HC Deb 06 July 1806 vol 7 cc925-38
Lord Temple

moved the order of the day, for a committee of the whole house on the Oude Charge. On the question that the Speaker do now leave the chair,

Mr. Paull

said, he did not mean to give any opposition to the motion, but rose to call the attention of the house to the very extraordinary mode of proceeding adopted by the noble lord. This was the first instance in the annals of parliament, of any member of the house taking out of the hands of another member any proceeding of this description.

Lord Temple

felt it necessary to justify himself from the charge made upon him by hon. gent. He had never called on the house to come to any resolution on this subject, but when the hon. gent. seemed indisposed to bring the question to any decision. All he had done, was with a view, when the charge had been brought forward, when the evidence in support of it had been produced, when that evidence was printed, to come to a speedy decision on that charge. All he asked on the part of his noble friend, was, what the meanest, even the most guilty individual of the community would be entitled to in a court of justice, namely a speedy decision on the merits of his use He took that opportunity of declaring, what he had often before stated, that it was not by any means his wish to take the business out of the hon. gent.'s hands. If the house should agree to his motion for going into the committee, and the hon. gent. should be disposed to make any motion on the subject, he should be very far from taking the business out of his hands.

Lord Folkestone

said, that he could not have expected that any person would have proposed coming to an immediate decision on this subject, in the present state of the question, of the house, and of the session. Obstructions had been thrown in the way of the hon. gent.; and when at last the papers were in the hands of the members, he would ask, whether the other business of the house had allowed them sufficient time to come to a decision upon them? Besides, the Oude Charge was connected with others, and would derive support and illustration from the evidence in support of them. On this account, the whole discussion should be entered into at once, and the questions respecting lord Wellesley's conduct be decided at the same time. We had been told that the eyes of India were directed to this house, and he would ask, should a question, involving the interests and independance of so many Indian princes, he hastily decided in an empty house? Besides, from a cause, which every man must concur in lamenting, a right hon. gent. was necessarily absent, and he thought it material to know the opinion of the leading men in his majesty's councils on the subject of the charge. He implored the house, therefore, to defer their decision at this late period of the session, and under the present circumstances of the case; and, as the only way of getting rid of the question, he moved, that the house do now adjourn.

Colonel Wood

was surprized at the charge of precipitation made by the noble lord who spoke last. Never had any charge been brought forward in that house by any member who had met so much indulgence as the hon. member who had brought forward this charge. It appeared to him a most extraordinary proposition, after the house had been so long occupied with the question, to defer it to next session. He should now vote to come to some decision upon the Oude charge.

Dr. Laurence

observed, that he could not sit silent when he heard it asserted, that the hon. member who had brought forward the charge had received every indulgence, while in truth he was goaded at one time, and thwarted at another, and it was now endeavoured to precipitate that decision which had hitherto been retarded. This was a question which concerned the guardianship of 50 millions of the natives of India, who had no other protectors but this house. It was not a question between an individual and marquis Wellesley; it respected the validity of acts and resolutions in which the fate of millions was concerned. Every dependant power in India was interrested in the decision. No one particular charge could be fully comprehended without being accompanied with the evidence on which the others were founded. If a decision should be obtained under these circumstances, nothing would be gained by the noble marquis, because a motion might be made next session to rescind it. If no other member should move to that effect, he pledged himself to do it. He had taken a solemn oath to do impartial justice between all parties, and he should not fail to bring these great principles before the house, in order that the people of India might have the satisfaction of knowing that the question was disposed of after a full and fair discussion.

