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House of Commons.
HOUSE OP COMMONS.
THERE is, certainly, no man better acquainted with the character of the House of Commons than Lord Castlereagh: his experience in the Irish legislature, and the long period he has had the management of the English Commons, must have afforded superior opportunities for becoming acquainted with the motives which generally influence members of parliament : whatever, therefore, falls from him is entitled to particular attention. We shall extract a passage from his speech on the 7th of February, 1817, on the appointment of the Finance Committee ; a sort of parliamentary humbug, of which it may suffice to observe, at present, that its ostensible object is economy, but its real object to screen ministerial profusion.
His Lordship observed, “ An honourable gentleman had said that such “ a committee, as that he was about to move for, should be composed “ of members quite impartial in their views; but this qualification was “ far from being a common one; and if the committee were to consist of “ twenty-one, he should be quite at a loss to fill it up if he were restricted to " that consideration : there were some gentlemen, indeed, in the House who, “ with great honour to themselves, and, no doubt, with great advantage to “ their country, reserved their minds for an impartial consideration of every “ topic; but they were not very numerous, nor were they treated with pe“ culiar respect by the other side of the House; indeed, if any thing were “ viewed by the other side of the House with more peculiar hostility than “ another, it was an attempt to set up an independence of opinion; and “ if they ever felt the inconvenience of that independence to their own “ views, they resisted it with peculiar acrimony. Rejecting, therefore, " the visionary prospect of choosing the committee out of that rare and
purer class of mortals, he should fairly nominate to it members of both
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parties. Although he did not share all the indisposition which had been " manifested to the class of impartial persons, he went to a certain degree “ with those who ohjected to them, for he was perfectly ready to allow, " that public business could not be better managed or so well managed, " if it were not for the sysTEM OF PARTIES; and in his conscience he be“ lieved that whatever human happiness was to be found in this country, in “ a greater degree than the other countries of Europe, was to be attributed " to that conflict of parties, chastened by the spirit of the constitution, and “subdued by the spirit of decorum. To this honourable and liberal, but “ animated and determined contest was, he would repeat, to be attributed “ the envied superiority of the country in public happiness, wisdom, and
A truer description of parliament was never delivered, and, coming from the quarter it does, the facts it contains are invaluable. First, we are told the House does not contain twenty-one "impartial members;" secondly, that impartial members are viewed with particular aversion by the opposition; and, lastly, that it is to the paucity of impartial members that the prosperity of the country may be attributed.
If, for impartial, the word honest be substituted, his Lordship's meaning will be more correctly expressed, and the speech, so amended, read thus : « An honourable member had said that such a committee should be com
posed of honest members, but such a qualification was far from being a com“mon one in that House ; and if the committee were to consist of twenty
one honest members he should be quite at a loss to fill it up,” and so on. By impartial members was evidently meant that class who vote without șinister motives-who do not belong to either of the trading factions into which the House is divided, and who vote on all questions, not with a view to their own emolument, but the interests of their country. But what a deplorable picture of the people's representatives: Sodom and Gomorrah were scarcely less righteous than they. Out of 658 members not 21 are to be found who do not consider government a mere job, and the public a goose, out of which it is the business of every political knave to pluck a feather!
Lord Castlereagh says the Opposition view these impartial or honest members with " peculiar acrimony:" this we believe. In truth there is nothing the Opposition so cordially detest as “independence of opinion.” The small phalanx which has recently shown itself in the House must have been felt by them as a grievous calamity; it is, in fact, the greatest misfortune that has befallen them since the Revolution. It has taken away all their cajolleries, all their delusion; they have nothing left for talk; and they have been re
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duced to the alternative of either joining those whom they had long held up to public contempt, or of falsifying, by their votes, their repeated professions. But still worse for the Whigs: the entail is either cut off, or the value greatly diminished : 'although they had no prospect of immediate possession of office, it is well known they looked to a good thing at a future day. But the value of the reversion is greatly impaired by the pruning of Mr. Home and his colleagues, and it is clear whoever suce ceeds to the administration, will not have so rich a harvest of plunder as formerly
Lord Castlereagh, says the “ system of parties," or, more correctly, the system of roguery, has worked well : this we deny. We believe it will be found to have worked like roguish systems generally-to the ruin of all parties. How it has worked for the country we may learn from the state of agriculture, the debt, and poor rates; and it is much to us if the working of these fruits of the “ system of parties” do not ultimately work a suitable punishment to the authors of such grievous calamities.
It is almost unnecessary to add any thing to the preceding description of the House of Commons; one or two things, however, have turned up this session, which will still more illustrate its character, and which we shall briefly notice.
The first is the Perpetual Pension Fund. This is one of the most notable jobs of corruption ; but, though it has been in existence for several years, it appears never to have attracted the attention of those watchful guardians of the public interests, the Daily Press. Mr. Creevey introduced the subject this session ; till then we suspect the public was generally ignorant of the existence of such an act as the 57 Geo. III. The title of the act is " An Act to enable his Majesty to recompense the services of Persons holding, or who have held high and efficient Civil Offices.” Before observing on the character of this meaşure, we will say a word on the way in which it originated.
