HC Deb 04 April 1845 vol 79 cc201-9

Upon the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair for the House to go into a Committee of Supply,

Mr. Wakley

rose to move, in pursuance of the terms of his Notice,— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions, that there be laid before the House, a Copy of any Warrant or Warrants sent to the Postmaster General by any Secretary of State, directing the detaining or opening of any Letter or Letters addressed to or written by Thomas Slingsby Duncombe, Esq., a Member of this House. He was unwilling to bring forward this Motion at the present moment, as his hon. Colleague laboured under the impression that it was not to be brought forward until Monday next. If he did not now bring it forward, he would be precluded from doing so for some time to come. The right hon. Baronet opposite could, however, relieve him from the necessity of discussing this question, by producing the warrants—his not doing so compelled him to submit his Motion, and to take the sense of the House upon it. He reminded the House, that immediately before Easter he had presented a petition from the inhabitants of Finsbury, complaining of the wrong done to their Representative, and praying for an inquiry into it. Upon this subject he could assure them that the feeling in the borough of Finsbury was deep-rooted and intense. He then quoted the statement of the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham), made when this subject was last before the House, and containing a full statement of the circumstances under which that right hon. Baronet had been induced to open Mr. Mazzini's letters. The course pursued in that case was different from that adopted towards his hon. Colleague. His hon. Colleague had stated that his letters had been opened at the Post Office; but he could get no acknowledgment from the right hon. Gentleman as to whether his letters had been opened or not. His hon. Colleague's letters having been opened, he had a right to know who were his calumniators—who it was that had been acting as spies and informers against him, and inducing the right hon. Gentleman to believe that he had been guilty of improper practices. His hon. Colleague was utterly in the dark as to the whole of this transaction. It was known that his name had been traduced—that his conduct had been misrepresented; and, placed in these circumstances, he had a right to complain to that House, and his constituents also had a right to complain, that one who had so honestly, so faithfully performed his duty, should be so maligned and so injured. When, too, these constituents found that Her Majesty's Government had been opening the letters of their Representative—that his correspondence had been violated, then they conceived they had a right to know what were the circumstances under which these things were done. If the Government was justified in opening the letters of his hon. Colleague, why were not the reasons stated to that House? The right hon. Gentleman would not admit that the letters had been opened; and yet it was the general belief throughout England, not only that letters written to him, but letters written by him, had been opened; and the Government ought to state why this had been done. The right hon. Gentleman talked of "responsibility;" but what was the meaning of it, when they had not the means of knowing what had been done? If a prosecution were instituted against parties in the Post Office for opening letters, the warrant must be produced. There was no other defence for them, in law, but the production of the warrant. He must say that the Government appeared to him to be fencing on this subject in a manner that was not creditable to them. They were giving an example calculated to produce a bad effect upon the country; for they did not rely upon law; they did not rely upon justice; their sole reliance was upon force; they rested upon their majority, and, secure in that, they baffled inquiry. His hon. Colleague had asked in every form for justice, and it had been refused to him. To deny him was unfair—to refuse his demand was ungenerous. The conduct of Her Majesty's Government, he considered, as unfair; but the conduct of a majority of the House was infinitely worse. Her Majesty's Government appeared as obdurate now as it had been the very first moment the matter had been brought under their consideration. The time, he hoped, had come when the Government would relent, and adopt a course different from that which they had hitherto pursued. In the case of Mr. Mazzini a full explanation had been given. Why not also give a full explanation as to this? If his Motion were now opposed, there would, he knew, be a majority against him; but then that decision would produce no beneficial effect upon the public mind, and more especially in the borough of Finsbury. He thought his hon. Colleague had been treated most unfairly, and this, too, while he was endeavouring to discharge his duty to an individual who considered himself aggrieved. He was assuming that the letters of his hon. Colleague had been opened, because he had said he could prove at the Bar of the House that his letters had been opened. If, however, the Government said that his letters had not been opened—if such had not been the case, what would there be humiliating to them in making such an avowal? If, on the other hand, the Government admitted that the letters had been opened, why not let the House and the country know the reason why this had been done? He concluded by moving, in accordance with the terms of which he had given notice.

