HC Deb 08 February 1808 vol 10 cc385-97
Mr. Whitbread

rose to make his promised motion for the production of certain Papers, extracts from which had been quoted by the right hon. secretary, in his speech, in defence of the expedition to Copenhagen. (p. 272.) The hon. member observed, that the subject was of the highest importance in itself. The right hon. secretary in his speech, had carried the practice of making partial extracts from papers not before the house, to an extent to which it had never been pushed before. In the course of his speech, which certainly none but an able man could have spoken, he had resorted to a practice of partial extract and comment, which probably no other man besides himself would have had recourse to. In the course of the last war, lord Melville, then a member of that house, and high in office, had set the example of a similar practice; but he well remembered that the practice had then been reprobated as unfair, as derogating from the dignity of the house, and as calculated to produce an impression, in most cases, totally different from that which the papers given at full length would bear. He would do Mr. Pitt the justice to say, that he had never descended to such a practice. The right hon. gent. should recollect the situation of high trust and responsibility which he held, and that it was most unbecoming that situation to put any thing like a false gloss on the written opinions of his predecessors in office. He had the authority of his noble friend (earl Grey) to declare, that he felt injured by the partial extracts and comments which he had made from the dispatches which he had sent to our envoy at the Danish Court. These extracts, he was convinced, would not have been read, had that noble lord continued a member of that house; or, if they had, the meaning affixed to them would have been flatly contradicted. There were gestures which would throw an air of ridicule on the most serious matters, and what was stated only hypothetically might be so read as if absolutely true, thus giving a totally different complection to what would result from the perusal of the whole. These were the acts which the right hon. secretary had had recourse to. He had also followed a similar method with regard to some dispatches of lord Hutchinson, and of Mr. Garlicke, the British envoy at the court of Denmark, selecting detached passages from their correspondence, and making them say, in fact, what he pleased. These two noble lords, however, had the opportunity of explaining their own meaning, and of refuting that interpretation which was put upon their words, while Mr. Garlicke was so situated, that it was not possible he could obtain that redress to which he was justly entitled. He also conceived that the partial extracts which had been made tended to calumniate the Crown Prince of Denmark, in as far as they represented him as desirous of putting an end to his neutrality; for, from all that he had heard and known of the conduct of that prince, he believed it to be his wish to remain perfectly neutral. On some occasions, when it served his purpose, the right hon. secretary had urged the great inconvenience of producing diplomatic papers; but he had not found it inconvenient to make such partial extracts from papers in his possession, as might enable him to attain his purpose, of gaining a vote of the house, even though such extracts gave a totally different colour to that which the papers not thus garbled would have had. If the right hon. secretary had given a false impression, as he contended that he had, by his partial quotations, he had neither done his duty to the public, to those persons connected with the late administration, nor to the much-injured Danes; for he should always view them in that light. There was one way of doing justice, however, and only one, and that was, to lay before the public the dispatches from which he had made such garbled quotations, At the same time, while he demanded this act of-justice, he was authorized by his noble relative to declare, that he would rather he contented to suffer in his character and feelings than that the public service should be injured by any disclosure; but he was at the same time authorized to say, that his noble relative was of opinion, that no inconvenience would arise from laying the papers before the house.—The hon. gent. concluded with moving for the following papers: 1. Copy of the Dispatch from lord Howick to Mr. Garlicke, dated London, Dec. 3, 1806, an extract from which was read by Mr. Secretary Canning in his place in this house on Wednesday last, and the Answer of Mr. Garlicke thereto: 2. Copy of the Note delivered by Mr. Rist to lord Howick, relative to the Order in Council of Jan. 7, 1807, and the Answer thereto, extracts from which were read by Mr. Secretary Canning in his place in this house on Wednesday last."

