HC Deb 12 February 1810 vol 15 cc376-8
Mr. Hutchinson

rose to move for the production of some documents respecting the state of Antwerp, previously to the sailing of the late Expedition to the Scheldt. He observed, that it appeared from the letter of the noble commander in chief on that Expedition, dated on the 29th of August, that the ulterior objects of the Expedition were totally impracticable, because so formidable was the defensive state of Antwerp, that it would be in vain to attempt its reduction without a regular siege. Now, as this was the fact, he conceived it quite impossible that his Majesty's ministers must not have been most grossly ignorant of that which it was their duty to have perfectly known before they dispatched the Expedition, with such instructions to the commander-in-chief as the noble lord received at his departure. He could not conceive, that, if ministers were really informed of the formidable state of Antwerp, they would have been rash and precipitate enough to have sent the Expedition, under such instructions, for its reduction. But whatever may have been their want of information in other respects, they surely must have been furnished with some plan of the state of the place. They could not plead, in excuse for the failure of their Expedition, their own ignorance that Antwerp was fortified: and if they did know, that it was in a complete state of defence. how could they exculpate themselves for so rash a proceeding as that of detaching so large a portion of the public force, for objects which they must have known to be utterly hopeless, and which fact was made evident to the commander in chief, very shortly after his arrival in the Scheldt. He was aware, that ministers might object to the production of those documents for which he should now move, lest their publicity might give improper information to the enemy; but he could not conceive that any document on the subject, which could now be laid before that House, could tell the enemy more than they knew already. What he wished to ask of ministers was, the production of any plan or plans they had received shewing the state of Antwerp and Forts Lillo and Liefkenshoeik, with the condition and extent of their respective fortifications, and the substance of such information otherwise, as they had received on the subject, previously to the sailing of the Expedition.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

opposed the motion as premature and unnecessary in the present stage of the business. The House had already decided, that all documents of a secret nature should be referred to the consideration of a secret committee already appointed, and whose duty it would be to report such matters as they judged fit to be made public. If, when that Committee should make their report, the House should deem further information necessary, they might call on their Committee to make a more detailed report, and move for any further documents they might judge necessary. He concluded by moving the previous question.

Sir J. Newport

said, there would be something in the objection, if his hon. friend had called for the channels through which ministers had got their information. But this had been distinctly disclaimed. Nothing was called for but the information itself, and therefore the argument was entirely inapplicable.

Mr. Yorke

did not know whether there were a plan or not. Perhaps there were none, except the old plans which might be had in the shops. But the whole subject was before the secret committee, which would report as soon as possible. The motion therefore he thought premature and unnecessary, and a sort of impeachment of the secret Committee.

Mr. Whitbread

said that the right hon. gent (Mr. Yorke) seemed to shake his head when a plan was mentioned; and if he could draw any inference from this gesture it seemed to imply that ministers had no plan: and, indeed, the right hon. gent. referred members to the shops for plans accessible to any body. He himself believed, that ministers really had no plan: but they did not chuse to acknowledge a fact that must tend directly to their own inculpation.

Mr. Hutchinson

pledged himself to prove that ministers, in sending off the Expedition, had acted under the grossest ignorance of the state and strength of Antwerp.

Lord Porchester

wished that the documents moved for should be laid upon the table, in the first instance; and if it should appear they were of a secret nature, they should be sealed up, and sent to the secret Committee. He was, however, less anxious about the result of the motion, than surprised at the resistance given to it by the right hon. gent.; as he had no doubt the information required must be ultimately given.

Mr. Windham

asked, whether it could be a reflection on the secret Committee to call for information which was not secret.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

would admit that, unless the information should come out in the report of the secret Committee, or in some other way, the fair inference would be that ministers had none —as they would have failed to produce it in their own defence.

After a few words from Mr. Giles, the previous question was carried without a division.