I rise, my Lords, to put to Her Majesty's Government the question of which I gave notice yesterday, 236 respecting the report that Her Majesty's Government had allowed the contractor for supplying arms to withdraw such arms from the Government stores, for the purpose of supplying them to the insurgents in Sicily; and, in doing so, I can assure both them and your Lordships that it is far from my wish, cither myself to enter upon, or to load the House into a general discussion upon the affairs of Sicily during the last twelve months. And I do not want your Lordships to pass any opinion even upon the partial transaction to which I wish to call attention at present. I wish merely to ask Her Majesty's Government for information as to a transaction which, if the reports which have reached me be true, seems to me, to say the least of it, one of very questionable character. This, my Lords, is the position of the matter, if I am rightly informed on the subject, arising out of our intervention in. the affairs of Sicily. When, of two contending Powers, one was a friendly Sovereign, and the other some of his subjects who had revolted from him, the position that we should maintain should be one of strict and inviolate neutrality; and such was the case in Sicily. An armistice had been enforced upon those two contending parties—upon the King of Sicily upon the one hand, and upon the Provisional Government appointed by his revolted subjects upon the other; and Her Majesty's Government, whilst they enforced this suspension of arms, professed their determination to maintain an absolute and inviolate neutrality. Now, my Lords, an armistice so imposed, an armistice of indefinite duration, was in my opinion itself a violation of this professed impartiality; for it was in fact peculiarly well adapted to the views of the insurgents; and the longer it was enforced the greater would be the assistance it would afford them, because they had thereby the more time to provide themselves with arms, ammunition, and warlike stores, and the better opportunity of paying for them by means of forced contributions exacted from the wealthy proprietors in Sicily, who adhered with unflinching-loyalty to their Sovereign. To make the matter perfectly clear, I will state to your Lordships the exact nature of the report on which I found my question. I have been told that a contractor in this country had engaged to supply a quantity of arms to the Sicilian insurgents, to be used for the purposes of civil war against their King, our ally—that this contractor had 237 also entered into engagements to supply Her Majesty's Government with a quantity of arms for the use of the military force—that he had supplied a certain amount of arms which were deposited in Her Majesty's stores, placed there in fulfilment of this contract with the British Government. I have been told further, that as the period for the fulfilment of his contract with the Sicilians approached, he found he was incapacitated from supplying the contract with the insurgent Government, except through the intervention and with the assistance of Her Majesty's Government, and that in consequence he made an application to the Board of Ordnance for permission to withdraw from the Queen's stores a certain amount of these arms, placed there for the Queen's service, that he might supply these arms to parties who were at the time engaged in open hostilities—though it was at the time of an armistice—against a Sovereign in alliance with Her Majesty. I have been further informed that, on receipt of this application, the Board of Ordnance naturally demurred to comply, except on the authority of the Executive Government—that application was accordingly made by the contractor to Her Majesty's Secretary for Foreign Affairs—and that Her Majesty's Secretary for Foreign Affairs, with a full knowledge of the purpose to which those arms were to be applied, did consent that these arms should be withdrawn from the Government stores, where they were deposited, that they should be restored to the hands of the contractor, and through the medium of the contractor were furnished to the insurgent Government of Sicily. I believe that the facts of the case will be found to be not inconsistent with what I have stated, and I ask the question rather as a matter of form, though I shall be exceedingly glad if I have been mistaken in the substance; but I state these facts with the more confidence, because, if I am not misinformed, a similar question was put a few days ago to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Foreign Department, when his answer confirmed the statement I have now made. I do not know whether any guarantee, security, promise, or expectation of any kind has been held out by the British Government to bear a portion of the expense of these arms; but whether that be so or not—if the facts be as I have stated—though I ask none of your Lordships for an expression of your opinion—but if the facts be 238 so, then I say that it appears to me that the facilities afforded by Her Majesty's Government, by permitting the withdrawal of arms furnished for Her Majesty's service from the public stores, to enable the contractor to fulfil his contract with the Sicilian insurgents—that this is, to say the least of it, a proceeding of a very questionable character, and is, in my judgment, inconsistent with a strict and impartial neutrality. I now wish to hear from Her Majesty's Government, whether the facts be as I have stated, as I believe them so to be, though I shall rejoice if I am mistaken; but I ask now for information, and I shall reserve the expression of my opinion to that period, which cannot now be far distant, when, on receipt of the answer of the King of the Two Sicilies to the ultimatum which, it is understood, has been sent him from this country, the negotiations on the general question must be drawing to a close, and no further impediments can exist towards laying before your Lordships all the materials for a full and fair discussion of this question.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
