HC Deb 17 July 1868 vol 193 cc1407-10

said, he rose to call attention to the case of the Customs Extra Clerks. These gentlemen had no complaint to make against the chiefs of their Department nor against the Treasury. Their complaint had reference solely to the system or law which was in force, and which inflicted great injustice and hardship upon them. When there had been an unusual pressure of work in the Customs Department it had been the practice to engage a number of Extra Clerks, but as the additional work had invariably increased, instead of diminishing, these clerks were, of course, permanently engaged. Notwithstanding this, they were not attached to any particular class, and received no regular promotion. He could not conceive that any person acquainted with the internal details of the Customs administration could entertain any doubt as to the importance of having those details carried out by a class of men educated and trained to expertness in the duties devolving upon them, in preference to raw and untried labourers. There was, however, an entire want of acknowledgment of the services rendered by them. They could not at any time receive promotion or be draughted on to what was called the establishment. Some fifteen years ago, it appeared, the Treasury published a Minute to the effect that all persons then engaged in the service of the Crown, and who had been so engaged at an age above twenty-five years, should thenceforward have no promotion in the public service, nor be draughted to the regular establishment of the Customs or any of the departments subject to the administration of the Treasury. They were deprived of all the advantages enjoyed by those who belonged to the permanent establishment. This Minute sinned against the elementary principles of justice in legislation, and it was impossible to discover any principle on which it could have been framed. The number of persons thus employed was thirty-eight, of whom twenty had entered the service previously to the promulgation of the Minute. The Treasury Minute appeared to overlook the fact that many of these clerks had been twenty years in the service at the time it was issued, and it was the cause of those that he chiefly advocated on the present occasion. Their salaries amounted for the first five years to only 30s. a week, for the next five years to only 35s. a week? and for the remaining period of their service to only 40s. a week. Anyone would conclude that the Minute was based on the supposition that these gentlemen were the journeymen of their occupation, instead of being, as they were, men eminently fitted to discharge all the duties of the Department. They were liable to be draughted from one branch to another at the discretion of any of the heads of their office, and to be called upon temporarily to fill any situation that might fall vacant, and thus it happened that one so appointed was called upon to discharge, and was expected to be able to discharge, the duties of an office, the regular holder of which would receive a salary of from £500 to 700 a year. If they were absent from sickness, no allowance was made to them on this score, although those who were regularly on the staff were allowed to be absent from this cause for a period of six months without deduction from their incomes. They were entitled to no superannuation allowance; but were expected out of the 40s. a week they received, to provide for themselves a fund which should keep them from the workhouse in old age; and though receiving only the remuneration of ordinary workmen, they were obliged to keep up the same appearance and pass the same examinations as gentlemen placed on the establishment. He could not believe that the Government, if they were aware of the circumstances of the case, would allow gentlemen thus employed to work for so wretched a stipend, and to be deprived of the common advantages which belonged to all persons in the service of the Crown. If they were not wanted for the works of the Department they ought to be dismissed; if they were wanted, the dignity of the public service required that they should be properly remunerated. From a printed circular which had been sent to him, as well as to other hon. Members, he learned that they were appointed by the Lords of the Treasury on the recommendation of a Member of that House, that they were permanently and not temporarily employed, that most of them were married men with families, and entirely dependent upon their salary for their support. If retrenchment was to be the order of the day, it was scarcely fair that it should be applied to a score or so of miserably paid Extra Clerks. He trusted that the case he had endeavoured to explain would receive the favourable attention of the Government, and that he should receive an assurance to that effect from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, though the forms of the House precluded him from making the Motion which stood on the Paper in his name— That the Customs Extra Clerks be either amalgamated with the establishment or established as a separate class, and placed upon a footing with the establishment with regard to pay, prospects of promotion, and sick leave.


said, the Government were placed in this difficulty—that the hon. Gentleman was asking them to depart from the conditions and terms under which these Extra Clerks entered the public service. It might be very true that those clerks did a very good day's work for very moderate pay, but if they were tired of the conditions under which they served the public, and chose to vacate their situations, their places could, no doubt, readily be filled, not perhaps by persons with the designation of Extra Clerks, but by persons who, while discharging analogous duties, and engaged in a similar manner by the day or week, would not be on the establishment, and would not enjoy those privileges and advantages which persons who were on the regular establishment did enjoy. The appointment of the Extra Clerks was one of the many attempts which had been made from time to time to limit the unwieldy character of the establishment in the Customs and in other Departments of the State. Any one who had listened to the statement which had been made a few nights ago by his hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) could not failed to have perceived not only how important but how difficult it was to check the tendency which all our public establishments had to become overgrown. It was true that the Extra Clerks were few in number and many of them advanced in years, but it would be impossible to depart from the terms under which they were engaged and to put them on the establish- ment. No injustice had been done to them, however. For several years no clerk had been appointed to the establishment of the Customs, and it was the hope and intention of the Government, by limiting the number of the establishment clerks, to limit the charge on the public in regard to promotion and superannuation, and to confine the higher positions of the Customs to those specially engaged for the higher class of work, while the lower class of work should be done by persons who could be easily engaged at a lower scale of pay, without having claims for promotion and superannuation. He was extremely sorry to have to make any statement which might be unsatisfactory to those gentlemen whose case the hon. Member had so ably advocated; but their case had over and over again been considered by the Treasury and the Commissioners of Customs, and although their pay was small it was not so small that their places could not be filled up at the same rate should they choose to withdraw from the public service. They had been engaged under certain conditions of temporary employment and pay; and though their employment had gone on from year to year, they had a regular definite increase of pay, although it was only small. But the whole question of the Custom House establishment in London was under the consideration of the Government, and any special ground of grievance which the Extra Clerks might have would be sure to receive fair and attentive consideration. He could not undertake to say, however, that those clerks would be placed on the establishment, and thus made a permanent charge on the public. There was no wish on the part of the Government to press hardly on any individual, or on any class, and if the hon. Gentleman would bring forward any special case of hardship in which an extra clerk had been disappointed in his legitimate expectations, or in which his services had been so considerable as to be out of proportion to the salary he received, such a case would be fairly considered. But he must express a hope that the Government would be supported in its endeavours generally to improve the classification and divide the duties of a great Department such as the Customs, without at the same time allowing the expenditure connected with it continually to grow upon the country.