HL Deb 12 February 1836 vol 31 cc312-24
The Marquess of Londonderry

assured their Lordships that it was with the utmost diffidence and reluctance he rose to make a few observations upon the subject of the Motion of which he had given notice, relative to our interference with the affairs of Spain. He was sorry to bring forward such an important subject so early in the Session, but as he had been precluded from offering a few observations on that part of the Speech which referred to Spain, he felt that he was bound to take an early opportunity of calling their Lordships' attention to the matter. He had on many occasions been obliged to animadvert upon the refusal of all information from the Government, and the indifference with which he had been treated by the noble Viscount when he had felt it his duty to ask any question relative to Spain. Last Session, the noble Lord, when alluding to the convention of Lord Eliot, had said that there was no doubt but that it would extend to all Englishmen engaged in the Spanish service; and only the other day, the noble Viscount said, he did not know whether the decree of Don Carlos was retrospective in its operation or not. Events had shown the noble Viscount's ignorance, and he must say that there seemed to be a great deal of indifference on the part of the Government to this important question. They had been loud in their vituperation of Don Carlos for the order he had put forth; but it was well-known that he had not had recourse to such a severe measure, until he was driven to it by the brutalities of the Christinos Generals,—it was a mere matter of retaliation. He was sure that that decree was contrary to the feelings and wishes of Don Carlos. The Govern- ment seemed bent upon nothing but upholding the cause of the Queen. What was the immediate object of the passage in the King's Speech with regard to Spain? Was it not to give to Europe at large the belief that the present Government of Spain, by its prudence, firmness, and vigour, would be able to re-establish peace in that country? What he contended for was, that the House ought to be informed fully and faithfully, of the grounds upon which the hope expressed in the royal Speech of so satisfactory a termination of things in Spain rested. To him it appeared that, the propagation of such a notion was the propagation of a fatal delusion. What was there in the past or present state of Spain—where was there any appearance of harmony or stability, to warrant the belief of a speedy settlement in any judicious mind? Within the last eight months Spain had had four or five different persons at the head of affairs. The last, he believed, was transported from the Stock Exchange of London to assume the reins of Government in Madrid. What had been that gentleman's course since he was there? Had he performed any of those prodigies the world was given to expect from his genius? Or, in fact, had he done anything to sustain the reputation so confidently boasted of by the noble Viscount opposite and his colleagues? He had undoubtedly ordered a levy of 100,000 men to drive Don Carlos from his mountains; but he had not yet got his 100,000 men, nor would he, in the opinion of any person at all acquainted with the country, or the circumstances of it, get more than one-tenth of that number. He had no confidence, therefore, in the military strength of the Queen's Government. With respect to finance, it was said that Mr. Mendizabel had prepared a plan concocted in his own brain; but it had not yet transpired, and therefore nobody was enabled to pronounce an opinion upon it. Next, this minister had dissolved that very Cortes from which he, a few weeks ago, solicited a vote of confidence. He had seen his armies go forth from Vittoria to the mountains to beat the Carlists, and he had seen them beaten back again to Vittoria, and shortly, no doubt, he would see them in full march upon Madrid. Yet such was the opinion entertained by the present Government of the resources of this man, that they put into the mouth of his Majesty the public expression of a hope that, from so much vigour, prudence, and firmness, the pacification of the entire Peninsula might be expected. Only a few months ago they had heard or seen a speech delivered by the Foreign Secretary in another place, to which he would now allude, for the purpose of showing what confidence could be placed in the prophesying of that noble Lord. The noble Lord had stated that he looked upon the success of Don Carlos as impossible—that the majority of the people of Spain were in favour of the Queen, that there were only 10,000 or 12,000 men in arms against the Government in one or two of the remote provinces of Spain—that it was only to put down those partial and local insurrections that their efforts were to be made, that the resistance to the Queen's authority had been confined to two or three particular provinces, and that no disturbance had broken out in the rest of Spain. Would the noble Secretary now say, that no other province had declared in favour of Don Carlos, and that disturbances had broken out in no other provinces? Instead of 10,000 or 12,000 men, Don Carlos had in Biscay and Navarre 30,000; in Catalonia 22,000; in Arragon 7,000; in Gallicia 6,000; he believed, in all, 80,000 or 90,000 men. Yet with such statements as these, how was it