HC Deb 25 May 1860 vol 158 cc1773-82

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to a most extraordinary despatch from Her Majesty's representative at Naples dated March 23, 1860. That despatch had been written with the full knowledge that it would probably be made public, and yet in the despatch be found a passage which was almost unparalleled in diplomatic correspondence—he could not say quite unparalleled, for the House bad seen certain despatches from the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs which resembled rather speeches to a Jacobin Club than documents addressed to a Minister resident in a friendly State. Mr. Elliot said,— In the present excited state of Italy the announcement that political refugees could find a safe asylum on board Her Majesty's ships would probably nearly suffice to produce an outbreak; but, on the other hand, it must be recollected that while a Government and its agents are persecuting individuals in defiance both of law and justice, a person flying from the police may fairly be considered as somewhat in the position of those who are escaping from the Lynch law of a mob. He (Mr. Bowyer) was not about to give any opinion on the merits or demerits of the Neapolitan Government, and he should abstain from doing so because he was addressing the British House of Commons, and not a Neapolitan Parliament, and be- cause he conceived we had no business to meddle with the internal affairs of other countries. He must say, however, that if I a Minister accredited to a foreign Government was allowed to express himself in such gross terms of insult towards that Government it was an outrage against all the usages of diplomacy and the law of nations, and a violation of the decencies of civilized life. If such opinions had been expressed in private letters, nothing would have been said about them; but they had been set forth in a despatch which had been made public, and which the writer must have known would probably be made public. For a Minister publicly to insult the Sovereign of a foreign country was not only improper, but it led to the most serious inconvenience. It was indeed a part of that system which had made our diplomacy a nuisance to foreign countries. Would such a thing have been done towards France? Lord Cowley would never have dreamt of such a thing. Such insults were only offered to minor States. To large States there was nothing but culogium, sometimes amounting to almost fulsome adulation, but the minor States were bullied to satisfy the prejudices of this country. He did not believe that the noble Lord in his heart entertained those sentiments of bitterness which he declared in his despatches, but was pandering to an unwholesome feeling existing in this country, grounded partially upon a hatred to Catholic Sovereigns by bigoted Protestants. He wished to know what the Government intended to do after publishing a despatch so insulting in which the Government of the King of Naples, for taking measures for the maintenance of the throne of their Sovereign, when attacked by conspirators and rebels, had been compared to those who administered the Lynch law of a mob, was it possible for a Minister, who had made use of such gross and insulting language towards the Sovereign and Government of that country, to continue in any relation with the Court, or to serve this country usefully in the capacity of a diplomatic minister. He had always understood that the mission of an ambassador was one of peace, and that it was his duty to maintain the rights of his own country, to give protection to subjects of his own country, and to convey to the Government any information which they de* sired to know. But, at the same time, it was his duty to show the greatest respect and deference to the law of the country and the person of the Sovereign to whom he was accredited. Now, he must say this was an instance, and it was not the first instance, of a great deviation from those principles on the part of Ministers of this country. He believed that when this country ceased to have any relations with the Court of Naples that cessation was viewed with anything but regret, because it was known that the English Minister was making his house the focus for intrigue and mischief, and his language in some instances was most hostile and insulting to the Government to which he was accredited. A good deal had been said with regard to the expediency of diplomatic relations with the Holy Sec, but he could not help congratulating the Holy See upon not having an English