HL Deb 20 January 1840 vol 51 cc229-37
The Lord Chancellor

said—My Lords, I have the honour to acquaint your Lordships that this House has attended her Majesty with the address in answer to her Majesty's Speech from the Throne, to which her Majesty has been pleased to return the following most gracious answer:— Upon an occasion so deeply interesting to my feelings as the present, I receive, with great satisfaction, this loyal and affectionate address. I feel myself strongly supported and much gratified by your concurrence in my wishes with respect to the provision for the Prince with whom I am about to contract an alliance. I thank you for the readiness with which you have expressed your determination to confirm such measures as may be deemed necessary to provide a suitable establishment; and I entirely rely on your zeal for the welfare of the country, and your affectionate attachment to my person.

The Earl of Shaftesbury

moved, "that her Majesty's gracious message be entered on the journals and be printed."

Viscount Strangford

said, that before the motion of the noble Earl was put, he was desirous of taking this occasion to express his most distinct belief that a certain passage in her Majesty's Speech from the Throne must, at no distant period, form the subject of an inquiry of the most searching description. The House had been called upon to express its joy at the termination of the civil war in the northern provinces of Spain. They replied in obedience to that call, and he for one rejoiced in that fact, but still more should he rejoice if it should be proved, as he trusted it would be proved, that to accomplish so desirable an end no recourse had been made to any policy or course of action of which a noble hearted and generous nation might be ashamed. He felt, however, that he should be guilty of great injustice and unthankfulness towards her Majesty's ministers if he did not take this opportunity of expressing the entire satisfaction and contentment with which his mind was filled by one passage in her Majesty's most gracious Speech from the Throne. He knew that his humble approbation could be of but little value—but, valeat tantum—such as it was, he did freely and frankly tender to them, for the manly course of conduct which they had pursued with reference, he would not say to our ancient allies, but to our old friends the Turks. He could not refrain from thus expressing his satisfaction, though he could not forget the censure which had been passed upon him in this respect by a noble Lord who was not then a Member of the Government, but who now held office, and who might, therefore, be considered one of the advisers which recommended the Speech which they had heard read from the Throne. That noble person, with even more than his usual power of wit and sarcasm, and perhaps with rather less than his usual good nature, administered that castigation because he (Viscount Strangford), in seconding an address to the Throne, named the Turks "our ancient allies." He could now only express his satisfaction that the preservation of the integrity of the empire of these anti-social barbarians was held up as an object of European policy. There was, however, one point in the Speech to which he must advert with considerable pain and regret—the total omission in her Majesty's Speech of a matter in which the people of this country took the deepest interest—he meant the question of the slave trade, more particularly in reference to Portugal. He must confess, knowing the interest which was so deeply felt on this subject, that for the satisfaction of the public mind some mention ought to have been made of this subject; and he must say that his disappointment and uneasiness at this omission were increased by certain circumstances which had lately been made public, and which seemed to place the zeal of her Majesty's ministers, at least on this point, in a somewhat strange and mysterious light. It appeared from documents which he held in his hand that the obstinate refusal of the Portuguese Government to make the slave trade piracy, for which they had since been made to pay so severely, was not only acquiesced in, but that the words in which that refusal was conveyed were pointed out to them by the very negotiator who was charged with giving effect to the wishes of the Parliament and people of England on the subject. He would wish to know whether the noble Lord was ready to say that it was the common object of the Portuguese ministry and of the British plenipotentiary to disappoint the just hopes of this country. On what grounds, he would ask, was the noble Lord justified in recommending such a plan as that in the note to which he was alluding? The note was from Lord Howard de Walden to the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Viscount Sa da Bandeira. Their Lordships were doubtlessly acquainted with it, but he would take the liberty of reading it again. It was published in Portuguese and English, but this was the English version:— My dear Viscount—Here is a note upon which to bang your declaration as to piracy. You will briefly, first, state your objection to the demand as unwarrantable; secondly, propose a penal law inflicting secondary punishment on slave traders; thirdly, remark that no European power, except England, has declared the trade piracy; and fourthly, declare the readiness of Portugal to act in concert with the other powers, although unwilling to take the initiative. This strikes me as the best case you can make out, wording your conclusions strongly against the slave trade.

He thought that he had a right to conclude that he saw nothing in the conduct of the noble Lord beyond an act of simple obedience to the instructions he received. He acquitted the noble Lord of having in any degree committed himself by the note he read. That noble Lord had been brought up in the school of an illustrious statesman, and he ventured to say in a manner which would have prevented him from taking any steps without the sanction of his Government. Five months had since elapsed, and the noble writer of that note still continued to be her Majesty's minister at Lisbon; and this was an additional reason for inducing him to think, that he had not passed his instructions. He was, therefore, bound to consider it the act of her Majesty's Government. [The Duke of Wellington—What is the date of the note?] It had no date. Nothing could be more unusual than to furnish words and ideas in this way for a State paper, and he must also observe that in this ease it was thought necessary to exercise a sort of control over the language of the Portuguese ministry, for the purpose of preventing them from couching their refusal in an objectionable manner. The refusal of Portugal, he should say, the more objectionable the language in which it was couched, would have made the case better for us. He did not, therefore, think that the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office was justified in recommending such a note to be written. He trusted that some explanation would be given, in order that the people of England might learn how her Majesty's ministers had acted on a point on which they had set their hearts, and for which they had made greater and nobler sacrifices than were ever made by any nation on earth in pursuit of a just and generous object.

