HC Deb 12 February 1823 vol 8 cc110-7

On the order of the day for going into a Committee of Supply,

Mr. Hume

said, he had been pleased, and indeed every man in the House must have been pleased, with the promises held out in the Speech from the throne, as to economy and lightening the burthens of the people. But, however unpleasant it was to doubt the words of the throne, when those words were formally addressed to the House of Commons, he felt himself under the necessity of taking that disagreeable course. He had taken the trouble to select from royal speeches, one or two instances to show how little the declarations of ministers in such speeches were to be relied on. In 1817, after a speech from the throne abounding in promises of reduction in expenditure, the estimates for the year had been 13,000,00l., and the actual disbursements 14,000,000l., giving an expenditure over the estimate of 1,000,000l. In 1819, after promises of reduction in our naval and military establishments, the estimate was 14,300,000l., and the disbursement 15,155,000l. Again, in 1821, the estimate was 14,300,000l., and the expenditure upwards of 15,000,000l. In spite, therefore, of all the protestations of economy, the expenditure of 1821 was more than 200,000l. greater than that of 1817. It was the duty, then, of the House to look, not to the sweet and honied words of ministers, but at the result of their measures. And this brought him to the Speech from the throne in the present session, upon which he was anxious to make one or two observations. The Speech declared, that the estimates of the year had been framed with every attention to economy. This was the self-same phrase which had gone through all the speeches for the last twenty years; and the House, from the experience of former sessions, would judge what value was to be attached to it. The hon. gentleman then proceeded with calculations intended to show, that the expenditure of the year ending Jan. 1822, exceeded that of the year 1817. But from general statement, he would come to particular instances. Let the House look at the recent appointment of lord George Beresford to the post of lieutenant-general of the Ordnance. Hon. members would recollect, that the charge of that department had increased from 400,000l. to 1,200,000l. a year; that the expense of the office in the Tower had risen from 16,000l. a year to 48,000l.: and that the pay of the lieut.-general of the Ordnance, instead of 1,100l. a year, was now 1,950l. How often had ministers declared their intention to bring down salaries as near as possible to the level of 1792! He had forbore to press the reduction of the lieut.-general of the Ordnance's salary last session, because it might have seemed severe upon tae then incumbent, sir Hildebrand Oakes. But who could ever have contemplated the giving the existing salary to any subsequently-appointed officer? If the House would look back to the 13th report of the commissioners of military inquiry in 1811, they would find that the office of lieutenant-general of the Ordnance was deemed unnecessary, provided the attention of the master-general of the Ordnance was duly given to his charge. There had certainly been a difference of opinion upon this point. Lord Moira had considered the office of lieutenant-general superfluous; lord Chatham had held it to be useful; the commissioners, on deliberation, had agreed with lord Moira. But, with that report upon the table of the House, and with the positive declaration of the commissioners that they considered time office unnecessary, upon what ground could ministers justify the filling it up in time of peace? He wished to guard himself against being supposed to cast any imputation upon the noble lord who now filled the office in question. He understood, indeed, that the noble lord had known nothing of the arrangement until the situation was pressed upon him. He believed the noble lord's merits as an officer were unrivalled; but allowing them to be so, they had not been forgotten by the country. He must just name one or two facts to guard himself aganist being told that this situation was given to the noble lord as a reward for his signal services. He rejoiced to see the noble lord enjoying all the honours and emoluments which he had received from the Portuguese government, and from that of his own country. The noble lord, on being raised to the peerage, had obtained a pension of 2,000l. a year. He did not grudge that pension. He thought it right, that when the noble lord received his title, he should also receive something to enable hint to support it. But, besides this pension, the noble lord was governor of Jersey, an appointment which produced him 1,422l. a year; he was a lieut.-general in the army, and a colonel of a regiment, situations which gave him at least 1,000l. a year more; and, in addition to these, by the Gazette of three nights back, it appeared that he had taken a new appointment (the situation declared a useless one) of 1,950l. a year. Notwithstanding the services of lord Beresford, he could not help believing that he was indebted for his appointment to this office, to the enormous influence possessed by his family. The time would shortly arrive, when he should show to the House the thousands and the tens of thousands of the public money, which was received by that family, and particularly from the revenues of the church in Ireland. There was exercised by them somewhere and somehow, an influence which he had no hesitation in saying ought to be diminished. For the present, he believed, he had shown enough to convince the House that ministers were bound to explain why, in contradiction of the recommendation of the committee of military inquiry for the abolition of the office of lieutenant-general of the Ordnance, they had thought fit to continue it. He should, therefore, submit the following motion, by way of amendment: "That, as the Commissioners of Military Inquiry have reported in their 13th Report in 1811, that in their belief, from the information given to them, the appointment of Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance was not essential to the constitution of that department, this House are of opinion, that the recent appointment of lord Beresford to that office is inconsistent with the professions of economy from the throne, and therefore request the fullest explanation as to the necessity of that appointment in time of peace, before they can grant any supply to his majesty."

