§ MR. ROEBUCK
Sir, I gave notice yesterday that I would to-day put a question to the noble Lord on the Motion that the House at its rising adjourn until Monday, but as it appears we are to sit tomorrow, I will now move that this House do now adjourn for the purpose of putting myself in order. My object is to ask the noble Lord at the head of the Government whether there have been any communications between the Governments of England and France with respect to the Alien Act or any portion of our criminal code? The House, I believe, will understand the rea- 763 son why I put this question. They must have heard that since the event which I am sure inspired every Englishman with feelings of regret and detestation—the recent attack upon the life of the Emperor of the French—there have appeared in the pages of the Moniteur certain addresses to the Emperor of France from the French army. Those addresses, naturally enough, were expressed in terms of great indignation at the attempted violence against the Emperor's person, and also strong condemnation of and denunciations against the authors of the attempt so made. Now, Sir, if these expressions had rested there, I should be the first to sympathise with and give my cordial concurrence to every sentiment they contained. But from the French army there came also accusations against England, as though England were a participant in that attack upon the person of the Emperor of France. I will, with the permission of the House, state the immediate object of my question. Hon. Gentlemen are aware that the Moniteur is not an ordinary paper; it is in fact the Gazette of the French Government. Everything it utters is under the immediate inspection of the French Government, and that Government is the Emperor. Therefore what appears in the pages of the Moniteur is, in fact, the reflex of the opinions of the Emperor of France. Well, Sir, in the pages of the Moniteur there appear these attacks upon the English people; and one colonel of a French regiment of the line—full, I suppose, of military ardour, and that loyalty which he and the French army have always exhibited to every ruling Monarch that has appeared in France—asks the French Emperor to be led against that haunt, that den, the répaire, of homicide, meaning England, Sir. Well, that language is published in the pages of the official Moniteur. It is published in fact by the French Emperor. That is his opinion; and I wish now to state my opinion. The French Emperor is the person to direct against England accusations of being the den of conspirators, and who could speak with greater knowledge of the fact than himself? Has he not enjoyed the protection and hospitality of England? Has he not, too, while so enjoying that protection and hospitality, acted the part of a conspirator himself? Did he not leave these shores armed with the great name of his predecessor, the name of the Great Napoleon; did he not, armed with that name, and with a tame 764 eagle, go to Boulogne and there attack the throne of King Louis Philippe; and did he not murder the man who in the performance of his duty opposed his landing? And this is the man who chooses to publish in the pages of the Moniteur accusations against England, for being the haunt and the den of homicides, where conspiracies are all hatched, and which ought, therefore, to be subjected to invasion and the rapine of his soldiery. But it is not confined to that—the brother of the Emperor of the French (the Count de Morny) has chosen in the Legislative Chamber of the French nation, to accuse England of being participant in this attempted crime. And not only he, but the Count de Persigny, the ambassador of France—in England, in the presence of Englishmen—has dared to make the same accusation; aye, Sir, and in the presence of Englishmen he has not been answered—the only reason that I can conceive being, that the persons who heard him did not understand the French language. For I cannot believe that any Englishman could hear his country so libelled, no matter by whom, without indignantly repelling the accusation on the spot. Those persons who heard the Count de Persigny accuse England of being participant in the criminal proceedings to which I have alluded, ought thereon immediately, and on the instant, if they understood him, to have answered him. They did not; but I will. I will say to him that no man more than I estimates highly the alliance between England and France; but there is something I estimate still more highly, and that is the honour and position of England. And so believing and so feeling, I would have told him that there is nothing in the character of Englishmen that in any way so ever conduces to or lends a sanction to assassination; there is nothing in the history of the country from the beginning to the end that can justify such an accusation. No English King has fallen by the hand of the assassin, though Kings of France have. We have condemned a