HC Deb 06 April 1821 vol 5 cc70-84
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

having moved the order of the day, for going into a Committee of Supply,

Mr. Creevey

rose to oppose the motion. The course which he was about to take might not, be said, be very agreeable to the right hon. gentleman opposite or to the House, but he felt it necessary, in the discharge of his public duty, to oppose the motion for going into a committee of Supply. Instead of going on, he thought it was the duty of the House to retrace its steps. There had been supplies enough voted; and what good had been hitherto effected? Notwithstanding all the petitions from all parts of the kingdom, complaining of the greatest distresses, and praying for the strictest economical reform, the House had still gone on voting away millions of money, and all the labours of his hon. friend the member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hume) had not produced the diminution of one single farthing in the public expenditure. Under these circumstances, nothing could induce him, as far as his vote or influence in that House went, to go again into a committee of supply. The members of that House had been called the trustees of the people, but they differed from all other trustees, for they themselves lived upon the profits of the estate. When the affairs of a private gentleman were deranged, the first thing his trustees did was, to cut off all needless expenses, and to discharge all the useless dependents and hangers-on. But here the trustees of the people were themselves the useless servants and hangers on. He had often thought that as the people of England found it was of no use to petition that House, it would be a good thing, and certainly an entertaining one, to see them represented by delegates at the bar of the House. What would be the natural language of delegates so sent to assert the rights of the people? They would say, "We are come here to talk to you, and we are bold to say, that we entertain a shrewd suspicion that you make a very good thing of us. We are aware that there are snug places to the amount of 150,000l. a year, which you enjoy, and which you will never consent to forego to relieve the distresses of the people. This may be a very pleasant arrangement for you, but it is no laughing matter for us." Such was the language which the delegates of the people would naturally use. Supposing the people to be so represented, he should like to have seen their delegates in the House during the last ten days. When his hon. friend the member for Essex obtained leave, about a fortnight ago, to bring in a bill for the repeal of the malt-tax, this was considered a great triumph—it was hailed as the beginning of better times. But he should never forget, and the people of England would never forget, the language of the noble lord who was manager of the trustees. "Do not triumph too soon," said the noble manager, "do not halloo before you are out of the wood." The noble lord, however, had made good his threat, he had brought up the trustees of the people from all parts of the country, and his hon. friend's majority of 25 was converted into a majority of 98 against him. This fact spoke volumes; but it was not all; a noble lord, a great northern grandee, the thane of Cawdor, had fallen a victim to his honest vote; he had lost 800l. a year by it. This was a direct attack upon the privileges of parliament, What had become of the hon. member for Yorkshire (Mr. S. Wortley)? Where was that redoubted champion of privilege the member for Montgomery (Mr. Wynn)? The printer of some poor paragraph against the House would instantly have been laid by the heels by them for a breach of privilege; but let the Crown make the grossest attack on the rights of parliament; and they were dumb and sub- missive. Was not this enough to make a man sick of the word privilege and much more sick of its champions? In the reign of Elizabeth, sir John Fortescue, on an occasion somewhat of this kind, replied to an objection to supply—"All is the queen's by right:" and it might be now asserted that "all is the king's by force:" yet there was much more decency in parliament even in the reign of Elizabeth than now [Cheers from the ministerial benches.] That was rather an interested shout: it was very easy to know from whom it came. It was an historical fact, however, that sir John was treated very roughly for his assertion; the house coughed loudly, and finally smothered his voice in an indignant and continued hoot. Yet, then, it possessed such men as sir Walter Raleigh and sir F. Bacon, and then no man had ventured to tell the people "not to halloo before they were out of the wood." He had drawn up a resolution on the subject expressive of his sentiments, and which he submitted for adoption, though without much hopes of success. The hon. gentleman concluded by moving the following Resolution, by way of amendment:

