HL Deb 19 April 1831 vol 3 cc1588-600
Earl Grey

rose, to move that their Lordships should go into a Committee on the Civil List Bill. Their Lordships were, no doubt, aware, the noble Earl said, that hitherto it had been customary to vote, under the head of the Civil List, not only all the personal expenses of the Monarch, but also many of the civil expenses of Government. It had been the custom, not only in the reign of George 3rd, but also in that of George 4th; and the total amount of the sums voted for the Civil List of the late Monarch, including the personal expenses of the King, and the civil expenses of his Government, amounted to 1,056,000l. In the Civil List proposed by the late Government, it was intended to make some alteration, and to separate from the personal expenditure of the King part of the expense of the Civil Government. It was intended to transfer part of the expenses which had been previously charged on the Civil List to the consolidated fund, and to vote them in future annually with the Estimates. It had been proposed to separate from the Civil List, the salaries of the Judges, of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, of the Speaker of the House of Commons, and of some other offices which were to cease with the lives of their present holders. The amount of the salaries of these offices in England and Ireland together, was 63,389l. This sum was to be separated from the Civil List, and was to be transferred to the consolidated fund, and voted along with the ordinary estimates of the year. Besides, there were to be taken from the Civil List 30,000l., which was paid for our Consular establishments; 13,040l. paid for expenses in Scotland, for prosecutions, &c. &c.; and 7,513l. paid to Dissenting Ministers in England—-amounting together to 50,553l. Now, this sum, added to the former sum of 63,389l. which he had before mentioned, gave a total in round numbers of 114,000l. which was, in future, according to that pro position, to be separated from the Civil List. It was then proposed by the late Government, to vote for the Civil List of his Majesty, comprising the personal expenses of the Sovereign, and part of the expenses of his Civil Government, a sum of 970,000l., which, added to the 114,000l. already mentioned, made all the expenses of the Civil List proposed by the late Government 1,084,000l., which was 100,000l. less than the Civil List voted to his late Majesty. It had been proposed by the present Government to carry still further the principle of separating the expenses of the Government from the expenses necessary to enable the King to live in that comfort and splendor to which no King had a better title than the gracious Sovereign at present on the throne. For this purpose it was proposed in the Bill which he now moved to have referred to a Committee, that there should be nothing contained except what related to the personal expenses of his Majesty. The reasons for making this separation he would state at a subsequent period. At present it would be most convenient to show how the Civil List proposed by the present Government would operate in comparison with that proposed by the late Government. It had been proposed, in the first place, to transfer to the consolidated fund a considerable part of the pensions which now existed, and were hereafter to be reduced. Secondly, it was proposed to transfer to the same fund the salaries of the Judges, the diplomatic salaries, and the salary of the Lord, Lieutenant of Ireland, amounting in all to 382,249l. It was also proposed to vote in the Committee of Supply the sum of 30,000l. proposed by the former Government, for the salaries and expenses connected with the Board of Works. It was also proposed that the salaries of Ambassadors, of the Lord Privy Seal, &c. amounting to 171,000l. should be voted in Supply. The amount of the Civil List, as proposed, was 510,000l. which, added to the sum he had mentioned, made the whole sum 1,063,418l., so that the real difference of expense between the Civil, List proposed, by the present and the late Government, was not more than 21,000/., a saving which arose from the reduction of some offices, and the calling in of some pensions. He could not state that there was in this respect any great saving at present, but there would eventually be a large saving. With respect to the reductions which the present Ministry intended to make in the Pension List, he had to observe, that the late Government had intended to reduce it from 150,000l. to 140,000l. The present Government intended to reduce it, not to 140,000l. but to 75,000l.; so that there would eventually be a saving in the Pension List of 65,000l. At the same time there would be a great diminution in the amount of pensions which Government would have the power to grant. According to calculations which he had made, the average amount of pensions falling in upon the English List was 2,600l. per annum, on the Scotch List, 1,200l., on the Irish, 2,400l., making in the whole 6,200l. By the restrictions, however, above alluded to, as intended by the late Government until the whole amount of pensions was reduced to 140,000l., the sum of 1,200l. only on the Irish, and 800l. on the Scotch List could be granted; which sums, added to 2,600l., the average amount of pensions falling in on the English List, made 4,600l. the annual amount of pensions which the late Government retained the power of granting. According to the present proposal, the manner in which the reduction was to be made was this. The whole of the pensions on all the three Lists were to be arranged in alphabetical order, and one half, or rather less than one-half, was to be placed on the Civil List: and as these