HC Deb 23 November 1830 vol 1 cc636-49
Mr. Spring Rice

moved that a new writ be issued for the borough of Knaresborough, in the room of the right hon. Henry Brougham, now Lord Broug- ham, who had accepted the office of Lord High Chancellor.

Mr. Croker

said, that this motion, although it appeared to be almost one of course, was, considering the circumstances attending it, one of the most important that had ever been made within the walls of that House, and he trusted, therefore, that he should be excused if he ventured to make a few observations upon it. The Gentleman whose place it was now necessary to fill up in that House, and who, by the courtesy of that House, had been usually called an hon. and learned Member of that House, but who now, by a most extraordinary change, was to be called a noble and learned Lord,—the noble and learned Lord, then, had declared publicly and plainly that House, and with a full view of the change which had now been effected, that he could not by any possibility form a part of that Administration whose creation, when the now noble and learned Lord made this declaration, was plainly, obviously, and certainly, inevitable. He should not have thought so much of this declaration, had not the noble and learned Lord made it voluntarily, and had he not repeated it—yes, repeated it, and voluntarily repeated it—on the next public occasion, and after he had had full time to look at all the bearings of the impending change. He had often heard that noble and learned Lord, while a Member of that House, declare that the characters of public men formed a part of the wealth of England; and as often as the noble and learned Lord had expressed this sentiment, so often had he (Mr. Croker) been prepared to admit the correctness of it, and to participate fully in its justness. If the sentiment was correct,—as from his heart he believed it was,—he must say, that he did think it highly important that the character of the man who was vested with the most eminent and transcendent powers of the State, who was called—by an expression, a sacred expression, but not an extravagant one—" the keeper of the. King's conscience," and who, above all, had the disposal of the chief part of the patronage of the Church—he did, he said, think it important in the highest degree that the character of such a man should stand clear of all shuffling intrigue, manly, open, fair, and unclouded, to the view of the public. Certain it was, that if the character of any public man ought to stand thus, the Lord Chancellor was that man; and he could not, therefore, think any apology was due from him for taking this, the most fitting opportunity of reminding the House of those two remarkable declarations which the noble and learned Lord had volunteered in that House. He was ready to hear now, or, if it were not convenient now, at some other time when it might be convenient, the explanation of the reasons which had influenced the conduct of the noble and learned Lord. He was very ready to believe that a satisfactory explanation could be given, but, in the absence of such explanation, and with the present recollection of the voluntary declarations of the noble and learned Lord, he had thought it his duty to make these observations to the House. Allow him to say, that he was altogether at a loss to understand why this motion was not made yesterday; for, considering the declarations of the noble and learned Lord, that he would not take office, and considering also that the noble and learned Lord had given notice of motions on two of the most important and vital questions that could be brought under the consideration of the Commons of England—considering that those notices yet stood in the Order Book of that House— considering these things, he must say, that he did not think the House had been respectfully treated in not being informed, at the earliest possible opportunity, of the appointment of the noble and learned Lord to an office which precluded the possibility of his redeeming- those pledges which he had solemnly made to the House. It would be no excuse for this want of respect to the House to say, that the patent of the noble and learned Lord was not made out yesterday; for though still but a right hon. and learned Gentleman, he was certainly Lord Keeper, or Chancellor, or at least Speaker of the House of Lords. They had all seen him there; they had been witnesses to his taking his seat on the Woolsack; and if the noble and learned Lord had hurried forward