HC Deb 14 May 1828 vol 19 cc719-24

The order of the day was read, for bringing up the report of the resolution of the committee of the whole House on the Offices Pensions Act. The report being brought up by Mr. Planta,

The Marquis of Chandos

said, that not having been present on a former occasion, when the grant to the family of Mr. Canning was proposed, he availed himself of that opportunity of stating his decided objection to the measure. He begged that his objection might not be considered to rest upon economical principles, but as being intended to mark his disapprobation of the principles of Mr. Canning, principles which he considered to have been productive of the greatest calamities to this country.

Sir T. Acland

expressed his deep regret, after what had occurred on a former night, that any member should have expressed his opposition to the grant.

Sir James Scarlett

said, he was not sorry that the noble marquis, by reviving this subject, had given him an opportunity of expressing his regret, that he had not been present last night when this measure was proposed. He had not been aware of the proposition or he should have made it his duty to attend, for the purpose of expressing his warm approbation of it. He could not agree with the noble lord, that a difference of judgment upon certain political measures of itself afforded a sufficient ground for withholding that approbation, he was not disposed to think that a minister, whose personal honour and integrity were above suspicion, was less sincere and zealous in devoting his life to the Service of his country, because he might differ with him in opinion upon the policy of his measures. He should, however, not do justice to the memory of Mr. Canning, or to his own feelings, if he placed his support of the measure merely on the ground of his zeal and sincerity. On the contrary, he thought it a tribute due to that great and lamented statesman, however humble as coming from him, to state, that during a long and intimate acquaintance with him he had the means of ascertaining and estimating his political principles and opinions, and that he knew of no public man whose opinions and principles upon subjects of general as well as national policy, so generally coincided with his own.—He did not mean to say, that no difference whatever existed upon any subject; for that was scarcely possible between any two persons who sincerely thought for themselves, but that Mr. Canning's views of British interests and British policy, and his principles of government, presented fewer grounds of difference, to his judgment, than those of any other statesman whose opinions he had equal means of knowing.—With respect to the objection of economy, he would only say, that the time was not yet arrived when this great nation was so reduced, as not to be able to reward the services of public men. If it were so, it would be necessary at once to discard all public servants. Many examples existed of similar and greater rewards, but he would venture to say, that no example could be found of services that more justly called for the grateful notice of the sovereign and the country. Not to mention that Mr. Canning, at the call of his sovereign, had relinquished the government of India with the most ample and honourable opportunity of retrieving the fortune of his family, impaired by the expenses of office, without any stipulation for his own personal interests; not to mention his long services in various offices, nor his incessant labours in the Foreign office, to the duties of which he was so entirely devoted as to leave no time either for amusement or health, he would state it as his opinion, that, upon that occasion, which placed him at the head of his Majesty's councils, he became peculiarly entitled to the gratitude of his country. It was far from his intention to insinuate blame upon any individual, with reference to that event; but it must be admitted, as an historical fact, that in that important crisis the sovereign was surrounded with peculiar difficulties. To these Mr. Canning was far from insensible, when he had the courage to undertake, by the desire of that sovereign, the formation of an administration, and the good fortune to accomplish his object in a manner that he (Sir J. Scarlett) firmly believed to have been highly acceptable to the British empire, for he would venture to say that, short and precarious as that administration was, none had ever existed in his time which commanded a greater majority in that House, or conciliated and satisfied so great a portion of the people. It was formed under difficulties resulting from various causes; but it was formed upon a principle of excluding no man of competent talents, and of conciliating all who were willing to forego the petty feelings and triumph of party, for the purpose of uniting all the practicable means of promoting the honour and interests of their country. He should be excused in saying for himself, that in accepting office in support of Mr. Canning's administration, he was actuated not less by what he thought his duty upon public grounds than by sentiments of personal regard and attachment to Mr. Canning. He knew that he held office under a precarious tenure, and probably with no advantage to himself; but, nevertheless, he felt the greatest anxiety to support Mr. Canning's government upon every ground of public duty as well as private friendship. The opportunities which, his short-lived connection with office had given him of witnessing Mr. Canning's application to business, enabled him to say with confidence, that the life of that illustrious man had become a sacrifice to his unremitting labours. The peculiar circumstances in which that great man was placed had thrown for a season the whole weight of the government upon his shoulders. He had shown in the struggle a spirit and an assiduity without example; but he had at length fallen the victim of his own zeal in the public cause. Surely it could not then be doubted, that the family, which had been thus deprived of him, were entitled to the protection of their sovereign and of the country, and to some signal mark of public favour.—He could, indeed, have wished that the sum proposed had been of much greater magnitude: examples were not wanting to justify a larger vote, and he should gladly have concurred in it; but such as it was he should give it his unqualified support. He was aware that this measure could be justified on public grounds only, but he could not help mixing up his personal feelings with public duty upon this subject, and he hoped he might be allowed to express his deep regret at the loss of one, who, to all his great and acknowledged qualities as a statesman, added, by his virtues and the charms of his society, a peculiar power of attaching to him all who had the good fortune to approach him in private life; one who had, since his accession to power in 1822, advanced the interests of his country at home and her reputation and power abroad, and, by the wisdom of his measures, enforced, in a spirit of conciliation and peace, had drawn to their support men of all political parties, and had infused a degree of content and satisfaction long unknown in this nation; one who had the rare felicity of conciliating many enemies, political enemies he meant, for personal enemies he never could have had, and of never losing a friend.

