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cause of the present discontents is one of the finest arguments that ever was penned, for shewing the necessity of a radical reform in our representation, yet its author could “ see no other way for the preservation of a decent “ attention to public interest in the representatives, but " the interposition of the body of the people itself, when, “ ever it shall appear by some flagrant and notorious
act, by some capital innovation, that these represen“ tatives are going to overleap the fences of the law, " and to introduce an arbitrary power. This interposi« tion is a most unpleasant remedy."1
The reforming acts of parliament I have spoken of are as follows; in the king's 20th. year, c. 54; 21st. year, c. 45,48; 22d. year, c. 50, 75, 81, 82 ; 23d. year, c. 50, 68; 24th. year, c. 13; 25th, year, c. 52, 68; 26th. year, c. 63, 66, 67,99; 27th. year, c. 35; 291h. year, C. 64; 32d. year, c. 33, 34 ; 38th. year, c. 86; 391h. year, 83; and 40th. year, c. 22, 54.
As we have heard so much about the fifth clause of Lord St. Vincent's act, inserted after it got into the house of lords as an amendment or improvement; and of which clause so many persons from a first lord of the Admiralty downwards took advantage, so that in their answers to the commissioners, not as persons under accusation, but as stewards called upon to render an account of their stewardship, they might not criminate themselves; it may not be amiss 'to shew the spirit of former acts among the foregoing number. By the first of those, an act to examine the public accounts, &c.
1 See P. 98. 130.
all manner of persons summoned by the commission. ers, are " directed and required” to attend, and to obey their commands, and although the commission extends to an examination into corrupt and fraudulent practices, they are to be examined upon oath, without any special clause to put them upon their guard and protect them against disclosures : and the preamble of this statute professes that it is passed “to the intent that “ bis Majesty, and the people of this kingdom, may be w satisfied and truly informed whether" the public mopies “have been faithfully issued out, disbursed, order
“ ed, and expended, for the ends and purposes for which . ~ they were granted."
By the “ act for the better examining and auditing the public accounts of this kingdom,” in 1785, c. 52, the commissioners are to examine upon oath all accountants and others whom they shall find occasion to call before them, touching all matters and things necessary for the due execution of their powers. If any of these persons “ shall wilfully and corruptly give false evidence, they shall be “subject and liable to such “ pains and penalties as, by any law now in being, “ persons convicted of wilful and corrupt perjury are “ subject and liable to."
And again by the act for examination of public accounts in the West Indies, passed 31st. of December, 1800, all accountants, and all persons who “ may be likely to give useful information,” are liable to be called before the commissioners; and in default of appearing, or refusing to answer, may be imprisoned; and when. examined, it is to be upon oath, with the pains and penalties of perjury for false evidence, in a clausę almost verbatim the same as the one already quoted.
Blackstone, in speaking of the powers of the court of chancery, seems to consider as the best among them,
that of obtaining a discovery by the oath of the de“ fendant;"I and as so much pains have been taken in the act passed 29th. December, 1802, as well as by Mr. Pitt and very nearly half the house of commons, to“ baffle” the commissioners of naval inquiry, and all
1 Com. III, 50, 6th, edit. 1774.
others who have exerted themselves to give effect tothis. last mentioned statute for official reform; it seems somewhat surprising that no one should have brought a bill into parliament for applying the principle of chancery examinations of defendants, who of course are accused of some wrong, to public accountants and stewards, who are not under any such charge; and who ought to be considered as owing to the state a full account and disclosure of every thing they know, respecting the monies with which they have been entrusted. If such an act were only to have a prospective effect, public accountants and stewards could in future have no cause lo complain; unless we are to admit that every man who, by accepting a public trust, and coming within reach of the public money, is to be encouraged and aided in embezzling as much of it as he can without detection, and that neither parliamentary commissioners, nor parliament itself, ought to receive from himself any assistance in tracing it, but what he chuses to give them.
