HC Deb 07 February 1812 vol 21 cc691-700
Mr. Bankes

moved the second reading of the Bill to prohibit the granting of Offices in Reversion, or for joint lives, with benefit of survivorship.

Mr. W. Dundas

said, he understood that the hon. gentleman who brought this subject forward, had on a former evening stated himself not to be aware that any opposition might be expected. Now, if there had been any understanding to that effect, he begged leave to say that he was no party to it. He should expect more substantial reasons than any he had yet heard from the hon. gentleman, before he could give his vote for making that permanent which had hitherto only been adopted as a temporary measure. He understood the measure which had been adopted, to have originated in a wish of the Finance Committee, that those sinecure places might not be granted in reversion, which subsequently they might think it expedient to abolish; and therefore a suspension of the power of the crown in this respect had been requested; now, he would ask, could it be too much to desire that this branch of the prerogative of the crown might not be destroyed at least till the embryo plans of the hon. gentlemen, who thought proper to recommend such a measure, were known? It might so happen, that when their plans were brought forward, the House might be of opinion they were such as ought not to be adopted, and then they would stand in the predicament of having lopped off a part of the prerogative of the crown, without supplying many other way the means of rewarding long and meritorious services. The prerogative of the crown he conceived to be a part of the rights of the sovereign, and he thought the House ought not to touch this branch of it until the plan of what was to be substituted for it was known. It was useless, moreover, to pass it there, as he had no doubt it would be thrown out in another place. When the Bill left that House they might bid farewell to it.

Mr. Bankes moved, That the entry in the Journal of the House, of the 24th of March 1807, of the Resolution of the House respecting Offices in Reversion, might be read; and the same was read, as follows: "Resolved, That no office, place, employment or salary, in any part of his Majesty's dominions, ought hereafter to be granted in Reversion*." The hon. gentleman said that the introduction of this Bill was not in the least connected with any pending inquiry. He then proceeded to state the origin and progress of the Bill, which was brought in first during he last parliament. and after wards in 1807, but which was thrown out in the House of Lords. It was a favourite of the House, but they were obliged to submit to circumstances, and not being able to carry it through as a perpetual measure, they were under the necessity of making it a temporary one. In this, however, they had by no means abandoned the intention of making it permanent. Why was it to be assumed, because their views were once or twice opposed by another branch of the legislature, that that opposition was still to continue? Why was it to be supposed, that that branch was incapable of changing their opinion any more than the House of Commons? Probably they might at last come to think that their opposition to the Bill was founded in prejudice. But supposing the other House to be still hostile to the measure, where was the inconvenience, he would ask, of passing it in its present form at this time? It was yet early in the session, and they had time to resort to the temporary measure, if the perpetual one should fail. There was no doubt, that as the evil proposed to be remedied by this Bill was of a perpetual nature, and not like any thing connected with the fluctuation of manners or habits, the law ought to be perpetual also. The granting of offices in Reversion had the effect of frequently vesting those offices in the hands of incompetent persons, in the hands of children, and in persons, who though competent to discharge the duties at the period of the grant, might be incompetent when they should *See Vol. 9, p. 178. succeed to them. The consequence was, that these offices would at last come to be considered as mere sinecures. With respect to the present measure, as being one of economy, he had never held it out, as one that would materially effect so desirable an object. It however had been dwelt on by the committee, as a measure that would have such a tendency. On the subject of the prerogative of the crown, a point that had been noticed by the hon. member, he was of opinion that the Bill would leave it in precisely the same state in which it was found. If the Bill affected the prerogative at all, it tended rather to increase than to diminish it; if one right of the crown were taken away by the measure, another of more consequence would be substituted in its stead. The offices would still remain, and the influence gained by the crown, in consequence of their not being granted in reversion, would increase in strength and activity. The Bill was also necessary for the remedy of a growing evil. Many of the places recently granted in reversion were not so disposed of formerly; and if the practice were permitted, what was there to prevent the crown from disposing of places in reversion hereafter that had never before been so granted? This practice, he regretted to state, was creeping into extensive adoption; indeed, the principle of such practice had extended itself to the granting of pensions. Pensions were now granted in reversion. Was not this a mode of proceeding that ought to be put an end to? And it could only be put an end to by both Houses of Parliament showing their reprobation of the principle. They must evince their reprobation of the principle, by attacking the evil. With respect to sinecure places, he had said that he should recommend the empowering the crown to grant pensions to meritorious individuals, instead of their being rewarded with such offices. Though he did not press his Bill, on the ground of its being an economical measure, still he thought it would be right in that House; in times like the present, to show that the principle of economy was not only approved, but acted on in every possible instance. He trusted the Bill would be allowed to be read a second time, and that it would not be obstructed in its future progress on such slender grounds as those to which he bad replied.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

