§ Mr. Whitbread
said, he held in his hand a Petition, signed by 970 a person who was altogether unknown to him; but whose name had often appeared in the newspapers of late, and who had excited a considerable degree of public attention. The Petition was from one of the person against whom a bill of indictment had been some time ago found for a conspiracy. He was sure, however, that any individual might approach the House in full reliance on its justice, without having any thing to fear from the operation of prejudice, whatever the accusation against him. It was from Charles Random Baron de Berenger. The Petition stated, that he was at present confined on the felons' side of Newgate, and by reason of his confinement precluded from having the necessary means of defence; and that he had been arrested and detained on false pretences, under a warrant signed by his Majesty's Secretary of State. As the Petition was couched in respectful language, he should, therefore move that it be read.
The Petition was thereupon read; setting forth,
"That the petitioner would not presume to address the House, if the singularity of his case, and the extraordinary hardships under which he labours, allowed the smallest hope of relief other than that which he now most respectfully implores at their hands; and that, although a Prussian subject by birth, he nevertheless is the son of an unindemnified American loyalist; that he has resided in this kingdom ever since the year 1788; and that he not only by numerous voluntary, zealous, and disinterested endeavours, but also by 16 years service, has placed his adherence to the oath of allegiance which he took to his Britannic Majesty beyond all possible doubt; and that he was apprehended on Friday the 8th of April last at Leith in Scotland, by virtue of an order issued by the Secretary of State under the Alien Act, but without any specific charge being make known to him; although in a state of sickness, he was, in consequence of such order, forced, under peculiar restrictions and undue humiliations too numerous here to be stated, to London; where he arrived on the morning of the 12th of April perfectly exhausted; and that he was then placed in close confinement at a messenger's lodgings, attended day and night, and on all occasions, by Bow-street officers, without the indulgence of writing private letters to his friends; and although his solicitor was the only acquaintance 971 whom he saw, and that with leave only, even then obstacles were frequently made to his conversing in private with him; and that he there laboured under a dangerous sickness, which however did not, for a considerable time, prevent the aggravating and consequently injurious intrusions of several persons whom the petitioner had declined to see; and that the petitioner, on the 22d of April, addressed a respectful letter to Mr. Becket, as under Secretary of State, repeating what his solicitor had verbally stated, in order to represent urgently that the nature of his illness placed his life in danger, if his confinement was continued, and praying to be allowed to give good and sufficient bail for his appearance whenever called upon: instead of any reply to this reasonable request, the petitioner was, on the 29th of April, about half past four o'clock, without the smallest previous intimation, forcibly hurried to the Old Bailey, there to plead to an indictment which had been preferred, charging him, with some others, with a conspiracy to raise the funds; and although pennyless, as he was known to be (because all his money and clothes, excepting a small change of linen, had, as well as all his papers, been taken from him), it was even with the utmost difficulty that the petitioner was allowed, after firmly persisting in his desire to call for his solicitor in his way, who immediately foresaw that he would be lodged in Newgate, as bail could not be accepted without 48 hours notice, which was rendered impossible by the sudden manner of his being forcibly carried into court without any notice whatever; and that accordingly, after pleading ill, as the petitioner proved, he was, late on the 29th of April, lodged on the felons' side of Newgate, without sufficient money to pay his fees, or to procure even necessaries, where, but for the humanity of Mr. Newman, and those under him, his confinement would have been horrible and insupportable; and that the prosecutors having removed the said indictment to the court of King's bench, the petitioner was, on the 7th of May, carried into court to plead to the same, after which his bail was tendered and regularly accepted by the said court, the petitioner consenting, without hesitation, to an additional clause, binding his securities to his personal appearance in court on the day of trial, and which he might have over-ruled; and that thereby having entitled himself to his im 972 mediate enlargement, it nevertheless was refused on the plea of an order, signed by lord Sidmouth, to detain him in prison, and unjustly and untruly describing the petitioner as an alien dangerous to this realm; whereupon he was remanded to Newgate; and that, in consequence of this unfounded charge, the petitioner, on the 10th of May, memorialized viscount Sidmouth, setting forth, that not only his impaired health and the danger of his existence demanded his enlargement, but respectfully pointing out the impossibility of his collecting by means of his agents witnesses whose persons only he knew, but not their names, and who in like manner alone can recognize him, that such witnesses are indispensable, as much to clear him from the charges he laboured under, as for the purposes of public justice; and that