HC Deb 19 June 1823 vol 9 cc1106-11
Mr. Hume

now rose to submit his motion on this subject. His objection, he observed, was not so much to the amount of the money expended, as to the principle of its application. A part of it, the House was aware, was paid out of the money given by France as indemnity to this country. The whole sum amongst the several allied powers was 750,000,000 of francs, of which 125,000,000 were paid as our portion. In 1816, the House were told that details would be given of the application of the sums received by this country. The House, however, did not hear of it till 1821, when the late Chanceller of the Exchequer stated, that there were 500,000l. of it applicable to the service of the year That right hon. gentleman added, that he could not then state the amount of the remainder, but that whatever it might be, it would be made applicable in the same manner, and an account given of it in the next year, of which it would form part of the ways and means. The House, however, had got not further particulars of it since then. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer had distinctly stated, that the whole surplus would be applied to the service of the year; and what he (Mr. H.) complained of was, that instead of having this account given, 138,000l, of the sum had been applied without the knowledge and consent of parliament. This he complained of as a breach of faith with the House and the country, that the money should have been applied in this unwarrantable and unconstitutional manner; and it was the duty of the House to inquire into the case, which could not be better done than by the appointment of a committee. He had also to complain of the great excess of the expense of the coronation beyond the estimate. What was the use of an estimate, if it did not approximate, in some degree, to the sum to be expended? They were first told that 100,000l. would very probably cover the whole expense, and a sum to that amount was voted by the House; but they now found, that instead of 100,000l., the sum expended was not less than 238,000l. It was said, that the expense had been considerably increased by the delay of the coronation from 1820 to 1821. That might be; but why, in that case, was not a new estimate laid before the House in 1821? He had asked, in 1820, whether it was considered that the 100,000l. would be sufficient, and he was answered, that it would. Now this was unfair; for he was satisfied, that if the whole sum was mentioned to the House at first, it would have required greater persuasion than had been used to induce them to consent to it. Next, as to the application of this immense sum. He would wish to know something on the subject, and he thought the House had a right to expect it—not merely as a matter of curiosity, though that might not be out of the case, but as a matter in which they were interested as guardians of the public purse. He should wish to know, how it happened that such an expense should be incurred for robes. He should like to be informed why that bauble—the crown worn at the coronation—was kept so long at such a considerable expense to the country. He did not know whether it might not have been returned a month or two ago, but he did say, it was an unnecessary expense to have kept it so long at an increased expense. The whole of the jewels of which it was composed was about 70,000l., and the retention of it had entailed an expense of 6,000l. or 7,000l. a year on the country. Why was there so much concealment on a subject which ought to have been open to the investigation of parliament? It was not creditable to ministers to use this concealment. If the expenditure had been just and unavoidable, a committee would not be objected to. The committee could investigate the whole subject in eight and forty hours. There could therefore be no objection to the appointment of it on the score of time. The hon. member concluded by moving, "That a select committee be appointed to inquire into the circumstances which occasioned, in the expenses of his majesty's coronation, an excess of expenditure of 138,238l. more than the estimate of 1820, and into the several items constituting that expen- diture; and also, to inquire by: what authority the sum of 138,288l. has been applied to discharge that excess without, the previous sanction of this House."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he would not rest his objection to the committee, on any wish to conceal from the House the manner in which the sum expended on the coronation had been applied. There was no wish of that kind on the part of government: indeed, it was not imputed that any misapplication had taken place, though an imputation had been cast of a desire for concealment. With respect to the first estimate being so much less than the sum subsequently expended, he would say, that many of the services at the coronation performed by the household were abolished by Mr. Burke's bill, and no traces were left as to what the expenses of particular departments would be likely to create. They were left almost to guess in many instances; so that there could be no certainly as to the whole sum: and when in 1820, it was fixed at 100,000l., it was thought that that sum would be sufficient. It should, however, be recollected, that the expense of every department was greater at the present time, than it had been sixty years ago. With respect to the crown and robes, there had been a charge which could not at first have been contemplated. The value set on the jewels of the crown was 6.5,000l., for which 10 per cent was paid. There were, besides, other parts of the regalia for which jewels had been hired; for instances, stance, the circlet which was always worn by the sovereign on such occasions. The one formerly in use was so much out of repair, that it was necessary to hare several additional jewels added. This occasioned a considerable expense. At the coronation of George III., the jewels hired were valued at 370,000l. and though the percentage at which they were hired was much less than on the present occasion, yet the expense of them for one day was 15,000l. The delay of the coronation from 1820 to 1821 had also considerably enhanced the expense. The crown was made in 1820, in the expectation that it would have been used in that year: and the jeweller was entitled to his percentage for that year as well as for the next. This made the expense on that item double the amount anticipated After the coronation it was thought that the crown might be purchased to add to the royal regalia, to prevent the necessity of hiring jewels on future occasions. But government, knowing that the expense of purchasing the crown would amount to 6.5,000l., felt that they should not be justified in purchasing it, until they knew what the whole expenses of the coronation would amount to; for if they should be greater than the calculated amount, as actually was the case, they were not willing to increase them by the purchase in question. It was only right for him to state that his majesty was strongly inclined to sacrifice a large portion of that part of of the civil list which was more immediately under his own control, for the purpose of purchasing a permanent crown, and placing it among the regalia of the kingdom. But as his majesty, with that consideration which marked every action of his life, had last year determined to give up to the wants of his people 30,000l. from that part of his income out of which he intended to purchase this crown, it was impossible for him to conclude the purchase, until it was previously known how far it was possible to bring the expenses of his household under the still more limited scale which it would be then necessary to adopt. It was necessary that some months should elapse before that problem could be solved; and it was not till the commencement of the present year, that it was ascertained that the royal establishment could not be conducted upon so limited an expenditure as his majesty wished. As soon as that point was ascertained, the crown was sent back; but still the expense of detaining it was incurred. If it had been found expedient to purchase this crown, and it had been detained so long in hopes that it would so be found, its price would not have been enhanced by the detention, for the jeweller was not to have more than 65,000l. for it. If, in the interim, it had been sent back to him, and he had kept it in the same condition as it was at the coronation, it was only natural to suppose that he would, in all probability have asked a larger sum for it, seeing that he could not make any use of or profit by the jewels which were set in it. It was sent back to him, however, as soon as it was discovered that the expense of purchasing it was too great to be defrayed out of his majesty's personal revenues. The other item on which the hon. member called for explanation was the robes. That item was certainly a great one. It amounted to 24,000l.; but he could assure the House that there was nothing with regard to those robes that was inconsistent with the usage of former coronations. The ceremony required that there should be two dresses of a peculiar construction; and the dresses used upon the last were in every respect similar to those used upon former occasions. He could not pretend to say whether there was or was not more fur on the last robes than on any other; neither could he pretend to decide, whether the gold lace was or was not a quarter of an inch broader than it had ever been before. He had no means of making a comparison upon such a point; and therefore he thought that the House would be little benefitted by entering into the proposed inquiry. A great part of the expense of those robes, arose from the high price of ermine; but it also arose from another cause, to which he thought it necessary to allude; because, though the articles in question were properly included in these expenses they still remained in use. It was usual to purchase a new set of robes for every new sovereign to appear in on the solemn occasions of his meeting and proroguing his parliament; and those robes had generally borne some reference to those which the sovereign had worn upon his coronation. It was true that his late majesty had not ordered hew robes for that purpose; but that very circumstance had rendered it necessary for his present majesty to purchase them. The robes which his majesty had worn before his coronation were nearly a century old. They were patched and stitched together in several places; and indeed were so rotten, that if any person had trod upon them, they would have fallen immediately from his majesty's shoulders. It would not, therefore, surprise the House to hear that his majesty had ordered new parliamentary robes. The expense of them was included in the item of 24,000l., which had been rendered so high by the great rise of price in several of the articles which it covered. Having adverted to the two great points on which the hon. member had dilated, be would now touch upon the breach of faith with which he had charged his noble predecessor in office. His noble predecessor had certainly stated, that the amount of the expenses of the coronation would not exceed 100,000l.; but when the nature of the ceremony, the rarity of its occurrence, and the circumstance of there being nothing to guide his noble friend in the calculation of its expenses, were taken into consideration, no person could be surprised that the actual expenses surpassed the estimate. He would also say a few words upon the application of the French indemnity fund towards defraying these expenses—an application by which the hon. member appeared to think that ministers had been guilty of a great unconstitutional impropriety, though they bad not been guilty of any actual breach of the law. He would admit, that in 1816, when the hon. member for Knares-borough made a motion for the House to dispose of this fund by its vote, without the king's direction, his noble predecessor had disclaimed the right of the king to them as a droit of the Crown. But, his noble predecessor had at the same time contended, that this money, being derivable to the Crown by a treaty with a foreign power, though not a droit of the Crown, was a fund applicable by the Crowd to the public service, without the intervention of parliament. Parliament had since, by its conduct, given its sanction to that declaration of his noble friend. The money had not been applied to any individual, but to a public service. That service had been, perhaps, more expensive than suited the notions of the hon. member for Aberdeen; but, if they were to have a monarchical government, then there were certain expenses connected with the administration of that government which they could not avoid. Being convinced that no case for inquiry had been made out, he should meet the motion with a direct negative.

