HC Deb 15 March 1831 vol 3 cc469-73
Mr. Gisborne

said, that in moving for the documents of which he had given notice, he did not mean merely to confine himself to that point, his object being to draw the attention of the House to the state of the law with regard to diplomatic and consular pensions. In 1782 this subject was, for the first lime, brought under the consideration of Parliament, by the Act for regulating the Civil List, and by that Act the Civil List pensions were then limited to £90,000. There was in that Act this clause, "Whereas, it hath been usual that persons who have served the Crown in foreign Courts, have, after the expiration of their service, at his Majesty's pleasure, received such proportion of their former appointments as to his Majesty hath seemed expedient: Be it enacted,—that nothing in this Act contained, relative to pensions, shall be construed to extend to such allowance, either in present or in future, provided the said persons do not severally enjoy some place or other profit from the Crown, to the amount of the pension usually allowed in such cases; provided that the list of the said pensions shall be laid, in the manner before mentioned, before Parliament." The law remained in this state until 1810 when another measure was passed amending the former Act as far as related to diplomatic pensions. The Act of 1810 contained this important clause. "And whereas it is expedient that the said Act (22 Geo. 3rd c. 82, A. D. 1782) should be amended, so far as respects pensions to persons who shall have served the Crown in foreign Courts after the expiration of their services: Be it therefore enacted,—that no pension or allowance shall be granted to any person for, or on account of, having served the Crown in foreign Courts within less than ten years from the date of his first appointment in such service, during which time he shall have served not less than three years, and no such allowance shall exceed 2,000l. per annum; and every such allowance shall abate if such person shall be appointed to any civil office or employment under the Crown of equal or greater amount, and shall also be subject to a proportionate abatement if the value of any such office or employment should be less than the amount of such allowance as aforesaid: provided always, that before any such pension or allowance shall be granted, the person in whose favour the same shall be granted shall be not less than thirty-five years of age; and his Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs shall transmit to the Treasury a certificate under his hand that such person has not, within such ten years, declined serving as a foreign Minister, except for sufficient cause, in any rank or station equal or superior to that in which he had last served, which certificate shall be recited in the grant of such pension or allowance." Those restrictions, though not strict enough in his mind, were thought to be too strict by the Ministers of the Crown; and in 1811 they brought in a Bill, to exempt from the provisions of the Act of 1810 all persons who, previous to the passing of that Act, had served the Crown in foreign parts. The reason assigned was so curious, that he would take the liberty of reading the clause to the House: "Whereas the provisions of the said Act (Act of 1810, 50 Geo. 3rd., c. 117) hereby amended, do, in terms, extend as well to persons who, previously to the passing of the said Act, had served the Crown in foreign Courts, as to those who might serve after the passing of the said Act. And whereas such persons who, previously (o the passing of the said Act, had served the Crown in foreign Courts may have engaged in such employment upon the faith of the usage with respect to the grant of allowances by his Majesty after the expiration of their services, which is recited and confirmed in the Act of the 22nd year of his present Majesty (Act of 1782): Be it therefore enacted,—that the provisions of the said Act hereby amended shall have no application to persons who, previously to the passing of the said Act, had served the Crown in foreign Courts; and that nothing in the said amended Act contained shall be construed in anywise to alter or affect the said Act of the 22nd of his present Majesty, so far as respects the grant of allowances by his Majesty to per- sons who, previously to the passing of the said Act, had served the Crown in foreign Courts." It seemed that those who were affected by the Bill of 1810 thought it very hard that they should serve ten years before they were entitled to those large allowances of 2,000l. or 1,500l.: and they could not conceive why three years service was not quite sufficient. The hon. Gentleman said, he meant to make no attack upon individuals; it was the system which he considered bad; and he thought that some reduction ought to be made in the charges paid under the head of diplomatic pensions. The result of the state of the law which he had described was, that we had five pensioned-off ambassadors from the Ottoman Porte, of whom three were exempt from the provisions of the Act of 1810, and who received larger pensions than that Act permitted. We had three pensioned-off from St. Petersburgh, every one of whom escaped the provisions of the Act of 1810; two from Wirtemburgh, two from Madrid, two from Lisbon, two from Sweden; and, on the whole, though there were only nineteen diplomatic persons in actual service, who received 3,000l. per annum and upwards, there were twenty-eight retired diplomatic persons who received, on an average, above 1,000l. a-year each as pensions; and, out of these, there were twelve who received upwards of 2,000l. a-year, each of whom twenty-one years after the passing of the Act of 1810, was still exempted from its provisions, by what he must call the unworthy means, as well as pretences, by which the Act of 1811 was obtained from the Legislature. The annual expense of our diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Porte was now 20,967l. without any consideration of outfit, or of any salaries which are less than 1,000l. per annum each. He considered that very extravagant. He asked the House, whether such a state of things could exist under a reformed Parliament? He contrasted the emoluments of ambassadors and governors of colonies; the former of whom were sent to pleasant places, and mixed in agreeable society, were well paid, and allowed retiring pensions; while the latter were sent out to countries which it was not very desirable to inhabit, did not receive such high salaries as ambassadors, and upon retiring received no superannuation allowances. The hon. Member concluded by moving "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, praying him to direct to be laid before the House,—Returns of the date of the pension granted to each of those persons who are included in a Return of this Session (p. 35) intituled 'Civil and Military Offices,' and who are stated to receive pensions for Diplomatic and Consular services:—Of the date of the first and every subsequent appointment of each person therein included, and of the length of his actual service in each such station, respectively:— Of all other diplomatic and consular pensions not included in the above-named paper, which Return shall specify the names of the parties receiving such pensions, the date of the pension, and of the first and every subsequent appointment of each such person, with the time for which he shall have actually served in each appointment."

Lord Althorp

had no objection to the production of the return moved for; but observed, that he looked upon these pensions as a sort of half-pay, which it was to the interest of the country to provide, in order to induce those persons whose diplomatic talents might be productive of advantage to the country to make the diplomatic service a regular profession. Whether or not those pensions were too great, was another question. It was true, that ambassadors were sometimes sent to agreeable places, but it should be remembered that they incurred great expenses, and he did not think that it would be good policy in the country to discontinue altogether the payment of the pensions.

Mr. Hume

was of opinion that it would be a far better plan to give no retiring pensions to ambassadors. The United States gave no pensions to their ambassadors, and he was not aware that that country ever stood in need of able Ministers to manage its affairs in other countries. Besides, these pensions had not had the effect of securing to this country the services of men of ability, for it was not the rule to give consular appointments to men of talents, but to men of powerful connexions, whose support it was the interest of Government to gain. He wished to know whether the recommendation of the Finance Committee of 1828, that the amount of these pensions should be confined to 40,000l., had been complied with?

Mr. Goulburn

thought that the recommendation of the Finance Committee had been uniformly adhered to. With respect to the American Consuls, he had an opportunity of learning, that they themselves complained that the salaries allowed them were inadequate for their decent support at the Courts of foreign Powers.

Mr. Lennard

said, the recommendation of the Finance Committee had not been complied with, for at the commencement of the present reign 46,000l. was proposed to be voted as a permanent provision for retired allowances. He considered the salaries paid to British Ambassadors too high; and thought that men of great diplomatic ability might be obtained at a lower rate.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that the recommendation of the Finance Committee was, that the amount of pensions should be gradually reduced until it fell as low as 40,000l., and though 46,000l. was proposed to be applied to that purpose, yet the recommendation of the Finance Committee had been complied with, because the same was in the course of reduction.

Mr. Lennard

stated, that the sum of 46,000l. was proposed as a permanent provision.

Motion agreed to.