HC Deb 21 May 1830 vol 24 cc922-38

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved the Order of the Day for the House resolving itself into a committee of the whole House, to consider farther of the Supply to be granted to his Majesty.

Mr. Hume

said, that before the Speaker left the chair, he wished to call the attention of the House to a subject which he felt was of very great importance to the revenue of the country. It appeared to him, that 30,000l. a year had been abstracted from the revenue without the knowledge of that House, a proceeding which struck him as being extremely objectionable, inasmuch as that sum was taken under an alleged opinion of the law-officers of the Crown, although for a hundred and seventy years the duties, which were first appropriated within a very recent date in the manner of which he complained, had been regularly paid into the revenue. The subject of the 4½-per-cent duties had been so often discussed in that House, that he would not enter into any detail with respect to them. He thought that they were objectionable in principle, and he, as well as others, had, year after year, endeavoured to get rid of them. They were granted in the time of Charles 2nd, for a particular purpose—namely, to defray the charge of certain repairs and expenses incurred on account of the colonies. On that account, a duty of 4½-per-cent on all produce, principally on sugar, was paid to the Crown. He might truly say that this fund had long before been perverted from its original object, and was appropriated to the payment of pensions and allowances, partly to the governors of the colonies and partly to individuals who were favoured by the Government, without the authority of that House. Up to a very recent period, the 25th of March 1828, these king's sugars, as they were called, were entered at the Custom-house, and paid the same duty of 27s. per cwt. as the sugars of private individuals. They were placed under the care of an officer called "a Husband," who after having paid the regular duties on the sugars, brought the nett amount of the proceeds to the credit of his Majesty's 4½-per-cent fund. This continued until 1828. He had been in the habit of calling for an account of these duties every two or three years, to see whether there remained any surplus; because, a few years ago the House passed a bill, declaring that no more pensions should be charged on this fund, and providing that the surplus, if there were any, should go to the support of the church-establishment in the West Indies. This was a very good change, supposing it to be proper that any thing should be taken from the inhabitants of the colonies. But he thought that the time had come when the impost might be removed; and considering the distress of the colonies, it ought, he conceived, to be a matter of consideration with his Majesty's Government, whether the former manner of appropriating these duties should not cease, and whether they ought not to be applied to those various useful colonial purposes for which they were originally intended? Ministers had, however, taken the most extraordinary view of the case that ever was taken in that House, or any where else. From the earliest institution of this fund,—for no less than a hundred and seventy years,—the rule and practice of the law had been that the sugar thus sent to this country should be subjected to the Customs duty. In 1825 the fund amounted to 33,000l.; in 1826, to 29,000l.; in 1827, to 22,000l. In 1828, contrary to the practice which had existed for a hundred and seventy years, it was declared that the king's sugar was not liable to pay Customs duty, and none had been paid since that time. Then how stood the fund? It appeared that in 1827 it amounted to 22,000l.; in 1828, it amounted to 67,000l.; and in 1829–30, to 61,000l.; being double what it was in 1825. Now, he knew very well that the West-India establishments were not in a thriving condition; that, in fact, they did not pay; that they were losing concerns; when, therefore, that interest was in so unfortunate a situation, was it not a fair subject for consideration whether individuals thus unfairly taxed should not be relieved from such a burthen? It would not be an act of favour towards those persons, but of justice. His great objection in this case was, that Ministers, acting on the authority of the law-officers of the Crown, had assumed to themselves the power of altering a law which had existed for a hundred and seventy years, and paid the whole amount of this impost to the Crown, instead of deducting a certain portion of it for the Customs, as ought to have been done. This matter was suffered to pass in silence during the years 1828 and 1829; no allusion was made to the alteration in the system, though it was illegal, and opposed to the privileges of that House, it being the first and most important principle of the constitution, that Ministers should not appropriate any money without the sanction of the House of Commons. But here they found the amount produced by the sale of a certain quantity of sugar, not expended on the church establishment of the colonies, but handed over to this fund. Ministers had gone further,—they had kept this proceeding a secret from the House; and it was not until he had moved for a certain paper, not expecting such a result as had occurred, that the fact became known. Now there were two results connected with this business. The revenue of Customs was lessened to the amount of 30,000l. a year; and the Husband, though he had reduced his charge, as he now had 66,000l. to deal with instead of 22,000l., received more than he formerly did. [An hon. Gentleman intimated that the officer did not benefit by it.] At all events, it was clear that the revenue was lessened by the change of system. That House ought, therefore, to