§ Order of the Day read for resuming the debate on the Post Office.
§ Mr. Milnes
rose to address the House. He did not know that he should have presumed to intrude on the House in this debate, but from the accidental circumstance of his having witnessed, when lately abroad, the unhappy effect produced on the public mind in foreign countries by the unfortunate revelation which was now engaging the attention of Parliament. During a short residence on the Continent, he had been a witness of the painful suspicions which this matter had occasioned. To himself, indeed, the observation of these 835 suspicions was somewhat the less painful, inasmuch as he was aware that in a great degree they were unfounded; but, nevertheless, they were not the less obnoxious because he knew that they were to a great extent absurd. It had long been the honour and privilege of this country to afford a refuge to persons compelled to leave their native soil when goaded by the oppression of their rulers; and he believed that there was no period in British history more highly satisfactory to contemplate than the time when Queen Elizabeth gave to the oppressed subjects of the United Provinces a refuge from the tyranny of Philip II.; and from that time down to the present — including the magnificent hospitality shown to the French refugees during the Revolution—this country had freely opened her ports to foreigners, regardless of their political opinions—whether Carlists, Italians, or Poles. When he saw the painful contrast which was presented between the present Government of this country and the Government of France—when he reflected that the French Minister was able to get up in his place in the Chamber of Deputies and assert that, as far as he knew, the communications by post in France were absolutely secure; and when he, unhappily, knew that the British Minister was unable to rise and make the like assertion, although he could not permit himself to make inquiry into the justice of the one case or the other, still these things led his mind to the conviction that England had, by this unfortunate circumstance, earned for herself, through the wide space of the Continent, a very injurious reputation. Neither was it any consolation to him, when, travelling through Germany, he saw books in the shops containing statements reflecting on the British name, and heard songs sung in dishonour of England, to know that the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department was the hero of the tale. For though he knew there never had been in this country an Administration which had more cautiously shrunk from any notion of infringing upon the liberty of the subject, yet, nevertheless, he could not but feel that the conduct of Her Majesty's present Government upon this matter had not been such as effectually to secure them from all these unfounded suspicions. It was said of old time, that it was not sufficient for the wife of Cæsar to be pure, but she must be above suspicion. But he could not conceal from himself that if that 836 distinguished personage had acted in such a manner as rather to encourage than to debar suspicion; if she had seized every possible opportunity of placing herself in a very suspicious situation; if she had invested her simplest proceedings with the cloak of the gravest mystery; if she had shown herself unwilling to answer the simplest question in a plain manner — he feared that that right hon. lady could not have been expected to remain totally above suspicion. To speak seriously, he believed that an immense amount of suspicion and misrepresentation, which at present overshadowed this question, and which certainly was in a great degree injurious to Her Majesty's Government, was owing to its not being met, when it was first brought forward, with perfect simplicity and candour. He believed that if, when the hon. Member for Finsbury brought forward the Motion, it had been met with no difficulty or mystery, and that if the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had, instead of investing the matter with all sorts of doubts and difficulties, simply asserted, what every person who thought at all upon the subject was already fully aware of, that the inspection of these letters of Mr. Mazzini could have had no connexion whatever with his Department, the whole affair might have been easily cleared up and disposed of. The signing of the warrant by the right hon. Gentleman must have been purely a perfunctory act. He did not understand why the right hon. Gentleman should have been called upon to sign it at all, seeing that the Act of Parliament only required that the warrants should be signed by a Secretary of State. In this case, surely it would have been better for the Earl of Aberdeen to have taken the responsibility upon himself. Had the right hon. Gentleman merely said that this was a matter with which he had no concern whatever, the Earl of Aberdeen would have been able at once to have given the answer which had now at length been given, and which he believed would at that time have appeased in a great degree the public indignation, and have rendered the task of explanation on the part of the Government a great deal more simple and easy than it was now. Suspicion had been allowed to grow up, and misrepresentation had been allowed to circulate without any thing being said on the other side to set the world right; and the consequence was, that at this moment 837 there prevailed throughout the country a most painful feeling with regard to this question. The immediate subject before the House divided itself into two parts:—First, as it affected Foreign Affairs; and, secondly, as it affected the hon. Member for Finsbury personally. With regard to the first branch of the question, he felt it his duty last night to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury respecting the affair at Calabria; and, to a certain degree, he thought the answer which was given by the right hon. Baronet satisfactory, so far as it was connected with Mr. Mazzini, and more immediately with the expedition of the brothers Bandiera from Corfu to Calabria. That answer was to the effect that any information which had been given with respect to that expedition, either to the Austrian, Roman, or Neapolitan Consul, or to any other Government, was merely in consequence of the general information which had been imparted to the Earl of Aberdeen, namely, that a conspiracy of the nature described was in progress in the British possessions in the Mediterranean. At the same time, he considered this to be a very grave and earnest question. It was connected with a general view of our Foreign policy. It appeared that the Austrian Government had nothing to do but to threaten the invasion of Italy; that is to say, that it would enter into any country whose independence was fully established, and the consequence would be an immediate disposition in the British Minister for Foreign Affairs to favour and encourage such pretensions. Thus it had gone forth to the world that the English Government had guaranteed to the Sovereigns of Italy the possession of their thrones, however much they abused their power, or however unworthy they were of it; and he must say, that such a supposition must be painful to every Englishman, and ought not to be entertained by any liberal Member on either side of the House. He must also beg to say, that if the Earl of Aberdeen, at the time that he complied with the wishes of the Austrian Government, had sent a public notice to Malta and Corfu, either by placarding it in the streets or by a publication in the newspapers, that the English Government was aware of this conspiracy, and that they were determined in every way to prevent and impede it, it was probable that that unhappy expedition to Calabria would never have taken place. He would now 838 address himself to the second branch of this question; namely, the charge made by the hon. Member for Finsbury, that his own private letters had been opened by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department. They had experienced within the last few years how very important a matter was the privilege of Parliament; and if he understood it aright, he thought it would not be well for the present Government, who had on former occasions so vigorously vindicated those privileges, to draw so strict a line of distinction as to refuse to the hon. Member for Finsbury the advantage of that privilege, which that hon. Gentleman now chose to claim. He (Mr. Milnes) thought that the hon. Member had a perfect right to have an official answer, as to whether or not a warrant had been issued for the opening of his letters. That hon. Gentleman had, since the time that he (Mr. Milnes) had become a Member of that House, been as far as his abilities went, deservedly growing in the estimation both of the House and of the country, and had been acquiring a large influence over a great mass of the people of this city; therefore, he might now be well considered as holding a most open and responsible station in the country. But the hon. Gentleman knew very well that his name had been mixed up with those of many persons who had been suspected, and even with some who had come under the sentence of the law. [Mr. T. Duncombe: No! Name!] There was one Gentleman for whom he (Mr. Milnes) entertained, individually, very great respect—Mr. Lovett. [Mr. T. Duncombe; Go on.] He considered one name was as good as a hundred. And the hon. Gentleman knew very well that by the line of politics he adopted, and the distinction which he had acquired by the advocacy of certain opinions, he had, and that very naturally, made himself subject, he (Mr. Milnes) would not say to suspicion, but at least to the peculiar attention of those who had to preside over the government of this country. Therefore he did not think it at all improbable that, two or three years ago, it was thought right by Her Majesty's Government to open the letters of the hon. Gentleman; and he was not prepared to say, as he had great confidence in their discretion, and in their love for the liberties of the people, that a warrant for such a proceeding was issued unwisely. But, at the same time, he would maintain that the hon. Gentleman was in a 839 position to insist upon receiving an answer to his question, whether such a warrant had been issued; and, if so, he could not see any objection whatever to the production of that warrant. Because, if a warrant were not issued, then the onus would fall upon the hon. Gentleman of impeaching the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department of a very gross and grave breach of privilege; namely, that of having opened his letters without any warrant at all. The hon. Gentleman asked for a new Committee to inquire into this matter. When the question was first brought forward last year, he (Mr. Milnes) stated that candour and openness were the means by which the people of this country would be most satisfied to see this question treated. It would be in the recollection of the House how very large a portion of it was surprised at finding that such a power was vested in the Government at all. The hon. Member for Hull (Sir J. Hanmer)—and there was no man of his age who was better read in the constitutional history of his country—had told the House last night, with that candour which ever marked his conduct—that he was himself unaware of the existence of this power. He knew others who were in the same state of ignorance; he knew gentlemen who held high office in this country who were not aware of the fact. But he would appeal to the House whether this general ignorance did not prove the innocency of the exercise of the power? He wished also to ask the hon. Member for Finsbury why he waited for the case of Mr. Mazzini before he brought his own under the consideration of the House? It was the hon. Member's duty to have come forward earlier, and by that delay he had in a great degree weakened his present claim. He could not bring the subject under their notice with the same power and vigour as if he had made the charge at the moment when he had discovered the fact, and when he would have claimed and obtained the sympathy of every Member of Parliament. The reason why he should not vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury was, however, that he did not think a public Committee a proper tribunal for the general investigation. The excitement attending it must give a colour to the statements and to the facts; and if the hon. Member persisted in his wish to ascertain whether any warrant existed in his own case, he could discover it by other and better means, though if he chose to confine the question within those limits, he thought it would assume a very 840 different aspect. The grave question remained—and a grave question it was—whether such a power ought to be continued. The right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who might soon return to office, were just as much concerned in the question as the right hon. Gentlemen who now held the reins of Government. His own feeling at present was in favour of a limitation of the power, and he did not think that a total abolition of it for criminal purposes would be expedient. It was, indeed, a piece of profitless chivalry on the part of one right hon. Gentleman to take this matter upon himself, since he might have referred the matter to that Department, which, in fact, ought to have borne the responsibility. In this respect he had paid no great compliment to his Colleagues, in taking a burden upon himself, as if he feared that they would be unable to bear it. The affair had been made the ground work of charges from the dullest provincial newspaper up to the liveliest sallies of Punch. These charges were most unfair, and there was, perhaps, no man who did not feel an honest indignation at the injustice that his right hon. Friend had sustained. He should regret if any vote he might give, could afford the slightest countenance to such suspicions and aspersions; and thus he could not support the Motion as it stood at present.
§ Mr. Macaulay
I wish to explain, as clearly as possible, the precise grounds on which I shall feel it my duty to give my vote on this question. I cannot vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury as it stands, and my reasons are two. First, I think that the Motion, framed as it is, contains in itself an implied censure on the Secret Committee; and, secondly, even if the words of the Motion did not imply a censure, the speech of the hon. Member who introduced it imparted to it the character of a censure. The Notice is, "to call the attention of the House to the evasive and unsatisfactory character of the Report of the Secret Committee." Everybody knows that where the terms of a Motion are doubtful, they may be explained by what is said in support of it; and what would otherwise be a matter perfectly unimportant, may assume great importance if introduced by a speech containing matter of crimination. Such may be the case with a common Motion, but much more so when it is a Motion which implies in itself a species of censure. On that ground—if that ground were all—I could not support the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury. The Secret Committee, 841 I fully believe, did its duty honestly; and from a knowledge of most of the Members of it, I am sure that their conduct has not deserved censure. Be it observed that we ought to be peculiarly cautious in passing censure upon a Secret Committee; because the Gentlemen comprising it are tied down in honour, as well as in public duty, and cannot state or explain what may appear to some a deficiency in their Report. This is quite decisive in my mind. Another part of the proposal is, that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the expediency of the present practice. I see no reason for that. I conceive that the subject is now ripe for legislation. I want no farther information, and on that account there is no ground for referring the matter to a Committee. Nevertheless, I must say, that I do, to a great extent, agree with the hon. Member for Finsbury, though I cannot support his Motion. It appears to me that we ought, in the first place, to pass a law upon the subject. I think that we are already in possession of the necessary materials, and I have myself very little doubt, though discussion may modify my opinion, as to the principle by which such a law should be governed. I cannot conceive how we can make out that there ought to be any difference in principle in the way in which we should treat a letter in transit, and a letter after it has been delivered. A letter directed to me, and put into the mail-bag, is my property in the same sense, to the same extent, and with the same limitation, as a letter which has been delivered to me. I can see no reason whatever for any distinction in principle; they are both alike my property; and the exposure of my secrets is the same, and attended with the same consequences, whether from the reading of a letter which is yet to be delivered, or from the reading of a letter which has been delivered. As to the public also, the effect is exactly the same, whether the information be derived from a letter which was delivered to me this morning, or from a letter which is to be delivered to me to-morrow morning. The right of any gentleman to his letter is subject to the claims of society, but in the same way, whether it be or be not delivered. True, there may be a great convenience in cases which you may suppose, in opening a letter before it reaches the party to whom it is addressed, in extracting the contents, sealing it again, and then sending it to him. I can very 842 well understand that there may be instances where that course would be useful; but in the same way I can understand how it might, be useful in certain circumstances, instead of obtaining a search warrant, and opening my drawers, to induce a servant to secret my papers, to convey them to the Home Office, and after having examined them and perhaps made extracts from them, to place them smooth again, and to restore them quietly to the situation from which they had been purloined. This course may at times be very convenient; and it may be very convenient also to open a letter in transit in a surreptitious manner, and to send it re-sealed to the owner. What I consider a sound principle in relation to this subject is this:—I would leave a power with the Secretary of State to send a warrant to call for any letter. I would give him the power of opening any letter; but I would require that after a certain time, a reasonable time to be fixed, that letter, which continues all along to be the property of the person to whom it is addressed, should, unless it be to be used in some judicial proceeding, be forwarded to the party, with a stamp showing that it had been opened. I may hear objections to that sound and plain principle; but I own that I cannot anticipate them. I know that it may be subject to some inconvenience; here and there a rogue may escape; now and then a plot may be successful which would otherwise be defeated; but in this country, and at this time of day, we are not to argue it as a question whether we ought to enjoy all the advantages derived from exemption from those expedients to which despotic Governments resort. Espionage is very advantageous beyond a doubt; to have "a servant feed in" every house might be extremely convenient; and it was said that in France, at the Revolution this convenience was to a great extent enjoyed; but does it follow that we are to resort to the same system? I recollect last year I said that torture had its advantages, and I was met by an indignant "no, no," from many hon. Members; but nevertheless what I advanced was quite true. I venture to affirm that many atrocious crimes have notoriously been brought to light by torture; but I do not affirm that we ought therefore to re-introduce it into our criminal jurisprudence. So I say in the case before us, the experience of many years shows us that the benefits arising from the strict observation of the security and secrecy of private life, without the 843 exercise of arbitrary power, much more than counterbalance all the advantages to be derived from a contrary system. That at least is my deliberate opinion. I think that a Bill should be brought in on such a principle, and, if brought in, it shall have my support. We then come to another part of the subject—to the complaint of the hon. Member for Finsbury. I must say that, as it seems to me, he is entitled to what he asks. A Member of Parliament offers to prove that his letters have been opened. The right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not deny it; and I cannot conceive, after what they have said of their case, why they should pause in giving their consent to an inquiry. I cannot conceive that any great danger to the State can really arise out of their acquiescence. If they could say, "There is no truth in the charge, and we defy any human being to prove it," what danger could possibly result? None in the world: it is impossible. If they tell us that there never has been any such warrant, what danger could arise from the answer? And I must here say, that another circumstance, to which at the time I did not attach much importance, has since produced upon my mind a strong impression. Whether what is charged has or has not been the case, it produces a suspicion that Government has not dealt quite fairly by the House in respect to the appointment of the Secret Committee of last year. The circumstance requires explanation. When Ministers agreed to grant a Committee, it seemed most natural and usual that the hon. Member who brought forward the subject should be put upon it. As far as my recollection goes, I scarcely know of the appointment of a Committee by the House to investigate a grievance, from which the Gentleman who introduced the question to its notice was excluded. However, the usual, the invariable course was not the course in this instance; for the Members of the Government got up and told us that they meant to constitute the Committee on a new and peculiar principle; that fairness and justice required that the hon. Member for Finsbury should be excluded. Every Member of the existing Government, and every Member of the late Government, was also to be excluded. It could not be a fair investigation, said they, if a Member be present who is the accuser, and, therefore, we will constitute a Secret Committee, from which every party interested shall be shut out. The 844 House was carried away by this grand show of justice and candour. I myself, among others, was misled by it; and I afterwards regretted that I had voted with the right hon. Gentlemen opposite on the principles they professed, which was to form a Committee on a plan so peculiarly fair. A few days afterwards Ministers had to form a Committee on the very same subject in the House of Lords, and then they utterly forgot their own boasted principle. They took upon it Members of the late as well as well as of the existing Government—Chancellors and ex-Chancellors, in short several most active persons in the former and in the present administration. It was the same Government which formed both Committees; the same reason was assigned for the Committees in both places; and the same principle, if good for anything, ought to have been applied to both. If justice could not be done by a Committee here, in which the accuser and Members of the Government had seats, how could justice be done elsewhere in a Committee where the accuser could not sit, but to which Members of the present and late Administrations were admitted? They were very anxious to exclude all interested parties in this House, but as soon as they came into the other House that principle was utterly forgotten. Unless I hear some explanation of the difference, and they tell me why a Committee of the House of Lords, on precisely the same question, was to be constituted on the very opposite principle, I must believe that it was so constituted here only for the purpose of keeping out the hon. Member for Finsbury. As far as I can see, I think there is great reason to believe that the letters of the hon. Member were opened. I do not mean to say that they may not have been properly opened: it is perfectly possible that he may be, as no doubt he is, innocent of anything like criminal correspondence; but such information may have been given to the Home Office by calumniators as might excite a reasonable suspicion in the breast of the right hon. Secretary. But I think a Member of Parliament who offers to prove the fact is entitled to be heard: it is a question of privilege in a very peculiar sense: it is a privilege not for his own benefit, and it ought not to be for his own benefit. It is a privilege for the benefit of his constituents, and for the sake of free intercourse and correspondence between the representative and the represented. Every Member of Par- 845 liament is to be looked upon as one of the grand inquest of the nation. Many persons writhing under the pressure of what they consider a grievance are apt to use angry language: they are perhaps hotheaded men, and employ terms which others would much regret and disapprove; but for a Member of Parliament to show a disposition to receive complaints of grievances seems to me a virtue and a merit. If they come readily to him from different parts of the country, it is one of the signs that he does his duty in this House. Is such a correspondence to be subjected to inspection and criticism, and that too by political opponents? Supposing them to be men of honour, their minds must be in some degree heated by the nightly conflicts in which they are engaged in this place. They might fancy, in such a state of mind, that the hon. Member was engaged in schemes which never entered his head, and this species of correspondence ought to be peculiarly sacred. Are his letters of this kind to be placed in the hands of his opponents, of his enemies in a public, though not in a private sense? I conceive that when a Member of the House of Commons offers to prove that his letters have been opened—when he offers to submit his conduct to the inspection of the public, on every ground of reason and justice we ought to comply. We ought to allow him to prove his case, if he can, for our own sakes. If he has in any way compromised the safety of the State—if there be any suspicion of it—if that suspicion be confirmed, then, sorry as I should be to see it, still I must say that he ought no longer to continue a Member of Parliament. If, on the other hand, his letters have been opened, and nothing found in them, then he is entitled to reparation; and the least reparation he can expect is a fair inquiry, and an open declaration of his nnocence. What I suggest is, that instead of calling upon a Committee, as in the concluding part of the Motion, to investigate the present practice in this respect, we should proceed at once to legislate. It seems to me that we are in a condition to do so; but I cannot vote for the Motion as it stands, though I would support a proposition to inquire into a complaint of a Member of Parliament who declares that his letters have been improperly opened.
