§ Mr. Ord
rose for the purpose of calling the attention of the house to the matters detailed in that Report. It must have struck every one that the circumstances of the case stated in that Report were such as to call for the most serious attention of 292 the house. It had been too much the practice, he observed, to pass over such Reports without doing any thing upon them, by which proceeding the useful labours of Committees of this kind were in danger of losing their credit with the public. Parliament had, for many years past, and was likely to have, for many years to come, the task of imposing enormous taxes upon the country; and in imposing heavy burthens on the people, there was no duty of the house of commons more sacred, than that of watching over the expenditure of the public money. Not anticipating any serious objection to the Resolutions which he was about to propose, he would state the material circumstances of the transaction, with the observations of the Committee, and the comments which he should think it necessary to make upon them.—The hon. gent, then proceeded to state, from the Report, which he held in his hand, that the Commissioners had been appointed in 1795, to manage, sell, and dispose of the cargoes of Dutch ships detained or brought in, in order to prevent those cargoes from being greatly injured, or totally destroyed. They had general instructions as to the conduct of their transactions from the Lords of the Privy Council, requiring them to keep Minutes of all their proceedings, and to keep their accounts in such form as the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury should direct and approve, and upon points of any difficulty occurring, they were to refer to the Committee of the privy council for instructions. These Commissioners were five in number—James Crauford, John Brickwood, Allen Chatfieid, Alexander Baxter, and John Bowles, a member of the society for the suppression of vice, or rather, as appeared by the Report, for pilfering the public. Their sales, it was observed, ceased, and their transactions were nearly brought to a close in July 1799. Nothing remained after that but small sales of remnants, not completed till 1801, and a few other things which would give them very little trouble. To these, however, was to be added an important law suit commenced in 1797, which brought into question property to the amount of 180,000l. But this could not impose much labour upon the Commissioners, as it was obvious that the burthen must rest upon the Solicitors and Counsel.—The hon. gent, next adverted to the observation of the Committee, with respect to the circumstance that no fixed re- 293 muneration had been assigned to the Commissioners, in consequence of which these gentlemen had resolved to remunerate themselves, and charged a commission of 5 per cent. on the gross proceeds of their sales, which commission in the four first years amounted in all to 80,000l. No regular accounts were furnished to government, and criminal as this was in the Commissioners, he could not help saying that the government was far more criminal in not calling for them. Only one Account was rendered to the privy council, and in this it was remarkable that no mention of commission was made, which the Committee observed, might lead the privy council to imagine that no Commission was charged, although at that time 25,000l. had actually been divided. But the Commissioners had good reason for not rendering any account, because that might lead to the suppression of their illegal profits. This, the hon. gent, said, was a most extraordinary thing, considering the noise which Mr. John Bowles had made respecting the returns to the Property Tax (Hear! hear!). It would be. curious to know what returns he himself had made to the Property Tax, at the time he wag deriving this large profit from his labours, (Hear! hear!). The act authorizing the appointment of these Commissioners required that the proceeds of the sales should be paid into the Bank of England. But, instead of this, the Commissioners had opened accounts with private bankers. It was singular that a lawyer should lead them to a violation of the law; and the merchants, who were in the commission, to state a false amount of commission as consistent with the general practice in mercantile transactions. The reasons alledged for this violation the Committee had proved to be unfounded; and further, justly remarked, That if there had been any doubt as to the construction of the act in this particular, they ought, pursuant to their instructions, to have applied to the privy council.—The next point to which the hon. gent, adverted, was the magnitude of the Cash Balances, retained by the Commissioners, and he particularly called the attention of the house to the fact, that Mr. Pitt had, in 1796, applied to them to know whether any sum arising from the sale of the property under their management, could be paid into the Exchequer for the current service of the year? They denied that they could pay any sum into the Exchequer, although it appeared that 294 at that time they had a balance of no less than 190,000l. out of which, though it was proved that they had great demands upon them at the time, the Committee observed, they might at the least have advanced; 50,000l.—The hon. gent. then adverted to the great neglect of the Commissioners in not applying the balances in their hands in a way that might render them productive to the public, instead of discounting private bills; and applying these balances, during the years that preceded the completion of their sales, entirely with a view to their own emolument. If these balances had been vested in Exchequer bills, between 40 and 50,000l. would have been saved to the public: and though they had been instructed to keep Minutes of their proceedings, no Minutes whatever were preserved of the mode in which they employed the balances in question.—By the commission at 5 per cent. on the gross proceeds, by brokerage and interest on the balances, it appeared, that they had taken for their labours, the enormous sum of 133,198l., being at the rate of 26,000l. for each Commissioner!—The hon. gent, here pointed out a circumstance which seemed to have escaped the attention of the Committee, which was that the Commissioners appeared to have charged the 5 per cent, commission upon the property which had been managed and sold by the East India Company, in the disposal of which they had had no trouble whatever; so that, in point of fact, a commission of 10 per cent, had been paid upon much the largest proportion of this property, in as much as the East India Company had also a commission of 5 per cent, on their sales. The hon. gent. then followed the course of the Report in exposing the futility of those reasons by which the Commissioners had attempted to defend the appropriation to their own use of the 5 per cent. commission. Some of these Commissioners were themselves merchants, and it was therefore most extraordinary that they should have asserted that 5 per cent. on the gross proceeds was the usual commission, when it was well known that the highest commission common among merchants was 2½ per cent. on the gross proceeds. The Commissioners had cited two precedents for their charges. The first was a similar Commission issued in the war of 1756; and the other the general practice of prize-agents. With respect to the Commission of 1756 it appeared that only 2½ per cent. on the net proceeds was 295 charged; and the result was that no more was paid than about 14,768l. being about 1,000l. to each Commissioner. This, therefore, was a most unfortunate precedent for these gentlemen, in support of their claim to 27,000l. each. The case of prize-agents would stand them in little stead. Prize-agents must have a capital before they could carry on the business; and they were besides exposed to risk and to losses. But, supposing they wanted as little capital, and were as secure from risk as these gentlemen, the precedent would not avail, because the prize-agents charged 5 per cent. not on the gross but on the net proceeds of their sales.—The hon. gent. then requested the house to consider what were the real services of these Commissioners. Their sales had been finished in four years and a half from the time of their appointment, and the important part of their labours had of course then closed. As to the law-suit, that must have been entirely the business of the solicitors and counsel. Nay, in 1804, it had actually occurred to the Treasury, the last quarter where such a notion could have gained admission; that it was useless to retain this Commission any longer—that the very loyal Mr. John Bowles could be uselessly retained in this Commission; and they had actually applied to the law officers of the crown to know whether the Commission might not be dissolved. Nothing prevented that dissolution, except that it was thought proper to continue them nominally because the suit had been commenced in their names—a circumstance which rendered it necessary to maintain their existence till the suit was concluded. The real labours of the Commissioners had however closed; and in point of fact, during the ten years the Commission lasted after the completion of the business, the gentlemen found time enough to do a great deal of other business. This same John Bowles had been active in several elections, which had since taken place, and had time, besides, to write about thirty pamphlets. Mr. Brickwood, too, appeared by the Report to be at this moment a Commissioner for Spanish property. Two of the Commissioners pleaded, it appeared, that they had quitted their professions with a view to the fulfilment of their trust. This was not the first time that professions were abandoned for something better. Another hon. gent., whom be did not see then in his place (Mr. R. Ward) had also quitted his pro- 296 fession for a salary of 1,000l. a year as a Lord of the Admiralty, This brought him to notice another case adverted to in the Report, which appeared to him to be a most palpable job: the case he alluded was that of the American Commissioners. Mr. Tho. M'Donald, it appeared, got 5,000l. for abandoning his profession to become an American Commissioner, and that in addition to a salary of l,500l.per annum. He did not mean to detract from the merits of Mr. M'Donald, but he could see no reason why such a sum of the public money should be given to induce any person to abandon his profession, when so many thousands of persons could be procured to execute the business of the Commission as well, for the bare salary. Mr. John Bowles too must have a consideration for abandoning his profession, and the house had no difficulty to appreciate the means he had taken to secure that consideration. Mr. John Bowles to be compensated for the loss of a profession, at which he might have starved, had it not been for this profitable job of Dutch Commissioner!!! Mr. Bowles had discovered that it was much more profitable to trade in Anti-Jacobinism under Mr. Pitt, than to wait for causes at the bar.