HC Deb 22 March 1861 vol 162 cc214-20

, in rising to put a question to the Secretary for the Home Department relative to the Kossuth notes, took occasion to refer to an answer which he had a few days ago received from the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs with respect to a sharp look-out being kept on Kossuth, intimating a wish to know whether the noble Lord, whose memory in connection with the matter seemed then to have failed him, had since refreshed his recollection with respect to it, and stating it to be his intention again to bring the question under the notice of the House at no distant day. He desired also to know whether the attention of the noble Lord had been drawn to a statement which appeared in The Times of yesterday in the letter of its Constantinople correspondent, and which was to the following effect:— Her Majesty's ship Banshee, Captain Madden, left here on Wednesday last for Galatz, with Mr. Ward, our New Consul at that place, on board. The Banshee is, I am informed, to take the arms conveyed there some time since in Sardinian vessels back to Genoa—that is, if she can get them; for it has been hinted that their being forthcoming on demand is far from matter of certainty. What on earth our Government has to do with the matter I confess my inability to understand. Those arms, it would appear, the noble Lord was afraid would not fall into the hands of his pet Government of Austria, and had ordered them to brought back in one of Her Majesty's ships—a fact which betoken a somewhat active interference on the side of a despotic Government. The question, however, which he had more immediately risen to put related to a reply which he had received from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, which was of a most unsatisfactory character, and which bore on a subject in reference to which the right hon. Gentleman's memory also would appear to have failed him" He wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman, how Sir R. Mayne became possessed of, and who translated for him, "the Kossuth note," manufactured by the Messrs. Day, upon which he gave Sir R. Mayne instructions; and whether the said note was the same that was afterwards exhibited by Count Apponyi in the Court of Chancery? It would be in the recollection of the House that the Secretary of State stated on a former occasion that neither Sir R. Mayne nor himself understood the Hungarian language, and that, therefore, they did not know what the note contained. He understood, however, that Sir R. Mayne had in his possession at the time a translation of the note; and, if so, both he and the Home Secretary must have been acquainted with its purport. Upon his knowledge of the note the Secretary of State founded his instructions to Sir R. Mayne. Sir R. Mayne wrote to Mr. Day requesting him to call upon him. Mr. Day complied with the request and had two interviews with the Chief Commissioner of Police. In the evening of the same day Sir R. Mayne wrote again to Mr. Day saying he hoped he would call upon him the folio wing forenoon. The House would recollect that the Secretary of State stated distinctly that that interview did not take place, and that nothing further transpired in writing. The right hon. Gentleman must have been misinformed, because something further did transpire in writing. Mr. Day, on the 14th of February, in answer to the request of Sir R. Mayne for another interview, addressed to the Chief Commissioner a letter than which nothing could be more creditable to an Englishman. It was as follows:— To Sir R. Mayne.—Sir, in the interval between the last visit of our senior to you and this day we have taken the advice of several constitutional lawyers of eminence, and those gentlemen cannot see that in lithographing the notes in question our firm have infringed any provision of either the common or statute law of this country. At the same time we feel the greatest repugnance to being supposed to be indifferent to even a suggestion that in carrying out the order of our customer we are breaking or evading any law of this realm, especially when that suggestion comes from so high an authority as yourself. Before, therefore, deciding finally upon the course we should pursue, I will ask you, from whom I have, up to the present time, experienced every courtesy in the execution of what must be to you as an Englishman a very unpleasant duty, to favour us with a reference to the statute law against the provisions of which you deem our firm to have offended, or to the principle of common law you think we are infringing. Permit us to say, that in the interview between our senior and yourself on the 12th instant he did not promise to detain the notes in question on receiving a notice to that effect, but simply to respect any notice from the Government which they had a right to give. We are at present advised that they have no such right. We think it right to inform you that while our principals in this matter desire to avoid unnecessary publicity they are prepared, on the other hand, by every constitutional means to protect and assert their rights. Here he might state, in passing, that the Hungarian arms, which had so much alarmed the Government, were placed at the head of every advertisement in the Hungarian newspapers, were exhibited on the labels attached to wine bottles, and were used for a variety of other purposes. The House, he was sure, would agree with him in thinking that the Home Secretary ought to explain his statement that nothing further transpired in writing. He wished the right hon. Gentleman to state also from whom Sir R. Mayne received the note, whether it was not translated at the time Sir Richard brought it to the Home Office, and whether it was the same note which was produced in the Court of Chancery.


