HC Deb 02 August 1897 vol 52 cc162-8

Bill considered as amended.

Motion made, "That the Bill be rend a Third time."—(Mr. Gerald Balfour.)


objected, as there were matters to be considered on the Report stage.


I asked the question, "Are there any Amendments?" and waited for reply. Then the Motion was made and Question put, that the Bill be Read a Third time, and that is the Question before the House.


thought the Chief Secretary had acted most unfairly. In discussion in Committee the right hon. Gentleman promised to consider on the Report stage an important question in relation to the status of certain unfortunate clerks in Dublin which a part of this Bill would affect. He was surprised therefore that no explanation had been made. Certainly the right hon. Gentleman created an impression that he would attempt to draft an Amendment to safeguard the interests of these officials. It was hardly honourable to go back from that pledge and allow the Bill to proceed. If he had thought the right hon. Gentleman was going to play a trick of that kind—[Cries of "Order!"]—


The hon. Member will confine himself to Parliamentary language.


unreservedly withdrew the expression. The Chief Secretary must see that they had not been quite fairly treated after they had withdrawn an Amendment in Committee on the understanding that on Report stage a proposal would be made having in view the object aimed at by the Amendment. He referred to the case of some 14 or 15 unfortunate assistants or clerks, many of whom had been in the service for 20 years of the Bankruptcy Court, and who when this precious Bill, introduced mainly to increase the salary of the Judge, became law, would be kicked out of their occupation without any compensation, owing to the abolition of the office of one of the assignees.


said he was sorry the hon. Gentleman should consider himself unfairly treated. The hon. Member had not quite correctly represented the understanding arrived at in Committee. He said he would himself consider in the interval before the Report stage whether it would be possible to give effect to the suggestion of the hon. Member, that the staff of the assignee should receive a similar pension to that given by the Bill to officers of the Court, but he had added he feared it would not be found possible to do so. He had given careful consideration to the subject and had come to the conclusion that it would be absolutely without precedent to attempt to do anything of the kind. The staff of the assignee were paid by the assignee, they were not public servants, they were not paid by public money, and they might be discharged at any time subject to any contract they might have entered into with the assignee. To attempt in an Act of Parliament to give them what they did not possess would be to bind the assignees of the Court to retain services they might think it necessary to dispense with, and would be unfair to the public. He trusted these assistants would not suffer in the way the hon. Member anticipated. One of the assignees being dispensed with it should not necessarily follow that the whole staff would go. He had given the best consideration he could to the subject with this result.


said he certainly had the impression that in the discussion on Saturday there was a definite undertaking given that the case of these men would be favourably considered, the usual honourable understanding well understood in the House. He regarded the Bill as the perpetuation of jobbery, but at least it should not be made the instrument for depriving these poor men of employment. True, they had not an official status entitling to pension, but in practice they had a well recognised position. No fewer than eight men were affected by this, which meant actual ruin to them. Though not legally permanent officials he contended that they were practically permanent officials, standing in the same position to the latter as the uncovenanted Civil Servants stood to the covenanted Civil Service of India. It was an ordinary and recognised system that vested interests should be respected. They were respected to such a degree that men whose offices were abolished got far more pay than they would supposing their offices were maintained. The amount that would come out of the Treasury to pay these men a poor retiring allowance and keep them after the lapse of 20 years in the discharge of honourable work under certain stated understandings, was not a sum that should weigh for a moment with the English Legislature. He could understand the feeling of ruin and despair which would come upon these men if their incomes were taken away for no fault of their own. It was heart-breaking to see hon. Gentlemen bandying thousands and thousands of public money, and at the same time passing Measures which ruined the poor because they were poor. He protested against that injustice to humble individuals. He appealed to the Chief Secretary to consider the case. The Chief Secretary in this matter had certainly gone very near to the verge of breaking faith with Irish Members.


assured the hon. Member that there was no desire on the part of the Government to do an injustice to these men. They were in the employment, not of the Government, but of the Official Assignee. As was frequently the case in the Civil Service—say the Bankruptcy Department of the Board of Trade—the head of a Department employed his clerks just like a private solicitor. The clerks were responsible to him, and not to the Government, and they were not entitled like ordinary Civil Servants to pensions. There was no expectation, however, that these men would lose their employment. The work must still continue, and he believed that there was every reason to believe that their employment would continue. He assured hon. Members that if it was not continued the Government would endeavour to deal as favourably as they could be dealt with.

