§ Mr. Thomas Duncombe
said, that he had to return his thanks to those Gentlemen who had given him precedence on the present occasion. He must say that at an early part of the evening, when this House was made at four o'clock, he did not then discover the great anxiety of the Government to have this matter discussed, as there were then none of the Government Officials present to request permission for him to be allowed to bring this question under the consideration of the House. There was not one single Member of the Government in his place at four o'clock, and the right hon. Gentleman the Speaker alone had made up the number to forty Members, so as to constitute a House. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) might depend upon it that the public would never be satisfied unless the Committee were granted for which he was about to move. The public mind was filled with considerable disgust and alarming apprehension in reference to this matter, which was much increased by the tone in which the right hon. Baronet (Sir 213 J. Graham) had discussed this subject in the first instance. He knew not how the Government intended to meet his Motion. He supposed that they intended to treat it as a vote of confidence. He did not know whether the representative system were to be completely set aside and when any question was brought forward inconvenient to the Government, the Minister was to stand up in his place and to say that this was a vote of confidence. This question should be permitted to stand upon its own merits, and should not be viewed in the light of a vote of confidence. That was the way, however, they were latterly accustomed to see important questions treated in that House. He considered this most unfair and unconstitutional. Hon. Members would vote against his Motion, because it was made a vote of confidence, in a way which it was notorious they did not really mean. He did not know what answer would be given to those parties who had been aggrieved by having their letters secretly pried into. Were they to be told that they could go to law? If that were all the answer which was to be given to their complaints, it would be most unsatisfactory. The answer which the right hon. Baronet (Sir, J. Graham) had given on this subject was considered by the public the most unworthy of a Minister of the Crown that had ever been uttered. Who was to go to law? Was it the Minister of the Crown? Who was to be the defendant on this occasion? Was it to be Mr. Mazzini, or others similarly situated? Why, he said, that there were hundreds of letters opened in the Post Office upon the authority of Government. He wanted to know who was to be defendant, and who were to be the witnesses for the persons whose letters had been opened? Was the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) to be the defendant, or the Postmaster General? Were his subordinates of the Post Office to be the witnesses? What chance under these circumstances could any man have in going to law? The law officers of the Crown would, no doubt, stand upon the technicality of their case, and would call on the complaining parties to prove their case. They might not have the legal proof, although they had the moral conviction that their letters had been opened. He said that such an answer was unworthy of a Minister of the Crown. The conduct of the Government would be 214 tried at the bar of public opinion. He would not go to any attorney's office to seek for justice in this matter. It was a question between all the people of England and the General Post Office, acting upon the authority of the Government. The Motion he was about to make was for an inquiry into the general system, and was to the following effect:—That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into a department of Her Majesty's General Post Office, commonly called 'The Secret or Inner Office,' the duties and employment of the persons engaged therein, and the authority under which the functions of the said office are discharged.And in order to show that the Motion was not applicable to one particular case, he meant to add the general words with which he concluded his former Motion—viz.:—That the said Committee do report their opinion to the House, as well as upon the expediency of making any alterations in the law uuder which the secret opening, delaying, or detaining, of Post Letters is conducted.Although the Motion was more general than the former one, he begged it to be distinctly understood, that he did not retract one single charge he had made against the Government on the question of opening letters. He had before maintained that an infraction of the law had been committed, and he had also stated, and now repeated, that he did not fix the abuse of the powers which were vested in the Government on the right hon. Baronet alone. He was not personally responsible. The Government must equally take the blame. He did not retract one single change that he had made—viz. that within the last two years, there had been a most unscrupulous use made of the power vested in the Government in opening the letters of different parties, and to a very great extent; and he believed that if an inquiry were instituted, he should be able to prove, that, so far from the right hon. Baronet only having done what every Secretary of State had done since the time of Queen Anne, there had been more letters opened contrary to law within the last two years, than had been opened within the last tea or twenty years. He understood that there existed in the General Post Office, an office which was commonly called or known by the subordinates of the establishments, as well as by the superior authorities, as "the secret or 215 Inner Office." In this office these deeds of darkness took place. It was a sort of Star Chamber—a sort of Post Office Inquisition. Letters were carried into that place, where they were examined, and from thence a message was sent to the Home Office, and copies were taken of these letters, according to the value of their contents. Sometimes, he understood, a whole bag was taken down. When the mail arrived, the messenger said, "Give me such a bag. I want the Dublin bag," or "the Brighton bag," or some other bag. The bag was then handed over to him. He was informed, that this was the case, and he would prove it. The bag had been taken into this office, and kept there for an hour and an hour and a half, then carried back to the sorter, and delivered to the person who distributed the letters. These sorters did not know what had transpired in this secret office; they did not know how many letters had been opened or how many detained. The right hon. Baronet would not let him have a copy of the warrant, but he had seen a copy. He understood, and that was capable of contradiction if not true, that at this moment, day after day, the letters of foreign Ministers were opened and read; that at all events they went into some other office, and no one could tell whether they had been opened or not; but it was pretty generally known in the Post Office that the letters of Foreign Ministers were at this moment inspected, read, and examined, and extracts taken from them before they reached the hands of those Ministers. Were Foreign Ministers aware of that? If that was true, it required explanation. If it were guilty of conduct like that, it was a foul stain upon the honour of this country; and a foul stain it would be considered, at all events, in France, if the speech of M. Guizot was true, which he made the other day in the Chamber of Deputies. According to Gallignani's Messenger of Saturday last.M. LEON DE MALLEVILLE said—It is with pain I have seen the accusation of the hon. Member of the British Parliament, Mr. Duncombe, republished in the Moniteur without any contradiction. The Ministers probably will be obliged to me for giving them this opportunity of declaring, in the most public manner, that the privacy of letters is respected by law and in fact; for it is to the honour of the Government of July to have shut the cabinet 216 noir, and I sincerely hope it will never be re-established.M. GUIZOT (speaking from his place) said—The hon. Member who has just spoken, is quite in the right. In law and in fact, the privacy of letters is completely respected in France, and we have not thought it necessary (nor can any one think it is so) to contradict all the errors which may be uttered in respect to this either in England or elsewhere (very good.)M. AYLES.—Is the privacy of letters equally respected as regards natives and foreigners?M. GUIZOT.—Both as regards natives and foreigners.That was the statement of the Minister of Foreign affairs in France. He took that as an official declaration, and, of course, he was bound to believe that it was true. Therefore, having said, in his place, as to the opening of these letters, that it might suit the air of France, Russia, or Austria, but would not suit the air of England, so he begged most humbly to apologise to the French nation, and to the French government, for this foul aspersion upon their character, believing, that if it were not true, M. Guizot would not stand up in his place and state that the secresy of letters was observed in France. The question was then brought within a narrower compass. It was said before that it was an un-English custom, but it now appeared to be peculiarly English, particularly in the way we carried it out; for he found that in Austria even, if not always, but nine times out of ten, whenever any letters were opened they were re-sealed with the government seal, by which it was known that they had been opened by authority. He had got proof of that. In May last a merchant ship, having brought many letters from Madrid, touched at a port of Dalmatia. The Austrian authorities took possession of the letters, broke the seals, read them, re-sealed them with the official seal, bearing the double-headed eagle, and gave them back with the words "opened by authority." And very often Ferdinand, Grand Duke of Tuscany, after perusing letters detained at the Post Office, was in the habit of writing underneath "Vidit Ferdinandus." In England there had never been an instance of any mark being made of a letter having been secretly read at the Post Office, but on all occasions the party was kept in ignorance of his secrets having been disclosed to the Government. It had been stated in another 217 place, with regard to Mazzini, that only one warrant had been issued for one letter only of Mazzini's. The right hon. Baronet had never yet admitted that he had issued a warrant for the opening of Mazzini's letters. We had not yet arrived at that. He did not know whether they would get that out of him this evening. In his opinion he had already said too much, but having said so much, the public would not be satisfied unless he said more. A correspondent of the Morning Chronicle furnishing his name to that paper, and who was stated, on the authority of the paper, to be a most respectable individual, said—The Duke of Wellington denies that Mazzini's letters were opened at the instigation of the Sardinian government. I am convinced when his Grace made that avowal that he felt convinced of the truth of it. But I can bring forward proof that the letters of this individual were detained and opened and copied, and which copies were handed to the Sardinian embassy at the request of 'an individual connected with the Sardinian government.' This is, therefore, a play upon words. This is, however, not all. The extent of this system is carried on wholesale, and perhaps rightly so; because if we oblige one country, why should we not do the same to all? What does it signify whether we open one letter or one hundred? The stigma is the same. The writer of the present letter has had several letters opened and detained, not even forwarded to the party; and this at the request of a very, very small state—or, to be better understood, at the request of its minister, or some one connected with the state as a 'goer-between.' These letters, being all relative to one subject, were all detained—I should say suppressed—of no political character, but certainly of a grave nature as regarded the judicial proceedings of the place respecting an awful calamity. This is an undeniable fact, as stated to me here by an authority, who charged me with having written about certain matters, although I was so friendly with them, &c. I therefore trust the country will insist upon the expunging this statute from our code; and until this is done I for one shall dispatch my letters through other channels than the British Post Office, or present designation, Spy Office.Hamburgh, June 22, 1844.It was said that only one warrant had been issued for the opening of one letter of this individual; but, notwithstanding all that had been staled in another place by a noble Duke, he was in a condition to prove that sixty or seventy letters had been opened. He repeated, again, that this had been going on for the last two years in the most unscrupulous manner. 