HC Deb 10 April 1832 vol 12 cc201-11
The Lord Advocate

moved, that the House resolve itself into a Committee on the Scotch Courts Compensation Bill.

Mr. Goulburn

wished that the Committee might be deferred, as there were so few Members present to take a part in the proceedings.

Mr. Dawson

objected to a Motion of so much importance as the present, which gave away a sum of 2,000l. per annum of the public money, being brought forward when the House was so thinly attended. He believed there were not more than twenty-two members then present, although there was a much greater number drawn from curiosity to an adjoining spot, and who, no doubt, would readily attend, on a message being sent to them from the Treasury benches. He deprecated this system of voting upon questions, without hearing any portion of the argument urged against them. He put it ad verecundiam to the shame and the sense of decency of the learned Lord, whether this measure for granting 2,000l. to Mr. Abercromby, out of the public money, after serving only two years as Chief Baron of the Exchequer—one of the grossest jobs which ever came before Parliament—was fit for discussion in such a House?

Mr. Hume

concurred in all that had been said by the right hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House, with reference to the manner of voting; but he was surprised to hear that right hon. Gentleman complain of it, as it was no novelty: and he must have known that a similar reprehensible system prevailed when he was connected with the Treasury. At the same time, he could not but admire the new-born ardour of the right hon. Gentleman in the cause of economy. He (Mr. Hume) had formerly objected to the measure; but, after attending to the arguments addressed to the Committee, he was now equally ready to support it; and he hoped the learned Lord would go into his explanation, to show, to the satisfaction of the House and the country, that the measure would be beneficial to the public, without injuring the cause of justice. It might be a job, certainly, but it was to get rid of a much greater job of the Right hon. Gentleman, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his colleagues, who gave Mr. Abercromby 4,000l. per annum for life, for doing almost nothing.

Mr. John Campbell

So far from the country losing 2,000l. a-year, as the right hon. Gentleman, the member for Harwich (Mr. Dawson) seemed to insinuate, by this Bill, the fact was, the public would gain that sum, for Mr. Abercromby was at present receiving 4,000l. a-year.

Sir Chares Forbes

said, he would take that opportunity to observe, that Government were hound, when they increased the duties of the Judges of the Court of Session, to make an increase in their salaries. The allowances to the English Judges had been increased, but the same justice was not dealt out to the Scotch. He was sure they performed equally as onerous duties; and he, therefore, exhorted the Scotch Members to stand up for their country, and not suffer the injustice to continue.

Mr. Dawson

felt very much surprised at the course pursued by the hon. member for Middlesex, who had observed, that he had been convinced in the Committee, that the amount of 2,000l. a-year ought to be given to Mr. Abercromby. The proceedings in that Committee had had a very different effect upon him. But the question now was with respect to the propriety of voting money in so thin a House. In former days, the hon. Member would have made an immense outcry at the very proposition; but he appeared now to have overcome all his scruples, and was ready to support anything Ministers proposed. There might have been some excuse for such a course when the Reform Bill was in the House; but that measure had now passed, and it seemed to have carried the hon. Member's economy with it; for he was now earnest in upholding all the jobs of Government.

Mr. Hume

said, it had already been shown to every hon. Member in the House, that this, at all events, was but a little job, rendered necessary by the great job of the right hon. Member and his friends. With regard to the reflections of the right hon. Member as to his conduct, considering the quarter from whence they proceeded, he trusted the House would not expect him to notice them.

Mr. Dixon

said, after all, he thought the 2,000l. a-year might have been saved by appointing Mr. Abercromby to some other office; for a man of his distinguished talent was equal to any other duties in the public service.

The House in Committee.

