HL Deb 26 March 1823 vol 8 cc706-9
The Earl of Liverpool

said, that unless any circumstance occurred of which at present he did not foresee the probability, he proposed on Monday the 14th of April, to lay upon the table the papers respecting the late negociations with reference to the state of affairs between France and Spain; he also proposed at the same time, to make a statement containing the general outline of the policy pursued by the government with regard to these negociations. It was not, however, his intention to call upon the House for any premature decision upon the subject. The papers would be printed and placed in the hands of the members of the House; and it would be for their lordships to decide, after having perused them, whether any and what course should be adopted respecting them.

The Earl Grey

said, he had heard what had been stated by the noble earl with the deepest regret and concern, as it appeared that all hopes were very nearly, if not quite extinguished of averting hostilities between Spain and France. With respect to the course proposed by the noble earl, it certainly appeared upon the face of it fair and plausible; but, without any greater distrust of his majesty's ministers than could be expected from one who for so long a period had differed with them as to the policy the most fitting to be pursued for the interests and honour of the country; he could not help thinking that there was considerable inconvenience in the course proposed, as, instead of having the means of discussing the merits of the negociations to which the documents to be laid before the House referred, the statement of the noble earl would go forth to the public, and make an impression, whilst there would be no opportunity for other noble lords to make themselves acquainted with the contents of the papers. He could not but think that if that had been done at Verona which ought to have been done, and if that tone of language had been assumed which this country ought to have held, we should not at this moment have been in the melancholy and alarming situation that we were. What he apprehended from the mode of proceeding proposed by the noble earl was, that he (earl Grey), and other noble lords who thought as he did, might find themselves in this dilemma—either by their silence, to give an impression to the public that they approved, or be forced into a premature discussion before they had considered the papers submitted to them. He hoped, therefore, that the noble earl would lay the papers on the table, and adjourn his statement to a future day, when their lordships would be fully competent to come to the discussion upon them. There was one more remark that he would make:—In the state to which things were fast approaching, nothing could be more interesting than a proper understanding of our existing engagements with foreign powers, and more particularly with France. He had not had time to look minutely into the treaties which had been laid on their lordships table, but from the statements which had been made respecting them, he considered them fair. He hoped and trusted there existed no secret enjoyments that the public were not in possession of, and if any existed, which had been made respecting them, he considered them fair. He hoped and trusted there existed no secret engagements that the public were not in possession of; and if any existed, which had been made at a former period and under different circumstances, he trusted we were not so far fettered by them to the government of France, as to be obliged to give any support to their iniquitous and unwarrantable conduct towards Spain. He trusted, that if there were no such engagements, contracted with other views, that they would not be thought binding by the House, or by his majesty's government; and he trusted that his majesty's ministers had felt it to be a part of their duty to apprise foreign governments, that by such engagements this country was in no shape bound.

The Earl of Liverpool

said, that, on the first part of the noble earl's observations, he would say only a few words. Of the propriety of the proceedings at Verona the House would be best able to judge when the papers were before them. All he would now request was, that the noble lord, the House, and the public, would not prejudge his majesty's government, before they saw what had been done by the noble person by whom the negociations at Verona had been conducted. As to the course of proceeding, he could not conceive that any improper prejudice could be created by stating the contents of the papers, and what the principles were on which the negociations had been carried on. He could, indeed, see a great conveniency, in that course, to the House, and even to those noble lords who, might be desirous of making a hostile motion thereupon. Besides, the House would observe, that this was not a case where hostilities had commenced. Hostilities were generally preceded by a declaration, and papers were produced to give validity to the declaration; but the case was different here, professing, as we did, a strict neutrality. He trusted the House would see the necessity of the explanation with which he proposed to accompany the papers; for, as the negociations were partly conducted at Verona and partly at Paris and Madrid, there were many connecting links, without which it would be impossible for the House to form a correct judgment. If the explanations he should give should not be satisfactory, it would be competent for the noble lord to ask for further information, and to call the attention of the House to the whole of the papers, or any part of them. With respect to the engagements of this country with foreign powers, he could say, that there were no secret engagements with France, which could contravene the public engagements contained in the treaties which had been laid on the table of the House. Those engagements were of a completely negative nature; and related to the exclusion of the family of the late ruler of France from the throne of that country. This country was under no obligation, except that general engagement to concert with other powers, measures for preserving the peace of Europe.

Earl Grey

, with reference to what had been said by the noble earl respecting our treaties regarding France, did not mean to insinuate that the noble earl had used the word contravene in any other than the obvious sense; but still, though them: might be no secret articles to contravene the articles in the published treaties, there might be secret articles to extend and enlarge the sense of the published articles. He wished, therefore, to ask the noble earl distinctly, whether there were any such articles in existence?

The Earl of Liverpool

had no hesitation in saying, that, with regard to any support to be given to the throne of France, or the dynasty of the throne of France, there were no articles other than those which were in the treaties already before the public.

Adjourned to the 10th of April.