HL Deb 04 May 1820 vol 1 cc86-91
The Marquis of Lans-downe

wished to ask the noble lord opposite a question, in reference to the civil list establishment, which was likely soon to come under their lordships consideration. He should be glad to know whether it was the intention of the noble lord to propose the appointment of a committee to inquire into the state of that establishment, or to give any information to the House which might be thought necessary, before the question came under consideration.

The Earl of Liverpool

said, he did not intend to move for any committee. As to information, the noble marquis was aware that when the civil list was settled in 1816, the accounts thought necessary at that time were laid before parliament. That information was still accessible to their lordships, and he thought it sufficient to enable their lordships to discuss the question which would come before them.

The Marquis of Lansdownne

reminded the noble earl of what had passed when this subject gave rise to considerable discussion some years ago. It had been then, and on other occasions when the question was adverted to, uniformly stated, that when a new reign should commence an opportunity would be afforded to parliament for a complete investigation of the state of the civil list. This he believed was distinctly stated by the minister who made the arrangement in 1816. He had undoubtedly heard with much satisfaction the declaration made on the part of the Crown on the first day of the session relative to the civil list; but that declaration did not relieve parliament from the duty of now fully considering the subject, in order to ascertain whether the difference in the state of the country, and other circumstances, did not render it necesary that a new arrangement should be made. He was, therefore, justified in calling for the reprinting of the accounts which had been laid before parliament in 1816, and for such other information as should afterwards appear necessary. Fie did not now mean to give any opinion as to what the amount of the civil list ought to be; but, independently of the principle of economy, which, in the present situation of the country, it was necessary never to lose sight of, there was another, connected with the civil list, of great importance, in his opinion, to the proper dignity of the Crown, for the support of which that establishment was granted. He meant that of simplifying the accounts so as to render it clear what part of the civil list went to the maintenance of the royal family, and what was applicable to other; purposes, or to services more strictly national. Some approximation to this object had been made in 1816, and he approved of the arrangement then adopted to the extent to which it went. But it had stopped short of the point of real utility, that of reducing the civil list to what might be granted for the regular expenditure of the royal family, and leaving every thing of a fluctuating nature, and all those expenses which were properly national, subject at all times to the consideration of parliament. The most proper arrangement, he thought, would be, to charge the consolidated fund with every expense which might be considered national, and to confine the civil list to what should be actually fixed upon for the permanent expenditure of the royal family. These charges on the civil list which were of a contingent and fluctuating nature should always remain open to inquiry. The neglect of a regulation of this kind exposed the royal family to imputations to which they otherwise would not be liable, and, owing to the confusion of the accounts, a variety of erroneous impressions were produced on the public mind. Hence, when application was made to parliament for supplying deficiencies, injustice had sometimes been done to the public, and some times to the royal family. It would be for their lordships to determine whether it was not proper to require that a separation and simplification of the accounts should take place at a time when they were called upon to consider the whole question of the civil list. He could see no reason for continuing to mix the laries of the judges, and the allowances to ministers abroad, with the expenses of the royal family, in such a manner as to make it extremely difficult for the public to discover the manner in which the money was applied. These things ought to be completely separated; and as for the fluctuating expenses, the most simple and most useful mode would be, to present estimates of them to parliament from year to year. He had taken the present opportunity of throwing out these suggestions for their lordships consideration, and should now conclude by moving, "That the papers relative to the civil list, laid before parliament in 1816, be reprinted."

