HC Deb 05 April 1877 vol 233 cc651-64

Before the hon. Member (Mr. W. H. Smith) rises to make his Statement with regard to the Civil Service Estimates, it is right that I should point out to the House that the course proposed to be taken is a departure from the ordinary practice by which the House is precluded from discussing Estimates about to be referred to the Committee of Supply. The House, however, having on a recent occasion, upon a discussion raised by the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid), manifested a desire that there should be a Ministerial Statement with respect to the Civil Service Estimates, I am bound to give effect to the wish of the House by allowing that Statement to be made. At the same time, although the proceeding will be a departure from ordinary practice, it will no doubt be for the convenience of the House and the progress of Public Business that such a Statement should be made.


said, that, in moving that the Speaker do leave the Chair, he had to ask permission of the House to make a short Statement with reference to the Civil Service Estimates, and he must ask for indulgence while making the Statement, which, he feared, would not be an interesting, although it might be a novel one. The only precedent for such a Statement was that made by Mr. Wilson, who was his Predecessor in 1857 in the office which he had the honour to fill, when there had been a very considerable apparent increase in the Estimates from a period with which Mr. Wilson compared them. On that account it was thought expedient to offer more detailed explanations than it was possible to give in Committee on the several classes of Votes. The Estimates now to be considered showed an increase for 1877–8, as compared with 1876–7, of £399,146, including the Revenue Departments. The Estimates for 1876–7 amounted to £21,356,369, and the Estimates now submitted to £21,755,515; but from the increase must be deducted the growth of what were called extra receipts, amounting to £105,996, which left the net sum of £293,150, and that was almost the precise equivalent of the net increase of grants in aid of local taxation and the automatic growth of the Education Votes in Great Britain. The Estimates were submitted in their usual form, with very slight variations; but additional information in reference to the non-Effective Services was attached to each Vote in italics. Among the causes which had largely contributed to the increase of the Estimates was the legislation of 1876, including the Merchant Shipping Act. In 1877–8 would have to be faced a considerable increase consequent upon the transfer from the Mercantile Marine Fund of the whole charge for the survey of ships conducted by the Board of Trade. Provision had also to be made for the new office and Court for the Wreck Commissioner. But, notwithstanding the increase of duties and of charges which legislation was constantly imposing upon the Government, he might congratulate the House that the saving effected in other ways more than counterbalanced the increase, except what was due to the growth of the Votes for Education and the relief of local taxation. The Votes in Class I. included those for parks, palaces, pleasure gardens, public buildings, Courts of Justice, post offices, Inland Revenue buildings, and those devoted to Science and Art, and by this class provision was made for the rates which were paid in respect of Government property, amounting to £203,991. It also provided for the surveys of the United Kingdom, which up to 1870-1 were charged to the Army Votes. In Class I. the only notable increase was that of £40,000 for the building of the New Courts of Justice. The view which Her Majesty's Government took of their duty with regard to public buildings was that when a great work was undertaken, it was the soundest possible economy to push it on to completion as rapidly as possible. There was a decrease in the provision for rates of £30,000. It was not due to any diminution in the proportion which would be contributed by the Government in respect of Government property; but experience had shown what the claims would amount to, and the sum surrendered as not required last year was £48,451. There was a decrease of £10,000 in the Vote for the Natural History Museum, which was due to the fact that the progress made with the building had not been so rapid as could have been wished. The Estimates included about £165,000 for Post Office and Telegraph buildings, of which one-half were new buildings, being about an average requirement. They also comprised nearly £31,000 for Customs and Inland Revenue buildings, as well as £133,500 for surveys of the United Kingdom. The amount asked for in this class was £1,402,904, and in 1876–7 it was £1,452,098, showing a decrease of £49,194. In Class II., which provided for the Salaries and Expenses of Public Departments, there was an increase of £41,170. The Estimate in 1876–7 was £2,568,703, and in 1877–8 it was £2,609,873. It was in this class that provision had to be made in part for the consequences of the legislation of last year. The increase in the Vote' for the Board of Trade was £35,451, which was due to the fact that provision had to be made for the staff of surveyors to survey ships that were detained as unseaworthy. The estimated outlay was £60,168; but that sum would be reduced by the amount of the grant formerly made in aid of the Mercantile Marine Fund, which was £10,000, and by a reduction of £13,500 in the law charges of the Board of Trade, as well as certain other savings. There would, therefore, be a net increase in the Board of Trade Vote of £35,451; but against that increase would have to be placed extra receipts, payments made by shipowners and other persons by way of fees for the measurement of ships, which it was estimated would amount to £35,633, so that the actual charge to the taxpayer would be very small indeed. In another