Viscount Melbourne

regretted that he had not had the good fortune to hear the first part of the speech of the noble Lord. When he entered the House, the noble Lord was alluding to a speech which had been made some years since by a noble Friend of his, in which some severe allusions were made to the Turkish Government, with reference to certain proceedings by which this country was affected. The noble Lord appeared to disapprove of certain parts of our conduct towards Turkey, but, if he had looked fairly to the object which we had in view, and to the tenour of the policy which had been pursued, he would, perhaps, have seen that the influence of this country was not improperly exerted. He, however, for one, must say, that he had no regard to opinions founded on partial and superficial views. Her Majesty's Ministers felt anxious for the prosperity, well-being, and good government of all nations; but he would say, that when the interests of England were concerned, they were bound to consider what was most likely to be good and beneficial for those interests, without looking to the institutions or to the situation of that nation with whom or by whom this country was called on to negotiate. As to the institutions of particular nations, he repeated, that they had nothing whatever to do with reference to the duty which Ministers had to perform in respect to the interests of this country, and the conduct to be pursued by them in forwarding those interests. The noble Lord had next proceeded to remark on the omission in her Majesty's Speech of any allusion to the Slave-trade in the Speech from the Throne, and complained that Ministers had not expressed the determination of Government to follow up the measures for the total abolition of that trade. Why, after the measures adopted last Session—after the opinions which Ministers had expressed on this subject—after the sentiments which had been uttered in that House, it did appear to be somewhat unnecessary that Ministers should introduce any additional assurance on that point into her Majesty's Speech. The noble Lord next proceeded to advert to a correspondence published by the Portuguese Government, for the purpose of justifying their conduct with regard to the slave-trade, and of showing that our Minister, at that court, had encouraged them in the course which they had taken, and had pointed out to them grounds of justification for their proceedings in that transaction. The noble Duke had very properly asked the date of that paper. It was, he believed, without date, the day of the month was not specified, it merely bore the word "Saturday." The fact was, however, as he understood, that it was written on the 19th of May, 1838. It must, however, at once appear to be an unfair way to judge of this matter, and to come to a conclusion, by taking a single point of a long negotiation—a negotiation which had commenced long before, and which continued long after, that note was written—down, in fact, to a late period in the succeeding year. To take one part of that negotiation, and to found a conclusion upon it, was manifestly unjust. To come to a right judgment upon the subject, it was necessary to take the whole of the negotiations, both preceding and subsequent to the writing of that note. Now, the state of the negotiation at the time was this:—A sudden interruption had then taken place in the negotiation respecting the slave-trade. We were desirous of concluding a treaty for the suppression of that trade, by declaring it to be piracy. The Viscount de Sa da Bandeira, who was then at the head of the Portuguese Government, stated to our Minister that he had received bad news from the Portuguese colonies, and that it was in consequence utterly impossible that he could agree to that provision in the treaty which made the slave-trade piracy. Lord Howard de Walden, being then on the eve of returning home, and wishing to obtain the best terms he could with the Portuguese Government, suggested another treaty, in which the slave-trade was not treated as piracy, but which went as near to that point as possible—as near as he could go with any prospect of success. He determined to bring this treaty home to this country, and to submit it to the British Government, under the expectation that it would be ratified; at the same time that it was contrary to his instructions to take this step. He staled distinctly to the Portuguese Government, that if this treaty were not ratified by the British Government, it must be considered a null and void—as never having been in existence. Seeing that he could not get from the Portuguese Government a treaty containing the declaration of piracy, he stated that he was ready to take something less; and he suggested what appeared to him to be the best manner in which the Portuguese Government should declare its refusal. He said "I tell you, the way you propose is not the best way, but that which I suggest is most likely to be agreeable to the British nation." Lord Howard de Walden could not get the terms which he at first demanded, and the consequence was, that no treaty at all was agreed to. The conduct of the Portuguese Government led to all those negotiations which had subsequently taken place, and, as it appeared that the Portuguese Government had shown a disposition not to keep faith, Ministers found themselves called on to propose that measure, and were justified in proposing it, which the British Parliament had last Session adopted. What Lord Howard de Walden had done was entirely on his own responsibility. He acted in consequence of circumstances which had occurred in the course of these negotiations and, unless all those circumstances were known, it would be impossible to form a correct and adequate judgment on the matter. This was the explanation which the Government had to offer; and they were convinced that Lord Howard de Walden, in acting as he had, had been actuated by the best spirit, the best intentions, and the sincerest desire to obtain the great object which they had all in view.

