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The Queen's Speech—Report On The Address

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 5 February 1851

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said, that not having had an opportunity of addressing the House on the previous evening, he was anxious to say a few words in order that the support he gave to the Address might not be misunderstood. Although he did not mean to offer any opposition to that Address, yet there were various things in the Speech with which he was by no means satisfied; and there were, besides, many omissions which he regretted. He could not join its expression of satisfaction with respect to foreign affairs. In common with the rest of the nation, he was pleased to find that we remained at peace with all nations; but, at the same same, he could have desired to have heard that, while peace was maintained, the influence of this country throughout Europe was greater, and better established, than, he was sorry to say, judging from the state of public affairs, it appeared to be. The Speech of last year contained a remarkable paragraph relating to the differences which had arisen between some of the great States in the east of Europe in regard to the treatment of the Hungarians who had taken refuge in the Turkish territory, and the House was told that Her Majesty united her efforts with those of France, "in order to assist, by the employment of her good offices, in effecting an amicable settlement of those differences in a manner consistent with the dignity and independence of the Porte." Now, it had long been the profession of British Governments, whether Whig or Tory, that they would support and maintain the integrity of the Turkish empire, and on the occasion alluded to it was felt that the demands of the Northern Courts to have certain refugees delivered up to their vengeance was a violation of the independence of the Turkish empire. He thought it would have been more creditable to our Government, and more agreeable to the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who had so often declared his anxiety on the subject, if he had been able to come forward and say, "We have not allowed the Turkish Government to be coerced into delivering up these unfortunate men, nor have we permitted the Turks to be forced by Austria to become the jailors of that Government." It would have been most creditable to the noble Lord could he have said, "Kossuth is no longer detained a prisoner against the law of nations, and contrary to the avowed desire of this country." He (Lord Dudley Stuart) felt the more upon this subject, because it was very well known that the sovereign of Turkey had no desire to detain these poor men in captivity, seeing that they had done nothing against him or his dominions. It was notorious that the Turks had no desire to continue these barbarities, but were compelled and coerced into doing so by the representations and influence of Austria. More than that, it was perfectly notorious—or at least it was generally believed by every one who had any acquaintance whatever with the affairs of Turkey—that if the influence of this Government had been properly exerted, earnestly and sincerely exerted, the Turks would have been very glad to return, as they had before, a decided negative to the unjust demands of Austria and Russia. He wished, therefore, that something of the kind had been mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, instead of the subjects which had been thought worthy of a place there. The last year had passed over in complete silence, and instead of Kossuth—that great man for whom such interest was felt in this country, throughout Europe, and in the United States of America—being liberated, he was allowed to rot in an infamous gaol, in which he had been immured through the brutality of the Austrian Government, and allowed to remain, through the apathy of our own. Neither could he, although, of course, he rejoiced at the general peace, look at the state of affairs in other parts of Europe with any satisfaction. He should have been glad if, through the friendly offices of this Government, the House could have been told that the constitutional patriots of Hesse had been saved from oppression, instead of knowing that the despotic Powers had put them down against all justice, and that their most legitimate and constitutional attempt to preserve their liberties without bloodshed, and by solely pacific means had been trampled under foot, while our Government looked on with indifference. They now saw the Austrian rule, at which the noble Lord had expressed so much dissatisfaction, powerful everywhere, the last news being that the Austrian troops were in occupation of the free town of Hamburg. He would not press this subject further; but he was anxious before he sat down to say a few words on the subject usually known as the Papal aggression. Now, although he was as much attached to the Protestant Church as any man in the country, he was anxious, while he reverenced his own religion, to give to every man the most full, free and uninterrupted enjoyment of his peculiar doctrines, and the full command of all internal religious regulations, and he could not conceive any measure of emancipation or toleration to be complete which came short of this. He fully admitted that the Pope's recent measures had been adopted with little courtesy towards the Government of this country. He must say, that for such a sovereign as the Pope, the weakest in Europe, supported only by foreign bayonets, to insult the Sovereign of a great country like this, by dividing her territory into districts, was a gross piece of insolence; and he rejoiced at the manifestations of Protestant feeling which had taken place in England on account of it. He was glad to see the Protestant feeling of the country; but that was a very different thing from interfering with Roman Catholics in the free exercise of their religion. To resort to penal laws would be, as the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had said, a step backwards; and he fully believed, with that hon. Member, that the time would come when the people of this country would be ashamed of the step now contemplated. Formerly the Pope's power was real, and there might be some grounds of alarm; but now it was a mere shadow, quite unworthy of the alarm it had created. He asked, what power did the Pope give by his late edict? Did he compel people to go to confession, or to put their hands in their pockets for his bishops? No, thank God, he might call spirits from the vasty deep, but they did not come upon his calling. Every one was bound to obey the Pope—just as far as he chose, and no farther. Why, then, this alarm? For his part, he felt none. He believed that truth was great and would prevail, and that there was no fear of the Established Church losing its territory, its titles, or its revenue. All these things were grounded in the laws and constitution of the country, and yet they were startled at the nomination by the Pope of a few titular bishops, as if it was suddenly to make the whole country Roman Catholic. He had no such apprehension; and, in his opinion, the House of Commons had nothing to do with the question. He did not care how many bishops were appointed by the Pope. The Emperor of Russia was head of the Greek Church, and although it was well known that he had no leaning to the Emperor of Russia, yet he would not care if that monarch were to send a parcel of Greek Popes here, and call them archbishops and bishops of different places. Those who condemned the Catholics for marking the country into districts for the purposes of their religion, ought, in consistency, to object to the Freemasons making a similar partition for the objects of their craft. The crusade in which the noble Lord at the head of the Government was about to embark against the names assumed by the Roman Catholic prelates, was puerile in the extreme. Such was the opinion of the noble Lord himself only a short time back. In 1845 the noble Lord stood up in that House and declared that he knew of no objection to Roman Catholic prelates taking the titles of bishops of this country, and that he was unable to conceive any good reason for restraining them from doing so. Again, in 1846, the noble Lord said that to pass a law to prevent persons from taking certain titles was puerile and absurd. It was to be hoped that when the noble Lord brought forward his Bill, he would explain to the House how he had come to change his opinions on this point. Of course, the noble Lord was justified in changing his opinions, if he did so conscientiously; but he was bound to state better reasons for his conversion than had yet been advanced. In the insinuation thrown out by the hon. Member for Sheffield, that the noble Lord had been influenced by a desire to gain popularity, he could not concur; on the contrary, he was ready to give him credit for noble and lofty aims in all that he did. The popularity the noble Lord might obtain from the course he was now pursuing would prove fleeting, compared with what he would obtain from carrying a measure of reform in the representation of the people. As the noble Lord had changed his opinion on the Roman Catholic question, it was possible he might have altered his views also with regard to some other subjects. He saw nothing in the Speech from the Throne in reference to that important question—the reform of Parliament. Last year it was confidently stated by some of the noble Lord's most intimate friends that some measure in that direction would speedily be brought forward; but in the present Speech there was not a word to give those who were looking for an extension of political rights a gleam of hope. Was the omission to be taken as a change of opinion on this question also? Again, nothing was said about the emancipation, of the Jews, a measure which of late years the noble Lord had espoused so warmly. Perhaps the noble Lord would condescend to give some explanation as to the course he intended to pursue on these important questions, in order that the country might know whether the expectations which they had been led to indulge in were to be realised. He was anxious that in giving his assent to the Address he might not be supposed as agreeing to the measures which he saw with sorrow were about to be taken, and which he considered an invasion of the great principle of toleration, while they would, he believed, be inoperative for the purpose for which they were introduced.