he next distinctly, and by reference to his actions, showed that, as disloyalty or other acts hostile to this, nation could not possibly, or even with the slightest colour of plausibility, be laid to his charge that it was additionally injurious to him that his detention and close confinement should continue under such a form; and he prayed his lordship, for these various and solid reasons, to order his speedy liberation, on his giving reasonable securities, while he also requested the restoration of his money and other properties; and that to this memorial Mr. Becket replied, by letter addressed to the petitioner's solicitor, dated May the 13th, stating, that lord Sidmouth declined his liberation, but that a return of a part of his property should take place; and that the petitioner, with the education and feelings of a gentleman, and under no accusation of felony, has received an irreparable injury, which must blast his future prospects in life, by haying been confined on the felons' side of Newgate, although no felony is imputed to him, and although he has complied with every form considerately laid down by the laws, in order that so disgraceful, so indelible, an impediment to future honest employ, as such imprisonment invariably proves, should not be entailed on persons accused of misdemeanour only, who can procure bail; and that the petitioner continues to pine in sickness, but, what is infinitely worse, to labour under singular impediments fatal to his seeking evidence in order to prepare his defence against the accusations of the indictment which will be speedily tried, and while others under 973 the same charge are at liberty, not deprived of their papers or other property, and in a situation to forward their defence without obstacle, attempts, sanctioned by government, are even made in Newgate to interrupt his preparative endeavours, by forcing strangers into the petitioner's room against his will; and that the petitioner, under all these painful circumstances, respectfully entreats leave to draw the attention of the House to these singular hardships and impediments to regular legal investigation, as also to the injustice which deprives him not only of the essential use of his exertions, but, in addition to the privation of his liberty, must stain his character, already artfully misrepresented, with the charge of being a dangerous and disloyal person, which (although resorted to without a shadow of truth) must prejudice the public, including the jury by which he must be tried; and that it next behoves the petitioner to state, that in no instance since his arrest, has he been examined, which, had it taken place, no doubt would have enabled him to have proved his innocence of the charge alledged in lord Sidmonth's warrant, or of any other brought against him, sufficiently to prevent the hardships which, for the want of such examination, he has experienced, and continues to endure; and as it would be unbecoming in the petitioner to attempt to trace the motives for such unexampled severities and obstructions to the preparation of his defence, he prefers to throw himself on the liberality and consideration of the House, entertaining full confidence that it will, in its established wisdom and justice, order such measures as will enable him to seek fairly and without obstacle the indispensable means of defending himself in the mode humanely established by the British laws for the equal protection of all persons accused."
The hoentleman then said, he would proceed to make a few observations on the use which had been made of the Alien Act in this case. Presuming that the charge upon which the baron de Berenger had been detained, namely, that he was a person dangerous to the safety of this kingdom, was one on which the Secretary of State believed he was in conscience called upon to arrest him, he had yet to learn how any person so arrested could be deprived under the Alien Act of any thing but arms. The baron de Berenger, however, had been deprived of his papers, clothes, and money. Part of them 974 had been at last returned to him, after a long delay; but the precise effects which were taken from him at the time of the arrest, had not been returned. When the other gentlemen got out on bail, he had been remanded on a warrant, stating that it might be dangerous to have him sent out of this kingdom, and authorising his detention, &c. Now, up to the period of this mysterious transaction, so far from Mr. De Berenger having been considered as dangerous, he was employed as an officer in a corps commanded by the earl of Yarmouth. Unless, therefore, such an explanation should be given as he did not anticipate, he should feel it his duty to move for such a secret committee as had examined into the case of capt. Colville. Mr. Colville had been detained three years, and hopes had lately been held out that he would be soon released; but the House ought to consider, that however short the days might seem to them, there was a long interval from 1811 to 1814, to a person in confinement. He should undoubtedly, therefore, move for the appointment of a secret committee. He wished to remark, also, that no answer had been received to the letter addressed by the baron de Berenger to Mr. Beckett, dated the 19th of April, expressing his surprise that his papers and other things necessary to his defence, had not been returned to him until the 14th of May. This letter also stated, that persons had been intruded on him from the Stock Exchange Committee, with orders from the Secretary of State's office, who put various interrogatories to him. The hon. gentleman concluded with moving that the Petition do lie on the table.
