HC Deb 14 May 1806 vol 7 cc208-14
Mr. Secretary Fox

then rose, and said, that if the hon. gent. had brought forward his charge in any tangible shape, which could be brought into question, he should have contented himself with moving, that the charge was frivolous and vexatious; but the hon. gent. had been extremely cautious, and had declined to bring forward his motions either in the house, or in the committee which he moved for. He had moved, indeed, for a committee to consider those resolutions, but never stated that it was his intention to proceed further in his charge. As to the charge itself, he did not hesitate to pronounce it frivolous and vexatious, and he thought the house had, by the vote they had just given, pronounced it void of foundation. Under these circumstances, it appeared to him, that it would be right to do what the house had often done on similar occasions, by expressing their approbation of the conduct of that noble person, who had been so unjustly attacked. He remembered, when an accusation was brought in that house against admiral Keppel, no sooner was the accusation rejected, than the house by their vote expressed their approbation of his conduct. It had been also done, when a charge was brought by general Burgoyne against the late lord Clive, and he believed he could mention other instances which would shew that his motion was conformable to precedent, and the usage of the house. It had been said by the hon. gent., that he was in the habit of making extravagant encomiums on that noble lord. He had only expressed what he felt, a most sincere respect for the character of the noble earl, and particularly for the zeal and activity he had displayed in the discovery and reformation of abuses. He concluded by moving, "That it appears to this house, that the conduct of the earl of St. Vincent, in his late naval administration, has added an additional lustre to his exalted character, and is entitled to the approbation of this house."

Mr. Wilberforce

felt considerable pain in being obliged to vote against the motion of the right hon. secretary: he considered, that notwithstanding the precedents which the right hon. gent. had quoted, it was quite unusual to come to such a vote, without any previous notice of an intention to make a motion of that nature. It was a very different thing indeed to negative the motion which had been made by the hon. gent. (Mr. Jeffery), and to be called upon to vote for such a one as had been proposed by the right hon. secretary. The charges that were brought forward against him were limited to the building of ships add repairing them, and embraced but a small part of the noble earl's naval administration. Although the charges on certain parts of his administration might have no foundation, it by no means followed that the whole of his administration was entitled to the approbation of the house. If it were entitled to such a distinguished expression of their approbation, that approbation ought to be conveyed in a manner more worthy of the house and of the noble lord. It would be but a poor triumph that appeared to be gained by a surprise of this kind. It would have more the resemblance of a party triumph, than that of any deliberate expression of the sense of that house. It gave him sincere pain to oppose the motion, but he hoped the right hon. gent. would not persevere in it.

Mr. Yorke

was sorry to be obliged to differ from his hon. friend who had just sat down. He considered the charge which had been brought against the noble earl, as frivolous from the beginning to the end; and when a great public character was attacked; when a man who had so long distinguished himself in the service of the country, and who still continued to serve it, was subjected to such an accusation, he thought that when the house were of opinion that the accusation was unjust, it was not enough simply to repeal it, but that they should express their approbation of the conduct of the person who was the object of it. He did not find fault with the hon. gent. who brought forward the accusation; he made no doubt that he did so from honest motives, and, as a member of parliament, he had a right to do so. The house had, however, the privilege of expressing its feelings, and its sense of the merits of the noble lord; and he should therefore, in the same freedom, give his warmest support to the motion of the right hon. secretary.

Mr. Canning

thought it most extraordinary to bring forward a motion of such great magnitude, without any previous noticed [Mr: Fox said, across the house; I gave notice!] Notice, to be sure, was given, but when? At a quarter past twelve notice was given of a motion that was brought on at one. He could remember some instances somewhat similar to what were stated by the right hon. secretary; but still very different from the present motion; He remembered that when a motion was once made, for an address of thanks to his majesty for removing his late right hon. friend (Mr. Pitt) from his councils, there was an amendment moved, which turned the motion into a vote of thanks. The difference, however, between that case and the present one was, that notice was given of the amendment that was to be moved, on the same day that the notice was given of the motion; but even that ample notice did not save the motion from the severest censure of the right hon. gent. (Mr. Fox), who contended, that it was most unparliamentary to get rid of a charge in that manner, by turning it into a vote of thanks. Upon that occasion, he had forgotten to refresh the recollection of the house with the cases of admiral Keppel and lord Clive, which, he could cite on the present occasion, when they suited his purpose. What would the right hon. secretary have thought, if, when an accusation was brought in that house against sir Home Popham, his friends had moved for the thanks of the house to that meritorious officer? Why did not the right hon. gent. then make such a motion? or had nothing occurred since that time, that could induce him to think, that the house should express its approbation of the conduct of sir Home Popham? He could not conceive upon what grounds he was now called upon, at such short notice, to express an approbation of the naval administration of lord St. Vincent. What had the building of ships to do with the pressing of Mr. Bartholomew, and other parts of his naval administration? If the approbation of the house was wanted to the administration of the noble lord, they ought to have gone into a committee, and discussed the whole of his conduct. He confessed, that he had very grave and serious doubts in his mind, from the statement of the hon. gent. (Mr. Jeffery), which had not been answered by any arguments on the other side. He had no wish to revive the question about the merits or demerits of lord St. Vincent's administration: he wished that question to be now at rest, and he thought his friends would have done better if they had left it so. He concluded by moving the previous question.

