HC Deb 08 February 1821 vol 4 cc511-23
Lord Ebrington

presented a petition from South Moulton, condemning the proceedings against the Queen, and praying for an inquiry into the circumstances which led to the Milan commission. His lordship stated, that 976 signatures had been affixed to this petition in a space of eight days; and that he could bear testimony to the respectability of many of those signatures. On the other hand, the corporation address of the same town, which address contained many unnecessary protestations of loyalty, had received only 183 signatures in a longer space of time, and five were those of excisemen. The noble lord opposite had observed, that the good sense of the country was to be collected from corporation addresses. Now, it was a fact, that several of those who signed the loyal address of South Moulton had also affixed their names to the petition he had the honour to present.

Mr. Monck

presented petitions from Hungerford and Newbury, complaining of the distresses under which the petitioners laboured, and praying for the discontinuance of any further proceedings against her majesty, and the restoration of her name to the Liturgy. Adverting to the depression of trade at Newbury, the hon. gentleman observed, that that place had formerly returned members to parliament, but had been relieved from doing so by its own prayer. At that period members of parliament received wages from their constituents. If such were the case at present—if other boroughs, which, like Newbury, had lost their trade, were compelled to pay wages to their representatives, he believed that one and all would petition to be disfranchised. But circumstances were now very different. If many of the boroughs had lost their regular trade, they had found a new, but he feared a contraband one, although it did not appear to be at all offensive to the gentlemen of the Treasury. He trusted that parliament would attend to the public feeling, which had been so strongly expressed with reference to her majesty. He was not one of those who held that the old maxim "Vox populi vox Dei," was to be acknowledged on all occasions. Sometimes he knew that the people were mistaken. For instance, in the cry some years ago, of "No popery;" a cry encouraged by ministers themselves, and to the prevalence of which they were indebted for their power. Such an expression of popular sentiment was far from being identified with consummate wisdom. But, whenever the expression of public feeling was reasonable, even whenever it was harmless, it ought to be attended to. He was persuaded that the public tranquillity would not be restored until her majesty's name was restored to the Liturgy.

Mr. Denison

presented a petition from the freeholders of Surrey. It prayed for economical reform, the abolition of useless offices, and the restoration of her majesty's name to the Liturgy. No county was more loyal than the county of Surrey; and he believed that the prayer of their petition was that of nine-tenths of the people of this country. Whatever taunts might be thrown out against petitioning by the noble lord opposite, he hoped the people would never be prevented from exercising that valuable and constitutional right.

Lord Althorp

bore testimony to the respectability of the meeting. United as the country evidently was, as to the expediency of restoring her majesty's name to the Liturgy, he thought it would be hardly possible for the House to resist so unanimous a declaration.

Mr. W. L. Maberly,

said, that ministers ought to have resigned their places rather I than have instituted the proceedings against the Queen.

Sir W. De Crespigny

deplored, that a period should have arrived when county meetings were treated with contempt. It was the only mode by which the people could state their wrongs and speak their wishes.

Mr. Calvert

observed, that the noble lord opposite had declared that ministers had no wish to remain longer in office than while they possessed the confidence of the country. If the opinion of a great and opulent county, such as Surrey, would have any weight with the noble lord, he would refer him for that opinion even to the hon. member for Surrey, who had not been intrusted to present the petition of his constituents, and who could inform the noble that a more respectable and orderly meeting had never been assembled. And what was the result? That, when the question was put to the vote, there were about half a dozen hands held up against 3 or 400. The hon. member for Surrey complained that his friends were not present. Why they were not present he knew not, unless they thought that the cause which the hon. gentleman wished them to support was too bad a one to be countenanced.