possible they could express confidence in the prudence, vigour, and firmness of the present Government of Spain? He called upon his Majesty's Ministers to show one instance in which the Government of Spain had manifested prudence, vigour, or firmness. There was nothing mentioned in his Majesty's Speech relative to the Belgians, Was he to congratulate the noble Lord opposite that the question between Holland and Belgium was decided? Were they to express such confidence as they were called upon to do, he had no hesitation in saying, that it would meet with the most perfect derision throughout the whole of Europe. It was to Europe this country was to look. There were no doubt many noble Lords who might be very deeply interested in the domestic policy of their own country that their attention was not awakened to foreign affairs; but he would say, look to those great allies who had carried this country through the struggle in which she had been engaged. What would those great allies say, when they found it was declared by his Majesty's Speech, that the firmness, prudence, and vigour of the Go- vernment of Spain, gave a confident hope of a speedy termination of the warfare? When he found these passages in the Speech, deeply interested as he felt in the foreign policy of Europe—when he felt further the degradation in which the profession to which he had the honour to belong, had been placed by the mode in which the warfare had been carried on, carried on in a manner that would certainly throw shame and defeat, and every thing-that was disgraceful, on the British troops, and give the praise of any victory to the Spaniards—he could not refrain from bringing the subject under their Lordships' notice. He could not but feel strongly at the manner in which the present Government had connived at the scenes of slaughter and butchery going on between the combatants in Spain; and which were calculated, so far as this country was concerned, to cover it with disgrace. That was one object of his inquiry. He wished to know from the noble Viscount opposite, if he would have the goodness to tell him, what steps were about to be, or had been taken to alleviate those scenes of horror and bloodshed to which he had alluded? If the person at the head of the Government of Spain, who seemed to possess so much influence over the Queen, really had the power represented by his Majesty's Government, he could put an end to these enormities if he were bona fide determined to do so. The noble Lord could not be ignorant of them, for a short time ago a letter had appeared in all the papers, professing to have been written by the noble Secretary of State for the Foreign Department (Lord Palmerston) to the Bishop of Leon. In that letter the noble Lord seemed to have departed from his usual suaviter in modo, and to have adopted the for-titer in re of his allies. The letter seemed to him to have been most useless and uncalled for. It served no good purpose, and indeed no purpose that he could discover, beyond that of firing a phillipic against the unfortunate Bishop. If the noble Lord had been merely looking out for an opportunity of showing the ability of his pen, he might have addressed a despatch to Count Nesselrode upon any of the numerous circumstances in the conduct of Russia calculated to excite his ire; or he might have selected that publication called "The Portfolio," for the desired display of his powers, and in order to create a sensation throughout Europe. The singular part of the letter, however, was, that the thing requested by the Bishop of Leon, the requesting of which so excited the wrath of the noble Lord, was exactly what the noble Lord had done a month before the receipt of that letter. Now, he wished the noble Viscount opposite to say, whether he would object to place the letter of the Bishop of Leon and the answer of the noble Lord before the House, that they might be able to judge for themselves as to the success of the application. If the noble Lord would show a determination to act up to the letter and spirit of the convention, he was sure there would be an end of all those atrocities which made Europe shudder. It was in vain to deny that these examples of butcheries and slaughters were infectious. They went from one camp to another; and he was sorry to say that our own unfortunate troops who were seduced into the service by the speeches of the noble Secretary of State for the Foreign Department about the glory and honour of the cause, and misled by the declaration of the noble Viscount opposite, that they would be protected under the convention—he was sorry to say, that they had caught the infection of assassination. He confessed that he felt deeply the dishonour brought upon the character of the British soldier by these proceedings, for British soldiers (the mercenaries, as they were called in Spain) they must be considered. After the last battle circumstances the most disgraceful had occurred. He was in possession of documents, and he should be ready to show his authority to prove to the people of England, to the army, and to Europe, that the British Government, instead of boldly, manfully, and courageously carrying on war, as was due to the honour and ancient character of the country, was, in fact, doing the same thing in a weak, vacillating, furtive, and unintelligible