HC Deb 16 June 1845 vol 81 cc614-20

House in Committee on Her Majesty's Message, which was read. [See ante p. 443, 476.]

Sir R. Peel

Mr. Greene, I feel that I shall only be weakening the effect of that unanimous feeling of public approbation of the character and conduct, and of the public services of Sir H. Pottinger, which was expressed by the House on a preceding night, if I were now to repeat the general panegyric which was then passed on that gallant gentleman, not only by every one who spoke, but which was assented to by all who were present. There are some occasions on which the repetition of panegyric is calculated only to weaken it. Therefore I shall abstain, feeling this to be one of those occasions, from dwelling upon the merits of an officer which are universally admitted to be great, and deserving of peculiar reward. In accordance, therefore, with Her Majesty's most gracious Message, I have to move that Her Majesty be enabled to grant to Sir H. Pottinger the sum of 1,500l. per annum. I propose that this grant shall have a retrospective effect, commencing with the day on which he ceased to receive full pay as Her Majesty's Plenipotentiary in China. I propose, also, that this pension of 1,500l. per annum shall continue to exist during the life of Sir H. Pottinger, without qualification of distinction, in case he should hereafter be employed in the public service. I propose it as a mark of public acknowledgment of the past services which Sir H. Pottinger has actually rendered, and, in the event of that which I trust we shall all live to witness—the employment of Sir H. Pottinger in the public service—it shall not disentitle him to the continued receipt of this pension as the reward of his past services.

Mr. Williams

expressed his belief that a better mode of rewarding Sir Henry Pottinger might have been devised—namely, by giving him some high employment in the public service, for which he would receive an adequate emolument. By that means the double purpose of rewarding a deserving officer, and of economising the public money, would have been secured. But that was a course which the Government did not seem disposed to follow, in rewarding public officers. They were about to give 1,500l. to Sir Henry Pottinger; but what had they done for Sir W. Parker, whose ability and scientific skill had led to our successes in China? They had rewarded him with only 300l. a year; and that not for a single service, but for a long continued series of services. True, Sir Hugh Gough had been raised to the post of Commander-in-Chief; and that was the way in which Sir Henry Pottinger ought to have been rewarded. He thought this grant a bad precedent.

Sir George Staunton

having been absent when the subject was before the House on the former evening, was anxious to take that opportunity of expressing his cordial concurrence in the Motion before the House. He concurred with the hon. Member who had just sat down as to the importance of the services rendered by the naval and military forces in the Chinese war; but still he very much doubted whether, without the skill and judgment exhibited by Sir Henry Pottinger, these services would have led to the speedy and important conclusion which had been put to the war. He was anxious to express his entire concurrence in what the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government had said respecting the gentleman that had been appointed to succeed Sir Henry Pottinger in China. He considered the appointment of Mr. Davis a most excellent one. From the peculiar position of this country with regard to China, it was necessary that a gentleman, not only of talents but of experience, should be placed over the new Colony in that quarter; and he regarded it as a proof of the fitness of Mr. Davis for the post to which he had been promoted, that the Colony had progressed very favourably since his arrival there, and that perfect harmony and good understanding had been maintained with the Chinese authorities. He had only to add that he considered the present Motion one which conferred great honour on Her Majesty's Government.

Sir Robert Peel

said, the sentiments which he had expressed on the former evening when the subject was before the House, were in perfect accordance with the opinion put forward by the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Williams), that the patronage of the Crown, particularly in appointments to high offices of trust, should be employed in conferring emoluments on those whom circumstances had enabled to render important public services. Therefore the principle contended for by the hon. Gentleman was one which he fully admitted; at the same time that he thought the sense of the House fully justified the course which had been taken in the present instance. It should not be forgotten that there were peculiar circumstances attending the case of Sir Henry Pottinger. That gentleman entered the public service at a very early age—he believed at sixteen—and, with the exception of a short period of about a year and a half, during which he had been absent on leave, he had been engaged in active duties for upwards of forty years. It was but fair, after a public life of nearly half a century, at least of upwards of forty years, that even though he did not ask for it, the State should grant him some remuneration, and that the country should be saved from the discredit of allowing him to remain in poverty. The hon. Member would remember that Sir Henry Pottinger might have aspired to a high place in the Council of India; but the Crown sent him on a peculiar service, not in connexion with the East India Company, but immediately connected with the Crown. He was therefore entitled to consideration, not only for the service which he had performed, but also for having been taken out of the employment of the East India Company. The hon. Member had referred to the distinguished services of the Army and Navy; but it should not be forgotten that since these services had been performed, the commandership-in-chief of India fell vacant, and the Government at once appointed Sir Hugh Gough, the officer who commanded the army in China, to the situation. Again, immediately after Sir William Parker returned to this country from China, a vacancy occurred in the command of the fleet in the Mediterranean, and the Government appointed that officer to it. A vacancy had also occurred, since the termination of the war, in the Council in India. It was, he believed, a military situation, and General Pollock had been selected for it. He thought these facts served to show that it was not likely, when great offices of trust, accompanied by considerable emoluments, became vacant, they would be conferred by the Government without reference to former public services. With respect to Sir Henry Pottinger, it would be rather hard if, after forty years service, the only hope of a reward to which he could have to look was to be some situation in distant countries, where considerations of health would be likely to render him less useful than he otherwise might be. After this explanation, he hoped the hon. Member would allow the Vote to pass in a manner in which it must prove most acceptable in the eyes of Sir Henry Pottinger.

