HL Deb 18 March 1836 vol 32 cc387-400
The Earl of Aberdeen

rose for the purpose of submitting the Motion of which he had given notice. The subject to which he was desirous of soliciting the attention of their Lordships, and more particularly of the noble Viscount at the head of his Majesty's Government, for a few minutes, was such as he thought, would relieve him from the necessity of offering any apology for bringing it under the consideration of their Lordships. It was not his intention to enter into any discussion on the conduct and policy of the Government, in the general course of their relations with the Spanish Government, or with reference to the contest itself. He begged, also, most entirely to disclaim any feeling of partisanship with either of the contending parties. He had never been an adherent of Don Carlos; he had no personal sympathy for his cause; indeed he had very little sympathy for either party. Neither did he complain of, or make any objection to the conduct of the Government in having recognised the legitimacy of the Government of the Queen of Spain, and in establishing diplomatic relations and relations of friendship with the power in possession of the Throne. He knew very well that a treaty of alliance had been concluded with the Spanish Government; and though he was prepared to repeat the strong condemnation which he had before expressed of the policy of that treaty, still he was the last man to recommend that any engagement ratified by treaty, and to which the good faith of his Majesty had been pledged, should not be faithfully and rigidly adhered to. His reason for taking the opinion of the House at that moment was, because he thought they were virtually and substantially participating in a cause, and in a system of warfare, which had been disgraced by atrocities and abominations unheard of in the history of any civilized country. It was remarkable that the contest, from its very commencement, had been carried on under circumstances of peculiar ferocity. Those circumstances had accumulated and increased. An attempt, indeed, had been made—a wise and humane attempt—by the noble Duke near him (the Duke of Wellington) to arrest the progress of these excesses, by changing the character of the contest, and by establishing a cartel for the regular exchange of prisoners. In that attempt the noble Duke fortunately succeeded; a convention was entered into in pursuance of it, and he (the Earl of Aberdeen) entertained sanguine hopes, that it would lead to the most humane results. Where was that convention now? Trodden under foot —scattered to the winds—unacted upon. He grieved to say—he wished he did not feel it incumbent on him to say—that the neglect of that convention was but too much attributable to the conduct of his Majesty's Government. He would not fatigue or disturb their Lordships with any recital of the various excesses which had been committed during the last few months. Unfortunately they were too notorious to need from him any recital for the purpose of giving their Lordships information. They had gone on increasing, until at last they appeared to have arrived at the very acme of ferocity. He would only allude to an event which their Lordships had recently seen detailed in the public papers, and it was indeed the immediate cause of his venturing to intrude upon them. He alluded to the relation of the murder of an unfortunate woman, the mother of a partisan of one of the contending parties. It appeared that a partisan of Don Carlos, named Cabrera had been guilty of various excesses; what they were, he knew not; if they had been detailed among those of which a statement had been furnished to their Lordships, they had escaped his notice; but whatever they were, he had no doubt they were bad enough. The military Commandant of the Queen of Spain—not having the power of inflicting punishment on this person—actually ordered the assassination of his unfortunate mother —a poor old woman, infirm, and helpless. The individual to whom the order for her execution was addressed, appeared to have had some touch of humanity in his composition. He paused, and wrote for instructions to the Captain-general of the province. The instructions arrived, and by them he was ordered to put the miserable woman to death. Now he did not know that he had ever met with anything quite so bad as this. He doubled whether, in the wildest and most horrible excesses of the French Revolution, anything quite so shocking ever took place; for mark, this was not the act of a subordinate savage or barbarian, it was no act of sudden and blind revenge committed by a man smarting under a recent injury, but it was a deliberate and cold-blooded deed, authorised by the highest authority in the country, committed after ample time had been allowed for full deliberation and reflection, and yet this Captain of the province was received with little less than royal honours on board one of his Majesty's ships. The colour.; were hoisted to the mast head—the yards were manned. The man was received in the very sanctuary of courage, honour, and humanity, with every mark of respect, who ought to have been met with an involuntary shudder of loathing and detestation. The individual whose mother was sacrificed, resorted, as might he supposed, to what was called retaliation, in which spirit he had, it appeared, already put to death four ladies who had fallen into