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Audit Of Public Accounts

Volume 35: debated on Wednesday 12 February 1817

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having laid on the table an account of all warrants or other communications from the treasury to the auditors of public accounts during the three years, ending 1st January 1817, transferring the audit of any accounts from the said auditors to any other boards,

thought himself called upon to make a few observations with the intent of removing an imputation on his character which the present papers would sufficiently clear. He was not present when they were moved for, but he felt obliged to the hon. and learned gentleman who had done so, for the opportunity which he had thus given him of correcting a misstatement or misrepresentation that had gone abroad through the usual channels, affecting deeply his character. In that statement it was mentioned, that 50,000l. had been issued to him by order of the treasury, as agent for a colony; that no account had been required of him how that money was expended; that the treasury, out of favour to him, had issued a warrant to the general audit office, not to intermeddle in auditing his accounts, but to transfer them to the treasury. It insinuated a charge of gross corruption on the part of the treasury, first to favour and then to shelter him. These accusations were brought forward in another place, which might be supposed to be free from such misrepresentations, and by a person (lord St. John) whose character gave weight to his expressions. The accounts on the table would show how grossly unfounded such charges were. In the first place, no money was issued to him to the amount, or in the manner alleged; secondly, no warrant was given to transfer the audit of his accounts, nor had he ever solicited or expected a favour in passing any of his accounts. What could be the motive for spreading such an injurious and unfounded report? What was the object of the persons who deceived the noble lord, by imposing upon him such a story? Whether it was private malice or party purposes that was intended to be served, he could not pretend to say; but he thought, that the gross misrepresentation which had thus been propagated ought to operate as a caution against bringing forward imputations on character without some previous inquiry into the grounds on which they rested. He was as little disposed as any man to enter on any thing that concerned himself personally, but he could not let the present opportunity slip without correcting a mistake in which perhaps the motion for the papers originated. He begged pardon of the House for detaining it so long with a personal matter, and thanked it for the patience with which he was heard, as well as the hon. and learned gentleman, for giving him an opportunity of clearing himself from an unfounded charge.

declared, that in moving for the papers, he acted under no conviction of the truth of the charge which the right hon. gentleman had answered, nor did he impute to him any thing of the kind stated. He knew at the time he made the motion, that the charge was unfounded, and proceeded on a misconception. He therefore did not ground his desire of information on a belief of it, nor had he made any allusion to the right hon. gentleman. His object was different. At a late period of the session, two years ago; at a period when the House was generally thin, when there was no great desire to canvass proposed measures, when no important business was expected, and when, for that very reason, the most important business, was often transacted; he knew that an office for auditing colonial accounts was formed, and such accounts were to be transferred from the general audit-office of public accounts, at Somerset-house to this new board. A chairman and three members were appointed to this board, at a time when an expensive establishment, that cost the country 60,000l., existed for a purpose of the same kind. The duties of the audit-office of Somerset-house were important indeed, and expedition was of the greatest consequence. The multiplicity of their business was made the ground for this new establishment; and though he always was averse to the creation of new offices, if expedition was attained, his objections would be diminished. His motion for papers, therefore, was directed to the object of gaining information as to what the new board had done; how it was proceeding; what relief it afforded to the office of Somerset-house: or, in short, what we had gained on this additional establishment towards the dispatch of public business. He was uncertain what use he should make of the information he thus gained; whether he should found any proceeding upon it or not. He had in 1812 occasion to inform himself on the mode of transacting business between the audit-office and the treasury; and if an hon. friend of his did not take up the subject, he himself might bring it this session under the review of the House.

took the opportunity of stating, that when he was asked about the number of officers in the colonial audit department, and if the place of the president was filled up, he was not quite correct in his answer, when he said it was not filled up, as he had since understood that it was.

then asked, if the president, on whom the most important duties devolved, did not go out to Malta to examine one account, and whether he had not there died?

replied, that he had died at Malta, and he believed had gone out to audit one account.

Then the House and the country are to understand that this office is a sinecure, and that government has filled up a sinecure.