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the House ought to receive, being, to all intents and purposes, a petition complaining of a specific grievance. With regard to the argument of the right honourable gentleman, what did it amount to ? If that House could only act upon petitions, alledging one particular grievance, and that, perhaps, of an insignificant nature, affecting one or two parties only, and not upon petitions stating great and broad grievances affecting many, and that doctrine were avowed, what was it but a declaration that the House could apply redress in cases of small. grievances only, and not in those where the grievance was crying and enormous ? Would any man who knew and regarded the powers and privileges of that House, maintain so depreciating an argument ? For his part, he did not admire the manner in which the subject of the present petition had been treated from its first mention. No man could question the subjects' right to present petitions to their representatives; because it was idle to suppose, that when a stipulation had been made by the bill of rights, that the subjects should, in all cases, have a right to petition the crown, they had not an equal right to petition the House of Commons, their own immediate representatives. He knew but of three objections to the receiving petitions; one, when the petition stated a case in which that House, from the nature of the thing, had it not in its power to apply any redress; a second, when the subject was of so insignificant and trivial a nature, that it did not merit any attention; and a third, where the petition was drawn up in disrespectful and insulting terms. Within neither of these descriptions would it be contended that the present petition came: it stated a great and a serious grievance; it prayed a redress which the House had in its power to remedy, and which it was peculiarly their province to inquire into; and lastly, it was drawn up in terms perfectly decent and perfectly respectful.
Mr. Fox said he lamented, and it was always to be lamented, that the House should ever refuse to receive a petition, without a single reason having been assigned for rejecting it. They had unfortunately done so in the present case on Monday last. What was the inference? When a petition was presented to the House of Commons alledging a grievance affecting the freedom and independence of an election, the House of Commons refuse to receive the petition ! Was that a character the House ought to draw upon itself? Undoubtedly. it was not; nor would the House, he was sure, easily endure it. With regard to the argument that the subject matter of the petition might as well be urged by a member in his place; so might the subject matter of any one petition that ever had been presented. But, could it be stated with equal conve
nience and equal effect? Most certainly it could not. In the present case, the petitioners undertook, at the risk of the censure of the House, to make good the allegations of the petition at the bar. Was it equally in the power of a member to substantiate facts with which he was not at all acquainted ? Let that House remember, that if the doctrine of abolishing the receiving private petitions were to obtain, it would be telling the people of England in plain terms, “ We will not listen to your grievances, we will only listen to the grievances of our own members.”
The petition was ordered to lie on the table.
SIR ELIJAH IMPEY'S COMPLAINT OF SUNDRY LIBELS
PUBLISHED AGAINST HIM.
February 8. 1788.
A NOTHER accusation of Indian delinquency was brought be. A fore the Commons in the conduct of Sir Elijah Impey. This task was undertaken by Sir Gilbert Elliot, who, in a very able and eloquent speech, maintained two general principles; that India must be redressed or lost, and that the only means left of reforming Indian abuse, was the punishment, in some great and signal instances, of Indian delinquency: he stated the nature, the occasion, and the purposes of the commission with which Sir Elijah Impey was sent out to India, as involving circumstances which were strong aggravations of his guilt, and increased the necessity of its punishment; that in the two grand objects which were committed to his charge, the protection of the company from the frauds of its servants, and of the natives from the oppression of Europeans, he had, by corruptly changing sides, added his new powers to the very force they were intended to control, and taken an active part in the oppressions which it was his duty to have avenged. Sir Gilbert Elliot presented to the House six distinct articles of accusation. The subject of the first was the trial and execution of Nundcomar; the second, the defendant's conduct in a certain Patna cause; the third, intitled extension of jurisdiction, comprehended various instances, in which the jurisdiction of the court was alledged to have been exercised illegally and oppressively, be. yond the intention of the act and charter; the fourth charge, intitled the Cossijurah cause, though also an allegation of illegal assumption, was distinguished by circumstances so important, as to become properly the subject of a separate article; the fifth charge was for his acceptance of the office of judge of the Sudder Dewannee Adaulut, which was contrary to law, and not only repugnant to the spirit of the act and charter, but fundamentally subversive of all its material purposes; the sixth and last charge related to his conduct in the province of Oude and Benares, where the chief justice was said to have become the agent and tool of Mr. Hastings in the alleged oppression and plunder of the Begums.
