HC Deb 06 June 1807 vol 9 cc734-43
Mr. Whitbread

rose and addressed the house as follows:—I am not, Sir, altogether unaccustomed to address this assembly. During the number of years I have had the honour of a seat among you, it has been my lot to bring forward several important propositions, some of which have experienced a favourable reception, but the greater part a determined opposition. Yet never have I been in the habit of making any apology for the insufficiency of the proposer, however strongly I felt it, thinking it better to rely on the solidity of the grounds upon which my propositions rested, than to attempt conciliating attention by apologies. But I must confess on this occasion, whether from the growing diffidence of the public in public men; whether from the manner in which I have been recently spoken of in this assembly; whether from the nature of the debates which have lately taken place amongst us, in which a spirit of attack and recrimination has been manifested, by no means calculated to raise the character of this house [a loud cry of hear! hear!] whether from the disastrous state of the times, or whether from all these feelings combined, I never rose with so great a degree of diffidence and solicitude. If in my endeavours to bring back the gravity of debate—to get rid of the spirit of recrimination which has too long prevailed amongst us, and to retrieve the falling fortunes of this mighty empire —Here

Mr. Dennis Browne ,

of Mayo, moved the standing order for the exclusion of strangers; in consequence of which the gallery was immediately cleared, and strangers were not re-admitted during the remainder of the evening.—Notwithstanding the above circumstance, we are, however, enabled, from an authentic source of information, to communicate to our readers the following outline of this important debate.

Mr. Whitbread

proceeded to lay grounds for the motion he intended to offer, and stated as the reasons and objects of inquiry, the state of our Sugar-colonies, and the danger to which our East-India empire was exposed; he alluded to the mutiny at Vellore, and seemed to think it arose from a deeper and more general feeling, than the impolitic and ill-judged military regulations which had been assigned as its cause. The state of the sister kingdom, he also thought, should be inquired into in a committee of the whole house; he feared Ireland was not so cordial as she should be in our common cause, and he desired to place her in the same situation of loyalty and good affection and security as Devonshire or Yorkshire. He was aware that Catholic emancipation could not and ought not now to be farther attempted, but there were other means of allaying animosity, and conciliating affection; among many such means he should allude to that of a system of tythes which an hon. gent. on the other side (Mr. Croker) who did not usually agree with his hon. friends, had allowed to be a subject of much consequence, and if carefully managed, pregnant with good effects. He should not dwell at greater length on this subject, because he felt it might be more effectually discussed hereafter, but beyond doubt that discussion in a committee on the state of the station was absolutely necessary. He would also assert that the extraordinary dissolution of the late parliament demanded an enlarged inquiry, and he insisted that the doctrines on which that and the preceding measures were sought to be justified, viz. that the king could at any moment act without an adviser, tended to despotism, and the subversion of the constitution. He disapproved of his majesty's late choice of ministers: he thought one of them (the chancellor of the exchequer) a person not likely to gain the confidence of Ireland; and he considered the right hon. secretary (Mr. Canning) as little calculated, from his temper, his feelings, and the whole course of his political life, to conciliate that country with which he (Mr. W.) should never cease to hope that negociations for peace might speedily be renewed. He ob- served also that the recal of lord Melville to his majesty's councils deserved serious inquiry and deep reprehension, though he would not say that it was illegal, or contrary to the resolutions of that house. He concluded by recapitulating his statements, and moving that a committee be appointed to inquire into the State of the Nation.

Mr. Milnes

replied to the arguments of the hon. gent. He stated that the proposed inquiry would be vague and delusive; that it was an attempt to censure the late change of administration, and to embarrass the measures of government; that many of the grounds which had been urged by the hon. gent. for going into the committee, had equally existed, during the continuance of the late administration, when no such notice had been made by the hon. gent. or his friends; he represented the state of the country to be such as required the exertions of the united energies of all descriptions of its subjects, which it was the object of this motion to distract. Looking to our resources, to the patriotism and valour of the country, he saw nothing to fear, but much to expect. Were we to countenance the exertions of our allies by examples of British valour; were we to evince by our conduct a conviction of the fact, that the path of peace was only to be found under the arch of victory, he had no doubt but the ultimate issue of the contest would be honourable to the country. With a conviction of these truths on his mind, and for a variety of other reasons, he was so far from giving his support to the motion, that he should move that this house do now adjourn.

Lord Milton

said a few word nearly similar to those he had used on a former occasion.

Sir A. Pigott

went into a legal statement to shew the illegality of the doctrine of the king's acting without advisers, and drew a distinction between the sovereign in his executive and in his legislative capacities, and asserted strongly that it was in his executive capacity alone that the coronation oath was binding upon him.

