HC Deb 24 February 1818 vol 37 cc593-603
Mr. Holme Sumner

rose to submit a motion to the House, for the purpose of obtaining from the city of London an Account of their Revenue for the five 3'ears ending the 31st December last. The application which the city had lately made to be allowed to raise money on the credit of the orphan fund, or in other words to be allowed to tax the neighbouring counties, to defray the additional sum of 34,000l. required to complete their new prison,—an object of the city of London alone—certainly justified him in calling on the corporation of that city to lay an account of their affairs before the House. The measure for which the city members now came forward, was one of a very extraordinary nature indeed. By the 52d of the king, the city of London was authorized to borrow 95,000l. on the credit of the orphan fund, for the erection of a new prison. No one doubted, at the time this sum was granted, that it was not perfectly adequate to its purpose; but the city, either from having made choice of a situation for building too limited in space, or from the prodigality with which they had gone to work, had spent this money without accomplishing their object, and they now came forward with a fresh demand of 34,000l. in addition to the former grant of 95,000l. The House ought not to give their consent to this additional grant, till the city showed the manner in which the former sum had been expended. The corporation of the city had been charged in their own court, by one of their most intelligent members (Mr. Waithman), with wasteful and improvident expenditure. The expense of an entertainment given by them to the liberators of Europe was stated at 21,000l. On examination, he believed it would be found nearer to 40,000l. than 24,000l. He understood that during the last thirty-seven years the corporation had expended in improvement of the public streets, &c. 45,000l., in gold boxes and swords to our naval and military officers, 7,899l.—[Hear! from sir William Curtis]. If the hon. baronet could show that they possessed any superfluity, then he was ready to allow that these were proper objects of their munificence. But if they expended their money on these objects, and then came forward to ask for public aid for objects which they were bound to provide for out of their own funds, then such an expenditure was most blameable. They had expended for the statues of the king, lord Chatham, and Mr. Pitt, in gold boxes to the dukes of Kent and Sussex, to colonel Wardle, and other public men, upwards of 18,000l—for colours to volunteer regiments 1,600l.—in donations to public charities 23,000l.—in donations to public objects connected with politics 25,068l. The whole of the sums expended on these different objects, amounted to no less than 126,810l. Now the sum required for this gaol was 130,000l.; and thus, if the corporation of the city had been just before they were generous, the sums which they had so misapplied might have been sufficient to complete their prison. Every particle of this 126,000l. so spent, was a misapplication. Unfortunately, however, this was not the first misapplication.—The hon. gentleman then went into an account of the transactions which led to the grant of the duty, commonly called the Orphans' fund. He held in his hand a brief statement of the accounts of the city, annually distributed among the members of the corporation. In that statement, he observed, that the lord mayor and aldermen of the city of London, were debtors to the amount of 53,000l. to a fund of which they were the trustees, and which was granted to them for a certain specific object. The Bridge-house estate was vested in them for the building and repairing London bridge when necessary. Of the funds of this estate 33,000l. and 25,000l. 3 per cent stock, now worth 20,000l. in all 53,000l. had been appropriated by the lord mayor and aldermen to other objects. So that if one or two arches of London bridge should happen to be swept away, a thing very far from improbable, they must again come to the Orphans' Fund. It was too lenient a term to call this a misapplication—it was a downright embezzlement of that fund. But this was not the only misapplication of the funds of this estate. By an ancient charter, the city of London had a jurisdiction in part of the county of Surrey, the borough of Southwark—a jurisdiction which had long been dormant. It had lately, however, been revived, for the creation of a place for decayed aldermen. This was a gross and nefarious job. Would the members for the city say, that when this jurisdiction was revived, there was any want of a fair and impartial administration of justice? The consequence was, that there were two quarter sessions and two grand juries in the county at the same time, and no person knew where his suit was going on. They had taken from the Bridge-house estate 1,400l. a year to defray that expense.—With respect to the new prison, it was impossible that any thing could be more inadequate to its purpose, or worse planned; indeed it could not be condemned in stronger terms than were made use of by members of the court of the city of London. Because they had already fooled away the 95,000l. already granted them, were they farther to be trusted with 34,000l. to be taken out of the pockets of those who were already chargeable with heavy county rates for their own objects? One of the pleas of the city was, that they were bound to maintain gaols for the county of Middlesex as well as for the city of London. But they generally told only so much of the case as suited themselves. They did not tell the House, that with this liability, various privileges and immunities were attached, to which the city adhered with great jealousy. They elected their own sheriffs, and they would not allow any of the magistrates of Middlesex to examine their prisons. By nominating to the office of sheriff persons, who they knew would not serve, they contrived to raise from the fines a considerable revenue. In one year lately they had raised in this way 9,200l. For the last four years they had raised 20,000l., on an average 5,000l. a-year. With regard to the principle, that parliament had a right to demand the production of their accounts, he did not think any objection could be raised against it; but it was the duty of the House to see that the funds had been properly applied, before they listened to an application for a new grant. He had now very briefly called their attention to the facts of this case; and should conclude with moving, "That there be laid before this House a Statement or Account of the Revenues of the city of London, as the same have been received into the chamber of the said city, for five years ending the 31st December 1817; distinguishing them under the several heads, viz. rents and quit rents, market tolls, offices, and bequests, rents received of brokers, freedoms sold, freedoms enrolments, &c. casual receipts, sheriffs fines, sales and alienation of offices, fines for leases, insurance of officers lives, interest on government securities, and sale of securities."

