HC Deb 26 May 1815 vol 31 cc0-454
Sir John Newport

moved the second reading of the Bill "to regulate the Fees and Emoluments of certain Offices of the Courts of Law in Ireland after the determination of the now existing Grants thereof respectively."

The Speaker

intimated to the right hon. baronet, that on days when notice was given of votes in the committee of supply, it was customary to discuss them first.

Sir J. Newport

said, he would not press the measure on the present occasion; but he had, in compliance with the wishes of his Majesty's ministers, postponed it so often, that he began to fear, at this, late period of the session that, if he did not persist in his motion, it would not be brought on at all. Another reason which induced him to proceed was, that he had heard with astonishment, it was intended to oppose the Bill. He, therefore, should move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Mr. Peel

said, he should feel it his duty to oppose the second reading of this Bill, and he trusted he should be able to satisfy the House of the propriety of refusing to absent to the motion of the right hon. baronet. The treasure then before the House purported to be a bill to regulate the fees and emoluments of certain law offices in Ireland; and the reason stated by the right hon. baronet for introducing it was, that the amount of those fees and emoluments was greater than the nature of the situations called for, and that the legislature had already interfered in cases of a similar kind. In proof of this assertion, the right hon. baronet referred to two bills, which had passed that House, the one introduced in 1810, the other in 1812. On these two bills the right hon. baronet founded the propriety of bringing in the measure then before the House; and he begged to state the nature of those bills. The first was brought forward fey the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Wellesley Pole) who preceded him in the office of chief Secretary for Ireland; and the right hon. baronet had given to his measure the same title as that given to the Bill of his right hon. Friend, but its provisions were entirely different. The Bill of 1810 went merely to regulate the emoluments of offices; but that of the light hon. baronet not only went to regulate fees, but to alter the tenure on which the offices specified were held, and to prevent the Crown from granting them on the same principle by which those grants were at present regulated. It went directly to provide, that the duties of those offices should no longer be performed by deputy; but that they should in future be Executed by the parties themselves. Now the Bill of his right hon. friend (Mr. W. Pole) provided for the appointment of deputies, who should return to the Treasury, the amount of fees taken by their principals. The second Bill was introduced by an hon. gentleman on the floor (Mr. Bankes). That Bill was for the purpose of abolishing sinecure offices, and offices performed by deputy; and the title of this Bill would, in his opinion, be much more applicable to the measure of the right hon. baronet than that which he bad chosen. The right hon. baronet's Bill, however, differed materially from that of the hon. member for Corfe Castle. In each instance, it was true, certain offices were to be abolished in the same way; but the preamble of the Bill introduced by the hon. member for Corfe Castle set forth, that it was expedient, after giving to his Majesty the means of rewarding meritorious services, to abolish all offices of a specified description. Now, the right hon. baronet could not say, that he had accompanied his Bill for the abolition of certain offices therein mentioned, which were in the gift of the Crown, with any provision by which the Crown would be recompensed for the loss it would sustain if his Bill were carried. The House would therefore perceive, that the two bills to which the right hon. baronet referred, as sanctioning the measure proposed by him, were, in fact, materially different from it. Mr. Peel then proceeded to animadvert on the conduct of the right hon. baronet, in precipitating this Bill, at the very time that commissioners appointed by the House, in consequence of his own motion, were occupied in inquiring into the fees and emoluments attached to some of those very offices which his Bill was intended to abolish. Without waiting for the report of those commissioners, he thought himself Competent to bring in bill to make alterations of a most extensive kind. Surely it would have been, more consistent, if, before the right hon. baronet proceeded, he had waited for the report of those commissioners, appointed at his own request, instead of proposing a measure that went to regulate the fees in four of the principal law offices in Ireland.