his hands; and inasmuch as the Commandant of the Queen had already issued an order, by which he threatened that for every person put to death, who had been taken in arms, he would murder five innocent victims, the savage of the opposite party, Tarrant, had declared, that for every one put to death by his opponents, he would murder twenty. Enough, however, of these atrocities. He wished to show how this country participated, and in what degree our character was interested in this matter. A treaty existed which bound us to the performance of various duties towards the Spanish Government—the supply of arms, ammunition, and stores, among the number. We had afforded these supplies with no niggard hand. He believed we had already furnished arms for a much greater number of troops than the Queen had under her command, and that altogether no less than 400,000l. worth of military stores had been furnished to the Spanish Government. It never could have been intended by any treaty, by any engagement, or by any possible understanding, that these supplies were to have been furnished for any other purpose than carrying on a legitimate warfare, such as had been practised and was known among civilized nations. Otherwise, knowing as we did, how these arms were employed, he must maintain that, in furnishing these supplies, we rendered ourselves responsible for the conduct of those who used them. There was another circumstance which connected England with this contest. A numerous band of adventurers, under the special engagement and protection of the King's Go- vernment, and by means of the suspension of a law, suspended expressly for that purpose, had engaged themselves in this undertaking, and entered the service of one of the contending parties. He would not affect to entertain any great respect for the motives of a very large portion of those who were so employed. He must believe that the spirit of adventure, a love of fighting, or the desire of food, had been the leading motives of by far the greater portion of them. But, although this was the case, humanity could not but feel for the sufferings which these men endured under the horrible system of warfare which was carrying on. What sort of education was it, too, that these men were receiving in the art of war? Was it like that which had been obtained by those who had been engaged in foreign warfare, or was this a system which must send them back to their own country, should they ever reach it again, brutalized to a degree which no other war could have caused? Peaceable citizens always entertained a natural degree of jealousy of those who were accustomed to the exercise of arms, and inured to scenes of bloodshed. What could be expected from these men? Could any man doubt that they must be subjects for apprehension? He did not profess to he more strict and scrupulous than other people, but he declared, that he did entertain very great doubts, whether any Government could be justified in sanctioning the part which these men had taken in the Spanish contest. It was an established maxim, in which he fully concurred, that no war was justifiable which was not either strictly a war of defence, or in which the interests involved were not of such a magnitude as fairly to give it a defensive character. What were the interests involved in this contest which should induce the Government to facilitate the enterprise of these persons. Was the safety of the country involved in the Spanish question of succession? Was even the safety or the independence of Spain itself involved? No such thing. Neither of these considerations were in question. There was absolutely nothing in connexion with the subject which could at all justify his Majesty's Government in suspending the law and taking the part they did in such an atrocious war. It was high time that the House should know what endeavours had been made by his Majesty's Government for improving and softening the character of that unholy contest. One thing was quite clear, in connexion with any steps they might have taken—whatever had been done., had been done ineffectively, and without any avail, for the character of the war had not alone deteriorated, but, as it had been seen, was growing worse and worse every day. It had been said, that the Government were justified in permitting these persons to take part in that contest, because that there were some circumstances in the history of this country which presented an analogous case. He, in the first place, denied the analogy—denied that there was a single parallel instance in British history; and, in the second, he would assert, that even if there was—even if a precedent existed, which there did not—it would be a precedent "more honoured in the breach than in the observance," as it was one quite abhorrent to our modem feelings and modern policy. The Government could not, therefore, be acquitted on any ground of having engaged itself needlessly in that contest, and having given its sanction to that horrible war. He was most anxious to hear what the noble Viscount opposite had done to modify the character of that contest. The House would credit him, he believed, when he said, that it was at once in the power of the noble Viscount, and the Government, to give another character altogether to it. Was it to be thought of, that, considering the position which the noble Viscount stood in with regard to one of the parties