HC Deb 11 February 1808 vol 10 cc450-61
Sir Francis Burdett

said he would not take up the time of the house by any prefatory remarks to the motion which he was about to submit; for that motion being the ground of a parliamentary proceeding, he conceived that it would be consented to without opposition. He should therefore content himself with simply moving, " That there be laid before the house an account of all captures made at sea by the naval forces of this country, which were claimed to remain, and which did remain, at the disposal of the Crown since the year 1792, specifying each capture and its amount, with the particular appropriation of the proceeds thereof."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

doubted whether the specification of every individual capture could be obtained. At any rate, such a specification would require considerable time to prepare. He entered into an explanation of the right of his majesty to these Droits, which resolved itself into two distinct parts: the right of the crown, and the right as lord high admiral. If any complaint were made with respect to the mode in which the fund had been appropriated by the crown, that might form the ground of parliamentary enquiry and reprehension; but with regard to the fund itself, the right of the crown to the appropriation of it was unquestionable. A considerable proportion of this fund had been granted to captors under various circumstances; many grants had been made for the public service; and, it being completely under his majesty's controul, grants had also been occasionally made for the benefit of the younger branches of the royal family. None of these appropriations could be characterized as misapplications. The hon. baronet had an undoubted right to know what was the gross amount of that fund, and what part remained undisposed. If, on the production of those accounts, the hon. baronet should require an account of the mode in which the fund had been appropriated, the house would doubtless expect some strong allegations before they would consent to his request. For these reasons, and to facilitate the attainment of the hon. baronet's object, he submitted to him the propriety of confining his motion to the total amount of the captures from the period mentioned. by him, and of that part of the proceeds of those captures which remained undisposed of at the present time.

Sir F. Burdett

had no objection to follow the line chalked out by the right hon. gent.; for the great object he had in view at this time was to have the amount before the house. He had not, indeed, as yet stated any facts of misapplication; yet he apprehended the house would not endure that so large a sum should be at the disposal of the crown, without any inquiry, even although it should be admitted that the crown had the legal right, of which, however, considerable doubts were entertained.

Sir C. Pole

expressed his approbation of the motion of the hon. baronet, for all his reflections on the subject convinced him that the admiralty court ought to be upon a new footing.

The Advocate General

observed, that the admiralty court had nothing to do with the subject of this motion. Before the house proceeded any further in it, it was proper that it should know what grounds could be made out for an inquiry. The captured property came to the king in a double capacity. That which was seized before the declaration of war, and the issuing of letters of marque and reprisals, belonged to him jure corona. That which was captured afterwards was his as lord high admiral, whose rights accrued to the crown when the office was put into commission. But it was the custom to give up what part belonged to him in this capacity, or, after the issuing of reprisals, to the captors. Another species of property was that which was captured in port, or by such as were not licensed captors. This was properly the Droits of Admiralty, and belonging to the king in virtue of the office of high admiral. In 1795, when the French made an irruption into Holland, encouragement was held out to the inhabitants to remove to a neutral country, and if they did this, the property detained here on that occasion was to be restored to them. But as they had not done this, it was condemned to the crown as taken before reprisals. The Spanish property seized before reprisals in 1796; was also condemned as the Droits of the Admiralty. On the breaking out of the war in May, 1803, hostilities were not commenced against Holland till the 16th of June following; Dutch property, however, was detained in the mean time, and afterwards condemned as prize to the crown. Spanish, Prussian, and Danish property was condemned under similar circumstances, the captors having no claim; and in case of a convention to restore it at the end of the war, the crown would be bound to do so. But no convention of that sort existed, and consequently the property remained at the disposal of the crown. Then how was it applied? A moiety, or perhaps two-thirds was granted as a reward to the captors— a circumstance that must be pleasing to the hon. baronet (Pole) who was so anxious for the interests of the naval service. Another part had been applied to the relief of the public exigencies of the state, to the extent of two millions—one having been granted seine time ago, and another lately. Part had been applied to the relief of those who had suffered from the breaking out of the war. The Spanish government had sequestrated property belonging to this country, which, by a stipulation in the treaty of Amiens, they had engaged to restore. This was not done, and some of the captured property belonging to the crown, was applied to the relief of the sufferers. Another part had been granted to captors who had not been allowed to act under the ordinary discretionary powers; and another to those who had suffered from the insolvency of captors. These had been the different modes in which this property had been disposed of. But he did not by any means wish to keep out of view, that a very small part of it had, out of his majesty's grace and liberality, been conferred on the younger branches of his family. Was he the only father in the kingdom who was not to be allowed to make grants out of funds, appertaining to him by law, to his own children? If any thought so, he was not ashamed to say that he differed from them. The house would dispose of the motion as it pleased, but no instance of misapplication had been stated; no grounds of inquiry had been laid. The house was competent, certainly, to go into such an inquiry, but in his opinion no reason had been assigned for the exercise of its right on the present occasion.

