HC Deb 21 February 1828 vol 18 cc585-99
Mr. Portman

rose to inquire, whether it was the intention of the Treasury to take any steps I for inquiring into the complaints of the Maltsters?

Mr. Herries

said, that his right hon. friend, the chancellor of the Exchequer, would be better able to speak upon the subject than he was; but he knew that his right hon. friend meant to lose no time in entering into personal communication with the parties, upon the matters in which they thought themselves aggrieved.—While he was upon his legs he might as well take the opportunity of removing one or two erroneous impressions which had gone abroad, as to part of the statement which he had made on a former evening. He was aware that in doing this he was a little out of order; but where the personal feelings of a member were concerned, it was the cus- tom of the House to extend some indulgence. He had stated, on a former evening, that he had heard on that evening, for the first time, and with great surprise, the fact, that the resignation of his right hon. friend, the Secretary for the Colonies, had been made known to the noble lord at the head of the late government on the 29th of December. That this, and nothing else, had been his statement he was convinced, both from his own recollection and from, his knowledge of what was the real fact; and, as a further confirmation, he might be excused for observing, that he found his meaning distinctly so expressed in two publications which were known to attend very ably and correctly to the matters that passed in that House. He would repeat, that his observation on the preceding evening had been confined most strictly withinthislimit,—thathe,onthatnight,had heard for the first time, that the Secretary of the Colonies had tendered his resignation to the noble lord at the head of the government on the 29th of December; not that he then learned for the first time (which undoubtedly he could not do) the fact, that that resignation had been tendered at all. In the two interviews previous to that date, he might say safely, that he had been ignorant as to what an extent the perseverance of the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies, upon the point in difference between them, had been carried. Had he been aware of that fact, it was possible—he did not say that the thing would have been so, but it was possible— he might have been induced to give it further consideration. His statement to the House, on a former evening, had been I such as he now declared, and no other; and both "The Times" and the "Morning Chronicle" had given distinctly the fact, that he had complained, that the resignation of his right hon. friend, on the 29th of December, had not been communicated to him; that he had not been informed of it until the 5th of January. It had been supposed and said that, in what he had stated, lie meant to convey a denial of the truth of the account of the noble lord at the head of the late government, as to the causes by which that government had been dissolved. When any man of character— far less such an individual as the noble lord alluded to—spoke of motives, he could have no hesitation in saying, that such a declaration was unanswerable—that of his own motives he must be incomparably the best judge; but, at the same time, nothing could alter his (Mr. Herries) personal conviction, founded upon all that he knew of the facts, that the trifling circumstance of the difference between his right hon. friend, the Secretary for the Colonies, and himself—trifling, as compared with other matters, and, he repeated, most trifling, because he had been ready to settle it in the most, amicable way, by his own resignation—by the sacrifice, if there was to be any sacrifice, of himself,—that a difference so easily disposed of never could be, and never had been, the true and operative cause of the dissolution of the late government. Other causes, and far more important ones, had been pressing—that was the truth—with an embarrassing weight upon the administration; and he did believe, that no arguments would ever convince impartial persons, who took the trouble to advert to all the facts, that so trifling a circumstance as was alleged, had been the cause of so important a catastrophe.

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, that his only excuse for intruding upon the House was, the speech which had just been made by the right hon. gentleman; and he confessed, so far from taking it as an explanation, that he had never heard any address from an hon. member that surprised him more. If his senses, on a preceding evening, had not entirely failed him, he had heard the right hon. gentleman say, that it was then, for the first time, that he had heard of the resignation of the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies. Nay, the right hon. gentleman had repeated the expression: he had used it twice. This was not only his impression, but that of several other members around him; and he was astonished to find the right hon. gentleman, three days afterwards, giving the statement a totally different construction. He expected, after this, that the right hon. gentleman would next explain away the well-remembered words which he had uttered—" I know it." One expression was just as clear as the other. With respect to the whole statement, indeed, of the right hon. gentleman, he came to the same conclusion. He believed that the right hon. gentleman's object was to mystify the late transactions, so that they should be beyond all mortal understanding; and, if such was his intent, he had completely succeeded. If any thing like explanation was meant by the right hon. gentleman's speeches, he protested that he considered them as a most exemplary failure.

