§ Mr. T. Duncombe
At the close of the last Session I felt it my duty to give notice that I should early in the present Session call the attention of the House to the unsatisfactory and evasive character of the Report of the Secret Committee on certain iniquities in the Post Office. I regret that it is now my painful duty to carry into execution the notice I then gave; but my consolation is that the fault is not mine. The Report was made at so late a period, that it was impossible for me to direct the attention of the House to it before the adjournment, and it is not my fault that I am compelled to do it now: if the Report had been as full and satisfactory as I think I shall be able to show the Committee had the power of making it, it would not have been necessary for me now to trouble the House. I need hardly remind hon. Members of what occurred when this question was first mooted, further than by saying that I presented a petition from a person of the name of Mazzini, an Italian gentleman, complaining that his letters had been opened. That petition was treated by the Secretary of State almost with indifference, and he declined giving any information on the subject to which it referred, beyond stating that he certainly had opened the letters of one of the individuals to whom the petition related. He refused, however, to say which of the petitioners' letters he had opened, and also declined to tell us when the warrant had been issued. Afterwards I presented another petition from Captain Stolzman, a distinguished officer in the Polish service; but the right hon. Baronet refused any explanation with reference to that petition. I then moved that the petition should be referred to a Select Committee, and that Motion was supported by 164 Members, and resisted by 208, so that it was lost by a majority of 44, the Government influence having been used to stifle all inquiry. On the 2nd of July I moved for the appointment of a Select Committee, to inquire into the conduct of the department of the Post Office, commonly called 669 the Secret or Inner Office, and into the duties of the persons in it, and to report their opinion to the House. The House must recollect that I was met by an Amendment on the part of the Government, as it was then understood that the real object of my Motion would be met by a Committee that was about to be appointed, which Committee, however, was to be a Secret Committee. I objected then to the constitution of that Committee, and also to its being a Committee of Secrecy. I objected also to the course which the right hon. Baronet took in appointing, without one exception, every individual on that Committee. I, who had brought forward these charges, was not allowed myself to be upon it. The real reason of my not being upon it, I shall be able to explain to this House and the public at large. Not one person was placed upon it that I thought ought to have been, in whom I had the greatest confidence, and with whom I might have communicated. I objected to its being secret, knowing that these Committees of Secrecy are never satisfactory to the public; but I felt confident that when even this Secret Committee had done its duty fully and fearlessly, they would give such a Report upon this subject as to induce this House not to allow the law complained of to remain on the Statute Book one hour after the Report had been made. The right hon. Gentleman, although he appointed the Committee, said, he reserved the right of appealing to this House—thus making doubly sure, for if this Jury of its own appointing did not acquit him, he would have a double appeal. I also reserved the right of appealing to this House, and of opening the whole question, if that Report was unsatisfactory. It is from the reservation of that right that I rise now and demand further inquiry; and I will state to you why I think I am entitled to another and a more searching inquiry. And I think if I make out a case that this Committee has not in the first place obeyed the instructions of the House—that if in the statement which it has put forth I show there are gross inaccuracies—that if there is mystification where there might have been simple and honest proof—if there is evasion where there might have been frankness and sincerity—if there are omissions which are most important in this matter, and that the Report is silent as to certain particulars, where, for the honour of England itself, and for the Government, it ought to have 670 spoken the simple truth—if I make all this out, I shall be much surprised if the House refuses me that open and searching inquiry which the case demands. What were my charges upon that accusation against the Government and against the system? When I went before the Committee, I was called upon to repeat the charges I had made in my place in Parliament. And these were the charges, which I take from the notes I made before that Committee. I stated that I had charged in the House that there existed a secret office in the Post Office Department, where forgery and fraud were practised—where the sanctity of private correspondence was violated; that in that place letters were opened, re-sealed, and forwarded to their destination, and the recipients of them had not the slightest idea that the secrets of their correspondence had been violated. I slated, secondly, that the Secretary for the Home Department, in my belief, had exceeded his power, and that he had made a most unscrupulous use of it; and that more letters had been opened while he was in office than had been opened within the same time by any of his predecessors. I stated, thirdly, that the letters of certain exiles in this country, claiming the hospitality which England always had been ready to afford to them, had been opened at the instigation and desire of Foreign Powers, and that the contents of those letters had been communicated to such Foreign Powers; in fact, that England had become the spy of foreign despots, and imprisonment, banishment, and death upon the scaffold had been the consequence of this system. I stated, fourthly, that the correspondence of foreign ambassadors was the subject of inspection by Her Majesty's Ministers. I stated, fifthly, that a roving Commission had gone, in 1842, into the manufacturing districts for the purpose of opening letters for political purposes. I stated, that my own correspondence had been violated; that my letters, as a Member of this House, had been detained and opened. That was the Bill of Indictment which I was called upon to prefer before the Committee. Those were the charges which I made before this House, and which I repeated. The Committee took them down in their notes, and they were bound to come forward, honestly, fairly, frankly, and candidly, and tell us whether those charges were true or false. Now, how have they met those charges? How do we find those charges explained in this Report? Any one who has read it will find that not one 671 of my allegations has been contradicted. If our instructions had been to them, "Gentlemen, go into that room, explain nothing, and mystify everything, uphold this system, and contradict the assertions which have been made," I should say, (with the exception of the latter point) that this Committee had well fulfilled its duty. The instruction to the Committee was to inquire into the state of the law, and the mode in which this system of detaining and opening letters had been exercised. I said at the time that I did not think the Motion was comprehensive enough—that we ought to know the circumstances under which every warrant was issued. How did the Committee begin their work? They tell us, first, that with regard to the state of the law that it was the same in 1844 as it was in 1711, when the Act of Queen Anne was passed. But, then, did they tell us what that law was in the time of Queen Anne? No, they leave us there. They then go on to say, that in preference to discussing the purely legal question, they propose to give the history of the practice. Now, there is no one single word more as to the state of the law. There I say they have not obeyed your instructions. They then go back to the time of Edward II. There is valuable antiquarian research in this Report; two-thirds of it is composed of the records of antiquity. We begin with Sir Brian Tuke, and we have warrants given us of various persons in remote periods. What do we want with that? We wanted some of the warrants which have been issued in the manufacturing districts; but they have not given us a copy of any of those we wanted. They go on to state that there have been trials of certain individuals for offences discovered by this practice of detaining and opening their letters — Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester, Dr. Hensey, and others, finishing with Mr. Horne Tooke; but they have failed in proving that their letters were detained under warrant of the Secretary of State. On the contrary, I believe upon the trial of the Lord Bishop of Rochester, an objection was taken to this warrant; and the counsel, in examining a witness, asked whether he had obtained the letter in question under a warrant, and it was quite clear that there was no warrant at all. In short, every one of the cases where the letters had been produced in a court of justice proved either that there was no warrant at all, or that there was a regular search warrant for the 672 seizure of papers—a power which is quite right in my opinion, the power of seizing papers, which every government should possess. If you seize papers under a certain warrant, every individual suspected knows what you are about; but to reseal letters, to commit forgery, and to send those letters on, I say it is a disgraceful and iniquitous system, and unworthy of any Minister whatever. They go on then to tell us that in 1735 there was a Committee appointed to inquire into this system in Sir Robert Walpole's time, and another in 1742, to inquire into the ten years preceding of Sir Robert Walpole's Administration; and the Committee, in 1742, was not to be allowed to inquire into any secrets of the Government. In 1742, the Report says, however, that the secrets of Sir R. Walpole's government were somewhat rudely pried into by the Secret Committee. I suppose that is the modern phrase for a Committee of this House honestly and impartially doing their duty. Somewhat rudely! It is a compliment that will never be paid to this Committee. I am afraid I shall be accused before I sit down of having somewhat rudely pried into the whole system of the Government with reference to this subject. We do not want to know whether this Committee of 1742 somewhat rudely pried into the secrets of Sir Robert Walpole's government; but, if you turn to this appendix, what will you find this extreme rudeness to have been? It merely tells you that there was this secret office of which I have been complaining established in that time. It was considered extremely rude that this Committee should have communicated the fact to the public. Then we go on. The Committee are extremely minute as to what happened two or three hundred years ago; and, in short, the whole Report is the greatest take-in I have ever known. If what occurred so long ago is so very interesting, how much more so would have been the history as it came down nearer to our own time. If they can tell us so much of the days gone by, now, when the information is so much more easily and correctly obtained, they can give us everything which we do want to know. But we find all this ardour for research, as we approach the nineteenth century, evaporate, and then grow most suddenly and interestingly reserved. Well, then, I have satisfied the House that at all events as to the state of the law, they have made no Report upon it, They have 673 also said in another page—as to the mode in which they were appointed to examine, that they also declined following the warrant from the time of its reception at the Post Office to that of its execution. Therefore, they avoid explaining the law, and then tell you, with regard to the mode, that they don't think it proper to follow the warrant from the time of its reception to its execution. Why that was one of my specific complaints—that was a subject upon which the public required information, and they will not be satisfied until they have got it. Why have they not followed the warrant from the time of its reception to its execution? For this reason, it would have required details of this Secret Office. They have not said one word about this Office. If they had gone into it, they must have laid bare all the iniquities of that office; but they have escaped from that by saying that they did not think it necessary to make the inquiry. I say, then, that they have not followed the instructions of the House. And here I may take an opportunity of saying I have seen in the papers a paragraph which states that this Secret Office has been done away with. I suppose, therefore, that this Secret Office has been closed; but, as the lawyers say, I believe the venue only has been changed. What does it signify to us whether the practice is going on in that lobby or in this, so long as the practice remains in its full force? It matters not to me or the public, whether this iniquity takes place at the Home Office or in St. Martin's-le-Grand. Therefore the public must not be deceived by supposing, from this paragraph, that the system is done away with. It was created by an Act of Parliament, and the same means alone can destroy it. Well, I have stated that the Committee have not followed their instructions as to inquiring into the state of the law, or the mode in which letters have been opened. Then I also stated, secondly, that the right hon. Baronet had exceeded his powers, and made the most unscrupulous use of them; and that more letters had been opened in the present Administration than in any former one during the same period. Well, now, without intending it, it appears to me that the Committee have rather let the cat out of the bag with reference to this very fact, and the charge which I made is proved. There is a good deal of mystification upon the subject; but it is stated that the general average of the warrants issued 674 during the present century does not much exceed 8 a year, and this number would comprehend on an average the letters of about 16 persons annually;—that in the last 44 years there have been 372 warrants issued, which had affected 724 persons. In a subsequent part of this Report, it is stated, that out of these 372, two-thirds are what the Committee are pleased to call generally criminal warrants—that is, warrants to ascertain murderers and thieves, fraudulent bankers, and persons defrauding the Revenue. A portion of these warrants are also called uncertain; and it is explained that the greatest part of them, if not all, are criminal warrants, as distinguished from political warrants; consequently, two-thirds of the 372 makes 248 criminal warrants. Now criminal war-runts are directed, I believe, in general, against, an individual, to ascertain the address of the person suspected of any offence—they do not contain the names of several individuals; consequently, these 248 criminal warrants would, I say, affect 248 individuals, leaving 124 warrants to affect 476 persons for political offences. It appears, therefore, that this power is maintained for political purposes more than for ascertaining the species of crime against which it is occasionally directed. Well, Sir, in the three years, from the summer of 1841, when the present Government came into office, to the summer of 1844, when this Committee made its Report, the following warrants were issued:—In the year 1841 there were 18 of these warrants, and, giving one-half of these to his predecessor, I leave 9 for the right hon. Gentleman, the present Secretary for the Home Department. In 1842 there were 20; in 1843 there were 8; and in 1844—which is only for one-half of the year,—there were 7, making altogether 44 warrants in the short space of three years. Now, looking over the whole list preceding, in no three years of any Administration will you find that 44 warrants have been issued. The greatest number—and it was singular enough,—was upon Lord Sidmouth's entrance into office—a period which was marked by the most flagrant practice of opening letters;—and it appears that in 1812, twenty-eight warrants were issued; in 1813, eight; and in 1814, three. The right hon. Baronet, therefore, beats Lord Sidmouth by five. Well, I say, show me any period which this Committee has given where any Minister has issued a greater number of warrants than the right hon. 675 Baronet. That was my case originally; and, thanks to the Committee, they have furnished me with the means of proof. Then I also said that another unscrupulous use which had been made of this power was, that it had been exercised towards foreigners; and this I proved by the petitions which I laid on the Table of Mr. Mazzini, and Captain Stolzman, making the complaint which was the original cause of this inquiry. I don't believe that you can show me any instance on record of a similar circumstance. With regard to Mr. Mazzini's, which came first, my complaint was that the Government had opened these letters of his at the instigation of a Foreign Power, and that they had communicated the information which they had received from these letters to some Foreign Power. The Committee have acknowledged that the warrant was issued on the 1st of March, and cancelled on the 3rd of June of the past year, for opening letters addressed to Mr. Mazzini. The intercepted correspondence was transmitted to the Home Secretary, read by him, and then forwarded to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The facts of the case appear to be as follow:—Now, mark this; I say there is a gross error upon this Report, which is fatal to its validity. The Committee say the warrant was issued on the 1st of March, and cancelled on the 3rd of June. It will be recollected, when I presented that petition, the right hon. Gentleman said that Mr. Mazzini had no right to ask for redress, for the warrant was withdrawn. My hon. Friend behind me asked when he had withdrawn the warrant? Sir, Mr. Mazzini's letters were detained and opened the day before I presented his petition to this House, and that was on the 14th of June. Mr. Mazzini's letters were opened from Christmas, 1843, up to the 13th of June. This system was going on for six months, as it is now in my power now to prove, if you will grant me this Committee. I believe the warrant was fabricated for the occasion.* I do not believe there was ever a legitimate warrant issued in the first instance. I believe the whole system has been conducted in a loose manner. That such a warrant was laid before the Committee there can be no doubt. No one disputes the honour of these Gentlemen. This warrant bears date from the 1st March to the 3rd June, a period of three months; but unfortunately* But see Post, February 20th.676 for them, what do the Lords' Committee say—they contradict this. They say—"It is true that Mr. Mazzini's letters were for four months stopped and opened," One says three, and the other four months. Is it nothing for a man's letters to be opened for a month? Does not that require another inquiry and investigation? But I will carry it further, and say that it was between five and six months, I don't care for the warrant laid before this Committee. I can prove that these letters were opened prior to the time when this Report states the warrant to have been issued; and also subsequent to the time when it says the warrant was cancelled; therefore, I say, there is a gross error upon the face of this Report. I don't accuse the Committee of intentional error; they have been imposed upon, and this requires further explanation and inquiry. When I last brought this subject under the consideration of the House, I stated that the contents of Mr. Mazzini's correspondence had been communicated to Foreign Powers; and that his letters had been opened at the instigation of Foreign Powers—that I repeat—a portion of it is admitted by the Committee. The Report says—Representations had been made to the British Government from high sources, that plots, of which Mr. Mazzini was the centre, were carrying on, upon British territory, to excite an insurrection in Italy: and that such insurrection, should it assume a formidable aspect, would, from peculiar political circumstances, disturb the peace of Europe.Why mystify this? Who are your "high sources?" When we hear a "high source" spoken of in this country, it is generally meant to convey the Sovereign; and these "high sources" are doubtless the Sovereigns of other realms, and that establishes my case. They could not specifically say that certain Ambassadors had asked the right hon. Baronet to issue these warrants; but they leave us to guess who these "high sources" are. It goes on to say that "Mr. Mazzini was the centre of the insurrection carrying on upon British territory." No statement was ever more false. They ought to have given Mr. Mazzini the right to be heard before that Committee, and he would have given a different version of it. The Report goes on:—The British Government, considering the extent to which British interests were involved in the maintenance of that peace, issued, on their own judgment, but not at the suggestion 677 of any Foreign Power, a warrant to open and detain Mr. Mazzini's letters.It says it was not at the suggestion of any Foreign Power;—then what becomes of the high sources? I suppose there will be some quibble about who had suggested it; but they said, no doubt, "perhaps you'll find out." The Report continues:—Such information deduced from those letters as appeared to the British Government calculated to frustrate this attempt, was communicated to a Foreign Power; but the information so communicated was not of a nature to compromise—and did not compromise—the safety of any individual within the reach of that Foreign Power.At the same time I would also read a paragraph from the Lords' Report to the same effect. It says:—Certain parts of the information thus obtained were communicated to a Foreign Government, in so far as such a communication appeared to be warranted; but without the names or details that might expose any individual then residing in the foreign country to which the information was transmitted, to danger.Now, I should like to know what the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs says to these passages, because I find, in a debate upon the subject in the House of Lords, Lord Norman by asks if the information had been communicated to a Foreign Power? and the Duke of Wellington replied in the negative; but Lord Aberdeen got up, and said that he could answer the question, perhaps, more satisfactorily; and he added that not one word had been communicated to any Foreign Power. Well; now the Committees of the House of Lords, and of the House of Commons, have settled that with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. There was a gross falsehood somewhere; but on whose part it has been told, it is not for me to say. I, for one, believe the two Committees; but I say that the contradiction of your Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs requires an explanation not only to his country, but to foreign princes and nations. Well, then, the Commons' Report says that this information, which both the Committees maintain was given to Foreign Powers, was not calculated "to compromise the safety of any individual within the reach of that Foreign Power;" and just before it is said that "such information as appeared calculated to frustrate this attempt was communicated to a Foreign Power." Now, what a way of frustrating any attempt was this? Was this worthy of 678 England? Was this the course which you ought to have adopted to "frustrate" this attempt, when you knew you involved the lives of eight unfortunate individuals? You have asserted here that Mr. Mazzini was the centre of this insurrection, and that he was concocting it here. Now, if you would have allowed him to have appeared before that Committee, you would have found, by his correspondence, as I can prove, that there were certainly statements made in letters to him, proceeding from those misguided and unhappy men in Italy, and then residing at Corfu, that they wished to make a descent upon the dominions of his Holiness the Pope, and also upon a portion of the Neapolitan territory; but Mr. Mazzini, in his letters to these individuals, said and did all that he could to dissuade them from it. He said it was a rash attempt, and must fail, and he implored them to desist. They answered his letter, and said, "We will desist, we will follow your advice;" but unfortunately the poison had gone forth to the Neapolitan Government. The British Government had given them intelligence of the purport of the first part of the correspondence, and it was too late to recall it. The Austrian Government sent their spies amongst those unfortunate people. Those spies provided them with ships, and said that in Calabria the peasantry were waiting to rise, and only wanted leaders. These men were misled — they were imposed upon—and not with standing the assurances which they gave Mr. Mazzini in their letters, they left Corfu and went to Calabria, where, instead of the peasantry being ready to receive them, they were conducted to the mountains, and found there a force which had been sent thither by the Neapolitan Government—instigated to it and advised, for ought he knew, by the British Government, and there they were seized; some of them perished in the struggle, but nine of them were seized and carried before a military commission, and shortly afterwards executed. Here is an extract from a letter that was written shortly after their death. It should be recollected that these were men of high family, and were noble-minded but misguided beings. There were amongst them the two Bandiera, sons of the rear-admiral of that name. This is an account of their death, written to Mr. Mazzini here:—The Bandieras and their seven companions died calm and intrepid, bearing witness of their faith, as becomes men who die for the 679 just and the true. One who was present at their last moments at Cosenza, on the 25th of July, speaks of them as of saints, reminding one of the martyrs of the first ages of Christianity. The morning of their execution they were found asleep. They paid almost minute attention to their toilet, as if they were about to accomplish an act of religious solemnity. A priest approached them; they mildly repulsed him, saying that having sought to practise the law of the gospel and to propagate it, even at the cost of their blood among those emancipated by Jesus, they hoped more from their own good intentions than from his words. 