HC Deb 01 August 1873 vol 217 cc1450-4

Order for Committee read.

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


asked the First Lord of the Treasury, upon what grounds the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury had declined to comply with the recommendations of the Trustees of the British Museum, for an addition to the salaries of the officers and assistants in that Establishment; and, whether it was the intention of the Lords' Commissioners to re-consider the request of those officers and assistants for a readjustment of their salaries? There had been no rise in wages since 1837, although not only had the price of provisions been much augmented, but the duties of the several officers had been largely increased. Various meetings, attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Sydney, Lord Derby, Mr. Walpole, Lord Eversley, and others, had recommended an increase of the wages; but the increase had boon refused, and he would urge that a recommendation to which they had pledged their character was not one that ought to be lightly disregarded. The Treasury had, however, expressed their regret that they were unable to accede to the application. What the officers asked for was an increase proportionate to that of other Departments, and he hoped that in that, as in the other cases recently brought forward, a satisfactory assurance would be given by the Government.


wished to say a few words in support of the hon. and learned Member. Looking at the salaries paid in other Departments, there was very great force in the recommendation of the Trustees. Considering the great value of the British Museum Collection, it was of the utmost importance to the country that it should be superintended by gentlemen of the highest attainments in Science and Art. The collections, moreover, had been greatly enlarged during the last few years, without any corresponding increase in the staff.


complained of the abruptness of the answer given by the Treasury to the Trustees. No reason was assigned why the salaries should not be increased; and, if there were any reason, he hoped it would now be given.


said, the terms of the answer of the Treasury to the Trustees of the British Museum had been misunderstood, as it was certainly not intended to show any want of respect or consideration towards them. He himself had the honour of being one of the Trustees of the British Museum, and nothing was farther from his thoughts than to treat that body of gentlemen with anything like disrespect. There was, however, no use in arguing upon the terms of the letter, and he would come to the merits of the question. It was quite a mistake to suppose there was nothing to say because so little was said. The matter underwent very careful and elaborate consideration at the Treasury before the answer was returned. The Trustees, however, asked the Treasury to do for the Museum what they had not done for any other office under the Crown—namely, to raise the salaries of all persons employed in the establishment, from the principal librarian down to the messengers with one exception. That was a course which the Treasury had never yet followed in any case. They had always professed themselves perfectly ready to listen to any complaints of inadequacy of salaries, taking each class of cases by themselves, and investigating them carefully; but they had always set their face against acceding to a proposal for raising the salaries of a whole department en bloc, and for one very suffi- cient reason—namely, that there was no public Department so constituted that all persons employed therein were equally ill-paid. He thought the Trustees had given themselves an unnecessary amount of trouble, and that they had been led into an error in the manner in which they conducted this case; and that if they had considered the matter more they would have seen that the course they recommended was extremely undesirable, because they avowed their opinion not only that everybody almost was entitled to an increase of salary, but they stated the exact amount of salary to which they thought everybody was entitled. This they did with the great authority which naturally attached to their name, without consulting in any way previously that Department of the Government which was answerable for this expenditure. He was quite sure there was no such intention on the part of the Trustees; but by thus acting they placed the Government in this position—that if they refused or altered any of these things, every single person who found the Trustees had recommended him to a particular salary, or increment that he did not get, would consider he had a grievance. Such a mode of proceeding placed an undue difficulty in the way of the Treasury discharging their duty. Again, the arguments adduced by the Trustees did not altogether produce conviction in his mind. For instance, they said some of their best men were from time to time enticed away into other employments. Well, he believed that would always be the case in the British Museum even if the salaries were considerably raised. People employed there not only conducted the business of the establishment, but had extraordinary opportunities for acquiring knowledge which was extremely valuable to themselves and to other persons. The feeling of the country was running very strongly in favour of physical science, especially of those sciences that depended upon observation—such, for instance, as Natural History and Geology. There were institutions of all kinds growing up where men who were capable of giving instruction in those subjects wore very much wanted. The result was a competition for persons possessed of such acquirements, and the men were naturally sought for at the British Museum. Indeed, one of the inducements to persons to enter the Museum was that they were placed in a position where their talents and industry were sure to be known and appreciated. Therefore, the notion that they were to raise salaries with the object of competing with the public outside was a delusion. It was impossible for the Treasury in these things to compete with the wants of the public generally. Then it must be considered that the salaries at the British Museum were confessedly lower than in the Civil Service, and for obvious reasons. In the first place, instead of the drudgery of a clerk in an ordinary office, of the driest and most repulsive nature, very often spending whole days poring over figures, or transcribing, or indexing, these public servants were employed in a manner most delightful—that was, they were generally men of decided tastes for particular branches of science and learning, and they spent their time in a treasure house in which objects of art and antiquarian interest and books on every subject were collected together. They had the further advantage of a social position somewhat higher than that of officials holding corresponding places in the Civil Service. It had always been assumed, therefore, that it was not necessary to give salaries quite on the scale of the other offices. Moreover, the proposal of the Trustees was of the most sweeping description, inasmuch as it would give an increase of salaries all through the establishment from the top to the bottom, the superintendent of the Natural History Collection being the only officer who was not recommended for a rise of salary. A few years ago, it should be borne in mind, the Blacas Collection was purchased for £48,000, and since he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer the Castellani Collections had been secured, one of them at a cost of no less than £27,000. Now, the British Museum must not altogether expect to light the candle at both ends, and when the Government were spending large sums in enriching the collections, it was not a proper time for pressing for a general and sweeping rise of salaries. Such were the considerations he begged to submit to the House in order to justify the Treasury in declining to accede to the proposal of the Trustees of the British Museum for a general rise of salaries in the direction marked out by them. He did not think a case had been made out for raising the salary of the secretary and principal librarian, Mr. Winter Jones, who could hardly consider himself ill-paid if he received the same salary as his excellent and deserving predecessor, Sir Antonio Panizzi. He must repeat that the Treasury were always ready to consider recommendations made to them as regarded individual cases or classes of officers. If the Trustees would give up the notion of a general and sweeping rise, and, above all, if they would make a communication to the Treasury in such a way that it would not be known to everybody in the Museum, so as to raise hopes and expectations which might not be gratified, the Treasury would carefully consider their proposals. In conclusion, he might remark that there was one other consideration which ought not to be left out of sight by the Trustees—that was, that the British Museum formed an exception to the general rule laid down by Parliament for the public service. The Trustees had declined to accede to the suggestion of the Government, to allow such places as the principle could be properly applied to, to be open to public competition. It was not unreasonable to ask those who wanted them to increase the salaries not only of the present officials, but of those coming after them, to show a willingness to adopt competition as being, in the opinion of Parliament, the best means of securing the services of the most efficient persons.


said, it followed that if some valuable collections had been added to the Museum, additional trouble was imposed upon the employés, and formed an argument for and not against raising their salaries. He was therefore glad to find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not discourage the Trustees from making to hint some modified proposal for the better remuneration of the officials employed in that institution.

Bill considered in Committee, and reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.