"That during the present session of parliament, petitions have been presented to this House from every part of this kingdom, and from every description of its population, containing statements of distress hitherto unheard of in this nation, and uniformly demanding, as one species of relief to their sufferings, the strictest possible economy in the expenditure of the public money; that the statements so made, have, in every instance, been fully confirmed by the local information of the different members of this House, who have presented such petitions; and yet, notwithstanding such universal applications for relief, the different Estimates for the public service for the year have hitherto been proceeded in, and millions of money voted for such purposes, without any the least possible reduction whatever by this House, although repeated efforts have been made to effect the same:—That this House entertains the strongest possible opinion, that this marked indifference of the representative body to the sufferings of its constituents, is mainly attributable to the following fact, viz. That a very numerous body of the members of this House derive for themselves, their families, connexions, and dependents, large pecuniary provisions from the taxes of the people; and as such provisions for the most part are made either for offices altogether useless or grossly overpaid, and therefore the fittest objects for immediate extinction or reduction, so the holders or disposers of them in this House have a direct personal interest in resisting every species of economical reform whatsoever:—That, in addition to this great permanent bar to all economical reform, the House has lately witnessed, with the greatest indignation, the influence of the Crown displayed by its ministers in this House in a manner the most arbitrary, and with the express and avowed object of interfering with its members in the discharge of their duty to their constituents; the earl of Fife, who lately held the office of one of the lords of the bedchamber to his majesty, having recently declared in his place in this House, as one of its members, that he had been dismissed from his office as lord of the bedchamber to his majesty, in consequence of having voted in this House in favour of a bill to repeal a tax upon malt:

"That, under all these circumstances, this House is of opinion it will better consult its own honour and the interest of the public, by immediately inquiring into the facts before mentioned, than in going any longer into Committees of Supply to vote away the money of the people without the slightest possible prospect of relief to the country."

Mr. Hobhousse

rose to second the motion. Nothing could be more constitutional than the course pursued by his hon. friend. It was not necessary to go back for precedents so far as the reign of queen Elizabeth; for, in the early part of the reign of Charles 1st, before the struggles between that monarch and the parliament, sir T. Wentworth, afterwards lord Strafford, moved a resolution in that House, that supply and grievances should go hand in hand. The individual who adopted this sentiment was a man of the first rank and talent in the country, and not liable to the imputation of being a heated enthusiast. In the parliament, called the Pension Parliament, the attention of the House was called to what was then considered an extraordinary fact, that 2,400,000l. were voted in 24 hours; but that House was grown familiar with instances in which much larger sums were voted away in 24 hours. He did not state this from any wish to exaggerate the grievances of which the people had reason to complain, and he begged to call the attention of the House to a declaration of lord Grenville in the other House of Parliament in 1816, "that if parliament continued to support the keeping up of a large standing army, and to lavish the public money as they did, he would not trouble himself to take a part in debates which he could regard as nothing less than a farce." In the time of the Pension Parliament 24 members were posted as individuals who received pensions from the Crown. Now he, on a recent division, had himself counted no fewer than 47 pensioners in a very small majority. Such was the difference in this respect between the present parliament and the notorious Pension Parliament, the measures of which were denounced by Andrew Marvel as calculated to leave neither liberty nor property in the country. As to the dismissal of lord Fife from his office of lord of the bed-chamber, in consequence of the vote which he gave in that House, it was a measure taken in direct opposition to the spirit of the constitution, and in violation of the Bill of Rights, which declared, that freedom of speech in debates or proceedings in parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned. If the speech of a member of that House could not be questioned, still less ought his vote to be made the subject of animadversion; and if the ministers of the Crown could not get up in their places, and deny the charge, he had no hesitation in saying, that they were liable to impeachment for their conduct.—The hon. member then proceeded to observe upon the operation which the influence of the Crown had1 in that House, which had been growing-up for many reigns, and threatened to overlay all public spirit, and utterly destroy the efficiency of parliament as the organ of the national will. On this subject, he quoted a passage from a famous pamphlet on Hush money,* published in the reign of William 3rd, which complained of the manner in which the House was officered, the effect produced upon its suffrages by emolument and expectancy, the deceptions practised upon honest, mistaken country gentlemen, and other consequences of influence which enabled the king to baffle any bill, quash any complaint of grievance, and carry any measure that the administration might think expe- *See this pamphlet in the New Parliamentary History, Vol. 5, Appendix, No. IX. dient. It stated, that 200,000l. had been employed for these purposes, to influence the votes of members by gratuities to themselves and relatives. But what was the case now? Why 150,000l. a year was devoted to the same purpose, and raised upon the people to be divided among those who were to vote against the people's interests; it was impossible that such distribution of the public money should not have a bias on the minds of those who enjoyed it. He hoped the House would consider seriously of the resolutions before them: he was certain that his hon. friend had not proposed them as any impediment to the public business, but strictly to remind the House of what were its duties, and what the people expected from them.