Sir William Curtis

said:—Sir; I have listened with great attention, and I must add with considerable pain, to the speech of the hon. member who has just sat down. The hon. member, in the course of that speech, has thought proper to charge the city of London with having been guilty of gross embezzlement; but he must excuse me, if I say that this is a gross and unwarrantable expression. The city of London has done no such thing, as I am fully prepared to prove. The hon. member insists on the right of inspecting their accounts; and they are willing to give an account—that is, whenever it shall be right, in their opinion. Sir, we have maintained the gaols of London, not for ourselves alone, but for the country at large, and for the county of Middlesex in an immense degree. If, then, we are supporting prisons for other people—if we are providing for prisoners after they have been convicted—if felons and criminals are sent to us from all parts—and if, under such circumstances, our funds are found inadequate, are we not entitled to call upon this House to send us some assistance? With respect to the bill which has been lately introduced, we call on you now to fulfil and complete what you have sanctioned before. The hon. mem- ber, however, desires you not to attend to our reasonable request; and no sooner does he enter into the history of our case, than his blood begins to boil. Sir, that hon. member has certainly a most dreadful antipathy to the city of London; but before I sit down, I hope to convince you that no blame can attach to the corporate body. We will furnish the House with an account of the 95,000l. which was formerly granted; and when I say this, permit me to add, that the city have never been backward in showing their accounts. The expense of erecting the new prison for debtors has been greater than was foreseen; but gentlemen do not seem to know the value of ground in the city of London. Why, Sir, you cannot get an inch of ground without putting three or four guineas over it. We have chosen the best situation which we could find; for, let me tell 3'ou, people do hot like to see gaols near them: "for God's sake," they cry, "do not build the gaol near us." Well, then, at last we found a spot of ground, and began our building. As to prodigal expenditure, there is no prodigality about it. This, Sir, is the poor man's prison. Rich men can go to the King's-bench prison, and drink their burgundy: they first rob their neighbours, and then get white-washed. I think this system is carried to too great an extent. But the hon. gentleman has been telling a long story of the lord mayor and aldermen, and he says, that they have embezzled some of the city funds. Now, I will tell him, that I have been three and thirty years in the corporation, and I never had one shilling in my life from them; and, therefore, I do not know what he means by embezzlement. The bridge-house estate have lent us money, but they have got cur bonds and securities. Is there any embezzlement in this? If the House thinks there is any thing improper in this transaction, we will bring the accounts before them. Well, Sir, then the hon. gentleman says, that we have given away large sums in swords and snuff-boxes. Suppose it to be so; is it not a happy and glorious thing, to see those heroes who have fought and bled for their country rewarded? Are the city of London to be blamed and taunted, because they have made presents to those gallant fellows? Sir, I am astonished at the hon. gentleman. It is worthy of the city that they have acted in this manner. The corporation have done their duty, and they do not come here to beg; they call on the House to complete what they have already sanctioned. If it were necessary for me to enter into detail on this subject, I must go back to what happened in the reign of king Charles: I do not mean to go so far back; but if I five another year, I will endeavour to have the name of the Orphans' Fund changed; for at present, whenever this name is used, it is thought that we are running away with all the orphans money. We request you to make us this grant, and we will never come to you any more. As to the city prisons, the House has lately appointed a committee to inspect them. But it seems that we must have no gaols now for punishment—we must have something in them to cheer up the heart of man. I do not know what the hon. gentleman (Mr. Bennet) wants. Does he mean that men who have forfeited their liberty should have coffee and chocolate of a morning, and luxuries of that sort? Does he wish to have the floors covered with Turkey carpets? It has been said, that these men are fed with sour bread. It is no such thing. There is no bad bread in the prisons; it is as good as any family in the kingdom can wish to eat. I only ask that hon. gentleman, whether he has tasted the bread? Let the committee ask that good woman, Mrs. Fry, whom they all love so much. I say, let them ask her: she is a good woman, and she deserves to be loved. The prisoners have one pound of bread per day, and four half pounds of meat per week. The other day I stated that they had four pounds, but I was mistaken. Well, then, are not four half pounds a good allowance for them? It was quite enough for men of that description: it is as much as his majesty's troops have, when they are not at work: and if they had more, it would make them bloated, and fill them full of bad humours, and all that. Sir, I say, let the corporation have what they are asking for, and they will produce an account of the monies received.—The hon. baronet concluded with moving, by way of amendment, to leave out from the word "House" to the end of the question, in order to add the words, "an Account of the produce of the several Duties and Payments composing the Orphans' Fund, for the last six years, and the annual Charges on the same, together with the Debts which remain outstanding and chargeable on the said fund; and also, an Account of the application of 95,000l. authorized to be raised and charged on the said fund for the erection of a new Prison for Debtors in London."

