HC Deb 20 September 1841 vol 59 cc640-6

On the question that a sum not exceeding 60,000l. be granted for completing the sum necessary to defray the expenses for civil contingencies until the 31st of March, 1842.

Colonel Sibthorp

hoped the system of jobbing which for more than ten years had been practised by her Majesty's late Ministers would now be put an end to. He would say nothing of the appointment of a reverend gentleman to the deanery of Armagh, which he designated an insult to the Archbishop—he would say nothing of the appointment of a noble Lord to sit for about seventeen days for the adjudication of important cases at the Irish bar—he would say nothing of all the other jobs that had been perpetrated by the late Government, for he had a confident hope, and a firm belief, that such mal-practices would not be permitted by the party now in office. There were two or three points, however, in the miscellaneous estimates to which he could not help adverting. One of them related to an hon. Member of that House, of whom he wished to speak with no disrespect, for he admitted the talents and assiduity of that hon. Gentleman, and considered that the blame did not attach to him, but to the late Government, which had appointed him to the discharge of certain duties. The hon. Gentleman, now Member for Bolton, but then Member for Kilmarnock, had held a seat in that House for a period of two years, six months, and five days, and at that time was receiving a considerable salary, and sums for his expenses for duties which he undertook and discharged, as he (Colonel Sibthorp) had already admitted, with great talent and assiduity. The amount received by that hon. Member, and shared (as he understood) with two other Gentlemen, was 17,159l. 15s. 3d., according to an official return granted on a motion of his (Colonel Sibthorp's) last year, and that sum was for four or five reports. He had not read those reports, nor did he intend to read them; they might be very useful documents, and might contain much important matter, but they were too much for him to understand. He protested against the grounds on which that sum was given to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. W. Williams

said, that the hon. and gallant Colonel opposite had often been associated with him in opposition to acts of extravagance by the late Government, and he (Mr. Williams) trusted, that now the hon. and gallant Gentleman's own party was in power, he would continue in the same course. He must call the attention of the House to some of the items contained in the estimates. He objected particularly to the items charged for the expense of ambassadors' outfits, and was quite sure, that the Government would have no difficulty in finding persons most competent to fill these offices for the emoluments annually allowed to them, without any of these additional charges for outfits. He was quite unable to account for one of the charges, and was at a loss to imagine how it could be justified—it was a charge of 319l. 12s., for the master of the ceremonies and packing of pictures for her Majesty's ambassador at Paris. It was utterly impossible that the people, in their present distressed and impoverished condition, could afford to pay more taxes; therefore, if expenses of this kind were continued, and further taxation should in consequence become necessary, the inevitable result would be, that the higher classes, who alone profiled from such lavish expenditure of the public money, must bear the additional taxation themselves, by placing a charge upon property. There was another item that appeared to him to be most objectionable, viz., 578l. to defray the amount expended on account of the visits of the Grand Duke of Russia, the Prince of Leiningen, the Duke of Coburg, the Duchess of Braganza, the King of the Belgians, and Count Mensdorf. Why were the people of this country to be made to pay the expenses of these illustrious visitors? Then there was a charge of 406l. 14s. 6d. for the incidental expenses of- the chief bailiff of the Tower of London for one year to 5th of April, 1840. How was that to be accounted for? Again, there was a charge of 2,702l.. for the Marshal of the Queen's Bench Prison, on account of salary and expenses for one year and a quarter to the 30th of September, 1840, in consequence of the fees being deficient to that amount. He thought that that charge required explanation, and the same remark applied to the charge of 360l. 4s. 4d. for the amount issued to pay fees to certain officers of the Court of Exchequer upon passing declared accounts. Supposing the officers to be amply paid, he was at a loss to conjecture why the public should be charged with the payment of these fees. Then there was a charge of 387l. 16s. 6d.0 for appointing the right hon. Charles Poulett Thomson Captain-general and Governor-in-chief of her Majesty's provinces in British North America. He believed, that this was to defray the cost of stamps necessary to make out the appointment, but surely as the appointment in itself was one of high honour and distinction, and accompanied with a salary of 7,000l. per annum, the individual who received it ought at least to bear the expense consequent upon its being conferred. He found another charge of 1,455l. 12s. 4d. for sums paid to sundry persons, as of her Majesty's bounty. He should like to know what those sums were, and to whom they were paid. No explanation was given of them in the vote. After a brief reference to one or two other items of a smaller amount, the hon. Gentleman concluded by expressing a strong conviction that the chief part of these expenses might be saved to the country, without any injustice to individuals or injury to the public service.