know on what ground the law officers of the Crown had given their opinion in favour of this change:—and how far such a proceeding was consistent with the known law and constitution of the country. He had, in 1820, moved for an account of all sums of money which had been received by the Crown (the produce of this fund and other sources) during the reign of the late king. About two months ago he had called for a paper in continuation of that account, and he knew not why it was not yet laid on the table of the House. By the former docu- ment, however, it appeared, that the sum of 12,705,000l. had, during the late king's reign, been paid to an account over which that House had no control, but over which Ministers claimed a right of control. Of that gross sum about 9,000,000l. was derived from droits, and from 1760 to 1820, when the king's demise took place, this fund afforded 2,116,000l. He must here be allowed to observe, that the Customs duty on sugar was a most heavy tax. It was exceedingly injurious to the West-India proprietor, and certainly did not benefit the revenue in an equal proportion. If the duty were brought down to 15s. or 16s. the cwt. as it was at the breaking out of the French war, he was satisfied that the amount of revenue would be equal to what was now received, because the consumption would be very greatly increased. Having stated thus much, he submitted to the House whether it was prepared to vote any money to his Majesty in supply until Ministers laid before Parliament the grounds on which they had thrown into his Majesty's fund such a sum as 30,000l. or 40,000l. in the two last years. To shew that, he should call for the case laid before the law-officers of the Crown, and for the opinion they had delivered. In consequence of a statement made by the Secretary of the Treasury, that it was not usual to produce such documents, he had made some inquiry into the subject; and in looking over the third report of the committee on foreign trade, he there found an opinion given by the law-officers. In the case of the Bank of England also, which arose out of their being engaged to manage a debt of 600,000,000l. or 700,000,000l., at the rate of 400l. per million, a question arose in that House whether such an allowance should be made to the Bank or not. The opinion of the law-officers of the Crown was, that the House could not, under the then charter, break that contract; and that opinion was laid before the House. His hon. friend, the member for Bristol, had also examined this point, and had found other cases; so that he had no doubt that the objection was not worthy of the smallest consideration. But he would say, that if no opinion of the law-officers of the Crown had ever been laid before the House, still the grounds which he had advanced were so strong in his view of the matter, that it would fully warrant him in calling for such an opinion on this occasion. The course which Ministers had pursued was dangerous to the Constitution, and injurious to the revenue, and he hoped the Members of that House would strenuously oppose it. He should therefore move for a copy of the case submitted to the law-officers of the Crown, and their opinion given thereupon, respecting the Customs payable on the Sugar imported in discharge of the 4½-per-cent duties.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he had no doubt that he should be able to offer a satisfactory explanation on the subject touched on in the hon. Member's speech. Indeed, he thought he might (if he felt so disposed) claim credit for presenting returns of the 4½-per-cent duties, increased considerably in point of amount. It was wrong in the hon. Member to say that the amount was concealed till it came out incidentally upon his motion for papers. The fact was, that accounts were annually laid upon the Table, in which the 4½-per-cent duties formed one of the items, and in those accounts the augmentation had appeared. The hon. Gentleman inquired the reason for deviating from the practice adopted for a great number of years, and argued as if Ministers had robbed the revenue of the country to enrich the revenue of the Crown. He argued as if the management and direction of the 4½-per-cent duties had not undergone a considerable alteration of late years; as if the Crown had not, in point of fact, abandoned its claim to them, and placed them under the control of Parliament. By the Act of the 6th of his present Majesty, it was directed that the salaries of the Bishops and clergy in the West-India islands, should in future be paid out of the 4½-per-cent duties, which were thus devoted to the payment of our colonial governors, bishops and clergy. The sum paid to the bishops and clergy amounted to 25,000l. a-year, including salaries and pensions. Whatever might be the merits of this plan, it had not enhanced the patronage of the Crown. It appeared from this statement, that the charge of taking money from the revenue of the country, in order to put it in the power of the Crown, was without foundation. It had occurred to him, that the sugar sent from the West Indies in payment of the 4½-per-cent duties, being Crown property, was not liable to pay Customs duty. It was upon constitutional principles that he had formed this opinion, and in consulting with the law-officers of the Crown, he found his opinion confirmed by that which they entertained on the subject. By applying the rule which the law-advisers of the Crown laid down as the rule of law, he did not divert from the public into the possession of the Crown any part of the fund in question, and, therefore, it appeared to him that in pursuing that course he was adopting a proceeding free from every possible objection. The transaction was extremely simple; he had no disposition to promote the interest of the individual who managed the fund.

