HC Deb 28 January 1806 vol 6 cc83-90
Mr. Jeffery ,

in pursuance of his notice of yesterday, called the attention of the house to the order of the 22d inst. for the printing of certain papers, relative to earl St. Vincent, which it was his wish should be discharged. It was not his intention, however, to press this on the house, without shewing his reasons for such a proceeding, which he trusted would prove as satisfactory to the house as they appeared forcible and convincing to his mind. In the first place, he insisted that the sole design of producing those papers was to gain time. From the commencement of this business to the present moment, procrastination seemed to have been the great object of lord St. Vincent and his friends. He could afford no better proof of this than by referring to those voluminous papers, that had been laid on the table, from time to time, and of which, by far the greater part bore not the most dis- tant relevancy to the matters in question. The expedient of printing those papers, which nobody he was sure would react, was another additional support to this procrastinating system, to which he wished a stop to be put as speedily as possible. He would assure the friends of the noble lord, in the mean time, that no procrastination on their part should shake his determination of persevering in the course he had begun. Whatever should be the situation of parties, whatever new administration should be formed, whatever changes should take place in his majesty's government, he would abide by those charges he had originally brought forward, and persist in regarding it as one of his highest parliamentary duties to substantiate and prosecute them. He had charged lord St. Vincent with a criminal neglect of duty in the high official situations he had held, and particularly in his post at the admiralty; and no delay that might he contrived, no obstacle that might be thrown in his way from any quarter would relax his exertions in making good this charge. But he was anxious that this should be done as speedily and with as little expence as possible. If the house, therefore, should concur with him in his motion of rescinding the order for printing those papers, it was his intention to follow up this motion with another for referring them to a select committee, to examine what papers really ought to be printed, and to reject the rest that had no relation to the question, as useless and cumbersome. The printing of such voluminous papers would only create enormous expences, while such as were relevant would be lost amid the great mass of matter, and from their ponderous size, would be useless to the house. It was far from being his wish, at the same time, to press this matter on the house in such a way as to prevent the noble lord or his friends from making the necessary arrangements for his exculpation. He protested to the house that he was actuated by the purest motives in bringing forward the charges he had done, and from no personal animosity to that noble lord. His public duty was the only imperious voice which in this proceeding he obeyed; a voice which he thought every member in that house ought to obey, and a duty which every member ought to feel. He was fulfilling a duty which was equally incumbent on every man in that house.

Mr. Tierney

here called the hon. gent. to order. He was departing he thought from the forms necessary to be observed in submitting motions to their consideration, and entering into a field not at ail connected with the professed object of his motion.

The Speaker ,

was of opinion that the hon. member was at perfect liberty to assign reasons for his motion, and so long as he confined himself to that object, thought he was perfectly in order.

Mr. Jeffrey

then continued, and insisted that at a tone when our great national interests were so much at stake, it was the duty of every man to watch with particular care over the interests of that department of the public service on which our safety as well as glory depended. He did not wish to give offence to any member; nor did he think it necessary to extend his explanation; but he must repeat his fixed resolution to bring forward his charges under any circumstances, and under any set of men, for he had such proofs as would not only justify him in the eyes of every reasonable man, but would also condemn the noble lord. It had been said on the part of the noble lord, at an early period of this business, that in order to justify his conduct against the charges alledged against him, such papers would be necessary as, he was afraid, would be too voluminous for the perusal of the house, and that were not likely, many of them, to be got from the public offices. He could not help considering this at first introduced us for the porpoise of delay. At any rate this was the very opinion he was at present labouring to establish. No obstacle had been offered to the production of those papers; but they really were of so voluminous a nature as would create great delay by their being printed; and when printed, he was certain would not be read by the house. The hon. member concluded by moving that the papers should not be printed, and that the order for that purpose be discharged. The order being accordingly read, and the question being put from the chair, that so much of the said order as relates to the printing of the papers be discharged,

