§ Mr. Grey
rose, and, after stating his reluctance to take any step at all inconsistent with the most perfect liberty of the press, called the attention of the house to one of the most indecent libels on the procedings of that house, which it had ever been his province to notice. It was, indeed, a libel of so gross a nature, that the house, in consistency with its own dignity, could not suffer it to pass over, without at strong expression of indignation against such an attack on a solemn decision of the legislature. The hon. member then read the following paragraph from "the Oracle" of yesterday. The article is prefaced by a statement that sir Charles Middleton was appointed first lord of the admiralty While we announce this arrangement as the proper reward of public and private virtue, we cannot help sincerely regretting, that party rancour and popular clamour have at this time deprived our king and country of the great and powerful abilities of lord Melville. In no period of our political history can we find such an instance of the strong effects of prejudice. With all our profound respect for the motives which influenced the majority of the house of commons—with all our admiration of that spirit which arouses and animates the people in their expressions of indignation at the supposed malver- 382 sations of an Individual—with all our regard for town and country meetings when properly directed in supporting the cause of independence, freedom, and public virtue—we cannot help again and again declaring, that lord Melville has fallen a victim to confidence misplaced; to prejudice misjudged, and to indignation misapplied. He has been condemned without a trial. When an appeal has been offered to his intemperate judges—when a request has been made to put him on his defence—when it has been earnestly solicited to give him a fair and a candid hearing, and then to come to a decision on the merits of the case—a strong and presumtuous negative has been given, directed and enforced by the violence of the times."—The hon. gent. proceeded to move "that the printer and publisher" should be called to the bar of the house." The clerk taking up the paper in question, ascertained that the printer and publisher was Mr. Peter Stuart, of Fleet-street; and on the suggestion of the speaker, the passage complained of was again read at the table.—As soon as Mr. Grey's motion was put from the chair,
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
rose, and spoke as follows: I certainly do allow, sir, that the passage now read is libellous and indecent; but, if we are now to begin to turn our attention to every thing of a libellous and indecent tendency, which appears in the public newspapers, I hope at least we shall observe the strictest impartiality. It is not the first time that we have heard of libellous, licentious, and unwarrantable observations in newspapers, even on the proceedings of this house, and we have seen them altogether overlooked. If gentlemen have now, however, made up their minds that such licentiousness of the press is not to be tolerated; if they are resolved that malignant remarks, whenever they appear derogatory to the dignity of this house, shall meet with marks of our indignation, I am satisfied. All that I ask is, that we shall not select one instance for punishment, while we allow many others to pass with impunity. I certainly do not oppose the motion.
§ Mr. Grey.
—The right hon. gent. has allowed that the passage which I have thought it my duty to bring before the house, is both libellous and indecent, and he has no objection to the Motion which 383 I have proposed. He says, however, that he wishes this not to be a particular instance selected for party motives, but a part of a general system of inquiry. To this I can have no sort of objection, for I have selected this case merely because it struck me as one which it was the imperious duty of this House to take under their special cognizance. The present instance was one which appeared to me right and proper to be selected, and on that account only have I brought it under the consideration of the house.—The right hon. gent. has alluded to cases of libels on this house which were overlooked. If he did know of such cases it was his duty to have specified them, and if they did not meet with adequate punishment, he has no one to blame but himself. Those who did see such libels and who did not specify them in this house, were certainly deficient in respect to that dignity in all its proceedings, without which the honour and the importance of this house could not be maintained. If any man has seen and felt that our proceedings have been calumniated, and has not moved for the punishment of the libeller, he has not done his duty. We must see that our decisions are treated with proper respect, or else our character is destroyed. It is therefore on a principle of regard for our public utility that I think the present motion necessary, and I trust the house will act on the same principles.
§ Mr. Fox.