§ Mr. James S. Wortley
was anxious to state the grounds on which he should give his vote; and in doing so he should avoid 846 both the general question as to the exercise of the right of opening letters, and also any allusion to the hon. Member for Finsbury which could in any way be offensive to him. He apprehended that this was no question of the right, the wisdom, or the policy of exercising this power; still less was it a question as to the particular mode of exercising this power, either as to the opening of a letter, or giving notice to the owner of the letter after a reasonable time (as was suggested by an hon. Member), or delivering it without any such notice—this was not the time for discussing either of those topics. He considered the power useless unless exercised to the extent to which it was now exercised; and, at the same time, he fully sympathised with the party who had to exercise a power which must be painful to every man of honour, and to none more painful than to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham). But the question was, whether, by the hon. Member for Finsbury, or any other hon. Member, just grounds had been laid for the granting this Committee. He could not help agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman, that the proposition of the hon. Member for Finsbury was an implied censure on the Secretary of State; for in the original terms in which the notice was given, the offensive word "evasive" was found—a word which the hon. Member had wisely and discreetly withdrawn—but of which the House ought not to lose sight. For, taking that word, with the tone of his speech—the acrimony—he had almost said the personal animosity of the speech,—could it be doubted that the object of the Motion was to fix a stigma on the Secretary of State, and to lower him in the opinion of that country for the benefit and advantage of which his services had been so long and ably rendered? When the hon. Baronet, the Member for Hull, said no reflection on the right hon. Gentleman was intended, it was to him quite refreshing to see an hon. Member of the House so candid—he might say so simple—as not to see through the design of the Motion. The hon. Member for Cork would not join in the acrimonious censure of the Motion; and the hon. Member for Montrose, whose conduct had been always characterised by justice and impartiality, also deprecated the tone in which the Motion was brought forward. Looking at the quarter from which the Motion came, and the perseverance with which this acrimonious tone was impressed on every step of the proceedings, he 847 could not but feel that the object of the Motion was to fix a most unjust stigma on the right hon. Gentleman. He (Mr. Wortley) would put it to every hon. Member in the House to place himself in the position of the right hon. Gentleman—to consider the country in a state of tumult, and the responsibility of preserving the peace of the country resting on his shoulders—that his predecessors had exercised this power, and that he was called upon to exercise it—would any hon. Member in the House lay his hand upon his heart and say that, if placed in similar circumstances, he would not have exercised this power? Had the right hon. Gentleman exercised it more than any other Secretary of State? The Report not only says he did not, but that he was distinguished from all his predecessors in not allowing the warrants to remain in the office longer than was necessary. Former Secretaries of State allowed the warrants to remain in the office when they were apparently inoperative, but, perhaps, busily used. The right hon. Gentleman, with that character for business for which he was so much distinguished, saw the necessity, and acted upon it, of not allowing the warrants so to remain. With respect to the power of opening letters, the hon. Member for Finsbury asked, "Whence is this power?" Why, no man could consider this question for a moment without seeing that the origin of this power was not only legal but constitutional. The Crown carried the letters, and the Crown originally and exclusively carried the letters. The Crown offered this facility to the subject, and the condition was that this facility should not be abused. There must be some power to protect the public itself against the misuse and abuse of that privilege. Many wretches had been found taking advantage of the facilities afforded by the Post Office for sending explosive matter in letters—such letters should be opened. [Much laughter.] It might create laughter, but such cases had occurred, and much injury had arisen. Some precaution should be used to prevent such letters from reaching hand. With respect both to the home and foreign correspondence, it was the duty of the Secretary of State to see that the Post Office facilities were not abused. He (Mr. Wortley) felt as strongly as any man could do the odious character of the power; but he could not help feeling also that its odious character had been to some degree exaggerated. It was said, that by opening the letters of Foreign Ambassadors, 848 we had been degraded in the eyes of Europe; but it was notorious that this power was exercised throughout every nation in Europe. The consequence of this was, that Ambassadors did not send their official letters through the Post Office, but by special messengers. Their private letters were not likely to be disturbed, and therefore they were sent through the Post Office. He (Mr. Wortley) remembered an anecdote told by an hon. Member of the House of Commons, and one who was distinguished in the literary world in his day. Frederick the Great exercised not only the power of opening the letters of Foreign Ambassadors accredited to his Court, but even the letters of his own Ambassadors. On one occasion, the correspondence between an Ambassador and his wife was opened, and the wife's letter having been put into the wrong enclosure, both letters were returned to their respective writers, and the practice of violating the correspondence was detected. The question now was, whether or not the House should appoint another Committee on this question? For what purpose or on what grounds should they do so? Would they get more honourable men? Take the whole House—read out the names of the Members—and would any man say that a Gentleman could be found whose honour, integrity, and intelligence were greater than any of those who served on the former Committee? Would they get such honourable men as were on that Committee, if the House would treat those Gentlemen in the manner proposed? The Secret Committee had been complained of; but if a Public Committee had been appointed, would it have obtained half the information that had been given to the Secret Committee? He (Mr. Wortley) did not mean the information which the public got, but which the Committee got. The hon. Member for Montrose had suggested the propriety of publishing the evidence taken before the Committee; but would not that be a direct breach of personal faith to every witness examined? When persons gave evidence on the pledge and strict understanding that what they said would not be divulged, he thought it would be an absolute breach of faith to publish such evidence without their permission. Would Officers of State, noble Lords, and right hon. Gentlemen, on both sides of the House, give evidence before a Public Committee? If they would not, then the Committee would have to come to a conclusion on insufficient informa- 849 tion, and their labours would be worth nothing. But what pretence was there for the appointment of such a Committee? Why the hon. Gentleman said, "I was not put on the Committee." He remembered that when Mr. Hardy brought an accusation against an hon. Member, Mr. Hardy was excluded from the Committee appointed to make the inquiry. The hon. Member for Cork said, "Why not treat the hon. Member for Finsbury as you did the hon. Member for Bath, by putting him on the Committee?" Because the hon. Member for Bath had no interest in the result of the inquiry. Had the hon. Member for Finsbury none? Did he not bring an accusation against the Secretary of State? Did he not in July last say, "I am not only an accuser, but a double accuser?" On that occasion, he represented himself boldly and honourably, as he was always accustomed to do, to the House in the character of an accuser. What was the next ground on which he sought for a Committee? Why, that the Committee refused to report as to whether his letters had been opened. Had they? Did he ever ask them? "Yes," said the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman had had an opportunity of having his witnesses examined under the most favourable circumstances, and refused to let them be examined; but if he had an accusation that he could support, it was impossible that he would have taken the course he did. The hon. Gentleman went before the Committee—repeated all the charges he had made to the House, and said he had witnesses to call in support of his statements. "We shall be glad to hear them," said the Committee; "but first, will you be good enough to give us your account?" "No," said the hon. Member, "I shall give you no information unless you make me a Member of the Committee." That was impossible. The Committee had no power to elect him, and the House of Commons would not so stultify itself as to add him to the Committee. The next question the Committee asked him was, "Have you any witnesses that you wish to have examined?" "Yes," said the hon. Member. "Bring them forward," said the Committee. "No," said the hon. Member, "unless I am allowed to be present during their examination." "For what purpose?" "To protect my witnesses." There might be some reason in this demand, if the witnesses were to be examined in a Court of Quarter Sessions, or in the Old Bailey, perhaps, by not a 850 senseless or stupid counsel, and in the midst of roars of laughter from the gallery; but it was not reasonable to make such a demand when the witnesses were to be examined in a private room, before five or seven hon. Gentlemen—men of the nicest sense of honour and delicacy. Protect his witnesses! Why protect them? From what were they to be protected? "They might be exposed to the anger of particular parties." But was not an examination before a public Committee calculated to expose them more? If they were allowed to speak before the Committee that had been appointed, the public would know nothing about their testimony. They would be examined under a seal of the most perfect secrecy, and in the presence of most honourable men. One witness would not know that another had been ever before that tribunal. The witnesses might have been called on separate days, and no one could have known who was examined. What pretence, then, was there for the hon. Member saying that he had been refused an opportunity of proving his case? Had he no confidence in the Lords' Committee? Did he shrink from appearing before Lord Cottenham, and bringing forward his witnesses where they might be examined in secrecy? All he (Mr. Wortley) could say was, that if the hon. Member had a good case, he displayed more of the skill of an advocate than of a bold accuser. When a party had a weak case, and could not trust his witnesses, he might find it convenient to make an appeal to the passions of those out of doors or in the jury box, like the hon. Member, to cover the weakness of his case, by making some excuse for not calling his witnesses. The hon. Member's privilege as a Member of Parliament was a most important question; but he (Mr. Wortley) could not agree with the opinion stated on that point by the preceding speaker. He thought that if this power of opening letters were to exist at all, it should be exercised with the greatest caution and forbearance; but if the power were to be exercised at all, the humblest of the constituents in Finsbury—the meekest and humblest of the inhabitants of Saffron-hill—were entitled to the same protection as a Member of Parliament. And when the Member for Finsbury, or his hon. Colleague, set themselves up as entitled to superior claims on the consideration of the House, he (Mr. Wortley) thought they were arrogating to themselves a right to which they were not entitled. But why 851 should a Member of Parliament demand such a privilege? Did they not in 1735 resolve that to open the letters of a Member of Parliament was not a breach of privilege? In 1735, it was resolved, in terms, that to open the letter of a Member of Parliament was a high breach of privilege, except under the warrant of the Secretary of State? Now would the hon. Member say that the opening of his letters was not authorised by a warrant from the Secretary of State? His answer was that the Report of the Committee set out the number of the warrants, and the names of the parties affected by those warrants. ["Name, name."] The hon. Member's name was not there. Well, his accusation then was, that the letters were opened without a warrant. If the hon. Member's accusation were founded in truth, he was shrinking from his duty; for instead of asking for a Committee of Inquiry, he ought to impeach the Government. [Sir T. Wilde: We must make the inquiry first.] The hon. Gentleman said he knew the fact; that he had got the witnesses who could prove it, and not only so, but that he believed it to have been done without any authority at all. [Mr. Duncombe: I did not say that.] He understood the hon. Gentleman to have said so. He might, however, be mistaken. But if that was so, could there be a greater charge? The charge was not for having opened the hon. Gentleman's letters in the regular way, but for having done so wantonly, without excuse or reason. If that were true, the hon. Gentleman should have brought the matter forward in the manner which he had suggested, and then he would not have been able to make a vague charge; but if he came forward accusing the Home Secretary of such a misdemeanor, he ought to have stated fully and explicitly the nature of his charge. This was the position of the hon. Member. For what purpose, then, should they grant him a Committee? Would he take the witnesses he was so anxious to protect before a public Committee?—could he shield them there from exposure and injury by their superiors? The very proposition was ludicrous—it was clear they would suffer infinitely more. As to the hon. Member himself, it was his own fault if the Committee did not make mention of him, for he might have given them the information if it existed; but he had done no such thing. They were, therefore, left to conjecture the nature of the complaint; for the hon. Gentleman had not stated from whom the letters came, nor 852 whether they were upon private or public subjects. But there were some means of ascertaining the character of the letters; for on a former occasion, when the conduct of the magistrates in Lancashire and Staffordshire was discussed, the hon. Member brought before the House letters which the Attorney General pointed out as having been written by persons who had been convicted of political offences. He would not state the names of the writers, for some of those poor fellows were still suffering the consequences of their conduct. He did not mean to cast the slightest reflection upon the hon. Gentleman in what he was about to say; but this Secret Committee had reported, that during the disturbances in the North, officers were sent down to that district, and certain letters were examined. Was it not possible that some of those letters were addressed to the hon. Member? Would it not have been a perfectly just and necessary exercise of their duty if the officers had opened such letters? Were the hon. Gentleman's letters to be sacred because he was a Member of Parliament? Was the Secretary of State, charged as he was with the peace of the country, at that most dangerous moment to hold his hand? Supposing a letter had been addressed to the hon. Gentleman by the supposed ringleader in those disturbances, was it to be said that because he was a Member of Parliament, the power should not be exercised? This would put their privilege in a most ludicrous aspect. As a Member from the North of England, he was sure he was speaking the sentiments of all the community when he said that they felt themselves under an eternal debt of obligation to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Home Department for his conduct during the outbreak, he had almost said insurrection, in the North. He did not wish to draw invidious comparisons; but they had seen in 1831 and 1832 riots allowed to increase until cities were in flames, and in 1837 tumults swelling into treason; and the year 1839 was impressed upon his memory by a conspiracy of a most dangerous nature in his native county, when they had on the table of a court of justice in York, hand grenades and infernal machines. He would tell the hon. Gentleman that some of those Chartists with whom he had corresponded had been since detected with infernal machines in their possession; and at the time to which he had referred they had in the witness-box a spy, who had been employed by the Government, and who 853 told him, in answer to one of his questions, that he had received 80l. in one week. In 1842, however, they had no spy in all their prosecutions; and without bloodshed, without treason, without the sentence of death, Which had occurred in the other cases, the tumult was suppressed, with comparatively but little necessity for the interference of the military. He had now shown that, on personal grounds, the hon. Member was not entitled to an inquiry. If they were to grant it, they would be censuring the Committee which had already been appointed, and encouraging the accusation which the hon. Member had made. Let him state fairly the facts—let him show the proofs, if he had any, to substantiate his charges—and then it would be time enough to consider whether there was any ground for further inquiry.
§ Mr. Ward
said, that if his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury was entitled to an inquiry before the speech which had just been addressed to the House, he must confess that he thought him ten times more entitled to it now. The hon. and learned Gentleman bespoke the sympathy of the House in favour of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Home Department. He said that attempts had been made, both on that (the Opposition) side of the House, and by the press, to run down the right hon. Gentleman as a public man, to throw a stigma upon him; but was the right hon. Gentleman's character the only one which had been assailed? Were they not all public men; and was not the hon. Member for Finsbury, representing a large and powerful constituency, and by habit and political interests bearing peculiar relations to the working classes of this country, to be considered as a public man? He would admit that he was not so important a public man as the right hon. Gentleman upon whom the conservation of the peace of the country depended; but still, both the hon. Member for Finsbury and the other Members of that House were entrusted with duties, for the performance of which they sat there, and in the way of which, he must say, he thought unfair impediments had been thrown. He recollected perfectly the state of the country at the time referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman,—the general excitement of the working classes—and the bloody-minded conspiracy which was developed at York. But, admitting all that, what could be more desirable than that men before embarking in such dangerous enterprizes should consult 854 those of higher standing and higher intelligence than themselves? And no doubt in such a case the hon. Member for Finsbury, if appealed to, would have exhorted those who sought his opinion to desist. He could conceive nothing more desirable than that every facility should be given to such communications, by which the working classes would be brought more in connexion with, and under the influence of, men who were qualified to guide them. If he were in the hon. Gentleman's place, after the representations which they had heard to-night—above all, after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, who alluded so significantly to the disturbances of 1842, he would never rest until the stigma which had been thrown on his character had been removed, and until all the circumstances attending this covert charge had been most fully and entirely developed. He was the better entitled to say what he had said, inasmuch as upon many points introduced into this question he did not agree with his hon. Friend. He disliked the wording of his Motion. He (Mr. Ward) had not the slightest intention of throwing a stigma on the Committee of last year. If he did not concur in the vote which excluded the hon. Member for Finsbury from that Committee, he walked out of the House without voting. He knew the Members of that Committee were Gentlemen of honour, and he would place his own character in their hands. He did not know, until that evening, what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh had pointed out as to the difference in the constitution of the Committees of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, showing the wish to exclude the hon. Member for Finsbury. He was not, however, prepared to say, even now, that the hon. Gentleman should have been a Member of the Commons' Committee. As to the pure legal question, he would have nothing to do with that. If there were such a question, let it be decided by Lord Denman—let it be brought into a court of justice. If there were no authority by law, as he understood some hon. Gentlemen were prepared to argue, for opening letters under any circumstances, let his hon. Friend take his case into a court of justice, and proceed against the party by whom he supposed that his letters had been opened. He looked to the practical part of the question; and whatever odium might attach to such 855 a declaration, he believed that some power over letters transmitted through the Post Office was absolutely necessary; and when he heard the hon. Member for Pontefract talking of this country being lowered in the estimation of Foreign Powers by such a practice, and appealing to some recent declaration of M. Guizot, as to the inviolability of letters in France, he thought that such a reference was more worthy of his imagination as a poet, than of his position as a legislator and a man of the world. Let him ask their own Ambassador, Lord Cowley, or any other Minister at a Foreign Court—let them have been acquainted with diplomacy, as he had been—and they would find that no Ambassador from this country would entrust anything to a Foreign Post Office which he would mind having read at Charing Cross the next day. It was the universal practice abroad to open the letters of foreigners. The feelings of many hon. Members might be outraged by the supposition of such a power being exercised; but it was impossible that any country in the world could allow a great public establishment like the Post Office to be used against itself, for the purpose of disturbing the peace of the country. Let him only put a case. Suppose what had happened at the close of the last century, when certain Separatist Societies in Ireland sought the assistance of France against this country, were to occur again; could it be supposed that any abstract feeling of moral obligation could compel the Secretary of State to become the carrier of such correspondence? Did they think he could even take the chance which the right hon. Member for Edinburgh had spoken of, namely, of delivering the letters safely, and getting possession of them again by a search warrant? He believed that if they declared the absolute inviolability of the letters even of Members of Parliament, it might be dangerous to the peace of the country. He was not, therefore, disposed at all to quarrel with the existence of this power; he believed it to be indispensable that it should exist, but not without some means of ascertaining that it was not applied to political purposes, and that it was not exercised from impertinent personal curiosity, but from motives of public duty. That was the question which he thought had been fairly submitted to the Committee of last year, which Committee they themselves had bound to secrecy. He doubted whether the Members composing it would have become acquainted with all the 856 facts which had been laid before them, if they had not been a Secret Committee. He doubted, too, whether any public good would result from making all these facts public at this moment—even if it were possible to follow the suggestion of the hon. Member for Montrose, and publish the evidence. It was given upon the supposition that it would not be made public; and therefore he thought they had no right to publish it. He thought the most monstrous exaggerations of the conduct of the Home Secretary had been made during the greater part of last year, and that he had had to bear much odium for acts which did not arise out of his own Department, and for which he was not justly responsible. He (Mr. Ward) would admit that he had put his judgment into the hands of the Committee. Had the right hon. Gentleman had whole bags of letters carried to the Home Office for his inspection?—had he exhibited a prying meddling curiosty?—had his conduct been different from that of other Secretaries of State? Was there any broad distinction between the practice adopted by the right hon. Gentleman and that of his predecessors? He would put it to any man's feeling of fairness and sense of justice, to say, whether these were not the points really at issue? What did the Committee tell them? It said distinctly that it brought in, as a jury, its verdict, "Not Guilty." It said that from 1838 until the middle of 1841, when the Whig Government went out, and during which time two Home Secretaries had filled the office, that there were forty warrants issued during the four years; and subsequent to that period, from August, 1841, to August, 1844, there had been forty-four. Did the difference of four warrants show that the duty of the Home Secretary had been improperly exercised? He thought not. As to the case of Mr. Mazzini—putting aside for the time that of the hon. Member for Finsbury—most certainly the burden ought to rest where the necessity for intervention arose; namely, with the Secretary for the Foreign Department. The circumstances of the case were explained on a former evening by the right hon. Gentleman, and he had listened to it with great attention. The hon. Member for Finsbury had said that the blood of those unfortunate men who were sacrificed, rested upon the head of the British Government. He (Mr. Ward) looked upon that as a grave imputation, and he had heard it with the deepest pain. 857 As to supposing that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, or the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary, was capable of leading any man into a trap, he utterly disclaimed the idea of imputing it to them; but he did think that a communication might have been made to a Foreign Power which had caused these unhappy men to be led to their destruction, and that sufficient warning had not been given to them. He thought that if the British Government had furnished the Austrian Government with information, foreseeing what might happen in Italy, they ought also to have put the individuals who contemplated the descent upon Italy upon their guard. He, however, must admit that he had heard with satisfaction the other night, that the only reason why such information had not been supplied to the Bandieras, and other persons residing in Corfu, was, that they were not suspected—their names were not mentioned. He thought that was a redeeming circumstance in the case. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would see that he trod upon dangerous ground when he once permitted the Post Office of Great Britain to be made the instrument of the policy of a Foreign Power. In this country we had State trials; but in the south of Italy they managed matters differently—a drum-head court-martial and a short shrift, did the business. It was certainly a mad enterprise for twenty-two unarmed men to sail from Corfu, and he could quite understand that even Lord Seaton might not have suspected their intentions. With regard to what had been stated the other night, he thought there had been a complete explanation of the direct, but not of the collateral, charge. The unhappy men to whom he had alluded would not, he believed, have crossed to the kingdom of Naples, if, in consequence of the indirect information given to the Austrian Government, some measures had not been taken (of which the British Government were unconscious) to lure these men on to destruction. That was his impression the other night. He would venture, however, to say, that so long as the Foreign Office of England made use of the English Post Office as the means of keeping Foreign Governments informed of what was taking place in this country, the Secretary of that Department would expose himself to these attacks, and the results would be equally painful to himself as they would be discreditable to the Country. The power of opening letters must, however, exist. If 858 they made the Post Office inviolable, they would be obliged to pass a Bill of Indemnity every year, for it would be absolutely necessary for the preservation of internal peace to violate it. He only wished to see the power applied under proper checks and precautions. It might be desirable to establish a periodical inquiry as to the exercise of the power; and he should be perfectly satisfied, without any of the antiquarian details in the Report of the Committee as to what had been done in times past, to see the power kept within proper limits in future for the safety of the community. But he must end with the case with which he had begun—he meant the case of the hon. Member for Finsbury. He would say, when a Member of Parliament declared that he believed his letters had been opened —that his correspondence had been tampered with—it was not a stigma cast upon the right hon. Gentleman alone, but upon the hon. Member who made the complaint; and he had a perfect right to call upon every Member of that House who possessed one spark of proper feeling, to support him in demanding an inquiry. Any of them representing populous towns might be consulted, as he had before stated, by men desirous of being guided by their opinions; and, if that was desirable, upon what plea could letters addressed to a Member of that House be opened, although written by men who had incurred the suspicion of the Government, without the circumstances being stated? He would not go into the question of Breach of Privilege—that had nothing to do with it. If any Member of that House embarked in a treasonable design, let him take the consequences; but when an hon. Member asked what the circumstances were, and demanded the fullest inquiry, he was entitled to have it, and it ought to be granted. If the hon. Gentleman had framed his Motion in this way, involving this simple question, he (Mr. Ward) would have voted for giving him another Committee, and would never have allowed another act to have been done by the Government in that House, as far as he could oppose it, until that were done. He should like to see an Amendment moved by some hon. Gentleman of more influence than himself, proposing an inquiry into all the circumstances, and under what authority the letters of his hon. Friend, had been opened; and no Motion he had ever voted for in that House would have received his more cordial support.