Mr. H. Sumner

said, he did not wish to impeach the respectabiltty of the meeting at Epsom. All he maintained was, that those who received the opinion of a meeting of about 400 persons as the Opinion of the county of Surrey, laboured tinder a great delusion. The hon. gentleman had asked, why his (Mr. S. 's) friends had not attended the meeting? The fact was, that the language of the requisition, was so moderate, that although, as one of the members for the county, he thought it his duty to be present, in order to give any explanation that might be required of his conduct, he had discouraged many who had applied to him on the subject from attending. The requisition was merely for a meeting to petition for the discontinuance of further proceedings against her majesty, in order that the time and attention of parliament might be directed to the various important questions of domestic and foreign policy, which required their immediate consideration. What he complained of, however, was, the unfair and indecent course, as respected one of the representatives of the county, which was pursued towards the close of the meeting, when a proposition was made by an hon. gentleman, and persevered in, notwithstanding the suggestion of the high sheriff, that the object expressed in the requisition ought not to be exceeded or departed from. The original resolutions were carried, and a large portion of the meeting had dispersed, when this attack was made upon him by the hon. gentleman. This he did not consider fair or generous treatment. That attack ought to have been made while his friends were yet present. If the hon. gentleman had determined to have a triumph, it ought to have been a direct, and not an indirect one.

Mr. Macdonald

declared, that he had moved the resolution of which the hon. gentleman complained, because he thought it his duty as a freeholder of the county of Surrey to do so. The conduct of a representative in parliament was always a fair subject for criticism at a county meeting, and he should have thought that the hon. gentleman would have felt that his conduct on the subject respecting which the meeting were convened, must be so fresh in their minds, that it could not escape scrutiny. Nor had he any right to complain of want of generosity, who had recently exhibited so egregious a want of that quality. In the animadversions which he had felt it his duty to make on the hon. gentleman's conduct, he had not adverted to any hearsay information. He had spoken of facts which were as clear as day, of the course which the hon. gentleman had pursued in that House. As to the period of making his motion, it was impossible that he could have made it before the original resolutions on which the petition was founded, were agreed to. He denied, therefore, that his conduct had been either unmanly or ungenerous. He had merely given effect to what were decidedly the wishes of the meeting.

Mr. Maberly

said, he never witnessed an expression of greater disapprobation of the parliamentary conduct of a repre- sentative than that which had been manifested at the meeting towards the hon. gentleman. He could assure the House, that ministers had not the support of the county of Surrey in their anomalous proceedings against her majesty. That county participated in the general dissatisfaction which had been expressed throughout the kingdom. It was the attempt to inflict unmerited degradation on her majesty which was so universally offensive. Even before trial, the gentlemen over the way exhibited reluctance to pronounce her majesty's name. It was that kind of conduct with which the people of England were dissatisfied. It was contended, that the omission of her majesty's name in the Liturgy was a mere exercise of the royal prerogative. But who was it that advised that the royal prerogative should be so exercised? He maintained, that the omission was illegal; and that her majesty had a right to be restored to the Liturgy, and to all the other benefits of a perfect acquittal.

Mr. Denman

said, that as so much had been said on the subject of the restoration of her majesty's name to the Liturgy, he felt it his duty to take this, the earliest opportunity in his power of declaring his sentiments. From what had lately occurred, and more particularly after the extraordinary speech of the noble lord opposite the night before last, it appeared to him more than ever necessary that the people should press for the restoration of her majesty's name to the liturgy. It was very painful for him to be obliged to say, that since the abandonment of the bill of Pains and Penalties, there had been more unjust, more iniquitous, and more cruel calumnies heaped up against the Queen than even before the introduction of that measure. Was it not time to require that justice should be done the Queen, when her prosecutors had the hardihood to boast of the bundles of depositions containing evidence against her majesty, which they had refrained from producing at the trial? Could any thing be more despicable than this declaration of the existence of evidence which they flared not produce where it could have been rebutted? Although the proceedings against the Queen had commenced in her condemnation before proof was offered—although they were carried on with the mean and miserable shuffling of withholding from her majesty, during the process, the rank and title which was her right—although the committee formed of ministers themselves had at the outset declared an opinion upon ex parte evidence, yet what had occurred since that trial was still more glaring, and more contrary to the principles of justice. What could be more unfair than the circulation throughout the country of the attorney-general's opening speech, containing such a series of charges which the hon. and learned gentleman was obliged to abandon the moment he came to prove his case? How came that opening statement to have been sent forth to the world, and circulated throughout the country at the public expense? and more particularly when his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Brougham) was, contrary to the practice and principles of courts of justice, refused the opportunity of replying to that speech at the time, and doomed to witness its circulation throughout the country for three weeks without observation. He should ever consider that as the greatest act of injustice which an individual on trial had ever had to encounter—an act the more glaring when it was recollected that the party on trial was a female, and that her character and reputation were at stake. He charged it upon his majesty's ministers as the worst part of their conduct throughout the whole of this bad transaction, that they held out an expectation of having a more enlarged case for the House of Commons than they offered to the consideration of the House of Lords. Was that honourable or just? Was it consistent with honour and justice, after the abandonment of the bill, to circulate through the country, in violation of the strict privileges of parliament, pamphlets purporting to be the speeches delivered by certain of the ministers in their places in parliament upon the Queen's case—to circulate them widely and gratuitously with all their exaggerations, and under government franks? Very different, indeed, had been the conduct of the right hon. member for Oxford, who, in delivering his sentiments, came forward in a calm and dignified manner, and with fairness and candour, and a statesmanlike feeling, stated the question as it struck his mind. Such a conduct presented a contrast to that of his majesty's ministers, and, indeed, to that of the majority of that House, who seemed, unfortunately, ready to go any length in support of those ministers. The ministers had exhibited no feeling which entitled them to credit.

