HC Deb 04 March 1880 vol 251 cc314-23

who had given Notice to call attention to the gradual but constant increase in the Estimates in certain Classes of the Civil Service; and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, the expenditure upon the Civil Services is excessive, and ought to be diminished, said, it was a self-evident proposition that the Civil expenditure of the country was on the increase from year to year. He did not intend to go greatly into details; but he would ask hon. Members to bear in mind that during four complete years of the late Government, ending the 31st of March, 1874, the outlay in the Civil Service Department, according to the Appropriation Accounts, amounted to £7 6,567,000, averaging about £19,000,000, or exactly £19,141,750; whereas, during four complete years of the present Government, down to the 31st of March, 1879, it amounted to £93,055,000, averaging £23,263,750, an increase of more than £4,000,000 a-year. It would be said by the Secretary to the Treasury that the greater part of the increase was owing, first, to the Education Vote, and, secondly, to the relief afforded to local taxation. He would not complain of any increase which had arisen in consequence of the great measure which was brought in during the Administration of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone). But there was still a large increase which required explanation from the Government, and he did not think the causes he had mentioned and the increase of population were a sufficient explanation. Without charging the Government with reckless expenditure or extravagance, he maintained that the economic principle was altogether absent from the mode in which the Treasury prepared these Estimates. He was inclined to say that they were framed on a kind of happy-go-lucky principle; because they never, by any happy chance, managed to hit off the exact sum, or anything like the exact sum, which eventually was required for the service of the year. He objected to having three sets of Estimates brought before the House. First, there were the Estimates brought in soon after the meeting of Parliament, which were supposed to cover the requirements of the coming year; then they had in July Supplementary Estimates, then an Estimate for excesses. He did not expect that there could be complete Estimates in February; but he thought they ought to have full knowledge of the amounts required by the middle of March, before the Budget. But there seemed to be a habit of always falling back on Estimates for excesses. He would defy any young Member who wished to become acquainted with the course of Business in the House to master the details of these different Estimates. Seeing that no Bills of any importance, with the exception of the Criminal Code Bill, had been introduced by the Government of late years, he wanted to know how it was such large sums as 500 and 600 guineas were paid to gentlemen not connected with any Government office for drafting Bills, and what were the names of the learned gentlemen to whom these amounts were paid, as it appeared to him to be throwing a very large amount of patronage into the hands of the Government? He knew that he should have the stereotyped answer that Sir Henry Thring and his assistants were unable to overtake the work which was thrown upon them in the Session; but he wanted to know why the Bills could not be drafted in the Recess. Then there was an increase in the Vote for the Stationery Office. A short time ago they were told that the hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Rowland Winn) had cleaned out the Augean stable, and yet this year there was an increased Vote. They were also asked for an increased Vote of £2,706 for the Charity Commission. How could the Government reconcile it to their conscience—if they had a conscience—to pay such a sum for the Charity Commission, particularly as there was a Resolution passed unanimously, on the Journals of the House, affirming that the expenses of that Commission ought to be paid by a tax on the Charities themselves? The Secretary to the Treasury brought in a Bill to that effect last year; why had he not reintroduced it this Session? Then they had an extraordinary item of £8,000 for refurnishing an Embassy house. That was a very large sum for such a purpose, and he wanted some explanation of it. There was also a sum of £120,000 required to make good the deficiency on the part of the Savings Banks and Friendly Societies. The total amount received up to the 20th of November, 1879, in respect of Savings Banks and Friendly Societies was £126,253,000. The amount of principal and interest paid to the Trustees was £80,532,000. Therefore the sum due to the Trustees by the Commissioners on the 20th of November, 1879, was £45,720,000, and the value of the securities held by the Commissioners was only £41,571,000. A loss, therefore, had been incurred by the Treasury of £4,149,000; and, as he had said, the Vote required this year to make up the deficiency was £120,000. Some explanation was due on that head. He could not understand why, with 2½ per cent paid to investors in the Savings Banks, the Government could incur such a fearful loss. With regard to the expenditure on retired allowances, it was very objectionable that young men between 20 and 30 should be compulsorily retired, instead of being put into other places. He regretted very much that he had been induced by the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) to withdraw his opposition to the Vote for the increase of salaries of Masters in connection with the Supreme Court of Judicature, for he understood that while the salaries had been increased there was a large number of sinecures, and no reduction whatever had occurred. The House and the public were very little aware of the enormous increase in the amount of the Civil Service Estimates. He had thought it his duty to draw attention to the subject; but as he had no wish to delay the passing of the Supple- mentary Estimates he should not move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


