HC Deb 02 July 1875 vol 225 cc904-11

, in rising to call attention to the mode in which the Surveyor of Works is paid, partly by salary and partly by commission, said, it was a most objectionable system, as it opened the door to the purchase, for Government purposes, of more land than was actually necessary, in order that surplus space might afterwards be sold at an enhanced price, owing to its being improved by the presence of Government buildings on the adjoining area, so that the Surveyor might receive a double set of fees—one on the purchase and the other on the sale of the land. He thought, too, it was highly objectionable that such an officer should be allowed to engage in private practice and be at the head of a large firm. He had no doubt that the gentleman who at present held the appointment rendered the best services he could to the Government, and that when he purchased more ground than was absolutely required it was with the object, not of getting larger fees, but with the design of selling the surplus at such a profit as would materially reduce the cost to the State which the Government required. He would mention a few instances. A site was some time since required at Liverpool on which to erect some Courts. All that was required was 2,000 yards, at £10 per yard, but Government purchased 3,600 yards, and so paid £36,000 instead of £20,000. On that the Surveyor had his commission. They afterwards sold the 1,600 yards surplus, and on that sale he had also his commission. Another illustration of the undesirability of the practice would be found in what occurred a few years ago. The Metropolitan District Railway Company, by whom the services of the Surveyor of Works were engaged, purchased from the Office of Works a piece of land fronting Bridge Street, and immediately opposite the Houses of Parliament, upon which to erect their station. A portion of the land was subsequently re-sold by them, and the St. Stephen's Club, an ugly and objectionable building, which had been generally condemned, was erected upon it, thus obstructing the view of the Clock Tower from the Thames Embankment, upon which large amounts of public money had been expended. In this case the public had suffered very severely by losing the advice and assistance of the Surveyor of Works in the arrangements which were originally made. In 1870–1 a new site for the Mint on the Thames Embankment was offered to the Government, but was not adopted by Parliament. The land belonged partly to the Metropolitan Board of Works and partly to the District Railway, by whom the Surveyor of Works was employed. He (Mr. Dillwyn) considered it most objectionable that a system should exist under which this officer became so largely interested in the advice which he had to give to the Office of Works. These eases all illustrated the pernicious nature of the present system, and he hoped his noble Friend would take steps to come to some better arrangement. He understood that the Surveyor when first appointed was paid by salary only, and received £1,000 a-year, but that subsequently, when the New Law Courts were decided upon, the salary was reduced to £750, and payment by commission was introduced.


