§ Lord Cochrane
rose and said:
Mr. Speaker; having been twice foiled in ray attempts to obtain the papers which the right hon. the Treasurer of the Navy (Mr. Rose) did not judge proper to produce with the rest of his correspondence relative to the Fisgard's Prizes, I am desirous to know if I may avail myself of the third notice, that I should move for them on the first sitting day?—[After a few words from Mr. Yorke and Mr. Stephen, the noble lord was permitted to proceed.]
Sir; being permitted to proceed, I must express my surprize that the right hon. treasurer should have thought proper to trouble the House with his private correspondence, unless he imagined that the strong assertions contained in his letter to captain Mason would be received as proof that the conduct of the courts of admiralty did not require investigation; but merited the vote in which he concurred last session, that it was advantageous to the captors and beneficial to the public service. The contrary opinion which I then held, has been confirmed, and farther experience convinces me, that the abuses which this letter is calculated to prolong, cost the nation not less than five millions a year in additional naval establishments. Under this impression I crave the indulgence of the House whilst I make a few observations immediately connected with the subject of this letter, the documents that are printed with it, and those which are withheld. "It is a justice," says the 986 right hon. gent "to the King's proctor, who is an absolute stranger to me, to state that after the closest attention given to several hundred accounts in the course of the last 18 months, I am persuaded that the interests of the navy are best protected by being in his care;" that is, under the absolute controul of one man, who, in addition to the management of his Majesty's business in two courts, and the monopoly of libelling and prosecuting to condemnation all the captures made by the navy from the enemy, possesses also the exclusive privilege of conducting the numerous and intricate litigations which have arisen of late years out of the seizure of neutrals, causes in which not only the property detained is at stake, but all that a captor possesses is answerable for the costs of suit and demurrage, which, if he is unable to pay, he may be thrown into gaol, not for errors or misconduct of his own, but owing to neglect arising from confusion in an office where there have formerly been from 1,800 to 2000 causes in progress at one and the same time in the courts of admiralty and appeals, an evil which, unfortunately for the country, is working its remedy in a way highly prejudicial to its best interests. Let me ask, would the right hon. gentlemen opposite exert themselves with zeal if every motion they made subjected them to risk of costs, damages and imprisonment? No, Sir, they would not sit on these soft cushions unless they were amply paid, although it is easier to do so than to make captures on the enemy's coast. How would they like to be compelled, as the navy is, to employ one attorney to conduct all their affairs, even if he had not their opponents interests also to promote, as is the case with the Procurator General? Will such management of their affairs encourage the navy to impede Suspicious commerce in neutral bottoms? And, Sir, if the condemnation of a boat costs as much as the condemnation of a ship, is not the capture of the enemy's coasting commerce virtually discouraged? The right hon. gent. indeed deduces a contrary inference. "You will observe" says he, "that the expences on the Johannes, which sold for 3,000l. were exactly the same as on the boat which sold for 250l."
This fact, admitted even by the treasurer of the navy, I shall not stop to prove by the documents which I have brought here; but as the right hon. gent tell us that "the utmost possible relief has been given by the present judge (whose atten- 987 tion to the interests of captors cannot be spoken of in terms of too high praise) in cases of neutrals by lessening the expences of suit proceeding against or claiming property captured as prize, if sworn to be under the value of 150l."—Sworn to be tinder the value of 150l.! Now, Sir, suppose that a prize sells for a few pounds more, and where can one be found that will sell for less, what relief does this afford?—Here is a practical instance in the cases of the Africa and Ceres, where the captor had 11l. 14s. 8d. to pay out of his pocket, although property to the amount of 333l. was condemned. The King's Proctor's Bill for the Africa amounted to 185l. 4s. 10d. Hence the relief which calls forth the treasurer's unqualified praise, much resemble, that granted on a former occasion, "that six privateers being all under fifty tons, having letters of mart, if taken within the space of three months, by the same ship, may be condemned under one monition"!—A bounty which, like that of the judge, can be of no use.—The learned gentlemen take care to restrict the Bills they draw up, as well as the favours they grant, by limitations which preclude the possibility of their own interests being injured. Look into the 72d chapter of the 45th of his present Majesty, and you will see how they have taken care of themselves.
