The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: Volume 3, 1695-1706. Originally published by Chandler, London, 1742.
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Certain SPEECHES of Sir Charles Sedley's, on various Occasions, in, and after the Year 1699.
I Hope my Behaviour in this House has put me above the Censure of One who would obstruct his Majesty's Affairs; I was as early in the Apprehensions of the Power of France as any Man: I never stuck at Money for Fleets, Armies, Alliances, or whatever Expences seem'd to have the Preservation of our new-settled Government for their End. I am still of the same Mind; but that was War, and this is Peace; and if I shall now differ from some worthy Gentlemen, who have spoke before me, they will be so just as to believe it is not about the End, but the Means we contend.
Some may think England cannot be safe without a Standing-Army of 30,000 Men; and will tell us the King of France has 200,000 in Pay, disciplin'd Troops; that all our Neighbours are armed in another Manner than they were wont to be; that we must not imagine that we can defend ourselves with our ordinary and legal Forces.
'All this is very material, and wou'd have great weight with me, if England were not an Island accessible only by Sea; and in that Case, not till they have destroy'd our Navy, which is, or may be made superiour to any Force that can be brought against us.
It is very difficult to land Forces in an Enemy's Country; the Spanish Armada was beaten at Sea, and never set foot on English Ground; his present Majesty with all the Shipping of Holland, could bring over but 14,000 or 15,000 Men, and that so publicly, that nothing but an infatuated Prince would have permitted their landing. Our Attempts upon Brest shew us, that it is easy with a small Force to prevent an Assault from t'other side of the Water. As we are capable of being attack'd in several Places, so it may be urg'd, as Reason, for several Troops more than our Purposes can bear; but if we burden the People thus far in Peace, it may tempt some to wish for War again, every Change carrying a Prospect of better Times, and none can make it worse than a Standing-Army (of any Number of Men) will at present. If we are true to ourselves, 10,000 Men are enough; and if not, 100,000 too few.'
THAT the Bill pass'd the Lords unanimously, ought to be no Argument for us to pass it; for were any thing propos'd to their diminution, it would find as easy a Passage in this House: How fond were we of taking away their Scandalum Magnatum? I remember we lost a very good Bill by attempting, and they by refusing it; but they would not then, nor do they now, offer up any thing of their own for the Public Benefit; there is not one Word concerns themselves in this Popular Bill. We have sate too long; we must never hereafter fit above three Years: They would ease the People, but it must be all at the Expence of the House of Commons, not a Privilege of their own must be shaken. Tis urged, we are the People's Embassadors, or Attorneys, as others say; and they ought to have a Power to change us, if they find we act contrary to the nature of the Trust repos'd in us, or are corrupted to a Court-Interest, that they are any ways dissatisfied with our Prudence or Integrity; and therefore be it enacted, a new Parliament shall be chosen every three Years. Truly I cannot see any Security for the People against an ill Parliament in this Act; for a corrupt House of Commons may undo the Nation in three Years, as well as in thirty: For admit any one Parliament to be so far corrupted, as to pass Laws to the Injury of Liberty or Property, they can never be repeal'd but by the Act of the King and Lords; who, when once they have thought it their Interest to procure such Laws, will never consent to the Repeal of them: For tho the House of Commons will be new every three Years, the King and the House of Lords will be still the same in Interest, if not personally: So that one ill Parliament, tho' but of three Years continuance, may prove a Discase incurable. But Men will say, tis better the People should chuse a new Parliament every three Years, than that the same Representatives should be continu'd upon them at the King's Pleasure, how negligently, how imprudently, how dissatisfactorily soever they perform their Duty in the House. This is not to be answer'd: But we ought to have so much Esteem for our Prince, as not to think he will long continue such a Parliament upon us, and to give him a little Latitude in the calling and dissolving Part; so as not to tye him strictly to the Letter of those Laws, which, as I told you before, never were observed by any of his Predecessors, nor rigorously insisted upon by any of ours. When he shall have made a considerable Transgression, 'twere