HC Deb 11 May 1860 vol 158 cc1128-30

said, that before asking the Question of which he had given notice, he wished to explain why he put it in the fewest possible words. It had been suggested to him that if he put this question he might be asked why he did not rather put a question with respect to the recruiting that was going on in Ireland for the troops of the Pope. His answer was a very simple one—that recruiting was so perfectly illegal that he could only suppose the reason why the Government did not interfere to put a stop to it was that, while other countries were sending the sweepings of their gaols to reinforce the cutthroats of Perugia, they might allow the example to be followed in Ireland. But the Sicilian insurrection was an entirely different affair. The Sicilians were really fighting for a noble cause, which, as far as possible, should be untainted by any illegality. If the Government were disposed to treat the recruiting for the Pope in Ireland with contempt, they could not so treat the expedition to Sicily of General Garibaldi. Once let him penetrate into the interior of that island, and the contest would become a very serious one indeed. It was true that the great towns of Sicily lying on the seaboard would be in the power of the Neapolitan Government so long as they could keep the sea; but it must not be forgotten that there were large parts of that country most admirably adapted for guerilla troops. Even in the most fertile districts the villages stood almost always on rocky eminences; they were built with narrow streets; and altogether they were of that character that a mere handful of men could defend them against better troops than could be sent against them by the King of Naples. If this turned out a long struggle, the attention of Europe would be drawn very much to the subscription which was getting up in this country. Not that he believed that subscription would ever amount to any sum that would be a very considerable assistance to the Sicilian cause; but it would be so considerable as at least to attract attention; and if there was anything illegal in it, he thought it wise and proper that the Government should declare it to be so. Our position with regard to Sicily was a very peculiar one—for two reasons. In the first place, not only in France, but over the whole Continent, we were suspected of having views of our own with regard to Sicily. Now, although our temporary occupation of it might be of immense advantage to the island—although it would soon recover its prosperity, and become again the granary of the Mediterranean—yet he was perfectly sure that before five years passed the English rule would become unpopular, and the country would become the greatest possible burden and nuisance to us. There was another reason why we should disavow all connivance with illegal assistance given to the Sicilians. It seemed to him that the true and wise course for this country to take, as the head of the constitutional Governments in Europe, was to strive that the principle of national boundaries should be respected, and that every nation should settle its quarrels within its own territory. They might be certain that the Liberal cause in all countries was steadily gaining ground, and, if they only prevented one despotic Power from assisting another despot, before long the Liberal party would be able to completely crush their oppressors. His object in asking the question of which he had given notice was most friendly to the Sicilians. He wished success to their revolt. He wished it might spread into the mainland, and before long overwhelm the King and Government in utter destruction. Still, he hoped he had made it clear that the Government should do nothing to support the insurrection, and that English subjects, as individuals, should do nothing illegal to promote it. He begged to ask Mr. Solicitor General whether his attention has been drawn to an Advertisement which appeared in The Times of Wednesday, the 9th of May, announcing that a Subscription had been opened in London in aid of the Sicilians; and whether Persons in this Country who contributed to the Fund which it was proposed to raise would render themselves liable to any legal proceedings?


said, he hoped he should not be considered wanting in respect to the House, or to the hon. Gentleman, if he confined himself to giving a precise answer to a precise ques- tion, and abstained from following the somewhat discursive strain of observation, in which the hon. Gentleman had considered it right to indulge. He had therefore to state that his attention had been called to the advertisement, by the Notice of the hon. Gentleman's Question. He had a copy of that advertisement before him; he had read it, and, as he thought the hon. Member had not stated the substance of it, his observations would be rendered more intelligible, if he referred to it more particularly. The advertisement solicited subscriptions in aid of the Sicilians, and requested that the sums, which persons in this country might be disposed to give, should be paid into the hands of certain persons living in this country, whose names were published; and the proposal, was that the subscriptions, so paid into the hands of those persons, hero, should, as money, be transmitted to Genoa, to be there disposed of by a committee, stated to be presided over by General Garibaldi. The Question was, whether the subscribing of money in this country, by paying it into the hands of foreigners or others, living here, with the purpose and object described by the advertisement, infringed any rule of common law, or was an offence against any prohibitory statute? Now, it appeared to him that, so long as what was done was kept within the bounds of a mere subscription in this country, such as this advertisement described, no law of this country would be violated. The only statute in any way bearing on a case of this description was, the 59th George III., commonly called the Foreign Enlistment Act. It prohibited two things—the enlisting of soldiers, and fitting out or equipping vessels of war for service, under or against, foreign Governments. It did not in any way touch subscriptions. As far as he was able to form an opinion, any man who thought proper might put his hand into his pocket, take out his money, and put it into the hands of another, on the faith of its going to Genoa, to be disposed of by General Garibaldi; without violating either the common, or statute, law of the country.