at least in that war, it was not in his power to change the atrocious features of that warfare? If the noble Viscount chose to say, "I shall revoke the Order in Council which affords you supplies; his Majesty will recalls his subjects from your service; and nothing shall be furnished you from this country, except what is absolutely necessary to comply with the conditions of the Quadruple Treaty, unless you at once change your system of warfare, canny on your contest in a legitimate manner, and tight no longer; like tigers and hyenas, but like human beings and civilized men"—if the noble Viscount had made that declaration of his intentions, would it have no effect? It was; idle to suppose for a moment that the Spanish Government would hesitate a minute; in acceding to his wishes. But if such a supposition were within the compass of possibility, and that the noble Viscount did not find it in his power to deal with such barbarity as he could desire, he had only to come out from among them—to dissolve all connexion with them whatever, Nothing could justify a continuance of our; connexion with such barbarians; and after what had occurred, if the noble Viscount did not immediately and effectively inter pose, or if, having done so without effect, he remained a party to the contest, it would be a disgrace to this country and to his Majesty's Government. If the noble Viscount should take upon him to interfere, he most sincerely wished that his interference would be successful; but, whatever might be the result of it, the noble Viscount should be prepared to declare explicitly to the Spanish Government what would be the inevitable and speedy consequences to it should that system of barbarous warfare be any longer persevered in. If the noble Viscount did that, his object would be soon attained; if he neglected it, he would find himself as far as ever from its attainment. He begged to move, "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, for Copies or Extracts of the Correspondence with his Majesty's Minister at Madrid, showing the endeavours of his Majesty's Government to mitigate the sanguinary character of the warfare in the Northern provinces of Spain, and the remonstrances addressed to the Government of her Catholic Majesty for that purpose."

Viscount Melbourne

entirely concurred in all the sentiments expressed by his noble Friend with reference to the character of the contest in Spain. In all the reprobation expressed of these acts of atrocity, which his noble Friend had so forcibly described, he entirely participated; and he begged their Lordships not to construe any of the observations he should have to address to the House, and not for one moment to suppose that any expression which might, by possibility, drop from him, could be intended in any degree either to palliate or excuse the guilt of those acts, or to diminish the horror with which they must be viewed. We were all somewhat apt to exaggerate when our feelings were excited. His noble Friend, he feared, took somewhat too favourable a view of the records of human nature, and the proceedings of nations, when he said the acts committed in Spain since the beginning of the contest, were never before paralleled in the history of mankind. He would observe, that he believed war had never been carried on in Spain in a very civilised manner; and he would add, that those which were considered as the brightest and fairest pages of our own history, were but too often tarnished with wanton bloodshed and unnecessary slaughter. Even that war in which the noble Duke opposite bore so distin- guished and so illustrious a part, was marked in its commencement by the most violent excesses; and it was disgraced, as he had always heard, during its progress, by the most sanguinary and ferocious cruelty. He would say no more upon this point, lest he should be considered as doing that, than which nothing was farther from his intention, endeavouring to alleviate the feelings of just horror and indignation which the atrocities committed in the Peninsula necessarily excited. His noble Friend had commenced his speech by slating that he would not revert to the past, that he would not consider the general policy of the Government, that he did not condemn the recognition of the Queen of Spain, and that he would not then consider the policy of the Quadruple Treaty. He thought his noble Friend had somewhat departed from this course in the very severe censure he passed on the Order in Council by which the Foreign Enlistment Act was suspended, which had now been in operation a whole year, and with respect to which the noble Lord, though he had at times expressed his disapprobation of it, had never yet brought forward a motion in order openly to condemn, and, by means of that House, forcibly to arrest the policy of the Government. This was not fair to the Government—it was laying a snare to entangle it. It was not fair to the Government, it was not fair to the Crown, it was not fair to the country, not to object to a particular policy when it was first adopted, and afterwards to come forward and condemn it with severity, as the noble Earl had done, without submitting any formal motion to their Lordships on the subject. He would say that the most erroneous line of policy was better, if it were firmly, regularly, and consistently pursued, than the best, if it were subject to fluctuation and change; and he