§ The order of the day having been read forr eferring the Petition of Samuel Drummond to the Secret Committee,
The Earl of Carnarvon
said, that when, a few days ago, he offered to the notice of the House the petition of this person, who had been confined under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, he did not conceive there could be any difference of opinion as to the propriety of referring those petitions to the consideration of the Se- 520 cret Committee; and he was therefore about to make the motion immediately to do so, but finding that a difference of opinion did exist, he had put it to his majesty's ministers to name a later day for the discussion of the question, if they were not then prepared to meet it. He had then stated what he now repeated, that he was wholly ignorant of the character of the person who had signed this petition. He was aware that, if he should call on their lordships to enter into any specific investigation of the petition, it was incumbent on him to make a fuller inquiry into the merits of the petitioner, and to ascertain them, before he could show a ground for any proceeding upon the subject; but that was not the present case. Their lordships had agreed to a committee, at the suggestion of ministers; they had gone into an inquiry, and because ministers thought fit that that inquiry should not be as open as the nature of the case demanded, they had stated (for the contents of the green bag were known to few), that the object of the committee was to lay before the House an exposition of the whole conduct of ministers, and an exposition of the state of the country since the report of the last committee. Their lordships had voted that committee, the committee had commenced its inquiries, and it was not too much to assume that it had also gone into an investigation on the conduct of ministers; the only question now was, whether that inquiry should be limited to the documents that ministers should lay before the committee, or whether it should be entered into with that spirit and degree of investigation that the nature of the case imperiously demanded. Ministers had told the House, that one object of the committee was to inquire into their conduct; if so, it must be with a view to ascertain whether it was meritorious or not. On this he would give no opinion—not that he meant to imply his majesty's ministers would be found in fault, in case an inquiry should really take place (he hoped that the more their conduct was inquired into, the more clear it would turn out;) but he was sure that if they wished this to be the result of the inquiry, it must not be entered into merely upon evidence brought forward by themselves, upon a case of their own showing, and before a tribunal packed by themselves; he said, packed by themselves, for he begged to state to their lordships, and he was sure he could not be contra- 521 dicted by ministers themselves, that, in the formation of that committee, regular lists bad been prepared, and there was not one name that was not inserted by ministers themselves, or at least upon their own nomination. Yet, before even such a tribunal as that, constituted in the manner he had described, he was willing that inquiry should be made, as far as it could be made. If an inquiry was really to be entered on, there was a possibility that something might have been reprehensible in the conduct of ministers, or their agents; and, if so, were they from their own offices to draw up their own statements, and produce them before the committee, as a satisfactory means of arriving at the truth either of their good or of their evil deeds? Was it not natural to suppose, that they would overlook the serious charges, if not intentionally, through neglect or mistake, and call upon the House to concur in their justification by making them participators in their ignorance? If they left it to the discretion of those gentlemen to prepare, not only their own case, but the whole of the evidence by which that case was to be tried, they might trust to Heaven for justice, but they might depend upon it, that such facts would only find their way into the committee as were most favourable to parties on their defence. Would their lordships be satisfied upon such evidence, or could they arrive at any conclusion upon it? Take it which way they would, they could derive no information from the green bag which ministers had not put into it. Let them look to the proceedings of those ministers themselves. Before two days had elapsed, after the production of the green bag, containing, as was at first stated, all the information necessary, they showed that, even in their own opinion, that information was not sufficient. At that time another green bag was introduced, containing God knows what; but clearly intimating that something had been withheld from the former; and if that was not sufficient, even in ministers' own opinion, why might we not have a third green bag produced, as a supplement to the second? why might not much more be necessary, if truth was really sought as the result of the inquiry? But the importance of this inquiry mainly depended on the objects that ministers had in view. On the first day of the session they were asked, what those objects 522 were, and what was to be the result of the committee of inquiry? but then, as they did not know who would form the committee, they professed an entire ignorance of the objects it might have in view, or what would be the result of its investigation. He would state at once, and ministers might contradict him if they could, that their view then, and now, was to obtain a bill of indemnity, and he was confident the inquiry of the committee would terminate in a recommendation to the House to pass such bills of indemnity. If this investigation was not entered into for the mere purpose of gratifying curiosity, but if it was meant to lead to so serious and important a measure as shutting the door of justice against those who had suffered, whether deservedly or not, under the acts of ministers: he repeated, if those unfortunate men were to be excluded from justice by a bill of indemnity, were their cases also to be excluded from all previous examination before the passing of such an enactment? Would their lordships, if they had any regard for the people, or any sense of justice remaining, consent to such a proposal? If so, if such a course was thought, under all circumstances, to be expedient, let it be at once manfully avowed. Let the House tell those unfortunate men, that there was no justice for them, either in parliament or before the ordinary tribunals of the country. Let the House tell them, that they were determined to proceed in such a manner, as to secure the protection of ministers, the authors of their wrongs; while to the victims either of their vigour, or of their imbecility, all hopes of redress were for ever to be denied. If such was