HC Deb 04 April 1808 vol 10 cc1309-15
Mr. Biddulph

rose, agreeably to notice, to move that Rd. Wharton, esq. having been elected chairman of the committees of ways and means and supply, be excused from giving his attendance on the Committee of Finance, of which, previous to his appointment to the chair of the public committees of this house, he had been a member, and that the name of John William Ward be inserted as a member of the Committee of Finance in his place. The hon. gent. in alluding to the appointment of Mr. Wharton to the chair of the public committees, expressed his confidence that there was management in that nomination; and also expressed a hope that the hon. member who was the subject of the motion, would acquit him of any personal disrespect towards him, and would believe the motion to be directed, as it really was, and not against him, but against the office of chairman of the committee of ways and means. When he had originally the honour to suggest such a committee to the house, he pointed out the propriety of excluding all persons holding places under government from any share in its deliberations; and accordingly, when it was nominated, and it happened that a noble viscount, not now in his place, was named as one, his appointment was afterwards done away, on this specific ground, that he held a sinecure in Ireland. The hon. mover was aware it might be argued, that the hon. gent. to whom he objected, was not appointed to the situation he held, by the government, but by the house. The motion which he had to make, was so framed, as to acknowledge this fact. But, surely, it must be allowed, that the treasury bench designated and marked out the person to fill that situation, who might be said to be under the patronage of the chancellor of the exchequer. The hon. member confessed that the chairman of ways and means was elected by a vote of the house, but still it could not be denied, that he was proposed and supported by the chancellor of the exchequer; and he wished, and the public had a right to expect, that the members of the Committee of Finance should be like Cæsar's wife, not pure merely, but unsuspected. If persons once appointed members of a Committee of Finance, were not to be removed on account of any change in situation which they might undergo, we might see before the termination of a parliament, 24 or 25 men, who had been appointed members of that committee because they held no office nor place under government, all enjoying places or pensions before they came to make their report. If these men were to continue members of the committee, it would be equally proper that placemen should originally have been eligible; or, indeed, that no committee had been appointed. As to the office of chairman of the committee of ways and means, he conceived it to be equally objectionable as any other. He regarded it as being an office so completely at the disposal of the treasury bench, that the duties of it might well be discharged by any one of the members of that bench who had least to do; and if he found that the report the Finance Committee, from its tone and manner, warranted him in expecting any support to the motion, he should once call the attention of the house to that subject. He could not suppose a man, holding such a place as this, could be a jealous guardian of the public expenditure. On the score of duties he had to perform as chairman of the committee of the house, the hon. member was satisfied, Mr. Wharton might well be excused from giving his attendance up stairs at the Committee of Finance. He had never seen him there but once; but he must be allowed to say, that, in consequence of his attendance that day, a report would be submitted to the house from that committee, different from what it would otherwise have been. The hon. gent. concluded by moving, "That Richard Wharton, esq. having been called to the chair of the committee of ways and means, be excused from giving further attendance on the Committee of Finance."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

had supposed that the hon. gent. would have adduced some precedent, or would have made out some strong case, ere he had submitted to the house a motion which semed to cast no slight imputation on the hon. gent. against whom it was directed, more especially when it was connected with one of his last observations. By that observation it appeared, that a majority in the Committee of Finance had been recently occasioned by the presence of the chairman of the committee of ways and means, and that had not that circumstance occurred, the hon. mover's attention would not have been directed to the subject. To him it appeared impossible, without the establishment of some grave charge, to remove a member from a situation to which he had been chosen by the house. The hon. gent. said he thought it necessary to do this, because he imagined the chairman of the committee of ways and means was an officer appointed by government. It was not so. He was appointed by the house, who voted him into that situation. As to the recommendation of his majesty's ministers, the hon. gent. might as well apply his reasoning on that subject to any other act of the house. The hon. gent. fancied it possible, that in a committee composed, at the commencement of a session, of 25 members holding no official situations, the whole, at the close of the same session, might become possessed of offices. But, was not the honourable gentleman aware that by an appoint- ment to office, a member vacated his seat in the house, and consequently in a committee? and that on his re-election (should he be re-elected), the house had it in their power to reinstate him in the committee or not, as they thought proper? Indeed, there had been instances since the establishment of the Finance Committee, of individuals who, having accepted offices, had been sent back to their constituents, and who had been re-elected, but who had not been re-appointed members of the committee. He was far from being ready to admit, that because his majesty thought proper to confer an office on any member of the house, he ought therefore to be considered as disqualified for any duty to which any other member of the house was competent. He denied that because a person was in office, he must necessarily be distrusted. He did not know what were the hon. gent's views of public life; but if he were desirous of having the opportunity of discharging any great public duty with fidelity, he did not think that he ought to fall in the estimation of the world were he to embrace such an opportunity if it were afforded him. Of this he was sure, that the hon. gentlemen who surrounded him were not of that opinion, and that they thought a man pursued the noblest road to fame by seeking it in public utility. He trusted, therefore, that the house would not feel, that the duties of any committee would be worse performed, because it included within it persons holding official situations. Still less could an objection apply to a gentleman chosen by the house, in consequence of his distinguished character and talents, to fill the hon. situation of chairman of the committee of ways and means. Was he on that account to be distrusted? As well might the speaker of the house be distrusted. Neither situation was the appointment of government. Both were in the election of the house; and to no gentleman who filled either, could any dishonourable imputation on that account with any thing like justice or plausibility be attached.

