HC Deb 24 March 1807 vol 9 cc178-87
Mr. Bankes

said he was not aware that the motion he was about to offer was liable to any objection. It came recommended, not by his individual authority, but by the sanction of the committee of the house appointed "to examine and consider what regulations and checks have been established, in order to controul the several branches of the public expenditure in Great Britain and Ireland, and how far the same have been effectual, and what further measures can be adopted for reducing any part of the said expenditure, or diminishing the amount of salaries end emoluments without detriment to the public service" It occurred to the committee, in furtherance of the object committed to its care, that grants of offices in reversion, though not exceeding the grants that had been made in former times, ought to be restricted, and put a stop to. In Ireland, which had lately become united with this country, and was equally entitled to attention, the practice of granting reversions prevailed to an infinitely greater extent. The practice was an abuse, so far as it prevailed, and it was an abuse likely to be extended, if some timely check was not imposed upon it. He was therefore directed by the committee, as its chairman, to move a resolution, "That no office, place, employment, or salary, in any part of his majesty's dominions, ought hereafter to be granted in reversion."

Mr. Yorke

gave every possible credit to the motives of his hon. friend and of the committee, and yet he felt a good deal of difficulty in assenting to this motion. The doubt in his mind was, whether the ancient and accustomed practice ought to be altered, when, as stated by his hon. friend himself, it had of late been but little abused. It was a favourite maxim with him, not to change established usages unless he saw some strong reason for it. This granting of offices in reversion had been a power in the hands of the crown for the purpose of rewarding services; and hitherto it had in fact been a saving to the public; for unless these offices could be given in this manner, services, if they were rewarded at all, must be rewarded by a grant, and a double burthen would thus be laid upon the public. The object of this motion, as had been stated, was undoubtedly of the greatest importance; and yet the house was called upon to decide upon it at once. The notice had only been given the preceding day, and given in such a manner that till he came down that day, he did not exactly know the purport of it. He hoped therefore that the house would at least take more time to consider of it. If the motion had been for leave to bring in a bill, he should have had no objection to it, because he could then have stated his objections in the different stages, provided he thought it was liable to objection. But as the motion was for a resolution, he was inclined to dissent from it; for even though it should be followed by a bill, those arguing against that bill would be under an evident disadvantage when such a resolution as this stood on the journals. He hoped therefore the motion would be postponed, if not, he should be under the necessity of giving it his negative.

Lord Howick

gave his most cordial support to the motion. He saw nothing in the arguments of the rt. hon. gent. who spoke last, to induce him to think it ought to be postponed. The notice given yesterday in one of the fullest houses of the session, and particularly marked by his (lord H.'s) saying he would support the motion, and adding, what he repeated now, that not one single reversion had been given away by the present administration, though some very valuable ones had fallen in, was, in his opi- nion, as ample a notice as could be desired. It had, however, been stated in objection to what he then said, that some offices had been granted in reversion in the court of chancery. What he had said ought to be understood of the government, and not of the subordinate departments. The fact, with respect to these reversions in the court of chancery, was, that the present lord chancellor had advised his majesty to grant the reversion of two small offices in his court to a person who had been his clerk, while he was in such distinguished practice at the bar, and who, losing that employment by his promotion to the seals, would be wholly unprovided for without this grant in reversion. This was the only grant in reversion that had been made, though a tellership had fallen in. No custom should be allowed to sanction a thing, which, in the opinion of correct men of all ages, was improper. It was not necessary to argue the impropriety of the practice now; many better opportunities would occur in the various stages of the bill that would be introduced on the resolution. The right hon. gent. had said, that this would reduce the power of the crown to reward services, and that it would increase the expense of those rewards, by rendering it necessary to make all remuneration the subject of present grant. The rt. hon. gent. had looked but slightly on this matter, or he would have found, that grants of reversions had usually been made, not to meritorious servants, but to persons, who, from their tender age, could have rendered no services whatever. The grant of reversions was, in fact, an abridgment of the means of rewarding public servants; for if the holder of the office dropped, the reversioner stepped in, and prevented its being given to a meritorious servant. Thus the public burthens were increased, instead of being, as the rt. hon. gent. argued, diminished by grants in reversion. He approved of the mode by which the committee proposed to establish this barrier, as well as of the barrier itself. While the bill, which was to impose a permanent restriction, was in progress, a resolution of the house would be sufficient to deter any minister from granting the reversions which the bill proposed to render illegal. He was not prepared to go into the question, whether the restriction was more or less called for now. He could not say, whether grants in reversion had been more or less frequent in late years; but several grants had been made in late years, and particularly in Ireland. He gave his cordial support to the motion, and he wished the house to go still further, and to come to a resolution against the granting of any office for life, not usually so granted. If any thing of that kind had been done, or was in contemplation, he thought it highly proper for the house to interfere, and to prevent it, by expressing its decided disapprobation. (Hear! hear! from many parts of the house, but from the Treasury Benches in particular.)

