HC Deb 03 May 1881 vol 260 cc1727-42

in rising to move— That the disadvantageous position in which Customs Out-door Officers at the outports are placed, in respect of salary, as compared with Customs Officers of the same rank, and performing the same duties, at London and Liverpool, is unjust to those officers and prejudicial to the public service, said, the question was a very simple one, and on that account he need not detain the House more than a few minutes. The grievance under which the Customs outport officers—a very meritorious class of public servants—laboured was simply this, that whereas they had to undergo the same competitive examination and the same conditions with regard to age, and had to perform identically the same duties as those officers of the same rank stationed at London and Liverpool, it so happened that, in pursuance of an old and anomalous rule, they received salaries amounting to 20 or 30 per cent less than those officers at London and Liverpool. To show the absurdity and injustice of the rule, he might state that in every port of the United Kingdom, save London and Liverpool, the men of the second class commenced duties at a salary of £55 a-year, and increased to £65. In London and Liverpool, however, the men of the same rank commenced at £75 a-year and increased to £85. The disproportion existed in the other classes. He did not know what reason could be adduced for this anomaly; and he was anxious to hear what the Secretary to the Treasury would have to say on the subject. Some 50 years ago there might have been a reason for the difference; but the facility of communication had now equalized prices of necessaries of life, and now the men stationed at Glasgow, Belfast, Hull, or Bristol, were at the same expense as the officers living in London and Liverpool. Before he undertook to bring this question before the House he made inquiry on this point, and he had found that the men really found that London was the cheapest place to live in. Though house rent was high in London, the necessaries of life might be obtained more cheaply than in almost any of our large towns. But there was another anomaly to which the outport officers at the smaller ports were exposed, and that was in reference to promotion. When a man once entered this service as a second-class man, he was very likely to die a second-class man. There was no such distinction in any other branch of Her Majesty's Service. He would be met, no doubt, with the taunt from the Treasury Bench that it was extremely improper for a private Member to bring forward such a Motion as the present. He could not agree with this view. It was only within the last few years that the Revenue officers had obtained the franchise; they had a fair case for the consideration of Government and Parliament; and it was very right that a Member particularly concerned in their well-being should bring forward their case. The number of outport officers in Great Britain and Ireland was about 2,100. Those men stationed in London and Liverpool were properly remunerated; but it was absurd to suppose that the men in charge of Her Majesty's Revenue at Glasgow, Bristol, Hull, Belfast, and other places, could maintain a decent position upon the magnificent salary of £55, with an increment at the rate of £1 per annum. The total amount of revenue which passed through the hands of these officials was £23,500,000 a-year. The cost of the Customs Establishment was £800,000; and the concession he sought might, he believed, be made at an expense to the country of not more than £15,000 a-year. He put it to the Government and to his noble Friend who would answer him, why the men stationed at Glasgow, at Bristol, at Hull, at Belfast, at Newcastle, at Leith, or at Greenock, and performing precisely the same duties as those officers in London and Liverpool, should be remunerated in this paltry and unequal manner? He called upon the Government to give an assurance that the case of these poor men should be considered. He had no doubt that the old argument would be repeated that, notwithstanding the wretched pittance given to the outport officers, they had plenty of candidates for the position, and why should the salary be increased? That was scarcely a business-like view to take of the matter. A man should be fairly remunerated for Ms labour; and he (Mr. Norwood) ventured once more to say that it did appear a monstrous anomaly that there should be a difference, amounting to between 20 and 30 per cent, in the pay of men simply because the poorer paid men happened to be stationed at other ports than London or Liverpool.


