HC Deb 30 May 1809 vol 14 cc787-92
Sir John Newport

, pursuant to uotice, rose to make his promised motion, relative to the appointment of a person (Mr. Beauchamp Hill), to a situation in the Excise in Ireland, in direct violation of a statute of regulation made for that country, and which was expressly intended to guard against the Frauds committed on the revenue of that country. If this should appear to be the case, and that the person alluded to had actually incurred his dismissal from the situation he had formerly held in the Excise, under the very letter and spirit of that act, instead of the promotion he had met with, what terms were too strong to reprobate such a conduct in those concerned in such a proceeding? How did the present case stand? By a statute made in 1806, it was enacted, that any officer in the customs or excise in Ireland, convicted of taking money in the execution of his office, should be incapable of holding any place under the government. By a former statute on the same subject, it was declared, that such persons, taking a bribe for neglecting their duty, should be incapable of holding any employment; but it was found they got out of this statute, by asserting they took money for performing their duty. To remedy which the former statute was enacted. It appealed from the report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into abuses in the Customs and Excise in Ireland, that in Sept. 1806, they called before them a person of the name of Beauchamp Hill. Upon his examination, he stated, he had been a surveyor for four years, and that he was in the habit of taking a present of 20 guineas per month from every still contained in his walk. It also appeared, by his examination, that he justified this practice on the ground of precedent and notoriety, and also from necessity, owing to the inadequacy of his salary to his support. This might be admitted as some excuse in his favour, but still the law was precise in marking the offence, and pointing out the penalty; and though the offence might be overlooked on the plea of necessity, yet he conceived that should have been the extent of the mercy shewn him. Notwithstanding, however, he was found, in the month of March, 1808, promoted to the office of Inspector-General of Excise; that is, to oversee that others did not abuse that trust of which he himself had been convicted; and this, jointly with another person, in the room of two, who were removed on charges of misconduct, which they had denied, and upon which they had demanded a trial. He concluded with moving: "That it appears to this house, that, by the 46th of his majesty, ch. 88, it was enacted, on the 12th July 1806, that any Officer of Customs or Excise in Ireland, who should, directly or indirectly, ask, take, or receive any sum or sums of money from any Distiller, for or on any account whatsoever, should be deemed and taken to be guilty of a misdemeanor, and should be rendered incapable of holding any office or employment civil or military:—that it appears to this house, from the fifth Report of the Commissioners of Enquiry in Ireland, appointed by parliament, that Mr. Beauchamp Hill declared before the said Commissioners of Enquiry, in his examination upon oath, in the month of Sept. 1806, that he the said Beauchamp Hill, being a surveyor of excise, was then, and had been for some time previous to his said examination, receiving 20 guineas per month from each distiller in the district committed to his charge, which was a part of the city of Dublin:—That it appears to this house, that, on the 8th day of March, 1808, the said Beauchamp Hill, having, by his own confession, under the provisions of the before-recited act, incurred the penalty of incapacitation attached to his misconduct, was promoted to the responsible office of inspector-general of that department of the revenue in which this breach of the law was committed, in direct violation of the enactment of the said statute."

Mr. Foster

said, that certainly owing to the inadequacy of their salaries, an universal system of corruption had formerly existed among the revenue officers of Ireland, and that out of 32 excise officers examined by the commissioners of inquiry, 30 of them had confessed that they had received similar presents. They justified it from its being a constant practice, and known to be so by the board who employed them, and who yet took no measures to stop it. The practice of receiving these gratuities was so universal, and so long in a manner connived at, that it would have been unfair to select one or two individuals for punishment, as almost every other officer in the revenue equally deserved to be dismissed. Mr. Hill, however, was ever ready to give every information in his power to the commissioners of inquiry, and was in every other respect a very good officer. He was therefore promoted for his merit, although he had in common with all the other excisemen done a thing illegal and improper. He therefore moved the previous question.

Mr. Hutchinson

thought nothing could bring the house into greater contempt than passing over so lightly such a flagrant case as had been now stated. Who could believe that it was utterly impossible to find a single honest man to fill any office in the Irish revenue? If the revenue officers were so corrupt from bottom to top, they should be all removed, and honest men sought for. If men in high situation had known of their frauds, and connived at them, they should also be dismissed. He had heard with infinite pleasure, that his majesty had been advised to annul a commission granted to a noble lord (lord Burghersh). He hoped he would also be advised to annul this appointment.

Mr. Croker

said, that it was sufficient proof of the corruption of some of the revenue officers that they were alive; for if they had trusted to their salaries, they must have starved. The salaries were settled in the reign of Charles II. and were but 40l. a year to the gnager, and 65l. a year to the surveyor. It therefore became necessary for them to get by some other means those necessaries of meat, drink, and cloathing, for themselves and their families, which the pure abstract patriots of the present day might not think they had any right to think of. It was lord Annesley who had recommended this particular promotion, on no ground but that Mr. Hill was an active and good officer.