Viscount Palmerston

would give his most hearty and cordial support to the Vote before the House. He considered the circumstances under which it was brought forward perfectly satisfactory. He thought the grant was highly to be recommended, even on the ground of economy; for there could be no greater economy practised than rewarding public services in a proper manner. In supporting the Vote he could not at all concur in the hope which the hon. Member had expressed, that it would not serve as a precedent to lead to future grants. He should, on the contrary, be delighted to find that it became a precedent, and led to bestowing equal rewards for services of equal importance. He trusted that when great services were rendered to the country, the House of Commons would be found, as it was now, assisting the Crown in marking its approbation of those services. He could not forget how much the operations of the army and navy had contributed to their successes in China. He quite concurred in all that had been said in praise of these services; and he thought it quite impossible that any ability of negotiation, such as that shown by Sir Henry Pottinger, could have been successful, if the way had not been opened for him by the able proceedings of Sir Hugh Gough and Sir William Parker. He recollected a very remarkable expression which had been used by Lord Grenville, soon after the conclusion of the war. Adverting to the great military successes of the Duke of Wellington, he said, that it was remarkable that when he spoke to that commander of the great victories which he had achieved, the reply was, that they were due to the valour, the discipline, and the courage of the troops; and that when he spoke to the officers on the same subject, they said the victories were due to the great skill and ability of their commander. In the same manner it might be said of the Chinese war, that the negotiations were rendered feasible by the skill and bravery of the naval and military forces; but that that skill and bravery would have been insufficient for the purpose if there had not been one, like Sir Henry Pottinger, to take advantage of the successes which the naval and military forces achieved. He entertained no apprehension but that, when an opportunity offered for great public trust, Sir Henry Pottinger would not be overlooked; for no matter what private favour or party consideration might suggest in the selection of persons to fill important posts, yet in great responsible situations every Government would endeavour to choose only the best and ablest men that could be found for the purpose. He, therefore, felt perfect confidence that the right hon. Baronet, or whoever else might have the direction of the affairs of this country, would feel that he was doing himself a most useful service, as well as conferring a valuable benefit on the country, by selecting Sir Henry Pottinger for any office worthy of him, and which he might be qualified to fulfil. The noble Lord concluded by repeating his gratification at the Vote being brought forward.

Mr. Hume

intended to trespass only for a very few moments on the time of the House. He was extremely anxious, in consequence of what had fallen from his hon. Friend (Mr. Williams), to offer a few remarks. The noble Lord who had just sat down had stated, that the present Vote met with the concurrence of the House of Commons; and he (Mr. Hume) believed he could safely say, that it had also the approbation of the public generally. He could tell his hon. Friend, that during the many years in which he (Mr. Hume) had a seat in that House, there was, perhaps, no man who had done more to reduce pensions than he had, but he never expressed an opinion otherwise than this: namely, that while he was anxious to take from the Crown the privilege of granting pensions at its discretion, he also declared at all times, that whenever an occasion might occur in which a pension was deserved, the Government might with confidence appeal to the Representatives of the people in that House on behalf of any individual whose merits would be known, and whose claims would be generally admitted. He admitted the great services of the naval and military forces. He would even go so far as to say that he did not think there was any occurrence in the naval history of this country so highly honourable and creditable to the individuals concerned in it as the events of the Chinese war. But, he would ask, was there no credit to be given to the man who had the talent of seizing upon the proper opportunity, and turning it to a successful result? If there were anything which could increase the satisfaction with which he would vote for the present grant, it would be to see the grant bear date from the day on which Sir Henry Pottinger had signed the Treaty of Peace with China. That was the only alteration which he would wish to suggest, after the very handsome manner in which the Vote had been brought forward by the right hon. Baronet.

Vote agreed to.

House resumed.