HL Deb 01 June 1869 vol 196 cc1085-92

, pursuant to notice, asked if the recent appointment of Under Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had been made as a permanent appointment, and whether a military commission was held to be a disqualification for the office? Doubts had been expressed as to the propriety of making this a permanent appointment, and his Question was therefore put merely with the view of obtaining information, and not with any intention of raising a discussion on Irish affairs generally, or of raising any objection to the appointment that had recently been made. His second Question, however—whether a military commission was held to be a disqualification for the office—required some words of explanation. The late Government, not long before their resignation of Office, nominated the late Sir Edward Wetherall to the post in question—an appointment very creditable to themselves, and entirely for the public interest. It did not, however, suit the views of a noisy party in Dublin, who loudly cavilled against it; and the present Government on coming into Office adopted the unfavourable view of the appointment then in circulation. He would not say, indeed, that they acted at all in concert with the gentlemen to whom he had alluded, but their sympathies apparently took the same direction. Earl Spencer, the new Lord Lieutenant, on arriving at Dublin, frankly told Sir Edward that it was under the consideration of the Government whether his appointment should be recognized. The Chief Secretary for Ireland, however, took another course; for, without any intimation to Sir Edward, with whom he was at the time in daily communication, he opened a correspondence with the Commander-in-Chief, with the view of obtaining military employment for him—even suggesting a command in India as a convenient solution of the difficulty, since it would remove Sir Edward Wetherall from Dublin, and would leave the office at the disposal of the Government. This would have been governing Ireland according to Irish ideas; for nothing could be more in accordance with ideas than the creation of vacancies for the purpose of filling them up with political Mends. He doubted, however, whether their Lordships would altogether approve such a principle—indeed it would only be a parallel cast; if the Under Secretary at the Home Office were promoted by surprise to the judicial bench at Hong Kong. The Commander-in-Chief had, at the time, no means of making the arrangement suggested, and nothing further was done; but the local press and those who inspired it continued to express their disapproval of Sir Edward's continuance in Office. In March the Government, having an opportunity of giving their opinion, stated that the appointment had been regularly made by their predecessors, who were quite competent to make it; adding, however, that two serious errors of judgment had been committed—one in the time of making the appointment, the other in the selection of a military officer—and that they consequently held themselves free to provide some other employment for Sir Edward, and call upon him to accept it. The Chief Secretary, on behalf of the Government, spoke in complimentary terms of Sir Edward Wetherall, regarding him as quite blameless, and as innocently placed in a false position—though it was difficult to understand how a gentleman who had been regularly appointed, and who was competent for the office, could be described as occupying a false position. The Chief Secretary further stated that nothing had occurred prejudicial to Sir Edward Wetherall's character or unworthy of his high reputation—a remark in which he (the Earl of Longford) quite agreed; but he doubted whether as much could be said of all the other parties concerned in this business. The present Government, it seemed to him, had imported into it quite as many blunders as those they charged on their predecessors; for, if they had not dealt with it in a party spirit, they had so dealt with it as to render it difficult to distinguish between their action in the matter and a pure party proceeding. When an office of this kind was regularly filled up and the appointment completed, the person, appointed ought to have as much title to permanency as any Judge on the Bench. Again, it was but just that the holder of such an office should look with confidence for the support of his superiors in any emergency; whereas Sir Edward Wetherall was left to discharge the duties of an important post under notice to quit, leaving the impression that if any difficulty arose he would receive but slender support. He did not say that the Government would have left him in the lurch, but, from the language of the Government, those with whom he was dealing had that impression. It was not judicious, moreover, to offer a gratuitous affront to all the members of an honourable profession by pronouncing a military officer of Sir Edward Wetherall's capacity unfit for the office. Military men were not disposed to listen patiently to the assertion that they were disqualified for an office which had frequently been held by members of their profession. They could not claim any appointment outside their commission; but they did claim that they should not be pronounced ineligible for appointments for which they had hitherto been considered competent. He (Lord Longford) was ashamed to find himself even entering upon Sir Edward Wetherall's qualifications for such an office; but he might shortly mention that, in addition to a distinguished military career, during which he successfully directed several administrative departments, he had completed the two years course of study at the senior department at Sandhurst, and had lately resided for five years in Dublin, with an office in Dublin Castle almost as much of a civil as a military character, which constantly brought him into communication with the Government. This, at least, ought to have protected him from being represented as almost an incumbrance to the Irish Government. The Government having declared themselves at liberty to remove him—an intention which, if challenged, they might have carried out—he had refrained from bringing forward the question, lest he should precipitate an injustice to Sir Edward Wetherall and an injury to the public interest; but the calamity which had deprived himself and many others of so esteemed and valued a Friend had enabled him to call attention to this breach of the principles of good government and good faith, and to protest against its standing on record as a Ministerial statement that such an appointment was "a serious error of judgment."


