HC Deb 30 March 1831 vol 3 cc1175-82
Mr. Baring

brought up the Report of the Select Committee appointed to inquire into the salaries of certain Public Officers.

Mr. Goulburn

said, it was not usual, on presenting the Report of a Committee, to offer any remarks on the proceedings which had taken place in it; but there were peculiar circumstances in this case, which rendered it necessary to take a different course. A declaration had been made by the noble Lord opposite, that he would adhere to any proposition which the Committee, whose Report was now brought up, might think fit to recommend to the House. The Report, however, he knew, contained matter which did not strictly come within the line of inquiry to which the attention of the Committee ought alone to have been directed —matter involving a constitutional question of the first importance. To that point he wished to call the particular attention of his Majesty's Government, and of that House, before an attempt was made to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee, by the introduction of a Bill on the subject. The Committee was appointed to inquire as to what reduction could be made in the expense of offices held under the Crown by Members of either House of Parliament. He had stated to that Committee, as he was a member of it, that it was not his intention to interfere with their deliberations. Personal reasons rendered it unfit that he should appear in any other character save that of a witness. Now that to which he was about to call the attention of the House, did not fall within the directions tinder which that Committee acted, and was introduced at the conclusion of the Report. The superannuations and allowances on retirement from office were there adverted to in a manner not authorized. He admitted that, in considering the subject which they were appointed to inquire into, the Committee had a right to advert to any ultimate advantage which was likely to accrue to persons in office. On the one hand they had a right to consider all the inconveniences that were connected with the holding of office; and on the other, they were bound to look to the emoluments that would arise from retiring allowances. He did not object to their stating what they considered as the proper amount to be granted with reference to retiring allowances. But the Committee had gone a great deal further, and recommended that no such allowances should be granted hereafter, except with the approbation of that House. This he conceived to be an invasion of the Constitution, and an inroad on the dignity of the Crown. The Committee declared, that it was expedient to repeal the Act which enabled his Majesty to recompense the services of persons who had held certain high official situations. The preamble of that Act declared, that it was expedient to abolish certain sinecure offices, and to allow a sum of money to enable his Majesty to provide for individuals who had held particular official situations. And how did the Committee follow up their notice of that Act? It recommended that that Act should be entirely repealed; and further, that any and every case of public service, which might be considered deserving, should in future be submitted to the decision of that House. This was, in effect, recommending that there should be transferred from the Crown (which was hitherto the fountain of grace and honour) to the House of Commons, the right of remunerating public servants. This, he contended, was a great and manifest invasion of the Constitution, and he trusted that the House would not adopt such a proceeding, in compliance with the recommendation of any Committee. He stated his opinion in the Committee; and having done so ineffectually, he thought it his duty to draw the attention of the House to the subject, in order that when it came regularly before them, they might well and maturely weigh the important principle which this recommendation involved.

Mr. Baring

said, that the right hon. Gentleman was himself aware, that to make observations on a Report which was not yet printed was very irregular. The question was certainly important, and it was hardly fair in the right hon. Gentleman to discuss it then. He might have attended the Committee, and given it the benefit of his arguments, and there they might have had due weight. It should be remembered, that the measure recommended by the Committee was not something which the Government could carry into effect on its own authority—it must have an Act of Parliament. Before the Ministers could take any steps, they must come down to the House with a Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman might discuss that at all its stages. The first question the Committee had to determine was this, whether there were to be any superannuations or retiring allowances at all; and the next was, whether those retiring allowances were to be given under any legal sanction, or whether those who were to receive them were to be left to take care of themselves, without any responsibility? All those who had given the slightest attention to the subject must have perceived how heavily the weight of the superannuation and half-pay list pressed on the resources of the country, difficult to deal with at any time, but peculiarly difficult to deal with in their present situation. It could not, too, be forgotten, how often that House had been subjected to the reproach—a reproach, he admitted, not without justice:—that it was continually giving its assent to the cutting off all the allowances granted to the lower class of public servants, while it left the higher totally untouched. The Committee had accordingly come to a determination to enable the Government to grant allowances as pensions, but to subject the grant afterwards to the approbation of the House. Whether that determination was right or wrong, it was not for him now to say, because sufficient opportunities would no doubt offer themselves to vindicate hereafter the course they had adopted. Upon the subject of the Bill alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, the member for Armagh (Mr. Goulburn) he would merely say, he agreed with him, that the alteration was no trifling matter, and that it required serious consideration. The Act to which the Report of the Committee referred, gave the power to the Crown to grant a pension to certain public Officers after two years' services; and he was bound to admit, that the power thus granted had not, as it appeared, been hitherto abused; but it was quite impossible to overlook the consi- deration, that it was a power which it was much better to place under the control of Parliament. All the Committee said in their Report was simply this, that the power of the Crown to give pensions should remain, but that in the consent to the payment of these pensions the House of Commons, as in all money matters, should be at liberty to determine on the propriety of the grant. The sanction and approbation of that House with respect to payments of public money was indeed justified on every principle which governed it in the application of the money of the people to public purposes in any other case, and the Committee, being of that opinion, recommended the adoption of that course which was explained in their Report.

