HC Deb 18 February 1859 vol 152 cc527-34

said, he rose to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when the Papers relating to the capture and restoration of the Charles et Georges will be ready to be laid upon the Table. He was glad, he said, to be able to put his question at a time when the practice of the House would allow him to make one or two observations on the delay which had already occurred in the production of these papers. The House and the Government were aware that statements had gone forth in Europe which impugned the credit of England and of the English Government, and that those statements were not propagated by newspapers or pamphlets, but were apparently founded upon documents laid before the Cortes by the Sovereign of Portugal. These documents imputed to the gentleman who represented England at the Court of Lisbon that he had put his name to a despatch which, reciting stringent telegraphic instructions from Lord Malmesbury, contained so entire a sacrifice of all that England could naturally feel herself justified in contending for that no one could read it without pain. Up to the meeting of Parliament our Ministers had no regular means of freeing themselves from the mortification which such an imputation must necessarily have produced in their minds, and he, for one, was not surprised when on the first night of the Session the chief representative of the Government in that House said, without hesitation, that the papers relating to the Charles et Georges would be immediately laid on the table. Upon that occasion the right hon. Gentleman stated that he would lay those papers before the House with the firm conviction that the Government had faithfully performed its duty; and he even went so far as to add that terms had been obtained for Portugal which she had accepted with honour, and which had been satisfactory to the whole of Europe. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by remarking that the conduct of the Government towards Portugal had been in all respects such as the conduct of the British Government ought to be towards an ancient ally. Now, the charge against Ministers being so grave, and the defence in their possession being so complete and triumphant, one would have thought that they would not have lost a single hour in laying the papers on the Table. The House knew that the transactions to which the despatches referred terminated so long ago as the month of October last year; and the House also knew that the course of business during the last fortnight had been of such a nature that any discussion which might have been rendered necessary by the production of the papers might most conveniently have taken place before the present time. He knew not what were the causes which had interfered with the production of these papers, but the effect of their non-production had been that all discussion had been effectually warded off until after the time when the House would be plunged in debates upon the Reform Bill; for even if the papers were produced to-morrow it would be impossible for hon. Members so fully to possess themselves of their contents that an effective discussion could take place before the time which had been fixed for the introduction of the Reform Bill. The other day he asked the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs when these documents would be laid on the table; and the answer he got was that they were in a due state of preparation. Considering that more than a fortnight had elapsed since Parliament met, and that many months had passed since the time when the transactions to which the papers related were brought to a conclusion, he thought he had a right to complain that no more satisfactory answer could be given to his question. It seemed to him moreover, that the word "preparation" was not a very felicitous one to use, for it tended to give an impression that the papers were undergoing something like what he might call a culinary process, and that they would not be produced in that whole and perfect state which the complete termination of the negotiations fully justified. He would now ask the Under-Secretary when the papers would be laid on the Table, and whether they would be produced without the omission of any material portions? and he trusted that the hon. Gentleman, in his reply, would explain the cause of the extraordinary delay which had already occurred, and which had precluded the House from seeing the remarkable success claimed by the Government as having resulted from their negotiations at Lisbon.


said, he would detain the House for as short a period as he could, although hon. Members would remember that he had to discharge the duty of replying to four separate questions—a fact to which he referred not with the view of complaining of the somewhat liberal use which hon. Members had made of the power of discussing a variety of subjects upon the Motion for an adjournment of the House till Monday, but for the purpose of expressing the hope that if he did not give that full answer which might be expected in every case the House would have regard to the difficulty of replying to several questions put to him at considerable intervals of time, and not imagine that he was desirous of withholding any information which he might be able to communicate.

The first question which had been addressed to him—that of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Wise) had already to a certain extent received a reply. It was not true that Mr. Howard Vyse had been appointed Consul at Jeddo, in Japan; he had been only appointed Vice-Consul there, and as such he would be in a comparatively subordinate position, acting under a chief of great eminence. The question of the hon. Member seemed to imply that the official appointments recently made in China and Japan had not been fairly or properly distributed. He could only say that in no instance had greater care been taken than in the various appointments which, under the new arrangements, it had been necessary to make in that quarter of the world. Of thirteen appointments, amounting together to upwards of £14,000 a year, no fewer than twelve had been entirely in the way of promotions of officers who had heretofore distinguished themselves in the public service; and when it was said that the appointment of Mr. Howard Vyse was contrary to the recommendations of the Consular Committee he was at a loss to understand what recommendations were referred to which rendered objectionable the appointment of an excellent and intelligent gentleman to a very subordinate office.

The next question to which he would advert was that of the hon. Member (Mr. Caird) who had addressed the House at some length with respect to the monopoly of the Peruvian Government in the article of guano. He had been accused by the hon. Member of a want of courtesy in not communicating to him the contents of the papers which he had laid on the table tonight for the first time. Nothing could give him greater pain than the conviction that he was open to such an imputation; but he trusted he might appeal to the House to say whether, in his communications with hon. Gentlemen on either side, he had ever been found wanting in courtesy. He could tell the hon. Member that his accusation was not only painful, but unjust, for it was owing to no fault of his, but through the inadvertence of some other person, that the papers now produced were not properly distributed according to the wish and intention of the Government; and it would be a matter to him of great regret if the hon. Member for Dartmouth had not received a copy, in common with the other Members of the House. The hon. Member had asked, in the first place, whether any reply had been received from the Peruvian Government to the communication addressed by Lord Malmesbury to the Peruvian Minister here. No reply had been received, and therefore it was not in his power to communicate any to the House. He asked, in the next place, whether the Government were officially aware of any proposition to throw open the trade of the Chincha islands. In the last communication which they had received from our representative in Peru there was a statement to the effect that such a proposition had been made, and that it had been received with some favour; but beyond that the Government were in possession of no information. Lastly, the hon. Member had inquired whether the Government would endeavour to induce the Peruvian Government to abandon their monopoly. No one could doubt the importance of securing for our agriculturists an ample supply of guano; but it should be remembered that the utmost we could do was to make a representation to the Peruvian Government. That Government might, if it pleased, adopt a policy which would be injurious to our agriculturists, and probably equally injurious to Peru itself, by leading to a diminished consumption of guano; but the British Government could not take any step beyond a friendly representation. Such a representation had repeatedly been made, and he earnestly trusted that the renewed efforts which the Government might make would be productive of a more favourable result than had hitherto been achieved.

