§ Mr. Patrick M. Stewart
presented a Petition From certain Commissioners of Customs, complaining of a reduction of 200l. per annum which had been made in their salaries, and praying the House to take the subject into consideration. By a Treasury minute of April, 1831, certain reductions were effected in the expendi- 751 ture of the Custom-house, amounting to 31,500l. per annum. Every person officially connected with that Establishment was affected by these reductions; but a second Treasury minute of February, 1833, rendered the reductions prospective, with the exception only of the cases of the petitioners, with regard to whom its operation was immediate. They, therefore, prayed that they might be put on the same footing with the other persons connected with the same department. He trusted the House would not do what he must term a species of injustice for the purpose of effecting so paltry a saving as 1,200l. per annum.
§ Lord Althorp
considered it a most extraordinary and unusual proceeding that persons holding situations under the Crown in a Board of this nature should have thought fit to call upon that House for an increase of their salaries. It was necessary he should defend himself against the charge of unfairness the petitioners had made against the Government. He had effected these reductions because he felt it to be his duty as a Minister of the Crown to redeem the pledge which had been given to the country by him and his colleagues on their accepting office that they would endeavour, as far as would be consistent with the welfare of the public service, to make every possible reduction in the public expenditure. Upon his accepting office he found the salaries of the principal officers of Customs and Excise to be 1,400l. per annum, and conceiving 1,200l. to be an adequate remuneration for the duties they were called upon to perform, and being supported in this view of the case by the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman who preceded him, he felt it his duty to the public to make the reduction. The only question that arose was, whether these reductions should be prospective, thereby putting off the relief to the country to an indefinite period, or whether the principle should be immediately applied. It had been originally applied to the whole department immediately, but in consequence of representations made to him that it would be impolitic to excite dissatisfaction in those who were engaged in the collection of the public revenue by an immediate reduction of their salaries, he had been induced to make it prospective with regard to them, but he thought in the case of the petitioners there was good ground for an 752 immediate application of the principle. He did not think the country was bound to pay more than what was a most ample equivalent for the duties performed. He admitted, the usual course would be to give these individuals superannuation, and this was tendered to them, and was accepted by the officers of Excise, but as the petitioners refused to accept the superannuation, they ought to be satisfied with the reduced salary. For his own part, he must say, he thought in the present state of the country 1,200l. per annum was a most liberal remuneration for the duties these individuals performed; but if the House thought the salaries should be increased, he would bend to its decision. If he were left to the exercise of his own judgment, he should consider he was dealing justice to all parties by suffering them to remain as they were.
§ Sir Robert Inglis
concurred in the opinion of the noble Lord, that it was very improper to present a petition of that description to the House; it should certainly have been presented to the head of the department. He differed from the noble Lord, in thinking it politic to put up the salaries of public officers to the lowest tender, and hoped, that such republican doctrines would be scouted by the House. As these individuals had accepted office, and had married and made their other domestic arrangements, on the faith of receiving a salary of 1,400l. per annum, he considered it an act of great injustice to reduce their salaries by one-seventh, particularly when it was stated, that their duties had been increased, and that no charge of any kind had been made against them.
§ Lord Ebrington
thought, that a salary of 1,200l. per annum was quite sufficient for the duties the Commissioners had to perform. This, however, was not now the question. The question was, whether these offices were not, by invariable custom, almost tantamount to legal right, given for the lives, or at least during the good conduct, of the holders; and if such were the case, he did not think it fair, that any reduction should have taken place in the salaries of those who now held them. If the country and the Government thought, that the emoluments were too great, it was undoubtedly their right and their duty to make what reductions they thought proper in all future appointments; but disliking as he did every thing like retrospective 753 legislation, he could not help expressing his hope, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would reconsider the present arrangement, and postpone the saving which he had so properly decided on effecting in these offices, till after the interests of the existing Commissioners should expire.
§ Sir Henry Willoughby
supported the petition, contending that, upon principles of true economy, these reductions ought not to have taken place.
§ Sir Charles Burrell
thought a great deal too much tenderness was exhibited on this occasion towards the Commissioners of Customs, and when the House considered the difference in the value of money, it would be evident that these persons were better off with a salary of 1,200l. a-year than those who formerly enjoyed salaries of 1,800l. a-year.
§ Mr. Ridley Colborne
considered this one of those cases which might very fairly be taken into consideration, though he certainly disapproved of making the House the arbiter in matters of this sort. The increased duties of these Commissioners gave them a claim to the full salary.
Mr. Francis Baring
defended the Government in reducing the salaries of those who occupied the superior offices in the public establishments: he was rather surprised at the sympathy which had been manifested on behalf of the petitioners, when no objections had been made to the reductions which had taken place in the wages of the workmen employed in the dock yards and other great Government establishments.
§ Mr. Goulburn
considered it highly objectionable, that any individuals holding office under the Crown should have petitioned the Legislature on the subject of the salary paid to them, and almost induced him to recommend that the petition should be withdrawn. He admitted, his concurrence with the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) on the principles of reduction with reference to the salaries of public officers; but while he advocated the right of the Government to deal with such offices as those held by the petitioners, he was bound in justice to them to declare, that all reductions he contemplated were to be of a prospective nature. He, therefore, while he admitted that the case had been irregularly brought before the House, thought the case of the petitioners deserved the consideration of the Government,
thought, that every labourer was worthy of his hire. These Commissioners had been hired at a certain salary, and that he thought they ought to receive.
§ Mr. Hume
could not conceive anything more mischievous than allowing the interposition of the House in questions of this sort. The simple case the House was called upon to decide was, whether the Legislature or the Executive should decide what salaries were to be given to the servants of the public. He had opposed the opinions entertained by Mr. Canning on this subject, and contended the House did not possess the right to interfere. The principle he maintained was, that the same spirit of reduction should be applied to the higher class of public servants that was exercised with reference to the lower. He could see no reason why a distinction should be made between the salaries of those who received 5s. and of those who received 5l. The House had appeared on former occasions inclined to entertain the propositions he had offered on this subject; and if so, how could they listen to the complaints of men who conceived 1,200l. a-year an inadequate salary.
hoped the House would not forget the principle laid down by the hon. member for Middlesex, that an application to that House for money was not a constitutional proceeding, and that it was calculated to be productive of mischief, as he conceived the hon. Member must have been rather forgetful of the principle when he made an application to the House for money on a former occasion. He thought the case of the petitioners a very hard one, as a great deal of personal inconvenience and distress must be occasioned to any individuals whose salary of 1,400l. was subject to a reduction of so large an amount as 200l.
§ Mr. Patrick M. Stewart
was not aware of the informality of presenting a petition of that nature to the House; but having discharged his duty in bringing the subject under the notice of the Government, he should beg leave to withdraw the petition, and leave the matter to the serious attention of the noble Lord and the Government.
§ Petition withdrawn.