§ Mr. Brougham
, in pursuance of the notice he had given, rose to call the attention of the House to a question, which was simply this, Whether the crown had the power to use certain funds, certain enormous sums of money, without any grant from parliament, or even without its privity? This was a subject of the gravest importance, inasmuch as it involved the consideration of the best privilege of the House of Commons; of that privilege,—the power of granting or refusing the supplies,—which was the great and the only security that the people had in their representatives against the influence and encroachments of the crown. He need only state thus briefly the general nature of the subject, for the House at once to perceive the necessity of being alive to its importance; but he would humbly suggest, that it was now, more than at any other time, the imperious duty of the House to look to the assertion of their privileges: now, that an arrangement was on foot, which ought not to be finally settled before some decision was adopted as to these alleged rights of the crown. Without any affectation, he could say, most sincerely, that it was to him a cause of great regret, that this most important subject had not fallen into abler hands; conscious as he was, of the unequal powers with which be advanced to its consideration; but comparatively unequal as he was to the task; however unable he might be to do it a full measure of justice; yet as it had devolved on him, he would not shrink from it. The subject matter had often come incidentally before the House; it had frequently been the topic of passing 242 debate, but it had never been brought forward on its own single merits; ft had never been made regularly the subject of parliamentary enquiry. It was now, therefore, full time that it should undergo a solemn investigation; it was now time that the House should declare, and that the country should know, whether funds of such an enormous magnitude as were the Droits of Admiralty, were by the law and constitution of this realm, vested in the crown for its separate use, and as a private patrimony. It was now, once for all, necessary, to have it proclaimed, whether the crown could, without any parliamentary grant, or without even the knowledge of parliament, appropriate these immense sums of money. If it should prove true, that the crown had such an extraordinary power, then it was high time for the world to be apprised of the nature of those limitations by which it was the boast of Englishmen to have their monarchy restricted; it was high time to tell mankind how much the boasted constitution of England had been misunderstood, and to lay aside for ever those gaudy descriptions in which the folly of our pride had arrayed it.
Without any further preliminary observations, he should lead the House to the subject matter of his notice; connected with which, however, was the subject of the annual revenue of the' crown, arising from the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, the four and a half per cent duties raised in Barbadoes and the Leeward Islands, and the surplus of the Scotch revenue. By the statute of Edward the third, when there was a duke of Cornwall of a proper age to receive the revenues flowing from that source, they were estranged from the crown; but when that was not the case, they were claimed by the monarch. Upon the most moderate calculation he could not estimate that revenue at less than 13,000l. a year. During the minority of his royal highness thee Prince of Wales, this annual sum, besides a yearly revenue arising from a variety of fines, not included in the annual account; were vested in the Crown. The amount of those fines, during the Prince's minority, was, he believed, not less than 130,000l.; so that while the Prince continued an infant, the crown had received nearly half a million of money from the revenue of the duchy of Cornwall.—With respect to the revenue of the duchy of Lancaster 243 the exact funds had not been so clearly ascertained; he would therefore pass on, taking the admission of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that they were considerable.—He next adverted to the 4½ per cent. duties raised in Barbadoes and the Leeward Islands. For the five years ending in 1808, the average was 35,000l. per annum. He knew not how those duties had fallen off'; but it appeared, that in the first of those five years, they had amounted to 61,000l. He did not wish to trace this revenue to its origin, because he had only to speak to its application; but he could not suffer the present opportunity to go by without declaring, that the tax by which this revenue was raised was almost an intolerable grievance to the unfortunate inhabitants of those islands who were obliged to pay it. It was besides a grievance the more severe, seeing that the other islands were exempted from the payment thereof; and it unquestionably had the worst influence on the prosperity and happiness of those islands. On this part of the subject he would not now speak at large, as an hon. friend of his, the member for Thetford (Mr. Creevey) had given notice of a motion relative there to.—Nor should he go at length into the nature of the fund formed by the surplus of the Scotch revenue, seeing that another hon friend of his had notified his intention of bringing it specifically before parliament. In the third Report of the Finance Committee,* this surplus was stated to be on an average, 86,000l. per annum. These united funds, which, in their nature, were annuities, amounting in the whole to not less than 180,000l. were, or were alleged to be, the sole and exclusive property of the crown.—The last great capital attached to the king, and which was the peculiar object of the present motion, was that which was under the name of the Droits of the Crown, and Droits of the King, as lord high admiral of England. The fund arising from those alleged droits was vested in the crown, because for the last century the station of lord high admiral was not conferred away from it. All sums arising from wreck and goods of pirates helped to swell this fund; but the great bulk of it arose from prizes. All ships detained previously to a declaration of war; all coming into port* For the Report, see vol. 11, Appendix, p. cxxxiv.244 from ignorance of hostilities between this and other countries; all taken before the issuing of proclamation, and those taken by non-commissioned captors, were sold; and the profits arising from their sequestration composed what was vulgarly called the Droits of Admiralty. It appeared by the last returns laid before the House on the 30th of May 1810, that no less a sum than 7,344,677l. had been paid in to the Registrar of the high court of Admiralty since the year 1793. Subsequent to the 30th of May 1810, there was every reason to believe that a considerable increase must have taken place, and he was confident he should not exceed the actual net proceed of the fund, if he stated it in round numbers at eight million sterling. Thus, then it appeared that the crown was receiving an annual revenue of more than 180,000l. and a capital said to be vested in the crown, ascending to the enormous sum of eight millions. The questions, therefore, for the House to decide were these: Whether by law, the crown was separately possessed of these funds? And supposing that by law the crown was so separately possessed of them, whether it was safe for the constitution that such a law should remain in force any longer?
The hon. and learned gentleman next observed, that those who maintained the affirmative of the first proposition, would have a task of no ordinary difficulty to perform. It was a thing highly dangerous, and he would say highly unconstitutional, that funds of such enormous amount, as those to which he had alluded, should be at the disposal of the crown, without any act of parliament, authorising such disposal. They were funds wholly appropriated to, the crown; the crown possessed them, and no one was accountable for their application. No limit whatever was imposed upon the uses to which those funds might be applied: they might be lavished upon a mistress; they might be wasted upon a favourite minion; they might be employed in the furtherance of undue elections, and undue influence in that House; they might be squandered away in caprice, and in any manner, without any responsibility attaching to any person or persons concerned in them. This was what might be done, and what those gentlemen who believed the possession of such funds by the crown to be legal, had to defend. But what was the obvious tendency of 245 such a doctrine? It put an end at once to the great use of parliaments; to the salutary check exercised by them in refusing to grant supplies when any grievance existed the redress of which was denied; and it transformed into a mere mockery, the asking of supplies by the crown from that House, while much greater supplies might be raised and exercised without controul by the servants of the crown. If this doctrine was maintained, all that we had heard of the privileges of parliament were but mere words; in real fact, the crown needed not come to parliament for its supplies, for it had means of obtaining them—means that were quite independent of any legislative provisions. He was unwilling to think, however, that such a doctrine could be maintained as a constitutional one, and he would briefly state to the House the grounds upon which he founded his doubts.
