§ Lord Wharncliffe
said, that he* Hansard, new Series, vol,xxv,p,77100 had already stated to their Lordships that he for one would not assent to any measure of the nature which it was stated would be proposed to the House of Commons in lieu of the Suppression of Disturbances (Ireland) Bill, which now stood for a third reading in their Lordships House, without some further information as to the grounds on which their Lordships were to be called on to change their opinions in reference to that measure. In order to lay before their Lordships the reasons which induced him to think that they were bound to call for some further. inquiry as to the grounds on which the members of the Cabinet, at least in that House, could justify their change of opinion on the subject, and the grounds on which their Lordships would be called upon to assent to such a modification of the measure—in order to do that, it would be necessary for him to go into a review of the circumstances which attended the introduction, not only of this Bill, but of the Bill which it proposed to continue, and which had been passed last year. On that occasion the noble Earl lately at the head of the Government, and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, made as an apology, as an excuse for bringing forward a Bill the enactments of which they described as so severe, that such a measure was absolutely necessary for the preservation of the Government and peace in Ireland—on the faith of that representation, the House of Lords passed the Bill. It then went to the other House, where after having been considerably altered, it was returned to that House. Their Lordships then, rather than throw any impediment in the way of the Government, cheerfully submitted to those alterations, and so the Bill passed. Then came the Bill of this year. Previous to its introduction several questions had been asked at different times of the Government whether it was their intention to renew the Act of last year. At last the noble Earl opposite, lately at the head of the Government, stated that the time had come when, after mature deliberation, it was the intention of Government to introduce a Bill for the purpose of renewing that Act. Accordingly, the noble Earl on the day appointed brought forward such a Bill. He on that occasion stated at some length the information which had been received by Government from the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland on 101 the subject, and which constituted the grounds on which they thought fit to introduce such a Bill to their Lordships. The noble Earl in doing so made a speech which few could equal in that House. In the course of that speech he laid before their Lordships circumstances demonstrating, the necessity of renewing the greater portion of the Bill of last year, and he stated precisely those parts of the Rill which could be omitted without detriment to its efficiency. The noble Earl then stated, that the Cabinet had looked at the measure with an anxious desire to diminish its severity; and that after much deliberation it was their opinion that the clauses relating to Courts-martial might be omitted, but that it was necessary to retain the two clauses at the beginning of the Bill in reference to political meetings; and that necessity, the noble Earl urged strongly to their Lordships. The noble Earl stated, that the agrarian disturbances throughout the country, which it was the great object of the Bill to put down, might be traced to the political meetings and agitation in Dublin and elsewhere. The noble Earl stated distinctly, that it was a mistake to suppose that the meetings of the peasantry in the country were not connected with the agitation that was kept up in Dublin, and he insisted upon the injustice that would be committed, if they should pass the Bill without the clauses for putting down that agitation; upon that recommendation their Lordships read the Bill a first time. The first reading of the Bill took place on the 1st of July—on the 3rd of July a discussion took place in the House of Commons, and circumstances were disclosed which had undoubtedly led to the changes they had seen occur in the Administration. The noble Lord, after going into a statement as to what occurred on the 3rd of July, in the House of Commons between Mr. Littleton and Mr. O'Connell, proceeded to say, that he had nothing to do with the complaints made on either side on that occasion—he would only address himself to the effect of the communication, which, from that discussion, it appeared had been made by the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for Ireland, to the hon. and learned member for Dublin. It appeared from what was then stated, that that communication had been made by the right hon. Gentleman to the hon. and learned member for 102 Dublin upon the 20th of June. It appeared in a subsequent discussion in the House of Commons, that the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) admitted, that the right hon. Gentleman communicated with his consent with the hon. and learned member for Dublin, but that he went to an extent in that communication, that he (the noble Lord) did not intend. Before he (Lord Wharncliffe) would go further, he would just observe, that the noble Earl lately at the head of the Government in the speech which he made on his secession from the Administration, stated, as he understood, that the first knowledge he had that a change had taken place in the opinion of the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland on the subject, was derived from a letter dated the 21st, and received the 23rd of June. So here, after the Cabinet had deliberately resolved upon bringing forward die measure, a communication without the knowledge of the noble Earl at the head of the Government was made to the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland on the subject; the Lord-lieutenant, in consequence of that communication, changed his opinion, and before the noble Earl at the head of the Government was made acquainted with that change of opinion, it was communicated to the hon. and learned member for Dublin, and that too with the assent of one of the noble Earl's colleagues in the Cabinet, the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That was the position in which the matter stood as to dates. With respect to the communication thus made to the hon. and learned member for Dublin, he must say, that at the very first bruiting of the matter, he was astonished in the greatest possible degree that the right hon. Secretary for Ireland should, of all mankind, be the person to communicate with that hon. Member upon any subject whatever. The right hon. Secretary for Ireland had had more than one warning as to the effects to be anticipated from having any dealings with that hon. Member; not only at the commencement of this Session, when the right hon. Gentleman was made the dupe of that hon. Member, on the occasion of the Motion with regard to Mr. Baron Smith, had he a distinct warning what he might expect from holding communications with that individual, but so far back as the year 1830, the right hon. Gentleman received a pretty good warning on the occasion of 103 the Truck Bill, which he then introduced, as to what he was likely to gain by holding communication with Mr. O'Connell. That learned Member was the person in private to dissuade the right hon. Gentleman from including Ireland in that Bill, and he afterwards was the person to cast censure in public on the right hon. Gentleman for having done so! Having had those warnings, the right hon. Gentleman surely should have been cautious how he dealt with such a person. Yesterday, the noble Viscount, now at the head of the Administration, had referred him to the fact, that Members of the