HC Deb 25 March 1811 vol 19 cc507-14

In the Committee of Supply, Mr. Foster moved, That a sum of 25,000l. Irish Currency be granted for defraying the expence of Criminal Prosecutions and Law Expences for one year,

Sir J. Newport

wished to know why the accounts relative to this grant, had not been accurately stated as usual?

Mr. Foster

replied, that the Estimate was before the House.

Mr. W. Pole

was happy to inform the right hon. baronet, that the grant of the preceding year had been 25,000l. of which sum 2,875l. remained on hand as the surplus. The right hon. baronet knew very well what the grant was composed of, and he also knew very well that the expences this year for special commissions, &c. were great. It had, therefore, notwithstanding the surplus remaining, been deemed expedient to take the same sum for the present year.

Sir J. Newport

expressed himself dissatisfied with the statement of the hon. gentleman. He declared that he was not to be put down in the discharge of his public duty by the tone and manner of the hon. gent. which did not result altogether from his official situation, but was in some degree a family inheritance.—(Order, order.)

Mr. W. Pole

thought it was hard that the hon. baronet should accuse him of arrogance after the attempt which he had made to satisfy his inquiries. He trusted, however, that the Committee would be convinced that he had fully explained the subject.

The Resolution was agreed to. The next sum proposed was the annual grant for Civil Buildings in Ireland.

Mr. W. Pole

said, that the sum usually voted under the head of Civil Buildings was 25,000l. and the general opinion was, that this sum was expended on a few public buildings, and upon the houses of the lord lieutenant and the chief secretary. The sum expended however amounted very often to double the sum granted. In order to correct this evil, he thought it necessary that the estimates should be framed in a different manner, and he had given directions that they should state distinctly the different services for which the money was required. The papers therefore now before the House, contained a detailed estimate of the probable expenditure of the Board of Works for the year 1811, distinguishing each building in which works were to be performed, viz. the castle, the law courts, public offices, and other public buildings, also the houses of the lord lieutenant and chief secretary, and the improvements in the park. When the Committee heard the various heads of service which he had read, they would not, he was sure, be surprised that the sum of 25,000l. Was not sufficient to cover the expenditure, which in fact generally amounted to near 50,000l. Having called upon the Board of Works, as he had before stated, for the most minute and detailed estimate that could be made of the different services for which money was required, these estimates had been submitted to the heads of the different departments in which the work was to be performed, and their opinion taken before the work was ordered. By the adoption of this plan, though the sum which it was proposed to vote was larger than usual, yet the actual expence was reduced from 50,000l. to about 32,000l. This was the best plan that suggested itself to his mind for commencing a reform, and he begged to add, that no step had been taken without the authority of the lord lieutenant.—Having stated thus much, he begged to say a few words upon a passage in the 7th Report of the Committee upon Public Expenditure, of which an hon. friend of his, opposite to him, was chairman (Mr. Bankes.) The Committee had issued two precepts to the Board of Works in Ireland, one on the 23d February, the other on the 23d March. The first calling for" An Account of the application of 25,000l. voted in the last session, for defraying the expences of Civil Buildings, from the 5th January 1809, to 5th January 1810, together with the names of all persons receiving salaries or allowances out of the same; and a statement how much the said sum was deficient to defray the whole expence incurred; specifying also, by whom the bills relating to that sum have been or are to be examined and audited. "The second for" An abstract Account of the several particulars of expenditure by the commissioners of the Board of Works, of the sum of 25,000l. granted by parliament, for defraying the expence of civil buildings in Ireland, from 5th January 1809, to 5th January 1810, specifying the several public buildings, to the erection or repair of which the said grant was applied." In the return made to the first of these precepts, the Board of Works gave a detailed account of the whole expenditure, amounting to 50,014l. 1s. 6d.; and in the one founded on the second, they gave an exact account of the expenditure of the 25,000l. conformably to the desire of the Committee: and indeed so minutely was it stated, that it appeared there was a balance in the Bank in favour of the public of 16s. 6½d. It appeared to him, that when a board or an individual was called upon for a return of this kind, that nothing could be more satisfactory than that the return should be precisely what it was required to be. To this principle the Board of Works had in these instances most honestly and conscientiously adhered. He now begged to read that part of the report to which he wished to call the attention of the Committee. He was the more anxious to notice this subject, because the persons who composed the Board of Works in Ireland were men of the most respectable character, who had always discharged their public duty in the most exemplary manner; and it was natural therefore that they should feel deeply hurt when any censure was passed upon their conduct, especially from so respectable a quarter.—Mr. Pole then read the following observations of the Committee:—" Your Committee desire to call the attention of the House to the following paper, containing nominally an account of the expenditure of the same vote for the same, as a curious specimen of official dexterity in manufacturing a statement, by means of which a true return may be rendered as to figures, while the result must lead to a false conclusion. It is undeniable that out of any given sum, no more than the amount of that sum itself can be expended; but it is equally true that a detail made out with the greatest apparent accuracy, exhibiting a part only of the sums actually paid for several heads of service, and suppressing the total charge, without any notice or indication that any further expence was incurred, could not induce the least suspicion that when the Board of Works professed, out of the vote of 25,000l. to have a balance of 16s. 6½d. in hand, they had in fact run in debt to the amount of 25,014l. "He wished to ask the Committee, whether the returns made by the Board of Works deserved this censure? they had stated that the whole expenditure amounted to 50,000l. and afterwards they gave a detailed account of the manner in which the 25,000l. had been expended. They had in fact, done that which they were required by the precept to do, and therefore he could not but think that the observation made upon them in the report contained an unfounded aspersion upon their character. The Board of Works had made a complaint to him upon this subject, and stated, that they had made another return to the Committee respecting the sum of 14,000l. expended over and above the 25,000l. of which no notice whatever was taken in the report. He would not trouble the Committee any longer, but he hoped it would appear from what he had stated, that the Irish government was anxious to reduce the public expence as much as possible, and that they were not disposed to adhere to old forms when upon examination they appeared to be improper.

