HC Deb 06 August 1897 vol 52 cc522-32

On the Order of the Day for the Third Reading of this Bill,

MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

said that he desired to enter his protest against the manner in which certain Supplementary Estimates had been presented to the House this Session, and been forced through by means of the final closure, without the House having had any opportunity whatever of discussing them. It was all very well to present Supplementary Estimates for the purpose of providing funds for carrying out objects of which the House had already expressed its approval, but it was quite another thing when the House had had no opportunity of discussing those objects. He desired to refer especially to the Supplementary Estimate in connection with the Wallace Collection. We were now, in regard to that collection, making a new departure in the history of art and education in this country. The Committee which had been appointed to consider and report upon the subject of the collection had made their Report, from which, however, Sir E. Poynter, President of the Royal Academy, dissented. It appeared to him that, in making arrangements for the establishment of what would undoubtedly be the most important art gallery in the world, the House should have been consulted. In his opinion, when the House agreed to the new rules of procedure relating to Supply, it was never intended that large and important subjects, having a far-reaching effect, such as that to which he had referred, should be withdrawn from their consideration by means of the final closure. If the Government of the day were permitted to adopt the course that had been taken in regard to the subject, they might, by postponing the Supplementary Estimate until the day for the final closure, prevent the House from having an opportunity of discussing them. He should regard that as a great evil, and he trusted that the action of the Government would not be followed in the future. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that he desired to refer to the very remarkable statement which was made yesterday at question time by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, in the course of which he said that it had been decided by the Admirals to prevent the Turkish war ships from entering the Bay of Canea, and that Her Majesty's Government did not disapprove of their action in the matter. He was not going into the question as to whether it was or was not desirable that the Turkish fleet should be prevented from entering into Cretan waters, because he was quite ready to admit that there might be good reasons for the decision at which the Admirals had arrived; but, at the same time, he thought that the statement that was made public yesterday on the subject by the First Lord of the Admiralty was very unfortunate. He had for a long period deprecated a policy of hostility to the Porte, and he thought that the proper way of dealing with this matter would have been by private intimation instead of by public announcement in that House. Turkey had as much legal right to send its Fleet to Crete as we had to send the Fleet to any port in Ireland. The Cretan Mussulmans were now suffering the greatest misery and deprivations, cooped up as they were in the seaport towns and without the means of getting food for themselves and their families or pasturage for their cattle. The Turkish Government was doubtless greatly distressed at the sufferings of these Cretan Mussulmans, and it might be—though he did not know where the Turkish fleet was going—that it was going to afford some relief to these suffering Mussulmans. His point, however, was—that whereas the other European Powers in all their communications to the Sultan showed the utmost consideration and courtesy and made things as easy as possible for the Sultan and the Turkish Government to give way, by some unfortunate circumstances statements made by our Government were very often of an exceedingly offensive character, calculated to irritate Turkish and Mussulman feeling. He regretted that so much responsibility was thrown on the Admirals, and urged the Government to take some practical steps at once to settle the unfortunate condition of affairs in Crete.

MR. C. J. MONK (Gloucester)

referred to the question of the indemnity to be paid by Greece to Turkey. This had been variously stated at from 2½ million Turkish pounds to 4¼ millions. Now, if any such sum as four millions was demanded of Greece, the restoration of peace, politically as well as financially, would be deferred for at least 20 years. It was not in the power of Greece to pay any such war indemnity as four millions, and he hoped that would be considered by the Government in their negotiations for peace. He could not share the astonishment of the hon. Member for Sheffield that the people of this country should take the part of the Christian Powers against the author of the Armenian massacres. He believed Lord Salisbury and the Government had done everything in their power to bring the peace negotiations to a successful issue. He had every faith in the desire of the Government to support Greece and to restore the little kingdom to the position it held before its most unwise and foolish action with regard to Turkey. From first to last the Sultan had done his best to thwart the Great Powers in obtaining autonomy for Crete, and now, at the last moment, he was sending an ex-Grand Vizier to carry on the same resistance to reforms which had received his own hesitating but formal acceptance. ["Hear, hear!"]