Government were often in the habit of conferring with members of the Opposition as to the business in the House of Commons. He was quite aware, that the practice had been so for years, and he had no doubt that it was productive of the best effects. But he must say, that such communications always took place between persons of either party who were certain that the dealings between them would be conducted with honour and honesty. If the least doubt could be cast upon the honour or honesty of the party in opposition, no communication would be made to such a party by the Government. They would then say, as it would be their duty to say, "We have determined on a certain course of conduct; we will hold no communication with such a person as you on the subject, and we set your opposition at defiance." What did the right hon. Gentleman? He communicated to the learned member for Dublin that his opinion and the opinion of the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland were against the renewal of the first two clauses of the Bill, and he did that at the time that the noble Lord at the head of the Administration had actually decided upon the necessity of retaining those clauses. The explanation to which he had already referred took place between Mr. Littleton and Mr. O'Connell in the House of Commons on the 3rd of July; on the 4th of July, the Bill was read a second time in that House; on that occasion, a noble Earl (Lord Durham) stated, that he could not support those clauses of the Bill relating to political meetings, and upon the same occasion the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack got up, and in reply to the objections of the noble Earl, made one of the best and most convincing speeches that possibly could be made in support of 104 those very clauses. The noble and learned Lord upon that occasion powerfully and eloquently dwelt upon the injustice of bearing with a heavy hand upon the meetings of the peasantry, whilst they pressed lightly on the meetings of the agitators, to whose exactment the agrarian disturbances were mainly owing. This speech, their Lordships would observe, was made upon the 4th of July. Upon the 3rd of July, the explanation had been made in the House of Commons, from which it appeared, that an alteration of opinion had taken place, at one period or another, in the mind of the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland with respect to this part of the Bill. If the effect of that disclosure had been, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer afterwards stated, to make him regard it as necessary to resign, how did it happen that he allowed his noble friend then at the head of the Government to press the second reading of the Bill under such circumstances through that House upon the very following day? If the nature of the communication of the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland was such as to place the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in such a position, as he himself afterwards stated, that he could not meet the House of Commons upon this measure with satisfaction to himself or advantage to the country—if, he repeated, that was the case, why allow the noble Earl to press the second reading of the Bill through this House. But that was not all. Upon the 7th of July, another debate took place in the House of Commons, and upon that occasion, the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, stated, that the measure was brought forward with the entire concurrence of the Cabinet, and with the sanction of the Irish Government. The noble Lord was then aware, that there had been a wavering of opinion on the subject on the part of the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland; the noble Lord was then fully aware of the difficulties he would have to encounter in pressing such a Bill under such circumstances through the House of Commons, and yet he allowed the Bill to be read a second time in the House of Lords, and their Lordships actually to go into Committee upon it. Upon the occasion to which he was alluding, the discussion in the House of Commons the 7th of July, Mr. O'Connell moved, that the correspondence of Lord Wellesley, then laid before the House, should be referred to a 105 Select Committee to report thereon. Before he stated the division, he would just refer for a moment to an incident which occurred in that debate, and which had been alluded to by the noble Earl lately at the head of the Government, in the speech which he made on resigning his office. The noble Earl had referred to au opinion expressed in that debate by the right hon. member for Tamworth, as to the propriety of the Government producing the letters of Lord Wellesley that were then called for, and in which it was said, he had expressed his opinion as to the non-existence of a necessity for the reenactment of those clauses against political meetings. It was quite true, that the right hon. Baronet did urge upon the Government the necessity of producing those letters of the Lord-lieutenant to the noble Earl, in which mention was made of the alteration which had taken place in the Lord-lieutenant's mind with regard to this Bill. But though under the circumstances of the case the right hon. Baronet did suggest to the Government the propriety of producing that letter, he, at the same time, never made any Motion for that purpose, and it was exaggerating greatly the effect of the right hon. Baronet's speech on that occasion to suppose, that he would have supported such a Motion, if it had been made. The debate on that occasion went on, and in the course of it the right hon. Secretary for Ireland assured the House, that Lord Wellesley's opinion was then in favour of the Bill. Upon a division, there were seventy-three for the Motion, and 156 against it, leaving the hon. member for Dublin in a minority of eighty-three. Well, what occurred then? Why, on the next morning the noble Earl (Earl Grey) and the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) resigned their offices, on the ground, as the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) afterwards stated, that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) could not, in. consequence of what took place in that debate, conduct with satisfaction the business of the Government in the House of Commons. The noble Earl had himself told them, that he had taken considerable pains to induce his noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to withdraw his resignation, but that finding it impossible to do so, and finding that he had lost his right arm—such was the noble Earl's expression, in losing his noble 106 friend, he also thought it his duty to resign his office. The noble Earl had certainly kept his word; but he (Lord Wharncliffe) was sorry to say, that the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had not. It remained for that noble Lord, after all that had passed, to show that he was justified in again taking office, and in conducting the Government of the country under circumstances precisely similar to those that existed when he resigned. It did not appear to him, that any thing that occurred in the debate in the House of Commons on the 7th of July was sufficient to justify the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in resigning his office. No difficulty apparently resulted from that debate in conducting this measure through the House of Commons. The House had, by a large majority, rejected the Motion of the learned member for Dublin, for referring the papers on the subject of the Coercion Bill to a Select Committee, and it was plain, therefore, that the House would, under such circumstances, reject any Motion, if such should have been made then, for the production of the Letters of Lord