HC Deb 12 June 1868 vol 192 cc1525-9

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Short Title of Act).


inquired what was the intention of the Government with regard to the recommendation, respecting the Lord Clerk Register, of the Select Committee which sat two years ago, on the subject of this Bill? The Committee stated in their Report that large powers were vested in the Lord Clerk Register, and that a considerable amount of labour had actually been performed by the present occupant of the post. All of it had been, and promised to be, of indisputable public advantage. It was inexpedient, they said, that powers so extensive should be vested in an unpaid officer. They, therefore, suggested the propriety of providing an adequate salary for the responsible head of this important office. The post of Lord Clerk Register, which had for many years been held as a sinecure, was deprived by the 24 & 25 Vict. c. 81, of a salary of £ 1,200 a year. By the 25 & 26 Vict. c. 53, a salary of not less that £2,500 a year was assigned to the Chief Registrar of the Land Registry of England. The Lord Clerk Register was one of the officers of State of Scotland, and the head of an office of which the revenue largely exceeded the expenditure. The Committee were unanimous in their Report—and he should like the House to remember that by the Bill now under their consideration, very large and increased duties would devolve upon the whole staff of the Register House in Edinburgh. He trusted that the Government would do their duty, and give a proper salary to the very efficient Lord Clerk Register, and also increased pay to the clerks and officers in the Department. He would remind the House that the present Lord Clerk Register, Sir William Craig, had resigned his post of Referee to the House of Commons, of the value of £1,000 a year, in order to attend to his duties at the Register House.


said, that in the course of the discussion on Supply a few nights ago the Secretary to the Treasury, in reply to a Question, intimated that the Government had it under their consideration to give effect to the recommendation of the Select Committee on that subject, and he could now add nothing to that statement.


complained of the way in which gentlemen who did nothing were paid high salaries at the expense of the public.


said, it had been assumed that the duties of the Lord Clerk Register had been increased, but he had seen no evidence that that was the fact, and he did not believe it. No new duties had been imposed by any Act of Parliament on that officer, whose work, such as it was, was done by a deputy, even for whom there was not enough to do. His own opinion on that matter was shared by nine-tenths of the people of Edinburgh; and he hoped that the Government, after they had concluded their consideration of the subject, would see that the right course to take was to provide no salary whatever for that office.


said, the hon. Member who had just spoken reminded him of the adage that none were so blind as those who would not see. Having sat on the Select Committee himself, he could state that the evidence adduced, was so irresistible that the general body of the Committee, feeling astounded at the work performed by the present Lord Clerk Register, who took the office under the impression that it would be merely honorary, spontaneously came to the conclusion that they ought to recommend that he should receive a salary. Whatever step might be proper in regard to sinecurists, there was no reason why a gentleman who really performed useful public labour should not be remunerated.


said, that, as he was Lord Advocate when the salary was taken away from the Lord Clerk Register, he thought it right to say a few words on this subject. The office was one of great responsibility and important duties. It was an entire mistake on the part of his hon. Colleague to suppose that there were no duties to be performed, or that the Register of Land Writs was not within the department of the Lord Clerk Register. So little was this the case, that the ancient statute which was the basis of the system of registration named the Lord Clerk Register as the high officer of State under whom the system was to be administered. Although the actual recording of the Writs was intrusted to the Keeper of the Sasines, the whole searching Department was under the direct superintendence of the Lord Clerk Register, who had besides a general control over the system. The office ought never to have been a sinecure. Unfortunately, when the late Earl of Dalhonsie was appointed Governor General of India, he retained the office, while he surrendered the salary; and although he (Mr. Moncreiff) was very averse, on that nobleman's death, to deprive the office of its salary, having in view the improvements which it is the object of this Bill to carry out, it was impossible at that time to insist on its not being abolished. But his right hon. Friend, the present holder of the office, has discharged its duties for the last ten years with such labour, fidelity, and ability that the Committee which was appointed two years ago unanimously recommended that the salary should be restored. He entirely concurred in that opinion. Some allusion had been made by his hon. Colleague to the opinion of the people of Edinburgh. He was quite satisfied that the Government could do no more popular act, as far as its citizens were concerned, than to give effect to the recommendation of the Com- mittee. Some observations had been made in regard to the Keeper of the Sasines. There was no foundation whatever for the assertion that this gentleman had no duties to discharge. His duties were important and essential, and they were most thoroughly discharged, and he was, as was well known, a most able and valuable public servant.


said, the real question was whether there should be an increase in the expenditure of the country or not. If one person was sufficient to discharge the duties of the office, why should two be paid for their performance?


said, he could bear testimony to the efficiency with which Sir W. Gibson Craig had performed the duties of the office. There might be a question whether the office was over-manned; but there could be no question that there were important duties to be performed, and he thought there could be no doubt as to the propriety of paying persons who discharged important duties for performing them efficiently.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 23 (Compensation Clause).


said, that the compensation payable to the suppressed keepers of the local Registers of Sasines under this Bill represented a capital sum of about £200,000. Some of the officers who would be compensated under the Bill as it stood had taken their office on a commission in which a clause was inserted, stating that they took the appointment subject to its being abolished, or a change made in it, and providing that no claim for compensation, in either event, should be competent. He moved, as an Amendment, the insertion of the words, "Having regard to the terms of his commission," in order to limit the claims for compensation.


said, he hoped that the Committee would agree to the Amendment of his hon. Friend. Since 1858 a clause to the effect stated by his hon. Friend had been inserted in the commission of persons taking the appointments, for which it was now proposed to compensate them. The clause was not in all cases framed in precisely the same words. In some cases, the condition was based on the event of the office being abolished; in others, on that of alterations being made in it. What would less well-paid civil servants in other parts of the country say if it should be attempted to enforce in their case conditions of this kind, suppos- ing they were now given up in the case of the influential officers proposed to be compensated under this Bill?


said, he thought it would be more judicious to leave the clause as it stood, as these gentlemen had held their offices for ten years, and had discharged their duties most efficiently.


said, he was of opinion that considering the terms upon which these officers were appointed, it was impossible to resist the proposition of the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren).


said, he would not object to the introduction of the words proposed by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, if it was understood that it should be left to the Treasury to deal with all the claims for compensation, as all the appointments were not made in the same terms, and also to have regard to the recommendation in the Report of the Select Committee as to those appointed since 1858.


said, that it was non-ten years since these officers were appointed, with the expectation that their offices would be speedily abolished; but since their appointment their whole time had been devoted to the discharge of their duties, and it seemed hard to turn them adrift without compensation.


thought that a bargain was a bargain, and ought to be adhered to.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday next.