HC Deb 07 July 1807 vol 9 cc745-3
Lord Cochrane

rose in pursuance of the notice he had given; in doing which, he was influenced by no other motive than that of an anxious wish to discharge a great public duty. If his motion was acceded to, the result would prove, whether there was any possibility of making those who had lived and grown rich upon the public money, feel for the extraordinary burdens under which the people laboured. The late plan of finance had proved that as much as could have been exacted had been drawn from the people, and that it was not possible to draw more: ingenuity had exhausted itself in devising new sources of taxation. The people knew all this. If he was asked, how he could so judge of the public sentiment, he in answer should appeal to the universal sentiment without doors; the variety of publications; the language held upon the hustings throughout the empire during the late election; the language made use of in the different advertisements from the successful candidates to their constituents, and if all these together did not enable a man to form a just estimate of public opinion, he did not know what could do so; nor was it to be forgotten, the different shameless notices that appeared in the different papers, concerning the sale of seats in a certain assembly. At the same time he wished it to be understood, that nothing was farther from his intention, than to complain of the allowances made to the efficient public officers; so far from thinking those allowances as extravagant, he thought them rather under than over what they should be. Revolutionary views might be imputed to him, as they were to others who wished for such investigations; but he was actuated by the purest motives, and he hoped for the unanimous concurrence of the house. It was proper to shew the people, that there was nothing in the character and habits of those who composed the house, that ought to be concealed. He therefore moved, "That a Committee be appointed to inquire into, and report to this house, an account of all Offices, Posts, Places, Sinecures, Pensions, Situations, Fees, Perquisites, and Emoluments of every description, paid out of, or arising from, the public revenues, or the fees of any Courts of Law, Equity, Admiralty, Ecclesiastical, or other Courts, held or enjoyed by, or in trust for, any Member of this House, his wife, or any of his descendants, for him, or either of them, in reversion of any present interest; with an account of the annual amount of such Office, Post, Place, Sinecure, Pension, Situation, Fees, Perquisites, and Emoluments, distinguishing whether the same arises from a certain salary, or from any average amount; that this inquiry do extend to the whole of his majesty's dominions, and that said com- mittee be empowered to send for persons, papers, and records."—Mr. Cochrane Johnstone seconded the motion.

Mr. Bankes

thought the information desired by the noble lord desirable in many respects; but it would be neither practicable nor proper to pass the order in its present shape. There was no precedent of such an order on the Journals, though the house had frequently thought it right to interpose and check the excessive or improper distribution of salaries, pensions, and emoluments, derived from the public. So extensive a field of inquiry could hardly be reduced to any of the known rules adopted by committees of the house. The places held by members of parliament were besides known, and the pension list was either regularly laid on the table every session, or might be on the motion of any member. The committee in which he had the honour to preside (the Committee of Finance) had ordered the pension list to be laid before it, and would proceed to examine the circumstances connected with it in the next session. It was invidious and improper to convey to the public an insinuation, that members of parliament were influenced by considerations of private advantage for themselves or their dependents. He knew no ground, for casting at the present time an imputation never cast at any former time. For it was most essential, that at this critical period, the character of the house should not be degraded or depreciated. It was also unfair, as well as impolitic and unpatriotic, to depreciate the resources of the country, as the noble lord had done, by stating that we were on the verge of bankruptcy. Though sensible of the difficulties of the times, and of the relief arising from the judicious suspension of taxation, every man of judgment, who considered the situation of the country, would allow there were ample resources to meet the difficulties that we had to encounter. He did not see how the advertisements for the purchase and sale of seats, in a certain assembly, should be construed into an argument of the general corruption of members of parliament. He agreed with the noble lord, that the public servants, and particularly those of the higher classes, were rather under than overpaid. There was only one species of pensions, which it was necessary to inquire particularly into. Within the 3 last years the several public departments had got into the practice of granting pensions within themselves, without complying with the provisions of Mr. Burke's act, that all pensions should be from the Exchequer only. Some of the public departments had withdrawn themselves even from the controul of the treasury in this respect. On the whole, however, anxious for enquiry and desirous to afford the public information, he could not consent to pass the noble lord's motion in its present shape.

