HC Deb 29 June 1857 vol 146 cc557-63

said, he rose to bring under the notice of the House the Report of the Commissioners on the Superannuation Act, recommending an immediate increase of £70,000 a year to the salaries of the civil servants, with a prospective increase of £30,000 a year more.


said, he would appeal to the hon. Gentleman to postpone his remarks till the next day, when the Motion on the same subject of which the noble Lord opposite (Lord Naas) had given notice, would come on for discussion. He would suggest to the hon. Gentleman whether any advantage could be gained by an imperfect debate that night, and whether the time of the House would not be economized if the whole question were discussed on the noble Lord's Motion to-morrow.


said, he should have been most happy to yield to the request of the right hon. Gentleman, and also to the general feeling of the House; but his experience had shown him how extremely difficult it was at any time for a private Member like himself to obtain an opportunity for bringing forward a Motion. Moreover, the subject of the ballot stood on the paper for to-morrow, and would have the precedence of the Motion of the noble Lord opposite. They had a Reform Bill looming before them, and this would make many hon. Members anxious to express their opinions on the ballot; therefore the Motion of the noble Lord, if it came on at all, could only come on at a very late period of the evening. Besides, the noble Lord's Motion referred only to a single part of the wider question to which he (Mr. Rich) wished to address himself. He would not, however, trespass long on the attention of the House. On a question like the present, with regard to which there had been so much misrepresentation, he wished to elicit a distinct statement from the Government. It was important that the House should know on what fragile grounds the Commissioners appointed to investigate the subject of civil service superannuations based their recommendation for increasing the burdens of the tax-paying community. With respect to that recommendation three points of importance arose—first, as to the respect which was due to the Reports of Committees of that House; secondly, as to the stability and fixity of salaries and pensions in the civil service; and thirdly, as to the large and expanding demand it made on the taxpayers of the country. If the suggestions of the Commissioners were agreed to, before many years were over the civil service would absorb an additional quarter of a million per annum of he public revenue, or, in other words, it would be the same as if the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to raise a new loan of £6,000,000 or £7,000,000. The question of superannuation pensions was scarcely considered until the beginning of the present century; but, from the year 1803 down to 1834, it formed the subject of successive inquiries before Committees of this House, and the results were to be fund in various Acts of Parliament and Treasury Minutes. On every occasion, except one, that it had been dealt with, the principle of a quid pro quo, in the shape of an abatement from the salary in one form or other, was insisted upon as the condition on which these pensions should be granted. The only instance in which that condition was set aside was in 1824, or, as it was called, "Prosperity year"—a period marked quite as strongly by great national prodigality as by great national wealth. A reaction, however, soon set in, and the principle of abatements in consideration of pensions was reaffirmed by the great Finance Committee of 1827, and effectually carried out by a Treasury Minute in 1829. This Minute referred to a superannuation fund, whereby much misapprehension has arisen. But when the main principles of this Minute were embodied by the reformed Parliament in the great Superannuation Act of 1834, no regard or provision whatever was made for a superannuation fund. By its provisions, the abatements went to the Treasury, that is to the public, and the pensions to the civil servants; and so it has continued to the present day. Under this Act all persons entering the civil service were previously to receive a distinct intimation of the abatement of salary to which they would be subject, together with the scale of pension to which after duly approved service they would be entitled. There was not, therefore, a particle of misdealing or concealment in the matter. This system continued in satisfactory operation for twenty years, when a change of opinion took place in regard to it. Now, it was essential that the House should know how that change had been brought about. In the early part of this century the persons who filled the public offices were men of high respectability, talent, energy, and application; but they were drawn from what, for want of a better term, might be called the middle class of gentlemen. Under the Government of the Duke of Wellington in 1827 a considerable reduction of sinecure places was effected, and in the three first years of the Reform Government still more reductions were effected. No less than 1,265 sinecure appointments, the incomes attached to which ranged from £100 to £1,200 a year, with an average of £226 each, were abolished. Other reforms of a similar nature followed, and what had been the consequence? The class of persons filling public offices had gradually undergone a considerable change. The holders of the sinecure situations which had been abolished were generally individuals highly connected, and exercised considerable social influence. Having lost the prospect of sinecures they began to seek employment in the civil service. But the older class to which I have referred still held by their seniority the higher places and salaries—and having entered the service prior to 1829 were also exempt from paying superannuation abatements. This not unnaturally excited the envy of the newer class, which each successive year increased in numbers and influence. An agitation was accordingly set on foot against the Abatement Society, official men and the press were all continuously canvassed, and by their connection with the agitators but too favourably disposed. Still all these resources would not have served their purpose, if by means of the increased war pressure of the income tax and the high price of provisions they had not got the great body of the subordinates in the civil service to join them. But with these they now formed a kind of association, with delegates from every office, and organized a succession of meetings, circulars, leading articles, and denunciations of the so-called robbery by abatements, which, continuing unanswered, produced an effect. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer succeeded to his present office he found that a Bill had been prepared by his predecessor for the alteration of certain rates of superannuation, that Bill, somewhat modified, he submitted to the House. It was referred to a Select Committee, on which sat the right hon. Gentleman himself, two ex-Chancellors of the Exchequer, and some other eminent men in the House. The Committee, having thoroughly investigated the subject, condemned the system of abatements, but they added that if the abatements were abolished there should not be an indiscriminate squandering of the public money by an increase of the salaries of those hitherto paying abatements, but that those salaries should be revised with due regard to the amount of abatement remitted. A Bill founded on the Report of the Committee was submitted to the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the middle of July, and as objection was made to its being proceeded with at so late a period of the Session it was withdrawn, with a clear understanding that it was to be reintroduced the following Session. Strange to say, notwithstanding this understanding, and still more, notwithstanding the thorough investigation of the subject by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's own Committee, he himself, under some strange influence or delusion, actually nominated a Commission in September to reinvestigate the whole subject. The Commissioners found that it had been already exhausted. They called for few or no papers, and did not examine any witnesses. They made substantially four recommendations; first, that the abatements should cease; second, that the abatements should be put into the pockets of those who had paid them; third, that the retiring pensions should be increased, and also extended to certain other classes of public servants hitherto not entitled to pensions—fourth, that certain reductions of salaries should be effected on those who might hereafter enter or be promoted in the service. This fourth recommendation is a mere delusive bait to induce the public to swallow the barbed hooks of the first three. For the increased charges founded on those recommendations cannot be estimated at less than a quarter of a million, while the proposed savings by prospective reductions would necessarily be very small and of distant operation—nay of doubtful operation and continuance, for they go to create an anomalous distinction of salary, the abolition of which forms the staple of the Commissioners' Report. Their next ground was, that it appeared, from some of the evidence given before the Committee, that in revising salaries the revisors had not made a distinction between the salaries of those who contributed and those who did not contribute abatements, and that consequently an inequality of salary existed in the service. This is a sheer fallacy; for the salaries are substantially equal, the one being paid in full, that is without pension; the other being compounded of a large present payment and a small deferred payment in the form of a contingent pension. The Commissioners admit that present salaries are sufficiently high—nay, too high—for they actually recommend prospective reductions. Neither can they attach importance to the detection of anomalies, which they know must inevitably occur, and the creation of one of which, of an invidious kind, they themselves recommend. The real ground of their recommendation is to be found in their statement, that if these abatements were not given up the Government would be disappointing the expectations and damping the energies of a very important—they should have said importunate—body of public servants. Now, he contended that this was no fair ground upon which to throw away £100,000 a year of public money. The gentlemen with regard to whom this remission would take place formed a very small fraction of our public servants, and the Government should take care that while increasing their salaries they did not lay the foundations for further agitation by other members of the civil service to whom this increase of salary was not extended. Another consideration of importance was the insecurity which the public servants themselves would hereafter feel as to their salaries and pensions. Hitherto it had been the constant practice of Governments, representing all shades of opinion, to respect the actual salaries of public officers of a permanent character, and to make any changes attaching to such offices prospective only. Thus, for example, when the pay of the Secretaries to the Treasury was reduced from £2,500 to, £2,000 a year, that of the Assistant Secretary was left at the former higher rate. According to the recommendation of the Commissioners, however, the salary of this official would now be virtually increased to £2,625 a year, and a proportionate increase would apply to the powerful fraction of our public servants so favoured by the Commissioners. Now this, he contended, would work very mischievously, and create a bad precedent. He reminded the House, that if this Parliament were to increase the salaries of the civil servants, it would be competent for another Parliament to reduce them. These were questions with which Parliament ought to be very chary of interference. On the whole, therefore, he suggested to the civil servants themselves, that the wisest course would be not to press the subject upon the attention of the House. In conclusion, he trusted that, unless his right hon. Friend could show some reason for setting aside the Resolutions of his own Committee, the House would do well to abide by them, and not be led away by the recommendations of a body which was not responsible to that House or the country.


