HC Deb 23 March 1846 vol 84 cc1432-9

said: I wish to ask a question of the right hon. Baronet of which I gave him notice, and it relates to a subject of very considerable importance to the commercial interests of this country—the state of our relations with the Republic of Buenos Ayres. We all know that for a considerable period British commerce has received great interruption in the River Plate, first by the war carried on between the Buenos Ayres Government and that of Monte Video, and lately in consequence of the measures taken by the British Government to put an end to that war. Transactions have taken place there of a very warlike description. The language of the Government, when asked upon this matter in Parliament, has been the language of peace; but the acts of our authorities there have certainly been acts of war. First of all, there has been established a maritime blockade; next there has been the landing of British troops upon the Argentine territory, and the storming of towns; then there has been the capture of Argentine vessels and the advertisement of them for sale as prizes taken in war. There has also been, I believe, an advertisement issued for the hire of shipping, to remove, at the public expense, from Buenos Ayres to the Cape of Good Hope, British subjects who had settled at Buenos Ayres relying on the faith of the existing treaties between the two countries. I apprehend that none of these transactions have arisen out of any demand made by the British Government for redress from Buenos Ayres for injuries done to British subjects or British property in violation of any treaty; and I also apprehend that our interference between Monte Video and Buenos Ayres is not the result of any guarantee we have given to Monte Video by treaty, nor the fulfilment of any obligation arising out of any treaty offensive and defensive concluded between this country and Monte Video. The only reason alleged in Parliament for this interference of the British Government, has been a desire to put an end to the war, which was thought injurious to British interests. I will not go into that matter now. My question relates simply to the state of our relations with Buenos Ayres. I wish to know—and it is of importance to the commercial interests of the country that it should be explained—whether we are now at war with Buenos Ayres or not? If we are, it is fitting that the Government should communicate the fact to Parliament, and through Parliament to the country. If we are not at war with Buenos Ayres, and if there still exists between us and Buenos Ayres relations of peace, then what I would ask is, whether those belligerent acts committed in the River Plato by the British authorities were the result of instructions from the British Government at home, and, therefore, were sanctioned beforehand by our Government; or, if not so sanctioned beforehand, whether they have been approved by the British Government since the Government became acquainted with them? There has been laid on the Table of the House copies of the instructions sent to Mr. Ouseley; but I am obliged to confess that having read those instructions, I am unable to make out whether Mr. Ouseley and our military and naval authorities in the River Plate are or are not borne out by those instructions in the course which they have pursued. I ask, therefore, whether we are at war or at peace with Buenos Ayres; and, if we are at war with Buenos Ayres, why that fact has not been communicated? But if we are at peace with Buenos Ayres, then, I wish to know how those acts of war on the spot are to be reconciled with our pacific relations, and whether they have been approved of by Her Majesty's Government? I might add, that the inquiry is naturally suggested by the well-known aversion which Her Majesty's Government have to a little war, and by their great repugnance to any interference, without absolute necessity, in the affairs of other States.


