HC Deb 10 April 1840 vol 53 cc987-94
Lord John Russell

moved that the House resolve itself into a Committee on Lord Seaton's Annuity Bill.

Mr. Hume

had given notice that he should in Committee on the bill move to limit the grant of 2,000l. a-year to the life of Lord Seaton, excluding his two successors. Since the time he had given that notice he had taken upon himself the trouble of looking into the important services which had been stated in the bill as having been performed by Lord Seaton; and he felt bound, after that search, to say that he could not discover one act of Lord Seaton's that deserved the reward proposed to be given him. His wish was, if it was consistent with the forms of the House, to refer the bill to a committee up stairs. He was prepared to show, that Lord Seaton in the situation in which he was placed, had violated the existing laws and constitution of Canada. There were no acts of Sir John Colborne's which appeared to him (Mr. Hume) to warrant such a signal mark of liberality on the part of the people of England; on the contrary, he thought there were many acts of that officer which deserved the reprobation of that House and the country. He would read one public despatch which appeared in the Parliamentary papers before the House, as u sample and pattern of the manner in which Sir John Colborne conducted the public business of the country. Greater atrocities and cruelties had never been perpetrated; and instead of going into Committee upon this bill, the House ought to call upon her Majesty's Government to prove, before a Select Committee, the important services of Sir John Colborne which called for such a mark of public gratitude. Sir John Colborne did not check, control, or punish, those who were guilty of such violent and atrocious acts, even after the cessation of the unfortunate rebellion or outbreak in a portion of Lower Canada. He would refer to one letter of Major-general Sir John Macdonald, dated the 11th November, 1838, in which that officer stated, that he had dispersed the rebels, and had destroyed the houses of two notorious rebels who had been engaged in the rebellion of the preceding winter, by causing them to be burned; and that at Le Grand he had caused the House of a notorious rebel named Bell, a blacksmith who had made pikes for the rebels the preceding winter, to be destroyed; that he had made prisoners of several leaders of minor note, and had caused their houses to be destroyed. Now, Sir John Colborne had not given any order for the discontinuance of these abominable acts, nor had he brought to trial any of the persons guilty of this atrocious conduct. Sir John Colborne had stated in his despatch that the rebels had disbanded at L'Acadie and Beauharnois, and had released their prisoners; that many houses had been burned there, but only those in which arms were found for the purposes of rebellion, and that none had suffered but those engaged in actual rebellion. Now, this despatch was at direct variance with the letter of Sir John Macdonald. Both statements could not be correct, and he thought that such a discrepancy called for an inquiry on the part of the House. Either Sir John Macdonald was in error in stating that he had destroyed the houses of persons engaged in rebellion during the preceding winter, or Sir John Colborne was in error in saying that none had been damaged but of those who were then in arms—both could not be correct. On many occasions the Duke of Wellington had punished parties acting under him, for having exceeded their orders, and for having been guilty of such excesses as those to which he was then alluding. If the documents he required were furnished to the House, he thought, he would be able to show, that Sir John Colborne, so far as the interests of humanity were concerned in discharging his duties as Commander-in-chief, not only deserved no reward, but should be censured for the course he pursued. With regard to the conduct of Sir J. Colborne, a civil governor, he (Mr. Hume) believed there was no parallel to be found for it in any of the colonies of the British empire. All he asked was, that Parliament should be just, and if severity was to have been exercised in Canada, he thought it would be admitted that unnecessary rigour should not have been resorted to. Three Courts-martial had been held during the sittings of the ordinary tribunals, and at those courts-martial an ordinance had been issued, having an ex post facto operation, and ordering the burning or destruction of the houses of those who had previously been engaged in rebellion, at a time when no law of Canada allowed such destruction of their property; just as though, if there happened another outbreak in Monmouth this year, the troops were to proceed to ravage the property of all those concerned in the last outbreak. What he complained of was, that Sir J. Colborne, by the orders he issued, had called upon these men to appear and answer for the offences for which her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies had declared there was a complete amnesty. Lord Durham had declared in his proclamation issued after the receipt of Lord Glenelg's despatch, that there should be a complete amnesty of all those individuals. One of them came back after the amnesty had been published, believing himself, under Lord Durham's proclamation to be safe. Now, Sir J. Colborne had ordered that individual to be seized by a body of horse and sent beyond the frontier, contrary to the declaration of her Majesty's Government. If such proceedings, so contrary to the usual stream of justice in this country had taken place, and if such atrocities had been perpetrated, which he alleged the public documents would prove, he would ask whether Sir John Colborne was a person who ought to be allowed to receive 150,000l., or even 1,000l. of the public money? He could further show that the Habeas Corpus Act had been suspended in a most unwarranted manner. A question was referred to two of the Judges as to how far the Imperial Act of last Session altered the law, and how far Sir John Colborne had the power of suspending the Habeas Corpus Act; and Sir John Colborne actually suspended those two judges because they ventured in the execution of their duty, to give an honest opinion in favour of the liberty of the subject. He would move next Tuesday for a copy of all the correspondence that had taken place on that subject. It was a dangerous principle which had been introduced of late years of rewarding persons for the exercise of their ordinary duties, and he thought the House ought not to sanction the irregularities of which Sir John Colborne had been guilty. He would, therefore, move by way of amendment that the bill now under consideration should be referred to a Select Committee up stairs, for the purpose of ascertaining how far the conduct of Sir John Colborne was deserving of the pension proposed to be granted to him.