I hope I may, without disrespect to either of the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, be allowed to answer them in a few sentences. As regards my hon. Friend who has just sat down (Mr. Monk), I may say that we are grateful for his assurances of confidence in the intentions of the Government. ["Hear, hear!"] Concerning the question of the indemnity, I can add nothing to what I said yesterday except this—that the question of the amount of the indemnity has been practically examined by the board of financial experts appointed by the various Powers, on which board this country has been represented by a gentleman who has probably a greater familiarity with Greek finances and resources than any other Englishman; and I can assure the House that in fixing the figure the desire has certainly been not to put it higher than the resources of Greece will enable her to meet. ["Hear, hear!"] As regards my hon. Friend below the Gangway, with one point of his remarks I think everybody in the House will agree when he dwelt upon the advisability, if possible, of what I may describe as centralising the authority of Europe in Crete in the hands of a single person. That is a matter which has been under the serious consideration of the Government, and, I hope, will continue to receive their earnest attention. ["Hear, hear!"] In another respect, I think my hon. Friend did an injustice to the First Lord of the Admiralty. He spoke of the statement made by the First Lord yesterday, in reply to a Parliamentary question, as if it were a superfluous and unnecessary statement. Now, what were the circumstances of the case? The First Lord, in answer to a question on the Paper, gave the House information of which they were already in possession from other sources, and which was, therefore, a matter of public notoriety. He gave information which he had been asked as a responsible Minister of the Government to give in this House, and that there should be found anything superfluous or unnecessary in his doing so I cannot understand.


, interrupting, said he referred to the answer to the supplementary question.


Very well. A supplementary question deserves a reply equally with the original question. ["Hear, hear!"] I must say that in my opinion there is nothing in the reply of the First Lord in the least deserving the description which my hon. Friend has applied to it. ["Hear, hear!"] After all, the point of the observations of my hon. Friend is that the Admirals, the Powers and their representatives, were doing wrong in conveying such an intimation to the Turkish authorities as they have done with reference to the threatened presence of additional Turkish troops in Crete.


I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman, no doubt unintentionally, is misrepresenting my point. I expressly said I would not enter on the question of the desirability or the undesirability of the presence of the Turkish Fleet in Cretan waters. What I objected to was the way in which the British Government made their answers upon these subjects unnecessarily (in my opinion) offensive to the Turkish Government. And I may say that I did not refer only to the First Lord's answer, though that was the occasion of my remarks, but I had in my mind other statements also.


I confess that the explanation of my hon. Friend still leaves me in obscurity as to his meaning. ["Hear, hear!"] I certainly understood him to protest against the representation made by the Admirals acting on behalf of their Governments as to preventing the reinforcement of the Turkish troops in Crete. But I now understand that his objection is limited to the manner in which that representation has been made. But my hon. Friend has not seen the official comunication—["hear, hear!"]—nor have we ourselves. What happened was this. The Admirals met in consultation and decided to make an announcement to the Turkish commander-in-chief that the presence of further Turkish warships in Cretan waters would not be permitted by them. In doing that they acted with the consent of their respective Governments, and they will continue to be supported. ["Hear, hear!"] But there was nothing in the manner in which their decision was communicated to the Turkish commander-in-chief, nor in the manner in which the statement was made in the House of Commons, in the least unusual or in the least likely to be irritating to the susceptibilities of Turkey, or in the least deserving of the remarks of my hon. Friend. He has dispensed me by his last remark from the necessity of defending the action of the Admirals; therefore I will not occupy the time of the House by doing so. ["Hear, hear!"] But as I believe he does not object to the action itself, and as I believe it will be accepted by the House as the natural and inevitable corollary of the steps taken by the Powers since February last when they took Crete into their hands as a deposit pending the future settlement of that country—["hear, hear!"]—I do not think the House at this time will desire me to enter more fully into the matter. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. E. H. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S. W.)

