HC Deb 18 April 1806 vol 6 cc796-805

On the motion of Mr. Paull, two several orders of the house of the 11th and 17th March, 1806, were read; the former, ordering the production of certain papers relative to Bhurtpore; and the latter to Surat: and the papers contained in them, were, after some observations from Mr. Addington and Mr. Grant, ordered to be produced forthwith.

Sir A. Wellesley

requested that the hon. gent. who was about to bring a charge against the marquis Wellesley, would state the distinct nature of the charge, and of the course of proceeding which he intended to adopt.

Mr. Paull

replied, that it was his intention on Tuesday, to lay the ground of a charge against marquis Wellesley, for extravagant expenditure of the public money, and for having applied it to purposes of unnecessary splendour, contrary to an act of parliament. With regard to the course of proceeding, he did originally mean to move, that evidence be heard at the bar of the house in the first instance; but he had heard strong objections to this mode by several members, who urged the propriety of laying the charge before the adduction of proof. The hon. gent. was proceeding to read a passage in a printed report of a speech of Mr. Burke's, on the impeachment of Mr. Hastings, in corroboration of this opinion, when he was called to order by lord Temple, who protested against this as irregular.

Mr. Paull

then proceeded to lay the ground of his motion, and stated, at some length, from papers, letters, and other documents, the circumstances of a treaty entered into with the nabob of Furruckabad, soon after the arrival of the marquis Cornwallis in India, and which was afterwards guaranteed by the East-India Co. The conditions of this treaty were, that the nabob should disband his own native troops, and be in future ,protected by a British force, for which he was to pay a subsidy of 50,000l. annually, out of a revenue not exceeding 140,000l.; and which treaty was faithfully observed by the nabob, up to the year 1801. After disbanding his own troops, this prince was, of course, unable to resist any encroachments made upon his territories, except by the aid of the British force, which was to have protected him from all his enemies. The hon. gent. then went on to state, that after the arrival of lord Wellesley, he took, for the British government, contrary to the terms of the treaty, the tribute which was before paid to the nabob by the Rohillas. This, he was authorized to say, was contrary to the wishes of 23 out of the 24 directors of the East-India Co.; though when he was in India, he saw a dispatch from the secret committee approving of it. After this, some additional troops weir sent to repel any attacks made upon the nabob, when his subsidy was increased to 50 lacks of rupees,which was in violation of the express stipulations of the treaty. It was therefore with surprize, that he heard a noble lord (Castlereagh) move, last session, for a paper containing an approbation of these proceedings, by the secret committee. Two of the persons made to sign this approbation, namely, Mr. Devaynes and Mr. Robarts, reprobated this conduct; as did also all the members of the court of directors, with the exception of one hon. baronet (air T. Metcalfe). He then read several papers, to shew the mal-administration of the noble marquis in India, which, he said, had produced a loss to the company, of 7 million sterling. He then further said, that by the authority of the marquis, the nabob was sent for to Lucknow, for the purpose of signing an agreement, and after his arrival, his seal was not to be found at his dwelling; and he would engage to prove, that the same seal was afterwards found in the house of the British government, at Lucknow. He said, he did not stand forth as the sole accuser of the marquis Wellesley, and read an extract from a speech of Mr. Francis, upon India subjects, written and published by that hon. gent. himself, in which he accused the Bengal government of being the aggressors in the Mahratta war. With this confirmation in his favour, he would shortly conclude with saying, that the conduct of the noble marquis was commenced in injustice, and terminated in oppression. He then moved for a Copy of the Treaty between the nabob of Furruckabad, and the East-India Co., and guaranteed by the marquis Cornwallis, in 1787.