The Lord Advocate

said, he had listened with surprise to the objections made to this Bill:—First, that it was an extravagant and improvident waste of the public money; and secondly, that it was a job. With respect to the first, it was a grant which could not be made except on a contingency of saving at least double the amount; and as to its being a job, it was an extraordinary job which exchanged a sinbcure salary of 4,000l. for a sinecure salary of 2,000l. The principle of the Bill was, that the Court of Exchequer in Scotland should be prospectively abolished, because there was no business in that Court; and if so, the House had a right to abolish it, but not to take away the salary of those who held offices in it for life. The Bill, therefore, made a tender of these annuities as a consideration for the voluntary surrender of the salaries, and thus effected an immediate reduction. When a superior Judge received a life-interest, was it consistent with justice to take that interest from him? All that the Legislature had ever presumed to do was, to declare it should not be renewed at the expiration of the existing life. If any Gentleman objected to the amount of the bribe, he might propose its reduction hereafter; but he believed many would think it not enough. It was perfectly within the power of the learned personages of the Court not to take the hint offered to them by the Bill, and refuse to retire: he (the Lord Advocate) should not blame them. How any person could consider this arrangement as an improvident grant of the public money, or as a job, which bought off 4,000l. by 2,000l., he was at a loss to conceive. He looked upon it as a device skilfully contrived to economize the public money, and to accelerate the diminution of expenditure. The learned Lord then moved his Resolution for granting to the Lord Chief Baron the sum of 2,000l. per annum on the resignation of his office, 1,500l. to such of the two other Barons as should first retire, and 600l. to the Judge of the Court of Session, who should execute the duties of the Court of Exchequer, after their retirement.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that the learned Lord had defended this grant on the plea that Mr. Abercromby had been appointed to an office which had no duty attached to it. But the learned Lord and his colleagues had made no objection to that appointment; on the contrary, the present Lord Chancellor had declared that it was an appointment which did credit to the Government, and had applauded and approved it. But his (Mr. Goulburn's) objections were unanswered. It would have been better to transfer business to a Court that was little occupied, than to abolish it. But when the new Bankruptcy Court was established, why was not Mr. Abercromby appointed to the Chief Justiceship of that Court, which was placed on an equality with the other Judges, and which his experience as a Commissioner of Bankrupts, and as Chancery Barrister qualified him for? Instead of which, a pension of 2,000l. a-year was to be given to him, which was a real loss to the country. Notice of this was given to the Gentlemen opposite at the time; but, notwithstanding their great zeal for economy, they refused to listen to the argument.

Lord Althorp

said, there was a question of much greater importance than the saving of 2,000l. in the appointment of a Judge, namely, whether the individual was qualified. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware, that when Mr. Abercromby was appointed Chief Baron, he asked whether it was intended to add any Nisi Prius business to the Court, because, if so, he was not competent to discharge its duties. Now, in the Bankruptcy Court, Nisi Prius business would come, and, therefore, by his own admission, Mr. Abercromby was not competent to preside in it. It had been said, that they (Ministers) had approved, when on the other side, of the appointment. Undoubtedly they thought it creditable to the Government to make such a selection. The present Bill would not preclude the appointment of Mr. Abercromby to any office for which he was competent, when his pension would merge in the salary. With regard to the hard terms which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dawson) had applied to this arrangement, he was so much in the habit of using strong terms, that they made but little impression. He could not see that the application of the term job, in its usual acceptation to this arrangement, was at all warranted; but, he supposed, in the right hon. Gentleman's understanding of it, it meant the saving to the public of 2,000l. a-year.

Mr. Dawson

replied. The noble Lord opposite had attacked his (Mr. Dawson's) phraseology; but he begged to say he should continue to use, with respect to public matters, such language, whether strong or mild, as nature dictated to him. Mr. Abercromby had it not in his power to urge that he had left, two years ago, a lucrative profession to accept this office, and it would, therefore, have been but right for an economical Whig Administration, as they called themselves, to have put it to the honour and feeling of Mr. Abercromby to give up the salary as well as the pension. At least, if they wished to abolish the Court of Exchequer in Scotland, they might have appointed him to the then vacant office of Chief Commissioner of the Bankruptcy Court. He did not hesitate to say this proposed compensation was a job; and the defence used, that Mr. Abercromby could not fill the last-named office because he was not competent to charge a Jury, was a mere quibble, because the Court of Exchequer, in which he had presided, was also a Jury Court. The noble Lord at the head of his Majesty's Exchequer was perfectly callous to any proposition of retrenchment emanating from his side of the House: every suggestion emanating from that quarter he considered as originating in a faction. Mr. Abercromby was not more than fifty years of age, and, in the ordinary course of nature, might expect to hold his pension for twenty years. Here, therefore, was 40,000l. of the public money disposed of, exclusive of interest, for two years' service in the Court of Exchequer. He regretted he had not the talents of the First Lord of the Admiralty for calculations of this kind. He remembered when the right hon. Bart. moved for a return of the sums received by the Members of the Privy Council, how ingeniously he heaped sum upon sum; if he would but indulge in the same calculations upon this case, he had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman could show how much Mr. Abercromby had to receive for every time he put on his gown and wig at simple and compound interest. He had been accused of using strong language, but he had only followed the example of the right hon. Baronet, who had, upon that occasion, held up every Privy Councillor as a "bird of prey." He hoped Mr. Abercromby, by refusing the pension, would not allow such a name to be fixed upon him. After all, he had no scruple in repeating, that this was a job, as well as the Court of Bankruptcy itself, to which it was proposed to transfer Mr. Abercromby. He had opposed the establishment of that Court, and, therefore, he was glad to find its proceedings were about to come before the House, when an opportunity would be afforded to again discuss that subject.

