§ Order for Second Reading, read.
§ MR. MONK
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said the Bill proposed to repeal portions of a statute of the 12 & 13 Will. III. and of two statutes of Anne, which prohibited the civil servants of the Crown from interfering in elections, under penalty of £100, of being deprived of their appointments, and being rendered incapable of holding any office of, trust under the Crown. The measure was, in fact, merely the complement of the Revenue Officers' Disabilities Removal Act, which was passed last Session. That Act restored to the servants of the Crown in the Revenue Departments the right of voting at Parliamentary elections, but it did not give them the full rights of British citizens, for they were still precluded by the statutes referred to from some important privileges. The Bill consisted only of one clause, with a Schedule attached to it, but nevertheless it affected the rights of a large number of civil servants of the Crown, who earnestly desired, and had a right to demand, that they should be put on a footing of equality in respect to the franchise with their brethren in other departments of the Civil Service. With a partial and somewhat remarkable exception, to which he would presently refer, the revenue officers were precluded by the restrictive statutes enumerated in the Schedule to the Bill from the exercise of the rights and privileges of British subjects; they were unable to take any part at an election beyond simply recording their votes, and if they attended political meetings they must remain silent, and take no active part in the proceedings; they were likewise prohibited from proposing or seconding a candidate on the hustings, and from; soliciting a vote for the candidate of their choice. Now, was it not an anomaly that a man should be allowed to record his vote while, at the same time, his mouth was so effectually closed that he dared not discuss the merits of the rival candidates even with his next-door neighbour? He believed that the enactments in question could not be allowed to remain in force now that Parliament had decided upon giving to revenue officers the right of voting. When he brought forward the Revenue 1574 Officers' Disabilities Removal Bill, he restricted it within the narrowest possible limits; and he was ready to take upon himself his full share of blame for not having trusted implicitly to the spirit of fairness and generosity which animated the late Parliament; but he must remind the House that the supporters of that Bill had to contend not only with a Government which was opposed to them, but with the heads of two of the Departments which they were seeking to enfranchise. If he had embodied in that measure the provisions of the present Bill, the 36,000 revenue officers who were enfranchised last year, would, in all probability, not have been enabled to record their votes at the last election. He was, however, happy to say that during the last year a great change had come over the Commissioners, and some of those high functionaries who then opposed the proposition were now completely in favour of it. A friend of his, holding a high official position in the Civil Service, who not only opposed the Bill of last year, but furnished the text for the speech of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer in opposition to it, told him the other day that he heartily approved of this Bill, as a necessary corollary to the Franchise Act. He added that he had been obliged to decline to propose a candidate, now a Member of this House, through fear of the exceptional penalties to which his branch of the service was subject. According to the existing law, a revenue officer who proposed or seconded a candidate for a seat in that House rendered himself liable to be fined £100, and on conviction he would be deprived of his situation as a civil servant, and permanently incapacitated from holding any office of trust under the Crown. Now, the object of the present Bill was simply to repeal the sections of the Acts which imposed penalties of this nature. The 89th section of the 12 & 13 Will. III., c. 10, prohibited officers in the Customs from taking any part in elections, and inflicted the penalties which he had enumerated on all offenders. The 9 Anne, c. 11. sec. 45, inflicted similar penalties on officers in the Post Office, and in the tenth year of the same Queen another statute was passed affecting the collectors of certain taxes therein specified. He had grave doubts whether the 10 Anne, c. 18, prejudicially affected any officer in the Civil Service at the present 1575 day; but as it had been stated on high, official authority that certain subjects of duty included in that Act still remained subjects of duty, and as all the provisions of that Act were continued in relation to duties, which were in the place of those thereby imposed by the 55 Geo. III., c. 184, sec. 8, he considered it desirable to include it in the repealing Schedule of this Bill. He came now to the third and last remaining Department. The officers in the Inland Revenue Department had been prohibited, under similar penalties, from taking part in elections, by virtue of the 5 & 6 William and Mary, c. 20, sec. 48, but that Act was repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act of 1867. That repeal was owing, he believed, to the fact that a more recent statute—the 7 & 8 Geo. IV., c. 53, sec. 9, imposed a penalty of £500, instead of the smaller penalty of £100, imposed by the Act of William and Mary on officers of the Excise who interfered in elections. But this more severe penalty was repealed by the Revenue Officers Disabilities' Removal Act of last year, so that the revenue officers were, at the present moment, politically free, unless the penalties of the Act of Anne were revived by the Act of 55 Geo. III., c. 184, sec. 8, or by some other obsolete statute. To guard against the possibility of any of those officers being left under any disabilities after the passing of the present Bill, he should, when it went into Committee, move the clause of which he gave notice about a fortnight ago. It was to the effect that, after the passing of the Act no commissioner or person employed in collecting the revenues should be liable to any penalty by reason of his having endeavoured to persuade any elector to give, or to dissuade any elector from giving, his vote to any candidate for a seat in Parliament. This clause would enable the revenue officers not only to vote but to take part in elections in the same manner as any other people, and would complete the legislation of last year. It was needless for him to add that the revenue officers looked upon this disability as a grievance, if not as a positive stigma and disgrace. He was not aware that any sound arguments could be adduced against completing the measure. The revenue officers were a highly independent body of men, and by conferring on them the right of voting the House had introduced a valuable ele- 1576 ment into the electoral body. That element might indeed be Conservative, but it was Conservative in the best sense of the word; and he might remark in passing that most of the newly-enfranchised officers in one of the Departments at Gloucester voted against him at the late election—and he honoured them for their independence—yet no class of men were more interested in the stability of our institutions or less likely to encourage revolutionary measures. He was inclined to hope, until a day or two ago, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have come down to the House fortified by reports of a far more favourable description than those which were laid upon the table last year by his predecessor in Office, and that the right hon. Gentleman would have announced the determination of Her Majesty's Government not to refuse so trifling a boon as was now claimed on behalf of these hard-working and well-educated men in the Civil Service. But whatever might be the course which the right hon. Gentleman should think it his duty to pursue, he should ask the House to express its disapproval of the anomalous state of the law, which allowed one branch of the Civil Service to vote and speak and canvass at elections, while it restricted another branch to a silent vote. The hon. Member concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ SIR HARRY VERNEY
, in seconding the Motion, said, that if, as had been formerly urged, there was a fear of any combination on the part of the revenue officers, the Government would be as well able to deal with it as they were now with a combination in the army. The privilege of taking part in elections ought, in his judgment, to be granted to these men, in the same manner as it was to Army and Navy and the other Departments of the Civil Service, and if they abused it they should be removed from the public service. He had great pleasure in seconding his hon. Friend's Motion.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Monk.)