—He was sorry to detain the house with such a man as Mr. Bowles, but it happened that his career was connected with some very important points. It shewed the nature of the cry of Anti-Jacobinism, which had been set up with so much vigour to defeat the most beneficial political objects—it exposed the principle upon which the loudest of these Anti-Jacobin declaimers acted, which was solely a view to their own private emolument. This John Bowles afforded an admirable specimen of an Anti-Jacobin—the eulogist of existing powers—the defender of present establishments—the denouncer of all, who might condemn abuses, or call for reform, as vile Jacobins. These tricks would no longer impose upon the public—the mystery was discovered—Mr. John Bowles himself had let out the secret, and the reign of imposture and delusion was at an end. This transaction afforded a useful lesson to all governments how they should bestow important pecuniary trusts upon persons having no merit to recommend them but the circumstance of their being mercenary hireling authors. If governments would employ such persons, they must share the disgrace brought on by their conduct.—For his own part, much as he condemned the conduct of the 297 Commissioners, he looked upon the neglect of government as still more criminal. It was this neglect that produced all the infamous transactions which had lately been brought to light. It was a bounty upon roguery, and an encouragement to abuses. Negligence of this description, and a profligate profusion in the public expenditure, had been the peculiar characteristics of the administration under which these Commissioners had been appointed.—Before he should conclude, he had a few words to add upon the mode in which these accounts were passed. A right hon. gent. opposite (Mr. Rose) had stated in his evidence before the Committee, that they were to be referred to the Auditors of Public Accounts from the Treasury, and in this he appeared to have been incorrect. Another hon. gent. (Mr. Huskisson) admitted that the accounts were to be delivered in at the Treasury to be passed. Now, most unquestionably the Treasury was the last place to which he should consent to send the accounts of so loyal a man as Mr. John Bowles to be audited and passed; because it was not improbable, that he might have friends there, who would not be very strict in the examination and sifting of his accounts, and, besides, the Treasury had not power to examine upon oath. If he was rightly informed, the practice was, that accounts sent in on one day were often passed on the next day.—In the Resolutions which he meant to propose, he should introduce one, directing that the Accounts should be sent to the Auditors of Public Accounts to be passed. As to the proportion of remuneration which it might be desirable to give to the Commissioners, he thought that that question could not well be brought before the house till the Accounts of the Commissioners should be passed. He was not aware of any other observation, which he should think it necessary to make upon this occasion, and should therefore proceed to read to the house the Resolutions which be meant to propose for its adoption. He did not include in them any Resolution for directing a criminal prosecution against the Commissioners by the Attorney-General, because he understood that a doubt was entertained whether they were liable to such a proceeding; and it would ill become him, whilst such a doubt existed, and in the presence of so many gentlemen who were so much more competent than himself to decide that point, to propose any Resolution to the house upon the subject. 298 —The hon. gent. concluded with moving the following Resolutions; 1."That it appears to this house, that to commit pecuniary trusts to any persons whatsoever, without providing any check on their proceedings, without calling for any regular or periodical accounts, and without settling, during a long course of years, the mode or amount of their remuneration, is a neglect which must inevitably lead to the most prejudicial consequences, and is a violation of the obvious duty of government. 2. That such neglect and deviation have been proved to exist, and might have been attended with material loss to the public. 3. That the Commissioners upon Dutch Property have been guilty of gross misconduct, in violating the act under which they were appointed, and appropriating to their own use without authority, sums for which they ought to have accounted to the public. 4. That the Accounts of the Commissioners be referred to the Auditors of Public Accounts to be examined. 5. That all consideration of the remuneration to be allowed to the Commissioners ought to be deferred till their accounts are finally settled."—On the question being put upon the first Resolution,
§ Mr. H. Thornton
felt it necessary, as chairman of the Committee which had made the Report, to state, that he most cordially concurred in every part of that Report. He would have wished, however, to have assigned some annual rate of remuneration to the commissioners, rather than a percentage, because he thought it desirable for parliament to shew that it would not countenance the practice of giving to such Commissioners an allowance upon the proceeds of their sales. The remuneration, as recommended in the report by the Committee, was now 10,000l. no very inadequate compensation for the light business they had to perform. But this remuneration would be still farther reduced by the sums the Commissioners would have to refund. By the act of parliament, their accounts must be sent to the Auditors of Public Accounts, who have power to demand interest on the sums kept at private bankers, or otherwise withheld from the public, by which a considerable reduction would be made in the amount of their remuneration. The Report recommended, that the Auditors should be directed to use their usual discretion with regard to these accounts. It was not with a view of preventing the house 299 from coming to any decision it might think proper, that he mentioned this circumstance, but in justice to the Committee, which did not consider itself at liberty to abstain from making a Report upon the subject of the remuneration, and had therefore introduced the round sum, liable, however, to the reductions he had alluded to. The Committee, too, had stated its opinion with respect to the duty of government, as appeared by the hon. gentleman's having adopted in his first Resolution the very words of the Report, with the trifling alteration of a word, in substituting "obvious" for "acknowledged." But here he felt that a distinction should be taken between Commissioners, such as these, and a government. If the Commissioners neglected the business to which they were appointed, their neglect must be wilful, and consequently highly criminal; but the members of a government had various other important functions to attend to; besides, successive governments might not always be aware of the views of their predecessors; and even the Secretary to the Treasury has so much other business to attend to, that he might inadvertently omit some part of his duty. Upon these grounds, therefore, he considered the neglect of the government, and the neglect of the Commissioners, as meriting different proportions of blame. It was not his wish to take any portion of blame from any person to whom it could be applied. He certainly entertained sincere and warm feelings of friendship for some of the persons to whose conduct the Report referred; but he should not suffer himself to be influenced by those feelings in screening them from any censure which they might by their misconduct have justly incurred. It was due to the Prussian Commissioners to state, that an inaccuracy existed in the statement in the Report, that they had had 18,000l. at a private banker's; the fact having been, that the sum actually placed in the private banker's did not exceed 3,000l. the remainder of the sum being vested in Exchequer Bills. He had thought, that the usual practice was, when a Report of this description was laid before the house, to wait a short time before any proceeding should be instituted upon it in the house, in order to ascertain, whether any steps were taken by government pursuant to the recommendations of the Report; and upon this point he trusted his majesty's ministers would state what steps they had taken.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
was prepared, without any call, such as that made by the hon. gent. who had just sat down, to communicate to the house the measures that had been taken by the Treasury with respect to this Report. When gentlemen considered that it was only on the 25th of March that the Report had been presented to the house; that some delay had taken place in the printing of it; and that it was not in the hands of gentlemen until within a fortnight of the time when notice of this motion was given, they would not think it surprising that no measures had been taken by the Treasury before the notice of this motion was given. He could, however, state that the Treasury had applied to the Committee of the Privy Council, to call upon these Commissioners to give in their accounts to the Treasury, to be then transferred to the Auditors of Public Accounts to be passed. The Treasury had also; adopting the suggestion of the Committee, proposed that the rate of remuneration should be 5 per cent. on the net proceeds, the Commissioners being to defray the charges of their establishment, and to pay interest for any sums which they may have kept at their private bankers. It appeared, that in some of the sales there had been no net proceeds, but an actual loss, and it was thought right that the amount of these losses should be deducted from the net proceeds. From this statement the house would be able to judge whether the conduct of government merited that general censure which the Resolutions of the hon. gent. went to pass upon all the governments that had successively existed since the appointment of these Commissioners; a censure, too, which undoubtedly would least of all apply to the present government. But, was the case such as to call for this censure? This Commission was an anomalous case. Parliament took the business out of the regular course in which it would have been administered under the authority of the Court of Admiralty. No remuneration was assigned for the Commissioners, because that was never done in the case of parliamentary Commissioners. Besides, it was not for the government, in the first instance, to fix upon any particular amount of remuneration. To shew what had been the conduct of the present government, he should refer to the Commissioners for Portuguese property, who were directed to restore the whole of the property, without any deduction of per cent- 301 age, to the Portuguese claimants who should prove themselves the owners, as a course most consistent with justice, and most worthy of the crown, and the character of the nation. Upon the whole, he did not think that any practical convenience could result from the adoption of the Resolutions of the hon. gent. and certainly he was not more liable to blame than the noble lord (H. Petty) who preceded him in office. But neither, he contended, was justly liable to blame. The effect of a general vote of censure upon all the successive governments, since the institution of these Commissioners, would fall entirely upon the present government. Seeing, therefore, that the act, which had been in operation for the last four years, provided for the effectual check of these accounts, and that the business was now in train to be fully and finally settled, the house he was confident, would not feel it necessary to entertain the Resolutions. The hon. gent. himself, would, he hoped, now that he was in possession of the uniform practice of the house in such cases, withdraw his motion; but if he should not, it was his intention to move the previous question upon his Resolutions.
