HC Deb 18 April 1833 vol 17 cc292-304
Mr. Hume

said, that in rising to submit to the House the motion of which he had given notice relative to sinecure offices, or offices executed by deputy, in naval, military, civil, or colonial service, he was anxious to guard himself against being misunderstood, or having a wrong interpretation put upon the motives by which he was actuated. He had, in the early part of the present Session, introduced two motions for the abolition of offices to which no duties were attached, and he had done so with a view to save the country the amount of the salaries attached to these offices. Objections had been taken to the manner in which he had introduced both his first and second motions. By some hon. Members it was urged that he had not sufficiently explained his meaning or objects; while others stated, that, however justified he might be on principle, he had not chosen the proper time for proposing the reduction. He was not aware that he had committed any error, cither in the one ease or the other, although it might perhaps have happened that he had not made himself so clearly understood as he was anxious to do on both occasions. The motion to which he was now anxious to call the attention of the House was one founded on a broader basis than either of his former ones, and his Majesty's Ministers might, as they pleased, admit or deny its propriety; in either case he would leave the result to be judged by the country. He had received several communications from persons in different districts in the country, to whom their respective Representatives had assigned the grounds upon which they had voted against him on both the occasions alluded to; and he felt bound to add that the constituency almost universally regretted that their Representatives had not taken a right view of the question. It was not his intention to detain the House by going back at any length into what had taken place at former periods, but he would observe that when, in 1808 and 1809, the House was pressed to lessen the expenses of the country, a Finance Committee was appointed to inquire how far the burthens under which the people laboured could be reduced. That Committee was composed, for the greater part, of officers belonging to Government, and after a laborious and extended inquiry, they came to a decision that a reduction ought to take place with respect to persons whom they divided into three classes:—1, persons holding actual sinecures; 2, persons holding offices in the nature of sinecures; and 3, persons holding offices which were executed by deputy, and where, though there was some work to be done, it was not of a nature or extent to warrant the salary. That Committee afforded the best account of sinecures and sinecure offices that had been laid before the House. In the following year it published an amended report (that of 1809) to which he would refer hon. Members, in order to see how those sinecures had been arranged. He sincerely hoped and trusted that they had now arrived at a period when this oppressive system of sinecures would be altogether done away with. The first schedule he found was the Court of Chancery, where sinecures existed to the amount of 20,985l. per annum. In the next he found that in the Court of King's Bench, the Court of Common Pleas, the Court of Exchequer, and the Prerogative Court, there were sinecures to the amount of 106,616l. There were other sinecures in the Courts of Law in England, amounting to 50,000l., and in the different colonies and colonial departments, amounting together to 1,56,000l. In short the Committee were so sensible that they must meet the public eye, that they came to a resolution which he would read, but he must first observe that they had pointed out altogether sinecures in England and the colonies to the amount of 199,137l.; exclusive of 30,000l. in Scotland, and 74,000l. for Ireland, of which, sinecures to the amount of a sum of 31,000l. were in Courts of Law. A motion had been made last year with a view to show the amount of sinecures and sinecure places existing in this country. That motion had not been carried as it would have shown the extravagant amount to which those sinecures had extended. He therefore, wished the House to understand that in introducing this Motion he was actuated more by principle in the abolition of sinecures than in the actual amount of their reduction, although he felt that that reduction would be productive of great good to the country; and if he was able to satisfy the House that no portion of the public money ought to be given where no service was performed for it, then, he trusted, that he should have made out a case that, in a time of pressure like the present, with our large debt and heavy burthen of taxation, with the weight of our army, naval, and civil establishments pressing upon us, we ought to be relieved from all superfluous and unnecessary expenditure. It should be known that while the people were anxious to pay so far as they were able, and under every privation, all that was required for the service of the State, they had a right to expect to be delivered from the pressure caused by those who received large sums of the public money without performing any single act of service for it. The House would, perhaps, feel astonished if he were to state that the amount of sinecures and pensions within a comparatively short period had been the means of adding at least one-half the present amount of the national debt. Taking the amount of sinecures and pensions themselves, and looking to the manner in which, by corruption and corrupt influence, they had been the means of perpetuating abuses, and supporting extravagant and expensive Governments, it would be found that former Ministers had maintained their influence, and increased the debt by means of sinecures, at least to the amount he had mentioned. Thus it was, that laws were passed by which the people were oppressed, and their pockets drained of their last shilling. He was aware that many hon. Members might question his statement, and inquire the grounds upon which it was made. He would quote a parliamentary document, laid upon the table of the House in 1816; but, independent of that, the House must perceive that if all the money expended in useless places and pensions—in short, if every unnecessary shilling laid out since the time of William 3rd, had been placed at compound interest, the amount would go near to paying off the national debt. By the parliamentary document, published on the 3rd of April, 1816, signed Henry Goulburn, it appeared that there were thirty-three places in eight of our islands, the holders of which were nonresident, and discharged the duties by deputy, the salaries of which amounted to 53,000l. a-year. As a specimen he would mention the case of an honourable Mr. Percy W. Wyndham, who had held a situation in Jamaica of 4,000l. a-year (filled by deputy), from the year 1763; so that, counting up to 1816, he held it fifty-three years. He had during that long period been a receiver of the public money; he had received with interest 238,500l. of the public money, while every one of the duties attached to his office was executed by deputy. Another person holding an office in the same island, was the honourable T. C. Wyndham, who had received 34,000l. of the public money; so that these two Wyndhams had pocketted no less than 272,000l. of the people's money for doing nothing. Lord Braybrook held the situation, which he executed by deputy, of Provost Martial in Jamaica, and received for it 2,100l. a-year. He was quite a child when he received the