Mr. Peter Moore

said, that without pretending to those abstract ideas of perfection, he would still say, that although he had before heard a system of bribery and corruption avowed, he never did suppose that such a scene of bribery and corruption as this could ever have been justified or excused. It appeared from the Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry, that the frauds committed on the Irish revenue by the licensed distillers amounted in a year to 856,000l. and that the principal cause of these enormous frauds was, that those officers were bribed to connive at them. These distillers now deprecated all manner of inquiry into those transactions.

Mr. R. S. Dundas

defended the promotion, on the ground of its being necessary to select for promotion persons in the service of the revenue; and that it would have been absolutely impossible to have dismissed them all.

Sir Samuel Romilly

said, that he had never in his life heard such doctrines gravely stated, as might be deduced from what had fallen from an hon. gent. (Mr. Croker). If a man's salary was not sufficient, was that an excuse for his taking bribes, and conniving at all manner of frauds against the government which employed him? As to the ridicule which the hon. gent. appeared to throw out against those pure and abstract patriots, who would not consider the necessity of providing meat, drink, or clothing for themselves and families a sufficient excuse, he would say that it never was allowed as an excuse for dishonest actions. If it were, any person indicted at the Old Bailey for a robbery would say it was only for the purpose of getting meat, drink, and clothing for himself and family. Such an excuse would not be admitted at that place. If the salaries of these places were not sufficient, did any body oblige these men to become excisemen? He must therefore support the original motion, as he conceived the promotion of such a person highly improper.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not think his hon. friend (Mr. Croker) had maintained the general proposition that the hon. and learned gent. imputed to him. It was to be considered that in this particular case, when all the excise-officers in Ireland had been in the habit of taking certain regular presents from the distillers, it would have been impossible to dismiss them all at once, as although that might be good in the way of example, yet it would be a sacrifice of the revenues of Ireland for two years. If it were not contended that all the revenue officers of Ireland should be dismissed, there was no reason why the best of them should not be promoted. This man, although he had taken money as others did, yet in other respects he did his duty. The cause, however, of this great corruption had now been removed by the increase of the officers' salaries, and the act might in future be strictly enforced. The act was of a prospective and not of a retrospective nature; and as to the case of Mr. Hill, there had been no legal conviction against him, nor any thing but his own confession before the commissioners, which was not asked for the view of turning him out of his place. It did not appear to him that it was desired to select this man or any other for punishment, and therefore, if he were allowed to stay in the revenue, he saw no reason why he should not be promoted if he was diligent and useful.

Mr. Horner

spoke shortly in favour of the motion. He expressed his surprize at what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that a man should be continued in office who had been found guilty of corruption. He for his own part thought that a more flagrant abuse of power was never heard of; a more unblushing breach of purity, he was certain, never till then appeared before that house, and as such he thought it his duty to give it his decided reprobation.

Sir John Newport

replied, generally, to the several arguments urged against his motion. He thought the defence set up so extremely weak and defective, that it was only necessary to make a few observations. He insisted that the charge of Mr. Beauchamp Hill had been made out as strongly as the case would permit. The malt books of Ross Crea walk had not been returned. It was said some of them had been carried away; but what remained, proved that Mr. B. Hill was the surveyor then, that 15,000 gallons of pot ale had been found there suppressed; so that if you could not positively say a charge was found, it was very reasonable to suppose it. He declared he did not previously know Mr. B. Hill, nor any of his connexions, nor any of those persons in whose room he had been promoted; so that he could not be actuated by the slightest bias or motive of favour or partiality. The first he knew of Mr. Hill was seeing his name in the Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry He censured the ground of argument that men known to be corrupt should be employed, on account of their ability to fill a particular station. On the contrary, he thought that in a public officer honesty and character could not be balanced by, nor ought they to be put in competition with any ability, however great it might be, He should therefore take the sense of the house on his motion.

Mr. Barham

said, there was one argument which ought to make the house cautious in what way they dealt with this mo- tion. It had been publicly and generally asserted, that many persons sat in that house by improper means. The public had taken the alarm; and it had been found in support of that alarm, and those assertions, that a cabinet minister had actually been concerned in bartering for a seat in that house, and was defended for such an act. It was by the motion that moment under consideration, and the arguments urged in support of it, further asserted that corruptions prevailed in a most extensive degree over the whole revenue of Ireland. If something was not done to rectify these corruptions and abuses, if no steps were taken towards removing them, he dreaded to think what the public opinion of that house must very soon be.

The question being loudly called for, the house divided, when their appeared:

For the motion 50
Against it 77
Majority against sir John Newport's motion —27

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