HC Deb 15 June 1821 vol 5 cc1193-200

On the order of the day for going into a committee on this bill,

Sir J. Newport

said, that the abuses in the collection of the Irish revenue were of so extensive a nature, that they could only be reached by a parliamentary commission. It was a melancholy fact, that the receipts of the exchequer had diminished in the exact proportion as the burthens of the people had been increased. One of the effects of this excessive taxation was, to increase an evil under which Ireland had long laboured—he alluded to the absence of its gentry. He strongly recommended the adoption of the bill, in the full confidence that the commission would be composed of such persons as would give weight to their appointment, and appreciate the great responsibility of the trust reposed in them.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

entirely agreed in the importance of the measure, and in the necessity of appointing such individuals to fill the commission, as would discharge their duty with zeal, integrity, and fearless independence.

Mr. Calcraft

said, that much depended upon the selection of the persons appointed as commissioners. He feared that some new burthen must be imposed upon the country to provide salaries for these commissioners, but he trusted that no member of parliament, unless he already held an official situation, would be appointed. The influence of places and situations of emolument; in that House was already much too extensive, and they ought to be extremely cautious in creating new offices for members of their own body.

The House having resolved itself into a committee,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

proposed the clause for appointing the commission, and enacting that it should be executed by the following persons:—the right hon. T. Wallace, Mr. Frankland Lewis, colonel Herries, Mr. W. J. Lushington, and Mr. J. Berens. He did not mean to propose any specific remuneration at present to the commissioners, but merely to assign a sum for their expenditure. He thought it, however, right to state, that Mr. Wallace, and colonel Herries meant to decline any remuneration for their services on this occasion, as they, at present held situations of emolument under, the Crown.

Mr. Hume

was not aware why five, commissioners were necessary; but of this he was sure, that if the vice-president off the Board of Trade (Mr. Wallace), had any business to perform in his office here he could be ill spared for the duty of the commission in Ireland. Colonel Herries was in the same predicament: bow could, he be spared, while he held the office of auditor of the civil list? But he principally rose to object to the appointment, of any member to this commission, unless; he stood pledged not to receive any salary. He bad the highest opinion of the ability, and integrity of his hon. friend near him, (Mr. F. Lewis); but he must nevertheless say, that this office of commissioner, with a salary attached, to it, would be looked, upon as nothing less than a bribe, held out by government for the parliamentary support of the individual.

Mr. F. Lewis

begged permission to say that his humble efforts had ever been, and would still continue to be, at the; public service. He had never shrunk from giving them on every occasion, unostentatiously and disinterestedly to the public, whenever they were thought acceptable. Wherever and whenever he was thought to be of any use in promoting the public service, the country might always have his feeble efforts in any situation, and in any manner, in which they were thought worthy of acceptance; and he might add, that he should be always found just as willing as any hon. member who heard him, to render his services, such as they were, gratuitously. But, waving the, individual question for a moment, he would ask his hon. friends near him, whether they were prepared to advocate the, general principle of gratuitous service; for, unless they were, he could not suffer himself to be selected as an individual exception; and he here begged to be understood as speaking with reference to the general principle. Was it for a moment to be assumed and given out to the world, that, if a man faithfully discharged important duties, and received a fair, remuneration for his labours, his opinions must be considered as so warped by that recompense, that they ought to be looked upon as formed under an under an undue influence Rather than suffer his own, opinions to be so warped, he would be swallowed up by the ground on which he trod. It never could be his case—it never could be the case of any honest man fairly discharging a public duty. Reverting to his particular case as a member of this commission, he should discharge his duty faithfully, honestly, and fearlessly, whether it was to be gratuitous or not. If the imputation were generally true, that men's opinions were thus biassed by such recompense, he must entertain a lower opinion of mankind than he was at present disposed to do. If persons who received, an honest recompense for public services were to be regarded as thereby incapacitated from giving an honest Opinion upon public matters, then there was an end to what he considered as the just way of conducting the affairs of this or indeed of any other country. His observation was general, and applied to all times and circumstances. With respect to the office itself, he believed he should be credited when he said, that it could be no object of personal advantage to a man like him. Whoever undertook the office must necessarily resign his usual occupation and habits, for the purpose of attending to its duties. He would of course abandon his ordinary pursuits to perform his part of the inquiry; for without doing so, no good could be effected; and to do good was his only desire in undertaking so responsible a trust. It had been said, that a member of parliament ought not to be one of the commissioners; now, he must say (of course assuming for a moment that his own name was blotted out of the commission) that a member was exactly the person who ought to be in such a commission in order to discharge the duties of it efficiently. A parliamentary duty and a parliamentary explanation would probably follow the inquiry. How, then, could either be done so properly as by a member? It could not be expected that a person out of doors could impregnate one within so entirely with the nature of the business transacted by the commission, as to qualify him to give all the explanations and statements which the case fight eventually require. He repeated, that he was ready to serve whether he was paid or not: he would not say that it was a matter of perfect indifference to him; but he was as ready as any man to contribute disinterestedly his services to the commission.