Lord Althorp

, in answer to the observation that the Government ought to have offered Mr. Abercromby another situation in the stead of that they sought to abolish, begged to say Mr. Abercromby was offered a situation much more lucrative than the proposed compensation, and which Mr. Abercromby refused.

Mr. Goulburn

could easily imagine, that an individual who had filled a high judicial situation would not consent to accept a subordinate office, whatever might be the emoluments of that station. The Chief Commissionership of the Bankruptcy Court, one of equal rank with that from which he was to be removed, ought to have been offered to Mr. Abercromby.

Mr. Cutler Fergusson

said, the only question before the Committee was, whether, in case it should be hereafter de- cided that the Court of Exchequer ought to be abolished, Mr. Abercromby should receive compensation. He would not enter now into any consideration of the propriety of abolishing his office; but, as Mr. Abercromby held it for life, and could not be removed from it but by his own default, the compensation of half his salary was not more than he could reasonably expect to obtain. As to this being a job, he did not see how the interest of Mr. Abercromby was advanced thereby. It was allowed he held an appointment which almost amounted to a sinecure, with 4,000l. a-year, and he gave it up for a pension of 2,000l. a-year; and, if it was indeed true, that the Court of Exchequer might be dispensed with, it was unfortunate that it was not discovered two years ago, when the Government appointed Mr. Abercromby to the office he now held. At the same time, be felt bound to say, that he thought the Government, relying upon the Report of the Committee of 1825, made the appointment, believing it would be useful to the public. He must take the opportunity to call the attention of the Committee to the present condition of the learned persons who filled the situation of Judges of the Supreme Court of Scotland. The salaries of these Judges had generally been raised when those of the Judges of England had been increased though not in so great a degree. In 1819, the salaries of the English Judges were increased; in 1820, so were those of the Scotch. The Act which so raised them recited, that it had been usual to raise the salaries of the Judges of the two countries at the same time; and so strong was the feeling of Parliament upon the subject, that it was provided in that Bill, that the increase in the salaries of the Scotch Judges should date back from the period when that of the English Judges took place. In 1825 the salaries of the English Judges were again raised, and the right hon. member for Tamworth, he trusted, would allow that it was in contemplation also to raise the salaries of the Scotch Judges, and that it was only delayed till certain alterations in the Scotch Court were effected. Two years afterwards, a Bill was brought in to regulate the business of the Court of Session, by which the number of Judges was reduced; subsequently its business was increased by the addition of that of the Consistorial and Admiralty Courts, which were suppressed; but the salaries of the Judges were not increased, although a Bill for that purpose was brought in. A period of five years had now elapsed, without justice having been done to those learned and meritorious individuals. He was certain, that, had the question related to the Judges of England, no such delay would have taken place. But the fact was, that the business of Scotland was not attended to in that House. The Judges of England had their salaries fixed, in 1825, at 5,500l. a-year, a sum which had been more recently reduced to 5,000l. He asked the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether it was unreasonable that the salaries of the Scotch Judges should be raised to half that sum? Their conduct had been most exemplary; for they had taken the additional duty thrown upon them with cheerfulness, and without offering a word about further remuneration; but surely that was only an additional reason to consider their case—he would not say with favour, for he wanted none—but with justice; and he trusted the noble Lord would give some intimation that it was his intention to render them justice. Such an intimation would give great satisfaction to all gentlemen of property in Scotland—to all interested in the administration of justice—to the whole people of that country. It should be recollected, that the emoluments which were made at the Bar, were far greater than those assigned to the Judges.