When they had abandoned their bill, and as they now expressed it, had determined to drop the prosecution, why not have had the generosity and fueling to apprize the Queen of that determination? But their conduct indicated any thing rather than an abandonment of the attack. If they were serious in their intention of abandoning it, why were they deprived of that which they never before stood so lamentably in want of—namely, the support of the right hon. member for Liverpool? Why had that right hon. gentlemen withdrawn himself from the cabinet, if all proceedings against the Queen were abandoned? Though the bill had been abandoned, yet parliament had scarcely met when the noble lord opposite had come down to that House, and had thrown out insinuations and invectives against her majesty, which—but he would not pursue the course which he was about to be betrayed into. It was impossible that any one in private life could have been doomed to undergo the unrelenting persecution which her majesty had undergone. He would put it to the House whether her majesty had been fairly treated by ministers? He would suppose a case. He would suppose that a man, who had been, formerly, a minister in Ireland, had been accused of bribery, of gross corruption in that country, at the time of the Union. He would suppose that minister accused, not merely of corruption at the time of the Union, but of acts of a far more horrible description. He would suppose that, respecting the conduct of that man, rumours had gone abroad of an appalling kind; that a commission had been sent to Ireland to collect witnesses against him, supported by the strength and influence of the Crown; that a bill of Pains and Penalties had been brought in against him, and a hostile minister was determined to ensure a conviction at all hazards; suppose that the proceedings terminated in the House of Lords—that the abashed prosecutors and abettors of the measure were obliged to give it up in despair. In that case what would they think of a minister who should come down to the House of Commons, and say, we could, if we wished, bring forward more evidence—we had the depositions of eighty persons, but as a matter of grace and favour, we have not examined them? Was it possible that such quibbles, such miserable insinuations should be attended to, after the ministers had done their worst? Was it to be endured that, after her majesty had triumphed over the witnesses that had been produced, her character should suffer from witnesses that her accusers dare not produce? He would appeal to the candor of the House, whether her majesty, notwithstanding her acquittal, was not, night after night, exposed to the observations of the noble lord? In the subject of the restoration of her majesty's name to the Liturgy, he would merely say, that from the very moment that that exclusion had taken place, he never entertained the slightest doubt of the illegality of that act; he never lost an opportunity, of giving his opinion on the subject. The Queen was now accused of refusing the bounty of that House, unless her name was restored to the Liturgy. Now, all he would say upon that point was, that when the noble lord approached her with money in one hand, and gross, unfounded, and refuted imputations in the other, if her majesty had accepted that money, proffered under such circumstances, and by such a minister, she would, in his opinion, merit the indignation which her enemies in vain attempted to excite against her in the breasts of a generous and gallant people, who admire her virtues—who pity her sufferings and, who never will desert her so long as she remains true to herself. Lord Castlereagh said, it was not his intention to follow the learned gentleman into the wide field of discussion which he had broached; not that he was averse to meet him upon any or all the points he had dilated upon, but because he thought it would be more convenient for him to wait until the question of the Liturgy. It did not follow that, because the learned gentleman had thought proper, in the discharge of his professional duty, to utter this sort of declamation, that therefore, he (Lord C.) should be provoked to embark in a premature debate. The question respecting the omission of the Queen's name in the Liturgy stood for debate upon an early day, and it was whimsical enough, that the learned gentleman could not wait until that time, but should, on the present occasion, have blazed forth upon what was not to be found in the speech, upon which he professed to comment, but which he must have got from the brief, from which no doubt he spoke—

