HC Deb 29 February 1808 vol 10 cc787-800

The house went into a Committee on his majesty's message respecting an Annuity to the Family of the late respecting Lake.

Lord Castlereagh,

in calling the attention of the committee to his majesty's most gracious Message, trusted that the propositions he had to offer in pursuance of that Message, would find but little difference of opinion as to the propriety of acceding to it. When his majesty called upon parliament to substantiate those marks of his royal favour and approbation which he conferred upon distinguished naval and military characters, the house of commons always answered the call with promptitude and liberality. The reason why this application was not made immediately on the intelligence of the service done, and at the same time that the highest honour his majesty could confer was bestowed on lord Lake, was, that lord Lake was then absent in India, and it was not known that his circumstances were such as to require the aid of public liberality. After the return of the noble lord, which was soon followed by his much lamented death, he received such marks of the favour of the crown, and other distinguished branches of the royal family, that he felt himself in some measure able to support his dignity without public aid, and he, of course, felt unwilling to come forward with such an application as that which gave rise to his majesty's gracious Message, now under consideration. This country had by his unfortunate death lost one of its most valuable military officers, and on inquiry into his circumstances, they were found inadequate to support the hereditary honours his majesty had bestowed as the reward of his services. Thus, while the services were of that distinguished nature as to afford the strongest claim to parliamentry reward, the circumstances of the family were such as to strengthen that claim. Lord Lake's military life had been a succession of brilliant and meritorious actions, from the time of the American war down to his last campaigns in India. Some of his lordship's acts were such as to bring home to him personally, the whole merit of the success of some of the most distinguished victories gained, among which he was bound to particularize that of Lincelles by the British arms. Never, in fact, did any man present to his troops, in the day of battle, more striking examples of every quality that were calculated to inspire valour and to lead to victory. The same principle to which the French generals owed most of their victories in the late wars, that of exposing their own persons in every point of imminent danger and apparently doubtful issue, was eminently conspicuous in lord Lake's military conduct. Whatever difference of opinion might exist, with, respect to the policy pursued in the recent government of India, certainly there was room for no difference as to the importance of the services rendered by lord Lake in the military department. This would be particularly felt at the present moment, when the French, meditating an attack upon our Indian empire, were obliged to wait to establish a footing, and to break ground in Persia, instead of commencing at once on the banks of the Jumna or the Ganges, with a Mahratta army disciplined and commanded by French officers. To lord Lake belonged the merit of dispersing arid destroying that army, and thus establishing the security of our Indian empire on a basis more solid. He did not think it necessary to enter more at large on the subject, as he felt that every one must be sensible of the value of the services of the illustrious deceased. He should also, to save the time of the committee, state now another motion which he intended to offer after the one founded on his majesty's message should be disposed of. This was a motion for a monument to be erected to the memory of lord Lake. He was aware that this was a testimony of public gratitude, seldom asked but when the individual fell in battle, in the moment of victory, or died of wounds received in the country's cause. But, there were sonic few instances which were particularly distinguished from this rule, and when repeated signal victories had been gained without depriving the country of the life of the person who had achieved them. Lord Howe's life of glory had been thought worthy of this distinction, and he trusted there would be found equal ground to make a similar exception in favour of lord Lake. This was a reward the most cheap, and an incentive the most powerful. He had further only to add, that as it was just and customary, that the pension should commence from the time of the act that called for the exercise of the royal prerogative and bounty, lord Lake's forbearance from preferring his claim, should be no bar to the benefit being enjoyed from the date of the battle of Delhi, from which he derived his title. This extension of the grant would afford the means of making some arrangements for the benefit of the female part of the family, who, he was very sorry to say, were left in a most unsatisfactory state. The late lord Lake having died before the application to parliament could be made, his life was not counted as one of the three for which it was usual to grant provisions of this kind. The grant would be to the present lord and the two next heirs. The noble lord moved accordingly, "That the annual sum of 2000l. nett be granted to his majesty out of the Consolidated Fund of Great Britain, the said Annuity to commence from the 11th Sept. 1803, and be settled in the most beneficial manner upon visc. Lake, and the two next succeeding heirs male of gen. visc. Lake, deceased, on whom the title of vise. Lake and baron Lake, of Delhi and Laswary, and of Aston Clinton, in the county of Buckingham, shall descend."

