HC Deb 07 May 1858 vol 150 cc277-87

said, he rose to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when Her Majesty's Government will cause to be presented to the House a Copy of the Despatch referred to by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs on Tuesday last, as having been received by Her Majesty's Government, stating that the Government of Sardinia cordially accepted the Despatch of Lord Malmesbury, and were prepared to act in accordance with the suggestions of that Despatch, and the spirit of the Protocol of the 14th of April; and also for a Copy of the above Despatch of Lord Malmesbury. His object in putting this question was to ask Her Majesty's Ministers to reconsider the decision at which they had arrived, and which had induced the Chancellor of the Exchequer to refuse the production of papers for which he had asked. On the 12th of March last he (Mr. Kinglake) brought forward a Motion with regard to the imprisonment of the two engineers at Naples, and he thought he might congratulate the House upon the fortunate results which had been brought about so far as the two unfortunate engineers were concerned since he had first invited the attention of hon. Members to the question. It had happily come to pass that when the words used by the noble Lord the Member for London, as well as by many other hon. Members in that house, in the debate which took place in consequence of his Motion, had been conveyed by electric telegraph to Naples, the liberation of those poor men had almost immediately taken place. He (Mr. Kinglake) had concluded his Motion by asking the Government if it would be convenient to produce the papers relating to the matter. That application was acceded to, and in the course of the Easter recess the documents were placed in the hands of hon. Members. Amongst those documents was an extraordinary despatch from the Earl of Malmesbury, in which the noble Lord took the singular and unusual course of communicating to the Government of Sardinia the particulars of a mistake in the Chancellerie of the Minister of Turin, That extraordinary despatch had excited all the astonishment it was calculated to produce. No one at Turin or elsewhere on the Continent could believe that any foreign Minister would have taken the pains to disavow a despatch signed by a Minister of this country accredited to a foreign Court, unless there had been a very strong determination on the part of the Government to recede from the first policy indicated in that mistaken despatch. Accordingly, a general impression prevailed that there was an intention to leave Sardinia isolated and abandoned by England, and the statement afterwards made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer tended strongly to confirm that impression. Under these circumstances he (Mr. Kinglake) felt that he was entitled to deprecate a policy involving such abandonment. He felt this, not simply upon the ground that the battalions of Sardinia had not been wanting to us in the hour of need, nor because she almost alone of foreign States maintained with firmness and moderation institutions kindred to our own, but because the demands which had been made by her in the case of the Cagliari were made at the instigation of the British Government, not conveyed through Sir J. Hudson and the mistaken despatch of Mr. Erskine merely, but by the hand of Lord Clarendon himself when he held the seals of the Foreign Office. It was for that reason, above all others, that he thought England was bound to afford to Sardinia, not the cold comfort of good offices and advice, but a genuine and cordial support. Finding that his views were shared in by a large number of hon. Members, he gave notice of a Motion, which he was induced to postpone in consequence of the production of the opinion of the law officers of the Crown on the very day for which his Motion was fixed. The next time on which he had the opportunity of bringing it forward was on Tuesday night, when the lateness of the hour at which the debate on the question of the union of the Danubian Principalities had closed on Tuesday last, had induced him to announce his intention to postpone it to the following week. On that occasion, however, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs rose and made a statement which had occasioned great surprise, for it gave him (Mr. Kinglake) to understand that the object of his Motion had been attained, and that Her Majesty's Government were acting in concert with that of Sardinia. The next day, however, he heard it rumoured that the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had overstated the extent to which Sardinia was satisfied with the proposal of Her Majesty's Government. Last night, when the question was put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Hutt)—when the further papers referred to by the Under Secretary would be produced, he was surprised to hear not only that the right hon. Gentleman objected to their production, but placed his objection on a ground entirely inconsistent with the statement of the Under Secretary—namely, that negotiations were still pending, and that the production of the despatch by which the difficulties were said to have been concluded would be dangerous. Now, under these circumstances he submitted that the House was entitled to the production of these papers. The object of his Motion was to induce the Government to act cordially with Sardinia; and the Under Secretary said the despatch showed that the Sardinian Government was satisfied with the manner in which Her Majesty's Government were acting. He did not mean to say that the despatch had been referred to for the purpose of anticipating a debate; but the Under Secretary said on the occasion to which he had referred— He had certainly hoped that the explanation given by the noble Lord the head of the Foreign Department, in another place, would have been as satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman as he believed it had been generally satisfactory to the country. But at any rate he had the happiness of telling the hon. Gentleman that, although it was not satisfactory to him, it had proved entirely satisfactory to the Government of Sardinia. Her Majesty's Government had that afternoon received from Count Cavour a despatch, announcing that he cordially accepted the despatch which was sent to him by his noble Friend, and that in future he should act entirely in accordance with the suggestions contained in that despatch, and with the spirit of the Paris protocol of April the 14th. Here was one Minister of the Crown, on Tuesday, stating, amidst the cheers of the House, that the difficulty had been got over by the expression of satisfaction on the part of Sardinia, and last night the Chancellor of the Exchequer said— At the present moment, when negotiations are being carried on, nothing could be more inconvenient than to lay the papers on the table. When, on Tuesday night, my hon. Friend the Under Secretary referred to the receipt of a despatch, he gave the general result as a matter which might be interesting to the House. But that is quite a different thing to laying it upon the table. Of course, when the proper time arrives, which I hope will not be long, it will be our duty to lay all the papers upon the table in relation to this subject; but at present nothing could be more injurious to the public service than to do so. [Cheers.] Those hon. Gentlemen who cheered the notion that the production of a despatch would be injurious to the public service were probably the same hon. Gentlemen who on the preceding night cheered the assertion that the announcement would be grateful to all men. The despatches for which he asked were a continuation of those which have been already produced, and, therefore, upon that ground alone he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider the answer which he gave on the former evening. He certainly thought he was entitled to ask which of the two versions he had mentioned was correct. If the Government of Sardinia was satisfied, as represented by the Under Secretary, he (Mr. Kinglake) would be happy to withdraw his Motion; but if the statement of The Chancellor of the Exchequer was accurate, and matters had not been settled, he should certainly continue his notice upon the paper, and he should endeavour to find an early day to bring it under the notice of the House.


I congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman and the House that he has at last had an opportunity of making his speech upon the Sardinian question. When he asks me which version is to be accepted as correct, my own or my hon. Friend's, the Under Secretary of State, as to the present position of matters, I beg to say I cannot see the inconsistency upon which he has dwelt, and I am prepared, upon the contrary, to maintain that they are exactly in accordance. The question before us is a simple, but very important one. My hon. Friend was quite justified the other night in the statement which be made. What was that statement? It was that the Court of Sardinia had accepted the proposition made by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his despatch to Count Cavour—namely, that this vexed question should be referred to mediation, according to the wise and beneficent protocol adopted at the Conference of Paris. That was the statement made by my hon. Friend, he having learnt the fact during the course of the evening, but not having seen the despatch. That statement he made, out of respect to the House believing that it would be received with pleasure by them. Let the House remember that when we have agreed with Sardinia as to the course that shall be adopted we must not suppose that therefore all difficulties are solved. Let me impress upon the House the importance of the questions which still have to be considered between Sardinia and ourselves before we can arrive at a complete solution of the difficulties which now encumber the matter. There is the question of indemnity the question of mediation both involved in the negotiations now commencing. They are two of the most difficult and delicate questions which can arise in diplomacy. Who is to be the mediator?—the objections to this Power,—the recommendations of that Power—what is to be the extent of reference?—all these are points which demand great confidence, great temper, and are liable in the course of management, to frequent misconceptions. It would be impossible to proceed if every despatch written during the course of such negotiations is, like the feuilleton of a French newspaper, to be published immediately to the world. If the House has not confidence in the management of this affair by her Majesty's present Ministers, let them say so distinctly, and then we shall understand the position in which we are placed; but I say again that these papers cannot be produced; the despatches which are daily passing between the two Governments cannot be produced as the hon. Gentleman desires without serious detriment to the public service, and I, for one, will not incur the responsibility attaching to such an act. Let me ask the House whether that which has taken place upon the subject of this misunderstanding between Sardinia and Naples, and the relations of this country with that question, lead it to believe that the conduct of Her Majesty's Ministers has been such as to disentitle us to its confidence. We found the matter very complicated and in a very difficult position, and I think I may venture to say we have treated it with prudence, and not without success. What we have attempted we have succeeded in accomplishing, and we are prepared, to the utmost of our ability, to bring the matter to a complete and satisfactory termination. Our labours, however, will be seriously heightened if the House of Commons does not extend to us that fair confidence to which, I think, we are entitled, and therefore I must again say I decline to produce the papers which the hon. Gentleman has asked for.


