HL Deb 12 March 1849 vol 103 cc534-7

said, he had given notice of his intention of putting a question to the noble Lord respecting the conduct of the Spanish Government towards a British subject named Cotter. In order to make the question clear, however, it was necessary he should narrate the history of the events connected with this case. It appeared that so far back as in September last Mr. Cotter was arrested in his house in Madrid; that he was taken out of his bed, and carried away, and put into a public prison. He was confined in a solitary dungeon for twenty-nine days; he had no opportunity to communicate with his friends during that period; he was never informed of the nature of the offence with which he was charged, nor whether or when he would be brought to trial. At the end of the twenty-nine days Mr. Cotter was removed to the infirmary of the prison, and while there he wrote a letter to the Captain General of Madrid to know the grounds upon which he had been arrested. To this letter he did not receive any answer. He then wrote to Narvaez himself, and he then made the same request to know of what he had been accused, and when he was to be brought to trial. He got no direct reply to these letters; and he then appealed to the British Consul for protection. It was afterwards intimated to Mr. Cotter officially that he was about to be removed to Cadiz. Consequently he had reason to think his treatment would have been the same as that which was experienced by Colonel Bristow, who was escorted to the frontier, and then allowed his passport and to leave the country. Some days after Mr. Cotter had been in the infirmary he was sent hack to the prison, and at the end of one day he was taken away under an escort in a post-chaise, and conducted to Cadiz, where, instead of receiving his passports as he had expected, he was again thrown into prison, and there he remained till some time in January. During this time he again protested against his detention, and he claimed the protection of England, as an English subject; but the only reply he received from the Spanish authorities was, that they did not care what the British Consul said. A short time after this answer was received, he was placed on board a ship hound to the Manillas, and information was then given him that he was about to be transported there; he again protested against this, but in vain. These were simply the circumstances as they had been narrated to him; they had been made public in Spain, and he believed also in this country. Now, certain parties, taking these published statements as correct, chose to indulge in sounds of triumph at the manner in which the Spanish Government had dared to beard the English Government in the matter. No doubt the explanations and statements which Her Majesty's Government would be prepared to make would be an answer to this. No doubt if Mr. Cotter were a British subject, full demand for reparation would be made, and if not accorded, would be enforced. As far as the question of Mr. Cotter being a British subject, owing allegiance to Her Majesty, was concerned, he believed Mr. Cotter was entitled to protection. The Spanish Government appeared to entertain the opinion that he was a British and not a Spanish officer, for the treatment Mr. Cotter had met with, was different from that which the Spanish officers arrested at the same time were subjected to, and instead of being sent to a military prison, he was sent to a common gaol where felons were kept. If, however, it should turn out that Mr. Cotter was not a British subject, it might then be very fairly maintained that the affair was not one which interested the British Government, but an affair which referred to the Spanish Government only. He could not, however, help remarking on the present occasion, that Spain, who was so jealous of foreign interference in her internal affairs—who had sent away the Minister of a friendly Power for no other reason than that the Minister spoke to a person connected with the Opposition—was at that moment bent on interfering in a country with which she had no connexion, and preparing to light up the horrors of civil war in Central Italy, without being able to maintain peace in her own territories, or pay the debts she owed to foreign lenders. He was induced to make these remarks because in all the approved organs of the Spanish Government, the declaration had been put forward that the Spanish Government would admit of no interference in the affairs of their country; and the present case was quoted as an instance of their independence and contempt of foreign Powers, even when the subjects of foreign Powers claimed the protection of their respective flags? He hoped, therefore, Government would give such an explanation as would do away with the false impression which had gone forth as to the facts of the case. He would conclude, therefore, by asking if Government had taken any steps to ascertain if Mr. Cotter was a British subject, or professed to be so; and, if so, whether any means had been taken by this Government to demand satisfaction for the injury which had been done to him?


said, that the first information which the Government had received on the subject was a communication, dated Cadiz, from the British Consul, Mr. Brackenbury, stating that a gentleman, of the name of Cotter, had been arrested and sentenced to transportation. An inquiry had been directed into the matter, and it appeared that this gentleman, Mr. Cotter, had been arrested in March, 1848, on a charge of being implicated in a conspiracy, but that he was afterwards released. Subsequently another conspiracy took place, for the purpose of overthrowing the Spanish Government, and also for the purpose of assassinating General Narvaez. Mr. Cotter was supposed to be involved in this conspiracy, and he was again arrested. He (Lord Eddisbury) should mention that on neither of these occasions did Mr. Cotter claim protection as a British subject. The first the Government heard about the matter was in January, 1849. The defence which the Spanish Government made was this, that Mr. Cotter was considered to be a Spanish subject; that he served originally in the British Legion; afterwards as a captain in the regular Spanish army; then as an aide-de-camp on the staff of General Concha; and, lastly, as a comptroller of the customs at one of the Spanish ports. The British Government felt that they could have no pretext to interfere unless this gentleman had been dealt with more severely than any Spanish subject would have been dealt with under similar circumstances. In the present case, they felt that they could not interfere, and he could only express his regret that any British subject should have at all involved himself in such transactions.


said that the explanation of his noble Friend was satisfactory.


said, it should be known that, whether Mr. Cotter was a British subject or not, if he was living in Spain, and committed an offence against the municipal law of that country, he would certainly be amenable to it.

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