HC Deb 19 March 1805 vol 4 cc48-60
Mr. Creevey

rose, and spoke as follows: Sir, in pursuance of the notice I gave some time since, I shall now submit a motion to this house respecting Mr. Fordyce; a gentleman who, by various documents of parliament, appears indebted to the public in a very large sum of money, and of a very long standing; and who likewise appears by a commission lately issued by the crown, and a copy of which now lies upon your table, to be one of five commissioners appointed for the purpose of carrying into execution most important reforms in the department of the navy, which have been suggested by the parliamentary commissioners appointed by this house to examine into those subjects. The first object I have in view is an inquiry into the circumstances of Mr. Fordyce's debt; into the engagement he has entered into for the discharge of it; into the security the public have for its final payment; and into the causes that have hitherto delayed its liquidation; and, with reference to these points, I will shortly state to the house the history of Mr. Fordyce's debt to the public, as I collect it from the different documents of parliament. The house knows, that by an act of parliament passed in the year 1780, certain commissioners were appointed for the purpose of examining the public accounts of the kingdom, and for other salutary purposes of reform. In the first report of those commissioners, and which was likewise made in 1780, 1 perceive that Mr. Fordyce was found to be indebted to the public, at that time, in the sum of 64,000l. and upwards, as receiver general of the land-tax of Scotland. An examination of that gentleman upon oath, taken before the commissioners, as to the means of liquidating that debt, appears in the appendix to that report; and Mr. Fordyce there refers to the most positive and precise stipulations, as having been entered into by him with the lords of the treasury, for the accomplishing that object. He states, that he had agreed to pay off 30,000l. before the then next Lady-day; 10,000l. before the 10th of the next month after; and that as to the remaining 24,000l. owing to particular circumstances, Mr. Fordyce states, he had obtained the indulgence from the lords of the treasury to pay that sum by instalments of 5000l. per annum. This, sir, was in the year 1780. The next mention I find of Mr. Fordyce is in the 8th report of the finance committee in 1797; that committee, the house likewise knows, was appointed for the purpose of examining abuses in the expenditure of public money; and it certainly does appear a most extraordinary circumstance, that, after the report of the commissioners in 1780, that I have before mentioned, after all the engagements on the part of Mr. Fordyce I have before referred to, and after a period of 17 years to fulfil those engagements in, it does, I say, appear a most extraordinary thing, that Mr. Fordyce's balance to the public should make the prominent feature of complaint it does in that report of the committee of finance. It appears from that report, that although Mr. Fordyce was so much in arrear in 1780, he was nevertheless continued in his office of receiver general until 1783; and when, instead of his former engagements being fulfilled, and his former balance reduced, his debt at that time to the public amounted to upwards of 90,000l. At this period, in 1783, it appears he was dismissed; and the report proceeds to state, that from that period (in 1783) to the then present time, (in 1797) the whole of that arrear of 90,000l. with the exception of 700l. only paid in July 1797, had remained a debt due from Mr. Fordyce to the public, for which no interest whatever had been received. I find, sir, from the appendix to that report, that Mr. Fordyce upon this occasion, as upon the former one, appeared again before the committee, and again referred them to new engagements entered into by him with the lords of the treasury, for the payment of at least 4,000l. annually, and to a variety of securities, that were to produce the speedy liquidation of this debt; and I particularly beg to call the attention of the house to one statement made in the appendix to that report. It is stated, that in 1783 Mr. Fordyce's property was all assigned to trustees for the lords of the treasury as a security for the debt, but that it had at the same time been agreed, that Mr. Fordyce should retain the possession and management of his estate, subject to the direction and controul of the lords of the treasury, and lord advocate of Scotland. This, no doubt, sir, was meant as a beneficial arrangement for the public; that the skill and management of Mr. Fordyce might make his property more productive than it would be in the hands of the trustees; the