Mr. Baring

said, if the opinion of the legal advisers of the Crown in this case were consonant with law, it was law of such a tendency, and which might be attended with such consequences in a constitutional point of view, as to render it well deserving of the serious consideration of Parliament. The position of the right hon. Gentleman appeared to be this,—that there were sugars belonging to the Crown which were brought to this country from the West-India islands, and which being the property of the Crown, were not liable according to the opinion of the law-officers of the day to pay duty. It was singular enough that nearly two centuries should have passed (during which duty was paid upon these sugars) without this notable discovery of the exemption of Crown sugars from duty having been made. Would his hon. and learned friend (the Attorney General) tell him that the Crown might import into this country merchandise free of duty for sale? Yet this was what the right hon. Gentleman's position amounted to. The principle was the same as in the present case: these sugars were admitted without payment of duty, because they were the property of the Crown. But the Crown might have purchased the sugars; that would not alter the transaction. Was the law to be laid down that the Crown could import any article as merchandise for sale in this country? He had always understood that the exemption of the Crown from the payment of taxes was for the maintenance of the royal dignity. The tax-gatherer was excluded from the palace of the Sovereign, because his entrance would be considered derogatory to the dignity of the Crown. A similar exemption was extended to the ambassadors and ministers of foreign Sovereigns, probably for nearly the same reason. It was true the King might import French wines for his own consumption, free of duty: this was always understood; but the law, as laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, would allow the King to import French wines for sale. These sugars were imported into this country simply for the purpose of sale. He was impatient to hear from his hon. and learned friend (the Attorney General) his notions of the law on the subject. In a constitutional point of view, the position laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was of extreme importance to the country: if the law really were as the right hon. Gentleman had stated, it might be rendered the source of enormous advantage to the Crown, and of correspondent injury to the country.

The Attorney General

said, there could be no moral or legal doubt that the sugars in question were exempt from duty, as being the property of the Crown. The non-payment of duties by the Crown was amongst the oldest of our law maxims. If hon. Gentlemen would only look into any one act for the imposition of taxes, they would there see that that maxim was uniformly recognised and acted on. Taxes were granted by the Commons to the Crown—they could only be granted off the property of the people—not off the property of the Crown itself. With respect to the Motion of the hon. member for Aberdeen, for the production of the opinions of the law-officers of the day upon the point, he did not see the use of it. Without denying the power of the House of Commons to call for any documents whatever,—for he could suppose a a case in which it might call for a minute of the proceedings of a Cabinet Council,—he must say, it would be rather hard upon the Attorney and Solicitor-general to have their opinions, which were given in confidence to the Government, reviewed and debated in Parliament. In this particular case it could be of no importance to have the opinions of the law-officers of the Crown, and he hoped that a precedent for the production and discussion in the House of Commons of such opinions, might not be established, by agreeing to the present Motion. He could easily conceive a case in which an Attorney-general might not like to have his opinions discussed in Parliament, though this was not such a case. Whatever the hon. Member meant to do, he could accomplish as well upon the information already before him, without calling for these documents. He had delivered his opinion on the subject with great sincerity, and he believed it would be found, that all the twelve Judges in Westminster-hall, if the question were put to them, would concur in his opinion. At the same time he had to state, that the opinion on which the Government had acted had been given, not by him, but by his predecessor.

Mr. Baring

asked the Attorney General, whether the law went to such an extent, that the Crown could import merchandise for sale free of duty?