the determination of their lordships, let it be stated so at once, without holding out the mockery of redress, by making the accused their own judges. Whether they should do this or not, was the issue on which the House was to join that night. But he trusted, their lordships would not go the length of determining to prepare the way for a bill of indemnity, and to try ministers on evidence produced by themselves alone. These were the grounds on which he called on them to refer these petitions to the Committee of Secrecy; not Drummond's petition alone, but all the others; for there was the same ground for attending to the prayer of all of them. The House was not obliged to form distinct opinions upon each, it was not possible that it could do so, but it was un- 523 questionably in its power to send them to the committee, there to be dealt with according as they might deserve. He was, indeed, strongly impressed with the importance that would be attached to their lordships' decision on the question of that night. Whatever might have been the conduct of ministers, or whatever might be the claims of the petitioners, there was one question of still greater importance. In all proceedings between ministers and the people, that House ought always to stand fair between them and the country; if not, if they were biassed, and would hear but one side, how could they complain if the people, stimulated by want, and rendered discontented by distress, should yield to the violent but seductive language that was too often held out to them by men of evil designs, and, in this instance, there was great reason to suppose by the agents of ministers themselves? Was there any primâ facie case, any thing so decisively clear in the conduct or character of ministers, that should authorize the House to prejudge the case of poor and oppressed individuals in favour of those ministers, without so much as hearing the party complaining? However we might approve of their conduct or character, was that any reason for telling petitioners that we might pity their case, but that we were precluded from entering into it, because the parties complained of were authorized by their situation in proceedings however arbitrary. Though that House might, in some instances, become no more than a mere echo of the designs and language of ministers, he entreated their lordships to consider how the present case stood. Was it the fact, that ministers stood so high in the estimation of the public? or was there not a feeling without-doors, that it wat possible a case might be made out against them, notwithstanding the purity of their fame, very different, in its complexion and degree, from what was likely to be extracted from their own green bag? Had ministers themselves done nothing to countenance this opinion? Had they not confessed, that the disturbances had, in many places, been much aggravated, at least by the conduct of their own immediate agents? The report of the committee of last year, admitted that some portion of the disturbances was to be attributed to the conduct of the agents employed by government; and many persons believed, at this moment, that the greater part, if not the 524 whole, of the insurrectionary spirit, was fomented by the industry of spies and informer. Those agents had found men discontented font the effects of distress, and want of employment (it was obvious that men in a state of starvation were, of all others, the casiest to be worked on); and seeing the materials ready for their hand, proceeded to kindle the flames of insurrection Was not the House bound to inquire, how far those unhappy men, who had fallen victims to the laws of their country, might attribute their untimely end to the arts and designs of these detestable spies? The friends of ministers might allege, that it was to their vigorous exertions we were indebted for the tranquillity that now prevailed; others affirmed, that this vigour was the cause of all the disturbances that had taken place. Ought not the House to inquire which of these statements was true? Whether Drummond or the other petitioners were men of good or bad character, whether the statements in their petitions were true or false, was not the question for the House to consider, but what sort of an inquiry they were now about to institute? Were they going to inquire into the internal state of the country? so his majesty's ministers said. If so, how could they refuse to submit to the inspection of the committee these petitions, which must afford some light on that subject? Were they to inquire into the conduct of ministers? If so, how could they refuse the petitions, or how judge of that conduct at ail, if they refused any inquiry but an inquiry by ministers themselves? The result of such an inquiry must be, that they, like their victims, would remain for ever tainted with suspicion, and their characters could never be cleared up. But there was this difference between them and their accusers:—the latter demanded a trial, and that their guilt, if any, might be openly proved before the tribunals of their country. His majesty's ministers demanded a trial, not by God and their country, but in their own dark chamber, on their own statement, and by judges of their own appointment. If they refused to meet inquiry, would not suspicion unavoidably attach to them—that suspicion which fell on all who endeavoured, when accused, to escape investigation? But be their characters what they might, be their feelings what they might, it was not for their lordships to consider their feelings, but to consider their own, and to 525 consider the duties of their station. The feelings, too of all the country, demanded that an investigation should take place. There was much mystery on the part of ministers, and that mystery could not make a favourable impression on the country. It was in the hope of promoting that regard for their lordships proceedings which depended so much on their own character; it was to do justice to that people who always looked to parliament for protection, if parliament did not spurn them away; that he trusted these petitions would be referred to the committee. If this business, instead of affecting as it did the character of ministers and the House, were a mere road bill, or any other matter of ordinary routine, and it was asked to refer petitions on the subject to the committee that had it under consideration, the thing would be done as a matter of course. As such was the practice of the House, he had come down last time anticipating no objection whatever to his proposal; objections, however, had been made to it; but as ministers had since had time to reflect, he hoped they would not shrink from the only course they could adopt with credit. He therefore moved, that the petitions of Drummond, Mitchell, and the others who had been confined on suspicion of treason, might be referred to the Committee of Secrecy.