Mr. Secretary Canning

contended, that when in the course of his speech on Wednesday last he was led to consider the disposition of the Danes towards this country, and the means which they had, whether of offence or defence, about the latter end of 1806, he availed himself of that information of unquestionable authority on these subjects, which had been left by his predecessor in office. The circumstance of the continuity of the government being disturbed, did not detract from the value of that information. It should be recollected what it was that gave occasion for the extracts which he had made. He had contended, that the seizure of Holstein by the French would have a dangerous influence upon Zealand; first, by the possibility of an actual transfer of French troops to that island; and, 2dly, because it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the Danish army to retreat in the face of a victorious French force. But the seizure of Holstein would have also had a moral influence upon the Danes, in disposing them to join that power by which they were overawed. To illustrate this, he had made an extract from a dispatch of his noble predecessor, in which the contingency of this event was foreseen, and in which our envoy was ordered to notify to the Danish government, that if any promise was made to surrender their fleet to the French, his majesty would resent it. This extract was not made, however, by way of recrimination or imputation upon the noble lord; on the contrary, it was certainly the opinion and advice which he should have suggested in the same circumstances.—There was another subject on which he had quoted lord Howick, with regard to the offer of 25,000 Swedes for the defence of Denmark; and that was the advice which he himself should have offered. He was at a loss to conceive how that noble lord could feel himself hurt by the extracts which he had made; and he was equally at a loss to conceive how he could have altered that opinion with regard to the dispositions and power of Denmark to maintain her neutrality, if he ever entertained it.—He had also said, that the mode in which the Danish government had remonstrated with this country on the subject of the Order in Council, which was a measure of partial retaliation for the French decree, discovered any thing else rather than a disposition to cultivate impartiality, and that it appeared in the same light to the late administration. He therefore had no objection to the production of the Note of Mr. Rist, since it would tend to throw light on the nature and propriety of the late Orders in Council. But, in his opinion, no case whatever was made out for the production of the other papers, since he had only quoted them as a confirmation of those suspicions which were so reasonably entertained with regard to the conduct of the Danes. The extracts which he had made from Mr. Garlicke's dispatches related to that particular period of time after the fatal battle of Jena, and the violation of the Danish territory by France; and were principally made for the purpose of buying that many persons in official situations in Denmark, had that bias towards the interests of France, which it was the business of the British government to counteract, if possible. He was confident that no person could charge him with having made any false statement of what was contained in Mr. Garlicke's dispatches. But his chief objection to the present motion arose from this principle, that it would go to establish a precedent for publishing all papers and foreign dispatches whatever. The depositaries of the public confidence must judge in every instance, whether they ought to be produced or not. There would be no end to distrust, and from the sample which was now exhibited, there would be no end to the demand and production of papers. To the jealousy which the hon. gent. discovered, no other exposition of papers would be satisfactory, but that of putting him into the Foreign Office, and letting him rummage at pleasure. With regard to the dispatches of lord Howick, it was highly probable that the noble lord had copies of them in his own possession; but if not, he should be happy to furnish him with copies from the Foreign Office. In observing upon the state of Denmark at a particular period, he had taken the opportunity to state that the possibility of a junction between France and Denmark had been contemplated by his noble predecessor, and that orders had been, in consequence, communicated, how to act, in the case of such an event. It appeared that the house was convinced of the propriety of the measures adopted by government, from what had been already produced; and it was for those members who thought otherwise to bring the same question again before the house, if they thought fit.

Earl Temple

was astonished at the speech of the right hon. secretary the other night in many parts of it, and still more so, at the manner in which he attempted to defend himself to-night, by denying the information which the motion before the house was calculated to convey. He had referred to extracts from the dispatches of lard Howick in his own defence the other night, and in support of his own argument. He must be excused when he called these extracts, garbled extracts of documents to which he had access from his official situation. In the course of the debate, the right hon. secretary gave a part which suited the purpose of his own argument, and concealed the rest. He should have expected, that a man of the talents and station of the right hon. secretary would not have stooped to the artifice of garbling scraps of paper, to give a false colouring to a transaction of such importance as that of which he was treating the other night; for most indisputable it was, that the whole matter would have appeared in a very different light from that in which the speech of the right hon. secretary placed it. My lord Grey felt himself aggrieved by this proceeding, and declared that if the dispatch sent by him to Mr. Garlicke had been all read, instead of the partial extract which the right hon. secretary gave to the house, the whole transaction would have a different colour from that which the reading of that partial extract gave it. What was the point in debate? There had been an inquiry respecting Denmark, and the Expedition to Copen hagen had been attempted to be justified from certain circumstances. Gentlemen on one side of the house contended, that the account which ministers had given of that matter was not satisfactory. Upon that occasion, the right hon. secretary read part of a letter from lord Grey to Mr. Garlicke, and in that extract he left off at the end of a paragraph which suited his own purpose, and the very next would have explained the whole context, and given an entirely different colour to the matter. This was grievous to my lord Grey, who was a public man, who had held an high official situation, and in whose character the public had a great interest. He conceived this to be a perfectly fair and sufficient ground for calling for the production of public documents; and he was sorry to say, that referring to the estimation in which he had hitherto held the right hon. secretary for candour, in that part of his character he had been greatly deceived.

