HC Deb 23 December 1830 vol 2 cc90-101
Mr. Guest

rose to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice, with regard to the Pensions granted on the Civil List. The hon. Member commenced by remarking, that this was a subject which merited the serious attention of the Government and the country. He should confine his Motion, in the first instance, to the pension which had been granted to Mrs. Arbuthnot, in order to bring the general question, with respect to pensions granted where no services had been performed, hereafter under the consideration of the House. After stating the amount of salary to which the right hon. C. Arbuthnot was entitled, and of which he was in receipt as Secretary to the Treasury in 1823, the hon. Member stated, that at that period, while her husband filled that situation, a pension of 1,200l. per annum was granted to Mrs. Harriet Arbuthnot. He conceived that such a grant could not be defended. The next pension to which he called the attention of the House, was that granted to Lady Hill. He was informed, he said, that she was the lady of Sir George Hill, the late Vice-treasurer for Ireland: that hon. Baronet, at the present moment, as governor of the Leeward Islands, in addition to the pension granted to him, as late Vice-treasurer of Ireland, after the loss of his office as Clerk of the Irish House of Commons, was in the receipt of 2,091l. 8s. 2d. Yet it appeared that, on the 5th of April, 1830, a pension was granted to Lady Hill of 467l. 12s. That pension was granted upon the very day that Sir George Hill retired from his office of Vice-treasurer of Ireland, to which office the Knight of Kerry was appointed, and in addition to the other pensions granted to him, it made the total received by himself and his lady from the public, amount to, 7,347l. That was a gross abuse which should be corrected. The next pension to which he would call the attention of the House was that granted to the Earl of Minto. It appeared that, on the 2nd of April, 1800, a pension of 938l. 8s. 9d. was granted to that noble Earl; and therefore, since that period, that noble Earl had received about 28,000l. from the public purse. He (Mr. Guest) was ignorant of the services which the noble Earl had performed to entitle him to such a reward. The next name which called for notice was that of the Countess of Mulgrave, though her husband, the Earl of Mulgrave, as former Master-general of the Ordnance, had a pension of 3,000l.; he received, also, his full pay as Colonel. There were no exact returns of the pensions received by this nobleman; but he was in possession of his full pay as a General, and also as Colonel of the 31st regiment of foot; and in receipt, also, of an annual sum as governor of Scarborough. The hon. Gentleman said, that the pensions granted to the family of the Grevilles were particularly deserving of attention. Mr. C. Greville, as Comptroller of Cash in the Excise, was in receipt of 600l. per annum; he was allowed, moreover, 600l. a-year as Receiver-general of Taxes at Nottingham; and, in addition to that, he was in receipt of 350l. a year as Secretary of the Island of Tobago. Now, it was plain that some of those offices, if not all of them, must be perfect sinecures. The amount of pensions granted to the Grevilles — a father and two sons —was 7,662l., and all the services which they had performed, as far as he could understand, was, that one of the sons had been for three years Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Treasury, for which, on a moderate calculation, he had been rewarded by a sum not less than 1,373l. per annum. The hon. Member then referred to the pensions granted to the Cockburn family. The first bore date so far back as 1789, and was for the amount of 184l., granted to Jean Cockburn: to three other members of that family, pensions of 97l. each were granted in 1791 upon the Civil List of Scotland. There was also, in the document which had been laid upon the Table of the House, an account of a pension granted to Mary Penelope Bankhead, bearing date October 8, 1825, and for 350l. 7s. 5d. What were the services for which such a pension had been granted? It would be seen from the same document, that the Countess of Mornington was in the receipt of a pension of 600l. a-year since 1813. The hon. Member alluded to several other pensions which had been granted upon the Civil List, and, among others, to those of Lady Ann Cullen Smith, who, since 1812, had received a pension of 600l.; of Mary Wilkins, who, since 1800, had received 115l. per year, upon which last pension the hon. Member remarked, that he was astonished how any one in possession of 4,000l. a-year could think of taking from the Civil List a paltry sum of 115l. per annum. In conclusion, he remarked, that all these pensions had been granted during pleasure, and that he was anxious that all the circumstances connected with those grants should be laid before the House, in order that they might see whether it would not be necessary to submit all such pensions to reconsideration and revision. He had, as an independent Member of Parliament, felt it his duty to bring forward the Motion with which he should conclude, and he would now declare, that whenever pensions were to be voted and placed on the Civil List, which were not granted for some service performed to the State, he should feel it his duty, even if he stood alone, to vote against such grants. The hon. Member concluded by moving for a copy of the Warrant, or other document, bearing date the 5th of January, 1823, granting a pension of 1,200l. per annum to Mrs. Harriet Arbuthnot.