seconded the Motion. The figures and facts of the case could not be denied, and the only reason why the anomaly complained of was allowed to exist was that there was an old rule bearing on the point. It might be argued that if persons could be found to perform the duties of Customs officers at the outports for the salaries now prevailing, so could men be found to do the same work in London and Liverpool on the same terms; and, therefore, it was the duty of the Government, in the interest of the public purse, to cut down the salaries of the officers stationed at London and Liverpool rather than increase the remuneration of the officers at the outports. He was sure no one in the House would wish to see the salaries cut down, when they were cut down enough already. In his opinion, the same class of men, wherever stationed, should be paid at one uniform ratio.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the disadvantageous position in which Customs Out-door Officers at the Outports are placed, in respect of salary, as compared with Customs Officers of the same rank, and performing the same duties, at London and Liverpool, is unjust to those officers, and prejudicial to the public service."—(Mr. Norwood.)


said, as one who had been in the Civil Service, he wished, on behalf of the servants in every branch of that Service, to express their sense of the position of these unfortunate men. He was personally acquainted with men in almost every branch of the Civil Service, and from all he had heard the expression of the one sentiment that the condition of the outport Customs officers was simply infamous. Not only with regard to pay and promotion were they unfairly dealt with—he could assure the House that all questions of Departmental re-organization were pretty certain to be settled in favour of the men at head-quarters and opposed to the interests of the outport officers. Having been at head-quarters himself, and having witnessed several re-organizations of Departments, he was perfectly convinced that on each occasion such reorganization was carried out—first of all, in the interest of the men at head-quarters; secondly, in the interest of the Public Service; and never in the interest of the men at the out-stations. If the House wanted to see justice done, he would urge upon them to take the matter in hand themselves, because it was needless to rely upon the heads of Departments in London.


said, it must be remembered that the officers in question held very responsible positions, and were exposed to great temptations. It was, therefore, of the greatest consequence that they should be men of high moral character. At present they were most inadequately remunerated, and there was no reason why they should continue to be so invidiously treated as they were now. The total number of officers to be considered was, in round figures, close on 1,100, located at 130 different outports in the United Kingdom, the principal of which were Dublin, Glasgow, Bristol, Hull, &c. The average salary of all these officers was only £65. In the first class, about three-fifths of the officers had served for periods varying from 25 to 47 years, and with that number the prospects of promotion were virtually nothing more than the attainment of the maximum salary of £85 per annum. In the second, two-thirds of the officers had not yet attained to even the average salary of their class; whilst the field open for their promotion was so very limited—the proportion of vacancies to be competed for in the superior grades to the number of officers eligible being about one to eight—that their prospects in the Service were perfectly deplorable. By contrasting the scale of remuneration of governing officers of the same grade at Loudon and Liverpool—equalization with which was sought as the main clement of redress at present—they would be enabled to estimate approximately the aggregate additional public expenditure which would be entailed by according to outport out-door officers the boon they sought. The London and Liverpool officers, 1,000 in number, had an average of £84; the outport officers, 1,100 in number, an average of only £65—difference, £19. It might be mentioned that about 60 of the outport officers received £10 per annum additional for the performance of duties pertaining to the superior officers, while 240 were called upon for the occasional performance of similar superior duties without receiving any remuneration whatever therefor. For all these reasons, he begged most strongly to recommend the case of these officers to the consideration of the House. The contention that a higher salary was called for by the greater expense and exigencies of London life, could not, he was informed, be sustained for one moment, as it was believed that for persons of a certain grade of life, the scale of living in London was more varied, more abundant, and very much cheaper than at the outports; while the facilities for the education of children were infinitely greater. He would not add anything to what had been so well said as to the vast revenue to the State of which these officers were the collectors, and on whose zeal, energy, and integrity the country had to place such large dependence.


