HL Deb 19 March 1857 vol 144 cc2430-4

THE EARL OF HARDWICKE rose to put a question to the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, of which he had given him notice. It would be in the recollection of every one that after the contest with Russia the Plenipotentiaries of England, France, Austria, Prussia, Turkey, Sardinia, and Russia met in congress, and that after that Congress had settled, or very nearly settled, the affairs of Europe with reference to the Russian war, they thought it their duty to take into consideration other subjects with reference to the affairs of Europe; and it was resolved that the French and English nations combined should make a serious interference in the kingdom of the Two Sicilies with reference to its internal government. That a serious step was contemplated there could be no doubt; for we knew this important fact, that it was resolved that the Emperor of the French and the Queen of England should send a combined force into the Bay of Naples for the purposes which, in my opinion, are not at all disclosed in the papers that have been laid before the House. It was stated in those papers that that force was sent for the purpose of protecting British property within the territory of the King of Naples. That the matter was of serious importance as far as England was concerned there could be no doubt, for after having determined on this point the Government directed a very important and gallant officer—no less a person than Sir R. S. Dundas—to hoist his flag on board no less a ship than the Duke of Wellington, and taking with him three or four line-of-battle ships, to proceed to the Bay of Naples; while the Emperor of the French collected a force of something like the same magnitude at the port of Toulon. Now, it being stated in the papers laid before Parliament that the object of the British force was the defence of British property in the event of an insurrection in Naples, it appeared to him most strange; that the only reason to be found in these papers for departing from that arrangement was a letter, dated the 23rd of October, from Mr. Petre. M. Carafa requested us to assure our respective Governments that British and French subjects would continue to receive at the hands of the Neapolitan Government that unfailing protection and enjoy that security to which their unblemished conduct and respect for the laws had always entitled them. That was the only insight afforded of the reason for the withdrawal of forces of such magnitude. Now, he recollected that in 1849, when the present First Minister was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and when there were very serious troubles in that part of Italy, a single line-of-battle ship in the port of Naples, and another at Genoa were sufficient for the protection of British subjects; and at Genoa a line-of-battle ship was able to give every necessary assistance and support to Her Majesty's subjects. Therefore it was utterly absurd to put forth that a, fleet of the magnitude he had alluded to was intended for the purpose of protecting British subjects in case of insurrection. Then what was the purpose of the British Government and of the Emperor of the French with respect to an armament of that description? He thought it not at all improper that he should ask that question of the Government. It appeared very natural to suppose that this mystery and vacillation in the policy of this country, evinced in sending out a squadron, and then suddenly recalling it without any circumstances being explained to warrant such a course, must, on the mind of such a sensitive people as the Italians, leave impressions unfavourable to the constancy, decision, and promptitude, and general tone of policy of this country, and it was lamentable to think that this was the second time within the course of a few years that such a course of policy had been exhibited to the Italians. Having said thus much, he found himself stopped for want of information, and he would therefore now ask what was the cause of the sudden change of policy which led to the withdrawal of the squadron sent to the Bay of Naples.


said, that without entering into the causes which had led to the determination at the Conference at Paris to despatch a naval force to Naples, he would confine himself simply to the fact of the withdrawal of that force, and the reasons which had led to it. When it was determined by the Governments of France and England, for reasons of which their Lordships were aware, to withdraw their missions from Naples, it was at the same time thought right that each country should send two or three vessels to the Bay of Naples, which number, by an arrangement with the King of Naples, was all they could send. But when those ships were ordered to the Bay of Naples the Government received a confidential communication, which led them to apprehend that an insurrection of the King's subjects might be the consequence of an armed force appearing in the Bay of Naples. Such was not in the least the intention of the French and English Governments. All they desired was a change in the system which prevailed there, but certainly they did not desire to increase the discontent of the Neapolitans with their Government; and certainly they did not desire to bring about an insurrection or a change of dynasty. Therefore they thought that though the withdrawal of the force might subject them to the charge of vacillation, they preferred that alternative to the risk of exciting an insurrection, and the two Governments acting together, the fleets were withdrawn.


said, it was obvious that this subject could not be discussed at the present moment. The attention of Parliament had been occupied with the still more pressing question of the Chinese war, and that circumstance had prevented the subject of the present conversation attracting the consideration of their Lordships; but he hoped that at the opening of the next Parliament the subject would not be overlooked. The Papers laid on the table deserved the most serious attention of their Lordships, and a full discussion.


said, he had received an answer very much of the sort he expected, and it was perfectly clear from it that there had been grave intentions of a serious description with respect to the kingdom of Naples; that these intentions were frustrated by some circumstances which their Lordships were not permitted to understand, and the frustration led to the withdrawal of the force sent out to Naples. The two Governments of France and England must have been sure, when they resolved to send a force to the Bay of Naples, that insurrection was as certain as when the same thing was done before. On a previous occasion the same operation was performed, which he saw, and anything more lamentable than the policy of England in those waters could not be described. An insurrection took place, supported by the outward show of the tricolour flag flying at the mast-head of the flagship, and the tricolour flag being displayed in the theatres of Palermo by officers of the fleet. That insurrection was put down by General Filangieri with torrents of blood. He would venture to say that had the British fleet now gone to the Bay of Naples the same result was certain to have occurred. This was known to the two Governments of England and France, and therefore they must have had designs of very great importance with respect to the kingdom of Naples, but they were most fortunately and most properly stopped by circumstances which their Lordships were not permitted to understand.


said, that the noble Earl who spoke last but one pursued a course regular and in conformity with the usage of their Lordships' House. That noble Earl stated that, in his opinion, the subject was deserving of discussion, and trusted that it would undergo discussion at the next meeting of Parliament; but the noble Earl who last spoke had certainly pursued a very irregular course, and had stated what were the past intentions of the Government in a manner not founded in fact. The subject certainly had better not be discussed until it was brought more regularly before the House.


would not go into the question at the present time, but he recollected that this country had at a past period incurred obligations to the people of Sicily which had never been fulfilled, and which should never be forgotten.