218 During the disturbance, in 1842, two individuals were sent into the manufacturing districts from this secret office—this Star Chamber. They went from place to place opening letters. Whose letters were opened God only knew—in all probability everybody's. He should like to know under what authority these individuals could act. There could not have been a special warrant for each opening; they must have had general orders to go into the manufacturing districts and open everybody's letters from whom they might collect any secret. The provincial post offices were not trusted with this odious task. It might be said that the reason for this was political commotion. Granted; admitting that you expected the whole of the manufacturing districts to burst out into one continued blaze, were you acting according to law in sending individuals down with that sort of general power? It was utterly impossible that either you or they could know the letters they were to open. He believed that a wholesale opening of letters took place. He had been so informed, and, if this inquiry were granted, he could furnish proof of it. He said also that bags were carried to the secret office. When a particular bag was wanted no one but those in the secret office knew whose letter was opened. After the letters were sorted, and they were in the hands of the letter-carrier for distribution, he was told to give the letters of such and such a street,—"I want the letters of the Albany," for instance. In 1842 the letters of the Albany were asked for. A great number of gentlemen lived in the Albany. His right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh lived there. The noble Lord the Member for Newark lived there in 1842. That was the way in which it was done in reference to streets, and that he presumed would not be denied. If it was denied there were individuals who would prove it. The House could well understand the difficulties with which he had to contend in unravelling this matter of the Post Office inquisition. Since this question had been first mooted in Parliament individuals had been called before the Post Office authorities, and told "at your peril say one word to any one who asks you questions." They had also been examined as to whether such and such a person asked questions, and at the present moment their lips were sealed. They were perfectly right in not uttering another 219 word in reference to this transaction, but if a Committee were granted these persons would come forward and tell us the whole truth, and he was satisfied nothing but the truth, whomsoever it might affect. His other charge against the Government was, that they had opened letters at the instigation of Foreign Powers, and to a very great extent—the letters of Polish exiles, Italians, and other parties. What had this been done for? What had we to do with misunderstandings in Italy? How little was it known by foreigners that England was guilty of such treachery. Mazzini himself only the other day received a letter from one of his expatriated countrymen (the son of an Austrian admiral), who had taken refuge at Corfu, dated May 1, who wrote thus. Perhaps the right hon. Baronet had seen this letter. He said, "Now that I have got my foot upon British soil, relying upon the well-known loyalty of Englishmen, you may write to me in my own name." Poor deluded man? What did he do in this letter besides? After congratulating himself that he had arrived on English soil, he thanked the individuals who had assisted him in his escape. These names were found in this letter, the letter was handed over to the Austrian government, and these individuals were immediately thrown into prison; they knew not why nor wherefore. At this moment fifty or sixty individuals were in prison, and it was generally suspected, now that the thing was unravelled, that they were suffering imprisonment in consequence of the base information of the British to their ambassador, and communicated by the ambassador to his own government. There was no habeas corpus in those countries, and these individuals were obliged to remain in prison, until by torture or protracted incarceration they could be induced to make a confession. He had said so much on this subject the other evening, that he was unwilling to trespass longer upon the House; but he said that there was a feeling in the public mind which required satisfaction. The position in which the question now stood was neither satisfactory to the public honour, creditable to the House, or honourable to the Government. He wanted the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and not, as the right hon. Gentleman had attempted on the former occasion, a desire to mystify the subject 220 by saying that he had issued a warrant for opening the letters of one of those individuals who had presented petitions, but he would not say which, and that the petitioners had no reason to Complain, as the warrant no longer existed, for he had withdrawn it. With regard to Mazzini, if it was necessary to examine his letters at all, there was just as much reason for continuing to examine his letters now as there was when you withdrew the warrant; and that you must therefore, have withdrawn the warrant because you were apprehensive of the exposure that was about to take place. As to the other three individuals who you said had no reason to complain—that was partly true, for he did not believe that the letters of these individuals addressed to them at the Post Office had been opened. He had no proof of that; but of this he had proof, that letters addressed by those three individuals to Mazzini had been opened; and they had a right to complain, because, until the letters came into the possession of Mazzini, they were still their letters, and, therefore, they had a right to complain that their secrets should be known. As to the letter of Lovett to Mazzini, the stamps on it proved that it had been opened, as certain as it could be proved that the right hon. Gentleman had his hat on. A great number of the letters were written merely as a trap. This opening of letters had been suspected for two years, and therefore it was thought right to try a few experiments. There was a paragraph in one of the letters which said that the Emperor Nicholas was coming over to this country, and that his reception, particularly amongst the middling and working classes, would not be flattering or complimentary. The next morning there appeared in one of the papers an authentic contradiction that the Emperor Nicholas was coming to this country; but, notwithstanding that, five days afterwards he did appear, and to the great astonishment of these individuals who had read the paragraph stating that the Emperor Nicholas was not coming. He did not say that that was any proof that these letters were opened; but it was an extraordinary coincidence. Of course it would be no proof in a Court of Law, but he wanted the right hon. Baronet to satisfy the public that the letters of those persons who were not suspected of a treasonable design were not unscrupulously opened, and 221 that there had not been a gross breach of confidence committed in this great department. The right hon. Baronet as a Minister and paid servant of the public, was responsible to the House. The establishment of the Post Office was a source of revenue to the country and a tax on the people, it was a monopoly, and people were compelled to send their letters through the office, if they did not, they were liable to a penalty. Were they only compelled to send their letters through the office in order that the Government might examine them? If it were intended to continue to open the letters of the people, proclaim it. He found no part of the Act of Parliament which authorised the opening of letters, which justified the committal of a forgery and fraud; there was undoubtedly a power to detain and delay the letters, but there was no authority to reseal them and commit a fraud. The Solicitor General was in his place, and he hoped to hear from him the construction which he put on the Act of Parliament, whether it allowed the opening of foreign ministers' letters by a general warrant, and then afterwards, on notice sent down by the Secretary of State, without any warrant at all. He maintained that this question could not rest where it was. He hoped he had made out a primâ facie case for inquiry; it would not do to entrench yourself behind the solemn official silence which you had recourse to on a former occasion; nor would it satisfy the country or the public, to be supported in that solemn silence by a majority, which appeared ready to carry you through any act of this sort, which was most odious and offensive to the people.
§ Sir James Graham
Sir, I am obliged to the hon. and learned Member for Bath for not following the hon. Gentleman, who has just sat down, and I am sure that the House will feel that I am entitled to a hearing immediately after that hon. Gentleman. Sir, I am most anxious that the House should believe the assurance I now give that on the part of Government there was the most earnest desire that this discussion should not be postponed, and that a House should be made. Sir, if any Member of the Government was more anxious than another upon the subject, I am that man, and I rejoice in the opportunity now given to me of addressing you. The hon. Gentleman says he imagines that Government are about to call for a vote of 222 confidence—of blind confidence—that it is our wish to conceal some portion of the truth, and to mystify the House, as, on another occasion I am charged with having attempted to do. Now, Sir, I may appeal to the House whether it be not in a great measure owing to my frank disclosure of the truth that this question is now under discussion. I say I might have given an evasive answer, which would have baffled inquiry, but I scorned any such subterfuge. In honour I could not have given any such answer. Having issued more than one warrant, I was bound in honour to say so and to reject every evasion, whatever might be the consequences personally to myself. Conscious, that I have so acted, I think it is somewhat hard to say that I attempted to mystify the House. The hon. Gentleman expects that I shall again say to-night, that if anything illegal has been done, a legal remedy lies open to the party aggrieved. Now, Sir, that was not an improper, although it might have been an unsatisfactory answer. I think it was a just and constitutional answer; and I cannot conceive any illegal act committed—any great injury inflicted by a public servant of the Crown, in respect to which the laws does not provide a remedy and redress. But, however that may be, the answer having proved unsatisfactory on a former occasion, I am not about to repeat it now. The hon. Gentleman has said that this is a question between the people of England and the Government whatever in its early stage the question may have been, I admit that it has now assumed that aspect. On a former occasion I said that I had not undervalued the importance of this discussion from the first. I said that it was a question, involving great national interests, and naturally exciting deep national feeling. I repeat that I so regard it. I consider it a question of grave importance, and it is my intention to prove that I so consider it. I repeat that the hon. Gentleman has correctly treated it as a question between the people and the Executive Government. But the hon. Gentleman has said more. He has said that within the last two years—he has specified the period—within the last two years there has been a most unscrupulous use of this power on the part of the Government; he has designated it a use contrary to law. A more grave charge cannot be preferred against any Government by any Member of Parliament. 223 [Mr. T. Duncombe: I used the same words on the former occasion.] I must really beg the hon. Gentleman not to interrupt me—I did not interrupt him. I was about to state that, important as the subject is, its importance is considerably magnified by the assertions which have been made on a former evening here and elsewhere, and which have been circulated by the press throughout the country, and it has still further increased in magnitude this evening, by the bold assertions and assumptions now for the first time made by the hon. Gentleman himself. He says it is notorious that, as the mails arrive, a call is raised from the secret office for the Brighton bag or the Dublin bag; then for individual letters, addressed to particular persons; and at last he went the length of saying that he believed that everybody's letters were opened. I took the hon. Member's words down. If I am wrong, I am open to correction after I sit down, but I really must appeal to the House for an uninterrupted hearing. The hon. Member asserted, that first there was a cry for certain bags whenever the mails arrived—then that demands were made for the letters of whole streets—he specified the Albany as an example, and then he went on to say—I am sure the hon. Member used the expression—that everybody's letters were opened. I am sure that he used the expressions that the opening of letters was wholesale—that it was difficult to unravel the mystery—that I had attempted to mystify the House—and that I had already said so much that I must now say more. I am disposed to agree with the hon. Gentleman that the time has arrived when it is my duty to say more. When I consider the state of the public mind—so sensitive—so honourably sensitive upon this subject—when I consider the efforts which have been made to inflame it, assiduously made, successfully made, designedly made, to create a false prejudice—I agree with the hon. Gentleman, that the time has arrived when I must say more—when it is my duty to say more—and when I am resolved that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth shall be disclosed. Now, Sir, when I last addressed you on this subject, I addressed you under circumstances very different from those which now present themselves to my consideration. My immediate predecessor in the office which I have the honour to hold had stated, in the most solemn and positive manner, in his 224 place in Parliament, that he believed that the power given to Secretaries of State as to delaying and opening letters, was a power necessary for the safety of the State, that it was exercised on the responsibility of the Secretary, that he himself had exercised it, and that he had no reason to believe that I, his successor, had used the power in a manner inconsistent with my duty or different from the manner in which my predecessors had employed it. It was under these circumstances that I addressed the House when the hon. Member last made his Motion, and when I followed him in debate. Are these the circumstances under which I now address you? Sworn servants of Her Majesty, Privy Councillors, versed in affairs of State, conversant with the habits of office, well knowing what it had been their duty to do, and what their predecessors had done have thought fit deliberately to impugn my conduct—the right hon. Member for Edinburgh for one, has not thought it unbecoming his station and abilities—possessed as he is of powers of declamation perhaps hardly equalled in this House, he has not thought it unbecoming of him to come down—I fear not without preparation—and to pour forth the most impassioned language; pointing out to the indignation of the House and the public—not the law—not the system—but me, the Minister of the Crown, acting in the discharge of an official duty, well known to my predecessors and exercised by them. He said, I think, that it was not to the legal existence of such a power that he objected, but to the departure from the established mode of its exercise—to the manner, in fact, in which I had employed it. Did he stand alone? Did no other sworn Councillors of Her Majesty say the same thing? What was the tone of the noble Member for Sunderland? These Members might not, indeed, be conversant with the details of the administration of the office I have the honour to occupy, but I see in his place the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, not my immediate predecessor, but one who held the Seals of the Home Department for several years; he knows the practice of the office; he knows what he did in that office; yet he also did not think it inconsistent with his duty to vote in favour of a Motion for inquiry, not because he objected to the existence of the legal power, but because, forsooth he said he was of opinion that it had been exercised by me not in the accustomed 225 manner, and according to usage. What, let me ask, has been the inevitable effect of the Motion so made and so supported? To induce a conviction that I