§ MR. PEASE
said, that he had always entertained very strong opinions on this subject. Last year the Legislature thought fit to confer the right of voting on a great number of revenue officers; 1577 but he always had had doubts on the propriety of enfranchising these men, on the ground that it was placing in the; hands of the Crown political power, of which the House ought to be very jealous. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) mentioned that almost all the revenue officers in that city voted for the Conservative candidates. They did so likewise in one of the boroughs in the county which he (Mr. Pease) represented. But in his opinion it was not because they were Conservatives at heart, but because they had a feeling of hostility against Liberal Governments for having pursued a course with regard to the repeal and reduction of duties inimical to their interests. It appeared to him that this House had from all time most jealously guarded its privileges as against the power of the Crown, and in placing political power with those who were the servants of the Crown; and, however little that view might have anything practical in it at the present time, it behoved the House to guard well the safeguards and liberties of the House. In his opinion this was a Bill which, like that introduced a short time ago respecting the re-election of Ministers of the Crown, affected the privileges of the House of Commons. The First Lord of the Admiralty had informed the House a few evenings before that a great reduction had been made in the number of clerks in that Department, and how, he would ask, were the; men who had been thus discharged likely to vote at the next election? Was it not natural to suppose that they would vote against the Government which had been the means of depriving them of their situations? Being very jealous of the privileges of that House, he believed it had gone far enough in the direction to which the Bill of the hon. Member for Gloucester tended, and holding that opinion he should, although he was well aware that there were many worthy men in the position of revenue officers, in whom great confidence could be placed, but who should not be allowed to take active part in elections, move that it be read again that day six months.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I rise to second that Motion. I would beg to remind the House that the exact question before us is not whether the persons to whom the Bill relates ought or ought not to have a vote. 1578 That question was decided last year; and the question with which we have to deal to-day is whether they ought to be allowed to persuade voters to vote in a particular manner; whether, in other words, they should be permitted to be canvassers, proposers, and seconders, and in these capacities to take an active part in elections, like the rest of Her Majesty's subjects. This question turns on the duties which are performed by those whose capacity of political action we are now invited to enlarge. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) asks us why we withhold from officers in the Revenue Departments privileges which we give to clerks in the West End—to those, for instance, in the Home, the Colonial, and the Foreign Offices? The answer is, I think, very plain; we do so just because they are revenue officers. The clerks in the West End offices write letters all day; they are removed from the parties to whom those letters are written; they are not brought into personal contact with them, and exercise, as a general rule, no power over them whatsoever. The position of the officers in the Revenue Departments is entirely different. To them is entrusted the collection of a good deal more than £60,000,000 per annum; and how do they collect that amount? Not by sitting in a room in Downing Street and writing letters, but by going abroad among the people, mixing themselves up in some measure with their affairs, instituting into those affairs a most inquisitorial examination, counting the number of a man's servants, of his clerks, his horses and carriages, looking minutely into his income, making themselves acquainted with the correctness of the returns of the income which he sends in, with the progress of the manufacture in which he may happen to be engaged, imposing all sorts of disagreeable and annoying interferences on the course of his trade—in short, doing all those things which, except for the purpose of collecting the revenue, the law of England would not for a moment tolerate. In all this consists the difference between the position of the revenue officers and those other officers to whom my hon. Friend has referred. But lest the House may think that I am not competent to form a just opinion on a matter of such enormous importance, I will take the liberty of reading a few passages bearing 1579 upon it from the Report of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue to the Treasury last year. They say—The real danger lies in an opposite direction. It is not the increase of the power of the Government in controlling elections which is to be apprehended, but the paralyzation of the Executive in administering the revenue laws firmly and impartially, and to use the words of our Oath of Office, 'without fear, favour, or affection' for the public good; and it is with a deep sense of this danger that, being responsible for the assessment and collection of duties amounting to £40,000,000 in the year, we seize the opportunity afforded by your Lordships' reference to deprecate most earnestly the projected enfranchisement of those employed in the Department of Inland Revenue.They go on to state—Our answer is because clerks in the War Office and officers in the army are not distributed over the kingdom with charge of distillers, brewers, maltsters, spirit dealers, tobacconists, and other traders, to watch and control their operations, in the course of their manufactures or trades, as are officers of Excise; nor to ascertain the profits of every trader and professional man, and the number of servants, horses, and carriages kept by every individual, as are officers of taxes. … If an Excise officer so situated should find it his duty about the time of the election to procure a search warrant to ransack C. D.'s house, or to put his distillery under seizure, and bring an information against him for penalties, no one can doubt that he would subject himself to the greatest suspicion of using the power conferred on him as a revenue officer to serve a political party, and the mischief of such an imputation would be nearly the same, whether it were true or false. Again, it is often necessary that we should use the large powers confided to us in the interest of the public, in a mode necessarily placing an Excise trader at a disadvantage in competing with others, as by requiring a maltster, whom we know to be in pecuniary difficulties, to pay the duty upon each steeping of grain as soon as it is made into malt.Observe the minute interference. They suspect a man's credit, and they require him to pay the duty upon each steeping of grain. But suppose the suspicion to be unfounded, and the man happened to be a political opponent of the revenue officer who acted upon that suspicion, how easy would it not be to make a charge against that officer of having sought to effect the man's ruin? The Commissioners proceed as follows:—We must, of course, be guided very much by