§ The next vote was for 5,534l. to defray the charges of the office of Vice-Treasurer of Ireland.
said, that the hon. member for Cricklade (Mr. Robert Gordon) had, on a former occasion, called the attention of Government to the serious defalcation which had taken place in this office on the part of a former Vice-Treasurer, who had been since promoted to colonial government. He wished to have some explanation from his Majesty's Government on that subject.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
said, that between five and six years ago, a balance of several hundred pounds had been due from the Vice-Treasurer of Ireland to the public. At that period the Treasury arranged that 10,000l. should be issued annually, on account, to the Vice-Treasurer, and that he should every year deliver in his attested account, duly vouched, of the expenditure of the money, in the same way as all other public officers. Urgent and repeated calls had been made upon the Vice-Treasurer to render his accounts; but this he had neglected to do, alleging, as his reason, that the difficulty arose from a part of the papers being in Ireland and a part in England, and making various other excuses. At length the Vice-Treasurer, Sir George Hill, was appointed Governor of St. Vincent's, in the West Indies, and he left this country without rendering any account whatever of the public money intrusted to his care. In consequence of further applications, Sir George Hill had at last rendered in his accounts, but they were unsupported by vouchers, and were altogether in a condition which made it impossible that they could be audited, examined, or passed. Assuming, however, that the accounts were correct, it appeared by Sir George Hill's own showing, that he was in debt to the public the sum of 2,180l. He had 934 been called upon to pay this balance, and to put his accounts in a state, so that it might be ascertained whether he was not indebted to a larger amount. Neither of these requisitions had he complied with, but he had written to the Treasury Board to say, that his nephew, Mr. Hill, who was in Ireland, would pay the balance for him. Application had consequently been made to this Mr. Hill, and the only result was, that that gentleman had declared his willingness to pay the money when Sir George Hill directed him to do so. This he supposed Sir George had not done, for the money had not yet been paid.
Mr. Robert Gordon
thought the late Administration very reprehensible throughout the whole transaction. Sir George Hill ought not to have been appointed to so responsible and important an office as Governor and Chancellor of a colony, whilst, to use the mildest language, his accounts were in so confused a state that they could not be understood: or, being appointed, he ought not to have been permitted to sail till he had paid the money, which, by his own showing and acknowledgment, he owed to the public. The Treasury had been extremely remiss in their duty.
went further than his hon. friend, and conceived that the Treasury Board had been extremely culpable in not settling Sir George Hill's accounts annually, and he took the case only as one example, casually discovered, of the manner in which the Treasury neglected its duty, and disregarded the public interests. Nothing could be more improper than to place a person under Sir George Hill's circumstances within the temptations of such appointments as those of Governor and Chancellor of a West-India Island, particularly at a time when the West-Indians were dealt with unsparingly, and with an iron hand of severity. He did not know how the late Ministers would answer for their conduct to the public, but as to Ministerial responsibility to that House, as it had hitherto been constituted, he treated it as a vile mockery.
§ Mr. George Dawson
would allow, that the accounts of Sir George Hill had been a very long time settling, but there was a great difference between the non-settlement of an account, and a defalcation, as described by the hon. Member. A man ought not to be called a defaulter until he had refused to pay a sum justly due. As 935 Secretary of the Treasury he had been placed in a very delicate situation in having to call a relation to account, but he had done every thing in his power to bring Sir George to a settlement, and, unfortunately, he failed in doing it, though he was eternally trying. Until the papers and documents were furnished, it was impossible to say what was the amount of the deficiency, and whether there was any balance due to the public or not. He did not know that so large a sum as 2,000l. was standing on the face of the accounts as due, for he had conceived the amount to be only between 400l. and 500l. He denied, however, that any man had any right to cast any aspersions upon the character of Sir George Hill, until his accounts were settled; and he would undertake to say, that ultimately the public would not lose a shilling.
Mr. Robert Gordon
had cast no aspersions upon Sir George Hill, for the term he had used was "confusion of accounts," although he utterly denied the doctrine of the right hon. member for Harwich, that no person had a right to employ the term "defaulter" in such a case, until it was proved that the balance could not be paid. 50,000l. of the public money had been paid by the Treasury to this gentleman, whilst he continually refused to render any account, and had set the Treasury at nought: and even when he would not refund what he acknowledged to be due, the late Ministers appointed him to a high and responsible situation in the colonies, and permitted him to depart with the public money in his pocket. He was convinced that every man would feel, that the late Administration was much infault, and that the Treasury had neglected its duty.
