HC Deb 02 August 1855 vol 139 cc1630-8

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to a report that Lord G. Paget had received a good-service pension of 100l. per annum, with the view of inquiring into the truth of such report, and of ascertaining, if true, what the special services had been for which such pension had been awarded. There existed so much dissatisfaction with reference to the subject that it behoved the Government to give some explanations of the grounds on which they had given the pension, when, no doubt, it would be found that Lord G. Paget had performed services to the country beyond those which were already known to the public. He (Mr. Dillwyn) knew nothing personally of the matter, but had been made acquainted with it through the reports which had appeared in the public prints; and he assumed that those reports were true, for if they had not been so, it was probable that as they contained charges against some of the Members of the Government they would have been contradicted. Lord G. Paget, as far as he knew, was a gallant and meritorious Officer, but there were many others who were equally so to whom no pensions had been awarded. The noble Lord had bravely led his troops on the occasion of the memorable charge at Balaklava, and had performed his devoir as gallantly as any officer or private who took part in that affair. He believed, however, with that exception the noble Lord had seen very little active service; he certainly was at Alma, but the troops under his command were not under fire. He (Mr. Dillwyn) could not therefore conceive that the Government had given the pension to the noble Lord for his services at Balaklava, or that he had so pre-eminently distinguished himself on that occasion as to warrant his being singled out for such a reward. It was also alleged that the pension was given to the noble Lord on the ground of seniority; but that was certainly an insufficient reason for the preference which had been given, as the noble Lord's position as senior regimental Officer might have arisen from accident. As he had just stated, much dissatisfaction existed, because it was believed that the pension had been given to the noble Lord on insufficient grounds; he thought, therefore, that an explanation was due to all parties—to the country, the House, and the army—all of whom would hail with pleasure a statement which would satisfy them that the pension had not been given to Lord G. Paget on account of his high birth or connections, but that the services rendered by him entitled him to the reward which had been bestowed upon him.


said, that with Lord Hardinge most properly rested the responsibility of the selection of officers whose distinguished services he might consider entitled them to the good-service pensions. He (Mr. F. Peel) was rather surprised at the animadversions to which the present appointment had given rise, and wondered, also, that the hon. Member did not see the impropriety of bringing a ques- tion of that kind before the House, which could not possibly be expected to form a just estimate of the relative merits of officers. Unless Lord G. Paget's title rendered him unfit for the appointment, he (Mr. F. Peel) was totally unable to conceive that a better, or, under the circumstances, any other choice could have been made. The sum voted by that House admitted of six or seven good-service pensions being given, and it was thought proper that the cavalry, as well as the line, should be permitted to share in their apportionment, in order to mark the country's approbation of the distinguished conduct of the cavalry on that memorable occasion of the charge at Balaklava. Lord G. Paget was selected to receive his pension because he was the senior regimental Colonel of all the cavalry colonels who were in that action. It was well known that the noble Lord had on that occasion led his regiment in the most gallant manner against the enemy, rallied them on the other side, and brought them back again, behaving throughout the whole affair in the most collected manner. Having such strong claims, and being the senior regimental Colonel, the pension was awarded to the noble Lord; for, had he been passed over, the inference would have been drawn, that he was wanting in his duty, which would have been most unjust. The hon. Member had drawn an invidious comparison between the merits of Lord G. Paget and the other colonels who were engaged at Balaklava. [Mr. DILLWYN: I alluded to all who had taken part in that charge.] Well, whatever might be the merits of the other colonels, they had never been in any previous action any more than Lord G. Paget had, and, therefore, his claim was quite as strong as theirs, on the ground of the active service which he had seen.