labour under a stigma peculiar to myself, of either having introduced a new practice, or of having departed in some important particular from precedents long established, not only by the practice of my immediate predecessor, but of my predecessors from an early period. I will tell the House frankly that, however, unworthy the attempt thus to crush any individual who is a political opponent; there is no load of obloquy to which I would not submit in silence if I believed it was for the public good that investigation should be withheld any longer. But after what has taken place within the last ten days—after the votes given on the former occasion by the noble Members for London and Sunderland, and by the right hon. Members for Edinburgh and Devonport, all Cabinet Ministers, and by other Gentlemen, some more and some less conversant with the practice of the executive Government, I do say, that, the maintenance of this power without inquiry is impossible, and that a full inquiry may now be made without any sacrifice of what is due to the Crown or to the public, while it will relieve me from calumnious surmises and an unjust load of obloquy: it may be made, too, without any additional risk to the legal power, which is now not only endangered, but positively destroyed by what occurred on the former occasion, and especially by the speeches and the votes of those, who had served Her Majesty in high and confidential offices. I can now indulge my private feelings consistently with my public duty, and I can be a party, ay, and I will be a party to the most searching inquiry into the state of the law and the practice from the earliest period down to the latest moment. As far as I am concerned, nothing whatever shall be concealed. I am prepared to go before a Committee, and to give evidence stating fully every thing that I have done in concurrence with my Colleagues, and every thing that has been done by my predecessors; and in order that there may be the most complete and entire revelation, I will propose terms so general as to ensure a thorough investigation. The power given by law is not confined to England and to the Secretary of State, for it belongs also to the Lord Lieutenant of 226 Ireland; and I hope that the inquiry will be extended to the exercise of the power by him. All I wish is, that the inquiry may be as full and complete; and the result will be, as far as I am concerned, that the power has been exercised in the strictest conformity with the established usage of my office. That usage has not only been recognised by the State, but by various Reports of Committees of this House the practice has been brought under the special and immediate notice of Parliament and of the public. It has been recognised by the State more than once, even at a recent period, on the consolidation of the statutes relating to the Post Office. It will appear, also, that neither in the mode, nor in the extent of the use of the power, can my conduct suffer by a comparison with that of my predecessors, and I am rejoiced to think that there is now, at least, an end of all mystification; and the course I am about to recommend will be not less satisfactory to myself than to the Friends who sit around me. It is my intention to propose an Amendment to the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury. I stated on a former occasion, that I did not think a revelation in this House of all the details connected with the exercise of this power would be conducive to the public good, and I retain that opinion. I do think that there must be an inquiry, not before a Select Committee, but before a Secret Committee, the Members to be nominated by the House. I think it expedient, following the course of precedents, that a Secret Committee shall be appointed, for the purpose of conducting the inquiry to the full extent I have stated. It is of the last importance that the powers to be given to that Committee should be ample; but if a full revelation is to be made, the evidence given must not be disclosed. Much will depend upon the composition of that Committee; but above all, I am anxious that no delay should take place. Considering the importance of the subject, and the state of the public mind, the inquiry ought to be commenced without the loss of a day. I know not whether the strict rules of the House will permit it, but I mean to move the following words as an Amendment:—That a Committee of Secrecy be appointed to inquire into the state of the Law in respect to the detaining, and opening of Letters, at the General Post Office, and into the mode in which the authority given for such detaining and opening has been exercised.227 There were some words at the end of the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury to which I should not be disposed to object; but I apprehend that the terms I have used will fully accomplish his views, and I shall add the usual power respecting sending for persons, papers, and records, and for reporting their opinions and observations to the House. I admit that the point of the greatest importance is the composition of the Secret Committee. I can conceive no higher trust delegated by the House to any of its Members; and for myself and my Colleagues, I may add, that we are anxious that the Committee should be impartially selected: in proof of that wish I may say that I am not disposed on this occasion to weigh the politics of any hon. Gentleman in the balance. I shall propose a Committee of nine, and five out of these nine should consist of Members generally opposed to the measures of Government. I will read the names, and first the four Members who usually vote with the present Administration. They are—Lord Sandon, Mr. Home Drummond, Mr. Thomas Baring, and Sir William Heathcote. The other five Members who are generally opposed to Ministers are these—Sir Charles Lemon, Mr. Warburton, Mr. Strutt, The O'Conor Don, and Mr. Ord, Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Permit me for one moment. I have carefully excluded from the list every Gentleman on either side of the House who is or who has been connected with office. Having excluded them, I may add, without any personal disrespect, that I look upon the hon. Member for Finsbury in a particular manner as the accuser on this occasion, and I think that both the accuser and the accused had better be excluded. To this Committee I gladly submit my personal honour and my official conduct, and I make the submission without fear. Though very dear to me, my honour is comparatively of small consequence in a question of this sort: I intrust it to them: I place it in their power, and I await their judgment, reserving always an appeal to this House. They will have to report upon the usage of the office, and upon the state of the law which has existed from the earliest times, and which has been sanctioned by the authority and practice of men long since gone to their great account—great constitutional authorities, men of spotless honour in private life, who dearly loved the liberties of their country. I have no doubt that the Members of the 228 Committee will faithfully discharge their duties, and although there has been some evil in the late discussions, and in the agitation of the public mind on this subject, yet I hope, believe, and pray, that good may be the ultimate result. With this feeling, and with this confident expectation, I beg leave to propose my Amendment.
§ Mr. Sheil
had only one remark to make, and that was, to point out the extraordinary circumstance of a Secret Committee being appointed to determine the construction of an Act of Parliament, and yet not one single member of the legal profession was nominated to serve on it. There was also, if he apprehended the right hon. Gentleman rightly, to be instituted a searching inquiry into the practices of the secret department of the Post-office; the officers and subordinates of that department were to be called before the Committee and to be examined; and yet there was no person to be found in the list of the Committee read by the right hon. Baronet who was competent to examine such functionaries, or to draw from them the details which it was the special business of that Committee to report upon. If it were wished that this inquiry should be as full as it had been admitted it ought to be, such precautions as he had pointed out ought surely to be taken to secure that result. He had observed the wish expressed by the right hon. Baronet to have the conduct of his predecessors in office subjected to the same scrutiny as his own. They were, he admitted, as much implicated in the inquiry as the present Ministry. The right hon. Baronet had said they were as criminal as himself and Colleagues, was it not, he would ask, fair for each party that members should be appointed on the Committee competent to sift and to arrive at the truth? It might be that his professional predilections had some effect upon his opinion in this matter, he could not divest his mind of the belief that an Act of Parliament should not be made the subject of inquiry before a Committee of that House unless some of the Members of that Committee were qualified, as lawyers, to investigate the subject.
§ Sir G. Grey
said, that as the right hon. Baronet had thought proper to allude to the vote which he had given on the former discussion of the question before the House, he wished to disclaim in the strongest manner possible any participation in the attempts—attempts which the 229 right hon. Baronet had imputed to those who voted as he had done—to run him down, or to excite the public indignation against him as Secretary of State, for the Home Department. In answer to this charge he should only refer to the arguments which he had used upon the occasion referred to. He had stated to the noble Lord opposite, who had accused the Members of the late Government of a wish to bring the details of the Post Office before the House, and of acting unfairly in that respect, that the grounds upon which he should vote in favour of the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury were not as to each particular case in which the right hon. Gentleman had exercised the power confided to him, but on the broad principle upon which that power was exercised. He had distinctly stated his objection to be that the power having been conferred for one purpose had been converted to another. He had observed that whilst the power of opening letters was conferred for the sole and express purpose of guarding the Throne and the Constitution from apprehended and secret dangers, the charge brought by the hon. Member for Finsbury against the right hon. Baronet was, that he had exceeded the power given him by law, in opening the letters of individuals at the instigation of foreign Governments, utterly unconnected in this respect with either the Queen or the Constitution of Great Britain. That was the single ground upon which he had voted, and the right hon. Baronet would no doubt bear him out in the assertion that such was his declaration at the time, for he had added at the close of his observations, that if the right hon. Baronet disavowed his having acted in the manner imputed to him, he would cheerfully vote with him. Now, he begged to say that he entirely approved of the course which the right hon. Baronet had adopted with respect to the Motion before the House. He did not mean to say that he was ready to adopt the specific terms in which that Amendment was couched; that was an immaterial consideration, because, as he understood the right hon. Baronet, the inquiry was to be a full, fair, and impartial one. He therefore gave the proposition of the Government a ready assent, nor did he think, under the circumstances, that the appointment of a Secret Committee was a wrong step. He did not know what the feeling of the hon. 230 Member for Finsbury upon this point was, but as the terms in which the Amendment was proposed expressly said the inquiry was to be a full and a fair one, he supposed there would be no objection to the course suggested. With respect to the members of the Secret Committee, he should avoid expressing any opinion upon that subject, as the moment had not arrived at which they could, consistently with the rules of the House, be read from the Chair. If the House approved of and assented to the Amendment the names proposed to constitute the Committee would, according to the usual form, be placed upon the Motion Paper, and thus be subjected to the consideration of the House. The House would meet, he understood, at twelve o'clock on the following day, and surely the right hon. Baronet did not mean to say or to imply that any discussion upon the construction of the Secret Committee would then take place, and it was scarcely worth while to violate one of the most important rules of the House in order to gain twelve hours. Besides, if the House met at twelve o'clock, the Committee might be constituted, and commence its sittings by two o'clock, and the gain of two hours was not worth the sacrifice at which it would be attained. As far as he could judge from the hasty consideration which he had given the subject, the construction of the Committee appeared to him to be perfectly fair. His only objection was the absence of any hon. Member of the legal profession. [A Voice: "There is one."] He begged pardon, there, was one hon. Member a lawyer, and it was extremely desirable that this advantage should not be confined to the portion of the Committee selected from the other side of the House; in fact, this circumstance afforded a proof of the inexpediency of naming a Committee before the names of those Members who were to constitute it had been sufficiently considered by the House. He rejoiced to find that the right hon. Baronet, after the reserve in which he had wrapped himself, as to the mode of exercising the power reposed in him, had adopted another tone; and he agreed entirely in the fairness of the proposition which he had made. He agreed that the inquiry ought not to be restricted to the period since the right hon. Baronet had tenure of his office, and he was sure that not one of the 231 right hon. Baronet's predecessors in the post which he then held would shrink from the fullest and most searching inquiry into the manner in which they had exercised the powers vested in them. After the assertions made by the hon. Member for Finsbury, such investigation was, he felt, necessary. He had already stated his reasons for deferring the nomination of the Committee; he hoped the right hon. Baronet would not, by persevering in pressing that point, drive the House into a discussion as to the names of the Members who were to compose it, but that he would let the matter take its regular course and suffer the Committee to be nominated at the sitting of the following day, by which time ample opportunity would have been given for considering the subject.