The Speaker

doubted whether the motion were in conformity with the rules of the House. He understood it to be to refer the bill to a Select Committee, and that they were to inquire into the conduct of Lord Seaton.

Mr. Hume

said, the motion might be divided into two parts, and perhaps he was irregular in uniting them. The first motion ought to be to refer the bill to a Committee up stairs, but he had added the subsequent part in order that no one might be mistaken as to the ulterior object which he had in view.

The Speaker

put the motion that the bill be referred to a Select Committee.

Lord J. Russell

was very sorry the hon. Member had chosen this opportunity to renew a question which, he conceived, to have been settled by the House, and by a very great majority. The proper time to state any conduct of Lord Seaton which might induce the House not to comply with the recommendation of the majority to grant him a pension, was when that recommendation was under consideration. The hon. Gentleman had then stated his reasons, and the House by a great majority had decided against his views. And yet he now came with an irregular motion, which the Speaker would not permit him to make, and by it, and by his comments, arraigned the conduct of Lord Seaton, who if the allegations of the hon. Gentleman were to be relied upon, was not only unworthy of any mark of favour from the Crown or the country, but ought to be dismissed the military service as one who disgraced it.—[Mr. Hume: Such ought to be the case.]—No doubt the hon. Member thought so; but he took an extraordinary opportunity of declaring his view, when the House was on the point of going into committee, having decided that a pension of 2,000l. a year should be granted, and Lord Seaton having already received a mark of favour—one of the most honourable that could be conferred—from the Crown. He should not go into the items or details of Lord Seaton's conduct; but when the hon. Member referred to the Duke of Wellington restraining the excesses of his army—and it was generally known, that no commander ever was more strict and determined in restraining all such excesses—he ought to value the authority of the Duke of Wellington, and the testimony he had borne, not only to the courage and capacity, but also to the humanity of Lord Seaton, with which no man was better acquainted. As to the suspension of the constitution in Canada, it was not Lord Seaton, but Parliament, that was answerable for that necessary measure of severity. It was not upon the administrator of the Government that censure ought to fall, if any were due. Was the hon. Member ignorant of the outrages by which that severity was rendered necessary? and was his whole sympathy to be bestowed on those who had engaged in insurrection? and had he no commiseration for those whose only crime was their loyalty, but who had been made the victims of the most licentious violence, or compelled to fly with their families into the woods to escape them? He could not agree with the hon. Member as to the conduct of the troops. He believed that the disorders were for the most part committed by persons in the fury of civil war upon those who had before been guilty of similar outrages upon them. He placed the responsibility of all these misfortunes upon those who had encouraged the insurrection—a most unjustifiable insurrection, almost without pretence, and which could lead to no good result. With regard to the punishments inflicted, he knew of no instances in which persons guilty of treason were more leniently treated than those engaged in the insurrection in Canada had been by Lord Seaton. Many owed their lives to his clemency; and many, who were sentenced to transportation, received free pardons from the man against whom the hon. Member made charges of cruelty and atrocity, but who was as distinguished for humanity as for his capacity and military skill. It was not necessary for him to undertake the defence of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act and other departures from the ordinary course of constitutional law. He would only observe, that Lord Durham and Mr. Poulett Thomson were as responsible for those measures as Lord Seaton and they had been approved by the general voice of Parliament as measures necessary to the suppression of a wanton and licentious war.

