HL Deb 05 February 1818 vol 37 cc155-8

The House proceeded to ballot for a Committee to examine the Secret Papers. The choice fell upon the following members, viz. The lord chancellor, the earl of Harrowby, the duke of Montrose, the earl of Liverpool, marquis Camden, marquis of Lansdowne, earl Fitwilliam, the earl of Powis, viscount Sidmouth, lord Grenville, and lord Redesdale.

Earl Grosvenor

took that opportunity of making a few observations on what had passed the other evening when a noble marquis not now in his place, had stated that it was desirable for the committee to have power to send for persons, papers, and records. His noble friend had been answered, that such a power was inconsistent with the practice of the House. He thought, however, that in a case like the present, the power recommended by the noble marquis ought to have been given, though it might accord with the general practice of the House. On the present occasion their lordships would, in his opinion, be perfectly justified in departing from their usual course, and enabling the committee at once to call for persons, papers, and records, without waiting until the chairman of the committee might apply to the House for farther information, or new evidence. But such a power it seemed, would be contrary to precedent, and the noble secretary of state for the home department had referred to the proceeding of 1801, as a case in point. Now, the proceedings of 1801 was on a report communicated to their lordships from the House of Commons. It was not, then, a measure instituted on a communication to their lordships from the throne, nor did it resemble a committee appointed in consequence of a measure originating among themselves. The example which the noble viscount had referred to was evidently of no authority; but if the precedent were complete, still he should consider himself fully justified in calling on their lordships to go out of their way, and agree to the resolution which he was about to propose. Those who were, like himself, convinced that there had been no occasion for depriving the people of this country of the most important of their rights, no ground for the alarm spread by ministers, and that the ordinary course of law would have been perfectly sufficient for the repression of any disorders or offences which might have existed, would perhaps not be surprised that ministers avoided a full investigation. That their pretences for suspending the Habeas Corpus act were groundless, had been his conviction at the time they proposed that measure; and every thing which had since occurred had tended to confirm that opinion. He did not expect, however, that they would go the length of asking their lordships to appoint a committee so constituted, and with powers so limited, that it must obviously appear to be framed for the purpose of white-washing them. When he recollected, too, the lofty language of the secretary of state on this subject in the last session, he little thought that he would be the very individual to come down to their lordships with a proposition of the nature which he had made, and which was nothing more nor less than asking them to pronounce, without sufficient inquiry, the justification of himself and his colleagues. They needed absolution for their sinful deeds, and this committee was to be their extreme unction. If they really thought that they had sufficient grounds of justification for their conduct, why did they not propose a committee which would give full satisfaction to the country. The noble marquis who had objected to the limited powers of the committee, was, he observed, chosen one of its members. Whether, restricted as it was, his noble friend would attend or not, he did not know. The task would be at any time arduous, to probe to the quick the system of delusion which had been employed: as it was, no complete investigation could be expected. Nothing short of a full inquiry respecting the conduct of all the persons who had been employed by government could be satisfactory. For his own part he was convinced that there had not been, throughout the whole country, any thing like treason, or any one act of disturbance which had not been provoked by the agents and the spies employed by ministers themselves. Was the evidence of such persons to be relied on for the vindication of ministers? Petitions might be presented to their lordships House on this subject, and persons might offer to give important evidence. To refer such petitions to the committee would be the course which the House ought to take, and it would be the bounden duty of the committee to attend strictly to them. It would, therefore, be much better that sufficient powers should, in the first instance, be granted to the committee. For these reasons, he trusted that their lordships would agree to the proposition he should now submit to them; namely, That the Secret Committee be empowered to call for persons, papers, and records.

The Earl of Liverpool

said, he did not think it necessary to take up the time of the House in again discussing a subject which had been fully discussed on a former evening. As to what the noble earl had said respecting spies employed by government, he should merely observe, that it might be a question as to how far the state of the noble earl's mind enabled him to judge upon the subject; and certainly he should not, if his conduct were to be investigated, choose the noble earl for one of his judges. When the proper time should arrive, he should be prepared to justify the course which government had considered it their duty to pursue. With regard to the only question before their lordships, namely, the powers which ought to be given to the committee, he must repeat what had been stated on a former night by his noble friend, that there was no example of powers of the nature of those proposed to be given to the present committee ever having been granted by their lordships. The noble earl had alluded to the proceeding of 1801, and had argued that from the manner in which it had originated, it could not be regarded as a precedent; but that case had not been relied on as affording a precedent in every respect analogous to the present measure. It had only been referred to as one of many instances which served to show, that when a committee was appointed by their lordships, whether on a message from the crown, or not, it was not usual to give to that committee powers of the kind now proposed. The present committee had been appointed according to the invariable practice of the House, and he conceived, therefore, that the noble earl had stated no ground which could induce their lordships to agree to his motion.

The motion was negatived.