HC Deb 24 May 1809 vol 14 cc670-7
Colonel Shipley

rose to bring forward the motion of which he had given notice, previous to the holidays. He was, he said, perfectly sensible that it could never be the wish or intention of that house to attempt any wilful or unnecessary interference, in the interior management or regulation of the army of this country; that had by the constitution been placed in other hands; and he well knew the house would not interfere in it, but in extraordinary cases, where certain rules laid down for its most essential and vital interests were rashly or premeditately broken through. When the duke of York was made the Commander in Chief, certain Regulations were issued by his majesty, by which it was settled that no officer should be made a field-officer till he had served six years, nor a lieutenant-colonel till two years after he was made a major. The present Commander in Chief had made that regulation stricter than it was before, by extending the term to nine years. In defiance of those regulations, lord Burghersh had, on the 4th of May instant, been appointed to a majority, and in a few days afterwards made a lieutenant colonel, by which he had been put over the heads of many officers who were senior to him, and particularly the oldest captain in the regiment to which his lordship belonged, and who was five years and a half an older officer than lord Burghersh; and by his recent advancement his lordship passed over the heads of 600 officers, many of whom were in the army before lord Burghersh was born. If he had been the son of an Abercrombie or a Moore, he (colonel Shipley) should have thought his promotion too rapid. The country had observed with indignation, that the person thus prematurely preferred was the son of a cabinet minister, who ought to have advised that nothing but meritorious services, and gallant exploits of the most eminent kind, should have entitled him to such extraordinary promotion, nor could any thing less than these have justified his majesty's ministers in countenancing such a measure. In what he now brought forward, he meant nothing personal to the noble lord; but he thought, in times like the present, the service of the army required the protection of that house, when they saw his majesty's ministers so ready to countenance the breaking through regulations so essential to its welfare, and made expressly for the support of it. He had heard it reported, that this extraordinary promotion had been made in consequence of the promise of a high personage to the father of the noble lord; but the crown could do nothing without the knowledge and approbation of its ministers; and it would be much better such regulations had never been established, than suffered to delude the officers of the army by a shew of impartiality which was not intended to be adhered to in every instance. He (colonel Shipley) was one of those who voted against the duke of York, but he would be much more inclined to give his sanction to one who might be seduced by his regard for a woman into certain irregularities, but who would inflexibly adhere to the regulations of the army, than a Commander in Chief, who, whatever might be his individual merits as an officer, would submit to the Regulations made under his own advice and sanction being broken through, almost as soon as they had been issued and promulgated. Under these circumstances, he felt it his duty to move, "That there be laid before this house, a Copy of a Regulation of his royal highness the duke of York, relative to the length of time each officer in the army must serve before he can obtain the rank of a Field Officer; also, a Copy of a Regulation to the same effect issued by the present Commander in Chief; also, a Copy of the dates of the different Commissions of lieutenant-colonel lord Burghersh, specifying whether they were obtained with or without purchase."

