HL Deb 16 March 1835 vol 26 cc1004-12
The Marquess of Londonderry,

said—My Lords, in rising humbly to address your Lordships upon circumstances of a personal nature, I am aware that I ought first to claim your attention as a matter of indulgence, and that I am, perhaps, departing from the order of the regular course of the business of this House, in addressing you on a subject that is not properly before you; but referring to the votes of the House of Commons, which are now on the Table of your Lordships' House, it is impossible that you should be ignorant of what has taken place in the other House of Parliament, relating to the subject of the appointment of an Ambassador to the Court of Russia. Standing, in the situation in which I do, I hope that your Lordships will allow me to say a few words in stating the course which his Majesty's Government has pursued with regard to my appointment, and the course which I have felt it my indispensable duty, since the discussion in the House of Commons, to take upon the subject. When Sir Robert Peel framed the arrangements to carry into effect the administration of the Government, he was pleased to say, that he had recommended to his Majesty to nominate me to the important duty of Ambassador to the Court of St. Peters- burgh. I confess that I had never expected this at his hands—I never had enjoyed any private intimacy with him. At the same time that recommendation was accompanied by a letter from my noble Friend (the Duke of Wellington), in which he declared, that he not only acquiesced in the recommendation, but stated, that he believed the King's service would be benefitted by my acceptance of the office. I confess that I was gratified to find that my services were still deemed available for the public benefit; and when I considered that in the course of my humble career I had been associated with my noble Friend as his companion in arms, in nearly all the battles in the Peninsula, and that I had been also intimately acquainted with the Ministers of the different States of Europe, at Dresden, Vienna, and Berlin, and had been principally instrumental in the important arrangements at the battle of Leipsick, though I might not have the sagacity nor the prudence of some of the noble Lords who are now over against me, I did believe that I might conduct the business of the Embassy with benefit to the interests of the two countries, and in such a way as to cement the union between the two Crowns. Under these circumstances, I could not but embrace the offer thus made me, and accept the appointment so flattering to my feelings. I do not wish to go into any discussion at present on the subject. I am confident that there can be no personal charges against me. The matter has come upon me entirely without notice. I felt, however, so soon as I had read the report of that discussion in the House of Commons, that there was but one line for me, as a subject and a public servant, to pursue; and that, as I had had but one rule of conduct in the course of my life, which even those who are now my political enemies will admit, and but one object, which was to serve the King, and to serve him honestly, and to the best of my ability, so I could not on this occasion run any risk of embarrassing the public service. Situated as I now am, were I to depart from this country, after what has passed in the House of Commons, I should feel myself, as a representative of his Majesty, placed in a new, a false, and an improper situation. I should go, with the remarks and animadversions of one branch of the Legislature so strongly imprinted on me, that my efficiency must be impaired, and it would be impossible for me to fill the office to which I have been called with proper dignity and effect. It is on these grounds, standing, as I do, upon my sense of duty to my Sovereign, and not meaning to succumb to faction, insensible to the scoffs and scorn with which I have been so unjustly attacked—it is on these grounds, I say, that I stand before your Lordships, determined, upon no consideration whatever, to accept of that appointment which his Majesty has been graciously pleased to confer on me. I have felt it proper to take this decided course. I have done so entirely on the grounds which I have stated to your Lordships. I have had no communication directly or indirectly with the Government. I have neither sought advice, nor has advice been proffered. At other times I may have no difficulty in meeting these unfair, these unjust animadversions—some of which have been maliciously raked up after sixteen years have elapsed—raked up at a moment when it was impossible for the individual who was the object of them to meet them. I say nothing of the House of Commons; but let the Members of that House think what any one of them would feel—let them think, what any one of them would feel if he were placed in my situation. Would to God that I may be the only victim of such proceedings& To the Member of that House who originated the discussion I will not immediately allude, but to those who followed up the matter. Let some of them reflect what a Statesman may be reduced to, when one who has honestly and zealously done his duty in the public service and that Statesman is reduced to the painful situation in which I now stand—attacked and vilified, without being afforded the means of defence, and without being aware of the charges brought against me. The course which has been pursued, establishes a precedent against a humble individual like myself, which can never be consonant to the good of the public service, nor tend to the honour and welfare of the country. The noble Marquess concluded, by thanking their Lordships for the attention with which they had listened to him.