said, he did not question the right of Her Majesty's Government to make such appointments or such changes of appointments as they might think for the advantage of the public service; but he thought it would have been better had the Prime Minister acted on the maxim—"Do what is right, but do not give your reasons;" for it might turn out that though the thing done was right, the reasons given might be so unsatisfactory as to give rise to a suspicion of the motives; and, in this ease, the reason given for disapproving the appointment—namely, that Sir Edward Wetherall was a military man—was so insufficient as naturally to excite suspicion of something behind. He would remind the House that among the many other qualifications a military man possessed for filling an office satisfactorily was, that he had learned both how to command and how to obey, and was, moreover, generally animated by a very strong sense of duty. It had been represented as undesirable to make a military appointment in Ireland; but, as an Irishman, he believed there was no more prominent trait in the Irish character than their military genius, and their liking for military appointments. The objection was the more strange, too, in this case, inasmuch as General Sir Thomas Larcom had filled this very office of Under Secretary for fifteen years, and another military man previously held it with the approbation of the whole Liberal party. People in Ireland, not accepting the alleged reason, naturally believed that a certain gentleman who was wholly unobjectionable, being, no doubt, a very capable man, was to be Sir Edward Wetherall's successor; and if asked the reason why, the answer was because he was a Roman Catholic. Now, he should be sorry to say that Roman Catholics ought not to be appointed to high offices in Ireland, for his nearest relations and some of his best friends were members of that Church; but this office was a very important one, as was shown by the common saying, which, like other sayings, though possibly exaggerated, contained much truth—"The Government of Ireland means Larcom and the police." Ireland was, to a great extent, governed by the Under Secretary, and this was a reason why a military man was the least objectionable, for he was not generally so much connected with a particular party as civilians; and, while knowing how to obey, there was one kind of obedience to which he was not much disposed—obedience not to lawful superiors, but to those who set up a claim to authority and control. It would be an objection to a man having the direction of the police, that he was. to a certain extent, in the hands, not of Her Majesty's Government, but of the Roman hierarchy, and an occasion might arise to-morrow—and it was very likely to arise in July—when impartiality, firmness, and moderation on the part of the police might save the country from much bloodshed. Some time ago there was a little election row in Dublin, the offenders being undergraduates and students at the University, and the police, after receiving considerable provocation, made an onslaught on them. This affair caused much discussion, and the remark was made that all the Dublin police were Roman Catholics. This was indeed the fact, though he would not say they were wanting in temper or discretion; but this instance showed how easily suspicion arose; and the police might be called upon to act in Orange demonstrations in the North—which no one deprecated more than himself—in which case the instructions issued by the Under Secretary, though perfectly proper, might lead to much misconception. In Ireland the authority of Lords 'Lieutenant and local magistrates had, to a great extent, been superseded, there remained only the action of the stipendiary magistrates and of the police, under the Under Secretary. He had no doubt the Government had appointed a very good man; but he regretted that they had contemplated the removal of so excellent an officer as Sir Edward Wetherall, though he would give them credit for having a better reason than that which they had given.