§ Mr. J. H. Addington
expressed his thanks to the hon. gentleman for the opportunity he had afforded him of explaining this affair. Without entering into any detailed answer, he would shortly state to the House, that Mr. De Berenger being a registered alien, and having an alien's licence, was arrested by a warrant issued by the secretary of state, in execution of his duty, on a charge quite distinct from the offence for which a bill of indictment had been found against him. On this warrant, having been apprehended and brought up to London, and when the other gentlemen were released, who had found bail under the prosecution, he was detained on the same charge for which he had been originally arrested, and which the hon. gentleman would hardly expect him to state. With regard 975 to the detention of his clothes, money, and papers, the value of the money had been restored, a great part of his letters had been restored, and his agent had had access to all of them. If he remained in Newgate, it was at his own express desire, he having preferred that prison to that for aliens. He was surprised to hear the power of the secretary of state to issue such warrants under the Alien Act called in question. Such warrants had always been granted by the secretary of state, and had never before been challenged. There was another charge which he could not answer, because he did not know any thing respecting it—that persons had been forced on him contrary to his own wishes. He did not know any thing of this; but he was inclined to suppose, that when inquired into, a sufficient reason would be given for whatever took place.
§ Mr. Whitbread
observed, that although the right hon. gentleman might flatter himself that he had given a reply to this petition, the House would feel that, in truth, no satisfactory answer had been given. It was impossible, as matters now stood, to contradict the assertion, that the arrest and confinement of the baron de Berenger originated in a charge totally distinct from the criminal prosecution which had recently been commenced, and the right hon. gentleman must therefore receive full credit for his statement. It was a fact, that Mr. De Berenger had chosen Newgate as the least comfortless place of the two that had been offered him; but there he was molested by the intrusion of strangers who came to inspect his person and obtain evidence; to this charge no answer had been given. It was at least doubtful, whether the extensive powers given to the secretary of state under the Alien Act had not been abused, and that its provisions had been abused and perverted to the worst purposes. Where, however, under the Alien Act or any other statute, could a justification be found for depriving Mr. De Berenger of his money and clothes, some of which were kept from the 19th of April to the 14th of May? What right had the Stock Exchange Committee, a self-elected and self-constituted body, to intrude upon the privacy of any individual, or to pervert the regular course of public justice?
§ Mr. Bathurst
said, that unless the House, in the exertion of its paramount authority, chose to order a particular inquiry which in a matter of such delicacy 976 it would scarcely think expedient, the subject must rest upon the statement made by the right hon. gentleman, (Mr. Addington). It did not appear, that the situation of Mr. De Berenger was worse than that of other persons under similar circumstances; or that he was intruded upon more by strangers, or was more publicly seen, than if he had been at large, with liberty to walk where he pleased. He did not know what were the precise regulations of the Alien Act with regard to clothes or money; but when such a charge was exhibited against an individual, it seemed natural that such a power should be allowed.
thought that a more serious charge could not be brought against any minister, than that he had misapplied and abused the powers vested in him by the Alien Act, and that it well merited further inquiry. There was undoubtedly great hardship in the case of Mr. De Berenger: he was not allowed the means of making his own defence; and by means of his confinement witnesses were intruded upon him to identify his person, and he was thus compelled to supply testimony to his adversaries.
§ Lord A. Hamilton
asked, at what time the charge against Mr. De. Berenger, for which he was arrested under the Alien Act, had arisen?
§ Mr. Bathurst
replied, that the House, if it deemed fit, might order an investigation of the whole grounds of his confinement; but he would not consent to fritter away the subject, by giving answers to questions that might lead to improper disclosures.
§ Lord A. Hamilton
added, that he wished for no disclosure of state secrets, with which the right hon. gentleman always appeared so big; he only asked, at what time the suspicion arose against Mr. De Berenger?
§ Mr. J. H. Addington
answered, that he imagined the suspicion arose at the time when the warrant was issued, which would appear by the date.
Sir F. Burdett
observed, that undoubtedly credit could not be refused to the statement that Mr. Addington had made; but, under the circumstances, it was requiring a great deal of the House. He wished that a select committee should be appointed, to inquire into this case, as well as into the cause of the continued detention of Mr. Colville, in Coldbath-fields prison.
remarlied upon the confusion that seemed to exist between the powers given by the Alien Act, and the circumstances of the existing prosecution against Mr. De Berenger, which might have led to the inconveniencies that were now the subject of complaint. It seemed that there was no authority for detaining De Berenger's money; and when it was afterwards restored, not only the amount, but the very identical money, ought to have been returned, that it might not be employed against him on the trial. The subject deserved further investigation: and, as points of importance and delicacy might be involved, it could be conducted in any way ministers should think most expedient.