experience, however, sir, of two and twenty years, must very much diminish, if not entirely extinguish, all our, reliance upon the skill of Mr. Fordyce, and the controul of the lords of the treasury and the lord advocate of Scotland; for, during that period of two and twenty years, they have not produced one farthing to the public. The only sum paid since the finance committee's report, notwithstanding all the new engagements on behalf of Mr. Fordyce, and all the numerous securities he refers to, has been a sum of 8,250l. and this sum I find was given to Mr. Fordyce by parliament, out of the public money, for surveying woods in Scotland; and being in the exchequer, could not with much decency be paid out of it, to a person so much its debtor as Mr Fordyce. This sum was paid by Mr. Fordyce, or rather retained by the treasury in Feb. 1800; and during the 5 years that have since elapsed, no other payments whatever have been made. These last facts, respecting Mr. Fordyce's debt since 1797, I collect from the annual return of the balances of public defaulters, which is now laid before parliament, in pursuance of the act of 1800, for which the public, sir, are indebted to you. This, sir, then, is the parliamentary history of Mr. Fordyce's debt to the public: he now owes to them upwards of 80,000l.; he has owed it two and twenty years; the money came out of the pockets of the people for their taxes; a sum more than equal to the principal has been lost in the way of interest for this sum; no engagement of this gentleman for the liquidation of this debt seems to have been performed; no steps appear to have been taken by the lords of the treasury to accelerate the liquidation of this debt, although it has been so strongly pressed upon their attention by the commissioners report in 1780, and that of the finance committee in 1797, and although they are said to be in possession of so many and such valuable securities. I am sure, sir, the house must agree with me, that this statement of facts calls for a committee of this house to examine what these securities are that have been so long unproductive; what this property of Mr. Fordyce's is, that, after two and twenty years trial, neither his own Skill, nor the controul of the lords of the treasury, and the lord advocate of Scotland, can convert into any thing for the public. It cannot be said, I apprehend, that this gentleman is destitute of means to liquidate his debt to the public; if I am rightly informed, sir, he is in possession of a large estate in Scotland, that it made his qualification to sit in the present parliament for Berwick, that it enabled him to succeed in a very hard-fought contest for that borough, and that he finally lost his seat in this house only from having been proved to have been too lavish of his money. Can it be said, after this, that Mr. Fordyce's estates Yield no rent? or, if they do, why have not the lords of the treasury, in their discretion and controul, prevented this public money from being thus squandered on a Berwick election? Sir, I hope I should be as backward as any gentleman in this house to press for any thing like persecution; I am willing to admit, as I did on a former occasion, that, from all I have heard, I believe it to be true that there was much misfortune in this gentleman's case originally; I am ready to admit, that it would be ungenerous to urge the public to withhold all reasonable indulgence in cases of allowed misfortune; but there must naturally be a limit to such indulgence, there must be a decency in the use of it; and, above all, there must be an impartiality in the distribution of it to persons similarly situated. There are many unfortunate debtors to the public besides Mr. Fordyce; many who, as securities for their principals only, are harrassed without pity by all the rigorous process of the crown. It is just and right that the laws of the country should be equally and impartially administered; and, of course, it is not right that Mr. Fordyce and his property should make the exception they do to the ordinary application of the law. Besides, sir, as I have said before, we are never to forget that the money Mr. Fordyce owes to the public came out of the pockets of the people for their taxes, that through him or his agents it has hitherto been lost, and that it is not very gracious to the people of England, whilst we are taxing the very sources of their existence, to be granting this exclusive compassion to Mr. Fordyce. Sir, it is not only the estate I have mentioned that Mr. Fordyce possesses as a means to satisfy his debt, the public knows that this gentleman enjoys a very lucrative office under the crown, and that fie has long done so; they know, sir, that the revenue, which has already lost so much by