HC Deb 22 February 1833 vol 15 cc1107-12
Mr. Hume

moved for the appointment of a Committee, to examine into the number of Members of both Houses of Parliament who hold offices under the Crown, and who are removable at pleasure. He should take that opportunity of saying, that in his opinion such persons ought not to be Members of either House of Parliament. Indeed, he should go further, though he well knew how much his sentiments on that point were at variance with those of other men, that neither Officers in the Army nor Navy ought to have seats in that House. He knew how his opinion would be received; for he recollected that, when he had stated it before, it was considered as very extraordinary. He could tell hon. Gentlemen who dissented from him on this point, that, in most of these majorities which supported measures that he had contended were prejudicial to the interests of the public at large, were to be found persons of the class he mentioned. To show to what extent that sort of Government influence was carried, he would only mention, that in 1714 there were in Parliament 271 persons who held offices under the Crown; in 1727 the number was 257; and in 1822 the number was 148. He hoped that the number would be still further reduced.

Lord Althorp

had no objection to the appointment of the Committee, He only suggested that it should be an instruction to the Committee to report on the number that had sat in Parliament in several antecedent periods.

An Hon. Member

said, the people of England had a right to exercise their privilege of judging for themselves, and without the dictation of the hon. Member, as to what men were fit to represent them. In consequence of a portion of the people having exercised their privilege in favour of him, he thought that he had as good a right as the hon. member for Middlesex to a seat in that House, As one of the two classes of men whom the hon. member for Middlesex had thought fit to calumniate, he thought he had a right to say, in his own defence, that he should do his duty as honestly as the hon. Member himself. Officers in the army and navy would not have been sent into Parliament, unless the people had confidence in them; and if the people had that confidence in them, they had a full right to their seats. At all events, if the title to sit in that House was to be put upon other grounds, those men who had served their country against the enemy had just as good a right to a seat as the hon. member for Middlesex, or any one who went about to catch the favouring breath of popularity.

Mr. Hume

added to his Motion the words suggested by the noble Lord, and then said that he had not calumniated any man. He Was in a different situation from the hon. Member. The King could not strike him out of the list of officers as the King could strike out the hon. Member, and consequently, the hon. and gallant Member was to that extent a dependent man. He was a dependent man, as far as he held a Commission under the Crown, which could be taken from him at the pleasure of the Crown. He could show hon. Members a printed list now on the Table of 1,000 men who had been struck out of the list of commissioned officers, no reason given, and who could get no redress. There was, not many years ago, an instance of a gallant Officer who had served his country well, but who was struck off at the pleasure of the Crown, and who had sought in vain, even in that House for redress. He could not but watch with jealousy those men whom he generally found voting in one manner. The hon. Member had talked of catching popularity. He despised popularity. Yes, he despised it in the sense the hon. Member meant. He did not ask it for an unworthy object—he courted it by doing-good acts, and if the hon. Member directed the accusation against him, he could only say that it was perfectly inapplicable. He had resisted the popular voice when he thought it to be wrong, and he would give the hon. Member an example. When the Ministers truckled to the popular cry about the Truck Bill, he had resisted it; and what was the result? Why, that he was burnt in effigy throughout the country.

Captain Berkeley

said, that if there was not in this age a fashion to throw imputations on officers of his Majesty's service, he might feel indignant at the observations which had fallen from the hon. member for Middlesex. He had the honour to hold a commission in the navy, and he thought that the hon. member for Middlesex did not know what the word honour meant, if he thought that an officer, for the sake of his paltry half-pay, would sell the interests of his constituents. He would tell the hon. member for Middlesex, that every officer of the army and navy threw back upon him his imputations. Men who thus accused others, did but judge of others by themselves, and he believed that if the hon. Member was placed in the situation of those men whom be now calumniated, he would act as he accused them of acting.

An Hon. and Gallant Member

said, that he had the honour to hold a commission in his Majesty's service for forty years. He was now returned to that House by a large constituency. He thought that if all the allegations of the hon. member for Middlesex were just, officers could not be fit to represent the people. The hon. Member ought to have tried the officers of the army and navy longer than he had, before he made such sweeping imputations against them. Because, the other night, they had voted for their brothers in arms, to save them a poor pittance which had been earned by hard services, they were now arraigned before that House. He asserted, without fear of contradiction, that they would do their duty to their constituents as honestly and honourably as the hon. Member himself.

