HL Deb 03 December 1830 vol 1 cc750-63
The Duke of Newcastle

begged the attention of their Lordships for a few moments. Their Lordships were very well aware how disagreeable, how painful, how distressing, it was for him to address their Lordships upon any occasion. Their Lordships, therefore, might readily conceive what his feelings were in rising to address them upon a subject which regarded himself. He must, however, claim their Lordships' indulgence and attention for a few moments; and he hoped they would bear with him if he should be betrayed into using any expressions, while speaking of himself, which, under other circumstances, it would not become him to use, or them to listen to. He had to make a complaint to their Lordships. He would not put his complaint upon the ground of a breach of privilege—no, he would not shelter himself under that—but he must say, that he considered what had been said respecting himself,—which was what he had to complain to their Lordships of, —was a gross libel upon his character, and tended, by the words used, to draw him into contempt. Now, therefore, he would come to the grounds of his complaint, and when he had stated the case, he should call upon their Lordships to judge between him and the circumstances of which he complained. Looking into The Morning Chronicle yesterday, he had found in it the report of a speech which was represented to have been made at Nottingham by no less a person than his Majesty's Attorney General. Perhaps, before he went further, he had better read the report to their Lordships from The Morning Chronicle. It was as follows:— "Nottingham Election.—Sir T. Denman, his Majesty's Attorney General, was re-elected a member for the town of Nottingham on Monday last. In the course of his speech to the electors, the learned gentleman, when alluding to his future conduct in Parliament, said, 'My sentiments as to vote by ballot are well known to you all; but if the majority of my constituents shall say that they cannot exercise their privilege of election without it, my support shall be given to it.' "Now he made no comment upon this, because his opinions, also, were well known on this subject. The report of the Attorney General's speech went on thus,—"I shall use my utmost endeavours against the borough-mongers. And I affirm to you, that the power which has called forth from a nobleman that 'scandalous' and 'wicked ' interrogatory— 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I please with my own?'— ought to be abolished by the law of the land. With respect to the other points, namely, the abolition of the Slave-trade and the Corn-laws,, I can say, that the labours of the present Ministry will be directed to effect the former; and I hope that, although the Corn-laws must be abolished by degrees, the time will soon arrive when that, as well as every other trade, will be as free as nature and Providence can make it." Now the parts of this speech to which he (the Duke of Newcastle) alluded, and of which he had to complain to their Lordships was, the connexion between those consecutive sentences— "I will use my utmost efforts against the boroughmongers," and— "I affirm to you 'that the power which has called forth from a nobleman that scandalous and wicked interrogatory," and so forth. Now he had no doubt in his own mind, that, although he was not named in this speech, no other nobleman than himself could be meant; for, if he recollected rightly, he wrote that very sentence— "Is it not lawful for me to do what I please with my own?" He had thought that the proper course for him to pursue, therefore, was, to write to the Attorney General, which he had done; and in his letter he stated what he had seen in the Morning Chronicle, and asked of the Attorney General a distinct and explicit explanation, that was to say, meaning that the Attorney General should distinctly and explicitly acknowledge or deny having used this expression. He had received an answer from the Attorney General, which, however, he could not say was by any means explicit or distinct; for the Attorney General, it must be acknowledged, had used all the legal sinuosities and turnings that his skill could devise; but, in the end, the Attorney General said sufficient to identify his speech with the report. He considered, therefore, that he had a right to presume that the speech, as reported, was the speech which the Attorney General had made at Nottingham, since that learned Gentleman had not distinctly denied it. Presuming this, then, he begged to ask their Lordships if this was a proper course for the King's Attorney General to pursue? He begged to ask, if it was right for the King's Attorney General to come into the chief town of the county in which he resided,—of the county in which he had the honour to be the King's Lieutenant,—he begged, he said, to ask if it was right for the Attorney General to come into such a place and utter language respecting him, calculated to bring him into contempt, especially in such condition of affairs as that in which the country was now unfortunately placed? Was it decent, was it proper, in his Majesty's Attorney General, to use such language as this, which must always be offensive, and which, in the present case, was literally criminal towards him, considering how prone some persons were at this time to attack those who were situated as he had the honour to be? If he was a timid man he might, after language putting him as it were under the ban of the Government, be