HC Deb 28 February 1853 vol 124 cc772-81

Bill, as amended, considered.


would move, in page3, line 11, of Clause 2, to omit the first word "such." In moving this Amendment he wished to observe that the first Act passed to regulate pensions for retiring Examiners was the 5th Geo. III., by which they were entitled to 300l.; but the Chancery Relief Bill of last Session gave a salary of 1,500l. a year, allowing three-fourths of that sum as a retiring pension. He believed the rule adopted had been that no public servant should receive a retiring pension so long as he might hold another situation with larger emoluments. He would, however, demonstrate that the late Examiner (Mr. C. Villiers), who had retired from his office, and who was now in the receipt of a salary of much larger amount, might not only take the retiring pension, hut also the salary of his present office of Judge Advocate. He only asked that the retiring pension should be suspended while he was receiving the salary of his present office.


said, the retiring pension would not be given to such officers as held other appointments. In the ease of his right hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers), when he retired from the office of Examiner in Chancery, and accepted the office of Judge Advocate, he very honourably declined to accept the pension attaching to the position of a retired Chancery Examiner. The Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman would, if carried, interfere very much with the action of the Statute passed last Session, and would introduce the greatest possible confusion. The objects of the Act were entirely prospective, whereas the proposed Amendment attempted to annex to it the provisions of a former one, and thereby give it a retrospective character.


said, he was very happy to hear from the hon. and learned Solicitor General that it had never been the intention of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton to receive his pension and hold an office under Government at the same time. That had been stated in language so unmistakeable as to give great satisfaction to both sides of the House; for he was sure neither party in that House would wish to see a gentleman permitted to retire upon a very handsome salary, and immediately afterwards accept another office under Government. The only point, then, which ought to beregarded was, whether the question ought to remain determined by the mere declaration of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton; or was the House, now that the opportunity for so doing was before them, to make an explicit statement upon the point? The hon. and learned Solicitor General said, that whether the Act of Parliament allowed of the pension being paid or not, that the right hon. Gentleman did not intend to demand it. Now, he (Mr. Henley) ventured to opine that unless some such alteration as that suggested by his hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester (Mr. Mullings) were adopted, it would be competent for him to demand his pension. At all events he thought that the Crown ought to be-protected by a distinct provision in the Act from any claims which might hereafter be raised by the executors of the right hon Gentleman.


said, he begged to explain that the present Bill was confined to the cases of those Gentle men appointed to the office of Examiner since the passing of the Act of last Session, whereas the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton had been appointed twenty years ago.


said, he was quite at a loss to know why the hon. and learned Solicitor General opposed the insertion of the proposed words, as they would only have the effect of relieving the minds of hon. Members from an apprehension that it was possible for the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton to be in the receipt at the same time of the emoluments of an existing office and of his retiring pension besides.


said, he did not believe the matter was at all understood. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to be under the impression that some benefit was to accrue to his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton under this Bill. Now, he would derive none whatever, for by the Bill of last Session the option was given to the right hon. Gentleman, as one of the Examiners of the Court of Chancery, to withdraw from his office, as its functions were materially altered. He did retire accordingly, and an order was made entitling him to the pension. A Bill was now brought in, altering the oath to be taken by Examiners appointed to the office as remodelled, and making provision with respect to their salaries and retiring pensions; and hon. Gentlemen opposite proposed to introduce a clause depriving the right hon. Gentleman of the advantages he had secured under the Act of last Session, and upon the faith of which he had resigned. That was not just. The right hon. Gentleman had declared that he should not take the pension while he held office, and the public would appreciate that liberality; but he ought not to be deprived of the merit of that concession by ex post facto legislation.

Question, That the word 'such' stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: —Ayes 127; Noes 61: Majority 66.


said, he should now move that twenty-five" should be inserted instead of "twenty." The object of this Motion was to prevent any one holding this office from becoming entitled to a pension until he had served for twenty-five years instead of twenty, as provided by the Bill.

