HC Deb 19 March 1819 vol 39 cc1090-7

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved the order of the day for receiving the report of the Committee of Supply. The resolution, "That a sum not exceeding 79,154l. 8s. 9d¼ be granted to his majesty to make good the deficiency of the grant of parliament for the year 1818, to enable his majesty to provide for such expenses of a civil nature as do not form a part of the ordinary charges of the Civil List, having been read.

Mr. Hutchinson

said, it was not his intention to enter upon the hacknied topics of the public burthens and the duty of that House. He meant merely to justify himself for affirming that the expenses in these papers were evident extravagance. They had voted 3,500,000l. of the public money for the navy and ordnance, and yet they were Called upon to vote 79,154l. for the purposes stated in these papers. The House was bound to watch narrowly such accounts and items. By doing so they not only did their duty to the country, but essential service to ministers themselves; for if the House would not suffer extravagant expenses to pass, ministers could retire to the cabinet secure of The support of the House in their measures of economy and retrenchment. This would give them a strength in the cabinet which otherwise they could not possess. The first item he had to remark upon was 8,195l. 12s. for furniture to the Royal George yacht. This expense appeared to him most extravagant. This was not for furnishing the ship generally, as might be supposed, but for the furniture of one room. The next item he would advert to was 8,432l. as the expense of a noble viscount and a noble duke at Aix-la-Chapelle. He did not conceive this expense to have been necessary. Whatever good the noble viscount and the noble duke had clone at Aix-la-Chapelle, they could have done by their remaining at home, and by any ordinary character being sent to the Conference. Not one thing had been done at Aix-la-Chapelle, which had not been settled before the noble viscount, the noble duke, or any of the other great personages, had gone thither. The other item on which he had to remark was, 19,300l. for the Grand Duke Nicholas. He saw no reason for incurring such an expense for any royal or imperial visitant. If we thus paid the expenses of one during his residence here, we could not refuse to pay the expenses of fifty, and thus a serious Burthen would be imposed upon the country. In going over the items, he found one of 20,000l. for law charges, which he could hot but think extravagant. The item to which he was now desirous of calling the attention of the House, was the sum of 22,510l. 15s. 1d. for snuff-boxes as presents to foreign ministers. How could Ministers, in the present state of the Country, justify themselves for incurring such an extravagant charge for such a purpose? They, no doubt, relied on precedents, but he thought precedents in this case of little value. He had been informed, that the absurd practice of giving snuff-boxes been earned so far, that the coachman appointed to drive an im- perial grand duke lately on a visit to this country had been presented with one. Would the noble lord cloak himself under a precedent of this kind? In times of public prosperity these items were frequently overlooked, and perhaps did not deserve so minute a scrutiny; but at present the distress under which the nation laboured was so great, that economy ought to be introduced into every part of the public expenditure; and though the strictest economy could not produce an immediate or any great relief, still the House ought to show an endeavour to carry retrenchment as far as possible. After some late votes, the people would be led to distrust professions. After the vote of last night to continue a board on the war establishment, whose principal duties terminated with the war—to continue the same number of lords of the Admiralty, with a navy of 20,000 men and 120 ships, and during profound peace, which was reckoned necessary, when we were in hostility with all the world, with a navy of 130,000 men, and more than 1,200 ships, the House should endeavour to recover its character for economy by endeavouring to retrench in some way or other. It was only lately that a vote of a few hundred pounds for two equerries had been lost; and yet if any public servants were to stand in the way of public economy, these individuals deserved their salaries. To one of them, sir Brent Spencer, he was glad of an opportunity to pay his tribute of respect. He had served in the army forty years; he had been engaged in every war during that time, and in every part of the world he had faced dangers and shed his blood in the service of his country. His gallant conduct in Egypt on the glorious 8th of March was known to every one acquainted with our military annals; and yet these claims were not sufficient to continue him in the receipt of a salary which he obtained as the mark of his sovereign's confidence, and the reward of his fidelity-He would apply the case of the equerries to his present argument, by stating, that if the House refused on a late night 500l. a year to a gallant officer, they ought to abolish 20,000l. of useless expenditure. The sum now in the estimate for snuff-boxes would more than afford the two equerries their salaries for life. He was satisfied that, by examining in the way that he had done the papers submitted to the House, the public interest might be highly benefitted, and thousands saved which were now uselessly squandered. Ministers would thus receive a check in their course of extravagance, and would be more cautious what estimates they brought forward for parliamentary sanction. He concluded by moving, "That the sum of 22,510l.15s. 1d. which from papers on the table of the House is stated to have been expended for Snuff Boxes, appears to this House to be a most profuse and improvident expenditure of public money."

