HC Deb 12 May 1834 vol 23 cc866-78

The House, on the Motion of Sir James Graham, resolved itself into Committee on the Pensions, Civil Offices, Bill. On the first clause being read,

Colonel Davies

said, he approved of the general principles of the Bill, but he dissented from some of the clauses. The clause then under consideration entitled certain high officers of State, after two years' service, to a retiring pension of 2,000l. per year. In his opinion, it would be much better upon the clause in question, to pursue a middle course. The door should not be opened too widely, nor yet should it be completely shut, so as to exclude persons of moderate property. When the former Bill, granting pensions of 3,000l. a year, was introduced by the late Administration, it was opposed by the members of the present Government. He did not approve of the regulation by which a man possessed of 100l. a-year was obliged to serve ten years before he became entitled to any pension, whilst one of the Ministers, those mentioned in these clauses, had only to serve two years. He would propose an Amendment which he thought would place this part of the subject upon its proper basis. The hon. Member concluded by moving, as an Amendment to the clause under consideration, that it might be lawful for all persons filling any of the situations, either as First Lord of the Treasury, any of his Majesty's Secretaries of State, First Lord of the Admiralty, or President of the Board of Control, should, after a service of not less than five years, receive a pension of 1,000l. a year; and after a service of not less than ten years, a pension of 2,000l, a-year,

Sir James Graham

, in opposing the Amendment of the hon. Member, thought it necessary to state the circumstances under which the present measure had originated. The measure on which the Bill under consideration was founded, grew out of the report of a Committee, of which Mr. Banks was chairman. The report of the Committee recommended the abolition of all those sinecures, or the immediate modification of them by which the service of the Minister had formerly been rewarded. In consideration of that sacrifice on the part of the Crown, by which it was deprived of the means of rewarding persons who might have rendered an efficient service, the report recommended that superannuations should, under certain circumstances, be granted. A number of offices were abolished, such as the Auditor of the Exchequer, Clerk of the Pells, &c, the emoluments of which amounted to 100,000l. In lieu of these means of rewarding persons who might have rendered service to the State, the House recommended, that pensions to the amount of 42,000l. a-year, should be placed at the disposal of Government. By that measure, then, 58,000l. a-year was saved. Out of the pensions, the predecessors of the present Government only granted in pensions 16,000l. a year, although entitled to grant 42,000l. A reduction of the pensions from 3,000l. to 2,000l. was proposed in the Bill before the House, and in his opinion the relative value of money now, compared with 1817, fully justified such a reduction. With respect to the principle of rewarding persons for public services, without reference to their personal circumstances, he (Sir J. Graham) thought it absolutely necessary to invest the Crown with such a power. As to the length of service which entitled any person to receive a pension, he thought the House would agree with him, that a pension ought to be bestowed after two years' service. Suppose a young man, after passing through his collegiate course with honour and academic distinction, and when just about entering upon professional pursuits, accepted a situation under Government. By devoting two years to the service of his country, he injured his professional prospects just as effectually as if he retained the situation for five years, and, in common justice, should be entitled to a pension. He would illustrate the proposition by a reference to the case of Mr. Perceval. Would it be said that, when he left the King's Bench, and gave his services to the Government of his country, he did not, by retaining his situation for two years, blight his professional prospects as completely as though he had remained in office for five years. Upon these considerations, he (Sir James Graham) was disposed to adhere to the clause as it stood in the Bill.

The Committee divided on the Amendment—Ayes 30; Noes 93: Majority 63.

Clause agreed to.

List of the Ayes.
Barnard, E. G. O'Connell, D.
Bellew, R. M. O'Connor D.
Brotherton, J. O'Dwyer, A. C.
Callaghan, D. Oswald, R. A.
Codrington, Adm. Parrott, J.
Fenton, J. Potter, R.
Fergusson, R. C. Ruthven, E. S.
Fitzgerald, T. Ruthven, E.
Fort, J. Tooke, W.
Gaskell, D. Turner, W.
Gordon, R. Wason, R.
Guest, J. J. Whalley, Sir S.
Hudson, T. Wilbraham, G.
Jervis, J. Young, G. F.
Lister, B. L. TELLER.
Lister, E. C. Davies Colonel

The Clauses to the 10th agreed to.