Mr. Whitbread

said, although he had no objection to go with the noble lord in the very high encomiums he had bestowed upon the military character of lord Lake, and to acknowledge that he had rendered important services to his country, yet, whatever might be his own wish that those services should be remunerated with liberality, still he felt it a duty paramount to all delicacy upon the subject to declare his sentiments, when the purse of the country, already so heavily burthened, was in question. His majesty's message proposed to the house merely a provision of 2000l. a-year to the two next heirs in succession of gen. Lake; but the noble lord had now proposed not merely to extend this annuity to another generation, but to give it a retrospective operation, to no less an amount than 9000l. The noble lord had pleaded, in excuse for not having sooner proposed this remuneration, the great distance at which gen. Lake was; but that circumstance did not preclude the knowledge of his services, nor prevent his majesty from immediate remuneration, if it were deemed necessary; but at the end of five years to bring forward this preposition, and to claim arrears for all that time, though no remuneration was till now thought necessary, was what he could not accede to. The noble lord had been in possession of very lucrative employments, which enabled him to receive large sums of money; so large, indeed, as to render it quite indecorous to come forward during his life-time with such a proposition as this; but no sooner was he deceased, than it was found out that his affairs were so embarrassed as to leave his heirs totally unable to support the dignity of the rank they inherited. Certainly, the condition of the family of lord Lake, as represented by the noble lord, rendered the duty extremely painful of disapproving any provision for the successor of the noble lord; and to prevent, as it were, the peerage from being sullied, he would consent to the 2000l. a-year; but to the grant of 9000l. and the expense of a public monument, he should decidedly object.

Mr. W. Dundas

supported the claims to the pension and the monument. He thought it the strongest recommendation of lord Lake, that he had returned from filling one of the highest offices in India, comparatively poor.

Mr. M. A. Taylor

admitted that lord Lake had had liberal allowances to support his dignity in the station he had filled; but his expenses were fully equal to them. The splendour of his appointments, the hospitality of an open table for his officers, and the well-known acts of his private munificence, had prevented him from accumulating money; and when it was recollected, that, at his decease, the only provision he was able to make for his several daughters was 1500l. each, he was confident, that a British house of commons would never consider such a provision adequate for the daughters of such a man. Happy would it be for England, and for India, if every commander sent thither imitated the principles and the conduct of lord Lake! He did not use his power for the purposes of plunder to enrich his family. He returned from India with only a fortune of 40,000l. to provide for a wife and seven children. Sir John Stewart had received his pension in consequence of his services; and that gallant general, although a single man, had declared to him he never could save any thing from the allowances assigned him; but if military officers who happened to be married were to devote their whole lives to their country's service, and were taught not to look up to their country for any provision for their children, left destitute by their deaths, it were better to pass a law at once, binding them to chastity like Catholic priests, and thereby prevent them from having children to provide for.

Lord Castlereagh

had not thought it necessary to be so particular in stating the narrow circumstances of lord Lake's family; but he believed, that in fact, these ladies would take, under the will, little more than half the sum mentioned by the hon. member who had just sat down.

General Tarleton

supported the motion, and detailed the particulars of the storming of the trenches at Lincelles, defended by 6000 French troops, by 1600 British under lord Lake. It was an additional claim, that the noble lord had returned from India in circumstances that formed a direct contrast with those in which Lucullus returned from Asia, and Massena from Italy. There could be nothing, in his opinion, more honourable to that noble lord's character, than that he returned from India poor, and died honourable. As to the proposed monument, it had his hearty assent, as he was convinced there was not a greater idol throughout the whole army than the late lord Lake.

Lord Folkestone

said, he felt disagreeable sensations in opposing this resolution, but he did it upon general grounds. If the argument that had been used as to the late lord Lake's poverty was good for any thing, it must go to this, that if any person who had signalized himself in the service of his country, should, notwithstanding his lucrative situation, die, leaving his family poor, they were to become a burden upon the public. He should forbear discussing the general services and merits of lord Lake, as he had heard no arguments used that could justify the motion that had been made. He could not agree that a monument should be erected to his memory at the public expence, as that was an honour that ought not to be conferred on any officer who had not fallen in the moment of victory.

