§ Mr. Hiley Addington ,
pursuant to his notice of yesterday rose to make his promised motion respecting the papers that had been lately ordered to he laid before the house, relative to the Raj of Bhurtpore. It was not his intention to affect in any degree the general nature of that order, or to move for any thing new on the subject. The object of his motion was merely of a verbal nature, and originated, as he conceived, in an omission in the terms of the motion by which the papers had been ordered to be produced. On the general principle that nothing should be laid before the house that might prove prejudicial to the public service and interests, he wished to introduce a restriction to this effect in the said order, as parts of those papers might be highly improper to be made public. He did not at the same time make this proposition from any certain conviction that there was any thine improper in those papers, though he had a general impression that it might be so; not having perused them so as to ascertain this circumstance. The right hon. member, without apprehending any opposition, rested chiefly on the ground of his motion being not unprecedeuted; for which purpose, he quoted the terms of the motion made for papers respecting India, also in June 1805, by an hon. gent. (Mr. Francis) now in his place. The order for the production of the papers, relative to the Rajah of Bhurtpore, having been therefore read, he moved "that the said order may only extend to such parts of the said papers, as may be disclosed without prejudice to the public service.—On the question being put,
§ Mr. Francis rose arid said:
Mr. Speaker; I flatter myself that the part, which I hold myself bound to take with regard to the present motion, will not be attributed by the right hon. gent. to personal disrespect, or to any doubt about the purity of his. intentions. I can assure him that my opposition to it is founded on a very different 491 principle. This declaration is sincere, and ought to be unnecessary. By yielding to make it, I cannot but feel that I submit to some sort of degradation. It looks like an apology, which no man ought to make, for doing any duty incident to his station, and still more to the trust that belongs to it. Such however is the prevailing fashion of these feeble times. I comply with it now, but I protest against it. The best of us, I fear, have enough to ask pardon for, without requesting to be forgiven for any virtue we have left. But, even in that sense, the solicitation fails. He, who confesses in any form that he has no confidence in himself, w ill never obtain the confidence of others, and least of all by phrases and protestations. Au order was made, on the 11th of this month (see p.401) for the production of papers relative to the Rajah of Bhurtpore, a person whose country, if he has any, is in the heart of the peninsula of India, and whose name was never heard of in England until we were informed, by a multitude of private letters from lord Lake's head quarters and from Calcutta, that the commander in chief had laid siege to Bhurtpore, had made five attempts successively to carry the place by storm or assault, had been as often repulsed with an immense slaughter of our troops, particularly of the Europeans, and had at last concluded an accommodation with the Rajah on worse terms, than he might have obtained in the first instance, without a siege, without the loss of one drop of blood, or injury to the honour of the British arms in the eyes of the natives. These are the facts, into which I understand that some enquiry is to be made or proposed hereafter. That question is not before us now. Of course I shall not meddle with it. The object, to which I shall endeavour to draw your attention, is of far other extent and importance, than any thing that concerns the production of these papers. It is the dangerous practice, which has, in fact, prevailed within these two years only, without due consideration, or even notice, but which, if now confirmed upon debate, will be established as a precedent for ever. I mean, sir, the discretion left with the king's ministers, to produce or withhold any part of the papers ordered by this house, or in effect to comply with the order, or to defeat or elude the intention of the house, just as they think fit, or in whatever degree it may suit their own purposes to evade it. No reasonable man, I think, can suspect me of 492 applying so extensive an inference or of imputing so criminal a purpose as this, to the motion immediately before us. The case of the Rajah of Bhurtpore is too remote, too inconsiderable, and too slightly connected with any personal interest here, to warrant a suspicion that the board of control has an intention or desire to withhold any of the papers, relative to this rajah, which were ordered a week ago. Neither do I believe that the noble marquis whose conduct is in question, or any of his friends, feel much concern in the present motion, or that they care at all how it is decided. This, sir, is exactly the situation, in which I should be glad to argue the question: that is, to be at liberty to dismiss the particular case, and to consider nothing but the general precedent. All I desire is, that the house may recollect and remember that it is sometimes under favourable circumstances, and still oftener in cases, which are thought of no consequence and pass without observation, that dangerous precedents are established. They are not instantly regarded, because they have no immediate operation, and the remote consequences are not foreseen. But they thrive in silence and grow tinder neglect, while they appear to be forgotten. Bad examples are prolific. They increase and multiply, and never fail to bring forth. fruit in due season. Bad men will resort to them hereafter and turn them to purposes, which they, who originally gave the example or set the precedent, never thought of.