HC Deb 15 February 1810 vol 15 cc426-34
Mr. Wardle

rose, in pursuance of notice, to move for certain papers respecting the appointments to civil situations in the barrack department and some of the departments of the navy. He had stated on a former evening, that it was his intention thereon to found generally some propositions for bettering the situation of a large body of useful, meritorious public servants, who had suffered materially from the system of abuse which had been carried on in some of the navy departments. His object in this motion was to shew to the House, that many instances had occurred of abuses in the appointments of both departments; and if the papers should be granted, he would pledge himself to prove his statement to be perfectly correct. Apprehensive, however, that the papers would be refused, he should feel it necessary to go into the subject at some length, in order to shew that he had not brought forward his motion without sufficient grounds. A gentleman had applied to him not long since, who had stated to him certain instances of abuses, and requested he would take some notice of the subject in the House. He had assured him, that having a place in the naval department, horn which he was obliged to retire, he was told by an officer that he was intitled to some remuneration in consequence; and that upon this subject he had applied without effect to the lords of the Admiralty. The same gentleman also stated that he was informed it was not unusual, when lord Barham was comptroller of the navy, to sell places in the navy office. Mr. Wardle said he did not know how such a practice could be considered fair or proper, as he recollected that a prosecution had been some time ago directed against a person for only attempting to purchase a place under government. Indeed he could not have supposed that the practice could be looked upon as innocent, if he had not heard from an hon. member to whom he had communicated his motion since he came down to the House that it was not considered any abuse. He did not know, whether lord Barham would vindicate the practice; but as things were circumstanced, he conceived it highly necessary that inquiry should take place: more especially when so late as the 31st of October, 1809, a specific charge was made against a Mr. Prentice, for the sale of clerkships in the barrack department, five or six places were stated to have been actually sold by him; but no inquiry on this subject had yet taken place. He therefore stated the facts, and trusted the House would go with him in calling for the papers; and he would be content to abandon his charge, if he did not substantiate it from the vouchers.

In the Navy Pay Office and Admiralty, he understood that the appointments were made on a fair and equitable footing; the salary being proportioned to length of service; but there were other offices where the case was quite the reverse. In the Navy Office for instance, it was usual to promote junior clerks over the heads of men who were many years their seniors in the service. There was one instance in which a junior clerk, who had been but 11 years in the office, was promoted to a place of 300l. a year, over the heads of senior clerks who had been from 27 to 30 years in the service. That fact he should undertake to prove to the satisfaction of the House, if the papers for which he intended to move should be granted. Such a practice as this would, he was convinced, appear to the House to call for a speedy and effectual remedy. It was his opinion that it could not be justified upon any public grounds, and could arise from no other cause than that some of the places were sold, and others not. He would repeat the assertion, that to him the difference in the amount of these salaries was to be attributable to no other cause; and all he asked for were the do- cuments, in order to shew that it must be so.—There was another point to which he wished their attention to be directed concerning the superannuated list, and particularly the case of a gentleman who had been superannuated against his will. The officer to whose case he alluded, had been obliged to retire on an allowance of 170l. per annum, and a boy of 14 years of age was then appointed to his situation, over the heads of senior clerks, and at a raised salary. [In what department? across the table.] In the Sick and Hurt Office; and the case he should prove if the documents should be granted to him. The usual mode of superannuating officers was entirely done away in this instance. He wished also to bring the case of Mr. Butt, a case of much hardship, under the consideration of the House. [What date? was asked.] In the year 1794. With regard to the pension list in that office on its being removed from Somerset House to Dorset Square, he should shew that one officer, the secretary, was pensioned off at his full salary of 500l. and an assistant appointed in his stead at a raised salary of 1,000l. being exactly double what the former officer had.—In addition to all these cases, he had another not less worthy of the attention of that House to advert to, namely, the creation of several new offices, with very unmerited salaries annexed—salaries for which no duties of correspondent value were to be performed. These practices took place amongst the commissioners of the navy, and the new offices were given to the members of the Committee of these commissioners. One gentleman, for acting as chairman of that Committee, was allowed 200l. in addition to his former salary of 1,000l. and each of the members had an additional 150l. But to entitle these gentlemen to such augmentation of income, no additional duties were required of them. All the business they had to do was performed within the usual hours of their sitting, and in the Committee-room; so that he should contend that no additional salary ought to have been allowed to them.—Having said thus much, in order to satisfy the House as to the grounds of his bringing these subjects under consideration, he should not trespass longer upon its time, but conclude with moving, "That there be laid before the House copies of all letters which passed between the lords commissioners of the admiralty and Mr. Butt, late clerk in the Navy Office, relative to his claims for compensation, and his subsequent resignation, between the 1st of May, 1809, and the 16th of January, 1810; and also, copies of all letters which passed between the first lord of the admiralty and that person within the same, period."

