HC Deb 29 January 1812 vol 21 cc405-8

Upon the question that this Bill be read a third time,

Mr. Hutchinson

said, that the subject had been already exhausted, and that he did not rise to enforce what had been already said, but to explain the nature and grounds of his opposition to the Bill. It proceeded all along upon the violation of a great constitutional principle. The first duty of the Commons House of parliament was to stand between the people and the imposition of undue and oppressive burdens. In the present times, it was unfortunately but too often the duty of that House to impose heavy burdens upon the people, but it was their paramount duty, before they did so, to make themselves satisfied of that necessity, by previous and industrious investigation. If this principle was at all times practically true, never was there a period at which it ought to be more vigilantly acted up to, than at the present crisis, when the highest and most opulent orders of the community sorely felt that pressure, beneath which the lowest orders had been bowed to the very dust. How far, then, was this great constitutional principle observed or departed from, in the introduction and progress of this bill? No man would deny that this bill imposed additional and weighty burdens on the people; but had previous inquiry proved the necessity of these fresh impositions? and if they had not, was the House doing its duty towards that people that had entrusted them with the disposal of their property, when they voted away any portion of that property, without being first convinced of the necessity that called for it? He had listened with attention to the course of the debates upon this bill, and had heard much of what was due to the King, and much of what was due to the Regent, but nothing of what was due to the people. He had no wish to refuse every supply absolutely necessary; but he could not hear the proposition made to that House, as if the only fit subject of inquiry was, how much the executive demanded, and not how much an oppressed people could reasonably spare. It was putting the question as if the claims of the monarch were indefinite—as if the monarch was every thing and the people nothing. He was the more jealous of any conduct that could give rise to imputation of that kind, because he knew how to value the monarchical part of the constitution, and it was because he was anxious that it might always find its root in the affections of the country, that he was at all times jealous of any misconduct of ministers that could have a tendency to soil it with suspicion; every day was pregnant with one great lesson, that monarchies had their best foundation in the reciprocal discharge of the social compact between the governors and the governed. But how had ministers acted up to this old constitutional principle? They had not only not produced but refused to produce the accounts sought for. There was, for instance, an additional 70,000l. a year charged upon the people—was this necessary? Where were the documents—where the evidence to prove its necessity? The bill also empowered the Prince to reserve 70,000l. a year from his exchequer income, for the purpose of paying his debts. Why not pay them at once? He was aware of his liability to be misunderstood, but that should not deter him from the frank avowal of his sentiments. The public had an interest in having the royal mind relieved from the degrading difficulties of pecuniary embarrassment. The royal mind should be devoted to, if not engrossed by the great care of providing for the security and honour of his people: but pecuniary pressures were of that nature, that where they existed, they must be peculiarly goading to every well-organized mind, whether the individual was a peasant or a prince. He thought it, therefore, a public duty to remove at once this unseemly load from the head of the government: but the measure proposed by ministers left this weight of debt to linger away by degrees, and not in a dignified manner to be dismissed at once. In 1803, he had voted for the increase to the Prince, but he had also, in the same year, opposed the motion of an hon. gentleman for the payment of the Prince's debts, because he thought, though no such declaration had been made to the House, that it was the general opinion, that a satisfactory arrangement had been made between the Prince and the executive, prior to the call upon parliament to increase the income. He, however, even then thought the arrangement of ministers most defective; a full inquiry into the civil list expenditure was in his mind the only remedy: and after all, this measure did nothing decisive as to the Prince's debts. He understood that they might, at a rough estimate, be computed at 500,000l. This could not be paid off in seven years. The whole had the air of a mean trick of the ministers, to keep the Prince dependent upon them; and though in that case the result must prove how miserably they had plotted, as far as related to the Prince, yet the late debates on the Droits of Admiralty shewed what an alarming fund ministers had at their disposal. The hon. gentleman then went into the question, as it affected, Foreign Courts. In alluding to the charges of Mr. Arbuthnot, of whom he was willing to think with all respect, he censured the abject policy of making presents at eastern courts. He spoke from his own experience at the court of the Sublime Porte, and certain northern courts, when he said that the plain unadorned integrity of the English character was more worthily represented by those who would present no other bribe to a foreign court than the discovery of her true interests, and flatter her with no other compliment than the sincerity of mutual plain dealing. As to marquis Wellesley's charge, he thought 16,000l. for a few weeks stay in Spain exorbitant, however accurate the item of the expenditure. He concluded with strong and general exhortations to economy. Things could not long go on as they had done. Let ministers begin to think at last, before the time either for deliberating or acting was gone for ever.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that the subjects touched upon by the honourable member, had already been so fully discussed, that he did not think it necessary to enter into any particular reply. One idea, however, he had advanced which was perfectly new, and that was respecting our embassies to Eastern Courts. He doubted whether it would be wise, to strip a minister, sent from a country like this on an Eastern embassy, of all that splendour and pomp (not over-splendour, but necessary magnificence) which were always observed by other courts, and especially by those of Russia and France. The expences of such missions were known to be greater than what were incurred on other occasions; but even as it was, we were vastly inferior in those expences to the courts he had already alluded to.

Mr. Arbuthnot

said, that as an opportunity would soon be afforded him to speak particularly to this subject, he should now say but a very few words. He should pass over every thing relating to himself; but he would inform the hon. gentleman, that of such importance did France deem her embassies to the Porte, that a fleet had been for some time lying at Toulon for the purpose of taking an ambassador in a suitable manner to Constantinople.

The Bill was then read a third time, and passed.