said it was not giving the country fair play to wait till a system might be supposed to have failed, and then to come forward and condemn it. It was a part of the proceedings of vulgar minds, which he did not expect would be imitated, in the most remote degree, by his noble Friend, to condemn a policy founded on the most approved principles, for the incidental misfortunes which sometimes accompanied, but was not caused by it. His noble Friend had also said, that an attempt, to which he was at all times ready to give all due credit, had been made by the noble Duke to put an end to this system of cruelty in Spain; and his noble Friend maintained, that in consequence of the conduct of his Majesty's Government, that convention had failed of its object, and been trodden under foot. Now he begged to tell the noble Lord that he could assure him the convention had not failed; that he understood that several exchanges of prisoners had been effected under it, and that it still continued to be acted on. All the atrocities that had been stated to have been committed had not taken place in the theatre of warfare; they had almost all occurred in Catalonia; and though undoubtedly there had been some atrocities committed between the conflicting armies, the scene of war had not been disgraced by anything like the extent of the barbarity which his noble Friend supposed to have disfigured it. That convention, therefore, had not failed; on the contrary, it had been productive of great good, and the Ministers could not be censured for a failure when, in truth, none had occurred. By the operation of the Treaty many lives bad been spared. The noble Earl opposite had stated, very correctly, the facts of the case of Cabrera's mother—facts which had attracted the attention and exhibited the feeling of their Lordships in common with all mankind, and which the noble Earl allowed to be the immediate cause of his motion. The noble Earl had stated, that Rogueries had directed the Governor of the city of Tools to seize the mother of Cabrera, who resided in that city. The Governor at first refused to obey the order; but reference was made to Mina, who directed it to be carried into execution, and the unfortunate lady was shot. Cabrera, as soon as he heard of the death of his mother, directed four wives of officers serving in the Queen's army, and thirty others, to be shot. The moment this news was received, his noble Friend (Lord Palmerston) wrote to the Prime Minister of the Queen of Spain, expressing the utmost indignation, and demanding the most prompt inquiry and satisfaction. Mr. Villiers, the English Ambassador at Madrid, did not wait to receive any instruction from his Government, but he at once waited upon the Prime Minister, and demanded satisfaction for these horrible atrocities. Rogueries, it had been ascertained, had since been deprived of his command, and an inquiry instituted into the whole of his conduct. Some observations had been made as to the manner in which the Captain-General Mina was received on board one of his Majesty's ships. He (Viscount Melbourne) thought that the honours he received were merely paid to the office he held; and it was hardly to be expected that the officers of a ship were bound to consider the character and reputation of the man who was about to come on board their ship. His noble Friend condemned the policy of the Government in permitting British subjects to volunteer into the service of the Queen of Spain. This policy he (Viscount Melbourne) was most decidedly prepared to support. It was unfortunate that there should be wars at all; but war was sometimes, unfortunately, necessary; and if wars were being waged in other parts of the world, no obstacle, he conceived, should be thrown in the way of those who were desirous of engaging in war, and who were desirous of learning that which was merely a practical art. What education, he would ask, did soldiers generally receive? War was a hard and cruel mistress, and those who were subject to her sway naturally partook of her character and disposition. Now, these men would only receive the education that all soldiers received, or at least would receive under similar circumstances; and as to the apprehension entertained against their return into the bosom of the community, he conceived that to be utterly fanciful and visionary. He did not intend to say much more on this subject. It might very well be supposed from the character of soldiers, and the acts to which they were accustomed, that their previous habits were not likely to render them very peaceful members of the community; but in practice this was not found to be the case: for experience proved, that soldiers could return to the habits of civil life just as readily as those who had never been engaged in warfare. In saying all this, he begged that it would not be supposed that he did not most deeply feel the atrocities to which the noble Earl had referred. But, unless they were disposed to give up all for which they had been contending, unless they made an entire change in their policy, unless they were ready to sacrifice all the interests which they were desirous to maintain, unless they were prepared to throw up the cause of the whole of the western part of Europe, because of the partial horrors and atrocities which had been committed, what practical step could be taken? He again, however, hogged most distinctly to be