HC Deb 03 August 1860 vol 160 cc661-4

said, he would beg to ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, if the Two Millions of Taels on account of losses sustained by British subjects, and the further sum of Two Millions of Taels on account of the expenses of the War, as stipulated for by the Treaty of Tien-tsin, be in the course of payment: and, to call the attention of Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer to the increased ability of China to pay a pecuniary indemnity? The tael represented about 6s. 8d. and consequently the amount claimed by the merchants amounted to £670,000. A like sum of £670,000 was claimed by the Government, making together £1,340,000. He was quite aware that the treaty had not been ratified, but he wished to know if arrangements were in progress for the payment of British subjects who had suffered losses in China. It was rumoured that the French had received some portion of their claims, and that the Americans, by an arrangement, had obtained the whole of their claims; and really some specific arrangement should be made with regard to the payment of the amount claimed by the British merchants and Government. A much better arrangement was made in 1842, when it was agreed that the payments should be made within a specific time. He hoped the Government would be able to tell him that instructions were given to the Earl of Elgin to make a specific arrangement for the payment of the money. The Chinese were capable of paying the money, and if authority were given to the Earl of Elgin he would be able to collect the whole amount. The amount now claimed was much smaller than the amount of the claim on the former occasion, and they should take care of themselves, and see that some portion of the funds was appropriated to them by the Chinese Government. The Chinese Government were in a better position now than ever to pay any claims made upon them.


said he was afraid he could not give the hon. Gentleman a satisfactory answer. The sums to which the question related were not in course of payment, and no portion of them had been obtained. The French, under their treaty, had already received at least one instalment of between £300,000 and £400,000 on account of their expenditure during the last Chinese war, but England had received nothing whatever, because, although there was a stipulation contained in the treaty for the payment of the money, yet there were no particulars of time, or place, or means by which it was to he paid, and therefore no valid claim had arisen. The suggestion that the money might be taken out of customs received by the British agents was a matter for the consideration of his noble Friend the Foreign Minister, and so likewise were the instructions which might be sent to the Earl of Elgin. All he could say was that in the ultimatum sent out to Mr. Bruce this payment was included, but, as they knew, that ultimatum had been rejected. He did not like to form any very sanguine estimate of the pecuniary or other results of the operations in China. Fie hoped for the best, and trusted that we might soon arrive at some final settlement.

The law of chaos and confusion which regulated their debates on a Friday evening entitled him to turn to the subject of the Superannuation Act, with respect to which he might say that the case of the dockyard labourers had never been reported to the Treasury, and the Treasury therefore had taken no proceedings with respect to it. The Admiralty had been asked for a statement of the classes of persons who would be brought within the operation of the system of superannuation, in consequence of the now Act, but the official answer had not yet been received. What he had to say, therefore, was merely of the nature of cursory remark. The hon. Member for Stamford seemed to think that the Treasury should proceed in the administration of the Act, not upon the law as it stood, but upon the intentions which were entertained by himself or others at the time of the passing of the Act, whether the law had given effect to them or not. Now, the law had laid down the condition that no person was entitled to superannuation unless he had a certificate from the Civil Service Commissioners, and the hon. Member for Stamford contended that certain labourers in the dockyards ought to receive certificates from the Civil Service Commissioners, in order that they might thereby become entitled to superannuation. But in the Superannuation Act the most incongruous subjects were mixed up together. The question of having a certificate from the Civil Service Commissioners had nothing to do with the right to superannuation. A temporary clerk might be subjected to an examination by the Commissioners, but he had no title to superannuation; while, on the other hand, certain artificers and labourers might justly be entitled to superannuation, though not bound to undergo an examination. For his own part, he could not see the propriety of making use of the Civil Service Commissioners for the purpose of ascertaining the ages and state of health of the labourers who were employed in our dockyards in the performance of mere manual labour; nor could he at all assent to the doctrine laid down by his hon. Friend to the effect that the position of those labourers and the letter-carriers ought to be regarded in the same light, inasmuch while the former were mere labourers and nothing else, the latter were very frequently called upon in the pursuit of their avocations for the display of a ready and offhand intelligence. His hon. Friend had also observed that there were in our dockyards different classes of labourers, all receiving the market price for their labour, and had contended that a distinction should be drawn between those classes, by means of which one portion of the men should continue to receive the market price of their labour, while another portion should, in addition, be entitled to a retiring pension. The House would, however, at once perceive that if the Government were to act on any such principle as that which his hon. Friend advocated without the authority of Parliament they would justly be open to the charge of having acted in the matter with undue precipitancy. The case of artisans in our dockyards stood, he might add, on quite a different footing, inasmuch as their engagement was of a permanent nature, and they were not enabled to take advantage of passing events; for instance, as the Russian war, to sell their labour in the dearest market. He should not on the present occasion enter more into detail on the subject, but should content himself with having made those few general obserservations.