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commencement of this Bill to remain, as it now stands, the 16th of the present month; a period antecedent, by fourteen days, to the passing of this Bill ; whereby it has a retrospective operation, and becomes an ex post facto law, contrary to every principle of justice, contrary to parliamentary faith, and contrary to true policy.
We wished to have accomplished this alteration in the committee, with an act of indemnity for the avowed breach of the laws now in being. We offered to consent to this indemnity in the fullest manner that could be wished, although the proofs we repeatedly called for, of the extent of the benefit, were refused : proofs which we did not require to be attended with that degree of strictness which could render it difficult to produce them: proofs which in common cases form an essential part of the grounds on which the infractor of law is to be saved harmless, but which in the present instance we would have dispensed with in favour of the intention.
We wish by no means to discourage future ministers from extraordinary exertions, when warranted by sufficient necessity, but we think it due to the dignity of Parliament, as well as to the safety of the constitution, on all occasions, but more especially where the parliamentary faith has been so deeply pledged, to give to acts of indemnity all possible solemnity; that they may never come to be considered as acts of right, but as acts of the last necessity ; recognizing upon the face of them the force of the law, and stating, as far as the occasion will admit, the necessity of the violation. A precedent in point stands in the statute book, the 7th of George the Third, chapter the seventh.
And we can see no reason why it has not been precisely followed.
In direct opposition to this precedent, the present Bill does not in the title, preamble, or in any part, directly mark its immediate object; it nowhere directly recognizes the power of the law; it nowhere states the necessity, nor the obtainable advantage which can alone justify the proceeding ; both the violation itself, and the indemnity it is to obtain, come only incidentally and indirectly under the last clause. It has been hurried through Parliament in a most uncommon manner, and establishes a new, dangerous and most alarming precedent.
Such an act of indemnity as was proposed, would have preserved the principle, that laws are sacred, that nothing less than the legislative power itself can protect those who infringe them, and that
such protection is given only in cases of extreme necessity. The objection, that a great service already obtained, by the number of men impressed since the 16th of this month, would be lost, by their being to be discharged, if the Act had no retrospect to the time when they were seized, by no means applies to the question of recommitment, which the House has rejected. It appeared in debate, that of the number of men pressed on this occasion, and which has not even been computed to be very considerable, by far the greater part had only Admiralty protections, and were not protected by the Acts now proposed to be suspended. And it was by no means impossible but that such bounties or encouragements might have been suggested in the committee, as would have induced the greater part of those who had the faith of Parliament for their security, to enter voluntarily into the service at this critical conjuncture.
Every good purpose, therefore, of this Bill, might have been obtained, and probably a general concurrence in its support produced, by simply acquiescing in a proper security for the observance of law.
But when we see this proposal refused, when we see that part of the preamble pertinaciously adhered to, which aims at establishing as a general principle, “that whatever may be deemed an arduous and difficult conjuncture, makes it equally just and expedient to infringe law. When we see a proposed amendment for confining that reasoning to the case which gives rise to the measure, namely, 'the present conjuncture,' rejected; we cannot but see, with a jealous eye, this and every opportunity taken of establishing some doctrine subversive of liberty, and our happy free constitution.
At such a time as this, when ministers avow their just fears of foreign invasion, which their misconduct has invited, to create fresh jealousies in respect to that liberty which is alone worth contending for, which is the best support of his Majesty's crown, and the surest foundation of that true affection of his people, on which his Majesty can alone rely for effectual and general resistance to a foreign yoke, is a degree of infatuation we cannot comprehend.
Matthew Fortescue, Lord Fortescue.
Charles Watson Wentworth, Marquis of Rockingham.
JUNE 29, 1779. An attempt was made to secure that protections of the Admiralty against impressment should be supplied gratis, and failed. The Bill was then read a third time and passed by 51 to 20, under the following protest.
ist, Because the acquiescence of the country in the mode of impressing seamen (tolerated only because the necessity of the measure is alleged by persons of great experience in naval matters, and hitherto is not disproved) has been, by positive acts of the legislature, intercepted and determined, with respect to the several persons' objects of this Bill, who have therefore not only all the rights of this Kingdom in common with their fellow-subjects, but the security of especial Acts of Parliament, made expressly to check and curb that acquiescence with respect to them.