Mr. Herries

said, that perhaps the House would allow him to re-state a fact, which he apprehended the hon. member had not distinctly heard. He had stated, on a preceding evening, not that which the hon. member imputed to him, but that he had heard, on that night, for the first time, that the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies had resigned on the 29th of December: and he had added a complaint, that he had not been informed of that fact, until the 5th of January. Two morning papers, which had reported his speech upon that evening, distinctly confirmed his present representation of that which he had said. He desired to repeat that representation; and if the hon. member still doubted its accuracy, he might refer to the reports which he had alluded to; but which it was not possible for him, in his own justification, to produce.

Lord Milton

thought that the House was bound to take the fact to be as the right hon. gentleman had stated it. There could be no doubt but that he must be best able to decide that which he himself had said, independent of the authority alluded to. But he would put that question entirely aside; for that which the right hon. gentleman had just stated to the House seemed to him to be full of most important matter. The right hon. gentleman, on a preceding evening, had imputed a design—an intention—he did not know whether the right hon. gentleman had used the word" plot," but certainly he said a design, and an intention—to break up the ministry, and that his own threatened resignation had only been made a pretence for dissolving it. The right hon. gentleman had added, "I know it." Now, he would not have referred to that declaration, if the right hon. gentleman had not expressly, on the present evening, repeated to the House, by implication, that he was cognizant of that fact. If the right hon. gentleman was so—if he knew that a design had existed, and knew the parties who were concerned in it,—he had that to state as to which all the explanations hitherto given to the House were not worth common attention —were but as dust in the balance. All that had been stated was nothing—it was valueless and inefficient—as compared with the knowledge which the hon. gentleman, told the House he had behind. If he did know of this design, he must know the grounds of it, the objects of it, and the parties concerned in it; and on these heads it was the bounden duty of the right hon. gentleman—a duty from which he could not retreat—to give the House an explanation [loud cheers.]

Mr. Brougham

said, he had no doubt that the right hon. gentleman was prepared to answer the inquiries of his noble friend. Indeed, it was impossible that he should avoid doing so. But he wished to put one other question to the right hon. gentleman, without which his answer would neither be complete nor satisfactory to the House. If the right hon. gentleman had not, on a preceding evening, come forward with a gratuitous explanation of the charges which he thought affected his character as a public man and as a minister, he should have had no title to ask the right hon. gentleman the question which he was about to put. But, as he had come forward, uncalled upon, to reply to a charge not suggested in the House—a charge that he had gone and consulted with some one out of the cabinet, and out of the circle of the administration—as he had denied that charge, with an explicitness which had scarcely, even in the walls of that House, been exceeded,—that being the case, he wished to know of the right hon. gentleman, whether he rightly understood him to have said, "as he hoped to be saved," and "upon his sacred honour as a gentleman," there was no foundation whatever for the charges and insinuations which had been brought against him elsewhere, that he had gone forth from the cabinet, in the course of the struggles of the ministry, and made a communication in a certain other quarter—the highest quarter in the state: assuming the right hon. gentleman to have said this, since it was not contradicted,—that he most solemnly denied having consulted any party out of the circle of the cabinet on the imputed occasion—did the right hon. gentleman mean also to say, that no party out of the cabinet had ever consulted him? He wished to know, whether the right hon. gentleman's denial went to the fact of any individual having consulted with him, as well as of his having consulted with any individual?

Mr. Herries

said, that he did not think the hon. and learned gentleman had a right to put that last question. He doubted whether it ought to be asked: at least, he thought it would more properly have been omitted. All he would say was this, that he entirely abided by his explanations already given. He would enter into no more. On any subject relating to the dissolution of the late government, he should decline to go further.

Mr. Brougham

observed, that he had claimed no right to ask any question. He had put his inquiry, he thought, in a way calculated to disarm all personal feeling. He had distinctly said, that he should not have thought of putting any question, except for the explanation which the right hon. gentleman had volunteered. If the right hon. gentleman intended to abide in silence now, it would have been infinitely better, for his own sake, if he had never explained at all.

