HC Deb 25 July 1832 vol 14 cc721-4
Sir Edward Sugden

called the attention of the noble Lord opposite, to the filling up of the sinecure offices of the Court of Chancery, which he understood were to have been abolished. The promise to abolish them was made in that House, when the Bankruptcy Bill, which had entailed such a great and useless expense on the country, was introduced; yet he now found that they had been filled up. The greatest complaints were made when one of these offices was held by a son of Lord Eldon's, and the various offices and the various fees of the Court of Chancery were then attacked freely enough; but not one word of objection was uttered now that the money was to be received by different persons; and the offices themselves, that were then so vigorously attacked as abuses, were now quietly filled up, and filled up, too, he begged to observe, after he had intimated that he should call the attention of that House to them. He complained, besides, of the delay that had taken place in settling the salary and the retired allowances of the Chancellor. He did not wish to mix up that which was a personal matter with another and a different subject, and he had thus been prevented from moving what he should otherwise have done—the repeal of nine-tenths of the Bankrupt Act. He wished to know in what way the noble Lord opposite explained the recent appointment of Registrar of the Court of Chancery?

Lord Althorp

regretted that the hon. and learned Gentleman had availed himself of the opportunity of putting a question, to make an attack upon the Lord Chancellor, and said, that those offices, which were in the gift of the Lord Chancellor, must be filled up as they became vacant, until they were legally abolished. He was desirous that the question of the Lord Chancellor's salary should be decided as soon as possible; but he had hitherto been unable to bring it forward on account of the important business already before the House.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that it was impossible to believe, that the appointments in question could be otherwise than merely provisional. In the Committee appointed to inquire into what reduction could be made in salaries of offices held during the pleasure of the Crown, the Lord Chancellor himself declared his intention to abolish all sinecure offices. He thought it would be a great improvement, if the measure were extended to the Court of Chancery, which was applied to other Courts, for putting an end to sinecures, and making proper compensation to the persons holding them. To show that this was the view which the Lord Chancellor himself took of the subject, he would read a passage from the evidence of the noble and learned Lord before the Committee. Being asked, "Are the Committee to understand that it is your intention to divest the office of Lord Chancellor of all sinecure situations?" he replied, "If I can obtain the concurrence of Parliament, it is my intention to divest the office of Lord Chancellor of all the sinecures which have hitherto been given for the maintenance of his family." Under these circumstances, it was impossible to consider the present appointment as more than provisional. Of course, if the sinecure offices should be abolished, the Lord Chancellor must receive a fair consideration for them.

Mr. Hume

said, that as a Member of the Committee, he could corroborate what had been said by the right hon. Baronet respecting the declared opinions and intentions of the Lord Chancellor. He was sure, therefore, that the appointment must be provisional, for the whole tenor of the noble Lord's evidence was, that the head of the Court of Chancery ought to be deprived of all sinecure appointments. As to the offices held by the son of the late Lord Chancellor, he (Mr. Hume) took it as a matter of course, that the five sinecures of that Gentleman (Mr. Scott) would be abolished without delay. The Ministers were bound in honour to the House, and to the country, that all appointments of the kind were only provisional, and were accepted by the persons appointed to them, subject to the contingency of abolition or reduction, as soon as the other more pressing questions which now occupied Parliament should allow the House to take up the subject of these offices.

Sir Charles Wetherell

said, that the salary of the Lord Chancellor ought to have been settled long ago, and that when the patronage of the Bankruptcy Court was taken from that Judge, he ought to have been compensated by an addition to his salary.

Mr. Robinson

expressed his astonishment at the appointment, which he could not reconcile with the solemn and repeated pledges given by the Lord Chancellor in favour of retrenchment and Reform. He thought this was a sorry instance of the spirit with which his Majesty's Ministers meant to fulfil their promises of economy. Was it possible that the Lord Chancellor filled up the office of Registrar without consulting his colleagues?

Mr. Wason

was satisfied that the appointment could only be provisional. He had no doubt that Mr. William Brougham had accepted the office with the understanding that he was appointed merely to fill it up until it should be formally abolished.

Sir Francis Burdett

was also of opinion that the appointment was only provisional; for it would be impossible to suppose that there was any intention to maintain those offices after the repeated declarations of the Lord Chancellor himself on the subject. The appointment must have been merely an official proceeding; as it was necessary to have some one in the place of Registrar until the office should have been abolished by law.

Mr. Alderman Venables

was sure that the appointment would cause great disappointment and regret throughout the country, and would be looked upon as a breach of faith on the part of the Government.

Sir Edward Sugden

begged that it might be understood that he had not made a personal attack upon the Lord Chancellor. He had asked the question merely to gain information.

Lord Althorp

said, that if the hon. and learned Gentleman had not made a personal attack upon the Lord Chancellor, he did not know what a personal attack was.

Sir Robert Peel

considered the discussion altogether premature. It was impossible that the appointment could have been intended to be permanent, inasmuch as the Lord Chancellor was pledged to the abolition of all sinecure offices in his Court.

Sir Frederick Trench

trusted that his Majesty's Ministers would take a hint from the lesson which their adversaries had generously read to them. For his part, as a plain man, he could not suppose anything else than that the appointment was intended to be permanent. He could not imagine that the Lord Chancellor's brother was put to the inconvenience of resigning his seat in Parliament for the purpose of filling provisionally an office of which the abolition was looked upon as no very remote contingency. However, he trusted that the Government would act upon the generous suggestion which had been just thrown out, and would make the appointment only provisional.

Mr. Hume

said, that it was most probable that the Lord Chancellor had appointed his brother because he could more easily abolish an office held by him than one held by any other person. Subject dropped.