Mr. Calcraft

alluded to the statement made in the House by the earl of Fife, with respect to his removal from office. He contended, that the noble earl stated the ground of his dismissal was, the vote which he gave for the repeal of the malt tax. He understood it to be so; and was sorry the words had not been taken down. He agreed with most parts of the resolution of his hon. friend. It could not be doubted that in the present session, the petitions of the people had been totally disregarded. It was equally true that nothing like economy had been attended to in the estimates. It could not be denied either, that establishments were kept up much larger than circumstances could justify. He likewise agreed, that the influence of the Crown in that House was too mighty and too powerful, to allow any real effect to the representation of the people. But he could not agree with that part of the proposition which went in a sweeping way to deprecate the representation of the executive offices of government in that House. He was of opinion that those offices ought to be represented there, and he did not think the public officers too highly paid. However, although he could not agree with that part of the proposition, he could not withhold his assent to the proposition in general.

Lord Castlereagh

said, he did not consider that he should perform his duty, if he suffered himself to be led into a debate by the motion of the hon. member which seemed to bring back almost all the subjects which had already occupied the attention of the House this session. This species of opposition seemed to be a duty imposed upon that hon. member, and it was the more singular coming from him, as he believed, during the discussion of all the estimates hitherto, the hon. member had never pointed out any one item as too large, or proposed any specific reduction. His business, on the other side, seemed to be confined to that of protestor-general against the measures of government, and libeller-general of parliament. The hon. member had got up this prologue to the committee of supply in such a manner, and had attempted to support it by such comical arguments, that he (lord C.) had determined not to offer a word on the subject. He had not made this determination from any personal feeling to the hon. member. The hon. member had held a situation in the Board of Control, and no doubt had there discharged the duties of his office faithfully; but it was a little worthy of remark, that while the hon. member held that situation, he had never considered it his duty to complain of the influence of the Crown in that House. Not a word on the subject was heard from him during that time; but ever since he had been out of office, he had taken up his present plan and new occupation—in the exercise of which he wished he might long continue. He had come now, for the third time, with his plan against going into the committee of supply. After long preparation he had brought out his prologue to the committee, with little variation from his former ones; but it would not induce him (lord C.) to appear on the stage; nor would he have offered a word on the subject, but for a charge which seemed to be made against himself in the speech of another hon. member, as if he had done something against the privileges of that House. He, however, would not admit, that he was bound to offer any explanation on the subject alluded to. It was, he maintained, the prerogative of the Crown to dismiss its servants at pleasure; and he, as a minister of the Crown in that House, could no more be called upon to explain such dismissal, than he could be to account for the appointment of an individual to office by the Crown. He thought that such a charge as this came with a bad grace from hon. members on the other side of the House. They should be the last to make any such charge, in which must be inculpated some of their most distinguished friends, of whose services the country bad been deprived at a time of great public danger, because they would not accept office unless they got with it the appointment of the officers of his majesty's household, alleging, as they did, that the want of such patronage would go to show that they had not the full confidence of the sovereign. He did not mean to blame them for that determination, as he considered such appointments to be the legitimate patronage of ministerial office; but he thought that such being the doctrine of that school of which the hon. member (Mr. Calcraft) was so able a disciple, any argument against the principle came with a bad grace from him. He must then, protest against being called upon to explain any dismissal from office, when such was merely the exercise of the undisputed prerogative of the Crown. The hon. member would not say that ministers were bound to advise the continuance in office under the government of parties who pulled different ways. £Hear.] He would not pretend to support the doctrine, that an administration could be effective where this principle was admitted. The noble lord (Fife) himself had spoken in the House of his dismissal, and had given reasons for it; but he had only put those reasons hypothetically, and had not directly asserted that it was for his vote. Now, though he did not admit that the dismissal of the noble lord had taken place in consequence of any vote of his in that House, yet he would never admit that ministers had not a right to expect that all who held particular situations under the Crown should be agreed with them in general principles. He did not mean to say that the question of the malt tax was in itself one of paramount importance; but it formed a part of those measures upon which ministers had staked their official existence; as they had declared that they could not continue to administer the government of the country, if such measures were carried as would oblige them to break faith with the public creditor; and any man who voted for the abolition of such a tax was in fact voting for the dismissal of ministers. Taking every view of the circumstance, he could not see that he was called upon to offer any explanation on the subject.

