HC Deb 22 December 1806 vol 8 cc82-92
Mr. Lamb

brought up the report of the address to his majesty, in answer to his majesty's most gracious speech. On the motion for its being read,

Lord Howick,

unwilling that any thing which he might have said should mislead the house or the country, rose to explain two circumstances in the debate of the preceding evening. It was certainly not extraordinary, in the new and important situation in which he found himself placed, that his embarrassment should be productive of some error, however unintentional. He certainly had last night conceived and stated, that Mr. Fox's last letter, respecting any negociation with France in which Russia should not be included, was dated as far back as the 26th of March; but having since referred to the official documents, he found that the date of the letter to which he had alluded was the 20th April; and therefore so far the argument of the right hon. gent. opposite (Mr. Canning) carried with it more weight than in the other case it would be entitled to. Having said thus much in correction of his statement, he should proceed to the explanation of another point in dispute. Very heavy censure had been passed by the noble lord (Castlereagh) and the right hon. gent. against his late right hon. friend (Mr. Fox) for not having repelled the accusation of preceding administrations contained in M. Talleyrand's reply to his first letter. To prevent any misapprehension that might go forth, before the papers should be laid on the table of the house, he would distinctly declare, that his right hon. friend had repelled that accusation, though the French government, in the publication which they caused to be made of the correspondence, had thought proper to suppress that part of it.

Mr. Canning

felt himself under the utmost obligation to the noble lord for the extreme candour, which prompted him to come forward and make the statements which he had done. With regard to the date of Mr. Fox's letter, it certainly had surprized him very much yesterday evening, when the noble lord declared the date which he had just corrected; but he did not see that the alteration of date made such a difference in the state of the argument, as the noble lord seemed willing to allow, He had contended, that not on one particular day alone, but that on every day the situation of this country, with respect to Russia, ought to have been present to the minds of his majesty's ministers, and to have influenced their conduct. With respect to the suppression by the French government of the defence, which it now appeared by the noble lord's statement, had been made by Mr. Fox, of the conduct of antecedent administrations against the foul charges preferred against them, it gave him great satisfaction to find that such a defence had been made. The house would recollect, however, that he had last night only reasoned hypothetically on this subject, declaring, that if the chasms in the correspondence which he had described should not be properly supplied, such and such must be the consequences necessarily to be deduced from that omission. In pointing out these chasms, he conceived that he had done a service to his majesty's ministers.

Lord Howick

added to his former statement, that Mr. Fox in his letter declared, that what he did was with the direct approbation of all his colleagues.

