HC Deb 17 June 1836 vol 34 cc582-9
Mr. George F. Young

said, that he now rose to present the petition of which he had given notice, from Captains Newall, Barrow and Glasspoole, of the late maritime service of the East-India Company, complaining that the compensation to which they were entitled under the Act 3rd and 4th William 4th., c. 85, was withheld from them. While candour obliged him to say, that he thought great injustice had been done to these petitioners, he was sure at the same time that the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Board of Control had only acted in accordance with the dictates of his conscience and judgment in deciding against their claim. He was also certain that no one would be more rejoiced than the right hon. Gentleman himself, if he should find, that he had been mistaken in arriving at that decision. He thought it right to say thus much at the outset, and to disclaim all participation in those attacks which he had seen with great regret made upon the part of the Government with which the right hon. Baronet was connected, in reference to this subject. The case of the petitioners was briefly told. They were Gentlemen of great respectability, character, and station, and they had been commanders of ships in the East-India Company's service. In the year 1833, at the termination of the late charter of the company, it was deemed expedient that the China trade should be thrown open. If that arrangement had not gone further, there would have been no claims for compensation on the part of any individuals; but it was also deemed accordant with public policy to exclude the East-India Company from any participation in that trade for the future. The result was, to throw out of employment a considerable number of most meritorious individuals, who derived their subsistence from employment in the Company's service, and whose situation justly excited the sympathy of the Court of Directors, of Parliament, and the public. The principle of compensation was adopted, and the greatest anxiety was evinced that it should be extended as far as a just liberality called for. It would be recollected, that when the clause in the Act was under discussion, care was taken so to frame it that all maritime officers entitled to compensation should be brought within the terms of it. In the rules and regulations, however, which were afterwards framed by the Court of Directors, and approved of by the Board of Trade, for the purpose of carrying the compensation, clause into effect, in his opinion the line was drawn too closely, and many individuals were excluded from compensation who, he thought, were entitled to it. The case of such individuals had already been brought by the hon. Member for Worcester before the House; and he believed that that hon. Member had a notice on the notice-book on the subject. The present petitioners, however, complained of a peculiar hardship, and he confessed, that until he heard the reasons from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, he could not conceive why their claims for compensation had been disallowed. These Gentlemen had commanded ships belonging to the East-India Company itself. Now a regulation had been adopted by the East-India Company, that of any of the ships of which the Company itself was owner no one should have the command for more than five voyages. This arrangement had been adopted for two reasons— first, because it was understood that in that period a competent fortune might be acquired; and secondly, because the number of ships belonging to the Company was so small that but for such an arrangement the junior officers would have little prospect of ever being in command of one of them. After making five voyages in Company's ships commanders could command freight ships employed by the company. These three Gentlemen not having made a sufficient fortune for their families while in the command of the Company's ships, had felt it their duty, and had actually made arrangements to take the command of ships freighted by the Company, when the Company's trade was stopped by the interference of the Legislature. Under such circumstances, they submitted their claims for compensation to the East-India Company, when to their great surprise, the Finance Committee of the Company reported that— Claims having been preferred to maritime compensation by commanders who have completed the full number of five voyages in the Company's own service, your Committee submit that it never could have been intended to grant the compensation to such commanders, they having had the peculiar benefits of the Company's own service for the whole term allowed by the Regulations, and there not being a single case in which a commander so circumstanced has again gone in the command of a ship. Your Committee, therefore, recommend that, subject to the approbation of the Board of Commissioners, claims for this class of commanders be deemed inadmissible. On this Report of the Finance Committee being presented, the Court of Directors disclaimed it, and recommended that the claims of the petitioners to compensation should be allowed. Application, however, being made to the Board of Control, it was found that that board concurred with the Finance Committee of the East-India Company in refusing the right of the petitioners to compensation. The Court of Directors had recommended the case of the petitioners to the Board of Control for compensation, and that board having refused to grant it, the petitioners had no other remedy but an appeal to that House. The main objection made to the claim of the petitioners was, that no one who had commanded a Company's ship for five voyages had ever continued to pursue his profession afterwards. But such was not the fact; and the rule laid down by the act of Parliament was, that all persons who suffered injury by the termination of the Company's trade, should be liberally compensated. The petitioners in their case, as laid before the Board of Control, detailed facts to show that there were several instances of commanders, after five voyages in Company's ships, continuing to follow their profession; they gave convincing proofs that they had themselves intended to do so, and that they had made arrangements for that purpose; they subjoined the certificates of most respectable merchants that they intended to present them to ships to he freighted by the Company, and to crown all, they had subscribed the solemn declaration required from all persons claiming compensation that it had been their intention to pursue their profession. In the teeth of such facts, the Board of Control decided against their claims. He should have mentioned that at a meeting of the Court of Proprietors, the following resolution had been unanimously carried— At a general Court of the East-India Company, the 16th of December, 1835—Resolved unanimously—That according to the intention of this Court in the scheme of compensation proposed by them for their maritime officers, Captains Newall, Barrow and Glasspoole, are entitled to the pension of 200l. per annum, granted by this Court to commanders generally of the late maritime service, who had been in actual service between the 28th of August, 1828, and the 28th of August, 1833, and that the Court of Directors be requested to take the necessary steps for paying the same accordingly. He trusted, that even should the right hon. Gentleman consider it his duty to adhere to the decision already made on the subject by the Board of Control, he would give way, should the feeling of the House appear to be that the regulation should not be drawn so strictly, but that it should be relaxed a little in order to do justice to the petitioners.