Mr. Henry Smith

considered the proposed mode of inquiry to be of all others the least eligible, and indeed to be only brought forward for party purposes; he therefore thought it beneath the dignity and justice of the house to bend itself to such a proceeding: the present ministers had done nothing to forfeit the confidence of the country, and till they skewed themselves unworthy, he, and he trusted the house, would support them.

Mr. Dennis Browne

apologized to the house for the haste and perhaps indiscretion with which he had obliged strangers to withdraw, but he trusted the house would pardon what had been occasioned by an impulse of surprise and sorrow at hearing the hon. mover talk of "the fallen fortunes of this country;" nor did the continuation of the hon. member's speech shew that his measure was so unnecessary or indiscreet as it might have been thought; for surely the manner in which he had treated the affairs of Ireland was not calculated to do good by being promulgated. He assured the house he had acted from the impulse of duty in this matter, with great personal pain and reluctance; a pain that would be greatly increased if he thought the house disapproved of his proceeding.

Mr. M. Montague

opposed the motion as tending, to no good practical end.

Mr. H. A. Herbert

said a few words in favour of the motion.

General Tarleton

went at some length into the details of the campaign in Poland, and expressed his confident opinion, that, in a military point of view, the position of Buonaparte was extremely critical.

Mr. William Adam

spoke in favour of the motion. He argued some of the legal points already touched upon by sir A Pigott. He observed freely on the state of Ireland, and concluded by shewing, by many examples, how constitutional the proposed measure was at all time, and how peculiarly useful it would be at this.

Mr. Wilberforce

opposed the motion, as nugatory and even dangerous. It stood on no good theory, and it tended to no good practice; the variety of topics which would divide the attention of a committee of the whole house, would tender it impossible to maintain any regular discussion, or to arrive at any useful conclusion; every gentleman would introduce his own favourite subject, and the committee would lose, its patience and its time in endless debate. But, really, from those party subjects, he wished gentlemen would turn their attention to the awful situation of public affairs. He had heard an honourable friend of his (Mr. Milnes) with great pleasure and admiration, but he would not be so sanguine in his hopes of the country, as the more ardent mind and the better spirits of his youthful friend caused him to be. He did fear much, and with that so- lemn impression on him, he could not avoid lamenting that gentlemen in that house and the people at large, seemed not aware of the extent of the danger, and suffered their thoughts to be distracted to petty objects, from the great and paramount duty of preparing for the most momentous of contests. He had, indeed, hopes, which arose, however, from causes different from those that some hon. gentlemen seemed to build upon; he had hopes from moral causes, surer than mere human agency in their effect, and more complete and decisive in their results. He trusted that those causes would act as they had hitherto in all ages and times invariably done, and in that trust it was that he had hopes for this country. The hon. gent. then alluded to the state of Ireland, and quoted Dr. M'Nevin's opinion before the Secret Committee, to shew that the denial or delay of Catholic Emancipation was not the real cause of the disturbances of that country. He recommended to the gentry of that part of the empire, an indulgent and conciliating conduct with regard to the people; and above all, he recommended to the consideration of the well-wishers of Ireland, the introduction of some general system of education and morality, which, he ventured to assert, would do more towards composing that country, than any political measures that could be devised.

Dr. Laurence

went over, at considerable length, the arguments already urged in favour of the original motion, and followed sir A. Pigott and Mr. Adam in the line of their arguments on the legal points which had incidentally arisen.

Mr. Bathurst

would opposes the motion as unnecessary, and in some degree impossible to be carried into effect. If inquiry was necessary, why not institute it on specific grounds? would it not tend to a more clear and satisfactory exposition, to consider each article that called for consideration, on its own single merits, than in the general and sweeping stile proposed by this motion. The right hon. member adverted to the opinion pronounced by him on a former occasion, viz. that there are particular conjunctures in which the king must act for himself: he had reconsidered, he said, this opinion, and he found himself strengthened in it by that reconsideration.

Sir J. Newport

made some observations on Mr. Wilberforce's speech, in which he attempted to correct some errors and mistatements of the hon. gent. He then proceeded to say a few words on the original question, and finally expressed his resolution to support the motion.

