HC Deb 20 June 1815 vol 31 cc901-5
Mr. H. Martin

rose, in pursuance of his notice, to submit a motion to the House relative to the grant of certain pensions which he conceived were irregular. The pensions in question were, one to the family of a member of Parliament, which was granted on the 1st of February, 1806, and charged on the establishment of the Foreign Secretary; and two others, granted to two highly meritorious officers (colonels Congreve and Shrapnell) by a private intimation from the Crown to the Master-general of the Ordnance, and charged on the Ordnance establishment. The first grant which he had mentioned he contended was illegal, as would be perceived if the consequences of it were examined. The revenue of the Foreign Secretary's office consisted of fees, which were taxes raised in an indirect manner on the subject; and if these were not sufficient, the deficiency was supplied out of the Civil List. Therefore, if the pension was paid out of the fees, it was a diversion of indirect taxes to purposes not sanctioned by Parliament; if out of the Civil List, what became of the provisions of Mr. Burke's Bill? These pensions also being granted for life were, in effect, a charge upon the Civil List for a longer time than it was in the power of the monarch to grant—his power being restricted to grants during his own life. The grant was, therefore, invalid, as no similar grant had ever been expressly sanctioned by Parliament; and indeed if such grants were ever made formerly, they could not have come to the knowledge of the House, as the practice of laying before the House all increase of salaries and grants of pensions had not been customary before it was enacted by the 50th of the King. No negligence on the part of Parliament could authorize usurpation; and it was therefore the duty of the House to express its sense as to the grant in question, even if it should be proved that such grants had been before made. This grant was first made known to the House by the Committee on Public Expenditure of 1807; by which it also appeared that the Crown had usurped the power of granting pensions out of the produce of old stores, which was disapproved of by the House, on the express ground that the Crown had no right to charge indirectly the revenue by such grants. The other grants which he had alluded to were two pensions of 1200l. each, to two distinguished officers; and though the House should not behold with jealous eye the rewards given to merit, it should exercise vigilance as to the manner in which they were conferred. These pensions were granted by an intimation of the Royal pleasure to the Master-general of the Ordnance on the 14th of January, 1814, though not communicated to Parliament till the month of April. Such a proceeding he conceived to involve a complete deviation from the object of Mr. Burke's Bill. That Act must indeed become nugatory if it were competent to Royal authority to charge a pension upon any of the public offices without reference to Parliament. In the case of colonel Congreve the order of the sign manual to the Master-general of the Ordnance was simply this, that 1200l. a year should from year to year be charged among the Ordnance estimates for that officer. Thus this grant was clearly during pleasure; for what was to prevent the Prince Regent from revoking such a grant, and issuing an order accordingly to the Master-general of the Ordnance? In this view, then, it appeared that the Act of Anne was violated, for according to that Act any member of that House accepting a pension during pleasure was called upon to vacate his seat. The hon. and learned gentleman observed, that it was not his wish to disturb any of the grants alluded to; but merely to propose a Resolution, the object of which would be to put a check upon such, grants in future, and to prevent any charge from being made upon any of the public offices, other than such establishments were usually liable to, without first obtaining the consent of that House.—He concluded with proposing his Resolution, namely, That it appearing to this House that certain pensions have been granted by warrants under the Royal sign manual, payable out of the establishment of the office of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and the monies to be appropriated for the service of the Ordnance, it is necessary to declare that the funds upon which such pensions are charged constitute no part of the revenue of the Crown, and that the said pensions ought not to have been granted without the express consent and authority of this House previously obtained.

