moved for the appointment of a Secret 315 Committee, "to whom should be referred the inspection and selection of certain secret information and confidential communication laid before his Majesty's ministers, with respect to the Expedition to the Scheldt, and of a nature improper to be made public." It was his intention that this Committee should be composed of nine members; the number might be increased or diminished as might be judged expedient. He then named Mr. secretary Ryder, Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Whitbread, sir A. Pigott, admiral Markham, Mr. F. Robinson, Mr. Bathurst, general Ferguson, lord Porchester.
Lord C L. Cower,
as a noble friend of his (lord Castlereagh) was so intimately connected with the subject under inquiry, proposed that he should have leave to attend the Committee.
could by no means see the necessity of this; he had indeed himself obviated any such necessity, by nominating the noble lord's own secretary, Mr. F. Robinson.
§ The Speaker
said, the Committee might certainly take what steps they thought proper; but he considered the proposition in its present shape as perfectly novel.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
could not see what occasion those who were deeply interested in the event of the inquiry had to interfere with any future proceedings of the Committee. All they had to do was to see, in the commencement, that this Committee was so constituted as to do perfect justice between man and man. Of all propositions, then, which he had ever heard started, that of admitting the noble lord to attend the Committee was, in his opinion, least deserving of consideration. With respect to the number of which the Committee was proposed to be constituted, he could find no objection; but he had, indeed, much objection to make to the members who had been put in nomination to compose it. In this list he observed five out of the nine were gentlemen who had been in the constant habit of voting against the measures of government on every occasion. One gentleman who had been nominated was unable to attend on any Committee. To the three next, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Bathurst, and Mr. Wilberforce, he could have no objection: they were neither in the habit of directly voting with or opposing government; but he would ask, for that very reason, were they proper to be confronted with, the other five, who were in steady 316 opposition? Was that a fair mode of proceeding? Were the members of the Committee properly matched? Was it right that he, for instance, one of the persons accused, should not have a representative in the Committee; or rather a Committee so mixed and mingled in itself, with such balanced weight and opinions as to form a representative body of the House? To the name of lord Porchester he had no objection; nor to that of Mr. Bathurst. Mr. Robinson, he thought as the friend of the noble lord, ought also to remain on it; and, as he thought, his right hon. friend (Mr. Canning) should have an equal advantage, he should propose the addition of the name of Mr. S. Bourne. He should also propose the name of Mr. Yorke. If general Ferguson, as a general officer, was requisite, he should add also, to make all fair, general Craufurd. As to admiral Markham, he was content to retain him, provided he was allowed to nominate captain Beresford. If a lawyer also was deemed necessary, he had no objection of course to sir A. Pigott; but in case he was retained, he should pair him off with Mr. Leycester, another of the same profession. This, in his opinion, would be much the most fair way of nominating the Committee, by which both the accused and the prosecutor would have equal justice.
§ Mr. Tierney
allowed, of course, that to any member of the Committee who was deemed objectionable, an objection might be taken; but he believed it was perfectly novel to see one of the accused, over whom an impeachment hung, venturing to step forward and make choice of those whom he thought fit to select to inquire into his conduct. It was a much more extraordinary proceeding than any of those at which the right hon. gent. affected to be so much astonished. He had never, known an occasion before, on which the nominator of the Committee had not the unlimited appointment of his own Committee, and on which he might not, if he close, nominate his own friends. (A laugh.) Gentlemen might laugh; but he would ask those opposite, when was there ever a Committee appointed by government, on which ministers did not select their own adherents? at least, on which they did not take good care to secure the majority? On the present Committees all were not chosen of the same way of thinking. In that case, indeed these might be some show of objection; but here there was barely sufficient to turn he 317 scale. It was remarkable that there was one gentleman (Mr. Whitbread) on the Committee, whom the right hon. secretary had passed over even in silence. Why was he so passed over? Was it because he had shewn himself so well qualified to conduct an impeachment, and to discover delinquency? Was it because the thanks of that House had been given him on a late trying occasion? He had no objection in the world that justice should be done to all sides, and he thought the noble lord had full justice done him in the nomination of his friend and secretary, Mr. Robinson. The right hon. gent. had objected to one gentleman as unable to attend (sir R. Bickerton); but he seemed to forget that he was withdrawn, and Mr. secretary Ryder, to whom ministers could certainly have no objection, substituted in his place. In one choice, indeed, the right hon. gent. had seemed judicious; and if he saw any necessity for a change in the members, he of course could have no objection to him; he meant Mr. Yorke. No man could deny that Mr. Yorke was in every respect qualified to constitute a member of a secret Committee. (A laugh.) Indeed he should, of such a Committee, be elected chairman. He was not disposed to object to Mr. S. Bourne, if the number could admit him; but why should Mr. Leycester be put in nomination? He supposed the right hon. gent. considered himself bound to have him on some Committee soon, in consideration of his having been ousted from the last for which he had proposed him. If the list, as amended, was adopted, he feared the public would be very little satisfied with it. The public would naturally enough, be very suspicious of every proceeding of a Committee, from whose discussions they were excluded. If, then, substantial and evident justice was aimed at, the original Committee would be elected; but if otherwise, the choice of the right hon. gent. coming in the way it did, from the accused, would be adopted.
