HC Deb 13 February 1832 vol 10 cc272-8
Mr. Goulburn

wished the right hon. Baronet opposite to give some explanation of the reason why the Estimates were brought forward at this particular period of the year.

Sir James Graham

said, that, in moving the Estimates it was his intention to state his reasons for adopting the course which he now proposed to adopt in bringing the Estimates at this moment before the House.

Mr. Goulburn

had imagined, that it was the intention of the Ministers to adopt a new rule with respect to the Estimates, and to make the financial year commence on the 1st of April. If that was their intention, it struck him that, as a general measure, they would find themselves unable to continue it, and he should like to know the reasons for the alteration.

Lord Althorp

said, that he should at once give an answer to the question, why the Estimates were now proposed, and why the financial year was intended to begin on the 1st of April. By the course hitherto taken, the Estimates had been proposed after a certain amount of the money had been actually expended, and, of course, that expenditure must have been made without the previous sanction of Parliament. It seemed to him an anomalous mode of proceeding, that they should vote the Supplies for the service of the year on Estimates, although, at the time the Estimates were submitted to them, a part of the expenditure had actually been made. With the view of avoiding that anomaly, he thought it more consistent with the privileges of that House, and with the theory of the Constitution, that the Estimates should be submitted for the ensuing year previously to the Supplies being voted, and before the Government had spent any of the money. In future years, that arrangement might easily be carried into effect, but, in the present year, there might be some difficulty in it. In future the financial year might commence in April. It might be said, that in selecting so early a period as April, there might be some difficulty in carrying the arrangement into effect. He admitted that a difficulty would be experienced; but, he believed, that the plan would be found practicable after the first difficulties had been got over.

Mr. Cressett Pelham

suggested, that, to enable the Ministers to carry their plan fully into effect, the House should resume its ancient practice of meeting sometime before Christmas. That would, on many accounts, be very convenient.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that it must have frequently occurred to all persons that there was some anomaly in first expending a part of the public money, and then coming to the House to ask for a vote justifying that expenditure. If the plan now proposed could be effected without inconvenience, it would undoubtedly, remove a great anomaly. But many points were to be considered before it could be carried into effect. The public service required that the Estimates should be voted for the year, before the 1st of April. Now, some time would be required for the examination of these Estimates, and the time between the meeting of the Parliament and the 1st of April would hardly enable them to give the Estimates that examination which it was always desirable to afford them. Suppose Parliament was called together on the 15th of January, he was afraid that there might be subjects of great interest—subjects, perhaps, of greater immediate importance than the Estimates—that would occupy the attention of Parliament. If that should happen, then, unless the House voted every Estimate before the 1st of April, there would be nothing in their arrangement. He hoped that the noble Lord would not be obliged to violate the rule he had laid down, even in the very first year of its existence. By the rule he proposed, the noble Lord gave himself no alternative but to proceed and vote all the Estimates before the 1st of April. He, however, had no objection that the experiment should be tried.

Sir James Graham

agreed with the right hon. Baronet, that the success of the experiment depended wholly on the Estimates being voted before the 31st of March. They would necessarily be later this year than other years, because, as this was the first time that the arrangement had been attempted, it was plain it would force them to vote two Estimates in the present year, in order to bring up the arrears; whereas, in future years, one Estimate only would be required to be voted. He thought there was some force in the obser- vations made by the hon. member for Shropshire. It had been the practice of the House to meet a short time before Christmas; but that practice had been changed, and he did not think it would be absolutely necessary to resume it in order to effect the object now proposed. He attached much importance to the intention of commencing the financial year on the 1st of April. It was one adopted in conformity with the Resolutions of a Committee, at which the right hon. Baronet, the member for the Queen's County (Sir Henry Parnell), presided. In the past year he had not been able to comply with the rule which the Resolution of that Committee proposed; for he had had to prepare the Estimates for fifteen months together, and to pass under review all the heads of expenditure of the different departments connected with that over which he presided. He believed he had not been unsuccessful in that labour. He had had to consider all the demands that would be made on account of foreign service, and to form an Estimate of their amount for some months. These labours necessarily consumed some time, and he had been, in fact, occupied for nearly five months upon them. He believed, undoubtedly, that great difficulty would be found in effecting the change; but the change, when effected, would, he was sure, be found invaluable, and if the House chose to enforce it, would secure that real control of the House over the expenditure which he desired to see established. If the House should henceforward assemble early in January, the existing Government would always find it necessary to lay their Estimates before them at a very early opportunity, which he had no doubt would be found perfectly practicable. He was now prepared to make the statement of the Estimates both for the quarter and the year, and he was not without some hopes that both might be found satisfactory.

Sir Robert Peel

needed no authority to convince him of the desirableness of the plan, if it could be effected. In a constitutional point of view it was evidently preferable; but as there were obviously many difficulties in the way, he thought the most mature consideration should be given to it, so as to make the change com plete at once.

Sir Henry Parnell

said, that as he had been appealed to, he thought it proper for him to declare, that he had been most anxious that this rule should be introduced; for he conceived it to be a great absurdity to say, that Parliament was to control the public expenditure, and, at the same time, to allow a considerable portion of the money to be expended before the vote authorizing it was agreed to. With regard to this particular arrangement, it was in some degree connected with the Report of the Committee alluded to, for a great part of which he was personally responsible. Whether the 1st of April was the most proper day that could be proposed, was, perhaps, a subject on which there might be some doubt, but, for his own part, he was ready to say, that he thought that day would answer.

