HC Deb 08 November 1813 vol 27 cc50-64
Mr. G. H. Summer

, in pursuance of a notice which he gave on Saturday, rose to make a motion; the adoption of which could not, in his opinion, be postponed, consistently with the dignity of the House, and of the right hon. gentleman who sat in the chair. In the present stage of the business, there was but one step which he thought it possible to take; namely, to endeavour to put the House in possession of the document on which a noble lord (Morpeth) had intimated that his observations would be made. Those, on the one hand, who thought with the noble lord, that the speech made by the Speaker at the bar of the House of Lords, at the close of the last session, contained matter liable to animadversion, and those, on the other, who were of opinion that it was free from blame, or even entitled to praise, must equally feel the impossibility of discussing the subject, until an authentic copy of the speech itself should be on the table. Al- though certainly it could not be considered an official document, yet it had not been unusual in that House, under similar circumstances, to move that Mr. Speaker be desired to print any speech which he had so delivered. That was the course which he intended to adopt on the present occasion. It might be expected, that he should open to the House the ulterior views which he might entertain on the production of the document. On this subject he would take the liberty of putting several questions to the noble lord who had given notice of a motion after the recess; and on the answers to those questions, would depend the line of conduct which he should prescribe for himself. From the known candour and liberality of that noble lord, both in public and in private life, he had no doubt that he would not hesitate to inform the House, whether the observations which he had declared it was his intention to make on the Speech of the Speaker at the bar of the House of Lords, tended to criminate the Speaker, either by imputing to him that he had acted without precedent in expounding the opinions of that House, or, admitting that he had followed precedent, by charging him with an unfaithful exposition of that opinion. If either of these objects was that of the noble lord, then, identified as the honour and purity of the Speaker's character were with the dignity of their proceedings, it would, in his opinion, be imperative on the House to enter on an investigation of the merits of the case at a period much earlier than that fixed by the noble lord. If, on the other hand, the noble lord had no other object in the motion of which he had given notice, than to make it a vehicle for remark on the motives which had induced the House to reject the Catholic Bill, thereby indirectly involving a re-consideration of the Catholic Question, it was a matter of indifference, whether the subject should be discussed at present, or at the period fixed on by the noble lord, who had indeed assigned as the cause of delay of his motion the absence of the members of the sister country, who were most nearly interested in the decision of that question. For his part, he conceived that it was the duty of the Irish members to be present at the commencement of the session. If the object of the noble lord was that which he had first described, the House ought not to wait for their arrival; if his object was merely the indirect revival of the Ca- tholic Question, then it might be desirable to postpone the discussion until those could attend who would be disposed to take so large a share in it Trusting that the House would grants him the indulgence of making any farther remarks which the reply of the noble lord might render necessary, he would now content himself with moving—"That Mr. Speaker be desired to print the Speech by him made to his royal highness the Price Regent at the bar of the House of Lords, on Thursday the 22nd of July, 1813, on presenting the Money Bill, which then received the royal assent."

As the Speaker was reading the motion,

Mr. Tierney

wished to know, whether the hon. mover meant that the Speech should be printed with the votes, or merely for the information of the House? If the former, it should be recollected, that that was always considered as a mark of approbation, and he was sure the hon. mover did not mean that the Speech of the Speaker should be approved until it had been considered. If it was intended merely to print the Speech for the purpose of putting it into the hands of members, to that proposition no objection could apply.

Mr. Sumner

was proceeding to explain his object, when

Mr. Bathurst

observed, that there was no question before the House.

The Speaker then read the motion, upon which

Mr. sumner

said, he hid no hesitation in stating, that his sole and exclusive object was, to bring before the House the document on which a noble member had declared it to be his intention, at a future period, to observe. He repeated, that this step appeared to him to be called for by the honour and dignity of parliament. At the same time, it would be but fair and candid to add, that in conformity to usage on such occasions, the Speech must be entered on the Journals of the House. That proceeding, however. Would by no means imply the approbation of the House of its contents.

