The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: Volume 9, 1734-1737. Originally published by Chandler, London, 1742.
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Mr Plumer's Motion for laying before the House the King's Warrant for permitting Letters to pass Post Free.
Feb. 24. Several Resolutions of the Committee on the Supply, having been agreed to by the House, Sir William Wyndham mov'd, 'That the Journal of the House of the 5th of December 1690, in the second Year of William and Mary, in relation to the Report from the Committee, to whom the Consideration of the Estimates and Accounts relating to the Army, Navy and Treasury were referred, might be read; which was done accordingly. Then he mov'd for reading the Journal of November 9th, 1691, in the third Year of the same Reign, in relation to appointing a Committee to inspect the Estimate of the Navy for the Year 1692, which having been also read, Sir William Wyndham stood up again, and spoke as follows:
Sir W. Wyndham's Motion for referring the Estimate of the Navy for the Year 1735, to a select Committee.
'When I reflect on the long Peace this Nation has enjoy'd, I am surprised how small a Part of our publick Debts has been paid off; but when I consider the vast Sums that have been yearly raised, that the People have not been made quite free of any one Tax which the preceeding War brought upon them, nor any Tax, except one only, in the least diminished; I cannot comprehend how it was possible, in every Year of this long Term of Peace, to find Pretences for putting the Nation to such a vast Expence: And I must think, If our Parliaments, for these twenty Years past, had followed the Example laid down in the Precedents now read to you, and had always appointed a select Committee, to examine the Estimates yearly laid before them, it would not have been possible to prevail with them to agree that such an Expence was necessary.
'This, Sir, I wish had been done by every Parliament since the Revolution; and as this is the first Session of a new Parliament, I hope we shall begin to follow that Example which was shewn by the first Parliament after the Revolution. I hope it will not be said, but that Parliament had as good Reason to put a Confidence in the Administration as this Parliament has, or as any Parliament had since that Time; and yet we find that Parliament, in their very first Session, passing an Act, and by Ballot appointing Commissioners, for taking and examining the Account of all publick Money, and resolving that no Person should be one of those Commissioners, who had any Office of Profit, or was accountable to their Majesties; and their Care of the publick Money, in their second and third Sessions, we may collect from the Journals now read to us. For this Reason I am convinced, that what I am now to propose cannot be thought shewing the least Disrespect to his Majesty: It is only shewing that prudent Care of the People's Money, which we ought always to shew as their Representatives, even tho' there were no particular Reason for our being so careful.
'But at present, Sir, we have a melancholy Reason for resuming the ancient Usage of Parliament; It is well known that Estimates have been every Year laid before this House of all the Expences, which were then supposed to be necessary for the ensuing Year; and notwithstanding those Estimates were much larger than were ever before usual, yet in every Year ample Provision has been made for the Expences of the ensuing Year, conformable to the Estimates laid before the House: This is known to almost every Man, and every Man that does know it must think it very odd, that in so small a Number of Years such a great Debt should be contracted as is at present due upon Account of our Navy; but it must appear still more surprizing when we consider, that in every Session of Parliament Accounts have been laid before this House, of the Deficiencies of all former Grants, and likewise of all Services incurred and not provided for by Parliament. If such Accounts had been rightly considered, they would certainly have been made good, and the Services, if found to have been necessarily incurred, would certainly have been provided for, out of the first and readiest of the Grants made for the Service of the next ensuing Year.
'This, Sir, is the only proper Way of providing for all Services incurred and not provided for in the former Session of Parliament: While this Method is regularly pursued, the Strength of the Nation is not impaired by loading Posterity with Debts and Mortgages; nor can the People be so easily prevailed on to submit to any unnecessary Expence; and the Facts being fresh in every Man's Memory, if any Fraud be couched under any of the Articles of the Accounts given in, it may be easily discovered; but when the Nation is thus secretly run in Debt, the People being ignorant of their Expence, cannot find Fault with any of those extravagant Measures which occasioned that Expence; and when Accounts are brought into this House in a Heap, and after the Transactions to which they relate are all forgotten, it is then impossible for Gentlemen to discover the Fallacies that may be practised in the Manner of stating these Accounts.
'Upon such a slight View, Sir, as I have taken of the Accounts now upon the Table, it is not possible for me to enter into the particular Articles; but I cannot help taking Notice of one which to me appears very extraordinary. There is near 250,000 l. charged, not for the Building of Ships, but for the Building of Houses; whether such Houses were necessary I shall not now pretend to determine; but if they were, I think it is too large a Sum for any Administration to have expended, without a previous Authority from Parliament; and that I am sure was never asked for. What the present Age may think of such a Sum, I do not know, but I am sure our Ancestors, even of the very last Age, would have been extremely shy of loading the People with at least Six-pence in the Pound upon all the Lands in Great Britain, for building Houses for the Officers belonging to the Admiralty; and I must think it a little extraordinary to see Ministers, of their own Heads, undertake to do that which even Parliaments of old would scarce have undertaken to have done. 'Tis true, Parliaments have of late become very good natur'd, they have put great Confidence in Ministers, and have generally, I shall not say blindly, approved of all ministerial Measures: This may perhaps have made Ministers presume a little farther than they would otherwise have done; but I am very sure, that till very lately, no Minister would have dared to have drawn the Nation into such an Expence without an Authority from Parliament for so doing.
'This Article would, I believe, Sir, have appeared a little extraordinary, in the most flourishing Circumstances that ever this Nation was in; but when the People are groaning under heavy Taxes, when most of those Taxes are already engaged for the Payment of our Debts, I must think it highly extravagant. We ought to make our Estate our own, we ought to free it from Mortgages, before we think of beautifying it with costly Buildings. However, Sir, let me suppose that this Expence was absolutely necessary, yet still it ought to have been provided for by Parliament before it was undertaken, or at least the next Session after it was laid out: In that Case the Parliament would probably have taken Care to have saved as much upon some other Article: By that means our being involved in so heavy a Debt as we are at present would have been prevented, and we might have been in a Condition for acting that Part, which the present Circumstances of Europe may make incumbent upon us to undertake.
'The Revenues of a Nation, Sir, which always arise from those Taxes the People are to pay, may be compared to the Revenues of a private Gentleman's Estate; and every Gentleman who has a Regard to his Family, or to his own Credit, will certainly proportion his Expence to the Revenues of his Estate, taking Care to save as much yearly as may be necessary for providing for younger Children, and for answering future Accidents or Misfortunes: Such a Gentleman will consider that if, by his Way of Living, he spends more than the yearly Revenue of his Estate may, according to this Computation, answer, he must yearly destroy a Part of his Estate; and that the greater this Surplus is, the sooner his Estate and Family will be ruined. Let us suppose then that such a Gentleman should order his Steward to compute the Manner how he was to live, so as not to spend yearly more than the Revenue of his Estate could bear, allowing so much yearly for Childrens Fortunes, paying off Mortgages, or future Contingencies: Suppose this Steward had prescribed such a Manner of living, and had for several Years sed him with a Notion that he was spending no more yearly than his Estate could bear; but at last brings him in a terrible Account of Debts contracted, by that Manner of living which he himself had prescribed, and gravely tells him, he must sell or mortgage one of his best Manors for paying off those Debts: What would such a Steward deserve? Surely he must at least expect all his Accounts to be examined in the strictest Manner, and his Master would never place a Confidence in any of his Calculations for the future.