Wellesley. He must contend, that the causes assigned by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for resigning office were altogether insufficient. The noble Lord expressly said, that he resigned office in consequence of this disclosure as to the alteration of opinion in the mind of the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland. It was clear, therefore, that that disclosure, as to the Letter of the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, had been productive of the resignation of the noble Lord. In consequence of that resignation, the noble Earl opposite (Earl Grey), on the 9th of July, made a speech in that House—a speech full of eloquence and feeling—a speech, however, which he had heard with the deepest regret. He had often opposed that noble Earl,—he opposed him upon Parliamentary Reform, and he was still of opinion, that the extent to which Parliamentary Reform had been carried by that noble Earl's Government, had placed the country in the greatest difficulties. He was sure, however, that the conduct of the noble Earl upon that subject had been the result of the sincere conviction of an honourable mind. It would be far from him to say, that the noble Earl's political character had been at all lessened on that account. The noble Earl, in the course of the speech he 107 made on the occasion of his resignation, detailed the circumstances which had led to this correspondence with Lord Wellesley, and to its disclosure; and he must say, that, after hearing the noble Earl's statement of those circumstances, the impression on his mind was, that no first Minister of the Crown had ever been so ill-treated by the persons under his guidance. The noble Earl, on that occasion, stated, that he had various difficulties to contend with in his Government, and he more especially alluded to difficulties arising from that House. There might have been such difficulties arising from the opposition of that House, but he was sure the noble Earl would give him credit for not having given his Government any unnecessary or factious opposition. But, whatever those difficulties might have been, he was sure they were nothing when compared to the difficulties which the noble Earl had experienced from the conduct of his colleagues in the Cabinet. In the course of that speech the noble Earl described to them the circumstances under which the communication had been made by the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for Ireland, to the hon. and learned member for Dublin. The noble Earl told them, that he was no party to those communications; that they had been made not only without his concurrence, but without his knowledge; that it was his fixed opinion, that no terms should be kept with the person to whom those communications had been made; that he was not a person who could be safely communicated with on any subject; and that if he, the noble Earl, had been previously apprised of the matter, there was no power or influence that his situation gave him that he would not have exerted to prevent any communications being made to such a quarter. In spite of all that, however, the first Minister of the Crown, in the House of Commons, did communicate with that person through the Secretary for Ireland. That right hon. Gentleman not only made the communication which he was authorized to make by Lord Althorp, but he went a great deal further, and he told the hon. member for Dublin, that his opinion, and the opinion of the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, were against the Bill in that shape, be it remembered, which, after mature consideration, the Cabinet had determined to bring forward. He must confess, that he felt great as- 108 tonishment at the conduct of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, throughout the late transactions. During a large part of his life he had sat with that noble Lord in the House of Commons, and he entertained, in common with all who knew him, the greatest respect for him. Indeed, no man's character could stand higher than that noble Lord's, and it was his character alone that could preserve him on the present occasion. He would venture to say, that had any person of more equivocal character done what that noble Lord had done, very different consequences would have resulted to him from it. He knew it had been said, that that noble Lord was, of all others, the most capable of managing the House of Commons, so as to conduct the business of a Government there with satisfaction to the country. The noble Lord certainly had a happy and peculiar knack of managing the present House of Commons. His mode of management was a new mode; it was one adopted at considerable risk; it consisted simply in constant concession. Even with regard to this Coercion Bill he still pursued the same mode; namely, concession. He resigned his office through fear of a Motion of the hon. member for Dublin, and on account of certain hints thrown out by the right hon. Baronet, the member for Tamworth, as to the necessity of having those Letters of Lord Wellesley produced. The noble Lord and his Majesty's Government should not have made such concession, when, after the fullest consideration, they brought in this Bill, stating that it was necessary, for the support of the Government of Ireland; they should not have been afraid to have sent it down to the House of Commons. He was sure that, if the House of Commons truly represented the feelings and opinions of the country, it would not have rejected such a Bill. But the noble Lord's mode of management, on the contrary, was to give way to the hon. member for Dublin, point after point, and to raise him higher and higher every day in the opinion of the people of Ireland. Such would be the natural result of the conduct of his Majesty's Government. Having proposed this measure in the first instance, they should have adhered to it. The noble Viscount told them yesterday, that he had accepted office, rather than leave his Sovereign without an Administration; that he was fully aware of the difficulties 109 with which he was surrounded; and he further said, that he called upon their Lordships for their assistance and support. That was the right way for a Minister of the Crown to act. That was the right way to appeal to a public assembly in this country, and more especially it was the right way to speak to a reformed House of Commons. The Government should have pursued a straightforward, manly, and direct course. They should have steadily appealed to the feelings of the people of the country, and they should have asked the house of Commons to pass this measure, throwing on it the responsibility of rejecting it. The present Government had no right to complain of a want of support in the House of Commons, and there was little danger that a measure of the kind would have been rejected there. Having now gone through a history of those transactions, he would briefly lay before their Lordships the grounds upon which he thought that those Letters of the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland should he produced, in which Letters, as appeared from the discussions in the other House, that noble Lord had at some time or other expressed himself unfavourable to the renewal of those two clauses against political meetings. It was desirable to know, after the Lord-lieutenant had stated in the first instance the necessity of reenacting those clauses, what had afterwards caused at any period a change in his opinion on the subject. If the Bill, which now stood for a third reading, was persevered in, of course no one would call for this correspondence. But as the measure was to be altered, and avowedly, too, in consequence of the disclosures made with regard to this correspondence, their Lordships, before they were