Mr. Denman

rose to order. He had spoken as a member of parliament, and the noble lord was disorderly in alluding to him in any other character.

The Speaker

said, if the House thought that the noble lord had exceeded the freedom of debate, then he could have no hesitation in saying that the noble lord was disorderly; but he did not think that the passage of the speech alluded to, conveyed an attack of a personal kind.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that nothing was further from his intention than to reflect personally upon the learned gentleman. Indeed he thought he had diminished rather than increased the effect of the learned gentleman's sentiments, and which, from the variance they presented at one moment from those uttered at another, and particularly in conjunction with his learned colleague (Mr. Brougham), certainly were calculated to lead to the notion, that at one moment the learned gentlemen were delivering their own opinions, while at another they were merely speaking from their briefs. But certainly, as the learned gentleman spoke now as a member of parliament, and not as a counsel, he should have taken care to state accurately the contents of his (lord C's.) speech. Now, as to what had been said respecting the circulation of particular speeches, why should the gentlemen opposite complain that authentic copies of particular speeches had been circulated throughout the country? What else could they expect. If, indeed, the gentlemen opposite had been silent when the bill was withdrawn, then they might expect that others would have followed their example; but had the gentlemen opposite pursued that prudent course? Had they not, at the different meetings throughout the country, arraigned, in the most severe terms, the motives and conduct of ministers during the late transactions—had they not, in the most unsparing terms, attacked both their public and private motives, and charged them with eliciting nothing but "filthy lies." The hon. gentlemen opposite were to have free warren and free chace against ministers,—they were to have all the battle to themselves—they were to handle every topic of irritation, and ministers were not to be allowed to raise a hand in their own defence. They were to allow that part of the press which was in the pay of her majesty to cast forth sentiments and expressions so base as to find no parallel in the whole range of the public press; and yet it was to be held a high crime and misdemeanor against ministers, if authentic copies of certain speeches by some means or other found their way into the post-bags of the country. Now, with respect to the depositions of witnesses, he had never said, that any depositions or proofs that could impart information at the bar of the House of Lords had been withheld. His argument was, that it was not to be inferred that government ever considered the case as defective—that a great number of witnesses had given in depositions, but it was found utterly impossible to prevail on those witnesses to come to this country. Did the learned gentleman recollect the brutal attack that had been made on the witnesses at Dover? When that circumstance was known in Italy, a number of persons, terrified at the intelligence, could not be prevailed on to come to England; and even a considerable number of important witnesses who had arrived at Paris, alarmed for their personal safety, refused to proceed further. The learned gentleman and his colleagues took a legal advantage of the absence of these persons, and insisted that the trial should proceed without delay. This was an unfair and unjust attack. And was the country to be told that the conduct of those who indulged in it was never to be questioned? He would now give the learned gentleman notice, that so long as he and others who called themselves the Queen's friends, but whom he regarded as her most injudicious advisers, continued to bring forward such injudicious charges; as long as they continued to make the name of her majesty the instrument of their own purposes, without regarding her interest or honour; as long as they continued to misrepresent ministers, and to impute to them intentions which they had never contemplated, he should never feel restrained from exposing the truth to the House and the country.

Mr. Denman

said, that with respect to the attack on the witnesses at Dover, that circumstance never came within his knowledge. With respect to certain witnesses having been on the road, he did not know that fact, and he did not believe it.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that the fact had been proved on oath.

