§ Lord Henry Petty
moved the order of the day for the house to go into a committee on the West India Accounts bill, which being read, his lordship said, that before he moved that the Speaker do leave the chair, he wished to make a few observations respecting the objects of the bill, by way of obviating the objections thrown out against it on a former night by the right hon. gent. opposite 662 (Mr. Rose). He then stated, that in the year 1800 and 1801, commissioners were sent out to West Indies, for the purpose of investigating and auditing the public accounts in the different islands; that they proceeded in the execution of the trust reposed in them, but found the accounts so complicated, and so much mixed with accounts kept in England, that they could not proceed with any effects, and were therefore under the necessity of sending home one of their number, (Mr. Bearcroft) to communicate their difficulties to the treasury, at the risk of the commissioners on the islands being at an entire stand. Mr. Bearcroft arrived in England in 1804, and in the course of that and the year 1805, took examinations of the accounts in England, for the purpose of dectecting the various frauds that had been committed. It was, however, found, in consequence of these examinations, that none of the authors of the abuses in the West Indies could be called to an account with any effect. The principal object of the present bill was to examine into the former powers, and to give the commissioners more extensive ones. And in order to obviate the inconveniencies and difficulties which had anlecedently occurred, so as to frustrate the intention of the commissioners, who had been obliged to send home one of their members, there were other provisions in the bill, to form a new board, one part of which shall reside in the West Indies, and the other in England, which two boards shall continually correspond with each other, and communicate such difficulties in the West Indies, as cannot be cleared up without communications from home. Thus, the two boards would be enabled to make continual progress in the investigation and auditing of the accounts. No time would be lost, as had been the case in sending home Mr. Bearcroft; the commissioners would, on the contrary, be efficient; and how the right hon. gent. could call it a sinecure, he was at a loss to account for. There was also a clause in the bill, empowering the treasury to appoint clerks and secretaries, but not commissioners, as had been stated by the right hon. gent. As to the patronage alluded to by the right hon. gent. there was a considerable difficulty in procuring proper persons to accept of these places, which would compel them to go to the West Indies. As to the point of salaries, he thought these ought to be fixed, and paid regularly. He also obviated the 663 objection, as to the commissary acting with the commission, by stating that this commissary was not a public accountant, but a comptroller of accounts. He considered this bill as in every point of view of the most essential importance.
said, the noble lord could not be more desirous to have the abuses in the West Indies inquired into and redressed, than he was. The circumstance of Mr. Bearcroft, the gentleman alluded to, having returned home, and been useful to the auditors, he thought afforded no competent reason for making the public incur the enormous expence of aditional appointments, even before the exertions of the former commissioners had been fully tried. He was inclined to ascribe much of the motive for introducing such a bill (which appeared to him entirely unnecessary) to a violent desire for patronage in his majesty's present ministers. There was no instance in the annals of parliament of the commissioners of the treasury having the power to appoint a secretary with powers so extensive under a warrant of the Great Seal. He objected to this precedent of granting to these commissioners of the treasury a greater power than had ever been conferred by any former act of parliament. He considered that considerable danger might arise from collusion between the parties by the appointment of intermediate commissioners. In short, the bill contained nothing which the former one did not already embrace sufficiently for the purposs intended, except the clauses which related to the punishing of perjury. He had formerly made an objection to the preamble of this bill, and he still should do so, as it amounted to a kind of a slur upon the former ministry and commissioners, who, in his opinion, deserved well of their country for the exertions they had used, and the numerous services which they had rendered. The additional appointments would amount to nothing but sinecures. He had conversed with people who had been in the West Indies in various capacities, and he was now perfectly convinced that no auditors but those who acted on the very spot could be of any use in a business of such a nature; and he should therefore think it his duty to take the sense of the house on it.
Mr. Secretary Fox
said, that he had himself experienced the difficulty of finding proper candidates to. go to the West Indies. If Mr. Bearcroft had been found so usefu here, it would be strange, if commissioners 664 residing here with greater powers than he had, should be found useless. It was very erroneous, therefore, to suppose that those offices would be sinecures. Many persons would, no doubt, fly to this country to escape the rigour of the inquiry in the West Indies, and it was proper to be prepared for this. Besides, the commissioners would go in rotation to the West Indies. He therefore did not see any occasion for the right hon. gent's. amendment.
§ Mr. Perceval
said, he thought it would be infinitely more difficult to procure persons to go to the West Indies by rotation than to send out persons immediately after the first engagement for such a purpose. After having enjoyed a salary and sinecures for no less that two years here, it would no doubt be difficult to persuade men to leave their friends and relations in order to go to a dangerous climate, where they might succeed to a much more laborious and disagreeable occupation. He conceived it would be a more difficult task to engage gentleman to go abroad after the expiration of two years, than to persuade a man to go abroad immediately. Nothing was a greater proof of the patronage than the confession of the right hon. secretary (Mr. Fox), who acknowledged that he offered situations in a department with which he had no official connection.—The house then resolved itself into a Committee on the Bill.—On the clause being read for the appointment of five commissioners for auditing accounts, two to act in the West Indies, and three at home,
objected to it as an unnecessary and unprecedented creation of new and sinecure places, merely for the purposes of patronage. He stated, that so far was this from being sanctioned by the example of the Board of Treasury, under which he had the honour to act, that in 19 years that Board suppressed upwards of 100 sinecure places, of from 2000l. to 800l. a year. Two sinecure places of 8000l. a year, and which at this time would have amounted to 40,000l. were vacant, and in the gift of his right hon. friend deceased, (Mr. Pitt); but instead of nominating to them, and thus extending his patronage, that great minister suppressed them, as he did all the others, when vacancies occurred. There were at one time forty of them vacant, and he suppressed them all; a fact which he was ready to prove, if any gentleman thought proper to dispute it; for there was nothing he had more at heart, than that the conduct of that Board, 665 during the 19 years that he belonged to it, should be examined into. There was no danger of any persons now flying from the West Indies to this country, to escape inquiry, as they would be equally liable to it here, since the passing of the act of 1802. As he considered this new creation to be a matter of patronage and mere formality, without producing any benefit whatever, he should, on a future day, move for an examination at the bar, to enquire what use they could be of.