'Reserve them,' added one of them, 'for your oppressed brethren, and teach them to be what the Cross has made them, free and equal.' They walked to the place of punishment, conversing together without agitation, without ostentation. 'Spare the face!' said they to the soldiers, who were making ready; 'it was made in the image of God. Viva l'Italia!' This was their last cry upon earth. God and their brothers will recollect it.Another individual says, writing on the same subject,—'If we have success,' they wrote to me in their last letter on the 11th of June, hasten to join us! If we fall, tell our countrymen to imitate our example; for life has been given us to employ nobly and usefully, and the cause for which we shall have fought and died is the purest, the holiest, that ever warmed the breasts of men; it is the cause of liberty, of equality, of humanity, of the independence and unity of Italy.' Such are the men against whom your Government has leagued itself with Austria and the King of Naples.Three men were executed, and this, no doubt, occurred in consequence of the information by the Government to Foreign States. Why not, when you obtained possession of this information by means of opening the letters, have sent to these unhappy individuals, and told them, "Your plan has been discovered, and you must cease to plot on British ground; you are now running into danger, which must involve you in ruin," If you had done this, they would have listened to you, instead of your being the means of leading them to death. These men, then, were made the victims of this system; and I consider that the blood of these men is more on Her Majesty's Ministers than on those whose duty it was to pull the triggers of the muskets with which they were shot. If ever a monument should be erected to the memory of those men who fell at Cosenza, which I trust will be the case, the epitaph on it should be, that they fell in the cause of truth and justice, and through the baseness and treachery of a British 680 Minister. And this, be it remembered, would be perfectly true, as it is one of the consequences of this odious system. But was this the only case which existed with reference to foreigners? I presented a petition last night from two distinguished Polish exiles—the one M. Stanislaus Worcell, a member of the Polish Diet, and Captain Stolzman — respecting the opening of their letters at the Post Office. The latter gentleman found, by some means or other, as Mazzini did, that his letters had been opened, and he, also, last year asked for redress and inquiry; but he was never called before the Committee, and no information was given to the House by the right hon. Baronet as to the opening of the letters of Captain Stolzman. I suppose, however, that the information obtained by means of his letters was communicated to the Russian Government, although the result did not prove so fatal to him as was the case with the Italian refugees. But still this proceeding was altogether most disgraceful to the British Government. The Report of the Committee proceeded to state that—A warrant to open and detain all letters addressed to M. Worcell and to M. Stolzman was issued on the 17th of April, 1844, and cancelled on the 20th of June.I have proof to the contrary. I have made no assertion on this subject which I am not able to prove. Again, the Report says—A warrant to open and detain all letters addressed to M. Grodicki at Paris, and to another foreign gentleman, was issued on the 3rd of June, 1844, and cancelled on the 13th of the same month.Now, M. Stolzman appeared before the public last year by presenting a petition, but no one then heard of M. Worcell, until they saw his name put forward in the Report of the Committee. M. Worcell yesterday presented a petition to this House, with the view of getting the opportunity, by means of an inquiry before an open Committee, of getting rid of the false stain on his character, and to vindicate his character before the House and the country. I have reason to believe, also, that M. Worcell was not aware that his letters had been opened until he saw it so stated in the Report. M. Grodicki, also, was not mentioned last year. Why, then, was M. Grodicki, in contradistinction to another, named, held up to public fame; for it is stated in the Report that this warrant 681 rested on grounds connected with the personal security and safety of a Foreign Sovereign then in England. What did this mean, but that these Gentlemen were actuated by a wish to assassinate this Foreign Sovereign, whom we all know was the Emperor of Russia; but why not say so? for there were two Foreign Sovereigns in the country at that time—namely, the King of Saxony and the Emperor of Russia together. The Committee, however, as usual with them, could not be clear on the point, but appeared anxious that posterity should be in doubt as to whether it was the King of Saxony or the Emperor of Russia that these parties wished to assassinate. The Report then proceeds—The last two warrants rested on grounds connected with the personal safety of a Foreign Sovereign, entrusted to the protection of England. It appears to your Committee that, under circumstances so peculiar, even a slight suspicion of danger would justify a Minister in taking extraordinary measures of precaution. The Committee have not learned that there appeared in the letters that were detained anything to criminate the gentlemen whom the Committee have very reluctantly named.And who asked the Committee the names, and what necessity was there for imputing, or rather insinuating, the wish on their part to commit such a dreadful and foul crime as murder? If they thought it necessary in their report to impute to them such a horrid crime as murder, they should have allowed those gentlemen to come before the Committee, and heard what they had to say in answer to such an accusation. I happen to know that M. Worcell is a member of a high and distinguished family in Poland, and he was a member of the Polish Diet; and from all that I have heard, he was as incapable as any Member of this House of entertaining any intention of committing such a crime; and was it to be borne, then, that this gentleman should be libelled by this Committee by accusations such as they had dealt against his character? This was most unjust on the part of the Committee; and the House, in common fairness, should grant another Committee to allow this individual to explain and vindicate his conduct. If the House should allow the appointment of another Committee, I know that it would come out that all these charges emanated from spies who were here at the visit which the Emperor of Russia "undertook, at a great sacrifice of private convenience;" and 682 with a view to ingratiate themselves with the Russian Embassy, they invented those charges of the intention to commit an atrocious crime; the consequence was, that the Russian Ambassador, or some of his officers, went to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and communicated to him the insinuations which they had heard; and the result was, that the warrant was issued to open the letters of these gentlemen. These spies, wishing to return to their native country, ingratiated themselves with the Russian Embassy at the cost of these honourable men; and their assertions respecting this foul calumny were not only believed in that quarter, but it is evident were partly believed by our Government; and the Committee observe that they had not heard that there was anything in the correspondence of these gentlemen of a criminal nature. The result was that the spies returned to their native land, having got an amnesty, and these gentlemen remained here with a foul stain cast on their character by the Government of this country. This was a most disgraceful part of the Report, and which the Committee was not justified in making. I do not believe that the Government was aware of what it was doing when it was imparting the contents of the letters which showed what passed between the exiles here, and their families in Poland. When the Secretary of State had opened and read the contents of the letters of the Polish exiles and their families, he probably would state to the Russian Government, at whose instigation he had opened them, that there was nothing in these letters of a political or criminal nature, but that they only related to family matters. Are you aware of what you are doing even by giving only this information to the Russian Government? It is notorious that in Poland several ukases have been issued, prohibiting any person in Poland from holding any communication with the exiles of that country; and if they corresponded, no matter on what subject, in writing with a Polish exile, they were to be subjected, for the first time, to be imprisoned and flogged. It was also declared to be high treason for any one in Poland to correspond with certain persons in England who were named. The names of Worcell and Stolzman are in the list of those with whom it is declared to be treason to correspond. Under the authority of this ukase, the wife of General Sovinski has been imprisoned on suspicion 683 of corresponding with other Polish ladies in exile. Madame Vinnitcha, the wife of Colonel Vinnitcha, was also imprisoned for writing to her husband in exile, and Madame Valde was imprisoned and received fifty severe lashes for corresponding with an exile. And these punishments, be it recollected, are inflicted under the mandate of a Sovereign, on whose coming over here a British House of Commons congratulated Her Majesty, considering that the journey of the Emperor of Russia, undertaken at a great sacrifice of private convenience, was a proof of the friendship of his Imperial Majesty. I do not suppose that the Government was aware that they were inflicting injuries on persons in Poland to such an extent, when they informed the Russian Embassy that the contents of the letters received by the Polish exiles only referred to family affairs; but it appeared that if a wife corresponded with her husband who was an exile in this country, she was subject to the most brutal of all punishments—namely, to corporal punishment. If, also, she had any children, she was not only exposed to this disgraceful punishment, but her children were taken from her altogether. I say, therefore, that a Government should be very cautious how it communicates to Foreign Powers any information obtained from the private correspondence of persons in this country, although such letters may relate only to domestic affairs. I come now to another part of my case, as to what is alleged to have been a common practice—namely, the opening the letters and correspondence to and from Foreign Ambassadors which pass through the Post Office. I say that it has been a common practice that the letters of Ambassadors in this country were opened before they were delivered. I imagine I see the Earl of Aberdeen receiving a Foreign Ambassador at his table, and asking him what news he had received from his court, and thus going through the solemn farce of asking such a question, after he had himself read the letters to the Ambassador. I stated last year that the despatches and letters of Foreign Ambassadors which had passed through the Post Office were, before they were delivered, or before they were sent out of the country, opened and copied. When I said this, people doubted it, and said that it was imaginary on my part. But what do I find in the Report? It is there stated—On the subject of the Foreign Department 684 at the General Post Office, the secrecy of private correspondence, your Committee are assured, is kept inviolate. Certain warrants, bearing respectively the signatures of the right hon. Charles James Fox, when Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in 1782, and of his successor, the Marquess of Carmarthen, were laid before your Committee; which, being of a very comprehensive nature, have, in conjunction with other information, induced your Committee to believe that diplomatic correspondence, when posted in ordinary course, incurred in this country and in the other great States of Europe nearly equal risk of inspection. How long similar warrants continued, and when they were finally recalled, your Committee have no information, nor do they think it their duty to report as to any practice which may have existed in reference to this part of the subject.And why not report as to this practice? for in so doing the Committee would only have acted in conformity with the instructions they received from the House. The Committee there say—Of this they are satisfied, that no such warrants or practices now exist; and that public as well as private correspondence, foreign as well as domestic, passing through the Office in regular course, now enjoys complete security, subject only to the contingency of a Secretary of State's warrant, directed for special reasons against a particular letter or letters.Now, how long this practice continued we are not told; it is said that certain warrants were produced having the signatures of Mr. Fox and the Marquess of Carmarthen, as Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs; and we are left to guess, as far as this Report is concerned, as to whether the practice continued up to twenty years or twenty hours before the Report was drawn up. But what is stated in the Report of the Secret Committee of the House of Lords on this subject?—It appears to have for a long period of time, and under many successive administrations, been an established practice, that the foreign correspondence of Foreign Ministers, passing through the General Post Office, should be sent to a Department of the Foreign Office, before the forwarding of such correspondence according to its address. The Postmaster General having had his attention called to the fact, that there was no sufficient authority for this practice, has, since June, discontinued it altogether.I can only say that it appears to me most strange that the Postmaster General should be put to shame as to the alleged irregularity of this practice, as if it were 685 not common. As for the assertion, "that no such warrants or practices now exist," it is a mere quibble as to there being no such general warrants. And what, after the statements made in this Report, must foreign nations think of the system which existed in this country as to the opening letters of Foreign Ambassadors at the Foreign Office? As to the feeling formerly entertained by Foreign Ambassadors with respect to this practice, I hope the House will take the trouble to remark what occurred in the House of Lords some years back. I find that it is stated in the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords, that this practice continued until recently. Now, let us see what happened in 1641, when the Venetian Ambassador complained to the House of Lords that his letters had been intercepted and opened. I find the following statement in the Lords Journals of the 17th Charles I., 1641, Friday, 12th November:—The Lord Keeper signified to the House, 'that the Venetian Ambassador made a complaint to the Lords of the Council, that the despatches which were sent to him this week were opened, and the seal of the State of Venice broken open by the Parliament, whereby he accounts himself much grieved with it, and for this he hath retired himself from the public affairs, as an Ambassador between this Kingdom and that State, until he receives further command from his masters.' Then was read a paper, being a translation out of Italian, delivered from the Venetian Ambassador. The contents was this, videlicet, 'Most noble Lords, the correspondency betwixt princes there hath always been the most immediate ways of a true interest of maintaining of estates, and of continuance of commerce to the benefit and increase of the Commonwealth. To cultivate this, the most great Kings hath always used the most industry; and to facilitate it, they have introduced the expedition of Ambassadors to confirm it betwixt the one and the other kingdom. In this there hath been all respect rendered to all princes even in all times, not only having made the large prerogatives and liberties, and the very same (as I may say) the very princes and patrons possessing the same dominions amongst the remarkable and equally necessary; and that by which we may receive letters, and send from the proper prince, and whatsoever person, without any interruption, which is the most principal part of an Ambassador; which practice, most noble Sirs, is not the laws of our nation alone, but universal, and hath been maintained and inviolated of the king and the public, and of all Christian governments, no less than amongst the most barbarous. I nevertheless cannot say but that I have enjoyed in this great Court that just respect, 686 until the last letters were opened which came from France to me directed, although they were restored by my Lord Feilding and Sir Henry Vane, upon whose honour they secured me that it was a simple error, and not willingly committed, which I believed; yet could not persuade myself that the Government of England, so noble and generous, should have so inferior a mind as to open the letters of an Ambassador, and by this means to violate the laws, and to give an example to the world so damnable, and of so little respect towards the Minister of the Serenissima Respublica, which, after so many ages, hath given a sincere testimony of affection and esteem to this Crown. So now new experience, with my mortification, hath given testimony of the contrary, being yesterday all the letters were opened coming from Venice, Antwerpe, and other countries, and the very letters writ unto me from the Serenissima Respublica, the regal seal being broken, and the Commission sent from my Lords being published, and many of my own letters being taken. The success of this cannot be approved of by any. I have judged it not inconvenient to give notice unto your Excellencies, by which you may reflect of the greatness of their knowledge, as much as concerns them, taking that resolution which they judge most necessary to the sustaining of the honour of this nation, of the public faith, under the protection of whom the Ambassadors live and make themselves known to all princes, that in England they do not pretend to introduce new laws, but they maintain constant profession of the ancient, rendering the respects which they ought to the Ministers of the Serenissima Respublica.Such was the subject matter of complaint in 1641, of the Venetian Ambassador, most properly designated by that Minister as a most damnable system. Indeed, the custom was so admitted to be by the House of Lords; for when the Venetian Ambassador complained of such a violation of faith, the House of Lords thought proper to assent to it. The Journal of that House proceeds to state—This House thought it fit, and agreed, that satisfaction for this shall be given to the State of Venice, and to the Ambassador for the present. The House appointed the Earl of Bristoll, Earl of Holland, Lord Viscount Say and Seal, the Lord Digby, and the Lord Newnham, to draw up presently what was fit to be given by way of answer to the Venetian Ambassador; and their Lordships presented a draught unto the House, which was read in hœc verbâ, videlicet:—'That four Members of the House of Peers be forthwith sent to the Ambassador to disavow the action, and to endeavour to give him all satisfaction, by declaring how sensible they are of it, as tending to the breach of public faith, and the Law of Nations; and to show further, how desirous they 687 are to continue the ancient correspondence betwixt the King and that State, the House of Peers are resolved to be humble suitors to his Majesty, to hasten the departure of his Ambassador, to make known to that State the same sense, with such other expressions as may best declare the tender respect they have to the honour of that State, and the noble usage their Ministers may expect and shall find in their residence here, from the King and Parliament.' This being approved of by the House, the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord Great Chamberlain, and the Lord Marquess Hertford, and Lord Newnham, were appointed by the House to deliver the aforesaid paper to the Venetian Ambassador. The Lord Newnham reported, 'that himself and the rest of the Lords appointed by this House repaired to the Venetian Ambassador, and delivered unto him the paper, translated into Italian, touching the excuse for opening of his letters; and after he had read it, he presented to this House great thanks for sending such persons, of such great place in this State, to him, and promised he would present the same to the State of Venice, with as much respect as he could, but desired that the King's Ambassador may be sent away as speedily as may be to Venice, in the nature of a special Ambassador, to make excuse for this particular business, before he treat of any public affairs; and for prevention of any accident for the future, he desires to have an order to the Postmaster that his letters may be speedily sent him.Now, here it appeared that the Venetian Ambassador would not take the apology in the shape in which it was offered; but it was ordered that an Ambassador should be sent to Venice with a written apology, and strict orders were given that the Ambassador's letters should not be again opened. What would you now say, if the Ambassadors of all nations called upon you to make an apology for opening their letters? I can only say that it is a most infamous system, and utterly disgraceful to the character of England, and I am glad to find that it no longer exists, though