HC Deb 26 March 1838 vol 41 cc1280-90

The Report of the Committee of Supply was ordered to be received.

On the third resolution, to grant 103,000l. to defray the expense of rewards to general officers,

Lord Hotham

rose, not for the purpose of offering any opposition to this grant, but for the purpose of calling the attention of the House to a matter of great public importance. As this grant involved a question of military reform, he could not refrain from saying a few words on the subject of the high mark of military distinction so improperly conferred, in his opinion, on the hon. and gallant Officer, the Member for Westminster. He knew not whether that hon. and gallant Officer was at that moment in the House. [Sir G. De L. Evans bowed.] He was happy to have the opportunity of stating in that hon. and gallant Officer's presence, that nothing was further from his intention than to cast any reflection either upon the gallant Offi- cer or upon his services. He had heard those services highly spoken of by several of the officers under whose command the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster had served. He therefore gave the hon. and gallant Member full credit for having served with zeal, gallantry, and ability; and if the gallant Officer had not had an opportunity of establishing his claims so highly as some of the meritorious officers to whom he had been preferred, it was not owing to a want of zeal, but to a want of opportunity on his part. He would candidly confess, that it was not to be expected that the hon. and gallant Officer would decline the distinguished reward which had been offered to him by her Majesty's Ministers for his services. He would not do that hon. and gallant Officer the injustice of supposing that it had been conferred on him upon his own solicitation, as the gallant Officer must have known that that solicitation could not be granted without doing injustice to several officers older than himself who had rendered services to their country, which the gallant Officer would be one of the first to admit were superior to his own. His complaint was, that injustice had been done to the service in general by this act, and that, too, in a manner leading inevitably to the conclusion, that if the hon. and gallant Officer had not been a Member of that House, and if he had not been, moreover, a supporter of her Majesty's Government, he would never have been recommended for so signal a mark of royal favour. He might be told, that in mooting this question in his place in Parliament he was interfering unnecessarily with the exercise of the prerogative of the Crown. If that should be the case, if he should have such language applied to him, all the reply he would condescend to make to it would be this—that no man was more unwilling than he was to interfere with the exercise of any such prerogative. He imagined, however, that this prerogative of the Crown was always exercised by the advice and on the responsibility of the Ministers of the Crown. And as it appeared clear to him that in the exercise of this prerogative injustice had been done to old and meritorious officers, who deserved more than the hon. and gallant Officer the gratitude of their sovereign and their country, it was no sufficient answer to give him, that in this kingdom the Crown was the sole fountain of honours and rewards. He had no need, he was sure, to enter at that time of day into a detail of the regulations laid down for the governance of the Order of the Bath. It was notorious, that on the occasion of the order being extended at the close of the last war, a regulation was laid down, that no one should be entitled to receive the first class of its honours who had not previously received the second; and though some imagined that there was equally a regulation that no one should receive the second class who had not previously received the third class of its honours, he deemed it only right to inform the House that no such regulation was in existence among its statutes. Yet such had been the invariable practice in all cases, except in the peculiar circumstance of an officer commanding a brigade at Waterloo, or in the case of the second class being conferred on an officer of high rank, to whom the gift of the third class of the Bath would appear an insufficient reward. But on this occasion Ministers, in the advice which they had given to their Sovereign, had grossly neglected the claims of several old meritorious officers. There were at present seventy or eighty general officers having only the third class of the Order of the Bath. There was also a large number of officers, of rank superior to that of the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster, who had also received the third class only; and yet to all these hon. and gallant men had the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster been recklessly preferred. He would not pretend to detail their various services in different parts of the globe; but he trusted, that he might be permitted to allude to two of those officers whose services more immediately recurred to his recollection. One of them was the case of an officer who had commanded a brigade of cavalry for two years, and who actually commanded a brigade at the battle of Waterloo. The other officer to whom he referred was one who had served in an infantry regiment for twenty-seven years, who for seventeen years of that period had been in the actual command of an infantry regiment, and who had been wounded in that command in no less than five places. Her Majesty's Ministers, however, in advising this mark of distinction to be conferred on the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster, feeling that what they had done was contrary to the practice of the British service, felt it necessary to advert to the high rank which the hon. and gallant Officer held in the armies of the Queen of Spain. Now, if the circum- stance of the hon. and gallant Member's being a lieutenant-general in the Spanish army was a sufficient excuse for departing from the ordinary rules of the Order of the Bath, he should like to know why it was that the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster had not been treated like any other foreign officer, and had been placed in that honorary and supernumerary class which was reserved for officers belonging to foreign countries. There was a precedent for such a step even in the service to which the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster belonged—there was already one lieutenant-general in the army of the Queen of Spain enrolled among the honorary Commanders of the Bath; but that precedent had not been followed. The fact of the hon. and gallant Officer's being a British subject, was considered sufficient to exclude him from the foreign class, in which another lieutenant-general of the Spanish army was enrolled, whilst the fact of his being a lieutenant-general in that service was considered sufficient to entitle him to a distinction to which he could not have aspired from his inferior rank in the British service. He was unwilling to pursue this subject further, and he assured the House that nothing but a strong sense of public duty and of the unmerited neglect with which several meritorious officers had been treated would have tempted him to allude to it at all. He could not refrain from expressing his regret that he had lived to see the time when, by the conduct of the Ministers of the Crown, military officers were taught to look for military rewards, not to their length of service in the field, or in foreign countries, not to their regularity of service with their regiments, but to the regularity of their service in the House of Commons, and to the regularity of their support to the Government of the day. He confessed that he entertained great objection to dwelling on this subject, but as he took no part in the discussion on a former occasion in reference to the services of the gallant Officer in Spain, and as the noble Lord, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, challenged the approbation of the House on the part of the Government for conferring this mark of distinction on the gallant Officer, a sense of duty compelled him to trouble the House with a few observations on the subject. The noble Lord stated, that the conduct of Government, in this matter, was generally approved of. Where the noble Lord might have got his information from he knew not, but he never recollected any subject on which there was such unanimity of feeling amongst all classes of society as on this, in disapprobation of the conduct of the Government. He did not wish to speak disrespectfully of the services of the gallant Officer, but he could not refrain from censuring the Government for their conduct in this matter. He had never heard the subject alluded to in any society, whether friendly to her Majesty's Ministers or opposed to them, but it had been followed by an expression of regret and indignation at the conduct of Government.