In adverting to the various sources of royal revenue in the early periods of our history, he did not mean to dispute the general maxim that" all prize" vested in the crown;" and a great law officer had, on a very recent occasion, declared that prize was the very creature of the crown. Yet, in the statute of Edward 2, which related to the regalia, no mention was made of prize as a peculiar property of the crown, though various other droits were, in that statute, distinctly declared and enumerated; and in the statute of the 2nd of Richard 3, all prize taken at sea was expressly given to the captors. These were legal facts, not indeed to be found in ordinary statute books, but they might be seen in lord chief justice Hale. Leaving the general question, however, he would ask in what shape were these droits vested in the crown? They were so vested (and all the great law authorities proved the fact), for the attainment of certain specific purposes; and the specific purpose in this case was the guarding and maintaining the rights and privileges of the seas. In the 4th Institute of my lord Coke, it was laid down, that tonnage and poundage were specifically granted to the crown for safeguard of the seas, and that it pertained to the lord high admiral to see this droit administered; and, quoting from the archives of the Tower, he had further observed, that the guard of the sea belonged to the high admiral, and to private adventurers also, who fitted out vessels for the purpose. In the 7th and 9th Henry 4, the right of 246 private merchants was also recognised. But there were other instances where the appropriation of those different funds, which went under the general name of Droits of Admiralty, were mentioned; and it would be found, that wreck at sea became one of the sources; and in the 2nd Institute, the reason of wreck being given to the crown, was stated to be, because the crown had to keep the narrow seas free from cruizers, the expence of which was to be defrayed by that fund.—The next instance which he should adduce of the fact of these Droits of the King being applied to the safeguard of the sea, was the manner in which the great case of Ship-Money was argued in the reign of Charles I and he adduced this the more willingly, when he considered the temper of the crown at that period, and the warning which the results of that period gave to posterity. Even in that reign of prerogative it was held, that all the natural profits arising from captures at sea, and the profits of letters of marque, ought to be applicable to the guarding and protecting our interests at sea. This was laid down by baron Weston, who said, that he would not hear of any such profits being a right by prerogative; but that he considered them as regalia of the crown, dedicated to particular purposes. Justices Crawley and Jones considered ship-money and tonnage and poundage, in the same light; but when Sir Edward Crawley said that he thought the droits of the king scarcely worth mentioning on account of their being too small to serve any great purpose of expence, he never imagined that they would one day rise to such a thing as 186,000l. a year, and eight mil-lions capital. Justice croke expressly declared," That the statutes of tonnage and poundage, as appears by all the statutes made in Richard 2, and continued till Henry 4, 5, 6, 7, and so downwards to king James's time, are to the end the king might have money in his coffers for the defence of the realm, and for the safeguard of the sea, that he might not, upon a sudden occasion, be unprovided."* It was evident, therefore, that even in the worst of times, not only parliamentary* See a report of the Proceedings in the great case of Ship Money, in the Third Volume of the New Edition (edited by Mr. Howell) of the State Trials, p. 825; in which Report are included full accounts of the Opinions which were247 grants, but royal impositions, were considered as destined to the service of the country; and that as to their use, the judges of Charles the First's time made no distinction between droits of the king, as vested solely in himself, and parliamentary grants for the public service. He recollected also, that the right hon. gentleman at the head of the court of Admiralty (Sir W. Scott), and than whom no one could preside there with more ability or learning, when he had spoke the sentence which he had before quoted, had also used the dictum," capta bello cedunt reipublicaæ;" and what was to be concluded from that dictum, but that prize must belong to the country and not to the crown.
The hon. and learned gentleman next adverted to the proportion which it was always well known existed between the parliamentary grants and the revenue of the crown, previously to the Revolution of 1688. Before that period, the expences of war were not regularly supplied by parliament, but generally by the crown, and from those very funds which it was now contented were the private property of the king. A material change, however, had since been taking place, and was now nearly completed. The country bore all the expences of war. There was no longer any drain on the revenue of the crown, or on any of the branches of the prerogative: and if the country now supplied the means of war instead of the king, was it not right that it should stand in all respects in the place of the king; and that it should receive instead of the king the profits of the war, or in other words, the very droits in question? That this was the opinion of that great authority lord Mansfield, was evident from the case of Macbeath v. Haldi-mand, 1 Term Rep. 172; but he would go still higher, and would, appeal to the authority of Magna Charta itself. Though that act vested the funds for the whole civil administration in the crown, yet it specified their application to public purposes. During the times of the Plantagenets, about 40,000l. was the amount of the regalia of the crown; and that sum, with the feudal services and accidental' supplies, generally bore all the yearlydelivered upon the case by the Judges. In volume 6, p. 906 of the same work, is related a very curious anecdote respecting the Opinion of Sir George Croke.248 expences of the state: but now, when instead of '10,000l. there were millions upon millions alleged to be vested in the crown: and when instead, of feudal services or acidental supplies, the country voted annually the money for defraying the public expence, was the House to be told that those millions were not to be considered applicable to the general purposes of the state?
The next argument used by the hon. and learned gentleman, was drawn from the fact of parliament having, at various times in our history, interfered with the prerogative of the crown, when that prerogative turned into abuse; and he particularly mentioned the taking away of the temporalities of bishops from the crown, after the crown had made shameful and lavish uses of them. In the 9th of Henry 3, chap. 5, and in the Statute of Westminster the First in the reign of Edward I, laws were passed to restrain the prodigal grants of those temporalities,—temporalities which were then as much vested in the crown as the Droits of the Admiralty were now. In the time of William and Mary, a similar encroachment was made on the prerogative of mines; and in the reign of queen. Anne, when that illustrious princess, greatly to her honour, thought of granting away the Tenths and First-Fruits from the crown, she recognised the right of parliament to interfere with the alienation of that property. In the 12th year of the reign of Charles 2 also, when it was thought inconsistent with" the liberties of the people, that the oppressive right of purveyance should continue as a right of the crown, that purveyance was abolished. But there was nothing more material than what occurred in the preamble of the 6th of queen Anne, ch. 25, which after enumerating the evils resulting from the repeated alienation' of the crown lands, went on to enact, that no alienation should be made for more than three lives, or thirty-one years, for the purpose of relieving the people from all burthens in carrying on war. Did not that shew that those lands were vested in the crown, for the benefit of the people. And here he would ask, too, of his honourable friends, whether there appeared any grounds for an opinion they seemed to entertain a few evenings since of an understanding or bargain between the Prince Regent and the parliament, relative to certain claims? (see p. 168.) If any of the crown lands were considered the sole 249 and separate estate of the crown, this act would have failed in the outset; it would have been reprobated as an invasion of the royal prerogative. At different times subsequent to this period, parliament had interfered with different branches of the revenue of the crown; but he would only advert to the 35th of his present Majesty, which directed the commissioners of Dutch prizes to pay the prize-droits into the hank of England, and not to the crown, Why did it not occur that this was an infringement of the royal prerogative? But, on the contrary, it established the right of interference vested in parliament, and corroborated the argument on which he rested. Having said thus much on the origin and nature of those funds, the hon. and learned gentleman proceeded to remark on the mode in which they were issued and applied. It appeared they were partly received by the registrar of the high court of Admiralty, and that they were partly in the hands of the receiver general of droits, the commissioners of prizes, and the bank of England. One thing was certain, that from whomsoever, or to whomsoever they came, they never went into the exchequer,—that they did not afterwards issue from thence, but were taken out of the bank of England, on the authority, not of the privy seal, but of a warrant under the sign-manual only. There was' no responsibility whatever incurred either by the person who received them, or he who issued them; and he believed, too, that there was not, even at the treasury, any account of the receipts or outgoings of this fund. That this manner of issue was unconstitutional, he conceived there was very little difficulty to prove; and that on the authority of persons who would by no means be suspected of leaning to the popular side of the question. The first of these authorities was lord Coke, who, in his second Institute, held, that all warrants for the disposal of the public treasure by sign-manual, were illegal and of he effect, and that the king had no right to issue by his sign manual, except from funds arising out of his own chattels. In the celebrated case, commonly called the Devonshire Case, and also on the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh, it was laid down as clear law, that no public treasure, which Sir E. Coke (11 Rep. p. 916) says, is" the ligament of peace, the sinews of war, and the preserver of the honour and safety of the realm," amongst which was reckoned 250 treasure trove, and all the other revenues of the crown, could be issued under the authority of the sign-manual alone. Lord Sommers was another great authority; but the last of those authorities, lord Clarendon, was one which he thought would be universally acknowledged, as most above the suspicion of being influenced by a thirst for novelty, or a desire of acquiring popular opinion. In condemning, therefore, the practice which had now obtained, of so vast a revenue being in the possession of the crown, unchecked by any controul of parliament, or of any other authority, he was not advancing any new doctrine, or expressing sentiments peculiar to himself. Charles 2 had appointed a separate receiver, by commission, as treasurer of prize-money; and he would take the liberty of reading to the House an account of the transaction, in the words of the eminent historian he had last mentioned." He" (lord Clarendon)" was required to affix his seal to a bill, making and constituting the lord Ashley, treasurer of all the money that should be raised upon the sale of all prizes which were or should be taken in the war then carrying on against the Dutch, with power to make all such offices as should be necessary for the service; and that he should account for all monies so received to the king himself, and to no other person whatsoever, and pay and issue out all those monies which he should receive, in such manner as his Majesty should appoint by warrant under his sign manual, and by no other warrant: and that he should be free and exempt from accounting into the Exchequer. To this request the Chancellor replied,' that he would speak with the king before he would seal that grant, and that be, desired much to speak with himself.'—The next morning," continues lord Clarendon," he waited upon the King and informed him of the bill that was brought to him, and doubted that he had been surprised. That it was not only such an original as was without any precedent, but in itself in many particulars, destructive to his service, and to the right of other men. That all receivers of any part of his revenue were accountable in the exchequer, and could receive their discharge in no other place; and that if so great a receipt as this was already" [here the hon. and learned gentleman observed, that the receipt was certainly great; but it was not eight millions—it was only 100,000l.]" and as it evidently would be, should pass 251 without the most formal account; his Majesty might be abominably cozened, nor could it in any other way be prevented. He therefore besought his Majesty that he would reconsider the thing itself, and hear it debated, at least that the treasurer might be first heard without which it could not be done in justice;" and in a conversation with lord Ashley himself, he observed," that the exemption from making any account but to the king, himself would deceive him; and as it was an unusual and unnatural privilege, so it would never be allowed, in any court of justice, which would exact both the account and the payment or lawful discharge of what money he should receive, and if he depended upon the exemption he would live to repent it."