—This is an English, much more than an Indian question. The fundamental privileges of this house, and through us, the rights and privileges of the commons of this united kingdom are involved in it. The right hon. gent. proposes that the orders already made shall extend to such parts only of the papers in question, as may be disclosed without prejudice to the public service; and this clause or condition, he says, has been attached to every order for Indian papers, that has been made in the present or in the last session of parliament. It is true. The practice I believe began with me, and very much against my will, in the session of 1804, though I did not then weigh the consequences of it so carefully as I ought to have done. I yielded unadvisedly, but not without remonstrance, to a pretension, which I ought to have opposed. The noble lord (Castlereagh), in every successive instance, assured me that he would not consent to any motion fur Indian pa- 493 pers, without the addition of this clause. So I submitted to his power against my judgement; because otherwise none of the papers I moved for would have been granted. Since that, the practice has prevailed and gained ground; and, if it be not effectually resisted now, will never be disputed hereafter. A discretion to judge of the extent of the obedience due to an order of this house is said to be necessary to be lodged somewhere out of the house, for fear of prejudice to the public service. By whom is this discretionary power contended for? By the ministers of the crown. In whose hands is it to be vested? In the same ministers. And who is to judge, or indeed who can possibly know, whether the discretion, so claimed, be really and bonâ fide title governed, in its application and exercise, by its own pretended principle? Are there no other purposes, to which such a power limy be applied? What check have you over it? In what form is discretion to be controuled? By what evidence can it be convicted of a criminal abuse? The circumstances must be flagrant indeed, in which a guilty intention can be brought borne to any man, whom you leave to his judgment, and who says he has acted to the best of it. No reasonable man would deny, nor in fact was it ever disputed, that cases are possible, in which a general order may include some particular papers, or passages, which, for the public service, ought not to be disclosed. But are the same ministers who are to execute the order, the proper persons to be consulted, in the first instance, how far they ought to obey it? Is it to be left to them to frame the order upon themselves with such qualifications perhaps, as may enable them to defeat the intention of the house, to suppress the most material evidence, and make it impossible to convict most notorious offender, while the very persons, who do all this, are sheltered and screened from detection, by their own exceptions grafted on an order, which they ought to obey without reserve? The true parliamentary principle, and which in fact has governed the practice of the house of commons until very lately, was stated to you last night by one of the most virtuous and respectable members that this house possesses; I mean the hon. representative of Yorkshire, whom I am sorry not to see in his place. He said that the course to be observed in the supposed case, as it always had been, was, not to trust ministers with the previous right of selection; but to 494 oblige them to come to parliament and state the fact; if they thought that any papers, included in the general order, contained matter of information, which the house itself would not think it right to divulge. Undoubtedly, sir, such cases of necessity require confidence in the executive government. There must be a discretion confided somewhere; and, if the house of commons does not think this or that ministry fit to be trusted with it, they ought not to suffer such persons to be ministers. A reasonable and necessary confidence would not be withheld. On that side there is no danger. But let it never be forgotten that jealousy of ministers is a prevailing and almost a fundamental principle of the house of commons, and that confidence in them is, in almost every instance, nothing more than a specific exception to the principle. This general reasoning, in my opinion, is strong in itself, and irresistible on its own mere principle. If any man thinks it wants illustration, let him apply it to the case of an impeachment. But first let him call to mind what an impeachment is, in its true parliamentary sense. I say that the capacity of this house to impeach any man, whom they think guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours, is the right hand of the house of commons, and the most powerful weapon placed in that hand by the constitution of this kingdom, for the defence of all our own rights and privileges in the first instance, and ultimately for the protection of the people. In the ancient parliamentary language of this house, I say that an impeachment is virtually the voice of every particular subject of this kingdom, crying out against air oppression, by which every member of that body is equally wounded.* We cannot abdicate this right even for ourselves, without ceasing to be a house of commons; much less can we abandon the duties attached to the right, without breach of trust to our constituents and to all the commons of the kingdom. Now, sir, of what avail is it to impeach, if the evidence can he withheld from us, or garbled or selected for us? and that perhaps by the very persons, who are the objects of the prosecution, or by others intimately connected with them in relation, in friendship, or by office, perhaps by their associates, and possibly by their accomplices? These are some only of the consequences, to which*See Journals of tire House of Commons, 26th May 1679.495 the present motion, if it should now be made a precedent, is liable. If, with the conviction I feel on the whole of the question, I did not oppose it to the utmost of my power, I should deserve to pass, for one of the meanest and basest of mankind, and I should know that I deserved it. I therefore declare that I shall take the sense of the house on the question, if the right hon. gent. should persist in pressing it. Nay, I shall not stop there. If the question should be carried, I will take the earliest opportunity, and the most effectual course I can, to bring it again under the consideration of the house.
