HC Deb 05 March 1838 vol 41 cc397-401
Colonel Sibthorp

said, before the House went into a Committee of Supply, he wished to call its attention to the appointments on the part of her Majesty's Government in various departments, more particularly to the recent appointment to the situation of Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital; secondly, to move that the number of Commissioners appointed in conformity to the act of 10th George 4th, cap. 25, entitled "An Act to provide for the better management of Greenwich Hospital," be forthwith reduced to four in the government of the affairs of the said hospital; and that the Commissioners shall be limited to the aforesaid number of four, and shall, together with the clerk of the works, and all officers of the said hospital, be selected from persons who have or may hereafter have served in his or her Majesty's navy; thirdly, to move the repeal of clause 7 of the act of the 10th of George 4th, cap. 25, entitled "An Act to provide for the better management of Greenwich Hospital," "And be it further enacted, that all officers who shall be hereafter appointed to any employment in the said hospital (except the future Commissioners of said hospital, and the clerk of the works), shall be selected, as far as may be, from persons who shall have served in his or her Majesty's navy," and to substitute the following words—viz., "that all such officers as shall be hereafter appointed to any employment in the said hospital, shall be selected from those persons who have already or may hereafter have served in his or her Majesty's navy." He was not about to enter into detail as to these appointments, as that would be interfering unnecessarily with the business of the house; but when he looked to India, to Ireland, to Canada, and, as was relevant to his motion, when he looked at the recent appointment of a Member of that hon. House to a Commissionership of Greenwich Hospital, he thought it would be well for the Government to inform the House if the gentlemen so appointed were likely to attend to their duty. It might be said, that this was an ungracious motion, and one interfering with the prerogative of the Crown; but he wished to have a freer exercise of that prerogative than there was at present, and to have it less controlled by what took place in that House, and by advice out of it. He was one of the last persons who would interfere with the due exercise of the Royal prerogative, but he felt convinced that the appointments to which his motion referred, emanated not from the Crown, but from a vacillating Ministry. The appointment to which he particularly alluded, was that of the hon. Member for Tipperary to the commissionership of Greenwich Hospital. He knew he might be told, that by the 10th George 4th. chap. 25, it was expressly declared that the appointment of the Commissioners—five in number, of whom three were paid Commissioners—should be made at the pleasure of the Executive Government, and that in that act there was an exception, why he could not tell, to the effect that the Commissioners and clerks of the works should not necessarily be professional men. Now, it was precisely of that he complained. He did not see why there should be such an exception made in reference to those situations, and he hoped the House would agree to repeal that portion of the act. When he looked to the appointment of the hon. and learned Member for Tipperary, although he admired that hon. Gentleman's transcendent talents, he could not help complaining, on the part of her Majesty's naval officers, that their meritorious services should be overlooked. When there were so many admirals out of employment, so many captains, the relations of so many distinguished naval commanders whose names were dear to the country, and yet who were not engaged in the public service, he could not but lament that none should have been selected from those honourable classes to fill the situation which had recently been bestowed upon the hon. and learned Member for Tipperary. It, of course, could not be asserted that amongst those classes many individuals might not be found fully capable of discharging all the duties appertaining to the situation with assiduity and ability; he would ask who were so well qualified to manage the affairs of Greenwich Hospital as were naval officers? In making this motion, however, he begged to be understood that he made no complaint of the individual; he complained of the Government who made the appointment, and of the system under which it was made. He thought it the more remarkable that such an appointment should have been so bestowed at a time when a post of considerable importance was going a-begging—it had never been offered to him. Unless it had been filled up since Saturday last, he was justified in saying that the appointment was going a-begging. In almost every circle where political subjects were a topic of conversation, the question was asked, "Who is to be Clerk of the Ordnance?" but no one could answer the question; neither could any one answer this question—why was such a post vacant? Probably the noble Lord opposite could solve the mystery; and yet, perhaps, it was too much to say that he could solve any mystery; possibly the noble Lord was then dreaming of resignation—a dream which he hoped might soon be realized.

Mr. C. Wood

wished to state the case clearly, as regarded the hospital. In the year 1829 an Act of Parliament was passed, placing the government of the hospital upon a perfectly new footing, and by the arrangements then made, the commissioners were to have nothing to do with the management of that establishment beyond what related to the care of its property. The question before the House lay within a very narrow compass; the Commissioners had nothing whatever to do with the pensioners; they had nothing to do requiring naval experience; their duties simply related to the property of the hospital. At the time that Sir John Cockburn's Bill was introduced, in 1829, there were twenty-two directors of Greenwich Hospital, of whom only five were naval officers, and seventeen had never in any other way been connected with the navy; in effect, the whole business of the establishment was managed by the treasurer, the auditor, and the secretary. This system was changed during the administration of the Duke of Wellington, in 1829, and the Government of that day got great credit for removing a body of irresponsible persons, and placing three responsible Commissioners in their stead. The hon. and gallant officer had very properly referred to the Act of 1829, but if he took the trouble to inquire into the general administration of the affairs of the hospital, the gallant officer would find that every thing which related to the inmates was, as far as possible, under the care and direction of naval officers; but the Commissioners, as he before said, had only the care of the property of the hospital just as the Commissioners of Woods and Forests administered the territorial revenues of the Crown, and surely the House must see that the naval profession imparted no peculiar fitness for that duty any more than it did for any other. The management of estates involved duties merely civil; and with respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman lately appointed to one of the Commissioner-ships, the House would recollect that the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln had given him full credit for distinguished abilities, and therefore the objection was not to the individual, but to the Act of 1829.

Sir E. Codrington

was understood to support the motion, and to contend that appointments of this nature should be bestowed as much as possible upon naval officers, the situations being peculiarly suited to them, and they to the situations.

Captain Pechell

could not follow in the wake of the gallant Admiral who last addressed the House, neither could he support the motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln. Not that he doubted the perfect fitness of naval officers for any situation, even that of Lord High Chancellor of England. He had heard from the highest authority, that a natal officer might be Lord High Chancellor of England; it was no wonder that indignation should be felt at the non-appointment of naval officers to situations of this description when cornets of dragoons, as happened in 1235, were found filling the situations of lay-Lords of the Admiralty. Still he could not support the present motion. If the hon. and gallant mover were sincere in the wish to reform these abuses, he ought to proceed upon a broader principle; he ought not to apply himself to a single case, but to propose a total repeal of the Act of Parliament. For his part, he should vote against any Government in a matter that concerned the interests of the navy or marines, but the proper way to meet the evil was not by interfering in isolated cases with the patronage of the Crown.

Sir R. Peel

thought a proceeding of this sort amounted to an interference with the prerogative of the Crown, which he did not feel disposed to sanction. His hon. Friend found fault with the qualifications of the hon. and learned Member for Tipperary, and he proposed that the House of Commons should find fault with those qualifications; the interval was short between that and suggesting the name of another to fill the place. He was unwilling that the House of Commons should take any step tending even to set an example of interference with the legitimate prerogative of the Crown—nothing but a very strong case indeed should induce him to agree to any proceeding which might seem to imply a preference for one appointment over another. He hoped therefore that his hon. Friend would not press this question to a division, though certainly the House might, if it thought proper, reduce the number of the appointments, but he would not sanction the sort of interference with the prerogative of the Crown which the motion before the House involved.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, that he had discharged his duty in bringing the subject under the consideration of the House.

Motion withdrawn.

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