it only ceased to exist in June last. I now come nearer home. I said last year that a roving Commission had been appointed, which went through the manufacturing districts for the purpose of opening letters, and also to see to whom suspected persons were writing. This, however, was distinctly denied at the time; but what do I now find stated in page 18 of the Report:—During the outbreak in the manufacturing and mining districts, which took place in August, 1842, in the week of the greatest anxiety, a clerk was sent down from the London Post Office, with directions, under the authority of 688 the Secretary of State's warrant, to open the letters of six parties named therein, all taking a prominent part in the disturbances of that period. In the same week the same clerk was directed, under authority of two other such warrants, to open the letters of ten other persons named; and a fortnight later to open the letters of one other person, making seventeen in all. Most of the persons whose letters were ordered on this occasion to be opened were indicted, and many both indicted and convicted, before the Special Commission appointed to try the parties concerned in those disturbances. With one exception these warrants were issued between the 18th and the 26th of August, 1842, and they were all cancelled on the 14th of October.Now what became of this one exception we are not told; perhaps it is in force now. The Report then went on to say:About the same time, two clerks were sent down to two provincial towns, esch with directions under authority of a Secretary of State's warrant, to open and examine the letters addressed to one individaal in each town: but in one of these cases there were no letters to open. One clerk employed on this duty returned to his ordinary business after a week's absence, the other after an absence of five weeks.Now could there be any doubt that this proceeding gave rise to the report that a roving Commission had been sent into the manufacturing districts? It was stated in the Report that there was no such commission, but this certainly very nearly resembled it, as a clerk was sent over the manufacturing districts to open suspected letters. I said that the Secretary of State for the Home Department had not acted in the usual manner, but I was contradicted. I would ask whether the Committee can deny that this mode of sending a clerk into the country purposely to open letters, did not justify me in the language which I used? I believe that the proceeding of the right hon. Gentleman was totally and entirely illegal; for it appears that this clerk was not merely to open letters, but to examine the letters of persons from a distance. This clerk was ordered to open letters in a particular handwriting. I am not satisfied, then, that he did not open other persons' letters, with respect to which there were no warrants. When letters were directed to individuals, how could this clerk distinguish one man's handwriting from another? how often mistakes must arise! I am told that a warrant was issued to open letters in a certain man's handwriting; but how can any one tell 689 that other persons letters were not opened, with respect to which there was no warrant? I believe if inquiry were made into the practice, the proceeding of the right hon. Baronet would be found to be perfectly novel and entirely illegal. The Report then proceeds:—In the autumn of 1843, during the disturbances which took place in South Wales, two clerks were sent down from the Post Office into the disturbed districts, with directions, under authority of a warrant from the Secretary of State — one to inspect the letters of one person at a particular town, the other to inspect the letters of another person at another town; and, subsequently, under authority of a different warrant, this second clerk was sent to a third town, there to inspect the letters of a third person. In all three instances, the persons whose letters were to be inspected, were specifically named in the warrant. One of these warrants was in force eighteen, the other seven days. It is these facts, probably, that have given rise to the report of a Commission or Commissions having visited the manufacturing districts, charged with a general authority to open and inspect letters.This, I say, is a most dangerous proceeding, to let the Secretary of State act in this way, and that he shall be allowed to send down a clerk to open any person's letters at this person's discretion. I contend, that on this point, there should be some further and more satisfactory information. It is stated in another part of the Report,—Your Committee will here notice a statement which has been made, that instances have occurred of sending entire mail bags with letters to the Home Office for examination. Your Committee are satisfied that no instance of the kind has occurred.I never said so; but I know that whole bags have been opened at the Post Office, for the purpose of selecting particular letters. Indeed, it is admitted in the Report of the Committee, that the letter bags from Dublin, Brighton, and other places, had been taken out of the usual course into an inner room of the Inland Office, at the General Post Office, for the purpose of being examined. I never said that the bags were sent from the Post Office; when, therefore, the Committee have chosen to answer a charge I did not make, I must say that I think it would have been better if they had distinctly answered the charge I really did make. Again, the Committee say,—None but separate letters or packets are ever sent, out of the ordinary course, from 690 the Post Office to the Home Office—and those never but under a Secretary of State's warrant; and that warrant usually directs, that a letter or letters directed to certain persons, or written in a certain handwriting, be detained; and that either a copy of the post mark, or of the address, or of the contents, or that extracts from the contents, or the letters themselves, be sent to the principal Secretary of State.Now, look to the vague generalities in this, that copies or extracts are to be made of letters written in a certain handwriting. Why, under the plea of opening letters in a particular handwriting, these persons might open any letters that came before them. Did the law, I ask, ever contemplate the opening of letters in any particular handwriting, for no one could find out with any tolerable certainty who wrote any particular letters until they were opened and read. Is there, I ask, any similar instance to this in the whole annals of letter opening? The Committee have given copies of the warrants for opening letters issued by the Duke of Newcastle and other Ministers nearly a century ago; but I should like to have a copy of one of the warrants issued by the right hon. Baronet. I now come to the last charge which I made. I stated that I had reason to believe that my letters had been detained and opened. Now, on this point, the Committee have been perfectly silent. I stated, in the first instance, that after the letters were sorted, and were in the hands of the letter-carrier, that he was told to give up the letters of such or such a street. I particularised the letters sent to the Albany, and said that I knew, that in 1842, my letters directed to that place were asked for. On my making the statement that I had reason to believe that my letters had been opened, a great number of gentlemen said to me, "We cannot suppose your letters have been opened; Government cannot be so base, and mean, and shabby, to issue a warrant to open your letters, or those of any other Member of Parliament." Now, although the Committee in their Report are silent on the point, I know—and give me a Committee, and I will prove it—that my letters were daily opened by order of the right hon. Baronet. I confess that I feel degraded as a Member of the House of Commons, that I am such an object of suspicion to a Secretary of State, that my letters should be opened. I cannot conceive a greater personal insult, a greater insult to the constituency I represent—a large and enlightened constituency as it is—for I am 691 not the representative of a rotten borough, or the nominee of a Peer. I say, therefore, that I cannot conceive a greater insult, because it is not merely an insult to myself personally, but to the constituency which I have the honour to represent; and I will further say, that if my correspondence is not free, I am not a fit representative of the people; and in the name of that constituency, I call on the right hon. Baronet to justify, if he can, the opening of my letters. I know not what story may have been trumped up with regard to the Secret Committees of the Lords or Commons; but I owe it to myself and to this House, and to my constituency—I say it is due to you and to them—that the right hon. Gentleman should justify the course which he took in ordering my letters to be opened. I asked the right hon. Gentleman, on a former occasion, whether my letters had been opened, and he then talked in a vapouring manner of a sense of public duty preventing him from answering such a question. I confess that I hardly believed the circumstance at the time; but the right hon. Baronet then said, that I had put a question which I must well know that he could not answer. How does the question stand as respects the Representatives of the people? I asked the right hon. Baronet whether he opened the letters of a Member of that House; and I now find that the Secretary of State while he was guilty of the meanness, ay, and the baseness, of opening my letters, had not the courage to avow it. ["Order."]
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member has applied expressions to another Member of this House, which, I am sure on reflection, he will be glad to explain.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
I applied the expressions to the right hon. Gentleman in his Ministerial capacity, and in that alone, and to these remarks I adhere, and so they shall remain. The Committee have not reported on this point, although I called upon them to do so, and I made this charge in the room up stairs, and they have been perfectly and entirely silent as to what inferences they had drawn on the subject. The only inference which I can draw is this, that they did not like to do me an act of justice—not even to the extent that they did to these Polish gentlemen—by saying that they had not learned that there appeared in the letters which had been detained anything to criminate them—they have not done me even the same extent of justice, small as it is. 692 The Polish gentlemen were told that there was nothing to criminate them in the correspondence which was opened; but the Committee knew well that if they said this with regard to myself that it would have been a direct censure on the right hon. Baronet. This was the difficulty in which the Committee was placed, and I was to be sacrificed for the purpose of screening the right hon. Gentleman. This is another reason for inquiry, and I call for it in justice to my own character, and for the satisfaction of my constituents. The Committee, in the last part of their Report, proceed to consider as to whether or not this power should be abolished; and if any Gentleman who has read the concluding sentences can make out any meaning in them, he must be a wise man indeed. We find reference to the small number of warrants issued in Ireland; and I find, on reference to the debate in the House of Commons, that the consideration of the warrants for opening letters in that country was deputed to the Committee in addition to the original Motion. I find, also, that the right hon. Gentleman quoted a passage with respect to Ireland, more with a view to implicate his predecessors than to defend himself. It appeared that few letters had been opened in Ireland; and when the subject was before the House of Lords last year, Lord Normanby, much to his honour, said that he was "especially anxious that the Irish Post Office should be inquired into, because there had been circulated within the last few hours some most absurd statements respecting the exercise of this power by him (Lord Normanby) when in office in Ireland — he would distinctly and emphatically say, in answer to these misrepresentations, that while he was in Ireland as when in office in England, in no one instance had this power been exercised by him for any political purpose whatever. In the very few instances in which it was made use of, it was applied to those cases of low ribbonism which could not be ferreted out by other means." It is seldom that I have an opportunity of agreeing with the organ of the Government commonly called the Morning Herald; but I must in justice read to the House what I must consider as a most excellent article, which appeared in that journal on the subject now before the House:—There are some offences of which it is so dishonourable even to be suspected, that it is real kindness to give a person who labours 693 under the foul imputation, an opportunity of denying them. It is, therefore, with no unfriendly object that we feel bound to notice once more a charge which has lately been pretty freely and openly preferred against Lord Melbourne and his Cabinet, and distinctly slated a month ago in the Herald. The charge is this; that his Lordship and his Whig Colleagues were in the habit of opening Mr. O'Connell's letters at the Post Office. The charge, we regret to say, rests on such authority as we cannot hastily reject or despise; at the same time weave most unwilling to believe implicitly an accusation which, if true, must brand the Whig Cabinet with an indelible and eternal mark of infamy and dishonour.Now mark these words—With an indelible and eternal mark of infamy and dishonour.Now this is the language of the Morning Herald, your own organ. The article goes on thus:—To open the letters of a Member of Parliament—of a man entrusted by the people with the solemn charge of their interests—is clearly a high crime and misdemeanour against the constitution; it is a measure so violent and extreme that nothing short of an extreme case of danger or suspicion could possibly justify it.There is the language of your own organ on this subject. It states that to open a letter of a Member of Parliament is a crime that brands the Government that could have recourse to it with infamy and dishonour. Now, my letters have been opened, and therefore, from that fact, and the sentiment of your own organ respecting it, you may draw what inference you please. But it is not only entitled to the epithets attached to it by the Morning Herald, but it is also a crime of a very grave nature. If we find that the letters of other individuals should not have been opened except under the authority of a warrant from the Secretary of State, it follows that it is not only a misdemeanour, but also a breach of privilege for the letters of Members of this House to be opened without the authority of such a warrant. There is a Resolution on the Journals of this House making it a high breach of privilege to open the letter of any Member of the House, or a letter addressed to any Member of the House, except under a warrant from the Secretary of State. I say that the existence of such a Resolution justifies me, if I had no other grounds for doing so, in putting the question to the right hon. Baronet, whether 694 my letters have been opened under a warrant from him, or not. If no such warrant have been issued, then other individuals have been guilty of a breach of privilege, whom I should require to be brought to the bar of the House. I will conclude my remarks with the concluding passage of the Report of the Committee. It was understood that the Committe were to give some opinion as to the expediency of continuing or abolishing this system of espionage. But have they done so? Not bit of it. The best part of a page is taken up with an opinion on this point; and I defy any man to understand what the purport of it can be. There appears to have been nine Members on the Committee, and there appears in this passage nine different arguments — one, I suppose, being intended to represent the opinion of each Member of the Committee. The conclusion to which the Members would appear to have severally come are really most extraordinary, though what reference they bear to each other it is rather difficult to say. The Committee say—With regard to the utility of such warrants, for the detection of seditious conspiracies, or other practices endangering the public safety, or the discovery of the views entertained by those who engage in them, it would be unreasonable to deny that, in certain cases, this practice may have aided the Executive Government in various ways.It appears from this that the Committee had thought it necessary to deny that which nobody had asserted, but probably somebody on the Committee had suggested the point, and then went on to give his reason in these words:—And, amongst others which are more obvious, by informing them of the real strength of the conspirators and extent of their combinations, and thus preventing the Ministers of the time from taking exaggerated views of the force arrayed against the State, and claiming extraordinary powers to meet apprehended danger.So, Sir, we are to continue this system of letter opening merely in order to dispel the apprehensions of some timid Minister. But then another Member of the Committee gets up and says—Still, however, the argument derived from the smallness of the number of warrants as compared with the number of persons who may be supposed to entertain such criminal designs, is not to be lost sight of.That was Number Three. Then Number Four gets up and says, 695While, on the other hand, it must be admitted that the number of those to whom this class of warrants would apply, as being the chosen leaders of multitudes, would not be very great.On this, Number Five stands up, and continues the argument by saying—The warrants of this class have amounted, on the average, to little more than two a year, which would extend to little more than four persons. The greatest number of warrants of this description issued in any year within the present century, is about sixteen, extending in these cases to between forty or fifty persons. In addition to the argument derived from the smallness of the number affected, it must not be forgotten that, after the publicity given to the fact that the Secretary of State has occasionally recourse to the opening of letters as a means of defence in dangerous and difficult times, few who hereafter may engage in dangerous designs will venture to communicate their intentions by the medium of the post.I say Number Five must have been a most sensible man.And the importance of retaining the power, as a measure of detective police, will consequently be greatly diminished.Then comes Number Six, and says—The last argument, however, supposes, that there is no absolute certainty that a letter may not be intercepted; and it may appear to some that to leave it a mystery whether or no this power is ever exercised is the way best calculated to deter the evil-minded from applying the post to improper uses.Then up starts Number Seven, and says—It must also be remembered that if such a power as this were formally abolished, the question would not be left quite in the same condition as though the power had never been exercised or disputed.Next we have Number Eight giving us his opinion of what is to be particularly remembered. It is strange that every one of them should have prefaced his opinion with "It must not be forgotten," "Now you must remember," "It is not to be forgotten," or some term of that kind, to impress it the better on our recollection. Number Eight says—By withdrawing it, every criminal and conspirator against the public peace would be publicly assured that he should enjoy secure possession of the easiest, cheapest, and most unobserved channel of communication, and that the Secretary of State would not, under any circumstances, interfere with his correspondence.Then gets up Number Nine to close this debate. He finishes this important argument with the sage remark, that— 696It must not be forgotten, however, that at present other rapid means of communicating their views are of easy access to the evil-intentioned, and that, as far as internal order is concerned, the same rapid means afford the Government unexampled facilities for suppressing tumult.The Report concludes with these remarks:Under these circumstances, it will be for Parliament to consider whether they will determine upon any legislative regulation, or whether they will prefer leaving the power on its present footing, in point of law, in the hands of the Secretary of State, to be used, on his responsibility, in those cases of emergency in which, according to the best of his judgment, its exercise would be sanctioned by an enlightened public opinion, and would appear to be strongly called for by important public interests.I think I have said enough to convince this branch of the Legislature that this power should be altogether abolished. I think there is no necessity for farther inquiry to induce us to come to that conclusion, or for any purpose, except to ascertain one or two facts—such as the opening of the letters addressed to the Albany, to which I have already referred. I have stated that there would appear to have been great difference of opinion in the Committee, but that, from the course taken, there had been no collision, as each Member would appear to have put forward his own views in the Report, as I have read them. That being so, it is hard to say what they may have intended to convey as the result of their inquiry. They say that it is for the Parliament to consider whether it will determine upon any legislative regulation, or whether it will prefer leaving the power on its present footing, in point of law, in the hands of the Secretary of State, to be used on his responsibility in those cases of emergency in which, according to the best of his judgment, its exercise would be sanctioned by an enlightened public opinion. But you must recollect, before coming to this latter decision, that when the Minister, or the Secretary of State for the Home Department, is called upon for his authority for exercising this power, he says that he did it on his own responsibility, and without any other authority whatever. Are you to bring enlightened public opinion to bear on this power so exercised? I say, we ought to have a Committee to settle whether it is the opinion of this House that such an authority should be continued. Out of doors, there can be no 697 question as to the general feeling on the matter. It is, I repeat, necessary to have a Committee to report specially on this point; and the necessity is the stronger, because in the House of Lords the First Lord of the Admiralty stated, on the 25th of June, that it was a power which existed at all times, and one which must always exist in any country that has any government at all. There is the opinion of Lord Haddington, the First Lord of the Admiralty, on the subject. He declares it to be his conviction, that we can have no government at all without the exercise of that odious power—that there could be no government in England unless that government were allowed the power to commit forgery and fraud at its discretion. I say, no honest government requires this power. I say, the safety of England depends on no such protection — on no such iniquitous means as this. But I do maintain that the honour of England, and the honour of Englishmen, require its total and its immediate abolition. It is, Sir, with these views that I now, after having trespassed much longer than I intended on the indulgence of the House, beg leave to move—That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the mode in which letters have been detained, opened, and re-sealed, at the General or at any Provincial Post Office; and also into the circumstances under which every Warrant for that purpose has been issued by any Secretary of State, from the 1st day of January, 1840, to the present time; the said Committee to report their opinion thereon to the House, and also whether it is expedient that the practice should be continued.
