HC Deb 29 July 1873 vol 217 cc1232-45

Resolutions [July 28] reported.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Resolutions be now read a second time."


rose to call attention to the difference of position of the Custom House Clerks at the Out-ports as compared to that of the Custom House Clerks in London with respect to the date of the increase of their salaries, promised in the Treasury Minute of November 28, 1868, and promulgated in the Minute of the Board of Customs of December 8, 1868. The noble Lord said, the question was one which he had felt great hesitation in touching, as he thought it, as a general rule, undesirable that the House of Commons should interfere between the Government and the members of the Civil Service, or that Members should bring before the House cases like the present, in which they might be supposed to be personally interested, owing to their constituents being affected; but being convinced that a wrong had been committed, and having tried all means of securing an impartial consideration of the subject, he felt bound to put aside his personal feeling in the matter, and to ask the House to express an opinion on the subject. The case was first brought under his notice last autumn, and he had tried in every possible way to induce the Government to reconsider the decision they had come to on the matter. They wore first approached by means of a deputation, but that met with no substantial result. He then, in concert with others, put a Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer entreating the right hon. Gentleman to re-consider his decision on the subject; but he refused to do so on the ground that he would thus establish a precedent that whenever an improvement vas made in an office, the Government would he hound to pay persons in the office from the time they first conceived the idea of making that improvement; whereas they based their case on an announcement of a Treasury Minute, promulgated officially by the Board of Customs. This answer was so unsatisfactory and so much put aside the real point at issue that he felt still more bound to prosecute the question. He had suggested to the Government that they should appoint a Committee next year to go into the grievances of the Custom House clerks at the outports; but the Government had seen fit to refuse to give any pledge. Under these circumstances, believing that these clerks had a real and genuine grievance, he felt that he had no other resort, except to bring the subject under the consideration of the House. He had no wish to attack the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for they had cause to be thankful to him for watching over the public purse; but in many cases the vices of mankind were merely the corruptions of their virtues; he feared that the Chancellor of the Exchequer sometimes pushed his regard for the public purse too far. In tie year 1866 the Custom House officers, as a body, petitioned the Treasury for a revision of their salaries, and a Treasury Commission was thereupon appointed, which made its Report in 1868. Upon that Report was founded a Treasury Minute, dated November 28, 1868. This Treasury Minute was promulgated by the Board of Customs on December 8, 1868, and announced that the Lords of the Treasury desired the Board "to make known to the officers concerned" the decisions at which they had arrived. It stated that their Lordships had recommended certain improvements and advantages with regard to the London clerks, and the Minute summed up to the effect that— The Lords of the Treasury have also desired the Board to submit a scheme for extending to the clerks at the outports the principles adopted by their Lordships in dealing with the clerks In London. He could imagine nothing more distinct as an official promise than that Minute. That was how the matter stood at the end of the year 1868. In December, 1868, a change of Ministry took place. At that moment men of distinguished ability came on the Treasury Bench for the first time, many of them being profoundly impressed with the folly and ignorance of the party which preceded them; and also profoundly impressed with a conviction of their own superior wisdom and general qualifications. But what did they do? In the heyday of their enthusiasm they suspended the Treasury Minute altogether, supposing, he imagined, that their predecessors had unduly raised the salaries of the clerks, and a year passed during which consideration was accorded to the scheme of their predecessors. When their decision was announced it was found that they had increased, instead of diminished the proposed increase of salary of the London clerks, but unfortunately the year had not sufficed for going into the case of the outport clerks, who were thus again put off, after the Treasury Minute of November 28, 1868, had recognized the insufficiency of their pay, of which they complained in 1866, and after this Minute had been promulgated to them by the Board of Customs in December, 1868. After a time the Government agreed to ante-date the time of the commencement of the higher rate of pay to the London clerks from the date of the promulgation of the Treasury Minute of November 28, 1868. In 1872 a new classification was issued for the outport clerks, raising the scale of their pay; but when it came to the question of paying up the arrears in the way in which the arrears due to the London clerks had been paid up, the economical spirit of the Government stepped in, and they said—"No, you are not to have the arrears in the same way as your London brethren had them, because the full details of the increase of the London clerks were mentioned in the Minute, and yours were only directed to be made following the scheme adopted for them." He was not asking the House to consider whether the two Boards of the Treasury were right or wrong in saying that there should be an increase in the salaries, neither was he asking them to settle whether the Liberal Treasury had been right In paying up the arrears of the London clerks. He quite acknowledged that it was an open question whether the Treasury was bound to date the increase of pay from the date of the Minute of 1868, and not from the later date when they came to their final decision about it; but he contended that a distinct pledge was given that the same principles would be adopted with regard to those engaged at the outports as were adopted in dealing with the London clerks; and he would remind them that a distinct pledge was also given in that House that no one should suffer by the suspension of the Minute. He asserted that the question was simply one of even-handed justice between the London and the outport clerks, and he hoped the House would express an opinion whether, when once the arrears of pay, whether rightly or wrongly, had been given to the Loudon clerks, the Treasury was not bound. considering the promise of their own Minute of 1868, promulgated to every Custom House clerk, to pay the arrears in like manner to the outport clerks. It might be said—"It is wrong to bring a case of this kind before the House. You should put all your trust in the Executive of the day, and especially put your trust in the Treasury." But, without any want of respect to the Treasury, or those who held office in it, he would ask the House whether the conduct of the Treasury of late had been such as to give the country general confidence in its management of these matters? He had watched the evidence that was given before the Committee with reference to the Civil Service Writers, and that certainly seemed to point the other way. ["Order!"] Well, not being allowed to refer to the evidence of a Committee that had not reported, he might cite the case of the Zanzibar Contract Com- mittee. Surely the state of things thereby, and in many other ways lately, disclosed, afforded abundant justification for not placing implicit confidence in the Treasury; for it was extremely difficult to know who was the Treasury. Was it the Chancellor, was it a Lord of the Treasury, was it the Financial Secretary, was it the permanent head of a Department? Recent inquiries had shown how little concert there was in the Treasury. If it were merely the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we might have confidence in him; but it was extremely difficult to find out who it was in the Treasury that we were to look to. This was not a small matter, but a matter affecting the well-being of a large service throughout the country. We did not deal with our Civil servants in a perfectly just and liberal way. Civil servants in foreign countries were very far below the Civil servants in England in point of honesty and uprightness. The character of our Civil servants had been high; but, if in pursuance of a false economy, the dictates of equity and justice were put aside, a feeling would grow up which must have the effect of driving the best men from the service, and the consequence would be to inflict on the country a much more serious loss than could be sustained by paying them their just claims. He was quite aware that in bringing forward a case of this kind he ran a risk of being accused of talking for his constituents, but he entirely repudiated any such idea, and he felt quite sure that the House would acquit him of any such object. But if Members for the outports declined to bring forward grievances like this which affected the outports alone, who was to do it? He had tried in every way to get the matter considered without troubling the House with it; but now, to secure that the subject should be settled on its own merits, which was his only wish, he thought the best way of settling the question would be to refer it at the beginning of next Session to the judgment of an impartial Committee of that House, from which Representatives of the outports should be excluded. He left the matter now with perfect confidence to the independent judgment of the House of Commons.


