HC Deb 25 January 1808 vol 10 cc96-100
Mr. Bankes

having previously moved, "That the entry in the Journal of the house of the 10th of August, in the last session of parliament, of the Address agreed to by this house to be presented to his majesty, requesting that his majesty would be graciously pleased not to grant any Office, Place, Employment, or Salary, in any part of his majesty's dominions, in reversion, or for joint lives, with benefit of survivorship, until six weeks after the commencement of the present session of parliament," might be read, proceeded to move for leave to bring in a Bill, to prevent the granting of Offices in Reversion. He said, that towards the close of the last session, he had had the honour of proposing to the house a measure of this nature, which then received the unanimous sanction of the whole house; and it was therefore unnecessary for him to take up their time in making observations upon the necessity of such a measure, as he was confident the house had no reason to depart from that resolution; and he trusted, that no obstacles would be thrown in the way of that which, in the strictest sense, was the bill of that house. Unless some unanswerable reasons could be brought forward, he hoped the house would maintain the work of their own hands. It might have been sufficient for him to put the house in possession of the subject, merely recommending it to them to persevere in what they had already considered a useful measure; but lest there should be any suspicion that it was intended by this measure to encroach upon the prerogative of the crown, he wished to show that it did not in any manner trench upon that prerogative. What was sought, was not to restrain the power of the crown in the appointment of persons to lucrative offices, but merely to suspend such appointment till a vacancy should occur, in order that an opportunity might be given of appointing the fittest person, as it was a well known fact, that by granting offices in reversion, persons had been appointed wholly unfit for such situations. On these grounds, he thought this a fit bill to pass at any time, but more particularly under the present circumstances of the country. It was well known that a committee of enquiry into certain measures of economy had been going on during the two last sessions of parliament, and was still continuing, by whom many offices of emolument, but with no duty to perform, might be entirely suppressed; but the existence of offices in reversion would, in some cases, have the effect of putting off, to a great length of time, the execution of any recommendation proceeding from that committee. This, which had formerly been urged as an objection against the present measure, was, with them, a ground on which he might chiefly rely in urging its expediency. He did not conceive, however, that there could be any occasion to trouble the house further upon a motion which formerly passed with its unanimous concurrence. He should only express his hope for the same degree of unanimity in regard to the bill he should now propose, and would conclude with moving, "That leave be given to bring in a bill to prohibit the granting of Offices in Reversion, or for joint lives, with benefit of survivorship."

Mr. W. Dundas

felt himself called upon to state his distinct opposition to the measure proposed. It was not the custom of parliament to pass in a subsequent session what it had agreed to as a matter of course in a preceding session. The discretion of every member remained open to correct itself on reflection. Much less was it to be regarded as a matter of course that the house was bound to agree in every respect, and to coincide in every recommendation of the committees it appointed. Every thing was to be considered and reconsidered as often as it came before the house, upon the fair view of the arguments that should appear for and against it. He opposed the present measure on the broad ground of its invading the inherent prerogative of the crown, not merely by suspending, but by taking away and destroying its right of granting certain offices according to established usage. He did not think there was much solidity in the argument, that grants in reversion were liable to be exercised in favour of improper persons. The advisers of the crown were always responsible for any impropriety of this kind, whether the grant was direct or reversionary. The line he took on this occasion might not be popular, but he would do his duty. When the abolition and reformation of offices, and the limitation of the prerogative of the crown with respect to them, were talked of, he could not help recollecting the instance of a distinguished character in that house, he meant the late Mr. Burke, who had been most active in the early part of his political career in reforming and abolishing offices, and in limiting the prerogative of the crown, and who lived to lament and condemn all those reforms, abolitions, and limitations. He again insisted on the power of the house over the acts of its committees, and recommended the preservation of the prerogative of the crown, which was the foundation of the privileges of the house itself.

Mr. Whitbread

could not suffer the observations of the right hon. gent. who had just spoken, to pass without animadverting upon them. The single reason which the right hon. gent. had advanced for his opposition to this measure was, that it encroached upon the prerogative of the crown; but he considered it one of the peculiar privileges of that house to watch over the prerogative of the crown, and to curb and moderate it, where it appeared to overreach that power which was vested in it; but the right hon. gent. was certainly right in voting against this bill, for if he was not very much mistaken, that right hon. gent. was himself in possession of an office granted to him in reversion. It was the peculiar duty of that house, by the address which was voted in the last session of parliament, to take this measure into their most serious consideration. The proposed measure did not go to take away from the crown the power of appointing persons to offices of emolument, but merely to suspend the power of appointment to places which had been improperly exercised. In many instances, appointments were granted to persons while they were mere infants, and wholly incapable of executing the functions of them. This, then, was certainly an improper use of the prerogative. He believed the right hon. chancellor of the exchequer himself was an instance of this, having been appointed to a lucrative office while a minor; nay, even while he was an infant. The same place was now held in reversion by the right hon. gent.'s brother, a member of the upper house (lord Arden); and that grant was certainly made when it could not have been foreseen that the right hon. gent. would turn out to be a person of such transcendent talents and abilities; capable of holding the high and important situation which he now filled. The office he alluded to, however, did not certainly require such transcendent talents and abilities as the right hon. gent. possessed; for he believed it required little more abilities than were sufficient for counting the money arising from its emoluments into his own pocket. He confessed he thought any opposition to this bill was derogatory to the principles and opinions entertained by that house upon the subject; and he trusted-the house would uphold its own honour and character, by again sending the bill up to the house of lords.

Sir John Newport

thought it his duty to state a particular instance in which the reform of an office recommended by the committee of inquiry, in Ireland, could not be carried into effect, in consequence of its being granted in reversion. The office he alluded to was that of customer of the port of Dublin. It had been granted in reversion three deep. Two of the three had died while the reform was in agitation; but the right of the third barred the reform.

Mr. Horner

rose for the purpose of repelling the aspersions which had been thrown upon the memory of one of the proudest ornaments of this or any other country, by the inconsiderate observations of the right hon. gent. The hon. gent. denied that the latter part of Mr. Burke's life went in any way to invalidate or contradict the sincerity of his earlier efforts. Those who were honoured with that great man's friendship, or those who were acquainted with his very last work, knew that he took honour and credit to himself for having pursued such measures as tended to every species of economical reform; they knew that, to the latest hour of his splendid career, he was as zealous and as sincere an enemy to rapine and public malversation as he was in the most vigorous period of his memorable life.—He thought this measure the more valuable, not because it bore upon the prerogative of the crown, but because it was a measure of reform; and that perhaps, was the very reason of the right hon. gent.'s opposition to it.—The bill was to be respected, because it came from a committee appointed by the house to consider the means of reducing the public expenditure, and because it was the first step recommended by the committee for the attain- ment of that object; and, whether it should be deemed expedient as an ulterior measure to purchase the interests of the present reversioners, or to await the expiration of their terms, it was equally unfit that further grants in reversion should be made.—The question being put, leave was given to bring in the bill, with the single dissenting voice of Mr. W. Dundas. Mr. Bankes afterwards brought in the bill, which was read a first time.

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