HL Deb 19 February 1828 vol 18 cc562-71
The Marquis of Londonderry

, on presenting a Petition from the Roman Catholics of Londonderry, praying for the repeal of the Laws against them, said, he had heard, with extreme surprise, a question put a few nights ago, to the noble duke at the head of the government, as to whether or not he intended to bring forward any measure for the relief of the Catholics. This surprised him very much, when he recollected that the noble lords opposite had been nine months at the head of the government, and had never ventured to propose any measure of this nature to parliament. They had then found out, that it was not the season for promoting the cause of the Catholics; and though they had been so long clothed with the outward and visible signs of authority, they had not taken one step, in favour of the Catholics. But, hardly ten days after his noble friend had taken office, he was asked, whether he had any measure to bring forward? In his opinion this was only done to excite the intemperance of the Catholics. He lamented the conduct of the Catholics, and he hoped some legislative measures would be adopted to prevent the continuance of the acts of the Catholic Association. They collected the Catholic rent, which amounted to five or six hundred pounds a week. Such sums were not collected for any good purpose, and could not serve the cause of the Catholics. They could only hope for success by the progress of opinion in this country: and to promote that, they must act with patience, resignation, and obedience, to the laws. By this alone could their object be ultimately obtained, and not by violence and disorder.

On the motion of adjournment,

Lord Goderich

rose, and said:—It is with great pain, I can assure your lordships, I feel myself under the necessity of again calling your lordships' attention to a personal subject, with reference to the topic on which I addressed your lordships in the course of last week. In what I then threw out, I was anxious not to say any thing that might offend the feelings, or affect the character, of any individual. My object was to justify my own conduct and not to complain of, or to make out a case against, others. I had no wish to reflect on any individuals, or say any thing but to state the whole truth, the plain truth, and nothing but the truth. How, my lords, could I state, for I had no motives to state, what was not absolutely necessary to make your lordships acquainted with the truth? If the observations to which I allude had only re- flected on my fitness to fill the office which I lately held, I should have passed them by in silence; but I cannot forbear to say something, because, if the imputations cast upon me be true, they would make me ashamed to show my face before your lordships. It is now imputed to me, that what I stated to his majesty was a false pretence; that I had a covert design to dissolve the government, and that I acted from some profound calculation. I should have thought, my lords, that what the world knew of me would have been sufficient to save me from any imputation of this kind; and I can hardly believe that such imputation has been made; but if it has, there can be no justification for such conduct. My lords, it is imputed to me, that I went down to his majesty with a statement that was not correct; and that the immediate cause which led to the precarious situation of the government was not that which I stated it to be. If the immediate cause was not the resignation of the chancellor of the Exchequer as I stated it to be, then am I the basest of mankind. But it is impossible I could be guilty of such baseness. When I wrote to the chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject of the committee, I told him in the plainest terms what was the opinion of my right hon. friend. I stated that he considered it impossible for him not to acquiesce in the nomination of the chairman of the Finance Committee, which had been the subject of discussion. My right hon. friend stated, that if the decision should be against that nomination, he would resign; and I stated also that the resignation of the Secretary of State would dissolve the government. I added to this, that his own resignation would, in all probability, be attended with the same consequences. How, then, could the right hon. gentleman state—how could any man state—that I went down to his majesty with a false pretence, to procure the dissolution of the government? Whether my proceeding was right or wrong is, perhaps, of little consequence, but the statement which I made was the sole ground of my actions; and I defy any man to say that I acted from any other. I went on the following day; I have letters here, my lords, which will prove this to your lordships, and they are at your service. On the next day I stated my opinion to the right hon. gentleman. I recommended him to reconsider his decision I told him I could not accede to his opinion. I urged him not to take the step he contemplated. He said he would take it; and I foresaw the consequences. I added, that we owed it to ourselves, to our king, and the country, not to break up the government, unless it was absolutely necessary. It was our duty, I said, to meet parliament and wait its decision. All this proved ineffectual. The right hon. gentleman referred to his original letter, in which he said he would resign, unless the nomination was changed. What ground, then, was there for the declaration, that I went to his majesty with a false pretence? I say that the conduct of the right hon. gentleman was the immediate cause of the dissolution of the government. These were the motives for my conduct; and it is not possible for any person justly to impute to me any other. It was with me a conclusive reason that there was a tender of a resignation, and it is an imputation made against me that this did not take place. Your lordships will also have seen it represented—though I cannot say whether correctly or not—but that there existed a design, a plot, to break up the government. My lords, who entertained it? When was it concocted? I positively deny that I knew any thing of it; and I deny that any person, as far as I know, had any such design. I will not say that circumstances had not occurred which might make the government not receive the countenance and support of parliament; but that there was a design to alter or change the government, or to break it up, is a most gratuitous assumption. It is not necessary for me, however, to trouble your lordships with a repetition of all the topics I before adverted to; in doing which, I might, with a view only to defend myself, introduce new matter for discussion, and new matter for controversy in both Houses of parliament. If what has been imputed to me had only affected my character as a minister, I should not have said one word; but I felt that I should not have done justice to my character as a gentleman, if 1 had not stated to your lordships, that I am incapable of going with a false pretence to impose upon the king—that I am incapable of betraying my sovereign; as, at least in appearance, is imputed to me.