Nothing, Sir, can better demonstrate the effect which the dread of fraud and neglect in the Procurator General's office has on the exertions of the navy, than this account entitled "Appeals against decrees condemning ships and goods claimed as neutrals which now stand ready for hearing;" by which it appears, that the number of causes be longing to the whole navy amounted only to 92, including droits of the Admiralty and Crown, whilst about three dozen of privateers, possessing the inestimable privilege: of employing counsel of their own choice, had actually 110 not injudicious captures, but such as had been sanctioned by the decisions of the lower courts. Such is the effect of the misconceptions which the right hon. gent., informs us have prevailed to a considerable extent in the navy, which has, he tells, us been misled for want of sufficient information." Surely, Sir, it would be better to remove this misconception by the evidence of facts established in a committee, than to deny the existence of grievances, and refuse to examine them even though that determination is accompanied by a vote of approbation of the conduct of the 988 courts of Admiralty. No doubt, thee right hon. gent. hoped that his letter would save us this trouble, accompanied as it is by what he calls a "public minute in the office of his Majesty's Procurator General to regulate the charges in prize cases proceeded against by his Majesty's ships.": This famous minute contained in his second inclosure is to the following effect—"It is the King's Proctor's particular desire in respect to his bills—first, that in all successful cases the bill should be made out mode rate. Secondly, in unsuccessful cases the bill, should contain those fees only which are allowed on taxation." Permit me to ask, what fees is he entitled to that are disallowed on; taxation? So far, Sir, from evidencing that his Bills are moderate, this minute demonstrates that the charges are regulated only by the conception which the procurator's clerks have of the bounds prescribed by the word moderate!
If we may judge of the labour of examining a proctor's Bill by the sum received by the deputy registrar for taxing that which I now hold in my hand it would be quite impossible for the King's Proctor to examine even the charges made by his clerks, although he had nothing else to do.—" Received of John Crickett, esq. marshal of the Admiralty, sixty three pounds, being the sum allotted to the Registrar and merchants for looking over, perusing and settling the accounts of A. H. Stewart, esq. pursuant to the King's warrant dated; 15th May 1806, "signed" J. R. Wheeler" This Bill contains only 39 articles, and it is a curious circumstance that the sum which the Registrar and: Marshal allotted for their own labour, in "looking over, perusing and settling" the account, agrees to a farthing with the amount of the deduction which they made! It will not escape notice too that the Chancellor's brother, lord Arden the Registrar, was well paid though he never saw it. It is pretty evident that such taxation is little calculated to afford relief to the party imposed on.
"For your farther satisfaction," says the right hon. gentleman," by reference to the 4th column of enclosure No. 4, you will see that the disbursements the procurator has made in each case, calculated at the lowest rate, leaves him but 8l. 8s. in each case, for his own profits, for the expence of clerks, and the establishment of his office." Unfortunately for a general inference in favour of such moderation, it is a notorious fact that the 19 989 vessels contained in this list were condemned not only without litigation, but without the usual forms of proceeding, as the right hon. gentleman himself admits in an other part of his letter, where he says, "the only exhibits produced in the Court of Admiralty were three certificates, three affidavits, and a list." Neither were the examination of the Masters taken, or a single paper brought into court. For the expence of real prize causes, let the House look into the bills printed last session, in one of which, that of the Two Sisters and Experiment; the Proctor's bill amounted to 555l. 1s. 6d. and the total charge at the Commons to the enormous sum of 1,029l. 0s. 8d.
Lest the minute of the Proctor and the list of 19 vessels, so cheaply condemned! should not satisfy our minds as to the absolute moderation of the Procurator's bills, the right hon. gentleman proceeds to inform us comparatively, that his charges "are upon the whole lower than those of private proctors," which, if true, would only prove, that it costs less to ruin a cause than to support it.