appointment. Sir Edward Nepean had held a place in the same island, from which he had received altogether the sum of 169,000l. Mr. Charles Greville had also received a large sum from a sinecure place abroad. A Mr. Augustus Sullivan had received 68,000l.; a Mr. King, 39,000l. According to his calculations, these seven persons had received no less than 1,620,000l. of the public money, from the period of their appointment to those offices down to 1816, and yet this formed but a small part of the sinecure places and pensions which existed in the country, and this sum represented but a small part of what was paid for no services whatever. The Committee of the 13th of June, 1809, agreed to a resolution to the following effect:—"That it is the opinion of this Committee that sinecure offices, and offices the duties of which are discharged by deputy, are unnecessary and inexpedient as a means of rewarding public services." And, be it observed, that this was the opinion of a Committee consisting, for the greater part, of Government officers and their supporters. A Motion, founded upon the report of that Committee, was submitted by Mr. Davies Gilbert Giddy, which was negatived; and since that period the question had never been fairly brought under the consideration of the House. The only defence that he had heard set up in favour of those sinecure places was, that his Majesty ought to have it in his power to reward the services of persons who had deserved well of their country by long and meritorious exertions. From this it would appear as if those places were paid at once out of the Exchequer; but such was not the case. The fact was, that most of those emoluments were raised in the most objectionable manner. They were, in a great measure, raised out of fees and exactions which clogged the wheels of justice, and to which suitors in our Courts ought never to have been subjected. He would mention a few of those persons who profited by those fees, and he begged the attention of the House to them for a moment. In one schedule he found an office which he understood was to be abolished—it was that of Auditor of Land Revenue (Sir W. G. Cooper), 3,300l.; then there was the auditor ship held by Lord Grenville, with a salary of 4,000l. Then there was the office of the Teller of the Exchequer, with regard to which he could not let the opportunity pass without observing, that there was an individual who had, on one occasion, stood forward to meet the call of the country; Lord Camden had resigned fees which he then received, to the amount of 23,115l. a-year. Where was the justification for any of these sinecure offices? Every device had been employed to establish offices of this kind, and to impose fees, so that those who had influence enough to get the offices created might enjoy the emoluments. In 1782 the Court fees had been regulated; but, he believed, fees to the amount of nearly 300,000l. remained; and if those fees had been abolished forthwith, what an amazing saving would have been made to the country. He had always desired to put an end to the existence of these fees, and he thought it was a reproach to any liberal Government that the country should now be paying 33,000l. in the army Estimates for paying our own money to our own troops. The objection was not the loss of the money alone, but the delay that was needlessly occasioned—many days were lost in attendance at offices to pay public money, and pass public accounts. In the Court of Chancery here there were several useless offices. There was one office held by Lord Bathurst, who received 1,610l. a-year; the Clerk of the Patents received 1,610l. a-year; the Clerk of the Pipe 968l. a-year. Then there was the Clerk of the Idiots—if there was such an office in the House of Commons, to punish them for allowing such a system, it would not be very objectionable—there was a Clerk of Idiots, an office held by Lord Thurlow, who received 963l; and then there was the Secretary to the Bankruptcy office, who received 5,720l. a-year, an office also held by Lord Thurlow. Again, in the Chancery offices, there was an office held by Mr. Buller, who received, in fees, 793l. a-year; there were twenty-one Cursitors, all of whom performed their duties by deputy, and who received 6,404l. a-year; the Clerk of the Hanaper, an office held by two young ladies, the daughters of a noble Earl, who received 2,070l. a-year; the Messenger of the Great Seal, who received 994l.; and then there was Lord Ellen-borough, the Chief Clerk of the Court of King's Bench, who received 7,905l.; then the office of Custos Brevium was held by Lord Kenyon, who received 4,986l.; and the officer of the Seal-office in the Common Pleas (the Duke of Grafton) received 2,286l. Now, the question for consideration was, whether the country was to continue to be oppressed and borne down by the payment of these and other enormous sinecures? The time would soon come when, upon an explanation of the finances and resources of the country, they would be called upon to reduce the number of poor industrious persons employed under Government—were they, he would ask, at the same time to continue this list of idle, and useless, and expensive pensioners? But he had not yet got through his list. The Chancery in Scotland was in a similar state. The Earl of Rosslyn held an office there, and received 1,712l. a-year; there was the Clerk of the Chancery, who held the office as trustee for the children of the noble Earl, and who received 925l; there was the Comptroller of Customs (Lord Leven), receiving 405l.; there was a Sir S. Grant, holding an office which brought him in 608l. a-year; Lord Frederick Campbell received 1,200l. a-year; and Lord Melville, us keeper of the Privy Seal, had 2,000l. a-year. Surely it was time that these matters were inquired into. He was of opinion that such a wasteful expenditure ought not to be tolerated one moment longer, and that at a time of such dreadful distress and suffering, not a shilling of the public money ought to be unnecessarily expended. One of the Resolutions of which he had given notice was, "That on all future vacancies of sinecure offices, or offices executed by deputy, in the naval, military, civil, and colonial service of the country, no new appointments shall be made, nor any salary, allowances, or emoluments granted." What he intended by this was to save the salary attached to useless offices; but where offices were of an honourable nature he had no objection that the office itself should remain, as was the case with the office of Admiral of Scotland, the salary of which had been abolished, but the right was preserved to the Crown of filling up the situation. A suggestion had however been made to him that it would be better to make his Motion more general, and to leave out the words "naval and military." He intended, therefore, to put it in this shape—" That on all future vacancies of sinecure offices, at home and abroad, no now appointment shall be made, "&c. His second Resolution was," that no person shall receive any salary, fee, or emolument for any office to which he shall hereafter be appointed, the duties of which are or shall be executed by deputy." The principle of that Resolution was adopted by the House, in 1822, as to the Receivers-General and their deputies, and a saving of 170,000l. a-year was effected. He therefore wished that the principle then acted upon should be applied to all offices, and that the public should pay no more for the discharge of the duties than their deputies were capable of doing them for.—The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his first Resolution.