after observing that the noble earl had not gone into the merits of the petitions, but had confined himself to the broad ground, that all petitions, of whatever description, ought to be referred to the committee, admitted, that they might be suffered to lie on the table, but that to ask more than that was to say, that petitions of whatever description, (provided only that they were not couched in language disrespectful to their lordships), whether frivolous, false, malicious, or libellous, were all to be considered, and that the attention of their lordships must be employed in investigating the statements they contained, however false or improbable. That was a proposition to which he could not accede; and he was confident that their lordships would refuse their assent to a principle of such dangerous latitude. But the noble lord more especially wished these petitions to be referred to the Secret Committee. There was no mode of investigation, supposing their contents entitled them to be considered, which appeared to his judgment, so exceptionable as that, He de- 526 fied the noble lord to show a single instance in which such a proposal had been adopted; the very nature of a secret committee was in direct opposition to it. If any case of real hardship existed, it was more proper that such a case should be referred to the consideration of a select committee. He hoped the noble lord had read the petitions in question. If he or their lordships would read those petitions he could assure them with confidence that unless they contained much more information than that which had been read, it was not only not fit for their lordships to take that cognizance of them which the noble lord had asked, but not fit to consider them at all. Drummond, for instance, had undertaken in his petition to prove the decorum and propriety of the meeting of the 10th of March, near Manchester. Of the nature of that meeting their lordships had read information in all the papers, and had also derived it, however the noble lord might ridicule them, from the documents laid before the last committee. The petitioner stated, that he was on that day boisterously apprehended by drunken soldiers without any cause whatever: the truth was, that the magistrates having notice that the people were then about to proceed in a body to the metropolis in order to enforce the compliance of the sovereign with their demands; and that their intentions (as was borne out by the facts) were to proceed to acts of violence, applied for 13 warrants to apprehend those who were most active. These warrants were sent down and many of them executed before the day of meeting; but some of the remaining leaders, regardless of the fate of their companions, proceeded to assemble on the 10th. The magistrates of Manchester acted wisely; they knew that, notwithstanding the check that had been given, a large meeting would take place, and they applied for a military force. Drummond was one of the parties against whom a warrant was issued. The people met to the amount of 12,000, were preparing for their march to London, with the intention of carrying confusion in their train, and addressing the prince in person, and the petitioner was arrested while haranguing them in the most vehement terms; two hundred other persons were also apprehended for tumultuous conduct at the meeting; but not till the riot act had been read by Mr, Holland Watson, the magistrate. That 527 the soldiers had assisted the civil power was unquestionable; but that they had done so in an improper manner, he must utterly deny. The character of sir J. Byng was a security against any improper severity on the part of the soldiers under his command; and from him, who had been on the spot, assurances had been received of the regular conduct of the soldiery. This was corroborated by the magistrates of the district, who, whatever fears they might be under of violence that might ensue to their persons or property, were not so lost to all regard for the constitution as to approve of misconduct in the soldiery. The magistrates had given a satisfactory account, that no insult or outrage had taken place. The whole grievance complained of by Drummond amounted only to the fact of his having been committed. He was examined on the 15th of March before the attorney and solicitor-general, and expressly told not to say any thing that might criminate himself. When under examination, he made no complaint whatever of having been ill-treated. His manner was not sullen; he spoke freely, and in such a manner, that it was impossible not to regret that a person of his appearance should have fallen into such courses. But there was not one word of complaint as to the mode of his apprehension. He would now ask their lordships whether, because the noble earl had advanced a general law, that all petitions should be referred to their consideration; they would not determine whether that one should not be rejected, and whether it contained any thing on the face of it which merited their attention. His majesty's government disclaimed any bill or provision for the purpose of protecting themselves or those who acted under them against actions for the cruel and rigorous treatment of prisoners. The only ground on which they resorted to a bill of indemnity, was, because the sources from whence they had derived their information ought to remain concealed. But he disclaimed any protection for acts of rigour, if any could be proved against him. Let those who were aggrieved complain to the laws of their country, and he was sure that redress would not be withheld. A noble lord had presented two other petitions, and though he had not had time to follow all their allegations, yet he could state from his own knowledge that they contained the grossest perversions; and if 528 he had an opportunity of consulting his own documents, or re-perusing the petitions themselves, he could easily show that they were unfit objects for their lordships attention. With respect to Knight, he knew from the magistrates—(it had been industriously circulated that even the visiting magistrate had been excluded from Reading-gaol, which was never the case)—that every accommodation had been afforded that person. He should make no other observation on Mitchell's petition, than that it charged Oliver with being the cause of his apprehension; but the warrant for that apprehension had been signed before government knew any thing of Oliver, and before he took his journey. He was not apprehended by a warrant from the secretary of state's office, but by the local magistrates, who had long known his character. The noble earl had said much of spies and informers; on that ground he was ready to meet him, because the conduct of government would bear the brunt of any inquiry on that subject; and he owed it to the injured individual (he would so call Mr. Oliver) to state that he was never concerned in the insurrection at any period of its progress. When it was stated that that individual was the chief cause of all the disturbances the noble earl must have lost all recollection that the main features of them were developed in the report of last session; and that it there appeared, that it was the design of the disaffected to burn Manchester in February, which was long before government had even heard the name of Oliver. Upon the whole, he was of opinion that there was no ground to support the present motion, and he, for one, should declare himself decidedly against it.
