Sidebilder
PDF

a measure on which the opposition made a vigorous stand, and which they described as of the highest importance in a constitutional point of view, will be prepared to acknowledge the firmness and good sense displayed by the ministers. In the most critical circumstances, while their own destinies were uncertain, and their enemies were flushed with hopes never to be realised; when the nation had been anxiously taught the lessons of a narrow and pi.#economy, while it was, at the same time, warned against the insults which an ambitious ministry was offering to the royal authority, did these same ministers, at a small additional expence of the public treasure, combine a due regard for the comfort and dignity of an aged and afflicted monarch, with a suitable care for the splendour and magnificence of that illustrious character who was now to be permanently invested with the highest functions of the state. The prudent firmness of the ministers, in this as in other instances, obtained a complete triumph over the animosity of their opponents. Some questions of considerable importance,andintimatelyconnected with the establishment of the civil list, were agitated during the present session of parliament. It had been avowed by ministers, during the discussions on the household bill, that the deficiency arising on the civil list had been supplied partly out of a fund which is denominated the “Droits of Admiralty,” and which had, from the earliest periods of English history, been vested in the crown.---The king,inancient times, had a right to this fund as lord high admiral of England; and as that great office had not, for a century past, been conferred on any individual, the droits of admiralty remained vested in the crown. This fund is partly composed of the profits arising from the sale of wrecks, of prizes, and of goods belong

ing to pirates; ships detained or taken previously to a declaration of war, such as come into port in ignorance that hostilities have commenced, and all those which become prize to noncommissioned captors, are sold, and the profits arising from the sale are thrown into this fund. Its gross amount, when the question, as to its appropriation, came before parliament, was 7,344,6771. From this sum, however, several heavy deductions fell to be made. The payments to captors amounted to 2,336,745l., to neutral claimants 406,554l., to the receivergeneral of droits, law charges, &c. 289,6911. ; various miscellaneous payments had, moreover, been made to the amount of 425,6871. Large sums had, also, been paid out of this fund to indemnify officers for the costs incurred in admiralty courts; the deduction on account of such payments, which, from the character of the late war, must have been considerable, could not well be challenged even by the most scrupulous economist. The balance, therefore, could not, at the period at which this question was agitated, amount to more than three millions sterling. This balance,however, was still considerable; and it deserved the consideration of parliament, whether the constitution placed it under the absolute controul of the crown. From the earliest periods of English history, the maxim universally prevailed, that “all prize vests in the crown;” and very high authorities have declared, that prize is the very creature of the crown. Some old statutes, indeed, in the reigns of Edward III. and Richard III. have either omitted to mention prize as the peculiar property of the crown (an omission from which no inference can safely be drawn,) or have, in express terms, given all prize taken at sea to the captors. Great constitutional lawyers have also declared, that the droits of admiralty, as well as all the other prerogatives of the crown, are granted for the attainment of certain specific purposes, and that the specific purpose in this case, is the guarding and maintaining the rights and privileges of the sea. Lord Coke thinks that tonnage and poundage were granted to the crown for safeguard of the seas, and that it pertains to the lord high admiral to see these droits administered; he qualifies this opinion, however, by stating, that the guard of the sea belongs not to the high admiral alone, but to private adventurers also, who fit out vessels for that purpose. But opinions of a date so ancient cannot be implicitly relied on with reference to the circumstances of the present times. In judging of the question, whether the droits of admiralty belong to the crown as matter of right, or are subjected to the controul .# parliament, it is safer to look to more modern authorities. When the civil list was originally established in the reign of William and Mary, various rights and prerogatives of the crown were formally surrendered; and in all the acts re-establishing the civil list at the beginning of succeeding reigns, several branches of revenue, the exclusive property of the sovereign, have been collected into one aggregate fund, and named specifically as the surrender which the crown agreed to make in consideration of the civil-list granted by parliament. The principle of this arrangement is obvious ;... nothing was surrendered by the crown but what was specifically mentioned ; and, as the droits of admiralty were not included in this specification, they were left of course with the crown on the same footing on which they had been formerly claimed. This principle has been recognised and acted upon at the commencement of each reign, from the Revolution downwards; funds; that the prodigious increase in the value of the droits of admiralty calls for the immediate interference of the legislature; that their amount is now nearly eight millions; that this enormous sum has been at the disposal of the crown, although parliament has made ample provision for the royal expenditure; and that the House of Commons, having taken these matters into consideration, will adopt the most efficient means for bringing this fund under the immediate controul of parliament. In answer to these arguments it was justly observed,that the precedents and authorities which had been relied on to prove the right of parliament to interfere with the droits of admiralty, were all of a very ancient date, and prior to the Revolution; that, since that great event, there have been in the Commons House of Parliament many intelligent lawyers, extremely jealous of the prerogative of the crown, who have never questioned its right to the droits of admiralty; that it has been the practice for a century past to fix the revenue of the crown at the beginning of each reign; and as o applications to parliament to supply, the gradual increase of expenditure which arises from the depreciation of money and the increase of prices, would lead to great inconveniences, it is far better that a fund should be at the disposal of the crown from which deficiencies may be supplied, this fund, at the same time, remaining subject to the controul of parliament, which can always interfere to resist abuses in the expenditure. It was well observed by some members, that if a grant such as this of the droits of admiralty be incompatible with the constitution, so must all the acts which settle the civillist revenue, since, by each of them, the legislature leaves at the disposal of the crown, property not immediately

