« PreviousContinue »
nation, correction, and controul. It was particularly, of the very essence of that house, to enquire, to regulate, and to controul; and whenever it was called for properly by the occasion, and that they suspended, concealed, denied, or refused to exercise that right and duty, then .every object of* their meeting and deliberation was at an end; and they were no longer the servants of the public, or the representatives of the people who had sent them there.
The ministers were by no means disposed to enter into any discussion of this subject; and notwithstanding the connection between the gentleman who bad moved the business and them, it was soon seen that he had acted totally independent of their opinion and liking, in thus bringing forward the question of competence at so critical a season. Eor although they highly approved of, and openly applauded the doctrine, yet they did not by any means choose to expose a question of such importance, and which might be so advantageously reserved until a proper opportunity offered, to the risque of an irrevocable decision, in the present state of things without doors, and of temper, which that state of things had produced, within. Nor would the alternative of its being carried in their favour, (a matter, however, of great doubt) be at all more desirable. On the contrary, it would have seemed fraught with great danger. For as the establishment by a vote of the incompetence of parliament, to superintend, or interfere, in the civil list expenditure, would amount to a virtual, is not direct rejection of the general prayer of
the petitions, the possible consequences of such a measurer seemed of too serious a nature, to be then thought of without a pause.
They accordingly endeavoured to get rid of the question as easily as possible, without at all bringing it to any decision. With much applause therefore of the doctrine laid down in the proposition, and many compliments to its framtr, they, however, declared their averseness to the meeting of abstract questions, and must therefore oppose the discharging the order of the day, and the bringing forward of the present into discussion. They asserted that it could be considered in no o'.her light than that of a mere abstract question, which no man was bound to resolve. That they never could think of discussing such a question, unless it clearly arole from the immediate business before the house. That no person could say that was the cafe in the present instance. The principle contained in the proposition militated clearly against the principle on which several clauses of the bill were sounded; the matter os both would come then fairly and \naturally before them, when they went into the committee, and came to consider the several clauses. Gentlemen then, who disapproved of any clause, would oppose it on such grounds as appeared to them the most sure and conclusive; some on the grounds, that the office proposed to be abolished was not an useless one; others, that proofs of the allegations contained in the bill were necessary; and a third description perhaps, that parliament had no right to interfere in the civil list expenditure, on any other account, than that of notorious
abuse. abase. The first law officer of the crown in that house, declared, that he iiai averse to the dilcussion of the question, for he could fairly assure them, that if it should be put, he did not know whether he should give it a negative, or an affirmative.
The opposition instantly perceived the dilemma, in which this proposition had involved the ministers, and at once determined that they should not get easily out of it. Mr. Fox first seized the occasion, and in a speech full of satire and irony, as well as of strong fense, highly complimented the right honourable framer of the proposition, for the open, direct, and manly language which he had held. He had delivered his sentiments with that firmness and candour which so uniformly characterized his conduct in that house. He thanked him most cordially for the opportunity which it afforded to both parties to come to an issue. It would spare much time, and save infinite trouble. It militated directly against the bill on the table; for certainly, if that house was not competent to enquire into, or controul the civil list expenditure, the bill was founded in the most glaring injustice. But while he gave credit for the direct, open manner in which the honourable gentleman had declared and supported his opinion, he must also declare, that it involved doctrines of a most alarming nature; and which appeared to him to be subversive of the first principles of the constitution. He therefore sincerely hoped, that before the house proceeded further, they would consent to let in this proposition; and proceed to discuss it; for it would be
equally nugatory and ridiculous, to go into the committee on the bill, until the fense of the house was taken upon that question. It mult be first got rid of, before any one clause in the bill could be taken into consideration. He could not at the same time help declaring, that if it mould be resolved and determined, that parliament had not a right to interfere, to reform, to arrange, and, if necessary, to resume the grants they had made to the crown for public purposes j in short, to fee to the proper application of the monies they had granted; there was at once an end of the liberties of this country. Give princes and their ministers, said he, the exclusive right of disposing of any considerable part of the public treasures, and our liberties, from that instant, are gone for ever.
