HC Deb 18 April 1834 vol 22 cc949-62

The House, on the Motion of Mr. Secretary Stanley, resolved itself into a Commitee on the Message from the King respecting the fees, &c., paid on the admission of Knights to the Military Order of the Bath.

The Chairman read the Message—for which see ante p.872.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

said, that the Resolution which he had to submit to the House, was one to which he did not anticipate much objection, and which would occupy very little of the time of the House. In the year 1814, a considerable augmentation was made in the number of Knights of the Order of the Bath, and at the same time, the Order was divided into three classes. One of the classes was to consist of a very great number of officers, and from that period to the present, no new regulations had been made to govern the Order, or to limit the number of members. His Majesty had been advised to consider the propriety of establishing new Statutes for the government of the Order of the Bath, so as to regulate the number of members of each of the several classes, and to prevent the extension of the Order to such a degree, that the conferring it would become less a mark of distinction than of degradation; for, he might be permitted to observe, that if the number of each class should be increased to an indefinite extent, the exception, and not the rule, would become the source to which the public would look; and being decorated with the Order, would cease to be considered as the reward of honourable service. In consequence of the changes in the Order to which he had alluded, it had become necessary to make some changes in the Statutes, which did not equally apply to the three classes. His Majesty had, therefore, been induced to hold a Chapter of the Order to consider the subject. It was judged on a late occasion by many Members of that House, that military and naval officers who received this high Military Order should be exempted from the payment of fees, which on many occasions were felt to be very burthensome, and the imposition of which was of no use whatever. It was on this ground, therefore, that his Majesty was induced to direct that all officers who should hereafter have the hon. Military Order of the Bath conferred on them, should be exempted from the payment of all fees on the occasion. The House, perhaps, was not aware of the extent of the burthen on officers who were not possessed of great wealth. The burthen was so great that the payment of fees became a matter of very serious consideration. The amount thus received was distributed partly to the officers of the Order, partly to the officers of the Lord Chamberlain, partly to the officers of the Lord High Marshal, and partly in a miscellaneous manner. For instance, he found that there was a fee of 6l. to the King's barber. He would ask whether anything could be more ridiculous or unnecessary? The amount of fees paid on admission to the Order was not less than 300l. He need hardly say, that the payment of such a sum must be extremely inconvenient to many deserving officers who had this mark of distinction conferred on them. The officers of the Order were nine in number, with salaries amounting to 550l., charged on the Civil-list; and, besides their salaries they obtained about 250l. a-year in fees from those upon whom he believed nobody conceived the charge should fall. The fees of all foreigners upon whom the distinction was conferred were paid by the Treasury. Of course the amount of these fees would vary, but he believed the average was 250l. It was intended to reduce the number of officers of the Order from nine to four, which would make the charge less. It was proposed also, to do away altogether with the fees now paid; but as many of the persons holding these offices received the fees by patent, it was necessary that some previous steps should be taken, before the fees could be got rid of. When it was found that a great public object could not be gained without depriving the holders of patent places of the remuneration they received, he thought that no one would deny, that compensation should be made to the persons holding such places. It was for that purpose he proposed, that inquiry should be made by the Commissioners of the Treasury into the amount of the fees, and into the rights by which such fees were claimed, and that they should be authorized to award such compensation as seemed meet for the loss of the fees. It was for that purpose he intended to introduce a Bill. He should move a Resolution, upon which, if the Committee assented to it, such a measure would be founded. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by handing the following Resolution to the Chairman:—"That it is the opinion of this Committee, that the Commissioners of his Majesty's Treasury be authorized to make compensation, out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, to such officers of the Military Order of the Bath as shall be deprived of salaries and fees to which they are entitled under the existing Regulations and the Statutes."