Mr. Lushington

perfectly agreed with the last speaker, that this motion had no reference to the Admiralty Court. He also agreed with him in the greater part of what he said relative to the right of the crown to this property; but differed from him materially as to the constant propriety of the application. One instance of misapplication he would state to the house. An hon. baronet (sir Popham) whom he saw in his place, had, in the year 1787, obtained leave of absence on half pay from the naval service, in which he was then a lieutenant. He went to Ostend, and there procured a ship, the Etrusco, bearing the Imperial flag, in which he freighted a cargo for the East Indies. He there exchanged his vessel for an American ship, and carried a cargo to Canton in China; having taken in a fresh cargo there, of which a French supercargo at Canton had a share, he sailed first for Ireland, and from that to Dungeness, where he landed goods, or, in plain English, smuggled them. Lieut. Bowen of the Brilliant frigate, Capt. Robinson, seized the ship in Ostend Roads, after a person had escaped on shore with part of the goods. This vessel was brought to judgment in the Admiralty Court. During the proceedings, the hon. baronet claimed his share of the cargo and freight; but when it became necessary to serve a process of the court upon him, he was not to be found, and, in short, had absconded. The ship was condemned; but for all the trouble, the inconvenience,, and loss of time coca- sioned in the prosecution of the business, capt. Robinson did not receive one shilling. Yet afterwards, in consequence of a treasury warrant, signed by the marquis of Blandford and Mr. Long, founded upon a report for that purpose, reluctantly signed, as he understood, by the right, hon. gent. (the Advocate-General) 25,000l. was restored to the hon. baronet; being the amount of his claim, and that too without deducting from it any of the expences of the process. It was some time, indeed, before the right hon. gent. (the Advocate-General) could be induced to give a recommendation to this effect, and his scruples were highly to his credit. These circumstances formed part of the Records of the Admiralty Court, but he had only seen the papers that morning. Here, then, was an application of a large sum as a reward for a violation of the laws of the country. He was glad, therefore, that a disposition appeared to examine this subject, but he thought the business would be very imperfectly done unless the house attended to the application of the money, which was, perhaps, the most material point of the whole.

Sir Home Popham

observed, that having been thus personally attacked, he could not but Air a few observations in his own vindication. Although, if the hon. gent. who had thrown out such aspersions as had never been used in that house, had given him any previous intimation of his intention to bring forward circumstances in which he was particularly concerned, he would have been better prepared to meet his statement. He would, however, now advert to a plain and well known fact. The house would recollect he went to the East Indies at a period of profound peace, and had been there employed in the service of the East India Company. If the hon. gent. would consult the records of the India House, he would find that lord Cornwallis, the Governor General, and the Council, had recommended him strongly to the Court of Directors, and said that he had deserved that the directors should apply to the Admiralty to promote him. He had besides received acknowledgments and presents for his services. If, from his anxiety to be actively employed, and to gain experience in his profession, he had in a moment of irritation gone out to India under a neutral flag (which perhaps he now regretted), he had only followed the example of many other naval officers, and he could not help thinking it stranger, that after the lapse of more than 20 years, he should thus be singled out for peculiar animadversion. He trusted he might be allowed to say, that his exertions in India must have been of a very extraordinary nature to induce the Governor-General in Council to recommend him at home as he had done. By the term 'extraordinary,' he meant only that those services had been of a description which were deemed deserving of marked approbation. He trusted also, that in no action of his, had he had any sort of connection with smugglers, as stated by the hon. gent. or that he had even violated the laws of the country, without having at the same time done something, which more than compensated for the injury sustained.