him, has been further burdened, for the purpose of building him a house of great magnificence, nominally, indeed, an office, but in fact a private residence, and built at great expence; and knowing as they do these facts, and feeling as they do the increasing pressure of an almost overbearing taxation, it is insulting the people of England to call upon them for any extraordinary sympathy in the case of Mr. Fordyce. As I said, sir, upon a former occasion, I can take no blame to myself for making these observations, unpleasant as they are: the ministers have forced Mr. Fordyce upon the criticism of the public, and they must answer to him for the consequences; if, after two and twenty years forbearance, they still think themselves justified in withholding the process of the crown against Mr. Fordyce for the recovery of their public debt, they are at least hound in duty and decency to the public, not to exhibit Mr. Fordyce in any character of discretion or controul connected with the public revenue of the country. I am sure, sir, this is a sentiment universally felt by the public; and, what is more, it was a sentiment recognized and acted upon by the chancellor of the exchequer, who dismissed Mr. Fordyce from his office. The chancellor of the exchequer I allude to was lord J. Cavendish; and that noble person himself seems to have believed, that there had been much misfortune in Mr. Fordyce's case, so much so, that he was induced to promise him some indulgence as to time, and some place of profit, instead of the one he had deprived him of. But observe, sir, there was a condition annexed to this promise, namely, that the place to be given was to be in no way connected with the revenue:—this, sir, was the just and generous sentiment of that noble person of humanity to the individual, and of respect to the feeling and to the interest of the public: if that noble person thought, two and twenty years ago, when Mr. Fordyce's debt was recently contracted, that the employment of him, in any way connected with the revenue, was an act of disrespect and injustice to the public, what would he have thought to have seen Mr. Fordyce now under all the aggravated circumstances of the duration of his debt, and the forfeiture of his engagements, enjoying a place of similar responsibility in the revenue to the one he was deprived of? What would he have thought to have seen this gentleman selected as the person who was to frame and introduce a system of reform and economy into the expenditure of the public money in the department of the navy? What could he have thought if he had, heard the chancellor of the exchequer of the present day pronounce Mr. Fordyce the fittest person that could be found to fill this office of reformer. There is another reason for the house agreeing to the committee I shall finally move for, and which I had omitted to mention: whatever doubts may have been formerly entertained as to public accountants being chargeable with interest, there can be none now since the act of 1800, for which the public is likewise indebted to you, sir; under this act, there is now 20,000l. added to. Mr. Fordyce's debt, making the sum total 100,000l. and upwards, though I observe by the last return this interest is not added to the principal.—This is all that appears to me at present necessary to be said upon the subject of Mr. Fordyce's debt; and I feel certain it will be sufficient to induce the house to accede to the committee I shall finally move for. When I mentioned to the house my intention of bringing this subject forward, I gave notice at the same time of my intention to submit likewise a resolution to the house respecting the impropriety of Mr. Fordyce's appointment as one of the commissioners in the new naval commission issued by the crown; a sentiment that I have by no means abandoned, but which at present I shall forbear from expressing in the form I had intended; if, however, sir, this house has any wish to appear in earnest with the public upon the subject of reform and economy in the expenditure of the public money, it will do well to direct its most anxious and particular attention to this new naval commission, because, under all the circumstances of the case, it is impossible that any thing can be more full of suspicion and alarm. We are all agreed, or at least we all profess to be agreed, that the commissioners appointed under the act of this house to examine into public abuses in the department of the navy, have been eminently successful in detecting and exposing the greatest frauds upon the revenue. An honourable admiral in this house, and who was one of the late board of admiralty, and who of course has had all the means of official information, has asserted, without being contradicted, that if