HC Deb 21 May 1805 vol 5 cc37-41
Sir John Newport

rose to bring forward his promised motion, for an account of the secret service money disbursed by the Irish government, from the year 1793 to the present time. He thought the subject one to which it was highly necessary to call the attention of parliament, as a head of public expenditure, under which there had been no investigation whatever for the last seven or eight years. The disbursement of money by the government of this country, under a similar head, had for a long series of years eluded enquiry: though frequently, proposed, it was often rejected, like many other salutary objects, until at length the perseverance of the house of commons prevailed, and the secret service money was reduced to public investigation, so far, at least, as it was admissible for a minister to disclose the objects of its application. Rumour had very strongly stated, that within the last few years very large sums of the public money had been disbursed under this head, though by an act of parliament, the sum of secret service money was limited to 5,000l. annually, except in cases for the purposes of suppressing insurrection or rebellion; but when it was known that the pension list of Ireland had doubled, and now amounted to 120,000l. it was high time for parliament to do its duty, by examining into the branch of expenditure to which he alluded. The pension act, by the 9th and 10th section, provided that no more than 5,000l. per annum should be granted by the crown upon that establishment, until the pension list was reduced below a limited sum; but there was no guard against the grants of the lord-lieutenant. The union was a measure which would, no doubt, hereafter lead to many great and important purposes, when the minds of the people should be awakened to its advantages. He did not deny, that the object of his motion was, to make disclosures, which, to some persons, might not be altogether agreeable. It had not been concealed, that a vast sum of money was paid, for the purpose of bringing about the union, which was held out as a measure calculated to produce the most important and beneficial consequences, which, he was sorry to say, were not yet very likely to result from it. Ever since the year 1793, it was notorious that no account Was given to parliament of the disbursements for secret services; and he was sorry a noble lord who had been called upon to refute them was not in his place to wipe off the reproach from himself—[a general laugh, lord Castlereagh being in his seat]. He begged the noble lord's pardon, and hoped he would avail himself of being present to clear himself. He hoped that the house would now pay more attention than formerly to the disbursements of Ireland, as the English members were aware, that our country had to defray two-seventeenths of the expences. The expences of some, though not all, of the proportions in Ireland, were now before the house, amounting to the sum of 110,000l. and his motion would be for a secret committee to enquire into that expenditure. On looking into the journals, he found a precedent for his motion, in the reign of William and Mary, Nov. 1688, when a motion was passed, calling for an account of the money paid for secret services to members of parliament, and was presented by Mr. Secretary Harley, in the December following. As he did not expect to have the right of the public, to know what they actually did pay, disputed, he moved, "that a secret committee, of 13 members, exclusively of such members as held any public offices at the will of the crown, be appointed to enquire into the disbursements of secret service money in Ireland, from the year 1793, to the end of 1804, inclusive, excepting such sums as may have been paid for the detection of any conspiracies, and distinguishing their respective amounts, and the names and services of the persons to whom they were paid."

