§ Mr. Whitbread moved, that the engrossed articles of Impeachment against Henry lord viscount Melville, be read; which were read accordingly; on which the hon. member moved that they be carried to the lords:—Ordered. It was then ordered, on the motion of earl Temple, that Mr. Whitbread do carry the articles to the lords, which he instantly did, accompanied by many members; and on his return acquainted the house from the bar, that he had delivered the articles of Impeachment, pursuant to the order of the house, at the bar of the house of lords.
§ Mr. Whitbread, pursuant to notice, rose to move for leave to bring in a bill to continue the powers of the committee during the recess. In consequence of what he had before stated, it would be unnecessary for him to take up much of the time of the house. The measure he proposed was undoubtedly a deviation from the constitutional forms; but as every such deviation was justifiable, on the ground of the expediency that existed for it, the question then was whether such a degree of expediency existed in the present instance, as would justify such a deviation. Cases of impeachment had not frequently occurred, and when they did, it was on very grave and serious grounds.—The house of commons had voted an Impeachment in the present instance against Henry lord viscount Melville, and it would be to be regretted that the object of it should be defeated by any accident that might occur. The house was aware that the Impeachment had been voted at a late period of the session. The committee that had been appointed to draw up the articles of Impeachment, had set every day without intermission. Many witnesses remained yet to be examined, one of whom he had mentioned the preceding day. That person had since arrived from Scotland, and might undoubtedly be examined before the prorogation. But there were other witnesses from 807 that quarter, whom it would be desirable to examine as soon as possible. If the other house should agree to the indemnity bill, it would be desirable also to examine Mr. Trotter without delay. These were the grounds upon which the committee felt it their duty to submit this proposition to the house. If the house should agree to it, they would unquestionably grant large powers, which he was confident would be exercised with moderation. At the same time, if the house should not be disposed to grant these powers, it was not his intention to press the proposition. If any case should occur to defeat the proceedings already taken, neither the committee nor he would think they had discharged their duty, if they had not submitted such a proposition to the house. The hon. member them moved, that leave be given to bring in a bill, that the proceedings now pending before parliament for the Impeachment of lord Melville should be continued notwithstanding any prorogation or dissolution of parliament; and that the committee of Impeachment do continue to sit, notwithstanding any prorogation or dissolution of parliament.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer felt that it would be necessary for him to say but a very few words indeed, as the hon. gent. himself had admitted that his proposition was liable to grave objections; to him the objections seemed insurmountable. The motion, if a-agreed to, would amount to a direct inroad upon the constitution. Nothing could be more certain, than that his majesty possessed constitutionally the prerogative of putting an end to their deliberations, either by prorogation or dissolution, which would be virtually taken away by a measure of the nature of that proposed. There was not a single instance of a similar mode of proceeding, except in such periods of our history as the house would not be much inclined to draw into precedent. It was only for gave and weighty reasons that he could bring himself to object to any thing proposed for the purpose of promoting the views of the house in the present instance. But he felt that any degree of inconvenience that might be apprehended was better, than in order to obviate it to commit a breach of the principles of the constitution. He felt, therefore, that no ground had been laid for the measure, because the utmost inconvenience that could arise would be, that the committee could not continue their functions a few days longer now, but might employ themselves on the same subject a few days in the beginning of next session, because it was not to be supposed 808 that the house would proceed with the Impeachment in the earliest days after their meeting. The only question therefore was, whether the committee should sit a certain number of days at the commencement of next session, or the house should adopt a measure that would break down the barriers of the constitution.
§ Earl Temple agreed with his hon. friend (Mr. Whitbread), that this motion should not be pressed against the sense of the house; but did not think that his right hon. relation had stated the question fully. The question was not, whether they should have the power of examining now such witnesses as they might next session examine, but, if the other branches of the legislature should pass the indemnity bill, whether they should not have an opportunity of getting the evidence which that was calculated to procure, before any improper impressions should be made, that might interfere with it.
§ Mr. C. Wynne thought there was another inconvenience which might be remedied by the bill, and which had not been noticed by his noble relation. The death of Mr. Trotter might withdraw him altogether from examination, and if the committee were to have the benefit of his evidence immediately in the event of the bill passing, it might lead to other sources of information
§ Mr. Whitbread proposed that the objectionable part should be left out of his motion, and trusted that there would be no objection to pass a bill for continuing the proceeding already taken and now pending, notwithstanding any prorogation or dissolution of parliament, as in the case of Mr. Hasting's impeachment.