These constitutional views, continued the hon. and learned gentleman, were not much relished by Charles 2; but as there was some force in the arguments, he consented to delay the matter till he had further considered it. The delay, however, was not very long, for he shortly afterwards made the chancellor affix his seal to the grant. It appeared at length that the king sent a positive order to the chancellor to seal the commission, which he could no longer refuse, which the noble historian says," he did with the more trouble, because he very well knew that few men knew the lord Ashley better than the king himself did, or had a worse opinion of his integrity."" Nor was it difficult," lord Clarendon afterwards went on to state," to persuade the king, (who thought himself more rich in having one thousand pounds in his closet that nobody knew of; than in fifty thousand pounds in his exchequer) how many conveniencies he would find in having so much money at his own immediate disposal, without the formality of privy seals and other men's warrants, and the indecency and mischief which would attend a formal account of all his generous donatives and expence, which should be known only to himself." Such, then, were the views, such the principles of the great lord Clarendon, an officer of the crown and a kinsman of the reigning sovereign what could serve to shew more forcibly that all grants of this description were dangerous to the constitution, alien to its spirit, and repugnant to its fundamental character. He hoped, for the sake of that object which they all had or ought to have in common, the object of maintaining 252 the practice and principles of parliament, as established and recognized at the Revolution, he should not be thought to ask too much when he asked of the ministers of the present day, who were the constitutional servants of a constitutional prince, to accede to doctrines which had the peculiar merit of having been the doctrines not only of an eminent statesman, but of a statesman related by domestic ties to one of the most arbitrary monarchs that ever sat on the English throne.
Feeling it unnecessary for his purpose to detain the House further in support of the positions he had laid down, he now begged leave to call their attention to those practical observations arising out of the abuses of which the fund alluded to had furnished the means and the occasion. All that he had yet said on the subject of parliamentary inquiry, and the necessity of its rigid exercise at every period, on all that was connected with the expenditure of the crown, applied equally to all branches of the regalia. But the fund now particularly under consideration had altogether a separate character and distinct origin. That character and origin were such, that it would not be an easy task to name, or to imagine an institution that should at the same time be so detrimental to the interests, the well understood interests of the crown, and the most important interests of the country. It gave, in the first place, to the crown an interest in going to war. It gave an interest not merely in the commencing hostilities, but it gave an interest in commencing them in a way the least honourable to the national character, the least consistent with that good faith, can-dour, and magnanimity, which, until the present times, formed such proud and honourable features in the character of the English people.—(A cry of hear, hear!) He knew to what his hon. friends behind him alluded by that cry, and was aware that the practice which he now reprobated as the degrading distinction of our recent history, was not quite new, or quite unprecedented. He perfectly recollected, for it was an event that happened at no great distance of time from the period to which he had before directed the attention of the House, the event of the Dutch war. This was indeed an event, which, had he all the eloquence of all his honourable friends who surrounded him, he should yet want language 253 and terms of abhorrence adequate to the expression of his feelings respecting it. It was a war entered upon for the sole purpose of intercepting the Smyrna fleet, a war of all others the most undisguisedly infamous and degrading; a war of crime and plunder, of larceny and pillage; a war exceeding in baseness and atrocity even the late attacks on the Spanish and Danish ships. Such was the memorable war of Charles the second, such the motives in which it originated, and although he might not anticipate the calamity of ever seeing such a king, or one the least resembling him, again wield the sceptre of these realms, it was no less their duty, as the representatives of the people and the guardians of their rights and interests, to appoint a sufficient guard against the possible recurrence in sub-sequent times of similar abuses; for even in our own time transactions had taken place, arising probably from Jess disgraceful and pernicious causes, which nevertheless were certainly subject to the imputation of having borne some reference to the fund of Admiralty Droits. He would not dwell upon the Copenhagen expedition, because he did not believe that, however it might have mingled, it formed the chief or the only motive of that (as he deemed it) unprincipled and ill-fated enterprise. But he would mention an event, as to the true origin of which no trace of doubt existed in his mind, namely, the capture of the Spanish frigates.—He would recall to the recollection of the House, the precise time when that affair took place: he would remind them that it was at a period when the Spanish envoy in London and the British ambassador at Madrid were employed in carrying on a negociation, and then ask them if they could hesitate to believe that a licence issuing under these circumstances, to make war on unoffending merchantmen, to destroy and burn them before any declaration of hostilities, and to bring the hulks and cargoes of the vessels into British ports, could have possibly sprung from any other cause, or have been directed to any other object? (hear, hear!)—But admitting, what in fact he never would admit, that the design was as pure as the right hon. gentleman opposite might assert it to be, was it not enough to induce them to condemn that institution as bad and unfit to exist, which served at least to communicate suspicion, and to justify foreigners, as well as the 254 subjects of this government, in believing that a sordid principle had led to the pillage of foreign vessels, and the massacre of their crews, and had at once been the cause of staining the national: character, and plunging the country into all the evils attendant on a state of war? What more likely than suspicions of this kind to sow dissection at home, to embitter animosities abroad, and alienate every country from our interest? It was wars of this nature which had disgraced the reign of Henry VIIth, perhaps the meanest and most rapacious of the race of English kings. These wars had been likened by lord Bacon" to a mixed metal, a treasure made up of a strange ore, in which iron appeared on the surface, but gold and silver were at the bottom."