Mr. Serjeant Onslow

observed, that the hon. baronet had endeavoured, by a facetious speech, to divert the attention of the House from the subject before it. The hon. baronet, however, in all that speech, had not urged one argument in answer to the reasoning of the hon. gentleman who brought forward the motion. The duty on coals in particular was a heavy tax on the very poorest of the people; and before the city of London could claim such a tax for such objects as the building of prisons, they ought to show how they had expended their former revenue. It was an abuse of terms to call the squandering their money on dinners, drinking, and presents, generosity, while for useful objects they were obliged to demand the imposition of heavy taxes on others. The treatment of the prisoners in the new prison, respecting which so much had been said by the hon. baronet, was altogether irrelevant to the question. Not one word had been said on that subject by the hon. gentleman who brought forward the motion. As the hon. baronet had completely failed in his attempt to answer the hon. mover, he had a right to infer that his statement was unanswerable. He thought the honour of the city was implicated in this affair. He really did not see on what ground they could refuse affording every information to the House, and he should therefore vote for the motion.

Mr. Alderman Wood

contended, that the city of London had not embezzled any part of the Bridge-house estate: in no one instance had they made gifts of any part of that property. With respect to the 24,000l. said to be expended on an entertainment to the liberators of Europe, this was for two dinners, one of them to the duke of Wellington, cost 5,000l.; and though he had opposed the war, he had moved for that very dinner. The hon. gentleman who brought forward the motion, and the hon. and learned gentleman, did not seem to be aware, when they spoke of misapplication of the proceeds of the Bridge-house estate, that the county to which they belonged had borrowed money from that estate for the purpose of making a sewer in St. George's fields—an object of the greatest utility, for which, however, they could not otherwise obtain funds. Another item of expense on that estate was for the erection of a Justice-hall in Southwark, which was built at the earnest request of the people of the borough, who complained that small offences were not prosecuted on account of the distance of the sessions at Guildford. The expense of this was not 1,200l. It was to be recollected, that the bridge at Blackfriars, had been built out of the fund which had been said to have been applied solely to the benefit of the city of London. The building of that bridge, and the other communications, had increased the rental of Surrey 500,000l. The city of London, too, it should be recollected, paid 11,500l. yearly towards the Orphans' Fund. The city now only asked for 17,000l. from this fund; and, though they were not alarmed at a scrutiny, he did not think such a request as this warranted the House in calling for their accounts. The prison to which this was to be applied was principally for Middlesex debtors. There were now 400 prisoners in it who did not belong to the city of London; and 3,000l. a year additional expence was incurred by removing them from Newgate. It had been said, that in return for their supporting the gaols of the county of Middlesex, the city had the fines paid by those who declined the office of sheriff; but it was to be remembered, that these fines were only paid by citizens—no other persons in the county of Middlesex were liable to serve that office, which was an expense of 2,500l. to any one who undertook it.