Lord Althorp

said, that with respect to the substance of the Motion of the hon. Member, he had no objection to it. The principle indeed had not only been recognised in that House, but acted upon in a great many instances. Indeed in saying this, he must take the opportunity of observing, that several of the offices mentioned by the hon. Member as indicated in the Report made in I816, had been entirely abolished since that time. He could not at this moment follow the hon. Member through all the instances to which he had referred, but he would mention one or two. He was surprised at the reference to the office held by Lord Thurlow in the Bankruptcy-office, for in the Bill of the year before last it had been abolished. It was nearly the same with the case of one of the offices quoted from the Courts in Scotland, the office said to be held by Lord F. Campbell. That nobleman had been dead for a great number of years. He hoped, therefore, that the House would not think that all the offices referred to by the hon. Member yet remained in existence. Some few indeed remained, but most of those were to be abolished at the death of the present holders. As to the second Resolution which the hon. Member had read, if it were confined to civil and colonial offices, he would make no objection to it; and, as his noble friend behind him (Lord Ebrington) had given notice of a motion for a Committee to inquire into military offices, the hon. Member had perhaps better not include them in his Motion, the more especially as he believed that the Committee would not be opposed by the Government. He should, indeed, suggest to his noble friend to add Naval Offices to those respecting which he was about to move for a Committee of Inquiry.

Mr. Hume

said, that as the noble Lord had treated his proposition so very fairly, he should certainly adopt the suggestion now made of omitting naval and military officers from his Motion.

The Motion was then amended thus—"

That in all future vacancies of sinecure offices in the Civil and Colonial Service of the country, no new appointment shall be made with any salary, fee, or emolument thereto attached."