§ Mr. Roebuck
There is one point of great importance to which I wish to call the attention of the House. The object of appointing a Committee is to produce a feeling of security in the public mind, which feeling has been much shaken by what has recently occurred; I believe that the right hon. Baronet desires a thorough scrutiny into the whole matter of which we are talking, in order to create security out of doors. First, we have to ascertain what is the state of the law; and great doubts exist in the minds of the most learned lawyers; the next inquiry will be, how that law has been administered? By whom has it been departed from, by whom acted upon: thirdly, we have to consider what the law ought to be. Security being the end in view, I ask the House whether that end is likely to be attained by means of a Secret Committee? I know the difficulty, and I admit at once that the inquiry ought to be carried on with closed doors; but what I wish to secure is the complete and perfect publication of the evidence. The law in this case is doubtful, and after what has passed elsewhere, with most learned Lords on one side and with learned Lords on the other, you are about to appoint a Committeee—a Committee of very capable and perspicacious persons certainly—but not especially acquainted with the law. Let me first call your attention to the written law. By an Act of Parliament, 9th Anne, certain powers were given to the Post Office, and I direct my observations particularly to my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. Into that 232 statute a proviso was introduced, by which persons opening letters by warrant from the Secretary of State were freed from the penalties of the Law. Since then, the 9th Anne has been repealed, and an Act was passed, I think in 1837, by which certain powers were given, and into which a proviso was introduced. I am stating the contents of the Statute, as far as I can understand them, and I have learned authority for what I am about to state, viz.: that the proviso protecting persons who opened letters gives no power to the Secretary of State to issue warrants. If he have any power of the kind it is at Common Law. I will take the liberty of reading the Statute, for it is short. [Here the hon. and learned Member read the terms of the Post Office Consolidation Act, and then proceeded.] As to the Common Law right, I have to direct the attention of hon. Members to the authority of no less a person than Lord Camden, then Chief-Justice Pratt, in reference to the seizure of Wilkes's papers. He begins by saying:—Papers are the owner's goods and chattels. They are his dearest property, and are so far from enduring seizure, that they will hardly bear inspection.And from thence he goes on to assert distinctly that the law gave magistrates no power to seize on individual's papers:—Therefore (added Lord Camden) it is not too much for us to pronounce a practice illegal, which would be subversive of all the comforts of society.This is precisely the same case. I maintain that it is a legal question, and I want to know who are to inquire into it? I can read the law here as well as my hon. and learned Friend opposite—I mean the words of it, but I want persons to be appointed who will attract confidence to the report on the question what the law really is. The next question for them will be whether it has been adhered to, and the third what it ought to be? The hon. Members to be appointed would be a competent jury on the second point, if they were duly instructed what the law is. A judge, on a trial, tells the jury what the law is; but here we are in doubt what the law is, and the condition on which it exists. Out of doors there are various opinions among learned persons, and I do not think that this Committee is likely to deserve the confidence of the 233 House or of the country, especially when it is to be a Committee of Secrecy. I beg to assure the right hon. Baronet that I fully sympathise in the feelings he has expressed. I fully believe that advantage has been taken of this incident to call down public indignation upon an officer who has done nothing more than tread in the footsteps of his predecessors, and that this opinion has been aided and created out of doors by all the vile arts which attach to the daily papers of this country; a fouler instrument of calumny cannot be found, and all its foulness on the present occasion has been poured on the head of the right hon. Baronet. I will not do honour to one more than another of these detestable channels of public information, by naming any one of them. I beg to add, that I am delighted that an enquiry is to take place, and I am convinced that when the public and the country come to understand what the power is, and how it has been exercised under all administrations, when you lay bare all its hideous deformity, it will be consigned at once to destruction. It is a power not necessary for the safety of the country, not necessary for the peace of the world, and only used to gratify base passions and for party, disingenuous, and detestable purposes. It can be of no use to an Administration which rests on the affections of the people, only bent upon a just and straightforward course, far above all inquiries into the privacy of individuals, and aiming at the government of a nation perfectly free in the performance of all those acts which society considers harmless and useful. I hold in my hand a paper which is well worthy of attention. The hon. Member for Finsbury told us that M. Guizot in his place had thought fit to say, that he did not believe that any breach of the privacy of letters had been committed. I hope that the statement is accurate, although I have not myself perfect faith in it: as far as I am concerned, I do not attach much credit to that piece of information, for I believe that the practice prevails now as formerly, and, I hold in my hand a very remarkable letter relating to the proceedings of the French Post Office from Carnot, who was minister of the interior during the Hundred Days: it may be taken as a warning to us at present, and, with the permission of the House, I will read it in English. [The hon. and learned Member read the letter, 234 which was addressed to a prefect of one of the departments, and protested against the violation of the privacy of correspondence as directly contrary to the wishes of the Emperor. It referred to the practice which had prevailed on this subject in 1787, insisted upon the propriety of abandoning it, and called upon the prefect "to pursue, with the utmost strictness, those who, by opening letters, violated the law and the most sacred rights of man."] I beg especially to direct the notice of the House to the last words of the letter of Carnot, in 1815, "That the thoughts of a fellow-citizen ought to be as free as his person." I sincerely believe that as an instructed people, long conversant with the blessings of established and regular government, we are not yet reduced to the fatal necessity of employing such degrading and disgraceful means of protecting the public interests.
§ Mr. Labouchere
I am anxious to take this opportunity of making some explanation upon a point with reference to what took place in this House, but still more, in another place. As it is a matter of a personal character, I hope that the House will indulge me for a few moments. It has been asserted that in 1837, in consolidating the Acts relating to the Post Office, the Government with which I was connected not only gave fresh sanction to the power now under discussion, but actually pushed that power to a further extreme. I beg to say, that if such were the case, it was my own individual deed, for which I alone was responsible. Let me remind the House that, in 1837, I was a member of the Post Office Commission, and it was signified to me that it would be a great public convenience if the 187 Acts relating to that department were consolidated. This was repeatedly urged upon me, among others, by the hon. Member for Greenock; and I undertook the task upon one condition, viz., that the Bill was to be treated as one of mere consolidation, and time was not to be consumed by debates upon the merits of the different enactments. The hon. Member for Greenock kept his undertaking with the most honourable fidelity, and allowed the measure to pass as one of consolidation. I stated at the time that no Member was pledged by any of the provisions—nay, more, that I was not myself pledged by any of them. Therefore it has not been truly and fairly 235 stated that fresh action was given by me to this power by what was a mere consolidation. The hon. Member proceeded to state, that having himself been employed in conjunction with professional gentlemen of high eminence, in effecting a consolidation of the Acts relating to the Post Office, he was enabled to state that no alteration had been made in the new Act with respect to this power of opening letters. These were the facts of the case. Those intrusted with this duty had found one set of words in the Irish Act which gave this power to the Lord Lieutenant, and the Chief Justice in his absence, in Ireland. There was another set of words in the English Act, giving this power to the Secretary of State in England, and the words of the Irish Act were adopted, instead of those of the English Act. No new words were inserted: they merely adopted the Irish words, and applied them in England when it became necessary to consolidate the laws on this subject. His belief was, that they had in no degree altered the law or rendered it more stringent as against the subject, and that they had given no increased power to the Secretary of State by this consolidation. He believed he was not misstating the case, but if it should be found that he was, he hoped he should be acquitted by the House of having misstated it intentionally. If the case were otherwise, he (Mr. Labouchere) was responsible; the error, if error there were, was his alone; and neither the Government with which he was connected, nor the Law Officers of the Crown who had taken upon themselves the duty of drawing up the Act, could be held responsible. He had discharged, to the best of his ability, the duty which he was bound to perform, and he should be extremely sorry to have it supposed that he had availed himself of that opportunity to insert words giving to the Government a new power which it had not possessed before. He heartily rejoiced at the course which the right hon. Gentleman had taken upon the present occasion. The right hon. Gentleman, alluding particularly to the speech made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, seemed to suppose that those who had been the servants of Her Majesty in the Privy Council must have had knowledge of the circumstances attending an exercise of this power. Now, he had had the honour of serving Her Majesty in the 236 Privy Council, and yet he knew no more about it than any other Member of that House. He knew nothing of the circumstances under which the noble Lord (the Member for the City of London) had exercised this power, while he had that entire confidence in the honour and integrity of the noble Lord, that he was satisfied the noble Lord would not shrink from instituting this inquiry any more than any of his late Colleagues. He was therefore speaking now as any other Member of the House might have spoken. He confessed that he had entertained the opinion which he expressed when this subject was first discussed, that it was fitting that on grave and serious occasions the Government of this country should have the power of opening letters; yet, the more this discussion went on, the more obstinately the Government have declined to make any statement of the circumstances under which the late exercise of the power had taken place, and the more that the fact had been made public by the press, the more he had felt that it was absolutely necessary for the honour of the country that the subject should be examined into. He had been a good deal shocked to find it stated that Mr. Fox had, in 1782, in so general a way, opened all the dispatches of the Foreign Ministers in this country. He could not believe that there was any real public object gained by exercising a power of this description, anything which could be put in competition with the honour of this country, or