§ The order of the day being moved, for going into a Committee of inquiry respecting the Expedition to the Scheldt.
strongly recommended the propriety of devising some means to promote dispatch in the progress of this inquiry. From the length of time to which it had already extended, and from the manner in which it languished, he was really at a loss to calculate upon the period of its termination, unless there should be considerably more of diligence and activity employed than had yet appeared; unless more of the time of the House were devoted to it. With this view he would propose that the enquiry should take pre- 482 cedency of all notices of motion, or that the House should proceed upon this inquiry at an earlier hour of the day than that at which they usually commenced business. The latter course he would himself be disposed to prefer. But there was a subject of much more consequence to which he thought it his duty, upon this occasion, to call the attention of the House. Amongst the papers on the table he found a most extraordinary letter referring to the matter of this inquiry. He confessed that when this letter was originally moved for, he felt strong doubt as to the regularity of the motion and the propriety of producing it, but upon further consideration, that doubt was removed, and he now had no hesitation in declaring his decided opinion, that it was such a document as that House ought not to receive or allow to remain on the table. For what did this paper purport to be—a Narrative of the Expedition to the Scheldt, signed by lord Chatham, and presented to his Majesty without the intervention of any responsible minister—There were therefore several points connected with this paper which appeared to demand explanation. How did the House know that it was a true copy of the document said to have been presented to his Majesty? Through what office had it passed; for it did not bear the signature of any official person; and by what accident did it come into the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by whom it had been laid on the table? Another remarkable feature about it was this, that although it was two or three months ago announced in the newspapers, known, or supposed, to have some understanding with the ministry, that lord Chatham had presented a Narrative of this description to his Majesty; yet, the paper to which he now referred bore date only upon the 14th inst. But his main objection to this paper was of a constitutional character— Lord Chatham had, it appeared, not in his character of a peer, or privy counsellor, but, in that of a military commander, presented to the King in person, an account of his military, proceedings, although directed, under the sign manual, by which he was appointed, to make such communications through the proper officer, the Secretary of State, whom the constitution recognized. This account too, had been brought before that House in a most unconstitutional, irregular, and questionable shape. This paper seeming to have been presented to his Majesty in his private 483 closet, he could not know through what officer it found its way to that House. It might contain very important matter, and it might be proper to have it laid upon the table, but from the irregularity which he had remarked about it and in its mode of introduction to that House, he thought it right to submit his opinion to the consideration of the House.
apprehended, if he was correct in what he had collected from the noble lord's statement, that the paper to which the noble lord referred was not presented through any official minister, but personally to his Majesty. If so, it was a question well worthy of grave and deliberate consideration, whether the objection applying to the form in which the paper was brought before that House, was not such as could not be removed, or qualified by the substance of that paper, whatever that substance might be. He should suppose that all orders from that House, relative to public documents, were addressed to some responsible minister, who was officially answerable for their production; and that all papers of the nature of that under consideration were generally presented to his Majesty through some responsible minister. Great inconveniences, indeed, must obviously result from a different course. But the error, in point of form, with respect to the production of this paper to that House, might, he thought, be easily corrected. To avoid going into any mixed consideration of the form objected to, and the substance of this paper, the simple course was, to correct the form before the paper was read. That course was by withdrawing the paper, and presenting it in a regular way, stating whether the document, of which it purported to be a copy, was presented to his Majesty by the Secretary of State for the war department, or by the noble lord whose signature it bore; and in what capacity, whether as a cabinet minister, or as the Commander in Chief of the Expedition of which it professed to be a Narrative. This line of conduct he humbly submitted to the consideration of the House, as in his judgment, their becoming acquainted with the contents of the paper might, instead of simplifying, tend to make the business more complex than it would otherwise be. The course he proposed appeared therefore to him to be a simple remedy by which they might avoid inconveniences of considerable magnitude.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
con- 484 curred with his right hon. friend who spoke last, as to the propriety of avoiding any mixture of the form and substance of this paper. It was rather unfortunate, however, he observed, that the doubts urged on this occasion had not been mentioned at the time this paper was moved for, in order to its being laid on the table. Notice was regularly given of the intention to move for it; and at the time of the notice, as well as on the bringing forward of the motion, the nature of the paper was fully described; and at neither period did any of those objections occur which were now pressed, and pressed rather too late in his judgment. As to the manner in which he had obtained this paper, he would state shortly. In compliance with the order of that House, to which, of course, it was his duty to attend, he instituted an inquiry as to where this paper was, and found it to be in the hands of the Secretary of State for the war department, lord Liverpool, to whom it was delivered by his Majesty. From lord Liverpool he received the copy which he had laid on the table, and so far he felt himself answerable for its production.