Mr. Hume

said, that of all the various Motions that bad been submitted to the House since he had been a Member, not one had given him greater surprise than the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman. The fees paid by the Knights of the Bath were large, but they were not the sort of fees he was desirous to get rid of in the manner proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. He certainly did not intend to give compensation for the fees paid by the Knights of the Bath, or Peers, when he expressed a general acquiescence in the removal of fees and the payment of officers receiving them, by salaries. He admitted, that the payment of these fees was objectionable, but the nation ought not to be called upon to give compensation in such cases as this. At present, the charges in the shape of fees, on officers appointed to situations in the colonies, were enormous. He found, from a statement on the Table of the House, that Sir George Hill, when he was appointed to the Governorship of St. Vincent, had actually to pay fees on his appointment, before he could go abroad, to the enormous amount of 520l. Sir Lewis Grant had to pay fees on his appointment to the Governorship of a colony in the West Indies, to the amount of 440l. Sir Lionel Smith, when he was examined before a Committee up-stairs, said, that he merely desired to remain in his office in the colonies till he could recover the fees which he had paid on his appointment, which amounted to 516l. He was most anxious that all such fees should at once be got rid of. He agreed, that it was objectionable that meritorious officers should be called upon to pay large fees upon their being made Knights of the Bath; but he did not think that the House should be called upon to interfere in the matter. If the fees were to be got rid of, and it was deemed desirable to grant compensation to the persons now receiving them, surely the resources of the Crown were enough for that purpose, without coming to that House. It rested with his Majesty to make alterations in the Statutes of the Order of the Bath; and the matter was not in any way connected with that House. These Orders of Knighthood might be very necessary appendages to royalty, but he thought, that it would be extremely improper for the House to take any steps or interfere respecting them. When he objected to fees to the amount of between 500l. or 600l. being charged on the warrant of a Knight of the Bath, he never thought that an attempt would be made to throw the charge on the country. It appeared that foreigners were not charged with the fees, and he found among the Knights of the Bath, the names of the Prince of Orange, the late King of Spain, and Don Miguel. The Order of the Bath might be considered as an Order of Merit, but when it was conferred on such persons as were hinted at by the right hon. Gentleman, it might become any other than an Order of Merit.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

declared, that he had said nothing of the kind. What he had said was, that the Order might be conferred to such an extent, that it might become a mark of degradation instead of distinction. It was to avoid that, that his Majesty proposed to make a change in the Statutes of the Order.

Mr. Hume

did not perceive how he had misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman. He (Mr. Hume) was as anxious as any Member that the Order of the Bath should be one of honorary distinction, and that those who had it conferred on them should not be heavily taxed. The charge for their fees, however, should not be thrown on the nation. He found that the public did pay the fees on creating a gallant Admiral a Knight of the Bath; and he did not object to its being conferred on that gallant Officer, who had greatly distinguished himself; and he was sure, that the proceeding had met with the general approbation of the country. He found the fees charged amounted to 556l. and of this sum 166l. was paid back to the public purse for stamps. The remainder was distributed in fees amongst a number of officers. For instance, he found that 5l. was paid to the Herald. Any one might suppose that this went to some poor man. But, he would ask, whether it was not paid to the Duke of Norfolk? Ingenuity, for ages, seemed to have been exerted, to devise means of getting money in this shape of fees, from the pockets of the people. He had paid much attention to the subject for years, and he was constantly finding charges in the shape of fees, of which, previously, he knew nothing. There should be a searching inquiry into the fees charged in all public offices, with a view to see whether such patent offices, as they were called, should be allowed to continue. He was of opinion, that no patent office was beyond the reach of the House, and that the King could not have the right to authorize persons to make charges in the shape of fees, without the permission of the House. It was at present merely sufficient for the King to sign a piece of paper or parchment, to authorize a person to make a charge in the shape of fees. This was, in point of fact, saying that the King was entitled to tax the people without permission of the House. The whole matter ought to be investigated before a Committee up-stairs, and the Reformed House of Commons would not do its duty if it did not proceed to put a stop to all proceedings of the kind. Many of those things were new to him. Only a few days ago, he discovered that there had been a grant from the King of a charge on bills of entry, in the shape of fees, which amounted to the sum of 11,000l. a-year, for the last ten years. There was a salary paid out of this of 1,000l. a-year, and the rest went to some charitable fund in the Custom House. He had heard of the bills of entry, and was anxious to get some information on the subject, but he had been unable to do so for many years, notwithstanding all his exertions. A short time ago, on asking a question of a witness examined before the Committee on Lighthouses, he found out the nature of the charge. He asked why such a large charge was made in the entry roll office at the Customs, and was told that it could not be done for less, because it was a patent office. There was a charge of 6l. where there ought not to be a charge of 1l. That, and many other matters of the kind ought to be looked into, and the right by which fees were exacted should be investigated in every case. But to return to the question. He had no wish to interfere with his Majesty in making as many Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Barons, or Knights of the Bath, as he pleased, but as the House had nothing to say in the matter, he thought that they ought to let his Majesty do it at his own expense. The people, in many districts, were almost starving, and he protested against any charge of such a nature as that proposed by the right hon. Gentleman being thrown on them. Let not the people of England be taxed for the purpose of paying these fees, but let them be paid out of the noble income allowed by the country to the King. He could not help observing, that it was rather a singular circumstance that, although England was a civil country distinguished from the military despotisms of the Continent, yet all the honorary distinctions, with very few exceptions, went to military and naval officers. There was no Order of Knighthood in this country for men of great genius, or those who distinguished themselves by their intellectual acquirements. If it was thought desirable to confer a marked distinction on men of eminence, either in science or li- terature, it was necessary to go to the Guelphic Order: so that, in point of fact, we must go to Hanover for a means of rewarding the merit of our distinguished men. Every person visiting the Continent must know, that the King of Prussia rewarded men of literary or scientific attainments in this way. So it was with other sovereigns on the Continent. There was, however, nothing of the kind in England, and yet England was quite as proud of her arts as her arms. He objected to leaving the question of compensation to officers of the Treasury, who were under influence from behind the curtain. Experience should teach the House that the paying compensation had been carried to an improper extent, and it was this, amongst other things, that had reduced the country to its present state. On that account, he thought that the House ought not to consent to the Motion without inquiry, and not inquiry of an isolated nature, but into all matters in which the public was called upon to contribute a single farthing in the shape of compensation. Last year, before compensation was granted to the Officers of the Court of Chancery, inquiry was made before a Committee, and there could be no reason why it should not be done in the present case. The hon. Member concluded with moving that his Majesty's Message be referred to a Select Committee to report on the same.

