HL Deb 25 June 1852 vol 122 cc1278-84

rose to put a question to the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, of which he had given notice. He wished to know whether Her Majesty's Government intended to communicate to Government any Correspondence with Her Majesty's Ambassador at Paris, or the French Ambas- sador in London, concerning the law lately enacted in France, which occasioned the withdrawal of the Surrender of Criminals (Convention with France) Bill, presented to this House. It was most desirable that two such neighbouring countries should be on such a footing with each other that criminals should be delivered up to the respective authorities claiming them; but at the same time it was impossible that this country could yield up the safeguards which protected the liberties of those who were subject to its laws. A convention had been entered into with France for the mutual extradition of criminals, and a Bill had been introduced by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, for the purpose of authorising that convention; but that Bill had been suddenly withdrawn, without any sufficient explanation being afforded to the House. It appeared that the Government had been induced to adopt this extraordinary course in consequence of the French Legislature having given its sanction to an internal law regulating their criminal jurisdiction; but the noble Earl had not afforded to the House any information as to what that law was—in fact, it was evident that the noble Earl was himself unaware of it. The facts were, that no such law as that alluded to, as a reason for the withdrawal of the Bill, had been passed in France. It was true that the body charged with framing legislative measures in that country had a projet de loi submitted to it for the re-enactment of the law of 1808—a most objectionable law. But if the House recollected what was the state of France with respect to England and the rest of Europe at the time that law was passed, they would at once understand why that law had been then passed, and they would also see how perfectly impossible, considering the relations at present existing between the countries, it would be to re-enact it. It was absurd to imagine that the French Government would lend itself to favour such a proposition. What did this law do? It enacted that if a man, no matter in what country, should act in a manner contrary to French law, or in hostility to the French Government, he should be amenable to the French tribunals—


That was not the law to which reference was made.


was only speaking upon the supposition that this was the law referred to. How- ever, there must have been some communication with the French Government upon the subject. He thought they were entitled to know how the matter really stood. They ought to see that the dignity and consistency of the Sovereign had been properly maintained. He did not think that proper deference had been shown to the House, or that proper courtesy had been exercised towards France, with which it was most important that this country should be on terms of perfect amity, by the sudden withdrawal of the Bill.


In answer to the question of the noble Marquess, I at once say, that I have no communication which I can lay before your Lordships in the shape of correspondence upon this subject. But I am glad to state to the House that the French Government, from the moment that Her Majesty's present Government acceded to office, have always acted in the most friendly and frank manner. Upon the introduction of the measure to which the noble Marquess adverts, there was an impression adverse to it manifested by the House; and the French Government no sooner perceived that this was directed against the projet de loi then under consideration, than they gave me an assurance that the projet de loi would not be persevered in: so much in answer to the question of the noble Marquess. But I cannot sit down without expressing myself as to the feeling shown by the noble Marquess on the very first two nights the question of the French Convention, and the Act of Parliament which was to give it life, was under discussion. I do not hesitate to say that, Her Majesty's Government knowing that they are in a minority in the other House of Parliament, I trusted and believed that in questions in which party spirit ought not to intervene, that we should have had the full and entire assistance of Her Majesty's late Government in carrying out an Act of Parliament which they themselves had prepared, which was drawn up by their own officers according to their own instructions, and which I in no way altered either in the sense or in the text. Two clauses I did add; one positively defining the offences for which surrender was to be made, and enacting that it should be only for such offences as were in this country deemed felonious—that clause was therefore framed in no spirit which deserved the reproof with which I have been met by the noble Marquess. The second clause gave additional security to political offenders, by preventing them from being again tried for the same offence if they had been once surrendered under the Convention. This was done after the Bill had been drawn up under the late Government; and Her Majesty's Government had reason to expect that a great party like that which sat opposite would for a moment have forgotten all political difference, and would have assisted in passing a measure which they themselves deemed necessary for this country, and which it was due to France should be passed, inasmuch as noble Lords opposite know very well that the Convention at present in force was unfair to that country. The noble Marquess, therefore, when he pretended to show himself anxious to preserve our friendly relations with France, should either have supported his own Bill, or afforded me that information upon French law, of which he says that I am not possessed. If I understand the drift of the noble Marquess's observation it is this—he finds fault with me for not having paid due deference to the Crown and to this House. Why, my Lords, it was in deference to the House that I did not press the Bill. The noble Marquess has given me a lesson in the law; but upon the occasion of the discussion on the Bill several Peers most learned in the law expressed opinions against it. It would have been presumptuous for me to have persevered in the Bill in contradiction to these opinions. I saw the impression made upon your Lordships, and in deference to that impression I withdrew the Bill. I do not deserve, therefore, the accusation of failing in respect towards your Lordships; but least of all do I deserve the censure which the noble Marquess has cast upon me for having signed a Convention which I did not make, which was drawn up by the noble Earl opposite, my predecessor in office (Earl Granville), and for having attempted to carry out that Convention by an Act of Parliament, described by the noble Marquess as trenching on the liberty of the subject, when, in fact, I had added two clauses that strengthened that liberty. It was not just or fair, therefore, of the noble Marquess to say that I paid any disrespect to this House in withdrawing the Bill, or that I neglected to secure the liberty of the subject by consenting to narrow his constitutional rights in this instance. But at the same time, my Lords, I am bound to say, that I have not altered my opinion as to the immense importance of some Convention on the subject before the House. The French Government have determined—and I cannot say they are wrong—to renounce the present Convention as unfair and useless to them; and if that comes to pass, you will not be able to claim our criminals in France, any more than France will be able to claim her criminals in England. The criminals of both countries who can contrive to escape will consequently find impunity; and England as well as France will once again become a mutual and a safe asylum for the malefactors of each nation.