afraid to leave his own dwelling. Besides, he might have to act with his Majesty's Attorney General in this very county; for the Attorney General might have to prosecute those who were proceeded against for breaches of the law. He could not help feeling that he had not only been most improperly treated, by having had this language used towards him, but that that treatment was greatly aggravated by the language having proceeded from a servant of the Crown; and he felt assured that the noble Earl at the head of the Government would express to the Attorney General, in a marked manner, his sense of such conduct. He wished just to remark to their Lordships, that there had been exercised towards him a system—he would not say Of persecution, ' for he hardly thought that any one would think it worth while to persecute him—but that there was a something in the manner in which he had been treated, by which it seemed that, while others were situated just in the same manner as himself, he was to be picked out to be abused and baited, and have his character lowered in every possible way. He was extremely sorry that the King's Attorney General should have joined in this vulgar cry against him, should have taken up the language of the vulgar multitude, and should have thought it became his office to cater for the feelings and appetites of the licentious. He was not ashamed to confess the confusion into which he always fell in addressing their Lordships; he was unused to making speeches at all, and very seldom attempted a speech of any length; so that it was very probable their Lordships might have great difficulty in making out what his real object was at the present time. He would, however, endeavour to make that object intelligible to their Lordships. He did not mean, that their Lordships should call his Majesty's Attorney General to account for these expressions; what he meant was, that he was ready to meet any charges which the Attorney General, or any other man, might have to prefer against him, for he neither feared the Attorney General nor any other man. If an open enemy attacked him, he would meet that enemy face to face; if an insidious enemy attacked him, he would meet that enemy in the best way he was able; but against all enemies he would defend himself; he would meet all his enemies as he might be able to meet them, and he would not allow himself to be abused and baited without exculpating himself He had set his life upon the cast, and he gave all his enemies fair notice of it, He would not yield to any man in the country in attachment to the liberties of the country, and in determination to preserve by any means, even to the sacrifice of his life, those liberties. He had always been taught to value, and always had valued those liberties. He feared no man, for though he might be wrong in some things, yet, with these principles, he could not be very wrong, he was sure. He feared his God, and he honoured his King, and acting, to the best of his abilities, in conformity with this fear and this love, he cared nothing for consequences. While he was on his legs, let him profess, which he did with the greatest sincerity, the high respect he entertained for the noble Earl at the head of the Government. He was quite sure, that the noble Earl always endeavoured to act rightly, and would therefore justify the same course in others. He felt great confidence in the noble Earl, and he felt that the noble Earl had at once power to benefit—if he pleased to do so—the nation at large, and to save it from impending dangers. He thought the noble Earl was in possession of qualities to effect these great advantages more than any other man in the country. He would, therefore, beseech the noble Earl—whatever might be his opinions on the subject—to refrain from agitating the question of reform in the present state of the country. Under existing circumstances the agitation of that question must be productive of considerable excitement. If his voice could prevail with the noble Earl to adopt that course, he should rejoice from the bottom of his heart. He wished to see a strong Government—a very strong Government —and, without caring about the men who composed it, such a Government should have his support. He thought that, barring a few exceptions, there was not much difference between the noble Earl and himself. One of those exceptions was reform, —another, if the noble Earl was bent upon the course, was agitating that question now; for he must say, that he was firmly persuaded that his agitation of such a question, in such times, would be productive of the most mischievous consequences. He trusted, therefore, that the noble Earl would not bring it forward, at least for the present. He could not sit down without touching upon another matter connected with reform. In the report of the speech of the Attorney General, which he had read to their Lordships, some allusion was made to vote by ballot. Now he did hope that no Englishman would consent to admit anything so revolting, so debasing to the character of the nation, as vote by ballot. If Englishmen fought, they fought openly; if they acted, they acted openly; if they spoke, they spoke out and made themselves heard. Englishmen never pursued the conduct of the insidious assassin, whose measures were taken covertly and in the dark. He did, therefore, hope, that vote by ballot would be scouted by every respectable man in the country as altogether un-English, and uncharacteristic of their fellow-countrymen. He