HC Deb 16 August 1848 vol 101 cc181-8

House in Committee.

On the question that 57,500l. be granted for the salaries of the Foreign Office being read,


thought the House had a right to ask what were the instructions given to the naval officer in command of our fleet off the coast of Italy, and whether he had instructions to prevent the landing of the Neapolitan troops upon the shores of Sicily? With regard to Spain and Portugal, our interference had not been at all successful. Would the noble Lord tell the House what reparation the British Government were likely to receive hereafter for the insult which had been put upon us by the Spanish Government? He imputed no blame to Sir H. Bulwer, who had probably only done what had been done before, in receiving parties who were compromised into his house. We were also parties to treaties with Spain—the Quadruple Alliance, for example—by which, in the event of a prince who was now in this country asserting his rights to the crown of Spain, we were bound to give aid to the existing Government of Queen Isabella. It was desirable to know whether the obligations which Great Britain had entered into by this treaty had been affected by the conduct of the Spanish Government in the expulsion of our Ambassador. He wished the noble Lord would inform the House what were the present state of our relations with Spain.


thought the present a fitting occasion for adverting to the arrest and expulsion from Spain of Colonel Bristow, a British subject, who had been expelled from that country on the ground of his having an order of a Spanish Minister for the claims he had on the Spanish Crown. Colonel Bristow had never meddled with the political affairs of that country, yet he was arrested, and not allowed to go to his house to get his clothes or to secure his papers. He was afterwards conducted by the police to the frontiers of France, and there dismissed without money and without clothes, and without any charge being made against him of any kind what- ever. He trusted that the case of Colonel Bristow would not be allowed to slumber.


said, those who had followed the course of events between this country and Spain, must be perfectly convinced that the final and complete rupture which had taken place between the two Courts was in a large degree to be attributed to the tone and manner of the debates in the other House of Parliament pending the discussion between the two Governments. He regretted that that course was so often taken both in that and the other House of Parliament; and he believed it to have been of more frequent occurrence during this Session than in any other. In his opinion, Parliament ought, in foreign affairs, to postpone its judgment of the conduct of Government until the matter in question appeared to be concluded. It would then be the time for censure or approval of their conduct. The Government of Lord Liverpool had continually interfered in the internal affairs of foreign countries, and so had the Government of the Duke of Wellington, the most pacific of all Ministers. It had been said that the noble Lord's efforts to establish constitutional governments in other countries had all failed, and that despotisms were now re-established at Madrid, at Lisbon, and in Greece. He deprecated the introduction of such discussions in that House.


said, the hon. and gallant Member deprecated discussion, but he did not deprecate intervention. For fifty years the great evil of our foreign policy had been our constant intervention in the affairs of other countries; and if there were one desire on the part of the people of this country stronger than another, it was that we should interfere no longer.

After a few words in explanation from Sir DE LACY EVANS,


said, that, as regarded English intervention in Portugal, the effect of it had been to put an end to a fierce and bloody civil war. He begged to draw attention to an occurrence which had been reported in the newspapers, namely, that a part of the Pontifical States had been occupied by Austrian troops. Considering the manner in which his Holiness had discouraged the attack upon Austria, and considering the weakness of his military resources, he trusted the circumstance of the occupancy of part of his territories by the Austrian troops would not be lost sight of in the friendly negotia- tions about to be entered into by the Governments of France and England.


contended that the intervention of England in the affairs of Portugal had certainly not given free institutions to that country, but had entailed an expense upon England the items of which figured conspicuously in the estimates. As to the Spanish affair, he did not think the House was in a position now to discuss it. It had been his intention to vote that the proposed grant of 2,000l. to Lord Minto be disallowed; but after hearing the speech of the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) that day, his views had been completely altered; and if the peace of Europe had been maintained so cheaply, he should offer no opposition.