The Attorney General

said, it might be difficult to answer the question in the abstract. The hon. Member must put a case. It was undoubtedly true that, in the time of the Henrys, when our monarchs had possessions and revenues abroad, wines were imported by the Crown free of duty, which might have been, and probably were, imported for sale.

Mr. Bernal

observed, that the doctrine was strange in practice if not in law, that the Crown might import commodities for sale. It might, then, become a great trader, and ruin all the merchants in the kingdom.

Mr. Bright

said, he could not but imagine that there was some ulterior view in the alteration made by Ministers. Whether it were to get a larger sum out of the 4½-per-cent fund—a fund which was burthened with debt—whether there were pensions of which Parliament knew nothing charged upon it,—he could not tell, but he confessed the change did appear to him very suspicious. What induced the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take the opinion of the law-officers of the Crown on the subject—what was the right hon. Gentleman's object in mooting an ancient point of law, which had lain hid for a space of 170 years? Certain charges were to be paid out of the proceeds of the 4½-per-cents; but salaries falling in, and the fund being augmented by exempting the sugars from duty, the amount would become so large as to exceed the demands upon it for the support of the church in the West Indies. What became of the surplus? In it Ministers had discovered a fund out of which they might grant new pensions and allowances ad infinitum. As to the objections urged to laying upon the Table the opinion of the Attorney and Solicitor General, he saw, almost the moment he looked for them, abundance of precedents to justify such a step. The opinion given with reference to the new duties payable on the occasion of the Union with Ireland—the opinion of the law-officers—was laid before the House. A similar course was also pursued in the case of the Duke of Athol's claim. The opinions of the Attorney and Solicitor General were then justly and properly called for, and should be in the present case. This was a question respecting the Consolidated Fund—it was one having reference to the appropriation of taxes; and he could conceive none more proper in which to demand the advice given by the responsible advisers of the Crown. What was there, he should gladly learn, in the opinion of the Attorney General, that should shield his opinion from the examination of the House? It was observed, that the revenue in question was hardly sufficient for the purposes to which it was applicable; but on that point he would beg leave to observe, that nothing could be more variable than were the produce of West-India estates, and that the income could only be justly estimated upon an average of several years. In 1808 the gross proceeds of the 4½-per-cent duties amounted to 35,000l., the nett proceeds to 16,000l. (this was under the old law, and the deduction was partly on account of duties, in part on account of other charges.) In 1809, the gross proceeds were 11 '2,000l., the nett amount 48,000l. Thus in one year the Crown might have had the distribution of 35,000l., and in the very next of 112,000l. under the present system. One year the fund (which appeared liable to great variation) might be merely sufficient to support the ecclesiastical establishments, and to defray the other charges upon it, yet afford in the next year a great surplus for salaries, pensions, or whatever other uses the Crown should choose to apply it to. This was a matter which demanded inquiry, and justified the strictest jealousy. Here was a case in which the House found the Crown endowing itself with a large revenue, by means of obsolete and forgotten views of fiscal regulations, and the House was accordingly bound to look into the matter most narrowly. The hon. Member then, after adverting to the origin of the Nullum Tempus Act, and other great privileges enjoyed by the Crown, proceeded to say, that the present question ought now to be considered with a view to a final arrangement. If the law were, as some hon. Members seemed to say, then he would assert, that the law ought to be altered—if it were doubtful, it ought to be declared. At all events, the matter was of such importance, that the House ought to have the most authentic documents relating to it; and he hoped that his hon. friend (the member for Montrose) would not be satisfied with any thing less than the opinion of the law-officers of the Crown; and whatever that might he, he hoped that the House would not allow his Majesty's Ministers to get possession of such a fund, as the law, according to this construction of it, would place at their disposal.

