Mr. Secretary Yorke
rose and moved the order of the day for the second reading of the bill for amending and consolidating the various acts relative to volunteers. On the question being put from the chair,
§ Sir Robert Lawley
rose and addressed the House as follows.—Sir; I rise to take upon; myself a most delicate and distressing duty, by calling the attention of die House to a subject, which I consider to be one of the highest importance and the deepest interest to the country. The House win perceive, that I allude to the much lamented indisposition of our beloved Sovereign. Ever since much the 14th of the present month, this House, in common with the public at large, have been in possession of the melancholy information that his Majesty has been confined by a dangerous and doubtful illness. It is rot my wish to enter, with any; degree of minuteness, into this most delicate and distressing subject; but I cannot help thinking, after the interval which has taken place, and after the reports of the physicians specially appointed to declare to the public the state of his Majesty's health for the last two days, that Parliament has a right to expect some explicit communication. I cannot but consider such a communication necessary, in order to remove those distressing doubts which his Majesty's much deplored indisposition has created in every part of the country. Sir, I have a right to assume to myself, that that illness is of the most severe nature; and in the reports submitted to the public, no satisfactory ground of hope is held out that it will come to a speedy termination. Some direct, explicit communication is loudly called for, and this, as a member of Parliament, I think it my duty to require of ministers. Upon the answer which I shall receive to these few observations on this most interesting subject, I shall be guided, either in grounding upon it a specific motion, or in moving that this House do now adjourn.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer.
—Sir; in answer to the question which the honourable baronet has thought it his duty to, put to his Majesty's ministers, I feel it incumbent upon me to say, that I have the happiness of being enabled to state to this House, that, in the opinion of his Majesty's confidential servants, founded upon the best information that can be obtained, such a communication as that required by the hon. baronet, could not it possibly answer any good purpose; and farther, that any pro- 508 ceeding founded on such communication on the part of his Majesty's ministers, would, in their opinion, be inconsistent with the duty which they owe to the King, to Parliament, and to the country; highly indecent in itself under the present circumstances of his Majesty's indisposition, and, therefore, utterly unwarrantable.
§ Mr. Fox.
—I feel, Sir, that the subject introduced to the attention of the House is one of the highest interest and the most sacred importance. It is very far from my wish, in the course of my observations, to fail in that delicacy which it so strongly suggests. But, Sir, I should feel that I was deficient in duty to this House, deficient in duly to his Majesty, deficient in duty to the principles of the constitution, if I could bring myself to acquiesce in the answer which the right hon. gent., who just sit down, has thought fit to submit to our consideration. It does not accord with my opinions, to attach so great a degree of delicacy to this discussion, as some persons may wish to inculcate. There does not appear any material obstacle in the way of fair, liberal discussion, and it is with such a view of the subject, that I am desirous of laying before the House, the reasons which induce me to think the answer of the right hon. gent. altogether unsatisfactory. It will not, I conceive, Sir, be denied, that hitherto the House and the Public, know nothing of the lamented indisposition of his Majesty, except through die medium of those daily Reports which have been published by official authority. By these alone can we be guided. On these alone can any opinion be formed. But, Sir, how has the right hon. gent. proceeded in attempting this evening to convey any thing like information to the House? He has told us, that it is the opinion of his Majesty's confidential servants that no communication is necessary—that such a communication would be indecent—that it could be made the ground of no subsequent proceeding. On this most extraordinary declaration I wish to call the attention of the House, not only to common practice, but to what is the strict letter and spirit of the constitution. I have to say, then, that I know of no such persons as the King's confidential servants. They are a body utterly unknown in any constitutional view of the subject. I know, indeed, of a body of individuals more particularly employed in the executive government, but in this capacity alone can they be recognized. 509 The right hon. gent. opposite is known to this House as the person holding the important situation of Chancellor of the Exchequer, and other gentlemen may be known as holding other offices in his Majesty's service, bat as to confidential servants of his Majesty, the fact is, they cannot be recognized, in a general point of view, they are nothing more than privy counsellors, and can claim no superior distinction. There is one, and only one point of distinction, and that is, the circumstance of their being more frequently called upon for their advice by the Sovereign. When any business of emergency occurs, and a council is to be held, they are more frequently called upon for their assistance, and that, Sir, is the only distinction betwixt them and the other members of his Majesty's privy council. It will not surely, however, be necessary to take up much of the time of the House, in shewing that this is a distinction inseparable from the regular daily exercise of all the royal functions. From the moment that the Sovereign, from illness or from any other cause, is rendered incapable of discharging the functions of royalty, those persons, described as confidential servants of the crown, are nothing more than ordinary privy counsellors. The source of their distinction is, for the time, destroyed, and it is ridiculous to talk of their continuing the exercise of powers expressly delegated from the chief magistrate in person. If any communication bad been made this evening from those styling themselves the confidential servants of his Majesty, I am sure, Sir, that such a communication would have been received with all the respect due to any message from so honourable a body of individuals, and any subsequent proceedings founded on such a communication must have been matter for very grave and important inquiry. But how does the House stand with respect to any communication at the present moment? Why, Sir, the whole is reduced to this simple point:—The right hon. gent. over the way, has informed us that certain individuals, styling themselves his Majesty's confidential servants, of whom the House constitutionally know nothing, have felt it their duty to give no information on a subject deeply interesting, not to the members of this House alone, but to every loyal man throughout the empire. They tell us farther, that any communication of his sort would be productive of no good consequence, but that to require any information at present would be equally improper and indecent. It is not surely, Sir, at all unreasonable to ask, whether this opinion is founded on any knowledge of 510 the present state of his Majesty's health, and the prospect of a speedy recovery? But here the right hon. gent. will not condescend to gratify the House with a single tittle of information. His answer is, that in the opinion of his Majesty's confidential servants, there is no occasion for any communication, and in this assurance Parliament is to confide. Now, how does the public information, respecting the Sovereign's health, stand? Has that information, which must be so gratifying to every loyal heart, been communicated, that the period of his Majesty's recovery may be expected to be near at hand? Have government communicated any thing at all like this to the House? Have they said a single word as to the probable duration of his Majesty's illness, and his ability to resume the ordinary functions of royalty? On these points they have left the House in a state of total darkness. If they had made any communication to the House, then it would have been for Parliament to determine whether a longer pause might not be allowed, without resorting to any extraordinary measures. On the other hand, if the communication had not been of so satisfactory a nature, the House, in the exercise of its constitutional privileges, would have been called upon to deliberate as to the steps proper to be adopted, and to decide whether those steps should be such as were applicable to a contingent event, or directed to an immediate evil. These, Sir, are my general