§ Mr. Hiley Addington
said, he had considered his motion so much a matter of course, that if he had in his contemplation any possible objection to it, he should have intruded on the house by stating the grounds on which he made it. It was not the present Board of Controul that made the precedent. They found it, and in a motion made by the hon. gent. himself last session. The hon. member had done him the justice to allow that he had no improper motive in making this motion. He thanked him for his good opinion, and hoped, that on this occasion he had acted under the influence of no improper bias. But even supposing this were the case, and that from attachment to the noble marquis he should be anxious to keep back any information from the house, could, he be supposed possessed of that influence necessary to succeed in such a hopeless attempt? Could he be supposed to have influence enough with all the members of the board, to be able to keep back, evidence, from such motives and on so flimsy a pretext? The conduct of the board, in the whole of this business, had shewn their sentiments to be very different. They had not refused a single paper that had been asked. But, however willing the board might be to withhold any information on the grounds alledged, was it in their power to do so without incurring disgrace? Were there not members in that house sufficiently acquainted with those documents, to know whether any of them were withheld? Would the directors permit any such connivance on the part of the board, without making such remonstrances as would expose the motives of their conduct? Such a discretionary power, he thought, might with safety be invested in the board. Their responsibility was a pledge to the house, that such discretionary power was not likely 496 to be abused, and it was a power that had, always been given.
by no means agreed with the right hon. member who had brought forward this motion, that such a discretionary power could be lodged with safety in the hands of any board. Should they be invested with this power, they might make any use of it they pleased, and at the same time not be responsible. He did not consider precedent as a good argument in favour of this measure. Such precedents were not to be followed, for if the measure itself was bad, it could not be justified by any precedent, and to adopt it would be only adding another precedent for a bad measure. The discretionary power he would allow to reside in his majesty's ministers, but he would by no means concede such a power to any board whatever. And even this discretionary power he insisted was only given to ministers on certain terms; they were not invested at large with such powers, but were entitled to come to the house and state their objections to the production of any particular paper, or any part of a paper on public grounds, and the house relying on their responsibility, were entitled to sustain their objections; but such an extended discretionary power as was proposed by this motion, invested without any controul, even in ministers, would be extremely dangerous, and if not granted to them, how could it be reconciled with propriety to grant it to any board whatever? The fair and open way, he thought, for gentlemen to follow on this occasion, was, after perusing the papers, and finding some parts of them of a nature not to be laid before the house, to come down and avow it, and receive permission, on their responsibility, to withhold them. The argument the right hon. member had used in favour of his motion made more against it than for it; for if he had not perused the papers, how could he know that they contained any thing that was not proper to be laid before the house? While he avowed his ignorance of this circumstance, nothing could be more improper than so extended a discretionary power. He hoped the hon. gent. who had opposed the motion would persevere in his intention to take the sense of the house upon it.
§ Mr. Francis
said, in explanation, that in his motion of June 1805, he had introduced no such discretionary power. It had been introduced by others, and he had been 497 induced to accede to it, or otherwise lose the object of his motion. He did not, therefore, the less condemn the practice.
