HL Deb 13 March 1832 vol 11 cc112-24
The Earl of Aberdeen

rose, pursuant to notice, to put some questions to the noble Earl at the head of the Administration, with a view to elicit some explanation relative to the French expedition to Italy, and the entrance of the French troops into Ancona; and, in doing so, he was aware that he might incur the censure of the noble Earl, for breaking in upon the order and regularity of the proceedings of their Lordships' House. But he begged leave to protest against the new system of discipline which the noble Earl was attempting to introduce into their Lordships' House; he said new system of discipline, because he had been a Member of their Lordships' House for twenty-five years, and he knew that it had always been the practice to put questions, and to call for explanations from the Members of Government either with or without notice, and that practice the noble Earl, when he sat on the Opposition side of the House, had not been slow in adopting. Indeed, when he sat on the Ministerial benches, he might say that they had carried it on continually. And it was a matter of great convenience that, in this House, there should be such a practice. In the other House, frequent opportunities occurred of putting questions, and calling for explanations when questions were before the House—such as on occasions of Committees of Supply, into which generally the House resolved itself twice a week, and on other occasions. But in this House, there were no such opportunities, and, therefore, it had been in every view found convenient and useful that explanations should be called for on important subjects, and frankly given, without its being necessary to resort to the formality of a motion. From the absence here of those opportunities which were continually occurring in the other House, it followed almost as a matter of necessity, that a greater latitude should be allowed in the mode of obtaining explanations on grave and important public questions. As for himself, when he had a question to put, and the explanation to ask, he had always communicated the circumstance, either by writing or by previous notice to the noble Lords at the other side, from whom he expected an answer, and when these noble Lords sat on his side of the House, and he sat on the side which they now occupied, he could not say that ever he had to thank them for a similar act of courtesy. But, to come to the particular subject to which he wished to call the attention of their Lordships, and respecting which, he was anxious for some explanation from the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Administration. He had, on a former occasion, requested of the noble Earl some explanations as to the nature and object of the French expedition to Italy, and he had asked whether the French Government had made any communication on the subject to Austria and Great Britain, and the other powers concerned. The noble Earl, on that occasion, said, that the French Government had made communications on the subject both to Great Britain and to Austria, and the noble Earl, as usual, took the opportunity of eulogising the French Government, and declaring how much reason there was to be perfectly satisfied with the general course of its proceedings. But, however much the noble Earl might be disposed to condemn anything like a distrust of the sincerity of the French Government, and a doubt of its determination to avoid a violation of the integrity of the territories of other powers, yet it would, perhaps, be injustice to the noble Earl to say, that he was perfectly satisfied with this expedition to Italy—and still more, perhaps, would it be an injustice to him to say, that he was satisfied with the subsequent occupation or rather capture of Ancona by the French. It had always been the policy of this country for more than a century, to watch the proceedings of the French government with respect to other countries. This had always been our policy, whatever might be the form of the French government, and by whomsoever administered. It had always been the policy of this country to look watchfully and with some jealousy at the extent of interposition or control which the French might assume with respect to other states, without reference to the actual state of France or the government which there prevailed, and such, he maintained, ought still to be the policy of this country. There was nothing whatever in the present situation of France or the nature of its Government, that rendered it unnecessary for this country to watch the proceedings of the French in respect of other states with the same care and jealousy as ever. Such had been the policy of this country in regard to France for more than a century past, and such, he contended, it ought still to be. But he denied that these sentiments justified any imputation against those who entertained them, that they were hostile or unfriendly to France. These sentiments did not proceed from any hostile or unfriendly feeling to France, or any desire to provoke feelings of hostility towards her on the part of other powers. He denied that they proceeded from any desire to keep up a feeling of hostility between this country and France, or to provoke wars between them. He denied that the effect of such a line of policy was to provoke wars with France, or to endanger the peace of Europe. On the contrary, he maintained, that it was the way to preserve the peace of Europe, and