Mr. Whitbread

agreed with the right hon. gent. in deprecating the idea that every placeman must be a man of bad character. An office of trust, well and faithfully executed, was unquestionably a post of honour. It was only because offices were not always faithfully executed that placemen grew into disrepute. As to the allusion to his noble friend not now in the house (lord H. Petty) it was not by his own request he had been nominated a member of the Committee of Finance; but that appointment had taken place specifically under the direction of the chair. He never did attend, however, and expressed his determination not to attend, conscious as he was, that he was disqualified by the office he held from being a member of such a committee. He (Mr. W.) had been a member of that committee; and he recollect a reason assigned for not naming him on the renewed list was, that he was at the time particularly occupied with other matters, on the fate of which he was sorry he could not congratulate himself. He agreed, however, in the justice of that observation, and thought that independent of every other consideration, it was of itself a sufficient reason why the chairman of ways and means should also cease to be a member of it.

Mr. H. Browne

opposed the motion. There was a narrow and vulgar prejudice against persons in place, which he did not wish to see encouraged. It was disparaging to office, it was disparaging to the country. If the hon. gent. who was the object of this motion, were to be removed from the committee of finance, that committee would lose one of its most valuable members. He was surprized that the hon. gent. should have mentioned what had occurred in the committee. With respect to the transaction to which he had alluded, it was a question of small importance, on which the committee happened to be equally divided, and on which the chairman of the committee of ways and means happened to be on one side rather than on the other.

The Hon. J. W. Ward

was anxious that it should be distinctly understood, that this proposition was the spontaneous act of his hon. friend. He stated this merely, lest he should be suspected of having stimulated him to make a motion, the ultimate object of which was, to appoint him to a situation, to the duties of which he felt himself incompetent. With respect to the subject immediately before the house, he could not be expected to offer any opinion. He would only add, that if he had any influence with his hon. friend, he would recommend to him to withdraw his motion, or at least not to press it to a division.

Mr. Ponsonby

could not help expressing his surprise that no motion could come from his side of the house without giving offence to individuals. The motion of his hon. friend appeared to him to have been framed with all possible delicacy. It was not to expunge the name of Mr. Wharton from the committee of finance, but that he should be at liberty to withdraw his name from it. The right hon. gent. seemed to place great reliance upon the argument drawn from the elective power of the house; but was there, he would ask, an instance of any person who was proposed to fill the office of chairman of the committee of ways and means, having been rejected by the house? He agreed that it was proper a portion of certain committees should be filled by persons in office; but this committee was of a very peculiar nature, of a constitution entirely differing from others. Its object was to promote public economy, and to effect reform. It was natural that a person in the right hon. gent.'s situation should feel interested in the reports of this committee. In one of these he believed he was very much so, for it was a report of that committee which had given rise to what was called in that house the Reversion bill. He would admit that a person in the chair of the committee of ways and means might fill it as uprightly and as ably as possible, and yet be a very improper person to be a member of the committee of finance. Every member of that committee should be so situated as to have no bias upon his mind; no wish, no inclination which could warp his judgment, or prevent him from an impartial and conscientious discharge of his duty. The right hon. gent. knew that a person coming forward to give evidence in a court of law, if interested in the event to the amount of half a crown, was precluded from giving testimony in the cause.

Mr. Biddulph

rose to correct a misconception which seemed to prevail on the other side of the house. He did not, as it was said, bring forward this motion, because the hon. member who was the subject of it had outvoted him in the committee of finance, but it was because that hon. member had scarcely ever attended that committee. When he entered it, on the occasion alluded to, he was so much a stranger, that the clerk applied to him to know whether the hon. member belonged to the committee. It was in consequence. of this that he then took the resolution to make the motion he now proposed.—He denied that he had pledged himself to move at the end of the session, that no remuneration should be given to the chair- man of the committee of ways and means. It was possible, however, if the report of the committee of finance should turn out as he expected, that in another session he might bring forward a motion to that effect. He had been catechized as to his object in making this motion. He would leave it to the house to say what his motives were, by stating what they were not. His object was not to march round the vulgar circle by which men rose to power; to creep from popularity to place, and from place to apostacy. If the small talents he possessed should ever be thought worthy of being employed, they should be at the public disposal; but it was upon this condition alone, that he did not participate in the public emolument in any shape whatever.—The house then divided: For the motion 21; Against it 70; Majority 40.

[PETITIONS AGAINST THE ORDERS IN COUNCIL] The house went into a committee to consider further of the Petitions against the Orders in Council.

Mr. Stephens

proposed to adduce evidence on two points: 1st, To shew that the export trade from this country to the continent was at a stand anterior to the passing of the Orders in Council: 2d, That the trade of this country was greatly affected in the article of insurance, by the Berlin decree. On the first of these points, he proposed to examine Mr. John Hall, a ship-broker. This gentleman was accordingly called in. In the course of Mr. Hall's examination, a discussion took place on the propriety of a question proposed by Mr. Whitbread as to the authenticity of the witnesses information, respecting certain ships, alleged to be neutrals, and sequestered by virtue of the Berlin decree.—After some further observations from Messrs. Rose, Tierney, Marriott, the chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. A. Baring, the witness was called in, and in answer to Mr. Whitbread's question, could only speak to his belief. The purport of his remaining evidence went to shew the reality and extent of the injuries sustained in the export trade to the continent, in consequence of the Berlin and other decrees, prior to issuing the Orders of Council.—Other witnesses were then examined, and the house resumed, the chairman reported progress, and obtained leave to sit again on Thursday.