—My hon. Friend has said that my memory has been at fault, and that I gave incorrect information to the House on a previous occasion. I expected that he would state in what that incorrectness consisted, but I confess I do not exactly understand what was the inaccuracy of which I have been guilty. Upon a former occasion I merely referred to the communication which Sir R. Mayne had made to Mr. Day. I read the letters to the House, and stated that nothing further bad taken place between them. I meant of course on the part of Sir R. Mayne; because I did not think it was necessary for me to refer to communications which Mr. Day had made to Sir R. Mayne, which were not in my possession at the time I answered the question—and, moreover, the question that was put to me had reference to the conduct of Sir R. Mayne and not of Mr. Day. Here I may state that I am far from imputing any blame to Mr. Day. I think he has acted with perfect propriety throughout. No question was put to me with respect to Mr. Day. My hon. Friend simply asked for an explanation of Sir R. Mayne's conduct and my own, and I stated to him all that had passed on the part of Sir R. Mayne and myself. I think, therefore, he has altogether failed in showing that my memory has been at fault. He now asks me how SIR R. Mayne became possessed of the note. Sir Richard became possessed of it in consequence of its having been brought to him by a policeman. I wish to state in the most distinct and explicit manner, and upon the authority of Sir R. Mayne himself, that he never employed any policeman or any person whatever to obtain information with respect to the proceedings of M. Kossuth. He knew nothing of the existence of these notes until the note was brought to him. That was the first information he received on the subject. When the note was brought to him he thought it his duty to lay it before me. I can only repeat what I stated on a former occasion, that there was no person in the Home Office who understood Hungarian, and that I requested Sir R. Mayne to procure a translation of the note. Sir R. Mayne went to the Foreign Office, and the Foreign Office furnished him with a translation of the note. So much for two of the questions which my hon. Friend has put to me. His last question is whether the note produced in the Court of Chancery was the same note which Sir R. Mayne brought to me. It was the same note. It was upon my authority that the note was handed over to the Austrian Embassy for their information. Having thus answered the questions of my hon. Friend, perhaps the House will allow me to give a few words of explanation. I have already stated that I do not impute any blame to Mr. Day; that, on the contrary, I think he has acted with perfect propriety in the whole transaction. Mr. Day wrote two letters to Sir R. Mayne. I have not those letters here; but Sir R. Mayne has furnished me with what is more material, the substance of what passed at the interview which took place between them after the first letter. The interview took place at the Police Office on the 12th of February, and the following is Sir R. Mayne's account of it:— Mr. Day stated that before he undertook the order he was advised that there was nothing illegal in the transaction. He brought with him two large sheets of the notes (unseparated), which he showed Sir R. Mayne. He stated that he brought them, because he supposed that it was with reference to them Sir R. Mayne had asked him to call; that he had made no concealment of them; that if Sir R. Mayne had visited their establishment they would have been shown to him. I state this because my hon. Friend by his previous statement led the House to suspect that this was a clandestine operation on the part of Mr. Day; that the ma- nufacture of these notes was carried on as if it had been the coinage of base money or the forgery of bank notes, and that great secresy was used. I do not at all collect from the statements or the conduct of Mr. Day that such was the fact. Mr. Day is a highly respectable tradesman; he is lithographer to the Queen; he has acted under legal advice, and believed himself to be conducting a perfectly regular and legal operation. I never imagined that the manufacture of the notes was concealed. It must have been known to a considerable number of persons connected, and perhaps unconnected, with his establishment. My hon. Friend seemed to me to put Mr. Day in rather an unfavourable position by representing that it was impossible that a knowledge of these notes could have got abroad without some breach of confidence. I gather from the statement made by Mr. Day himself that such was not the fact. I shall now briefly state the course which the Government took on becoming possessed of the note. As soon as I saw a translation it became evident to me that this was a preparation of notes to be used by a Government to be established in place of the existing Government of Hungary. Such being the nature of the operation in which Mr. Day was concerned it behoved the Government to consider whether it was a legal operation or not. I could not help remembering the opinions which were expressed some years ago in the House of Lords, particularly by Lord Lyndhurst, when that distinguished lawyer generalized the legal doctrine laid down in the case of "The King v. Peltier," that any person who, either by a single act, or by a combined act, tends to embroil this country with any foreign Government in amity with Her Majesty is guilty of a misdemeanour. That doctrine was laid down by Lord Lyndhurst on March 4, 1853,and it was acquiesced in by several other learned Lords, But