The Chairman

remarked, that the Amendment could not be entertained, as a Committee of the whole House could not refer a matter to a Select Committee.

Mr. Hume

would then move, that the Chairman report progress, and said, if his Motion were agreed to, he should propose that the subject be referred to a Select Committee.

Sir Samuel Whalley

supported the Amendment. He thought that when such ridiculous fees as that paid to the King's barber was exacted, it was tolerably clear that other fees stood on similar grounds. He was of opinion that inquiry was necessary, not only for the relief of the persons upon whom the distinction was conferred, but also in justice to his Majesty. He wished it, however, to be understood, that he did not contend that those who had possession of certain offices to which privileges were attached, might be deprived of them without compensation.

Mr. Stanley

was much surprised at some of the observations he had heard from the hon. member for Middlesex. He felt bound to say, that the objections urged held out no very great inducement to come forward with propositions to make reductions in fees which were, at the same time, burdensome to the public, and objectionable in their nature. The hon. member for Middlesex objected to the payment of fees altogether. It was very possible that, in many cases, payment, by means of fees, was not desirable. He thought that the present was one of those cases, and in abolishing the fees, at the same time asking for compensation to those who had a just right to receive them, he believed that he was only acting in conformity to the wishes of the House. The Government proposed to do away with some fees that had existed since the institution of the Order in 1399. The fees were not arbitrary, nor were they changed at the will of the Sovereign; on the contrary, the regulations concerning them had not been changed since 1725. Ministers proposed that the fees should cease altogether, but it should be recollected that the fees were granted by patent, and for life, to the holders of the offices; and he was sure that the Members of that House would never consent to sanction a violation of property. Such would be the case if they abolished the fees without granting compensation. The hon. member for Middlesex complained that, while there were so many military and naval Knights of the Order, there were very few civilians who had had that mark of distinction conferred upon them. The hon. Gentleman might have looked round the House, and have seen, at least, one distinguished instance, to show, that the Order of the Bath was not withheld from those who distinguished themselves for their civil services. With respect, however, to the naval and military officers who had fought the battles of the country, and who had merited the distinction of having the Order of the Bath conferred on them, he would remind the House, that their fortunes were, generally speaking, not very large, nor were they well able to pay large sums in the shape of fees. If the House were anxious to get rid of those fees, he called upon them to do so consistently with justice. He asked the House to allow an inquiry into the nature of these fees; by what tenure they were held, and by what right they were demanded; and to such officers as had a permanent interest in the fees, he proposed to give compensation; and to such as had no just title, no remuneration would be given. All that he asked was, that the sum charged by custom should be inquired into, and where it was the opinion of his Majesty's Treasury that there was no necessity for compensation, none would be given; but where a just claim was established, that it should be granted. The hon. Gentleman alluded to the fees charged in the Earl Marshal's Office, and observed, that it might be supposed that that officer was a poor man. But these fees were not paid to that officer, but, probably, formed part of the salary of some inferior officer. It was also probable that a part was paid to the fee-fund of the country. The hon. Gentleman objected to the matter being referred to the judgment of the Treasury. As far as he was concerned, he should have no hesitation in referring the matter to a Committee of the House of Commons. He was perfectly satisfied that it would be clear to such a Committee that there were fees that could not be taken away without doing injustice to the persons receiving them. The question was then simply this, whether they would make the officers pay their fees, or whether the House would allow some few hundreds a-year to be charged on the country for that purpose? That was the whole object of the Message that had been sent down by the Crown, and it would be a most ungracious mode of proceeding to report progress and return no answer to the Crown. He was sure that the House would not sanction such a mode of proceeding.