agreed with his right hon. friend, that the objection applying to form upon this subject would have been more in time if brought forward before, adding, that he remembered it to have been in contemplation, before he resigned his place in the cabinet, to call upon the naval and military commanders for an account of the proceedings of the campaign. Therefore, the papers before the House being dated only upon the 14th instant, it was calculated to excite some surprize in his mind to see that account come so late.
§ General Loft
had no intention of taking the House by surprise, on the contrary, he had given notice of the motion for producing the paper.
The Paper was here read by the Clerk, it was entitled, "Copy of the Earl of "Chatham's Statement of his Proceedings, "dated 15th October, 1809: Presented to "the King, 14th February, 1810:" and will be found in the Appendix.
declared, that the objections which he felt to this paper, were considerably aggravated by a knowledge of its contents. It now appeared to be a special address from the commander of one part of the Expedition, appealing to the judgment of his Majesty without the intervention of any responsible minister, 485 and actually reflecting upon the conduct of his colleague in the command. He really did not know how the House should proceed to get rid of such a paper; but it seemed highly desirable that it should do so. To entertain such a document would be not only inconsistent with the constitution; but, in his opinion, with common justice. He was sorry the hon. member had called for its production, and he was sorry also that the right hon. gent. had produced it, because the paper had found its way to the royal presence in a most unconstitutional manner, and for which no minister was responsible. The noble lord would be glad to hear from the chair in what manner it could be disposed of.
thought the proper time for discussing the question would have been when the motion was made for referring the papers to the Committee. He could not see any objection to its being so referred. The noble lord had found fault with the manner in which the paper had been presented to the House, but he would ask, did not the House call for it by their unanimous vote? With respect to the manner in which the paper was conveyed to the royal presence, my lord Chatham, in his opinion, could not have done less than what he did, for at the time the paper was written, he believed there was no Secretary of State for the war department. (Hear! hear! from the Opposition side, and, What not on the 14th of February?) The right hon. gent. then admitted his mistake. But he would ask, what was there unconstitutional if the paper was presented in the regular way to the King by a cabinet minister, who was also Master General of Ordnance, and a peer of the realm? If ministers had laid the papers on the table uncalled for, then indeed gentlemen might talk of its being presented unconstitutionally (Hear! hear!) The right hon. gent. declared that he did not know what gentlemen meant by the exclamation of hear! hear! If they meant that he did not understand the constitution of his country, they were deceived. If they meant more, why then no expressions of scorn and disdain that he could use to repel such insinuations would be strong enough. (Hear! hear!)
§ Mr. Tierney
declared, he must expect to come in for his share of his right hon. friend's scorn and disdain, for he certainly should contend, that not only was the paper introduced into the royal presence 486 unconstitutionally, but, as the House must have gathered from its contents, the character of the navy had been clandestinely undermined. He wished to know how it came into the possession of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? (From lord Liverpool's office, was the answer across the table.) Was, then, lord Liverpool the carrier of the paper? If so, degraded indeed was the situation to which the noble lord was reduced, and no terms could express sufficiently strong the humiliation of ministers. Had the paper in question been presented in the ordinary and constitutional mode, through the Secretary of State for the war department, with whom alone the noble earl was directed, by his instructions, to correspond, it would, no doubt, have been communicated, by ministers, to the first lord of the Admiralty, who would have felt it equally his duty to have communicated its contents to sir Richard Strachan, and have apprized him that he was to be inculpated by the commander in chief of the land part of the armament for the failure of the Expedition, and the gallant admiral would thus be enabled to justify his character and conduct to his Sovereign and his country. But this secret practice of poisoning the royal breast with doubts and suspicions of his most approved and zealous servants, while it deprived them of the knowledge, and, of course, the means of repelling them, merited, in his opinion, impeachment. He trusted that the paper, though objectionable, and, therefore, inadmissible for its present object, would be forthcoming on a future day for that purpose. For his part he had no proposition to offer upon the present occasion, but he trusted, the House would come to some resolution, conveying, in the strongest terms of censure, their disapprobation of the conduct of ministers.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
contended, that there was no one circumstance connected with this paper for which there was not an adequate responsibility. If there was any thing culpable in the character or construction of the paper, was not lord Chatham responsible for it, and was not he himself responsible for the production of the copy to that House? Why then, what could be pointed out that was in any degree unconstitutional in the whole proceedings? Had not lord Chatham or any other individual a right to lay a paper before his Majesty? Nay, had not any peer or privy counsellor a right to 487 demand an audience of his Majesty? Then where was the unconstitutionallity complained of in this transaction? As to the allusion which the last speaker had thought proper to make to impeachment, that he regarded merely as a bye word. He could assure the right hon. gent. and others, that neither in that House, nor out, would such allusions tend in any degree to promote the object which they had in view, in prosecuting this inquiry.