wished the House to remark, that the hon. mover of this Bill had at length admitted, that it would not have any effect in reducing the public expenditure; and that whatever might be its policy, it was not on the ground of being, in the slightest degree, calculated to save the public money, or to relieve the people from their burdens, that he recommended it to the House. Both parties now understood one another. The object that the Bill had in view was comparatively of little magnitude; whenever, on former occasions, it had been pressed forward by members with a strong feeling of its importance, he had never felt any disposition to oppose its progress; but although he had not deemed it worth while on former occasions to resist it, circumstances, it would be admitted, might since have occurred, which might render it necessary for him to express his dissent from the measure. If, in the first place, the Resolution of the House had been to abolish nearly all offices that could, be granted in reversion, the maintenance of the few that it might be thought right to continue, would scarcely be deemed a matter of sufficient consequence to induce any opposition to the general plan; but if, in the second place, the House and the country should be of opinion, that the great mass should remain for the reward of meritorious services, and only a few be abolished, then it would not be considered advisable to support a measure so extremely limited in its operation. He certainly, on the general principle, felt no greater disposition now to oppose the Bill than he had done upon former occasions, but finding by the experience of the last and preceding years, that it was likely to meet with serious resistance elsewhere, and deeming the provisions themselves of little moment, he did not think that there was any necessity for raising a topic of disagreement which might be attended with greater evils than those which the Bill proposed to remedy. If, indeed, it could be shewn that great constitutional injury; would result from the rejection, it doubtless would be expedient to carry it through the House. His hon. friend had observed, that any proceedings which had occurred, or any pertinacity which had been shewn formerly to this measure in another place, ought not to be adverted to by that House in contemplating the subject, but sorely he would admit that it would be right in the first instance to examine on which side that pertinacity had been shewn, whether by the supporters or by the opponents of the Bill, and then another question would arise, from whose pertinacity most injury was likely to arise. He conceived that this measure, from erroneous opinions within, and popular clamour without that House, bad been swelled to a magnitude which by no means be longed to it. No such important results could be derived from it, as many seemed anxious to suppose. Separated as it now was from such ideas, by the candid admission of his hon. friend, who acknowledged that the effect would be rather to increase than to diminish the influence of the crown, and that as a measure of economy it would operate nothing, at least some of the main grounds on which this erroneous opinion and popular clamour rested, were removed:—stripped of these two principal advantages, the naked Bill must be acknowledged to be so insignificant in every point of view, that it was in reality not worth supporting. He trusted, notwithstanding he had fallen in with the strong sentiment expressed in favour of the Bill on former occasions, that the House would do him the justice to believe that he now resisted it from a sincere wish to preserve cordiality between the two branches of the legislature. He therefore opposed the second reading of the Bill.

Mr. Bankes

explained, that inasmuch as the Bill recommended the abolition of certain offices, it was to be considered in some degree as a measure of economy.

The chanclleor of the Exchequer

added, that pending any measures respecting the abolition or reform of existing offices, he had never offered any opposition, nor would he, while he had the honour to hold the office he now filled, give any interruption to such a proceeding.

Lord A. Hamilton

pointed out certain offices, the abolition of which was proposed, and which made the present a measure of public economy. The situation of the country rendered it necessary that not a farthing should be uselessly expended, and therefore the Bill should have his cordial support.

Sir S. Romilly

was much surprized at the conclusion to which the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had come, since from every thing he had said he had expected a very different determination. He denied that the present Bill, which had several times received the sanction of the House, was of slight importance; nor was it more correct to state, that it had bees previously carried by popular clamour It was true that the public had formed a very strong opinion of the necessity of the bill; and the country would learn with surprise and disappointment, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had that night thrown out what he had before supported; for the Reversion Bill was suggested by the Finance Committee, whose appointment had been recommended at the beginning of the session of 1807, and whose labours had been approved at its termination, in a Speech from the throne, written by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. It was wholly erroneous to assert that the measure infringed on the prerogatives of the crown, since its very object was to preserve its interests, and to prevent a lavish and unnecessary expenditure of its revenue. The granting of places in reversion was a most improvident mode of rewarding even meritorious services, because the immediate advantage was extremely small; and the ultimate prospect of a larger profit extremely uncertain. It was doing injustice both to the king and to the people, to permit the practice longer to continue. He concluded by expressing his astonishment that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after maintaining that the provisions were of little importance, and censuring all pertinacity in opposition, should sit down by expressing his determination to oppose the motion.