Minister resident at Rome. He believed that if there were such a Minister he would employ himself in making political capital for the noble Lord and his friends on the Treasury Bench, by writing despatches of an equally offensive character. Unless the practice wa3 put a stop to, the diplomacy of the country would be viewed as a nuisance to Europe and an encouragement of every kind of political agitation. He wanted to know whether any representation would be made to Mr. Elliot of the impropriety of his language, in order to make satisfaction to the King of Naples for the insult offered to him, and to give the diplomacy of England that respectability which it must lose by such a despatch as that to which he had called the attention of the House. With regard to the answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland to his hon. Friend the Member for Tipperary, he thought it most unsatisfactory. The warning of which he had spoken was very like a threat. Persons who were disposed to enlist in the service of the Pope were threatened that they were liable to penalties. It was not a kind and obliging piece of advice. It meant that if the Government found them out they intended to prosecute. He wanted to know why the same thing was not done in England with regard to the subscriptions to Garibaldi. There was no doubt that for a subject of the Queen to do anything, by subscription or otherwise, to encourage rebellion against a Sovereign who was in amity with the Crown was a gross offence against the law of nations. There was no doubt that the act of which Garibaldi had been guilty was an act of piracy, and that those who formed Committees or paid subscriptions were guilty of conspiring to do an act of piracy. He hoped that there would be an opportunity at some future period of discussing our foreign relations and the conduct of Her Majesty's Government. He thought there would be no difficulty in showing that in their policy there was no impartiality and very curious neutrality. Her Majesty's Government always gave every moral support which they could to rebellion against Sovereigns whose principles they disliked, and they now discouraged in Ireland everything which was done to support the authority which they disapproved. The noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had told them the other evening that the English captain stationed in the waters of Marsala had with great propriety refused to send boats to take possession of the ships which Garibaldi had abandoned, because he was instructed to observe perfect impartiality and neutrality. He did not understand that kind of neutrality which was kept between a band of pirates attacking an Ally of the Crown and a recognized Government who had a Minister accredited to the English Court. If two or three footpads attacked the noble Lord in going home from the House, and if, when he called for assistance to half a dozen hon. Members on the other side of the street, they said, "No; we shall not interfere; we mean to keep a strict neutrality," what would the noble Lord think of them? The cases were exactly parallel, for every person in arms must either be a lawful belligerent or a pirate, and Garibaldi was clearly not a lawful belligerent. Such doctrines of impartiality and neutrality seemed to him subversive of the laws of nations, and he noticed them, because their operation must produce the greatest possible confusion throughout Europe. They would reproduce in other parts the state of things which existed between the King of Sardinia and his near neighbour, and in which the King of Sardinia seemed like a receiver of stolen goods — alieni appetens, sui profusus—ready to sell his subjects for the plunder which the Emperor of the French had succeeded in obtaining. It was a system which must lead to a European war, and the effect of it must be to strengthen a revolutionary Power, with which we should sooner or later have to grapple, and he feared to grapple with it, when our policy had made that Power so strong as to render it exceedingly difficult to cope with it. In conclusion he had to ask the noble Lord at the head of the Go- vernment for some explanation of the despatch he had mentioned, and he hoped, for the credit of this country and of the Government, that the noble Lord would disclaim the insulting language which had been used by Mr. Elliot, and would be able to state that means had been adopted to prevent the employment of similar language by a British envoy to a sovereign at peace and in alliance with Her Majesty.


