§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, that in rising to call attention to the delay in distributing the prize money for the capture of Kertch and Yenikale, he should not at that late hour detain the House by making a long statement. The town of Kertch was captured upon the Queen's birthday in 1854, with a considerable amount of stores, ships, coals, and a steam factory, which, by the Act of Parliament of 1854, became the captors' property. In 1857 82 steps were taken to obtain payment, and in 1858 further correspondence took place. In 1859 the attempts were renewed, and from that time the Admiralty had been endeavouring to induce the Treasury to do justice to the soldiers and sailors of the expedition. The Queen's Advocate had pronounced in favour of their claims. Before 1854 captors were empowered to appoint an agent in London to act for them, whose interest it was to secure their money and distribute it amongst them, whether, if they were sailors, their ship were paid off or not. But in that year an Act was passed, under which, as was foretold by Lord Brougham and others at the time, it had become impossible for captors to secure their prize money. By that Act the Accountant General was appointed to act for the captors, and he, being a Government official, was not the best representative of the captors' interests. It happened that the captain of one vessel, the Viper, captured a collier, which was sold; and in 1860 proceedings were taken in the Admiralty Court, which resulted in the prize money for the vessel being distributed. The reason why the delay took place with respect to the rest of the prize money was because the Queen's Advocate recommended a grant of money as the proferable course, as applications to the Court of Admiralty would disclose the irregularities that had occurred in some quarters. Among the articles captured was a steam factory, which had been set up at Gibraltar, and which was now in use there, but for which the Government had not paid a single shilling. Of the stores taken a portion was sold at Constantinople for £8,000, which was paid to the Treasury, but the Admiralty had failed to induce the Treasury to do justice to the captors. The end of the correspondence was that under the significant date of the 1st of April the captors were authorized to take their claims into court. Upon the 16th of April the Secretary of the Treasury wrote—My Lords felt that they ought not to be called upon to undertake the responsibility of deciding on the alternative courses (a grant of public money or permission to apply to the court) thus proposed to them. If the Board of Admiralty had submitted to them the grant of a specific sum, and stated the grounds on which it could in their opinion be submitted with propriety to Parliament, it would have been the duty of this Board to consider and decide upon the proposal; but it is not their duty to decide upon the adoption of one of two courses, arising from the proceedings for which the Admiralty or its officers are respon- 83 sible, when no case was made out for the adoption of either. My Lords can only repeat that, so far as they are at present advised, there are not, in their opinion, sufficient grounds for proposing to Parliament a grant of public money to the captors of prize at Kertch and Yenikale; and the Queen's Advocate has stated in his report abundant reasons for not instituting proceedings, after the lapse of so long a period of time, for the condemnation of the prize in the High Court of Admiralty.That was after the Treasury authorized the Admiralty to allow the captors to proceed in court. It was then announced to the Queen's Proctor that—It has been decided that after so great a lapse of time no grant of public money could be recommended to Parliament; and further, that on the grounds of the capture having been a joint one by army and navy, and further complicated by having been made in conjunction with the French army and navy, Her Majesty's Government do not consider it expedient that any steps should be allowed to be taken in the High Court of Admiralty towards obtaining condemnation of these stores.The Act of Parliament pointed out how allies should be paid, and how the cases of joint expeditions should be met. He would put it to the House whether discipline would be maintained among their soldiers and sailors by perpetrating such gross breaches of faith? The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving—That it is inexpedient, in the opinion of this House, that judgment should be any longer delayed on the amount of prize money due to Her Majesty's land and sea forces employed in the capture of Kertch and Yenikale on the 24th day of May, 1854, as it is calculated to injure the confidence of the soldiers, seamen, and marines in the good faith of Her Majesty's Government in matters of prize.
