HC Deb 06 May 1834 vol 23 cc680-5
Mr. Sinclair

said, that he should endeavour at that late hour to consult the convenience of the House, and do justice to his own feelings, by expressing his views as briefly as possible. If he had been so fortunate as to have addressed the House at an earlier period, he would have adduced many arguments, and enforced them by facts, into which he should then very slightly enter; more especially as his noble friend had intimated to him, that the Motion would be acquiesced in by the Government. It would be borne in mind, that he did not rise for the purpose of proposing, that an increase should be made to the salaries of the eminent public functionaries, in whose behalf he esteemed it a high honour to appear. All that he claimed—and he did not see on what grounds such a reasonable demand could be resisted—was a strict and dispassionate inquiry. And he should appeal in no degree ad misericordiam, but altogether ad justitiam. He must be permitted to observe, that he came forward as a spontaneous, unsolicited advocate—and that entirely on public grounds. He had no relatives on the Bench, or who were expecting to attain that high honour; he had a profound respect for the distinguished persons in question—and who were better entitled to it?—and for several of their number he cherished a sincere regard; but he was in every respect a disinterested, and, in one, a reluctant advocate. Not from any doubt as to the merits of the case, but because he wished it had fallen into the hands of a more able and influential advocate; for which reason, although he had called the attention of his noble friend to the subject last year, on the question of settling two thousand five hundred pounds on masters in Chancery, whilst a Civil Judge in the Supreme Court in Scotland received only 2,000l., and had, for three months, abstained from originating any propositions, in the hope that his Majesty's Ministers, or some Scotch Member of greater ability, would have superseded the necessity of his interference. He deemed it superfluous to do more than enumerate a proposition, acceded to on all hands, and contended for most strenuously, by those most hostile to sinecures and unmerited pensions, that all efficient public servants, should be not only adequately, but amply remunerated. This principle was in a more particular degree applicable to the state of a Judge, who ought to be placed, as far as such an effect could be secured by a liberal amount of income, above temptation, and above suspicion; the anxietate carens animus as to external circumstances to the faithful, independent, and zealous discharge of his important functions, must be universally conducive. Private fortune might or might not be a concomitant; and it would be unworthy of a great country to suffer such an adventitious circumstance to enter as an element into its calculations—more especially as the delectus personœ was of far greater moment now, when only four Judges transacted the business in each division, than when fifteen sat in a single Court, and when the abilities or experience of each individual were consequently of less importance. He maintained, that the present salary did not provide for a Judge, who had no supplementary income of his own, the means of making an adequate provision for his family, and maintaining that station in society which his rank entitled, and even obliged, him to occupy. It was true, that of late years, some articles had become cheaper; but many others, such as education, insurance, &c, continued on the same footing (or nearly so) as before. He must also observe, that many eminent advocates had been great losers, even by the acceptation of a double gown. That considerably larger incomes than 2,000l. a-year was realized at the bar at this moment. That the country had lost the services of distinguished men during some of their best years, because they could not afford to accept a gown until they had realized a fund by their professional exertions. It should also be borne in mind, that, by an arrangement adopted a few years ago, the number of those functionaries had been diminished, while the duties of four Courts at that time abolished, namely, the Exchequer, the Jury, the Admiralty, and the Commissary, had been altogether imposed upon the remaining Judges, who were not even consulted as to the propriety of such a proceeding, to which they would in all probability have objected, if a distinct pledge had not been held out by the then Government, that a proportionate increase of remuneration should be an indispensable, as it certainly would have been a just and equitable concomitant. A large saving had accrued to the public by these extensive arrangements, and it would surely be proper and reasonable, that a portion of that sum should be devoted to the indemnification of those distinguished persons on whom so much additional labour had devolved, and without whose assent they could not fairly have been carried through. He begged leave also to observe, that an augmentation of the salary of the Scotch Judges had always gone, pari passu, with that of the incomes of the English Judges, and maintained its due proportion, and when retarded, had been made retrospective, excepting in the case of the latest increase, which took place in 1825, when the value of money was precisely similar to what it now was, and when the case of the Scotch Judges had only been deferred until the amount of augmentation could be regulated in proportion to the extent of their own duties. The English Judges had now considerably more than double the income of those in Scotland; that of the Irish was also, he believed, about 3,800l.; nay, he bad been informed, that under the Local Courts' Bill, the subordinate functionaries, whom it was proposed to establish were to have been fixed at 1,500l. per annum. Could it, therefore, be fairly contended, that 2,000l. per annum was enough for a Judge of the Supreme Court in Scotland? Some of them, indeed, had double gowns, which entitled them to 2,600l. per annum, but that increase was very hardly earned, and by no means proportioned to the intensity of labour which the alarming progress of crime had of late occasioned. And as far as the business of the Court of Session was concerned, it was just as important that those who were only judges in the civil court should be men of the highest legal attainments, as the possession of a double gown was a more advantageous circumstance, and gave an additional weight of influence in the decisions of the civil tribunal. It was very true, that even the present amount of salary might induce respectable members of the profession to accept the office. But would such a proceeding be just towards either the bar or the country? Ought advocates of high eminence and accomplishment to plead before Judges of inferior attainment, because they themselves could not afford to accept situations of such permanent importance, and to discharge the duties of which, with honour and efficiency, they themselves were far more competent than the men into whose hands a most unseasonable economy had alone caused it to devolve? He believed, that the present Judges enjoyed and merited the highest consideration on the part of this House and the public. And the case of the venerable persons who presided with so much honour and integrity over the two divisions, were especially entitled to fair and even favourable attention. This would, as he confidently anticipated, be the result of the inquiries which he had the honour to propose and on the propriety of which he deemed it quite unnecessary to expatiate more fully at so unseasonable a moment. The hon. Member concluded by moving for "the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the salaries of the Judges in Scotland, with the nature and extent of their duties."