Mr. Sheridan

fully agreed with the hon. captain, that after the attack which had been made upon him, the matter ought not to rest there. It was due both to the house and himself, that the matter should be investigated. He also agreed, that his hon. friend behind him might have given some notice of his intention; but then it was to be observed, that he had only read the papers that morning, and had stated the facts upon an occasion which had suddenly arisen. But if it was necessary to have this affair inquired into, upon the statement of his hon. friend, it was much more so after the defence of the hon. captain. The hon. captain stated, that he had done as many other officers had done, sailed under a neutral flag, in a moment of irritation, for the purpose of obtaining professional knowledge and experience. He had heard of other officers who had done so, but then they had engaged in the wars of foreign powers; how the hon. captain could increase his professional knowledge by landing teas at Dungeness—

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

called the right hon. gent. to order; it was impossible for him to sit still and hear an attack upon any member under such circumstances; it was not consonant to the rules of justice which ought to be observed to every man, that a conversation arising collaterally should be brought forward, and carried on by remarks uttered in the tone and manner used by the right hon. gent. To what purpose was this done? Was there a motion before the house, the event of which would be to censure or acquit the hon. captain? He appealed to the right hon. gent.'s own candour on the subject; for he was sure that he was the last man who, on cool reflection, would persevere in any unfair or illiberal line of conduct.

The Speaker

expressed his opinion, that by abstaining from any further remarks on this part of the debate, the house would best consult its own dignity.

Mr. Sheridan ,

though he did not complain of the right hon. gent. for having interrupted him, must contend that he was strictly in order. The learned gent. opposite having asserted that there was not a single instance of misappropriation of the fund under discussion, his hon. friend who was in possession of a flagrant instance of misappropriation, and who knew that the hon. knight was in his place to defend himself, had stated that instance. Having heard the hon. captain's answer, in which he did not deny the accusation, an accusation founded not loosely, but on recorded facts, it appeared to him, and he was justified in arguing that the subject ought to be most narrowly investigated. With regard to the subject more immediately before the house, if the Droits were originally his majesty's undoubted right, still in progress of many wars, they might have amounted to such a sum, that it would be necessary to revise the right, and to say whether or not it was sate to trust the disposal of so much money out of the controul of parliament. He should add only a few words on that part of the question which related to the application of the money arising from these Droits. He had no hesitation in saying, that he not only did not censure, but he cordially concurred in, and approved of that part of the application this day avowed by his majesty's Judge Advocate, namely, his majesty's gracious gifts to the younger branches of his illustrious family. So far was he from objecting to these acts of his majesty's paternal generosity, that he lamented that his majesty's royal munificence had been confined to the younger branches of his august family. Had the heir apparent participated in it, he believed the house and the country would have not merely been satisfied, but gratified; for never must it be forgotten, that the prince had an unliquidated claim, which, greatly to his honour, feeling for the public burthen and the difficulty of the times, had been, by his royal highness's express desire, suspended, but not abandoned; he meant the arrears of the Duchy of Cornwall: that debt still remained indisputably due, either from the sovereign or the public; and, towards the discharge of that debt, he could not conceive an application of the funds now under discussion, more grateful to the people, than in part directing them towards that object. His majesty's munificence towards the younger branches of his august family, was an act of bounty, in the latter case it would be an act, not of bounty merely, but of justice.

The Advocate General

said, that this property was not property condemned to the crown, but came by a forfeiture, which on good grounds might justly be remitted. The ground on which he recommended the grant to the hon. captain, was this. He had gone to Ostend, and from that sailed under a foreign flag to India. If he was restrained as a British subject from doing so by the law of his country, unquestionably this was a violation of it. But it was perfectly well known to the Indian government, that he was there, and it was the policy at that time to encourage exportation from India in foreign vessels. Whatever offence had been committed, was against the East India Company, and as they had by implication remitted it, he thought himself justified in recommending the remission of the forfeiture.

Mr. Tierney

called the right hon. gent. to order, as he was entering upon a defence of the hon. captain, instead of confining himself to the facts fur his own justification.— Some discussion arose here about the question under discussion, whether it was the original motion or the amendment suggested by the chancellor of the exchequer, and in some measure assented to.

Lord Folkestone

said, he thought the debate should proceed on the original motion; for he was sure the hon. baronet who made it, wished to have a full and complete account of those Droits, and also of the application of the money arising from them. The original motion would, in his opinion, effect this; but he did not think the amendment would, and therefore he thought the original motion should be persisted in.