Lord Althorp

denied, that he had pledged himself to abide by the recommendations contained in the Report of the Committee. All he had said was, that he was willing the question of Pensions should be inquired into; and now that the Committee had made a Report, he pledged himself to give its suggestions all the consideration in his power; but he did not pledge himself to adopt all that it recommended.

Sir H. Hardinge

did not rise to prolong the discussion; but he felt it his duty to protest against one part of the recommendations in the Report of the Committee, which placed the Officers of the Army in a disrespectful and degraded situation as compared with the Officers of the Royal Navy. He protested against that part of the Report in the strongest manner, because he thought it unjust, and because it was besides neither wise nor politic to raise distinctions between those who were, in point of service to their country, on terms of perfect equality. By the Report of the Committee, the Crown was recommended to allow certain classes of Naval Officers to enjoy their pay along with their allowance for discharging the duties of a civil office, while the Officers of the Army were wholly excluded from the same privilege; and he repeated, he thought it cast a slur and indignity on the Army which it did not deserve, and which he trusted the House would not sanction. He hoped they would consider well before they adopted a custom so repugnant to the feelings of that branch of the service, and one which was at variance with all that had been done from the time of Marlborough down to the present, and which created most unjust and disrespectful distinctions. If no other person called the attention of the House to the subject, and if the Government did not express its intention to abstain from carrying this part of the recommendation of the Committee into effect, he now gave notice that he would, immediately after the Easter Recess, bring under the consideration of the House, by a direct motion, the question connected with this matter, together with that of the half-pay of the Army Officers when taking civil situations—a point which, on many considerations, he thought required the attention of the House. It appeared, indeed, that the right hon. Baronet, the First Lord of the Admiralty, could recommend Officers of the Navy, holding their half-pay, to civil situations, while the King himself, by the Appropriation Act, could not do that with respect to the Officers of the Army.

Mr. Kennedy

was aware of the inconvenience of anticipating the discussion of the terms of a Report which had not been printed, and with which Members could not be acquainted but by hearsay, and he therefore was anxious that it should terminate as soon as possible; but he could not avoid apprising the right hon. Baronet (Sir H. Hardinge) that he was not correct in his statement of the principle of the recommendation of the Committee. The Report did not make any distinction between the services, except in one instance, and that was with respect to the Naval Lords of the Admiralty, the Committee thinking it better that they should retain their half-pay than that they should be allowed to draw a larger salary. He would merely add, that he thought the observations of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) with respect to the Bill, in the present stage of the proceedings, rather unfair; for he did not favour the Committee with his attendance at its previous sittings; but in the eleventh hour, and when they were about coming to a conclusion on the subject of the Pensions, he made his appearance to protest against it.

Sir H. Hardinge

thought, though the indulgence might be confined, as the hon. Member stated, to the Lords of the Admiralty, that it was unfair to make even that distinction: and he did not see on what principle the same indulgence should not be extended to Army Officers holding high situations in the Ordnance.

Sir G. Warrender

said, that the Committee were anxious to give the naval Lords of the Admiralty a higher allowance by a different method, but they were precluded from doing so by the nature of the reference which had been made to them. They recommended, therefore, the continuance of the practice which had always hitherto taken place in the Admiralty, through the means of memorials; but he denied most positively that they had made, or intended to make, any distinction between the army and naval service. With respect to the other point—that of the Pensions—he for one did not consider the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Government pledged to adopt the recommendations of the Committee: indeed he confessed he should be very sorry to hear that they were so pledged. He was one of those who were parties to the compact entered into with the Crown on the subject of sinecures, when, two-and-twenty years ago, they agreed to allow pensions to be granted after two years' service, in lieu of the sinecures which had been bestowed on retiring public servants, and which were from that moment abolished. Feeling that the Bill which the Committee, by their recommendation at this moment wished to get rid of, was a portion of that compact, and knowing too, as they had heard it admitted, that the powers which it gave the Government had not been abused, he should feel himself bound to resist the repeal of the Act, if it should be proposed.

