HC Deb 09 July 1844 vol 76 cc542-53
Mr. Christie

rose to bring forward his Motion with respect to these Claims. The question had been so often before the House, and the justice of the Claims had been so often affirmed, that he felt justified in bringing the subject forward in the briefest possible manner. The subject, however important to the individuals whose pecuniary interests were involved, was of a dry and unexciting character, and he could not but remember that this question had previously come before the House recommended by all the weight of Mr. Justice Cresswell's ability and reputation; and that after he ceased to be a Member of the House, it was undertaken and treated in his usual luminous manner by his hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth (Mr. Hawes). His hon. Friend had been prevented by other occupations from again bringing forward the question. He expected to hear it said that it was time to have done with the Danish Claims. But what was the state of the question, and the circumstances under which he then brought the Motion forward? The present Claims, amounting to about 225,000l., were the last of three classes of Claims, the two other classes having been paid, first one and then the other, both after long opposition, by successive Governments, and the justice of the third class having been affirmed on three occasions by majorities of that House. Last year, his hon. Friend (Mr. Hawes), who had expected a larger majority than ever, found himself, to his great surprise, beaten in the division. But the Danish Claimants had three victories to put forward against that one defeat, and whatever opinion the Chancellor of the Exchequer might himself entertain against the Claims, he must admit that there was some strength in Claims which had been so earnestly advocated by so distinguished a Member of his party as Mr. Cresswell, which had been supported by so many Members of his party, and by several Members of the present Government, and that there was justification for bringing them forward. Ten Members of the Government had voted for these Claims at different times. The noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland (Lord Eliot), who had begun by opposing them, changed his opinion, and voted for them in 1841, but last year voted against them. The hon. Members for Wenlock (Mr. Gaskell), and Belfast (Mr. E. Tennent) had voted for Mr. Cresswell's Motion, but last year were absent from the division. The Solicitor General had voted for them, after hearing the elaborate argument of the hon. and learned Member for Worcester on the other side, on which so much stress had since been laid. He was not in office last year, but he supposed he would maintain his consistency to-night. No other Members of the Government had changed their votes. There was a list of six: the hon. Member for Selkirkshire, (Mr. Pringle) a Lord of the Treasury, the gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Boldero), the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. G. W. Hope), the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Charles Hope), the gallant Officer, the Member for Scarborough (Sir Frederick Trench), who had not only voted but spoken. He was particularly sorry not to see the gallant Member present, for he meant to read his speech which was very short and strong:— The question is (said the gallant Member) not as to the length of time which has elapsed, but whether the House will do justice. I shall vote for the Motion, because no length of time will bar a claim of justice. So spoke the gallant Officer in 1838; but when he took office, he found that time did affect justice. The last on the list was not the least, the right hon. Member for Kent (Sir E. Knatchbull). The Danish Claimants, then, were justified in again coming forward to see whether their defeat last year was the result of accident, and whether the Government really meant, to a question like this, involving thousands of pounds to some individuals, and comfort or beggary for life to others, as a party or Government question. The Claims arose out of the memorable capture of Copenhagen, in 1807. Suddenly, when we were at peace with Denmark, an English fleet, with a large military force, arrived off Zealand, to compel the surrender into our hands of the Danish fleet, unless Denmark promptly made a voluntary surrender of it. The voluntary surrender was refused; our fleet bombarded Copenhagen, which in a short time capitulated. English ships in the Danish ports, and off the Danish coasts, were captured in retaliation for this aggression; and the present claimants all claimed for losses of ships and cargoes which took place during a period of time extending from the beginning of August, when the attack on Copenhagen took place, till the 24th of December, when war was for the first time declared by Denmark. The expedition had been planned with the utmost secrecy, in order to insure its being effectual; and those whose ships were lying in the Danish ports, and had no notice of the intended attack, had a right to come to the Government of their own country for compensation for losses which they had suffered for the public good. Other losses had been sustained on the return home from distant ports in the Baltic, the British Commodore having suddenly, and without authority from the Government, withdrawn from the Baltic the British fleet, on which the owners of the ships relied for protection. But all the claimants, without distinction, asked for compensation on the ground that they had suffered from reprisals; and it was a recognised principle of the Law of Nations, that individuals