views as to the imperious necessity of a communication on so very interesting a subject. After the communication had been made, it would then have remained with us to determine, what time was to elapse before it was made the ground of any subsequent proceedings, and before the nature of these proceedings is folly ascertained. If any argument were wanting to prove the expediency of an immediate communication to Parliament, in my opinion the official reports of his Majesty's health for the two last days would be fully sufficient to demonstrate it. It is very clear from these reports, that the speedy recovery of his Majesty is not to be reasonably expected. Yesterday the report was gratifying, so far as this, that an assurance of his Majesty's recovery from the illness with which he has been afflicted, was held forth, but it was, at the same time, accompanied with the declaration of the physicians, that a rapid amendment could not be expected. To day the report was, that his Majesty was still better than he was yesterday, and that he was gradually approaching to recovery. There is, to he sure, Sir, in these reports, much to gratify every Royal 511 neart; but though we may now hone that his Majesty is out of danger, we have no ground for believing, that he will speedily be enabled to resume the functions of royally. In the one report we are told, that a rapid recovery cannot be expected; and, in the other, that he is gradually approaching to recovery. The terms are clearly contradistinguished to each other; and, if language has any meaning, the assertion I have new made is fully established. All loyal subjects are happy to have such good accounts of the health of their Sovereign; but as it is now declared that his recovery must be gradual, the question of the expediency of some communication on the subject to the House becomes more apparent. It is not at all my wish, on the present occasion, to anticipate what decision the House may come to after a communication is made; but I must protest against the doctrine, that certain persons, styling themselves his Majesty's confidential servants, should take on themselves the right of determining when a communication to Parliament should be brought forward. For any individuals, whatever situation under government they hold, whether appearing as Chancellor of the Exchequer, or as Secretaries of State, to assume to themselves the right of judging when an undoubted privilege of Parliament is to be exercised, is assuming a power which no former ministers have ever done in any period of our history. I have already said, Sir, that it is not my wish to anticipate any future discussion. I may, however, be permitted to allude to one fact, which is certainly of very considerable importance. As early, I believe, as the beginning of February, a circular letter was sent to the lord lieutenants of the several counties of the kingdom, announcing that a formidable and immediate attempt at invasion was expected by government. I believe, Sir, if such an opinion was entertained by government at that time, no circumstances have since reached them which can at all decrease their apprehensions of dinger. Since the period alluded to, there have, on the contrary, been reports which still more strongly countenance the idea of an immediate attack of the enemy, and believe it is now the opinion of many persons, that the enemy are only waiting the favorable moment to carry their threats into execution. Under such circumstances, I would call on ministers to consider, what would be the consequence of the suspension of the royal functions, if the enemy should, at such a crisis, succeed in landing on our shores? Before the volunteers could be called into action, it would be 512 necessary to subject them to martial-law; I but how is this to be effected, if there is no I power in the state to issue the requisite proclamation? It is impossible for any gentleman to determine at what time the atttempt; of the enemy may be made. Even before we have left the place in which we are now assembled, intelligence of a landing may be received. Let me put it, Sir, to the right honourable gentleman, and to the House, in what situation the country would be placed, it, at the moment of invasion, the executive, authority was totally suspended? If even under any circumstances invasion would be formidable, it is needless to expatiate on the increase of this danger under circumstances such as those now alluded to. But, Sir, there are other points of a constitutional nature, which loudly call for the adoption of some measure, to supply the place of the temporary suspension of the royal functions. These are not points of small import, but, on the contrary, highly worthy of consideration. As a supporter and admirer of the constitution, I am desirous of seeing all its branches properly balanced. Let me ask then, whether it is not consonant, as well to the letter, as to the spirit of the constitution, that the executive authority should keep up a due influence over the legislative power? It is the undoubted prerogative of the Sovereign to preserve a certain degree of control over the legislature, as it is of the legislature to watch over the proceedings of the executive part of the constitution. Of these powers of the Sovereign, there is none more clear than his right of proroguing or dissolving Parliament, even at rive minutes notice. If this is s: clear principle of the constitution, I should be glad to know how this control is to be exercised, and it ought to be constantly and actively employed, in the tota labsence of the exercise of the royal functions? The right honourable gentleman has informed the House, that his Majesty's confidential servants do not think any communication necessary, How far it may or may not be necessary, is not a point for them to decide. This decision is the exclusive right of Parliament, I am really utterly at a loss to know on what principle this extraordinary confidence is called for—on what ground it is that they require the House to make them the judges, when the real state of the health of the Sovereign is to be laid before the legislature.—By what claim are they to decide as to the time of making a communication so interesting to all orders of the community? There is no book, there is no practice, there is no principle to justify the plea set up, of constituting the Kings ministers, after the func- 513 tions of royalty have been suspended, the persons do determine what is most conducive to the public safety. Perhaps, Sir, I may hear a great deal of the responsibility which will attach to ministers. In no case could I consent to vest any set of men with extraordinary powers, from any promises of responsibility. But, more especially n capes where the most important interests of the state are involved, I should be particularly Jealous of conferring such powers. At a period when the very existence of the empire is at stake, it would be but a poor consolation to think that those who brought it to destruction were responsible for their errors and their crimes. When we see this reluctance on the part of ministers to communicate information, we are inclined to inquire, when the period will come when such a communication will be produced. Already a fortnight has elapsed, during which the functions of royalty have been confessedly suspended Another fortnight may elapse, and the House may remain as uninformed on the subject of the indisposition of the Sovereign, as at the present moment. In the first instance, no satisfactory information was afforded, and in the oilier case information might be with-held on equally solid grounds. What I require is, that the two Houses of Parliament should be apprised of the actual state of his Majesty's health, and thus be enabled to form an opinion of the steps necessary to be adopted for the public interest. At present no information has been given, and no grounds exist on which any grave deliberation can take place. It is impossible, Sir, to ascertain what is the limit to which the confidence required by ministers is to be carried. The system of blindfold, implicit confidence may go on from, day to day. The executive power, at all times necessary, but more peculiarly requisite at a moment of the greatest national peril, may continue to be suspended. What adds to the danger arising from this system is, that the danger which menaces the country is one which is repeated from day to day. No gentleman can pretend to fix the period when the great crisis may arrive, but government ought to have the best information, as on them this responsibility must rest. But, whatever may be the conduct of ministers, let not this House be deficient in their duty. Let us shew that we are impressed with suitable views of the whole circumstances of the empire, and that nothing on our part shall be wanting to contribute to its general honour, independence, and safety.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer.