Lord Palmerston

felt himself called upon, as a member of Mr. Canning's government, to reply to the observations which had fallen from the noble marquis in a tone of such apparent rancour. He could not allow that statement to remain uncontradicted, considering, as he did, that the government of this country would be entitled to parliamentary support, in proportion as it adhered to the principles of Mr. Canning, whose name would be venerated long after his detractors had been consigned to oblivion.

Sir T. Lethbridge

felt it his duty to say, that however much he had differed with Mr. Canning in his latter days, in consequence of his attempt to carry on the government by the most unnatural alliance ever contracted in politics, still he could not but recollect Mr. Canning's eminent services, his unrivalled genius, and his public spirit. On these grounds he gave his unqualified assent to the motion.

Mr. Spring Rice

wished to seize the last opportunity that was likely to arise, to express his entire assent to the proposed grant. He considered the present likely to be the only opportunity that would present itself; for he could scarcely imagine that an opposition, so singular in its character, could be continued; and he anticipated, that the measure in its further progress would meet the unanimous approval of the House, as it undoubtedly would that of the country. The opposi- tion to it would have astonished him, at anytime and in any place; but that in the House of Commons, the theatre of Mr. Canning's exertions, the field in which his genius had displayed itself, any objection should have been made to a grant like this, was to him a matter of astonishment. But he wished to distinguish the two classes of whom the opponents to this measure consisted. The economists of money might, perhaps, think themselves warranted in refusing any grant, however deserved, provided they considered that the finances of the country would not warrant such expenditure. In this he could not concur; for he could not admit that England was in a position to refuse the reward of eminent services. Let it not be said that military glory and death in action were the only events that could justify national gratitude. Civil worth, if eminent, belonged to as high a class of exertions, and men might die, as Mr. Canning had died, for their country, without falling by the sword. But there were economists of another school, who objected to this vote, — economists of good feeling,—persons who wished to apply retrenchment to sympathy and gratitude, and who were desirous of reducing all generous and honourable impulse. With them he would hold no communion; and of them was the minority chiefly composed,—discontented agriculturists, who revenged themselves for the Corn-bill by their vote, and who marked their disapproval of Mr. Canning's liberal policy by denying this pittance to his children. He could have wished the vote to have been larger; but, assuming its limitations to refer to the financial state of the country, he accepted it as a tribute to the services of Mr. Canning; and as such he thought it one highly honourable to the government to have proposed it.

Mr. Dawson

regretted that any personal warmth should have found its way into the debate, and conceived the observations made by the hon. gentleman who preceded him not calculated to produce the unanimity they desired. Had he to give a vote as a private member of parliament, he could equally as at present, have supported the proposition; feeling that such a grant was deserved by the length and eminence of the public services of Mr. Canning. He, however, thought that expressions had fallen from his noble friend (lord Palmerston) stronger than, on reflection, he could have wished to apply to the noble marquis.

Lord Palmerston

regretted that an occasion should have arisen that called on him for the expressions he had employed, but that occasion having arisen, he did not regret what had fallen from him.

Mr. V. Fitzgerald

concurred in the vote, and explained his connexion with Mr. Canning's government. In continuing in office, he had made very considerable sacrifices, of a personal nature, to his public duty.

Lord Morpeth.

—I rise to mention one circumstance which I omitted to state when I addressed the House yesterday evening; it is, however, a debt of justice due to individuals not to pass it over in silence. A rumour has gone abroad, that the peerage conferred upon the widow of Mr. Canning, was not so conferred until after it had been solicited by her. If such an impression does exist, from whatever quarter it may have been derived, I can say, that a more unfounded and flagrant calumny never proceeded from the lips of man. I am glad to take this public opportunity of stating, that this mark of favour was bestowed at a time, and in a manner, which reflected equal credit upon the Sovereign who so feelingly conferred it, and the statesman whose memory he thus honoured.

Mr. Planta

expressed his feelings with respect to the zeal, talent, and industry, with which Mr. Canning had applied himself to the discharge of his official duties; and to which his health had been sacrificed, and to which he had ultimately fallen a victim.

The Resolution was agreed to.