HC Deb 25 July 1831 vol 5 cc283-91

The sum of 11,261l. was then proposed for defraying the charge of the Civil Establishments of Newfoundland.

Mr. George Robinson

opposed this motion. Newfoundland, it should be observed, had no local legislature: and a vote of 11,000l. was now called for in aid of revenues raised in that colony, not by the power of a local legislature, but by acts of that House. He contended, that money raised in Newfoundland by acts of the legislature here, ought to be accounted for to Parliament, just like any other vote of the public money. He now wished to call the attention of the Committee to the situation in which the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hyde Villiers), who filled the situation of agent for the island, stood at present. The island, he was bound to say, had not derived any benefit from that hon. Gentleman's exertions. He would here shortly give to the House a history of that appointment. Some years ago, the inhabitants of Newfoundland could only communicate with the Government through the medium of the Admiral who was placed on that station. They found, in consequence, that their interests were neglected, and that Government was not properly apprized of their situation. They therefore applied to Government, that they might themselves be allowed to appoint an agent. All they wanted was, a person who should be acquainted with the situation of the country, and who would, consequently, be enabled to place the situation of the colony in its true light before Government. But what did the Government do, in consequence of this application? They immediately appointed au agent themselves, with a salary to be paid out of the revenue of the colony. In the observations which he was about to make, he meant nothing personal to the hon. Member, but having a large stake in Newfoundland, he would say to the hon. Member, that he had never given the slightest assistance to that colony. It was undoubtedly right that the hon. Member should not allow his duty with reference to Newfoundland to interfere with that which he owed to the interests of the country in general; but, assuredly, he ought not to be paid out of the revenue of the colony, when, upon various points, he took a view of the interests of Newfoundland totally different from that which was entertained by the inhabitants. He understood, that the hon. Member had now taken office under the Crown—that he had accepted a situation connected with the East Indies. He congratulated the hon. Member on having taken office, and he was convinced that he was extremely well calculated to render good service to any Government to which he might please to attach himself. But if he were placed in a situation which caused his duties to be of a conflicting nature, so that he was compelled, as agent, to take a view of certain matters adverse to the interest of the colony, out of whose revenues he was remunerated, he thought that he ought to feel himself obliged, in honour, to lay down that office. There was no colony better able to support a larger population than Newfoundland, if it had fair play; but, unfortunately, it never had had fair play. He was instructed by the inhabitants of Newfoundland to say, that if a local legislature were granted to them—which they were equally entitled to with the other North American colonies—they would never ask that House for another farthing. Such votes as the present were rendered necessary, by the refusal of the Government to give the inhabitants of the colony a just control over their own affairs. They had as strong claims to that control as any other of our Colonial States; for instance, Bermuda, which was not more than one-third as large, had a domestic legislature. In the present grant was included a sum of 30l. for the pension of Mrs. Westropp. He knew something of that lady's pension. Her husband had been sent out to the colony as Attorney-general, for which office he was found to be utterly unfit. He must say, in conclusion, that if no reason were given by the hon. member for Bletchingly (Mr. Hyde Villiers) for the continuance of this salary to the agent for Newfoundland, he should move, as the only means open to him, that the vote be reduced by 300l.

Lord Howick

said, he must, complain that, when questions were asked, hon. Gentlemen should, without, attending to the answers, go on debating those questions as if no answer had been given to them. He appealed to every hon. Gentleman present whether he had not, in answer to a question from the hon. member for Cricklade, stated, that when his hon. friend (the member for Bletchingly) accepted the office of Secretary to the Board of Trade, his hon. friend had intimated to the Treasury that he should no longer draw his salary as agent for Newfoundland. The hon. member for Worcester seemed to know a great deal about Newfoundland, but perhaps it had escaped the hon. member's knowledge, that the Chamber of Commerce at St. John's had sent a vote of thanks to his hon. friend, the member for Bletchingly, which vote was couched in the handsomest terms. In the face of this fact, the hon. member for Worcester came down to that House, and asked hon. Members to believe, upon his individual authority, that the hon. member for Bletchingly was a sinecurist, and that his services were rather hurtful than advantageous to the colony. With regard to the present estimate, he had already promised the House that, in the next Session, a regular statement of the whole expenditure should be laid before it. He did not think this a proper opportunity for entering upon the question of giving a local legislature to Newfoundland. He agreed, however, with the hon. Member, that the wealth and intelligence of these colonists entitled them to a more direct control over their affairs than they at present enjoyed; and he had no hesitation in saying, that to give them such control the Government was most anxious. This, however, was a matter of some difficulty, and required much consideration, because it would be extremely inconvenient and unjust to give to one part of the population a preponderance over the others. The way to avoid this was not yet apparent.