'The Case, Sir, is the same with this Nation at present: We have been made to believe, that what we were spending yearly was no more than the yearly Taxes would answer: These Taxes have been chearfully granted by Parliament, and as chearfully paid by the People, in full Expectation that these were all that were necessary for answering our annual Expence; but now, Sir, when we are in Danger of being brought into a great and unforeseen Expence, we are told that we have run much in Arrear, that a great Debt has been contracted, and that for the Payment of this Debt, we must either mortgage those Funds which ought to be reserved for a Time of Danger, or we must lay violent Hands upon those Funds which have been long ago declared sacred, and religiously appropriated for relieving us from those heavy Burdens we at present groan under. While we are Members of this House, Sir, we are the Trustees of the People; and when the People have been insensibly run into a heavy and unexpected Arrear, shall we approve of the Accounts of those Services by which that Arrear has been occasioned, without examining strictly into every Article? I must think we are, both in Honour and Conscience, bound to examine them in the strictest Manner; and therefore I shall beg leave to move, That the ordinary Estimate of his Majesty's Navy, for the current Year, may be referred to the Consideration of a select Committee, and that they do examine the same, and report the Facts, with their Opinion thereupon, to the House.'
Sir William Wyndham being seconded by Mr Sandys, the same occasion'd a great Debate, in which Sir Robert Walpole, Mr Horatio Walpole, Mr Winnington, Sir William Yonge, and Colonel Bladen, urg'd the following Arguments against the Motion.
'The Affairs of Europe, and the various Incidents that have occurred since the famous Peace of Utrecht, are so fresh in every Man's Memory, that I think it sufficient to observe in general, that every Man, who knows any Thing of the History of Europe for these last twenty Years, may easily give a Reason why we have not been able to pay off any considerable Part of the publick Debts. There was no Method of paying off honestly and fairly any of our Debts formerly contracted, but by increasing the publick Revenue, or saving a Part yearly of that which had before been established; and every Gentleman must acknowledge, that both these Methods have been pursued as much as it was possible. We could not increase the publick Revenue by imposing any new Taxes, for our People think they are already burdened with too many; and if any such Method had been proposed, it would certainly have been opposed, perhaps by some of those Gentlemen who now find Fault with so small a Part of our Debts having been paid off: The only other Method of increasing the publick Revenue was, by having the Taxes carefully collected, and thereby endeavouring to increase the Produce of each; and this has been pursued with the utmost Care, so that most of our Taxes produce more now than they did twenty Years ago.
'With respect to the saving a Part of the publick Revenue which had been before established, it could be done no other way but by reducing the Interest payable to the Creditors of the publick, or by reducing the publick annual Expence: The first of these Methods has been pursued, and luckily for the Nation, with great Success; and no Man can with Justice say, that for these twenty Years the Nation has been put to any Expence but what was absolutely necessary, according to the Circumstances which the Affairs of Europe, or the Affairs of the Nation were in at that Time; nor has it been put to any Expence but what was regularly laid before the Parliament, and always approved of by Parliament; so that the finding Fault with any Part of our Conduct for these twenty Years past, is not really finding Fault with the Conduct of our Ministers, but with the Conduct of King and Parliament.
'I shall agree with the honourable Gentlemen, Sir, that Estimates have been every Year laid before the House, of what was then suppos'd to be necessary for the Service of the ensuing Year; and I hope they will agree with me that it was right to do so; but I never heard that the Gentlemen, who computed those Estimates and laid them before the Parliament pretended to be infallible. The Estimates they have given in have been found to be deficient, some of the necessary Services have been sometimes omitted, or the Sums thereby allotted have been found not sufficient for answering the Services for which they were appointed, and this is one of the Reasons why so large a Debt now appears to be due on account of the Navy: Another Reason is, that the Funds appointed by Parliament for raising those Sums, which were yearly granted by them for the Service of the Navy, have been always found deficient; and a third Reason is, that the Parliament have often found it necessary for the Safety of the Nation, to give his Majesty Votes of Credit, in Pursuance of which some additional Expences have been incurred, above what were mentioned in the Estimates yearly given in at the Beginning of the Session: And as such Expences were generally incurred by making Additions to our Navy, which is the natural Defence of this Nation in all Times of Danger, it has greatly increased the Debt due on account of our Navy, and is one of the chief Reasons why that Debt is now become so considerable.
'Some of those Accounts relating to the Navy-Debt, have been for several Years successively laid upon your Table, and all of them, except some few Articles which have lately accrued, were laid before the last Session of Parliament; and for what Reasons, I shall not pretend to determine, the Parliament never thought fit to provide for those Deficiencies, or to pay off any Part of that Debt which had been thereby occasioned; tho' I must suppose that, as the Accounts were regularly laid before the Parliament, when the Transactions to which they related were fresh in every Man's Memory, if an Error or Fallacy could have been pointed out, or if any Objection could have been made to any one of the Articles, it would not only have been taken Notice of in this House, but would have been made a Subject for Clamour over the whole Nation; for there always have been, and I hope there always will be, a great Number of Gentlemen in this House not only capable, but ready and willing to discover any Fallacies that may be artfully foisted into our publick Accounts; and if any such Discovery had been made, those who are disaffected to his Majesty's Government might, and would certainly have from thence endeavoured to have raised a popular Clamour against the Administration: For this Reason I may suppose, that all the Accounts upon your Table have already been sufficiently canvassed, and therefore I cannot think there is any Occasion for appointing a select Committee for that Purpose.
'As for the Article, Sir, which the honourable Gentlemen have been pleased to distinguish by a particular Remark, it is certain that Houses, Docks, Dock-yards, and Magazines, are as necessary for the Support of our Navy as Ships of War; and it is as necessary to rebuild the former, when fallen to Decay, as it is necessary to rebuild the latter. To pretend that Ministers, by Directions from his Majesty, ought not to order a Dock, Dock-yard, or Admiralty-Office to be repaired or rebuilt, without having first laid the same before Parliament, seems to me very extraordinary; it may be as well pretended, that they ought not to order a Man of War to be rebuilt or repaired, without first having laid the same before Parliament: In this respect the Sum can make no Difference; it is the Nature of the Service only we are to regard, when we are to determine, whether it ought to be laid before Parliament before it be undertaken; and surely no Man will say, but that his Majesty, or his Ministers by his Direction, may give Orders to rebuild a Man of War, or to repair or rebuild a publick Office, without having first laid the Affair before Parliament for their Approbation. I believe it will be granted, and if it were inquired into it would be found, that no Money has been laid out in this way, nor any House built, but what were absolutely necessary; and if there had been any Fallacy in the Accounts relating to that Expence, as they have been long upon the Table, it would certainly before now have been taken Notice of.
'Thus it must appear, Sir, that the Story we have been told of a Steward's running his Master in Debt, is no Way parallel to the present Case; for this Nation has been run into no extraordinary Expence, but what had not only the Authority of Parliament before it was undertaken, but the Approbation of Parliament after it was laid out: And if any Debt has been contracted, if the Funds appropriated for the Service of the Year have proved at any Time deficient, or if any Services have been incurred which were not provided for by Parliament, those Deficiencies and those Services have been regularly laid before Parliament as soon as they could be brought into an Account: And it is very certain, if a Steward should run his Master into no Expence but what he had a previous Authority for, and should fairly and honestly lay before his Master every Year, or as often as it could possibly be done, a full Account of the Debt he had contracted in the preceding Year, that Steward could deserve no Censure from his Master.
'Now, Sir, as the naming of a select Committee, to inquire into Accounts and Estimates, is a very extraordinary Method of Proceeding, a Method which has not been practised for many Years, and never was often practised, we must suppose it will give a general Alarm, and make People imagine that some Frauds have been committed. This will of course throw a Reflection upon his Majesty's Government; and therefore I think we ought not to enter into any such Method without some very strong Reasons; and as I can see no Reason for our entering into any such Method, as I can see no Good that can be expected from any such Method, as I am convinced it will do a great deal of Mischief, by raising Jealousies and Fears among his Majesty's Subjects, therefore I must be against the Motion.'