Mr. Secretary Fox
found himself involved in some, difficulty on this occasion. The precedent bad been established last year. If a question had been started upon it then, or if it was a new question now, he should have no difficulty in saying, that he should prefer adhering to the old practice of leaving ministers on such occasions, to act on their general responsibility. He admitted that there were two ways in which a discretionary power might be given to ministers: the first was, as a noble lord opposite (lord Folkestone) had very justly stated, when ministers came down to the house, and representing it general terms the prejudice it would be to the public service to communicate more particular information on any subject, they were permitted on their responsibility to withhold this information. The other, which perhaps was the more recent way of the two, was restricting any order of the house for information, in such terms as beforehand admitted the ministers to withhold it at descretion, without assigning any reason, or taking notice of the particular article, such matters as they might judge expedient. At the same time, he should observe, that there was no such material difference between the ordinary discretion exercised by ministers, when called on to produce papers, and that contained by the present motion. The orders of the house were generally for copies or extracts of the papers called for. Who were to give these extracts, but the ministers who exercised their discretion in withholding such parts, the discovery of which might be injurious to the public service? Here, however, the papers were not in one or two confidential hands alone, but in those of a variety of persons who would quickly discover if the discretion demanded was abused. The agreeing to the motion therefore, this case, was not a consideration of great importance, or rather it was one of no importance at all. As he had already said, if this were a new question, he should incline to object to the motion; but considering that similar additions had been made to all the orders on this subject, not only during last session, but two nights ago, in the case of Surat, without being seriously objected to, he would rather recommend to his hons. friend (Mr. Francis) to withdraw his opposition, he (Mr. FOX) saying that if a new case should occur, in which 498 the objection was made, he should support it. The responsibility, he thought, would not be very different, with or without the words. He had been cases in which papers had been produced at the discretion of those in whose hands they were, the production of which, if by motion in this house, he should have opposed. He rather thought in this case, where so large a production was called to be made, the discretion Might be allowed.
§ Mr. Bankes
thought it incumbent on the house to put an end as soon as possible to bad precedents, as well as to avoid creating any. Should the present question be carried, it would strengthen the former precedents, and render them still more dangerous. They were not to regard it as relative to India only, but as applicable to any other case that might come before the house. He was a little surprized at the manner in which the right hon. secretary of state had just expressed himself: he had owned that he supported it only because there was a precedent for it, and that if it were a new question he would reject it; such a precedent should, therefore, be done away as soon as possible. The hon. gent. suggested the propriety of withdrawing the motion till his right hon. friend should have an opportunity of examining the papers; and if he should find any part that could not be safely produced, he pledged himself to support his motion upon the statement of that specific ground.
§ Lord H. Petty
concurred with the noble lord who had spoken, that the species of responsibility which he had recommended, resulting from all application to the house, on the part of ministers, in particular instances, and after assigning their particular reasons, was certainly the best. He agreed with his right hon. friend near hint (Mr. Fox), as to the responsibility of ministers, and thought that in this case nothing more was asked that in this had been very lately acceded to without any objection. He was convinced his right hon. friend who brought forward the, motion, had no view in it but what from a salutary caution; but as the house seemed to think the precedent not a good one, he wished for one, to revert to the former practice, and would recommend it to his right hon. friend to withdraw his motion.
stated the ground upon which he had recommended the insertion of similar words to those then under consideration. in the order of last session to 499 have been founded on a wish to prevent improper papers being produced. The Marhatta papers that had been produced to the house, contained many passages that should not have been made public. The court of directors did not conceive they had any direction when they had received the orders of the house, and therefore laid them in full before it; but this was not a new practice. The same words had, he believed, been inserted in the order for papers on the first Mysore war. He advised the house to consider, before they should reject a motion which was fraught with such convenience to the public service.
believed the motion had been made from no improper motives. He condemned the precedent on which it was founded, and insisted, that on this principle there could be no use for notices respecting such motions, as no examination would be necessary to ascertain the propriety or impropriety of the production of any papers previously to their being moved for.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
felt himself much obliged to the noble lord opposite for the candour with which he had expressed himself, and imputed no blame to the right hon. gent. who had made the motion, but at the same time had no hesitation in opposing it from principle.
contended that no responsibility resided in the directors, but only in the board of controul, and that it was with the board the house had to transact any business, or to give any instructions. The question, be thought, in the course of the debate, had grown into an importance that it did not deserve. He had no objections however, that the old mode of responsibility should on this occasion be resorted to, though the motion appeared to him to be as respectful a way of treating the house.
thought the responsibility of ministers should be whole and entire, and hoped the motion would be withdrawn.
§ Mr. H. Addington
said, ever since his noble friend's objection, he wished to withdraw his motion, but seeing many respectable members desirous to deliver their opinions, he had refrained from doing so till they had spoken. He assured the house he bad no idea of there being the slightest objection to it, but as there was, he would, with the leave of the house, withdraw it; which was accordingly done.