said: I shall follow the example of the noble Lord in reserving the expression of my opinion upon these proceedings until we have an opportunity for a discussion of the whole question. Unquestionably there is a foundation for the question which the noble Lord has asked; and I conceive that I shall act rightly in stating accurately, for the information of the House, what actually took place. It certainly is the case that a contractor, who was habitually the contractor for arms to Her Majesty's Government, did, in the autumn of last year—I believe previous to the negotiation of the armistice, though I do not know that to be the fact—make an application to the Board of Ordnance to be allowed to take back certain guns which he had made for Her Majesty's service; and did it for the purpose of fulfilling another contract which he had entered into, to supply arms for the use of the Sicilian Government existing at that time. The Board of Ordnance did make an application upon the subject; and, undoubtedly, it did happen that the Foreign Department did afford facilities—that they did allow the contractor to take back the guns. I am quite ready to admit also, that when this transaction came to be known to Her Majesty's Government, although they could not look upon it as amounting to a direct interference with the contest then going on between Naples and 239 Sicily, yet it did appear to be so liable to misconstruction, as an indirect interference, that it was the deliberate opinion of Her Majesty's Government, that it was matter of regret that permission had not been withheld; and, in pursuance of that feeling of duty which ought to hind Powers, and especially such a country as this, in its conduct towards the comparatively less powerful country of Naples, it was felt that this country ought to be beforehand in taking the opportunity to tender explanation and satisfaction so far as was in our power; and, accordingly, at the commencement of the present year, Mr. Temple was fully authorised, if any complaint was made to him, fully to explain to the Neapolitan Government the nature, the amount, and the conditions of the transaction; to add, that it took place wholly from inadvertence; and to add, farther, the most positive and distinct assurance that measures had been taken to prevent the recurrence of such an inadvertency. It is not material to state, what in point of fact is the case, that those guns, both from their number and from the mode in which they are known to have been employed afterwards—having been placed in garrison, not used in the field—have not been of much service to the Sicilians; but it is right to say, that my noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Department has represented to the Neapolitan Government that we are ready to give the fullest and most explicit explanation of the whole transaction, coupled with our regret at what has taken place.
wished to know whether the noble Marquess, by the use of the phrase "Sicilian Government," did not mean the Neapolitan Government?
The Sicilian Government is the Government of the King of the Two Sicilies; and the insurgents there have no more right to call themselves the Sicilian Government, than Smith O'Brien's committee had a right to call themselves the English Government.
§ The EARL of ELLENBOROUGH
said, his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) had abstained from every thing which bore upon the relations existing between this country and Sicily—the noble Marquess who followed him had exercised the same forbearance; and he would follow the same example, though he might state that he certainly entertained a very strong opinion with respect to the obligations incurred by 240 us through the part we took in the establishment of the constitution granted to Sicily in 1813. He wished only to say one word with regard to the meaning which be attached to the terra "insurgent," which his noble Friend who spoke last, and his noble Friend who put the question, had applied to the existing Government of Sicily. He understood them to use that word in its literal meaning—not in any bad sense; he accepted it as meaning that, in point of fact, they had risen against the Government. Previously to 1813 the Sicilians had a constitution de jure, which unfortunately did not exist de facto, and they were in the same position, with regard to that constitution which the people of England were in with respect to their constitution before William III. came over to secure the liberties of this country. In 1813, they had a new constitution—that constitution was established under the auspices, with the influence, and through the power of this country. In 1816, without their own consent, the King of the Two Sicilies put an end to the constitution, and united Sicily and Naples under the same Government. The people of Sicily were, at the present moment, undoubtedly in opposition to their Sovereign—that was to say, they were insurgents, as the barons and the people of England were against their Sovereign, King John; they were insurgents, as the people of this country were against James II. They desired to re-establish a constitution to which they were as much entitled at this moment as the people of England were to their rights under Magna Charta previous to the signature of that treaty, or as the people of England were to the rights that were afterwards secured to them by the revolution. He would say no more. He should be very happy to give his opinion when the question was brought before the House; and he trusted that the opinion then expressed by Parliament might be consistent with the honour of this country.
§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
My Lords, I had no intention to disturb your Lordships by a single word; but, after what has fallen from the noble Lord, I must say that I think the question for us to decide is, not what the rights of the Sicilians may be, or what right the Sicilians may have to rise against their Sovereign, but whether this country has preserved an honourable course of policy and a true neutrality. I think it is quite unnecessary to give any opinion upon what the grievances of the Sicilians 241 may be, or what may be the course which they think proper to take for the redress of their grievances; but of this I am quite certain—that if we have guaranteed to the Sicilians the maintenance of their rights, it is our duty to assist them. If, on the other hand, we have given no such guarantee, I maintain that it is dishonourable and disgraceful to us to affect a neutrality which we do not strictly and honourably observe. I am unwilling to enter upon the question which has been raised; but as my noble Friend who spoke last, and the noble Lord who put the question, have both deferred the discussion to another day, I fully concur with them; and I admit the difficulty which any Government in this country must have to prevent remonstrances being made by foreign Powers on matters which constitute an apparent deviation from neutrality. I fully admit that difficulty. So long as arms and ammunition may be lawfully sold here to other countries, it is difficult to make foreign States understand that this Government has no means to prevent such transactions. I know by experience that such is the case. But the transaction referred to by my noble Friend is one of an entirely different nature, where the Government itself took part in it, and must, of course, be liable to any observations which may be made upon their conduct. However, after what we have been told by the noble Marquess, I feel that Her Majesty's Government are aware of the objectionable nature of the transaction, and, consequently, I have no further observations to make upon that head. But I could not help, after what fell from the noble Lord near me, stating these few words to your Lordships.