understood, that although he could not content to go that length, he was not the less anxious to express the deepest horror and detestation at what had occurred. He and done everything that he could do on the subject. He had no objection, therefore, to accede to the production of the papers for which the noble Earl had moved. Still, however, he was apprehensive that those papers would not exhibit the case, and the circumstances attending it, so fully as it might be desirable to exhibit it. He could assure their Lordships, however, that no opportunity would be lost, on the part of his Majesty's Government, of endeavouring to prevent the repetition of such occurrences. Their minds would never be withdrawn from that consideration. But however deficient the papers moved for by the noble Earl might be in furnishing all the information requisite on the subject, he begged it might be understood, that the original blame of the transactions in question did not appear to rest especially on the Queen's Government. It was, perhaps, difficult to determine, whether it belonged to the one side more than to the other. But as far as he could judge, these atrocities were commenced by parties in the interest of Don Carlos. The massacre at Barcelona seemed to have been provoked by acts of the other party of the most horrid nature. The matter, however, was merely one of report, so that he did not like to enter into any detailed statement respecting it. All that he wished was to protest against the peculiar blame being attached either to the Government or to the partisans of the Queen. They were all agreed in the propriety of maintaining the rights, the freedom, and the independence of the people of Spain; but while he stated that, he also bagged to say, that he had no hesitation in concurring in his reprobation of the horrors which had disgraced that part of the world.

The Duke of Wellington

said, my Lords, I am one of those who have invariably objected to these subjects being brought under discussion in this House. I refrained myself from proceeding upon a notice which I gave in the last Session of Parliament on the subject of this very contest. I also prevailed upon my noble Friend to refrain from discussing the question; and I can certainly say, that I have discouraged, as much as lies in my power, all discussion on this subject in the course of the present Session. My Lords, I little expected that my noble Friend and myself should have been reproached for having refrained from bringing forward the subject; that we should be told that we have been almost guilty of an offence in having refrained from bringing the subject under discussion in this House. My Lords, I will tell your Lordships fairly why we refrained. First of all, I will say I fully acquit the noble Lords of any intention whatever to give any encouragement to these atrocities. I believe that they dislike them as much as we do, and that they are as much astonished at them as we are. On this ground, therefore, I say I should have continued to refrain from this discussion were it not for the atrocious acts brought forward by my noble Friend on this occasion, and which alone induces me now to present myself to the attention of the House. The other reason which induced me to refrain from the discussion, was on account of the position of public affairs in general. It was likewise on account of the want of public feeling on this subject, and likewise because I did not wish to have it believed abroad that there was in this country any difference of opinion between the two sides of the House in respect to our detestation of the manner of carrying on the war. My Lords, for all these reasons, I pressed upon the House last Session the necessity of not proceeding with a discussion which had been commenced. I have since requested my noble Friend not to bring forward the subject, and most undoubtedly I should have prevailed with my noble Friend not to give notice of this motion, had it not been to bring these acts under the attention of the House. My Lords, the noble Lord accuses us of having refrained heretofore from bringing forward these matters, and of having brought them forward now as a charge against the noble Lord, we having omitted to do so when we bad the opportunity on a former occasion. Begging the noble Lord's pardon, I cannot accuse myself of any offence in having omitted to state my opinion on that occasion. The noble Lord, and nobody else, is responsible for his own acts; and I for one will not relieve him from the responsibility which his acts cast upon him, by calling upon Parliament to deliver an opinion upon those acts, until the proper time comes for taking them into consideration. My Lords, I say I entirely acquit the noble Lord of any intention to give any encouragement—and perhaps this phrase is not sufficiently strong—I say I acquit the noble Lord of any intention to do otherwise than to state, in the strongest manner, his disapprobation of these acts; but I must say, the noble Lord has placed himself and his Government in a very awkward position, if he supposes that, when he sent out to Spain this body of British troops, he conceived it was at all possible to do so without violating that convention which was only concluded a short time before those troops went out. My Lords, the very circumstance of sending out a body of troops the noble Lord must know could not do