HC Deb 06 May 1814 vol 27 cc731-7
Mr. Goulburn

moved the third reading of the Colonial Offices Bill.

Mr. Bankes

said, the radical fault he found with the Bill was, that its framers had reared it on a very bad model, viz. the Act passed in 1782; and a Bill so framed could do no otherwise than fail in its effect. The framers of the present Bill, however, fancied they had discovered, the cause why the Act of 1782 had not been, operative in removing the abuses complained of; viz. the mode in which leave of absence was granted to the governors and lieutenant-governors; and to remedy this evil they proposed, that notification of such leave should be sent to the Secretary of State—that was, to the identical office from which most of the appointments in question emanated. Offences against the Act were to be visited by a paltry penalty of 100l. and it was supposed that persons would be found to inform against such offences; when, in fact, individuals in possession of data for such informations, could be found only in a class in which it was not more likely than desirable they should be found. If those offences should be submitted to that House, the well known lenity of that House would, in all probability, directly or indirectly, let the offender escape with impunity; and after a single example of this kind, the Bill in progress would become just as futile as the Act of 1782 had proved. Instead of these half measures, from which no real reform of abuses could be expected, let his principle be adopted; which was, not to permit the emoluments of any public situation to be so enormous, as to afford the means to the holder of living handsomely himself, and of making a handsome allowance to a deputy. Whenever this was done, an office would ineivitably degenerate into a sinecure; and he was persuaded, that there was no effective mode of remedying abuses of this kind, either in the colonies or elsewhere, but that which he had described.

Mr. Bathurst

said, the measure of abolition of the offices in the Bill would be as open after the passing it, as at present. If there was no other remedy but the substitution of a deputy to the principal, the remedy might at any future time be still recurred to. The question now was, would they render the existing law more efficient than it was at present? The effect of the Bill would be, to promote the residence of a more respectable white population in the West Indies than there was at present. Were the salaries, he would ask, more than was necessary to persons discharging the duties of their office, without deputy, in so unhealthy a climate? In his opinion, the salary ought not only to enable them to live while there comfortably, but also to save such a sum as might make the remainder of their lives comfortable in this country.

Mr. Crecvey

said the question was, first, whether any Act ought to be passed to carry the 22d of the King into execution; and then, whether the present Bill was a proper measure for that purpose. For his part, he contended that it was not. They were now legislating on a leave of absence, the nature of which was unknown to them. He had moved for a return of the leaves of absence; but the government offices knew nothing concerning them. And yet they were called upon to state in this Bill, that the provisions of it should not apply to any leaves of absence granted before the passing of the Act. They were professing to carry the 22d of the King into execution, which said, that patentees should reside where their offices were—and yet they were declaring that the present Bill should not apply to leaves of absence granted to these patentees, of such a nature as to amount nearly to a total absence from the colonies. He contended, that there was no necessity whatever for a Bill to enforce the regulations of the 22d of the King; and even if there had been such a necessity, he considered the Bill before the House calculated rather to defeat than to promote such an object—a fact which justified him in applying to it a remark which had been made some thousand years ago by a certain philosopher, named Anacharsis—it was this, "Laws were like cobwebs, through which the strong flies broke, but in which the weak ones were retained." The hon. gentleman concluded by suggesting the following, as a more appropriate title to the Bill, than that under which it had been introduced:—

"An Act to dispense with an Act, passed in the 22d year of his present Majesty, entitled 'An Act to prevent the granting in future any patent office, to be exercised in any colony or plantation, then or at any time thereafter belonging to the crown of Great Britain, for any longer term than during such time as the grantee thereof shall discharge the duty thereof in person,' as far as the said Act relates to the right hon. sir Evan Nepean, bart. and John King, esq. and all other persons at present seised of any patent offices in his Majesty's colonies, in possession or reversion, which have been granted to them since the passing of the said Act of the 22d of his Majesty.

"To render null and void certain conditions contained in the letters patent, under which the said sir Evan Nepean and John King, and all other grantees of patent offices in the colonies in possession or reversion since the 22d of his Majesty, now hold such offices; by which conditions they are to hold such offices during such time only as they discharge the duties thereof in person.

"To confirm and reader valid any leave of absence which may have been at any time given to the said sir Evan Nepean and John King, and all other patent officers in possession in the colonies since the 22d of his Majesty; by whomsoever such leave of absence shall have been given, for whatever cause or whatever period of time.

"To extend such leave of absence to Molyneux Hyde Nepean, John James King, Charles Cavendish, Fulke Greville, Richard Cumberland, George Disbrowe, and all other persons who are seised in reversion of offices in the colonies granted by patent since the passing of the 22d of his Majesty, whenever they shall come into possession of the same.

"And furthermore, to give to the hon. John Thomas Capel, John Augustus Sullivan, Charles Greville, the right hon. lord George Seymour, sir Walter James James, bart. Adam Gordon, James Athol Wood, the hon. Morton Eden, Robert Richard Wood, and the various other persons at present holding offices in the colonies by commission, from his Majesty, such a species of vested interest in their respective offices, that although they are held during the pleasure of the crown only, the holders of them shall, nevertheless, be exempted from discharging the duties thereof in person, notwithstanding the said Act of the 22d of his Majesty; and at the same time be entitled to compensation for the loss of the profits thereof, in the event of any colony or colonies in which such office or offices are held, being restored to any foreign power, at the conclusion of a general peace."

