HL Deb 21 March 1861 vol 162 cc133-9

said, that on meeting his noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies on Tuesday last he put a question to him on the subject of the most recent intelligence from the Ionian Islands. He understood from his noble Friend then that he had received no official information on the subject, and, therefore, he had postponed his question till to-day. The intelligence received by the public since Tuesday could not be considered satisfactory, though he supposed that it might be taken in the main to be correct, for he believed that there was at the present moment an entire suspension of legislative action in the Ionian Islands. It would, therefore, be desirable to hear what explanation Her Majesty's Government were able to give on the subject. It appeared to him that the conduct pursued by the Legislative Assembly had rendered it impossible for the Lord High Commissioner to adopt any other course than that of proroguing them. He was sorry to think that all the concomitant circumstances proved that the steps taken by that Assembly had been in connection with the universal revolutionary propagandism which was at present being worked in every country in Europe: and it was especially to be regretted that the agents in this new attempt at separation had founded their acts on language used by a Minister of the Crown in England. He did not pretend to speak with accuracy of what had occurred on this last occasion; but some two months since Signor Dandolo, a member of the Legislative Assembly, addressed a letter to Lord John Russell, in which he stated that the patriotic cause, as he called it, was advanced by the revolutionary language which had been used by that noble Lord on a recent occasion. He was bound to say that, in his opinion, the appeal of Signor Dandolo was unanswerable as an argumentum ad hominem against the noble Lord. So far as Lord John Russell's despatch of the 27th of October was concerned, it appeared to him the case was complete—not against this country, not against the Government generally—but against the expression of opinion by the Foreign Secretary. That being the case he thought it extremely desirable that they should have some assurance from the colleagues of the noble Lord that they did not share in the doctrine propounded in that despatch, and that in this case they did not admit that certain Ionian subjects of Her Majesty were the only judges as to whether their grievances were such as that they ought to be allowed to separate themselves from this country. Still more important was it that they should know from the noble Duke that Her Majesty's Government do not think that any foreign Government would be justified in assisting the Ionians. It was very true that this was not the first instance of dissatisfaction in the Ionian Islands; but that rendered the doctrine in the noble Lord's despatch still more objectionable. Indeed, there was scarcely any portion even of the Ministerial press that had not pronounced it to be dangerous. He hoped their Lordships would have an assurance from Her Majesty's Government that they were prepared to meet with an energetic opposition any attempt on the part of the Ionians to remove themselves from the protectorate. He begged to ask his noble Friend the Secretary for the Colonies, Whether he was prepared to give any explanation as to the prorogation of the Legislative Assembly of the Ionian Islands; and when the Government would be able to lay on the table the official documents relating to this prorogation