was quite prepared to accept any responsibility which rested with him for the share he took in drawing up the Convention. It was quite clear they could not get the French Government to go on with the Convention unless we devised some moans by which Franco would be enabled to claim her criminals here as effectually as British criminals were claimed in France. He, for one, would willingly give all the assistance in his power. He must entirely protest against the general impression which the statement of the noble Earl seemed calculated to convey. Legal objections had been stated by noble and learned Lords of high legal authority, and they particularly guarded themselves against the notion that they were making a party attack. It was in deference to these opinions that the House had given the measure an unfavourable reception; for it was quite clear that the Government could not go on with the present Convention.


was understood to say, that he was willing to have done all in his power to assist the noble Earl; but as the Bill stood it could not be carried into effect, as the Convention could not be changed. It was exceedingly to be desired that some arrangement should be come to on the subject, and he trusted that the noble Earl would assiduously devote himself to the consideration of some plan calculated to remove the existing difficulties.


could fully confirm what had been stated by his noble Friend opposite, that the French Government had just cause of complaint with respect to the existing state of the treaty between the two countries. His intimate acquaintance with France during the last few years enabled him to testify that great service had been done by the practical operation of the existing treaty to the interests of this country. Under it great service had been done especially to the commercial interests of this country, in enabling parties to obtain possession of the persons of those who otherwise, from the neighbouring country being so contiguous, would have profited by the opportunity thereby afforded them to set the law of this country at defiance, and enjoy impunity. He felt convinced that if the French Government were to attempt the course which the noble Earl had intimated as possible that it would do, the commercial interests of England would suffer very considerably. He was anxious that the noble Earl should therefore turn his attention to some practical remedy of the difficulties which appeared at present to stand in the way of a satisfactory arrangement of the subject. He could not sit down without stating, that during the whole period which he had laboured in endeavouring to maintain amicable relations between the two countries, he had seldom listened to any statement with greater pleasure than that of the noble Earl (the Earl of Malmesbury) with regard to the manner in which the French Government have acted with respect to the withdrawal of the projet de loi referred to.


, in referring to the Convention which it was the object of the proposed Bill to carry into effect, and to the law recently made in France, stated that the circumstances under which it was proposed to proceed against offences committed out of France differed very materially from those which existed at the date of the Code from which this new law was in great part taken, namely, 1808; and it was natural, in consequence, to look upon it with far greater jealousy, not to mention that it carried the law of 1808 much further. After the opinion expressed by very eminent lawyers in that House, as to the legal difficulties in the way of passing the Bill, it appeared to him that sufficient grounds existed for suggesting its postponement until its provisions were more fully and maturely considered; and he strongly recommended this course to the Government. At the same time he deeply regretted that some arrangement had not been come to which would have placed the question in a satisfactory position, as they could not expect that the French Government would continue to give this country the benefit of the existing Treaty if no corresponding benefit were given them in return. With respect to the position of the French Government, it was at present occupied in attempts to solve an impossible problem—impossible because the data were inconsistent and repugnant—of forming a constitution which should vest absolute power in the Executive, and legislative power in a representative and elected body. That was a problem which, in his opinion, never could be solved, and he only trusted that the difficulty would be got over without any shock to the tranquillity of France, or the permanent peace of Europe.


denied that this had been made a party question; it was not attempted to defeat the Billon the second reading. [The Earl of DERBY (we believe): Your own Bill.] He took upon himself, as a Member of the late Government, to say that he not only never saw the Bill which the noble Earl had stated had been prepared by the late Government, but that his noble Friend near him (Earl Granville) also had never seen it, The Bill was merely prepared by the Crown lawyers for further revision and consideration. His object in bringing forward the subject was to obtain information and an explanation which would be satisfactory to the people of this country, not less than to the French Government, as regarded the conduct of Her Majesty's Government in the matter. But if the noble Earl (the Earl of Malmesbury) wished him to make a charge against him, he would do so—his charge was that he (the Earl of Malmesbury) had very hastily thought that he was competent in a month or six weeks to take upon himself to produce a Bill which the noble Earl near him (Earl Granville) had had under his consideration, and upon which the noble Viscount who had preceded him in the Foreign Office had also for a long time bestowed considerable attention. It was a most difficult and delicate subject to deal with, one upon which he was as anxious as the noble Earl himself that there should be some satisfactory legislation, and whenever Her Majesty's Government should bring forward any measure upon it, he promised them that he would consider it—as he had done the recent Bill—without the slightest jot or iota of feeling of party spirit.