HC Deb 10 August 1855 vol 139 cc2105-15

* Sir, I rise to put a question to the noble Lord the First Lord of the Treasury regarding the proposed Italian Legion; and as a few observations on the subject are required, I shall move the adjournment of the House. I think the enlistment of an Italian Legion in itself very desirable in many respects. It will no doubt bring to the aid of Her Majesty's troops a body of men well qualified to discharge military duties. It will also attract to an honourable profession a number of refugees and other persons employed in no particular occupation, and who are now likely to endanger the peace of Italy. The proposed Italian Legion therefore, viewed by itself, has my full approbation, agreeing as I do with the course which Her Majesty's Government are pursuing with reference to the war. But there are other and ulterior matters in connection with the proposed legion which I think well worthy of consideration. When that legion has performed the military services for which it is intended, what is to become of the men of whom it is to be composed? Are they to be disbanded? If they are disbanded, they may return to their own country; and as they will have been accustomed to warfare and military life and discipline, they may probably form a nucleus for renewed disturbances in Italy. That is a matter for serious consideration; especially when a noble Lord, holding a very high position in this country, in the most public and solemn manner, stated views and opinions founded on erroneous information, and calculated to encourage hopes and notions prejudicial to the peace of that country, and indeed to the very object of the noble Lord himself. On these views of that noble Lord, partly sanctioned by the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government, I beg to make a few observations.

The Italians are a very sanguine people, and it is not unlikely that some of them might infer from the observations of the noble Lord to which I have alluded, that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to make use of the proposed Italian Legion after it has discharged its duties in connection with the present war, in carrying into effect the views which the noble Lord has expressed regarding Italy. The wishes of the Sardinian Government have been referred to as a reason for organic changes in the Italian States. It has been said, that as Sardinia has a Constitutional Government, that country is naturally anxious that Constitutional Governments should prevail throughout Italy. But, however that may be, it is worth considering—especially now that Parliament is about to separate—whether it be not true that the history of the present Sardinian Government and the course which it has taken, have in a great degree given rise to the state of things which has been deplored by the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government. The two invasions of Lombardy by Piedmont are one reason for what may be unsatisfactory in the present state of Italy. Piedmont has thereby been filled with Lombard refugees; persons, for the most part, of turbulent character, who are ready to take part in any revolutionary movement in the neighbouring States. In addition to that, there exists in Piedmont a press of the most inflammatory and agitating nature. And the collision brought about by the Sardinian Government between the Church and the Civil power is calculated to endanger public order throughout Italy. There are also secret societies in Piedmont either sanctioned or not opposed by the Government, and all these circumstances render Piedmont a focus of revolutionary spirit. But I will pass on to the observations of the noble Lord regarding the Papal States.

I have some right to speak on this subject because I was lately in that country and had opportunities of hearing the opinions of persons in authority, and of all classes there. In the Papal States, said the noble Lord, there existed a system of outrage and oppression: persons were imprisoned and subjected to dreadful ant cruel punishments in the chief towns, with out cause, and without the possibility of the innocent escaping. Now, it would be difficult to devise a statement more incorrect or more entirely devoid of foundation. Let us look at the facts. The Pope returned to Rome after a revolution ending in a system of terror which has but one other example in the history of Europe. During the Roman Republic, the refugees uniting with the lowest dregs of the Roman population, carried on a system of murder directed specially against the clergy. I know one instance which I may mention as an example. The head of a Religious Order, a most venerable person, remained in Rome rather than forsake the sacred duties of his office. He occupied himself in visiting the sick and performing his other ecclesiastical functions, until one day he was warned by a friend that the secret society had resolved to put him to death. He escaped disguised; and he had not been gone a quarter of an hour, when those men came to take him to the place where he was to be murdered. Such were the results of the Roman Revolution. And yet on the return of the Pope to his dominions no one was executed for a political offence: and there are now not more than twenty persons in the prisons charged with political offences. The Papal Government is the mildest in the world; and its proceedings are conducted with the greatest clemency. Let the House remember what was done by our own Government in the Ionian Islands when a revolt took place there. The Ionians sought to assert their own independence, and to unite with the Greek nation to which they belonged. And I do not see why Liberals here should not sympathise with the Greeks. But this attempt was put down. Many of the Ionians were publicly flogged, many were shot, and many were hanged. I know that I shall be told that every Government has a right to defend itself against attack, and that our Government was therefore justified in putting down the Ionian insurrection by severe measures. But I think that our Government ought not to judge harshly of other Governments which used severity in similar circumstances. Yet the Roman Government resorted to no such harsh measures as ours did in the Ionian Islands.