should be compensated by their country for losses sustained by way of reprisals. The answer made was, that these were not cases of reprisals; but that during all this time there was declared war between Denmark and England. How was this proved? By a document quoted from the Annual Register of 1807, not brought from the Foreign Office, which now turned out to be mistranslated. His hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth (Mr. Hawes) had moved last year for a Return of this document in the original German, and an authentic translation had been appended to the Return. This document was dated the 16th of August, 1807, from Glückstadt, in Holstein. It ordered that all the goods of English found in Denmark should be "seized," according to the translation in the Annual Register. But it now turned out that "seized" ought to have been "laid under embargo;" and this word "seized" was the most warlike word in this document put forth as a declaration of war. Even if it had ordered the goods to be "seized," that would not make it a declaration of war. The Danish Minister at our Court remained in England till the middle of November, Was that consistent with a state of war? As late as the 13th of December, the King of Denmark said, in a reply to some merchants who had addressed him, that he had only sequestered the goods of the English; that he could make no further concessions to so perfidious an enemy, and he urged his subjects to fit out privateers and make reprisals on the English. [The Chancellor of the Exchequer: "Hear, hear,"] The right hon. Gentleman cheered, and meant, probably, that if there was not war the King of Denmark would not not have called England an enemy, nor licensed privateers. Why this was the very difference between reprisals and war. Was France at war with Morocco? M. Guizot had said the other day, in the French Chamber, that there was no war, but that they had met a Moorish aggression with reprisals. Then it could not be said that this proclamation of the 16th of August was a declaration of war. It did not emanate from the chief seat of Government, Copenhagen, but from Glückstadt, a port in the outlying Duchy of Holstein. It was not addressed to our Government, but only to the Danish subjects in the Duchy of Holstein. There was a decree of confiscation of English goods on the 24th of December, and there was no proceeding tantamount to a declaration of war before then. All these losses occurred before the 24th of December. There being no war, the distinction which had been made between the Claims that had been paid, as arising from losses sustained contrary to the usage of war, and these Claims fell to the ground. But even if there had been war, was there no claim? The war had arisen in a peculiar manner, without notice to English subjects, whose ships were in danger; licenses had actually been given by the Admiralty for ships to sail for Danish ports, while the expedition to Copenhagen was being projected, and after the fleet had sailed with its sealed orders. These are the grounds on which he put these Claims forward. If the right hon. Gentleman would give any hope that he would cause a full and fair investigation of this case, he had no wish to divide the House. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) took upon himself to say for the Government, that they would hold out no such hope. He (Mr. Christie) was sorry to hear it. Lord Althorp, in 1834, after opposing the Book-Debt Claims, had promised, on a Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. J. Parker), to take the Claims into his consideration; and they were paid. Lord Monteagle had done the same in 1838, with the Claims for goods confiscated on shore, brought forward by his hon. Friend, the Member for Kendal (Mr. Warburton). The present claimants had to complain of so much deference having been paid to the opinions of the House expressed in debate in the other cases, while in their case four majorities of the House were set at nought. They had to complain of the encouragement which they had received from the party opposite, when out of power, not being continued now that they were in power. The right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) had voted, it was true, in 1841 against the Claims, the year before he came into power; but what did he do when Mr. Cresswell brought forward the question in 1838? He was in the House during the whole of the debate, applauded Mr. Cresswell's speech, and left the House just before the division. That induced the Danish Claimants to think that he had had difficulty in making up his mind on the question, and to hope that when he came into power he would befriend them. If the Government forced him to a division, he hoped they would not make this a question of confidence: it could not redound to their honour if Members of the Government who had voted once, twice, and three times for these Claims, now voted against them, and it would be said, that the grievances of individuals were taken up and abandoned in that House just as it suited the purposes of party. The hon. Gentleman concluded by proposing the following Motion:— That this House will, to-morrow resolve itself into a Committee to consider of an Address to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to take into Her early and most favourable consideration the case of the Claimants for losses sustained by the seizure of British ships and cargoes by the Danish Government in 1807, and reported to have been established by the Commissioners, to whom it was referred, to examine and adjudicate on all such Claims, in their Report bearing date the 12th day of May, 1840.