King to the block, it is true, but it was in open day. Neither have we sent or hired anybody to kill any other sovereign for our own national satisfaction—privately I mean, and by assassination. My answer to Count Persigny would have been that the people of England are above assassination. When they feel indignant they express it, and go to war, if necessary, to vindicate their honour; but they do not 765 seek to avenge themselves privately, or by secret expeditions in steamboats, or, by assassins, make private attacks upon any foreign Government, or any foreign Sovereign. They do not make conspiracies in London to pull down a Government in Paris. Their course is open and honourable in dealing with their enemies as with their friends. When I came into the House yesterday with the determination of giving the notice I did give, I heard in my ear something like a whisper about a contemplated change in the Alien Law. It was said that at the solicitation of the Emperor of the French we were about to alter our Alien Law. I will say nothing, Sir, of the ingratitude of the man who now asks us to alter a law by which he has profited so largely. But I say that England owes her position among the nations of the world in consequence, in a great measure, of the manner in which she has treated the people of all nations who have sought the asylum of our shores. We are here the refuge for the destitute of all nations. Louis Napoleon has come here; Metternich has come here; the Bourbons, Louis Philippe have all sought and obtained a safe refuge here; but no man said, no man had a right to say, that we should alter our laws because we gave them that refuge; and I say, if we change the law on this occasion we violate the first principles of our constitution, we degrade ourselves before the world, and are no longer the English people that our forefathers were. Well, I come to the House with my ear full of this inspiration. What, then, was my surprise to hear from the noble Lord an announcement that he would on Monday move for leave to introduce a Bill for altering the law in regard to conspiracies. What suggested to the noble Lord the necessity of such a change? Was it that any person of authority—for I presume that the noble Lord, with all his varied accomplishments, is not a lawyer—has told the noble Lord that the law of England could not reach conspiracies, or that the punishment which the ameliorated law of England awards to such crimes was insufficient? For at least a quarter of a century we have been doing all we could to render the criminal law of England less bloody than it had previously been. A quarter of a century ago our criminal code was the most cruel in Europe; but from that time to this we have by experience learned that a mild punishment certainly administered is the most effectual preventive of crime. Our own 766 domestic experience has taught us that; and I want to know who has suggested to the noble Lord that we should retrace our steps; that whereas conspiracies have hitherto been visited by fine and imprisonment, we should alter and bring back the law to the old standard of cruelty which we had abandoned. Sir, my question to the noble Lord is one of very significant importance. If England wishes to hold her place among the nations, if she wishes still to maintain her own independent position, no solicitation of an ally, no threatening on the part of anybody, ought to lead us to alter our laws. I have been told that some justification for the insolence with which England; has been treated in this matter is to be found in the speech made last November, by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, at the Mansion House. God forbid that the people of England should be made answerable for all the indiscretions of the noble Lord. I do not say, I do not believe, that the noble Lord was imprudent on that occasion; but admitting that he waft, no man knowns better than the Emperor of France how very little the noble Lord expresses the feeling of the people of England. If there was on that occasion a little menace—a little vapouring on the part of the noble Lord, it can scareely be said that the people of England, as a nation, is to suffer for the bad taste of the Minister. Now, if that be so—if it cannot be said that the noble Lord is the people of England—rand, as we had already publicly and unanimously expressed our detestation of the attack on the Emperor of France, I want to know what could have induced him to turn round upon the people of England as he has done, and manifest that hostility which he has through his own press, and his own ambassador, shown; towards this country. The question I have to put to the noble Lord is—has there been any correspondence with the Court of France or the Minister of France on the subject of an Alien Bill, or upon the subject of an alteration of our criminal code.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House do now adjourn."