hoped the House would carefully consider what would be the effect of the adoption of this Resolution. On general grounds there were serious objections to a Motion of this character. When the House took upon itself the responsibility of proposing additional expenditure, and of dealing with a great Public Service, it undertook the functions of the Executive, and relieved the Government from responsibility for the expenditure so incurred. He would venture, also, respectfully to put before the House another consideration which should have some weight. The discipline of the Public Service was an important consideration, and he could not disguise from himself the fact that the constant appeals which had been made to this House by members of the Civil Service since they had been enfranchised had largely interfered with that discipline. ["No, no!"] Well, he was speaking about that of which he knew something, and he dealt with the question with a due sense of responsibity. The men in the Civil Service no longer felt that it was to the heads of their Departments that they must mainly look for the redress of any grievance they supposed to exist—they felt, instead, that they must look to their Representatives in Parliament. As he had said, the question was not one which he considered was desirable, with the imperfect knowledge at its command, that the House should deal with; but if it were decided otherwise, it should be referred to a Select Committee, which would have the power of taking evidence and going fully into detail. Parliament had deliberately decided that Civil Service officials should be enfranchised; and it was said that, such being the case, there was nothing more natural than that they should press their claims upon the attention of their Representatives, and, through those Gentlemen, upon the attention of Parliament. If the House had known how the Civil Service servants would use their votes, and had known what would take place, they would have thought twice ere they conferred the enfranchisement. The members of the Civil Service were enfranchised that they might discharge their ordinary duties as citizens, and not to enable them to promote their own special and private interests. If this was the case as a general principle, there were other reasons why, in this particular instance, the House should hesitate before passing this Resolution. It was most undesirable that there should be constant re-arrangement and re - organization of the Civil Service Establishments. The whole Customs Establishment had been most carefully re-organized, not by the present, but by the late, Government; and in the year 1876, these very men who were now complaining had their position improved. Instead of a quinquennial increase of salary, the increments were made annual, which was a decided and important improvement of their position.


What advance was made?


Before, they had to wait five years for an increase; but, by the new arrangement, they received an increase at the end of the first year, and at the end of every succeeding year.


What was the amount?


replied, that the increase was £1 annually. In addition to this boon, they were also given their uniform free of charge, instead of having to provide it for themselves as they had hitherto done. Well, although, no doubt, these men were of high character, and were very useful, the duties they had to perform were not of a very highly intellectual order.


They have to pass Civil Service examinations. ["Order!"]


said, the position they held was such as required character and honesty, but no unusual amount of intelligence, and, from the statement which had been made to the House, it was clear that these engagements were very much sought after. He would read the statistics for three last examinations, which would give some idea of the number of candidates who offered themselves for the vacancies as they occurred. In August, 1880, there were 35 vacancies and 401 candidates; in November of the same year there were 50 vacancies and 532 candidates; and in February, 1881, there were 50 vacancies and 533 candidates. And he was told that not only were there these large number of candidates, but that the men who applied for the situations were perfectly well fitted for the position, and did their duty well and ably. It had been said that the rule under which the men were paid was an old one, and had not been considered by him. At any rate, it had been most carefully considered by his Predecessors; and in 1879 a question was put to the hon. Member then in Office by an hon. Friend behind him very similar to that which had been put this evening, and the reply was given that so far from it being the fact that these men had exactly the same duties to perform in the outports as in Liverpool and London, the duties in those large places were more arduous and responsible than in the outports. It was stated, at the same time, as an undoubted fact, that the cost of living at the outports was less than in Liverpool and London. The men who competed for the situations were all of the same class, so that if the salaries were made quite uniform what state of things should we have? Why, as the men who were most successful in the competition would, naturally, have a choice of places, they—the best men—would select the places where the work was the lightest and the cost of living the lowest. The most capable men would go to the outports, where the duties were least onerous and responsible. It, therefore, appeared to him that there was abundant reason why the salaries of the officers at the outports should be lower than those of the officers in London and Liverpool. For the reasons he had given, he trusted the House would not accept the Resolution.


would not detain the House many minutes; but, as he knew there was a very strong feeling amongt these officers at the Essex ports on this question, he trusted he might be allowed to say a word or two. He quite admitted that at one time there was a difference in the cost of living in London and in the country; but this had very much altered during late years, owing to the increase of means of communication and other causes, and at the present time the position of the outport officers was really much worse, in a pecuniary point of view, than that of the officers residing in London or Liverpool. Though the former might not have to pay so much for their lodgings, yet their living—food, coal, and other items—cost them quite as much, probably more; and they were at this disadvantage, that their duties carried them over a much larger area of ground, the consequence being that they were more often from home, and were put to greater expense. He was quite sure there was no just reason why the present invidious distinction amongst the officers should be maintained, and he, therefore, hoped the Government would think better of it and accept the Resolution.


