Grey's Debates of the House of Commons: Volume 4. Originally published by T. Becket and P. A. De Hondt, London, 1769.
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Debates in the House of Commons. From the Year 1667, to the Year 1694.
Thursday, February 15, 1676-7.
THE Parliament met [When the King in his Speech (which was afterwards read by the Speaker) informed the Houses, "That he had called them together again, after a long Prorogation, that they might have an opportunity to repair the misfortunes of the last Session, and to recover and restore the right use of Parliaments. The time (he said) he had given them to recollect themselves in, and to consider whither those differences tend, which had been so unhappily managed and improved between him and them, was enough to leave them without all excuse, if ever they fell into the like again. He professed him self now resolved to let the world see, that it should not be his fault if they were not made happy by the consultations in Parliament. He declared himself ready to give them all reasonable satisfaction that could consist with Christian prudence, in the great concerns of the Protestant Religion, as established in the Church of England; and as ready to ratify them in a farther security of their liberty and property (if they could think they wanted it) by as many good Laws as they could propose, and as could consist with the safety of the Government."
"As to what he expected from them; first, he did require that all occasions of differences between the two Houses might be carefully avoided. In the next place, he desires them to consider the necessity of building more ships. And, since the additional revenue of excise would shortly expire, they that know him to be under a great burthen of debts, and how hard a shift he was making to pay them off as fast as he could, he hoped would never deny him the continuance of that revenue, and some reasonable supply to make his condition more easy."
He concluded, "with recommending to them the peace of the Kingdom, in the careful prevention of all differences; the safety of the Kingdom in providing some greater strength at sea; and the prosperity of the Kingdom, in assisting the necessary charge and support of the Government. And, if any of these good ends should happen to be disappointed, he calls God and men to witness that the misfortune of that disappointment should not lie at his door."
The rest he referred to the Lord Chancellor.]
Mr Secretary Williamson.] When the King's Speech has been read, it has usually some place given it; and would have it considered the first thing after reading a Bill, as the custom is upon the first opening a Session.
Sir Thomas Lee.] He cares not how soon the King's Speech is taken into consideration, but would not lose the method and order of Parliament. You always begin with reading a Bill. The King's Speech is usually about "supply", and that ought to be the last thing considered here. He takes this occasion to put in a claim to method. He is transported with the King's Speech as much any man; but would keep method.
Mr Secretary Coventry.] Nobody opposes the consideration of the King's Speech, but because of custom of respect—As the King speaks to us, so we to him, without compliment. There are all things in the King's Speech that can be spoken of in this House, "Religion and Property, &c."—Would look upon the genus before the species—Supposes thanks to the King, with due consideration of his Speech, very proper.
Sir John Mallet.] Mr Speaker, Since we were last in this place, there having been much discourse abroad, and some considerable doubts concerning our coming hither again, it is my duty (having always had as true loyalty and affection to his Majesty's service, as any within these walls, or nation, hath or can have) humbly to offer my advice in this matter of so great weight and moment. That I conceive, before we enter upon any other business, it will be the best way for removing the doubts, which are, or may hereafter, arise, concerning his last prorogation; without letting so tender a matter remain under any doubt or Question, and also that It will be the safest and spcediest way for satisfying his Majesty, with satisfaction to all his people, and that they may be assured of such good Laws as shall be made (for his Majesty is so gracious, as he accounts as great satisfaction to himself, to give us the good Laws we desire of him, as to receive the Supply we shall give him) humbly to present our desires to his Majesty, "that he will be pleased to dissolve this, and very quickly call another Parliament." For I verily believe, whatsoever he would have in this, may more conveniently, in a very short time, be had and done in another Parliament. Sir, I could present you with several reasons for it, but I humbly crave leave to forbear mentioning them till you please to admit of this my humble Motion (fn. 1).
Sir Philip Monckton.] No man is more rejoiced to see you here, than he is. It would be a great satisfaction to the Nation to have the two Acts of Edw. III. about annual Parliaments, cleared; and moves it.