Sir Edward Codrington

felt himself interested in the subject, and trusted he might be allowed to make a few observations. He hoped that no Amendment would be allowed to interfere with the benevolent object that his Majesty had in view in sending that Message down to the House. He recollected when the bill of fees was originally sent into him, on his being made a Military Grand Cross, he was quite shocked at seeing its amount. It did not, however, give him much pain, as he was determined never to pay one farthing of it; and had continued obstinate in his refusal. The officers in question used very gracious language, but it had no effect. He thought that the demanding fees for conferring a distinction of this nature was very like buying some- thing of equivalent value. When he received the bill he sent it to the First Lord of the Admiralty, who said, that it was very hard on him, but, he replied, not in the least, as he had made up his mind not to pay a farthing of it. He was told that fees were regulated by an Order in Council, and that he must pay them, but he had declared that he had nothing to do with the Order, and he would not pay the fees. He did not ask for the distinction, and he would not pay a single shilling for it. He wished every officer had done the same thing. He found in the bill sent into him a charge of 122l. for fees to the King's Household. What patent right had the King's servants to such a demand? That portion of the fees might, at once, be got rid of. He admitted, that some few persons might have fair claims for compensation, and those he might be willing to recompense, but the King's Household could have no such claims. There could be no justifiable grounds for calling on officers on whom this honour had been conferred, to pay such fees; at the end of the late war a great number of officers had this honour conferred on them, and then being called on to pay such exorbitant fees, they all went to the levee at Court, and left their bills on the table for the King to pay them as he pleased. They never paid a farthing of them. So far from disapproving of this Motion, he thought that it should meet with encouragement as a good beginning. The bill furnished to him was dated in 1830, three years after the honour had been conferred upon him, and he would read it to the House. It was as follows:—Secretary of State, 16l. 17s. 6d.; seven officers of the Order, 164l. 17s. 2d.; King's Household, 122l. 2s.; the Lord Chamberlain's Office, 26l. 14s. 6d.; College of Arms, for Supporters, 55l. 16s.; making a total of 386l. 7s. 2d. He repeated, that he told the First Lord of the Admiralty that he would never pay a farthing of it. Some time after this, his Lordship sent to him to say that he would hear no more of it. All other officers ought to have done the same

Colonel Davies

said, that the public were greatly indebted to the gallant Officer for the statement he had just made. He had shown, by that statement, that there existed no right or claim whatever to demand those fees. The bill, as he understood, was intended to submit those claims to the investigation of the officers of his Majesty's Treasury. He entertained every respect for those public officers, but he should most unquestionably prefer that, involving, as it did, a question of public expenditure, the investigation should take place before a Committee up-stairs. Under all the circumstances, however, he hoped his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex, would postpone his Motion for the present, but give notice of his intention after the second reading of the Bill, to move, that it be referred to a Select Committee of the House.

Mr. O'Connell

conceived, that the first step was to ascertain whether there existed, on the part of any of the officers of the order, any legal claim to remuneration. It would appear, from what had been stated by the hon. and gallant Admiral opposite, that no legal claim to fees or salaries existed.

Mr. Stanley

remarked, that in the instance alluded to, there could be very little doubt that the distinguished officer had received the order for meritorious services.

Mr. O'Connell

said, the hon. and gallant Admiral had said much more—namely, that many officers having received the orders at the end of the war, had left, at the levee which they had attended, the bills for their fees upon the King's table.

Sir Robert Peel

was of opinion, that all military and naval officers upon whom the Order of the Bath might be conferred for their services, ought to be exempted from the payment of any fees. He, at the same time, thought that, both on the principle of equity, as well as the uniform practice of the House, any officers of that Order who had any legal claims to fees or emoluments, should be indemnified for any loss arising from their abolition. He did not remember the precise terms of the Motion before the House, but if its design were to relieve meritorious officers from the payment of fees on receiving the distinction in question, and, at the same time, to indemnify those who held patent offices, he could not see any objection to its adoption. Of course, the legality of the claims to fees, &c., must be established; and he doubted whether the public departments could not make that and every similar inquiry, more efficiently than a Select Committee of the House itself. He rose, however, on the present occasion, for the purpose of noticing a suggestion thrown out by the hon. member for Mid- dlesex, which had quite as much surprised him as it had the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for the Colonies. The hon. Member had suggested the propriety of instituting a new Order, for the purpose of rewarding literary and scientific men. The prerogative was already vested in the Crown to confer honours upon persons distinguished for their high literary and scientific attainments, and that power had recently been exercised by the conferring distinctions upon individuals of various professions. The establishment of a new Order would depreciate the honours which it was at present in the power of the Crown to confer, and was not in the least calculated to raise the character of this country for literary and scientific acquirements. The hon. member for Middlesex could not think, that it was essential to the character of Sir Isaac Newton, that he should have appeared in a blue or red riband, or worn the star of any Order. If such an Order were established as that suggested by the hon. Member, it was not improbable many hon. Members of that House might lay claim to such a reward for their public services. An Order of the nature proposed would but ill accord with the English character and with the elevated character of science, which it would only tend to make ridiculous. There was a clear distinction to be drawn between meritorious military and naval services, and literary and scientific acquirements. He hoped and trusted the suggestion of the hon. member for Middlesex would never be carried into effect.

