HC Deb 25 March 1823 vol 8 cc692-5
Mr. Lennard

rose to bring forward his motion relative to the Foreign Embassies. Similar information to that which he now meant to move for had been before laid on the table of the House. His intention was to ground a motion upon it for further reduction in the third class of the civil list. If a report which was in circulation was true, the mission to the Swiss Cantons was about to be reduced. This proved the benefit of public discussion. That gross job would never have been abolished but for the notice taken of it in that House. The sum voted for this branch of expenditure was greater than all the secret service money. He would, therefore, move, "That there be laid before this House, a Return of any decrease of expense, since the 2nd of May, 1822, that has taken place in the Third Class of the Civil List; and stating whether such decrease, if any, has been occasioned by a diminution in the number of persons employed on Embassies, or by an alteration of the rank of persons so employed, or otherwise."

Mr. Secretary Canning

trusted, that the grounds on which he should oppose the motion would appear satisfactory to the House. The hon. member was aware, that any saving which might be made in this branch of expenditure was by law directed to be carried to the account of the consolidated fund. It necessarily followed, that the amount of that saving appeared, in due course, in the papers laid before parliament. He fully admitted the right of the House to watch over the expenditure of the crown; but he thought it would not be a wise exercise of that right to call upon the crown to state every specific appointment, and in fact the grounds of every alteration, in the arrangements of this, department. This, indeed, would be put the House in the place of the executive. He was ready to admit, that certain changes were meditated, with respect to our foreign missions, and that this change would include the mission to the Swiss Cantons, and occasion a reduction of not less than one-half, in point of expense. His objection to the motion, however, was simply because it was not the usage of parliament to interfere with these details. If mismanagement or corruption were imputed, it might undoubtedly be proper to call for information; but where neither of these was imputed, he thought there could he no reason for the interference of parliament. But, even if either of these was imputed, he did not say that he should consent to such a motion, unless a case were laid before the House fairly calling for information. In the present instance, his objection appeared with a better grace; because, by the hon. gentleman's own statement, the conduct of government had been, not only blameless, but, as far as it went, meritorious.

Lord John Russell

supported the motion, and contended that the House would act inconsistently in not agreeing to it, as it had agreed to the motion of last year, which had called for the return already before the House. He was glad to hear that the embassy to Switzerland was to be reduced. When that subject was discussed last year, the minority were few in number; but the projected reduction proved, that a minority were sometimes in the right.

Mr. Hume

trusted the right hon. secretary would not press his opposition to this motion. His predecessor in office had not refused a similar return. If the right hon. gentleman really wished for a fair discussion of the motion to be hereafter made by his hon. friend, he would not refuse the required information. Without it, his hon. friend, in arguing upon the expense of any particular embassy, might he met by a statement, that that embassy had been reduced, since the papers now before the House had been presented. If he persisted in refusing the information, the House would know what it had to expect from the candor of the right hon. gentleman in future.

Mr. Huskisson

objected to the motion. A report would hereafter he laid on the table of the House, which would enable them to judge of the reductions and of the savings which had been made. By law, these savings were all carried to the consolidated fund. It had been a principle laid down by Mr. Fox, that the House should not interfere with the expenditure of the civil list. Before interference could be justified, there must be some good reason for complaint. In this particular case, no such complaint had been made. Unless a case of misapplication had been made out, parliament never had been accustomed to interfere. The very ground on which the hon. member called for this information was the ground on which the House ought to refuse it. Was there any other branch of the civil list with which the House was called on to interfere? Gentlemen confounded two things which were quite distinct—the amount of the expense of the third class of the civil list, and the amount of contingent expenditure; the latter being granted yearly by the House. With the expenses of the civil list, it was not the custom of the House to interfere; but of the disposal of this latter sum it was properly jealous. Gentlemen, who complained so much of this expenditure, would find that the sum granted for the French embassies far exceeded the sum granted for ours. It was between seven and eight million livres.

Sir F. Burdett

said, that as prophets had no honour in their own country, so great men were rarely quoted till after they were dead, and then they had generally the misfortune to be misquoted. He could not say exactly what Mr. Fox had stated, but he was quite sure he never could have laid down the principle attributed to him by the right hon. gentleman. What Mr. Fox had said was probably this—that it never had been customary for parliament to interfere with the private expenses of the royal family. The present question had no other object but to procure certain information respecting one branch of our enormous expenditure. On this subject, there seemed to be something like sympathy between our government and that of France, to which our ministers always appealed when they were endeavouring to justify their own extravagance. But what must be thought when, after all this enormous expenditure, this country seemed deprived of all influence abroad? Was it not time to call on parliament to examine how these sums were employed? This was a part, of the civil list over which the House ought to keep a most watchful eye. It was the duty of that House, and particularly at the present moment, when the character of the country had been so de- graded by his majesty's ministers, to look closely into every department in which a saving might be made. Whenever parliament was called upon to enforce economy in the expenditure of the public money, they were sure to be told that some prerogative of the crown was endangered. The motion was perfectly unobjectionable, and ought to be complied with.

The House divided: Ayes, 24; Noes, 50.

List of the Minority.
Abercromby, hon. J. Lushington, S.
Bennet, hon. G. Martin, J.
Bernal, R. Ord, W.
Blake, sir F. Palmer, C. F.
Bright, H. Philips, G.
Burdett, sir F. Poyntz, J.
Davies, col. Ricardo, D.
Denison, W. Rice, S.
Fergusson, sir R. Scott, J.
Glenorchy, lord Sykes, D.
Grattan, J. Wood, alderman
Hartopp, G.
Hobhouse, J. C. TELLERS.
Hume, J. Lennard, T. B.
Knight, R. Russell, lord J.