Lord Brougham

felt considerable anxiety on this subject; not that he felt the slightest doubt (who, indeed, could doubt the sincerity of his noble Friend, or of the Government, as to the abolition of the slave-trade?) that strong efforts would be made to put a complete end to this revolting system; but he was anxious to know whether the Government had acted with all the firmness, the zeal, and the discretion which were so desirable in order to obtain from the Crown of Portugal the declaration which was absolutely necessary for hastening this great object. Now, he could not decide upon such a question in the absence of proper information. It was not enough that he should be possessed of that letter which appeared to form a part of this long negotiation. He must see not only that, but he must also know what occurred in the different stages of the negotiation. It was impossible for him to understand the subject, unless he could take it all together. A great deal of information would be necessary in order to satisfy the people of this country that every fair and proper exertion had been made to effect that object which they so anxiously desired. As he was at present situated with respect to information, if he could not condemn, he could not acquit; and he so much felt the necessity for clearing up the matter and doing away with the impression likely to be created by this letter, that he should if he found it necessary—which he hoped he should not—move for all the papers.

The Duke of Wellington

said, the noble Viscount had stated to their Lordships that the letter to which allusion had been made was written in the course of a correspondence connected with a pending negotiation at an earlier period than that at which the negotiation was brought to a conclusion at the end of last year. He did not mean to deny that a friendly mode of negotiation such as had been described did at times exist, and was allowed between parties who acted on different sides, but who had, as was stated by his noble Friend, (Viscount Strangford), a common object in view. What he lamented was, that the negotiation was not continued in that tone, but was brought to the unfortunate conclusion to which it had come in the course of the last Session of Parliament. In Parliament a different tone had been assumed, and the treaty that was pending was determined by a measure which he considered quite fatal to the object which his Majesty's Government had in view. That certainly was his opinion. Under these circumstances he admitted that it was only fair that the whole subject should come under the consideration of the House. It had caused much excitement throughout the country, and the best course would be to have all the papers laid before their Lordships, in order that they might see how the matter really did stand at this moment, both for the honour of this country, and to place the question on its true and proper footing.

The Marquess

of Londonderry condemned the course which the Government had pursued for the last six years towards Spain: and was of opinion, that the conduct of the court of Madrid would force the northern provinces of Spain again into insurrection. What was called the pacification of those provinces was effected by treachery and bribery, and he hoped that this Government were not participators in an act which was so scandalously atrocious as to cast shame and disgrace upon all who were concerned in it. There were various other points in the Spanish question which it would be his duty on an early day to bring under their Lordships' consideration; for though these transactions had led to a present state of inaction, yet he would venture to prophesy they would break forth with increased violence. Of this strong evidence had been afforded the other day, when the Madrid government had taken possession of a strong fortress in order to keep the Basque provinces in awe, and in this and other circumstances he saw the seeds of new discord. On the whole, he was convinced that if the Spanish question was to be settled at all, it must be settled as an European question.

Viscount Melbourne

observed, that the noble Marquess seemed hurt at the termination of the civil war in Spain, and had bestowed violent epithets upon the General by whom that termination had been effected. That the noble Marquess should be so, was natural enough, inasmuch as he was a decided Carlist. But the noble Marquess would leave to her Majesty's Government the right to say that they did not acquiesce in that attack upon a subject of Spain, whom they conceived to have returned to his allegiance. With respect to the Portuguese question—of course, if the House was desirous to enter upon a discussion of it, he could not oppose that course; but he could not suppose that such a discussion would have a beneficial effect, or at- tain a satisfactory and amicable settlement. At the game time, if the House determined to enter upon it, of course all the means would be afforded for that purpose; and, therefore, he should, after consultation with his noble Friend who presided over the Foreign Affairs of this country, lay on the table any further papers that might be necessary.

The Marquess of Londonderry

said, he desired to know by what right the noble Viscount called him a decided Carlist? He had never imputed to her Majesty's Government that they were Christinos.

Viscount Melbourne

begged the noble Marquess's pardon; but he thought he had frequently heard the noble Marquess in that House slate his opinion that the claim of Don Carlos to the throne of Spain was a good and valid claim; and he considered a person holding that opinion to be a Carlist.

Lord Ellenborough

said, before the question was put he begged to call the attention of the noble Viscount opposite to the fact. The noble Marquess had stated that the note in question was dated on the 19th of May, 1838, and it did not appear in its proper place in the printed papers; but he found that, on the 22d of May, 1838, three days afterwards, Lord Howard de Walden, speaking of an interview with Viscount Sa da Bandeira, in a letter to Viscount Palmerston, said, "The Viscount on finding that I was not to be detained any longer, promised me that he would make such a declaration in a note addressed to me as would satisfy her Majesty's Government." He wished to know whether or not such a note was written.

Viscount Melbourne

apprehended that such a note as that promised had not been written, which was one of the reasons why Lord Howard de Walden came away without the proposed treaty.

Motion for entering her Majesty's answer on the journals agreed to.

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