HC Deb 07 March 1837 vol 37 cc72-5
Colonel Sibthorp,

in rising to move for a return of the various commissions which had been issued by the Government, said his object was to show the country what little faith ought to be attached to those professions about economy which had been so frequently made and repeated by the present liberal Government. He had so long back as the 9th of February in last year moved for a return of the number of commissions issued, but was unable to obtain it until the middle of November last. The cause of the unwillingness to produce that document was manifest; and on examining it, he soon perceived that the object of the Government was to mystify and evade inquiry. In that return the Record Commission had not been included, under the pretence that it did not come within the description contained in his motion. Nevertheless that Record Commission continued to exist to the present day, and had cost the country no less a sum than upwards of 700,000l. A very great many Commissions in existence were not noticed in the returns which had been produced, and among them was a sort of roving Commission conducted by Mr. Villiers and Dr. Bowring, to inquire respecting the commercial relations existing between this country and France and Switzerland. He did not know what salary was given to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock burghs, but it was his opinion that the hon. Member would only have acted in conformity with the law if, after accepting such an appointment, he had vacated his seat in Parliament. Perhaps the hon. Member received no regular salary; but did the hon. Member receive no grants of the public money from the Treasury? The expense to the country of the Commissions mentioned in the return was not less than 427,698l. Since 1830, forty Commissions had been issued, only three of which had emanated from a Tory Government, and of those three one had been continued by the Government now in existence. The motion which he now intended to make was to the following effect;—"That a return be presented of all Commissions issued or appointed under Act of Parliament; the number and names of the Commissioners, assistant-Commissioners, Secretaries, and Clerks attached to each; stating whether any of them were employed in more than one Commission—the places of meeting of the Commissioners—the number of their sittings, and the date when each Commission was issued; together with the amount of allowances paid to the Commissioners and other officers; the return to be made up to the latest possible period. He anticipated a refusal on the part of his Majesty's Government, but he could not reconcile such a refusal, if it should be his lot to meet with it, with those professions of economy which Ministers had always made, and on which they prided themselves. He thought their line of conduct odious—odious because it entailed expense on the country, and rendered the cause of that expense unintelligible. The country had a right to know why it paid that which was exacted from it, and as it was criminal in any Ministry to withhold the knowledge on such a subject demanded by the people, it was insulting on the part of a Ministry which had always plumed itself on its tenderness for the purse of the nation.

Mr. Francis Baring

had no objection to furnish the returns asked for by the hon. and gallant Member, provided that he would so limit the details as to make the preparation of the returns easy. It was not for himself that he spoke, but for the clerks who would have to expend much labour in reducing to a compendious form the entries and minutes in their books. Those clerks, however, were most anxious on every occasion to comply with the wishes of any hon. Member who might call for returns; and in proportion to their zeal, the unwillingness of the House to trouble them ought in his opinion to be. The hon. and gallant Member was a little too exorbitant in his demands, and more likely to injure the Government of which he was a supporter than that now in office. When, for instance, he adverted to the Record Commission and when he denounced the expenditure of 700,000l. on that Commission, he should recollect that his Majesty's Ministers were only responsible for 60,000l. of that sum, and that the remainder was to be accounted for by the hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. and gallant Officer might add up his pence and his farthings, as he had done that night, but with all his nicety of computation, he would find the discreditable expenditure on that Commission, if indeed there were any, to have been authorised by his own Friends. It was very well for the hon. and gallant Member to complain that, in the returns already furnished, no mention had been made of the Tithe Commissioners, but surely it must have escaped his recollection that those Commissioners could not be included in a return made up to the 9th of February, 1830, when the Act which sanctioned their appointment had not been passed. A similar objection would apply to the presumed deficiency on the subject of the Commissioners of rural police, who, in the first place, sat only in summer; and, in the second, were unpaid. The African Commission was one of which he knew nothing, and of the existence of which he was somewhat doubtful; but the hon. and gallant Member was surrounded by official-persons of good memories, who might give him the information he was anxious to acquire. There certainly was a grant to the Committee of Merchants on the African, coast, a justifiable grant, too, but one not originated by the present Government. There were two Commissioners of police also, and if the hon. and gallant Member were displeased with the functions or remuneration of those gentlemen, he had better apply to the right hon. Baronet near him (Sir R. Peel), and then perhaps he would be satisfied. The Revising Barristers were not Commissioners, and the hon. and gallant Member would do well to make plain and palpable to himself the real nature of a Commission. Dr. Bowring had been employed, so had Mr. Villiers, to make certain reports, but neither of those Gentlemen had been nominated Commissi- oners. The printing of these reports would be expensive, and he hoped that the hon. and gallant Member would let that fact persuade him to modify his motion.

Colonel Sibthorp

had a great respect for the clerks of the Treasury, and was only sorry that the heads of departments did not perform their duties with a zeal equal to that of their subordinates. He must, however, insist on having returns more distinct than those which he had hitherto obtained.

Mr. Roebuck

would really put it to the House whether it was not a burlesque, a farce, and a most expensive farce withal, for hon. Members to demand returns of this nature for their mere amusement.

Mr. A. Trevor

was of opinion that the country would feel itself much indebted to his hon. and gallant Friend, and would repudiate the offensive imputation that the motion then before the House was a burlesque.

Mr. Richards

did not think it a burlesque to inquire into the expenditure of a sum amounting to 500,000l.: neither would the hon. Member for Middlesex acquiesce in such a doctrine.

Return, with some modifications, ordered.