that the opposite policy was the most likely to endanger it, whatever might be the condition of France, or the state of its government. He was himself, he believed, the first Minister in Europe who received the commands of his Sovereign to acknowledge the Duke of Orleans as king of the French, and this was immediately communicated to all the other powers; and if the noble Earl would condescend so far as to cast his eyes over the productions of his pen, which he would yet find in the foreign office, he would find an explanation there given, of the principles on which the acknowledgment was founded, and he would also probably be convinced by the perusal, that there was no desire, on the part of the Government of that day, to break the peace with France, or to catch at occasions of hostility with that country. But while he yielded to no man in the desire to preserve the relations of peace and amity with France, yet he thought it the bounden duty of the Government of this country, to prevent, if possible, any undue act of assumption or power and control by France over the other States of Europe; and if they could not be prevented, to stigmatize and reprobate such acts when committed. He considered that this was a course of proceeding called for equally by a regard to the interests and the honour of this country; and when he looked at the late occupation of Ancona by the French troops, he could not but consider it, while unexplained, as an aggression worthy of the worst times of Napoleon; and, if resorted to without any previous communication to the other powers, he considered it as worse than any act of aggression by Buonaparte—inasmuch as aggression by treachery and fraud was worse than open and avowed violence. He held in his hand a note which had been addressed by the Cardinal Bernetti, minister of the Pope, to the French Ambassador, on the subject of the aggression in question. He did not think it necessary to read that note to their Lordships, as he presumed that they were well acquainted with it; but the short facts were, that the French expedition on the 22nd of February arrived off the port of Ancona—that the Captain of the Papal forces in the fortress of that place went on board the French squadron, and offered the assistance and services usually rendered by one friendly State to another—that the ceremonies of landing were settled—and that it was agreed that the French troops should land on the following morning—that, in point of fact, the French troops landed in the middle of the night, or very early in the morning, advanced to the walls, and forced an en- trance at one of the gates, and compelled the Papal troops to surrender the fortress—and that this surrender was made by the Commander of the forces distinctly and avowedly from compulsion, and a desire to spare the effusion of blood. When he first read this note, as it appeared in the newspapers, he really could not believe that it was a genuine and authentic document, and concluded that it was merely an instance of that species of wit with which some people amused themselves at the expense of newspaper editors, who were apt to be misled by their anxiety for priority of intelligence. But, on further inquiry, he found reason to alter his opinion, for the authenticity of the document was fully confirmed. Now, with what objects had such a step been taken by the French government? Was it in concert with or for the purpose of assisting the Pope? Was it in concert with or for the purpose of assisting Austria? Was it in concert with or for the purpose of supporting the rebels? Or was it for the purpose of promoting the views of M. Perier at home? He was not called upon to give any opinion on the sufficiency of the grounds on which Austria interfered in the disputes between the Pope and his subjects, and entered the Papal territory; but the grounds were intelligible and the object was open and avowed. It was communicated to the Allies, and openly proclaimed, but nobody thought of imputing to Austria any other object than that which she avowed. The interference of Austria might be justified even upon the alleged new doctrines, as to interference and non-interference, promulgated by the noble Lords on the other side, and which, after all, were nothing more than the principles promulgated by my Lord Castlereagh ten years ago. Indeed, every man of sense, who had attended to these matters, must be aware that Austria had good grounds to interfere. A revolt takes place in the districts bordering on her territories, and there is an avowed purpose of extending this to the Austrian States; and the lawful Sovereign of the revolted States invites the Austrians into his territories in order to restore tranquillity, and they enter accordingly to restore tranquillity, and by that means to preserve tranquillity in their own territories. This kind of interference might be justified on sound principles of policy. Still, however, he did not mean to say, that France was bound to approve even of that interference. France might have a right to judge for herself on that head. But then, if the French thought proper to object to this interference, they ought to have addressed themselves to Austria on the subject, and not to the Pope. Suppose the entrance of Austrian troops into the Papal territory could not be justified, was that any justification of the aggression on the part of France? This was, indeed, punishing the Pope for Cæsar's crimes. The French