Sir James Graham

observed that it had been frankly admitted by the hon. Member that if he had consulted his own judgment or feelings this Motion would not have been brought forward on the present occasion. The present appearance of the House showed that it was weary of the subject. No one more readily admitted than he did the ingenuity of the hon. Member; but that ingenuity was so exhausted, that in the address he had just made to the House there was not to be found one new topic, nor one new argument. The hon. Member had, as on other occasions, asked what was Ministerial responsibility? Surely the hon. Gentleman and the Members he addressed could not believe his feelings to be so callous that these repeated discussions, that were forced upon him, did not constitute responsibility only, but a very painful responsibility. The hon. Gentleman had alluded to the majority, and complained of it. In every popular assembly it was the majority that must decide. When this matter was first brought forward he had pledged himself, as a Minister of the Crown, and as a gentleman, to state frankly to the tribunal appointed to investigate the subject the particular cases in which he had exercised this power. He had done so fully, and without reserve, and that too before a tribunal of which the majority consisted not of the friends, but the opponents of the Government. The Report of that Committee was before the House. Against its decision various appeals had been made, which had been negatived by the House. He thought that what he had stated on a former evening, when this question was under discussion, had satisfied not only the House generally, but the hon. Member himself who made this Motion; he hoped and believed also, that reparation was made by him (Sir James Graham) to the wounded feelings of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe). He said distinctly on that occasion that nothing had come to his knowledge in any way, or at any time, inconsistent with the hon. Member's character as a Member of Parliament, and as a loyal and faithful subject. This he had stated most distinctly and unequivocally in his place in Parliament. He had made that declaration then, and he repeated it now. He must say further, that he did not think it consistent with his duty to give a more explicit answer than he had already given. But what he had stated in regard to the character of the hon. Member for Finsbury he repeated, and was glad to have the op- portunity of doing so. Further he thought it was not necessary to pursue this question. The whole matter with regard to the opening of letters by the Government had been investigated by the tribunal chosen by the House for that purpose; and though that tribunal had not said that the power possessed by the Government had been in every case acted upon with discretion, still they had reported, that in no case and by no Minister had that power been exercised from the impulse of personal or vindictive feelings, or from any other motives (though in some cases they thought mistaken) than a due regard to the public peace, and the good of the country. That was the decision of a tribunal—he would not say an adverse tribunal—but certainly one that could not be supposed to have any prepossessions in favour of the Minister or of the Government. That decision had been satisfactory to the House; and he hoped, under the circumstances, the hon. Gentleman would not think it necessary to divide the House, but allow the Speaker to leave the chair.

Mr. Hume

agreed with the right hon. Baronet that the subject was exhausted; but was glad that an opportunity had been given for the explanation of the right hon. Baronet as to what he understood by Ministerial responsibility. For his part, he was sorry the question had been mooted at all; for he believed it had damaged the character of our Government functionaries all over the world. The only point now was, whether under the provisions of any Act of Parliament the Minister had the power of issuing general warrants for the opening of letters; and his hon. Friend wanted to have a copy of any warrant that had been issued in regard to his letters, in order that that question might be tried in a court of law and decided. He really thought that was a most reasonable request, and one that the right hon. Baronet might fairly have conceded. He could assure the right hon. Baronet that the question would not be settled in the public mind, until an opportunity should have been afforded of trying that point. As his object was to see the document, he must, if his hon. Friend should go to a division, divide with him. He admitted that the right hon. Baronet had made every explanation and given every satisfaction to his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury, so far as his personal character was involved.

Mr. Monckton Milnes

was also desirous that no division should take place; but adhering, as he did, to the constitutional view of the question, he must, if the hon. Member divided, vote with him. He had never yet heard any answer to the question, why a warrant was not to be considered as a public document, to be produced when required for public purposes.

Dr. Bowring

could not allow this discussion to close without bearing his testimony to the character of Mr. Mazzini, which had been so unjustly attacked on a former evening by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir James Graham). He had known Mr. Mazzini for many a long year; he knew his position, and he knew, too, the feelings of affection and confidence felt towards him by all who knew him. Mr. Mazzini had never approached any person in this country without leaving the most favourable impression as to his high intellect, and pure and unspotted morality. He had struggled much, he had suffered much, and had devoted the whole energies of his mind to one great object—the redemption of his country. He might be a dreamer—he might be (though he hoped he was not) a mistaken enthusiast—but he was one of those who believed that the country that gave him birth was destined to something better and happier than her present position; and having come to this country, having heard of and witnessed the advantages and the blessings of its free institutions, his mind became filled with hopeful aspirations for the time when his own country should enjoy such institutions as ours. Who could blame him, or impute it to him as a crime, if he did believe that his own Italy must ere long also be free? It was impossible that Mr. Mazzini could have contemplated crime — the idea of assassination never could have entered into a mind so elevated and so pure. Was it charitable—was it just—of the right hon. Baronet to traduce the character of an absent man? He (Dr. Bowring) recollected well the excitement occasioned in the House when the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government attacked the hon. Member for Shrewsbury in reference to the imputations he had thrown out against an absent and an innocent man; and yet the right hon. Baronet's Colleague—the Home Secretary—knowing nothing of Mr. Mazzini (for if he had known him, he would never have accused him), did not hesitate, in a place where Mr. Mazzini could not be present to defend himself, to level accusations against him the most terrible and the most criminal. All he asked was, that the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) would inquire into and inform himself of the real character of Mr. Mazzini; and if he found, as he would find, that he had been misinformed, or, improperly and erroneously informed, done an injury to such a man, then he would appeal to his own sense of justice, whether he would leave him in the position he now occupied, sunk in that abyss of degradation which the aspersions publicly cast upon his character in that House had thrown him? He had felt it due to Mr. Mazzini—whom he had known for a long time, and whose conduct he had watched closely, and whose character was distinguished by the highest principles and practices of morality and justice, in whose mind undoubtedly the love of liberty was strong, but the moral principle still stronger—he had felt bound in justice to that gentleman to make these observations in his defence.

