HC Deb 11 July 1831 vol 4 cc1065-76

The House then resolved itself into a Committee of Supply.

Mr. Spring Rice

moved, that the sum of 15,798l. 10s. be granted to defray the charges of Retired Allowances, &c, for the current year.

Mr. G. Dawson

said, he considered this to be a proper opportunity to place before the Committee the claims of a most useful and meritorious public servant; and when he had stated those claims, he flattered himself that the Committee would, with an unanimous feeling, accede to the proposition which he was about to make. He did not doubt, that the Ministers would be able to give a satisfactory reason why a compensatory vote to this individual had not originated with them; yet he hoped, that, if he made out, as he thought he should, a strong case for Sir A. B. King, that gentleman would not be suffered to lose any thing by the advocacy of the claim falling upon him. The facts of the case he had to submit to the Mouse were these:—Sir A. B. King-held the patent office of Stationer to his Majesty in Ireland. This patent had been in his family for a considerable number of years, from 1760 up to the present period. He allowed that tins long possession of the office ought not to weigh much with hon. Members, for if the office had been held for a long time, the profits that had accrued from it must have been great; but then, if the nature of the office, and the course which had always been pursued with regard to other patent offices, were considered, he thought that the length of the possession would by no means be a disadvantage to the claim of Sir A, B. King; especially as the duties of the office had been honestly and well performed. It had, however, been more than once a subject of complaint in that House, that no such monopoly had ever before been given to a subject; and in 1829, when the Irish Estimates were re- ferred to a Select Committee, the mode of supplying stationery in Ireland was, among other things, considered. The Committee thought, that a more economical mode might be adopted, and they therefore suggested, that it would be advisable to get Sir A. B. King to surrender his patent; and further, that when this should be done, the stationery should be supplied from the Stationery-office here. Sir A. B. King was examined before the Committee, and the whole subject was fully investigated, during which investigation, no doubt was ever raised as to the rights of Sir A. B. King under his patent. He admitted, however, that the patent was a patent revokable at the pleasure of the Crown. During this investigation, too, the Committee, so far from imputing any thing like delinquency to Sir A. B. King, recommended that a negotiation should be entered into with him for the purpose of inducing him to surrender his patent. This was the understanding, and the then Government acting upon it, wrote to Sir A. B. King, and asked him to surrender his patent upon certain terms. His noble friend, the then Secretary for Ireland, had, in a letter to Sir A. B. King, made him an offer of an annual payment during his life, or of a certain fixed sum, in consideration of the surrender of the patent. As this was a point of importance, he would beg leave to read the letter to the House; it was in these words, Dublin Castle, 6th November, 1829. SIR,—I am directed by the Lord Lieutenant to acquaint you, that it is proposed, if you arc willing to dispose of the right vested in you by patent, of supplying stationery to his Majesty's offices, to purchase it by an annual payment on the basis of what shall appear to be your average fair and just profits, or by a sum of money equivalent to the value of such annual payment for your life. F. LEVESON GOWER. The letter, it would be observed, contained no fact of misconduct, but was an open offer to purchase what were considered Sir A. B. King's rights, either by a large sum of money at once, or by an annual payment. Sir A. B. King, in answer to this letter, expressed his willingness to enter into arrangements for the surrender of his office, and only delayed his final answer upon the subject, in consequence of some difficulty in ascertaining what the profits of the office were. This was the commencement of the ne- gotiation; but, afterwards, various Treasury Minutes passed upon the subject, in which the surrender of the patent was insisted on. To this demand Sir A. B. King did not demur, but only asked that his claims to compensation might meet with fair consideration. The difficulty was, to settle the amount of the compensation. Sir A. B. King called upon him, as Secretary for the Treasury, to decide upon the amount of compensation, for profits upon paper, pens, sealing-wax, wafers, which he of course was not competent to do. It was then determined, that the Government should select some stationer of high eminence and great character to meet some other stationer appointed by Sir A. B. King. These were to give their opinion as to the amount of compensation, and they were empowered to call in a third person, who was conversant in the business of stationery, as umpire. A third person was called in, and in the end the three decided unanimously that 2,500l. per annum ought to be given to Sir A. B. King as compensation, and they made an award to that effect. As this was a legal