Permit me to ask the treasurer, who is desirous to remove "the misconception that prevails in the navy," if he thinks that were the commanding officers all compelled to employ one tailor, the chancellor's for in-stance, that it would be quite satisfactory to learn, whilst there was a certainty of their cloth being damaged, that being cut and sewed by old women it was made up cheaper, as might be ascertained by a minute behind the shop board, "that it was the master taylor's particular desire in respect to his bills, first, that the old ladies should be moderate in their cabbaging if the coat fitted, and secondly, if spoilt, that they should take only what they could get." Would not persons thus restricted, and desirous of expedition or care, stimulate the old ladies by a dram; and would not they quit one job and take up another? Would the interests of all be best protected thus? Will the right hon. gentleman affirm, in defiance of the known extent of business in the procurator general's office and of the minute called public, which he has first brought to light; will he assert that the Procurator is not under the necessity of trusting wholly to his clerks? Does he know that this person is in the habit of releasing seizures by the advice of the King's advocate, and that the advocate's opinions are founded on briefs drawn up by the proctor's clerks, by the very individuals 990 who, although the proctor is the guardian of the interest of the crown, felt it convenient to urge as a plea in favour of the restitution of a ship and cargo to Moir, that which Moir had not stated in his own memorial It will be a curious fact if these very papers brought forward by the right hon. Treasurer of the Navy to shew the rectitude should establish the turpitude of the proctor's office. "I suspect," says the right hon. gentleman, "from the amount of the item of 462l. not agreeing with the total of the King's Proctor's bills from No. 1 to 19, that some charges of the actuary are included; the paper No. 5 will obtain an answer, which will explain that point." Now, Sir, where is the answer of the agent? Why has the right hon. gentleman not printed the reply of Messrs. Cook and Halford? Surely had the right hon. Treasurer had the least suspicion that the sum deficient was a bribe, the customary bribe to the Proctor's clerks, he would not have contented himself with asking after it in the ambiguous postscript affixed to paper No. 5, in which he says, "In the account above mentioned there is an item of charge at the Commons, &c. of 462l. 17s. 2d. I am desirous of knowing whether in that amount the actuary's bill at Yarmouth is included, and if so, I request you will have the goodness to furnish me with the particulars." Why "if so?" is that a specimen of the official accuracy of which the right hon. gentleman boasts? Is there an instance in which he is enabled to state with confidence that the interests of the navy are best protected by being in the King's Proctor's care? trust that the right hon. gentleman will be able to give a satisfactory account to the House why he qualified his interrogatory, and omitted Cook and Halford's reply. But perhaps those gentlemen took the hint that, if they could not answer satisfactorily they were to remain silent. Surely such a mode of investigation cannot accord with the views of the right hon. gentleman, nor can it be satisfactory to any impartial mind; I do not blame Messrs. Cook and Halford, for adopting' this mode of promoting the interest of their clients, for whilst one proctor shall manage the whole concerns of the navy by means of clerks, it would appear to be the only means of securing that which by the laws of war ought to be their property; In a case of the Lapwings, a bonus of 500; guineas was presented to the chief clerk, and the ship which the procurator was 991 about to have released was, after the application of the stimulus, actually condemned. The bill of the Two Sisters also affords a proof of the practice.
Not contented with defending the procurator, which in my opinion is no light task, the right hon. gentleman advocates the case of all the law officers of the crown, whose charges, he tells us he has not had any occasion to disapprove of. Is the Attorney General one of these law officers? Let me ask that learned gentleman opposite, whether he does or does not receive twenty two guineas out of the pockets of the navy for every cause that comes before the court of appeals. Notwithstanding that, he has attended but once there since the court commenced sitting in November! If I am incorrect he will say so: Is this one of the law charges which the treasurer has no occasion to disapprove of? And does he think it right that the procurator, the boasted guardian of the interests of the navy, should not only pay the Attorney General for staying away, but fee another for coming to court, and performing his duty.
I need not waste the time of the House in shewing all the contradictions and absurdities which this letter to captain Mason contains—In one sentence we are told, that the judge of the court of Admiralty cannot include more vessels than one in each monition, as the provisions of the 45th clause of the 45th George 3d, chap. 72d, applies only to small armed vessels of the enemy; next, he says, "they could not by the practice of the court be entitled to that beneficial regulation" and yet his 4th inclosure furnishes us with the names of two vessels, though not armed, which were condemned in one monition: The fact will appear that they were not of sufficient value to pay the gentlemen of Doctors Commons for separate monitions, and though not an universal rule, that was the only reason.
Sir, I have passed nearly 20 years in the navy, and having been constantly employed until lately, I have had full opportunity to be acquainted with the feelings of those with whom I have mixed, and I believe that unless the laws and regulations made to guide the courts of Admiralty are reformed, captures will soon cease to be made. Were that done, the enemy would then suffer the loss of all the trade which I have before staled to be of such importance to France and her 992 dependant states. Two thirds of our present naval establishment would be quite, sufficient for the purposes of blockade, and all others; nay, I am clearly of opinion, that if the courts were reformed; it would be a benefit to our country if one third of our ships were convened into firewood. I am sure that the first lord of the Admiralty would not vote against the production of papers and full investigation, if he knew the extent of the evil:, He has however no means personally to become acquainted with the facts, and there are but few who will venture to in form him; his disposition to do justice, evidenced in the recent appointment of that, gallant and persecuted officer, sir Robert Calder, is sufficient to warrant this conclusion.