Mr. Croker

rose to defend the hon. gent. (Mr. Wilberforce) from the erroneous and uncandid reply of the right hon. baronet. He contended that Mr. Wilberforce's quotation of doctor M'Nevin was correct, and whatever might be his own opinion on the great question, he must say that the hon. member's statements were fully warranted and supported by the passages referred to. Mr. Croker replied to the several articles of Mr Whitbread's speech, and said that his surprise at this vague motion was the greater, from his knowing that there stood in the order-book of that house, notices for specific inquiry into almost every one of the topics which the hon. gentleman proposed to treat of in the indefinite and desultory stile inseparable from a committee on the state of the nation. He proceeded to refute the assertions and arguments of the hon mover, which, whatever he thought of them, had so pleased the gentlemen on the opposite side, that they had used no other, but had contented themselves with repeating the speech of the hon. mover. One learned doctor (Laurence) in particular, fearing, he supposed, that its strong sense and reasoning were too hot, pungent, and essential for common palates, had kindly diluted the hon. gentleman's arguments in a quantity of his own cool weak, and innoxions eloquence.—The hon. member, after observing in a strain of irony on the merits of the last administration, concluded by referring to Mr. Wilberforce's awful description of our political situation, by expressing a wish that we should excite no divisions at home to encourage enemies abroad, and that, while the farmer, the artizan, and the tradesman cheerfully contribute their little profits and comforts to the exigencies of the state, those whose superior fortunes rendered the payment of taxes no sacrifice to them, should contribute what their country did claim from their patriotism—the sacrifice of their passions, their prejudices and their parties, to the common interests of England and of Europe.

Mr. W. Smith

blamed the style of confident accusation which the last member had indulged in. That hon. gent.'s parliamentary experience was not long, and he thought it would not be too much to ask, that the hon. gent. should be more known to the hon. members, before he arraigned them so freely. After alluding to what had fallen from the hon, member for Yorkshire, the hon. gent. was returning to some observations on the gentleman who had spoken last, when the cry for the question became so loud and strong, that after a few words, the hon. member was pleased to sit down.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

refuted the legal doctrines of the hon. gentlemen on the other side of the house. He insisted that occasions must and ought to occur in which the king could have no adviser, and must act from his own feeling and sense of duty; he would state a case to the house, which, he relied upon it, would, in their opinion, warrant his assertion; he would suppose that, on the very first occasion on which the noble lord opposite (Howick) had proposed a late celebrated measure to the consideration of the king, his majesty should have thought fit to tell the noble lord that he conceived the measure to be so mischievous, that he could no longer confide in the proposer of it. Suppose he had, at that very audience, and without quitting the noble lord, demanded from him the seals of office, and so dismissed him from his service, would it be asserted that, in this case, the king would not have acted for himself? would gentlemen say, that, in such a case, he must have had an adviser, where advice was impossible; and would it be asserted, that such a case as he now put was an improbable one? He relied not on this case alone, though that were enough, but any true constitutional principle, and all true constitutional practice, was also with him. He never denied, or would deny, the general principle that ministers were responsible for all acts done in their ministry; but he would deny that they were responsible for acts done before their ministry. What if the king of England should choose (he would for argument's sake suppose the case).capriciously or improperly to dismiss a minister, must the successor to that minister bear the responsibility of the dismissal he disapproved? If he were doomed to that responsibility, no man could accept the office, and the consequences would be, Unit no man in England could fill the employment, except the very man who had been dismissed, and who, from the difference between him and his sovereign, was the last man in England who should be called to it. But, though he thus chose to argue the matter upon principle, he would say that, in point of fact, he should have no hesitation or fear in taking upon himself the full responsibility of his majesty's late measures. Were the king now placed in a situation similar to that in which he stood on a late occasion, and were to ask for his advice, he would, under the weight of his official responsibility, fearlessly advise his majesty to the very measures which the gentlemen on the other side had arraigned. The right hon. gent. said, that the other parts of the question had been so ably and decisively settled by his hon. friends who had spoken in this debate, that he felt it unnecessary to consider them; and he concluded by saying, that the hon. gent. (Mr. Milnes) who had moved the question of adjournment, could not have been aware, that some other orders of the day remained undischarged, and he would therefore suggest the withdrawing that motion, and putting a direct negative on the original question.

