HC Deb 12 May 1865 vol 179 cc211-6

said, he rose to call attention to the position of the Civil Assistants on the Ordnance Survey, and to ask the Under Secretary of State for War upon what grounds the principle of classification adopted in the Irish Valuation and other Government Offices is denied to this Department of the Public Service. Seeing the increase that had taken place in the cost of articles of consumption he thought that the Government would, before long, have to take into consideration the remuneration of the civil servants of the State with the view to increase it. But the grievance to which he wished at present to call attention was that the system of classification which existed in the War Office, Admiralty, and in other Departments, and by which promotion was regulated, did not extend to the civil assistants of the Ordnance survey. They complained that they were placed under the control of military officers who had the power of promoting them or not. A private sapper might be placed over several intelligent men in the civil service, and those persons depended upon an increase of pay on the caprice or whim of the military officer placed over them. The best way to get rid of the grievance would be to adopt a regular scale of pay, and to extend to them the benefits of the system which had been applied so satisfactorily to other Departments of the State. An observer, after a service of two years and one month, had 5s. 9d. a day; another observer had also 5s. 9d. a day after a service of seventeen years. A surveyor had 4s. 3d. a day after a service of eight years and nine months; another surveyor had 4s. 3d. a day after a service of twenty-five years and three months. An examiner of plans had 4s. 3d. a day after a service of nine years and one month; and another examiner of plans had 4s. 6d. a day after five months' service. He called attention to the different course adopted in reference to the general valuation service in Ireland, and asked why this intelligent, educated, and well-conducted body of men should be denied the benefits of the system of classification which had been successfully applied to men discharging similar duties at the other side of the Channel.


said, that civil servants were entitled to ask the House to remedy any grievance under which they suffered. No one could doubt that those assistants were an intelligent, educated class of men or that they had been unjustly treated. It was said that they were at liberty to quit the service if not satisfied. Advertisements had been put into the newspapers for men to fill the places of these assistants, but only one applicant would undertake the duties, and he resigned after three months. The survey they made was a credit to the nation; the treatment they received was a re proach to the Government. He had no doubt they would be told that this was a case brought forward in the interests of their constituents; but public servants had a right to come to that House when they had a grievance to complain of, and in this instance there was a substantial grievance. He hoped the Government would agree to this very moderate demand.


said, he had some knowledge of the question which had been brought forward by the hon. and learned Member for Southampton, and could testify to the good conduct and harsh treatment of the public servants to whom it referred. The superior officer in this Department could promote any one in it and give him a higher salary. Such a power was too great for a superior officer of a department to possess, and the principle was objectionable, especially where no classification existed. In this service there were highly educated gentlemen who had served twenty-one, twenty-two, and some twenty-four years, and who received only 6s. 6d. a day with 9d. increase after ten years' service. Others received only 4s. a day, with 1s. increase after the same period of service. That was not sufficient remuneration for an arduous service well performed, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to introduce a system of classification so that these gentlemen might be adequately paid.