DR. CLARK said that the hon. Member for the University of Dublin had suggested words to conserve such rights as these men had, and he understood that the Chief Secretary intended to consider the Amendment. Would the compensation to be allotted to the official assignee include the salaries of his clerks?


To be put into his own pocket?




Certainly not.

MR. HENRY KIMBER (Wandsworth)

thought that there was a good deal in what had been urged by hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was part of an evil which touched the whole Civil Service of the country. The fact that the official Assignee in Bankruptcy was allowed a lump sum by the Treasury for the purpose of paying assistants was not a reason why, after those persons had been employed for 13 or 14 years, they should not be considered as public servants. These clerks were paid by the Public Trustee out of the sums paid to him from the public purse. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: "No!"] Then they were paid out of the fees contributed by the public. In derogation of the ordinary practice with respect to the Civil Service, it was becoming usual to pay lump sums to heads of Departments, out of which they allowed certain salaries to persons whose employment was supposed to be temporary. According to the return which he asked for, it had been found that some of these persons had been employed as consistently and progressively as if they had been ordinary Civil Servants, and there was no reason why they should not be entitled to the same rates.


The hon. Member is now entering upon a general discussion of a wide subject which is not material to the Bill.


said that these people deserved the sympathy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's promise to consider the position of these gentlemen as far as he could was but poor consolation. These men had looked upon themselves not as the employés of the official trustee, but almost as Civil Servants. He asked that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should give these public servants the consideration they deserved—that he would give them something more substantial than the pious opinion which he had expressed. Would he be going too far in begging the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give these excellent people, these worthy officials—minor officials he admitted—a promise that their cases would not only be taken into consideration as far as official rules permitted, but that, on account of the special circumstances and the fact that they were going to change the judicial arrangements and amalgamate the Courts, these strict laws of the Treasury should not be adhered to, but that they would be dealt with in a more liberal manner than they had been led to expect.


Perhaps I may be able to put an end to this rumour. The hon. Member will recollect that this Bill does not dispose of the money that will be saved by abolishing the Judgeships and the consequent reduction of staff. It will be necessary, I imagine, next Session for my right hon. Friend to propose some allocation of the money; and I undertake, if it should be found possible to deal fairly with these persons under the existing law, that their cases shall be considered. ["Hear, hear!" and "Agreed!"]


said, that having proposed this Amendment on Saturday, when they got from the right hon. Gentleman a distinct assurance, as he understood—[cries of "No!"]—if not a distinct assurance a modified assurance that the case of these clerks would be considered—


I gave no definite assurance.


said he did not say a definite assurance, but a modified assurance; and he confessed himself disappointed. They were now at the final stage of the Bill, and it would soon pass out of their control; and he must say, as the proposer of the Amendment, that he felt rather aggrieved because certainly he took the language of the Chief Secretary to be rather more definite and distinct than he seemed to allow now. He would recall what occurred during the Home Rule Debates in 1893, when no Gentlemen were more keen and ingenious than those now sitting on the front Treasury Bench in discovering and asserting the rights to compensation of every man in every possible department of the public service—whether Civil Servants or not. It did not lie in the mouths of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who were so keen on that occasion to criticise the Irish Members for standing up for a small number of men in a quasi-official position in the office of the Assignee in Bankruptcy.


rose to continue the Debate.


, interposing, said he was bound to say he did not think the way in which hon. Gentlemen opposite had met the Government was calculated to obtain any concessions. What had occurred was precisely this. His right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland gave on Saturday a perfectly distinct promise which had been perverted, quite unintentionally no doubt, by hon. Members opposite, from the plain sense of the words his right hon. Friend had used. Hon. Gentlemen claimed compensation for certain clerks of the Official Assignee in Ireland. Those clerks were neither directly nor indirectly Government servants; and if the business of the Official Assignee had fallen off some of them would have been turned off without any compensation at all. The Government had met the claim in no ungenerous or niggardly spirit. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had gone beyond any precedent, and had offered terms no Government had ever before offered in similar circumstances. He would have thought that that offer would close the Debate; but, instead of that, hon. Members rose, one after the other, to continue the discussion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's suggestion was a conditional suggestion, and he trusted that hon. Members opposite would not do so ill a service to their clients as to compel him to withdraw it. ["Hear, hear!"]

Read a Second time, and committed for To-morrow.