Mr. Canning

should not enter into the merits of the charge, but confine himself strictly to the question before the house. He could not but notice the very extraordinary menace of the learned doctor, powerful when coming from any member, but still more powerful in his lips, and from his manner of expressing it. Any, the least considerable member of the house, possessed that power; but it would be for the house to determine whether it should rescind a solemn decision on such a ground. The learned doctor, however, had taken his tremendous oath, he did not know on what altar, and was determined to bring the subject forward; but it would be for the house to decide how far it would be desirable to adopt his course of proceeding.—Before they should come to a decision on the question for the Speaker leaving the chair, they ought to consider what was the situation of lord Wellesley. The charge had been impending over him during the whole of this session, and the business was brought forward at the chosen time and pleasure, as every accusation indeed must be, of the accuser, If the principle of the learned doctor Were to be admitted, no decision could be had upon any part of complicated charges, embracing the whole policy of an extended administration, until the whole could be taken into consideration. So that the business might be continued year after year, session after session, parliament after parliament, and the tune of trial or acquittal, would never arrive, whilst the accuser could produce any supplementary evidence or document to support his charge. If no decision was to take place, the noble marquis ought not to have been called on for his defence. The learned gentlemen had kept back his doctrine too long. It was now too late to require to stay the proceeding till other evidence can be procured. The learned gent. might have thought that a peculiar species of knowledge was necessary to judge of Indian questions, and that he possessed that peculiar qualification; but by his cross-examination of major Ousely, a gentleman much better informed on the subject, the learned gent. appeared wholly ignorant with regard to the intoxicating drugs of India, and their effects. He believed the learned gent. to be in no degree better acquainted with Indian justice. The noble lord on the other side had not fairly quoted the right hon. secretary (Mr. Fox), the cause of whose absence he personally lamented as much as any man. He had clearly understood that right hon. gent. to have said, that the duties of his office prevented him from paying that attention to the question he could wish, but that, in his opinion, it would be a great and crying hardship on lord Wellesley, if the present session were to elapse without a decision on the charge. The only circumstance that could induce him to consent to put off the decision for a reasonable time, would be a prospect held out of the advantage of the presence of that right hon. gent. on some early day. He thought the house bound in justice to the noble marquis, to take the first practical time of considering the charge. He could neither agree with the learned gent. nor the noble lord, that an accuser, however founded or unfounded his charge might be, should have the power of procrastinating the vexation of a great and approved servant of the public, by multiplying and subdividing his charges, so that the sole reward of a life spent in the service of the public would be an anxious, uncertain, and interminable state or responsibility.

Dr. Laurence

explained. The altar on which he had taken his oath was, the altar of justice, an altar perhaps unknown to the hon. gentleman.

Mr. R. Thornton ,

said, the noble earl (Temple), seemed to wish that some determination should be come to this night. He had charged the hon. gent. who brought forward this business with slowness, but he believed the noble lord himself could with more propriety be charged with precipitancy, when he wished to bring this matter to a determination at such a late period of the sessions. It was his opinion, that if the noble marquis was acquitted under such circumstances, a stigma would remain for ever on his character.—He was ready to acknowledge, that it was extremely painful to the feelings of the noble person accused, but it was unavoidable, and should not be considered so great a hardship, as it was well known, that a noble lord, lately acquitted, had been obliged, during an entire session, to bear up against the charges preferred against him. The hon. gent. then declared, that he would not delver any opinion at present on the merits of the case. He disclaimed any knowledge of the hon. gent. who brought forward the charge, except in his public capacity; perhaps he would not go so far as he would in criminating the noble marquis; but at all events, he thought the subject was entitled to a deliberate consideration.

The Master of the Rolls

supported the motion for an immediate decision. He considered the charge as now ripe for a decision, and therefore it was competent for the house to enter upon it, however late might be the period of the session. It was contrary to every principle of justice, that when the charge was before the house, and all the materials by which it was supported, the person accused should not be allowed to call for a decision. The question was, indeed, of importance, but it had already been 6 months before the house, and they were surely ill qualified for performing their most important functions, if they were not now prepared to decide upon it. By the habeas corpus act, the meanest individual could call for the speedy decision of the law, and the noble lord was equally entitled to demand the determination of the house. If it were the object of the hon. gent. who had brought forward the charge to carry it beyond the present session, he thought it the duty of the house to disappoint that object.

