HL Deb 14 December 1847 vol 95 cc1052-62

said: I rise, pursuant to the notice which I have given, for the purpose of calling your Lordships' attention to the continued absence from this country of the Lord Privy Seal; and I acknowledge that I have no intention of concluding with any Motion, unless the rules of order observed in this House should render it necessary for me to submit to your consideration some distinct proposition or other. In the first place, my Lords, I have to observe, that the mere absence from England of any person holding so high a situation as that now occupied by the Earl of Minto, is of itself a sufficient ground for the observations which I am about to make. But it cannot have es- caped the notice of every one who hears me, that that necessity is very much increased by the existing condition of this country. The absence of Lord Minto would, I think, call for animadversion, even if the state of the United Kingdom had not been such as to have rendered it necessary to call Parliament together at an unusual season of the year. In the opinion of most men, that occurrence alone would have entitled us to expect that every Member of Parliament would have endeavoured to be at his post during the present Session, and most especially that a Cabinet Minister would have been at hand to give the benefit of his assistance and support. Although under ordinary circumstances the office of Lord Privy Seal is not an onerous office; although the duties appertaining to it are neither numerous nor distressing; although no very great public inconvenience is likely to result from the fact that the noble Earl who holds it does happen, when things are proceeding in their usual course, not to be at home; yet still the office is one of no inconsiderable importance; it is one of high authority, and one, I should say, demanding pretty constant attention—attention which, even under present circumstances, is probably given by some person, though I am not aware that the Government have for that purpose made any arrangement whatever—I do not know that any provision of any kind has been made for discharging the duties of Lord Privy Seal during the absence of Lord Minto. Doubtless some steps have been taken on the subject; and I trust the noble Marquess opposite may be able to inform us what they have been, for I can scarcely suppose that any of your Lordships unconnected with the Government possess any knowledge of any description relating to the matter. I am perfectly ready to admit that, upon an occasion of this kind, I should have been much less anxious regarding the matter under consideration, if it were limited merely to the absence of Lord Minto; but I feel a specific anxiety, not so much about his absence from this country, as about his presence in Italy. Your Lordships are, of course, quite aware, that there exist a general expectation and belief that the Government intend to establish diplomatic relations between the Crown of England and the See of Rome; and the persuasion also that the mission of Lord Minto to Italy is intimately connected with that intention. Now, I request it to be understood that I express no opinion as to the difficulties which, in point of law, ought to be removed, for the purpose of enabling the Government to establish diplomatic relations between this country and the temporal Sovereign of the Roman States. I repeat, that I express no opinion; but I say this, that I see Parliament assembled, and I find it reported that a noble Lord who has a seat in the other House, and who is entrusted by Her Majesty with the conduct of Foreign Affairs, has stated that the Earl of Minto has not been entrusted with any diplomatic mission to the Court of Rome. What I understand that answer to mean is this, that Lord Minto has not been sent to the Court of Rome as the accredited Minister of England, and that he has not been invested with any diplomatic functions. The belief in this country is—no matter whether the report be true or false—the belief here is, that though Lord Minto may not be engaged in any direct negotiation, yet that one portion of his business in Rome is to ascertain what the feeling of that Court is with respect to the contemplated establishment of diplomatic relations between the Crown of England and the Pope. Although the opinion which I have stated is the prevailing sentiment in England, on the Continent I believe that a very different opinion is generally entertained. I think, looking at the circumstances of the case, I may assume that Lord Minto is not a casual traveller in Italy—that he is not going about the Continent merely for his own amusement. I will not suppose that he is absent on account of pleasure; for that would be to suppose that he is culpably neglecting his duty. It is impossible to doubt that he is at the present moment, in some capacity or other, the representative of the British Government. Now, I ask of that Government—that which Parliament has a right to ask—if a necessary office of high rank is to be allowed for months to continue vacant? If we find that the nominal holder of that office, who does not discharge its duties, be absent from this country at a time like the present, Parliament has a right to ask what are the missions with which he is entrusted, and what are the functions which he is supposed to perform? It appears to me that the aspect of affairs in Italy is at present peculiarly important; and I think it would be satisfactory if we had some statement of the views and intentions with which the Government has sent Lord Minto out. I am not very particularly acquainted with the existing condition of Italy; I am not prepared to go into any minute details respecting the state of affairs in the north of Italy; but this I believe is pretty generally understood, that, under