HC Deb 23 May 1806 vol 7 cc351-4
The Secretary at War

rose, pursuant to his notice on a former day, to submit a motion to the house, on which, he trusted, he should have the good fortune to meet their concurrence. His motion referred to the great and important subjects to which the attention of the public and of parliament had so long been directed; he meant, the Impeachment preferred by that house, in the last session, against Henry lord viscount Melville, for high crimes and misdemeanours. That Impeachment being now, as far as that house was concerned in the prosecution of it, brought to an end, and understanding that it was customary, and conformable to former proceedings, that the house should express to those to whom the care of that prosecution had been committed, the sense it entertained of the manner in which they executed that trust; he had risen for the purpose of calling the attention of the house to what they had witnessed in Westminster-hall. He believed that the Speaker himself, as well as every member of that house, who had attended during the trial, was sensible, that whatever might have been the merits or services of former committees of management, none had ever discharged the important duties delegated to them, with more credit to themselves and their constituents, with more ability, diligence, and industry, or in a manner more deserving of the marked approbation of the house. In the selection of the persons who were to compose the committee, it was natural for the house to fix upon those in whom they observed the greatest zeal in the cause, and the most vigorous activity in the prosecution of the business. It was natural for them to look, in the first instance, to his hon. friend near him (Mr. Whitbread), whose manly conduct, unceasing diligence, and unabated perseverance, during the whole of this arduous proceeding, had been such, as to merit the thanks of that house, to entitle him to the gratitude of the country, and to insure to him the veneration of posterity. In addition to that hon. gent., the house had selected from amongst all the descriptions that compose their body, persons of distinguished character every way, and eminently qualified for the performance of the important trust confided to them. The house had witnessed the manner in which they had acquitted themselves of that trust, so that it was unnecessary for him to take up any portion of their time by describing it. Whether they looked to the clear, able, and argumentative manner, in which the case had been stated, to the acute, judicious, and discriminating sagacity displayed in the examination of evidence; to the perspicuous, cogent, and comprehensive manner in which the evidence had been summed up; or to the splendid and luminous efforts of eloquence, by which that evidence had been enforced, the house would be at a loss to decide which of the exertions was most entitled to its approbation and thanks. There was another point of view, however, in which these gentlemen appeared to him to merit the thanks of the house, and of every person attached to that most constitutional process, for bringing great and powerful delinquents to justice. It could not but be owned, that, of late years, considerable delays, difficulties, and embarrassments, had brought this mode of trial into disrepute, and created an indisposition in many well-intentioned and respectable persons to have recourse to it at all. But by the manner in which the managers had conducted the late trial, by the care they had used to avoid going into any extraneous topics, and to confine themselves to such points only as were essentially interwoven with the merits of the case, they had in some degree done away those objections to a species of trial, that afforded the best security for the rights and liberties of the people, and was the most salutary and constitutional instrument of the power of parliament. That house had now discharged its duty; it had performed what it owed to the public, and no responsibility attached to it. The only duty that it had now to perform, was to do justice to the merits of those who had so well acquitted themselves of the important trust delegated to them. He should therefore conclude with moving, "That the thanks of this house be given to the members who were appointed the Managers of the Impeachment of Henry lord viscount Melville, for their faithful management in their discharge of the trust reposed in them."—The motion was seconded by sir John Newport, and agreed to with only one dissentient voice.

The Speaker

then calling on the Managers, who stood up in their several places, addressed them, in a most impressive manner, as follows: "Gentlemen, this house, upon the result of grave and important enquiries into the administration of the Public Expenditure, came to the resolution of entering upon the most solemn of all its functions; and of resorting to that transcendent power, by which it can bring to judgment all misdeeds done by the highest servants of the crown, and most effectually avenge all inroads made, or attempted to be made, upon the liberties of the people. The conduct and management of that power is delegated to you; to prepare and arrange the proofs of complex and intricate facts; and to make good the charge of high crimes and misdemeanours against a noble person, whose elevated and splendid situations in the state rendered his actions of signal example, for good or for evil, to all persons entrusted with the public treasure. Throughout the progress of the Trial so undertaken, we have seen with peculiar satisfaction, its proceedings conducted with an exemplary diligence and dispatch, which have rescued Impeachments from the disgrace into which they had nearly fallen, and have restored them to their antient strength and honour. Upon your part, we have also witnessed, that unwearied industry, and singular sagacity, with which you have pursued and established the proofs;—that boldness, so properly belonging to the Commons, with which you have maintained the Charge; and that powerful display of argument and learned eloquence which have spread the light of day over dark, secret, and criminal transactions. The issue of the whole is now with the Lords; and, whether that be of condemnation or of acquittal, it rests with a tribunal, which, so far as depends upon human institutions, premises the fairest hopes of ultimate justice. But, be that issue what it may, your part is accomplished. In the discharge of your duty, you have satisfied the expectation of the Commons; you have obtained the high reward of their approbation and thanks; and, in obedience to their Commands, I am now to acquaint you with their resolution; 'That the thanks of this house be given to the members, who were appointed the Managers of the Impeachment against Henry lord viscount Melville, for their faithful management in their discharge of the trust reposed in them.'"

The Secretary at War rose

and said, that though he was disappointed in his hopes of unanimity on his former motion, by one dissentient voice, yet he believed that in the motion which he was now to submit, he should not be opposed by even that one. The motion was, "That Mr. Speaker be desired to print the speech which he made to the Manager of the Impeachment of lord Melville, in consequence of the resolution of the house."—Agreed to, nem. con.

Mr. Perceval

allowed that the precedents not only justified, but even called for a vote of thanks in this stage of the business. At the same time, for a variety of reasons, which he would not now enter upon, he thought that it might be extremely expedient to consider, whether these votes of thanks ought to be passed, till the final termination of the business of impeachments, by the judgment of the lords. He would not enter now upon the subject in detail, because this would be falling into the evil which he deprecated; but after the judgment of the lords was given in this case, he would certainly bring a motion before the house, to prevent any consideration of a case of Impeachment, by a vote of thanks while it was before the lords, and before they had given their decision.

Sir John Newport rose

to make some observations on this notice; when the Speaker put a stop to further discussion, by informing the hon. baronet that there was no question before the house.