The Attorney General
adverted to the application which had been made to him by the defendants, to become their advocate; which he had refused, thinking, that as a servant of the public, and as a member of parliament, it might occasion embarrassment, if not a collision of his duties: in the exercise of the same discretion, he had refused likewise to conduct the prosecution. With regard to the facts of this case, it appeared, that at the time Mr. De Berenger was arrested under the warrant of the secretary of state, no charge had been brought against him regarding the fraud on the Stock Exchange; and after the bill was found, he was treated exactly like any other alien, on the responsibility of the secretary of state. Much had been said regarding the taking of the clothes and money of Mr. De Berenger; but the House must be aware, that in cases of felony the magistrate had a right by law to detain them for the purposes of the future trial; he admitted, however, that the charge against Mr. De Berenger was only for a misdemeanour, and upon that an important distinction might perhaps be founded. The detention in this case was not the act of the secretary of state; the property of the prisoner had been detained by the alien messengers; and if they had exceeded their powers, they were unquestionably responsible. He was willing to allow, that if unwelcome visitors were intruded upon Mr. De Berenger, it was unjustifiable, and the door might be closed upon them; but he did not apprehend, that the secretary of state had issued an order to compel Mr. De Berenger to see strangers; though possibly he might, to distinguish this case from what of treason (where no persons 978 were allowed to be admitted), have given an order, that any person who wished to see Mr. De Berenger should not be prevented. As to the propriety of the commitment under the Alien Act, this was not a fit time to enter into any discussion upon it.
§ Sir S. Romilly
hoped that the examination into this subject would not be allowed to rest merely here; but that some grave inquiry would be instituted, in order to ascertain whether it was true, that the powers given by the Alien Act had been perverted and abused for the sake of putting the individual in question under disadvantages that did not, in the ordinary course of law, attend his case. After the solemn assertion of the right hon. gentleman, no man had a right to say that the arrest of Mr. De Berenger had been absolutely occasioned by the prosecution commenced against him; but it was still a question, whether the warrant of the secretary of state had not been exerted with some view to the misdemeanour with which Mr. De Berenger was charged. It would be quite new in law, to say that a man charged with a misdemeanour was liable to be deprived of his papers, money, and clothes, by the magistrate: in this case, it seemed that the papers, money, and clothes, had been taken before the bill was found; and that after that event they were detained for the purposes of the prosecution. In the Alien Act, sir Samuel Romilly knew of no authority to deprive a man of any thing but arms; and the House would do well to recollect the additional circumstance, that the secretary of state was not justified in issuing his warrant for the arrest of an alien, unless the country would be endangered by his escape. It did not appear, that the papers, money, or clothes of Mr. De Berenger had been in the regular custody of any individual, or that they might not have been altered and marked for the purposes of the pending prosecution. At present, there was reason to believe that the warrant of the secretary of state had been employed to further the proceeding in the court of law.
The Solicitor General
said, that under the Alien Act an absolute power had been given to the Secretary of State to take individuals into custody, of which he had availed himself in the case of Mr. De Berenger. During that detention, this person was proceeded against by some individual for an alleged misdemeanor. In 979 this, what was there wherewith to charge the Secretary of State? Was he, because an individual had committed, or was supposed to have committed, some crime against other individuals; to abstain from taking such measures against him as he judged necessary for the safety of the state? If a man was charged with a most serious offence, with a most gross fraud against individuals, was it to be said that the Secretary of State could enforce the Alien Act against that man for no other purpose than to aid the private prosecutors? What reason was there then to induce the House to suppose the Alien Act to have been abused? The petitioner, however, complained that he was confined in the felons' side of Newgate, a place where he ought not to have been confined under the Alien Act. That place was the only place to which he could have been committed by the warrant of the magistrate under the criminal charge that had been preferred against him; and his having afterwards remained in that prison was a circumstance which depended on his own choice. His money, clothes, and papers, it was said, were detained. The Alien Act contained nothing in relation to these things. But if these effects had been seized, and had been found conducive to the furtherance of justice in a prosecution instituted against the individual, could it be said that it was a dereliction of duty, that these effects were not delivered up by the Secretary of State to the person by whom, if they were anywise conducive to his inculpation, they would inevitably be destroyed? It had been argued on the other side of the House, as if this had been merely a civil suit against Mr. De Berenger. But it was a charge of a most heinous offence. What grievance was there, that the identical notes found on the person of De Berenger were detained, if others equal in value were given to him? It had been said, that captain De Berenger had served the country—but was he for that reason less in a condition to injure it? Surely not. For the reasons which he had stated, he thought there was no ground to induce the House to interfere in this case: more especially, as it seemed that the object of the petitioner was, through the means of the authority of the House, to obtain, for the purpose of suppressing, those documents which might eventually bring him to justice.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
