HC Deb 05 June 1817 vol 36 cc890-7
Lord Castlereagh

said, he was anxious to call the attention of the House to the motion of which he had given notice, because, however important the other business which was to occupy their attention during the present evening might be, he was sure there was nothing which they would be more impatient to proceed to, than to discharge their debt of gratitude to the individual who had lately filled the chair with such distinguished ability. He was the more desirous of losing no time in doing this, because whatever other honours might be conferred—whatever the liberality of parliament might grant for the sustaining of those honours, he was sure there would be nothing more gratifying to the feelings of that eminent character, than the testimony of the affectionate gratitude entertained towards him by this House, for his great services in the chair. Nothing which it was in his power to offer to the House could augment the feeling which he knew they already entertained of the high services which lord Colchester had rendered to parliament and to the country. It had not escaped their attention that he had for a long course of years filled the office of Speaker—an office attended with the greatest difficulty, with the greatest honour to himself, and advantage to the country. During the sixteen years in which he had filled the chair, the country had been, engaged almost unremittedly in one of the most arduous struggles that a nation had ever endured. But it was not merely the war which increased the difficulties of the office; for the country in general had taken a start which had entailed upon the House a greater burthen of legislative business than had ever been thought of at any former period. If the quantity of public business transacted by the House during the last sixteen years were compared with that gone through in the same period of time at any former part of our parliamentary history, it would be found that it had increased tenfold. The number of inclosure bills which had been passed during that period, and the immense increase of other business, were such as to require all the diligence and all the ability of the most active and experienced individual. Every day the House had had occasion to observe the eminent abilities of their late Speaker—every day they had had occasion to feel the advantage of being guided by his counsel, which, he might say, was the ablest and the best that had ever emanated from that chair. All this was deeply engraven on the minds of every member of the House. Whatever party difference there might have been—into whatever warmth or even violence of discussion they might have been betrayed—still they always felt that they were conducted by an authority the most high, combined with an independence and integrity the most pure. [Hear, hear!] It was his wish, on this occasion, first to submit to the House a resolution expressive of its thanks to lord Colchester. As to any ulterior measure, he was sure the House would do his majesty's government the justice to believe that they only advised the Crown to do that which would enable the House to discharge their duty in a way which would be the most satisfactory. After the House had testified its thanks, by passing a resolution for that purpose, he would propose to follow it up by moving an address to his Royal Highness, praying that on behalf of the Crown, he would be graciously pleased to confer some distinguished mark of favour on the late Speaker [Hear, hear!]. The only point on which he could anticipate that a shadow of difference could arise in the House on this subject was, whether there was any occasion for an address to call the attention of the Crown to the services of the Speaker; but as there could only be a struggle between the two sides of the House to testify their feelings towards the distinguished individual in question in the best way, he did not see that any difficulty could arise. The noble lord concluded by moving, "That the thanks of this House be expressed to the right hon. Charles Abbot, now baron Colchester, for his eminent and distinguished services during the long and eventful period in which he discharged the duties of Speaker with a zeal and ability alike honourable to himself and advantageous to the service of this House: that he be assured that the proofs which he has uniformly given of attachment to his king and country, the exemplary firmness with which he has maintained the dignity and privileges of this House, the ability, integrity, and unremitting attention to parliamentary business, which have marked the whole of his conduct, justly entitle him to the approbation, respect, and gratitude of this House."

Lord W. Russell

said, it was with great regret he rose to give any opposition to the present motion, willing as he was to concur in every tribute to the learning and ability of the late Speaker, as well as to every other quality, both of his public and private character. There was, however, a circumstance which must be still fresh in the recollection of the House: he alluded to the speech delivered at the bar of the other House on the close of the session in the year 1813. That speech, it was equally well known, had induced a noble friend of his (lord Morpeth), in the following session, from, he believed, the best of motives, to move a vote of censure on the late Speaker for his conduct. In his judgment, it would be fatally injurious to the character and credit of the House, if, after 117 of its members had supported that vote of censure, it should, only three years afterwards, pass a unanimous vote of unqualified approbation on the same individual. There was no one ostensible reason before the public for such an alteration of sentiment, except the circumstance of the same Speaker, who, on the former occasion had thought proper to make the Crown a party to the proceedings of that House having been now called by the Crown, (for he was too old fashioned to say elevated) to the peerage. It was not his intention to trouble the House by a division; and he could assure them, that in disturbing the unanimity of the present motion, he was actuated only by an overruling sense of duty.

Mr. Wynn

said, that having taken an active part in the vote of censure against the eminent person, who seemed to him, to have acted, on that occasion, in a manner not warranted by the usage of the House, he was anxious to express his opinion on the vote now proposed. The House would recollect, that to one act of that description, there was to be opposed fifteen years, of unwearied and able discharge of most important duties. In passing the present vote, he did not feel that the House was pledged to every distinct act of the late Speaker, all that was granted by agreeing to the motion, was the expression of its sense of the general merits of that eminent character.

Mr. Bankes

thought that the hon. and learned gentleman had taken a very correct view of the matter; but there was another reason, which, in his mind, ought to possess no trifling influence. Although a considerable number of members had voted in the minority against the Speaker's conduct on the occasion alluded to, there was also a very large majority who thought that conduct perfectly conformable with the practice of former Speakers in the best times of the constitution; and all the Study and inquiry which he had been enabled to bestow upon the subject, still further confirmed his opinion of the correctness of that decision. He was extremely sorry that the noble lord had disturbed the unanimity of the House. He was convinced that no one ever filled the chair with more ability or impartiality than lord Colchester, and he should therefore heartily concur in the motion.