Sir C. Wetherell

said, that if Government should consent to the production of the opinions of the law-officers of the Crown in this case, he should state his conviction as a lawyer, that no Attorney or Solicitor General ought ever again to give an opinion in writing, upon any case submitted to them by the Crown. [An hon. Member asked, Why?] He would tell the hon. Member why. It had been laid down by the highest authority, that no Minister had a right to produce the opinion of the law-officers of the Crown, for the purpose of its being reviewed and discussed in that House; that that House had the right to see those opinions, he took the liberty to deny; for himself, he would not have accepted office on the servile and submissive condition of having every one of his opinions laid upon the Table of that House. The independent ground upon which office could be accepted was, an adherence to the present practice. He utterly dissented from the proposition that the House of Commons had a right to see the private and confidential advice of the law-officers of the Crown. With respect to the question of the liability of Crown property to taxation, there was no lawyer who would not at once admit that it was altogether exempt from taxation, and that these sugars might come in free of duty. If the Crown had a specific right in any thing, only an express Act of Parliament could subject it to taxation. This was the opinion which he had expressed, and he should never shrink from it. If he objected to the production of the written document, it was rather from a feeling for the hon. member for Aberdeen than for himself that he objected; because he should put the hon. Gentleman in the wrong by producing it. Of all clear propositions this was the clearest,—that the Crown was not liable to pay taxes. But if there was to be a prospective alteration of this established principle, let it be made: the Legislature was competent to effect the change. He hoped that the Motion of the hon. Gentleman might not be conceded, not upon any grounds personal to himself (who gave the opinion), but on the general principle, that the advice of law-officers of the Crown was to be considered as private and confidential advice, although, for the sake of accuracy and convenience, it was given in writing.

Sir R. Peel

concurred with the hon. and learned Gentleman, that it was not expedient in the present case for the House to call for the opinion which the learned Gentleman, when Attorney General, had delivered upon this subject. However, he did not agree with the learned Gentleman in thinking, that in no case should Parliament call for the production of opinions given by law-officers of the Crown. If there were a suspicion that they had acted under undue influence, or an imputation against them of straining a point in favour of the Crown, the law-officers would be justly liable to have their opinions called for, and their official acts investigated. But probably the learned Gentleman did not speak of such cases as these, but rather of the general rule of Parliament in ordinary cases; and in the expediency of that general rule, which was, not to demand the opinions of the Crown lawyers, he (Sir R. Peel) fully concurred. Nothing could be more convenient for Government, than to lay the opinions of its legal advisers before Parliament, and shelter itself under their sanction and authority; but such a proceeding might be fairly objected to by hon. Members opposite, on the ground that it involved an attempt to overbear the exercise of the free judgment and opinion of the House. Would the House allow the opinions of the Attorney and Solicitor General to guide it? Certainly not. He knew that in the case of a discussion on the Alien Act, a legal opinion of one of the Crown lawyers was inadvertently produced by a member of the Government, in order to show that we possessed the power of banishing aliens; and the production of this opinion being objected to, it was admitted that it was wrong to quote it, under the idea of controlling the House. It was fit that the Government should be the party to be held responsible, and that it should not be permitted to hold up the opinions of its law-officers, as a sanction to acts for which it was itself accountable. It was a matter of indifference whether the opinion were produced in the present case or not, as far as the practical result was concerned; but upon principle the House, rather than the Government, ought to resist its production. The feeling of confidence in which legal opinions were given to the Crown, and which feeling was essential to their truth and accuracy, might (as the learned Gentleman hinted) be weakened if those opinions were held liable to be called for, except under very peculiar circumstances; and unless the House should be of opinion, that in the present case such peculiarity existed, he should oppose the Motion.

Sir J. Newport

thought, that there did exist that degree of peculiarity in the present case, which had been mentioned by the right hon. Baronet as justifying the production of the opinions of the law officers of the Crown. The peculiarity consisted in the circumstance of Ministers calling for the opinion of their legal advisers, and departing from a custom in which the Crown had acquiesced for a period of 170 years. When the hon. and learned Member told them that he should think it a degradation to give, as Attorney General, an opinion which was to be subjected to the inspection of that House, the hon. and learned Member showed that he was totally unfit to hold the situation which he had formerly filled. And so much for that—["Hear," from Sir C. Wetherell.] Yes, so much for that; and he said so, because he did not like to repeat the same thing over and over again, which was the custom of the hon. and learned Gentleman. On every constitutional ground he contended, that these opinions ought to be produced. If the law was, as it had been stated to be, the Legislature ought immediately to amend it.