Mr. Bankes

expressed himself to be distinctly of the same opinion. It was not to be inferred, because the ordinary mode of inserting the Speech in the Journals could not be departed from, that the approbation of the House was thereby implied. The Speech made in 1777, at the bar of the House of Lords, by sir Fletcher Norton, was printed with the votes; but was that considered to imply the appro- bation of parliament? By no means. In the course of that same session, several members animadverted on sir F. Norton's speech; and although eventually the House came to a vote of approbation on the subject, the very discussion proved that it would have been equally competent to them to come to a vote of disapprobation Feeling the impossibility of adopting any other mode consistently with parliamentary practice, he had himself assisted his hon. friend in drawing out the motion before the House.

Mr. Tierney

, notwithstanding the precedent adduced by the hon. gentleman, still contended, that the admission into the Journals, of a speech by the Speaker, had always been deemed a mark of the approbation of the House. Without intending the slightest personal disrespect to the Speaker, he must protest against this being considered to be the case in the present instance. For his part, he was at a loss to conceive what inconvenience could be occasioned by the production of the Speech as a simple document.

Mr. Rose

detailed the history of the proceedings on the speech made by sir Fletcher Norton in 1777, The printing of that speech by no means implied the approbation of the House. It was made on the 7th of May. On the 9th of May, only two days alter, came on the question of its merits; and although the thanks of the House of Commons were voted to sir F. Norton for the speech, yet the discussion afforded abundant proof, that if, in the present instance, the House followed the precedent of 1777, they would not be precluded from expressing a free opinion on the speech in question.

Lord Morpeth

said, that, having been so pointedly called upon by the hon. mover, he must be permitted to say a few words on a subject in which, as he had stated on giving his notice, the honour and dignity of parliament were so deeply involved. With respect to the inquiries made by the hon member for Surrey, he was apprehensive that he could not furnish the hon. gentleman with information that would prove satisfactory to him. He was not at present prepared to lay before the House the scope and extent, much less the frame and construction, of the motion that it was his intention to submit to them. This, however, be was prepared to say; that, if he was rightly informed of the nature of the Speech made by the Speaker at the bar of the House of Lords, in his view of the subject that Speech conveyed expressions which, both on parliamentary and on constitutional grounds, were extremely questionable; and which deserved the serious attention and the solemn investigation of a full House of Commons—a House of Commons which should contain those members who were favourable to the measure to which the expression he alluded to referred, as well as those inimical to it. With that conviction and impression he had given his notice for an early period after the recess, and should persevere in making his motion at that period, unless some other proceeding, on the part of the House, should prevent him from doing so. It could scarcely be necessary for him to say, that in giving his notice he had abstained from all harsh expressions towards the distinguished individual who was the object. He had been too long a member of that House, and had too frequently witnessed the general excellence of the manner in which that individual had discharged the high duties entrusted to him, to enter on an investigation of any part of his official conduct with other sentiments than those of the deepest respect.

