HL Deb 24 March 1840 vol 53 cc1-5
The Earl of Aberdeen

begged to remind the noble Viscount opposite, that he had given notice that he should on this day put a question to him relative to the treaty of commerce and navigation which had some time ago been concluded between this country and Austria. The House could hardly have forgotten the extraordinary advantages which they had been assured must arise to this country from a treaty in all respects so beneficial; they could hardly have forgotten the credit which noble Lords opposite took to themselves for having been able to bring about the accomplishment of this treaty; neither could they fail to remember the warm congratulations with which its announcement to the House Was accompanied. According to the accounts of her Majesty's Ministers, a new era was from that moment to commence in our commercial relations. It would probably be in the recollection of some of their Lordships that he had then taken occasion to explain that the treaty in question was no new treaty; that it was only the renewal of one which he had himself signed, in conjunction with his noble Friend the then President of the Board of Trade, more than ten years ago. He admitted that in the treaty for which Ministers took so much credit, the principle of reciprocity had been extended, and beneficially extended. By the 4th article of the new treaty it was agreed that all Austrian vessels coming to England from Turkish ports in the Danube should be received as Austrian ships would be received coming from ports in the Austrian dominions, and that British ships should in return be received in Turkish ports on the Danube as if they were Austrian ships. That England and Austria should in any treaty agree mutually to bind themselves was that which they had a perfect right to do, and that likewise which could occasion no surprise in the mind of any man; but it did appear to him most strange that two powers should mutually agree with each other to bind a third as to the terms upon which the ships of one of the contracting parties should enter or depart from the ports of the third without the consent or even the knowledge of that power. This was a subject which he mentioned in the course of the last Session of Parliament, when he was told that all difficulties with respect to Turkey had been obviated. He had been told on that occasion, that negotiations were in progress by which any difficulty of that nature would be completely removed; but lie feared that no such means had been adopted. It was the bounden duty of Her Majesty's Government to see that we were in a condition to fulfil our part of the treaty; we ought to be in a state to receive Austrian vessels coming from Turkish ports as if they were British ships, and it was well known that in our present position we could not do that without an infraction of the navigation laws: it was clear, then, that the advantages of the treaty could not be enjoyed in their fullest extent without a relaxation of the navigation laws. Matters were now in such a state as to lead to a manifest violation of the treaty. In the month of September an Austrian vessel, called the Vallacco, arrived in the port of Gloucester from a Turkish port in the Danube. She was seized on the ground of a violation of the navigation laws. The Treasury, however, relieved her from the penalty of confiscation, imposing, instead of it, a mitigated fine. The matter now stood thus:—There were several vessels laden with corn in those ports of Turkey within the Danube, and they were unable to sail, not knowing how they would be dealt with, or to what penalties they might expose themselves. He was at a loss to discover for what purpose we had entered into engagements which we were unable or unwilling to fulfil. He knew not how the noble Lord could have thought of entering into such engagements, but having done so, he was bound to perform his own part of the contract, and obtain the means of executing that treaty which her Majesty had ratified. Having now put the House in possession of these facts, he wished the noble Viscount to say whether the statements were correct or otherwise—whether the vessel to which he referred had been seized, and then liberated, and then subjected to a fine; and, supposing the facts to be as stated, whether it was his intention to take measures, and of what nature, to rescue the honour and character for good faith of this country from the imputation of not fulfilling her engagements.

Viscount Melbourne

said, that the noble Earl who had just addressed the House appeared to be extremely susceptible on the subject of this treaty. He could assure the noble Earl that he (Viscount Melbourne) and his Friends had no wish to deck themselves out in plumes which properly belonged to others. He was perfectly willing to allow all the merit of this treaty to those who were justly entitled to it. He admitted that an agreement had been made by which English vessels were to be received in Turkish ports upon the terms mentioned; but he must observe, that this was an article which had been pressed by the Austrian plenipotentiary. It was true that we had not the power to guarantee such an arrangement, but its non-fulfilment imposed no obligation upon England. Austria wished for freedom of trade on the Danube, and stipulated with Turkey that that freedom should be conceded to us. By the first article there was an express stipulation that all the privileges enjoyed by other nations in trading with Turkey should be conceded to Great Britain. So far as navigation was concerned, that might be done; but not so as regarded duties. He had to inform the House, that it was intended to enter into negotiations with Turkey for the purpose of accomplishing that object, and he had no doubt that it would be accomplished with very little, if any, difficulty. With respect to the fourth article, it certainly was in contravention of the navigation laws that Austrian ships not bearing Austrian produce should come from Turkish ports, and be received in the ports of this country as other Austrian vessels were. To preserve lour faith with Austria, a nominal fine had been imposed upon the vessel to which the noble Earl referred; but he hoped that it would be unnecessary again to have re- course to such an expedient, for it was intended to propose to Parliament a measure legalizing the treaty. He might be asked why such a measure had not been introduced in the last Session of Parliament. To that he should reply that his right hon. Friend who then filled the office of President of the Board of Trade was now at a great distance, and he had not the means of learning from him what were the motives which induced him not to propose such a measure, but he conjectured them to be, that as negotiations were on foot with Turkey relative to that matter, he did not think it worth while to apply to Parliament twice upon the same subject. His own opinion was, that the adoption of such provisions ought no longer to be delayed. He thought that the proceedings which had recently taken place, ought, if possible, to be avoided; for the imposition of a fine in such a case was a mere evasion of the law, and he had no doubt that an application ought to be made to Parliament on the subject.

The Earl of Aberdeen

said, that this affair had been slovenly in its commencement and in its progress. The original article was imperfect, and we had no security that Austria would adhere to the terms of the agreement; yet that very article was considered the grand improvement which had been effected in the treaty. He admitted, however, that there was some merit in that portion of the arrangement, and he should be the last man living to detract from the merits of his noble Friend who now represented this country at the court of Vienna. He had long since been aware of his noble Friend's great talents, and if those talents were less conspicuous, he should perhaps have thought it necessary to say much more than he had done; but it was ridiculous to suppose, that the alteration in the treaty which had been effected was entitled to so much praise as was bestowed upon it. He hoped it would be distinctly understood that nothing was further from his mind than any intention to detract from the acknowledged merits of his noble Friend.

Lord Ashburton

said, it was clear, that if they permitted Austrian vessels to trade as if they were British, they should extend the same favour to vessels of other countries. He thought that the treaty now the subject of discussion would very much disturb the existing navigation laws.

Discussion at an end.

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