—I certainly do agree with the right hon. gent. opposite, that in a business of this nature, the strictest impartiality is our duty. I differ with him, however, as to the particular period when my hon. friend near me has brought forward his motion. When we talk of the propriety of such motions, I hope we shall not lose sight of the particular circumstances and the particular time under which they are produced. It is the duty of this house at all times to be jealous of its honour, but this is a period when this jealousy ought to be the most active. A late decision of this house has diffused universal gratitude throughout the country, and it is our duty to see that this decision shall not be wantonly attacked and insulted. It is the more necessary, sir, for us to see that our resolution is properly respected, when we find men in high official situations endeavouring to act as the protectors of those condemned of the grossest malversations. When we see evident signs of reluctance to 384 have delinquents brought to punishment, is it not our province to teach those who libel our proceedings, that they shall not do so with impunity? We have voted certain resolutions on which his majesty's servants have not hitherto thought it their duty to take the least proceedings.—The right hon. gent. opposite, the treasurer of the navy, even continues in office, a man whom the commissioners of naval enquiry have declared unworthy of acting in any pecuniary situation, since, he refused to answer questions essentially connected with the object of their investigations. If ever then, sir, it was fit for the house of commons to be jealous of its honour and dignity, surely this is the period when our calls to jealousy are greatly increased. The very strength and efficacy of our late resolutions must depend on the measures which we now form, not as against an individual, but for the support of the character of the house of commons. I therefore entirely coincide in the motion of my honourable friend who introduced this business, while it is impossible to disagree with the right hon. gent. opposite, that in all cases of a similar kind, we ought to proceed with the greatest fairness and impartiality. As a general principle, indeed, I lay it down that, independent of all party considerations, whenever gross or indecent attacks are made on the proceedings of this house, they ought to be punished with suitable severity. I therefore cordially vote for the motion.
§ Mr. Canning.
—The allusions which the hon. gent. has made to my conduct, renders it necessary to say a few words in reply. The hon. gent., sir, has represented it to be an aggravation of this libel, that Mr. Wilson has been continued in my office after the opinion of this house had been formally declared. [A general cry of No, No, from the opposite side of the house.] With all due deference to the hon. gent.'s logic, I think it is, in this instance, altogether erroneous. It is, indeed, a most extraordinary position, that, because other persons had been guilty of improper acts, the author of the libel, who knows nothing of the matter, is to have a severer punishment. I wish, sir, the honourable gentleman had considered the matter a little better, and then, I am confident, he could not easily reconcile such ideas, either with logic or humanity. With regard to this Mr. Wilson, it is necessary for me to declare that I entertain for him no individual 385 concern or regard. In retaining him in the situation which he now holds, I looked only to the equity of the business. I could not reconcile it to my ideas of justice to dismiss one against whom no decision of this house had taken place; against whom no proof of criminality, so far as the use of the public money is concerned, has been even attempted to be established. He indeed refused to answer certain questions from the commissioners of naval enquiry, but on what grounds did his refusal rest? It was expressly under the idea that his answers would subject him to certain pains and penalties; not that he participated of any money improperly applied, but that he acted as the deputy of a person whom a vote of the house had declared guilty of a misapplication of the public money. In all these transactions Wilson was merely the deputy, merely the instrument to carry forward the designs of another. True it is, he filled up drafts in the absence of his principal, but it was impossible for him, while he continued in the office, to refuse such an employment. He might indeed have resigned, but nothing short of this could have superseded the necessity of the conduct to which so much blame is now attached. Having then officiated as a deputy, Wilson very naturally refused to answer questions to which he knew that punishment might be applicable, and to which, under a clause of an express act, he was entitled to refuse any reply. Surely, sir, it will not be contended by the gentlemen on the other side, that the clause, under which Wilson refused to answer the commissioners, was intended to be an absolute nullity. It was certainly intended for some purpose, or it never have been adopted. It was designed for the protection of those who, though conscious of no moral delinquency, might, under particular circumstances, have been guilty of a legal crime. Such was exactly the situation in which Wilson stood in the whole of this business. Looking to the transaction a moral view, looking to him as not deriving the slightest advantage from misapplication of the public money, he had no more to do with it than the pen which he used, than the very ink which he used for those drafts by which the transfer was effected. Let me remind the house too, that the clause was not introduced into the bill on light authority. I contended for it strenuously here, but my exertions were not crowned 386 with success. In the other house of parliament, however, it was introduced on the suggestion of the lord chancellor, and when I have said this, I have surely said enough to shew that the clause was not meant to be an idle, unmeaning provision; but an active, positive regulation, on which every individual appearing before the commissioners had a fair right to act. Wilson did take advantage of the clause, and in so doing, only did what almost any man would have done under such circumstances. Though