Mr. G. H. Vernon

complained of the Member for Kilkenny having taken the House by surprise, and he protested against thus unexpectedly indulging in charges and aspersions upon persons of high character, who were neither present to defend themselves, nor could be adequately vindicated by others, in consequence of the want of notice of the attack.

Mr. Gillon

agreed with the hon. Member for Kilkenny, that the House had been taken by surprise. He did not think it was too much to ask of the House to pause before granting so large an amount of pensions. They had not heard any statement of the services for which that large grant was to be given. At all events, there were conflicting statements, as was shown by the public documents to which his hon. Friend had referred; and he thought time should be given to contradict them, if they were erroneous. Before they voted away the public money, they should be satisfied of the truth of the statement by which the grant was made.

Sir R. Inglis

said, that although the hon. Member's right to bring on his motion without notice was unquestioned, as it was unquestionable, yet having given a notice, that notice was quite inconsistent with his present motion. The notice was to limit the pension to Lord Seaton's life the motion was to deny that he deserved any pension at all. He hoped the hon. Member would not be suffered to withdraw his motion, but that the House would record its opinion, and thus show how many, whether two, or three, or four—he trusted there would not be more—upheld the doctrines which the hon. Member propounded.

Mr. V. Smith

said, the hon. Member had certainly taken the House by surprise, for, from the terms of the notice, he (Mr. V. Smith) had loaded himself with precedents of pensions for military services, thinking that there was no other question to be discussed; but instead of that, the Member for Kilkenny entered into details which, he well knew, no one could meet without preparation.

Mr. Ewart

said, the inquiry proposed by his hon. Friend could not be referred incidentally to the committee, whose only business would be to prepare and finish the bill. The subject matter into which the hon. Member proposed to inquire must be considered to be part of the principle of the bill, which had been affirmed on the second reading.

Mr. Goulburn

said, it would he unparliamentary in him to impute motives to the hon. Member for the course he had pursued, but the effect of it was to enable him to indulge in a train of acrimonious invective against an officer of great merit, while he concluded with a motion which he could not regularly make, and which nobody, therefore, could regularly answer. If Lord Seaton wanted a confirmation of his high character, it would be supplied by this proceeding, when the House recollected the party with which the hon. Member had connected himself in Canada, and how Lord Seaton had defeated the attempts of that party.

The House divided on the original motion—Ayes 79; Noes 8: Majority 71.

List of the AYES.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Neeld, J.
Bernard, E. G. O'Brien, W. S.
Bernal, R. Palmerston, Lord
Blackstone, W. S. Parker, J.
Broadley, H. Pechell, Captain
Brodie, W. B. Peel, rt. hn. Sir R.
Brotherton, J. Perceval hon, G. J.
Bruges, W. H. L. Pigot, D. R.
Busfeild, W. Redington, T. N.
Clay, W. Rose, rt. hon. Sir G.
Curry, Serjeant Russell, Lord J.
Darby, G. Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A.
De Horsey, S. H. Scrope, G. P.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Seale, Sir J. H.
Du Pre, G. Seymour, Lord
Ewart, W. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Fremantle, Sir T. Sheppard, T.
Freshfield, J. W. Sibthorp, Colonel
Gladstone, W. E. Slaney, R. A.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Smith, J. A.
Hawes, B. Smith, R. V.
Heathcote, Sir W. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Herbert, hon. S. Spry, Sir S. T.
Hobhouse, T. B. Stanley, hon. E. J.
Hodgson, R. Steuart, R.
Hope, hon. C. Style, Sir C.
Hoskins, K. Sutton, hn. J.H.T.M.
Hutton, R. Tancred, H. W.
Inglis, Sir R. H. Tufnell, H.
Irton, S. Turner, E.
Irving, J. Vere, Sir C. B.
Lascelles, hon. W. S. Vernon, G. H.
Lushington, C. Wall, C. B.
Lushington, rt. hn. S. Winnington, Sir T. E
Lygon, hn. General Wood, G. W.
Macaulay, rt.hn. T. B Wood, Colonel T.
M'Taggart, J. Yates, J. A.
Maule, hon. F. Young, J.
Monypenny, T. G. TELLERS.
Morpeth, Lord Gordon, R.
Murray, A. Grey, Sir G.
List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Warburton, H.
Duncombe, T. Williams, W.
Pease, J.
Vigors, N. A. TELLERS.
Wakley, T. Hume, J.
Wallace, R. Gillon, R. D.
Mr. Hume

