HC Deb 18 July 1831 vol 4 cc1426-36

The question was then put, that the Speaker leave the Chair; and the House resolved into a Committee of Supply.

Lord Althorp

said, he had to propose to the House to grant a vote of money to pay up the Civil Services of the country to the 5th of July. He hoped there would be no objection to agreeing to the vote, namely, 240,000l., because he should be willing to refer the different items to the consideration of a Select Committee. It was, however, absolutely necessary that the Civil services should be paid up to the time he had mentioned. The items which made up the amount were as follows:—The salaries of the Lord Chancellor and the Judges of England; the Civil List Pensions; the salaries of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and the Irish Judges; the pensions in Ireland, the salaries of the Commissioners of the General Assembly of the Church in Scotland, of the Governors of the West-Indian Colonies, and the expenses of the works of the Royal Palaces. It was not his intention to detain the Committee by going into any details of these items, because he thought, that a Committee upstairs would be the best place for a minute examination of them. He must, however, in candour state, that he did not propose to refer the question of the pensions to the Committee up-stairs, because that was a question not at all fit for the examination of a Committee, but it was for the House to say whether they would, or would not, upon principle, vote for the pensions. He had, in the last Parliament, stated his opinion most decidedly on this subject. He thought the House was bound to vote the pensions, but it was a question of principle, and not for the investigation of a Committee. The other items were matters of detail, and he therefore had no objection to refer them to a Committee. He had now stated the grounds on which he asked the Mouse to agree to this vote. In point of fact, the money was already due, and it would be an ex post facto proceeding if they refused to grant it. The noble Lord then moved, that 240,000l. be granted to his Majesty, to provide for the payment of certain Salaries, Allowances, Pensions, and Services, heretofore provided for out of the Civil List.

Mr. Hume

did not rise to oppose the vote, although the noble Lord had expressed himself disposed to resist the question of these pensions going to a Committee; but he wished it to be understood that, by declining to give the vote any opposition at this stage, he should not be precluded from opposing the same vote hereafter, when it should be brought before them, were he dissatisfied with the arrangement or recommendation of the Committee.

Mr. R. Gordon

objected to the mode of putting the vote, as for 240,000l. in the gross sum. It was applicable to five heads of service, and should form five several votes. He hoped the noble Lord would not persist in putting the vote in this objectionable way. Of these five items, three were paid from the Consolidated Fund, and two by votes of the Committee of Supply, and yet they were all crowded into one total. The vote for pensions it was most important to submit to a Committee. A sum of 75,0001. had been already voted for that purpose, but when as much more was required, ought Parliament to consider that these pensions were irrevocable? All that had been said against the remuneration of Sir A. B. King, applied to them. Many of them were benevolent, but others were quite the contrary. The serious attention of the House ought to be called to the subject.

Lord Althorp

believed it was usual, when a vote on account was brought forward, to propose the whole in one sum; he had not divided it, because he had not anticipated any objection would be made to the Resolution. The vote was not for the whole of the year, but merely up to the 5th of July, and the opposition was, therefore, too late, whatever objections there might be to these pensions. The House could never sanction such an injustice as not to pay the portion actually due.

Mr. George Robinson

felt the manner and mode now adopted by the noble Lord was one which, to say the least of it, was very objectionable. Two things should be recollected; first, that the pensions had been so granted, that they expired on the demise of George 4th; secondly, that the noble Lord himself had said, he was sorry to find that many of those pensions were very objectionable, and he regretted, that they had ever been granted. Those to which this latter observation, in fact, applied, were of a class amounting to about 75,0001.; and, if the vote were acceded to, he felt an injurious precedent would be established by this acquiescence in the recommendation of the noble Lord. He was, therefore, disposed to strike out 75,0001., and give the noble Lord the rest of his vole. By this mode it would be referred to the Committee, whether such a sum should be granted, on the score of pensions, in the first year of this King's reign, which had avowedly been put an end to by the demise of the late King. The hon. Member concluded by moving, "That the vote required by the noble Lord should be reduced by 75,0001."

Mr. Hunt

seconded the amendment with the utmost cordiality, because he felt they must oppose the precedent attempted to be established now, or it would be too late to turn round hereafter, if they acquiesced in the vote to-night. He was not so partial to the Bill on Reform that he should not frankly avow he felt none of that exquisite sensitiveness whether a motion embarrassed his Majesty's Ministers or not. He did not see how hon. Members could face their constituents, if they voted for the motion in question without inquiry into the public services of those among whom the money was to be distributed. They were about to take from the poor, to give to the rich, and that was a principle he should always oppose.