The Speaker

suggested, that there was a Resolution before the House that 79,154l. be granted to make good the civil contingencies. The hon. member could propose an amendment, by subtracting the sum of 22,510l. from it, and by adding the concluding words of his resolution.

Mr. Hutchinson

said, he did not wish to negative the grant, as the money had been expended; he would therefore propose his resolution after the question before the House was disposed of.

Lord Castlereagh

, in rising to give the explanations required by the hon. gentleman, said, he could not promise to speak to every point, as there were several totally out of his own department, and which be must refer to his right hon. friend. He perfectly understood the hon. gentleman not to have meant any thing like a personal charge by his motion, but to have brought it forward merely out of a sense of duty, to enforce an economical application of the public money. With respect to the fitting out of the royal yacht, he could say nothing, for he knew nothing. As to the expense incurred at Aix-la-Chapelle, the observations of the hon. member had been rather of a political than a financial nature. The hon. gentleman had said, that a king's messenger could have transacted the business as well as himself and his noble friend. If such observations had been made when the treaties and protocols concluded at Congress were laid on the table, they might have deserved an answer. If the hon. gentleman, however, required any explanations on the head of expense, he would not refuse the most ample. By examining the account, he would find that there had been no improvident waste of the public money, and that the sums expended had been less than on former missions of the game nature. With regard to the item of charge for his imperial highness the grand duke, who lately visited this country, all that he would say was, that it was incurred out of that courtesy which usually prevailed between governments. The expenses which we had to provide for in this respect were not so great as some other states. During the congress of Vienna, the emperor of Austria had entertained all the sovereigns, princes, and ministers, assembled in that capital. The principal part of the hon. member's objections was directed against the practice of making presents to foreign ministers. The hon. gentleman had not represented the matter fairly in allowing it to be supposed that the 22,000l. of expenditure under this head had been incurred within the year. The truth was, that the present account comprehended the money expended in this way for more than two years, from July, 1816, to Jan. 1819. It was likewise to be recollected, that in that period the country had not been in its natural state. To show that the sum thus distributed over two years, or about 11,000l. per annum, was not extravagant or extraordinary; he would refer the hon. gentleman to papers laid on the table in 1811. In them, he would find an account of the expense? incurred for presents to foreign ministers during the seven preceding years. These charges amounted on an average to 10,000l. per annum. By looking a little farther back, he would find that in 1804 Mr. Pitt had laid on the table an estimate of such expenses, which likewise amounted to 10,000l. a year. He (lord C.) was well aware of the general opinion, that any thing in the shape of a present might be advantageously dispensed with; but whatever degree of obloquy might be thrown on him for defending a custom in which he might be supposed to be interested, he would still contend against its abolition. The hon. member did not seem well acquainted with the regulations under which these presents were given, nor with the limitations both as to the persons on whom they were conferred, and the number of them that must, according to custom, be provided. Their amount was not in the least arbitrary, nor could they be connected with any improper influence. The practice of bestowing them on the signature of treaties, was as old as the monarchy, and nearly co-extensive with civilized states. He knew that it was a principle with the United States neither to give or receive presents; but the practice was general among the monarchies of Europe. The East India Company, in their transactions with the states in the neighbourhood of their territory, acted under a law to receive no presents; but this meant presents of a great amount, and dangerous to diplomatic agents, by the undue influence which they might produce. The presents mutually given in Europe were of a different description. They were never conferred till the treaty for the Signature of which they were to be given had been ratified, and therefore; could not be considered as a reward offered to diplomatic agents for favourable stipulations, as the treaty they had concluded had received the sanction of their own government, before any acknowledgment was made by its ally. The hon. gentleman laboured under an error in supposing that these presents were always returned to the secretary of state. They were given to the minister who signed the treaty, whoever he was; and not to the secretary of state, unless when he acted in the Capacity of a