—Sir before I proceed to notice the other parts of 514 the speech of the hon. gent. who has just sat down, I beg leave to make a few observations on a subject which he appears to have viewed in a very important light. The subject I refer to, is the particular description employed in my first explanation to the hon. Baronet, who introduced the question, where I spoke of myself and my colleagues, as his Majesty's confidential servants. In making use of this expression, I merely employed a term long used, and perfectly well understood in this House. In using it, it was very far indeed from my wish, to hold out, in the most distant manner, the idea that any confidential servant of his Majesty was at all freed from the gravest responsibility. I do not mean to dispute the position, that with this House must ultimately rest the determination, whether any steps may be supposed requisite to meet any extraordinary emergency arising from the suspension of the royal functions, or whether any measures beyond the common course of procedure may be adopted. The hon. gent., however, seems to insinuate, that there is, on the part of his! Majesty's ministers, a desire to with-hold communication when it is loudly called for by the circumstances of the country; on the contrary, Sir, I affirm positively, that there is, on our part, no unworthy wish of concealing any degree of information which, consistently with our duly, could possibly be disclosed. We are anxious that nothing which ought to be known should be withheld, while we are desirous of being regulated by that delicacy, which, on a subject of this nature, is, on all hands, allowed to be so important. His Majesty's ministers, in the conduct which they have hitherto pursued, have flattered themselves that they consulted the wishes and the feelings of a great majority of the House, as well as the public; and if they now abstain from any communication, it is from a sincere conviction, that it would be inexpedient, and that, instead of being subservient to any useful purpose, it might only furnish grounds for discussions, at all times to be reprobated but more especially to be avoided in the present circumstances of the empire. We are sensible, Sir, that in following this line of conduct, we subject ourselves to a most perilous responsibility. We are aware, that in the performance of our duty to the Sovereign, we are not to overlook what we owe to the safety of the country, at a period of unexampled danger. It is not calling for too much credit, to ask of the House, to believe, that before our determination was formed, these considerations were maturely weighed, and that the result of these determinations has been made 515 liable to a responsibility, greater than ever was experienced We are not ignorant how far our obligation extends, and it is only after contemplating the subject in every possible light, that our resolution has been declared. I have to repeat then, as I said in the first instance, that any communication given under the present circumstances could afford no national advantage, while it might give rise to material inconvenience. The hon. gent. who spoke last will surely not contend, that on every occasion when, by temporary illness, the functions of the Sovereign are suspended, it would be either necessary or expedient to make a communication on the subject to Parliament. But, this, Sir, is the amount of his argument, if carried to its utmost extent. The hon. gent. will not contend, that the interference of Parliament is indispensably necessary, except in cases of extraordinary emergency, and I must be allowed to say, that the present situation of his Majesty is not one which falls under this general description. It has been argued, that the indisposition of his Majesty is not one likely to be or short duration, and in support of this, the official report of the physicians immediately appointed to attend the Royal Person, is adduced. On this point, I beg leave to make a few remarks, founded, not on light grounds, but the remit of the most careful and anxious inquiry. After having collected every possible degree of information en the subject, I feel it my duty, Sir, to state, that the last reports of the physicians attending his Majesty, furnish ne evidence against the speedy recovery of his Majesty. The fact is, that the report on which the hon. member has laid so much stress, was founded more on a wish to relieve that impatience which pervaded all rank of the community, than on any opinion that the disorder with which his Majesty was afflicted was of a lingering description. The report, Sir, I have no hesitation in saying, was more in conformity to this general feeling, than to any ordinary appearances of his Majesty's indisposition. On the authority of these gentlemen by whom the bulletin is regularly signed, I feel myself entitled to say, that comparing the present state of his Majesty's indisposition with what it was on the two former occasions, there is every reason to believe that the indisposition will be of short duration. A good deal has been said, Sir. of the consequences of the continuance of the suspension of the functions of royalty. No man can reflect on this subject without weighing well, what would be the effect of any determination which he might form. It is surely not presuming too far to put in a 516 claim on behalf of myself and my colleagues, that, before we came to the resolution which I stated in the commencement of the debate, we endeavoured to revolve the subject with the greatest anxiety and care. The resolution taken was one not hastily adopted, not stated to the House without the amplest consultation. It was brought forward under the firmest impression of its necessity, and the most grave conviction of the responsibility which it necessarily involved. There is one point to which the hon. gent. alluded, on which I wish to make one remark. He seemed to suppose, that if, during the suspension of the royal functions, a landing of the enemy should be effected, no proclamation could be issued for calling out the volunteers, and placing them under martial law. In this idea, the hon. gent. is certainly mistaken, for the royal fignature, under the sign manual, is not necessary for such a proclamation. But even admitting that a such proclamation were necessary, the hon. gent. will not gain much in his argument. For, I am happy to be able to state, that even in the event of invasion, the business of government would encounter no sort of obstruction. I cannot at present enter on the statement of particular facts to establish this position, but shall content myself with assuring the House, that if any extraordinary occasion should occur for the exercise of the royal functions, there exists no obstruction to their exercise. Let me implore the House, therefore, not to listen to any proposition which can have the effect of embarrassing public business, or augmenting that anxiety, necessarily arising out of the present circumstances of the country. His Majesty's servants in calling for this conduct on the part of the House, are far from wishing to shrink from that responsibility, which must necessarily attach to their present policy. They have endeavoured to combine and compare the different circumstances in the state of the empire. On the one hand, they have thought of their calls of duty to the Sovereign, without for a moment losing sight of the still more imperious duty of consulting the safety of the empire:. It is not their wish to delay any communication, longer than necessity appears to require. They are anxious that premature information should not be pressed for, and they throw themselves on the candour of Parliament, subject to the gravest responsibility. To press such a communication at present, would, in my opinion, be unreasonable. To produce it under existing