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BILL FOR TAKING UP AND IMPRISONING SUCH PERSONS AS SHOULD BE FOUND IN THE NIGHT WITH PICK-LOCK KEYS, OR OTHER IMPLEMENTS FOR BREAKING INTO HOUSES.
The bill in the form presented was disapproved by both sides of the house. Lord Mahon observed, "that a very easy method might be adopted in wording the bill, so as that the law should reach only those whose intentions were really criminal: he would suggest, for instance, that ihe implements meant by the bill, be described to be such only as could not be employed to any good purpose."-Upon which
Mr. SHERIDAN would object much less to the bill, if this idea of the noble lord should be adopted; but at present there was no such line drawn. The general expression of " implements for housebreaking," was all that was used; so that a ladder on a poor labourer's shoulder, might be deemed such an implement; as might also a strong shoe, because with a strong shoe a man might possibly kick a door open. He then said, that the reformation ought to begin at the source; for, until the police should be reformed, little reformation could be expected among the lower classes.
The Chairman was directed to report progress, and ask leave to sit again.
DEBATE RELATIVE TO MESSRS. POWELL AND BEMBRIDGE.
These gentlemen were two principal clerks in the Pay Office, who had been dismissed for a misdemeanour, and afterwards reinstated.
Lord Newhaven, who had moved, on the 24th of April, for the minute of the treasury on this subject, said, he had been informed that prosecutions against these gentlemen hal been ordered in the courts below; and if such was the fact, he would move to have the order discharged for taking the minute under consideration; because he was of opinion, no proceeding should be had in the house that might create a bias in the minds of the public, before the gentlemen had been brought to trial.
Mr. SHERIDAN said, the Attorney-General had given it as his opinion, that a prosecution for a misdemeanor should be instituted by information; and also, that another prosecution, by English bill, should be instituted in the Court of Exchequer, to compel Messrs. Powell and Bembridge to make up their accounts, and pay in their balances. He had this day spoken to the Solicitor of the Treasury; and he understood from him, that he had directions to file the bill; and that he only waited for the arrival in town of the Attorney-General, to receive his instructions, relative to the prosecution for the misde
To this Mr. Pitt observed, "that the restoration of those gentlemen seemed to cast no small reflection on those who had been the authors of their dismission, and on the late Attorney-General, who had given his opinion against them. He wished the order to be discharged, until the Attorney-General should come to town, and inform the house, whether he meant to proceed criminally against the gentlemen."
Mr. SHERIDAN rose again, and said, the delay of the legal proceedings against Messrs. Powell and Bembridge was by no means chargeable, as matter of censure, against the present ministry. The late Attorney-General had commenced the business; and there had time enough elapsed for him to have gone on with it. Mr. Sheridan threw out some sarcasms on the practice of that gentleman to threaten, and to institute criminal processes, and then to suffer them to sleep.
Mr. Martin having remarked, "that when he heard from the highest authority, that two considerable clerks in office had been dismissed for gross misbehaviour; and that they were afterwards restored, he could not help looking upon their restoration as a gross and daring insult to the public."-Mr. Burke, rising in a violent fit of passion, exclaimed, "it is a gross and daring"-" but he could proceed no further, for his friend, Mr. Sheridan, by this time had pulled him down to his seat, from a motive of friendship, lest his heat should betray him into some intemperate expressions that might offend the house. At length the Speaker desired the conversation might drop, as there was no question before the house.
The following resolutions were moved by Mr. Pitt:
1st. That it was the opinion of the house that measures were highly necessary to be taken for the future prevention of bribery and expense at elections.
2nd. "That for the future, when the majority of voters for any borough, who shall be convicted of gross and notorious corruption before a select committee of that house, appointed to try the merits of any election, such borough should be disfranchized, and the minority of voters not so convicted, should be entitled to vote for the county in which such borough should be situated.
3d. "That an addition of knights of the shire, and of representatives of the metropolis, should be added to the share of the represen tation."