Sir C. Wetherell

, in explanation, called on the House to bear witness that he had never said that the law-officers ought not to be responsible to that House. The servility of which he had spoken was servility to the Minister, not to the Parliament. All he had said was, that if there had been any thing wrong, the Government ought not to cast the blame on the law-officers.

The Solicitor General

said, that he had understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to have spoken exactly as he had stated he had. The hon. Baronet therefore must, he thought, have misunderstood the hon. and learned Gentleman. He was not responsible for the opinion in question, but allow him to say, that no lawyer could have given any other opinion. He thought the practice of producing the opinions of the law-officers, which were given only as a guide to the Government, would be highly objectionable.

Lord Althorp

must confess, that he had understood the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir C. Wetherell) very differently, He had understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say, that he should consider it a degradation, if an opinion of his, given as Attorney General, were canvassed in that House. With respect to the production of such opinions, he agreed that it might be sometimes attended with inconvenience, and that a special case ought to be made out to warrant the House in calling for the opinions of the law-officers. That the House under such circumstances had a right to call for the opinions of the law-officers, he took to be perfectly clear; and he thought it a monstrous doctrine to say that the law-officers were not responsible to that House. In the present case he had heard no valid objection, and he could conceive none, against the production of the opinions; and he should therefore vote for the Amendment, especially after the doctrines that had been laid down that evening.

Sir C. Wetherell

regretted that he should have been misunderstood by so accurate a person as the noble Lord, and was sorry to be called upon to explain a second time. The hon. and learned Gentleman then repeated his former explanation.

Lord Althorp

said, he had not doubted, after the explanation before given by the hon. and learned Gentleman, that he had misunderstood what had fallen from that Gentleman in the course of his speech. He had only stated the fact that he had misunderstood him, because the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to think it strange that the hon. Baronet had misunderstood him.

Mr. R. Gordon

wished, after the four or five explanations that had been given, to be allowed to say a few words upon the question. He agreed with his noble friend, that the present was one of those special cases in which it was admitted that the opinions of the law-officers of the Crown might be called-for,—opinions on which was founded the departure from a practice which had existed for nearly 200 years. For that length of time the King's sugars had been imported as the payment of the 4½-per-cent duties—for that length of time had they been entered at the Custom House, and duty paid in the usual way, but now it had been discovered that the law was different from what it was supposed to be; on a case submitted to the law-officers of the Crown, the practice was changed, and these sugars were entered without payment of any duty. The receipts of those 4½-per-cents had greatly increased since 1828, amounting, first to 61,000l., and last year to 67,000l., though they had not exceeded 22,000l. in 1827, and the difference was explained by a note subjoined to the papers laid before the House, in which the reasons for the increase appear all to flow from the opinion of the law-officers of the Crown. He did not think, however, that the case rested upon the opinion of the law-officers of the Crown alone, at least the House ought to have something more, and no difficulty would have arisen to prevent that being produced, had the Motion originated at the opposite side of' the House. If Ministers had wished to support any view of their own, the opinion of the law-officers would have been produced without any difficulty. He did not care so much for the opinion of the law-officers in the present case, which, in fact, the House already knew, but he wanted to see the special case which was submitted to those officers, and on which their opinion was founded, The produce of those duties was employed in the payment of certain pensions, and he suspected that the fund not being found sufficient to pay the annual charges upon it was the real reason why this plan was fallen on of increasing it by the whole amount of the Customs duty. Those pensions amounted to 37,000l., and up to the time of adding to it the duties on the sugars imported, the fund was below that sum. There was then no other way but to abate the pensions, or increase the fund. The abatement of the pensions of course could not be thought of, and the only way was to increase the fund. He had some reason to believe that it was attempted to make up the deficiency by the receipts from Ceylon; but as the 4½-per-cent fund had got too much in debt to render that expedient available, it was determined to call in the aid of the Attorney and Solicitor General, and they from the case laid before them, gave the opinion that the non-payment of the duties on the sugars imported on account of this fund was quite legal. How long the House would permit the law to remain he would not answer, but sure he was, that it ought not to be allowed to continue in its present state. He might observe, the agent for the payment of the pensions had a salary of 400l. a-year and the agent for the sale of the sugars had a commission of two per cent. He, of course, like other agents employed a broker. The sugars were sold on a credit of seventy days, and when sold the duty must be paid; it appeared to him likely, therefore, that the per centage was allowed on account of the outlay of money for the payment of the duties; but as no duties would have to be paid henceforward, at least as long as the law remains as it is, there was no use in continuing this per centage, which amounted to 1,039l. a-year. The expenditure would be wholly useless. The husband of the imported produce, as he was called, and who received 400l. a-year, might manage the whole fund. This, however, was a subject on which he would not trespass further on the attention of the House, knowing that it would not escape the vigilance of his hon. friend, the member for Montrose. He would only again ask the right hon. Gentleman opposite, what were the reasons on which this departure from long-established practice had been founded?

