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Supply—Civil Service Estimates

Volume 203: debated on Friday 15 July 1870

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SUPPLY considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

(1.) Question again proposed,

"That a sum, not exceeding £75,114, 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 1871, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Subordinate Departments."

Whereupon Question,

"That a sum, not exceeding £73,834, 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 1871, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Subordinate Departments,"—(Mr. Whitwell,)

—put, and negatived.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

(2.) £2,211, to complete the sum for Privy Seal Office.

(3.) £13,792, to complete the sum for Charity Commission.

said, he had intended to bring the whole subject connected with this Commission under the review of the Committee; but after what had occurred that morning he must confess to a certain amount of physical exhaustion, in which, no doubt, many hon. Members shared. He could not help, however, deprecating the practice exhibited in this Vote of subsidizing out of the pockets of the taxpayers those endowed charities which many of them were beginning to regard as very doubtfully useful or politic. If he went into the subject, he could show they were actually bribing them to exist and to multiply. A vast number of these charities did harm rather than good; and he thought that, at all events, an income tax should be imposed upon them which would suffice to defray the cost of the Commission, amounting altogether to £15,000 or £50,000 a year. In the year 1866, the Government promised attention to the matter, and notice was drawn to it in 1867 by an hon. Member. The First Minister called attention to the subject, when out of Office, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had endorsed the view of the right hon. Gentleman; and he (Mr. A. Johnston) believed if a proposal to tax the charities was introduced into the House, it would meet with a more favourable reception than was accorded to it before. Lord Eldon had long ago condemned the way the charity estates were dealt with in this country; and, although things in this regard had improved since his time, they had done so absolutely but not relatively. He (Mr. A. Johnston) had lately been engaged in investigating many of the charities of the City of London; and the waste, improvidence, and misappropriation which had been discovered were such as the House would hardly believe. He hoped the whole subject would receive the serious consideration of the Government.

said, he did not underrate the importance of the subject, but he thought it unadvisable at the present moment to enter into discussion upon it, which must occupy a considerable time. The Report of the Charity Commissioners had however been under the consideration of the Treasury, and the view the Treasury took was that the financial result of their suggestions was by no means in proportion to the exigencies of the case.

Vote agreed to.

(4.) £9,612, to complete the sum for Civil Service Commission.

said, he wished to call attention to an increase in the Vote arising from the appointment of a second Commissioner, at a salary of £1,200 a year; and he should like to know under what circumstances that appointment was made?

said, that the practice had hitherto been to have one paid and one unpaid Commissioner; but the work had increased so much, both in amount and in importance, that on a vacancy occurring it had been filled up by the appointment of a second paid Commissioner.

said, that the public economy had rigidly been studied in making the alteration.

said, he hoped that the Commissioners would take into their own hands the nominations for the Civil Service, so as to prevent the trouble and annoyance to which Members of Parliament were frequently subjected.

Vote agreed to.

(5.) Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a sum, not exceeding £15,008, 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 1871, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Copyhold, Inclosure, and Tithe Commission."

said, he would advocate revising the table of fees so as to make this Commission self-supporting. He thought it was high time to stop subsidizing lords of manors, who, as a rule, were not poor people, and he therefore moved the reduction of the Vote by £4,000.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a sum, not exceeding £11,008, 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 1871, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Copyhold, Inclosure, and Tithe Commission."—(Mr. Andrew Johnston.)

said, that the hon. Gentleman was rather impatient, for the Act by which these fees were levied had only been in operation about a couple of years.

said, he objected to charges for the benefit of individuals being imposed on the public, and he hoped the matter would be pressed to a Division, if the Government would hold out no hope of reducing the Vote.

said, that the time had not yet arrived for looking into the working of the existing system with respect to these fees; but before next year's Estimates were prepared the Government would be in a position to do so.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

(6.) £8,250, to complete the sum for Inclosure and Drainage Acts Expenses.

(7.) £28,349, to complete the sum for Exchequer and Audit Department.

called attention to an item of £500, included in the Vote for servants and charwomen.

said, he did not think the charge was an extravagant one, seeing that there were about 130 people employed in the Department.

said, it appeared to him that the Office was overweighted with messengers and porters.

said, that there were no public servants who rendered more valuable services for their pay than the officers of this Department.

said, it was no answer to a complaint of unnecessary expenditure to tell the Committee that the Office was doing its duty efficiently.

said, he wished to ask whether the recent commutation of a pension which did not exist had come before the Audit Department?

said, that this error had not arisen through inaccurate book-keeping in any Department, but through the negligence of a clerk—an act against which no system of bookkeeping could guard.

Vote agreed to.

(8.) £32,720, to complete the sum for General Register Office.