Mr. Plumer (of Hertford) rose

and said: I wish, sir, that this measure had been brought forward 40 years ago. This has been hitherto my sincere desire; and I, therefore, give the motion now made my most hearty assent. Having said thus much upon the measure itself, I cannot help embracing this opportunity of paying a tribute of applause to the present administration (I say present, upon the supposition that they are still in office), as I really think they have shewn every disposition to benefit the country by their judicious measures, and their avoiding the practice of former administrations, of granting reversions. Upon this occasion, too, I have another observation to make, which is this: in coming down to the house this day, I have heard a report, which I am very sorry to hear; I have heard, sir, that the new government which is now forming, or to be formed, have agreed to give to an hon. and learned member of this house (alluding to Mr. Perceval, who was not then in the house) an appointment to the Duchy of Lancaster for life, in order to tempt that gentleman to take a place in the new government. Upon this, I may observe, that if men of great abilities are not satisfied with the rewards attached to the situations which his majesty chooses to appoint them to hold in the government of their country, if they do not think the usual compensation sufficient, they ought not to accept of office at all. I do, however, at all events, enter my protest most solemnly against the measure of giving a man a situation for life, in order to entice him to occupy another, which may be more fleeting and temporary. (Loud cries of hear! hear!)

Sir John Newport

wished this resolution had been adopted a year sooner. The house would not taken be in the situation in which it now was, with respect to some of the Irish offices which had been reported as proper, some to be abolished, and some to be reformed, and which could not be touched in either way, on account of the interests of the reversioners. The office of customer and collector of the Port of Dublin, one of those reported as requiring regulation and reform, had been granted in reversion two deep, and consequently could not be touched by the late bill for the retrenchment, reform, and regulation of offices in Ireland, though it had twice fallen vacant within the year, and though it was one of those that most particularly required reform and regulation.

Mr. Johnstone

approved of the motion, which was perfectly consistent with the principles on which his hon. friend (Mr. Bankes) had always acted, and he thought it was a happy omen of what might be expected from the exertions of the committee of which he was chairman. He could not, however, think a mere unauthenticated rumour a sufficient justification for what had been said of an hon. and learned gent. not now present, the whole tenor of whose life had shewn his preference of public principle to private advantage. He could not help observing too, that those who had been most clamorous in cheering the reflections cast on the hon. and learned gentlemen, were members of a family which was loaded with wealth derived from public sinecures. He wished, with the hon. gent. on the floor, that the resolution now before the house had been adopted 40 years ago, and then that family would not now be drawing £60,000 a year from the labour of the public. But however eager they had hitherto been for places and pensions, he was glad that at last they had found it expedient to change their tone.

Mr. Plumer ,

in explanation, allowed that the mere rumour of the day was not a sufficient ground for calling the attention of the house to any thing: but after the allusion made by the noble lord opposite, he thought himself justified in the observations he had offered. As to the rest of what had fallen from the hon. gent. it did not touch him, He was not one of the family which was loaded with wealth derived from the public. If the report was unfounded, what he had said could do no harm: if the report was true, what he had said might do much good.