Captain Harris

described these as Monarchial Grants; but were not also the grants to the poor freemen of great Grimsby monarchial grants, and monarchial grants for past services? Were these last monarchial grants to his constituents not conveyed to them through the medium of their corporate rights? How could the Ministers reconcile it to themselves, or to sound principles, to come forward and support these monarchial grants, at some risk, by proposing that vote, and by one Act of the Session attempt to rob all the freemen of Great Grimsby of their share in the mo- narchial grant of the franchise. Was there a difference between the right of the rich and the right of the poor to a monarchial grant? And was that the principle on which Ministers proceeded, when attempting at one stroke to sweep away from the poor freemen of the borough he represented their monarchial grant.

Lord Althorp

said, that the amount of the pensions was not 75,000l. but 56,000l.; and therefore the hon. Member, if he persevered in his amendment, would be more correct in moving, that the vote be diminished by the amount of the latter sum. He wished the House to understand, that by agreeing to the present vote, they were not precluded, when the pensions came again under consideration, from sending them up to a Committee for investigation. He thought, however, that the question was one more of principle than detail: he considered that they were bound in honour to continue these pensions and he did not see in what manner an investigation before a Committee would lead to a satisfactory result. The hon. Gentleman had stated, that on a former occasion he (Lord Althorp), had declared, that some of these pensions ought never to have been granted. He, however, did not think, that the House would, on that account, be justified in going back, and taking them away. The parallel between these pensions and the case of Sir A. B. King did not hold good, because the public were losing 20,000l. per annum by his patent, and he thought it his duty to stop the contract, and the House had justified him in doing so. It had, however, already sanctioned the one-half of the pensions, and he did not see how the remainder could be refused.

Mr. Alderman Venables

said, that he should support Ministers, but only on the understanding that he should not be pledged to any particular course hereafter.

Mr. Briscoe

felt himself bound, by the pledges which he had given to his constituents, to support economical measures, to vote against Ministers on the present occasion. The people considered these pensions as bribes, and it was not only the amount but the principle they objected to. He hoped the noble Lord would reconsider the proposition, and allow it to be referred to a Committee.

An Hon. Member considered this question as similar to that of Sir A. B. King. He should have voted against Government on that, and should vote with them on this, for he thought it would be most unjust not to continue these pensions when the parties had received no notice that they were to be withheld.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, that no Member who might vote with Ministers on the present occasion, would be pledged to support any ulterior measure. Gentlemen should recollect, that the present proposition was, only to pay the pensions up to the 5th of July, and under no circumstances could this be refused. He was surprised at the comparison which had teen drawn between this case and that of Sir A. B. King's patent, the suppression of which was the only means of attaining the object of saving 20,000l. a-year to the public.

Mr. Gouldburn

said, he was disposed to support the original motion, without entering into any discussion. At the same time he thought it would have been convenient to have divided the sum into various items. He had referred to some of the printed accounts for last session, and could not make them agree. If the pensions had all been paid up since the death of the late King, a larger sum would be necessary, and he should, therefore, like to know from what resources they had been supplied. When the question should arise for referring the Pension-list to a select Committee, he would be prepared to abide by the opinion which he had always expressed—namely, that the House had no right to adopt any such proceeding. They had already placed one half of these pensions, from A to H, upon the Consoliated Fund, and it would be absurd to refuse the payment of the remainder, because the names of the parties began with a late letter. These pensions had been previously sanctioned up to January in the present year.

Lord Althorp

said, he would answer the question that had been proposed to him, how these sums were made up. They consisted of the salary of the Lord Chancellors of England and Ireland, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and the Board of Public Works.

Mr. Mills

said, that he did not consider himself bound by anything which took place in the last Parliament, and no power on earth should induce him to vote a single shilling for pensions, unless it were shown that they were granted for services performed to the country. This was the first occasion on which he had been asked to vote money for pensions, and he would not consent to it. He would cordially support the amendment of the hon. member for Worcester.

Mr. George Robinson

said, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had argued that they were precluded from the course he proposed to take, because the pensions had been recognised by a former vote. He did not, however, think they were bound by what took place in a previous Parliament. The noble Lord had now repeated the language he had then used, namely, that these pensions had been granted for the King to dispose of according to his pleasure, and had no reference to the public services of the receivers. That might be the theory, but did they not know, that in practice they were disposed of by the Minister of the day, to suit his purposes? If they agreed now to pay these pensions up to the 5th of July, the chances were, that they would be hereafter told that such a grant prevented them from referring the future payments to a Committee. He begged to withdraw his first amendment, and in its place to substitute another, to the effect, that the vote proposed should be reduced by 56,000l. and the grant would then stand 184,000l.

Mr. Hodges

hoped, that the hon. Member would not divide the Committee on the present occasion; but he wished it to be understood, that he would support a motion for referring all pensions to the consideration of a Select Committee.