and, in particular, by the act passed in the first year of the present king’s reign, which settled 800,000l. on his majesty for life, several branches of revenue were collected into one aggregate fund, in which, however, the droits of admiralty were not included. The right of the crown, therefore, to this fund, seems unquestionable; and when we reflect, that, so lately as the commencement of the present reign, when the various funds out of which the royal expences were to be supplied had been carefully examined by parliament, the droits of admiralty were left with the sovereign in addition to the ordinary revenue of the civil-list, the fair presumption seems to be, that unless gross abuse can be made out in the application, the legislature has no right to interfere. Mr Brougham, however, was either unacquainted with these facts, or chose to disregard them. He accordingly brought forward a motion, by which he tried to establish, first of all, that the crown has no right to the fund in dispute; and, in the second place, that even supposing the right to be proved, it is proper that it should be abolished by parliament. He considered the subject to be of the gravest importance, as it involved the consideration of the best privileges of the House of Commons ; of that privilege, the power of granting or refusing the supplies, which is the great and only security that the people have in their representatives, against the influence and encroachments of the crown. He gave an exaggerated account of the value of these droits of admiralty, which he stated in round numbers to amount to no less than eight millions sterling, and enlarged upon the absurdity of allowing funds to such an enormous amount to remain at the disposal of the crown, without any act of parliament to controul the application. He

referred to the famous case of ship-moHey, which was argued in the reign of Charles I. and in which it was held, by the most eminent judges of that day, that all the ol profits arising from captures at sea, as well as the profits of lettres of marque, ought to be applied to the guarding and protecting of the national interests at sea, and could not, upon any principle, be considered as constituting a right by prerogative. He maintained, that even in the worst of times, not only parliamentary grants, but royal prerogatives, were considered as destined to the service of the country; and he quoted a dictum, which had been repeated by Sir William Scott in the court of admiralty, capta bello cedunt reipublica, and from this he inferred, that prizes must belong to the state, and not to the crown. That before the Revolution the expences of war were not regularly supplied by parliament, but generally by the crown from those very funds which were now described as the rivate property of the king; that pariament has often interfered with the prerogative of the crown, when that prerogative was turned into abuse,_ that, upon this principle the temporalities of bishoprics had been taken from the crown, when a shameful and lavish use had been made of them : That the principle of parliamentary interference with the royal prerogative, was recognized in the reigns of William and Mary and Queen Anne; and even in the present reign, an act had been passed which directed the commissioners of Dutch prizes to pay the prize droits into the bank of England, and not to the receiver-general of droits. That the mode of receiving and issuing the various sums which compose the fund in dispute, is quite unconstitutional ; that the droits of admiralty are received by the registrar of the ligh court of admiralty, and

remain in the hands of the receiver-general of droits, commissioners of prizes, and the bank of England, but never find their way into the exchequer; that the money is taken out of the bank of England in a manner which infers no responsibility—not only under the authority of the privy seal, but of a warrant under the sign manual only , that the fund under consideration is, perhaps more than any other, liable to abuse, and might be turned to purposes most detrimental to the real interests of the crown and of the country; that it gives the crown an interest in commencing hostilities in a way the least honourable to the nation, and the least consistent with that good faith, candour, and magnanimity, which form such proud features in the character of the English people, and that the fund in question is that from which the most worthless minions of faction will, in all probability, be remunerated; men, whom even the minister would not dare to place openly on the pension list with such names as those of Nelson, St Vincent, and Wellington.—That having thus urged his objections to the principles upon which this fund was left with the crown, he was not called upon to specify abuses which had actually occurred ; but, at the same time, he could not help alluding to the great surplus of expenditure on the civil list, to the provisions out of the droits of admiralty which had been made to the princes, and to the large allowance granted to Sir Home Popham, all of which at least rendered the administration of this immense fund extremely suspicious. IHe