The Duke of Wellington:

My Lords, notwithstanding what has occurred on a recent occasion, and notwithstanding that my noble Friend may not like to hear himself thus openly praised by me, I hope I may be permitted to say, that I consider myself responsible for this particular nomination. Having learnt that it would not be disagreeable to my noble Friend to be employed in the public service, I did concur in the recommendation, or rather I did recommend that he should be appointed Ambassador to St. Petersburgh. I made that recommendation founding it on my knowledge of my noble Friend for many years past,—on the great and important military services he has performed, and on the fitness he has proved himself possessed of for diplomatic employment, in the various diplomatic offices he filled for many years, more particularly at the Court of Vienna, where he performed most important services to the satisfaction of the Ministers who employed him, up to the last moment of his employment, and returned from the discharge of the office with the strongest marks of the approbation of the Secretary of State. I was aware, my Lords, of some of the peculiar talents of my noble Friend, for this particular office, and of the peculiar fitness for this particular diplomatic employment, he being a military officer of high rank in the service of this country, and of high reputation in the Russian army, and knew the peculiar advantages enjoyed by persons in such an Embassy from such circumstances. Under these circumstances I was justified, my Lords, in recommending my noble Friend, and I was glad to find that my right hon. Friend concurred in that recommendation, and that his Majesty approved thereof. To that I must be permitted to add, that the nomination upon this recommendation was determined on. Under these circumstances, it was with the greatest regret, I found that the nomination for this important duty was not approved of in another place; because it is in consequence of that disapproval that my noble Friend, with that delicacy of feeling which could not but be admired by all, has declined the office. Now, notwithstanding what has passed elsewhere, I feel it necessary to say a few words on a particular point, nearly connected with this subject. There can be no doubt, whatever, that there is, no part of the prerogative of the Crown so great or so important as that of sending Ambassadors to Foreign Courts; nor is there any branch of that prerogative which ought to be kept more inviolate. The Ministers of the Crown are responsible for those nominations. They are responsible for the instructions under which my noble Friend, or any other noble Lord so nominated, would be bound to act. They are, moreover, responsible for the proper performance of those duties (by the Ambassadors whom they select) to the other House of Parliament, and to the country at large. It is impossible, therefore, that the House of Commons could agree to a vote questioning such an appointment. It is impossible for me to believe, that the House of Commons would proceed so far as to interfere with this peculiar prerogative, and to say that a person nominated should not fill the situation; inasmuch as by so doing the House of Commons would not only take upon it-self the nomination of the officer, and the direction of the particular duties which he was to discharge, but would also relieve the Minister from the constitutional responsibility of the appointment. I do not think that sentiments of such a description are general; and I cannot bring myself to believe that a vote, affirming such a violation of the Royal Prerogative, would have passed the House of Commons. In conclusion, I must say, that I think the country owes a debt of gratitude to my noble Friend for having, under all the circumstances, declined the office to which he had been nominated.

The Marquess of Lansdowne:

My Lords, I do not wish to prolong the discussion, except in one particular. But, as an individual sitting in this House, I cannot allow the noble Earl (Earl Vane, Marquess of Londonderry) or any other person, to leave this House with the impression that the disapprobation expressed with regard to his appointment, arose from personal motives. I do not stand here to interpret other people's motives—I am not called on to do so—but I deny that any disapprobation expressed of the appointment of the noble Earl to any embassy in the present state of Europe, was necessarily connected with any personal motives whatever. Were they so, I should not stand here to explain them, and in no degree should I participate in them. But whatever were the motives of the different persons who concurred in expressing that opinion, I am anxious to be understood that that opinion—and I am bound to state the fact—that that opinion was not entertained without the greatest respect for the noble Earl personally, and for the consistency of his character, for I believe, that the greatest objection felt, was an objection to this appointment, the more marked and singular because it was the first appointment of the new Government, founded on the belief that all the opinions recently recorded and expressed by the noble Earl in this House and elsewhere, on the policy of the late Government, and on the present state of Europe, were opinions that he continued to feel as strongly as ever. It was, therefore, my Lords, anything but disrespect towards him, to suppose that with regard to the system of our foreign alliances—with regard to the state of Europe, as connected with Poland—with regard to the state of Europe, as connected with the illegitimate pretensions of certain pretenders to the thrones of Spain and Portugal—as connected with the close state of our relations and alliance with France, which it is essential for this country to continue, for the sake of the peace of Europe, and to which alliance the noble Earl has always declared himself alien and adverse—on all these points, my Lords, I say, it was from motives of respect towards the noble Earl—it was from a belief in the sincerity of his opinions—it was from a belief in the consistency of his conduct, that people would naturally be led to expect that in him they should find any thing but a zealous, a willing, and a consenting instrument, to carry into full effect that policy which I have not yet heard is to be changed, and in the continuance of which, I believe, rests every chance for the peace of Europe, and of the world. It is natural, therefore, my Lords, that on this subject great anxiety should have been felt by the public and should have been shared by the House of Commons. In other countries, the public have not the means of following the proceedings of your Lordships' House, and of the other House of Parliament, and of judging of the course which events are likely to take from what occurs in the debates in Parliament. I know it may be said, that looking to what has passed here and elsewhere, no surmises of intended changes of policy ought to have been made, that no part of the foreign policy of the late Government was likely to be altered, that nothing in the conduct of those who direct his Majesty's Councils has given any reason to cause it to be feared that, let the agents of the Government be who they may, the continuance of that policy would be in any danger. I know that such is the belief, such the hope, in this country, and it is founded on the proceedings, or rather, on the absence of the proceedings of the present Government, and on what has taken place in the two Houses of Parliament.—But it must be recollected that in other countries the same opportunity of following your debates, and judging from the turn of those debates, from what is said, and what is omitted to be said, does not exist. In other countries, and, above all, in the despotic Government of the north of Europe, it is from personal opinions of the individuals appointed, that conclusions are formed as to the intentions of the Government, and the objects it has in view. I cannot, therefore, but feel that, however honourable this appointment is for the person in whose favour it was bestowed, it must, to other countries, carry with it the appearance of the reverse of what it was hoped would be the policy of the present Government, and that it would therefore excite the jealousy, the apprehension, and the alarm of the people, not only abroad, but in this country, and that that being the case, I cannot wonder that it should be evinced in some mode or other in the other House of Parliament. I am sure that that House of Parliament will do well to consider how at any time it infringes on the King's prerogative; it will pause and deliberate—and in this instance it has shown every inclination to pause and deliberate before approaching a subject surrounded with considerations of so delicate a nature. But, if I think that the House of Commons ought not unnecessarily to express an opinion on the exercise of the King's prerogative in appointments of this description, I must say, at the same time, it is most important to that House, intrusted as the Members are with the finances of the country, bound, as they peculiarly are, to look to the peace of Europe, that they should anxiously, zealously, and carefully watch every movement of the Government which could possibly compromise that peace, or deviate from that system on which alone that peace is founded, and its durability can be maintained. I do not speak of others, but I state what appeared to me to be the sense of the objection taken the other night in the House of Commons to this appointment; and I do state, that it does not appear to me connected with any feeling of personal disrespect to the noble Earl (Earl Vane), but is founded on the belief of his continuance, of his perseverance, in those opinions on our policy which he has always declared in this House and elsewhere, and from which I, as an individual, must say that I totally dissent. It is unnecessary for me to add, that both as respects the preservation of the constitution of the country, and with regard to the House of Commons itself, that House, I am persuaded, will not unnecessarily interfere in appointments of this description. With regard to the noble Earl himself, I think that, out of respect to himself, and to the public service, he has taken that course which best becomes the military reputation which we all admire, and of which we need not to be reminded, for it lives most fully in our recollection—that course which will best maintain the prerogatives of the Crown, and which has disposed of this question, and disposed of it in the way the most consistent with the interests of the public service.