On the 10th Clause being put, which states the amount of allowance to be on the principle of the Treasury minute of the 21st of June, 1831.

Sir James Graham

stated, that it was to this clause that great objection had been made by the gentlemen employed in the public offices; and he certainly should not have brought it forward, unless he had thought it was consistent with public faith and honour, and with principles of just economy. He was disposed to be provident for the future, and to deal tenderly with the parties who were at present interested. This was a feeling which had been embraced in a subsequent measure of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. A report then made enforced that principle which he held to be good—namely, to effect the greatest possible saving in the public service with the least possible injury to individuals. Acting on this principle, he had been most studious that there should be nothing in this Bill which should have a retrospective view; that those Gentlemen who had entered the service before the year 1829 should be dealt with according to the circumstances under which they entered the service. These were his principles of equity; and though he was a reformer and an economist, he would not wish to act upon any other principle. He was bound to say, that the public business could not have been carried on without the zealous co-operation of the clerks in the public offices; and he was equally bound to say, that since his Majesty's present Government had succeeded to office, they had experienced the most cordial assistance from them. The greater part of those gentlemen who were affected by these measures, were men who owed their appointments to the predecessors and opponents of the present Government. He might speak for himself (and he was satisfied he might also speak for his colleagues), when he said, that the alterations made would have been impossible to have been achieved without the warm, the faithful, and the exemplary co-operation of the clerks in all the public departments. They had never withheld from the Government any assistance which could be given. He was, therefore, anxious (and justice demanded the acknowledgment from him) to declare, that he entertained towards these gentlemen nothing but warm and grateful sentiments. Nothing had been clone to stimulate them to exertion. They worked by day for a stipulated remuneration, and they gave that which money could not give, namely, their honest assistance in the faithful discharge of their duty. He begged to state thus much, as it was painful to him, that any thing should be supposed to induce him to act with injustice towards those gentlemen. There were two points to which those gentlemen objected; first, the clause which had just been put (the 10th clause), because it went to give a permanent effect to the Treasury minute of June 21, 1831; and secondly, to the 26th clause, which attached a per-centage, or reduction from a salary, on the promotion of a party. In an interview with the gentlemen interested, he had attended to all their arguments as applied against the Treasury minute of 1831, and he had introduced some modifications of the clause, though to the fixed principle of the Treasury minute he was disposed to adhere. Referring to the history of superannuations, the right hon. Baronet stated, that from 1782 to 1810, these superannuations were not recognised by Acts of Parliament; but those grants rested wholly on Treasury minutes. In the year 1810, the Finance Committee sat, and reported that it was necessary to restrain the practice; and in 1810, the first Act respecting superannuation was introduced. In the year 1824, a Bill was introduced to repeal the Act of 1810, which had excited considerable dissatisfaction; and, in 1822, a reduction was made in the salaries which had been augmented during the war. Now the clerks argued, that inasmuch as their salaries were reduced by the Act of 1822, it was hard upon them to extend to them the principle of the Treasury minute of 1831. The Treasury minute stated distinctly the maximum of scale which should guide the arrangement. His Majesty's Government, acting upon the Report of the Committee of 1828, had followed out the principle then laid down, and had not attempted to affect persons who had entered the service prior to 1829. The Government had also said, on the principle of the Act of 1810, that, "in future, the maximum shall not be the general rule; but each case shall stand on its own merits." He proposed as an Amendment to this clause to omit the words, "had proved more than ordinarily meritorious, and," as he found they were considered to convey an invidious distinction. An objection was made to the tax on a graduated increase of salary; but he did not think it held good in respect to the case of a person being promoted. He did not see the hardship of paying a small tax of five per cent under such circumstances.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

