HC Deb 31 July 1890 vol 347 cc1383-6
MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury a question, of which I have given him private notice—whether there are any Papers in the Foreign Office relating to the Mission of Sir G. Errington to the Vatican, under the auspices of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, and, if there are any Papers, whether they will be laid before Parliament?


I have only received notice of the question after entering the House. The hon. Member will therefore see that it was not possible for me to communicate with the Foreign Secretary since then. If the hon. Gentleman will put a question on the Paper for Monday, I will inquire whether there are any Papers which could be produced.

MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)

I have not received any notice of this question, and, considering that it is quite obvious at whom the question is aimed, I think, in point of decency and Parliamentary usage, the hon. Member might perhaps have given me notice of it. There has never been anything, so far as I know, in the nature of a mission to the Vatican under any Government with which I have been connected, or any other Government, but there were, and have been at various times, undoubtedly, communications held so far back as the time of Lord Palmerston and in the Pontificate of Gregory XVI.—communications held by persons holding some office in Italy for the purpose of conducting any correspondence that it was thought fit to establish. There are many cases to be made known, and a variety of them might, I should suppose, from the annals of the Foreign Office, be specified, and an account laid before this House, which I think would not be an undesirable mode of giving information to the country upon a question of great interest. As far as I remember, the persons who were principally concerned—at all events, some of the persons who were concerned —were a diplomatist who belonged to the family of the Seymours in the time of Lord Palmerston, and in the Pontificate of Gregory XVI., after that the very well-known and highly-esteemed diplomatist Lord Odo Russell, and the last of these was the case of Sir G. Errington in the Government with which I was connected. He bore no diplomatic character whatever, but he undoubtedly conveyed and received information. As far as I am aware, the essential distinction between those cases and the case of Sir Lintorn Simmons was this— that no gentleman who carried on these correspondences on any occasion had any power whatever to commit Her Majesty's Government upon any subject, or claimed any power to receive requests or demands from the Vatican, and to accede to those requests and demands. But I am quite of opinion that, as the right hon. Gentleman is going to inquire into the matter, it would be well that the inquiry should hardly he limited within the bounds of an answer to question. The subject is of great importance. Much attention has justly been drawn to it in consequence of recent circumstances, and I should think that the preparation of a careful Memorandum in the Foreign Office, illustrated by all documents which are available, and which can be properly produced, would tend to put the House and the country in full possession of matters of which, undoubtedly, they are but partially informed, and which are of great importance to the country. I may state this, with regard to the Mission of Sir G. Errington—which I should not be at all sorry to see brought under discussion in this House, when I could express my sentiments about it—that, as far as I am aware, the Mission of Sir G. Errington, was really not so much a Mission as the taking advantage of Sir G. Errington's residence in Rome to correspond with the Foreign Office and to make known his views. As far as I know, the case of Sir G. Errington differed from all cases which preceded it in this, that it was constantly made the subject of questions and explanations in this House, and to the best of my memory in all the previous cases hardly any notice was given to the matter.


I will take care to communicate to my noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Office the suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman has thrown out—that a careful narrative Report, by the documents which may be in existence, should be prepared for the information of the House. The suggestion will be carefully considered by the Government. It would be better now to refrain from any argument or any statement with regard to the character of the Representative of this country at the Vatican, either under a former Government or this Government.


I beg to give notice that I shall repeat the question on Monday.


I desire to add that in giving an answer on the moment to the notice of the hon. Gentle- man behind me, I must not be taken to have purported to give a complete or historical narrative. I stated all that was within my recollection, and I rather think that what I have stated will be found to be correct so far as it goes, although doubtless it may admit of amplification.


I desire to ask the First Lord of the Treasury a question, of which I have given private notice, with regard to the speech last night of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, in which the following passage occurred— The Pope was induced about 18 months ago, I think, to fulminate what was called a rescript against the Nationalists of Ireland. Ho thereby, in my opinion, at great cost to his own influence within the legitimate sphere of purely spiritual authority—at very great cost, damage, and detriment to himself—undoubtedly did his utmost to prop up a labouring and failing cause, namely, that of the anti-Irish Party in this country. That was a great step on the part of the Pope. Did it not demand a return? You have got the return before you. The return is by sending somebody whom you call an Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Pope. I wish to ask whether there is any foundation whatever for the insinuation that the late Mission of Sir Lintorn Simmons was the consequence of the action of the Pope in publishing a rescript condemning the un-Christian practices of boycotting, intimidation, and the Plan of Campaign?


Order, order ! The hon. Gentleman must be aware that this is a question which a Minister cannot be expected to answer in that form.