only himself an instrument, he was sensible that his answers might bring him into an unpleasant situation, which therefore he prudently avoided. In such conduct there was no criminality, since, while the individual exercised a right which the law allowed him, the public sustained no loss. This, sir, is the view which the best consideration of the subject has suggested, and, acting on these principles, I have not thought it my duty to dismiss Mr. Wilson from the situation which he holds in my office. This house has hitherto decided nothing on the case of Wilson, and, therefore, I have not felt it my duty to dismiss him from his present employment. When the house does express such a determination, it will undoubtedly be my duty to bow to it with all suitable respect; but, till that opinion is expressed, I shall continue to follow that line of conduct which appears to me alike consistent with justice and humanity. I am sensible, that in following this course, I subject myself to a great deal of odium and abuse. My conduct is ascribed to the most dishonourable motives; my refusal to dismiss Wilson is branded with the opprobrious epithet of protection of convicted guilt. Seeing the matter, however, as I now see it, I shall endure all this odium and reproach. When this house shall declare their opinion fairly, it will be my duty to submit to it; till that period arrives, Wilson shall not, in the absence of any proof of his guilt, be dismissed from his situation. I shall never, either by my voice or by my conduct, patronize the tyrannical, despotic principle of punishment previous to conviction. Having said so much in answer to the hon. member opposite, I have only to say, that I shall not oppose the motion.
§ Mr. Fox,
in explanation, maintained that the right hon. gent. had totally misrepresented his argument. He had not asserted that the conduct of the right hon. gent. as treasurer of the navy, was any 387 aggravation of the particular libel in question, but he insisted that the particular circumstances in which the house were placed, rendered it highly necessary to watch over the dignity and honour of their proceedings, and not permit them wantonly either to be opposed or insulted. In alluding to the case of Wilson, he had meant clearly to explain to the house his opinion, that when men in high offices in the state, acted as the protectors of those against whom strong accusations existed, it became a matter of necessity that every attack on the character of the house, should be carefully looked to and signally punished. As he was up, he could not help remarking, that there was a very great distinction betwixt the right of a person to refuse answering certain questions before parliamentary commissioners, and the propriety of continuing those persons in office after such a refusal had taken place. It was surely a strong proof that all was not right when an individual was afraid of the consequences arising from a plain question, and yet it was to such a plain question that Wilson refused to give a direct answer.
The Attorney General
rose, not, as he declared, to trouble the house with many observations. There were, however, a few remarks which he thought it his duty to throw out, in consequence of what had fallen from the gentlemen on the other side of the house. He confessed he was not surprised that the hon. mover thought this the most favourable moment for bringing forward the libel in question to the attention of the house. The opportunity was favourable, when the hon. gent. found himself in a majority on a great question, but he hoped, as his right hon. friend near him had said, that when such motions were brought forward they would be conducted with impartiality. Though he certainly did not mean directly to oppose the motion, he did not wish the house to be taken by surprise, and therefore he suggested to the hon. gent. that he should only in the mean time give it in the form of a notice, that thus all the members might have an opportunity of fully considering the nature of the passage in question. He thought it would be more consistent with the dignity of the proceedings of the horse to act with this degree of temper ward moderation. It was of importance to ascertain whether the libel was of that magnitude and importance as to 388 make it a fair subject of prosecution, and if it really was of that magnitude it was surely expedient that any proceedings consequent on it should not be carried by acclamation. As the affair now stood, to agree immediately to the hon. gent.'s motion, would carry with it an air of precipitation which he wished to mark no part of the proceedings of the house. These observations he applied to the motion immediately before the house, but it was necessary for him to advert to other topics, which had been introduced into the debate. He thought his right hon. friend, the treasurer of the navy, had been very unjustly attacked for retaining Wilson in his situation. Doubtless, Wilson was legally guilty; but he was morally innocent, and therefore in refusing to discharge Wilson, his right hon. friend drew the proper distinction. Wilson refused to answer certain questions, but in this no criminality was established. He acted under an express clause of an act of parliament, and he was besides protected by that general benevolent provision of our common law, that no man is bound to give evidence against himself, and that no judge has a right to enforce questions from winch punishment of a very severe nature may arise. The house would recollect the circumstances under which this clause was introduced. He had himself thought it unnecessary on the precise principle which he had now stated, that the humane spirit of our laws rendered it superfluous. Being introduced, however, it was surely no matter of guilt that it was acted on, and yet for the very act of Wilson, in availing himself of it; gentlemen blamed his right hon. friend for not dismissing him. With what justice this was done, he left it to the fair judgment of the house to decide; the legislature meant the clause as a clause of protection, and now the house were to be told, that the use of it was a proof of criminality. The legislature never could have such an object in view and, therefore, Wilson was not, from his silence, to be presumed guilty.