Mr. Canning

said, he would submit to the House, and to the hon. gentleman himself, whether the question was in such a shape at that moment as would justify his pressing it. He did not mean to say that it was not competent to the hon. gentleman to pursue the course he was now adopting; but it surely could not be advisable to resort to the extreme remedy of stopping the supplies, until he obtained an answer to his question, without having given previous notice of his intention to submit it to the consideration of the House. To say that it was unusual, he knew was only to urge an argument which the hon. gentleman was at liberty to reject or to admit. But the House would say, whether it would depart on this occasion from its established usage, and in the present stage of the business reprobate an appointment, which the hon. gentleman admitted was without the gravamen commonly attributed to appointments made from improper motives. The hon. gentleman had thought fit to ascribe lord Beresford's appointment to the parliamentary influence of his family. He would appeal to any man of candour, whether the rank and services of that gallant officer were not more probable reasons for his having been selected to fill an office, for which they had so eminently qualified him. It would be recollected with whom the nomination lay. It could not fail to occur to gentlemen, that the ties of mutual esteem, of long acquaintance, of long service together, of companionship in arms and in glory, must have had no small effect with the duke of Wellington. Considering these things, no candid mind would hesitate to admit, that other motives had operated upon the noble duke, than those suggested by the hon. gentleman; and that, whatever weight the parliamentary influence of lord Beresford's family might have had, if the appointment had been with ministers, those considerations could not apply to the duke of Wellington. But he would do more than offer reasoning on the subject: he would state two facts; first, that it had been offered to lord Hopetown, to whom the same objection did not apply; and 2ndly, it had been offered to lord Hill. So that lord Beresford, whose parliamentary influence the hon. gentleman would have it believed could command this office, came the third upon the list; and the same motives of fellowship and fitness for service, which had placed it within the choice of others, gave it at length to him. The selection of the two first persons must have been prompted by common motives; and yet the hon. gentleman would have it thought that the choice of a third arose from grounds not applicable to the other two. He was neither prepared nor inclined to enter upon the question of the necessity of the office. It had, however, the presumption in its favour which was derived from long practice. He did not know what case the hon. gentleman meant to submit to the House; but surely it could not be denied that previous notice was necessary. If the subject was to be discussed, it was fit that those persons should be prepared for it, whose duty it was to defend the appointment, if it was capable of defence. He took no shame to himself for being ignorant of the details of that department. It was enough for him at present to direct the attention of the House to these points—that there had been no previous discontinuance—that the appointment had been filled up in the usual course—that it had been given to a fit man, and bestowed by an authority which could be the least sus- pected of those corrupt motives which were supposed by the hon. gentleman to pervade every branch of the administration.

