§ -Mr. Sheridan,
in rising pursuant to his notice, observed, that if there were any person in the house who were indisposed to concur in the motion which he should have the honour to submit to the house, who should come with reluctance to a vote of approbation respecting the conduct of the Commissioners of Naval Enquiry he could not but consider the discussion unlucky that had rendered it necessary for him to rise at that late hour. He trusted, however, that it would not be necessary for him to occupy much of the time 563 of the house, and as he thought that the general feelings of the house, and of the country at large, were with him, it would, perhaps, be the best mode to submit his motion without other comment or preface than simple reference to the Reports on the table. But as the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer had expressed his disapprobation of the conduct of the commissioners as in some instances unbecoming, it would be necessary for him to preface his motion with a few observations. But he should not dwell on the subject at any length, as he trusted that the right hon. gent. if he did not retract would at least not press his objections to the motion. Notice vets given of the right hon. gent.'s intention to renew the commission. Surely, if the commissioners were to be re-appointed, they ought to have distinctly pointed out to them what appeared erroneous or unbecoming in their proceedings, that such errors might, in future, be avoided. Knowing, then, that some objections did exist, it was necessary for him to request the attention of the house for a few moments previous to his submitting his motion. It was almost needless for him to state what were the circumstances under which the commissioners had been appointed. If they had done their duty well, they had done so under peculiar circumstances, and in opposition to formidable difficulties. They were not called on to investigate the small peccadillos of clerks and underlings in office; they were required to investigate the abuses of the heads of great departments, to look men in high situations in the face, and, acting with firmness and intrepidity, to expose abuses wherever they fell under the range of their inquiries. Very different indeed was the task of the commissioners who had been appointed under the auspices of the right hon. gent. to which, on a former day, he had felt it his duty to call the attention of the house. The right hon. gent. had recommended to him to read the terms of that commission, to be convinced of his erroneous view of its nature Nod extent. He had attended to that recommendation; he had fully considered the terms under which the commissioners were to act, and his opinion remained unchanged. A full power was indeed given to the commissioners to make the fullest investigation, and no fifth clause existed to shelter any one from answering whatever questions were put to him, even if the answers should have a tendency to criminate himself. There was, however, an 564 important distinction to be attended to, and that was, while the principals in the different offices were to remain unmolested, the whole weight of inquiry or censure was to fall on the subordinate officers. Indeed the right hon. gent.'s act was one of the most liberal, polite, and well bred acts of parliament that ever was framed. It took it for granted that it was impossible for a principal in an office to be-guilty even of the least irregularity; but he might be the willing and active auxiliary of the commissioners, by compelling all those under him to give them whatever information they required. Thus came the right hon. gent.'s commissioners to the execution of. the duties committed to their care, and he had surely no occasion to remind the house under what circumstances the commissioners of naval enquiry entered on their duties. When their appointment was first proposed, it was contended, even by some hon. gent. on his side of the house, that the appointment was unnecessary ; and it was artfully insinuated through the country, that it was not a board of commissioners, but a body of inquisitors, that was about to be established. It was well known, that lord St. Vincent was the person who proposed the establishment of the commission, and no sooner were they appointed than the character of his lordship was on all hands assailed; various motions were threatened, and one hon. baronet had brought forth a positive charge, though, unfortunately, not one member of the house could be found to second it. Such was the situation of the commissioners almost immediately posterior to their appointment. The house would also bear in mind that the right hon. gent. opposite (Mr. Pitt) brought forward a motion positively accusing lord St. Vincent of improper and negligent conduct in the administration of the affairs of the navy. And here it would be easily seen, that the commissioners were placed under very disadvantageous circumstances, considering that the character of him under whose auspices they were to act, was thus directly attacked, on the score of incapacity. To this attack a total change of administration succeeded; and here again the commissioners had to contend with new difficulties—they were to carry on their inquiries when all those on whose support and encouragement much reliance was to be placed, were removed from office. Indeed, from the language of the right. hon. gent. on his return to office they had little hope of encouragement. He 565 had then declared that, from all he had seen, and all he had heard, or known, every one his reasons for attacking the administration of the noble lord had. been confirmed, and the commissioners were to act under the impression that the conduct of the noble lord who had established them was peremptorily condemned. With all the difficulties, with all these undeniable disadvantages, they had, however, proceeded with intrepidity, and the public saw what was the result. The grand obstacle in a way of their inquiries was derived from a most extraordinary use to which the fifth clause of the bill under which they acted had been applied. It was quite clear that the commissioners never expected that this clause should be applied to the purposes which their own reports explained, or that even in the office of the treasurer of the navy, which was as it were the flag-ship t all the other offices, they should begin to experience the most serious difficulties in the execution of their duty. What then appeared on the face of their reports? On the 10th of July they send a precept to the treasurer of the navy (Mr. Canning), requiring the production of certain document essential to the proper prosecution of their inquiries, and receiving no answer, they repeat the precept on the 17th of the same month. The 2d of October arrives, and previous to that period his right hon. friend had given the commissioners no sort of in formation. Was it then to be endured commissioners acting under the authority o the three branches of the legislature should thus be trifled with? Was any gentleman, however high his influence or extensive his power, to set their authority on a subject of such vast importance at utter defiance? Yet all these difficulties had been overcome by the indefatigable zeal, diligence and fortitude of the commissioners. The house would keep in view that, with respect to the distribution of the public money, three great duties were to be performed. In the first instance, the house had to grant supplies adequate to the exigencies of the public services, founded on proper estimates laid regularly before them by the express command of his majesty. The ways and means to provide this supply were next to be considered; and it was the object of the house to lay the burthens on the people at large in a manner which would operate with as little severity as possible. The third duty of the house was one, however, still more important, and one without which the other two would be in a great measure nugatory 566 and