Mr. B. Bathurst

observed, that the noble lord's conduct was calculated to place the House in a very awkward situation; for the noble lord had distinctly alledged, that the Speech of the right hon. gentleman in the chair, on the occasion alluded, to, was extremely questionable; and yet he proposed to postpone, to a distant day, the decision of a charge so materially affecting the dignity of the House, and the character of the right hon. gentleman who held the high office of presiding over its deliberations. Now he would put it to the House, whether it would be fitting or fair to pursue such a line of proceeding towards any individual whatever, whose conduct might be brought under the consideration of that or of any candid assembly? On this occasion, he felt himself at liberty to urge that which he was before prevented from stating, when he had endeavoured, perhaps irregularly, to press upon the attention of the House. But although at that time, namely, when the noble lord gave notice of his motion, he (Mr. B.) was properly interrupted, yet it must be in the recollection of the noble lord, and others from whom the interruption proceeded, that a practice had long prevailed, of putting questions to individual members when there was no motion whatever before the House. He therefore, although no doubt, not strictly regular, did not, in putting a question to the noble lord respecting the nature of his intended motion, deviate from a long-permitted practice. But to revert to the subject immediately under the consideration of the House, he thought that it involved a question of privilege; and was it fair that on such a question, particularly, the Speaker, whose peculiar duty it was to take care of the privileges of that House, should for so long a period have the censure, even by implication, suspended over his head of haying deliberately violated those privileges? He was aware, that no member could be forced to bring any motion into dicussion sooner than he himself though expedient; but he submitted it to the candour of the noble lord, whether (as it might be deemed analogous) if any charge were made against any public minister; Whether, if it were alledged in that House that any letter addressed by one minister to another, or even to a subordinate officer, contained something "extremely questionable," it would be conceived fair and liberal to deny the individual accused the earliest possible opportunity of vindicating himself against the accusation; whether it would be just to put off the trial of the accused to an indefinite period? If such a course were not just, and he assumed that no one would venture to assert it, how could it be justifiable to postpone, as the noble lord proposed, the investigation of such a serious charge as that which he had that night advanced against an officer of the highest distinction in that assembly? How could it be warrantable to hold up the conduct of such an exalted officer (without any reference to his personal character) so long untried and unheard, to general suspicion, or implied censure?—(Cries of hear, hear! on the ministerial benches.) Of such conduct he (Mr. B.) thought the House and the right hon gentleman in the chair entitled to complain. Upon the merits of the question, to which the expressions in the speech objected to by the noble lord were understood to apply, he meant to make no observation whatever. That question ought not, in his judgment, to be at all taken into consideration, in viewing the speech alluded to. It was, indeed, in his view, a matter of indifference what were the merits of the question, in a case which ought to be considered in the abstract, without any reference to that question. Of the precise point in the speech to which the noble lord particularly objected he (Mr. B.) was not aware but he hoped that in the consideration of that point it was not mean to discuss by a side wind a question of indisputable importance, or to excite and inflame dissentions and animosities which it was as much more desirable to heal and allay. He, for himself, had no hesitation in saying, that it would be unfair to mix the discussion of the Catholic question with the merits of the motion to which the noble lord's notice referred, and with which it could have no necessary connection. If the object of the noble lord's motion was, to censure the Speaker for any "excess of duty," or departure from parliamentary practice, that ought to be stated at once, and immediately investigated, without referring to the Catholic question. Such reference, indeed, being abstained from as irrelevant to the motion that motion might be gone into without waiting for the attendance of the Irish members; but if it were resolved to mix the two questions, the attendance should be as full as possible. Such a discussion ought indeed to be preceded by a call of the House; while, if the noble lord's motion referred only to privilege, as it ought, the House, as at present attended, must be regarded as fully competent to pronounce a correct decision and the trial should be immediately proceeded upon; for, as the case appeared, there might be doubts as to the Speaker's fitness for the high office which he had so long occupied. Certainly, what had occurred seemed calculated to excite such doubts in some minds. The proposed postponement then admitted, in his view, of no justification, particularly on the grounds stated by the noble lord. But at whatever time, or under whatever circumstances, it was meant to bring the noble lord's motion under discussion, it was obviously necessary to have the documents to which the motion before the House alluded; and the production of the document was the only object of the motion under consideration Of course, then, that motion could not be consistently opposed. As to the character of the speech alluded to, be should not at present enter into the consideration of it; but he must observe, that no instructions were ever offered to any Speaker, as to what he should say on presenting the money bills for the royal assent; and according to the able statement of precedents, drawn up by an of- ficer of the House (Mr. Hatsell, as we understood), it was usual with Speakers, on presenting the money bills, to dilate on other measures which had engaged the attention of the House in the course of the sessions, and this too without any previous instructions. In the course of such observations then, a Speaker might impute motives to the conduct of the majority or minority in the adoption or rejection of certain measures, without incurring or deserving any censure. There were, indeed, but few instances on record, in which the speeches delivered on such occasions were ever brought under the consideration of that House. The speeches so delivered in 1715 and 1745 were to be found on the Journals; and these speeches were not confined merely to observations on money bills; nor was the speech of sir Fletcher Norton, which was also inserted on the Journals. Indeed, the speech of Mr. Speaker Lenthal, in the course of the Long Parliament, adverted to a variety of topics. But it could not be inferred from the mere insertion of any of those speeches in the journals, that they had of course the approbation of the House, for the contrary appeared from the discussion which took place upon sir Fletcher Norton's speech after such insertion. There fore, the proposed insertion of the speech then under consideration, could not be concluded to imply an approbation of its contents and character. Indeed, such insertion was indispensable to a just consideration of the case; which consideration ought, in his opinion, to be entered into as soon as possible, in order to ascertain whether there was ground for the insinuations which had gone forth upon this subject; and whether the speech so much animadverted upon, really contained any thing repugnant to the privileges of the House.