the auspices of the Sovereign Pontiff and of other important personages in that country a state of extreme disquiet and of extraordinary political movement now prevails; that the consequences of this are exaggerated hopes in some quarters, and exaggerated apprehensions in others. The whole country is therefore considered to be in a state of ferment. It is natural, therefore, that in England we should feel strongly anxious. We all know that under the guidance of the present Pontiff various schemes of political change are afloat, to which some persons in that country give their assent more or less reluctantly—more or less willingly. What may be the objects or ultimate intentions of those parties, it is not for me to say. If the object of these changes be directed to what is called the independence of Italy; and if all the facts could be brought fully under our view, we might be enabled to form some judgment—so far as they have taken place, and so far as they are confined to alterations in the internal administration of affairs in that country—whether by an increase of the sovereign or the popular authority, so far as that movement goes, it seems to me to assume a purely internal aspect, which condition wholly and in every possible respect removes it out of that class of political events with which this country can in the slightest degree interfere. But it is also supposed that for various purposes a general federal union is contemplated amongst the different States of the north of Italy for purposes partly political, partly commercial. If any such project exist as that, or if there be any project afloat which could in any degree affect our commercial interests, there can be no doubt whatever that such a project ought to be most attentively watched by the Government of England—it is their duty; but that that duty is justly performed by such a mission as that of Lord Minto, I utterly deny. If there be a confederation going forward with ulterior political views, that also may demand the serious and anxious attention of the Government; but I should think that the last course which a British Ministry ought to pursue would be to give to such projects any support or encouragement whatever. We hear of the "independence" of Italy—if that means that no foreign Power at present removed by geographical situation from the confines of Italy should or ought to have any concern in the affairs of that country—I say that that is a principle which ought to be steadily resisted. As far as I know, Lord Minto has not been sent out as an accredited Minister to the Pope, or to any Sovereign Prince in any part of Italy; yet being the representative of the British Government he may compromise this country by his acts, by his words, by his general conduct. I think, therefore, we have a right to inquire what are his functions and what are his instructions. The public journals have supplied me with all the information which on this subject I possess; and I learn from them that upon more than one occasion, and, more especially, that during a procession at Rome, at which great numbers were assembled with flags and banners emblematical of the independence of Italy, the British Minister being called upon by the people who stopped in front of his hotel, did appear in answer to their cries; that he was by them called on on and recognised, not as Lord Minto in his private or personal capacity, but as the re-representative of the British Government; that he did present himself at the balcony; that he took off his hat and waved it, shouting vivas for the "independence of Italy." I trust the noble Marquess will be able to state that there is no foundation for this report. If Lord Minto had been a private person travelling for his own amusement, even then such a course of proceeding in any British subject would have been an imprudent and impertinent intermeddling. But in this case it was quite different; he was ostensibly and avowedly the agent of the British Government, and the proceeding was taken as conveying the sentiments and opinions entertained by his Colleagues, by the Government, and by England. For a man in his circumstances to take any part whatever in the movement that was going on, but above all, to lend the sanction of his name, and still more the sanction of his Government, to a cry for the "independence of Italy," appears to me a matter requiring, on the part of the Government, an unequivocal denial; or, if denial is impossible, I hope we shall hear from the noble Marquess that the proceeding was inconsistent with the instructions that have been given to Lord Minto, and the views Her Majesty's Government entertain of the duty of a person placed in the situation in which Lord Minto now stands. The questions I wish to put to the noble Marquess are these: in the first instance, if any and what provisions have been made for the discharge of the duties of the Lord Privy Seal during the absence of Lord Minto? next, on the assumption that Lord Minto is in Italy upon a mission from the Government, charged with some important instructions to carry out its views, we ought to be distinctly informed what is the object towards which his instructions point; whether he is accredited—not to the Pontiff, for that would be contrary to the law, and has been denied—but to any of the States of Italy, and what are the precise functions and limits to the authority assigned by the Government Lord Minto? I wish to ask further, Whether the Government is prepared to state, on the part of England, that it has no desire to interfere—I do not mean actively or by force—but by its influence and its emissaries or agents, in the slightest degree, with the internal affairs of Italy, and that form of government which each particular State has thought fit to adopt?


