HC Deb 06 February 1845 vol 77 cc166-9
Sir G. Grey

Sir, I rise for the purpose of putting a question to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, with reference to that part of Her Majesty's Speech which relates to the discussions that took place last year between our Government and that of France on the subject of occurrences that took place at Tahiti. Towards the close of the last Session a question was put by my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir C. Napier) on the subject of the discussions then pending, which the right hon. Baronet very properly declined to answer, on the ground that it would be detrimental to the public service to make any statement, or convey any information as to the nature of the correspondence between the two countries. But the right hon. Baronet followed that observation by an expression of his intention to submit at a future period full information on the subject. Now, without expressing any opinion as to the course which the Government has taken on this question, I may be permitted to say that no man more sincerely rejoices than I do that the dissensions which had sprung up between the two countries have been so happily arranged. For my own part, I should be extremely unwilling to press for the production of any correspondence which could have a tendency to create or renew any feeling of irritation, or to foment discord or jealousy between the inhabitants of the two countries. At the same time we cannot overlook the fact that this question is exciting a very warm interest amongst a very large class of persons in this country, as it is regarded by them to be of high importance to both our national honour and our interest. At present the House knows nothing of this correspondence, and has none of the documents except what it has derived through the newspapers, or from documents which have been submitted to the French Chambers. I hope that if it can be done without running the risk of exciting those angry feelings to which I have alluded, that the right hon. Baronet will still be able to fulfil the intention he formerly announced. I therefore beg to ask the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to produce any further documents for the purpose of affording Parliament full information on this subject.

Sir R. Peel

Sir, the right hon. Baronet has stated correctly what fell from me on a former occasion in this House with reference to the subject to which he has referred. At the same time, I do hope that, as the various subjects under discussion between the two Governments have been brought to a termination honourable to the respective countries, and satisfactory to the parties themselves, Her Majesty's Government will not be pressed for the production of the correspondence which passed on that occasion. I must observe, however, that I am perfectly ready to lay before the House a portion of that Correspondence, namely, two letters from M. Guizot, and one from my noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Department; but, whilst I express my readiness to do so, I must intimate my opinion that this is all that is requisite for the purpose of elucidating the subject, and of vindicating the character of the nation; and I certainly do, at the same time, deprecate any further discussion on this topic, as not being in my opinion necessary or even called for, Mr. Pritchard having been appointed to a higher post, and to act in a wider sphere of action since the transaction referred to occurred; which appointment having since been confirmed by Her Majesty's Government, has been most fully carried out and acquiesced in. If I were to be called upon, and consequently obliged to produce the whole of the documents referred to by the right hon. Baronet, I should have to present to the House a correspondence which took place between the officers of the French and English Navy, and this would revive—I am sorry to express my sentiments—a most painful and irritating subject. It must also be observed, that the negotiations and the satisfaction that ensued were chiefly brought about by means of an almost daily personal communication between my noble Friend and myself, and the representative of the French Government here; and, consequently, the official agents of that Government had better opportunities for recording and preserving the occurrences and negotiations that took place than were possessed by my noble Friend and myself; the representatives of the French Government here being under the necessity of communicating what passed at these interviews by letter. But, whilst I make this observation, I must express a strong hope that the House is decidedly in favour of the principle upon which Her Majesty's Government acted throughout—namely, that of bringing the matter to an amicable termination; and, if that was achieved, of rendering that result a conclusive and final one. If the House is satisfied that Her Majesty's Government has acted with propriety, and in due regard to the honour and interests of the nation in this matter, I do hope that our statement of the broad features of the case will be accepted as conclusive; and that we shall not be called upon to produce a correspondence which arose out of irritating circumstances, and which would only tend at this moment to revive and prolong unnecessarily that irritation. I feel extremely obliged to the right hon. Baronet for the manner in which he put his question, and for the opportunity which he has thus afforded me of stating my sentiments on the subject; and I trust, for the reasons I have stated, that he will not be disposed to press the topic further.

Lord J. Russell

If I understand the right hon. Baronet correctly, the result of the negotiations between the two Governments is satisfactory: and I agree, therefore, with him, that the production of any correspondence of an irritating nature between officers would be injurious to the Public Service. My right hon. Friend, I am sure, does not wish to have any such correspondence produced.