with breathless haste to take possession of that place of distinction,—if some technical affairs had been set aside in order that nothing might impede the gratification of the noble and learned Lord's desire to exhibit himself to the astonished spectators in that high and splendid character— he had almost said domino—in which they had all beheld him;—if these things had occurred, he must say, that he did not think it was respectful to that House not to inform them, as soon as the House of Lords was informed, of this remarkable appointment. He would show to the House what impression the declarations of the noble and learned Lord had made upon the country, and consequently, how necessary it was that a satisfactory explanation should be given of the subsequent conduct of the noble and learned Lord. There were certain organs by which the people expressed their sentiments; he need not more particularly describe the nature of those organs, and he had only to observe, that it was from one of them that he was about to read the passage to which he begged the attention of the House. The hon. Member then read as follows:—" Our Representative, Mr. Brougham, has declared twice in the House of Commons, and, as we learn from The Morning Chronicle, also in the Court of King's Bench, that he will not be a member of any Administration that may be formed. According to that paper, the hon. and learned Gentleman stated that' the representation of Yorkshire was the only place he would have.' A correspondent of our own says—' Mr. Brougham said in the counsel-room yesterday, that he should take no office whatever: that when he was returned for Yorkshire, he made his election between power and the service of the people.' His constituents will learn with great satisfaction the estimate he sets on the honour of their representation. And, indeed, Mr. Brougham already stands in the proudest situation to which a commoner can aspire. Distinguished as he has been so remarkably by the choice of the first county of England, and endowed as he is with such unrivalled powers of doing service to his country, by devising and promoting the most important reforms, he will, in our opinion, be more useful and more illustrious, having rejected the trammels of office, and will have greater influence and power for the accomplishment of his high objects in the House of Commons. Yorkshire will have increased reason to be proud of her Representative, if he should persist in declining a seat in the Cabinet, to which his talents and public services so well entitle him, for the sake of more freely and unreservedly devoting himself to the great causes to which he stands pledged. As an independent Member of the House of Commons, supporting or opposing Ministers as their measures deserve, he would hold the balance of parties, and might compel the Administration to do its duty to the country. Mr. Brougham's motion for Parliamentary Reform, which was to have been made on Tuesday, has been put off till next Thursday, owing to the inconvenience of discussing so important a measure whilst the country is without a Ministry. He declares his fixed determination to bring it on on that day, ' whatever may be the circumstances of the country, and whosoever may be Minister.' We rejoice in this announcement, and have great hopes that this motion will be carried." Now what, he must ask, was the meaning of these declarations on the part of the noble and learned Lord? Had the noble and learned Lord been neglected? or, which was worse, had he been offered something which he did not think equal to his high deserts and to his splendid abilities? Was that the case? and were these declarations intended as a menace, or as a spur to the lazy gratitude of the new First Lord of the Treasury? If so, then let him ask what confidence could be reposed in an Administration which could be influenced by such motives and swayed by such means? If, on the other hand, the noble and learned Lord was perfectly sincere when he made these declarations, then he must contend that it was highly important to the House and to the country,; that an explanation should be given of the circumstances which had caused so great an alteration in the views of the noble and learned Lord. He repeated, that he was; ready to believe that a satisfactory explanation might be given on this point; but he must again say, that it appeared to him that until such an explanation were given, the character of the noble and learned Lord would be under a cloud.

