HC Deb 20 April 1852 vol 120 cc941-50

in moving for copies of communications which have passed between the Government of this country and Turkey, said, it might be in the recollection of the House that very early in the year 1850—he believed in the first week of the Session—he drew their attention to the events which had then lately occurred in Hungary and Turkey, and to the unjustifiable demands which had been made by Austria and Russia for the surrender of certain refugees, who had been engaged in the struggle that had taken place for the liberty and independence of Hungary, and who had afterwards sought an asylum in the territories of Turkey. A debate, which occupied a considerable number of hours, and in which many hon. Members took part, ensued, and the result was that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), after stating his opinion upon these transactions, agreed to lay upon the table of the House a selection from the despatches which had passed between this and the different Governments interested in the question. A very considerable time elapsed before those papers were forthcoming, and it was not, in fact, till the year following, after he (Lord D. Stuart) had publicly in that House reminded his noble Friend of his promise, that it was fulfilled, and the noble Lord laid on the table two sets of despatches. The object of his Motion, was, that this correspondence, which only extended to April, 1850, should now be brought down to the liberation of the refugees, that was, to the 1st of September in last year, and should thus be completed. He really had no idea that any objection would have been felt by the Government to this Motion, which appeared to him a very simple one, and one that he expected would have been granted as a matter of course, as an unopposed return. He brought forward the Motion with a bonâ fide desire to obtain the papers he asked for, and certainly not as a pege which to hang a speech or a debate. The noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) had told him that in his (Viscount Palmerston's) opinion a careful selection from the despatches would be of great advantage; and the noble Lord at the head of the late Government (Lord J. Russell), said that if these papers were laid upon the table of the House, they would prove that the British Government had in reality done that which the American Government claimed to have done, namely, that it had been the author of the liberation of the captives who had been so unjustly detained at Kintayah. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he (Lord D. Stuart) applied to him on this subject, very obligingly said he could not think there would be any objection to the production of those papers, but that he must consult the Foreign Office before giving a positive answer. He (Lord D. Stuart) had since learnt with regret that the right hon. Gentleman would feel it his duty to oppose this Motion. He was at a loss to know on what grounds such a Motion could be resisted. Not one of the despatches called for bore the signature of the present Government; indeed they must necessarily have been signed by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, or those who were subordinate to him. It could not be said that to grant the Motion, would interfere with any negotiations in progress; for all the negotiations on the subject had been brought to a conclusion when the refugees were set at liberty. Neither could it be argued, as sometimes was done, that the transactions referred to, were of too old a date to be of any interest; for not a year had passed since their termination. In fact, this was precisely the proper time when the information sought for, ought to be supplied. The affairs in question were of the gravest consequence; they had been the cause of the movements of large fleets; had agitated every Court in Enrope, and had occasioned apprehensions of a general war. It was well known then when the refugees from Hungary sought shelter in Turkey, the Governments of Austria and Russia addressed to the Sutan a demand at which the feelings of all Europe revolted, that those refugees should be delivered up to the vengeance of those Governments. The British Government had on that occasion taken a prominent part in defending the threatened independance of Turkey, and assisting her to resist the unjust and in human demands of her overbearing and tyrannical neighbours; and he (Lord D, Stuart) believed that if the papers he asked for were produced, it would appear that, just as it was beyond a question owing to the timely and prompt interference of the British Government, and chiefly of his noble Friend