§ Sir John Newport
said, if the right hon. Gentleman opposite were correct in his notion, that no man had a right to cast an aspersion upon Sir George Hill till his accounts were settled, then Sir George was pretty secure against being aspersed, for, according to the conduct he had hitherto pursued, his accounts would remain unsettled for an indefinite period. He reprobated the conduct of the Treasury in issuing public money to a person who refused to obey all commands to account for what he had received. The Treasury had pursued the same conduct in the case of Mr. Chinnery, and the public had lost a large sum; but he must strongly protest against the doctrine of the right hon. 936 member for Harwich, that the merits of such a case had any relation to the chances which the public might eventually run of losing or not losing money.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
said, he had been rather taken by surprise, and could not exactly answer the question. On the face of the accounts the amount due was about 2,100l. He had strong reasons to believe the accounts would yet be settled in a satisfactory manner, but if not, the Government must take steps to compel a settlement. He assured the House that Ministers were not actuated by party feelings, and he must do the late Government the credit of declaring, that the Treasury appeared to have exerted themselves to the utmost, to procure the necessary papers and documents from Sir George Hill. He concurred fully with those who asserted, that it was absolutely necessary to observe the utmost care and punctuality in keeping the public accounts, and the Treasury were determined to enforce that doctrine in all the public departments.
thought he was now justified in calling this matter a neat bit of peculation. The right hon. Baronet did not deny, that he was minus 2,100l., and it would have been better if the late right hon. Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. George Dawson) had stopped the issue of the public money instead of merely writing threatening letters to his relations. The public ought not to suffer from the tenderness of relations for one another. He thought, too, that the present Ministers had not been so decided as they ought to have been. The sum was said to be only 2,100l., but that ought to have been settled before Sir George Hill was sent out to St. Vincent's. He had been charged with using harsh terms. He had not used harsher terms than were necessary. He had only called things by their proper names. It had been said, that the late Government had taken steps to obtain the settlement of the accounts: it had an effectual method in its hands to obtain that object, had it determined to exert its power, and that was, to stop the issue of more money until the accounts were properly audited. But it appeared, that while they were writing letters pressing a settlement, they were issuing a salary to the person charged with the delay to stop which would have been more 937 effectual than all the letters in the world. He thought the present Government too, was much to blame in not acting with greater decision. It was said the public would not lose the money, but how did they know that? The yellow fever might kill Sir George Hill, and then might not the public lose? Here was the sum of 2,100l., sufficient for a coronation, not paid, though the officer was repeatedly called upon to render accounts. This, however, was only one nest egg. There might be fifty more yet to be discovered. He was ready to admit, that the fact was not known to the Knight of Kerry, else he would have disclosed it. His Majesty's Ministers were not justified in acting has they had done—they were not justified in acting with such political timidity, and protecting their enemies, when they ought to bring them to account. They ought to act towards their political enemies as towards their friends, and punish both alike. No one could say what might be the result of such an appointment. Sir George was Lord Chancellor of the Island of St. Vincent, and he might put 2,000l. in his pocket belonging to some infant, and say, "Oh! I have that sum, and will repay it;" but would not such a practice entitle a Lord Chancellor in this country to send a public officer in Chancery to prison for such conduct? If that were not the case—if Sir George Hill were not recalled—might not any defaulter in Chancery say, "I cannot be sent to prison," and give an instance in point, that of Sir George Hill? He hoped Government would immediately recall the hon. Baronet.
§ Sir George Murray
concurred fully in what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Spring Rice), as to the mode in which both Governments had acted. He would admit, however, that he had not given all the attention to the subject he ought to have done. Sir George Hill had long been a Member of that House, he had filled a variety of offices with great approbation, and for these reasons he had recommended him to his Majesty as a proper person to be appointed governor of St. Vincent's.
trusted that this would be an example in future to the Government, and make it alive to the necessity of compelling their officers to account for the sums advanced to them.
§ Mr. George Dawson
could not deny, that he, perhaps, had, to some extent, 938 become a party to some degree of blame in this affair; but, knowing his connection with Sir George Hill, he had not taken the question into his own hands, but had put the papers into the hands of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, with directions to him to pursue the subject with all diligence. It was, however, but due to the Treasury to exonerate that department; and he must reluctantly admit, that the blame of the transaction rested with Sir George Hill.
Mr. Robert Gordon
was not at all satisfied with the statement of his right hon. friend. He thought that his right hon. friend ought to have insisted on Sir George Hill settling his accounts before he went to the West Indies, or to have sent a whole statement of the case to the Colonial Office, where nothing of the affair could be known.
said, that, if the doctrine laid down by the right hon. Gentleman was allowed, it would be followed by the most disastrous consequences; if the right hon. Gentleman would read the debates in Mr. Pitt's time, he would find it laid down, that no one had any right to take any portion of the public money for his own use, however accurately and entirely it might be accounted for at a subsequent period. It was of the utmost importance that every public man should be strict towards his relations, and this was particularly necessary at the Treasury. He was not pleased with the statements that had been made.
said, that the right hon. member for Harwich had accused him of committing a blunder, but the blunder was on his part. The Knight of Kerry could know nothing of the matter, and the right hon. Gentleman had committed the blunder himself, for it was his fault that the public money had been wasted. What had come of the 2,000l.? Sir George Hill had had it without any authority, and spent it. The matter called loudly for the interposition of Parliament, and, if no other Member moved an Address to the Crown to remove that officer, he would do it himself if the money was not speedily paid in.