would not, at this very late hour (1.10 a.m.), occupy the time of the House for any length of time; but he could not refrain from rising to say that the remarks which had fallen from the noble Lord were such as ought to carry considerable weight with the House—he referred to what had fallen from the noble Lord with reference to the extension of the franchise to the Custom House officials. But, whilst he admitted that there was some little danger in the exercise of the privilege of appealing to this House on the part of Government officers when they wished to have their grievances redressed, there was also the other side of the question; and the question might be asked, "Where are they to appeal to, and to whom, if they are not to appeal to this House?" The noble Lord had stated that the claims of these men had been considered within the last few years; but everyone knew that the claims of all working men had been considered in this country within the last few years, and that there were very few working men in the Kingdom who had had so little remuneration for so responsible a duty as these men whose claims the House were now considering. Why, the men who entered this Service entered it at a lower wage than was paid to the common bricklayer's labourer! The common bricklayer's labourer was now receiving 23s.; but these men in Her Majesty's Service, who had to undergo an educational examination before they obtained employment, who were tested as to their general fitness, and not only whose intelligence but whose characters were examined into to the fullest extent, entered into the Service at even a lower wage than the lowest labourers we had in connection with the building trade. He should like to suggest to his noble Friend the propriety of looking at this question from a commercial point of view. He was quite sure that whilst we paid men occupying important positions of this kind a low wage, such as they were now receiving, we should never secure a rendering of service such as we ought to have in connection with this important Department of the Government. So long as we paid the men such a very low wage we should have very inadequate service. And there was just another feature in connection with this question which the noble Lord would do well to take notice of, and that was that men placed in a position, not only of responsibility, but of great temptation, ought to be rewarded for their labour, at any rate, equal to the men of the same class of intelligence and of general aptitude for business occupied in other walks of life. He hoped the noble Lord would re-consider the question, and would support the Motion of his hon. Friend.


(who was received with cries of "Divide!") said, he claimed the indulgence of the House. He did not often trouble it, and if it would give him a few minutes he should be obliged. Though he belonged to the Party whose watchword was "retrenchment," he should certainly support the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood); and he did so on this ground—that whenever the Government re-organized any Department, they began by raising the salaries of all those near the heads. They began by raising the salaries of the head men, and the salaries of the under men were very often never raised at all. This was done in the case of the Army which was now undergoing reorganization. Some of the officers were to be placed in a better position; but the unfortunate private soldier was to get no increase of pay. The wages of working men in the various branches of industry in the country had been raised; but the out-door Customs officials had not received that increase to which they would have been entitled had they been in any other service but that of Her Majesty. He had been an employer of labour himself; consequently, he knew how necessary a fair increase of wages was to make the men contented. The duties of these Customs officers at the outports were somewhat similar to the duties of policemen. As to the policemen in our towns, one-half of whose wages was paid by the country and the other by the local authorities, they were not required to have such high educational acquirements as the Customs officers, yet they received a larger amount of pay. The out-door Customs officers began with £55 a-year; whereas the lowest paid policeman in a Provincial town received £62 8s., in addition to which he was provided with clothes and 6d. a-week boot-money. So that the policeman, who had to do a similar kind of work to the out-door Customs officer, received from £10 to £15 a-year more pay. He hoped the Government would see their way to give these poor men the increase of wages they were asking for.