said, the question which had been raised by the hon. Member was one which had been brought before the House on more than one occasion, when it had received the same reply which he was afraid he must give to it on the present occasion. Everyone would allow that, although the Civil Service Estimates showed in their bulk an undoubted increase in latter years, they owed that increase to the action of Parliament itself with regard either to the education grants or to those grants for local taxation which had not met with unqualified opposition at the hands of the hon. Member. Both these grants had been the means of throwing an increase upon the Estimates; and he thought it only fair to eliminate them from the consideration of the question of the increase in the Estimates, as they were due to the action of Parliament. He would draw the attention of the House to a Return issued from the Treasury Department, and moved for by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers). That Return showed that if the charges for grants for local taxation and for education were put aside, and the Civil Service charges, real and proper, were only considered, there had been really a decrease in the Estimates from the year 1857 to the present time. In 1857–8 the Estimates for the Civil Service proper amounted to £5,921,311, and they had fluctuated between that amount and £5,750,000, which was the amount in 1878–9. That was to say, there was a diminution this year in the Estimates for the Service proper as compared with the year 1857–8. This showed that successive Governments had kept such control over the Estimates that they had not increased in the period which he had named. The hon. Member, turning from the subject of the Civil Service charges to the preparation of the Estimates, called the mode of preparing them haphazard, and objected to the Government taking Supplementary Estimates in July. Well, the Estimates being called for in December in order to be prepared for the coming year, it was necessary to fix a date in January beyond which no further in- crease or alteration could be made in them. From that date the Estimates were in type and unalterable, and ready to be placed on the Table of the House at the meeting of Parliament. But things occurred in the different Departments after their Returns had been made of which they could have no previous knowledge. For instance, advantageous offers were made with regard to leases, which on economical grounds the Treasury could not refuse; or buildings had suddenly to be erected. If in such cases a hard-and-fast rule were to be laid down, and if no fresh expenditure were to be incurred, say after March or February, the Treasury would often be placed in a position very detrimental to the Public Service, and offers which might not be renewed in advantageous forms would have to be refused. It was the constant effort of the Treasury to resist incurring such expenditure as he was referring to; and it was only done when, in the interest of the public, the demands of the Public Service required it. It became in this manner absolutely necessary to sanction money Votes which were not contemplated in the preparation of the Returns; and, consequently, Governments were unwillingly obliged to submit to Parliament Supplementary Estimates in the month of July. The hon. Member used the word "excessive," and pointed to the excessive Supplementary Estimates which they had been forced to submit to the House this year. But the hon. Member ought to have remembered that these Estimates, if it had not been for one item, would have been lower than the Estimates for several recent years. With regard to the charge of £230,000 for the Prison Vote, the item to which he referred, he thought it right to say that it was only a very short time ago that the arrangements of the Home Office in respect to that Vote were concluded, so that it was impossible last year to forecast what amount of money would be required in any one instance of arrangement. The expense of this Vote, it should also be remembered, was recouped to the extent of £210,000 by the receipts on behalf of the Prison Commission paid into the Exchequer. The real loss, therefore, did not amount to more than between £20,000 and £30,000. He thought that the House, after considering the figures he had put before them, would not consider the Supplementary Estimates exceptional. The hon. Member also referred to the expenses in connection with the drafting of Bills. It was quite true that a large expenditure had been incurred beyond the amount required for the Parliamentary staff kept for the purpose of drafting Bills; but if all the Bills that were brought in—Bills not contemplated before the commencement