called upon to consent to such a measure, would have a right to see what that correspondence was. They had been told, that it would he vain to pass this Bill, as the House of Commons would reject it. Why not try the House of Commons, and throw upon it the responsibility of rejecting those clauses? But they were then told, that it would be idle to attempt to pass such a measure in the House of Commons, after it was known that there had been a wavering of opinion on the part of Lord Wellesley with respect to it. Now, if steps had been taken, and there was no denying the fact, in consequence of those letters, their Lordships had a 110 right to know what they were. On the 18th of April, the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland wrote to the effect that this Bill was absolutely necessary. It appeared that he was now of the same opinion. They were told, however, that in some communication which had taken place in the interval, he had exhibited a different opinion. The letter, he believed, was a private letter to the noble Earl opposite, and that might be made an objection to its production; but he hoped that under the circumstances such an objection would not be persevered in. On the production of the measure brought forward by the noble Earl, no steps had been taken upon the letter, and there was no reason for calling for it. But their Lordships were now in a different position,—a new Bill was brought forward, founded on the letter of the 21st of June, which it was therefore necessary to lay before the House. The noble Lord who conducted the business of the Government in the House of Commons said, that he could have fought the Bill as it stood, till it was discovered that there existed a wavering on the part of the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, therefore it was evident, that the foundation of the altered measure consisted in that letter, the production of which, consequently, was absolutely necessary. He could not, for the life of him, see how such a communication could be justly called a private communication. There were two grounds for the alteration of the Coercion Bill—the letter of the 21st of June, and an apprehension that the house of Commons would not pass a larger measure. He did not know that the Commons would not have passed the Bill as it was originally introduced in the Lords, if the Government had proposed it to them; but, putting that consideration aside, he argued, that the House was entitled to ask for the production of the letter, which, being the foundation of a public measure, could not be called a private communication. He thought that the noble Earl and the Government would see that the time had arrived when Parliament ought to have that document before it, with a view to enable noble Lords to ascertain whether the wavering of the Cabinet was well-founded. It was the more necessary to have the letter on the Table, inasmuch as the noble Earl (Earl Grey) had stated, that it was written in consequence of a 111 communication made by a person connected with the Government to the noble Marquess (the Marquess Wellesley), referring to the state of things in this country, and the difficulties of Government here. He could not see any sufficient ground for objecting to the production of the letter under such circumstances. He waited to hear what objections might be offered by noble Lords opposite. He did not wish to obstruct the transaction of public business, or to throw needless obstacles in the way of the Government; but he thought that, in reference to a Bill so earnestly called for, and so important as this, their Lordships had a right to the production of the letter in question. He could not accept as an excuse for remodelling the Bill that it could not have passed the Commons in its original shape, and therefore he demanded to be put in possession of the other ground for the alteration—namely, the letter of the 21st of June. He would here observe, that though amended by the Commons, the original Bill might still have passed their Lordships' House on being again sent up to it. In conclusion, he should move, "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, praying that he would be graciously pleased to direct that there be laid before the House a copy of any communication received from the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, stating the grounds of his having altered the opinion expressed in his Excellency's letter of the 18th of April last to Viscount Melbourne, in favour of the renewal of the Bill for the Suppression of Disturbances in Ireland."
§ Viscount Melbourne
rose for the purpose of opposing the Motion, on the grounds already anticipated by the noble Baron—namely, that this was a private communication which could not be fairly called for by the House. It was a confidential letter addressed to the Prime Minister, with whom the Lord-lieutenant held no official correspondence, and not to the Secretary for the Home Department, with whom it was usual for him to have such correspondence, and no reason had been stated to induce the House or the Government to consent to so great a violation of principle as was now proposed, or to adopt a course entirely new and unprecedented, the effect of which would be to violate the secrecy of private and confidential correspondence, to shackle and impair the security of all future com- 112 munications with Ministers, and to set a precedent inconvenient in the highest degree to the public service. These were the grounds on which he felt bound to oppose the production of the document in question. Considering the course which Government had now taken in reference to the Coercion Bill, he frankly admitted, that nothing could be more advantageous to himself and the Government than the production of this letter, which would so completely justify their conduct. He, of course, was master of the substance of its contents, and the reasons contained in it, and, no doubt, noble Lords opposite knew its purport pretty well; and such being the case, he did not hesitate to repeat that nothing could be more advantageous to Government than laying this communication before their Lordships. He would not, however, further advert to its contents. The noble Lord, he was bound to admit, had made a fair and candid statement, and, putting aside some bitter and unintentionally unfounded insinuations against the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer—insinuations, however, which his noble friend's character would enable him to set at naught—the noble Lord had made not only a fair and candid, but an accurate statement of facts. Therefore, it was unnecessary for him to make a further statement of facts, or to go further into circumstances from which, however, the noble Baron had most undoubtedly drawn inferences that were not borne out, and which could not be justified by those facts. It was perfectly true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did authorize the right hon. Secretary for Ireland to communicate to the hon. and learned member for Dublin that the question as to the extent of the Coercion Bill, and the particular clauses to be introduced into it, was not yet finally decided. That, as he understood, was the extent to which his noble friend had authorized the right hon. Gentleman to go in his communication with Mr. O'Connell. It was to be regretted, however, that the communication had been carried further. Even the fact of any communication at all had been censured; but considering the position which Mr. O'Connell held in the country, and the part which he took in public business, it must be admitted that it would be extremely difficult for any one to conduct the business of the House of Commons 113 without being compelled at some time or other to communicate