If then, he had been correct in estimating the ordinary revenues of the crown at the sum of 180,000l. per annum, and if he had been right in looking, not indeed at the person who were the crown, because that was unconstitutional doctrine, but at ministers, and if not ministers at favourites, as men liable to err, it was unnecessary to press his argument further. Parliament, it was well known, was never reluctant to grant whatever justice and liberality might require. No pro-position that would bear investigation, nothing that had solid merit to support it, ever came before that House in vain. Some might think that parliament was too apt to vote without inquiry, but when there was something to be done that shunned the eye of inquiry, when some vile job was to be accomplished, or some minion odious to the people, whose demerits stood catalogued before their sight, was to be supported; then it was, that instead of quartering him on the Consolidated Fund, or of ranking him on the Pension List among the Nelsons, the St. Vincents, and the Wellingtons, recourse was had unknown to parliament and the country, to the Droits of Admiralty, or to the four and half per cent. fund—a fund that might fairly be called the general jobbing fund, consisting of annuities and an immense capital to remunerate those vile minions, whose claims to reward the minister would not have the hardihood to bring under the cognizance of parliament. This fund, then, stood exposed in all its native contamination, neither more nor less than a fund unworthy of the royal character to possess; unworthy of the character of parliament to suffer to exist, If it was 255 thus liable to be made subservient to the worst purposes, it was not incumbent on him to prove that the actual application of it had been abused.—(Hear, hear!)—It was enough if he had established a necessary tendency to corruption; but as the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to challenge him for facts, he was by no means unwilling to produce them. By the papers on the table, it appeared, that since the first establishment of the Civil List during the present reign, it had been first raised by the sum of 100,000l.; at a subsequent period by 60,000l. that by the abstraction of certain charges to which it had been before subject, it was afterwards virtually raised 135,000l.; thus making a real annual increase to the original 800,000l. of the sum of 305,000l. A sum of 100,000l. had been also voted to his Majesty for defraying the expences of new palaces and buildings. There had been, in addition to all these sums, an accumulation of half a million during the minority of the Prince of Wales. The revenues arising from the Duchy of Lancaster, and the Scotch fund, were also to be taken into the account, and notwithstanding the immense increase thus made to the income of the crown, it would appear that the increase of the debt was still more rapid and of still greater amount. Parliament had already several times discharged the arrears of the Civil List debt, and in the year 1802 voted the enormous sum of 900,000l. for that purpose. The whole of the sums voted at different periods amounted to between three and four millions. Since the year 1804 the debt had gone on accumulating at the rate of 123,000l. per annum. This the Chancellor of the Exchequer had lately stated; and had informed the House that this excess of expenditure had been paid off—in other words, that, an actual deficit of an enormous amount, incurred, notwithstanding the unexhausted liberality of parliament, had been supplied without the aid of parliament, in a manner unknown to parliament. Thus to the amazement of the country—(hear, hear)—he would say to its well founded amazement, a sum of 760,000l. taken from a fund over which parliament had no controul, had been set aside for the simple payment of tradesmens' bills. It was not his wish to utter any thing disrespectful or invidious; but when he considered that the Civil List had been always thus encumbered, he recollected too that in the 256 year 1799 his Majesty had made large purchases of lands, and an act had been passed, reciting in the preamble that these purchases had been made with the savings out of the privy purse and other' funds, and professing to be for the purpose of removing certain doubts as to the legality of these purchases. The object of the bill really was to alter the law, which in the reign of queen Anne had been deemed necessary by the legislature, which took from the crown the power of alienating lands for any period beyond 31 years. The new act went evidently to favour and protect the accumulation of private property in the crown. The Attorney-General knew, as well as himself, that by the ancient laws of the country, all lands whatever were held by the reigning king solely jure coronœ, and he felt himself warranted in assuming, that when parliament first enacted the provision for his present Majesty, it was not their intention that that law should be altered or perverted from its original objects.
The next item that appeared of grants from the Admiralty Droits, was a sum of 140,000l. and a subsequent one of 26,000l. paid to the princes. But did he know so little as to be ignorant that the crown of England was under no necessity of resorting to means like these for its support? No! he spoke as the advocate of the crown, as one who wished to see it possessed of a revenue worthy of a British prince to receive, and of the British people to bestow; a revenue as useful and advantageous to the subject as to the crown. He wished to see the dignity of the sovereign upheld by a fixed and certain and ample stipend; not by a revenue which sometimes placed him in the light of a land-jobber, or in the character of a buccaneer. If he did not greatly err, this was the proper doctrine of parliament, the true language of the constitution. It would be endless to go through all the items; but there was one grant of 21,610l. which had been before animadverted on, made to an hon. officer, a member of that House, (sir Home Popham) to reimburse him for private losses. There was another to a clergyman, of the name of Daniels, to the amount of about 6,000l. for giving information relative to illegal captures. Another grant appeared of 700l. to an officer, as an indemnification for having been illegally prosecuted. But if the law were inadequate to remedy such grievances, 257 was there no other mode by which the object might be accomplished, but to place an enormous fund, a fund of which parliament had no account, at the disposal of the minister of the crown? The proper and only constitutional course was unquestionably to apply to parliament; and if the case was a case of hardship, a case placed beyond the reach of the justice of the law, it was by parliament that the evil ought to be redressed. Had the officer so indemnified been differently situated, if instead of being possessed of some influence with ministers, he had been a man friendless and unconnected, was it probable that he would have ever tasted the benefits of ministerial bounty? Here was another proof that the existence of such a fund was prejudicial at once, directly and indirectly, and furnished a fresh argument for its immediate abolition. The following item that occurred to him was, the expences paid to captors, whose prizes had not been condemned, and who had been adjudged themselves to pay costs. Another item, the last upon which he should trouble the House, referred to the expences paid to the captors of such vessels as were brought in for prizes, but not condemned, in consequence of some defect in evidence. Under this head, 3,8,000l. was given to one individual, 4,000l. to another, and 3,000l. to a third. It might be right and necessary to support the energy of the service, that some such grants should be made in such cases, in order to indemnify the individuals against the costs of court; at the same time he thought it hardly respectful to those courts, to suppose that they would condemn in costs the cases which had only failed for want of proof; but this, as he had already said, was not the way to provide for them. Those funds had in them a mixture of violence and injustice; the fraud to which they tempted the executive rendered them most objectionable; they were liable to abuse, and they had been abused. It was unnecessary to add any more cases in illustration of what he said; but in concluding, he could not help exhorting the House to reflect, that if ever it should unfortunately happen that a monarch of this country should have an adviser unskilled in the principles of the constitution, or not caring for its principles, without a knowledge of the disposition of the people, or disregarding that disposition, who, seeing that boldness was the shortest and simplest method of government, 258 might also conclude it was the best, and blinded by avarice or servility, should adopt a conduct corresponding with such notions, as had happened in the case of lord Shaftesbury; he would en treat the House to reflect how they were arming the rapacity of the favourite, and with what weakness they were surrounding the throne; how they were exposing the commerce, the prosperity, and the honour of England. If such a person as he had described were to exist, and if, what he was willing to believe more improbable still, he were to make his way into the counsels of his monarch, what a blow could he strike against the best interests of the country? We had yet left, he would not say a single ally, but one remaining friend, and that friend was America. How naturally might a sovereign like the one he had fancied be induced by such a minister, as he had de scribed, to violate this solitary friend ship, and for purposes the most sordid and the most atrocious, hasten a rupture, and sweep into this fund the spoils of American commerce. He desired the House to consider also, that this most fata) act, this last achievement of political profligacy, might be defended as strictly regular and legal; justified by the laws and constitution of the realm, and not even requiring that solemn mockery of responsibility, a Bill of Indemnity. He was far from insinuating that such an event was likely to happen, it was sufficient for him and for parliament to know, that it had once happened. The hon. and learned member concluded with apologising for the time he had taken up, and observing, that at a moment when a new arrangement was about to be settled with the executive, he thought the subject of much too great importance to be neglected by a House of Commons, which had the right, a right which it was bound to exercise, of carrying into effect and practice those limitations, and that controul, which could alone make an English king in fact what he was in theory—a limited monarch. He then moved the following Resolutions:
" That the possession by the Crown of Funds raised otherwise than by the grant of Supplies from the Commons in parliament assembled, and applicable to purposes not previously ascertained by parliament, is contrary to the spirit of the constitution, liable to great abuses, and full of danger to the rights of the subject, and the interests of the country:
259 "That it is the peculiar duty of the Commons' House of Parliament, to investigate the nature and foundation of all such funds as are pretended or asserted to be vested in the crown in the manner above-mentioned:
"That the Funds arising from wreck, whether at sea or on shore, goods of pirates, prize made before proclamation, prize made by non-commissioned captors, vessels and their cargoes detained in port before the commencement of hostilities, or forced into port by ignorance of war having taken place, or through stress of weather, and all other profits from the sea accruing to the king, either in right of his crown, or in virtue of his office of Lord High Admiral, and pretended or asserted to belong to his Majesty as a separate property, over which parliament hath no controul, have arisen to such an amount, during the last and present wars, as calls for the most serious consideration of this House:
" That it appears, from the papers on the table of this House, that the net and clear proceeds of the aforesaid funds, which had accrued between the 1st day of February 1793, and the 30th day of May 1810, amounted to the sum of 7,344,677l.; and that in all probability, it has, since that time, been considerably augmented:
" That these monies have been received by the crown, at different times, in large sums, and not in any regular proportion by the year; and that these sums have been at the disposal of the crown without any interference and controul of parliament, although parliament had, during the whole course of that period, not only provided the supplies for the prosecution of the war, and raised the sums requisite for the internal administration of the country, but provided the supplies estimated to be necessary for the support of his Majesty's household and family, and the dignity of the crown, and paid large sums for defraying such debts as had arisen in these departments:
" That this House taking these things into its consideration will forthwith proceed to enquire into the most fit and efficacious means of bringing the aforesaid Funds under the immediate controul of parliament, for the purpose of applying the same to the public service, and of providing such additional sums, if any, as may appear to be necessary to the maintenance of the household, and of the honour and dignity of the crown."