Mr. Secretary Windham

was against going into the committee, or urging the house to a hasty decision on the subject; and he vindicated the principles avowed by his hon. and learned friend near him (Dr. Laurence), of which the speech of a right hon. gent. was a complete misrepresentation from one end to the other. That the ques- tion was one of the most serious importance, every one must allow; but he could by no means agree to such a principle as that, because it was important, it should therefore be decided in the present session. He wished to know where it was that the hon. and learned gent. found such a doctrine? For his own part, he denied the conclusion, as wholly unwarranted by the practice of parliament. An opinion had been quoted as that of a right honourable friend of his (Mr. Fox), to which he should certainly be at all times inclined to pay great deference; as if he had said, that the decision of the house on this charge ought to take place in the present session, at all events. But, if it were possible his right hon. friend could have expressed such an opinion, without adverting to what might be the state of the house, and the due consideration of the evidence upon which it would have to decide, he must consider such an opinion as not delivered with his usual correctness. The hon. gent. who brought forward this charge had been accused of procrastination, because he had not moved for all the papers at once, which he thought necessary to support his allegations, but from the nature of a charge so complicated, how was this practicable? A member asks for a number of papers by general description, and upon reading them, he finds other papers suggested to him, which he also thinks necessary. In the present case this had happened on the side of the defence, as well as of the accusation, and ought not to be imputed as matter of blame to the hon. member who brought forward the charge, any more than to those who resisted it. Another imputation made against the hon. gent. was, that he contended no decision ought to take place upon the present charge, until the evidence upon all the other charges had been produced. Such arguments might be put into his mouth, to answer the purposes of those who were opposed to him, but he (Mr. W.) never understood the hon. gent. to use such a pretence, though it was very possible some parts of the present case were so involved in the same circumstances of testimony on other charges as to be best considered with them. But it was said the hon. Member procrastinated; that the feelings of the noble marquis were involved; and that here the house must stop and come to a decision. He would say, No: he could not find that any unnecessary delay was fairly imputable to the hon. member. He was aware, as well any man, that the feelings of the noble marquis, upon a charge so important must be held in painful suspence, but from the nature of the case it was impossible it could be otherwise. It was impossible that every man charged with a crime could be brought to his trial the moment he was accused. The noble marquis might sustain in this case a mere damnum sine injuria, but it was a circumstance common to a cases of a similar nature, and could be no argument for pressing the house to a hasty and rash decision, in a case upon which the most cool and mature deliberation was peculiarly necessary.—The next point to which he would advert, was the proceeding of the noble lord in taking the management of the charge out of the hands of the member who brought it forward, and placing it in the hands of others, without any management at all; or, what was better, in the hands of those who avowed themselves to be the friends and advocates of the noble marquis. But he begged to ask, was this the sort of proceeding to which the house would give its countenance, or upon which the friends of the noble marquis would wish to see his conduct vindicated? It had been said by a right hon. gent. (Mr. Canning) on behalf of the noble marquis, that the more high the station a man filled, the more power he possessed for acts of generosity and beneficence; and the longer he enjoyed that power, the more liable he became to charges of a malicious nature; but, surely, if ever there were cases in which the house should be more ready than in others to entertain impeachments, it was against persons who had filled places of high authority and power, who, while they had the means of doing acts of great generosity and beneficence, had also the power of doing many acts of injustice and oppression; and who should be made answerable for such abuses of their power, wherever the proofs could be made manifest. He must, however, say, that instead of any encouragement from the house, the hon. member who had brought forward this charge had met with peculiar discountenance; and, notwithstanding the urgency with which the friends of the noble marquis pressed forward this decision, he would ask the house, how far it was ripe for such a decision? How many gentlemen of those now present had taken time to read, and maturely deliberate upon the great body of evidence adduced in support of the charge? For his own part, he would acknowledge, that the variety of his own avocations had allowed him no such opportunity. How many members had left town, without reading any of the papers? And how far was it consistent with rational justice, to try such a case before a tribunal, reduced in its numbers, and incompetent from its very imperfect knowledge of the evidence upon which it was called to decide, to pronounce a final judgment that night, upon a subject of so much importance? He could assure the friends of the noble marquis, that never was there any thing less calculated to give satisfaction to the public mind than a decision upon such principles; and those men who could delude themselves into a supposition, that such a decision could have any other than a bad effect, must judge very ill indeed of public opinion in this country.

Mr. Paull

said, it was not his intention to have trespassed upon the attention of the house that night with a single word on the subject; but feeling it necessary to say something in answer to the charges of delay and procrastination imputed to him by a right hon. and learned gent. (the Master of the Rolls) he rose to vindicate himself from an imputation so unfounded. His first motion for papers was on the 25th of June, 1805; and it was not until the 20th of May last, that any of the criminating documents were laid before the house. For the truth of this he appealed to the house; and he appealed also to the noble lord lately at the head of the board of controul, whether he had not been incessant in his applications to him to forward the production of papers in his department; and whether the noble lord had not told him, in March last, that it was a matter of question and doubt whether some of the papers for which he had moved, and those the most important, would be produced at all? As soon as he could obtain the chief papers for which he had moved, in five days afterwards he laid his first charge upon the table; but there were many other papers for which he had moved, which were not produced to this day—papers to prove the most exorbitant and extraordinary demands upon the nabob of Oude, to the amount of 300,000l. He moved for the accounts six different times; and all that he had yet been able to obtain, from all the diligence that could be used at India-house, was a return respecting the 27th light dragoons, which he found to be a most false and exaggerated account. He had said to the house, that he would be ready to bring forward his charge on the 10th of June; but the noble lord had taken it out of his hands, and proposed to bring it forward on the 18th. This precluded him from moving a single step until the 18th, when he moved for the oral evidence, which was not concluded, with the examination of sir J. Craig, until two days since, and which was not until last night in the hands of members. Having, therefore vindicated himself from the charge of delay and procrastination, he hoped the hon. and learned gent. would retract what he had said. But with respect to the subject itself, he conjured the house to consider deliberately, before they precipitated a decision upon a question of so much importance. If marquis Wellesley's reputation was the only question at stake, he should not wish to delay the decision of the house for a single moment. He disclaimed all personal enmity to the noble marquis, who had never done him an injury; he disclaimed all obligation to him, as never having received any favour at his hands, save an act of justice which it was his duty to render as chief governor of India. But it was not the reputation of the noble marquis, but the fate of India that depended upon the decision of the house; and that ample and impartial justice should be done, was of the utmost importance to every British interest in that quarter of the globe; for it was of the first necessity for the British parliament to shew, whether they were the guardians of the rights and liberties of British subjects in India, or the protectors of lord Wellesley. For his own part, he had done his duty in bringing forward these charges, and the evidence to support them. India looked anxiously to the issue of this question, and he hoped would bless the day on which the enquiry was instituted. He hoped they would be enabled to ascertain by the decision upon this question, whether the faith of treaties was to be maintained inviolate or not? to which faith they had witnessed the most honourable adherence under the administration of that ever-to-be-lamented nobleman, marquis Cornwallis; but he would call upon the house to look at the situation of India from the accursed day when marquis Wellesley first set foot there until the hour of his departure, during which time it continued a perpetual scene of rapine, of oppression, of fraud, and cruelty, which goaded the whole country into a spirit of revolt. He had brought forward his charges against the noble marquis in the face of England. He sought nothing but impartial justice, and he hoped parliament, for its own sake, would decide with the maturest deliberation, and in a full house.

