§ Lord Lyndhurst
said, he was anxious for a few moments to call the attention of the House to a subject of very great importance. Their Lordships had no doubt read the papers laid upon their Lordships' Table, relating to the sulphur monopoly in Sicily, and they must have been surprised, on their perusal, to find that there was no mention made among them of the treaty negociated by Mr. M'Gregor, on the part of this country last 817 year with the Sicilian government, and that there was no portion of the correspondence between him and the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, among these papers. At the time when the noble Viscount opposite proposed to lay these papers on the Table of the House, the noble Viscount stated in answer to a question which he had put to the noble Viscount, that he should produce amongst them the treaty in question; but afterwards in a private conversation, the noble Viscount told him, that he should not produce it, but he did not assign any reason for the change in his intention, and he therefore thought it to be his duty to bring the subject again before the House, in order either that these documents might be produced, or that the noble Viscount should state to their Lordships the grounds on which he now declined to assent to their production. It was very possible, that it might be said, that the treaty had no relation to this question with respect to the sulphur monopoly; but if that were so, the treaty and the documents were, at all events, matters of the very highest importance, and he should be fully justified in moving for their production. It could not be said, however, with truth, that they did not connect themselves with this transaction. The two matters were negociated together, and were mixed up together in the negotiation. The whole negotiation, besides, was conducted by the same individual, and what was decisive was, that in the treaty which was negociated, the terms of which were settled between the parties, it was expressly stipulated that all monopolies, comprising, of course, that in question, should cease on a given day, with the exception of certain royal monopolies—namely, those with respect to salt, tobacco, and gunpowder; and it could not for one moment, therefore, be said, that they did not connect themselves, or that they did not form an essential part of the documents which ought to have been laid on the Table of the House, in order to afford full information on the subject. But not only was not the treaty laid on the Table of the House, but no part of the correspondence relating to it had been produced, although it was obvious that many letters must have passed between Mr. M'Gregor and Viscount Palmerston; and in those letters which were brought to light, or rather these extracts of letters, for they amounted to nothing more, the utmost care and precaution were taken to cut out and exclude 818 every thing relating to the treaty, or bearing the most remote reference to it. It might be said, however, that the treaty and these letters could not be published without working great inconvenience to the public service. It was manifest, he thought, to any one who considered this subject, that it was impossible to form any correct view or opinion with respect to the position of this country with regard to Naples, and particularly as to the conduct of the Government of England with regard to this particular transaction, without them; and if that suggestion should be made, the answer which he should give would be this:—Upon all occasions of this description, if full information cannot be communicated, information should be entirely withheld, because if all information were withheld, parties were placed in the situation of being compelled to suspend their judgment as to the conduct of the Government, whereas, if imperfect information only were given, they would be led into error, and to form conclusions, perhaps, incorrect, upon a question most vital to the interests of the country. If there were any necessity to cite authorities in support of this view of the case, he could give one to which he thought that the noble Viscount would be disposed to give great weight. He referred to a very remarkable speech delivered in the House of Commons on the 10th of March, 1830, by the noble Viscount the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who had taken the same line of argument which he had now adopted. He would read the words of the noble Viscount to the House, and he thought that what the noble Viscount had urged on that occasion he was now entitled to urge. The noble Viscount said—When the time had arrived at which the Government think that information may be communicated to Parliament without detriment to the public service, surely it is incumbent upon them to give such papers as shall elucidate the transactions to which they relate, and shall afford such complete explanations as may enable Parliament to arrive at a sound and correct judgment upon the course which has been pursued; but to give imperfect information, mutilated extracts, and fragments of correspondence, from which the most important parts have been cut off, is to make a mockery of Parliament, under pretence of submitting to its jurisdiction."