said, that as the person responsible for the existing relations between the Board of Works and the Surveyor, he thought he had some right to complain of the conduct of the hon. Member for Swansea in having failed to give Notice of the matter which he had brought before the House. To find fault on general principles with the acts of a Government—which was all the Notice on the Paper indicated he would do—was one thing, and to allege specific instances in which he imagined mischief had been done, and which could not be answered offhand, was another. However, he could not suppose for a moment that his hon. Friend would have made charges of that kind without previously communicating them to the First Commissioner of Works, so as to allow him an opportunity of answering them. Certainly, if that had not been done, he could imagine no course more unfair than that which the hon. Member for Swansea had adopted. The facts of the case were these—in 1869 he (Mr. Lowe), as the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, appointed a Treasury Committee, including in it Mr. Austin, the Secretary of the Board of Works, Sir William Stephenson, and the late Mr. Hamilton, the Secretary to the Treasury, and their Report was to this effect. Mr. Hunt, they said, was appointed Surveyor of Works in 1856 by Sir Benjamin Hall, and he was, in every respect, to be a consulting Surveyor, and not, in any sense, an executive officer. It was no part of his duty, as a Surveyor, to examine plans; but all the architects' certificates passed through his hands, and he advised the Board on the contracts made. He was to attend one day in the week, and in consideration of these services to receive a salary of £1,000 a-year. Besides, however, attending one day in the week, Mr. Hunt gratuitously devoted a large portion of his time to the public service in the various missions on which he was sent to Liverpool and other places in connection with important public business; so that, instead of giving a sixth of his time—to use Mr. Hunt's own words—he devoted one-third of it, his desire always being to discharge his duties in the most efficient manner possible. That was from the Report of the Committee. The Committee further said that, comparing Mr. Hunt's salary with his services, they thought he should not be debarred from the benefit of transacting business on commission; his knowledge and capacity were reasons for his being retained in the public interests; and they strongly recommended that, on public grounds and in justice to Mr. Hunt, the Treasury should sanction the arrangement. Mr. Hunt, the House would bear in mind, was at the head of his profession, and, therefore, when the public abstained from using his services, they deprived themselves of the best professional assistance which it was in their power to obtain. It was upon the strength of that Report, which expressed the sense entertained by the Committee of Mr. Hunt's services, that he (Mr. Lowe) had made the change involved in reducing Mr. Hunt's salary as Surveyor to the Board of Works from £1,000 to £750, and allowing him to act as an executive officer in the matter of surveying. The public had no reason, on the score of expense, to regret the proceeding. The result was that Mr. Hunt had received for six years £750 a-year, or in all £4,500, and he had received for his services as a practical surveyor and executive officer, £1,889, so that the public had gained £1,500; for if Mr. Hunt had not received the £1,889, it would have been paid to some one else. As to what had been said about the rejection of the proposed site for the Mint, that was done by a snap division taken without Notice; it was one of those misfortunes which occasionally occurred in the transaction of business, and he had no hesitation in saying it was a misfortune which involved a costly remedy. Mr. Hunt was the best official he had ever come in contact with; he gave perfect satisfaction in every transaction; and he could not imagine from what source the hon. Member had derived the statements on which he based accusations so inconsistent with the impressions of Mr. Hunt received by all who had had anything to do with him at the Treasury, where he was held in the highest estimation. [Mr. DILLWYN said, he disclaimed making accusations, he merely stated facts.] He should like to know where the facts came from. However, he came prepared to argue an abstract question, and not particular instances. But passing from that, he thought it was rather hard that a gentleman like Mr. Hunt should, after having gone through long and honourable service, be accused of things which were without a shadow of foundation, and were all the more galling on that account. He believed Mr. Hunt was above being influenced by the pecuniary interest he might have in any transaction, because he was a man of large property acquired by his own industry. He had no more pecuniary interest in the advice he gave than any solicitor had in recommending legal proceedings; and how often did solicitors dissuade a client from resorting to litigation? He believed the Treasury acted wisely, and he was sure the public had been gainers.


thought the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the London University had gone out of his way to attack the hon. Member for Swansea. There was no other Member in that House who devoted his time and abilities to Public Business so entirely and so well as that hon. Member (Mr. Dillwyn). The country and the House ought to be proud to find such close attention given to the affairs of the country, and there was no question that could be raised of greater importance than that which the hon. Member for Swansea had raised—that relating to the mode of remunerating the Surveyor of "Works, for it was most objectionable to pay a public servant by commission as well as salary. It was far better to increase the salary to any amount that the services might be worth, than to allow an officer to have even in appearance interests which were opposed to those of the State. He (Sir George Balfour) must call special attention to the grave fact that, while the accounts of the Office of Works set forth £50 as received by the clerk for collecting the tolls of a bridge, there was no entry of the sums paid to Mr. Hunt in the form of commission; and if he received commission from public funds, the fact ought certainly to appear in the accounts. He made no imputation against Mr. Hunt; but the mode of paying him for his public services was likely to be detrimental to the public service, and before next year he trusted that this objectionable mode of remunerating this officer would be remedied.


said, it was not to be expected that the whole services of a first-class professional man of this kind could be secured for £750 a-year, or double that sum.


thought that a public officer ought to receive a sufficient salary for his services, and not be driven to the necessity of eking it out by engaging in private work.


