HC Deb 18 July 1831 vol 4 cc1422-6

The Motion was then put, that the Speaker leave the Chair.

Mr. George Dawson

said, that as the speech of the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) in the case of Sir Abraham Bradley King, seemed to have made a great impression on the House on a former night, he (Mr. Dawson) wished to make a brief statement on the present occasion. From the statement of the noble Lord, on the evening of the motion for a remuneration to Sir Abraham Bradley King, in consequence of the loss of his patent situation, as Government stationer, it would appear, that the Committee on the Irish Miscellaneous Estimates, in 1829, was not aware that his was a patent held during pleasure; but imagined, as it had been said again am again, that it was a patent for his life, and that, therefore, the Committee, having recommended that his existing vested rights should not be invaded, also recommended that no such contract or monopoly should be concluded in future. The argument of the noble Lord, therefore, was, that the Committee had acted in ignorance of the exact nature of the patent, and had only, on that account, sanctioned the recommendation indirectly for a compensation to that worthy Baronet, He had then stated, that he had a strong' recollection that the Committee was well acquainted with the fact. In that recollection he was fortified by referring to the volume of the proceedings of the House in their own library up-stairs, in which, by a singular coincidence, in the very page which contained a copy of that patent, printed by order of the House, he found a note from the Secretary of the Committee of 1829, to the Librarian, requesting him to send the Committee that volume which contained Sir Abraham Bradley King's patent, which appeared to have laid on the Committee's Table three weeks. He hoped the hon. and learned member for Newark would, after this explanation, feel there was no ground for charging the Government of that day with neglect of duty, by omitting to give the Committee this important information. He was happy, therefore, to be able to assert, that when the Committee declared Sir A. B. King had a vested right, they were in possession of all the facts of the case: and even had the patent before them when they gave their decision. Some hon. Gentlemen supposed, from what had been said by several members of the Committee, that they had insufficient evidence to go upon, and were not cognisant of the nature of the patent. He did not wish to open the question again, but felt called upon to make this statement, in justice to the Committee, to himself, and more particularly to the Government of the day. When the hon. and learned member for Newark heard this explanation, he would regret the language he had used formerly, charging the late Government with having endeavoured to delude and deceive the Committee. The patent, it was evident, had been open to the inspection of all; and the decision of the House the other night was, therefore, unsupported, in as much as that was, in a great degree, founded upon the supposition that the Committee, when it made the report, was not aware that the patent was revocable at pleasure. For his part, he felt the case to be one of the greatest injustice; and he had great apprehension it might hereafter be perverted as a precedent to commit similar acts of injustice with respect to other patent rights.

Lord Althorp

said, he had not been a member of the Committee, and, of course, his statement on a former evening was derived from the information of others. When the case was first taken into consideration at the Treasury, it was thought expedient to consult the Law Officers of the Crown as to the nature of the patent, and the reasons on which they decided were furnished by the report on record. He had opposed the motion for a grant on public grounds, and had formed his opinion, that no compensation ought to be granted to Sir A. B. Xing, not merely on the ground that the Committee were kept in ignorance that the patent was revocable at pleasure, but on a consideration of the whole facts of the case.

Mr. R. Gordon

said, that he and the hon. member for Middlesex, and he believed the hon. Gentleman opposite himself, were ignorant that the patent was revocable at pleasure. The statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, that he had seen a paper, in the hand-writing of the Clerk of the Committee, was no evidence, that the patent had been read and discussed by the members of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman had, on a former evening, stated, that Sir A. B. King's patent was similar to all other Irish patents; but, on looking over the King's Printer's patent, he found that that was not revocable at pleasure, but was held for life, while that of the King's Stationer was held only during pleasure. What vested right could there be in such a patent? Would any Government have entered into a treaty for the purchase of it, if it had known it could be revoked?

Mr. George Dawson

said, that he had also looked over the King's Printer's patent, but he found that it was not held for life, but for a term of forty years. This was a decided proof how difficult it was to take anything on assertion.

Mr. R. Gordon

said, that the difference between the patent of the King's Printer and that of Sir A. B. King was, that the latter was revocable, and the former was not; he only spoke generally, and did not use the words in the sense applied by the right, hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Spring Rice

was not aware, while a member of the Committee up-stairs, that Sir A. B. King's patent was not a patent for life; and he had had a considerable share in drawing up the report. Indeed, it was not until such a large sum was claimed for compensation, that he had looked at the patent, and then found that it was revocable at pleasure. The Go- vernment, on that account, thought it expedient to refer the subject to the Law Officers of the Crown, and the revocation of the patent was the result of their unanimous opinion.

Colonel Maberly

had been a member of the Committee, and could positively assert, that he was not aware of the nature of the patent, he had been constant in his attendance at the meetings of the Committee.

Mr. Goulburn

thought it extraordinary, that the Members of a Committee should have agreed to a report without once looking at the patent on which it was founded. There had also been a debate on the subject of this very patent, if he were not mistaken; and the nature and tenure of the office of King's Stationer in Ireland had been frequently alluded to.

Mr. Serjeant Wilde

apprehended, from the statement of the noble Lord (Althorp), that a claim had been made for remuneration on the revocation of an office held during pleasure; and he considered, that no just or legal claim could be made for compensation in such a case. It had been said, that the members of the Committee acted, and assented to the report, under the mistaken impression, that the patent was for life; he had therefore asserted, that, on public grounds and in law, there was no right to grant compensation. There was a still stronger reason why it should not be given: he meant because it had been made out, that the patent had been abused, and that, under its protection, fraud had been committed. The Committee, in his mind, should have been furnished with the information which had very properly been laid before the legal authorities. Upon that alone, however, it would have been impossible they could have come to any other decision. He meant to bring no charge against the late Government, but he thought the present had acted most properly in consulting the Law Officers of the Crown, by which means it had been found, that Sir A. B. King had neither an equitable nor legal claim to compensation. The late reference to the patent, which ought to have been made long ago, was a very fortunate circumstance, and rather a God-send than a piece of wisdom.

Mr. A. Lefroy

thought the House overlooked the fact, that a positive contract had been made between the late Government and Sir A. B. King respecting his claim to remuneration. Articles for the appointment of arbitrators had been entered into, and it would have been impossible for Sir A. B. King to have receded, as he was compelled to give security to abide by their decision. The present Ministry, therefore, ought not to have broken the contract which the other party could not break. He thought the House had acted unjustly, and ought to retrace its steps.