Mr. Perceval

said, he understood the hon. member who brought forward this charge, to object that the house should be the judge of the fittest time to form its own decision upon the subject, and to say he would tirely withdraw himself from any interference in discussing the subject, unless he was to be the judge of the fitness of the time for the decision. In such a case, he (Mr. Perceval) was of opinion the hon. member would abandon the duty he had undertaken, and incur the blame of any erroneous decision to which the house might be led, without the light Which he was enabled to throw upon the subject. If the hon. member, however, would pledge himself to bring forward the investigation at any future day during the present session of parliament, at any reasonable distance, when he should have his thoughts better arranged upon the subject, he, for one, should not object to adjourning the further proceedings to such a day; and therefore he requested to know the hon. member's determination?

Mr. Paull

declared he had not the most distant wish for delay; and that, if the remaining papers were produced for which he had moved respecting six British regiments in India, and which would furnish proofs of the most exorbitant and inconceivable extortion upon the nabob of Oude, he would be ready to go on with the charge next day, or in a week, just as the house should choose; but recollecting the delays and disappointments he had already experienced, he would not pledge himself to any particular day, until tire papers were before the house.

Mr. W. Smith

thought that, after what had fallen from the hon. gent. it would be a mockery of justice to proceed. The hon. gent. in his situation, could not fix any day. He regretted the delay; but as to the marquis Wellesley, it could not be too often repeated that it was damnum sine injuria. He thought that the friends of marquis Wellesley could not desire to proceed in the present situation of the case.

Sir A. Wellesley

declared, that nothing could be more opposite to the wishes and feelings of himself, or his noble relation, than that the house should decide upon this charge, without having before them all the testimony the honourable gentleman wished to adduce; but as he had reason to believe that the documents which he had mentioned the cause of delay really were not in the India-house, and had never been returned from India, he hoped, if the house should be satisfied of that fact, by those gentlemen now present who were officially competent to give information upon the subject, and that no such documents were to be expected, that the house would no longer defer its decision: more especially as it was the declared opinion of a right hon. gent. (Mr. Fox) that if a decision should not take place within the ordinary duration of the session, an address should be moved to his majesty, for prolonging the session for that purpose.

Mr. R. Thornton

feeling himself thus called on, said he could not speak with accuracy as to the precise documents moved for being at the India-house; but he rather believed some fresh documents would be found there, and that the house ought not to proceed to final decision until further search should be made.

Mr. W. Pole

supported the argument of his hon. relation, and wished to have a clear answer from some of those gentlemen who had been in the India direction, as to the existence of such returns.

Mr. Paull

was not desirous of the returns of the strength of those six regiments. He only wished for the accounts of the sums charged as paid to them; and was confident such returns must have been made to the directors.

Mr. Grant

said, that though he was not now in office, he was fully confident the accounts of pay must be in the India-house; but that the order for furnishing the returns of the strength of the regiments ought to have been directed to the war-office, where they would be found. He was for proceeding with the utmost deliberation upon a subject, whereon hung the fate of India. He thought the house could not, in so thin an attendance, comprising so many of the noble marquis's friends, and at so late a period he session, come to a decision, consistency with the decorum which belonged to its deliberative justice; but that, if a decision was to be pressed upon the subjects, there ought to be a call of the house, for which he, as one, should vote.