Mr. Curwen

had hoped the noble lord's motion would have passed without a dissenting voice. He had hoped some measures would be taken to put an end to the disgraceful scenes that had formed the subject of such discreditable crimination and recrimination a few nights since. It was no objection that there was no precedent; the unprecedented state of the thing was a stronger ground for the investigation. When the exigency of the times was such as to require the exertion of every arm, the want of precedent was not to be pleaded in bar to the satisfaction due to the public mind. The Finance Committee had an extensive range of enquiry before it, and ought not to suffer a day to elapse without reporting something. That committee was not constituted exactly as he thought it should be; as the change was made, he had no objection to the gentlemen introduced. The practice of granting pensions without the controul of the treasury or the exchequer, was a stronger ground of inquiry. When it was recorded on the journals, that seats in the house were bought and sold like bullocks in Smithfield market (Mr. Horne Tooke's petition), it was too much to find fault with the noble lord for adverting to newspaper advertisements. He complained that the power of the crown had greatly increased since it had been declared to be already excessive; and as a friend to the democratic part of the constitution, he wished to see that excessive power reduced within proper bounds. The excess of power rendered it insecure; and when the influence of corruption and weakness was combined with the operation of that excessive power, the danger was enhanced, and the mischief aggravated. While he said this, however, he did not go the length of the individual (sir F. Burdett) who had so rashly expressed himself in wishing to see the accursed leaves of the Red Book destroyed. He conceived that that person must not have been well acquainted with the nature of that book. It was one which differed materially from the Livre-Rouge in France; for it contained many offices of great utility to the country; also, he did not deny that it contained many abuses; and he wished to God that they were effectually removed. To refuse such an inquiry as this, would be to do the house more mischief than all the abuse of all the Corresponding Societies could do. Without shewing a disposition to satisfy the public in a case of this kind, the right hon. gent. (Mr. Perceval) would count in vain upon his majorities.

Mr. Whitbread

hoped, that as there was no doubt that an opinion prevailed as to the existence of much corruption in the house, the motion would be so framed, as to refute that opinion, or at least to shew in what degree and in what instance it was warranted. The object of the noble lord seemed to be, to place under one collected view, a mass of information now detached, and in many instances inaccessible. If the motion was referred to the committee of finance, with an instruction to inquire into and report upon the matter contained in it, the report would probably be of a most useful description.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that no opposition would be made to the motion, if the noble mover would assent to a modification, such as was suggested from the other side. It was his wish to give all possible information. To call for a return of all those connected with members of parliament would be to lead to an endless list of persons, from which no practical result could be derived. Officers in the army and navy, for instance, and on the half pay would be included. If the matter was referred to the committee, it might inquire not only into pensions held by members of parliament, which would be distinguished by the names, but into all pensions, by whomsoever held. The lists of pensions and places might be had from the different departments; but, if the inquiry of the committee was deemed satisfactory, he saw no objection to it. He thought the motion ought to be extended in some respects, and narrowed in others, in order to give it a useful and not unnecessary range. The crown being allowed the power of granting pensions to a certain amount, it would be competent to inquire before the report of the committee, as well as after, whether the pension list ought to be reduced. The house having fixed the amount to be granted, he questioned whether it would be right to canvass the propriety of every individual grant. He did not know whether the course be proposed fell in with the views of the hon. gentlemen opposite. He looked for no support, but from a strict performance of his duty. He should never seek popularity by false representations injurious to members of parliament, and tending to excite a distrust of the means of the country. He was unwilling that any information practically beneficial should be withheld. The committee would inquire into the nature and extent of the pensions and emoluments, and by whom they were held.

Lord Ossulston

was of opinion that it was most desirable the house and the country should be acquainted with the facts, whatever they might be. He thought that the noble lord's motion did not go far enough, and was afraid that the return to it would not be completely satisfactory to the public.