circumstances, appears to his Majesty's servants equally indecent and unwarrantable. They feel, that in with-holding it they act in a manner which 517 their conscience approves, and they are convinced, that, had they acted otherwise, their conduct would have been universally condemned. It really, Sir, does appear to me extraordinary, that, whatever the opinion of gentlemen may be as to the necessity of a communication, they should endeavour to press the question of adjournment, at a crisis so full of interest, and so pregnant with danger. If a communication is considered as important, surely this is not the best mode of obtaining it. It will not be denied, that at such a moment as this, it would be highly inexpedient to interrupt the regular business of the legislature. If the country is in a state of danger, then it surely behoves Parliament to display more than common watchfulness and activity. So much, indeed, was I impressed with the imperious necessity of this House being assembled from day to day, that when I moved, on Friday last, that the adjonrnment should extend to Monday, I had almost prepared myself for some opposition. The motion of the hon. baronet does, therefore, greatly surprise me. It seems to have no sort of connexion with the question first submitted to the House, and I trust that on the present occasion it will not be entertained. I feel it important that the House should continue sitting; and how the hon. baronet, opposite to me, who is so desirous of a communication being made to the House, who calls so earnestly for information, can reconcile it with a motion for adjournment; I leave him to explain. I hope now, that the motion for the second reading of the volunteer bill, will be carried, there being no circumstances to justify any further delay of that measure.
—Sir; I had not the good fortune to be in the House when the hon. baronet made his motion, and I am not quite sure that I now perfectly understand what the object of it is. I have, however, been informed, that the hon. baronet has made a motion for an adjournment, and that the ground he assigns for it is, that no regular communication has been made to the House upon a subject which so much interests the feelings of all classes of the community. I confess, that whatever opinion I may entertain upon the whole of that critical and anxious situation in which the country is now placed, and a more critical and anxious one never existed in the history of this country, I can not think that the motion for an adjournment is one, which, in any possible view of the subject, can be either expedient or proper. I certainly do feel, that if, unfortunately, the moment should come, which I most earnestly hope will 518 never be the case, when Parliament shall be obliged to take cognizance of a suspension in the exercise of the royal functions, from that moment I think, on the constitutional ground staled by the hon. gent. opposite to me (Mr. Fox), that Parliament should be precluded from doing any act, except that of taking the necessary" measures for supplying the deficiency in the executive branch of the constitution; This is an opinion I have always entertained, and this is the conduct which was adopted by Parliament on a former melancholy occasion; and although, at the period to which I allude, there was a very considerable difference of opinion as to the particular mode which ought to be adopted, vet I believe the general principle which had been laid down was universally approved of. But I certainly do not think, that a mere general apprehension and impression, however well founded they may appear to be, that the personal exercise of the royal authority has been suspended, would justify Parliament in suspending all its other functions, unless that fact was communicated to them in a way that would render it necessary for them to take notice of it. If however, the regular reports of the physicians appointed to attend his Majesty, should induce gentlemen to think, that, it is the duty of ministers, under all the circumstances of the case, to take immediate steps for making a communication to Parliament upon the subject, it is not only proper, but it is the duty of those members who entertain that opinion, to inquire of ministers why they have not made such communication to Parliament? I confess I feel that it is a most difficult and arduous responsibility for ministers to determine, how long the communication ought to be delayed, and at what moment it ought to be made. Whatever my opinion of ministers may be on other points, I am sure there is no man in his Majesty's councils, who does not feel that responsibility which, great as it must be at all times, and under any circumstance, is, in the present state of the country, increased tenfold. Looking, as I do for one, with the feetings I have always cherished, to the possibility of reaching the moment of the complete restoration of his Majesty's health without the necessity of any interference on the part of Parliament, yet I certainly do feel, that, in the present critical situation of the country, we must count by days, and even by hours, in judging of the interval that ought to be allowed before the interference of Parliament becomes necessary, I must, 519 therefore, say, that it would become ministers, well and maturely to consider the situation of the country, in deciding upon the line of conduct they ought to adopt. Ministers ought, and of course do know more of the state of affairs than other persons; the may be acquainted with circumstances, which may warrant them in thinking that a delay of a few days may be hazarded; but, every member in this House, every man in the country, knows that the country is threatened with a danger which may produce the most awful crisis it ever experienced. I, however, do not know to whom (unless upon a supposition of criminal negligence) except those persons who, in consequence of tills calamitous event, are left in the situation of his Majesty's actual ministers; I do not, I say, know to whom, except to them, belongs, in the first instance, the responsibility of communication. It is, undoubtedly, a very nice and difficult point to decide, what the actual situation of ministers is, because they are left in a situation, for which the constitution has made no provision. Without at present entering into that discussion, I am clearly of opinion, that they being up to the moment of the supposed inability of his Majesty to exercise his royal functions, entrusted with the management of public affairs, it is not possible that they can be displaced from their situations, or absolved from the duties of their offices, until the fact is ascertained by Parliament. I will not take upon myself to say how long the communication may be delayed, or at what moment it ought to be made; but, undoubtedly, 4be danger and pressure of the moment may, even against men's wishes and feelings, create a sort of impatience upon this point, and make it a public duty to call for direct communication to Parliament. I do, therefore, hope, that ministers will HOI, both for the sake of the Sovereign and of the country, push any feelings of delicacy, and sentiments of reverence and affection, which they, in common with every loyal man in the country, must feel; I hope, I say, they will not push those sentiments to the extent of endangering that, which has always been the dearest object of his Majesty's care, viz. the safety of those subjects whose happiness it has been the study of his life to promote. Having said this, God forbid that I should anticipate the melancholy moment of their being obliged, by the continuance of his Majesty's illness, to adopt any measure upon the subject; but, at present, I am of opinion, that the responsibility of making 520 the communication ought to be left where it is now placed; and, whatever may be my opinion