HC Deb 05 March 1885 vol 295 cc120-1

asked Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Whether the Customs Annuity and Benevolent Fund was established for the benefit of the widows and children of Her Majesty's Customs; whether the directors of the Customs Fund, with the consent of the Treasury, purchased the patent of an office called the Clerkship of the Bills of Entry; whether the patent was renewed on certain conditions in 1846; whether the profits applicable to the charity had not then reached from £8,000 to £10,000 per annum; whether the Lords of the Treasury, in 1881, took away the entire business without giving any compensation to the Benevolent Fund, on which depends the welfare of the future widows and officers of fifteen hundred insurers; and, whether the Government proposes to compensate the charity for this great loss?


In reply to the hon. Member, I have to state that the facts of the case are as follows:—In 1817, the Directors of the Customs Annuity and Benevolent Fund purchased, for an annual payment of £2,000, the interest of the Lewis family in the Patent under which they held the office of the "Clerk of the Bills of the Customs," or "Bill of Entry," as it afterwards came to be called, the Patent being renewed to them for 31 years. In 1848, the Patent was again renewed on certain conditions—for instance, a reduction in the price at which the publication was sold—for a further period of 31 years. In 1879, the renewed Patent lapsed, and all rights under it were extinguished. Her Majesty's then Government had meanwhile appointed a Committee to inquire into the whole matter, and they refused to renew the Patent, not considering it right that their servants should make a profit out of the sale of Government information. The clerks employed on the "Bill of Entry" work were offered the option of continuing their employment on behalf of the Government, who henceforth intended themselves to issue the "Bill of Entry," and they accepted the terms offered to them. I cannot admit that the participators in the funds have any claim whatever to compensation. They purchased the remainder of the Patent, as they might have purchased the remainder of a lease; and the figures quoted by the hon. Member, which I have no reason to question, show how good a bargain they made for themselves. I see no object in going back on the work of former years with the object of renewing objectionable monopolies of this character, which, however consonant with former ideas, are altogether opposed to our present financial practice.


I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman, is it a fact that the Government not only did not renew the right, but allowed it to lapse? Whether the Government, after taking advantage of all the time this Company worked, had followed this up by getting all their books and papers when it was a going concern of considerable property?


said, he had no further information on the subject.