« ZurückWeiter »
culiar events; and let me also ask, how a measure can deserve to be londed with obloquy and reproach, which in truth is no more than has been the practice of every administration, at those periods when we have been most proud of the constitution? I might remark, that the honourable gentleman, in the course of his speech, has admitted such to have been the practice, because he has himself acted upon it; yet I must admit that the honourable gentleman, when he stated that such was the practice, observed, that because extraordinaries were consonant to practice, it was no reason they should be extended so far, if it could possibly be avoided. The honourable gentleman, if I understand him right, by that very mode of argument, of the extension of the extraordinaries being attended with so much the more mischief, does, in fact, admit the exception to the principle which he charges me with having violated, and, in short, destroys in effect the very principle he before admitted. He told us that every extraordinary service involved the breach of the pledge to satisfy former estimates, by removing the means of paying them to some other service. If his doctrines mean to infer that extraordinaries ought not to be unnecessarily extended, I cannot þut perfectly coincide with him: but if his argument has for its object that of rendering all extraordinaries invidious, I hope, in such case I may be allowed to guard the house against the effects of attending too much to topics opposed to the very same principles which he has before admitted. That extraordinaries are liable to the future observation and control of parliament, is true; but parliament has at all times felt, that it is necessary, for the public safety, that ministers should have the power of using extraordinaries, without appealing to parliament, provided that power, and the means by which those extraordinaries are incurred, are subject to future discussion.
But it is not the question of extraordinaries only that arises. Parliament, finding the impossibility of reducing every thing to estimated expenses, has introduced the practice of giving votes of credit, with the power, generally, to apply them as exigencies might require. As far as it has been possible to provide against
extraordinaries, which always hitherto has been impracticable, every endeavour has been exerted; but it is a circumstance in which parliament have certainly acted with great wisdom, that it has not thought proper at any time to interfere with respect to the amount of the súms which ministers might think necessary for supplying the extraordinaries, but merely to make ministers responsible for the application of the sums, and the necessity of the extraordinaries, to the payment of which they are directed. Before I say any more, I will only observe, that it is not likely I should be one to dispute the propriety of the measure of providing for the extraordinaries by the extent of the vote of credit, if such a thing could be adopted; I have often heard it made a matter of reproach to me, that I endeavoured to estimate every expense and provide for it beforehand. The votes of credit were always smaller in former wars than in the present. In the present war, I have added to the vote of credit other provisions for the purpose of providing for the extraordinaries beforehand; I may therefore be considered as having done all in my power towards endeavouring to take the previous authority of parliament. What then do I say, that there is no difference between a vote of credit and extraordinaries? As to the vote of credit, I conceive it to be a privilege granted to his Majesty's ministers to employ a given sum to any such purpose as the exigency of affairs shall require. There is no circumstance, however unforeseen, there is no purpose, be it what it may, no possible event, to which ministers may not think it requisice that a vote of credit is applicable ; no expenses upon sudden emergencies, which do not come within the spirit of a vote of credit, subject however to that principle which I shall state. [Here Mr. Grey took notes of what fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer.] I observe an honourable gentleman taking notes of what I have just mentioned, and by his manner he seems to express disapprobation. I only hope he will not interrupt me, till he has done me the honour to attend to the whole of what I say, when I have no doubt but I shall be able to convince him I am right. Have I said that, because a vote of credit is applicable : to every public service, there is no question of responsibility Have I said there is no principle of respect, of attention, of dem. ference to parliament? I trust I have neither denied, nor at any one moment of my life have failed to shew by my conduct, that such responsibility does exist. I know that for every exercise of that discretion, regularly given by the act, founded upon the vote of credit, ministers are subject to the same responsibility as for the exercise of every other discretion, which permanently belongs to them as ministers of the crown, and which they are bound to use for the safety, the welfare, and the dignity of the country; a discretion the more important, as it relates to the disposition of the public money: and I trust parliament will not lose sight, that it is their duty to weigh those unforeseen difficul. ties on which alone government can use the powers with which it is entrusted.