Sir, I trust the noble Lord and the House will feel that no formal notice having been given upon this subject, it is much better I should limit myself, as far as I possibly can, to the questions of the noble Lord, than that I should provoke any discussion upon the state of our relations with Buenos Ayres and Monte Video. I propose, therefore, to avoid argument upon the subject, and to confine myself to the questions which the noble Lord was good enough to intimate he would put to me. I need scarcely remind him that it has been with great reluctance Her Majesty's Government has consented to any interference of a forcible nature in the affairs of Buenos Ayres and Monte Video; that for some years we were much pressed upon this subject, and that it was not until the evil had become almost intolerable that the Government took any course partaking of the character of a forcible proceeding. The House will bear in mind that it was at our mediation in the year 1828, that the independence of Monte Video was established. Brazil consented to that independence, and was a party to the Convention by which that independence was established. The circumstance of its independence being established on our mediation certainly gives no claim nor right to Monte Video to insist that we should guarantee that independence by force; but naturally, as that independence was established on our mediation, it gives us a peculiar interest in the maintenance of it; and the interests of this country are also, upon general considerations, very materially involved in the maintenance of the independence of the eastern part of the territory—the Republic of Uruguay. In the latter end of 1844, the Brazilian Government, which was a more immediate party to the Convention of 1828, represented to the Government of this country and to that of France, that the continuance of this war upon the shores of the River Plate was detrimental to the interests of all commercial countries; and Brazil earnestly intreated that a fresh effort should be made on the part of France and this country, and that they would interpose for the purpose of restoring tranquillity, and maintaining the independence of Monte Video. Efforts had frequently been made in preceding years; and I think, in the year 1841, the noble Lord himself offered the mediation of this country to the two contending Powers, and that offer was accepted by Monte Video, and rejected by Buenos Ayres. France and England again made a joint offer of this nature; and again it was accepted by Monte Video, and rejected by Buenos Ayres. The war has now continued six or seven years; and under the pressure of almost intolerable evils, this country and France, acting together in the most cordial union, determined to make an attempt to bring about peace between the two countries, and to secure the independence of Monte Video. They had no other object in view further than the restoration of peace, and each country disclaimed, with the utmost sincerity, any desire to get any peculiar advantages for itself; and, as to getting any accession of territory, that of course was out of the question. The simple object was to interfere for the interests of humanity, and for the purpose of protecting the independence of Monte Video, and restoring that tranquillity which, greatly to the prejudice of peaceful commerce, had been interrupted for a period of six or seven years. They, therefore, sent a special mission. England and France, acting in concurrence, sent a special mission to these two countries, again tendering their interference, and again recommending to each the restoration of tranquillity, and the termination of hostilities, and offering their joint mediation for that purpose. The directions to the Ministers of the two countries were to exhaust every effort of amicable intercession with these two Governments, in order to effect the object in view. Their proposals were again, for the third or fourth time, accepted by Monte Video, and rejected by Buenos Ayres; but the two Governments had determined that, in the event of the rejection of amicable interference, they would then use forcible interference for the purpose of bringing about the termination of those hostilities. At the instance of the noble Lord, I presented, in the early part of the Session, the instructions which had been given by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to Mr. Ouseley, our Representative in that country, and the instructions given by the Government of France to their Representative were in conformity with those given by my noble Friend to the British Representative. I should state that the Papers I produced included two despatches from Lord Aberdeen, dated the 20th of February and the 5th of November, and that these included the whole of the instructions which had been given up to the 5th of November. There were no other instructions given having reference either to negotiations, or to forcible interference, which was contemplated as possibly necessary in the event of the failure of amicable interference. The noble Lord will observe from these two letters what were the instructions upon which the Representatives of the two Governments were acting up to the 5th November. These were the circumstances under which first offers of amicable mediation were made to the two Powers; and the noble Lord will see what were the circumstances under which, on the rejection of these offers, there was to be a qualified forcible intervention. I now propose to answer the questions of the noble Lord. First, are we now at war with Buenos Ayres? I consider that we are not. There has been no declaration of war. There is a blockade ordered by these instructions of certain ports in the River Plate belonging to Buenos Ayres; but I do not consider that the fact of the establishment of that blockade necessarily implies a state of war. The noble Lord will recollect that at that period when this country interfered with two other European Powers, for the purpose of effecting a separation of Greece from Turkey, and establishing the independence of Greece, there was a blockade of some of the ports of the Turkish Empire; and in that case we were not at war with Turkey. I am speaking now of the blockade of certain ports; and the fact of such blockade no more implies a state of war with Buenos Ayres than the blockade in the former case implied a war with Turkey. The noble Lord must also recollect the circumstance of the blockade of the Scheldt in 1831 instituted by the Government of which the noble Lord was a Member. There was at that time no declaration of war with Holland; vessels were seized as in the present case; and the forcible interference between Holland and Belgium was not considered tantamount to war. According to the instructions given them there has been a blockade established of certain ports of Buenos Ayres, and the seizure and occupation of an island in the River Plate, called Martin Garcia, as necessary to the progress of the operations. The noble Lord will observe that the instructions given to the Representatives of the two countries were, after the rejection of the offers of amicable interference, to establish a blockade of those ports which was most likely to compel the withdrawal of the Argentine forces under General Oribe from the territory of Monte Video, and to impede the hostile operations carried on by General Rosas against Monte Video; and in the event of further operations being necessary, to blockade Buenos Ayres itself. Those instructions were sanctioned; and that blockade has taken place. So far, then, for the first question of the noble Lord. Then the noble Lord asks, whether the operations of a hostile character on the banks of the River Parana have received the sanction of Her Majesty's Government? I have already stated that no other instructions were issued to the Representatives of the two countries than those contained in the Papers laid on the Table, and, strange as it may seem, there has not yet been received a full and satisfactory explanation of the motives which led to that expedition that was sent up the Parana, and that led to a conflict with the forces of Buenos Ayres. I am bound to state that an expedition of that kind was not contemplated in the instructions given by Her Majesty's Government. The noble Lord, then, will not expect me to say anything more than that there was no previous sanction of that expedition in those instructions; and certainly such an expedition was not contemplated by Her Majesty's Government. With respect to the sale of prizes, I apprehend that point refers to the sale of vessels that were taken in the attempt to break the blockade. The admiral reports that the cargoes of those vessels were of a very perishable nature, and that he had not a sufficient number of men to spare to take them to a place of safe custody, and that it was the better for all parties to proceed to the sale of those vessels and their cargoes; that he did therefore do so; and that he kept the proceeds of the sale in charge for Her Majesty's Government. Then, with regard to the removal of some British subjects, I think the noble Lord labours under an erroneous impression with regard to that transaction. It is true that some subjects of Her Majesty, residing at Buenos Ayres, who were alarmed for their personal security, left Buenos Ayres and came to Monte Video. Being in great distress, they applied to our Minister there, Mr. Ouseley, for his protection and assistance: but their removal was entirely voluntary on their part. Mr. Ouseley attempted to find employment for them in Monte Video, and made an appeal to Her Majesty's subjects there to provide temporary employment for them, as far as possible; but as many of them were agriculturists, and Monte Video was then in a state of siege, this was found to be impossible. Mr. Ouseley, therefore, thought it would be for their advantage to remove them, some to the Cape, and some to the Falkland islands; but this was done with perfect consent and good-will on their part. I believe I have now answered the noble Lord's questions, as far as I can without entering upon a discussion which would not be advantageous for the public interest.