Mr. J. Smith

had extensive communications with his numerous constituents; and he was sorry to say, that their sentiments, and especially the sentiments of the middling class, were not favourable to the independence of parliament. An opinion certainly prevailed that the house of commons was not so independent as it ought to be. For his part, he had a high opinion of the character of parliament; and he was anxious that the motion might be agreed to, in order to prove how small was the number of corrupt. He differed completely from an hon. gent. who had spoken against the increasing power of the crown. At the present awful moment, it would be most injudicious to diminish it. He was as adverse to the diminution of the power of the crown at that moment, as he was to the disunion of the people by a religious cry.

Mr. Lethbridge

complimented the fairness with which the chancellor of the exchequer had met this question. He Was glad that such a motion had been brought forward, because he knew many populous districts in his county who were open-mouthed about pensions and places; this motion, if adopted, would tend to undeceive them, by shewing, that they did not extend to that degree as to endanger the safety of the country.

Mr. Littleton

defended the noble lord's motion, against the objections of the hon. gent., who had said that there was no precedent for such a step. Were not the times unprecedented? It was worth while at a period like the present, when the minds of the people were so full of suspicions at least to endeavour to shew that they were without foundation.

Sir J. Sebright

would support the noble lord's motion, or something resembling it, because the public entertained doubts on this subject, which an investigation of this sort was best calculated to remove. He disclaimed all connection with party, although he entertained a high respect for his majesty's present ministers.

Mr. W. Smith

thought that the adoption of this motion would tend to strengthen the constitutional power of the crown, and he agreed that this was not the time to weaken that constitutional power. At the same time, he did not so well approve of the mode proposed by the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer, nor did he approve of referring this motion to the Committee of Finance, who had already enough upon their hands; considerable time must therefore elapse before any return could be made by them, or else other things which they had in hand must be neglected. He wished a committee to be appointed for the express purpose of carrying into execution the object of this motion. He was not sanguine enough to suppose that any curtailing of pensions would cause any diminution of the public burdens, as they are felt by individuals; for when 50 millions a-year were required to be raised, even supposing £50,000 a year could possibly be diminished from the pension list, no remedy could thereby be afforded to the burdens of the individual; but the public, if encouraged to hope for this, would reap the advantage of those schemes for the national advantage, so necessary in the present posture of affairs. He had the authority of Judge Blackstone to say, that it was the duty of the house to inquire into the amount and circumstances of the pensions granted by the crown; and he considered that it was also competent to the house to inquire into the specific grants, as well as the number of sinecure places and reversions. He denied the position, that the man who had a reversionary interest in a place, had a sort of freehold in which the public had no interest. If there existed certain patent places which originally were for small sums, but had now grown into enormous ones, and these held by persons who could have no claim to such places, in his opinion the continuance of them formed proper subject of inquiry by parliament. If the salary of a person who held an official situation under government was not sufficient, he would willingly increase it, for he thought there should be no monopoly of important offices to a wealthy aristocracy, otherwise no man could accept an office, who had not a handsome fortune of his own. He thought it was a mischievous practice to grant pensions to persons after holding offices for a short time. It was no good plea for the person retiring on such pension to say, that he had been induced to take the office against his will, and had abandoned more lucrative situations.

Mr. Wilberforce ,

after adverting to the integrity and independence of his hon. friend (Mr. Bankes), expressed his regret, that he should have said any thing on the present occasion, which might have the appearance of a desire to prevent inquiry. It was highly gratifying to him, and must be so to the noble lord (Cochrane), to see that his motion was received with general approbation, and that there appeared to be scarcely any difference, except as to the form. He thought the mode proposed by the chancellor of the exchequer the most proper, but differed from him as to the grants by the crown, which might be examined, though not malignantly nor invidiously. With regard to the salaries of public men, he thought that here, too, a prudent parsimony ought to prevail, for it ought to be considered that they were paid not only by their salaries, but by the distinction they enjoyed, and the opportunity of transmitting their names to posterity as faithful and able servants of the public. Yet he thought that they ought to have pensions upon retirement, upon the same principle, that officers in the army and navy had halt-pay. He was convinced that nothing was better calculated than openness and fair dealing, to make public Men and parliament stand well in public opinion, and he was glad that this motion had been made, as it would tend to secure that object. But there was a danger of hunting too eagerly after popularity. The circumstance that rendered popular governments more capable of great exertions than others, was the affection of the people to their institutions, and their consequent willingness to bear the public burthens. It was, therefore, of the last importance that the house of commons should stand well with the considerate part of the community, particularly with the middle classes, which formed the most valuable part of it. If an idea had gone forth that there was a great deal of corruption in that house, it was desirable that the public should be satisfied that there, was a great deal more independence in it than was imagined. This motion came rather suddenly, and he was desirous to adjourn the debate fur two or three days, to consider about the most proper mode of attaining the object in view (a cry of no, no!). He doubted whether it ought to be referred to the Committee of Finance or to a separate Committee. The Committee of Finance had certainly a great deal of business already, and would probably bring sums into the public service that were at present lost to the state. But the point deserved consideration.