Amendment proposed, in page 3, 1. 12, to leave out the word "twenty," and insert the words "twenty-five," instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the word 'twenty' stand part of the Bill."


said, that he was surprised to see the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Brotherton), and, he believed, one, if not both, the hon. Members for Manchester (Mr. Gibson and Mr. Bright), voting to night for pensions, although on former occasions they had supported Motions for refusing them to those who had a better claim to them than the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton. When, however, the pensions were in the hands of their friends, there was no more talk of economy. When those who sat and acted with them were concerned, it was, "I scratch you, and you scratch me." When he saw men professing to support economy, but taking such a course, he was bound to say that he had no faith in them. Take off the mantle which covered them, and let them go forth to the public in their proper shape. "Man-traps and spring- guns, they will catch you when they can."


said, that the proper time to have inserted a proviso with respect to the receipt of the pension was last year, when the Act was passed, and not now. On that occasion, however, the hon. and gallant Colonel voted for the Act as it at present stood. That Act abolished the office which the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton held, and the present Bill created a new one. Notwithstanding, too, that he was entitled to a pension, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton had declared his intention not to receive it while he held his present office, so that the public would not suffer any loss from the absence of the proviso which hon. Gentlemen opposite desired to introduce into the Bill.


said, that the late Government having been nearly defeated on Mr. Villiers's Motion, it was natural to expect that he would not be overlooked by his party when they came into office. ["Oh, oh!"] He did not blame them for it. Instead of an obscure office in the Rolls-yard, which was by no means commensurate with his reputation, and which the greater portion of the Members of the House probably did not know he held, he had received the office of Judge Advocate General with a salary of 2,000l. a year, with a seat at the Privy Council. He, nevertheless, held both offices for six weeks after the present Government came into power (so little confidence had he in their stability), and during that period the pension question was arranged, and then the right hon. Gentleman resigned his office of Examiner in Chancery. He was, therefore, a little surprised that the hon. Member for Montrose should have divided in favour of securing the right hon. Gentleman a pension for an office which was not abolished by the Act of last year; and which underwent no other alteration, except with respect to the mode in which the evidence in Chancery was in future to be taken by the Examiner; the salary being increased from 1,000l. to 1,500l. in consequence of the additional labour thus devolving upon him. The office of Judge Advocate General was a higher one than that of Examiner in Chancery, and no gentleman who accepted a higher office had a right to stipulate for a pension in consideration of resigning a lower one. He was astonished that none of the Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, who talked so much about economy, should have raised their voices against a matter which he thought savoured somewhat of a job.


said, that in about seven hours and a half, that House had voted about 15,000,000l. of money for the Army, Navy, and Ordnance, or about 1,000,000l. for every half-hour that they were in Committee of Supply, and yet they had had less discussion, and that of a less vehement character, on any one of those Votes, than on this question, which did not involve the saving of a single shilling. The clause which had been proposed by the hon. Member for Cirencester (Mr. Mullings) would not deprive the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers) of a pension; for if he understood the hon. Member correctly, he did not deny his right to a pension, provided he did not hold office under the Crown. Hon. Members wanted to insert a proviso in a Bill having no reference whatever to the case of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton. Whatever opinion hon. Gentlemen opposite might entertain of his right hon. Friend (Mr. C. Villiers), he had every faith in his word. There certainly appeared to be something of a personal character in this persevering attack on his right hon. Friend. The public would not be mistaken in the matter. All that they wanted to compel him to do he had done last year of his own free will.


said, he thought that even law reform might be purchased too dearly if accompanied with arrangements such as this Bill contemplated. He protested against enabling a man of fifty years of age to retire on a pension amounting to three-fourths of his salary.


said, that although hon. Gentlemen opposite were now showing a sudden sensitiveness to jobs, if he was not mistaken, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorsetshire held the office of Cursitor Baron of the Exchequer and Judge Advocate at the same time, receiving the salaries of both offices. He was glad to find the right hon. Gentleman had come to the conclusion that this was not a proper course to pursue.


said, that no one doubted the good faith of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton; but the question then was, whether it was not right that the law should regulate that matter for the future, instead of leaving it to the discretion of any individual. He had no difficulty in answering the personal observation made by the hon. Baronet with regard to himself. It was perfectly true that he had held the highly honourable office of Judge Advocate, and also another office, a patent office, and therefore one for life —that of Cursitor Baron. He had, however, never received the yearly salary for both offices. What he might have done at the end of the year he did not know, but he did not hold both offices for a year.


said, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bankes) must have rather had his own case, than his (Mr. Villiers') when he expressed such anxiety to have some general rule laid down in these matters, for his (Mr. Viliiers') case was one that was quite peculiar, and not likely to recur, while that of the right hon. Gentleman, holding two offices at the same time, as he had done, without the slightest intention of giving up either, if he could help it, was extremely likely to happen again As there seemed, however, to be some misconception with regard to the office which he had held, and some anxiety on the other side of the House to misconceive, he might be allowed to state very shortly the facts of the case. He had held the office of Examiner in the Court of Chancery for nineteen years and upwards. He was appointed to that office by Sir John Leach, the Master of the Rolls, in the latter end of 1833. There had just then been a change in the character of the office, and Sir John Leach was of opinion, as was also his predecessor, Sir Thomas Plumer, that the person who filled the office should have had a legal education—that he should have been called to the bar—which was not the case with those who had previously held the situation. There were, then, no great advantages to tempt any one to take the office, because the person who accepted it was precluded from taking other office. or even practising at the bar. It was an office that led to nothing, the duties of it were very irksome, and the salary was only 1,000l. a year. On the other hand, he (Mr. Villiers) knew that it was a freehold office—an office for life; that while he continued to perform the duties properly as he had undertaken to perform them, no one could remove him from it; and, as Members were already aware, it was compatible with a seat in Parliament, for it was not an office held under the Crown. After having held this office for about nineteen years, he found, in June last, that a Bill was passing through the House which proposed to change altogether the character of the office, by altering the mode of taking evidence in the Court of Chancery. That Bill altered altogether the character of the duties of the officer, and greatly enhanced his responsibility, while no mention whatever was made of the position of the officer. His attention was called to the subject. He did not suppose that the late Government had any intention to do injustice to him as one of the Examiners, because he was their political opponent, nor did he believe that they intended to act less liberally towards the person who held this particular office than to any other officers of the Court. He and his colleague were therefore advised to bring the matter under the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary. They did so, and that right hon. Gentleman gave the subject that attentive consideration which every one had reason to expect from him; and he said, whilst he was in office, that if a clause was proposed to meet the justice of the case, he would not offer any opposition to it. The law officers of the Crown said the same thing. A clause was consequently proposed, which did not originate with the persons who then held the office of Examiners, but was taken from an Act of Parliament which reconstituted and placed the office of Examiner upon a different footing in the 50 Geo. III. The clause gave the option to the persons whose duties were so far altered either to retire or to resume the office with a higher salary; and the Bill passed with that clause. Now, so far from that Bill having been passed at 12 or 1 o'clock at night, as had been insinuated, it so happened that it was passed in the middle of the day, after due notice of the same being given in the Votes. The clause also was brought under the notice of the Lord Chancellor, who saw no objection to it. He (Mr. Villiers) thought the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Mullings) wanted to fix upon him something like an interested object in the matter. ["No, no!"] Well, he thought so. There was surely an imputation that he wanted to get more than he ought to have; but in answer to that he begged to say that he was not at all anxious for that part of the reform in the Court of Chancery effected last year, and which altered the mode of taking evidence, and the character of the office of Examiner. He stated in that House at the time, although he saw his own advantage in the change, that he did not think the measure had been duly considered, and he had stated that opinion with great confidence, and expressed a hope that this change might be more fully considered; and he believed that he was fortified in that view by the opinion of the late Lord Chancellor and one of the most distinguished of the Vice-Chancellors. Well, the Act, with this clause in it, came into operation. His colleague elected to take the increased salary provided for him, and he (Mr. Villiers) elected to take the retirement. The hon. and learned Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins) had made a statement which he could not have known was true. That hon. and learned Gentleman had stated as a fact that he (Mr. Villiers) had kept the office of Examiner—which implied that he had received the increased salary—until he ascertained the fate of the Government. The hon. Gentleman intimated as a fact that he (Mr. Villiers) had waited until he was remunerated for the part he had taken on the subject of Free Trade, and that the Government had been found willing to recognise his services, by providing him with a retiring pension. Now, if this statement required any denial, he might inform the House that in the summer he was in very bad health; that he had gone to the Continent in consequence, and that he had returned to London in November, before the resignation of the late Government, for the purpose of claiming his retirement from the office of Examiner. Before the accession of the present Ministry to power, he gave notice that he intended to retire, and that without the slightest intention—or he might say the slightest wish—of obtaining any other office. The delay in availing himself of the retiring clause was owing to totally different causes. He was surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have made such a statement, about the accuracy of which he was bound to have made some inquiries. The hon. Member for Cirencester (Mr. Mullings) now proposed, certainly in a very insidious manner, not by an avowed intention to repeal the Act passed last year, but by inserting one word and omitting another, to render the clause of last year granting the retiring annuity wholly inoperative as it affected him (Mr. Villiers), though it was contained in a measure which had been deliberately adopted by Parliament, and had become, like any other Act, the law of the land. If he (Mr. Villiers) had been absent from the country, he might have been deprived of that to which he was entitled under the authority of an Act of Parliament, by the insidious means to which the hon. Member had had recourse. No man's place, no man's property, would be safe if clauses were to be inserted in this way to disturb that which had been settled by previous Acts of Parliament. However, he was not afraid of the Amendment when his attention was drawn to it, for he felt sure, that upon a question of honour and justice, a man might always feel safe in the hands of a majority in that House. He would not say a word himself in favour of the course which he had thought proper to take in this matter—that had been kindly done by others; but he might say this, that on the day he resigned his office he placed a document in the hands of the solicitor of the fund upon which his retirement was charged, that precluded him from receiving it while he held his office.


said, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton that nothing was more distant from his mind than to say anything disrespectful of him. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the idea of his receiving at the time two salaries had never entered his mind. He thought the House would do him the justice to recollect that the position he contended for was this, that he was under the impression that from the death of Mr. Plummer, and the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman as Judge Advocate, they had only one Examiner, namely, Mr. Kenyon Parker, who was appointed to succeed Mr. Plummer, and that the gentleman who had been appointed to succeed the right hon. Gentleman was hanging, as it were, between heaven and earth.


said, he trusted they would now pass to the real subject of discussion, which was simply this, whether with regard to the period for retirement the Bill should contain the words "twenty -five years" or "twenty years." The office they were dealing with was undoubtedly of a judicial character, and he knew nothing more injurious in practice than fixing the retiring pension of a judicial officer at a very late period of life, because the result most likely would be that they would have men in the office who would be incompetent, either from ago or infirmities, to discharge the duties properly. His hon. Friend (Mr. Mullings) had pointed out the possibility, if they fixed the period at twenty years, of men who were appointed at a very early age being entitled to the retiring pension when they were still young men. He did not think such a circumstance was likely to occur; but to meet the objection, he pro-proposed to insert a proviso to the effect that no person should become entitled to the pension under the clause in question if he should be under sixty-five years of age, unless in case of permanent ill-health. It should be recollected that the patronage of the office was exercised by the Master of the Rolls, while the awarding of the pension was in the discretion of the Lord Chancellor, so the Lord Chancellor could not be supposed to have any wish to award the pension through the desire of having an opportunity to appoint a successor to the office. He trusted that his hon. Friend would be satisfied with this proviso, and withdraw his Amendment.


said, that he had not intended the slightest offence to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Villiers) in making the proposition. The fact was, that, having met the right hon. Gentleman in the lobby of the House, he asked him to say whether he was really entitled to a retiring pension? when the right hon. Gentleman, in reply, said, "Leave it to my own discretion." He then told him that he would not sanction with any Government, the principle of granting to any gentleman a retiring pension at the same time he was receiving a salary as Judge Advocate. He would not press his Amedment.


said, that as soon as it was stated that the right hon. Gentleman had declined to draw his retiring salary while he filled the office of Judge Advocate General, they all felt that such a course was highly honourable to him. He (Mr. Newdegate) never for one moment doubted that right hon. Gentleman's word; but the party with whom he (Mr. Newdegate) acted thought it was a very unsound principle to admit that a matter of so serious a character should be left simply to the discretion of any hon. or right hon. Gentleman who happened to be placed in the situation of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn,

The House adjourned at a quarter after Twelve o'clock.