HC Deb 14 February 1848 vol 96 cc623-31

moved, that the House should go into Committee of Supply. This was merely a formal Motion in order to enable his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell), on Friday, to make his financial statement. Next week there would be another Supply night, when the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. C. Anstey) would come before the House.


I believe, Sir, that when a question of Supply is to be discussed, it is the usage of this House to entertain one of grievances. If this is an hour not too late for Supply to be gone into, it is perhaps not too late also for grievances to be gone into; and if it is too late for grievances to be gone into, it may be also too late for Supply to be gone into. I will put it to the House whether the Order of the Day shall be now proceeded with, or an adjournment take place. I will put it to the House whether it is not late enough for the House to adjourn. I will not now refer more particularly to the means that were adopted on the former occasion to get rid of the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Youghal; but it is notorious to the House that means were taken by the Government to get rid of this question. I do not wish, Sir, to stand in the way of public business most certainly; but I think the occasion does afford the opportunity of getting a hearing. I beg to say that I do persist in moving the adjournment of the House if the question of Supply is to be gone into; and I leave my Motion in the hands of the House.


Sir, I beg to second the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, and I will state to the House the grounds upon which I do so. I confess that I think a great injustice has been done to the hon. and learned Member who brought forward this Motion by the Government. They did not keep a House, whereas they might have done so if they had chosen. I have been in this House long enough to know the means that were taken to count it out on the former occasion. For my part, I have formed no opinion upon the subject of the charge against the noble Lord; at the same time, I am here as a juryman to listen to a charge. That charge, Sir, is the gravest that can possibly be made against a Minister of the Crown. If that charge can be substantiated, I say that the noble Lord is put upon his defence upon grounds that are worthy to be considered by this House; and I really was surprised to find that the Government should resort to a Parliamentary trick for the purpose of getting rid of a charge involving the character of the noble Lord. Under these circumstances, Sir, I beg to second the Motion of the hon. Member for Stafford.


Sir, I wish very much that my hon. Friend (Mr. Urquhart) had not moved the adjournment of the House. I really would wish that the question relating to this Motion should be thoroughly gone into. I wish, Sir, that the Government, when this Motion came on the other night, had not resorted to the expedient of counting out the House, notwithstanding they have taken that course. But I do think that the object of my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Anstey) may be much better attained by not offering obstruction to the public business of the House. I should recommend that the hon. and learned Member would not persist in a course of that kind. At the same time, I must say that, as a Member of Parliament, I think he has a most perfect and most undoubted right to make the Motion of which he has given notice; and I think that we are all bound, and most of all the Government, and more than all my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—I think that we are all bound to see that the hon. Member for Youghal has a fair and impartial hearing; because, however unpopular this Motion may be in the House (and I think it is vain to disguise from the hon. and learned Gentleman that it is so), however much people may have adopted preconceived notions upon the subject, I am sure that a thorough discussion is necessary in order to set the matter at rest. It is not for me to suggest any ideas to my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; but at the same time, if I entertained the notions of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Youghal, I should be as determined as he is—not indeed, perhaps, to obstruct the business when the House is about to discuss a subject of importance—but I should certainly be as determined as he can possibly be to bring the subject under the notice of Parliament. I am not now called upon to express any opinion upon the subject; it will be enough for me to do so after I have heard the whole of the arguments—after I have heard the accusations, and after I have listened to the answer of the noble Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. But with regard to any impression that may exist, I will state that I am in the habit of exchanging courtesies with the noble Lord; I have received kindnesses from him; I have been proud and happy to receive them; and it is impossible that I can do that if I at all participate in the impressions which my hon. Friends (Mr. Anstey and Mr. Urquhart) must conscientiously entertain before bringing forward such a charge. At the same time, I did feel great surprise the other night when I found how this Motion was got rid of; because I believe now that measures were resorted to which were perfectly Parliamentary, I dare say, but which I do not think, under the circumstances, were at all creditable to the Government. I will only say this—that if I had been in the position of my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—because, disguise it as you will, it comes to this, that an hon. and learned Member of Parliament, using his right as a representative of the people, sent here by his constituents, does feel it to be his duty to bring a direct and distinct charge against a Minister of the Crown—whatever may be our impressions upon this charge, I say that my hon. and learned Friend has a perfect right to bring it under the notice of the House; and I must say that I think that a charge against the conduct of a Minister of the Crown ought not to be endeavoured to be got rid of by any undue means, such as those that were resorted to on Tuesday night last. It must surely always be desired that fair play should be done to every man, whether he be an accuser or a defender—if he be a Member of the Opposition, or a Minister of the Crown; and I will say this, that however desirous I might have been to have left the House, I certainly did stay in order to be present; and I would have endeavoured to induce other hon. Members had I known of the attempt that was to be made. I do not think it was at all creditable, I must say, for those who have the power of influencing other hon. Members, to ask them to stay away. ["No, no!"] Some hon. Gentlemen say "No, no!" They do not believe that such could be done as a person connected with the Government asking others to go out of the House. I was asked myself by an hon. Gentleman individually, and which I refused, and expressed my astonishment that such a request should have been made to me. I found that I was only laughed at. And my noble Friend must excuse me for now saying, that being attacked in the way that he was, then I should have been very glad if he could have made a triumphant defence. Let my noble Friend hear the arguments of the hon. Gentleman, let him tear his arguments to ribands, let him confound him—but do not let him, if it is only for his own character, shuffle out of the accusation. I cannot help saying, at the same time, that I hope my hon. and learned Friend will come to some understanding with the Government. I do not think it is very difficult to do so, and I do not think the Government ought to be anxious to avoid the subject. I have said that that is not the way I should act; but let my hon. and learned Friend take a regular Motion day on which to make this Motion. That would be the more regular way. It may be a long way off—let him take as long a day as he can—let him give my noble Friend a reprieve—and then I dare say there will be no difficulty. I have endeavoured to induce him to do that in order to forward the public business; and if I had any influence with the Government, it would be to induce them to come to an understanding with him, so as to do everything in their power to facilitate his bringing forward this Motion.


