HC Deb 04 June 1850 vol 111 cc716-20

rose, pursuant to notice, to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs a question with reference to the papers lately presented to Parliament relating to the affairs of Greece. It appeared from those papers that Her Majesty's Government had assumed the right to demand satisfaction, or rather compensation, for any damage or injury sustained by British subjects either from riots or rebellions in the countries in which they might be residing, without reference to the laws or the legal tribunals of those countries. It also appeared from the answer given by the noble Viscount to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Southampton, that Her Majesty's Government did net make any such pretensions with respect to any damage or injury which British subjects might sustain when they resided in the United States of America. New the first question he wished to ask the noble Viscount was, why a different course should be pursued with reference to the States of Europe from that which had been pursued with regard to the United States; and secondly, whether it was true that the representatives of Austria and Russia had intimated, in the names of their respective Governments, that British subjects would not be allowed to reside in the States under their rule, unless they renounced to a certain extent to the protection of their own country?


Sir, the hon. Gentleman has misstated, in the first place, the position and doctrine of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the matter in dispute between this country and Greece. I understood him to suppose that we have laid down the broad assertion that this Government will claim compensation for any damage or loss which British subjects may sustain in Greece or in any other country by reason of riots, disturbances, or other similar causes. Now Her Majesty's Government have laid down no such position. The principle upon which we have acted has been founded upon the particular circumstances of the particular eases to which they apply, and does not include any general proposition such as the hon. Gentleman has attributed to us. I apprehend that all cases of that sort rest upon the particular circumstances which accompany them. It is impossible to maintain that in all cases foreigners are entitled to compensation from the Government of the country in which they may have sustained injury and loss; but, on the other hand, it is equally impossible to maintain that there are not cases wherein, by the law of nations, compensation may be justly due to foreigners who have sustained injuries and losses in other countries. Vattel, who is usually considered a good authority in these matters, draws the distinction on which the one we have drawn is founded. Without troubling the House with reading the whole of the passages, he says, speaking of war, and what happens as the result of war, and what is allowable as war— Pillage and destruction of towns, the devastation of a country, ravages, and the setting houses on fire, are measures not the less odious and detestable when put in practice from an absolute necessity. In another passage he says— The property of individuals should be treated in a different manner by an army than the property of an energy against whom that army is employed. And then, investigating the cases in which he thinks a Government is bound and is not bound to make compensation, he says— Accidents resulting inevitably from the measures of war, such as the bombardment of towns, &c, are not subject for compensation, but that when the losses are wanton or unnecessary for carrying out the operations, in those cases compensation might be demanded. Sir, I apprehend that, in each instance in which we have required compensation from the Greek Government, we are able, and have been able, to show there were particular circumstances entitling us to make the demand. We draw no distinction between what happens in Europe and what happens in America; but there is one distinction which practically exists, and that is, that the tribunals of the United States are more open to statements and arguments concerned with justice and right, than the tribunals in some other parts of the world which I hope I may be spared from mentioning. With regard to the supposed announcement that the hon. Gentleman imagines the Governments of Russia and Austria to have made, it is true that in arguing—that in stating their opinions upon, not the Greek claims, but other claims that Her Majesty's Government have made of a similar kind, those Governments, acting on an imperfect knowledge of the circumstances, were of opinion, especially Austria, that it was impossible to draw a distinction between the subjects of a country and foreigners resident in that country, and that if a Government chooses to refuse to its own subjects compensation for injuries of any kind received in the course of hostilities, they are entitled also to refuse compensation to the subjects of any foreign State; and it was indicated as an argument to the Government of Great Britain that it might become necessary for the Government of Austria to consider how far it would be its own interest to encourage the residence of British subjects in Austria. It was not stated, however, whether it would exclude our merchants, or our civil engineers employed in constructing their railways, or the travellers who were spending their money in that country. That was an argument, and nothing more. But against that argument I might quote the example of the Government of Austria itself. Very recently an Austrian merchant brig wrecked on the coast of Ireland, near Tory island, was plundered by the people of that district. The Government of Ireland commenced a prosecution for the purpose of punishing the plunderers, and recovering for the owners and masters of the vessel the amount of their loss. The prosecution, however, failed in consequence of a question that arose as to the place where the venue was laid, and no redress could be received in a court of law. The Government of Austria applied for compensation, though in a case where it is evident a British subject could have obtained none in course of law; and Her Majesty's Government, acting on that liberal principle that always guides their conduct in matters relating to foreign countries, granted compensation to the extent of 500l.


asked when was the decision come to to compensate the Austrian ship on the part of the English Government?


thought it was about a month ago.


begged to ask what course the noble Lord proposed to take with reference to the Greek loan; and whether he proposed, in making a claim on that account, to take into consideration the great losses the Greek revenue had sustained from the policy the noble Lord had adopted towards that country.


had thought the hon. Gentleman was disposed, the other day, to censure the conduct of the Government for pressing any claim of that kind. But he must be well aware that the case of a loan was different from that of injuries sustained by British subjects. The loan had been granted by three Powers jointly and in common, and, though each had a separate portion, it was the result of a treaty to which all three were parties. Therefore he did not conceive that any of the three Powers could press beyond a certain point its claim for that loan, without making it the subject of previous consultation with the other two Powers.

Subject dropped.

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