§ Lord J. Manners
This is a question, as has been observed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, affecting not the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, but the hon. Member for Finsbury, and should be so treated. After what has fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, I think it necessary to state in a few words the reasons by which I shall be guided in giving my vote upon this occasion. I entirely agree with what has been said against mixing up the questions which have been decided by the Committee with the question affecting the hon. Member for Finsbury, and sincerely trust that he will consent to alter the terms of his Motion so as to restrict it entirely to his own case. I should have been content to give a silent vote, had it not been for certain observations which I have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman has removed from the consideration of the case all those circumstances which I believe to be naturally attached to the question, and put it entirely and clearly before the House as a matter of confidence, first, in the honour and integrity of the Committee, and secondly, in himself and his Colleagues. I am anxious, Sir, to reject for myself any such conclusion, and to vindicate for others, no less than myself, the right of voting on the simple merits of the case, and not on those extraneous views which, in my humble opinion, are too frequently pressed upon the House, if a free discussion and fair decision are to be regarded as of any value. I protest, therefore, against this case of the hon. Member for Finsbury being made the test and touchstone of want of confidence in the Government. I say that if such a question as this is to be viewed as a question of confidence in Her Majesty's Ministers, the sooner some new Cromwell appears, and removes "that bauble," and turns us all out, the better. I beg leave to ask the House, what are the real facts of the case? They are simply these: — An hon. Gentleman complains that his letters have been opened. He asks for the same justice for himself that has been afforded to other Gentlemen in a similar predicament. He says, that he feels himself, as long as suspicion attaches to him—I quote his own epithet—a degraded man. I cannot think that epithet too strong, considering the circumstances of the case; for no one would be subject to have his letters opened, unless there was grave suspicion attaching to him of having 860 done, or said, or permitted, something which would stamp him as an enemy to his country, or at least as a false and a bad citizen. It seems to me, then, that the epithet is not too strong; and when that Gentleman comes forward and states that he feels himself degraded, and not only that but that the constituency which he represents suffers through him, I do think the House will do well to pause before it refuses altogether to admit the plea and request of the hon. Gentleman. Having thus endeavoured to state the view which I take upon the personal question, as affecting the hon. Member for Finsbury, I will now venture to say a few words on the great and only argument, as it seems to me, brought against his proposition. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I entirely appreciate the motives which governed his conduct, and I enter most fully into his feelings; and if I refrain from saying more in favour of his high honour and integrity upon this occasion, it is because I feel it would be almost an insult to him, as implying there was some necessity for such language. But I would ask whether his answer to the question of the right hon. Gentleman is one that can be deemed satisfactory? The right hon. Gentleman says that official secrecy restrains him. Why, the whole grievance in my eyes is, that secrecy has somehow or other been abandoned. If that secrecy had not been violated, the hon. Gentleman would have no case; his case would never have been known and it could only not be said to have come to an end, because it never would have had a beginning. Secrecy is a condition which is endurable. Publicity is another condition which is endurable. But this is a practice which is unendurable; and it seems to have been so to the hon. Gentleman, as all who heard the harsh and severe terms which he used in his speech will admit; unendurable to the right hon. Gentleman, as a man of high honour and generous feeling. It is unendurable to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, for it leads him to think and speak of a want of confidence in his Administration. Lastly, it is unendurable to this House, for it has roused up acrimonious feelings, and generated animosities, which cannot be put an end to unless something is done to answer the hon. Gentleman. If there be any other course, let it be adopted. I care not if the 861 answer comes directly from the right hon. Gentleman. What, for instance, should prevent him from getting up and saying, what I suppose is now admitted in this House to be a matter of notoriety,—"Mr. Duncombe, in the year 1842, in a time of great danger and doubt, acting upon my own responsibility, I opened your letters; and I have now, following the precedent of the Secret Committee, the satisfaction of saying to you, that there appeared in the letters nothing whatever to criminate you." I do not say that this is the course to be adopted. What shall be the means adopted, to do justice to the hon. Member, I care not but I do submit to the House, that the question cannot, and will not, be permitted to remain in the state in which it is. I can conceive nothing more injurious to the Public Service than that it should remain as it is. Sir, what will be the end of all this? Why, if nothing more is to be done on the subject, there will be the hon. Member for Finsbury—a Gentleman who takes an active part in all the public questions submitted to this House, blessed (as every one here well knows) with a very fluent tongue, and a peculiar happiness of jocular vituperation, with a keen sense of injury, after making this extraordinary statement, with no explanation whatever offered, no justification, no apology, no exculpation, no inculpation—sitting opposite to the right hon. Gentleman, whom he firmly believes to have done him great injustice and wrong, and aiding him in legislating for the public good. What can we expect from such a state of things but that acerbity, and bitterness, and quarrels, will be eternally springing up in this House? When I reflect upon the opposite evil which some very timid people may anticipate as possible to arise from pursuing, as the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Milnes) calls it, the manly and candid course, I really cannot see how hon. Members can hesitate for a moment as to the course to be pursued. What evil could possibly arise to the Public Service, or even to this private method of aiding it, from the announcement being made which has been suggested to-night? Would the Public Service, do you think, lose by such an avowal? Would this secret system become more odious than it is in consequence of it? The system, I venture to say, would become infinitely more to tolerable to the people of England, infinitely more likely to be productive of good to the State, thaw it will be if, after 862 such statements as we have listened to—after assertions made with so much determination, and such evident conviction of their truth on the part of the hon. Member who has made them—this House is still to be told that nothing further can be said on the subject, and that no explanation is to be given; that the hon. Member is neither to be exculpated nor inculpated, but everything is to be shrouded in impenetrable obscurity, and left to the chance fight and medley disputation which I, for one, foresee and deplore. Sir, these are the views which influence me; but I cannot vote with the hon. Member for Finsbury on his present Motion, because I consider that after the Report which that Secret Committee has laid on our Table, and after the explanation which the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Administration gave last night, this House has absolutely nothing further to do with the other cases to which it refers. The case with which the House has to do is the case of the hon. Member for Finsbury. I do beseech him so to mould and alter his Motion as to allow myself and other Members of this House to support it, without in the slightest degree casting the least, the most remote, imputation either upon the hon. Gentlemen who composed the Committee, or upon the right hon. Gentleman on whom so many cruel, and, I believe, unjust aspersions have been cast—which I sincerely hope to hear retracted before this debate closes; and without showing the slightest want of confidence in Her Majesty's Ministers — a question which has been, I think, almost ludicrously brought into this debate.
§ Captain Layard
said, that no one in that House felt more deeply impressed than himself with respect both for the honourable feeling and intelligence which were the characteristics of those Gentlemen who formed the Secret Committee; at the same time, he felt bound to state his opinion, that the country was far from satisfied to allow this matter to remain as it did at present; and he thought he should be able to show, by the line of conduct pursued by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, that such was the case. Before the petition of Mr. Mazzini was presented to the House, a friend of his (Captain Layard's) had asked him "if he had heard the report?" He asked his friend, "to what report he alluded?" The answer was, "that it was currently reported that the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department had 863 caused many letters to be opened without sufficient authority." He told his friend, that he might depend upon it the report was without foundation; that in his opinion the Secretary for the Home Department was far too honourable a man to act in such a manner; and, supposing that for a moment not to be the case, he was too wise and too sagacious to do that winch would entail such odium upon himself, if proved, and disgrace upon the Administration to which he belonged. Such being his opinion, his astonishment was great when the petition of Mr. Mazzini was presented; still greater when the hon. Member for Finsbury stated that he was able, and prayed to be allowed to prove, the allegation; but greater than all when the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department shunned the inquiry—declaring that it was for the advantage of the country that no Committee should be granted, and that he took the responsibility upon himself. Now, he fully agreed with the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, that he was responsible; but he was at a loss to know how that responsibility was to be efficacious, if an open inquiry into his conduct was to be denied. It was said that by putting out the eyes of a bullfinch, the unhappy bird was enabled to sing a different tune from that which it did before. Now, he was not going to compare the right hon. Home Secretary to that unhappy bird; far from it, for though, indeed, upon the second occasion when this matter was brought before the House, he sang to a very different note from that which he did before, yet it struck him that the right hon. Gentleman had more likely been couched. At any rate, he seemed to be more aware, and to perceive more plainly, to say the least of it, the peculiarly unpleasant situation in which he was placed. He thought that the hon. Member for Pontefract had helped to couch the right hon. Baronet. He had, at any rate, materially assisted to dispel the mist which had at first seemed to veil the eyes of the right hon. Gentleman as to the real state of the case, when the hon. Member for Pontefract declared he should have been better satisfied if a Committee had been granted. But did this honourable feeling actuate the hon. Member for Pontefract alone? Certainly not; it was shown and felt by many Members on both sides of the House, and it was well known, upon the second occasion, when the matter was brought again under consideration, that had no Committee been granted, 864 and the Ministers had divided, they would have been left in a minority; and a knowledge that such would be the case made the right hon. Gentleman change his note as he did,—then makings speech, the purport of which seemed to be to make the House believe, that whatever he had done amiss, Gentlemen on the Opposition side had formerly done worse—as if that had been any justification, if it had been correct; which undoubtedly it was not. He then stated that, for the sake of his own character (forgetting, it was to be presumed, that he stated before that the good of the country required there should be no Committee), a Committee should be allowed. But what Committee? Only a secret one;—Oh lame and importent conclusion.If, as at first stated, the good of the country would suffer from an inquiry, no Committee ought to have been granted. If this was to give way, and it became necessary for the sake of the right hon. Gentleman's character, was a Secret Committee, from which the best source of information respecting these allegations was excluded, in the person of the hon. Member for Finsbury, likely to be satisfactory to the public? Certainly not. And the exclusion of that hon. Gentleman, after what had passed, gave good grounds for people to believe that a complete investigation never was intended. When the hon. Member for Bath made charges of Parliamentary corruption, and a Committee was granted, he was not only placed on that Committee, but appointed Chairman; and no just or sufficient reason had been or could be given, why the hon. Member for Finsbury should have been excluded. The whole system of letter-opening was revolting to the spirit and love of liberty inherent in the British people; and the sooner such a system was done away with the better. Napoleon, who understood the spy system as well as any one ever did, said that the espionage of the Post Office was no better than that of the police, by which only fools were caught. When Catherine of Russia caused not only the letters of her own subjects to be opened, but those of Foreign Ministers, the French Directory appealed against such conduct, stating it to be highly barbarous and dishonourable. He felt assured that the British House of Commons would agree in those sentiments. When M. Guizot was asked in the Chamber of Deputies if it was customary for the Government to open letters in France 865 (which question was asked in reference to something that had fallen from the hon. Member for Finsbury) he answered immediately, that it was not the case; and this answer was received with cheers in that assembly. Was it to be conceived that the British House of Commons did not coincide with the opinion so expressed, or was behind the French Chamber in honourable feeling? The right hon. Baronet had stated that the law was open to Mr. Mazzini; but would any man in his senses believe that Mr. Mazzini would have acted a wise or prudent part, even supposing he had the means, to go to law with a gentleman of the right hon. Baronet's fortune, and who had an opportunity of silencing the witnesses upon whom the case depended? Mr. Mazzini had taken a far wiser part. He had knocked at the door of the House of Commons, and sent in his petition praying for redress. He had been fortunate enough to get a gentleman to present that petition whose excellent ability made him equal to any subject, and whose industry and firmness made him able to carry it to a successful conclusion. Mr. Mazzini, a foreigner, had visited our country, trusting in the equity of our laws. Since he had resided here, he believed that in his case those laws had been infringed. He called upon the House to grant him its protection. Would those who were the representatives of the people, who ought to be the guardians of their liberties, cast the shield of their protection over him, or not? If they did not, then indeed it might be said with truth of our laws, that they resembled spiders' webs, by which indeed the small flies were taken, but the large ones broke through with ease and impunity. According to the Report of the Secret Committee, the warrants issued by the direction of the right hon. Baronet were, in the year 1841, 18; in 1842, 20; 1843, 8; and in 1844, 7—making 53; a far greater number issued than in any preceding four years since 1799. There was another circumstance mentioned in the Report which he thought worthy the attention of the House; in page 17 it stated, in reference to Queen's messengers and Foreign Office bags, which were under the control of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, that in that Department great abuses had existed, numbers of letters having been sent in that way, and the postage thus evaded. But the Report went on to say, that this abuse had been almost discontinued. Now, he thought it ought to 866 be the care of the Government that it was completely so. He trusted the House would grant a full, fair, and, above all, an open inquiry. It was due to Mr. Mazzini; it was due to the hon. Member for Finsbury. In his opinion it was a grave matter to bring a charge against any hon. Member, and a grave responsibility rested upon any Member so doing; but such had been the course pursued by the hon. Member for Finsbury, and it was the duty of the House to grant every facility for proving whether his assertions were correct. These being his sentiments, it was his (Captain Layard's) intention to give his support to the Motion of that hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir R. H. Inglis
said, that the Speaker had found much difficulty in this discussion; for the right hon. Gentleman, though desirous of calling up the friends and opponents of the Motion alternately before the House, did not actually know where to look for them. The question had raised up enemies of the Administration on their own side of the House, and friends of the Administration on the Opposition side of the House. His hon. Friend, the Member for Pontefract, who rose immediately behind the Treasury Bench, had opened the discussion this evening in a speech of a very questionable character. Did his hon. Friend call that backing his friends? One of the best speeches which had been made in favour of Ministers, or at least against the hon. Member for Finsbury, at whose back he sat, was that of the hon. Member for Sheffield; and in the whole of his speech, excepting the beginning and the ending, he was willing to concur. Whatever pleasure that speech was calculated to give those who thought with him, he could not believe that it imparted equal pleasure to the hon. Member for Finsbury. These circumstances made him think that the quick and impartial eye of the Speaker had peculiar difficulty in ascertaining where he ought to look for friend or opponent of the Ministers. He could not exactly agree in the opinion expressed by his right hon. friend, the Member for Edinburgh, that the letters of a Member of Parliament should be viewed in a different light from the letters of any other person, in reference to the exercise of—he would not say a Statutable power—but a Common Law power, confirmed by Statute. In the first place, he did not know that the letters coming from the hon. Member for Finsbury had been intercepted and examined. 867 All that had been alleged was, that letters which had been addressed to the hon. Member for Finsbury had, in his judgment, been intercepted and read. That, he thought, made an important difference in the application of the law, and in the inferences which were to follow. No person could secure on the part of those who were addressing him an entire propriety of speech, or a due regard for the law which, in his own letters and correspondence, he maintained; he could not, therefore, be made responsible, either on the score of propriety or in point of law, for the conduct of those who addressed him. The hon. Member should not, therefore, endeavour to throw the shield of his Parliamentary power over those who, perhaps, had violated the law. But the Motion before the House did not even assume that the hon. Member's letters had been violated. The hon. Gentleman asserted, as his belief, that his letters had been opened. He could only say, that if his letters had been opened, he should have been satisfied with the acquittal of the proceeding contained in the Report of the Select Committee. It was stated in page 16 of the Report—So far as the criminal warrants go, no suspicion arises that unfairness or partiality has directed their issue. With regard to the other class of warrants, though there have been some few issued by different Administrations that have been in power during the last twenty-two years, in regard to which it is obvious that, on a subsequent review of the facts, a difference of opinion might arise as to the discretion exercised in each particular case, yet your Committee see no reason to doubt that the conduct of the Secretaries of State belonging to each of those Administrations has been guided by no other motive than an anxious desire to preserve the public peace, with the maintenance of which they were charged.He would not go into the question as to the Common Law on the subject. They might have a better law. He did not mean to contend that point. He would not go back to antiquarian authorities. After such authorities and precedents relating to this Statute Law, for a comparatively recent period, for a period of 140 years, did any person mean to contend that the law had been violated? When this question was before the House last Session, it was committed to the inquiry of a Secret Committee; and when that Committee had pronounced such an opinion upon the subject as was contained in these 868 papers, it was almost absurd to talk of referring that now to a public tribunal which they had before deliberately committed to a secret tribunal. The case was even much stronger than this, because the evidence on which the Report was made was of such a nature as never could have been given, nor could it have been extorted under other circumstances. That evidence was readily offered, and had been received under an honourable compact, which compact this House was now called upon to repudiate and to violate. What security had any public man of this country—for he believed that the examination before this Committee was not altogether confined to the public men of any country—what security would such men have, if after being admitted to the room up stairs with this honourable understanding of secrecy, and having given their evidence to a Committee of as impartial and intelligent men as this House could supply—if, after being led to make important communications under such circumstances, the compact should be violated, and all the evidence thus given be exposed to gratify an idle curiosity? Did the hon. Member for Finsbury impugn the constitution or the decision of the Committee? The Motion before the House did not allege any violation of duty on the part of this tribunal to which the subject had been referred. He said nothing of the speech of the hon. Member for Finsbury. It was enough for his argument to say that there was in the motion itself no crimination made against this Committee; and if that be so, he maintained that there was no locus standi for the hon. Member to come before the House and say that he was an injured man. If they looked to the proceedings of the House of Commons last year, they found that, after having taken ample time for consideration, the House had decided to leave the whole matter to be investigated by a secret tribunal, which tribunal had subsequently done its duty. He therefore hoped that the House would not think of re-opening a case which had been already decided by a Committee, the decision of which no man had attempted to impeach. If such a step be taken, it would only furnish a precedent for involving the same inquiry in perpetual reiteration, because the result of the next inquiry might be a similar Motion, tending to no practical good, and keeping alive, at a great waste of public time, a very injurious discussion. His hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract had asserted — and rare and 869 wonderful was the man who could seriously assert—that there was no country in Europe in which the sanctity of the Post Office was not observed, with the exception of England. The hon. Member for the county of Bute had, in contradiction to this statement, given an illustration of an ancient date. He believed that instances much nearer might be given of a similar kind. Possibly the story he was about to relate might be familiar to many on both sides of the House — he knew it was familiar, at least to one on the opposite side of the House. He would not give such details as might fix it to those who might not perfectly know it; but by those who did know it he was sure it would be recognised when he said that, in a negociation, not very distant in time and not very distant in country, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs desired the Minister at a certain court to insist upon certain terms, but not to press them at the risk of war. He received by post, by the ordinary and common post, a letter stating, "I have made the communication. I stated that my Government insisted upon such and such terms; and I have told them that unless I receive a favourable answer, I shall, in twenty-four hours, demand my passport." When the letter was received, the English Minister, whoever he was, said, "The man is mad; what can he possibly mean?