Mr. P. Moore

opposed the Bill as totally unnecessary; considering, as he did, that the Act which was already in existence would answer every purpose which ministers could have in view. On a former night, he had asked some questions respecting Mr. Gore, the governor of Canada, and had been told that that gentleman had not been recalled for misdemeanors. Since that evening he had received some further information respecting this gentleman; and then held in his hand the memorial of a Mr. Jackson, who had been a member of that House, and who was possessed of considerable property in Canada, in which strong complaints were made of the conduct of governor Gore. The hon. gentleman was proceeding to comment upon this memorial, and another on the same subject which he held in his hand, when he was interrupted by

Mr. W. Dundas

, who spoke to order, and suggested the impropriety of introducing subjects to the attention of the House foreign to the question before it.

Mr. P. Moore

said; he should probably bring this matter before the House at a future period in a more formal shape; and concluded by repeating his warm disapprobation of the Bill then under discussion.

Mr. Browne

fully agreed in all that had been said on the inefficiency and inexpediency of the Bill under consideration. Some evenings back, he had put a question to the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Goulburn), as to the intention of ministers respecting Mr. Le Marchant, and whether they intended to permit his departure to Antigua. In addition to what he had before said respecting this person, he had now to state, that he understood he had been dismissed from the situation of paymaster to a foreign depot. After the figure he cut on a recent occasion, added to this fact, he was desirous of knowing, whether his Majesty's ministers intended, by sending him to Antigua, that this Mr. Le Marchant should be an example of the practical benefit of the principle of the Bill, as applied to the West Indies.

Mr. Goulburn

would first reply to the questions of the hon. member who spoke last. It gave him pleasure to have such an opportunity of stating to the House the cause of the appointment of the person alluded to; and also to correct a strange mistake into which some hon. members had fallen, he would not say had willingly fallen, respecting an office which had formerly been held by that person. The noble lord at the head of the colonial department had appointed Mr. Le Marchant to the office in Antigua, in consequence of the following representation on his behalf: that he was a man with a large family; that he was brother to the brave general Le Marchant, who fell at the battle of Salamanca; and that he had lost his whole means of subsistence by the death of his brother, general Le Marchant. On these grounds alone the noble lord had appointed him to the office in Antigua. When the late correspondence, in which Mr. Le Marchant was implicated, appeared in the public papers, the noble lord who had appointed him intimated to him, that it would be proper that he should not leave the country until the matters in which he was involved should be cleared up. Several years ago Mr. Le Marchant had been paymaster to a public depot, and so far the hon. gentlemen opposite were right; but he had resigned that office. At the time of his resignation, he was found to be considerably in debt to the public; but he had given sufficient security for the amount of the sum for which he stood indebted to the public; and that money was not yet paid, merely on account of a legal formality which would soon be got over. As to the last question of the hon. gentleman, whether Mr. Le Marchant would be continued in his situation, the House would sorely see that on so delicate a subject, until the character of Mr. Le Marchant was further developed, he could say nothing on that head with propriety. As to the Bill itself, he saw no foundation for the arguments of those who contended that the Bill would be nugatory, merely because its aim was to correct the defects of the former measure. There was one amendment which he would move at the proper time:—that was, to ensure the enjoyment of their offices to such persons as had been appointed to them for services done to their country, in the event of any contingency which might affect these offices, such as the demise of the crown.

Mr. Whitbread

thought that the hon. gentleman had come well out as to the affair of Mr. Le Marchant's appointment, when, with many words as to the delicacy of the subject, he had said, that nothing was determined as to whether that person should be continued in his office. For his own part, he begged to submit to the House, that the result of any legal proceedings relative to the affair in which Mr. Le Marchant was concerned, could make no difference as to the share which he had in the business; The case of Mr. Le Marchant was simply, that he engaged to do or not to do something in a certain case, provided his conditions were agreed to, or in compensation for certain civilities. Now, the acquittal or conviction of the other persons did not in the least affect Mr. Le Marchant's case. With regard to the office formerly held by Mr. Le Marchant, it would be found, that he had not resigned it, but had been suspended. To prove that he was correct when he said this in opposition to the assertion of the hon. gentleman, he would refer that hon. gentleman to a letter on the subject, to which access might be had at the Secretary of State's office. As he had been the first who had alluded to the case of Mr. Gore, he would say a few words on that head; He saw no reason why his hon. friend (Mr. P. Moore) should have been prevented from proceeding with the case, particularly as the public attention had been awakened to it, and as his hon. friend had only intended to state facts. Many persons had been suspended from their offices in Upper Canada by Mr. Gore, under grave charges of misconduct. When these persons came home, they acquitted themselves completely from the charges which Mr. Gore had brought against them. In one instance, one of these persons, after his acquittal, applied to the Secretary of State's office, for a statement of his case, in which his innocence had been proved; but this was refused. The same person then applied to be reinstated in his office, as he had shewn himself innocent of the charges which had been preferred against him; but this was also refused, and he was offered a different situation elsewhere. As to the Bill and its machinery, he, thought it quite nugatory.

Mr. Goulburn

thought it unfair that the hon. gentleman should charge him with not being able to give an answer respecting circumstances which happened in 1809.

Mr. Whitbread

said he had expected no answer.

Mr. Stephen

observed, that in many colonies there were disputes between the governors and the other officers; and that often the removal of one or other party was the only method to restore peace. The hon. member (Mr. Stephen) was sure that the House would not be inclined to lay down such a rule as must at all times enforce colonial residence. If they were to do so, he was afraid the effect would be that the offices would fall into the vilest hands. The Bill, as far as it went, in his opinion, was a great improvement on the colonial system.

The House then divided on the question that the Bill be now read a third time. Ayes, 48—Noes, 8—Majority in favour of the Bill, 40.

The Bill was then passed.