moved to limit the pension to the life of Lord Seaton.

Mr. J. O'Brien

thought the pension ought not to be extended to three genera tions. Strong objections were made to give a gentleman aged eighty years a pension of 1,000l. a year for his life, though he had performed civil services equal in benefit to the country to the military services of Lord Seaton, and yet now it was proposed to require this pension for three generations. He would suggest that it should be limited to the life of the next male heir.

Mr. Wallace

would support his friend the hon. Member for Kilkenny, wishing that peerages should be granted for life only.

Mr. Gillon

rejoiced that his hon. Friend lad opposed this long pension. He thought was high time to begin another course, and he should certainly support his hon. Friend.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, the hon. Member for Kilkenny was not very consistent in his desire to save the public money, for he had last year supported a motion for granting 6,000l. a year to the Duke of Sussex.

Lord J. Russell

thought that, if the pension were limited to the noble Lord's life, he would be by no means sufficiently rewarded. He would not put the question merely on the merit of Lord Seaton, but upon all those services which the House thought it necessary to reward. When they recollected the hardships of military service, he thought that a pension at the close of a long career of such services for the remainder of the life of the person who performed them, was by no means commensurate, nor would it be equal to the benefits conferred on those who in other professions rendered service to the country.

Mr. Aglionby

said, that formerly it was the practice to give those pensions for ever; but a judicious alteration had been introduced in the case of Lord Combermere, by limiting it to the two next male heirs: He wished that the noble Lord had carried the principle still further. If the reward was not sufficient, he would much rather that it should be increased than saddle the public for an indefinite period.

The Committee divided on the original clause—Ayes 48; Noes 22: Majority 26.

List of the AYES.
Acland, Sir T. D. De Horsey, S. H.
Acland, T. D. Douglas, Sir C. E.
Baring, rt. hn. F. T. Fremantle, Sir T.
Barnard, E. G. Freshfield, J.
Broadley, H. Gordon, R.
Clay, W. Grey, rt. hn. Sir G.
Curry, Serjeant Hawkes, T.
Darby, G. Heathcote, Sir W.
Hobhouse, T. B. Seale, Sir J. H.
Hodgson, R. Sheil, rt. hn. R. L.
Hoskins, K. Sheppard, T.
Ingestrie, Viscount Sibthorp, Colonel
Inglis, Sir R. H. Slaney, R. A.
Lushington, rt. hn. S. Smith, R. V.
Lygon, hon. General Somerville, Sir W. M
Maule, hon. F. Stanley, Lord
Morpeth, Viscount Style, Sir C.
O'Brien, W. S. Talfourd, Serjeant
Palmerston, Viscount Tancred, H. W.
Perceval, hon. G. J. Vere, Sir C. B.
Pigot, D. R. Wood, Colonel T.
Plumptre, J. P. Young, J.
Polhill, F.
Redington, T. N. TELLERS.
Russell, Lord J. Stanley, E. J.
Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A. Steuart, R.
List of the NOES.
Brodie, W. B. Rundle, J.
Brotherton, J. Salwey, Colonel
Busfeild, W. Turner, E.
Duncombe, T. Vigors, N. A.
Ewart, W. Wakley, T.
Fielden, J. Wallace, R.
Finch, F. Williams, W.
Gillon, W. D. Wood, B.
Hutton, R. Yates, J. A.
Lushington, C.
Morris, D. TELLERS.
Muntz, G. F. Hume, J.
Pease, J. Aglionby, H. A.

House resumed.