HC Deb 01 July 1875 vol 225 cc813-9

, in rising to call attention to the subject of the Pension recently granted to Ex-Governor Eyre and to the grounds on which its amount was determined, said, that there was no question of principle or authority, but only one of technicality involved in this matter Mr. Eyre was Governor of Jamaica for four years and four months, but before the close of that period he was suspended for two months; and the question was, whether those two months should be counted in his period of service, so as to entitle him to the full pension which a service of 21 years would entitle him to. He did not bring the question forward as a friend of that gentleman. Three days before he had given Notice on the subject he had never heard of the pension and never seen the face of Ex-Governor Eyre; and nine years ago, when there was much discussion of his case and much excitement in the House and out of it, he took no part in the debates. But some short time ago he was asked by an hon. Member to look into the Papers as an impartial person and give his opinion upon the question. He did so, and came to the conclusion that it was a very hard case. The facts were simply the see:—after long service in various quarters and climates, Mr. Eyre was in 1862 appointed Governor of Jamaica. He arrived in Jamaica in the spring of that year, and continued to administer the government without interruption or disturbance until October 1865, when a rebellion broke out. It was suppressed, and a Royal Commission was issued to inquire into the whole facts of the case. The Commission arrived in Jamaica in January, 1866. Mr. Eyre remained in Jamaica six months longer till the Commission had finished their labours; and the question was whether the interval between the arrival of the Commission and the time when they left the island Mr. Eyre's continuance there was a prolongation of his public service? There were three documents which bore on this point, two of them signed by the Secretary of State and the other bearing the Sign Manual of the Sovereign. When the Royal Commission was appointed, Mr. Eyre, the Governor, was informed by the Secretary of State that in order that the inquiry should be effective and satisfactory it was necessary that supreme power, military as well as civil, should be vested in the officer who was to preside over the Commission. Sir Henry Storks did not vacate his appointment as Governor of Malta; his appointment to Jamaica was only temporary. The Royal Commission and the appointment of Sir Henry Storks was no disapproval or censure on the part of the Government. On the contrary, every despatch presented to Parliament expressed approval and commendation. Mr. Eyre remained at Jamaica under the clear orders of the Secretary of State. Then the question arose in what character did he remain their—as Governor, or in what other capacity? This question was made clear by the second despatch to which he would refer. There was no removal, no displacement. It was a mere temporary suspension, "until We shall think fit to determine these presents." It implied that when the Commission left the island Mr. Eyre should be re-instated in his government. This was rendered clear by the orders given in Mr. Cardwell's despatch to Sir Henry Storks relative to the salary of Mr. Eyre. Mr. Eyre was to receive the same salary—£5,000—while he continued in the island, which would have been payable to him if he had continued in the full exercise of his functions. In what capacity was he to be paid his full salary of £5,000 a-year unless as Governor of Jamaica? Mr. Eyre remained under the orders of the Secretary of State on his full salary until he left the island in July following. Mr. Cardwell expected when the inquiry was over Mr. Eyre would be restored to his functions, and no doubt that was the opinion of Sir Henry Storks, for he said to Mr. Eyre—"Whenever the inquiry is over, I make my bow and you resume your place as Governor." He knew that this question had been well considered by the Government after taking the best advice; but he felt satisfied, if he elicited a general opinion from the House that this was a mere question of construction and technicality, the Government would adopt a more liberal view and relax from the severity of their determination. He believed those of his Friends who expressed the strongest opinions against Mr. Eyre when speaking of his conduct in Jamaica would be the first to repudiate any connection between a great principle and a small legal technicality. He had the strongest conviction that Mr. Charles Buxton and Mr. John Stuart Mill, if they had been alive, would say,—" We impeached Governor Eyre while his acts were fresh in our memory, but we will not follow the individual into retirement; we will not hunt him down in his old age; we will not deprive his children of the substance they had a right to expect; we will not degrade a great question of principle into one of mere personal spite and parsimonious persecution." If it were a question whether a pension should be granted or not, he should expect those who disapproved Governor Eyre's proceedings to say—"We have changed no opinion, we have abandoned no principle, and we will press the question of principle to the last." But this was not the question: the pension had been granted; any question of principle or policy was closed; and nothing but a legal technicality remained. He did not wish to make any complaint of the Government nor to press them for an immediate answer, but he wished to elicit an expression of opinion favourable to the view he took; and he could not think that this or any Government would desire to act unmercifully in such a case. He thought the Prime Minister would be glad to say,—"We did our duty, but the House has expressed a wish to which we shall gladly pay deference." Such a course would meet with the sympathy and approval of the country. He had intended to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to take into further consideration the Pension recently granted to Ex-Governor Eyre, and the grounds on which its amount was determined; but as the previous Motion had been negatived and he could not move another, he hoped that his object would be attained by discussion.