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, he begged that no hon. Member would suppose that he; rose to give the explanation which the hon. Gentleman had demanded. He did not rise to give any such explanation, for, even if he had one to give, he should withhold it from a Gentleman who certainly was not entitled to call for it. Still less was he influenced in rising by a desire to vindicate the character of his noble and learned friend (Lord Brougham) for sure he was, that the character of his noble and learned friend needed no vindication from him or from any other man, either here or elsewhere; but, above all, here, in a place of which he had been the highest ornament and the chiefest boast. No; the brilliant and powerful eloquence of his noble and learned friend —the services which he had rendered to the people, both in that House and out of it—and the services which he would render to the people in the high station to which he had been so deservedly raised— these would vindicate the character of his noble and learned friend—these would protect the character of his noble and learned friend from assaults, however disinterested, however pure, and however powerful. And if the character of his noble and learned friend had these substantial and impregnable grounds of defence, he was quite sure that hon. Members would think, and justly think, that if he attempted to shield his noble and learned friend from the assaults of the hon. Member opposite, he should be embarking upon a very unnecessary undertaking. The hon. Gentleman had said, that the circumstances attending the appointment of his noble and learned friend might be capable of explanation, and that he was ready to hear that explanation, either now or at any future time. This, coming from such a quarter, was a very extraordinary admission; for he would venture to assert that, to say nothing of the irregular and disorderly character of the speech of the hon. Gentleman, which, from the beginning of it to the end, was composed of nothing but violations of the rules and orders of that House, and which, considered in that light, was, for the disorder and irregularity of it, unprecedented in the annals of Parliamentary offences; he would, he repeated, venture to say, that any honourable and fair dealing man, who could admit that the circumstances alluded to might be capable of explanation, must at the same time be of opinion that nothing could be more improper than to seize upon an occasion like the present for the purpose of making such a speech as that which they had heard from the hon. Gentleman,—a speech which was replete with insinuations and imputations of the most grave character. and which could not be, and were perhaps not intended to be, the less injurious because coupled with the petty. paltry admission, that the circumstances might be explained. It was to give vent to the feelings which this extraordinary speech had excited, that he now rose; for the speech was alike extraordinary and indefensible, if the hon. Gentleman who had made it was sincere in supposing it possible that the circumstance of this case could by possibility be explained. If such an explanation could be given, who were the persons, the only persons, that could give it? Why, the colleagues of his noble and learned friend; and they, he need not tell the hon. Gentleman, were not present. Was it fair, then, in the absence of those who, being the only persons who were acquainted with the communications that had passed upon the subject, were obviously the only persons who could give an explanation which the hon. Gentleman, with seeming candour, admitted might be possible:—was it fair, he would ask, in the absence of these persons, to make this attack? How happened it that the hon. Gentleman had chosen such an opportunity of making this assault—an opportunity which, by his own showing, was the most improper? He denied, however, that any explanation was due under the circumstances which the hon. Gentleman had laid down as the grounds on which he called for explanation. Was the House to call for communications that had passed between the Crown and persons who had been intrusted with the formation of new Administrations—communications than which none could be of more delicate or a more secret nature? Yet these communications, and nothing else, would afford that explanation which the hon. Gentleman demanded. If the hon. Gentleman meant to say, that he would be satisfied with less than this, —that he would take as true the assertion of honourable men, that new circumstances had occurred which caused his noble and learned friend to depart from his former purpose, and that he would be content with a bare statement of the nature of these circumstances, if, he said, the hon. Gentleman meant to take this ground, still it would furnish him with no defence, no excuse, for the conduct he had pursued that night; because all those persons who could satisfy the demands of the hon. Gentleman were unavoidably absent from the House. He need not repeat, that he thought it quite unnecessary that any such explanation should be given to the hon. Gentleman; but his object was to show that, even upon his own case, the speech of the hon. Gentleman was altogether indefensible. The words which the hon. Gentleman had quoted as those which had been used in that House by his noble and learned friend were not according to his recollection,—were not, as he should be ready to swear if called upon to swear, to the best of his recollection,—the words which had fallen from his noble and learned friend on the occasion alluded to. He was not called upon to state wherein the difference between him and the hon. Gentleman, on this point, consisted; but the very fact of the difference existing at all demonstrated the wisdom of that rule of the House which forbade the expressions used by an hon. Member in one debate to be quoted against him in another debate; and this was one of the many irregularities into which the hon. Gentleman had been led that evening;. He said many irregularities, which was a very mild expression; to call the hon. Gentleman's speech a disorderly speech would be saying very little, for it was a congeries of offences against the rules and orders of the Parliament. Not contented with his own breaches of order, the hon. Gentleman had quoted an anonymous correspondent of a Yorkshire newspaper, in which the words of a Member of that House were set down and commented upon; and in which there was related, on the authority of some prying person, the gossip of the roping room;—which the anonymous correspondent of the Yorkshire editor called the "counsel-room,"— but which was, in fact, the place where gentlemen of the Bar put on and put off their wigs and gowns. He was the last man, he trusted, in that House to narrow liberty of this nature out of doors; but it did appear to him to be improper, in the highest degree, to quote within the walls of that House such an authority, for the unworthy purpose of injuring the character of the Lord High Chancellor of England. Such conduct he would not attempt to characterize as it deserved; but this he would say of it,— namely, that he believed it was unparalleled in the conduct of any man who had ever thought himself obliged to go into the hottest, the most violent, and the most uncompromising opposition. One other observation, and he had done. He begged, that in considering this subject, hon. Members would recollect the day which the hon. Gentleman had chosen for this insidious, this indefensible, and this as the hon. Gentleman admitted it might turn out to be, unfounded attack. It was the day on which his noble and learned friend, vested with the highest judicial functions of the realm, had entered upon the administration of justice, and the exercise of the important duties which had devolved upon him. The hon. Gentleman admitted that the observations he had made were calculated to injure and to degrade the character of the Lord Chancellor in the eyes of the people, unless a certain explanation were given; and that explanation the hon. gentleman well knew could be given only by particular persons, who for some time to come could not by possibility make their appearance in that House.

