HC Deb 23 December 1830 vol 2 cc81-5
Mr. M. Fitzgerald

said, that in rising to move for copies of Treasury Minutes relating to the office of Vice-Treasurer of Ireland, he could assure the House, that he was not actuated by any feeling of a political nature, and still less by any feeling adverse to the Government. The call, however clamorous, which had been raised for the abolition of the office of Vice-treasurer of Ireland, was, in his opinion, founded in complete ignorance. He had endured much obloquy from it having been said that this office, which he had held, was a sinecure; and his object in moving for these Minutes was to show, that the office, far from being a sinecure, was an indispensable part of the Treasury, and connected with all the details of the receipt and expenditure of Ireland. He would not at this time go through these details, because they would appear upon the Minutes for which he was about to move. There were, however, some points connected with those details, on which he was anxious to say a word or two. All payments in Ireland were made through that office, such as the interest on annuities, and on the funded debt. It had the management of the Exchequer bills, and the payment of interest on them. It had also the payments of the Civil List to make. With these important duties to perform, the expense of the office had been reduced from 28,000l. a year, first to 17,000l. and subsequently to 10,000l. With respect to the office being a sinecure, he must deny that he took or possessed it as such. He was under great responsibility, and liable to heavy losses. When he accepted the office, the Duke of Wellington sent for him, and offered it to him, because the Duke said he wanted to place in connection with the Government, a gentleman well acquainted with Ireland. Under his direction he (Mr. Fitzgerald) had been employed in digesting a plan for administering the local revenue of Ireland, by which the Grand Jury system of that country would have been much improved, and at least five per cent of the local taxation —a sum amounting to 800,000l. would have been saved. This plan had met the approbation of the noble Duke, and would have been carried into effect, if he had remained in office. He could therefore state fearlessly, that in accepting the place, he had no idea of connecting himself with a sinecure office, or taking a large salary for doing nothing. With respect to the economy of the arrangement, he must contend, that the arrangement which the Government had made with regard to this office, could not be productive of anything like the saving which had been stated would be made. Probably it would be found, that no actual money-saving, would result from that arrangement. If this were so, then the Government would only have taken away the political office of Vice-treasurer of Ireland, and against this course he must enter his protest. In his opinion, it was highly desirable that there should be in that House some efficient and responsible person, well acquainted with the revenue of Ireland. Now that this office was taken away, there was no remaining political office which was filled by an. Irishman. This had made a deep impression upon Ireland. It was thought, no matter how erroneously, by the people of that country, that no Irishman had any longer any chance of being; employed in political offices connected with Ireland, and this opinion he was convinced, would lead to very mischievous consequences. He was quite sure, that his constituents, and the country at large, would acquit him of avidity for office. He did not speak thus because he had been removed from the office, but because he thought the abolition of it highly objectionable. He could wish that it had been filled up, and he knew of no one whose appointment to the office would have been hailed with so much satisfaction, as his hon. friend, the member for Queen's County (Sir H. Parnell.) He would not detain the House any longer than to observe, that he thought the Motion he was about to make was called for, in common justice to himself, who had held the office, and to those by whom he had been appointed to that office; because, if the Motion were agreed to, it would be seen that the office was anything but a sinecure. He begged to move, "That there be laid before the House, copies of the Treasury Minutes of the 10th of July, and 20th of September, 1822, and of the 3rd of January, 1823, relative to the office of Vice-Treasurer of Ireland."

Lord Althorp

said, that he had known and acted with the right hon. Gentleman too long to suppose that he could be actuated by any sinister motive in bringing forward this Motion. The right hon. Gentleman had taken two views of this subject; the one was economical —the other political. Upon these, with the permission of the House, he would say a few words. For the first, he must say at once, that he did not understand the economical argument of the right hon. Gentleman, and therefore it would, perhaps, be better for him to state shortly what had been done, and what saving had been effected. He had always been of opinion, that the office of Vice-treasurer of Ireland was altogether unnecessary, and when he entered the Ministry that opinion was confirmed; for, upon making inquiries respecting it at the Treasury, he was told that all the duties of the office were performed by Mr. Mitchell, the chief clerk. His first impression was, that it would be better and more economical to continue Mr. Mitchell in the performance of those duties, after the office of Vice-treasurer was abolished; but finding that Mr. Smith held a situation that might be dispensed with, and perceiving that much advantage must result from sending into Ireland a gentleman of so much experience in Treasury business as Mr. Smith undoubtedly possessed, — that arrangement, which had already been explained to the House, was resolved upon. Then, as to the saving which had been made by this arrangement, but which the right hon. Gentleman appeared to think could not by possibility have been made. The saving amounted to 2,600l., and it was effected thus:— The salary of the Vice-treasurer amounted to 2,000l., the salary of the Deputy Vice-treasurer amounted to 800l., the salary attached to the office which Mr. Smith held was 1,000l., making altogether 3,800l. All these offices had been abolished, and in their stead had been substituted an office with a salary of 1,200l. The saving, therefore, which had been effected was obviously the difference between 3,800l. and 1,200l. It was 2,600l.; at this sum it had been stated, and he could not perceive the difficulty which the right hon. Gentleman had in understanding how the saving had been effected. He might also state, that he did not think the saving would stop here. Mr. Smith, who had now gone over to Ireland, was a very active man, and as he had before observed, extremely well versed in Treasury business; and he was not without hope and expectation that Mr. Smith would be able to carry the saving further by dispensing with more than one of the clerks who were now employed. He came now to the political part of the right hon. Gentleman's argument. If the right hon. Gentleman was right in the view he had taken, the arrangement certainly was one of much greater importance than it had seemed to him to be. So far, however, from agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman in this view of the subject, he must say, that he considered it a matter for rejoicing that it had been possible to abolish one parliamentary place. For his own part he was glad of it. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that the Vice-treasurer of Ireland ought to be in the House; but allow him to say, that for many years the Vice-treasurer had been in the House, and yet he had never seen —nor did he believe could any hon. Member point out —what advantage the country, the Government, or the House, had gained by the presence of the Vice-treasurer of Ireland. As to the observation which the right hon. Gentleman had made about Irishmen not being employed in political offices, he could only say, that in appointments, of whatever character, he could never recognize any distinction between an Englishman and an Irishman. If there were to be any such distinction, the Union would not be complete. He was sure, however, that there was no such distinction, and that there was not the least ground for national jealousy of this kind. He would not do the people of Ireland the injustice to suppose that they could harbour any such jealousy, and, for England, he might, if it were worth while, give proofs enough that they harboured none such. He had only to say, in conclusion, that nothing which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman had altered his opinion as to the propriety of the arrangement; and, with this observation, he need hardly say that he had not the least objection to the Motion.

Mr. Hume

had heard with much surprise the observations of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Fitzgerald) below him, and thought the statement of the noble Lord opposite must have convinced even the right hon. Gentleman himself that the arrangement was a very proper and a very economical one. He trusted that the present Government would follow up measures of economy similar to that to which reference had been just made, and that the present was only the beginning of the simplification of the public accounts.

Motion agreed to.