§ Sir John Newport
would not consent that this motion should be withdrawn, or disposed of by the previous question. If ever there had been an instance of malversation of trust, it was this one new under discussion. In all parts of the Report there appeared proofs of trangressions of the act of parliament, of an abandonment of their duty, and of their instructions under that act, upon the part of these Commissioners. Their accounts had been made up apparently according to their instructions, but in reality with a view of disguising the real state of their illegal profits. If such malpractices, when proved incontestibly, should not be marked by the severest censure of that house, it would be an encouragement to corruption. Their conduct was aggravated by the manner in which they had given their evidence before the Committee. On their examination, they gave amended and explanatory answers to the questions which were put to them, but which, in fact, amounted to nothing else than gross prevarication, and direct, falsifications of their former testimony. They had presumed to say that they placed their balances in the hands of private bankers, as public officers do. Did public officers really do so? Good God! 302 was the floating security of individuals equal to that of the Bank of England? Instead of being lodged in safety in the Bank of England, every Commissioner applied his proportion of the balance in the manner the most beneficial to himself. Those gentlemen began very early to appreciate their own merits, and drew, truly, a very handsome reward. Within the first year of their existence they had lodged 850,000l. in the hands of their private bankers, though during that period not a farthing had been paid by them into the Bank of England; and within the last three years, the whole sum lodged in the Bulk of England, amounted only to 90,000l. If any bankrupt had given a statement of his effects in the manner in which these gentlemen had done, would the Commissioners remain satisfied with it? Would any better proof of fraud be required, than that a single item had been kept back in his accounts by the bankrupt? He should support the Resolutions; but whatever might be the fate of them, he should afterwards move for an Address to his majesty, to direct the Attorney-General to prosecute these Commissioners for malversation in their trust.
stated, that previous to the passing the act of the 25th of the king, there had existed no effectual mode of passing and auditing accounts. Under that act these Commissioners, as public accountants, would be compelled to go with their accounts to the Public Auditors. I any blame was imputable to any government, it undoubtedly must be to that government which existed when these Commissioners had been appointed. But the act by which they had been appointed required them to furnish their accounts when called for, and to take their instructions from the privy council.—As to the proportion of their remuneration, his idea was, that when their business should be completed, that point would be settled; but he never could have had an idea that they would take to themselves a poundage upon their sales. To him personally, if any blame was imputable to any one, it might be said to attach. But as to what had been stated by the hon. gent. who opened this business, relative to any leaning he might be supposed to have towards one of these Commissioners, (Mr. John Bowles) he could assure that hon. gent., that he knew as much of that person, and was as well acquainted with him as he was himself. And what was more, he could 303 assure him, that he had never read any of his pamphlets, though he would allow that they were regularly laid upon his table. He had only to add, that a neglect such as had taken place on this subject might happen in the hurry of business to any government. He had ever been a friend to inquiries such as the one which had detected this transaction, because it was impossible for any man to say, that he never omitted any part of his duty; and the benefit of such inquiries was, that they brought to light any omissions which might take place. He trusted, however, that the neglect was not of such a character in this instance, as to induce the house to adopt the Resolution of censure upon the government, proposed by the hon. gentleman.
§ Mr. Whitbread
rose and said; Sir; there are several reasons which prevent my suffering this question to go to a vote without expressing my opinion upon the conduct of the Dutch Commissioners, and of those who ought to have paid some attention to their proceedings. A great smoke has long issued from the office of the Dutch Commissioners. Persons have often said that the Dutch Commission was a great job, that if it were enquired into, it would be found to be so: but no mortal alive ever expected to find such a blazing fire as that which is now known to have been so long burning in Broad-street. The right hon. gent. who has just sat down (Mr. Rose) has, after the fashion of a noble colleague of his in office, behaved himself with great decency: he has candidly confessed the omissions of that Board of Treasury with which he was connected; his own in particular, as arising out of the situation in which he was formerly placed, where it was his more peculiar duty to have attended to what these gentlemen were about.—It must be said of the noble lord (Castlereagh) and the right hon. gent. (Mr. Rose) that at the place of execution they have conducted themselves with decency and contrition; and in allowing the justice of the sentence passed upon them, or rather which ought to be passed upon them, I cannot help feeling some compassion for their unhappy lot. But the Dutch Commissioners, Sir, enter no such claims. When convicted of guilt upon the most undeniable evidence, after having in vain attempted every subterfuge; after having been allowed every possible mode of evasion and explanation, they, by a paper 304 published subsequent to the breaking up of the Committee, arraign the conduct of the Committee itself, which it therefore becomes our duty to support and to protect.—I cannot help remarking that this Commission has arisen out of one of those abominable practices, which, if they belong to, entirely disgrace, the law of nations: and that the Dutch Prizes, for the settlement of which this Commission was instituted, were tempted into our ports by a proclamation which offered to them the protection of this nation. That they having repaired hither, according to the language of a subsequent Order in Council, in full confidence, were, after another Order in Council directing reprisals to be made upon the Dutch, seized upon as prize of war: and according to the custom of civilized nations, we made a prey of those whom we had pretended to protect. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has described this to have been an anomalous commission of an extraordinary nature. Unquestionably during the first short period of its institution it was so: but that soon ceased; and after war had been declared against Holland, the king by his Order in Council, appointed this commission for the ordinary purposes to which such commissions are applied, and it came under the controul of the privy council exactly in the same manner as others. However, sir, as an extenuation of the conduct of these gentlemen, it matters not in what way they were constituted. They were appointed servants to the public; which public, according to the confession even of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they have grossly defrauded.—After the confession made by the right hon. gent. (Mr. Rose), and the guilt allowed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am at a loss to conceive how any man can presume to recommend that no notice should be taken of these proceedings by the house of commons; and that no question should be taken either upon the negligence of the government, or the criminality of the Commissioners: and yet such is the course that we are called upon to pursue, to open our eyes to negligence and criminality, and to pass them over unobserved upon, and unstigmatized.—Perhaps, it is difficult to find in all the accounts of public servants who have misconducted themselves towards the nation which employed them, a case more flagrant than that which is now before us. These gentlemen having been appointed 305 for the purposes mentioned in the act of parliament, were left, as is the custom, without any specific salary named: but, in all other instances that I am aware of, of the same nature, the Commissioners have waited with patience till parliament or the privy council, as the nature of the case might be, should have determined what that salary should be. In this instance, however, the Dutch Commissioners became very soon impatient; and, although parliament and the Treasury had forgotten them, they did not forget themselves. It appears, that they very early turned their attention to the subject of their own profit, and that not knowing what to do, or what mode of remuneration to adopt, they applied for information upon the subject.