said, that if he spoke of the measures now in progress in a manner suited to the view in which he was led to regard them, he feared he should not be considered as cool enough for such a. discussion; if, on the contrary, he spoke with apathy and indifference, he felt he should not be acting up to his own ideas of his duty, or in a manner agreeable to his feelings. He expressed his own conviction that, except in the case of Derby alone, there was a universal failure of proof to support the reports upon which the extraordinary powers intrusted to ministers were grounded. At the same time, he willingly admitted, that the noble vis- 529 count was a very fit person to be entrusted with the extraordinary power committed into his hands by parliament, though he was far from thinking that the power itself ought to have been entrusted to any one. The sincerity and mildness of his disposition were so many safeguards against its abuse. As to the petitions in question, he contended, that supposing there was not a word of truth in the various allegations they contained, yet still they were called upon to allow these petitions to be referred to the committee, although that committee was certainly not composed as he could wish it to be. The noble viscount had misunderstood his noble friend, in supposing that he maintained that petitions of all kinds should be referred to the committee. His noble friend had proposed to send only petitions essentially connected with those objects which had occasioned the appointment of the committee. But the noble viscount denied that any such petitions should be admitted. According to this language, nothing was to be received by the committee but what the noble viscount deemed fit to submit to them. But he contended that, according to the noble I viscount's own showing, the petition in I question should be referred. There was no part of it which, prima facie, might not be true. According to the petitioner's (Drummond) statement, he was seized while addressing a large and numerous concourse of persons, who were met for the purpose of petitioning parliament against the suspension of the Habeas Corpus; but the noble viscount would have it that the petitioner spoke with a degree of vehemence which was dangerous. The noble viscount could not deny that the people had a right to petition against the suspension of the Habeas Corpus. The object of such a meeting could not be regarded as treasonable; for, if treasonable, why were the persons apprehended not prosecuted and brought to trial? The petitioner complained of the insolence of the soldiery, and said that some of them were drunk. The interference of the soldiery was admitted by the noble viscount, and it was possible that some of them might have been in the condition represented. Hot suppose this man to have been mistaken, there was nothing uncommon in the mistake, at least there was nothing so criminal as to justify the rejection of his petition. The petitioner, it appeared, was taken before Mr. Sylves- 530 ter; and, upon representing the hardships he had suffered, with regard to the quality of the food which had been allowed him, this gentleman ordered that he should have better food. He was afterwards committed to the charge of Nadin, who chained him, and hurried him away to another place. With respect to this Nadin, he understood there were serious charges brought against him in another place, as having given countenance and encouragement to the horrible system of blood-money; and there appeared no reason to doubt that by this man the prisoner was very cruelly treated. It was alleged that these people meant treason; but if so, why were they not brought to trial? It was said that these people (the blanketteers) intended to proceed to London, to petition the Prince Regent: such a project was absurd enough, he would grant, but not treasonable. If it was alleged that their object was treason, let all the circumstances be brought to proof before the committee, that the committee might know who Were right and who were wrong. It was not right that any part of the country should rest under such a heavy charge, without investigation. God knew how utterly at variance with such a charge was the burst of loyalty which was manifested upon a late mournful event—a loyalty which attached itself not to the gaudy trappings of royalty, but to the hallowed virtues of a princess who was the glory of her sex, the glory of our constitution, and the glory of our country: after the regret so generally felt and expressed upon that melancholy occasion, he little expected to hear the country maligned by the charge of treason. As the charge, however, was made, inquiry, he contended, was indispensable. The petitioner, Drummond, was oppressed with chains; yet it was not of this, or of the loss to his purse that he complained, but that he had had no trial. The expense, however, of attending to answer his recognizance was a grievance which could not be denied. The recognizances were highly improper, and subjected the petitioner to much expense and great inconvenience. In short, he contended there was primâ facie evidence of every one of the allegations being true. It had been said, if the grievances alleged were so great, how happened it that no more than those few petitions were presented; but he believed this proceeded entirely from the opinion which had gone abroad from the 531 whole course of proceedings, and especially from the appointment of this committee, that it would prove a hopeless case. The noble viscount talked of responsibility, and when, on a former occasion, the evidence was demanded that rendered such a responsibility necessary, they were told to suspend their opinion till the proper time. But what were they now to think of this heavy responsibility? for he believed the consequence of the bill of indemnity would be to shelter ministers from every responsibility; and it was doubtful whether, by its operation, even gaolers and magistrates, who had acted improperly, would not be protected from punishment. Imprisonment, even for a few days, was a hardship, but confinement in a damp room for nine months was no light punishment. As nothing had fallen from the noble viscount which tended to alter his opinion on the subject, he should say 'content' to the motion.
said, that after the able and eloquent speech of the noble lord who had just sat down, it was unnecessary for him to say much. He requested the House to keep in view that a committee was at that moment sitting to determine whether an indemnity bill should pass, and that by referring those petitions to that committee, they would furnish a portion of the information which it was right they should possess. The noble viscount had regarded the motion for referring these petitions to the committee as a sweeping proposition; but to appoint a committee of their own nomination, to judge of their own acts, and that upon evidence produced by themselves, in order to guide them to a bill of indemnity, was more a sweeping proposition, an unheard-of proposition which his majesty's ministers had brought forward: and when any persons complained of being seriously aggrieved, as in the present case, was it right that they should refuse to listen to their complaints on such frivolous pretences.? The question was not whether these men were improperly detained or not, but whether the suspension empowered ministers to commit without evidence upon oath. He believed that, if these petitions were referred to the committee, it would appear that great injustice had been done. But his majesty's ministers would allow nothing to be referred to the consideration of the committee but what they themselves had prepared; they were judges, party, and witnesses also.
§ Earl Bathurst
contended, that it was contrary to all usage and precedent to force fresh information upon a secret committee. The committee had power to send for fresh information if they felt it necessary to do so, but it was quite unprecedented that the House should force any fresh information upon their attention. The committee was secret, and? was appointed for a special purpose. Was it, then, for their lordships to know what sources of information were laid before it, or to force any particular topics upon their investigation i The question was, whether they would leave it to the committee to decide in this matter for themselves, or whether the House would interfere to determine for them. As to the report, their lordships would judge of it when it should be laid before them; and if they should not be satisfied with it, they would pass no bill of indemnity. The noble lord had said, that the report of a committee so constituted, and supplied with such partial information, could be no ground for a bill of indemnity. If not, no harm was done; then would be the time to say so, and to object to an indemnity. Uniform practice was against the motion; uniform practice might be departed from on good grounds: but where were the grounds for departing from it in this instance? There were on every former occasion of this kind petitions like those in question, but they were never referred to a committee. Why should they now be referred? The noble lord had said, that he knew nothing of the individuals who signed thorn, and nothing of the allegations contained in them. Was that a reason for referring them to the committee? If the noble lord had said that he knew the individuals, that he had examined into the allegations, and that he had found that the petitioners had been illegally arrested and harshly treated, that would not be a reason for referring the petitions; but in the present circumstances, the reference appeared to him to be singularly objectionable. There were two subjects of complaint in the petitions; first, illegal and injurious arrest; secondly, cruel and harsh treatment during the detention of the petitioners. With respect to the second ground of complaint, the indemnity would not reach it, it would not protect from any action which the law allowed on that ground. There would be no clause in the bill of indemnity to prevent an appeal to the courts of law, if any person thought 533 himself aggrieved by cruel and harsh treatment, while detained under the Suspension act. As to the charge of illegal and injurious arrest, what would the noble lord propose to be done? Were the committee to examine whether the petitioners were guilty or not, of treason? That seemed to be the object of the motion. If it was, how, he would ask, were the committee to proceed? They must call the persons accused before them, examine all the evidence on which they were committed, and all the evidence to substantiate their guilt in a word, they must take the whole trial of those individuals. Suppose they should be acquitted of treason, was the report of the committee therefore false, or was the committal of the petitioners wrong? But suppose they should find them guilty, what course were they, in that case, to follow? Were they to dismiss them, or to send them to be tried again, after all the evidence had been extorted from them, and with all the prejudice which the decision of the committee must attach to their character? If the practice of the House were not against the motion, if the practice were the reverse, he should say this motion ought not to be received.