class, but as a consequence of the same legislation, would come a considerable charge for the Office and establishment of the Wreck Commission. There was an increase of £9,906 for the Foreign Office, which was due to the fact that the increase of work during the past two or three years had necessitated the appointment of a new Assistant Under Secretary at £1,500 a-year, to a necessary increase of the provision for foreign telegrams of £6,750, for travelling expenses of £600, and for other salaries of £1,056. The most notable increase in the class was £19,699 for the Local Government Board. Of this, £10,500 was due to the provision rendered necessary by the legislation in regard to vaccination. Public vaccinators were paid by local authorities, and they were entitled under the Act to be paid for successful vaccinations, so that they were entitled to be paid twice for the same work. The Act had been in operation some years, but the pressure of the demand had been comparatively recent. The inspection had been more constant and vigorous, and the demands upon the public vaccinators had been put forth to greater effect, and the consequence was that in these days of small-pox epidemics we had to pay an additional £10,500 for successful vaccination. There was an increase of £3,000 for half the salaries of Poor Law Medical Officers and of £7,000 for the increased provision required for pauper lunatics. There was also ad increase of £800 for vaccination in Ireland, under the Irish Local Government Board; an increase of £3,100 for pauper lunatics in that country; and an increase of £1,550 in the salaries of sanitary and medical officers. Against these increases he might place the reductions effected by the Stationery Office. The hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid) expressed some doubts as to the reality of these reductions; but, thanks to the great assistance he had derived from his hon. Friend the Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Winn), who had devoted his special attention to this matter, the Committee would believe him when he said that very considerable reductions had been made in the Stationery Office. Fresh contracts had been made for printing, binding, and miscellaneous services which had altogether effected for the same work an apparent saving of £41,700 and a net saving of £31,900. The actual cost of the paper, printing, and envelopes had been very largely reduced, and there was reason to hope that the figures presented in the Estimates of 1877–8 represented a real saving in the cost of stationery. He would express this hope with the greater confidence, as it would not be necessary as in former years to ask for any Supplementary Estimate. It was only right to call attention to one point in justice to a very able public servant whose duty it was to superintend the printing of the patent specifications, who had also secured for the Exchequer cash receipts for the registration of designs and trade marks amounting to £9,000, collected by the Patent Office, which went on the other side and swelled the extra receipts to which he had alluded. The Public Works Loan Board also brought in £8,000 which formerly went into the pockets of the solicitors of that Corporation. There had been an increase of £90,461 in Class III. (Law and Justice). It required last year £4,948,813, while the total Estimate during the coming year was £5,039,274. Of that increase £12,292 might be set down as the provision necessary for the Wreck Commission appointed under the Merchant Shipping Act to inquire into shipping casualties. There was also an increase of £52,000 in the moiety paid by the Treasury in aid of local taxation for the pay and clothing of the county and borough police. There was also an increase in the payments on account of industrial schools in Great Britain and Ireland of £6,000, and an increase in the Vote for Law Charges (Ireland) of £5,000. The latter was not a real increase. For some years past there had been a deficiency in the amount voted for law charges, which had been met by an excess Estimate. It was thought better to alter this system, and provision for the average cost of these charges had been made in the Estimates for the present year. While there was an apparent increase of £90,461 in Class III., there was an increase of cash receipts of £40,890; so that if that sum was deducted from the increase of £90,461 it would be seen that the increase was really confined to the increased charge in aid of local taxation for the county and borough police, and that all the rest was met out of the increased receipts under this head. Class IV. showed the largest increase, and it included Votes which were increasing year by year, apparently to the satisfaction both of the country and of Parliament. This increase was due to the automatic increments in the Votes for public education in England, Wales, and Scotland. He confessed he did not altogether regard it with unmixed satisfaction, because it did not appear certain when this large increase would close. He could only express a hope that they had nearly reached the limit of the expenditure which it would be necessary to provide out of Imperial funds for education. The total Estimate for Class IV. (Education, Science, and Art), was for 1876–7 £3,292,969, while for 1877–8 the Estimate was £3,546,935, showing an increase of £253,966. Of this sum £203,774 was due to English education, £50,555 to Scotch education, and £12,500 was put down to the Paris Exhibition, the total cost of which was estimated at £50,000. This would leave a sum of £37,500 to be provided for in future years. The grant for Learned Societies showed a reduction of £3,000, because the Vote of last year for Commander Cameron's Expedition in Africa did not, of course, recur. Class V. included the Colonial, Consular, and other Foreign Services. In 1876–7 this Vote was £578,669; in the present year the