Mr. Calcraft

said, lie had not complained of the removal of lord Fife, but of the cause assigned for the noble earl's having been removed.

Mr. Tierney

said, he was never more surprised than when he heard the pre- sent resolution submitted to the House. He thought when he came down to the House that night, that they were going at once into the consideration of the estimates. He had thought so, because the industry of an hon. friend of his had brought such details before the House, that it would be enabled to go into those estimates with greater facility than it had ever done before. Instead of which he found a motion embracing a variety of topics, upon which he was called upon to vote without the least consideration. He might not possibly object to the contents of that resolution in detail; but to be called upon to vote for it altogether, under such circumstances, was more than he deemed consistent with his duty. He would agree with his hon. friend, that petitions had been presented to the House from all parts of the country, complaining of distress, and praying for relief, and that these petitions had not met with the success to which they were entitled. He admitted that there had not been that economy in any branch of our expenditure which the people and the situation of the country had called for. So far he would agree with the resolution of his hon. friend. He would support any reasonable proposition, as far as he could: and indeed he had laid himself open to the charge of giving his support to some matters, which in the opinion of many were not reasonable. He thought that strict economy ought to be attended to; for he was convinced that no set of ministers would deserve the confidence of the country, who did not seriously set about the work of economy and retrenchment, But along with these subjects came that of lord Fife. Now, how could he make up his mind upon this subject; He was not in the House when that noble lord made the statement alluded to. He found no mention of it on the votes, as the words were not taken down. He had nothing before him but unsupported assertion on one side met by assertion on the other. How then could he vote on such a question? If the noble lord bad complained to the House of a breach of privilege in having been deprived of his office in consequence of his vote upon a particular question then there would be a ground for discussion. But it was said that the noble lord opposite had given no explanation on the subject. Really, be did not know how government could be called upon at present to give any expla- nation. If it were clearly made out that the dismissal had been in consequence of his vote, there would be ground not only for complaint, but impeachment; but no such charge was here made. The noble lord opposite had, in the course of his speech, alluded to some of his (Mr. T's.) friends who had refused to take office unless they got also the appointment of the offices in his majesty's household. If the noble lord meant this as an explanation or justification of any thing which had recently occurred, he was entirely mistaken. The two cases were as different as light and darkness. It was true that the individuals alluded to, had refused to take office on the ground mentioned, and for this reason that, if they had not such appointments, there would be two jarring interests in that House—one of the Crown, and the other of the members of government—giving rise to an inconvenience which the noble lord himself must admit. If the noble lord could show that those individuals had refused to take office unless they were allowed to dismiss all those in office who should vote against them, the case would be quite different; but no such thing was contended, or could be shown; and therefore there was no analogy in the case whatsoever. The noble lord had alluded to his hon. friend not having the same view of the power and influence of the Crown when he himself held office; but surely the noble lord would not contend, that because a member once held office, he was never after to open his mouth in favour of any reduction of expense, when the country was in circumstances which called for such reduction? He hoped his hon. friend would withdraw his resolution, and bring on the subjects to which it referred in detail; as they now stood, he could not give them his support.

Mr. Bennet

contended, that the mode adopted by his hon. friend was consistent with the sound constitutional practice of our ancestors, who spoke of grievances before they consented to any vote of supply. Could any man deny that it was the corrupt influence of the Crown which contributed to the majorities in that House? The reason was, that so many in that House held offices under the Crown. He did not allude to the way in which the members of that House were returned; that was another question; but to the way in which they were paid. That it was which occasioned the great grievances which were felt. But for the way that members were paid, such estimates as had been submitted to that House would never have been passed. With respect to the manner of dismissing lord Fife, the noble lord opposite admitted and justified it. The earl of Fife had stated, that he had been turned out of office for the vote he had given, and that he had it from the highest authority that his dismissal had been a punishment to himself and an example to others. Now, what offence had the noble earl committed? The people of Scotland had suffered in the severest manner from the operation of the tax on malt; and the noble earl, from an honourable feeling of humanity and moral sympathy, had felt it his duty to lend his aid to remove such a pernicious law. He hoped his hon. friend would press his motion to a division. He was anxious to have his vote given in support of it.