was decidedly of opinion, that the proceeding under discussion was extremely unconstitutional. (A laugh on the ministerial benches.) This laugh was perfectly natural from those who were every day in the habit of treating the constitution with contempt. But what could be conceived more unconstitutional or unfair, than that of a military commander going into the king's closet, without the knowledge of any minister, and presenting his majesty a paper justificatory of his own conduct, and criminatory of the conduct of his naval colleague? If such a paper had been in the regular way presented through a responsible minister, it would be by him, as was his duty, submitted to the consideration of his colleagues, who, if they did their duty, would not present it to his Majesty, at least, without apprizing sir Richard Strachan of its contents, and affording him an opportunity to defend himself. What, he would ask, was the course likely to be pursued by the first lord of the admiralty upon such a consultation? He hoped that no man on either side of the House could have a doubt that lord Mulgrave would have immediately communicated with sir Richard Strachan upon the subject of such a paper. If, then, the present case was to serve as a precedent, every man might do what lord Chatham had done, and there was an end of the responsibility of ministers. He submitted it to the wisdom of the Speaker, if any paper of this kind ought to go to the king, save through the constitutional organ? By the constitution, the king could not see a minister on his return from a foreign court, but in the presence of his secretary for foreign affairs; and he appealed to the right hon. gent. (Mr. Canning) if an interview of that description had been advised, while he held the office, whether he would not have resigned? Why, then, should the commander of an expedition on his return have the privilege of going into his Majesty's closet secretly to asperse the character of 488 the other officers associated with him in the expedition? Why should he communicate with his Majesty upon such a subject but through the constitutional channel, the office of the secretary of state: But it was said his Majesty had delivered the narrative to lord Liverpool. He would presume that his Majesty had read and formed an opinion on it. His cabinet might hold an opinion directly the reverse, either that the army or that the navy was to blame. What, then, would be the consequence, if the cabinet had to advise their sovereign directly against the opinion they knew he had formed? What became of that respect to his Majesty; that decency and attention prescribed by the constitution? The order of the House was also urged. But it did not follow that they, when they made that order, understood that the paper was presented in any other but the ordinary constitutional way, through the Secretary of State, or the Commander in Chief. At any rate, it was not fair to bind the House down to what, on consideration, they found to be pregnant with mischief. On most important points, they rescinded their orders, when they saw that evil consequences would result from them, not at first contemplated. He had no resolution ready to submit, but humbly referred to the Speaker to say, whether this matter was conformable to the constitution and usages of parliament.
Mr. Secretary Ryder
did not think the matter of sufficient importance, to call on the Speaker for a decision, which only seemed to be the forlorn hope of gentlemen, who found their arguments could not bear them out in what they wished. It was impossible to ground a single constitutional argument on their view of the case; and if statements against the navy were contained in the narrative, the navy might gainsay them by a counter statement.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
explained. He was prepared to declare himself responsible, that this was the paper called for by the House.