He denied that the question was abstract, as those who had a mind to get rid of it were pleased to assert. The proposition, as connected with the bill, was no abstract question, because it amounted to a direct and specific denial of its principle, which was a thorough reform in the whole of the civil list expenditure. There was no ground for the other apprehension, tint the people might be misled by the declaration. How misled! Nothing could be a more clear rej.ction of the petitions, than the supposition of the principle in question, fairly proposed by one gentleman, and highly applauded by those who would sain postpone it. The petitioners fay, that useless and sinecure places ought to be abolished; that exorbitant salaries and perquisites ought to be reduced. Where did thole evils originate? In the expenditure ture of the civil lift. Where was the reform recommended, to operate? Moll clearly, where the evilexisted. But the proposition holds that no reform can there operate. It was then evident, that if the proposition should appear to be the fense of a majority of that house, it would comprehend, one or other of these two answers to the pe:itions; that, your petitions are illfounded, and no reform is necessary; or, that though they ate well sounded, our hands are so tied up, that we are incapable of affording you redress. — He declared, that if the proposition should be agreed to, by a majority of that house, he should consider his toils and labours as at an end; and that as his presence there could be of no farther use or consequence, he never again should enter it.
Mr. Burke, Mr. Townshend, General Cooway, Mr. Dunning, and other distinguished members of opposition, took and supported nearly the same ground; diversified according to the character and genius of the several speakers.
Mr. Kiyby, who introduced the business, -*vas astonished at what he called the unaccountable misinterpretation of words, or perversion of fense, which prevailed on the other fide, in the interpretation which w:,s put upon his proposition. He declared with energy, that he would not readily resign the first place, to any man, who should profess to enti rtnin a more warm and steady zeal tor the liberties of his country, than himself; and that it was with no small degree of surpr ze and emouon, he heard sentiments imputed to him, tending to the overthrow of the constitution. He appealed to all
who heard him, whether he had uttered a syllable, which the most fertile imagination could so interpret. No man revered the rights of the constitution more, or would go farther in maintaining the rights of the people, within that house, where only, in his opinion, so long as parliament existed, they could be constitutionally" defended. He maintained the right of the people to petit:on every branch of the legiflature; but it was in that house only, that their voice could be fairly known and acknowledged; and from thence only it could be surely and safely collected.—He still adhered firmly to his original opinion, and to the proposition sounded upon it; and notwithstanding the difficulty in which the question involved administration, supported the opposition in their intention of bringing it to a decision ; declaring, that at he would not be bullied out os his propositi' .1 by one side of the house, so he was resolved not to be flattered or cajoled cut os it by the other.
The friends of administration endeavoured all they could to soften, and in some measure to explain a\va>y, the apparent sense and meaning, or at least that in which it had been first understood, of the proposition. Nor did they only' attempt to rescue it from the sense put upon it by their adversaries; but likewise from some part of that, which had in the beginning drawn forth applause on their own fide. They insisted, that it did not by any means involve in it a, denial of the right to reform abuses; but that it only asserted, that it would be unjust to interfere in the civil list expenditure, without proper proof of abuse, previous ons to the interference. And this maxim, they said, was supported by the constitution; admitting the right to exist, in the strongest manner in which it bad been stated or supposed on the other side. But as the purport of the proposition had already been misconceived or misrepresented wrhin doors, there could be no doubt, that it would be much more misconceived, and misrepresented, out os doors. And they could not help saying and thinking, that the eagerness shewn to bring the right honourable gentleman's proposition under discussion, could proceed from no other motive, than that if the house should agree to it, it might furnish grounds for spreading false rumours, and creating popular delusion.