Mr. Wallace

said, that he bad declined any emolument as a commissioner, on the sole ground that he held an office of emolument in another branch of the public service, and that this duty in Ireland might be made compatible with his other, either by the season of the year when his services might be wanted, or by having an official colleague here who was ready to undertake extra trouble in his absence. But nothing, he thought, could be more injurious, as a general principle, than the idea that the public was benefited by gratuitous services; for it would necessarily lead to the appointment of only those who could afford to give gratuitous labour, without reference to the fitness of the man for the situation, or the situation for the; man. He felt the weight and importance of the duty; but he should endeavour to discharge it faithfully, and unostentatiously.

Mr. Calcraft

said, that the right hon. gentleman had talked with solemnity of the duty he was about to undertake, and the obloquy which he might have to in-cur in the performance of that duty, as if he were about to enter an enemy's country, instead of undertaking, in fine weather, an agreeable sail in a steam packet, to the most hospitable country on the face of the earth. The right hon. member, however, disclaimed taking any merit to himself for not requiring an additional salary; that was so far well, for he had already a salary from the public as vice-president of the board of trade. This, office he always thought had some duties attached to it; but now it seemed there were no duties attached to it of any importance, as the performance of them did not make it necessary that the right hon. gentleman should be resident in this country. Now, as to his hon. friend (Mr. F. Lewis), he would say a few words. His hon. friend had stated, that the enjoyment of office should not have that effect upon him which it was well known practically to have on all others. He said, he would perform its duties in a fearless and independent manner; but could he do so, and hope to meet with the approbation of his friends opposite? There was an instance lately of the exertion of such independence, and the consequence of it, in a vote for the repeal of the Malt tax. If he could allow of any exception to the principle, it could not occur in an instance more favourable than that of the appointment of his hon. friend. He knew him, to be an able, industrious, and independent roan; but be had never seen him in office. After making a few observations upon the rest of the commissioners, the hon. gentleman said, he must take the sense of the House on the appointment of his hon. friend.

Mr. Robinson

said, he could appeal to many hon. members who knew that the vice-president of the board of trade had very extensive, important, and difficult duties to perform. Although it was true that by an arrangement between himself and his right hon. friend the duties of the office might be facilitated in his absence, by throwing more than the usual share of business on himself, who remained; yet it did not follow that those duties could ordinarily be performed by one person. With respect to the duties to be discharged under this bill, they were of a description which most materially affected the trade and commerce of this country. He would maintain that it was quite impossible for the trade and commerce of England and Ireland not to derive great advantage from the due exertion of the powers which the commissioners would be invested with. With respect to his hon. friend opposite (Mr. F. Lewis), he thought that the way in which he had expressed himself, showed incontestably that he was actuated by the most honourable feeling. The commissioners, he was satisfied, were about to undertake labours of no ordinary nature; and in performing those labours, in cleansing the Augean stable which it was their duty to put to rights, the only pleasure which his hon. friends could receive from the task, was in the consciousness of the advantages derivable from their exertions to the public.

Lord A. Hamilton

was of opinion that a member of that House ought not to be selected to fill an office of this kind. He should oppose the appointment of his hon. friend, solely on account of the principle which such an appointment tended to overturn. The question did not merely apply to them as members of that House; it was one which also concerned their constituents and 'the public in general, They had long acknowledged a wise principle in matters of this description; and that principle they ought to follow. To show the extreme sensibility with which appointments of this nature were viewed in that House, he need only refer to the example of his learned friend (Mr. Brougham), who offered, if he were constituted a commissioner under the educa- tion commission, to retire temporarily from parliament.