Mr. Herbert

took a general view of the expedition to Copenhagen, which he considered as setting an example, which would in future have the effect of involving neutral powers in war, whatever might be their interest or inclination.

The Secretary at War

defended the measure, and conceived it plain to the common sense of every man, that from the power of France and the weakness of Denmark, the latter power would not have been permitted to remain neutral.

Mr. Tierney

alluded to the speech of the right honourable the secretary of state on a former night, the eloquence of which he admired, but he could not help saying, it was a speech most of the force of which was derived from the extracts which he took from certain documents to which he referred. And here he must take leave to lament that a secretary of state should avail himself of the command he had of the documents of office, and which none but a secretary of state could have taken; and here he must also declare, that the extracts which the right hon. gent. read, were garbled extracts. Lord Grey was well known to be hostile to the Expedition to Copenhagen, and by the extract which the right hon. gent. gave of the dispatch of lord Grey (then lord Howick) to Mr. Garlicke, it would appear as if lord Howick had recommended that expedition. He really did not see what his hon. friend (Mr. Whitbread) could do less than bring forward the present mo- tion; he ought to do it for the sake of the house of commons, he ought to do it for the sake of the public, who had a right to be fairly informed upon this matter; he ought, lastly, to do it for the sake of the character of lord Howick; for every public man was entitled to a fair consideration by the public. The right hon. secretary consented to lay before the house the correspondence of Mr. Rist, because that appeared to answer the party motives of the right hon. gent. He made a partial extract from the dispatch of lord Howick for the same reason, but he repressed the rest of lord Howick's dispatch, because it would put an end to those party motives by placing the subject in another light, and explaining the whole matter to the public. The general objection to the production of papers, was the inconvenience to the public service by producing them; but here it was not contended that any such would be the case if the whole dispatch of my lord Howick was produced. Here the house was called upon to recognize a right in the secretary of state to read what part he pleased of any document in his office, just as it might suit himself, and that out of pure confidence in the secretary of state. No man admired more than he did the talents of the right hon. gent. but he did not choose to put that sort of confidence in any man, as to allow him to make partial extracts out of documents as they might suit his purpose. Indeed, he had refused it to a person more considerable than the right hon. gent.; he meant the late Mr. Pitt. He did not object to the right hon. gent. taking to himself the temporary triumph of a debate by a little tricking, or perhaps to continue that triumph for the day after the debate, but it was too much that he should claim the continuance of the triumph for a week together; when the whole of it was founded upon a fallacy, it was too much to endeavour to keep the country in a state of delusion. There was this difference between ministers. and their opponents: the opponents of ministers had done every thing in their power to make the case clear to the public view—ministers every thing in their power to keep matters in the dark. They now talked of the thanks of the house and of the public, and indeed they were perhaps nearly as well entitled to them as some who had them. He would put them to the test. Would they desire any young man of warm wishes for them, to move the approbation of the house to them for their conduct on the Copenhagen Expedition? He ventured to say they dared not. But ministers said, 'Why do not you move a vote of censure against us? Such a challenge, said the hon. gent. comes with a bad face from men who have the evidence of their conviction in their pockets, but will not produce it. If the right hon. gent. will give me the evidence upon which he founded his proceedings against Copenhagen, I pledge myself to bring forward the motion of censure; but he knows in his heart he has no such evidence to produce.—He wished to put the house upon its guard against being cajoled into a belief that ministers had a tittle of proof for their justification. There was no such thing in existence, and he dared them to the production of any thing that could warrant the bombarding a neutral town, and murdering innocent men, women, and children. But if the full documents were to be withheld upon this subject, what an idea would go down to posterity, when such a motion should appear on the journals to have been opposed by his majesty's ministers!

Mr. Lockhart

observed, that the vote of the former night must have proceeded upon one of two grounds. It must either have proceeded from a conviction of the satisfactoriness of the extracts of the papers produced, or from a general conviction of the necessity of the measure. The nature of the war was now greatly altered from what it was. We were now fighting for nothing less than self-defence, and our existence as a nation. France had subjugated nearly the whole continent of Europe, and it did not behove this country to remain inactive, till she had collected means to form an attack against us. Ministers, he conceived, had acted wisely in anticipating the steps which France was known to have in contemplation. If we had the fullest proof of the good inclinations of Denmark to this country, but were at the same time convinced that she was unable to resist the confederacy formed against her, ministers, in his opinion, were justified in having acted as they had done. He should therefore oppose the production of the papers moved for.

