HC Deb 04 August 1873 vol 217 cc1522-5

asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether he is aware of the nature of the interview between the Captains of the "Pigeon" and the war ship of the German Government "Friedrich Karl;" and, what instructions have been issued to the commanders of British vessels in relation to insurgent vessels? ["Oh, oh!" and "Order!"] The hon. Member, to put himself in order, said he would move the Adjournment of the House, and thereupon proceeded to detail the circumstances of the arrest of the Spanish vessel as reported in the newspapers. He thought the part taken by the officer of the British ship in assisting the officer of the German ship in the arrest of the Spanish vessel, if the accounts which had been published are true, were of a nature to endanger the relations between this Country and Spain.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Dr. Brewer.)


said, that before the noble Lord the Tinder Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs replied, he would take advantage of the Motion for. Adjournment, and put the Question which he had placed on the Paper with reference to the same subject, though in a somewhat different form. He was extremely surprised at the impatience shown by the House to the hon. Member for Colchester while asking the Question, for it referred to a matter of the greatest importance, and it was due to the House and to the country that before Parliament separated it should be known what policy the Government had resolved upon with reference to a very complicated state of affairs, and what instructions had been given to the commanders of Her Majesty's ships of war in Spanish waters. He desired as much as possible to avoid anything which might tend to reflect upon any party in Spain, for in its present circumstances the insurgents of to-day might be the Government tomorrow. From a statement in The Times, which he read with great surprise, it appeared that an officer of the British Navy had joined with an officer commanding a Prussian ship of war cruising off the Spanish coast in imposing a Convention on the Government alleging itself to be the Government of Cartagena, in insurrection against the Government of Madrid, which Government itself was in insurrection against the Government preceding it. That Convention contained the conditions that until a certain date no vessel should sail from Cartagena, and that the steamer Vigilante was to be deemed a lawful prize, in consequence of having borne an unknown flag. He wished to know, whether that British officer had acted in conformity with instructions from the Government, or from our Representative at Madrid; and, if not, whether his conduct was approved by Her Majesty's Government, and what instructions would be sent to him consequence? He believed that no Minister was more determined than Lord Granville to carry out as far as he could do so the policy of non-intervention; and, having made the sacrifice which we made in a recent case, it was most unlikely we should depart from it now. One word of warning, however, might be given with regard to Spanish affairs. No Power had ever interfered in them without experiencing misfortune. Louis Philippe interfered in Spain and lost his Crown. The same fate befell the Emperor Napoleon and. King Amadeus; and, following Spanish affairs into another hemisphere, the Emperor Maximilian had lost both his Crown and his life. He would now ask the Tinder Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether any instructions have been sent to Her Majesty's Representative in Spain in consequence of a reported declaration of the Government now in power at Madrid, that ships of the Spanish Navy might be treated as piratical vessels; and, whether any information has been received at the Foreign Office of the seizure of a ship of the Spanish Navy by a Prussian frigate, and of any concerted action between the officer commanding Her Majesty's ship on the station and the Prussian Captain in consequence of that seizure?


said, before these Questions of the hon. Members were answered, he would like to know whether they wore based upon well-ascertained facts, or whether they merely went upon what they had seen in the newspapers? Anything which tied the hands of our Representatives might have very serious consequences to British subjects. Notice had been given of the intention to bombard the important City of Malaga, and if there had been no British vessel to prevent that bombardment the result would have been serious loss of British life and property. It was not a question of intervention in Spanish affairs, but of the protection of British subjects settled and engaged in lawful occupations in Spain.


I think, Sir, it would have been quite possible for my hon. Friends to have obtained the information they desire without moving the Adjournment of the House, a practice which it is not desirable to encourage in asking Questions. My explanation will be very brief; but I hope it will be satisfactory both to my hon. Friends and the House generally. It is quite true that the German war ship Friedrich Karl arrested a Spanish vessel named the Vigilante, which has been subsequently released. We have no particulars as to the nature of the interview between the captains of the Pigeon and the Friedrich Karl, but, from information received yesterday, we believe that the commander of the Pigeon only witnessed the agreement come to between the German and Spanish officers on that occasion. With regard to the instructions sent to our officers, I may state that on the 24th ultimo Her Majesty's Government informed the Admiralty that, with respect to the Spanish ships of war denounced as pirates by a decree of the Government of Madrid, Her Majesty's Government consider that if such vessels commit any acts of piracy affecting British subjects or British interests they should be treated as pirates, the, decree of the Spanish Government having deprived them of the protection of their flag; but if they do no such act, they should not be interfered with. Her Majesty's Government have further informed our Naval authorities that they consider that the captains of our vessels are not to surrender or permit the participation of any British officer in any surrender to the Spanish Government of any prisoners detained in revolted ships. Her Majesty's ships are further directed, in the event of any threatened bombardment of any place by the revolted ships, to require its suspension till time has been allowed for placing British lives and property in safety, and to enforce this demand if it be refused. Admiral Yelverton has, I am informed, arrived at Gibraltar with the Mediterranean Fleet.


inquired whether the seizure of the Spanish vessel, to which the English captain had given his assent, had occurred in Spanish waters?


said, he had seen the Report—a telegraphic one—which had reached the Admiralty from Gibraltar; but it gave no particulars as to the place where the seizure occurred.