HC Deb 07 February 1831 vol 2 cc209-14
Mr. Portman

said, that as much disappointment was felt with regard to the Pension-list, he wished to take the liberty of asking his noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a question on that subject. He, in common with the hon. member for Sussex, and others, felt, as he said, considerable disappointment at the proposal which had been brought forward by his Majesty's Government, and he felt much pain in now addressing the House for the first time from those (the Ministerial) Benches, that he was not able to pronounce his unqualified approbation of the measures of Ministers. He believed, however, that they had done as much as, being Ministers, they could do, and he called upon the House to do its duty in assisting those Ministers, and, so far as it was necessary, in carrying retrenchment beyond what the Ministers could do. He begged to ask his noble friend, if he was right in supposing that, the plan brought forward by his Majesty's Ministers was to be dealt with by the House of Commons, without any interference of the Ministers, with the whole of that influence which they possessed; he meant, whether that House was to be at liberty, if it should see fit, to deal with the Pension-list in a very different manner from that in which the Government had brought it forward; and whether Ministers, having done all that they could do, meant to leave it to the House of Commons to do what it could? and he also wished to know, whether there would be an opportunity of putting the salaries of the great Officers of State, out of the Civil List, on the same footing as the salaries of his Majesty's Ministers? He wished to know whether that. House, or a Committee of it were to be at liberty to exercise its discretion in these respects? He thought it would be useful to obtain some information of this nature, and that the public would be better satisfied by having an explanation of the views of the Government.

Lord Althorp

said, that in answer to the question of his hon. friend, it would be necessary for him to go into a little detail. The proposition which he had had the honour to bring down on this subject on Friday last, was brought down after due deliberation and consultation by his Majesty's Ministers; they were perfectly prepared to submit it to the House on their responsibility; but, undoubtedly, he could never presume to say to the House, or a Committee of that House, that what his Majesty's Government proposed as being what they thought proper was not to be altered by a Committee, or by that House. It was their duty to leave it to the Committee to decide as it should: see fit; but on the subject of pensions, he would take the liberty of saying a few words. He could not conceive that it was the duty of the Ministers of this country, or of the Government or the Legislature of this country, to take advantage of a technical point of law, in order to do that which, in his conscience, he believed it would be unjust to do. These pensions, as he had already stated, were considered, and always had been considered, as having been granted for life. It was undoubtedly true, taking advantage of the technical point of law, that pensions expired on the demise of the Crown; the Government had a legal right to deprive the holders of their allowances; but he would put it to the House and to the country, whether it was worthy of the Government of this country to take such an advantage? whether the actual and positive relief to be gained by taking away those pensions was an object worth obtaining by pursuing a course which he was sure would be disgraceful to the country? Having said thus much, and adding that his Majesty's Ministers were quite ready to await the decision of that House, and the Committee, with all that deference, and all that respect which it was their duty to feel; and that they entertained an earnest wish to comply with any suggestion of the House, and to make any alterations which should be deemed fit; still he did not feel that he was bound to submit to any decision of a Committee, or of that House, or of any human power whatever, which should require him to do that which he should feel to be unjust and dishonourable. As to what his hon. friend bad stated with respect to the salaries of the great Officers of the Household, he had all along conceived that they were under the consideration of the Committee, for the appointment of which he had moved before the recess, and that that Committee had the power to deal with them as it should think fit. If the Committee on the Civil List should think proper to take these points into its consideration, it had the power to do so; and any alteration which it should propose, consistent with justice and good faith, he should be quite ready to adopt.

Mr. Lennard

said, that participating in the feelings which had been expressed by the hon. member for Dorsetshire, he could not help declaring the pain and disappointment which be had suffered from the plan that had been exhibited by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but it was a gratification to him to know that that noble Lord would submit his own views to any just decision of the House. With regard to the Pension-list, it was said, that it was granted to the Crown, to enable his Majesty to gratify his royal feelings by the encouragement of persons of merit; but was it not notorious, that it had been constantly perverted from its true purpose; and instead of gratifying the royal will, had been administered according to the interests of Ministers and borough-mongers, and been made the means of perpetuating a corrupt system, and supporting a corrupt Administration? No doubt these evils would be much removed, when the country should have obtained a Reform of Parliament, but looking to the uses which had hitherto been made of the private Pension-list, he had much rather that the present Government had exhibited the large Pension-list proposed by the late Government, provided that it was open to the revision of Parliament than 75,000l., the half of its amount, which was to be free from such salutary inspection. He said this, because he was sure that if the Pension-list were open, it would escape the misapplication of which it had hitherto been made the subject. As an instance of this, he would refer to the pension of the Duchess of Newcastle, which was resigned as soon as it became known to the public. With regard to our diplomatic expenditure, that ought to be brought by annual estimates before Parliament. He was perfectly satisfied, from the candour of the noble Lord, that while he held his present seat, the House would, in practice as well as in theory, have the proper control of these matters.

Mr. Guest

said, that as he had given notice of his intention to move for a Select Committee on the subject of pensions, it seemed that some of the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer's observations applied to him. He must maintain, that as pensions were granted during pleasure, the country had a right to be disappointed, and was disappointed, with the determination of his Majesty's Ministers; and he should feel it his duty to persist in the motion of which he had given notice.

Sir M. W. Ridley

observed, that his noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated distinctly, that that House was not irrevocably bound by the propositions which the Government brought forward, neither was his noble friend bound by any decision of the House, or a Committee of the House, contrary to strict justice. These were principles in which he was sure that House would fully agree; and he hoped the House would give his noble friend and his colleagues the credit to which they were entitled from their declarations; and would wait with patience for the report of the Committee on the Civil List, and the Committee on the Salaries of Public Offices, before both of which Committees, as his noble friend had said, this question might be considered; until then he trusted the House would suspend any opinion unfavourable to his Majesty's Ministers.

Mr. Hunt

said, that from what had fallen from the noble Lord, in concurrence with what had been stated by the right hon. member for Cumberland, on Friday night, it appeared that they who objected to the principles laid down by the Government were considered to be actuated by dishonest motives. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that he would not consent to do any thing that was not consistent with strict justice; and the right hon. Baronet said, woe to the reformer who would demand any thing not consistent with strict justice. Now, he, as a Radical Reformer, on behalf of himself, and of the reformers of England, must say unequivocally, that they asked nothing but what was conformable to justice. He did not wish to point out any of the names on the Pension-list. He should be ashamed to do so, although he could; but he must say, that the people of this country would not think it strict justice if large sums of money were taken out of their pockets to be put into those of persons who were already wealthy, and did not require it. He did not wish the Ministers to do any act of injustice, and that was the reason why he called upon them to look into these things. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, that he had found many names in the Pension-list which ought never to have been there. Now, was it strict justice to let them remain there?

Lord Althorp

declared, that he had never intended to impute to the hon. member for Preston, or any other Member, dishonest or unjust motives. He had only stated what his own views of justice were, and said, that he should feel bound to act upon them. He should be ready to bow to the decision of the Committee in every thing, except any course which he thought would be inconsistent with justice; but he knew that the mode in which he had divided the Pension-list had been observed upon the other night. A right hon. friend of his opposite, said, that he had mystified it. He hoped that was not the case; but to any proper arrangement differing from that he should have no objection whatever. If, for instance, it were proposed that the names of the Irish and Scotch pensions should be taken out of the Civil List, and the English pensions retained, he should not object either to that or any other arrangement consistent with justice.