HC Deb 05 February 1807 vol 8 cc674-7
Mr. Rose ,

in rising to make his proposed motion for the production of the opinion of the Attorney and Solicitor General, relative to the case of Mr. Alexander Davison, disclaimed all idea of imputing any neglect to the government in the performance of its duty. The principal difference between himself and the noble lord (H. Petty) was this. The noble lord was for leaving the matter to the management of the executive government. He thought that where a parliamentary commission was appointed to examine into the public expenditure, the prosecutions ought to be conducted at the instance, and under the direction of this house, rather than be left to the government. He had no intention whatever to convey th idea, that blame rested any where. He did not for a moment suppose, that the executive power had not done its duty in this affair, nor did he impute to it any wish to protect delinquen- cy. He had no doubt that the learned gent. had given a sound and proper opinion. It only appeared to him, that the proceedings in this case ought to be conducted under the order of the house, and this was the object of his motion. This had been the practice of the house when frauds had been discovered in the management of the public money. He mentioned a case very similar to the present, which had occurred in the reign of queen Anne, where certain persons who had committed frauds in furnishing beer to the navy, had been prosecuted by the house. To be sure, these were discovered by a committee of the house, and here the commissioners had been appointed by the crown. But we were to look at the nature of the abuses, which was such as called for the interference of this house. The opinion of the Attorney and Solicitor General with respect to an allowance of ingrain on coals had been given in the Report, but there was no opinion with respect to the fraud, as that was not then before them. It was difficult to find out where the frauds rested. A Mr. Hargrave, a coal-merchant, delivered 60 chaldron of coals for Mr. Davison, at 46s per chaldron, and yet this same Hargrave certified the price to be 60s per chaldron. Now, there was the case of Mr. Emerson, of Dover, who supplied coals at 45s per chaldron, and charged 9s 6d for carriage from Dover to Deal for each chaldron, making 54s 6d, whereas the certificate was, that the coals were 31. per chaldron, and that the carriage was 17s 8d. It might be supposed that the quantities ordered by Mr. Davison being so large, the merchants might have supplied him at a cheaper rate than the ordinary price. But this was not the case; for in one case where only 4 chaldrons were furnished, a monstrous surcharge appeared. Some of the transactions were attempted to be explained, but with regard to others, neither Mr. Davison, nor his clerk, it was said, attempted any explanation. The right hon. gent. then adverted to the ledger of George Walker, (who was executed a few months since for forgery) and to the differences of the prices which it disclosed. On the closest attention he could give the subject, he was inclined to think that some part might be immediately recovered, and that there were grounds for a criminal prosecution against some person. For that reason, he wished to have the opinion of the Attorney and Solicitor General, on the latter point. It manifestly appeared, that there had been great abuses in the Barrack Department. It appeared that Davison had on some occasions got a sight of the terms given in by others, and by that means, by offering a trifle more, had secured the contract. If the noble lord was of opinion that any inconvenience would arise from the production of the paper, he would not press his motion. The rt. hon. gent. concluded by moving, "That the Opinion of the Attorney and Solicitor-General relative to the Abuses in the Barrack Department, arising out of the Third Report of the Commissioners of Military Inquiry, be laid before the house."

Lord Henry Petty

said, he should not follow the right hon. gent. through all the points he had touched upon, but he could not but notice the position which had been laid down by him, that this was of that class of prosecutions which ought to be conducted under the authority of that house rather than by the Treasury. He might state without fear of its being controverted, that it was the duty of the Treasury, when they discovered any frauds to have been committed, to take measures for their punishment, and to secure the public interests. If the Treasury did not act in this manner, they would merit the censure of that house; and if the Treasury should omit to take such measures, it would become the duty of that house to take such steps as might appear necessary on the occasion. But he should ask, what convenience would result from the house instituting a prosecution, after a proceeding had been adopted by the Treasury? The only effect of granting the paper moved for by the right hon. gent. would be to convey information to the defendant, of the strong and weak parts of the evidence against him, whereby he might be enabled to frustrate the objects of the prosecution, by secreting such parts of the evidence as might be necessary to supply any deficiencies at present existing. On the contrary, when the proceedings were carried on by the Treasury, no such information could be acquired before the proper time, and the ends of justice would thereby be secured. This was an illustration of the doctrine which he had stated, and when the right hon. gent. was aware of these circumstances, the noble lord had no doubt he would consent to withdraw his motion.

Mr. Perceval

agreed that the motion ought to be withdrawn. He differed from his right hon. friend with respect to the practice of the house; for, if the prece- dents were closely examined, it would appear that in those cases where the house had taken up the matter, the discoveries had been made by committees of their own, and were connected with some affair before the house. But, even if the house should take the proceedings in this case into its own hands, he thought that the Attorney and Solicitor General ought to be ordered to proceed on the report, merely without giving in any previous detailed opinion. The reason why he thought so, was founded on the mischievous effects that would result from premature publicity, as had been stated by the noble lord. But while there was no pretence that the treasury did not do its duty, he apprehended that it was much better to leave the case in their hands.

Mr. Rose

said, that after what had fallen from the noble lord, he would certainly, with the leave of the house, withdraw his motion.

Lord A. Hamilton

explained, that the reason why he had the other night withdrawn his motion on this subject was, that he thought it would be attended with great inconvenience to interfere with the steps that had been already taken by the treasury.

Lord H. Petty

begged it to be understood, that no prosecution had as yet commenced, for the reasons which he stated on a former night. It was thought more advisable to postpone any prosecution till it could be seen what further lights would be furnished by the production of Mr. Davison's cash account with general Delancey.

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