The Earl of Liverpool

had no objection to the reprinting of the accounts to which the motion referred; but, though he did not wish to enter into any discussion on the topics on which the noble marquis had touched, he thought that some things which had dropped from him called for a few observations. He wished, in the first place, to remark, that there was no precedent for the course of inquiry which the noble marquis was desirous of seeing adopted on the present occasion. If they looked back to the commencement of any former reign, they would find no instance of the settlement of the civil list being preceded by a committee of inquiry. It had been, on all such occasions, the practice of parliament to proceed to the consideration of the civil list without calling for any information. He was not then discussing whether this course, which had been followed by their ancestors, was right or wrong; all that he meant now to say, was, that such had been the practice. It ought, however, to be recollected, that their lordships had at present an advantage which had been possessed on no former occasion of this kind. They had obtained, not indeed with reference to a new reign, but to a settlement for the same illustrious person who was now on the throne, all necessary information on the details of the subject which was about to be brought under their consideration. The papers presented in 1816 would enable them to understand all the parts of the subject in a manner for which no opportunity had been afforded on any former occasion. When the question came to be discussed, it would therefore be perfectly competent to any noble lord to argue, on reference to the recorded information, that there ought to be a difference between the settlement for the new reign and that which had been made in 1816. If the noble marquis referred to that settlement, he would find that every thing had been done with respect to simplification, that was practicable. In every step of the arrangement then made the public advantage and interest had been maturely considered. The great object was, to take from the civil list and transfer to the consolidated fund, various payments for services of a public nature which could be advantageously separated. By this arrangement much improvement in the accounts had been accomplished; but it was proposed, that other charges of a fluctuating, an uncertain nature, should be voted annually, and thus made subject to the control of parliament. Upon examination it would, however, be found, that all the articles of this description were of a peculiar nature, to which such a check could not with propriety be applied. The department most subject to fluctuation in its expenditure was the royal household and its fluctuation was owing to the same cause that produced a variation in the expenses of any other family, namely, the difference of prices. Now, as to separating the expenses of the royal family from all charges for the maintenance of the civil government, in the manner the noble marquis had proposed, that was an arrangement of the propriety of which he entertained very serious doubts. The spirit of the constitution required that the expenditure of the Crown should be considered as part of the expenditure of the country. It was doubtless on that ground that the charges I for the civil government had been joined to the civil list, and he should therefore consider any attempt to produce a total separation as at least extremely indiscreet. Upon the whole, after the declaration made by the Crown on the opening of the session, and the papers to which their lordships had access, it must be obvious that parliament came to the consideration of this subject under more advantageous circumstances than on any former occasion. Their lordships had before them all the information on which the arrangement of 1816 was made for his present majesty as regent: and here he could not help observing, that if it were thought advisable to draw any distinction between the two periods, he believed the general feeling of the country would be, that the settlement now to be made should be something more rather than something less than the former. But that was not the ground on which he rested the question. His majesty had declared from the throne, that he was satisfied, and had no desire for any increase of the civil list. Their lordships would, then, have to consider, whether they saw sufficient ground for continuing that arrangement. He admitted that the question lay in all respects fairly open. It might be proposed to reduce the establishment; but the expediency of adopting such a proposition would remain for their lordships determination.

Lord King

wished that his noble friend had given notice of a motion on the subject of his question. He would have preferred that to the present motion; and if the question should be brought forward, he would vote for the appointment of a committee. It was true that the state of the civil list had been taken into consideration in 1816; but then it came before parliament in the shape of a vested interest. It was not a question of a settlement for the commencement of a reign, but for a regent, who administered the government in behalf of his majesty. With regard to the separation of the accounts, nothing could more strongly show the necessity of that separation, than the confusion which arose from some payments being charged, partly on the civil list and partly on other funds. The speaker of the House of Commons, for instance, received one half of the salary from the civil list, and the other half from the consolidated fund. He thought with his noble friend, that this separation was necessary for the proper dignity of the Crown; but inquiry into every branch of the question was peculiarly necessary at a time when the country was experiencing the deepest distress, and more especially when it was proposed that their lordships should renew the settlement of 1816—a period of most lavish expenditure, of great depreciation in the currency, and consequent high price. It would not be doing justice to the country to take the arrangement of that period as a rule for the expenditure of the civil list without inquiry. Among the heads which ought certainly to be separated from the civil list was the charge for allowances to foreign ambassadors, to which his noble friend had referred. The arrangement should be such as to create an inducement to economy on the part of the Crown. Were this done, the Crown, when too lavish under one head, would be obliged to economize under another. This, however, was not to be expected if parliament allowed the present confusion of accounts to continue, and then supplied every deficiency. Grants for this purpose were not made in former times. Throughout the whole reign of George 2nd, the civil list continued as it had been at first fixed. As the matter now stood, there was no inducement to economy. The Crown, for instance, had no interest in keeping down the number of ministers sent abroad, but rather in making as many diplomatic appointments as possible, and allowing the ambassadors to retire on their half pay or pensions; for such a proceeding caused no diminution of the civil list, the deficiency being made up from other funds. He was desirous that a full inquiry should be instituted.

The motion was then agreed to.