HC Deb 27 March 1809 vol 13 cc820-3
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose, pursuant to notice, to move for leave to bring in a Bill to prevent the Sale and Brokerage of Offices. He staled that the only laws on this subject at present were the Act of the 12th of Richard the 2d, which went to prevent the Officers of Justice appointing improper persons; and the act of the 5th or 6th of Edward the 6th, which prohibited the sale of these Offices. The practices lately disclosed consisted not in the sale of offices by those who had the power to give them away, but in the arts of those who pretended to have influence over such persons, and issued public advertisements, giving occasion to the notion that these abuses prevailed to a much greater extent than they actually did. This was the description of abuse which his proposed law had in contemplation. He had already mentioned, that the persons in a certain office, who had carried on this trade, were under prosecution, (Kylock and Co.) As there were several persons in that concern, they, were prosecuted for a conspiracy, but if there had been only one individual, he did not see how the law, as it at present stood, could have reached him, though, perhaps, he might be indicted for obtaining money under false pretences. The material point then would be to make it highly penal to solicit money for procuring offices, or to circulate, any advertisement with that view. This circumstance would go further than any other to check this abuse. His object was not to trench on the exceptions to the sale of offices that were now expressly admitted of. He concluded by moving for leave to bring in the bill.

Lord Folkestone

would not object to the motion, but he could not help observing, that the time chosen by the right hon. gentleman for proposing this law was very improper. That abuses existed to a very great extent had been proved before the house, and he was astonished when the right hon. gentleman said, that when the matter was examined, it would appear that abuses had not prevailed to any great extent. If he imagined that to be the case, why did he resort to a new legislative measure? He (lord F.) thought that abuses did exist to a very great extent; but he, at the same time, thought that this was an improper time for introducing the bill; for at present the house must be legislating in the dark. It did not exactly know how far the evil had gone, nor by what means it had attained such a magnitude. This could only be ascertained by examination of facts. It had been the fashion of late years to multiply laws beyond the necessity of the case. This was a great evil, and the right hon. gentleman was falling into it on the present occasion. Another reason why the bill should not have been introduced at present was, that there was an order on the list for an examination into these abuses, with a view to which he had moved, that the Report of the Evidence lately taken at the bar should be farther considered. The right hon. gentleman ought to have waited for the result of this examination, when his measure might be brought forward in the most efficient shape. His lordship then adverted to the prosecution of Kylock and Coleman, and expressed his disapprobation of the means taken to entrap these persons. It was an improper mode of disposing of the public money, and in a moral point of view it was extremely objectionable, as it was cooperating with them in that very crime for which they were to be punished. The right hon. gentleman had said, that this prosecution had commenced before the late inquiry. If that were the case, ha might have waited a little, to see whether the law, as it at present stood, might not afford a sufficient check upon these abuses. His lordship also observed, disclaiming however any thing offensive to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that there was something very suspicious in this prosecution, and in the manner in which it had been announced to the house, for if it had been found necessary to call these persons to the bar in the course of the late Inquiry, they might have refused to answer, on the ground of not being obliged to say any thing that might criminate themselves. But his main objection was, that the house was legislating in the dark, that it did not clearly see its way, and that an inquiry ought previously to take place. It appeared to him besides, that this bill would not go to the case of such a person as Mrs. Clarke, who might receive a compliment for her influence, which would not amount to such a sale as would bring the matter within the act. His lordship then thought it proper to stale precisely the object he had in view, in moving for the further consideration of the Minutes of Evidence, as several gentlemen had erroneously conceived that he meant to prefer some further charges against the Duke of York. He had no such intention. His object was, that as a vast scene of abuse had been disclosed, the house ought not to shut its eyes, but that it ought to go on to probe the matter to the bottom; to search into the abuses of all departments, and then apply a radical and effectual remedy for the evil, with respect to which it was now legislating in the dark.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

stated, that he had not said that abuses did not exist to a great extent. He had only said that they did not exist to so great an extent as had been imagined; and this he believed to be the case. With respect to the time of bringing forward the bill, the house would recollect that he had given notice of his intention long before the noble lord had proposed the further consideration of the Report of the evidence. The house, he observed, was already in possession of the mode in which these abuses were carried on; and the remedy would apply whether the extent was small or great. With regard to the prosecution to which the noble lord had alluded, he said that these persons would have had an equal right to have refused to answer questions that might criminate themselves before as after the prosecution; and besides, it was satisfactory to know, now, that they had not been wanted on the late inquiry, and therefore no inconvenience had in fact arisen. As to the co-operation in the offence of these men, he agreed that it would have been most improper to have tempted them to commit a crime which they would not have committed had it not been for the temptation. But they had been before going on with these offences; and us to the application of the public money in this way, he saw nothing improper in it. As to the remedy not applying to a case like that of Mrs. Clarke, it was exactly the sort of case to which it would apply most particularly.

Mr. Parnell

said, that the allegation of his noble friend was, that upon examination different plans for carrying on these abuses might be discovered, to which the bill would not apply, and therefore he had thought this an improper time for proposing the law.

After a few words from the Attorney-General, the Bill was ordered to be brought in.