HL Deb 25 May 1820 vol 1 cc523-30
The Earl of Liverpool

rose to propose to their lordships the second reading of the bill for the support of his majesty's household, and of the honour and dignity of the crown of the united kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Though he considered the subject of great importance, he did not think it necessary to trouble the House with more than a few words on this motion for the second reading of the bill. He should he as short as possible, reserving to himself the right of reply and explanation, if any objection should be made to the motion. In the conversation which lately occurred, in consequence of his being asked, whether he intended to propose any inquiry previous to the consideration of the civil list he stated two reasons for declining to take that course. The first was rather one of precedent than argument—namely, that he was not aware, of an inquiry of such a nature being instituted at the commencement of any Reign. He did not mean that parliament were precluded from doing what had not been done on former occasions, if a sufficient case were made out; but, in the present instance, no ground had been shown for departing from the usual practice. The second reason he had assigned was, that the whole subject of the civil list had been investigated, in 1816, by a committee, and a very full report on the subject had been presented to parliament. On that report parliament came to a decision, and made an arrangement for the civil list, at a time when the prerogatives of the Crown were exercised by his present majesty as Prince Regent. No alteration was proposed in the arrangement then made. Their lordships had heard the sentiments expressed by his majesty on his accession to the throne, and the were aware that this bill was founded on the principle that nothing should be added to what parliament had thought it right to stipulate at the last settlement. This principle was acted on at a time when his majesty, must necessarily incur some additional expenses, besides those to which he was liable as Prince Regent. The establishment at Windsor-castle, Buckingham house, and some other places were obvious instances [of this kind. At the same time, when nothing more was asked than had been settled in the arrangement of 1816, there was no pretence for instituting a new investigation. He was aware it had been asked, whether there was not ground for inquiry with reference to the variation which had taken place in the prices of provisions; but he knew too well the liberality of their lordships to suppose that they would think it proper to determine a question relative to the civil list by an inquiry into the fluctuation of prices from one year to another. But even on this point there was no ground for inquiry; for, in 1816, the question had been considered with reference to every kind, of expense and anticipated fluctuation; and, in fact, at the time the committee was sitting, the prices of provisions were actually lower than at present, for it was at the time of the great fall occasioned by the sudden depreciation of agricultural produce. With regard to the amount of the civil list, that was a point on which he could not anticipate any objection. Indeed, its present state would appear to have no advantage compared with what it had been in ail former reigns. The arrangement made for George 2nd, was certainly more liberal than that made for his present majesty; and besides, in all former reigns, the sum granted was clogged with no restrictions. Their lordships were, however aware, that by Mr. Burke's bill, and more particularly by the act of 1816, a complete classification of the civil list was established, in consequence of which the sums voted were appropriated to particular departments, and could not be directed to any improper purpose. By this classification, abuses were as far as possible guarded against; and a material clause in the bill of 1816, which was repeated in the present, operated most powerfully to the same effect. It was provided, that if the expenses of the civil list should exceed