HC Deb 14 March 1823 vol 8 cc589-96

On the order of the day for going into a committee of supply,

Mr. Creevey

said, that understanding that when the Speaker left the chair, it was the intention of the hon. gentleman opposite to bring forward the ordnance estimates, he should take the opportunity of calling the attention of the House to a point very intimately connected with them. Gentlemen would have observed, that in those estimates there was an item of 24,412l. for the erection and repair of fortifications and other public works in Barbadoes. As it had repeatedly fallen to his lot to call the attention of the House to this subject, he should confine: himself on the present occasion to a repetition of the main facts and arguments which he had formerly advanced, and should leave it to the House to judge, whether it was right to ask the impoverished people of this country to grant a sum of money for this item, when a fund existed that was specifically applicable to it, and that could not be diverted from it, except by a breach of trust and a positive violation of the law. It was well known, that in 1663, the colonial legislature of Barbadoes passed an act, by which it was enacted, that for the purpose "of maintaining the reparation of the forts, the building of a sessions house and a prison, and all other public charges incumbent on the government there, an impost or custom upon all dead commodities of the growth of the said island, and to be shipped off the same, should be paid to his majesty, his heirs and successors for ever, after the following rate or manner—that is to say, four and a half in specie for every five score." Now, it clearly appeared from this enactment, that the duties raised in consequence of it, were applicable to the repair of forts and public works, and to no other object. The duties for some time were applied to the purposes for which they were granted; but, somehow or other it happened, that before the close of the reign of Charles 2nd, they began to be considered as a part of the small private revenues of the crown, and to be used for defraying the expenditure of the royal household. The error which was thus committed was, however, corrected early in the reign of queen Anne. When she came to the throne, a petition was presented to the House of Commons, from the planters of the island of Barbadoes, stating the original act of 1663, and the misapplication of the fund created by it, and praying, at the same time, for the restitution of it to the original purpose; and this petition being taken into consideration by the House of Commons, hey presented an address to her majesty, praying that these duties might be appropriated to the purposes for which they were originally intended; and in answer to that petition, her majesty informed the House, by a special message, that she would issue the necessary directions to carry the prayer of its petition into effect.—The hon. member then read the address of the House and her majesty's answer to it. By an act passed in the first year of queen Anne's reign, for the settlement of her revenue, these duties were excepted out of the act. Why, then, was the country to be called upon to provide for fortifications, for which there already existed a fund specifically applicable? These funds were now applied to the payment of certain pensions granted to ministers and their dependents in this country; and the first ground of defence which had been formely urged for them by the right hon. knight of the Bath (sir C. Long), who was himself a pretty large pensioner upon them, was, that when his late majesty came to the throne, and a new arrangement was made with him, by which 800,000l. a year was granted him to meet the expenses of the civil list, on his giving up to the nation his hereditary revenues, the act which ratified that arrangement, and contained a list of those revenues which his majesty gave up, did not contain any mention of this branch of them. Why, how could it contain any mention of it? The funds in question had been given up long before; and therefore it would have been absurd and useless to have said any thing about them in that act. The second ground on which the right hon. knight of the Bath had rested his defence of the present application of the fund to the payment of his own and. other pensions, was, that very great and illustrious characters, such as lord Chatham and Mr. Burke, had not disdained to receive them from the same quarter; and, therefore, that there was nothing wrong in his being one also. That mode of reasoning, if indeed it deserved the name of reasoning, had never been heard in any other place except in that House. What would the courts of law say to any man, who, being sued for wrongful holding of another man's estate, should attempt to defend himself by declaring, that he was not the only person who held an estate by such an illegal tenure—that there were great men, my lord A. and Mr. B. for instance, who had, each of them, possession of a larger property by the same kind of fraud; and that, as such was the case, there could be no harm in his refusing to give up the property which he had so acquired? The man who used such language in a court of law would not be listened to for a moment; and, if he was not treated us an idiot or madman, might think himself very well treated indeed. He should ever, contend, that unless better argument was employed, than any which he had yet heard from the advocates of this pension fund, the fund ought not to be used for the purposes to which it was now applied. The House had not long since, in its pure, love of justice and morality, as it would appear, passed an act of parliament, creating a commission, with no other object than to inquire into such breaches of trust us had been made in the various private charitable endowments and institutions in this country. Why, was there ever such a barefaced exhibition of cant and hypocrisy as this? To be gratuitously, hunting after breaches of trust, by persons who might be bonâ fide ignorant of the conditions annexed to their estates by the original founders, and yet wilfully far shut our eyes to this open breach of a trust, created specifically and public by law, and when the breach or diversion Of; the funds was made expressly in favour of our own members. After reading the preamble in question, the hon. member proceeded to observe, that the application of the 4½ per cent duties, from the repair of the fortifications in Barbadoes, the only object which was contemplated by the grantees of them, to the payments of pensions in England (an object of which they had never so much as dreamed), was as gross a breach of trust as any that he ever recollected to have heard or read of; and that the House was bound to remedy it immediately, if it did not wish to be deemed guilty of a mere affectation of morality; for in this case they had a positive law, as clear and distinct as law could be, specifically applying the monies which it gave authority to levy, to certain fixed and definite purposes. To those purposes they had now for many years ceased to be applied; and yet, though they had been called upon repeatedly to put a stop to the shameful practice by which they were misapplied, they had shown no desire to amend the breach of trust which he had so often reprobated before them. They were bound to amend it, not less by the regard which they ought to feel for their character as a body, than by that which they ought to feel for their honour as individuals. The case was of the most clear and irresistible nature; and sure he was, that it could not fail in any other place than in the House of Commons; and that it could only fail there, because its members were not the real representatives of the sentiments of the country. After reminding the House of lord Clarendon's declaration, that the people's affections did not begin to be alienated from Charles 1st until they saw the judges acting corruptly in questions of property, so he said in this case, as long as the house should continue in its course of diverting the fund from its public purpose to their own individual advantage, so long would the affections of the people be more and more alienated from that assembly, and more deeply impressed would they become, that it had no pretension to be considered as the real repesentatives of the people. The hon. member concluded with moving, "That it appears to this House, from the estimates laid before it, for the service of the Ordnance, for the present year, there is a sum of 24,412l. for erecting and repairing fortifications in the Island of Barbadoes.