My Lords, I am now able to state what has taken place in the Parliament of the Ionian Islands. As my noble Friend says, he gave me notice on Tuesday last of his intention to ask me a question on this subject, and I told him that I had then no information. However, a despatch was received yesterday, and I am in a position to give him an answer. The Parliament was opened in the ordinary course on the 1st of March, and the Lord High Commissioner delivered his Speech as usual on such occasions. I believe that a report of that Speech has appeared in the newspapers. I presume, therefore, that it has been read by your Lordships, and I am sure you will concur with me in saying that there was nothing in it calculated to raise angry feelings, or that was in any respect at variance with those opinions and expressions which ought to have fallen from a person in the position of the Lord High Commissioner. Your Lordships are probably aware that in the Ionian Islands it is not the custom, as in this country, to answer a Speech by an Address on the same day as that on which it is delivered. The habit in the Ionian Islands is to appoint a Committee to draw up an answer. That course was taken on this occasion. The Parliament met on a Friday, and the whole of the following week was taken up with desultory and unproductive discussions of various kinds. At last, on Saturday, a draught Answer was prepared. I am unwilling to characterize this draught by any strong expressions; but I can only describe it as a Bill of indictment against the protecting Power. The statements are in every respect so utterly at variance with the truth, the accusations are so monstrous, that they carry on the face of them their own refutation. The draught states that affairs have arrived at the culminating point of the grievances of the Ionian Islands; that the people may trace to British Protectorate most of the evils that exist in those Islands; that personal liberty is at an end, and that there is no freedom either of speech or of the press. It also states that the social and material interests of the Ionians have been neglected. The document represents a state of things which might possibly have existed a year ago in a southern country, but which could never have existed in the Ionian Islands under a British Protectorate. Notwithstanding the violence of this language the Session might have been continued. I think it impossible that the Lord High Commissioner could have received such an answer; but means might have been taken if it had not been resolved by the Assembly to push matters to extremity, to prevent that step the avoidance of which was so much to be desired—I allude to a prorogation of that body. But the leaders of a party who, I am sorry to say, exercise too much influence in the Assembly apprehended that some such course might have been adopted, and took their measures accordingly. Two members of the Assembly, Signor Paconis and Signor Lombardo, gave notice on Saturday of their intention to introduce two documents. One of them called on the House of Assembly to invite the whole of the inhabitants of the Ionian Islands to vote by universal suffrage for the annexation of the islands to Greece, and for other purposes. The second was full of empty and foolish phrases, but its pith and substance consisted of an appeal to the Governments and Christian philanthropists of Europe to unite in one great empire, and to drive the Turks out of Europe—in short, to revolutionize the whole eastern world. The Lord High Commissioner feeling that both these documents—but, under the circumstances, the first particularly—were utterly at variance with the constitution of the Assembly, it being an utterly unheard-of proceeding that one branch of the Legislature should attempt to supersede the other two, felt it his duty not to allow these documents to be submitted. Accordingly, on the day on which they were to be brought forward for discussion, he sent to the Assembly the following Message:— The Lord High Commissioner has perceived that two documents have been laid on the table of the Most Noble the Legislative Assembly, and now stand on the order of the day for discussion; one inviting the Legislative Assembly to call on the Ionian people to declare by universal suffrage the national desire to be united to the Kingdom of Greece; the other purporting to be an address from the representatives of the Seven Islands to the representatives of the peoples, to the Governments and philanthropists of Christian Europe. The Lord High Commissioner is desirous of carrying forbearance to the utmost limits of his duty as the representative of the Sovereign Protectress of these States. His Excellency, therefore, warns the Legislative Assembly that the proposals now standing in the order of the day are clearly contrary to the Constitution, and, as such, cannot be entertained or discussed. The Lord High Commissioner hopes that nothing will be permitted to divert the Legislative Assembly from its true functions of useful legislation for the good of the country, and, having now informed that body that these proposals are unconstitutional, his Excellency trusts to its prudence and patriotism to remove them from the order of the day. On that Message being received, hopes that some accommodation might be arrived at were entertained; and a proposal was made that the House should adjourn for half an hour, with a view to discuss these matters privately in a Committee-room. That discussion took place; but, so far from any spirit of conciliation being exhibited, a resolution was come to not in any respect to withdraw these documents of Signor Paconis and Signor Lombardo; and when the House resumed, the latter gentleman, in very violent language, proceeded to dilate on the substance of these documents. Finding that all further attempts would be useless, the Lord High Commissioner, under the powers given to him by the Constitution, prorogued the Assembly to that day six months. These are the circumstances of the case. As regards any further information for which the noble Marquess has asked there will be no objection to grant it. I will not undertake to say that every document shall be produced, but I should certainly be glad that your Lordships were supplied with those of which the substance is em- bodied in the short statement I have just made. The noble Marquess was unable, oven in putting a question to the Colonial Secretary, to refrain from having his usual fling at the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary and the Government; and has chosen to trace the events which have occurred in the Ionian Islands to that despatch of my noble Friend at the Foreign Office, which seems to haunt the noble Marquess like a nightmare. The noble Marquess must be aware that a letter was addressed by Signor Dandolo to Lord John Eussell, in which—however we may be surprised that an Englishman, and a Member of your Lordships' House, should distort a despatch from the British Government—it was but natural that Signor Dandolo, writing from his point of view, should endeavour to show that, under the terms of that despatch, the Ionian Islands were entitled to emancipate themselves from the protectorate of Great Britain and to attach themselves to Greece. But a refutation both of the opinion of Signor Dandolo and of the arguments of the noble Marquess is afforded by the fact that Sir Henry Storks, having the power of high police in those Islands, of which he could have availed himself, did not in any way interfere to prevent the circulation of that letter, which was published in Greek, in Italian, and, I believe, in English, and was circulated throughout the whole of the Ionian Islands without producing any effect whatever; in fact, the inhabitants did not appear to pay any attention to the matter. But there can be no doubt that this agitation is of long standing. This is, unfortunately, not the first time that a prorogation of the Ionian Parliament has taken place. Last year it was feared that recourse to such a measure would be necessary; but instructions were sent out which were repeated this year, to treat with every consideration, but of course with firmness and resolution, any measures that the Assembly might adopt. Acting under these instructions, some advantage was derived from the sittings of the Assembly last year, though not as much as could have been desired; owing to proceedings of a similar kind to those which have recently taken place. And when the noble Marquess appeals to me and to my noble Friends on the bench behind me, and says he hopes we do not agree with Lord John Russell in the despatch which he has written, I say distinctly that the despatch has no relevance whatever to the state of the Ionian Islands; and, unless the noble Marquess can prove that the circumstances of those Islands are precisely similar to those of the country with reference to which that despatch was written, his whole case falls to the ground. As regards the course which Her Majesty's Government—including Lord John Russell, as the noble Marquess thinks it right to draw a distinction between us—are prepared to pursue, I will state that we approve the course which Sir Henry Storks has been compelled to take in this instance; and with regard to the policy of maintaining the protectorate, I tell him distinctly that we are prepared to uphold it, and that the Government does not shrink from the responsibility which attaches to them under the treaties of 1815. And, although I trust the present and any future Government will always make allowance for the feelings of the Ionian people, and will treat them with the utmost forbearance, consideration, and justice, I trust, at the same time, they will not hesitate to perform their duty with firmness and determination. The noble Marquess seems to regard this question with somewhat of despair. I venture to assert my belief that the Ionian people will before long separate themselves from these demagogues and theorists who have misled them so long. Already there are appearances of their doing so. By the accounts received yesterday, notwithstanding the sudden prorogation of the Assembly, the utmost tranquillity prevailed, not alone in the town but in the neighbourhood of Corfu; and I not only trust, but I will even say I believe, that the inhabitants will feel that Sir Henry Storks was justified under the circumstances in stopping these mischievous proceedings; and although it is, undoubtedly, a great misfortune that legislation should be stopped—for there are many grievances, political, social, and moral, that it would be in the power of the Assembly to obviate, if so disposed—I believe they will perceive that the Assembly was grievously in error, and that their truest friends are those who endeavour to maintain the protectorate of Great Britain.