Estimate was £550,280, showing a net decrease of £28,389. This was due to the shifting and uncertain character of the demands made upon this class. The chief causes of the decrease were a reduction of £17,693 on special missions in the Diplomatic Vote, due chiefly to the cessation of the Seistan Boundary Commission, and a reduction of £5,000 in the grant in aid to the Fiji Islands. The most important increase in this class occurred in the Vote for the suppression of the Slave Trade, owing to the provision of £3,780 for one moiety of the Muscat subsidy of 40,000 crowns per annum, the remaining moiety being paid from the Indian Exchequer. There was also an additional £2,000 for slave and tonnage bounties, owing to the successful activity of the guardship London on the East Coast of Africa. The Vote for Consular Services was increased by £2,148 owing to the restoration of grants to chaplains at Leghorn and Montevideo, and the appointment of Vice Consuls at Sebastopol, Havannah, Mostar (Herzegovina), and Philippopolis. No very considerable changes had been made in Classes VI. and VII. The Revenue Departments showed an increase, especially in the Inland Revenue. The Estimate for 1877–8 was £1,788,850, against £1,732,453 last year. This increase of £56,397 was due partly to the increased scale of salaries and allowances for horse keep and subsistence recently granted to the Excise Surveying Branch. The Government had considered the claims of these officers with great care, and had come to the conclusion that their salaries were insufficient. The increase also consisted of charges for stationery (£16,940), incurred on behalf of the Post Office, which would be wholly recovered from that Department. This was a mere matter of account, and the real increase was about £40,000. The Post Office exhibited an increase of £74,055. The Estimate included £128,000 for sites for post offices and telegraph offices. The increase arose in part from increase of business and partly from automatic increase in salaries and wages, which added £38,196 to the charge for provincial establishments, £15,521 for conveyance of mails, and £10,410 to that for Savings Banks. The last charge would, however, be recovered from Savings Bank Funds. As long as the business and revenue of the Post Office increased it would be impossible to prevent the growth of the expenditure of the Department. It was now doing a vast business and a very considerable payment for labour was inevitable. The charge for conveyance, of course, increased with every additional pound weight which the Post Office carried, so that if hon. Members saw a considerable increase in the Post Office revenue they would expect to see a corresponding outlay. There was a decrease in the Post Office Packet Service, which was last year £850,730, and was for 1877–8 £767,877, being a decrease of £82,853 for the coming year. It was now the policy of the Department to pay for the conveyance of the mails by handing over a proportion of the postage to the owners of the steamers which carried the letters, instead of entering into costly and very onerous contracts. The increase under the head of Postal Telegraphs was the last to which he would have to refer. The Estimate for 1876–7 was £1,161,148, and that for 1877–8 was £1,232,814, showing an increase of £71,666. He was happy to say that that was not an increase which he believed would be continued. There was every reason to believe that the increased charge for the establishment of the telegraphs had been stopped, and if there were an increase it would be an increase due to the development of the traffic and business of the telegraphs, and not by any means to the very large automatic growth which had existed since the telegraphs had been transferred to the State. He might state that the changes which the Postmaster General had thought it right to introduce, and which would be introduced, would prevent the very large expenditure which had been in excess of the absolute requirements of the service and which grew up at a period of great excitement when officers, zealous in the public service, thought it necessary to recommend provision for the proper conduct of the business, which experience had proved to be unnecessary. For this year provision had been made for a sum sufficient to pay the whole of the arrears due to the railway companies, amounting to £73,622, and they had every reason to hope and believe that that figure would disappear from the next account, and that the cost of the working of the telegraphs would be next year considerably lower than it was this year. He had now gone through the main features of the Estimates which had been submitted to the House for this year. He could not, however, refrain from saying a word or two on what appeared to be a very large increase in expenditure on Civil Services during the past few years. His right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) said in 1873 that the system adopted of voting gross expenditure had the effect of swelling both sides of the account, 'and he explained to how great an extent this was the case in regard to legal establishments, of which the fees were taken in stamps, and in regard to the Revenue Departments, the Post Office, the Packet Service, and the Army and Navy. The right process, he added, was a very simple one— We should take in each year the gross expenditure as furnished by the official accounts, and set off against it the receipts which are not in the nature of taxes.…. The net result will be the true criterion of the energy and success of Governments in dealing with the public expenditure."