would not detain their Lordships any longer. He had thus attempted to express what he felt with regard to the attack which had been made upon him, and he threw himself upon their Lordships, and upon the country at large, to decide whether his feelings and his conduct were right or wrong. He had stated to their Lordships the nature of his complaint, and the grounds on which he complained. He left the matter, with full confidence, in the hands of their Lordships; and he had to express to their Lordships his heartfelt thanks for the attention with which they had listened to one so little worthy of the attention of their Lordships. He would only add, in conclusion, that he did hope the Attorney General, as long as he held the high office with which he was at present invested, would not take, on any future occasion, a part which was so incompatible with the duties of his station.

Earl Grey

said, that after the direct and pointed allusions which the noble Duke had made to him personally, their Lordships would doubtless expect that he should say something upon the matter which the noble Duke had brought under the notice of their Lordships. He had risen, therefore, to address their Lordships, though he was free to confess he felt considerable difficulty in giving utterance to one word upon the matter, not having very distinctly understood what object the noble Duke had in view in bringing forward this matter of complaint, and still less understanding how it was possible that that House should take cognizance of the circumstance complained of. In one thing, however, he felt no difficulty at all, and that was, in returning to the noble Duke his best thanks for the very flattering manner in which the noble Duke had been pleased to express himself with regard to so humble an individual as himself. The noble Duke had said, that he had the power to save the country if he chose. Surely none of their Lordships could for a moment doubt, that if he had the power of benefitting the country, it would be at once his duty, his pride, and his delight, to exercise that power. He could not be insensible to the exaggeration of the estimate which the noble Duke had been pleased to make of his powers; but such as those powers were —and this, he was sure their Lordships would see, was all that, under the circumstances, he could say,—the noble Duke might be assured that they should be strained to the utmost in endeavouring to relieve the distresses, and to suppress the disturbances, which agitated the country. The noble Duke had alluded to the question of Reform in Parliament. This, however, was certainly not the time to enter into the general principles of that question, and still less to descant upon the particular details of any given plan of reform; and he should not, therefore, on the present occasion, allow himself to be drawn into a discussion upon the proposal of voting by ballot. He might, perhaps, have very strong objections to vote by ballot; but, upon that point, as upon all other details connected with the subject, he should reserve himself until a measure of reform had received the sanction of the other House of Parliament, where such a measure ought undoubtedly to originate, and then he would state why he gave his support to that measure, as well to the principle as to the details of it. With regard to the general principles of reform, he had,—he thought their Lordships would admit,—stated, already, as far as general principles could be stated, those which would meet with his approbation and support. He declined, therefore, saying any thing more upon the subject of reform, until the time to which he had alluded should have arrived,—except, indeed, with regard to a position which the noble Duke had laid down relative to bringing forward the question of reform at all in the present condition of the country. The noble Duke had expressed his conviction, that, to agitate the question, under existing circumstances, would be productive of mischievous consequences. Now, if he thought so,—if he could anticipate that such consequences would re- sult from the agitation of the question,— he should be the last man in the country to bring it forward, or to join with any men who proposed to bring it forward; but his opinion was directly the reverse of that which had been expressed by the noble Duke—nay,his firm conviction was, that the only effectual means of quieting the country was, to bring the question of reform under the notice of the Legislature, and, that, too without more delay than was absolutely necessary. The noble Duke had said, that this was one of the subjects upon which difference of opinion existed between them, and in this the noble Duke had spoken most truly. He had imbibed his opinions of Parliamentary Reform at a very early age; he had held them constantly ever since; the experience of not a very short career had confirmed him in those opinions; and he repeated now what he had said to their Lordships at the commencement of the present Session,— that it was his firm conviction that the settlement of this important question could be no longer delayed. He believed that the time had at length arrived, at which they must fairly and fearlessly approach the consideration of that question, and endeavour to effect the settlement of it on rational principles,—which, if they did not, —which, if they delayed too long, might be settled in such a manner — might be carried on such principles—as would be accompanied with confusion and