of the Session, and Bills that could not be easily drawn during the Recess—were to be drawn by the official draftsmen, it would be necessary to greatly increase the present staff. There were many advantages in the existing system of sometimes employing others than the official draftsmen, as it gave opportunities for bringing particular talent and knowledge to bear upon a peculiar subject. He might mention, for example, that in the case of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act very important service was rendered to Parliament and the country from their having secured the aid of a gentleman having special knowledge of the whole subject. As to the remarks made in reference to the Charity Commission, he had to say that part of the sum demanded on its account was needed to make payments which would not have been made had Parliament not decided to continue the Commission. Coming to the question of the retirement of officers from the Public Service, he had to remind the hon. Member that one or two re-organizations of Departments had taken place in the last year, and that Bills were passed in that House enabling special terms to be given to officers on retirement. It was only by offering special terms that it was possible to carry out any re-organizations at all. He could assure the hon. Member that nothing was more in accordance with the wishes of the Secretary to the Treasury than to keep down the Civil Service Estimates as far as was consistent with the public interest. He knew well that, in dealing with the Civil Service Estimates, they were dealing with a part of the public finances which allowed less reduction than any other. But he hoped he had shown that those parts of the Estimates over which the Secretary to the Treasury had real control were lower than in some recent years.


said, the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury had referred to a certain re-organization in the Department. He was bound to say his experience led him to the belief that although they had always the promise of advantages by re-organization, they were so remote as to be, in many cases, worse than the original state of affairs. It appeared to him that the necessity for re-organization arose from the vices which existed in the Civil Service. If that Service were placed on a basis in which the members of it would, first of all, be required fully to do their duty in an efficient manner, and to give a sufficient amount of time to the Public Service, he had no doubt whatever that they would always be able to weed out from the Civil Service those men who were not efficient, and who simply took the place of gentlemen who were. He recollected a few years ago, when he was a Member of a Select Committee of that House to inquire into the Civil Service Department, that he asked Sir William Stephenson, who was a very high authority, whether, in the Department of the Customs, or in any other Public Department in which gentlemen were employed in the capacity of clerks, it was not a fact that, however inefficient a young man happened to be, by virtue of seniority he would rise gradually, with an increment of salary, without reference to efficiency of conduct? He (Sir William Stephenson) said— Well, to a great extent, unless a clerk is guilty of some scandalous neglect of duty, it would be impossible for a head of a Department to supersede him. And he said further— You Gentlemen in Parliament would rise and complain if any supersession of individuals took place, unless there were very clear grounds for the course. He knew that pressure was put on every head of a Department on account of promotion in that Department being slow. Reorganization of the Department was then pressed for in order to improve the position, and a number of men were sent out of the Department, and they were paid compensation for loss of office. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) had alluded to another question in which he (Mr. Rylands) had had good reason to complain that the Government would not take advantage of the opportunity afforded them of economizing in an im- portant Department. The House, at the end of last Session, was called upon to pass the Supreme Court of Judicature Bill. His hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester and he opposed the Bill, on the ground that they had no guarantee in the Bill that there would be economy. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reply, said that the present Lord Chancellor, whatever might have been the case with previous Lord Chancellors, was most anxious to promote economy; and they might rely that if the Bill were passed into law very great economy would be effected in the High Court of Judicature. He would now make the charge that there had not been the slightest economy. Unless he was very much misinformed, there had been an increase of expenditure which was probably of an unnecessary character. Certainly there was no fulfilment of the pledge given last Session that action would be taken by the Lord Chancellor with a view to reduce the cost of the High Court of Judicature. When that Vote came on in the ordinary Civil Service Estimates, he had no doubt that the Government would be called upon by his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, or by himself, to give an explanation of what they had done in accordance with the pledges given in the House; and unless