document, he would beg leave to read the award. College Hill, December 1st, 1830. Sir,—In conformity to the principles contained in your letter of the 6th of November, we proceeded to arbitrate the question in dispute between the right hon. Lords Commissioners of his Majesty's Treasury and Sir Abraham Bradley King; and, as a preliminary step, appointed Mr. Richard Jones, of Aldgate, wholesale stationer, umpire, in the event of our not being able to agree as to the amount of compensation to be awarded to Sir A. B. King, and we were obliged to avail ourselves of the assistance of that gentleman, not being able to agree upon the terms, and feel indebted to him for the benefit of his long experience and advice. We beg now to acquaint you, that we have unanimously agreed that the sum of 2,500l. per annum would be no more than a fair remuneration to Sir A. B. King, for the surrender of his patent, being about thirteen and a half per cent on the return of the stationery supplied to the public department in Ireland, and which said sum of 2,500l. per annum we hereby award should be granted to him. CHARLES MAGNAY. SAMUEL TIPPER. RICHARD JONES. If this award had been made while the late Ministers were in office, he had no hesitation in saying, that they would have felt it their duty to have confirmed it by a Minute of the Treasury, and to have car- ried it into effect. The present Government, however, had not thought proper to do so, although Sir A. B. King had surrendered his patent voluntarily, on the faith of this award being carried into effect. It seemed to him very strange, not to say very wrong, when parties agreed to refer a dispute, not to abide by the decision. The noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had already assented to a proposition for giving Sir A. B. King this sum for one year, and he would beg leave to read the letter in which the grant for one year was acceded to: Treasury Chambers, 20th January, 1831. Sir,—The Lords Commissioners of his Majesty's Treasury having resumed the consideration of the reports on Irish Miscellaneous Estimates for the year 1829, and particularly the question respecting the supply of stationery for the Public Departments in Ireland, I have received their commands to acquaint you, that his Majesty has signified his pleasure that the patent under which you have held the office of his Majesty's stationer in Ireland, should be revoked; I am further to acquaint you, that my Lords will be disposed to sanction the payment to you of a sum calculated at a rate not exceeding 2,500l. per annum, from the period at which you ceased to supply the departments in Ireland with stationery, and calculated to the day on which your patent shall be actually revoked; I am also to inform you that, as the question of granting to you some amount of compensation has been, to a certain extent, entertained by the late Board of Treasury, my Lords are disposed to afford you every facility which may be required to enable you to bring any claim you consider yourself to have, under the notice of Parliament in the ensuing Session. T. SPRING RICE. That was, he thought, admitting that Sir A. B. King had a right to the compensation; | but he understood that it was now meant! to be contended by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that as the patent was only held during the pleasure of the Crown, Sir A. B. King had no right to compensation. If this doctrine were sanctioned by the House, it would be the first and only instance in which such a course had been pursued with regard to patent offices. He held in his hand a return of forty offices, all of them conferred by patents revokable at pleasure; but all the holders of which had received compensation on the abolition of their offices. It was not necessary for him to read the whole list, but he might mention the case of the Duke of Manchester, who received a compensation for his patent place of Collector of the Outports, though after he had surrendered the patent it was not again completed, and he held the office for several years with no patent at all. Notwithstanding that, the Government granted him a compensation when the office was wholly taken away from him. He thought that it was a very hard case that Sir A. B. King was the only person who should have his patent taken from him without any compensation. He thought, that a strong case had been made out for Sir A. B. King, He knew, that there had been a very extravagant issue of paper in this department; but then the issue was one over which Sir A. B. King had no control, for he dared not refuse the supply of paper which, as the King's stationer, was demanded of him. Although, therefore, there had been a saving of 10,000l. on a sum of 22,000l. since the new mode of supplying stationery had been adopted, yet it was not owing to any misconduct of Sir A. B. King, that the sum for stationery in Ireland had been 10,000l. more than it ought to have been. Besides, this saving had arisen from the voluntary surrender of the patent on the part of Sir A. B. King, and therefore he thought he had made out a case for compensation to that gentleman. He begged, therefore, to move as an amendment, that the sum of 2,500l. a year be granted to Sir A. B. King, as a compensation for the surrender of his patent.

