HC Deb 09 February 1821 vol 4 cc574-9
Mr. Hume

to submit to the House the motion of which he had given notice, and of which the object was, to ascertain whether the president of the board of Control, had vacated his seat. He had no doubt, from the examination which he had made, that, if the appointment of the right hon. gentleman corresponded with the time of taking his seat, he was free from the penalty. But that could not be known to the House without the warrant of the right hon. gentleman's appointment. When any motion for reform was made from his side of the House, there was an outcry by the other side against innovation. Yet, by the other side of the House, were the most dangerous innovations made on the constitution. Not one of the four right hon. gentlemen, whom he saw opposite, could hold a seat in that House by the act of queen Anne, or could vote away public money, as they had done in the division which had just taken place. The great objection to Mr. Fox's bill had been, that it gave patronage to the Crown, and occasioned expenses to the India company. When the board of Control was originally constituted, Mr. Pitt gave a distinct pledge to the country that the commissioners should perform the duties without pay or salary, and that they should have no patronage from the East India company. From the year 1784 to 1793, the commissioners had no salaries, and conse- quently they did not vacate their seats in parliament; but the 33rd of the late king, which gave an allowance of 5,000l. a year to the commissioners, contained a clause that those officers who should receive a salary should vacate their seats in parliament. Accordingly, from 1793 down to the present time, every president of the board of Control had vacated his seat as a matter of course. If, as the right hon. gentleman opposite had stated, he received no salary, he still came within the spirit of the act, for there were large emoluments attached to the office in the way of patronage. There were 500 regular appointments in the gift of the president of the board of Control; and it appeared, that in the last year he had received the appointment of 26 cadets, 2 writers, and 4 assistant surgeons, the value of which patronage amounted to about 12,000l. Now the House was aware of the value of a writership; for it must be in their recollection, that a noble lord, not now in his place, had been convicted of carrying on a traffic, in which a writership was to be the bribe for a seat in that House. A writership was, therefore, equivalent to a seat in parliament; and every body knew what the price of a seat in parliament was. It appeared, then, that the president of the board of Control received patronage in writerships, which was equivalent to the price of two seats in that House. The board of Control, though it had never met as a board, had cost the East India company not less than 800,000l. He trusted, that as they had now a patriotic president, who would do the duty without a salary; and as the other commissioners were of no use, the company would shortly be wholly relieved from the burthen of this board. He begged leave to move, for "Copies of Letters Patent, or Commissions, appointing the commissioners of the board of Control, and of which the right hon. George Canning was president, and of which the right hon. Charles Bathurst is president."

Mr. Bathurst

did not rise to object to the motion, but to observe, in the first place, that it would have been more consistent with parliamentary practice, if the hon. gentleman had waited till the documents were laid on the table, before he commenced his general remarks upon the character and functions of the board of Control. The hon. gentleman quarrelled, first, with the particular appointment in question, then with the construction put upon the act of Anne, and, lastly, with that by which the board of Control was established. Now, the last act expressly said, that there was to be no forfeiture of a seat in parliament, unless the individual appointed should receive the salary, or part of it. The only question now was, whether his seat had been vacated by his acceptance of the office without any salary annexed to it. It would, he thought, appear, on an examination of the returns, that he fell under the same description as the rest of the commissioners of the board to whom no salary was assigned, and to whom it was deemed that the spirit of the act of Anne, which referred only to offices of profit, did not apply. It had been urged, that patronage was power; but, without admitting this proposition, he must deny that any patronage necessarily or directly attached to the president of the board of Control. What was, in fact, enjoyed by him, was received as a compliment from the court of directors. If it was wrong to receive it, that ought to be declared; but this had no bearing on the present question. With regard to the duties of the two other commissioners receiving salaries, he could only say, from his own observation, since he had held the office of president, that their appointments, so far from being merely nominal or honorary, required very considerable labour. As to himself, he held an office previously, the emoluments of which he regarded as a sufficient remuneration for the discharge of his new duties.

Mr. Creevey

said, he did not mean to insinuate that the patronage enjoyed was turned into money, but it was presented by the directors upon an understanding, and was, of course, used in the ordinary way. It should be remembered, also, that cadetships and writerships were provisions for life, and of more value than a few thousand pounds which the president might himself receive. He was inclined to think, upon a fair construction of the different acts, that the office must be considered as one of profit and emolument.