—Sir, it must appear to men of ordinary habits and modes of proceeding, that it would have become the Commissioners to have, applied either by petition to this house, or by memorial to the Treasury, for a rule by which to guide themselves; but these gentlemen did neither the one nor the other. Some one of their body was deputed to go to Chelsea, where, at that time, lived a very respectable gentleman, who must have been at an advanced period of life, of the name of Aufrere. He had been a Commissioner for Prizes as long ago as the year 1756. The report brought by the delegate to his brethren, which afterwards turned out to be totally false, was that Mr. Aufrere and his fellow Commissioners had received 5 per cent, upon the proceeds which went through their hands, but whether gross, or net, the Commissioner who received the information does not pretend to determine: and yet the Board have, upon this authority, supposing that it is, as far as it goes, truly stated, ventured to assert to the committee that they were sanctioned by precedent! The truth of the conversation between Mr. Aufrere and the Commissioner, it is not now my intention to question, because any enquiry into the subject must be fruitless; Mr. Aufrere himself is dead. It may be observed, in passing, that the Treasury was a good deal nearer to the residence of these gentlemen than was the house of Mr. Aufrere, and that their messenger must actually have passed by the one to get at the other. The delegate must carefully have shut his eyes, I think, when he passed Charing Cross, and rigidly abstained from casting one glance that way, lest he should be tempted to go to that 306 place for information to which only it was his duty to resort. The Commissioners, however, being, even after this conversation at Chelsea, in a fresh difficulty as to whether they should charge upon gross or net, solved that difficulty in their own favour, und immediately set to work and charged 5 per cent. on the gross proceeds.—Why was not the Treasury consulted instead of Mr. Aufrere? The information would have been more authentic. It might have been less satisfactory then, although much more satisfactory to them (if they had known it and acted upon it), as their case stands now, for they would not have been reduced to that situation of shame in which they now stand before this tribunal.—Sir, I cannot help remarking upon the attempt at deceit and gross prevarication which appears in the first short paper returned to the committee from the office of the Commissioners.—In that paper they say that they have no fee, emolument, or compensation whatever, and that they have only the usual commission upon the proceeds passing through their hands.—Sir, these Commissioners, although men of the world, either appear to have entertained that foolish notion with which we have seen witnesses at this bar impressed, namely, that they should be allowed to make their own statement and be called upon to speak no farther, and not to be subjected to any observation or cross-examination whatever; such must have been their notion at the time they signed that prevaricating paper: or they must have thought that the committee itself was composed of weaker men than I trust are to be found in this house.—Sir, give me leave to ask them where the usage is to be found on which they ground their assertion? Of Mr. Aufrere's authority even they are not certain, and the Treasury Warrant to the Commissioners in 1756, directly and flatly contradicts them.—But, Sir, be it remarked, that they assert, upon the authority of Mr. A. also, that the expences of their establishment were not to be paid out of their pretended emolument. An instance of unblushing assurance! For they do not pretend even that Mr. Aufrere ever said any one word to their delegate upon the subject: these are sins of commission on the part of these Commissioners: and, notwithstanding the fairness with which they were examined; the opportunities which were afforded them of explaining their answers, and afterwards of answering their own expla- 307 nations; they end worse than they begun, and their guilt becomes more manifest every step they take.—I cannot help here remarking upon the contrast which is exhibited in the latitude of explanation allowed by the Committee, and the conduct towards witnesses which we have seen sometimes adopted at the bar of this house. There, witnesses who are selected, or at least ought to be so, for their judgment, discrimination, acquirements, and knowledge of the world, are deliberately asked temperate questions, to which they are allowed to answer in the most deliberate manner. They are then allowed to consider those answers and to explain them. They are afterwards allowed to answer those explanations, and to amend them: and the Commissioners, not contented with that, have published a set of posthumous papers, attacking the able Report of that impartial Committee, (to whose labours, in this instance, I cannot give praise too strong), which they have put into the hands of members of this house, and even have ventured to canvas for vote and interest. They have the effrontery to talk of the sacrifices they have made to the public. Having set aside for their own use above 130,000l. they still have further claims upon us, which they in their generosity have relinquished. The sacrifice they have made to the public, is to refrain from charging the expence of their establishment over and above such enormous gains: and yet in such a charge they say they should have been justified upon precedent! Proh pudor! et veritas! No such precedent nor the shadow thereof can be traced. Here, Sir, we have seen witnesses pressed with questions in a hurried manner: and the hurried answer which has escaped from them, has been taken down and deemed conclusive, without the smallest latitude allowed of explanation or amendment. I have made the remark, I do not wait to draw any inference from it.—Sir, I have spoken in very strong terms of the conduct of these Commissioners: and I do not think the house will do its duty, unless it goes further even than the Committee itself has pointed out in the Report. I do not think that the allowance mentioned by them, ought to be made, and I concur in the opinion of the hon. mover of these Resolutions, that not one farthing ought to be paid until the whole of their accounts are settled. We should untruss these Dutchmen, and take from their trunk-hose every farthing of 308 their ill-gotten wealth. We should exact from them a minute account of all their gains: and then, if it should be proper to give them any thing after their conviction of such gross frauds, parliament itself should decide upon the quantum.—Sir, I am not acquainted with any of these Commissioners personally, nor do I know but that they may be all men of great reputation hitherto, and of ability sufficient to execute the office consigned to them; one of them, however, is sufficiently known to the public, Mr. John Bowles, a gentleman who, for a series of years, has been a writer by profession: who has libelled much that has been good and virtuous in this country. If it really be Mr. Bowles the author, who writes under the signature of Christianus Laicus, the sanctified Anti-Jacobin, who has been so detected, I will venture to say, that a discovery so rare, and in all its circumstances so amusing, has not been made since the moment when that atheistical philosopher, Square, was discovered in Miss Seagrim's garret.—He was appointed a Commissioner under the administration of Mr. Pitt. Sir, I do not mean to follow the example of this political writer, who, for purposes most unchristian-like, thought proper to assume the title of Christianus Laicus. I do not mean to invade the silence of the tomb, or unnecessarily to attack the memory of the dead. I do not mean to question the propriety of Mr. Pitt's conduct in this instance: but, happily, we have before us, if not in the bloom of youth, at least in the vigour of health and intellect, a right hon. gent., who was an appendage to that administration of Mr. Pitt, as he is to the present, and who confesses, that with his department, and with him more particularly, lies all the guilt of not enquiring into the proceedings of those men. He, perhaps, may also know for what particular services as a political writer, or rather as a party writer, Mr. Bowles was rewarded, and he can tell us which of all the numerous publications he has uttered to the world, insured to him this snug situation in Broad-street.—Perhaps, Sir, no censure that I can pass; no resolution to which even this house can come, blaming Mr. Bowles, can be regarded by him as so severe as the assertion made by the right hon. gent. (Mr. Rose), that, although his table groans with the publications of Mr. Bowles, he never condescended to open one of them in his life. I think, the right 309 hon. gent. himself has a good deal to answer for, in suffering the public to be inundated with the productions of Mr. Bowles's pen, when those, through whose means he obtained the public money as a remuneration for such services, were not acquainted with the extent and malignity of the poison which they so suffered to be diffused.—If, Sir, I may use a quotation, sufficiently hackneyed indeed for any one, however illiterate, to catch hold of; but which is sanctioned by the adoption of Mr. Bowles himself, who has said of a person, described in his mild and Christian like manner, that, noscitur a sociis; I may say of the Commissioners, noscuntur a socio; and really if Mr. Bowles is a sample of the rest, I can have no reliance upon them whatever, no compassion for their situation, and can find no excuse for their misconduct. When a man sets himself up a self-elected censor of the manners of the age: an universal condemner of all whom he chuses to submit to his lash: when he affects the title, by distinction, of Christian, he ought to be most peculiarly upon his guard, as to the rectitude of his own conduct: and if it should be found to have yielded to baser motives than those which he has ventured to ascribe to others: if during the time that he has been censuring the frailties of mankind, he should be found to have been himself the doer of the most sordid deeds, the severity of his punishment ought to be in proportion to the sanctity of the character he has thus falsely assumed: for the injury such a man does to the cause of virtue by hypocrisy, is beyond all comparison greater than that which can be done by the open, avowed, and hardened malefactor.