Mr. Croker, in a very low tone, said, that he did not depend upon his own recollection for the words which the noble and learned Lord had used on the occasion to which he had referred; but that, having consulted those channels by which it was well known that the proceedings of that House were communicated to the public, he had found that the manner in which those different channels had reported the words of the noble and learned Lord very nearly corresponded.

Lord P. L. Gower

begged to assure hon. Members that he had come down to the House that evening without the slightest knowledge that such a discussion as the present would arise, but that he had determined, when ever the opportunity should present itself, to give vent to the expression of his opinion on this subject. He should think himself unworthy of the seat he filled in that House if he kept within his own breast the feelings with which he had heard of the appointment of the noble and learned Lord. Those feelings were not unmingled with regret—with regret that one of the sources of brilliant eloquence, of extensive knowledge, and of profound wisdom, was dried up to that House. His regret, however, was heightened by other circumstances. He had had the fortune to be an auditor of the two declarations which the noble and learned Lord had made with regard to the new Administration, and if he had misunderstood those declarations, he could only attribute it to that obtuseness of intellect which the noble and learned Lord, while a Member of that House, was accustomed to attribute to such Members of the House as happened to differ from him. That noble and learned Lord used to tell the country Gentlemen and other Mem- bers of that House, that they could hardly count ten upon their fingers, and that he looked upon them as little better than dolts and blockheads. Now, he had not the vanity;—the presumption—to suppose himself excluded from the list of dolts and blockheads; and he attributed it to the fact of his being- such a person, that he had, as a plain man, misunderstood the noble and learned Lord's declarations, He did believe, he must confess, that when the noble and learned Lord made those declarations, no man could more distinctly and explicitly have intimated that he had altogether sacrificed office; and, with this belief, he could not delay informing the noble and learned Lord by: this, the only means in his power, of what interpretation he had put upon the words uttered by that noble and learned Lord. He did not demand any explanation; but ' at the same time he thought it right to state, that, in his opinion, the most serious consequences would result if no explanation were given, among which consequences, this certainly would be one— namely, detriment to the character of a great public officer.

Lord Morpeth

said, that he looked upon this discussion as altogether irrelevant; but, as it had arisen, he could not refrain from making one observation. If it were thought, that an explanation was necessary, he must say, that he could not consider it either a manly or a sensible course to demand that explanation in the absence of the only persons who could give it. Whatever declarations might have been attributed to his noble and learned friend, he, believed that the noble Lord who spoke last would admit that it had never been imputed to his noble and learned friend, that he had said he should be mad to accept the office of Lord Chancellor. And yet such a declaration, made by another noble individual, with regard to another office, which the same noble individual did nevertheless afterwards accept, had not been considered by the noble Lord who spoke last as any detriment to the character of that noble individual; nor had the noble Lord thought that inconsistency any ground for want of confidence.

Mr. T. S. Duncombe

said, that as a Yorkshire man he must express the regret he felt at the noble and learned Lord having seceded from that honour which he had described in one of his speeches in Yorkshire as a pinnacle which was much too high for him to look down from. He believed that the same regret was felt throughout Yorkshire. The people of Yorkshire had entertained the most sanguine hopes of the success of their distinguished Member's exertions in the cause of reform; but when the projected reform was brought forward, he feared that those hopes would be sadly disappointed. This, however, would not have been the case if the noble and learned Lord had remained in that House; and he must say, that he deeply lamented the time and the circumstances in which that distinguished person had allowed himself to be seduced from the commanding eminence which he occupied in that House. This was the place in which his transcendent abilities were wanted. The noble and learned Lord, when a Member of that House, had often told them of another place, from which they had little to expect, and yet he had gone to that place, never more to return. He believed, from his heart, that that noble and learned person would perform the duties of Lord Chancellor with credit to himself, and with the highest satisfaction to the country. The change, however, had been too hurried. If he (Lord Brougham) had remained there—the member for Yorkshire,—until he had fulfilled his pledges and redeemed his promises, by carrying through the House his important motions respecting Negro Slavery and Reform in Parliament, —if he had done this, he might have retired to the place he now occupied; and if he had so retired, his appointment would have been hailed with the acclamations of his friends, while his elevation would have added new luster to the high office of Lord Chancellor, for he would have carried with him the gratitude and the respect of millions.

Sir H. Hardinge

said, that he should not have troubled the House with any observations on this subject if it had not been for the sneer—the indecent sneer— which the noble Lord (Morpeth) opposite had thrown out, and in consequence of which he felt it his duty to rise in defence of the noble person against whom that sneer was directed. Notwithstanding that indecent sneer,— notwithstanding the bitter malice and the sneers with which the Duke of Wellington had been assailed —malice and sneers which he despised,— notwithstanding these, the character of the Duke of Wellington must and ever would stand high in the history of this country. The sacrifice of patronage, the large retrenchments, the great measure of Catholic Emancipation, which had characterized the Administration of the Duke of Wellington, would hereafter receive the praise they merited from the historian, and the gratitude of the public now, in spite of the sneers of Lordlings. [Loud cries of "Order," and" Chair, chair," and the Speaker immediately rose]. He begged pardon: it must be evident that he was speaking with considerable warmth; he had been carried too far, but, perceiving his error, he would not lose a moment in retracting it, and he begged leave, very sincerely, to apologize, both to the House and to the noble Lord. All he meant to say was, that the character of the Duke of Wellington stood too high to be injured by sneers, no matter from what quarter they might proceed.