of the conduct of ministers upon other points, I cannot believe that they will push, to a dangerous and criminal excess, that awful responsibility which belongs to them. In the mean time, there does not appear to me to exist any circumstance which calls upon us to suspend all our Parliamentary duties: until that communication-to which I have before alluded be made to Parliament (and which I most fervently hope it will never be necessary to make) we are bound, by the duty which we owe to our country, especially in the arduous situation in which it is now placed, not to abandons our functions, or to. neglect our duties; for if any thing could aggravate the feelings of public affliction, or place the country in a stale of real danger, it would be if any sudden alarm should occur in the interval when the exercise of the royal functions was suspended, and when Parliament had abandoned its duty, and abstained from proceeding with the necessary measures; because, by preparing for the royal assent, they might accelerate the effect of any legislative measure which it might be necessary to adopt to strengthen the country in the present crisis. I feel the measure which is appointed for discussion this day, viz. the volunteer bill, as coming under this description; not indeed, the measure itself, at least in its present, shape, but the subject with which it is connected, because I think it may be made the means of giving us more substantial and effectual means of defence than those we now possess. I do not mean to say, that we have not now great and sufficient means of defence, but that they may still be more completely organised and consolidated. I am, therefore, most clearly of opinion, that whatever else it may become our duty to do, whether it may become necessary for us to institute a parliamentary inquiry or not, still that in the mean time we ought not to abandon our functions, but to proceed as tar as possible with those measures, which are calculated to add to the defence and security of the country; by which means we shall avoid the mischief of unnecessary delay and diminish the evil which must exist, even from the interval of interruption of the royal functions, which has already taken place. If, then, there be any weight in these considerations, hope we shall not now adjourn: indeed we ought not to adjourn, even upon the principles of the hon. baronet who made the motion; because, if further communication is necessary, most unquestionably the Mouse ought to sit to put itself in a situ- 521 ation of hearing it. If any further interval is to elapse, before a communication takes place, still there is the same objection to the motion for ajournment; because, though I do not mean to throw out any insinuation against ministers, and though they have no temptation whatever to act wrong, yet it cannot for a moment be doubted, but, at such a moment, and under such circumstances, it is the duty of Parliament to continue sitting.—I Under these circumstances, I entertain a strong hope, that the House will look dispassionately at the present state of public affairs, because it is one which ought to suspend every idea of party dissention; this is not a moment for any man, or set of men, to endeavour to obtain a triumph over their opponents. The crisis is much too serious and: awful. The danger with which the country is threatened is great enough, without aggravating it by personal animosities or party dissentions. In mentioning the danger with which the country is threatened, I wish to be understood, that, in my opinion, nothing can render that danger fatal but a spirit of animosity prevailing among men of weight and consideration in the country. Unanimity is now more than ever desirable. I mean as to great and essential measures: as to the ordinary business of Parliament, I see no reason why the House should not debate them now, as well as at any other period, and therefore it is, that I am desirous that we should now, enter upon the business appointed for discussion this day.
§ Mr. Windham,
I rise, Sir, to submit a few observations to the House, in consequence of what has fallen from different gentlemen in the course of this most interesting discussion. My right honourable friend who has just sat down, has argued this question, as if the adjournment proposed by the motion, was meant to take place for some time, and to suspend the Junctions of Parliament; but, assuredly, that is not the intention of the honourable baronet who made the motion; if it was, I certainly could not give it my support. The motion merely means, as I understand it, tin adjournment for this day.—Before, Sir, I proceed any further, I beg to return my thanks to the honourable baronet, who brought forward the present question. In making the motion which he has submitted to the House, he has performed a duty incumbent on every member of the House, but one which I am sorry to say, many of us would not have possessed sufficient fortitude to perform. For my own part, I am free to declare, that I should have left the House sorrowful and dejected, if the subject which 522 the honourable baronet has brought under discussion had escaped animadversion.—In answer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I have to observe, that I have often, in the course of my parliamentary life, heard discussions about confidence, and have myself often argued upon the necessity of reposing a reasonable degree of confidence in ministers, but never did I hear it argued for, to the extent that it has been argued for this night by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The whole substance of his argument amounted to this: "Here we are, his Majesty's confidential servants; we are in full possession of circumstances, but we will mike no communication, however urgent the crisis may be, and we claim responsibility. We call upon yon, the Parliament of England, to trust blindfolded to us, without any other security than our own responsibility." Now, without meaning, Sir, any thing disrespectful or harsh to his Majesty's ministers, this is a confidence which, in my opinion, ought not to be reposed in any ministers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has asked: "Upon every temporary illness to which his Majesty may be subject, will you go to the length of maintaining that it is necessary to apply for the interference of Parliament?" If I were bound to answer that question in strict conformity to the principle of the constitution, my answer would be, "yes." But it is very well known that general theories always admit of some mitigation, and, in certain cases, Parliament may connive at a short neglect of its dunes, but upon such a point there must exist some limitation,: but how is Parliament to ascertain what is the proper point of limitation, if, as in the present instance, they are deprived of all regular information? All the satisfaction that Parliament can obtain from his Majesty's ministers is this; "We know our duty, we act upon our responsibility, and therefore you, the Commons of England, must wait till we tell you that it is right and tit you should interfere." Against a doctrine so outrageous, so dangerous, and so unconstitutional, I do most solemnly protest. There never was, I will maintain, a doctrine so outrageous of all principle, and so pregnant with the most serious mischiefs.