HC Deb 22 February 1808 vol 10 cc699-708
Lord Folkestone

moved the order of the day for taking into consideration the papers; and on the question that they be now take into consideration,

Mr. Creevey

rose to give his negative to the proposition,. for two reasons: in the first place, because it was impossible for the house to come to a decision upon the conduct of the marquis Wellesley, without at the same time deciding upon the general question of Indian policy; and in the second place, because it was quite impossible that gentlemen could so have digested materials which would fill seven volumes, and which had been collected from the administration of that country, during a Period of 17 years, which had been moved for by different persons, and with different views, and which brought into comparison the administrations of lord Teignmouth and the marquis Cornwallis with that of the marquis Wellesley, as to be able to decide upon the merits of that complicated system with which the conduct and character of the last mentioned nobleman were inseparably interwoven. The papers were in such confusion that it was indispensibie that they should be arranged before they. could be perused, so as to convey the information necessary to enable the house to form a judgment upon the facts to which they related; and though he was pretty generally acquainted with them; he had not met with three gentlemen. who had read them. The course, therefore, which he would recommend was, that they should be referred to a committee. He did not care how that committee was formed. He had no objection that the three brothers of the noble marquis should be members of it, and it should be appointed exclusively by the hon. gentlemen on the treasury bench. As matters now stood, the house could not enter into a discussion of the question, because it was connected with a variety of others which required a detailed examination. The question before the house was the propriety of the treaty by which the Nabob of Oude was dethroned and stript of his,territory. But this was not a solitary instance of this species of policy. He had concluded many treaties of the same kind, and each was referred to in his instructions to his agents as a model for the other. They could not, therefore, decide upon one treaty without also tak- ing into consideration the model upon; which it was formed. The justification of some of them was the perfidy of the prince who was dethroned; but would it be contended, that all the princes who had fallen the victims of his policy were equally perfidious? And if a general view was taken of the whole policy of his administration, what light, he would ask, was there to guide the house in forming its decision The hon. gent. quoted the opinion of the court of directors, as it was expressed in a printed dispatch that had been published, in which that court, while it expressed a high consideration for the talents of marq. Wellesley, condemned in the most pointed terms, the general tenor of his administration, as contrary to the existing laws, as an open defiance of the authority of the directors, and as an attempt, on his part, to convert the government of India into a simple despotism. In the same dispatch the profusion of his expenditure was censured, and the whole of his conduct to foreign powers reprobated, as a departure from those principles of moderation by which they were desirous that the governor-general should be actuated.—Here

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

called the hon. gent. to order, upon the ground that at the opening of a proceeding, instead of arguing upon matters of fact, he was bringing forward the opinions of those who were to be considered in the light of accusers.

Dr Laurence

on the other side, contended, that his hon. friend was completely in order, because in stating his objections to the proceeding, it was certainly competent for him to mention the grounds of those objections, and his reasons for thinking that a different course should bet adopted.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer asserted,

that it was irregular to refer to opinions which were not before the house.

The Speaker

then decided, that if this parliament had refused the document which the hon. member was quoting, it would never consent to receive that indirectly. which it had directly refused. But if the, paper had not been refused by this parliament, he was of opinion that the honk gent, was perfectly in order when he made use of it in the course of his argument.

