HC Deb 11 July 1805 vol 5 cc828-31

Mr. Whitbread moved, that the lords amendments to the Indemnity bill be taken into consideration.

The Speaker acquainted the house, that numerous amendments had been made by the lords to this bill, many of which amounted to direct alterations in a clause containing provisions relating to the applications of public money. These were amendments which the house never could agree to, and it would before the hon. member to dispose of the amendments by the course usually adopted on such occasions.—The amendments were then ordered, on the motion of Mr. Whitbread, to be taken into further consideration this day three months.

Mr. Whitbread then moved for, and obtained leave to bring in a bill which should include the lords amendments, saving thereby the privileges of the house.—The bill was brought in by Mr. Whitbread, and read a first and second time; it then passed through a committee, and it was ordered to be engrossed. On the motion that the bill be read a third time,

Sir William Elford declared himself to be still of his former opinion respecting the propriety of idemnifying the persons who might give evidence on the impeachment of lord Melville from civil suits. It was material to the ends of justice that their testimony should not be biassed by any apprehensions for the consequences that might result to themselves. It was also material to lord Melville, if he should be acquitted of the crimes imputed to him, that no impression should remain on the public mind, as if the witness might not have given full testimony from the influence of their personal apprehensions. He hoped and trusted the house would support its own intentions, and direct the Attorney General to stay proceeding in the civil suit against Mr. Trotter; taking it for granted that the house would adopt that course, he should not object to the third reading of the bill.—The bill was then read a third time and passed; and Mr. Whitbread was ordered to carry it to the lords.

Sir. W. Elford then moved, pursuant to his notice of yesterday, that the Attorney General be directed to stay all proceeding of civil suit against Mr. Trotter. This motion being seconded by Mr. R. Dundas,

Sir W. Elford moved that the order of the house of the 25 of April, directing the Attorney General to proceed against lord viscount Melville Mr. Trotter, &c. by a civil suit, be read; which being read accordingly, he farther moved that so much of the said order as relates to Mr. Trotter be discharged.

Mr. Whitbread was of opinion that the public were entitled to retribution, and as it was well known that Mr. Trotter had gained very considerable emoluments in the public service should it turn out that those had been unduly obtained room should be left open for recovery. The committee appointed to draw up the Articles of Impeachment were originally of opinion that an exemption from criminal prosecution was all that was necessary to indemnify the witness on this question, and great law authorities had since given it as their opinion, that being exposed to a civil process could not justify a demurrer on the part of those witness. That point, however, had been referred in another place to the twelve judges, and it was therefore premature to take it up before a judgment of such weight as that must necessarily be, was given. He was not absolutely hostile to the motion, but thought it had better not be made in the present circumstances.

Mr. Kinnaird did not think it fair in the hon. bart. after what he must have heard had been done in another place, to come forward in this manner, and anticipate the decision of the judges, to whom that point had been referred. It had been determined in the other house, that nothing should be done to preclude proper restitution, should it afterwards appear necessary. He did not mean to say that this ought to influence the vote of the house, but certainly it should have great weight with them individually. In regard to the bias mentioned by the hon. bart. as likely to operate on the minds of the witness, in case of not receiving complete indemnity, were he to give his opinion freely, he would say that that complete indemnity would have the contrary effect to that suggested by the hon. bart.

The Attorney General was of opinion, that instead of adopting this motion, some intermediate measure might be resorted to, such as that of a suspension of all civil proceedings, at least till the next session of parliament. In regard to the high authorities alluded to, so far as he might be supposed to be alluded to, he could be no legal bar to the one proceeding could be no legal bar to the other, but at the same time he did not wish to give his opinion what the effect of a civil suit might ultimately be.

Mr. C. Wynne approved of the idea suggested by the learned gent. of suspending in question, and confessed, that it appeared to him in a different light than if forming a part of the bill to be sent up to the lords. As doubts, however, existed on the subject, he did not think the house could be warranted in rescinding their former vote in the present circumstance.

Lord Henry Petty thought the proposition of the hon. bart. in the present circumstances, extremely objectionable. Should it be thought expedient afterwards to rescind that resolution, it would still remain open for the consideration of the house after the twelve judges had delivered their opinion.

Sir. W. Elford said, his object in wishing the evidence to be free from all bias, was not to favour lord Melville, but for the better obtaining of public justice. He agreed to withdraw his motion, and in the room of it moved, that the Attorney General be directed not to proceed in any civil suit against Mr. Trotter, till after the commencement of next session of parliament, which was ordered.