The Marquis of Lansdowne
would not enter at length into the merits of the question, as he was a member of the Secret Committee; but he rose to reply to the statement of the noble earl who had just sat down, as to the practice of the House and of secret committees. It was not the practice that a secret committee should send to the House for papers, but to confine themselves to the consideration of such papers as were laid before them. Therefore that part of the noble earl's speech did not apply to the point under discussion. If the committee were to see and investigate those petitions, the present motion seemed to be the only mode of giving them that power.
The Earl of Liverpool
admitted, that the noble marquis was correct in stating that it was not the practice of a secret committee to send to the House for papers; but they could apply to the ministers of the Crown for any papers they wanted; and if they did not obtain them, it was perfectly competent for them to report to the House that they had not had sufficient grounds for coming to any final judgment. Till the report came before them, it was improper for any noble lord who was not a member of the committee to say, that any farther papers were necessary. When 534 the report should be made, they could judge of it. If it should be satisfactory, the petitions would be admitted to be unnecessary for the committee. If it should be unsatisfactory, and express the impossibility of coming to a conclusion without farther information, then this motion might be urged. But till the House were aware of the report, it was impossible to say whether any or what proceedings should be adopted respecting it. Allusion had been made to the manner in which this committee was appointed; it had been asserted, that it was appointed in a manner never heard of before. He would appeal to the House whether it was not appointed in the manner invariably adopted on similar occasions. It was always the duty of any noble lord who proposed a committee, to name the individuals who should form that committee. What benefit had that mode over a ballot? In both cases the mover proposed the individuals. What then was the difference, except that the ballot prevented invidious discussions as to particular names, which ought always to be avoided. Noble lords from both sides of the House were appointed members of the committee. When the subject was introduced last year, and on every other occasion, he felt anxious to submit the information on which ministers acted to persons of all political opinions. The committee was not formed on any narrow or party views, He certainly would not choose to submit his conduct to the judgment of a committee composed exclusively of the noble lords he saw opposite to him. The report of the committee would speak for itself. He had no doubt that it would be a fair and just conclusion, deduced from ample materials of investigation. The members of the committee were, he trusted, as conscientious, and as much interested in the welfare of the country, as the noble lords opposite could be; and was it fair, then, to sup-pose that they would not do their duty. As to the contents of the petitions, the first ground of complaint was illegal imprisonment; the second, cruel and harsh treatment. With respect to the latter he should only say, with his noble friend, that the bill of indemnity would contain no clause to screen ministers, magistrates, gaolers, or any other description of persons against the consequences of any cruel or harsh treatment. This point, therefore, was not at issue. As to the other complaint, of illegal imprisonment, 535 which was at issue, he would ask, whether it must not be the complaint of all who were confined under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act? The ground of complaint was the very power conferred by the suspension The noble earl (Grosvenor) had given his vote seven or eight times for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus. He might say it was upon grounds different from those of the last suspension; but the grounds were not now in question. Whenever, then, the noble earl had voted for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, he had voted for the power of taking up persons and confining them without trial. Whether it was necessary to grant such a power was another question. That question had been already discussed, and might be again discussed by the House; but it had nothing to do with the motion now before them. In every view of the subject, as well on the ground of principle as of practice, he thought the motion objectionable, and therefore he should oppose its adoption.
said, he had not entered into the subject of the detention of the petitioners upon suspicion, as a ground of complaint, but in order to repel the insinuations of the noble viscount, that the statements were untrue. With this view he had stated that Drummond had, in fact, been arrested, brought before lord Sidmouth, and dragged from gaol to gaol, as set forth in the petition. As to his former votes on this subject, he admitted that he had formerly voted for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, but it was under circumstances most materially different from those under which the late suspension of that great privilege had taken place.