'It is from the Knowledge I have of the History of this Nation in particular, and of Europe in general, that I am so suprised, with respect to the small Part of our publick Debts paid off, notwithstanding the Continuance of all our Taxes, and the vast Sums that have been raised every Year; and the more I consider it, the less I can account for the unprofitable Use we have made of such a long Term of Peace. But I am still more surprised to hear any Gentleman say, that all possible Methods have been pursued, either for diminishing the publick annual Expence, or the annual Interest due to the Creditors of the Publick; on the contrary I am convinced, that all possible Methods have been pursued for increasing the first, and no Opportunities have been embraced for reducing either the Principal or the Interest due to the Creditors of the Publick, but such as durst not be refused or neglected.
'We have been for these twenty Years in a continued Course of publick Peace, at least we have had no War declared, nor any Broil with any of our Neighbours; and yet every Year we have been very near at as great an Expence, as we were at in any one Year of the heavy War in King William's Reign: We have had numerous Armies kept up in our own Country, we have maintained many Princes and Armies in foreign Countries, and we have sent many expensive Squadrons into almost all Places of the World; and I should be glad to hear a Reason given for any of our naval Expeditions into the Baltick or the Mediterranean, by those, who are now for our looking quietly on to see the Emperor stript of his Dominions in Italy, and Muscovy giving Sovereigns to its neighbouring Kingdoms. I should be glad to hear a Reason for our being so alarmed at the Alliance, only between Spain and the Emperor, by those who now seem to be so little alarmed at a Treaty, not only of Alliance but of Conquest, between France, Spain and Sardinia: This, Sir, I do not say with a Design to insinuate that we have as yet any great Reason to be alarmed at this last Alliance, but I must think we had from the Beginning much greater Reason to be alarmed with it, than ever we had to be alarmed with the former; and I must think it would now have been more justifiable to have thrown ourselves into the Arms of the Emperor, to have prevented the Consequences of this last Alliance, than ever it was to throw ourselves into the Arms of France, to prevent the Consequences of the former: From all which I must conclude, either that a great Part of the Expence we have formerly been at might have been saved, or that our present Inactivity is highly inexcusable; and which of these two to chuse I shall leave to the Gentlemen who now so strenuously insist, that for these last twenty Years we have taken all possible Methods to diminish our annual Expence.
'Now, Sir, as to the diminishing of the Interest payable to the Creditors of the Publick, can it be said that we have taken any one Method to diminish it, but what the Nature of the Thing and the Circumstances of the Nation pointed cut so plainly, that it would have been highly criminal in any Administration to have neglected the Opportunity? But if we had applied the Sinking Fund regularly to the Payment of our publick Debts, if we had saved that Expence, which has been thrown away in maintaining numerous idle Armies, and sending out many idle Squadrons, and had applied all the Savings to the same honest Purposes, the Principal of our publick Debts would have been so greatly reduced, that the Creditors who remained unpaid would have been glad to have taken what Interest we pleased: Nay, I do not know but the Principal would, by this Time, have been so greatly reduced, that the three great Companies would have been glad to have passed from the Payment of any future Interest upon what was due to them, in order to have had their Charters continued.
'Whether Accounts were regularly laid before the Parliament of the present Navy-Debt, yearly as it became due, is what I shall not pretend to deny, because I do not really know whether it was so or not; but if this be true, which I shall, in Complaisance to the honourable Gentlemen, admit, it is the strongest Argument that can be given for what is now proposed; it is a full Confirmation of the old Proverb that What is every Man's Business is no Man's Business, and therefore an unanswerable Argument for our returning to the old Custom of Parliament, and appointing select Committees every Year to consider and examine every Estimate laid before us: For I hope no Man will say but that we ought, in Time of Peace especially, to raise as much within the Year as will answer the Service of the Year; and if any Deficiency should happen in the Funds granted for one Year, or if it should be found that the Estimates were deficient, all those Deficiencies ought certainly to be made good the very next Year. It is certainly inconsistent with the publick Good to leave Arrears long due, because when Tradesmen, or those who furnish the Publick with what is necessary for publick Use, must lie for Years out of their Money, it is certain they neither can nor will serve the Publick so cheap, as when they know they are sure of their Money within a few Months after the Goods are delivered; and the longer any of those Arrears stand unpaid, the greater Price they will be obliged to pay for every Thing afterwards bought for publick Use.
'With respect to Ministers, indeed, and the Tools employed under them, I must observe, Sir, that it is of great Advantage to have publick Accounts stand long in Arrear; and this Advantage is greater in the Navy than in any other Branch of publick Business, because Tradesmen, and others who serve the Publick, but especially Seamen, cannot lie long out of their Money: If they cannot get their Money soon after it becomes due, they must go to Usurers, ministerial Tools, and such like Extortioners, to sell or pledge their publick Securities. This brings such Securities to Discount, the longer they are of being paid, the greater Discount they come to be at; so that at last they furnish a plentiful Harvest to Ministers and their Favourites; for when the Discount upon those Securities is raised to a sufficient Height, Ministers then give the Watch-Word to their Agents and Favourites to go out and purchase; and when they have got them all, or most of them into their Hands, then the ministerial Bowels begin to yearn for the Sufferings of the publick Creditors, in having lain so long out of their Money; and great Merit is assumed from their coming to a compassionate Resolution, to have such or such a Class of pub lick Creditors paid off: This House is always too good natured to refuse such a just Request; and thus Extortioners get the full Value of those Securities, which they purchase at a great Discount. This, Sir, I shall not say is the Case at present; but I must say I am apt to believe, if an Inquiry were made into the Affair, it would be found that there is but a small Part of the Debt, due upon the Navy, now in the Hands of the original Creditors of the Publick; and even this, Sir, is an Inquiry not unworthy of the Representatives of Great Britain in Parliament.
'But, Sir, whatever the Interest of Ministers may be, it is certainly the Interest of the Publick to pay off their Debts regularly, and as soon as possible; and as I am convinced every Gentlemen now, or formerly, in this House, has, and always had, the Interest of the Publick more at Heart than the Interest of the Minister; therefore I am convinced, that if these Accounts have been upon our Table, all the other Gentlemen of the House are in the same Condition with me; they are so far from having canvassed every Article of them, that they are quite ignorant of their having been ever laid upon the Table before this Session: If any Gentleman had but cast his Eye upon such Accounts, in any preceeding Session, and had observed the Arrears standing unpaid, or unprovided for by Parliament, his Regard for the Publick, his Regard for the Distressed Creditors of the Publick, would certainly have prompted him to have moved to have had them taken into Consideration, and paid off long before now; nothing could have prevented it but a Neglect, which has been occasioned by its not having been made the Concern of any particular Set of Men; and for this Reason we never ought to think it sufficient to have Accounts or Estimates laid upon our Table, we ought always to refer the Consideration of them to select Committees; and thus, by making it the particular Business of a few, we may expect they will never be neglected as those now before us seem to have been, by their having been left to the Care of the whole House.
'I must beg Leave to differ with the honourable Gentlemen, when they say, that the Nature of the Service is only to be regarded, when we are to determine, whether it ought or ought not to be laid before the Parliament; for in my Opinion, the Sum to be laid out ought likewise to be considered: If the Sum be but small, and the Nature of the Service such as often occurs, it may be undertaken without any particular Authority from Parliament; but if the Sum be large, tho' the Nature of the Service be such as often occurred, and has generally been undertaken without any particular Directions from Parliaments, yet such Directions become necessary when the Sum is much larger than what is usually required for that Service: His Majesty may, without Doubt, give Orders to have a Man of War, or perhaps half a Dozen in a Year, repaired; but if by any great Misfortune, it should become necessary to lay out, in any one, two or three Years, a very large Sum for that Purpose, it would then be proper to lay that Necessity before Parliament; and I think no Minister ought to undertake such an extraordinary Service without having first obtained an Authority from Parliament for so doing: In the Case mentioned, I believe it will be granted, that the building of Houses is a Service that does not often occur; and I am very sure the Sum that has been laid out, and which now makes a great Part of our Navy Debt, is a much larger Sum than was ever laid out in this Nation upon such a Service, in so small a Number of Years; nay, I do not know but it amounts to more than was ever before expended in this Nation for Building Docks or any other Sort of Buildings for the Use of the Navy, or the Officers of our Navy; and therefore, both with respect to the Nature of the Service, and the Sum to be laid out, it ought not to have been undertaken without a previous Authority from Parliament.