would call on the noble Lord who had opposed the Resolution to observe that the feeling of the House was against him. He trusted the Government would not make the mistake—which there seemed to be some danger of their falling into—of resisting this most reasonable and just Motion. He believed these were the only officials in Her Majesty's Service who were paid different rates according to the places at which they were stationed. If the men were employed in Ireland, or in Scotland, or at an outport, they were to be paid at a lower rate of wages than if employed in a large centre. He would draw the attention of the Government to the fact that throughout the length and breadth of the land all other classes of working men were paid the same standard of wages. He did not know any single class of working men who had all the same kind of work to perform who would submit to different rates of wages in different towns. It would, he was sure, be utterly impossible for them to satisfy those men, who were doing a very important work for Her Majesty's Government, unless they granted this most just demand which they had put before the House through his hon. Friend the Member for Hull. The agitation was one of three years' standing; but this was the first time these men had had an opportunity of bringing their claim under the notice of the House, and, now that it had been brought forward, he trusted it would receive more favourable consideration at the hands of the Government than, according to the statement of the noble Lord, it would appear they were at present prepared to give it.


said, he felt very strongly upon this question. He felt that these officers had, to a certain extent, a great grievance; and he felt, also, that they in that House had a duty to perform. To his mind, it would be a most unwise thing for the House to take the responsibility of dealing with officers of this kind out of the hands of the Executive Government. He would venture, therefore, to propose that a Select Committee should be appointed to consider the question. If the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington), at the present moment the Leader of the House, would agree to this suggestion, no doubt the grievance of these officials would be most fairly considered. It would relieve the Members of the Government from a very difficult position, many hon. Members feeling most strongly on the subject. He was absolutely certain that there were many anxious to vote for the Resolution before the House who would be satisfied, for the moment, if the matter were re- ferred to the investigation of a Select Committee; and, of course, there were others who thought that the matter ought not to be considered by the House, who would be equally satisfied. Therefore, looking at the case presented to the House in a spirit of fairness, and believing that the hon. Member for Hull would obtain all he required if the question were referred to a Select Committee, he would venture to suggest that it should be so referred.


mentioned that there were several men of this class engaged in Manchester and Salford, and expressed a hope that the noble Lord would agree to the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Baronet. He hoped so the more because the noble Lord had made a statement in the course of his speech which was not quite accurate. He had stated that the cost of living in the case of some of these men was less in places where they received lower salaries than it was in London and Liverpool. He, however, ventured to say that was not the case in Manchester or Salford, where the cost of living was as high as it was in London or Liverpool. That was a point which a Committee could investigate.


wished to say a word or two on the subject, for he considered that the wages of the outport men were a disgrace to the Government. A dustman in London had a larger income per week than these Government officers, who were entrusted with large and important duties. He had a suggestion also to offer to the noble Lord. He sincerely trusted the noble Lord would agree to the appointment of a Committee, and if the noble Lord was jealous of any increased expenditure, he thought he could point out to him a means of rectifying this evil without any increased public expense. He should not care to mention the details in public; but if the noble Lord would honour him with a consultation, he could point to offices in the Public Service that could suffer a reduction without any public disadvantage whatever, and which might properly be employed in advancing the wages of this terribly low-paid body of men.


said, this question had come before him at considerable length, on a former occasion, when he acted as Chairman of the Civil Service Inquiry Commission; and at that time it was obvious to him that the subject ought to be fully inquired into. The differences in pay were considerable; but the differences in duty were also marked, and therefore a general Resolution, without an inquiry into the case, would scarcely have met the justice of the case. The officials who gave evidence before that Commission showed markedly that their case ought to be inquired into and considered by a Public Inquiry. The Commission were unable to go into the matter as fully as they would have desired; but they felt that a Departmental Inquiry should take place. He thought the proposition of the hon. Baronet, if accepted by the Government, would be a satisfactory way of meeting the justice of the case.