Mr. Wynn

said, that if he had been silent upon a former night, it had only been because he felt that he could add nothing to that which had been stated by others. He had personally been a stranger to the cause which led to the dissolution of the late administration until the 9th of January: but, after all that had passed, he must say, that he thought further explanation from the right hon. gentleman necessary. With respect to the allegation made by the right hon. gentleman, he knew not upon what ground it rested; and until he had further proofs of the existence of a design to break up the government, he must say, with all deference to the right hon. gentleman, that he could not give credit to it. From that which he knew of those with whom he had been united in office, and from his personal knowledge of the noble lord at the head of the late government, he did most entirely believe, that if there were grounds for the insinuations of the right hon. gentleman, as to intention or design—of those intentions or designs, the noble lord and his colleagues in the ministry, from beginning to end, had been entirely ignorant.

Mr. Sturges Bourne

said, he entirely concurred in what had fallen from his right hon. friend. The circumstances which he had stated were those which, as far as his own knowledge extended, had led to the dissolution of the late administration. Nothing, indeed, could have come more unexpectedly upon him than the dissolution of the administration. Nothing could have more excited his astonishment, except, indeed, the explanation given on a former night by the right hon. gentleman. The animadversions made by the right hon. gentleman on the noble lord at the head of the late administration, coming from the quarter which they did, had in- deed surprised him. When the struggles between the right hon. gentleman and other members of the cabinet were taking place, and which led, as far as he knew, to the breaking up of the late government, he was in the country, and took no part in them. The first information, indeed, which he had received of them, and of the dissolution of the government, was through the public papers. When he had heard of its dissolution, nothing had given him greater astonishment; except, indeed, the speech in explanation, which the right hon. gentleman had made on a former night.

Sir J. Yorke

said, that having read the explanations of a former night, and listened to those given on the present, the members of the late administration did appear to him to have been the greatest set of children that ever matters of importance were intrusted to. If that was the way in which the government of the country could be conducted, he fully agreed with the hon. member for Aberdeen, that it would be an excellent plan to have no government at all. It would be a great saving in salaries and emoluments; and the nation would get on as well by itself as with such a cabinet as the House had heard the history of. Here was a government broken up, and half the members connected with it not acquainted with the fact, until the dissolution was resolved on, and even concluded; and the king sending for the noble duke who was to form a pew one, and plainly telling him—" You must form a new ministry, for these fellows have at last done their own business; but if they could have kept from cutting their own throats, I assure you I would have Stood by them." He was very sorry to hear so lame an explanation from the right hon. Master of the Mint. It was very poor, poor indeed—very round-about, and full of reference to dates and hours, all which seemed to reasonable people very unimportant. He thought that, after what had fallen two evenings since from a noble lord in another place, the right hon. gentleman would have made a better statement to the House. As the account stood, it did appear that the right hon. gentleman had been the means of breaking up the last government, by his jealousy and squabbles; and if that was his general character, the sooner the duke of Wellington turned him out of the present cabinet the better.

Sir J. Macdonald

said, he was much surprised that the right hon. gentleman did not mean to afford the House any further explanation. If the question at stake was a merely personal one, he should not be disposed to prolong it: but it was neither just towards individuals, nor decent towards the public, that such charges as the right hon. gentleman had made should remain without either being answered or supported. The charge of the right hon. gentleman was brought, if not against all, against a large proportion of his late colleagues. Was it against those who had quitted office, or against those who still continued in it? As well as he could understand the last comment of the right hon. gentleman, upon the declaration of lord Goderich, he seemed to acquit that noble lord of any share in the design which he had alluded to. In that case, did it not appear that the parties conceiving it must have been those even with whom the right hon. gentleman was now sitting? If this was not the case, the right hon. gentleman's insinuations must implicate somebody—they must stick some where—they must apply to those individuals who had been in office under the late government and had not joined the present; and for them, and on their account, he now threw back the charge into the teeth of the right hon. gentleman, who could not, he thought, under all the circumstances, avoid either abandoning it or making it good. If the right hon. gentleman ever expected to receive support, as a minister, from the House or from the country, he could not shrink from further explanation, after having gone the length that he had done. If he meant to remain a member of any government, no matter whether as chancellor of the Exchequer, or degraded to some inferior office, there was no place so low that he would be fit to fill it, or to be tolerated in it by the country, if he could bring accusations of so deep a dye against the individuals as he had done, and refuse either fully to establish or retract them.

