HC Deb 08 June 1809 vol 14 cc957-60

The house went into a Committee to consider further of the Third Report of the Finance Committee.

Mr. Henry Martin

called the attention of the Committee to the Sinecure Offices attached to the courts of law, which he stated to amount to 26,000l. per annum, which sum was sufficient to provide for the proposed increase of the Judges' Salaries, and so it ought to be applied. The hon. gent. took notice of the Registership of the Admiralty, and the balances retained in the hands of that officer, contrary to the Resolution of the Committee of 1797; and also of certain Sinecures in Ireland. He concluded with proposing a Resolution in substance as follows: "That it is expedient to extend the principles of regulation and abolition, already acted upon by that house to certain Sinecure Offices, and Offices executed by Deputy."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

proposed a Resolution with some verbal alterations from that of Mr. Martin, to which the latter acceded, and withdrew his own.

Mr. Bankes

thought every unnecessary office ought to be abolished, and that the salary of every office executed by deputy, should be reduced to that actually paid to such deputy. The hon. gent. proposed an Amendment to that effect.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

opposed this amendment, because it would involve the abolition of all Sinecures, which, as the means of rewarding public service, was a fundamental principle of this constitution: nor could he concur in the latter part of his honourable friend's proposition.

Mr. Bankes

was undoubtedly of opinion, that no money ought to be paid by the public, but for the public duty actually performed, and it was known that there were no less than 120 or 130 offices highly objectionable on this ground.

Mr. Secretary Canning

supported the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If the means of remuneration for efficient public service, which Sinecures afforded, were done away, some other resource for that purpose ought obviously to be provided. Then, how was public economy to be promoted by adopting the recommendation for putting an end to the existence of Sinecures? In fact, there were only eight or nine Sinecures, which formed the fund from which his majesty was enabled to reward the great officers of state. Much, then, as these Sinecures were abused, he put it to the Committee how a cheaper fund was to be devised. He put it to his hon. friend whether he would object to the provision of any due reward for those who, without wealth, might have rendered important public services to the state.

Mr. H. Thornton

, in supporting the Amendment of his hon. friend (Mr. Bankes), adverted particularly to the Sinecures in Scotland and the West Indies, which could not be comprehended in the description of those alluded to by the right hon. gent. who spoke last. His impression was, that the amount and application of all Sinecures ought to be known to the house, with a view to reform and abolish such as were objectionable. Indeed, he was free to say, that Sinecures were not a convenient way of rewarding public services.

Lord H. Petty

was of opinion, that if Sinecures were removed some other means of remuneration for public services ought to be provided. But upon the utmost reflection, he would lather prefer the existence of Sinecures, believing as he did that, notwithstanding the mistaken odium attaching to them, if they were abolished, larger pensions would be granted, and consequently greater burthens imposed and entailed upon the public. He was, however, free to confess, that there were some Sinecures, particularly in the West Indies, which ought to be done away. But as to the Sinecures to which he would apply his rule, unless the principle of reward for public services, to which no man who had a just conception of the public interest could object, were actually set aside, it was absurd to deprecate the existence of those Sinecures which furnished the means of that reward.

Mr. Huskisson

maintained, that according to the Bill of Mr. Burke, which had been referred to by the hon. mover of the Amendment, Sinecures, as furnishing the means of reward for public service, should not be done away without providing a substitute.

Mr. Ponsonby

concurred in the argument of his noble friend (H. Petty), being perfectly persuaded that if the crown were deprived of the means of rewarding public service which Sinecures afforded, such a system of pensions would follow as would make those persons lament the change who were now most anxious for the abolition of Sinecures. The right hon. gent. recommended strongly a revision of the system acted upon by Deputies in certain offices connected with the administration of justice in Ireland, which system was at present a very serious abuse to suitors, and particularly to the poorer class.

Mr. W. Smith

protested against the latitude of the doctrine laid down in the debate upon the subject of Sinecures, and quoted the authority of various Reports from committees of that house, combined with the opinions of some of the best men the country had known, to sustain his objection. In point of fact, those Sinecures were not applied to reward public services, but to gratify ministerial favouritism, which rendered their existence still more objectionable. The hon. member read a list of Sinecures in Ireland, to the amount of 26,000l. a year.

Mr. R. Dundas

promised to consider the recommendation with respect to the fees and exactions complained of, in certain offices connected with the administration of justice in Ireland. The right hon. gent. pointed out certain offices in Scotland, which, although requiring the performance of every active duty, were, through misinformation no doubt, described in the Report of the Finance Committee as Sinecures.

Mr. H. Thornton

corrected the mistake of the right hon. gent. as to the Report of the Committee, which mistake proceeded from the offices alluded to being placed under the general head of "Sinecures and offices executed partly or wholly by deputy."

Mr. Wilberforce

observed, that in considering Sinecures, their effect on the public mind was to be kept in view. He still thought that this was the most economical way of rewarding public service, but if retained, these sinecures ought to be placed in a clear and distinct light, so that neither the object nor amount could be mistaken.

The Amendment was then negatived without a division; and the Resolution as proposed by Mr. Perceval, carried.

Lord Ossulston

gave notice that he would propose a Resolution at another opportunity, to the effect, that Sinecures were an expedient mode of remunerating public service.

The Chairman then reported progress, and the debate was ordered to be resumed on Tuesday.