Lord Howick

rose at that late hour, not to trouble the house very long; he would willingly have declined speaking altogether, but what fell from the hon. gentlemen on the other side imperiously demanded some notice. He asserted that the able speech of his hon. friend had not been answered; the observations of an hon. gent. on the other side (Mr. Croker), professing to be in reply to his hon. friend, he thought contained more of fresh accusations against his majesty's late ministers, than of reply. The hon. gent. with sense force, undoubtedly, had pressed some points upon the house; but he must call upon that hon. gent. if he saw real grounds of charge against his majesty's late ministers, to bring it forward specifically and boldly, and he pledged himself to meet it as specifically and freely. The hon. gent. had deprecated his (lord Howick's) advocation for Ireland, he must say, that not only as a member of the united parliament, but as one privately connected with Ireland by the dearest ties, he was as interested in the welfare of Ireland as the hon. gent.; and he hoped the hon. gent. would give him credit for saying, that he never had, nor never would speak a syllable, or do an act injurious to Ireland. He considered that part of the empire as the most imperative in its calls for attention and care, and though he could not say that any measure of catholic indulgence should now be brought forward, he would say that good policy called for a general system of conciliation and kindness; a system which he found the Irish did not very confidently expect from the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer. The noble lord answered, in much detail, the legal arguments of the right. hon. gent. which he contended were founded on suppositions which the house would not presume. He also adverted very warmly to the accusations made against him, and those who acted with him, by two hon. gentlemen on the other side. To one in particular (Mr. Milnes), he begged to say, that his and his friends conduct, for twelve years preceding his coming into office, which had been so seriously reproached to him by the hon. member from the Sister Kingdom, had had, during all that period, the support and assistance of the father of that hon. gent. (Mr. Milnes); he would also say, that the young and hon. gent. the son of a man he entirely esteemed, had dealt in assertions more easy to make than to prove. He was anxious to have his conduct examined, but he thought he might at least claim, till it was examined, a suspension of the heavy judgments which the hon. member had passed upon him. The noble lord entered into some details relative to our foreign relations, and concluded with saying, that he should vote for the committee, as timely, useful, and necessary.— Mr. Croker, general Stewart, and Mr. Whitbread, each said a few words; and, Mr. Milnes withdrawing his motion for adjournment, the house divided, when there appeared,

For Mr. Whitbread's motion 136
Against it, 322
Majority against it, 186

Adjourned at four o'clock on Tuesday Morning.

List of the Minority.
Anstruther, sir J. calcraft, sir Granby
Adam, Wm. Campbell,Col.
Althorpe, Lord Campbell, col.
Abercrombie, hon. J. Craig, J.
Aubrey, sir John Dundas, Hon.Maj.
Anthonie, Wm. Lee Dundas,hon.C.L
Bewicke, Calverley Dundas,[...].hon.W
Baring, Thos. Daly, D. B.
Bagenell, Waler Dillon, hon. H. A.
Butler, hon. J. Elliott,[...]. hon. W.
Butler, hon. C H. Euston, Earl
Belnard, Scrope Eden, hon. Wm.
Byng. George Folkestone, lord
Barham, J. Foster Frankland, Wm.
Basing, Alex. Fitzpatrick, right. hon.
Biddulph, R. M. Foley, col.
Bradshaw, hon. C. Ferguson, General
Brand, hon. C. Fitzgerald lord R. H.
Brand, hon. Thos. Ferguson, General
Combe, H. C. Fitzgerald lord R. H.
Calcraft, J. Flemming, hon. C. J.
Creevey, Thos. Forbes, lord
Cuthbert, R. J. Grenfell, P.
Cavendish, G. H. C. Greenhill, R.
Cavendish, Lord G. H. Grattan, right hon. H.
Cavendish, Wm. Howard, hon. W.
Calvert, N. Halsey, W.
Howick, lord O, Hara, C.
Howard, Henry Pierse, Henry
Hughes W. L. Pollington, lord
Hamilton, lord A. Phillips, R. M.
Jekyll, J. Pigott, sir A.
Jervoise, C. J. Pym, Francis
Jones, Love P. Petty, lord H.
Knapp,— Pelham, hon. C.
Knox, hon. Thos. Ponsonby, hon. G.
Laurence, Dr. Parnell, Henry
Leach, John Prittie, hon. Wm.
Lemon, sir W. Power, R.
Lemon, capt. Quin, hon. W.
Lambton, R. J. Ri[...]ley, sir M. W.
Lemon, John Romilly, sir Sam.
Littleton, hon. W. Russell, lord W.
Lushington, S. Sheridan, rt. hon. R. B.
Laing, Malcolm Shelly, Henry
Latouche, R. Smith, John
Latouche, J. Smith, W.
Lambe, hon. W. Smith, G.
Mahon, lord Stanley, lord
Mackdonald, James Sharpe, R.
Markham, J. Shipley, Col.
Miller, sir Thos. Scudamore, R. P.
Madocks, W. A. Savage, F.
Moore, P. Somerville, sir M.
Mills, Wm. Taylor, M.A.
Morpeth, lord Temple, earl
Milbanke, sir R. Templetown, lord
Mostyn, sir Thos. Townshend, lord J.
Milner, sir Wm. Talbot, col.
Milton, lord Tracey, Hanbury
Maule, hon. W. Williams, O
Maxwell, W. Wynne, sir W. W.
Meade, hon. J. Wynne, C. W. W.
Martin, H. Whitbread, Samuel
Nugent, sir G. Wharton, J.
North, Dudley Williams, sir R.
Newport, r hon. sir John Ward, hon. J. W.
Neville, hon. R. Wardell, col.
Ossulston, lord Warrender, sir G.
O'Callaghen, Col. Walpole, hon. G.