destruction. He would detain their Lordships | with no further observations upon this topic, but would come now to the particular subject of which the noble Duke complained. He repeated, that he felt extreme difficulty in dealing with this matter, for he knew not how their Lordships could interfere in it, especially as the noble Duke had not proposed it to them as a matter of privilege; which, however, if the noble Duke had, still he (Earl Grey) should be at a loss to tell in what way that House could proceed. The noble Duke had told them that he had been ill used; this they knew—but what redress the noble Duke asked, or what redress their Lordships could afford him, certainly neither of these was apparent. The noble Duke had yesterday stated to him the subject of his complaint, and he had expressed to the noble Duke his deep regret that the feelings of the noble Duke should have been wounded by such an occurrence. If the noble Duke had told him that he intended on this evening to call the attention of their Lordships to the circumstances, then he might have been prepared to say more upon it; but all that he could now say was, to repeat those expressions of regret which he had before made to the noble Duke, and to tell the noble Duke, that his Majesty's Attorney General was a man who stood high, not only in his (Earl Grey's) estimation, but in the estimation of the country at large, as a lawyer of the most eminent attainments, and as a man of the soundest principles, and of the most inflexible integrity. At the same time, however, let him remind the noble Duke, that it did not, by any means, appear that the expressions, of which the noble Duke complained, were used by the person to whom they were attributed in his capacity of Attorney General to the King, which was the main feature of the noble Duke's complaint, but that they were contained in a speech delivered at Nottingham by a candidate for the representation of the people of that town; and surely there was a vast difference between what was said by a person to his constituents, and by the same person in an official character. He must too, observe, that if every speech at an election which contained opinions at variance with those of any noble Lord, or which contained animadversions upon the conduct of any noble Lord, as a public man, were to be brought before this House by complaint, the time of their Lordships would not be very properly employed. However, he had not the least difficulty in saying, that he did not approve of the expression "boroughmongers," and that he should not himself be inclined to select individuals as marks for personal attacks, however opposed he might be to any system which those individuals, among others, upheld; but, with regard to this particular case, when he considered all the circumstances of it, he must say that, not approving of the expressions which were complained of, he could not help lamenting that declaration of the noble Duke's which had brought on him the strong condemnation of those who, without any disposition wantonly to hurt the feelings of the noble Duke personally, felt it their duty to express their sentiments strongly whenever they found the freedom of election impaired; for, by impairing the freedom of election, those persons were of opinion that there would result to the country the worst possible effects. Now, in this, and in no other view, could the Attorney General, he was persuaded, have meant to bring before the people of Nottingham that declaration of the noble Duke's; and if a declaration of that character had been made the subject of animadversion at an election, the noble Duke must lay it to the account that he was not, and could not expect to be, more exempt than any of the rest of their Lordships, from that which they were all of them compelled as public men to undergo from those who thought they acted wrong. But the noble Duke, allow him to say, had not opened to their Lordships the whole of the case. The noble Duke had said, that he had applied to the Attorney General for an explanation; an explanation, the noble Duke had told them, he had received, and he had described it as being replete with legal sinuosities, but the noble Duke had not produced that explanation to their Lordships. Now he must say, that if their Lordships were competent to entertain this complaint, which, however, he denied, for their Lordships were not, as it appeared to him, competent to take cognizance of the matter—it would be very unfair if their Lordships were to come to a decision upon it without seeing as well the terms of the demand for explanation as the terms of the explanation itself. He would trouble their Lordships with no further observations, and he was extremely sorry that he had been called upon to make these. He trusted that the noble Duke would see, that, under the circumstances, he had said all that could be reasonably expected from him upon the matter. He regretted exceedingly the occasion which had given rise to this discussion, and he assured the noble Duke that he was extremely sorry his feelings should have been thus wounded; but, at the same time, he must repeat, that he not only could not approve, but that he felt great regret at the publication of that unfortunate declaration which had drawn upon him those animadversions of which he complained. He trusted that their Lordships would hear no more upon the subject, but that. they would pass at once to the Orders of the Day,—there being no question before the House.

