HC Deb 14 March 1848 vol 97 cc591-5

moved— An Address to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to direct that in all appointments to office, in every department of the State, both at home and abroad, the appointments be made subject to a reduction of salary and allowances, and even to the abolition of offices, if such be deemed necessary, after a careful inquiry into the state of the finances of the country, in order that in cases where such reduction of salary or emoluments, or such abolition of office, be made, no claims for compensation be founded thereon, He was anxious the public should have the full benefit of any reduction which might be made in the public establishments. Many instances occurred in which the possession of appointments for a day or a week had given persons vested rights, as they were called, to receive large sums of money from the public without rendering any service for it whatever. For example, a master in Chancery had been appointed a few days ago, though it was known that a Committee was about to report their decision that five of the ten masters should be removed, and their offices abolished. The master so appointed would, nevertheless, have a claim for compensation of 1,000l. or 1,500l. a year; and that appeared to him a very absurd and preposterous thing.


had not heard of the probable report to which the hon. Member referred. He did not think it advisable to present an address to the Crown on the subject; for though not disposed to disagree with the object the hon. Member had in view, he did not think it would be quite proper to carry it out in the form suggested. For his own part he had taken care, while an inquiry was pending into the offices in the Treasury, that any appointments should be filled temporarily, or that the persons appointed should distinctly understand, in case the abolition of their office or reduction in their salaries were recommended, that they should be subject to such a decision.


said, he would not press his Motion if he had a similar assurance from the Ministers in general; but otherwise he would persist in it.


thought the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would satisfy his hon. Friend. It was quite right, while inquiry was going on in any department, to adopt the rule of his right hon. Friend; but it certainly would not be just to address the House for the purpose of depriving persons who held office under it of compensation for their services. Persons of rank and education, looking to the security offered by Government situations, accepted salaries which otherwise they would not be likely to consider sufficient.


suggested that inquiries into all matters connected with the sala- ries of public officers should be conducted by Parliamentary Committees. Upwards of 6,000,000l. per annum was set apart by Ministers, over which Parliament had no control.


, in order to give the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), who was not then present, an opportunity of stating his views on the subject, begged to postpone his Motion to Tuesday next.


observed, that if the hon. Member proposed to take away from public officers the certainty of remuneration, he must be prepared to increase their salaries.


said, it appeared to him that the conduct of Government on this question, put forward by his hon. Friend, would be in some measure a test of the sincerity of those expressions which they had dropped from time to time, and would show if it were their serious intention to meet the wishes of the country with respect to the retrenchment of our expenditure. He (Mr. Cobden) thought the Motion of his hon. Friend was a very important one. They all must know that there was a general concentration of public opinion on the subject of the enormous expenditure of the country, which it was admitted was rapidly growing up. They were charged with having been inattentive to the matter; and some hon. Gentlemen in that House were blamed for having neglected their duty altogether on the subject of that expenditure. Their taxation was increasing, and the House had not attended to its duty as the guardian of the public purse. He (Mr. Cobden) was willing to share the blame so far as it was attributable to him; but he would say, that since he had been in that House his attention had been given to the removal of one description of taxation which he considered of the worst kind. He was in the habit of doing one thing at a time; but in future he should not neglect his duty on matters connected with the expenditure of the country. The first thing was to get an assurance from the Government, that pending the inquiry now going on, if any appointment were made, it should be made subject to any diminution or abolition that should be recommended by the Committee; unless his hon. Friend got that assurance, or the terms of his Motion were complied with, he trusted he would again bring on his Motion, when the matter could be more fully discussed, and the attention of the country drawn to it.


remarked, that the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire had said, that during his time in the House his efforts had been entirely devoted to the repeal of one system of taxation, which he thought to be most unjust; and he had only to say, that if the hon. Member's success in the measure he now contemplated were equal only to his success in the other, he would not have to congratulate himself.


said, that, although there might be some objection to the form of the Motion, yet he could offer no objection to the general principle of it. He agreed with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it would be most improper, pending this inquiry, to make any appointments that would obstruct any well-founded scheme of economy emanating from the Committee. At the same time he could conceive the ease of an office becoming vacant which it would be most improper to offer to any person under the stipulation suggested.


observed, that it might be satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose to know that when, in the year 1831, very large reductions had been made in the salaries of many of the Ministers abroad, and almost all of the Consuls, it was not Considered that because they had been appointed at the former salaries they should not suffer the reduction that it was thought proper to apply.


conceived that the hon. Member for Montrose would be willing to withdraw his Motion if he was assured that Her Majesty's Government intended to give effect to the general principles announced by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. But the hon. Member doubted whether that opinion were responded to by Her Majesty's Government.

Motion withdrawn.