said, that considering the motion as intimately connected with the whole system of government, considering it as intimately connected with the question now at issue between the government and the people, he felt it his duty to offer a few observations upon it. But he would first answer the attacks of the noble lords opposite, and especially the very curious remark of the noble lord who had last spoken, respecting his noble friend's conduct on a former occasion. He hoped it would be indelibly engraved on the minds of their lordships, and he implored them to consider what was the consequence of once voting for the suspension of this sacred bulwark of our liberties—if they were once betrayed by 536 the representations and delusions of ministers to assent to such a measure, they were held to be incapable ever after of deliberating on the subject. What an impressive lesson did such doctrine, from a minister, teach, as to the consequence of agreeing to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. He must tell the noble earl (Bathurst) not that he had misrepresented, for of misrepresentation he had always thought him incapable, but that he had grossly misstated and mistaken the grounds upon which the Habeas Corpus act ought to be suspended. Never, indeed, until now, was it in any instance stated, that the Habeas Corpus act was suspended with the view of enabling ministers to arrest persons whom they did not intend to bring to trial. On the contrary, it was always asked by the other side of the House, and particularly, he recollected, by the noble lord on the woolsack—"Where was the great injury of the suspension? Where the danger? Was any man to be committed but upon oath, and on the responsibility of ministers to bring him to trial? The ground of suspension urged on all occasions was, that it was necessary to postpone the trial beyond the period allowed by law, because it was dangerous to betray the evidence which might enable other traitors to escape. But after the danger was confessedly over—after a year of national misery, for the subjection of every man's liberty to the will of one must be productive of the misery of all—after forty British subjects had been immured in prisons and discharged without any trial, he submitted that it was not too much to call upon that House for some inquiry into the cause of the arrest of those unfortunate persons, and into the treatment which they experienced while in custody; instead of which ministers now came forward and said, they had obtained liberty to do all that had been done. They came forward to say that they had been authorized to commit illegally, and to treat their prisoners cruelly. What else could have been expected? After having, on false pretences, obtained an act of suspension, they came forward now and called upon the House to indemnify them for all they had done even beyond that act. It was in this manner that they appeared disposed to fulfil the promises which they made in the course of the last session to parliament and to the country.—The first noble viscount who had spoken on the 537 other side, had said, that the noble lord who brought this motion before the House had acted judiciously in confining himself to the general motion, and refraining from going into the contents of the petitions. He knew that the noble viscount hated parodies, although one of his colleagues was very accomplished in that species of composition. For his own part, he was a very bad hand at a parody, yet he was almost tempted to try a parody upon this part of the noble viscount's speech. The noble viscount had certainly acted most judiciously in refraining from touching any one of the arguments of the noble mover, and in confining himself to points quite foreign to the question. He had charged his noble friend with having made a sweeping proposition to refer those petitions to a committee. His noble friend had not done so; he had distinctly said, that the appointment of a committee to inquire into the truth of the allegations of the petitioners might be made a question; but a committee being actually sitting, substantially and notoriously to report upon the conduct of ministers towards those very petitioners, he had moved to refer those petitions to them as a matter of course. The motion had been met, and he would admit with some authority, as to the point of form. But every word that was said, as to form, was an aggravation of the conduct of ministers in this case. He was not present when that committee was proposed; but if it were really intended, as was professed by ministers, to inquire into the state of the country, and the manner in which those ministers exercised the powers with which they were invested under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, how could such cases as were referred to in the present motion be consistently excluded from inquiry and consideration? But if this were not the intention; and ministers had acted fairly and honestly, they should have stated what limit and object were to be prescribed to the committee. They should lave said, that the object was twofold; first, to inquire into the state of the country; and secondly, to judge of the criminality or innocence of ministers, and then they should have pointed out the proper form in which the inquiry was to be conducted. "We bring down a green bag," they should have said, "and we refer it to a committee, which committee we select ourselves, and we lay before them what papers we judge proper. We adopt this†538 form, because we think it improper that the committee should obtain any evidence against our former assertions, or against our conduct under the suspension." The noble earl—he had almost said, his noble friend, although he certainly had no intention of saying so—had declared, he should not like those lords opposite to him for his judges. But he (lord Holland) would have no objection to have that noble earl for his judge. If he were innocent, he could have no reason for objecting to him. If he were guilty, he could have no objection, provided he had the choice of the evidence, the arrangement of that evidence, and above all, the preponderating voice among the rest of the judges. He did not speak invidiously of the committee, he spoke only of the proceedings of ministers; but he would always maintain that the persons to be tried ought not to be members of the committee that was to try them. He would also maintain, that no confidence could be placed on a report, however conscientiously framed, when the information was strictly and jealously ex parte. As to the uniform practice of the House, he did not recollect that such an inquiry as ministers now instituted had ever been proposed in such circumstances. Before the Habeas Corpus act was suspended, ministers pleaded that they could not distinctly state the grounds upon which the suspension was proposed, without betraying the sources of their information, and thus hazarding the success of the measure. But no such plea could now avail, after the danger was at an end. Last year the noble lord had introduced a green bag in a very mysterious manner; in consequence of this green bag there was a secret committee, a report, and a suspension of the Habeas Corpus. Yet, even at the outset, there were some material statements in the report of the Secret Committee upon which the Suspension was grounded, and against which evidence was offered to be produced at the bar. Among others, it was alleged, that there were several disaffected committees or clubs of a certain denomination throughout the country, all of which had a central committee or club in the metropolis. The most distinct evidence was offered to disprove this allegation. It would be recollected, that a petition was presented to that House from the secretary of the central club alluded to (Mr. Cleary), solemnly alleging, that this club had for 539 many years before ceased to exist, adding, indeed, that its existence was altogether extremely short. But ministers refused to enter into the consideration of those allegations, or to examine the evidence upon which they professed to rest.