Admiral Markham

rose, and said, that when the hon. gent. first brought on those charges against the noble earl, he had expressly stated that he should not be precluded from moving for such papers, as might be thought necessary to his lordship's defence, and that this proposition had been acceded to by the late right hon. chancellor of the exchequer, so much so indeed, that only one paper had been objected to, the production of which, it had been stated, would prove prejudicial to the service, by giving the enemy information which it was the interest of this country to withhold. Were any objection really admissible to the printing of those papers on the ground of making them public, and by this means embarrassing the public service, such objections ought to originate with the lords of the admiralty, and not with the hon. member, who had not the means of knowing those circumstances that might render such an objection proper. But no such objections had been offered by the lords of the admiralty, nor had the hon. gent. himself attempted to establish any such plea. It appeared, indeed, an extraordinary proceeding to him on the part of the hon. gent., that while he brought charges against the noble lord of so serious a nature, and in a language so scurrilous and indecent, he should attempt to shut out the light and prevent access to that information on which the noble earl depended for his vindication. "In the course of what has dropped from the hon, gent." said the hon. admiral, "he has stated, that I had said, at the commencement of this business, there were many papers the public offices would not produce; but the absurdity of this allegation is a sufficient proof that I could never have made use of such expressions." He could never be absurd enough to say so. On the contrary, he had stated that there were none that would be wanted that might not be produced. With respect to one book, called Doomsday book, he had expressed sonic doubts if it could be forthcoming, and believed it was among the number he had moved for. It was a book regularly kept up during lord St. Vincent's administration, and would have been of very material consequence in his justification. Of the papers, continued the hon. member, which had been moved for and produced, there was not one that was not absolutely necessary. He wished every one of them to be made public. Those papers required only to be known, to retinal the wanton scurrility of the hon. gent. with accumulated weight on his own head. So determined was he to adhere to the order of the house already made, and so necessary did he feel the publication of those papers, that if the hon. member did not withdraw his motion, he would certainly take the sense of the house on the question. He added also, that he would not be deterred on any account from calling for any farther papers that should appear necessary, notwithstanding the charge of procrastination brought against him with so little reason. There were indeed more papers which he was likely to call for, and which might be produced in the course of two days. This was no trifling question; it involved the very existence of this country, bearing so near a relation as it did to the best means of its defence. It involved the naval interests of the country, and therefore he wished that full and ample enquiry should be made, not only for the sake of the noble lord whose character was at stake, but also for the benefit of the public service, and the good of the community at large. At the same time he could not help observing that, in his opinion, the hon. gent. would have done better to have deferred this motion till another time, and have allowed the formation of a new administration to have been completed before starting,a subject of this nature.

Mr. Peter Moore

had witnessed many extraordinary things in his day, but this was the most extraordinary proceeding he had ever known. The hon. gent. not satisfied with repeating his accusation against lord .St. Vincent, had accused the whole house of commons, by saying, that they would not have patience to read the important papers before them. The abstract of the hon. gent.'s argument was simply this: "You shall attend to all the charges that I may from time to time throw out against the noble lord, but you shall not listen to a word of his defence: you shall not even permit him to submit it to the house, but refer it in the most private manner to a committee." What reason the hon. member had to think gentlemen would not read these papers when printed, he knew not, but certain he was it was their duty to do so, and certain he was that it was his intention to read them, as he had done such as had been already produced, and must say that he saw no colourable pretext whatever for the charges alledged, and should therefore advise the hon. gent. to make the amende honorable, and retire with the best grace he could.

The Attorney General

considered the question before the house to be of very considerable importance; and if any one thing was of more importance than another it was certainly the order of proceeding on this subject. However voluminous these papers might be, therefore, he would have them printed, as being the most regular and candid mode of proceeding; and therefore advised the hon. gent. to withdraw his motion, particularly as he did not conceive that there existed at this time any cause that should preclude their being printed.

Mr. Serjeant Best

could not allow the hon. mover to withdraw his proposition without offering some remarks on the manner in which he had supported it. The substance of what the hon. gent. had advanced was, that he should have all the papers he wished for on his side, but he will only permit you to have such as may be agreeable to him, and not what on your part you may think necessary to meet his charges. I cannot agree, said the learned member, that this investigation in any shape should be referred to a committee. What! After charges of so gross a nature, and conveyed in language, that, to say the best of it, might have better been omitted, shall you say that the papers on which the refutation of those allegations so materially depends, shall not be printed? Ought not the vindication to be as public as the charges? The wisdom and the justice of the house required it, and he was only surprised that a contrary proposition should have been for a moment entertained. The house might easily see, from the spirit in which the motion had been made, that it was unworthy of being entertained. He never, for his own part, had seen the papers, but he certainly had no doubt, from the testimony of time hon. gent. behind him (admiral Markham) that they were necessary to the vindication of the noble lord, and would sufficiently answer that purpose. As a proof how ready the hon. gent. was to make charges without consideration, he had only to refer to the charge he had just made of procrastination, against the house itself. He would ask if it was the intention of this house to procrastinate when they ordered those papers to be printed? This certainly was not an auxiliary step to the procrastination complained of by the hon. gent.