Mr. Gillon

would detain the House but a very few minutes in bringing forward the Amendment to the Motion of his hon. friend, of which he had given notice. He could scarcely suppose, that his hon. friend was serious in the proposition he made to augment, at a period like this, the salaries of the Scotch Judges, when the profits of capital, the rents of land, the products of industry, and the wages of labour, had sunk to so low a scale. He begged to state to the House what had been the amount of the salaries of the Scottish judges. In 1786, they were 1,000l.; a further augmentation was made in 1799 to 1,280l.; and, in 1810, on the plea that the prices of the necessaries of life, and the expense of living had increased, they were raised to the present rate of 2,000l. Besides this, there were five Lords of Justiciary who received 600l. additional, and three who had been Commissioners of the Jury Court, who received also 600l.; and although the Jury Court had been now for many years abolished, these Commissioners still retained their salaries for doing nothing; and the Lord Chief Commissioner also drew his full salary of 4,000l. per annum. The Lord Justice Clerk received 4,000l. per annum, and the Lord President 4,300l. There had been no want of eminent men to fill the situations of Judges in Scotland before the salaries were augmented, and in the records of those times would be found names that would fully bear comparison with those of the Judges of later times. The salaries had been increased in 1810, as he had already stated, on the ground of the increase of the price of the necessaries of life, and of the expense of living. But what had taken place since that period? We had had a return from war to peace prices, and the bill of 1819 had passed, the propriety of which it was not now his business to discuss; but the effect of which had unquestionably been to raise the value of money at least thirty-five per cent—in his opinion more than fifty per cent (an opinion in which he believed that his hon. friend concurred, which made it the more remarkable, that such a proposition should emanate from him). Since that period the rent of land had fallen thirty per cent; a still further reduction must take place to keep pace with the exigences of the times. A change in the Corn-laws was unquestionably at hand, which would further reduce the value of land. All this he, as an agriculturist, was prepared to meet and submit to as an act of necessary justice to his distressed countrymen; but it was on this condition, that the public functionaries, and other classes of society, should submit to a like reduction. In 1810, the period of the last augmentation of the Judges' salaries, the price of wheat was 106s. per quarter; it was now little more than half. House rent, butcher's meat, wine, &c, had fallen in a like pro- portion. In 1798, the price of the quarter of wheat was greater than at present, and the salaries of the Judges were about one half. What possible pretext, therefore, could there be to augment at present the salaries of the Judges, and rather what reason that they should not be brought back to the scale of 1798? The profits of capital had notoriously sunk to the lowest ebb; the wages of labour, notwithstanding the glowing picture of prosperity drawn by some hon. Members, were much reduced, amounting in Scotland, for the best agricultural labourers, to 20d. per day, and this was more than the farmers could afford to pay them; and yet his hon. friend, a practical man, and an agriculturist, thought this a fitting time to bring forward a Motion for augmenting the fixed salaries of our public functionaries. There really was something almost ludicrous in the proposition; but that the subject was far too grave a one for a jest. He might be told, why not agree to the Committee, as suggested by his hon. friend, when the whole of the matter might be discussed; but if the Committee were appointed in the terms of the original Motion, it would be an admission on the part of the House, that some grounds existed for the proposed augmentation—a principle to which he (Mr. Gillon) could not for one moment accede. The hon. Member concluded by moving an Amendment to the following effect, "That a Select Committee be appointed to consider how far the salaries of the Judges of the Supreme Court in Scotland ought to be reduced, in consequence of the alteration which has taken place in the value of money, as compared with that of the products of industry, and of the necessaries of life."

On this Question the House divided—Ayes 12; Noes 39.: Majority 27.

The Original Question was then carried, and the Committee appointed.