Mr. Strickland

said, that a very strong feeling prevailed throughout the country with respect to pensions. The people would rather give millions to reward services performed than 10l. to persons who were entitled to no remuneration. As, however, it appeared that some of the pensions were due, he would support the original motion, on the distinct understanding that the Government would not object to refer the subject to the consideration of a Select Committee.

Mr. Courtenay

said, a Committee, soon after the accession of the present Ministers to office, decided in favour of these pensions, and although the House had not, by a distinct vote, yet approved of them, yet it had more solemnly sanctioned them by introducing the greater part of them into the Civil List Act. If the subject was to be again discussed, he should object to refer them to a Select Committee: he should therefore oppose any motion made one. It had been stated that some of these pensions ought never to have been granted, but it was not fair to extend that observation to all. He believed that no pension, during the last thirty or forty years had been granted from corrupt motives in respect to parliamentary influence.

Mr. Hume

thought it would be doing an act of injustice to the people to divide the Committee on the question. The grant proposed was of a temporary nature, and would not preclude Members from voting to refer all pensions to a Select Committee. It would be unjust and unwise to argue such an interesting subject without notice. He meant to take an opportunity of bringing it regularly forward, and should then be glad to hear all the objections that could be made to the appointment of a Select Committee. He should be sorry to act oppressively towards any individual, and if he were convinced, that his motion would have that effect, he would not urge it forward. They had been told by the lute Chancellor of the Exchequer, that they were precluded from this course by the alphabetical arrangement that had taken place; but he was no party to such an engagement. His object was, to inquire into the half of these pensions, and got rid of those not granted for public services.

Mr. Jephson

said, the parties who had hitherto received these pensions would have little cause to complain that they had been continued until July, when they ought to have been stopped at the beginning of the year. He saw no objection, to refer them to a Select Committee.

Lord Althorp

said, that no Member who should vote for the grant would be precluded from voting hereafter that the pensions should be brought under the consideration of a Select Committee; but at the same time it must be distinctly understood, that he did not give any pledge that Government would support that proposition. The hon. member for Middlesex had said, that he was not a party to the alphabetical arrangement; that might be, but he believed the hon. Member was in the House when he (Lord Althorp) had proposed this, and expressly stated it to the House.

Mr. Hume

said, the noble Lord had intimated that the plan might be alphabetically arranged, but if he had known it had been so decided, he should have asked for a return of the pensions on the new list.

Lord Althorp

was quite confident he had stated the arrangement, and it might be satisfactory to his hon. friend to know, that it came to the middle of the letter H.

Mr. Hunt

said, the members for Yorkshire, Kent, and Middlesex, declared they did not approve of these pensions, and wished to refer them to a Committee, yet they voted for them, although the noble Lord had positively declared, that it was his intention these pensions should neither be reduced nor examined. Did these Gentlemen expect these pensions, therefore, would be ever brought before a Committee? No, certainly not, there was no chance of it so long as the present Government continued, and Gentlemen did not oppose its proceedings from fear of the Reform Bill being delayed. He thought it would be more delicate to the ladies to refer their claims to a Select Committee. They had been told these pensions were granted as favours by the late Sovereign, but it turned out they we're Ministerial favours. There was no doubt the late Chancellor of the Exchequer would vote for them; there was no such grant but what he had agreed to. For his part, he would oppose them to the utmost of his power.

Mr. Strickland

wished these pensions to be referred to a Committee, but reluctantly felt himself obliged to vote against the amendment, for fear injustice might be clone to individuals.

Mr. Courtenay

wished, if any charge was made against the propriety of granting any one of these pensions, it might be brought forward, and openly discussed in the House.

Mr. Baring Wall

would feel himself bound to vote for the amendment, should the hon. Member-press it to a division; at the same lime he should prefer his withdrawing it for the present. He had never heard of the alphabetical arrangement nor the division founded upon it. There were no documents on the Table to apprize them of the fact, and if an examination were to be undertaken, it should certainly extend to the whole of the pensions.

Sir John Bourke

was prepared to vote for the payment of the pensions, but if a motion was hereafter made to refer them to a Committee, he should support it.

Mr. O'Connell

was one who would willingly vole for every pension founded on a claim of public service, while he would rigidly cut down such aristocracy-pauper allowances as the Irish pension-list was composed of, with the single exception of Admiral Rodney: 58,000l. per annum of the public money was disgracefully squandered away under the head of Irish pensions. He believed the present House of Commons would not vote away one shilling of the public money without receiving services for it.