said, this question was one of considerable interest, affecting as it did the rights of a large number of Civil servants. It was a question that seriously concerned the clerks of the outports and also the Government clerks in several other Civil Service Departments. The clerks in the Custom House had been promised and had received an increase of pay; but there was another class of clerks for whom he was concerned—namely, those doing duty in bonding warehouses, and such Places in the several large towns in the provinces—take Leeds for instance—who performed equally important duties, and who were equally entitled to consideration. He did not see any distinction between them. The duties of the one class were equally as important as those of the other, and if there were any distinction it ought to be pointed out. The clerks of the port of London went In for an increase of pay, which was promised, and subsequently given to them, and they also sought to obtain the back pay; but the clerks in the Inland Revenue Department, whose duties were quite as important, and who knew and discharged those duties equally well; had not yet had their claims recognized. They only desired to be treated as the clerks of London had been treated. They considered that they were entitled to receive an increment of salary; and. he submitted that whatever applied to the outports in an arrangement for an increase of salaries applied in an equally forcible manner to the case of clerks employed in and discharging the duties of their situations in the Inland Revenue Department. He knew of no distinction between them, the one discharging their duties in as efficient a manner as the other. The simple truth was, that efficient services must be paid for, and it was most unwise economy to starve servants— especially public servants —upon salaries with which they could only remain dissatisfied and discontented. He (Mr. Wheelhouse) knew sufficient of daily life to feel that such a course was nothing but a direct temptation to be careless of duty, and, he feared, often, even to direct fraud.