Lord Althorp

said, that he would in a very few words state to the House the grounds on which he had thought it right that no compensation should be given to Sir A. B. King. The right hon. Gentleman had correctly stated, that this matter arose out of the report of a select Committee upon the Irish Estimates; but then the right hon. Gentleman had not stated—what he was informed was the fact—that that Committee was not aware, that the patent was a patent during pleasure.

Mr. Dawson

—The patent was on the Table.

Lord Althorp

said, that the patent might have been upon the Table, but he was told, that the Committee, so far from being aware of the nature of it, considered it to be a patent for life; and that, in that mistake had originated their recommendation of compensation. The right hon. Gentleman had in other respects correctly stated the facts of the case up to the award having been made; when that award came before him, and he found that the patent was not a patent for life, but a patent revokable at pleasure, he had at once given it as his opinion that the patent ought to be revoked. To say, that Sir A. B. King had voluntarily resigned the patent was not a correct mode of expression: for, although he dared to say, that Sir A. B. King would have been very ready to resign the patent for 2,500l. a year, yet he was sure that Sir A. B. King would have done no such thing voluntarily without compensation. When he found, that so extravagant had been the expense under Sir A. B. King's administration of this office, that 10,000l. could be saved out of a sum of 22,000l., it did appear to him (though he did not mean to say that Sir A. B. King put that 10,000l. into his pocket) that the profits of that gentleman in his office, while he held it, must have been so enormous, that his was not a fit case for compensation. It was true that he had given Sir A. B. King this sum of 2,500l. for one year; and he had clone so because Sir A. B. King was entitled to it until the patent was revoked, and it was not revoked until that period of a year had elapsed. As to the cases which the right hon. Gentleman had quoted, he admitted them to be in point, but he could not consent to take them as his guide. He thought that what had been done in those cases had been improperly done. He had looked at this question on its own merits, and, so looking at it, he had not thought that he should be justified in proposing in that House any compensation to Sir A. B. King. He did not wish to blame or to pass any censure upon Sir A. B. King, but only to state the grounds on which he had acted. He thought, that he had acted quite rightly, but that was a matter upon which it was for the House to decide.

Colonel Sibthorp

supported the motion for compensation. The patent had been surrendered under a promise of a pension, and not to grant it would be a direct robbery of the individual.

Mr. R. Gordon

, as a member of the Committee, must state that his impression was, that every member of the Committee considered the patent as a patent for life. He believed, that there was not a single member of the Committee who was aware of the fact, that the patent was revokable at pleasure. The right hon. Gentleman had called Sir A. B. King a useful and meritorious officer; but he (Mr. R. Gordon) was at a loss to discover alike the utility and the merits of this gentleman. He should have said, on the contrary, that the saving which had been effected since Sir A. B. King had been removed, proved that Sir A. B. King was worse than of no use at all; while the demerits rather than the merits of that officer were evident, from the stationery now costing only 12,000l.; whereas Sir A. B. King used to charge 22,000l. for it. It was proved on the Committee, that in many cases money had been given in lieu of station-cry; 24l. was given to the state cook, instead of stationery, and there was not a single officer in the Lord Lieutenant's household, who could pretend to have any use for paper, who had not money given him instead of the stationery which it was supposed he might want. In a word, he thought that those who had put so much of the public money into their pockets for so many years, were the worst possible objects for compensation.

Mr. A. Lefroy

supported the motion for compensation, and said, that Sir A. B. King's character could not be impugned. He had the honour of serving the office of mayor, and of experiencing the favour of his sovereign.