Mr. Serjeant Wilde, though pledged to economy, felt himself bound, in humanity and justice, not to vote against the present grant, so far as its by-gone application was concerned. He did not, therefore, feel himself fettered as to an inquiry into the expediency of refusing the vote in future. Up to the present hour the faith of the Legislature was in a manner pledged to those pensioners, who, in reliance on that faith, had contracted engagements and debts which could only be discharged by the present grant, but this, he repeated, left them quite free so far as the question of a continuance of these pensions was concerned. He should like to know from the noble Lord, who unfortunately was seldom audible even to those behind him, whence he derived the 75,0001. which was to meet the present vote?—that is, he wished to know whether it was from the sum placed at the disposal of the Crown, or otherwise?

Lord Althorp

regretted, that he had not been as audible as he could have wished, and felt thankful to the hon. Member for the hint to raise his voice in future. His explanation, in answer to the hon. Member's question, would, he trusted, be found satisfactory. It might be recollected, that under Mr. Burke's celebrated Act, a sum of money was placed at the disposal of the Crown, for defraying the charge of pensions on the Civil List; and this was the sum he had alluded to in his statement. That sum had been reduced to 140,000l. for the Civil List Pensions of the three kingdoms; and to that amount his late Majesty had enjoyed the right of granting pensions. In point of law, these grants could only hold good during the lifetime of the granting monarch, and therefore legally expired with his demise. But though this was legally the case, yet, practically, at least during the reigns of George 3rd, and 4th, the pensions on the Civil List were, by a tacit consent, admitted to be during the life of the pensioner, instead of the life of the King who granted the pension; and such was the state of these pensions on his accession to office. On that occasion he found that, unless he departed very widely indeed from the usage of his predecessors, he had no remedy but to re-cast the Pension-list in the manner which he had done; that is, to reduce the sum at the disposal of the Crown from 140,000l., the amount enjoyed by the late King, to 75,000l., and to place the charge of the remaining pension on the Consolidated Fund. The effect of this arrangement would be, that as the pensions on the 75,000l., placed at the disposal of the Crown fell in, his Majesty would enjoy the power of filling them up to that amount; while the country would have the benefit of the saving of those which fell in on the Consolidated Fund.

Mr. Jephson

supported the Amendment, on the ground, that unless a beginning were at once made towards a reduction of the Pension-list, the plea of justice and humanity, which had been raised in its defence, would act as a perpetual obstacle.

Sir C. Wetherell

hoped, that Ministers would see, from the satisfaction of the Opposition side of the House at the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement, and from the alacrity with which its support would be bestowed against the hon. member for Worcester's amendment, that the Opposition to their Reform Bill was not based on factious or personal feelings.

Mr. George Robinson

was not disposed to press his amendment to a division, but was at the discretion of the Committee. He thought the argument of the hon. member for Middlesex, that no notice had been given, came with a bad grace from him who had frequently made motions without giving notice.

Mr. Mills

would himself take the sense of the Committee on the amendment, should the hon. Member not press it to a division. The Pension-list was a burthen on the industry of the people which could no longer be borne, and could not stand a moment before a Reformed Parliament. They were told, night after night, that the Poor-laws had had a demoralizing effect on the labouring classes, from accustoming them to rely on other means of subsistence than their own industry; and that, too, while the higher classes set them the unblushing and disgraceful example of living as paupers in idleness at the expense of the people.

Sir James Williams

said, he entirely concurred with the hon. Member who spoke last, as to the disgraceful example which the titled paupers on the Pension-list held out to the working classes. He was not surprised at the zeal with which the ex-Ministers opposite had defended the Pension-list, for in doing so, they were only defending their own shares of the public spoils. They were, to a man, pensioners, and for what? Why, for neither more nor less than bringing the country to the brink of ruin. He would not vote one farthing for pensions of any description.

Lord G. Lennox

meant to vote for the present grant, on the ground just stated by the hon. member for Newark (Mr. Serjeant Wilde), at the same time that he was ready to go into an inquiry as to the most efficacious means of reducing the Pension-list.

Mr. E. B. King

said, the country required a strict inquiry into the cause why each of these pensions had been granted, but did not require injustice to be committed.

The Committee then divided. For the Amendment 41; Against it 142—Majority in favour of the original grant 101.

List of the Minority.
Archdall, M. M'Namara, W. N.
Bainbridge, K. T. Martin, J.
Blakency, W. Mills, J.
Bodkin J. T. More O'Farrell, R.
Briscoe, J. T. Mullins, F. W.
Callaghan, D. Musgrave, Sir D.
Galley, T. O'Connell, D.
Ewart, W. O'Connell, M.
French, A. Paget, T.
Gillon, W. D. Protheroe, E.
Gordon, It. Strickland, G.
Grattan, J. Strutt, C.
Harvey, D. W. Tomes, J.
Hawkins, J. H. Vincent, Sir F.
Hodgson, J. Walker, C. A.
Hunt, H. Warburton, H.
King, E. B. Wilbraham, G.
Knight, R. Wilks J.
Lambert, J. S. Williams, H.
Lowther, H. Wood, M.