Lord Castlereagh

having been alluded to in the course of the speech, thought it proper set the hon. gent. right in a mistake which seemed a strong feature in his argument. The hon. gent. expressed his surprise, that he should have moved for a dispatch from the secret committee, approving of the conduct of the noble marquis; but if the hon. gent. thought to impress the house with the opinion, that that was the dispatch of the gentlemen, whose names he mentioned, he must suppose the house to be more ignorant of the course of these proceedings, than he would and it to be. The house was too well in- formed not to know, that the dispatch was that of the commissioners of the board of controul, and not of those who signed?it, who could only act as the official and regular agents on the occasion. As to all the other subjects descanted on, they would remain for future consideration; and,he only rose, for the purposes of rectifying the mistake of the hon. gent., as to that one particular fact.

Mr. Paull

explained, that what be stated to have excited his surprise, was, that the noble lord should call for such a paper, after he was fully apprised that the court of directors had protested against it.

Lord Castlereagh

rejoined, in explanation, that what he called for, was the dispatch of those to whom responsibility attached, which was not the case with the gentlemen who signed it.

Mr. Hiley Addington

said, that the hon. gent. might have saved himself much trouble, and the house a good deal of time, had he merely moved for the papers in question, without entering into such a long preliminary detail on the subject. He had not the slightest wish to oppose the production of the papers; neither should he say one word on the subject of the charges that had been advanced. He should only request the house to keep themselves free from every bias that might be produced by what had been said, and to sacrifice some time in investigating the documents now moved for.

Mr. Whitshed Keene

thought, that in the management of an immense empire like India, it was possible that a governor-general might, for the salvation of the country, be obliged, in some instance or another, to violate the strict letter of the law, and yet deserve the thanks of the country. He had himself been 38 years a member of parliament; he had heard almost every thing that had been said in that house upon the affairs of India, and had read all the documents that had been printed; and he thought that no member was qualified to vote a censure on the governor-general for any particular transaction, without having studied very much in detail the whole system of the Indian administration, and the various treaties which were contracted with the native powers, and also the manner in which those treaties were observed by the native powers.

Mr. Francis

said, that the particular appeal made to him, justified him in saying a few words. As to the powers of the commissioners of controul, and the court of directors, he had, when the bill was brought into the house in 1784, by Mr. Dundas, particularly, reprobated the absurdity and inconsistency which, even according to the present statement of the noble lord (Castlereagh) it clearly involved. He was not talking of the law as it was now, but only mentioning what opinion he had given, when it was a bill. What did it enact? Why,that the ostensible power should be first in 24 directors, next in three persons chosen from these as a secret committee, but that in fact it should be in neither. A controul might be necessary, and it might perhaps be proper sometimes to supersede the orders of the directors, but the absurdity was, that the secret committee, after giving one dispatch as that which they approved, might afterwards be compelled to sign one diametrically the reverse, and one which they abhorred. As to their protests, these were not known, and their authority was thus given to measures, of which, in the most positive manner, they disapproved. Hence the ruinous situation to which our India possessions were reduced, and the degradation of the court of directors. Now, as to the appeal to him, if he wished to be silent he might do as the hon. gent. did to whom he formerly alluded, (Mr. Sheridan,) that is, stay away while his duty required he should be present.—[The speaker reminded the hon. gent., that it was irregular to bring charges against a member who was absent.]—Mr. Francis, in continuation, observed, that he charged him with nothing but staying away, he believed his opinions remained unaltered, and he would surely come sometime to support them. When the hon. gent. (Mr. Paull) consulted him about this business, he had rather discouraged him from going on with it. It would do him no good—but if he was satisfied with that reward which every honest mind must feel in doing his duty, he would have that and no other. He would experience desertion,—perhaps he could not say desertion, as he bad not teen encouraged, but he would not be supported, As to his own speech, it would not become him to say any thing in praise of it, but the more he thought on the subject, the more he believed what he there stated to? be true, and he confessed that it contained charges of a very high nature. His right hon. friend (Mr. Fox) had approved of it, and had declared it to be unanswerable. In that speech he never mentioned a wish to impeach lord Wellesley—but if that speech were unanswerable, he certainly ought to be impeached. It might be asked, why he did not proceed upon these charges?—that was not his object. His design was to have lord Wellesley recalled and another system adopted, but he at the same time thought that there were sufficient grounds of impeachment against that nobleman. His object was in some measure answered, when lord Cornwallis was sent to India; and as to the impeachment of lord Wellesley, he did not proceed with that, partly because be was not equal to such a task, and partly because he had little hopes of having efficient support.