Mr. Macauley

was sure that the sentiments which had fallen from the gallant Officer were extremely creditable to him. The warmth with which he had defended his friend, and the candour with which he had instantly retracted a hasty expression—candour which in him could not be mistaken,— were alike honourable to the gallant officer. The observations which had fallen from his noble friend, the member for Yorkshire, and to which the gallant officer had referred, had been made in reply to a sneer from the other side of the House. He agreed with the gallant officer that many of the measures carried by the Duke of Wellington's Administration had been of a most excellent description, and he would instance, amongst others, the great measure of Catholic Emancipation. The noble Duke deserved the gratitude of the country for having, by the carrying of that measure, saved the country from that civil war to which it was exposed a year and a half ago, and that deed reflected greater glory on his name than all his splendid military achievements on the continent of Europe. There were many circumstances to justify the conduct of the noble Lord upon whom an attack had been made that evening. There were but a few days for deliberation, and that at a time when one Ministry was about being formed—when another had just been dissolved;—a time when great agitation prevailed, and when the country required a strong and efficient Ministry to conduct the government of the State; at such a period a few days were as great and as momentous in events as months would be at another period. It was not by the clock they should measure the importance of the changes which might take place in such an interval. He owed no political allegiance to the noble Lord who had been transferred to another place, but as a Member of that House, he could not banish from his memory the extraordinary eloquence of that noble person within those walls — an eloquence which left nothing equal to it behind; and when he beheld the departure of that great man from amongst them, and when he saw the place in which he usually sat, and from which he had so often astonished them by the mighty powers of his mind, occupied in such an exceedingly different manner that evening by the hon. Member who had commenced this Debate, he could not express the feelings and the emotions to which such circumstances gave rise. Was that a time when an attack should be thus made upon the noble Lord in question, and under such circumstances, too, when perhaps no hon. Member present was in possession of the reasons which had influenced that noble Lord in accepting office? Was that a time for a Member of that House, who would sooner have burned his tongue than have made such an attack in the presence of that noble person, thus to attack him behind his back? [" Order, order"]

The Speaker

interposed, and called the hon. Member to order.

Mr. Macauley

begged pardon of the House if he had said any thing which was out of order. He never meant to say, that any feelings of personal fear would prevent any Gentleman opposite from pursuing such a course. He never considered that it was through the means of personal fear, or intimidation, that that noble Lord had exercised such an extraordinary power as he did in that House. While he sat there, however, there were few present who would venture to make such an attack upon him. Now that he had gone from amongst them, was that the befitting time for an attack to be made upon him by those who, while he was there, dreaded the sarcastic powers of his extraordinary eloquence, and prudently shunned the encounter? He could only deplore that he had not the tongue of that great man to defend him.

Lord Morpeth

had not uttered any sneer against the noble Duke, whom he highly respected, and he applauded the warmth with which that noble person's friends were ready to defend him. What he had said was, that the noble Duke had made a declaration against taking office, stronger than that of his noble friend, and that had not lost him the confidence of his friends.

Mr. Croker

likewise explained. He had, he said, never shrunk from an encounter with the noble Lord in question, from a fear of his sarcastic powers. He had sat in that House for many years, and he remembered that upon one occasion he had a warmer discussion with that noble Lord than he ever had with any other man in the world.

Lord F. L. Gower

disclaimed any thing like personal feeling in the observations which he had made.

Mr. Long Wellesley

defended the conduct of the Duke of Wellington. When the history of that noble Duke should come to be told, the errors which he had committed would be attributed to the circumstance of his having been badly surrounded. He did not require a better proof of that than was to be found in the conduct of the hon. Gentleman opposite that evening.

Mr. Charles Wood

said, that he had been instrumental, with others, in obtaining the return of Mr. Brougham, now Lord Brougham, for Yorkshire, and he could assure the House, that the people of Yorkshire would be delighted when they heard of that noble Lord's appointment to his present high office; and he was certain that nothing would give them more satisfaction than that it was upon their chosen Representative the choice of the Crown had fallen in this instance.

The Motion was then put, and the writ for Knaresborough was ordered to be issued.