Lord A. Hamilton

said, that what he understood with respect to the statement made by lord Fife was, not that the giving of his vote against the Malt-tax was the ground of that dismissal, but merely that his impression was so; he therefore could not agree to a resolution, one part of which he conceived not to be consistent with the fact. Without meaning any disrespect to lord Fife's successor, he should like to ask what degree of credit and character would attach to that successor's votes in that House? Would it not be considered by the country, that he held his office by the tenure of supporting all the measures which his majesty's government might choose to recommend? The noble lord urged the House to have recourse, in the present embarrassed state of the country, to every possible reduction in the public expenditure, and more especially in the military part of it. On this subject, the country was extremely indebted to the hon. member for Aberdeen, who, notwithstanding the taunts of the noble lord opposite, had proved himself to be a most industrious, diligent, and valuable member.

Mr. Creevey

said, that in the resolution he had merely stated the fact, that lord Fife had declared in his place, that he was dismissed from his office for the vote he had given.

The question being put, "That the word proposed to be left out stand part of the question;" the House divided: Ayes, 120. Noes, 36. Majority against Mr. Creevey's motion; 84.

List of the Minority.
Bárrett, S. B. M. Milton, lord
Bennet, hon. H. G. Monck, T. B.
Benyon, B. Nugent, lord
Bernal, R. Palmer, C. F.
Bury, lord Parnell, sir H.
Calcraft, J. Philips, G. jun.
Chaloner, R. Ricardo, D.
Crompton, J. Rickford, W.
Davies, col. Robinson, sir G.
Denison, W. J. Sefton, lord
Fergusson, sir R. C. Smith, J.
Graham, S. Stuart, lord J.
Harbord, hon. E. Western, C. C.
Heron, sir R. Whitbread, S. C.
Honywood, W. Wilson, sir R.
Hume, J. Wyvill, M.
James, W. TELLERS.
Johnson, col. Creevey, T.
Lushington, Dr. Hobhouse, J. C.
Martin, T.

The question being then put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair,"

Mr. Hume

expressed his regret at the division that had taken place among the gentlemen near him, on the late question. He regretted to see hon. gentlemen, who agreed on a main fact, differ on the words in which that fact was described. It was difficult to couch a motion in terms palatable to two hundred hon. gentlemen: many of whom were, perhaps, anxious to find out a justification for not voting for it. Notwithstanding all that had passed, however, he was about to submit to the House a motion from which he challenged any hon. member to withhold his consent, who regarded his own character, and the interest of the country. Adverting to the civil department of the array, he intreated the House to look at the increase that had taken place in that department. In 1792, the expense of the civil department of the army was 44,900l. at present it was 133,000l. being an increase of 88,000l. When it was considered that this increase took place in the seventh year of peace, and when the distress which the country was suffering was taken into the account, this feet was monstrous. Until the House pledged itself to revise the establishments of the state, and to adopt a principle of economy, wherever that principle could be adopted, he would make motions from day to day to compel it to that issue. For the present occasion he had selected from the Sixth Finance Report, a recommendation, which he meant to move should be referred to the committee. That Report he begged leave to observe, although drawn up either by the chancellor of the exchequer, or with his concurrence, and although recommending various important considerations connected with the army, the navy, and the ordnance, had remained on the table o£ the House for four years, a dead letter. His motion would be,