Mr. Hume,

in rising to second the motion of the hon. Member, begged to express his obligations to him, and also to say, that it was an irksome and unpleasant task for hon. Members to perform, when it became their duty to move for such returns as were contemplated by the motion of the hon. Member, as such a proceeding partook somewhat of the nature of a personal attack, though it was, in fact, of a very different character. He, however, felt that there was no other mode of putting a stop to the shameless drain occasioned, by such pensions, on the public purse; he had no hesitation in stating his conviction, that the acceptance of a pension of 1,200l. by the wife, or any part of the family of a Member of that House, ought to be considered as incapacitating that individual from sitting in Parliament. It was proceedings similar to those which the hon. Member who spoke last had stigmatised, that had reduced the country to the impoverished state in which it now was, and he considered it was the bounden duty of Ministers to bring the propriety of continuing these pensions under the consideration of a committee of the House. The system caused a great deal of discontent in the country, and he hoped that it would be put an end to.

Mr. Lennard

considered, that the entire Pension List ought to be brought under the direct control of Parliament; he trusted that in future the list of pensions would be annually laid before the House; and had that course been pursued before, a great many names which now appeared in it would not have been found there. He felt unmitigated satisfaction in finding that the Duchess Dowager of Newcastle had relinquished her pension.

Mr. Guest

explained, that he had just been informed that the Earl of Mulgrave had not a pension of 3,000l., and that the reason why there was not a return of his emoluments before the House was, the severe illness of the noble Earl. He hastened to make this statement after receiving it, and to apologise for the incorrectness into which he had been led.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

expressed his obligations to the hon. Member whose motion was before the House. He felt that it was a subject of great delicacy to single out the names of individuals who were in the receipt of pensions —still it was a duty, and as such was unavoidable. Amongst other names on that list, however, there was one which was super-eminent amongst them, that of Bathurst, a nobleman, who had held a high official situation for many years, and who, independent of the salary which he had received, had enjoyed for upwards of twenty years a sinecure of 2,700l., and another sinecure of upwards of 1,000l. In addition to these sums, there were the names of no fewer than five of his family, to one branch of which an increase of 200l. was made to her pension in 1825, and of 100l. in December, 1829. He thought it excessively hard that individuals who received from 10,000l. to 12,000l. a-year could not support their own families. He recollected that the very year when some of the worst of these pensions were granted, the people were in great distress, and even perishing of famine. That was a monstrous abuse which must be done away.

Mr. Courtenay

said, that was not the time to enter into a discussion of the Civil List, which would come more regularly under discussion when that subject was brought forward by Government. Having this feeling on the subject, he should not have trespassed on the attention of the House, but for the extraordinary misrepresentations of the hon. Alderman (Waithman) on the subject of pensions granted to Earl Bathurst's family. The hon. Alderman stated, that Lord Bathurst's family received a large sum in pensions. His answer to that statement was, that they received nothing. It was true Lord Bathurst himself held two offices, which were nearly sinecures, and which he obtained long since, as the son of a Lord Chancellor, it being the practice in those times not to grant the Lord Chancellor a pension, as at present, but to reward him by granting sinecures to his family. All that Lord Bathurst obtained by this antiquated system was, the difference of holding sinecures worth about 4,000l. a-year, instead of a pension of 3,000l. to which he would have been entitled from the duration of his personal services. The pensions which the hon. Alderman remarked upon were granted to the family of Mr. Bragge Bathurst, a gentleman who was well known, and who had been in the public service during the greater part of his life, but never held any office which entitled him, under the Act of Parliament, to a pension. He went out of office not in affluent circumstances, and with a large family; and Lord Liverpool's Administration certainly advised the granting of pensions to his wife and family to the amount of 1,500l. or 1,600l. a-year. Unless the granting of pensions was to be condemned altogether, he believed that no pensions had ever been better earned than those enjoyed by the family alluded to. He would not enter further into this subject more than to observe, that if the system advocated with respect to the Civil List was adopted, and every pension submitted to Parliament before it was granted, it would be the greatest alteration any one now living had seen in the Constitution — an alteration, in his opinion, which would be productive of infinitely more jobbing than had ever existed. He had no doubt that other pensions, as well as those granted to the name of Bathurst, could be explained; but at any rate he would claim credit for the Duke of Wellington's Administration for having steered clear of such jobs. He admitted the abuses, but they were all of long standing, and of a date long prior to the time when the Duke of Wellington was placed at the head of affairs.