"That by an act of the colonial assembly of Barbadoes, which was passed in the year 1663, it was enacted, that, for the purpose of 'maintaining the reparation of the forts, the building of a sessions house and a prison, and all other public charges incumbent upon the government there, an impost or custom upon all dead commodities, of the growth of the said island, and to be shipped off the same, should be paid to his majesty, his heirs and successors for ever, after the following rate or manner, that is to say, four and a half in specie, for every five score.'

"That it further appears, from the Journals of this House, that in the first year of the reign of her majesty queen Anne, a petition was presented to it from the planters and merchants concerned in the island of Barbadoes, setting forth the colonial act of barbadoes before referred to, and praying 'That the said duty of four and a half per centum might be applied to the reparation and building of fortifications, and defraying all charges incident to the government there, as the same was originally intended, instead of being diverted to other purposes, as the same then was:' and that, in consequence of such petition, this House did address her majesty queen Anne, praying that this duty might be restored to the purposes for which it was created by the colonial act of Barbadoes; and that this House was informed, by a message from her majesty, that she would give such directions accordingly.

"That, notwithstanding such specific application of this fund, by the colonial act of Barbadoes, to the building and repairing of fortifications in that island, and notwithstanding the recognition of that law by this House, and by her majesty queen Anne, this fund is now for the most part consumed by pensioners in this country, including even members of this House, or their families; whilst the fortifications and other public works of Barbadoes are left to be maintained by money raised from taxes on the people; and that, under all the circumstances above stated, and adverting likewise to the afflicting condition of a great portion of these kingdoms, this House considers it to be alike due to its own character and to the feelings of the people, humbly to request his majesty to give directions, that this fund of four and a half per centum, in the island of Barbadoes, may be again restored to the original purposes for which it was created."