Colonel Wyndham

had no doubt the hon. Member for Bolton had a high opinion of Mr. Mazzini; but he (Colonel Wyndham) should be sorry to be in Mr. Mazzini's position. He had read the correspondence and statements that had appeared on the subject, and he thought Mr. Mazzini, with his talents, should be occupying a proper position in his own country, instead of coming here to do mischief. He had not that high opinion of him that the hon. Member for Bolton entertained, and if the Amendment was pressed to a division, he should vote against it.

Captain Bernal Osborne

After the speech of the hon. Member for Bolton—which, as a Member of that House, and a friend of Mr. Mazzini's, did him honour, in contradistinction to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member who last spoke, and who knew nothing about that Gentleman—he would put it to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, whether, after coming down the other night with those trumped-up charges from certain newspapers which he brought down with him, and which he read—though he ought to have known that the statements contained in them were not true, and though he stated that Mr. Mazzini had never endeavoured to clear his character from the accusations made against him, he ought to have known that he had brought one or two actions against those papers by whom his character had been aspersed—he would put it to the right hon. Baronet whether, after all this, he could be content to allow the matter to rest as it now was? He remembered that the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government once made a similar charge against the hon. Member for Stockport, which, by the way, had never yet been apologized for, and which he thought his hon. Friend (Mr. Cobden) did wrong to submit to. He thought it most improper that Cabinet Ministers should be allowed, having made such charges, to shelter themselves behind their official responsibility. He wished to know whether, after the speech of the hon. Member for Bolton in defence of the character of Mr. Mazzini, the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) intended to remain altogether silent?

Sir James Graham

was really at a loss how to answer the question of the hon. Member. In the early part of the present evening, another hon. Gentleman, without notice, had put a question to him on the subject; and being without notice, and having had no opportunity for consideration or inquiry, he had felt bound, by a regard for truth, to state explicitly at the moment what he did. If more time had been given him to reflect, he might not have had so unequivocal an impression resting on his mind; but the impression he had was, that doubts still hung over the transactions referred to, so far as Mr. Mazzini was said to be implicated in them. He had presented to the House no trumped-up stories; but had stated fairly and truly transactions that had come to the notice of the Government. [Mr. Bernal Osborne: From the Moniteur?] No; from the despatches of the British Minister, which the Government had been receiving for some time past; and he said that, looking at those despatches, some doubts still hung over the transactions, as would be apparent to the House from those despatches, which would be in their hands in a few days. If on further inquiry, and further consideration, he could be satisfied that he had done an injustice to Mr. Mazzini, he need scarcely say that no man would be more ready to make ample and full reparation to him, as to every one else whom he might from misinformation have in like manner injured; and most especially should he be anxious to make reparation to an unprotected foreigner like Mr. Mazzini. He would infinitely rather make that reparation to Mr. Mazzini himself than to any Member of that House; but at the same time he must say, that his regard for truth, while he was not satisfied that he had done an injury, compelled him, as a man of honour, not to admit it.

The House divided on the Question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—Ayes, 73; Noes, 22: Majority, 51.

List of the AYES.
Acton, Col. Harris, hon. Capt.
Arbuthnott, hon. H. Heneage, G. H. W.
Arkwright, G. Hepburn, Sir T. B.
Baillie, Col. Herbert, rt. hon. S.
Baillie, H. J. Hope, hon. C.
Baird, W. Hope, G. W.
Baldwin, B. Hornby, J.
Benbow, J, Jermyn, Earl
Bentinck, Lord G. Jocelyn, Visct.
Boldero, H. G. Kemble, H.
Borthwick, P. Lennox, Lord A.
Bowles, Adm. Lincoln, Earl of
Bruce, Lord E. Lockhart, W.
Bruges, W. H. L. Manners, Lord J.
Cardwell, E. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Chapman, A. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R,
Chelsea, Visct. Peel, J.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Plumptre, J. P.
Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G. Praed, W. T.
Coote, Sir C. H. Pringle, A.
Copeland, Ald. Round, J.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Smith, rt. hon. T. B. C.
Cripps, W. Somerset, Lord G.
Darby, G. Somes, J.
Dickinson, F. H. Spooner, R.
Douglas, Sir H. Stewart, J.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Forman, T. S. Tennent, J. E.
Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T. Trench, Sir F. W.
Fuller, A. E. Trotter, J.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Wellesley, Lord C.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Wood, Col. T.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Wortley, hon. J. S.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Wyndham, Col. C.
Greenall, P.
Greene, T. TELLERS.
Hamilton, G. A. Baring, H.
Hampden, R. Young, J.
List of the NOES.
Barnard, E. G. Collett, J.
Blewitt, R. J. Dawson, hon. T. V.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Etwall, R.
Bowes, J. Forster, M.
Bowring, Dr. Gisborne, T.
Butler, hon. Col. Granger, T. C.
Butler, P. S. Hill, Lord M.
Christie, W. D. Hume, J.
Milnes, R. M. Tancred, H. W.
Mitchell, T. A.
Napier, Sir C. TELLERS.
Osborne, R. Wakley, T.
Plumridge, Capt. Williams, W.