'Sir, if the Nation has been run into any unnecessary Expence, I am sorry to hear it said, that nothing has been undertaken without the Approbation of Parliament; but, Sir, if it were so, the Authority or the Approbation of former Parliaments can be no Reason for our following their Example, in giving our Authority for undertaking such Services for Years to come, as they have authorised for Years past: We are under no greater Obligation to approve of what was approved of by the very last Parliament, than that Parliament in King Charles IId's Reign, called The Pensionary Parliament.
'To pretend that what is now proposed will raise Jealousies among the People, or give them any Suspicions of his Majesty's Government, is an Argument, I find, always to be brought in when any Attempt is made to inquire into the Conduct of his Majesty's Ministers; but I would have Gentlemen consider, that the proper Business of Parliament is to inquire into the Conduct of Ministers; and if the People find that such Attempts are always over-ruled, it will give them a Suspicion, not only of his Majesty's Government, and the Conduct of his Ministers, but it will give them likewise a Suspicion, and a just one too, of the Conduct of Parliament: We ought to consider what it was that gave the Parliament in King Charles IId's Reign, the ignominious Epithet it is now branded with; and if the People should conceive any such Suspicion of this or any future Parliament, it would raise real Jealousies among them, it would make them despair of ever having their Grievances redressed in a legal Way, and that Despair might drive them into the most violent Methods of seeking Redress; therefore I wish Gentlemen would, upon all Occasions, distinguish a little between his Majesty and his Ministers, and never allow the Respect they have for the latter, to over-balance the Duty they owe to the former.
'The Respect that former Parliaments have shewn to the Ministers for the Time being, and the great Confidence put by Parliament in their Conduct, is, I am afraid, one great Cause that the Nation now remains under such a Load of Debts and Taxes; and therefore it is high Time for us to reassume that Jealousy which has so often proved to be of the most signal Benefit to this Nation. We have been talking, Sir, of putting ourselves in a Condition to compel the Acceptation of the Terms of Peace we are to propose, but I wish we may not find that our Neighbours are too well acquainted with our Circumstances to be afraid of any Thing we can do: They know that our People are already as heavily taxed as they can bear: They know that all those Taxes are already engaged, either for the Payment of our Debts, or for the Support of our Civil Government; can it be supposed that our Menaces will have great Insluence upon any of their Resolutions ? But if they should find, that our Parliament were beginning to look closely into the Management of our publick Affairs, they would from thence conclude, that the best Use would be made of every Shilling hereafter to be raised; that the People would contribute with the more Alacrity, and from thence they will probably be induced to give some Attention to whatever we may think necessary to propose, for restoring the Peace of Europe. For this Reason, if there were no other, we ought to agree to what the honourable Gentleman has been pleased to propose.'
Mr Plumer's Motion for appointing a Committee to inquire into the Post-Office.
Feb. 26. Mr Walter Plumer mov'd, 'That the Copy of the King's Warrant, whereby Letters were permitted to pass Post-Free, which had been laid before the House on the 19th Instant [See p. 73] might be taken into Consideration. The Warrant being accordingly read, Complaints were made by several Members, that their Letters were not only charged at the Post-Office, but that they were often broke open and perused by the Clerks: That this Practice of breaking open Letters was become frequent, and was so publickly known, that the very End for which that Liberty was given to the Postmaster was entirely disappointed; for the Intention being at first to discover any treasonable Correspondence that might be carried on against the Government, that Intention was rendered altogether vain, because by the Practice of opening Letters being so frequent, and so well known, it was certain that no Man would carry on any treasonable Correspondence by Means of the Post-Office; so that the Liberty given to break open Letters at the Post-Office could now serve no Purpose, but to enable the little Clerks about that Office to pry into the private Affairs of every Merchant, and of every Gentleman in the Kingdom. At last it was insisted, that the Warrant then laid before the House was not the last Warrant granted by his Majesty, nor the Warrant by which the Post-masters then acted; and therefore it was moved, that a Committee be appointed to inquire into that Affair.
Mr Plumer's Motion was supported by Mr Lisle, Mr Heathcote, Mr Pulteney, Mr Dundass, and Mr Perry; it was in some Measure opposed by Sir Robert Walpole, and Mr Henry Pelham, but at last they agreeing to the Motion, provided that Committee did not inquire into any Thing that might tend to the discovering the Secrets of the Government; a Committee was appointed accordingly.
Sir Wal. Wagstaff Bagot's Motion for a Clause to be added to the Mutiny-Bill, relating to the inlisting of Soldiers. ; Debate thereon.
The same Day the Mutiny-Bill being reported to the House, Sir Walter Wagstaff Bagot, Bart. stood up, and said, 'That since the House had made such a large Addition to the Army, and seemed inclined to continue the severe Penalties on Deserters, and the Method of recruiting prescribed by that, and former Bills of the like Nature, he thought it necessary to add some Clause, to make the Bill less dangerous to the Subject: That by a Clause in the Bill it was proposed to be enacted, as in former Bills, that if a poor Country-Fellow should inlist with an Officer and take his Money, and afterwards, when carried before a Justice, refuse to declare himself inlisted and to take the Oaths prescribed by Law, it should then be in the Power of the Officer to send such a poor Fellow to Prison, and confine him in a Dungeon for a whole Month, even tho' it should appear that the poor Fellow inlisted when he was drunk, and was willing to return the Money he had taken, and fatisfy all the Charges the Officer had been at: That this Power of confining a Man in a Dungeon, where he might be in Danger of starving, was, he thought, too great a Power to be intrusted absolutely in the Hands of any Officer: That it was no way necessary for his Majesty's Service, and might be of dangerous Consequence, because it might tempt some Officers to practise all the inveigling Arts they could think of, not with an Intention to recruit his Majesty's Forces, but to compel poor Country-Fellows to give them a Sum of Money, by way of Composition, for being discharged from the Bargain they had made when drunk, or in a Passion, and for being freed from the Consinement to which the Officer had, by Law, an uncontroulable Power to subject them: That therefore he would beg Leave to offer a Clause to be added to the Bill, 'That every Officer, who should thereafter inlist any Man to serve in any Regiment, should within Days carry the Man so inlisted before some one of the next Justices of the Peace, where the Man so inlisted should be at Liberty to declare his Dissent, and his having repented of what he had done; and upon his so doing, and returning to the Officer the inlisting Money, and the Expences the Officer had been at by inlisting him, and carrying him before the Justice, not exceeding the Sum of such Justice should forthwith discharge him: And that an Officer, guilty of any Failure or Neglect in this Respect, should be liable to the same Penalties to which Officers are made liable for false Musters.'
This was seconded by Mr Bramston, who informed the House, 'That he actually knew a Case, where a poor Fellow was inveigled when he was drunk, and when he came to be sober, repented, and therefore refused to take the Oaths when carried before the Justice; but the Officer insisted upon his being sent to Prison, and confined for a Month in the Terms of the Act of Parliament, tho' the poor Fellow offered to return the inlisting Money and all Charges; and it not being in the Power, or in the Inclination of the Justice to refuse the Officer's Demand, the poor Fellow was accordingly sent to Jail, where he remained for some Time; but having no Victuals nor Drink, he was at last compelled to go before the Justice and take the Oaths prescribed, in order to prevent his being starved.'