Mr. Secretary Fox
expressed his surprise that gentlemen should put this bill on such a footing, as to suppose that three commissioners here, in constant correspondence with the commissioners abroad, could be of no use to the auditors of public accounts. As to their refusing to go abroad in rotation, that was no more to be expected than in other branches of service, where gentlemen accepted of employments subject to all the contingencies that belonged to them, and indeed there was the less chance of such a refusal, as, after residing two years in the West Indies, they would also in the same rotation come back again. Amongst the many virtues of his noble friend (lord Grenville) now at the head of the treasury, industry and attention were far from being excluded; and he would pledge his life and reputation, that if the situations of these commissioners should turn out to be mere sinecures, instead of being laborious and operative, the board of treasury would be greatly mistaken in what it was about.
argued against the clause at considerable length. The principal points he dwelt upon were, that it was an alarming thing for the house to be now called upon to create an additional class of auditors, who, if they were to be operative, would render the final auditors, to whom the country looked for responsibility, a mere sinecure. Upon the whole, he could see only three effects that could arise from it. Either this new creation would embarrass the existing auditors, or they would turn them into sinecures, or be sinecures themselves, in any of which cases he must consider the measure to be mischievous.
§ Mr. Fox
adverted to the observation made, of its being a proof of the patronage, that he had offered these places, though belonging to a department he was uncon- 666 nected with. Now, the fact was, that finding there was a difficulty in finding persons worthy of trust, who could be prevailed on to go in this situation to the West Indies, he happened to know two persons whom he thought qualified, to whom he proposed it, and who objected to it. Had they done otherwise, it was surely natural, that he, knowing of these difficulties from persons with whom he was in daily council, should say. "I know one or two persons whom I think duly qualified, and whom you may have, if you are not already provided with better." This could not surely be tortured into an attempt to procure patronage; so far was it from being the case, that, after the bill was passed, if, in looking over the list of commissioners, the gentlemen should find the names of any person recommended by him, he would allow them to draw whatever inference they pleased from it. A right hon. gent. (Mr. Rose) while he accused the present ministers of creating new offices, denied that the Board of Treasury, to which he belonged, had made any such creations, and boldly challenged an investigation of the fact. It was not his purpose at present to enter into that subject; but he could not help observing, that the noble lord near him (lord Castlereagh) carefully abstained from making such a challenge, or holding out any such defiance, notwithstanding all the imputation with which he loaded his majesty's present ministers (observing lord Castlereagh at this time whispering to some member near him, he continued). The noble lord did well to address those about him, as he would find it much easier to convince them, than any other part of the house. The noble lord was too prudent to throw down the gauntlet with the same boldness that was done by the right hon. gent. for if he did, he assured him that he was ready to take it up, or, at least, that it would quickly be taken up by some of his own countrymen, now in the house, who would not scruple to affirm, that if not here, at least in one part of the united kingdom, new places were created, and compensations and sums of money were given in the way that the world called bribes, for purposes of patronage and of corruption. He would not, however, assert, that the consciousness of having done so himself, should prevent the noble lord, as a member of parliament, from arraigning the same practices here: but such an admonition from him should be pre- 667 ceded by repentance. Gentlemen opposite, however, did not, he thought, act a very seemly part in thus, upon every occasion, throwing every possible difficulty in the way of every inquiry proposed by the present ministers, though that was but following up with effect what was professed to be the design or their predecessors.
§ Mr. Perceval
said, that he and those with whom he acted, acknowledged the propriety of the object intended, but differed as to the mode of doing it. The plan was now to create, 19 auditors, instead of 11, which was the number thought sufficient by the late minister; and in the present pressure of the country, under such a load of taxation, they objected to such an expence, merely for the purpose of patronage. In respect to the attack made upon his noble friend (lord Castlereagh) by the right hon. secreting, he had to observe, that before the proceedings relating to the union with Ireland, which the right hon. secretary condemned so much at the commencement of the session, were arraigned, he would have done well to recollect, that my lord Grenville, with whom he now acted, was then secretary of state, and very active in promoting that very salutary measure. (A cry of hear! hear!) He said he meant not to make any charge against the noble lord on that account, but he doubted if the right hon. secretary (mr. Fox) was dealing fairly by his colleagues and associates, by stating that as improper conduct, which would involve them in the disgrace.
§ Lord H. Petty
was anxious to rescue the character of his noble friend (lord Grenville) from the imputation of having been party to the disgraceful jobs, and other artifices, employed for the purpose of effecting the union with Ireland. That noble lord, as secretary of state for foreign affairs in England, could not, under the widest ideas of responsibility that could be conceived, be made at all accountable for the corruption practised in Ireland, at the time that Ireland was in independence, and therefore could not be implicated in the conduct of those alluded to by his right hon. friend (Mr. Fox). His lordship then entered into a general defence of the measure before the house, observing, that the new commissioners would have to audit West India accounts to the amount of several millions, which remained unsettled for the last eight years, and that the additional number was required on account of the additional inquiries which still remained 668 to be made.—The committee then divided on the amendment; Ayes 41, Noes 91.—Majority 50.