—"No," said they, "there is not time to enter into such petitions—the country is in danger, and we cannot delay the adoption of the measure necessary to provide against that danger, by listening to the statement of any one out of doors." He recollected also, that upon their deprecating any decision on ex-parte statements, he was told that the report of the committee was not more founded upon ex-parte statements than a bill of indictment by a grand jury, which yet formed a ground for committing any man to prison. Those arguments or observations had, no doubt, their influence at the time, but nothing of the kind could be urged now, that the danger was over, and the accused at liberty.—Did ministers now, then, come forward, and really tell the House, that the excellent old maxim "Audi alteram partem" would not be admitted? After they had two reports of secret committees: after many persons were arrested for high treason: after some had been condemned, many acquitted, and the most discharged without trial, were they to be told that they should have no farther evidence of the necessity of the suspension? Did not these circumstances furnish matter for inquiry; and what reason could be assigned for resisting that inquiry, at a time when the country was so tranquil that ministers themselves brought forward the proposition for repealing the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act? The ministers must now say, "Leave the law to its course, we are able to justify our conduct;" or "We have been misled, expunge from your records the reports on which we acted;" or "You granted the powers under which we acted from confidence in the characters of ministers; grant us now an indemnity on the same principle. You suspended the constitution from prospective confidence in us; indemnify us from retrospective confidence." If they had manfully come forward with this last proposition, he should have opposed it, us he had done last year, because he had no confidence in their character, and because he could never acquiesce in the suspension of that invaluable blessing, the Habeas Corpus act, without adequate inquiry, especially 540 where that suspension had occasioned the imprisonment of so many of his fellow-subjects; but he must have thought much more highly of their fairness and magnanimity. Ministers had voluntarily put themselves upon their trial; but what sort of tribunal had they constituted to decide upon their conduct? Could any unbiassed man conceive that, in appealing to such a tribunal, they proposed a bonâ fide inquiry? The last year he regarded as a year of great misfortune. It was a year of delusion, practised in the most execrable manner; of power unnecessarily obtained and unwarrantably exercised; of distress and suffering, without justice and without redress. Yet it would have been manly to call for indemnity on the bare ground of character. One other honourable mode of proceeding was left for them; they might have come forward and said—"The storm is now over, the danger is past, the alarm has ceased, calmly judge therefore our conduct, examine all the evidence that can assist your judgment; let us hear all that can be said against our proceedings; open the doors to all complaints, petitions, and representations; we acted honestly upon the best information we could obtain; judge ye now our conduct." But the noble lords had chosen to recommend neither course; their proceedings were perfectly different, and embraced no mode of satisfying the minds of the people. His noble friend had properly said that, whether on good grounds or not, the country had loudly expressed an opinion, that there had been injustice exercised; that government had exceeded its powers; and that every thing which they had done in consequence of the Suspension act was not rightly done. There was a prevalent suspicion, amounting with some to a positive belief, that the noble lord at the head of the home department had not acted constitutionally; that he had exercised powers beyond the law; that in his circulars to magistrates, directing them how to perform their duty, in preventing their visitation of prisoners, in recommending the suspension of the great bulwark of our rights, and in employing spies and informers, he had conducted himself in a manner subversive of our best privileges, and hostile to the public interests: promulgating an exposition of the law, most materially different from the understanding of all constitutional lawyers, and in fact, subjecting himself to the imputation of attempting to dispense with the 541 law of the land.—The noble viscount had replied to the observations on spies, that it was idle to suppose that all the mischiefs which had occurred in the disturbed districts could be attributed to them. He (lord Holland) would not go the length of saying that all those mischiefs had arisen from the employment of such persons; but he had no hesitation in declaring his conviction, that much of them was to be referred to that origin; and if he were allowed, he would produce sufficient evidence in support of his opinion. He was not accustomed to make rash pledges, or to advance exaggerated statements; but he could assure the House, that if a proper opportunity were offered, he had no doubt he could make out a better case against Oliver than ministers had been able to make out last year against the people of England, when they proposed to subject them to arbitrary power by the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. He was not in the habit of asserting facts on ex-parte testimony; he was not in the habit of coming to a decision on any question till he heard what could be advanced on both sides; and he would not therefore say that all the statements which he could produce, ought to be implicitly relied on; but he would say that, till he saw the contents of the green bag, the evidence in his possession against Oliver appeared conclusive. This evidence did not proceed entirely from persons who were interested or prejudiced—it was not altogether from what had been termed a polluted source—it was furnished by respectable individuals who had watched his operations, or who had inquired into the truth of accounts supplied by others. The noble viscount thought he had sufficiently disproved the allegations of Mitchell's petition, by denying that he bad been apprehended on the testimony of Oliver; but, so far as he (lord Holland) remembered, the petitioner did not state that he was. One thing, however, was certain, and could not be denied, as it was supported on irresistible proof—that Oliver had been detected acting in most of the disturbed districts. Witnesses could be brought to state, that he had been engaged in exciting the people of Nottingham, of Derbyshire, and of Yorkshire, to violence and insurrection, by the most inflammatory language, and the most encouraging assurances of assistance. He did not assert that such evidence was true, but he gave it as his opinion that it laid 542 sufficient grounds for inquiry and investigation; in order to ascertain how far the agents of government were instrumental in producing those scenes which formed the ground for proposing and continuing the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. He would go farther and say, that the employment of spies (he did not allude to the receiving of intelligence from informers) was always unjustifiable, except in cases of the greatest and most imminent hazard to the state. Nothing but a paramount necessity that set all ordinary rules at defiance, and threatened dangers to social order, that could neither be met nor averted by acting on common principles, or exercising all the means which human foresight and vigilance could suggest, would justify a resort to such revolting, hazardous, and abominable agency. The persons so employed must always be the refuse of society; and unless those who employed them were able to judge of their testimony, and to examine coolly the facts they supplied, they must