—Involve us in a war for this!" Twenty hours had not elapsed before the messenger of the Minister arrived, and brought another letter. He said, "I knew that my dispatch, which went by the post, would be opened. It was opened; my secret instructions were revealed. In less than six hours the favourable answer was received, and I now take this more confidential mode of communicating the result, and the successful result of your instructions." He knew another case. An individual at a foreign court was requested to convey a particular dispatch, and it was said in as many words, because this dispatch, if conveyed by the post, would be certainly opened. How his hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, or how any other individual, in any other assembly, could stand up and say that the Post Office was inviolate every where except in England, surpassed all his powers of comprehension. His hon. Friend had talked of the glory of England in being the refuge of the foreigner, He did not know that he used the exact phrase, but he dealt largely in poetry, and said, that it was a green spot in the wilderness, an oasis into which all those who 870 passed through the desert of this world might arrive with grateful delight. He was very willing to admit, for it had been the glory of England now for six centuries, that England should be the refuge of the foreigner; but it should be their refuge only so long as they maintained, in the first place, peaceable and loyal conduct towards this country, and so long, also, as they did not convert this oasis into a volcano, to carry devastation and fire to other countries. Did any innocent man complain of his letters haying been opened? If they did, he had not yet heard of it. He certainly had not as yet heard any complaint from the hon. Member for Finsbury, that, any letters written by him had been opened. There was no evidence to prove that they had been opened; and he went further, and said, that there was no presumption that they had been opened. All this applied to letters written by the hon. Member for Finsbury. He did not mean that letters addressed to that hon. Member had not been opened. It was not necessary for him to admit or to deny that, allegation. The letters opened were, at all events, letters for which he was not responsible; letters addressed to him. You might say, Well, might not the constituents of a Member communicate with him? Certainly they might; but it might be the misfortune of some hon. Member to have some constituents in whom they themselves had no confidence, and who availed themselves of their relation to him to deal with the privileges of his Parliamentary character, and to address themselves to him in a manner which he would himself repudiate. He said this merely for the sake of illustration, because he did not know the fact. He did not find in this Report any allegation whatever, that letters written by the hon. Member, or even that any letters addressed to him, had been opened; but he said, that if they had, his Parliamentary privilege ought not to exempt him. He would not contend that his Parliamentary privilege ought to exempt him; and he believed, there were very few men in the House who would not be equally ready to make the same disclaimer of their privileges. His hon. Friend opposite, if he should be again Secretary of State, or the present Secretary of State, were alike at liberty, without complaint on his part, to open any letters which might be addressed to him. Although, as was stated by the hon Member for Kendal, there were certain alternations of opinion in this Report, and, 871 perhaps, nothing else could have been expected from the constitution of the tribunal from which it emanated,—although he found one square black, and another white, like a chessboard, yet the result of the whole was the liberation of Her Majesty's Government from any charge affecting either their moral or political character. When he found that, it was an indication of their discretion in respect to this particular case. [A cheer of dissent.] That cheer did not proceed from any Member of the Secret Committee. He had not heard from any hon. Member who was himself a Member of the Committee that he was wrong, and as he had not, they were all on equal terms. Any man who held the Report in his hand was equally entitled to draw an opinion; and his opinion was, that there was an exculpation of Her Majesty's Ministers in respect to the use of the power which the Law and Constitution of the country had committed to them, and that there was such a justification of their use of such power in the particular case of Mazzini as warranted him in giving his confidence to them. Under these circumstances it was not only not necessary for him to say that he did not support the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, but perhaps it was hardly necessary for him to say, that he should be equally prepared to oppose the Amendment which had been shadowed forth in two or three of the latter speeches in the House, especially in that of the hon. Member for Sheffield. As the Parliamentary privilege of a Member did not exempt him from a charge of felony, so he did not know why his correspondence should exempt him from a charge of political misconduct. But, in the particular instance before the House, he must again repeat, that there was not the slightest ground for believing that any letter written by any Member had ever been opened in the late transaction. Therefore, he was not prepared to vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, and, practically, as little for the Motion which was to be an amendment upon it, by whomsoever that Motion might be proposed, exempting the hon. Member for Finsbury from the operation of this power, or at least stating that the exercise of this power had been of an improper nature, and calling upon the House for inquiry, and to send it to another tribunal.
observed, that his hon. Friend who had just spoken had altogether mistaken the question of Privilege. At 872 present it was in the power of his hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury, to call, if he thought proper, to the Bar the officers of the Post Office, and make them depose to the fact of opening his letters; and it would be a breach of privilege if they could not produce a substantive defence and justification of their conduct. There was a well-known Resolution of that House on the subject, dated April, 1735. The Committee appointed in the time of Sir Robert Walpole, in 1735, came to certain Resolutions which were afterwards embodied in a vote of that House, by which it was declared—That it is an high infringement of the privilege of the Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses, chosen to represent the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament, for any Postmaster, his Deputies or Agents, in Great Britain or Ireland, to open and look into, by any means whatsoever, any letter directed to, or signed by the proper hand of, any Member, without an express warrant in writing, under the hand of one of the Principal Secretaries of State, for every such opening and looking into; or to detain or delay any letter directed to, or signed with the name of any Member, unless there shall be just reason to suspect some counterfeit of it, without an express warrant of a Principal Secretary of State, as aforesaid, for every such detaining or delaying.He thought, therefore, that the question of privilege was one by which they ought not to be altogether influenced; but he considered his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury ought to assume a higher ground; that he ought to take a more elevated standing in the matter, and rest his case on the fact, that a Member of Parliament fills a situation, in the public eye, of great responsibility, a situation of great importance, of great character; that a Member of Parliament belonged not only to himself but to his constituency, and, to a certain extent, to the country at large; and if it were supposed that Members of Parliament were criminating themselves by holding intercourse with contaminating men, with persons engaged in treasonable and reckless schemes, then, he would repeat, the charge was one which stood on much higher grounds than any mere breach of privilege, because men who lend themselves to such schemes and practices were unfit to sit in that House, or to hold intercourse with the Gentlemen of whom it was composed. He therefore trusted, that the hon. Gen- 873 tleman would not embarrass his case with any mere question of Parliamentary privilege, but that he would press it forward on other and more important grounds. There was no man who gave the matter the slightest consideration, but must see that it did not rest solely on whether those privileges had been evaded or not; and supposing his hon. Friend should be defeated in his present Motion, then he would contend that the hon. Gentleman would be entitled to adopt another course, which there could be little doubt he would take, if necessary, and that was to call to the Bar of the House those public servants whom he could charge with being concerned in the opening of his letters, and it would then be for them to show, if they could, as their justification, that they had acted under a warrant from the right hon. Baronet, or from any other Secretary of State. He would recommend that course to be adopted in preference to any arguments held forth about the dogmas, the illusions, and the shadows of Parliamentary privileges. When he saw those parties to whom he had alluded on the floor of that House, and heard what attempt they could then make at supporting the acts of which they had been guilty, by the production of a warrant, if any such authority had been issued by the Secretary of State, he would then be prepared to deal with the question in a more safe and satisfactory manner. He would say that they were not at that moment in a position to deal with the law of the case. He was told that a Motion would be made hereafter for the purpose of inducing the House to consider whether the Statute Law—the Statute of Queen Anne, confirmed as it had been in a kind of semi-way by the Statutes of Her present Majesty—ought to be suffered to continue;—to ascertain whether the state of public opinion respecting this subject was in the same position in 1845 as it had been in 1735; to consider whether that division of the Legislature was at the present day of a similar opinion with their predecessors a century ago, as to the propriety of continuing to the Government the power and the right of opening and inspecting the correspondence, not only of the Members of that House, not only of all the subjects of the Sovereign of these realms, but of the subjects of every Government in the world that came within their reach. He maintained that they were not then in 874 a position to enter into that question. He was not prepared, any more than his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, to enter into so wide a field. He did not intend to question the manner in which the nine hon. Members who had formed the Secret Committee in this matter had performed their duty. He believed that all those hon. Gentlemen were disposed to enter into the investigation for which they had been appointed, in a proper and searching manner. He was not prepared, in the slightest degree, to asperse their characters, or doubt the purity of their intentions, their acts, and their motives; nor was he disposed—and he trusted the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) would give him credit for sincerity when he said so—to accuse that right hon. Gentleman of all the charges which had been brought against him. On the contrary, he believed that accusations had been brought against the right hon. Gentleman of the most improper, the most ridiculous, and the most exaggerated character; but he, at the same time, should say that the question of responsibility, behind which he screened himself—the question of the due exercise of the discretion which the law vested in him—was one of a very material and serious nature. The question had been before asked, and he would repeat it, what was the precise meaning of the word "responsibility?" It was one of the most difficult terms to define, in the lexicons of statesmen, and one to which a proper signification could not easily be assigned. Still more difficult was it for them to say how they were to arrive at the proof of whether the Minister exceeded the limits of—he would use the term—a moral, sufficient, and justificatory responsibility. But it had been stated, he thought, by the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford, that he could see nothing in the Report of the Committee referring to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury. He concurred in that remark; but he at the same time thought that much of the imperfection of that singular Report consisted in its telling too much and too little. There was a great deal of mystery connected with it, not only in the manner in which it had been concocted, but also in the final conclusions to which the Committee had come. He need not refer to particular passages which had been read over and over again in the course of 875 that debate; but every hon. Gentleman who heard him, and who was familiar with the Report, knew that it contained many strange sentences enunciating very different opinions. One appeared to have the idea floating in his mind that the right of opening letters exercised by the Secretary of State was Common Law. Another seemed to think that it was not Common Law; but that it was made law—if he might use so ridiculous a term—by the Statute of Queen Anne, and that it had then been confirmed by the Statute of Victoria. He heard several hon. Gentlemen say, that the exercise of such a power by the Government was an illegal act; but if such were the case, it was clear that that House was not the proper tribunal to try its legality or illegality. If the letters of Mr. Mazzini, or any other Gentleman, could be proved to have been opened in the Post Office, the remedy, if the act was illegal, was clearly in a Court of Law, and not in that House; and he would add, that neither the elevated position and power of the right hon. Baronet, nor of any other individual in the country, would hinder a due consideration of the question, should it be so brought forward, both on the part of the Bench, and of a properly constituted jury of their countrymen. If the practice of opening letters in the Post Office was in the slightest degree tainted with illegality, the floor of the House of Commons was not the proper place to seek redress. That redress should be looked for in the Court of Queen's Bench, where the legality of the practice in some particular instance should be impeached. But be did not wish to rest the case on any special pleading. They were to found their judgment on the facts that were brought before them; and though, as far as he was individually concerned, he could not agree in the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury, still he could not conceal from himself that it was not a mere shadow, as the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Inglis) seemed to consider it. The question, whether the letters of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury were really opened or not, was one of a very grave character; and he, therefore, trusted that some hon. Gentleman would move an Amendment, limiting the inquiry to the case of the hon. Member for Finsbury alone. He considered his hon. Friend to be very peculiarly circumstanced after what had transpired in the course of that 876 debate. He did not mean to allege that the right hon. Baronet opposite had directly charged his hon. Friend with being engaged as a participator in the riotous proceedings by which the country had been disturbed in 1842; but certainly the expressions which had fallen from the right hon. Baronet might bear some construction of that nature. His hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury had a greater right to demand an inquiry after the speech of the right hon. Baronet than he otherwise could put forward. He had now a right to demand that inquiry, in order to ward off the allegations which had been put forth against him, and under which he (Mr. Bernal) would candidly say, his hon. Friend now laboured. He was sorry to perceive that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bute (Mr. J. S. Wortley) was not then in his place. He regretted the tone which that hon. Member had thought proper to adopt in the course of his argument. He admitted that the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) had a right to feel annoyed at some of the charges made against him, and at a part of the language that had fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury. He entered into the feelings of the right hon. Baronet; but he would at the same time ask him, and he would still more forcibly appeal to the hon. Gentleman the Member for the county of Bute to reflect how they would themselves feel if placed in the situation of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury, who had positively asserted that he was in a position to prove that his correspondence had been violated, and who had heard himself charged, perhaps indirectly or by implication, with being a party to transactions coupled with the Chartist proceedings of 1842—proceedings which the hon. Member for Bute had informed them were in the north of England mixed up with hand-grenades, and infernal machines, and attempts at assassination. When such charges were brought forward in this House, it was, he submitted, not to be wondered at, if they were found sufficient to arouse the temper of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury; and if that hon. Gentleman had been drawn into the use of expressions which were unwarrantable in this House, no one would more sincerely regret such expressions than the hon. Gentleman himself in his cooler moments. He felt obliged again to express his 877 sorrow that the hon. Member for Bute was not then in his place, and that the tone of his observations to the House had not been of a more conciliatory nature. The hon. Gentleman might not have intended to charge the hon. Member for Finsbury with any unworthy motives in bringing forward the present Motion, or with having participated in the acts and proceedings of ill-intentioned Chartists in 1842; but still his remarks went far to justify such an interpretation of them. He was also sorry that another hon. Gentleman who had addressed the House, had also thrown out observations of a somewhat similar character in alluding to the Chartist proceedings of 1842, which was, he believed, the year in which his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury suspected his letters to have been opened; or rather he went further, and positively asserted that his letters actually had been opened at that time. He would ask the right hon. Baronet, did he imagine that by refusing the inquiry demanded he would stop all further proceedings on this question? He could tell him that it would be idle to entertain any hope of the kind; and he would go further, and say to the right hon. Baronet, that for his own tranquillity and peace of mind, and for the sake of the character of the Government to which he belonged, he ought not to persevere in his endeavours to stifle the charges brought forward. If he did so, he might be sure that they would be reiterated again and again, and reiterated still more forcibly than before, by his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury. He asked what the result of any continued opposition on the part of the Government to the inquiry would be out of doors? He might be told that it was their business to look to matters as they affected their duty in doors, and not to pay too much regard to what might be thought of their acts by the public outside. His reply was, that such advice was but an idle delusion. It was useless to attempt concealing from themselves that the tone and temper of that House depended on the degree of respect which was paid by the public to their intentions and motives. Under these circumstances he would, therefore, if a political supporter of the present Government — but though he could not claim that title, be certainly bore them no ill will—declare it to be the most dangerous counsel, the most insidious advice, that 878 could be instilled into the ear of the right hon. Baronet, to persist in refusing the investigation demanded by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury. He wished at the same time to guard himself against the supposition that he would vote for the Motion of his hon. Friend. As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield had stated, he did not think they could then enter into the general question involved in that Motion. He hoped some hon. Gentleman would move an Amendment calling upon the House to nominate a Committee for the purpose of inquiring into the simple fact of whether the correspondence of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury had been violated or not—or he would rather use the terms detained, delayed, or opened. He had not had time himself to frame such an Amendment, or, indeed, to speak more correctly, it did not occur to him to do so; but he trusted the matter would be taken up by some other hon. Member. By doing so, he did not think they would be at all reflecting on the characters or conduct of the nine Gentlemen who constituted the former Committee. No allusion had been made in their Report to the case of the hon. Member for Finsbury; and in the new Committee, if appointed, they would not have again to travel over the cases of Mr. Mazzini or M. Grodicki, or of the other parties to which the Committee of last Session had directed their inquiry. The two Committees would therefore be entirely distinct and separate in their inquiries. He was not then entering into the question of the manner in which the national faith ought to be maintained or observed. He confined himself simply to the case of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury; and he was satisfied that that hon. Gentleman would not relax in his efforts on that or on any other occasion, until he enforced the justice of his demand. In the present instance he again had to express a hope that his hon. Friend would, if necessary, call the parties by whom his letters had been opened to the Bar of the House to answer his charge, and to justify themselves, if they could do so, by the production of the warrant under which they acted.