I shall say nothing at present on the subject of the vice-admiralty courts abroad, except that they are nefariously conducted, and that their exertions are as destructive of energy abroad as the conduct of these in the proctor's office is of exertion at home. At Malta the acts of parliament are set in defiance; the table of fees, which could legally be made by the, king in council alone, was manufactured, and remanufactured by themselves, kept five years in a drawer, and when at last brought out it was affixed, not as the act directs, in open court, but on the back of a door in a private room, where the members of the court eat, drank and put on their wigs. This table had a minute in the hand writing and bearing the signature of the judge, authorising the receipt of additional fees, although by the 45th of his present Majesty this is punishable under the statute of frauds.
Enforce the old laws in their spirit; it will not be necessary to make new ones. Suffer them not to be evaded by the quibbles which the lawyers have introduced. Do this and rescind the order in council of 1779, constituting a single procurator for the whole navy, in direct opposition to the opinion of the great law authorities who were consulted on the subject by queen Anne, and thus restore to the navy that inestimable privilege which the pettiest privateers possess, of choosing their own counsel. Surely the officers of the navy merit as much confidence as those who usually navigate such vessels, especially, such as sally forth from Malta and Gibraltar.
I shall not trespass longer than to express a hope that the right honourable treasurer will inform us why the answer 993 explanatory of the questionable item, has not been printed with the rest of his gar-fifed statement, and I trust, Sir, he will not only vote for its production, but for that of the subsequent correspondence. I hope that it will be found that he, who boasts of official accuracy, did not rest satisfied, if Messrs. Cook and Halford simply answered that the actuary's bill was not included.—I think, Sir, I shall be enabled clearly to establish that the item, after which enquiry appears to have ceased, actually was a bribe to the proctor's clerks; what, then will become of the high compliments paid to the conduct of the affairs of the navy in that corrupt office?
In addition to the correspondence on this point I shall move for a list of the fees termed moderate, and those allowed oh taxation: for the amount of the King's Proctor's bills in the two first and two last cases in each year; by which, an average may be struck, and we shall then see whether the right hon. gentleman's assertions, or my statements, are best founded, and as to the procurator's moderation, and the benefits the navy derives from being compelled to entrust their multifarious interests to his superintendance alone.—The noble lord then proceeded to move for Certain papers, relative to the various instances of Captures he had alluded to; the first of which was, for "Copies of the Correspondence between the Treasurer of the Navy and Messrs, Cook and Halford, relating to an item of the charge of 462l. 17s. 2d. supposed, in the treasurer's letter of the 29th of January 1811, to contain the amount of the Actuary's bill at Yarmouth relative to condemnation of a vessel taken by the Fisgard."
said, he should not follow the noble lord through all the desultory matter he had introduced into his speech, or through all the cases he had thought proper to bring forward, without any reference to the question, and without any previous notice; but as the case of the Fisguard had attracted much attention from the public, he felt it his duty to move for papers in order to answer the charges. He was surprised to hear the noble lord accuse him of misstatement with respect to the King's proctor; his assertion was, that the affairs of the navy were better situated in the hands of one man of great responsibility; and to that opinion he still adhered. The noble lord had said, that fewer causes were litigated by the 994 navy than by privateers: but that in his judgment arose from the prudence of the King's proctor, who investigated fairly, and advised against rash proceedings. He should be ashamed to dwell upon all the cases brought forward by the noble lord, but thought it necessary to explain what the case of the Fisguard was, that the House might decide upon its merits. Captain Mason, an officer of great respectability and character, had written to him; stating some inconvenience and injustice which he supposed to have been committed in respect to some vessels captured by him; to this letter he had replied on the 21st of January. After having duly investigated the facts, which turned out to the honour of the King's proctor, the noble lord had said, that it was the clerks who did the business, but however that might be, the King's proctor was responsible. The noble lord had found fault with an act of parliament, be was not responsible for that. Having entered into the particulars of some charges by the King's proctor, to prove their moderation, ha thought it would be the best way to read the answer of captain Mason to his letter> that the House might see how the matter stood in the mind of the person most deeply interested. Here the right horn member proceeded to read some extract in which the thanks of the gallant officer were warmly expressed; for the prompt investigation of the case, and a tribute of applause pronounced upon the general conduct of the treasurer of the navy, and the judge of the admiralty court.