Sir R. Peel

was sure the House would do him the justice to recollect, that he had not said that the law-officers or their opinions were beyond the reach and control of that House. As for instance, where there was imputation either upon the Government or upon the law-officers, the House would doubtless be justified in calling for those opinions. All that he contended for was, that grounds must be shown for the production of such documents. He could not conceive what ground there was in the present case, where the law it was admitted was consistent with the opinions given by the law-officers. He thought the hon. Member who had just sat down had shown the weakness of his cause by saying, "It is the case I want; not the opinion."

Mr. O'Connell

said, that in this instance a usage of sixty years standing had been departed from. If such a case happened between man and man, a court of equity would decide that the law was with the usage. He considered sixty years usage sufficiently long to defeat the King's prerogative. ["No, no," from Sir C. Wetherell, and a cry of "Order."] He said "Yes." He maintained the point, and could cite authorities in support of it. He saw no reason why either the case or the opinion should be withheld in the present instance.

Mr. Maberly

apprehended that this diversion of money had been made in consequence of the funds for the payment of the pensions having diminished. He thought the opinion ought to be produced.

A division took place, when the numbers were:—

For the Amendment 32; Against it 78; Majority against the Amendment 46.

List of the Minority.
Althorp, Lord Monck, J. B.
Attwood, M. Milton, Lord
Bentinck, Lord G. Newport, Sir J.
Baring, Sir T. O'Connell, D.
Bright, H. Poyntz, W. S.
Brownlow, C. Rice, T. S.
Cavendish, W. Rickford, W.
Crompton, S. Waithman, Ald.
Calvert, C. Warburton, W.
Calvert, N. Western, C. C.
Davenport, E. Whitmore, W. W.
Davies, Colonel Wood, M
Dawson, A. TELLERS.
Easthope, J. Bernal, R.
Fazakerley, J. N. Hume, J. PAIRED OFF.
Graham, Sir J.
Gordon, R. Carter, H.
Guest, J. Denison, J. W.
Heathcote, J. E. Wood, J.
Jephson, C. D. O.

The question was again put, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply.

Mr. Hume

objected to the Motion. He said, that the Ministers had, by this measure which they had adopted upon the opinions of the law-officers, transferred 30,000l. a-year from the control of that House, without the consent or the knowledge of the House. The House, therefore, ought not to vote one shilling for the public service until the circumstances of the case were made known, and until the Ministers consented to produce the opinions of the law-officers. This fund was described as the King's private property, and he therefore charged the Ministers with having taken 30,000l. a-year from the public, and with having put it into the pocket of the King. On these grounds he objected to any further supplies being voted. He did not exactly know what course he ought to take. He would, however, now move that the Committee of Supply be postponed till Monday next.

The Speaker

said, that the forms of the House would not allow the hon. Member to take that course.

Mr. Hume

said, that, in that case, he would meet the question before the House by a direct negative, and that he would renew his opposition on every vote of supply being proposed throughout the Session. Yes, he would: he would not listen, as he had listened before, to such language as this,—"You are impeding the public business without answering any good end." He thought the proceedings of Ministers, in refusing to produce the opinions of the law-officers, had been most unconstitutional. The Ministers by this refusal had treated both the House and the country with disrespect, and no further supplies should be granted with his consent. He would not divide the House on the question, as it had already expressed its opinion; but, for the present, he would content himself with giving the Motion for going into the committee a negative.

The House then went into a Committee of Supply.

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