§ Mr. Borthwick
said, that with the imaginary conjectural course spoken of by the hon. Gentleman he had nothing to do; he could not tell how it might be disposed of; for he had not the gift of prescience 879 which the hon. Member for Weymouth had attributed to the hon. Member for Finsbury, when the hon. Member said that the hon. Member for Finsbury was excused for the language he had used in reference to the right hon. Baronet last night, on the ground of the language used by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. J. S. Wortley) that evening. The other hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley) had construed the words of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) most unfairly. The right hon. Baronet, in his speech of the other night, argued that he should be guilty of perjury if he transgressed the limits within which alone the Government had obtained Her Majesty's permission to reveal what they knew on the matter. The hon. Member had stated that a most inexcusable use had been made of Her Majesty's name; but the right hon. Baronet, in saying what he did, no doubt meant that the permission of Her Majesty was granted on his responsibility as Minister. The term "Crown," used by the right hon. Baronet, meant the responsibility of the Ministry, and not anything personal to Her Majesty. When the hon. Member (Mr. Duncombe) first opened his case, he sympathised, he must confess, in much that the hon. Member said; but, though he knew that the vote he was about to give would be unpopular, and might be very ill received by many whose opinions he most dearly valued; and though he never had been treated with any superabundance of civility in the discharge of his duty by the Ministry, as he had never been encumbered by their help; still he was not in the habit of considering which side he should please in the votes he should give; he only sought to do his duty, and he would say that he never had given a vote more heartily than he should give to-night against the proposition of the hon. Member. The hon. Member had said that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham) sheltered himself under his official position; but the right hon. Gentleman was not the only person who took advantage of that official position, for the hon. Member shot those shafts of his from behind the shelter of the right hon. Gentleman's official position. The hon. Gentleman's answer was, when called to order by Mr. Speaker, "I have shot the shaft under the shelter of the right hon. Baronet's official character; it shall remain, and in 880 his heart it shall rankle." The hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Warburton) had informed the House that he had gone into the Common Law authorities for the practice; and the truth seemed to be that the hon. Gentleman in that process had sunk into those depths of antiquity from which he had never emerged, for his whole speech was a hymn de profundis, and to him profoundly unintelligible. The other hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley) stated that there was certainly no Common Law, and he doubted very much whether there was any Statute Law to sustain the practice. But he stated that the Statute Law recognized the custom. That custom must therefore have had a previous existence, and that must have been by the Common Law. The hon. Member had compared the practice to the case of a magistrate entering a man's house, and ransacking his drawers, and opening his most secret repositories; but the case was in no respect parallel. A magistrate could allege neither Statute nor Common Law, nor the long practice of his predecessors, to authorize such a proceeding; while the right hon. Baronet could show the example of his predecessors for 200 years, as well as that of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) opposite, who preceded him at the Home Office, who all pursued the same practice in the same manner. The Motion of the hon. Gentleman, if carried, would be of no practical benefit; if it had any effect at all, it would only be to charge the Committee with evasiveness, and the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham) with a character which he was sure the hon. Gentleman by this time was sorry to have attributed to him. Indeed he had no doubt that the hon. Gentleman, before the debate was over, would retract those expressions, and that character which he had applied to the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman now seemed to rest his case entirely on the question whether the Government had opened his letters or not. He would tell the hon. Gentleman frankly that he believed the Government never had opened his letters at all. At any rate the House had not the slightest proof before them. How did the hon. Member know it? He said he had evidence. Then he had nothing to do but to bring that evidence to the Bar of the House, or before a Court of Justice. In either place the witnesses would be obliged, in their own justification, to put in the warrants under 881 which they acted, and then the House would have something with which they could deal. If the hon. Gentleman had proposed to modify the Statute or the Common Law on this subject, he should have given the Motion his serious consideration; but while the existing law was in force, he could never consent, on grounds so unsatisfactory as had been brought forward, to vote for a Motion which would have such serious consequences as this.
§ Mr. C. Buller
said: I think, Sir, the most superfluous sentence I ever heard in this House—and that is saying a great deal—was the closing sentence of the speech of the hon. Member for Weymouth (Mr. Bernal), which consisted of a vehement exhortation to the Member for Fins-bury not to relax in his efforts with reference to this subject; for I think experience has shown us that if any man is unlikely to relax his efforts—especially in such a case as the present—it is that hon. Gentlemen. I may, perhaps, break in a little upon the gravity of this debate; but I declare that, after the consideration I have given to the subject, I can scarcely look very gravely upon the question as now presented to this House. That there are very grave questions connected with it there cannot be the slightest doubt; and in this respect I think the House responds to the feeling of the country. That the existence of this power in the hands of Ministers is a matter for grave consideration to every man in this country will hardly be doubted; but, on the present occasion, I will not enter upon the discussion of that question. We have not now to discuss the policy of the law as it stands; although upon that subject no roan can entertain a stronger opinion than I do. I think the power as worthless as it is inconsistent with the security of our liberties, with our domestic comfort, and with our national morality. I put aside, then, that grave question. And now the only question is—admitting as I fully do that Ministers have clearly proved that they are not to be charged with the invention of a new power—that they have acted according to the precedents of their predecessors in exercising this power of opening letters—the only question before us is, whether they have exercised that power in an honourable and discreet manner. I must confess that, till yesterday, I felt very deeply and very painfully upon this subject. I did regard some of the 882 imputations thrown upon the conduct of Government with respect to the use that had been made of the letters of unfortunate exiles in this country, and the consequences which were said to have resulted from the abuse of the secrecy of the Post Office, with the same horror which, I declare in perfect sincerity, I should have felt, if such an accusation had been made against those hon. Gentlemen with whom I have been in the habit of sitting in this House. I am, however, happy to say that the answer of the right hon. Baronet opposite relieved our minds of the most painful suspicion as to a particular person. I think, then, the matter may be resolved into the one question as to the opening of the letters of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe); and I must say I think this is a question, well deserving the attention both of the hon. Member whose letters have been opened, and of this House. The noble Lord, the Chairman of the Committee, was pleased to say that nothing but a prurient curiosity led to the agitation of this subject. I am not very curious, but I certainly think one of the most justifiable questions I could ask any man, if I suspected him of opening my letters, would be—"Pray, Sir, did you open my letters?" I don't think that would be an idle question. I conceive that a man's letters ought not to be opened; and that, if he finds they have been opened, he has a right to an explanation. I think, also, that the public have a deep interest in this matter. The secrecy of the correspondence of Members of Parliament is of great importance; first, because we are the representatives of the people, and therefore our correspondence may turn on matters of great public interest; but chiefly because, if our privileges are not specially guarded, the Members of this House are persons the confidence of whose correspondence would be most readily violated by an unscrupulous Government. On all accounts, therefore, the House ought to regard this as a very important question. For myself I can say that the question does not very materially concern me; though I won't say with the hon. Member for Oxford (Sir R. Inglis) that I don't care whether the Government see all my letters, or all those that are addressed to me. I believe that if the Government read my letters, they will know more than many of those to whom they are addressed. Therefore I 883 don't treat the matter personally; but I trust the House concurs with me in this modest assumption on my part—that, at any rate, the question as to opening letters of Members of Parliament is worthy of their consideration. I must say I think that, when this simple question was raised—when the very justifiable curiosity of the public and of the House was excited on the subject, everything would have gone right if the right hon. Secretary of State for the Home Department had been able to give a civil answer to a very plain question. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) was asked whether he had opened the letters of my hon. Friend (Mr. T. Buncombe), or whether they had been opened under his orders? There was no great use in any disguise on the part of the right hon. Baronet. He says he stated all the circumstances before the Committee; they knew all about it. Secrecy, therefore, was not in his power; if the Committee had chosen to give us any in-formation on the subject, they could have done so. But the right hon. Baronet really has a morbid passion for unpopularity, which he does take the most unjustifiable means of gratifying. One would think the right hon. Baronet gets enough of it without going out of his way to obtain more. One would think there was no necessity for his courting any unnecessary unpopularity. But when this question was asked, instead of simply answering it—a course which would have ended all discussion on the subject—the right hon. Baronet puts on the air of Socrates before his judges: he assumes the tone of injured innocence, and declares that his public duty will not allow him to reveal a secret, and that no force shall extort it from him. I don't think the right hon. Gentleman was right there. I believe we shall get at the secret. I think I can back the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Duncombe) for getting the information we want. The right hon. Baronet has tried this scheme before; he has assumed precisely the same tone; he has declared the same determination, on the ground of public duty, not to make any statement or answer any question on the subject. The consequence of this declaration was, that the hon. Member (Mr. Duncombe) stuck to the right hon. Baronet; he obtained the Committee of last Session; and the subject he mooted was fully explained in this House. I must say—adopting the tone now generally taken 884 by hon. Gentlemen on this side the House—as a sincere friend of the Government—that the right hon. Baronet would have spared himself a great deal of anxiety and trouble, and have spared this House a great deal of unnecessary talking, if he had done at first what I am convinced he will eventually be obliged to do. I must say I am surprised at the course pursued by the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir R. Peel), for I thought he would have acted more sensibly under such circumstances. I did not suppose he would have taken the matter in dudgeon, but that he would have come forward and have said to the right hon. Home Secretary, "The Gentleman asks you a civil question, why don't you give him an answer?" But this was not done. In fact, I think the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury made the matter worse by his speech. He went into a long explanation of the difficulties of the Government, and of the heavy responsibilities to which they were subjected; he described the dreadful scenes that occurred in 1842; he urged the great necessity of their exercising, in such an emergency, all the powers with which they were invested; and he read in support of his statements passages from the speeches of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and other Members of this House. The right hon. Baronet taunted us the other day with not recollecting what occurred in 1735. Now, I do remember that, in 1842, when all those dreadful statements were made on this side the House, the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) said they were highly exaggerated; that the danger was not so great as it was represented to be, and that we might go to our grouse-shooting and our duties without any alarming apprehensions. But, now the right hon. Baronet comes forward and tells us, that at the period to which I refer, the most fearful machinations were in progress in this country. And why does the right hon. Baronet tell us these tales? Was there any necessity on that account for opening the letters of my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury? Why! could any body read the speech of the right Baronet (Sir R. Peel) without inferring there were grounds for supposing — I will not say that the hon. Member for Finsbury was implicated in those proceedings, but—that his correspondence would throw light upon these horrible machinations? The right hon. Baronet 885 has said that one dreadful plot was concocted by young children to slick little pins into bits of work. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) even quoted a passage to this effect. Now, did the right hon. Gentleman suppose, that intelligence of this dreadful plot was conveyed by these children to the hon. Member for Finsbury? I certainly cannot understand why the letters of that hon. Gentleman were opened, unless you imagined he was engaged in a diabolical league with these little chidren. I consider that the speech of the right hon. Baronet really makes out a case which necessitates inquiry; and I can't help thinking, that when the right hon. Gentleman comes soberly to reflect upon the matter be will be of opinion that he would have acted more prudently if he had not alluded to this subject. But the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) has started a new difficulty; the name of the Queen has been introduced into the discussion. The right hon. Baronet says, that the evidence given before the Committee was given by Privy Councillors, who were compelled to ask Her Majesty's permission before they could tender such evidence; and that this evidence could not be published—which I must say would be by far the simplest way of settling the matter—without Her Majesty's leave. Now, what is the meaning of "the Queen's leave" in this case? I take it for granted, that if Her Majesty's leave were asked on such a subject, she would, as in all similar cases, consult Her responsible advisers as to the course to be pursued, and that by their advice she would be guided. If, therefore, the right hon. Baronet's mouth is hermetically sealed with regard to this question, we must suppose that he has induced Her Majesty to withhold Her permission from the publication of this evidence. I can't understand why Her Majesty should object to such publication. Indeed I should think Her Majesty would feel that the right hon. Baronet's popularity was one of the great bulwarks of Her Throne, and that Her Majesty would not wish to prevent him from giving a simple explanation on such a subject as this. I think, therefore, this difficulty may be got over, if the two right hon. Baronets opposite choose. Now, what do those right hon. Gentlemen gain by their silence? Do they clear the character of the right hon. Home Secretary in the eyes of the country? Do the people say, "It is clear, from what 886 has passed in the House of Commons, that Sir James Graham has not opened these letters?" I think the public are of a contrary opinion. But if the right hon. Baronet had said, "I never did open these letters," the people would have been satisfied. I don't know what may be the taste of that right hon. Baronet for this kind of suffering; but I don't think, when, night after night, he is subjected to this ordeal, he can be very comfortable. I don't wish to say anything that can hurt his feelings; but I must state that I never knew him to get into any contest with the hon. Member for Finsbury, from which he did not come worst off. The right hon. Baronet is a stronger and bigger man than my hon. Friend; but there is a "knack" and a perseverance about the hon. Member for Finsbury which enable him to bring the right, hon. Gentleman into the dirt. Don't let hon. Gentlemen understand, from anything I have said, that I am going to adopt a tone of virulent attack upon the right hon. Baronet. I certainly am not disposed to do anything of the kind; but I do say, that the right hon. Baronet has placed himself in an exceedingly unpleasant position, and I think it would be much better if these altercations were ended by his stating to the House what the House has certainly a right to know. I must say I think some blame attaches to the Committee in this matter. I think they would have spared us a great deal of trouble if, considering that this question was raised last Session, they had, when the evidence was before them, satisfied our very just curiosity on this subject—if they had not told us quite so much about Edward the Second and the Commonwealth, and a little more about the opening of letters at the present time. I should have been very glad if this matter had been allowed to end with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Montrose—if the evidence of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had been laid before this House, or at all events such parts of it as related to the matter in question. As that course has not been pursued, I shall feel it my duty, if no other proposition is made, to vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury; but if such an Amendment as has been suggested is brought forward, I shall give it my support.
§ Mr. S. Herbert
said: I wish not to delay this debate beyond any reasonable time, because I think, as far as it has 887 already proceeded, certainly on the first night when it was commenced, neither the Motion, nor the speech in which it was brought forward, nor the manner in which the proposal was received, was creditable to the feelings of this House. I have observed, with great satisfaction, that the effect of the explanations which have been given, has been to remove most completely the doubt and misconception which prevail on some points, and to absolve the Government from those charges of bloodshed which were gravely advanced against them and that many gentlemen who have spoken from the other side of the House, though more or less questioning the manner in which this power has been exercised, and the policy of its continuance, have yet spoken in a manner creditable to themselves, because evincing a generous spirit towards an individual placed in a situation of great difficulty and embarrassment, such as that in which the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) at present stands. I allude particularly to the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Ward); for it was not only the speech of an able man, but of a generous opponent. Though I conceive that the principles which that hon. Gentleman enunciated, and the length to which he carries those opinions, are more extreme than would be approved by a majority of this House; yet I think the spirit in which he spoke, and the view he took of the position in which the right hon. Baronet is placed, were most creditable to him as an opponent. It is to be observed, that the further we get in this debate, the more completely the Motion now before the House is disowned. Every hon. Gentleman who has spoken on this subject concludes by saying that there is something in the Motion to which he cannot give his assent; and I am still more surprised to find that the proposals of modification which have been made, render the Motion even more objectionable than it is in its original shape. The first objection taken to the Motion by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh was this:—he said that he could not impugn the conduct of a Committee composed of honourable men, appointed by and possessing the confidence of this House, and who had discharged their duties in strict accordance with the instructions they received. But how does the right hon. Member propose to avoid this difficulty? He supports that part of the Motion which impugns the decision of the Committee, since he proposes to re- 888 open the question which that Committee has already determined. The Committee, as I understand, were required to give their consideration to two important questions. They were first to inquire in what manner this power had been exercised by the right hon Baronet (Sir J. Graham); and they were also to consider how far it was politic and expedient that such power should be continued. Upon the first they gave an opinion; upon the second they did not. Now it must be recollected that there is no new matter now before the House which was not before them when the Committee was appointed last year. When the hon. Member for Finsbury brought this subject before the House, he complained that the letters of sundry foreigners had been opened under circumstances which he detailed; and he added, "My own letters have been opened, and I am in a position to prove it." The House agreed unanimously, without any division, to the appointment of a Committee, and they unanimously decided that the proceedings of that Committee should be secret. The noble Lord the Member for the city of London (Lord John Russell) strongly urged the importance of secrecy, lest facts of importance might be divulged to the detriment of the public service, and the noble Lord stated that, unless the Committee was a Secret Committee, the witnesses could not make that full and free revelation which was essentially necessary. Have any circumstances since occurred to render the House desirous of recalling that decision? Then, as to the constitution of the Committee; it was composed, as has been already stated, of nine Members, five of whom were political opponents of the Government. Had those Gentlemen expressed an unfavourable opinion of the manner in which the power was exercised by my right hon. Friend previous to their appointment to the Committee? Not at all. Every one had spoken the other way. I can't conceive a Committee of which the composition could have been more perfectly unexceptionable. It consisted of nine men of the highest honour and integrity! You can assert against them no possibility of bias—no inducement for leaning to one side or the other, that should entitle any one to pay the less respect to what they say. The right hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Member for Dungarvon (Mr. Sheil) was, I think, the first to object to the Committee, because there was no lawyer upon it. It is, perhaps, 889 very natural on his part; and he said, if, there had been lawyers there, witnesses would have undergone a more stern and strict examination, and a close cross-examination might have tortured from them more than they might otherwise feel inclined to tell. If that opinion he true, then it is somewhat remarkable that the verdict given by the Lords' Committee, which had the advantage of having amongst them some of the most distinguished lawyers of the day, and had the power of examination upon oath, was, if possible, a more ample acquittal of the right hon. Baronet than that given by the Committee appointed by this House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh; (Mr. Macaulay) said, he did not at all understand for what reason certain changes had been observable in the composition and regulations of the Commons' Committee, unless the whole object of it was to exclude the hon. Member for Finsbury from the Committee. But I think he was mistaken there; because if you look at the two Committees, differing with regard to lawyers; differing, too, with regard to persons that held office, you will find that in this one point they both agreed, namely, that in neither case was the prosecutor admitted. Lord Radnor, indeed, proposed that he, being the accuser, should not himself be judge likewise, from a mere sense of decency. Now, I would ask the House, having seen how this Committee was formed, to recollect what the verdict was. I need not again read it, it has been so often quoted in this House; but it really is impossible to conceive an answer more complete to the allegations that have been made. We have been told that there is new matter, and that we must have a fresh examination and more information. How can there be more information? The noble Lord who held office before made a full revelation to the Committee of all he knew. The right hon. Baronet the present Secretary of State confirmed the statements of his predecessor, and the fullest information has been given. "If so," says the hon. Member, "why was not the warrant issued for the examination of my letters reported on?" But we have no knowledge of any such warrant; we know nothing about it—no one does. The whole thing is founded upon a guess of the hon. Member's, for the accuracy of which he offers no proof. ("Yes he does.") The hon. Gentleman said further, that in the case of Mr. Mazzini, he knew that the right hon. Baronet 890 fabricated the warrant after the act had been committed. The right hon. Baronet must at any rate know, but he denied it; but perhaps you do not believe him. I do. For he states upon his honour that he did not. The hon. Gentleman says that he knows it. [Mr. Duncombe: I never said so.] I am exceedingly glad that the hon. Member denies that he ever said so. I rejoice that I was mistaken. To return to the alleged new matter for inquiry. Why! the statements of the hon. Gentleman were made before the Committee of last year. The right hon. Baronet has stated on his honour that every warrant he had signed was given to that Committee, that he assigned a reason for and justified every case in which a warrant had been issued. If, therefore, any warrant have been issued against Mr. Duncombe's letters, that warrant has been examined by the Committees: the reasons for its issue have been laid before them, the justification for its issue was made to them, and what has been the result? Why, that the Committee report,—That the power has been very sparingly exercised, and never from personal or party motives, and that in every case investigated it seems to have been directed by an earnest and faithful desire to adopt that course which appeared to be necessary, either to promote the ends of justice or to prevent a disturbance of the public tranquillity, or otherwise to promote the best interests of the country.[Mr. Duncombe: That is the Lords' Report.] I am going to read the result of the Commons' Report too. This is it:—With regard to the other class of warrants, though there have been some few issued by different Administrations that have been in power during the last twenty-two years, in regard to which it is obvious that, on a subsequent review of the facts, a difference of opinion might arise as to the discretion exercised in each particular case; yet your Committee see no reason to doubt that the conduct of the Secretaries of State belonging to each of those Administrations has been guided by no other motive than an anxious desire to preserve the public peace, with the maintenance of which they were charged.I must say that, after a full trial before a Committee appointed unanimously by this House, and this too with the full confidence of this House, it is hard, because the verdict has been an acquittal, that it is to be invalid. The hon. Gentleman, no doubt, was not so anxious for a Committee that would investigate the truth. He has, I say, pursued this matter with 891 a degree of animosity and violence that appears as if he desired rather to gratify personal dislike than to elicit truth. What is his conduct now? Does he say, that he advocates this matter for the public good, because he thinks that the power is dangerous—not fit to be exercised in a free country—incompatible with the liberty of the subject—a power, the evils and disadvantages with which it is fraught are so great, that no amount of political gain can counterbalance them? Not at all. But he asks again for a Committee to inquire into cases that have already been decided on. There is no attempt to do away with the law except one insignificant paragraph at the end of his Motion as to an inquiry whether it should be continued. What, then, is the Committee for? What evidence do you want, to know that it is a grave thing that the correspondence of the country should be tampered with; that private family secrets should be known? You can't want evidence to learn that. The hon. Gentleman can't want evidence, because he has denounced the practice; if he does want evidence he must have formed his conclusions upon insufficient grounds. He asks it, I say, as a means of attack upon the right hon. Baronet, who stands in a defenceless situation—with his hands tied—liable to have provoking questions put to him which he is bound not to answer. The hon. and learned Member for Liskeard said, "Why, the Gentleman asks you a civil question, why can't you give him a civil answer?" A question couched in language, in which occurred, amongst others, the words "baseness and meanness," — and be complains that that civil question was not answered with that readiness and civility that it deserved. Then, he thought it necessary that the Secretary of State should answer "No," if he had not issued his warrant against the letters of the hon. Member for Finsbury. But what a system would that be to adopt! Suppose ten men suspected that their letters had been opened; to nine the right hon. Baronet answered "No," but the tenth he refused to answer. Then, indeed, the natural inference would be that the letters of the tenth had been opened; but that was not the system adopted by the right hon. Baronet—that was not the inference to be drawn here. If hon. Gentlemen do not consider that the power at present exercised is one suited to the times in which we live, and that it ought to be abolished, why do they not say so? That 892 question has been argued incidentally with great ingenuity on both sides; and if any Gentleman would bring that forward I could understand it—it would be intelligible, because I should know that he believed it to be a great public evil. But that is very different from re-opening the present cause to try my right hon. Friend over again. The noble Lord the Member for Newark (Lord J. Manners) said that the question had been mixed up by the right hon. Baronet with that of confidence in the Government. I can't say that I recollect anything of the sort in my right hon. Friend's speech. I recollect no appeal of the kind, nor do I think that the noble Lord is borne out in what he said. I don't think that the Government asks the confidence of the House in this respect. What the Government wants is fair play. The whole question of confidence was waved, when the Government consented to grant a Committee, to keep back nothing from it, to put their character into the hands of other men, and to leave them to decide upon their acts—whether they were guilty or not. Now, a verdict of "not guilty" has been returned; and I say it is unfair, and an ungenerous proceeding, to try and rip up the case again—to attempt to bring men again to the bar, not of public opinion, but of public odium; and all for what purpose? Not to amend the law, but to gratify some personal spite. To take an opportunity to ask questions that can't be answered—to take an opportunity to strike a man with his hands tied—what a generous—what a chivalrous proceeding! No, Sir, the Government does not ask for confidence—they have been tried and acquitted. If you believe those nine Gentlemen in whom you placed your confidence when you appointed them—if you believe them to be upright, honest, and able men, who have discharged the duty confided to them, I advise you to stand by that Committee. If you think them base and dishonest men—men who have made themselves accomplices after the fact by shielding a guilty man, say so openly; ask for another Committee, and say that justice has been perverted by the connivance of Parlament; but no such an attempt is made, and I say there is no excuse at all for having the public mind again excited upon this matter—for again appointing a Committee—putting yourselves in a position to have questions put to you that you cannot answer, and drawing down, for that reason, odium upon the accused person. I feel confident that the House will not 893 be a party to this proceeding. The House is ready, at the call of any Gentleman, to discuss the law upon its merits; but it is not ready to say, because an acquittal has followed the trial, that therefore the verdict must be quashed. At all times ready to assert, if necessary, the liberty of the subject—ever willing to uphold the public rights—the Members of this House, I am convinced, will not lend themselves to an attempt which I can characterize as nothing but a personal and a—I was going to say "cowardly," but I will not—nothing but a personal and an invidious persecution.