§ Sir J. Graham
rose and said: I rise, Sir, under great disadvantage to follow the hon. Member who has just sat down, and to address the House upon the question before it; for although in my own judgment and conscience I feel a strong conviction that I have done nothing in the execution of my public duty of which any public servant or gentleman can be ashamed, yet the topic now under discussion is one for which I feel that in the mind of the British public there is naturally existing a strong prejudice against the public servant who has to discharge this particular function; and also I am aware that I am addressing a body of gentlemen of the United Kingdom in whose bosoms there must be a feeling which, in their generous nature, makes the execution of this duty repulsive to them, which, as a 698 public servant, I am compelled to perform. I feel, therefore, Sir, all the disadvantages of my present position. The hon. Gentleman, too, has had the advantage of that prejudice to which I have adverted, and he has not been very sparing in the use of it. Passing from that, I shall, however, at once dispassionately, but respectfully address myself to the various topics to which the hon. Member has alluded; and I will follow him as far as my memory serves me throughout the whole course of his speech. I entirely deny that any effort whatever was made by the Government to suppress inquiry on this subject in the first instance. On the contrary, when the matter was first mooted, I stated what I then thought, and what I still think, that it was not for the public good, nor consistent with my public duty, that here, in this Assembly, I should enter into a discussion of the precise mode in which, exercising the duties of my office, and bound by an oath to my Sovereign, I had consulted, what appeared to me to be the public interest; but I stated frankly, at the same time, that if it were the pleasure of this House to institute an inquiry, and if it were the pleasure of my Sovereign to release me from the oath of office which bound me to secrecy, I was willing to make the most ample and full disclosure of every circumstance connected with the cases which the right hon. Gentleman brought under the notice of the House. I made that unreserved statement to the House, and, after full debate, and ample deliberation on the subject, the House selected, in its wisdom, a Secret Committee as the proper tribunal before which the inquiry should be made. The hon. Gentleman, towards the close of his speech, had thought fit, by allusions, and by analysing the latter part of the Report, to turn the labours of the Committee into ridicule. I think, therefore, that it is right, under these circumstances, to call to the recollection of the House and of the country the manner in which that Committee was formed. I do not think it would be possible, even on a review at the present moment, of the names of the Members of that House, to find any nine Gentlemen who are more entitled to the confidence of Parliament and of the country than the Gentlemen who were selected to serve on that Committee. The House will pardon me for saying—after the speech which it has just heard—that the question was one not altogether unconnected with party. 699 In fact, there was not only a great deal of party feeling displayed in the manner in which the question was brought before the House; but I shall, perhaps, be justified in adding that there was also something amounting to personal hostility in the spirit by which it was conducted. And yet, on the part of the Government, I did not hesitate for a moment, in nominating that Committee, to consent that a decided majority of the Members on it should be my political opponents. As a further confirmation on this point, I trust the House will allow me to read the names of the nine Gentlemen who were selected on that occasion. They were Lord Sandon, Mr. Wilson Patten, Mr. Thomas Baring, Sir William Heathcote, Sir Charles Lemon, Mr. Warburton, Mr. Strutt, The O'Conor Don, and Mr. Ord. Now, the Committee, so constituted, after being deliberately appointed by the House, proceeded to investigate the entire subject; which is now brought under discussion, for the second time, by the hon. Gentleman. Sir, I stated originally, that if such a Committee were appointed, the entire circumstances, so far as my knowledge went, should be laid fully and fairly before them. I think I see at this moment at least a majority of that Committee present in the House; and I pledge in their presence my honour in my place in Parliament, that every minute detail, without exception, and without reservation, which came within my knowledge, was laid before that Committee—not extorted from me in the course of my examination, but voluntarily tendered. There was no difficulty in procuring all the evidence from me which I could supply; and I voluntarily stated before the Committee all the information, without reserve, that I possessed on the subject. There is not any one subject brought under discussion this night by the hon. Gentleman, which, did not form part of the matter of my evidence before that Committee. I repeat I kept back nothing. If my conduct with respect to this accusation were such as to affix a disgrace upon me, that conduct was brought fully before the Committee, and was passed under their review; and if, under those circumstances, I am acquitted by a Committee, composed of the Gentlemen whom I have already named, of "baseness" and "meanness," I had at least the courage before them to make a full disclosure of the whole of my conduct. Charges are easily made in this House of want of courage, of "meanness 700 and baseness"—whether official or otherwise; and if it be considered by the House to be consistent with its dignity to have such charges bandied about, they are to me matters of comparative indifference. My conduct, as I have already observed, has been submitted to the judgment of the nine Gentlemen whom I have mentioned. The hon. Gentleman, with an alleged perfect knowledge of the facts—obtained I know not how—insists on charging me with disgraceful conduct—with baseness and meanness; but I have been acquitted as a Gentleman and a Minister of the Crown, by the nine Gentlemen I have named; and I care not one rush what the opinion of that hon. Member may be on the subject. The hon. Gentleman stated that the Report of that Committee is unsatisfactory and evasive. It is not my duty to defend that Report; but this I will say, that there were on that Committee some of the most experienced, and most honourable men in this House; and I am quite persuaded that it was not their intention to keep back or suppress any portion of the subject matter submitted to them for inquiry. They are all Gentlemen utterly incapable of wilfully deluding the House. I believe they investigated the matter with care; and I am satisfied that they have detailed to the House the exact impression which the result of their inquiry made upon them. In the first place, the hon. Gentleman charged them with disobedience to the orders of the House; and he evinced as a proof of that disobedience, the circumstance that they did not appear, from the particular expression used, to have traced the warrant from its issue to its withdrawal; because in their Report they have not gone into that minute detail, the hon. Gentleman contended that they had disobeyed the orders of the House. I remember the entire of the evidence that I gave before the Committee, and I am satisfied that everything relating to my office, as far as the issue of the warrant is concerned, and the events that have taken place in consequence of that, issue, have been all carefully investigated by them. But the House should recollect that every statement which I made before the Committee was contrasted with the evidence given by Officers from other Departments; and if any inaccuracy exists in the former, it must necessarily have been at variance with the statements of the other witnesses. The Committee had, besides, the advantage at the time of cross-examination, and of other 701 testimony from a great variety of quarters. I was fully examined with respect to every circumstance connected with the issue of the warrants; and I stated fully all I knew of the matter. I know not what evidence was given by other witnesses before the Committee; but this I can state — that the Postmaster General, and all the officers of the Post Office were carefully examined. So much for the allegation of the hon. Gentleman that the orders of the House had not been attended to by the Committee. But the hon. Gentleman said I have been guilty of an excess of authority, in using the power vested in the Secretary of State too frequently and vexatiously. I conceive that this portion of the charge of the hon. Gentleman was amongst the most important matters submitted for the judgment of the Committee; and I am bound to suppose that the House which constituted that tribunal, reposes confidence in the decision to which it arrived. I cannot submit, therefore, to any authority other than the recorded judgment, on this point, of the tribunal appointed by the House; and will the House permit me to read to them very shortly the judgment of the Committee on this very point of the excess of authority—the undue exercise of authority vested in me by law, and the comparative frequency of its exercise? The hon. Gentleman will find at page 15 of the Commons' Report, that the Committee came to the following conclusion:—The general conclusion which the Committee draw from the Returns before abstracted is, that in equal intervals of time, these warrants have been issued in nearly equal number, by the several Administrations which have been in power from the commencement of 1799 until now. For although in certain years, in consequence of internal commotion, it happened that the number of warrants, issued by certain Secretaries of State, was unusually great, yet in other years, if they continued sufficiently long in office, the number of warrants they issued for similar purposes proved to be unusually small; so that the annual average of all the warrants they issued, during the whole period of their continuance in office, did not rise materially above the general annual mean.Then again, at page 19, with respect to warrants which I would not term of a criminal but of apolitical character, the Committee say:—The warrants of this class have amounted on the average to little more than two a year, which would extend to little more than four 702 persons. The greatest number of warrants of this description issued in any year within the present century is about sixteen, extending in these cases to between forty and fifty persons.Now, Sir, I have referred hitherto to the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons; but the House must remember that a Committee on this subject was also appointed by the House of Lords. I think that here, where the honour of Members is so highly esteemed by the House itself, the declaration of a Member in his place has ever been held equivalent to his oath. It would be almost inconsistent with our privileges to consider the sanction of an oath which is administered by the Committees of the other House of Parliament more binding than such declaration; but, certainly, the fact is, that witnesses examined in the other House of Parliament are examined on oath. Before the Committee in the other House I underwent an examination on oath as searching as that before the Commons. All the facilities of contradiction to which I have already adverted by the calling of other witnesses, applied equally to the investigation before the Lords. I have read you the names of the persons composing the Committee in the Commons. In the Lords, also, as here, by the advised act of the Government, a majority of their political opponents was put upon the Committee of Inquiry. In the Committee of the Commons, there was, it is said, no eminent lawyer, no person conversant with the examination of witnesses, no person apt at the exhibition of that torture of cross-examination by which the truth, in the tribunals of this country, is elicited with greater certainty than in any other tribunals in the world. In the other House was that the fact? Was there no experienced and eminent lawyer on the Committee? It so happens that upon that Committee sat two of the most distinguished lawyers now living in this country, both of whom have held the Great Seal, and have been at the head of the profession of the law. There was Lord Cottenham, late Lord Chancellor; there was Lord Brougham, who also held the Great Seal; Lord Auckland, Lord Colchester, the Bishop of London, and Lord Somers, with Lord Colborne in the chair. That was the composition of the Committee of the Lords; and they went into the case fully, and examined all the witnesses on oath; and now, on the question whether there has been excess of the exercise of the 703 power entrusted to the Secretary of State in any Department, hear the judgment of the Lords' Committee. They say:—We are bound, in conclusion, to state, that having looked back into the practice under several Secretaries of State during successive Administrations, for move than twenty years, we have found that the practice has been nearly uniform, and that the power has been very sparingly exercised, and never from party or personal motives.Sir, that gives a negative to the charge of baseness and meanness. The Committee proceed:—In every case we have investigated, the exercise of it seems to have been directed by an earnest and faithful desire to adopt the course which appeared to be necessary to promote the ends of public justice, or to prevent disturbance of public tranquillity, or otherwise to promote the best interests of the country.That was the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords as to this part of the subject. Now, Sir, the hon. Gentleman thought proper to advert to a paragraph in a newspaper, to the effect that "the Secret Office," as he terms it, at the Post Office, had been recently suppressed at the Home Office; but notwithstanding the accuracy of the knowledge which the hon. Gentleman has upon these matters, he has fallen into some errors here. He appears to think that apart from the Foreign Office, there is some secret office at the Post Office independent of that establishment, and connected with the Home Office. At page 17 of the Report, the Committee of the House of Commons state, with respect to the Department in question,—This Establishment is connected with the Department of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; it is conducted by officers paid and appointed by him, from whom alone they receive their orders, and to whom alone they are responsible.The passage relating to this subject in the Report of the Lords' Committee was, I think, quoted by the hon. Gentleman, and is the concluding passage of their Report; under these circumstances I have no difficulty in stating to the House, that this establishment has existed in connexion with the Foreign Department for more than a century. Its existence is no new intelligence to this House; it was under the solemn consideration of a Committee of the House of Commons in 1742; in the time of Sir R. Walpole, that Committee reported to the House, fully detailing the 704 existence of the establishment. They gave the names of the persons then employed in the establishment, and they entered generally into the fullest and most comprehensive details; yet this House, notwithstanding, took no measures to express their disapprobation of the existence of such an establishment; and I repeat, that above a century ago this establishment, under the direction of the Foreign Office, did exist in connexion with the Post Office. I shall not enter into the historical researches contained in the Report, of your Committee; but the hon. Gentleman will see there, that the greatest constitutional authorities, when Secretaries of State, have taken part in the transactions there detailed. Sir, I can also state to the House that this establishment for several years did exist, not under the same roof with the Post Office; and I now state that, not by an order of the Home Office, but of the Department with which it is immediately connected, this establishment has been again withdrawn from the Post Office, and is no longer in use. So much for that Department. The next accusation of the hon. Gentleman was with reference to the case of Mr. Mazzini; and he thought it consistent with his public duty to declare his belief that the warrant authorising the opening of Mr. Mazzini's letters, which had been presented before the Committees of both Houses of Parliament, was fabricated for the occasion. This harsh construction (a construction which I fear the hon. Gentleman is disposed to put on every act of mine) was founded by him on certain terms used in the Lords' Report, which he declared were inconsistent with the date of the warrant, as presented to both Committees. The Report states,—It is true that Mr. Mazzini's letters were stopped and opened for about four months, under the warrant of the Secretary of State for the Home Department.From the evidence before the Committee of the House of Commons, it appears that the warrant was issued on the 1st of March, and withdrawn on the 3rd of June; and if the hon. Gentleman insists on a strict construction of the language used in the Lords' Report, there is an apparent discrepancy. But I can solemnly assert that the warrant was issued on the 1st of March, and was withdrawn on the 3rd of June; and that the original warrant, if I mistake not—for I have not the means of knowing—was produced before 705 their Lordships' Committee, as well as before the Committee of this House. Now, Sir, though this power has been exercised by Statute for a long period, and has been given to successive Secretaries of State from the reign of Queen Anne, and has been continued by several statutes, altering, amending, or consolidating the Laws relating to the Post Office, until the present time; yet I would recall the attention of the House to that portion of the Report of the Committee where they state the fact of the new checks on the exercise of this power which have been introduced. Since the year 1822 all the original warrants have been kept as records of the Post Office—all have been so kept; but it was in 1806, when the late Lord Spencer was Secretary of State for the Home Department, that a regulation was made imposing the most material check upon the issue of these warrants. In consequence of that regulation it is not possible for the Secretary for the Home Department, unknown to other persons, to issue a warrant. By the regulations of the Home Office, both the Under-Secretaries of State are cognizant of the issue of these warrants. A confidential clerk, to whom is confided the drawing up of these warrants, is also necessarily cognizant of their issuing. Three persons must, therefore, be aware of the whole of the proceedings, as well as the Secretary of State. So much for the fabrication of the warrant in Mr. Mazzini's case, and the assignment of a false date to it. If my assertion receive no credit, at least it is manifestly impossible that I could have done so base an act without both the Under-Secretaries of State being cognizant of it, as well as the clerk, who is a gentleman in every sense of the word, and as incapable of a base or false transaction as any hon. Gentleman I now address. I now pass on to the accusation which the hon. Gentleman, also, no doubt, in discharge of what he felt to be his public duty, has thought fit, to bring against my noble Colleague. Sir, the hon. Gentleman has thought fit to cast an imputation on the honour and truth of my noble Friend the Earl of Aberdeen. That accusation, I must say, was made in round terms, and certainly in the most harsh and offensive manner; but when we heard the grounds of the assertion, the imputation appeared to me altogether baseless. The assertion to which I allude was this—that the declaration made by Lord Aberdeen, 706 in his place in the House of Lords, was at variance with the Report of the Committees of the two Houses with regard to a most important fact; namely, whether Mr. Mazzini's correspondence, which had been intercepted, was communicated to a Foreign Government? Lord Aberdeen, in his place in Parliament, gave the most solemn denial to the assertion that such communication had been made. Hear what the Committee of the House of Commons say on this point in their Report:—Such information deduced from those letters as appeared to the British Government calculated to frustrate this attempt, was communicated to a Foreign Power; but the information so communicated was not of a nature to compromise, and did not compromise, the safety of any individual within the reach of that Foreign Power; nor was it made known to that Fower by what means or from what source that information had been obtained.Then, what was the statement of the Committee of the House of Lords on the same subject?