To this it was answer'd by General Wade, Mr Henry Bromley, Mr Lindsay, and Mr Hay, 'That what was proposed by the Clause offered had already been taken Care of by his Majesty's Orders for regulating the Army, for as no Soldier could be tried upon the Mutiny-Act, unless he had taken the Oaths prescribed by that Act before some Justice of Peace, therefore his Majesty had given an Order to all Officers, that no Recruit should be brought to or entered in any Regiment, 'till he had first been regularly inlisted, and had taken the Oaths prescribed by Law, before some of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace; so that by his Majesty's Order every Officer was obliged to do what was proposed by the Clause offered; and as the Bill then before them was of the same Nature with former Bills against Mutiny and Desertion, it would be absolutely necessary to continue the same general Order to all Officers, with respect to their carrying Recruits before some Justice of Peace, therefore they thought it was unnecessary to add any Clause for that Purpose; and it would be attended with many Inconveniencies, particularly, that it would be sometimes impossible for an Officer to carry a Recruit before any Justice within the Time proposed, or within any limited Number of Days.'
To this it was replied by Sir William Wyndham, Sir John Barnard, and Mr Sandys, 'That the very Clause then proposed had been in several Mutiny-Bills during the Reign of King William, tho' it was then in Time of War, and Recruiting of Course more difficult than it could be supposed to be at present: That the honourable Gentlemen who opposed the Clause, could not say, that by any Order his Majesty could give, the Justice of Peace was obliged to discharge the Man inlisted, upon his declaring before him his having repented of what he had done, and returning to the Officer the inlisting Money and all the Charges the Officer had been at for inlisting him: That what was proposed by the Clause was to lay an Obligation upon the Justice, and to give a poor Fellow an Opportunity to get off upon reasonable Terms, in case he should repent of what he had done; neither of which could be effectuated by any Order his Majesty had given, or could give for regulating the Army: That the Grievance complained of was, the inveigling of Men to inlist, and making a Property of them after their having been so inveigled: That this was a Privilege which they hoped no Officer would insist on: That the Abolishing of this Privilege was what the Clause offer'd chiefly aim'd at; and therefore they hop'd the House would agree to it.
Sir Robert Walpole and Mr Henry Pelham having declared, That they would be for the Clause, if it could be so drawn as not to be attended with any Inconvenience to the Service; and thereupon proposed that the Debate be adjourned till the next Day, in order that such a Clause might be contrived: And it being admitted of the other Side, that the Clause, as it then stood, might perhaps stand in need of some little Amendment, it was agreed to adjourn the Debate accordingly till next Day; when the Clause was agreed to, and added to the Mutiny-Bill.
Mr Walpole's Motion for a Subsidy of 56,250 l. to Denmark. ; Debate thereon.
Feb. 28. The House being in a Grand Committee on the Supply, and the Treaty with Denmark, dated Sept. 19, 1734, having been referred to the said Committee, a Motion was made by Mr Horatio Walpole, 'That the Sum of 56,250 l. be granted to his Majesty, on account of the Subsidy to the King of Denmark, pursuant to the said Treaty, for the Service of the Year 1735.' This occasioned a long Debate, in which Mr Walpole's Motion was supported by Mr Winnington, Mr (fn. 1) Willes, Col. Bladen, and Sir Robert Walpole, as follows:
'Although we are not engaged in the present War, yet, as the Balance of Power in Europe depends very much upon the Event of it, we may be soon under a Necessity of joining one or other of the Parties; therefore it is incumbent upon us to strengthen ourselves before-hand, by engaging as many foreign Powers as we can to join with us upon such an Event. In this Situation, it was natural to cast our Eye first towards Denmark, the Interest of that Nation being generally the same with our own; and at present was the more necessary, because great Endeavours were us'd to engage that Court on the other Side of the Question, which might have proved of the most fatal Consequence to the Liberties of Europe, and consequently to those of this Nation.
'The Experience of the last two Wars against France may convince us, Sir, how dangerous it is to allow any one Power in Europe to exalt itself too much, and how expensive it may prove, to reduce a Power that has once got too great an Ascendant over its Neighbours. The Expence, which Great Britain is to be put to by this Treaty with Denmark, must appear very inconsiderable to every Gentleman who considers, that we thereby not only secure the Assistance of a powerful Kingdom, but prevent their being engaged against us, in case the Event of the War should make it necessary for us to join the other Side. In all Cases it is certainly prudent upon any Emergency, to lay out a small Sum, when it is probable we may by so doing prevent our being afterwards brought under a Necessity of putting ourselves to a much greater Expence: And this is the very Case at present in relation to our Treaty with Denmark.
'It is well known, Sir, that Nations are, in all their publick Transactions, governed by their own Interest; and as all Europe knew that great Offers were making to Denmark, to secure them on that Side, against which we might soon be under a Necessity to engage; therefore it became absolutely necessary for us to offer them such Terms as might convince them, that it was more their Interest to join in Alliance with us, than with either of the Parties concerned in the War: I must therefore think, that the concluding this Treaty was one of the most prudent Steps his Majesty could take, and the Conditions on our Part are so reasonable, that I think every Gentleman in this House must approve of them; and therefore, I hope, this Motion will be agreed to without Opposition.'
'I am glad to hear that we are as yet no way engaged in the War; if it be so, I am sure it is ridiculous to put the Nation to a great Expence, to provide against a Danger which may never happen. As we have no particular Interest of our own for inducing us to engage in the present War, but only the Danger the Balance of Power may be in by that Event: And as all the Powers of Europe are as much, or more, interested in the Preservation of that Balance than we are; if it should come to be in any real Danger, they would certainly engage in its Defence, without receiving any valuable Consideration from us; but if we should be always the first to take the Alarm upon any War's breaking out, and offer Bribes and Pensions to all the Princes in Europe, the whole Charge of preserving that Balance would fall upon this Nation; and each of them would, upon every such Occasion, expect a Bribe or a Pension from England, for doing that which he would otherwise be obliged to do for his own Preservation: Even the Dutch may at last refuse to assist, when the Balance of Power is really in Danger, unless we submit to make the Grand Pensionary of Holland a Pensionary of England, and take a Number of their Forces into English Pay.
'It is really surprising, Sir, to hear Gentlemen talk of the Balance of Power's being in Danger, and that we must already begin to provide for its Preservation, when there is not a Prince or State in Europe, who seems to apprehend any such Matter. The Dutch have not put themselves to one Shilling Expence on account of the present War, or for that Mediation they are engaged in as well as we. The Princes and States of Germany are so far from being apprehensive of any Danger, by the Event of the present War, that some of the most considerable of them have actually engaged in a Neutrality. Even the King of Denmark, whom we have thought necessary to engage by a considerable yearly Pension, is himself a Prince of the Empire, and would certainly suffer, by the Overturning the Balance of Power in Europe, much sooner than this Nation would; and therefore we must conclude, that it is more immediately his Interest to engage, not only in Defence of that Balance, but in Defence of the Empire; yet we, it seems, have been so generous as to promise to reward him bountifully for doing what is absolutely necessary for his own Preservation. This, Sir, is a most pernicious Example, it may at last bring the Balance of Power into real Danger, because it may tempt all the Princes of Europe to neglect it, until we grant them yearly Pensions for taking Care of it; and perhaps this very Precedent has now provoked all the other Princes of Germany to stand off, on Purpose to engage us to extend our Bounty in the same Manner to each of them.