Colonel Davies

observed, that the very fair manner in which the noble Lord had met this Motion would tend most powerfully to restore and increase the confidence of the country in the present Government. He thought there was one point which had been overlooked by both parties, and that was, an Act of Parliament (the 22nd Geo. 3rd, c. 75), by which it was intended to prevent the future grant of any patent offices for any longer time than they should discharge the duties thereof in person. The preamble of the Act was this:—'Whereas, the practice of granting offices 'in his Majesty's colonies and plantations 'in America and the West Indies, to persons resident and intending to reside in 'Great Britain (in consequence whereof 'such offices are exercised by deputy, and 'have frequently been farmed out to the 'best bidder), hath been long complained 'of as a grievance by his Majesty's loyal 'subjects in those parts, who have been 'thereby exposed to exactions and oppressions, as well as to inconveniences arising 'from neglect of duty; may it please your 'Majesty that it be enacted—And be it 'enacted by the King's most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent 'of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and 'Commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the 'same, that, from henceforth, no office 'to be exercised in any colony or plantation, now or at any time hereafter, belonging to the Crown of Great Britain, shall be granted or grantable by patent, for 'any longer time than during such time 'as the grantee thereof, or person appointed 'thereto, shall discharge the duty thereof 'in person, and behave well therein.' In the Act there was this clause:—'And be 'it further enacted, by the authority aforesaid, that if any person or persons holding 'such office shall be wilfully absent from 'the colony or plantation wherein the same 'is or ought to be exercised, without a 'reasonable cause to be allowed by the 'Governor and Council, for the time being, 'of such colony or plantation, or shall neglect the duty of such office, or otherwise 'misbehave therein, it shall and may be 'lawful for such Governor and Council to 'amove such person or persons from every 'or any such office; and in case any person 'or persons so amoved shall think himself aggrieved thereby, it shall and may be 'lawful to and for such person or persons 'to appeal there from, as in other cases of 'appeal, from such colony or plantation; 'whereon such a motion shall be finally 'judged of and determined by his Majesty 'in Council. If such were the law, how happened it that so many persons were allowed to hold sinecure offices in the colonies without residence? How happened it that Mr. Percy Wyndham was in the possession of two offices in the West Indies, of the annual value of 4,600l., from the period of 1763 to 1816, without having been compelled to reside in the West Indies, or to give up his places? Then, again, there was Mr. Sullivan, who received 1800l. a-year as Registrar and Secretary of Demerara, and was allowed to reside in England. Again, as to the case of Mr. Greville, Clerk of the Council at Tobago, with a salary of 400l. a-year, that gentleman did not reside in the colony; and yet no steps had been taken to abolish this office. There was also the case of my Lord Braybrooke, who was appointed to the office of Provost Marshal of Jamaica, with a salary of 2,100l., when he was only six years of age; and who did not visit that colony until he had attained a very advanced period of life. Now, if the law he had quoted had been enforced, Lord Braybrooke would not have received one shilling until he went to Jamaica. Again, there was the case of Lord Chatham, as Governor of Gibraltar, who, though he never went near the place, received 3,400l. a-year. All these cases were contrary to the Act of Parliament, and yet no steps were taken to enforce it.

Lord Althorp,

with reference to the ob servations of the gallant Colonel, remarked, that in the first case to which he had alluded—that of Mr. Wyndham—the appointment was made before the Act was passed, and therefore was not affected by it; in the next—that of Mr. Sullivan, at Demerara—the office had been abolished by the present Administration; and as to Mr. Greville, that gentleman had held two offices—one of these had the salary paid in London; the Government, acting on the principle referred to by the hon. member for Middlesex, and on that of the Act in question, had stopped the payment of the salary. It was true that the gentleman had been absent from the personal discharge of the duties of the other office, but then he was absent on leave regularly obtained.

Sir Alexander Hope

expressed his satisfaction at the manner in which the Government had met this question. All that the army wanted was such honours and rewards for actual services as the country thought fit to bestow. The military profession asked for neither sinecures nor unmerited pensions. Indeed, the taunts which were sometimes thrown out against the army, charging them with plundering the people of their money and luxuriating in sinecures, were far more hurtful to the feelings of honourable men, who had spent their lives from their youths upwards in the arduous service of their country, than could be compensated by any emoluments, however large. In the army there were but few prizes, and to have those prizes tarnished made them worse than valueless. All that the army desired was a fair and just and honourable inquiry. If they were entitled to nothing, let them have nothing; but if, on the contrary, the country felt that the men who had spent their strength and risked their existence for the maintenance of its honour, the extension of its glory, and the security of its commerce, were entitled both to honour and to pecuniary reward, let it not be bestowed with taunt and contumely, but in a spirit which became a nation worthy of such services. The officers of the army wished not to be confounded with those, if such there were, who had distinction and public money for doing nothing. Better would it be for the army, rather than be so mixed up, to be deprived of all reward, whether honorary or other—better, far better, for the army to make any pecuniary sacrifices than to lose its name and its fame from being shown under false colours, and mingled with those who had neither worked for what they had got nor suffered for what they had received.

