HC Deb 09 May 1856 vol 142 cc273-6

SIR ERSKINE PERRY rose, and said, that after the rebukes of the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford, he would not have introduced the subject to which he was about to call attention at the present moment, but that he should have no other opportunity, and after next week it would be too late. The House were aware that the East India Company by their charter were empowered to grant pensions to their servants; but that this House had from time to time interfered to regulate the disposal of their revenues. Mr. Pitt's Bill prevented them from granting pensions exceeding £200 a year without the sanction of the Board of Control, and a subsequent measure prevented them from granting any annuities exceeding £600. He now asked the right hon. Gentleman what was the clause in the existing Act which enabled the East India Company to grant an annuity of £5,000 a year to any person not in their service. By the Act of 1833 the whole of the revenues of India were vested in the Company for the service of the Crown; and under it they might, with the sanction of the Board of Control, grant pensions to those who were in the service of the Company; but he contended that there was no Act which enabled them to grant pensions to other persons. He was aware the question was sub judice, and had not yet been sanctioned by the Government, but he wished to know if they intended to do so, and by what authority? He understood from the discussion which had arisen in another place that the statute which was relied upon as conferring the power was the 33 Geo. III. That Act, however, related to the East India Company in its trading capacity, and was wholly inoperative at this time, because at the present day the East India Company had no funds whatever, the whole of its territorial possessions and revenue being vested in the Crown. The manner in which these funds were to be dealt with was provided by the 3 & 4 Will. IV., and it was there provided that pensions could only be granted under certain circumstances. He admitted that in 1846 the Court of Directors had voted a grant of £5,000 a year to Lord Hardinge; but that grant was submitted to the House, and was made the foundation of a special Act of Parliament, the 9 & 10 Vict. Moreover, Lord Hardinge's case was no precedent for the present proposition, Lord Hardinge being at the time that that annuity was voted him a servant of the East India Company, and the East India Company had the power, with the consent of the President of the Board of Control, to grant it. He hoped he had said enough to show the House there were some doubts existing as to the legality of granting the pension; and he hoped, moreover, that, even if the power actually existed, the House would consider the constitutional propriety of the matter before sanctioning it. The present salary of a Governor General of India was 240,000 rupees, or about £26,000 sterling, per annum; if that was not sufficient let it be increased, and not keep it at that amount, to make the smallness of the salary a pretext for granting pensions to future Governors General; because the effect of so doing would be to fill the Cabinet with pensioned men, which would have the effect of weakening the decisions they might give on all great questions, particularly connected with India, that might come before tbem for their consideration. He trusted that in this case the Government would pursue the constitutional method, and would bring in a Bill on the subject of the proposed annuity. He asked the President of the Board of Control, whether his attention had been called to the legality of the power claimed by the East India Company to confer annuities out of the revenues of India on persons not in the service of the East India Company, and whether, under the present constitution of the Home Government of India, such annuities, in the opinion of the President, ought to be granted without the sanction of Parliament?


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman had claimed exemption to the general rule of introducing a desultory discussion on the Motion for adjournment, on the ground that something was about to happen in the ensuing week which would render his mentioning it at a future period of no benefit. He was sorry to cut away the ground from under his hon. and learned Friend's feet, but such was not the case. The East India Directors had, as was known to the hon. and learned Gentleman and many others, passed a resolution with reference to their granting a pension of £5,000 a year to Lord Dalhousie; but by the law, and also by the by-law of the Company, they were obliged to submit the resolution to two Courts of Proprietors for approval. One court would be held on Wednesday next, and the second on the following Wednesday, which would be after the reassembling of Parliament. After that the Directors would have to submit the resolution to the President of the Board of Control and the Government for approval; and after that the grant must be submitted within a month to the sanction of Parliament. He (Mr. Vernon Smith) considered the hon. and learned Gentleman had submitted a case to him for his opinion that ought to have been submitted to the legal officers of the Crown. It was one he declined then giving any opinion on, but he assured the House that if there were any doubts with regard to the power of the East India Board of Directors to grant this pension, he should take the opinion of the law officers of the Crown before consenting to it. The question now stood in the position which he had stated, and not having heard the grounds upon which the East India Directors proposed to grant this pension to Lord Dalhousie, he declined pledging the Government one way or the other. He thought, however, there was nothing extraordinary in the East India Directors being desirous of marking their approval of the satisfactory manner in which the noble Lord had discharged the duties of his high office. The noble Lord's administration in India had received the unanimous approval of the Board of Directors, and, in consequence, he had been prevailed on by them to protract his stay beyond the usual period, in spite of severe domestic calamities and much personal suffering. It was, therefore, nothing extraordinary that the Court of Directors should wish to visit with special reward the great services of that eminent man, whom Her Majesty had already advanced to additional honours in the peerage. The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated that he doubted the power of the East India Directors to grant this pension; but he did not appear to have stated whether the power of granting it was taken away from the Board of Directors in 1853, or had never existed. Having had his attention called to the question, he (Mr. V. Smith) had gone over the various Acts of Parliament with reference to it, and there appeared to him to be nothing in the Act of 1853 which destroyed the previous powers of the Board of Directors to grant pensions. The 55 Geo. III. c. 64, in his opinion gave them the power to do it, with the consent of the President of the Board of Control. It was under that Act of Parliament that pensions were granted to the Marquess Wellesley and to Lord Hardinge. He could only repeat, that if there was the slightest doubt that the Board of Directors had not the power to grant this pension, he should consult the law officers of the Crown on it before he consented to the grant or submitted it to Parliament.