Mr. W. Smith

acquitted the right hon. gentleman of all suspicion that he received any salary for the office. But the question to be considered was, whether the gift of that office did not increase the power of the Crown? No one could suppose that the right hon. gentleman would support administration any more than he had done before; but the question was upon the principle, and with- out any personal reference to the right hon. gentleman. The price of a writership was about 3,000l.; and could any one suppose that the gift of an office, with the disposal of a certain number of writerships was not a gift of profit? Could it be supposed that the influence in question would be exerted for any other purpose than that of strengthening the government? He hoped the House would not be satisfied with a denial that the office was a place of profit, merely because it was not attended with a direct salary.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald

contended, that the right hon. gentleman's appointment was an evident violation of the act of parliament. All his predecessors had vacated their seats on receiving it; and he could see no security against the object of the act being defeated, if so important an office as the one in question could be held without vacating a seat during the session of parliament, on pretence that no salary was received during that period. Such a precedent might be extended to other offices, and the salaries taken when ever parliament was not sitting. But without reference to this possibility, the appointment in question was a constant source of influence. Many would be very glad to exchange the lucrative advantages of office for the enjoyment of extensive patronage. For his own part, he had no doubt he should materially increase his influence among his constituents, by distributing among them I now and then a few writerships and cadetships, and he would do the right hon. gentleman the justice to believe that he would prefer the acquisition of influence to that of money. He should be sorry to accuse him of disingenuousness, when: he said that no patronage was attached to his office, because it belonged, in the first instance, to another body, with whom the Board of Control maintained a civil understanding. The president of that board, he understood, had always in effect a greater portion of patronage than was annexed to any other office in the gift of the Crown. When lord Melville, a distinguished Scotchman, was at the head of the board, aspiring young Scotchmen were to be found in every corner of India. Under one of his successors, Ireland had sent forth her sons to the same quarter; and now lie presumed the right hon. gentleman meant to give England her due share. At all events, he trusted that the example of saving the salary would be carefully followed in future.

Lord Althorp

understood the act of Anne to have been passed, not so much for the purpose of depriving the Crown of any influence which it might derive from the offices which it held in its gift, as for the purpose of affording the constituents of any member who might accept office an opportunity of deciding whether they would re-elect him.

Mr. T. Courtemay

explained the routine of the business attached to the board to which the hon. member is secretary. There was no salary attached to the office; and as to the argument respecting patronage, he should not condescend to reply to it. There could certainly be no doubt that the patronage of the Crown created obligation; but the same argument would apply to ribbands and all other honours which emanated from the King. In short, if the argument could hold, there would be no point to which it might not be carried.

Mr. Denman

wished to know, if the right hon. gentleman did not receive the salary usually attached to his office, what became of it? It was rumoured, that the right hon. gentleman received no part of it himself, but reserved it for another right hon. gentleman who had lately held the office, and who was now absent from the country [Cries of "No, no"]. If that were the case, was it distributed amongst the other commissioners? Or was it saved to the public?

Lord Binning

would not have troubled the House on this question, had it not been for the allusion just made to his right hon. friend, the late president of the Board of Control. Where, in the name of God, had the hon. gentleman heard of this rumour? Why had he mentioned it? Was the character of public men to be thus loosely sported with? His right hon. friend would be the last man in the world to receive the emoluments of an office, the duties of which he did not perform.

Mr. Denman

stated, that he had made no insinuation. He had only alluded to that which was generally reported, and which had appeared in the newspapers.

Mr. S. Bourne

said, he could not envy the feelings of the learned gentleman who could impute to his right hon. friend, in his absence, a participation in so corrupt an arrangement. Where was his authority? Who had dared to state it? He had never, during the whole course of his political life, heard such an insinuation come from any political malignant.

Mr. Denman

said, he had made no insinuation against the character of the right hon. gentleman, but had put what he conceived to be a fair question. Political malignity to that right hon. gentleman's predecessor he felt none. The soreness which the two hon. members had exhibited was no very great compliment to their right hon. friend.

Mr. Astell

did not see any thing reprehensible in the manner in which the question had been put. He bore his testimony, as an East India director to the efficient and cordial manner in which the late president of the Board of Control had exercised the duties of his office. He had heard, with great satisfaction, that the company would be benefitted to the amount of the salary by the present appointment.

Colonel Davies

wished to know what was to be done with this salary.

Mr. Bathurst

said, that it would he a saving out of the sum granted by the East India company.

The motion was agreed to.