the exposures made by the parliamentary commissioners were to be followed up by corresponding reforms, a third of the public money spent in the extensive department of the navy, might be saved. In times like the present, it is impossible that a discovery of greater importance could be made; but what security have we, sir, for the adoption of such reform? After two years and a half of such labours as, I believe, never parliamentary commissioners bestowed before, after nine volumes of such minute and detailed enquiries as were never made by commissioners before, the only object secured to the public is an alteration made by law in the management of Chatham chest. Sir, L understood that a pledge was given by the late chancellor of the exchequer to this house, that he would move specific resolutions founded upon these various reports; no such proceeding has, however, taken place, nor is it likely now it should do so; for it is impossible for this house to conceal from itself that the present administration is hostile to that parliamentary commission; many of the gentlemen I see opposite to me resisted, with all their power, the act creating the commission; the admiralty who brought it in are the perpetual subject of their censures, and particularly for their economy. We have seen with what reluctance this parliamentary commission is to be permitted to exist as long as parliament intended it to do, and then, what is worse than all, we see that the reform of all the abuses that the parliamentary commissioners have discovered is not to be left to this house, is not to be followed up by resolutions of parliament, or by positive laws, but the whole is entrusted to commissioners appointed by the crown; that is to say, by ministers themselves; and over which commissioners, parliament has no controul. If parliament give this favourite subject of the public out of its own hands, the reform of abuses, the economy of the public money in the department of the navy, we might have been indulged, I think, with a reformer of more promise than Mr. Fordyce. We know very well, sir, the resolution, the courage, the unimpeachable character that are necessary to make a man a successful reformer, that can enable him to contend against that implacable host of interested jobbers that for ever swarm about the public money; and can it be said that Mr. Fordyce, whose very existence is at the mercy of the crown, whose character as a public defaulter is at the mercy of every man whose abuses he is to correct, can Mr. Fordyce thus situated, be that faithful and rigid servant of the public, which his office of reformer so peculiarly calls upon him to be? Having said thus much of the late naval commission, and of the suspicious light in which I view it, I shall nevertheless afford Mr. Fordyce an opportunity of doing his duty to the public, and I shall not at this present moment submit the resolution I originally intended; I beg, however, to give this notice to the house, that if my suspicions shall be too unfortunately realized, if we shall not shortly hear of the labours of these new commissioners, I shall think it my duty again to call the attention of the house to this sub- ject, and endeavour to induce it to resume into its own hands this most important object of reform; and I shall now, sir, content myself with moving for a committee of this house, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting Mr. Fordyce's debt, which under all the circumstances of the enormity of that debt, the time it has been owing, the apathy of the lords of the treasury in the recovery of it, and the violation of all Mr. Fordyce's engagements as to the liquidation of it, the house, I apprehend, will have no hesitation in agreeing to. The hon. gentleman then moved, "that a committee be appointed to examine what sum was now due from John Fordyce, esq. to the public in respect of a sum of 82,000l. and upwards, reported to be due from him by the finance committee in 1797; together with an account of what steps had been taken by the lords of the treasury for the recovery of the same; and also an account of all securities given by the said John Fordyce, or on his behalf, to the lords of the treasury for the payment of the said debt; also an account of all engagements entered into by the said John Fordyce with the lords of the treasury for the payment of the said debt, and of such of them as had been performed; together with an account of all the rent, produce, and profits of the estates and property of any kind whatsoever belonging to the said John Fordyce, and which had been by him conveyed to the lords of the treasury in 1783, as a security for his debt from that period to the present time."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