On the 7th of February 1788, Sir Elijah complained to the House of having been attacked in some daily prints of that and the preceding day, respecting the answer he had given to the first charge. Several printers, he said, had offered their services to him, but he never had paid any attention to them, being fully determined in his own mind to give no answer to charges exhibited against him through those channels, and was resolved to reserve himself to answer to that House. He now prayed the House to protect him from the attacks of the papers during the continuance of his defence. He knew not how to claim that pro. tection, but he doubted not it was in the power of the House to grant it. The attacks he alluded to, were made in a pamphlet; in a morning print of Wednesday; and in another print of Thursday. Mr. W. Grenville said, he was sorry that the complaint had been made to the House; but, as it had been formally made, it was, in his opinion, impossible for the House to pass it over un. noticed; wishing it therefore to be considered, and at the same time anxious to prevent its interrupting the business before the House, he moved, “ That the matter of the complaint be taken into consideration by the House to-morrow.” The motion being agreed to, on the following day, Sir Elijah Impey was called to the bar, and desired from the chair, to state his complaint. Sir Elijah then delivered in to the House two newspapers, the one intitled, “ The Morning Herald, Wednesday, February 6. 1788,” and printed by W. Perryman, at No. 18. Catherine Street, in the Strand; the other intitled, “ The Gazetteer, and New Daily Ad. vertiser, Thursday, February 7. 1788,” and printed by M. Say, at No. 10. in Ave Mary Lane, Ludgate Street. And Sir Elijah informed the House, that Mr. Debrett, the publisher of the pamphlet which he yesterday complained of to the House, had, this morning, given him assurance that the publication thereof should be immediately put a stop to; and that therefore he did not desire to persist in his complaint against the publisher of the said pamphlet. Sir Elijah having withdrawn, Mr. Grenville stated, that the newspaper misrepresentations of the proceedings of that House had, of late, been very frequently complained of, and possibly, unless some notice were taken of them, they would grow to such a head, that it would not be in the power of the House to stop them. He would not then discuss the wisdom or the policy of taking such measures, as should effectually put an end to their future progress, but would mention a few observations necessary to be considered on the present occasion. He then remarked, that it had generally been deemed most expedient for individual members of that House to pass over the freedoms daily taken with their names, and to treat them with indifference. Unless in very
enormous instances, a variety of reasons might be alleged in illustration of the good sense and propriety of this practice. In the first place, gentlemen had the testimony of their own consciences to support them, and while they were satisfied that they acted from good and virtuous motives, the imputation of undue motives for their conduct, was a matter that only merited their contempt; or if what they said was misrepresented, the mis-statement could not be of long duration, as every gentleman had it in his power, in a very short time, to do himself justice in the most effectual manner. There were other obvious arguments that might reconcile individuals to the liberties taken with their names and characters ; but he had great doubts, whether the same arguments would apply to the House collectively. It was of importance that the people should be induced to look up to that House with respect and confidence, and on that account, it might be extremely inexpedient ever to pass over this attempt to weaken that confidence, or to diminish that respect. But there was a third point of view in which the House could not consistently assume any discretion whatever, and that was the sort of case then under contemplation. The case of a person answering at the bar to different charges of high crimes and misdemeanors, who, while his defence was pending, had found it necessary to claim the protection of the House against the attacks of libellous writers in the newspapers, and had formally complained of two specific libels, which he had that day exhibited. Having expatiated on these three distinct views of newspaper libels, affecting the proceedings of the House of Commons, and improperly interfering with them; and on the peculiar case of Sir Elijah Impey, who had been sent to India thirteen years since, in an office of great trust and confidence, and had been brought back to answer to charges, of which, if it should appear that he had been guilty, he was the greatest criminal in existence, Mr. Grenville observed, that in a few days his guilt or innocence was to be decided, and dwelt upon the dangerous effect that a temporary libel might have upon his cause, and the necessity of keeping the minds of those who were to determine unbiassed and free from prejudice. Having urged this point, as well as Sir Elijah's right to claim the protection of the House, Mr. Grenville proceeded to advert to the sort of punishment usually resorted to by the House, whenever it felt it necessary to exert its authority for the maintenance of its own dignity, and the defence of its privileges. That the House had an inherent constitutional right of punishing those who violated its privileges, or treated its authority with contempt, and that it made a part of the common law, no man who had at all considered the subject, could be ignorant. On the present occasion, however, it was not his intention to exercise the powers of the House. At a period, when the judges of the courts of law had been dependent on the crown, when the source of justice was foul and corrupt, and when the improper exercise of the prerogative of the crown was to be dreaded, the House had wisely and judiciously made use of its own power to attack and to punish those who had ventured to incur its displeasure ; but the times were now different, the judges had been made independent of the power of the crown, and had nothing to expect and nothing to dread from that quarter. The courts of law, therefore, were pure, and free from all colour of suspicion. It was, for that reason, better to have recourse to the law of the land in cases like that before them, than to the law of parliament. Mr. Grenville next reminded the House of the sense the court of king's bench had already expressed of the impropriety of publications relative to any matter in process, or likely to come to trial, by mentioning the case of the justices in Bow-street, against whom the late Mr. Wallace moved the court for an information, for their having published accounts of the public examination of the prisoners, when the court declared the justices were liable, because such previous publications might prejudice men upon their trial, He stated this to shew, that the mode of prosecution which he proposed was that best adapted to the nature of the case, and having enlarged upon that point, he concluded with moving, “ That the said papers contain a scandalous libel, grossly reflecting on this House and the members thereof, and tending to prejudice the defence of a person answering at the bar to articles of high crimes and misdemeanors against him by a member of this House.” Should this preliminary motion be agreed to, Mr. Grenville said, he would move to address his majesty, that he would give orders to the attorney-general to prosecute the authors, printers, and publishers of the papers complained of.
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Mr. Fox remarked, that he could not avoid expressing his agreeable surprise to hear an argument in favour of the authority and of the privileges of that House come from the quarter from which it had proceeded. He was glad to find, that those who had got into power by sinister means, who had obtained their situations in direct contempt of the confidence of the House of Commons, after they had been some time seated, thought it necessary to kick down the ladder by which they rose, and affect at least to treat the House with becoming respect, and to talk of the necessity of that House always preserving the confidence of the people. In what manner, however, had the right honourable gentleman now proposed to enforce the authority of that House? He had stated that the House of Commons possessed an inherent, constitutional right of punishing those who incurred a contempt, or were guilty of a breach of its privileges. Such a right the House undoubtedly possessed, and if ever there was a case that particularly called for the exertion of it, this was the very case. He was ready to admit, that the publicátion complained of, was a very irregular and improper interference with the proceedings of that House. It ought, therefore, to be taken notice of: it ought to be punished. But how? Not in the way the right honourable gentleman had proposed, not by address to his majesty, to order his