Sir John Morton.] Would do all things regularly. Would first read a Bill, and then consider the King's Speech.
Sir Thomas Meres.] Though forms seem but little things, yet they are of great consequence. He will thank the King as much as any man. When a Bill is read, then we are sit for any Motion. We have, indeed, broke that Order of reading a Bill; but when we last met, we did not. Would now read a Bill, and fix that point.
Lord Cavendish.] The Motion is of no light nature, since we are told it is a doubt, all over the Nation, whether the Prorogation be legal—Thinks it not for our credit to pass it over without a Question. Though the doubt may easily be removed, yet 'tis sit to be removed.We are told of two Acts of Edw. III. and this Prorogation is contrary to them. Desires, that, since these Acts are known, we may see how far these Acts limit the King in his Prorogation. Moves for a Question, Whether the two Acts mentioned be repealed, or not.
Mr Secretary Coventry.] Moves to Order. If you admit that Question, you may lay down your Mace, you are no more a Parliament. Who shall dissolve it? Who shall end it? We have nothing to do here.
Lord Cavendish.] Desires to explain himself. Moves to Order; to clear a doubt. There are books printed of an odd nature. Moves only to know, Whether those two Acts, mentioned, are in force against the King's Prerogative.
Serjeant Maynard.] The Question determines what you cannot determine, viz. That you are an unlawful assembly. The Question will be, Whether, as a Parliament, you cannot dissolve yourselves. No Question, Whether those Laws are in force, or not, can be put; for you read the very Question as a Parliament.
Sir Harbottle Grimstone, Master of the Rolls. (fn. 2) ] If we appear here in either capacity, by the Proclamation, or by the King's Writ, it does not therefore follow, that because we appear, we are a Parliament. (Being called upon to look towards the Chair, when he spoke said,) He had almost forgot the Chair, it was so long since he saw it. If by freedom of Debate we may obviate doubts, which have troubled worthy and learned men, why should we not? He denies Maynard's logic, "That the King's Proclamation will justify our assembly," though we had no more to show for it on the Table. He hoped it had been tumbled out of his brain, but it has been in it, and if the doubt be not at an end, he wishes it was. This may be a Question somewhere else, as well as here, and would remove moot points and doubts in succeeding Parliaments. Many doubts have been so desperate as never to be retracted, unless you remove them here. But, as to his private opinion, he believes we are a Parliament, therefore moves, that the thing may make no more noise, but be pleased to read a Bill, and clear the doubt afterwards.
Mr Sacheverell.] Doubts not but we are as much a Parliament, as at our last Prorogation, and believes that Gentlemen, upon Debate of it, will be as fully satisfied in the matter as he is. The Bill offered to be read is the same as in the last Session. He looks upon this Prorogation as illegal, but yet that it is a good Parlia ment still, and that we properly stand upon an Adjournment. Would look back to the time those Statutes mentioned were made in, and you shall see then Prorogations and Adjournments were all one, and for hundreds of years they went on to the same business they left, without beginning again as we have done in Adjournments in later times. There have been Prorogations before the Parliament had once met, and for some reasons, as the King being detained by business, that he could not in person open this Parliament, or for want of a full apperance of Members, put off to a longer day. In E. I. E. III E. IV. it runs thus. Sic Dom. Rex adjournavit et prorogavit, &c. And he takes this to be an Adjournment. Adjournment is the Act of the two Houses, Prorogation of the King only; and so by Adjournment, your business remains where it did.
Sir Robert Howard.] You are upon the most dangerous Debate that may be, and from which no good consequence can arise. If we meet upon an Adjournment now, then all Privileges of Members stand good, and you lay all people by the heels that have arrested any of your Members. If you debate upon deducible arguments, you set the town at work, and enter the lists at the coffee-houses. If you run once to countenance great things by deducible arguments, you shake laws and mighty things; as your usual Adjournment to eight of the clock in the morning, and you meet not till ten—That [then] must be a Dissolution. In your prudence you should not countenance this so tacitly, by entering into a Debate. Moves to lay aside this dangerous Debate.