aggression was certainly not justified by the proceedings of Austria, and, indeed, they themselves did not pretend to justify it on that ground. He had looked carefully into the late elaborate exposition made by M. Casimir Perier, in the French Chambers of Deputies, of the foreign policy of his government. He had read it two or three times over, in order to ascertain whether it afforded any explanation of this aggression on the Pope's territories, and he confessed, that after all the pains he had taken, he was just as wise as before. No doubt the noble Earl had perused the document with equal care, and if he had been able to make out from it any explanation of this proceeding, perhaps he would be so kind as to communicate the information to the House. As for himself, he found many fine words there, but no explanation. He found that the expedition was undertaken for the interests of the Roman Catholic religion—for the interests of the Holy See—for the preservation of the integrity of the Pope's dominions—for the support of national institutions—for the prevention of collision, and the preservation of the peace of the civilized world. He should rather have thought that the object was, to produce every one of those effects which the President of the Council contended it was meant to prevent. It ought to be observed, that M. Casimer Perier was in possession of this very protest of the Pope at the time when he made this exposition. He had said, that he would not read the whole of it, as he presumed their Lordships were acquainted with it; but, with their Lordships permission, he would read the concluding passage, and that was as follows:—"His Holiness formally protests against the violation of the Papal territory, which was accomplished on the morning of the 23rd of February by the French squadron: against all the attacks committed at the same time against his Sove- reignty, and against the infraction of the sanitary laws by the squadron, and declares the French government responsible for whatever consequences may result from these acts. His Holiness demands that the French troops, who have entered in a hostile manner into Ancona, do depart from that city immediately. Amidst the deep displeasure which his Holiness derives from such an unhappy event, he feels confident that he will obtain from the French government that just reparation which lie demands." This document was in the possession of M. Perier at the time he made his exposition, and he was, therefore, perfectly aware of the precise point on which explanation was required, and yet he had given nothing like a satisfactory explanation. In what condition did these two States then stand with respect to each other? Were they not in a state of war? Whether the city of Ancona was taken by regular siege or by sudden assault—whether the Papal forces were attacked and subdued after a conflict, or found themselves forced to disarm and surrender, in order to prevent an effusion of blood, the proceeding was the same in principle. The Papal troops might surrender without striking a blow, but the violation of the territory was the same as if they had been subdued after a fierce resistance, and the state of war was fully produced. There was one expression in the protest which was worthy of serious notice, as it pointed out an additional character of extravagance to this most extraordinary proceeding—and that was, the expression which referred to the violation of the sanitary laws of the State. It was difficult for the people of this country to understand the effects upon the feelings of the Italians by a violation of these laws, and the alarm which au event of that kind was calculated to produce in that country. There was at that time among the French squadron a frigate from Algiers, which was performing quarantine; and every individual who landed in the Papal territory from that frigate was liable to suffer the punishment of death by the sanitary laws. This violation, therefore, of the sanitary laws was an additional outrage to the Papal States, calculated to produce anarchy and confusion, and to add the evils of pestilence to those of war. He mentioned this last circumstance in order to show the total absence of all consideration on the part of the French government when they sent this expedition to Italy, and the just feelings of indignation and alarm which it was calculated to produce in the Papal government. So that on the whole, this was an outrage so strange and extraordinary, that it was unparalleled in the history of civilized nations. It was so very extraordinary a proceeding, that he was in hopes that the French Government itself was not responsible for it; and that such an explanation might still be given as would remove the danger to the peace of the civilized world, which must be very imminent. As matters at present appeared to stand, there could be no doubt but that the peace of the civilized world was seriously endangered by this most extraordinary and preposterous proceeding, and he hoped, therefore, that the noble Earl would be able to state that the French government totally disavowed this act of the Commander of their troops, and had given satisfactory explanations to all the nations concerned in the preservation of the fundamental interventional laws of civilized States. It was to give the noble Earl an opportunity for affording the proper explanation, that he now called the attention of their Lordships to the subject.