was of opinion that it was all-important that a public officer should devote the whole of his time and services to the work for which he was paid. He thought that public officials were much underpaid. He would give them full value for their services—what could be obtained for them in the open market—and no superannuation. From his own knowledge he found that wherever this mixed system of remuneration had been adopted in local boards, the public business was neglected for the private business of the official.


said, he did not complain of the hon. Member for Swansea for bringing the subject before the House. On the contrary, he was glad that the opportunity had been afforded of vindicating a valuable public servant from charges which he could not have conveniently answered when they were first made in the form of a series of Questions—a mode of proceeding that was very unfair towards Mr. Hunt. After the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lowe), anything that he could say about transactions of which he had no official knowledge could have very little weight with the House. He would not, therefore, enter into the general question; because, a Committee composed of three excellent public servants eminently qualified to deal with the matter having been appointed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and having come to an unanimous Report upon it, he could not, after a short official experience, be expected to reverse the decision at which they had arrived. The hon. Member for Swansea said Mr. Hunt formerly received a salary of £1,000, without fees, and now he received a salary of £750 and was allowed to take fees from the Office of Works. Now during the last six years the average amount of the fees paid to Mr. Hunt was £870, and in some years he received no fees at all. The Committee came to the unanimous conclusion to give him £750 a-year, with fees. The country had been a gainer in money by that arrangement, while Mr. Hunt and the firm to which he belonged had been losers, because his firm—one of the largest in London—undertook no business whatever which could in any way be deemed to act antagonistically to the interest of the Office of Works; and, of course, if Mr. Hunt were to revert, as he would personally be glad to do, to the old system, under which he had a salary of £1,000 and no fees, that understanding would come to an end and his firm would be great gainers. The hon. Member for Swansea had not communicated to him (Lord Henry Lennox) any of the items of the charges which he intended to bring before the House on that occasion; and, as the hon. Gentleman had referred to transactions which occurred long before he was connected with the Office of Works, it was impossible for him to follow him into their details. With the case of the Liverpool County Court, however, he could deal, because it occurred very shortly after he succeeded to that Department. The purchase of the property in that case was made entirely on his authority as First Commissioner of Works, and upon due consideration, looking not only to the immediate present expenditure, but to the prospective advantage to the public that would accrue in view of possible changes of jurisdiction some years hence. In that particular instance Mr. Hunt's charges were very considerably less than those which, if they had been made, he should have felt it his duty as Chief Commissioner to have sanctioned. The Committee of 1869 gave Mr. Hunt credit for his liberality on that occasion. Although hon. Gentlemen had disavowed any other than public grounds for their criticism, yet a vein of inuendo ran all through their remarks which made it difficult for him to answer them in detail. But after their general disclaimer of any intention to cast a slur on the character of a public servant he would, in conclusion, only ask the House to justify him in not attempting in the first year of his office to reverse the system adopted by so distinguished an authority as the right hon. Member for the University of London, which had, as far as his official experience went, worked extremely well, and which he should find it exceedingly difficult to replace by another system that would answer as satisfactorily for the interests of the public service as the present arrangement with Mr. Hunt had done.


wished to add his testimony, from official experience, of the great value of the services of the Surveyor. The Committee who recommended that Mr. Hunt should act both as consulting Surveyor and also as executive Surveyor must have considered that they were justified by the peculiar circumstances of the case. Still, he thought such an arrangement would not, as a general rule, be a wise one. The Board of Works, while he presided over it, had two Surveyors. One was the consulting Surveyor, who gave professional advice to the First Commissioner during the consideration of a question, and a successful private practice was a guarantee of the competency of the Surveyor to give good opinions. A fixed salary precluded the possibility of any pecuniary bias in the decision to be arrived at. The other Surveyor was executive, and was not consulted as to whether a work should be executed or not. He was paid by a commission on the cost of the work. This was the best and safest arrangement under ordinary circumstances. As to requiring persons to give the whole of their time to Government business, such a rule would exclude the most efficient men, and would not conduce to the real interests of the public.