with the obligation of preserving the sanctity of the seal. If it were known that the power was exercised, of course the Foreign Ministers would take good care not to send any of their dispatches through the Government Post Office. He could not, therefore, believe that there could be any State necessity for exercising this power in this general and sweeping way. On the other hand, he could conceive cases in which it might be the duty of the Government to exercise a power of this kind. If, for instance, there was reason to suppose that the life of the Sovereign was in danger from some plot, and the only way of detecting it was by opening a letter, would any one contend that it was not the duty of Government to exercise the power? But he rejoiced that the whole question was to be submitted to an impartial tribunal, and he was satisfied that nothing but good would result. The hon. Member 237 for Bath appeared to him, while generally coinciding with the course proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, to raise one objection, which, he confessed, he did not think very well founded. The distinction between a Secret Committee, and one with closed doors, did not appear to him (Mr. Labouchere) to be of much importance. It seemed to be generally felt by the House that this should not be an open Committee, constituted in the same way as Committees of that House were in ordinary cases. There was no reason to run away with a prejudice against a Secret Committee as being very different in its nature from one with closed doors. He apprehended that the only distinction was this, that a Secret Committee would have the power of excluding, besides strangers generally, those who were Members of that House, while a Committee, with closed doors, had not the power of excluding Members. The Members of the House formed a very numerous body, and it was possible that those who would be most anxious to obtain admittance to the sittings of the Committee might be the very persons whom, if secresy were the object, it would be most desirable to exclude. He did not see why Members should claim for themselves a privilege which they refused to the public generally. He, therefore, quite concurred with the right hon. Gentleman on this point. He concurred in the remarks made by by his hon. Friend near him, relative to the employment of lawyers on the Committee; but it seemed to be forgotten that one of the proposed Members, Mr. Home Drummond, was a very able and experienced lawyer. He had filled the office of Deputy Advocate in Scotland, and was as well trained and thorough a lawyer as any in that House. If they adhered to the rule of employing lawyers, it would be proper to retain his name on the Committee; if not, his being there was of course inconsistent. He could not conclude without expressing his persuasion, that if Government had frankly stated on the previous occasion, their views as to the exercise of this power, which the people out of doors naturally looked upon with great jealousy, public resentment would never have reached such a height, and that the only course to be taken for the purpose of allaying it was to allow a complete and searching inquiry to be instituted into the circumstances of the case.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, Sir, I must observe, in the first place, that I cordially and personally share in the satisfaction expressed by my right hon. Friend, that there will be an opportunity to give the fullest information on the subject of the most invidious power of detaining and opening letters. I say, I heartily rejoice in it, because the acts done are not the acts of an individual Member of the Government, for them I consider the whole Administration responsible; and that it is not just and not fair, that he upon whom the law imposes this painful duty should bear the whole responsibility of it. These acts are done with the general cognizance and authority of the Government, and individual Members of the Government ought not to be made responsible for them. Sir, the great object for which the appointment of this Committee will take place, is, that there may be full and complete information as to the length of time the usage has prevailed, and the circumstances under which this authority has been exercised, and that there should proceed from that Committee, an opinion whether or no in the case of any particular Administration this power has been perverted from the purposes for which it was granted—whether it has been used for the promotion of private interests, whether it has been used for the gratification of private curiosity, or the indulgence of private malignity, or whether the great purposes for which the power was given, namely, the maintenance of the interests of the country, has been all that has been regarded by those who have exercised it. That was the great object we had in the appointment of this Committee. We left out all lawyers purposely, after consideration. We thought it right to state the origin of the law, and in what manner the law had varied from time to time; but we thought that we should be justly charged with diverting from public attention the real object of this Committee, if we had put upon it any lawyers to squabble about this or that construction of the law. Let us discuss that at another time. If we had put any lawyers upon it, whom should we have named? Without reflection upon anybody, the men best qualified in the opinion of all, would, probably, be those who had filled the highest offices under the late Government as well as under the present Government. I presume that that would have been the general opinion, 239 without any reflection upon any other lawyer. Upon any legal Committee the names which would carry most weight, would, in all probability, be the names of the hon. and learned Member for Worcester, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Exeter, not from any personal preference to them, but because the one was Attorney General under the late Government, and the other is Attorney General under the present Government and then suppose they differed upon any legal point? I cannot then but think, that if we had appointed a Committee to hear those two learned Gentlemen squabbling about the legal effect of any particular Clause, we should have been justly charged with diverting its attention from that which is the main object—a full inquiry into the principles upon which we have acted, and the objects we have had in view. And if great and learned lawyers differ in the House of Lords, as I understand they do, upon any particular point. I am very much afraid that the Report of any Committee of nine Gentlemen assisted by two lawyers, would not be very satisfactory as to the operation of the law. But that is not the point on which the English people wish to be satisfied. If we had appointed those two Gentlemen we should have departed from the principle to which we wish to adhere—to exclude men in office, or candidates for office, and to appoint upon this Committee only men of experience and of high public character; and I think the men we have named are enlightened enough to come to a judgment upon the real facts of this case without the aid of the hon. and learned Member for Worcester, or the hon. and learned Member for Exeter. I hope, therefore, that the hon. and learned Member for Bath will not call for the appointment of lawyers upon the Committee. At the same time, it will be consistent with the principles upon which we wish to act—that we should gain no advantage from any particular names on this Committee—if we were at once to forego any advantage which we might be supposed to have by having named a Gentleman whose qualifications as a lawyer we had forgotten in our respect for him as a country gentleman. It never occurred to me until I heard it mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the hon. Member for Perth, a great agricultural district, was so acute a lawyer as I have no doubt he is, if 240 he applied his abilities to the profession of the law. We certainly wished to name him, but if there would be any advantage to the Government from his being a professional man, that advantage we will forego and will consent to name some hon. Gentleman who has not the qualifications of a lawyer. An objection has been taken to this being a Secret Committee. Why, Sir, we made it a Secret Committee in order that there might be a fuller opportunity of disclosure on the part of those who fill certain offices under Government. The question will be "Have you abused your powers?" And we do intend that the officers of the Post Office shall appear before the Committee. We wish to conceal nothing. But in order to do that, we must hope that the obligation of secrecy will be put upon those Gentlemen who are to make a final report because we cannot render an account of our motives unless we explain facts which ought not to be disclosed to the world; but that Committee having heard the facts will have the fullest opportunity of reporting whether that explanation be satisfactory or not, without disclosing the names of parties to whom reference is made. But if we have asked for a Secret Committee, we have acted in conformity with the course pursued by one of our noble opponents, because in another place, knowing that the way to get at the truth was to maintain secrecy, the Earl of Radnor, in moving for a Committee to inquire into these practices, proposed that it should be a Secret Committee. And I with confidence state to the House that if they want to get at the real facts as to the conduct of the Government, they will require that the Committee should be a Secret Committee, and not a select one. I hope, therefore, that the House will be satisfied with our motives for making this a Secret Committee. The object is for the Committee to inquire into certain facts, and to report to the House after that inquiry to what extent it may be desirable for the public interests that this power should be retained, and, if retained, under what qualifications and restrictions; but I say, that in order to enable the Committee to give an opinion for the future upon that important point, it will be of great advantage to them to have the whole truth before them in the way in which they can best obtain it, under the sacred obligation ef secrecy, I hope, therefore, the House 241 will consent to my substituting another name for that of the hon. Member for Perth. I feel that we have observed perfect fairness in the appointment of this Committee; and I hope that without engendering any difficulty about the name the House will consent to what I now propose. We have named five out of nine Gentlemen forming the Committee, including the hon. Member for Kendal and the hon. Member for Roscommon, from Gentlemen on the other side of the House and no one can read their names without feeling satisfied of their qualifications for discharging the duties intrusted to them. Not only are those Gentlemen opposed to us in general politics, but they gave adverse votes to us when this question was last before the House in the case of Captain Stolzberg. Every one of the five whom we have selected to be our judges upon this question voted against us. I hope, then, you will substitute some other name of equal authority with that of the hon. Member for Perth; but that you will reserve all legal questions for future consideration, and exempt the Committee from entering into any legal technicalities and distinctions; and seeing that five out of the nine, being chosen from the other side, may be presumed to be against the Government, that you will be satisfied of the purity of our motives, and not involve us to-morrow in that most invidious of conflicts—the nomination of a Committee. A Secret Committee differs from a Select Committee in respect to the general rules of the House, and we are not acting in violation of those rules by at once proceeding to its nomination, and we do confidently hope that the proposal of the Government, as to the general constitution of the Committee, the majority being selected from our opponents, and the weight and authority of those individuals on that side of the House being considered, will carry with it the universal and unanimous approbation of the House, and that we shall not be asked for any unnecessary delay.