"That it be an instruction to the committee to take into consideration the recommendation of the Committee of Finance to this House, in their Sixth Report, contained in the following terms:—'What your committee therefore earnestly recommend is this, that the lords of the treasury should call for a return of the present establishments of all the civil offices in the state, the salaries of which have been increased within the last fifteen years; and, with a reference to the circumstances now stated, and such other considerations as the altered situation of the country and the peculiar nature of each establishment may suggest, that they should 'make a revision of the same, and direct such prospective reductions therein as may appear to them reasonable, without impairing the efficiency of the service:—Your committee trust, that the observations which they have submitted to the House, in this and their former reports, are sufficient to show the expediency of this revision: it is not their intention to pursue the subject further at present, except to remark, that the system adopted of late years in some, and now extended to most of the public offices, of a progressive increase of salary by reason of length of services, if not in all cases objectionable in principle, is at least liable to great abuse in practice:—The several scales which have hitherto come under the view of your Committee vary so much, both as to the length and periods of service which shall confer the first and each successive addition of salary, and the proportions which such additions bear to the original salary, that your committee feel convinced the whole arrangement has grown to its present extent without any well-matured plan, or sufficient consideration of the consequences. One proof of this they have already had occasion to advert to in their report on the Ordnance department, in which this practice has been carried to the greatest length, and applied to classes (such as messengers, barrack masters, and others) not entitled to the benefit of it in any other department. As a general measure, it appears liable to the great objection, under the present circumstances of the country, of having placed beyond the control of government, at least without an interference not wholly consistent perhaps with the equitable claims of the parties, the continual increase of official remuneration, when those circumstances would require that all such increase should cease:—Your committee would therefore recommend, first, that the system of gratuity, or progressive increase of salary for length of service, should be suspended altogether, with the exception which they have already stated; and perhaps, also, with the further exception, prospectively, of an addition, not exceeding 20 per cent on the original salary, being allowed to any established clerk in the junior or lowest class of any office, who might have served seven years to the satisfaction of his superior officer, without having, during that period, obtained any step of promotion."

Lord A. Hamilton

seconded the motion. Though he might have wished the instruction to the committee to have been put in a more condensed shape, his hon. friend had perhaps done right in not condensing it, considering the very high quarter from which the recommendation to economy and reduction came.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that the strictest attention had been paid by government to the reports of the finance committee. Reductions to a considerable extent had been made in every branch of the public expenditure, and further and more important reductions were in contemplation. The right hon. gentleman pointed out the great hardship which would arise to individuals, as well as the injury which the public service would sustain, from an ill digested and sweeping reduction. He could assure the House, that his majesty's government were most anxious to carry the recommendation of the committee into effect, as far as was consistent with the public interests. The House must at the same time see, that the clerks employed in the higher offices of government, being men of talent and education, were entitled to a more liberal allowance than common clerks. Much evil would arise if persons of a different description were employed in those confidential offices. An unfaithful or negligent clerk might, either from carelessness or from mal-practices, cause more mischief than any reduction to be made in those offices could compensate for.

Sir J. Newport,

adverting to the office of barrack-master-general for Ireland, observed, that it appeared from a report of the committee of 1810 or 1811, that there was a considerable deficiency in the accounts of lord Tyrawly.

Mr. D. Browne

defended the character of lord Tyrawly. The noble lord had fully cleared himself from the charge which had been made against him.

Sir J. Newport

meant to cast no imputation upon the character of lord Tyrawly: he had only stated a fact which appeared from the report of the committee.

Mr. W. Pole

said, that the circumstance alluded to respecting lord Tyrawly occurred while he (Mr. Pole) was in office in Ireland. It was found, that not that noble lord, but some persons under him were unwilling to send in their accounts. He was, however, happy to state, that lord Tyrawly had, since that period, made up his accounts much to his honour, and that there was a balance in his favour.

Mr. Ellice

expresed a hope that some measure would be introduced to amend the Superannuation bill. The provisions of that bill were an enormous charge to the country. Every one must be struck with the enormous disproportion between the allowance of 2,000l. a year as a retirement to a barrack-master-general, and the salary of only 2,500l. which the chancellor of the exchequer received for discharging the arduous duties of his office.

Mr. Huskisson

suggested, that instead of the present long resolution, it would be better to refer the whole report to the consideration of the committee. Having been a member of the committee which made that report, he cordially concurred in the recommendation which it contained, and thought it the duty of the Treasury to carry it into effect as speedily as possible. He also agreed with those who thought that the 50th of the late king, which regulated the amount of allowances for compensation and superannuation, required some alteration in the present situation of the country.

Mr. Hume

withdrew his amendment, and the sixth report of the commissioners of naval inquiry, presented to the House on the 2nd of May 1804, was referred to the committee.