HC Deb 03 July 1820 vol 2 cc156-66

On the order of the day for going into a committee of supply,

Mr. Creevey

rose to make a few observations upon a subject which the right hon. gentleman was going to introduce to their notice—he meant the expense of the ensuing Coronation. As yet there had not been placed upon their table any estimate of the sums of money which would be required for such a ceremony; and till such an estimate was presented to them, he for one, would not grant a single farthing for it. Indeed, it was his opinion, that, under the present circumstances of the country, no coronation ought to take place: for let honorable members consider—and if they did not consider, the public would consider for them—the situation to which that House was at present reduced. A green bag had been submitted as well to its notice as to the notice of the other House of Parliament. The other House had proceeded so far in the investigation of the contents of that bag as to render it extremely probable that a bill would be immediately introduced to expose her majesty the queen to the utmost disgrace and infamy. The House of Commons had, however, refused to enter with similar speed into a similar investigation; and yet, notwithstanding that circumstance, ministers, who knew well that that bag was lying on their table unopened, and that proceedings might arise from the opening of it which could only be terminated in another place—ministers had dared to come down, and to ask for a large grant of money to be expended in a grand gala, a great national jubilee, whilst the queen of the country was labouring under the most heavy and grievous accusations. If the laws of the land had prescribed any particular period, after the demise of one monarch and the accession of another, within which this ceremony of coronation was necessarily to take place, then, however painful the circumstances attending it might be, he should have said, let it take place within that period. But no such limitation existed, and therefore, under existing circumstances, it was most improper that it should be held at the time which was now fixed for it. Indeed, his majesty would be most imprudently advised if he did not postpone it until the conclusion of this investigation If there was any one country in the world more distinguished than another for honourable and chivalric feeling towards women, it was our own; and he would say, that he had never seen in it any individual who would wish to obtain gratification to himself by inflicting pain even upon the most degraded of the other sex. If, then, such were the state of feeling amongst us, with what disgust would the nation view its king mixing in all the revelry of a grand gala and jubilee—given too, not at his own but at the public expense—at the very time that its queen was made the subject of a grave and heinous accusation? It was said, that in the course of this inquiry there could be no recrimination; but even allowing that to be the case, which he did not believe, still it ought to be recollected that, so far as public feeling was concerned, the king was as much upon his trial as his illustrious consort. He thought that, as the House had decided that the inquiry now proposed would be both derogatory from the dignity of the Crown and injurious to the best interests of the empire, that inquiry ought not to be instituted; but if it were, it appeared to him that the coronation, costing the money which it would cost, and irritating the feelings of the country as it would irritate them, ought to be postponed until that inquiry was finally terminated.

Lord Castlereagh

observed, that he did not know upon what grounds the hon. member had come forward with so much zeal to attack the coronation, if it were not on the ground of the expense by which it would be attended; and upon that point he was happy to inform him that it would be much less than had been originally expected. With regard to the argument which the hon. member had built upon the unfortunate differences now existing between their majesties, he felt himself compelled to to say, that his majesty's rights were not to be impaired either by the absence or the presence of the queen on this occasion; for the coronation was not a grand gala, or national jubilee, as the hon. member had represented it, but a ceremony whereby the king ratified the compact which existed between himself and his people; and therefore was a ceremony which ought not to be delayed. His majesty's ministers deserved no blame on account of the period at which the coronation was to take place, as it had been fixed at the usual period after the death of the pre- ceding sovereign, and had been announced long before it was known that her majesty would return to England. If it occasioned pain to her majesty, ministers could not but regret that circumstance; but still it ought to be recollected, that her majesty's presence was not occasioned by them, and therefore, if it did cause her pain, they were not the authors of it. As, then, a day had been fixed for the coronation, as that coronation was the time when the king entered into a covenant with the nation to observe its laws and protect its interests, and as no public ground had been shown for deferring it, be did not feel it to be his duty to interfere in arresting it. Before he sat down he would take the opportunity of assuring the House, that 105,000l. would be the utmost expense which this coronation would cost to the country.