The Duke of Newcastle

said, that he would have read the communication from the Attorney General, to which the noble Earl had alluded, but that he thought their Lordships would have considered it improper in him to do so. As to the object he had in view in bringing this matter under the notice of the House, he expected no other result from it, but to show that he was ready to meet any charges that any one had to prefer against him; and as he did not think that he had acted wrongly, he could not suffer himself to lie under imputations from the Attorney General, or from any one else. He had been abused, and he had been called by he knew not how many opprobrious names, and he therefore wished to throw himself upon the judgment of their Lordships, and ask their Lordships to decide whether he had acted rightly or wrongly.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that it was impossible for him to suffer this conversation to drop without offering a few observations to their Lordships, though he believed that it was most irregular, as the noble Duke who had commenced it had not followed it up by any motion. Indeed he did not see how any of the circumstances to which the noble Duke had alluded could be made the foundation of any motion in that House. He would therefore commence by avowing that what occasioned him to rise at that moment was, his decided conviction that the noble Duke had been misinformed as to the words made use of by his learned friend, the King's Attorney General. If he had been acquainted beforehand with the intention of the noble Duke to make those words the subject of discussion before their Lordships, he could have satisfied the noble Duke, irritable though he might be on this subject; and he could have appeased the noble Duke's feeling of irritation, natural as it was, by the statement of a few facts, which he now felt himself bound to lay before their Lordships, in strict justice not only to his learned friend, the King's Attorney General, but also to the noble Duke, who felt himself aggrieved by his learned friend's observations. He agreed with his noble friend, that what a gentleman said before his constituents, as a candidate for their renewed suffrages, was—he would not say, to be taken with greater latitude of interpretation and to be visited with greater indulgence than the deliberate declaration of his opinions,—but he would say, that it was not to be confounded with what the King's Attorney General might declare in the discharge of his official duty. When he saw yesterday evening,—for then was the first time that his attention was directed to the paragraph in the newspaper,—when he saw yesterday evening the paragraph of which the noble Duke had just made complaint, he felt, he admitted, great pain, but he likewise felt no doubt that the words of his hon. and learned friend, the King's Attorney General, had been misrepresented, knowing that they were very different from the tone and temper of his general observations. Still, though he had no doubt as to the misrepresentation, he felt great pain that his hon. and learned friend should be charged with the use of such offensive and unbecoming expressions. He was certain, from his long and intimate acquaintance with his learned friend, that he, even on a subject on which he felt strongly, was the last person who would be capable of forgetting the respect due, not only to the noble Duke, but also to himself, so far as to have uttered expressions like those which had been put by the newspaper into his mouth. He had accordingly taken the liberty of requesting an interview with his hon. and learned friend that morning. The interview was granted. He had then taken the liberty of asking his hon. and learned friend whether he had seen the paragraph in question. His hon. and learned friend replied, that he had seen it, and added, that in some places it was a gross perversion of what he had said, and that in others, where it was not a perversion, it was a gross exaggeration of the language which he had used. His hon. and learned friend then laid before him an account of what he believed and recollected himself to have said to the electors of Nottingham, coupled with what to him (the Lord Chancellor) was an unnecessary voucher, that he had made that statement before an old friend of his, also in the law, who had accompanied him down to Nottingham, who had been present on the hustings when he addressed the electors, who had been close by his side all the time that he was speaking, and who had heard every word that he had uttered. That gentleman was a person of peculiarly accurate and retentive memory, and was known to all the profession to excel eminently