Viscount Palmerston

observed, that it was not to him matter of the least surprise, that the honour which had been so deservedly bestowed on his hon. and gallant Friend behind him should have been disapproved of in those societies which the noble Lord opposite was in the habit of frequenting; entertaining, as the noble Lord did, peculiar sentiments as to the services which his hon. and gallant Friend had performed—it was to be expected, that as the noble Lord and his friends disapproved of the object of those services, and felt no satisfaction at the result which they had produced—it was to be expected, that they should condemn the mark of approbation which had been bestowed on his hon. and gallant Friend as a recompense for those services. But the noble Lord must excuse him if he could not accept either his opinion or the opinion of those friends whom he quoted as correct organs of public opinion upon this subject. The noble Lord was mistaken in his opinion as to the bearing of the statutes of the order upon this exercise of the royal prerogative. There was no part of the statutes of the Order of the Bath which required that any officer, in order to be appointed a member of the second class, should have previously been a member of the lowest class. [Lord Hotham: I said no such thing.] If the noble Lord had said no such thing, then that part of his criticism must fall to the ground. The noble Lord, therefore, had no fault to find with this exercise of the prerogative, as far as this point was concerned. But the noble Lord said, that a great number of officers of longer service than his hon. and gallant Friend had been passed over, and that his hon. Friend had been preferred to them. Now, he would not enter into a discussion of the relative merits of individuals, because he was sure the House would feel that nothing could be more invidious than a discussion of that sort; but he would beg leave to say, that the Order of the Bath was not intended to be given as a reward for length of service; and when the noble Lord stated, that there were many officers in the army senior to his hon. Friend, he advanced no argument to show that the selection of his hon. Friend, in preference to officers of longer standing, was not proper and judicious. The Order of the Bath was intended as a reward not for length of service, but for distinguished service, and he contended that his hon. and gallant Friend had performed distinguished services. The noble Lord said, that there were officers (he very properly did not mention names) who had commanded, in great actions, regiments and brigades, and that injustice was done to them by the preference given to his hon. and gallant Friend. Now, it was true that his hon. and gallant Friend had commanded neither a regiment nor a brigade, but he had commanded an army, and until the noble Lord could show that any of the officers to whom he alluded had held for two years the separate and independent command of 10,000 or 12,000 men, he would not succeed in proving that any undue preference had been given to his hon. and gallant Friend. He contended that in the selection that had been made no statute of the Order of the Bath had been infringed. The noble Lord, he believed, said that a regulation had been made, or that a practice had been established, that no person should be appointed to the second class who did not hold rank as a general officer in the service. Now, there was no statute of the order to that effect. He was quite aware that at one period, this principle had been acted upon by Government, but there was no statute on the subject, and therefore there was nothing to prevent Government from departing from the practice, if it thought fit in any special case to do so. The noble Lord had asked why his hon. and gallant Friend had not been put in the supernumerary and honorary class of foreign officers. He answered, because his hon. Friend was not a foreigner, but a British subject, holding a commission in the British army; and therefore, although it was thought that the particular circumstance of his holding the rank of general officer in a foreign service, by permission of his own sovereign, did entitle him to be made an exception to the rule, limiting the second class to persons holding that rank, yet it would have been an act of great injustice to him to have on that account put him into the class of foreign officers. He should only say, that the services which his hon. and gallant Friend had performed were known to the world. Upon these he rested the vindication of Government; and with respect to the miserable taunt of the noble Lord that this honour had been conferred upon his hon. and gallant Friend for services performed in that House, instead of being granted for services performed in the face of the enemy, he must say, that he did not congratulate the noble Lord upon that feeling which led him to think that any Government could be so forgetful of the duty which they owed to the country as to make such a use of military honours.

