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MR. PITT'S SPEECH
IN DEFENCE OF CERTAIN GRANTS OF MONEY TO THE AL
LIES WITHOUT THE AUTHORITY OF PARLIAMENT. DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, DECEMBER 14, 1796.
MR. PITT, as chancellor of the exchequer, in making his annual statement to the house, took the opportunity to acknowledge, that he had advanced to the allies during the preceding session of parliament and its subsequent recess, divers sums of money, to the amount of 1,200,000l.
This measure of the minister afforded too favourable an occasion of attack, not to be seized by an opposition ever the most vigilant and alert.
Mr. Fox, therefore, moved, “ that his majesty's ministers having authorized and directed, at different times, without the consent, and during the sitting of parliament, the issue of various sums of money, for the service of his imperial majesty, and also for the service of the army under the prince of Conde, have acted contrary to their duty, and to that trust reposed in them, and have therefore violated the constitutional privileges of this house.”
The minister, in the following speech delivered in his defence, displays great powers of eloquence, and uncommon ingenuity in the application of cedents to his case.
The sense, however, of the house manifesting itself against the constitutionality of the measure, though disposed to sanction it on the grounds of expediency, one of the friends of ministry prudently proposed, which was ultimately carried by a large majority, as an amendment to Mr. Fox's motion, " that advancing the several sums of money in the account then before the house, for the service of his imperial majesty, though not to be drawn into precedent but upon occasions of special necessity, was a justifiable exercise, under the circumstances of the case, of the discretion vested in his majesty's ministers by the vote of credit.”
WHEN I consider, sir, the nature of the mo. tion which is this day brought forward by the right honourable gentleman against his majesty's ministers, and the serious charge which it involves, I must regard myself as particularly implicated in that charge, as possessing a particular share of responsibility in the conduct of that measure which is censured as a violation of the constitution, and a breach of the privileges of this house. I have, however, in the discussion of this question every thing to expect from the candour and justice of the house. An imputation of a most serious kind has been advanced against his majesty's ministers; but it is necessary that all which may be offered on both sides should be fairly heard, before any decision can take place. It is requisite that gentlemen should be in full possession of every important fact that can be adduced, before they hasten to a conclusion which necessarily involves in it, matter of such weight and magnitude. The house should clearly know the general principles on which it is to decide; it should know the grounds on which the theory of this part of the constitution is erected; it should also know what the particular instances are in point of practice that militate in a certain degree against the general principles. I say, sir, when these considerations are once known, it will then be incumbent on the house to decide. But I trust it will not be denied, that until these points are completely and satisfactorily ascertained, the house ought, with every view to propriety, to suspend its determination. It is no small object of satisfaction to me, that the full review of former precedents with respect to the present motion, forms a chief ground of it. In such an application of facts, I have considerable reason to be pleased, and I trust I shall clearly demonstrate before I sit down, that former precedents concur in justifying the measure which is at this moment so severely condemned.
I am, however, not a little surprised to hear the language made use of by an honourable magistrate, * who has declared that he has received instructions from his constituents to join in a vote of censure against his majesty's ministers, for having supplied the emperour with money without the authority of parliament. There is perhaps, not any question on which a member ought to allow the decided dictates of his own conscience and judgment to be superseded by the instructions of his constituents; but if there is any case in which a member ought to be particularly anxious to preserve his right of private judgment, it is in the present instance, with respect to a criminal charge : for I think it must be admitted, that it was impossible for the honourable gentleman's constituents to decide in a just and candid manner, on the propriety of giving a vote on a motion, with the particulars of which they must have been unacquainted, and more peculiarly as they must have been totally ignorant of the defence which his majesty's ministers meant to set up. I have, sir, to caution the house against those constitutional doctrines which have been maintained in former debates, and particularly on Thursday night last. But without entering into a minute refutation of them, or stating those which I conceive to be strictly just, I cannot help observing;
* Alderman Combe.
that much is saved for my purpose by the concessions which the right honourable gentleman himself * has made. I certainly do not wish to goad the right ho. nourable gentleman into the former opinions he has at different times maintained: I am better content to take his present statements: I am better content with what I have heard from him to day, and with those general principles which have fallen from him in support of his motion. For as, on a former occasion, when the present subject was first started, the interval of one night made him see the measure more inflammatory than it really is; it now appears that a pause of a few days have diminished his ideas of the inflammatory tendency which, in his own opinion, it possessed. The right honourable gentleman has taken great pains to lay down the great constitutional principles with regard to pecuniary grants, and the use of these grants. I did understand on a former night, that the honourable gentleman told us one thing, to which he said there was no exception, namely, that no expense could be incurred without the consent of parliament. I did not altogether subscribe to that doctrine, and I will state, as nearly as possible, the very words of the argument I then used in answer. I argued, that the practice of extraordinaries had been adopted at different periods of the history of the country, at periods the most approved in the history of the country, at least at periods which the honourable gentleman must naturally think the most approved--when he was himself in the administration. Extraordinaries, to a large amount, were used during the sitting of parliament, and parliament afterwards justified the act by a vote. The honourable gentleman did then admit, that he never could be supposed to have said that extraordinaries could not be used without the consent of parliament, previously obtained; but when ministers have now adopted the same measure, the propriety of which the honourable gentleman said, he could not be supposed to deny, yet such is