HC Deb 20 July 1859 vol 155 cc130-4

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill, said, it had long been felt as a grievance that while gentlemen who had earned pensions as members of the Government or of the military and naval professions might sit in that House, there should be a doubt whether diplomatists who had clone good service to their country were able to give the House the advantage of their talents and experience. Questions of foreign policy were every day leaving the secret councils of Downing Street, and becoming more and more matters of general discussion and interest; diplomacy was ceasing to be a craft, and men were beginning to see that it was very little more than the application of common sense to our relations with foreign countries. He thought, therefore, it was ill-advised to exclude certain persons from the House of Commons simply because they were receiving the due reward of long diplomatic service. Such men were peculiarly fitted to be Members of the House; and on the other hand it would be for the advantage of the diplomatic service itself that they should sit there. Living continually abroad, and being little mixed up with the affairs of their native country, our diplomatists often became, to a great extent, estranged from the common feelings and interests of their countrymen, and with the best will in the world they sometimes came to conclusions very antagonistic to those arrived at here. Nothing would more effectually counteract that evil than that those gentlemen should be allowed the hope of possessing a seat in the House of Commons. Both parties would be gainers, and no injury, he conceived, would result to the constitutional principles which regulated the composition of the House. He should be the last man to depreciate the value of the Act of Anne, which excluded persons holding pensions under favour of the Crown. It was only necessary to look to foreign countries to recognize the value of that measure in securing the independence of any Parliamentary system of Government. But he maintained that there was no reason for regarding these diplomatic pensions as held during pleasure. They were, he thought, on exactly the same footing as the pensions conferred on those who had held high office in the Government. Both were charged upon the Consolidated Fund; both were recognized as part of the just rewards earned by public service; and he could not see what right we had to draw any distinction between them. So far as official pensions were concerned, they were suspended so long as the persons holding them retained any office the emoluments of which were equal to the amount thus received; while diplomatic pensions were open to be done away with during the time in which the persons who were entitled to them were engaged in the performance of diplomatic service, or were in the receipt of any pay or salary whatsoever under the Crown. And what difference, he would ask, existed between those two separate classes of pensions? The only one was, he believed, that, while in the phraselogy of the Act of Parliament official pensions was conferred "for life," no such words were to be found in relation to diplomatic pensions. It was true that persons holding those pensions might be called upon by the Government of the day to undertake the performance of any duty which came within the scope of their profession; but it could not, he thought, be denied that, in the present state of public feeling, no Minister would be found to use his power in that respect with the view of influencing the conduct of the Members of that House. The same objection, indeed, might be urged against the eligibility of officers in the army and navy. So remote a contingency as that was, therefore, one which he regarded as unworthy of consideration; while the result of the existing law was to exclude from the lower branch of the Legislature such men as Sir Hamilton Seymour and Sir Henry Bulwer, who might, under other circumstances, be Members of the House of Commons, within whose walls he felt assured many hon. Members would be glad to welcome them. He trusted the question was one which would not be confounded with that larger one which embraced the civil service of the Crown, and that the House would not refuse their assent to a measure the operation of which would be to enable men capable of rendering great service in important discussions to take part in their deliberations.

Motion made, and Question proposed "That the Bill be now read a second time."


saw no good reason why members of the diplomatic profession, because they happened to be in the receipt of small pensions, should be excluded from a seat in the House of Commons, while, upon account of the peculiar information which they possessed, he thought their presence would be of great advantage in dealing with subjects of foreign policy. He therefore trusted the Bill would be carried, and that the hon. Gentleman would have the gratification of doing a substantial and graceful act of justice.


said, that the House would see at once that this was a question rather for the House to decide than the Government. The original cause of the exclusion from a seat in that House of persons who held diplomatic pensions was founded in the jealousy which was entertained by the House of Commons of the influence of the Crown, in whose hands the granting these pensions out of the sum (£80,000) included in the Consolidated Fund for this purpose was placed. When the present state of feeling on the subject, however, was taken into consideration, he did not think the removal of a restriction which was based on the supposed existence of an influence which did not now practically exist was open to objection. The time for this jealousy on the part of the House had long passed away, and they might consider the question on larger grounds. He thought it could not be denied that no small advantage would be likely to result from the admission to the House of Commons of such men as those to meet whose case the Bill had been framed. There had been an instance in which a diplomatic servant of the Crown—now a noble Lord (Lord Stratford de Redcliffe)—in the enjoyment of a pension of £2,000 a year, had sacrificed that pension to obtain a seat in Parliament. It was, however, too much to suppose that similar sacrifices would very often be made. It must, however, be remembered, that the diplomatic pensions stood on a very different footing from the superannuated pensions regulated by Act of Parliament. But taking into account the great use of which hon. Members versed in diplomatic subjects were likely to be in the debates in that House, he was of opinion—and in saying so he believed he was expressing the views of the Government—that there was no objection to the passing the Bill under discussion.


thought that members of the military and naval professions were just as likely to be biased in favour of the Crown as those of the diplomatic service, and he could not see why a different rule should be applied to one body, than prevailed with reference to the other.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport had laid down a perfectly constitutional view on this question. The Act of Queen Anne might have operated as a great safeguard in those times; but at this day public feeling had done away with the necessity of any such limitation as this. Let the House take the case of Indian retired Judges. They would be extremely sorry to dispense with the presence of the legal profession who had served in India, then why should they not admit also members of the diplomatic service? He thought the House was much indebted to the hon. Member for Pontefract for introducing this


, as an old Member of the corps diplomatique thanked the hon. Member in their name for the justice he had done them in bringing forward this Bill, to which he heartily gave his support.


also supported the Bill, on the ground of the advantage which the discussions of this House would receive from the intelligence of diplomatic Members in all matters relating to foreign trade.

Bill read 2° and committed for To-morrow.