*The noble Viscount now at the head of foreign affairs, when he made that speech,* Hansard, Vol. xxiii, (New Series) p. 77.819 was in opposition; but then, of course, he was anxious for the most extensive information on every subject connected with our foreign policy, although now he found it convenient to restrict the information which he afforded to Parliament within the narrowest possible limits. Their Lordships were placed in a situation not a little singular; for not only on this occasion, but upon all similar occasions, it almost always happened that where official intelligence was given, it was less extensive than that which was communicated through the ordinary channels of information. In the present case, they all knew the history of the transaction to which he referred—that the terms of a treaty were settled by Mr. Macgregor, and signed by him on the one side, and by an agent on the part of the Sicilian government on the other; that those terms were communicated to the subjects of this country in Sicily—that they were entirely approved of by them, and that the ratification of the treaty was looked forward to with the utmost impatience by the British merchants in that place. Day after day they looked for the arrival of the desired intelligence, but they were disappointed, and the result was, that instead of the advantages which they had expected under it, they found that the monopoly was still enforced. The terms of the treaty, it was to be observed, were known to the British merchants, and afforded them great satisfaction; and while they were thus pleased, the government of Sicily made no objection to them. He would state to their Lordships two or three of the articles of the treaty, in order to show to their Lordships the necessity which had existed for carrying it into effect. First, it was stipulated that the differential duties in favour of Neapolitan shipping, as compared with that of England, should be abolished. It was further stipulated that all duties should be reduced by 10 per cent.—an arrangement of the very highest importance: further, with respect to colonial produce, it was agreed, that whether going from this country, or from the colony where it was raised, a reduction of one-half of the existing duty should be made in favour of England—further, it was provided, that for a period of ten years the tariff should remain fixed, both as to the amount of duty, and the amount of the value of goods; and the last stipulation to which it referred, was one which was made with respect to all monopolies, which it provided should cease 820 to exist on a given day, except those which he had before mentioned, and which were enjoyed by the king. Were their Lordships then surprised, that the merchants of Sicily should be most anxious for the ratification of a treaty so important? It appeared, from documents which had been laid upon the Table of their Lordships' House, and particularly from a petition presented by the Sicilian merchants to the Board of Trade, that that body had represented the conduct of Government in the most favourable light, and they afterwards expressed the disappointment which they felt, and the disadvantages to which they were exposed, by reason of the non-ratification by the Government of this country of the treaty which he had entered into. The treaty, however, was not only much desired by the merchants of Sicily, but by the landowners of that country also, because it was negociatcd upon the very principle upon which all such instruments should be framed—that of reciprocal and mutual advantage, and therefore it was, as it appeared from a letter sent by Mr. Kennedy to Viscount Palmerston, that the people of Sicily looked most anxiously for its ratification. Nor were the government of Sicily insensible to the importance of that step being adopted, but it appeared from extracts furnished of the same correspondence that they had strongly desired its completion. Why, then, was it not fulfilled? In the month of November all the terms of it were settled, and they were most advantageous to this country. The ratification had not even been exchanged at this time. What reason could be assigned for the Government of this country refusing to assent to it? He had heard various absurd reasons assigned, to which he would not refer, but he found an intimation of the real reason contained in the papers on the table of the House, which afforded one of the strongest arguments why it should have been ratified by the Government of this country. It was there suggested how idle it was, to conclude a new commercial treaty with a country which continued the infraction of a treaty which already existed. It was in a letter from Mr. Temple to Viscount Palmerston that this reason was suggested for its not being ratified; but he asserted that it rather afforded a ground why the ratification should have taken place. The dispute between this country and Naples was, that the monopoly was a violation of the treaty of 1816. The government of Naples said, that it was no in- 821 fraction of that treaty, and they had argued that point from beginning to end. Had we a right to say, then, "what is the use of entering into a new stipulation when they have refused to obey one which is already in existence?" That existence was disputed, and the terms of this treaty put an end to the very subject which was in dispute between the two countries. By the treaty it was said that the monopoly should cease on a given day, and the very subject matter of dispute was therefore settled, and the only question was, whether any, and what compensation should be given for the infraction of that which, it was alleged had been violated. He thought that the country was indeed most unfortunate in the superintendence of its commercial interests. A treaty, and the terms of it, were settled advantageously to the interests of British merchants. It was not ratified, and the greatest injury had been inflicted on the trade of this country by the postponement of the question and the delay and procrastination which had taken place in its consideration. Let their Lord- ships mark the history of the affair. In 1837 this projected monopoly was first announced to the Government. What was the view which was then taken of it? That it was a distinct infraction of the treaty of 1816. It was so asserted by the Government of England, and it had since been found to be productive of the greatest injury to our merchants in Sicily. The monopoly had gone on to this moment, and no redress had been obtained, nor was it likely that any would be afforded. Was he right, then, in complaining of the supineness of the Government in respect of these proceedings? It was said, in publications which had taken place upon this subject, as to the amount of the loss occasioned to the commerce of this country, it had been greatly over-rated, and papers had been circulated, published, he