Lord Castlereagh

said, he believed the hon. officer who brought forward this motion, would not have been induced to call for this information, if he was acquainted with all the circumstances of the case. He believed there was no principle the house would more readily recognize than that they should not interfere with the disposal of the improvement of the army. Nothing could be more wrong. Of all those prerogatives which the king possessed, there were none more universally allowed or less doubted of, than his power to confer commissions in the army and navy, create peerages, make peace and war, &c. The king might put himself at the head of his army, and it would then be in his power to exercise his discretion in promoting what officers he pleased, and nothing but some instances of something extremely corrupt would justify the house of commons in interfering so as to narrow this branch of the prerogative. The hon. officer had, in the present question, taken much too close a ground as to this part of the prerogative. The Commander in Chief laid down regulations; but his majesty had a right to alter them. It never had been, or could be understood that his majesty had not a right to depart from that rule when he thought proper. There had not long since been an instance of it in the case of general Graham (Hear, hear!). There was a rule that an officer who came into the army on temporary rank, should not be preferred, but according to a certain rotation; but his majesty, in the case now alluded to, thought himself authorized and impelled to repeal that regulation, and to place general Graham at the head of all the officers of the same rank. The king never did nor ever could mean to divest himself of that paramount prerogative. He conceived the appointment was not contrary to the regulation which was made the 20th of March last. Lord Burghersh's commission was dated the 25th of March, 1803, so that he was entitled to his promotion on the 25th of that month, a difference of only five days; and for so slight a difference as that, he thought the hon. gent. who made this motion would be sorry to stop the promotion of so meritorious an officer. Though a very young man, he had sought service in every quarter of the globe—in the north of Germany, in Sicily, at the Dardanelles; was aide-de-camp to general Walker at Rosetta, and to sir A. Wellesley both at Roleia and Vimiera; and he hoped therefore the hon. mover would not think the king had stretched the prerogative in appointing an officer of this merit. Certainly, after these acts of heroism, application had been made to the late Commander in Chief, and lord Burghersh obtained a promise that he should receive promotion as soon as the limited time of his services was expired; and he (lord Castlereagh) thought that when his majesty saw any young man who possessed high rank and fortune, laying aside all the soft and seducing allurements of pleasure at home, and devoting himself to the service of his country abroad, his majesty would shew great wisdom in bestowing superior marks of favour on such extraordinary activity, zeal, and enterprize. The hon. mover complained that lord Burghersh had not only received a major's commission, but one of lieutenant-colonel also; but this was no new case; for there had been case, without end in the guards where the rank of lieutenant-colonel followed that of major immediately; and, till the late regulation, no mention was ever made, or notice taken of it; and as the new regulation was only made on the 20th of March, and the time of his lordship's service would be expired on the 25th, he put it to the house whether it would be consistent with the common principles of equity or justice to withhold that promotion which had been promised at the end of the former regulation, when the new regulation had never been thought of, and which was only made five days before lord Burghersh would otherwise have been entitled to it. Under those circumstances, he hoped and trusted the house would not think it necessary to call for any information on the subject, but would concur with him, that no case had been made out which could justify them to call the prerogative in question, particularly as to commissions in the army.

Earl Temple

declared, that when he first heard of this promotion in defiance of the existing regulations, he formed a strong opinion upon it; but if he had not been before so decided upon its impropriety, the defence set up by the noble lord on that night, would fully have confirmed his opinion. The noble lord had stated that lord Burghersh's promotion did not stand in the way of the senior captain of the West India regiment, the majority of which the house had no reason to believe was now held by lord Burghersh. If that was the case, and there was no proof to the contrary, he would contend that the promotion of that noble lord to the rank of a lieutenant colonel was an act of double in- justice to the whole of the army. It was unjust to the senior captain of the West India regiment, by giving the majority to an officer not qualified by military standing, and as from the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel, lord Burghersh would hold in the Portuguese army the rank of brigadier general, he, of course, would be placed over the heads of all the colonels now serving under sir Arthur Wellesley, in Portugal, in any co-operation of the Portuguese troops with the British. Such a statement fully justified him in saying, that the appointment was an act of double injustice to the army. The noble lord had descanted upon the delicacy of interfering with the royal prerogative, and his speech upon that point consisted of a whole series of truisms. But granting him all that he had stated, it still never could be denied, that in that house there existed a right to interfere whenever an exercise of the prerogative took place to the injustice and injury of the state of the public service. Lord Burghersh obtained his ensigncy in December, 1803, his six years qualification, of course, for the rank of a Field Officer, would not expire until December, 1809. [Lord Castlereagh said across the table, that his appointment was in March, 1803.] Earl Temple resumed, by stating that the Gazette proved the appointment not to have taken place until the succeeding December. Upon this point he was at issue with the noble lord, and in order to ascertain who was right, the house was bound to adopt the proposition of the hon. mover, by calling for the proper documents to be laid before it. The noble lord had talked much of the distinguished services and peculiar merits of lord Burghersh. He was by no means desirous to undervalue them, although he could by no means warrant this act of flagrant injustice against not only many as deserving officers of military experience, but against the whole military service itself. The term used by the noble secretary was, that lord Burghersh was a rising young officer in his profession; rising he certainly would be, whilst he continued to receive such efficient and active assistance from his majesty's ministers. But when he heard so much stress laid upon the services of lord Burghersh, he believed, on inquiry, that he had never performed any regimental service; that, in fact, he had never joined his regiment. It was true that he had volunteered his services on an expedition to the Dardanelles, whilst his regiment was in Sicily; but it could not be therefore contended, that such a circumstance warranted an act of injustice to many others, equally solicitous to seek service, and who were constantly devoted to the exercise of their regimental duties. The permissions to volunteer were favours conferred upon lord Burghersh, but could not be therefore converted into any claims of his, injurious to the general advancement of the army. It would also be seen, that all his gradations in rank were obtained without purchase. Those, again, were favours conferred, but constituted no claim to the detriment and disadvantage of others. It was under these circumstances that he considered the house bound to persist in calling for the further information sought for by the hon. mover, in order that it might know who advised that act of flagrant injustice.