—Certain parts of the information thus obtained were communicated to a Foreign Government, in so far as such a communication appeared to be warranted, but without the names or details that might expose any individual then residing in the foreign country to which the information was transmitted to danger.That was the opinion of Lord Cottenham upon the whole transaction fully developed. [Mr. T. Duncombe here made an observation across the Table which was inaudible in the gallery.] The hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. Duncombe) says, he does not, know that. But does he deny the accuracy of this Report? He himself quoted the Lords' Report, and I claim a right to be allowed also to quote it, when the honour of a noble individual—a Peer of Parliament—is assailed, after his truth and honour have been vindicated by the decision of a Committee of his Peers, a majority of whom were his political opponents. But I will pass from this subject. I cannot think the House will be of opinion there is any reason to suppose that my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would deliberately, in his place in Parliament, have made a declaration inconsistent with truth, when that statement was to be tested by an examination before Committees of the two Houses of Parliament. Now, Sir, I may perhaps be permitted to express an opinion which 707 I strongly entertain with reference to this odious, invidious, and obnoxious power vested in the Secretary of State. I may be permitted to say that, for domestic purposes, it is generally inoperative, and that the exercise of it is open to many grave objections. It is only to be defended upon the ground of the necessity for its exercise. But, with reference to our foreign relations, this power must be defended on different grounds. The House must remember—and I make the statement advisedly—that this is the only country in Europe in which, whatever danger may be apprehended to the public interests from the presence of a foreigner, the Executive Government has no power vested in it by law of averting such danger by removing the individual who thus abuses our hospitality. The facts of the case to which the hon. Member for Finsbury has referred are stated pretty fully at page 14 of the Report of the Commons' Committee. It certainly was believed by the Government of this country—it is still believed by me—that, at that particular juncture, a conspiracy had been formed with the design of making a descent upon the coast of Italy, for the purpose of exciting internal disturbance in that country; that the danger was not imaginary, but real; that the conspiracy was formidable; and that if the design had been carried into successful execution, the peace of Italy would have been disturbed,—and, as I believe, the peace of Europe could not under those circumstances have been preserved, — and if war had ensued, England could not have remained a spectator of the conflict. It certainly did appear to me, with reference to that particular transaction, that great public interests were at stake. But it is asserted, that a descent on the coast of Calabria being contemplated, an unfair use was made by the Executive Government of this country of the information they obtained, and that a trap was laid for the conspirators, who it is alleged, were in communication with Mr. Mazzini with this country. Now, I entirely deny the statement upon which this assumption is made. The hon. Member for Finsbury when he made this statement, asserted—even with greater harshness than characterised other portions of his speech—that the blood which was unhappily shed on the melancholy occasion to which I refer must be held to remain on the heads of the Government of this country. I deny, in the most solemn manner, that 708 any trap was laid for the individuals in question. In the first place, a descent on the coast of Calabria was not expected. The conspirators in question concocted their plans at Corfu, and sailed from thence. It is not true that the point of their destination was believed to be the coast of Calabria. No information whatever had been given by the British Government to the Neapolitan Government on the subject. So far from the Neapolitan Government having prepared troops for the reception of the persons who, it is alleged, were led into a trap, they landed without meeting any troops. They were opposed, not by troops, but by the guardo urbano, a force similar to the posse comitatus in this country, a body imperfectly armed; and it was not till after the lapse of a considerable time, when troops had been despatched by steam boat, that the insurgents, who had suddenly landed on the coast, came in contact with the forces of the Neapolitan Government. It must also be observed that—if I am not misinformed—only one of the persons who had so landed was a Neapolitan; all the other parties came from the northern parts of Italy, and had no connexion whatever with Naples. I certainly can state with confidence that all the information received through the Post Office was transmitted unread to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; and I repeat the solemn assertion of that noble Lord, that he never transmitted to any Foreign Minister any original document, or any copy of a document, but that he only communicated the substance of the information he obtained, suppressing names. We have frankly avowed what was done; we did it with perhaps a mistaken, but certainly honest, desire to avert public danger. We did believe that the peace of Europe was compromised by the intended insurrection in Italy; we thought it our duty to endeavour to defeat that movement, with the view of preserving the peace, not of Europe only, but of this country, as connected with Europe. My noble Friend (Lord Aberdeen) endeavoured to effect this object by communicating such information to a Foreign Power as he thought would have the effect of checking the movement. I am satisfied, from the assertions of my noble Friend, that he imparted to that Power nothing which could compromise the individuals who, unhappily, have since paid the forfeit of their lives for their unsuccessful effort to effect an insurrection in Italy. 709 I am convinced that he imparted no information which could have endangered the lives of those individuals, or lulled them into a false security. The hon. Member for Finsbury has mentioned the name of a Pole, Mr. Grodicki, whose case is referred to in the Commons' Report, and the hon. Gentleman seemed to intimate that the Government of this country had given information to Foreign Powers, with reference to the movements of Poles generally, and that such information had compromised the safety of many innocent persons, even women, residing in Poland. The case of Mr. Grodicki, as I have stated, is mentioned in the Report, where the circumstances of the transaction are most accurately described. A warrant was issued against him on the 3rd of June, 1844, which was cancelled on the 13th of the same month. I am bound to state, on my responsibility, that I issued that warrant under circumstances which, were they again to occur, would lead me to adopt a similar course. The hon. Member for Finsbury has alluded to a casual expression in the Report, which induced him to suppose that warrants have been issued to stop letters in particular handwritings. I can assure the hon. Gentleman (and in support of the assertion I will appeal to the Members of the Committee, who received ample evidence on the subject—who have seen the form of the warrant—and who have, I believe, had an opportunity of inspecting every warrant issued within the last twenty years) that no warrant of that general description has been issued. I have myself never issued any warrant of this nature in which the name of the party to whose letters it referred was not set forth. I can assert that on no one occasion have I issued anything approaching to a general warrant, or in which the name of the party was not distinctly and pointedly stated. Now, I think I may with propriety drop for the present the discussion of this most painful subject. With regard to one branch connected with the exercise of this particular function—namely, that in connexion with the Foreign Department, I have already stated that it was withdrawn from the Post Office some time since. As to the statuteable power vested in the Secretary of State, I do not believe that any further inquiry that can be instituted can elicit more ample information than was obtained during the investigation recently conducted under the solemn sanction of this House. The real practical question 710 is this,—Will you revoke the power which has been given by statute to the Secretary of State ever since the reign of Queen Anne? You cannot require further information on the subject; everything inquiry can give is now before you. If you should be of opinion that, upon the whole, this invidious power is not necessary for the public safety, then the proper course will be either to revoke the power, by repealing the statute,—or, if you should consider that further safeguards are necessary with regard to its exercise, without repealing the statute, it is your duty to impose the necessary checks. But, if you think, on the whole, it is for the public advantage that this power should be retained, then I say it is impossible for any Member of this House, holding the office I have now the honour to fill, to exercise, faithfully, fearlessly, honestly and advantageously to the public, the power intrusted to him by his Sovereign through the confidence of this House (for if the confidence of this House be withdrawn, no Sovereign can retain a Secretary of State for a single day), if he is to be called upon, in his place in Parliament, publicly to declare the reasons and circumstances which have led him to exercise one of the most invidious discretionary powers that can be intrusted to any individual.
§ Mr. Sheil
My observations shall be very short, and I hope very temperate. The right hon. Baronet has unequivocally admitted that the letters addressed to Mr. Mazzini were opened, and that the substance of the information derived from those letters was communicated to a Foreign Power. "The substance of the information," the Report says; and the statement of the right hon. Baronet is more than confirmatory of that Report. The right hon. Gentleman justifies that proceeding. This is not the time to consider whether that proceeding was just or not; for this question is not raised by the present Motion. My hon. Friend (Mr. T. Duncombe) will have the opportunity of raising this question by bringing the subject before the House and the country on another and a more appropriate occasion. But, there stands the broad fact—that letters of Mr. Mazzini were opened; that they were regularly conveyed to him after being opened, is, I believe, not denied; nor is it questioned that Mr. Mazzini was himself unaware that his correspondence had been disclosed. The right hon. Baronet says, that no trap had been laid: but it might 711 have been as well to have informed Mr. Mazzini that his letters had been opened. The decoy, if I may use such a term, not adopted by the right hon. Baronet, but by the Post Office, was continued; and the substance of the information obtained from Mr. Mazzini's letters was communicated to a Foreign Power. The Committee state, that "the facts of the case so far as your Committee feel themselves at liberty to disclose them, appear to be as follows." It appears, then, that there were facts that the Committee did not think themselves at liberty to disclose. I do not mean to say that the Committee of Secrecy appointed under such peculiar circumstances were not justified in using such a discretion; but it is clear that all the facts they ascertained are not disclosed,—that though there has been a suggestio falsi, a suppressio veri is admitted. It is remarkable that this passage occurs in the Report of the Commons' Committee—The Committee think it may be desirable for them to make known that the above three warrants are the only warrants to open the letters of foreigners which the present Government has issued.That question was not referred to them; but the Committee gratuitously state that these three were the only instances in which the present Government exercised this power with regard to foreigners. With respect to the letters of foreigners opened by other Governments, I have nothing to say. I pass to what I think is still more material. The Committee mention the names of persons who are not now living, in reference to whose letters warrants were issued; and they then proceed to state that they will not mention the names of any living individuals, with certain exceptions. The Report proceeds,—Your Committee would have abstained from giving particular information concerning any warrant, and from naming a single individual whose letters have been directed to be opened: but for the notice which has been taken of the mode of executing certain warrants, and the mention which has been made of the names of the parties included in certain others, these being the circumstances which have mainly led to the inquiry which your Committee has been appointed to conduct.They then proceeded to mention the names of two Poles, and of Mr. Mazzini. Now, I want to know why there is nothing said about the letters addressed to the hon. Member for Finsbury, if the Committee have adhered practically to the 712 rule which they themselves laid down? The names of the two Poles were mentioned, the name of Mr. Mazzini was mentioned; were those the only names specified in the House of Commons? The Member for Finsbury, the Representative of a great section of this metropolis, got up and stated in the House of Commons that his privileges as a Member of Parliament had been violated, and that his letters had been opened. There was a statement as distinct and as specific as that which was made with respect to Mr. Mazzini. His name was mentioned. Why have the Committee said nothing about that name? The statement was repeated before the Committee, from which Mr. Duncombe was excluded, who brought the charge. Mr. Duncombe offered to appear before the Committee to conduct his case, and to prove his accusation. The Committee refused to allow him to conduct his case, and I believe to hear him. Under these circumstances, it is a matter I think of legitimate curiosity, to know what is the justification on the part of the Committee for omitting all mention of Mr. Duncombe. How stands the fact? When the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, was first interrogated upon the subject, he refused to give any answer. He sheltered himself behind his official privileges. When the public clamour was raised, the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, who observed—who felt the beating of the public pulse, wisely came down to the House and said, that a Committee should be conceded, which was at first withheld. A Committee was granted—a great fact—the fact of all others the most important—the opening of the letters of a Member of Parliament, has not been reported on by that Committee. The charge was made. Now, I ask the question,—tell me, you who answer with regard to Mr. Mazzini—tell me, you who answer with respect to the Poles—tell me, whether you opened the letters of Mr. Duncombe?
§ Viscount Sandon
said, that having been speaking to an hon. Gentleman behind him when the right hon. Gentleman opposite closed his address, he had not heard the question. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would repeat it.
§ Viscount Sandon
said, that as the Secretary of State appealed to did not apparently 713 deem it consistent with his public duty to answer the question, it became his duty, having had the misfortune, he might call it, of presiding over the Committee in question, to make some observations. He might remark that the Members of the Committee who were there, as it seemed, on their defence, were put in a position of peculiar embarrassment, being exposed to every kind of attack; and, from the nature of the case, being deprived of almost every means of defence. The House had thought proper to make the Committee a secret one. In doing so, it intimated that there was something in the nature of the subject which might make it advisable that some portions of the matter brought before it should not be made known. From the course adopted on the other side of the House, the Members of the Committee were placed in the embarrassing alternative of possibly leaving an unfavourable impression on the mind of the country and of the House, or of being guilty of a breach of that duty which had been entrusted to them. Under such circumstances, they could only rely upon their characters, and do their duty. If the House thought it had done right in referring the question to a Secret Committee, so long as the decision of the House on that point was unrecalled, so long would the Members of the Committee feel it their duty not to say more on the subject than the pages of their Report contained. They would not gratify the prurient curiosity of individuals by giving more of each case than they had felt it their duty to report; they had drawn up a faithful and unbiassed statement of the general nature of the transactions, and supplied ample materials for the House to form an opinion on the subject of the extraordinary power in question. The hon. Gentleman asked whether his letters had been opened among others. If the Committee answered the question, every Gentleman in the House might get up, one after the other, and put the Committee through the same examination. As to the amount of information laid before the Committee, he believed he spoke the opinion of all its Members in saying that it was most complete, full, and unreserved. The authorities, high and low, had given every information on the various parts of the subject, and supplied the means of checking their assertions by reference to documents. Nothing further in the way of information could be supplied. This country had ever exhibited peculiar sympathy with the oppressed—had always afforded a refuge to 714 political refugees of every description—and the circumstances connected with the subject of Mr. Mazzini, and with the insurrection which had taken place, naturally excited this public sympathy in a peculiar degree. He could fairly say, with reference to that point, that the Committee had the best means of knowing that the information given to a Foreign Power had not led to the disastrous consequences ascribed to it; that every care had been taken that no man should be compromised. As to the alleged contradiction between Lord Aberdeen's statement and the Report of the Committee, he could perceive no such contradiction. There was every reason to believe that the conspiracies afloat at the time menaced great danger, not only to Italy, but to all Europe; and precautions were accordingly taken, which, while they were designed to frustrate those conspiracies, involved the lives of none of the parties; no names being given, and no facts which could identify individuals within the power of the Foreign State communicated with. Lord Aberdeen had asserted that no part of the letters of Mr. Mazzini had been communicated; and this was most accurately the fact. The hon. Gentleman had drawn a moving picture of the danger to which, he said, a number of Poles had been subjected by similar information given to another Foreign Power; but he might, without breach of confidence, reassure those individuals, by informing them that no communication whatever, either as to the names of their correspondents, or the contents of their letters, had been communicated to any Foreign Power. The hon. Member for Finsbury had exercised a great deal of that talent for ridicule which he possessed, in describing the Report of the Committee; and the hon. Member had, perhaps not without some reason, applied it particularly to the last page of the Report. No doubt that page was composed of a statement, alternately, of the different views that might be taken of the question, and of the different grounds for such opinions. The Committee had done this advisedly; thinking it better rather to furnish the House with the best means of forming an opinion on a question of general policy, than to record an opinion of their own. The investigation had been full and perfect—the evidence had been such as to obviate any difficulty in coming to a conclusion—and if the House had, last year, thought the nature of the subject such as to require a secret investigation, in preference to a public investigation, it would be for it to 715 consider whether anything had happened since to induce them to come to a different opinion. If the House were not satisfied with that which had already taken place with reference to this matter—if hon. Members were of opinion that another course ought to be taken now—if the House resolved to gratify its curiosity—the Members of the Committee, of course, could not prevent them; but if all they desired was the result of a full and perfect investigation into all the circumstances connected with the issuing of those warrants, and of every practice which had been adopted with reference to the exercise of so important a function as that in question they might safely rely on the Report which the Committee had made. The Committee had come to an unanimous opinion; and, he should repeat it, they had no difficulty in coming to that conclusion, whatever differences or shades of opinion might exist as to the expediency of the course which may have been pursued in particular cases by successive Ministers. On that point, of course, as on any other point of executive discretion, looking back, men would come to different conclusions. As to the honesty of the intention, there had been no difference of opinion. The investigation had been full and ample; and the Committee had seen nothing to lead them to believe that the exercise of this most important function had been caused by any private feeling; that either private or party malice, or any feeling other than that of the due and proper discharge of an important public duty, had any influence in causing the issue of those warrants. The Committee had, after a full deliberation, come to an unanimous verdict, which they had stated to the House; and if the House wished to be put in possession of all the grounds upon which that decision was grounded, it might, of course, take steps towards effecting such an object. The course was open to the House of appointing a new Committee, and again to have all the witnesses examined. The House might thus better satisfy itself perhaps; but if the examination of those witnesses were made public, the Committee believed that, so far as any public object was concerned, it would not be advanced by such a course. The Committee had given their opinion as to the past, after a full investigation of the evidence; but whether the power of issuing those warrants, by the Secretary of State, ought to be retained or not, was altogether another question—one on which he reserved 716 his own opinion—on which the Committee had expressed none; but on which he hoped they had furnished the House with ample materials for coming to a sound conclusion.