believed, by the agents of the monopolists in this country; but he should refer at once to the papers laid before the House, which would give a fair and a true view of the case. It would be found to be the opinion of Mr. M'Gregor, who appeared to have gone into the subject with the utmost care, that the effect of the continuance of the monopoly would be to exclude British commerce from Sicily entirely, and he further said that in the present year a single house in Glasgow—that of Messrs. Tennent and Co., who were under the necessity of importing a large amount of sulphur for their 822 own use, and that of their correspondents, would pay upwards of 50,000l. He would refer to another passage from a letter of the same person. He said,The sulphur they have on hand they can only export by paying an amount, as a differential duty, of about 84s. 8d. a ton in favour of the monopoly: this would be utter ruin to them, and they have altogether lying on hand at the ports of Girgenti, Licati, Catania, and other places, move than 600,000 cantars which is quite useless to them, so long as the monopoly is in force; while, at the same time, all the money they have invested in mines remains a dead capital; and they see before them in the present state of things the prospect only of utter ruin, instead of the really flourishing condition which they had previously enjoyed.What he had now stated was the opinion of Mr. M'Gregor, with respect to the monopoly affecting the commercial interests of the country; but what did the merchants of Sicily state in their petition to the Board of Trade? They said that from the moment of the establishment of the monopoly, the British trade in Sicily had been entirely suspended. They had continued to reside in that country not with a view to any profit, because their profit had been hardly sufficient to pay their expenses, but in the hope—a hope which had been daily frustrated—that their wrongs would be redressed through the intervention of the British Government. This, he believed, was a true picture of the extent of the evil resulting from the monopoly. It appeared, on looking to the papers, that it was not until an application in reference to this subject had been made to Parliament, when the whole matter had been brought under discussion, that any measure of decision or vigour was adopted. He begged to refer to the letter of Viscount Palmerston to Mr. Kennedy of the 18th January in this year. The result had been that a mediation had been settled to be carried on in France at a distance of 1,200 miles from Naples, which required three weeks or a month for every exchange of couriers, a course by the adoption of which the objects of the monopolists were accomplished, for, by delay, they every day gained fresh advantages, and the effect was, to heap ruin upon our own merchants. He had been informed that at this time the mediation had been suspended. There were parties closely attached to the mediation deeply interested in point of connection with the monopolists, and he was told that until certain conditions were 823 carried into effect by the Government of this country—he believed the restoration of the vessels seized—no further steps would be taken in the mediation. But he would put this in a way so striking as to carry conviction into the minds of every one of their Lordships. Negotiations were carried on for the purpose of putting an end to the monopoly, and the persons by whom that monopoly was carried on, said "give us six months' additional extension of the monopoly, and we shall then be satisfied." That was the expressed wish of the Neapolitan government in the month of January, and the effect of that extension would be to carry it on to the month of June. It was opposed by the British merchants upon being communicated to them, because they said that they could not submit to a single day's extension of it. They said,If you allow an extension to six months, you in substance and effect allow an extension of a year.They said further, what would be the consequence of allowing that extension?—and they declared that it would be, that these persons would fill all the markets of Europe with sulphur at their own prices, to their own great gain, but to the extreme loss of the merchants of this country. He would refer to the petition presented by the merchants to the Board of Trade upon this subject. They there said,If the abolition of the sulphur monopoly contract be deferred for six months—say till the 30th of June—it must of necessity continue until the 31st December.They then went on to state their reasons for this supposition in detail, with which, however, he would not trouble the House, although they were unanswerable, he thought, and afterwards continued,The policy contemplated by the Neapolitan government in asking this six months delay is that of sacrificing the interests of British subjects established in this island, and of those interested in the trade as consumers, to add to the profits of a few French speculators, who, unlike British merchants, are total strangers in the island, who have taken no part in the rise or progress of the sulphur trade, and whose existence in connexion with this branch of the trade of Sicily dates only from the commencement of the monopoly. Other objects, however, contemplated by the monopolists in the required delay is, that they may, in the meantime, occupy the markets free from competition, and thus be enabled to dictate their own conditions as to prices. Granting their request would effect their pur- 824 pose, but at the ruinous cost of the British merchants here, and of the consumers at home; it is a boon which cannot he granted to the Neapolitan government but at an immense sacrifice of the interests of British subjects.What was the boon which would produce such great effects on the merchants of England? The granting of a six months' extension of the monopoly. The British Government had not granted it in form; but in truth they had taken measures by which it had been acceded to. We had now arrived at the month of June; the objects of