Lord Castlereagh

, in explanation, stated that the 24 British officers appointed to serve in the Portuguese army were obliged to give up the commissions they held in this service; and although he could not then say whether the vacancy of lord Burghersh's majority was yet filled up, yet he assured the house that it was impossible for that noble lord to retain it.

Mr. Hutchinson

, although as strenuous a friend as any in that house to the propriety of conferring military rewards upon all officers who had signally conducted themselves, still declared his opinion, that lord Burghersh's late promotion was an act of gross and crying injustice. The hon. member next adverted to the illustration which the noble lord had attempted to make, by alluding to the case of general Graham, and concluded with a high eulogium upon the truly distinguished services and numerous advantages conferred upon his country by that officer in Italy and in Egypt, in Portugal and Spain.

Lord Newark

stated his anxiety to give an explicit reason for his vote on the present motion, particularly as he was in the habit of generally supporting the present servants of the crown. He considered that promotion highly improper from the effect it would have in creating great dissatisfaction amongst many very meritorious officers of high character and great experience in the military service, and therefore he should support the motion.

Lord Henry Petty

, after the able manner in which the motion was supported by his noble and honourable friends who preseded him, was determined not to enlarge upon the general question, but merely to limit his observations to one sentiment of an extraordinary nature, which had on that night been breached by the noble Secre-of State. It was contended with particular emphasis by that noble lord, that every encouragement should be held out, in order to induce into the military service persons of rank and affluence. Such was the great object which he conceived at this time desirable; and what were his encouragements in order to effect that object? The encouragements of the noble lord were these; that to enlist rank into our armies, all the principles which regulated the gradation of military rank were to be violated; and that to obtain men of affluence, commissions were to be given to them without purchase. In conferring the honourable distinctions to which signal merit was entitled, the noble secretary, in place of attending to the concurring testimony of the public voice, would, in his management of public remuneration, confine the encouragements to rank and affluence. In his view of the national interest a system was desirable, which, whilst it drove from our armies the men fit to practise the dangerous duties of the military profession, would give us only rank and affluence to combat with the best disciplined army upon earth. Such a principle he would ever reprobate as the most dangerous aggression ever carried into effect against the security of the state.

Sir Charles Burrell

said, that he could never subscribe to the doctrine that night maintained, viz. that the interests of the crown and the country were at variance. Thinking the contrary, he was determined to support the motion for investigating the causes of a promotion which, in his opinion, was highly unjust and improper. There could be no similarity between the services of general Graham and lord Burghersh. The former had conferred lasting and admitted benefits upon the country, and particularly in the important information he procured for sir John Moore; whilst he never heard any specific circumstance or place which were either the effect or theatre of the noble lord's exploits.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

defended the course of argument pursued by his noble friend (lord Castlereagh), and contended, that six years had expired from the appointment of lord Burghersh to his ensigncy until his promotion to the majority.

A division then took place, when there appeared,

For the motion 72
Against it 67
Majority against Ministers —5

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