—It is one that has never before been advanced that whenever the Sovereign ceases from whatever cause, to have his regular control, the confidential servants of the crown are to carry on the government as long as they please, or until circumstances require an actual exercise of the royal authority. If you once admit the principle, it is impossible to say how long the country may be kept without an executive government. We have 523 seen that ministers have, for a fortnight, suffered the functions of royalty to be suspended, and even now they think no communication necessary. How are we to know how long this system is to be continued? I really see no reason why, upon the principle now laid down, it may not be kept so for six months. My light honourable friend (Mr. Pitt) does not, indeed, go to the same length as the Chancellor of the Exchequer: he has displayed his usual judgment upon this question; but still I cannot concur with him in opinion, that the moment (though he admits it to be near) is not yet come in which the interference of Parliament is necessary. This is the real question before the House. Is the period arrived, or is it not, when Parliament can no longer trust to his Majesty's confidential servants? Let us consider in what manner and by what circumstances the present moment is distinguished from those which have preceded it? And whether, if we do not interfere now, there is any thing to make us interfere afterwards, except the lapse of time, which, as my right hon. friend has said, we must count upon this most interesting subject by days and by hours.—There are, let me remind the House, two moments to be kept in view, the moment of inquiry and the moment of proceeding. This question has been argued, as if the consequence of a communication to Parliament must be the immediate adoption of some measure to supply the deficiency of the executive government. But this is not the case. We do not call for any parliamentary proceeding, but for an inquiry: and upon the result of that inquiry it would depend, whether any further proceeding were necessary or not.—Now, Sir, the reports respecting the state of his Majesty's health are those only on which we can place any reliance; yet, what is very extraordinary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us, we are not to be guided by these reports. He not only says, you are to rely on me in preference, nay in opposition to the physicians, but he goes still farther, and tells you what the physicians mean to say. He is determined not only to declare against their opinions, but he is resolved, that they shall not be permitted to put their own meaning on their own words. The physicians say, that his Majesty's recovery can only be gradual; but the fact, says the hon. gentleman, is not so. "The physicians did, to be sure, put such language into the report; but it was not thus that their meaning is to be understood. They only used this language to quiet the popular anxiety, and to put an end to ru- 524 mours out of doors; but I can give you certain information, that the report of the physicians is quite short of the truth, and that his Majesty is, at this moment, fully adequate to the functions of Royalty." Surely, Sir, this is to take a most unwarrantable liberty, both with the characters of the physicians who are described to have acted thus, and with the duties and dignity of the House to whom such a representation is addressed. To ascertain what these duties are, let us see what is the fact. It is now about fourteen days, since the House and the country received the alarming and afflicting notification, of the King's indisposition. The very notification proved that the illness could not be of a very slight or transient nature; and, undoubtedly, the general opinion was, that the illness, whatever was its kind, was in degree such as prevented for the time, the exercise of the Royal functions. The House decidedly acted upon this persuasion, having, by a sort of general agreement, than which nothing could be more proper nor more decorous, and in which the ministers had their full share, suspended all business that was not of a mere private or formal nature. What information has the House received upon the subject since that time?—the report of yesterday which precludes the hope of a rapid amendment. The facts thus stated, constitute the true description of the situation of the country. We know, by authority that his Majesty is ill: we believe his illness to extend to the degree that I have described; and we are now told that a rapid recovery from this illness is not to be expected. The country is, therefore, in a most alarming state, and upon the principle now laid down, it may continue in that state for any indefinite time longer. The House, in cases of this sort, may, for a while, dissemble its feelings; it may, for a while, turn away from its situation, and shut its ears to the call of duty; but can we go on in this way, when the knowledge of our situation is forced upon us, when we can no longer disguise to ourselves the facts, or deny the duty which those facts necessarily give rise to? I certainly hope that the physicians may turn out to be mistaken in their opinion; it is very possible that it may be so; but still that opinion is the only authority the House can act upon. I do not know, nor could the physicians themselves say with precision, what period they had in view, when they said a rapid recovery was not to be expected; but they certainly meant to acquaint the public that they were not to flatter themselves with the hope that his Majesty's restoration to 525 health could be immediate. Can Parliament, with this knowledge before them, go on proceeding upon business as if nothing had happened? Can we, with propriety, go on at all? At all events, it appears to me that all business ought to be suspended, but that which is immediately necessary. With regard to the bill now before the House, no man can say that it is immediately necessary, though I agree with my right hon. friend, that the discussions connected with it are of the utmost importance. With the opinions entertain upon this subject, I certainly do not wish to have the discussion unnecessarily postponed, but it is singular, that ministers should now be so anxious to press forward the discussion, after they have postponed all public business for a fortnight. It is rather singular to observe the time at which they now call upon the House to proceed upon business; it is exactly the day after the physicians have! declared, that they did not entertain hopes of a rapid amendment in his Majesty's health. I again beg to repeat the question, at what period do ministers think that the House ought to interfere, or is it meant that Parliament should go on blind-folded, until those who have been chosen his Majesty's confidential ministers think fit to make a communication? I cannot reconcile this to any principle of the constitution, to the practice of Parliament, to any regard for the interests and safety of the Monarchy, or to any well-founded consideration of the interests and feelings of the Sovereign himself.—In what fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a little word "indecency" slipt in, upon which I cannot avoid making a few observations. That right hon. gentleman has spoken of the indecency of these discussions. I beg leave to say, that I have as just a sense and as deep a feeling of what is due to his Majesty's personal character and feelings as the honourable gentleman or any of his Majesty's ministers. In constitutional attachment to the Sovereign all loyal men must be presumed to be equal. It is saying little, therefore, to say that, in that respect, I shall not allow myself to be outdone by the honourable gentleman; but I shall as little allow myself to be outdone by the honourable gentleman, or any one else in that further sense of personal respect and attachment which may be felt by those who may have enjoyed, more or less, the honour of being admitted to his presence, who may have? witnessed more nearly his private virtues and his domestic happiness, and have received in various degrees marks of his royal condescension and favour. On no one of these grounds will I yield to any of his Majesty's 526 confidential servants, nor allow that such feelings are in the smallest degree, called in question, by any thing that has been said by me or others on the present occasion. On the contrary, I do think it highly indecent in ministers to insinuate, that any measure proposed to be adopted for the benefit of the state, for the safety of the monarchy, and consequently for the service of his Majesty, is or can be in contradiction with the royal feelings. There is no ground for any remark of this sort. If Parliament did not, in the circumstances in which we are placed, call for further information, after so long a period has elapsed, after the information it has received from the physicians, it would, in my opinion, abandon its duty and disgrace its character, and I should have retired this night from the House with a mind dejected and sorrowful, if no member had made this inquiry, and if this discussion had not taken place.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer,