—This was the testimony of the person most concerned in the case, against that of the noble lord who had taken it up without inquiry. As to the case of the Lapwing, the captain of which was said to have given 500l. as a bribe to the King's proctor's office; he would explain its nature. In going through the accounts of the prize, it did not appear to him that that sum had been accounted for, and therefore he wrote to the agents, who returned an answer in explanation stating that it was a case in which a particular responsibility was attached to captain Skene, and inclosing a letter from, him, which de clared that he had paid the sum with the consent of the captors. On investigation it appeared, that the sum was paid for in formation, without which the condemnation could not be effected, and that not one sixpence of it had been paid to the King's proctor or his officers, Hoy could 995 the noble lord reconcile such charges to himself? could there now be any doubt upon this case? It was so doubtful that the King's proctor had advised against it, and it never could have been brought to a favourable issue but for the evidence procured by the 500l. The noble lord had said, that he never had seized a neutral, and never would. The noble lord was the best judge of his own conduct, but to his knowledge some of the best officers did so, and he was sure would continue to do so still. He did not mean to make any charge against the navy agents, who were a respectable class of men, but he must repeat, that the interests of the navy were better secured when under the direction of one person. It was unnecessary for him to detain the House any longer, as he hoped he had shewn to their satisfaction that the charge of the noble lord was unfounded.
§ Mr. Stephen
wished to express his indignation at the cruel manner adopted by the noble lord of treating public men. The noble lord had brought a charge against the King's proctor, which, if true, must render him unworthy to hold any situation. Yet what course did the noble lord pursue? Did he impeach him? No; but he moved for certain papers, which had no more relation to the case than to any other case which was not yet in contemplation. Why did not the noble lord adopt another course? Why did he not go to the first lord of the admiralty, whose conduct he was obliged to compliment? He had said that he had proofs: why did he not go to the court of King's-bench, and produce them? But no, he was satisfied with merely moving for some accounts which he considered a consistent conclusion to a charge of bribery. This was not the way to treat public men. Supposing that a charge had been made against the noble lord himself at that late period of the session, accusing him of peculation, or some other crime, and that all this was followed up by a motion for the production of his accounts, would he not complain of being most improperly treated, and say that every principle of justice and humanity had been violated with respect to him? But it appeared after all that the King's proctor had not received the bribe. He begged leave to remind the noble lord of a former occasion, upon which he had accused the King's proctor, and compelled the government to lay open to the world the agency of a gen- 996 tleman, who, if ever he fell into the hands of the French, might suffer from the disclosure. The member for Bedford had declared, upon that occasion, that the explanation of the government was most satisfactory, yet the noble lord had now brought forward a new charge which had been satisfactorily answered also. As to the assertion that the king's proctor demanded immoderate fees, he believed them to be less than those of others, and cited some instances in which the noble lord himself was concerned, as a proof of the moderation of his charges. The interest of the navy itself required that one responsible person should be employed, and the individual accused appeared entitled to the thanks of the country. He hoped when the noble lord heard such reports in future, that he would examine them privately at first, and go to the admiralty, where information was never refused. At all events, he hoped that he would never again come at the end of a session to attack the character of any individual in a measure which was not warranted by the circumstances of the case.