observed, that, notwithstanding all that had been said, it ap- 980 peared singular, that the necessity should have arisen for the detention of De Berenger as on state grounds, exactly at the time when a prosecution was instituted against him by a private body. If, however, it was positively stated, that there were sufficient reasons of state policy for the detention of De Berenger, he should acquiesce in the measures which had been taken in his case; but it was necessary that a positive statement of this nature should be made. He had hoped to have obtained some light in the course of the discussion, on the power of the Secretary of State to seize papers. He believed it had been the invariable practice of the office so to do. Certain it was, that no such power was given by the Alien Act. On this point, therefore, he wished for further information; for if the papers, notes, &c. had been wrongfully acquired, it was a case of great hardship that they should be made use of against their proprietor; but if they were rightfully acquired, although on another account, he conceived it to be regular that they should be produced on the trial. There was a case, analogous to the present; when an attorney, called Crossley, being arrested on a charge of forgery, of which charge he was acquitted, a blank affidavit was found in his possession, sworn and signed, under which he was indicted for perjury found guilty, and sent out of the country. It was undoubtedly legal, if a person was under any species of legal confinement, that witnesses intended to be produced: against him should be admitted to see I him: but that any persons should be admitted to interrogate him, was an unwarrantable stretch of power. He was of opinion, that the best mode of proceeding would be, to appoint a secret committee to inquire into the subject, unless any valid objections should be made to this measure.
§ Mr. Lockhart
observed that even in cases of felony he could find no statute which authorised persons to seize or detain the goods of prisoners; but yet if clothes were found with blood on them, in the trunk of a person accused of murder, no one would hesitate to seize them. Supposing the detention of the petitioner in the first instance to have been, bonâ fide, necessary to the public safety, the case, he thought, did not Call for any interference of the House.
§ Sir James Mackintosh
observed, that he should not have taken part in the dis 981 cussion before the House, if it had not assumed an importance which did not belong to it, from the reasoning which had been made use of on the subject, particularly by his hon. friend who had last spoken (Mr. Lockhart), and who had disputed the right to seize goods and clothes in cases of felony, because he had found no statute on the subject; thus seeming to forget that the greater part of the law of England did not exist in any positive statute, but was deduced from the constant usage of the judges of the land. There was an important distinction, which overturned much that had been alleged against the petition, that goods might be seized for a particular purpose; but not that they should be seized for one purpose and detained for another. It had been admitted in the course of the discussion, on all hands, that it was the constant practice of the Secretary of State's office to detain the papers of aliens. It was imperative on the House to inquire whether this practice, which had been persevered in for 20 years, was, or was not, legal: it was peculiarly the duty of the House jealously to watch, that the most formidable and tremendous power—a power the most susceptible of abuse of any which had ever been vested in the crown of England—should not be abused. Illegal, he would venture to call that stretch of authority, by which, in addition to the power given by the Alien Act (odious as that power was), the papers of any foreigner could, without any charge having been preferred against him, be seized by the Secretary of State—The power of the Secretary of State, as a magistrate, he thought should never, be brought in aid of the powers of the Alien Act; for it was not agreeable to the hospitable spirit of the British law, that this Act, which had been made to provide only against extraordinary danger to the kingdom, should be construed to the oppression of strangers, by being yoked with those powers which were given for the purpose of bringing offenders to justice. Of the individual who was the subject of the discussion, he knew nothing; nor should he have said any thing, but for some aspersions which his hon. and learned friend (the Solicitor-General) had cast on him. His learned friend had presumed that the object of the petitioner was, to destroy evidence which might be injurious to him. That his learned friend could have had no intention to prejudice the minds of a jury against the petitioner, 982 was a charge from which he need not exculpate him. But that such expressions coming from a person of so much weight would have that effect, he thought very probable. If such insinuations, or rather such direct charges, were thrown out against all petitioners, it would close the doors of the House against the oppressed, and close them with iron bars indeed.
§ The Petition was ordered to lie on the table.