Mr. Horner

begged leave to recall to the attention of the house what was the real motion they were then debating. His hon. friend had moved for two papers, one of which had been granted, but as to the other it was to be refused, which was the occasion of the present discussion. The right hon. gentlemen, however; who were thus pleased to refuse the production of this paper, had not attempted to say there was any parliamentary ground for their refusal: on that head, or that it would be betraying any secret intelligence, or that it would be dangerous, or produce any public inconvenience, the house had not heard any thing. Now, the parliamentary ground for producing it was, that it was intimately connected with a very important measure, with the whole circumstances of which that house ought and was desirous to be acquainted; and therefore he was surprised beyond expression that it should be attempted to be refused. If the right hon. secretary could shew that its production would cause any public inconvenience, he would do well to state it; but till he did, he hoped the house would incline towards the motion, and insist on its being given. What was the course the right hon. gent. had pursued? In justifying a great and important measure to the house, he had read part of this document to the house, which part had induced many to suppose that the opinion of the noble lord who wrote the letter was in favour of the measure, by holding forth the same opinion of the Danish government as the present ministers had formed, whereas the reverse would have proved to be the case, had the whole of that document been read, and would be still proved if the whole paper, then the subject of debate, were to be produced.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

maintained, that there was no foundation for the supposition that the extracts made by his right hon. friend out of the dispatch of lord Howick to Mr. Garlicke at Copenhagen, made the unfavourable impression against that noble lord which some gentlemen apprehended; for they seemed to think that the object of making these abstracts was merely to impress the house with the idea that lord Howick was now complaining against this expedition, only because he was in opposition, but that if he were in power, he would have done as ministers did. But it was not the intention of his right hon. friend to produce any such impression. There was no such interference warranted by the extracts of the dispatch of the noble lord. It was not denied that the noble lord was against the expedition. But the opinion of lord Howick was, that if Denmark gave up her fleet to secure Holstein from the seizure and gripe of France, that such a submission would not be assented to by his Britannic majesty; that was the sentiment of lord Howick in the Dispatch alluded to, and that was all that his right hon. friend meant to impress upon the house the other night. As to the challenge thrown out by a right hon. gent. he had only to say, that ministers were satisfied with the vote upon the king's speech. They thought their defence sufficient as it stood; nor did he believe they should owe much to the forbearance of the right hon. gent. either in the house, or out of it, if he thought he could attack them with success, notwithstanding his apparent magnanimity, in saying that he should not attack them until they were prepared with their defence.

Mr. Windham

complained that ministers had swindled the house out of an appearance of approbation of the Danish expedition, in the Address to his majesty, although it was then understood, that that Address was a mere matter of form, not conveying any actual opinion. The grand ground for the production of the papers moved for by his hon. friend, was that the house having, irregularly in his opinion, allowed a flagrant injustice to be done to an individual, were bound to repair it as far as lay in their power.

Sir John Orde

was desirous that ministers should not be fettered. The gentlemen opposite seemed to wish that we should give the sword to our enemy, and content ourselves with the scabbard.

Mr. Lyttleton

did not think that the resistance to the present motion rested on the same grounds as the resistance to the motion of Wednesday last. Although he voted for ministers on that day, common justice would compel him to vote for the hon. gent. on the present occasion.

Mr. Sheridan

was glad to hear the challenge thrown out by the other side. As to a vote of censure, he should be happy to vote two censures; the one on the disrespectful manner in which all information relative to the Danish expedition had been withheld from the house; the other on the expedition itself. He contended strenuously for the production of the papers moved for by his hon. friend. Before the meeting of parliament he had made up his mind to support his majesty's ministers on the subject of the expedition to Copenhagen; fully expecting that they would be able to prove, either that a collusion existed between Denmark and France, or that Denmark could not have resisted the compulsion of France. Neither of these points had been established; and with regard to the first particularly, he pledged himself, when the subject was resumed, to make it incontrovertibly manifest, that there never had been any collusion whatever.