Mr. Whitbread

said, that the course which had been taken by the hon member for Surrey on this occasion was quite unprecedented. It was indeed, he believed, the very first time that a notice of motion had been interfered with in such a manner as the hon. mover had thought proper to adopt with respect to that of the noble lord, who might in fact have brought forward his motion without any notice at all, or at least without any notice until very near the period at which he proposed to bring his motion before the House. Upon what just ground then could the noble lord be censured for the line he had taken? But he confessed that he could not precisely understand the grounds or the views of the hon mover, nor those of the right hon. gentleman who had spoken last, although he had spoken so long. It seemed to be the intention to prevent the extension of time proposed by the noble lord's notice; and, by following up the present motion with something, to get rid of that in the contemplation of the noble lord. With regard to the subject of this motion, he need not profess that which he was known to feel, namely, the highest respect for the general conduct of the right hon. gentleman in the discharge of the duties which appertained to the high office he occupied in the chair of that House. From his observation indeed of that conduct, he could not hesitate to bear his testimony to the superiority of the right hon. gentleman, to any other Speaker whom he had ever seen. But still he must say, that the right hon. gentleman was not authorized in what he was reported to have said in another place; and also, that, from the experience of the present session, he would prove to be an unauthenticated expounder of the sentiments of that House. These sentiments, however, must be fairly ascertained; and he hoped that neither the dignity of the House, nor that of the right hon gentleman in the chair, would be compromised, by attempting in any surreptitious manner, through a vote in a thin House, and in the absence of the Irish members, to avert the ample and just investigation of Such an important subject. Yet he was not, he owned, friendly to the motion at present; because he apprehended that the object, in desiring the production of this paper, might be, prematurely to press the discussion alluded to. With respect to the question, the argumentative speech of the right hon. gentleman who spoke last did not serve to convince his mind, that the Speaker could be authorized in making use of such expressions as were on this occasion referred to. Indeed, the right hon. gentleman's interpretation of the precedents he had alluded to appeared quite erroneous; those precedents obviously implying that the Speaker's authority referred to acts done; but that to acts not done, he had no authority whatever to advert. Upon the allusion, then, which was reported to have been made by the Speaker in this case, he felt himself justified in impugning that right hon. gentleman's authority. Nothing, in fact, had been done to warrant the allusion. He denied, indeed, that any proceeding had been taken by the House upon the important question alluded to, of which the right hon. gentleman in the chair could, strictly speaking, have any cognizance; but here he would, of course, be understood to speak of him as a public officer, and not as an individual member.—Recurling to the motion, the hon. member repeated the expression of his hope, that if the motion were acceded to, no proceeding would be taken, on the production of this paper, inconsistent with the dignity of the House. He hoped also, that it was not the object of the hon. mover or his advisers to press any motion in this business with a view to obtain some accession or appearance of strength to their side with regard to the Catholic question: yet he could not help saying, that there was ground for apprehension, if the discussion which the noble lord's notice had in view were pressed, particularly in the absence of the Irish members. But the hon mover had observed, that the Irish members ought to be present in the House; and to be sure it was very well for the representative of a county immediately adjoining the metropolis to make such, an assertion with regard to those representatives whose residence was at so many hundred miles distance. It was undoubtedly true, that since the Union the Irish members were called upon to attend their duty in that House; but some consideration was due to gentlemen who resided at such a distance, particularly when parliament was convened at so early a period; and therefore the Irish members did not quite deserve the criticism of the hon mover, who could with so little inconvenience attend the meetings of that House. With respect to the noble lord behind him, he had Certainly had no concert or communication whatever with his lordship, before he made the observation alluded to on the first day of the session. He had indeed beard, at the close of the last session, that it was the intention of the noble lord to submit a motion to the House respecting the Speaker's speech; and if he had not so heard, he might probably himself have felt it his duty to bring the subject under discussion. But as to the conduct of the noble lord on the occasion, he might possibly feel himself in some difficulty, whether he ought to give notice of his intention immediately on the opening of the session, or postpone that notice until after the recess. Had he really felt such difficulty, the noble lord's decision was, beyond question, the more eligible; and the hon. mover' so interference with him was quite without precedent. The hon mover and others had complained of the noble lord's having uttered a serious censure upon the Speaker; whereas the noble lord's original notice was a simple annunciation of the mere fact, that he meant to bring the speech alluded to under the consideration of the House, unaccompanied by any expression of censure whatever. Still, those who made the complaint would press the noble lord for a detail of his grounds and intentions; and if he complied with their demand, they would no doubt, immediately exclaim—"Now you have sent out your complaints against the Speaker, do you mean to go no farther, but leave the right hon. gentleman subject to such imputations until after the recess?"—All this and other reasons, would, no doubt, be urged prematurely to get rid of the noble lord's motion. Such, he feared, was the end in view; and therefore he was adverse to this motion although he should readily vote for the production of the document alluded to at a proper time before the noble lord's motion should be brought forwards. Still he could not help repeating his wish and hope, that no attempt would be made, on the production of this document, to interfere with the original notice of the noble lord; but that the whole matter would be left to the discretion and candour of the noble lord—to that discretion which could not be questioned, and to that candour upon which the right hon. gentleman in the chair must be so ready to rely.