'To tell us, Sir, that if we had not entered into this Treaty with the King of Denmark, he might have been prevailed on to have concluded a Treaty with another Power, which might have been prejudicial to us, is, in my Opinion, very odd. Princes, 'tis true, Sir, do not always see their real Interests, but if we resolve upon every Occacasion to clear their Eyesight by a Pension, I am afraid none of them will ever open their Eyes without receiving some such Remedy from us. We are never to suppose that any Prince of Europe will engage against the Liberties of Europe, or will perform any former Engagement, when the Performance comes to be apparently inconsistent with the Liberties of Europe, and consequently with his own Independency, unless he be very much blinded by some particular Interest of his own: And of all the Princes of Europe the King of Denmark is, in this Respect, the least liable to any Temptation; there are several other Princes of Europe, who may be tempted to join with those who have Designs against the Liberties of Europe; because they may be made from thence to expect some Addition to their own Dominions; and these are the Princes upon whom we ought to have a watchful Eye; these are the Princes, if any, upon whom we ought to bestow our Pensions, in order to keep them firm to the general Interest of Europe. If we had by any Subsidy engaged the Duke of Bavaria in an Alliance; if we had by any Subsidy disengaged the King of Sardinia from his present Allies; or if we had laid out a Sum of Money in engaging the Polanders to make such a Choice of a King, as would have prevented the breaking out of the War, (and perhaps a less Sum might have done than the Expence we have been at on account of the War) there might have been some Reason for our being at such an Expence; but I can see no Advantage we can expect, from the Expence we are to be at, on account of this Treaty with Denmark.
'I shall readily agree with the honourable and learned Gentleman [Mr Willes] that Nations are entirely governed by their own Interest; but as it is the Interest of Denmark, as much as it is the Interest of this Nation, to preserve the Balance of Power in Europe, therefore I must think it was quite unnecessary for us to give them a Fee for doing so: I shall indeed grant, that they were in the Right to take it, for, I believe, few will refuse to take a Fee for that, which is both their Duty and Interest to do without any Reward. As I have a great Opinion of the Honour and the Penetration both of the King and the Ministers of Denmark, I must conclude they would never have entered into any Engagements, that were inconsistent with the Liberties of Europe; I must conclude they will always be ready, without any Fee or Reward, to join with all their Force in the Preservation of the Balance of Power, whenever it shall appear to be in any real Danger. Consequently it was altogether unnecessary for us to enter into any such Treaty as that now before us, or to promise any such Subsidy as is by that Treaty stipulated; and therefore, as one of the Representatives of the People, to whom they have entrusted the laying out their Money, in the most frugal Manner, I cannot agree to such an unnecessary Expence as what is now proposed.'
Upon this Sir Joseph Jekyll, and Mr Howe declar'd, 'That they approved of the Treaty as little as any Gentlemen did: That tho' they thought it was altogether unnecessary, to put the Nation to such an Expence 'till the Danger became more apparent, yet as it was the first Treaty his Majesty had concluded upon the present Emergency, they would agree to the Motion; because if that House should not agree with what his Majesty had done with respect to that Treaty, it might be, at such a Conjuncture, of the most dangerous Consequence to the Liberties of Europe, by encouraging the ambitious Views which some of the Parties engaged in War may now have, or hereafter form to themselves, and by discouraging any of the Princes or States of Europe from entering into any Treaties with his Majesty, even tho' the Circumstances of Europe should then absolutely require such Treaties to be concluded.'
Sir J. Barnard moves for a Bill for restraining the Number of Play Houses. ; Debate thereon.
March 5. Sir John Barnard mov'd for bringing in a Bill, for restraining the Number of Houses for playing of Interludes, and for the better regulating Common Players of Interludes. In Support of this Motion he represented the Mischief done to the City of London by the Play-Houses, in corrupting the Youth, encouraging Vice and Debauchery, and being prejudicial to Trade and Industry; and how much these Evils would be increas'd, if another Play-House should be built in the very Heart (fn. 2) of the City.' Sir John Barnard was seconded by Mr Sandys, and supported by Mr Pulteney, Sir Robert Walpole, Sir Joseph Jekyll, Sir Thomas Saunderson, and several other Members; Mr James Ereskine in particular reckon'd up the Number of Play-Houses then in London, viz. The Opera-House, the French PlayHouse in the Hay-Market, and the Theatres in Covent-Garden, Drury-Lane, Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, and Goodman'sFields; and added, 'That it was no less surprizing than shameful, to see so great a Change for the worse in the Temper and Inclinations of the British Nation, who were now so extravagantly addicted to lewd and idle Diversions, that the Number of Play-Houses in London was double to that of Paris; That we now exceeded in Levity even the French themselves, from whom we learned these and many other ridiculous Customs, as much unsuitable to the Mein and Manners of an Englishman or a Scot, as they were agreeable to the Air and Levity of a Monsieur: That it was astonishing to all Europe, that Italian Eunuchs and Singers should have set Salaries, equal to those of the Lords of the Treasury and Judges of England. After this it was order'd, Nem. Con. That a Bill be brought in pursuant to Sir John Barnard's Motion; which was done accordingly: But it was afterwards dropt, on Account of a Clause offer'd to be inserted in the said Bill, for enlarging the Power of the Lord Chamberlain, with Regard to the Licensing of Plays.
Mr Bramston's Motion for restraining the Counsel from offering Evidence, touching the Right of Election for any Place, contrary to the last Determination of the House.
March 7. Mr Bramston moved, 'That the Clause of an Act made in the second Year of his present Majesty's Reign, intitled, An Act for the more effectual preventing Bribery and Corruption in the Elections of Members to serve in Parliament, which relates to the last Determination in the House of Commons, concerning Votes for Members to serve in Parliament for any County, City, Borough, Cinque-Port, or Place; with the Clause relating to the Oath to be taken by returning Officers, should be read; and the same having been read accordingly, Mr Bramston stood up again, and spoke as follows:
'By the Clause of the Act now read to you, it appears, that the last Determination of the House of Commons, with regard to the Right of voting at any Election, is declared to be final to all Intents and Purposes whatsoever, any Usage to the contrary notwithstanding; so that in all future Disputes about any Election for the same Place, the last Determination of this House is the Rule, by which the Right of voting is to be determined, and against which no Arguments, nor any Proof can be admitted: This I take to be now the Law of the Land, and consequently is binding as well upon this House, as upon every Gentleman who has been since that Act, or may hereafter be concerned in any Election.
'At all Times, Sir, and particularly in such a dangerous Conjuncture as the present, it is incumbent upon us to establish among the People a good Opinion of the Impartiality, Integrity, and Justice of this House in all our Proceedings. With Respect to State Affairs, especially such as relate to Foreign Transactions, the Facts are not publickly known, nor can the Motives or Arguments for or against any Question relating to them be understood by the Vulgar; and therefore in such Questions it is not easy for the People in general to comprehend the Debates; nor would it be possible for them to discover the Injustice or the Partiality of our Proceedings, were it possible for this House to be guilty of any such. But in all our Proceedings relating to Elections, the People in general, or at least those who live in the Neighbourhood of the Place where any Dispute happens about an Election, know every Circumstance, and are as capable of judging of the Motives or Arguments for or against most of the Questions that occur upon such Occasions, as any Member of this House: And when the People observe a Contradiction in our Determinations relating to such Affairs; when they observe the Right of voting at an Election given by this House to one Sort of People, and in the very next Session, perhaps, that Right determined by this House to be in a quite different Sort of People, they must conclude, that the Determination of this House in relation to that Affair did not proceed from Justice and Impartiality, but from private Interest, or from Party-Zeal. This is the Conclusion they must necessarily form with Respect to those Affairs they know, and can judge of; and the Misfortune is, that they from thence naturally conclude, that our Proceedings are governed by the same Motives in those Affairs which they do not know, nor can judge of.