presumed that, although the noble Lord had made no Motion, unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a satisfactory answer on that subject, it would be competent for them to take a division on the Report of Supply.


said, he should offer no apology for taking part in this debate, and he regretted very much that no division could take place upon it. In the port he represented there were a large number of Custom House clerks, who had shown themselves extremely patient and well-conducted under the grievances they suffered. He could not help thinking that their claims had been shamefully neglected by the Government; and he hoped that now the matter had been brought before the House the Government would take immediate measures to do them justice, and thus prevent a feeling of sourness and discontent becoming rife among them.


said, it was a great hardship that while the Government conceded the claims of the gentlemen in London they did not take the same liberal course with regard to the outports. He hoped that Her Majesty's Government would early in the next Session take the case into their consideration; and, if they failed to do so, then he hoped the question would be referred to a Select Committee.


said, he could not help expressing his regret that the noble Lord did not conclude with a Motion, because anything in the form of a debate in that House which could not be tested by a division was extremely unsatisfactory. He was one of a deputation who waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this subject in order to represent the claims of the outport clerks to the arrears of the increase of their salary, and although he could not say that he was surprised—because he was not surprised at anything which the Chancellor of the Exchequer could say or do—he felt hurt at the peremptory manner in which he refused to interfere, without giving the slightest reason for so doing; or rather, the only reason was that it was a mistake to allow the arrears to the London clerks. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: No, no!] He certainly understood that to be the tenor of the reply of the right hon. Gentleman. He said it was a mistake to give it to the London clerks. He did not complain of economy, but he did of inequality, and was of opinion that if it were given to one it ought to be given to all. They might obtain equality by levelling up or levelling down; but, at all events, there should be equality. He thought this demand a perfectly justifiable one, and it was one which ought to be brought to an issue. If therefore the noble Lord should bring a Motion forward on the subject next Session, he would certainly vote for it, being of opinion that the matter was one requiring the urgent attention of the Government.


also thought this was a question on which the sense of the House ought to be taken. The House could not move an Amendment on the Report of Supply, but it was competent for the House to consider the Report of Supply a second time, unless Her Majesty's Government gave a satisfactory assurance that the clerks in the outports should have the same benefits extended to them that had been granted to the clerks of the port of London. He was one of a deputation that waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and when he expressed his astonishment that a refusal had been given to the clerks at the outports on a mere question of justice, what was the answer? Why, that if they (the Government) were to concede the application, they would be setting up a precedent. As a matter of justice, a pledge should be obtained from the Government to give an increase of salary to the outport clerks. If the Government declined to do so, they would be "penny wise and pound foolish," for men underpaid could not be expected to work as men would when properly remunerated.


concurred in what had fallen from other speakers, and reminded the Government that it only required a sum of about £5,000 to render justice to the whole of this class of Civil servants. He hoped that the Government, if they did not make any promise now, would at least take action during the Recess, and prevent the necessity for bringing the subject before the House again. These discussions about Civil servants were not only unpleasant, but also injurious to the public service.