§ Sir J. Graham
said: Perhaps the House will permit me again to address it for one moment, as I should be extremely unwilling to treat with disrespect the question of the right hon. Gentleman, which he put to me in so pointed a manner. I should before have replied to it, but I thought it better to wait till my noble Friend the Member for Liverpool had addressed the House, as my noble Friend filled the office of Chairman of the Secret Committee. The House will recollect that in the last Session of Parliament, when this subject was first brought forward, I said that I did not think it would be consistent with my duty to answer the questions which were put to me with respect to the warrants that had been issued; but that I said I was perfectly willing that the House should appoint a tribunal to investigate the matter elsewhere; and I added that if Her Majesty would give me Her gracious permission, I would give to such a tribunal every information that I possessed upon the subject. It was the pleasure of the House to appoint a Secret Committee. As I said before, that Committee was so constituted that the majority were politically my opponents; but I repeat that there was not one atom of the power which I exercised, and for which I am responsible, that I did not fully and in detail lay before that Committee. Now I must adhere to the line which, on reflection, I laid down for myself last Session, and I cannot consistently with my duty answer the question which has been put to me. The hon. Member's name has not been alluded to by the Committee in their Report. In the case of Mazzini and the other Poles, the House will see that there was this difference, viz.,—that they were mentioned in the Report; and therefore without any departure from my sense of duty I thought myself perfectly at liberty to discuss the question of the warrant which was issued against them. If it had been the pleasure of the Committee to have brought before Parliament and the country any other warrant, I repeat that with equal firmness I should have been prepared to vindicate the issue of that warrant, as I have done in the case of Mazzini and Grodicki.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that nothing could, in his opinion, be fairer than the statement of 717 the right hon. Baronet; and he thought that they could not blame the right hon. Gentleman for refusing to answer the question that had been put to him when he had stated that the hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Warburton) had admitted that the right hon. Baronet had given to the Secret Committee the fullest information. Having the information, the Committee exercised their own discretion as to what part of it they would publish; and as they had deemed it to be their duty not to publish that information entire, what was the House to do? When the Committee was appointed, he told them that the transaction had taken so strong a hold upon the public mind, that they might appoint a Secret Committee if they pleased, but that such a Committee would not in the least satisfy the public. And he repeated that now. The Secret Committee, however, having been appointed, the right hon. Baronet should not say that the House appointed it, and not himself; for the right hon. Baronet was the first to suggest a Secret Committee. The right, hon. Baronet must excuse him from believing he could have read the Report of the Committee without seeing that there were no grounds in it upon which any individual could form an opinion. It was utterly impossible. The noble Lord the Chairman of the Committee, indeed, admitted that it was so drawn up—black and white, and white and black—that no opinion could be formed upon it. But, let it be easy or otherwise to form an opinion from it, what was the duty of the House in the matter? He put that question to the right hon. Baronet. He would pledge his existence that there was no man in the House, no matter to what party he belonged, who, if he had seen these proceedings on the part of Government, would have sanctioned them; I and the point he (Mr. Hume) had stated upon the first mention of the case was, not that he doubted letters had been opened connected with the internal safety of the country, but that he never believed, until the right hon. Baronet himself admitted it, that the Secretary of State for the Home Department of this country was to become a police officer for Foreign Powers. These were the words he then used; and if he expressed himself strongly on that occasion, it was because he regretted to find the first Minister of the first country in the world so demeaning himself, and forgetting his dignified station and the honour of the country, as to lead himself to that proceeding. 718 Let him also tell the right hon. Baronet that this was not his opinion alone, but it was the general impression; and in the opportunities he had had of hearing the popular opinion, even to the extremity of Scotland, he found that no question had ever occupied the public mind more thoroughly. Through all grades he had not found one to defend, but all to condemn, the right hon. Baronet. And, knowing the impression abroad in the country, after the powerful exposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury, and after the charge he had made in that House of his own correspondence having been violated, he asked whether the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government would venture to deny it? This was no party question. It was a question in which the honour of the Members of that House, and the honour of the country also, was deeply concerned. It was the truth that was wanted; and he would remind the right hon. Baronet, that even all the support he could command was insufficient to stifle inquiry, and that, after what had been revealed, not one fact in which had been contradicted, it was utterly impossible the matter could rest where it was. He besought hon. Members to consider their own character. He would not go to the length of saying that the powers given to Ministers 200 years ago had always been exercised improperly, because there were times in which they might have been exercised properly and with advantage to the country; but at other times, undoubtedly, they might have been exercised with direful effects upon individuals who had entered this country as a refuge, and relied upon the protection of that House. Why had the Committee been appointed? Was it fit that this power should be continued, or not? This was the ultimate question for the consideration of the House, after they should have heard the evidence. For his part, he confessed that, in the first instance, he did not believe the whole of the facts stated by his hon. Friend (Mr. Duncombe), though the hon. Gentleman assured him he had the information from others, simply because he could not credit that such things could have been done by any Government in this country. He did not think, however, that it should be made into a personal matter. If any harsh expressions had been applied to the right hon. Baronet, he was sorry for them; and he must express his wish that it should be looked upon as a power which all preceding Secretaries of 719 state had exercised, more or less, as they in their discretion thought proper. Let bygones be bygones, and let the House now endeavour to prevent the evil for the future. He, therefore, entreated the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government, to submit to the House the whole of the evidence taken by the Committee. Let the discussion end, for the present, with a declaration from the right hon. Baronet that the evidence should be laid before the House, and every Member would then be prepared to give an honest opinion as to the best mode of ending this most unpleasant matter.
§ Sir John Hanmer
said, it did not appear to him that there was any accusation then justly resting against the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department. That right hon. Gentleman, in the last Session of Parliament, exercising a discretion with which he did not altogether agree—had thought proper, instead of waiting to take the commands of his Sovereign, and acquiring the power to make a communication, to resist the inquiries of the House. He did not agree with the right hon. Baronet upon that occasion, and he thought it one on which it befitted the House to resist the refusal to afford information. It was the duty of the House of Commons to insist upon the responsibility of Ministers of the Crown; and he (Sir J. Hanmer), although he had never entertained harsh, ungenerous, or unjust feelings towards the right hon. Gentleman, was not disposed to yield the constitutional right of Parliament to any of those vague notions of confidence which were sometimes appealed to when Gentlemen in office were at a loss for better reasons. On this ground he voted last year that inquiry should be made. It pleased the House of Commons to appoint a Secret Committee; and every Member would agree, that men of more authority, or weight, or character, could not have been appointed. The Committee met, and the right hon. Baronet had stated, in a manner admitting of no question or doubt, that before that Committee he gave every information it was in his power to afford. In the exercise of their discretion the Committee made a certain Report; and he confessed that when he came down to the House he was of opinion, perhaps, in some degree, forgetting what had taken place last year, that the matter related principally, or even altogether, to the Polish gentlemen, and Mr. Mazzini; and he did not agree, after carefully 720 reading the Report, that it was evasive or unsatisfactory with regard to them. He thought in that respect, everything necessary had been stated. Since he came down to the House, however, other matters had occurred. A Member of that House, one of the Representatives of the people—a man enjoying no small share of the confidence and love of the people—a man who represented one of the great metropolitan districts, had stated in his place in the House of Commons, that his letters had been, subjected to this same secret investigation. It was, perhaps, a matter altogether for the discretion of the Committee whether they chose to represent to Parliament that fact or not, and it was a subject upon which he (Sir J. Hanmer) had no "prurient curiosity;" but it certainly did concern him, as a representative of the people, and every freeman in England also, that the House of Commons should inquire into such a charge—that they should ascertain whether or no the letters of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Duncombe) had been so secretly opened; and if so, whether with sufficient reason. The result of that inquiry, he thought, would be no inconsiderable guide to the House upon the question, which must in a very short time come under its deliberate consideration, what should be done with that extraordinary power which had been exercised—a power of which he declared that although he was not unacquainted with the history of his country, and although he had now had a seat in Parliament for some time, he had never heard until the whole question burst, in 1844, into the House of Commons, and took him as much by surprise as it would any man at the Land's End. He should certainly vote for inquiry. He would not then debate in what manner it should be conducted, whether by the appointment of a new Committee, or the reappointment of the old one—but he thought the House ought to inquire into this allegation, and he should give a Motion to that effect his complete support, without giving the slightest sanction to any of the imputations which had been made against the right hon. Gentleman. He could not for one moment entertain the idea that the right hon. Baronet had been guilty of anything which would justify the expressions which had been used towards him to-night; he believed he had in no respect done more than official precedent would warrant him in, and he did not entertain the question as one which by possibility could assume a personal bearing; 721 at the same time he demanded inquiry, in order that the mode and reasons of the practice might be fully known. In what other way could this be attained? In what other way could they enforce the responsibility of a Minister, if Parliament refused to inquire into the acts of power? He insisted on responsibility, and he did not think the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman to Parliament had been sufficiently answered, by his statements before the Secret Committee. So far as regarded at least the case of the Member for Finsbury—the case of one Member wounded in his right was the case of the whole House of Parliament itself—there was no need to prejudge the right hon. Gentleman, and to say before inquiry that he had violated right; but if, when a Member of the House of Commons who considered himself inculpated by having had his letters subjected to this inspection, rose in his place and made a demand for inquiry, the House would altogether abdicate the relation in which it stood towards the people of England if it were refused.
§ Mr. Sergeant Murphy
said, it was not his intention to approach the consideration of this question in an acrimonious or party spirit. Before he came down to the House he had had an opportunity of perusing the Report of the Committee—he had since perused it carefully and with attention, and the effect of that Report upon his mind was, that this privilege was useless for the well-being of a Government, and ought to be abandoned for the safety and honour of the country. That was the impression which an attentive perusal of the Report produced upon his mind, and he should now calmly and dispassionately, and free from any acrimonious feeling, lay before the House the reasons which had induced him to come to that conclusion. He was certainly surprised that the noble Lord should have felt himself justified in applying to these observations of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury, when calling for an inquiry in a matter deeply involving his own personal interest, the charge that he was guilty of a prurient curiosity; but more particularly if the noble Lord would look at the Report of the Committee, of which he himself had been the Chairman, he would find that it recited a peculiar statement which he begged to impress upon the House, not as a justification merely of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury, in demanding, in satisfaction of his own personal feelings, that an answer should be openly and tangibly given to his demand, 722 but as involving the individual feelings, and the individual privileges of every independent Member of Parliament. He would ask, when he had read the passage, whether it was possible to conceive any terms which could more stringently and more forcibly convey to the House, and through the House to the country, the nature and extent of the privilege conferred upon the Representatives of the people. The terms were as follow:—In 1735, complaint being made in the House of Commons by certain of the Members that their letters had been opened and read by the clerks of the Post Office, on the pretence of ascertaining whether or no the franks of those Members were counterfeited, and a copy of His Majesty's warrant, whereby letters of Members and certain public functionaries were permitted to pass free from postage, being read; it was ordered that the copy of the said warrant be referred to the consideration of a Committee, and that they do examine the matter thereof, and report the same, with their opinions thereon, to the House; and on the Committee making its report the House resolved, inter alia, 'That it is a high infringement of the privilege of the Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses, chosen to represent the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament, for any Postmaster, his Deputies or Agents, in Great Britain or Ireland, to open or look into, by any means whatsoever, any letter directed to, or signed by the proper hand of any Member, without an express warrant in writing, under the hand of one of the Principal Secretaries of State, for every such opening and looking into; or to detain or delay any letter directed to or signed with the name of any Member, unless there shall be good reason to suspect some counterfeit of it, without an express warrant of a Principal Secretary of State, as aforesaid, for every such detaining or delaying.'His hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury, relying on this forcible Resolution of the House, came forward in his place in Parliament to demand an answer; and he repeated again, that notwithstanding the reasons assigned by the right hon. Baronet for not answering, the impression made upon the country by his silence would be unsatisfactory. And why did he state this? Because it would be recollected that all the difficulties which were created by the right hon. Baronet's sense of public duty might have been avoided if he had adopted the same course in the case of the hon. Member for Finsbury which he had pursued with respect to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bath, when he made in that House strong, forcible, and impressive charges upon several Members of that House. He recollected that when 723 his hon. Friend brought that subject forward, objections were made against his being upon the Committee. He was afterwards selected as the Chairman of it, and he defied any one who had sat upon the Committee, or was acquainted with what had taken place before it, to say that his hon. Friend's character was not raised still higher in the estimation of every independent person by his impartiality and integrity in those proceedings. If he, who had no personal interest in the matter, had been appointed Chairman, with power to direct the whole proceeding, and to bring his great acumen of every kind, in addition to his legal acumen, to sift those questions, he asked whether it would not be fair to the hon. Member for Finsbury, whose privileges, appertaining as they did, not merely to himself, but belonging to the country, had been violated—he asked whether it would not have been but fair and reasonable to add him as a Member of the Committee? And it was because he had not been so added that he said the answer of the right hon. Gentleman, cloaking himself in his official station, was unsatisfactory, and would be so considered by the country. Reverting more particularly to the right hon. Baronet himself, he must say that the right hon. Baronet had, after all, no great reason to be dissatisfied with the course pursued by his hon. Friend. The right hon. Baronet, he was bound to say, bating the fact that he did not feel himself called upon by a sense of public duty to make public revelations to that House, had made to Committees of that House and of the House of Lords full and unreserved communications of what he knew. Of course he was bound to believe that declaration, but he now came to another statement of the right hon. Baronet. He had told the House that no communication of his had led, in any degree, to the intervention by Foreign States for the purpose of repressing faction or sedition against them. He asked the right hon. Baronet, would he go the length of saying that no other person had ever imparted any such information which might have led to the results which had occurred? He would ask him to tell the House whether, even in the shadowy way in which it was intimated, there had not been enough to convey to those Powers which had able diplomatic agents in this country, an intimation as plain as if parties had been designated by name? Was he not aware that this country was swarming with diplomatic agents of 724 foreign countries, remarkable for their sagacity in following up questions of this kind? Did he not know that Russia particularly employed persons notoriously for the purpose of pursuing such investigations, and countervailing any machinations that might be set on foot against her? He, therefore, asked the question, and he said it would not be satisfactorily answered, unless the right hon. Baronet stated with the same distinctness with which he had exonerated himself, that Lord Aberdeen, Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, was equally absolved from any participation in communications made to Foreign States. He (Mr. Sergeant Murphy) believed it would be useful to do away with these warrants altogether. They might be classified under three separate heads:—Firstly, those which related to matters purely criminal; secondly, transactions of a seditious and political tendency; and thirdly, questions involving us with foreign countries by reason of persons residing here. With regard to the first head, he would ask upon what grounds they were maintained generally? One of the grounds possibly might be their antiquity, and that antiquity took its first date from a Statute of Anne, which seemed to be traced by the Report to proclamations antecedent to that period; but he believed a House of Commons which was attached to liberty would hardly go back to the time of James or Charles, or of Cromwell, to find precedents to justify the adoption of such measures. With regard to criminal matters, he was not aware, from the experience he had had in the criminal business of the country, that letters so produced ever elucidated any points of criminal jurisprudence. And he was confirmed in his opinion of the inutility of these warrants as connected with Home Government, by the right hon. Baronet, who said they were unsatisfactory and inconvenient; and he believed he had gone the length of saying that they might be dispensed with. He asked the right hon. Baronet if he was aware of the deep feeling against this privilege in the public mind. Did he recollect the ferment which prevailed in the country when this subject was brought forward last year; and that every newspaper in the country, of whatever politics, every society, every club, and every coterie into which a man went to learn what was passing in public life, joined in the outcry against the Government which was supposed to have originated this system? ["No, no."] He said 725 "Yes, yes." He did not say whether that outcry was just or otherwise. He admitted that the present Home Secretary was no more answerable than the Secretaries who had preceded him; but when the matter was first brought forward, it came upon the country with startling novelty. The public mind was greatly excited; and, so far as his own experience went, he could say that, irrespective of creed or party, an universal sense of distrust was diffused throughout the country. He said it was so, and he appealed to all who had seen the statements and strictures with which the newspapers teemed at the time. Then, he asked, whether there was any advantage to counterbalance this disadvantage? The right hon. Baronet admitted that for home purposes it was not counterbalanced. Well, he asked whether the power was useful for foreign purposes? He said that other modes might be adopted which would be more useful. It would be preferable to pass a stringent Alien Act which should enable the Government to deport from this country persons who were plotting against Foreign States, rather than that we should act as spies to those Foreign States. He believed that would be a better system than the present, because it was the boast at present that the information communicated could not impart an intimation of individuals. In his judgment this, so far from being useful, was injurious, because the very vagueness of the information would involve others, besides the person really implicated, in suspicion and condemnation. For these reasons he wished that the country should be rid, not only for home but for foreign purposes, of what, instead of strengthening this country, had a tendency to degrade us, and made us be regarded—instead of holding out an asylum for the oppressed from all parts of the world—as spies to foreign nations, to enable them to commit oppression and injustice.