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I can have no difficulty in answering the question of the hon. and learned Gentleman. There has been a despatch addressed by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs to M. de Persigny, the French Ambassador here, bearing upon the late transactions at Paris, and urging upon him the ne- 767 cessity of applying to Her Majesty's Government to take such measures as they, in their wisdom, might think fit in reference to the circumstance, not to dictate any measures, but simply to put the case to Her Majesty's Government to deal with as they might think proper. That is the nature of the despatch, and I can have no difficulty whatever in laying it before Parliament. But, Sir, in replying to the hon. and learned Gentleman, I feel bound, in the first place, to repel the charge which the hon. and learned Gentleman has made against the Count de Persigny. Count de Persigny never accused the British nation of sympathizing with assassins, or with intending to give protection to assassins. He stated distinctly to Her Majesty's Government—Count de Persigny has repeatedly stated to me—in reference to the strong expression of feeling which had been made in his own country, that we must feel with him that allowance must be made for it in the circumstance that had called it forth—that the people of the Continent, not knowing the nature of our laws, and applying to us the principles by which they are themselves guided, naturally form expectations which those who know the principles and working of our system of government are aware cannot be carried out. Now, the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to anticipate a discussion which would more properly arise on Monday next, when I shall have to move for leave to bring in a Bill of which I have given notice. I shall not allow myself to be led, by his example, into a premature discussion of that measure, but when I propose it I shall be prepared to state its nature, and the reasons upon which it is founded. But I must protest against the ground the hon. and learned Gentleman has taken. The hon. and learned Gentleman alludes to certain violent and intemperate speeches, addresses which have been made in France, and urges that on their account the Parliament of this country ought to be prevented from taking any steps which otherwise, upon the merits of the case, Parliament might think proper to adopt. Why, speaking of intemperate speeches, I might well retort upon the hon. and learned gentleman—Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione querentes.If any man is less than another entitled to complain of violent language and personal vituperation on the part of the people of a foreign country, I should say it is the hon. and learned Gentleman him- 768 self, who is in the habit of indulging in most unbridled vituperation against every Government and every man living, whether at home or abroad. If there is anything upon which we pride ourselves in this country it is our freedom of speech, and that principle leads us so frequently to pass over the violent effusions of the hon. and learned Gentleman—thus respecting the principle, though we may disapprove of the manner in which he exercises it. I say, it would be most undignified in the people of this country—nay, it would be most childish conduct in the people of this country—if, because of certain violent expressions, certain intemperate addresses made against the people of England, they were to allow themselves to be swayed from the course they might otherwise think right to pursue in reference to their internal legislation. We ought to make due allowance for the irritation which has been naturally excited in France. Let us put an inverted case. I will suppose that there issued from Paris on more than one occasion murderers with the intention of perpetrating against our Sovereign atrocities similar to those which have been attempted in Paris, would not the people of this country feel the greatest indignation, and would they not be likely, in speaking of such attempts, to go beyond the precise accuracy of courteous and temperate expression which nations ought to be guided by in their transactions with other nations. I trust, therefore, however we may lament or disapprove these violent expressions of feeling in France, that we shall make allowance for the circumstances under which they were made—that we shall consider what would have been our own feelings in a similar case, and under similar circumstances—and that we shall not be led away by considerations of what may have been said by individuals in France or elsewhere from that course which, upon the merits of the question, we may think fit to follow.