Mr. Bankes

said that as the two returns had been received together, he supposed he had taken up one of their first, which led to the censure which appeared in the report of which he avowed himself to be the author. At the same time he wished to state, that he was not disposed to retract what he had said, because he was of opinion that the returns were made in such a way as if they wished to keep back a part of the truth.

Mr. Pole

said, his hon. friend was not aware of the manner in which the Board of Works drew for the money which was necessary for the services which they were required to perform. In the first instance they drew until the 25,000l. the amount of the usual grant, was exhausted, and then they were under the necessity of drawing upon other funds, to cover the whole of their expenditure.—They were required by the precept of the Committee to give an account of the expenditure of the 25,000l. which they had done, and they had also given the details of the whole of the expenditure of the year, what could they do more? In fact they had endeavoured to give every information in their power, and he was sure the Committee would, when they looked at the returns, be of opinion, that they had in every respect, and in the fullest and most satisfactory manner, complied with the precepts which had been sent to them.

Sir John Newport

was of opinion, that the returns might have been worded in a more satisfactory manner, and therefore he could not but think that the censure which appeared in the report was well founded.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that it appeared to him that the statement made by his right hon. friend was most satisfactory. The returns made by the Board of Works appeared to have been made with an anxious desire to give every possible information to the Committee. If their object had been, as it was insinuated, to conceal the details of the expenditure, they certainly had taken the most extra-ordinary means of doing it, for they had accounted for every sixpence that had been laid out. He was quite sure that a return from any other part of the United Kingdom would not be described as a specimen of a dexterous attempt at concealment, merely because it contained all the information that had been required, and that could possibly be given.

Mr. H. Thornton

said, that being a member of the Committee, he felt anxious to state his sentiments on this occasion. He had looked over the returns attentively, and it appeared to him that there was no foundation for any censure upon the Board of Works. The returns might perhaps have been framed in a different manner, but there was obviously a desire to give all the information required.