§ The DUKE of WELLINGTON
My Lords, having stated to your Lordships on the first day of the Session my views upon this subject, I shall now only make one or two observations. My Lords, the King of the Two Sicilies, commonly called the King of Naples, but recognised by the title of the King of the Two Sicilies, when he signed the Act of Accession, in accordance with the Treaty of Vienna, inserted in that Act of Accession certain conditions on which he accepted the sovereignty, which conditions included his title of King of the Two Sicilies, and also specified the manner in which the government of the island of Sicily should be carried on. This is a part of the Treaty of Vienna; and I say, my Lords, that this country, which accepted the Act of Accession on the part of the 242 King of the Two Sicilies, is as much bound by the conditions stated in that Act, as she is by any other article in the Treaty of Vienna. Now, it is perfectly true that this country is not bound to enforce execution of the provisions of that article, or of any other article in the Treaty of Vienna with regard to other Powers. That which the Sovereigns of this country do when they give a guarantee for the execution of any one point in these treaties is, to bind themselves not to depart either from the letter or the spirit of these treaties. They do not bind themselves to enforce the execution by others on either side, but they bind themselves not to depart from the treaty. In this instance, when the King of Naples took upon himself the assumption of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, he bound himself that he would never be guilty of any breach of the article contained in his Act of Accession; but if he did not act accordingly, if there was, in consequence, a trial of arras between him and the Sicilians, or any other Power, of course we are bound to remain neutral during the contest. We ought not to interfere in the affairs of Sicily against the provisions of the article contained in the Act of Accession which was introduced into the Treaty of Vienna. I say, therefore, my Lords, I hope that Parliament will find, after all the papers on this subject have been laid before them, that no step has been taken which can be construed into a breach of one of the provisions of the Act of Accession, which I take to form a part of the Treaty of Vienna.
The EARL of MINTO
said, in consequence of what had fallen from the noble Earl opposite, he was anxious to set himself right with their Lordships. Though he had been employed, and most anxiously employed, in endeavouring to bring about an accommodation between the King of Naples and his Sicilian subjects, and though he had been most anxious to maintain, if it were possible, the union between the two Crowns, yet he never did consent to treat with Sicily on any footing which could suppose them to be in unlawful insurrection against their Sovereign; but on the footing of men who were in point of fact engaged in the assertion of rights to which they had every possible claim. On those terms and on that footing alone he consented to mediate between the two parties. He had stated to the Neapolitan Government, that he conceived the Sicilian Government possessed an absolute right to 243 the constitution of 1812 as the constitution by which they were then entitled to be governed; but, at the same time, he was anxious to employ the good offices of England to induce them to accept of any reasonable concessions which the Government might be disposed to offer. But he could not allow it to pass as a matter of course that the Sicilians were to be treated as being in rebellion against their lawful Sovereign at the time, when he believed them to be fully entitled to all they claimed. There were other considerations equally obligatory which attached to this country; but that was a subject which could only be properly discussed when all the papers were before their Lordships.
said, before the papers were discussed, he wished his noble Friend would take an opportunity to read two or three times over the Treaty of Vienna, as he seemed to have forgotten part of it. He hoped his noble Friend (Lord Minto) would refresh his memory upon the subject; and, if he had not a copy at home, he would take the liberty of sending him one. Also, he wished his noble Friend would just mention, when the debate did come on, whether he considered the King of the Two Sicilies to be King of the Two Sicilies or only one of them—King of Naples—because he and his noble Friend (Lord Ellenborough) appeared to put a different construction on the treaty. He appeared to consider the constitution of 1812 just as Louis XIV. considered James II. as the King upon the Throne of England; and, though a period of thirty years had elapsed, and William III., Queen Anne, and George I. hold firm possession of it, yet in the eyes of the King of France the King of England was not on the Throne of England, but was the person whom we denominated the Pretender. So the noble Earl appeared to regard the Sicilian constitution which had been pulled down in 1816, and had never since found ony one that could raise it up again.
The EARL of MINTO
would say one word in reply. He certainly had read—and it was neither a long nor a difficult task—the Treaty of Vienna. That which related to this matter was wholly comprised in one article—the 104th—and there was not another word in the treaty touching the question. That article went no farther than this. It provided for the restoration of the King to his Neapolitan dominions, and it recognised him by the 244 style and title—nothing more than this—by the style and title of King of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies; and also, which perhaps the noble and learned Lord was not aware of, it recognised his title of King of Jerusalem.
The EARL of MINTO
No, he did not go to Jerusalem. He might add, there were other treaties, with which the noble Lord did not appear to be acquainted, that related to the history of the period.