HC Deb 27 May 1850 vol 111 cc391-9

On Vote (2.), 56,100l for the salaries and expenses of the Treasury,

MR. FORBES moved a reduction of 10 per cent upon the sums voted for salaries in this vote, which would reduce the entire vote to 50,490l. He believed such a reduction would prove a benefit to the country, and at the same time add to the popularity of the Government; and he should be very glad to think that his constituents had not lost more than that by the alterations in the commercial policy of the country.


was in the receipt of information showing that his constituents, not by their own wrong, but by the occasion of a wrong inflicted on them, were 20 per cent better oft' now than they had been under protection. He considered himself, therefore, entitled to ask to be set off against the hon. Member.


said, his hon. Friend the Member for Stirlingshire had very properly excepted the salaries of the First and junior Lords of the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer from his Motion, because the salaries of those higher officers were now now under the consideration of a Select Committee. He thought, however, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was bound to pledge himself to adopt the decision of that Committee, whatever it might be, and whatever reduction they might recommend in the salaries upon which the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues had fattened.


would not enter into the question whether Her Majesty's Ministers had grown fat or lean since their accession to office. But if the Committee upstairs should recommend a reduction of the salaries paid to high political officers, those salaries would be reduced from that time.


should not be disposed to agree to a reduction of 10 per cent in the salaries of the forty-five junior and other clerks, who were now in the receipt of from 90l to 200l. or 400l. per annum. He was favourable to a redaction of the number of the clerks, rather than of their salaries. He trusted that some examination would be instituted into their qualifications before clerks were admitted, because young men, very unfit to enter the Treasury, were sometimes appointed. Was there any necessity to have twenty messengers in the Treasury, at a cost per an num of 2,315l.?


agreed with his hon. Friend, that the true principle of reduction in the Treasury was rather a reduction of numbers than of salaries. A reduction of 5,800l. in the salaries and expenditure of the Treasury had been made within the last few years. He did not think the number of messengers too great.


believed that at the Treasury, as well as at the Board of Trade, there were too few messengers, instead of being a superabundance.


said, the hon. Member who introduced the Motion could see from the manner in which it was received what were its chances of success. There were two circumstances which made any proposition coming from his side of the House, on the subject of economy in the public expenditure, not likely to be very successful. One was the existence of the Committee which was sitting on the subject, and another was the existence of the Reform Financial Association. As long as those two bodies were at work, it was not probable any economical proposition from the Opposition side of the House would be successful. He should therefore recommend his hon. Friend to withdraw his Motion.


said, that his hon. Friend had stated what he believed to be a melancholy truth, and as it was of no use to divide the House, he would withdraw the Motion.


hoped that the financial reformers would never, without great consideration, agree to any Motion for a reduction in the expenditure coming from the Opposition side of the House, which was prefaced by the assertion that the proposition was founded on the sufferings of the country arising out of the recent changes in our commercial legislation. The financial reformers were always ready to contend that the people were a great deal more able to meet any expense than they were before; though that would form no reason for needless expenditure.


protested against the doctrine of the hon. and gallant Colonel. He (Mr. Hume) would support a proposal for economy coming from any side of the House. The only question at present before them was, whether the salaries given were more than was necessary, considering the amount of business done.


said, he was anxious that the country should exactly understand the difference between the financial reformers and the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire and those who followed him. He was anxious that no mistake should exist on the point. The proposition of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirlingshire was this, that the country ought no longer to continue to pay the same salaries to those who were in its service as formerly, because they no longer enjoyed the blessings of the corn law. That was the proposition; and the proposition of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire—for it all originated with him—was this, that they should reduce the wages of all their public servants, whatever was their yearly salary or weekly wages, and that they should not stop till they came down to the postmen who delivered them their letters at 10s. a week. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, in thus discussing that question, founded their arguments on the assertion that the country was now less able to pay the same salaries in consequence of the recent change in their commercial policy. There he (Mr. Cobden) parted company with the financial reformers on the other side, and he was willing to join issue on the subject before the country. It was proposed to reduce the wages of all the servants employed under the Government, which was by far the largest employer of labour of all kinds in the country. They employed 8,000 or 9,000 men—shipbuilders, carpenters, and labourers in the dockyards, and tens of thousands were employed in the Post Office, and it was proposed to give the signal to the entire country of a universal reduction of wages. He called that a war upon wages. Unless hon. Gentlemen were prepared to carry the same principle into all the private establishments in the country, how in common justice could they propose to cut down the salaries and wages of the Government servants? Did they mean to deal with the servants of the Government in a different manner from those who were employed in private establishments? And if they meant that there should be a universal reduction of wages throughout the country, he would not be a party to any such reduction. It was not necessary, it was not just, and he doubted if it was practicable. So far from the late commercial policy of the country cheapening labour and diminishing the resources of the country, he believed the contrary to be the truth. With respect to the West Riding of Yorkshire, where a large amount of labour was employed, he could positively affirm, that never within his knowledge of that part of the country were the people so well employed, never had they such ample remuneration when measured by the command which their wages gave them over the necessaries and comforts of life. So far from there being a tendency to reduce wages now, the tendency had been during the last twelvemonths in the other direction. They were not, then, warranted in the assumption that the people were suffering from their late commercial policy. The facts were against them. If the agricultural labourers were in a different condition, why not get employment for them? There was plenty of scope for it. Let them be employed in increasing production. Let hon. Gentlemen find the means of bringing more capital upon the soil. If they did not choose to do these things, let them not come to that House and proclaim that wages were reduced, and free trade a failure, when the fact was, that with regard to employment and the general circumstances of the country, it was signally successful. He would join hon. Gentlemen opposite in reducing inordinate salaries, or any salaries where the services rendered were not sufficient for the payment made, but he would not join them in a cry for universal reduction of wages; he would never join in any sweeping and unreasonable proposition of this kind; he would never join them in a spiteful and malicious vote, designed in a miserable spirit of retaliation, in order to make the system of free trade unfavourable in the country.