the Member for Tiverton, that the lives of the refugees were in the first instance saved, so was their ultimate liberation due in the main to the representations of that great Minister. The Government of the United States had, it was true, displayed a similar interest in the fate of these presecuted men, and had generously sent a frigate to the Dardanelles in order to facilitate the departure of Kossuth and his companions from the place of their captivity, and had no doubt urged upon the Porte the propriety of liberating the captives. He rejoiced, that England and America were united in so great and noble a purpose as that of obtaining the liberation of Kossuth, and the other refugees. He (Lord D. Stuart) was quite ready and most anxious to give the United States Government all the credit which their exertions deserved; but he believed that if it had not been for the energetic representations of the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) the Mississippi steamer would have been at the Dardanelles until now, and would not yet have shipped her cargo of patriots. The truth in this matter would, however, be established by the papers for which he was moving; and if they were laid upon the table of the House, the public would be able to form a just opinion upon the circumstances of the case. Some persons even denied that the British Government had had anything to do with the matter, and asserted that the liberation of Kossuth and his companions was an act of clemency on the part of the Austrian and Russian Governments. The public would be able to judge whether this had been so, if they had the documents before them: if they were Withheld, the House and the country would have a right to complain that they did not receive the information to which they were entitled. The papers ought to be given, for the justification of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton; and while he did not want to impute personal motives in the attempt to withhold the papers, he mast say there did appear to be something like a want of generosity to the late Government in now withholding them. The only reason that could be given for withholding them was, that it might be un- pleasant to the Governments of Austria and of Russia to have it shown that the representations of the British Ambassador at Constantinople were attended with more weight than theirs were. The despotic Governments trembled at the idea of the refugees being at large, and they had endeavoured to intimidate the Sultan to continue their unjust detention; for much as he (Lord D. Stuart) applauded the conduct of the Sultan in refusing to give them up, and in having afterwards set them at liberty, still he could not deny that it was unjust to have kept them in prison at all. The only reason why he had detained them was to propitiate his powerful neighbours, who had pressed upon him their detention, with an urgency which it required all the intrepidity of the Sultan to resist. He (Lord D. Stuart) would tell the House what it was which made the despotic Powers so anxious on this subject, and what it was of which they were afraid. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton had lately said in this House, that the fears which powerful Governments like those of Russia and Austria entertained of the proceedings of men in the position of refugees in this country were unreasonable and exaggerated—for that refugees without arms, without money, with little means of communicating with their own countries, were persons who could have very little power, and therefore could not reasonably be looked upon with apprehension by the Governments who had driven them into exile. That observation was very just; but what those Governments dreaded was not the power of the refugees, but the discussion likely to be occasioned in this country by their presence. They did not like Kossuth or any other political refugee to come here, because they knew that their tyrannical laws and police regulations could not here prevent the freest scrutiny of their acts. They were afraid of the light of truth, and they knew that the presence of political refugees in this country would cause the conduct of those who had driven them into exile to be fully examined, and hence they endeavoured to prevent these men, whom they had in the first instance driven to resistance, from enjoying the hospitality which this free country had always given, and always would give, to such persons. The correspondence was necessary to vindicate the policy of the late Foreign Secretary, and therefore it would be neither generous nor fair if the present Government persisted in withholding it.