Lord J. Russell
then said,—Sir, after the course which has been taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, supported by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, were it not for some allusions which the right hon. Gentleman made in the course of his speech, as laying the grounds for the appointment of this Committee, I 242 should have given a silent vote upon this Motion. But the right hon. Gentleman having referred to a speech which I made in a former debate in this House, and especially to the vote which I gave, as a reason for the appointment of this Committee, it becomes necessary for me to remind the House of the observations I made upon that occasion. I came down to the House fully persuaded that I should be enabled to support the right hon. Gentleman. I did not expect I should have had to vote for the Motion of my hon. Friend near me; because I expected that when the right hon. Gentleman asked me to agree to his Motion, he would have stated the general principles upon which he acted in the exercise of this particular power. That was the course taken by Sir R. Walpole—no mean authority—when the exercise of this power was questioned in former tunes; and it appeared to me that if the right hon. Gentleman shrouded himself in complete silence as to the general principles upon which he acted, he left it entirely open to any future Secretary of State to abuse that power, as the right hon. Gentleman had just stated, for the purpose of private interest, for the gratification of private curiosity, or the indulgence of private malignity; because the House of Commons having affirmed that the Secretary of State was not bound to state any general principles or general rules which should guide his course, there seemed to be no check whatever for the exercise of this, which I consider a necessary, but at the same time, very formidable power. When I stated that, however, I differed both from my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh and also from the suggestion of my noble Friend the Member for Sunderland. But there was one observation which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury when he brought forward the Motion to which I railed the attention of the House. It was, that the letters of Mr. Mazzini and Captain Stolzberg had been opened not for anything that was apprehended, either from domestic or foreign enemies, but to aid certain foreign Governments against discontented subjects of theirs who had taken refuge in this country, and that that was not a legitimate exercise of that power. At the same time, if the right hon. Gentleman had declared to the House what were the general principles upon which he acted, I stated that I was ready to give him credit 243 in any particular case in which he had exercised any particular power; and I would not have asked him anything further, but should have been contented to have supported him in refusing the Committee. I think the right hon. Gentleman acted wrongly in that respect. I do not regret the course I took on that occasion, because if the suspicions of the public mind had not been awakened, if the same inflammatory statements had not been made, if the interest of the people in this question had not been so strongly excited, according to the right hon. Gentleman himself, we should have had no inquiry. The right hon. Baronet, however, now thinks it necessary to appoint a Committee, and in this respect one advantageous result has followed the course we then pursued. I came down to-night intending to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, thinking it quite fair, that as the conduct of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had been attacked, the conduct of his predecessors should also be made the subject of inquiry by this House. I entirely agree in the reasons urged by the right hon. Gentleman opposite for proposing that the Committee appointed to investigate this matter should be a Secret Committee. I think the purposes of the inquiry will be more fully attained, the investigation will be more strict, and the Members of the Committee will be better able to arrive at a conclusion if the inquiry is conducted secretly than would be the case if it were an open Committee, and the matter was canvassed from day to day. I am ready to agree to any selection of names the right hon. Baronet may think proper to propose. I see no objection to the names he has mentioned; and I think it is advisable that we should now close this part of the subject. I shall be quite ready to afford the Committee any information as to the exercise of this power during the period I held the office of Secretary of State; and there are others, of course, who can give evidence quite as good—perhaps better—as to the manner in which I then exercised that power. Let the subject be investigated; if the present law is necessary, let it be maintained; if the terms of that law are not sufficiently plain, let them be made more clear; but, if it should appear that this power is not necessary for the public interests, let it be abolished. I shall be quite content with the decision of a Committee constituted 244 in the manner proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite; and I believe, that in the hands of such a Committee, the public interests will not suffer.
§ Mr. Wakley
said, I am convinced that the public will not be satisfied with the reasons assigned, either by the Members of Her Majesty's Government, or by the noble Lord and his right hon. Friends, for referring this subject to a Secret Committee. It is certainly a most extraordinary mode of satisfying public curiosity. Do the Members of the Government suppose that they are to have exclusively all the curiosity in the world? They have been in the habit of looking into people's letters; and the public want to know why and how and to what extent this practice has been pursued. The public have expressed much surprise and great indignation at the conduct of the Government in this respect. In the first instance, the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) was taciturn; he very boldly said, "I won't tell you what I have done. I feel it most consistent with my duty to be silent. You shan't know anything about the matter." But the public have evinced great anxiety on the subject; and the press, as I think—contrary to the opinion of my hon. and learned Friend—with very laudable zeal, and with a very excellent spirit, has taken up the question, and has excited the feeling which now exists in England, and has so far succeeded in bringing the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) to an account, that he now expresses his willingness to consent to some inquiry. It is to the press that we are indebted for this result. The public say, "Let us have an investigation—let us know what has been done." The right hon. Baronet states, as one reason for consenting to inquiry, that he does so in deference to public opinion; he says that public feeling is so much excited on the subject, that he considers it his duty to consent to an investigation. But how are the public to be satisfied? By being told that the investigation is to be confided to nine hon. Members of this House, who are to make no revelation whatever of the manner in which this odious practice has been exercised, or of the extent to which it has been carried. [An hon. Member: "They are."] Yes, but only a general declaration of opinion. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, whether it be competent to this Committee to present the evidence 245 adduced before them to this House, or for this House to order that it shall be printed? No; the evidence is to be excluded from public observation. But I contend that the public are as competent to form an opinion as to the manner in which this power has been exercised as the nine Gentlemen who are to constitute the Committee. But what is the other reason which, according to the statement of the right hon. Baronet, induces him to consent to the appointment of a Committee? The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of the observations he addressed to the House, alluded especially, and with much clearness and ability, to the part which was taken, the other night by the Members of the late Government in the debate upon this subject. I infer, from what has transpired, that what the right hon. Baronet means to do is this—to admit that his own conduct has been rather dark and queer with respect to this transaction, but to endeavour to get out of his difficulty by saying to the Members of the late Administration, "Thank God! I am not worse than you are. I will prove before this Committee, that if my conduct has been objectionable, that of my predecessors in office was at least quite as bad." How very satisfactory to the public! It is said that when persons of a certain description fall out, honest men get their own. Now, it is clear to me that but for the hostility manifested to the present Government by the Members of the late Administration, we should have had no inquiry at all. I am glad there has been a fall out between the hon. Gentlemen on opposite sides of this House, but I doubt very much whether the public will get their own. I believe that, if we don't take care, the practice we have so strongly condemned will in future be carried on under the authority of this Secret Committee. I fear, from the manner in which the inquiry is likely to be conducted, it will be admitted that the power in question ought to exist; if so, who can place limits to its exercise? There may be a condemnation of the practice of the late and of the present Governments, and the Committee may Report that they hope, after what has transpired, that the power will be exercised with extreme deliberation and caution; but the practice may continue for twenty, thirty, or forty years, till another explosion similar to the present takes place, in consequence of its being carried to too 246 great an extent, or exercised in an improper manner. I have heard no reasons which, in my opinion, show the necessity for conducting this investigation in secret. According to the terms of the Motion the inquiries of the Committee will first be directed to ascertaining the state of the law; at least, that is the first subject mentioned in the Resolution. The state of the law! What has transpired in another place with regard to the state of the law? We have in that place the first legal authorities of this kingdom—men to whose judgment in legal matters the public of this country are ready to submit,—we have the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice of England, and some half-dozen Ex-Chancellors—men sitting on both sides of the House, and maintaining opinions diametrically opposite. The Lord Chancellor declares that one warrant is sufficient to justify the opening of a number of letters, and in that opinion he is supported by an Ex-Chancellor; but on the other hand we have high legal authorities, led by the Lord Chief Justice, declaring that an express warrant is necessary in every case. But, notwithstanding this difference of opinion among the highest legal authorities, my learned Friend near me is desirous that lawyers should be placed on this Committee, Why, if the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice differ in opinion as to the state of the law, are we likely to find lawyers in this House who can determine it, and to whose decision the public will bow? In my opinion the better course is to exclude lawyers from this Committee, because my conviction is, that if they were to discuss the matter for a month they would not come to a satisfactory decision at last. I would call upon the hon. Gentlemen who are to form this Committee to apply the principles of common sense and of common justice to the practice of opening letters and to the state of the law on the subject; and it is then possible that this House and the public may be satisfied with their decision. I am convinced, however, that nothing will satisfy the public that this odious and detestable power ought to be continued. A more odious power never existed—nor one which has been exercised in a manner more calculated to give annoyance and to excite dissatisfaction. It is curious, that though my hon. Colleague made several somewhat bold declarations and charges against the 247 Government, not one of them was contradicted by the right hon. Baronet opposite. All the right hon. Gentleman says is,—"If I have acted in this way, my predecessors have acted in the same way." The right hon. Gentleman does not deny that there was a secret office, and that whole bags of letters were sent to that office. I do not say that those letters were opened there, nor did my hon. Colleague make such an allegation; but, from representations made by hon. Members of this House, it is believed that the practice of opening letters has been carried to an enormous extent, and that letters have been opened again and again at the instigation of the agents of Foreign Governments. Under these circumstances I would ask whether it is not the duty of this House to appoint an open Committee—to meet the question boldly. I am convinced that the public will not be disposed to visit the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary with a more severe punishment for his conduct in relation to this matter than they will award to other parties; however bad the conduct of that right hon. Gentleman may have been in opening letters, if it is shown that the conduct of his predecessors has been equally objectionable. In the clamour raised against them he will escape, and he will have reason to be glad that he has courted full and open inquiry.
§ Mr. M'Geachy
was prepared, if the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury had gone to a division, to have given his vote in its favour, and against the Government. He would not have pursued this course from any want of confidence, either in the Government in general, or in the right hon. Baronet in particular; but he felt it his duty to vote in accordance with the view he had formed of the merits of this question, and with a sense of his responsibility as a Member of that House. On some occasions during the present Session hon. Members of that House, on a reconsideration of questions which had been brought before it, had come to conclusions precisely opposite to those at which they had in the first instance arrived; and it seemed that in the present case Her Majesty's Government had benefited by the opportunity afforded them of reconsidering this subject, and had adopted a determination the reverse of that they had before announced.
§ Mr. Wallace
fully concurred in the 248 observations of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley). It appeared to him that the proposal of the right hon. Baronet indicated that such an arrangement had been come to by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House as would prevent the public from knowing much of this investigation. He was convinced that the public would not be satisfied with an inquiry conducted before a Secret Committee; in a matter of this sort, they would demand publicity. The great body of the people of this country now believed that a system prevailed at the Post Office of opening letters, independently of the letters of foreigners and those for which warrants were granted, and they had lost all confidence in the Post Office establishment. He had in his pocket several letters, received within the last four or five days, which had printed notices upon them, stating that it was unnecessary to seal them because it was not worth while putting the Post Office to the trouble of opening them. He was desirous to see the Post Office establishment deserving and possessing the confidence of the people; but he was sure that inquiry by a Secret Committee on a subject of this nature would not increase their confidence in that establishment. His hon. Friend (Mr. T. Duncombe), who brought forward this question seemed to him to be better able than any other person in this country to guide both sides of that House. That hon. Member seemed to have the power of directing the Government to do whatever he pleased. He hoped, if there should be any embarrassment attending the formation of a new Ministry, Her Majesty would not forget his hon. Friend, who, he was convinced, would point out the men best qualified to advise the Crown. He would support a public and open, in preference to a secret inquiry; and he hoped his hon. Friend would take the sense of the House on the subject.