§ Mr. Brand
rose to second the motion. When he looked to the manner in which ministers and the law-officers of the crown had supported the claim of the crown to the funds in question, he felt-alarmed, lest by any thing he might say he should weaken the argument which bad been so very ably Urged by his hon. and learned friend. It was, in his opinion, a doctrine almost axiomatical in the constitution, that this House ought to have the disposal of all the revenue of the crown. The temptation which led to an act of warfare prior to a declaration of war was very great; but the power which it gave to ministers was such as to render it dangerous to the liberties of the people. He understood that there was a great sum of money arising from Droits of Admiralty, disposable at the will of the Prince Regent; and he was determined not to give his vote for another shilling, till an account was laid before the House how that money had been applied. He would suppose that the Prince would not have the power to re-originate the bargain which had been spoken of as made in the commencement of his Majesty's reign; but still he thought, that during the period that he had been Regent, there must have fallen in a variety of items which ought to have been given credit for. If it should appear that no less than 250,000l. had accrued in that manner during that time, he thought that such sum, or whatever might be the real amount of it, ought to be accounted for to the public before any new demands were made on account of the expences of the Regency. He was satisfied, therefore, that the motion of his hon. and learned friend was strictly proper, and that a committee should be appointed to examine in what manner those sums were really applied. It was certainly a subject well worthy of the consideration of the House, that a fund which had amounted to so many millions should, be disposed of at the pleasure of the crown without any ac-count being rendered to parliament. He thought it was absolutely necessary to take this subject into their consideration, before the House could possibly form a judgment with respect to the civil list, whether it was sufficient or not; and he, for one, was not willing to vote a single shilling more for the purposes of the civil list, without knowing how much of this fund might be properly applied to the purposes of that list. As this subject had been often under discussion, and as his hon. and learned 261 friend had entered so fully and so ably into the merits of the case, he did not think it necessary to trouble the House with any more observations at present.
§ Mr. Courtenay
, in rising for the first time, disclaimed any idea of emulating the eloquence of the hon. and learned mover; nor, as to legal argument, would he attempt to follow the hon. and learned gentleman; but he must say, that it appeared to him, even from his own statement, that the laws and authorities upon which he relied were all of a very ancient date, and antecedent to the Revolution. The practice, as it now existed, had existed for a great number of years: during which time a number of most acute intelligent lawyers, and men extremely jealous of the prerogative of the crown, had satin that House, and never questioned the right of the crown to those Droits of Admiralty; and indeed the arguments used did not go so much to shew that the system complained of was illegal, as that it was unseasonable. His principal object in rising was to protest against the principle of having a mere stipendiary king, with an income fixed by parliament, and never to be exceeded. He thought that where a certain allowance had been fixed in the commencement of this reign, it would be too much to require that the sovereign should be dependent on the parliament for that gradual but regular increase of his expenditure, which necessarily took place from the great depreciation of money, (hear, hear! from the Opposition bench) or the great increase of prices. Every gentleman who kept a house, must, from his own experience, be sensible of this perpetual increase of prices. He believed the hon. and learned gentleman could shew no instance of a sovereign of this country, who was ever restricted in that manner. He approved of the system existing in the reign of Charles 2d, who had a tonnage duty on all imports and exports. Now, when the great increase of our trade, within the long reign of his Majesty, should be taken into consideration, it appeared highly probable, that if those duties had not been surrendered by the crown at the arrangement, they would have now amounted to such a sum as would have prevented parliament from hearing any complaints of deficiency in the civil list. As to the practice of making grants under the sign manual, it had been of long duration. The hon. gentleman here read an account from the Journals, stating the 262 sums taken in that manner from the Crown Revenues, before they came into the Exchequer, in queen Anne's reign. As to the possibility of the prerogative of the crown being abused in the manner the hon. and learned gentleman had supposed, and of the minister advising a war merely for the purpose of giving some money to the crown under this claim of Droits of the Admiralty, the supposition appeared to him highly improbable, and the danger theoretical; but still he did not deny but that it might be proper for parliament to take the whole system into its consideration, whenever there should be a new arrangement of the civil list, on a demise of the crown. As to the business of Copenhagen, which had been mentioned, he believed that nothing had been reserved for the crown under the head of Droits of Admiralty; and what arose from the capture of the Spanish frigates had been given to those engaged in the Spanish trade.—As to the charge of this fund having been abused to the purposes of secret favour and jobs, he believed that only one case had been cited which bore the least appearance of favour, and that was the case of Sir Home Popham, which had already been pretty fully discussed in that House. As to secret jobs, if there were such, how did the hon. and learned gentleman come at the knowledge of them? As to those grants which were not secret, but which had been already stated to parliament, it appeared that hardly any objections were or could be made. He would by no means contend, that this was the most convenient fund for paying the increased expence of the civil list establishment out of; but he would say, that until parliament should create some other fund or means to meet the deficiency in the civil list, he thought that it was the best way to supply it from this source. Although the expences of the civil list establishment had much increased, he believed that the king kept no more servants, horses, or carriages than he did formerly. He by no means wished to under-rate the principle, of the necessity of the crown being dependent on parliament for its income, as far as related to public services, but he thought that the king should be independent as to his household and personal expences; and that a system which made a frequent recurrence to parliament for assistance in that respect was unconstitutional and dangerous. Under all these circumstances, he should vote 263 against the motion, which went to destroy a system, which, if not the best, had answered the purpose of supplying the deficiency of the civil list, and in which no abuses had been shewn to exist.
The Attorney General
said that his hon. and learned friend had stated truly to the House, that there were two questions to be decided; the one, whether the crown had any right to the revenue in dispute; the other, whether, supposing the right established, it was proper that it should be left so? His hon. and learned friend had maintained that the revenue of which his Majesty had undertaken the administration, did not of right belong to his Majesty; in doing which, however, he had admitted, that till the time of the Revolution, no branch of the revenue whatever was appropriated, until the passing of the civil list acts. In order to shew that his majesty was not dealing with, as his own, that which was not his own, he should refer to those acts; and as the most convenient order, he should begin with the last, and so follow up the series. In the 1st of the present king, by which 800,000l. was settled on his Majesty for life; in that, as in the former cases, many revenues were collected into one aggregate fund, and named specifically, but among them the Droits of Admiralty were not included. It was certain that before the institution of the civil list the Droits belonged to the king, but whether from that period they still remained to him, was a question not quite so evident. They were therefore to enquire, whether among the revenues which composed the aggregate fund, the Droits of Admiralty were mentioned. If they were mentioned, undoubtedly they were included in the bargain between his Majesty and parliament, on his first arriving at the crown, but if not, they were still to be considered his own property. Here the hon. and learned gentleman took a review of the various acts from the 1st of George 3, to that of William and Mary on that subject, in none of which this fund was alluded to. It therefore remained with his Majesty as before. The next point to which they came, was the simple consideration, whether it ought to be taken from him; and that must lead them necessarily to the act of Settlement, by which in lieu of certain revenues, parliament had agreed to allow to his Majesty the sum of 800,000l. a year. The parliament had all the revenues then under their eye, yet they granted him the 264 sum already mentioned, leaving to him in addition whatever was not included in the aggregate fund, so that the Droits of Admiralty were his own, unless it could be proved that an improper use had been made of those Droits by ministers. If a case had been made out by his hon. and learned friend, imputing to ministers the fact of having corruptly taken and corruptly applied that fund, there would then have been some ground for the motion; but as the question stood, they were to decide whether they would take it away, because it was possible that it might be misapplied. There was no part of the revenue to which the same argument might not be applied with the same justice. It appeared to him, on these grounds, which he had stated as shortly as he could to the House; that the motion was unnecessary, and therefore he should oppose it.