Mr. Hume

seconded the Motion. These Claims were now thirty-seven years old, and most disgracefully twenty-six years were allowed to elapse before any justice whatever was obtained from that House. Now, however, the public faith was pledged to payment by majorities gained against the strenuous exertions of successive Ministers in no less than six divisions. No man in that House had been a greater advocate of public economy than he had; but he thought it was disgraceful, and it would attach discredit and odium to the country, that those Claims had been left so long unsettled. All party feeling should be thrown aside upon such a question; yet the conduct of hon. Members upon it was such as to throw discredit upon the House. When the hon. Member for Lambeth brought forward the question in 1842, he was defeated by fifty-seven to forty-two; yet in the majority who then supported the Minister there were fifteen Gentlemen who in previous years had registered their votes in favour of these identical Claims. He entreated the Government to remember that they were resisting a claim which was founded in justice, as declared by six majorities of that House.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

held that to be one of those questions upon which the Government was called upon to exercise the power given to them by the constitution of controlling the disposition of a popular assembly to bestow the public money on other than public considerations, and where it was not properly and fairly due. So long as he was honoured with Her Majesty's confidence, he would never be wanting in what he considered the faithful discharge of his duty, even although he might be accused of resisting a claim which some Gentlemen might deem to be founded in justice. The Claim now made had been laid before the best legal authorities by both the present and former Governments, and the uniform opinion of all these competent authorities was that these Claims could not be properly acceded to. That if they were it would open to the door, not to the payment of the 125,000l. now sought—but having once recognised the principle, they might be called upon for compensation for similar losses sustained in other wars that were past, and they must pay similar claims in all future wars. The hon. Member for Montrose had charged hon. Gentlemen with having changed their opinions upon the subject; but, considering the great confusion which existed in the minds of many men as to the different classes of Claims, and their dissimilarity, nothing was more natural than that, upon investigation, and consideration of the usages and the laws of war, hon. Gentlemen should revise their former opinions, and record their votes contrary to what they had done before. He resisted the Claim now upon the same ground on which it had frequently been resisted before, both by himself and his predecessors in office; he denied, as strongly as language could possibly do, the statement of the hon. Gentleman who introduced the question, that there had been no declaration of war before the captures, for which compensation was claimed, were made. It was admitted the captures were all made subsequently to the 16th of August, 1807, on which day a proclamation was issued by the Danish Government from which the following was an extract:— Whereas, by the English envoy Jackson it was declared to us on the 13th of this month that hostilities against Denmark would be commenced; and whereas, at the same time, he demanded passports for himself and suite, consequently the war between England and Denmark may be considered as actually broken out; therefore, we herewith call on all our faithful subjects to take up arms, whenever it shall be required, to frustrate the insidious designs of the enemy, and repel hostile attacks. Why, if the doctrine laid down by the hon. Gentleman was to be held good, the battle of Waterloo must have been fought in a time of profound peace, because on the 15th of June, 1815, that there had been no formal declaration of war against France. Again, he said, Great Britain had not declared war against Denmark until a later period. The British declaration was dated September 25, 1807, and the following was an extract from it:— Notwithstanding the declaration of war on the part of the Danish Government, it still remains for Denmark to determine whether war shall continue between the two nations, dearly showing that war had existed between the two countries previous to that date. The following extracts from Danish documents all showed that the war commenced on the 16th of August:—The first is an extract from the Danish declaration, dated the 24th August, which referring to an antecedent period, states,— Placed between danger and dishonour the Danish Government had no choice; the war commenced. The next is a proclamation of the Governor of Zealand, dated the 16th August. He says— Hostilities having commenced on the part of the English, I hereby declare, in virtue of the highest authority, that all English property be laid under sequestration; which each and every one is accordingly enjoined to report the English property, of what kind or nature so-ever, to the police, who will make the further necessary arrangements. Any one who conceals or does not fulfil this order will be considered as a traitor to the country. (Signed) "PEYMANN. Copenhagen, August 16, 1807. Other documents which could be produced prove the same thing. Then, said the hon. Gentleman, compensation is due because this was a war without due notice. Was it the usual practice, or could it be done, when this country saw another placed in circumstances which threatened her interests—was it possible they could give that country notice that six months' hence a war would commence? It was absurd; and those subjects of Her Majesty whose ships were seized by the Americans after the United States declared war, and before the actual commencement of hostilities, or any declaration on the part of Great Britain had as much claim to be compensated as the claimants whose case they were considering. The hon. Member for Montrose declared himself an advocate for economy But from the course which he was now taking, it appeared as if he considered economy to consist in curtailing minor points of expenditure, being perfectly willing while he saved little amounts in public services, to incur large expenditure for the gratification of private individuals. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by declaring his determination to oppose the Motion.

Mr. Hawes

said, the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman against these Claims would have been equally applicable against the former Claims that were allowed. The circumstances of this case were peculiar. Nothing like it had ever before occurred in the history of this country, and nothing like it he hoped would ever occur again. According to the doctrines of the right hon. Gentleman it was impossible to ascertain when we were at war or when we were not. Were we at war with China two years ago when towns and ships were taken, and this country enforced a ransom of a million of money? We refused the expedition that gained that sum their prize-money because we said there was no war. Would the Treasury now pay the men the prize-money gained in China? Would the Chancellor of the Exchequer meet them on that ground? It was then convenient for the Treasury to say there was no war, but now it was convenient to say there was a war. In fact we were at war or not at war, just as either case was likely to protect the Exchequer. There was no just reason for refusing the claims of the shipowners, as they had nothing but their cargoes, and were more exposed to loss than anybody else. As he was satisfied that these were good equitable Claims he would most heartily support them.