—Sir, it has been said, as one of the false pretences under which these gentlemen collectively seized upon so large a portion of the money which passed through their hands, that two out of the five, after a few months, abandoned their professions. Three out of the five, I believe, were merchants; they, certainly, did not abandon their professions: one was an East India captain: the other was a lawyer. The East India captain might, I should have thought, have foreseen, at the very outset, that the continuance in his profession was incompatible with the duties of such a situation; for it is manifest that a gentleman could not sail across the ocean to India and back again, and at the same time execute his duties in Broad-street: 310 with regard to him the pretence of abandoning a profession after a few months of experiment, is frivolous beneath notice. Mr. Bowles was a lawyer, and, if I am not much misinformed as to the state of his practice, he might very easily have satisfied all his clients and executed all the duties of his commission without the smallest interference with their interest. But, Sir, I am not at all surprized that this gentleman should have abandoned his profession after a few months, for we see by the Report, that within a very few months the Commissioners had appropriated to themselves no less a sum than 25,000l. Why, Sir, this must have been as unexpected to Mr. Bowles as the 20,000l. prize was to the apothecary; but he might sing with Mr. Lenitive,My gown and my wigI'll hang upon a peg:I am all for the Publico Bono.It may fairly be asked of these two gentlemen, why, when they chose that the public should pay for this relinquishment of their ordinary pursuits in life, they did not chuse to consult that body from whom they exacted such payment? There are two parties to such a bargain; and at least it became them to have asked that party which was to pay, whether the thing to be obtained was thought worth the price. Upon this the Committee have ably remarked, and I thoroughly agree with them in opinion, that, under this head, the two gentlemen in question are entitled to no remuneration whatever.—Sir, the history of the question put by Mr. Pitt to these Commissioners, respecting the balance in their hands, so early as the month of Feb. 1796, and the answer given by the Commissioners, is a strong exemplification of the neglect of the officers of the Treasury, and the unblushing effrontery of Mr. Bowles and his associates. At that period the Commissioners had no less a sum than 196,000l. in their hands; and yet, without stating what their balances were, they simply declare that they can afford no money for the necessities of the state, unless a sum to a very large amount is paid to them by the East India Company. Ought not the Treasury to have required an account of that balance which they fraudulently withheld? And ought not enquiry to have been made into the state of their accounts? It was evidently expected that a large sum would be found in their hands, and such a disappointment ought to have 311 led to investigation. But what shall we say to this Commissioner? He was a life-and-fortune man: he was ready to spend the last shilling of his own money, and shed the last drop of his own blood, in the defence of his country: and yet, as a public accountant, in possession of public balances, he refused to the country the use of its own money, in order that he might convert that money to his own private advantage.—Very shortly after this, an appropriation was made of 25,000l., and within fifteen months from the period of their first beginning they had appropriated to their own use no less than 40,000l. Unappalled by the magnitude of the sum, they made no enquiry, returned no statement, entered no items by which this imposition might be detected: they did not comply with the terms or the spirit of the act of parliament: they did not pay, as they ought to have done, their money into the Bank: they did not give any intimation of the wealth they were thus acquiring: and they presume to say, after all the statutes that have been made to remedy such abuses: after all the clamour which such abuses have created: after all the ferment into which the existence of these abuses has at different times thrown the public mind, of which they could not be ignorant: they had the effrontery to say that in using the money to discount private bills for their own advantage, they were following the example of all public accountants. Away with their paltry subterfuge with regard to the payments for which they expected to be called upon! If they had placed the money in security at the Bank to their own joint and private account, they might have called for it at any moment for the service to which it was destined, and they would have complied with the spirit of the act of parliament. If they had paid it in according to the terms of the act of parliament, and any unexpected payments had arisen, they might have done that, which they did in the first instance, apply to the privy council for an issue of money which issue could not have been refused.—Sir, the detection of such scandalous practices must be of public advantage; there is only on is shadow of reason why it should not, and that, reason I will give in the words of Mr. Bowles himself:—"There is indeed just cause to fear lest "our administration of justice, pure as it "is in itself, should, on account of the "foulness of the transactions which are 312 "brought before it, serve rather to injure "than improve these sentiments, the corruption of which denotes the last stage "of depravity."—Still the exposure of such transactions, carried on by such a man amongst others, must be of public utility. Sir, this author has calumniated men of character in this country. He and his associates, the Anti-Jacobins, have done me the honour to notice me by their abuse. In two pamphlets addressed personally to myself, he has thought proper to charge me with a want of proper attention to the cause of religion. He I suppose must be, in his own estimation, a great religionist. Does he live according to the strictest sect of his religion, a Pharisee? of whom it is said, "that they were whited walls, and painted sepulchres: are cleanliness without, but all hollowness within: blind guides: persons professing and preaching good doctrine, and pursuing bad conduct." Some persons he has more parcularly designated as enemies to the state, and he has ventured to consult his historical knowledge for the character of Clodius, which he has applied to a member of this house: thereby designating him, and indeed in express terms, in a Note which he has appended to his work, as a person who wished to overthrow the state, and to be accessary to the murder of a magistrate. I shall take the liberty of comparing him to that Athenian mentioned by Horace, whom the commentators have named Timon: of whom it is said, Populus me sibilat. Populus sibilabit, but Mr. Bowles will not have the satisfaction of contemplating his money in the chest, as a salve for the ridicule of the populace, for I am persuaded, he will be made to refund "the uttermost farthing."—Sir, I do hope that the change which will be produced in consequence of the discovery lately made, in what Mr. Bowles terms the hitherto Terra incognita of morals,' will be productive of great public advantage. The whole of our public system will partake of the effects resulting from such discoveries. If these gentlemen are treated with more severity in this house, than some of those that have lately appeared before us, the reason is obvious. They surrendered at discretion: but the Dutch Commissioners fight upon their very stumps: and not contented with the attacks they have made upon the Committee, whose labours we ought to uphold, have had the modesty to canvas the members of this 313 house, for their votes and interest. The evidence upon which we can proceed, with regard to them, appears to me to be conclusive. There is no possibility of evading the charge of a gross fraud upon the public. Indeed, I should be sorry that the house should proceed upon that sort of evidence, on which Mr. Bowles thought proper to invade the sacred silence of the tomb, and to charge the late duke of Bedford with a want of religion, merely because his eulogist had not mentioned religion in the speech with which he paid the tribute of honour and affection to his memory. Mr. Bowles was then dragged forth, the reluctant champion of public morals: he never would have been disposed, he said, to publish one word respecting the late duke of Bedford, if he had not felt that the unqualified eulogies which were passed upon him, had had a tendency to corrupt the public sentiment. But such an enemy was he to corruption of all kinds, that he found himself compelled to be the reluctant attacker of the memory of the duke of Bedford, upon a subject, which even during life, might be deemed to be peculiarly a man's own, and upon which, after death, when it cannot possibly matter to the world; when the great account is closed, and there is no correction to be made of the errors which have been committed, and no change of sentiment can take place, it does appear to be an act of the most wanton and deliberate cruelty to make such an attack.