—[3 Hansard, ccxv. 934.] He had referred in the course of his remarks to the extra receipts which went into the Exchequer on the one side, while the whole gross expenditure was voted on the other; and he was prepared to contend that those extra receipts were in the nature of payments for work done, and were not charges upon the taxpayer apart from the individual who paid for that work. Following the lead of his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, he would detail to the House the progress of the Civil Service Estimates as they had appeared, including Revenue Estimates, for some years. He would go back to the year 1853. In that year, Estimates which were then called miscellaneous were submitted to the House amounting to, in round figures, £4,802,000; this year those Estimates amounted to £13,726,000. It would be interesting that he should compare the several classes as they appeared then and as they appeared now. Class I., in 1853–4, amounted to £928,000; this year to £1,402,000. Class II., Salaries of Public Departments, amounted, in 1853–4, to £1,100,000; this year the Estimate was £2,600,000. Law and Justice, in 1853–4, amounted to £1,400,000; this year the Estimate was £5,000,000. Education, Science, and Art amounted, in 1853–4, to £578,000; this year the Estimate was £3,546,000. Foreign and Colonial Service in the former year amounted to £379,000; the Estimate for this year was £550,000. Superannuations stood as £280,000 to £548,000; miscellaneous as £102,000 to £28,000, showing a total of £4,800,000 for the year 1853–4, as against £13,726,000, the amount of the Estimate for the year 1877–8, showing an apparent increase of £8,900,000 less the increase in miscellaneous receipts of £1,639,000, leaving a net apparent increase of £7,284,000. This was due almost entirely to the total change which had been instituted in the course and conduct of public business. Mr. Wilson showed that in 1856, when the Estimates had grown to £6,724,000, one of the causes of the apparent increase was the transfer from the Consolidated Fund to Votes of Parliament in 1854 of 34 items of expenditure, amounting to £977,600; and a further cause was the transfer to the Votes of Parliament of the cost of collecting the revenue. In 1853–4, there was a very large amount paid by fees to a number of public officers, who were now paid by salary. He wished now to call the attention of the House to a Return of the public expenditure (Exchequer issues) and charges upon taxes, which was moved for annually by his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract. It would be seen that the Civil expenditure of all kinds, including the charges on the Consolidated Fund, had grown very considerably. In 1857–8, the gross Civil expenditure of all kinds, exclusive of Debt and Votes of Credit, amounted to £14,340,000. It went up to £15,368,000 in 1861–2. It was £15,346,000 in 1866–7; £18,787,000 in 1871–2; £21,330,000 in 1874–5; it was £22,259,000 in 1875–6; and £22,846,000 in 1876–7, and it promised to be £23,355,000 in 1877–8. He might say that while the figures he had quoted were the figures actually ascertained, generally speaking, up to the year 1875–6, these which he now gave for 1876–7 and 1877–8 were stated only from the Estimates. Experience had shown that the Estimates presented to the House in the first instance were the measure as nearly as might be of the expenditure of the year, notwithstanding that Supplementary Estimates were subsequently voted. He would now proceed to analyse the Civil Service expenditure of all kinds, including the Consolidated Fund charges. He found that in 1857–8, when the Civil Service expenditure of all kinds was £14,340,000, the actual charge upon the taxpayer for the government of the country, so to speak, apart from public education, grants in aid to local taxation, and from Customs and Inland Revenue charges for collection, was £5,921,000; in 1861–2 the actual charge upon the taxpayer was £5,740,000; in 1866–7 it was £5,595,000; in 1871–2 it was £6,157,000; in 1873–4, £5,730,000; in 1874–5, £5,613,000; in 1875–6, £5,903,000; in 1876–7, £5,557,000; and for 1877–8 the estimated charge was £5,608,000. It would, therefore, appear that the cost of Government, properly so-called, apart from those subventions, had not increased upon the taxpayers as it appeared to have done. To a large extent it had been a question of account, a question of statement, but although the current cost of the government of the country had largely increased the money necessary to meet the enhanced expenditure had not passed wholly out of the pockets of the taxpayers. Amongst the charges which had increased were these for public education. In 1835 the Government paid £32,250, but in 1875–6 the amount had increased to £2,455,918. In 1835 they paid £169,378 in aid of local taxation—that was to say, the Imperial Treasury contributed that sum in aid of local rates and taxes, and they paid £3,972,008 in 1875–6, which was the last account accurately made out. But the provision for public education this year was £3,015,000; in aid of local taxation £4,195,000; and the charge for the collection of the Customs and Inland Revenue was £2,664,000. Upon that point he had ascertained a very curious fact. It must be admitted that there had been a very considerable increase in the charge for the Customs and Inland Revenue, and, as regarded both those services, he was obliged to admit that the increased rate of pay to the officers employed was really necessary, and could not be longer postponed; but the present percentage of the cost of collecting the revenue, after that increase, was precisely the same as it was in 1853. They were now paying 4.8 per cent for the collection of the Customs as against 4.8 per cent in 1853; and for the Inland Revenue they were paying 3.8, which was precisely the same as they paid in 1853–4. The percentage of the cost of the Post Office had fallen, notwithstanding the great reduction which had taken place in the rates of postage and the very large amount of additional work which was done by the Post Office for the public service. It was 56 per cent on the gross receipts in 1853–4, and in 1877–8 it was 53.7 per cent. The