HC Deb 28 March 1814 vol 27 cc365-70

The Second reading of this Bill being moved,

Mr. Browne

said, though unaware of the necessity of this Bill, or that the regulations proposed by it would render the principle of the Act of the 22nd of the King more secure and operative, he was very unwilling to oppose a Bill that merely professed to compel personal discharge of official duty; convinced as he was of the necessity, and the highly beneficial consequences of that policy. But this Bill appeared to have other objects in view, or to effect other objects, though possibly not intended; and therefore he could not refrain from saying a few words. The Act of the 22nd of the King was not merely unexceptionably beneficial, but it was substantial and sufficient for its purpose. The violation of it was not owing to want of regulation, but to want of firmness in his Majesty's government; not, however, in the present administration, but former ones. The violations were not merely connived at, but devised, by the appointment of certain persons to high official situations in the colonies, who, at the time they were so appointed, were never intended to discharge the duties of their situations. He did not mean to involve the individuals so appointed in any blame. They were men of character and talent, eminently suited for any public situation, and he had so much respect for them; that he would not even make the allusion if it would hurt their feelings. But though they were justified in accepting, those who gave them those places violated the Act, and compromised the interests of the colonies to their own necessities and desires. If they had acted with a sincere intention to carry the Act into effect, and had recalled a governor who had abused the power of granting leave, such a step would have been a greater check to any deviations from the Act than all the regulations in the world; but he chiefly objected to the last clause of the Act, which, by legalizing the appointments so illegally made, or made contrary to the spirit of the Act of the 22nd, placed the legislature in a situation of inconsistency. He dwelt upon the effect of this clause, as intending to cover the violations of the former Act; and concluded with a hope, that, if it was so intended, parliament, in justice to the immortal statesman (the late Mr. Burke) from whose profound knowledge and pure system of moral duty the Bill proceeded, would not countenance the means of evading that system of improvement which it was the object of his heart to effect; and in the accomplishment of which he had raised a lasting and imperishable claim on the affections and the gratitude of his country.

Mr. Goulburn

begged to inform the hon. gentleman, that he was mistaken in supposing colonial appointments to have been made in defiance of the Act. They were usually granted not by patent, but by commission. This might be called an evasion, but he thought it hardly deserved such a character. Whatever might be thought on this subject, he apprehended the hon. gentleman could not wish to complain of this Bill, because it went to make evasion impossible. The provision objected to in the last clause was supported by the authority of Mr. Burke himself; as he, when regulating patent offices, had thought it unfit to touch existing interests. On the same principle he, in bringing in this Bill, had thought those whose services had been rewarded by appointments under warrant or commission, ought not to be disturbed. It was proper to be stated, that the noble lord presiding over the colonial department had not granted an appointment by patent without enforcing the clause of residence.

Mr. Creevey

did not think the present Bill a suitable remedy for the grievance complained of; which was, that persons residing here held situations in the colonies of great emolument and trust, while they had others to do all the duty for them. The principle upon which the House ought to go was, to save to the public the money thrown away upon duties thus discharged. The precedent that he would take for any act of this kind was the 22nd of his present Majesty. He would put one case which occurred since the passing of this Act. He would ask, whether the place granted to sir Evan Nepean was a patent place, or one granted by commission? It was a place which brought in 2,500l. a year.—If he had it by patent, it was a violation of the 22nd of the King, that he should be allowed to hold it, as he did, without personal attendance. The vendue master of Malta was, he believed, also a patent place, and the duties of it were not performed by the person who held it. Mr. John King was naval master of Jamaica, with a salary of 1,600l. a year. He was appointed in 1796. Was this, he would ask, a patent place, or one granted by commission? This was a direct violation of the 22nd of his Majesty. But these were not the only persons who held places in the colonies, the duties of which they did not discharge. Lord Braybrook, and the Messrs Windhams, held places in Jamaica for 52 years, which they never filled—one was provostmarshal, the other two were secretaries. If, indeed, they had been sent over at two years of age, when they obtained the places, there was every reason to believe that the duties could not be well performed; they would be much better executed by deputy.—He did not complain of the manner in which the duties of those places were performed: what he complained of was, that such places should be at all allowed to exist. The truth was, that the House passed an Act last session, by which such offices as were filled by deputy were abolished. The persons holding them should be compelled to resign, and not to reside.

Mr. Marryatt

approved of the Bill. He thought the House and the country ought to be obliged to the hon. gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) who brought it forward.

Mr. Stephen

should not think he performed his duty if he did not rise to second what had been said by the hon. gentleman (Mr. Marryatt). The Bill would, he was convinced, tend to raise the character of the resident white inhabitants of the colonies. Even in this view it was important. With respect to what had been thrown out relative to the manner of granting such places, it could not apply to the noble lord now at the head of the colonial department. His principle of conduct while he held that situation, was, to withhold his patronage from all places in the colonies, except upon the condition of residence. This he could assert upon his own knowledge. He would not admit, that every appointment in the colonies, since the passing of the Act alluded to, was illegal without the condition of residence. If the law applied to the particular cases, there was no possible way of evading it; and if the hon. gentleman (Mr. Browne) knew of any places given contrary to the law, it was his duty to declare the abuse, and to endeavour to punish such as were guilty of it. The 22nd of the King related only to patent places; it had no reference to such as were granted by commission. Nor did, he think with the hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Creevey), that persons holding their places by commission should be deprived of them. They were vested rights. As to personal responsibility in the colonies, it was a perishable commodity. It would be unjust thus to take such rights away. The Bill did not touch upon existing rights.

Mr. Baring

thought it was impossibly to look at the conduct of the administration, without seeing that there was a gross violation of the letter of the law with respect to the colonies. He should be much better pleased if it were a Bill to regulate offices abroad generally.

Mr. Whitbread

would trouble the House with a very few words, in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. gentleman (Mr. Stephen.)—When persons were in possession of patent offices, their rights were certainly reserved in cases of this kind; but he must protest against the doctrine delivered by the hon. gentleman (Mr. Stephen), that those were vested rights which were never considered such. The Bill, he said, did not interfere with vested rights; but places granted by commission were not vested. This was the first time he heard vested rights extended so far. If the honourable gentleman spoke thus through mistake, he was glad that he afforded him this opportunity of correcting himself; but he must protest against the doctrine, particularly as the last clause of this Bill was involved in it. He willingly joined in the praises of the noble lord at the head of the colonies, for putting a clause of residence in the grant of colonial offices. It was said, that personal responsibility was a perishable commodity in the colonies. It would appear, that they took all means of avoiding it; for they only sent out the grafts, and kept the stock at home. But if they went out there, he could not see any means of their avoiding responsibility. If sir Evan Nepean, for example, filled his place there personally, and not by deputy, what means could he have of avoiding responsibility? The Bill ought to be watched in the committee; and if the hon. gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) bonâ fide intended the Bill for good purposes, he deserved commendation and support.

Mr. Stephen

rose to explain. He could not, he said, but consider it as a violation of justice to deprive a man, without cause, of an office granted even by commission. He held an office granted, not by patent, but for life, or during good behaviour; yet he should think it unjust to be deprived of it without cause. What a person held for life, he considered as an interest vested in him. It was in that sense he used the expressions alluded to.

Mr. Whitbread

said, he was glad the hon. gentleman had been so explicit, as the House had an opportunity of forming a judgment of the nature of his situation. Notwithstanding the disadvantages of his office, however, he apprehended it would be as difficult to get him out of it, as his friends had found it to get him in.

The Bill was then read a second time, and ordered to be committed on Thursday.