manner, which would hereafter produce the most fatal consequences as regarded our foreign policy and relations. The noble Lord read from two letters in his possession descriptions of the massacre of some Carlist prisoners by the soldiers of General Evans. One was dated from St. Jean de Luz, and stated, that on the "17th ult, the soldiers of Evans, returning to Vittoria, perfectly drunk, and in a State of exasperation at having been beaten, fell upon and murdered 130 Carlist prisoners in their hands. The officers did all they could to arrest the massacre, but in vain." Now, he begged to ask, what must be the state of discipline of the soldiers of that army if their officers had no power over them? He had good authority for stating, that upon the occasion of the last attack of the British upon the Carlists, they were in a state of the most gross intoxication. With such information, what, he asked, must be his feelings, as a soldier, if he were to take no notice of such proceedings? The noble Secretary of State for the Foreign Department had told this country that the troops of the Queen were greatly superior in force to those of Don Carlos; and he then went on to taunt that Prince on the ground of his remaining in the mountains of Navarre for security. Don Carlos, he had no doubt, recollected the conduct of the Duke of Wellington when he entrenched himself within the lines of Torres Vedras, returning, year after year, to those lines till the country was ready effectively to aid him upon his leaving them. Don Carlos was also too wise and prudent to leave the mountains till he was in possession of a force throughout the country which would leave no chance of his meeting with disaster. He hoped this wise conduct of Don Carlos would inspire his Majesty's Ministers with the opinion that his firmness and vigour would speedily bring the contest to a termination. Sure he was that there was no vigour, and no firmness on the other side. For these reasons he was of opinion that that part of the royal Speech referring to Spain was ill-advised, and he entered his humble protest against it. He must also take that opportunity of noticing the denunciations uttered in the public press against that House. He hoped their existence was not so exactly limited as had been foretold. Six weeks, he understood, was the allotted term of their existence as a House in their present state. This had been stated openly throughout the country by one supposed to be in connexion with the Government; and when he found them so passive upon home affairs of great importance, as he thought, as not to come forward to disavow and denounce such sentiments, he confessed he could entertain no confidence in them with regard to their conduct of the foreign affairs of the country. As to the returns for which he was about to move, his object was to know the grounds upon which warlike stores were furnished to the Queen of Spain, the extent to which they were furnished, and how they were to be paid for? Upon these subjects he had only the treaty of April 22, 1834, and the additional articles to that treaty of August 18th, 1834, to refer to for information. By the additional articles of the Quadruple Treaty, the king of the French engaged to take, in the portion of his states near to Spain, the measures best calculated to prevent any sort of assistance in men, arms, or ammunition from being sent from the French territory to the insurgents in Spain; and on the part of England it was stipulated in the second article—"That the king of England engages to supply to her Catholic Majesty all the assistance of arms and ammunition she may claim, and, besides this, to assist with naval forces should this become necessary." By those stipulations it would be seen that France was left free to fulfil her part of the agreement in the manner she deemed most fitting, whilst this country was tied down to the very letter of the stipulation, and this was the treaty which hung round the neck of the late Administration. But how differently had they acted, even with this clog upon them. But what was the nature of our stipulation in Spain? It could hardly, he should think, be expected that the present Parliament would consent to furnish supplies of arms and ammunition to one party in Spain, if the payment by that party for these supplies were to be left till the struggle should be terminated; for that struggle might be protracted for a period beyond calculation. It was evidently a struggle in which each party sought the extermination of the other. Had the Duke of Wellington remained in office, the differences of the parties would have been arranged before now. The Duke was using his utmost endeavours whilst in office, and he (Lord Londonderry) pledged his faith as a soldier, that he would have settled the question in a satisfactory manner if he had continued. In conclusion the noble Lord moved for a return of "all warlike stores, clothing, accoutrements, arms, ammunition, artillery, and Congreve rockets, and also of all naval stores of every description, furnished to the Queen of Spain by Great Britain, stating the value of the same, and if any and what payments had been made for the same; likewise, a return of the names, rank, and number of officers upon the half-pay of the British service at present serving in the army of the Queen of Spain."