seconded the Motion. He said he considered it a matter of course that the papers asked for, should be conceded. The public felt that an attempt had been made to violate the law of nations in regard to these men. It would not be forgotten how this country was agitated from one end to the other—how meetings were held and resolutions passed calling upon the Government to protect these individuals. He believed the correspondence called for would show that the confidence which our people reposed in our Government was fully borne out, and that they had used the best arguments for the liberation of those refugees with the greatest effect. One half of this correspondence was produced last September—why not the other half now? It was only common justice to the late Government and to the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) that the correspondence should he laid before the public, who ought to be shown that the late Government had well and faithfully fulfilled its duty.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that She will be graciously pleased to grant Copies or Extracts of any Communications which have passed between the Government of this Country and Turkey, and other Foreign Governments, respecting the Hungarian and other Refugees detained at Kintayah, from the date of the last despatch on this subject a copy of which has been laid before this House up to the present time (in continuation of Papers already presented to Parliament.


Sir, As I am a party concerned in the production of the correspandence for which my noble Friend moves, I take the earliest opportunity of stating that, so far as I am concerned, and I believe I may say also for the late Government of which I was a Member, that there can be no objection to compliance with the Motion. It is a notorious fact, known to all the world, that those refugees were detained in Turkey for a considerable portion of time, much against the natural wish of the Turkish Government, but in deference to the apprehensions and to the wishes of the Government of Austria. I am not here to blame or to find fault with the Government of Austria, or with the feelings they entertained with respect to those persons. They did entertain feelings of alarm—no doubt sincere feelings. But, assuming such were the feelings and opinions of Austria, Her Majesty's Government thought that Austria had no right to dictate to the Porte as to the manner in which the Sultan should exercise his right of hospitality towards persons who had committed no offence against Turkey, and that the Porte ought, if the Sultan thought fit, to set those refugees at liberty. The British Government did, through my intervention, and by the exertions of our Ambassador at Constantinople, earnestly and continually urge the Sultan to give way to his own inclinations, and permit these refugees to leave Turkey. Of course, anybody who knows the relative strength of Turkey and her powerful neighbours, must at once see that, with every disposition to act according to the generous feelings of the Sultan, the Turkish Government, influenced by considerations of prudence and policy, must interfere very cautiously and guardedly in matters of this kind. It was, therefore, of the greatest importance that Turbey should allege, in support of the wishes of her Government, the earnestness with which foreign Governments pressed her to do that which was just and proper. In what degree the American Government may have contributed to produce the result, I am really not able to state. I have no doubt they did exert their influence at Constantinople to accomplish the liberation of those captives. With that, however, I have nothing to do; my purpose is only to show from the correspondence what was done by the British Government. That is all the House is concerned in knowing, and I can only say that I am satisfied that, if a careful selection of the correspondence be made—a selection of the despatches from the Foreign Office, and the replies of our Ambassador at Constantinople—that such a selection of the papers will show the conduct of the British Government in this matter, and the success of the Government, without revealing anything which can be offensive to the feelings, or distressing to the opinions, of either the Government of Turkey or the Government of Austria, or the Government of Russia; and therefore, as far as I am concerned, I am perfectly prepared to support the Motion.


Sir, the noble Lord who has brought forward this Motion, alluded to the production of those papers at the commencement of the Session. I am quite free to admit that if the continuation of the correspondence with respect to these refugees were laid upon the table of the House, it would add to the completeness of the series of the diplomatic communications; and, viewing it in that light, I thought it might be desirable to place them upon the table of the House. On a subsequent occasion I told the noble Lord that after inquiries at the Foreign Office, I doubted whether it would be a prudent course, under the circumstances, to produce those papers—not that I was influenced by any desire to detract from the merits of our predecessors—such a feeling in no degree influenced myself or my Colleagues. But there has been, as is well known, a great deal of very acrimonious feeling on these matters existing between the various Courts who have been connected with these transactions. Happily, all those feelings of acrimony are allayed; there is now, and has been for some time past, a very good understanding between the Courts of Constantinople and Vienna, and it certainly did appear to us that, upon the whole, it would be much better that the mass of the correspondence, which was fraught with painful recollections of the past, the revealing of which might awaken once more those feelings of acrimony, should not be produced—that it would be better upon the whole that those feelings of dissatisfaction and ill-will now fortunately allayed, but which were of great bitterness, should not be revived by those communications being again brought before the notice of the country; that it would be better that those topics which occasioned, I may say, so much painful feeling should not be revived, and painfully obtruded upon the consideration of Europe. We all know that such matters find their way into the press of this country, and that sooner or later through the press, they would find their way to Constantinople and other foreign capitals; but yet, Sir, I must confess that, after the appeal of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, and lest it might be supposed that we were preventing the publication of documents which were necessary for the vindication of the policy pursued by the noble Lord and the Government of which he was a Member—seeing that the production of those papers in no way affects the conduct of the present Government—I will not further oppose their being laid upon the table. The Government, I therefore repeat, can have no feeling in the matter; indeed, my first impression was that it would neither be agreeable to the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston), nor for public convenience, that these documents should be published; but the Motion having been in a manner based upon the statement that the production of those papers is necessary for the vindication of the noble Lord and his policy, I will no longer oppose it.


Sir, I am very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that the Government will accede to the Motion of my noble Friend the Member for Marylebone. In my opinion, it is only right as regards the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, who was the organ of the Government by whom those representations were made to Turkey, that the papers should be published, and that the grounds upon which he acted, and the representations he made, should be put forward. We did not think it consistent with our duty, or the policy we pursued, to take any part in the war with Hungary; but when these persons took refuge and had received the hospitality of Turkey, and when the Government of Turkey was disposed to extend to them that hospitality, and after a proper time to allow them to proceed to other countries, I must say I think the late Government was justified in giving its support—in extending all the power and weight of England—in order to enable the Turkish Government to accomplish that which was their desire; and I think the course then pursued redounds to the fame of this country. Therefore, Sir, I am of opinion that any documents which represent the remonstrances which the noble Lord made from time to time—the repeated remonstrances and assurances to the Turkish Government upon the subject of the refugees—ought to be produced, more especially considering that, in the present state of Europe, it is desirable that it should be shown that this country, at least, amid every discouragement, will maintain the principles of justice and hosiptality.

Motion agreed to.

The House adjourned at a quarter after Nine o'clock.