Colonel Sibthorp

had always attended to give his vote in favour of the just Claims of these individuals, and he hoped the hon. Gentleman would persevere year after year in bringing them forward, and if he did, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be sure to knock under.

Sir C. Napier

was glad to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer declare that the attack on Copenhagen was a sufficient declaration of war, for if so he could not see how it could be argued that the troops in China were not entitled to their prize-money; or that the whole of the operations which took place there, including the second capture of Canton, were not acts of war. The most extraordinary services were performed there by the Army and Navy. The operations were carried on in the most extraordinary manner by Sir W. Parker, in ascending unknown rivers, and reaching Canton, where vessels were captured to the value of 7,000,000 of dollars. Yet the whole of this money was given up in order to enable China to pay to this country a large sum for the expense of carrying on the war, and all the while the Chancellor of the Exchequer sat, and did not give a single dollar to any of the men engaged on that most important service. He feared that when the troops would find that they were treated in this manner they would turn round.

Sir R. Peel

did not believe that the British Navy or those who constituted it, would act on the principle just stated by the hon. and gallant Member. He believed that they would do their duty to their Sovereign and country without reference to pecuniary consequences; and that, if their duty required them to take a certain part, they would not turn round and neglect their duty.

Sir C. Napier

did not mean to say that the troops would neglect their duty, but that men would not enter the service.

Sir R. Peel

hoped the House would not be diverted from the real question at issue. The question before the House was, whether those parties had Claims on the House of Commons for a quarter of a million of money for alleged captures made thirty-seven years since. The attention of the House was not called so much to the origin of the Claims on the present occasion, but the votes of the House had been attempted to be gained by reference to the parts which individual Members of Parliament had taken on former occasions. The hon. Gentleman said that he (Sir R. Peel) on a former occasion, when this subject was debated, retired from the House. But he must say that when he was in opposition to the late Government he gave them his support in opposing these Claims; and in 1841, when Mr. Cresswell, who sat on the Bench behind him, brought them forward, he recorded his vote in favour of the course pursued by the Government, and which was dictated by a sense of public duty, against Claims which they believed to be unfounded, but which were supported by that sort of personal private canvass of which he had on so many occasions reason to complain. If they were now at liberty to discuss the justice and policy of the war with Denmark, there never would be a limit to such Claims hereafter. The only question for them now to consider was, had there been, a war with Denmark? What were the facts? This country had reason to believe that Denmark was about to give over its fleet to France, and being at peace with Denmark it required that country either to deny the charge or to give over the fleet to it. There was in fact a secret Article in the Treaty of Tilsit that Denmark should give up the fleet to France. This country, anxious to prevent this, sent a force to take that fleet, and secure it from the control of Bonaparte. On the 16th of April the King of Denmark declared war against this country and yet the merchants continued their speculations, and on the 4th November this country declared war against Denmark, in a proclamation commencing in these terms:— Whereas the King of Denmark has issued a declaration of war against His Majesty, and His Majesty's anxious and repeated endeavours to obtain the revocation of such declaration, and procure the restoration of peace, have proved ineffectual, &c. He would now read to the House Sir W. Scott's opinion as to the retro-active effect of a declaration of war. There were many cases decided on the point in the Courts of Law. He held one in his hand with respect to the seizure of property in Demerara. It was seized during a time of peace, and the question was, if it were a prize of war or not, the seizure having been made before a declaration of war; and the opinion of Lord Stowell as to the effect of the declaration of war was as follows: The circumstances are these: that the property was taken in a state of peace, and that the proprietors are now become British subjects, and consequently that this property could not be considered as the property of an enemy either at the time of capture or adjudication. Now, with respect to the first of these pleas, it must be admitted that that alone would not protect them, because the Court has, without any exception, condemed all other property of Dutchmen taken before the war. And upon what ground? That the declaration had a retro-active effect applying to all property previously detained, and rendering it liable to be considered as the property of enemies taken in time of war. This property was seized provisionally — an act itself hostile enough in the mere execution, but equivocal as to the effect, and liable to be varied by subsequent events, and by the conduct of the government of Holland. If that conduct had been such as to re-establish the relations of peace, then the seizure, although made with the character of a hostile seizure, would have proved in the event a mere embargo or temporary sequestration. So that all seizures made previously to the declaration of war became a prize, and were liable to be taken possession of. In the case now under discussion there was a declaration of war by Denmark on the 16th of August, and that on the part of Great Britain was made on the 4th of November, which latter declaration, even if the other were not made, according to Lord Stowell, had a retro-active effect. The opinion of Her Majesty's Government was that this Claim was not well founded—that the House could not admit it without establishing a precedent that was most dangerous and embarrassing as to the future, and without giving rise to other claims, at least as strong as this; and the Government, as the guardians of that public purse, which was liable to be assailed by so many claimants, and of which he did not feel that the House of Commons was always the most effectual protector, felt it to be their duty in conformity with the obligations they owed to the public now to take the course which they took when they were the opponents of the late Government, and offer every opposition in their power to a Claim which they did not consider to be founded in justice.