§ Lord Henry Petty accordingly moved the amendment, that the part of the motion which related to the sitting of the committee be left out; but on the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the motion was put in the exact terms of the precedent in Mr. Hastings's case, "for leave to bring in a bill to provide, that the proceedings now pending before parliament for the Impeachment of Henry lord viscount Melville shall not be discontinued notwithstanding any prorogation or dissolution of parliament."—The motion was agreed to, and the committee of Impeachment ordered to prepare and bring in the bill.
§ [CASE OF CAPTAIN WRIGHT.—Mr. Windham felt it to be his duty, previously to the separation of the house for the session, to recall to their recollection a subject of much interest, which he had twice before had occasion to mention, once at the close of the 809 last session and again at the commencement of the present. This was the case of Captain Wright, an officer who had been captured with his ship, when serving on the high seas in the regular course of his profession, and with his majesty's commission in his pocket. This was material to show that his case was not distinguished by any circumstances from that of the other prisoners of war; but the French emperor, it appeared, thought he had been employed on other services, as in landing men upon the coast of France, which placed him on a different footing from prisoners of war. When questioned on this head, Captain Wright very properly, and as might have been expected from men even far less determined than he, refused to give an answer though menaced, not obscurely, with proceedings that went to affect his life. Nothing so atrocious, however, had been perpetrated, but he had been committed a close prisoner to the temple, denied pen, ink, and paper, and excluded from all communication with persons without. The severity of the confinement there could be explained from experience by a gallant officer then in his eye (sir Sidney Smith), who had, after escaping confinement there, nobly revenged himself upon his oppressors by his illustrious exploits in the defence of Acre; exploits, he would venture to say, not to be exceeded by any thing which could be found in the naval or military annals of any country. As to the truth of the charge against Captain Wright, he thought it unnecessary to enquire into it; it being a matter of perfect indifference for the present purpose whether it was true or not. Nobody, he supposed, would contend, that to put on shore upon an enemy's coast persons meaning to excite commotion or insurrection, was contrary to the laws of war. If it was, what would become of all which the French had done during the course of the last war, in landing Tandy and others on the coast of Ireland? If men so landed were not of the nation on whose coast they landed, and yet did not avow themselves as enemies, they were liable to be treated as spies. If they were subjects of that nation, they might be treated as rebels or traitors: but neither in one case or the other, was there any ground for charging with a breach of the laws of war those by whom they were landed. The fact was, that the hostility of the French emperor to captain Wright arose from his having been the close friend and intimate associate of the gallant officer to whom he had before alluded. How captain Wright was to be relieved now, he could not say; and though that officer 810 had every claim on the country, his relief was not the principal consideration, but the prevention of similar acts of violence in future. Retaliation in the first instance was the only means of preventing such violence. The omission of that retaliation was as much as to tell Bonaparte he might do what he pleased, and we should not retaliate for fear of what he should afterwards do. If we were once to admit this, it would amount to a confession of inferiority, which must have the most fatal effect upon the country and upon every man employed in its service. What officer would enter a service when exposed to such violence?—But what people would not flock to it, if assured that any unwarrantable violence offered them would be repelled with the whole weight of the nation?—This principle, he was sorry to say, had suffered considerable relaxation in its application towards the enemy with whom we have had to do in the last and present war. The admission of inferiority that would follow from our being afraid to retaliate would be the most grievous degradation. It had been said, that Bonaparte had a hold upon us through the persons that had been detained at the commencement of the war at Verdun. These were no doubt so many hostages, but not distinguishable from those who became hostages by being made prisoners of war in the service of their country. If they were to be distinguished, as many of them undoubtedly might, it was in a way not to entitle them to any preference. If they had not less, they had not greater claims upon the feelings of the country, especially such as had gone to France for amusement without business or necessity. So far, he stated, if it should be supposed that retaliation would be productive of the intended apprehended consequences. But what ground was there to suppose that it would be productive of such consequences? The French emperor, great as he was, was not released from the obligations of public faith, nor without the reach of the public opinion of his subjects, on whom the effects of the retaliation would fall. He saw that the attempt would be made with infinitely less advantage late than at first. Without pretending to answer for it now, or at any time, he was strongly of opinion that it would have been effectual in the first instance. It must he grievously affecting to the country to know, that a meritorious officer had been suffered to languish under severity which he had drawn upon himself by his meritorious exertions in its service. He had mentioned this subject last session, and had been given to understand that some 811 steps would be taken. If he were to proceed with the business now, he should conclude what he had to say with a motion for an account of what steps had been taken. He should omit that, however, as long as he had any ground to hope that further measures would be taken during the recess; and he should confine himself now to a notice, that if no such steps should be taken, he would bring the matter before parliament early next session.—No reply was made to the right hon. gentleman.—Adjourned.