HC Deb 03 February 1837 vol 36 cc99-103

Mr. Robert Steuart moved for leave to bring in a Bill to regulate certain offices in the Court of Exchequer in Scotland. We understood the hon. Gentleman to state, that the object of the proposed measure was to effect the consolidation of certain offices of the Court of Exchequer, by which arrangement the business would be better, and at the same time less expensively, performed.

Sir George Sinclair

had no objection to the introduction of this Bill, or to the consolidation of offices which it was intended to effect; but he took the earliest opportunity to intimate, that an esteemed friend of his, who now held one of the appointments in question (he alluded to Sir Henry Jardine), had been exposed to much tyranny and intimidation. Sir Henry Jardine was still in full possession of his mental and bodily energies: he had meritoriously served the public during a long course of years, as was attested by Sir S. Shepherd, the late Chief Baron of Scotland, and other competent judges; and instead of being desirous to retire, he had offered to discharge, on his present salary, the functions of the two consolidated offices, which he believed would be far less laborious than that of the single appointment which he had held so long. Sir Henry had not applied for leave to resign; he had no desire whatever to eat the bread of idleness; he was fond of business, as well as fully competent to discharge it; he challenged the fullest inquiry, and should be happy to meet it as soon as possible; he complained with deeply wounded feelings of the manner in which he had been treated by the Treasury, and of the expressions employed towards him in his correspondence with that Board; and it was believed, in many quarters, that one object of the new arrangement was to dispossess this efficient and experienced public servant, for the purpose of substituting a less eligible person (as far as the public interests are concerned) in his place. Unless, therefore, such a case should be established against Sir Henry as he felt confident could not be made out, be trusted that a British Parliament would do justice to Sir Henry, and intimate their concurrence in the opinion he had expressed that the new office should be conferred on one who, from his talents and character, as well as from his long acquaintance with the details of the business transacted in the Exchequer Department, was so well qualified to discharge its duties.

Sir George Clerk

wished to call the attention of the House to the conduct of his Majesty's Government. It appeared that two offices in the Exchequer Court of Scotland were about to be consolidated, and that the duties of the consolidated office were in future to be executed by one individual. Either of the gentlemen now engaged in the transaction of the business of the two offices was able and willing to undertake the performance of the duties of the consolidated office; yet the Government proposed to remove both of those Gentlemen from the public service, to pay them remuneration, and to appoint a stranger to the new office. Consequently, the contemplated arrangement, instead of effecting a saving, would entail an increased expenditure upon the country.

Mr. Francis Baring

understood the hon. Baronet to state that either of the Gentlemen at present transacting the business of the two offices, which it was proposed to consolidate, was willing and able to discharge the duties of the new office, and that, therefore, whatever arrangement might hereafter be made, one of them ought to be retained in the public service. Me was quite willing to take issue on that point; for he thought that, when new arrangements were to be made, a discretion ought to be allowed to the Government as to the expediency of continuing persons in the public service when they were not properly qualified. The proposed arrangement would effect a saving, even after the payment of remuneration to the present office holders.

Mr. Hume

was glad that the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Clerk) had succeeded in drawing the attention of the House to the subject, which it must be admitted was no slight difficulty, seeing that the general noise that prevailed was so great that not a word of the two preceding speakers (Mr. Steuart and Sir George Sinclair) could be heard even by those who, like him, were but a very short distance removed from them. When the right hon. Baronet alluded to the principles of economy professed by those who sat on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, he (Mr. Hume) would assure the right hon. Baronet if he were disposed to become a convert to those principles himself, that he might calculate with security on the support of those with whom he was in the habit of acting. If any such improper or imprudent proceedings as those described by the right hon. Baronet were proposed to be adopted, it would certainly be the duty of the House to interfere and prevent them. At the same time he could not help thinking there was some truth in what had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. Baring) below him. It would be very improper if the men who were responsible for the due performance of the duties of any particular office should not be at liberty to appoint those only whom they conceived to be fully competent.

Major Beauclerk

thought, that the only justification the Government could have for the appointment of a new officer was the circumstance of both the gentlemen to whom allusion had been made being totally unfit for the duty, and in such a case they would not be entitled to any compensation whatever.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

should have left the case as it was until the discussion on the second reading of the Bill, but for the observation of the hon. and gallant Member who preceded him. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not admit the principle on which that hon. and gallant Officer had based his argument. It was a case of frequent occurrence that, on a change such as the one in question, a man competent to perform the oaths of an office of a particular description—nay, who had discharged it competently through the latter part of a life devoted to it—was found quite incompetent to discharge the enlarged duties of another office. With respect, however, to the facts, he did not think it necessary to look into them after what had been stated by the Secretary for the Trea- sury. He joined with his hon. Friend in saying that in any examination which should be called for on this subject by hon. Gentlemen opposite, they should be indulged to their very hearts' content. They should have the papers; and if the papers were not sufficient they should have what appeared in a matter of this description, where it was necessary to have an investigation of the facts, and which assumed the character of a judicial proceeding, they should have a Select Committee. The hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Hume) might, if he chose, apply his acute-ness and knowledge to the subject as a member of that Committee, as far at least as his vote was concerned. The hon. Baronet, the Member for Edinburghshire, should have the fullest opportunity of inquiring into the facts. He would say, that the imputations thrown out in the course of the investigation were only just if the facts supported them; but hon. Members should not have reason to complain that they had been deprived in a matter of this nature of the opportunity of contradicting it if possible. The Government had had, before now, to consolidate offices. Since Parliament had last met he had had to consolidate two most important offices the Army and Navy Pay offices. It was a painful duty to him, because it affected the future prospects of an individual; but when the Government laid before the House the consolidation which they had made he would invite hon. Gentlemen to say whether, in those arrangements, favouritism had taken place—whether there had been any discharging of old servants for the purpose of placing in their stead new ones as long as they had been competent to perform the duties of their office. The consolidation of offices had taken place in the Government of Lord Grey, and it had been continued in that of Lord Melbourne; and persons who had been in the public service had alone been discharged on the principle that they were incompetent to perform their duties. In the present case it was entirely a matter for investigation whether the individual was or was not properly competent to fill the situation he had held. If he was, then Government certainly had no right to appoint a successor; but if he was not competent, then he would say, in contradiction to the gallant Officer, that it would be the worst possible economy to continue this officer, who was incompetent to perform his duty in his office, merely for the purpose of saving a few pounds. He hoped, as far as the Government was concerned, that it would be considered that they had met this case fairly. They were willing to give all the information that could be given, and to try it before any tribunal it might suit the convenience of the House to appoint. With this explanation he trusted that the House would not agree with the observations that had been thrown out by the hon. Baronet, or lightly adopt the insinuations thrown out on the other side.

Mr. Robinson

trusted the case to which attention had been called would be settled, not with reference to one side of the House or the other, but with reference solely to the public interest. He was ready to admit, that it would be miserable economy to retain incompetent persons in the public service; but if, as had been stated, either of these gentlemen to whom allusion had been made was willing and able to discharge the duties of the new consolidated office, the Government would be highly censurable if they gave the appointment to a stranger, and thus fix a new burden on the country. As the character of the Government was involved in the transaction, he should watch their conduct closely and jealously, and he considered that upon them was thrown the onus probandi that the gentlemen employed in the two offices about to be consolidated were unfit to transact the business of the new office.

Sir G. Sinclair

felt it only due to Sir Henry Jardine to repeat, that that gentleman was fully qualified for the new office, and that he courted the fullest investigation.

Leave given, and Bill brought in and read a first time.