§ Lord Howick
In common, Sir, with every one who has heard it, I have listened with great delight to the able and powerful speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down—a speech which proves how valuable an acquisition he will be to that Cabinet which for the first time since his connexion with it, he has now come forward to defend. But able as that speech was, I do think that it should succeed in inducing the House to pass by altogether the subject that has been submitted to our notice. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, who said that though there were in his opinion decided objections to the Motion as it now stands, yet that there were ample grounds for an inquiry. Throughout the debate so many hon. Gentlemen have expressed a similar opinion, that I think the question should be confined to that point; therefore, as I share in the opinion of my right hon. Friend, I shall take the liberty before I sit down of submitting an Amendment, of which the object will be to narrow the inquiry. I take that course very much on the grounds stated by my right hon. Friend. I think with him that it is a decided objection to the Motion of my hon. Friend that, whether designedly or not, it does undoubtedly imply some blame on the Committee of last year. I for one see no ground for any imputation—I see no reason for doubling that that Committee has ably acquitted itself of the task imposed upon it by the House. I think another decided objection is, that it calls upon the Select Committee to give judgment upon a point which the House only is capable of deciding, namely,—whether the existing law and practice on the subject should be continued or not. I agree with my right hon. Friend that there is no need for farther information upon 894 that point, for that is for the House to decide; and I, like him, am prepared to join in condemnation of that practice as it has prevailed for at least the last 200 years. I do not wish to deprive the Secretary of State of the power in the case of grave emergencies of opening letters when it may be absolutely requisite for the maintenance of peace; but I do object to the practice of re-sealing letters so opened, and of defacing the post-marks which they bear, in order that the parties to whom they are addressed may be ignorant of the scrutiny that they have undergone, so that parties may be allowed by Government to correspond, perhaps for months, believing that they are acting in secrecy, or, at least, that they are only conveying their private thoughts to each other, whilst, all the time, the Government is obtaining copies of all that is written and received. That is a system which I do think looks like trickery, treachery, and deceit. I don't impute that to one Government more than another. All have partaken of it. Till our attention was called to it by my hon. Friend, I believe that all Governments have followed in the beaten track, without reflecting how erroneous that track was; but when it comes to be more generally known, I am persuaded, say what you will, that you will never satisfy the moral sense of the country without abandoning this system. I believe, with my right hon. Friend, that whatever temporary advantage we may obtain by its continuance, no such advantage can compensate for the stain inflicted upon the character of a nation and a Government where this practice is adhered to. I believe, that for all really useful purposes, the power of opening the letters and then forwarding them with a stamp of 'opened by authority' would be amply sufficient. Such a power would completely guard against the danger that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Ward) alluded to in his able speech; viz. that those who were known to be traitors might avail themselves of the Post Office, in order to carry on their correspondence with security. I believe that that danger would be entirely met by the plan I propose. What I condemn is the continuance of that practice of secrecy which has hitherto prevailed; and I hope before this Session is brought to a close, that my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury will follow up the work he has so well begun, and pro- 895 pose a Resolution to stigmatize and for ever put an end to what we ought to get rid of. No Act of Parliament seems to me necessary for this purpose; because, although it may fairly be contended that the language of the Statutes recognizes, at least, if it does not directly convey to the Secretary of State, the power of causing letters to be opened; this cannot be said of the practice of concealment. I cannot find anything in our Statute Books which in the slightest degree recognizes the propriety of the system of opening letters, forging the seals, and replacing the post mark. It is condemned by public opinion, and if to that were added the stigma of a Resolution of this House, throwing no blame on the present or on any antecedent Government, but, condemning such things for the future, I am persuaded there would be no danger of a repetition of the practice. Believing that further information is not necessary on this point, I object again on that ground to the Motion of my hon. Friend. But then the question relative to my hon. Friend's own letters has not been reported on by the Committee of last year. That is a question of more serious importance, which I do think requires every elucidation. My hon. Friend has distinctly stated that the letters addressed to him had been opened at the Post Office, and he stated that he would make good that assertion if an opportunity were granted him. Whether his statement was correct or not, the Committee has not reported. We have no means of knowing whether it was before them. Blame may perhaps attach to my hon. Friend for refusing to produce his witnesses. Those are points, however, on which we can give no opinion; but we have this plain fact before us—that that allegation has been made—that it has not been denied—that it has not been reported on in one way or the other by the Committee of last year; and I think I may also add, that it is a point which requires to be cleared up, which cannot be suffered to remain in mystery. I have no hesitation in saying, if it be really true that letters addressed to my hon. Friend had been opened, in my judgment there is the strongest possible presumption of a great abuse of official power, and a serious violation of the privileges of this House. I say a strong presumption, because I am certainly not able to say that circumstances may not possibly be brought for- 896 ward which may justify that course. If there are such circumstances, I think they ought to be known. But I confess, for my own part, I am utterly unable to imagine any circumstances, in the peculiar nature of this case, which, in my opinion, would justify the opening of letters addressed to my hon. Friend, supposing that course to have been taken. I believe it has been admitted, even by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that though they claim the power, and state it to be necessary, still it is one which ought to be exercised with the greatest reserve and delicacy — a power the use of which is only justifiable by circumstances of so serious a nature that the safety of the nation is at stake. It is for the purpose only of guarding the peace and security of the country from the attempts of foreign or domestic enemies—it is only to avert dangers of this description—that the exercise of this power is admitted to be required. Now, I want to know, who is there that is prepared to assert that he believes there was anything in the correspondence of my hon. Friend of this very serious nature? I do not concur in the extreme opinions of my hon. Friend as to changes in the Constitution: much that has been said and done in support of those opinions, both in and out of this House, is very far from meeting my approbation; but, at the same time, I am sure there is no man even who disapproves much more strongly than I do of his conduct, who will for a moment suspect him of being capable of any attempt to carry his views into effect by means partaking of the nature of insurrectionary violence. No man can for a moment suspect him of anything of the sort. But the hon. and learned Member for Bute says it is not the letters written by him, but those addressed to him, that have been opened; and he gives us, as an ample justification of the Government, the idea that very likely some of those letters were written by parties under the condemnation of the law. I think that circumstance makes no difference in the case, because if those letters were supposed to contain anything throwing light upon the existence of treasonable intentions, or schemes of insurrectionary violence, Her Majesty's Government must have supposed that, unless my hon. Friend approved of such views and promoted such schemes, he was the party to give them the information necessary to 897 counteract the effect of any such atrocious design. It makes no difference, therefore, that it was letters addressed to him, and not written by him, which were opened by the Government. The fact that letters of this description have been opened is, in my opinion, an imputation upon my hon. Friend, which he has a right to have removed. Under the circumstances of the case, I say, the mere character of my hon. Friend affords the strongest presumption that in this case the opening of the letters was not grounded upon the strong necessity which, in the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman, could alone justify such a proceeding; and I must say, the gravity of this case is enhanced by the fact, that they are the letters of a Member of Parliament that have been opened. The hon. and learned Member for Bute and other hon. Members have made an ostentatious display of self-denying virtue by disclaiming any peculiar importance attaching to the correspondence of Members of Parliament. They say, that the rule which is applicable to Members of Parliament is applicable to the meanest individual. I think there is a very great fallacy in that argument, which I shall endeavour by-and-by to point out. The hon. Member for Bute went on to say, this is no breach of privilege, because a Resolution of this House in 1735 says it is a high breach of privilege to detain and open letters addressed to Members of this House, "unless by warrant from the Secretary of State." The hon. and learned Gentleman, who seemed to speak from a brief in the case, and every now and then to forget he was not to disclose the fact that there had been such a warrant, went on to argue there was a warrant, and therefore there was no breach of privilege. Now, admitting there is a warrant, I say there may still be a breach of privilege, because the resolution which says it is a breach of privilege to open the letters of Members of Parliament, unless by warrant from the Secretary of State, necessarily and clearly implies that it is equally a breach of privilege and an abuse of official authority to exercise that authority by the Secretary of State, unless upon sufficient reason. The whole case turns upon the sufficiency of reason. If the right hon. Gentleman had grounds of necessity sufficient to justify the issuing of the warrant, I grant there was no breach of privilege; but if there was not the ne- 898 cessity, I say there is a breach of privilege. I say so upon this ground, that there is this distinction between letters addressed to Members of Parliament and to individuals who are not so, that it is necessary, to the efficient discharge of our duty as representatives of the people, that we should have the fullest means of receiving from all those who think themselves aggrieved statements of their grievances; and that parties who think they have been wronged by the Executive Government should be enabled fully and freely, without the prying and inquisitorial eye of Government agents intercepting their communications, to bring their grievances under the notice of Members of this House, in order that they may, if they think the case requires it, submit it to the censure of this House. It is also necessary that Members of Parliament should be able freely to communicate with each other upon public affairs. To the proper discharge of our duties, it is absolutely essential we should be able freely to communicate by letter, without any suspicion of our letters being read by those for whose eyes they were not intended, our views upon the state of the public affairs. This, indeed, is almost as necessary to the efficient discharge of our duties, as a representative assembly, as the liberty of speech itself. It stands connected with us as a privilege, resting, as all our privileges do, upon its necessity, and only less necessary than the fundamental privilege of liberty of speech. Besides, how dangerous it is to sanction this doctrine, that Ministers are to look into the letters of Members of Parliament in cases in which they themselves are the only judges of the necessity—that Ministers are to look into the letters of their political opponents. How hard it is to draw the exact line and say how far men of strong popular opinions may go—how hard to draw the exact line and determine when the means taken by such men to oppose a Ministry are no longer intended to raise against them the force of opinion, but to bring into play force of a less legitimate description! How dangerous is it to lay down the principle that Ministers themselves are to be the judges—judges without appeal—without the responsibility of publicity—in mystery and in security upon a point so delicate as this, and on that judgment to open letters of political opponents. If I thought, with some hon. 899 Members, at the beginning of the debate, that a Committee was necessary upon this subject, I have thought it is ten times more necessary since I heard the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Bute. The House was not near so full then as it now; but I do appeal to those hon. Members who heard the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, whether that hon. and learned Gentleman did not state the doctrine of the necessity for looking into the letters of Members of Parliament, if they happened to have dangerous correspondents, in a manner which, if it receives the sanction of this House, will be liable to the greatest and most dangerous abuses. I trust you will not open the door to such abuses. Look what may happen. It would have been very possible, if it is to be held that any Gentleman who goes great lengths in advocating popular opinion and against the Government of the day becomes a legitimate object of suspicion, and his letters may be opened by the Government, that fifteen years ago the letters of the right hon. Baronet himself (Sir J. Graham) might have been in considerable danger. I remember in those days, when I was a good deal younger than I am now, and pretty eager in politics, even I, acting with the right hon. Gentleman, did sometimes think—as for instance when he made that famous speech about birds of prey—that he went a little further in directing popular passion, and not reason, against the Government of the day, than was either prudent or discreet. I am sure, his present Colleague, who was then Secretary of State, would not have exercised the power; but there have been Ministers in this country who would, in 1830, under such circumstances, when the country was in a state of serious disturbance and agitation, have thought that the correspondence of the right hon. Baronet might be well worth an occasional inspection. At an earlier period, I have no doubt, the advocate of Catholic Emancipation and of the Reform Bill would have been looked upon as no less dangerous than those who now support the People's Charter. I have no doubt that the men who supported those measures, which have since been adopted with such infinite advantage to the country, and with such general benefit to society,—that, I say, the more eager advocates of those great measures of public liberty would at one time have been considered dangerous characters; 900 aud if the principle of the hon. and learned Member for Bute were adopted, their letters would have been inspected. We know more, that at no distant period, such abuses actually prevailed. In the days of the American war, we know that the correspondence of the leaders of the Opposition was not safe. Any Gentleman who reads the interesting correspondence of Burke, only recently published, must have been struck by the fact stated there, that the Post Office is not to be trusted with political letters; that the leaders of the Opposition cannot venture to send them; and you constantly find them saying to each other, "I have something of much importance to communicate to you, but I must wait for a safe opportunity." Burke, Rockingham, Fox, and other correspondents are continually writing to that effect. These abuses have existed, and may exist again. I object upon principle to allowing a Minister to judge when letters addressed to Members of Parliament may be opened; and, so far from thinking with the hon. and learned Gentleman man (Mr. Wortley), that the letters of persons who may have come under the censure of the law are, for that reason, to be opened and inspected, I think they ought to be more safe. I say, those persons who have, unfortunately for themselves, subjected themselves to punishment by the laws of their country, have, after they come out of prison, of all others the clearest right—if they believe themselves to have been unjustly treated during their imprisonment, or to have been the victims of oppression—to write and correspond with Members of Parliament upon the subject of those grievances, without being liable to have their letters inspected and copied by any agent of Government. I do not, at all events, suspect Her Majesty's present Ministers of any serious abuses of this description. They may have been guilty in this one instance of what I think a grave error in judgment—an error in judgment, if it has really been committed, calling for the serious notice and reprehension of the House; but it does not follow, because I have confidence In them as men of honour and character, that all future Ministers will deserve that confidence; and the first principle of the constitution of this country is, that we shall not place confidence in the men who hold the reins of executive power; that we shall not leave in their 901 hands powers so liable to abuse, nor give cause for the slightest ground even of suspicion of improper interference with the privileges of Parliament, which are necessary for the due exercise of our control over the Executive Government, but that their proceedings shall be watched with the greatest jealousy, and inquired into in the most searching manner. I say, therefore, that though I do not wish to make this the subject of attack upon the character of those who now hold office, it is a subject for inquiry which this House ought not to pass by. We ought to act upon the old and wise maxim that it is best to take things in time, and stop the beginnings of evil. Let us remove the mischief at the outset. Let us appoint a Committee and inquire what the facts are. Let us, by taking this course, mark our opinion that the letters of Members of Parliament are not thus to be opened. The Amendment, Sir, which I am about to put into your hands is this,—That it having been alleged by a Member of this House, in his place, that letters addressed to him have been detained in the Post Office, and opened before being delivered to him, a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether this allegation is true, and if so, by what authority and upon what grounds such detention and opening of post letters has been sanctioned.The House will observe, that in this Amendment I do not assume the truth of the allegation. I do not in any way censure the Committee of last year. I have no reason to believe that the facts in this case were in any way before them. All I call upon the House to do is this:—it having been distinctly alleged by a Member of Parliament, in his place, that his letters have been opened, I call upon the House to ascertain whether that fact is so, and if it is, to ascertain upon what grounds this opening of letters has taken place, in order that, if those grounds shall appear to have been insufficient, we may then follow the Report up with such proceedings as may be necessary. I trust, then, that this Amendment will not be rejected; for I feel strongly convinced that if we do pass by this case without notice, we are virtually opening a door to what may prove hereafter a most serious inconvenience.