, who would have seconded the Motion if it could have been proposed, contended that Governor Eyre could not have remained in Jamaica in any other capacity than that of Governor. Governor Eyre had for 21 years shown the greatest ability in the discharge of his duties, and he appealed to the Government, as an act of justice to a distinguished public servant, to reconsider the matter and grant to Governor Eyre the full amount of pension to which he was entitled.


said, he would explain the reasons why it would have been impossible for the Government to assent to the Motion if it could have been made, and why they could not comply with the request made by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsman). The right hon. Gentleman had stated the circumstances of the case correctly, and he could assure him that the Government did not arrive at their decision without full consideration and without consultation with those to whom they had to look for advice in the interpretation of the law. Mr. Eyre served for a period two months and a-half short of that which would have entitled him to claim a pension of the first-class under the Colonial Governors Pensions Act; and that being so, when the application was sent in for a pension it was considered, like all other similar applications, by reference to the Act of Parliament. As differences of opinion arose on the consideration of the case, it was referred to the Law Officers of the Crown; and their opinion was that the six months Mr. Eyre served in Jamaica after the arrival of the Royal Commission did not come within the terms of the Pension Act. It was true Mr. Eyre remained those six months under the orders of the Secretary of State; but anyone who referred to the provisions of the Act of Parliament would see that Governor Eyre was not, according to the terms of the Act, during that time administering the government of the Colony. The right hon. Gentleman had asked whether the Government had not decided the question by a legal technicality—a legal construction of the Act. Certainly they had, but was not the law entirely composed of legal technicalities? and it was the opinion of the Government that they were bound by the literal construction of the Act, as would have been the humblest of Her Majesty's subjects. He confessed it was a subject of sincere regret to the Secretary of State for the Colonies to have to arrive at a decision which might appear to involve hardship to a public servant. It would always be the wish of the present Secretary of State, as it would be that of anyone who held his place, to carry out the law with all tenderness as regarded private interests; but it was not in the power of any Minister of the Crown to override the construction of an Act of Parliament, and in the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown he was bound by the provisions of the Act to arrive at the determination which had been announced. In coming to it no reference was had to any particular incident in the career of Mr. Eyre. Throughout the whole inquiry, which lasted a considerable time, and which it was necessary to make with the view of determining the amount of the pension to which Mr. Eyre was entitled, no weight was given by his noble Friend to any single circumstance arising out of the affairs of Jamaica. It was his noble Friend's opinion that Mr. Eyre, like any public servant who had been removed, still remained eligible for re-employment, and was entitled to such pension as he had earned by service. He hoped the House would consider that he had given reasons why it was utterly impossible for the Government to accede to the request made by the right hon. Gentleman. If the Motion could have been proposed it would have been his duty, on the part of the Government, to object to the question being raised in that form; for, by the terms of the Motion, an Address to Her Majesty was to be used as a means of overriding the express terms of an Act of Parliament. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not, in his speech, go so far; but the terms of the Notice involved that conclusion, and the right hon. Gentleman would see it was quite impossible to deal separately with any case in that way.


said, the case of Governor Eyre would be no encouragement to public servants, when they found they were liable to lose their well-earned pensions because they were deficient in time a few months. If the right hon. Gentleman could have gone to a division he would have been in a majority, and justice would have been done to a man who had so long and faithfully served his country.


said, the Government had been, to a certain extent, censured by one of their own supporters. He wished to remark that he believed that he expressed the opinion of many in that House when he said that he entirely approved of the course taken by the Government and their approval of the temperate and moderate speech of the Under Secretary for the Colonies. His speech was characterized by great discretion, good taste, and sound judgment; and he (Mr. Fawoett) did not wish the debate to close without expressing the approval by himself and others of the course the Government had taken with regard to this question.


said, the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the subject having expressed his belief that if Mr. John Stuart Mill were still in that House he would have supported his proposal, he wished to say that, having had the honour to sit near Mr. Mill for three years on that bench, and having heard him again and again express his opinion on that subject, he would venture to say that he would not have concurred in the sentiments of the right hon. Gentleman.