Mr Vaughan.] We are out of Order. If the Question be, "Whether by this Prorogation exceeding a year we be dissolved," we debate, and then our result dissolves it. If you resolve Dissolution in the affirmative, you do it in your own case; it may happen that a Parliament intends all the good imaginable, and any one stands up and says, "tis dissolved—No man will come to Parliaments for the future, by confounding your laws, thus, as not good; and so it will be a ready way to bring in the new Government so much talked of.
Mr Sawyer.] You cannot go to this Question. Admitting the Prorogation void, and that we meet now by Proclamation—Called to Order by Mr Stanhope.
Col. Titus.] The Session is confessed to be legally opened by reading a Bill. Some gentlemen are for considering the King's speech, and some for our being a Parliament. Read the Bill, and—that's out of doubt.
Sir Thomas Meres.] If you read the Bill, 'tis said, "you are precluded; you read it as a Session, and so yield the point in dispute." If it be a Prorogation fifteen months ago, 'tis said to be against law, but he will speak to that another time. This Debate is new; he has not heard of it before, but it must be heard now—And you read a Bill that has been before you at the last meeting—If you determine it an Adjournment, then call for the Report from the Committee, who had it in their care the last Session; else, reading this Bill fixes the matter.
Mr Sawyer.] Starting the reading this Bill makes the Question. You ought to begin the Session with reading a Bill, and you meet in no capacity but as a Parliament, not as a Convention. Your Vote will not mar nor mend the matter. If you are no Parliament, will you then depart from hence? There have been books written about this Question—He hopes you will not give countenance to such libels, that say, "we are traytors in meeting, and acting as a Parliament," like the libels of 1641. Moves, therefore, that you will begin the Session with reading a Bill.
Sir John Birkenhead.] That a Session must be opened by reading a Bill, is the most popular mistake that can be. Not done, but in the Long Parliament, for 200 years. See if they began the Parliament by reading a Bill in E. III's time, or Rd. II's time. Till of late, 'twas no essential Order of the House the reading of a Bill—Because books are printed, and papers set upon Westminster-Hall door, that we are no Parliament, shall we regard such loose objections?—Would have those two laws, spoken of, in force, and if all be allowed, it makes nothing. They say "Parliaments shall be called once a year, and oftner, if need requires."
The Speaker.] Birkenhead stood up to Order, and enters into Debate of the merits, as Sawyer did, irregularly.
Sir George Downing.] Several Questions, no less than four, are on foot. Pray keep us to Order.
Sir Robert Carr.] Leave has not been asked to bring in a Bill.
Col. Birch.] Intreats the strong to bear with the weak, and he is one of the weak. Grimstone told you "that great pains had been taken about this Question of our meeting; but with much difficulty in the resolution."
He may therefore doubt—
Mr Secretary Williamson.] Birch speaks against Orders. Is it not in your Power to debate, whether we are a House or not? Therefore 'tis the proper Question, Whether that Debate shall be proceeded in or not.
Col. Birch.] When he hears learned persons speak of the danger in not determining the thing, he is more shaken in his doubts than when he came in.
Mr Vaughan.] Of what use is your affirmative, or negative, in this matter of doubt, grounded only upon rumours in the streets?
The Speaker.] The Session is not begun till a Bill be read; 'tis the ancient Order, and if so, your Question is, Whether you will break that Order, or not.
Mr Garroway.] Knows not whether he shall be so happy in his service as to extricate you out of this doubt. He thinks we may safely read the Bill, and yet the Debate may be reserved. He is one who believes this as good a Parliament as when we first sat. Though yet he is not very fond of it neither. You may read a Bill, but not this Bill offered; let it be any Bill the last Session that had but one reading. Then you may enter into the Debate, Whether this meeting now be by Adjournment, or Prorogation.