If the hon. and learned Gentleman will take the advice which my noble Friend (Lord Dudley Stuart) gives him, the Government will do their best to keep a House for the hon. Gentleman on any Notice day on which he likes to bring forward his Motion. For my part, I admit that I was not in the House the other night. I came down after having gone to get a mouthful to eat, and I found that the House had been counted out. I was not cognisant of any attempt to count put the House. I believe the hon. and learned Gentleman will take the regular course, if he now allows the House to go into the question of Supply, and brings his Motion forward on a Motion night. He will do this, if he is desirous to further that which is matter of public interest. I only ask it for the public convenience.


With a desire for fair play, I think I may express a hope that my hon. and learned Friend will withdraw his Motion for this evening. With reference to the allusions made to the counting out, I must remind the House that it had been expressly told him by the hon. Member for Montrose that if he did upon that occasion, when both sides of this House had assembled upon the question which presented itself for discussion before this House, not only interesting to this House, but to the community at large—to England, Ireland, and Scotland, and in which all our feelings were wrapped and wound up—the hon. and learned Member was solicited by both sides to withdraw his Motion with an express promise that if he did so, he would get a full and fair hearing, and he refused to do so. Having refused to listen to the advice expressed and conveyed to him by hon. Members on both sides of the House, I, for one, who would have heard him with patience, with the same spirit of impartiality that the noble Lord (Lord D. Stuart) professes he desires to keep up—I felt so hurt by this course, and which so vitally interfered with the matter in which we were so interested (the Debate on the Jewish Disabilities Bill), that I exercised all the power I possessed to induce Members to retire from this House, for the purpose of marking my disapproval of any one who would assume to himself, in opposition to the concurrent wishes of both sides of the House, anything like a factious course of conduct. I now state that I did induce every man that I possibly could to withdraw, knowing this—that the course that the hon. and learned Member suggested and attempted to pursue was calculated to do mischief to a fair and impartial hearing, which he pretended to desire. For if the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) on the opposite side of the House is in the slightest degree obnoxious to the charges and accusations that the hon. and learned Member alleges against him, it will be the duty of this House to scrutinise them closely, and to punish them with severity if the noble Lord be guilty. But it was impossible, under the circumstances under which he brought forward the question the other night, that either a fair or impartial hearing could have been given to the hon. and learned Member, in consequence of the interference by his Motion in opposition to the unanimous wish of both sides of the House. It is under these circumstances, Sir, that I unite with the noble Lord (Lord D. Stuart) in praying that my hon. and learned Friend will withdraw his Motion now, and on the first convenient day he will get, I hope, the opportunity of making out his charges against the Foreign Secretary.


Before I speak on the question of adjournment, Sir, I wish to know from you whether that will constitute an objection to my being heard by and by upon my Motion, because at present I wish to speak merely in reply to the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


The question of adjournment is a separate question. The hon. Member is at liberty to speak upon both.