Mr. Perceval

said, he did not rise to oppose the address, but merely to notice one or two points which had been omitted in his majesty's speech to the house. There were a few topics also to which he wished to advert on the present occasion, just to let the noble lord who introduced them, see that his triumph was not as complete as he had induced himself to imagine. The noble lord had, in the course of his speech last night, drawn a comparison between the 15 years opposition, of which the noble lord had been a distinguished member, and the present opposition, which he characterized as factious and harassing, while he complimented his own, as one which had been uniformly actuated by principle. Allowing the noble lord all the enjoyment which he could derive from his retrospect, he should tell him, that however he might please to denominate the present opposition, he would find them at their post, attending to the progress of public business, and paying particular attention to the conduct and measures of ministers. If the noble lord thought that this kind of opposition, founded on public duty, was harassing, he frankly informed the noble lord in time, that he could not expect much indulgence or sound repose during the session. The noble lord had laid great stress on the term popularity, which he emphatically declared the present opposition did not possess. This was a point, however, on which be did not see that the noble lord had great reason to exult. Let him look to the result of the general election. A reference to the contests in those places where the largest share of popularity might have been manifested, would soon skew what quality and description the popularity of the ministerial candidates was composed. Look to Norfolk and Southwark; come then to Hampshire; but of the election for that place he should not now take any other notice, than just mentioning that his lordship would hear more respecting it, before the end of the session,than might be palateable. The noble lord could not be ignorant of the sort of popularity which distinguished the treasurer of the navy (Mr. Sheridan) from the other candidates, at the election for Westminster. Observing that the right hon. gent. was not in his place, he should abstain, at present, from taking a view of ministerial popularity in that city. He would take the liberty, however, of asking a right hon. gent. (Mr. Tierney) whom he was glad to see in the house, what he thought of the point at issue? Why was he unsuccessful at Southwark, if the friends of ministers had been as popular as the noble lord would infer from comparison? The fact was, that as soon as the right hon. gent. connected himself with the negative quality of popularity which belonged to the present ministers, he found that he could not be returned.—With regard to the subjects referred to in his majesty's speech, there were many points which would be open to future consideration, when the official papers should be before the house. This, however, he wished the noble lord to believe, that in his opinion—and it was an opinion in which every man in the house and the country must coincide—were no papers produced but those already published by the French government, it would be no difficult matter to prove that England, during the whole of the negociation, had maintained her character for sincerity and honour. On the very face of those papers appeared artifice on the one side, practising on credulity, on the other. There was one occurrence in the progress of the negociation which, it struck him, required explanation. It appeared by the French publication, that there had been two notes written on the same day, the 14th of June, contradictory to each other. The argument in the longer of these notes, was completely opposed by the act in the shorter of them. They related to the rejection of any negociation, but in concert with our allies; but it seemed very probable that the communications from lord Yarmouth would clear up this at present inexplicable point. With regard to the omission in the address, of any condolence with his majesty on the death of the duke of Brunswick, if it had been possible to suppose that ministers could have contemplated that event without the proper feelings that it was calculated to excite, the impressive and pathetic manner, so highly honourable to himself, in which the noble lord had last night mentioned the circumstance, must completely have destroyed such a supposition. But the noble lord declared, that he had in vain ransacked the parliamentary records for a precedent. What precedent could he expect to find? Was there ever an instance of the brother-in-law of the sovereign, and the father of the princess of Wales, stripped of his dominions, and dying in battle, in defence of the laws and independence of Europe? Was there a precedent of such a fact? Certainly not; and certainly, therefore, there could be no precedent of such a condolence. He therefore did think, that in the address to his majesty, it would have been proper to express the feelings which the house of commons must entertain on such an occasion. But there were greater omissions in his majesty's speech, which he would slightly notice. For the first of these omissions, which respected the glorious battle of Maida, he felt himself totally at a loss to account; for that government were sensible of the value and importance of this victory, was evident from the notice given by the right hon. secretary for the war department, that he would on Monday propose to the house a vote of thanks to the gallant officers by whom it had been obtained. But why of an event so proudly honourable to the British arms, deprive his majesty of the satisfaction of declaring his sentiments of approbation? He believed that not a single instance could be found in the annals of our history, of a victory achieved during the interval between one session of parliament and another, and which victory was considered of sufficient importance by government to claim the recorded gratitude of the two houses of parliament, which had not been made a subject of communication from the throne in the speech with which every session was opened. Why all reference to the splendid victory to which he alluded had been avoided in the speech, he was at a loss to conceive; for he could not suppose that it was the wish of government to keep the king's countenance at a greater distance from the army than ever.—He was also desirous of knowing how it happened, that in his majesty's speech not a single word was said of the flourishing state of the finances and revenue of the kingdom? Were they not flourishing?. He trusted and believed that there was no ground for any apprehensions on that score; but assuredly this was the first instance in which the crown had made a demand on the public purse, without taking the opportunity of at least affording to the people a pleasing and consolatory picture of the situation of public affairs. As to Buenos Ayres, his right hon. friend (Mr. Canning), understanding that the expedition, of which the result was the capture of that province, had been undertaken without the knowledge of government, had, very properly, confined his animadversions on the omission of any notice of that occurrence in his majesty's speech, to the omission of any statement of the advantages which the country must derive from such a valuable acquisition.—He supposed that the discussion which related to the commercial intercourse between Great Britain and America had not been brought to a close, otherwise it assuredly would have been mentioned from the throne. When he recollected the bills which were introduced into the house during the last session on this subject, when he considered their nature and principle, when he remembered that they went to the destruction of that on which our naval strength and superiority had been founded, and when he reflected on the character and sentiments of the persons who had been chosen by this country to carry on the negociation with America, he owned that he looked forward. with considerable apprehension to the period when that negociation would terminate, He hoped he might he permitted to hint, that the blockade lately declared was a circumstance to which government should be watchfully attentive in their discussions and connections with neutral powers. It behoved them to take good care to come to some good understanding with those neutral powers, as to the interpretation which they might put on that blockade. This was a subject on which at present he would say no more. There remained an omission in his majesty's speech yet unnoticed by him. No mentionShad been made of the state of Ireland. He trusted that this silence might be ascribed to the total want of foundation for the alarming rumours that had reached this country. Ministers must unquestionably be the judges how far the usual prerogatives of the crown were sufficient to suppress insurrection or rebellion, in whatever quarter it might appear; the decision rested with them: he only begged them to consider that the protraction of the necessary day of punishment was not mercy; and the delay which allowed insurrection to proceed, until it became impossible to quell it without a considerable shedding of blood, was, not kindness. He hoped that the omission of any notice of the situation of the sister island was occasioned by the absence of any necessity for an extraordinay exertion of the law. Should such a necessity unfortunately arise, and should ministers call on the house for an enlargement of the executive power, he could assure them that they should meet with no opposition on his part to any proper measure of vigour which they might think it expedient to propose. Having thus expressed his sentiments on the various subjects which had been agitated, he sat down, declaring that it was not his intention to oppose the motion for reading the report of the address.