Earl Temple

differed from the noble lord who had just sat down, as he could not conceive there could be a greater claim to public gratitude than that which had been stated. In his opinion, lord Lake's having returned from India to this country, and dying under the circumstances that had been represented, not only entitled his family to the consideration of the public, but shewed that he had acted in a manner highly creditable to himself, and honourable to the nation. He trusted, however, that the house would not suffer his children to remain in such a state of honourable poverty.

Mr. Sumner

contributed his testimony to the eminent services and qualifications of the noble general. It was true, that the emoluments of his situation were great, but his private charities, and his generosity to the officers engaged in the same service, exhausted his fortune to an extent which it would be difficult to ascertain. As to the observation, that the application might have been made sooner, he should only remind the house, that so long as lord Lake was in the enjoyment of such emoluments abroad, his disposition was such that he disdained making any application for further rewards at home. This inclination to withhold his just claim, gave that noble lord, in his opinion, a greater title to the gratitude of his country. He even thought, that what was proposed to be granted was not sufficient, and nothing prevented him from moving for a greater allowance, but his unwillingness to interfere with those whose duty it was to suggest and propose what they conceived proper upon such an occasion.

Colonel Wood

said, that he never rose with greater satisfaction than he did in supporting this motion, for if ever there was a man entitled to the gratitude and esteem of his country, it was lord Lake. He was unwilling to detract from the merits of lord Howe, but he could not help thinking, that the eminent services of lord Lake, in India, were of infinitely greater importance to the country, and well entitled him to that monument which was proposed to be raised to his memory.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that he had information which induced him to believe, that although lord Lake might have died worth only 40,000l. he brought with him from India nearer 140,000l. He thought that in all such cases a committee should be appointed to inquire into the actual circumstances of those who claimed pensions. If lord Lake's poverty proceeded merely from his neglecting to embrace the opportunities which presented themselves to him of enriching himself, it would be the brightest jewel in his character. He had, however, reason to believe that such was not the fact. He had, however, no objection to the peerage being accompanied with a pension, as he thought not only dignity but independence should be attached to a peerage. He had understood, that the real cause of lord Lake's dying in such moderate circumstances, was, that he had honourably discharged out of the money he made in India, those immense debts which he had previously contracted in this country.

Sir A. Wellesley

said, that it was very true that lord Lake was greatly in debt previous to his going to India, and to the discharge of those debts, the residue of his pay and appointments, after the necessary expense of his establishment was deducted, was constantly applied, and paid over to an agent that went from England for that purpose. As to the circumstances of lord Lake's family, he knew that his family estate only amounted to about 800l. a year, and that the money that he died worth was only from 35,000l. to 40,000l. Such being the actual state of his circumstances, it was evident that the dignity of the peerage could not be supported by his successor, nor his family provided for, unless the house should agree to grant the pension.

Mr. Whitbread

did not deny that lord Lake had performed great services; but still he did not think those services of so pre-eminent a nature as to be entitled to such extraordinary rewards. In the actual circumstances of lord Lake's family, he could not object to the usual pension of 2,000l. per annum, although he must object to the additional grant. Applications to the house for pensions of this description were made on the ground of services, and not of poverty. When the great duke of Marlborough rendered the nation important services, they were most munificently rewarded. The munificence of the nation in this respect, was not on account of the circumstances of the duke of Marlborough, for he was not a poor man, but it was proportioned to the services he had performed. If lord Lake had performed services of that description, the reward would have gone on the same principle. He believed that lord Lake was a very brave officer, and much beloved by the army; but mere gallantry as an officer did not entitle any man to claim such rewards. If it were so, the hon. generals who had spoken might also claim pensions of 2,000l. a year: although the house might be very well prepared to admit their merits, yet they would be very unwilling to grant them the pensions. In the present case, he saw no other plea for the extraordinary grant, except the necessities of lord Lake's family.

Mr. Lushington

said, that, as it was stated that the fortunes of lord Lake's daughters did not exceed 1500l. he thought it would be much better to give the sum of 9000l. among the younger children, than make it a present to the inheritor of the title.