On the motion being put,

Mr. R. Ward

rose, and first addressed his observations to that pension which was granted from the office with which he was connected; and while he felt that this grant was made to an officer (colonel Congreve) of indisputable merit, he was prepared to maintain that the grant itself involved no unusual exercise of the Royal prerogative, but that, on the contrary, it was fully agreeable to ancient practice. There were, indeed, various sources of revenue which formed no part of the hereditary revenue included in the commutation with respect to the Civil List, upon which the Crown had been in the habit of charging pensions for the reward of public services. Among those sources were certain fees and gratuities received in the public offices; and upon such funds it had been an old custom to assign pensions for the compensation of retired officers, or as a remuneration to persons rendering some public service in such departments. Upon the Post-office, for instance, between 6 and 7,000l. a year were so charged, including an annuity of 3,000l. to Mr. Palmer. But it would seem, from the strain of the hon. and learned gentleman's observations, that the pensions to which he referred were really smuggled cases, which now, for the first time, had come to light; whereas the fact was, that above thirty such pensions had been granted within 35 years, which had never been animadverted upon or pronounced illegal, although such grants had come under the consideration of the Finance Committees of 1785 and 1797. Nay, although such grants had been noticed in the Committee on Public Expenditure in 1807, of which the hon. mover was himself a member, the subject had not been brought under the consideration of the House until the present moment. How came it, then, that the subject had for nine years been allowed to sleep, and how came it, also, that although the hon. and learned mover's notice referred only to one case, he had this night brought forward three cases? But where, he would ask, was the law, written or unwritten, that forbad this mode of granting pensions by the Crown? The hon. and learned mover had stated, that those pensions were virtually granted out of the Civil List, and that being granted without the previous consent of that House, they involved a violation of Mr. Burke's Act. But he denied the hon. and learned member's fact, and his inference also. He denied his fact, because those pensions were not granted out of funds included in the commutation of the Civil List for the hereditary revenue. But even admitting his act, his inference was incorrect; for according to Mr. Burke's Act, the Crown was authorized to grant pensions out of he Civil List, to the amount of 95,000l. a fear; and the fact was, that up to February last, only 87,000l. had been so granted—so that as only the pension of colonel Congreve, and 700l. a year to that meritorious servant of the public, Mr. Cooke [Hear, hear! from lord Castlereagh]; it followed of course, that Mr. Burke's Act had not been in any degree violated, even supposing colonel Congreve's pension to have been granted without the previous consent of that House. But, in truth, the prerogative of the Crown was competent to order the allowance alluded to, to be granted to colonel Congreve, for his services in the Ordnance department, in which department no other grant had been made for some time, but one to himself (Mr. Ward), for which he did not think it necessary to offer any justification, as he had made a sacrifice by accepting office in that department. As to the alleged illegality, however, of such grants, it was evident from Mr. Perceval's Act of the 50th of the King, that that allegation was unfounded. For this Act was avowedly brought forward and drawn up to regulate office pensions, which of course was a clear admission of the legality of such grants as those under consideration. But it was obvious, that the order of the Crown with respect to the grant to colonel Congreve, was made with, the consent of that House, for it was included in the Ordnance estimates, which, were voted by the House; therefore it appeared that the hon. and learned mover's complaint was totally unfounded. Then, as to the hon. and learned mover's reference to the Act of Anne, there was not one word in the order of the Crown addressed to the Master-general of the Ordnance, which implied that the pension to colonel Congreve was granted during pleasure. Or course this pension did not come at all within the meaning of that Act; for it was not granted with any view to create undue influence upon the mind of a member of that House, but to remunerate eminent public services.

Sir J. Beresford

bore testimony to the great benefits which were derived from the use of colonel Congreve's rockets, as he had himself witnessed in actual service.

Mr. H. Martin

in reply stated, that his reason for abstaining from bringing forward any motion earlier, respecting the particular pension which had been alluded to, was because he thought the Report of the Committee of Public Expenditure would have effectually checked all such grants; but when he found two other pensions granted, of precisely a similar description, he thought it right to bring the whole subject under the notice of the House, lest the thing should, at last, swell into an intolerable grievance. With regard to the Post-office revenue, that was distinctly commuted upon the accession of his present Majesty, and the Crown, therefore, had no right to charge pensions upon it. As to what had fallen from the hon. gentleman respecting the application to that House in the way of estimate, for its concurrence, if he was correctly informed, that pension had been paid to the individual for at least ten years, out of different offices, and which they were now called upon to continue. He apprehended, however, that the constitutional way of granting a pension, was not by foisting it into an estimate, but by a message from the Crown. The hon. gentleman said, that the seat of colonel Congreve in that House was not affected by his pension, because it did not come within the meaning of the statute of Anne; but upon the above points, and especially the latter, he differed from the hon. gentleman. What was the intention of the Parliament that passed that Act? To prevent the extension of the influence of the Crown, not surely so far only as related to granting pensions from the Civil List, but in every other way. Was it probable, indeed, that Parliament would leave the Crown in possession of numerous offices, with the power to grant pensions upon those offices in any manner, except from the hereditary revenue? He apprehended, therefore, that the hon. gentleman was a little incorrect in his view of the effect which the pension ought to have upon the seat of colonel Congreve.

The House then divided, when the numbers were—Ayes, 13; Noes, 71.