thought, that this Bill would entail a great hardship upon many old servants of the public. The only argument, or the only shadow of an argument, which had been referred to by the right hon. Baronet, was that in which he referred to the Act of 1810, when it was stated, a maximum was fixed in respect to the superannuations. He had no doubt, that the Act originally intended that persons should have the full benefit of the maximum stated, except in the cases of those who might have been disqualified. The gentlemen who were clerks in public offices had to complain of the constant changes which had been made in their prospects. Prior to 1810 it appeared that no system at all had prevailed. If, however, any had existed, it was, that they who had friends and patronage, got superannuations, and that they who had not, got none. In 1810, a certain scale of salary and superannuation was decided upon. In 1818 it was reversed, and the Act of 1818 was reversed to a considerable extent in 1822. This arrangement was again altered in 1823. In 1828 came out another plan, and then another in 1829, which was supposed to be a permanent Act, similar to that of 1822, except that it was not retrospective. But this was the least complaint made. All the clerks had to complain of injustice. All those who had entered the service after 1810, were under specific engagements to receive certain advantages, partly in the shape of salary, and partly in superannuation. He was told, that six out of seven clerks did not receive any superannuation, and that, of those receiving the superannuation allowance, the average amount was 90l. a-year. Previous to the Superannuation Act, the clerks in public departments raised a fund of their own, and in the Excise, it amounted to 73,000l., in the Customs, to 254,000l. The Government then said, they would pay the money for superannuations. They took these sums of money, and applied them to the public fund. If, then, the Government pursued the course prescribed by this Bill, they ought, at least, to refund this money, which, at compound interest, would amount to nearly 800,000l. If they did not do this, they ought not to allow this Act to have a retrospective effect. If his right hon. friend did not consent to one of these things, he feared he should be under the necessity of dividing the Committee against him.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, that concurring as he did, in all that had fallen from his right hon. friend, respecting the merits and services of these persons, he should be sorry to utter a single expression calculated to militate against their interests, or give a moment's pain to their feelings; but the plain question for the consideration of the House was this, "Is this Bill calculated to injure their just interests?" Before the introduction of this measure, the universal cry on the other side of the House was, the continuance of the dead weight of pensions; but no sooner was the Bill laid before the House than a storm of indignation was raised against it—["No, no."] Hon. Members might cry, "No, no," but such was the fact; nor did he complain of it, he mentioned the matter historically. If the doctrine laid down by the hon. member for Weymouth, with regard to superannuations, were to hold good, so would it hold good with respect to the salaries of the same parties. That doctrine had certainly the merit of novelty to recommend it, for hitherto, if the salaries of public officers were found too high, they were reduced. He contended, that from the date of the Treasury minute of 1831, the course pursued with regard to superannuations had been in conformity to it. How then could they be accused of acting with injustice towards those parties? Had they acted otherwise, the House might call upon them to retrace their steps; but it would now be not only difficult, but unjust, to make a new rule for the year 1834, and to leave those who had been placed under the regulations up to 1831 as they stood. Such a proposal was too absurd to be entertained for a moment.

Mr. Tooke

said, he wished to add to the clause:—"That this measure should have reference to officers and clerks who had entered the public service subsequent to the 4th of August, 1829." He wished this distinction to be drawn, as those persons who had entered this service before that period, were very differently placed from the others; as would be seen by a petition which he had that day presented to the House at its early sitting. From this, it was clear, that those clerks had entered into the public service with the understanding, or, at least, under the impression, that they should receive the then usual retired allowance, but now they found themselves mistaken. He had before said, that Government was bound to deal openly, candidly, and fairly, with those individuals, and not to introduce a retrospective measure affecting their interests. Such a proceeding was manifestly unjust. The parties affected by the proposed regulation, threw themselves upon the protection of the House from, and showed they had reason to complain of, a measure which had never been contemplated when they entered the service.