with the hon. and learned Gentleman. He had stated the extent to which the communication in question had been authorized by the noble Lord; they all knew that it was carried very much further by the right hon. Gentleman, and Government undoubtedly regretted that it had taken place. In the Cabinet there was certainly a difference of opinion on the subject of the Coercion Bill, as every body now knew; but although several members of the Government thought that the letter of the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland afforded strong grounds of objection to the clauses against public meetings, they yielded to the opinion of the majority, and therefore his noble friend was perfectly authorized in stating in the other House of Parliament, that the Bill had been brought in with the concurrence of the whole Cabinet, and with the assent of the Lord-lieutenant, that noble individual having stated, that he was ready to carry on the Government of the country in whatever shape that measure should be introduced. Under these circumstances, the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer met the House of Commons, when he found that not only had the communication which he authorized been made to Mr. O'Connell, but that the hon. and learned Gentleman was put in full possession of the letter of the Lord-lieutenant, and of the differences in the Cabinet on the subject of the Coercion Bill. [The Lord Chancellor: The hon. and learned Gentleman was apprised of the substance of the letter.] He should have said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman was put in possession of the purport of the letter, and was informed that the Lord-lieutenant did not consider the clauses against public meetings essential to the tranquility of Ireland. His noble friend, finding how the matter stood, determined to resign; and if he were called on to state his opinion on the subject, he must admit, that the noble Lord seemed to have acted under the influence of too susceptible feelings; but be did find himself so pressed by the communication of what was his own opinion on the subject, that he came to the conclusion that he could not conduct the Bill through the Commons in the same shape as it had been presented to the Lords, and that if it were persisted in he could not continue to manage the 114 business of the country in that House. That state of things led his noble friend to resign, and his resignation was followed by that of the noble Earl lately at the head of the Government, a resignation which they all lamented and deplored; especially in those circumstances of difficulty and embarrassment which he did not perceive any means of removing, except those probably insufficient means which with difficulty he had adopted, and prevailed upon his noble friend to adopt. The difficulty under which the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer laboured consisted simply in the attempt to maintain the public meeting clauses under the knowledge then communicated of the letter of the Lord-lieutenant and his own previous opinion as to their not being necessary. That difficulty had now been removed, and he put it to their Lordships whether, such being the case, the noble Lord (putting out of consideration the great sacrifice which he made in retaining office) did not owe it to his Sovereign and his country, under the peculiar circumstances and difficulties of the present crisis, to take that course which he had adopted? The noble Lord had said, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's character served him in good stead on this occasion; but, in his opinion, his noble friend's character was above all reproach, beyond the reach of every insinuation. He felt that the only manner in which his noble friend could have put in hazard or for a moment diminished his well-earned character, respect for his Sovereign, and zeal for the public service, would have been by shrinking from devoting himself to the service of the country when called on so to do under present circumstances by his Sovereign and by the country at large, speaking through the organ of its Representatives. The noble Lord had made some observations on the course Ministers had taken in introducing a new Coercion Bill into the House of Commons. They felt the present he admitted, to be a situation of great difficulty and delicacy. For his own part, he had never considered a question in the whole course of his life upon which he found mote difficulty in coming to any thing like a satisfactory conclusion than upon this occasion, when deliberating on the best mode of proceeding. Ministers considered that they had adopted that mode which was most candid and fair, and most respectful to their Lordships' House, 115 when they made up their minds to state that they would not press the Coercion Bill there, but bring it forward in a different shape in the other House of Parliament. Suppose that Ministers had pressed the Bill forward in this House; on the third reading they would have been asked whether their colleagues in the other House were prepared to support it as it then stood, and they must answer "no;" and painful as the statement might be, they must declare that they were calling on the Lords to assent to a Bill which they could not press on the Commons in its present shape. Ministers felt this to be a subject of great doubt and embarrassment, and they thought that they adopted the wisest and most honourable course, and had acted in the fairest manner, and with the greatest respect to their Lordships, in permitting the Bill to drop, and presenting it in an altered shape to the Commons. It was impossible for him to agree to the present Motion; the letter from its very nature and the person to whom it was addressed, and all the circumstances of the case, being strictly and entirely private. What power had the House to enforce its production? To what office in the State could application be made for it? Wherever such an application was directed, the answer would be, "We have no such document in our possession." The letter could not be produced without the leave and authority of the individual by whom it had been written. He had not seen the document in the noble Marquess's hand riting—he merely saw an extract from it. It was impossible to consent to the production of private correspondence such as this. There should be the fullest information with respect to the state of facts and circumstances; but this communication did not come under that description. If noble Lords called for such documents, would they not be cutting up all confidence by the roots? It would never more be possible to carry on the public service with advantage, convenience, or safety, if it were laid down as a principle that private communications of men in office might be called for by Parliament. He repeated, that this was a private and confidential letter, and that there were few if any instances of such communications being called for. If such instances had occurred, he believed it was in heated times, when letters written by individuals 116 in their private capacity had been made evidence; but those precedents were of a doubtful character, and their Lordships would not extend a principle sometimes adopted in criminal proceedings to transactions of a civil nature. If any material object were to be gained by resorting to such a principle, that circumstance would afford a species of argument for its adoption; but he maintained, that in the present case there was no such object to be gained. There was nothing to induce the House to establish such a precedent or to violate the great principle of confidence, by calling for the production of this letter, and no case of necessity having been stated or made out, he felt it his duty to oppose the Motion.