Mr. Brougham

rose for the purpose setting his noble friend right. His noble friend had stated truly, that he (Mr. B.) had offered to act as a commissioner under that commission; but he did so on the express condition of holding the situation without any salary. With respect to his having declared that he would, if he were appointed, retire from parliament, his noble friend was not equally correct. He did not state that he would leave parliament; what he said was, that should it be necessary for him to relinquish his seat in that House, in order to perform the duties of a commissioner, he wished, even in that case, to have the refusal of the situation. He did not say that he had made up his mind to retire from parliament. He would now state his reasons for being adverse to the appointment of his hon. friend. Certainly, no man could be better adapted for the office, from his habits, talents, and integrity, than his hon. friend. Looking, then, at the principle alone, he would say that this appointment went, not directly, but indirectly, to increase the influence of the Crown. It proceeded in a manner that went almost substantively to increase that influence. He admitted that his hon. friend could not be so influenced; but they were proceeding on a broad principle; and although his hon. friend would act as became an independent man, yet there were others who might be influenced under similar circumstances.

Mr. Grenfell

stated that heal ways object-to the extension of the influence or the Crown, but he did not think this a case which involved that principle; and argued, that as the situation was not, removeable at the pleasure of the Crown, but only to be terminated by the voice of the House, he felt it his duty to for the appointment.

Dr. Phillimore

contended, that, ever there was a case when parliament ought to appoint a commissioner from its own body, this was one. The practice was one handed down from bur ancestors, and as to the hon. member, he was preeminently qualified for the appointment.

Mr. Abercromby

said, he would vote against the appointment of his hon. friend, on the mere ground of principle unconnected with any personal consideration.

Mr. Creevey

said, that much time had been; Wasted in panegyrics on his hon. friend, but this was not the question; what he objected to was, that any more of the public money should go into the pockets of a new member, or one not hitherto connected with the administration. Enough of influence was already seemed by this means, quite enough for ministers, and too much for the interests of the country. He had counted, in the division on the repeal of the Agricultural Horse tax, 45 members who voted against that repeal, and who had the public money in their pockets. If the system now introduced happened to be successful, commissioners might be appointed to inquire into the state of the navy, or of any other public department, and ministers might select those commissioners from amongst the members of that House. He wished to put the House on its guard against, such a source of corruption. He was quite sure it would have been attempted long ago, if public opinion, supported by efforts made within the walls of parliament, had not prevented it. But not only was principle on the side of those who opposed this appointment, but law; for the statute of Anne said, that if an individual accepted of a new place, he must not sit in parliament. Now this was a new place, and both the principle and the law being contrary to the proposition, he felt it his duty to protest against either the one or the other being violated.

Mr. W. Smith

contended, that it was impossible but that the influence of the Crown must be increased, not only by the nomination to any place, but by the expectation, to which the knowledge that the power of making such a nomination existed, must necessarily give birth. On every account it was highly desirable to take care, that if the influence of the Crown in that House could not be diminished, at feast it should not be increased.

Sir J. Newport

said, that if the appointment were to a permanent office, or if the Crown could remove at pleasure, he should certainly object to the nomination of a member of that House; but as that was not the case, and as it appeared to him to be highly desirable that there should be in the bosom of the House individuals capable, from personal observation, of explaining the nature of the proceedings to which the commission would resort in their inquiries, he saw no objection to the appointment.

Mr. Maberly

was convinced that three commissioners would be quite sufficient.

Mr. Denman

contended, that commissions for the reform of abuses, would themselves become the greatest abuses, if ministers were allowed to appoint the commissioners. By a clause in the bill, any vacancies which might occur in the commission were to be filled up not by parliament, but by the Crown. Our ancestors had in vain opposed the influence of the Crown in that House, if such a proposition were acceded to.

Mr. Hutchinson

was quite aware of the importance of the measure, but objected to any increase of the influence of the Crown in that House.

Mr. Maberly moved, as an Amendment, to omit the words "right hon. Thomas Wallace," for the purpose of inserting "the three following gentlemen." A. division took place: For the Amendment, 23; Against it, 81. Another division took place on the name of Mr. Frankland Lewis: For the insertion of Mr. Lewis's name, 77; Against it, 31.

List of the Minority.
Abercromby, hon. J. Hamilton, lord A.
Bright, H. Hutchinson, hon. C.H.
Benyon, B. Lockhart, J. J.
Baillie, col. J. Monck, J. B.
Benett, J. Marjoribanks, S.
Brougham, H. Newman, T.
Baring, H. Parnell, sir H.
Bernal, R. Ricando, D.
Calcraft, J. Robertson, A.
Concannon, L. Scarlett, J.
Creevey, T. Smith, M.
Denman, T. Wood, ald.
Fitzroy, lord C. Wharton, J.
Fergusson, sir R. Wilson, sir R.
Grattan, J.
Hobhouse, J. C. TELLER.
Hume, J. Maberly, J.

The other clauses were agreed to. And the House resumed.