without opposing the motion, rose principally with the view of vindicating the conduct of his right hon. friend the treasurer of the navy, from the aspersions which had been thrown out against him in the course of the evening. He thought his conduct respecting Wilson was, in the highest degree, commendable, and afforded a striking contrast to the conduct pursued by a 389 pay-master of the forces at a distance of time of rather more than thirty years. He himself at that time did belong to the treasury, and therefore what he was about to state was the more to be relied on. He recollected that two officers in the paymaster's office were found guilty of gross fraud on the office with which they were connected. This appeared on a solemn examination by the lords of the treasury, who accordingly ordered them to be dismissed, and actions were instituted against them to recover their illegal gains in a court of law. One of them died before this process could be accomplished, but the survivor was actually cast in an action, and was confined in the King's Bench prison. A change of administration took place, and those defaulters were actually re-placed. He recollected that an hon. gent. opposite (Mr. Fox), who was now so clamorous against the continuance of Wilson in his situation, was violent against a proposition for condemning them, declaring, as far as he could remember, "Gracious God, will you condemn people without hearing them? Will you suppose them guilty without even listening to any proofs of their innocence?" He wished to know, then, on what principles the hon. gent. could reconcile his present conduct with his former appeals in favour of justice and humanity.
§ Mr. Fox,
in explanation, professed that he had not at that time a perfect recollection of the transaction to which time hon member alluded. If he recollected right, however, the two persons were, at the time the vote passed in the house, actually sub judice. If, however, the hon. member had any wish to push the matter farther, he, for his part, was ready to discuss it on another occasion in all its features and relations.
§ Sir Charles Pole.
—The right hon. gent. the present treasurer of the navy, thought proper to assert on a former occasion, that certain explanations were given by Wilson to the commissioners, which satisfied them of the manner in which he had conducted himself during the examination. Now, sir, it is proper for me to state, that no such explanations ever took place, and so much the reverse of being satisfied were the commissioners, that they almost take shame to themselves for not ordering him to prison for the manner in which he gave his evidence. I think it necessary for me to make this declaration, standing as I do 390 in the character of a servant of the public; and certainly such conduct as Wilson's on his examination before us is much to be condemned. If questions are put, and answers are thus to be refused—if inquiries respecting the application or mismanagement of the public money are to be trifled with, there is no utility in appointing commissioners of naval or military enquiry. We have the head of a board who refuses us all information—we come to the deputy, and he is equally silent—and thus may we go through the whole range, and still no satisfaction is obtained. Wishing, then, that these difficulties should be removed, the commissioners certainly never can express themselves satisfied with the manner in which Wilson eluded their investigations. Thus much have I felt it my duty to say respecting this part of the subject; and before I sit down, I shall add an observation or two respecting the conduct of the right hon. treasurer of the navy. I do say then, and say it with confidence, that the right hon, gent. did not give our inquiries all those facilities which might have been expected. We did encounter difficulties of a pretty formidable kind, to which the dilatory proceedings of that right hon. gent. did not a little contribute.
§ Mr. Canning.
—I feel myself, sir, so personally alluded to by the hon. baronet, that I trust I shall be excused in rising again. I never stated that the commissioners of naval enquiry were, by means of subsequent information, satisfied with respect to the conduct of Wilson; what I said was, that the explanation given to me upon the subject would, I was confident, have satisfied the commissioners with respect to the person alluded to. I wish, however, to know whether the commissioners have reported the whole of the statement given in evidence by Mr. Wilson, aye or no? (Sir Charles Pole answered yes.) Mr. Canning was proceeding, when he was interrupted by
§ Mr. Plumer,
who begged leave to remind the right hon. gent. that the regular way of conducting business, was to address the chair, instead of that sort of imperious catechising in which the right hon. gent. seemed so desirous to indulge.