inefficient, and this was the mode in which the votes of the house were to be applied. The two first of these duties could only be exercised by the house itself: but it was frequently the custom of the house to delegate the other to commissioners; and certainly if such commissioners were appointed, it became a matter of the highest interest to see that they were implicitly obeyed. If the, house delegated to certain individuals the most important of its powers, it was proper that these individuals should be sensible that they were to meet with ample encouragement and support. Without confidence, their labours for the discovery or the correction of abuses could never produce any satisfactory result. At this moment, there was a notice of the renewal of the commissioners of naval inquiry, and it was therefore proper that it should be fully understood in what light their conduct was regarded by those who had such means of giving their conduct and inquiries full efficiency. It was not sufficient to say that their conduct was, on the whole, worthy of approbation; or, that there was more to praise than to blame in their exertions for the discovery and correction of abuses. The commissioners were professedly selected out of the talents, the respectability, and the worth of the country, and it ought, therefore, to be fairly understood, whether their conduct was not admitted to be such as to entitle them to unequivocal approbation and confidence. If this was not allowed by those who were to bring forward the proposition for the renewal of the commission, then he himself must insist, that though the commission was renewed, other commissioners ought to be appointed. It was ridiculous to say, that if they were unfit, other gentlemen fully qualified for the task could not be procured. The right hon. gent. was bound to state his opinion fairly to the house, for he himself was resolved that the re-appointment of the commissioners should take place under no compromise.—Having said this, he wished briefly to direct the attention of the house to what the commissioners had done, to what remained for them to do, and then it would be seen whether they ought to be reappointed. The attention of the house had been so much attracted to the tenth report, that the other reports of the commissioners had been passed over with comparatively. small notice. In the other reports, it was true that nothing of so high game was disclosed, but many gross frauds had been brought to light, many important improve- 567 merits had been recommended. In all of them the ability, the diligence, the unconquerable fortitude of the commissioners had been, eminently conspicuous. It would not be necessary for him to go into any detail, but it was proper just to give a sketch of what each of the reports contained. In the first report it was ascertained that in the offices in Jamaica connected with the navy, the public, through the negligence and fraud of one of the officers, sustained a loss of about thirty-six thousand pounds in bills, and upwards of one hundred and thirty-five thousand pounds from lavish waste, and other causes arising from the manner in which business was conducted. The second report referred to the mismanagement of the chest at Chatham, and displayed a scene of the most infamous peculation. The rewards allotted to our brave seamen for their meritorious exertions in defence of all that is dear to freemen, had been found to have been most shamefully misapplied. In many cases the harpies of agents had appropriated nearly thirty-four per cent. of what was intended to assuage, the sufferings of those who had bled in the cause of their, country. The necessity of entering an appearance once in three years, even from Ireland and the most distant parts of the island, only to ascertain whether veterans and invalids had grown younger, was properly exposed by the commissioners, and a suitable remedy had been provided. The third report was on the infamous overcharges in the crock yards. The house and the public would form a pretty good idea on the subject, when they were Oven to understand that, in one article, there was charge of one thousand and forty pounds, when before the commissioners it was found that thirty-four pounds was the fair price. These evils had been sifted to the bottom. and the gross frauds of those who were fat telling on the public would now happily be prevented. In the fifth report the evils o the sixpenny office, so essential to the proper provision made for invalids in the navy were fully exposed; and the sixth very clearly stewed that vast sums were charged for work done in the dock yards, not one third of which was ever performed. The commissioners stated a sum of nearly eight hundred thousand pounds, one third which could not be accounted for in a satisfactory manner. In the seventh report a case was stated of the repairs of the Amaranthe, in Woolwich dock-yard, where the expence had been carried as high as three 568 thousand eight hundred and fifty-three pounds, whereas on examination it appeared that somewhat more than five hundred pounds was the real amount. The ninth report related to the receipt of stores in Plymouth dock, and though the matter was not sufficiently clucidated, enough was stated to shew that gross frauds had existed. On the tenth it was needless for him to enlarge, as it had sufficiently attracted the attention of the house and the public. The eleventh report he should not now insert, as it was to be the subject of a specific motion by an hon. and learned friend of his on no very distant day. He begged leave, however, in the mean time, to call the attention of the house to this report, as one of very high importance, as one which disclosed transactions equally contrary to law and to fair constitutional principles, as were indeed calculated to give a vital stab to the credit and character Of the country.—Having thus gone through the different reports, all of which evinced the most commendable gence and zeal, the hon. gentleman next specified what vet remained for examination. There still remained the proceedings of the navy board, the victualling, the transport, and the sick and hurt boards. Of the necessity of investigating this last board, no doubt could exist, after what an hon. admiral(Markham) had said, that of all the boards hitherto unexplored, this was the most grossly corrupt. The dock-yards abroad, too, opened a wide field for inquiry; he believed, in many cases, it would be found that charges of nineteen shillings a ton were made, when four shillings and twopence covered the whole expence. The ordnance department, also, would come in for its share of investigation; in many cases gross frauds were committed, and there was one case Where fifty thousand stand of arms were purchased, after surveyors, properly appointed, had declared them unfit for service. They had also to enquire how far the officers in the treasury knew of, or had any feeling in this transaction; and,last of all, they had to enquire into the expenditure and abuses of the money which ought to be appropriated for the benefit off Greenwich hospital, that noble and beneficent asylum for our brave and gallant seamen, after they have lost their limbs, exhausted their constitutions, or worn out best part of their lives in the service of their king and country. If they have such material business still to perform, which cannot be done without a continuation of that zeal, firmness, 569 ability, and fortitude, which they have exerted on every former occasion; after the slurs and insinuations which have been thrown out against their conduct, it became peculiarly incumbent on the house to convince them on the present occasion that, in continuing them in the performance of those arduous duties they had yet to sustain, they might depend upon receiving every encouragement and support which the house could give them. Reform, he said, was a thing which, on all occasions, had been most odious; but at present there was such a host of contractors, jobbers, and