Mr. Creevey

proceeded to read another part of the dispatch, in which the system adopted by the marquis Wellesley, for extending the territory and increasing the revenues of the company, was reprobated as unjust, illegal, and impolitic. He contended, that it would be extremely rash for the house, in the face of an opinion so decidedly pronounced by those who were the best judges of the subject, and with an unanimity almost unparalleled (this dispatch having been signed by 23 out of 24 Directors) to come to a decision with their present inadequate means of information, directly the reverse of this opinion, which would be the effect of a resolution of acquittal, passed in favour of marquis Wellesley. It ought to be considered, too, that the very circumstance of the marquis Cornwallis having been sent out to supersede marquis Wellesley, then in the prime of life, in the government of India, was a proof that a disapprobation of his conduct was not confined to the court of directors, but that government likewise participated in it. It had been said, that any farther delay would be extremely hard towards lord Wellesley. He admitted that it was hard upon lord Wellesley. But was there not a third party who likewise merited some consideration? Would it not be hard on the East India Company to be defrauded of their possessions, in consequnce of his mal-administration? or would it not be hard upon the country if, in consequence of his measures, its Indian dominions should be severed from it for ever? What he wished was, that this question should be examined as all other Indian questions had been examined. For if the noble marquis had, during his administration, furnished more materials for discussion than any other governor, it would scarcely be maintained that, on that account, a decision should be more speedily adopted. He thought that one of two expedients should be recurred- to, either that the house ought to follow the same course that had been pursued in 1772 and 1782, and that a committee ought in the first place to be appointed to make a compleat revision of the affairs of India, or that if lord Wellesley's conduct was to be discussed separately, that the evidence before them should be previously arranged by a select committee, so as to render it intelligible; which it was not in its present form. Were parliament to come to a decision upon the conduct of that noble person by this night's vote, he asserted it they would commit an act of injustice to the noble marquis,: and that it would be wanting in its duty both to and to the country; and proposing some farther delay, he fully expected the support of those gentle- men who had not made themselves masters of the papers, Who; he was convinced, formed a large majority of the house.

Sir John Anstruther

called the attention of the house to the present state of the proceedings. Three parliaments age, a charge had been brought against marquis Wellesley, by an hon. gent. (Mr. Paull) who was no longer a member of that house; all the evidence necessary for supporting the charge, had been moved for and granted; an inquiry had been challenged by the friends of the noble marquis, the charge originally brought forward had been abandoned, but upon the papers that had been produced, other accusations had been founded by a noble lord, and this night had been fixed for the house to pronounce upon the justice or injustice of these accusations. Nothing had been said of any deficiency of evidence, or of any confusion of papers, till about ten days ago He contended, that the delay now proposed, was neither more nor less than an attempt to arrest the course of justice, in as far as lord Wellesley was concerned, for the purpose of entering into a detailed examination of the affairs of India, and to blend two subjects which were totally different and distinct. The Dispatch which had been read, ought to have no more weight with the house, than the opinion 24 printers, and it Would have been only fair in the hon. gent. when he read it to the house, to have read also the Answer to it, which was made by the Board of Controul, whose opinion he thought was as valuable upon such a question as that of the Court of Directors. Upon the general merits of lord Wellesley's admintstration, he should be ready to meet either the hon. gent. or any other person, When they came to be discussed. At present, that question, was not before the house, and after the delay which had already taken place, he thought the house could not consent to postpone their decision upon the particular and personal charges, without committing an act of gross injustice to the noble and distinguished individual character was implicated in them.

Mr. Robert Thornton

professed his decided disapprobation most highly of many of the political measures of the noble marquis, at the same time he wished that the house should decide upon the charges that had been brought against him with dispatch as well as with as boldness. For this reason he was against the appointment of a committee, because that mode of pro- ceeding would tend to postpone a decision which had already been too long delayed. He animadverted with severity upon the backwardness Which had been shewn by some gentlemen at a certain period, to prosecute the charges which they had pledged themselves to institute, and alluded particularly to the conduct of Mr. Sheridan, in declining, while in the last administration, to bring forward the Carnatic question, because he found that it would not be agreeable to some of his colleagues. His wish was, that the character of lord Wellesley should be either cleared by a Vote of the house, or that the censure should be passed upon him which his conduct had merited. He denied that the Directors of the East India Company appeared as the accusers of lord Wellesley, but the, along with many of his colleagues, had disapproved of many of his measures, and it was necessary, in their own defence, that they should state the grounds of this disapprobation.

Mr. S. Lushington

contended, that the only mode of doing justice either to marquis Wellesley, to the injured natives of India, or to the character of the British nation, was to institute a general inquiry into all the measures of the noble marquis's administration,

Mr. Hall

thought that if the house had any sense of national justice, or any regard for its own character, it would not suffer any further delay to retard its final decision upon this question.

Mr.S. L. Lushington

asserted that already British India had to lament the measures which had lately been adopted in this Country. The charge in the present instance he maintained was personal, and therefore ought to be decided without finger delay.