Telegraphs showed, he was sorry to say, a very different account, for the estimate of the cost of the service for 1877–8 was more than 100 per cent of the gross receipts, owing to the necessity of providing for certain arrears already mentioned. He was confident, however, that, through the progress of the revenue, and the economical administration of his right hon. Friend the Postmaster General, the estimates of future years would show a more favourable result. He thought he had shown to the House that though there was the greatest possible ground for vigilance and economy, and whilst he desired always to raise his protest against increased expenditure, under the present circumstances the estimates of Civil Service expenditure were not so unsatisfactory as they would appear from their simple statement. If the whole of the Imperial service of the country, exclusive of the Army and Navy, exclusive of the cost of public education, of the contributions to local taxation, of the cost of the collection of the Customs and Inland Revenue amounted to a less sum now by £313,000 than it did in 1857–8, he did not think there was any very serious ground for complaint. Very large additional duties had been thrown upon the Government by the course which the legislation had taken within the last few years. Demands were being continually made upon the Government for further inspection, control, and direction in some shape or another; in fact, pressure was constantly brought to bear by the country and by Parliament upon the Executive for the time being to undertake something very like a paternal government. For his own part, he could not help protesting strongly against this growing tendency. He thought it most dangerous for the character and reputation of the country, and also for the spirit of the Government for the time being, no matter which Party might be in power, that it should interfere with the performance by the community of the duties appertaining to social and civil life locally considered. It would be unfortunate if men should ever come to feel that they could get rid of their personal responsibilities to their neighbours by stating that they relied upon a Governmental system of inspection, direction, or supervision, and that they had kept strictly within the bounds of an Act of Parliament. There was one other remark which he might venture to make, and that was with regard to the checking of the public expenditure. It was a remarkable thing that the attacks were generally made against the gross Estimates or against a particular class; but when the discussion ceased it was not uncommon for hon. Gentlemen to get up and remark that, however desirable it might be to effect economy, England was not a poor country, and there were great works which ought to be carried out. Some time ago the Government of the day were pressed to undertake the erection of a large building, the cost of which would have been enormous if the recommendation had been carried out; but the fact was that the Government of the day required to be assisted by hon. Members as much in their abstinence from pressing expenditure as in their condemnation of expenditure which they thought the Government ought not to undertake. Since he had had the honour of holding office his greatest difficulty had been not to restrict the expenditure so far as the public Departments were concerned, but in the expenditure which was pressed on the Government by the country; and he appealed to hon. Members to do all in their power to keep the expenditure within such limits as were necessary for the transaction of public business.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)


congratulated the hon. Gentleman upon the extremely clear statement which he had made—a statement which had been rendered the more valuable by the interesting comparisons of income and expenditure which it contained. The great fault to be found with the usual discussion on the Civil Service Estimates was that the subject was not looked at in a large point of view, and that, in the discussion of minor details, they lost sight of the general policy which ought to guide the Treasury. The hon. Gentleman had pointed out that the growth of the cost of collection had been considerable; but that it had been compensated for to a great extent by the additional receipts which had accrued to the Government. Last Session he (Mr. Goldsmid) had obtained a Committee to inquire into the management of the Telegraph Service, and how necessary it was was shown by the fact, as stated by the hon. Gentleman, that the cost of maintaining that Service amounted to 99 per cent of the revenue derived from it. He thought this a very unsatisfactory state of things, and one which proved that there was still great need of care and attention on the part of those who had charge of that Department. One point had been explained which was of very great interest — the largely- increased expenditure which had occurred in the matter of public education, which was a subject of sincere congratulation, because it showed that the country was determined to keep its position among the nations of the world, and no longer to submit to the reproach that its people were badly educated. Another increase was in respect of assistance to local taxation, an item of increase popular with the country, as no Imperial tax ever came home to the taxpayer as local rates did; and it must be remembered that the local budget came to some £30,000,000 a-year. It was well that the House should have possession of those remarkable figures which had been stated by the hon. Gentleman, as they showed clearly what the tendency of modern legislation had been. He repeated that the hon. Gentleman had made the explanations which were desired with great care and accuracy. They afforded material for much consideration, and the statement of the hon. Gentleman would form a useful precedent for the future.