§ Mr. Canning
again proceeded: I ask, sir, of the hon. baronet, whether the commissioners of naval enquiry have reported the whole of the correspondence which took place between them and the treasurer of the navy, aye or no? (Sir Charles Pole said, no.) I know, sir, they have not, and 391 I shall to-morrow move for the whole of that correspondence, or at least such parts of it as are not contained in the report of the commissioners.
§ Sir Charles Pole
The commissioners of naval enquiry reported, sir, all the answers made by Wilson. With respect to the correspondence with the treasurer of the navy there is no objection to produce it; the only reason why the commissioners did not state the whole of it was their desire not to overload the report.
Dr. Laurence defended Mr. Burke's
conduct, in re-instating Messrs. Bembridge and Powell. He complimented the speaker, whom he considered as the abstract essence of public virtue, on the truly patriotic and constitutional vote which he gave on a former evening. He could by no means approve of the mode proposed by the Attorney-General, to defer the motion until the house should have regained its proper tone of moderation; it was nothing more than a project of the first law officer of the crown, to get rid of the question entirely. He had serious objections to the conduct of the right hon. gent. (Mr. Canning,) who had taken the word of Mr. Wilson against the report of the commissioners of naval enquiry, and who, instead of facilitating, as he should have done, the enquiry, had thrown obstacles, altogether unexpected, in the way of the commissioners.
§ Mr. Canning
maintained his right to put the question with respect to Mr. Wilson, by the information he had: he defended the questions he had put, with respect to himself, by what he knew of his own knowledge. He begged his hon. and learned friend to suspend his judgment till he should have seen the whole correspondence, which he would not have wished to bring forward, if he did not think it would clear his conduct.
observed, that some topics, certainly not in an immediate manner connected with the question before the house, had been alluded to in the course of the debate. The learned doctor had reproached his right hon. friend near him, with catechising and putting questions to the hon. admiral who was at the head of the commission; but it could not be out of the recollection of the house, that his right hon. friend had been pretty smartly attacked, and was therefore in some measure called upon to make a reply. He had been severely attacked, or at least severe allusions had been made to the subject of his 392 correspondence with the commissioners. He felt that he was bound to stand forward in his own defence, and he did ask whether the whole of his correspondence had been stated in the report? The answer was, "No," and the house would judge whether, in such case, his right hon. friend had not some claim to their indulgence. It had been said that his right hon. friend had withheld from the commissioners papers which it was necessary for them to possess, in order to prosecute their inquiry with success. If he (Mr. Gibbs) recollected the report as far as it touched upon this affair, it went merely to shew that his right hon. friend had objected to certain forms of proceeding, and had taken the advice of counsel whether he was bound to comply wtih the demands of the commissioners in this respect. He did not question the propriety of the demand of the commissioners, but had merely had a view to the practicability of complying with it in consistency with a proper regard to the conveniency of the public service. All the accounts, however, had been made out but one, and the papers had been presented to the commission. But from the manner in which gentlemen spoke of the act of parliament, and from the circumstance of one of the commissioners having stated that they took shame to themselves for not having imprisoned Mr. Wilson, one would think that persons were speaking of different acts. A clause had been introduced into this act, by which no person was bound to criminate himself. Yet it was contended, that those ought to be imprisoned who refused to answer questions that had this very tendency [gestures of dissent from the other side]. He was always very happy to be corrected if he was wrong, and from the gestures which he observed, he was inclined to think that he was mistaken. But he had certainly understood, that this was the meaning of what had been stated. But what was the use of this clause, if it were not intended that persons should avail themselves of it? Upon their construction, it would be entirely nugatory, for the moment an answer was refused upon its authority, guilt was to be presumed. He could by no means take upon himself to say that under no circumstance could a person incur any legal guilt without having derived any private advantage from the circumstance he meant to conceal. Undoubtedly it might be possible to incur guilt by endeavouring to shelter others, and in vari- 393 ous other ways; but he would be glad to know, how it was possible to take advantage of, this clause, and shelter himself under it, except by refusing to answer such questions as might involve him in pains and penalties? What explanation could he give? He could not enter upon explanations, because that, in effect, would be exposing himself to the very charge which he wished to avoid. But there was another thing to which he wished to advert: his right hon. friend had been accused of braving the house of commons; but surely, Mr. Wilson was not to be confounded with those on whom the house of commons had already passed a vote of censure. If these resolutions did not touch upon Mr. Wilson, how could his right. hon. friend be said to brave the house of commons? From the gestures on the other side, it appeared that he might be mistaken.