said, he did not rise to reply to the statements of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, although he believed that there was not one of them which was not capable of the most complete and ample refutation; but to complain of the hon. Member's conduct towards himself, and of the manner in which he had set at defiance all Parliamentary etiquette and usage. On the 5th of June, he (Lord Naas) gave notice that he should to-morrow bring this whole subject before the House; and four days afterwards, the hon. Gentleman gave notice that he should bring it on upon going into supply, thus forestalling the Motion which he (Lord Naas) was about to submit to the House. He certainly had always thought that, if there were one practice more rigidly adhered to in that House than another—indeed so rigidly adhered to as to have become almost a rule—it was that when one Member had taken up a subject, it was not competent for another Member to come in before him and so anticipate the discussion. If this practice were not to be observed in future, it would be impossible to discuss any question in that House with fairness. The hon. Member's speech, like his notice, had treated the question most unfairly. He had made an ex parte statement, which could not be answered, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the hon. Member for Southampton, who had been a Member of the Commission, had already spoken, and could not address the House again; but he (Lord Naas) hoped, that to-morrow the subject would assume a very different complexion.


said, he rose merely to express a hope that the House would not engage in a discussion upon the speech of his hon. Friend behind him, which afforded a strong proof of the inconvenience which the House sustained from Motion upon Motion being accumulated upon the question that the Speaker should leave the chair. The inconvenience was strikingly illustrated in the present instance, because the two hon. Members who were most entitled to be heard upon the subject had already spoken, and no reply, therefore, could be given to the observations of his hon. Friend. Besides, if they were to have a full discussion upon an important question of this nature, it would be hopeless to expect to get into Committee of Supply that evening. There might be circumstances under which it would be advisable to postpone going into Committee of Supply, but the present occasion was not one to justify such a course. The noble Lord opposite had given notice of a Motion on the subject for to-morrow, and under all the circumstances, he trusted that the House would not allow them to go into Committee.


said, he did not wish to enter into the question at issue between his hon. Friend near him and the noble Lord, but he was sure that if his hon. Friend had found that the noble Lord's Motion stood first upon the notice paper for to-morrow, and that it would be certain to come on, he would not have interposed with his speech that evening. Supposing, however, that the Motion on the ballot which stood first for to-morrow should last a considerable time, and that the attention of the House should be so exhausted as to render it impossible to enter into a debate upon this important question, he (Lord J. Russell) hoped that the Government would no longer delay stating their views upon the subject. Whatever difference of opinion might exist on the question, the time was come when, after the investigations which had taken place, the Government should take a line, and pronounce themselves decidedly as to what they considered the right course to be taken in the matter. It was due both to the civil servants of the Crown and to the public, that some early decision should be come to; and without pressing the Government to name a particular day, he hoped that during the present week, or the beginning of next week, the Government would take an opportunity of making an express declaration upon the matter.

Motion agreed to.