Sir F. Burdett

said, that in making the motion, he certainly wished for the fullest discovery as to the Droits, and also the application of the money arising from them: it was matter of very great importance, and which he, as a member of parliament, thought he had a right to demand. From the candid and liberal manner in which the the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer had expressed himself, in introducing his amendment, he felt extremely inclined to accede to it; but from the unexpected turn which the debate had taken, and the disclosure of so extravagant and flagrant a misapplication of a certain part of the money arising from the proceeds, his opinion was greatly altered, and he thought his duty required that he should persist in his motion as it had been originally introduced.

The Advocate General

proceeded to state, that the hon. captain, when in India, was known to persons in the highest offices there to be a British subject; that he was very much countenanced by them, and in consequence of the services he had rendered the East India Company, by taking the soundings of Prince of Wales's Island, and other parts in those seas, he had received such recommendations to the Court of Directors, as had procured him some very valuable presents from them. From India he had, however, sailed to China, and. at Canton had taken in a cargo of tea without any licence from the India Company, which rendered the transaction a breach of the law, and as such the cargo was liable to forfeiture; but it was not a Droit of the Admiralty; it was not what had fallen to the king as a capture in time of war, but was merely what became vested in his majesty as a forfeiture, in consequence of the cargo being illegal, for want of a licence from the East India Company. With this cargo of tea, the hon. baronet was proceeding to Ostend, in the ship Etrusco, when she was met with and seized by his majesty's ship the Brilliant; and the ship and part of the cargo were condemned, for the benefit of the captors; but this part of the cargo, which was the property of the hon. captain, became vested in the king as a forfeit; and under all the circumstances of the case, it became a question whether it was a fit forfeiture for the crown to take advantage of. On a mature and deliberate consideration of the case, he was of opinion that it was not; and therefore he advised the remission of it, which accordingly took place. As he had before stated, this fund was given to the king for his sole use; and he had out of it made several grants for public and national purposes. He had also granted several sums out of it for the use and benefit of the younger branches of the royal family; and he thought his majesty had most undoubted right to do this, unless should be expected that he should be the only father of a family in this country who was not at liberty to shew pecuniary favours to his offspring. There might be those who thought otherwise; but he was not ashamed to say, that he differed entirely with them on that head. He begged pardon for so long a trespass on the time of the house; but thought it necessary to state these circumstances, as it had been said, that he felt a reluctance to sign the warrant of remission.

Mr. Lushington,

in explanation, said, that he had heard it was with reluctance that the right hon. gent. who spoke last had signed the warrant for the restitution of the property of the hon. captain, and he had stated it as a fact which he thought highly honourable to the character of the right hon. and learned gent. With respect to what had been said by the hon. captain, as to his having brought forward this subject thus suddenly, without having given him any intimation of it, the fact was, that he had heard of this transaction some time ago, and finding the motion which had been made was to come on that evening, he had purposely gone to the Admiralty to look into the records of this transaction; that this had taken up so much time, he was not able to get down to the house till the motion was made, and then, not knowing the hon. capt. by sight, he had even asked one or two of his friends if he was in the house, who told him that he was. Had the hon. captain been absent, it was his intention to have stated the transaction without mentioning names, and have left that to some future occasion. As the right hon. and learned gent. had however expressly stated, that no misapplication of the money arising from this fund had taken place, he thought it his duty to mention it in the way he had done, as he thought it a most glaring and flagrant misapplication, and what ought to be more particularly enquired into.

Mr. Brand

said, he thought this motion was intended to come at a very important fact, viz. the amount of the proceeds arising from these Droits; and, as such, he would vote in favour of it: the amendment being, in his opinion, a colourable pretence for weakening and curtailing the effect of it.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose for the purpose of proposing his amendment; but

The Speaker

told him he could not speak to the whole motion, having spoken be- fore, and must therefore confine himself to explanation.