said, he objected to the statement of the noble Karl (the Earl of Longford) that it was usual to create vacancies in order to fill them with political friends. [The Earl of LONGFORD denied that he had said that.] The Government had adopted the usual course in this case; and it was competent for them, acting for the public good, to remove any officer. The noble Earl asked whether this appointment was a permanent one? He (Earl Granville) answered, yes, though not exactly in the sense understood by the noble Earl. The noble Earl had argued that the late much-regretted Under Secretary had the same right to his office that a Judge had; but for his own part he (Earl Granville) held any civil servant might for any grave reason be removed by a Minister of the Crown, acting on his own responsibility and for the public good. With regard to the noble Earl's second Question, whether a military commission was held to be a disqualification for holding this office, he had to say that it was certainly not a disqualification. The objection to the gentleman whose loss was so much to be regretted was that, although a most distinguished and gallant soldier and the son of a gallant soldier, he had not that knowledge of Irish civil business which made him fit for the particular office for which he was selected. Not a word had been said against his character or reputation as a soldier; but it was felt that one of the most difficult posts in Ireland required a person of great experience in civil administration, and not one who had chiefly devoted himself to the military profession. He had not before heard of the saying that "the Government of Ireland was Larcom and the police;" but he was quite sure that was not the right mode of governing Ireland, and that it was by other moans than mere police administration that we must undertake to govern that country satisfactorily. There had been no better Under Secretaries than Colonel Drummond and Sir Thomas Larcom, both of whom wore officers of Engineers—a corps from which a great number had been selected to fill civil offices—and both of them having been long employed in civil services in Ireland, were intimately acquainted with the country. The late lamented Under Secretary, on the other hand, had had no period of civil service, and though he should be sorry to disparage his merits as a soldier, the Government did not think him the proper person for a difficult civil position.


said, he saw no reason to complain of the speech of the noble Earl (Earl Granville), or to object to the principle he had laid down—that, the office being in its nature a permanent one, it was not competent for the Government to dismiss the holder of it except for some cause of unfitness. That principle, however, ran counter to the proposition which he even now appeared inclined to support—that they would have been justified in setting aside the appointment, because the gallant officer had had no previous experience of civil business. In justice to his right hon. Friend who was at the time Chief Secretary (Colonel Wilson-Patten), he was bound to say there was a most anxious desire to appoint not only a person fully qualified, but a person against whom on political grounds no objection could be taken; indeed, one of the foremost men on the list of candidates was the very Mr. Burke who had since been appointed, and it was matter of serious consideration whether his claim should not be preferred even to Sir Edward Wetherall's. Immediately after his death a very prominent member of the Liberal party called on his right hon. Friend and said—"I hope from this time the question of Sir Edward Wetherall's competency will be entirely dropped and the case forgotten; because I am bound to say that, having since the appointment had constant means of communication with him, I never found a man with whom it was so satisfactory to deal, or who discharged the duties of his high office so entirely to the satisfaction not only of his friends but of his opponents." He did not feel at liberty to state the name; but this gentleman was a strong political opponent of the late Government. He thought the noble Earl had sufficiently answered the question as to the disqualification of military men for the office by a reference to Sir Thomas Larcom and Colonel Drummond; and he himself could go a little further back, for when Chief Secretary for Ireland the person who held the office of Under Secretary was Sir William Gosset. Indeed, the present was the first occasion since 1831 on which a civilian had been appointed.


There was Sir Thomas Redington.


said, there had at any rate been three military men who had in recent times hold the office. He had felt it due to the memory of Sir Edward Wetherall to say thus much to show that he was not undeserving of the appointment, and that it was not made from political motives, but after due consideration, and with a desire to find not only the man most fitted but one to whom, in the event of a change of Government, which then appeared probable, the present Administration could not have the slightest reason for objecting.


felt bound to bear testimony to Sir Edward Wetherall's distinguished services, his career having commenced under his own command. The late Lord Hardinge, when appointed Chief Secretary, had had no experience of Irish affairs, but his natural ability for business very soon made him perfectly qualified, and no man could have discharged the office better.