Mr. Warburton

was opposed to an indiscriminate distribution of honorary distinctions or Orders, whether new or old, and thought, that the dignity of literary and scientific pursuits could not be heightened by such honours. He thought the suggestion of his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex, had been misunstood. His hon. friend did not oppose the principle of compensation in cases where a good title could be proved, but he claimed an inquiry into the legality of that title, and that investigation he concurred in thinking, ought to be had before a Select Committee of the House, rather than be made by the Treasury. Every precedent was in favour of the former course; and, as one instance, he was content to allude to the case of Sir Abraham Bradley King, to whom the compensation awarded by the Treasury was pronounced by a Committee of the House to have been made without a legal claim. It was true, that decision had been reversed by a Bill subsequently introduced for the purpose of awarding compensation to that gentleman, and the measure passed, not on the grounds of a legal claim, but the peculiar hardship of the individual case.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

thought, that very little, if any, difference of opinion seemed to prevail on the question really before the House. It had never been intended to grant compensation to individuals not legally entitled; and if it should be thought fit, when the Bill was introduced, to refer it to a Select Committee, that was to him a matter of perfect indifference. At the same time, he concurred with the right hon. Baronet (the member for Tamworth) in the opinion, that the inquiry as to claims for compensation would be likely to be more efficiently and satisfactorily made by the Treasury than by a Committee of that House. In answer to the precedent quoted by the hon. member for Bridport, he begged to state, that the claims for compensation on the abolition of their respective offices by the Commissioners for Hackney-coaches, and for Hawkers and Pedlars' Licences, had been referred to the Treasury, and not investigated before a Committee of the House.

Sir Henry Hardinge

concurred in thinking, that a reference of the subject to the officers of the Treasury was preferable to the investigation being held before a Select Committee. He could not avoid expressing his opinion, that the profuse distribution of honorary distinctions recently made, had much deteriorated the value and importance of such distinctions. Honours should be conferred with a most sparing hand, if they were to be preserved in great value. After the peace of Amiens, the First Consul conferred so many dignities, that General Moreau had said, in ridicule of the profusion of titles that were then flying on every side, that he would grant one to his cook. On the cook serving upon one occasion a dinner which pleased the general, he was summoned to the dining-parlour, and there, before all the guests, he was invested with a saucepan of honour. He was satisfied a restriction in the distribution would make these honours more highly estimated and appreciated, both by military and naval officers.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

contended, that no compensation whatever ought to be given without the consent of the House. Inquiry was necessary, for it appeared, that formerly the whole amount of fees did not exceed 120l., while, at present, they amounted to 1,200l. annually; owing, probably, to the increased number of honorary distinctions. He conceived the system was one of extortion, and compensation would be only shifting that extortion from the backs of gallant officers to whom honours were granted, to the shoulders of the public. He was anxious to relieve meritorious officers receiving the Order of the Bath, from the payment of any fees, and was also willing to grant compensation to such individuals as could make out a legal claim to it. After what had fallen from the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies, however, he was induced to hope, that his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex, would be satisfied, it being understood, that the compensation should be granted by the House alone.

Mr. Jervis

objected to the fees, or compensation for fees, being added to the burthens of the people, and the more so because the amount of that compensation had not yet been ascertained. He was of opinion, that instead of compensation being granted, it would be much cheaper to pay the fees upon any creations which might take place, and that when the individuals holding patent rights should die off, a new system should then be adopted.

Mr. Hume

said, that it mattered not to him whether or not the Bill should be referred to a Committee, before or after it had been read a second time. Under such an arrangement, he could not object to the principle of the resolution proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stanley). He would withdraw his opposition to the measure, on the understanding that in some stage it should be referred to a Select Committee.

The Resolution was agreed to, and the House resumed.