I am afraid I cannot satisfy the wish of the hon. and learned Gentleman by informing him that Her Majesty's Government have expressed any disapproval of the despatch which has met with his censure. The chief characteristic of that despatch is that it states the truth, and I apprehend that it is the duty of Her Majesty's diplomatic agents abroad to state the truth, however disagreeable to the Government whom they address, with regard to the facts upon which they have to communicate. This was not a volunteered communication from Mr. Elliot. It arose from a discussion which took place here as to the supposed conduct of a British naval officer in giving refuge to a Sicilian fleeing from persecution on shore. The standing orders which have been given on those matters are recorded on the other page of the paper, from which the hon. and learned Gentleman read an extract. They are in the shape of a communication to the Admiralty, given by my direction when at the head of the Foreign Office, and the orders under which all naval officers are acting, in places where these circumstances are likely to occur, are simply these,—that when any one flees from justice, to escape from a trial or from the condemnation of a tribunal, to any British ship of war which may be stationed in a foreign port, he is not to be received; but that if an individual flees from persecution on account of political opinions, or political conduct, and gains access to the ship, then the commanding officer is not to refuse him asylum. It is upon the principle that every British ship of war is British territory; and that principle has been acted upon in other places and with regard to other countries besides Sicily. During the civil wars of Spain, Gibraltar was the place of refuge alternately of all the different parties. Cat-lists at one time, Progresistas at another, fleeing from the power of their adversaries, triumphant for a moment, have equally found refuge under the sanction of the British flag at that place. On the same principle it would be an act of barbarous cruelty on the part of the commander of a ship to turn adrift and force back into the hands of his pursuers a man who had committed no distinct offence, who had been tried by no tribunal, who had been charged and found guilty of no civil or criminal offence, but who was persecuted simply on account of his political opinions, and sought a temporary refuge on board a British ship. Mr. Elliot states when he last wrote that the condition of Sicily at the time was such that persons flying for refuge from the police in this way, were like persons flying from the Lynch law of a mob. [Mr. HENNESSY: They were flying from the Government.] Yes, but the Government of Sicily is the police. That is the gravamen of the charge. The hon. and learned Gentleman says Mr. Elliot showed disrespect to the laws and institutions of the country, but I say, on the contrary, he showed respect to them. The laws and institutions of the Neapolitan kingdom are now entirely set aside, and consigned to oblivion— the whole Government of the country is in the hands of the police. In the kingdom of Naples there is an excellent code—[MR. BOWYER: Hear, hear.]—the Code Napoleon—[Mr. BOWYER: No, it is not so.]—adapted to local circumstances and suited to the habits and to the usages of the people. There is a Constitution and a Parliament, granted by the late King, sworn to by him in the most solemn manner, with adjurations of the vengeance of Heaven on himself and his successors if ever it were sot aside—but yet that Constitution is a dead letter. The police do everything—they arrest people without any charge against them, they keep them in prison without any trial, and if by any accident any prisoner is brought to trial and acquitted he is equally kept in prison, because it is said he is suspected. Innocence is no protection there, and the utmost barbarities have been perpetrated by the police of Sicily on the unfortunate population of the country. The hon and learned Gentleman does not know what is passing there; if he did, I am sure his generous feelings would revolt against the barbarities which we hear and which we know are practised in that country. I believe that no such case as that of M. Rosa, which has been brought forward, has occurred; the report is entirely unfounded. We do not know that there is such a person; but, putting a hypothetical case—if any man flying from the fangs of the police were to seek refuge on board a British ship, there is no man, I believe, in this country, who would not deem that that officer had misconducted himself, who, under those circumstances, should drive such an individual back to be the victim of the barbarities I have described. These are matters of feeling on which we must all think alike. It is no departure from our position of neutrality in regard to the contest now going on. No encouragement has been given to those who are subscribing to the fund in aid of Garibaldi. The hon. and learned Gentleman says the speech of my noble Friend the other night was an encouragement; because at the moment he compared Garibaldi to a great historical personage; but if the hon. and learned Gentleman has no other ground than that for asserting that the Government has given any such encouragement, he is rather straining facts and assertions, in order to prop up the opinions which he wishes us to receive as sound. Therefore, as far as this question goes, there is no censure to be applied to Mr. Elliot. With regard to the feelings of the Neapolitan Government upon that despatch, I should think when they read it, all they could have to say to it would be Pudet base opprobria nobis, Et dici potuisse, et non potuisse refelli. In respect to the other point, there is a great distinction between the two cases. In the one case there is a positive statute, plain, intelligible, and simple, to the violation of which certain penalties are attached—that is the Foreign Enlistment Act. The other is an infraction of the law of nations, which may be punished; but every man must see that a prosecution in this case would be much more uncertain, than in the case of offences against the Foreign Enlistment Act. In the one case a warning was thought necessary to certain people in Ireland, who did not seem to be aware of the state of the law; in the other case it was stated by a hon. and learned Member opposite, that the discussion in this House would be sufficient warning to those who were supposed to be engaged in these subscriptions, which were deemed to be contrary to the law of nations.