then time enough to enter our Complaint: But, say some Gentlemen, on the other side, good Laws are never to be obtain'd, but in the Reign of a good King; therefore this is the time to press for so good a Law as this is, that may keep an illdispos'd Prince in order. Truly I do not see it provides against any thing, but that an ill Prince shall not enslave us by one continu'd long Parliament; but he may do it by a triennial one, whenever he and they can agree about it; nor call these Parliaments, but when the King has Business for them, and has also a strong Presumption, they will comply for the Adjourning, Proroguing, and Dissolving such Parliaments as he dislikes. Thus all will be in his power, tho' this Act pass; and even triennial Parliaments cannot give us a certain Remedy, in case of any Invasion upon our Liberty and Property; for it is the King that must appoint Time and Place. Tho' the House of Lords and Commons are essential Parts of the English Government, yet in this politic Existence they depend upon the Will and Pleasure of our Kings. The People of England are the same, their Reasons of Chusing the same, and I question not but they will send us the same Men, or the same sort of Men again. Mr. Speaker, I can by no Means approve of this Bill at this Time: But my main Exception lies against the Clause which requires the Dissolution of this present Parliament, by an Act of the Legislative Power. Never was there any such Invasion upon the Prerogative of a King, never such an Indignity offer'd to an House of Commons in being. The next House may take other Measures than we have done, and then what is got by a new Parliament? If they take others, you know not what Disorders may follow.
THE long Parliament of Forty, was declar'd extinguish'd by Act of Pavliament, but all the World saw what they attempted, and what they executed: And I hope we shall never pass an Act that may couple us in History with that Sore of Men.
Mr. Speaker, I have seen several Parliaments in this House, yet never could observe any great Change of Proc ceeding, till the whole Nation was alarm'd at the Duke of York's dedaring himself a Papist, the Discovery of the Popish Plot, and King Charles the Second's being suspected for that Religion: Then there was a Change indeed; but I hope we have no Calamities of that Magnitude now to provide against: Our King is in our Interest abroad; he is an utter Enemy to France; he is a good Protestans: We are ready with our Purses to suppers him in the Desence of our Liberty, Religion and Property; we are honest in the main, and I cannot see the Nation can be in better Hands; however, let us be extinguish'd in the usual Way of Parliament, and not pull on ourselves a violent, and, I think, an ignominious Death, by an Act of the Legislative Power for our Extinction: The long Parliament could not be dissolv'd but by Act of Parliament; for they had obtain'd an Act for their Continuance, which could not be annull'd but by an Act for their Dissolution; and therefore they were of necessity so dealt with.—
'Tis said other Gentlemen have a Right and a just Expectation of Sitting in this House in their Turns, as well as we that ane now here, which this Bill will put them in Possession of; but that Argument supposes this Parliament will be centinu'd for ever, if this House of Commons be not extinguish'd by this Law at this time, which I can no ways admis of We are all for frequent Parliaments, as well those against the Bill, as those who are for it; but some of us had rather obtain in from some ordinary Act of the King's Preregative, or such Occasions; than extort them by a written Law, which may be of too stiff a Temper to bend or comply with such Emergencies of State, as may perhaps make the Continuance of the same Parliament a Session longer than the Law allows very advantageous, if not altogether necessary. I should have liked this Bill better if it had begun in our on House; then it had been a Self-denying Bill indeed; but now it looks like a Surprize upon us from the Lords, and brings us under this Dilemma, that if we pass it, we throw ourselves immediately out of this House; if we reject this seeming popular Bill, we hazard our Elections into the next Parliament; for we are told by such as would have it pass, that the Gentlemen who are against this new Choice of the People, cannot expect to be elected by them into the next Parliament: Thus we are to overlook all Considerations of State and public Concernment, and pass this Bill in order to gratify our Corporations, that they may chuse us again. Truly, Sir, for my part, I renounce those partial Measures, and if I cannot be chosen upon the Account of general Service to the Nation, I will never creep into the Favour of any Sort of Men, and Vote against my Judgment.'