said, he did not rise for the purpose of making any comparison between the relative merits of Lord George Paget and other officers who had not received the pension, but with the view of calling the attention of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War to what appeared to him (Colonel Lindsay), and to many others out of doors, to be a somewhat anomalous state of things. The good-service pension was bestowed on officers as a reward for distinguished merit, and also with the view of increasing their pay, and it appeared to him and many others that, while they rewarded with those pensions parties who were nobly serving their country in the East, they somewhat neglected a generation of officers fast passing away, who had served their country bravely and effectually during the Peninsular war. No one would say that our officers in the East did not deserve everything that a grateful country could bestow, but, at the same time, they ought to reward those who had served our country for a longer period in other wars. He had received letters from many old officers who were engaged in the Peninsular war, urging him to bring their case before the House of Commons, but it was not his intention to make a move in the matter at present, as he hoped that their claims would be appreciated and rewarded by him who was most competent to judge of them—he alluded of course to the Commander in Chief of the army. He had made those observations with regard to the general question, and would, before concluding, mention the claims of one of those officers. He had been in seven general actions—he wore a medal with seven clasps—had obtained a gold cross from the Portuguese Government for services rendered during the Peninsular war—had been promoted to the brevet rank of captain in the Portuguese army, and had also been promoted for other distinguished services. That gallant officer supported his family on his pay, and had made in vain many efforts to obtain a good-service pension. He (Colonel Lindsay) had no doubt that there were others who had superior claims to that officer, but he mentioned his case as being one of a class which had been greatly neglected. He trusted that the military authorities would investigate the subject, and that they would not allow the claims of those who were nobly serving their country in the East to supersede altogether the claims of those who had gone through five or even seven campaigns.


said, that many would perhaps consider that his question as to Lord George Paget's pension was a personal matter, but in reality it was not so. It was not a question of whether the noble Lord was justified in accepting the pension, for he (Sir W. Gallwey) thought any other officer who had been placed in the same position would not have refused the pension. There was, therefore, no intention of imputing any blame to the noble Lord for having done so; but the question was, whether there were not many other officers in the Crimea who, not only on account of actions in the field, but of toil endured in the trenches, which was much more difficult to bear, were more worthy of the pension in question than Lord George Paget? He wished to ask the Under Secretary for War a question, which would go far to determine in his mind whether the Government had acted rightly or wrongly in that appointment. The hon. Gentleman had stated that six or seven good-service pensions had been granted, and he (Sir W. Gallwey) wished to know whether they had been all granted to officers serving in the Crimea? [MR. F. PEEL: Yes.] In that case he thought there was a fair ground for bestowing one of those pensions upon the senior officer of cavalry, although his services might not, perhaps, in point of time or brilliancy, equal those of some other officers in different branches of the army.


Sir, I would really put it to the discretion of the House whether this is a kind of discussion which can be carried on with advantage to the public service? The question raised by the Motion of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dillwyn) is whether the Commander in Chief, in the exercise of that discretion which is vested in him by virtue of his office, has properly or improperly selected a particular officer to receive one of those good-service pensions which the generosity of the country has placed at his disposal. Now, that question involves two considerations—first, as to whether the individual upon whom this reward has been conferred has himself performed services which, in the abstract, entitle him to receive it; and next, whether there are any other officers possessing claims which must be admitted, upon just consideration, to be superior to those of the officer upon whom the pension has been bestowed. I really would put it to the House whether it is possible for them—for the few Members who, by accident, upon a given day find themselves assembled within these walls—to be proper judges of cases of this sort? Is it possible that, even if they have a knowledge of all the facts and details of the particular case they can be competent judges of the conflicting claims of all the parties upon a due consideration of which the Commander in Chief's decision had been arrived at? If this House is to take upon itself not only to determine whether a particular officer upon whom any reward or honour is conferred is in himself deserving of that reward, but is also to pass in review all the other officers serving in a particular force and to determine whether any of those officers have or have not claims superior to those of the officer selected for reward, then, I say, this House is embarking into considerations with which it is utterly incompetent to deal, and such a course must be productive of most serious consequences to the discipline and efficiency of the military service. No one man can be selected out of a number among whom, perhaps, there is such a near equality of merit that even the person whose duty it is to make the selection may find himself embarrassed in the choice he is compelled to make—without giving rise to comment. The friends of those officers who are unsuccessful will naturally, and, no doubt honestly, believe the selection made to be an improper one, for it is in human nature to overestimate the merits of those to whom our attention is personally directed, and to undervalue, perhaps, the claims of persons towards whom our observation has been less directed. In a case where there are ten or twenty men to choose from, any one of whom may have been selected, nineteen must be passed over, and the friends of those nineteen will immediately address themselves to some Member of this House to induce him to urge the claims of those officers who have been passed over. Now, if any injustice was done, or any public evil arose formerly from the practice of deciding upon disputed elections by a vote of the whole House, which practice the House thought improper, and had very wisely abolished, then, I say, the inconvenience to the public service, to the discipline and efficiency of the army, arising from such decisions as now proposed must be infinitely more prejudicial. The House would be plunging into one of the greatest evils of a pure democratic State; they would be following the precedents of the days of revolution, when legislative assemblies commanded armies. I hope that now this subject will be allowed to drop. The hon. Member who introduced it has stated his views. My hon. Friend (the Under Secretary for War) has said what it was proper he should say upon this occasion, and I think by pursuing the matter further by inquiring as to whether the claims of individuals have been properly eatimated by the department whose duty it was to decide upon them, which was likewise fully acquainted with the nature of those claims, and the whole circumstances upon which the relative merits of officers were founded, we shall be taking out of the hands of the Commander in Chief that discretion which can only be usefully exercised by him, and the House will, without intending it, inflict a very great injury to the public service.