fell in, Government would have the power of granting pensions to that amount. He had stated to their Lordships that the average amount of pensions which at present fell in annually was 6,200l.; it was, therefore, something less than the half of this sum, that was, about 3,000l., which the Government would possess the power of granting, making a sum of about 1,500l.. per annum, annually saved to the public. This was the general arrangement made by his Majesty's Ministers with respect to pensions. It remained for him to state what the different articles were which formed the 510,000l.. now placed on the Civil List. That List was to be divided into five classes. The first class contained the Privy Purse for the King, and the allowance for the establishment of the Queen. The sum fixed for the privy purse was 60,000l., a sum which he was sure that their Lordships would not think too large, when they heard that it was the same amount as that which had been appropriated to this purpose ever since the year 1779. The allowance for the Queen's establishment was 50,000l. He was sure that it would not be necessary for him to vindicate the amount of that sum: on the contrary, he felt that he had rather occasion to lament that it was not larger, when he recollected, that at the time the late Queen Charlotte first came to this country her allowance was fixed at the same amount, and that in the year 1786 it had been raised to 58,000l. He would take that opportunity of stating the indignation which he felt on hearing last night of the shameful manner in which her illustrious name had been made the subject of attack. He felt the greater indignation, because he knew that there was not the slightest shadow of foundation for the malevolent imputations which had been insinuated against her. He felt that he ought to regret that this sum was too little, rather than apologize to their Lordships for its being too much. Here also he must say, that the means which had been granted to all former Queens had not been granted to her present Majesty, to provide for the expenses incident to her exalted station. He lamented, that the usual sum had not been granted to her Majesty for an outfit, as she had many things to provide for her exalted position in the country, and as she could not provide for them at all without anticipating much of her ordinary revenue. The present Government, then, proposed to grant 60,000l. for the privy purse, and 50,000l. for the Queen's allowance, making 110,000l. in all. The second class comprised the salaries of the great officers of the Household, amounting to 130,100l. Here he must observe, that the Committee to which the Estimates of the Civil List had been referred, after examining into the subject, had proposed that this grant be reduced 119,000l. [A noble Lord expressed his surprise at this statement.] He begged pardon, he meant that it be reduced to 119,000l. Now this would have reduced the general estimate of the Civil List to 498,000l. But when it came to be considered in the other House of Parliament, the House would not accede to the recommendation of the Committee, but left the Civil List at the amount of 510,000l. as originally proposed by the Government, The third class comprised the expenditure in the departments of the Lord Steward, of the Lord Chamberlain, of the Master of the Horse, &c, and for that expenditure the sum of 180,000l. was allowed. He was happy to say, that upon an examination into this subject by the Committee, it appeared that there could be no reduction made in the amount of expenses incurred on account of his Majesty's personal comfort, beyond that which had been made before this Government entered into office. The next class comprised the Royal bounties and charities, for which 23,000l. was provided; and the fifth and last class included the pensions, in which there had been a reduction made, which brought the sum provided for them down from 140,000l. to 75,000l. The comparison, then, between the Estimates of the two Governments on these five classes stood thus:—For the first class both Governments had set aside a sum of 110,000l.; for the second class the late Government had set aside 140,546l.; and the present Government 130,000l. Now the difference on this point did not arise from any saving which had been made to the public, but from the transfer of several items to the consolidated fund. For the third class, which consisted of the Bills for the departments of the Lord Steward, the Lord Chamberlain, the Master of the Horse, &c, the late Government proposed 210,500l., and the present Government proposed 180,000l. But this difference was not occasioned by any saving made to the public. For the fourth class the same charge was made in both. For the fifth class, which contained the pensions, the late Government had made a provision of 140,000l.: the present Government had reduced it to 75,000l.; so that, adding up the amount of each separate vote, the late Government made a provision of 624,000l. for the Civil List, and the present Government a provision of 510,000l., leaving a difference of 114,000l. between the two. This was not all made up of savings: the great advantage of it consisted in the reduction of the pensions, which he had already described, and which would only be a saving eventually. This was the general statement which he had to make of the provisions for the King under the present Civil List Bill. He wished then to point out the advantages which he conceived would arise from separating the personal expenses of the Monarch from the civil expenses of the Government. The separation would remove all doubt from the public mind as to the portion of the Civil List which was actually required