Mr. Secretary Fox

begged leave to trouble the house with a few words, in answer to what had fallen from his hon. friend. His hon. friend near him seemed to hint, that he (Mr. FOX) and others who agreed with him, had, in opposition to their former conduct, wished to disparage this proceeding, and to throw obstacles in the way. There was not the smallest foundation for such suspicions, nor were there any grounds whatever for arraigning his conduct on that head. As to the speech of his hon. friend (Mr. Francis), he had undoubtedly said, that it was unanswerable; not meaning to make this broad assertion absolutely, but because, in fact, no attempt had ever been made to answer it. He approved of it certainly, altogether, and partly, perhaps, for this reason among others, that there his hon. friend had professed to drop all idea of proceeding to an impeachment. Yet it was rather hard that he should think it incumbent on those who thought that there was a great deal of blame somewhere, and that a bad system had been pursued, to support an impeachment or any motion for criminal proceedings. He totally disclaimed any such idea. It might happen that a person might disapprove a bad system without being committed to support a criminal charge. When a bad system of government prevailed, the best mode of remedying this was not, in general, by impeaching an individual. The object was, to remove the person who carried on such a system, and to take care that none such should be acted upon in future; and, this being obtained, it might often be inexpedient to carry the matter any farther. But, at the same time, there might be particular acts, of so enormous a kind as to call for impeachment. This he did not mean to deny. But he and his hon. friend had a great deal of experience on this subject. This was certainly not a proper time for enquiry. He (Mr. Fox) acted as he found it necessary to do, with respect to systems in Europe. About these systems there might be, and, no doubt, there often was, a great deal of error in judgment. He might disapprove of, and strongly oppose them; and, if he could accomplish his object, which was the destruction of these systems, he would certainly not always think it necessary to resort to enquiries. That was his opinion generally, though, undoubtedly, there might be exceptions to the general rule. If this rule was proper with respect to all executive governments, it was particularly so with regard to India. NOW, that he ought to bring a regular charge in all instances where he disapproved of a particular system of conduct, was a conclusion to which he could by no means assent. Impeachment was a bad mode of proceeding, except in particular cases; and certainly it was not advisable to adopt it with regard to a governor-general of India merely on account of his system. One hon. gent. had said, that all these papers ought to be examined by every member of this house, before he voted on this question. This, perhaps, might, when they were very voluminous, be, in some instances, incompatible with other duties; but he believed that in cases where the necessity was not great, it was possible that such charges might be brought forward rather with a view to the popularity which they might acquire, than from any hopes of ultimate success. He had approved highly of his hon. friend's speech, and the more so as he had disclaimed any idea of a charge of impeachment. He did not say that impeachment ought in all cases to be abandoned; but he really was of opinion, that if it were often to be resorted to, it would, from its difficulties, be soon given up in despair, and impunity might thus be procured for almost all sorts of crimes and misdemeanours committed by a governor-general of India. As to desertion, he certainly could not be said to desert a person whom he had never encouraged; but since the trial of Mr. Hastings, they might say, it they pleased, that he shrunk from all India impeachments, or flew from them, or any worse term might be used, if a worse could be found. To this he would make no answer. But so far was he from deserving the insinuation which had been thrown out against him, of having altered his opinion with his situation, that the only reason why he was present at this debate at all, was, the very circumstance of that change. He scarcely ever attended these discussions before, since Mr. Hastings's impeachment. He had, indeed, attended at the delivery of the speech of his hon. friend, but that was merely a matter of courtesy to him. It was now his duty, however, to attend to all these discussions. It was, indeed, the duty of every member of parliament, but in a peculiar manner that of a person in his situation, and if he did not do it, his conduct might be liable to the worst construction. He did attend, therefore, and delivered his opinion with more freedom than he would otherwise have done, for then he would probably have said nothing.—The hon. gent. (Mr. Paull) had given notice of a charge which he intended to bring forward on Tuesday. He would, in the interval, acquaint himself with the subject, as far as lay in his power, and give his opinion of what was the most proper mode of proceeding. The hon. gent. had read a great deal from the debates that took place relative to the trial of Mr. Hastings, and was in his opinion very properly called to order by his noble friend (Temple). He had looked very little into these debates, but what he had seen of them was exceedingly inaccurate, and often the very reverse of what had been said. The mode of proceeding, by bringing charge after charge, had been, upon the whole, the mode which Mr. Burke, himself, and others, thought best on the impeachment of Mr. Hastings. If that mode was the best, in the present instance it might be adopted. But, while he spoke of the most proper mode, it must not be therefore understood that he agreed in the propriety of impeachment at ail. As to his opinions, he did not see why he was to be so much distrusted because he did not on every occasion volunteer his notions. It was very difficult to proceed properly in a criminal case before the house, as no honest man would wish in such an affair to use any other influence except what might be derived from his argument; and, if this was the case, was it not better to wait till the whole matter was before the house, than to sound a trumpet in every stage of the business? This certainly would not be his conduct, nor could it be the wish of any one who was anxious only that substantial justice should be done.