§ Mr. Stephen
was not a little surprized to hear that the nomination of the jury was to be at the disposal of the prosecutor. It was, indeed, not only a singular, but a preposterous assertion. If, as had been said, an impeachment was hanging over ministers from the result of this inquiry, why should it be conducted by men who had declared, that their object in the inquiry itself was to turn ministers out of power? To "get rid of them," was 318 the noble lord's expression. Why should men who had made this their avowed object, be allowed to nominate the Committee? It was said, indeed, that ministers had no right to nominate the Committee, but they had a right to object; if so, the only way in which they could object was, as they had done, collectively; for if they objected singly to each individual member, and divided on it, then one half of the House might be gone through, and much time uselessly lost. Would any one say that there were many men on the Committee who were not biassed—who were not in opposition—who were not party men? And surely nothing was so apt to bias men as party prejudice; it totally discoloured everything which was seen through its medium. Like the magic leaf from the wizard Michael, in the Lay of the Last Minstrel, it effected a total metamorphosis, changing every thing which it touched, and making reality appear delusion. There were some men proposed for the jury whom he considered perfectly just, if they could be divested of their party prejudices. Sir A. Pigott, for instance, was as honourable a man as lived, party aside. He could not consider him as adequate to remain on the jury; not because he was not pure, but because he had an interest in the decision—he was to come into power, in case the present ministers were turned out—he was not to consider the justice of the prosecution, but to receive the penalty of the conviction! He was, of course, not an adequate, because not an unbiassed juror. When asked, if he thought his near friend and connection (Mr. Wilberforce) was a proper juror, he had only to say, that perhaps the relative delicacy of his situation with respect to him might invalidate his judgment; but if it was considered that only party men were to be on the Committee, and that those should be fairly opposed to each other he could not think that his hon. friend, who was not connected with either party, ought to be a member. He said this, loving his person as he did, and ardently admiring his public character. He gave his assent to the list as amended by the chancellor of the exchequer.
§ Mr. Windham
was disposed fully to allow that the learned gent. who had just sat down, had, indeed, argued well and quoted aptly: there was only one trifling objection to both his arguments and his quotations, and that was, they were not to 319 the purpose. He had commenced by considering the Committee as a jury, and on that supposition he built all his argument. The supposition was wrong in limine, and then what became of all the fine reasoning he deduced from it? The fact was, the Committee was not a jury; they were only to select evidence to be laid before the jury; a mere Committee of inquiry on the part of the prosecution. Now that position was down, what was the next? To the full as fallacious: he objected to the Committee on the part of the prosecution as partial. Why, who ever heard of an impartial prosecution? It was not in the nature of a prosecution to be impartial. If a man prosecuted a murderer who killed his relation, was he impartial? If a man pursued with legal vengeance a robber who assails his purse, could he be said to be impartial? Was he not necessarily and naturally biassed against the robber, or the murderer? In a prosecutor, impartiality would be a failing; for impartiality was very near a-kin to indifference; and what stimulative could indifference be to inquiry? or what promoter of justice did there ever appear, whose prominent feature was apathy to offence? The next assault was made upon party. He could not allow the justice of the accusation. No; he had been a party man all his life; and of course following that which he conceived right, he was ready to defend it: but how was it proved, that those who styled themselves "No party men." were more adequate and less impartial? They voted neither for one side or other; but now on this, and then on that; and thus with the steadiness of no side, they were yet partial to both sides! It had been said also, the prosecutor had no right to name the jury; and why not? Who ever named the jury but the prosecutor, giving of course to the accused the privilege of challenge, though net of nomination? But here the accused were doubly indulged; they not only had their own selection of documents to present on trial, but even some of their own friends were liberally named on the committee. So far from ministers having any just ground of complaint, they had rather an incentive to gratitude.
§ Mr. Hobhouse
thought the question before the House a very narrow one; it was simply, in the first instance, whether there should be any committee appointed 320 at all. The question of names was a subsequent one. In the appointment even of the committee itself, he was of opinion it would have been wisest to have waited until it was certain whether any necessity for its institution would arise. He thought the term of jury had been improperly applied to the committee, as they were more properly intended to select materials for information than to adjudicate or decide. He thought it equally wrong to call them a committee for the prosecution, since strict impartiality should be their distinguishing feature. He did not know what was meant by gentlemen on one side and the other calling in question the impartiality of the members. He felt himself row in his own estimation as a member of parliament at such language, and was sure that an indiscriminate committee was selected from both sides of the House, every member of it would do his duty. "What, Sir, are we not all impartial?"—(A laugh.) Notwithstanding the laugh, he was sure they all were; and for his part, when the question of names was put, he would vote for each member, not viewing his impartiality, but his talents.
Lord Porchester then nominated for the committee, himself,—agreed to. Mr. Bathurst, Mr. F. Robinson, admiral Markham, general Ferguson. Agreed to. Mr. Wilberforce. On the proposal of this last name, the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed that of Mr. Sturges Bourne as an amendment.
declared it his intention, in case Mr. Wilberforce was suffered to remain on the committee, to nominate Mr. S. Bourne next; but Mr. Perceval persisting in his intention to divide the House, strangers were ordered to withdraw. The only division that took place was, on the names of sir John Sebright and Mr. Yorke. For Mr. Yorke, 196, sir J. Sebright, 128. All the rest were agreed to without any division.