Sir, in answer to the appeal which has been made to me by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I have to say that, at an early period of the evening, I gave Her Majesty's Ministers an ample opportunity to afford me some security, that I should have all that I desired, a fair hearing. I asked no indulgence from either side of the House. I knew that in the position in which I was placing myself, I was entitled to no indulgence; but I was entitled, and I am entitled to justice; and that I demand. I therefore gave the noble Lord at the head of the Treasury an ample opportunity to offer me some assurance that should be satisfactory. It was my desire not to obstruct the business of the House either on this occasion, or on Friday next, it having been conveyed to me that to persevere in my Motion would be to effect the postponement of the Vote of Supply to-night, and, with the Vote of Supply, the financial statement on Friday. No such assurance was given me. I then gave notice that I should at any hour to-night bring on my Motion. The notice was received with silence, and, as I thought, it was acquiesced in by the noble Lord (Lord John Russell): consequently I have been here ever since, at great inconvenience, with other hon. Members, for the mere purpose of this Motion; and now, at the eleventh hour, or rather at the last hour, the right hon. Gentleman conies forward in a manner which leaves me in doubt whether he is serious or not, to propose to me that I shall surrender the slender advantage I possess—the only one that I have been able to secure—on the chance of my being able to bring on my Motion by and by, on a day not to be fixed by Government, but by me; in which case Government will endeavour to prevent hon. Members from quitting the House. I am afraid I know what that chance is worth, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it too. But if the right hon. Gentleman will give me this assurance—that he will name a day next week for a Vote of Supply, and name it at such an hour, and give it such a place in the Orders of the Day as will give me reasonable hope that I shall not be again exposed to the contingency of such an appeal as this being addressed to me, I will most cheerfully comply with his request; otherwise, I am very much at a loss what to do. I do not wish to put hon. Members to the inconvenience of waiting here another hour or two for the purpose of hearing a speech of mine even upon so important a subject. On the other hand, I am quite ready to go on. I solicit no indulgence for myself—I can stay here till any hour in the morning. It is not for my convenience, but for the convenience of hon. Members, that I am prepared to give way, if at all, and I will give way if I have a reasonable security that I shall not be in any way prejudiced.

Sir, with respect to what has been said by an hon. Gentleman of my conduct in not giving way on a former occasion, I have a very simple answer. I gave then what I should suppose to any man of honour was a sufficient reason for my refusal. I asserted then—I repeat it now—because the press, for reasons best known to those who have the conduct of it, have taken care to suppress that part, the only material part, of my statement. I did say then what I now repeat—that not only had I made promises not to give way, but that on the faith of those promises several hon. Gentlemen sitting on both sides of the House, and prepared to vote for and against the Jews' Bill, had gone away for the evening. That was the ground on which I rested my reluctance—the impossibility, rather, in which I found myself to give way; and I believe I may appeal to the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, who was one of the Gentlemen who pressed me upon that occasion, but who was not previously aware that such was my position, whether he did not esteem it a perfectly satisfactory explanation? With respect to the conduct of Government on that occasion, it is notorious that the noble and hon. Members acting in the capacity of whippers-in to Her Majesty's Ministers did, in the exercise of that function, materially contribute to the reduction of the numbers present; and the moment was chosen by a noble Lord, a Member of the Administration, when the House found itself sufficiently weeded out by those means, to give the nod which decided the event of the evening. Therefore it is vain for Her Majesty's Ministers or supporters to deny that the House was counted out upon that occasion, and by their contrivance, and not at all from any unwillingness on the part of the House to hear me. However, I have made an offer to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which I now beg to repeat; and I leave it to him now to say whether he will accept it.


With regard to the offer, I can only say this, that if the hon. and learned Member will put off his Motion till to-morrow fortnight I will do all I can for him, and the Government will take as much care as they can to keep a House for him. If he will now give way, he will have precisely the same power on any future Committee of Supply that he will have to-night. There must be another Committee of Supply before long; and, therefore, if the hon. and learned Gentleman chooses to wait till then, he will have the same power that he has now. But the other course will be more desirable; and if he takes it, I promise to do my best to keep a House for him for his attack upon my noble Friend. Of course it is in his power to insist upon proceeding to-night; but I am sure that no advantage can be gained by it.


Mr. Speaker, I believe that at present I have the opportunity, if I choose to use it, of giving notice for this day fortnight, or for Tuesday week. [Mr. SPEAKER informed the hon. Member that he had not, but must abide the ballot at four o'clock.] Then, Sir, I am in a difficulty. I know that every day is occupied until Tuesday week, and I may find, when I come down at four o'clock in the afternoon, for instance, that some hon. Member has given notice—that the hon. Member for Montrose has given notice for this day fortnight on that very Motion which stood for to-morrow, and which, to oblige Her Majesty's Ministers, he has withdrawn—I mean the case of the Rajah of Sattara. In that case I shall be again excluded. Nevertheless, as my first wish is not to press unduly upon the convenience of hon. Members, I will consent to incur even that risk; and I will trust to the promise of the right hon. Baronet. I trust that faith will be kept with me, not only to the letter, but in the spirit, and that no hon. Gentleman will give notice of a Motion for the mere purpose of obstructing or shutting me out. I rely upon the promise of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer with perfect and implicit confidence.


Sir, after the explanation of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

House in Committee of Supply.


obtained the annual vote for outstanding Exchequer-bills.

House resumed. Adjourned at a quarter past One o'clock.