Viscount Melbourne

meant to offer no opposition to the production of the return moved for by the noble Marquess. It was natural that the noble Marquess should wish to have such information, and there could be no objection on the part of his Majesty's Government to furnish it. With respect to the question of the noble Marquess, as to whether the stores and warlike articles furnished in pursuance of the treaty were to be paid for, he had to state that, of course, they were not furnished gratuitously. They had been furnished upon the undertaking of the Spanish Government to pay for them. Having stated this, he begged to remind the noble Marquess, that in answer to a question put to the Duke of Wellington when in office, he had strongly declared it as his opinion that in the present state of the Government of Spain, and the circumstances of that country, she ought not at present to be called upon to pay for the warlike stores furnished by Great Britain. That was the noble declaration of the Duke of Wellington—that was his interpretation of what was the duty of the Government of this country under the treaty entered into with Spain— that was his Grace's view of the best manner of upholding the honour of the country and supporting the national faith, thereby, according to the noble Duke's invariable practice, doing his best to maintain the honour, good faith, and dignity of the Crown. He was sure the noble Marquess would see that his Majesty's Government could not do better than follow the example of the noble Duke in that respect. Of course the supply of these stores was not to be unlimited; but was to be bounded by the circumstances of the case, and the discretion of Government, due regard being had to public economy, the state of the contest, and the convenience of this country. The noble Lord had taken this opportunity of making some remarks upon a portion of the Speech which his Majesty had been advised to make at the opening of the present Session of Parliament. He must say that he could not see why the noble Lord could not have adopted, as a more natural occasion for delivering these sentiments, the period when his Majesty's Speech, or the Address in reply to it, was under discussion before their Lordships, instead of this day, upon the mere motion for papers. The noble Lord seemed to intimate that he had found some difficulty in fixing upon a fitting occasion for delivering his sentiments upon the subject in question. But he must say, that as long as it was the practice in their Lordships House, by a tacit understanding, though that, he must say, was most irregular and inconvenient, and very unfair to those who were expected to make replies—as long as any time, and the opportunity of any sort of business being before the House, was considered appropriate for the introduction of any question or remark whatever which any noble Lord chose to offer, the want of opportunities to make speeches was the last thing he had expected to hear complained of by the noble Lord. The noble Lord had mentioned one circumstance which he (Lord Melbourne) could wish he had omitted, but which, having been mentioned, he could not allow to pass over without observation. What the noble Lord had alluded to was that passage in his Majesty's Speech which referred to the intimate union existing between this country and our powerful neighbour, France; an allusion which the noble Lord seemed to consider an invidious one, and tending to disparage the importance of our friendly relations with other European powers. He could assure the noble Lord that no such sentiment was intended to be conveyed by the paragraph alluded to, which certainly was not intended to express an attachment to any particular State or Power in preference to what was due to the rest of our foreign relations. This, however, he must be permitted to say, that, considering the rivers of blood which had been made to flow in that unhappy country, in carrying on long and implacable warfare, in which all the Powers of Europe were involved—hostilities which might arise again if cause existed for them—considering this, he did not think it unnatural to congratulate the world, and particularly that portion of the world which had been devastated and divided by past unhappy contests, that an earnest had been received for the continuance of peace and union between this country and France. The noble Marquess had next adverted to the affairs of Spain, into which he had gone at considerable length. With respect to the cruel decree which had been issued by Don Carlos against foreigners engaged in the civil contests in Spain, the noble Lord had declared that that decree had been issued most unwillingly by that prince, and only adopted as a necessary means of retaliation for the cruelties to which his own soldiers were still exposed at the hands of the Queen's Generals. Undoubtedly the cruel and bloody character of the contest now carrying on in Spain could not but be deeply deplored by every observer, and he was sure the noble Lord did his noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Foreign Department no more than justice when he admitted that everything had been done by him which was in his power to restrain those horrible proceedings. For his own part, he (Lord Melbourne) could prove that no case of the kind had been brought before his noble Friend in which he had not remonstrated, and earnestly desired that means might be agreed upon and adopted to prevent the recurrence of these cruel acts of retaliation. With respect to the alleged unwillingness with which Don Carlos had been brought to adopt this decree, and the leniency with which it had been hitherto acted upon in many cases, he could only say, that upon every occasion when communications had been addressed to Don Carlos, or his officers, on the subject, the reply had been that the decree was still in force, and that Don Carlos had always intended that it should be strictly adhered to. The noble Lord had further stated that some of his Majesty's subjects engaged in these contests on the part of the Queen Regent of Spain, had been in many cases guilty of similar atrocities to those complained of in Don Carlos. For his own part, he could only say that he had never heard of any circumstances of the kind; on the contrary, from all he had heard of the conduct of the British auxiliary troops in Spain, which the noble Lord alleged was such as to degrade them as men, and by which he further declared the very name and character of a soldier was lowered and vilified; so far from this being the case, from all which he (Lord Melbourne) had heard of the general conduct and character of these troops, their courage in action, and their patience and subordination under the trials and privations to which they were necessarily exposed, they were such as he would assure the noble Lord, so far from disgracing the name of Englishmen, might do honour to the very troops which the noble Lord himself had at one time commanded in the same country. He would take this opportunity of observing, that in the course of the recent debates upon the King's Speech, two distinct, principles appeared to have been laid down, one in that House, and one in the other House of Parliament, by neither of which, he begged to declare, would he consent to hold himself bound. One of these rules was, that Ministers had no right to call upon the House to pledge itself to a principle upon any matter upon which the Parliament was to be afterwards called upon to legislate. The other rule was, that his Majesty should not be allowed to advert in terms either of praise or disparagement to the conduct of a foreign Government. Now, for himself, he would declare fearlessly, that neither of these rules was founded, either on precedent or reason. It might, he thought, be very necessary in many cases to call upon Parliament for a distinct declaration upon a matter of principle. With respect to the other rule, it might be equally necessary, in many cases, particularly in time of war, to call upon Parliament for an expression of its opinion in reference to the conduct of a foreign Government. But his noble Friend himself had broken through this pretended rule, by going, as he had done, into statements, in order to prove the weakness and imbecility of the Queen of Spain's Government, instead of the prudence and firmness which had been attributed to it by the King's Speech. These allegations he would not then take into consideration; but he would declare that, considering all the facts which were before them, he did believe that the language which had been used in that Speech was not of an exaggerated character; and he had every reason to hope that a speedy and happy termination would be put to the Spanish contest, through the means now in operation. It was of the utmost importance to the peace of Europe that this contest should terminate, and he had every reason to believe that the hopes which he had expressed upon this subject would prove well founded. He did not think that there was any other matter in the noble Lord's speech immediately calling for observation, nor was there anything, he believed, to be added on the subject for the satisfaction of his noble Friends around him; he should, therefore, conclude by again stating that he had no objection to offer to the motion of the noble Lord.

