HL Deb 05 June 1866 vol 183 cc1921-3

My Lords, I have to ask a few minutes' indulgence at the hands of your Lordships, while I refer to a matter personal to myself. I know it is very irregular to make any allusion to what has occurred in "another place," and as a rule such allusions ought not to be permitted; but your Lordships will probably have seen in the newspapers this morning, that several charges were made against me last evening, in a spirit and in a tone which I cannot help thinking were entirely uncalled for, and which I hope your Lordships will condemn. The incorrectness of the statements made on that occasion must, I think, be manifest to all acquainted with the subject to which they relate, and if I had followed my own inclination I should have passed them by altogether without notice; but there is one charge to which I desire to refer, inasmuch as my personal character is involved in a direct and unqualified manner. I read in the newspapers of this morning that at the Congress of 1856, I entered into a conspiracy to put down the free Press of Europe. Now, if I know anything of myself, I may affirm that I am not likely to enter into any conspiracy at all; still less should I feel disposed to enter into any conspiracy against the Press, of the substantial benefits and absolute necessity of which I defy any man to have a stronger opinion. I should hope, therefore, that my simple but unqualified denial would be sufficient to satisfy your Lordships of the groundlessness of the charge. But I have other evidence upon which to rest the question. My Lords, the subject of the press was mentioned once, and once only, at the Congress of Paris. On that single occasion it was referred to by Count Walewski, the President of the Congress, under the following circumstances:—One day, after all the duties of the Congress were over, he stated that the manner in which a certain portion of the Press in Belgium was conducted created some danger to the friendly relations that then existed between France and that country. It was not of that portion of the Press edited and established by Belgian subjects, and circulating among the Belgian people, that he complained, but it was of certain newspapers published in Belgium by French exiles with the intention of their being smuggled over the frontier and disseminated among the lower classes and the army of France, and preaching not only revolutionary doctrines, but the assassination of the Emperor. Count Walewski thought—I can scarcely say upon what grounds—that some expression of opinion on the part of the Plenipotentiaries there assembled would strengthen the hands of the Belgian Government, and would enable them to put an end to a state of things which endangered the friendly relations between the two countries. My reply to that proposition of the President of the Congress was reported in the Protocol of that day, and, with the permission of your Lordships, I will read it. It is as follows:— As regards the observations offered by Count Walewski on the excesses of the Belgian Press and the dangers which result therefrom for the adjoining countries, the Plenipotentiaries of England admit their importance; but, as the representatives of a country in which a free and independent Press is, so to say, one of the fundamental institutions, they cannot associate themselves to measures of coercion against the Press of another State. That, my Lords, is the only part I have taken in this general conspiracy against the freedom of the Press in Europe. The Protocol goes on to state— The first Plenipotentiary of Great Britain, while deploring the violence in which certain organs of the Belgian Press indulge, does not hesitate to declare that the authors of the execrable doctrines to which Count Walewski alludes, the men who preach assassination as the means of attaining a political object, are undeserving of the protection which guarantees to the Press its liberty and its independence. My Lords, if the right hon. Gentleman who made the charge against me had been present upon that occasion, I do not think he would have held different language— at least I am sure that there is not one of your Lordships present who would not have expressed in the strongest manner his disapproval of the doctrines of assassination preached in the journals to which I have alluded. The right hon. Gentleman either knew or did not know of the Protocol from which I have quoted, when he made the charge against me. If he did know of it, then I should be prepared to characterize the charge he brought against me as it deserves; but, if he did not know of what I said or did upon that occasion, I scarcely think that your Lordships will believe the declaration I have made to be altogether unnecessary.

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