§ Sir R. Peel
said: I apprehend that the question to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has just adverted is not the question before the House. A great part of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman was occupied with a discussion of the question, whether it be desirable or not that a power should be continued to the Secretary of State, at his discretion, by the issue of a warrant upon his responsibility, to direct the opening of letters. The discussion of that question, which is not now before the House, would be much 726 better brought forward upon a distinct Motion for altering the existing law and altering the existing usage, rather than upon the particular Motion which the hon. Member for Finsbury has to-night submitted to the House. But if I want a proof of the difficulties which attend the consideration of this question, I find it in the alternative offered by the hon. and learned Gentleman, while he says it is desirable to deprive the Secretary of State of the power of opening letters; as the hon. Member recommends an alternative, to substitute, not the re-enactment of the old Alien Act, but the enactment of a new and more stringent Alien Act. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not frequently taken part in the discussions on this subject; but if he had been present on some of those occasions he would have found that the Alien Act was repealed, from an impression that it might be made subservient, not to the interests of this country, but to promote some improper purposes of other States. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman really believe that an alien resident in this country is exposed in all ordinary circumstances, and, speaking generally, to more danger or inconvenience in having his letters opened, than if there was an absolute power to immediately remove him, because he might be engaged in designs dangerous to another State? Why, you would expose him to positive and immediate danger if you adopted the suggestions of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and expelled him from the asylum which he had found in this country. I hope, therefore, the House will not allow the prior consideration of the present question to be prejudiced by the introduction of a greater subject, when they hear the alternative which the hon. and learned Member—the warmest advocate for giving up this power—proposes. The hon. Member for Montrose has offered a suggestion at variance with the proposition of the hon. Gentleman who has brought forward the question. The Motion is for a new Committee; but the hon. Member for Montrose thinks it would be better, in place of appointing a new Committee, to make public the whole of the evidence taken by the Committee of last year. Now, what are the facts? This House, after mature consideration and discussion, determined that a Committee should be appointed, and determined that that Committee should be a Secret Committee. That was the act of the House. 727 The Committee was appointed; and I apprehend it was made secret in order that its Members might obtain a full and unreserved disclosure from the Ministers of State, and those who acted with the Ministers of State, of every thing within their knowledge connected with the subject of the inquiry. The Members of the present Government and of the late Government solicited from Her Majesty permission to make a disclosure of every fact that came within their knowledge. They received that permission on the statement to Her Majesty, that the Committee was to be secret, and that they could, without prejudice to the public interests, disclose the facts which had come within their knowledge. The permission was given on that assurance; and by each of those individuals there was made, as far as I know, a full and unqualified disclosure of every fact of which they were cognizant. I believe the noble Lord opposite was examined before that Committee. I know the noble Lord the late Secretary for Foreign Affairs was examined before it. My right hon. Friend was examined, Lord Aberdeen was examined, and I was examined before the Committee, each of us having received the royal permission to make full and unreserved disclosures. We did make such disclosures. We withheld no fact, whether connected with the interests of individuals, or of the country, in order that the Committee might be enabled to judge whether the power had been abused. On those conditions the evidence was given; and the hon. Gentleman now asks that the evidence given and completed under those conditions, in order that the elements of judgment might be perfect, shall be, without reserve, made public. I think the House will hardly agree with the hon. Member in that view. Upon the course of policy to be adopted in reference to the greater question raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, I reserve any declaration of my opinion, and will not enter into the subject when the debate is upon a different question. The question now before the House affects the character and conduct of the present Government. If we have assumed a power not sanctioned by usage, or contrary to law, our conduct is liable to censure or condemnation; but if the principle of this power is wrong, it is not the Executive Government which is responsible, but Parliament. It is you, the House of Commons, who, with a full knowledge of all the circumstances, or with the 728 knowledge which you ought to have had, have placed in our hands this instrument for maintaining internal tranquillity and preserving general peace. For no less than 150 years this power has been exercised by the Executive Government. ["Hear."] Don't pretend ignorance of your own acts. At various periods you have had the whole of this subject under your consideration. In the year 1735 [A laugh]—oh, I will come down to later periods; it may be very well for you now to pretend ignorance of your own history; it may be very well for you to charge us, the Executive Government, with misconduct, and with assuming a power which our predecessors had not,—but that power was conferred by you, and you are responsible for its existence. In 1735, it was expressly admitted by the Resolutions of the House of Commons, when it was declared to be a breach of privilege of any postmaster, or agent, to open any letter of a Member of the House of Commons, unless under a warrant from the Secretary of State. That was your own Resolution. Well, in 1745, the power was exercised. Of that you, perhaps, were not cognizant; but it has been exercised by Secretaries of State the most remarkable for their knowledge of constitutional privileges, and for their defence of civil liberty. But if the House of Commons is ignorant of what passed in 1745, what does it say to its own recorded acts in 1837? In that year you were parties to an Act of Parliament which expressly recognised the existence of the power in the hands of the Secretary of State. I do not say that that Act, in express terms and for the first time, gave the power; but as a legal Member denies that Parliament recognised the power, I refer him to the Act of 1837, which subjects to a penalty any officer of the Post Office for delaying, opening, or detaining the post letter of any person, except in obedience to an express warrant in writing, in Great Britain, under the hand of one of the Principal Secretaries of State, and in Ireland with the sign manual of the Lord Lieutenant. If this be not an express and direct recognition of the power by a recent Act of Parliament, I know not what can be. I say, then, the Government exercises this power under the authority and sanction of this House. You hold us responsible for the maintenance of public tranquillity and the preservation of internal peace. This is one of the instruments which you have committed to our hands 729 for the maintenance of that public tranquillity, for the preservation of that internal peace. If we allow that peace to be disturbed, that tranquillity to be compromised from a cowardly abandonment of the trust which you yourselves have committed to us, then in the hour of danger you will be the parties to remind us of the power you have given us. You would have been ready to remind us that in 1745 it was made use of for the purpose of diverting the evils of external attack and internal disorder — and you would have been the first to call us in question for refusing to exercise these powers, when their exercise might be necessary, held under your sanction, and which in former times the highest authorities had not shrunk from exercising. It is well now to condemn my right hon. Friend for issuing some seventeen or eighteen warrants in the month of August, 1842. I wish it were possible to recall to hon. Members now present the feelings with which hon. Members listened to the debates on the state of the country at that time, and the warnings which we had of danger and civil war. I recollect the Member for Wolverhampton rising in his place, in August, in 1842; it was on the Motion implying that we should not permit Parliament to be prorogued, for we were told of the imminent danger and confusion which then prevailed, and that it would be madness for us to permit Parliament, under these circumstances, to separate; and when a Motion was made, limiting the period of prorogation to the month of October, on the presumption that the country was in a state of imminent danger, I recollect that hon. Gentleman then rising in his place, on the 21st of July in that very year, when it appears that an unusual number of warrants were issued, and reading letters from labourers in the district which he represented, which gave this most deplorable account of the state of that district. The hon. Member read on the whole three letters, the first of which was dated the 20th July, and was to this effect:—The disturbances in this neighbourhood have indeed assumed a very serious aspect, and what is to be the end of them I know not. That a general feeling of discontent with the present state of things, worked upon most industriously by designing men, of which we have too many amongst us, is at the bottom of what is passing, there can be no doubt; but I regret to say, that some mistaken and rather arbitrary proceedings on the part of 730 one of our ironmasters, in which it is pretty generally admitted that the men have been hardly used, have been the more immediate cause of it. At the concern to which I allude there has, in fact been a turn-out of colliers, &c. for several weeks past; a part of those who had been discharged, or whose wages had been reduced, I believe, without proper notice, appealed to the magistrates, and obtained a decision in their favour; but in consequence of some subterfuge, as I understand, on the part of their employers, were never able to enforce the redress to which they were pronounced to be entitled. This led to a stoppage of the works; angry feelings have naturally followed, and have gradually spread through the whole mining population of the district; and not only those who may have grievances, but the far greater portion who have none, and between whom and their employers there is really no difference, have now placed themselves in an attitude of defiance; and have successively visited in large bodies, and stopped every colliery within ten miles of Hanley, have assembled there from day to day, to the amount of some thousands, armed with tremendous bludgeons (and often, I am told, with other weapons), and have succeeded in exciting that sort of terror and panic amongst those who are disposed to work, as many I believe are, that they dare not do so; and the destitution of their wretched families is becoming more intolerable every hour. The first outbreak was at Lane End, on the Monday in last week; and in the course of that and the three following days all the collieries in this part of the country were taken possession of by the malcontents, and whenever resistance was offered by the managers or bailiffs they were treated in the most brutal manner.The object of stopping the collieries was to prevent the supply of labour to the manufactories, under the expectation that, the manufactories being compelled to stop working, there would ensue general confusion and disorder. I am now quoting the authority of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. It is not my own testimony I am dealing with and presenting to this House. This letter further says:—You are aware that if the colliers do not go to work again immediately, from 20,000 to 30,000 potters must be thrown out of employment, and I am sorry to say that many of them are quite as ill-disposed and as ripe for mischief as their neighbours.…. There are now 10,000 potters of all grades out, and by the week's end the number will be 20,000. Only think what a state we shall be in! And how we shall stand our ground, or the neighbourhood be kept in peace, I know not… As I have usually thirty or forty servants, &c. within a minute's call, I dare say I shall be able to protect myself.Such was the testimony given as to the 731 state of one part of the country in 1842, in the month of July, and given to us as a warning of the consequences which might arise from permitting Parliament to separate. On the very day on which the Queen delivered the Speech from the Throne proroguing Parliament, before that Speech was delivered, a discussion took place in this House, in which the hon. Member for Manchester assured the Government that there was every disposition on the part of the magistrates of Manchester to suppress the evils which then existed, threatening to disorganize society, and to spread wider and wider, until they at length involved the entire country in one common ruin and downfall. He was followed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockport, who, on his own behalf, and that of his Friends, indignantly repelled an insinuation of inciting to the spread and continuance of disorder; and the hon. Member for Stockport said then that he would ask the House to consider the position in which the manufacturers were placed:—Who," said the hon. Member, "were more liable than they to the destruction of their property? Children had been instructed to destroy the spinning machines with knitting needles, and a box of lucifers could destroy the greatest amount of manufacturing capital. … He would tell the Government that there was danger of dire confusion.That was the language listened to here, honestly given, and representing the sincere opinions of those who spoke—that was the language to which we listened in the month of August, 1842—and yet we asked for no extraordinary powers to repress the disorder there referred to. But if we had neglected to exercise any right or power for the maintenance of the public peace which you, the House of Commons, had entrusted to us, I ask again whether—after these statements with regard to the then condition of the country—if dire confusion had ensued—if our manufactories had been at the mercy of thousands and tens of thousands assembled in tumultuous mobs, and if you could justly charge us with apathy, with indifference, and with the neglect of any power which we hold under the law and through your sanction—I ask whether you would not have been among the first to lay the blame of all the calamity that might have ensued at our doors, and to make us responsible for the non-exercise of those 732 powers, for the exercise of which you, now that tranquillity is restored, seek to make us solely and exclusively accountable? I know nothing more painful than the possession of powers of this nature. With regard to the duty which is devolved upon us for the maintenance of external tranquillity, if we have reason to believe that in this free country plans were concocted for disturbing the tranquillity of other countries, then it becomes, no doubt, a painful and difficult consideration to decide, not whether you will betray individuals, but whether you will give notice to foreign and friendly Governments of the danger. But if in addition to that consideration, which I admit can rarely alone justify the exercise of this power, you foresee that in that internal disturbance of another country there are the elements of a general war—if you foresee that one country will advance for the purpose of repressing the disorder, and that another, jealous of such interference, will also advance, and that these two Powers, thus advancing, will be brought into conflict—then the original difficulties as to the exercise of this power becomes greatly increased, and it is a most serious question whether or not you will exercise the power thus conferred upon you by the law. I am quite aware that this House and the country were not generally aware of the exercise of this power. I am quite aware that the presumption at first was, that we had arrogated to ourselves a power which none of our predecessors in office had possessed. We bore the first brunt of the public storm; and seeing the state of the public feeling on this question, it became ultimately necessary to depart from the course which, under ordinary circumstances, it might have been better to observe, and to permit a Committee to be appointed to investigate the subject. That Committee was appointed. In that Committee there was a majority of our political opponents. Before that Committee we stated every fact—concealing nothing with regard to the exercise of this power. Our political opponents—our predecessors in office—did the same. They stated what was within their knowledge with regard to the exercise of this power, and in so doing made disclosures as unreserved as did we. In times of imminent danger you have the choice of exercising the power of opening the letters of persons, whose letters when so opened may be perfectly free from 733 blame, or of incurring all the evils which may arise from abstaining from exercising the authority so reposed in you. During the visit of the Emperor of Russia, from circumstances which came to our knowledge, we deemed it necessary to open certain letters, which, when opened, disclosed nothing which could involve any parties; and it then appeared that in these cases there was no necessity for exercising such a power. But if any of you had been a Secretary of State when the Emperor of Russia was in this country, you would then have better known the anxiety and solicitude which, under such circumstances, embarrass the course of a Minister. Had there been a fatal issue of that visit, that Minister of State who had neglected the care and caution which you now think unnecessary, would never have been permitted to forget his imprudence and want of foresight. It is asked, whether there is not great cause for the suspicion that this power has been perverted for political purposes, or made use of merely for the purposes of a prying curiosity? The hon. Members who composed the Committee had all the facts of the case before them. A Committee had also been appointed by the House of Lords. Of that Committee Lord Cottenham was a Member, and over it Lord Colborne presided. Looking at the Members who composed both Committees, the Committee of this House, and that of the House of Lords, is it likely that these men would be base enough not to say, if such were the case, that men possessing this power had exercised it to any unworthy purpose? The Committee of the House of Lords made this Report:—The Committee are bound, in conclusion, to state, that having looked back to the proceedings of several Secretaries of State during successive Administrations more than twenty years, they have found the practice has been nearly uniform, that the power has been very sparingly exercised, and never from personal or party motives, and that in every case investigated it seems to have been directed by an earnest and faithful desire to adopt that course which appeared to be necessary, either to promote the ends of justice, or to prevent a disturbance of the public tranquillity, or otherwise to promote the best interests of the country.I will conclude, then, by saying that we may, in the exercise of this power, under doubtful circumstances, and in critical times, have made a mistake; but remember 734 what would have been our position if, by a refusal to exercise it, we had endangered the life of any man, or compromised the interests of the nation—if you believe, with that Committee of the House of Lords, that we have not exercised the power from personal or party motives—if you believe with them who had every fact before them, that when we exercised the power, the exercise of it has been directed with an earnest and faithful desire to adopt the course which appeared to be necessary to promote the ends of justice, or prevent the disturbance of the public tranquillity—then I ask you, who gave us this power; you, who made us responsible for the exercise of it; you who would have been the first to blame us had calamity ensued from the non-exercise of it; you, who appointed that tribunal, whose Report you have got before you—not to imply a condemnation of your own Committee, and not to imply a suspicion of us by subjecting us to another Committee, to another tribunal.
§ Mr. Warburton
said, that, as a Member of the Committee appointed by the House of Commons, it was in his power to state that a most unreserved communication of all the facts of the case had, as he believed, been made, both by the Members of the present Government and of former Governments. He felt also bound to state, that he concurred with the terms of the paragraph, in the Report of the Committee, that—So far as the criminal warrants go, no suspicion arises that unfairness or partiality has directed their issue. With regard to the other class of warrants, though there have been some few issued by different Administrations that have been in power during the last twenty-two years, in regard to which it is obvious that on a subsequent review of the facts, a difference of opinion might arise, as to the discretion exercised in each particular case, yet your Committee see no reason to doubt that the conduct of the Secretaries of State belonging to each of those Administrations has been guided by no other motive than an anxious desire to preserve the public peace, with the maintenance of which they were charged.In that general statement, reserving to himself his own opinion as to the discretion which might have guided the conduct of different Ministers on the other side of the House on any particular occasion, be entirely concurred. He might be allowed to state a few words in confirmation of what had fallen from the noble Lord, the 735 Member for Liverpool, as to the conduct of the Committee. Much had been said of the impartiality which had guided the Ministers in the appointment of that Committee. That Committee had no desire to criminate the Members of the Administration, and had adopted the wise, the sensible, and practical course of not wasting its time in debating matters on which the Members might have disagreed, or on which they might have been so nearly balanced as to prevent their coming to any practical results. He need scarcely remind the House that there had been much doubt as to the times and circumstances in which the power now under consideration had arisen; and even it had been disputed whether the power claimed had its foundation in the Statute or in the Common Law of the land. Now, nothing could be more evident than that if they were to found the right upon the Common Law, the investigation of that right would plunge them into all the depths of antiquity; for the Common Law consisted of practices "time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary." The natural and interesting question must clearly be this: — Under what circumstances had the practice been enforced? He thought that without any breach of the confidence imposed upon him by the fact of his being a Member of the Committee, he might be permitted to say that he himself had been somewhat active in the business of looking back into ancient times for the real state of the practice. On this point then, he must say, that he found no justification under old precedents for the practice which formed the subject of the present Motion. He did not, however, regret that he had gone into that inquiry, for the result had been that he found no justification whatever for the practice. To this he might add, that other papers had been moved for, and they had been laid before the Committee; and this likewise was an occurrence which he did not regret, for the effect of reading those other papers was to confirm him in the opinions which he had previously entertained. He hoped, also, without any breach of confidence as a Member of the Committee, he might state, that some cases were especially brought under the consideration of the Committee; and after what had occurred, he need scarcely tell the House that Mazzini's case had been very carefully investigated. In that 736 case, the Secretary of State for the Home Department had been guided by his own notions of public policy; however, he must be allowed to say, it did not appear to him that the right hon. Baronet had by any means exercised a sound discretion. The production of the Report on opening letters connected with representations from Foreign Governments—
§ Mr. B. Escott
rose to order. The House should have the whole or none of the proceedings of the Committee. The course of the hon. Member was most unfair and disorderly, to state the opinion of an hon. Member of a Secret Committee on one particular fact on which he is commenting, which fact took place before the Secret Committee when the House had no opportunity whatever, and no power whatever, of ascertaining all the other facts bearing on the particular instance of propriety, or impropriety, which he is quoting to the House; and when the House had no power whatever of examining all the evidence given before the Committee, it was not a proper course to pursue.