§ Mr. Whitbread
then said, that no time should be lost—no period suffered to intervene between the measure which had been taken, and the motion for the appointment of a secret committee; for, otherwise, the unfortunate man who presented the Petition would find a prejudice produced against himself. He alluded to what had been said by the Solicitor General towards the end of his speech—that the motive of Mr. De Berenger was, to obtain the possession of papers that would operate to his conviction. [The Solicitor General being about to leave the House], Mr. W. said he hoped the hon. gentleman, would not leave the House; for he intended to read a letter from the Secretary of State, which would give great reason to believe that the whole object of the Secretary of State was, to further the prosecution of the Stock Exchange. The petitioner did not pray for any particular notes or papers; but to be put in such a state as to enable him to make such exertions for his defence, as he would have been enabled to make before he was taken into custody; and he alleged, that being in confinement, he was not in a state to make, by his agents, the necessary enquiries, as there were witnesses, who were material, known to the petitioner only by person. He should return to the subject, and ask the right hon. gentleman. (Mr. H. Addington) whether he would positively assert that the arrest of the petitioner was not occasioned by, or at all connected with the prosecution of the Stock Exchange? If he would go that length, he should contend, that it was an unwarrantable exertion of the power vested in the crown; and if he went the full length of disavowing all such connection between the two measures, he (Mr. W.) thought he should be able to afford the House grounds to suspect the truth of that disavowal, by some correspondence which he should read. A learned and hon. gentleman had asked, with a tone of sareasm, which with ill grace was employed 983 against petitioners for justice, why, if the cause of the petitioner was a just one, he had not sooner brought it forward? The reason was, that the House, though open to all complaints, was only open when the ordinary channels of redress were shut. If he had applied to the House without having previously sought redress in vain from the officers of the crown, he would have been told that he should first have sought redress from the Secretary of State. This he had now done; and having sought in vain, he applied to the House of Commons, where the Solicitor General, the representative of the crown, tells him, that his object is to make away with the proofs which might be brought against him on his trial. Such were the unwarrantable attempts to prejudice the House; but the petitioner should be protected, if it was in the power of an individual member to protect him. The petitioner had constantly applied, but for a long time in vain, for his money—not for the identical bank notes, but for money to pay the jailor's fees, his medical attendants, and for his sustentation, as the hon. gentleman said. But from the 18th April to the 13th May, he obtained nothing. The hon. member observed, that the petitioner, being confined, was deprived of the opportunity which liberty would afford him of preparing the means of his defence. He complained also of the letter of Mr. Beckett to the petitioner on the 21st of April, in which the restoration of his property was promised; yet property was withheld, which, there was every reason to infer, had been used by the prosecutors of the Stock Exchange against Mr. De Berenger, with regard to whom the bill of indictment was found a few days afterwards. In fact, the papers of Mr. De Berenger were refused; but copies truly were offered to him. Upon what ground, however, he (Mr. W.) would ask, were these papers seized at all? He called upon the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Addington), to say, by what part of the law such a seizure could be warranted? In his judgment, such a seizure was wholly unwarrantable. But it was said, that, although the seizure might not be justified by the letter of the law, it would have been a clumsy oversight not to have seized Mr. De Berenger's papers, under all the circumstances of the case; and it was said also, that such a seizure was according to the practice which had prevailed in the Secretary of State's de- 984 partment with regard to aliens. To the first statement, he however should say, that no public officer could be justified in exceeding the provisions of the law; and to the second, that no practice could warrant a violation of the principles of the constitution. If, indeed, the contrary were maintained, the issue of general warrants would have been held sacred. On the 5th of May, Mr. Beckett informed Mr. De Berenger that, even should he be bailed under the indictment respecting the transaction at the Stock Exchange, he would not be liberated, but referred to the custody of a king's messenger; and Mr. De Berenger had been so ill-treated in that custody, that he preferred remaining even in Newgate. There, however, the petitioner was condemned to remain without his money, without the means of obtaining subsistence or medical relief. But at length, on, the 13th of May, the property of Mr. De Berenger, including 186l. in notes (but not the notes taken from Mr. De Berenger), was restored to him; that is, above a month after he had been robbed of it; for he could not hesitate to call it robbery; and was robbery to be atoned for by mere restitution, according to the law of England? If the Attorney General were to argue such a transaction con amore, what an effect would his eloquence and rectitude produce upon the minds of a jury? A very different effect, indeed, as he apprehended, from that which, the learned gentleman endeavoured upon this occasion to produce in that House. The hon. member expressed his intention to follow the precedent of the House in the case of Mr. Colville confined in Cold Bath-fields. In the appointment of a committee in that case, nothing improper transpired. The result was, a report justifying the conduct of ministers in detaining that alien in custody, by stating that his detention was necessary to the safety of the state; and if a similar report were made on the case of the petitioner, no blame could attach to ministers. But for the sake of justice and humanity—for the sake of the minister whose character was implicated by the conduct complained of by the petitioner—and for the sake of the petitioner himself, he called upon the House to institute an enquiry. That enquiry was, indeed, necessary to satisfy the ends of public justice—to maintain the principles of the British constitution—and to afford a fair opportunity of justification to an obscure, 985 friendless foreigner—to a much traduced individual. The hon. gentleman concluded with moving, "That a select committee be appointed to enquire into the circumstances connected with the arrest and detention of Charles Random De Berenger, now a prisoner in his Majesty's gaol of Newgate."