said, in answer to the charge of having unnecessarily introduced the despatch of Lord John Russell into the discussion, that that despatch had been made the basis of proceedings in the Ionian Legislature; and that this fact is stated as the only public information which any one had yet seen from thence in a letter from Corfu in the papers this morning. Indeed when such a question was raised, he wished to know how the noble Lord could evade the force of the expression he had employed, that "the people were the only judges of whether their grievances were such as to justify a change of dynasty?"


said, he did not wish in any respect to impugn the accuracy of the statement made by the noble Duke. He entertained no doubt from that statement made by the noble Duke, the Colonial Secretary, that Sir Henry Storks had exercised a wise discretion. But he could not help thinking that the noble Duke had scarcely realized in the remarks which he had just delivered the serious nature of the Ionian question. The state of things in the Ionian Islands was no honour either to this country or to the local Governors who had administered their affairs. The withdrawal of our protection would, no doubt, be the greatest misfortune which could happen to the people of those Islands; but still, believing, as he firmly did, that this country had no interest whatever in extending to them the benefit of our protection against their will; that to us the maintenance of that protection was productive only of burden, expense, and, in some respects, of danger, while all the advantages were on the side of the Ionians, he was of opinion that if the hopes which had been expressed by the noble Duke were not realized, if the people did not abandon the demagogues by whom they had hitherto been led, and support the authority of the representatives of Her Majesty, that protection ought no longer to be continued. This was a question of grave importance, and could not long escape the serious consideration both of the Government and of Parliament.

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