§ Mr. Wortley
begged to explain that he had been misunderstood. What he had 902 said was, that the power in question was a strong and necessary one, but one to be exercised with great forbearance and delicacy, and the use of which nothing but a great occasion, and one of danger to the State, would justify; but that if such an occasion arose, he did not think a letter should be held sacred merely because it was addressed to a Member of that House.
§ Mr. Disraeli
I rise, Sir, to second the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, because its intention was first shadowed forth by my noble Friend (Lord John Manners), and it received at the same time the sympathy of the House. The Amendment narrows the question which now, for the second night, we are debating; but that question has been narrowed into limits of a much simpler character by the right hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House from the Treasury Bench. The right hon. Gentleman has narrowed the question to a personal matter between the hon. Member for Finsbury and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State. If that, indeed, be the real state of the question, I, for one, shall regret that I have interfered with it, and I am sure I am speaking the sentiments of my noble Friend (Lord John Manners), and of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Sir John Hanmer), when I express this opinion. But if it be indeed true, and I am as little inclined to credit it as some assertions equally monstrous that have been very current during this debate, it is only an additional illustration of the great truth that historians have celebrated—that often, from slight and personal causes, great benefits arise, and great principles are vindicated. Sir, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, who addressed the House early in the evening, disclaimed any intention of touching what he calls the legal part of the question, and seemed to consider that that is not to form any material part of our discussion. I know not whether the hon. Gentleman may be right in the position which he has assumed; but we cannot forget that Her Majesty's Government have proved themselves to be of a contrary opinion, because the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister, in his complete and elaborate speech—I mean complete, because it touched upon each division of the subject both as to its legal character and its personal interest—the right hon. Gentleman has particularly argued the question upon this ground. The Secretary of State, too, has vindicated himself as having acted in pursuance of a Statute; and the right hon. 903 Gentleman the First Minister has upbraided us with inconsistency, because we have impugned the conduct of the Government in acting on a Statute which we have passed. I think, therefore, it is out of the question, that we can pass over this consideration which the hon. Member for Sheffield has called the legal part of the question, and into which, if I infer rightly from his speech, he considers that it does not belong to the House of Commons to inquire. I have always, when questions of Parliamentary privilege have been brought before the House, been among those who have looked with no disrespect to the claims of Westminster Hall; and I believe my name will be found in the smallest minority that ever divided this House in favour of the claims of the Courts of Law as supreme and supereminent; but I must confess it is to me a novel, and I apprehend a somewhat dangerous, doctrine of the hon. Member for Sheffield, that a point of Constitutional Law is foreign to the discussions of the House of Commons. It would be well to observe how the question of general warrants bear upon this case. Why, Sir, the difference, the only difference, between the present case and that of general warrants, as to the power possessed by the Secretary of State, is this, that with regard to General Warrants, the power of the Secretary of State was created by a positive Statute, and by the authority of that Statute was exercised. The only fault of the Minister was, that he continued to exercise that power when the term of that Act had ceased. But no person has ventured to say that the power, the exercise of which is the subject of the present complaint, is created by a Statute. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State (Sir James Graham) says, he has acted under the authority of a Statute, but the right hon. Gentleman has not put his finger on that Statute. The right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government said, that they exercised the power they possessed by Statute, but the right hon. Baronet has not put his finger on that Statute. It is true, reference has been made to a Statute of Anne, in which there is allusion to a warrant of this description by a Minister of the Crown. But the very terms in which that allusion is made, would, if inquired into, prove the want of legislative sanction. It is language copied from a Proclamation. And why was it introduced allusively only? Sir, I think the Secret Committee appointed last Session would have discharged their duties more efficiently, if, instead of enter- 904 ing upon so much antiquarian research and historical disquisition, and consulting the musty Records of the Rolls, they had directed their attention to something nearer their noses. The words in the Statute only echoed a sentence which is to be found in a preliminary Proclamation by the Crown. They would never find an allusion till the reign of Anne to any practice of the kind, or to the means by which it could be originated. And for this reason: no one had traced it at Common Law—no one would say there was any justification at Common Law for this high political Act. For the interference of a Minister of State, under such circumstances, was an act of high policy which the reason and interest of the State could only amply justify. But in the Parliament of Queen Anne, when the first Act passed respecting the Post Office, they must remember that the persons who formed that Parliament were not Members of Parliament as innocent as those which now constituted this Assembly—not men like the hon. Member for Hull, and myself, and other hon. Members, who were ignorant that this practice was pursued in the present day; but gentlemen, the sons of men who, fifty years before, had exercised the sovereign power in this country. It was perfectly natural, therefore, when they passed an Act for the creation of a Post Office, that an assembly which comprised a son of Hampden, and descendants of Eliot and Vane, and others, whom the traditions of their families and of that assembly had made acquainted with all the secret practices of the Government, should take care that the warrant of a Secretary of State should be mentioned, and for this especial reason to prevent any tampering with the Post Office by the Crown. They knew it was a safeguard to them, they knew it would prevent courtiers from interfering with correspondence, as they often did, by enacting that the warrant of a Secretary of State should be the only authority by which a letter should be detained; but they did not make this warrant a sufficient answer to the injured individual. The Secretary of State kept back the letter on his own responsibility. The hon. Colleague of the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this Motion, asked what was meant by the responsibility of a Minister, and said, it was a phantom, a shadow, that no one understood what was meant by it. He was told the hon. Member for Weymouth had, in his absence, followed up the same train of ideas. 905 The responsibility of a Minister, they told us, was a phantom—a farce. So it is, if we are speaking of the political responsibility of Ministers—responsible to a majority called together under their influence—dissolved at their will. That may be a phantom—a farce; but the responsibility of a Minister, under the circumstances we are discussing, is altogether of a different character. It is precise, defined, complete; and what is that responsibility? It is a responsibility to the laws of England. In the case of the general warrants the House supported the Minister; as it seems inclined to support the Minister now, in the Post Office warrants. But what occurred? Those general warrants were issued under a Statute of Charles II., which expired in the reign of Queen Anne; and yet every Secretary of State, except Lord Bolingbroke, issued those warrants till 1763. The House supported the Minister; the injured appealed to the Courts of Law, as they may, perhaps, appeal now. There was the famous case of "Money v. Leach." The verdict was given for the plaintiff; the Judges decided against the Minister; and the House of Commons that had supported him met the day after the verdict, and voted unanimously that general warrants were illegal. Well, that was responsibility; the case is analogous—the instance parallel. And now, Sir, before I approach the more delicate—the personal question—I would clear the subject of the foreign part of the question. I understand the Government has cleared itself to the satisfaction of the House entirely on this head. For my part, such an exculpation was not necessary. The noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office, accurate as he is in the discharge of his duties, is a man of generous impulses; and is much more likely to have erred on the side of leniency than any other. But, even if the noble Lord had erred, who could have ventured to criticise his conduct with such a stake on the die? When that great master of analytical narrative—the Secretary of State—traced, the other night, the vast and precise consequences of the non-interception of the letter of Mr. Mazzini, all must have felt he offered a complete vindication, under any circumstances, of his Colleague. The letter sent — the solitary Colony in the Mediterranean in commotion—the invasion of Calabria, by an expedition of twenty men without arms—Italy in insurrection—the Austrians crossing the Appennines—and the French crossing the Alps—and 906 England, who the right hon. Secretary assures us could not have been a silent spectator in a general war, arming, and in motion—and all prevented by intercepting the letter of Mr. Mazzini. Certainly, since the celebrated narrative of The House that Jack built, never was detail so consecutively precise. I disembarrass myself, then, of circumstances in which the Government have not erred; and in which, had they erred, the House would certainly have not decided against them with rashness. I have touched on the legal part of the case, on which the First Minister founded half his reply; and I come now to the political circumstances and considerations which formed the second head of his defence. The right hon. Gentleman will pardon me for observing it, but he displayed on that occasion an unusual warmth. I am aware that it by no means follows that the right hon. Gentleman felt it. The right hon. Baronet has too great a mind, and fills too eminent a position, ever to lose his temper; but in a popular assembly it is sometimes expedient to enact the part of the choleric gentleman, The right hon. Gentleman touched the red box with emotion. I know from old experience that when one first enters the House, these exhibitions are rather alarming; and I believe that some of the younger Members were much frightened; but I would advise them not to be terrified. I would tell them that the right hon. Baronet will not eat them up—will not even resign; the very worst thing he will do will be to tell them to rescind a vote. The right hon. Gentleman favoured us with his views of the question, legal and political. I don't wish to compare small things to great, but it is not very long since the House was favoured by a Gentleman from the sister country with a speech in favour of the Income Tax, which occasioned considerable comment and a Motion. Now, had it not been for the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I will not say that we should not have had the Motion of the hon. Member, but I have a great suspicion that we should not have been favoured with the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Sunderland. But after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman—after he assured us that in 1842 the country was in a state of great commotion—after having told us of the heavy responsibility which then devolved on the Government — after having read evidence which, at the time, did not receive the credit it has since obtained—after 907 the right hon. Gentleman had, in fact, more than intimated that it was possible that even Members of Parliament might have been guilty of "privy conspiracy and rebellion," it seems to me quite impossible that the question could have been left as otherwise it might have been. I know that my hon. Friend, the Member for Hull, (Sir J. Hanmer) intended, when this question was originally brought forward, to support the Report of the Committee,—he certainly did not actually pledge himself to do so, but he had at that time a very great bias in its favour. But after the distinct assertions of the hon. Member for Finsbury, that his letters had been opened, and that dishonour had been cast upon himself and his constituents, we, who possess feelings and have duties to perform—duties similar to those of the hon. Member for Finsbury, did consider this a matter which could not possibly be passed over without inquiry. Of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State I know nothing but honour, and have experienced nothing but courtesy. I have, I repeat, no personal feeling against the right hon. Baronet. I should think no one on this Bench had any personal feeling against the right hon. Secretary. The personal feelings which do exist in this debate, as mentioned by the right hon. Secretary at War, are a Cabinet secret. That right hon. Gentleman says, that we are called upon to inquire into the same case as was brought forward by the hon. Gentleman when he first asked for a Committee of Inquiry. My memory leads me to a different impression. I remember the hon. Gentleman saying at that time in a tone of jocularity, that he durst say that the right hon. Gentleman had opened his letters; but the very tone of the hon. Gentleman proved he did not for an instant believe it. There was, in fact, no idea then in the breast of the hon. Gentleman, that his letters had been opened. That ground of defence on the part of the Government consequently fails. The hon. Member for Buteshire has made an appeal to our hearts. He must have been thinking of the juries whom he controls with his commanding eloquence. Members of Parliament have no hearts; but when he lays down as a principle that there is no difference between the individual who is the representative of a popular constituency and one of his constituents, I think he takes a position which is by no means tenable, which is not constitutional, which is not legal, which is opposed to all practice and to the spirit 908 of this House, and which I am sure is odious and obnoxious to the country. I agree with the hon. Member for Sheffield, that the correspondence between a Member and his constituents is one of the most delicate subjects which a Government can interfere with. A Member of Parliament is a sort of political confessor; and even if one of his constituents were to consult him about a conspiracy, it is better that he should be dissuaded from the step by his representative than have his letter opened by a Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government will not, I am sure, be offended at our giving an independent vote on the present question, upon whatever side of the House we may sit. The Secretary at War says that it is not a question of confidence. Nor does any one seem to think that it is. As for the First Minister, he is superior to all parties—he governs by pure reason, not by party. With regard to the Secret Committee, we know it consisted of Gentlemen whom we all respect, and we believe that they performed their duty; but we regret that the House did not animate them to do more than they did. The circumstances brought before us at the time, though not in the shape of the original Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, were deeply interesting to the country; and we might under such circumstances, to use a common expression, have "hit the nail on the head." It is useless for a Minister of the Crown to say, "The Committee gave us a verdict." Nobody accuses the Minister. But something has happened which has put us for a moment behind the scene, and led us to think that the manner in which the play is managed is not the most advantageous to the public. What happened to the right hon. Gentleman might have happened to another Minister; and if it had I hope, the question not being a party one,' that at whatever side of the House we sat, we would have done our duty. We are in the third year of a Walpolian Administration; for Gentlemen before me remain seventeen years of opposition, and for us the gratification of seventeen years of support. Party feeling is extinct; and if we find a great injury and injustice to the public exemplified in an instance of one of ourselves, let us not hesitate to come forward and take advantage of existing circumstances to put an end to it. The hon. Gentleman opposite has made an accusation—a very distinct and definite accusation. As far as I am concerned, I should never wish 909 to see an accusation of the kind partake of personal acerbity. We, however, know nothing about that; we only suppose the hon. Gentleman is irritated at having his letters opened. I will not go as far as the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford, and say that the Government may open and read all my letters; but this I will say, that they may open all my letters, provided they answer them. The Amendment which the noble Lord has proposed, seems to me to meet the exigency of the case. I am quite persuaded that Her Majesty's Government will, on consideration, feel that it is no defeat, no discomfiture, on their part to accede to that Amendment. It is not brought forward in a hostile spirit, as they may consider the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury. It is not brought forward in a hostile spirit; and, as far as I am concerned, it is not supported in a hostile spirit. We are making no attack upon the Government. [Sir R. Peel: Hear, hear.] Very well. I don't know what the right hon. Gentleman means by his sarcastic cheer. Does he mean to say that the correspondence of the hon. Member for Finsbury is of a nature dangerous to the State? Does he mean to say that letters have been written to that hon. Gentleman by persons who have been implicated in designs against the State? Does he mean to say that that is the ground upon which he would oppose the proposition before the House? Because, if he does, I can only say, that the Chief Minister of this country is often in correspondence with a gentleman who has been implicated in designs against the State. I have heard the right hon. Gentleman himself get up in his place in this House and say that person was his friend, and that he was proud of his friendship. Yes! one of the intimate friends of the right hon. Gentleman was concerned in Despard's plot, and now holds office in the right hon. Baronet's Administration. And now, Sir, with regard to the right hon. the Secretary of State, I repeat, I make no personal charge against him. He has done that which any Minister may have done, but which any subject of the Queen may question. In questioning it, I disclaim any personal motive. The facts are obvious and ostensible. A Member of the House has declared that his correspondence has been tampered with, and his letters opened by Her Majesty's Government, and that he is ready to prove it. Her Majesty's Government reply that they will not in- 910 quire. It is not the battle of the hon. Member for Finsbury. It is a contest in which every Gentleman in the House is interested—in which every subject of the Queen is interested; and you may rely upon it, whatever may be the decision of the Minister and of the House this night, like the question of the general warrants, you may oppose that which is right, just, and true; but you have the Courts of Law without, and you have a people without, who will support the laws of this country, and oppose every violation of social propriety and political right.
§ Vicount Sandon
In the peculiar position in which I am placed I hope I shall be allowed to state one or two points, to prevent the danger of any mistake. It has been alleged that the question before the House is one which has not been before the Committee. Now the hon. Member for Finsbury, when he first mentioned the subject in this House alluded, though certainly in a less formal mode, to the opening of his own letters. But afterwards, before the Committee, he made a specific charge to that effect, though he declined to produce any evidence in support of it. In our Report we say that we believed we had seen every political warrant that had been issued for the last twenty-two years by the different Secretaries of State. I would ask the House, then, to say whether our attention could have been otherwise than attracted to the subject of the hon. Member's letters, or whether, as seems to be alleged, that subject could be entirely new? We expressed the: result of our investigation in the following terms. Referring to political warrants we say,—With regard to the other class of warrants, though there have been some few issued by different Administrations that have been in power during the last twenty-two years, in regard to which it is obvious that, on a subsequent review of the facts, a difference of opinion might arise as to the discretion exercised in each particular case, yet your Commitee see no reason to doubt that the conduct of the Secretaries of State belonging to each of those Administrations has been guided by no other motive than an anxious desire to preserve the public peace, with the maintenance of which they were charged.We have therefore had the question before us: we have expressed our opinion on it; but having done so, it is certainly not for us to utter one word to prevent a re-investigation of the question, if the House, for any reason, shall so think fit.