The noble Lord has spoken of cruel, barbarous punishments inflicted in the Roman States. But the extreme punishment in use there is the guillotine, which cannot be called a more cruel punishment than that inflicted in this country. And as to the alleged difficulty of the escape of innocent persons, I say that the proceedings of the Roman Courts are, it is true, dilatory; but that dilatoriness is owing to the extreme conscientiousness with which the proceedings are conducted, and the fear which the Government has of condemning an innocent man. But it has been alleged that persons have been arbitrarily imprisoned in the Roman States. Sir, I must admit that measures of this sort have been resorted to. But they were necessary on account of the existence of those secret societies which are the curse and bane of Italy, and which have never been completely extirpated. Those societies seem to be connected in some way with the character and notions of the Italians. They are so indigenous to the soil as to be almost a national institution, and they have baffled the efforts of every Government to suppress them. A short time ago, the Cardinal Secretary of State narrowly escaped falling a victim to the knife of an assassin at the very gates of the Vatican. That diabolical attempt was the work of a secret society; and so strong was its organisation and discipline that the assassin died without making any discovery of his accomplices. Sir, the House has lately passed a Crime and Outrage Bill for Ireland, giving great and arbitrary powers of imprisonment. That Bill was justified by Her Majesty's Government on the ground of the alleged existence of the Ribbon societies, which very much resemble the Italian secret societies. On the same grounds, strong powers of police are necessary in Italy for the preservation of the public peace and the protection of life. And I must say that the English Government are not blameless for the existence of this state of things in Italy. For when the Roman Revolutionary Government was suppressed by the French, Her Majesty's Consul, Mr. Freeborn, gave the protection of English passports to persons who ought to have been either apprehended or driven away immediately. By means of those documents, they remained at Rome as much as ten days after the French occupation had commenced, and established those correspondences and that secret organisation, which has enabled them to keep up their detestable system of conspiracy.

Sir, I come now to the question of the occupation of the Roman States by France and Austria. It has been said by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell), that if the French and Austrian troops were withdrawn, the authority of the Pope would be denied. This is not so; though the popular notion in this country is that foreign bayonets are required to protect the Roman Government against its own subjects. Sir, there is no Sovereign in Europe more popular and more venerated than the Pope. Those who know the real state of Italy are aware that the occupation of the Roman States is a matter regarding the policy of France and Austria and the balance of power in that country. The Austrian troops entered the Legations; and France thought it necessary to take possession of Rome and place a force there. During the existence of the Roman Revolutionary Government Rome was filled to an extraordinary extent with refugees from all parts of the world. Rome was the last station, as it were, of the revolutions which had agitated Europe. And the remnants of those revolutions it was, and not the Romans, who carried on the Republican Government and defended Rome against the French. A French or Austrian force was necessary to drive out those men, and to prevent their returning and taking advantage of the characteristic indolence of the people to create fresh disturbances. And if the French were withdrawn, the revolutionary spirits all over Europe and the secret societies would no doubt make Rome their chief point of attack, and the peace of Italy might thereby again be endangered by revolutionary movements at Rome.

Sir, I believe the organic changes which the noble Lord recommended for Italy are quite out of the question in the present state of Europe. On the other hand, Administrative reform is required at Rome, and indeed it is wanted in this country also. The difficulty of carrying into effect that Administrative reform does not arise from the Ecclesiastical part of the Government. And, indeed, the extent of the Ecclesiastical element in the Roman Government has been greatly exaggerated. In truth there is not a large proportion of Ecclesiastics in the Roman Government, considering the nature of that Government. Thus, only two of the Ministers are Ecclesiastics, and all the rest are laymen. The office of Minister of Finance was until lately filled by a layman, and it is remarkable that he did not give satisfaction; whereas the Ecclesiastic who has been appointed in his place has made important improvements, diminishing the Customs duties and revising the tariff—very much on the principles of the tariff of Sir Robert Peel. I will mention another instance of the erroneous notions existing here about the Ecclesiastics in authority at Rome. It has often been stated that the College of Cardinals are opposed to the construction of railways. But this is utterly untrue. When I was at Rome lately, I took occasion, in conversation with a high official person, to point out to him the great importance of constructing a line of railroad from Rome to Civita Vecchia, and to Ancona and Bologna. I told him that I had heard in England that the Cardinals and the Roman Government objected to railways. He however assured me that this was untrue, and told me that the Government had made a survey of the lines which I had mentioned, and that they were ready to give that survey to any Company who would undertake to form a railway in accordance with it. The Roman Government is ready to give facilities for the construction of railways in the Papal States, and the only obstacle to their formation is the present state of Europe arising from the war.