Lord Henry Petty ,

though he approved of the present motion, rose not so much for the purpose of expressing that approbation, as with a view to apologize to the house for not having brought forward the subject himself. He entertained the same opinion with the committee some time ago, and intended to have made a similar motion, and for that purpose had moved for an account of the offices granted in reversion, which was now on the table. He had, he believed, given no notice of his intention, but he had only not proposed the bill before, as he had not been aware of any immediate necessity for it. He had assurances on the subject, and in favour of his view of it, from the noble duke at the head of affairs in Ireland, and from the noble lord here too, to whom the hon. gent. (Mr Johnstone) had alluded. He had with singular propriety adverted to that noble lord in the language of reproach on that day, when it was well known that he had power to grant a considerable office in reversion, and yet that the only use he made of it was to abstain from exercising a privilege which had been used by every one who preceded him. That noble lord had already laid down in practice what it was now proposed to lay down in theory, and therefore the hon. gent's. allusion was peculiarly well timed. When he approved of the resolutions now moved, he ought to recollect that Lord Grenville had already acted upon the principle. It was not therefore by those who followed the practice of granting offices in reversion, that the resolution was loudly approved of, notwithstanding the hon. gent's. insinuation, but by those who abstained from it.

Mr. Henry Martin (of Kinsale)

said, he so fully coincided in the propriety of the resolution now before the house, and felt it so necessary to counteract a system so mischievous as that which had been alluded to this night, that he should now give notice, that he would to-morrow move an humble address to his majesty, praying, that he would be graciously pleased not to grant any place in the duchy of Lancaster, or elsewhere, for life, which had hitherto been usually held by the possessors during his majesty's pleasure. (Hear! hear! from all parts of the house.)

General Gascoyne

disapproved of the bringing forward this resolution at present; because he thought it looked very suspicious, and had the appearance of being intended to restrict the new government. In the absence of all those, who, according to report, were to have a share in that government, it was not proper to press it. No notice had been given of it, that must necessarily have reached them. At all events, though it should pass at present, that must not be considered as a pledge to support the bill.

Mr. Horner ,

as a member of the committee, felt himself called upon to say a few words on the present occasion. As the hon. general had insinuated that this motion had been brought forward with a view to recent and present circumstances, he begged leave to inform that hon. general and the house, that the subject, respecting the grant of places in reversion, had been the first to which the attention of the committee had been directed. It had been several times under discussion, and the last time their attention had been called to it, it was warmly supported by an hon. gent. who was likely to have a place under the new arrangement. The insinuation, that this resolution was intended as a restriction on the persons included in the new arrangement, appeared to him extraordinary, as coming from an hon. gent. professing himself the friend of those members.

General Gascoyne ,

in explanation, disclaimed any intention to throw any imputation whatever upon the committee. He had only said, that the manner in which the resolution had been brought forward and argued, excited in his mind a suspicion that it was intended as a restriction on the new arrangement.

Mr. Sheridan

observed that the hon. general certainly had not thrown, by his speech, any censure upon the measure now proposed; but he had thrown a very severe imputation upon his friends in the new administration; and one for which he believed at least, they would be very little obliged to the zeal of the hon. general. For his own part, though the new ministers were about to occupy those places from which himself and his colleagues must shortly retreat, yet he had so little of political animosity towards them, that he was unwilling to impute to them any such intentions as those which the zeal of the hon. general this night bespoke. He hoped they were actuated by stronger motives for accession to power, than those of bargaining and buying their way into office. The hon. general's reasonings amounted to this: "if you attempt to carry a resolution of this sort, you will throw the strongest impediment in the way of forming a new and virtuous administration, to succeed the wicked and corrupt one just turned out of office: you will paralize the vigour of their exertions: you will cripple the magnitude of their plans, if you prevent them from taking, or granting lucrative places in reversion, or for life, in addition to those they are to hold during the king's pleasure, in remuneration for their great services and splendid talents." This, however, was a doctrine to which he could not subscribe, and a kind of support from the hon. general, which he believed, would not be very grateful to his friends. Some allusion had been made in the course of this discussion, to certain reversions held by a distinguished family, several branches of which formed parts of the present administration; but he could see no analogy between the cases alluded to, and those now in contemplation of the house; between reversions during pleasure, enjoyed for services long rendered to the state, and reversions and places for life, to be granted in the first instance before any service whatever was rendered, and given as a kind of bounty to entice a placeman to enlist for a high office, to which also a high salary was to be attached This was indeed a novel mode of recruiting an administration. But whenever the new ministers should appear in their places, he hoped the hon. general would give them a very different support from the kind of observations he had this day pointed against them.