§ Mr. Roebuck
I shall be sorry, Sir, to go to a divison on the Amendment before the House without being able to explain my feeling in reference to it, and the circumstances which shall decide my vote. I am the more anxious to do it for the strong feeling that has been introduced into the discussion of the question by various Gentlemen who have taken a part in it; and I desire at the very outset to separate myself, if possible, from every personal consideration. I wish to argue the question, as the hon. Member opposite said, upon pure reason, and to show the noble Lord who has proposed this Amendment that he would do far better to stick to the original question. When this question was first brought before the House, the hon. Member for Finsbury submitted it in very specific terms, and with the direct assertion that certain things had been done. He questioned the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and that right hon. Baronet—I think it necessary to mark the progress of these things in order to show the conclusion to which I come—said upon the occasion that he stood upon the responsibility of his situation, which he felt imposed upon him the obligation of not answering the question of the hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was the next Minister who was called upon to express an opinion. That right hon. Gentleman is an exceedingly delicate barometer of public opinion; but in this, as in all cases, his change was evinced after public opinion had pretty well manifested itself. Public opinion did manifest itself upon this occasion, and he was obliged to depart from the position originally taken by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Inquiry became unavoidable, and the right hon. Baronet, with his usual dexterity, proposed just that degree of inquiry which he thought would suit the then state of public opinion on the subject. The right hon. Baronet proposed to refer the question to a Secret Committee. Why did he do that? He did it to satisfy the anxiety and the alarm which existed in the public mind; and now, I will ask, why was that alarm and anxiety created? Because the public learnt for the first time that this power existed; they learnt for the first time that this power was exercised by the present Ministers; and then arose that which I 912 consider to have been a most unfair clamour against the responsible advisers of the Crown. The right hon. Baronet found himself for the first time labouring under an imputation of doing that which the public believed to be clearly illegal, and thereupon he proposed that his accusers should have a Committee, and he told us that when we had that Committee he should lay before them the truth, and the whole truth — that the whole truth should come out. Now, my interpretation of that proceeding was, that the present Ministers of the Crown felt the injustice of the accusation brought against them, and that they were resolved to drag the proceedings of every previous Ministry before the Committee, and show that they had also acted likewise, and were equally guilty as the present advisers of the Crown. They were resolved to drag every Ministry before the Committee, any Members of which were still in existence—every human being now alive. That was his object—he wished to show those who clamoured unfairly that his predecessors in office had done the same as he had done, and he supported the proposition for a Committee in obedience to public opinion. That Committee, its character, its conduct, and its labours are now before us. I am not here to impugn the honour of that Committee, but I have a full right to question its discretion; and this I now say advisedly, that the Report of that Committee has not satisfied the public feeling of this country; and this I can prove from the declarations and the conduct of the right hon. Baronet; but first, I shall proceed more particularly to notice the proceedings of the Committee. Two questions were submitted to the Committee, or rather two subjects were brought before them; and on one of these subjects two questions arose. The Committee, in proceeding with its labours, began by inquiring into the law of the case, and then they inquired into the mode in which the power that Ministers supposed themselves to hold had been exercised. The statement which in the first place had been laid before them, affecting certain foreigners—was a question of foreign policy. The other was a question affecting the hon. Member for Finsbury. Now, the Committee did express an opinion respecting the case of the foreigner, but they did not express any opinion touching the case of the hon. Member for Finsbury. On no 913 one point relating to his case did they express any opinion whatever. And I beg to ask the right hon. Baronet if he thinks, or if he at any time thought, that the Report of that Committee was calculated to satisfy the public mind? And this leads me also to ask of the noble Lord opposite if he now considers that there is any validity in his Amendment? Let us look for a moment at the history of these transactions. The noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs received a certain communication from the Austrian Government. He referred the inquiry thus conveyed to him, to the Department or section of the Government which had more immediately to do with the business of examining letters passing through the Post Office; in a word, he applied to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and that right hon. Gentleman sent an order to the Post Office. Information was thus acquired which the Foreign Office in England communicated to the Austrian Government. It appears further, that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, exercising this great power, received communications from, and made them to, the Austrian Government, at the same time, treating the whole of these transactions as private communications, and destroying all the documents which related to them; and declaring that being unable to trust his memory on the subject, he had no information to furnish. To me it appears that the noble Earl is responsible for the whole of those communications. This which I am now stating, however, was not told to the Committee voluntarily, but was extracted from the right hon. Baronet by the force of public opinion out of doors; the matter before us is a great question of foreign policy, and I must say that which has been stated on the subject is not sufficient to satisfy the justifiable curiosity of the public. The noble Lord has thought fit to characterize this proceeding as one which springs from a prurient curiosity. I ask the House what right has any one to impute to us, or to the public, a prurient curiosity. If the noble Lord is prepared to say that that phrase was unfortunate, if he be willing to withdraw it, I have not another word to say; but it is wholly unjustifiable in him to describe the feeling of the public as one of prurient curiosity. I repel with indignation the sentiment imputed to us by the noble Lord,—so far as to the proceedings in this case. I now come 914 to that of the hon. Member for Finsbury. He appealed to the Committee, and I think he had a full right to do so. I hope the House will permit me to say that there is great reason to regret the tone, temper, and languge in which that appeal was treated; at the same time, I am quite willing to admit that other governments have exercised the great and odious power which the present Government found itself called upon to exercise; and I have no doubt that the present advisers of the Crown exercised that power with the best intentions, and the strongest desire to maintain the public peace. That might be true enough; but we want to know under what circumstances the discretion was exercised, in order that we may have data on which to legislate. On so great a question as this no man should be made a scapegoat. The right hon. Baronet, I quite agree, should not be made answerable for doing as other Ministers had done before him when placed in similar circumstances. But, after all, the great question is this—are the public likely to be satisfied with the result of this inquiry? The hon. Member for Finsbury says that a letter of his has been opened. Other hon. Members might possibly say the same. I believe that I could repeat the same statements. I believe that in the commencement of the year 1837, and during the year 1838, letters of mine were opened. These facts have now come to light; the public have felt alarm, and they desire that the practice should no longer continue. The statement of the case is, that the hon. Member for Finsbury charges the Government with having opened his letters—that may have been done without a warrant. I am bound to suppose that the Committee found no warrant for opening the letters of the hon. Member for Finsbury. The noble Lord (Viscount Sandon) possesses one quality that fits him for being a Member of a Secret Committee, and the hon. Member for Kendal possesses another. If the one could, he would not make disclosures; and if the other would he could not. The hon. Member for Finsbury, however, says that his letters have been opened without a warrant, and still that charge remains. I do not assume that they were opened without warrant; I will rather assume that there was a warrant; but what is the responsibility of the Minister in this case? He issued a warrant, and he may tell us 915 that he did so; but I acknowledge that he is not bound to tell us the circumstances which induced him so to do. And, moreover, I say, that Resolution has the distinct effect of making the right hon. Baronet responsible to this House. The hon. Member for Finsbury cannot, as he declares, understand what the right hon. Baronet calls his own individual responsibility. There is no such thing as an individual responsibility attaching to the right hon. Baronet. His individual responsibility, according to his interpretation of it, would simply mean, that he is responsible to himself alone. But the responsibility that I mean—ay, Sir, and the responsibility that in reality he will find to attach to him—is the account that he has to render to this House of the manner in which he exercises his powers. The right hon. Baronet moreover declares, that he is precluded from giving any account of his conduct in this matter by his oath of office. The name of the Queen has been most freely used by him, and his duty to his Sovereign has been alleged as a good and sufficient reason why he should persist in refusing to give any account of the manner in which he has exercised his functions; but, as the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard justly observed, the same advice which induced Her Majesty to release him from the obligation which that oath of office laid upon him to be silent, might again have been tendered by him, and would, undoubtedly, have had the effect, had he chosen, of again relieving him, and of allowing him to communicate that information to this House which is now absolutely necessary in order to allay the alarm which is felt on this question throughout the country. And let me tell the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, that in refusing to adopt this course, he is telling the people and he is telling this House that he will not give the information that it is imperative on him to do, in order that these alarms may be allayed, and that he is using this form merely to enable him to evade giving satisfaction. But whilst I am touching upon this point I cannot refrain from expressing my opinion that the use that has been made of the Sovereign's name upon this occasion, and for the purposes which I have characterised, is in the highest degree improper, and even unconstitutional; for we all know that the Minister himself is responsible 916 for the advice that he either gives or withholds in certain circumstances; and, indeed, that he is exercising one of his highest functions in refusing to advise the Crown. It will not have escaped the attention of the House that one of the great causes of that alarm which I have said exists in the minds of the people at large on the subject of the proceedings at the Post Office, is the statement contained in the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords, that there is no such power given to the Secretary of State as that claimed by the right hon. Baronet of detaining and opening letters. This statement comes from the highest legal authorities in the House of Lords, and they are of opinion that such an authority is not conferred by the Statute in question. The right hon. Baronet, however, says that he claims the power of opening letters on his own individual responsibility as Secretary of State. He says, this power is recognized by the Statute of Anne, and is again continued by distinct recognition in the Statute of Victoria. That power, Sir, is exactly what he designates it to be—a power of detaining and of opening letters on his own responsibility. I do not question this, and I have no doubt we shall shortly have the views of the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Solicitor General), whom I see before me, upon the same point. But I repeat my assertion, and I am strengthened in so doing by the highest legal authorities in the kingdom, that the power which he claims, and which he has exercised, is not conferred by the Statute of Anne. Now, let us look at the words of that Act. This is a most important point, for the alarm that exists out of doors is based upon the belief that the practice of opening letters by the Secretary of State is not one which the law recognises; and by the universal belief, I also may assert, that this power has been most illegally used. The 40th section of the Statute of the 9th of Anne contains these words:—Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that from and after the 1st day of June, 1711, no person or persons shall presume wittingly, willingly, or knowingly to open, detain, or delay, or cause, procure, permit, or suffer to be opened, detained, or delayed, any letter or letters, packet or packets, after the same is or shall be delivered into the General or other Post Office, or into the hands of any person or persons employed for the receiving or carrying post letters, and before delivery to the 917 persons to whom they are directed, or for their use, except by an express warrant in writing, under the hand of one of the Principal Secretaries of State, for every such opening, detaining, or delaying.The power which I understand to be conferred by these words is this, that if an inferior officer or clerk in the Post Office detains or opens letters, which come into his charge, addressed to other people, the warrant of the Secretary of State, authorising him to do so, shall be held a sufficient authority, and shall shield him from all punishment for his act. Then comes this implied authority, which the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary claims, that, namely, of opening letters on his own authority and responsibility; and upon this point I will raise no question. But I will tell him this, that I very strongly suspect, if he were to lay his warrant for opening the letters of the hon. Member for Finsbury on the Table of this House, that that warrant would be taken to the Court of Queen's Bench, and the legality of it would be there tried. I have no manner of doubt the hon. Member for Finsbury would bring his action within twenty-four hours, and he would try the specific warrant of the right hon. Baronet upon the same principle that the question of general warrants was before tried, and let me add my belief, that the same result would follow. But that is not the question which is at present under consideration. I bring the subject before the House of Commons in another form, and I say, that the right hon. Baronet, as far as we are concerned, cannot shelter himself under such responsibility as he seeks to claim, bat is bound to answer the question that the hon. Member for Finsbury has addressed to him. I now call upon the House to consider likewise the consequences which cannot but be deduced from the declaration of the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury. That right hon. Baronet described in a most elaborate and portentous manner to this House, the circumstances which characterized the autumn of the year 1842, and the responsibilities which rested upon the Governmnnt then. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman intended to create such an impression in this House; but, as far as I individually am concerned, I am bound to state, with great deference to Mm, that I considered he meant to assert that England was in a most dangerous 918 situation at that period; that all the constitutional powers which the Ministers possessed of preserving the tranquillity and peace of the Kingdom had been called into action and had been exhausted; and that having the power of opening letters, he had exercised that power for the purposes of the public weal. The hon. Member for Finsbury charged the Home Secretary with having opened his letters. That was not denied. And the immediate, and I must say, the natural inference not only in this House, but throughout the country was, that the hon. Member's letters had so been detained and opened. Now, if the fact were so, would it not, may I observe, have been prudent, would it not have been generous, would it not have been in accordance with candour, if the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary had got up in his place and openly said, "Yes, it is true; we did open your letters; we apprehended danger, we found none; we looked for suspicious circumstances, we found nothing to criminate you or your correspondents. We followed, in so doing, the example of our immediate predecessors, and we acted therein upon our own deep feelings of responsibility?" Suppose the right hon. Baronet had said something to this effect. I believe he would have thereby completely disarmed the public indignation. The people would have probably felt and declared that the power which had been exercised by the right hon. Baronet was a dangerous one, but that in calling that power into action, Ministers had explained the reasons why they had done so to the Representatives of the people, and that they had been held to their responsibility. But if we cannot bring the right hon. Baronet and the Ministry, claiming to exercise this most dangerous and delicate power, to a sense of their responsibility in exerting it; if we cannot compel them to give us an account of the motives by which they have been guided in calling it into action,—then, Sir, let me tell the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, that we must abolish that power, and thus prevent them from ever again exercising it. But this matter cannot rest where it is, consistently with the sentiments which are entertained respecting it out of doors. The progress of the whole question has from its very origin been marked by concessions. The right hon. Baronet has already made two conces- 919 sions to the general sentiments that have animated this House and the people. He yielded, after the delay of one day or two, to the demand for an inquiry. He yielded again to the hon. Member for Pontefract, for he answered his question. He will make a third concession before long—a concession which he would have acted wisely in making at the first. He will come forward and say, "It is true we have done this which is laid to our charge; but we acted herein upon a belief that we were promoting the public good. If we are no longer to have this power, repeal it; but having it, we considered we were but discharging our duty to our Sovereign and our country, by exercising it in the manner that has been stated." Would not this, let me ask, have satisfied the hon. Member for Finsbury? I believe it would. And, moreover, I believe that had I put a question to the noble Lord the Member for London, when he was Home Secretary, asking him whether he had opened my letters, and he had then replied that such was the fact—I repeat, I believe that I should then have stated, that I was quite satisfied, for that such a power must have been exercised by the noble Lord only upon the most grave and serious considerations. For my own part I am of the same opinion with the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford in this respect. I do not care whether my letters are opened or not. I did not suspect them to have been opened at the time that I allude to, but circumstances have since occurred which have satisfied me that such was the case. But the sentiments which I express are far from being in accordance with the general feeling of the country with respect to the violation of seals at the Post Office. The people say, though it may be doubted, that the practice led to the results which have been fixed upon the Government with respect to the foreign correspondence that was opened. The people, I repeat, allege that such consequences are likely to result from a continuance of this practice. And, Sir, I also may observe, that there might come a time when the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs may not be possessed of that discretion and that high spirit of integrity and honour which characterize and distinguish in so remarkable a degree the noble Lord who holds that post. But that functionary might be a person whose exercise of this power would entail the most disastrous consequences upon some unhappy 920 individuals; and if I know anything of the sentiments and of the feelings of my countrymen, they would unite in one universal cry of indignation, and sink to shame at the thought of having enabled a British Minister to promote the cause of despotism; thus aided, the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury may rest assured that if he desires the continuance of that power which his Government possesses, he must declare quickly his intentions respecting this matter; and I, Sir, now conclude by expressing, not only my hope, but also my belief, that the people of this country will not be satisfied until this power is entirely abolished.
§ Sir R. Peel
said: Sir, I much regret that it is considered necessary again to postpone this debate. I do think that, unless there were an absolute necessity for a further adjournment, a sense of justice towards the Government ought to induce the House to continue the discussion to-night for the purpose of pronouncing an opinion upon the subject before it. It is quite clear that it is absolutely necessary this matter should be disposed of before the House proceeds with other business. And the House is aware that the other business, which must of necessity be postponed if the Motion for the adjournment be persevered in, is of the utmost importance to the commercial and general interests of the country. If the hon. Gentleman who now makes the Motion, wishes to speak, I am sure he will now be listened to with attention. It is only a little past twelve. If the debate be again postponed to-night, it must take precedence of all other business to-morrow, and that will render it necessary to postpone the Motion of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) upon the Sugar Duties; and also the noble Lord's (Lord John Russell's) Motion on the same subject, and no decision upon either of those questions will be pronounced this week. Now I say that will be a great public inconvenience, not merely to the Members of the Government, though they are mainly interested in promoting the public business, but, looking at the great public interests involved, and the manner they are effected, it is, I submit, the duty of the House to make a sacrifice of its own convenience in some degree, and decide 921 to-night upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury.
§ Mr. John Collett
regretted that he could not fall into the views of the right hon. Gentleman. The House had met at four o'clock, and the Speaker had been in the Chair from that hour until now—past twelve o'clock. It was only just to the House and to various hon. Members who were anxious to speak upon the subject, that the debate should be adjourned. He was himself anxious to make a few remarks upon the question, and had been endeavouring, for the last seven hours, to catch the Speaker's eye, but without success; and he knew of at least twenty other hon. Members on his side of the House who were in the same situation. He knew it was impossible for any Member to be listened to at that hour of the morning. He had on several occasions spoken at a late hour, and had not been attended to; and it had been asked of him why he did not speak earlier? He was determined, therefore, that he would not speak late on the present question, but would insist upon the adjournment.
§ After some conversation on the propriety of adjourning the debate, and on the business before the House, — the House divided on the question of adjournment:—Ayes 29; Noes 269: Majority 240.
§ [The following is the list of those who voted for the adjournment. It is not necessary to publish the list of the majority.]
|List of the AYES.|
|Blewitt, R. J.||Heathcoat, J.|
|Bouverie, hon. E. P.||Hollond, R.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Martin, J.|
|Bright, J.||Morris, D.|
|Brocklehurst, J.||Muntz, G. F.|
|Byng, rt. hon. G. S.||Murray, A.|
|Christie, W. D.||Pattison, J.|
|Curteis, H. B.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Dawson, hn. T. V.||Ricardo, J. L.|
|Duncan, G.||Vyvyan, Sir R. R.|
|Duncannon, Visct.||Watson, W. H.|
|Duncombe, T.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Evans, W.||Williams, W.|
|Ferrand, W. B.||TELLERS.|
|Gibson, T. M.||Brotherton, J.|
|Hastie, A.||Collett, J.|
§ On the original question being again put, it was again met by a Motion for adjournment. And after some further conversation,
§ Sir R. Peel
said, he had felt bound to take the sense of the House on the first 922 Motion submitted to them. The great majority which supported that Motion sufficiently proved that the House thought adjournment would be unreasonable. He had felt it his duty to take the sense of the House, because his doing so might be a check on moving adjournments at an early period of a debate, and an expression of the opinion of the House might have considerable influence. At the same time the majority on that (the Ministerial) side of the House would feel that, in the peculiar position of Her Majesty's Government, this was not a question on which they should press for a decision of the House. The majority, however large, sufficiently showed that at least one hundred Members had left the House. Under these circumstances, knowing that if there were a determination to adjourn, hon. Members might enforce their wishes against the Government, he should certainly not be disposed to press a continuance of the debate. The only alternative, therefore, was to move that it be adjourned till the next day.
Lord J. Russell
had only to say that he thought the right hon. Gentleman quite right, notwithstanding the large majority they had obtained on this particular question, not to ask the House to proceed. He felt very strongly the inconvenience of adjourning a question which might have been decided by two or three hours more debate. It seemed to him, that although to-night the right hon. Gentleman had properly exercised his discretion, on future occasions when a considerable majority declared against adjournment, it would be right to take a decision of the House.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
said, when the right hon. Baronet observed that he hoped the noble Lord would assist him in making a vigorous attempt to conclude the debate, he hoped the right hon. Baronet would have justice on his side, and some reason for making a vigorous attempt. He had felt it totally impossible that the debate could be brought to a conclusion that night. As to the question itself, it was taken out of his hands; it was now in the hands of the noble Lord. It was, in fact, now a personal question between the Government and himself; it was a question how far they had abused their power or not, in his individual case, of opening his letters. They knew perfectly well they had opened his letters, and refused any explanation of their conduct. Nothing 923 could be more tyrannical on their part than to refuse any justification; but a justification he should certainly require of their hands. As the hon. Member for Sheffield had said, he hoped they would not allow any public business to proceed until some satisfaction was given, not only to himself, but to the House and the public. He had heard no good reason why the right hon. Baronet should not have accepted the proposition of the hon. Member for Cockermouth, and consented to adjourn the discussion to some evening when it might not be inconvenient to the Government. And what was the reason why the right hon. Gentleman had not done so? Because public opinion was beginning to bear on this question, and would not allow any act of tyranny to be perpetrated even towards an individual so humble as himself. Government would lose nothing by allowing the debate to be adjourned; but certainly he should follow the advice given to him, to have his character vindicated, after the imputations which had been thrown upon it by the hon. Member for Bute that evening, and by the right hon. Baronet himself indirectly on a former evening, associating him as they had done with those violent outrages and disturbances which took place in 1842, from the language held with respect to which no one could draw any other inference than that they would form the justification of Her Majesty's Ministers for that which he would still continue to call their base and mean act of opening his letters, which they dared not in their places avow.
§ Mr. J. S. Wortley
said, what he had stated was, that he thought it perfectly possible some of the hon. Member's letters had been opened; but he had never imputed to the hon. Member that he had given the slightest encouragement, or had the slightest connexion with the disturbances of 1842.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
accepted the explanation. He had, however, understood the hon. Member to accuse him (Mr. T. Duncombe) of being in communication with persons who were tried at York, and upon whose trial hand grenades were produced, and to identify him with those parties.
§ Debate adjourned, and House adjourned at a quarter past one.