Sir, we have been told by the noble Lord that there is outside of the towns in the Roman States an organised brigandage, which makes the roads unsafe and disables persons from travelling from one part of the country to the other, and that in fact the whole territory is thereby rendered unsafe. Nothing could be mere groundless than this statement. The brigandage which formerly existed in parts of that country has been utterly suppressed by the united efforts of the French and Austrians and the Roman Government. I was lately in the Roman States, and I had every opportunity of ascertaining the truth; and I can say from my own knowledge that the whole of that territory is now perfectly secure, and that brigandage no longer exists there.

Sir, I have already occupied the House too long; but I must add that it is a mistake in history, to suppose that the Italian Princes overturned the Constitution of their States and established despotism. The facts are the very reverse. Instead of the Princes overturning the Constitutions, it was the Constitutions which overturned the Princes—except in one instance, in which a revolution which had broken up the Constitution was put down by the army. And these Constitutions having thus ceased to exist, a new state of things necessarily arose, that is to say absolute Governments. Sir, I must here observe that the policy adopted by the British Government regarding Italy and especially the mission of Lord Minto, has done more to prevent the establishment of Constitutional Governments in that country than anything else. Lord Minto went to Italy professedly to give wise and prudent advice to the Sovereigns. He told them not to precipitate events, but to proceed gradually towards the establishment of political freedom. But he was very tike a man who advises a coachman to drive carefully, and at the same time throws stones at the horses. That was precisely the course pursued by Lord Minto. He encouraged and publicly countenanced the very men and parties, and fomented the notions most dangerous to public order. Then came the French Revolution and the crisis which overthrew Constitutional Government in Italy. Sir, I will now only thank the House for the patience with which they have heard me, and conclude by asking this question of the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government: How do Her Majesty's Government propose to provide that the Italian Legion shall not in future become dangerous to peace and order in Italy? Sir, I move that this House at its rising adjourn to Monday.