—Sir, I am not afraid of entering the lists with Christianus Laicus upon this subject: although with the addition of two syllables, to express myself in Mr. B's own words, "I know that "he who will fairly enter the lists with "Anti-Jacobinism, must be prepared to "encounter the utmost vengeance of the "most implacable malice." The utmost vengeance of attack was directed against the duke of Bedford on political matters, whilst he was alive, and the implacable malice of Mr. Bowles was not satiated by his death. The evidence upon which he proceeded to establish a fact, which to him was of no importance, and with which, neither he, nor the world had any thing to do, was very different from that upon which the frauds of the Dutch Commissioners can be most incontrovertibly placed. He propagated the calumny of the irreligion of the duke of Bedford upon this slender foundation. He had heard from a person, who said he had 314 heard from another, who was the parish clerk of Woburn, that the duke of Bedford employed his labourers on a Sunday. The parish clerk, however, who was stated to be the author of the information, which a reverend gentleman of the Church of England gave to Mr. John Bowles, and which Mr. Bowles has declared to be a calumny so foul against the noble Duke, if not true, that it was impossible to suppose a clergyman of the Church of England could have fabricated the whole story; yet that parish clerk, when referred to, roundly asserts, "that no such fact ever existed: that he never could have said so, because it was not true, and whoever said so, was a villain for bringing up his name with so infamous a falsehood." When called upon to retract that poison which he had so maliciously circulated in the world, Mr. Bowles, modestly demanded the proof of a direct negative, to enable him to do justice to the memory of the Duke, and to quote his own words, said, "he should be very happy to find by clear, precise, and indisputable evidence, that no such fact ever existed." The proof of a negative is difficult: in this case, however, it so happened, that the proof could be afforded to him. When it was afforded, he denied justice to him whom he had so calumniated, and when his correspondence with Mr. Adam was published to the world, he commented upon that correspondence, in a way to leave the impression which he had endeavoured to create still existing on the public mind; at least, as far as depended upon himself. At that time, he was a gentleman in high repute, of great estimation, a man receiving the reward of his literary labours, an unblemished servant of the public, a person who was writing to accuse others of not having made proper and just returns of their incomes, upon which the tax might be levied: holding his head high in society, the censor of morals, and unsuspected of such a flagitious course of proceeding against the public as has now come to light. These were piping times with the Anti-Jacobins. One was fighting his way up to be an ambassador; another was preparing to govern the country in the shape of a secretary of state, and Mr. John Bowles, their supposed associate, who prepared the heavier parts of the composition, while the budding diplomatist and secretary were relaxing from their severer studies, in those humourous, political effusions, which adorn the page of the Anti-Ja- 315 cobin, was reclining in the dignity of his office in Broad-street, and dealing out his anathemas against all those who opposed that administration, which had so amply rewarded his past, and secured his future labours.—Many literary characters, of somewhat higher reputation than Mr. Bowles, have sighed in vain for that ease and retirement which he found. Dr. Johnson feelingly laments the want of easy circumstances and uninterrupted leisure, which are so favourable to literary pursuits. Mr. Bowles found the blessings of retirement, ease, and patronage. Under these auspicious circumstances, he produced a vast number of publications all of the same tendency; and although the right hon. gent., Mr. Rose, assures the house he never read a syllable in one of them, I can assure him that the title pages to some contain the words fourth (nay I believe fifth), edition, so that the doctrines and sentiments contained in them were pretty widely diffused: or an imposture was played off on the public. I had rather the latter should have been the case. But numerous as the writings may hereafter be, from this time forth they will be bereft of all venom. The Virgin is Unmasked, and can no longer be palmed upon the public for that which she is not.—Surely, Sir, the house will agree to all the Resolutions which have been proposed by my hon. friend! Will they accept of the course proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; especially, after the line he tells you he means to adopt for the payment of these Commissioners? For what, are they to be remunerated? Not for their services, but for their cheats. Does he seriously mean to take a step beyond that which the Committee has pointed out, and which, I confess, I think one step too far? Does he recollect a passage in the Report, in which the Committee say, that "the "magnitude of the charges on the vessels "and cargoes sold, which manifests itself in "the difference between the gross and the "net proceeds, and in the excess of the "charges above the whole proceeds in the "case of many vessels, appears to demand attention"? Has he adverted to that passage, I say: and having adverted to that passage, (which excites something more than suspicion in my mind, and must in that of the public, that there was fraud in the way of making up their accounts), can he venture to call upon the house to pass it by? Will the house not take it into its consideration? Will the house 316 allow him to fulfil his intention of leaving in the hands of the Commissioners a greater share of their ill-gotten spoil, than the Committee would have awarded them? Is that possible? Sir, I think not. I speak, with real confidence when I declare, that I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to persuade the house to adopt the mode of proceeding which he has suggested, and to come to a previous question upon all the Resolutions moved.—Sir, let the house recollect, that the real services performed by these Commissioners were very short. That for the last years they have been doing nothing; and that, according to the confession of one of the present Secretaries to the Treasury, theirs has, latterly, been only a legal existence, for the purpose of prosecuting claims; at least, ever since the year 1802, when enquiry was made why the Board should not be broken up. Up to that time, palliative reasons may be stated for the non-interference of administration; but from the moment it was known that the existence of such a Commission was only necessary for legal purposes, it is very surprizing that the number of Commissioners was not reduced to the lowest limit prescribed by the act of parliament, which was three, and the obvious saving to the public by such reduction would have been considerable.—I cannot admit, on the part of the public, of those excuses to their full extent, which are made on behalf of the different administrations, which have succeeded to that under which this Commission was instituted. It is very well for an administration to say "we were in office only for a very short time, and therefore you have no right to call us to account for not taking up the matter, which in the multiplicity of the business, thrown before us, which we had scarcely time to arrange, might escape our notice." On the part of my noble friend, and even of the present administration, (if it was not for one particular circumstance, as it regards them), such excuse might be urged. But the present administration have amongst them, that very Secretary to the Treasury whose attention was called during his former official situation to this matter; and which, upon his return to office, ought he not to have forgotten: and therefore they are without excuse. But are we to be defrauded with impunity, because the king has appointed a succession of ministers in virtue of his prerogative? Sir, as a member of parliament, I can accept of no such 317 excuse: and the king's ministers, without knowing who they are, have not done their duty in suffering these frauds to proceed. I hope the house will do its duty, and that now they are detected, and exposed, it will mark its reprobation of their conduct, and not suffer the conduct of ministers even to go without hints of that blame, to which all of them are, in their different degrees, obnoxious.—I will not consent, for one, that a single farthing shall be paid to the Commissioners until the whole of the public money shall have been restored. I do not believe what they say, that they cannot give an account of the interest they have made upon the public money. I cannot believe men, who, from their superior attainments in acuteness, method, and knowledge of figures, have been selected to conduct intricate matters of account for the public, when they come and tell me that in the management of their own private transactions, they have kept no account at all! Tell them, that if they do not render an accurate account of every farthing they have so made, in the most circumstantial manner, they shall not receive any recompence; and they will produce you every item of the account.—Sir, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his colleagues may have some feeling for Mr. Bowles and his colleagues, some wish to palliate their delinquency: for Mr. Bowles, amongst other of his labours, has given to the world his sentiments on the side of No Popery (Oh! rare support of No Popery Bowles and No Popery Beazeley!) but it is most material, that the house should not be supine in noticing these transactions: for, I find it truly laid down in a quotation inserted in one of Mr. Bowles's pamphlets, "that "great danger arises from the supineness "of long-established power, and the want "of estimating, truly and in time, the effect of those arts now employed, systematically, for the overthrow of establishments of every kind."—Sir, I agree with that gentleman, in saying "that per-"haps, it may be impossible more accurately to describe our moral character, "than by representing us in that middle "and most critical state, which retains so "much goodness, as to be capable of re-"formation, while it is so fast verging to "complete depravity, as to afford just occasion to fear, that it will soon be too "bad to be corrected, except by a mira-"cle" And, I cannot conclude more forcibly, than by quoting another passage 318 from his voluminous writings, wherein he says, "that these primary causes of corruption operate in a most alarming manner in this country: at home, it is impossible to deny that an inordinate love "of pleasure, and an insatiable lust of "gain, have produced an alarming indifference to every relative duty, and to "every social feeling: a sensible increase "of fraud, perfidy, knavery, and peculation, and a rapid approach to that state "of selfishness, which involves a total disregard for the rights and advantages of "others." The following, which are the last words of the sentence, I cannot but suppose, he amply feels, and that "by a "just retribution," he has "completely "sacrificed his own felicity."