said, there was no analogy whatever between the position of the civil assistants in the Ordnance Survey Office and the clerks in those other public offices to which the hon. and learned Member had referred. He quite admitted that those assistants were very meritorious persons; but many of them were artizans and workmen, and there was no reason why the principle of classification should be extended to them. He had no very accurate knowledge of the duties of the Irish Valuation Office, still he knew enough to show that they were of a very different character from those now under contemplation. In the first place, the Irish Office was not an office superintended by military authority; it was conducted entirely by civil employés, and the work devolving upon that Department was the valuation of every occupation and property in Ireland. It was evident, therefore, the duties were of a very responsible character, and that the valuators were more than ordinarily open to the exercise of corrupt influences. On that account it was essential that the employés should be persons of the most reliable character. At the same time, he was unable to say what had induced the Government to adopt the system of classification in that Department. Under the present system they were enabled to obtain exactly the amount and description of work they required in the Ordnance Survey Office, and there was no reason why Government should pay a higher rate for the work it required than a private person or a public company found it necessary to pay. If the principle of classification were admitted into that office, not only would they have to pay a larger sum of money for the work performed, but the efficiency of the office would be impaired. Under the present system the survey was conducted mainly by officers of the Engineers, and the sappers working under them, aided by a body of 500 civilian assistants. The most intelligent of those assistants were selected, and, after receiving instruction, they became measurers and surveyors. There were also a number of boys employed at the office at Southampton, many of them sons of persons employed in the office, and in time those boys became tutors, or filled other offices in the Department. The only assistants it was necessary to look for outside the office were the engravers, who were paid the ordinary rate for their work. Was this system of training men for their duties, which had been found to work so admirably, to be changed for one by which men were to obtain appointments through political, personal, and local influences? In that case, instead of having an industrious and able set of men in the office, they would have to deal with persons who would deem themselves secure of their places for life provided they did not entirely neglect their work. Under such circumstances the House could scarcely expect that the efficiency of the Department would be preserved, while the additional cost of the classification system would be, at least £1,500 a year. In addition to this, unless the House was disposed to vote a larger sum for the service than it had, the result would be the postponement for a number of years of the completion of the survey. The civil assistants in their memorial prayed for an increase of salary, on the ground that their present pay was not sufficient to enable them to support the respectability of an office under Government. In his opinion the persons complaining of their inadequate remuneration ought to be paid according to the value of their services, and not according to some imaginary rate to enable them to maintain what they called their respectability.


said, he must express his surprise and regret at the response that had been given by the noble Lord to the appeal which had been so well and so ably put by the hon. and learned Member for Southampton. The noble Lord relied on the same argument that he had used when last called upon to defend this grievance—he declined to concede the benefit of classification upon the allegation that it would prove prejudicial to the public service. He admitted that classification worked admirably for the public service in the Customs, Inland Revenue, Treasury, and other public Departments, but declined extending it to the Ordnance Survey officials, upon the ground of dissimilarity of occupation; but in regard to the officials of the Irish Valuation Survey Office, where the system of classification prevailed, the noble Lord appeared to feel that some explanation was necessary. And what was the explanation? Why, that the duties were essentially different. Upon this he joined issue with the noble Lord, and maintained that the duties were essentially similar. There were the same officers employed—observers, computors, draughtsmen, plotters, tracers, surveyors, spirit levellers, computers of areas, &c.; and the processes and results were essentially similar, the only difference being that the classification, which worked well in Ireland, was denied to England. He would appeal to any Gentleman in the House acquainted with the respective Departments to confirm his statement as to their similarity. He recollected when this subject was last before the House the noble Lord stated that the Ordnance Survey system was perfect, and that so preeminently satisfactory was its condition that foreigners visited England to admire and to imitate. A few days after hearing that statement he chanced to see the Return obtained by the hon. Member for Dublin of the pay and the length of service of these valuable and almost inimitable public officers. There, to his surprise, he found that thirty-four surveyors, averaging a service of fifteen years each, were in receipt of a salary equivalent to £60 per annum, and that eighteen spirit levellers and computers of areas averaged about eighteen years' service, and each the munificent remuneration of about £65 per annum—£65 a year for 313 days' labour in the year; no leave for holidays—all close and unintermitting labour. The noble Lord excused this upon the ground that the service could be done, and was done well for the pay. Let the noble Lord extend that principle, if he was satisfied of its soundness, to the War Office—cut down the salaries to the minimum at which the duties could be efficiently performed, and then the present feeling of injustice to a Department would be alleviated, and the public burdens would be materially reduced. But the noble Lord would propose nothing of the kind. The poor might be squeezed, but the influential and wealthy would not be incommoded. The noble Earl at the head of the Department had distinguished himself while in that House by his frank advocacy of the weak when pressed by the strong, and he trusted that in the re-consideration which this question would doubtless receive before Parliament again met some redress of existing grievances would be granted.