HL Deb 30 May 1820 vol 1 cc628-32

On the order of the day for the third reading of this bill,

Lord Dacre

rose to move an amendment on the last clause, relative to the droits of the admiralty, and casual duties; and which he had, in consideration of the convenience of the House, refrained from proposing on the report. It was not his present purpose to inquire into the propriety of the grant made by the bill, or to consider whether parliament was bound by what had taken place in 1816. Neither would he discuss the question relative to the comparison of the prices of that period and the present, though he certainly thought such a comparison just, as the difference of the prices was considerable. But it was his intention to bring under their lordships consideration a subject which did not come within the scope of the inquiry of the committee of 1816, as the fund to which he referred was not then directly under the control of parliament. Had such a committee been appointed on the present occasion, they would have been bound to reduce the amount granted to the civil list, or to direct the particular application of the produce of the fund which were the object of the last clause, and one of which, the Admiralty droits, produced before the end of last war 500,000l. a year. This immense sum was left completely at the disposal of the Crown. He did not mean to say that its application could be fixed, like the civil list, nor that it could be managed by parliament. He was of opinion that the nature of the captures by which it was constituted, rendered it necessary that it should be placed under the disposal of responsible persons. As little did he wish that parliament should direct the remuneration of captors; that was also a matter which ought to be left to the discretion of responsible persons, capable of examining and judging the circumstances of each case. As, however, the committee of 1816 had provided for all the exigencies of the civil list, it became the duty of parliament to take care that a fund which yielded at an average 200,000l. should not be misapplied. The possibility of the application of such an enormous sum to civil list purposes should be distinctly precluded. There could be no pretence for such an application, as all the demands of the civil list were provided for, and the expenditure of the different departments regulated. At the end of the bill there was a clause which provided that an account of the sums received for the droits of the Admiralty or the Crown, and the surplus of the 4½ per cent duties, should be returned annually to parliament, together with their application; but the clause overlooked one of the best principles of the constitution, namely, that no monies should be applied without a direct responsibility to parliament. The clause left open the application of enormous sums in such manner as might please persons who were, it was true, responsible prospectively, but not consistently with the principle of the civil list act. The proper arrangement with respect to these droits would be to leave all proper discretion to the ministers of the Crown, but to preclude their misapplication. With this view he proposed to amend the last clause, so as to enact that no part of the said droits should be applied to purposes already provided for in the grant for the civil list, and that the return for the other purposes to which these duties were applicable, should be made according to the manner stated in the bill. The noble lord concluded by moving the insertion of words in the clause calculated to amend it in the manner he had stated.

The Earl of Liverpool

agreed in opinion with the noble lord, that parliament were in the year 1816 precluded from the consideration of the droits of the Admiralty, or any other casual revenue of the Crown. He was one who, on questions relative to the civil list, would carry as high the authority of parliament as most persons; but he considered it to be a settled principle, that when once a bill providing for the civil list was passed, parliament could not inquire as long as the Crown kept within the bounds of the grant. But if the Crown could not confine itself to the sum granted (for there might be cases in which it would require the limit to be overstepped) and came to parliament for an increase, then the whole question of the state of the civil list became open to discussion. Having admitted this much, he could, however, see no reason why their lordships should adopt the proposition of the noble lord. If they looked back to the provisions made for former sovereigns, they would find that the droits in question had never been touched, any more than other casual revenues. Whether specific sums or certain revenues were granted to the Crown, no subsequent inquiry took place. By the arrangement on the accession of George 2nd, certain revenues were granted to the Crown. It was true a minimum was fixed; but, had the income of the revenues proved double or treble that minimum, the Crown would have left the disposal of the whole subject to the advice of ministers. On the accession of his late majesty a maximum was fixed; but then no attempt was made by parliament to touch the droits or the 4 per cent duties. The question respecting these droits was at the time fairly before parliament; for the settlement took place in a period of war, and there was at the time a considerable sum of droits on hand. The noble lord's amendment was altogether unnecessary. In time of peace there were no Admiralty droits, and in time of war it was of essential importance that they should be at the free disposal of the Crown. It was impossible that parliament could decide with propriety on the claims of captors. But, in the management of this fund, it was not only remuneration of captures, but restorations to neutrals, that had to be considered; and he was perfectly convinced that war with neutrals had been prevented by the existence of this fund. Cases might occur, in which it would be impossible for the ministers of the Crown to come to parliament and propose the restoration of captures. Popular ideas of national honour might render a settlement by parliament impracticable, which the Crown, in the exercise of its discretion, might easily accomplish. But the noble lord wished to prevent the application of the surplus of these funds to the civil list. Now this appeared totally uncalled for. There was no instance of any improper application of these droits to political purposes, or any exercise of the discretion of the Crown which could give rise to distrust. During the last war, under extraordinary circumstances, the droits accumulated to a large amount, and a considerable sum was employed in aid of the civil list; but this was done under the sanction of parliament. A very small part had been applied to the use of the royal family-There was one instance of the application of 120,000l. A sum had been applied for the use of some of the younger branches of the royal family while the noble lords opposite were in administration, and another small sum had been applied at the commencement of the regency; but, these cases excepted, there was no instance of the application of any sums to personal or political purposes. The discretion of the Crown had never been better exercised than in the management of this fund; but he admitted that the present bill proceeded on a new principle. By the former bill there was no obligation to account annually to parliament; but still, with respect to the droits of Admiralty, no account had ever been refused. The bill now before their lordships contained a specific clause, requiring the accounts to be laid before parliament. Where was the chance of misapplication when accounts were to be annually presented? Or would their lordships show more distrust of the Crown than had ever been manifested by any former parliament?

Lord Ellenborough

wished that the noble earl had agreed to the amendment. The noble earl had said, that the Admiralty droits produced nothing in peace, but peace might not last long. Nothing could more contribute to the true dignity of the Crown than placing this fund under the control of parliament. Such an arrangement could be no loss to the Crown. The spirit of the constitution inculcated a vigilant jealousy in pecuniary matters. The Crown had the power of making war—parliament of refusing the supplies. But the power of withholding the supplies would be a mere nullity, if the Crown could obtain money by captures. He wished to sec this practice abolished, and that it should be made the interest of a prince to go to war in the manner of a man of honour, and not like a pirate for his emolument. He did not say that this was done, but the principle on which this fund stood had that tendency, by the temptation it held out. The only object of the amendment was, to prevent the gross misapplication of the droits, and it therefore had his support.

The House divided on the question, that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the bill. Contents—present, 51; Proxies, 24–81: Non Contents—Present, 18; Proxies, 3–21: Majority, 60. The amendment was therefore negatived, after which the bill was passed.