Sir J. Newport

said, he had formerly contended, that the principle on which, this Bill was founded, had received the sanction and approbation of Parliament, and he would still contend that such was the fact. It proceeded on the same principle as that of the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. W. Pole), and that proposed by the hon. member on the floor (Mr. Bankes). The Bill for altering and regulating the Office of Registrar of the Admiralty also recognized and sanctioned the principle. The last-mentioned Bill provided, that the office should not be discharged by deputy—that it should be held only during good behaviour—that was while the duties were efficiently performed. On these bills he had founded the measure then before the House; and it was impossible to show, that, in principle, it was not similar to them. The right hon. gentleman argued, that he (sir J. Newport) was guilty of inconsistency, in not waiting until the result of a commission, which he had prevailed on the House to accede to, was known. If the House had acceded to the appointment of this commission, no person had to thank the right hon. gentleman for that event, since he had opposed, the measure as forcibly as he possibly could. And what did the right hon. gentleman himself do, pending the inquiry? He asked this question, because the right hon. gentleman called on him to desist from attempting to regulate those offices, till the report of the commissioners was laid on the table. Had the right hon. gentleman himself desisted in meddling with those offices, while the commissioners were employed in the investigation? No; he had not;—pending the labours of that commission, the right hon. gentleman had himself given away one of those very offices which he wished to regulate. Was it, he would ask, to be, permitted, that offices of 10 or 12,000l. a year should be given away, pending the investigation, the moment their present possessors left them? To guard against such an event, he had framed his pill. But the right hon. Gentleman called on him to desist until the result of the labours of the commissioners was laid before the House. Now, he would ask the right hon. gentleman, whether, if one of those places fell, he would desist from filling it up? Would he say, "It is better to wait until the commissioners make their report?" No, he would not; for he had not done so in the case of the office of Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper in Ireland, which was filled up immediately after it became vacant. He knew that offices worth from 9 to 11,000l. a year had been given to children. Two offices, the annual emoluments of which amounted to the sums he had mentioned, were now enjoyed by persons to whom they had been given when they were in their cradles—their fathers not being, at the time, professional men. It would be well if the House would look to the persons who brought in the Bill of 1810—a bill which clearly argued the necessity of altering this system. Those persons were the then, Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ireland (Mr. Foster), the then Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. W. Pole), and the Attorney-General for Ireland. Where the public were called on to load the Consolidated Fund with a variety of necessary burthens—pensions to retired judges,&c.—he conceived they had a right to insist that nothing should be unnecessarily charged upon it. Now, if his Bill were carried, the public would save from 40 to 50,000l. per annum, after providing for the payment of those, who at present discharged the duties of the offices he wished to regulate. This sum carried to the Consolidated Fund, would assist Hi relieving it from the difficulties which now pressed upon it. Why, then, did the right hon. gentleman fight so strenuously in support of the system now acted on? His object was to procure patronage. It was for that the right hon. gentleman fought. Jobs, he knew, would not operate so well in influencing the support of gentlemen. It was not so easy to gain them over by gratuities, artfully bestowed. No system, he was aware, was so likely to succeed, as the giving away of those high law offices. At the present moment, one of his Majesty's cabinet ministers was drawing an income of 8,3000l. per annum (partly made up out of the Consolidated Fund) as the emoluments of one of those offices. Without doing any duty whatever, after paying clerks and attendants, he had a net income of 8,300l. To make up the clear sum of 8,300l. he had, in the last year, drawn from the Consolidated Fund, 1,460l. In proposing the alteration which the Bill provided for, he was supported by ancient as well as modern authority. At the Restoration, the great lord Hale laid it down as a maxim, that the emoluments of law offices should be merely sufficient to remunerate those who performed the business; and that no office should be executed by deputy, but that persons should be appointed, who were properly educated for the performance of the necessary duties. He never could admit, that offices of this description should be bestowed as a remuneration on persons who had filled high situations in the state. It was not fit that the earl of Buckinghamshire should be Clerk of the Pleas in Ireland—drawing large sums from the public, without performing any duty. Public services ought to be properly rewarded; but he would never suffer the public money to be squandered, on individuals, who performed no duties, merely for the purposes of aggrandizement and patronage.

Mr. Peel

said, that after the explanation given on the subject of the office of Clerk of the Pleas, and after the private communication made to the right hon. baronet on the subject, he was astonished that it should again be noticed. As to the office of Clerk of the Hanaper, it became vacant by the death of the earl of Westmeath. It could not be reckoned amongst the offices of great emolument, as it only produced about 1,600l. per annum. In disposing of it, there was nothing whatever to fetter the discretion of the Irish government.

Sir J. Newport

said, he never intended; to describe the situation of Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper as equal to other great law offices. He should not have alluded to the filling up of the situation, if the right hon. gentleman had not accused him of inconsistency, in not waiting till the Commissioners of Inquiry in Ireland had made their report.

Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald

observed, that he never knew an instance of the disposal of any office by the Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, that was not founded on the most pure, upright, and disinterested principles. He thought it was not too much for his right hon. friend (Mr. Peel) to ask the right hon. baronet to abstain from such a sweeping measure as the present, until the report of the commission, appointed at his own desire, was laid on the table of the House. He and his right hon. friend would not oppose a bill, similar to that introduced in 1810, for regulating those law offices—diminishing such emoluments as might, from the circumstance of the times, have grown too great, and giving to the Crown such compensation as, from to the nature of the alteration, it had a right to demand: but he never would consent to a bill, taking from the Grown altogether the right to appoint to the offices specified, without, in return, granting such a compensation as would enable the Sovereign to reward the exertions of public servants. He should therefore move as an amendment, "That the Bill be read a second time this day six months."

Mr. W. Smith

supported the original question. He observed, that very little practical good could be derived from the exertions of the commissioners, if, while they were investigating the nature of an office, and inquiring whether it was tight to continue or to abolish it, a person was appointed to fill it. They might report, that it ought to be done away; and then the answer of course would be, "that is very Inconvenient—you see it is fully occupied."

Mr. Tierney

spoke in favour of the Bill.

Mr. Ponsonby

considered the office of the Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper as essentially necessary to the administration of justice. The person who discharged that office, ought, he thought, to be well rewarded, and he should feel he was deficient in duty if he did not bear his testimony to the great talent and ability of the gentleman who at present held that appointment. There were appointments in many of the law courts, which be considered extremely objectionable. He should, therefore, give his support to a measure which had for its object the abolition of those which were unnecessary, and the regulation of those which were really useful. With a View of deciding upon the real merits of the Bill, he thought it ought to be permitted to go into a committee, where its faults or its advantages could be properly discussed.

A division then took place—

For the Amendment 63
Against it 43
Majority 20

The Bill was consequently lost.