HC Deb 29 April 1805 vol 4 cc492-7
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose for the purpose of moving, that leave be given to bring in a bill appointing commissioners to examine into the public expenditure of the departments therein mentioned, and to report such observations as might enable the legislature to correct and prevent irregularities at present existing in such departments, and to adopt a better mode of conducting them for the future. He said, that as he had stated on a former night the objects of his motion, it would not now be necessary to explain them very minutely. They would chiefly comprehend the great branches of the military administration: the offices of barracks and ordnance, the commissariat and the quarter-master-general departments. There were several other objects to which he wished this commission to extend. By a bill passed some years ago, the inspection of the public accounts was taken from the auditors of imprest, and vested in a commission; however well that commission had fulfilled its duty, yet, from the length of the war, and the great increase of public business, it was impossible to avoid large arrears, an evil which could not be avoided, unless by appointing a fresh commission to assist in bringing up the accounts. This was one object; another was to examine into the expenditure of the public money in the West Indies, to take measures for recovering what was due, and for preventing the recurrence of abuses in future, all which was now before the board of treasury. Having thus briefly stated the outlines of his plan, the right hon. gent. expressed his readiness to listen to any suggestions that might be made to him for the purpose of rendering the operations of it more effectual. The result of such a commission must be, that the public would have the satisfaction of being assured, either that no abuses existed in these departments, or if they unfortunately did exist, that measures would be taken to correct them.

Mr. J. Fitzgerald

enquired whether the operation of the bill was meant to extend to Ireland?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

replied, that would be a subject of future discussion.


asked if the war-office was to be included?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

answered in the affirmative.

Sir John Newport

wished to know, whether or not the commissariat of Ireland was to be subject to investigation by this commission, as well as that of Great Britain?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

could give no positive answer. He was not sure whether the same commission would serve for both countries or not. Ireland might, perhaps, require a distinct commission.

Mr. J. Fitzgerald

desired to be informed, whether or not it was to be understood that a distinct commission was to superintend the military department of Ireland?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

entertained some doubts if the same committee could undertake the management of both Great Britain and Ireland; local knowledge might, perhaps, be necessary; but on this subject he had not made up his mind.

Sir John Newport

pressed for a more explicit answer to the question of his hon. friend.

Mr. Pitt

said, he had not yet made up his mind on that part of the subject.

Mr. Fox,

notwithstanding the plausible professions under which the right hon. gent. brought forward this bill, had no hesitation in declaring his decided opinion, that any bill of this sort brought into parliament, for the specious purpose of investigating abuses in the public expenditure, by persons who were themselves the friends and colleagues of delinquents, gave him no hopes whatever that such enquiries were serious. That such persons should be the institutors of enquiry, and the nominators of the committees by whom such enquiries were to be carried on, was a circumstance which the house must regard at least with considerable suspicion. With respect to the personal delicacy of any man, acting under such circumstances as those in which the right hon. gent. stood, that was certainly his own consideration; but if he (Mr. Fox) was the person closely connected with delinquents, he should feel himself bound, by considerations of personal delicacy, to take special care not to be the man to bring forward such an enquiry, and to name the committee, for carrying it on, conscious as he must be of the sentiments such a circumstance must produce in the opinions of all thinking men. The motion for the bill to institute the committee of naval enquiry, on a former occasion, was brought forward by an hon. admiral, who every man must perceive, from the course of that enquiry, and the results it had produced, was serious in his intentions for the detection of delinquents. But he begged to ask, if that bill had been introduced by lord Melville, did any man believe that the house would have had before it Reports, such as those already made by the naval commissioners? He would not now pretend to dive into the feelings and motives of the right hon. gent.; but for his own character's sake he would profess that had he been similarly circumstanced with regard to the persons detected of delinquency, he would not have ventured to come forward for the purpose of naming the committee who were to follow up the investigation; and if ever there was a question upon which the house should be least diposed to compliment the right hon. gent. with the privilege of nominating a committee, the present was undoubtedly that occasion. He approved, however, of what the right hon. gent. said of the objects of this bill. It was much; but there was still a necessity for much more. The navy and the army were undoubtedly two great branches of public expenditure, in which great abuses had unquestionably occurred, but there were still others that as loudly challenged enquiry. Did the right hon. gent. think that enquiry was not full as necessary in the expenditure of the treasury, so much more immediately connected with himself? and upon the same principle, if he were to bring enquiry forward and name the committee, he might as well nominate the lords of the treasury at once to investigate and censure their own delinquencies, if they were guilty. But that those persons whose conduct was the object of enquiry should be permitted to nominate the enquirers, was contrary to every principle of common justice, common decency, and common sense. But let not the right hon. gent. "lay this flattering unction to his soul," that after what had passed in that house, after the enormities that had already been dragged to light, the public would be satisfied with the appointment of a commission by himself, to enquire into those branches of the public service with which he himself was immediately connected. If he entertained this hope, he was convinced that he would find himself very seriously mistaken.

Lord Castlereagh

rose, with much warmth, to vindicate the conduct of his right hon. friend (Mr. Pitt), whose individual purity not only placed him far above the unwarrantable imputation of the hon. gent., but justly attached to him the esteem and confidence of the country. The personal purity of his right hon. friend rendered his character such as any country might be proud of, and the spotless integrity he had maintained during perhaps the longest political life ever enjoyed by any prime minister of this country, marked him out as the very individual by whom the country would most wish such a committee to be nominated. He called on the house to repel with indignation any imputation on their honour, let it come from what quarter it might. Would they endure to be told, that they were willing to subject themselves to the authority of any individual, however pure his character, however high he might stand in their estimation, from the experience of many years during a period as critical and important as ever occurred in the annals of the world? As to observations on the intended regulations of the bill, it would be more proper to defer them till the bill was actually before the house itself.

Mr. Fox

explained, by saying, he had not imputed to the right hon. gent. any such direct influence as to say he could dictate the choice of a committee. He only meant that there was generally a sort of courtesy observable in the house, on most occasions, to indulge the inclinations of the right hon. gent.

Mr. Grey

admired the dignified zeal with which the noble lord asserted the individual purity of his right hon. friend; and yet he begged leave to remind the noble lord, that more flagrant corruption had prevailed in the country during the period that right hon. gent. had been at the head of the government, than during any other period in our history. He (Mr. Grey) well recollected, that the noble lord himself had taken fire in a similar manner, when his own individual purity was called in question by a right hon. gent. who was now one of his colleagues (Mr. Foster). The noble lord indignantly repelled the insinuation of corruption brought against his own, government, and concluded by an high-fraught panegyric on the spotless purity. of the Irish house of commons! His right hon. friend, however, answered, "the noble lord mistakes me—I have urged no insinuation; but I directly charge, that there was a gross and corrupt profusion of the public money perverted to procure votes in the Irish parliament in favour of the union; and I charge the noble lord, then at the head of administration in Ireland, with being the proposer, chief manager, and principal instrument in carrying that measure." The noble lord, however, sat silent, and did not think proper to venture on a reply.—The hon. gent. concluded by observing, that after what had passed with respect to abuses in the naval department, there was well founded suspicion, at least, that similar abuses were prevalent in other departments also. The expectations of the people were now raised, and they looked up for investigation. If it was earnestly and honestly followed, the people would be satisfied, but if merely carried on for the purposes of deception, and the protection of delinquents, the natural result would be dissatisfaction and discontent in every quarter of the realm.—The question was now put, and leave given to bring in the bill.