said, he had great satisfaction in seconding the Motion, which could have been brought forward by no one more appropriately than by the gallant Officer who had taken part in the transtions to which it related. The correspondence connected with the Kertch prize was, he might add, in his opinion, as honourable to the Admiralty as it was dishonourable to the Treasury, and he could hardly believe that he heard rightly when he understood the noble Viscount at the head of the Government to have proposed in the beginning of the evening further delay in the matter. It was a somewhat curious fact that the Secretary to the Treasury had taken three months to answer a letter bearing on the subject, to which the Admiralty required that an immediate reply should be returned. Such, however, was the case, and he felt justified in saying that an unmingled feeling of 84 disgust pervaded both the army and the navy at the scandalous manner in which they had been treated with regard to prize money. He referred more especially to the soldiers who had served against the mutineers in India, who had been present at the capture of Delhi. There was not a soldier who might not have secured jewels and other portable booty enough to make his fortune for life; but the officers, trusting in the honour of the Government, had made the men deliver everything up for fair distribution. If faith were not kept with their soldiers and sailors in such cases it would, he contended, be impossible to maintain that discipline which it had hitherto been the pride of the English officer to uphold among the troops under his command. The question was not one of party, and he trusted that the interests of the two services would be upheld by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I can assure the House that nothing can be further from the wish of the Government, or of any person responsible for the conduct of the affairs of the country, than to interpose unnecessary delay in the distribution of that prize-money which our gallant soldiers and sailors might have earned in their military and naval operations. Those, however, who are at all acquainted with such matters must be aware that there are certain rules in accordance with which prize-money is distributed, that there are certain vouchers and returns required, and that certain facts must be established before a just and equitable division of it can he made among those who may be entitled to a portion of it. It is, I may add, no new thing to find that a considerable time happens to elapse between the date of operations which have taken place at a great distance and the distribution of the prize money which may be awarded in consequence of them. To proceed to distribute money so earned before we were able to ascertain who the persons were who were really entitled to it would be to do an injustice to some by handing over to others, to their exclusion, the share which they had a right to receive. That is one of the reasons why the Delhi prize money has not as yet taken place. That delay is owing to no fault of the Government, but is incidental to the necessity of procuring returns from distant stations. So far as the Resolution of the hon. and gallant Officer opposite is concerned, I can only repeat what I stated in the early part of the evening, that the 85 question which it involves, as the statement which he has made amply proves, is complicated by a series of Acts of Parliament, as well as by considerations of a legal and international character. These points the Government have referred to those by whom they are usually guided in such cases; and until the report of the Law Officers of the Crown—which I have no doubt we shall receive in a few days—is made, the Government will not be in a position to determine the rights of the several parties to whom the Motion before the House relates. I trust, therefore, hon. Members will wait until the Report is received, and not in its absence jump to a hasty conclusion in this matter.
§ ADMIRAL WALCOTT
There can be no doubt that it is of the very last importance to keep implicit faith with our soldiers and sailors. At the present moment, we have the painful fact broadly presented to us that two departments of the Government are at issue on the question, whether or not a grievous injustice has been committed with regard to the prize money earned at Kertch and Yenikale, in the year 1854. A pitiful attempt at economy is made the pretence by the Treasury for refusing that undeniably just claim advanced under, and by virtue of, an Act of Parliament and the Queen's Proclamation, and admitted by the Admiralty. The money was earned by the capture of guns, corn, coals, and timber, at Kertch and Yenikale, and which, or a greater part, were actually used in the service of the country, avoiding the necessity of purchases which otherwise must have been made. To withhold this just remuneration savours of dishonour, for there cannot be entertained a doubt, nay, not the shadow of a doubt as to the right and justice of the claim advanced by the captors, and the disingenuous delay in acknowledging it on the part of the Treasury. The value placed on the stores is a sum of £120,000, open of course to a fair estimate upon being duly considered. It is most dangerous, I repeat, to act in this manner, for it will be certain to produce extreme dissatisfaction in the minds of both the army and the navy, and lead them to mistrust the Government in the future. Therefore, I will hope that a strong expression of opinion on the part of this House will effect the immediate redress of a flagrant act of wrong, which no man could more gracefully or pleasantly confer than the noble Lord at the head of the Government.
said, he had never read any papers with greater pain and regret than those which bore on the question under discussion. He should offer no opinion as to the department to which blame was more particularly attached in the matter, but it was impossible to enter into the details connected with it without coming to the conclusion, that while the existence of the right contended for was admitted in the correspondence, those to whom the right belonged were shuffled out of that to which they had a just claim. The persons interested very fairly said, "Either give us the money or let us appeal to a court of justice, which will decide whether we are entitled to it or not;" but the Crown interposed and said, "We will neither give you anything, nor allow you to bring your case before a court of justice." The consequence was that six or seven years had been allowed to elapse without any settlement of those claims, and yet the noble Lord opposite did not hesitate to ask for further delay. He should certainly support the Motion.
§ MR. DEEDES
said, that with respect to the Delhi prize money, he wished to state, that when he had asked why it had not been distributed, he had been told that it was necessary to wait for Returns. If the Returns, however, were necessary, the system was a bad one; for the parties had waited for two or three years. Three months ago he asked why the staff officers, respecting whose claims no Returns were necessary, had not been paid, and was promised an answer, but no answer had yet been given. The sooner the present system was altered the better.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
said, the hon. and gallant Member had not correctly stated the object of the Act of 1854. The intention of that Act was not to prevent navy agents from supporting claims for prize money, but to prohibit them from accumulating prize money which had been awarded, and so putting officers and men to great expense before they received their own. It gave officers and men the power of not appointing agents at all, but of receiving their prize money through an officer of the Government. Still, however, the parties entitled to prize money might appoint an agent if they pleased, and that course had actually been followed in the present case. He might add that the first time the Government heard of this claim was in 1861. The Admiralty, who were always ready to maintain the rights of 87 their officers and men, had no other course to pursue but to refer the matter to the Treasury. The whole case was now before the Law Officers of the Crown, and he hoped the House would wait for the report of those functionaries, when the Government would be able to state their intention.