I think the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Kinglake) may be excused for asking for these papers, as a portion have already been laid upon the table; but at the same time I think, after what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that these papers cannot be produced without serious detriment to the public service, it is impossible that my hon. Friend can press his Motion. I must say further, with respect to the general course which the Government has taken upon this very difficult question, that I see no reason why the House should be dissatisfied with that course. It appears to me there were two very great objects, both of which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was bound to keep in view in dealing with this subject. One was not to desert Sardinia, but to endeavour to obtain for her that redress to which she is fairly and justly entitled. The other object was of scarcely less consequence—namely, how was the redress to be obtained without a risk of hostilities in Italy between the powers who held very opposite views in regard to affairs in that country, and which, if excited, would have lighted the flame of war, not only over the whole of Italy but over the continent generally. Having these two objects in view, I must say it appears to me that the course of the Government has been judicious, and if the representation which has been made of the present state of the negotiation be accurate, I can only add there appears to be a hope that they will lead to a satisfactory conclusion. There is one other point to which I would refer for a moment. We made an appeal with respect to the English engineers who had been suffering very severe treatment in the prisons at Naples, and treated with all that hardship and cruelty, and with all that disregard of everything like humanity or justice which distinguish what is called justice there. Those two men have been released and were delivered up very speedily after the representations made by our Government through Mr. Lyons, and the general question has now to be referred to the good offices of mediation and afterwards to arbitration, Bat what in the meantime is to become of those men belonging to the crew of the Cagliari who are subjected to the same course of treatment and confined in the same dungeons? I can understand, with respect to the condemnation or restoration of the Cagliari, that there may be perhaps a long course of negotiation; but I do not think that it would ba at all consistent with the justice, or with the character of this country if we did not use our good offices to prevent those unhappy men being longer detained in prison at Naples. I have heard that part of the proposal is that the crew of the Cagliari are to be immediately liberated and permitted to return to their country. I shall be happy to hear from the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs that that is the case, for I think it would be a great hardship if those men were to be longer incarcerated and exposed to the ill-treatment which they have borne for so protracted a period. Before concluding, I will add that I hope that some Member of Her Majesty's Government will state when the Commission on the subject of education is likely to meet.


, in reference to the last question of the noble Lord, said, that the Commission would issue very speedily.


In reply to the observations of the noble Lord, I am afraid I cannot give hint that satisfactory and explicit answer which he may think he is entitled to receive from me. I can only say, in reference to the communications which are now passing or have lately passed between this country and Sardinia, that our efforts to assist Sardinia are not in any way limited to the mere question of the ship, but that we also desire to extend our good offices to the utmost on behalf of the crew. Beyond that, however, as the matter is still pending, I cannot give the noble Lord that full and explicit answer which he expects. With respect to what has fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Kinglake), I may be permitted to say that he seems entirely to have mistaken the object with which I addressed the few words to the House on Tuesday night to which he has referred. I did not make an announcement of the complete contents of the despatch in question, nor did I mean to convey to the House that I was really imparting to them the full contents of that despatch. All I wished to do was this. The hon. and learned Gentleman had had for many nights a notice of Motion on the paper on the subject of the Cagliari. I felt very strongly that that was a question which should be treated with great delicacy, and that it was one of the very gravest with which the House could interfere. I was, therefore, anxious to make a statement which should be so far satisfactory to the House as to induce the hon. and leagued Gentleman to refrain from bringing a question of such delicacy under its consideration. Therefore, I stated that the proposition that has been made by my noble Friend at the head of the Department for Foreign Affairs to Sardinia, had been satisfactory and accepted. The hon. and learned Gentleman has said that rumours had reached him that my statement was inaccurate. How such rumours could have reached hint, or whence they emanated, I am at a loss to understand. They could not have come from any English source, and I must say it is much to be regretted that statements should be made by men who arc not in a situation as British subjects to speak in this House or elsewhere, and establish the allegations they have made to the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman has chosen to say that the course taken by my noble Friend is such as to have led to the general impression that it was the intention of the Government to abandon Sardinia and to leave her in an isolated position in this matter. I can only say that nothing has been further from the intention of Her Majesty's Government than such a course, and that we have neither taken in the past, nor shall we take now any step whatever which shall justify the imputation that we have abandoned a brave and generous ally in the hour of danger.