information from our local officers in such a case; and it is a difficult and delicate matter, even now, to make it manifest that we are acting with strict impartiality. If our officers were political partizans it would be parfectly impossible. The converse of such cases is equally to be apprehended. If a trader, subject to the Excise laws, or a manufacturer, liable to make returns of profits under Schedule D, came under the super- 1580 vision of a revenue officer, known as an active supporter of the party to which the manufacturer or trader also belonged, what can be more certain than that rivals in trade of the opposite party would impute to favouritism, at the expense of the revenue, any immunity from charges or restrictions which they themselves might not enjoy.These are considerations which appear to me to possess the greatest possible practical weight. They come from persons who have a thorough knowledge of that about which they write; and, if the House will allow me, I will read one more paragraph from the Report. The Commissioners add—The power of removal to which we have just been referring is one of the most valuable parts of our disciplinary system. If an officer is believed to be on terms of too great intimacy with a trader under his survey; if he has fallen into the company of bad associates; if he appears to be deficient in the acuteness and energy requisite for dealing with some fraudulent trader; or if he has identified himself with any particular religious sect or parochial party, so as to be obnoxious to other sects and parties in the locality, his removal to another district is a ready and effectual check to the mischief which would otherwise ensue. But when the officer becomes a voter, when he is perhaps one of the managers for a political party in a small borough, what will not be our difficulty in sending him away, perhaps on the eve of an election, and what will not be the suspicions of party motives to which the Board, and the superior officers who recommend his removal, will be subjected.I am sorry to have been obliged to trouble the House with these extracts, but it is much better that they should have the opinions of men who speak with the advantage of longer practical experience than mine upon this subject. We must not forget what is at stake in this case. It is no sentimental matter. It involves the question of the collection of a revenue of over £60,000,000 a year; and the anticipations of the dangers which would be likely to arise if the change now proposed were carried into effect appear to me to be justified by the most ordinary principles of human nature. The result of that change must, I think, be that the control of the Department over its officers would be weakened by the fear of having it imputed to them that they were actuated by political motives, and that those officers will be supposed to be actuated by other motives than a desire to perform properly their duties in the collection of the revenue. The discipline of the machine will in consequence be imperilled. Disorder will ensue, and no 1581 one can fix the extent to which the revenue may suffer. An element of confusion will be introduced into an establishment which requires the most careful management and the most minute supervision, which has to be worked with a delicacy of which many persons little dream, and in which the slightest change in the ordinary rules, however necessary that change might be in the public interest, would be sure to be attributed to other motives than the wish to promote the efficiency of the Department. Such being the dangers against which we have to guard, how very slight is the advantage which this Bill proposes to confer on those upon whose behalf it is brought forward. The officers of the Inland Revenue have already power to record their votes at elections; what is now asked for is that they should be allowed to mix themselves up with the turmoil of election contests; and are we, for the sake of indulging a little vanity on their part, and giving them an opportunity of involving themselves in proceedings which most sensible men would be very glad to keep out of, to run such risks as those to which I have adverted? Let me suppose a man wished to be returned for a town in which the revenue officers took an active part in politics; he would naturally desire to conciliate them; they would be the best canvassers he could employ. See what mischiefs they might; be able to do the trader, and how, owing to the influence which they would exert over him, they might render themselves the most potent possible agents in intimidation. For no species of intimidation goes so directly home to a man sometimes as that which arises from the knowledge that another is almost as well acquainted with his affairs as he is himself, and that he can, by making a report with respect to them, hamper him in the pursuit of his business. There are other considerations to be taken into account—such as the influence which a Government may, under certain circumstances, exercise over the officers of this Department; but putting that consideration aside, I would remind the House that, if it permits those officers to mix themselves up actively in political life, the neutral positions which they now occupy between the two parties in the State will be destroyed. One of the reasons why we are enabled to raise our 1582 present immense revenue, and to support the immense burdens which are placed upon the shoulders of the taxpayer, is that the Revenue Departments have—at all events ever since the time of Lord Liverpool—been free from, any suspicion of political influence. You may, however, depend upon it that once you introduce into that branch of the public service the political element it will spread, and you will see realized in England that which is the greatest bane of America—an evil from which she is now manfully struggling to relieve herself, and as I sincerely hope with success. If you insist upon the right of these officers to transform themselves into active political partizans, you may rely upon it that a Government coming into Office will not tolerate in situations of great trust under it persons advocating violent political opinions—opposed, it may be, to its own—and it will come to pass, not, perhaps, at once, but by degrees, that we shall witness here that miserable state of things which prevails in America—the change of the civil servants of the country as one party or the other happens to hold the reins of Office. I would say, then, principiis obsta—do not advance the first step in such a career. You have now, I believe, as admirable an instrument as was ever placed in the hands of any Government for the performance of that peculiarly delicate service—the collection of the revenue. Let well alone. Do not, for the sake of a few vain persons who may seek to make themselves a little more important by meddling in business which will be just as well transacted without their interference, break in upon principles which have so long enabled us to bear such enormous burdens. America has boundless resources, and can afford to do almost anything without being ruined. We, with our limited area, are in a very different position, and I earnestly hope the House will not assent to a measure the dangers of whose operation may be so great, while the advantages which it seeks to confer are so infinitesimal.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Pease.)