expressed regret that no hopes were held out in the Speech of relief to the agricultural interest. He referred in proof of the distress to a circumstance that had recently occurred at Eye, in Suffolk, where the agricultural labourers, to the number of between 300 and 400, marched into the town armed with clubs and sticks, and took possession of the workhouse, turning out the master, and breaking the wards and holding possession until they were forced to surrender by a party of shopkeepers and townsmen who had been summoned to assist, and by whom some of the ringleaders had been captured and placed in gaol for the offence. The cause of this outrage was that the labourers had been long out of work in consequence of the inability of the farmers to provide employment for them. In that district the last year had been a most ruinous one. The blight had destroyed, to a great extent, the produce of the land, reducing it from 5 quarters per acre, which the farmers had anticipated from the appearance of the crops in the spring, to 1½ or 2 quarters per acre. The effect of this had; been to place many men of capital in such a state of difficulty and distress that they were wholly unable to employ the labourers on their farms.

called the attention of the noble Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the question which had been put by his noble Friend (Lord Dudley Stuart) on a matter in which the public out of doors deeply sympathised, and which last year commanded as much interest out of doors as the Papal aggression did now. The question which his noble Friend had put was—why was the paragraph relating to the Hungarian refugees, and the efforts of Her Majesty's Government to ameliorate their condition, omitted from the present Speech, while the cause which had led to its insertion in the Speech of last year still existed? He thought respect for public opinion ought to extract from Government some explanation, whether there was any hope for those unfortunate men who were now, at the instance of Austria and Russia, confined in Turkey. It would be satisfactory also, if the noble Lord would state the number of them.

I can assure my hon. Friend that Her Majesty's Government were not inattentive to the subject alluded to. Communications have been carried on by Her Majesty's Ambassador at Constantinople with the Turkish Government, with the view of obtaining the release of these persons; but I am sorry to say that those efforts have not, as yet, been attended with that success which we could desire.

Will the noble Lord state whether all the Hungarians who took refuge in Turkey are still detained there, or whether any have been set at liberty?

I cannot state exactly. The number now at Katayah is not so great as it was; a considerable number, about 700 I believe, who remained at Shumlah for some time, have, I understand, lately been forwarded to Constantinople, but whether to be stationed at any place in that locality, or for the purpose of their being sent elsewhere I cannot say.

Address agreed to.

House adjourned at half-after Seven o'clock.