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The House divided on the question, that the word “now” stand part of the motion,
December 14. 1796. . Mr. Fox, after an introductory speech, condemning, as unconstitutional, the conduct of ministers in having granted money to the Emperor of Germany and the Prince of Condé, without the consent of Parliament, moved the following resolution: “That His Majesty's ministers, having authorised 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 Condé, have acted contrary to their duty, and to the trust repo-ed in them, and have thereby violated the constitutional privileges of this House."
Mr. Pilt then rose:
When I consider, Sir, the nature of the motion 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 in. stances 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 Emperor 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 judginent to be superseded by the instructions of his constituents; but if there is any case in which a member ought to be partienlarly 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 unconstitutional doctrines which have been maintained in former debates, and particularly on Thursday night last. But without entering into a minute refu. tation of them, or stating those which I conceive to be strictly just, I cannot help observing, that much is saved for my purpose
* Alderman Combe.
by the concessiens which the right honourable gentleman himself* has made. I certainly do not wish to goad the right honourable 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 today, 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 has dimi. nished 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 coun. try, 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 his alarm, that he cannot feel himself justified in pausing a moment on the necessity of the actual condemnation of ministers.
* Mr. Fox,
However, Sir, it is enough for my purpose to admit, that, according to the fundamental principles of the constitution, all grants must proceed from the Commons; that they are afterwards subject to their control, is a principle undeniable: but although the Commons are possessed of the power of controlling the application of the supplies raised by them, yet it is a circumstance proved to demonstration, by practice and general observation, that it would be impossible to carry on any wars, that it would be impossible for government to proceed with due regard for the public safety, or with advantage for the public service, if extraordinaries were not raised by parliament. In point of practice, it is evident they have been raised. Those great writers, who have written on the subject subsequent to the Revolution, prove that extraordinaries have always been used from that period. I desire to refer to the practice of the whole of the succession of administrations, from the days of King William down to the present time, when the principles of the constitution are become infinitely more definite, and when, owing to ambition on the part of France, public expenses and the transactions of finance have attained a greater magnitude; and I ask, whether from that period down to the present, the practice of extraordinaries has not been recognised, and admitted ? I do not mean of extraordinaries only, but of ex. traordinary services during the sitting of parliament. I do not state this, as if there was only one or two solitary precedents, but as the uniform practice of all the wars in which this country has been engaged; and that, during such wars, the extraordinaries have been precisely of the description I have stated. Sir, our constitution is one which rests on great and leading principles, but still no one would wish that the constitution should experience any injury by pushing those principles to a rigid and extreme excess. If we are to look into the record books of the constitution, we shall find certain principles laid down, which seein to contradict many acts of parliament, which are held as strictly legal. If we examine the law of parliament, we shall find, that it is derived principally from the general tenor of the whole of the principles of the constitution, illustrated by the particular urgency and necessity of circumstances. If this is the true way which men ought to study the constitution, by applying the principles of it to the exigency of circumstances, let me repeat what I stated on a former night, with respect to the impossibility of the measure being wrong, which was done in conformity to the best and most approved principles, as adapted to peculiar events: and let me also ask, how a measure can deserve to be loaded with obloquy and reproach, which in truth is no more than has been the practice of every administration, at those periods when we have been most proud of the constitution; I might remark, that the honourable gentleman, in the course of his speech, has admitted such to have been the practice, because he has himself acted upon it; yet I must admit that the honour. able gentleman, when he stated that such was the practice, observed, that because extraordinaries were consonant to practice, it was no reason they should be extended so far, if it could possibly be avoided. The honourable gentleman, if I understand him right, by that very mode of argument, of the extension of the extraordinaries being attended with so much the more mischief, does, in fact, admit the exception to the principle which he charges me with having violated, and, in short, destroys in effect the very principle he before admitted. He told us that every extraordinary service involved the breach of the pledge to satisfy former estimates, by removing the means of paying them to some other service. If his doctrines mean to infer that extraordinaries ought not to be unnecessarily extended, I cannot but perfectly coincide with him: but if his argument has for its object that of rendering all extraordinaries invidious, I hope in such case I may be allowed to guard the House against the effects of attending too much to topics opposed to the very same principles which he has before admitted. That extraordinaries are liable to the future observation and control of parliament, is true; but parliament has at all times felt, that it is necessary, for the public safety, that ministers should have the power of using extraordinaries, without appealing to parliament, provided