HC Deb 12 May 1820 vol 1 cc343-5

On the order of the day for the second reading of this bill,

Sir R. Heron

said, he could not help expressing his gratitude to ministers for the forbearance they had manifested on tin's occasion. His majesty had in his speech from the throne, been graciously pleased to recommend economy. The distresses of the country loudly called for its adoption. The country was in such a situation, that it could with difficulty pay the interest of the national debt. And, under all these circumstances, what was the forbearance of ministers? Why, they simply contented themselves with fixing the civil list at the highest rate at which it had ever been—at a rate at which it stood when money was three times more plentiful than it was at this moment. They would have better consulted both the dignity of the Crown and the situation of the country, had they commenced a system of economy in that quarter where it could be enforced with so little comparative inconvenience. He feared that the ominous mention of the word "economy," in the royal speech, was only for the purpose of dispensing with it in practice. If this was so, ministers were responsible, and deserved the just indignation of the country [Hear!].

The bill was then read a second time. On the question that it be committed on Monday,

Mr. Hume

rose to enter his protest against the proceedings of ministers. He did not do so on the grounds which the hon. baronet had stated, because he was not prepared to say, that, if the expenditure of the household for the last five years were laid before parliament, the amount would appear to have been extravagant. If any thing could induce ministers to lay full information on the table of the House, before any money was voted, the statements made by an hon. gentleman on this side of the House, and by another hon. member on that side of the House, representing the difficulties and distress of the country, ought to have that effect. Yet ministers came forward and called upon the House to vote 850,000l. without one tittle of information, from 1815 to that hour. In this conduct his majesty's ministers were inconsistent with themselves. They now refused what they had granted up to 1815. Why not lay accounts before the House up to 1820, as they had done up to 1815? It was said, indeed, there was not time to get the accounts printed. Yet what had they done? They had printed accounts of all the expenses of the civil list. He complained, then, because the household charges were not given distinct from the other charges of the civil list; he complained, because the hereditary revenues were not distinguished from the other revenues of the Crown. A committee of the House would simplify all those accounts and charges, and render them intelligible to that House and to the public. He supposed the amount for his majesty's household was 450,000l., unless that which formed an important part in every gentleman's household in the country was left out. Every man's wife occasioned a part, and an important part, in the expenses of his household. The queen, then, he supposed, would have her expenses as part of the household. But by this mode of proceeding now, at the commencement of a reign, the civil list would continue throughout the reign (which he hoped would be a long one) perplexed and mystified. The right hon. gentleman had said, that ministers had a right to apply the surplus of one class of the civil list to make up the deficiency of any other class. Now, this right was inconsistent with three acts of parliament. One was Mr. Burke's, which prescribed a certain age for ambassadors. Another was by a right hon. gentleman on the floor, and enacted that no ambassador should have a salary exceeding 2,000l., per annum, nor that salary till he was 35 years of age. If accounts of the ambassadors and their salaries were not laid before the House, how could the object of those acts be answered? But the 56th of Geo. 3rd, ch. 4, enacted, that the surplus of the third class should be carried into the consolidated fund. If, then, ministers had the right of applying the surplus of one class to the deficiency of another, or if full and regular accounts were not laid before that House, how could the House exercise the control which those acts required? It might be said, that ministers attended to the provisions of those acts; but was he clear that they really did attend to them? From the year 1756 every civil list act had been violated. His majesty's ministers had judged extremely ill in giving no account, at least of the third class. He could only express his regret that concealment was thus adopted and acted upon, instead of a candid and fair declaration of all the charges and items. The country would suspect from this, as he really was disposed to suspect, that there was some grounds for this concealment. Whether he could prove that there were grounds or not, millions in the country could not be persuaded that there were not grounds for concealment. There were many items which were not explained, though they ought to be explained. He would mention, for instance, that of plate given to several individuals. It might be right, but the House had no means of judging that it was so. The House knew not why services of plate should have been given to lord Jocelyn, the marquis of Winchester, lord Yarmouth, or Mr. Canning. He presumed it was for some good reasons. But why services of plate—no, pieces of plate—for 8,000l. to Mr. Canning would only buy a piece of plate, he supposed—why those pieces of plate had been given was unknown to the House. He was one who deprecated, who dreaded secrecy and seclusion; and he would not cease to think that things were not all right, till a fair and manly avowal of all should be made to that House.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the surplus of the third class had regularly been carried to the consolidated fund, and the accounts of the consolidated fund uniformly accounted for every such surplus. To that fund he referred the hon. gentleman for an account of this part of the civil list. A few days ago an order had been made for an account of all pensions, including the pensions to which the hon. gentleman had alluded. This account, would soon be laid before the House. Plate was usually given where official situations required greater display and splendor than the salary could afford. In general, presents of this kind were very moderate, and below the amount which the station of those to whom they were made might seem to require. Since the year 1816 services of plate had been given to all ambassadors to foreign courts, in order to enable them to support the dignity and splendor of representatives of the sovereign.

The bill was ordered to be committed on Monday.