Mr. Pole

said, he hoped the Committee would excuse him for rising again, but he really felt it to be his duty to vindicate the character of the gentlemen who composed this Board, which in his opinion had been most unjustly attacked. He merely wished the Committee to bear in mind that they had made two returns to the precepts; the first contained a detailed account of the whole expenditure of the year, the second an account of the expen- diture of the 25,000l. These two returns had been sent to him from Ireland together, and they had been transmitted front his office to the Committee of Public Expenditure at the same time. There was only one more remark which he thought it necessary to make, and that was, on the manner in which the two accounts were inserted in the report, which tended in some degree to overturn the defence set up by his hon. friend. The return to the precept of the 23d of February stood (as it ought to do) first; then followed the censure upon the Board of Works, of which he had complained; and lastly came the return to the precept of the 23d of March, without any observation whatever. This shewed they were properly classed, but had not been sufficiently digested, otherwise that censure would never have appeared in the shape it did.

The resolution was then agreed to.

Mr. Foster

next moved the resolution for Maynooth College, granting a sum not exceeding 8,973l. to that seminary for the year ending 5th January 1812. On the question being put,

Mr. Hutchinson

said he could not help expressing his astonishment to hear, after a series of grants, each of which had been more or less encreased, the estimate for Maynooth College, even less than the ordinary one. He knew, and the minister for Ireland he believed knew also, that that estimate in every respect fell short of the necessities of the institution: instead of lessening what was already too small, it would have better become that government which had begun by diminishing the original grant of 13,000l. a year, to have suggested such an encrease as might have been of some use to an, establishment they had so much injured. He did not wish to repeat those arguments which had been so often and ineffectually urged against the infatuated prejudices with which the present ministers looked to every Irish question; but he would cite to them from their own estimates, one or two facts which he must leave to them to account for: of the sixteen principals presiding in that seminary over 260 students, the full salary amounted to 25l. a year each. Thus, the men who were entrusted with the education of those who were destined to preside over the morals of the Irish people, were severally allowed 16d. a day for their support and this too, while in another estimate which they had just voted, it appeared, that the mere day- labourers in the Dublin society house, had an allowance of 12s. a-week each, while those who were to rear the future pastors of the people, were to starve on 9s. 4d. a-week This was in itself so bad, so mean, so pitiful, so indecent, that no mode of Stating it could make it worse than it was. If ministers wished to put down the institution, why not come to parliament and say so openly, and not make a parliamentary grant at once the pretence and the means both of insult and of injury. They had just voted 10,000l. for printing Irish proclamations. He called upon the minister to get up in his place, and say, why the principle, which was allowed to have an operation in raising all the other grants (the rise in the price of provisions), should not be allowed to have its effect in the increase of this estimate.

Sir J. Newport

thought the sum proposed not sufficient, and that the grant ought not to be less by 350l. than on former years. He would certainly move, that the sum of 9,250l. should be granted.

Mr. Herbert

thought a larger sum ought to be granted, and would move, that the sum of 13,000l. should be the grant, if any person would second the motion.

Mr. Grattan

was of opinion it would have been better had such a grant been voted in 1806.

A conversation followed, in which Mr. Hutchinson, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. May, Mr. Whitbread, Mr. Herbert, Mr. Abercromby, Mr. W. Wynn and Mr. Foster participated. In this, the manner in which the sums granted were applied was discussed. The necessity of a larger grant was strongly contended for on the one side, and strenuously resisted on the other. It was proposed to postpone the grant, but this being objected to, sir J. Newport moved, that the chairman should report progress, and ask leave to sit again. The gallery was then cleared for a division. But the proposition was negatived, and the grant originally moved agreed to by the Committee.

Mr. Hutchinson

, before the House resumed, wished to ask a question of the right hon. gent. opposite. It had been strongly rumoured, that he (Mr. Foster) was about to quit his high official situation. He wished to know, if it was in the contemplation of government, in the event of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ireland becoming vacant, to abolish that office altogether, or to fill it with another officer?—(Loud cries of Order!)

He did not conceive he was out of order. In the present situation of the affairs of Ireland, which approached a state of bankruptcy, he thought every possible saving should be made.

Mr. Foster

thought the hon. gent. was not in order, and therefore he should only answer by saying he hoped the Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer would not be brought to trial, or condemned without being allowed a fair hearing.—The House was then resumed.