Mr. Whitbread

remarked, that the only two members who had spoken against the Bill were two very principal reversionists. The measure now proposed bad always been a favourite with the House and with the people, and when their voices were united for any constitutional object like the present, it was undoubtedly the most sound policy to attain the object so much desired. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer however, thought otherwise, and maintained that the measure was of little or no importance, although popular clamour had swelled it into magnitude, and his only reason for now resisting it was, his opinion, as opposed to that of the whole country, that it was too insignificant to deserve attention. Had the right hon. gentleman, however, or his colleagues, consulted their interests or their duty, they would never have thrown cold water upon it. It was assumed, too, that it was not a measure of economy. But it was rather singular that this doctrine should be supported by a person, who held the reversion of one of the greatest places in the gift of the crown. If it wanted regulation, an answer was immediately returned, that it could not be allowed. Why? Because the Chancellor of the Exchequer possessed the reversion, and if it were regulated, economy being the object, it would doubtless be abolished. Did the right hon. gentleman mean to say, that he, sitting in his place in that House, was not a practical contradiction of his own assertion? Another proof might be found in the odious appointment of colonel M' Mahon to the office of Paymaster of Widows Pensions, the abolition of which had been recommended thirty years ago, and yet there, too, no regulation was to be allowed; because it was granted in reversion. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not the expectancy of lord Arden's place, it might be investigated, and that was a complete exemplification of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had denied. It was admitted on all hands, that these grants in reversion were a sort of forestalling of the prerogative of the crown, and no man who wished them to be abolished, had any desire to diminish the prerogative; the object was to prevent designing ministers from granting favours to their own infants. He trusted, not with standing the specious arguments employed, that the House of Commons, as the representatives of the people, would passa Bill, from which their constituents expected, and would derive such important benefits. He could anticipate no disagreement between the two branches of the legislature upon a subject where the real duty of both was so obvious; and under these circumstances he felt confident that the Lords would cordially join in a measure, which it was true the Chancellor of the Exchequer said was not important to be done, which the country exclaimed was important to be done, and which the House declared it was important to do.

Mr. Giddy

thought, that too much had been conceded by admitting that this was not a measure of economy. He did not give his support to this measure, from any idea that it would at all contribute to diminish the influence of the crown. To him it was quite clear, that the plan of granting places in reversion brought a burden upon the public at least three times greater than could arise from such places, if not given in this manner. The circumstance of bestowing these places sometimes upon persons even in their infancy, could not, in his opinion, when mentioned out of doors, produce any thing but disgust. It was giving rewards where no feeling of gratitude, or sense of duty could exist. He thought such places were a blot upon the policy of the country; and, upon these grounds, could not refuse his assent to the measure.

Mr. Bastard

thought there were two sorts of economy to which the House should attend, economy of public expenditure, and economy of public opinion. The public, he had no doubt, would pay their taxes with much more pleasure, and feel their burdens far lighter, if they were convinced that the public money was honestly and economically disposed of. Parliament was the best judge of what should be in the hands of the crown, and he would protest against any other doctrine.

Sir John Sebright

thought that this subject did not draw all its importance from the circumstance of its being a favourite measure with the public. If it were rejected now, it would give a proof of inconsistency on the part of that House, which would not be very creditable to its wisdom. I he right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, that it was an object of no great importance, and he certainly was not inclined to dissent, without much hesitation, from any opinion which that right hon. gentleman might express; but he did not think that the House ought now to reject the measure merely upon the ground that that right hon. gentleman had represented it as a matter of little importance.

Mr. Elliot

thought the power which was given to the crown, of granting offices in reversion, was disadvantageous to the crown itself, because it afforded an opportunity to mortgage the right of the successor. He did not mean to contend that it would be desirous to abolish the power of conferring rewards for meritorious services in reversion, but that those rewards would be best vested in parliament. He agreed, however, with the right hon. gentleman, that the subject was not of much moment, under the present state of things.