§ MR. HORSMAN
I have listened to the speech of my noble Friend with great attention and at the same time with very great regret. I regret the manner in which he has referred to the subject-matter of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, and I regret very much the manner in which he has spoken of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I did not intend to take any part in this discussion, but I do feel that we cannot, in justice to any hon. Member of this House, 769 allow imputations to be made such as upon tills question, in which we are all interested, have been cast, in ray opinion, most unfairly upon the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not complain that there were individuals in France who had insulted the national feeling of England. What my hon. and learned Friend said was this—that parties in France, nearest to the person of the Emperor, most in his confidence, and not private parties at their own instance, had concocted and circulated these charges and addresses; that French colonels went with addresses to the Emperor; that they were graciously received by him; that the addresses were published prominently in the official Moniteur, and circulated under the Government influence throughout France, to show an excitable people what was the language which the Emperor appeared to approve as addressed to him with regard to his ally, and to show also to the people of Europe what were the terms in which they might suppose that demands had been made upon the Government of England for security against a repetition of the crime with which the French Government had branded the people of England as accomplices. Now, the whole gravamen of the charge of the hon. and learned Gentleman was, that it was the authorities of France—the Government of France—which had made these attacks upon the people of this country, and it was on that account that he attached to these attacks an importance greater than if they had emanated from individuals. I think that what my noble Friend stated as to the manner in which the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield deports himself in this House was rather more severe than just. I, like my noble Friend, have sat many years in this House with the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, and I must say that so far from having been surprised at his expressing himself in strong language, I should have been much more surprised if, with his feelings, he had to-day failed to express himself in that bold tone which characterizes him. It is the pride of my hon. and learned Friend to take his own course in this House, and to do what he thinks right, irrespective of party ties and obligations. In so doing he has certainly very frequently thrown broadcast in this House the expressions of his censure and disapprobation; but this I will say, that we who for years have watched his conduct are convinced of his integrity of 770 purpose and of his purity of motive, and that, while he is careless of what enemies he makes, there is no man in this House more free from personal enemies than my hon. and learned Friend. Then I do feel that he has been rather severely dealt with by my noble Friend. He has expressed his own sentiments, and for them no other man is responsible. Nor does he shrink from that responsibility. To say, however, that his language is invariably a strong example of that which he complains of with regard to others is, in my opinion, after the long experience which I have had of his neither brief nor undistinguished career in this House, not just. My noble Friend cannot point his finger to any act of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield which is a stain upon his honour. Allow me now to say one word upon the subject brought forward. I understood my noble Friend to say that there has been one despatch from the Government of France and that it will be produced. I do not know whether any answer to that despatch has been made by our Government, but I presume that previous to the discussion on Monday we shall have all the papers laid upon the table. I think it is also desirable that we should be furnished with the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, because if they agree in the opinion expressed by high legal authorities in another place very recently, it will be manifest that the change of the law we shall be asked to assent to next week is not necessitated by any defect in the law itself, but by other circumstances of which the House ought to be made aware. I own that I myself attach very great importance to the proposition that is to be made to us next Monday. I will not now anticipate the discussion, but I do hope that we shall have all the information possible brought before us to enable us to judge both of the propriety of the demand that has been made by the Government of France and the propriety of the concession which, as it appears, the Government of this country is prepared to make.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, he would not detain the House for one moment. He assumed that the noble Lord would concede the request he was now about to make, that the despatch of the French Government should be laid upon the table, and also the answer of Her Majesty's Government to it, as soon as possible, so that hon. Members might have it in their hands before they were called upon to enter in 771 the discussion next Monday. With regard to what the noble Lord had said of him (Mr. Roebuck), it passed by him "like the idle wind, which he regarded not." He asked the noble Lord to point to any expression he had used that could bear out the description that the noble Lord had given of the language he was in the habit of using. He might have uttered strong opinions, but he defied the noble Lord to show that he had used violent language, nor had he used such language on the present occasion. He would ask the noble Lord and the House to recollect what he had said. He had said that England had been insulted, and that the insult came from the Emperor of the French. Was there any violent language in that? That was a strong statement no doubt—but was not the evidence in support of it strong also? Why, the people of England had been threatened before—even in his time—not that he could recollect it, for he was a child when it occurred. The great man who bore the name now held by the Emperor of the French—the first Napoleon—he, from the opposite shore of the Channel, threatened England with invasion; and though he disagreed in the policy adopted by our ancestors on the occasion, he could not but admire their towering port, and the thoroughly courageous demeanour with which the menace of the great Napoleon, surrounded as he was by his legions, and fresh from the victories of Ulm, Austerlitz, and Jena, was met. Our ancestors hurled defiance at him—they fought him and conquered him; and if our ancestors treated with contempt and defiance the menaces of Napoleon le Grand, should we, their descendants, quail before the threats of Napoleon le petit?
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he would lay the despatch from the French Government on the table to-morrow. No answer to it had been sent.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.