other descriptions of persons, who were used to derive advantage from the improvident expenditure of the public money, that the outcry against the commissioners, and the resistance made to their efforts for the public service, were such as had never been experienced at any antecedent period. On these considerations, he thought, that if any material objection were brought by the right hon. gent. or others, against the vote of thanks he was about to move, the house ought not by any means to encourage the idea of their re-appointment to the same commission. But, if there were no such objections, it was the duty of the house to stand forward, and to say, with that commanding force which should be heard from one end of the kingdom to the other, that these commissioners have hitherto nobly and honourably executed the high and portant trust reposed in them by the house; and that in what they have hereafter to do, the house will cheerfully support them to the utmost extent of their power. He would not, therefore, detain the house any longer than to read his motion, which he did accordingly to the following purport:— "That it appears to this house, that the Commissioners appointed by an act of the 43d of the king, to enquire into the irregularities and abuses committed by persons employed in the several naval departments, have, as far as appears from their reports hitherto made, exerted themselves with great diligence, ability, and fortitude, and that the whole of their conduct, in the execution of the arduous duties intrusted to them, is intitled to the approbation and thanks of this house."—The motion being put from the Chair,
The chancellor of the Exchequer
rose, not to object to the motion, but to offer few general observations on what had fallen from the hon. member in the course of his speech. If the sense of the house was, that 570 the commissioners should be thanked now for their past services, he should not oppose the proposition; but he could not help thinking that there existed no precedents for such a mode of proceeding. The precedent of the vote of thanks given to the commissioners of accounts did not apply, because these commissioners had not only given in a number of reports; but the reports had been fully canvassed by a committee of the house. That committee had reported on the statements which the reports contained, and it was on this that tho vote of thanks was grounded. In this case, however, only one report had been minutely considered, and therefore he put it to the house, whether the vote of thanks would not be much fuller and much more comprehensive, if it were given after the reports were fully considered and digested. This he put to the consideration of members, though, as he had already declared, he should not press for any division of the house on the subject. As to the call which the hon. member had made on him for a clear statement of his objections to certain parts of the conduct of the commissioners, he felt it necessary to make a few observations. He fully admitted, that commissioners appointed to examine into great public abuses, ought to exhibit a proper degree of firmness as well as zeal; but there was a mode of exhibiting that, which was at all times to be attended to. The truth was to be got at by all possible means, but the character of individuals should be as little as possible precluded from a fair opportunity of full discussion or subsequent vindication. In several cases a prejudice was created against individuals, before the report was fairly before the legislature, and therefore he thought, that any surmises to the prejudice of individuals which had transpired before the reports were completed, were not to be justified. He objected also, that the reports were drawn up and presented, without allowing individuals accused to justify their conduct, or indeed fully to, understand in what light the report would place their character. The commissioners had a right to use every means to come at the truth; but then it was surely not inconsistent with the most rigid inquiry to call on individuals to explain their own evidence. It appeared that those commissioners refused the opportunity of explanation to several persons Whose names were mentioned, whose characters were affected by their reports; and it was equally apparent, that had such op- 571 portunity been afforded, the characters of such men would not have suffered. This was particularly the case of the comptroller of the navy, who stood charged in one of the reports on the table, with having, contrary to his duty, applied money voted for the navy, to other services, without the knowledge of the first lord of the admiralty. Upon this head, it was, now obvious to every man, indeed a recent conversation in that house had made it so, that if the request of sir A. Hammond to the commissioners, to be allowed to explain, had been granted, the impression would have never gone abroad respecting that officer, which the premature report of the commissioners had created. It was not a little remarkable with reference to this point, that although lord St. Vincent was applied to by the commissioners for explanation respecting the Stone Expedition, which it was now quite clear was fully known to that noble lord, no opportunity of explanation would be granted to sir Andrew Hammond, notwithstanding his special request. There was another part of the conduct of those commissioners of rather doubtful propriety, if indeed it could be at all said to come within any notion of propriety. It was that which in the eighth report, alluded to the conduct of a grand jury. A person was charged with stealing casks at Plymouth, and a bill of indictment was preferred against him. This bill was thrown out by the grand jury, anti the solicitor who was employed to conduct the prosecution, wrote to the victualling office to say that the grand jury was tampered with. Upon the authority of this letter those commissioners thought proper to publish such a statement in the eighth report. Was it right to throw out such an insinuation as this to the public, and particularly upon such grounds? Was it discreet, was it fair, to charge a respectable body of men with perjury? for the charge amounted to nothing less. Those commissioners were also accused of having improperly alledged that the high price of stores which was complained of in the West Indies, was owing to the neglect of the navy board to send out stores for the service of our fleets in that quarter in due time, according to their duty. Now it appeared that the navy board had not omitted to attend to their duty in this case. For they had sent out two ships in proper time laden with stores, which ships were lost, and to that loss was attributable the high price of stores which was complained of. This fact was, he understood, communicated to the 572 commissioners, and if so it certainly ought to have been stated. If the fact were so, the house would judge whether any charge attached to the navy board, and whether the commissioners acted fairly in attempting to impute it. When they reported the fact respecting the price of stores in the West Indies, and undertook to ascribe that evil to the navy board, they ought certainly, in fairness, to have annexed to that report any communication they had received from that board in vindication of its conduct, particularly such a material communication as that he had alluded to. The commissioners might say that they had not received this communication at all. He could only state to the house what he had been informed. It had been also told to him that one of the commissioners of the navy, Mr. Gambier, was examined before the naval commissioners, and some of his answers were inaccurately taken down by those commissioners. These inaccuracies were printed anti corrected, and vet in the appendix to the report, the inaccuracies remain without the corrections. The same complaint was made with respect to the testimony of a principal clerk to the navy board. This clerk