HC Deb 16 June 1847 vol 93 cc621-30

begged to know whether, if the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose meant to go on with the debate on his Motion, the hon. Member for Finsbury would persist in his Amendment, and present it to the House in the form of a substantive proposition?


I don't know what may be the intention of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury, but I beg leave to assure the House, that so far as the object of the resolution proposed by my hon. Friend contains an expression of the wish of this House that the constitutional rights of the Portuguese people should be preserved, and that the British Government and authorities should use all their influence to obtain that object—whether such a resolution be proposed or adopted, it is their intention, and the British Government consider it to be their duty, to do so. I am happy to say, that from letters which I have received within the last ten minutes, I have acquired the information that the Portuguese Government are of opinion, that notwithstanding the capture of Das Antas and his squadron, it is their duty, and the proper course for them to adopt, to proclaim as full and complete an amnesty as they were prepared to grant originally, and which was rejected by the Junta. That being the intention of the Portuguese Government, and all the Allied Powers being anxious that the rights and privileges of the Portuguese people should be preserved, it will be unnecessary for my hon. Friend to make his Motion.


The hon. Gentleman the Member for Evesham, before putting that question to me, ought to have ascertained from his leader the hon. Member for Montrose, what his intention was with respect to the debate upon his Motion. I merely proposed mine as an Amendment to that of the hon. Member for Montrose, and so it remains at the present moment. At the same time I may say, that I consider my Motion virtually carried by the declaration of Her Majesty's Ministers, and from the manner in which it was received by the House. I have only therefore to say, that for my own part I am perfectly satisfied. But I think that the hon. Gentleman opposite should have also asked a question of those hon. Gentlemen behind him who were instrumental in counting out the House last night. What, I wonder, has become of all the virtuous indignation that was expressed by the country party? I think, after the exhibition of yesterday, the sooner they adopt their intention of taking off themselves and their Motion, and "go to the country," the better.


The hon. Member for Finsbury may be satisfied, and of course he must be, as he says he is; but I am sure, with all his love for constitutional liberty, and the warmth with which he came forward to sustain it, it is rather extraordinary that he should have so cooled down; and as he has suppressed all his angry feelings towards Her Majesty's Government, he must be well content with the termination to which the question has been brought. In justification of my own conduct in having counted out the House last night, I must beg leave to say that at the time I did so there was no Cabinet Minister present on the Ministerial benches. [An Hon. MEMBER: Lord PALMERSTON.] Yes, the right hon. Gentleman the Master of the Mint was in his place, and also the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department. But I found myself all at once solus on these benches. I found myself in an ambiguous position. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth must have been well pleased at the course I pursued after the speech he made, which would have done him honour had he been the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. But after a debate on so great a question, with no prospect of any decided expression of individual opinion upon it, I thought the further continuance was little worthy of the dignity of the subject; and I felt that any course was desirable which should relieve this country from the position of having the name of a Royal Sovereign mixed up with the defence of those who had prostituted the royal authority in a sister country.