Mr. Lennard

explained. He never said that the right of granting pensions should be vested in the House of Commons: he only contended that, when granted by the Crown, they should afterwards be submitted to the House of Commons, and the reasons assigned for which they were granted.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

also explained. He had seen the name of Bathurst in the Civil List, and, in common with many other persons, was impressed with the idea that they were members of the noble Lord's family.

Mr. Keith Douglas

was very anxious that the observations made on this subject should not convey a stronger impression abroad than was intended. It might be the duty of his Majesty's Government to investigate the Civil List, but he was quite persuaded they did not wish it to go abroad that they had made up their minds to advise his Majesty to withhold all assistance from those who had hitherto been placed on the Pension List. It should be recollected, in discussing this subject, that the pensions granted on the Civil List formed a part of the allowance made to his Majesty, in return for the hereditary revenues of the Crown. The course advised, of submitting all pensions to this House, might be right or wrong, but it was quite new, and ought to be adopted with caution.

Mr. Wilks

said, that although it might be something of innovation, it would be a great improvement to submit all pensions to Parliament. This was proved by the fact, that the oldest and most intelligent Members of that House could not tell for what services the pensions had been granted. Pensions ought to be an honour, and not a disgrace; and if pensions were granted only for public services, he was sure Parliament would not be niggardly. He considered the appointment of a committee would be the preferable mode of determining whether any part of the pensions granted should be discontinued or not. He also observed, that leaving the consideration of pensions to Parliament was not such an innovation. Some of the largest grants ever made to individuals (those to the Duke of Wellington, for instance) were made by the votes, and with the concurrence of the Legislature.

Mr. Robinson

said, that as no excuse was made, and nothing said in extenuation of the pensions referred to by the hon. Mover, he had a right to construe the silence as a token of general disapprobation. It was for Parliament to prevent the recurrence of such abuses hereafter; abuses which, he believed, had done more to bring disrepute on that House, than all the inflammatory and mischievous publications of which so much had been said in the early part of the evening. Whatever way the House was disposed to deal with vested rights, as they were called by some, a remedy ought to be devised, to prevent the repetition of such enormous abuses.

Mr. Attwood

said, the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Courtenay's) argument, as to Mr. Bathurst's family, proceeded entirely on the assumption that men in office were not adequately remunerated for their public services. That assumption was violently in collision with public opinion, and with the expressed opinion of his Majesty's present Government. It was very desirable that Ministers should give their attention to the Civil List, and, if possible, reduce it to a great extent; but though this might gain for them a little temporary popularity, he did not hesitate to tell Ministers that, if they contented themselves with any reductions they could make in the Civil List, they would show that they were not adequate to the urgency of the occasion which called them into office, and, so far from relieving the distress of the country, they would only add to its difficulties. He was desirous of referring to another point, on which some observations had been made a few nights ago. Something had been said of the Government appealing to the people, or, in other words, of a general election. It was only a few months since the people expressed their opinion by electing Representatives, and he therefore told the Ministers, that if they appealed to the people so soon again, it should be on some other grounds than that of gaining two or three votes, more or less, by bringing in Members to represent boroughs under the influence of Government. The people ought not to be appealed to twice within a few months on such a pretence. It would be to disgust the country by obtruding upon it the discreditable parts of the system of representation; and if Ministers adopted such a course, they would render themselves deeply responsible. If they appealed to the people, it should be by measures suited to the urgency of the occasion—measures calculated to afford relief to this distressed, distracted, and nearly disorganized, country. If Ministers were defeated in such measures by party politics, they might retire with satisfaction; and if they succeeded, they would place themselves in the highest position in which any Ministers ever stood.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, that, though he had opposed the Duke of Wellington's Government, he was bound to say, that no Government had added less to the Pension List. He believed that the aggregate amount of pensions granted on the Civil List, under the Duke of Wellington's Government, did not exceed 10,000l. per annum.