for the expenses of royal state. There would be a great advantage in this; for the country would then know what portion of expense was furnished for the support, for the comfort, and the splendor, of the Monarch, and thus a stop would be put to the cruel misrepresentations which had so long been circulated on that subject. He thought that when the amount of the pensions was taken into consideration, and it was considered that 510,000l. was all the sum set aside to pay them, and to support the Royal dignity, no one would think it too much, as compared either with the provision made for former sovereigns of England, or with that made for the other sovereigns of Europe. Besides, in separating the civil expenses of the Government from the Civil List, there was this further advantage, that you brought them under the control of Parliament, and enabled Parliament annually to deal with them as circumstances might require. The result of the new arrangement proposed by the present Government would be, that there would be of that portion of public money formerly voted to the Civil List no less than 553,000l. withdrawn from it, and placed under the control of Parliament: whereas, under the system of the late Government, only 114,000l. of that sum would have been rendered subject to the same control. There was only one other point to which he wished to call the attention of their Lordships, and that was, that the reduction on the Pension List was only eventual, and not immediate. He knew that it had been made a reproach to the present Government that the amount of that List had not been reduced at once from l50,000l. to 75,000l. His answer to that reproach should be very brief. He did not mean to deny that, technically speaking, the Pension List, having been granted during the late King's life only, ceased with him, and might be discarded instantly. But he thought that it would be a harsh, and, though not an illegal, an inequitable mode of proceeding so to deal with it. He was not bound to defend the manner in which the pensions on that List had been granted. He had no interest in any of them. Whether they had been granted improperly or not, he could not tell; he only knew that there were circumstances attending some of them which excited great distrust in the public mind. He thought, however, that it would be invidious to go into a minute inquiry into the circumstances which had attended the granting of each pension. Though they were not legally pensions for life, the understanding that they were granted for life was so general, that it would be injustice, or something like injustice, to take from individuals that provision which they had been accustomed to think themselves entitled to as long as they lived. He therefore thought it better that the public should suffer the payment of these pensions for a time, than that it should be guilty of any conduct which bore the appearance of injustice, and which would have the effect of placing his Majesty in such a situation as would compel him to take away such pensions as his father and his brother had granted, under an expectation that they would be continued for the lives of the present holders. That was the reason why the Ministers had thought that it ought not to reduce the Pension List at once to the amount at which they had determined to fix it eventually. The noble Earl concluded by moving, that this Bill be now committed.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that it was far from his intention to offer any opposition to the Civil List to be granted to his Majesty. He thought, however, that a sum should be granted to his Majesty to defray the expenses of the Civil Government of the country, as well as of his Household. It was the custom, down to the time of George 2nd, to grant to the King taxes upon certain articles, for the purpose of enabling him to defray the expenses of the Civil Government. The principle on which he had drawn up his plan of the Civil List, was, to enable the Sovereign, so far as was practicable, to defray all the expenses necessary to be incurred in supporting the dignity and splendor of the Crown, without having them mixed up with the expenses of his Civil Government. Certainly the Crown had enjoyed great advantage in supporting its dignity and its efficiency, so long as the system of supporting itself on its hereditary revenues remained in practice. That system was departed from at the commencement of the reign of George 3rd, and a further departure from it had been made since, into which, he would, with their Lordships' permission examine presently. From the accounts he had seen of the hereditary revenues enjoyed by George 2nd, he had reason to believe, that if they were now enjoyed by the Sovereign, and employed in defraying the Civil expenses of the Government, and the dignity and splendor of the Crown, they would amount to a sum larger than would be necessary to meet those expenses, notwithstanding the increase which had been made in them by the increased salaries of the Judges, the increased number of the public offices, and the vast increase of the Royal Family. He believed that the hereditary revenues of the Crown, independent of its droits, and its West-India duties, amounted to not less than 850,000l. a-year. He made this statement, because it was important that their Lordships should recollect it, and that the public should know, that notwithstanding the expenses of the Sovereign were great, the Sovereign had as much right to the sum which he had mentioned, as any of their Lordships had to their estates. The system of giving the Sovereign the amount of certain taxes for the support of his Civil Government was first departed from in the reign of