Mr. Herries

said, that after the observations of the hon. baronet, he would offer a few words to the House; but not at all in departure from his already expressed determination—that of entering into no disclosures not absolutely necessary to his own exculpation. An hon. and learned gentleman, who had termed his explanation on a former evening voluntary and gratuitous, knew well that he had been personally called upon for explanation, and that he would have been exclaimed against for ever if he had withheld it. He had explained, so far as was necessary, to clear his own character from misrepresentation; and he was bound to go no further. In the course of his vindication, he had asserted, and he did again assert, that it was not correct to say, that his resignation of office had been the cause of the dissolution of the late government. He had maintained, that there were other causes, and he should always maintain it; for he knew that the fact was so. He said that he "knew"—that was, as far as a man could know, from inference and conclusion; and from that most palpable proof, that a cause so unimportant, unassisted by others, never could have produced such a result. A right hon. gentleman had said, that he did not give credit to this statement. The right hon. gentleman meant, he apprehended, to say that he (Mr. Wynn) was not aware of any other causes than that suggested. To this he would answer, that if the right hon. member did not know of any such causes, he (Mr. Herries) did. There was not, he thought, a man, in or out of that House, connected with government or not—in short, he believed there was not a man in the kingdom, who could come to any other conclusion than that to which he had himself come, respecting the dissolution of government, or at least thus far—that he had not been the cause of that dissolution. He repeated, that no man who was aware of the events which were passing at that time could fail to draw any other conclusion than that which he had done; though, perhaps, he knew more on the subject than others. He would repeat, that no person who saw the transactions which were then going on, could fail to come to any conclusion but this—that there were other causes than his tender of his resignation, which operated in effecting the dissolution of the government. But he must beg the House to bear in mind, that there were others who had undertaken, and who were more competent than he was, to give an account of the cause of the fall of the late ministry, and who had referred to events connected with that event. Some of those to whom he alluded, who had referred to his resignation as the immediate cause of the dissolution, admitted that there were other circumstances which also contributed to it. Why not describe those circum- stances? There was the point at which such description might have been given: Why was it omitted? It was not he who had undertaken to account for the dissolution of the ministry. Why had not those who had undertaken that task given an account of all the causes which led to it? If there were other events in operation which could render so trifling a circumstance as his resignation an immediate cause of the breaking up of the ministry—if it were in such a situation before that, as to be operated upon by so slight a cause, why had it not been thought necessary by others to state all the operating causes that led to that catastrophe? He now begged to call on the right hon. gentleman, and to ask him, whether he was not aware that abundant causes existed at the time, which were likely to contribute to such a result? For his own part, he would now repeat, what he had so often said, and would always continue to say, that his resignation was not the substantive cause of the dissolution of the late government.

