HC Deb 14 February 1873 vol 214 cc440-8

I rise to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, What is the object with which the Government of this Country maintains an Envoy at Rome to the Pope, and what are the Instructions under which that Envoy has been and is now acting? I shall further move for Papers upon the subject. It is necessary that I should say a few words in order to explain the purport of my Question, and to show the importance of the information which I trust the House will obtain from the noble Lord. In the first place, I may remind the House that at the close of the Session a discussion took place with regard to the question whether or not the Government, in appointing an Envoy to the Vatican, were or were not acting in contravention of an Act of Parliament, passed in the year 1848, which rendered it lawful for the Government of this country to enter into diplomatic relations with the Sovereign of the Papal States. Upon the occasion to which I refer, the end of the month of July, or the beginning of the month of August, a discussion took place upon the question. It was contended by several hon. Members that the Government, in appointing Mr. Clarke Jervoise as Envoy to represent this country at the Vatican, were acting in contravention of the Act of 1848. Hon. Members who took this view of the question relied mainly upon those words in the Act of 1848, which rendered it lawful to appoint an Envoy to the Sovereign of the Roman States. But it was contended that the Sovereign of the Roman States was now the King of Italy, and that the words of the Act in no sense applied to the Pope, who had ceased to exercise any temporal power whatever. On the part of the Government, it was maintained that this was not the correct interpretation of the words of the Act, and the Attorney General made a speech, in which he endeavoured to show that the Government were perfectly justified in appointing an Envoy to the Pope. In the first place, he argued that the Pope was still a temporal Sovereign, and that he still exercised sovereignty over some portion of his territory, however minute that territory might be. He afterwards abandoned that argument, as supposing that the Pope still exercised sovereignty over a portion of the City of Rome, but the hon. and learned Gentleman defended the action of the Government upon this ground—I will quote four or five lines from the statement made by the Attorney General in justification of the conduct of the Government. He stated that the holding of intercourse with the Pope, be he Sovereign or not, had never been forbidden by law, and, in support of that position, the hon. and learned Gentleman cited the opinion of several eminent legal authorities, who had been consulted by former Governments as to the legality of entering into diplomatic relations with the Court of the Pope. He stated that these legal authorities had given it as their opinion that there was nothing to be found upon the Statute Book that rendered it unlawful to appoint an Envoy or a Minister to the Pope. But the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to overlook the fact that all these opinions had been given before the passing of the Act of 1848. I wish now to call the attention of the House to the extraordinary consequences which would follow from the opinion expressed by the Attorney General, if he was correct in the opinion he expressed. The result would be that although the Government might ask the authority of the House in order to make action lawful, it would be justifiable and permissible on the part of the Government if, on finding that the Act did not meet the objects for which they had asked the House to pass it, for them to go back upon the Prerogative of the Crown, no matter what the interpretation of the Act itself might mean. I say, then, that if the Government are correct in the matter, and were it to act in that manner, the passing of Acts of Parliament would be a simple mockery. But the opinion of the Attorney General could not be supported by a reference to other and analogous cases. The power of the Crown with regard to coining money was long, I believe, without any limitation; in process of time it began to be disputed to what extent the Prerogative reached, and ultimately it was held by all the greatest lawyers of the country that the passing of an Act in the reign of George III. had finally settled the question that the Prerogative of the Crown in respect of the coining of money was extinct, because the authority of Parliament having been once revoked, it followed as a necessary consequence that the Prerogative was abandoned; therefore I say, in the case of this Act of 1848, authorising diplomatic relations with Rome, by the same reason Parliament, having been once consulted, and its authority invoked upon the question, it is not within the power of any Government to fall back upon the Prerogative, say whatever may be the interpretation of the Act, there was no opinion by high legal authorities in former times antecedent to the passing of that Act that there was no law to prevent the country from entering into diplomatic relations with the Pope of Rome. I do not wish to dwell upon this; but the question I wish to put to the noble Lord who represents the Foreign Office in this House is—"What is the object with which