Mr. Herries

said, he had refrained from rising until then, expecting that some member of his Majesty's Government would speak on a point of such great constitutional importance as that which had been brought forward in this debate. His Majesty's Ministers were the proper guardians of the prerogatives and rights of the Crown, and their opinions ought to be stated on this point; and till then it was hardly decorous in him or other Members to obtrude any observations on the House. Some doctrines, however, had been put forward, upon which, as his Majesty's Ministers had neglected to reply to them, he felt called upon to offer a few observations. The hon. Member who brought forward this Motion, had confounded all the different classes of pensions—those granted by the authority of an Act. of Parliament, with those granted by his Majesty. His Majesty was legally intrusted with the power of granting pensions to a certain extent, and the question which had been mooted by hon. Members was, whether this class of pensions ought not in future to be voted by the House? Was that the conduct proper to be pursued? They had read little of the history of this country, of mankind, or of popular assemblies, who thought that such a power could with safety be vested—under a constitution at all monarchical—in any other branch of the Government than the Crown. He maintained, that the House was not the fit judge of the cases in which it might be proper for his Majesty to grant pensions—[hear, hear, from Sir J. Graham]. He did not do the hon. Baronet the injustice of supposing, that he would advocate such a doctrine. He hoped no one who occupied those benches on which the hon. Baronet sat, would ever maintain such a doctrine. But it had been repeatedly stated, in the course of the conversation, that the House of Commons should have the revision of all pensions granted by the Crown. He would not pursue the argument further than to observe, that such a principle, if adopted, would be fatal to every thing like the vestige of a monarchical government. Now, as to the grant, of pensions, he would only observe, that it might be wise or unwise to place such a power in the Crown. But a certain sum was assigned to the Crown, which the Crown had a right to grant, not only for public services, but as matter of grace and favour. Whether it would be right or not to persevere in. that system was another question; but such had been hitherto the law, and it was looked upon to be an important part of the Constitution of the country. He was not only defending the Duke of Wellington's government—which had given away the least, perhaps, in pensions, of any government — but all the governments which had preceded it. They were all open to the charge, if charge it could be called, of advising the Crown to grant pensions, not only for service, he repeated, but as matter of grace and favour. Unless the members of the late Administration had been guilty of advising the grant of some pension under circumstances which rendered it the subject of special disapprobation, they had not exceeded the power vested in them, and exercised by all their predecessors in Office, nor could they fairly or decently be charged with any dereliction of duty, or with malversation, in recommending his Majesty to grant certain pensions. The granting of pensions on the Civil List was perfectly consistent with Mr. Burke's measure for the reform of the Civil List. That right hon. Gentleman laid down the principle, and Parliament assented to it, that a certain sum should be placed at the disposal of the Crown, to be granted by the Sovereign as he thought fit, without Ministers being-liable to be questioned in Parliament as to the manner of its appropriation. Every great Statesman in that House who succeeded Mr. Burke, agreed to the principle laid down by him. If the Crown were stripped of the right and power of granting pensions, or that power were made subject to a dominant faction, and every pension to depend on the vote of a majority of the House of Commons, the Crown would be left without any power. Formerly the Crown had the power of making grants of land, and grants from the hereditary revenues; and if Members took the trouble of looking back, they would find that the power of granting pensions, to a certain extent, for grace and favour, was esteemed a just consideration and compensation for the hereditary revenue which was formerly applicable to the same purpose. When the Parliament and the Crown came to make terms, it would be for the House to consider, whether a similar power should be again vested in the Crown. The maintenance of that power was not then the question—it was the pensions granted, and not the pensions granted to particular persons—but the attack was directed against the whole Civil List. He could not sit down without telling the hon. Member who made the Motion, that it would have been better if he had not entered into personal allusions. When he (Mr. Herries) came down, he had no expectation of hearing any names called in question; and, as it never happened to him to have advised any pension, he was the last person who could be supposed qualified to give an answer. Nevertheless, he felt it his duty to call upon the House to suspend its judgment until the subject was fairly before it, and hon. Members had had an opportunity of inquiring upon what grounds particular pensions had been granted. He hoped that the present Ministers, when they came to arrange the Civil List, would, in looking to the dignity of the Crown, and the support of the" Monarchy, determine upon having some fund at the uncontrolled discretion of the Crown, out of which it might dispense its favours, and reward the merit of individuals according to the views of those who served the Crown.