§ Mr. Macaulay
said, I would not now presume to address the House, were it not that I understand, during my absence, some allusion has been made to me by the right hon. Secretary of State for the Home Department. It is extremely difficult for a person who has not been present during a debate in this House to collect precisely what has been said during his absence; and it is proportionally difficult for him to give an answer to any charges which have 249 been made against him. But, if I rightly understand what I am told has been said by the right hon. Gentleman, the charges he has made against me may be classed under two heads. He has imputed to me, in the first place, a dereliction of my duty as a sworn servant of Her Majesty; and, secondly, he has accused me of making a personal attack upon him, and of imputing to him some misconduct unprecedented in the administration of his predecessors. Now, as to the first and more important of these attacks, I deny that I have in any respect, by any observation I have addressed to this House, violated my oath of duty as a Privy Councillor. I deny that I have divulged any secret which came into my possession in that capacity. I deny that in the character of a Privy Councillor I ever became acquainted with any circumstance whatever relating to the practice of the Post Office. I deny that any paper I knew to be obtained by the opening or scraping of seals was ever, to the best of my knowledge, submitted to me in that capacity. I declare, also, that there is no Gentleman, on either side of this House, who is more completely ignorant than I am of all the details of that Department of the Post Office to which frequent reference has been made during this discussion. Then, with respect to the second charge made against me by the right hon. Gentleman, I deny, with equal confidence, the imputation that I came down to this House to make a personal attack upon that right hon. Baronet. I certainly came down intending to express concisely, a very strong opinion as to the present state of the law and practice; and I intended to have prefaced my observations by declaring that I made no imputation whatever upon the right hon. Baronet beyond what must attach to him in common with all others who had been called upon to administer the same invidious law. If I departed from that line of conduct, it was because the right hon. Baronet himself forced me to such a course; because I considered that the line of conduct he adopted was utterly inconsistent with all notions of Ministerial responsibility. I now say, that in my opinion, there is a wide distinction between the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham) and that of any persons who have preceded him in his present office; for who, when called upon in the face of this House to state on what principle 250 he had exercised the power we are now discussing, ever declined to do so before the right hon. Baronet? When Sir Robert Walpole was called upon in this House to make such a statement, he frankly avowed the principle on which he had acted. The noble Lord near me has made a distinct statement of the principle on which, during his administration, that department was directed. He distinctly declared that, in the exercise of this power, he acted solely with a view to the safety of this country; and that he would have considered it a departure from the spirit of the law to examine the letters of foreigners, in consequence of applications from foreign Governments, founded upon apprehensions they might entertain. The right hon. Baronet opposite was repeatedly asked, "Will you state that this was the principle upon which you acted?" The right hon. Gentleman replied that he would not—that a sense of public duty, regard for the safety of the State, induced him to refuse to declare the principle upon which he had acted. Was that consistent with the conduct of the right hon. Baronet to-night? Why, is not this Secret Committee, consisting of nine Members of this House, to tell us upon what principle this practice was carried on? Is it not appointed in order that the House may ascertain on what general principle letters have been opened? There can be no doubt that the intention is, that this Secret Committee shall state to the House not particular cases, but the general principles upon which the Post Office and other authorities have acted To the appointment of that Committee the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) entertains no decided objection. Does he not conceive that the public safety is compromised by the appointment of such a Committee? Let me ask the right hon. Baronet why he did not state to the House what he conceives will be the substance of the Report of that Committee? Why, if the Report of that Committee will compromise the public safety, the right hon. Gentleman ought not to agree to its appointment. If the public safety will not be compromised by such Report, the right hon. Baronet ought not to have shielded himself under the pretence of "public safety," and have refused any answer to questions put to him on this subject. A mere declaration from him of the principles upon which he has acted would have prevented me from 251 making any remarks as to his conduct; I should merely have addressed myself to what I think the most important part of the subject—the state of the law. I shall be much surprised if the Report of this Committee should lead me to entertain an opinion different from that I have hitherto expressed, namely, that the state of the law requires very great and extensive alteration. I will not detain the House further than to say that I heartily approve of the Motion of the right hon. Baronet opposite, and that I think, upon the whole, it is desirable that in the first instance, at least, the proceedings of the Committee should be secret. I conceive it to be possible that some matters connected with the administration of foreign affairs might be disclosed in the course of the examination, the publicity of which we might have reason to regret. I am not desirous that any secresy whatever should be preserved with respect to the internal arrangements of the Post Office; because, with regard to all matters purely internal, the people of this country are fully competent to judge what is for their own interest. Matters which it is not advisable to render public might, however, be disclosed in the course of an inquiry of this nature. I do not conceive that any Report this Committee may present is likely to induce me to change the opinion I now entertain—that the power possessed by the Secretary of State with regard to the opening of letters is one which produces no advantage at all commensurate with the evils and the feeling of insecurity which it occasions; and that it is a power which, whether we censure the past exercise of it or not, we ought without delay to abolish.
Lord J. Russell
observed that in the course of his remarks he had alluded only to the exercise of this power of opening letters for political purposes. The Marquess of Normanby, he believed, had in another place mentioned that this power was sometimes exerted to further the ends of justice in cases of crime, when without its exercise justice would be defeated.
said, if the Government persisted in having a Secret Committee, it ought to be one in which the people would have confidence. There were no Gentlemen of higher character and honour than every one of the hon. Members who were to be appointed, but they were so peculiarly connected with the two great parties in the House, not merely as partizans, 252 that he was convinced any report from them would produce no more impression upon the public mind than if five Gentlemen only from the Treasury Bench were to be appointed. So strong was his impression of the truth of this view that he should move that the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) and the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) should be added to the Committee. It was but just that the hon. Member for Finsbury should have the opportunity of proving the allegations he had made. He thought, too, that the hon. Member for Montrose, who shared so largely the confidence of the people of the country should be added. The Government, if they honestly meant to satisfy the public mind, would best consult their own object by acceding to that proposal.
§ Mr. Curteis
said, he regarded it as an act of humanity to ascertain whether the present or any late Government had been party to opening the letters of foreigners, and forwarding them to their Governments. That would be most cruel and utterly indefensible; and if it were only to save poor foreigners from being so shamefully entrapped, the public thanks were due to the hon. Member for Finsbury in bringing forward the question. Whatever might be the Report of the Committee, nothing could render it justifiable in a Government to open and privately reseal letters. He thought that a Government doing that would be party or privy to almost any crime whatever. Had it not been for the independent press of this country, they would not have stood in the position they now were of a Committee of Inquiry having been granted. He regretted that personal pain should have been caused to the right hon. Secretary of State, but he had now manfully met the question. Looking then upon the question as one of humanity, he (Mr. Curteis) offered his thanks to the hon. Member for Finsbury for having brought it forward.
§ Mr. T. S. Duncombe
, in reply, said that if he had been fortunate enough to possess the power which had been ascribed to him by an hon. Member, of directing Her Majesty's Government, he should certainly have used it this evening, in endeavouring to persuade them to go a little further than they had done; for he felt convinced the public would not be satisfied with the investigation proposed. He 253 did not think it necessary that they should have a Secret Committee, nor did he believe the public would be satisfied with the Committee the right hon. Baronet proposed to nominate. There was an alteration he would suggest in the wording of the Motion, to which perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would not object. The words were that a Committee of secrecy be appointed to inquire into the state of the law in respect to detaining and opening letters at the General Post Office, and the mode in which the authority had been exercised. Now, according to those terms, he did not think that the cases he had brought under the consideration of the House would be inquired into. The case of Mr. Mazzini and others would be excluded. The words were "as to the mode in which" the authority was exercised; but he thought the words "circumstances and extent" ought to be added. That would open the question before the Committee, as to the grounds upon which the letters of Mr. Mazzini, and other foreigners had been opened. One of the principal charges against the Government was, that they had opened the letters of foreign exiles, at the instigation of Foreign Powers. [Sir R. Peel: Surely the word "mode" will cover all the hon. Member's desires.] He thought it desirable to add the words "circumstances and extent." What the public wanted to know was, under what circumstances, and to what extent to which the right hon. Baronet and his predecessors had carried this power. Let the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth be told. He was in hopes at one time, that the right hon. Baronet was coming near to tell the whole truth, and to say, "I did open Mr. Mazzini's letters, and I will tell you the reason why I did so;" but no, the right hon. Gentleman stopped short. He (Mr. Duncombe) was sure the right hon. Baronet did not wish to misrepresent what he had said; but the right hon. Gentleman asserted, that he (Mr. Duncombe) had alleged, he could prove that the Dublin and Brighton bags had been called for into the Inner Office, and everybody's letters had been opened. Now, what he had really said was, that there was this secret or inner office, where the deeds of darkness were carried on, and where not only letters of individuals were opened, examined, and secretly sealed, but where locked bags of letters were carried in, kept for an hour and a 254 half, and then carried back to the sorters, who could not possibly know what had happened to them in the meantime. Perhaps he might have said, the Dublin bag, or the Brighton bag, as for intance; he had reason to believe these bags had been sent for to this office, but he could not prove it. What he had said was, that a roving Post Office commission had been sent into the manufacturing districts, and who might have opened everybody's letters. He hoped that the Committee would elicit the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and he hoped, too, that the Committee would have no scruple in informing the House and the public whether any letter of his had been opened. He did call upon the Committee to report specially, whether any letters for the Albany had been detained and opened. He had been informed that such had been the case. He could not understand why this was to be a Secret Committee The public would think that they were establishing a secret, or inner office within these walls. What satisfaction the public would derive from the appointment of that Committee remained to be proved. He threw the responsibility of the investigation entirely upon the Government. He trusted it would be satisfactory, and he only reserved to himself the right, if it should prove that the Committee did not do their duty satisfactorily, of re-opening the question.