'To prevent an Effect so dangerous to our Constitution was, I believe, Sir, one of the chief Motives for inserting the Clause now read to you in the Act of Parliament, and Care has been taken to express it in Terms so strong and explicit, that it cannot, in my Opinion, be evaded by any Artifice or Subterfuge. It is now the Law of the Land; a Law so reasonable, that I hope it will never be altered or repealed; and a Law so plain, that I can make no Doubt, but that the last Determination of the House of Commons will, for the future, be, in all such Cases, a Rule from which we cannot depart. However, Sir, as some Gentlemen are not sufficiently apprised of this Law, or may entertain Hopes that this House will not, in their future Determinations, strictly adhere to it, they may therefore put them selves to great Expence in bringing up Witnesses, and may take up a great deal of your Time with Arguments to shew, that the Right of voting at any Election now disputed, is not in those People only, in whom it was declared to be by the last Determination of this House: This will be putting themselves to great Expence, and taking up the Time of this House to no Purpose, since the last Determination of the House of Commons is now by Law established as a Rule, from which we cannot depart, notwithstanding the clearest Proof of any Usage to the contrary.
'As we ought, Sir, to prevent Gentlemen putting themselves to any needless Expence, as we ought to prevent their attempting to take up the Time of this House to no Purpose, therefore I think this Law ought to be some way reviv'd, not only to put Gentlemen in mind of it, but to shew them that we are resolved to adhere to it in the strictest Manner; and as the only proper way for us to revive any Law, is by coming to some new Resolution in relation to it, therefore I hope the House will agree to the following Motion, which is, 'That the Counsel at the Bar of this House, or before the Committee of Privileges and Elections, be restrained from offering Evidence, touching the Right of Election of Members to serve in Parliament for any City, Borough or Place, contrary to the last Determination in the House of Commons; which Determination, by an Act passed in the second Year of his present Majesty's Reign, intitled, An Act for the effectual preventing Bribery and Corruption in thè Election of Members to serve in Parliament, is made final to all Intents and Purposes whatsoever, any Usage to the contrary notwithstanding.'
This Motion being seconded by Mr Sandys, and supported by Mr Walter Plumer: The same was objected to by Mr Horatio Walpole, Mr Henry Pelham, and Sir William Yonge, who did not directly oppose the Motion itself, but proposed the Delaying of it a few Days, as follows.
'I must own, I have not lately considered the Clause now read to you, and therefore am not prepared now to speak to it: But upon the first View, I take the Motion to be of the utmost Consequence, because I look upon it as a Restraint designed to be put upon the Jurisdiction of this House in the most material Point, that of determining all Questions relating to electing the Members of our own House. I really never imagined, that the Intention of that Act, or of any Clause in it, was to restrain the House of Commons, with respect to their Determinations in Matters of Election; for in all such Determinations I think we ought not to be under any Limitation, nor confined by any Rule; and if there had been any such Intention, I believe this House would never have agreed to the Bill, or at least that Clause by which any such Restraint was intended to be laid upon this House.
'It is for this Reason, Sir, that I have always imagin'd, and still think, that the Clause now read to you relates only to Returning Officers, and was designed as a Direction to them, what Sort of Persons they were to admit to vote at any Election; with respect to which they were by this Clause obliged to take the last Determination of the House of Commons, as a Rule to be inviolably observed by them at all succeeding Elections. This, Sir, I must still think, is all that was designed by the Clause; for it is certain, that if in all future disputed Elections, we were to take the last Determination of this House as an infallible Rule for our Conduct, a very great Injury would thereby be done to a great many Cities and Boroughs in England; and I cannot imagine that it was ever the original Intention of any Act of Parliament to do an Injury to any one, much less to great Numbers of his Majesty's Subjects.
However, Sir, as I have not lately read or considered the Act, I will not now pretend to be positive in my Opinion, and therefore I hope the honourable Gentlemen will agree to put off the Consideration of this Motion to some short Day, to Monday next if they please, that other Gentlemen as well as myself may have Time to consider it, before we are obliged to give our Opinion in a Case which is certainly of great Consequence.'
Sir J. Jekyll.
'As I had the Honour to be a Member of this House when the Clause now under Consideration had the good Fortune to pass, I well remember the History of it: This Clause was not originally in the Bill, but was put into it by the other House, and I believe, with a View to prevent the Passing of it; or at least that it was the Intention of those who first contrived this Clause; for they imagined that this House would never agree to such an Amendment: But when the Bill came back to this House, the Gentlemen who promoted the Bill were so justly fond of it, that they chose to agree to all the Amendments made by the other House, and this among the rest, rather than lose so good a Bill. Indeed as to this Clause they had a very good Reason for agreeing to it; for tho' it did lay some Restraint upon the Jurisdiction of this House in Matters of Election, yet the Majority of the House then thought it a reasonable Restraint, and even a necessary Restraint, in order to prevent, in Time to come, that frequent Contradiction in our Determinations with respect to Elections, which had in Time past greatly contributed to the giving People a contemptible Opinion of all the Proceedings of this House.
'The Clause now read to you, Sir, is so full, and conceived in Terms so plain and easy to be understood, that I am surprised to hear any Gentleman desire an Hour to consider of it; but I am still more surprised to hear any Gentleman, especially a Gentleman who has often attended the Committee of Elections, say, he imagined this Clause was intended only as a Direction to Returning Officers, what Sort of People they were to admit to poll at any Election; because this very Direction was given by Act of Parliament many Years ago to all Sheriffs and Returning Officers: So long ago as the eighth Year of King William's Reign, all Sheriffs and Returning Officers have been prohibited, by an Act then made, to return any Member to serve in Parliament, contrary to the last Determination in the House of Commons, as to the Right of Election for such Places; and therefore it would have been ridiculous to have inserted in a late Act such a Clause as that now before us, if no more had been intended by it, than to give the same Directions to Sheriffs and other Returning Officers, which were given to them by a former Act then in full Force: But, without any such Consideration, the Clause before us is in itself so clearly expressed, that it is impossible to mistake its Meaning; and as the honourable Gentleman intends nothing by his Motion but to prevent Gentlemens putting themselves to a needless Expence, and giving this House an unnecessary Trouble, I can see no Reason why we should make any Difficulty in agreeing to what he has proposed.
'Can Gentlemen be serious, Sir, when they say that this House is not to be confined by any Rules; that we ought not to be under any Restraint, with respect to our Determinations about the Election of our own Members; and that this House would never have agreed to the Clause, if any such Thing had been intended? Our Determinations in such Cases are, 'tis true, supreme and final; but surely, Sir, even in such Cases we are confined by the Rules of natural Justice and Equity, and likewise by the antient Customs and the Laws of the Kingdom. Let a Court of Judicature be as absolute and supreme as can be imagined, yet I should have a very bad Opinion of the Judges of that Court, if they confined themselves to no Rules, nor even to those Laws they themselves had before made for their future Conduct. I do not know but some of the Cities and Boroughs of England may have been injured by the last Determination of this House, and in such a Case it is a Hardship to make that injurious Determination absolute and final as to them in all Time to come; but if there were any such injurious Determinations made, it is the more necessary by a Law to put a Stop to them. The Hardship is already put upon them; the Law is already passed; it is now one of the established Laws of the Kingdom, and cannot therefore be altered or amended by any Resolution of this House: It is not the first Time that a Hardship has been put upon particular Men for the Good of the Society in general; but in this Case, if any City or Borough has been injured by the last Determination of the House of Commons, and that Injury fix'd upon them by the Law now under our Consideration, they may apply to Parliament for Relief, and will certainly obtain an Act of Parliament for that Purpose, which is the only Method by which they can now be relieved; so that the Hardship, if any has been put upon them, cannot come under our Consideration in the present Question.
'However, Sir, tho' I do not think it at all necessary to take a Day to consider of the present Motion, yet I shall not be against it; because I wish it were made a standing Order of this House, that no Motion should be taken into Consideration or agreed to the same Day it is made: For this Reason I shall not be against adjourning the Debate 'till Monday, according to the honourable Gentleman's Desire; and I agree to it the rather, because I hope when the Motion has been fully and maturely considered, it will be unanimously agreed to: But, on other Occasions, I hope those Gentleman will shew the same Complaisance to others, and will not insist, that any Motion they may hereafter think fit to make shall be immediately taken into Consideration; for if this should be made a Rule for one Side, and not for the other, it would be as partial a Method of Proceeding as was ever practised by former Parliaments in their Determinations about Elections.'