§ Lord Cochrane,
in reply, said, that he had not been answered in a single point. (Hear! hear!) He repeated, in not a single point. He had asked, why the answer of Cook and Halford to the right hon. gentleman's letter, No. 5, had not been presented among the other papers? He had pressed that question strongly, but had got no answer. The right hon. gent, had, indeed, read captain Skene's letter, approving of the disbursement of 500l. but captain Skene's information on the subject had been defective. He repeated that the proctor and his clerks had been averse to the prosecution of the cause, till the application of the stimulus which they had no right to receive. If a Committee had been granted him last year, he would have proved that 27,000l. had been improperly taken from the navy by that office: but when gentlemen refused an inquiry, it was too much to tell him that his accusations were unfounded. If they put these cases in a different light, and argued upon them, he could not help that; he spoke of the king's proctor, not as an individual, but as a public officer entrusted with duties which he could not fully perform. The right hon. gent. plumed himself on the answer of captain 997 Mason, complimenting him on the attention which he had paid to his case, and the interests of navy captors in general; but captain Mason, too, might have been ill-informed on the subject. The right hon. gent. had written to captain Mason, that measures had been taken, under the sanction of the court of Admiralty, to prevent undue charges by the agents at the out ports in future. Why was there not some enactment on the subject, that officers of the navy might have something precise to trust to? The hon. and learned gent. opposite (Mr. Stephen) had last year moved a Resolution that every thing had been conducted in the most proper way by the law officers. How the House could have agreed to such a Resolution without inquiry, was to him astonishing. He saw no foundation for the delicacy alledged with regard to bringing forward the name of Moir, as it had long been notorious that he had been employed in facilitating the trade of the enemy for ship timber. He denied that he proposed a percentage upon the amount of captures as fees for the proctor; he had only said, that there ought to be some regular rule that the captors might know whether they were wronged or not. As to the observation, that captors were formerly entitled only to one-third of their prizes, this only proved that the ministers, who altered the system knew better how to make use of the motives by which men were generally actuated than the present ministers. The king's proctor had as many causes in the admiralty court as 70 other proctors; this ought not to be: there ought, at least, to be six king's proctors, out of which the officers of the navy might choose. He asked the hon. and learned gent. whether he did not attend sometimes in the court of appeal for the attorney general, and took the fees, while the attorney, though absent, was still paid for his attendance. Formerly the king's proctor sat at one end of the table, preparing their cases for the captors, while another proctor sat at the other end, preparing the cases of the claimants. This glaring abuse had been done away, and he hoped others would be done away in the same manner. He then read a memorial from his relation, sir Alexander Cochrane, a man not likely to be actuated by the prejudices imputed to himself, strongly urging the objection to the circumstance of there being only one proctor, and stating that there were grounds to believe that this proctor secretly appointed 998 the proctor on the other side to defend against himself. His lordship further stated, that next session he would bring in a Bill to amend the law on the subject of prizes, and asserted that the commerce of the enemy was carried on to a great extent; and that the Mediterranean was crowded with their ships, in a great measure owing to the want of a stimulus, which, while they were men, would induce the officers of the navy to keep a sharper look out.
in explanation, said, that the noble lord was, he believed, the only officer who would suspect him of throwing a shield over the navy agents. As the noble lord had returned to the charge of bribery, he thought it necessary to repeat what he had already said, that the 500l. was given to obtain information.
§ Lord Cochrane
said, he had not accused the right hon. gent. of partiality to the agents, but only that he ought to have made more enquiry, and give further information.
§ Mr. Stephen
said that though the Attorney-General could not always attend in court, the crown and the captors had the advantage of his advice.
said it was true that the law officers of his Majesty had not been present at all the causes in the court of admiralty, but this he could say, that all the little assistance he could render, always had been rendered. The cases Were fully discussed in consultations, and he had never failed to attend the Privy Council. If it was imputed to him as a great omission that he did not constantly attend in court, he could say it was impossible. He trusted that those who knew him and his practice, would not suspect that he deserved what had been rather harshly imputed to him in his absence. He had always made his private business yield to his public duty.
§ Lord Cochrane
said he had not charged him with any wilful neglect; all he contended for was, that if he could not attend, he ought not to be paid.
§ Mr. P. Moore
conceived that the House ought to grant the motion, in order to give the noble lord an opportunity of making good his charges. When a person standing forward in the light of a public accuser, brought on charges, which were answered, and notwithstanding that answer, repeated the charges, it was in common justice due to that person, to afford him the means of grounding a mo- 999 tion for a committee to inquire into the truth of what he had stated.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
had never heard a more preposterous doctrine than that advanced by the hon. gentleman who spoke last. What, because the ground upon which the charges of the noble lord were built, was taken from him, that, therefore the House was bound to grant the motion. It was a proceeding that could not be tolerated. The king's proctor had been charged without due notice given to him of the charges; for all that was known on the subject previous to bringing it forward, was a notice on the book of the table, "for papers relating to ships taken by the Fisguard." In this notice was there any tittle of evidence or charge of bribery against the king's proctor, so that it could be met! Was there, indeed, any misconduct imputed to that officer? Yet in the statement of the noble lord he very broadly charged corruption in every instance in the office of the king's proctor, and promised, if a committee was granted, that he would prove his charges. The answer which had been given by his right hon. friend to the charge relative to captain Skene, would condemn the noble lord in the first instance, and in any charges which he might make in the next session. Was it to be endured, that because the noble lord chose to invest himself with the delightful office of public accuser, and to desire that he might be allowed to keep charges hanging over the heads of meritorious and honourable public officers all the vacation, that he should have his desire? Did the House think, that next session, judging from past experience of the noble lord's motions, that he would be prepared to make good his charges? Was it possible, on such a statement as that he had now made, the House could grant an inquiry? He had talked of bringing forward a bill to amend the law. That he might do, and if any thing was found wrong in the present laws on the subject, to be sure the noble lord's suggestion, which he was justified in making from his known experience, would be attended to; but he could not suffer this House, merely at the request of the noble lord, to be turned into a channel for libel and slander to aim their course against any individual. The House he thought would do well to reject such motions, which, brought forward as they were at the end of a session, prefaced with inflammatory speeches, could be productive of no public benefit.