WE shall, I hope, return to our Vote, and make Provision by a Bill, or otherwise a Clause in this or some other, that no Member of Parliament may be concern'd in the Revenue: For it sounds, Mr. Speaker, harsh, that the same Men should be both Givers and Receivers of the Revenue. The worthy Gentleman, that spoke last, tells you we can expect nothing toward this Supply from the Revenue, for that the ordinary Revenue will not pay the Civil List by 100,000£. I suppose he means the Civil List, as it stands now. But there was not long ago an Offer made by the Courtiers, that the Profits, Fees and Salaries of their respective Offices and Places exceeding 800£. per Annum clear Money, should go toward the Charge of the War; and then I hope we may expect something. Sir Harry Vane did a thing of this kind in Cromwell's time, being then Treasurer of the Navy, he acquainted the House, that the Profits of his Office were too great, for any particular Person, during such Distress and Calamity of the Commonwealth, and desired he might have a convenient Salary, and the rest go toward the Charge of the War. Now to find a whole Set of Courtiers as generous as I had ever yet known any one Man, charm'd me exceedingly; I think I broke into some Raptures of Kindness towards the worthy Gentlemen who shew'd such Zeal for their Master's Service, and the Defence of the Nation, as to part with something of their own, as well as ours for those public Ends.
'Mr. Speaker, The King and People have always the same Interest, and it is not the King's to take one Penny more from the People than will just carry on the Government; it is the People's Interest to give him full as much: But it is the Courtiers Interest to get all they can for him here, that they may obtain their Request the more easily at Whitehall: That the Interest of the King and Courtier do sometimes differ, I think I can give you an undeniable Instance: King Charles the Second, when he came to the Crown had 360,000£. per Annum in Land; it was certainly the Interest of the Crown he should have kept those Lands descending to him from his Ancestors, that they might have been a constant Support and Supply for such Occasions as could not wait the Delays and Method of Parliaments; it was the People's Interest that the King should have kept that Revenue, for having so much of his own, he might lie the less heavy upon them: Yet the Courtiers prevail'd, and got away that whole Revenue in a few Years, devouring not only the Income but the very Stock of their Master's Liberality; and, as I humbly conceive, contrary to the Interest of both King and People, and even of all succeeding Courtiers; whom we find since quarter'd upon other Branches of the Revenue. King James thought 500£. per Annum sufficient for the Gentlemen of his Bed-Chamber; certainly that Salary may suffice a Man that has an Estate of his own already, and is as much as any Waiting-man can pretend to for his Service.'
I Believe, Mr. Speaker, when we come to consider of it, we shall find, that it is convenient, not only to lessen the Officers of the Court, and State, in point of Profit, but in point of Number too; we have nine Commissioners of Excise, seven of the Admiralty, three of the Post-Office, six of the Customs; I know not why half may not do the Business as well. But when I consider all these, or most of them, are Members of Parliament, my Wonder is over; for tho' it may be a Dispute, whether many Heads are better than one, 'tis certainly true, that many Votes are better than one: Many of these Gentlemen have two Offices besides their Seat in Parliament, which require Attendance in several Places, and Abilities of divers Natures; but Members of Parliament, tho' well principled, have no Privileges to be fit for any thing without Practice, Study or Application.
