HL Deb 24 June 1834 vol 24 cc817-21

On the Question that the House do resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House on the Civil Office (Pensions) Bill,

Earl Grey

said, that when the Bill was read a second time by their Lordships, no statement was entered into of its principal provisions; he should therefore trouble them with a few words before they proceeded with the Order of the Day. The noble Earl stated an outline of the Bill. He was sure the House when they looked at the previous power of the Crown, limited as it was—when they looked at the great services which the officers he had mentioned usually rendered to the State—would agree with him in thinking that the Bill did not invest the Crown with undue power. If anything, he should say that the Bill did not enable the Crown sufficiently to reward those functionaries.

The Duke of Wellington

referred to the preamble of the Act of 1817, for the purpose of showing, that the arrangements then made were in the nature of a bargain, by which, when the sinecure offices were abolished, pensions were to be instituted for them. It was to be specially observed, that out of twenty-two pensions which might have been granted, only eleven were; and really it was not too much to expect that the Crown should be invested with the power of making adequate recompense to its servants, the more particularly as now the expense and difficulty of getting into Parliament had so much increased, and when the emoluments of the bar and other professions stood so high, that it would he no easy matter to secure an efficient support in the public service if suitable rewards were not given. It was also to be borne in mind that the increased and increasing power of the House of Commons had rendered a measure of that nature necessary—it was fitting, that the power of the Crown should be sufficient for the purpose, and that the Crown alone should possess the right of rewarding its servants. He was the more led to make this observation from what had occurred in another place, where the reward to be given to the services of a gallant Officer was taken into consideration against the wish of the Ministers of the Crown. There, were, however, some clauses to which he should move Amendments when they went into Committee.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that he must have closed his eyes to all that had been passing around him for several years, and particularly during the four last, if he were to say that he entertained the same view of the power of the Crown as formerly. However unpalatable the statement might be, he certainly must declare, that the power of the Crown was now so fenced round, and its patronage so cut down, as to be no longer objects of apprehension. This was the result of various economical reforms, of some of which, when a Member of the other House, he had been a promoter. We were not now living in such times as those in which Mr. Dunning submitted his resolution, that the power of the Crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished, or as in 1822 (he thought it was, but at all events it was in the last year of Lord Londonderry's life), when he (the Lord Chancellor) made the same Motion. It was impossible any longer to advance the proposition that danger was to be apprehended from the power of the Crown. God forbid, however, that there should be any deficiency of jealousy or watchfulness on the part of the people through their Representatives, or if they would, without their Representatives, against any encroachment on their li- berties or the renewal of old abuses. With respect to the existing system, which was established by Mr. Bankes's Bill in 1817, and which the Bill now before their Lordships proposed to alter, he doubted whether it was not one of the widest departures from the principle of the Constitution, ever made. It was true that sinecure places existed; but in their inception they were not so. They were originally working offices, though in process of time they had become sinecures, and were used as endowments for public men, whom there was no other means of rewarding. Mr. Bankes, on bringing forward his Bill, contended that when such offices were abolished, it would be necessary to provide other means of rewarding men who had been in the public service, and he used a catching argument for those who might be called ultra-liberals—those who were most decidedly opposed to the extension of the monarchical principle, and the greatest haters of pensions,—namely, that if such means were not provided, none but men of fortune would devote themselves to the service of the State, and that thus the Aristocracy would obtain a monopoly of the Government. Now, it was not consistent with the practice of our Constitution that there should be any profession or trade of politicians. Lawyers, merchants, and even divines in one way, took part in the strife of Parliament; but there was no particular class who followed the trade, as it were, of politician. It was said, that by abolishing sinecures without providing a substitute for them, men of talent but no fortune would he excluded from the public service. Now he could name six or seven statesmen, the most eminent men of their time, who were totally devoid of private fortune, and who never obtained a sinecure office. These were, the first Lord Chatham, the first Lord Holland, the two Lords Liverpool (he would take them as one only) Mr. Sheridan, Lord Grenville, Mr. Addington, Mr. Canning, and Mr. Perceval. Indeed, with the exception of Sir Robert Walpole, Mr. Pulteney, Mr. Pelham, and the present Premier, there had been hardly a Prime Minister, during the last or present century, who was not destitute of private fortune. The noble Duke near him (the Duke of Wellington) was no exception, for he was a professional man like himself. [Some noble Lords here mentioned the names of several other Ministers, amongst which we heard those of Lord North, the Marquess of Bute, and the Duke of Grafton.] Of all the Ministers he had mentioned, scarcely any but those of the rich class obtained sinecure offices. Lord North had a sinecure, but Mr. Canning had none. Mr. Pitt had the wardenship of the Cinque Ports, and he was almost the only brilliant Minister who obtained a sinecure. He, therefore, did not attach much weight to the argument, that the withholding of pensions and sinecures would prevent men of small fortunes, or none at all, from entering the public service. If, as was alleged, persons of this description were enticed into the service of the State by the hope of obtaining sinecure offices, they were very dishonestly treated, for they seldom had that hope realized. He asked their Lordships, whether they ever heard of a sinecure or pension being given to men who performed their duty to the State by attacking the Government, and opposing the prerogative of the Crown when it was overgrown? Mr. Dunning might have gone on for ever moving that the power of the Crown had increased, and ought to be diminished, without getting a sinecure. [A Peer reminded the noble and learned Lord that Mr. Dunning, when Lord Ashburton, held the office of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.] Very well; but he did not think that office was a sinecure, and it was given to Mr. Dunning in consequence of his having abandoned his profession for the service of the State. In order to obtain the reward of a pension, it was not necessary merely that a man should apply himself to the service of the public by becoming a Member of Parliament. He must also take office—he must recommend himself, not to the public, but the Minister, and must pass through the usual routine of offices, until he obtained a seat in the Cabinet. Talk of "midnight oil" and the "sweat of the brow!" A man might waste all the oil in his cruets, and sweat till he could sweat no longer, and then he would have to go to the poor-house, for aught the present system would do for him, unless he ingratiated himself with the Minister, and obtained a place. The getting into office, however, would be of no use, unless the individual resolved to agree with the Minister in every thing; for if he differed from him upon any point of conscience he would lose his place, and, of course, his chance of a pension. It was therefore necessary that he should put his conscience under a bushel for three years before he could be entitled to a pension. This was a bad system, and he would support the present Bill, because it would, to a certain extent, correct it.

The Bill passed through a Committee. Their Lordships afterwards heard further evidence in the case of the Warwick Borough.