§ Sir F. Burdett seconded the motion.
§ On the question being put,
§ Mr. Bathurst
said, he did not consider that any ground had been stated, which could warrant the House in adopting the motion of the hon. gentleman; and with that feeling he thought the best mode of disposing of the question, would be to move, that the House should proceed to the orders of the day.—As to the conduct of the Secretary of State, which had been arraigned on this occasion, he considered it perfectly justifiable; and, for his own part, if he were acting as a magistrate, he should think if he gave up the identical articles of property claimed by Mr. Berenger, which might, he did not say would; lead to his conviction, he should be guilty of a dereliction of his public duty, as adopting a line of conduct which would tend to defeat the ends of justice. It appeared, that they were called upon to defend themselves, not on account of the arrest of Berenger, but because it was deemed necessary to take from him certain articles. This was a very delicate point to entertain. He did not mean to say, that the practice of the Secretary of State's office should not be enquired into; but he deprecated a hasty and precipitate decision. The question did not stand on the fact of Berenger being in a peculiar situation—it was not be argued on that ground. What they were to enquire was, whether, under a general position, the Secretary of State had not a right; with reference to the safety of the country, to seize those papers? If it were the practice of the office, under the eye of parliament, to detain the papers of suspected individuals, then there arose a presumption, that such a proceeding was not an abuse of power, but a fair exercise of it. The Secretary of State did not assume this power merely from the situation which he filled; it was a power, which, in time of war, naturally and necessarily extended over aliens—and he knew, that at the time the Alien Act was introduced, very great doubts existed, whether such an enactment were wanted, to enable the King to send aliens out of his dominions, Now, it 986 did appear to him quite absurd, on sending an alien out of the kingdom for seditions practices, to give him all his papers, comprising, perhaps, those very documents on which the belief of his criminality was founded; or to permit him to depart without examining what money he had about him, for the purpose of discovering, if possible, from whom he received payment. The motion for the committee, which came before him and before the House by surprise, was not supported on any ground that could convince him of its necessity. The case of Colville, which had been alluded to, was very different. That person had been long in confinement, and examination became necessary. Many of the questions that had now been asked, could be answered, without having recourse to a committee; but, at all events, he did not think it would be right to comply with the motion, under the novel circumstances which accompanied it.—The hon. gentleman (Mr. Whitbread) having first moved that the Petition do lie on the table, and immediately after, having procured some more documents, called upon the House to adopt a fresh proceeding. The right hon. gentleman concluded by moving, "That the other orders of the day be proceeded in."
§ Mr. Horner
said, the gentlemen who had spoken against the motion, had given a stronger colour of importance to the debate, than if before had. The right hon. gentleman who last spoke had stated, that the question came before him by surprise! This was one of the most extraordinary circumstances he had ever heard What was the surprise the right hon. gentleman complained of? A transaction well known to the gentlemen opposite was introduced, and their own correspondence was read in their presence, in that House; this was the whole foundation for the statement that they were taken by surprise. Surely the right hon. gentleman (Mr. H. Addington), who was in the office of the Secretary of State, had a right to be acquainted with the case! Certainly they might allow the gentlemen opposite time to prepare their defence; but the House ought not to forget, that the prayer of the petitioner was most urgent—that he prayed for his liberation, in order that he might collect evidence, and facilitate his just defence—so that he might be placed on a level with his co-defendants in the indictment. Undoubtedly there might be a good reason for his detention—but that reason ought 987 to be most clearly pointed out to the House. The right hon. gentleman told them that he would be tried next week, and that he was an alien. But the first observation ought rather to render them anxious that every opportunity should be afforded him to make the necessary arrangements for his trial—and, with respect to the second, it was sufficient to observe, that he had been twenty years in this country in his Majesty's service. He, for one, did not wish to press for inquiry as to the legality of the power exercised, at the present moment. Let a proper pause be made—let the Alien Act be scrupulously examined, to see whether his Majesty's government had not committed a high crime and misdemeanor, in assuming a power which it did not give. But all this had nothing to do with the prayer of the petition—and it was the duty of the House to see immediately, what necessity there was for detaining this man in custody. He was willing to receive, as fact, the statement of the under secretary (Mr. H. Addington), that his detention had nothing to do with the fraud on the Stock Exchange. That fraud should be most minutely inquired into; and the public were much obliged to those individuals who had exerted themselves in tracing it to its source; but if it should be found that Berenger was imprisoned in consequence of that fraud, then he had no hesitation in saying, that the individuals by whom that imprisonment was authorised, were guilty of a high crime and misdemeanor.
