HC Deb 13 June 1851 vol 117 cc697-9

Sir, I beg leave to present a petition, of which I gave notice about a week ago. It is a petition from a British merchant, Mr. George Ward, long resident at Caracas, in the State of Venezuela. He states, that having been established at Caracas for more than a quarter of a century, and being mainly instrumental in procuring that state of commercial relations subsisting between Venezuela and this country, he was about two years ago suddenly arrested by the Government of Venezuela, thrown into a common prison, and there kept as a prisoner twenty-six days, in violation of all the principles of the constitution of that country, and of all the rules of legal procedure acknowledged there, and which regulate the relation of the subjects of that State with the Government: in violation also, he states, of that Treaty of Commerce which in the year 1825 was signed and ratified between this country and the State of Venezuela, and under which protection was secured to all British subjects, and under which and coeval with which the establishment of Mr. George Ward at Caracas took place. The petition also states that, after the termination of those twenty-six days—the Government not being able to substantiate any charge whatever against him, and he having been arrested only on a vague suspicion that he was connected with some revolutionary transactions in the interior provinces of the State—he was dismissed from the prison by the Government, but kept as a prisoner in Caracas for the space of seven months. He states that in consequence of his first imprisonment, and his subsequent detention within the walls of the city of Caracas for seven months, his affairs were greatly injured—especially a coffee estate, situate about two days' distance from Caracas, which was under his superintendence, was wasted in a great degree; and, after he was free, in consequence of representations made by the British Government, the damages he incurred with respect to this coffee estate were assessed, according to the custom of the country, and by one of the legal tribunals of the country, at the amount of 35,000 dollars. He states that, beyond this claim of 35,000 dollars, he has another of 25,000 dollars, in consequence of the insults and injuries he received, especially as regarded his business at Caracas. He states that, in consequence of not having received any redress from the Government of Venezuela he has come over to Eng- land, and that he has appealed to Her Majesty's Government, but hitherto in vain. He states, that there is no doubt of the validity of his claim on the Government of Venezuela, because that Government has partially recognised it, inasmuch as, in consequence of the representation of Her Majesty's Government, they apportioned compensation to the amount of 25l. a day for the twenty-six days he was in the prison, making 650l., which he, under protest, has received, and which does not amount to the legal expenses he incurred in consequence of that imprisonment. He states that, not having received redress from Her Majesty's Government with respect to these claims on the Venezuelan Government, he has thought it his duty to appeal to the House of Commons. The petitioner is not an adventurer of doubtful allegiance who was a casual visitor to the city of Caracas; but he begs us to understand, which is the truth, that he is a British merchant, established there for more than twenty-seven years; that his commercial transactions are on the greatest scale; and that it is mainly owing to his instrumentality that the commercial development of this country in those regions has taken place. He says that, unless protection to British merchants, in countries so imperfectly organised, and where the constitutional institutions are so rude, be secured at home, and by an English Parliament, which this House has always afforded, it will be impossible to carry on commercial affairs; and he protests against a State like Venezuela oppressing a British subject so long established in the country in the gross and vexatious manner which he has experienced, or that they should try to avoid all further responsibility, which, according to the law of nations, they have incurred by the miserable payment of 650l. He states that he has submitted his case to some of the most eminent lawyers of the day—to Dr. Phillimore, for instance, and to an hon. Member of this House, Sir Frederic Thesiger—and that he is advised that the conduct of Venezuela is a gross violation of international law. Under these circumstances he appeals to this House. It was my intention to address some inquiry on this subject to the Secretary of State if he was present; but, as he is not, I will do so on Monday.

Petition to lie on the table.

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