Mr. R. Ward

, observing that the hon. gent. had divided the object of his motion in his notice under two heads, one as relating to the admiralty, the other to the barracks, said, that of course it could not be expected that he could speak to the latter part. As to what had been said by the hon. member relative to the case of Mr. Butt, he must be allowed to say, that he misrepresented the case itself, as much as he had done what he (Mr. Ward) had communicated to him on that subject since his coming to the House that day. The hon. member had represented him as having said, that the practice he denounced, namely, the sale of offices, was not an abuse. Now, he had never said so, nor was he of that opinion. He had asked for the date of the case respecting Mr. Butt, because he had never before heard of it. He supposed it, however, to have been a case of the sale of an office. Such a case, he knew, was abstractedly an abuse; but, if the practice was sanctioned by long usage, it could not justly have been considered criminal in those concerned in it. As well might it be considered criminal in judges to sell offices in the courts of law, though the parliament recognized their right to dispose of them for money. The noble person whose name had been mentioned by the hon. gent. Could, he was convinced, have no objection to the fullest investigation of every transaction which took place during his official service. But before the House should sanction such an inquiry, it was bound to see that good grounds were laid for it. What was the fact? In 1786, a Committee was appointed to inquire into the extent and propriety of fees. Lord Barham, then sir C. Middleton, who was at the head of the navy board, and the other commissioners of that board, were examined before the Committee, and fairly and openly stated that their salaries were made up in part of gratuities and fees received in consequence of the practice alluded to. The report of the Committee declared that the practice was a bad one, but not that the exercise of it was an abuse or criminal in any of those who had been concerned in it. The words of the report were, "That the practice of receiving gratuities on the appointment of clerks was bad, though it had been sanctioned by-long usage." In ten years after, the practice was abolished, and in consequence the salary of the comptroller was raised from 500l. nominally, to 1,500l. and an addition of 200l. given to the other commissioners. As to what had been said by the hon. gent., with respect to the promotion of a junior over senior clerks, as he had not stated any specific case, nor charged the practice as having been founded in corruption or undue motives, the House, he was persuaded, would not think this an inquiry to be entertained, to the great detriment of public, business, and the mischievous embarrassment of the public offices. The Sick and Hurt Office, to which the hon. gent. had alluded, no longer existed. It was incorporated with the Transport Office, and this change had given rise to arrangements highly advantageous to the public service. If the hon. member charged the pension which had been granted to sir W. Gibbons, on the suppression of the board to which he had belonged, as an instance of corruption, he must go on to charge the beneficial arrangements which followed the suppression of that office, as a corrupt transaction. The pension was granted upon the same principle as governed every similar case. Upon all these grounds, he should vote against the motion, so far as the navy board was concerned.

Mr. Wilberforce

hoped that the hon. gent. would withdraw his opposition to the motion, because, as the question had been brought forward, it would he much more reputable for the noble person alluded to, that a full and thorough investigation of the case should take place. As the friend of that noble lord, he wished that the inquiry should proceed, and should be sorry that any proceeding in that House should prevent the question from being placed in the clearest possible light. He could state of his own knowledge, that all the arrangements for reform which had been adopted subsequently to the report of 1786, had been introduced at the express desire of lord Barham. In short, that noble person, at the time, consented to remain in office only on the condition that these reforms should be carried into effect.

Mr. Noel

concurred in the sentiments that had been expressed by the hon. gent. of his noble relation. He was certain that it was the wish of his noble relation that the motion should be assented to, because any inquiry must tend to set forth his character in its true light.

Sir F. Burdett

conceived that it was necessary the papers should be produced. The hon. gent. had allowed that it was injurious to the service that the practice should be continued, a practice which he stated was sanctioned by time. This was the general argument when any thing was wrong: it had been so in the case of lord Macclesfield, but he was not aware that the feelings of those times were not to govern the present. Lord Macclesfield had been found guilty of selling the places of masters in Chancery, and a severe punishment had followed. According to the statement of the hon. gent. this improper practice ought to have stopped in 1786. Now, his hon. friend had stated similar transactions to have taken place in 1794. Was not that a reason for inquiry? The hon. gent. had stated, that sir W. Gibbons had a pension given him, on the incorporation of two departments; but he did not know the fact before, nor would he pretend to say it was a job, though it looked very like one, but he was at a loss to conjecture why it was that a commissioner of the Sick and Hurt Office, should have a pension. What possible services could he have done to the public, that they should he burthened with a pension for him?