He now came to the question of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Hutt) with respect to the letter addressed by Lord Malmesbury to the Greenock Chamber of Commerce, with reference to the Navigation Laws. It was not his intention to enter into any discussion of the Navigation Laws, or of the distress which the shipping interest at present laboured under, and which they all regretted; but he could not help saying that the hon. Member must have been "hard up" for a grievance indeed, when he condescended to bring such a question as that seriously before the House. The hon. Member stated that the letter of Lord Malmesbury was one which required either an apology or an explanation; now, he denied, after reading it carefully, that it required either the one or the other. It might, indeed, require apology or explanation if the House of Commons were content to read it in the same spirit as the hon. Member, who, in dealing with it, had been neither fair nor just, for he had asked the House to ignore the context, and confine its attention to extracts. The hon. Gentleman read the letter, and said that to the earlier part of it he only called the attention of the House. What were the circumstances under which that letter was written? A memorial was addressed by the Greenock Chamber of Commerce, to the noble Earl at the Head of the Government, which, after complaining of the differential duties still maintained by some other countries, among which were Spain and a portion of the United States, asked that some method should be devised for extricating the British shipowners from this unfortunate position, and for obtaining, if possible, reciprocal concessions from foreign States. That memorial was accompanied by a letter from the hon. Member for Greenock, which described the object of the memorial to be the securing of reciprocity of liberal measures. The question, therefore, was not as to the policy of re-enacting the Navigation Laws, but as to the possibility of securing, by the intervention of the Foreign Office, that reciprocity of liberal measures which hitherto had not been obtained; and the noble Earl, when he wrote the reply, stated that at the time of the repeal of the Navigation Laws, there were many on both sides of the House who expressed the opinion that Parliament was going too fast, that they were giving up everything, and probably would receive nothing in return. It was not now the question whether we had received any benefit or not; the point was, whether or not the apprehension then expressed had been justified or not. The hon. Gentleman said that there were only two countries, France and Spain, that refused to reciprocate. The hon. Gentletnan was an authority on these subjects, but he (Mr. FitzGerald) would like to know whether the hon. Gentleman had heard no complaints as to the coasting trade of the United States? Had he never heard British shipowners complain that they could not sail from New York to San Francisco without being told that they were engaging in the coasting trade? Well, what the noble Lord said was only this—that they were told at the time of the repeal of the Navigation Laws, that they would not have reciprocity from Foreign States, and that he was sorry that it had turned out to be so. That was the truth, and he (Mr. Fitz-Gerald) likewise was sorry for it. He be- lieved that there was not a shipowner who would not say that the full reciprocity was not given by foreign nations which this country had a right to expect. Therefore the letter of the noble Lord did nothing more than state an historical fact, that at one time certain apprehensions had been expressed, and had been justified by time. The other part of the letter he presumed the hon. Gentleman did not object to "I am to add that Lord Malmesbury will continue to urge foreign States to act with greater liberality in this respect;" but how the hon. Gentleman could have conjured up an intention on the part of the noble Lord or the Government to raise the question of re-enacting the Navigation Laws, it would require great ingenuity to explain.

The only other question he had to answer had reference to the production of the papers relative to the Charles et Georges. The hon. Gentleman who put that question (Mr. Kinglake) said that it appeared, not only from newspaper reports, but from an authentic statement, that the British Government was open to the accusation of having neglected an ally. He did not know by whom those accusations were made; but if it was said that the honour of this country bad been neglected, the accusation was likely to be made not in newspaper reports, but by some of the opponents of the Government on the other side of the House whose "wish was father to the thought." He was in a condition to promise that these papers should be in the hands of Members on Monday, or, at the furthest, on Tuesday morning. They would be printed, he believed, but was not quite sure, to-night, and the hon. Member must remember that papers presented from the Foreign Department were presented in print, so that there was not the slightest delay between their presentation and distribution. He believed that the hon. Gentleman would have ample time, even before the Reform Bill was brought in, fully to consider the papers, and would not find in them any ground for those accusations against the Government to which he had alluded.


wished to explain. It was with regret that he had brought a charge of want of courtesy against the hon. Gentleman, who seemed to have forgotten this circumstance in the case. On Tuesday last—["Order!."]


The hon. Member cannot reply; although, if he has any ex- planation to offer at being misunderstood, he is at liberty to make it.


said, the explanation he wished to offer was, that the hon. Gentleman promised to send him a copy of the Correspondence to which he had alluded, though no doubt he had forgotten it. The copy was not forwarded, and it seemed to him a want of courtesy that he had not done so.

Motion agreed to.

House at rising to Adjourn till Monday next.