Sir W. Milner

observed, that the noble earl who was time subject of debate, had for his services been favoured with the freedom of the city of York which he had the honour to represent, and his constituents would have a right to complain, if he tacitly submitted to such a proceeding, as had been proposed by the hon. gent

Mr. Jeffery

again rising, said that there was not a single paper that could be brought forward thatg would vindicate the noble lord that he did not wish to be laid on the table; but maintained, that great procrastination had taken place last session on this question. More papers it appeared were still wanting, and a book must be also had which nobody knew of but the hon. member himself. He again pledged himself, in the most pointed terms, not only to bring forward the charges he had made against lord St. Vincent when in office, but no substantiate them to the satisfaction of the house. The papers before the house he maintained were irrelevant to the subject. The noble lord had put an end to the system that had before followed; but what did be substitute in its room? The noble lord had declared that he would build 50 sail of the line; but had he produced 40? had he produced 30? had be produced 20? had be produced one?—

The Speaker

here interrupted the hon. member by observing, that he was going too far beyond the bounds assigned him by the rules of the house; and that he felt it his duty to confine the hon. member to the question.

Sir W. Young

thought it a new mode of proceeding, to judge of the relevancy of papers before the question came to be tried. The person competent to judge of the relevancy of those papers was not the man who stood forward as the accuser, but the person who was accused; and it would be time enough for the house to judge of their relevancy when they should be printed, and come before the house in a regular manner. The proceeding of the hon. member he considered as a transgression of the principles of natural justice.

Mr. Tierney

regarded the accusation brought against the noble lord, of procrastination, as a gross and scandalous calumny. The hon. gent. seemed so confident in his own abilities as not only to think himself adequate to the management of the prosecution in this arduous case, but was also anxious to have the direction and arrangement a greater degree of diffidence to the hon. gent., and advised him to be satisfied with taking the lead in the prosecution. It had been shrewdly suspected, he said, that the hon. gent. had been set on in this business by other persons who had got a rap over the fingers in that department, and wished perhaps to be in good company; and nothing could serve as a greater proof of the truth of this suspicion, than the manner in which he had proceeded in this matter. He would ask the hon. gent. how he came to know what were the contents of those papers? He had not taken the trouble of reading them over, voluminous as they were, since they had been laid on the table, and how could he judge of their relevancy or irrelevancy? He must have seen them in the office then, and he begged leave to say that that was seeing them scandalously and suspiciously. He believed the papers were necessary to the defence. The charge was general, and the investigation of every department therefore that at all related to the duties of the noble lord when in office, became in some degree necessary. That papers therefore had been introduced relative to the shipwrights, could form no objection to their relevancy. It had been stated that the noble earl had abolished the old system in the naval department; but if that system was a bad one, it could form no objection to his lordship. He could assure the hon. gent. that that noble lord was much obliged to him for bringing this question before the house and the public. Instead of wishing to procrastinate, he was confident that the sooner the investigation took place, it would the more speedily illustrate his character. He only wished that that investigation should be a fair and full one, and not garbled and partial, as seemed to be the wish of the hon. mover. He again assured the hon. gent. that there would be no procrastination of the noble earl, and requested him to be a little more sparing of his invectives, as he would be heard in good time. He again repeated that the charge of procrastination was an unfounded calumny.

Mr. Jeffery

assured gentlemen that nothing would give him greater satisfaction than the production of any paper that would justify the noble lord; but the papers in question he was contending were not of that description, when

The Speaker

again interfered, informing the hon, member, that if he apprehended himself to have been misconceived in any respect, he was at liberty to explain; but that it was a transgression of order to proceed beyond the mere limits of explanation.

Mr. Jeffrey

then begged to be permitted to say a single word respecting the charge brought against him relative to his motives in originating this business. He was ready to assure the house, that he had taken in up without premeditation [a laugh], and in consequence of no previous consultation with any person. He had never read any of the papers in office, and had only spoken from his general knowledge of the subject.

Mr. W. Dickenson

jun. corroborated this testimony so far as related to the admiralty, assuring the house, that the hon. member had had no communication with that office.—The hon. gent. was then permitted to withdraw his motion.