Col. Birch.] Will speak again, but not contrary to Order. 'Tis now in your choice whether to take a safe or dangerous way in this thing. Does not see you can go on in safety under a Prorogation. It has not been practised, 'tis true (what you have been told) but all that can be said in short, is, whether it be advisable for the Commons of England, willingly and knowingly, to act in a Prorogation, contrary to law. One gentleman tells you, "of books and pamphlets abroad on this subject." It may be, he is of that courage, as not to heed them; but he does. Those in the Long Parliment were willing to keep their places, and he never yet met with any that were willing to part with theirs— But he would prevent dogs barking, "that we do contrary to law by sitting as in a Prorogation," and would be provided against this, not knowing what this may overturn hereafter. The last Convention met upon a new foundation—Should we now give money, and the people deny it, and twelve men come to dispute it, in a jury, what will become of us that made that Act? Therefore would act as in an Adjournment, and read such a Bill. If not, would adjourn till Monday.
Mr Harwood.] We have the title put upon us as a lawful Parliament. He is not very fond of this Parliament—His understanding reaches not so far, as to judge of these statutes mentioned, but, if they are in force, would know whether a Prorogation of above twelve months puts us not out of capacity of being a Parliament; and then, whether our being then called together by Proclamation can make us a Parliament. If those laws be in force, we do ill to break them, and we do them great violence to meet now as a Parliament. Discourse of people abroad is a great thing, and not to be slighted—We are not safe from the law taking hold upon us. No man has the impudence to break the King's Prorogation, and yet he would not part with the people's liberty. Would talk no more of it now, but adjourn till Monday.
Sir Charles Harbord.] All Parliaments are in being till dissolved by death of the King, or by word of his mouth. There have been several Prorogations of fifteen months.
Mr Vaughan.] If any man without doors should tell him "that he has broken a law, by meeting as a Parliament," he knows how he should use him; and if people say "no Parliament," they may say "no King."
Mr Powle.] There has been great noise and clamour about this long Prorogation abroad. This is not so slight a thing, but ought to have some resolution. 'Tis a new thing, and therefore rationally to be resolved. But reading a Bill does tacitly determine the Question. Suppose the next Successor to the Crown, should call the same men again of the Parliament of his Predecessor; he believes that every man would unanimously represent it to the King as no Parliament. He is not of opinion that either we sit by Adjournment, or that 'tis a Dissolution, but that 'tis good. Would adjourn now, and settle the matter afterwards.
Mr Secretary Coventry.] Would have the Question stated in Order. If it be not a Parliament, how shall you adjourn? State the Question about the Bill, and the other Debate may follow.
Mr Russel.] He is no great reader of Statutes, and therefore is no competent judge of those mentioned, but since 'tis a Question, whether they be in force, or no, men must be satisfied. Therefore he moves for an Address to the King, That we may (to put all things out of doubt) be dissolved.
Sir Richard Temple.] Because the legality of our meeting is questioned by libels without doors, must we therefore make it a Question within doors? Heretofore, at the opening a Session, the Speaker chose some Bill to be read, that would probably take up least Debate— And would punish those who have dispersed these libels. The King has had advice, without all doubt, about this Prorogation—And when a Bill is read, you may proceed to punish the authors of these libels.
Sir John Coventry.] Would have the House, in the least of our actions, express our loyalty. He believes this to be a Parliament, and as good as ever it was, but hopes we sit not by Proclamation-law. He plainly sees we have sat so long that the people are weary of us; and seconds the motion for an Address to the King to dissolve us.
Mr Williams.] He is of opinion, that the Parliament is in being, but whether by Prorogation or Adjournment, is the Question. He is against reading that Bill, because 'twill stop the mouths of gentlemen in the Debate, and by it we must admit ourselves to meet now under a Prorogation, and, for the like reason, is for reading the other Bill, and reserving the farther Debate. He hears discourses abroad that we are dissolved by this long Prorogation. We cannot constitute ourselves a Parliament, if we be none; but by our solemn Debates, with reason, we may, in some measure, satisfy the world. Therefore moves for the Bill to be read a second time.