But, Sir, I do not mean to stop here; I do not mean to say that government cught not to be questioned as to the propriety of the measures it may think proper to recur to. I have admitted Its liability to be censured. I will adnit, that if, at that time of using a vote of credit, ministers foresee any expenditure which appears likely to be of consequence, either with respect to its amount, or the importance or peculiarity of the subject, if it admits of a precise estimate, and if the subject is of such a nature that it can be divulged without injury or inconvenience to the public-should readily admit that that minister would fail in his duty to parliament, that he would not act according to the sound principles of what I believe to be the constitution of the country, if he were not to state the nature of the emergency, and endeavour to estimate the expense; but if from the nature of the exigency, it should be impolitic to divulge it, in that case, I conceive the minister justified, who conceals it from parliament till a future season. By these principles, as to the general question, I am satisfied that my merits or demerits should be tried; If I have, in the opinion of the house, departed from the principles of the constitution, then I have committed an error in judginent: If through an error in judgment I have departed from the principles of the constitution, I admit that I ought to receive the censure of the house, notwithstanding that error proceeded from my having felt it my irresistible duty, in common with the rest of his Majesty's ministers, to act upon principles which I conceived the best calculated to ensure the prosperity and advantage of the country. Let me not be supe posed to admit, what the honourable gentleman seems to assume as an instance of candour, namely, that he reserved the question, whether any degree of importance, which might attach to the subject, could possibly be considered an argument for concealing it, or that its importance could make any difference with regard to the estimate of its expense. Of the principle itself, it is not material to say more; but with respect to what the honourable gentleman has stated, I will make this observation. He has said that extraordinaries are admitted on account of indispensable necessity, and that those extraordinaries are such a mischief, that he almost doubts whether they should be suffered at all. I will admit that expense, be it what it will, is indubitably objectionable, and that if the expense arises to a considerable sum, the objection is still stronger; but the greater the expense, the higher is the advance on the responsibility of ministers, and the greater is the inducement for this house to vote to discharge those expenses. The only case has occured which was in contemplation. If it should appear to the house, that, in consequence of an unforeseen change of circumstances, the necessity of expenditure was increased; if it should appear that the only opportunity had arrived, in which there was no alternative but that of relinquishing the cause in which the country was engaged, or of advancing the responsibility of minişters; if, I say, this should appear, is it a mark of candoar in the honourable gentleman to desire that the urgency only should be put out of the question ?
Why then, Sir, as to the utility of the advance to the empesor, whether it could have been made in a more proper form; whether, by a previous application to parliament, it would not bave been attended with a greater degree of inconvenience ;
whether the advance was not made at a time the most critical that could possibly have occurred-these are questions which I shall shortly proceed to discuss. But, assuming for the present, that there was a difficulty about the mode of doing it, what mode, under similar circumstances, would have been more eligible? In this way it has been tried, and has succeeded: by previously applying to parliament, it is doubtful whether it would have succeeded or not. I entreat gentlemen to recollect the situation of the emperor on the continent; the situation of this country, with respect to the prosecution of the war, or of its termination by a safe and honourable peace: I request them to look back to July or August last ; a period when we saw with regret and apprehension the triumphant arms of the French Republic at the gates of Munich, and the territorial possessions of the belligerent powers in danger of being wrested from them. When they look back to this period, let them at the same time contemplate the slow, firm, measured and magnanimous retreat of the gallant Austrian army, and the consequences which followed from a retreat only calculated to ensure the success of their future operations. Will they then ask themselves, dry as the question may be, when so animated a subject is presented to the mind, how far the assurance of the aid which this country was disposed to grant, may have invigorated the spirit of a country making its utmost efforts to resist an invading foe, how far it may have given confidence to their resources, and enabled them to prosecute that line of operations which has been attended with such distinguished sucsess? With these considerations in his view, is there any man who can regard as a matter of consequence, whether the expense of 900,0001. or 1,200,000l. has been incurred to the country? Is there any man who can question the propriety of the sum allotted for the object, and would be willing, for the sake of so paltry a saving, to give up our share in promoting a service, which has terminated so honourably for the character of our allies, and so beneficially for the general interests of Europe? Who would not rejoice that he was admitted into partnership so illustrious, and accompanied with such brilliant success?