the Government of this country maintains an Envoy at Rome to the Pope, and what are the Instructions under which the Envoy has been, and is now, acting?" It appears to me to be a most extraordinary circumstance that we should have at the same time two Diplomatic Agents residing in the same city, one credited to the King of Italy, and the other an Envoy to the Pope. The reasons given for the appointment of an Envoy to the Pope, in addition to the Diplomatic Agent already accredited to the Court of the King of Italy, is, I believe, because the Pope does not regard the King of Italy as the legitimate Sovereign of what were formerly the Papal States, but as an usurper; and, consequently, he would not have any intercourse with the Minister accredited from this country to the Italian Court. That appears, however, to me to be a course in the highest degree insulting to the King of Italy, and not only to that Sovereign, but to the nations by whose will he has become Sovereign of the Papal States. It is, I say, a course in the highest degree insulting to that Sovereign and to the people of Italy, that this country should accredit a separate Envoy to the Pope on the ground that the King of Italy is regarded by the Pope as a usurper. I should like to have some information from the noble Lord whether he does not think that in sending an Envoy to the Pope in this manner we are not acting with that courtesy which we ought to observe towards the King of Italy. What I wish to learn from the noble Lord is —what is the object for which this country has maintained Mr. Clarke Jervoise as its Envoy at the Vatican, and what are the duties assigned to him—what is that he has to do as Envoy to the Vatican? It is perfectly clear that the duties of Mr. Clarke Jervoise must refer either to religious questions or to temporal questions. If the noble Lord states that he is commissioned to communicate with the Pope upon religious questions—upon questions arising out of the position of the Pope as head of the Roman Catholic Church—in which position he no doubt exercises great influence and authority over a large number of the subjects of this kingdom—if the noble Lord informs us that the object of Mr. Jervoise's appointment is to enable him to communicate with the Pope or his Ministers on questions of this nature, then, Sir, I think no other information would be required. It will then be perfectly clear what the object of the Government has been in adopting the extraordinary course of maintaining two Diplomatic Agents in the same city. But I do not anticipate that this will be the answer of the noble Lord. I expect the noble Lord will say that Mr. Clarke Jervoise has not received any instruction to communicate with the Pope or his Ministers upon questions of a purely religious character. I fully expect he will state that the subject on which Mr. Clarke Jervoise is commissioned to treat are subjects of temporal character. If that is the case, I cannot see why the Ministers accredited to the Court of Rome should not be perfectly competent to fulfil all the duties which I suppose Mr. Clarke Jervoise is expected to perform. The duties of a Diplomatic Agent are usually to attend to all the interests of the subjects of the country which he represents, whether in regard to matters of trade or questions affecting the personal interests of British subjects. For what reason is it that the Minister accredited to the King of Italy cannot perform this function? What is the real object and use of the particular Diplomatic Mission of Mr. Clarke Jervoise. I have endeavoured from the Papers which have already been laid before Parliament to discover the nature of the duties to which Mr. Clarke Jervoise has been engaged, and I find that he has interested himself upon a question relating to "Peter's Pence"—a certain sum of money sent from the Roman Catholics of this country to the Pope under the denomination of "Peter's Pence." It appears that some questions had been raised whether the sum of money derived from this source should not be confiscated by the Italian Government, and the question has occupied the attention of Mr. Clarke Jervoise. He has also occupied himself with a question relating to the interests of various British subjects, one question having reference to an injury sustained by a vineyard belonging to a religious community at Rome. He also interested himself in various other questions involving the protection of the individual interests of British subjects. I wish to know upon what ground it is that questions of this kind, when any British subject conceives himself to be unjustly treated, are not referred at once to the Diplomatic Agent accredited to the Court of the Sovereign of that country? I want to know what it is that Mr. Clarke Jervoise does that might not be quite as well done by the Minister accredited to the King of Italy? I will conclude by putting the Question of which I have given Notice to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and I also beg to move for Papers in continuation of the Papers already laid before Parliament.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "there lie laid before this House, a Copy of Papers (in continuation of a Paper [C—247], Session 1871, intituled 'Correspondence respecting the Affairs of Rome, 1870–71')," — (Mr. Sinclair Aytoun,)