I shall be very glad to give to the noble Lord the explanations he has asked for relative to the important subject respecting which he has put some questions, and added some observations. The noble Lord appears anxious to know, in the first place, upon what grounds the noble Earl, occupying the high situation of Lord Privy Seal in the Administration, is absent from this country, and has not attended in his place in Parliament during the present short Session. I might refer the noble Lord, before I answer the question, to other times and other circumstances, in which Cabinet Ministers, holding high official situations, have been sent abroad upon temporary missions, which have been attended with advantageous results. I think, however, the noble Lord must be sufficiently aware of the nature of the duties of the Lord Privy Seal to know that, although undoubtedly it is a high office, yet, in the ordinary and practical administration of affairs, it is not attended with any species of difficulty, requiring the constant presence of the individual nominally entrusted with its duties. Ten or twelve years ago, at the time the noble Lord was connected with the Government, a searching inquiry took place into offices which had no duties annexed to them, and which might, therefore, be dispensed with; many such offices were absolutely abolished, but the office of Lord Privy Seal was retained upon grounds and considerations entirely alien to its necessity, for the discharge of the particular duties nominally attached to it. It is, undoubtedly, of great importance to have a high officer in the Cabinet unencumbered with duties which occupy the time of the rest of its members. Under these circumstances, if it became important to send a high officer abroad, upon any important mission, no choice for the purpose could be so natural as that of the Lord Privy Seal. This choice, as your Lordships well know, was made at a time when no immediate expectation was entertained of the assembling of Parliament at so early a period. But, my Lords, the objection, if it be an objection, implied by the noble Lord in his questions, does not extend merely to the individual selected, or to the office held by him, but to the nature of the mission which he was selected to fulfil. Why, my Lords, it was the very nature of that mission which made it peculiarly desirable that the noble Lord, entirely possessing the confidence of his Colleagues, and perfectly acquainted with all the recent transactions in Europe, should have been selected for the purpose. And I have no hesitation in saying, after what I have heard the noble Lord state to-night with regard to the affairs of Italy, that in my view the importance of the transactions taking place in that country—leading, as they must, to consequences of the greatest importance, to consequences highly advantageous in themselves and conducive to the prosperity of each Italian State, but possibly also to consequences of an unfortunate nature, such as must involve the relations of Italy with other countries—required some degree of interposition. The circumstance of an agitation and a movement prevailing in that country which could not be condemned, because its professed object in each individual State was to carry into effect reforms and alterations which had not only long been desired in Italy itself, but which had frequently been urged upon the Italian States by some of the great and friendly Powers, as necessary to the welfare of the people, and as tending to preserve the peace of Europe, perhaps required that advice should be offered; but when, after those reforms had long been resisted and avoided, a moment had arrived when a simultaneous spirit of reform—temperate it might be, happily, but liable from its character to become intemperate—had manifested itself in every part of the country, there could not have been a time when it was more important that the friendly advice of England should be given; not an interference directed to any particular object, but that general interference which was calculated to encourage at once both the Governments and the population of Italy in the course in which they are engaged. So far as that course is limited to one object, namely, the internal improvement of each individual State, there cannot be a state of things in which it is more material that England should be represented in Italy, and in which the state of Italy should be made known to England, through the medium of a person of the highest authority, from the situation he held, as well as of the highest capacity to obtain information which was so desirable. I have therefore, my Lords, no hesitation in telling the noble Lord, if he is still ignorant upon that subject, that the Earl of Minto was not a mere traveller in Italy during the past month, but that the noble Earl left this country accredited to all the States of Italy with the exception of one, to which, undoubtedly, by the law of this country, as that law is understood, he could not be legally accredited. The Earl of Minto, my Lords, was instructed to proceed to Italy, to communicate with each State respectively to which he was accredited, and to offer to them the most friendly advice—to confine that advice to objects connected with the internal improvement of each State, and further to advise a course of prudence which should prevent circumstances advantageous in themselves to those States individually, and to Italy at large, from exciting the apprehensions of other Powers. I hope I have answered this question distinctly. I think the noble Lord will understand that not only the Earl of Minto, but Her Majesty's Government, are deeply sensible of the importance of preserving treaties with other Powers inviolate. Being sensible of the importance of that object, they are most anxious to avert any collision between the States of