the question arose also in this House of Parliament in the course of last Session on the Motion of the Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy), with reference to the assistance sent out to Garibaldi. On the 17th of May last that question was discussed, and upon that occasion my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General laid down the law, and I believe it passed without any dissent, although several hon. and learned Members on both sides of the House took part in the debate. This was what my hon. and learned Friend said:— The law prohibits anything that may en. danger the peace between the Sovereign of England and the Sovereign of another State. That great principle of the law must be accepted by every person; and the common law of England, although it may have provided no particular remedy, yet in conformity with general good faith and expediency, lays down in the strongest manner the principle that all subjects of the realm are bound to abstain from every interference that tends to excite the subjects of another country against its lawful authorities. What those authorities may be is not the question. It matters not that they may be cruel or tyrannical; that is not the question. If the Sovereign be in amity with this country it would be wrong and illegal for any persons here to interfere with the affairs of his kingdom."—[3 Hansard, clviii., 1383.] That doctrine so laid down by my hon. and learned Friend on the 17th of May was unchallenged. In the course of the debate the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Guildford (Mr. Bovill) said— It is, I maintain, an offence of the most serious description for any individual—even though he may do it without concert with others—openly to invite subscriptions—it matters not whether they be or be not collected—for the purpose of aiding the revolt of the subjects of a foreign Country against their Sovereign. Such a proceeding is a direct violation of international law, and ought to be held liable to punishment."—[3 Hansard, clviii, 1387.] Well, then, if the collection of subscriptions for such a purpose be a violation of the comity of nations, by parity of reasoning the fabrication of money—the sinews of war—to be used avowedly by a Government which is contemplated to be established on the ruins of an existing Government—must be considered as coming within the principle of the prohibition. Bearing in mind these dicta of eminent lawyers, I thought it my duty to take the opinion of the law officers of the Crown upon this question. That opinion was not favourable to the legality of the proceeding, but they did not recommend the Government to take any active steps in the way of indictment or other legal proceedings. Having received that advice, and Understanding that the Austrian Embassy regarded this as a matter which might be made the subject of a civil remedy, however little the Government might have contemplated that it could be so treated, yet when asked by the Austrian Embassy to assist them in carrying their civil remedy into effect, we thought we were bound to furnish them, as a Government with which we were at amity, with the evidence by which they sought to enforce their rights. That, Sir, is the extent to which the Go- vernment have interfered in this matter, and I trust the House will feel that we have not exceeded our duty.

In answer to the question which has been put to me by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Fenwick) as to the Report of the Commissioners on the subject of salmon fisheries, I shall only say that I have read that Report with very considerable interest; and it appears to me that the Commissioners have discharged their duty in a highly satisfactory manner with regard to a subject which is not of paramount though of considerable secondary interest. It is a subject requiring technical knowledge, and was, therefore, properly subjected to special inquiry. I quite concur with the view which has been expressed that the supply of salmon has been greatly diminished of late years, and that that diminution to a considerable extent might be prevented by means within the reach of legislation. That has been proved by the example of Ireland, and, to a certain extent, by the example of Scotland. As to how far it is a matter of private and how far of public interest, I will only say that will depend mainly on the question how far legislation is applicable to it. Any measure which, to a considerable extent, insures the supply of an article of food is in itself a subject of interest. The question is whether that supply can be augmented by legislative means? I confess it seems to me that it can. In connection with the spread of manufactures and impediments in rivers, no doubt, the subject is one of considerable intricacy and difficulty. But there arises another objection—that in order to render any inspection by public officers effectual it is necessary to a certain extent to make a draught on the public Treasury. I have had the subject under consideration, and I can only say that I am sanguine of being able to devise some means by which that kind of protection may be reduced within the narrowest limits. It will not be necessary to create a central board; it will only be necessary to have some inspectors to report to the Government. The expenditure will be experimental, and the inspectors will, in the first instance, be appointed only for a limited number of years. I should be disposed, if I thought the House would be likely to agree with me to ask for leave to introduce a Bill founded upon the Report of the Commissioners soon after Easter.