§ LORD BEAUMONT
wished to ask his noble Friend the President of the Council 922 (Marquess of Lansdowne) when the long-promised papers on Sicilian affairs would be presented? In putting this question, his noble Friend would excuse him if he also took the opportunity of asking another. He had recently received information, not only direct from Palermo, but also through Reggio and Naples, that the same scenes of disorder and violence which there was so much reason to deplore at Messina, had been repeated at Catania. He had seen accounts, which stated that the line of march of the Neapolitan army was marked by burning villages; that the road was covered with the bodies of murdered men and women; and that after the taking of Catania, that city was delivered up to the soldiers for a whole day to be pillaged, sacked, and burned. He was anxious to ask this question, because he had heard a rumour that the property of the English and French residents was respected, though situated in the middle of Catania, from which he should draw the conclusion that the commander of the Neapolitan forces connived at the conduct of his soldiers. He repeated, therefore, his anxiety to know whether the noble Marquess had received any information, on which the Government could rely, respecting the truth of these statements?
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
replied that, with respect to the first question put by his noble Friend, he knew of no other bar to the production of the papers relating to the affairs of Sicily, than the difficulty of arranging so vast a mass of documents. He could assure his noble Friend and their Lordships that they would be produced as speedily as possible. With respect to the second question, he was extremely sorry to be obliged to say that he had seen not only private letters, but also a regular despatch, inclosing one from Her Majesty's Consul at Catania, confirming the statement made by his noble Friend, that that city had been delivered up to pillage. He did not know whether his noble Friend wished that despatch to be produced; but if so, perhaps he would move for it.
said, he begged to remind the noble Marquess that he had given to him ten days ago the same answer he had just given to the noble Lord opposite. He did not think the answer of the noble Marquess a satisfactory one, inasmuch as that there was a large mass of papers must have been long known, and 923 therefore during the whole of those events the papers might have been in course of preparation for being laid before the House at the earliest possible period consistent with the convenience of the public service. Her Majesty's Ministers might gain considerable advantage in not only concealing any knowledge of events during their progress—an act of which he did not complain—but also in concealing all knowledge of them, even after the events had terminated, until so distant a period, that the public interest in them had subsided, or almost completely ceased. He thought that the papers in question ought to have been produced long ago, and he considered that the answer of the noble Marquess was anything but satisfactory. With respect to the atrocities which it was alleged had recently been committed in Sicily, he should observe, that he had no doubt but that lamentable scenes took place in all wars, and more especially, he was afraid, in all civil wars. When he heard it said that the allegations upon that subject were confirmed by a despatch from one of Her Majesty's Consuls, he could not help recollecting that nothing could be more vague, or less worthy of reliance, than the rumours on which one of Her Majesty's Consuls had advanced statements with respect to former atrocities in the town of Messina. He hoped the noble Marquess would not give them a second set of "atrocity papers" after the experience they had had of the first batch. But he trusted that the papers which had been already moved for, would be laid before Parliament at the earliest possible period in so complete a form as to enable them to form an accurate opinion upon the subject.
§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
said, the noble Marquess would perhaps allow him to remind him that just before the late war, in answer to a question put by him, he had stated that he was uncertain whether the papers connected with the war in the north of Italy could be produced before the adjournment of the House. On further inquiry, however, the noble Marquess had found that they could not; but he had promised that they should be produced as speedily as possible. He (the Earl of Aberdeen) had certainly expected that they would have been submitted to the House immediately after the holidays; but as he had been disappointed in that expectation, he wished to know whether those papers also would be speedily produced, or 924 whether there would be any further delay in bringing them forward.
§ LORD EDDISBURY
said, that the delay which had arisen in the production of the papers referred to by the noble Earl, was in a great measure owing to the extreme pressure of public business for some time past in the Foreign Office. Those papers would be produced on an early day, and with as little delay as possible.
§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
said, he had never heard anything more unsatisfactory than the answer of the noble Lord. The noble Marquess had informed him before the recess that those papers were so nearly fit to be produced that he was in doubt if they could not he submitted to the House before the adjournment for the holidays; and it had only been on subsequent inquiry that he had ascertained they could not. The transactions to which they related had been concluded long before the termination of the affairs of Sicily. A promise had been given in the Queen's Speech, at the opening of the Session, that those papers should be laid before Parliament; and he certainly could see no reason why they had not yet been forthcoming. He could understand, however, that much time and great management would be required in the arrangement of those papers; and his experience had led him to believe that such management might be thought necessary. But he said, that there was no valid reason whatever for not having produced long ago the papers relating to the war in the north of Italy.