the monopolists had been secured—they had obtained all the advantages which they desired, and all the ruin and loss had actually fallen, by the policy of our Government, upon the merchants of this country. It was clear, that in this case, our policy had been of the most extraordinary description. We must be laughed at, and ridiculed, and despised by the persons by whom we had been opposed. We were asked to grant a boon, which we refused to do, because it would effect the ruin of England. The boon was not granted in terms, but in effect; and all the consequences which would have resulted from it, were permitted to fall upon the merchants of this country. He asked their Lordships, then, whether this was not the strongest case of misconduct, of mismanagement, of want of address, of want of weight and authority, which could be imputed to a Government? What did Mr. McGregor say in one of his letters to Viscount Palmerston? He said—Although I was convinced of the sincerity of his Majesty, yet the evidence of intrigues and corruption were clear; and the assurance given to Taix by the Minister of the Interior, as lately as three days before, of the King's determination to maintain the monopoly, was so positive, that Taix had written to his partner at Palermo, directing him to make public there: 'Grace à la fermeté du Roi il a gagné une grande victoire sur les Anglais avec Monsieur Macgregor à leur téte.He had already quoted part of a speech of the noble Viscount in the House of Commons in the year 1830, and he would quote another extract from the same address. It was a speech which was a very remarkable and a very eloquent one, and he should cite a passage peculiarly applicable to this subject, together with the poetical lines with which it was concluded. He thought that their Lordships would find it remarkably applicable to the present state of affairs in respect to the sulphur monopoly:— 825Solemn engagements, to which we were parties, have been broken; gross indignity, by the admission of the Ministers themselves, has been offered to our King; Europe has been strewed with victims ruined by their confidence in us; negotiations on all these matters have been undertaken, and have ended in acknowledged nothing; England, or at least its Government, is loaded with the reproaches of Europe; we hear'—On all sides, from innumerable tongues,A dismal universal hiss, the soundOf public scorn.'" *He quoted the whole of this passage as being much more strong and pointed, and much less objectionable than anything which he could urge. He had touched very slightly upon the matter really in question, but a time would come, he had no doubt, when it would deserve to receive a more minute and searching investigation. In conclusion, the noble Lord moved, according to a notice which he had placed upon the paper of the House,That an humble address be presented to her Majesty, praying that she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid upon the table of the House a copy of the treaty negociated with the Sicilian government in 1839 by Mr. M'Gregor, and of the correspondence between Viscount Palmerston and Mr. M'Gregor relating thereto.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, that perhaps their Lordships would recollect that when this subject was before the House upon a former occasion he gave an account of Mr. M'Gregor's proceedings, which the noble Lord called negotiations; and of this document, which he had denominated a treaty; and in these descriptions and expressions consisted a great deal of the fallacy of the argument of the noble Lord. There could be no desire on the part of the Government for concealment; and when the time arrived to which the noble Lord had referred at the end of his speech—the time when it would be proper to go into a more deliberate investigation of the subject—all the documents might be produced; but at the present time he thought that he should find no difficulty in being able to convince the House that these papers were not of such a nature and character as ought to be laid before the House; and moreover, that even if they might hereafter be brought to light, at the present period, and under the existing circumstances of affairs between this and the Neapolitan government, such a step could not with propriety be taken.*Hansard, vol. xxiii (New Series), p. 78.826 He thought, however, that on no account at all ought they to be laid before the House, and unquestionably not at a time when negotiations were pending upon the whole of the matters at issue between the two governments of this country and Sicily. Their Lordships were well aware that for some years, as had been stated, there had been negotiations between this country and Naples on the subject of the commercial treaty of 1816, as to some alterations of the treaty with respect to the duties on our shipping, and with respect to some abatement in the amount of duties payable by merchant vessels of that country trading with Great Britain. In reference to this subject, the Neapolitan government proposed the revision of the whole of the tariff of export and import duties, and that in the new treaty it should be made dependent on the continuance of the amount of duties settled in that tariff. It was with a view to this subject that Mr. M'Gregor was sent out, only to adjust these duties between the two governments, and to settle and reduce the tariff. He had entered into this subject with Prince Cassaro, and some arrangement having been entered into, its particulars were determined upon, and being signed, were sent home. This, however, could not be called a treaty. Mr. M'Gregor had no authority to negociate such a treaty—he had no instructions or information as to the manner in which such an instrument should be negociated; and although the document which he sent home was framed on sound and just principles, and was well calculated to form a basis of treaty, there were many fundamental and decided objections to it, which rendered it impossible that it should be ratified as a treaty in the shape in which it appeared. With