Mr. Sheridan

observed, that the noble lord very wisely had not prefaced his motion with much argument, because, if he comprehended him rightly, his object was not so much to diminish the public expenditure, as to ascertain the degree of influence which the crown possessed in that house. As to the mode proposed by the right hon gent., it appeared to him to be a most round about way to go into the general investigation of the subject, to obtain a list of all the places, pensions, &c. enjoyed by different individuals, and from that list to select the names of the members of that house who participated in them. Why not the individual list called for by the noble lord? Every gentleman seemed to be tender upon this subject; but the only way to convince the public that its suspicions were unfounded, was not to mask the matter, but to shew at once what part of the house received these emoluments, and what part did not. In his opinion it was much better that government should expend fifty, aye, a hundred and fifty millions of money annually in the general service of the country, than that they should expend 50,000l. in the house of commons. He objected to any alteration in the noble lord's motion. If the result of the production of the list, for which the noble lord had moved, should be to astonish those who were not disposed to think very favourably of the house of commons, it would be most fortunate; but if, on the contrary, it should be found that there was an incredible number of members who either directly or indirectly derived advantages from sources not the most pure, that was a fact which ought to be known to the people. At any rate let not the question be blinked.

Mr. Huskisson ,

adverting to some observations made in an early stage of the debate, wished to set himself right with the house. While now in place, he did not enjoy the pension which had been granted to him on his formerly quitting office.

Mr. Calcraft

said he would not trouble the house long. The noble lord's proposition was, that a list of the members who were directly or indirectly under the influence of ministers, should be laid on the table. If there were persons who had their patrimony out of the public money, it was proper that they should be known. There were some who could not have their marriage settlements without pensions, reversions, &c. &c. The hon. gent. opposite (Mr. Huskisson), had a grant, which, from its nature, ceased when he came into office. This was only 1000l. and his office brought him 4000l. he could not therefore hesitate in his choice between them. But, if he was not mistaken, the hon. gent. had a sinecure place too, which he enjoyed along with the office, and indeed, in casting his eye along the Treasury Bench, it was difficult to find one who had not some great emolument of this nature. It ought to be seen on which side of the house the greatest portion of independence existed, and the list ought to be laid on the table unmixed with baser matter.

Mr. George Rose ,

with great warmth, said, that the extent of his rewards for public services were well known to the public. He challenged inquiry, and wished that the terms of the present motion might be rendered as satisfactory as possible.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

then proposed as an amendment; that a committee should be appointed to investigate the subject, and that it should be an instruction to the committee to examine into all places, pensions, &c. in the words of the original motion, except into commissions and appointments in the army and navy, and into places in the revenue, not exceeding, £200 a year in value.

Lord Cochrane

replied shortly to the arguments that had been urged. His motive was not the expectation of great national saving, but because a general feeling existed in the country of the corruption of the house of commons. As to commissions in the army and navy, he knew that the latter had been given for votes in that house; and it had been found by some, that the best way to obtain preferment was, to buy a house or two in a contested borough: for his part, he was actuated only by a desire to serve his country. The assent to his motion would tend to establish ministers in their situations; for, though they should secure all the votes in the house, they could not keep their places long against the current of public opinion, which would set against them if they negatived it. The Committee of Finance, had sufficient business already. If, after the committee for which he moved should have made their report as to the members, it should be thought desireable to have an alphabetical list of all places, pensions, &c. he should have no objection. It would be an object of great curiosity. He thought that the subject should be gravely considered in parliament. He was of opinion, that many would be ashamed of these practices if they were exposed to public view, and therefore he was anxious to give them publicity.

