HC Deb 04 July 1843 vol 70 cc611-5
Mr. Blewitt

I rise most respectfully to make the inquiry of which I gave notice yesterday. It is necessary for me to state two or three facts for the elucidation of the subject, and to them I shall strictly confine myself. In September, 1841, soon after the right hon. Baronet opposite received her Majesty's commands to form an administration, a list was published, as from authority, in the Times newspaper, in which the Duke of Wellington was placed at the head of the Cabinet; it being understood that his Grace had no particular duties to perform, but was to be a Member of the Cabinet. I remember perfectly well that he went down to Claremont as one of the new Ministers to pay his homage. Soon after the death of Lord Hill, the Duke of Wellington was appointed Commander-in-Chief, retaining at the same time his seat in the Cabinet. On all occasions in the House of Lords he has taken part in the debates, and has acted as the official organ of the administration; be has vindicated his colleagues, and explained the acts of the Government. On the 1st of October, 1841, a question arose as to the prorogation of the House of Lords, and the Duke of Wellington took upon himself a share of the responsibility in advising her Majesty to dismiss the Parliament for a time. A day or two afterwards, his Grace spoke of his colleagues in the House of Commons, and on many subsequent occasions he employed similar language. It is to be observed, also, that he attends all the meetings of the Cabinet Council, and I may presume that he takes part in the deliberations of that body. On Saturday last, it sat for four hours, and no doubt the question before it was one of importance. Such appears to be the ostensible position of the Duke of Wellington, and I now wish the House to hear what he himself thinks of that position. A few days ago, Mr. Mulock addressed a letter to the Duke of Wellington, which his Grace acknowledged in the following terms— London, June 15, 1843. Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington presents his compliments to Mr. Mulock. As it appears that Mr. Mulock has addressed the minister, the Duke concludes that he will give him an answer. He is one of the few men these days who does not meddle with questions over which he has no control. About the same time a Mr. Espy, the Secretary of an association in Dublin, transmitted an address from the society, and the Duke of Wellington acknowledged it in this way:— June 15, 1843. A society or association in Ireland should address the Lord-lieutenant, or Chief Secretary of the government of Ireland, and not the Commander-in-Chief of the army, who never interferes in any affair over which he has no control. This note reminds me of a letter which the Duke addressed to a deputation from Paisley, in October, 1841, which came up with the express purpose of soliciting an interview with his Grace, respecting the unparalleled distress prevailing in that town. The deputation, on its arrival, requested that interview, but the Duke sent them an evasive reply. The deputation repeated their request, when the Duke sent them the following letter — " London, October 30, 1841. Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington presents his compliments to the members of the deputation from Paisley. It is true that the Duke returned to town the night before fast, in order to attend at Buckingham-house, when her Majesty will be confined. The Duke's time has been, and will be, much occupied while he will be in London, and he must again decline to receive the deputation from Paisley. He pays every attention it is in his power to give to the distresses at Paisley, as well as elsewhere. A meeting to discuss them is not necessary in order to draw his attention to those distresses, and his other occupations render it necessary that he should decline to receive the deputation. He begs the deputation to observe, that he is not in the Queen's political service, that he does not fill any political office, and exercises no power or authority. The members of the deputation from Paisley. The deputation wrote a reply to the Duke of Wellington, from which the following is an extract — " November 1, 1841. Whatever may be the nature of the appointment your Grace may hold as a Member of the Cabinet, we, as a deputation, and the whole country, consider your Grace one of the most influential of her Majesty's advisers, and one of the principal heads of the Government. We feel justified in entertaining this opinion from the public declaration lately made by your Grace from your place in the House of Peers, that 'you would take on yourself the responsibility of advising her Majesty to prorogue Parliament.' I believe that the Duke sent no answer to this remonstrance from the deputation, which left town without being able to obtain an interview. I think I have stated enough to show that I have been justified in putting this question on the paper, and I, therefore, beg respectfully "to call upon Sir Robert Peel to explain to the House and to the country what is the political position of his Grace the Duke of Wel- lington; whether his Grace is or is not in the political service of the Crown, subject to Ministerial responsibility, and possessed of any and what control over the administration of public affairs."

Sir R. Peel

I shall attempt to answer the question of the hon. Gentleman as respectfully as he has put it. With respect to the political position—that is, the official position—of the Duke of Wellington, I have to state that he is Commander-in-Chief of the British army. He is so far in the political service of the Crown that he is one of the privy councillors, honoured with the immediate confidence of her Majesty, constituting what is popularly called the Cabinet. As a Member of the Cabinet he is responsible for any advice he may offer. As to the control possessed by the Duke of Wellington, I should say that he has great control over the administration of public affairs—that is to say, that control which is implied by a willing deference to any opinion the Duke may offer, either upon civil or military affairs. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has been put to so much trouble in collecting the minute facts with which he has favoured the House, in order that it may be justly inferred that the Duke of Wellington is a Member of the Cabinet, because if he had asked me the question, I should have had no hesitation in at once avowing the fact; and in stating, on my own part, and on the part of every Member of the Government, that we are most proud to have the Duke of Wellington for a colleague. Has to the letters and communications, the hon. Gentleman has read, they amount to no more nor less than this, that the Duke advises those who have business with particular departments to address themselves to those departments. I apprehend, that from general confidence in the integrity and judgment of the Duke of Wellington, his Grace is overburthened with correspondence on matters over which he has no immediate control; therefore, he refers the writers to the heads of departments who, after due inquiry, are able to give an opinion. I cannot answer for the accuracy of any of the letters published, but I am quite sure that the Duke of Wellington as a Minister of State did not mean to say that he was exempt from responsibility, or that he did not exercise a control becoming his age, rank, and station; all that he meant was, and I myself follow that course, that when persons address him on matters belonging to the Secretary at War, or any other department of Government, he earnestly begs leave to refer them to the heads of those departments who are able to inquire into the grievance and to redress if it be found to exist. The Duke of Welington refrains from meddling with matters with which he has no concern, and over which he has no control, and perhaps, the hon. Gentleman himself might have profited by the example.

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