§ Mr. Davies Giddy
declared, he had not intended to take part in this discussion, but from what he had heard, begged shortly to deliver his opinion on the two points into which the question had been so properly divided. He agreed, that the right to these Droits, from the Conquest to the present day, was vested entirely in the king. But when any revenue was so vested," there were vested with it corelative duties to be performed. Of old, when the kings of England held lands and other: sources of revenue, they were bound to protect the country, to be at the expence of carrying war into, foreign parts, and perform other services for the realm. The same mode existed in some arbitrary governments at this day, but in England they had made one of the greatest improvements ever thought of in politics, by separating the revenue, and granting it for particular purposes. No man was inclined to go farther than he was in the amount he would appropriate to the support of the crown and all the royal family, though he could have wished that the civil list had been voted solely and clearly to the king, and that ambassadors and great officers had been provided for by other grants. But if the old hereditary revenues of the crown were continued, the old hereditary duties ought also to continue. As for meeting the excess of the civil list out of this fund, he must consider any other source better than one so uncertain and precarious. Although he was convinced that the argument of war being entered on to increase this fund was merely theoretic, yet even theory so dangerous 265 ought to be guarded against. It was said, that this was not a proper time to cavil about a bargain which had been made to last till the end of the reign. To this he would agree, had they not been called on to raise other money for the crown; but as it was, he was convinced they ought not to levy fresh supplies, till it was shewn that former grants had been insufficient. He had ever thought a limited monarchy the best mode of government; but he held, that with respect to a king as with respect to a senate, there ought to be no property in their possession, not applicable to the service of the state. On this ground he was for carrying the amount of this fund to the public stock, or at any rate for leaving it with parliament to dispose of, giving out of it as much, and no stinted sum, as was fit to support the crown, and all its dependencies, in dignity and splendour.
§ Mr. Stephen
, while he conceived the Droits of the Admiralty to be the property of the crown, did not carry the argument the length of contending that the House had no controul over them, though he denied that there was any occasion for a previous approval by parliament of any appropriation of them. His hon. and learned friend who brought forward the present motion, did not argue the case as if the crown exercised a usurpation over this fund, but as if he doubted whether the crown did so or not. The right however, he (Mr. Stephen) conceived to be indisputable. His hon. and learned friend agreed, that previous to the revolution, the right was in the Lord High Admiral; and was not that office put in commission by the king? If the right was in the admiral before, it seemed to follow that it must now be in the crown. The words of lord Clarendon, addressed to Charles the 2nd, which his hon. and learned friend had quoted, seemed even to favour this idea; his lordship telling his majesty that he, not his people, would be abominably cozened, by suffering the profits of this office to remain unaccounted for at the exchequer.—With respect to those disputes which might have arisen at different periods of our history as to the distribution of these droits, they were rather disputes between the king and the captor, or the Lord High Admiral and the captor, than between the king and the public. He could not help thinking that his hon. and learned friend had been a little strong in his phraseology, when he said, that all 266 such grants were contrary to the spirit of the constitution. According to such reasoning, every one of those acts settling, the evil, list revenue, were violations of the constitution, because it was clear that by each of them, the legislature left in the crown property not granted by the parliament. If this was against the constitution, then forfeitures and seizures and all grants arising there from, might be, with equal justice, said to be anti-constitutional. Besides, grants might be made in ease of the public service, though not immediately for the public service, which, however, it would not be fair to consider as an abuse of public money. It was at the same time but just to consider, that the civil list had not at any time been adequate to the claims upon it. Mr. Justice Blackstone was a writer not disposed to yield or compromise the privileges of the subject, and yet in the year 1777, he had acknowledged the utter deficiency of the civil list to answer the claims upon it, and even appealed to every gentleman of private fortune, whether from an impartial calculation of the proportion of his respective means to the private demands upon him even at that period, the civil list could be supposed to be adequate to the great demands upon it.—It was unfair too in his hon. and learned friend to talk of eight millions as the amount of the droits at present. The net sum, including every possible item, was only 7,344,677l. The reductions themselves amounted to more than a moiety. The mere payments to captors amounted to 2,336,745l.; and with regard to the objection to captors in certain cases, he wished to know from his hon. and learned friend, whether he would take upon him to say, that in no case, private captors ought to have remuneration? Might not war break out under such circumstances as to render it most just and expedient that private captors should be remunerated?—Another deduction was that of 406,554l. to neutral claimants. There was a still further deduction of 289,691l. for payments to the receiver general of droits, law charges, &c. Under the head of special payments there was no less a sum than 425,687l. A further deduction as to the indemnification of officers for costs incurred in Admiralty courts, where ships taken under circumstances of strong suspicion, had turned out to have been neutrals. To some of them, however, the hon. and learned gentleman objected, as being payments 267 to defray the costs incurred by unlawful captures; and he asked, was it to be endured, that an unlawful captor should not smart for his misconduct, as a warning to himself and others in future? But he would appeal to the House, if many cases might not occur, in which it would be the greatest possible hardship not to exonerate a captor from the costs attending a decision against him. He would only mention one instance, in which some vessels, carrying ship timber for the enemy, were to all appearance so completely covered and protected as neutrals, that, in the Admiralty court, the captors of them must have been condemned in the most ruinous costs, had not private information been obtained from another quarter, that the timber was destined for the enemy. His hon. and learned friend had also alluded to a grant of 5,097l. to a reverend gentleman, for information given as to enemy's property; and certainly, though that sort of business might not be very suitable to his clerical character, yet it was proper he should be paid in proportion to his services. The truth was, it would have been absolute ruin to many gallant officers, to have left them saddled with the costs of captures that had been pronounced illegal, though made by them in the discharge of what they thought to be their duty: and these brave men instead of carrying the fame of the British navy into all parts of the world, would have been left to waste their lives in a prison, but for this power of remunerating them out of the Droits of Admiralty. This, therefore, he would contend, was a most wholesome application of the fund in question. But if that fund was only to be applied in the way he had mentioned in consequence of a specific vote of parliament, in every particular instance, he could hardly figure to himself the dreadful consequences that would ensue. Were the claims of officers for exoneration from the costs with which they were saddled at all a proper subject of investigation for that House? Were they to hear counsel at the bar, to enter into enquiries into those claims, and to be canvassed by naval officers? This would) indeed, lead to the most unconstitutional abuses, and would draw the whole of the executive power into the hands of the House of Commons. There were several items of appropriation which well deserved attention: no less a sum than 900,000l. bad been placed to the account of the consolidated 268 fund by the Dutch commissioners; 750,000l. had been paid to the treasurer of the navy by the Spanish commissioners; 100,000l. had been paid by the registrar to the treasurer of the Ordnance, and 150,000l. to the treasurer of the Navy, There had been also a sum of no less than 348,261l. paid to lords Gambier and Cath-cart as prize-money taken at Copenhagen. Grants had likewise been made to some of the branches of the royal family, amounting to 171,500l. To these grants his hon. and learned friend had taken exceptions; but the hon. gentlemen who sat around him would hardly join him in such objections. When did these grants commence? Why, it was during the administration of Mr. Fox that the precedent was first given; and he would leave it to gentlemen on the other side, who, he had no doubt, would be both willing and ready to defend the practice; The hon. and learned gentleman concluded, with ex" pressing his determination to vote against the resolutions.
§ Mr. Brougham
observed, in explanation, that his hon. and learned friend was mistaken as to the precedent of grants to the royal family being first given during Mr. Fox's administration from the papers it appeared, that in 1805, when Mr. Pitt was in office, there had been a grant of 26,000l. to the princess of Wales; 15,000l. to the duke of Cumberland; 10,000l. to the duke of Kent; and 19,500l. to the late duke of Glocuester.
passed a high encomium on the speech of the hon. and learned mover, and maintained that several acts of the legislature proved indubitably that the Droits of Admiralty were not solely vested in the crown, but were also under the controul of parliament.