§ LORD EDDISBURY
denied that there had been any manufacture of papers, and said, that the only arrangement required was, that they should be properly laid before Parliament. The noble Earl must be aware, from his own experience, that it would be highly unwise and inexpedient to publish a mass of diplomatic papers without a careful consideration on the part of the head of the Foreign Office.
said that, although the length of the delay in bringing forward those papers might give rise to suspicion, he had no doubt but that when produced they would be found perfectly genuine, and that they would be laid before the House as soon as possible. He had, however, seen so many evils arise from the premature publication of diplomatic papers, that he did not wish to press for their production. He had seen, as the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen) had seen, instances 925 of papers having been shovelled on the tables of the two Houses of Parliament which ought never to have been produced at all; and sometimes very injurious consequences had followed the adoption of such a course. With respect to the statement of his noble Friend opposite (Lord Beaumont) that the gallant officers commanding the Neapolitan soldiers were suspected of having connived at the atrocities which it was said those soldiers had committed, he should observe that that was a very hard charge to bring against those gallant officers; and for his part he could not help protesting against it. He should also remind his noble Friend that after a town was taken by storm, no officer could prevent the occurrence of outrages in the midst of the exultation and the unnatural state of fever to which the spirits of troops then rose after the great personal dangers to which they had been exposed. He was bound in charity to believe that nothing-had recently taken place in Sicily beyond what usually took place in the storming of a town, and especially in the case of a civil war, for it was uniformly found that the atrocities committed during such a war wore greater than those committed during any other species of contest.
The EARL of MINTO
said, that with respect to the charge of the noble Lord opposite, that the account of the British Consul of what had occurred at Messina was made up of loose statements, he begged to state that he happened to have seen an officer who was present at the time, and who had been called upon by the British Consul, who stated to him that he was about to make a report of what had occurred, and this officer stated to him that he ought to be careful above all things to take nothing upon report or upon loose evidence, and state nothing in support of which he had not distinct and positive evidence from sources worthy of credit. This officer stated further, that he had gone over every one of the cases with Mr. Barker, the Consul, and had satisfied himself of the entire accuracy of every particular alluded to. He thought that the noble Lord might at least have given a public officer credit for a little discretion and fairness in his statement. With respect to what had recently occurred on the coast of Sicily, he had to state that he had received communications from the admiral and other officers on that coast speaking of the horrors of the scenes in Catania, and describing them as a repetition of those which had before taken 926 place in Messina. They also declared that the whole march of the Neapolitan army had been marked by fire and sword, and by the assassination of women and children. He believed that his noble Friend (Lord Beaumont) had in no way exaggerated the horrors which had accompanied the plunder and destruction of Catania—one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It appeared that while that city had been given over to fire and pillage, the houses of the English and Maltese residents—and he did not know but the same thing had also happened with respect to the houses of the French residents—had been respected. Now it would be difficult to suppose that if the soldiers had been under no regular direction, they should have spared the houses of the English residents, who were no favourites with them. After the pillage and plundering had proceeded for some time, a remonstrance was made to General Filangieri, the Neapolitan general, by the officer in command of one of Her Majesty's ships, representing the horrid scenes which had taken place, and requesting him to endeavour to put a stop to them. Whether, on account of that remonstrance or not, he could not say, but certainly after that remonstrance had been presented, steps were taken to put an end to that state of things.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
said that he would not move for the production of that particular paper, because, if laid upon the table, it would perhaps produce no more effect upon the noble Lord opposite, than the one before their Lordships with respect to what had occurred at Messina, the events which took place having been described by the noble Lord as the usual events of war. When he had heard that the property of English and Maltese subjects were alone respected, be certainly thought it but fair to suppose that the army had acted under positive and direct orders throughout the entire transaction. His Lordship then moved for a series of papers connected with the transactions of this country with Naples and Sicily, commencing with the year 1814, and continuing down to the present time. His object in moving for the production of these papers was in order to enable their Lordships distinctly to see whether or not this country had not violated some of its most solemn engagements with respect to those countries. If it appeared to him, upon the face of those papers, that they had abandoned the solemn engagements entered into by this 927 country, either at a remote period or recently, nothing would deter him from bringing a Motion before their Lordships, in order that they might express their opinion of the Government which had thus sacrificed the national honour by not fulfilling the national engagements.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
said that the whole of the papers moved for by the noble Lord had either been already printed or were in course of preparation for printing.
§ Motion agreed to.