the sum granted by 15,000l., that then the whole of the accounts must be laid before parliament. With respect to the expense of the third class of the civil list, the allowances and pensions to foreign ambassadors, he wished to say a few words. In allusion to that subject, it had lately been suggested, for the first time in that House, that it would be proper to make such an arrangement of the civil list as would separate the maintenance of the Crown altogether from the expenses of the civil government of the country. He confessed, however, that he had very strong objections to any alteration of the course which had hitherto been followed in this respect. He should be very unwilling to introduce any arrangement which would tend to separate the Crown from the civil government. The spirit of the constitution required that the king should be considered as the source of all honour and dignity, and this principle would be infringed were he singled out and set apart by himself. He therefore thought that their ancestors had acted rightly in joining the charges for civil offices, with the expenses for the royal family; and this observation seemed to apply more particularly to the class in question than to any other of the civil list. Before 1816, the whole of the expense for foreign embassies was at the disposal of the Crown; but it was thought by the committee that a distinction should be made between the salaries of ambassadors, and extraordinar3' allowances and pensions. It was therefore resolved, that the extraordinary charges should be withdrawn from the civil list. The object of this alteration, like every other part of the arrangement, was, to introduce as much ac curacy as possible into the accounts, arid to exclude what was not subject to estimate, in order to preclude the contracting of debts in any department. The esti- mates for foreign missions were accordingly regularly laid before parliament, and he believed no one who had lived abroad' would consider these allowances too high. He was certain that no official person in the service of the country abroad could expect to do more with his salary than to avoid running in debt. It had been observed, that the expense of foreign missions must fluctuate at different times. This he admitted; but their lordships; would recollect that the arrangement was made in 1816—in a year of peace; and if a change should take place, to diminish the expense—if by the recurrence of war there should be less communication with the continent—in that case the public would reap an advantage, as it was provided that all the savings on the third class should go, not to any other department of the civil list, but to the consolidated fund. The casual revenues of the Crown afforded as little ground for inquiry as the third class, since the bill proposed nothing new, but only reenacted what had been previously settled. Undoubtedly, if the Crown came forward with a demand for the payment of debts contracted by the civil list, or for any addition to the sum now granted, it would then be competent for parliament to institute an inquiry; but for such a proceeding no ground at present existed. The droits of the Admiralty, and other duties which were chiefly important in time of I war, were regularly accounted for, and the amount of the income and expenditure of every branch of the civil list was strictly regulated. The reductions in other establishments connected with the Crown had already produced a saving to the public of 140,000l. a year, while no addition was sought to the sum voted in 1816 for the. support of the civil list. Parliament had by the present act given securities which: never were obtained before and that important security against contracting debts by the provision that if the expenditure exceeded 15,000l. the whole accounts of the civil list should be laid before parliament, gave in particular an important advantage to the public. On these grounds he was persuaded that their lordships I would not hesitate to give their assent to a ' bill to necessary for maintaining the honour and dignity of the Crown.