Mr. Barclay

contended, that Southwark received no benefit from the monies paid out of the city funds. Blackfriars-bridge, if it was a benefit to Surrey, had also been a benefit to London. As to the money which had been borrowed for the sewers in St. George's-fields, it was on good security, and would be repaid. Many other sums, issued from the same fund, would, he feared, never be returned. If the city was to apply in forma pauperis for money to maintain its own prisons, when London-bridge was to be rebuilt they might expect a similar application. The city now said, they had received money already from the Orphans' Fund for the same purpose. It was the duty of the House to see that this was not unnecessarily increased. If, when they called for the accounts, it appeared that the city had fairly expended its money—that it had been just to its creditors as well as generous—it would be proper to relieve them; but if the money had been squandered, he did not think he should do his duty if he supported them in such a course. He should vote for the present motion.

Sir James Shaw

observed, that the city gaols were liable not only to the expense of maintaining prisoners from the city, and the county of Middlesex, but likewise from the Crown, and from every county in England. In other counties, the Crown had the nomination of the sheriffs, but this did not subject the Crown to maintain the gaols in these counties: he could not therefore see why the corporation should be liable to the expense of maintaining the gaols of the county of Middlesex, because they bad the right of appointing the sheriffs for that county. He hoped, therefore, that, from every consideration of generosity and justice, they would suffer the bill to pass without calling for the accounts.

Mr. B. Shaw

conceived that the question before them was not whether it was correct that the city of London should maintain the gaols for the county of Middlesex. They were sufficiently well acquainted with that corporation to know that they would not take trouble without some adequate remuneration. The county of Surrey supported its own gaols without calling on the city of London for support, and therefore the city of London ought to support its gaols without assistance from Surrey.

Mr. Alderman Atkins

entered into an explanation of the Orphans' fund. It was originally, he said, 750,000l. Blackfriars-bridge was built out of this fund. But the city had contributed ten times 750,000l. to the objects of the fund since it was instituted. The money required at present by the city was for the purpose of giving effect to the recommendation of the House for the improvement of gaols. If the city met their wishes, it had a right to look for assistance from them. He appealed to the hon. gentleman whose humanity had been so active on this subject, whether it had not been indispensably necessary to enlarge and improve the gaol in question.

Mr. N. Calvert

did not see any reason why the county of Middlesex should not be rated to the support of the prisoners in London, to which their criminals were committed, but there was no reason for the tax on the adjacent counties, known by the name of the Orphans' fund, being applied to that purpose.

Mr. Bennet

said, that since allusion bad been made to him, he must say that the New Prison stood most obviously in need of improvement. The state of the walls was such as prevented the free circulation of air. Men and women were mixed together in one place. Many other obvious evils called for immediate attention. When the committee saw the accounts of the expenditure, and were asked their opinion, they stated at once that they were such as ought to have been incurred. But this had nothing to do with the question whether the city had managed their funds with due economy and discretion. His hon. friend near him had stated that he had spent 2,400l. while sheriff. That did not seem to prove any thing as to the question before the House: neither was it material to the question whether more bread or less was now given to prisoners. But when he recollected that the hon. baronet had now confessed that he had been in a mistake on this subject, to the extent of the whole point at issue, he felt a hope that on a future discussion of the present question, he would make a similar confession. The great evils complained of respecting the gaols were still unremoved. The men and women were indeed separated; but persons of every variety of character and misconduct were still crowded together, and thus the comparatively virtuous and innocent were gradually hardened and prepared for every crime. Gaols ought to be not institutions for promoting and confirming vice, but schools for reform; not the nurseries of disease, depravity, and every species of misery, but habitations of health and improvement. He trusted in God the day would soon come when those dreadful evils would be remedied.

Mr. Grenfell

professed himself in no way acquainted with the financial system of the city, but he wished to be informed whether the effect of the loan required by the city would be to prolong the present duty on coals?

Sir W. Curtis

replied, that the duty stood at present till 1837, and that he believed the demand of the city would not prolong it for one half year.

Mr. S. Thornton

understood the question to be, whether the city had funds of their own to effect the purposes in question? He saw no means of answering this question but by inquiring into the income and expenditure of the city. He should therefore certainly support the present motion.

Mr. H. Sumner

in reply, said, that this tax was limited to 1837, but was to expire so much sooner, as the sums charged on it should be discharged. The grant now demanded would, therefore, prolong the duration of the tax. He allowed that a rate on Middlesex, for the maintenance of the city prisons, might be justifiable; but he saw no reason for charging the other neighbouring counties who supported gaols of their own. The manner in which the city had first acquired the control of the Orphans' fund was very suspicious, as they gave a bribe of 1,000l to Mr. Speaker Trevor, who had, in consequence, been obliged to put the question on his own expulsion.

The question being put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question, the House divided: Ayes, 24; Noes, 11. The main question was then put, and agreed to.