Lord Castlereagh

observed, that the House and the right hon. gentleman in the chair were, upon this occasion, placed in a very painful predicament, and, highly respecting the character of the noble lord, he would appeal to his candour, whether it was not due to the House, and to justice, to bring forward with all practicable expedition, a question so materially affecting the character of the chair; whether it would be reconcilable with common fairness to allow a charge so derogatory to the Speaker, as the transgression of his duty to remain suspended over his head so long as the noble lord had mentioned. If it were only the object of the noble lord to discuss the Speaker's performance of his duty, or attention to privilege, that was a question upon which he thought, with his right hon. friend (Mr. Bathurst), the House in the present state of its attendance was folly competent to decide; but if with that it were intended to connect another motion, which must require a larger attendance, particularly of Irish members, he could not forbear from most earnestly deprecating the intention; for he should always be adverse to the discussion of that great question collaterally. Deeply as he felt interested in its progress, and anxious as he was for its ultimate success, he must ever protest against any proceeding calculated to introduce its discussion by a side wind, to fritter down its great importance, or to divide those who were otherwise disposed to agree upon its real merits. But, whatever might be the noble lord's object, none could consistently disagree with a motion which only proposed to put the House and the country in possession of a document upon which the noble lord proposed to found his motion, and which had been the subject of so much animadversion—of animadversion, in his judgment, quite misapplied, because resting upon an erroneous interpretation of an expression in the speech alluded to. Upon the real character of this expression he did not at present propose to dwell—but he would appeal to the consideration of the House, and the justice of the public, whether, fairly viewing the situation of the Speaker, acting without instructions from the House, in the discharge of a critical trust and responsible duty, he should, where it is impossible to ascribe an improper motive, be held subject to censure for any mere inaccuracy of expression, or error of inference;—whether he should be solemnly condemned for inconclusive reasoning—for an imperfect effort to anatomize the motives of that House, or an incorrect description of those motives—So much he (lord C.) was led to say in anticipation of the noble lord's motion; which he trusted would be brought forward as soon as possible, in order to relieve the House and the chair from the painful situation in which they were place by a notice which implying censure, certainly suggested the propriety of acceding to the motion under consideration.

A Member under the gallery, whose name we could not learn, observed, that the noble lord had not explained, who their the question ought to be considered as one of privilege, or one involving the propriety of the sentiments expressed in the Speaker's speech. If the former, the discussion did not require further delays; if the latter, it became necessary.

Mr. C. W. Wynne

said, that this was an important subject, on which the fullest information should be procured. He differed in some degree from the hon. seconder of the motion. Its chief object should be, whether the speech of the Speaker should go forth to the public as conveying the sentiments of the whole House. He agreed, that the possession of the document itself was necessary; and wished, that, if it should arise from future practice, that the custom of addressing the throne should be allowed, the speech made by the Speaker on that occasion should be entered on the Journals of the House of Commons, in order to become a fair and open subject of discussion. He would request the hon. mover to add the words "for the use of the members" to his motion.