Is it not, my Lord, strongly symptomatic of the state disease of our times, that there seems to be more ten. derness in matter of examination upon oath, for those who are the peculators of public money, than for those who pay the taxes by which it is raised ? By the act (August 11, 1803) for levying a tax upon property, although a man shall bona fide have delivered in a statement of his property, against which statement thë proper officers shall not have given any “information” of its incorrectness, nor shall have made any “ objection thereto," yet the person, if the commissioners please, may be harrassed with a compulsory summons to appear before them, and there obliged to verify his statement upon oath ; and it should seem that the party must take such oath under a liability to all the pains and penalties of false swearing, if Blackstone be right; for he says, “ that is the crime of wilful and corrupt * perjury ; which is defined by Sir Edward Coke, to “ be a crime commitied when a lawful oath is admin" istered, in some judicial proceeding, to a person " who swears wilfully, absolutely, and falsely, in a mat" ter material to the issue or point in question. The
w law takes no notice of any perjury buť such as is “ committed in some court of justice, having power to “ administer an oath; or before some magistrate or pro“ per officer, invested with a similar authority, in some “ proceedings relative to a civil suit on a criminal pro“ secution."i And between the two cases under consideration there is this strong distinction that in this latter case a man is compellable to make on oath a disclosure of the amount of his own property, for the purpose of paying a tax “given and granted” by a house of commons, which does not represent the nation; whereas, in the former case, a man is not to be so compellable to make a disclosure of property belonging to the state, and committed to him in trust, for the purpose of preventing embezzlement, or of recovering what has been embezzled.
In the act of the last session, appointing a commission for inquiring into abuses in the army department; there is a protecting clause, the same verbatim as the fifth clause of Lord St. Vincent's act; which says “ no « person shall be compellable to answer any question, “ or to produce any Account, Book, Paper, or Writ“ ing, the answer to which, or the production of which “ may criminate or tend to criminate such person, or « lo expose such person to any pains or penalties." Hence it should seem that “ Accounts, Books, Papers, “ or Writings" even though belonging to a Public Uffice, and the property of the government, as Trustees of the nation, may be withholden from the prying eyes of commissioners, provided the keeper of them shall chuse to think they contain matter “tending” to prove he has betrayed his trust; that is, matter which may assist the commissioners in such an inquiry. If commissioners of inquiry are to have less latitude of investigation into the frauds and embezzlements in the public offices, than the court of chancery has into the conduct of private defendants at the suit of a private plaintiff, the nation has not much to expect from such commissioners; and will perhaps consider them as an
I Com. iv, 137. 6th. edit. 1774.
additional proof of the necessity of the reformation for which we contend.
Now, my Lord, if we have not Moses and the prophets to teach us the law and constitution of our country, we have another sort of instructors whose teachings will not, I trust, be thrown away upon us : we have the two hundred and sixteen, we have the two hundred and twenty nine, who voted, the first, AGAINST Mr. Whit. bread's inotion of the 8th. of April, for a censure against Lord Melville, carried only by a single solitary suffrage; the last, AGAINST the motion of the 25th of June, for criminally prosecuting that delinquent, carried only by a majority of nine : and all this, in a case in which it is known that above one hundred and thirty four millions of public money had illegally passed through im.proper channels, by the privity and connivance of the person in whose favour they voted. With these votes staring us in the face, do we want Moses and the prophets to preach parliamentary reformation? Or shall we call froin the patriot dead, a Savile, a Shippen, or a Marvel, to reproach us with our depravity, and with the infamy of submitting to the insulting usurpation of the Borough faction? When we see such immense proportions of the house of commons in contempt of decency, and in defiance of the nation, openly voting for a gross violation of law, for ministerial impunity after proof of dạring and disgraceful crimes, and for official abuse and Aagrant corruption, we see with a witness the progress of Mr. Arthur Young's rewarded doctrines, that that house “ does not,” and “ought not to represent the people;" that it “is not responsible to the people ;” and that “our prosperity and happiness “ is owing precisely to the house of coinmons not spea“ king the will of the people ;"1 and upon this damning proof of the iniquity, and daring character of the court and borough factions, we cannot but see, that unless the nation shall crumble those factions to dust, the factions will grind the nation to powder.
1 Sce the Common Wealth in danger, xliii, xliv, cxxiv,