This change of ground produced some awkward situations and circumstances, which afforded room for laughter and sarcasm on the other side. As to limiting the right of controol, to the previous proof of abuse, it was said to be ridiculous. How was the abuse to be discovered or proved, but by examination and enquiry? if parliament was competent to the correction of an abuse, they must be competent to the means of its discovery. To talk of any power of controul, without that of enquiry, or of enquiry without that of controul, was too absurd to deserve an answer. I he supposed injustice of enquiry, before the proof of abuse, was, if pcHible, more so; *nd could be only equalled by the supposition, that although a man Ought to be punished for the commission of a crime; yet it would be unjust to try him, until his guilt was proved.
The question now befi.re the house, and on which bo:., parties were to bring forward their utmost force, was, whether, according to the order of the day, it should be resolved into a committee on Mr. Burke's bill, or Whether they should first enter into a discussion of, and decide upon, Mr. Kigby's proposition. The question being put about nine o'clock, the resolution for the order of the day was carried by a majority of six only, the numbers being aoj, to 199. This division was marked by the singular circumstance, of Mr. Rigby's voting in the minority, ard in opposition to all his friends in administration.
The first clause in the bill, and consequently the first question before the committee, was that for abolishing the office of third secretary of state, otherwise secretary for the colonies; which was afterwards modified to the simple description of one of his majesty's principal secretaries of state.
Much of the ground, which we have formerly had occasion pretty accurately to mark our, on the applications of the crown to parliament, for the discharge of the civil list debts, and for an addition of revenue 10 that establishment, and which we have since likewise seen not unfrequently trodden upon o:her occasions, was now again gone over by both parties; and its principal positions strongly and warmly disputed. Tne tenure by which the crown held the civil lilt revenue was a^ain agitated; the friends of administration considering it as a life estate; as exclusive and private property. The right of parliament to interfere at all, and in any case, in its disposal or expenditure. expenditure, was rather doubtfully spoken of by the most guarded and temperate, who paid (time attention to the tenderness and difiicuhy of the ground; but others, particularly some in high office, absolutely denied it, without qualification or reserve. But if the right of interference were admitted, the ministers contended, that it must be. in cafes of gross abuse, previously and incontrovertibly proved. When that was once done, that house was undoubtedly competent to point out to the sovereign, the proper mode of removing and correcting them; but that mode was not by pasting a law of resumption; an extremity, which if at all resorted to, it should only be in some case of the last neceflhy. when all ether means had been tried, and bad been , found ineffectual.
But even supposing that it were right and fit for parliament to interfere upon motives of public œconomy, another question would arise, whether the object to be attained, namely, the saving proposed, was of that magnitude to justify the house, not only in an innovation, but in the suppression of an useful and necessary office. For in the contemplation of the committee, it must be deemed an useful and neegssary office, until the contrary was clearly proved. They were not to estimate the office that was proposed to be abolished, merely upon its own intrinsic value; but they were likewise to consider what the measure of abolishment led to. The clause before them, formed but a part, and a very small part indeed, of the multifarious bill to which it belonged. But if the propriety of this clause should be established,
the same principle would reach to every other part of the bill; and its effects would be extended to ail the branches of the royal houlhold, and even disturb the domestic arrangements within the palace.
But considering the clause merely upon its own proper ground, and supposing the' bill to be formed on the sentiments contained in the petitions, would any gentleman venture to declare that the office was a sinecure; that it was attended with exorbitant fees, perquisites, or emoluments; that it was a heavy, expensive establishment; or, that it was a source of much influence in that house? It perhaps would be said, that it was useless and unnecessary. If that ground is taken, let the gentlemen en the other side bring forward their evidence; let them demonstrate to the committee that k is so; but let not assertion pass for proof, nor mere opinion sotargument. It will then be incumbent upon them to establish the right as well as the expediency of interfering, and of resuming the grant made to the sovereign on his accession; a grant which he received as an equivalent for that ample revenue, to which he was entitled, from the Instant of his being proclaimed king of this country; and they will still be called upon to shew, that the reform is not only just and necessary, but that the mode proposed, is the only one, or the best, which could possibly be carried into execution.
They expected, they said, to hear it observed, that the abolishing of the office in question would be no innovation, as it was only of modern date, and of a few years standing; but to provide against