Imagens da página

for an examination into accounts at some time of greater leisure.

The nation had settled 800,000l. a year on the Crown, as sufficient for the support of its dignity, upon the estimate of its own Ministers. When Ministers came to Parliament, and said that this allowance had not been fufficient for the purpose, and that they had incurred a debt of 500,000l. would it not have been natural for Parliament first to have asked, how, and by what means, their appropriated allowance came to be insufficient? Would it not have savoured of some attention to justice, to have seen in what periods of Administration this debt had been originally incurred; that they might discover, and, if need were, animadvert on the persons who were found the most culpable? To put their hands upon such articles of expenditure as they thought improper or excessive, and to secure, in future, against fuch misapplication or exceeding? Accounts for any other purposes are but a matter of curiosity, and no genuine Parliamentary object. All the accounts which could answer any Parliamentary end were refused, or postponed by previous questions. Every idea of prevention was rejected, as conveying an improper suspicion of the Ministers of the Crown. · When every leading account had been refused, many others were granted with sufficient facility.

But with great candour also, the House was informed, that hardly any of them could be ready until the next seffion; some of them perhaps not so foon. But, in order firmly to establish the


hand found the , animadverney might

precedent of payment previous to account, and to form it into a settled rule of the House, the god in the machine was brought down, nothing less than the wonder-working Law of Parliament. It was alledged, that it is the law of Parliament, when any demand comes from the Crown, that the House must go immediately into the Committee of Supply; in which Committee it was allowed, that the production and examination of accounts would be quite proper and regular. It was therefore carried, that they should go into the Committee without delay, and without accounts, in order to examine with great order and regularity things that could not possibly come before them. After this stroke of orderly and Parliamentary wit and humour, they went into the Committee; and very generoully voted the payment.

There was a circumstance in that debate too remarkable to be overlooked. This debt of the Civil List was all along argued upon the same footing as a debt of the State, contracted upon national authority. Its payment was urged as equally pressing upon the public faith and honour: and when the whole year's account was stated, in what is called The Budget, the Ministry valued themselves on the payment of so much public debt, just as if they had discharged 500,000l. of navy or exchequer bills. Though, in truth, their payment, from the Sinking Fund, of debt which was never contracted by Parliamentary authority, was, to all intents and purposes, so much debt incurred. But such is the present notion of public

credit, credit, and payment of debt. No wonder that it produces such effects.

Nor was the House at all more attentive to a provident fecurity against future, than it had been to a vindictiveretrofpect to past, inismanagements. I should have thought indeed that a Ministerial promise, during their own continuance in office, might have been given, though this would have been but a poor security for the publick. Mr. Pelham gave such an assurance, and he kept his word. But nothing was capable of extorting from our Ministers any thing which had the least refemblance to a promise of confining the expences of the Civil List within the limits which had been fettled by Parliament. This reserve of theirs I look upon to be equivalent to the cleareft declaration, that they were resolved upon a contrary courfe.

However, to put the matter beyond all doubt, in the Speech from the Throne, after thanking Parliament for the relief fo liberally granted, the Ministers inform the two Houses, that they will endeavour to confine the expences of the Civil Government-within what limits, think you ? those which the law had prescribed ? Not in the least " such limits as the honour of the Crown « can possibly admit.”

Thus they established an arbitrary standard for that dignity which Parliament had defined and limited to a legal standard. They gave themfelves, under the lax and indeterminate idea of the bonour of the Crown, a full loofe for all manner of diffipation, and all manner of corruption. This arbitrary standard they were not afraid to hold


out to both Houses; while an idle and unoperative Act of Parliament, estimating the dignity of the Crown at 800,000 l. and confining it to that sum, adds to the number of obsolète statutes which load the shelves of libraries without any sort of advantage to the people,

After this proceeding, I suppose that no man can be so weak as to think that the Crown is limited to any settled allowance whatsoever. For if the Ministry has 800,000 l. a year by the law of the land; and if by the law of Parliament all the debts which exceed it are to be paid previous to the production of any account; I presume that this is equivalent to an income with no other limits than the abilities of the subject and the moderation of the Court; that is to say, it is such an income as is possessed by every absolute Monarch in Europe. It amounts, as a person of great ability said in the debate, to an unlimited power of drawing upon the Sinking Fund. Its effect on the public credit of this kingdom must be obvious; for in vain is the Sinking Fund the great buttress of all the rest, if it be in the power of the Ministry to resort to it for the payment of any debts which they may choose to incur, under the name of the Civil Liit, and through the medium of a Committee, which thinks itself obliged by law to vote supplies without any other account than that of the mere existence of the debt. · Five hundred thousand pounds is a serious fum. But it is nothing to the prolific principle upon which the sum was voted; a principle that may be well called, the fruitful mother of an hundred 3 .


more. Neither is the damage to public credit of very great consequence, when compared with that which results to public morals and to the safety of the constitution, from the exhaustless mine of corruption opened by the precedent, and to be wrought by the principle, of the late payment of the debts of the Civil List. The power of discretionary disqualification by one law of Parliament, and the necessity of paying every debt of the Civil List by another law of Parliament, if suffered to pass unnoticed, must establish such a fund of rewards and terrors as will make Parliament the best appendage and support of arbitrary power that ever was invented by the wit of man. This is felt. The quarrel is begun between the Representatives and the People. The Court Faction have at length committed them.

In such a strait the wisest may well be perplexed, and the boldest staggered. The circumstances are in a great measure new. We have hardly any land-marks from the wisdom of our ancestors, to guide us. At best we can only follow the spirit of their proceeding in other cases. I know the diligence with which my observations on our public disorders have been made ; I am very sure of the integrity of the motives on which they are published : I cannot be equally confident in any plan for the absolute cure of those disorders, or for their certain future prevention. My aim is to bring this matter into more public discussion. Let the fagacity of others work upon it. It is not uncommon for medical writers to


« AnteriorContinuar »