§ Mr. Windham
suggested that there were two distinct questions involved in the present discussion: the one was, the contents of the paper now before them, with which he apprehended they had for the present nothing to do, though the time he trusted was not far distant, when they would form the subject of their most serious consideration; the other, with which alone he conceived they had to do at present, was the 489 mode and form in which this paper came before them. This he did not hesitate to say was wholly repugnant to every practice which past experience and the principles of the constitution would be found to warrant; for instance, they knew by what means the paper had come to them from the king; but could they say who was the author, by what organ, or through what channel, it had reached the royal presence. Suppose, upon the first part of the case, they should come to the resolution of impeaching lord Chatham as the supposed author, with what testimony, and upon what evidence, could they support their charge at the bar of the House of Lords? The paper appeared on the face of it to be unofficial, and to have been delivered privately into the king's closet, and they could neither constitutionally, nor with decency, look for evidence from that august quarter. Who, then, should say that the noble earl was neither the author nor deliverer of the paper? If it were to be found deserving of censure, it would be said the noble lord was that night to be examined at their bar, and the difficulty could be solved by asking him the question. But what if his lordship refused to be examined? The fact was, they were now called upon to decide upon the admissibility of the paper upon the evidence now before them; and he contended, it came in so questionable a shape, so contrary to every precedent and practice grounded on the principles of the constitution, that the House was bound not merely to reject, but to censure it.
§ Mr. Whitbread
was anxious to speak before the noble lord, whose feelings, as a naval man, must be much agitated by what they had heard. He understood from a right hon. gent. (Mr. Canning) that he, while in his Majesty's service, had suggested a call on lord Chatham, for a narrative of the Expedition. This would have been the proper course; but it was evident the idea had not been persevered in. Upon the face of the paper, it appeared to him that there was not only a condemnation of ministers, but of the noble lord himself. Now was the communication of the noble lord known, or unknown, to ministers? It must have been unknown. It was written in October, and presented in February; between which dates an Address had been presented to his Majesty, 490 from the City of London, to which his Majesty was advised to answer, that he judged no inquiry necessary—Lord Chatham could not have been consulted as a minister upon this answer, for he must have said, that inquiry into the naval part of the Expedition, at least, was necessary.—How, then, did he stand as one of his Majesty's responsible advisers? If ministers did not know of this communication, then they deserved impeachment for advising such an answer to the metropolis of the empire. If they did know of it, and lord Chatham was a party to that answer, then his conduct was reprehensible in the extreme. It was said the navy might gainsay any accusation against them. How could they gainsay this private poison secretly instilled into the ear of their royal master?—The paper was moved for by a private friend of lord Chatham, and it did seem as if it was formed for the purpose to which it was applied, of throwing blame from lord Chatham upon sir R. Strachan and the navy. A right hon. gent. had said that every man might have access to his Majesty; why, then, was not the city of London admitted?—Lord Chatham, as a favourite, might do what others could not, and ministers might try to persuade that House of their responsibility, when they knew that the very way in which they got into power was by means of their irresponsibility. Did ministers know of this paper or not?—Did they know of this underhand accusation of Sir R. Strachan, who was called as a witness before them, without knowing that a paper containing insinuations against him, was lying in the king's closet? He was most ready to defer to the decision of the Speaker, but a question like this ought to be decided by the House itself. The right hon. gent. spoke lightly of impeachment; but if the House did not impeach him and his colleagues, then all their rights and privileges were, indeed, gone. The right hon. gent. accused them of envying him the possession of his place. "For all the gold, that human sinews, bought and sold, could ever earn," he would not be in his situation. They did, indeed, wish to turn him out, for the salvation of the country; but even out of office, he trusted punishment would follow him. The way in which the paper came before the king, was unconstitutional, and ministers were not responsible, as they ought to be.
in explanation, said, that when he was in office, he understood a narrative was to be delivered to his Majesty, but that it was to comprehend both the military and navy; he assured the House it was not his suggestion.
