HC Deb 29 May 1891 vol 353 cc1348-54

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £26,719, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in [course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1892, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Officers of the House of Lords.

(6.11.) MR. MORTON

I desire to move the reduction of this Vote by the sum of £20,000. It appears to me that, so far as business is concerned, the House of Lords does not do much for this money. I do not want to raise the question of the necessity of a House of Lords, or of a Second Chamber, but I find that the annual expenditure on the House of Lords is £42,000, while that of the House of Commons is only £49,000, or £7,000 or £8,000 more. Bearing in mind that this House has about 10 times as much work to do as the House of Lords, I think there ought to be a greater difference in the cost. I am aware that there are other charges in connection with the House of Lords. There are further sums to be provided against, against which there are fees to be put, so that they have nothing to do with the question of emoluments. With regard to these officers in the House of Lords, it is plain that some of them are overpaid. I find that the Chairman of Committees gets £2,500 a year, or exactly the same amount as the Chair- man of Committees in this House, and, seeing the difference in the amount of work that these officials have to do, it does not appear to me that it should be necessary to pay such a sum as £2,500 to the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords. Then I find that the Clerk of the Parliaments in the House of Lords gets £2,500, and an allowance for a house of £500, the Assistant Clerk gets £1,500, the Chief Clerk £1,200, and the Reading Clerk £1,200, and so on. I confess I cannot see the good of all these officers. I look into the House of Lords now and then to see what they are doing, and I cannot find that they ever do much. Two or three hours work two or three days a week is all they have to do. It is all very well to say that we ought to keep these people going; but if they want to be relieved out of the taxation of the country, they should find some better way of bringing it about than getting themselves put into offices where there is no apparent work to do. The House of Lords have been considering whether they cannot reduce the cost of this Department, and they have done so to some small extent—by getting rid of a few housemaids I believe. What they want housemaids, there at all for I do not know. They intend to reduce the salaries of some of the officials as vacancies arise, but it seems to me that it is their duty to do away with a number of these offices altogether. A claim has been made that we do not pay for our officers in the House of Commons enough; but, so long as we have to pay for work which is not done in the House of Lords, of course we cannot afford to pay more for the work of the officers of the House of Commons. Mr. Cobden used to say that if you want to reduce the expenses of a Department, the proper way to do it is to reduce them by a round sum, and insist on the Department getting on with the reduced Vote. My proposal, therefore, is to reduce this Vote by a round sum. If it is reduced by £20,000, the House of Lords will still have£22,0001eft,and that I consider quite sufficient. I do not suppose I shall be likely to carry this Amendment to-day; but I do trust that somebody will give us an explanation why there should be this excessive charge for the officers of the House of Lords. I should also like the Government, if they can, to give the country some assurance that this excessive cost is going to be reduced in some reasonable time. It is in the vain hope of eliciting some explanation that I move the reduction.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £6,719, be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Morton.)

(6.18.) MR. JACKSON

I do not think it is necessary for me to say much in answer to the hon. Member. He will no doubt recognise, at all events, that during the last two or three years a real attempt has been made to save all unnecessary expenditure in connection with both this House and the House of Lords. There has, indeed, been a thorough overhauling of the expenditure, and I do not think that the operation could have been more efficiently carried out, even if the hon. Member had done it himself. The hon. Member has made a comparison between certain salaries in the House of Lords and certain salaries in the House of Commons. It is not fair to do that, as the conditions are dissimilar.


It is obvious, taking into consideration the work of the two Houses, and the small difference there is in the amount of their expenses respectively, that the expenses of the House of Lords are a great deal too high. The argument in support of the existing condition of things is that we owe a certain courtesy to the House of Lords, and that we are bound not to reduce their establishments too suddenly and rudely. The Secretary to the Treasury has spoken of an overhauling of the expenditure in both Houses, and I should like to know whether there has been any reduction in the expenses of the House of Lords, or whether there is any prospect of a reduction? So far as I can make out, the Vote for the House of Lords has only been reduced by £474, or about 1 per cent., whilst that for the House of Commons has been reduced £951, or about 2 per cent. I think we ought to know that the reduction is going on in the House of Lords with some celerity, and that there is every hope that before long the ex- penditure will be brought within reasonable limits.

(6.23.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I quite agree that there has been a thorough inquiry into the expenditure of the Houses of Parliament by a Departmental Committee, and that the Committee has made radical changes in the matter. Large salaries are, of course, still paid to old officials, but when new appointments arise there will, no doubt, be reductions. I do not think we can go farther in that direction. A point to which I wish to draw the attention of the Committee in regard to this matter is that the fees charged by the House of Lords are a very great grievance. They fall very heavily upon those who bring in small Private Bills, such as relate to piers, harbours, tramways, and waterworks. I hope some means will be found of reducing the amount of the fees, which at present are simply preposterous, and amount, I find, to £2,000 more this year than last year. There ought to be one uniform scale of fees for unopposed Bills, and another for Bills that are opposed. The cost of getting a Bill through is sometimes 25 per cent. of the total sum the promoters wish to spend on their undertaking.