Mr. Irving

recommended that the discussion should be postponed.

Sir George Murray

defended the observations of his right hon. friend (Sir H. Hardinge), and contended, that the principle inculcated by the Committee was in the highest degree unjust and ungenerous toward the officers of the army. He thought, too, that the practice of compelling officers to give up their half-pay when they accepted a civil situation was equally unjust, and by no means even economical. During the three years he held office he had frequent opportunities of employing military men to advantage in the colonies, and with a great saving to the public, because they would have been willing, on condition of holding their half-pay, to accept a very moderate salary; but in consequence of the strictness of the regulation applied to officers of the army, who would not consent to give up their half-pay, he was obliged to employ civilians at much larger salaries. The half-pay he considered to be a sum given as a reward for long and laborious service; and he certainly could not see any reason why it was to be taken away from those who might afterwards be called to discharge the duties of a civil situation.

Mr. R. Gordon

defended the conduct of the Committee, and denied the assertion of the member for Honiton (Sir G. Warrender), that the Pension Act was intended to be given in lieu of the power to confer sinecures formerly possessed by the Crown. The Parliament took away that power, and it was for the Parliament to determine to what extent the granting of pensions was to be exercised, and on whom they were to be conferred. This was, in effect, the recommendation of the Committee.

Sir C. Wetherell

said, that after the House of Commons had entered into a compact with the Crown, to give it the power of granting pensions under certain conditions, in the place of the sinecures which it had formerly bestowed on meritorious public servants, this Committee proposed in its report that no pension should be granted under the power the Act conferred on the Crown, unless the House of Commons approved of it. This was, he regretted to say, too much like some other anti-monarchical propositions which they had lately heard offered to the consideration of that House. It was, like them, a plan for striking at the just prerogatives of the Crown, and striking at them, too, through the medium of a public compact entered into between the Crown and the people.

Mr. Hobhouse

defended the course adopted by the Committee, and contended that it was somewhat unfairly treated, as much by the observations of the right hon. member for Armagh, as by the right hon. and gallant Officer below him (Sir H. Hardinge), who had found fault with a distinction between the army and the navy which the Committee had not made, and did not intend to make. He thought, too, that the right hon. and gallant Officer's observations were a little uncandid, because he had already given a full statement on the subject, in evidence before the Committee, which would of course be printed and circulated with the report. He trusted that the House would await the publication of that report before it proceeded to make any further observations on its contents. But, with respect to the assertion of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir C. Wetherell) near him, that its propositions were anti-monarchical, he would take leave to say, that the recommendations of the Committee were as little anti-monarchical as that plan to which the learned Gentleman no doubt alluded. If the learned Gentleman made no better use of history than to seek in it for the defence of abuses, and reasons for giving opposition to all attempts at improvement, then he must say, that it would be far better if all histories were thrown into the fire. He might, indeed, say to the learned Member, as it was eloquently expressed elsewhere, that he valued the coin, not for the beauty of the stamp, but for the sake of its antiquity, and the rust that covered it. He concluded by entreating the House to abstain from further discussion till the report Was printed.

Lord Stormont

condemned the expression of "uncandid," used by the member for Westminster, as exceedingly unparliamentary. The statement which called it forth did not require such an expression. He could well understand why it was that the member for Westminster wished all histories thrown into the fire. They would then get rid of all the wisdom derived from experience. They would have no practice, but plenty of the theories which he was daily advocating.

Lord Morpeth

protested against the continuance of the discussion on a report, of the details of which they knew nothing.

Mr. Hume

defended the Committee for merely suggesting the propriety of repealing a particular Act; and in reply to the member for Boroughbridge (Sir C. Wetherell), contended, that the greatest enemies of the monarchy were the defenders of its abuses. That was his opinion.

Sir C. Wetherell,

on rising to reply, was assailed with a cry of "spoke"; they might call "spoke," but they should rather say, do not speak to the hon. member for Middlesex. He (Sir C. Wetherell was not a defender of abuses, but he was an enemy to republican breaches of faith.

Sir H. Hardinge

said, he knew the hon. Member who used the word "uncandid" would be the last to utter any expression towards him in an offensive sense; and he had, therefore, nothing to say on that point; but he repeated his intention to bring the question of the half-pay, in connexion with the civil service, before the House, on a regular motion.

The Report laid on the Table, and to be printed.