Sir F. Burdett

rose to enter his protest against the grant. He had two objections; one on personal grounds, and the other upon constitutional grounds. The personal objection was this, that when any individual came forward to claim a pension on the ground of services, those services should be of a very distinguished nature. There ought not to be any necessity for asking when and where those services were performed; but they should be services of that brilliant kind, that the fame of them should ring through the world. In the present circumstances of the country, when the people of England were burthened and exhausted with taxation, he did not think that any extraordinary grants of money should be voted as a remuneration for services which were not in themselves of extraordinary merit. This was the whole of the personal objection, as he did not deny that lord Lake was a gallant officer, and had performed some services, although he differed with many hon. members as to the value of those services.#x2014;His great objection, however, to the grant, was upon constitutional grounds. He thought that his majesty had ample resources and means to reward every merit of this nature, and that there was no necessity for applying to parliament to lay a new burden upon the people. He should ask, what had become of all those sinecures which were at the disposal of the crown, and under the patronage of ministers? Whenever they had been alluded to in that house, it was always argued by ministers, that these things were very necessary, in order to enable the crown to reward eminent services; but, whenever there were any eminent services to be rewarded, instead of giving any of those places which it was pretended that they ought to have the patronage of, for the reward of eminent services, the real reward was always made to come by imposing an additional burden on the people. He should wish to ask the gentlemen on the other side, what kind of eminent services those were, for the reward of which those things were given? They were services which never saw the light#x2014;services which none but the ministers knew any thing about. When, however, any real service was performed, they applied to parliament to reward it, by laying additional burdens on an exhausted people. On this principle, he felt it his duty to take the sense of the house upon the motion, and call for a division. As to the merits of lord Lake, he thought that was a very minor consideration. Whatever the merits of that gallant officer might be, the remuneration he received was not behind them. There were many other gallant officers who had performed services which had been by no means rewarded in the proportion that lord Lake's had been. He believed that if lord Lake were now alive, he could not consent to put in a claim for additional grants to reward his services, which grants must be another burden imposed upon an exhausted people. If his merits had been great, the merits of the people of England were not small. They had submitted with unexampled patience to privations and sufferings of every kind. If all merit was to be rewarded, where was their merit to find its remuneration or reward? The only reward which they could receive was from the watchful attention of the house over their purse, and to prevent any unnecessary burdens being imposed on them. From these considerations, he felt it his duty to oppose the motion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he should not feel it necessary to trouble the house with many observations, as the grounds stated by his noble friend appeared so generally to meet the approbation of the house. He perfectly agreed with the hon. baronet who spoke last, that the people of England had a right now, and at all times, to claim from that house a vigilant attention to the economical management of their affairs; but he believed the hon. baronet would not convince the house or the country, that parsimony in rewarding eminent services was the best or truest economy. If, as the hon. baronet had stated, the present times were times of great peril, there was the more necessity for marking their sense of distinguished military services. He could not see what practical object could be accomplished by declamations on the merits of the people of England, although it was undoubtedly true that they had considerable merit in bearing so well the burdens which the necessity of the times imposed upon them. But how was this merit to be rewarded? Was it by giving them pensions of this nature? If not, he did not see how that argument bore upon the present question. The hon. baronet had talked of the unexampled means which the crown possessed of rewarding merit of this sort. He knew of no such unexampled means; and the hon. baronet might have known, that the crown was limited in the power of granting pensions on the Civil List, and could not give a greater pension than 1,200l. per annum, which, after all deductions, would not produce more than 800l. per annum clear; and that would he evidently inadequate for the reward of such services as those of lord Lake.

General Gascoyne

observed, that while the hon. baronet thought that the merit of lord Lake was no ground for the pension, a noble lord who sat behind him (lord Folkestone) had contended, that the ne- cessity of his family was no ground either. If, then, both the grounds of merit and necessity were taken away, the motion must be, of course, rejected. In speaking of the merit of lord Lake, from his own knowledge, he would say, that he was as cool and intrepid as any man in action, and that his generosity was shewn nowhere in a more conspicuous manner than in the field of battle. He not only distinguished himself for his humane attention in visiting the sick and wounded, but he often supplied their wants from his own means. His table was not only open to his brother officers, but his wine went to the sick and wounded of the private soldiers. He did not think that the hon. baronet would condemn an expenditure of this nature, or think that his family should suffer from his well-directed liberality.