concurred in the last observation that had fallen from the hon. Member who had just sat down. There was a time when the House of Commons was regarded as the guardian of the public purse, and when the province of the Representatives of the people was to come down and check profuse expenditure. Now, the state of things was altogether different, and the present Government had every week during the present Session to defend itself against the continual attacks made upon the public purse. It would be probably necessary to change the Standing Orders; because it was intolerable, when the Government attempted to do their duty by keeping down expenditure, that they should be assailed by all parties in the House, and urged to act in such a way as must add to the public burdens. Both his right hon. Friend now at the head of the Local Government Board and himself had paid a great deal of attention to this question of Custom House clerks, and a great change for the better had been made in their position. A Return with regard to the principal ports of the kingdom, exclusive of London and Liverpool, showed that from the 1st of January 1858, up to 1872, or in a period of 15 years, the salaries had been increased 44½ per cent. When hon. Members talked of the increased cost of living, he asked whether in any commercial or manufacturing establishment the salaries had been increased to anything like that extent? They found that there were, as in all Government establishments, too many clerks, and that, in many instances, the salary was too small. Large reductions were made in the number of clerks in London, and the salaries raised; and he expected that his right hon. Friend and himself would have received the thanks of the gentlemen who participated in the results of those labours. But no sooner were their salaries augmented than they raised the question of back pay. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse) cheered that statement, as if there was a ease made out; but the hon. Member did not appear to have read the Papers relating to the subject. In 1868, after some Memorials had been addressed to the Treasury from the clerks in the Customs, the Government then in office determined to inquire into the case of the clerks in the port of London. A certain revision was made, which it was intended should be subject to the approval of Parliament, and that revision, it was intended, should come into operation on the 1st of April, 1868. The Government, however, went out of office and the present Government, on succeeding, determined still further to reduce the number of the clerks, and they therefore suspended the arrangement which had been made. A new revision was made, and the Government thought that as the clerks of the port of London had been promised an increase of salary by the former Government, their new scale ought to commence, as originally contemplated, from the first of April, 1869; but in the case of the clerks in the outports, no such engagement had been entered into, and, consequently, the Government did not think that their salaries ought to be increased from the same date. His contention was that the increase of salary should date from the time that increase was fixed on; and, that being so, there was no reason why the clerks in the outports should receive their additional pay from any date earlier than that on which they had received it.


agreed that they should not have these discussions on the Civil Service night after night; but that was not so much the fault of the House of Commons, or of the Civil servants, as of those who superintended the Civil Service. The Civil servants of the Crown were compelled to appeal to independent Members of the House against the decisions of their superiors in office. The question of revising the salaries of Custom House officers with a view to their increase was taken in hand by the Government of which he was a Member in 1867, and a small Commission was appointed to inquire into the whole matter. The Commission recommended a scheme in which the salaries of the London and outport officers were to be similarly dealt with; but the Government which succeeded them regarded the course as extravagant and suspended the carrying out of the Minute for two years. If the original scheme had been acted upon, the clerks in the Port of London would have been paid on the revised list from the financial year of 1869, and the outport clerks from the commencement of the financial year of 1870. This struck him as being a perfectly equitable proposal, and be thought the case would be met if the increased pay of the outport clerks were to date from the time at which it would have commenced, if the instructions contained In the original Minute had been carried out. The Government had not acted in this matter as private employers had been compelled to do in consequence of the increased cost of living in late years; nor had they on this question of date of increase acted consistently with their own conduct in other similar matters, as was shown by the course they had taken only on the previous day in regard to the pay of the constabulary in the City of Dublin. He thought that in this case the Government were penny wise and pound foolish. Their policy was to refuse these applications as long as they possibly could, and the consequence was that at last such pressure was brought to bear upon them, that they had to give way to a far greater extent than if they had yielded with a good grace at first.


maintained that the question before the House was not whether the pay of the Custom House clerks had been largely increased of late years, but whether the same measure of justice was to be meted out to the London clerks and the clerks at the outports. When a deputation of Members of Parliament recently waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer in connection with this subject, the latter distinctly stated that the Government would not entertain the case of the outport clerks, because a mistake had been made in the case of the London clerks. The course of the Government was in this case one that any private man of business would be ashamed of.


denied that the Custom House clerks at the outports were not grateful for what had been done for them; but they could not consider there was anything irregular in asking that the increase in their salaries should date from the same time as that of the clerks connected with the port of London.