§ MR. CLAY
said, he should support the Bill. He thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree with him 1583 that it was the interest of them all to make the voter aware of the sacred nature of the trust committed to him, so as to induce him to record an honest vote for the public good. Now, what was done with these men? We allowed them the privilege to vote, but forbad them at any public meeting to state the reasons for the vote which they were about to give, or to make any profession of the faith that was in them. Was that the way to bring home to them a knowledge of the sacred nature of the trust confided to them? The fact was that every argument which was used last year against giving these persons the franchise had been urged that day against allowing them publicly to express their opinions, and the whole question resolved itself into a distrust of their honesty. We did these men great injustice in distrusting them. He asserted with perfect sincerity that he had never found in his life a body of men more honest and less liable to be influenced by party feeling than the civil servants, and he did not believe that there was any class of men in the country more likely to make good and independent voters. It was apprehended by some that if this Bill were to pass, a pressure might be put upon Members of that House by civil servants. He had had more to do with these persons than probably any other Member of that House, and he could say that though pressure had been put upon him by many other classes of persons he had never experienced the slightest pressure from that quarter. Then it was objected that they had powers of combination. Did no one else combine? Not to speak of trades unions, the Lobby gave daily evidence of the best organized combinations of all interests. Publicans and Maine Liquor Law men, Sabbath observance advocates and those who would open places of amusement on the Sunday, all properly found strength in combination.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he was one of those who voted last year in favour of giving the officers in question a right to exercise the franchise; but he, nevertheless, must admit that the tendency of the present Bill seemed to him to throw grave doubt on the wisdom of the decision at which they then arrived. Those who voted for the Bill of last Session felt that the continuing to withhold the power of voting from those men was 1584 perpetuating an injustice on them, considering the position they held in the country; but, the arguments which he had just heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer induced him to think that the House ought to pause before it proceeded any further in the same direction—for there was nothing in which the country was more deeply interested than in the preservation of the purity and high character of its public servants. The House, therefore, would, in his opinion, do well to reject a proposal which might have the effect of leading those to whom it related to mix themselves up with political agitation in a way that would be injurious to the best interests of the community.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LUSK
said, that he had some acquaintance with the civil servants in the Customs Department, and felt bound to declare that he had not come into contact with a more straightforward or honest set of men, and he deprecated the idea that any danger to the public service would result from their admission to the exercise of the privileges which the Bill sought to confer. Prophecies of evil did not go for much with him, they had been made by those who were opposed to the repeal of the Corn Laws; while it was said, last year, that if a measure granting household suffrage were passed a House of Commons would be elected which would be composed of persons who "feared not God neither regarded man." Well, those hon. Gentlemen who had been elected knew best whether that prophecy was or was not correct. He, for one, did not believe it had been realized, any more than would be the prophecies which they had listened to in the course of that discussion. He hoped, therefore, the House would not refuse its assent to a measure which was just in itself, and would enable the meritorious class of officers in our Revenue Department to enjoy those electoral privileges which other classes of the community possessed.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that when the subject was under the consideration of the House last Session he had opposed the measure then brought forward by his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), because he anticipated that, while no advantage to the public interest would result from its operation, it 1585 might endanger the proper working of the Revenue Department. Now, he felt bound to state that, so far as his own personal experience had since gone in the borough which he had the honour to represent, it was not favourable to the legislation of which his hon. Friend was the author. He would not, however, enter into details with which that experience furnished him, beyond remarking that he happened, fortunately, to occupy a position in the borough which enabled him to defeat the proceedings to which he was alluding in a way which other hon. Members might not be able to do when engaged in a close contest. But the question before the House on the present occasion was not, whether Parliament had last year acted wisely or otherwise in dealing with the subject; although it might very well form matter for discussion whether the Bill of his hon. Friend as then passed embodied the deliberate opinion of the House of Commons, or owed its success to any of those accidental circumstances for the occurrence of which the last Parliament was quite peculiar in the history of the country. Be that as it might, what the House was now invited to do was to make a large stride in advance of the legislation of last Session. In replying to that invitation, hon. Members ought, he thought, to bear in mind that there was a fundamental distinction between officers in the Revenue and those in other Departments. The latter, though servants of the Crown, took part in elections as simple inhabitants of the particular district in which they happened to reside; but revenue officers would mix themselves up with such proceedings, bearing with them, as it were, the income of the nation to the extent of £70,000,000. ["No, no."] Hon. Members might cry "No," but there was no doubt that they could use the influence which their position gave them to a very large extent. He, however, should oppose the Bill before the House, not only on public grounds but in the interests of the best class of revenue officers themselves—that was to say of those men who were disposed to devote themselves to the discharge of the duties of their situation, and not to mix in politics with the view of recommending themselves to the notice or patronage of any party in that House. That was the sort of officer, who, in his opinion, ought to be supported. It was 1586 probable, he might add, that owing to the numerical proportions of the constituency in the metropolis, the officers there engaged in the collection of the revenue, might not be able to exercise a very great influence at elections; but there were other places beyond the metropolis where a man so situate