, in allowing the merit of eloquence to the hon. and learned mover, claimed for Mr. Stephen that of sound reasoning, and considered the speech of the latter gentleman as a plain and distinct answer to whatever had been advanced on the other side of the House. He defied the hon. gentleman to point out a single abuse, and could not conceive the difference they had attempted to draw between prizes, which no one disputed, to the king, and the Droits of Admiralty, which were the objects of the present motion. He maintained, that if the crown had not possessed the means and the power of indemnifying naval officers, many of the gallant men who had so 269 largely contributed to the safety and to the glory of their country, would have ended their days in a prison. He mentioned the case of lord Nelson, then captain Nelson, who, when stationed in the West Indies, after the American war, had actions brought against him for upwards of 20,000l., for having enforced the Navigation Act, to which this country was indebted for its naval pre-eminence. He did at the time investigate the case of captain Nelson, who had acted perfectly right, but who, nevertheless, might have been ruined and stopped in his glorious career. He promised and gave him every kind of support, but this he could not have been able to do, if the Droits of Admiralty, the only fund disposable for that purpose, had not been at the disposal of the crown.
said he would state in a few words the grounds and object of his vote. He did not wish to consider how the money had been applied, nor did he charge misapplication of it on any individuals; for in that case, the business would have come under the consideration of parliament, in a very different form from the present. His view was to inquire, as these funds were of a permanent nature, and were likely always to exist, who ought to have the controul over them. No doubt in any future appropriation of those funds, a great part of them in any case would be applied as heretofore. But the question was, who was to have the controul of it? Surely it ought to be parliament; and to say that no misapplication had yet taken place, was really no answer; if there was a possibility of misapplication, it was the duty of every member of parliament, who did not wish to depart from his public duty, to provide against any such possibility of abuse. The luminous and masterly statement which his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Brougham) had that night submitted to them, would have astonished all who heard him, were it not known, and had he not by his eloquence on former occasions, sufficiently satisfied every man that he was one of the most powerful and considerable persons in that House.
§ Mr. W. Smith
wished merely to ask one question. The account now submitted to the House began in 1793, and ended in 1810, and taking the amount at 7,300,000l. the annual sum was 430,000l. a sum which, it was contended, should be wholly at the disposal of the crown. Now, 270 what he wished to ask was, merely, if anyone had demanded, in 1793, that a sum of 430,000l. should be annually at the uncontrouled disposal of the crown, for 17 years, how would the proposition, at that time, have been received?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
saw no particular weight in the question which had been just put, to make any member alter his opinion on this subject. There was as wide a distinction between the case which he had supposed, of the sum of 430,000l. being annually at the uncontrouled discretion of the crown, and the present, as could well be between any one case and another; because it was impossible for any person to look at the paper now before the House with care, without seeing that the amount of the sum which he had stated was limited by the abatements and deductions necessary in bringing it into existence, to less than the half of what he had stated; and whenever an application was made of any part of that remainder it was subject to be canvassed by parliament. Whatever might have been the practice of former administrations, he would for his own part say, that the very first moment he heard of any suspicion as to the manner in which any part of the funds had been disposed of, he had shewn a perfect readiness to produce an account of it, that it might be seen in what way the application had been made. The account now before the House, was produced in May 1810, and the hon. and learned gentleman had had two years to bring forward the declamatory attack which he had that night thought proper to make. They had heard much of the talents and eloquence displayed that night by the hon. and learned gentleman; but whatever opinion might be entertained of those talents or that eloquence, sure he was that the application of them in the present case was not calculated to give much satisfaction. But whatever his eloquence might have been, it was in his opinion not unanswered, and even in sundry parts of his argument by the hon. gentleman who was the seconder of his motion. To that hon. gentleman he wished to ask, if, after the argument delivered by him, he would support the present question? He thought that he understood that hon. gentleman, and really he could not conceive how with the doctrine he had held, he could increase the list of those admirers of eloquence, who agreed with the arguments 271 and supported the resolutions of his hon. and learned friend. The hon. and learned mover had stated that it was possible to carry on war with this inordinate sum of eight millions, without the assistance of parliament: for in order to justify the eloquence and violence of the hon. and learned gentleman, it appeared necessary for him to state, that the fund amounted to that extent, without taking the smallest account of the necessary deductions to which it was subjected. Was the hon. and learned gentleman really serious in urging such an argument to the House? The question before the House naturally re-Solved itself into the legality of the existence of this fund, and the propriety of its continuance: and with regard to the legality he was really astonished that any lawyer should have thought proper to state in that House, because the Droits of Admiralty were not mentioned in the Statute 'de prerogativa regis,' that, therefore, they were illegal. In what respect did the Droits of Admiralty differ from other prizes? All prizes whatever were vested in the crown. The fact was, that there had not been a statute passed since the reign of queen Anne, in which the right of the crown had not been recognized by parliament. Did he mean to say that it was necessary it should have been mentioned in that statute? He would refer him to the various prize acts which had from time to time been passed. If the Droits of Admiralty were not vested in the crown, to whom then did they belong? In whom were they vested before the establishment of the civil list? But the civil list acts did take this property from the crown. On the grants in the civil list act, there were parts of the royal revenue retained by the crown, and among others, the Droits of Admiralty; but the argument of the hon. and learned gentleman would go to leave so much in the situation of a privy purse, and to take out the present. Now, where was the accuracy of distinguishing these droits from the other reserved parts of the revenue, from the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster for instance? It was not exactly as the hon. and learned gentleman had stated, that the magnitude of these droits in former times was never considerable; for the droits which arose out of the six years war were really of some size, as 6 or 700,000l. were in existence at the period when the civil list act passed, which were afterwards granted to that 272 fund, in the same manner as the proceeds in the Spanish or Dutch cases alluded to, had been applied to clearing off the debts on that fund. It was material that a question of this nature should rest on a proper foundation; but in the present case, the foundation on which the hon. and learned gentleman voted, had been taken from under him by those gentlemen who had adopted his side of the argument. They had disclaimed any intention of stating any instances of abuse, and they merely contended, that there was a liability to abuse; but a very material part of the speech of the hon. and learned gentleman, which, whatever impression it might make on the House, was certainly calculated to make an impression out of it, was, that the government of this country had been guilty of successive acts of abuse—that if any distinguished character was to be rewarded, the minister came before parliament with the claim; but if any minion who might excite disgust in every person who heard his name, was to be rewarded, it was done out of the Droits of Admiralty. Would any man suppose that the hon. and learned gent, would have brought forward an argument of this sort, when it appeared that he could not point out an item of all that eight millions which had been bestowed to a favourite of ministers? Was this fair to the country? Was it fair, he would ask, to inflame the passions of the country with a statement of abuses which he could not particularise? Was it fair that he should take no notice of the large deductions from the amount for the necessary claims upon it? The case of Sir Home Popham was the only one which he thought proper to mention. This solitary case, which had before been satisfactorily explained to the House, was, it seems, all that by ingenuity and industry, he was able to bring forward. But what was singular enough, was that the very first item of the debts of the civil list which had been paid from the droits—the very first item of this gross misapplication, at which all England must be astonished, was done by authority of those most unexceptionable, by those most constitutional politicians, Mr. Fox and lord Grenville! He was not objecting to the appropriation, nor did he wish to retaliate any charge upon them, but when it so happened that that administration, of whose principles the hon. and learned gentleman was known to be a professed admirer, was the administration which set 273 the first example of that misapplication, and that such a practice had been countenanced by those unexceptionable characters in his estimation, this was rather a material circumstance against his argument, and was at least entitled to some consideration from him. Really, however, to do the hon. and learned gentleman justice, he did not believe that when he made the present motion he was aware of that circumstance. Adverting to what the hon. and learned gentleman had said respecting the motives by which the attack on Copenhagen might possibly have been stimulated, he declared, that every particle of the property taken on that occasion had been granted to the captors. Conceiving that the proposed Resolutions stated that to be law which was not law, and that to be expedient which was not expedient, he should give them his decided opposition.