Mr. Huskisson

was sure that the character and principles of his hon. friend, who had brought forward the resolution, would secure him from the imputation of having been actuated by party motives. From what he had learned in conversation with other members of the committee, he was persuaded that they were all agreed that no places should be granted henceforth in reversion. As to the propriety of any arrangements with a view to induce individuals to accept of office, he believed that the first measure of the administration then in office, with a view to enable a noble lord (Grenville), for whom he felt a very sincere respect, was a sufficient proof that such an arrangement was not very extraordinary. As to the new administration, he knew nothing more of it, than he was enabled to collect from the rumours afloat, and he did not believe that any arrangement had been yet submitted for the approbation of the highest authority in the state.

Mr. Whitbread

observed, that without giving any opinion upon the merits of the case referred to by the hon. gent. (Mr. Johnstone), he had no hesitation in asserting that there was a material difference between that case and the one more particularly alluded to, in the course of this debate. For in the one, the object was to enable a man to hold an office which was conferred upon him for life, in conjunction with one to which he was appointed during pleasure, and for that purpose the sanction of parliament was applied for, and obtained; while in the other the proposition was, that an office heretofore held during pleasure, should he conferred for life, and that too at the mere will of the crown, in order, as rumour stated, to induce a man to accept another office during pleasure. With regard to the noble family alluded to by the hon gent. as holding places of considerable profit, did the hon. gent. mean to assert that the holding places of profit by public men was inconsistent with the purity of public character? If the hon. gent. did mean that, such a sentiment must be heard with peculiar surprise from such a quarter, after the panegyric which the hon. gent. had thought proper to pronounce upon the public spirit and patriotism of his right hon. friend. For that hon. gent. must know that one of the highest places of profit in the country was granted in reversion to a person of the name of Perceval; and again in reversion to another person of the same name. The hon. gent. expressed his heartfelt approbation of the measure, which the motion before the house had in view, and in concurrence with the hon. member, his regret that such a measure had not been introduced forty years ago In alluding to the hon. mover, he could not help expressing his surprise, that any man who had the least opportunity of appreciating the character of that hon. gent. could suppose him capable of binding himself to the purposes of any party. The house indeed must have heard with astonishment the imputation which an hon. gent. on the other side had thought proper to throw out. The hon. member concluded with declaring his cordial concurrence in the motion before the house, against which he had not heard a single argument, and his anxious wish for the success of the motion of which his hon. friend (Mr. Martin) had given notice for the next day.

Mr. Huskisson

in explanation stated, that he did not mean to assert a complete analogy between the case of the noble lord alluded to (lord Grenville) and that which appeared to be so much in view in the present discussion. Probably he merely meant to infer from the former case, that in the contemplation of ministerial arrangements, the nature of an office might be changed by connecting it with one with which it was previously deemed altogether incompatible. To be sure in one case the change could be effected only by the sanction of parliament, whereas in the other it was quite subject to the will of the king.

Mr. Parnell

thought that it behoved the house to take peculiar care upon a question of this nature. For, understanding that a noble lord (Castlereagh) was likely to hold a leading situation in the new administration, whose conduct in Ireland could not escape his recollection, he was fully convinced of the necessity of vigilant precaution. He (Mr. Parnell) had had the honour of a seat in the house of commons in Ireland during the discussions upon the Union, and he remembered that in the first session, when that measure was proposed and lost, two families of some parliamentary influence stood neuter. But in the following session, under this noble lord's management of reversions, these two families were brought into action, and by such means the union was voted by a small majority. A son of one of these families was, to his knowledge, secured in the reversion of the clerkship of the pells in Ireland, and to a son of the other family he imagined that a reversion of a more serious nature was promised, for the first bishopric that became vacant was assigned to him. With these facts in his recollection, and with the prospect now before the house, he thought that every practicable guard against corruption ought to be established.

Mr. Johnstone

disclaimed any intention to assert any thing so absurd, as that the holding of a public place of profit was incompatible with the purity of public character. He only meant to say, that it afforded him great satisfaction to hear a motion of this nature so loudly applauded by men who were themselves loaded with so much of the public money. It was a good omen, and he hoped it would not prove delusive.—The resolution was then agreed to, and Mr. Bankes, Mr. Horner, and Mr. S. Bourne, were appointed to prepare and bring in a bill pursuant thereto.