Mr Whitbread

declared, that as the noble lord did not wish to depart from his original motion, he would certainly support him.

Lord Henry Petty

expressed great satisfaction to find, that whatever difference of opinion existed in that house with regard to the form of the motion, there was but one opinion as to the propriety of giving information to the public upon a subject of such vital importance. This general concurrence of sentiment would make a most favourable impression upon the public mind. He objected to referring the matter to the committee of finance, and would vote for the original motion.

Mr. Secretary Canning

observed, that the house by referring this matter to the committee, would not interfere with its functions, because the committee would only have to issue their precept for the returns to the public offices, and to lay these returns before the house. He objected to that part of the noble lord's statement which asserted, that officers in the army and navy acquired promotion by their seats in that house. This charge appeared to have been made lightly, and the best refutation of it would be to refer the noble lord to a comparison between the naval officers who had seats in that house, and those who had gloriously earned their seats in the other house, and he was sure the noble lord would then be convinced, that there was no reason to complain upon this head.—The question being loudly called for,

List of the Minority.
Abercrombie, hon. J. Cuthbert, R. J.
Adam, Wm. Cavendish, lord G. H.
Agar, capt. Cavendish, Wm.
Aubrey, sir John Cavendish, G. H. C.
Biddulph, R. M. Dundas, hon. Maj.
Bradshaw, A. C. Dickenson, W.
Brand, Thos. Eyre, major
Bernard, Scrope Foley, colonel
Creevey, Thos. Folkestone, visc.
Calvert, Nicholson Greenhill, Rob.
Calcraft, John Halsey, Henry
Cochrane, Lord Hughes, W. L.
Howard, Henry Lemon, colonel
Jekyll, Jos. Lushington, Step.
Johnstone, C. Lloyd, colonel
Johnstone, G. A. Lethbridge, T.B.
Leach, John Miller, sir Thos.
Mahon. lord Russel, lord Wm.
Maxwell, Wm. Stanley, lord
Morpeth, viscount Sabright, sir John
Moore, P. Smith, Wm.
Milbanke, sir R. Smith John
Madocks, W. A. Saville, Albany
North, Dudley Sheridan, R. B.
Ossulston, visc. Somerville, sir M.
O'Hara, Chas. Ward, hon. J. W.
Pigott, sir A. Wardell, colonel
Parnell, H. Western, C. C.
Pierse, H. Warrender, sir G.
Petty, lord H. Whitbread, S.
Quin, hon. W.

When strangers were re-admitted to the gallery, we found the chancellor of the exchequer upon his legs; who, after some prefatory observations, concluded by moving, "That it be an instruction to the committee of finance, to inquire into the nature of all pensions, places, sinecures, and salaries, arising from the public revenues, and to ascertain the names of the persons so receiving, with the exception of officers holding commissions in the army and navy, and of all the collectors of taxes and revenue, whose salaries do not exceed £200 a year."

the house divided; For the Original "Motion, 61. Against it, 90. Majority 29.

Mr. N. Calvert

disapproved of these instructions, as calculated to restrict the exertions of the committee of finance. Circumstances might occur in the course of their investigations, which might render the instructions proposed an impediment to those pursuits for which that committee was appointed.

Lord Cochrane

proposed as an amendment, that the inquiry of the committee of finance should be forthwith, and that it should be limited to the places and sinecures at present held by members of that house and their immediate friends.

Mr. W. Smith

thought an order of the house to every public office to produce the lists in question, would do better than adopting the motion as it now stood. He hoped the motion would be so worded as to instruct the committee immediately to proceed in the inquiry in question, or that it would be withdrawn, and the papers be called for by an order of the house.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said he had already stated, that he at first thought of this mode of proceeding; but it afterwards occurred to him that the committee might be able to direct the attention of the house to something in the accounts which might escape his observation. He could not forbear observing how unfortunate he had been, after having adopted the suggestion of the hon. gent. (Mr. Whitbread) that that gent. should have abandoned his own opinion the moment he (Mr. P.) thought of acting on it.