George 3rd, when a fixed sum was appointed instead of it for his support. In process of time the expense of the Civil Government increased, and the Civil List became in debt. The consequence was, that in 1815 an inquiry was made into the circumstances which had caused that increase of charges. What was the course then adopted by Parliament? It was to bring certain charges — as, for instance, the charges for Ambassadors—under the annual vote of Parliament, and the object was, to avoid thereby the fixing of any fresh debt, for which no estimate could be previously made, upon the Civil List. In 1820 it was determined that nothing should be brought before Parliament in connexion with the Civil List that was not a casual expense, and for which a regular vote could not be submitted. The late Government in presenting their Civil List, made a still further departure from the old plan, and upon this principle—where-ever part of a salary was to be paid out of the Civil List, and part out of the Consolidated Fund, it was resolved to pay all out of the Consolidated Fund. This course was adopted with regard to the salaries of the Lord Chancellor, the Judges, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and also of various other officers, some of which had been since then abolished. He must complain of the part of the present Bill which subjected the salaries of the Great Officers of State to the annual vote of the House of Commons. He was of opinion that some measure should be adopted to place them, at least, upon the Consolidated Fund, in order to prevent the possibility of the country being left without a proper and efficient administration of public affairs. He would not leave the Government to the chance of being impeded by a small majority in a Committee of the House of Commons, which, according to the proposed plan, might diminish the salaries of public officers at pleasure. At the period of the Revolution there were long discussions on the subject of the hereditary revenues of the Crown, and the provision for the Sovereign, but no one had ever dreamt of separating the Crown from the Civil Government, in making a provision for Royalty. The plan of separation was one of modern invention: he objected to it altogether, because by possibility it might place the Crown in a situation such as it ought not to be placed in, by depriving it of the assistance of a public officer, whose salary might be lost by a single vote in a Committee of Supply. Further, he was of opinion that the repairs, alterations, and other expenses of the royal residences, limited as they were to a certain sum, ought to be placed under the control of the Treasury, and should not be left to an annual vote of the House of Commons. The noble Earl was mistaken in supposing that the saving upon Scotch and Irish pensions would amount to 4,000l. a-year. He (the Duke of Wellington) could only make the amount of saving 2,000l. [Earl Grey intimated that he had stated it at the latter sum.] He entirely agreed with the noble Lord in the propriety of abstaining from disturbing pensions, many of which had been well deserved, although a few might have been granted on insufficient grounds. Two pensions had been, unsolicited by him, granted by his late Majesty to two near relations of his own—one after the battle of Salamanca—the other after that of Vittoria; and he must say, that he felt deservedly proud of this favour graciously vouchsafed by his Sovereign. Parliament might take away such marks of approbation, but he never would consent to his relations resigning them. He must repeat his expression of the pain which he felt at seeing the expenses of the Sovereign detached entirely from those of the Civil Government, and the latter left, in point of fact, entirely at the mercy of the chance of a single vote in a division of the House of Commons. One word with respect to the discontinuance of the office of Auditor of the Civil List; he assured the noble Lord that unless he had some person in the Treasury to perform the duties of that office, the Civil List must get into debt. He must object also to the proposed reduction in the salaries of the great officers of the Government, and observe that at the existing rate of salaries, unless a first Lord of the Treasury (and the remark would apply to other officers) possessed a large private fortune, he must be ruined in consequence of the heavy expenses entailed on him by his situation, and the inadequacy of the sum allowed to meet those expenses. In proof of this, he might instance the cases of three Prime Ministers, Mr. Pitt, Mr. Perceval, and Mr. Canning, all of whom had been ruined by being in office. He himself had proposed a provision for the family of Mr. Canning in consequence. So much he thought it right to say on the subject of the higher offices in the Government. With respect to some of the smaller offices held by Members of the House of Commons, there were few in which, on Gentlemen accepting them, it did not take the whole of the first year's salary to defray the expenses of re-elections, patents, &c. How could it be pretended, when such was the case both with respect to the higher and lower offices of Government, that the salaries of public men ought to be reduced? The parliamentary business of the Government in the House of Commons was greater than could be at present performed by the members of Government; for instance, hardly a Committee sat in which it was not desired to have a person connected with Government as Chairman or member of it. Such being the case, he objected to the reduction in the number of Government officers (the Vice-Treasurer of Ireland being one), as well as to the diminution of the salaries of office.