Mr. Wynn

begged to repeat in the most distinct and unequivocal terms, his belief that the resignation of the right hon. gentleman was the cause of the dissolution of the late ministry. He knew of no other cause whatever. Whether the government could continue to stand, would have depended on the share of the confidence of parliament which it might possess; but that it was intended to meet parliament and to stand the contest on that occasion, he was convinced. Now, he begged to ask the right hon. gentleman whether, eight and forty hours before he had sent in his resignation, he had not in the cabinet, promised to co-operate in the support of lord Goderich's government to the utmost of his power? He asked him whether he had said or intimated any thing on that occasion, which could give the slightest reason to suppose that he had at that time any intention to resign? He begged to ask the right hon. gentleman whether at that time he had any intention of writing the letter tendering his resignation? If he had, he most certainly had deceived him— he would not say intentionally, but he had deceived him—for he would most distinctly assert, that it was impossible for any man who heard the promise of the right hon. gentleman on the 19th of December, to believe that it was his intention to resign on the 21st. The right hon. gentleman had stated, that no man who had heard him could be dissatisfied with the explanation he had given in defence of his character. Upon that explanation, it was not his intention to offer any comment. He was not called upon to do it. It was a matter with which, in his opinion, the House had nothing to do: it being a point of honour between the right hon. gentleman and one of his colleagues; but, after the bold manner in which the right hon. gentleman had put the question, he would beg to ask in turn, whether, after the information he had received early in December, that nothing had been concluded on the subject of the appointment of lord Althorp, and that the application to that nobleman was merely to sound him as to whether he had any objection to accept the office of chairman, should it be determined by the government to nominate him—he asked, whether, after that, any additional information on the subject had come to the right hon. gentleman's knowledge, before he wrote his letter of the 21st; and if not, on what ground had he assumed, that negotiations had been going on with respect to that appointment, and that it was completed? If he had received no additional information, how was he warranted in the assumption, unless he believed that the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Tierney) and the noble lord had combined to deceive him?

Lord Normanby

said, that the question which he had first introduced to the House had now arrived at that stage in which it could not be taken up beneficially by any person except the right hon. gentleman himself. The right hon. gentleman had said, that he had given an explanation which must be considered satisfactory. How far it tended to clear his character—of course he meant his public character—he would not inquire. Neither would he stop to examine how far a minister of the Crown was justified in throwing out insinuations against his late colleagues in office. On all these points he would leave the right hon. gentleman to the benefit of that opinion which he might very easily gather, from all sides of the House, during the present short discussion. He had risen for the purpose of setting the right hon. gentleman right on one point. Any further question he would not put, for the right hon. gentleman seemed as incapable of understanding any question put to him, as he was of answering it in a way in which it could be understood by others. The question which he put was, not that to which, as had been observed by his learned friend, the right hon. gentleman had volunteered a gratuitous answer—for, as to consultations with any individuals out of the cabinet, it would not have come into his head to ask. If any such thing occurred, that House was not the place where they should be noticed, and certainly he was not the person who would introduce the subject. The question he had asked was, how far the right hon. gentleman could concur in a statement made, in the other House, respecting his objections to the appointment of lord Althorp as chairman of the Finance Committee. It had been stated, by a noble lord (Goderich) that the righthon. gentleman had, at three different intervals, made different statements with respect to the appointment of lord Althorp. The first was, that he had no objection to the appointment: the second, that his objection arose chiefly from an implied slight towards him, in not having been consulted in the nomination; and the third, on the ground of lord Althorp's supposed political or party opinions; and the noble lord (Goderich) expressed his surprise that, after the explanation that the right hon. gentleman had received on these points, he should have persisted in what he stated, in his letter of the 21st of December, and have thus been the means of breaking up the government. To those questions, and to those only, he had directed the attention of the right hon. gentleman.