made a memorandum of all his answers—several of them were found to be incorrectly noted by those commissioners—such incorrectnesses, upon being pointed out by the clerk, were admitted and corrected. Still the omission appears in the appendix. Now those corrections which are omitted are all stated to be material to form a fair judgment of the conduct of the navy board, and, if so, their omission cannot induce a conclusion favourable to the character of the commissioners to whom the motion before the house referred. Indeed, if the facts were well founded, which he laid before the house precisely in the manner they were mentioned to him; if these commissioners suppressed any documents with which they were furnished, and which were at all necessary to enable parliament and the country to decide upon the characters of men. whom their reports affected, he would leave if to the house to judge of the propriety of adopting a vote of unqualified thanks toe such a commission. With such information before him, however, he hoped the house would feel satisfied that the exception he had thought it his duty to make to theses commissioners did not rest on light grounds; that there was nothing in it so warm, intemperate and unjust as some gentlemen seemed to imagine. At all events, it could 573 scarcely be denied, that previous to a vote Of indiscriminate approbation, each of the points he had stated should be distinctly and minutely inquired into, and each of the reports before the house fully examined. Still, notwithstanding this impression upon his mind, he would leave it to the feelings of the house to take whatever course it mint think proper, but he would not himself press any particular motion.
§ Mr. Fox
then rose. He animadverted on the several charges which had been advanced by the right hon. gent. who spoke last against the commissioners of naval enquiry. As to the first, which regarded what the right hon. gent. professed to consider the premature publication of any of the subjects referred to in the several reports from this commission—he could not deem it any fair ground of accusation against the commissioners; for it did not appear that they had designedly given publicity to the rumours referred to. Besides, indeed, whether such things were kept secret or not in the way desired by the right hon. gent. appeared to him to be a matter scarcely worth notice. As to the case of the comptroller of the navy hoard and his alledged misappropriation of the money entrusted to his care, the right hon. gent. seemed to think that if opportunity for explanation had been afforded that comptroller, as well as to lord St. Vincent, much confusion would have been avoided, as appeared in a part of the noble lord's evidence in the eleventh report. Now, for his part, he saw no such confusion. Even without the explanation recently offered to the house on this point, he really thought that nothing could be clearer from the context of the evidence, and from a fair consideration of Lord St. Vincent's answers to the two questions which were lately the subject of discussion, than that the noble lord was ignorant of the money matters which formed the gravamen of the charge against the comptroller of the navy. But the right hon. gent. asked why was not this comptroller examined by the commissioners touching this charge, as well as the earl of St. Vincent? He would tell that right hon. gent. that the comptroller of the navy was examined, and that he defended himself from answering questions under the 5th clause. After having done so, then he would, put it to the right hon. gent. whether, if he himself were one those commissioners, he would propose to examine again him or any man who so acted? With respect to the statements of the right hon. gent. as to the 574 conduct of this commission in the first report, he must observe, that if those statements were well founded, the navy board seemed to have been very passive under the serious imputations cast upon them. They professed to feel themselves very unjustly accused. The report containing this accusation had lain on the table for nearly two years, since June 1803, and during that period the commissioners of the navy board acquiesced in suffering the impression against them to circulate. No jealousy as to their character was heard of until within these few days. No inquiry to vindicate their fame was proposed or hinted at. Surely they could have brought forward a motion had they felt so sorely as is now pretended. That there might be some parts of the conduct of those commissioners fairly to be found fault with was very possible. But yet, if they were culpable only in a small degree, that was no reason to be alledged against the motion. If, however, it appeared that they dealt unfairly by the characters of men, that was a serious charge; and although it might be proper to continue the commission, most certainly the names should be changed. For it doubtless would be absurd to continue those in power whose conduct had been heretofore exceptionable. The exceptions that were made to the commissioners furnished, if well founded, a reason for excluding them from office; and, if note they could not be urged against the motion before the house. But the right hon. gent. had confessed with perfect candour that he could not vouch for any of the statements that he had made to the house; and surely then he could not ask the house to rely on them as objections to the motion? That those commissioners were ready to go to trial against any or all of the charges that could be alledged against them he had not the least doubt. The charges, such as they were, that the right hon. gent. had stated, could not in any man's mind be deemed applicable in any shape against this motion, in opposition to which, indeed, nothing had been offered, The right hon. gent. had not said, nor could he, that this motion was unnecessary. It was necessary to satisfy the general opinion of the country. It was-called for by public policy. The merit of the men and the gratitude of the people demanded it. In considering the services of those commissioners, the state in which they and lord St. Vincent were placed, was to be taken into account. Much as that noble lord had deserved and obtained by the glo- 575 rious[...] battles he had fought abroad, be had scarcely in any of them a more difficult task to perform, than in originating this commission, which had to maintain itself in almost every stage of its progress against the operation of power, influence, and authority. With a degree of fortitude and perseverance that would be at any time laudable, but which in their peculiar circumstance, was extraordinary, they pursued delinquency through all the obstructions of high office, and against all the frowns of power; and they succeeded in detecting acid exposing the criminality of one of the principal officers of the crown.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
stated, that the navy board had not tamely submitted to the imputations cast upon their characters by the first report, as the hon. gent. imagined. For, according to a memorial presented to the house on the 5th of April, on this subject, from the comptroller of the navy, it appeared, that immediately after the publication of the report alluded to, the hon. baronet intimated his wish to these commissioners, that he should be examined afresh, in order to do away, what he conceived, unfounded aspersions on his character, but this the commissioners declined. The hon. baronet then drew up a memorial to that house, which he meant to present; but, deeming it his duty, he waited on lord St. Vincent, to apprize him of his intention, and to know his lordship's pleasure. Lord St. Vincent disapproved of the intention, and stated, that he should consider any such proceeding as a personal affront to himself. The comptroller thought it his duty to conform to the noble lord's desire, and to that was attributable the kind of acquiescence the hon. gent. who had just sat down, alluded to.