Captain Yorke

observed, that the navy had no fear of inquiry, but was anxious to be placed in a fair position before the country, and to have its claims examined. He had no doubt that the noble Lord would deal fairly by the navy as well as by the army; but he was sure that if rewards were to be doled out by the House of Commons, they would be conferred in a more lavish and a more expensive manner to the country than if they were left in the hands of the Crown, for a popular assembly like that was more likely to be acted upon by strong feelings, whenever a case came before it well and eloquently represented. He wished the navy, in respect to sinecures, to be treated in the same way as the army.

Motion agreed to.

Mr. Hume

then addressed the House with reference to Colonial appointments, most of which were served by deputy, and were thus sinecure offices. Besides this, no person in this country knew anything about even the vacancies in the Colonial Department till he heard of their being filled up, and most generally it turned out that the persons appointed were so totally unfit or unworthy, that, had sufficient time been allowed, by previous notice of the intended appointment, to consider its propriety, the appointment would infallibly have been negatived. It appeared to him (Mr. Hume), that the intended appointment ought to be gazetted, so that every opportunity might be given for examining into the claimant's efficiency. The hon. Member, after some further observations on the system of Colonial appointments, moved his second Resolution, "That no person should receive salary or emoluments from any place which he fills by deputy."

Lord Sandon

confirmed the statement of the hon. member for Middlesex, as to the unfitness of many persons for the appointments which they received. Sir George Murray had stated, and from his connexion with a former Administration, he well knew, that many persons were sent out to Canada who were altogether unqualified for their situations. He hoped the suggestion of the hon. Member would be adopted.

Lord Althorp

said, he should not object to the Motion. With regard to the suggestion of the hon. member for Middlesex, he would not pledge himself to its adoption, but he thought it worthy of consideration.

The Resolution agreed to.

Mr. Hume

said, he wished to say a few words in explanation of the next Motion which he had to propose. The noble Lord opposite, had, on a former occasion, said, that as it was not delicate that his Majesty's Ministers should inquire into their own salaries and those of their colleagues, the duty should be delegated to a Committee, and that it should be the duty of Ministers to act with respect to the salaries as the Committee should suggest. Now, he wished to ask the noble Lord, whether there was any regulation by which all appointments should, in the same manner, be viewed as subject to qualification and alteration as to their duties and emoluments? If any such regulation had been adopted, his present Motion would have been unnecessary; but if not, he thought it was proper to mark the intention of the House to follow up the example which his Majesty's Ministers had shown with respect to their own salaries, and that individuals who held situations should hold them subject to such alterations as should be deemed expedient, as had been the case with respect to the Bishopric of Derry. He moved "That all offices filled up after this date, in any Department under the Crown, civil, military, naval, or colonial, shall be subject to such alterations as to duties, and to such deductions and alterations as to salary and emoluments, as his Majesty, by the advice of his Ministers shall make, without the persons so appointed having any claim for compensation or allowance for such alterations."

Lord Althorp

objected to this Motion, because he considered it not only unnecessary, but as calling into question the existent powers of Government, who, as it was, had power to make every deduction and modification they thought advisable; and he himself had acted upon this power in several important instances. The hon. Member's suggestion assumed, that Government had not that power with respect to offices now in existence.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson said,

if the power was now existing it was unnecessary; and, if not, he objected to giving such an arbitrary new power to the House. It would be impossible to say to what extent it might be carried. In either case he hoped his hon. friend would withdraw his Motion.

Mr. Hume

was happy to hear the statement of the noble Lord. He would just put one question to him, and if the answer were equally satisfactory, the Resolution should be readily withdrawn. This was with respect to the patent offices. Suppose one of the Judges was, by Act of Parliament, allowed a salary of 5,000l. a-year, would the noble Lord say, that this could be influenced other than by Act of Parliament "If the answer were in the affirmative, he would gladly withdraw his Motion, perfectly satisfied, with the hon. Member, that it would then be unnecessary.

Lord Althorp

said, that the hon. Member must be aware the Judges' salaries were fixed by Act of Parliament.

Motion withdrawn.