said, the only object of the hon. Member who originated the discussion was to obtain an explanation upon a matter which had been very much discussed out of doors. The noble Lord at the Head of the Government said, that nineteen out of twenty would be dissatisfied with the selection of the twentieth candidate for honours, but that proved the necessity for a scrutiny into those appointments; for if nineteen men out of twenty were necessarily passed over it would be an additional and unnecessary mortification for them to find that their claims had been passed over in favour of any but the best qualified of their competitors. He would also suggest that the services for which a good-service pension was awarded should be announced in the Gazette. He agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Wigan (Colonel Lindsay) that Peninsular officers should not be passed over in distributing those pensions, especially when it was recollected that they were all old men, and, if rewarded with a pension, could not, in the course of nature, retain it long.


said, that the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War had described Lord George Paget as the senior cavalry officer in the Crimea.


I said the senior regimental officer.


said, he found, from the Army List, that the services of Lord George Paget only extended to twenty years, while those of Colonel Griffiths was twenty-six, Colonel Shewell twenty-eight, and Major De Salis twenty-five years.


said, that the Under Secretary for War had mentioned Lord Paget as the senior officer, and it did not follow that that noble Lord might not be, as an officer, senior to the gallant officers mentioned, although upon the whole he had been less time in the army.


said, he agreed that it was invidious to institute in that House comparisons between various officers. It had been his fate to have to select officers of the navy to receive good-service pensions, and he found the task a difficult and a delicate one. He thought, from the speech of the hon. Under Secretary for War, that there appeared to be an intention to give good-service pensions solely for services performed in the Crimea. That, he contended, was not the object for which the money to provide those pensions was voted; it was not voted to reward brilliant services actually being performed, but because, certain commands in the nature of sinecures, and usually given to old and deserving officers, having been abolished, those good-service pensions were to be granted in compensation. The term "good-service pensions" in itself implied that they were to be given to the oldest class of officers. He, therefore, would suggest that, while the rewards of the Bath and of promotion should be bestowed on every active officer whose actions merited them, the good-service pensions should be given only to the most deserving of the older officers.


said, he must protest against the doctrine of the noble Lord the Prime Minister that the House of Commons had no right to criticise the acts of governing authority in the distribution of public money.


said, he had not denied the right; he only put it as a matter of discretion.


said the country had no objection to reward meritorious services, but it did desire that the money voted for that purpose should be applied in the best possible manner. He hoped the House would never abandon its right to discuss the application of every portion of the public funds.


said, he fully agreed with the right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) that good-service pensions should be awarded for good and long service, and he would take that opportunity of adverting to the hard case of sergeants who, on promotion, were called upon to forego their good-conduct pay.


said, he would admit that it was inconvenient to discuss the relative merits of officers in that House, but he must remind the noble Lord that the subject had not been mentioned there until it had been loudly asserted elsewhere that an improper distribution of rewards had been made. He believed Lord George Paget was entitled to his reward, but he thought the right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) had correctly stated the intention of Parliament granting those good-service pensions. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War appeared to think that they were to be conferred only upon senior officers, but in the infantry certainly they had not been granted solely to senior officers, and he deprecated any fixed rule of seniority in their award. He also begged to express his concurrence in the observation of the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Pellatt) respecting the hardship imposed upon non-commissioned officers to whom promotion was sometimes a pecuniary loss,—an injustice that ought not to be permitted to endure.

Motion agreed to.