§ Mr. Fox
observed that, even supposing all this statement to be correct, it did not account for the silence of the comptroller of the navy, since lord St. Vincent retired from office. Why not seek the removal of that obloquy, of which he complained, under the lord of the admiralty who succeeded lord St. Vincent? He could not, however, help saying, that this comptroller, in suffering from such a motive as the right hon. gent. had described, so deep a stigma so long to attach to his reputation, betrayed a very criminal complaisance to earl St. Vincent.
Sir Andrew Snape Hammond
confirmed the statement of the chancellor of the exchequer, as to the early disposition and soli- 576 citude he had shewn to vindicate his character from the imputations thrown upon it by the report alluded to. At the suggestion of a right hon. friend of his (Mr. Rose) he meant to have followed the precedent of the 10th of queen Anne, where an imputation of a similar nature was thrown upon a member of the victualling board, by the report of the committee of that house. It was his intention to move, that the report under consideration should be referred to a committee, and some proceeding taken respecting it, that should afford him an opportunity of vindicating his character. This course he was prevented from following by lord St. Vincent, who told him upon an interview, that it was for his lordship, and no other person to recommend, when the reports of the naval commission should be taken into the consideration of parliament, as that commission had been originally proposed by him. The hon. baronet remonstrated with his lordship on the obloquy to which his character must be subject in the interim, and appealed strongly to his sense of justice; but in vain, lord St. Vincent would not consent. His right hon. friend (Mr. Rose) also waited on his lordship, but was equally unsuccessful. Advised, however, by his right hon. friend and others; and considering his own situation in the navy, he declined entering into hostilities with the noble lord. He waited in confidence of a full acquittal of his reputation, whenever those reports should be brought before parliament. Since lord St. Vincent's retirement from the admiralty board, he was given to understand that it was intended to establish a commission of revision, and before that commission, he hoped to establish the injustice of the charges propagated against him. That there might be some irregularities under a department so wide and extensive, as that over which the navy board presided, he was prepared to admit; but he could assure the house, that there was nothing for which the members of that board were more anxious, than a full and fair examination of every part of their conduct, particularly that to which the report of the naval commissioners alluded; all he asked for that board was this, that until such full and fair examination should take place, the house and the country would suspend their judgment upon the charges against them.
corroborated that part of the speech of the hon. baronet, who had just sat down, which referred to himself. With respect to the motion before the house, he 577 he pointed out some parts of the conduct of the Naval Commissioners, which did not in his opinion justify the unqualified panegyric which the hon. mover would have the house pronounce upon them. The conduct which he deemed particularly exceptionable was to be found in their third report. This report almost altogether, consisted of a censure upon a most respectable man, a Mr. Taylor, who was one of his constituents. It appeared that Mr. Taylor was an eminent block manufacturer. He had supplied the navy with blocks at Chatham and Portsmouth, since the year 1762. Those commissioners thought proper to pronounce his charges excessive. In consequence, a public advertisement was sent forth for contracts to supply those yards.—And, would the house believe it, that Mr. Taylor, under this advertisement, obtained the Chatham contract, at 10 per cent. more than his former charge of which the Commissioners of Naval Inquiry complained; and Mr. Dunstanville obtained the contract for Plymouth, at 5 per cent. above Mr. Taylor's price;—such then were the frauds detected, and the retrenchments produced by these commissioners. But what must still more surprise the House, those commissioners were aware of those facts before they made their report, for they took place two months before that report was laid on the table of that house. Yet no part of the censure of Mr. Taylor was abated.—Every part of this statement the right hon. gent. said he was ready to prove at the bar, if required. There was another circumstance with respect to this much abused man, which he begged to mention. His blocks were stated to be of an inferior quality. He had a rival, a Mr. Garnett. The blocks of both those rivals were compared by a special commission in 1791, and those of Taylor were declared to be decidedly superior Capt. Nicholl, who sailed in the Formidable, took Garnett's blocks on one side of his ship, and Taylor's on the other. But after he had returned, and was about to set out on another cruize, he gave orders to have his ship furnished with no other blocks than those of Taylor's.—As to the fraud respecting 13,000l. worth of wood, which the right hon. mover had alluded to, Taylor had nothing to do with it. Nor had those commissioners any merit in detecting it; for that merit belonged to the Navy Board, who had found out and were prosecuting this fraud before the naval commission existed. The right hon. gent. took 578 notice of the charge against his right hon. friend, respecting the patronage of contractors, and contended that it had been the peculiar object of his right hon. friend's administration, to prevent the system of contracts altogether, and to leave such things to the different boards, contrary to the system of his predecessors, who generally distributed contracts among members of parliament, or their relations. The right. hon. gent. concluded with stating, that although he felt his objections to some parts of the conduct of this commission to be well founded, still he would not oppose the motion, as the sense of the house seemed to be in its favour.