Lord King

did not concur with the noble lord in the warm approbation he had bestowed on the bill before their lordships In his opinion, the subject of the civil list was now as embarrassed and confused as ever. This could not fail to be the case, when some salaries were charged partly on the civil list, and partly on the consolidated fund. He could not think that economy was intended by the authors of the present bill. Had that been their object, they certainly never would have chosen the arrangement of 1816 as a model for the present settlement—an arrangement which had sanctioned no less than three or four privy parses, namely, the late king's, the Prince Regent's, the allowances to the queen, &c. He did not say that these expenses were continued, but it was certain that the bill was introduced on the same principle of extravagant expenditure. He found that it sanctioned the abuses of the 4½ per cent duties, and the droits of the Admiralty; and it therefore could not be introduced I with a view to economy. The radical I vice of the general government of the country was profusion; and this bill carried that vice into the civil list. In the general government the aim, seemed to ' be, of every individual who directed a department, to render that department as perfect, or, in other words, as expensive as possible. Thus, the persons at the head of the ordnance or the navy thought only of extending their departments. What he complained of was, that there was no efficient control. A certain sum should be fixed for each department, and it should be said to the heads of departments that they would be allowed no more than the estimate. The allowance should be only what could be spared, and not what the heads of departments wished for. He thought there were advantages in the old system of the civil list which the present did not possess. It was calculated to create a greater inducement to economy on the part of the Crown. In the third class, he thought a more economical arrangement might be introduced. The services which came under that class were, he believed, the worst performed and the highest paid of any of the same kind for any country in Europe. In 1816, the foreign missions had cost 300,000l., and 290,000l. was the present estimate. He would wish it to be made the interest of the Crown to employ as few foreign ministers as possible; but, as the case now stood, it was only necessary for an envoy to continue long enough in the service to qualify himself for receiving a pension, when he resigned, and made room for another. The noble lord had observed, that any saving on this class would go to the consolidated fund. He believed, however, that there never would be any saving; but the noble lord had not told them what would have been more important, if he could have stated it, that, in the case of any increase in this class, it would not be charged on the consolidated fund. The noble lord had made something like a comparison between the present civil list and that of George 2nd. Now, the sum granted to his present majesty, for England, was 850.000l., and for Ireland 207,000l., to which must be added the additional debt incurred for England, amounting to 988,000l., and for Ireland 269,000l., I which, with what applied to Scotland, made altogether a civil list of 2,540,000l.; and yet the 800,000l., or 900,000l. granted I to George 2nd, was represented by the noble lord as more liberal than this great sum. But it might be said, that only a small portion of this was appropriated to I the royal family. This would be easily seen by reference to the papers. The first class, which included a privy purse of 60,000l., was entirely allotted to the royal family. There was besides, the household, estimated at 209,000l. The expense of superannuations in the lord chamberlain and lord steward's offices amounted to 140,000l. The payments for various purposes were stated at 41,297l. These and other charges amounted altogether to 900,000l. for the use and dignity of the royal family alone. When, therefore, the noble lord said that the allowance to George 2nd was more liberal than the present civil list, the assertion appeared to him most extraordinary, and he believed the noble lord was the only person who would venture to make such a comparison. In Scotland a very unnecessary expense was entered into by appointments, which would not be made if the civil list were established on the principle of inducing economy. But nothing was gained, even in appearance, by the present system, while the subject was rendered so confused as to excite suspicion. Instead of practising economy the civil list was more expensive than ever it had been. If the noble earl really supposed that this confused arrangement was calculated to support the dignity of the Crown, it was plain he did not gain his object, for by reference to the accounts it was still possible to ascer- tain what portion of the civil list went to the royal family. He could see no sound principle in the noble lord's argument. It might with equal propriety be contended that the expenses of the royal family should be mixed up with those of every department of the state, for the king was the head of every branch of the executive government. The Crown surely was the head of the military establishment of the country, and yet he never heard any objection to a separate vote for the army. Upon the whole, he thought the old plan of arrangement for the civil list preferable to the present.

The Earl of Darnley

expressed his surprise at seeing that so large a civil list should be proposed for Ireland, considering the means of that country as compared with those of England, without producing a single item to prove its necessity. The civil list of England was 850,000l., that of Ireland 207,000l. He thought they were bound, on the part of Ireland, to require some explanation on this head. Another circumstance, to which he felt it his duty to allude, was the increase of allowance to the lord-lieutenant, though the business of that office was considerably diminished since the Union. It was now increased from 20,000l. to 30,000l. a year, a sum which, as the matter stood, he could not help considering enormous; and their lordships, he thought, would not do their duty by that country without requiring some details.

The Earl of Liverpool,

in explanation, stated, that the sum now fixed on for Ireland was exactly the same as it stood at the demise of his late majesty. That it was not more than the necessities of Ireland required, they had this proof, that no sum had ever been remitted to this country. They had also another fact in corroboration, which was this:—At the time that the civil list of Ireland was in debt, an act was passed, which rendered it compulsory upon the government not to grant any pension above 1,200l. a year except when the pension fund was below 80,000l. a year; the pension fund had long been below that sum, and yet no advance had been made in the amount of pensions, though under the act of parliament and in the state of the fund the government had authority to do so. As to the increase of salary to the lord-lieutenant of Ireland, he would appeal to those noble lords who had ever filled the office, whether it was not necessary, in order to meet the expenses Of that situation? For a series of years no advance had been made in the allowance, notwithstanding the great increase in the price of provisions; and he would ask whether it was not fair that some alteration should take place? When a noble friend of his had filled the situation, the salary was not found sufficient; and he would appeal to a noble duke, with whom he was not in the habit of agreeing upon political questions, as to the same fact. Those who knew what the expenditure of the situation was, would not, he was persuaded, object to the advance of the salary. The bill was then read a second time.