—Mr. Leycester, attended by several members, brought up a message from the commons, in substance, desiring their lordships permission to a member of that house, lord viscount Melville, to attend a committee of the house of commons to whom was referred the consideration of so much of the tenth report of the commissioners of naval inquiry as related to the application of monies imprest to the treasurer of the navy to purposes other than the service of his majesty's navy; and also what communications were made to the lords commissioners of the treasury, or chancellor of the exchequer, respecting the same, &c.—The messengers having withdrawn,
§ Lord Hawkesbury
moved "that their lordships do send an answer to the message just delivered from the commons by messengers of their own." Which being ordered accordingly, the messengers from the commons, were ordered to be called in, and the lord chancellor, with the usual forma- 588 lities, communicated to them the resolution of the house. The messengers having retired;
§ Lord Hawkesbury
rose to call their lordship's particular attention to the proceeding which had just taken place. He would first move, that the standing order be read by the clerk, which was accordingly done. This order imported that no peer of the realm, a, member of that house, should attend the house of commons, or any committee thereof, to answer matters of charge or accusation against themselves, either in person or by their counsel, &c. on pain of being committed. to the custody of the black rod, or sent to the Tower during the pleasure of that house. His lordship then observed, that the case which was involved by the recent message from the commons, was one of very considerable and peculiar importance; though no consideration of the kind was expressly referred to in the message., yet, from the votes of the house of commons, which had come to his knowledge upon the subject, there was no doubt but matters of charge and accusation against lord viscount Melville were connected with the proceeding. He had therefore, with reference to what he had reason to think would take place, enquired respecting such precedents as existed of such cases; and though he met with several, yet he did not feel himself fully informed, or adequately prepared to recommend at present any distinct line, or course of proceeding. He then adverted to the circumstances which gave rise to the standing order which had been just read, and stated a few cases in the way of precedent, which, he conceived, bore a resemblance to the present. Among these, the case of the duke of Buckingham, who, in March 1626, was required to attend the, house of commons, on matters of charge and accusation against himself. Some farther proceedings took place on that case on the 14th of the following month; the result was, that their lordships resolved the duke should not attend the house of commons. A case nearly similar occurred in the year 1673, in that of the earl of Arlington, who was also required to attend the house of commons to answer on matters of accusation against him. In this case, their lordships, after duly considering the case, and though the earl of Arlington himself desired to be examined, refused their consent, and subsequently resolved upon the standing order now upon the book. In the present instance, he repeated, though the message did 589 not directly mention matter of accusation against lord viscount Melville, yet he could not avoid observing (not meaning however to give any decided opinion upon the subject) that it expressly referred to the tenth report of the commissioners of naval inquiry, a copy of which was on their lordship's table, and which contained matters of grave and serious accusation against that noble lord. This report, he could collect from the votes of the commons, was referred to a select committee, who were desired to examine into several points contained therein; and, among others, into the application of public monies entrusted to the treasurer of the navy to other services than those of the navy. A proceeding of this kind, so set forth, although it may prove, upon due enquiry and explanation, to be even a meritorious line of conduct; yet, prima facie, it was to be regarded in the light of matter of accusation; therefore, from what evidence they had before them, derived from the report upon the table, and the votes of the house of commons, it might in the first instance be inferred that the intention was to examine the noble viscount upon points which may form matter of accusation against himself. Under these circumstances, particularly referring to the standing order, it was incumbent upon the house seriously to take the case into consideration before an answer should be sent to the commons. He already stated he had not his mind fully made up as to the most proper course to be adopted. He thought that some time, avoiding all unnecessary delay, should be given to noble lords to consider and to enquire as to the precedents in such cases. He hoped, however, under the circumstances of the case, and its peculiar importance, there would be no objection, no difficulty in referring it to the consideration of a committee of privileges, and that the clerk be ordered to furnish them with such precedents of similar cases as may have occurred.
thought the noble secretary of state should be sure of proceeding upon strong grounds before he did what might appear at least as throwing difficulties in the way of public justice; and it appeared to him rather extraordinary that a member of his majesty's government should be the first to come forward with such a proposition, in a case of such a delicate and peculiar nature as the present. At any rate, he hoped their lordships would avoid all unnecessary delay, and come, as soon as possible, to a resolution upon the point.
in explanation, begged leave to express his astonishment at what had fallen from the noble earl. He was at a loss to conceive how it could possibly be inferred from what he said, that he entertained the least idea of throwing any difficulties in the way of public justice.