said, that having been informed by the highest authority at the Table of the House that he could not properly divide the House, as a matter of form, at this stage of business, he had informed the Government at the Morning Sitting that he should not divide this evening, but should only wish to get a discussion of the question, so that the Government might be induced to re-consider it. As a matter of personal honour he could not divide. He appealed, therefore, to the hon. Member for the Ayr Burghs (Mr. Craufurd) not to press for a division, as it would not be fair thus to steal a march upon the Government.


said, the answer of the Government was so entirely unsatisfactory that he should feel it his duty to divide the House on the question of agreeing to the Report of Supply, in order to mark his disapproval of the conduct of the Government.


protested strongly against taking a snap division. There was a strong feeling out-of-doors in favour of economy; but when the Government were seeking, as far as they could, to promote economy, a number of private Members came down to that House, night after night, to press upon them expenditure which the Government themselves thought to be unnecessary. This question was one entirely for the Government; and when it was considered that in connection with these salaries there was an increasing amount of pensions every year, it was a mistake to say that the Government were paying lower than the market price for labour.


said, the sum was not worth talking of, and it was ridiculous for Government to complain that hon. Members were forcing them to this expenditure, when during the whole of the morning they were complaining of their hands being tied up in respect to the expenditure of millions.


maintained that this was a simple question of justice, it being unfair and unjust to place the clerks of the outports on a different footing in regard to back pay to that of the London clerks.


said, the Custom House clerks in his constituency asked, and with reason, to be put in the same position with respect to back pay as the clerks in the port of London. He would venture to suggest that the Motion should be that the Report be considered to-morrow.


said, he hoped the Government would grant a Committee of Inquiry into the subject. In London there had been an increase of salary and the back pay; and it seemed to him that other officers with equivalent duties had a right to ask that their claims should, at all events, be considered, say at the early part of the next Session. He moved that the debate be now adjourned.

Moved, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Colonel Hogg.)


said, the adjournment of the debate could not lead to an inquiry in the present Session. It would have no other effect than protracting the Session. Whatever could be clone practically could be done next Session; nothing practical could be done now. The Government had fairly entered into an examination of this question. ["No, no!"]


said, he thought the House was entering into a factious opposition; but the House was shut out from dividing on the question that night by the Rules of the House.


rose to Order.


ruled that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Liddell) was not out of Order.


said, that hon. Gentlemen wanted to carry their opinions into effect; but they could not accomplish that object by a division. He believed that the proper course would be to move next Session for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the subject. These gentlemen, whose case had been so ably advocated, had in their minds an idea that there had been a broach of faith, and that ought, if possible, to be removed. It was mischievous to the interest of the public service to allow a feeling of injustice to continue in the minds of those who served the Government.


admitted the inconvenience that would result from a prolongation of this discussion at the present period of the Session, but pointed out that a single sentence from a Member of Her Majesty's Government, promising either to take the case of these clerks into their consideration, or to assent to the appointment of a Committee at the commencement of next Session to investigate their alleged grievances, would at once put an end to the debate. In his opinion, the Government were committing the same error they had fallen into yesterday, when, after they had resisted every reasonable representation which had been made to them to put the constabulary of Dublin on the same footing as regarded pay as the constabulary of England occupied, the Chief Secretary for Ireland came down to the House the moment after a division on the subject had been taken, and stated that the Government were prepared to consider the question. He hoped that the Government would put a stop to the discussion by promising to consider the subject.


observed, that a Committee was granted to examine into the grievances of the Civil Service Writers. All that was asked of the Government was a promise that this matter should be referred to a Departmental Committee, or to a Committee of that House next Session, and he trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would intimate the adoption of one course or the other.


expressed his great disappointment that no Member of the Government had risen to state that they were prepared to consider the matter. [Loud cheers.] It was unfortunate that the Government refused to be guided by the expression of opinion which had been littered from all parts of the House. [Cheers.] Sometimes sleeping a night over a question induced a change of opinion, and if the Government persisted in refusing to adopt the view of the House, perhaps it would be better that the debate should be adjourned. He thought that that would be a mild and indulgent mode of intimating to the Government the feeling of the House on the subject. He confessed, however, that he had still hope that the Government would relent.


said, he should support the Motion for adjournment, for he thought the prolongation of the Session was a small matter when there was a question of injustice to be dealt with.

Question put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.