2ndly, Because the protection given by such Acts, in confidence of which these persons have engaged in their respective occupations, has, in my opinion, the nature of a contract, and is by every rule of equity indissoluble, except by the voluntary consent of the parties, or upon a compensation satisfactory to, and accepted by them, or in extreme necessity, on the tender of such advantages as the wisdom of the legislature should direct, and its justice should make a complete, adequate and ample equivalent for such an infringement of their rights.
3rdly, Because, at the very time protections thus held out by Parliament to certain persons as invitations and encouragements to undertake certain services were boldly violated, the customary exemptions of certain watermen, licensed by the members of this House, unauthorised (as I conceive) by any law, and unknown to any court, though stated in the House by the same noble Lord who
has infringed these protections, to be constructively disclaimed by a vote of this House, were yet declared by him to be from deference and respect held sacred.
4thly, Because the Bill, so far as it is an act of indemnity, is inconsonant with reason, contradicted by precedent, and dangerous in practice.
First, with respect to the persons to be indemnified, as it does not contain an honest avowal of the transgression, as it does not stake the minister to an intentional violation of the law for the public good, to be subsequently approved, and justified on that ground by a public indemnity, but contents itself with the abatement of suits and actions.
And secondly and chiefly, with respect to the constitution of the Kingdom, to which it offers no satisfaction for the violation of the law, as it acknowledges only by construction and a reference to dates, that it has been violated, as it attempts to confound the just ideas of prospective legislation by authorising a measure from a day, which has already long elapsed, and as it totally omits to state not only that the effect has been adequate to the measure, and that therefore the measure has been salutary, but that it has had any effect whatever.
And for the reasons contained in the two last paragraphs of a protest entered this day.
Jacob Pleydell Bouverie, Earl of Radnor..
William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, Duke of Portland.
George Townshend, Lord de Ferrars.
Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond.
FEBRUARY 8, 1780. On this day Lord Shelburne moved for the appointment of a Committee of both Houses, to be composed of persons who had neither employment or pension, to examine at once into the public expenditure and accounts, and particularly into the mode of making contracts, and that the Committee should see what could be done with offices and places,
which have no duties, or inadequate duties. The motion was seconded by Lord Coventry, and opposed by Lord Stormont. The motion was rejected by IoI to 55. The following protest was entered. For the debate see Parliamentary History, vol. xx, p. 1318.
ist, Because, however the waste of public money, and the profusion of useless salaries, may have been heretofore overlooked in the days of wealth and prosperity, the necessities of the present time can no longer endure the same system of corruption and prodigality.
The scarcity of money, the diminished value of land, the sinking of rents with the decline of trade, are melancholy proofs that we are almost arrived at the end of taxation, and yet the demands are annually increased, while the hopes of peace are every year put to a greater distance.
For let any man consider the immense debt increasing beyond the possibility of payment, with the present accumulation of taxes upon every article, not only of luxury, but of convenience, and even of necessary use; and let him carry his thoughts forward to those additional duties which must immediately be imposed to make good the interest of the approaching loan, and of that debt which will remain unfunded, he will find that at least one million and a half of interest must be provided for, besides what may be farther necessary to make good the deficiencies of the late taxes.
Under these circumstances, the savings of a strict and vigilant economy in every branch, and the application of overgrown salaries, unmerited pensions, and useless places to the public service, are almost the only resources left in the exhausted state of our finances. But, besides this strong argument of necessity that presses upon the present moment, such, and so great are the abuses in the management and expenditure of the public money, as would call for the strictest enquiry and animadversion even in the best of times. The practice of expending immense sums, without consent of Parliament, under the fallacious head of contingencies and extraordinaries, the greater part of which might easily be comprised in an estimate (but because some unforeseen articles are not capable of such precision, the Minister has, under that colour, found out a method of expending the public money first ad libitum, and when it has been so expended, has found means to induce Parliament to think itself bound in honour to ratify and make it good), deserves