Mr. Bankes

said, that, under all the circumstances of the case, he must agree in voting for the motion. He believed, in general, that the rewarding merit was the best economy; yet although he agreed in the propriety of the pension being now granted, he did not believe that the house could ever have been persuaded to agree to it, if it had been applied for immediately after the battle of Delhi, and when lord Lake held such important and lucrative situations. He believed that he carried his wishes as far as any man for every possible retrenchment in the public expenditure, but he disclaimed the idea of participating in the sentiments which had been delivered by the hon. baronet, and which he conceived would produce no other effect except to cause discontent. He disapproved, generally, of the want of discrimination on the part of ministers, in bestowing titles upon persons who had not sufficient fortune to support their rank, and who must then become either pensioners of the crown, or burdens upon the people. There were more pensions of this sort given to persons of the most distinguished rank than the country were aware of. As to a public Monument, he did not believe there was any case since the death of lord Howe, where that honour was conferred on any military officers, except those who died or received wounds in the field of battle. He begged leave, however, to assure the military men who were the personal friends of lord Lake, that in any observations he made, he was only actuated by public motives, and by no means wished to derogate from the character or services of that gallant officer, or to take away any thing from the fame and glory which he had acquired.

Lord G. Cavendish

agreed with the hon. member who spoke last, that titles ought not to be bestowed without great consideration, both of the services of the individual and of his means to support the dignity and independence of the peerage. He thought the peerage was often very improperly given to military men, whose services were by no means of the first order. This, however, was not the case with respect to the gallant officer, whose merits and whose claims were now under consideration. He should think the house would act in a niggardly manner, if they were to refuse what was now proposed for the family of lord Lake.

Mr. Lyttleton

said, that although he did not pretend to be a perfect judge of the military merits of lord Lake, yet every body had agreed that the merits of the noble lord were conspicuous, and that if they were not of the first class, they at least approximated very much to the first class. Instead of wishing that services of this nature should be rewarded by the crown, without the intervention of parliament, he should wish the rewards of merit and public service to flow more immediately from the people. He wished the patronage of the crown was retrenched; and he thought the ministers would have come down to the house with much more grace, if, when they made an application for this grant, they had pointed out a corresponding retrenchment.

The Secretary at War

bore testimony to the professional merit and important services of lord Lake. He thought, that upon constitutional grounds, it would be dangerous and improper that poverty and the peerage should be associated together.

Mr. Tierney

expressed a fear, that it would be considered, that the house sheaved too great a readiness to dispose of the public money. He agreed implicitly with the hon. baronet, that the house should anxiously watch over the expenditure of the public money; but he did not think the people would thank him for his anxiety in watching over the public expenditure, so far as to refuse a well-merited reward to a gallant officer. The first question which he thought ought to be considered was, whether he had deserved the peerage or not; and secondly, whether the grant proposed was a proper one. He would not however allow, that whenever a peerage was granted on account of military services, a pension should be voted by that house. He should now take the opportunity to lay in his claim to protest against this doctrine on a future day, if it should be proposed in favour of other new-made peers; but as for lord Lake, it must be allowed that it was almost impossible for any British officer to be placed in a higher or more responsible situation than he was; and then the question would be, how did he perform his duty in that situation? It had been generally admitted, that no officer could have conducted himself with more integrity. He could speak from the means of information which the situation he had lately held (President of the Board of Controul) gave him. The merits of lord Lake were not merely in the field of battle, but he conducted himself with great ability in some delicate negociations with the native powers of India. He thought a person placed in a high and responsible situation, and who was eminently successful, did deserve the peerage, and that the grant proposed was not too much. The utmost pension which the crown had the power of bestowing, which was 1200l. per annum nominally, but really no more than 800l. would be by no means an adequate remuneration for such services. As to a public monument, he could wish that that honour should be reserved exclusively to those generals who received their death in the field of battle. The East India company were, however, often liberal in those things; and as his principal services had been performed in India, he thought it would be becoming in them to take this part of the expence upon themselves.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that from the arguments he had now heard, he wished to retract the opinion he had expressed about the public monument. He defended the observations of the hon. baronet from the constructions which had been put upon them.