Mr. George Palmer, after pronouncing a warm eulogium on the East-India Company's maritime service, gave his cordial support to the petition.

Sir John Hobhouse

said, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down could not rate that service higher than he did. He also begged to assure his hon. Friend who had presented the petition, that it was not until he had gone through all the facts of the case most minutely, that he had arrived at the conclusion of which the petitioners complained — that they were not entitled to the compensation which they claimed. Having had notice of this petition, he had again gone over the details of the case, and he was again painfully compelled to pronounce the same decision. He could assure the House that of all the labours which devolved on the department with which he was connected, none were so painful as those which related to the consideration of claims of this kind [hear], and it was with the greatest regret he found himself compelled by a sense of public duty to resist the claims of these gentlemen. The hon. Gentleman was mistaken in supposing that the Court of Directors had always regarded the claims of these gentlemen favourably. In the first instance, they took the same view of the subject as their Finance Committee — namely, that the claims of these gentlemen were inadmissible. The Court of Directors came to a resolution to that effect on the 4th of March, 1835. It was true that in a few days afterwards they changed that opinion, and they thought fit to recommend to the then Commissioners for managing the affairs of India, of whom the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Praed) was one, to consider the case of those officers. The then Commissioners did so, and Lord Ellenborough, after a most careful examination of the case, thought fit to decide that the claims of these officers were inadmissible. He would briefly state his reasons for concurring in that decision. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the decision of the Court of Proprietors, but that decision did not carry, in his opinion, much weight with it. They were not a fit body to entertain a question of the kind. They had now no power over the revenues of the Indian empire, and the amount of their incomes would not be at all affected by the decision of such claims as this one way or the other. He doubted very much that the interpretation put by his hon. colleague (Lord Glenelg) on the act of Parliament was correct. He thought that the Court of Proprietors, strictly speaking, had no right to discuss questions of this kind. He begged to assure the hon. Gentleman opposite that there was not a single instance where commanders who had gone in Company's ships five voyages had afterwards taken up freighted ships. What the act of Parliament intended to guard against was, the infliction of prospective loss on any individuals. They had nothing whatever to do with the former circumstances of these gentlemen; all that the Board of Control had to inquire was, whether their claim could have a prospective force. It was just possible that they might have again been called into service; but he had no control over that. They had derived all the advantage they had a right to expect from employment in the Company's service, and being in possession of that, they had no right to attempt to prove a prospective loss, on which ground alone they had any claim to compensation. He contended that the arguments advanced in support of the claim were founded on a total misapprehension of the Act of Parliament. His hon. Friend was quite mistaken if he supposed that Parliament could exercise any power in granting compensation, or in any particular except in distributing it. If they were to undertake the settlement of the various claims which were urged by individuals, the time of the House would be entirely taken up in considering them. He had given the most careful attention to this case, as well as to all that had come before him, and if he could fancy for a moment that injustice had been done, he would not hesitate to reconsider it. But he conceived that Lord Ellenborough was right—that the gentlemen concerned had not proved a prospective loss, and that not having proved it, they had no right to claim compensation. The argument pressed by the hon. Member for Middlesex in favour of the claim was, that other parties had received sums of money, not as pensions, but gratuities, larger perhaps than those gentlemen would think it just to claim. He replied, that he was not responsible for the scale on which those gratuities were granted. It was, in his opinion, an extremely improvident one. Any Gentleman who could prove that there would have been a certainty of his being employed as captain of a Company's ship, not having been so previously, was entitled to a gratuity of 5,000l., and a pension of 200l. a,-year, that is, for giving up his chance of the advantage to be derived from five voyages he was entitled to what was equivalent to 7,000l. His hon. Friend admitted that the profits, on an average of five voyages, did not amount to a great deal more than 7,000l. He thought, the compensation was unnecessarily large; but, comparing it with the alleged amount of profit, certainly no ground of complaint could be advanced by the parties. He had to apologize to the House for entering into this detail; but he thought he had made out such a case as proved he had come to a correct decision, and; that this was not a case which Parliament should consider, or in which the House of Commons ought in any way to reverse the decision to which the Commissioners for Managing the Affairs of India had, after due deliberation, arrived.