said, there appeared more excitement on the side of the House of the hon. Member for the West Riding who had just sat down, than on the Opposition side. The hon. Member had assured the House of the prosperity of the country, and the great success of the commercial changes which had lately taken place. Now, although the present discussion was not called up by the matter then under consideration, he was sure the House would be glad to hear that, although, as was admitted, there were some districts—particularly the agricultural districts—which were not in so flourishing a state as was imagined, there were others which were not in a similar condition. But if the hon. Member for the West Riding appealed so triumphantly to the improvement of the condition of the labouring classes, he would refer the hon. Member to the hon. Member for Manchester for information on that point, and would recommend the hon. Member for the West Riding to ask the hon. Member for Manchester whether or not his mills were at that moment closed? That was not a circumstance, however, of an isolated character. The hon. Member for Manchester was not a man of that want of enterprise or capital who would unnecessarily resort to such a proceeding as the closing of his mills. Now, that was a fact which was not exactly consistent with the general prosperity in the manufacturing districts which the hon. Member for the West Riding described. He thought the hon. Member for the West Riding was entirely mistaken in the line which he supposed hon. Gentlemen at the Opposition side of the House were taking on the subject of retrenchment. They did not call themselves financial reformers, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding and his friends did. They did nothing of the kind. What were the circumstances of the case? They found great distress prevalent amongst those classes—the middle classes he meant—which the hon. Member for the West Riding told them were the most important classes of the community. The hon. Gentleman could not deny that. The agricultural middle class were in a state of distress, and they were told that the middle class connected with trade and commerce were equally so. An hon. Member had lately told the House that no less than a hundred millions sterling had been lost in the large towns which the hon. Member for the West Riding described as in such a state of prosperity. It being the fact, then, that the great body of the middle classes was in a condition of great distress, they who represented the middle classes, and, for his own part, he could say he represented about 60,000 of that body, felt it to be their duty on every occasion to support such measures of just and rational retrenchment as might be brought forward, founded, not upon statements merely hypothetical, like some propositions brought forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but upon arguments based upon a full know-lodge of the ease. They had never introduced these propositions for retrenchment upon the allegation of the condition of one particular class, but upon the consideration of the general state of the country. What, then, had they done? The hon. Member for Oxfordshire had proposed a measure for the reduction of all fixed salaries to a certain extent. The hon. Member for the West Riding had come forward upon that and every similar occasion, confounding the question of wages with fixed salaries. On the present occasion, also, the hon. Member had risen and said, they at his (Mr. Disraeli's) side of the House were attacking wages. He could assert that they were not attacking wages. What they said was this, that seeing the altered position of the country, and the paying power of those classes which the hon. Member for the West Riding had described as important, having been reduced—that class having been sunk to great distress—all fixed payments of public salaries and expenditure ought to undergo rational, effective, and just revision. But no one had said a word about salaries; and the hon. Gentleman on that as on every other occasion, had confounded wages with fixed salaries. He (Mr. Disraeli) had said that the middle classes were suffering, and he supposed no hon. Gentleman would deny that statement. Would the hon. and gallant Member for Bradford deny it? Had not his constituents lost a good deal during the last few years?


On the contrary, they have gained a great deal, and they are in a better condition than they ever were in their lives.