—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


had entertained the hope that the explanation which he had given on three successive occasions during the last Session, as to the position of Mr. Clarke Jervoise at Rome, would have been accepted by the House, and that no misapprehension would have prevailed as to the precise position of that gentleman. He would restate, as briefly as ho could, the position of Mr. Clarke Jervoise at Rome. He was not an Envoy to the Papal See. He was not accredited, and had no instructions in the general sense with which Ambassadors, or Ministers, or Chargé d' Affaires were provided. He was a clerk in the Foreign Office, and was discharging special duties which might or might not cease at any moment. He did not form part of the staff of Her Majesty's Lega- tion at Rome; he reported home independently. He (Viscount Enfield) stated, in reply to the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), on the 30th of July last, that— If the Pope had recognized the King of Italy there would have been no further occasion for the services of Mr. Jervoise; but the Pope had not done so, and it was considered that it would be unfair if this country were left without any representative to discharge duties that had hitherto been discharged in connection with the Papal Court."—[3 Hansard, ccxiii. 156.] And again, on the 9th of August, in reply to the hon. Member for North-east Lancashire (Mr. Holt), he stated that— Mr. Jervoise had no definite position at Rome, but would report to the Foreign Office any information which might be communicated to him directly or indirectly in regard to the relation of the Papal Government with foreign Powers. That beyond this he had no general instructions, and his duties, as so defined, are understood, though not prescribed in writing." —Ibid. 840.] He (Viscount Enfield) did not know that he had anything further to answer. Mr. Jervoise was kept on for the present at Rome, because the interest of Her Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects might at times require communication with the Pope, and as the Papal Government declined official intercourse with the representatives of foreign Powers accredited to the King of Italy, Mr. Jervoise was able to furnish information which otherwise Her Majesty's Government would probably not b e able to receive. He (Viscount Enfield) repeated that Mr. Clarke Jervoise was not Envoy; that he was not Ambassador; that he was not Chargé d' Affaires or Consul General, and was not accredited in any sense of the word, but performed duties which were of a temporary character. He trusted these explanations would be satisfactory to the House.


I quite remember this question being brought forward last Session, and the proceeding appeared to a great number of hon. Members, and to some of the most learned of our Members, illegal. There may be sonic excuse for saying that the position of Mr. Clarke Jervoise is not technically a violation of the Diplomatic Relations Act of 1848, which prohibits all diplomatic communication between the Government of this country, as represented by Her Majesty, and that of the Pope of Rome in his ecclesiastical character, or, in other words, with the Pope of Rome in any other character than as being then the Sovereign of the Pontifical States. His Holiness, having now ceased to be the Sovereign of the Pontifical States, and the prohibition of the Act being unchanged, it seems to me to be in full force. It appears to me also an anomaly, that Her Majesty's Government should recognize the determination of the Pope not to acknowledge the King of Italy, after Her Majesty's Government have themselves fully recognized that Sovereign. This is another point in regard to which I think the present state of things is anomalous. I can perfectly understand, that some of the attachés to the Embassy at the Italian Court might be empowered to obtain information as to the proceedings of the Pope. I cannot take upon myself to say, that the obtaining of such information would, per se, be a violation of the Act; but the position of Mr. Clarke Jervoise is clearly that of a negotiator, whether technically or formally accredited, or not; and therefore, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many learned Members of this House, it constitutes a violation of the intention and principle of the Diplomatic Relations Act of 1848. That opinion I retain, after hearing the answer of the noble Lord the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs—in fact, the substance of that answer confirms the objection which is raised by the Motion of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy. I cannot see, that the position is at all altered, and I must say, I think that this House ought to be in a condition hereafter to consider, whether the position of Mr. Clarke Jervoise, with reference to the Court of the King of Italy, should not be altered or abandoned, since the position of Mr. Clarke Jervoise at Rome seems to me an insult to the King of Italy. This question must arise when the House is asked for money to meet the expenses of the Mission which Mr. Clarke Jervoise now fulfils.


said, he wished to point out to his hon. Friend who had made the Motion, as well as to the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that if there were anything in the particular point they had raised, the objection, whatever it was, applied just as much to the plan for which they seemed to contend as to that which they repudiated. Mr. Clarke Jervoise was in no sense an Envoy; but if they were right in think- ing that it was contrary to law that the Queen should in any manner, through Lord Granville, employ a servant for the purpose of communication with the Pope, it was perfectly immaterial whether that servant was connected or not with Her Majesty's regular Legation. If the objection were a valid one—and the Government were advised that it was not valid—it would apply equally in both cases. He should oppose the production of the Papers moved for.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 116; Noes 63: Majority 53.