Dr. Lushington

apprehended that at present there were circumstances of so pecular a nature, both with respect to the situation of the queen-consort, and the State of the public finances, that ministers themselves must believe they would best discharge their duty by advising that this ceremony should be delayed. There was, in fact, no necessity for a coronation at all, and he believed it would be found, on referring to the history of this country, that many kings had reigned for a considerable time without having gone through that ceremony. If then, there was no necessity for his majesty's being crowned, it became a question whether or not, at the present moment, it was expedient. His hon. friend had stated, that while the trial of her majesty was going on, it was improper that there should be a public solemnity in which she could take no part. In this opinion he entirely concurred; and he also agreed with his hon. friend in thinking that it would be imprudent to rouse and provoke the feelings of the people of this country, at a time when they would be in a high state of excitation. He would appeal to the noble lord himself whether it was not impolitic to offer this additional excitement to public feeling at a time when the noble lord must know, from the addresses that were presented to her majesty, what the opinion of the people was respecting the treatment which she had received; and when he must also know, if he at all looked forward to futurity, that these feelings would hereafter become stronger than they were at present. But there was still another objec- tion which had more weight with him than either of those to which he had adverted—he meant the universal distress which at present pervaded the country. That distress was so real and so great, that he would not consent to vote away a single shilling of the public money for any purpose that was not absolutely and indispensably necessary. Let hon. gentlemen look at their table covered with petitions from the agriculturists; let them reflect on the present state of all the great manufacturing towns in the kingdom—Glasgow in ruins, Leeds in distress, and Birmingham scarcely able to support herself; let them also look at the situation of the sister kingdom, to relieve whose commercial distresses they had a few nights ago voted a grant of 500,000l.; and with this picture before their eyes, was the noble lord to tell them that 105,000l. was a small sum? It was not a small sum; it was a large amount, when the means of the country and the distresses of the people were taken into consideration. What would be the effect of a coronation at the present moment on the public feeling? They would have in the news-papers columns upon columns filled with accounts of this pompous ceremony, with gorgeous descriptions of the coronation robes, and of all the splendid trappings and costly equipage displayed on the occasion; and when the starving individuals in Glasgow, Leeds, and Birmingham, should read these accounts, and learn that 105,000l. had thus been spent in one day, while at that very moment there were hundreds of thousands of individuals in those towns without any means of subsistence—what effect, under those circumstances, could such an account have but to excite disgust and discontent? Let the House compare the misery and sufferings of these people with the pomp and pageantry of the proposed coronation, and then they would see if ministers were not exerting themselves to aggravate the distress of the country. They not only neglected the public distress, but were also wanting in attention to constitutional forms. They were erecting additional barracks at the present moment at Glasgow, at Manchester, and even in the metropolis: and for what purpose? Why, to keep down the dissatisfaction of the country. Thus, while they were taking measures on one hand to suppress discontent, they were on the other doing all in their power to excite it. If this measure were persisted in, he, for one, should say, that to whatever extremities the people might go, whatever outrages they might commit [Hear! from ministers]; he was not afraid to avow the sentiment; and lest the hon. gentleman should think that he might disavow it at some future period, he would now repeat, he believed in his conscience that whatever excesses the people might commit they had been driven to them by ministers, by their arrogant and oppressive conduct, and their contempt of public feeling. Did the hon. gentlemen opposite suppose that the spirit of the country was to be fettered and manacled by those volunteers that were now raising, or that it was to be kept down by the barracks that were rising up in every direction? This effect might indeed be produced for a short time—but only for a short time; for there was still spirit enough in the country to lay in the dust all the machinations of the hon. gentleman and his colleagues. He had thought it his duty to state these sentiments. On looking at the events which had occurred for some time past, and at the measures which had been adopted in consequence of those events he firmly believed that no bills could effectually put down disaffection, because he was convinced that disaffection never existed generally amongst a people, except it were the consequence of misgovernment on the part of their rulers.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

expressed his surprise at the observations of the hon. and learned gentleman, as he had allowed the subject to sleep so long unnoticed. The hon and learned gentleman knew of it long ago from the king's proclamation. He had, however, chosen to wait until a considerable expence had been incurred, and when the question was, not so much whether the public money should be paid, but whether the tradesmen who had been employed should be honourably paid? He wished the hon. and learned gentleman to consider, whether or not when the complaint from many parts of the country was of a want of employment, the occurrence of such a great public solemnity as that in contemplation was peculiarly desirable, giving work as it must to many branches of the unoccupied? The hon. and learned gentleman must know that the sum voted from the public purse would form but a small part of the money that would be expended on the occasion. He must know that the expence to which the higher classes of so- ciety would be put in consequence of the approaching solemnity, would very much exceed the amount to be taken from the public purse. He must know that the whole of this expenditure would go to enliven industry and employ the manufacturers, who were in want of such a stimulus. The hon. and learned gentleman must know that the peculiar grievance in the country was the want of animation which trade experienced. Above all times, therefore, the present was the time in which an ancient custom, which would contribute to produce that animation, ought not to be relinquished. As the hon. and learned gentleman asserted that there was a want of fidelity to the constitution on the part of the people, could there be a better occasion on which that disaffection might be diminished than one in which the monarch on the one hand promised protection, while the people on the other pledged themselves to pay the tribute of their allegiance? Was the present a time to depart from an ancient usage of that nature? Was it a time to abandon those forms which our ancestors had established, and which had so long been maintained? Was it not rather a time at which, with all due attention to economy, the most venerable and splendid ceremony of our constitution ought to be properly observed? The hon. and learned gentleman had gone rather to extremities in his speech. He had, by anticipation, apologised for any outrages to which he thought the people would be prompted by the extravagance of ministers [Dr. Lushington expressed his dissent across the table]. He hoped then that he had misunderstood the hon. and learned gentleman, and he was persuaded it would give the House satisfaction, if the hon. and learned gentleman could explain the expressions to which he alluded. What he had understood the hon. and learned gentleman to deelare was, that the extravagance of ministers was a just ground for expecting that the people would proceed to extremities and outrage.