might exercise very considerable influence; and how, he should like to know, would a Member in whose behalf such a man might have actively exerted himself, refuse to listen to a claim on him made by one of his best supporters? As matters at present stood, there was a very good regulation against the interference of Members of the House of Commons for the purpose of obtaining the promotion of an officer in the Inland Revenue Departments. He deemed it to be his duty, on accepting the Office which he had the honour to hold, to inquire into the subject, and he asked the Chief Commissioners of the Boards of Customs and Inland Revenue whether they rigidly adhered to that regulation? They assured him that they did. Now, he (Mr. Ayrton), would state to the House, that, if any Member of the House of Commons spoke to him on the subject of promotion for any officer in their Departments, he should place the regulation in the hands of that Member; and if, after that, he chose to mention the name of the person for whom advancement was sought, and the person was known to him, he should send the name to the Commissioners—not for his benefit, but that punishment might be inflicted on him in accordance with the rules laid down. He had been induced to make these remarks because the Chairman of the Board of Customs said that—Since his appointment he had received numerous applications from noblemen and gentlemen, soliciting the promotion of officers and clerks in the service, and it appeared that other members of the Board had frequently received similar applications.[An hon. MEMBER: How long ago?] The Minute from which he was quoting was dated the 16th of January, 1847—there was no doubt that we had in those matters been improving of late, in consequence of the Minute, which proceeded as follows:—There can be no doubt that in most, if not in all of these cases, the applications have been made at the instance of the respective officers and clerks, in direct contravention of their instructions and the Board's 'General Orders' upon the 1587 subject. The Board are determined that the promotion in the Department shall be governed solely by good conduct, efficiency, and length of service, and that they will not allow their recommendations to the Treasury to be influenced in any degree by any applications or representations which may be made to them by persons unconnected with the Department; such applications are, therefore, not only irregular, and in violation of the recorded orders and regulations of the service, but useless for their object; they tend also to embarrass the discretion of the Board, inasmuch as in any case in which an officer would be entitled to promotion on his own merits, application made in his favour by influential persons affords ground for suspicion that the selection of the officer has been influenced in some degree by private considerations, and that without the exercise of such interest the claims of the officer would have been passed over, a suspicion which, however unjust and unfounded it may be, cannot fail to weaken in the minds of the officers of the Department that confidence in the justice and fair dealing of the Board which the Commissioners are most desirous to possess. The Commissioners will, at all times, be ready to receive and take into consideration representations from officers in the Department addressed to the Board officially; but they think it right to apprise the officers and clerks throughout the service once more, and in the most formal manner, that private applications from officers themselves, or from other persons in their behalf, addressed to individual members of the Board, are expressly interdicted, and that the same will not only have the effect of retarding the promotion of the parties, but subject them to the Board's severe displeasure.That was the notice which had been issued by the Customs Department. A similar notice had been issued by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue; and he (Mr. Ayrton) would confidently appeal to hon. Members to say whether those rules could be maintained if such a change as that proposed by the Bill was effected, not only in the relations of revenue officers to that House, but in their relations to one another? The fact was that it would be impossible, under the altered circumstances, to preserve the necessary discipline in the Department. If its officers were permitted to take an active part in elections they would, as a matter of course, be recommended for promotion by those whom they supported, and those recommendations would be forced, not only on the heads of the Department, but on the Government, and as far as possible on that House. The offices in the large cities, where the pay was better, would be sought after, and perhaps obtained, by an officer in a small borough who was able to make himself of great importance at the elections there in promoting the success of a par- 1588 ticular candidate. As things at present stood, we possessed a system under which the officers in our Revenue Department occupied a position of neutrality, and which might challenge comparison with the system of any other country; but if the Bill before the House were adopted there was great danger, as had been said by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that we should drift into that system which seemed to prevail in the United States. He had asked an American politician to give him an account of the working of the United States' constitution in that country; and the reply was that it resolved itself very much into a question of "in" and "out." When they entered on a political contest he said they cast about, and the "outs" having ascertained who were likely to obtain offices if they should be successful, got them to subscribe to a common fund. When that fund reached the necessary amount, they went to work as hard as they could on the election, and if they succeeded all the candidates for places got them according to the amount of their contributions. The "ins" contributed to a fund in the same way, and if they were victorious those who already had the places of course kept them. Did hon. Members think this a better state of things than existed in England? Surely it would be a deplorable change if the smallest shadow of such practices should prevail here. With that view it was of the utmost importance to keep our revenue officers entirely free from such participation in politics as was likely to disturb in any way the regular discharge of their duties. He hoped, therefore, that the House would not concur in this proposal, which would gratify the feelings of only a few of those affected by the Bill; while, in the end, it would be prejudicial to the great majority, even of the revenue officers themselves.
§ COLONEL SYKES
said, he voted for the Bill of last year under the full belief that those officers would use their votes as honestly as other men; but the arguments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of the Treasury, if good for anything, showed that the revenue officers were not worthy of the electoral trust, and would abuse it; implying distrust, also, of their integrity in the discharge of their peculiar duties. Such arguments tended strongly to show the necessity for the Ballot, which, hap- 1589 pily, now loomed, not in the distance, but very proximatively.
