HC Deb 02 February 1807 vol 8 cc606-9
Lord Archibald Hamilton

stated, that since he had given notice of his intention to bring forward a motion respecting the Third Re port of the Commissioners of Military Inquiry, he had understood that proceedings upon the subject were now pending in the Treasury. Under this circumstance, and having communicated with his noble friend (lord II. Petty), he was apprehensive that, if he made the motion, he should be trespassing upon what was the province of the treasury, and interfering with their arrangements; but he hoped the house would indulge him while he read the motion which he had intended to have submitted, and stated the peculiar situation in which he felt himself placed. He had intended to have moved, that the attorney-general should be instructed to take the necessary measures to ascertain, and secure, by due course of law, such sums as should appear to be due to the public from Mr. Alexander Davison, in consequence of the transactions disclosed in the Third Report of the Commissioners of Military Inquiry. If it should appear to the house, that he had been somewhat hasty in giving his notice of the motion, he trusted the importance of the subject, and the nature of the fraudulent and iniquitous transactions at which his notice was directed, would sufficiently excuse him. A charge of being too forward to institute enquiry against fraud and peculation, was a charge from which he should not shrink. As he imagined there were many members who would have been glad to have delivered their opinions upon such a subject, he feared lest they should feel some mortification at the opportunity being denied them, in consequence of his having relinquished his motion. He felt it his duty to state the view with which he had taken up the subject. He had considered that the report having been made, it was far from creditable that it should have been suffered to have remained so long on the table unnoticed. The opinion he had at first formed respecting the transactions developed by the report, he was by no means disposed to abandon. He had considered, that it would have been more desireable for the house to have instituted some process against Mr. Alexander Davison, than that it should have been done by the treasury. Indeed, he had not yet wholly relinquished that opinion, though certainly by his communications with his noble friend, it had been very much weakened. The enormity of the offence was so great, and so general and extensive, in its operation, that it called for the most public and exemplary punishment. Nothing could be more destructive to a government than those agents, who while they were well paid for the duties they performed, yet made use of the confidence reposed in them to plunder the public.

The Speaker

here interrupted the noble lord, and said, that if he did not mean to propose any motion, it would be inconvenient and improper to enter upon the particulars in a case of this nature.

Lord A. Hamilton

again rose, and said, that he was sorry to trespass on the attention of the house, but all that he had said, or meant to have said, was intended merely to account for the line of conduct which he had pursued in this business.

Lord H. Petty

was sensible of the irregularity of prolonging the discussion, but hoped he should be excused for taking this opportunity of explaining to the house the proceedings which the treasury had thought it right to adopt upon the third report of the Commissioners of Military Inquiry, which he was not surprised to find had attracted the notice of his noble friend, and of the house in general. No delay had taken place in the steps which the treasury had thought it its duty to pursue; and it would under these circumstances be an imputation that ministers had not used proper activity, if the house should take the prosecution out of then hands, and institute steps of its own. The commissioners of barrack accounts had very properly communicated to the lords of the treasury their opinion, that it was very necessary Mr. Davison should produce his cash account with the barrack-master-general. The lords had in consequence directed the commissioners to call for this account; they had written two letters to Mr. Davison, containing a demand to that effect; no answer had been returned to these letters, and the commissoners reported the fact to the lords of the treasury. The lords of the treasury then called peremptorily on Mr. Davison to produce the account, and Mr. Davison did reply to them, assigning a domestic calamity as the excuse for his delay, and declaring his readiness to give such information as to his cash account as he could give; but stating, that as his cash account was mixed with his other accounts, it was impossible he could give a clear view of it. This answer was referred to the commissioners, who stated upon it that it was not satisfactory; and that if the accounts kept by Mr. Davison were in such a form as to be useful at all, the information which the commissioners wished could be collected from them. The lords of the treasury upon this ordered the Third Report of the Commissioners of Military Inquiry, and the correspondence between the barrack commissioners and the treasury and Mr. Davison, to be laid before the attorney and solicitor general, for their opinion, as to what steps ought to be taken to obtain the disclosure of the cash account, and to have justice done to the public in the recovery of what was due to it. The attorney and solicitor general reported their opinion, and recommended as the more speedy mode of proceeding, if parliament should concur in the opinion, that a bill should be passed, enabling the commissioners of barrack accounts to call upon Mr. Davison to produce his books, and to enforce his compliance, rather than to institute proceedings to that effect in the exchequer. He believed, his learned friend the attorney-general was prepared to submit a motion to that effect this night. It was not competent to him to say, in the present stage of the business, whether any evidence upon which to ground a criminal prosecution would be found; but if it should, the attorney and solicitor general would be instructed by the lords of the treasury to institute proceedings upon it. Mr. Davison had written to the lords of the treasury, stating that he would produce an account in his own defence, which would prove satisfactory. But unless he could produce his cash account, the noble lord did not see how it could be satisfactory. The commissioners, however, had called for the cash account by the direction of the treasury, and directions had been given for the recovery of the sums due; every step, therefore, that could possibly be taken, had been resorted to, and therefore he flattered himself that his noble friend would not repent the fair and candid manner in which he had consented to withdraw his motion.

The Attorney-General

then moved, that there be laid before the house the commission appointing Charles Herries, esq. and W. Bragge, esq. commissioners for barrack accounts. He also gave notice, that he should to-morrow move for leave to bring in a bill, to invest the commissioners for enquiring into the barrack accounts with the same powers to examine persons on oath, as the commissioners of army expenditure.