Sir, we are call'd by the King, and sent up by the People, and ought to regard no Interests but theirs; which, as I told you before, are always the same; let us therefore proceed accordingly. The late Proposals of the Courtiers themselves, to save the King Money, was, by applying the Profits, Salaries and Fees of their Places, that exceed 800£. per Annum, to the War; thus will the Public Charge lie easier upon the People, and the present Reign be more and more endeared to them. What is necessary we shall chearfully supply, when we see all Men set their Shoulders to the Burden, and stand upon an equal Footing for our common Defence, and that what we give, is apply'd to those Uses for which we give, and the Army paid. This Offer, Sir, as I remember, began when an Observation was made by you of the long Accounts, and that a great Part of the King's Revenue remain'd in the Hands of the Receivers; to which a worthy Member answered, It could not be help'd, by reason some Receivers were Members of Parliament, and stood upon their Privileges. To which another Member answered, That we could not deprive Members of their Privilege, but that to remedy the like for the future, we were ready to pass a Vote, that no Member of Parliament should be a Receiver of the King's Revenue. This alarm'd the whole Body of Men in Office; so that some stood up, and (to prevent the House from harping any longer upon that String) said, They so little valued their own Profit, that they were willing to resign all their Fees, Salaries, and Perquisites, exceeding 300£. per Annum, toward the next Year's Charge. This, if really intended, was very generous; but if it were only a Compliment, Shift or Expedient, to avoid the present Vote we were upon, That no Member of Parliament should be Receiver of the Revenue, nothing was more disingenuous; nor could a greater Abuse be offered to the House, for we proceeded so far as to vote, That Judges and some others should not be comprehended. People abroad that received our Votes will think strangely of it, if, after all those Preparations, we do nothing in it, and suffer ourselves to be thus gull'd: But I hope better of the worthy Gentlemen, and cannot but think they were in earnest with this House upon so solemn a Debate.'
MR. Speaker, the Trial by their Peers could never be meant Peers of the King's Appointment: I take the Clause in question to be very agreeable to the Title of your Bill; for it is entitled, A Bill for the more equal Trial of Persons accus'd of Treason, or Misprision of Treason. Upon which the Lords have grafted a Provision for themselves in that Case, and no other, and the Provision is, that they shall be tried out of Parliament, as they are now sitting in the Parliament: This some Gentlemen say is a weakning to the Government, which they seem to think cannot subsist, unless the Government may at any time reduce what Lords they please under the Power and Judgment of the Majority of twenty Peers, nominated by the Lord High-Steward. Which certainly is a very great Hardship upon the Peerage of England, and puts them in a worse Condition, as to their Lives and Fortunes, than the meanest Commoner of England, who may except against three Juries; whereas a Lord cannot except against one single Person, of those few that are appointed to try, tho' never so profess'd and so open an Enemy to him. Now instead of this Privilege of ours, they desire they may be tried by the whole House, or such of them as will come to the Trial. Others again say, If this Clause pass by reason of the mutual Relations and Affinity between the Peers, they will be ready and able to save one another. To that may be answer'd, That of late the Lords do not much inter-marry, chusing rather to better their Fortunes by Marriage into the City; the best Composition, and most usual of late, being Nobility on one side, with Money on the other; nor do those sorts of Obligations last longer than the Wedding-clothes. Nor are the Lords so considerable as formerly, when three or four of them in conjunction could shake the Crown: Their Estates, and consequently Interests, are sufficiently decay'd since the Statute of Henry the Seventh gave leave to alienate their Lands: They were natural, and many of them now but artificial Lords, like the Catholic Bishops, in partibus Infidelium.—This Clause is likewise very pursuant to the Prince's Declaration, where nothing is more complain'd of, and abhorr'd, than the Injustice and Corruption of the Trials in King James's Reign; and I hope we shall never be tenacious of those wicked and indirect Ways of Destroying, by which we have lost many of our best Friends; the Lords have Estates to make them cautious, but not dangerous: Partiality and Compliance is ever toward the Power in being: The Reigns of Princes are recommended to Posterity by the good Laws they pass; and as we have given largely for the Supply of the Government, we may hope to obtain something for the Benefit of those whose Money we have been so liberal of. We have as yet past nothing but Money-Bills, or Bills of a private Nature: 'Tis high time we should do something like a Parliament of England; let us not then here, among ourselves, stisle this our Public Debt, and consequently deprive his Majesty of the Glory of passing an Act, which most Men have in all Ages desir'd, but could never hope to obtain, but from so gracious a Prince.'