HL Deb 07 June 1827 vol 17 cc1137-9
Lord Ellenborough

said, that, from the account of Secret Service Money laid on the table, it appeared that, during the last four years, 203,000l. had been issued from the Treasury, while, in the four preceding years, only 145,000l. had been expended for that purpose. Here, then, was an excess, during the last four years, of 58,000l.; and their lordships would naturally be led to inquire, whether there was any thing in the state of European politics to account for this excess. In 1820, no less than three national revolutions had taken place on the continent; while the last three or four years had been distinguished for the uninterrupted tranquillity which prevailed in Europe. It appeared, therefore, that our expenses for secret service varied in the inverse proportion of the tranquillity of the continent. He wished to know whether the noble secretary had any objection to lay before the House a return of the sums issued for secret service up to the present period.

Viscount Dudley and Ward.

—My noble friend ask me to explain the cause of the difference between the expenditure of secret service money in the last four years, and that of the four preceding years. Now, how is it possible to give such an explanation, without entering into a public detail of the applications of a secret service? I need scarcely remind my noble friend that such a detail would be inconsistent with the very nature of the service. It is, no doubt, generally true, that the application of the public money should be publicly accounted for; and that, with respect to the details of every branch of expenditure, except that which is now the subject of the noble lord's inquiries, the public are entitled to the utmost possible satisfaction. If my noble friend thinks the disposal of a few thousand pounds cannot be trusted to the honour and to the oath of him whose duty it is to apply them to the public service, let him pursue the fair and manly course which such a conviction ought to suggest. Let him say at once, that the head of the department in question is unworthy of all trust and confidence; and bring forward a motion, praying his majesty to dismiss him from his councils. My noble friend has also asked me, whether I have any objection to give a return, up to the present time, of the issues from the Treasury on account of secret service. I confess that there is a considerable objection, in point of principle, to furnishing statements of issues from the Treasury, on account of secret service, for short periods; because such statements are calculated to afford a clue to the way in which the money has been employed. If such a clue be given, it is by so much the less a secret service, and by possibility the whole advantage that might arise out of the application of the money, may be lost to the public by such a disclosure. Although the production of such accounts for short periods is objectionable upon principle, I believe I may, without injury to the public service, consent to the production of an account of the issues from the Treasury up to the last quarter. It may not be improper for me to remark, that at this period of political excitement, when persons disregarding facts, and actuated by no fair or rational principles, were induced to have recourse to speculations and misrepresentations, a rumour has been put forth, that a part of the secret service money has been employed to buy the press. The assertion has been made so broadly and unequivocally out of doors, that I think it right to advert to it. Your lordships are aware that, in strictness, I can have no knowledge of the details of the secret service, previously to my coming into office. At the end of the year the account is sworn to by the Secretary of State, and there is an end of it; the same thing takes place when a Secretary of State goes out of office. I have no regular cognizance of the details, therefore, previously to my coming into office. I did, however, inquire; the documents were still preserved, and the inspection of those documents has left upon my mind the strongest conviction, that not one shilling has been applied to the purpose of influencing any portion of the press of this country. I have felt myself called upon, for the sake of the public, and in justice to the character of the person who now bears the highest office in the state, to say thus much. With respect to the issues not corresponding with the parliamentary grants, I may observe, that where the expenditure in any number of years appears to exceed the grants in that time, the difference is met by surplusses from former grants.

The Marquis of Londonderry

asked the noble viscount, whether he had any objection to distinguish between the portion of secret service money expended abroad, and that appropriated to the public service at home?

Viscount Dudley and Ward

said, he was restrained, by a sense of public duty, from answering the question. It, upon his silence, the noble marquis founded any inference unfavourable to the right hon. gentleman at the head of the government, he could only say, that his suspicions were most unjust and unfounded. He would not be the minister to answer, for the first time, a question calculated to cast an imputation upon the government to which he belonged—an imputation which not even the utmost violence of party could justify.

Viscount Strangford

said, he had been so entirely unconnected with politics during the whole course of his public life, that he should be the last man to obtrude any observations upon their lordships, in any matter which had reference exclusively to party considerations. He might, however, be allowed to say, that an experience of nearly five-and-twenty years, passed in the king's service in almost half the courts of Europe, had given him something like a practical and technical knowledge of the subject on which the noble baron had addressed the House. It was to him a matter of the most complete indifference to which side of the House his opinions might be acceptable, or otherwise, so long as he obeyed the plain dictates of truth and justice. He had served his majesty under nine different Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs, and he felt himself bound to aver, that he had never known any minister exercise over the particular branch of expenditure in question, a more scrupulous and vigilant control, or surround it with more efficient safeguards, than the right hon. person who lately presided over the Foreign Department. He had served under the orders of that right hon. gentleman in five different courts. Their lordships were aware that, as long as human nature remained what it was, occasions would arise, in the conduct of the king's affairs, in which application to that potent engine, secret service money, was indispensable. As far, however; as his experience had gone, he could assure their lordships, that whenever those occasions arose, no administrator of the fund could be more cautious in its employment, than the right hon. gentleman, or more alive to the principle, that the public money ought never to be expended on such occasions without a quid pro quo. He felt it his duty to bear this, he believed unsuspected, testimony to the right hon. gentleman, and he had no other motive in making it but his regard for truth and justice, which ought to be. superior to all other feelings and considerations whatever.

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