Mr. G. Robinson

said, that he had not heard the answer of the noble Lord to the hon. member for Cricklade: if he had, he should not have made the observations he had made.

Lord Howick

said, that the question and answer had occurred in a debate to which the hon. Member himself had given rise, and the hon. Member was in the House when the answer was given.

Mr. Hyde Villiers

said, that it was hardly necessary he should say any thing after what had fallen from the noble Lord, only he did not choose to remain silent under the imputations which had been cast upon him by the hon. member for Worcester. He had considered himself as holding this office for the benefit of the colony, and with no other view whatsoever. The Chamber of Commerce being the only part of the population that acted in a corporate capacity, he had communicated with the members of the Chamber, and stated to them, that he did not wish to hold the office one moment after they should come to the opinion that his services were not beneficial to the colony. And what had the Chamber of Commerce done? Had they asked him to relinquish the office? On the contrary, in every report they had made they had acknowledged his services in the handsomest manner, and particularly by the recent vote of thanks to which his noble friend had alluded, but which was far too flattering for it to be becoming in him to do more than glance at. At the same time he was bound to admit, that there were some members of the colony who wished to see the hon. member for Worcester in this office, and perhaps the hon. member himself participated in that wish. He had only to add, as the noble Lord had already stated to the Committee, that he had declined to draw his salary any longer as agent for the colony.

Mr. Hunt

thought, that as the hon. Gentleman had given up the salary, they ought to be benefitted by it, and that the vote ought to be reduced by 300l.

Mr. George Robinson

repeated, that he had not before heard the statements which had now been made. The hon. member for Bletchingly, however, was mistaken if he thought that he (Mr. Robinson) was not aware of the vote of thanks from the Chamber of Commerce. The hon. Member might shake his head, but he could tell the hon. Member, that he had received from the Chamber of Commerce an account of all their proceedings; and further, that the Chamber of Commerce had acted, he might say, almost under his advice. He had not gone into all his objections to this vote, one part of which—he meant the expense of the Government-house—would justify him in objecting to it altogether. He should now, after what had passed, and after the unsatisfactory nature of what had fallen from the noble Lord with regard to giving a local legislature to the colony, object to the vote altogether.

Mr. Spring Rice

entreated the Committee to observe the course which the hon. member for Worcester had pursued; first, the hon. Member objected to the vote on account of a certain 300l., and then he farther objected to it on account of the constitution of the colony. To the first objection the hon. Member had received, as he himself admitted, a complete and satisfactory answer. Then, as to the constitution of the colony, the hon. Member had received from his noble friend a frank admission, that the wealth and the intelligence of the colony had made it a matter of anxious consideration to give to Newfoundland a local legislature; but his noble friend had said, that this subject required time, because it was difficult to form such a plan as would prevent giving an undue preponderance to a particular part of the colony. Having received these answers, then what did the hon. member for Worcester do? Why, finding that his objection as to the 300l. fell to the ground, the hon. Member turned round, and said, that he would object to the vote altogether—to the whole vote—until the Government gave a new constitution to Newfoundland. Now surely a Committee of Supply was not the proper place wherein to discuss the nature of a new constitution for this colony; and such a course came, he must say, with a peculiarly bad grace from the hon. member for Worcester, who had given notice of a motion which would bring the whole subject under the consideration of the House. He did not deny that there were many objections to these Estimates, which he had before characterised as calculated to delude hon. Members, and to keep from the House the knowledge of the real amount and nature of the expenditure. The expenditure of the Government-house was a proof of this. The original estimate for that house, as agreed to by Parliament, was 8,778l. But what sum did the Committee suppose had actually been laid out upon the house? Why, the whole expenditure, exclusive of stores sent from England, was 30,158l., although the estimate had been only 8,778l. He said, that this was the amount of the expenditure, exclusive of stores sent from England. Now some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite knew a good deal about Newfoundland, and could, therefore, tell whether there was any stone in the colony. It was well known, that there was plenty, and hon. Members must be very much surprised to learn, that granite had been sent from England for building this house. He had no hesitation in saying, that such a house was quite unnecessary; but, even if it had been necessary, still the Government ought to have been applied to for permission to lay out such a sum of money upon a house, the cost of which, in the estimate laid before them, was put at 8,778l., and not at 30,158l. Hon. Members would observe, by a Treasury Minute that had been laid upon the Table, that effectual means had been taken to guard against the recurrence of such a circumstance; that estimates of every work would be laid before the House previous to the work being undertaken; and that, in succeeding estimates, the House would have an opportunity of seeing whether the original estimates had been exceeded.