§ Sir Home Popham
could not help considering the contents of this paper as a direct reflection upon the Commander in Chief of the naval part of the Expedition, who, would, he was satisfied, be found fully able to vindicate his conduct. As to the change which had taken place in the original plan of attack upon Walcheren, he was enabled to state, that that change was determined upon at Deal, in consequence of information there obtained; and the determination, with the causes which recommended it, was communicated to lord Chatham, who fully approved of it. Therefore, if there was any blame imputable to the change, the noble lord must take his full share of it. The honourable officer dwelt upon the zeal, energy, and judgment displayed by Sir Richard Strachan, throughout the whole of the Expedition—upon his eagerness to consult, and his wishes to forward every suggestion of the noble earl from whom this statement proceeded. After such experience, he was surprised and sorry now to see the apple of discord thrown down. But neither the gallant admiral nor any member of the profession to which he had the honour to belong, could possibly allow such charges as this paper contained to pass unanswered or without the most scrupulous and comprehensive inquiry.
§ General Loft
disclaimed any intention, on the part of his noble friend (lord Chatham,) to reflect upon the navy, whose exertions he always applauded. But the Address referred to, his noble friend was impelled to present in consequence of the unfortunate letter from sir R. Strachan, dated the 27th August.
§ Mr. R. Dundas
observed, that it could not be unconstitutional for a minister to deliver a paper to his Majesty, or for a peer of the kingdom to go into the Royal closet. Lord Chatham was the only person responsible, and he could not shrink from that, as the House would make him so.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
could not agree in the principle laid down by the right hon. gent. who last spoke, as to the responsibility of lord Chatham. If the House thought proper to impeach the noble lord, what evidence of the narrative could they pro- 492 duce to the House of Lords? The cases of lord Bristol, and that of the seven Bishops, were exactly in point; there the difficulty was found. And where the House, having those precedents before their eyes, going to put themselves in the same situation? The precedent in itself was dangerous, for it was laying down one for all general officers. The circumstances in themselves were ludicrous. Here was a minister, sent by the king's ministers, as Commander in Chief of the greatest Expedition ever sent out of the country, keeping up a correspondence with the king unknown to his ministry. As a minister he did not doubt his right of having an easy access to the royal ear, and of giving advice as to his department; but here it was different; for as Commander in Chief, he had no such right; but, contrary to all constitutional precedent, he delivered the narrative to his Majesty, hiding it from the secretary of state carefully. After using the most just and complimentary epithets on the excellent, upright, and impartial conduct of the Speaker, he concluded by saying, that there never was an occasion in which the House stood so much in want of his assistance, and called upon him to give his opinion.
was of opinion, on constitutional grounds, that the narrative should be put out of sight, or that it should lie dormant on the table; and when lord Chatham came as a witness before the Committee, let it be put in his hand, and if he identified it, the Committee could act upon it.
§ Sir John Ord
was sorry that the observations which he had heard that night, had been made use of, as they might tend to injure the reputation of officers, who were liable to be brought to court martial.
§ Mr. G. Johnstone
said, as the paper was before them, it was expedient that they should take it into consideration; but the manner in which it came before them, was to be deplored, and he should for ever lament that it was called for at all.
§ The Speaker
rose, and said, he trusted the House would not be surprised at his delay in giving his opinion; as to his right, it could not be doubted. He had kept back with the intention of forming and giving the best opinion his judgment and ability would allow. The motion of the hon. member, (general Loft) was correct. It had been the custom of that House to believe the averment of any 493 hon. member. There were precedents in the year 1776, when the House thought proper to call for a Memorial delivered to his Majesty, in his private closet, by an Imperial Resident. In that, as in the present case, his Majesty had graciously condescended to send, by the proper channel, one of his privy council, the paper asked for, to which the House was entitled to give full credit. On his first opening the narrative before them, he found the name of Chatham; yet he felt doubtful at first whether it ought to be received and acknowledged by that House on account of its not bearing the signature, of any of his Majesty's secretaries of state: but considering by whom it was presented, and knowing that he was accountable to that hon. House for its authenticity, he waved his doubts until he sent for some papers, which, on perusing, he found that lord North had presented several similar papers, and that he was considered prima facie accountable, a circumstance, which, in his opinion, left the House at full liberty to discuss the merits of the Narrative. The Speaker concluded by saying, the House would bear in their recollection that he did not presume to touch on the consequences or the merits of it.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
then moved, That it should be referred to the Commitee of the whole House on the Expedition to the Scheldt, which was agreed to.
§ On the Order of the Day being read, for the House going into a Committee on the Expedition to the Scheldt, Mr. Yorke moved the Standing Order, and strangers were of course excluded.