HL Deb 17 July 1833 vol 19 cc722-5
The Marquess of Londonderry

was sorry to arrest the proceeding which was particularly fixed for that evening; but he felt that it was due to himself on the one side, and to the noble Earl opposite on the other, to request the attention of the House for a few minutes. He had to bring a charge against the noble Earl, either of great want of courtesy to him, or of gross ignorance with respect to the acts of his own Administration. On the 15th instant he took occasion to rise in his place, and to ask if it was true, as stated in the accounts which appeared in the public journals, that a fleet, under the command of a British officer, had captured the fleet of Don Miguel? And if that were the fact, whether that officer was still in his Majesty's service? He further inquired, whether the noble Earl had received any information with respect to the intelligence so obtained by the public? Such, he believed, were pretty nearly his questions. The noble Earl answered, that with respect to Captain Napier, the Admiralty would do what was proper in the case of that officer, and that, with reference to the engagement which was said to have taken place, he knew nothing more than what he (the Marquess of Londonderry) was himself acquainted with—namely, what was stated in the public prints. He thought at the time, though he was bound to receive the answer of the noble Earl, that the noble Earl should have been a little cautious in giving the same sort of answer which he had formerly given to a noble Duke, because the consequences which followed that answer must still be in the recollection of the noble Earl. But what did he (the Marquess of Londonderry) find in the journals of the very next day? He found the following Communication, which they were all acquainted with, but which he would nevertheless read to the House. It was a communication addressed to the Secretary of Lloyd's, and ran thus:— Foreign Office, July 15. Sir,—I am directed by Viscount Palmerston to acquaint you, for the information of the committee of Lloyd's, that intelligence has been received at this department, that the Regency acting in Portugal in the name and on behalf of her moat faithful majesty, Donna Maria da Gloria has resolved to establish immediately au effective blockade of the port of Lisbon, and of all the other ports of portugal where the authority of her most faithful majesty shall not be established and acknowledged, and that it is supposed that the blockade is already in force. I am, Sir, & J. BACKHOUSE. The Secretary at Lloyd's. Now, he appealed to the noble Earl to say whether he knew anything of that document, which had emanated from the Foreign Office at the very time when he gave him (the Marquess of Londonderry) such an answer as he had done? Could it be sent to Lloyd's, and the noble Earl be ignorant of it? Could the consequences of this projected measure be unknown to the noble Earl? Could any individual in the Foreign Office send forth such a document without previous consideration It related to a proceeding which might be attended with great and serious consequences to the interests of this country. Hereafter their Lordships should have an opportunity of considering whether this was a blockade that could be enforced, and also of examining what the meaning of that letter was. What was meant by the regency acting in Portugal? Was it the regency of Don Pedro, or the regency of Don Carlos, at Algarve? If the noble Earl knew of this letter, he was bound in common courtesy to have granted him the information he asked for: if he did not, then there appeared to be a gross dereliction of duty, and he felt it right to call for explanation before he submitted that Motion to the House which he meant, and was entitled to make. There was either an extraordinary want of courtesy to a Member of that House in the conduct of the noble Earl, or else there was a total ignorance of the Acts of the noble Earl's Administration.

Earl Grey

said, that he should be extremely sorry if a charge could with any justice, be brought against him on account of want of courtesy to the noble Earl, or to any other noble Lord. As to the charge of ignorance with respect to what was going on under his Administration, he was certainly less anxious; but he would state to their Lordships how the facts stood. With respect to the first question, which related to the dismissal of Captain Napier, he had stated, in answer to the noble Earl, that be could not say whether that individual was actually in his Majesty's service or not; but that his Majesty's Government, he had no doubt, had done that which was proper in the case. The circumstances under which he answered were simply these;—the moment it was reported that Captain Napier had taken the command of Don Pedro's fleet, it was determined to proceed precisely on the same principle that had been adopted in the case of Admiral Sartorius; and as soon as that official information arrived, which was required in the former case, it was decided that the same course should be pursued towards Captain Napier that had been acted on with respect to Admiral Sartorius. He did not know at the moment (and the noble Earl might, if he pleased, accuse him of ignorance), but he really did not know at the time that any authentic information had been received. The determination had, however, been taken, and on the Friday preceding—and he stated the fact, with great regret, because, admiring, as he did, and as every one must, the gallantry, the daring, the spirit, the skill, by which Captain Napier had, on that occasion, distinguished himself, and upheld the character of a British sailor, it was, he said, with great regret he now stated, that on the receipt of this intelligence, a few days before, which was brought to this country by a steamer from Lisbon, that officer had been struck from the list of his Majesty's service. As to the other point, he had answered at the time, that Government had received no official despatches on the subject of the battle; and that all they knew about it was derived from the letter which had appeared in the papers of that day, signed Don Carlos de Ponza. He was not at the lime officially aware of the transaction. The noble Earl had asked him a question as to a fact, and he had answered it as well as he could. If the noble Earl wished to prefer a, charge against his Majesty's Ministers, let him bring it forward, and he would be ready to meet it. All he should further say was, that on the present, as on former occasions, notice had boon sent to Lloyd's merely to put persons who were interested on their guard, and that notice could only be acted on when an effective blockade was formally established.

The Duke of Buckingham

said, no one lamented more than he did, that a gallant officer like Captain Napier should, by a breach of regulations, have rendered his dismissal from his Majesty's service necessary. Whatever that breach was, it was gratifying to know that so brilliant an achievement had been performed by an English officer. It was, however, now admitted, and established as a fact, that though the dismissal of that officer by his Majesty's Government occurred on Friday, it was not known to the head of that Government till the Monday following.