Sir George Reeves.] Offers a Bill "for regulating Elections of Members of Parliament," ordered to be brought in the last Session.
Lord Cavendish.] Either we are under a Prorogation, or an Adjournment; if under an Adjournment, a Bill ought not to be read; therefore of necessity that Question must be determined.
Sir Thomas Meres.] 'Tis a matter of great weight, and great use; it may be, it clears that point—We are not dissolved, 'tis late in the day, and would have Reeves's Bill read.
Which was read accordingly, and ordered a second reading.
Sir Thomas Meres.] A Bill is now read, and, before it, the King's Speech was read; doubts not of hearts full of thanks for the King's gracious expressions in his Speech—No man doubts but the matters of it are of great weight, and we should have, at least, two or three days time to consider it; therefore moves for Tuesday morning to take it into consideration.
Mr Secretary Coventry.] 'Tis not you that dissolve or call Parliaments, but he fears 'twill put the Kingdom in an uproar, to leave the thing at large, whether 'tis an Adjournment, or Prorogation. Moves, for respect to the King, That his Speech may be the first thing taken in hand. No man thinks to settle the affairs of the Kingdom in one day. "To take the King's Speech into consideration", without saying any day, would be a disrespect.
Sir John Holland.] What is propounded to, and required from us, is for the King's service and our greater security. The preservation of liberty of speech is so necessary to be allowed and enjoyed, that without it nothing can be brought to good effect. His reason of saying this is, because that, at the last meeting, he took upon him to represent the poverty of the Kingdom, and he thinks that discourse is as seasonable and necessary still. But he was so unhappy, as, by some amongst us, to be represented to the King, as a person ill-affected, and [one who] had made a dangerous, and seditious speech. Had he done so, you, Mr Speaker, would have reproved him. But one amongst the rest said to the King "that he sat by him in this House, in 1640, in the Long Parliament, when he made the same speech." Whoever that person was, he said false; and he appeals to any gentleman, whether he ever made any such speech in 1640; and whether what he said could, in any measure, be suitable to those times. Possibly this person might thus represent it to ingratiate himself with the King. What subject can bear the displeasure of the King? 'Tis possible that the person that informed this, or some other, may suggest that he now started this complaint to interrupt "the King's business" (as of late "Supply" has been called) but he looks upon Supply to be as much ours and the Kingdom's business as the King's, and must stand together. No man can be so malicious as to say he has spoken now to delay the consideration of the King's Speech, and hopes we shall hear no more of that. But he designs this complaint, not for reparation of the injury he has received, but for the sake of his fellowMembers, for the future, that they may not be so represented. Therefore he moves you to consider of a Petition to the King, "to represent the ancient right, and necessary Privilege, of freedom of speech in Parliament, and that he would be graciously pleased not to give any credit to such reports." Consult but the Journals, and you will find the thing frequently done. In the 19th of King James, 'twas done, on the like occasion, and as anciently as H. IV's time. Cotton's records take notice of it. "The Commons, in full Parliament, thanked the King for the maintenance of the Catholic Faith (fn. 3), and desired him not to give ear to common reports, till the end might try the thing." (Which seems to him to have the face and force of a law.) In the 19th of K. James, in the treaty of the Spanish match, concerning the indulgences then given to Catholics: Some of the Commons thereupon making some smart speeches, which were reported to the King, 'twas then humbly desired "that he would not give credit to common report, till he was informed of the transactions of their House, by themselves." And he moves for a Committee to draw up an Address now to the same effect.
Sir Harbottle Grimstone, Master of the Rolls.] Holland has given a long and sharp charge, and he desires that the person he accuses may be named, that has so represented him to the King.
Sir John Morton.] His blood rises at this, and would have those flattering courtiers that have done this named.