regard to the instrument itself, if he recollected rightly, the noble Lord was mistaken in supposing that it provided for the abolition of all monopolies, and he thought that the article was one which would not have affected the sulphur monopoly at all; all it stated was, that British commerce was not in future to be fettered by monopolies. Such a provision entirely abandoned the ground which we had taken, and on which we had stood, and gave up all claim on the part of those who had suffered, from the course taken by the Sicilian government, for compensation, because, if it were a matter to be settled by mere treaty now whether there was to be a sulphur monopoly, there could be no claim for compen- 827 sation. The only thing which it was possible for the Government of this country, with respect to these notes, was to take them into consideration. This they had done with all possible speed, with all possible expedition; and they had framed the draft of a new treaty on those notes, adding what was necessary, expunging what was vicious, retrenching what was superfluous, and this they had sent out to the representative of her Majesty at the court of Naples. That was what they had done, but it would not have been consistent with their duty, it would not have been conducive to the interests of the country, nor was it possible in any way to ratify the notes as they stood. The only light in which the notes could be considered was, that they were proceedings in the course of negotiations, which, he said, as a general Parliamentary principle, it was highly improper to produce in Parliament while the negotiations were pending. With regard to that part of the notes which related to the sulphur monopoly, that question, it was known, and it had been stated by the noble Lord himself, was under negotiation; a part only of the notes of Mr. M'Gregor related to that monopoly, as connected with a general renewal of the treaty of 1816. That negotiation, although suspended for the present, was still a pending negotiation, and so soon as the sulphur matter had been terminated it would be proceeded with. On the general ground, then, of the ordinary custom of Parliament, that it was not wise—that it was not prudent—to produce any correspondence upon matters of negotiation which were still pending, he trusted that their Lordships would not sanction the motion of the noble Lord. The noble and learned Lord had quoted from a speech of his noble Friend, at some former time, a statement that it was the duty of a Government, if it produced any information, to produce full and complete information. He admitted that position, and said, that the information he had furnished was full and complete, so far as it was intended to be, that was to justify the proceedings of the Government with respect to the sulphur monopoly. They had asked redress and had been refused, and he had given all the information till the decided refusal of the Neapolitan government to abolish the monopoly and give any compensation. From the moment of the mediation of France a new consideration arose that it would not be wise to embarrass that me- 828 diation by the production of any papers relating to the other parts of the transaction. He hoped, therefore, that their Lordships would not agree to the present motion, but wait till the time when the noble Lord held out the expectation that the whole of these matters would be terminated, and then the whole might be known without inflicting injury on the public service. The noble Lord, however, had not confined himself very strictly to the immediate subject before them; he had said that there had been too much delay, and the greatest possible neglect of the interests of the merchants, which had been in the highest degree compromised and injured. If their Lordships would look at the course of the negotiations they would find that the delay had been principally owing to the conduct of the Neapolitan government, which had more than once promised to put an end to the monopoly; and surely it would have been hardly prudent and wise if the Government of Great Britain had at once adopted what the learned Lord called more decisive, but which he said would he more violent measures. The learned Lord talked of a suspension of the mediation of France. He knew of no such suspension of the mediation—he knew of no intermission—he believed that the mediation was still going on. True it was, that France was desirous of learning the amount of the claims of the British merchants for indemnity, and the grounds on which those claims were founded. That amount was not readily to be procured, but on any other point there was no reason for saying that there was any suspension of the mediation. He trusted that there would be no delay in completing it, but while it was going on no inconsiderable inconvenience might arise, there might even be serious detriment from any discussion. He would, therefore, abstain from entering upon many of the matters into which the noble Lord had gone, because it would necessarily lead to a vindication of the conduct of our Government, and to comments upon the conduct of the Neapolitan government. Every one must feel, therefore, that it would he better to abstain from making any remark; but, on the ground of Parliamentary precedent, he hoped that their Lordships would not compel the production of these papers.
§ Lord Lyndhurst.
What was the paper which the noble Lord promised to produce? Was it the imperfect treaty—viz., the notes of Mr. M'Gregor, or the treaty drawn up at home, founded upon that imperfect treaty?
§ Viscount Melbourne
had answered hastily; he did mean the notes of Mr. M'Gregor; but he had afterwards altered his opinion of the propriety of producing them, and he had taken an early opportunity of stating his determination.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
. Then if a treaty had been prepared consistently with the notes of Mr. M'Gregor, and negotiations were still pending as to that proposed treaty, of course he was not in a position to press his motion.
§ Motion withdrawn.