The motion was agreed to, and on the suggestion of Mr. Wynn, the Speaker was ordered to communicate the said resolution to lord Colchester. Lord Castlereagh then moved, "That an humble address be presented to his royal highness the Prince Regent, to beseech his Royal Highness that he will be graciously pleased, acting in the name and on the behalf of his majesty, to confer some signal mark of the royal favour upon Charles lord Colchester, late Speaker of this House, for his great and eminent services performed to his country during the long and important period in which he has, with such distinguished ability and integrity, presided in the chair of this House; and to assure his royal highness, that whatever expense his royal highness shall think proper to be incurred upon that account, this House will make good the same."

Mr. Ponsonby

remarked, that the House was already in one difficulty, and he feared the wording of the address was calculated to produce another, The objection on a former day was, that the Crown should be the first proposer of the grant; and they were now told that the Crown ought to determine the amount. He thought the House ought not to bind itself by any previous pledge or obligation to approve of whatever provision the Crown should think fit. The proper course of proceeding would be, for the Crown to send down a message, stating the inadequacy of its means; and the question of the due extent of liberality would then still rest with the House; but, as the address was now framed, they surrendered all discretion on the subject.

Mr. Bathurst

observed, that the proposed address was in the precise terms of the one voted in the case of Mr. Speaker Onslow.

Mr. Ponsonby

contended, that there could be no similarity in the two cases, as in that of Mr. Speaker Onslow the Crown had the power by law of doing what the address required. The Crown could not now by law grant out of the civil list a larger pension than 1,200l. per annum.

Mr. Rose

said, the Crown in the case of Mr. Onslow had not the power by law, as the right hon. gentleman misconceived. It could not make a grant beyond one life.

Mr. Wynn

said, that no attention whatever had been paid to the message, but that the House might, had they seen pro- per, have ordered it to be taken into consideration that day six months. He did not see in what manner the House became pledged by this address to any sum, because it was the way in which they always acted; in the case, for example, when any monument was voted to the memory of an individual. While the House declared it would support the expense which might thus be called for, it certainly was never meant that that expense should be extravagant, and on that ground he did think there was by no means any pledge given.

Mr. Bankes

should support the address on the ground of its being strictly sanctioned by precedent; for example, in the case of the Perceval family, and of the duke of Wellington.

Mr. Tierney

apprehended, that if this question should come to be historically discussed some years hence, it would appear to have grown out of the message from the Crown: but he was not going to discuss that now. It did appear to him, that when the grant was made, and it might be made immediately, the House would be shackled as to the amount of the pension to be given; and would have no power to diminish it, if they thought proper. He had heard the sum mentioned which it was proposed to give. He was told that it was 4,000l. for the life of the noble lord, and 2,000l. for his son. He had since heard, however, that it was 4,000l. for the father, and 3,000l. for the son. Now he wished very much to know, whether this was the case, because it was proper that the House should not be called to go blindfolded into the question.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

had no objection to state, that the intention of the Crown was, to make provision for lord Colchester to the amount of 4,000l. a year, with a reversion of 3,000l. to the next heir male of the title. In the case of Mr. Speaker Onslow, 3,000l. a year had been granted for two lives. This was fifty-seven years ago, and, therefore, he apprehended the House would not go too far in liberality by acceding to the sums proposed in the present instance. They were by no means pledged, however, to this extent, as the grant must of course come under their revision.

Mr. Tierney

said, that as the House were now called, it should seem, to make good the claim of the peerage to support, he should wish to know whether lord Colchester had not a situation amounting to 1,500l. annually in Ireland? If this was the case, on what principle were they called by ministers to give the noble lord 5,500l. a year to support the peerage, and yet to allow his son only 3,000l. to support the very same dignity? From the report made by their committee, he found this office in Ireland, was one of those which they were called upon to abolish, and he hoped in God it would be abolished. Was the noble lord to be allowed to hold this 1,500l. in addition to his proposed annuity of 4,000l.? If so, he again asked on what principle ministers could give him so much, and his son so little? He expressed his anxious desire that the House should be liberal to their late Speaker, who certainly deserved a reward for his able discharge of his arduous duties. But in times like the present, he thought this grant excessive.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it was undoubtedly true that lord Colchester enjoyed a place in Ireland of 1,500l. a year, nominal value, but which was only 1,300l. actual income. He received that compensation in consequence of having given up a place of 3,000l. a year for life.

Sir C. Monck

regretted that the motion of ministers, founded on the message from the Crown, had not been noticed in the votes, where it ought to have been stated that it was afterwards withdrawn. Had this been done, the irregularity of the message would be known to future times.

Mr. Holme Sumner

said, that so far from considering the intended proposition too liberal, he thought it extremely parsimonious. The situation of Mr. Speaker Onslow was very different. He was entitled to a very large fortune, and would therefore have been able to maintain the dignity of his peerage if he had lived to attain this fortune, which he did not, nor his son after him. The profits of his office being inquired into, they were ascertained to be 3,000l. a year, and this was granted to him. He could not see on what possible grounds it could be maintained that the amount now proposed was either excessive or ample; and as this question would be debated on the introduction of the bill, he thought it is duty to throw out views rather different from those of the right hon. gentleman. The Speaker of the House of Commons in Ireland, who had filled that situation ten years, had a grant of 5,000l. a year, and surely we should treat our late Speaker with at least equal liberality.

The motion Was agreed to nem. con.