§ Mr. Warburton
resumed: He said that his judgment on the facts of the case was already before the Committee, and that opinion was formed upon all the statements brought before them, as well in the case of Mazzini as in any other cases which had been brought under their consideration, Now, Mazzini's was one of those cases in which the Committee reserved to each Member the right of forming an opinion for himself. He exercised that power, and he humbly conceived himself as free to exercise that power as any other Member. This part of the subject, however, was one which he should not pursue any further. It was undoubtedly true that in the course of the present discussion hon. Members of that House had expressed strong and decided opinions as to the facts in Mazzini's case; but he thought it important that they should not state matters as facts within their own cognizance, the knowledge of which they had acquired merely from the statements of Members of Her Majesty's Government. Still the great question on which the House had to decide was this—did they or did they not think it expedient to grant the Committee asked for by the hon. Member for Finsbury? Now he, as a Member of the former Committee, must be permitted to say that he thought they 737 had already sufficiently expressed an opinion upon the question now brought before them. He thought that a sufficient opinion had been expressed as far as the expression of opinion was at all useful for the public good. He doubted that it was for the public good to communicate all the names and circumstances of the cases which had been brought before them, and he therefore did not concur in the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury. The object of the Committee was to get at the general state of the facts, in order to form a judgment as to the public policy of continuing the practice; but for the purpose of arriving at such a conclusion it was not necessary that they should make known to the public all the facts of each particular case. Finally, looking at all the circumstances which had been brought under the consideration of the Committee, he should say that the general impression on his mind was, that the continuance of the practice was not worth contending for by any popular Government. Eight warrants formed the average of the whole year, and the greater part of those occurred in criminal cases; and no one said that in such cases any advantage accrued from the practice, which at all counterbalanced the evil and the inconvenience of it. To be of any practical use in criminal cases it ought to be generally known; but he did not believe that it was generally known; on the contrary, he had made inquiry of his own law agent—a solicitor in large practice in London—and that gentleman said he had never heard of the practice. On all these grounds, then, he repeated that it was not well for a popular Government—it was not worth their while to retain a power which the moral feeling of the country repudiated; the more especially was it unworthy of their attention, when they recollected the great power which they had recently acquired. By means of the electric telegraph, the centre of Her Majesty's dominions might communicate with the whole circumference in the twinkling of an eye, and armies might be transported from Edinburgh to Exeter in forty-eight hours. With such great and novel powers—with such ready means of suppressing any tumult, no Government need contend for so unpopular and so unimportant a privilege.
§ Mr. Wakley
remarked, that the hon. Gentleman who had just resumed his seat had informed them that they were indebted 738 to him for all the evidence as to antiquity which was to be discovered in the report of the Committee. At the same time the hon. Member admitted that all his antique researches had tended to a negative result—that he had not discovered in ancient usage any authority for the Secretary of State opening letters, such as had been practised in the case before the House. And in connexion with these facts, the right hon. Gentleman had said that he believed that the Secretary of State had alleged, on his own authority, that the opening of letters by him was founded on the Statute of Anne. [Sir J. Graham: No, no.] Then by Statute Law. [Sir J, Graham: No, no.] As he understood, the right hon. Gentleman said that it was founded on the Statute.
§ Sir. J. Graham
It was exercised on the authority of the Statute, introduced in the reign of Queen Anne, subsequently adopted, confirmed, and enlarged by other statutes.
§ Mr. Wakley
continued: Then it was substantially founded on the Statute made in the reign of Queen Anne. The right hon. Gentleman, in the statement that he made formerly to the House, stated as the foundation—as that which justified him in opening letters, the Statute of Anne. That was the foundation—that was the original source from which he derived his authority. But then the hon. Member for Kendal stated that there was no authority to be found in ancient usage. Then the right hon. Gentleman stated what was in his opinion the foundation of his authority. He thought that in such a debate this was a point with respect to which there ought to be neither doubt nor mystery. They ought to have a distinct acknowledgment from the right hon. Gentleman as to the source of his authority with regard to the opening of letters. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to state that his authority was the Statute of Anne. In the course of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, he remarked upon the constitution of the Committee of the House of Lords—he spoke in the highest terms of praise of the great legal ability which was to be found on that Committee. Looking then to the legal knowledge of the Members of that Committee of the House of Lords—yielding obedience to them as an authority—let them see what that Committee said as to 739 the Statute of Anne; because it appeared to him, that in their judgment there was no legal authority for the exercise of this power—that it was to be justified but by a great emergency, and that Ministers were responsible for it—responsible to public opinion, and to the House of Commons, where they should justify themselves for the exercise of such an Act. This most important admission was to be found in the Lords' Report. He would read the passage for them:—In letting to farm the Post Office to individuals, and in proclamation of the 25th of May, 1663, and 25th August, 1683, the power is distinctly claimed and reserved. The terms in which the provisions of the Act, 9 Anne, cap. 10, upon this subject, are enacted, can only be explained upon the supposition that this power was at the time fully recognised, for that Act gives no power to the Secretary of State to detain or open letters, but prohibits others from doing so, except by an express warrant in writing, under the hand of the Principal Secretary, for every such opening or detaining.That, then, was the Report of the House of Lords. The Statute of Anne gave no power to the Secretary of State; but what it appeared to him to recognise was this—it appeared to be that under certain circumstances the Secretary of State might have exercised this authority; but what he wanted to know was, where was the foundation for that authority? Let them look to the Lords' Report. They could not forget the terms in which the right hon. Baronet spoke of the Committee of the House of Lords; and now they saw that Committee in its Report say, that by the Statute of Anne no power was given for the opening letters. It scarcely amounted to a recognition of the provisions of the Statute, or it did not do more than this. It said that the Secretary of State, on his own responsibility, and for the public safety, might deem it proper to order the opening of letters for the purpose of discovering the seditious and treasonable practices of parties, and that then the parties obeying, under such circumstances, the warrant of the Secretary of State, should be free from all responsibility. The Report of the Lords appeared to him to amount only to that. He said, then, that this admission on the part of the Lords was a most important one. Now, it lay upon the Government to show that it was justified in what it had done; and if it were not, an action at law would lie 740 against the Secretary of State, unless he could show that he was justified in issuing his warrant. Now, after what had passed on this and on a former occasion, he must say that his hon. Colleague had been placed in a most unfair position. His hon. Colleague was a man of great ability and great valour. His hon. Colleague had the confidence of the country, and he was entitled to that confidence: and no man, he must say, exercised his functions as a Member of that House in a more honest, a more able, or a more independent manner. What, then, was the position of his hon. Colleague? A foreigner, relying upon his abilities, entrusts to him a petition; that foreigner said, "My letters have been opened in your Post Office. I consider myself an ill-used man. I rely upon you to bring forward my case." The subject was first mentioned in that form; and when the right hon. Gentleman was asked a question as to the number of warrants that he had issued, the right hon. Gentleman stated, when he was so asked, as to the warrants he had issued, if he had issued one against another individual named Stolzman, his reply was, that if the hon. Gentleman had given him notice, he (Sir James Graham) might have told him whether he had done so or not. This was the right hon. Gentleman's reply as to the names of two foreigners. What then, was stated in the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons on this point? His (Mr. Wakley's) remark, upon hearing the reply of the right hon. Gentleman was this—had the right hon. Gentleman issued so many warrants that he could not recollect one name out of the number, and that one the name of Stolzman, which was certainly not a common one? Now, the allegation in the Report of the Commons was, that three warrants only had been issued; and this happened though the right hon. Gentleman required notice as to one name when there were but two remaining, for the name of Mr. Mazzini was then before the House. So, then, the case progressed. The Secret Committee was appointed. It was a useful lesson to them: he sincerely hoped that they might never appoint another. It appeared to him that they were nothing more than whitewashing machines for Government—these Secret Select Committees. They made a Report in which they mentioned but a few names, excluding the great mass; and then individual 741 Members of the Committee stood up, to give to these labours their weight and authority by declaring that they had exposed all that it was for the public good to have mentioned, intimating that it would be for the public disadvantage to state anything more. But here his hon. Colleague assumed a new case. It was to be observed that he was the first man who presented a petition upon this subject—that he laid before them that petition, of Mr. Mazzini that had led to the present inquiry; and that it was through his exertions that a Select Committee had been appointed. Well, then, out comes the Report, and there was no allusion made to him. He was not allowed to act on the Committee; and he believed he was not allowed even to conduct the case of Mr. Mazzini. His name was excluded; and what was now the case of his hon. Colleague? He said to the Secretary of State—"I charge you with opening my letters. I charge you, the Secretary of State, with having done this." What, then, was the answer of the right hon. Gentleman? He was not absolved. The name of the Queen was introduced into this discussion in the most extraordinary manner. It was, he must say, new to him. He considered it to be the duty of Ministers to allow no personal responsibility to attach to the Sovereign. He thought that it was the constitutional doctrine that the Sovereign was not to be responsible—that the Sovereign could do no wrong—that the Sovereign could do nothing but with the advice of Her Ministers. Who was it, then, who advised the Sovereign to absolve the Secretary of State—to absolve him from his oath before the Secret Committee, and not in that House? Who took the responsibility on him to do this? He should like to know on whom rested that responsibility. He thought it was not right in any Minister to throw the responsibility that should rest upon himself upon his Sovereign, and to shield himself under her individual authority. He must say, that he did not think this a just or right exercise of the prerogative of the Crown. His hon. Colleague repeated the charge—he did not speak in any confused manner—there was no misunderstanding him. His accusation was this, "You have opened my letters." The right hon. Gentleman did not deny the charge; but then the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, by implication, made, or affected 742 to offer a justification for the opening of his hon. Colleague's letters; for the right hon. Baronet said that the country was in a very disturbed state in 1842. The right hon. Baronet stated that there had been commotions, that there had been incendiarism; that threats had been held out, and that large masses of the people were in a state of disturbance. Thus, then, his hon. Colleague was connected with the seditious movements of that time. That, he said, was the inference, and that too was the justification for opening the letters of an individual Member of that House. He put, he said, the fair interpretation upon the language of the right hon. Gentleman, and he wished to put the House in possession of the right hon. Gentleman's plain and obvious meaning. It was not to be misunderstood. ["No, no."] If the right hon. Gentleman did not mean that, what did he mean? Why was this done with a Member of the House of Commons, whose political course was well known, whose proceedings were well known, who chose for the objects of his attack those who were of high quality, and amongst others the Home Secretary himself, who was considered by his hon. Colleagues a proper object of attack, fair game and worthy of being hunted down? His hon. Colleague, too, occasionally attacked the Judges. He remembered on one occasion the right hon. Gentleman saying, that his hon. Colleague seemed to think himself justified in calling them to account. His hon. Colleague, then a Member of that House, in the exercise of his useful functions, had his letters opened, and that too, by the party that he attacked in that House, and that, too, an individual who said that all his political acts were performed by him upon his responsibility. His responsibility! What was the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility? What was responsibility? He never could see it—nobody could touch it—and no human being, gifted with the greatest sagacity, and aided by the keenest subtlety, could ever discover it. What was the meaning of responsibility? The official character of the right hon. Gentleman was implicated in this transaction. But now insinuations were thrown out—now they were told that commotion was threatened—that rebellion and civil war were impending; and were they, because such things existed, to be also told that a Minister of the Crown was 743 justified in looking into the letters of a Member of that House, and casting upon him such odious reflections, branding him with favouring sedition? [Cries of "Oh, oh."] Then why were his letters opened? What was the justification? Who was responsible? The right hon. Gentleman, he said, was bound to state the reasons—he was bound to show how he came to be justified in opening the letters of a Member of that House. But even supposing the law justified the Secretary of State in prying into letters, where was the law to justify the opening letters and sealing them up again, and then sending them to parties who never suspected what was done? Where was the justification for that? Let the House liken the proceeding to that of a search warrant issued by a magistrate—and whether the warrant was for opening a letter or a house, it partook of the same character. A magistrate before he granted a search warrant, must have an information before him, made upon oath, to justify such a step, and that information was recorded. But where was the information in this case? Then let them suppose a magistrate in London had been guilty of an act which induced such a man as Mazzini, or half a dozen such men, to petition the House of Commons, and that they complained that policemen had, acting under the directions of that magistrate, gone to their houses in their absence, opened their doors, at night, and searched their houses, and, having done so, that they had fastened up the doors again, and gone away, without informing the parties whose houses they had entered what they had done; and that the fact that they had been subjected to such injustice was subsequently discovered by them accidently, as it were. What would hon. Gentleman say of the magistrate who had so acted? What would they say of a man who had sent policemen secretly into a man's house for such a purpose, and in such a way, to make search for, and examine all his private documents and papers; and having satisfied themselves of all that was in the house, to leave it in the same quiet and secret way, not leaving a trace of their presence, or any intimation to the parties that such a visit had been paid, or such an examination made. What would hon. Gentlemen say—what would the Government say—of a magistrate who had so acted? Would they not call him one of the basest of 744 spies—and would they permit him to continue in his office another hour?—would they not say he had grossly violated his trust, and was no longer fit to sit on the bench. The condemnation of such a man would be unanimous, and the circumstances must be strong indeed that would extenuate, much less justify, his conduct. The right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary was now called upon to justify his conduct in regard to the opening of these letters; but how could he do so unless the whole of the circumstances connected with these transactions were known to the House and the country? The right hon. Gentleman was bound to show that he had good reason to believe that his (Mr. Wakley's) hon. Colleague was engaged in some practices or other that would justify the unusual and extraordinary course he had adopted of opening his letters—a proceeding which, as was stated in one of the Reports, amounted, in fact, to a breach of the privileges of the House. Then look at the position in which the two gentlemen, Captain Stolzman and M. Worcell were placed by the proceedings of the right hon. Gentleman. Look at their position, as described in the Report of the Committee; for the right hon. Baronet had stated no grounds for connecting them with the transaction in which it had been insinuated they were implicated. The Report states,—A warrant to open and detain all letters addressed to Mr. Worcell and to Mr. Stolzman was issued on the 17th of April, 1844, and cancelled on the 20th of June. A warrant to open and detain all letters addressed to Mr. Grodicki at Paris, and to another foreign gentleman, was issued on the 3rd June, 1844, and cancelled on the 18th of the same month.Then, the last two warrants. Now, observe, these were the warrants in reference to Mr. Stolzman and M. Worcell:—The last two warrants rested on grounds connected with the personal safety of a Foreign Sovereign, entrusted to the protection of England.Insinuating thereby that there was some ground for believing that those gentlemen were engaged in a transaction likely to lead to assassination. Now, were they acquitted of that implied charge by the Report? Let the House read the sentence as it appeared in the Report, and say whether or not the Committee had acquitted them. It stated,—It appears to your Committee that, under 745 circumstances so peculiar, even a slight suspicion of danger would justify a Minister in taking extraordinary measures of precaution. The Committee have not learned that there appeared in the letters that were detained, anything to criminate the Gentlemen whom the Committee have very reluctantly named.The Committee had not learned that there appeared in the letters themselves anything to criminate these gentlemen; but had they acquitted them? He understood that the spy who was here, and who gave the information against these two gentlemen, upon which the warrant for opening their letters had been issued, had been rewarded for his infamy. Now was this a system to be justified—could the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary justify it? Whether the power, if it existed in law, was to be maintained or not, was not then the question; the case was simply this: his hon. Colleague stated—a Member of the House stated—that his letters had been opened by order of the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and the answer of that Secretary of State to the charge was, that he would say nothing at all about it, as he was not absolved from his oath of secrecy as a Member of the Government. He said that, under these circumstances, it was impossible for that House to be satisfied, or the country to be satisfied; and that House would not do justice to its character, and its position with the public, or fulfil those high functions which it was destined to perform, if it did not demand a full, complete, and searching inquiry into the direct, pointed, and personal charge which his hon. Colleague had made.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday.
§ House adjourned at a quarter to one.