The hon. and gallant Member has made a sally not quite Parliamentary; but he would ask whether the constituents of the hon. and gallant Colonel had not lost by railroads? Had it not been stated the other night on the other side of the House that there was not one great town in the north of England which had not been half ruined by these railroads? And if that were not so, the House ought certainly to view with suspicion the statements made by those financial reformers. He hoped he had clearly explained the motives which had induced hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House to support reasonable measures of retrenchment. They were in favour of such measures, because they believed that the paying power of the country was reduced, and that it was reduced because the middle classes were not at present in a condition in which they could maintain those expensive establishments which they had maintained at a preceding period and under other circumstances.


said, he thought it would be a great misfortune if on every subject of public economy they were to recur to the questions of free trade and protection. The real point which the House had then to consider was, whether a certain sum would be an adequate payment for certain services. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire that the paying power of the country had of late years become reduced; on the contrary, he thought the state of the revenue showed that it had increased. He was quite ready, however, to admit that it would be just and reasonable that the House should from time to time diminish public salaries if it should be found that a reduction had taken place in the prices of commodities. But it appeared to him that the House had not yet had sufficient experience of the effects of free trade to justify its adoption of the proposal to effect a reduction of public salaries. In his opinion, a percentage reduction of salaries would be an unfair mode of proceeding, and he had therefore voted against the proposal of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire upon that subject. But he certainly thought that there were anomalies in the salaries paid to some public officers, which required revision. He found, for instance, that the salaries of the Secretaries of the Treasury amounted to 2,500l. a year, while all the heads of departments recently appointed were in the receipt of only 2,000l. a year; that latter sum being the amount of the salaries of the President of the Council, of the President of the Poor Law Board, and of other officers discharging duties of the highest importance. But he could not help thinking that there was a conclusive reason why the House should not adopt the proposal then under their consideration; and that was, that as they had at that moment a Select Committee inquiring into the question of public salaries, it would not be advisable that they should adopt any particular measure of retrenchment until they should have received the report of that Committee.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton had entirely misrepresented the grounds on which his hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire had proposed the reduction he had submitted to the House. That proposal had been supported distinctly on this ground, that as a great and permanent reduction had taken place in the cost of all consumable articles in this country, it was just and reasonable that a proportionate reduction should take place in the salaries of public officers. The amount of these salaries had been raised in the years 1801, 1810, 1812, and 1816, in consequence of increased prices; and he thought it but fair, that as a fall in prices had recently taken place, the House should accommodate salaries to the altered circumstances of the recipients, and of the country generally. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton had said that his (Mr. Newdegate's) hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire had proposed a percentage reduction, without reference to the anomalies which existed in the amount of the different salaries, computed according to analogous cases of employment, and the labour performed. But his hon. Friend had done no such thing, He had merely proposed that there should be a reduction of salaries such as the altered circumstances of the recipients and of the country would justify, and that the cases should be taken singularly, one by one, into consideration according to their respective merits. He (Mr. Newdegate) should like to know on what principle the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding based his proposals for financial reform and retrenchment. The hon. Gentleman seemed to discard the principle that the public officers should receive remuneration accommodated to the circumstances in which those officers were placed, and to the nature of the duties they had to perform. Was this the fact? The hon. Gentleman was silent; but if he rejected that principle, then he (Mr. Newdegate) should ask, on what other principle he based his proposals for retrenchment? Those proposals, it should be observed, were almost exclusively confined to our military and naval defensive establishments; and no sooner did any hon. Member on that (the Opposition) side of the House propose a reduction in the civil service, than the hon. Member shrank from the proposal, and declared that it was a malicious clap-trap got up by a discontented faction. Why was the hon. Member so tender to the civil service, and so severe to the military service? Was it possible that, speculating upon future contingencies, he thought the time might come when he should have reason to lament a reduction in the salaries of the civil servants of the country? Or was it that the hon. Member was animated solely by a desire to reduce our defensive establishments? Did the hon. Member wish to see our trade unprotected? The other night the hon. Member had certainly shown himself the advocate of pirates; but he had only been supported by a small minority of about twenty Members. Did the hon. Member wish to see our China trade unprotected? Or was he so jealous of the greatness of this country among the nations of the world that he was endeavouring, by destroying our defensive establishments, to verify his own saying in that House, that "it was time for us to leave off singing 'Rule Britannia?'" If the hon. Gentleman merely wished to adapt the salaries of public servants to the circumstances of the country, and of those servants themselves, why was he so hostile to any proposal for retrenchment that emanated from that (the Opposition) side of the House, and reject the co-operation which was spontaneously tendered to him in the cause of economy. One thing was clear, namely, that they should never look for the cordial co-operation of the hon. Member in any attempt to reduce the salaries of those who had reaped the full advantages of the reduction in prices consequent on the adoption of free trade—that was to say, of those public officers whose position, as residents in this country had been materially altered by the measures which the hon. Gentleman had promoted.

Vote agreed to, as was also a Vote (3.) for 26,000l. for the salaries and expenses of the office of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department.