Mr. Secretary Fox

said, that the ground on which he had opposed the form of the amendment mentioned by the right hon. gent. (Mr. Canning) was, that it was contrary to the usage of parliament to adopt, in the shape of an amendment, a thing so totally contrary to the original motion. He did not think the case of sir Home Popham applied at all to the present case. Although his majesty's ministers might not consider the service at the capture of the Cape of Good Hope as sufficiently splendid to obtain the thanks of parliament, yet if an accusation had been brought in that house against sir H. Popham, for his conduct in contributing to the capture of the Cape of Good Hope, then indeed he should think that the house could not too strongly mark their indignation at such an accusation, and in such a case he would think the approbation of the house ought to be expressed by a direct vote. Such nearly was the present case; for who was it that could doubt that it was the merits of lord St. Vincent, and his zeal and success in the detection of abuses, which was the real cause that had stirred up so many enemies? Was there any person who was not an idiot, that did not perceive that the detection of frauds and abuses must necessarily make many enemies? The present attack never would have been made, hut for the enquiries into abuses instituted by the noble earl. His meritorious exertions to put an end to the most scandalous jobs that ever disgraced a state, had provoked this hostility. When he saw a man, then, attacked on account of his merits, and persecuted on account of his virtues; and when the person so attacked was a man who had rendered the most important services to the country, he thought it did become the house not only to shew their indignation at the charge, but to express their approbation of that meritorious conduct, which had been the cause of so much enmity, and of so much calumny. It would be strange indeed to argue, that every individual member had the privilege of coming down to the house, and saying whatever he pleased against the most distinguished character, but that, at the same time, the house were not at liberty to express their sense of those merits and virtues which formed the very ground of the attack, and the object of its prosecution.

Mr. Sturges Bourne

had no objection to the vote, provided it was confined to the zeal of the noble earl for reform, and did not extend to a general vote, comprehending the dock-yards, naval stores, and his naval administration in general. He would allude, and that reluctantly, to one fact, he meant the impressing of a naval officer, in the hall of the admiralty, by the order of the noble earl; and he contended, that unless the house approved that fact, without consideration, they could not agree to a general vote.

Mr. Tierney

expressed his most hearty concurrence in the motion of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Fox), and asked, Was it because an hon. gent. had thought proper to move for papers from month to month, and from day to day, which, when produced, did not substantiate a single charge against the noble earl, that the noble earl was to be still held up to the public, as a suspicious character? It was now a year since the hon. gent. had pledged himself to the house, that he would prove lord St. Vincent to be one of the greatest enemies the country ever had. It was now seen in, what manner he had redeemed this pledge. He had also frequently charged him with tyranny and oppression, and talked of his reign of terror. How did it happen that the hon. gent. did not think proper to bring forward a tittle of evidence in support of that part of the case? In the case of Bartholomew, although there was no evidence before the house upon the subject, he was prepared to defend lord St. Vincent and shew that his conduct was perfectly correct. Bartholomew was not an officer; but having passed his examination as a lieutenant, presumed upon that circumstance, and was excessively impertinent to the admiralty. The noble lord could do no less. The only charge that it appeared to hint could fairly be brought against the noble lord was, that of entertaining mistaken notions of economy. When his great services were considered, he thought it due to the country and the navy, of which he was the most distinguished ornament, that, as his accusation was long protracted, his acquittal should he proclaimed in that way that was most honourable to the feelings of the house, and most honourable to the character of that illustrious person who had been so long exposed to those ill-founded speculations.

Mr. Bankes

thought that this motion came quite by surprise upon the house, and after a few observations, declared he should oppose it.

Sir Charles Pole

considered the charges alledged against the noble earl as frivolous and vexatious, and not confirmed in any one single point. Earl St. Vincent, he observed, never knew Bartholomew had been pressed; and the meritorious conduct of the noble earl, in endeavouring to suppress abuses in the naval department, deserved high public approbation; he should, therefore, heartily concur in the right hon. secretary's motion.

Mr. Perceval

said, he certainly should vote against the previous question; he was also adverse to referring the papers to a committee of the whole house, as he thought no public good could possibly arise from it. He confessed he could not speak on this subject without partiality, as he was prejudiced in favour of the noble earl, having had the honour to act with him and approve of his measures. He thought the question should have been gone into in some shape or other, and really wished the vote of thanks had come in some better way, as the manner in which it was to be carried, would cer- tainly deprive it of that value, which the noble earl would otherwise have set upon it.—The question being loudly called for, strangers were ordered to withdraw. In their absence, the previous question was negatived, and the original vote of thanks was carried without a division.—Adjourned at three o'clock on Thursday morning.