reference to M. Salvandy. That government had taken its course on its own sense of duty before the opinion of the British Government was received at Madrid. The question was then disposed of, and therefore the expression of the opinion of the British Government had had no practical bearing on it. M. Salvandy, the French ambassador at Madrid, was accredited by the King of the French to Queen Isabel. The British Government heard with great regret, that at a critical period a difference of opinion was likely to arise between the governments of France and Spain, that might lead to the interruption of all diplomatic intercourse. The British Government, therefore, felt it to be their duty, actuated by a sincere feeling of interest in the affairs of Spain, to tender their advice to the Spanish government with respect to that possible cause of difference. There had recently been in Spain an attempt on the palace of the Queen—an attempt to seize her majesty's person. There had been considerable excitement and disturbance in some of the provinces of Spain. The sense— the deliberate sense, in his opinion, of the people of Spain, was in favour of the existing government, and this had given energy to the government, and enabled them entirely to suppress those attempts. The British Government, however, thought it would be unfortunate for Spain if, shortly after this excitement, the diplomatic intercourse between France and Spain should be suspended. The British Government had very recently made proposals to the northern courts, particularly to Austria, earnestly recommending that they should recognise the existing government of Spain, for the purpose of giving stability to that government, and through that to encourage the people to apply themselves to those pursuits of industry and ordinary occupations of life, for which a state of tranquillity was so favourable, and the British Government entertained serious apprehensions that if there should be, on the ground on which they feared it might take place, an interruption of the diplomatic relations between France and Spain, their efforts to procure the recognition of the existing government might fail. The British Government, therefore, expressed an opinion to the government of Spain, that it might be possible to reconcile this difference. The question arose on the 59th article of the constitution, which declared that the regent should exercise all the authority of king, in whose name the acts of government should be published. The British Government suggested to the government of Spain, that it might be possible that an arrangement of the following nature should be made, which should reserve to the regent of Spain the whole of the authority which that constitution intended to devolve on him, and yet respect the royal dignity in a matter which the British Government thought right to consider one of ceremony and etiquette rather than of a substantial character. The British Government, there fore, suggested an arrangement of this nature:—M. Salvandy being accredited to the queen, and not to the regent, the British Government proposed that the letters of which M. Salvandy was the bearer should be delivered to the queen in the presence of the regent; but that any act of authority connected with the reply to those letters should be performed by the regent, and that any answer delivered in the name of the queen should be delivered by the regent. The course thus suggested was somewhat similar to that pursued in the cases of Greece and of Brazil, when the sovereigns were minors. In the case of Greece letters of credence were delivered to the infant sovereign in the presence of the regent, and handed by the king to the regent. In the case of Brazil, the regent issued a decree, requiring the letters of credence of foreign ambassadors to be delivered to him in the absence of the king. This assumption on his part was resisted by the courts which had accredited ministers to Brazil, and an arrangement was made, by which, in that case, the letters were delivered to the regent in the presence of the king. But before the advice tendered by the British Government could be received by the Spanish government, the latter acted on their own construction of the constitution of Spain. He believed that, in giving that construction to the article of the constitution, they acted with perfect sincerity. The government, and he believed the Cortes, resolved that it was inconsistent with the constitution that the queen should receive the letters of credence, and even that acts of ceremony should be per formed by the regent. The British Government never questioned the perfect right of the Spanish government to place its own construction on the constitution; and, as he had before stated, the Spanish government had given its construction and acted upon it before the advice of the British Government had reached Madrid. The British Government had suggested a different construction of the article of the constitution, solely from a sincere desire to promote the welfare of Spain, and be cause they were apprehensive of those results which had subsequently taken place; but they never questioned the perfect right of the Spanish government and authorities to decide the question for themselves. They were the supreme authority on the point, and the advice of the British Government was offered before the construction of the article of the constitution by the Spanish authorities was known. With the construction given by them to their own constitution no other party had a right to quarrel; but the opinion of the British Government had never changed on this subject. He knew not on what authority the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, that Senor Gonzales had stated that there had been a change in the opinion expressed by the British Government with respect to the construction of the article, that the act of ceremony on receiving the credentials might be performed by the queen. This was the suggestion offered by the British Government, in ignorance of the interpretation that might have been put on it by the Spanish authorities, and the report—a newspaper report, he believed, of an allegation said to be made by Senor Gonzales, that the opinion of the British Government had undergone a change, was without foundation and incorrect. Having given this answer to the right hon. Gentleman, and admitting that he had drawn a just distinction with reference to his question, he trusted that the House would in future abstain, as far as possible, from referring to what transpired in angry debates either in the Cortes or the Chamber of Deputies; for nothing had a greater tendency to ex cite constant recriminations.

Viscount Palmerston

agreed with the right hon. Baronet, that nothing was more to be deprecated than allusion to the proceedings of foreign legislatures; but he deprecated still more that system of non-interference which might lead to a misconception going abroad throughout Europe, as to the opinions and the acts of the English Government on a question of such grave importance. He thought, under all the circumstances, that the Spanish government had been called on to make an unworthy compromise. He now begged to ask the right hon. Baronet whether—the fact being that not now for the first time misconceptions had arisen as to the expressions and opinions of members of the present Ministry—it would not be a more convenient course to pursue in the present instance, as in the case of Algiers, to lay upon the Table of the House any despatches which might have been written by Lord Cowley or Mr. Aston bearing on the differences existing between France and Spain. Such documents would at once show what was the language which the English Government held to France and Spain; and it was certainly most desirable, in every point of view, that these contentions in other countries, as to the language of the British Government, should be cleared up.

Sir R. Peel:

His answer to the question of the noble Viscount was, that he had already sufficiently explained the course of Government, and their motives in the conduct which they had adopted. Their sole wish was, to promote the welfare of Spain. His impression was, that it would be most inconvenient to produce a despatch for the purpose of solving a question of fact between two foreign states, and written while that question was pending. If he were to produce such a document now, he must do so again, and so go on again indefinitely. As he had stated what the views of the Government were, he did not see the necessity of producing this despatch, though, if he were to lay it before Parliament, he believed it would be found not to reflect any discredit on our Government.

Mr. Sheil

observed that the report on which he had grounded his question appeared in the Morning Herald and Morning Chronicle, and upon it he felt justified in asking what the course was which the Government had pursued.

Sir R. Peel

could hardly admit that the appearance of such a report in the Morning Herald and Morning Chronicle was a sufficient ground for the production of the despatch which the noble Lord opposite called for. When the English Government offered its advice, they were not aware of the position in which the Spanish government stood according to the articles of their constitution; but the moment they ascertained the fact, they admitted the Spanish government had a perfect right to put the proper interpretation on their own usages. M. Guizot was perfectly right in his anticipation of what the conduct of this Government would be.