It was ordered accordingly, that the farther Consideration of that Question should be adjourned to the Monday Morning next, when the Motion was amended thus: 'That the Counsel at the Bar of this House, or before the Committee of Privileges and Elections, be restrained from offering Evidence, touching the Legality of Votes for Members to serve in Parliament, for any County, Shire, City, Borough, Cinque-Port, or Place, contrary to the last Determination of the House of Commons: Which Determination, by an Act passed in the second Year of his present Majesty's Reign, intitled, An Act for the more effectual preventing Bribery and Corruption, in the Election of Members to serve in Parliament, is made final to all Intents and Purposes whatsoever, any Usage to the contrary notwithstanding.' And then it was agreed to without any farther Debate.
A Bill ordered to be brought in, for limiting the Number of Officers in the House of Commons, upon Mr Sandys's Motion.
March 19. Upon the Motion of Mr Sandys, it was order'd, That Leave be given to bring in a Bill for the better securing the Freedom of Parliaments, by limiting the Number of Officers in the House of Commons; and Mr Sandys, Mr Wortley, Mr Howe, Sir John Hynde Cotton, Mr Watkin Williams Wynne, and Sir William Lowther, were ordered to prepare and bring in the same.
The Resolutions of the Committee appointed to inquire into the Complaints relating to the Post-Office.
April 16. The Report from the Committee appointed to inquire into the Complaint relating to the Post-Office, being taken into Consideration, the Resolutions of the said Committee were as follows; viz. I. That the Privilege of franking Letters by the Knights, Citizens and Burgesses, chosen to represent the Commons in Parliament, began with the erecting a Post-Office within this Kingdom, by Act of Parliament. II. That all Letters, not exceeding two Ounces, signed by the proper Hand of, or directed to any Member of this House, during the sitting of every Session of Parliament, and forty Days before and forty Days after every Summons or Prorogation, ought to be carried and delivered freely and safely from all Parts of Great Britain and Ireland without any Charge of Postage. III. That it is an high Infringement of the Privilege of the Knights, Citizens and Burgesses, chosen to represent the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament, for any Post-master, his Deputies or Agents, in Great Britain or Ireland, to detain or delay, open or look into, by any Means whatsoever, any Letter directed to, or signed by the proper Hand of any Member, without an express Warrant in Writing, under the Hand of one of the Principal Secretaries of State, for every such Detaining, Delaying, Opening, or Looking into. IV. That all Letters directed to any Member of this House at any Place within the Bills of Mortality, be carried by the proper Officers of the Post-Office to the House or Lodgings of such Member, or to the Lobby of the House of Commons. V. That it is a notorious Breach of the Privilege of the House of Commons, for any Person to counterfeit the Hand, or put the Name of any Member of the House of Commons upon any Letter, in order to prevent its being charged with the Duty of Postage. VI. That such Persons as shall presume to do the same, ought to be proceeded against with the utmost Severity.
The first two of these Resolutions were agreed to, and on the 25th the third Resolution was amended thus: viz. That it is an high Infringement of the Privilege of the Knights, Citizens and Burgesses, chosen to represent the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament, for any Post-Master, his Deputies or Agents, in Great Britain or Ireland, to open or look into, by any Means whatsoever, any Letter directed to, or signed by the proper Hand of any Member, without an express Warrant in Writing, under the Hand of one of the principal Secretaries of State, for every such Opening or Looking into; or to detain or delay any Letter, directed to, or signed with the Name of any Member, unless there shall be just Reason to suspect some Counterfeit of it, without an express Warrant of a principal Secretary of State as aforesaid, for every such Detaining or Delaying.
Which are agreed to by the House.
Debate on a Motion for committing the Bill for limiting the Number of Officers in the House of Commons.
April 22. The Bill for limiting the Number of Officers to sit in the House of Commons being read a second Time; and a Motion being made for committing the same, there ensued a great Debate. The chief Speakers for committing the Bill were Mr John Pitt, Mr Boone, Mr Lyttleton, Lord Polwarth, Mr Hume Campbell, Sir Joseph Jekyll, Sir William Wyndham, and Sir John Hynde Cotton. The Speakers against committing it were Mr Stephen Fox, Hon. Mr Stephen Cornwallis, Mr Lewis, (of Hampshire) Mr Hanbury Williams, Hon. Mr Robert Byng, Mr Lindsay, Mr Oglethorp, Mr Danvers, Mr Thomas Corbet, Hon. Mr Henry Pelham, General Wade, Sir Robert Walpole, and Mr Rider the Solicitor General.
May, 15. The King came to the House of Peers, and the Commons being sent for and attending, his Majesty gave the Royal Assent to several Bills: After which he put an End to the Session with the following Speech to both Houses.
The King's Speech at putting an End to the first Session.
"I Am glad the Business of this Session of Parliament is brought to such a Conclusion, that I have now an Opportunity of giving you some Recess, after the great Pains you have taken in the Service of your Country. On this Occasion I must in Justice return you My Thanks for the many Instances you have given Me of your Duty and Affection to My Person and Government, and for the necessary Provisions you have made for the Publick Security, as far as the immediate Circumstances of Affairs might require.
"I have considered with great Care and Attention the present Situation of Europe, and duly weighed the Consequences, that may arise from the Progress of the War, either by means of its becoming more general, or continuing only to be carried on between the Powers already engaged.
"An Accommodation of these unhappy Troubles appeared to be the best Means to prevent the Dangers, that are to be apprehended on either Side. In this View, a Plan of Pacification was concerted between Me and the States General with great Impartiality, and not without reasonable Grounds to hope for Success, altho' it hath not had the desired Effect.
"But all future Resolutions, to be taken in this important and critical Conjuncture, must be principally determined by future Events: This makes it impossible for Me, at present, to take the previous Advice and Concurrence of My Parliament in such Measures, as may become absolutely necessary to be entered into. But you may be assured, that My constant Concern for the Publick Welfare, the Liberties of Europe, and, in particular, for the Felicity and Security of these Kingdoms, will never suffer Me to take any Steps, but such as the Honour and Interest of My Crown and People shall call for and justify; and in the Pursuit of these great and desirable Ends, I do, with the best grounded Confidents, promise Myself your zealous and affectionate Support.
"I return you My hearty Thank for the Supplies you have, with so much Chearfulness and Dispatch, granted for the Service of the current Year, which have been so effectually raised, and accompanied with so seasonable an Augmentation of Our Forces by Sea and Land, that I shall be in a Condition to make use of them, in the most advantageous Manner, for the Publick Service, as any Occasion, that may happen to arise, shall require."
"The Conduct and Prudence of this Parliament, in a Time of so great Difficulty, cannot be enough commended. The Posture of Affairs before us required all possible Resolution, joined with Caution, neither to be unwarily involved in the present Disturbances, nor to remain unprovided against those Dangers, which are too obvious to stand in Need of any Explanation, and may either directly or remotely affect Us.
"As I think it necessary this Summer to visit My Dominions in Germany, it is My Intention to appoint the Queen Regent here during My Absence; of whose just and prudent Administration you have on the like Occasion had Experience. Let Me earnestly recommend it to you, to render the Burden of this weighty Trust as easy to Her as possible, by making it your constant Study and Endeavour, as I am sure it is your Inclination, to preserve the Peace of the Kingdom, and to discountenance and suppress all Attempts to raise groundless Discontents in the Minds of My People, whose Happiness hath always been, and shall continue My daily and uninterrupted Care."