in justice to the kings proctor, stated, that in the prosecution of all cases from abroad,' he had found that officer as honourable a man as ever existed.
§ Sir J. Nicholl,
after the honourable acquittal which, in the judgment of the House must be pronounced, would not have troubled them with any observations, but for the pertinaciousness of the noble lord, who still maintained that he could prove his charges. The noble lord had no right to say, that if the papers were produced, they would prove his charges to be correct. When he stated that the officers of the navy had been defrauded of 30 percent, he inculpated all the officers of the court of admiralty, not even omitting the right hon. and learned judge. The noble lord had moved for the papers on the subject last session. Wishing to throw every light he could, he had seconded that motion, and from time to time furnished additional papers. All of these went to prove, that there was not the slightest ground for the accusation of the noble lord. Indeed, the House had, una voce, almost, acquitted the law officers of the crown, for the noble lord could only find six members on the division upon his original motion, and when the resolution for acquitting the law officers was proposed, the only vote against it was the noble lord's! Under these circumstances, then, the right hon. and learned gentleman trusted the House would agree with him, that there were just grounds for complaining of the conduct of the noble lord, and for thinking that the officers of the admiralty court had been treated with much injustice. He had to assure the noble lord that his charges could not affect him, for he did not now hold the situation of king's advocate; had nothing to do with government business; all his practice being confined to the ecclesiastical court.
§ Mr. W. Smith
thought the House would not object to grant the motion. With respect to the rest, he hoped the noble lord would withdraw them. At the same time he felt himself inclined, should the noble lord next session bring forward any motion respecting abuses in the Admiralty court, to support him. He conceived that the interests of the public might have suffered from the very high character which the officers in that court held, he meant the learned judge and advocate. He knew that abuses, notwithstanding their respectable characters, really did exist. Cases had been mentioned to him of abuses, 1001 and to get at the truth or falshood of those cases, he and frequently consulted proctors who confirmed the facts, but desired their names might be concealed. Feeling himself bound in honour not to disclose their names, as the facts were imparted under the veil of secrecy, he should abstain, but it was sufficient that they were in existence to warrant inquiry.
§ Sir W. Scott,
from the allusion which the hon. gent. had made to him, was called upon to say a few words. If the hon. gent. had stated to him, in the way he had now described, those facts he had mentioned, he should have enquired into them. He begged to remind the hon. gent. that would have been the proper mode of proceeding. It must be obvious, that the only course was to bring cases of abuse under the cognizance of the regular authority appointed to inquire into and correct them. If he had declined to institute that inquiry, then the next course for the hon. gentleman to have pursued, was to bring them before the notice of the House, and the accusation would be against him for refusing to exercise the authority vested in him. Not having done so, the hon. gentleman must excuse him if he complained of injustice, because the statement appeared to charge him with having refused the aid of his powers. He hoped that for the future the House would not have to enquire into every complaint, un-less it was proved that the courts of justice had tailed in the due execution of their authority.
§ Mr. W. Smith
declared, that he had not the slightest intention of making an accusation against the right hon. and learned gent. He was not aware of any abuses which fell within his correction, which had not been attended to. But this he knew, that there were many cases of strong injustice in the admiralty court.
The first motion was put and agreed to. The second motion was then proposed by the noble lord, but not being seconded by any hon. member, fell to the ground. The noble lord then stated his intention of making this the subject of discussion in the course of the next session.