HC Deb 10 June 1835 vol 28 cc621-4
Sir James Graham

said, he wished, on the Motion for going into a Committee on the Seamen's Enlistment Bill, to put a question to his noble Friend (Lord John Russell) relative to the Order of the Day for the committal of the Seamen's Enlistment Bill; and perhaps the House would pardon him, if in doing so, he stated some of the circumstances connected with the subject. The House would remember that in the course of the last Session of the former Parliament, the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Buckingham) moved a Resolution relative to Impressment. He, having at that time the honour of being one of his Majesty's confidential servants, considered it his duty to resist the resolution moved by the hon. Member; but in resisting it he announced, on the part of his Majesty's Ministers, that a Measure was in their contemplation, which he hoped would supersede the necessity for the hon. Gentleman's Motion. In redemption of the pledge he had given as a Minister of the Crown, he, in the commencement of the present Session, and in his individual capacity as a Member of that House, having no longer any connexion with the Government, brought forward a Measure, the principle of which was, first a statutory recognition of his Majesty's prerogative of Impressment in case of a declaration of war; and secondly, the extension of the principle that before recourse was had to compulsory means of manning the Navy, it should be tried whether voluntary enlistment, could not be induced by offering particular encouragement to the sailor, and removing many objections that had existed to the service. The hon. Member for Sheffield, he understood, agreed to the latter part of the proposition, but to the former he was decidedly opposed; and the hon. Member had, therefore, given notice, that on the Motion for this evening, that the House should resolve itself into Committee on the Seamen's Enlistment Bill, he should move that it be an instruction to the Committee to omit from the Bill every part of the same which might be intended to give legal power and authority, by statutory enactment, for the exercise of forcible impressment towards any class of his Majesty's subjects. Under these circumstances he felt, that as an individual Member of that House, he was justified in asking his noble Friend to state what was the decision of his Majesty's Ministers with respect to the notice which had been given by the hon. Member for Sheffield. If his Majesty's Ministers should be of opinion that on the whole it would be inexpedient that there should be a statutory recognition of the high prerogative of the Crown to enforce impressments, or that the inducements proposed in the Bill, as an encouragement to voluntary enlistment, would be too expensive to the country—and expensive he admitted they would be—then, as an individual Member of that House, he thought he should best discharge his duty by relinquishing the Bill, and giving it in charge to his Majesty's Ministers, to deal with it on their responsibility as they might think fit. He now proposed to fix a day—he would say this day se'nnight—for going into Committee on the Bill, and in the interim his Majesty's Ministers might determine what alterations they would recommend. The Bill would be committed pro formâ, to allow of the suggested alterations being printed, and the House would then consider whether the alterations were such as it could approve. He thought it much more advantageous that the Bill should be carried forward on the responsibility of the King's servants, than that he should proceed with a Measure against their opinion. He hoped that under those circumstances the hon. Member for Sheffield would allow him to postpone his Motion to the day he had mentioned.

Lord John Russell

said, he would answer as clearly as he could the question put by his right hon. Friend. The Bill to which he had alluded had two objects; one to maintain the prerogative of the Crown with regard to impressment, and the other to encourage voluntary enlistment. Now, in these two objects he was disposed to concur. The Motion of the hon. Member for Sheffield with respect to the instruction to the Committee, he should feel it is duty to resist. Having explained so far, he had to state further, that after consulting with his Colleagues, the first Lord of the Admiralty, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the sub- ject, it was their opinion that the Bill ought to be considerably altered, and if it were pressed into Committee to-night they should feel themselve called on to press their alterations. He thought, therefore, that the Measure had better be postponed. When his Majesty's Ministers had stated what alterations they had to recommend, his right hon. Friend would decide whether the Bill still accorded with his original views, and if it did, he would probably continue to take charge of it.

Mr. Buckingham

said, that having been personally appealed to by the right hon. Baronet, Sir James Graham, he was bound to say that he had stated the case of the Bills and the discussions to which they had given rise, with great fairness and fidelity; and he concurred with the right hon. Gentleman entirely in the opinion that both these Bills were of such public importance that they ought to be undertaken by the Government rather than left in the hands of any individual; at the same time he must say, that he had hoped to have heard from the noble Lord, the Secretary of the Home Department, a different opinion from that which he had just advanced in favour of a satisfactory recognition of the prerogative of the Crown to enforce the impressment of Seamen.—He had hoped that his Majesty's Government would have been content to have let the prerogative remain as it was, a power existing in name only, but never to be carried into execution, and to be permitted to expire or die a natural death by process of time alone, in common with the other feudal privileges that have already so become extinct. For himself, he must say, that his objections to impressment continued as strong as ever, and though it would give him great pain to do anything which might have the appearance of obstruction to the proceedings of the present Government, he was bound in honour to say, that if they should retain in the Bill of the right hon. Baronet, when it came before the House again, the objectionable clauses which went to enact or give statutory recognition to the power of impressment as a just, and lawful, and undoubted prerogative of the Crown, he should feel it his duty to oppose it, and to take the sense of the House upon the Question.—He should readily consent to the postponement of the Bill for the period named, to enable the Government to make such alterations in it as they might think de- sirable, but if these alterations did not include the striking out from the Bill all those parts of it which either recognized the power of impressment as legal, or authorized it by positive enactment, it would be as objectionable in his eyes as ever, and after this fair and public warning, he hoped that he should not have any want of fairness imputed to him, if he then gave, as he should feel himself bound to give, his most strenuous opposition to such a Bill passing into a law.

Committee postponed.