Sir Francis Burdett
thought the right hon. gentleman, although he had touched on some of the collateral points of the question, bad left out every material consideration. He had urged the inconsistency of supposing that government would go to war from unjust considerations, merely for the sake of the Droits to the crown. The astonishing fact, however, was well known, that there had been ministers of the country who have actually plunged it into war from such unjust considerations. A great part of the right hon. gentleman's speech was directed to the qualities and qualifications of the hon. and learned gentleman who brought forward the motion, and to the conduct of a former administration; but that had nothing to do with the argument. What the liberty of the subject called for, was what they ought to consider. In the present day, parliament was really so ornamented with gentlemen of the learned profession, that arguments were now listened to, that would at a period which was not beyond his experience have been rather coldly received in that House. It was in the nature of man to desire power, and nothing could be more constitutional than to watch with an eye of jealousy over every source of revenue which was not under the controul of parliament. It was a fact, that a king might, as king, be now poor, with his civil list in debt, yet with private property to a very considerable amount. He was glad to find that some doctrines, which had formerly been very coolly maintained in that House, were now relinquished 274 by those who opposed the present question. He remembered to have heard it gravely maintained by a judge advocate, that the Droits of Admiralty were as much the private property of the king as any private gentleman was entitled to his fortune. He really could not see, though the king might have a right to this property àjure coronœ, that he could hold any property on any other tenure than for the benefit of the public. He had no right to put money into his own pocket. It was impossible to say how this money might be disposed of. It had been said, it might be given to minions and mistresses; but might it not also be given to such persons as members of parliament? He might first buy all the saleable boroughs, and then procure such a parliament as would willingly sanction the most unjust measures. He was sorry that this question had at present been brought forward, for he considered it so strong and so clear, that when he saw the disposition of the House he could not but be alarmed lest they should decide against the public, which was against the vital interests of the country. He really, when he saw the liberality of the people of this country, and their willingness at all times to support the dignity and splendour of the throne, was astonished to find, that while the debts of the civil list had been encreasing, the splendour of the throne had been diminishing. He must with sorrow confess, that it appeared to him that the original splendour of the crown had been diminished, and that several establishments had been laid aside, while more than three millions had been paid to the civil list. He maintained that the whole of the Droits of Admiralty ought to go to the captors; and that those who bore the burden of the war ought to have the benefit of it. As to calling them the king's rights, they were so, as we spoke of the king's courts, the' king's highway, and the king's peace. If the king was allowed to expend the fund as he pleased, he wished to know whether he might not buy landed property with it? Thus the crown might be without a shilling, and the king in possession of half the land in England. However the case might have been before, it became now the duty of parliament to control. If any farther provision were wanted for the king or his family, let parliament give it: but let there be no underhand means of giving it. The grants of the royal family were highly unbecoming and reprehensible; 275 they put the princes into a state of dependence upon whoever might be the minister of the day.
§ Sir John Nicholl
conceived, that the hon. baronet had misinterpreted the doctrine held by his side of the House. For his own part, he had never considered the Droits of the Admiralty, which they were properly called, but as a trust vested in the crown, He did not accede to the principle of reform maintained by the hon. baronet, because the present practice was liable to evil. The true principle was, first to see the evils as they arose, and then to apply the remedy. He allowed that it was a great sum, but it was applicable by ministers, and subject to the control and review of parliament; and had ministers ever refused to submit the accounts of that application? There was no danger, therefore, to the constitution to be apprehended. The last administration he considered as a high constitutional authority, and during the continuance of that administration, no message had ever been brought down to the House to take the subject into consideration. Had Mr. Fox thought it dangerous, he would, no doubt, have taken some measure to reform it. It had been said, that seizing enemy's ships before proclamation of hostilities was a piracy, and a larcenous warfare, and a war of banditti. Such expressions ought not to go forth from that House, as they were a disgraceful imputation on the character of the country. This, he conceived, had always been the practice, and laying an embargo, he contended, was a benefit rather than an evil, as it prevented the entering into unqualified hostilities, and gave the enemy time for consideration. That mode, he contended, which had hitherto existed, was the best, and therefore ought to be continued.
§ Mr. Tierney
said, that he should esteem himself wanting in private friendship to the hon. and learned mover, if, while he differed from him as to the mode of his Resolutions, he did not acknowledge the great display of talent which he had evinced. From the reports of the King's physicians, it might be with decency pronounced that a demise of the crown might be expected at no very distant period: it became therefore the duty of parliament to manifest their sense on this important subject of Admiralty Droits before that event took place, that the people might be convinced they were willing to meet their wishes as far as possible. He should not 276 dispute the right of the crown to these droits, but he thought they ought not to remain so vested without parliamentary enquiry. The Droits of the Admiralty differed from other droits, as they were not equally ascertainable. He did not object to any droit of revenue arising from the duchy of Lancaster, because it was a sum certain; but suppose a coal-mine should be discovered there, would not that alter the case So, without wishing to inflame the minds of the people, he must say, that the sums from these droits now amounted to that enormous extent, that the paramount authority of parliament was loudly called for to watch over their application. He alluded to the case of Sir Home Popham, and proceeded to state, that the liberality of parliament to the princes had been so great, that there was no reasonable ground of apprehension, that due provision would not be made for them without recourse to this fund. In the last parliament, an increase of 50 percent, to their incomes had been almost unanimously granted. In a recent instance, the sum of 20,000l. had been given to one prince, a circumstance which would be looked upon as a monstrous perversion of money if given to a private nobleman,—yet a prince, in the contemplation of parliament, was merely a private peer of the realm, and as such sat in the upper house. He then defended the conduct of lord Grenville's administration. That noble lord had found a great debt on the civil list, and had had recourse from necessity to a step, of which, however, he had taken pains to prevent the recurrence. But, however that might be, circumstances now demanded peculiar vigilance and jealousy. Though he differed from the mode of his hon. and learned friend's motion, he agreed with it in substance; and thought that the House should not adjourn till it bad noticed the immense sums now placed at the disposal of the crown; which would shew, that at least an account should be rendered of that expenditure which perhaps could not be prevented. That these circumstances should be recorded, he proposed as an amendment, "That this House having taken into its serious consideration the unprecedented sums, at different and uncertain periods, within the last twenty years, received and disposed of by the crown as droits, is deeply impressed with the necessity of enquiring into and ascertaining the extent and application of the same." If this motion should be carried, he would follow it up by 277 moving," That an humble Address be presented to his royal highness the Prince Regent, That he will be graciously pleased to give directions, that there be laid before this House, an account shewing the amount received from droits, and the various payments made from the same, from the 5th of January 1810 to the 5th of January 1812; distinguishing by whom received and on what account:" and also That an account be laid before the House to the same effect, before the expiration of the first ten days of every session of parliament."
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
opposed the amendment, but had no objection to the production of a paper similar to that which brought the Account down to May 1810, to bring it down to the present time. When the question before the House was disposed of, the right hon gentleman, if he pleased, could move for it; otherwise he would do it himself.
§ Mr. Brougham
, in reply, maintained strenuously, that the bargain between the sovereign and the parliament had been abrogated, and that the crown ought not, with safety to the constitution, to retain such immense sums at its disposal.
said, it was with extreme reluctance he got up. He perfectly coincided with his right hon. friend (Mr. Tierney). He could not agree that the crown had ever bargained for its rights; but he was of opinion, that the king of this country could not have a shilling of revenue without being liable to the examination of parliament, the crown had a right to the revenue, but the parliament had a right to enquire into it. After giving the question his full consideration, he was obliged to say, that he could not give his vote for the resolutions of his hon. and learned friend.
§ The House then divided,
|For Mr. Brougham's Motion||38|
§ The Resolutions moved by Mr. Brougham were negatived without a division. A division then took place on Mr. Tierney's Amendment, which was supported by all those who supported the original Resolutions. The numbers were, for Mr. Tierney's Amendment, 38, Against it 93. Majority 55. Mr. Brougham then moved for a Committee to inquire into the subject, and a second division took place: For the appointment of a Committee 36, Against it 94 Majority 58.