In the year 1817, there was a pretty general call for retrenchment, and, on the 7th of February of that year, Lord Castlereagh moved for the appointment of a Select Committee of Finance, to consider what places, salaries, pensions, and establishments, could be reduced, without“ detriment to the public service." A committee of finance, as before observed, is a complete delusion, and, on this occasion, it did not belie its character. The committee was named by Lord Castlereagh, and consisted almost entirely of placemen and pensioners, of men who profited largely in the abuses they were appointed to investigate and reform. From such reformers nothing
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very beneficial could be reasonably anticipated; it was necessary, however, for appearances and a kind of parliamentary sanction to ministerial profusion.
At this time the cries of the people were loud against sinecures and undeserved pensions, and, as a sort of tub to the whale, the committee recommended the abolition of some of the most obnoxious. Three acts were accordingly introduced by their chairman to abolish certain useless places ; as supervisor of his Majesty's printing-press, compiler of the Dublin gazette, master of the revels, chief justices in Eyre, clerk of the pipe, receiver of the bishops' rents, and some others. All these offices were to be abolished accordingly, but subject to existing interests. But mark the sequel : having recommended the abolition of these sinecures, the committee next recommend the creation of others; having cut down the places without any duties to perform, they create so many new pensions of retirement and superannuation, as actually to entail a greater burden on the country after this mock retrenchment than before !
With this view, the 57 Geo. III. was introduced. The act begins by reciting that, “the abolition and regulation of various offices, which deprive the crown of part of the means by which bis Majesty has been heretofore enabled to recompense the service of persons who have held high and efficient civil offices;” and it modestly enacts, that, from thenceforth and evermore, all the high and low “ efficient public officers” of the country, from the first lord of the treasury down to the secretaries of the treasury, under secretaries of state, clerk of the ordnance, first and second secretaries of the admiralty, all included, shall be supported by pensions paid out of the pockets of the people. This was reforming with a vengeance! A committee, appointed expressly to abolish useless places, finishes by recommending the purchase of them, and the establishing of a perpetual fund to reward the holders thereof; most of the members of the committee themselves being the parties to be benefited by this admirable mode of retrenchment.
The Sinecure Pension Bill assumes, as a principle, that the different sinecures are the absolute property of our " high and efficient public men," and thence concludes, because these offices are abolished, these
high and efficient public men" should be provided for in some other way. At various periods the crown has parted with a part of its revenues, which, according to custom, as well as by law, the monarch could grant either to meritorious servants, or personal favourites; but on no such occasion has any representative of the people had the courage to stand up in his place and say, “ Here is a considerable mass of property or plunder with
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drawn from the grasp of our high and efficient public men,' and it must be made up to them by corresponding pensions." The rapacious reign of Charles the Second furnishes no precedent like this ; and from the Revolution downward, during which various places have been abolished, no complaint has ever been made before, that the mass of plunder was too small for the support of our “ high and efficient public men' without creating a new fund for the purpose.
But it is the principle that is the most odious. What right had these “ high and efficient public men” to compensation at all? The sinecures were abuses, and they ought to have been swept away without equivalent. If other classes are injured by reform or improvement, what compensation do they receive for their loss? The workman suffers by the substitution of machinery, the merchant and manufacturer by the vicissitude of commerce, and the farmer by the alteration of the currency; but they receive no equivalent; no fund is provided to make up the loss of their capital and industry. How many individuals have been ruined by the introduction of the steam engine; yet no one thinks of making up the loss of the sufferers. No one thinks of establishing a perpetual fund to compensate the loss of the stocking-weavers, printers, cloth-dressers, or coach proprietors: no one would think of compensating the loss of the publicans and brewers, from throwing open the beer trade. Yet the rights of all these classes are as sacred as those of the pensioners and sinecurists. They have all vested interests in their pursuits ; they have all served apprenticeships or laid out their capital: and if the sacrifice of their property be a public good, they are as much entitled to compensation as the “ high and efficient public men.”
Absurd as the principle is, it pervades the whole system : all abuses are private property, and you cannot reform them without raising an outcry that the interests of some class or other is violated. If you meddle with tithe, you are violating the property of the church. If you attempt reform in courts of justice, you are attacking the emoluments and patronage of the judicial classes. If you attack the rotten boroughs, you are accused of invading the property of the aristocracy. And, lastly, if you touch sinecures, they are the property of our “ high and efficient public" men.
Under such a system there can be no reform; there can be only transformation of abuse ; you can only transmute a sinecure into a pension, or an enormous salary into a superannuation ; but as to getting rid of the evil altogether, it is chimerical. That can only be done by a reformed Parliament, which shall have no vested interests in the abuses it undertakes to