Mr. Tierney

said, "I have heard much of assertions, that the notice of my noble friend's motion has put the Speaker in a painful situation; whereas, in point of fact you, the Speaker, have put yourself in that situation, by a speech which you thought proper to make at the close of the last session of parliament; which speech, in my opinion, and in that of many thinking men, deserves the serious attention and consideration of this House; for in that speech you uttered an assertion, bearing an interpretation calculated to excite pain, not only among those who voted for the Catholic Bill in the course of last session, but among four millions of your fellow-subjects; who having been placed in a state of painful delicacy, for four months, during which there was no opportunity to call upon you for any explanation, it cannot be too much for you to wait for two months, until the Irish members, who are most interested in the question, are able to attend this House"—Adverting to the conduct of lord Morpeth, Mr. Tierney maintained, that it was marked by peculiar delicacy and candour. The noble lord had not attempted to excite any prepossession or prejudice against the right hon. gentleman in the chair; nor had he uttered any thing that could be even construed into an accusation, in the harsh sense of the word. All his noble friend alleged was, that the speech of the right hon. gentleman was such as deserved the consideration—as ought to be inquired into by that House. His noble friend did not say, or insinuate, nor should he (Mr. T.) say of any gentleman, that he uttered that which was incapable of justification. But to make that justification satisfactory to public justice, and creditable to the right hon. gentleman himself, it ought to take place in a full House.

Mr. Ryder

complained that when there had been an opportunity three months ago of taking into consideration whether the sentiments expressed by the Speaker were of a questionable nature or not, the change had been so long suspended. He would ask, whether this was consistent with that bandour and justice which he knew regulated the conduct of the noble lord (he might say his noble friend) in private and public life? Such a mode he though entirely unprecedented. If the question did not relate to the first authority in that House, would the noble lord, or any other member, consider it consistent with justice and liberality to keep a charge so long suspended over any individual, without calling for a discussion? He was confident that no imputation of undue motives would be cast on the Speaker's conduct, and protested against the method pursued, as totally unsupported by precedent.

Mr. Abercrombie

would not have risen, had it not been for one expression, which the thought should not go uncontradicted. The right hon. gentleman had stated, that the motion on the Speaker's speech ought to have been made at his return from the House of Peers, and not kept suspended for mention over his head. Was he ignorant that this was an utter impossibility, as this House no longer existed as the Commons House when the Speaker had just been attending at the prorogation of parliament? It was impossible that it should have been bound by any notice his noble friend might have given, and such conduct would have been quite un-parliamentary. He thought the charge of want of candour and of justice brought against his noble friend totally unfounded. The decision to which the House was called was most important. If it should be found that the Speaker had acted consistently with precedent and principle, all of course must approve his conduct. If he was deficient in precedent but right in principle it would become a consideration whether his act should be sanctioned by the approbation of parliament, and instituted as a precedent for future session. But if neither supported by precedent, nor right in principle, a due expression of the disapprobation of the House should be pronounced. It was therefore evident, that on a question of this importance, the fullest attendance possible should be procured. This was scarcely to be expected before the recess, and therefore it could hardly be fairly de bated until after that was over. The variety of opinions would naturally be considerable. Some might think that the speaker had no right to address the throne in the manner he did at the close of last session. Others might admit the right, but object to the nature of his speech, and of the sentiments it contained. Then to attempt to discuss the subject without the fullest attendance, would be doing injustice to the Speaker and to the country. The great object of the Speaker must be, to have the question decided after full and dispassionate deliberation. He must deprecate any anticipatory discussions; and the noble lord had adopted the only course which promised equal justice to the Speaker and to the public.

The question being about to be put form the chair,

The Speaker

said, I hope I may be allowed to make a short observation before I put the question—(A cry of hear hear!)—I shall forbear, at present, from offering any thing in justification of my conduct, because the consideration of that question is not now before you—but I am prepared to assure you, that I feel the most confident Persuasion of being able to satisfy this House, that I hope in no respect whatever transgressed the duties of my office.

The motion was put and carried.