Mr. Whitbread

said, in answer to the allusion to his conduct, that concurring as he did in principle with the noble lord who had brought forward the motion, and differing from him only as to the mode of proceeding, he submitted the suggestion which he had thrown out to the noble lord, and not to the right hon. gent. The right hon gent. had indeed fallen in with his (Mr. W's) suggestion as to form; but it did not from thence follow, that he must agree in the motion of the right hon. gent. to the principle of which he objected. He thought the right hon. gent. would better consult the feelings of the public by agreeing to the original motion. He hoped at least the right hon. gent. would allow his motion to be so altered, as that the committee should be instructed to proceed forthwith, and that they should also in their report distinguish those sinecures, &c. which were held by members of that house, so that the noble lord's motion might not be entirely evaded. The noble lord unquestionably meant that there should be exhibited during the present session of parliament a list of all the members of that house holding sinecure offices, places, &c. under government, and in that way liable to have their conduct influenced. If such a return was not made the house would disgrace itself. Those who respected the house at present would suspect that all was not right, and those who already suspected them would have their suspicions confirmed.

Mr. Bankes

wished that the accounts might be ordered to be laid before the house, that the committee might not fall into disgrace. It was impossible they could report this session, and it was equally impossible to say how early they might be able to do so in the next. If the returns were to be made to the house, no time would be lost in completing them, and then if it was thought the committee could be of service, it would be time enough to refer the papers to them. It would be but doing them slender justice, to allow the delay which might take place in making the returns to seem to attach to the committee.

Mr. Sheridan

thought it impossible, after what had fallen front the chairman of the committee of finance (Mr. Bankes), that the chancellor of the exchequer could persevere in his motion, or if he did so, that the house would support him in it. It was nothing but an evasion of the noble lord's motion. Its object was to see how many members of this house were possessed of sinecure places, pensions, &c. and of course might be supposed to be under the influence of the crown. The motion of the chancellor of the exchequer, however, went to exhibit a list of all persons whatever having any place, pension, &c. This was to overwhelm the inquiry, and to strangle and suffocate the object which the noble lord had in view.

Mr. Wilberforce

was surprised at the great change Which had so lately taken place in the language of gentlemen on the other side. Lately they confessed that there was little or no difference in the object which seemed to be in view by all parties, and that the form was the only obstruction to unanimity. Now they had all at once discovered, that the motion of his right hon. friend the chancellor of the exchequer, was calculated only to evade and defeat the object which the noble lord had in view. He contended that the motion of the chancellor of the exchequer was completely adapted not only to the object sought to be gained, but that the evidence to be obtained by it might also be of importance in other respects.

Dr. Laurence

lamented to see gentlemen who talked so much of their independence, and prided themselves on that circumstance, so entirely forget in what it consisted as to lend their countenance to a deception on the public.

Mr. Rose

supported the motion, maintaining that all the places, pensions, &c. were already well known, and that sinecures were not now so numerous as they had been.

Mr. Calcraft

observed, that such a list as that now spoken of, might, if any person Were to give himself the trouble to do so, be collected from papers that were already on the table of that house. The object of the motion he conceived to be simply this, to bring fairly before the house in one point of view the names of all the members of that house, who either held places or enjoyed pensions, or else whose wives or children derived a similar emolument from the crown. He could not avoid remarking, by the way, the great activity of the member for Yorkshire (Mr. Wilberforce) in interposing with his shield in behalf of those who were in that situation. With regard to the right hon. gentlemen on the Treasury bench, he might certainly find some room to compliment them on their ingenuity upon this occasion; but he was certain that they had not left him the smallest opportunity to compliment them on a much more solid qualification—their sincerity.—The house then divided, when there appeared, For the chancellor of the exchequer's motion 101, For lord Cochrane's amendment 60, Majority 41.