(9.) £10,390, to complete the sum for Lunacy Commission.

said, it was only reasonable that the private lunatic asylums, which were very profitable, and which benefited largely by the visits of the Inspectors, should be made to contribute towards inspection.

Vote agreed to.

(10.) Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a sum, not exceeding £30,550, 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 1871, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mint, including Expenses of the Coinage."

said, he must complain of the increase of £1,800 in incidental expenses, of which no explanation was given; and a still more serious complaint was the charge for loss on coinage, which was unnecessary. Up to 1856 this loss had been £785 per 1,000,000 sovereigns; but a gentleman who was at one time connected with the Mint had written a book, in which he proved that the loss might easily be reduced to £7 per 1,000,000, and that with proper care of the sweepings there need be no loss at all. The average manufacture per year for the last 30 years had been £3,000,000, and according to this calculation, the entire loss per year would be £21. By voting such a sum as £2,000 they encouraged waste or something worse, for it appeared that in past years there must have been considerable peculation. If, as he was now informed, the sum of £1,800 which appeared in the Estimates was to defray the expenses of a Commission appointed to inquire into the working of foreign mints, he must say he did not think there was any necessity for sending a body of peripatetic philosophers all over the world to find out what could be discovered at homo. He moved the reduction of the Vote by £3,700.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a sum not exceeding £26,850, 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 1871, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mint, including Expenses of the Coinage."—(Mr. Muntz.)

said, he thought that this roving Commission for visiting the various Continental capitals would find that either the coinage or the mints had been made in England, and that a visit under proper auspices to Birmingham would have given all the information wanted. The Commission consisted of a chemist, an engineer, and the Deputy Master of the Mint. The latter was a most valuable public servant, and a personal friend of his own, but his services would be better employed at home. If, as he was informed, a large quantity of gold was given out to private refiners, he thought there must be risk of loss. He wished to know whether there was any truth in the rumour that the Mint was to be transplanted to Somerset House, and that one of the quadrangles of the latter building was to be excavated for its accommodation. Many persons connected with Somerset House thought that placing workshops and smelting furnaces there would be injurious to their health and a great nuisance to them in their work, and that the weight of the machinery above ground might prove a cause of danger to the building itself.

said, the inquiries of the Commission abroad were not directed to mechanical operations, but to the departmental relations between continental Governments and their mints, and considerable advantage might be expected from such an investigation. He wished to take the opportunity of calling attention to the efforts which were being made to call in light sovereigns through the medium of the Bank of England. He was once asked what was the lowest amount the Bank of England would receive, and he replied that if a single light sovereign were brought there the value would be returned for it. In this way they would assist the Bank in its efforts to withdraw all light sovereigns as soon as possible from circulation. [Mr. BARNETT: said he hoped the Bank of England would set the example.] He said every sovereign that went into the Bank of England was weighed; a light coin was never passed over its counter, and he mentioned last year that the Bank lost £4,000 by adopting that plan.

said, he thought it a great advantage that the officers of the Mint should go abroad to inquire into the practice of other nations. To the hon. Gentleman who last spoke he felt bound on the part of the public and of the bankers to express thanks for assisting in measures which, in all probability, had had the effect of removing a great deal of light coin from circulation. No doubt much credit was also due to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this head, for until those measures were adopted with his concurrence light sovereigns had never obtained their full value. Now, whoever sent light sovereigns to the Mint would receive back their weight in heavy sovereigns.

said, that some loss must be entailed by coinage, and all he could say was, that the Mint would do its best to reduce that loss to the lowest possible point. The gold coinage every year amounted to about 8,000,000 sovereigns, and he hoped the Committee would not strike off the £2,000, because whatever the waste might be it must be paid, and that was the usual estimate of loss. He hoped it would be possible to reduce the loss; but in the meantime it was necessary to have the money in hand to cover that which actually occurred, and he must ask the House not to take for granted everything that was to be found in the pamphlet which had been referred to by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz). The author of it was discharged from the Mint by the late Dr. Graham; and being anxious to get back again, and not being successful in the attempt, he had written the work in question. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had made inquiries of a very eminent private refining house, and he was surprised to find that their loss was considerably more than that of the Mint. The metal was extremely subtle and in the process of refining, pene- trated everything in the neighbourhood; and he was informed that there was a great deal of money to be made by sweeping the chimneys of the Mint. As to the tour of the Commissioners, he thought seeing it was the intention to move the Mint from its present situation, which was too large and expensive for the object, that it was not an improvident step to send persons about to get hints from foreign mints for the improvement of the establishment in this country. The machinery sent from Birmingham was frequently altered in accordance with the contrivances of foreign inventors, and some of it was not sent from this country. Therefore the Commissioners would be able to get valuable hints with regard to these matters, as well as to the modes of management of foreign mints and their relations with the various Governments. He might remind the House that the gold at the Mint bore interest while in course of manufacture, and if the time consumed in the manufacture were reduced, the expense would be reduced. He, therefore could not regard the money spent on the scientific Commission as thrown away, and the Report which they would prepare on their return would, he hoped, prove the best answer to the objections taken to the duty assigned them. In answer to the question of the hon. Member for Woodstock (Mr. Barnett), he had to state that it was intended, whenever a suitable site could be found, to move the Mint from Tower Hill. It there occupied four or five acres of very valuable ground, while only one aero was really required, and the manufacture was one which did not require a very prominent site. As to Somerset House, his opinion was, though he did not speak positively on the point, that it would not be wise to move the Mint there. It had been suggested that it might be placed near the terrace, fronting the river; but he was sorry to say that the foundations in that part were not very good. The buildings already there showed signs of sinking, and were supported by iron girders; and if they introduced machinery upon the spot it was possible they might do, and certainly they would get the credit of doing, considerable injury. On the other hand, he agreed as to the very questionable nature of the proposal to dig a great hole in one of the quadrangles of Somer- set House for the purpose. As at present advised, he was not prepared to move the Mint to Somerset House; but there were several other sites in view. The question was still in suspense; but he hoped shortly to fix on a site that would enable him to dispose of the valuable land the Mint now occupied on Tower Hill.