Mr. Hume

called upon the noble lord distinctly to state what papers were in the pay of her majesty.

Mr. Alderman Wood

said, that the members for Somerset and Surrey had talked of large accounts, which they stated, on hearsay, to be unpaid by her majesty; but he understood that the member for Surrey had been unable to get from his constituents any information of such unpaid bills, or of any sums of money paid by her majesty forgetting up processions. He was, indeed, ready to state to those hon. members, that if they could produce one instance of a bill being unpaid, or of a single shilling being laid out by her majesty to promote or defray the expense of processions, he would give them 100l. for each shilling so discovered. The noble lord, finding he could not substantiate the charges which he made against the Queen respecting her answers to the Dover and the Canterbury addresses, had made one more attempt of the same kind by fixing on the answer to the Wandsworth address; and the right hon. commissioner of woods and forests had handed a book to the noble lord, and had referred him to page 73, in which her majesty was represented to have used the words "my people." So indeed it was stated in this book; but would the noble lord inform the House by whom, and for what purpose, this book had been written? He had examined the manuscript of that answer, and the expression there was, "the people." Was it, then, to be tolerated that any other hon. member should make such unfounded statements to the prejudice of the Queen? With regard to the outrage committed at Dover on the persons of the Italian witnesses, he had reason to believe that the whole assault consisted in these wretches being scoffed at by a few old women. He would state the fact: twelve or fourteen of those miserable wretches landed at Dover; they had little wallets at their backs, which were to be filled, he supposed, by the liberal hands of ministers; those wallets were examined by the Custom-house officers; some old women scoffed at them; and one very old woman, laughing louder than the others, addressed one of the witnesses thus—"Get home again, you Italian wretch." This was the disgraceful outrage which in the opinion of government, rendered it. necessary to send those witnesses to Holland!

Mr. Honeywood

presented a similar petition from the county of Kent. The high sheriff, notwithstanding the requisition was signed by the most respectable inhabitants, had refused to convene a meeting of the county. The meeting, therefore, had been obliged to be held in the town-hall of Maidstone. He believed it was the first time in the memory of man that a meeting of that county had not been held in the open air. It was, therefore, not so numerous as it might have been. The meeting, however, such as it was, was most unanimous; one hand only being held up against the resolutions by a half-pay lieutenant of the waggon train.

Sir E. Knatchbull

said, that, generally speaking, he thought it was the duty of the sheriff to call a meeting, when he was satisfied with the respectability of the requisition. In this instance, the sheriff, after some deliberation, had felt it his duty to decline calling the meeting, because he thought the general feeling of the county was against the meeting; and it should be remarked, that when he had so refused, there could not be found five magistrates in the county to convene the meeting.

Sir R. Wilson

avowed himself one of the requisitionists alluded to. The high sheriff had only to look to the number and respectability of the signatures, without any reference to the sentiments of the county. This was one more instance of the impolicy of the noble lord's bill on this subject.

Dr. Lushington

thought, that a more complete exemplification of the impolicy of the noble lord's bill had never been presented. It was now come to that pass, that when a requisition, signed by four or; five peers, and sundry other persons holding rank in the county, was presented to a high sheriff, it was refused to be complied with under the enactments of this act. This was not at all to be wondered at, when it was considered who the sheriffs were. They were nominated by the Crown, and the magistrates were under the same nomination. The lord lieutenant appointed them; and it frequently happened, that they elected those who agreed with them in political opinion. The system now acted upon came to this—that you cannot have a county meeting, unless you find five magistrates holding the same political opinions with yourself. The sheriff now, by his single fiat, took upon himself to determine whether or not a county meeting should be held. He would say, the sheriff had no right to take the object of the meeting into his consideration, before he complied with the call of any set of requisitionists. To what these measures might ultimately force the people of England, he would not say; but if any thing could force them to disorderly courses, it was likely to be the loss of those rights which had been unjustly and tyrannically taken from them.

After some further conversation, the petitions were ordered to lie on the table and to be printed.