Sir Tho. Lee.] He thinks that no man can live happily, or safely, under his Prince's discountenance. He thinks that the representation of Holland thus to the King is a reflection upon the whole House, if the person who has made such a speech, as is represented, should be let go here, without reproof. You ought to require Holland to name the person that has done this, or to give you some inducements to believe it. Till you do yourselves right in this business, you cannot proceed to farther business.
Mr Secretary Coventry.] A complaint not made within a certain time ought not farther to be enquired into, as he conceives this to be.
Sir Anthony Irby.] Possibly Holland knew it not till lately, and he complains as soon as he can.
Sir Thomas Meres.] Holland says "that in consideration of Debate on the King's Speech, he desires freedom, &c." Would have him tell you what inducements he has to believe it, and the motion cannot die; you can proceed no farther till this be over.
Sir Thomas Clarges.] This strikes at the root of all affairs before us, religion, safety, all our liberties and laws. They have opportunities about the King, by frequent conversation with the King, to expose us according to the fancy of those about him. Since we met last, many were traduced, and some thrust out of Court, and employed in the country. No man ought to be forbid the Court, and we cannot by law be forbid our right of application to the King. This destroys confidence between the King and his people. When once a man, that has borrowed money, breaks his word in payment, lands must be mortgaged, and so disputes arise. This will destroy all course of Parliament, and moves to have the person named.
Sir John Holland.] What he said was, that this might not be brought into example, nor upon the stage; and makes it his suit not to name the person; though he can name him. But humbly begs to be excused. (But being commanded to declare the person, said,) He will always give obedience to this House, and will declare who the person was. He looked upon the person as his friend. He who first told him of this is since dead, and he did not name the person. At that time two of our Members were present, when my Lord Chief Baron Turner told him, "that a person told the King of his speech, that it was the same he made in 1640, &c." as before. He did not press the Chief Baron to tell him the person that told the King so, but a noble Lord told him, "that the person that told the King so was Mr Ashburnham, the Cofferer."
Mr Ashburnham.] He should have thought himself to have been the last man named for it. But he had rather that Holland should chuse him than any other, because he has the least reason to accuse him. He desires that the Lord who told Holland this may be named. He does positively affirm that not one word of truth is in the thing. He abhors it more than Holland and all the world.
Mr Sawyer.] If ever this was done, would have it proved, or the person named that can prove it.
Sir John Holland.] That Lord who told him it is a person of great honour. He did apply to that Lord, by letter, for leave to name him. 'Tis Lord Townshend; and he will avow that the Lord Chief Baron told it him.
Sir Thomas Lee.] Hears it said, that Sir Francis Clarke was present, when the Lord Chief Baron told it to Holland.
Sir Francis Clarke.] He knows nothing of it, to the best of his memory.
Sir John Holland.] Clarke was present, when my Lord Chief Baron said it, at dinner.
Mr Secretary Coventry.] If one should rise from the dead, they would not believe, was said in another case. But if the Chief Baron should, you would not believe the thing upon this ground. Unless Holland will bring in one that heard Ashburnham say the words, or say he heard them himself, 'tis nothing.
Mr Secretary Williamson.] Is sorry that it came in, and sorry that it must go out thus. A gentleman has been named, and he would have some satisfaction given him.
Mr Ashburnham.] He desires no other satisfaction, but that he despises the information.
Resolved, That it doth not appear [to this House] that Mr Cofferer Ashburnham hath failed in his duty to this House, by traducing Sir John Holland to his Majesty, for having made any scandalous or seditious speech [in the House, against his Majesty, the last Session]—And so this went off.
Mr Neale.] Thinks Tuesday a great while to defer the consideration of the King's Speech, considering you give him no thanks for it in the mean time. Moves for Monday, and no business to intervene, no, not Privilege, till the safety of the nation be provided for.
Resolved, That the King's Speech be taken into consideration on Tuesday.