Lord Henry Petty

believed, that in the present state of the house, and in the present state of the information before the house, he should best consult the wishes of the house by adjourning the consideration of many of the points on which the learned gent. had touched in a speech, which, although certainly it was not a very long one, yet comprised an infinite variety of matter. .He should not, indeed, have thought it necessary to rise at all, but for that part of the learned gent.'s observations which were directed at the department of government in which he had the honour to hold a situation, and which therefore might be considered a personal allusion to himself, The learned gent. expressed his wonder, that nothing had been said in the speech from the throne on the state of the finances. Nothing said! general expressions alone were to be looked for in documents of that sort, and it was distinctly, though generally declared, that "the great sources of our prosperity and strength were, unimpaired;" a declaration calculated to, satisfy every reasonable mind, and which it would soon be his duty in the committee of ways and means to prove, by entering into particular statements, was founded on just grounds. Let it not be supposed that he was unwilling to give all due praise to the solid system of finance, the result of the abilities of a late great financial minister; he should avail himself of the opportunity to which he had alluded, of doing justice to the merits of that system, and to those of its founder, and he should avail himself of the same opportunity to do justice to the merits of the noble viscount (lord Sidmouth), by whom, on the commencement of the present war, that system had been renovated, and firmly established.— The learned gent. had hoped that there was a good cause for certain transactions apprehended to have taken place in Ireland not having been mentioned in the speech from the throne, There was a good cause, The allusion to them could not have been attended with any useful purpose; and the house would perhaps agree with him in thinking, that had the learned gent. himself abstained from alluding to them, it would have been at least as well. What object had the learned gent. in his observation on this subject? For their conduct with regard to Ireland, ministers were responsible. From the faithful discharge of their duty they never would shrink. The learned gent. had noticed several other omissions, as he imagined them, both in the speech and the address. With regard to the omission in the address, of any condolence with his majesty on the death of the duke of Brunswick, after what had been said by his noble friend last night, no one could suppose that that omission originated in any want of proper feeling; but it was obvious that expressions of condo- lence must be governed by forms and habits of proceeding; a line must be drawn. If usage precluded the expression of a sentiment, was it thence to be inferred that the sentiment did not exist? But the omissions on which the learned gent. had dwelt with peculiar emphasis, were the omission of any notice of the capture of Buenos Ayres, and of the brilliant victory of Maida; but more particularly of the latter. No man could be more sensible than he was of the valour displayed by the British troops in Calabria on that gratifying occasion; but it must be recollected that they formed merely a detachment, a small body, not under the orders of a commander-in-chief, but of an officer who was himself commanded by a superior; and there was no instance on record, of, any victory, however brilliant, however striking, gamed under such circumstances, having been noticed in the speech from the throne. Let gentlemen refer to the events of the last war. One of the most brilliant victories gained on the continent, and precisely in the same circumstances as those in which he had mentioned the victory of Maida was obtained, was the victory of Lincelles; and yet it would be found that no notice was taken of this affair, or of the officers and troops engaged in it, in his majesty's speech which immediately followed.—As to the subject of America, the learned gent. had indulged himself in an attack on the two noble lords, who were employed on the part of Great Britain in carrying on the commercial discussions with the United States. This, however, he would maintain, that if it were possible to find two persons better qualified, who possessed more general knowledge, more good sense, and more affable and conciliating manners, than any others, those noble lords were the men. But here the learned gent. only pursued the course taken by his right hon. friend yesterday (Mr. Canning). He anticipated censure, in ignorance of the facts; and at this early period, and before it was possible he could be in possession of the nature or progress of the discussions with America, the learned gent. augured an unfavourable result. He would not at present go at length into the learned gent.'s remarks on the popularity of government, as displayed at the general election; at some future period he should be happy to join issue with the learned gent. on this point, and enquire on what side the popu- lar voice had been manifested; but he confessed that he was astonished to hear the learned gent. priding himself on the popularity of Mr. Paull, as—