said, it appeared to him that the noble Earl's statement was totally irreconcileable with that made by the noble Viscount. The noble Earl (Earl Grey) had said that until he received the Marquess Wellesley's letter on the 23rd of June, he had no reason to believe that there was any difference of opinion subsisting in the Cabinet as to the introduction of the Coercion Bill. There might have been some previous difference, but it had disappeared, as was evident from the fact of the noble Earl having given directions to the Attorney-General to draw up the Bill. It was ascertained, that the communication between Mr. Littleton and Mr. O'Connell took place on the 20th of June, three days before the Marquess Wellesley's letter was received by the noble Earl; therefore it was quite impossible, that on the 20th of June Lord Althorp could have authorized Mr. Littleton to say that the discussions on the Coercion Bill were still pending in the Cabinet; the fact being that the measure was then settled, and the noble Earl had given instructions to the Attorney General to draw up the Bill. It was impossible that on the 20th of June, Mr. Littleton could have stated to Mr. O'Connell, as the noble Viscount appeared to suppose, the substance of a letter which was not written till the day after. This was the second discrepancy between the statements of the noble Earl and the noble Viscount; but, however the case might be, what had transpired led to the conclusion that some person had communicated with the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, and anticipated, as a consequence of that communication, the difference of opinion which afterwards 117 arose in the Cabinet. If Mr. Littleton communicated with the Lord-lieutenant on the subject, the right hon. Gentleman not being a member of the Cabinet did no more than his duty, but there was no other person to whom such a communication was permitted without previous consultation with the noble Earl then at the head of the Government. It was quite in the course of Mr. Littleton's duty to communicate with the Marquess Wellesley; but it was not competent, even to the noble Viscount (Viscount Melbourne) then at the Head of the Home Department, when a matter had been finally settled in the Cabinet, without communicating with Earl Grey and his colleagues, to originate a correspondence with the noble Marquess, the effect of which was, to change that noble person's opinion on the subject of the Coercion Bill, and to unsettle what had been determined in the Cabinet. He said, that it was not competent to the noble Viscount to do this, and still less was it competent to any other individual to do it. Until he heard the noble Viscount and the noble Marquess who spoke yesterday, he did not think there could be possibly any ground for calling for the production of this letter. However, after what the noble Viscount now said, he did not feel disposed to press for the letter, because it was not in possession of any officer of the Government, and it would seem that an application for its production would be without avail. But understanding that the opinion contained in that letter constituted the ground-work of the new Coercion Bill, he maintained, that there was as much reason why Parliament should see it as the letter of the 18th of April, which was the foundation of the other Bill. But there was another discrepancy in the matter. He could not comprehend how the letter of the 21st of June could be the foundation of the altered Bill. Earl Grey had referred to the letter of the 18th of April as the foundation of the original Bill, but he could not have done so with propriety, unless he believed that the Marquess Wellesley's opinion at that moment coincided with the sentiments which he had expressed on the 18th of April. If the noble Earl did not think so, then the letter of the 18th of April was upon their Lordships' Table for the purpose of deception, which he could not for an instant suppose. But if the letter of the 21st of June were the foundation of 118 the new Bill, their Lordships had as much right to see it as the letter of the 18th of April. He did not wish to insist further on the discrepancies to which he had already referred. He was content to leave the matter, saying only, after what had been stated by the noble Viscount with respect to there being no office in which they could get at the letter, that for his own part, he would recommend his noble friend not to press his Motion, at the same time that he thought Government, in justice to themselves, ought to prevail on the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland to produce the letter which it was now stated they had made the foundation of the new course which they had adopted.
§ Earl Grey
thought it necessary to address a few words to their Lordships, and he assured the House they would be but few. The statement relating to this case, as he had made it on a former occasion, and as it was now repeated with a good deal of accuracy by his noble friend opposite, was before their Lordships, and to that statement he had nothing to add. He said, that his noble friend had generally stated the case accurately enough; but he must add, that the noble Lord had made some comments on the transaction, chiefly to disclaim which he had risen. It had been said by another noble Lord on a former night, that the effect of his statement was, "that he had been betrayed by a member of his Cabinet," and, in fact, that that was the fair result of what fell from him. He begged to say, that he had made no complaint of anybody, he had accused nobody; he did not complain of ill-treatment, because he was sure none had been intended; but he certainly stated, that a communication had been made to the Lord-lieutenant without his knowledge, which communication led to the letter of the 21st of June, to the subsequent difference of opinion, and to all the other consequences of the transaction. He had stated, that the communication with Mr. O'Connell had taken place equally without his knowledge or concurrence; and if he had known of it, such a communication, in whatever form, would have been resisted by him. He drew no conclusion unfavourable to anybody, for he was quite sure the communications had been made with the best and most honourable intentions. The dates of those transactions were again referred to: the noble Lord opposite had said, that the 119 first communication with Mr. O'Connell took place on the 20th of June. He could not answer for the accuracy of that date, but he could answer for it that up to the 23rd of June, when he received the Lord-lieutenant's letter of the 21st, he had no idea whatever that any difference would arise in the Cabinet on the introduction of the Coercion Bill, which had been agreed to, subject only to the omission of the Courts-martial clauses. The subject had been discussed, and the result was, that the Bill should be introduced without those clauses, but that its remaining provisions were to stand. The date of his communication with the Attorney General he could recollect from a particular circumstance. He saw the learned Gentleman at the drawing-room on the 19th, where he directed him to draw the Bill in the best way he could, omitting only the Court-martial clauses, so as to have as little difficulty as possible in the discussions on the measure. These were the plain facts of the case, and his retirement had been produced by the reasons with which the House was acquainted. He had stated, that he had long felt a wish to withdraw from office, and that those transactions only hastened that event by at most a few months, if not weeks. He felt the difficulty in which his Majesty was placed, and the great importance of his noble friend (Lord Althorp) continuing a member of the Government, on account of that noble Lord's influence in the House of Commons. When, therefore, it was proposed, that the Government should be re-constructed, he did all he could to smooth the difficulties, and overcome the repugnance of his noble friend to continue in office. He represented to his noble friend, that in the discharge of a public duty he might be exposed to much obloquy and misrepresentation, but that at the earnest desire of his Sovereign, and his country, he was bound to incur the risk, and not to prevent the reconstruction of the Government by his refusal to remain in office. His noble friend consented to remain where he was, subject to the false impression which his conduct would excite in those who looked only at the surface of such transactions. No man was placed in a more difficult situation than his noble friend—no man had less desire of office, although it was possible vulgar minds might believe that he had remained in office improperly, notwith- 120 standing he was the first to resign. He represented to his noble friend, that it was his duty, at whatever risk, to continue to serve his Sovereign; and if there were blame to be attached to his noble friend for retaining his situation, he (Earl Grey) took his full share of the blame for having offered that counsel, which nothing would have induced him to offer, if he had not believed, in his conscience, that the country would sanction his noble friend's determination; and that he was not mistaken in this belief, the other House of Parliament had already afforded the proudest testimony. He thought it just to his noble friend, and those who were now his colleagues, to state thus much, and he did not know that it was necessary for him to add more, except in reference to the particular Motion before the House. But, upon that point, it was not necessary for him to say much, for even the noble Lord opposite had admitted