Sir G. De Lacy Evans

said, he would only trouble the House very briefly. He had stated before, in reference to this subject, that he thought it would be a very useful and salutary measure, if the same rule were adopted with respect to the Order of the Bath which was acted upon in the case of certain appointments made in the navy—if a statement of the services of the individuals who received that distinction were inserted in the army estimates. Each of those cases might then be discussed by the House, if the exercise of the royal prerogative should be deemed to be a subject fit to engage the attention of the House. Should the House so judge it proper, a discussion of the services of the persons honoured by this mark of royal approbation would be very fair and beneficial. But he held it only one of the many acts of injustice done towards him, part of the persecution he had to undergo, to fix upon his particular service, or want of service, without any comparison with that of others. It would be highly invidious and improper in him to enter on an examination of the services of the officers who had received this distinction, but he invited, he challenged a comparison; he was ready to consent that his services should be put upon the same paper with those of any of those officers. He repeated, he should be extremely glad of it; but these remarks seemed to him to be almost superfluous upon the eve of a long discussion which had reference to this very topic. The noble Lord's zeal, however, was so ardent that he seemed to wish to anticipate it. To-morrow night, he supposed, it would be discussed whether or not any services on his humble part had been performed recently or not. He was not at all surprised that the noble Lord opposite questioned the propriety of conferring on him the honour which he valued so highly, because many of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were so displeased on this occasion, would have consigned him not long since to the tender mercy of the Durango decree. With regard to the small malice which these individuals exhibited—

The Speaker

reminded the hon. and gallant Member, that it was improper to use a term imputing motives of this kind to any hon. Member.

Sir G. de Lacy Evans

had not the least wish to use any expression which might be considered improper. He, therefore, retracted it, since he was directed by the chair to alter the word, though he was quite aware of the nature of the feelings evinced on the other side. He could assure hon. Members opposite that he had not the least objection to a continuance of that feeling, provided it were as abortive as in the present instance, because it rather enhanced the honour conferred upon him than depreciated it.

Lord Hotham

wished to say, that the hon. and gallant Officer was mistaken in supposing that he had introduced this subject with any reference to the approaching discussion of to-morrow. He could only answer, as the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department knew, that but for an accidental circumstance, to which it was not necessary now to allude, he should have made this statement on the night on which the army estimates were brought on.

Resolution agreed to.

On the resolution that a vote of 1,310,474l., for the charge of Chelsea and Kilmainham hospitals, be agreed to.

Mr. Shaw

inquired whether it was the intention of Government to continue Kilmainham Hospital on its former footing? The staff of the hospital, he observed, was maintained on a very liberal scale, while the number of pensioners was very trifling.

Mr. Hume

hoped, that Government would suppress the hospital altogether. The evidence before the Select Committee of the House clearly proved, that the details of its management was nothing but a series of jobs.

Sir H. Vivian

said, that during the period when he commanded the forces in Ireland, the system on which the affairs of the hospital were managed had been greatly improved. He would do his utmost to eradicate any abuses that might still remain, but he would always advocate the maintenance of the establishment itself, as a retreat for Irish soldiers. Great discontent, he believed, would result from its suppression. The Irish soldier was attached to his native soil, and was much more grateful for permission to reside in his own country, after the cessation of his toils, than he would be if obliged to come to Chelsea.

Viscount Horvick

said, that when he succeeded to the office of Secretary-at-War, he found regulations restricting the admission of pensioners into Kilmainham already framed. These had not since been rescinded, but the subject was now under consideration, and he was prepared to remove them whenever due security should be offered to him, that the reasons which had induced his right hon. Friend, the Member for Coventry, when Secretary at War, to prohibit the admission of pensioners into that establishment should not again recur. In 1834, persons under thirty were found in the hospital, whose services of course could have been of no long duration, while several others had served only in the yeomanry. He would not now discuss the question, whether it were necessary to maintain two hospitals of this kind in the kingdom or not, but if Kilmainham were to be preserved, its inmates ought to be soldiers whose services had been long and meritorious. He had proposed to the general commanding-in-chief, that the hospital should be opened under certain conditions, but he could not consent to that measure, unless he had full security that all who sought admission had good and valid claims.

Vote agreed to.

The remaining items of the report were also agreed to.