The Earl of Aberdeen

said, that as the noble Viscount opposite offered no opposition to the production of these papers, he did not rise to say anything upon that point, nor to enter into any inquiry as to the general course of foreign, policy pursued by his Majesty's Government in respect to Spain. At the same time, however, he must be allowed to advert to some particulars connected with affairs now going on in Spain, which he felt certain every noble Lord in that House, and every individual in the country, must regard with feelings of horror and disgust. He spoke of the manner in which the hostilities had been carried on in Spain, not only between the parties concerned in the contest, but also by third parties, aliens from the Government of the Queen Regent of Spain, and belonging, themselves, to a nation which specially claimed for itself a constitutional and liberal character. Yet these very men had committed atrocities equally horrible with those committed by either of the two contending parties themselves. Whether or not the conduct of the Queen Regent's Government had been characterised by that vigour and prudence which had been attributed to it in the King's Speech, he was not prepared to say. He should prefer waiting to see the evidence of that prudence and vigour. Of course his Majesty's Ministers must have been in possession of what they considered sufficient evidence on this point before they ventured upon Such a public expression of opinion; for he recollected very well, that upon former occasions noble Lords on the opposite side of the House had been very scrupulous about making observations of the kind upon the conduct of foreign Governments, particularly in a case not long ago, when one of the nearest, the best, and the most intimate of our allies was the one alluded to. The purpose for which he (Lord Aberdeen) principally rose, however, was to state, that if he abstained from entering upon a discussion as to the general foreign policy pursued by his Majesty's Government, it was not from any feeling of tacit approbation of that policy—very far from it. The case of Spain was one of disputed succession. He did not quarrel with noble Lords opposite for supporting the legality of the Queen's Government, Whatever might be his own opinion upon that point, he would be the last to say that, when once a treaty had been entered into to that effect, that treaty should not be adhered to fully and entirely. The noble Viscount, in his observations, had only done justice to the conduct of the noble Duke (Wellington), and he appealed to the noble Viscount confidently whether Administration of a right hon. Gentleman in the other House, through the conduct of the noble Duke, who then held the seals of the Foreign Department, had not honourably and faithfully executed the provisions of the treaty in question? But, if the noble Viscount should infer from this statement that that noble Duke entertained a different opinion as to the policy of the country from that which he had just expressed, he would greatly deceive himself; for the noble Duke thought as he (Lord Aberdeen) did, that a treaty which had been sanctioned and ratified by the King was binding so long as it existed. To bring this fact before the House was the principal object he now had in view; but there was one other point to which he should advert before he sat down, as he could not abstain from expressing his regret that his Majesty's Ministers had not continued to execute the Quadruple Treaty, according to its provisions. He regretted that they had permitted the enlistment of British subjects into the Spanish service. He did not intend to enter into the many reasons which might be adduced upon this point, as there was one objection sufficiently obvious to every man. He repeated again his regret that his Majesty's Government had not thought proper to adhere strictly to the terms of the treaty, instead of suspending an Act for the purpose of permitting British subjects to enlist into a foreign service. He should now purposely abstain from proceeding with the subject, and if he might venture to make a recommendation to the House, it should be, not to carry the discussion any further on the present occasion.

Motion, agreed to.

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