§ Original Motion withdrawn, and Amendment agreed to.
Committee of Secrecy appointed,
To inquire into the state of the Law in respect to the detaining and opening of Letters at the General Post Office, and into the mode under which the authority given for such detaining and opening has been exercised, and to report their opinion and observations thereupon to the House.
§ Sir J. Graham
, would again read the names of the hon. Gentlemen proposed to be nominated. The Government had selected a Gentleman who had been long in that House, a Gentleman of high character and spotless integrity, in forgetfulness of the fact, that some twenty years ago, he had been in practice at the Bar. As it was the pleasure of the House that he should be excluded, he would propose to substitute, for the name of Mr. Home Drummond, the name of Mr. Wilson Patten. The right hon. Baronet then read the names as follow: Lord Sandon, 255 Mr. Wilson Patten, Mr. Thomas Baring, Mr. W. Heathcote, Sir Charles Lemon, Mr. Warburton, Mr. Strutt, the O'Conor Don, and Mr. Ord.
§ Mr. Horsman
said, it was most desirable every one should think a Committee had been appointed which would carry on a full and fair investigation; and he was extremely surprised, that the name of Mr. Duncombe had been omitted. The reason that had been assigned was, that the hon. Gentleman stood in the position of an accuser; but he did not see the validity of the objection. He would propose that the Under Secretary of State should be added, on the one side, and Mr. T. Duncombe on the other. If the Under Secretary was objected to, he saw no reason why Mr. T. Duncombe should not be added.
§ Sir R. Peel
trusted if the House approved generally of the Committee that had been named, they would vote for it as it now stood. The Government had avoided placing upon the Committee any of those who had been accused; and let it not be said, as upon another occasion, that they looked for a judge and found an accuser. The hon. Gentleman had expressed a strong opinion in regard to the conduct of Her Majesty's Government; and he could not, therefore, but think it would be more just and satisfactory that his name should be omitted. In so omitting him, they cast no imputation upon that hon. Gentleman; but acted in precise conformity with the course taken by the hon. Gentlemen opposite, in the case of the charge preferred by the hon. Member for Bradford against the hon. and learned Member for Cork; and there was an opinion expressed on that side of the House, that the hon. Member should be excluded from that Committee, because he had exhibited indications of strong party opinions. The Government then had acted conformably to the precedent they had found established by those who were opposed to them. If then the House were satisfied generally with the Committee proposed, he trusted they would sanction the unusual course the Government had proposed of nominating a majority of five Gentlemen opposed to them, and not enter into a personal conflict respecting the names of individuals.
§ Mr. Sheil
although this is to be a Committee for the consideration of a law, not a single lawyer has been put upon it: 256 you wish the investigation to be most searching: I presume that you will have no objection to have the different functionaries of the Post Office examined as to various details; it follows that you should have some person on the Committee accustomed to put questions. If you desire a thorough investigation you must have, if I may use the phrase, a forensic inquisitor upon the Committee. You wish the course pursued by your predecessors, as well as by yourselves, to be inquired into; your predecessors are therefore as much interested in the matter as you are. You say that you are not more criminal than those who have gone before you, and ought you not to have an individual on the one side, and on the other accustomed and qualified to scrutinize evidence. I am aware that several of the gentlemen named are magistrates, who, I dare say, will put questions to the witnesses in an efficient manner, but the question relates to the constitution of the law, and to the practice under it, and you will require that all the details should be brought before the House. You mean to institute a thorough investigation, but how can that be accomplished without the means to which I have alluded?
§ On the name of Mr. Wilson Patten being proposed.
§ Mr. Horsman
moved, as an Amendment, that the name of Thomas Duncombe, Esq., should be substituted.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
hoped that his hon. Friend would not divide the House on the question. He had not the slightest wish to be on the Committee; though he certainly denied that he stood in the character of an accuser. He was perfectly sure that the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) did not intend any personal disrespect by omitting his name as a Member of the Committee.
§ Lord John Russell
considered the Committee proposed by the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) to have been very fairly selected, and he had no wish to alter it; though he did not by any means consider that his hon. Friend (the Member for Finsbury) was at all disqualified sitting on the Committee.
§ Dr. Bowring
considered the hon. Member for Finsbury to be the representative of the public opinion within the walls of the House, and although the modesty and delicacy of his hon. Friend restrained him, still he felt it absolutely necessary 257 that his hon. Friend should be on the Committee. It would give confidence to the people out of doors. It was true his hon. Friend had given very strong expression to his opinions, but still he (Dr. Bowring) trusted that his hon. Friend should be named one of the Committee. It would be better that eleven Members should constitute the Committee, by appointing some other hon. Member in addition to his hon. Friend, than that his hon. Friend should be omitted.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ The names of the Members to form the Committee were then proposed and agreed to.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 52; Noes 128: Majority 76.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Mangles, R. D.|
|Bannerman, A.||Morrls, D.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Norreys, Sir D. J.|
|Bellew, R. M.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Bouverie, hon. E. P.||O'Ferrall, R. M.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Pattison, J.|
|Brotherton, J.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Busfeild, W.||Plumridge, Capt.|
|Christie, W. D.||Polhill, F.|
|Collett, J.||Rawdon, Col.|
|Curteis, H. B.||Roebuck, J. A.|
|Duncan, Visct.||Ross, D. R.|
|Duncan, G.||Shell, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Dundas, hon. J. G.||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|Easthope, Sir J.||Stewart, P. M.|
|Ellis, W.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|Elphinstone, H.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Esmonde, Sir T.||Thorneley, T.|
|Fielden, J.||Trelawney, J. S.|
|Ferguson, Col.||Wakley, T.|
|Gibson, T. M.||Wallace, R.|
|Greenaway, C.||Watson, W. H.|
|Hallyburton, Ld. J. F.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Hastie, A.||Worsley, Lord|
|Humphery, Ald.||James, W.|
|Hutt, W.||Williams, W.|
|List of the NOES.|
|A'Court, Capt.||Baskerville, T. B. M.|
|Antrobus, E.||Bentinck, Lord G.|
|Arbuthnott, hon. H.||Boldero, H. G.|
|Arkwright, G.||Borthwick, P.|
|Bailey, J., junr.||Botfield, B.|
|Baillie, Col.||Bowles, Adm.|
|Baillie, H. J.||Brooke, Sir A. B.|
|Baird, W.||Bruce, Lord E.|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Burrell, Sir C. M.|
|Baring, rt. hon. F. T.||Campbell, Sir H.|
|Campbell, J. H.||Lefroy, A.|
|Cardwell, E.||Lincoln, Earl of|
|Carnegie, hon. Capt.||Lockhart, W.|
|Childers, J. W.||Macaulay, rt. hon. T. B.|
|Christopher, R. A.||McGeachy, F. A.|
|Clerk, Sir G.||Mackenzie, W. F.|
|Clive, hon. R. H.||Maclean, D.|
|Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G.||McNeill, D.|
|Codrington, Sir W.||Mahon, Visct.|
|Colebrooke, Sir T. E.||Marsham, Visct.|
|Collett, W. R.||Marton, G.|
|Corry, rt. hon. H.||Master, T. W. C.|
|Cripps, W.||Masterman, J.|
|Damer, hon. Col.||Meynell, Capt.|
|Darby, G.||Miles, W.|
|Dawnay, hon. W. H.||Mundy, E. M.|
|Denison, E. B.||Owen, Sir J.|
|Dodd, G.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Douglas, Sir H.||Peel, J.|
|Dowdeswell, W.||Pigot, Sir R.|
|Drummond, H. H.||Pringle, A.|
|Du Pre, C. G.||Rashleigh, W.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Round, C. G.|
|Egerton, Sir P.||Round, J.|
|Eliot, Lord||Rumbold, C. E.|
|Entwisle, W.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Fellowes, E.||Shaw, rt. hon. F.|
|Flower, Sir J.||Sheppard, T.|
|Forman, T. S.||Shirley, E. T.|
|Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T.||Shirley, E. P.|
|Gaskell, J. Milnes.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.||Smith, A.|
|Gladstone, Capt.||Smith, rt. hon. T. B. C.|
|Godson, R.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Gore, M.||Stanley, Lord|
|Gore, W. O.||Stuart, W. V.|
|Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.||Stuart, H.|
|Gregory, W. H.||Sutton, hon. H. M.|
|Grogan, E.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Hale, R. B.||Tennent, J. E.|
|Halford, Sir H.||Thesiger, Sir F.|
|Harris, hon. Capt.||Thornhill, G.|
|Heneage, G. H. W.||Trench, Sir F. W.|
|Henley, J. W.||Troubridge, Sir E. T.|
|Herbert, hon. S.||Vernon, G. H.|
|Hope, hon. C.||Vesey, hon. T.|
|Hussey, A.||Vivian, J. E.|
|Irton, S.||Waddington, H. S.|
|James, Sir W. C.||Whitmore, T. C.|
|Jermyn, Earl||Wortley, hon. J. S.|
|Johnstone, Sir J.||Wynn, rt. hn. C. W. W.|
|Jones, Capt.||Yorke, hon. E. T.|
|Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sit E.||TELLERS.|
|Knight, H. G.||Young, J.|
|Labouchere, rt. hn. H.||Lennox, Lord A.|
§ After a few observations the Motion was withdrawn.
§ The Committee was then finally appointed.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
hoped that an indemnity would be given to the witnesses 259 whom it may be necessary to examine before the Committee. It would be impossible to get persons holding subordinate situations in the Post Office to give evidence unless they were protected from the consequences, similar to the protection given to the witnesses examined before the Committee appointed by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Roebuck) respecting compromises at elections. Supposing a person had opened a letter without any warrant having been received, merely a verbal order, in that case he would be liable to be indicted for a misdemeanor. He wished to know how such persons were to be indemnified?
§ Sir R. Peel
thought that nothing would be so unjust as to subject subordinate officers to the consequences of an act which they had committed under the control of their superiors. The responsibility certainly rested with the Government. But, if a legal indemnity should be requisite, it would be perfectly competent for the Committee to report the circumstances under which the House should be called upon to form their judgment upon that point. He should certainly think it inconsistent with the honour of the Government to visit a penalty on the subordinate officers of the Post Office establishment.
§ The usual powers were then conferred on the Committee.