« PreviousContinue »
minister at his house in Downing-street. On the whole, it appeared that the house could not immediately go into a committee upon the army estimates, without violating an established practise, and thereby introducing a precedent which might lead to most mischievous and alarming consequences. He felt it difficult to conclude without observing, that the half-stifled laughter with which the minister and his friends met some of his remarks, were indecently misapplied, on a subject of such particular importance.
The Secretary at War said he flattered himself that the defence of his own conduct would rest firmly upon a plain statement of facts; and, therefore, he should leave it to the house to judge from them, and draw the natural conclusions: There was not in that house, he believed, a member who had shewn more respect and reverence to their forms of proceedings than he had uniformly done for the thirty years, during which he had set in parliament; and he trusted that he had not in the present instance acted so as to violate any one of them. The papers had now been seven days on the table. (Mr. Sheridan cried out No, no! only five.) The Secretary at War added, that he should persist in his assertion; they were presented on the preceding Thursday, and he should contend, that Thursday was one day, Friday two, Saturday three, Sunday four, (the opposite side of the house laughed), Monday five, Tuesday six, and Wednesday seven; that was a complete week, for he knew of no rule that the whole of the seven should be sitting days. Saturdays and Sundays would serve as well for the inspection of papers as any other days; and, therefore, let the house judge whether the papers had not been before them a full week; and whether he was chargeable with any attempt either to proceed precipitately, or to violate any established form of proceeding. Indeed, he should have imagined, that the honorable gentleman who had just sat down, knew his character as a member of parliament too well to have supposed him capable of such a design; and as to eccentric flights of genius, he could only say, he was at that moment (tortured by the gout) less qualified than ever to attempt flights even at any other time, if he had been so inclined. As a proof that his arguments were far from inconclusive, he begged leave to remind the house, that when he gave notice of the day on which he should move to refer the estimates to the committee of supply, a noble Earl (Surrey) expressed his satisfaction that the time of investigation was so little distant.
Mr. Sheridan answered, that the right honorable gentleman had contented himself with attempting to prove that the had been upon the table a
week or seven days; but even if that could be made out (which he must beg leave to deny), this was not meeting his argument; which was, that the papers had not been on the table the usual time, and in that argument he had been supported by the first authority in that house. When he alluded to the eccentric flights of the right honorable gentleman, he certainly did not mean to insinuate, that the right honorable gentleman had taken a flight of such altitude as that of a right honorable friend of his (Colonel Fitzpatrick) during the course of the preceding year.
The house afterwards resolved itself into a committee, Mr. Minchin's amendment being first given up; and certain resolutions were moved and voted, and ordered to be reported, on Tuesday the 10th.
A motion was made for the second reading of the report from the committee of supply, of the vote of the army. Mr. Steele observed, that he believed no person would consider he was hostile to the motion; and that his only reason for rising was to rescue his right honorable friend (Mr. Pitt) from the imputation thrown out upon him on the preceding Wednesday, that he despised and trampled upon the orders and forms of the house, in proposing to have the army estimates voted before they had lain a week upon the table. A noble lord (North), whose opinion always carried with it great weight, had said that the week should be taken exclusive of the day on which the estimate was produced. But having since looked into the Journals, he found, that the precedent quoted on Wednesday last by an honorable friend. (Mr. Rose), was not the only one which might have been produced; it was not, what had been called, "a single swallow; for he could follow it up with a whole flight of swallows, and shew that, during a period of twenty years, there were four or five precedents where the army had been voted precisely within the same distance of time, after the presenting of the estimate, which had elapsed this year; and seven, where it had been voted within a much shorter distance; as he had committed these precedents to writing, he should beg leave to read them; and, then, it would appear that—
Mr. SHERIDAN declared, that he must take the liberty immediately to interrupt the honorable mem
ber, because he had violated order in speaking from the question; which was, for the second reading of the report; and in alluding to a former debate. His precedents would have been very proper on Wednesday, had he been apprized on that day of their existence. They would have been properly urged on that day to prove, that there was no deviation from the practise of the house. But, surely, they came too late now, to prove that the right honorable gentleman acted right on Wednesday last, when, in defiance of the opinion of the chair, and when he did not know that these precedents had ever existed, he moved to have the army estimate voted. The gentlemen on the other side, he supposed, had enjoyed the good fortune to be assisted since Wednesday by an industrious searcher (Mr. Eden) of the Journals, whom he had seen on the first day of the session in a new place in that house, but whom he had not seen since;-who divided his principles and affection between both sides, giving his support to the one, and his good wishes to the other. The precedents, however, availed but little; for, it had not been denied, but that occasions might occur, which would warrant a departure from the general practise; but when it was urged that the reason of such departure ought to be stated and made appear, which no one had attempted on Wednesday last, then it was that numbers of his honorable friends, as controversialists, enjoyed the pleasure of finding themselves under the crouded standard of the chair, in feeble opposition to which but one solitary precedent had arisen.