§ SIR CHARLES WOOD
said, in reference to what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Deedes) with regard to the Delhi prize money, there was a certain sum to be divided among a certain number of persons, and it was impossible to ascertain any share till the number of persons was ascertained. Many of the regiments had left India, and some had gone to New Zealand, and it was impossible to ascertain the number entitled till they received the returns from the colonels of the regiments.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he would not enter into the prospective part of the question. The principle that the captors of Kertch were perfectly entitled to the proceeds of whatever the Court of Admiralty might condemn as prize was not contested by the Government. The gallant Admiral opposite (Admiral Walcott) spoke of their being entitled to the whole property that was taken in Kertch. [Admiral WALCOTT: NO.] That was not the case. It was necessary, however, that the Government should be advised in particular and distinct terms by the Law Officers of the Crown as to the course they were to take. After what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) he would make the frank avowal that there had been a misapprehension between the Treasury and the Admiralty with respect to the limits of their respective jurisdictions. There were two modes in which effect could be given to claims for prize money. One was the mode of Parliament grant. That mode of proceeding was one which it was within the competency of the Admiralty to recommend, but which it was exclusively the duty of the Treasury to decide upon. In the present case the Treasury had informed the Admiralty that in their opinion there were no grounds for proposing a grant. The other mode of proceeding was through the medium of the Court of Admiralty. It was true the Queen's Advocate had stated it as his opinion that it would be better to proceed by grant than by resort to the Court of Admiralty; but the reasons given for that opinion were, if not insufficient, at all events 88 not so valid as to carry convictions to all minds. The matter, at any rate, was not one for the Treasury to decide upon. It did not belong to the Treasury to say whether parties should or should not be permitted to prosecute their claims in the Court of Admiralty. That was a question exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Board of Admiralty and of no other department of the Government. The Board of Admiralty had proceeded as if the Treasury had had the right to determine whether the case should be prosecuted in the Court of Admiralty or not. The Treasury had no such right, and that was a question, which, after hearing in full the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, it would be the duty of the Board of Admiralty to decide. The delay which had occurred was not attributable to the Government. The impression appeared to be that there had been a delay of seven years, but for six out of seven of those years the subject had not been mentioned to the Government at all. It was the duty of the parties to bring it before the Government, and in the case of the captain of the Viper, which was very properly brought by him before the Government immediately on his returning to England, there being no difficulty or impediment, it was allowed at once to go into the Court of Admiralty. He regretted that any misapprehension had occurred, and he made that statement with confidence that the House would receive it in the sense in which it was made. With reference to the future, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman meant, by his Resolution that "it is inexpedient that judgment should any longer be delayed," that no delay whatever should take place, that the Government should have no opportunity of advising on the matter, that was obviously impracticable; but if he meant that no longer time should be taken than was necessary to carry the matter through its various stages in a regular and orderly manner, there would be no difference of opinion.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
said, the right hon. Gentleman had mentioned two modes in which justice could be done. The first was by a vote of money. There was the answer from the last letter in the correspondence—With reference to former correspondence on the subject of the condemnation of stores, &c., captured at Kertch and Yenikale, I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to acquaint you that this question has been again under the consideration of Her Majesty's 89 Government, and it has been decided that after so great a lapse of time no grant of public money could be recommended to Parliament.Then, as to the second mode—adjudication by the Court of Admiralty—here was the answer—And, further, that on the grounds of the capture having been a joint one by army and navy, and further complicated by having been made in conjunction with the French army and navy, Her Majesty's Government do not consider it expedient that any steps should be allowed to be taken in the High Court of Admiralty towards obtaining condemnation of those stores.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, he just wished to call attention to one fact. The noble Lord the Secretary for the Admiralty had said that the Treasury was the judge; and they had just heard the decision of the judge.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Upon the understanding that the object of this Motion is that the question should be referred to a competent court of law, I have no objection to it.
Motion made, and Question,
That it is inexpedient, in the opinion of this House, that judgment should be any longer delayed on the amount of Prize Money due to Her Majesty's Land and Sea Forces employed in the capture of Kertch and Yenikale on the 24th day of May 1854, as it is calculated to injure the confidence of the Soldiers, Seamen, and Marines, in the good faith of Her Majesty's Government in matters of prize,
—put, and agreed to.