Mr. Goulburn

was of opinion, that the matter should be made the subject of inquiry by a Committee. He was not disposed to make the experiment, ignorant as he was of all the facts on which the supposed necessity for it was founded. He thought there was a constitutional objection to the arrangement now proposed. By the original constitutional practice, that House was to assemble, not only to grant money for the public service, but, in the first instance, to hear and redress public grievances. The redress of grievance ought to precede the grant of money; but if this arrangement were carried into effect, he could not see how the House could possibly have time to hear and redress public grievances before they were called on to vote the Supplies. By the present system they had a control over the Crown, because they had a control over the expenditure itself, which they might refuse to warrant until any grievances of which they complained had been redressed; but if they were to be required to vote the Supplies before they had had time to hear and redress grievances, that control would be gone.

Mr. Robert Gordon

rejoiced that this change of system had taken place, and he rejoiced the more, as the Ministry were now endeavouring to carry into effect the recommendations which they had made when seated on the other side of the House. He was well satisfied to hear what had just fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who had all at once become so anxious for the redress of grievances. It had been his fate to be opposed to the right hon. Gentleman for twenty years, and to maintain against that right hon. Gentleman that they were bound to enter on the discussion of grievances before they granted away the public money. He was glad to find that the right hon. Gentleman had now come round to his opinion. But the right hon. Gentleman had not explained how that object was to be effected by opposing this vote. If the right hon. Gentleman wished to secure, beyond the possibility of doubt ample time for the discussion of grievances, before money votes were passed, that object could be attained, not by reverting to the old system, which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to recommend, but by altering the time for passing the Estimates from the 1st of April to the 1st of July. That plan would completely answer the purpose, and give them full opportunity for redressing grievances before passing the money votes.

Mr. Hume

was much pleased with the proposal now made by the Ministers. He thought that the practice, ever since he had been in that House, was unconstitutional. His Majesty had not legally the power to expend one single farthing, without the expenditure having first received the sanction of that House. The mere vote of a Committee of Supply did not authorise the expenditure; a Bill was required for that purpose; for it was competent to that House to alter their vote before the appropriation clause was passed. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman near him, that the grievances of the people ought to be redressed before the money was voted; but he thought that, by the plan now proposed, that might be done, and yet sufficient time be left for the consideration of the Estimates. However, he thought that, to obviate all possible difficulty on that head, it would be as well that the financial year should commence on the 1st of July, instead of the 1st of April.

Mr. Herries

denied the doctrine put forth by the hon. member for Middlesex, that an Act of Parliament must pass to legalise the expenditure of money, which had been the subject of a vote of that House. Such a rule would offer a most serious impediment to the public service, and would, in his opinion, affect the privileges of that House. The money might be applied on the authority of a vote of that House, and it was well known, that every Ways and Means Act contained a clause authorising such an application. They should not bind themselves so strictly upon this point, or else, on many occasions, they might severely embarrass the public service. On a recent occasion, when the Parliament had been dissolved suddenly, there had been no Appropriation Bill passed. The greater portion of the money required for the public service had been already voted, and the money required beyond that amount was so trifling, that he had not deemed it necessary to call the attention of the House to the money that had been so expended without authority. But if the hon. member for Middlesex really entertained the opinions he had just expressed, what a dereliction of duty it was in him not to have brought the subject before the House. With respect to the plan itself, he should only say, that he feared it would be found impossible to carry it into effect, under all circumstances. He saw no sufficient reason for departing from the practice which had prevailed for 100 years, but, as it was an experiment, he would not oppose it.

Lord Althorp

considered it would be wise to establish a rule upon this point, and endeavour to act upon it as strictly as possible. He would allow, it might happen, that special grounds might exist, which would render it necessary to depart from that rule, but then this would be its exception. He considered the alteration an advisable one to make.

Sir Henry Hardinge

said, it was rather ominous to have the financial year commence on the first of April; but he did not rise to make any further remark upon that subject. He wished to know if it were intended to introduce the Army and Navy Estimates early in the year, as it would be necessary that the Mutiny Act should pass by the 24th of March. If that were not so, a greater license would be given to Ministers in framing those Estimates.

Lord Althorp

admitted it was of importance to provide for passing the Mutiny Act as early as possible; but, at the same time, it could not be necessary to advance it at an earlier period than April or even May. They were not bound to pass it by the 24th of March.

Sir Robert Peel

thought this subject could be much better discussed in a Committee than on the present occasion. He wished the House to proceed with the Estimates.

Sir Byam Martin

said, it would be very necessary to make certain naval contracts in February or March, which could not be then done with the consent of Par- liament; and, on the other hand, if they were not made, great additional expense and delay would be sure to take place.

Sir James Graham

said, he did not see that the difficulty just stated was at all insuperable. The contracts should always be made in reference to the stock of provisions and materials in the different stores on the public account. If any special or urgent case should arise, in which an extraordinary vote might be considered necessary, then he considered it would be proper for Ministers to come down to the House, and state the special case, and take the sense of the House upon it.

Mr. Croker

said, it would be necessary to make the contract for provisions for the Navy as early as the month of October or November; and, in fact, unless the vote for the current year was agreed to at once, there would be at least half a-year during which the navy would not have supplies. He did not object to the proposed plan of only voting Estimates after a due examination by Parliament that they were necessary, for it sometimes happened that Ministers and Parliament did not agree upon the amount of Estimates either for the army or the navy.

Sir James Graham

said, that there was almost invariably in the store-houses a supply fully equal to one year's consumption. If, however, any greater supply was necessary, it could be immediately provided by an application to Parliament.

The House resolved itself into a Committee of Supply.