HC Deb 25 June 1844 vol 75 cc1347-50
Lord J. Russell

rose to put a question of which he had given notice, with respect to the relations between France and Morocco. He had delayed his question upon this subject until sufficient time had elapsed for such communications as it was probable would take place on the matter between the Government of this country and that of the King of the French. It appeared that a French force had been collected in their territory of Algiers, that a considerable reinforcement had been sent out, and that the whole force there did not amount to less than 100,000 men, being equal to the number of men which by the army estimates were appointed for the whole defence of this great Empire. Lately actual hostilities had taken place on the frontiers of Algiers and Morocco. Whether those hostilities had been provoked by the Morocain chiefs, as stated in the French newspapers, or whether the Sovereign of Morocco had any other account to give of the origin of the hostilities, he was not informed; but anything which might lead to hostility, and still more, to open war and invasion on the part of France against Morocco, could not but excite great interest in this country, which had relations of peace with the Emperor of Morocco, and with which a Treaty had been signed by us in the year 1821, and subsequently recognized in 1824. That Treaty provided that the persons and property of the English subjects in Morocco should be protected. There was also an article in the Treaty with respect to the provisioning of Gibraltar, which showed that it was considered by the parties who framed the Treaty to be of the utmost importance to the safety of Gibraltar, in case it was besieged by hostile powers, to have the means of being supplied with provisions from the State of Morocco. It was evident that any aggression on the part of France must be looked at with anxiety, if the policy which it pursued on the coast of Barbary would act in any way injuriously to the interests of that country. No doubt the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, was in communication with the Ministers of the King of the French upon the subject, and he would, therefore, wish to ask the nature of the explanations and statements made by the French Government as to the origin of the hostilities that had taken place, and as to the extent to which they were proposed to be carried on the part of France. There was another point, also, upon which he wished to ask a question, viz., as to the instructions which had been given to the admiral who had been lately appointed by the French Government to the command of a squadron destined for the coast of Morocco. He alluded to his Royal Highness the Prince de Joinville, the men- tioning of whose name ought to be, he considered, sufficient to make the Government of this country jealous of the instructions which had been given to him. It was not unusual for a Government to communicate the instructions, or the substance of the instructions given by them to a commander of a squadron sent with a view to hostilities to a foreign coast. He wished, therefore, to know whether the French Government had communicated to that of this country either the instructions or the substance of them which were given to his Royal Highness the Prince de Joinville, when he went to take the command of the squadron ordered to the coast of Morocco.

Sir R. Peel

said, that the noble Lord had given him notice of the tenor of his question, and he was therefore prepared to give an answer as far as was consistent with his sense of public duty. He concurred most fully in the observations made by the noble Lord as to the importance to this country of its relations with the Empire of Morocco. It was impossible to feel an interest in that empire without being filled with anxiety at its present position. The amicable relations subsisting between this country and Morocco, and the very faithful manner in which the latter discharged its relations to us—when combined with its physical position, made its present political relations a matter of deep and just interest to Her Majesty's Government. As to the question put by the noble Lord, he had to state that the French Government had entered into full and unreserved explanations with Her Majesty's Government as to its relations with the Emperor of Morocco. It had given a voluntary and positive assurance of its earnest wish to avoid hostilities with the Emperor of Morocco; and it had stated that the circumstances which led to the interruption of the peaceful relations existing between Morocco and France were mainly owing to the fact that the chieftain, now so well known, and who had distinguished himself so much, Abd-el-Kader, had nine times out of ten, when pursued by the French arms, sought refuge in the dominions of the Emperor of Morocco, and had been enabled by the aid of the subjects of the Emperor, if not by the Emperor himself, to renew his attacks on the French frontiers. That led to the concentration of the French forces on the boundaries of the Morocain Empire. The actual hostilities, of which accounts were some short time ago received, were, he believed, not premeditated, nor had he any reason to believe that these hostilities on the part of the Morocain forces were committed by order of the Emperor, but were rather a casual rencounter from the hasty zeal of troops not accustomed to the usages of modern warfare as carried on in civilized countries, and without any express direction. He sincerely hoped that that alone would not necessarily lead to the interruption of peace with France. More recent accounts had reached town to-day by telegraphic communication, for Government had no other means of information on the subject, announcing the renewal of hostilities on the part of the Morocain army while, as it appeared, the leaders of the two forces were engaged at an amicable conference. He had already stated that the French Government had notified, that nothing was further from its wish than to promote hostilities with the Emperor of Morocco, and expressed its regret at the necessity which it was under of taking effective measures to prevent the incursions into their territories of Abd-el-Kader. The French Government had communicated very frankly the course which it intended to pursue, and the demands which it would make upon the Emperor. And it also stated the ulterior means which it intended to adopt if such were necessary. That statement included the purport of the instructions which had been given to the French Admiral, the Prince de Joinville. He was quite certain that the noble Lord would not expect him to slate what the purport of those instructions were. The British Government placed implicit confidence in the declaration which it had received from the French Government, being perfectly satisfied with its assurances, but he could not, consistently with his duty as a Minister of the Crown, make any other declaration at present. When the occasion required it, he would make such further statements as were necessary.

Lord J. Russell

said, that he would not press his question more closely at present, but, contenting himself with the assurances which had been made by the French Government, he would reserve the right of putting his question in a more specific form, should circumstances arise to warrant his doing so.

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