§ Mr. Fox
here interrupted the hon. and learned gent. and said that he could not be explaining every moment; but that, in the present instance, he had not said that the right hon. gentleman had braved the house of commons. He had only said that he had braved the opinion of the house of commons, and he would now go farther, and say, that he had braved the legislature.
The Solicitor General
in continuation, expressed his surprize how that conduct could be called braving the legislature which had been expressly sanctioned by an act of the legislature. Who had braved the legislature? Not his right hon. friend, for he had only refused to remove from his office a person who had taken advantage of a clause in an act which the legislature had passed. Was it he who availed himself of the provision in the act that had braved the legislature? could understand any thing but that.
§ Sir Charles Pole
submitted it to the house whether the commission would not have attempted, in vain, to accomplish the ends for which they were instituted, while the person who was at the head of the office into the abuses of which they were enquiring, refused to them the means of information they called for. He denied that he had employed any unnecessary warmth. This was the first time that he had in the house given his opinion of the Tenth Report, and what he had said was from conviction, and not from any motives of personal hostility to the right hon. treasurer of the navy.
Best thought the conduct of the treasurer of the navy, in not discharging Wilson, highly reprehensible. It had been argued that Wilson merely acted according to the instructions of Trotter, as if this were any excuse for his conduct. If he had acted properly, he ought to have disclosed the nefarious proceedings which were going forward, and by such a disclosure much of the evil which was now brought to light would never have been accomplished. It was also contended that Wilson, in availing himself of the clause in the act, not to answer questions to criminate himself, did only what was naturally to be expected. This, however, had nothing to do with the question, since nobody doubted his right to avail himself of the clause, if he thought his conduct required it. What was complained of, however, and with justice, was, that the treasurer of the navy retained in his office a person who had refused to answer some questions which an innocent man could have answered with the greatest safety. If a person had a servant, or a steward, and wished to ask some questions respecting the state of his, affairs, and could obtain no satisfactory answer, what would be his conduct? He might think it very right for the servant not to answer questions to criminate himself, but he would also think it highly necessary to dismiss one from his employment who had such extraordinary secrets. The learned serjeant also condemned severely the conduct of the Treasurer of the navy for the difficulties which he had thrown in the way of the enquiries of the commissioners. It was as far back as the tenth of. last July that the commissioners issued a precept to the treasurer of the navy, calling on him to produce certain papers, and it was not a little singular that two months elapsed before any answer was returned. What, in the mean time, was the conduct of the treasurer of the navy? Why truly, he could make no return to the commissioners till he had taken the advice of majesty's attorney did solicitor general. This the learned gent. maintained, was to the commissioners as acting under the express sanction parliament, extremely indecent and disrespectful. The treasurer of the navy, if he laboured under any difficulty how to act, ought to have applied to the commissioners for advice and instruction. It was not unknown to the house, that one of the commissioners was a member of the 395 profession to which he had the honour to belong, and certainly, with all due deference to the attorney and solicitor general, his opinion was as greatly to be respected on all constitutional points as theirs possibly could be. The treasurer of the navy was culpable then for not applying to those whom parliament had invested with vast powers for the correction of enormous abuses. He put the case of a court of justice where certain important documents were to be procured. Here it would surely be strange if on an application for their production, a reference should be had, not to the court itself but to the crown lawyers. Not less extraordinary was the conduct of the treasurer of the navy. From July till October had elapsed to give time for the right hon. gent. to consult the attorney and solicitor general, and in the mean time no pains appeared to have been taken to procure the commissioners the information they required. Indeed, it appeared from the examination of Fennel, that though he was nominally employed to prepare the accounts, he was positively engaged in making out the accounts of lord Bayning, who had been out of office for 20 years. He was decidedly for the motion.