Colonel Davies

totally differed from the course taken, both by the hon. member for Weymouth (Mr. Buxton), and the hon. member for Truro (Mr. Tooke), as to the construction put upon the Act of Parliament in question. In order to show the principle on which the Act of 1810 was founded, he would refer them to the Act of 1808, which was introduced for the purpose of doing away with abuses which still continued to burthen the country. There had been an annual increase in the amount of superannuations. Some of the allowances were granted most unreasonably and improperly. He found that there was a case where a gentleman of forty-two years of age, who had held the office of Inspector-General, had received a superannuation allowance of 580l.; another, who was called a retired Treasury Solicitor, received for thirty-one years' service an allowance of 1,200l. a-year; so that this gentleman must have been a solicitor at sixteen years of age. There were many other instances of the same description. The hon. member for Weymouth had stated, that these clerks had accumulated a large sum by their own contributions, which had been taken from them by Government, who provided the superannuations in lieu of it. But, if this were so, still they must be benefited, inasmuch as they could not obtain as much from the interest of that fund, as they would receive by receiving superannuations.

Mr. Francis Baring

said, the question for the consideration of the Committee was, whether this Bill was a breach of contract with the parties opposing it?—and if the Committee would attend to him for only a few moments, he would undertake to show that it was not. Much stress was laid upon the words "not exceeding," but it was clear that those words were never meant to convey an impression that superannuations, up to that amount, were to be paid. The Act of 1810 was introduced to limit the discretion of Ministers, but it by no means bore the construction given to it by the hon. member for Weymouth. If they looked to the history of enactments generally, they would find, that no doubt could be entertained on the subject. Before 1810 the Treasury had in itself the full power and discretion of granting superannuated allowances, and it was to limit and confine that power, that the Act of 1810 was passed. The Act said, you shall not, in certain cases, go beyond such and such a sum, but it never said, or meant to say, "You must give that sum." On the contrary, the discretion of Government was left to go as much under it as all circumstances would justify. Before that Bill there had been a looseness in all Treasuries in granting pensions, and no sufficient checks were in existence to limit the discretion of the Treasury. Yet the Treasury did cut down offices where they were found to be too great; and they also curtailed superannuated allowances when it was found, that the parties were receiving similar allowances from other departments. He, therefore, called the attention of the Committee to the good principle, that of having a full inquiry into the merits of the parties of every case, and the circumstances under which the superannuation was allowed. He hoped the Treasury would always hold the right to this reward, as a security for the good conduct of the parties looking forward to it, as well as a check upon their remissness or misconduct. It was right that such parties should be aware that their conduct was watched from the first day of their entering the public service down to the day of their quitting it. Hon. Members acquainted with the nature of public office, would well understand the benefit to be derived to the public from a strict observance of this regulation.

Mr. Aglionby

thought, that the hon. member for Weymouth had used two words of very different signification. He stated, that the parties in question depended on the "justice" and the "liberality" of the House. If they depended upon its justice the last speaker had put the question on its right footing; if they depended upon its liberality, then those who were continually calling for economy ought not to stand in its way when it was proposed unless a clear case of injustice were made out.

Mr. Lloyd

said, that if he saw any general desire to carry economy into other departments of the Government, he should be more inclined to give Ministers credit for it in the present instance. But he regretted, that he did not perceive any such anxiety on their parts, He was sure that great injustice had been done to these parties. Their own fund had been seized upon—["No" "no."] Surely it was their own fund, saved out of their own salaries?

Sir James Graham

said, that the parties who objected to this Bill had not contributed one farthing to the fund.

Mr. Lloyd

proceeded: Every person on entering office as a clerk or public officer contributed.

Lord Althorp

said, that the whole of the money had been repaid.

Mr. Lloyd

asked whether this was the case in the Customs?

Lord Althorp

answered "Yes."

Mr. Lloyd

said, he had understood differently. At all events, the universal understanding was, that proper superannuated allowances were to be given to these parties. He had himself had to lay before the Treasury a case of severe and unmerited hardship. It was that of a gentleman who had held an office of 600l. a-year, and who, on being superannuated, was allowed no more than 66l. a-year, merely because he happened to be just under the stipulated age. If Ministers had supported the Pension-list on the ground of "usage," and "practice," they ought a fortiori to support the cause of the poor clerks on the same ground.

Mr. Vernon Smith

defended the measure, and contended, that no injustice could be sustained by any party from its operation. However highly he valued the service of these clerks, and he would say that their services had been most valuable, still he thought that they were not inadequately paid. They were much better paid than clerks in mercantile establishments.