I don't know, Sir, what has passed before I came in; but I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman in thinking that he was placed last night in a very peculiar position. He was left alone on that side of the House; at least there was but one hon. Gentleman more on the same side, and, therefore, he might fairly consider himself in a singular position. There was only one other hon. Member whom I, sitting here, could observe on those benches opposite; hut I must say, that it is little to the credit of the House of Commons that the course which such a circumstance required should have taken place. That it should have taken place without a previous arrangement, I cannot believe. I noticed that after the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, who brought forward a complete tissue of absurdities—for the right hon. Baronet talked of levies of Spanish troops to interfere in Portugal, and raising Spanish legions to march to the frontiers of Portugal, in which there was not one single word of truth. The right hon. Baronet made up his case in an extraordinary manner for a person so well acquainted as he is with what ought to be the duty of a Member of Parliament. He quoted from papers: I contradicted him; I asked him to point out from the papers before the House where those levies had been made. I said there was not one man levied. He could not show where those legions were. There was no legion, in fact, but in the right hon. Baronet's own brain. But I noticed that immediately after his speech the right hon. Baronet left the House; and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester spoke to another hon. Member near him, and he moved off immediately after the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth moved off; and a general move at once took place. An hon. Member came to me, and said, "They're going to count out." I said, "That is nothing to me: if they choose to count out, I can't help it." But I believe the House was counted out by an arrangement made between both the parties. ["No!"] I merely say what is my own opinion. I merely say that it is very discreditable to the House of Commons to allow a question of that kind to be disposed of without coming to any conclusion—without delivering some expression of opinion upon it. I may be in error; hut I think it a constitutional question of great importance; and I thought there ought to be, and I was very anxious there should be, a division, to show what was the opinion of the House upon the subject. I, of course, have now no remedy except taking any opportunity I might and would have of renewing the question; but I have put the question to myself, "Of what use would it he to follow such a course, when I see that the House is unwilling to interpose or entertain it?" The noble Lord the First Lord of the Treasury came in last night a few minutes after the House was counted out, and he showed a disposition that the question should be renewed. He had no unwillingness to go to a division; on the contrary, he said that it was a termination not at all satisfactory to him. I was anxious that the hon. Member for Finsbusy should have recorded his vote. If there was any one man in the House more anxious than another, or who wished to have the question pressed, it was that hon. Member. But I find that the whole bevy of hon. Gentlemen on my right hand, who were urging me on, have changed their minds, and by yielding to them I found myself in a very unpleasant situation. But it does seem to me very singular that such a change should have taken place in hon. Gentlemen's opinions. There must be some influence at work—in the air, perhaps—which operates in the same way as, after the 5th of April, some magical influence seems to have come over the councils of Her Majesty's Ministers to change their opinions, which seem to have been right up to that time; but from that date forward to have undergone an alteration which nothing contained in these documents accounts for. There are certain influences which are very infectious, as even the right hon. Baronet opposite appears to have felt their effects. I can only express my deep regret at finding that it was Her Majesty's Ministers, as appears by the papers, who first urged this interference in the affairs of Portugal. The Ministers of France and Spain were unwilling to agree to any such proposition; and after all the arguments we have heard from the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) and the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), and after all Her Majesty's Ministers have said—that if they did not interfere, others would have done so—it turns out that it was all an arrangement of Lord Palmerston's. Now, it appears to me that the Ministers who signed the protocol here signed without any authority. I see by the public newspapers that British officers are about to be decorated with Portuguese orders. I should he sorry to see such a stain cast upon British arms. I hope it is not so. In conclusion, I bog to say, that it is not my intention, unless some pressing matter should arise, to renew my Motion—unless new events, particularly such as if Colonel Wylde should continue to interfere as a firebrand to do mischief, although holding the character of a mediator, or that the parties now under the protection of the British Government should be given up to the power of their opponents—unless such events should occur, I shall consider that I have already done my duty.


I do not wish at all to evade the question which the hon. Member for Montrose brought under the consideration of the House, and which has been disposed of by the extraordinary interposition of the hon. Gentleman opposite. Still less should I attempt to defend the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth from charges of misrepresentation; but without entering into any defence of that right hon. Gentleman, I must say, I consider that throughout his very admirable and most comprehensive speech he kept close to the facts of the case, and deduced inferences from them, the truth of which, I think in reason, it is difficult not to perceive. But the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down says that the two opposing parties in the House must have come to some understanding to count out the House last night; and the hon. Gentleman opposite says there was no Cabinet Minister present. I should say that there was no party in this House who were such great losers by what happened as Her Majesty's Ministers. I think that after a careful perusal of the papers, attention to the continuance of the debate, and the speeches which were made, the division which must have ensued, giving, as it undoubtedly would have given, a very considerable majority to Her Majesty's Ministers, was an advantage which they have lost by the abrupt termination of the debate. And therefore I say that, whilst the opposers of the Motion were very great losers, I am at a loss to understand the course which the hon. Gentleman has taken. Although I don't think that for such a strange interposition there is any precedent exactly in point to be found upon the books of this House, resembling as it docs nothing but the mythological wonders effected by the poets of antiquity, who carried away their hero in a cloud when he had got into a difficulty, and there was no other way of extricating him from it. I believe such a termination of a most important debate, involving as it did a vote of censure upon the Government, is hardly recorded in our books, and is hardly to be found at all except in those ancient books of poetry to which I have alluded. The hon. Member for Montrose says he will not bring forward this Motion again; and I think that he is right, because he is in fact saved from the reply which my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would have made, and from the division which would have ensued. As to the changes which the hon. Gentleman observed had taken place in the opinions of other hon. Members, he must not be surprised that the perusal of the papers which were laid before the House, and the progress of the discussion, should have had considerable effect upon the minds of hon. Members. With respect to the absence of Cabinet Ministers from the House last evening, I must observe that the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs might have left the House for a few moments—["No, he was present"]—but so far as regards the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself, we went from this House to the House of Lords, to ascertain what was going on there, and it was whilst we were there that the House was counted out. It so happens that from the construction of the new House of Lords, there is not time for Members of this House (who, I must observe, were in considerable numbers in the other House) to get back here in time to prevent counting out, as was the case formerly. But so far as regards the assertion that the count out arose from a combination of parties, there was no such arrangement between them. There was no intention on the part of the Cabinet; and it was not owing to the absence of Ministers, that the debate suddenly came to a termination. I have only one word more to say with relation to the gallant Officer, whom I am sorry I omitted to defend, and to notice the charges against, at a former period of the debate. But as the hon. Gentleman has again brought charges against Colonel Wylde, for which he has no foundation nor justification, and which are quite inconsistent with the character of the gallant Officer, I take the present opportunity of replying to them. It was stated that the gallant Officer was in favour of arbitrary proceedings on the part of the Government. He was charged with being a firebrand, and it was said that he was sent out to Portugal merely because he was attached to the household of Prince Albert. Why, Sir, Colonel Wylde was recommended to the post he now occupies by his great and intelligent services in Spain, where he was for a long time engaged at the head-quarters of General Es-partero, and where he gave that general most useful advice—advice which materially aided him in obtaining those advantages over the Carlists which General Espartero was fortunate enough to obtain. No man, Sir, is more anxious than Colonel Wylde to establish the constitutional rights and privileges of the people. He has always furnished most accurate reports of all proceedings. He has ever shown himself most anxious to put an end to the civil war, and his advice has always tended to that point, and to the establishment of peace, of unity, and harmony in Portugal. he has repeatedly said that his private business and the state of his health required his being recalled. He has asked several times to be recalled. And it was always at the desire and request of the Government that he consented to remain. I deny, therefore, all the charges that have been brought against Colonel Wylde. As to his being a firebrand, his character hardly requires vindication. All who know him know that a man more capable of performing his duty in the task assigned to him, of giving his services to arrange between the Portuguese Government and people, could hardly have been chosen.