said, the policy of the Government of England, not only in the present case, but in all former periods of our history, was to consider the interests of England as deeply concerned in the transactions which took place in other countries; that it was the duty of the Government of England to have regard to those interests; to take such measures as might appear, under the circumstances of the moment, to be necessary; and to preserve those interests by negotiation, if negotiation were sufficient, or by other methods should negotiation be unavailing. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Bankes) wished to know what was the present state of our relations with Spain. The present state of our relations with Spain was this: diplomatic intercourse between the two countries was suspended. The hon. and learned Member wished likewise to know by what means a British merchant in Spain, if he suffered wrong from the Government of that country, could obtain redress. We had a consular officer in Spain, and it was his duty and peculiar function to make representations to the Spanish Government on such matters; and, if the representations of our consular officer on behalf of a British merchant were not attended to, it was well known that every Government possessed means by which attention could be enforced. He (Lord Palmerston) did not consider that the treaties between the two countries were abrogated by the suspension of diplomatic intercourse. When the Government of Spain should appeal to the Government of England for the execution of a treaty which the Spanish Government should think applicable to a particular case, it would be for the British Government to consider whether it governed the case or not, and would give the Spanish Government such an answer as they thought right. The hon. and learned Member would recollect that the mere signature of the Quadruple Treaty at the time extinguished a civil war in Portugal, in which families were arrayed one against another; that when the signature of the Quadruple Treaty was known in Portugal, Don Miguel agreed to evacuate the country. Then the hon. and learned Member asked what benefit Portugal had derived from the transactions of last year? Why, a civil war, which would have been most desolating in its effects, was put an end to. He would not say that everything had been done in Portugal precisely as Her Majesty's Government would have wished; but Portugal was at this time at peace, when almost every country in Europe was convulsed; and although some things might have been better than they were, yet Portugal was in possession of constitutional institutions; and he knew that if a country had a constitution founded at least upon popular principles, it was sure, sooner or later, to arrive at a proper condition, and to obtain a constitutional and representative system of government; and this was an advantage for which any country that obtained it ought to be grateful to the State by whose influence it was gained.