The Earl of Carlisle

said, he thought it his duty, having been connected with the late government, to say one word in corroboration of what had just fallen from his noble friend. It was with the greatest surprise that he had heard that it had been stated, in another place, that the difference of opinion between two right hon. gentlemen had not been the cause of the dissolution of the late government; no other cause was assigned at the time in his hearing, and he confessed himself entirely ignorant of any mysterious knowledge of secret machinery and secret intrigue, employed in the dissolution of that government. The cause which had been stated by his noble friend was, as far as his information extended, the real and immediate cause of that event. He felt that his noble friend needed not the vindication of his testimony and assurance; he considered him utterly incapable of palming a spurious, and if spurious, a dishonest and dishonourable, cause of action upon his colleagues and his sovereign.—Under these circumstances, it was scarcely necessary to corroborate the statement of his noble friend.

Being upon his legs, and as explanations were the order of the day, he begged the House to allow him to offer a few words in explanation of his own conduct. He assured noble lords, that it was with great reluctance that he obtruded upon them any observations that applied almost exclusively to himself; but he was, in some measure, relieved from the difficulty, by referring to a document, not indeed regularly before their lordships, but which had been frequently quoted, in the course of the late discussions. He meant a speech purporting to have been lately made at Liverpool; no part of that speech was more correct than that which represented him to have been an old and personal friend of a right hon. gentleman now unfortunately no more. It was a friendship that existed from a very early date of their respective lives; it continued amidst the fluctuations and differences, the jars and contentions, of political life, steady and uninterrupted: it was a friendship, the remembrance of which he should cherish to the latest period of his existence. He would not now dwell upon the manner in which his departed friend had been persecuted when alive, nor on the political rancour with which he had been assailed: even death conferred no immunity, the grave to him was no sanctuary. He had heard, with great regret, a noble lord (Ellenborough) describe him as "a dangerous minister." If he was dangerous, it was a danger which the people who supported and encouraged him, the sovereign who selected and protected him, wilfully and deliberately incurred; if he was a dangerous minister it was a danger not felt by those states of Europe that enjoyed the benefits of free institutions: it was a danger not felt by a great power that did not possess that advantage, but whose esteem he had conciliated, in a most important and useful degree.

But he had been led away, by the mention of the right hon. gentleman, from the explanation of his own conduct. The existence of the friendship to which he had just referred rendered him, at the time of the formation of the late government, a proper channel of communication between his right hon. friend and his noble friend (lord Lansdowne). The result of that negotiation was, as is well known, the accession of his noble friend to the late cabinet. Upon the dissolution of the late government, and the formation of the present, under the auspices of the noble duke, the existence of that friendship placed him in rather a different position from that occupied by the noble marquis. He would not enter into the detail of transactions connected with the formation of the government in which he was at all personally concerned; but he must say, that considering that he had been instrumental in promoting the accession of the noble marquis to the late government—considering his upright and manly conduct—considering how much he approved of his political principle and the tenour of his political life—he could not reconcile to his private feeling, or his sense of public duty, the separation of his political fate from that of the noble marquis. He had retired, therefore, but with no feelings of disappointment, or mortification. He retired, on the contrary, impressed with a deep sense of the gracious condescendance of his sovereign, and to the noble duke, now at the head of the government, he had to offer his grateful acknowledgments, for the conduct he had held with regard to him. He apologized to the House for having obtruded upon them any detail of a matter personal to himself; but he thought that any one who had occupied a public station, if the occasion justified or required it, should not hesitate to lay before them, the mo- tives and principles which had guided and regulated his public conduct.

The Earl of Morley

said, that reference having been made, by his noble friend who had just sat down, to the principles and ministry of the great statesman whose loss was so generally lamented, he was desirous of offering a few observations to the House. He was the more anxious to do so, as he was in that House certainly the first adherent of that right hon. gentleman; and further, because it had appeared, from a former debate, that some difference of opinion existed amongst those who had been connected with Mr. Canning, as to the line of conduct which it was, under existing circumstances, most accordant with their honour and consistency to adopt. Various theories had, at different times, been maintained, as to the support which those selected by the Crown to conduct its affairs were, upon general grounds, entitled to claim from their lordships, and the other branch of the legislature. Some appeared to think, that the measures of the executive government ought to be received with confidence, whilst others contended that watchfulness and distrust should mark the conduct of Parliament. Without entering into such disquisitions, he felt confident that he expressed the general sentiment of the country when he said, that at no time were the wants of a fixed and settled government more urgent—at no time were the dangers and inconveniences likely to arise from further changes more imminent.