§ Mr. H. Addington
said, that he had certainly been taken by surprise, because the hon. gentleman (Mr. Whitbread) had stated distinctly, that, unless he (Mr. Addington) or some other gentleman on that side of the House, could give satisfactory answers to his interrogatories, he would probably, at a future day, move for a committee to investigate the transaction. This impressed himself and other hon. members with an idea, that the question would not then be discussed—and many gentlemen had asked him whether there was any necessity for them to stay.—(Laughter, and cries of Hear.)—They were of course anxious to know, whether the debate was likely to come on, as they might wish to take a part in it. The hon. gentleman certainly could not expect, that he should be prepared, on the moment, to answer all his questions. The only notice he had received of the motion from 988 the hon. gentleman was, an intimations that he would probably present a petition in the course of the evening, from Berenger; and, as he had determined not to oppose it, if it were respectfully worded, he thought it would have been merely necessary for him to state generally the circumstances of the transaction. In his opinion no prima facie case had been made out to induce a suspicion that the Secretary of State had abused his powers under the Alien Act. And, if no prima facie case were made out, he could not see the propriety or necessity of agreeing to refer the business to a committee.
never heard a more ingenuous statement made in his life by any gentleman, than that with which they had just been favoured; and he assured the right hon. gentleman, that he felt obliged to him for his candour.—(A laugh.)—He was not disposed to press the question to an immediate decision, and therefore he would propose, that the motion should be adjourned till Monday or Tuesday.
§ Mr. Bathurst
said, there was already a motion and amendment before the House; he wished a decision to take place on these. If the suggestion of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Ponsonby) were adopted, he would not be placed in so favourable a situation on Monday, as that in which he at present stood.
§ Mr. Whitbread
observed, that when he originally addressed the House on the petition, he had certainly signified his intention, unless he received a satisfactory explanation on the subject, to move for a committee on a future day. But, in the course of the debate, so much prejudice was apparent—and the arguments of several learned gentlemen appeared so unjust, that he felt himself bound to take the step he had done—But having relieved himself, by the course he pursued, his object was gained, and he would cheerfully agree to adjourn the subject till Monday. Nor did he think that, by such a proceeding, the right hon. gentleman would be placed in a worse situation; for, even where personal charges of maladministration had been made against individuals, the debate had frequently been adjourned, and yet the party accused never found himself in a worse state than before. Two reasons particularly induced him to agree to the adjournment; first, because the right hon. gentleman (Mr. H. Addington) said, if time were 989 given him, he could answer every question satisfactorily; and next, because flocks of orators, who meant to speak on the question, had, it seems, gone away, and he did not wish the right hon. gentleman to fight with fewer troops than he had it in his power to muster—(A laugh.) The right hon. gentleman had said, that Berenger was not arrested on any charge whatever connected with the Stock Exchange. But that was not enough. He would ask, on the solemn responsibility of the right hon. gentleman, whether Berenger was now detained in consequence of the Stock Exchange fraud—or because it was considered that the state would be more secure if he were imprisoned, than if he were at large? The hon. gentleman then called upon the House to mark particularly the prayer of the petition; which was, "that the petitioner should be liberated, on bail; that he might prepare for his defence; which he could not do in prison, and which no human soul out of prison, could do but himself." If this prayer were refused, then the conviction on his (Mr. Whitbread's) mind was, that the Secretary of State considered his freedom as dangerous to the state; and nothing less than full proof of the foundation of such a feeling could satisfy the justice of the case.
§ Mr. Bathurst
persevered in his amendment, and the gallery was cleared for a division. The House did not, however, divide—and, as we understood, the renewal of the discussion was fixed for Monday the 23d instant.