desired to call attention to a matter relating to the Civil Service which he refrained from raising on the Second Reading of the Bill at the request of the Secretary of State. The case to which he wished to refer was one connected with the Post Office, but it raised issues which seriously affected the Civil Servants of the Crown generally. They were called a permanent establishment, but if the line of policy of which this case was an example was to be continued, the word "permanent" would become little better than a mockery and a snare. A clerk in the Savings Bank Department of the Post Office, who was in receipt of £350 a year, had just been compulsorily retired at the ago of 53, after 30 years' service, upon three months' notice, on the alleged ground of inefficiency, with a pension of £162 15s. The officer, confident in the strength of his case—on which he pronounced no opinion—brought a petition of right; but the Home Secretary had advised her Majesty to withhold her fiat. Under these circumstances, so far as the law was concerned, the matter was brought to an abrupt conclusion; and there was no resource but to appeal to the House. He might state that he had no professional connection with the case. He contended that what had been done in this case was not in accordance with either practice or precedent. There was a series of cases, of which this was one, which were entirely novel in the history of the Civil Service. Formerly there were great abuses in the granting of pensions, and in consequence the Superannuation Act of 1859 was passed, providing that no pension should be granted to any Civil Servant under 60 years of age except upon medical certificate of permanent incapacity. Since the passing of that Act the practice had been not to pension before 60 except on medical certificate, nor to dispense with a man's services without a pension except for misconduct. He did not think that was at all unreasonable, considering the circumstances which govern the Civil Service, the members of which had a right to expect, after passing the ordeal of examinations and probation, that their tenure would be, not only in name but in reality, of a permanent character. In 1887 another Superannuation Act was passed which contained what he always considered a very insidious clause, as follows:— When a Civil Servant is removed from office on account of his inability to discharge efficiently the duties of his office, the Treasury may grant such a retiring allowance as they think proper. This clause caused great uneasiness among the Civil Servants of the Crown. But they were not without friends in that House, and he hoped they never would be. ["Hear, hear!"] Strong representations were made to the Government, and to safeguard the interests of existing servants of the Crown a clause was introduced which was now Section 10 of the Act:— Nothing in this Act shall be construed so as to interfere with the rights existing at the passing of this Act of any Civil Servant then holding office. As a lawyer he thought the clause utterly worthless. But that was no answer to the charge of bad faith which he brought against the Government, because whatever the legal value of the clause might be, there were Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury Bench who knew perfectly well that a strong opposition to the Bill was bought off on the understanding that Section 10 would effectually safeguard the interests of then existing servants of the Crown. The officer to whose case he was referring was one of those servants whose rights were supposed to be protected by that Section. How had he been dealt with? A Treasury Minute stated that the Lords of the Treasury had had before them a report from the Post Office to the following effect:— Since 1883 this officer has become inefficient, and although he has been afforded by trial in different branches every opportunity of proving his fitness for the position he occupies, each of the officers under whom he has been placed has formed an unfavourable opinion of his efficiency. According to that statement, from 1883 forwards this officer had been inefficient. But the facts were that in every year between 1883 and 1893 this officer had regularly received an increment to his salary. In 1890 he was actually promoted from the class in which he then was to a higher class. He cited a somewhat similar case in New South Wales, which had been taken into the Courts, and there was an appeal to the Privy Council. He thought it was clear that the Treasury afforded no protection to officers like the gentleman of whom he was speaking, because the Department had accepted without challenge a Report from the Post Office which was inconsistent and insincere.

MR. J. G. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

called attention to the importance of a better postal service being provided to and from the Island of Lewis.


