HC Deb 24 May 1841 vol 58 cc721-4

On the Order of the Day for bringing up the report on the Administration of Justice bill (No. 1) being read,

Sir E. Sugden

said, he had understood the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies to have promised that he would prepare a clause in the present bill to meet certain objections which he had in view. The clause in question did not go to the extent which he wished, and to which he understood the noble Lord gave his consent. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the various acts of Parliament relating to the office of accountant-general, the business assigned to that officer, and the salary allotted to him, which had increased from a much lower sum to 4,000l. in the last year. By the bill now before the House, the business of the court would be increased, and it was impossible to foresee how far the income of the Accountant-general might be aug- mented, unless limited to proper restraints. He saw nothing to prevent it from amount-into to 7,000l. a-year, while he thought the present amount an ample remuneration for an officer whose business was no more arduous or responsible than the Accountant-general. The person holding that office, gave no security and was expressly exempted by Act of Parliament from pecuniary liability, and therefore no claim for a large remuneration could be based upon that ground. The proposition of the Government was, to let the Accountant-general take as much as he could get. He proposed, to add a proviso to the bill, that the Accountant-general should in each year, pay over to the suitors' fund any balance which might be received over 4.000l. The right hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving a proviso to the effect he had stated.

Mr. Hume

took the opportunity of stating, that he thought the proposition of the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir E. Sugden) of too liberal a character. He saw no reason why the Accountant-general should receive a larger amount of remuneration than the Masters in Chancery. The Masters in Chancery received a salary of 2,500l. a year; the Accountant-General ought not to receive more.

Report brought up, and Amendments agreed to.

Sir E. Sugden

said, that the bill, as amended in Committee, had never been seen by him. The amendments were not yet printed. Owing to his necessary absence from the House during the time the bill was in Committee—an absence for which he would not apologise—he did not know what those amendments were. He therefore proposed that the noble Lord should forthwith reprint his bill, with the amendments made in the Committee.

The Attorney-General

rose to offer a few words to the House, when

Sir E. Sugden

moved, that the debate be adjourned.

The Attorney-General

thought that an adjournment was quite unnecessary; and in reply to what the right hon. Baronet had said with regard to the want of responsibility on the part of the Accountant-general, he said it was true that that officer would not be bound by recognizance; but if there were any defalcation in the property under his control, there was no doubt of his liability to make it good.

Mr. Goulburn

said, the best thing the House could do, under all the circumstances, was to postpone the discussion till a future day. It was desirable they should have the clauses before them in order to form a proper judgment upon them.

Lord J. Russell

could not consent to the reduction proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, in the emoluments of the Accountant-general. He had no objection to the postponement of the discussion, if it could lend to any useful purpose; but he would remind the House that this functionary held his office for life, and could not be removed without some gross dereliction of duty on his part. They could not, therefore, propose, whatever the amount of his duties or responsibilities was, to make any large reduction in the sum he had hitherto received.

Mr. Hume

was of opinion that if the noble Lord would not agree to limit the salary of the Accountant-general to 4,000l. a-year, the bill ought to be withdrawn. He could not agree to the Accountant-general receiving more than a Master in Chancery.

Mr. Lynch

bore testimony to the qualifications necessary to fill the office of Accountant-general. He would not say that 4,000l. a-year was not sufficient, but if the business of the Court of Chancery was to be increased, he asked what right had the right hon. Gentleman to seek to curtail the emoluments of the office? They could not interfere with the vested rights of the possessor, without giving him some compensation; but when there was an increase of business, what better compensation could be given than an increased premium? No one could be more fitted to fill the office than the Gentleman now in possession of it.

Mr. Richards

bore testimony to the laborious duties of the Accountant-general's office, even in the Exchequer, where the investments were only 3,000,000l., whilst in the Court of Chancery, they amounted to 40,000,000l.

Mr. Aglionby

thought that there should be some limit to the salary, but it was well worthy of consideration whether the present holder would not be entitled to compensation.

Further consideration of the bill postponed, and the amendments ordered to be printed.