Sir F. Burdett

said, that he had been most entirely misrepresented by the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer as to what he had said about the means which the crown possessed of rewarding eminent services. He had not alluded to the pension list, or thought of it; he alluded directly to the great offices, sinecures and reversions, which ministers always pretended were necessary, in order to allow the crown the means of rewarding eminent services. He was surprized that the right hon. gent. should have mistaken his mean- ing so widely, especially when that right hon. gent. needed not to look beyond his own family to know what sort of sinecures and reversions the crown had to bestow as the reward of eminent services. If ministers had come down and told the house, that it was parliament alone which ought to assign the reward to eminent services, and that therefore all those useless sinecures, reversions, and incumbrances should be done away, the question should be entirely altered, and he should then have no objection to vote a liberal remuneration for any eminent services performed to the country: the right hon. gent. best knew what kind of services it was, which was rewarded by such sinecures as his family and many others possessed. Their eminent services might be well known by the servants of the crown, but the people of the country knew nothing about them. Whenever the slightest service was rendered which could bear the light, or which could be stated to parliament, there was immediately an application for a reward, which was not to come from what was in the patronage of the crown, but from an additional burden imposed on the people. An hon. gen. (Mr. Bankes) had thought it necessary to disclaim his political opinions, and all participation in them. This disclaiming of the hon. gent. should not, however, make him hesitate to state those opinions to the house, whenever he was convinced that he was prompted by no indirect view, that he was labouring from no party motives, or any wish to bring in one set of ministers or turn out another; but exercising that duty of a member of parliament which he conceived himself most peculiarly called upon to discharge.—Standing, as he did, on a great constitutional ground, he did not feel that he was called upon to enter into a discussion on the personal merit of lord Lake. Discussions of this sort were always most disagreeable; and there could be nothing more painful to a gentleman than to be obliged to say any thing which would appear to derogate from the merit of a gallant officer who was no more, and who appears to have been beloved, and perhaps very deservedly, by his brother officers. He should, however, say, that the services of lord Lake were not of the most distinguished rank; they were nothing like the services of lord Nelson. He did not know that the country owed any particular gratitude to him; and he thought, that if one tenth part of the rewards which had been given to lord Lake in his lifetime had been distributed among many other gallant officers, whose merits had been unrewarded, the army would have been much better contented. It was the opinion of many persons that his rewards far exceeded his services. As to the great victory that was spoken of at Delhi, he must ask, who ever went to India that did not win battles? When the brilliant victories of lord Lake were mentioned, he might, if he pleased, mention also some remarkable failures. He did not wish, however, to go into this discussion, because he rested his argument not upon the circumstances of this peculiar case, but upon the general constitutional ground. He would not be prevailed upon by any false colouring of the services of this man, or of that man, to depart from the general ground of objection which he had considered it his duty to make. He should, therefore, persevere in taking the sense of the house; he should use this common expression, although in 'fact the sense of the house' was known as well before a division as after it. Another right hon. gent. (Mr. Tierney) had appeared very anxious to guard himself from any suspicion that, by his vote to-night, he was departing from those political opinions which he professed himself to have been so constantly attached to. The right hon. gent. might make himself quite easy upon that head. He might be sure that he would not be suspected of acting from any other sort of principles than those which had hitherto guided his political conduct. After the explanation which had been made of the sentiments he had before delivered by an hon. gent. he did not feel it necessary for him to make any further explanations; but as he conceived that the present motion went to lay an additional and unnecessary incumbrance on the burthened and exhausted people of this country, he must persevere in his intention of resisting it to the utmost, and dividing the house upon it.

Mr. Biddulph

stated his sentiments shortly against the motion, as he thought there was sufficient ability in the crown to grant the necessary reward.—The gallery was then cleared for a division. While strangers were excluded,

the house divided twice. The first was upon the grant of the pension generally: Ayes 210; Noes 26.—The second division was upon the pension being granted from the date of the battle at Delhi: Ayes 202; Noes 15.