Italy at this moment, arising out of the excitement now prevailing there, which excitement might possibly be liable in its success to occasion those collisions abroad which the noble Lord deprecates, and which I deprecate as much as he. Under these circumstances, the Earl of Minto has communicated with the Italian Sovereigns; and I am justified in. stating that those Sovereigns have expressed the most cordial satisfaction—amounting almost to gratitude —at having had the opportunity of hearing from so authentic a source the advice of England, and of making their sentiments known to England. I am persuaded that the presence of the Earl of Minto in Italy has tended to prevent any disposition to excess which may have existed in that country, and, above all, to maintain that which it is so desirable to observe—a good understanding and a concurrent affection between the different Governments and the people whom they govern, directed to one common object, to which it is most essential their views should be limited, and not be led to those which would have been attended with danger at home and difficulty abroad. The noble Lord has adverted to Lord Minto's residence at Rome. On this subject I will say, that although Lord Minto could not be accredited to the Court of Rome, owing to the law to which I have alluded, it would have been a great omission if, being in Italy, and the circumstances occurring which did occur at Rome to connect the State of Rome with the condition of other States to which the noble Lord was accredited, he had not made himself acquainted with the temporal Sovereign of Rome. Undoubtedly the noble Earl has resided at Rome; and I can state to your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government have derived the most useful information from his presence there—information which they could not have obtained through any other source. But the noble Lord goes further, and asks me whether I think it desirable that a communication with the Court of Rome should be established consistently with the law. The noble Lord has his own opinion upon that subject. [Lord STANLEY: The noble Marquess is in error. I did not ask him that question.] I beg the noble Lord's pardon. The noble Lord did incidentally observe that he was not about to give an opinion upon that point; but he did say it was desirable that I should state whether in my opinion it would or would not be advantageous. The noble Lord introduced it into his speech for the purpose of avoiding an opinion. I introduce it now for the purpose of giving an opinion. I think it most desirable that this country should be represented at the Court of Rome. In my opinion it is monstrous that, while this country is represented at, and has the means of procuring the best information through the most authentic channels from, every Court and Government in Europe, in America, and in Asia—in all climes and in all quar- ters—there is a Court in the very centre of Europe where we have no means of procuring information, where we have no means either of communicating information or giving advice. There is not a Court in the world, I believe, in which it would be more useful to the British Government to be enabled to explain the nature of its own transactions, and to lay open to it the peculiar sort of influence it possesses. That cannot now be done by law; I admit it cannot be done. I think it but fair, however, to be frank, as the noble Lord called upon me to state directly what I think we ought to do. Having said so much, my Lords, there remains but one point in what the noble Lord has said, on which I feel myself called upon to remark. The noble Lord has referred to a statement which has appeared in the newspapers, to the effect that Lord Minto has expressed some sentiment on some occasion denoting sympathy with some popular feeling. I do not know what the circumstances were; I have received no authentic account of them, and I really cannot give any answer. But I am sure that on any occasion, if any such sympathy has been expressed by Lord Minto, it could only have referred to the internal proceedings of that individual State, and not in any way to the establishment of a new system of government of the whole of Italy. From its very nature the report cannot be contradicted. I presume Lord Minto was present on some public occasion when cries of different kinds were uttered. I do not know with what qualification the noble Lord did or did not sympathise with those cries; but of this I am sure, if any authentic statement of the fact can be procured, that any intimation of opinion given by Lord Minto was founded on a desire to promote, by friendly and conciliatory means, the improvement of each State of Italy; and above all, to cement the alliance between the Government and the people, by showing them the importance of acting with due consideration towards each other, in order to prevent any interference from without which might endanger existing treaties, the maintenance of which the great Powers have guaranteed. I hope I have answered distinctly all the questions put by the noble Lord. [Earl GREY here made a communication to the noble Marquess.] I am reminded by my noble Friend that I have omitted one question; the noble Lord appears to feel some apprehensions as to the mode in which the du- ties of the Lord Privy Seal have been discharged during his absence; I may state that in virtue of a commission the noble Lord left in England, all those duties have been discharged in his absence without detriment to the public service.


did not wish to continue the discussion, but he could not avoid expressing his gratification at the manly assertion of the opinion of the Government by the noble Marquess. Were the law altered he had no doubt that many things brought before their Lordships as subjects of complaint would be no more heard of.