Mr. Muntz

The question seemed to him to be whether the merchants under the circumstances could take care of themselves, or if they were not placed in a false position by the assurances which were made to them by the Admiralty. He should say, that the merchants had a just claim on the Government; and he thought that upon a question between individuals and the Government, the former ought not to be sacrificed when such a small amount was at stake.

The House divided:—Ayes 68; Noes 72: Majority 4.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Bowes, J.
Antrobus, E. Bowring, Dr.
Archbold, R. Bright, J.
Bagge, W. Broadley, H.
Bannerman, A. Chapman, A.
Barclay, D. Chute, W. L. W.
Barnard, E. G. Clay, Sir W.
Blackstone, W. S. Cobden, R.
Crawford, W. S. Napier, Sir C.
Dennistoun, J. Neeld, J.
D'Eyncourt, rt. hn. C, T O'Brien, J.
Disraeli, B. C'Connor, D.
Douglas, Sir H. Ogle, S. C. H.
Duncan, G. Ord, W.
Duncombe, T. Plumridge, Capt.
Esmonde, Sir T. Rawdon, Col.
Forster, M. Rice, E. R.
Gardner, J. D. Ross, D. R.
Gibson, T. M. Sandon, Visct.
Gill, T. Scrope, G. P.
Gore, hon. R. Sibthorp, Col.
Greenaway, C. Smith, A.
Hawes, B. Smith, J. A.
Hinde, J. H. Smythe, hon. G.
Hodgson, R. Vane, Lord H.
Howard, P. H. Villiers, hon. C.
Hutt, W. Wakley, T.
Kemble, H. Walker, R.
Liddell, hon. H. T. Wallace, R.
Mangles, R. D. Warburton, H.
Mitcalfe, H. Ward, H. G.
Mitchell, T. A. Wawn, J. T.
Morris, D.
Morison, Gen. TELLERS.
Muntz, G. F. Christie, W. D.
Murphy, F. S. Hume, J.
List of the NOES.
A'Court, Capt. Heathcote, G. J.
Adare, Visct. Herbert, hon. S.
Adderley, C. B. Hope, hon. C.
Arkwright, G. Hope, A.
Baring, hon. W. B. Hope, G. W.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Hussey, T.
Bateson, T. Jermyn, Earl
Boldero, H. G. Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.
Borthwick, P. Law, hon. C. E.
Bowles, Adm. Lefroy, A.
Brotherton, J. Lennox, Lord A.
Bruce, Lord E. Lincoln, Earl of
Byng, G. Lowther, hon. Col.
Campbell, J. H. McGeachy, F. A.
Carnegie, hon. Capt. Macnamara, Major
Clerk, Sir G. McNeill, D.
Cockburn, rt, hon. Sir G. McTaggart, Sir J.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Marsham, Visct.
Courtenay, Lord Martin, C. W.
Cripps, W. Meynell, Capt.
Damer, hon. Col. Milnes, R. M.
Denison, E. B. Nicholl, rt. hn. J.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Norreys, Lord
Eliot, Lord Northland, Visct.
Escott, B. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Forbes, W. Pringle, A.
Forman, T. S. Smith, rt. hon. R. V.
Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T. Somerset, Lord G.
Fuller, A. E. Stanley, Lord
Gaskell, J. Milnes Sturt, H. C.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Thornely, T.
Goulburn, rt. hn. H. Trench, Sir F. W.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Trollope, Sir J.
Granby, Marq. of
Greene, T. TELLERS.
Hamilton, Lord C. Young, J.
Hayes, Sir E. Baring, H.
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