§ MR. BREWER
thought there were questions of great moment involved in the Bill. He admitted that the revenue officers were generally men of high character, but, as servants of the Crown, their position was a peculiar one. They were intrusted with functions and duties of a very delicate character; and he thought that the very nature of their trust required that they should be subjected to some restraint. He should, therefore, support the Amendment, from no disregard for the claims of these gentlemen, but from a paramount regard for the interests of the community generally.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
thought that this question could not, in any way, be made a party question. It seemed to him that the objections taken by the opponents of the Bill were rather inconsistent with other portions of their speeches. They were loud, for instance, in their praises of the body of men for whose benefit the Bill was proposed, and declared that no persons could better deserve the confidence and esteem of their countrymen. But how were these praises to be reconciled with the argument also urged—that the virtue of these men was so feeble that they must not be placed in the way of temptation, and that it was absolutely necessary, in order to keep them pure, to deprive them of the ordinary privileges of Englishmen? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the object of the measure was to enable the officers of the revenue to gratify their vanity, and enable them to distinguish themselves by speaking upon the hustings. He was surprised that, when persons sought to take part in public affairs and exercise the ordinary privileges of Englishmen, they should be told that they were seeking to gratify their vanity. That was not an argument which he expected to hear urged at this time of day and in that House. To listen to some of the speeches just made from the Treasury Bench one would have supposed them not to be arguments directed against the Bill of his hon. Friend, but in support of a proposal to repeal the Act of last Session; because if the arguments used on the Treasury Bench had any weight at all, they were not half so weighty against the present measure as against 1590 the Act of 1868. Not only, indeed, were they arguments which might have been urged against that Act, but every one of them had been urged against it, though urged in vain. It was true that the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Ayrton) had introduced rather a new topic, because he had shown the House how easily and how extensively bribery and corruption might be carried on in a country in which the Ballot prevailed; but this was an argument more germane to the debate of last night than to the present discussion, though probably it was not an argument likely to have fallen from the Treasury Bench upon that occasion. That was the only new point which the hon. Gentleman suggested in his interesting account of the mode in which elections were managed on the other side of the Atlantic. Now, the House should remember that this Bill was not confined to the servants of one particular Department. It included the officers of the Post Office as well as officers of the Customs and the Inland Revenue; and he had not yet heard a suggestion that the officers of the Post Office were so intimately connected with the collection of the revenue that they would exercise any baneful influence upon those with whom they came into contact. The question belonged in no way to party—it was a question upon which different opinions might prevail on both sides of the House; but he confessed that some of the arguments just urged were not such as he had expected from those who had used them, and did not apply to officers of the Post Office, who were not in the least likely to exercise those privileges improperly. With respect to the apprehended danger of intrusting political power to an organized body, such as the civil servants of the Crown, who might organize opposition to the Government of the day, or support the Government, as the case might be, with a view to their own private interest, he was tempted to ask whether other organized bodies were unknown to the country and the House? Was there no such interest as the railway interest or the publican interest? Yet, he had never heard any proposal to deprive railway shareholders or publicans of any of their privileges as citizens lest they should organize themselves with a view to their private advantage. He could not, therefore, see on what possible ground a 1591 special body of men whose character and services hon. Members had vied with each other in eulogizing should be denied the privileges enjoyed by their neighbours from a fear, forsooth, they might exercise an undue influence on Members of Parliament and on the proceedings of this House. Upon these grounds, he should give his cordial support to the Bill.
said, he differed from the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, and thought the Government had come to a sound conclusion upon this subject. It was not a consideration whether the civil servants of the Crown were pure or not. He had always been of opinion that our public servants had done their duty with great fidelity and impartiality; but he was also of opinion that if they got mixed up in all the turmoil of party conflict—a result of which, if this Bill passed, there was great risk—though they would not necessarily become impure, they would not be free from suspicion. Now, suspicion in such a case was almost worse than actual impurity, because with the one you could grapple, but not with the other; and, considering the very delicate and difficult duties which those gentlemen had to discharge, it would be a great misfortune if anything arose which rendered them liable to suspicion of partiality, especially from political motives. He should support the Government, not because he thought that these gentlemen might not be as well fitted as anybody else for the exercise of political privileges, but because, if they exercised these privileges as the Bill proposed, they might be suspected of partiality in the discharge of their duties.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
said, he would not go over the arguments which had been so well urged by other speakers in favour of the Bill, and in which he entirely concurred. He might indeed, observe, in support of those arguments, that in Scotland the question occupied a very peculiar position. He had several years since introduced into the Burgh Boundaries Act for Scotland a clause which enabled revenue officers to be placed on the electoral roll for municipal purposes. By that clause they obtained the right to vote, to canvass, and even to become candidates for municipal honours. Now, in Scotland the same electoral roll served both for municipal and for Parliament- 1592 ary elections, and he thought this state of things brought out very prominently the absurdity and hardship of allowing a certain class of men to become citizens for one purpose and not for another of a similar nature. But his object in rising was to draw the attention of the House to a point in the Bill which, he thought, had been hitherto entirely overlooked in its discussion. The Preamble declared that it was expedient to solve certain doubts which had arisen owing to the legislation of last year. It had been supposed at first that by the Act of last Session, and by the Act for repealing certain statutes passed by the Statute Law Commission in 1867, an end had been put to all political disabilities of revenue officers. But doubts were suggested, arising from the existence of two editions of the statutes at large, in which the chapters were differently numbered, as to how far the penalties for canvassing or interfering actively in elections had been repealed. And in Scotland, at any rate, there arose a different practice in different counties, causing much confusion during the late General Election. Thus in Ayrshire, an Inland Revenue officer was allowed to act as the paid agent of one of the candidates; while in an adjoining county the Inland Revenue officers received notice of their liability to penalties if they canvassed, and they consequently abstained from all interference in polities beyond simply recording their votes. He thought that it was most undesirable to continue such a state of things, and therefore all doubts upon the subject should be cleared up by passing this Bill.