Mr. Robinson

said, that the only question was whether these officers were or were not injured by the opening of the trade to China. The right hon. Baronet said, that they had brought forward no proof of this; but he would remind the right hon. Baronet that the Board of Control would allow no proof to be adduced. The Court of Proprietors had admitted the justice of their claim, and that by an unanimous vote. Under these circumstances he was bound to say that he considered this a case of extreme hardship, and even injustice. They were driven to petition Parliament to interfere in their favour, and he hoped that the House would see the justice of their claim. The right hon. Baronet had denied the right of the Court of Proprietors to interfere; but he differed with the right hon. Baronet on this point, because that Court was one of the parties to the contract entered into with the naval officers of the Company. There were three parties to that contract—the Company, the public, and the Company's maritime officers. He was aware that this was not the time to argue the question at length, but he did not very well know what remedy would be left to the officers, if the Board of Control, after the favourable conclusion come to by the Court of Directors which was confirmed by an unanimous vote of the Court of Proprietors, were to annul those decisions without assigning any definite reason. Parliament having delegated the distribution of the compensation fund to the Court of Directors and the Board of Control acting with them, those bodies had exercised their right in a perfectly fair and equitable manner, and he did not think it just that their sentence should be reversed.

Mr. Praed

agreed with the right hon. Baronet, that the Act of Parliament warranted the awarding compensation under certain regulations laid down to some classes of the officers of the East-India Company. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that the scale of compensation adopted was needlessly profuse; but he thought the restriction of it to those who had served within the last five years was very inexpedient and impolitic. But these regulations were made before Lord Ellen-borough came into office. He thought there was a strong primâ facie appearance, that a captain who had made five voyages in the service of the East-India Company could have no prospective loss to complain of, and such a person. could not be regarded as entitled to compensation within the restriction made by Mr. Charles Grant,, now Lord Glenelg. It had, however, been the opinion of Lord Ellenborough, and he entirely concurred in it, that the rule, though strong as to the inclusion, was not strong as to the exclusion, and that it might be relaxed if there were any circumstances affecting; a particular case, which gave the individual special claims to compensation. His view of the opinion held by Mr. Grant on this subject was this,—he believed that Mr. Grant came to a resolution to compensate all officers who might sustain injury by the new arrangements entered into respecting the trade to China; but he found that if all those who considered themselves injured were called on to make out their claims, the property of the Company would be wasted to an indefinite amount, and was therefore induced to restrict compensation to those who had served a certain period. It was certainly his opinion that the petitioners had made out a claim founded on prospective loss.

Mr. Vernon Smith

hoped the hon. Member would allow him to set him right on one point. They had imagined that in all they had done, with regard to claims for compensation, they had acted in complete accordance with the precedents laid down by Lord Ellenborough. He contended that the Board of Control had offered no objection to the production of evidence in support of the claim of. the petitioners; but the proofs they produced were of a very unsatisfactory character. The hon. Member for Worcester said, that the Board of Control had thrown obstacles in the way of the petitioners. He admitted this; but he did not agree with him in thinking that they were not entitled to throw obstacles in the way of a claim which they considered did not rest on any sufficient ground. He thought that one of the principal uses of the Board of Control was to prevent the extravagant expenditure of the property of the East-India Company. If the hon. Gentleman thought they had acted improperly, he might bring their conduct before Parliament, or he might, if he thought proper, introduce a Bill for altering the functions of the Board.

Petition to lie on the table.

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