The House divided: Ayes, 77; Noes, 127.

List of the Minority.
Abercromby, hon. J. Farrend, R.
Bankes, H. Fergusson, sir R. C.
Barratt, S. M. Foley, T. H.
Belgrave, vis. Grant, J. P.
Benett, John Grattan, J.
Benyon, B. Griffiths, T. W.
Bernal, R. Gordon, R.
Birch, J. Heathcote, G. T.
Bright, H. Hobhouse, J. C.
Brougham, H. Honywood, W. P.
Carter, J. James, W.
Clifton, vis. Jervoise, G. P.
Coke, F. W. King, sir J. D.
Colburne, N. R. Kennedy, T. F.
Creevey, T. Knight, R.
Denman, T. Lambton, T. G.
Duncannon, vis. Lennard, F. B.
Ellis, hon. G. A. Leycester, R.
Leader, W. Russell, lord G. W.
Maberly, J. Searleft, J.
Maberly, W. L. Scott, J.
Martin, J. Smith, J.
Maxwell, J. Smith, hon. R.
Milbank, M. Smith, W.
Monck, J. B. Stewart, W. (Tyrone)
Musgrave, sir P. 'Taylor, M. A.
Normanby, vis. Tierney, right hon. G.
Nugent, lord Titchfield, marquis of
Noel, sir G. Townshend, lord C.
O'Callaghan, J. Webbe, E.
Ord, W. Western, C. C.
Palmer, C. F. Whilbread, S. C.
Pares, T. Whitbread, W. H.
Powlett, hon. W. Williams, J.
Pryse, P. Williams, sir R.
Ricardo, D. Williams, T. P.
Robarts, G. J. Wood, M.
Robinson, sir G. TELLERS.
Rowley, sir W. Hume, J.
Russell, lord J. Bennet, H. G.