that, under the circumstances of the case, the Motion ought not to be pressed. This was entirely a private letter, it was in his possession; nobody had a right to require its production; and he could not consent to give it up without the sanction of the noble Marquess, the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland. The noble Viscount, now at the head of the Government, had well and justly stated, that to call for the production of this communication, would be to violate the confidence necessarily reposed by public men in each other. It was said, however, that this letter was now made the foundation of a new Bill. He did not see how that appeared from anything that had transpired in those discussions. He had not heard it so stated. Ministers did not suggest that the altered measure—(an alteration which he regretted, thinking that the clauses to be omitted were the most valuable parts of the Bill)—was founded on the letter of the 21st of June; but it was stated, that in consequence of a communication, which never ought to have been made beyond the four walls of the Cabinet, Government was placed in a situation which rendered it impossible to carry the original Bill in the Commons. On that, general ground, Ministers stated, that they had been obliged to take a course which he exceedingly regretted. He deeply regretted the consequences which that step would produce. He felt, however, that those consequences were not attributable to any fault of his; and 121 he really thought that the most becoming course for their Lordships to pursue, and indeed the most constitutional, was, as his Majesty had formed an Administration, to wait and see what that Administration was prepared to do before they proceeded to embarrass its operations. There might be cases in which, from the situation of the country, and from the character of the Administration, it might be expedient to embarrass the progress of the Administration; but even in those cases the most manly and patriotic course was to Address the King to remove his Ministers. But in a case of this nature, it was not right to call for papers which were not essential to the consideration of the matter then before their Lordships. When this Bill should come to their Lordships from the House of Commons, then would be the time for their Lordships to ask for the production of documents; but from the mere declaration of Ministers, that it was their intention to frame their Bill in a certain form, it was not justifiable for their Lordships to call for the documents on which the declaration of Ministers was founded. If this Motion should go to a division, he should certainly vote against it, if for no other reason, at least for this—to preserve inviolate confidential communications; for if the whole of the correspondence which was now called for were to be published to-morrow, lie should not have the slightest objection, so far as he was himself personally concerned in it.
The Earl of Wicklow
would not have intruded upon the attention of their Lordships, had it not been for an observation which had fallen from the noble Earl who had just sat down. But as the noble Earl had alluded to a statement which he had made upon a former evening, he felt bound to admit, that the view which the noble Earl had taken of these transactions was die correct view. But when he (Lord Wicklow) recollected the statement which the noble Earl originally made—when he recollected, that the noble Earl on that occasion had abstained from the statement which he had just made, that the communication of the intentions of the Cabinet proceeded from good motives—when he further recollected, that the noble Earl had stated, that that communication had been made without his consent or privity, when he coupled that circumstance with the consequent resignation of the noble Earl and with the language of his noble 122 colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the other House, as made public in the newspapers of the next day, in which the noble Lord was made to say, "Private and confidential communications from the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland to an individual member of the Cabinet brought the subject again under the consideration of the Cabinet,"—when he coupled all these circumstances with the statement of the noble Earl, he felt that he was justified in believing, that the communication had come from a member of the Cabinet, and that it had been made in a way which warranted him in supposing, that one of the Cabinet had betrayed the principal member of it. Such certainly hail been his opinion, and until he heard the statement made that evening by the noble Earl, to which he gave, as he was bound, the most implicit confidence, he had continued to retain that opinion. Besides, public rumour and private conversation did not fail to attach the charge of treachery to one particular member of the Cabinet. He had but one other observation to offer upon the question at that moment before their Lordships. The noble Earl thought that this Motion was not based upon just grounds; but it appeared to him, that the noble Baron had called for the document on one ground that was just and substantial, and that was, that the measures of the Administration were founded upon it. That circumstance rendered a private document a public document, for on it was built a great and important public measure. Such was the statement made yesterday by different members of his Majesty's Government. There was another reason, as it appeared to him, why this correspondence should be applied for,—and that was the consideration due to the reputation of Lord Wellesley. How did the character of that noble Marquess stand at present? The public had seen the official documents bearing his signature on which application for the powers of this Bill had been made; and yet their Lordships were now told, that the noble Marquess had changed all the opinions which he had with great deliberation expressed, in a manner and with a rapidity that was not only extraordinary, but almost miraculous. It was, therefore, only due to the noble Marquess, that their Lordships should, in case the noble Earl opposite persisted in his refusal to produce this Letter, entreat that noble personage 123 to lay a copy of it on their table; and not only to lay a copy of that Letter on their table, but also, for his own credit sake, to lay a copy of the Letters which had drawn from him that extraordinary document. Though he did not suppose, that this Motion would be persevered in, after the speech of the noble Earl opposite, still he did hope that, as the noble Viscount had declared, that the publication of this Letter would be beneficial to the cause of the present Administration, they would be led to apply to the noble Marquess for his leave to give it publicity. The noble Earl opposite, with a consistency for which, much as he differed in politics from the noble Earl, he had always given him full credit, had stated that evening, that his opinions respecting the necessity of passing the Coercion Bill with all its former clauses except the court-martial clause, remained to this moment unchanged. He knew not how the noble Earl, so long as he retained the least sense of propriety, could venture to state that they were changed. But how different had been the conduct of the noble Earl from that of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack! On the occasion when the noble Earl delivered his reasons for differing from his noble relative as to the propriety of expunging the three clauses from the Coercion Bill, the noble Lord on the Woolsack had urged in still more forcible language the same reasons. "If I am bound," said the noble and learned lord, "to suspend to this extent those rights, as regards what are called predial outrages and popular commotions, have I any right to draw the line in justice to those who call for protection, or consistently with the nature of the measure itself—have I any right to draw the line, and take that distinction for which my noble friend has contended? Shall I say I will put down disturbance in the country, but should dangerous meetings take place in towns, I will not meddle with them? I will bear with the whole weight of my loins on the peasant, but I will not lay the weight of my little finger on those who, whether right or wrong, from principle or otherwise, actuated by levity or by enthusiasm, wish, year after year, foolishly and mischievously to agitate an already settled question." The noble and learned Lord was reported to have proceeded in the following stain:—"Could he, then, when he saw that their conduct, and the course which their opinions led 124 them to take, had a tendency to increase excitement—had a tendency to nourish, propagate, and generalize the flame of local agitation—could he stop short, and not seek a remedy for this evil? If he saw things in the light which he had described, must he not address his attention to the cause of excitement, as well as to the parties excited?" How, then, he asked, did it happen that the noble and learned Lord did not now address his attention to the cause of excitement as well as to the parties excited? Why did he abandon that which he had before proclaimed to be his duty? And why, above all, did he bear with the whole weight of his loins on the peasant, whilst he did not lay even the weight of his little finger on those who excited him to insubordination and violence? Was it that he might hold his place with greater ease and advantage to himself? In his opinion the character of the Ministry would be materially affected by the whole proceedings connected with the alterations made in the Bill.