Sir; there are two points to which must beg the attention of the House. I rise for the purpose of denying that ever broached the doctrine which the hon. gent. who spoke last has attributed to me. I said that the argument of the hon. gent. opposite to me (Mr. Fox) seemed to imply, that there ought to be always an interference in that House whenever their was any supposed interruption in the personal exercise of the royal authority, but I never stated, that, if there was any delay on the part of his Majesty's ministers, the House was at all fettered in its discretion, or that the House might not, without any communication on their part, institute any proceeding which the House thought fit. The hon. gent. has also stated that I have set up my own opinion in opposition to his Majesty's physicians. All I can say on this part of the accusation against me is, that I have stated nothing as matter of speculation or opinion of my own, but upon the authority of the physicians. I wish to be distinctly understood here to restate, that there is not, at this time, any necessary suspension of such royal functions as it may be necessary for his Majesty to discharge at the present moment.
§ Mr. Canning,
—Sir I feel, in common with my right hon. friend over the way, that the hon. baronet who provoked this discussion is deserving of the thanks of the House and of the country, and I am sure he will have them for the motion he has made Whatever difference there may be as to the mode, there is every reason to be satisfied with what has been done. The effect of the motion has been to procure much informa- 527 tion. which would not have been given if the hon. baronet had not required it. If I understood the right hon. gent. (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) right, he stated that if any emergency should arise, there is no physical cause why the royal functions should not be exercised by his Majesty even now This is a more consoling, and satisfactory communication, than anyone now present could have set out with the hope of receiving when he came down to this House. Whether it be well founded or not, rests entirely on the responsibility of his Majesty's ministers, and I do hope, that as the attention of Parliament has been called to this most important point, and warning has been given to ministers, that a strict watch is kept over them, the House will not be put back much beyond the proper time, as to any communication which it may be necessary to make. The only question now before the House is, whether, in contemplation of a more speedy termination of the calamity that has befallen his Majesty, than any one in the House expected this night, the House will put itself forward to meet his Majesty on the resumption of his royal functions, with those important measures which are most necessary to the safety of the country, or, by adjourning this night, leave the question which the hon. baronet has put, to be repeated to-morrow, without any greater chance of a satisfactory explanation. It does seem to me, that pressing the question to a division, may be attended with bad consequences. I am sure such consequences are extremely remote from what the hon. baronet had in contemplation in putting the question. The only practical difference in meeting tomorrow, if the question should be pressed to a division, will be, that the House will meet to-morrow with the bill appointed to be read a second time this night, one stage backward; but if, on the division, the present motion should be rejected, it will be a precedent for future unnecessary delay. I again return my thanks to the hon. baronet, for the information he has procured, and I hope that ministers will now feel, that the eyes of the country are more anxiously turned towards them, particularly since the explanations which have taken place this night. In expressing, therefore, my warmest thanks to the hon. baronet who has brought forward this motion, I entreat and implore of him, not to press it to a division, that the ministers may feel the weight of the responsibility which they have thought proper to take upon themselves. If it should be pushed to a division, I fear I shall, for 528 the reasons I have stated, be under the necessity of voting against the adjournment; but if such a vole, if I should be put to the necessity of giving it, be construed into the slightest or most remote shadow of confidence in die present government, I shall be most egregiously misunderstood. Having stated these grounds for my request, I do earnestly entreat the hon. baronet to spare me the pain which I should feel, if I thought there was the most remote possibility of such a construction being but upon my conduct.
§ Mr. Grey.
—Sir; after what has been said by my hon. friend near me (Mr. Fox), and the right hon. gent. on the bench below (Mr. Windham), I should not have risen for any other purpose than to obtain an explanation of an ambiguous expression which has fallen from the right hon. gent. opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer); an expression which would have a dangerous tendency if the ambiguity were not explained. I have felt, I am sure, in common with every one present, the highest satisfaction at the improved state of health in which the House is given to understand that his Majesty is in; but this satisfaction base nevertheless, been damped by doubt and suspence. When it was stated that there was not any necessary suspension of the royal authority, as to such functions as it may be incumbent on his Majesty to discharge, the statement was qualified, as to such functions as extraordinary circumstances may render necessary. I wish the report had been more large, and less liable to be divided by distinctions: for I cannot conceive a royal authority competent to some things and not competent to others. If the royal authority is, in fact, competent to some duties, but not to all, dreadful indeed, as the right hon. gent. under the gallery (Mr. Pitt) has described it, is the responsibility which those who state themselves to be his Majesty's confidential ministers have assumed. If they think the royal authority in the present state of his Majesty's health, competent to some things, and incompetent to others; they, in fact, take every tiling upon themselves. On this ground it is that I wish for explanation, for without explanation the assurance that has been given is incomplete. It would have been more satisfactory if his Majesty's ministers had been enabled to state, as a ground of the assurance they have given, that his Majesty communicated with them in the usual way and if they had not given it as an interpretation of the report of the physicians, when the words of that report appear so remote from any such interpretation. On this ground it is, that I 529 wish not to enter into any minute discussion, but to have an explanation of a circumstance which I think most essential.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer.