Major Beauclerk

thought, that the clerks were rather hardly dealt with. He saw opposite more than one right hon. Member who might retire upon a pension of 2,000l. a-year after two years' service: now, if it were proposed to reduce that pension to 1,000l. a-year, the saving would be worth considering, and he should like to see it made; but the retired allowances of these clerks ought not to be less than they were led to expect in entering the public service.

The 10th Clause with Amendments was agreed to.

Upon Clause 26 being proposed,

Lord Dudley Stuart

could not permit this Clause to pass without a few observations. He gave credit to his right hon. friend (Sir James Graham) for his services in the cause of his country; but he objected to the Clause, as it would have an ex-post-facto and, therefore, an unjust effect. It would be very hard upon persons who had served for many years, that they should now be mulcted to an extent to which they had never been willing parties. He held that an implied contract should never be violated. We should be bound by equity and honour in our conduct to officers appointed before the pass- ing of this Act. He would move that all the words after the words "per cent," in this Clause should be omitted.

Sir James Graham

said, that the Amendment would exclude persons who entered office before 1829, as well as since. In fact, the Amendment would go farther than the noble Lord really intended. He could assure the House that great pains were taken by him before he brought forward the system of reduction, and he could also say, that the services of valuable servants had been especially attended to. He would not touch upon either express or implied contracts, indeed, on the contrary, he would religiously observe them. He did not believe, that one of either class was infringed on by the Bill.

Sir Henry Hardinge

would be glad to learn what would be the amount of the saving made to the public by the operation of this clause. If it were one which pressed but lightly on the clerks, it could not effect any important saving to the public; but if the saving were of large amount, it might press with severity on the clerks. He thought it would be dealing more fairly with them to alter the Clause, so that it should not have any retrospective effect. He would press this the more urgently on the right hon. Baronet and on the Committee as it was well known that, owing to the great reduction in the number of clerks in most of the public offices, the chances of promotion were greatly diminished. In the office which he had held, there were, during the war, near 170 clerks. They had since been reduced to sixty; and, in the Ordnance department, the reductions had been in the same proportion.

Sir Robert Peel

took the same view of the case as his right hon. and gallant friend near him. It was quite clear that those clerks who had been appointed since 1829 must submit to any minute regulating their salaries which might be made by the Treasury or Admiralty; but the same rule did not, in his opinion, apply to those who had been appointed before that. Suppose a young man of good character, education, and abilities, had been appointed before 1829, at a salary of 95l. a-year. It might be four or five years before he got a step in his office, and then it made his salary only 105l. a-year. Now, would it not be hard on such a man to say, that he must contribute as much to the super- annuation fund as one who had come in since 1829 with a certain knowledge that his salary was to be subject to the deduction. In forwarding their own principle, they ought to make their rule apply to those only who entered the service since 1829. There was also another point to which he wished to call the attention of his Majesty's Ministers. Supposing a gentleman to hold an office of 500l. a-year, and to get another instead of it of 550l. a-year, that was not so much a promotion as a transfer. They ought therefore to insert the words "or transfer" in this Clause, if they wished to carry their own principle into effect.

Sir James Graham

contended, that there was no such thing as an absolute right to promotion. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet opposite that the result of the late reductions had practically proved a great stop to promotions; and he likewise concurred in the meed of approbation which he had bestowed upon the excellent spirit and conduct which were displayed by the clerks in the public offices. If anything were to damp their zeal, the injury which would be inflicted thereby on the public service would not be compensated by the gain derived from any pecuniary reduction in their salaries and emoluments. In accordance with the suggestions made by the right hon. Baronet, he should propose an Amendment to this Clause exempting from its operation all persons appointed since the order of the 8th of February, 1822.

Sir Robert Peel

was much gratified by this declaration, as it evinced a desire on the part of the right hon. Baronet to meet the fair claims of those who were engaged in the public service.

The Clause, with Amendments, was agreed to. The remainder of the Bill was agreed to, and the House resumed.