Question put, and negatived.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

(11.) £12,262, to complete the sum for National Debt Office.

(12.) £26,265, to complete the sum for Patent Office.

said, he would beg to ask whether the Government had come to any decision as to the erection of a Patent Museum at Kensington, in conformity with the recommendation of the Select Committee of six years ago?

said, he wished to call attention to the very large fees paid to the Attorney General and Solicitor General in patent cases. He hoped that some means would be taken to improve the system of granting patents.

said, the question of appropriating land at Kensington for public buildings would shortly be brought under the consideration of the House. There was some difficulty in settling the exact places. It was necessary to determine on what principle the Patent Museum at Kensington should be constructed. When time had been given for the consideration of the question it would be brought before the House, if there was any project for erecting at Kensington a building for a permanent Museum of Patents. The receipts from stamp duties on patents had always caused much misapprehension. The sums derived from fees and from stamps had been ascertained in former years by the Committee of Investigation.

said, he thought the whole subject of patents was in an unsatisfactory state. It seemed to him that the Law Officers of the Crown received from fees on patents larger incomes than the First Lord of the Treasury and the Lord Chancellor.

said, he did not grudge the Law Officers their fees; but objected to the money coming out of the pockets of unfortunate inventors, who it seemed were in future to be re- quired to do work that had been done for them hitherto by the Patent Office.

said, he thought the Law Officers were a much misunderstood class, especially in the matter of fees. For a fee of one guinea, or at the most two guineas, specifications were examined by a staff of clerks who had to be kept for that purpose. Patentees would in future be required to provide abstracts of their specifications, because they could do so better and cheaper than the work could be done at the Patent Office.

said, the Law Officers' fee was not a large one, but that was a small item in the cost of a patent, which amounted to £175. Some persons thought that patents ought to be abolished altogether. He did not share that opinion. He had given Notice to move for a Committee to inquire into the working of the Patent Laws with a special view of cheapening the cost of patents to working men; but it was now too late in the Session to enter upon such an inquiry. He hoped there would be an inquiry into the subject next Session. Some of the most useful inventions had sprung from working men, and it was the duty of Parliament to afford them every encouragement.

said, he thought the Committee would do well to let the question remain in its present position until they were able to deal with the Patent Laws. He was not prepared to recommend the cheapening of patents until the country had made up its mind as to what patents ought or ought not to be. It was well known that under the present law the great majority of patents were delusions and snares; they were worth nothing to the unfortunate persons who had taken them out at great expense. He had nothing to say against patents, but as they were blockades against the whole world, they ought to be bonâ fide substantial things. Under the present law a vast number of patents were merely a misnomer and hindrance to inventors.

suggested that the Law Officers should be paid by salary instead of by fees.

Vote agreed to.

(13.) £16,432, to complete the sum for Paymaster General's Office.

(14.) £170,109, to complete the sum for Poor Law Commission.

(15.) £17,487, to complete the sum for Public Record Office.

(16.) £3,563, to complete the sum for West India Loan Commission.

Resolutions to be reported.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a sum, not exceeding £2,044, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1871, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Offices of the Registrars of Friendly Societies in England, Scotland, and Ireland."

House resumed.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next;

Committee also report Progress; to sit again this day.

The House proceeded with the Orders of the Day: and it being ten minutes to Seven of the clock, Mr. Speaker left the Chair.

House resumed at Nino o'clock.