The Lord Chancellor
I see that we are approaching the conclusion of this debate, on which I am sure that my noble friend will not give us the trouble of dividing, as every one must see, that in calling on the Crown to produce this letter my noble friend is calling upon the Crown to do one of two things—either to say that no such letter is in possession of any public department, or to violate private confidence, which the Crown has no more right to do than it has to search into the muniments and depositories of any of your Lordships. I do not rise at present to add to this discussion, but merely to enter my protest, my decided protest, against the allegations of inconsistency which the noble Earl, with his usual courtesy, has thought it becoming in him and consistent with facts to make against the members of the present Administration. Whenever this Bill shall come to us from the other House of Parliament—whenever it shall come to us without the other clauses, of which the noble Earl is so marvellously enamoured—whenever I am found to support that Bill, then will be the time, the proper and constitutional time, for the noble Earl to call upon me to explain why my opinions have changed, supposing that they have changed, since I delivered the speech to which he has alluded. The noble Earl assumes, that I shall be in favour of the Bill. The noble Earl assumes, 125 that I have agreed to the omission of his three favourite clauses. All that I stated on a former night was, that I had consented to the withdrawing of the present Bill, and to the introduction of another Bill elsewhere; and the noble Earl may anticipate, if he pleases, that I shall support it, if it do not contain the clauses to which he has alluded. Is there any inconsistency in that, now that you are informed of the real grounds of the change, and that it was not occasioned by the letter of June last, as you have heard in the speech just delivered by my noble friend lately at the head of the Government—a speech of which, as your Lordships heard it, I shall say no more than this, in which I am sure, that your Lordships and all my countrymen wilfully concur—that it was a speech well worthy of my noble friend himself, and in saying so, I bestow on it the loftiest eulogy which human tongue can bestow—a speech dictated by feelings of honour the most pure—by a spirit of disinterestedness the most rare and exalted—a speech showing his zeal for his country and his generous goodwill for that Administration which he has unfortunately for that country quitted? In that speech my noble friend stated to you, that it was not in consequence of the letter written in June last, that the change was made. For why? We were in possession of that letter when the Bill was introduced. But it was the disclosure of the contents of that letter, which took place soon afterwards in the manner which your Lordships have heard described, that rendered it hopeless for us to carry that Bill through the other House of Parliament with those clauses inserted in it; and my noble friend now admits that point, whilst he suggests that in his view those clauses were the most important part of that Bill. Now, I beg leave to affirm, that I never at any time went that length. I said, that these clauses were an important part of the Bill, and undoubtedly they are important, and it is manifestly unjust to leave the agitators of the town out of the reach of the Bill, while you press heavily on those who are guilty of predial outrages, the insurgents of the country. Nevertheless, as accidents have rendered it impossible to proceed with the Bill whilst it retains those clauses, I hope that your Lordships will not forget that my noble friend, impressed as he is with the importance of passing this Bill in all its force, has this night 126 frankly, honestly, candidly, generously, and manfully avowed, that he approves of the course which the present Government has taken.
The Duke of Buckingham
asked, did he comprehend rightly, that the cause of the change in the particulars of the Bill was owing to the confidence placed by Mr. Littleton in Mr. O'Connell, and that owing to that misplaced confidence his Majesty's Ministers had failed in carrying the Bill? If he had understood the noble Earl rightly, that the change in the opinion Of the Cabinet had been produced by Mr. Littleton's communication to Mr. O'Connell, he must repeat the question which had been asked last night—was Mr. Littleton still Secretary for Ireland?
, in reply, said, that, although he was quite ready to believe, that no injury would accrue to the Government from the production of this letter, he felt that it was impossible to persist in demanding it after the declaration of the noble Earl opposite, that it was strictly a private letter. With regard to the observations made by the noble Earl about embarrassing the Government, he had only this to say, that he agreed with the noble Earl in thinking, that the proper time for moving for the necessary papers was when the Bill had come up to them from the other House. It was now the 18th of July, and before this Bill could come to them from the other House, the Session would be still further advanced, when an adequate discussion on this subject could not be expected in this House. He was aware of the difficulties by which the Government was surrounded; but he should not have satisfied his sense of duty as a Peer had he embarrassed the Government more than he could avoid by bringing forward this Motion. In conclusion, he expressed his intention to withdraw it.
§ Motion withdrawn.