I am glad that this conversation has cleared up any misunderstanding that has existed with respect to the answer of my hon. Friend; but I am bound to say, that I entertained the same impression with respect to its purport and effect as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bridgwater. I think, certainly, the effect of his answer was, not merely that the proposal of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Fo- reign Affairs had been accepted by Sardinia, but likewise that the whole terms of that proposal were thoroughly and entirely satisfactory. That, however, is the point in difference, and I merely state my recollection. What we now understand is, that the proposal has been accepted by Sardinia, and that the matter does not reach beyond that point. [Mr. S. FITZGERALD: We are acting in entire accordance with Sardinia.] I wish to say one word with respect to the crew of the Cagliari. I am glad to learn that Her Majesty's Government have taken the condition of these unfortunate men into their consideration, and that their co-operation with Sardinia extends to the question of the crew as well as to that of the ship. But I venture to express a hope that, in considering that portion of the negotiation they will not fail to bear in mind the enormous importance of the element of time, because delays in the negotiations, so far as they relate to the crew, are a virtual ruling of the question against England and Sardinia. The sufferings of those persons have been already exceedingly severe, and I am sure I do not feel any distrust in the slightest degree as to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government, but I entertain a confident expectation that they will prosecute with the utmost despatch all that relates to the crew of the Cagliari. I quite agree with my noble Friend the Member for London in viewing with general satisfaction what Her Majesty's Government have done in this matter, and in retaining a perfect confidence with respect to their future intentions; but I am bound to say, that I think the despatch of the Earl of Malmesbury, in which he discussed the circumstances of the note of Sir James Hudson, did not do full justice to the views of Her Majesty's Government. When I read that despatch, and saw how minutely the Earl of Malmesbury had explained the error of Mr. Erskine, I gathered from the tendency and effect of it that it was not intended by the Government to act on the spirit of the letter of Sir James Hudson. I fully grant that an important error—a serious blunder—a most unhappy error was committed by all able and exemplary public servant, and I trust that past merits and important services will not be forgotten in the recollection of that error, and that those concerned in it need not rest under any blot. But I wish to state this opinion, that the obligation of England to Sardinia does not depend on the erroneously expressed note of Sir James Hudson. It arises, in my opinion, not formally, but substantially, with as much fulness and clearness out of the letter of the Earl of Clarendon of the 29th of December last, as out of the letter of Sir James Hudson of the 5th of January. It is true, that if we were seeking for technical grounds on which to attenuate a just claim, we might urge that Sir James Hudson states the intentions of the British Government, and that the Earl of Clarendon simply inquires the intentions of the Sardinian Government. But, having inquired the intentions of the Sardinian Government, Lord Clarendon goes on with great force, clearness, and felicity to state the arguments bearing upon the case, and to give direct and conclusive reasons as from himself, why the Sardinian Government should do the very thing which he directed Sir James Hudson to inquire whether they would do. Therefore, it does not arise out of any error or oversight on the part of Mr. Erskine, and I think it only just to the gentlemen at Turin to make that statement. It is material to bear that in mind, as it forms the groundwork of the whole question. The obligation has been acknowledged in the handsomest manner by the Government, and I do not take the slightest objection to their proceedings.


said, he fully agreed that this was a question of great importance and delicacy, and he thought the House had no reason to regret the course they had taken with regard to it. He deemed it due to Her Majesty's present Government to say that he fully concurred in the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that when they acceded to office they had to deal with the question under circumstances of great difficulty and having taken much interest in the case of the English engineers he must express his gratitude to Her Majesty's Government for their prompt exertions on behalf of those unfortunate men, and he cordially congratulated them on their success in obtaining the liberation of Watt and Park. He could only express a hope that Her Majesty's Government might be equally successful in obtaining compensation for our unfortunate countrymen for the sufferings they had undergone during their painful imprisonment. He did not, however, understand the motives of the Government in withholding the papers to which reference had been made, or how their publication could be prejudicial to the public service. They were, at the present period, in a difficult position. He entertained a strong opinion that the question of the liberation of the Sardinian prisoners, who were now in the same position in which our countrymen stood some weeks ago, should be placed fairly before the House and the country; but it could not be fully discussed until they had fuller information. All that was at present known was, that Her Majesty's Government had tendered what they call their "good offices" between Sardinia and the King of the Two Sicilies, and that it was proposed to refer the matter to a foreign Power. It was impossible to imagine a more unsatisfactory position of affairs than that in which the matter now stood; and though he was forced to accept the statement of Her Majesty's Government, that the production of the papers would be prejudicial to the public interests, he must say that the reasons for withholding them were to him perfectly unintelligible, and he very much regretted that the Government considered themselves precluded from producing them.


said, that the statement of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. S. FitzGerald), that his hon, and learned Friend (Mr. Kinglake) had had some communication with foreigners, or at all events with persons who were not Englishmen, and from whom he derived his information, was utterly contrary to the fact. He had had no such communication. He wished to know if the hon. Gentleman had read the report of the debates in the Sardinian Chamber, in which England was accused of deserting Sardinia. Had he considered that accusation in conjunction with the despatch of the Earl of Malmesbury, and the dignified remonstrance of Sardinia? His (Mr. Craufurd's) impression was that there had not been that cordial co-operation on our part which there ought to have been, and which he hoped there would be in consequence of the conversation which had taken place in that House this evening.