Mr. Canning

called to order, not conceiving it right to mention, in terms of indirect censure, the name of a petitioning candidate.

The Speaker

said he did not know of any order prohibiting the mention of any name but that of a member of that house.

Lord H. Petty

was glad to find he had not transgressed the rules of order in mentioning the name of Mr. Paull, by doing which he did not mean the slightest disrespect to that gentleman. He begged to assure the gentlemen on the other side of the house, that he did not intend to hurt their feelings by stating in the most indirect manner, that there was any similarity, between their principles or their popularity; he knew they were quite opposite. He begged pardon for having occupied the time of the house with this explanation, but seeing that the right hon. gentlemen were sore upon this. point, he thought it right to give them the full benefit of his testimony, and, to exculpate them from any such political connection.

Mr. Perceval ,

explanation, denied that he had imputed any want of information to the two noble lords who were engaged in the commercial discussions with America. What he had said was, that the manner in which the bills on that subject were introduced into parliament last session, evinced the bad principle on which the negociation with the United States was founded. As to the matter on which the noble lord had dilated at the close of his speech,, he assured him that he had no idea of priding himself on the popularity of Mr. Paull, but the contrary. In alluding to the popularity of Mr. Paull at Westminster, he only meant to, shew, that, comparing popularity with popularity, Mr, Paull had completely beaten the treasurer of the navy, until the government coursers were harnessed to the car, by which means the right hon. gent. got a-head of his rival. [Cry of Order! Order!]

Sir J. Pulteney

entered into an eulogium on the victory of Maida. So few were the opportunities offered to our brave troops, of meeting the enemy on fair ground, that he sincerely regretted that notice of this. victory did not make a feature of his majesty's speech, although whenever similar opportunities did offer, he was satisfied that similar results would ensue. Adverting to what the noble lord had said of Lincelles, he contended that it was quite a different affair from that at Maida. The victory of Lincelles was highly gallant, and highly honourable, but it was obtained by a mere detachment, who were sent to attack a post under the very eye of the commander-in-chief.

Mr. G. Johnstone,

in addition to what had fallen from the hon. baronet, observed, that at the battle of Maida, general Stuart actually possessed the chief command in Sicily; for sir J. Craig had left that island, and the commander-in-chief appointed to succeed him had not arrived. The statement therefore made by the noble lord was by no means strictly correct. But had it been correct, it would by no means have justified the omission complained of. When lord Nelson achieved the splendid victory of the Nile, was he not under the command of lord St. Vincent? yet that achievement had been noticed in the speech from the throne. The omission of any allusion to the situation of Ireland had been attempted to be justified by declaring that no good was likely to result from such an allusion. This was very true; but ought not every thing important and connected with the interests of the empire to find a place in his majesty's speech without any qualification? He was happy to hear that government looked to the state of the finances of the country with such confidence, and he cordially concurred with the noble lord in the just praise he had bestowed on lord Sidmouth for his attention to this subject.

Lord H. Petty

in explanation, allowed, that he found he had not been altogether Correct in his statements, with regard to the precise state of rank which sir J. Stuart held at the time of the battle of Maida. Admitting this, he still maintained, that there was no distinct rule of proceeding; but that his majesty's ministers were bound to regulate their conduct by the various circumstances which different cases must necessarily present.

The report was then read and agreed to, and the address was ordered to be taken up to his majesty, by such members of the house as were of his majesty's most honourable privy council.—It was then ordered, that the speech of the lords commissioners to both houses of parliament, be taken, into consideration upon Monday next: after which the house adjourned.

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