Lord A. Hamilton

was of opinion, that as gentlemen were not Very forward to encounter the obloquy of taking up such charges, and the noble lord had undertaken this with such laudable attention, the business ought not to be taken out of his hands. If his hon. friend should hereafter propose a committee to inquire into the transactions in the Carnatic, or at Furruckabad, he would be ready to support him; but in the present instance he thought course proposed by his noble friend should not be rejected.

Mr. Grant

would have supported the motion for a committee, if that had been originally proposed; but as the noble lord had taken up the question with a view to another course of proceeding, he was not prepared to resist it. He hoped the house would not judge of the conduct of the court of directors on an ex parte statement, but that their case, as well as that of the noble marquis, would be considered with reference to the whole of the circumstances.

Mr. Windham

rose, amidst a loud cry for the question. He said that he certainly should not be deterred from delivering his sentiments on this occasion by any such cry, more particularly as it was this importunity for the question which he was desirous to combat, and which he hoped to be able to do with somewhat better argument than mere clamour. He confessed, however, that he had little to say, on the present occasion, in addition to what he had stated on a former evening. The question now before the house was, whether it would come to a decision now upon a subject of the greatest magnitude and importance, or defer that decision till they were competent to judge of it? If it was asked, why the house was not competent to decide upon it now, he would leave it to every gentleman-to give an answer for himself. He believed, that not one in 20 members had read the papers, and if this was the case, it was a sufficient reply to all that had been said on the opposite side. He allowed that marquis Wellesley was a man of high rank, of considerable talents, and that his conduct had been arraigned e but none of these circumstances was sufficient to counterbalance the material consideration of the incapacity of the tribunal in its present state of information, to pass a decision upon the charges which had been brought against him. The accusations which had been lodged against him were what were incident to the lot of every great man. they were taxes which greatness and distinction had to pay, nor was the. noble marquis so destitute of friends, or so run down in the world, that they bore upon him with any peculiar degree of weight. On the contrary, if his conduct was arraigned it ought to be recollected that it was in the nature of that conduct to beget friends. He denied that there had been any unnecessary delay. It was not fair in calculating this to count the number of parliaments since the subject was first introduced to notice, for the present parliament was not supposed to be acquainted with the proceedings which had been instituted by any preceding parliament. And when the period during which the present discussions had been pending was considered, it certainly did not afford any reason for such a complaint, when it was compared with the time that was occupied with the prosecution either of Mr. Hastings or lord Clive. But even supposing that there had been more delay than was necessary, this was no reason why the house ought to pass a premature and precipitate decision. It might be said, to be sure, that members might have carried the papers to the country with them during the recess, but since parliament met there had been such a press of other business as completely to occupy their time. But even if they were chargeable with remissness, that was no reason why they should now pass a judgment for which they were totally unprepared. In such circumstances, an acquittal would be no acquittal, and condemnation would be no more than condemnation. He had made himself so far master of the subject as to have formed an opinion very unfavourable certainly to many parts of the noble marquis's administration, but what he wished was, that some farther delay should be granted to those who had not made themselves masters of the subject. He concluded with deprecating a hasty decision upon a question in which the national character was most deeply involved. Were the house, by a vote this evening, to give its sanction to all the flagitious outrages which had been committed in India against the rights of independent princes, in violation of all the principles of justice, honour, and good faith, he was afraid that, in the estimation of the world, this country would stand chargeable with many of those crimes which we had reprobated so much in others, but of which we had in several recent instances, he was afraid, been too successful imitators.

Mr. B. Bathurst

said, that if the house was unprepared to decide upon the question now, this want of preparation might be a good reason for adjourning the debate to some future day, but it did not appear to him that it furnished ground for instituting-a new proceeding. In proposing to appoint a select committee one or two objects must be in view, either that this committee should merely form an index to papers, or that it should enter into an investigation of the whole affairs of India, and report thereupon to the house. But, in either case, what security had they that those gentlemen who. had not read the papers in their present state, would read them after they were arranged, or that they would read the report, which would probably be still more voluminous than the papers?