Dr. Lushington

said, that what he had stated was, that the distress of the country was occasioned by the extravagance of ministers.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

continued. He would say no more on that point. With respect to the coronation of his majesty, he begged to observe that the period when that ceremony should take place, was fixed long before the arrival of the queen. The period having been so fixed, it did not become necessary to alter it in consequence of any difference which existed in the royal family, and there having been no previous objection started to the coronation of his majesty, the House ought to provide for the expenses attendant on it.

Colonel Davies

was of opinion, that the period fixed for his majesty's coronation was a most inconvenient one. Irritated as the public mind now was, it might be productive not only of disorder and riot, but of bloodshed. Why, then, should his majesty's advisers propose such a proceeding at this moment? It was not indispensably necessary that his majesty should be crowned immediately. His late majesty was not crowned until 13 months after his accession. He thought, therefore, that as there was no other mode of repressing tumult on this occasion than by calling out an extraordinary number of the military, the danger likely to arise had better be avoided by postponing the coronation for the present.

Mr. T. Wilson

said, it was not his intention to prejudge the guilt or innocence of her majesty, but he thought it would be derogatory from the dignity of the crown to refuse the sum proposed to defray the expenses of his majesty's coronation. It was rather odd that those gentlemen who had now objected to this ceremony, had not, on any former occasion, signified their disapprobation of its taking place at the time proposed. Any objection on that head ought to have been made at an earlier period.

Mr. Bennet

said, the hon. gentleman had accused his side of the House for not having taken an earlier opportunity of opposing the coronation at the period proposed. But who was it that proposed that coronation—who was it that directed the erection of the works for it? It was his majesty's ministers, not the opposition, as neither he nor his friends had any opportunity of speaking on the subject until it came fairly before the House. He could not help feeling, that nothing was more likely to excite public indignation, than to find, that while one House was agitating a bill of pains and penalties against her majesty, the other was employed in voting a sum of money to be expended in the pageantry and show of the coronation of the king. Historians had remarked, that in the reign of Henry 8th, the public mind had been much agitated, while proceedings were pending against the queen of that monarch, at observing the festivities and pageantry of that court. He thought it not unlikely that a similar feeling would be entertained now, if it was found, that while the ceremony of the coronation was going on in Westminster Abbey, a bill of pains and penalties was pending against the queen.

Mr. Robinson

said, he rose principally to make a few observations, which were drawn from him by the extraordinary and unmeaning rant of the hon. and learned doctor, who had worked himself into a most violent passion, and had belaboured his majesty's ministers most unmercifully; but if there was any foundation for that harangue, the hon. and learned doctor had been lamentably remiss in his duty in not calling them to account long ago. He ought to have objected to the first step taken in preparing for the coronation; he had not however done so, and therefore the learned doctor was wrong in now objecting to the expenses necessary to carry that object into effect. It was objected that so large a sum should be expended in the mere pageantry of a coronation, and that too while a bill of pains and penalties was pending against her majesty. He denied that the coronation was a pageantry. Let the hon. member look to the preamble to the act of king William, and he would find that the coronation was any thing but a parade. The king was bound to take certain oaths, and it would be a fault in ministers to delay his majesty's doing so. The hon. member then read the oath which his majesty was bound to take, "that he was bound to govern the country according to the statutes; that he should administer justice in mercy; that he would maintain the religion of the country as by law established, &c." Would the House, after this, say that the coronation was a matter of choice? He maintained it was matter of law, and could not be dispensed with [Hear, hear!]. This being the case, bow could ministers have justified themselves in advising the postponement of so important a measure? Next came the objection in point of time. He remembered, that six months since, a great objection was, that it was to take place in the dog-days: however this might be, he was sure that Christmas would be found a much more inconvenient period. The public curiosity would naturally be excited on the occasion, and ministers would undergo no small portion of blame, if a period was fixed when the ceremony of the coronation could not be witnessed at all.