Mr. O'Connell

supported the motion for compensation. It appeared that the Committee had thought the patent a patent for life—so had Sir A. B. King—and so had the Government, at whose instance Sir A. B. King had surrendered it on the promise of compensation. This was the case, and the question now was, whether Sir A. B. King was to have that compensation which had been promised him, and upon the faith of which promise he had surrendered the patent. He must say, that he thought Sir A. B. King had a just claim, under the circumstances, to compensation. As to the jobbing at the Castle, was that the fault of Sir A. B. King? If it was, let him be visited with the penalties of it; but if it was not, as he was informed and believed it was not, then do not visit upon Sir A. B. King the faults of others. He understood that Sir A. B. King could not, dared not, refuse these claims of the household servants, which had been granted from time immemorial. Sir A. B. King and his family had always moved in a respectable situation, and he (Mr. O'Connell) appealed to hon. Members if such a man, and those dependent on him, ought to be consigned to penury, without any delinquency being proved against him. He had felt it his duty to state thus much, because he was impressed with the justice and equity of the claim.

Mr. Hume

thought the House might find it difficult to resist the appeal of his hon. and learned friend. He must, however, make the House aware, that the fault was the Government's, not that of Sir A. B. King. The patent ought to have been withdrawn in 1822, and that it was only now withdrawn, was a proof of the manner in which the public money was wasted. Sir A. B. King ought to think himself too happy to have enjoyed so much of the public money. The late Government was much to blame. Sir A. B. King, instead of receiving more money, ought to refund part of what he had received. He had not discharged his duty as a faithful public servant; and if his patent had been brought before any tribunal several years ago, it would have been voided. He was not much surprised, that the Gentlemen lately in office advocated this cause; and he was happy to congratulate the country on having, at length, one honest Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would do his duty to his country. The late Government ought to have ascertained whether the patent were for life or not. He should support the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

admitted the great merit of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but still he thought good feeling, as well as justice, was in favour of the view taken by the hon. and learned member for Kerry. The patent was for life, like all the pensions granted by the Crown. The question had been settled by a reference already made to arbitrators, and the Government was bound to abide by that arbitration. The subject had been investigated, the investigation had been completed, and the present Government could not alter the decision. Sir A. B. King was bound and concluded by the arbitration, and he could not go into a court of law to set it aside. Was he to be bound by it, and not the Government? That was not justice. If they did not give effect to the award of the arbitrators, they would do a gross act of injustice.

Mr. G. Dawson

explained, that Sir A. B. King had surrendered his patent, and that it was his (Mr. Dawson's) fault that it was not taken by him. He contended, that the profits said to have been made by Sir A. B. King had been much over-rated. He never had charged 100 per cent profit. The utmost he had made was 16½ per cent.