always produce mischief. He might appeal to all history, and the opinions of all wise historians and politicians, in support of this doctrine. He would not, however, refer to the authority of some authors who were often quoted on the subject; he would not produce the severe invective and bold description of Tacitus, when speaking of this class of persons, because it might be said, that he was a misanthropist, and marked his picture with features taken from the arbitrary despotism under which he lived; he would not quote lord Falkland, because he might be called a fastidious and speculative statesman; but he would refer to an author against whom none of these objections could be brought, the penetration, sagacity, and elegance of whose work was acknowledged by all, and who, whatever else might be said against him, could not be accused of having any unfavourable leaning towards popular claims or any hostile feeling against existing governments. In speaking of the measures pursued by Burleigh and Walsingham, in 1584, to disconcert the machinations of the malcontents, Mr. Hume's beautiful history contained the following passage:—"Spies were hired to observe the actions and discourses of suspected persons; informers were countenanced; and though the sagacity of these two great ministers helped them to distinguish the true from the false intelligence; many calumnies were no doubt hearkened 543 to, and all the subjects, particularly the Catholics, kept in the utmost anxiety and disquietude." When such great ministers as these were liable to be imposed upon, was it not to be suspected that the employment of similar agents by those who might not exercise the same caution and vigilance, would lead to the greatest oppression and abuses, especially when such instruments were relieved from the fear of detection or punishment, by being divested of all apprehension of ever being confronted with those whom they thought proper to accuse? The fear of a public trial was the only check that could be imposed on the misconduct of spies. If protected from trial or exposure, there was no limit to their audacity, no control over their actions, no means of meeting or confounding their misrepresentations. They might give any information they pleased, they might invent the most palpable falsehoods, they might calumniate the most innocent and orderly individuals. If the danger from this detestable race was great, when they were sent among the better-informed classes of society, how much was it multiplied when they were employed among the lower orders, who were liable to every delusion which they might attempt to practise, and unable to detect their real characters? If a spy should he sent among their lordships, he would have no power to do injury, because they would neither be likely to be deceived by his impressions, nor be in danger of being misled by his violence; but it need scarcely be stated, though it could not be fully conceived, how mischievous a character of this kind must have been among the labourers and manufacturers of the distressed districts last year. He found the people almost mad with projects of reform, discontented from want of employment, and almost furious from want of food. It was not his business to sooth their discontents, to represent the real state of their feelings, or to transmit intelligence of their real situation; he was sent to detect their dangerous projects, to discover their treasonable and seditious plots. To please his employers, therefore, and to magnify his own importance, he had a motive to impel them to the excesses, which it was the object to denounce. "I shall get nothing," said he, "by encouraging them to petition peaceably for parliamentary reform; I shall get nothing by urging a people crying for bread to bear their suf- 544 ferings with patience, or to rely with confidence on the legislature for all the relief it can grant. I must excite them to violence, I must inflame their discontents into rebellion, before I execute my mission, or deserve my reward." Such, he fully believed, was very likely to be the soliloquy of many a spy, and therefore he would never consent to resort to such a person, unless upon the principle of sâlus populi suprema lex.—Nothing could be more probable than that when such agents as these were employed among a people tempted to violence by distress, their influence was most pernicious and dangerous in increasing discontent into disaffection and acts of violence.—These things laid grounds for inquiry and investigation; but these were not the only things. The petitions on the table, and the inquiry proposed to be referred to the committee, referred to tampering with witnesses, to the taking of illegal recognizances, and to discharges without trial, by which suspicion was still fixed on the petitioners. But it was said, that the forms of the House precluded inquiry; and this was the only answer that was given to petitioners when they complained of the grievances which they had suffered, and the hardships to which they had been subjected. He was glad to hear it said, that the bill of indemnity which would be proposed would still allow recourse to be had to a court of justice for a redress of individual grievances, if any abuse of authority had been exercised; and he hoped that a distinct clause to that effect would be inserted in the act; but he distrusted such pledges, when he remembered the effects and consequences of other bills of indemnity; when he recollected that, in 1801, the last bill of this kind precluded all inquiry. It was just possible that none of the ministers themselves were participators in the infliction of the cruelty complained of; that they were not concerned in causing or abetting such cruelty. But if the right to proceed at law were allowed to the petitioners, it might be ascertained whether ministers had, either within or without the authority of the statute susspending the Habeas Corpus act, sanctioned any proceeding connected with the infliction of cruelty. The noble earl opposite had produced an ingenious argument against referring the petitions to the Secret Committee. He had said that on such a reference the committee would be converted into a court of law to decide 545 on the guilt or innocence of the petitioners, to convict or acquit them of treason; but he (lord Holland) could not see how this would be the effect, as it was not the object of the motion. The motion referred the petitioners case to the committee, not to pronounce whether they were guilty or not guilty, but whether the government, in its mode of apprehending and treating them, had exceeded its powers. It was an old maxim in law, in which if he were wrong, he would be set right by the noble and learned lord on the woolsack, that no truth could be proved till it was contested, and he thought the election of the committee was such as promised nothing without the present reference. The noble viscount had thought proper to observe, that all his (lord H's.) predictions proved to be erroneous; but he begged to say, that whatever errors might belong to his character—whatever he might have happened to assume, he had never in his life been in the habit of predicting any thing in public. He remembered no instance in which he ventured to predict the result of a political measure, but one, when, in the case of the suspension of cash payments at the Bank, he foretold that they would never be resumed. He would now, however, predict, and stake his character as a prophet on the issue; that the result of this partial inquiry, by this ministerial committee, would be the recommendation of a bill of indemnity, which, in other words, would be this that ministers, after having procured a recommendation to parliament from a secret committee to grant them extraordinary powers to preserve the law, would obtain a similar recommendation, by the same means, to protect them against the breaches of it. If this prediction should happen to be falsified, he should heartily rejoice in the event.
§ The motion was negatived without a division.