Mr. Herries

said, that the noble lord had correctly re-stated the points to which he had called his attention. To those points he conceived that he had already given a reply. He had stated his reasons for the delay which occurred between the 3rd of December and the letter he wrote on the 21st. For that, he thought, he had also satisfactorily accounted. But the noble lord objected, that he had shifted his ground, and stated a reason, at a subsequent interval, different from that which he had mentioned at first; and the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Wynn) said the same thing, and asked, why he had assumed that the nomination of lord Althorp was completed, when he had been already told that it was only proposed. He would answer, that he had a right to assume that the engagement was concluded; and let it be remembered, that when he read the letter to the House, he stated that he had so assumed, in order that, if he were wrong he might be set right at once. The reason why he had assumed that the arrangement was completed, and next that it was made on party considerations, was because such was his impression, and because he wished that, if in that impression he was wrong, he should be set right without delay, by a denial of the correctness of those assumptions. Was that denial made? Was it stated that the arrangement was not concluded, or that it had not been made from party motives? No such denials had been given; nay more, was it not proved in the result, that the arrangement had been completed? [Cries of "No, no."] He repeated, he was justified in the assumption he had made, that it was so. He asked, had any bargain been made? No. Was there any understanding on the subject? Yes. Was it open to discussion? No. There was an understanding, it seemed, but the matter was not open to discussion. Then he maintained, that he was perfectly right in assuming these points as facts, in order that he might be undeceived at once if he were in error. And here he must remark upon the improper colouring, given by the noble lord who spoke last, to his letter, when he drew from it the conclusion, that it was written with a view to break up the government. Why, what was there in that letter which tended to destroy the government. Was not the offer made in fair and amicable terms, that he was willing to withdraw himself from the administration, in order that the government might; go on better? He had said petulantly that he would resign, lest any misconstruction should be put upon it; but finding that he differed from some of his colleagues on what he considered an important point, he calmly, and in the most friendly terms, offered to place his office at the disposal of the noble lord at the head of the government. He would refer the noble lord to the terms of his letter, to bear him out in that statement. Looking at that letter, ands bearing in mind the statement with which he had accompanied it, he called upon the noble lord—divesting himself of all considerations of party feeling, and forgetting that he sat on the opposition side—to state manfully what there was in its spirit tending to destroy the government. It showed that he was anxious to retire from office. Was that a great crime? Was it a great crime, that he was so little tenacious of the honours and emoluments of that office, so little studious of his own private interests, and so anxious to prefer those of the public that he was ready to resign it? Was that, he begged to ask the noble lord, indicative of a disposition to destroy the government? He put it to the noble lord in candour whether, in this point of view, he had not wholly misunderstood the spirit of his letter? He would ask any gentleman of fair dealing, whether, when one man wrote to another, and stated his impression upon a particular subject—when he mentioned to him, that such was his judgment and such his impression upon that subject, with the view that if he were in error he might be set right, by explanation or denial of what he assumed, and that there was no explanation and no denial given, he would not be warranted in concluding, that his assumption had been right, and his impression correct? But the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Wynn) had asked, whether, when at the return of lord Goderich to the government, and when he had promised to support him, he had any intention to resign? He would say in answer to this, that it was his intention to assert his own right, with respect to the finance committee. The fact was, that it was not his intention to resign at that time. Did it follow that, because he was disposed to assert his right on that point, that his resignation must have been the consequence? He had no right to assume that the noble lord at the head of the government would have denied him the justice he asked, or that his letter to him would be productive of his resignation. He had no right to assume that, after that letter, he was not to go on as before. This, then, was his anwswer to the questions put by the right hon. gentleman. The subject had not been a matter of consideration among his colleagues generally. It was not discussed in the cabinet. It was merely between himself and one of his right hon. friends; and therefore he trusted it would be readily conceded to him, that the time of the return of lord Goderich to the government was not the most proper for the introduction of such a matter, and to force it on the attention of the cabinet. Besides, he had no reason to believe that when he should mention the subject, the justice to which he thought he was entitled would be denied to him. He was not therefore disposed to press it at that moment. If he had done so, and introduced it to the cabinet, he had no doubt it would not have met with consideration at that time; and the fact of his mentioning it might, perhaps, be taken as an indication that he wished to upset the government. It was because he had no such intention that he did not mention the subject on the 19th. He hoped this would be sufficient to satisfy the right hon. gentleman as to his motives for not pressing the matter, which, when it was pressed, was not, he knew, the cause of upsetting the government.

Mr. Brougham

said, that from the feeling manifested by the House, it appeared to him that it was not its wish that this matter should be pressed further, the more particularly as no further explanation could be expected from the right hon. gentleman. There was only one word which he would add on the subject, in reference to what had fallen from the right hon. gentleman as to his (Mr. B. 's) not having spoken advisedly, when he stated that the right hon. gentleman had volunteered a gratuitous explanation. He begged to assure him, that he had spoken advisedly on that occasion, and he was borne out in it by his noble friend; for he remembered that the right hon. gentleman had alluded to attacks made upon him in the newspapers, and had culled and selected one point of attack, and had given his answer to it.

Here the conversation dropped.