felt that no apology was necessary on his part for rising to make some observations as to the vote of 57,500l. for the Foreign Office. It was the special duty of the House of Commons to keep a strict watch on the conduct of foreign affairs, as they might entail consequences which would be attended with the largest expenditure. He could recollect the time when the hon. Member for Westminster adopted a different tone from what he did at present; and when he denounced the despots of the north as much as the anti-constitutional parties in Spain and Portugal, and when he took the lead in a sort of buccaneering expedition into Spain in favour of the constitutional party. He would not go back to the affair at Terceira, or the untoward affair at Navarino; but he could not help remarking on the singular difference in the conduct of Gentlemen when their friends were in office, and when they were out. The poet Moore some fifteen years ago said— As bees on flowers alighting cease to hum, So Whigs in place installed grow dumb. He should like to know whether the me- diation of England had been requested before or since the noble Lord had informed the Austrian Government, by his information to the Parliament of this country, that he had decided to join with France in the mediation? But, in any case, he maintained that the noble Lord was not in a position, if he had refused his mediation and friendly offices to Austria in the day of her humiliation, to come forward now and claim his privilege to interfere, when Austria, unaided, except by her own intrinsic power, had driven her rash and, he would say, saucy invader back into his own territory. Austria might fairly say, "I have struggled without your assistance, and I have conquered. I will not now admit you into any arbitration." It was a generally received rule regarding arbitration, that when it was not accepted in the fullest sense in which it was offered, it was not binding. Again, he would observe, that England was bound by treaty to maintain to the Emperor of Austria all his dominions in Lombardy. And so also was France bound to maintain the Austrian dominions in all their integrity, as settled by the Treaty of 1815. Of what use, then, was mediation now? By the law of nations, the King of Sardinia having thought fit to invade the dominions of Austria, the Emperor of Austria had a right not only to drive him back, but to follow him into his own dominions, and chastise him. He (Lord G. Bentinck) wanted to know were his suppositions regarding the sought-for interference right or wrong? Whether the original call for mediation had or had not come from Austria direct, and whether the latter, which was now under consideration, had not come only from Frankfort, and not from the Emperor of Austria, who was at Innspruck at the time the call for the interference of England had come? As to the observation of the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Osborne), that "he had intended to have opposed the vote of 2,000l. to Lord Minto, but that he had been so satisfied by the speech of the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, that he would not now offer any opposition to it," he (Lord G. Bentinck) could only say that he had listened most attentively to the whole debate, and he could not find in the course of it what Lord Minto had done to preserve peace, although he might have done much to promote the rebellion of the subjects of the King of the Two Sicilies. The noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) had refused to answer the questions put to him as to the instructions to the Queen's Navy now acting in the Mediterranean; but the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire had never asked what were the instructions given them for the future. What he heard the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire ask was, what were the acts done by the British Government between the King of the Two Sicilies and his rebellious subjects in Sicily? It was too commonly reported not to be true, that when all the countries of Europe were thrown into confusion by the sudden and unexpected risings of the people, and when the Sicilians, taking the King of Naples unawares, succeeded in overpowering his forces, and driving them out of the island, that the Navy of the Queen of England interposed; and when the King of Naples, recovering from his astonishment, had prepared an army of 30,000 men, with which he could have soon overpowered the insurgents, that Admiral Parker appeared in the Bay of Naples, and that a message was sent by a most befitting messenger, the Bull Dog steamer, to the effect that if the forces of the King proceeded to bombard the city—which it was the intention of the King, in the exercise of his rightful and legitimate authority to do, in order to reduce his rebellious subjects to obedience—they would be opposed by the forces of the Queen of England; and that was the point on which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire wanted some unequivocal information from Her Majesty's Government; and before a vote was come to upon the estimate before the Committee, he (Lord G. Bentinck) hoped they would have a distinct and positive answer from the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office. He (Lord G. Bentinck) would not go into the question relating to Spain and Portugal; but he could not help wondering how Her Majesty's Government could take credit to themselves for "reform, retrenchment, and non-intervention," after what had taken place lately in Portugal. The noble Lord had made some comments upon certain observations of his hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, on the subject of our relations with France. His hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli), in the very outset of his speech, far from condemning any alliance with France, appealed to the times of our most powerful governors—to the times of Elizabeth, of Cromwell, and of Walpole—as days in which England had sought and cherished an alliance with France. What the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire had said was, not that they should repudiate an alliance with France, but that it was not fitting they should pander to the restlessness of any revolutionary republic by sacrificing the friends and allies of this country, and by forgetting treaties. France, and every other country in Europe and America, should be free to choose her own institutions, and her people should be left to use their efforts to secure to themselves liberty and independence. But it would ill become this country to crouch and cringe to any people. It was no insult to tell France that she would be impotent for oppression abroad, although she would be able to stand against the whole world in arms if they attempted an invasion of her territory. What his hon. Friend contended against were alliances for purposes of mock mediation merely to conciliate the Republic of France. His hon. Friend stated that the exchequer of France was in no condition to make foreign war, and that she could not afford to send 100,000 men to Italy, and another 100,000 to the Rhine. But he (Lord G. Bentinck) trusted that he would never see the day when England should prove that saying of the Duke of Sotomayer to be true, which was now considered to be a libel, that "the Government of England was haughty to the humble, and humble to the haughty." He hoped they would never be afraid or ashamed to support their ancient allies, although they should be called upon to do so in the day of their need or their difficulties; and he, for one, hoped that the day would never come when they would be found entering upon a war with France, because France would not submit to any invasion of her rights. He hoped that, whilst on the one side they would not crouch or cringe, on the other they would not in any way discourage the established Governments with which they were on friendly terms, from any fear that France, in her restlessness, might disturb the balance of power in Europe. The way to be friends with France was to tell her plainly that we knew she would be powerless against the world in an unjust cause—in a war of oppression; but that so long as she was contented with maintaining her own institutions, and her own independence, she would be indomitable. And so long as she was content to maintain her own position with good faith towards other nations, he (Lord George Bentinck) trusted that England would be ready to stand by France, and see that no aggression was made upon her rights and independence. Before the question upon the vote is put, let me have a distinct answer to two questions. First of all, am I to understand that Baron Weisenberg, Minister of Foreign Affairs at Frankfort, was authorised by the Emperor of Austria, who is an ally of Queen Victoria, and who was residing at Innspruck, to treat on this subject with the noble Lord? I wish to know if he had full power from the Emperor, his master? The other question I have to put is this: I wish to know whether the ground upon which the mediation sought by Austria of England was not agreed to was, that England made it a sine quâ non that Austria should resign a large portion of those territories which by the Treaty of Paris she was entitled to maintain?


With regard to the first question, I can only state that the communication made from Baron Weisenberg, through Baron Kohler, was made in his capacity of Minister of Foreign Affairs for Austria. He was at Frankfort, but he is Minister of Foreign Affairs for Austria. With regard to the other question, I am sure my noble Friend must see that it would be improper for me to enter into the particulars of that communication.

Vote agreed to.

Several other votes agreed to.

House resumed. Committee to sit again.

House adjourned at half-past One o'clock.