Mr. W. Pole

begged to state, that when he was secretary to the admiralty, it was the anxious wish of lord Mulgrave, that the same regulations which prevailed in the navy pay-office and in the admiralty, might also be adopted in the navy office. But from the constitution of the establishment of the clerks, it was found, after an attentive investigation of the case, that these regulations could not be introduced into the pay-office, without a considerable sacrifice of expence. In this opinion too the commissioners of Naval Revision concurred. This statement he felt it his duty to make, and he hoped it would be satisfactory to the hon. gent.

Mr. Whitbread

should vote for the papers, on the ground of what had been stated by his hon. friend, and the two friends of the noble lord.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not think the House ought to feel in the same manner as the friends of the noble, lord, nor agree to the motion, unless a sufficient ground were laid for it. The Report of the committee of 1786 recommended the abolition of fees, and an increase of sa- lary in lieu of them. The Order in Council for the abolition of the fees did not issue till 1796, so that the old practice continued till that period. As the fact, to which the paper moved for applied, had taken place before that period, he trusted the House would not think any inquiry into a practice, not then prohibited, necessary. As to what had been said relative to a transaction in the barrack department, it would have been desirable that the hon. gent. had been more explicit.

Mr. Wardle

, in reply, informed the right hon. gent. that a written statement had been given in to the commissioners of the barrack board on the 31st of October last, by Wm. Pearse, a clerk in that department, containing an accusation against a Mr. Prentice, another clerk employed in a very responsible and confidential office in that department, that he had sold the offices in it, and that too since the bill of the right hon. gent. against the sale of offices. It also charged him with having employed clerks to prepare false accounts. He had further to state, that a letter had also been written to the lords of the treasury, stating the practice, and calling their attention to it. He had himself seen the letters, and he could assure the House, that they would bear out his statement.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

declared his readiness to agree to the motion for the production of these papers.

Lord Folkestone

having received information, that, in consequence of a prosecution sometime since instituted against a firm for the sale of offices in the city, the penalties of which prosecution the parties were now suffering, some papers or letters implicating other parties in similar offences had been put into the hands of the law officers of the crown, he wished to be informed by these gentlemen, whether such documents had been given to them; and if so, whether it was their intention to take proceedings against the parties so implicated.

The Attorney-General

answered, that it had been stated by the parties, the objects of the prosecution (Messrs. Pohlman and Keylock,) in order to give colour to their own practices, that persons high in office were concerned in the sale of offices. Amongst others, it had been stated that the duke of Portland made 30,000l. a year by the sale of offices, and also that the lord chancellor was engaged in the practice. Upon such grounds he could not harbour the slightest suspicion, still loss institute a prosecution. He had no paper of the kind mentioned by the noble lord put into his hands, and consequently he had no proceedings to institute.

The Solicitor General

stated, that he neither had received any such documents nor information.

Mr. Hiley Addington

said, that after the statement which an hon. member had made of existing abuses in the Barrack department, he should support his motion respecting them, but he should oppose the production of the correspondence between the first lord of the Admiralty and Mr. Butt, as no specific charge was made against lord Barham.—The first motion was then put and negatived without a division.

Mr. Wardle

next moved for a general return of all the clerks in the different departments in the Navy Office, Navy Pay-Office, Sick and Hurt, and Transport Board, with the dates of their entries, ages, periods of their service, salaries at which they entered, and the augmentations since made to them, &c.

Mr. R. Ward

said, the hon. member might as well move for a committee of the House, to take into consideration the salaries allowed to every clerk in the different offices under government, and that, too, without any case made out. If the hon. gent. however, would come forward with any specific case, or with any corrupt charge, he should be ready to second his motion.

Mr. Wardle

repealed what he had already said, that there were in these departments senior clerks, unexceptionable in point of character and ability, of 27 years standing, with salaries of 200l. a year, and junior clerks in the same offices, without better qualifications, who had salaries of 400l. or 500l. a year.

Mr. D. Giddy

said, all considerations being equal, he should certainly wish to give the preference to seniority; but if there could be any one thing more ruinous than another it would be to act on this as a general principle, particularly in public offices. It would go the length of saying, that a person who was the senior must be preferred even over one of the greatest capacity.—The motion was put and negatived without a division.

Mr. Wardle

then moved for a copy of the Memorial or Statement from Mr. W. Pearce, late clerk in the Barrack department, sent to the commissioners on barrack affairs, in 1809, with a letter to the lords of the treasury, calling their attention to that memorial.—Ordered.