Earl Grey

had listened to the speech of the noble Earl with surprise, not unmingled with regret, the rather, as he thought it was understood that the noble Earl would, so far from provoking or entering upon a lengthened discussion, frame his question so, that it might be disposed of in a very few minutes. The noble Earl, however, in thus making a question, which admitted of a brief and simple answer, the pretext for expressing at length, and in strong language, his views and opinions on a variety of questions connected with our foreign relations had only repeated his conduct on former occasions. But the noble Earl had justified himself on the ground that he had only followed the usual course adopted by others, and the noble Earl thought proper to express an apprehension that in so doing he would expose himself to his (Earl Grey's) censure. He, however, did not assume to himself the prerogative of inflicting censures on these occasions, nor did he claim for himself the distinction of having introduced a new species of discipline into the discussions in that House. He was perfectly aware that it had been the practice of that House to allow the putting of questions to Ministers, and asking for ex- planations with respect to matters of importance when explanation might properly be called for, and might be given consistently with a due regard to the public interest. The convenience of this practice, when kept under proper restriction and within proper bounds, was obvious; and he would be ready to give such answers and explanations to questions put, under the modifications which he had mentioned, as his sense of what was due to the public interests would allow him to give. It was not to the putting of questions, nor to the calling for explanations on proper occasions, that he objected. What he deprecated was, the putting of questions, not for the mere purpose of eliciting explanation where explanation could be properly given, but merely as a pretence for declamation against the Government, by assuming certain propositions as true in regard to matters which were still in progress, and with respect to which, for that or some other reasons, Government could not give an immediate explanation. He objected to these questions only when they were made the pretence of assailing Ministers with arguments or declamatory statements on matters into the discussion of which the Ministers could not enter, because they were not in a situation to be thoroughly discussed consistently with a due regard to the public service, and when the putting of them could not possibly be attended with any beneficial result, while they might be attended with much inconvenience and mischief. Against questions put with these improper views, and in that improper spirit and temper, he had protested, and would protest, without pretending to introduce any new discipline into the discussions of that House, and he would not be provoked, by any observations of the noble Earl, to depart from the course which he thought becoming in him to adopt on such occasions; but passing by the noble Earl's vituperative declamation against the Government, he would at once come to the plain statement of facts. The noble Earl had expressed his hope that such an explanation would be given as that the apprehensions of war, which present appearances seemed to indicate, would be removed; but if the noble Earl was sincere in that hope, it would have been well if he had waited for that explanation before he indulged in declamatory statements, which could only be calculated to produce feel ings of animosity and hostility, and to endanger that general peace which the noble Earl professed himself to be so anxious to preserve. If the noble Earl was really disposed to preserve that good understanding between Great Britain and France, upon which it was admitted that the peace of the country would depend, why did the noble Earl, under the pretence of asking questions, enter upon a declamatory attack on the conduct of the French government, without waiting till the explanation could be given, or till it was ascertained whether at the moment it could be given or not? Was the course adopted by the noble Earl that which was most likely to be adopted by one who was anxious to preserve the good understanding between Great Britain and France, and the consequent peace of Europe. The noble Earl had referred to the exposition of the French president of the council in the chamber of deputies, in which speech the noble Earl, had no doubt, found many things which were not very palatable to him. He had also looked at that exposition, as the noble Earl had very properly supposed him to have done, and perhaps there might be some things on which he might have wished that the exposition had been more explicit; but, at all events, the noble Earl ought not to have confined his views to some particular portions of the speech, without looking at the other passages, and the general result. It was impossible to deny that the exposition did contain many passages which were highly satisfactory to every lover of the peace of the world, and which afforded a strong security to other governments as to the moderation of the views of the government of France, and had consequently the best tendency to preserve the general peace. Such appeared to him to be the general result of that exposition. The noble Earl had accused him of being always ready to seize the opportunities for eulogising the French government. He confessed that he was glad when he found good reason for eulogising it, and he thought that the disposition so to do, where there appeared good grounds