said, the noble Lord's description of the state of Sicily reminded him of a statement which had been made some years ago by a colleague of his on a similar matter. In 1857 the Foreign Secretary of the noble Lord's then Government (the Earl of Clarendon) stated in "another place" that Baron Poerio had had an operation performed on him while still wearing the chains which caused the wounds for which that operation was required. That statement was also repeated in another form by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), whoso book about Naples was full of the grossest misconceptions. The moment that charge was made the Government of Naples took steps to give it a proper contradiction. A State paper was published to which were attached he certificates of the surgeons who performed the operation. They denied the story about the chains, for at that time the Baron wore no chains. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Oh, oh! I saw them myself.] Did the right hon. Gentleman mean to assert that the chains caused the wounds, and that those chains were worn during the operation—for that was the precise charge? It was met by the statement of the medical men that they saw no chains and no marks of chains, and they distinctly asserted that the malady for which the operation was performed was an hereditary malady, and had nothing to do with chains. They also stated that whilst in prison it appeared that the Baron was confined in comfortable rooms, where there was plenty of light and air; that he had, in fact, a suite of apartments, with access to his books and papers. The statement to which he had referred, however, was an example of the sort of statements on which the noble Viscount relied in his charge against the King of Naples. He had no wish to charge the noble Lord or his colleagues with seeking to overturn the King of Naples from anti-Catholic motives. The noble Lord was the leader of the Liberal party, perhaps it might be said, in Europe, certainly in this country, and he was acting consistently in using all his influence to promote the spread of Liberalism in Italy. For himself, he looked on Liberalism as a thing not to be approved of anywhere; and when the effects of the new liberal Budget were a little more developed, a great many other people would think the same. This was not a question of two religions, but of two different forms of politics. The noble Lord was endeavouring to spread liberal views throughout Europe, but he wished to point out to hon. Gentlemen below the gangway on the other side, who talked a good deal about economy, that it was not for them to support a Government which spread liberal views at the expense of the people of England. We had already a war with a Sovereign in the East, and we might have another now with a Sovereign in the West; for the noble Lord's speech might promote a rupture between Her Majesty's Government and the King of Naples. The noble Lord once talked of sending a fleet to the Bay of Naples, but he got a letter from the Emperor of Russia, which was circulated throughout Europe, informing him that the Russian Government would maintain the principle of non-intervention, and that they would not permit him to dictate to a small State because it was small; and then the noble Lord very wisely, though not with much dignity, retreated from his menacing position, for he felt that though he could bully Naples he could not bully Russia. Hon. Gentlemen would find that if they allowed the noble Lord to have his own way, he would get the country into all kinds of expensive and disastrous complications. He would only add the expression of his regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had not been as explicit and candid as usual in his answer. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he had not issued any proclamation. Surely one which had been issued at the direction and by the advice of the Attorney General must be taken as the act of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member.


I said, that no proclamation was issued, and that what was issued was the ordinary police notice; and that is exactly the truth of the case.


said, that as a Roman Catholic he wished to preserve, if it were possible, the Romagn a, and the rest of his dominions in all their integrity to the Pope, because he considered, apart from any religious question, that it was absolutely necessary, in a political point of view, that the Pope should be independent. For the same reason he regretted the issuing of the proclamation by the Irish Government which had been referred to. At the same time he could not concur with his hon. Colleague in defending the Sicilian Government, which he believed was an abomination, and which he trusted one day or another would be compelled to succumb, not to Garibaldi, with whose projects he had no sympathy, but to popular opinion, aided and influenced as it was by the Roman Catholic clergy rising and overturning Neapolitan tyranny. He could not hear the statement made by his hon. Colleague without standing up and vindicating those principles of liberalism which that hon. Member had so openly repudiated. He admitted that it was contrary to law to interfere by subscriptions or otherwise in the affairs of other nations which were on terms of amity with Her Majesty's Government, but no law could prevent our feeling sympathy with those who were oppressed, and sympathy wherever expressed would always be found useful.