Lord J. Russell

said, he could not but express an opinion adverse to that of the hon. Member for Coventry, with regard to the last point he had mentioned. The hon. Member supposed, that in the case of ambassadors and others occupying high offices abroad, the expense of their outfits was not properly incurred by the state. Undoubtedly that might be so, if the House were prepared to say this, that none but persons of great fortune should be appointed to such offices. If, however, as he presumed, the House would concur in thinking, men of great talent should rather be preferred, even with small private fortunes, and without the ability to lay out large sums of ready money, to the amounts requisite for their outfits, then these expenses were properly borne by the State. Now, of course, no distinction could be drawn between different individuals appointed to the same situations, and if the allowances were made in one class of cases, they must be made in all. He confessed, that he had often wished, when at the Colonial-office, that governors sent out, instead of being at the expense of their commissions, should have their appointments free of expense; and he was not without hope that arrangements might be made for securing this. As to Lord Sydenham, however, there was no doubt that allowances had been made to him contrary to the usual practice for the expense of his commission, and on this ground, and this ground only—that the appointment had been, out of the usual course, only for a short time, all other governors being appointed for a period of six years at least, Lord Sydenham having to contemplate only a short stay in Canada. Had the noble Lord been appointed for the ordinary period, as in the usual course, he would have been (subject only to the condition of his retaining the confidence of the Crown), he would have had to bear this expense. Having, however, been appointed only for a short period, it was not thought inst that he should have to pay this expense. He would add this as the result of his experience, that so far from public appointments, especially of this nature, being sources of great emolument, the individuals filling these offices were often obliged (as in the case of Lord Sydenham had actually, after all, been the fact) to make no inconsiderable payments out of their private purses. Certainly men were always found ready to accept and even to ask for these foreign appointments, but this was from the natural feeling of ambition, and desire to have honourable and useful employment in the public service, and it rarely or never happened, that the occupants of these offices, even for considerable periods, augmented their private fortunes. As this was the case, it seemed to him, that it would be unjust in the State to take advantage of this feeling in the public mind, and to say, "Since there are always to be found men willing to take these appointments, they shall always pay for them; we will not allow a sufficient support to them, but put the offices up to public auction and give them to the lowest bidder." As to what had fallen from the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln, with respect to the expenses incurred for Dr. Bowring's services, he did not think it necessary to repeat the conclusive answers upon that point which had been formerly given.

Lord C. Hamilton

said, without impeaching either the services of the learned doctor, or the justice of his remuneration, he would take the liberty of asking (as it seemed certainly but fair that the country should have the full benefit of those services) whether it were true, as he had heard it asserted (and so commonly that he should think the noble Lord opposite would feel glad of an opportunity of contradicting it, were it untrue), that the reports of the learned doctor had been greatly curtailed and altered by the noble Lord lately at the head of the Foreign-office?

Viscount Palmerston

said, he certainly had struck out the word "sovereign," applied in several places to Mehemet Ali, owing to his learned Friend's zeal in the Pacha's cause, which phrase did not seem to him quite correct. He had also struck our various passages, (most of them extracts from other works, eulogistic of the Pacha's character and policy, which appeared to him to have nothing to do with the subject matter of the inquiries. But he had made no alteration whatever in the statistical portion of the reports.

Mr. Milnes

said it seemed to him, that in a case of this sort, where the agent was sent out as the officer of the Government, there was a perfect right on the part of the Ministry to alter his reports in any way necessary to render them official documents; and he would further say that he had for one derived satisfaction from the perusal of these reports, and he hoped that her Majesty's Government would never hesitate on proper occasions to propose a similar course, nor could he well conceive of any mode in which public money could be more advantageously laid out than in the collection of such valuable information.

An hon. Member said this had ever struck him as one of the worst jobs ever perpetrated even by the most jobbing of Governments.

Vote agreed to.