Sir Edward Codrington

should not condescend to answer the supposition of the hon. member for Middlesex, that he should, individually, be biassed by the motives to which the hon. Member had referred. He rose to protest against the doctrine, that the officers of the Army or Navy were necessarily subservient to the Government. He did not look on his half-pay as a retaining fee, but as a reward for past services. He was ready to meet the question, whether that was so or not, either upon common principle or on the decision of the twelve Judges. That question had, in fact, been decided in 1793, when the Duke of St. Alban's, then a Lieutenant in the Navy, had his right to his half-pay brought into question, because he did not offer himself for service. On that occasion the twelve Judges decided that half-pay was a reward for past, and not a retaining fee for future services, and they took a distinction between the army and the navy in that respect, as a man in the Navy could not have his half-pay until after active service, but he might have it without service in the army. It was, however, known that officers in the army often sold their half-pay; and who bought it? Why, the Government. Would the Government buy that, if it was a retaining fee for future services?—Certainly not. How, then, could the hon. member for Middlesex think that all the officers were subservient to Government on account of that which they had a right to for past services?

Mr. Phillp Howard

said, it would be easy for the hon. member for Middlesex to show instances of officers being arbitrarily struck off the list of commissioned officers during the earlier period of the American war. But in late years, that had not been done, for public opinion had prevented the recurrence of such instances. There had been scarcely any, if any, instance of an officer being removed for purely political causes. He would take the very instance referred to by the hon. member for Middlesex—that of the gallant Officer, the member for Southwark, and that did not prove his poition. It was within the recollection of the House that he was removed in consequence of a military offence which was proved against him at the time.

An Hon. Member

, who was not a member either of the army or navy, said he could not concur with the observations of the hon. member for Middlesex. He thought that the honourable Member had thrown out imputations without probability, which were slanders against the officers of the two services and against the people of this country generally, and especially against those constituencies which had returned them.

Mr. Roebuck

was aware that it had often been held as a constitutional principle, that the Representatives of the people should not be the servants of the Crown; but he objected to that doctrine, not because it was too liberal, but because it was not sufficiently democratic. He held that no constraint should be placed upon the choice of the people.

Mr. Cobbett

had no difficulty in saying that he should much rather have officers of the army and navy in that House than have it filled with landowners, who pocketed so much of the people's money. He fully agreed with those Members who had said that the half-pay of the army and navy was a reward for past services, and not at all in the nature of a retaining fee; and therefore he held that there could not be an act of more grievous tyranny than to deprive any military man—be his rank what it might—of the fair reward of his laborious and hazardous servitude. He had himself, not long since, received a petition from a man in Oldham, who had served in the army for many years, and who, without any cause assigned, had been deprived of a pension earned by years of hard service. He was a man who had received three wounds—one of them at the battle of Waterloo. That petition he had forwarded to the War Office, but had not received any communication in reply.

Lord John Russell

said, that if any of the out-pensioners of Chelsea Hospital were called upon to serve in a veteran battalion, and refused to do so, they, according to the regulations of the service, forfeited their pensions. He certainly had received the petition to which the hon. Member had alluded, and returned it to him, with such a reply and explanation as the occasion demanded, but he had not received in return any acknowledgment of the receipt of his reply—a circumstance which he attributed to the letter having been addressed in the customary manner of addressing Members of Parliament, namely, "William Cobbett, Esq." He had since seen an advertisement announcing that the hon. Member would not take in any letters which were addressed otherwise than to "Mr. William Cobbett," and possibly that was the reason of the misapprehension on the subject. He fully agreed with the hon. member for Bath—and it was not often that he had the pleasure of doing so—in thinking that any limitation of the power of the people in choosing whomsoever they thought proper as their Representative, would be highly inexpedient. Several hon. Members who had spoken objected, one to this class, and the other to that, and if all who took a part in the debate had the power of excluding from Parliament the class of individuals against whom they took exception, the House would at length be reduced to very small numbers indeed.

Colonel Torrens

was disposed generally to agree with the hon. member for Middlesex, but of late he found that hon. Member enforcing such a vigorous discipline, that he found himself under a necessity of quitting the camp. [The hon. Member immediately went over to the Ministerial side of the House].

Mr. Hume

did not regret the departure of the gallant Officer, for, while in the camp he never found him amenable to any discipline. As to any imputations thrown out against himself, he flung them back with as much contempt, and scorn as they were flung upon him.

Motion agreed to and the Committee appointed.