HC Deb 05 June 1805 vol 5 cc767-70

Mr. Whitbread moved the further consideration of the third reading of this bill; which being accordingly read a third time,

Sir William Elford rose to propose his promised amendment to the preamble, which he now preferred to any emendatory clause. His object was to put those persons who should give evidence on Viscount Melville's Impeachment, into a situation free from any apprehensions they might otherwise entertain. It would tend to obtain the ends of substantial justice, and greatly to shorten the proceeding; as at present there was so great a difference between lawyers of eminence, respecting the obligation of a witness to give evidence against himself, that on the trial, it must be productive of long and frequent discussions between the counsel on both sides. The purport of his amendment was, that after the words "indemnified for any public acts," should be inserted the words "and against any public money he may have applied contrary to law, during the time that Viscount Melville was Treasurer of the Navy."

Lord Henry Petty said, that he did not rise to offer objections to any measure which professed to be calculated for obtaining the ends of substantial justice, though it could not be denied, that in this, the house was making a sacrifice of very material importance. He owned, that there was a considerable difference in the opinion of lawyers, as the hon. gent. had stated; but by all that he could learn of the subject, the preponderance was greatly in favour of a different construction from that given to the law by Mr. Dancey. It was certainly a question upon which the house ought not hastily to decide; and he therefore wished for the the introduction of some words, purporting that this indulgence was granted from the necessity of the case, lest it should hereafter be construed into the format recognition of a principle.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out, from the wording of the preamble, that the amendments proposed were entirely consistent with the spirit of the bill itself. There were two things which the bill wished to provide for;—1st. That such answers as might be given which would criminate the witness should not expose him to any prosecution. The second consideration was, that the witnesses should give their evidence (whether incrimnation or exculpation) unembarrassed, and free from personal apprehensions. He thought the amendments proposed were essentially necessary for the obtaining both those objects.

Mr. Giles agreed perfectly with what had fallen from a noble friend of his (lord H. Petty), that although it might be proper to grant a complete indemnity in the present instance, yet that the house should not recognize it as a precedent to govern other cases which might be somewhat similar, and yet differing in other respects.

Mr. Sturges Bourne made a few observations in support of the amendment.—On the Speaker's putting the question. that the, bill as amended do pass,

Lord De Blaquiere rose. He said he had waited in the humble distance which became him, to see whether an object in the bill which struck him to be of much importance, might not be taken up by some person more competent than himself: that time, however, was passed; and he relied on the wonted kindness of the house to indulge him for a few, minutes in what he wished to say. Certainly he meant not, in this last stage of the bill, to encounter that doctrine, which the house seemed to warrant,—that of acquitting the principal, in order to punish the accessory. Much less did he mean, at such a moment, to enquire how far it would be consistent with the dignity and character of the house. to avail itself of any expressions which might have dropped from lord Melville when making his defence at their bar; how far it could be for the honour of parliament, or consistent with the liberal feelings of the hon. member who conducted the business, to found upon such grounds a distinct article of impeachment against that unfortunate lord, when, as was forcibly and eloquently said yesterday by an hon. friend of his (Mr. Alexander), every thing which tended to his justification was passed by without a note, and every word which made against him recorded.—The noble lord said, that, notwithstanding all the amendments made in the bill, there remained something attached to Mr. Trotter, which left him not a free man. The bill went to deprive of the benefit of indemnity not only any person who should give false evidence, but any who shall suppress or refuse, fully, fairly, and truly, to disclose all and every transaction to which he may be privy, touching the conduct of lord Melville. And who was to be the judge whether Mr. Trotter does, or does not reveal and disclose fully and fairly all he may know? God, the Searcher of hearts, may do it; but it belongs not to me, said the noble lord, or to the hon. member. And was it not very possible that a weak and timid mind, such as that of Mr. Trotter was represented to be, might not recollect and precisely state, on one examination, the same facts in the manner to bear the same construction as he had stated them at another time, and yet the least prevarication, however unintentional, might expose him to the loss of the indemnities proffered, Mr. Trotter was said to he a man very weak and nervous, and that he had exhibited the strongest proofs of it before the committee, where he appeared much terrified. Put it otherwise, said the noble lord; suppose that, with a length of quiet time, Mr. Trotter should recollect many circumstances which tended to justify lord Melville's conduct, and which he had not stated yet; would it not be more than possible that the apprehensions he would be under might at least very much embarrass him in giving his testimony, for the proviso to which the noble lord alluded left not Mr. Trotter a free man. As for himself, he was neither ashamed nor afraid to profess his own opinion, that, when all this business against lord Melville should have been gone through, he entertained the most sanguine expectations the result would be, that lord Melville, at this very hour, had more than sufficiently suffered for all his neglects, and all his delinquencies, and if it was not high treason against the house so to say, he thought lord Melville had met with hard measure. Of the honour and integrity of the hon. Member who brought this business forward, however highly he might think, still he had but a very slender opinion of his moderation. Lord De Blaquiere was then proposing his amendment, when

The Speaker rose and said, that if the noble lord had any objections to the general principle of the bill, he might state them, but that it was now too late to propose any amendments.

Lord De Blaquiere said, he trusted the bill would yet be altered before it passed into a law, and that Mr. Trotter would not be left in that desperate predicament which gave him an interest in the conviction of his friend.

Mr. Whitbread, in answer to the observations of the noble lord, said, that Mr. Trotter would be sworn to tell the truth, the, whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and if he failed to comply with the obligation of his oath on these grounds, surely it would not be argued, that he had any claim to the indemnities proposed by this bill. If Mr. Trotter could, in the course of the summer, recollect any circumstance by which he might add to, or correct his evidence, before the impeachment should be closed, either in support of the accusation, or in favour of lord Melville, he would be at liberty to amend that evidence, by stating such circumstances. All his object in the case was substantial justice, and the whole truth, and surely it was but right for the house to retain this hold upon his veracity, that if he concealed any part of the truth, he. forfeited his claim to the indemnity.

Mr. Johnstone said, that however painful it was to him to differ from his hon. friend by whom the bill was introduced, he must declare his disapprobation of it, as proceeding on a principle of justice of which he could by no means admit. There was but a single precedent, that of lord Macclesfield, that bore any semblance to this case, and that he thought by no means bore upon it in every part, for this reason, that though the masters in chancery and lord Macclesfield were participators in the same crime, yet that the guilt of the masters in chancery was infinitely less than that of lord Macclesfield, whereas in the present instance, although the moral guilt of lord Melville certainly preponderated, yet, that on the question of participation, (which was that to be submitted to the decision of the lords) he was only an accessary In his opinion it would be always better to let a criminal escape without punishment, than to adopt legislative provisions for the express purpose of bringing down punishment upon him.—The bill was then passed, and Mr. Whitbread was ordered to carry it to the lords for their concurrence.

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