Sir J. Graham

agreed with some part of what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman who had last addressed the House, that there ought to be some fund at the uncontrolled and irresponsible disposal of the Crown. But the amount of the specific sum so disposable would be the subject of discussion when the Civil List came to be settled by Parliament. He must say, however, that he believed that it would be found advantageous to bring before the House the particulars of pensions granted out of that fund. Of the salutary effect which might result from the House thus taking cognizance of the mode in which, and the persons to whom, pensions were granted, an illustration was presented in a. case which, had been that evening alluded to—he meant the pension of the Duchess Dowager of Newcastle. Immediately after that pension had been spoken of in the House, it was resigned by her Grace. He did not think, that the right hon. Gentleman, was justified in calling on the Ministers to deliver their opinion on this occasion. The motion was for an Address to procure the copy of a warrant, granting a pension to Mr. Arbuthnot; with that pension the present Ministry had nothing to do. The right hon. Gentleman had been for a long time Secretary to the Treasury under the Administration of Lord Liverpool; and in that office he had been instrumental in the appointment of a great number of pensions, and was therefore fully competent, either to answer any objectionable remarks of the Gentlemen who had spoken from the other side, or to suggest to the persons who were at present honoured with his Majesty's confidence, the course which it might be most advisable for them to take respecting the settlement of the Pension List. But if he (Sir J. Graham) mistook not, the Government, of which he was an humble member, would take a middle course, and adopt such measures as should at the same time secure the honour and dignity of the Crown, and the integrity of the Constitution, and give satisfaction to the people. The hon. member for Borough-bridge had given to his Majesty's Government advice, of which the kindness, no more than the earnestness, was to be mistaken, and of which the import seemed to be, that they ought not to dissolve Parliament. Now, that hon. Gentleman had seen the difficulties with which Ministers had had to struggle, and he therefore doubted whether they would keep their pledges. But he could assure the hon. Gentleman, that although there were, as the hon. Gentleman seemed to intimate, some seats in that House which had hitherto, for the most part, been occupied by Gentlemen supporting the Administration of the day, then held by opponents of the Government of which he was a member —although the places so represented might send to a new Parliament Gentlemen, who would give his Majesty's advisers their support—yet the present Ministers would keep their pledges — would press steadily on in their course—would scorn all indirect or illegitimate influence —would bring forward their measures on the merits alone of those measures themselves. He did not mean any taunt, but he would say, that his Majesty's Ministers were resolved not to submit tamely to defeat. They would not be awed by threats in that House or out of it. If defeated there, they would go to the people. If defeated by the House of Commons, in measures which they conceived calculated to rescue the nation from peril, they would take the sense of the nation itself; and, whatever might be the national decision, he (Sir J. Graham), for one, would content himself with the reflection, that he had clone his duty. He would meet the hon. Gentlemen, whether as friends or enemies, sitting on this side of the House or on that, to discuss in fair argument any measures for the safety of the nation.—In his present course, however, he would proceed, conscious that he was acting with men governed by a high and firm sense of duty.

Sir G. Clerk

was surprised to hear from the right hon. Baronet that Ministers had nothing to do with the great constitutional question which had been brought under discussion. Had they remained wholly silent, he should have supposed that they meant to propose that the Crown should receive no sum to grant for pensions; and he was, therefore, glad to hear that they meant to steer what the right hon. Baronet called a middle course. The right hon. Baronet threatened to appeal to the nation, should Ministers be defeated by the House; he forgot that such defeat might be attended by circumstances which would deprive the present Administration of the power to make such an appeal.

Colonel Sibthorp

expressed great satisfaction at the speech of the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. Graham). He was sure that speech would give equal satisfaction to the nation.

Motion agreed to.