HC Deb 11 July 1805 vol 5 cc835-7

Sir A. Hamond, pursuant to notice moved that, there be laid before the house a,copy of the memorial of the commissioners of the navy, in answer to the third report of the commissioners of naval enquiry.

The Speaker observed, that it was usual to allow hon. members, when affected by any particular charge, to be heard in their justification, or to present a petition on the subject. It was also competent to the house to order any official document from any department of the executive government. But it would be for the house to consider how far the paper moved for by the hon. baronet, being a memorial from the commissioners of the navy, was or was not of either description.

Sir A. Hamond observed, by what had fallen from the chair, that his motion was irregular, and expressed his willingness either to move for the paper as a petition, or a letter.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer thought that the regular mode would be to move for a copy of the letter of the admiralty, inclosing the memorial of the commissioners of the navy.

The Speaker agreed, that in that shape the paper would come under the description of an official document.

Mr. W. Dickenson stated the reason why the admiralty commissioners had not laid the memorial before the house to be, that it was a memorial from the commissioners of the navy to the house, transmitted to them for their inspection, and they had thought it would come more regularly before the house from the commissioners of the navy.

Mr. Kinnaird had heard with pleasure what had fallen from the chair. A memorial could not be presented as a petition, because no prayer was to be found in it. He thought it rather extraordinary that the third report of the naval enquiry should have been two years on the table, without any notice being taken of it; and that now, on the day preceding the expected separation of parliament, a motion should be made for the production of a memorial in answer to it. This motion ought to have been made earlier in the session, when the whole subject should have been taken into consideration. Were the commissioners of the navy preparing answers to all the reports? Did they mean to answer the sixth report, which contained serious charges against them by memorial? The more manly and candid way would have been to have moved, that the report be taken into consideration.

Sir A. Hamond repeated the reasons assigned by him on a former occasion for not having brought the subject forward before. He had lost no time after the report had been laid before the house, in acquainting the first lord of the admiralty that the navy board wished to have the charges upon them fully investigated, but he could not obtain his consent to lay the memorial before the house.

Mr. Giles observed, that when the memorial had been laid before the first lord of the admiralty, in answer to the first report, it was considered by him so offensive, that he said if it were laid before the house, he should look upon it as a personal insult.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer observed, that if the first lord had said that he would have looked upon the production of the memorial in answer to the first report as a personal insult, that was a reason why the commissioners of the navy should not consult him on the subject of the memorial in answer to this report.

Sir C M. Pole thought it necessary to guard the house and the public against the effect of receiving a memorial which was but the assertion of persons against whom serious charges existed, for a neglect of their duty. He did not mean to object to the motion, but the papers moved for contained only the assertions of the commissioners of the navy, and not on oath. The commissioners of inquiry had discharged their duty with zeal and fidelity, in the arduous task that had been intrusted to them, and under peculiar difficulties. From the calumnies that were thrown out against them in the house, and perhaps out of it, he thought it was impossible for them to carry on the business for which they had been appointed. They had discharged their duty under the bill now within a few hours of expiring, and he took the opportunity of saying, that he really thought it would be impossible for them to go on any longer with benefit to the public. He hoped the house would find before next session of parliament persons more capable of doing the business; he was sure they could not find any that would do it with more zeal or fidelity.

The Secretary at War wished to know who ever doubted the zeal of the hon. gent.? The question now was, whether, when se- rious charges were preferred against the commissioners of the navy, they should be allowed to give in their answer to such charges?

Mr. Kinnaird would not object to the Motion, provided the memorial was not to be considered as an answer to the report, being only assertions, without the sanction of an oath.

The Attorney General thought the memorial could not be considered in any other light, than as an answer to the report. The house could not know on what grounds the commissioners of naval enquiry could not, as stated by the hon. baronet, proceed with the business of their enquiry. It was competent to any hon. member to move, that any of the reports be taken into consideration.

Mr. Johnstone protested against the allowing the assertions of the party accused by the report to have equal weight with the report.

Mr. Canning protested also againt the doctrine of not hearing the accused party. It must be recollected, that in the eleventh report the commissioners of naval enquiry had thrown out charges against the navy board, which were afterwards examined by the committee of the house, and the navy board were found not to have been at all in fault. A similar thing might again occur. Even the tenth report was revised by a committee, and evidence heard before the bills were passed which were grounded on it. Such had been the constant practice of the house, as prescribed by the rules of justice.—The motion of sir A. Hamond was agreed to.