—Sir; I was in hopes that the observations which have fallen from the hon. gent. would have been prevented by what I stated. I meant distinctly to state, that there is not at this time any necessary suspension of the royal authority for any act which maybe necessary to be done.
§ Sir R. Lawley.
—I rise, Sir, to assure the House, that it was not from any motive of impatience that I made this motion. It was because I thought Parliament was placed in the most unconstitutional situation. In the mind of every person present, the circumstances, urgent and pressing as they were, of the critical situation in which the country stood, wire enhanced by any suspension of the royal authority; it was on this ground that introduced the present discussion. I thought the House ought to establish some mode, by which the discretion of ministers should be bounded in matters of such essential moment. It is materially necessary that they should not be left at large, with no other limit than what they choose to impose on themselves. I do not desire to enter further into the discussion at present: I am ready to withdraw my motion if it be the sense of the House that I ought to withdraw it; but at the same time I think Parliament will not discharge the duty which it owes to the country, and which the country expects, if, after fifteen days of dangerous illness, it does not obtain a more complete explanation of the actual state of his Majesty's health.—I Here the Speaker put the question for withdrawing the motion.
—Sir; I should be reluctant in such a moment to trespass upon the House, if it did not seem to me absolutely necessary to press more materially for the information which the question put by the hon. baronet has drawn forth from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The information that has been given, so far from relieving my mind, has excited sensations, which even my desire to comply with the wish of the House, in allowing the motion to be withdrawn, will not allow me to pass unnoticed. The distinct words the Chancellor of the Exchequer made use of were these, "There is not at present any necessary suspension of the royal functions for any act which may be necessary to be done."—Now, does this mean any thing else than that the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks it competent to him to decide what the royal authority was to be ap- 530 plied to? Am I right? If I am not, I will spare the House the trouble of heating me to any further extent.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer.
—Sir; I should have thought, that the answer which I gave to the hon. member on the opposite bench (Sir R. Lawley) would have precluded the necessity of the observations of the hon. gent. who has just sat down.
—I do not know, Sir, whether any other member is in the same situation with myself: but I protest, that every thing I hear in the nature of explanation, so far from elucidating, serves only to cloud what the House is so desirous to be distinctly informed of; and it appears to me from the whole of these explanation?, as they are called, that there is a constant design and endeavour to divert the attention of the Mouse from the conduct of ministers on the subject, and the attempt to divert it is made only because it will not bear discussion. I own I agree in the opinion of my right hon. friend near me (Mr. Windham), that the theory of the constitution requires that, whenever the royal authority is suspended, at that moment Parliament should be informed of the suspension, not for the purpose of immediately proceeding to form new arrangements to supply the suspension, but for the purpose of deciding whether or not it ought to proceed, and whether it is not for the safety of the country that some new step should be taken. I can easily conceive many cases in which, on such information, the discretion of Parliament would adjourn the consideration of the propriety of adopting any new step; but Parliament being informed of the circumstances, should hold in its own hands the power of deciding, and not suffer it to continue in the hand of those who having been appointed the confidential servants of the crown, when the royal functions were in full exercise, continue to hold their functions after the suspension, till Parliament decides on the propriety of some new arrangement. I think it the more necessary to make this distinction, as those with whom I have conversed on the subject, look upon a communication, when properly made, as necessarily to be followed up with immediate proceedings for a new arrangement. When I speak of a communication properly made, I do not conceive that those who have been appointed the servants of the crown, when the royal authority was in its full exercise, are the proper channel for such a communication. The proper mode is, in my opi- 531 nion, that the facts should be authenticated before the privy council, because that mode affords greater security; not that I mean to impute to any one the design of imposing on Parliament, or of exposing himself to the danger of Parliamentary vengeance, by an improper communication. When I dwell upon the difference of a communication by his Majesty's confidential servants, and a communication by the privy council, I am aware that I expose myself to the answer, that the confidential servants will say, there may be a difference of opinion in the privy council from want of information know of no such difference; the only real information on such points can Arise from nothing but the examination of the medical persons in attendance; so that in this respect, the confidential servant? and the privy council stand on the same grounds. Will not Parliament prefer hearing the evidence of the medical gentlemen at its own bar. This is the practice of the House in the case of Election Committees; a medical gentleman attends at the bar, to determine by the judgment pf the House on his elimination, whether there is such an interruption to his health as to prevent his resuming his functions in the Committee, and the Committee adjourns all business for a clay to give room for this determination. I am aware that this is but a light and trivial subject, compared with one of such vast moment as that now under consideration; but if it is right that the practice should be instituted and adhered to, even in trivial things, I cannot conceive it right to abandon it in matters of the greatest moment. Upon the whole, I cannot help giving it as my opinion, that this question ought not to be a question of confidence, it is the duty of Parliament to have information of the state of his Majesty's health from the best authority, instead of having it from those who style themselves his Majesty's confidential servants, and who give the information in different words from the host authority. The proper course has not been adopted. If proper information had been given, there is no doubt that every person in the House would have proceeded with the highest degree of temper and moderation; and would nor the people be better satisfied, when the Parliament was informed of what it was entitled and bound to know, and when it was attentive to the duty which it was to exercise upon that information?—The Question was now put on the motion for adjournment, and negatived without a division. The question was then put on the 532 original motion for the second reading of the Volunteer Consolidation Bill.