It is quite impossible to pretend ignorance of the prevailing opinion of the House on this subject at the present time. I think it is much to be regretted that a subject involving, as I think this does, a large question of public policy, should be discussed in so small a House at so late an hour, and that so small a number of Members, comparatively, are present, except those who are directly interested in the subject. ["Oh, oh!"] I am only expressing my own opinion; and whatever opinion other Members may hold, even if mine is erroneous, I think a Member who is addressing the House might be allowed to conclude his observations. I think it would be a great misfortune if the House were to pass a Resolution of the character now before us at the present moment; and I cannot say I think it desirable that the responsibility should be removed from the shoulders of the Government by an Inquiry by a Select Committee. Of the two evils, I must say I consider that the appointment of a Select Committee would be a less evil than the passing of this Resolution; and if the Resolution were withdrawn, the Government would be willing to consider the terms upon which the subject should be inquired into. If that suggestion meets with the approval of the House, the Government will be prepared to sanction it; but, of course, if the House prefers to pass the Resolution, that will take the matter out of the hands of the Government.


thought there could be no doubt as to the feeling of the House on this question. He should be very sorry to cause the slightest embarrassment to the Government, and, with the permission of the House, he would accept the offer of the noble Marquess that the Government would, at an early hour, cause a Committee of the House to be appointed to inquire into the subject, with the understanding that the Government would loyally accept the decision of that Committee, whatever it might be. He thought that was the course which, under all the circumstances, he ought to pursue, and, with the permission of the House, he would withdraw his Motion.


stated that he should oppose the withdrawal of the Motion. The noble Marquess had said it appeared that only those Members who through their constituents were interested in the subject had remained, and he seemed to look in the direction of the Irish Benches. For his part, he could say that the only gentlemen connected with the outports in his constituency were his political opponents; but he was interested in the question because of a deputation he had received upon it. The two gentlemen whom he saw had informed him that they were obliged to live in a respectable way, but only received between £50 and £60 a-year; while gentlemen who performed only the same services as they did received something like £300 a-year. It was on that ground that Members like himself were opposed to any compromise; and he warned the hon. Member for Hull, that if he agreed to the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), the outport officers would be treated as the telegraph clerks were treated—they would be civilly treated before the Committee, and promised illimitable opportunities of stating their case; but eventually they would find that they had been deceived. ["Order, order!"] The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) had complained of being interrupted; but what in a Member of the Treasury Bench was but a choleric word, seemed to be in an Irish Member flat blasphemy, and he was at once reminded of the august position of the occupant of the Treasury Bench. He was only giving his opinion of what would happen to the outport officers; and what he expected was, that although gentlemen from Liverpool or Dublin or other parts of the country might give their evidence before the Select Committee, the noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury would be able to make much more complete statements than they could, and the balance of evidence would remain on his side and nothing would be done. For that reason he, and some who agreed with him, intended to go a division.


observed, that the course which the hon. Member had taken was unusual and inconvenient. The hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) had proposed a Resolution, which was somewhat extreme in character, as to the taking of a step involving a considerable payment of money. He was entirely in sympathy with the hon. Member, and had intended to vote with him; but the hon. Member had been met by a proposal from the noble Marquess, which seemed to be a practical one, and had consented to the nomination of a Select Committee before which the wrongs of the outport men would be examined. He presumed that that Committee would report, and what he hoped was that that Report would be favourable, and that his hon. Friend would meet with more attention than had been paid to the Committee which had been alluded to, whose recommendations had not, in some respects, been given effect to. But if the House acted as the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Healy) proposed, they would be acting with scant courtesy towards the noble Marquess. He saw no advantage in being rude to the noble Marquess, and a proposal, which seemed to be exceeding liberal, having been made—or, rather, the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) having been acceded to—he thought those who were really interested in the matter would be doing best for their cause by accepting the proposal of the noble Lord. At any rate, he was satisfied that that course would be of advantage; and practical men, and men of good sense, would see the wisdom of the course recommended.


felt constrained to repeat the words of the hon. Member.


The hon. Member has already addressed the House.


I think you have put a Question since I addressed the House.


I have put no other Question.


Do I understand that the Motion is withdrawn?



Motion, by leave, withdrawn.