Sir Robert Peel

had no hesitation in saying that, had he remained in office, pursuant to the pledge given by the late Government, he should have felt it his duty to bring before the House of Commons a proposition for the increase of the salaries of the Scotch Judges. Indeed, a proposition to that effect had been made, but was withdrawn in consequence of the opposition it met with from several hon. Members, and the late Government had not an opportunity of again bringing it forward before their removal from office. He certainly did think that 2,000l. a-year was not sufficient for the becoming maintenance of the judicial dignity in Scotland. The public were interested in the proper maintenance of these dignities, and that the proper forms of ceremony should be sustained, not to gratify personal vanity but to raise a proper respect for the high station. Whenever the proposition might be brought forward, it should have his warmest support. It was manifest that there was nothing like justice in granting a retiring Chief Baron, who had had nothing to do, 2,000l. per annum, and that 2,000l. was to be considered sufficient remuneration for a Judge actively discharging the high duties of his office.

Mr. Hume

concurred in the sentiment that the Scotch Judges and their present condition were well deserving of the attention of the Government. But he thought if there was one class of men in England who were overpaid it was the Judges of the land, of whom the puisne Judges received more than the salary of the President of the United States of America, while the Chief Justice received upwards of 10,000l. per annum. These salaries ought to be decreased, and those of the Scotch Judges increased: for it was monstrous that a Master in Chancery should have above 3,000l. per annum, a Register of Deeds in Ireland 1,500l. per annum, while the Scotch Judges had but 2,000l. a-year.

Sir Willam Rae

said, that he would never have introduced the measure which it had been his duty to promote two years ago, by which offices in Scotland to the amount of 22,000l. per annum were abolished, and the duties of the Scotch Judges increased, had it not been in the anticipation of the fulfilment of the pledge that they should be proportionably compensated. The proposed compensation to Mr. Abercromby for the loss of a situation in which he had undoubtedly a vested right, he (Sir William Rae) should feel it his duty to support.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, the hon. member for Middlesex had compared the Judge's salaries with that of the President of the United States, and had said they were much over-paid. But the comparison was of no use, unless it was considered whether proper persons to perform the duties could be had for less money, and, he apprehended that was not the case even in England, and in Scotland it was notorious no first rate advocate would give up his practice at the Bar for the sake of a Judgeship.

Mr. Strickland

said, that taking the relative population of England and Scotland the latter was not entitled to more than three Judges, in proportion to the number of people in both countries, whereas there was thirteen in the Court of Session, and three in the Court of Exchequer. Whenever therefore, they again heard of an increase of the salaries of the Scotch Judges, he hoped it would be taken as an earnest that their numbers were to be reduced.

Sir George Clerk

said, that the duties imposed on the Judges of the Court of Session were as great as those imposed on the Judges of any other Court; and, considering the high station they filled, the salaries were inadequate to support these gentlemen with becoming dignity. In Scotland a general feeling prevailed that their salaries ought to be advanced in a similar proportion to that recently allowed to the English Judges.

Mr. Hunt

said, he was heartily opposed to this sum of 2,000l. being taken out of the pockets of the people, who he was sure would be indignant at the attempt. He should, therefore, oppose the grant. It was a strange system of retrenchment, to give a sum of 2,000l. as a retiring allowance to a Judge who for two years had held a sinecure, while the active Judges only received the same sum. The people would think so, if it came to their knowledge, which he doubted, for he was certain a portion of the public Press would not publish much of that which fell from him and other hon. Members sitting on his side of the House. He would move that the amount of the proposed compensation should be reduced form 2,000l. to 1,000l.

Mr. John Campbell

had heard no argument used against the Resolution before the House. Mr. Abercromby had consented to receive half the salary as a retiring compensation, and he saw no reason to object to it, particularly when Mr. Jervis, Mr. Cashberd, and the other Welsh Judges had received the full retiring allowance.

The Attorney General

considered that no reasonable objection had been or could be offered to the Resolution before the House. He must corroborate the statement of his hon. and learned friend who had just spoken with respect to the Welsh Judges, and he begged to mention two exceptions only, Mr. Clarke and Mr. Serjeant Goulburn, who had not received the retiring allowance, because both those gentlemen had accepted the office after it was in contemplation to abolish the Welsh Judgeships, a fact which was communicated to them, and also that they would not be entitled to retiring compensation. In addition to the offer of the situation of Accountant General of the Court of Chancery, alluded to by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a communication had taken place with respect to the Court of Bankruptcy, which was declined by Mr. Abercromby, who alleged he did not feel himself competent to discharge the duties of a Jury Court.

The Resolutions agreed to, the House resumed.