Mr. Ward

said, it was an error to suppose, that the sum mentioned in the ordnance estimates, was for the erecting and repairing of any buildings to which the act of the colonial assembly could be applied. Not one penny of the ordnance grant in question went to defray the expense of buildings provided for by the act of the colonial assembly. The buildings mentioned in this act were a council-house, a chamber, a session-house, and a prison. But the sum in the ordnance estimate was required for repairing the ordnance wharf, for building storehouses, and other similar purposes, never contemplated at the time of passing the act of the colonial assembly. Various expenses were incurred by government at Barbadoes, in consequence of making it, the head quarters; distinct from any expenses the colonial assembly had contemplated; and to cover these, the grant in question was to be applied.

. Mr. Hume

said, that the act of 1663 was a kind of commutation, to enable the king to maintain the public works before kept up by the inhabitants. No time could be more proper, than the present for bringing this subject under the notice of the House. If the people were to be continually burthened by new charges, when the expenses were already provided for by the colonies, there was no extravagance to which the House might not go. It would be better for England to be destitute of colonies, than to be subjected to the enormous expense entailed on us by them. They were a mere drain on the country.

Sir Charles Long

said, that the act of the colonial assembly did not contemplate the present expense. The object of that act was merely the defence of the island. Since then a naval arsenal had been established; the expense incurred by which, could not be provided for out of the 4½ per cent fund. The 4½ per cent duty was given to the king for confirming titles to estates, and in consequence of his relinquishing another duty, without annexing any conditions to giving it up. In the same year, the islands of Nevis, Montserrat, and St. Christopher made similar grants to the king, without any condition whatever. In the reign of king William, lord Somers had consented that the duty in question should form part of the civil list. What queen Anne had done, on the petition of the inhabitants of Barbadoes, was all matter of grace. For a century, the proceeds had been applied as at present, and accounts laid annually before the House. Mr. Burke, when he regulated the civil list, had expressly taken this fund into his consideration. It was misleading the House to say that the money was appropriated by stealth, and that the public knew nothing of the mode in which it was expended.

Mr. Bernal

said, it was absurd to contend, that the fund had not been diverted from its original purpose. He denied that the 4½ per cent was granted for any purpose but to defray the public charges of the island. The fund had been extorted from the inhabitants of Barbadoes; and, though continued for a century, it was still nothing but extortion. It was not possible to read the act, and say that 24,000l. would not be saved to the people, if the duty were properly applied.

Mr. Wilmot

said, that the argument of the hon. gentleman proved too much. If it were true, that the 4½ per cent duties had been extorted, they ought to be restored unconditionally; but still it would be necessary, that the House should vote the 24,412l. for the maintenance of the public works. The precedent for the present application of the fund was of a hundred years standing, and was not to be overturned because gentlemen talked of reform, and the danger of driving people to distraction by excessive taxation. Would the hon. gentleman say, that in 1660, the present circumstances of Barbadoes could have been foreseen? Was it then known that its geographical situation would make it the head quarters of all the forces stationed in those islands? The gentlemen opposite contended, that every island ought to support itself. Would they assert, that Barbadoes ought to pay expenses incurred for the general benefit? The sum stated in the estimate was to cover expenses not provided for by the act of the colonial assembly.

The House divided: For Mr. Creevey's Motion, 56; Against it, 80. Majority, 24.

List of the Minority.
Abercromby, hon. J. Denison, W. J.
Althorp, visc. Ellice, E.
Benyon, B. Farquharson, A.
Bennet, hon. G. Fergusson, sir R.
Birch, J. Guise, sir B. W.
Blake, sir F. Gaskell, B.
Browne, Dom. Hume, J.
Calcraft, J. Hurst, R.
Campbell, W. F. Hobhouse, J. C.
De Crespigny, sir W. Hamilton, lord A.
Jervoise, G. P. Ricardo, D.
James, W. Ridley, sir M. W.
Knight, R. Rice, T. S.
Lewis, W. Smith, G.
Leycester, R. Sykes, D.
Lambton, J. G. Scott, James
Lamb, hon. G. Titchfield, marq.
Lennard, T. B. Tierney, rt. hon. Geo.
Marjoribanks, S. Wood, alderman
Normanby, visc. Warre, James A.
Newport, rt. hon sir J. Wharton, John
Ord, Wm. Wyvill, M.
Philips, G. Webbe, E.
Philips, G. jun. Williams, W.
Price, R. Wilson, sir R.
Poyntz, hon. Wm. S.
Pares, Thos. Creevey, T.
Robinson, sir G. Bernal, R