§ Admiral Markham
said, the hon. comptroller of the navy had said a great deal respecting the memorial of the Navy Board, and the justification they would have set up if riot counteracted by lord St. Vincent. He would ask the hon. baronet if he would now deny the substance of the report? The real facts, he would declare, were a thousand times worse than the statement; and he wished the gross negligence of the hon. baronet's colleagues had not been what it was. He must complain of the unfair proceeding of gentlemen in arguing upon the authority of papers scarcely laid before the house, and without notice. With respect to the lecture on blocks, delivered by a right hon. gent. opposite to him, he would say a word or two. When a contract is entered into, the party contracting to furnish an article is bound by the stipulated price, whether the article rises or not; and be .maintained, that air application to raise the price of blocks, which was the case, annulled the contract. That Taylor was thought to have a good bargain of his contract was plain, because Dunstanville at Plymouth gave him ten per cent. for permission to have the article at the price of his contract. The contracts for blocks still go on, to the great loss of the public money, although the machines at Portsmouth are sufficient to supply the demand of the whole nation. When the war broke out, contracts were made for a short time; but that was for want of lignum vitæ. And they were not then intended to be continued.
said, in explanation, that Dunstanville got 10 per cent. above the price given to Mr. Taylor
Sir A. Hammond
observed that, when the report came to fully considered, it would be fully answered. The machine made 579 blocks of an inferior size, of ten inches; but as to the making of large blocks, it had made no progress.
§ Mr. Jeffery
(of Poole) contended, that whatever might be the portion of praise to which the Naval Commissioners might be supposed to be entitled, he was still hold enough to say, that the affairs of the navy were never worse conducted than during the administration of lord St. Vincent; not only the navy, but the whole of the commercial part of the community were loud in their complaints against it. (A general cry of hear! hear!…chair! chair!)
The Speaker observed, that the line of argument of the hon. gent. did not apply to the question now before the house.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
heartily joined in approving the conduct of the Commissioners of naval enquiry, and thought them fully entitled, upon their general conduct, to the thanks of the house, and of their country; but at the same time he must request, in mercy to those who had not fully informed themselves of the contents of all the reports, that the words "the whole" of the conduct of the commissioners, might be omitted in the motion. There were now eleven of the reports, many of them extending to considerable length, before the house, and scarcely any but the tenth had yet undergone a due investigation. Indeed the omission of these words would give more meaning to the vote of the house, and at the same time render it more worthy the acceptance of those whom it was intended to commend, than if it stood in the manner in which it was originally proposed. The Commissioners had undoubtedly detected very great abuses, and had thereby rendered very signal service to the country ; and on that ground he felt them entitled to the thanks of the house and the gratitude of the country. He hoped, however, that nothing he now offered to the consideration of the house would produce any division of opinion; for he threw out the consideration merely to guide the conduct of the house; not in the least to detract from the merits of the commissioners. Much of their proceedings yet remained to be examined and discussed; and it might, perhaps, hereafter occur, that something would be considered in a light that might induce the house to express an opinion contrary to what the present motion called upon them unreservedly to declare. This was the only motive that prompted him to suggest the omission of 580 the words. He was ready to repeat, that in his mind the motion so amended would have not only a more distinct meaning, but must prove more acceptable to the commissioners themselves. Under that impression he should now move that the words "the whole of" he struck out of the motion. The question so amended, being put from the chair,
said, although he approved of the conduct of the commissioners, it was too far to approve of it in all its detail, as if they acted by divine authority, and could not err.
thought the original motion would be rendered much less exceptionable by the proposed amendment, but said it would be still more eligible, if the words "so far as yet appears," were omitted; since the whole of their reports, save only the 10th, had not yet undergone any examination.
The Attorney General
approved the amendment proposed by Mr. Wilberforce, but should think it still better, with the addition of that proposed by Mr. Rose. There were eleven reports before the house, and only one of them had as yet been examined. There were even several papers now before the house quite fresh from the press, which could not yet have been examined, but which, however, were represented as urgently calling for examination. The vote, therefore, in his mind, should not be general, as fresh materials might hereafter be produced in defence of those whose characters were affected by the reports of the commissioners. As the amendment seemed to him to improve the motion in the sense which he thought it should be received, it should have his concurrence.
§ Mr. Fox
said, certainly the original motion of his hon. friend near him (Mr. Sheridan) meant to approve the whole conduct of tile commissioners. He could not agree to the amendment, because, being entered on the journals, it would imply an opinion, that the whole of the commissioners' conduct was not entitled to thanks. He thought that any expression of general approbation of their conduct must mean the whole, and, therefore, he liked the motion neither the better nor the worse for the omission of that word. If the house did not mean to express full approbation of the conduct of the commissioners, or to say this was not the time, let 581 them reject the motion altogether; but he could assent to no amendment that could be deemed an abatement to the object of the original motion. Many of the reports of the commissioners had been above a year before the house, and yet no fault was found with them by gentlemen on the other side, nor any proposal made for their investigation. Even the tenth report was not fully considered, but was referred for farther consideration to the select committee up stairs. It was well known that carpings, cavillings, and malicious insinuations had been directed against the conduct of those commissioners, by persons whom their vigilance had detected and exposed. The motions of his hon. friend was designed to refute those calumnies by a general declaration of thanks from the house. From what had fallen from a right hon. gent. (Mr. Pitt), early in the debate, he was taught to believe there was no very material objection to the motion. If the house, then, did thank them, let it be done liberally and generally, or not at all.