MR. LENG (Dundee)

On the question of fees, I must say I am one of those who do not object to men who discharge responsible duties being adequately paid. I should not grudge a sufficient remuneration to the Clerks of Parliament, but it does seem to me objectionable that while they are well paid for the duties they perform, new charges should be continually imposed in the way of fees. I directed attention yesterday in a question to a charge recently imposed for the first time for certified copies of the Companies' Acts. Hitherto it has been possible to obtain these from the Queen's Printers, but it seems that now you must have a special certificate to an Act, and one Act costs £1 1s., while to obtain certificates to a set of the Companies' Acts costs £25.

(6.28.) MR. JACKSON

All I can say to that is, that, as hon. Gentlemen are aware, the Clerks have no interest in the fees, which go into the public Exchequer. It has always been cus- tomary, I believe, to make a charge for these Acts. The hon. Member for Caithness said the House of Lords' fees are £2,000 more than they were last year. That is not owing to any increase in the amount of the fees, but to an increased number of Bills.


Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the question of modifying the Standing Orders? By the present system you are absolutely preventing a large number of private works being carried out.


I am not satisfied with the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman. It is absurd on the face of it to pay the officials of the House of Lords almost as much as the officials of the House of Commons, without regard to the fact that they do not do one-tenth the amount of work. It is ridiculous to let it go forth to the world that we, as business men, allow such a state of things as that to exist. I want the Government to give us an assurance that some inquiry into the matter will take place. I appeal to them upon it as a matter of principle. I do not ask them only to reduce the salary of an office on the death of its present occupant, but to abolish offices altogether where they are not needed. I want to know whether any gentlemen opposite justifies these charges? [Cries of "Oh!"] Such cries are no argument, and if that is all hon. Gentlemen opposite can do, the sooner their constituents send someone else the better. I am ready to take a Division upon this question, and I only sat down to allow the Minister time to make some explanation of these charges in the House of Lords.

MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

I would suggest to my hon. Friend that it would be better, instead of moving a general reduction, to move the reduction of some particular item, and we would then be in a position to give him our support. I agree that a reduction of these charges in the House of Lords ought to be brought about in the interests of those who are called upon to promote Private Bill legislation.


In proposing a general reduction, I was endeavouring to avoid mention of any particular office. I moved the reduction as a matter of general principle, believing that the reduced sum ought to be sufficient for carrying on the business of the House of Lords.

(6.35.) DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

I would suggest to my hon. Friend that, instead of moving a general reduction to the Vote, he might move, or I will move, the reduction of the Vote for the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords by the amount of the salary of his Counsel. There is a crowd of Law Lords in the Upper House, and I cannot see the necessity for paying an exorbitant salary to an official who enjoys a perfect sinecure. That the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords should have a Counsel is perfectly absurd; and I think we should begin by docking his salary and other salaries, and finally the House of Lords itself—a course which would be just to the taxpayers and beneficial to the country at large. I beg to move the reduction of the Vote by £500.


It is not competent for the hon. Member to move the reduction until the item is reached.

Question put, and negatived.

Original Question again proposed.

(6.40.) DR. CLARK

I should like to call attention to a very serious grievance in reference to the charges in the House of Lords in respect of Private Bill legislation. The charges in the House of Lords are much higher than in the House of Commons. In the House of Commons you only pay £5 on the deposit of a Bill, £5 for each day it is before the Examiners under Standing Order, £5 for presentation, £15 for First Reading, £15 Second, and £15 for Third Reading, and £15 for Committee, so that the whole cost of a Private Bill Committee in the House of Commons is £75. If the amount involved in the Bill is above £100,000, these charges are doubled. Now, in the House of Lords the cost of the Second Reading alone is £81, which is more than the entire cost in the House of Commons. The only Bills which get through cheaply in the House of Lords are Divorce, Naturalization, and Change of Name Bills, each of which costs £27. These charges in the House of Lords fall heavily upon the promoters of Private Bills, and I think we ought to have some explanation of why these exorbitant fees are charged.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £26,619, be granted for the said Service."—(Dr. Clark.)

(6.45.) MR. JACKSON

I think the hon. Member must be wrong. I have not got the particulars of the charges in the House of Lords, but I find the total amount of them is the same as that in the House of Commons, a circumstance which would seem to indicate that though the manner of imposing the charges in the House of Lords may be different, yet their aggregate amount is the same as that of the charges in the House of Commons. If, however, there be any discrepancy—and I fail to see how there can be, in view of the fact that the total of the amounts are the same—I will look into the matter, though I cannot promise that the question of the fees is a matter that must be re-considered.

It being ten minutes to Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next.

Committee also report Progress; to sit again to-morrow.

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