The Duke of Norfolk
urged that several peers had at different times attended committees of the house of commons for the purpose of giving them information with respect to subjects under their consideration. He admitted, however, in answer to a question of lord Hawkesbury across the table, that there was no matter of accusation against any of the peers he had alluded to. He was perfectly aware that their lordships could not compel lord Melville to attend a committee of the house of commons; but he conceived there could be no difficulty, if that noble lord was willing to attend, in giving him permission to do so. He wished to know ii there was any precedent subsequent to 1673 applicable to this case?
§ Lord Hawkesbury
observed, that his motive in moving a reference to the committee was to search for precedents.
The Lord Chancellor
contended for the propriety, in every point of view, of upholding and maintaining the privileges of their lordship's house. It was the bounden duty of every member of that house to maintain them. What had been advanced by the noble duke was nothing at all to the present question. It signified nothing, with reference to the standing order, whether a peer be willing or not to attend. The order was peremptory and explicit, and prohibited such attendance, under severe penalties. He believed there was no instance of a peer's being permitted to attend, where matters of accusation against him were under consideration. The noble and learned lord referred to some precedents before the order was made, in illustration of what he had advanced. In a case? in the year 1628, a permission had been granted in respect to an act of parliament then recently passsed, and a correspondent entry was made upon the Journals. In one or two other instances, leave had been given; but, by the resolution solemnly taken in 1673, no member of that house was suffered to attend in such a case, even were he inclined, or even to appear by his counsel. These were prohibited under the penalties of the custody of the black rod, or commitment to the Tower. For his own part, in such a case, did every subject in his majesty's dominions think he 591 was acting wrong, he should perform his duty to himself, to all their lordships, and to the house in general, and, therefore, to the country, in strenuously recommending, nay, even in insisting, with reference to the standing order, upon such a proceeding as that recommended by his noble friend, it should be referred to the committee of privileges, to enquire what had been the former practice of the house upon such occasions. He agreed with the noble lords, that no delay should take place.
The Duke of Norfolk
explained, that, in his opinion, where the will of the peer required, and the permission of the house combined, the case was materially altered. In many cases it was highly desirable that every possible information should be afforded, with a view to the ends of public justice. He repeated his hope that no unnecessary delay would be suffered to take place.
in further explanation, observed, that he did not object to the matters being referred to a committee of privileges. He had only expressed his doubts of the propriety of a member of his majesty's government coming forward, as the noble secretary of state did in the present instance.
The Duke of Montrose
contended, that in a case like the present, it was more peculiarly the duty of a member of his majesty's government to come forward, and endeavour to point out the most correct and unexceptionable line of proceeding; and he must say, that he thought an expression which had fallen from a noble earl, charging his noble friend with endeavouring to throw obstacles in the way of an investigation instituted in the house of commons, had been somewhat hastily used.
in explanation, repeated his regret, that this motion had been brought forward by a member of his majesty's government, for the reason he had before stated; at the same time he should not object to referring the matter to the committee of privileges.
§ Lord Hawkesbury
felt himself called upon, in consequence of what had been said and repeated by the noble lord, to say a few words in vindication of his own conduct. It was very true that he was a member of his majesty's government; but he did not forget, at the same time, that he was also a member of their lordship's house, and as such he should have been wanting to his duty if he had not called their attention to their privileges and their standing orders. He was conscious of no wish or intention to 592 throw any obstacles in the way of any investigation instituted with regard to the conduct of lord viscount Melville. His only wish in this case was, that the privileges of their lordships should be maintained, and their standing orders adhered to, and it was with this view, and this alone, he had brought forward his proposition.—The motion was then agreed to, and the committee of privileges was ordered to sit on Monday for the purpose of taking the subject into consideration.—Adjourned.