The state of our external relations—the position of our domestic affairs—the harassed state of the public mind, consequent upon the events of the last twelve months; and (if it was permitted to make such a reference) the protracted anxieties which had been endured—the moral courage and the singleness of heart and purpose which had been manifested in the highest quarter of the realm—all pointed to this conclusion. He had, therefore, he difficulty in saying, that having advertence to the general situation of affairs, he had, à, priori, a wish to afford his humble support to his majesty's present servants; and he had therefore only had to ask himself, whether there was any thing arising out of his unvarying connexion, political and personal, with the late Mr. Canning, which ought to lead him to withhold such support; and it was upon the maturest reflection that he had come to the decision that there was nothing, either of a public or private nature connected with his late right hon. friend, which ought to lead him to resist the bias which he had described, or to do otherwise than express his cordial concurrence with those, who, under the present circumstances of the country, had not thought it their duty to relinquish the service of the king. What, he would ask, were the principal political topics of the present time? What the measures on which the friends and adherents of Mr. Canning would be justified in expressing their mistrust of the noble duke and his colleagues?

The transactions in the East of Europe —the affairs of Portugal—the new States of South America—the Corn-bill—the Finances, and the Catholic question. These were the principal matters now pending, and on none of them, he contended, was there any just ground of mistrust of the conduct and intentions of the new ministry. He conceived the Protocol signed at St. Petersburg, and the Greek treaty of the 6th July last, had one and the same object—the pacification of Greece. There were some shades of difference between them; the principle, however, was the same.—The noble duke at the head of the administration had negociated and signed the former, and a few days ago distinctly intimated to their lordships his intentions of giving full execution to the latter, both in its letter and spirit.—Where, therefore, could there be any ground of apprehension as to the conduct of the government on this important subject. The affairs of Portugal were in train of execution, and drawing to their consummation. Had the noble duke withheld from parliament his sentiments as to the system adopted towards Portugal by his right hon. friend, still there could have been no just grounds of uneasiness as to the conduct which would now be pursued. It will, however, be in the recollection of the House that, in the autumn of 1826, when our troops were embarking for the Tagus, the noble duke had in his place in that House, expressed in the most distinct and explicit manner, his approbation of that measure and of the principles on which it was founded.

Under present circumstances, the retracing the steps taken towards the New States of South America would be impossible. The noble duke, however, had lately told the House, that the mode in which those States had been recognized was, in his opinion, most judicious; and the period at which the recognition was made was equally well chosen.—Having reference to the votes of the other House of parliament now upon their lordships' table, and to the appointment of a Finance Committee by that assembly, no doubt could be entertained of the intentions of government as to the institution of a full, free, and most impartial, inquiry into the state of the national finances, with a view to all practical retrenchment.—With regard to the Corn-bill and the Catholic question, the noble duke had also spoken. With respect to the last he had intimated that in future the patronage of government should be impartially distributed, and that recantations of sentiments favourable to the Catholics would no longer be expected, as has heretofore been conceived to be the case, from those who wish to advance themselves in the two learned professions. Should this line of policy be adhered to, the friends of the Catholic question need be under no apprehension as to its ultimate result.

He would now consider how far there was any thing connected with matters purely personal which ought to lead the friends of Mr. Canning to oppose the existing government. He would not enter into the question, whether private feelings ought to regulate public conduct; allowing, however, that the keeping alive deep-rooted and ancient animosities was a duty imperative upon friends and adherents—admitting that inveterate and irreconcilable feuds were to be considered as a sacred inheritance—yet still he maintained, that it was open to the friends of Mr. Canning, without impugning such anti-social doctrines, to support the present government. In truth, to this case no such doctrines applied; no such ancient and inveterate hostility existed between his right hon. friend and his majesty's present servants—was it necessary that he should refer to the ardent zeal, to the indefatigable courage, with which his right hon. friend had both in and out of office so long co-operated with the noble duke in the great peninsular cause, where the noble duke had obtained such immortal glory?—Need he refer to the identity of counsel which led to the signature of the Greek Protocol at St. Petersburg.—To the many years in which they sat amicably in the same cabinet, and to the earnestness with which up to the latest period of his life, Mr. Canning had been desirous of seeing the command of the army resumed by the noble duke.

Again, the right hon. gentleman, holding the seals of the Home Department, had publicly declared last year, that with the single exception of the Catholic question, there was a complete unity of opinion between himself and Mr. Canning. With respect to his noble friend below him (lord Bathurst), he was confident that he must know that, up to a late period, any thing but animosity had been felt by Mr. Canning towards him.—He concurred in what had just fallen from his noble friend who spoke last, as to the opinion expressed the other night by one member of his majesty's government (lord Ellenborough). That noble lord had further declared, that he could not understand what the principles of Mr. Canning were; but he thought that the friends of that right hon. gentleman would not, by supporting the ministry; in any way compromise those principles, merely on the ground of the noble lord's not being able to understand them.

The House then adjourned.