[blocks in formation]

granted by the parliament.—That the clamour which had been raised about the excess in the civil-list expenditure was quite unreasonable; that the circumstances which had occasioned this excess were known to the whole country; and that even Mr Justice Blackstone, a writer not disposed to compromise the rights of the people, had acknowledged the insufficiency of the civil list to answer the claims upon it.—That the amount of the droits of admiralty had been very greatly overrated by those who supported the motion; and that it is highly expedient to have a fund of this kind at the disposal of the crown, with a view to some of the most important branches of the public service. Many cases ma occur in which captors, acting j the most perfect bona fides, may commit errors, which, but for the interposition of that government so faithfully served by them, might overwhelm them with ruin. Mr Rose, in the course of the debate, mentioned a memorable instance of this kind. He stated, that the late Lord Nelson, then Captain Nelson, when stationed in the West Indies, soon after the American war, had actions brought against him for upwards of 90,000l. for having enforced the navigation act. The case of Captain Nelson was carefully investigated by government; it was found, that although he had acted with a laudable zeal for the public service, the proceedings instituted against him might have ended in his ruin ; but the ministers wisely interfered to give him that support which he could never have received, if the droits of admiralty, the only fund applicable to such purposes, had not been at the disposal of the crown. Many such cases must occur in the course of the public service, which, from the constitution of parliament, could never be brought under its review.—As a question of right, therefore, this motion could not be supported; the right to the droits of admiralty has been vested in the crown for upwards of a century; and whatever may have been the opinions entertained at an early period, the various civil-list acts which have been passed since the Revolution, unquestionably continue this fund with the crown as a branch of the prerogative.—Whether it be expedient that this prerogative shall still remain untouched, and that the droits of admiralty shall continue at the disposal of the crown, subject however to the controul of parliament, when a proper case for interference is made out, is a different although not a more doubtful question. The history of parliamentary interferences with the royal prerogative, shews that it has not been usual, and is not of course constitutional, wantonly to trench upon any prerogative, until a case of abuse shall be clearly established; and, as it was not seriously pretended, in the present instance, that abuses existed, there could be no reason for acceding to the motion.—These arguments had their proper weight with the house, and the resolutions of Mr Brougham were accordingly negatived. He afterwards made an attempt to get a committee appointed to enquire into the alleged abuses of this fund; but the house negatived his motion. Another subject connected with the arrangements of the household and of the civil list was brought forward by Mr Creevey. About the beginning of the reign of Charles I. a grant of the whole island of Barbadoes, then of very small value, was made to the Earl of Carlisle. During the troubles of the civil war and protectorate, however, many persons went over as settlers, and Barbadoes soon became a prosperous colony. The Earl of Carlisle died very much in debt, and his son transferred the grant of the is

land of Barbadoes to the Earl of Kinnoul. After the Restoration, however, the creditors of the Earl of Carlisle having made some claim on the island, which threatened to disturb the right of the settlers, a deputation of the latter came to England, and made a tender to the crown of certain rights and duties, on condition of their being secured in the possession of their property. The patent in favour of the Earl of Carlisle was accordingly surrendered ; an annuity sf 1000l. was settled on Lord Kinnoul; the property of the planters was secured against all challenge, and the right of the crown to the duties was established. It had been agreed, that these duties should be collected in the shape of an impost on the dead commodities of the island, at the rate of 4; in specie for every five score; and the duties have since got the name of the 43 per cent. Leeward Island duties. Part of this revenue was to be applied to local purposes in the island of Barbadoes, but the remainder was reserved to the king. In the reign of William III, this fund was recognised by two acts of parliament as part of the hereditary revenue of the crown ; and although it was agreed, in the reign of Queen Anne, in consequence of an application from the colony, to apply this revenue to repair the fortifications of Barbadoes, no surrender of the fund, on the part of the crown, has ever been made, nor has parliament attempted to interfere with its application. At the beginning of the present reign, this fund, like the droits of admiralty, was reserved to the crown, and of course the prerogative right cannot well be questioned. Mr Creevey, however, was of opinion, that these duties were the property of the inhabitants of Barbadoes, and ought to be applied to colonial purposes : an opinion in which no one

« ForrigeFortsett »