Mr. Huskisson

then rose, and moved an amendment to the following purport, "That there be laid before this house, an Account of the nett proceeds paid into the Registry of the Court of Admiralty, or to the Receiver General of Droits, of all property condemned to his majesty as Droits, either in right of his crown or in right of the office of lord high admiral, since the 1st of Jan. 1793, and of the balance now remaining therein."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer,

in explanation, said, that so far from the amendment being a colourable pretence to weaken or curtail the effect of the original motion, it would have the direct contrary tendency; for the hon. baronet's intention would be more fully answered by it, than by the original motion. The hon. baronet wanted to obtain the fullest discovery of the amount of droits, and this the amendment would procure most effectually; and it would be only to wait a few days, and then he might, when he was in possession of the amount of this fund, move for an account of the application of it. He had before stated, that this fund, whether wisely or unwisely, was not then the question, had been left to the sole disposal of the crown. If, however, that house or any member of it was of opinion that this fund amounted to such an enormous sum as ought not to be vested in any one without the controul of parliament, and wished to bring the subject under the consideration of the house, such member had a right to move for such accounts as would be necessary to bring the question properly before the house. If the question arose out of the amount of the sums of which this fund consisted, then it was necessary to know what those sums were, and when that was once given, the next question would naturally arise, as to its application. As to the instance which had been mentioned of the hon. captain behind him, part of the cargo, which was his own property, became forfeited to the crown from a breach of the law in a case which the East India Company might have licenced, and in consequence of the services which the hon. baronet had rendered the crown and his country, also from his services while he was in India, it had been thought fit, under all the circumstances of the case, to remit the forfeiture; but the remission of a forfeit was nothing like a grant of droits, and therefore he thought not at all applicable to the present debate.

Mr. Adam

said, he wished as much as any one that this question should come to a full and complete issue, and this could only be attained by procuring an ample and perfect account of the amount of those droits; and it was his opinion that the motion made by the hon. baronet could not attain that object. He thought at the same time that the amendment was capable of effecting it; but still he thought that was in itself defective, inasmuch as it did not go to the application of the money arising from those droits. Would that be proper at the present moment? He thought not, but that it would come with better effect after the house had obtained the amount of the fund in question. He was of opinion that the transaction which had been mentioned by his hon. friend near him ought to be inquired into, but not in this way. The, droits of the Admiralty had been left at the sole disposal of the king; and in 1795, his majesty gave for public purposes the money arising from several Dutch prizes, which amounted to a million; and the house by their acceptance, had sanctioned the right of the king's disposing of those droits which way he thought proper. Still, however, this fund appeared to be too great to be possessed by any one without being subjected to the controul of parliament, especially if it could be shewn that there had been any instances of a misapplication of the money arising from it. He hoped, therefore, the hon. baronet might be induced to withdraw his motion, and let the amendment be adopted, which in his mind would more completely answer the purposes he wished to attain.

Sir C. Pole

disapproved of both the original motion and the amendment, and proposed a motion of his own, by which the gross proceeds and net proceeds were required to be stated in distinct columns, &c. Alluding to the delay in the distribution of prize-money, he instanced an officer who had received, only last May, his share of prize-money, for a vessel captured twenty years ago.— The house then divided, when there appeared for the Original Motion 57. For the Amendment 82. Majority for the Amendment 25.

List of the Minority. Abercromby, J. Baring, A.
Agar, E. F. Bouverie, E.
Anstruther, sir J. Bradshaw, A. C.
Baring, T. Brand, T
Byng, George Miller, sir T.
Calcraft, John Mills, C
Calcraft, sir G. Mills, W.
Cavendish, lord G. Moore, P.
Cavendish, Wm. Newport, sir J.
Cavendish, G. H. C. Orde, W.
Cocks, E. C. Ossulston, lord
Combe, H. C. Petty, lord H.
Creevey, T. Pole,sir C.M.
Cutbert, J. R. Ponsonby, F.
Eden, W. F. Pousonby, G.
Folkestone, viscount. Prittie, F.A.
Grattan, H. Pym, F.
Greenbill, R. Russell, lord W.
Harvey, E. Shakespeare, A.
Hibbert,G. Sharpe, R.
Horner, F. Shelly, T.
Hurst, R. Sheridan, R.B.
Ingleby, sir W. Tierney, G.
Lamb, W. Ward, J.W.
Lloyd, J. R. Wardel, W.L.
Longman, G. Whirbread, S.
Lyttleton, W. H. Windham, W.
Macdonald, J. Tellers.
Markham, J. Burdett, sir Francis
Martin, H Lushington, S.