The debate continued till near two o'clock. The number of petitioners this year had decreased; only fourteen counties appeared; and most of the petitions had a very considerable number of names subscribed. The whole amount did not reach 20,000. Among the converts to the question appeared Mr. Thomas Pitt, and the Lord-Advocate of Scotland. The former made the house an offer of the voluntary surrender of his borough at Old Sarum.
Mr. SHERIDAN said he was disappointed :-the motion did not go far enough. He would, nevertheless, vote for it; but he wished that it had taken in more of the objects in general request. The shortening the duration of parliament was one of those objects, which, in his mind, was most properly pursued, as a measure tending to correct the great vice in the representation of the people-their subserviency to government in consequence of their long lease obtained from the people. Shorten that period, and unquestionably you strengthen the intercourse and connexion between the representative and the constituent; and his station being more precarious, he is likely to be attentive to his trust. Mr. Sheridan very successfully ridiculed the Lord-Advocate and Mr. T. Pitt as the new converts to Mr. W. Pitt.
The house divided on the order of the day; ayes 293; noes 149. Majority against Wr. Pitt's propositions 144.
MESSRS. POWELL AND BEMBRIDGE.
A conversation between Sir George Youge, Lord Newhaven, Governor Johnstone, Mr. W. Pitt, and Mr. Sheridan, took place respecting these gentlemen, in which Mr. Sheridan observed, that it was the opinion of the Attorney-General, who was absent, that the prosecution should be continued. The conversation dropped.
MESSRS. POWELL AND BEMBRIDGE.
Lord Newhaven having moved, that the order made upon the 24th of April for the treasury minutes, relating to these persons, should be discharged, as a prosecution was commenced in the courts below,
Mr. SHERIDAN observed, that during the debate every speaker who had opposed the motion had said, they did not wish to prejudice Messrs. Powell and Bembridge, but to know which of the two paymasters had acted best, and with most propriety, and to procure the suspension of the cashier and accountant for the present. It was not, Mr. Sheridan said, a little remarkable, that what they all disavowed, would infallibly be effected by producing the treasury minutes; while, what they owned to be their objects, would as certainly not be attained. Mr. Sheridan illustrated this observation, by proving, that the production of the treasury minutes would necessarily, and unavoidably, bring on a discussion of the nature of the suspicion said to exist against Messrs. Powell and Bembridge, which could not fail to pollute the stream of justice. He also shewed that it could not answer the ends avowed to be the objects aimed at. With regard to Mr. Arden's declaration, that if the minutes were denied, the world would think ministers meant to screen every culprit from justice, Mr. Sheridan said, it was a little extraordinary that such an idea should be thrown
out on the present occasion, when the only part government appeared in was, that of a prosecutor; which he believed the candor of the house would admit was not the part to act, when it was the design to screen a criminal from justice.
At half-past ten the house divided; ayes (for discharging the order) 161; noes 137; majority 24.
Mr. Sheridan made some motions for papers.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer having stated all the taxes he meant to propose, and moved his first resolution thereon, Lord Mahon moved that the Chairman should report progress, and ask leave to sit again; but this motion his lordship afterwards withdrew, declaring that he did so, because he found ministers intended to go into an enquiry of the deficiencies; but that if they did not, he would make one to that purport on a future day.
Mr. SHERIDAN desired it might be understood, that the noble lord (Mahon) had no right to claim any merit from the part he had taken that day. The deficiencies on the former taxes had been under the contemplation of the noble lord at the head of the exchequer for some time;—a fact not resting solely on the authority of his bare assertion, but proveable from the resolutions then under consideration. The resolutions were all founded on stamp-duties; the clear inference from which was, that the customs and excise were at that time, and had been, he would declare, for some time past, under the most serious consideration of government.
Mr. Wilberforce denied this doctrine; and said, it was impossible that what the noble lord had this day proposed, could be known even to government, much less in their contemplation. He observed, in confirmation of this assertion," that the noble lord at the head of the exchequer had never once mentioned the deficiencies on the former taxes in the course of his speech." Mr. Keith Stuart said a few words in praise of Lord Mahon.
Mr. Sheridan said, the specific proposition of the noble lord certainly was not under the consideration