I should not have thought of saying a word upon this subject, had not the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose alluded pointedly to me. And as the hon. Gentleman has said that it is not his intention to proceed further with his Motion, I think it was highly inexpedient that he should have renewed the debate upon its merits, and, in the absence of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, to have made, as he has, two accusations against him. The first of these charges was, that my right hon. Friend's speech was full of absurdities. I really must leave it to the opinion of the House, and to that of the whole of Europe, to say whether the speech is full of absurdities, or whether the charge of absurdity does not attach rather more to the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose himself—to those other hon. Gentlemen who have been connected with the bringing forward of the debate—or to the hon. Gentleman who put such an abrupt termination to it. The second charge was, that the speech contained statements not consistent with the truth. Now, if the hon. Gentleman will reconsider his course, and bring his Motion forward again, it will not, I think, be difficult to show that the perspicuity and accuracy of my right hon. Friend could only be excelled by his strict attention to the truth and to the facts contained in the evidence laid before the House. This can be easily shown if the hon. Gentleman thinks fit to renew the discussion. With regard to what more immediately concerns myself, the hon. Gentleman says, that as soon as my right hon. Friend had concluded his speech, I spoke to an hon. Gentleman near me, and immediately after left the House. I did converse with an hon. Friend near me. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth stated that he delivered his opinions without any previous consultation—that he delivered them not as the opinions of a party, or of one connected with any party—that he gave to the House his own individual opinion. The noble Lord opposite has accounted for his absence in a manner becoming the dignity of a Minister of the Crown. He had gone to the House of Lords to hear the debate which was then going on there. Whilst I confess that for my part I can- didly stated to my hon. Friend near me, when I saw the huge bundle of papers in the hands of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Dr. Bowring), that with all due respect to the hon. Member for Bolton, I preferred going to dinner to sitting to hear his speech. I did go, accordingly, for a very short time, not expecting the abrupt termination of the discussion. I went home—I was foolish enough to return, and found the House had been counted out. I really was never more astonished in my life than I was at the termination of the debate. I was prepared myself to take part in it. I should have followed the same course as that adopted by the right hon. Member for Tamworth; and I would most unhesitatingly and conscientiously have given my humble support to Her Majesty's Ministers, and my opposition to the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose.


defended those hon. Gentlemen who had been stigmatized with the charge of absurdity by the right hon. Baronet for supporting the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose. The right hon. Baronet had accounted for his own absence by having been placed in the not very absurd position of going home to dinner. Surely some allowance should be made (all hon. Gentlemen being in want of that needful meal) for those who were similarly employed above stairs, in appeasing their appetites with the delicacies provided for them by Mr. Bellamy. But the House having been so very small, and the question so great, he thought his hon. Friend (Mr. Newdegate) was quite justified in acting as he had done in counting it out.


had to apologize to the right hon. Baronet for having, by the course he had adopted, prevented his making his intended speech. The right hon. Baronet had very properly denied all collusion between parties, but he had certainly shown that his appetite, at all events, if not his will, had been in collusion with those who terminated the discussion.


defended himself from the charge of absurdity. He did not understand whom the right hon. Baronet meant by "those who supported the Motion;" but, for his own part, he had come down at nine o'clock to record his vote, and was very much surprised to find that the House had been counted out. The right hon. Gentleman ought not to cast imputations upon an entire party, but confine his observations to the individual with whose conduct he felt dissatisfied; but if Her Majesty's Ministers wished to have a division upon a question, they ought to keep a House. They should keep it as railway boards insured the attendance of their members—if they did not come, they received no pay. The right hon. Baronet should not attack an entire party upon such an occasion; but the fact was, the right hon. Gentleman never missed an opportunity of having his throw at those who, from having once been his supporters, had found it necessary to separate from him.

Subject at an end.