, said that any one listening to the speech of the hon. Member as to permanent Civil Servants would assume that an officer, having once entered the service, whatever his conduct, could not be got rid of by any power on the part of the Crown. This was an impossible position to take up. The hon. Member himself showed the error of that assumption by quoting the Act of Parliament which gave the power to get rid of officers who were unable to do their duty. If in this case any fault had been committed, the error had been in giving the man a larger pension than he deserved, and if he had been in private employment, this officer would have received no pension at all. This gentleman entered the Civil Service in 1865, and up to 1883 his conduct was good. In 1883 complaints began to be made about his inefficiency, dulness, and utter inability to perform the duties of his office. He practically admitted that he was out of place in his department, because in 1886 he asked to be removed elsewhere. This gentleman was moved from one branch of the Post Office to another, in order to give him some opportunity of being of use. But in every department to which he was removed he had failed, and he went from bad to worse, until in the end it was absolutely necessary to get rid of him. Not only could he not do his work himself, but he had to get other men to help him. He had retired on a pension of £162 a year, which was only 10 per cent. less than if he had been one of the most efficient servants in the public service.


My complaint is that he was practically discharged.


said that this was the case, and he richly deserved it. The Treasury had, if anything, erred on the side of leniency in granting a pension which no private employer would have granted. It was a fact that for several years this man, in spite of his conduct, had been allowed to receive an annual increment, and that he was promoted in 1890 when a reorganisation of the office took place. No doubt sufficient attention had not been paid to his case, and he wished it could be a lesson to the heads of Departments that they should be a great deal more careful than they were in carrying out the Order in Council and in not allowing these annual increments unless officers had rendered good and efficient service. Although this man received an annual increment in 1890, he had a statement from the officer who allowed him to receive it, in which it was stated that probably "nothing short of very severe measures will meet the justice of the case"; that the official record was bad; and that there was a thoroughly unsatisfactory performance of his duties. There was strong evidence to show that the inability was not due to ill-health or failure of power, but largely due to faults of his own.

SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

called attention to the conduct of the Inland Revenue authorities in dealing with the illegal sale of drink. [Ironical cheers.] Not long ago he read a prosecution of a wretched man who for selling half a pint of beer was fined £10. But in the House of Commons the Attorney General had declared that the sale of drink as carried on in its precincts was in his opinion quite illegal. [Ironical laughter.] Seeing that there was no prospect of this illegal sale of drink being stopped he wrote to the Chairman of the Inland Revenue, and, quoting the words of the Attorney General, asked him whether he could not take any steps with reference to the sale of drink in the House—[laughter]—and the Chairman replied that he would do nothing of the kind. [Laughter and ironical cheers.] That apparently gave satisfaction to hon. Members opposite, but it did not give him satisfaction because he held that the law ought to be observed without distinction of persons. He wanted to know to whose credit the profit of this illegal sale of drink went. He also asked whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give instructions to the Inland Revenue to act impartially towards all persons who carried on the illegal sale of drink, either in that House or anywhere else, and whether the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) intended to go on breaking the law next Session as he had this.


observed that the hon. Baronet was naturally somewhat, chagrined at his position. He had placed himself in the position of a common informer—[laughter]—upon whose information the authorities did not act. [Laughter.] All he could say was that he believed the Inland Revenue authorities were perfectly right, and he hoped that they would not depart from their present attitude next Session. Until that time, of course, the question would not arise again. In reply to the hon. Baronet's other questions, he had to say that the profits of this illegal performance benefited the taxpayers of the country, and possibly the hon. Member himself, as one of those who frequented the dining-room of the House. [Laughter.] His noble Friend, he might remind hon. Members, had been very zealous in his endeavour to remedy the defect in the law, and his efforts would have been successful but for the opposition of the hon. Baronet himself. ["Hear, hear!"]


rose, but was met with cries of "Spoke!"


understood that the hon. Baronet desired to make a personal explanation. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that all he had done was to insist that the House should be given an adequate and full opportunity of discussing the Bill introduced by the noble Lord. Had such an opportunity been given, he would have been satisfied.

Bill read the Third time.

Sitting suspended at Twenty minutes past Eleven a.m.

Sitting resumed at Half-past Two p.m.

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