in that faculty. He had given his confirmation to the statement which his hon. and learned friend had laid before him as containing that which he thought and believed and recollected himself to have said. If he had thought that he should be called upon—as in justice to his old and much valued, friend the King's Attorney General, he was now called upon—to make any statement as to the language which his hon. and learned friend had used, he would have come down to the House furnished with that short paper which contained his actual observations, as vouched by the learned Gentleman who had gone down with him to Nottingham. He could not from the newspaper, which contained the misrepresentations, pretend to state to their Lordships what his hon. and learned friend actually had said: but this he could state,—which would be as satisfactory he trusted to the noble Duke as it was to his hon. and learned friend the Attorney General,—that the only offensive part of that paragraph, of which the noble Duke had a right to complain,—for the noble Duke must lay his account to meet with that censure which was the lot of all other public characters, and from which he ought] not to expect to be more exempt than any of their Lordships,—the only part of that paragraph which was deficient in that respect which was always due from one gentleman to another, was not uttered by his hon. and learned friend, the King's Attorney General. No allusion whatever had been made by his hon. and learned friend to the noble Duke by name. So far was his hon. and learned friend from having mentioned the name of the noble Duke, that he had not even gone so far as to say that a nobleman or a gentleman had made such and such an observation. A phrase used by the noble Duke certainly had been commented on,—and why not? The noble Duke, however, was not the only person who had used that phrase—it had been adopted by others, who had followed his example. He would deal candidly with the noble Duke, and would avow to him distinctly, that he did not admire this part of his conduct, though there were other parts of it which he considered manly, disinterested, and honourable in a high degree. He admitted that on the phrase first used by the noble Duke, and afterwards employed by those who had followed his example, his hon. and learned friend had made a comment, as he had a perfect right to do. No person was pointed out by name in that comment, and the words "scandalous and wicked," which formed the only offensive part of the paragraph, were not only not used by his hon. and learned friend, but there was not even a synonyme employed for them of the like meaning or tendency, although there was undoubtedly a clear and distinct disapproval expressed of the measures pursued by the noble Duke. This was satisfactory to his mind, and he trusted that it would prove equally satisfactory to the noble Duke. If the noble Duke had seen, as he had done, the words actually used by his hon. and learned friend, he was sure that the noble Duke would acknowledge that he had no right, as a public man, to feel hurt by them, much less to make them the subject of a formal complaint to their Lordships. He thought it right to say thus much to their Lordships, in justice to the noble Duke, and in justice to his hon. and learned friend, the Attorney General, who was not, and, indeed, could not be present to defend himself. Besides the disavowal of his hon. and learned friend, there were other circumstances which induced him to believe that his hon. and learned friend could not have used the expressions imputed to him. He had no doubt, that what the Attorney-General was said to have added, respecting the intentions of Government with regard to our colonial system—observations by which the noble Duke thought that his hon. and learned friend had committed the Government, of which he was a member,—had never been uttered; and that for this reason—that at the time when that speech was made, the new Government had not entered upon the consideration of, much less taken any resolution upon, that important subject. He supposed that, owing to the crowd, and hurry which prevailed about the hustings, his learned friend's observations had not been reported with that accuracy which generally distinguished the reports in the public papers.

The Duke of Newcastle

I think it right to state to the noble Earl at the head of the Administration, that at the time of the interview which I had with him yesterday, I had no intention to do that which I have done now. It was only this morning that I took the resolution of acting as I have now done.

The subject dropped.

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