I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Craufurd) would not wish the House to believe that we are discussing a question no broader in its scope than the removal of doubts as to the construction of an Act of Parliament. We are really engaged in discussing a most important principle; and as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) does not seem to have been aware, when he moved his Bill of last year, to what it would lead in the present Session—he gave us no intimation then that we were to have a Bill of this nature this year—so I think he cannot now be aware what this measure, if adopted, would lead to next year. There is no doubt that by 1593 the Bill of last year the hon. Gentleman established an important change in the position of members of the Civil Service; but the question we are now dealing with touches the position of some of the most important members of the Civil Service. It has been well said by the hon. and learned Member for Southampton (Mr. Russell Gurney) that this is not a party question. Now, I know not whether the rumour to which I am about to refer be well founded, but I have heard it stated that members of the Civil Service, in preponderating numbers, voted at the last election for the party which is now in Opposition. I know not if this be true, nor do I greatly care to inquire, but it has been stated in the course of this debate that they did so, and it was intimated that they did so because they looked upon me as having been for a long series of years distinguished by too great rigour in the administration of the public finances. Now, if this be true, I must say that I do not think it is a source of strength but rather of weakness to the party opposite; because, if it has the effect of making us weak with this particular class, it must make us so much the more strong in the support of the nation at large. I say, if it be true that such an impression prevails, and upon that account the members of the Civil Service have a leaning to the party which is opposed to us, we can have no better title than this with which to place our cause I before the country. Mind, I do not make the charge. ["Oh, oh!"] I say I know nothing as to the truth of the statement; but with great deference to the Gentleman opposite who sneers at what I am saying, I warn him and all who think with him—and though I do not expect him to believe me, the warning is a friendly one—against building their hopes of public strength, and influence upon any foundation so narrow and unsound as the acquiring of the favour of particular classes by measures which are not for the general good. The House has a natural prepossession, and I own a just one, in favour of the removal of restraints upon the exercise of political rights. I respect the opinion of the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, and I respect the opinion of the hon. Member for Gloucester; nor will I stop to observe that, although, as has been said, the revenue officers at our ports may not 1594 interfere with the discretion of Members of Parliament, it happens by some strange coincidence that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gurney) represents an important port, with many revenue officers among his constituents, and that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) are in the same predicament. When my hon. Friend (Mr. Norwood) says he has not found any great pressure put upon him from revenue officers I do not at all wonder at the statement, because I think in his case no such pressure was at all required. My hon. Friend (Sir Harry Verney) says that if danger is anticipated from the operation of this Bill we must rely upon the firmness of the Government. Now, I have not a bad opinion of the firmness of Governments, but the Executive Government is essentially and necessarily political in its character, and is it right that the Legislature, which ought to be jealous in the interest of the public, should say—"We will repeal restraints which now exist in the interest of the public, and rely, instead, upon the firmness of the Government to do"—what? Not to restrain the aberrations of civil servants who may be its opponents so much as the zeal of those who may be its friends. But then it is said—and this was the main assertion of my hon. Friends who support the Bill—that the whole argument against it rests upon an imputation of dishonesty as regards our civil servants; and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Russell Gurney) adds that there is a gross inconsistency between the language used, according praise and credit to the officers of the Civil Service, and the conduct pursued in withholding from them these privileges. Now, I impute no dishonesty to our civil servants. In a long series of years, during which I have been in communication with our civil servants, no one has heard a syllable of that kind fall from my lips. But I deny that an imputation of dishonesty is involved in particular cases by those restraints upon political liberty which are otherwise accorded to all. What is our law about contractors? We do not permit a contractor to sit in this House. Do we, therefore, mean that contractors are dishonest, or that they are less honest and upright than other men are? Certainly not; but we will not allow them to take a position where 1595 their honesty may be exposed to particular solicitation and trial. That, and no more than that, is what we exact with regard to our civil servants. But then, what is the position of Members of this House? Is no restraint imposed upon them? Why those rigid rules in the Revenue Department prohibiting and resenting the interference of any Member of Parliament with regard to the promotion of any person employed in that Department? Are not Members of Parliament in many respects persons well qualified to recommend for such promotions? My hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay) says he has perhaps had more intercourse with revenue officers than any other Gentleman in this House, and his recommendations, therefore, in this respect would be well founded and valuable. Nevertheless, if he were to send a recommendation to the Board of Customs or Inland Revenue, he will get an answer which would be more intelligible than polite. Am I to be told that on that account there is any imputation on the honesty of Members of this House? The reason is that the position of Members being one which exposes them to peculiar solicitation, they are liable unconsciously to come under a bias adverse to the interest of the public service, and therefore, we deny ourselves the advantage which might often be derived from their local knowledge and experience, and compel them to remain silent upon every question of promotion in the Revenue Departments. Can anything be more absurd, can anything be more anomalous than the system which my hon. Friend deliberately proposes to establish? I will suppose myself, for a moment, to be Member for Liverpool. As the Member for Liverpool, I should not be permitted to say a single syllable upon the subject of the fitness of any revenue servants there for promotion in the Customs or the Post Office; yet, at the same time, under the Bill of my hon. Friend, the Collector of Customs at Liverpool might have been the chairman of my election committee, and his verdict would be that which would decide every case in which recommendation for promotion might be made. Is such a relation desirable? Would a Bill which established it be a measure of reform or a measure of retrogression? Would it be a measure favourable to 1596 the interests either of the community or of the class? And if it were—as I think it would be—a measure of retrogression, would it not be the most dangerous of all retrogressions, inasmuch as it comes to us in the shape of a reform? Now, I am going to make a confession which I have seldom made, but I am now released from the charge of finance—and by-the-way, I cannot say what satisfaction and comfort I personally feel when I reflect that I have now made it over into other and abler hands—being thus released, and having the tie taken off my tongue, I beg the House to bear in mind what extraordinary duties the officers of our Revenue Departments are called on to perform. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Russell Gurney) cannot satisfy us by setting up the case of the Post Office, though if he will move for a Committee to institute a careful inquiry, with a view of seeing whether there are any persons to whom those restraints should not be applied, I do not know that I should resist such an investigation; but he proposed to sweep away the whole, and therefore I am bound to inquire what the particular nature of these duties is. We have to raise in this country a revenue of some £70,000,000 a year. That is about one-eighth or ninth part of the whole revenue of the country. If there is any Gentleman in this House who happens to have nine sovereigns in his pocket, though he may believe them to be his own, they really are not, for one of them will infallibly, on the average, find its way into the Public Exchequer. It is the duty of the revenue officers to draw out the ninth sovereign and put it into the Exchequer. The processes are many and various, and some of them are not devoid of danger to the liberty of the subject. I grant that there is no great difficulty or temptation when we collect the revenue by means of Queen's heads pasted upon the corners of letters; and if we could collect our whole revenue in that innocent form, the arguments against the Bill would be weaker than they are. But there is very little raised in that innocent form; and when we come to the greater branches of the revenue, the Excise and the income tax—painful as it may be to make the confession—and it is of no use to conceal it,—the hard necessities of the State and the heavy legacy which our ancestors left to 1597 us—along with other more desirable things—in the shape of a National Debt compel us to take much money from the subject by means which undoubtedly greatly invade and restrain the liberty of the subject. I do not believe that our ancestors who, ages ago, objected we strongly to the Excise, could ever have dreamt of the income tax; but when they objected to the Excise they were not so irrational—it was not without cause that the country was torn from end to end by the horrors of a system which appeared to be such an invasion of personal liberty. I hardly think that in our day the House is quite aware of the functions which have to be performed by revenue officers; and if Parliament were called upon to re-enact clause by clause the Excise Laws and Income Tax Acts of this country, I think the House would be shocked at the nature of the powers which the absolute necessities of the State render; necessary. Now, the exercise of these powers is in the hands of men who, down to this time, we have carefully separated from the temptations and the passions of political strife. Not only so, but of all the administrative reforms in the present century, the best have been those which sought to abridge the influence of the Executive Government, its power over the patronage of the Civil Service, and that power of Parliament over the Civil Service. The name of Lord Liverpool ought to be honoured; among us to this day, for he was the Minister who did away with the power of promotion—infinitely more powerful than the power of appointment, which had before his time been the scandal of the country and a fertile source of corruption. Patronage is a powerful instrument of Government; but why is patronage to be taken out of the hands of politicians sitting in this House and placed in the hands of another set of politicians sitting in the Customs or in Somerset House? We have tried by our public law to create a body of functionaries entirely exempt from these temptations; but the measure of my hon. Friend is a much further departure, and a more important and dangerous departure, from this principle, than any that we have hitherto recognized. It has been said that we do not restrain the permanent heads of Departments at the Treasury and elsewhere from taking 1598 part in elections. No, we do not—but they restrain themselves. Who ever heard of Mr. Hamilton, since he has been permanent Secretary of the Treasury, or Sir William Dunbar, since he has been Commissioner of Audit, or Mr. Anderson, or Mr. Arbuthnot, or Mr. Hammond, interfering in political strife or taking part in political meetings? Why not? Because they have chosen their career; and though there is no law applicable to them individually, they know there are Acts of Parliament which clearly declare the principle that men so engaged should avoid the snares of political partisanship. I think I have said enough, after what has been urged to the same effect by others, in deprecating the measure which my hon. Friend has proposed. I am quite satisfied that the picture drawn by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of the Treasury—of the extensive changes which such a measure might bring about in our political system—is not overcharged; and, without the slightest disrespect to the introducers of the measure or to the people of the United States, I think that if there is any one point on which we can draw a conclusion favourable to ourselves and unfavourable to them, it is that here we have striven to limit and reduce the influence of the Executive Government over patronage, and to separate entirely the popular branch of the Legislature from any direct connection with the exercise of patronage; while there we see a system which is the full-blown development of the idea of my hon. Friend, and the working of which no one can contemplate with satisfaction. I concede my full sympathy up to a certain point with those who are contending for the abolition of these restrictions; but the conditions of society and the hard necessities of the Sate must, I fear, continue to impose limits in the case of individuals upon the enjoyment even of political privileges. The case of these gentlemen is not an isolated one. A similar restriction has been adopted—perhaps with less strong reasons for it—in the case of the police, and I confidently believe that this House will not take the very questionable and dangerous step of passing the measure.
§ MR. MONK
said, in reply, that he had already stated that it had been his 1599 intention, when going into Committee on the Bill of last year, to include in the repealing Schedule of that Bill the clauses which it was proposed to repeal by the present Bill; but he was opposed on that occasion both by the Members of the late Government and by his right hon. Friend the First Minister of the Crown. To have done so under those circumstances would probably have insured the rejection of that measure, which happily passed into law. All the arguments which had been used to-day were used last year, and, in fact, they were more applicable to the Bill of last year than to the present, which merely gave the civil servants freedom of action and freedom of speech. The revenue officers asked the House to repeal those obnoxious statutes, not with the desire of canvassing or taking an active part in elections, but because they considered it a grievance that they alone of the civil servants should be placed under exceptional disabilities and restrictions, which might have been necessary 170 years ago, but which he believed to be quite uncalled for at the present day.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
wished to say one word in explanation. He had no communication with the gentlemen to whom he referred; but he wished to know how they could prevent these gentlemen from holding their own opinions. In private they could do more in support of them than they could do by going to the poll and recording their votes. In their present position those persons were more dangerous than they would be if they were in the enjoyment of the privileges proposed to be conferred on them by the Bill.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 88; Noes 207: Majority 119.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill put off for six months.