did not wish to enter upon a general discussion on this subject; but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would, as soon as possible, afford them further information respecting it. Like his noble Friend, he did not understand in what manner Mr. Ouseley was to act, what answer he got when he arrived in the neighbourhood of Buenos Ayres, or what terms had been actually proposed to the Government of Buenos Ayres, and had been refused by that Government. The right hon. Gentleman said we were not at war, and undoubtedly a blockade did not constitute war. But he believed ships had been taken and ordered for sale, and, as the right hon. Gentleman stated, these were belligerent operations, and such as he thought would require some Order in Council to justify the admiral who had so acted. With respect to the British troops engaged in the expedition. Lord Aberdeen's instructions were, that they were not to be disembarked or to engage in any operations beyond what were requisite for the occupation of a particular island, "or for the security of the combined forces, or the success of the expedition." That was a large authority, and it was proper the House should know in what respect the military operations were, necessary.


said, he had two other questions to ask on the same subject. About two centuries ago the Dutch sailed up the Medway, much in the same manner in which Her Majesty's fleet sailed up the River Plate. He would ask, whether that was considered war? Subsequently another fleet, being the combined squadrons of Russia, France, and England, blockaded anotherfort, entered another harbour, and destroyed, another fleet—namely, the fleet of Turkey. Was that considered war? He could see no distinction between these cases. Would it satisfy the friends of peace to say that we were not at war, when ships were taken, and many lives lost in the gallant achievements of Captain Hotham and his friend Captain Hope? Would it satisfy the Quakers to be told that, when all the circumstances of war occurred, as at Navarino and in the Medway, when there was so much loss of human life, and the capture of an enemy's ships, this was all done, and yet that we were in a state of profound peace? He was at a loss to know what was war, if this was not.


The records of the year 1827 will show that the action fought at Navarino did not constitute war between Turkey and England. I understood the noble Lord to ask whether there had been any declaration of war between Buenos Ayres and England, and whether we were at war or at peace with that country. My reply was, that a blockade had been established, in virtue of the instructions given to the British Minister; that a blockade did not necessarily amount to a state of war; and that, speaking of the international relations of the two countries, we are not at war with Buenos Ayres. It is impossible to deny that whatever responsibility attaches to the late operations, rests with Her Majesty's Government and with their Representative, Mr. Ouseley; and that the gallant officers, sailors, and marines engaged in the expedition, are entitled to all the credit of their bravery, whatever may be thought of the policy of the instructions of the Government. I share in that admiration of the gallantry and spirit of the combined forces which has been already expressed; and I also look with great satisfaction upon the cordial union which existed between the two serrvices. I am not prepared at present to enter upon the present state of our relations with Buenos Ayres. There may be an amicable adjustment of the questions at issue, and peace may be restored. I am not prepared to lay any Papers upon the Table at present; but as soon as any information can be communicated to the House, I shall be happy to lay it before them.

Subject at an end.