Lord Castlereagh

said, he could not conceive that the absence of papers, relating to the charge against the marquis Wellesley, of having fraudently exacted an undue sum fro the vizier of Oude, was. sufficient to warrant delay; as both the fact and the in- tention would be necessary to be proved; and the latter had been completely disproved by the evidence of capt. Salmon, the accountant-general, who had distinctly stated, that in drawing up the estimates of the expence of troops to be defrayed by the vizier, marquis Wellesley had instructed him to make them rather in favour of that prince than otherwise: so that as far as the instructions, which were all that rested with the marquis, went, the charge was proved to be groundless; and the papers, if forthcoming, and shewing that a fraudulent sum was really charged, would not criminate that nobleman, but be useless.

Dr. Laurence

spoke to order, and thought that after an order of that house had been six times made for their production, every member was interested in seeing that they were procured.

Lord Castlereagh

expressed his surprise at the interruption, and thought that he was correct in shewing, from the oral evidence, which the house had had the advantage of, that the papers were not necessary, and did not contain any thing that could, by possibility, affect marquis Wellesley.

Mr. Martin (of Kinsale)

thought that the papers might have great relevancy to the charge, as shaped by the hon. gent. (Mr. Paull), and that it was extremely wrong to force him to proceed, without what he himself thought sufficient to support his allegations.

Mr. Burton

said, that after the evidence of the accountant general, the charge made upon the nabob, was, upon the whole, in his favour; all the evidence the hon. gent. wished to collect from the papers, might be admitted by the friends of marquis Wellesley, without any prejudice to him.

Sir A. Wellesley

said, he was perfectly willing on the part of the noble marquis, to admit it; and therefore called upon the hon. gent. then to proceed.

Mr. Paull

said, when the accounts were produced, he should shew that a sum of 470,000l. was fraudulently charged upon the nabob, by colonel Scott; having been some years after called upon to make up accounts against him, upon the basis of those estimates prepared by capt. Salmon, the colonel had been instructed to claim that excessive sum, unless the nabob would consent to cede his territory, in which case he was only to require the sum really due.

Mr. Johnstone

said, the papers were highly necessary to be produced, and corroborated the statement, that an unjust demand of nine lacs of rupees had been made upon the nabob.

Sir J. Newport

deprecated the bringing forward of supplementary charges, and thought that the house, if they tolerated it, would never be able to come to a decision. He was of opinion that they should then proceed.

The Solicitor General

said, the question was not if the decision upon these charges were to be deferred until the next session, but if the house would proceed this day to determine on an accusation, in which the hon. gent. (Mr. Paull) said, he was not prepared to advance; so that the true enquiry was, if in this stage of the business the matter were to be taken out of his hands, in the absence of the information of which the house ought to be possessed in order to form its opinion. He could perfectly understand such an attempt, if this were a case of vexatious delay; but was this the complaint? The papers required were not obtained until the 20th of May; on the 25th of that month the charge was brought; on the 28th it was printed, and the evidence was only closed on Friday last; even at that moment the written testimony called for was not on the table, although the application was made for what was yet deficient as early as the 5th of June. Who could then seriously assert that there had been any unnecessary procrastination on the part of the hon. gent.? But it was said by the friends of the noble marquis, that from their knowledge of the documents sought, they would not at all conduce to support the charges. Were not others to obtain the same information, in order to satisfy their minds and come to the conclusions to which such premises should lead? If by the endeavour now made, the noble marquis should be acquitted, it would be such an acquittal as would afford him very little consolation; he was, it was to be presumed, an innocent man, and if he were so, justice to him required that this subject should be dismissed in a very different way; but it was not only justice to an individual that demanded it, it was justice to the collective body of that house, that required that no such precipitate decision should be formed; and the honour and character of the house were immediately concerned in the present proceeding.

Mr. Hutchinson

thought the house would disgrace itself by acceding, to the motion of the noble lord (Temple) and that it would be an evasion of justice to decide before all the evidence was adduced.

Lord Temple

said, that after what had passed, he should not persist in calling upon the house to resolve itself into a committee that night, but would propose to defer his motion till Friday, by which time the par papers might be before the house, and he hoped the business would be proceeded in.—This produced a long and desultory conversation, which ended in withdrawing the question for adjournment, and agreeing that the committee on the Oude charge should stand for next Friday; but Mr. Paull would not pledge himself to bring the business forward this session, without a call of the house, in which he was warmly supported by Mr. Windham, and several other members.