wished to call the attention of the house to the nature of this transaction. The hon. member had changed the object which he had first set out with, and he understood him to consider the situation of Mr. Fordyce as arising out of misfortune. But he could state that it had not been the opinion of the actual government that had removed him from office that he was unworthy to be trusted, though they had declined employing him in a situation connected with the revenue. He held no such situation at present. He had held a very laborious office in a commission to inquire concerning the lands of the crown, appointed at the instance of that house; his name had been subscribed to reports made to the house on that subject, and parliamentary measures had been grouned on such reports. He then held an executive office for carrying these measures into, effect, and had produced as great a practical reform as had ever been effected in any department. The revenues of crown lands, which then had been reduced to 6000l. had by his management been raised since to 40,000l. which would increase in the present year, and in the course of a few years amount to some hundred thousands. This he stated to show, that Mr. F. was not a person unworthy to be trusted, and that his being in arrear had arisen from misfortune only, as well as that the public had enjoyed the benefit of his talents and services. His misfortune had arisen from the failure in three successive instances of his agents, one of whom had not been of his selection, but recommended by the late lord Rockingham, as collector-general, and therefore, in fairness, he ought not to be accountable for the 14,000l. which now remained unsatisfied of his default. Another failure had arisen from the bankruptcy of a house in which Mr. Fordyce had vested certain sums of money, arising from the sale of forfeited estates in Scotland, which under the act of 1770, he was made the medium for conveying to the treasury. By this failure, which happened a short time before he was removed from his office, though it did not add considerably to his official arrears, he lost a sum of 40,000l. Under these circumstances, when addressing so enlightened an assembly, and as the origin of this transaction was historical, he trusted that the question would be considered without any view to party object, though the hon. gent. in the latter part of his speech, had appeared to give it that complexion. He had a right to consider the case of Mr. Fordyce as a case of hardship. He had been left large sums in debt by the failure of agents, and from that hour no balances had been in hand upon which interest could accrue. He had been treated with forbearance, and that forbearance had been continued to him, first, because his default had arisen from misfortune; and, secondly, because rigorous measures would have ruined him, and thereby have prevented the public from receiving those payments, which he should presently state. The hon. member had represented the arrear of Mr. F. as 90,000l. It had been more, but was soon reduced to that sum. Before 1797, 2,000l. had been paid out of his separate property, and since 8,000l. There were 37,000l. due on bond within the present year, a 11,000l. before the 25th of this month, the remainder in July, except 4000l. in Dec. He had besides, by his talents, genius, and. industry, which bad been of ad- vantage to the public, acquired additional means of paying his debt; and he put it to the candour of the hon. mover, or of any hon. gent. near him, whether in a case of such misfortune, it would have been right to press him rigorously. The sums he had acquired by his employment had been applied, not to his use, but to pay off his arrears. Upon these grounds, he saw no reason of complaint against the present, or any former government, for having employed this gent. nor any ground for parliamentary interference. They all knew the amount of his debt in 1797, and nothing was so easy as for any member to move, that there be laid before the house an account of the amount of the sums that had been paid, of the steps that had been taken, and of the sums now due. After which it would be competent to move for an inquiry, if any gent. should think it then necessary. He should himself move for these documents. The 14,000l. ought not to be charged to Mr. F.; and as to the other failures, there were effects that would be finally available. Mr. F. too had an estate in the island of Grenada, which yielded 200 hogsheads of sugar, annually, and would have been subject to his arrears, till the calamity, which had called for the indulgence and aid of parliament in favour of the sufferers. The estate was now likely to be productive, but this circumstance entitled the hon. gent. to the forbearance of government. As to the appointment of Mr. F. on the commission, it had been at the desire of sir C. Middleton, with whom he had acted as comptroller of the navy, and every one would bear testimony to the merits and abilities of that hon. bart. The object of the commission; was to form a digest of the regulations of the different royal yards, and they had no discretion or power to obstruct any reform, and he looked upon it as no proof of hostility to any practical reform, that the hon. bart. who had first suggested the naval commission, was appointed to the royal commission. After a few other observations relative to the reports not having been followed up by any further measures, the right hon. gent. concluded by declaring that no parliamentary ground had been laid for the motion.