Mr. Sharpe

said, he thought the motion ought to be acceded to on every principle of fairness and justice; and so convinced was he of the partiality and injustice of reading garbled papers, that if no other person accepted the challenge given to that side of the house, he would himself bring forward a motion, for a vote of censure; though from the slight connection he had in the house, and the short time he had been a member of it, he could not boast even so much parliamentary courage as to flatter himself with success, and could wish it to fall into abler hands.

Mr. Whitbread

congratulated the house on the idea, that whether they lost the motion or not, it would have the good effect of preventing the right hon. gentleman from again making use of garbled letters. The chancellor of the exchequer had clearly shewn, that he had never had a cause in a court of justice in which he found it so difficult to defend his client; for all he could say in his behalf was, that he did not mean to draw that inference which others had done for him. The right hon. gent. had said, does the noble lord mean to say, that I have cast any imputation on him, by reading his letter?' He would answer for the noble lord, yes,—the imputation of holding one language while in office, and another when out of it, and in so doing palming an imposition on that house and the public. Ministers and the noble lord were, then, at issue: produce the paper. Was there any public inconvenience arising from it? He would answer boldly, no; it had not even been pretended that there was the most distant risk of it. Ministers were willing to give Mr. Rist's letter, because it might serve their purpose on another occasion, but that which made against them they withheld. The right hon. secretary hat said on Wednesday last, that whenever he saw the footsteps of those incapable servants he turned round to avoid them, as a path to be shunned; he wished, however, the right hon. gent. would imitate them in their candour and fairness. He had seemed to think he was dealt hardly by, in its being insinuated that he had represented the Danes as humiliated and treated contemp- tuously by France; but he appealed to the recollection of the house, that he tried to give every appearance of ridicule in the story he had told of the Danish officer who was taken prisoner by the French, and treated with so much contumely; and stopped short there to make the house believe that no satisfaction had been demanded. But the fact was otherwise; the Crown Prince had made a demand of satisfaction, and obtained it from prince Murat. If the right hon. gent. had gone on and told the house that fact, it would have taken away all the force of his story; so, when he read the passage he had selected from the noble lord's letter, and at the end of which he was so heartily cheered, if he had but given one single word more—the word but—with the same emphasis that he concluded the sentence preceding it, that word but would have effectually knocked down all those cheers, by shewing that the opinion conveyed was directly contrary to that he wished to have believed. If no other man in the house would bring it forward, he would himself move for a vote of censure; for never was censure so abundantly merited.

Mr. Montague

was proceeding, but the house became so clamorous, that he was obliged to sit down. On a division, there appeared—For the motion 73: Against it 157. Majority 84—On our return to the gallery,

Mr. Sharpe

gave notice of his intention of submitting to the house certain Resolutions relative to the Expedition to Copenhagen, and the Conduct Ministers therein; but refused to name the day.

List of the Minority.
Abercromby,James Greenhill, Robert
Baring, Alexander Griffinhoofe, B.
Baring. Thomas Herbert, H. A.
Bathurst, rt. h. C.B. Hibbert, G.
Bernard, Scrope Horner, F.
Bradshaw, A. C. Howard, col.
Bruce, P. C. Howard, W.
Burdett, sir F. Knapp, G.
Byng, G. Knox, 'rho.
Calcraft, sir G. Lambe, W.
Cavendish, lord G. Lambton, R. J.
Cavendish, W. Laurence, French
Cavendish, G. A.H.C. Lloyd, colonel
Cocks, hon. E. S. Loftus, general
Colbourne, N. R. Lyttleton, W. H.
Craig, J. Macdonald, James
Crevey, Thomas Mackenzie, gen.
Cuthbert, J. R. Martin, Henry
Ebrington, visc. Mathew, M.
Eden, W. Maule, W. R.
Elliot, W. Milbank, sir Ralph
Fergusson, general Miller, sir Tho.
Milton, viscount Russell, lord W.
Moore, Peter Scudamore, R.
Morpeth, Viscount Sharpe, Richard
Mosley, sir O. Sheridan, R. B.
Neville, R. Smith, G.
Newport, sir John Taylor, M. A.
Ord, William Temple, earl
Ossulston, lord Tierney, G.
Parry, Love Tracy, H.
Peirse, Henry Vansittart, N.
Petty, lord H. Vernon, G. G. V.
Piggott, sir A. Ward, J. W.
Ponsonby, F. Wardel, col.
Prittie, F. A. Western, C. C.
Quin, W. H. Whitbread, Sam.
Romilly, sir S. Windham, W.