Mr. Serjeant Wilde

was of opinion that this was a question of justice; and if so, was it right, in the present state of the country, and the loud call for economy, to grant, by way of indulgence and liberality, so large a sum of money? It was said, that this was a question between the Government and Sir A. B. King. He did not think so; he thought it was a question between the Public and Sir A. B. King; and if it turned out, that he had no claim in law or justice, he never could agree that it was the duty of the House to squander the money of the public, and grant a compensation to an individual who had no claim to it. It had been said, that there was no proof that the grant had been abused; but there was strong presumption, when the matter had come before the House, that the public had suffered loss, which rendered it expedient, on the supposition that the patent was for life, that it should be put an end to. But the Committee had heard the statements of some hon. Members, which they intended to make the foundation of their votes, that most excessive and enormous charges had been made; that there had been such practices, that if his Majesty's Attorney General had been directed to move for a scire facias to repeal the patent, he was convinced, that no Jury would have hesitated to void the patent for abuse. If any public servant, intrusted with supplying goods, supplied money instead of goods, it would be such an abuse of the patent as would warrant its repeal. It was said, that it was well known, that it was a patent during pleasure; if so, and if it was found to be abused, why was it not put an end to? He could not conceive why a compensation should be asked. But to whom was it well known? If to those whose special duty it was to protect the public, why was a Committee of the House not informed? The Committee was allowed to go on under a delusion. If it was well known, it was the duty of the Government not to give a compensation; and it was also their duty, to have placed before the Committee the real state of the interest of the party. It turned out that there had been a bargain made, to give up, for a compensation, what the public had a right to resume. But it was said there had been an arbitration; this was founded on a mistake. It supposed, that the right had been referred to arbitration. But it was not so; the right had been assumed; it was only referred to the arbitrators, to award a compensation for an assumed right. Now the House understood that there was no right; and yet it was called upon to vote what was founded on an assumption of right. He (Mr. Serjeant Wilde) protested against this mode of giving away the public money. What was the pretence for it? It was said, that Sir A. B. King had resigned the patent. He would take it for granted that the bargain was complete, and that Sir A. B. King was ready to resign the patent. Still, before the public money went into the pocket of Sir A. B. King, he wished to know wherefore. Sir A. B. King had no right to stand upon; and as to what had been said about the public having become unwittingly a party, and therefore ought to be bound, he would say, if one farthing had been taken from Sir A. B. King, he had a right to call upon the House to make it good; but if he had not lost any thing, and if the bargain had been made through the negligence of those who had not done their utmost to protect the public interests, he could come upon them only in one of two ways: he must either wish to take advantage of the public, or he must say, "I have been tinder a delusion, and I beg you will pay me for the loss, not of a real right, but of a supposititious right." The real question was, whether Sir A. B. King had so conducted himself as to warrant a claim on the liberality of the House; he had no right, and what ground was there for a benevolence? He (Mr. Serjeant Wilde) and the other Members of the House were there to do justice; and would they do justice by making this grant to a man who had done nothing to deserve it?

Mr. Goulburn

agreed, that if they acted upon the strict principle of legal justice, Sir A. B. King would have no right; but extreme justice was often the extreme of injury; and it was the practice of Parliament to listen to equitable claims. It had been contended, that the House and the Committee were ignorant of the nature of the patent of the King's stationer in Ireland; but a copy of that patent had been two several times on the Table of the House, and had been printed. A person who had held the patent for sixty years, on a grant which had been discussed and renewed at the demise of the Crown, which had been treated by a succession of Governments as a valid patent, did not make an unreasonable claim for compensation for its loss; and it was not extraordinary that the Committee should recommend the purchase of the patent, or that Government should comply with the recommendation.

Mr. Hughes Hughes

begged to state to the House the reasons why he proposed to vote for the amendment. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Althorp) had objected to the proposed compensation to Sir A. B. King because the patent he had surrendered was held during pleasure: but he wished to inquire, if all the pensions granted during the late reign were not granted during pleasure? They were; and notwithstanding that circumstance, and the fact that most of them were obtained from Royal or Ministerial favour, and not for public services, the noble Lord had himself, at the commencement of the present reign, urged on the House the propriety of continuing the whole of them; contending, although so granted, that they could not be withdrawn. On this account he had listened with astonishment to the noble Lord's speech. He had heard, with equal surprise, the hon. member for Middlesex thank the noble Lord for his opposition to this grant, in the name of the public. He could not pretend to know so much of the opinions of the people in the metropolitan county as his hon. friend; but he believed the public in general, who were most anxious that justice should be done, would not hear with satisfaction the course taken by the Government on this occasion: and if this House wished to afford the most obvious proof of its need of Reform, it had only to sanction the gross act of injustice now attempted. The hon. member for Cricklade had said, that in no Reformed Parliament would the amendment be listened to. If such were his opinion, he would not be a party to the Reform Bill. From the official papers before the House, it appeared Sir A. B. King voluntarily resigned his patent, on the suggestion of receiving an equivalent equal in value to the right vested in him. Now, if such equivalent had been estimated, as though the patent was for life, and not during pleasure, to deny all compensation, on that account, would be a crying act of injustice.

The Committee divided. For the amendment 45; against it 103—Majority 58.

The original Vote agreed to, and the House resumed.