Mr. W. Smith

would ask the right hon. gentleman, if he really believed that the king, after he had taken the coronation oath would be more or less bound to reign according to law than he was after he had taken the oath before the privy council? Could it be said that he was at any future period to be absolved from any of his regal functions because he had not taken a coronation oath? As to those splendid ceremonies, of which the chancellor of the exchequer had spoken as calculated to support the dignity of the Crown, he conceived that they were—"more honoured in the breach than in the observance." He appealed to every hon. gentleman, whether it was not his opinion that the feelings of the country were more in favour of economy than of the most splendid public exhibition. He had hitherto purposely abstained from saying any thing on the question of the queen; and if he were now to speak his sentiments, he apprehended they would not please either side of the House. He thought that the propriety or impropriety of having a coronation while proceedings were going on against her majesty, was merely a matter of feeling; but it was a matter that came home to the mind and bosom of every person.

Mr. Baring

concurred with his hon. friends as to the unfitness of the period chosen for the coronation; but with regard to the expense, he could not think that there would be any man in the country whose feelings would be shocked by it. The estimate was certainly far less than he had anticipated. Although it was undoubtedly of extreme importance that the king should be crowned soon after his accession, yet he could not see that a delay of 6, of 12, or of 18 months even, was material. He thought, also, that the ceremony should be performed with great solemnity; but he repeated that he could not see the necessity of being particular as to the precise period of the event. Pending the present proceedings with regard to her majesty, however, the celebration of that solemnity was likely to be not only unpleasant to the feelings of the people, but to have a very injurious effect upon the minds of many. If her majesty were declared innocent, every person would say, notwithstanding that it might be the right of the Crown to determine whether or no she should be | | crowned, that it was a great hardship to exclude her from a participation in the ceremony of the coronation. But his principal object in rising was, to suggest that upon the coronation of a new king, some alteration should be adopted in the oaths which were to be taken by him. The whole of the family and race of the Pretender having now ceased, he thought his majesty's ministers should devise some alteration in the oaths.

Sir M. W. Ridley

hoped, that should the coronation take place, a due regard would be paid to the encouragement of British manufacture. The article of velvet particularly ought to be encouraged on this occasion. It was true that English velvet could not compete with that of Genoa, yet it was equally handsome in appearance. This might appear a trifling consideration, but he hoped it would not be forgotten by his majesty's advisers.

Mr. Tierney

said, that as to the vote to be proposed, he was not aware that he should have any thing to object on that account. He was no enemy, on some occasions, to pageants, and, least of all, to such a pageant as the one in question. But he regretted that it was determined that the coronation should take place upon the 1st of August. He sincerely lamented that his majesty should have been advised to come to such a resolution. After the steps, however, which had been taken, after the official letters that had been addressed to all parties concerned, it was hardly, perhaps, to be expected, that his majesty should stop short in the transaction. He did not, at the same time, think that there were ten gentlemen in the House who would not thank him, if he could devise any means by which the celebration of the coronation could be farther deferred. Now, after the arrival of her majesty in this country, he did own that he had hoped the propriety and necessity of such a postponement would have been felt and acted upon. He should be liable to a great deal of misunderstanding, if he were to state all that he apprehended as likely to result from the coronation so speedily taking place. The general opinion was that her majesty had been oppressed. He did not here mean to say a word as to the opinion of her innocence or guilt; yet it could not be contended for a moment but that this opinion of her being oppressed was the general feeling; and the one which pervaded not only the lower classes, but the higher ranks of so- ciety also. He would ask any man whether this was a moment to be selected for a coronation, when her majesty was residing in a miserable house in Portman-street? The right hon. gentleman had referred to an act of parliament; and that undoubtedly was a very important one. if it had directed that the oaths should be taken within a few weeks, it might have been a conclusive authority; but the fact was, that they had always been postponed where particular circumstances required. For instance, his late majesty's coronation was deferred in this way, upon the ground that he was about to espouse the late queen, upon which account it was thought better that the two coronations should be performed at once. So in the present case, if all the grounds of suspicion should be done away with, he was prepared to contend, that her majesty should be crowned. If his majesty's coronation should be deferred till that were the case, she would be entitled to participate in that exalted honour. The noble lord could not deny that in consequence of the proposed coronation a larger military force than usual was to be introduced into the metropolis. Now, under these circumstances, he thought that more cruel, more unfriendly, or more unkind advice could not have been given to the Crown, than to proceed with this important measure; and he agreed that ministers were to be held responsible for all the acts which might follow. He pressed upon the attention of the House the mischievous consequences which might result from the occurrence of the coronation on the 1st of August, while the minds of men were so entirely occupied by the question of the exclusion, just or unjust, of her majesty from the full enjoyment of her right. He thought that its postponement could he productive of no bad effect; whereas its celebration upon that day might be productive of consequences which could not be foreseen.

Mr. Ricardo

thought that if the various articles likely to be consumed at the coronation could be bought cheaper in the foreign than the home market, there could be no objection to their not being home manufacture, seeing that they must be purchased by the produce of our own industry.

The House then went into the committee, in which it was resolved, "That 100,000l. be granted on account of the expenses of his majesty's coronation,