Mr. Hunt

thought, that the hon. member for Worcester would have been justified in objecting to the vote after the pedantic speech of the noble Lord, had it not been done away by the effect of the explanation just given. He had no notion of Members of that House being schooled by school-boys.

Mr. John Wood

wished to know how the 22,000l. more than the estimate was paid.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, that was a proceeding not to be defended, and grew out of the bad arrangements of the Army Extraordinaries. Estimates, when exceeded, were paid for by Commissaries drawing bills, without specifying the particular services for which the money was required. Three classes of bills were drawn; first, those for bullion deposited abroad, which was matter of convenience, the Government losing nothing by the transaction; but it afforded a means of doing wrong, as the Government could not possibly know, when the bills were presented for payment, whether the bullion had been lodged, or not. Secondly, there were bills drawn on votes of supply; and, lastly, there were unauthorized bills, for which no funds had been provided. It was this last description of bills which had permitted the abuse referred to, and which must be abolished, by not granting money without an estimate of expenditure. There were certain cases which could not be thus provided for, but the Army Extraordinaries were intended to meet these. It was the duty of Government to specify every expense that was possible, previously; and it was the duty of the House to call for explanations and details of the expenditure; and, if the House wished to have these details for the subject at present under consideration, the Government would have no objection to furnish them. This related to the past; for the future they would endeavour to reform the system.

Mr. John Wood

said, he had thought, that what came out upon the Navy Estimates had been bad enough; but this affair of the Government-house at Newfoundland was much worse. In the case of the Navy Estimates, the money voted by Parliament to buy timber had been applied to building walls; but here was an expenditure, totally unauthorised by Parliament, defrayed by unauthorized bills. He hoped, that measures would be taken to prevent anything of the kind happening again, for he was sure, that a Reformed Parliament would impeach any Minister who should do the like.

Mr. R. Gordon

said, that, this proceeding shewed the propriety of the advice he had frequently given. He had often urged upon Government the adoption of a principle which he hoped his Majesty's present Ministers would act upon—namely, to propose the Estimates always a year in advance. That principle was the one which was followed in France, and if it had been adopted here, they would be now voting the Estimates for 1832, with which they could deal as they pleased in the way of retrenchment, instead of the Estimates before them, the greater portion of which had been already expended. It was impossible to refuse this vote, because the money had already been expended, and yet it was plain, if that were not the case, that the House would refuse its sanction to such a wasteful expenditure.

Sir James Graham

said, that he fully concurred with his hon. friend as to the adoption of the principle to which he had alluded, and he was sure that his hon. friend would be glad to hear, that as far as the Navy Estimates were concerned, that principle had been already acted upon to a great extent. He (Sir J. Graham) had, by means of the unappropriated balances, been enabled to carry on the service of the Navy up to the 1st of April without drawing on the Estimates of the current year; and he believed, that the Estimates for that department, voted in the present year, would defray all the charges up to April in the next year; and as the Estimates for the next year would be voted before the month of April, the House would then have the advantage which the hon. Member wished to secure to them—namely, that of having Estimates brought before them and voted previously to the expenditure of the sums named in those Estimates. He mentioned these circumstances to show that he continued now, on that side of the House, of the same opinion that he had been when on the other, and that as he had then supported the recommendation of the hon. Member, so he now endeavoured, as far as circumstances would permit him, to act upon it.

Mr. Paget

hoped, that the promises given by the Ministers would be kept. He should be most happy to see their fulfilment. At the same time he was bound to acknowledge, that as far as he had observed the Ministers, their promises were made in good faith.

Mr. Spring Rice

wished to prevent any misapprehension regarding this vote for the Government-house at Newfoundland. He had, undoubtedly, stated, that the original Estimate was 8,778l. and that the expenditure, exclusive of stores, was up-wards of 30,000l. Of this sum, 18,124l. was taken by votes in the years 1828 and 1829; so that the sanction of Parliament had been already obtained to that extent. But the votes were not proposed until the money had been expended, and they objected to that principle. The whole cost of the House, including furniture, amounted to 38,175l., shewing an excess over the sums voted, of above 20,000l. The explanation of this transaction would be furnished in the accounts to be produced.

Mr. Wilks

thought the conduct of Ministers, in this instance, had been most praiseworthy.

Colonel Sibthorp

must beg to see the promises performed, before he could eulogize the persons making them.

Mr. Ruthven

considered the public under great obligations to the hon. Mem- ber for Worcester for calling the attention of the Committee to the subject of Newfoundland. He quite agreed with him in the propriety of giving a Legislative Assembly to that colony, which would tend to exalt the character of the colonists. He hoped, too, the Government would bring forward a Colonial Budget.

Mr. George Robinson

hoped his suggestions would be attended to, and would not, therefore, divide the Committee.

Vote agreed to.