Mr. Vansittart

said, that if the hon. bart. merely wanted an account of the money laid out for secret service, there could be but one objection to it, and that was, that it was unnecessary, because the amount of the money to be so expended was limited, and defined by act of parliament. But the hon. bart. seemed to think that there were other suns of money so applied, over and above the sum allowed by law: if that were the case, if the hon. bart. could bring forward any fact of that kind, it certainly would be well worthy the attention of parliament. But it certainly appeared to him unnecessary to go into an enquiry until some fact was stated to shew the expediency of that enquiry.—The act of 1793, to which the hon. bart. had alluded, followed the principle of Mr. Burke's bill in this country, and limited the amount of money to be expended for secret service to a small sum; and he supposed it would not be denied that it would be impossible for any government to be carried on without the power of disposing of some secret service money, without being obliged afterwards to make public the way in which it had been laid out. In the year 1741, an attempt was made in this country to enquire into the application of secret service money. It was admitted in the report of the committee appointed upon that occasion, that it was absolutely necessary that government should have the application of a certain sum for secret service money, without being obliged to explain the way in which it was expended, because that would defeat the very purpose of it; but it was stated that the sums so laid out appeared to be enormous. Afterwards, by the bill brought in by Mr. Burke, the sum to be so expended by government was limited to 100,000l. a year. In Ireland the sum was still more limited; it was fixed at 5,000l. a year; and he believed the hon. bart. would find it difficult to convince the house that such an expenditure could be applied to the bad purposes to which he had alluded. But he trusted that gentlemen would recollect the situation in which Ireland had stood for some years, and he was sure they could not for a moment contend, that it would be proper to call upon government to come before parliament and explain how every farthing of secret service money had been laid out during that period. There was one head of expenditure, called "secret pensions," and it must be obvious to the house, that government could not expose the names, of the persons to whom they were paid without exposing them to ruin. He wished to observe, that it was not the practice in this country to keep any memorandum of the disposal of secret service money after it had once been approved of by his majesty: he did not know whether this Was the practice in Ireland, but certainly a contrary one might lead to the most dangerous consequences.—Mr. Vansittart then read the act limiting the secret service money to 5000l. a year, and contended, that it was evidently implied by the act, that no account was to be rendered of the expenditure of that sum. The necessary security was obtained, not by having an account published of the mode in which the money had been expended, but by limiting the amount of it. The money laid out had all been accounted for in the way prescribed by law, and the hon. bart, might, if he thought proper, move for papers, shewing the time when the respective secretaries had passed their accounts, With regard to what had fallen from the hon. bart. respecting pensions, it was wholly unconnected with the present subject, and therefore he would not occupy the time of the house with any observations upon it at present. The hon. bart. had referred, to some proceedings in the reign of king William; but they were of a very different nature from the account now called for, because there was now an account of the sums expended upon the table. The hon. bart. had also alluded to the sum expended in state prosecutions; this certainly was a subject of regret, but could not be matter of surprise, that such a sum had been expended in four Years, in country in which there had recently been a rebellion, and since that a serious insurrection, and where it must be confessed there still remained a great deal of lurking treason. Upon these grounds he must resist the motion, and really if he could account for the expenditure of the secret service money, he would not do it, from a conviction of the fatal consequences that might ensue.

Mr. Dennis Browne

also opposed the motion, and observed, that certainly the noble lord (Castlereagh) did carry the measure of union which the hon. baronet had so highly praised, and admitted to be of such high importance to the empire; and it was rather extraordinary that an enquiry should now be moved under the head of secret service, which seemed invidiously to glance at the carrying of that measure. Certainly large sums had been found necessary to be disbursed in the secret service of that country, in order to detect and frustrate a jacobinical conspiracy, which had its origin so early as 1790, and the application of secret service money, under the direction and talents of Mr. Edward Cooke, then secretary in the civil department, was most effectual for the purpose.—The question being loudly called for,

Sir John Newport

rose to reply. He observed, that as to secret service money disbursed for the suppression of rebellion, the ministers were not called on to account, as that was specially excepted by the act of parliament; but this was no reason why no enquiry should be made respecting the expenditure of the sum not so granted. He did not wish to disguise the object of his enquiry. Rumour had very strongly stated, that very large sums, to the amount of more than 25 times five thousand pounds, had been expended by the government of Ireland of very late years, in a very improper and unconstitutional way; and to investigate this was the object he had in view. If the house rejected this enquiry, particularly the sums lavished for the purposes of the union, they would answer the public call in the same manner that sir Wm, D'Avenant related of lord Stair, who, when called upon for an account of the sums paid in quieting the Highlands of Scotland, replied, "the money is all spent, the Highlands are quiet, and that is the best account that I can give you," In the same manner, the noble lord opposite him might say, "the money is gone, the union is accomplished, and you may now be satisfied, for that is the bes account I can give you."—The house the divided on the motion; for it 67; against it 93; majority 46.

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