negotiator, and so affixed his signature. To speak of himself, he could say, that out of twenty-two presents given to the agents of this country, during the last two years, only five had come to him. The situation of diplomatists was not very enviable or gainful, and therefore ought not to be curtailed of any of its advantages. They were not paid so well, considering the expenses to which they were exposed, as other public servants. He would not, therefore, consent to withdraw this advantage without re-placing it by another, and he could think of no other more appropriate or economical Some of them, he was aware, disposed of these presents for immediate pro-fit; but the greater part preserved them as memorials of the transactions in which they had been engaged. He himself had kept all the memorials of this kind he had received in the shape in which they were given; and should transmit them to his family as property which they would prize higher than any thing else he could leave them. He went on to argue, that no more eligible or less extravagant way occurred of rewarding public servants very moderately paid. Besides, though some saving might take place, he did hot see how a change in the present practice could be effected without the concurrence of other States. It would appear a piece of absurd affectation in us to attempt it, without; Such a general Concurrence. He Should consider the abolition of the practical even prejudicial to the public service, while no call existed for it in the extrava- gance of the expenses to which it led, or in the danger of any influence which it might create.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, that as to the practice of giving snuff-boxes and such presents, it was, he would admit, one of long standing, and might in some respects have been called for by circumstances'; but he trusted it was an expense which the country would not be called upon to pay in future. He gave credit to the noble lord for the statement he had made; and he would add, that, from circumstances which had come to his knowledge, the noble lord had not done himself justice. He conceived that the House and the country owed the noble lord a great deal for his conduct at Aix-la-Chapelle, where the resolution that, had been proposed at the meeting of ministers for interchanging presents for each of the treaties which had been concluded, had been objected to by him, and only one present interchanged in lieu of many. This was conduct for which he conceived the noble lord deserved credit, where he had the practice of other times to urge him to a contrary mode of proceeding. There were in the account some other items, of which, though the amount was comparatively small, he conceived the principle ought not to be agreed to. It was the practice of going to much expense for the royal personages who happened to visit this country. He was not averse from having every necessary attention paid to those illustrious strangers, but he conceived we were not bound to pay all their expenses whilst here; or if that principle was to be contended for, he would suggest, that those who were appointed to attend them in their tour should be a little more economical. He saw that the expenses of one of the grand dukes, whilst at an hotel in Edinburgh, was charged 100l. a day. He could not conceive how such an expense was necessary. The next item to which he objected was, the expense of the royal yacht: 3,000l. had been expended in repairs and ornaments for that alone—an expense which, in his opinion, could not be incurred unless there had been great prodigality. There was another item, to the principle of which he could not agree; he meant the sum of 3,000l. as the expense of the Alien establishment. This establishment, and the act which gave rise to it, were disgrace to the statute-book, a disgrace from which he hoped; they would be redeemed in a short time.

Mr. Canning

observed, that the hon. baronet was right in saying that his noble friend had objected to the interchange of presents among the ministers, for each treaty which had been concluded; but he was not correct in mentioning that circumstance as having occurred at Aix-la-Chapelle. It was true that at Aix-la-Chapelle, there was only one present interchanged between the several ministers; but the circumstance to which the hon. baronet had so candidly alluded in respect to his noble friend, occurred at the congress of Vienna, where a resolution was proposed that presents should be given for each treaty, but this was objected to by his noble friend, and on his suggestion one present was interchanged for all the treaties; whereas, if, according to custom, they had interchanged one for the conclusion of each treaty, the number would have amounted to forty-five.

The original resolution was agreed to; after which, Mr. Hutchinson said, his object would at present be answered by having his resolution entered on the Journals. It would go against the precedent being established. He gave credit to the noble viscount for what he had heard, and had no intention of imputing any thing personally to him and to the practice which had prevailed.

The motion was then put, and negatived.