§ Mr. Langham
thought the motion of thanks altogether unnecessary, as well as untimely, inasmuch as the vote of a majority upon a former night, in approbation of the tenth report, was already 2 vote of approbation; and because a much better opportunity for expressing the sense of the house generally upon the conduct of the commissioners, would occur when they had concluded the labours entrusted to them, neither which, nor the period of their appointment, were yet terminated. Why had there been no motion of thanks proposed to them on the seventh or ninth report as well as now? He could not think the commissioners themselves really wished for any thanks for arty consequence resulting front their enquiries. Such a vote, he thought, would rather have the effect of biassing the commissioners, and involving them in those party differences which seemed to exist in that house. Besides, the commissioners, in any thing they had done, had only complied with duties to which they were bound by oath, and it would not be holding them very high to thank them fur doing a duty to which they were solemnly sworn.
§ Sir William Elford
agreed in the construction given by an hon. gent. (Mr. Fox), that a vote of general thanks to the conduct of the commissioners must mean the whole, and, therefore, not approving their whole conduct, though he highly commended many parts of it, and conceiving their re- 582 ports in many instances as going to censure persons non coram judice, he could not vote for the original motion, or even for its amendment. He did expect some person would have moved the previous question, for which he should have voted, conceiving it better to retain the approbation or disapprobation of the house until a future occasion, when the merits or demerits of the commissioners' conduct would be fairly balanced.
again rose, and said, though he approved the conduct of the commissioners, yet it had not yet been so scrutinized as to warrant a decisive vote upon it. Thinking, therefore, that both sides of the house should pause before they came to any decision, he concluded by moving the question of adjournment.
(of Norfolk) thought the original motion of his hon. friend deserved the fullest concurrence of the house. There seemed to prevail on the opposite side of the house a singular degree of eagerness to get rid of the original motions. One member moved one amendment; another suggested a second; and a third urged the question of adjournment. But to his mind, the commissioners had done their duty as honest men; by their vigilance and firmness a noble lord had been detected in peculation, malversation, and every species of misconduct that could degrade him. As a plain, honest man, he should give his cordial support to the original motion.
§ Mr. Bond
desired, most unequivocally, to declare his most cordial approbation of the conduct of the commissioners. He never would wish to screen delinquency wherever it was to he found; and if he were to vote otherwise than in the most hearty support or the original motion, he must vote in violation of his own feelings, and the principles which had uniformly guided his conduct to the best of his judgment: but though he fully agreed in general thanks and approbation of the conduct of the commissioners, yet he did not thereby mean implicitly to approve every thing they might have done. What they recommended, it would be for the judgment of the house to decide upon; but in declaring general approbation of what they had done, the house would not bind itself to agree to every thing they recommended. Some trivial charges had been alledged against them: but, had any thing been said by them that did not mark zeal and ability? For his own part, he was convinced that their conduct reflected the highest honour 583 upon them, and had produced the greatest benefits to their country.
§ Sir John Wrottesley
was glad to hear the sentiments expressed by the learned gent. who spoke last, and he most cordially concurred in them.
thought the commissioners did not only deserve the present thanks, but were also entitled to the best support of that house. It was well known that insinuations had been made, and reports industriously propagated, against them by persons in power, whose conduct, they had shewn, deserved dismissal from their offices. Reports had been laid upon the table of the house, clearly pointing out the contumacy and delinquency of many of those persons, and he should be glad to know what had been done towards bringing those persons to task. From those reports it also appeared that boards were still continued in authority, under whom the grossest peculations had been committed and connived at. If those boards were still continued, what security had the country that the same abuses would not be repeated? He had heard of some gentlemen called on by those commissioners for necessary information in the line of their official duty, and yet refusing to answer, and ,screening themselves under the pretended meaning or defects of the act: a conduct at which an honest man would shudder.
§ Mr. Fuller
said, that as a friend to his country, and an honest man, he would most cordially vote for the original motion, and he thought no man a friend to his country that did not earnestly wish that enquiry, in the present circumstances of the nation, should be carried to its utmost extent in every branch of the public expenditure. This was no party question, but one which equally concerned every side of the House, and every part of the empire. Those who knew any thing of Roman history, must recollect, that from the moment a profuse and corrupt expenditure of the public money began to be laughed at in the senate, as a matter of indifference, the ruin of that empire took its date. For his own part he cared not who was at the head of the government, whether a branch of one family Or of another; whether the representative of my lord this, or the relative of my lord that, so long as the affairs of the empire were wisely and honestly administered; but when the public money was in question, and he had some considerable stake in it, 584 and peculation was the order of the day, it was the duty of parliament to institute the strictest enquiry, and to protect, support, and encourage those to whom enquiry was deputed, and who acquitted their duty with the diligence, the impartiality, and the firmness of honest men.
