HC Deb 03 August 1848 vol 100 cc1119-25

LORD J. RUSSELL moved to discharge the order for an address respecting Mr. Urquhart's correspondence, and to substitute an amended order. An order for an ad-dross was made on the 3rd April, and, after a few words from his noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, the House consented to the order being made. Afterwards an address was moved which his noble Friend thought was in accordance with what had been agreed to between him and the hon. Gentleman, and the Motion accordingly passed without opposition, being at once agreed to; but on looking afterwards at the address, it appeared that the address was for the correspondence of a particular year—that of 1837, which was not the year for which his noble Friend had wished to give the correspondence. The correspondence which his noble Friend proposed to give was the correspondence between Mr. Backhouse and Mr. Urquhart, of the years 1838 and 1839, relating to the Portfolio. The address which was moved was for papers of the year 1837, relating to the recall of Mr. Urquhart from Constantinople. His noble Friend said that if his attention had been called to the date, he should not have consented to its production; therefore it was by mistake, and through misunderstanding, that that address was ever carried as an unopposed address. If it had been assented to by his noble Friend, and agreed to by the House, there would have been no reason for rescinding the order; but as it had been carried as au unopposed address, he moved that the order be rescinded, for the purpose of substituting a Motion for an address for copies of correspondence between Mr. Urquhart and Mr. Backhouse of the years 1838 and 1839, instead of the year-1837.


The case lies in a nutshell. It is a question merely of veracity. I must first beg the House to observe the extraordinary character of the Motion before it. You are required to rescind an order to adapt it to a false return which has been made, and papers are to be given to me which I never asked for and will not take. The noble Lord now says that he never concurred in the Address. His words are on record, as I shall presently show. I now assert, upon my honour, that the understanding on his part and mine was complete. There was no kind of doubt. He knew the papers I meant, assented to the demand I made, and now he comes down to call upon you to rescind that order upon the plea that it was in ignorance he acceded to it. Then comes the second plea, in reference to the amended order of April the 19th. He says he had allowed it to pass in inadvertence, and that I had not submitted the order in the form to which he had assented to it. I again declare, upon my honour, that the noble Lord assented to the amended order, and that if not in his handwriting, as I believe it was, it passed through his hands. You are called upon to rescind your order upon grounds that are not true. If the facts were as they are now sought to be represented, would not the noble Lord have corrected the error when he perceived it? Would he have waited for two or three months, and then, and at my repeated solicitations only, make a return to the order of papers which the order did not specify? Is not this subterfuge incompatible with the pretext? Surely the case is self-evident. There is deception in its very face. I acquit the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) of any in- tentional part in it. He is now put for-Ward as he has been on many other occasions. He is the tame elephant on which the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) is to ride over this as he has ridden over so I many other fords. What that noble Lord: has said to-night has been merely put in his mouth. He has repeated what on the 30th June was stated by the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) himself, to which I gave the most direct and emphatic contradiction, and to which the noble Lord had then not a word to reply. It might suffice for me now to say, as I then said, that there is not a word of it true; but I will recall the circumstances.

It will be in the recollection of the House that on the 6th March I called upon the noble Lord, in consequence of his having imputed to me corrupt motives—that is, that in consequence of being recalled I had made charges against him—to retract his imputations or to bring forward the proofs. I said that the correspondence with reference to that recall would prove that there was no personal quarrel between the noble Lord and myself, and that the noble Lord falsely pretended a personal quarrel, thereby to meet the charges which I brought against him. My reason for bringing forward this case was not private—it was public. Despite the contempt with which this House may receive the assertion, I say that the whole range of these important interests which are connected with or belong to our foreign affairs, have been followed and understood only by the noble Lord and myself; that, therefore, by casting upon mc the imputation of personal motives, he shuts out my testimony and throws contempt upon my conclusions. Therefore, on the 6th of March I demanded the production of that correspondence, and I will read the words I then used, from Hansard:He (Mr. Urquhart) called upon the noble Lord to Lay that correspondence on the table of the House. The noble Lord could not pretend any injury to the public service, since it had been already printed. The noble Lord could not complain of being taken unawares, for every line of it on his side bad been written for publication. He now called upon the noble Lord either to retract the insinuations to which he had given utterance on Wednesday last, or to lay upon the table of the House the correspondence to which he had referred. To which the noble Lord replied—I quote again from Hansard:I shall have no objection to lay on the table the letters to which the hon. Gentleman alludes; almost all of them, I believe, were published in the newspapers. Now, I bog the House to observe that this occurred on the 6th March, and I referred to imputations the noble Lord had cast upon me, not upon that day, but upon the 1st March; and that the correspondence I asked for was not that referring to the Portfolio, but that referring to my recall. The correspondence which the noble Lord has produced to the House is not that referring to my recall, but to the Portfolio. The excuse which the noble Lord has given for substituting the one set of papers for the other is, that he gave the whole of the correspondence which he held in his hands on the 1st March when he himself referred to the Portfolio, whereas the promise he made to me was on the 6tb March, in reference to the papers which I then demanded, and which had reference to my recall.

