HL Deb 09 August 1854 vol 135 cc1478-80

moved the Resolution of which he had given notice— That as regards the Russian Government Securities Bill, the war with Russia, and the attempt now making by that Power to procure a loan for the carrying on of that war, render it urgent that every means should be immediately taken to prevent any British capital from being applied to the objects of that or any future Russian loan during the continuance of the war; it is therefore reasonable that this Bill should, notwithstanding the late period at which it has been brought up from the House of Commons, be taken into immediate consideration; and if the House shall think fit so to order, be read a second time this day. He had only to say, in asking their Lordships' assent to this Resolution, that whatever might be their Lordships' opinion as to the merits of the Bill, he thought they would agree that a measure which had for its object to defeat a great financial operation now being carried on by the Russian Government, after having passed the House of Commons by a large majority, ought not to be put aside without discussion in that House on the simple ground of its having come up from the other House at so late a period of the Session.


said, he should certainly support the Motion of his noble Friend, and, if it were agreed to by their Lordships, would then support the Bill of which his noble Friend was to move the second reading. He was not, however, at all prepared to say that this Bill, even in the form in which it had come up from the House of Commons, was rendered very necessary on account of the present state of the law, and he should be sorry to recognise any such proposition. At the same time the Bill had been de- nuded of many of the objectionable features which they had reason to believe it contained on its first introduction into the other House; and he should be sorry, either on the part of the Government or his own, to throw any obstacles in the way of passing a measure which had been considered by the other House of Parliament necessary to enable Her Majesty's Government to have more easily available means at command for checking the financial operations of the public enemy. He thought it desirable that their Lordships should know that Government had not neglected the subject to which the Bill referred. The moment that there was an announcement made on the Exchanges of this and other countries that Russia was about to endeavour to contract a loan, Her Majesty's Government, without twenty-four hours' delay, took the opinion of the law officers of the Crown how far it would be legal for British subjects to have any concern with a transaction the obvious intentions of which was to enable a foreign Power to raise forces which would be used for a purpose adverse to this Crown and nation. The law officers of the Crown gave it as their distinct and positive opinion that it would be high treason on the part of any British subject to be parties to such a transaction; and thereupon, without a moment's delay, his noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Office wrote to our Ministers at foreign Courts, and to the Consuls in the chief towns of the Continent, desiring them to make public intimation, and to spread it as widely as possible, that British subjects would incur this heavy penalty if they involved themselves in any transaction connected with the proposed loan. That their Lordships might see that these steps were as immediate as he had mentioned, he might state that even from the United States of North America answers had been received to the communications sent out at that time. This was not the only step taken by Her Majesty's Government; for they communicated also with our Ministers at foreign Courts, desiring them to make an earnest appeal to the Courts to which they were accredited, that they would, to the utmost of their power, throw obstacles in the way of this loan, inasmuch as we had a right to consider that its negotiation would be at variance with the character of neutrality or of alliance existing between these Courts and Her Majesty. Answers to those notes likewise had been received. He mentioned these facts in order that their Lordships might see, in the first place, that this question had not been neglected by Her Majesty's Government; and, in the second, that strong powers already existed to meet the case against which this measure was directed. At the same time, thinking it well, if it were possible, by making this offence a misdemeanor where the present law made it high treason, and thus mitigating the penalty, to render it more easy to thwart the enemy's measures—assuming that there might be some merit in the Bill—but, at any rate, feeling that it would be undesirable that their Lordships should throw it out when the other house had passed it for a limited but important object—feeling that it would do no harm, and might do some good—he trusted their Lordships would consent to the Motion of his noble Friend and pass the Bill.


said, that after the reasons stated by the noble Duke, he certainly did not mean to offer any opposition to this Bill. As regarded the Resolution, he thought it quite clear that any measure which the Lower House sent up, even at this late period of the Session, having relation to the position in which the country stood at present, involved in war with Russia, did constitute a case of urgency. There could be no doubt whatever that the Resolution would allow the Bill to be proceeded with. With respect to the general question of their Lordships' Resolution of May last, he was decidedly of opinion that it would operate beneficially, by affording more time for the consideration of legislative measures in that House, and that it would thus work favourably to the conservation of the privileges of the other House of Parliament, as well as of their Lordships.

Resolution agreed to.

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