those pledges had been given he ventured to say it would have been utterly impossible for the Bill to have passed into law. The facts he was furnished with showed that, so far from that Bill having worked in an economical way, it had given opportunity for further expenditure. He must say, if they were to deal effectively with the Civil Service expenditure, they must be determined to deal with it in such a way as to secure that every public servant should give a greater amount of service, and that the Public Departments should not be a public scandal, as he believed at the present time was the case in a great many of the Offices, in the way in which they were over-manned, and the careless way the Public Service was conducted during the comparatively short period of labour. He thought they ought to insist that there should be longer hours. In some of the Public Offices, he had no hesitation in saying that there ought to be longer hours. They ought to give inducement to clerks in Offices by reward- ing merit with promotion. Still, further, every man who did not fulfil his duty should be removed; and if they adopted that system, they would not be continually, as at present, piling up the Superannuation Fund. It could not be denied that the expenditure for pensions and superannuation was increasing every year to a monstrous extent. He had a very decided impression that some day the House would have to deal strongly with that enormous expenditure; and even in cases where they made a profit out of a Department, that was no reason why they should spend a lot of money on unnecessary officials. The mere fact that a Department received a considerable sum of money through stamps and fees was no justification for the expenditure being in excess of what the Office could be reasonably conducted upon. Not only should they have to deal very strongly with the present system of employment in the Public Offices; but he thought also that if the Secretary to the Treasury wished to have his hands strengthened against clamour as to the expenditure on the Services of the Crown, nothing would have greater effect in that direction than the appointment of such a Committee as his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) suggested last year—namely, a Select Committee to inquire into the Estimates for the Civil Services. He was bound to say that the present mode of taking the Civil Service Estimates was very clumsy; and he thought that the Government might adopt a more complete examination of the Public Expenditure in those Departments, so that, without any parsimony with regard to salaries, the public duty might be carried on in a more efficient, and, at the same time, a more economical manner.


said, a Return obtained by the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) for one particular purpose, to show the progress made in increasing some particular portions of the Public Expenditure, had been quoted for another and different one as to the progress of all the Civil expenditure. The Secretary to the Treasury would have made a much better comparison if he had used the Return moved for by the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), or that which the First Lord of the Trea- sury obtained a few years ago. He denied that any credit was due to the present Government for keeping down expenditure. There had been an enormous increase of the Civil Service expenditure during the last 20 years, but more especially during the administration of the present Government. It was the fashion, when speaking of the Naval and Military expenditure, to compare the gross for these Services of 20 years ago with the gross of the present day; and the result was that the outlay on what was called the spending Departments had largely increased. None of the deductions were made there from which might and ought to be made. He was ready to admit that the Civil expenditure of the country had very considerably increased from special causes. The Education Vote had swollen 50 per cent in four years, and the grants in aid of local taxation had risen from £2,761,000 to upwards of £5,000,000 in 1880. Those increases in the Civil charges arose from the loose way of putting forward Supplementary Estimates. He knew that Supplementary Estimates were sometimes unavoidable. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for London University (Mr. Lowe), when Chancellor of the Exchequer, admitted so much, and thereby encouraged this financially bad habit; but it was a matter for regret that they should have so largely increased, especially in the present year. One great evil in the system was that by accepting such Estimates the House took upon itself a responsibility that should be placed on the heads of Departments for preparing loose Estimates. The sooner heads of Departments were brought face to face with the House or with the Public Accounts Committee, to explain why they had not originally foreseen all the wants of their Departments, the better would Parliament be able to control the expenditure. As it was, these heads bore no responsibility. They brought to bear all their influence upon the Treasury, and they got all their demands complied with, and escaped all censure and blame. That, he submitted, was a grave evil, and he looked to the Secretary to the Treasury to remedy it.

Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave, the Chair," agreed to.