Mr. Alderman Waithman
censured the plan of giving a man who was a defaulter, another situation abroad, that he might pay his default out of the other money he received from the public.
§ Mr. George Dawson
said, the facts on 939 which the hon. Members had commented, were made known after Sir George Hill was appointed Governor of St. Vincent. They were wise, therefore, after the fact. He took blame to himself for not having seen Sir George Hill's accounts; but, not having seen them, the Treasury could not know he was in arrears. It was not clear, because there was a deficiency in Sir George Hill's accounts, that any man was entitled to assert, that he had appropriated the money to his own use. It was hard and unjust to assert, that Sir George Hill had embezzled this money, which was merely unaccounted for.
Mr. Robert Gordon
thought, the right hon. Gentleman had been most unsuccessful, whether he meant to defend himself or defend Sir George Hill. It was an aggravation of the negligence of the Treasury to assert, that for five years the Treasury had not had this officer's accounts before it, and yet had appointed him to another office. It was clear, that the money was not now at the command of the public, and, therefore, it had been improperly appropriated.
§ Mr. Strickland
hoped the hon. member for Kerry would move the Address he had spoken of; for he could not conceive the offence imputed to Sir George Hill amounted to anything but embezzlement: in private life, at least, it would be called embezzlement. It was of no consequence how the money had been disposed of. Remarks on the subject, however, would be more appropriate when the hon. and learned member for Kerry made his motion. He placed confidence in his Majesty's Ministers, and hoped they would remove this officer, if, after strict inquiry, it was thought proper to institute a prosecution and allow him to defend himself.
thought, that he was perfectly justified in looking upon the offence of which Sir George Hill appeared to have been guilty, as a direct case of embezzlement and malversation. He did not blame him so much as he did the late Board of Treasury, the members of which deserved to be impeached for their gross negligence. In the case of Lord Melville, both that noble Lord and Mr. Pitt were examined by Parliament, although no public loss took place, yet censures were passed for acting on the principle of allowing the issue of public money without the sanction of Parliament. He 940 fully concurred with the observation made by the hon. member for Yorkshire, for he considered the transaction a gross fraud. If the accounts were not immediately made up, and the balance paid, the matter ought to be legally and fully investigated.
§ Mr. Hunt
complained of this—the second discussion of the question. The present and last Governments both wished to shift the blame off their shoulders. He, as the Representative of the public, wished to know how the public was to be indemnified; and he should suggest that 2,000l. less than the vote should be granted. He moved that 2.100l. be taken off from the vote. The Secretary of the Treasury might then stop the money out of his own salary.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
said, that the motion of the hon. Member was nonsense and gross injustice. How any Gentleman should think of stopping 2,000l. from the salaries of the Clerks at Dublin and London, in order to recover money from Sir George Hill, he could not conceive. The present Government had no blame to throw off its shoulders.
§ Mr. Daniel W. Harvey
saw no difference between the purloiner of public and the purloiner of private property committed to his charge. There was more to plead in mitigation of the errors of a poor and industrious clerk, with a family, than in favour of a titled man of rank, who had no other excuse than his own extravagance. In our Criminal Courts it was not allowed to compound a felony after it was detected. It was not enough, therefore, that the friends of Sir George Hill offered to reimburse the public. That satisfied the civil party, but public justice ought also to be satisfied. Unless the matter were followed up by some spirited individual, it would end where it began. He thought it ought not to stop there. The imputations thrown on the individual demanded an inquiry. If the House did not institute such an inquiry, they would neglect their duties as trustees of the public money.
§ Sir George Murray
said, the House had received the assurance of the right hon. Member, the Secretary of the Treasury, that the Government would follow up this matter if the balance was not paid 941 up as had been promised. He thought the conversation might be dropped.
thought the money might be stopped out of the pay or out of the pension of Sir George Hill. Another way was, for the right hon. Gentleman to give security for it.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
repeated, that the Government was taking strong and pressing means to recover the money. If it were not recovered, the Government would take measures to proceed against Sir George Hill. A letter had been written to Sir George Hill on the subject, the very day the communication was received from Ireland.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ 1,680l. was granted for the office of Teller of the Irish Court of Exchequer.