HC Deb 26 April 1805 vol 4 cc430-3

On the motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the order of the day for balloting a Select Committee, was read. The serjeant at arms having, in pursuance of order, gone to the speaker's chambers, the court of requests, and places adjacent, to summon the members, the balloting proceeded. When all the names of the members had been read by the clerk, and when those who chose to vote had deposited their lists in the balloting, glass,

Mr. Sturges Bourne

moved, that a committee be appointed to examine the lists, and to report to the house the names of the twenty-one members who had the majority of votes.

Mr. Whitbread

rose, and said he had still stronger reasons now than he had yesterday, for his objection to the mode of proceeding by ballot. He was then apprehensive that such a mode would, in fact, subject the nomination of that committee to the influence and dictation of a minister. This day he found those apprehensions strengthened, by a very confident rumour circulated, upon he knew not what authority, that, notwithstanding all the apparent fairness and impartiality of a ballot, vet that the names to be returned upon the committee were pre-determined by the minister; by which the business of the ballot was converted into a solemn mockery, and rendered wholly nugatory as to the obvious intentions of the house. A list of those names had been this day put into his hand, which he would now read in his place—Lord Castlereagh, Mr. Whit- bread, Master of the Rolls, Mr. W. Windham, sir W. Scott, Mr. T. Grenville, Mr. Ryder, lord George Cavendish, lord Dunlo, lord W. Russell, Mr. Leycester, Mr. St. John, Mr. Foster, Mr. H. Lascelles, sir H. Mildmay, Mr. S. Thornton, Mr. J. Fane, lord Boyle, Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Hawkins Brown, Mr. Gunning.—If the list of the committee to be returned by the scrutineers should tally with the names he had read, the fact he had just stated would be too palpable to admit of the smallest doubt; and by that circumstance he should be guided in such steps as he should feel himself bound to adopt under such a circumstance. Many of the names in this list were undoubtedly of high respectability, and highly eligible; but every man must be sensible, that many others of them were men whose situations and known sentiments rendered them totally ineligible to any thing like fair and impartial enquiry upon the subject of the Tenth Report of the Naval Commissioners. If the names of those members should appear upon the list of the committee returned, he should move, however unprecedented such a motion might be deemed, to expunge their names from the committee, and to insert others, not so objectionable, and of course more compatible with the objects contemplated by the house.

Mr. Fox

observed, it was very possible that the names of some members might he returned upon the committee, who, however unobjectionable, could not, without most material injury to their own interests and avocations, devote their attentions to the business of an investigation, likely to be so arduous and of such long duration. He should hope, therefore, that as in the case of election committees, any gentleman so circumstanced, would, upon application to the house, be excused from attendance.

Mr. Sheridan;

hoped, that after the motion now before the house was disposed of, namely, the question upon the list of scrutineers moved by Mr. Sturges Bourne, his hon. friend (Mr. Whitbread) would, in some more explicit way, put the house in possession of the list of the names he had just read, in order to lay the foundation for such a measure as might appear necessary, in the result to which he had alluded.—The question on Mr. Bourne's motion was put, that certain members, whom he named, be appointed to select from the ballot; which was agreed to without opposition, and the members appointed were ordered forthwith to the speaker's chamber.

Mr. Sheridan

again rose, and observed, that his hon. friend had just read a list of members, which he (Mr. W.) had been given to understand the scrutineers would return, in consequence of the pre-concerted instructions received from ministers. Now it was extremely important for the house to ascertain whether the committee, for the appointment of which it had already decided, was to be fairly and bonâ fide chosen by a ballot; or whether that ballot was to be rendered nugatory, and the committee to be really nominated by government, to the flagrant deception of the house, and the probable defeat of its object. An hon. member, last night, had proposed a mode of selecting the committee, which he was persuaded would have been much more likely to have obtained a fair and impartial selection, than that which was the pleasure of the house to adopt, namely, to propose the members one at a time from each side of the house, and then it would have been fairly seen how far his majesty's ministers were disposed to accede to that principle of impartial investigation, to which some of them had professed themselves so friendly. But he well knew from past experience, that the mode adopted was not the one likely to obtain an impartial selection. There was an important occasion, some years since, which occurred to his recollection. It was a ballot proposed for selecting a committee of East-India judicature; upon which occasion, as well as on many others well known, it was irrefragably and flagrantly obvious, that the ballot for a committee was but a mere mask for the nomination of the minister; and that in fact, the names of the persons to serve had been previously determined by ministers; that the lists of those names were made up at the treasury, and put by ministers into the hands of their friends. Now, if the fact was so in the present case, it was necessary the house should know it; and the comparison of the list, in the hand of his hon. friend, with the return of the scrutineers, would be a pretty strong criterion of the truth. Upon the former occasion, to which he had alluded, the business was done so openly, that one of the door-keepers of the house put the lists into the hands of members as they entered. He (Mr. S.) had charged the fact upon ministers, and pledged himself to prove it to the house, and he accordingly had moved to have Joseph Pearson, the door-keeper, called to the bar and examined. He was however, resisted by the right hon. gent. over the way (Mr. Pitt), and the house divided against it, for the ayes were but 38, and the noes 108. In the present instance, he would recommend to his hon. friend to lay his list on the table, in some manner which would bring it fairly within the cognizance of the house.

Mr. Whitbread

said, it was his intention to ground some proceeding upon the business, in case the list returned by the scrutineers should correspond with it.

The Speaker

said, that unless the hon. member meant to conclude by some motion, there was no question now before the house.

Mr. Whitbread

said he should then shape a motion, and accordingly moved the following resolution:—"That it is a high breach of the privileges of this house, to circulate lists nominating persons to be chosen on any committee by ballot." The question being then put,

the house divided, when there appeared, for the motion, 45; against it, 124; majority, 79.

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