for eulogy, was much more likely to preserve the good understanding betweeen Great Britain and France, and consequently the peace of Europe, than the course adopted by the noble Earl, of being always disposed to accuse the French government of being prone to resort to unjustifiable and criminal attacks on the territories and the institutions of other states. In saying this he had gone beyond what he had originally intended to say, and he came now to the particular question in which the noble Earl called for explanation. The noble Earl had truly stated that, he had before called upon him for an explanation as to this expedition to Italy, and he admitted, that in answering the noble Earl on that occasion, he had had great pleasure in being able to speak of the conduct of the French government in the manner to which the noble Earl alluded. He had then answered that the French government had made communications to Great Britain and Austria on the subject of sending troops to Italy, but as to the particulars of that communication he did not think that he was called upon to enter into an explanation. But when the news arrived that the French troops had landed, and had occupied Ancona in the manner stated in the note and protest of the Pope's minister, Cardinal Bernetti, he could only say, that the news had come by surprise on the Government of this country, and that it came equally by surprise on the French government. The consequence was, that the Act was immediately disavowed by the French government as being contrary to the instructions given to the commander of the expedition, and that an immediate communication was made by the French government to the governments of the Pope and Austria, that orders had been given for the recall of that officer, and this communication was accompanied by assurances which were calculated to be satisfactory to them. Upon the whole, the consequence was, that whatever might be the opinion of the noble Earl as to this transaction, it was not likely to affect the general peace of Europe. He certainly was not disposed to dispute the principle of the noble Earl—that everything affecting the general peace of Europe must be matter of anxiety to Great Britain. He had himself advocated and maintained that principle, and he still adhered to it, without at all pledging himself to carry it out to questions more or less remotely connected with the tranquillity of Europe. He would further say, that what had recently happened at Ancona on its first appearance bore a character of that description—it did appear immediately connected with the peace of Europe; but what Ministers had done under that persuasion, they could not properly be called upon to state; immediate measures were, however, taken, which were well received by the French government, and they were communicated to the Austrian minister, who expressed his entire satisfaction. Nay, more; there was not the least doubt that they gave the same satisfaction at Vienna, because they were only an anticipation of a request since received from that Court. These were the circumstances, and having stated them, he wished to ask even the noble Earl, whether it was convenient to force Ministers into further explanations? His hopes were confident that these transactions (which he again said had occasioned him much surprise and concern) would not ultimately lead to consequences dangerous to the peace of Europe. He was ready to admit, that the noble Earl had a full right, if he found the King's Government acting on any question in a manner inconsistent with the honour and interests of the country, to stigmatise (that was his word) their conduct. While he admitted the right, he did not deny the consequences; if the honour and interest of the country had been sacrificed, there was no stigma too marked, no punishment too severe, for the guilty. All he in candour asked was, that the noble Earl would wait until he had the proof that such a disgraceful course had been pursued. He trusted that it would be seen, whenever it was found necessary to inquire, that the present Ministers were free from any such reproach. He hoped that what he had said would be satisfactory to the House, but he could not sit down without deprecating a practice not consonant with convenience—not consonant with justice—not consonant with the rules and orders laid down by the House; for without a motion, under the pretence of putting a question, the noble Earl had entered into a detailed statement, and had pronounced strong opinions upon measures in progress, while the King's Ministers were precluded from both explanation and discussion. More than this he would not say on the present occasion; and if the debate should proceed (which regularly it could not do, and advantageously he was equally sure it could not do), nothing should provoke him to make any additional statement.

The Earl of Aberdeen

said, he could not, after what had taken place, regret that he had called the attention of the noble Earl to the subject. He could not have expected more from the noble Earl than he had stated; and he felt perfectly satisfied for the present with the extent of the information he had obtained. He must, at the same time, say, that he had not attempted to throw any stigma on the Government, though he had declared that, under particular circumstances, it would be his duty to stigmatize them for having neglected the honour and interests of the country. He trusted that nothing had fallen from hint calculated to embarrass the negotiations in which the Government was engaged; for he assured the noble Earl he had no such intention.

Forward to