§ Mr. Huskisson
spoke in vindication of the Treasury. The Dutch Commissioners, he said, were parliamentary commissioners; and it was considered, that, as in all similar cases, their remuneration was to be considered at the termination of their labours; but he never did conceive them entitled to deduct any percentage for their own remuneration from the money passing through their hands, nor that they were entitled to poundage as prize agents. When the immense increase of business in the department of the Treasury since 1793, was considered, and the inadequacy of the number of persons allotted to transact that business, it was morally impossible that some things should not escape attention. He could appeal to the noble lord opposite him (lord H. Petty) for the truth of this observation; and the cause he could fairly assert existed in the backwardness of those at the head of affairs to increase the number of officers, and thereby add to the public expence, by which they would also expose themselves to the imputation of extending patronage. Notwithstanding the addition of an Assistant Secretary, and the indefatigable labours of himself and his colleagues, it was impossible to prevent the business from going into arrears. Under such circumstances, then, it was not surprizing if some omissions occasionally occurred.
§ Mr. H. Thornton
explained, that although the Commissioners were not absolutely required by the act under which they were appointed, to put the money in their hands out at interest for the public advantage, yet they had put it out for their own emolument, and had put thereby a sum of 44,000l. into their own pockets.
thought it impossible that 319 the negligence of government for fourteen years could be passed over in the way proposed. But, if so, what should be said of the conduct of the Commissioners, who had been guilty of concealment and of making false statements, for the purpose of fraudulent advantage to themselves? Was it to be endured that at the worst they should only be called on to refund? It was not intended to charge ministers with any crime; but when inquiry was proposed into abuses, it would be very injurious in every sense to pass it by. Besides, the blame imputed was not to the government, but to the Dutch Commissioners. Did the right hon. gent. then invite them to pass over this, and by so doing, encourage other defaulters to persevere in their pursuits, with the hope of impunity; and this in a case where it was acknowledged that the Commissioners had helped themselves to a sum of no less than 25,000l. without any authority whatsoever? Was this the way in which the public was to be served? Would their constituents think they did their duty, if they shut their eyes against conduct such as was here developed? The Resolutions to his mind were mild, and only called on the house to do what imperious duty desired. It was said that one of the gentlemen (Mr. John Bowles) had published 32 pamphlets. He had seen one of them, and as the title was tempting he had looked into it. It was termed "A Moral "View of Society at the end of the 18th "Century;" and he should have been happy if at any time he could have presumed to possess that pure morality it professed to inculcate. Some of the passages be found peculiarly applicable to the present case. In one paragraph the writer observes, "Conscience has now not only "lost its power to restrain men from "crimes themselves, but even to excite "indignation in others; and crimes not "formerly tolerated, now find advocates "in persons laying claim to religious and "virtuous characters." Odious as hypocrisy was, the right hon. gent. could not but regard this as a tribute to his conscience. There was another passage, almost written one would suppose for the Commissioners: "A more convincing "proof can hardly be conceived of the "disregard of our duty than the growth "of peculation; and that so far from ren-"dering to Cæsar the things which are "Cæsar's, every person must be shocked "at the gross defalcations which every 320 "where come within their view." Again: "Nothing can without a sense of religious "duties get the better of temptation." There must indeed have been something about this Mr. Bowles, but surely it could not be a sense of moral or religious duties, which rendered him not proof against temptation. It was clear that this gentleman, whatever might be the case of the other Commissioners, was at least not ignorant of the public duties imposed upon him by his situation. The right hon. gent. submitted, that the house could not pass over this business, without leaving some trace on their Journals of the sense they entertained of so gross and scandalous a transaction.
rose and said: Mr. Speaker; I am aware, Sir, that I am about to volunteer upon a most arduous service, for I really rise with the view of offering a few words in behalf of that arch Anti Jacobin, Mr. John Bowles. In so doing, it is right I should premise that I can be influenced by no consideration of a personal nature; for my acquaintance with Mr. Bowles is so slight, that I never was in his house, nor he in mine: but I am influenced by those feelings, of which every man of a liberal mind must partake, when he hears such outrageous abuse lavished on a person who is not present to defend himself. This abuse has come with the worst grace imaginable from the hon. gentleman who has most indulged in it; for, if party zeal and party spirit be a sin, he may well exclaim with Falstaff, "Lord help the wicked." The hon. gentleman kept his temper perfectly well till he touched upon the 30 pamphlets which he attributes to the pen of Mr. Bowles; but at the mention of these pamphlets all his wrath was awakened, and I am justified in presuming that he means to visit the sins of the pamphleteer upon the head of the Dutch Commissioner. I maintain, Sir, that Mr. Bowles has as much right to publish his sentiments on any political topics, or on the public conduct of any public men, as the hon. gentleman himself. If the hon. gentleman disapproved the sentiments contained in those pamphlets, he was at liberty to answer them. Nay, for what I know, he may have answered them, for he also is a pamphleteer; and this perhaps, accounts for the extraordinary asperity in which he has indulged against Mr. Bowles, for two of a trade, they say, can never agree. Wits are gamecocks to one another; and the hon. gent. 321 has really crowed most outrageously loud, considering that his antagonist was not within hearing. He accuses Mr. Bowles of having invaded the silent retreats of the dead, in his reflections upon the character of the late Duke of Bedford. I am no friend, Sir, to reflections either upon the dead, or the absent, but I must observe to the hon. gentleman, that he was at the same moment committing that very fault of which he accused Mr. Bowles. He, too, invaded the silent retreats of the dead; and calumniated the memory of Mr. Pitt, when he charged him with having appointed Mr. Bowies one of the Dutch Commissioner, as a reward for his having written these 30 political pamphlets. No grosser anacronism, Sir, was ever committed by a man who suffers his resentment to get the better of his reflection; for a comparison of dates will immediately shew, that Mr. Bowles's appointment took place years before any of the pamphlets to which he alluded were written. I have heard Sir, and that from authority on which I can rely, that Mr. Bowles was first introduced to the notice of Mr. Pitt in consequence of the appearance of an anonymous Answer to Mr. Tom Paine's Age of Reason. This work attracted Mr. Pitt's attention, and led him to inquire the name of the author; he then sent for Mr. Bowles, and told him that he should be happy to serve him, whenever a fit opportunity offered, in consideration of the essential service which he had rendered to the cause of Religion and Government by that publication. I am persuaded, Sir, that every gentleman who hears me will think, that to provide an antidote for the poison contained in the Age of Reason, was a meditorious office; and I mention this anecdote, to the honour both of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Bowles.—An attack of a different kind has been made upon Mr. Bowles by the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Ponsonby) who has just sat down. He has performed the task of a reviewer, and entertained the house with a very ingenious critique on various passages from one of Mr. Bowles's pamphlets. From this specimen, Sir, I should not be surprised to see a new Review start up; and the Parliamentary Review, may perhaps rival even the Edinburgh Review; but in that case, I fear we should have a schism among the gentlemen opposite to me, and that the house might be split into more parties than it is already divided into.—Dismising Mr. John Bowles, in his literary character, I 322 shall now say something of him as a Dutch Commissioner. It appears by the Report of the Committee that upwards of 400 claims were referred to the decision of those Commissioners. Several of those claims were under my management, as agent for various correspondents of mine in the United States of America; and my negotiations respecting them were principally carried on with Mr. Bowles, who, as a professional man, had the direction of that department. From the observations which I had then an opportunity of making on the conduct of Mr. Bowles, I can bear witness to the zeal and ability with which he managed that part of the concern; and I am persuaded, that by his indefatigable attention, and legal discrimination, an infinite number of litigations were rendered unnecessary, and much expence saved, both to the parties concerned, and to the public. His professional exertions continued to be necessary long after all the mercantile exertions of the Commissioners were at an end, in consequence of the law-suit with the Underwriters, which was only decided last year. If, therefore, particular consideration be due to any one of these Commissioners, more than to another, that particular consideration is due to the services of Mr. Bowles.—With respect to the general conduct of the Commissioners, as a body of men, I think it cannot be wholly justified; and my sentiments upon it accord very much with those of the Committee, whose report is now before the house. The Accounts, however, have not yet been fully examined; nor is the case fully before us. I think, therefore, that the whole matter ought to be referred to the Auditors of Public Accounts, in order that the investigation may be completed, before we undertake to pronounce our judgment. The object of the interference of Parliament ought to be practical good; which will not be promoted by voting theoretical propositions, containing reflections upon government in general, such as form the basis of the Resolution now proposed. I therefore concur in the amendment moved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and shall vote for the previous question.