Mr. Brougham

felt himself obliged to oppose his hon. friend's motion. He did so with regret; but the question was one which it behoved the House to deliberate upon seriously; and as this could not be done without the assistance of the members of that department to whom it belonged to defend the appointment, he wished it should be postponed to a period when their presence could be ensured. It was far too important to be taken up by the House thus incidentally; and if any thing could tend to confirm him in the opinion, that it should be postponed to a more favourable opportunity, it was the line of defence adopted by the right hon. secretary. He had given very satisfactory reasons why lord Beresford had been chosen; but he had not given the shadow of a reason why the offer of the appointment had been made to any one. The question did not, and could not, apply personally to lord Beresford. No man could be more ready than he was to admit the services of that meritorious officer. Nothing could be more natural than that the duke of Wellington should offer this appointment to him, as well as to two others of his gallant companions in arms; but still the information was wanting, why the office was in existence to be offered to the one or the other. When the vacancy occasioned by the death of general Oakes offered an opportunity of putting an end to it, there could be no doubt that the country had a right to be informed, why that opportunity was not immediately seized upon. There was another objection, besides that of stopping the supplies, which occurred to him, against the further discussion of this subject at the present moment. It was not consistent with parliamentary usage. When information was required, it was obtained, either by an order that it should be laid before the House, when it was within the power of the House, or by an address to the throne; but it had never been the practice to ask for information, without stating by whom it ought to be granted. He should be glad if his hon. friend would postpone his motion for the present, giving, at the same time, notice of his intention to bring it before the House at an early opportunity.

Mr. Hume

said, that the House was in no way taken by surprise. Any gen- tleman who remembered what he had said, in 1821 and 1822, on this subject, must know that the vacancy was regarded as one never to be filled up. The information he asked might be furnished on Friday. The delay in granting the supplies would be only eight and forty hours. If the gentlemen on his side of the House intended to give up the subject in the way proposed, they might as well walk away from the House, and leave ministers to dispose as they would of the public money.

Sir R. Fergusson

expressed his esteem for lord Beresford's character, and his sense of his public services; but he felt that, on this occasion, private friendship ought to give way. He would therefore support the motion.

Mr. G. Bennet

supported the motion. He thought his hon. friend, was perfectly right in availing himself of every constitutional opportunity of pursuing his useful career. He wished the question to be fairly put, that it might be seen whether the House would support it or not.

Mr. Hutchinson,

in rising to support the motion, would neither be understood to undervalue the merit of lord Beresford, nor to withhold from the government those supplies, which, at the present momentous crisis, were necessary for the dignity of the country. The motion was merely one for information; and he would not have it go abroad, that, at such a juncture, the House had neglected to support an inquiry, the object of which was to lessen the public burdens.

Mr. Abercromby

had always been taught to consider, that it was one of their most valuable privileges to be able to stop the supplies. He therefore thought they ought not to call it into action, but upon the most important occasions. His hon. friend's motion stood upon strong grounds. He would suggest to him the propriety of disconnecting it from the question of supply, and of letting it stand upon its intrinsic merits.

Sir F. Burdett

said:—I fully agree with what has fallen from my hon. friend who has just sat down. I think it quite clear that no beneficial results can arise, from a perseverance in the proposed amendment. I am prepared to support every proposition which has for its object an expedient reduction of the public expenditure; and I give to the hon. member for Aberdeen all the merit to which his resolute and unceasing attention to the public interest so justly entitle him. But, under the circumstances in which this country is placed with regard to foreign relations, I cannot accede to the amendment. What, Sir, shall I, with one voice, call upon the government to support the honour, and interest, and dignity of the realm, and with another, and at the interval of a few days, turn round upon that government and say—"I have called upon you to vindicate the national honour and dignity; but I at the same time withheld from you the means of supporting that honour or upholding that dignity. Sir, I cannot do this—I know it is the privilege of this House to stop the supply; but it is a privilege not to be used on ordinary occasions. The grievance which would call for such extraordinary interposition, must be not only acknowledged, but monstrous; and a sound discretion would not call for such a strong measure except under circumstances where any other redress was unavailable. I think that the hon. member for Aberdeen will best consult the success of the object he has in view, and the inclination of those who are usually inclined to support him, by not pressing a motion, from which no good can arise.

Mr. Hume

consented to withdraw his amendment. After which, the House went into the committee.