HC Deb 16 December 1837 vol 39 cc1186-90

The Chancellor of the Exchequer brought up the report of the Committee on the Civil List Bill.

On the question that the bill be engrossed,

Mr. Hume

wished to take that opportunity of making some observations relative to those made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, respecting a statement he had made last night. Though he might differ from almost every Member of the House in opinion they ought not to differ in facts. He observed that in the report of what took place last night it was alleged, in answer to what he stated, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said so and so, while what he (Mr. Hume) did state was kept out of view altogether. Now, what he did state was, that his object was not to continue in the amount of the civil list the expenses of the two departments of the Lord Chamberlain of the household and the Lord Steward, at the same time observing that he did not wish to affect the amount for the privy purse of 60,000l. What he wished to say was, that as they had been reducing every establishment in the country to a proximity to the fall of prices in 1792, he thought they were not acting fairly to the public, when they had the opportunity, in not applying the same rule to the establishment of the civil list in all public departments. In order to show that such was not the case he had referred to the amount of the salaries in the Lord Chamberlain's department in 1792, when it was 47,942l. while at the present moment it was 66,499l. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in answer to that statement, had told him that great reductions had been made in other departments—that the salaries, which had been 1,200l., had been reduced to 700l. The right hon. Gentleman had stated also that he was not aware of the amount of fees that had been removed, and that most probably he (Mr. Hume) must have been cognizant of that, as he had always been an advocate for the removal of fees. He admitted that his object always had been to remove fees that were levied upon business transactions. He thought that nothing was more preposterous than the fees which were exacted in the Lord Steward and Lord Chamberlain's offices from the tradesmen of the Crown. If those fees were reduced what would be the consequence? Why, that the tradesmen, who now made an extra charge of five per cent. for the purpose of enabling them to pay those fees, would be enabled to furnish the articles in which they dealt at so much less price. So far from being an argument against him, the statement of that hon. Gentleman was in his favour, and Ministers were not giving the public the benefit of the reductions. In the Lord Steward's department the expenditure had been increased from 29,153l. to 36,381l.; in the department of the Master of the Horse (we understood) the increase had been from 12,791l. to 27,650l. He (Mr. Hume) had examined the accounts of all the four departments—that of the Lord Chamberlain, the Lord High Steward, the Master of the Horse, and the Master of the Robes—and it appeared that the whole charge of those departments for the six years from 1786 to 1792 was 90,966l. per annum, and it was now proposed to raise it to 131,260l. for the year 1838. There was, on the whole an excess in the civil list of 40,294l. above the list of 1786 and 1792. He thought the House ought to pause before it granted so disproportionate an augmentation in a civil list which was to last, as he hoped, at least fifty years. He appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he ought to continue in the present day the antiquated and useless sinecures which were charged upon the civil list, and whether these ought not to be abolished, so as to bring back the expenditure to the scale of 1792? But the Chancellor of the Exchequer actually was raising the charge forty per cent., when the country had a right to expect a reduction of forty per cent. The amount of the tradesmen's bills in the departments of the Lord Chamberlain, Lord High Steward, Master of the Horse, and Master of the Robes, was, from 1786 up to 1792, 118,020l. The amount proposed for 1838 was 172,500l., being an excess of 54,300l. in the tradesmen's bills, besides the increase of 40,292l., which he had already shown to be the increase for salaries in those departments. He had taken pains to compare the prices of the former period to which he referred with those of the present day, and he found that the difference was by no means such as to justify the extravagant increase which had taken place in the bills of the tradesmen. In most articles the increase of price, if any, was very small; and, in many articles, there had been a considerable reduction. He was anxious to reduce the burthens of the country, when he saw thousands of the people living upon three or four shillings a-week, and when he knew, as every hon. Gentleman there very well knew, that in some parts of the country—for instance, in Devonshire and Wiltshire—a labouring man could not earn more than eight shillings a-week, he must say that it was not dealing equal justice to make such extravagant allowances out of the burthens of the people. Parliament had made reductions in all other departments of the public expenditure except the civil list, and when the country saw that out of four hundred Members only twenty-two voted for his motion last night, the people would be convinced that a majority of that House was not disposed to lighten the public burthens. The Monarch should attend to the wants and wishes of her people, and endeavour to live in their affections, instead of wringing from them the utmost extent of money which the aristocracy in that House might be disposed to grant. One-half the officers of the Royal Household were not at all necessary for the comfort or dignity of the Sovereign, but were a part of that empty parade which, during the reign of George the 4th, was introduced into the Court. In 1792, 16,000,000l. was the whole amount of annual revenue derived from the people; 50,000,000l. now was wrung from their hard earnings. Five millions, then, paid the whole expenses of the civil list, of the army, the navy, the ordnance, and other public establishments. Now, nearly 20,000,000l. was applied for these objects. He could not but feel pained when he reflected that while court dresses were so stiff with gold lace that they could almost stand erect, there were hundreds of thousands of her Majesty's subjects who were in a state of starvation, and whose clothing was perfect tatters. As he did not believe this enormous amount of income was necessary for the comfort or dignity of the Crown, so he did not think that it was desired by her Majesty, but that it was only demanded by her Ministers; and he, therefore, complained on the part of her Majesty—whom he wished to stand high in the respect and affections of her subjects—of the immense load of sinecures and abuses which her Ministers were endeavouring to hang upon her.

Mr. J. Fielden

said, he should be the last person to throw any impediment in the way of making a suitable provision for her Majesty, but he felt it to be his duty to oppose this grant. What was the condition of the people of this country? In Ireland they found no less than 2,300,000 souls who subsisted during a great part of the year by begging. He said, that if her Majesty had been well informed of these facts, she would not have accepted this amount for the civil list. Then let the House look to Scotland and Ireland. The workmen who had supplied the most splendid articles to ornament the rich, and who had furnished the most beautiful fabrics worn at the late lord mayor's dinner, were in the most pitiable plight. When he came up to London, in the year 1833, he called the attention of the House to this subject, and petitions, which had been subsequently presented by him, confirmed the statements which he had made. He had stated that many of these poor men, who were weavers, had no other means of subsistence from day to day. Since that period, three Committees in that House had proved all the allegations which he had made to be literally correct. The wages of the hand-loom weavers had been reduced in their amount. This had been stated in the petition from Manchester, and these petitioners declared that they were ready to prove the assertions which they made before the commissioners who were about to inquire into their case. He had heard a clergyman, too, in his evidence before the Poor-law Committee, declare that the labourers in his neighbourhood were reduced to living on bread and water. Now, when they saw the mass of the people suffering under such a state of misery, he thought with the hon. Member for Kilkenny, that they had a right to complain of that Administration who had been, and still were, the Queen's advisers. They had a right to complain of those Ministers who had not laid the real state of the people before her Majesty. Sure he was, that, had her Majesty been apprised of these melancholy facts, she would not have accepted the grant tendered without first requiring at their hands a redress of her people's grievances.

Bill to be engrossed.