HC Deb 11 May 1819 vol 40 cc312-5
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that if the motion which they had just heard was calculated to maintain the constitution in its strength, by maintaining the purity of that House, he had now to make a motion, which would not be less beneficial, by throwing lustre on the body of its nobility. His motion was for a bill to enable the public to accept the magnificent sacrifice of the marquis Camden. The right hon. gentleman then entered into a summary of the origin and nature of the office of tellers of the exchequer, the causes of the increase of their emoluments, and the measures taken in 1780 for restricting them after the death of the then existing holders as reversioners, to 2,700l. a year. The marquis of Buckingham and the marquis Camden, the holders of the unreduced tellerships in 1813, when these offices produced to each of them, on account of the large public expenditure, as much as 17 or 18,000l. a year, voluntarily gave up to the public service, during the remainder of the war, all the surplus beyond the income regulated by Mr. Burke's bill. The public was soon after deprived of the services of the marquis of Buckingham by death but from the donation of the marquis Camden in this shape, as well as former contributions from his, office and his private fortune, the country had derived 45,000l. After the conclusion of the war, the marquis Camden made a farther sacrifice of the surplus, which the public was enabled to accept by an act which passed to authorise contributions on the part of his majesty's ministers and other public officers. That act bad ex- pired, and the noble marquis was now desirous to be enabled to give up to the public, for the remainder of his life, the surplus of his official income beyond the sum paid to the tellers more recently appointed under Mr. Burke's bill. This surplus, in years of peace, amounted to about 9,000l. a year. Doubts had arisen whether this contribution would not be considered illegal as a benevolence, and whether, therefore, it could be accepted by the exchequer, unless it were authorised by parliament. Whether these doubts were or were not well founded, there was no question that the proceeding by an act of parliament was the more proper and more dignified way, and he had no doubt but that the House would receive the proposal with the honour and attention which so signal an instance of patriotic munificence merited at their hands. [Hear, hear!]. He then moved for leave to bring in a bill "to authorize the Receipt and Appropriation of certain Fees arising there from."

Lord Castlereagh

observed, that his object in rising to second the motion of his right hon. friend, was simply to give expression to what he was sure must be the feeling that pervaded the House in contemplating this transaction. The extent and nature of the sacrifice made by the noble marquis had been already stated. It was right, however, that the House should be apprized, that during the three years previous to the peace of Amiens, he had sacrificed to the public no less a sum than 24,000l.., which added to the sum of 18,527l. during the last two years of the war, and what had been since contributed on the reduced scale, raised the sum total already relinquished to 61,740l. He made this great sacrifice, out of deference to the feeling with which, it appeared to him, the last unregulated office was regarded. The effect of this present offer was to surrender for the term of his future life, a sum which in time of war exceeded 18,000l. per annum, and was during peace not less than 9,000l. It was not claiming too much credit for such an act voluntarily performed under all the Circumstances which attended it, to say, that a more splendid sacrifice of private right to the public service was never heard of in any state. As a patent office, it might fairly be considered a legal estate, and had been always so considered by that House. It should be remembered also, that it was an office which had not been conferred as an act of grace or favour on the noble marquis himself, but which he had inherited from his father, to whom it had been granted, by way of compensation for giving up the high and dignified appointment of chief justice of the Common pleas, in order to enter into the political service of the country.

Mr. Tierney

professed the most sincere satisfaction in contemplating the occasion which had been afforded for the present discussion. He had always felt, and frequently expressed, his regret, that the conduct of marquis Camden in this instance should be passed over with so little public observation. He could assure the House, that he wanted words to express his admiration of this princely sacrifice of private fortune. It was a magnificent donation to the country, made under circumstances which greatly enhanced its character of nobleness and generosity. The House had a few years since, on occasion of a motion brought forward by an hon. friend of his (Mr. Creevey), recognized the principle, that the emoluments of the office in question were private property. To that principle he had given his support, conceiving it to be founded in reason and justice. Were he now to mention the nobleman who in his opinion stood the highest in this country, he should certainly name Lord Camden, whose attachment to his country must be truly strong, to induce him to abandon what had been earned for him by his illustrious father [Hear, hear]. He trusted that a motion would be made for placing some memorial on the journals of the House of so singular an example of disinterestedness. There were precedents for such a proceeding, and no occasion could be fitter for recording the sense of parliament than this great pecuniary sacrifice [Hear].

Lord Carhampton

could not accede to the proposition, that the grants of the Crown were equivalent to fee-simple property, and could not be re-modelled by parliament. With regard to the case under consideration, he highly admired the generosity of the noble marquis.

Mr. Tierney

explained. He had only meant to say, that there was a vested interest which could not be forfeited except by abuse of the office, and had never contended that to correct this was beyond the competency of parliament.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

concurred in the principle as laid down by the right hon. gentleman. The noble marquis had an interest, which, although not equal to a fee-simple, amounted to a legal estate for life.

Mr. Bankes

agreed, that patent offices were in the nature of freehold property. With respect to the case before them, he believed that no previous example of such munificence could be found. The admiration which it had called forth ought to be expressed amplissimis verbis, in the preamble of the bill they were about to pass. The office in question was derived from a father equally distinguished for talents and integrity, a man venerable as one of the most learned and constitutional lawyers that ever adorned the seat of justice. The present marquis was one of his earliest private friends, and he hoped the House would allow him to suggest the words by which their sense of his magnanimous conduct should be testified to posterity.

Mr. Wilberforce

wished also to bear testimony to this zealous and noble instance of disinterestedness and public virtue, and to join in that tribute of respect which had been so handsomely rendered by the right hon. gentleman on the floor. He regretted with him, that the sacrifice already made should have been hitherto suffered to pass with so little notice, and he felt himself bound to declare, that the manner in which it was made indicated a truly generous and noble mind.

Mr. C. Long

bore testimony to the cheerful and unostentatious manner in which the noble marquis had performed this act of munificence.

Mr. Bankes

said he should propose the insertion of the words he had mentioned after the second reading.

Mr. Martin

, of Galway, said it was the duty of the county to meet this generous proposition with something as magnanimous, and he should propose that they should refuse the gift [A laugh]. Gentlemen of narrow incomes might put their circumstances en gene by following so dazzling an example.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.