Sir T. Turton

exhorted the house not to hurry a proceeding of such great importance. This was not a case in Which a private person alone was interested. It affected the rights of a whole people, who had no tribunal but that house to whom to apply for justice. They had no friend but that house, and if it slighted the appeal now made, it forfeited its own character and honour, and the character and honour of the country. At all events, he trusted it was not meant to proceed to the consideration of the question to-night.

Sir S. Romilly

admitted that justice to the noble marquis required that no unnecessary delay should take place. Justice, however, could not be done to him, and, what was of still higher importance, to the national character. if the house came to a premature decision. A great deal had been said of the number of parliaments which had passed since the papers Were laid on the table; let it, however, be recollected, that there were many members in that house who had sat there for not more than seven months, not one of whom, of course, had heard a single word on the subject of these papers, which could enable them to form any idea as to the facts which they were meant to substantiate; and wet they were now called on to give a decision on evidence of which they did not know the bearing. This was said to be a question personal to the noble marquis, but still it-was no less a judicial question, and he had never yet heard of any proceeding by which a fair result of such a question could be obtained, unless those who were to judge of it, were previously acquainted with the facts charged, and the nature of the defence. Was there a man in that house prepared at the present moment to say, that he was ready to come to a right decision on the case? He had, with great inconvenience to himself, gone through a considerable part of these papers, and if obliged to come to his decision this night, he must give it against the noble marquis, though he did tot say, that in the mass of evidence before the house, there might not be evidence in the noble marquis's favour of which he was at present ignorant. He was of-opinion, that to send the evidence to committee to return a digested report of it to the house, would be the only means of arriving at substantial justice. None,? he was convinced, ought to desire this so anxiously as the friends of the marquis, and nothing could be more unsatisfactory than a premature decision.

Sir A. Wellesley

said, it was for the house to decide what mode of proceeding would best suit its own convenience and the ends of justice; but, he contended, that it had been always asked, and it was the only thing that was asked, on the part of the noble marquis, that the case should be brought to as speedy a decision, as a regard to justice and fair inquiry would allow. The propriety of this principle had been laid down and enforced by the highest authority on all sides of the house, and among others, by an hon. gent. now no more (Mr. Fox), whose opinion would weigh very much with the gentlemen on the other side. He did not suppose that every member had read the papers word for word: but he was satisfied there were very few who had not read them sufficiently to enable them to give a conscientious vote. All that he asked now, was what he had asked before, as speedy a decision as the house in its sense of justice could admit.

Lord Folkestone,

thought the house was sufficiently in possession, at least of the main facts of the case, to come to a decision on the Oude question at once, without going into the general policy of the system of government in India, which he thought belonged more properly to the general consideration of the Finances of India, of which the right hon. gent. opposite (Mr. Dundas) had given notice, or the other general view of that part of the empire to he brought Forward by the hon. gent. below him (Mr. Creevey). It was e-their own fault if any gentlemen were unprepared to come to the decision

Sir. F Burdett

thought it impossible to decide this night upon the merits of the case, when the minds of gentlemen were not made up as to the proper form of proceeding. He moved as an amendment to the motion, the insertion of the words "to-morrow se'nnight," instead of the word now."

Lord Folkestone

agreed in the impossibility of going into the merits of the case at so late an hour this night. He was ready to agree in the hon. baronet's motion, if the house thought fit.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

allowed, that it was impossible to go into the merits of the case this night. He wished the amendment to be withdrawn, in order to allow the house to decide, whether it would proceed in a house, or refer the case to a committee. When that question should be decided, the proper time for proceeding might be considered; and he was of opinion, that to-morrow would be preferable to to-morrow se'nnight. It was a vacant day, and it was agreed that it was desirable to hear the noble lord's charges stated as soon as possible.

Sir F. Burdett

withdrew his amendment for deferring the further proceeding to tomorrow se'nnight.

Lord Folkestone

was ready, for his own part, to proceed to-morrow; but he understood the gentlemen about him preferred to-morrow se'nnight.—A division was then called for, when there appeared, For the ordinal motion, 21. For referring the bussiness to a committee 34.—While the gallery was shut a conversation took place about the proper time of taking the subject into consideration again, when it was agreed to make the order for to-morrow se'nnight.