Viscount Goderich

admitted the expenses incident to the holders of official situations were very great. There were many expenses which it would be impossible to enumerate; but for many years Parliament had proceeded cutting down the salaries of minor offices, and it would not be either fair or decent if they did not now proceed to deal with the salaries of places of greater consequence; and as the former had been reduced on account of the alteration effected by a change in the currency, the latter ought not to escape similar treatment. He must confess that he thought the objections of the noble Duke, as to the probability of the dignity of the Crown being brought in some measure into degradation by the arrangement of the Civil List, were of no weight. The salaries of many of the higher offices bad been paid from various sources, and they were now to be taken from one. He contended that, of late years, Parliament acquired and exercised an indirect control over the items of public expenditure contained in the Civil List, which was equivalent to the direct control, and that, therefore, placing these items under the direct control of Parliament was, in practice and effect, no real change. He admitted, that the hereditary revenue of the Crown, in all its branches, exceeded the amount of the Civil List as it now stood, but that if all the charges to be found on the Civil List, even in the reign of George 2nd, were retained, the amount would exceed the hereditary revenues. The noble Duke had objected also to the abolition of the office of Auditor of the Civil List; but he thought the duties of that office might be efficiently performed by the Treasurer; and the salary of the Auditor was therefore a saving to the public.

Lord Ellenborough

said, with respect to salaries, a Treasury Minute not yet on their Lordships' Table, had been made and printed, which, so far as it regarded the salaries of the officers of the Board of Control, he wished then to say was absurd, unjust, and injurious to the public service. The largest reductions were proposed in the salaries of the most efficient officers; and the saving was not to the people of England, for the people of England did not pay a shilling towards the salaries of those officers. Every farthing that could be saved in this department ought to be applied to strengthen and render it efficient. Having said so much, he was glad to have an opportunity of hearing his testimony to the merits of the officers of the Board of Control. From his knowledge of that department, he was bound to say, that the public could not have more efficient officers. He was satisfied, that when the noble Earl opposite came to reconsider the subject, he would find that he could make no reduction in the expenses of that Board. He could assure the noble Lord that the salaries of the clerks in that office were at present too low, and that the general strength of the department required to be augmented. With respect to the question immediately before their Lordships, he must express his regret, that the expenses of the Crown were in future to be exhibited as a specific annual charge, distinct from the Civil Government of the State, thus separating the expenses of the Crown from the expenses of the Government and exhibiting the former as a naked pageant to the people. This was not the time when such an experiment ought to be made. He objected to the plan of placing under the control of Parliament a large number of matters formerly charged upon the Civil List—matters closely connected with the Civil Government, and in relation to which the utmost inconvenience was to be apprehended from taking annual votes of the House of Commons. He believed that the best Reformer in pecuniary matters was an honest Government acting under the control of Parliament. A popular assembly was rarely just or wisely economical in financial matters; it was often extravagant, and frequently its proceedings were not equitable.

The Earl of Carnarvon

had always been of opinion that the personal expenses of the Monarch were unjustly exposed to public comment when mixed up with the public expenses. The mode in which the salaries of public officers were charged, partly on the Civil List and partly on other funds, also created great confusion in the public accounts. Upon these grounds he was friendly to the separation which had now taken place. As to the reduction of the salaries of his Majesty's Ministers, he did not blame the present Ministers for yielding to the wishes of the public on that point. If they had rigidly resisted all reduction of their own salaries, they might not have obtained credit from the public on other occasions when they did their duty. Admitting this, as he (Lord Carnarvon) had never received, and was never likely to receive, any of the public money, he felt himself called upon to say, that he thought the public more likely to be losers than gainers by a further reduction of the salaries of Ministers. Every one who knew any thing of the expense of keeping up establishments in this country knew that it was impossible that Ministers could maintain their establishments, and perform what was expected from them, out of the salaries they received. The effect of any further reductions, then, would be, to oblige the King to choose his public servants from amongst the most opulent portion of the Aristocracy, and not from amongst those in whose hands from their principles and talents, the liberties of the country would be most secure. The King was at present obliged to select those whose private fortunes rendered them independent of remuneration—a circumstance which often excluded the best and most intelligent persons from office. Those who served the country, and who did not receive salaries equal to their expenditure, considered the country was under obligations to them, rather than that they owed the country a strict account for the money they received. It was not from Ministers that observations such as this could be expected. He thought it his duty, then, as an independent Member of the House, to state his objections to the proposition for the reduction of salaries. In doing so, he did not wish to throw any difficulties in the way of the details of the present measure, but he did feel it to be his duty to express his disapprobation of the plan for reducing the salaries of public functionaries.

The House then went into a Committee and the clauses of the Bill were agreed to without any Amendment.

The House resumed.