The Duke of Buckingham

was glad that in the course of this discussion there had been no appeal to personal feelings, except to such as were highly gratifying to the noble Marquess. The noble Marquess opposite (Lansdowne) had, however, put the Question on a constitutional doctrine on which he differed toto cœlo from the noble Marquess. Such doctrines were fit for a committee of public safety rather than for an English House of Legislature. He thought that freedom of speech belonged to both Houses of Parliament; he had seen the Speaker of the House of Commons come to the bar of that House to claim that privilege; but now it was represented that liberty of speech was to be made a reason for excluding an individual from a high and honourable appointment. Was that the doctrine of a constitutional Peer? The publication of what passed in their Lordships' House was a breach of privilege, and yet, on speeches uttered in that House were founded the objections to an individual holding an office to which he had been appointed. The noble Marquess who had last spoken, said distinctly that the opinions of the noble Marquess near him, were opposed to those of many other persons—was that a reason for holding him up as unfit for the office?

The Marquess of Lansdowne:

The opinions were opposed to the course of policy which the Government had declared Was intended to be pursued,

The Duke of Buckingham:

Who were responsible for the policy to be pursued? The Government that appointed the Ambassador. The course of policy was the question for them to consider and determine; but it was now, for the first time, said that the noble Marquess was opposed to a certain line of policy, and, therefore, he was to be made the scape-goat, and the offence was to be visited on him and not on the Government that appointed him. With respect to the King's prerogative, this was the first time he had ever heard that either House of Parliament was to express an opinion on the nomination of any individual to an appointment of this kind. It would have been time enough for the House of Commons to have spoken when some act of the noble Marquess had justly called forth their censure, till some act had been done by him by which the peace of Europe might be disturbed. Where was that expression of opinion to be found that was to render the noble Marquess near him unfit to hold the office of Ambassador? It was said to be an expression used in Parliament. What, then, was the expression of a Member of one of the Houses of Parliament to affect the exercise of the prerogative of the Crown? The noble Marquess (Londonderry) had done what became him, and became his private character; he had done everything which, from his honour as a man, might be expected from him. But where was a course of this kind to stop? The Crown had a right to appoint its Ministers, yet that prerogative had been questioned. If this was the first, what would be the last of such proceedings? Encouraged by the success that now attended this case, it would be followed up by others. He warned those Statesmen who were now pursuing this course. They might again be in a situation to appoint Ambassadors themselves, and they would soon repent of what they were now doing. These were times in which little trust was to be placed in circumstances. But it was the duty of every man to maintain the constitution of the country. Let them, therefore, make their stand somewhere, and defend at once the prerogative of the Crown from unconstitutional attacks.

The subject was dropped.

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