otherwise than deprive us for ever of all power and influence at the councils of that Prince, with whom we took such pains to prevail upon him to adopt the convention. One of the immediate results of sending out those troops was, that the cartel could not be carried into effect These troops were positively not included in the cartel when they arrived out; and if this Prince had admitted them into the cartel, he would have made a concession for the purpose of extending to them the humane provisions of the convention. But, my Lords, those troops did not belong to the army at the period of the signing of the convention; and therefore, I say, when the noble Lord sent this body of troops to that country, he did so at the risk of not having the cartel extended to them, more particularly when it is considered that no measures were taken to ensure that end. But, my Lords, I say the most serious feature in the case is, that by sending a body of troops to Spain, his Majesty was made a party to this war; and that, by that act, we lost all influence with the councils of Don Carlos, either for the purpose of humanizing the character of the war, or for any other purpose for which it might be necessary for us to resort to them. This, my Lords, I say, is the most important part of the case, and the part to which the noble Viscount gives no answer. The next point now is, with respect to the manner in which this war is carried on. Now, my Lords, I shall admit that it might be necessary to carry on the war, notwithstanding that it is carried on in an inhuman manner, and I must admit that I was a party to sending out arms and munitions of war to this very country previous to the conclusion of the cartel. My Lords, I was a party to this; but the noble Lord sends out this body of men—for what purpose? Is it, my Lords, to aid in the operations of the war? Why, let me ask, have they been of any use in the operations of the war? Have they done any one thing since they have been out? Have they been of any use to any party whatever? No, my Lords. What they have done is this: they have deprived the British Government of the respect it had acquired previously, and of the influence it might have exercised over the councils of the two bell gerent parties. My Lords, this has been the state of. matters since the arrival of these troops; and how could it have been otherwise? It must have so happened. My Lords, your Lordships may be certain that the very moment this corps arrived, at that instant the neutral character of his Majesty was lost, and from that instant he was deprived of that influence which could otherwise have been so beneficially employed. My Lords, I have considered it my duty to protest against any liability or blame attaching to any party with respect to the twenty-seven Car list prisoners, who were certainly taken under peculiar circumstances. At the same time there can be no doubt that, under the law of nations, the Queen of Spain had a right to take these persons out of the ship. Therefore, laying aside all other considerations, there could be no doubt but that those prisoners were legally in the possession of the Queen. My Lords, I know it has been said that the cartel ought to have been extended to them, and that the noble Lord ought to have forced this on the consideration of the Queen's Government. Now, my Lords, I must beg to remind those who use this argument, that, in point of fact, the cartel did not extend to these prisoners. Under the articles of the cartel they were not included, as that instrument only extended to the armies engaged in the three provinces, or in the kingdom of Navarre. It was perfectly true that if Don Carlos's General had thought it expedient, the cartel might have been extended, and the Queen's officers would then have to answer, yes or no. But that was not done, and therefore they were not included in the articles of the cartel. My Lords, all that I can say in addition on this subject is, that these persons ought to be fairly tried, and dealt with according to the law of the country; but as to bringing them under the cartel, that is impossible. My Lords, I have thought it necessary to say thus much on this part of the subject. In respect to the others, my firm conviction is, that as long as the noble Lord perseveres in keeping this body of troops in Spain, he will not only make no progress towards putting an end to the war, but that he and his Government will lose all the influence which we should otherwise possess in preventing these atrocities, and he will find that, day by day, matters will become worse in that country.

The Marquess of Londonderry

said, that considering the part he had taken upon a former occasion when this subject was before the House, he felt now called upon to say, that he felt precisely with the noble Earl who had to night made so proper an appeal to their Lordships' feelings as men and Christians. They were the sentiments which he had advocated ever since August last, when he brought their case under the notice of their Lordships. He differed, but with great regret, and greater diffidence, from the noble Duke as to the legality of the capture of the twenty-seven unfortunate men; but he was enabled, at least, to reflect with pleasure on the probability that the inquiry which he had been the means of instituting, would end in these unfortunate persons being set at liberty.

Motion agreed to.