With regard, Sir to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, I presume that it is not his intention to press it, because our future proceedings most be regulated by what takes place this evening in another place. As I apprehend the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he wishes to be informed what arrangements have been or are about to be made to prevent the Italian Legion from being dangerous to order and tranquility in Italy at the close of the war, when their services will no longer be required. The Italian Legion, the enrolment of which the hon. and learned Gentleman has applauded, will consist of some 4,000 or 5,000 men, who will, no doubt be capable of rendering good service in the contest in which we are engaged, and who will distinguish themselves on the scene of operations to which they may be dispatched. The hon. and learned Gentleman appears to apprehend that these few thousand men going back to Italy, disbanded or not, will be dangerous to the peace of Italy. I presume that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not seriously entertain the idea that those men will return to Italy not disbanded, for he cannot think that the Government intends to invade Italy with a few thousand Italian soldiers, and therefore what he wishes to be informed about is, as to what security there will be that those men, when disbanded, will not become turbulent members of the country to which they respectively belong. To that inquiry my answer is, that those men, after having undergone the discipline which they will undergo, will be less likely than before to become turbulent subjects. I may take this opportunity of reminding the hon. and learned Gentleman that during the last war in Italy those. Sovereigns whom he takes so much under his protection, and whom he defends as friends of order—the Pope and the King of Naples—sent large forces to make war in favour of the revolutionary cause, to turn the Austrians out of the country, and to establish a united Italy. Well, those troops were afterwards disbanded, but I have never heard that they became turbulent, or that they in any way threatened the peace of Italy. I doubt not but that the Italian Legion will return to their homes and become much better citizens in consequence of the discipline which they will have undergone, and the habits which they will have acquired in the service. The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, made some remarks which I cannot pass over without comment, and I think that any real friend of the present system of Government either in Rome or Naples would confer much greater favour upon the Governments which he means to patronise by holding his tongue than by attempting to make any defence of their conduct. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that he is entirely deceived with regard to the state of these countries, and their system of government. The hon. and learned Gentleman says there is no cruelty in cutting people's heads off. That of course, must be a matter for the opinion of the world in general. A great amount of cruelty may be exercised without the victims of that cruelty being put to death. Everybody knows that the greatest cruelty has been exercised in the kingdoms to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred. The hon. learned Gentleman says that there have been secret socities in Italy, and combinations against the Executive Government which have led to acts of cruelty on the part of the Government, but, at the same time, he says that those who have been most to blame are the British Government and the British Consul at Rome. I cannot admit that the conduct of the British Government has been open to censure, but, on the contrary, I feel the greatest satisfaction in reflecting upon everything which the British Government has done. I think that the censure which the hon. and learned Gentleman has cast upon Lord Minto is altogether unjust. Lord Minto went to Italy for the purpose of consulting with those Governments which were willing or disposed to take his advice, and of recommending them to proceed quietly, dispassionately, perseveringly, and steadily in the course of administrative improvement, to avoid any of those rash steps which might lead to a crisis, and to look to administrative improvements before turning their attention to improvements in their constitution. Lord Minto did not encourage underhand anything that he disapproved officially; all his transactions were fair and aboveboard, and every act of his will bear the strictest scrutiny. With regard to Mr. Freeborn, our Consul at Rome, I believe that he conferred great benefit upon the Papal Government by the course which he took after the termination of the siege. When the revolution was put down, the Republic put an end to, and the French troops entered Rome, many of the men whose brave defence of the city had excited general admiration, if they had remained in Rome, would have become victims of revenge, or the instruments of their own destruction. They would either have suffered great punishment when the Government became reinstated, or they would have been the victims of private revenge, for spoil, rapine, and plunder. Mr. Freeborn, the British consul, with the approbation of the British Government, gave passports to these persons, and freed Rome from what, if they had remained, would have been a source, I conceive, of great internal danger. Instead, therefore, of being open to censure, Mr. Freeborn properly discharged his duty, and he conferred great benefit upon the Government of Rome by what he did. With regard to the present state of Rome, I am not desirous of entering into a discussion upon the acts of another Government, but I may say that certain measures were recommended to the Papal Government by the Governments of England, France, Russia, and Austria, as far back as 1832, which, if adopted, would have been greatly beneficial, and would have prevented many evils which have since arisen. One of the great measures then recommended was what was called the "secularisation of the administrative and executive bodies." It is quite plain that affairs cannot go on well in a country where the administrative Government and the various tribunals are under the sway of a priesthood; and if that be true with regard to all priesthood, it must peculiarly be true with regard to the Catholic priesthood, because the very nature of the Catholic priest—his disconnection from all worldly affairs in being prevented from becoming a husband or father, or from having those social ties which connect men in general with the rest of the community—disqualifies him even more than any other priest from being the executive and administrative agent of a Government in all its ramifications. The hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely misinformed when he says that no oppressive power has been exercised in the Roman States. I can assure him that the prisons in those States still retain a large number of prisoners. A comparison has been drawn between the state of affairs in Rome and the precautions which were taken when a revolt occurred in the Ionian Islands. In the Ionian Islands there was a revolt, and that revolt was put down by force. If similar measures had been taken in Rome to those which were taken in the Ionian Islands the revolution would have been put down, and there would have been no ground to complain that the Government had improperly exercised their power. But the complaint with regard to Rome is this,—that long after the revolution had ceased, and when there was no danger of a new insurrection breaking out, persons have been arrested upon suspicion, not of having done certain acts, but sometimes merely upon suspicion of entertaining certain opinions; that they have been kept in prison without being brought to trial, and that for years they have languished amid all the horrors of a dungeon. The other day I was informed, upon what I believe to be good authority, of a circumstance which, some time ago, occurred in the kingdom of Naples, and which affords us a fair specimen of what is passing in certain parts of Italy. A very respectable man, in a provincial town in the kingdom of Naples, was arrested by the Government authorities, and his friends remonstrated with the officer who had arrested him, saying, "This man is perfectly innocent; he has committed no offence whatever; he leads a quiet life; nobody has accused him of anything, and he must have been arrested through some mistake." The officer replied, "There is no mistake whatever. I know him to be perfectly innocent, and that he has not committed an offence any more than you or I." "Then, why have you arrested him?" was naturally asked. "Why, I have arrested him, because I have been lately taken to task by the Government for want of activity. I have been told, 'You have arrested nobody for such a length of time and you must arrest somebody.' Why then, should I not arrest your friend as well as anybody else?" Such is the course taken by the Governments of which the hon. and learned Member has made himself the advocate. And this is not all. I was informed a short time ago that a man bad been arrested in one of these States simply for the purpose of extorting a ransom from his friends, and, that, 1 am told, is no rare occurrence. In short, you may depend upon it, that when a Government rests its safety, not upon cruelty, but upon making the people happy, contented, and free, it will act in a manner consistent with the security of the State; but so long as it arrests men upon the denunciations of a secret police, authorised to arrest whom they please, to keep their prisoners without trial as long as they like, and then to extort money from their friends for their liberation, so long will there be strictures upon its conduct.


said, he wished to take the liberty of saying that, during a tolerably long experience of that House, he had never witnessed so great an abuse of the privileges enjoyed by private Members as that of which the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had been guilty. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said that that was the only opportunity he had of making a speech on the subject, but, surely an opportunity had been afforded him when the noble Lord the Member for London brought forward the subject of Italy a few days ago. He thought some measures should be taken to prevent such abuses as those of the power of individual Members, by which the House was prevented from taking up the real business before it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.