Mr. Paull

said, he did not undertake this cause with a view to popularity, but merely from a sense of duty. It was his intention to follow the precedents he had before him with respect to Mr. Hastings. He meant, on Tuesday, to produce his charge, and move to lay it on the table; and, that a future day should be then fixed, to take it into consideration. Mr. Burke had laid his first charge against Mr. Hastings on the table, on the 5th of April, and it was not taken into consideration till the 8th of June. The hon. gent. expressed his thanks to the right hon. secretary, for the candid and liberal manner in which he had conducted himself.

Mr. H. Addington

desired to know, whether it was the intention of the hon gent. to move for any documents to support his charge, when it should be laid on the table?

Mr. Paull

replied, that if the house should agree to his motion for laying the charge on the table, he should move to have it taken into consideration on a future day. He proposed to move for documents in support of it, and evidence to be taken at the bar, but not till the house should first decide whether they contained impeachable matter. On Friday, he proposed to bring forward his two next charges relative to disobedience of orders, and the assumption of rights contrary to law, which he should follow up by moving, that they be taken into consideration on a subsequent day.

Mr. Grant

observed, that in the general the opinion of the court of directors prevailed. He thought that the system of checks was the best system for India affairs. The board of controul was a check on the court of directors, and they on the other hand were a check on tine board of controul. When differences on grave subjects prevailed, it was material that the opinions of all the parties should be brought under consideration. If the house entertained the question, it should sift it to the bottom, with a view to obtain substantial justice to all the parties.

Mr. Johnstone

said, it appeared clearly that the opinions of the directors were totally overruled by the board of controul, and the treaties with the Vizier, with Oude, and the Nizam, were convincing proofs of it. His sentiments, with regard to the affairs of India, were still the same as they had ever been; but instead of pressing questions regarding impeachments, he thought the house would do better to adopt resolutions, which might in future prevent transactions, such as had passed within the last 3 years.

Mr. W. Smith

having understood, that he had had the misfortune of falling under the censure of his hon. friend (Mr. Francis, see p. 800), on a former day for a temporary absence, and having heard the same censure repeated against a right hon. gent. (Mr. Sheridan) this day, rose to state, for the consolation of his hon. friend and the house, that his absence had in part been occasioned, in the former instance, by his waiting on that hon. friend, to ascertain the part he meant to take on the occasion, and that his right hon. friend remained of his former opinion, and would attend in his place whenever the subject should be brought forward.—The several motions were then agreed to.