Mr. Ponsonby

rose and said; Sir, although I have often expressed my sentiments upon this question, I cannot refrain from troubling the House with a very few words. I cannot at all agree that this is a matter of little importance, on the contrary, it appears to me to be of very considerable magnitude, even in an economical point of view; because nothing can be more unfit than that it should be in the power of any minister, when it is convenient to him to call to his own aid, that money which ought only to be the resource of the crown, and to apply it to his own purposes, so as to carry, by force of influence, a measure perhaps highly disagreeable, or even injurious, to the nation. The conduct pursued by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the present occasion, strikes me as somewhat extraordinary: formerly he voted for the Bill, because he said it was of little importance: now he votes against the Bill, because, he says, it is of little importance. The same reason of its being of little importance serves his purpose equally well for or against the measure, as occasion may require. It is not, however, of such light consequence as it relates to the proceedings of the House, in which it has been so repeatedly and unanimously adopted too, in conformity to the opinion of the country, scarcely less unanimous; now, however, for the first time, it is contended that the Bill should be rejected, and the very reason assigned for its rejection, is the very reason why it ought to be countenanced. Undoubtedly if this opposition should be successful, it will neither be very flattering t" the consistency or sagacity of the House, which has shewn a strong partiality to the measure, and has persevered in it session after session, and at the time when it imagined its labours would be crowned with success, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Steps forward, and, without even any plausible cause being urged, says that he does not approve of the Bill, that it is of little consequence whether it passes or not; but that it shall not pass, because it does not suit his wishes. If members suffer themselves to be so trifled with, it will certainly do little credit to their consistency. Of this I am certain, that if the House consents to it, the public will be by no means satisfied with the abandonment of a measure to which they have directed their anxious eyes; they are persuaded that the measure is a good one, and if it be now rejected, they will not fail to attribute it to the right cause—the undue influence which the continuance of the practice places in the power of the minister. If the Bill be negatived, it undoubtedly will not have the effect of raising the character of the House in public estimation.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

explained, that he opposed the Bill on the ground that the objects to be attained by it were of so little importance, that more injury might be expected to result from a discordance in the legislature, than from its adoption. With regard to what had been said on the economy of the measure, his argument was, that at the present moment it would produce no saving of the public money.

Mr. Elliot

likewise explained, that he did not himself believe the provisions to be of much magnitude, but the precedent was of much importance.

A division then took place upon the question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," when the numbers were:

Ayes 54
Noes 56
Majority against the Bill —2

The House again divided on a Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "That the Bill be read a second time upon this day six months:"

Ayes 55
Noes 52
Majority —3

It was then moved, "That this House do now adjourn," upon which a third division took place:

Ayes 45
Noes 59
Majority against the Motion —14

List of the Majority and also of the Minority, on the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill.

Ashburnham, Hon. G. Morgan, Sir C.
Apsley, Lord. Palmerston, Lord.
Beaumont, Col. Perceval, Rt. Hon. S.
Barne, S. Peel, Sir R.
Bickerton, Sir R. Peel, R.
Browne, H. Pole, Wellesley.
Carew, P. Rochfort, G.
Courtenay, T. P. Robinson, M.
Croker, J. W. Robinson, J.
Disbrowe, Col. Robinson, Hon. P.
Desart, Lord. Rose, G.
Fane, Gen. Ryder, Rt. Hon. R.
Fitzharris, Lord. Strahan, A.
Fitzgerald, W. Singleton, M.
Goulbourn, H. Sutton, M.
Gibbs, Sir V. Stirling, Sir W.
Hamilton, Hans. Strutt, J. H.
Hill, Sir G. Swann, H.
Holford, G. Somerset, Lord C.
Kenrick, J. Thompson, Sir T.
Lowther, Lord. Thynne, Lord J.
Lushington, S. R. Veriker, R. H. G.
Lockhart, L. J. Ward, R.
Leslie, C. P. Wharton, R.
Long, C. Wellesley, R.
Lygon, Hon. W. B. Yarmouth, Lord.
Montagu, M. Yorke, Rt. Hon. C.
Abercromby, Hon. J. Lamb, Hon. W.
Adams, C. Lemon, Sir W.
Babington, H. Lefevre, S.
Bankes, H. Martin, H.
Bankes, W. Macdonald, J.
Bastard, J. P. Moore, P.
Bourne, S. Montgomery, Sir H.
Benyon, R. Myers, T.
Biddulph, R. Piggott, Sir A.
Brougham, H. Pochin, C.
Burrell, Sir C. Ponthieu, J.
Colborne, R. Ponsonby, G.
Combe, H. C. Ponsonby, Rt. Hon. G.
Elliott, Rt. Hon. W. Power, R.
Fane, J. Romilly, Sir, S.
Fellowes, N. Savage, F.
Frankland, Col. Sharp, R.
Folkestone, Visc. Sinclair, G.
Giddy, D. Scott, C.
Grenfell, P. Sumner, G.
Giles, D. Tremayne, G. H.
Gower, Earl. Tierney, Rt. Hon. G.
Hamilton, Lord A. Thornton, H.
Horner, F. Vernon, J. G.
Hume, W. H. Whitbread, S.
Hutchinson, C. Wynn, C. W.
Johnstone, G. Wrottesley, H.
Kemp, J. R.