§ Mr. Robert Ward
denied that the treasurer of the navy had been backward to furnish information. He had, on the contrary, given every possible facility to the enquiries of the commissioners. He went over the same grounds which had been traced by those who spoke on the same side of the question. He wished particularly to know whether the hon. admiral was serious in his assertion that the commissioners took shame to themselves for not putting Wilson in prison in consequence of his evidence? If they were serious in this assertion, they were fit only to be Inquisitors, and not legal temperate commissioners. [Here there were loud and violent marks of disapprobation.] Returning to the question before the House, he conjured gentlemen to look at the question with moderation and temper. With this view, he thought the delay of a day would be highly expedient, and in the mean time he was desirous that the whole paragraph should be read by the clerk at the table. This was the more necessary, as the paragraph as read by the hon. mover did not form a whole.—The whole was read accordingly, and the following makes up the whole paragraph complained of: Those who were so very impatient to de- 396 prive Mr. Pitt of so able a coadjutor, were equally zealous in their endeavours to restore to the public the unaccounted millions of which that public has been so disgracefully robbed, there would perhaps be some excuse for all that affectation of public virtue which has lately distinguished certain bawling patriots of the day. Lord Melville has not deprived the public of a single farthing. His most implacable enemies have not dared to charge him with such an act. Can as much be said of the fathers of some men? If the public were paid its pecuniary claims, long since indisputably proved, certain furious patriots, instead of living in splendour, would be put on the parish. In the future resolutions of the house of commons, in the future resolutions of all public meetings, we hope that an immediate attention to the enormous debts still due to the public by certain noisy individuals will be strongly recommended."—As soon as the clerk had read this last paragraph,
§ Mr. Sheridan
rose only to make a few observations. It was the less necessary for him to enlarge, as the house seemed agreed on the general question. He had no wish to discover any improper degree of heat on this or any other occasion, though certainly the honourable member who had so earnestly recommended moderation, had little of it indeed in his practice. He was not in the house when the right hon. gent. opposite (Mr. Pitt) gave notice of his intention to move on Monday for leave to bring in a bill to extend the powers of the commissioners of naval enquiry. He was happy to hear of this notice, and more so from the quarter whence it proceeded. If, however, the powers of the commissioners were to be renewed, it was necessary that their characters should stand high with the house and the public, and that such insinuations as those which the honourable member had thrown out should be loudly refuted. If they deserved the character that had been given of them by the 397 learned gent. (Mr. Ward); if the hon. baronet at the head of the commission merited the observation of the learned gent., that he was not fit to be at the head of the commission, unquestionably if the commission was to be renewed, they ought not to be appointed on it. But, in order to vindicate the character of the commissioners from the effect of such insinuations, he felt it his duty to give notice, that on Wednesday next he should move the thanks of the house to the commissioners of naval enquiry.
Moore contended that the commissioners had not reported of Mr. Wilson his having refused to answer any questions that might criminate himself, because it appeared by the report, that when asked whether he had derived any profit from the use of the public money, he had positively declared that he had not. The report of the commissioners only charged him with having declined answering questions which, in being answered, would expose the guilt of others. He should ask the learned gent. opposite, whether, if a witness were to decline answering questions of that description in a cause before the King's Bench, he would not be committed to prison? As to the conduct of the right hon. the treasurer of the navy, it appeared that the first application had been made to him on the 10th of July, a second on the 17th, and no answer having been returned, a third application had been made on the 2d of Oct., and it was not till the 3d of Oct. that an answer had been returned, after he had taken the opinion of his majesty's attorney and solicitor general, whether he was bound by the act to obey the precept of the commissioners. He put it therefore to the good sense of the house, whether the right hon. gent. had accurately acquitted himself of his duty? When the right hon. gent. had been asked, on a former occasion, whether he had dismissed Mr. Wilson? it was his opinion, that the question ought to have been carried further, whether he had dismissed himself. For when a public officer opposed himself to an enquiry relating to the public money, for the purpose of sheltering the delinquents, his guilt was nearly equal to that of the man who declined answering lest he should criminate them. He was happy that his hon. friend had given notice of a motion of thanks to the commissioners; for of no other member 398 should bring the matter forward, it had been his intention to have given a similar notice previous to the adjournment.—The original motion was then put, and Mr. Peter Stuart was ordered to attend the house to-morrow.