Mr. Fox

begged to have it understood, upon what ground he did not wish the gentleman who was the object of the motion of his hon. friend, to have been employed. It was not because he thought him unworthy to be trusted, but because he was in a situation of misfortune, and therefore in a state of dependence on his majesty's ministers. The commission was appointed to make suggestions to government, and might they not have to report on such parts as some at least of his majesty's ministers, might be no friends to? However that might be, he was sure that no man in a state of absolute subjection to the power of ministers, could report with that sturdy, independence which ought to characterize the conduct of a public reformer. He had not the honour of being acquainted with Mr. Fordyce, but he had no doubt of his being a gentleman of talent, ability, and merit. He thought the house ought to be obliged to his hon. friend for having brought forward the business. Neither had Mr. F. any reason to complain that the subject was agitated, inasmuch as it gave him an opportunity of making known those favourable circumstances of his case, which were unknown before. Whether the facts should be laid before the house by motion, or ascertained by the inquiry of a committee, amounted to the same thing; he should therefore not differ from the opposition of the right hon. gent. opposite. He was inclined to agree in the opinion, that the case of Mr. F. was a case of pure misfortune. He had himself a recollection of the failure of the first Agent, Cockburn, who had been so strongly recommended to Mr. Fordyce, and the result of his recollection was, that it afforded a case of very strong equity in favour of Mr. F. As to the case of Mr. Fordyce, the banker, his failure was a misfortune of such an extent, as to produce an effect really astonishing. It would be rather surprising how lie should be able to speak to the circumstances. He had accidentally happened a few days back to read over the copy of a letter from Mr. Garrick to a friend of his in the West Indies, in which it was stated, that the receipts of the theatre had materially fallen off in consequence of the widely diffused effect of the failure of Mr. Fordyce. If the effect of that failure was so great that the pleasures of so great a part of the public were depressed by it in so perceptible a degree, he did not wonder that a person in Mr. Fordyce's situation suffered by it so materially. It appeared, further, that Mr. F. constantly exerted himself to make good his deficiency, but that the circumstances of the times, particularly the unfortunate circumstances respecting Grenada, had prevented his arrangements from proceeding in the manner that was to be desired. From what was stated, there was reason to believe that in the process of time every thing that could be wished would be done. It was therefore for the benefit of the public that no interruption should be given to Mr. F's management of his means of clearing off the arrears. The facts, however, ought to be laid before the house in a parliamentary way. The right hon. gent. had stated the facts clearly, and promised to produce the documents; when they were produced, the house would be enabled to judge of what was now but matter of belief and of opinion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer ,

in explanation, stated that Mr. Fordyce, as a member of the last commission, did not act generally, but specifically, with the view of applying the best remedies to existing abuses in the naval department. This appointment he had received from the knowledge of the former beneficial exercise of his talents in the same branch of the public service.

The Secretary at War

thought himself called upon to state, that sir C. Middleton had refused to undertake the task entrusted to this commission, unless Mr. Fordyce were also appointed on it; and this from the opinion sir C. had formed of the talents and capacity of Mr. Fordyce, in a former service in which he had been associated with him. As a proof that Mr. F. had devoted all his emoluments to the discharge of his arrear, he instanced the case of a sum of 25 or 26,000l. accruing to him, which he refused to appropriate to a provision for his large family, notwithstanding the recommendation of some of his friends, preferring to transfer it immediately to the Exchequer, for the discharge of his debt.

Mr. Johnstone

said, that he should be no advocate for any harsh measures, unless the result of the enquiry should make it necessary; but he could not conceive how Mr. Fordyce could be justified by the failure of his agents, as there was nothing to prevent him from obtaining securities from them, previously to their appointment. In the case of an individual, the house would naturally be inclined to a liberality of conduct; but in matters of account, they could not do justice to the public, without, on their part, acting in the same manner which every man would do, in the management of his private affairs. Instead of 40,000l. had the treasury called on the securities, they would, by this time, have had the whole. The increase of the crown lands had been boasted of; that increase was owing, however to wise acts of parliament, and the falling in of old leases granted by the James's and the Charles's.—The right hon. gent. had held out splendid promises to the house, of the repayment of what Mr. F. owed to the public; but there was no reasonable prospect of their being realized. After the report of the Finance Committee in 1797, the public were led to believe, that before this time the incumbrances of Mr. F. would have been removed. The fact was, however, that after the lapse of eight years, the debt was as considerable as when the report he had alluded to had been formed. Conceiving, then, that this was a subject highly fit for the interference of the house, he felt himself called on to support the motion of his hon: friend.

Mr. Creevey ,

however, on understanding that the chancellor of the exchequer would himself move for the information on the subject, consented in the mean time to withdraw his motion.