§ Mr. Sheridan
rose to reply. He trusted the house would give him credit for having acted fairly, in the manner in which he brought forward the motion. It was, he would confess, a subject of regret to him, that he had inserted the word "whole" in his motion; and particularly so, as it had met with objections from a quarter for which he entertained the highest respect. It was not without mature consideration that he worded his motion in that comprehensive way. His reason was, that difficulties of the most extraordinary nature were, at every instant, interposed between those gentlemen and the arduous duty in which they were employed, and he therefore thought no acknowledgment to them could be too strong. When they were encountered at every step by all the acts and subterfuges of that corruption which they were appointed to detect, it was the duty of the house, whose ministers they were, to mark their approbation of their conduct, and their determination to support them in the most comprehensive and emphatic manner. When an hon. gent. rises and declares in his place, that the person who was the heart and germ of that commission was unfit to be continued as a member of it, it was high time indeed for that house to step forward for his protection. It was upon that ground that he inserted the whole whole in his motion; and that he proposed that the thanks of the house should be extended to the commissioners in as general a way as it could possibly be. He wished to tell them what he, and he was persuaded a great majority of the country, felt towards them for their unabated perseverance and industry. He endeavoured to mark, in as strong a manner as his powers, of expression could command, the obligations he owed them for their ability, diligence, and fortitude (that word he would not have spared) in pursuing the arduous and disgusting task which was imposed upon them. Their conduct in it was well entitled to the praise of fortitude, a virtue which admitted of being as fairly exercised in the pursuit and detection of abuses, as in those situations to which, in its ordinary acceptation, it was generally applied. He wished to convey to those gentlemen the thanks of 585 the house for their conduct in pursuing the enquiry, for the firmness they had manifested in prosecuting it against all the obstacles which guilt, and fraud, and avarice, had erected to obstruct them; there was no occasion to have read all the reports to estimate the merit in that part of their duty: it was sufficient to know that they met with opposition from every quarter; and that, notwithstanding, they persevered and succeeded, and that the result of their labours was before the house and the country, exciting the admiration and gratitude of both. He had also another motive for wording his Motion in the way he did. He wished to compel the right hon. gent. on the opposite bench, to state to the house precisely and positively why he objected to the conduct of the commissioners of naval enquiry? He had done so; he had stated them candidly and temperately, (he was happy to avail himself of the few opportunities the right hon. gent. afforded him of commending him); and after all what did they amount to? one of the most important was, that they charged a jury that it had been tampered with; that was no new charge. He recollected its having been brought forward by an hon. baronet (sir W. Elford) before, who threatened to make it the subject of a motion in that house, but who was finally obliged to give it up, because he could get no one to second his motion. Another hon. member (sir A. Hammond) had complained of reflections which had been thrown out in one of the reports, against that board of which he was the head. It was full twenty-two months since that report was made; and why, he would ask, did the hon. baronet acquiesce, during all that time under those imputations? Was it that he was deterred by the rebuke which he is said to have received from earl St. Vincent, or that he looked forward to another proceeding which was going on (he meant the commission for examining into the civil affairs of the naval department) for satisfaction and justification? He was much misinformed as to the nature of that new commission, if it was to act as a committee of revision, to controul and annul the decisions of a commission appointed by the joint authority of both houses of parliament, and accountable only to them. He could not conceive, that it could even have been intended to degrade a commission so constituted, by subjecting their labours to he criticised and reversed by a committee of placemen. Did the hon. member decline doing early justice to his 586 character, because he expected it from a committee who had no power to do it? Another rt. hon. member (Mr. Rose) had also brought forward his charge. Why did not the house hear of it before? Why were his feelings so long silent with respect to his constituent and friend Mr. Taylor, who, it seems, had fallen, by some means, under the censure of the commission? What prevented him from making it the subject of complaint before this night? nothing but his delicacy he supposed. It was really too much, when the noble lord who proposed that commission professed himself ready to meet every charge which could be made against him, that he, as well as the members of that commission, should be assailed from so many quarters. When a member has the indiscretion, to say no worse of it, to rise in his place, and unblushingly proclaim, that earl St. Vincent was the worst lord of the admiralty that had ever appeared at the head of the naval department the country, it was the duty of the house to mark their reprobation of the sentiment. Was it fitting, he would call upon the house to de dare, that the noble lord should be attacked in that vile way ? Was it just that his honour, he would say the honour of the country (for the honour of that noble lord was a part, and a prowl part, of the glory and the honour of the country) should be thus struck at and wounded in that base and inglorious manner? The blow, which was apparently directed against the commissioners of naval enquiry, was in truth, and in fact, levelled at that noble lord. The commissioners had a claim upon the gratitude and protection of the house. While they were hunting down corruption and peculation, and pursuing them through all their foul and secret retreats and lurking places, they were entitled to all the encouragement which the legislature could hold out to them. He should be sorry that the motion he proposed should occasion any diversity of opinion; he wished to meet the feelings of the house. He would he sorry that any division should arise on a motion, which he had hoped would have been almost unanimously acceded to, but he could not consent to abandon the word whole in the manner proposed. He would not be satisfied that the amendment should appear upon the Journals, although he was disposed to meet the ideas of the hon. gent. who proposed it, if he were allowed to amend the motion himself.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
acquiesced in the proposition of Mr. Sheridan, and declared his rea- 587 diness, with the consent of the house, to withdraw his amendment.—The amendment being accordingly withdrawn,
§ Mr. Sheridan
withdrew his original motion, and immediately proposed the following: resolved, "That it appears that the commissioners appointed by an act of the 43d year of his majesty's reign, to enquire and examine into any irregularities, frauds, or abuses, which are and have been practised by persons employed in the several naval departments therein mentioned, have, as far as appears from the reports which they have hitherto made, exerted themselves with great diligence, ability, and fortitude; and that their conduct in the execution of the arduous duties entrusted to them, entitles them to the warmest approbation and encouragement of this house. "He disclaimed, at the same time, any admission, upon his part, that any that had been proved against the conduct of thing commissioners, and declared, that reason why he assented to any modification in the form of his motion was, that gentlemen had not time to examine the reports.—The question was then put on the motion, as altered by Mr. Sheridan, when the speaker declared the ayes had it.—Mr. Sheridan next moved the following resolution:—resolved, "That this resolution be communicated by Mr. Speaker to the said commissioners."—Agreed to.—Adjourned.