§ Mr. Peter Moore
condemned the conduct of ministers in attempting to stifle inquiry and censure on this, as on other occasions; and considered the proceedings of the Commissioners as a compound of fraud and peculation, for which the Attorney-General ought to be directed to prosecute
§ Mr. Henry Smith
was sorry to see the government coupled with the conduct of the Commissioners, which he considered such as the house was bound to mark their indignation against.
The Solicitor General
for Scotland contended, that his right hon. friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had no wish to veil the conduct of the Commissioners. He only wished to avoid passing an unmerited censure on government. If on examining the accounts of the Commissioners to the bottom it should turn out that fraud had been committed, parliament might then direct criminal steps to be taken.
§ Lord Henry Petty
contended for the Resolutions of Mr. Ord. He could not perceive any impropriety in what was called the general censure upon government, as the Resolutions only stated facts. He commented in strong terms on the misconduct and prevarications of the Commissioners. It was not enough to appoint Committees. Their opinions and decisions ought to be followed up by the house so as to give the public the advantages they ought to derive from their investigations and reports. If the house shrunk from its duty, the public would entertain and express its opinion on their conduct.
§ Mr. Barham
observed that the public mind had been disgusted with what had happened in that house in several recent cases. He alluded, as we understood, to the fate of the Reversion Bill, the cases of the Duke of York, lord Castlereagh, &c. &c. and now he feared the minister wished to complete this terrible climax, by refusing his assent to a mark of reprobation on a transaction, respecting the nature of which no man could doubt. He beseeched ministers and the house not to degrade parliament in the eyes of the country. It was impossible that the present system could go on much longer. If government set its face against public justice, the worst consequences might follow.—He begged of the right honourable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to open his eyes to what he was about. This was the moment in which it was possible to restore confidence to the people. He begged of him to pause before he carried through a vote of so painful a nature as that now proposed by him.
Mr. Secretary Canning
maintained, that the executive was acting with the most scrupulous minuteness in giving effect to the Reports of the Finance and other Com- 324 mittees. The import of the present Resolutions, however, was to confound the conduct of government with that of the detected Commissioners. If the hon. gent. who opened the business had not proposed the two first Resolutions, his right hon. friend (Mr. Perceval) would not have moved the previous question. He saw no objection when the house should come to the third Resolution to agree to the substance of it. But, unless circumstances arose to call the attention of a Board so occupied as the Treasury was to the existence of such abuses as those now complained of, he did not admit that government could be to blame in not detecting them. The noble lord (H, Petty) was of a contrary opinion, and the expression of such sentiments by him was the more unobjectionable, because the being a species of self-sacrifice, gave it a particular air of candour. He asked the noble lord if he saw no danger in a declaration of such sentiments, and if it did nor go to infer a malversation in the government which did not exist? The right hon. Secretary then animadverted, with considerable wit and severity, on the observations which had fallen from an hon. member (Mr. Whitbread) respecting his connection, as a fellow-labourer, with Mr. John Bowles in a publication some years back. He declared that he had never any acquaintance with Mr. Bowles. His literary taste, he believed, might be different from that of the hon. member. Hs had seen the hon. member's sixpenny pamphlet, and he must in truth say, that in that sort of department Mr. Bowles beat the hon. member out and out. Perhaps, however, in point of honesty and sincerity, the hon. member might be superior. He (Mr. Canning) thought himself no more amenable to the hon. member for his share in the work alluded to, in which Mr. Bowles co-operated, than Mr. W. for his oratorical exertions in Westminister-hall was amenable to him in that house, where he had the good fortune and honour to sit with him.
§ Mr. Tierney
spoke with much force and animation on the duty the house owed to its own character, and to the public, to come to a decision on the merits of these Commissioners. He thought the object of ministers was to do any thing that might suit their purposes, not to prevent that house from doing any act that might gain them credit with the public. The Attorney-General, or the 325 Privy Council, might do something, but the house of commons was to be deprived of the opportunity of acquiring or reviving the public estimation in which it ought to be held. He hoped and trusted that he should be that night in a majority.
§ Mr. H. Thornton,
in order to obviate the objections to the several Resolutions, proposed to consolidate them in one, and in such terms as should meet general approbation. The Resolution he proposed to substitute for them was as follows: "That. the Commissioners appointed in the year 1795 for the disposal of captured Dutch property, taking advantage of the neglect of the government to enquire into their proceedings, have, without authority, appropriated to their own use large and unreasonable profits; that they have privately taken interest on large balances of money which ought to have been lodged in the Bank of England; that they have refrained from giving correct and explicit information respecting the interest so taken to the Committee appointed for enquiring into the Public Expenditure; and that they have thereby been guilty of a great violation of their public duty."
§ Mr. Stephen supported ministers, and col. Ellison supported the Resolutions.
§ Mr. Ord, in a short reply, declared his intention of taking the sense of the house upon all his Resolutions.
§ The house then divided upon the first Resolution, when there appeared,
|For the Resolution||77|
|Majority against it||—25|
|For the original Resolution||78|
|For the Amendment||98|
|Majority for the word "omission"||—20|
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Brogden, J.|
|Adams, C.||Carew, rt. hon. P.|
|Althorp, visc.||Cavendish, Wm.|
|Antonie, W. L.||Cocks, J.|
|Astley, sir J. H.||Colborne, N. W. R.|
|Barham, J. F.||Combe, H. C.|
|Baring, T.||Cooke, Bryan|
|Baring, A.||Creevey, Thomas|
|Bernard, Scrope||Cuthbert, J.|
|Biddulph, R. M.||Ferguson, general|
|Bouverie, hon. G.||Fitzpatrick, rt.hon.R.|
|Folkestone, visc.||Parnell, H.|
|Grattan, rt. hon. H.||Pelham, hon. C.|
|Halsey, Joseph||Petty, lord H.|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Ponsonby, rt. hon. G.|
|Herbert, H.||Power, R.|
|Honer, F.||Prittie, hon. F. A.|
|Howard, H.||Pym, F.|
|Hussey, Wm.||Romilly, sir S.|
|Johnes, T.||Saville, A.|
|Knapp, G.||Sharpe, R.|
|Lambe, hon.W.||Shipley, W.|
|Lambton, R J.||Smith, S.|
|Leach, John||Smith, G.|
|Leycester, H.||Stanley, lord|
|Lloyd, sir E.||St. Aubyn. sir John|
|Lloyd, J. M.||Symonds, T. P.|
|Lyttleton, hon. W.||Talbot, R. W.|
|M' Donald, James||Taylor, C.|
|Manning, James||Taylor, M. A.|
|Martin, H.||Tierney, rt. hon. Geo.|
|Mautle, hon. W.||Vernon, G V.|
|Maxwell, W.||Walpole, hon. G.|
|Milton, lord||Western, C. C.|
|Moore, Peter||Wharton, J.|
|Mosley, sir Osw.||Whitbread, S.|
|Mostyn, sir Thos.||Wynne, C. W.|
|Newport, rt. hon sir J.||Tellers.|
|O Hara, C.||Ord, Wm.|
|Ossulston, lord||Calcraft, John|