The resolutions were read a second time, and agreed to.
ESTIMATE OF THE EXPENSE OF ERECTING FORTIFICATIONS FOR THE PROTECTION AND SECURITY OF THE DOCK-YARDS.
The first object of importance that engaged the attention of parliament in the present session, was a measure which originated with the Duke of Richmond, the Master-General of the Ordnance. It
was a plan for fortifying the dock-yards at Portsmouth and Plymouth. The house of commons had, in the preceding session, expressed their unwillingness to apply any part of the public money for this purpose, before they were made acquainted with the opinions of such personages as were best able to decide concerning the utility and propriety of such a measure. In consequence of this intimation a Board of Military and Naval Officers was appointed by the king, with the Master-General of the Ordnance as their president; and the proposed plan of fortifications was referred to them for their opinions and advice. After they had investigated the subjects, and had made their report thereon, the plans recommended were laid before the Board of Engineers to make an estimate of the expenses necessary to carry them into execution. This estimate, which amounted to no less a sum than 760,0971, Mr. Pitt laid before the house this day; and it was originally intended by him, that it should be debated and decided upon, together with the ordnance estimates, as a mere collateral question. Lieut.-Gen. Burgoyne, who was one of the board of officers that made the report, expressed his desire, that before the business was further proceeded upon, so much both of the report itself, and of the instructions upon which it was founded, as could be made public with safety to the state, should be laid upon the table of the house. The reason alleged by him was, that the house might otherwise unwarily be led to think that the report sanctioned the plan of fortifications proposed more than it really did.
Mr. Sheridan observed, that unless the house were to be shewn such parts of the report of the board of inspection as called for their discussion, they were exactly in the same situation in which they stood before that board was appointed; and instead of having the whole of the question fully before them as the right honorable gentleman had said they would have it, viz. not on the assertion of an individual, of a singular minister, nor of any man in office; but on the authority of a board consisting of naval and military officers of known character, experience and integrity; they would have nothing but the bare assertion of the minister, as a guidance for their judgment. For his own part he would not entertain a doubt but that the right honorable gentleman meant to be accurate in the statement which he had just made, as the statement of those outlines of the report in question; and that he had delivered what he himself conceived to be a correct statement of those out
lines. But the house had heard that statement contradicted by the honorable general behind him, who had himself been a member of that board. In order, therefore, to enable the house to judge fairly between the right honorable gentleman and the honorable general, they ought to see such parts of the report at least as might be submitted to their perusal with safety to the state.
MR. SHERIDAN'S MOTION, THAT MR. JOSEPH PEARSON BE CALLED IN AND EXAMINED, IN RELATION TO DELIVERING BALLOT LISTS.
Mr. SHERIDAN begged leave to assure the house, that it was very far from his intention to have trespassed upon their patience some remarks, which, now, he deemed it necessary to make, if, on the preceding day, some honorable gentleman, in the service of administration, had not insinuated, with an air of triumph over him for his supposed defection, that, with reproachful inconsistency, he had first stated a motion to the house, and then suddenly deserted it, without having previously pursued it to any opening whatever. If gentlemen would please to honor him, upon the present occasion, with their attention, he felt himself persuaded that he should totally exonerate himself from all charges of inconsistency. When, upon the Wednesday he came down to the house, he perceived, and not without astonishment, the door-keeper putting into the hands of every member a paper, containing a written list of the names of gentlemen, by way of a ballotting list; and having the strongest grounds for belief that these papers were prepared at the Treasury, and that it was by their direction the door-keeper delivered them; and feeling that such conduct was a direct and scandalous attack upon the privileges of that house; and conceiving,