The House being thus in possession of the material facts, I will now read the statement made by the noble Lord on the 31st. Tune, when I last brought this matter before the House:— When he found that the Motion had been made, he sent a message by his right hen. Friend the Under Secretary for the Foreign Department, that he should by no means have consented to the return, and that if the hen. Member had given him an opportunity for doing so he should have felt it his duty to object to it, and for this reason, that he did not consider it conformable to the spirit of the constitution, and that he thought, &c. The return for which the hen. Member moved was the correspondence between himself and Mr. Backhouse, in the years 1837 and 1838, whilst the correspondence he (Lord palmerston) had pledged himself to produce began in 1839; but the engagement he had made was to produce the papers he hold in his hand when he was replying to the hon. Member for Youghal, and from which he read an extract, and which, in fact, was the correspondence with Mr. Backhouse as to the publication of the Portfolio. He never did agree to the presentation of the correspondence relating to the recall of the hon. Member, and it was not his intention to produce it, unless the House should require him to do so; and if the hon. Member thought it necessary to move that he (Lord Palmerston) should produce it, he should call upon the House to consider the expediency of not complying with the Motion. The order was amended expressly to exclude a private letter of the noble Lord to myself of the 10th March, 1837. The terms of the agreement were distinctly announced across the House by me to the noble Lord, and assented to by him. The terms of that agreement I subsequently addressed in writing to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, without having been controverted, and these terms were— All the letters which had appeared in the newspapers, and also two or three subsequently addressed by me to Lord Palmerston in 1837, which had not so appeared. The noble Lord continued— It did not enter into his imagination that when the hen. Member had consented to rescind the Address for the papers to which he objected, he should substitute a second Address calling for the same thing. He imagined that the hon. Member had altered the terms of his Address, and that he was content to take the other correspondence which he said he was ready to give. It was, perhaps, his fault that he had not looked more narrowly into the matter. I have already said that when the noble Lord made these statements I contradicted them, and my contradiction remained unquestioned. I now again contradict them. I again declare, upon my honour, that those allegations are not true. It is a case in which both cannot be true, and in which misrepresentation must be wilful. Besides the recollection of hon. Members, there are the newspapers. Correspondence with reference to the Portfolio! What did I want with correspondence relating to the Portfolio? The question was whether or not my charges against the noble Lord arose, as he stated, out of a quarrel: what I said was this, there was no quarrel with reference to my recall—I dare you to produce the correspondence, which will show it if there was any. The alternative was, "Retract your imputation, or prove it by publishing the correspondence;" and you say, "No, I will not retract, I will publish;" and then this correspondence appears, and what is it? Correspondence about the Portfolio, and not about my recall.

I have now only to remark that on the 30th June the noble Lord alleged a reason for not giving the papers, namely, the impropriety of giving papers connected with the recall of diplomatic servants. Why did he not allege this reason on the 6th March? The reason had to be alleged then if it was a reason at all; and when he subsequently, on the 30th June, alleges that as a reason, it is not wanted. Surely nothing could be clearer than the mere statement that he had not agreed to the papers, if that was the fact. It required nothing more. But the absurdity of the subterfuge appears in this, that these papers had been already published. The noble Lord raised the laughter of the House against me on the 6th March, saying, "You will take little by your Motion, for the letters have been nearly all in the newspapers." But this is not the first time these papers have been asked for. In 1838 they were asked for by Sir Stratford Canning. What was the noble Lord's answer then? Not that it was improper to publish letters connected with the recall of a diplomatic servant—not, in fact, that they were public documents at all. He refused them upon grounds that they were private. More than that, he then alleged that they contained falsehoods—that they were filled with falsities. Surely the noble Lord would not hesitate to publish them if they were of such a character. One day they are refused because they are public—another day they are refused because they are private—and both reasons are equally good for this House.

Having thus, for the third time, exposed these subterfuges, I shall trouble myself no further in this matter. I have gained now all I wished for. I have made it clear that it is the noble Lord who shrinks from the investigation. I will not take the papers you will foist upon me. I will be no party to the playing of such a farce, and I shall mark best the sense which I entertain of such proceedings by now quitting the House.

The hon. Member bowed to the Speaker and retired.


observed that the case was a very simple one. In replying, on the 6th of March, to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Youghal, who had impugned his foreign policy, he quoted one or two extracts from a correspondence which had taken place in the years 1838–39 between Mr. Backhouse and the hon. Member for Stafford, with respect to the Portfolio. The hon. Member for Stafford subsequently made what he believed at the time to be an application that the whole of the correspondence thus partially cited from should be laid upon the table; and in that application, regarding it as a fair one, he at once acquiesced. He was all along under the impression that what the hon. Member moved for was nothing more or less than that the entire of the correspondence relating to the Portfolio, from which a few passages only had been read in the course of the debate, should he laid upon the table. That impression was not disturbed until, on looking at the Votes a few days since, he found, to his surprise, that the address that had been moved for and agreed to, was, in point of fact, an address for the whole of the correspondence which had passed between himself, Mr. Backhouse, and the hon. Member for Stafford, respecting the recall of the latter. The hon. Member might have acted under a misconception; but it was certain that his (Viscount Palmerston's) nitention, from first to last, had been merely to agree to the production of the entire of that particular correspondence relating to the Portfolio, from which he had quoted extracts. To the production of any correspondence connected with the recall of the hon. Gentleman he had the strongest objections on constitutional grounds, for he did not think that such a subject was a fit matter for discussion in that House.


thought the noble Lord's explanation far from satisfactory. He (Mr. Anstey) called attention to the report which appeared in Hansard of the noble Lord's observations on the occasion referred to, and submitted that that report plainly showed that the question before the House related not to the Portfolio, but to the removal of his hon. Friend; and when the noble Lord said he had no objection to lay the letters on the table, he must have meant the letters relating to the recall. However, after several applications were made at the Foreign Office, it was said the papers to be given did not relate to the recall at all, but to a different question, namely, the Portfolio. Although his hon. Friend (Mr. Urquhart) had left the House, he (Mr. Anstey) should, for the interest of the country, resist what he thought would be a bad and mischievous precedent, and oppose the Motion of the noble Lord the Member for the city of London.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at ten minutes to Two o'clock.