HL Deb 17 June 1808 vol 11 cc912-4
The Earl of Suffolk

rose to make his promised motion relative to the Droits of Admiralty. He observed, that he was not in the habit of troubling their lordships in regard to any subject which he might think proper to present to their attention. Previous to the present, he had taken several opportunities of making inquiries relative to the appropriation of the Droits of Admiralty, the amount of which now in the hands of the crown was certainly greater than it had been at any former period. It was highly important, that the people of this country should know what was likely to become of the property now vested in the crown, and accruing from the seizure of the Danish property. Count Stahremberg, before his departure, had said, that unless the Danish property was restored, he had authority from his court to say that no peace on the part of Europe could possibly take place with this country. No reflection could be more melancholy than the event of this transaction; it had disgraced the English character in the eyes of the continent; and when he recollected the conduct of Great Britain, in respect to the seizure of the Spanish frigates, it impressed upon his mind how much more beneficial it might have been for the success of our warfare with France, and our situation in respect to the Spanish fleet at Cadiz, if our behaviour at that time had been more honourable. Before that period, the name of an Englishman was a passport through every province of that kingdom, but afterwards our character sunk, and became almost despised. Indeed, if the crown, without any inquiry en the part of the public, was permitted to devote this money, particularly such an enormous sum, to its own purposes, he conceived it possible for an administration to commence and protract a war for the object of plunder which might be gained from the enemy in this way. On this ground the public anxiety was justly raised, and they had a right to consider this question of the greatest importance. In the present reign we might have nothing to apprehend, but still it was extraordinary, that no answer had been returned to the frequent inquiries made respecting the appropriation of this money. During the reign of that unprincipled monarch, Charles II. whose being pensioned by the French king, justly entitled him to be called an unprincipled monarch, such sums of money might have been disposed of in the most unconstitutional manner. The American war produced to the crown a vast accession of this property, but he believed only a certain portion was applied to its own use. Perhaps the answer returned by the noble secretary opposite would be, that the amount of the property taken from the Danes was not yet ascertained, but he thought the amount must have been known, by its having been estimated at a million and a half. However, the public anxiety had been a sufficient ground for his troubling the house upon this occasion, and therefore he should move, "That certain papers, relative to the amount of the property taken from the Danes, should be laid upon the table."

Lord Hawkesbury

observed, that whatever information the noble earl might have received about the amount, it could only proceed from speculation, no returns having yet been made, as the sales of the property had not been effected. But whenever the returns could be made, and they came regularly before the house, he would then give his opinion on the subject.

Lord Holland

thought the question of the greatest importance; the more peculiarly so, since the practice had prevailed for these forty years past, of seizing upon foreign property before the declaration of hostilities. The Droits of Admiralty had increased to an enormous extent; and yet, in arranging the Civil List revenue, no regard had been paid to them, and we had been called upon no less than five times within not a great space of time to pay off the debts contracted on the civil list, besides augmenting considerably that revenue. The question, therefore, was one well worthy of their lordships' attention; and although he would advise his noble friend to withdraw his motion for the present, yet he hoped he would persevere in bringing it again forward in a future session.

The Earl of Suffolk

said, that after what he had heard from the noble secretary of state and his noble friend, he had no objection to withdraw his motion, but pledged himself to bring it forward again.