HC Deb 21 February 1833 vol 15 cc1059-67
Mr. Hume,

in rising to call the attention of the House to the state of the Public Accounts, said it was not his intention to institute any comparison between the mode of keeping the national accounts adopted in this kingdom and plans pursued in any other country, but to point out to the House the impropriety of the proceeding of voting money for each particular department separately, in total ignorance of the aggregate expense of the whole. Every statement of accounts, as yet presented to that House, had been defective, at least in one respect—none of them had ever stated what was the whole annual receipts and expendi- ture of the kingdom. Several sums of money were paid away by the Government over which that House had no control; and he considered the existence of two funds, out of which the expenses of Government were defrayed (one, the consolidated fund, and the other that which was annually voted by Parliament), to be a cause of great inconvenience. It appeared, from a paper presented to the House, that the sum voted by Parliament for the expenses of last year, was 17,782,000l. On looking at this account, one would naturally suppose, that it was a statement of the whole expenditure of the country; it was, indeed, the whole of the money over which the House had any control; but the amount actually paid away was 51,000,000l. What, he asked, was the cause of this difference? In the first place, there were nearly 4,000,000l. paid for the collection of the revenue, which was never brought into the public accounts. The only statement of the total expenditure laid before the House, was the annual finance account, moved for last year, by an hon. Member, and the value of which he was ready to admit. That, however, had only reference to the past year, and, in his opinion, it was highly desirable that a similar account should be presented applicable to the coming year, and that a detailed statement of the expense and numbers of the different departments should be in one sheet, in order to enable the Members of that House to judge whether, by a consolidation of some of the boards, or by any other alteration which might be deemed advisable, the mode of conducting the business of the country could be simplified, and the expense reduced. He believed that if a detailed account of the various Boards of Excise, Customs, Stamps, &c., were put into Members' hands, they would be of opinion, that one-third of the present number of Commissioners would be sufficient to transact the business. By a return lying on the Table it appeared that, in some ports in England, Scotland, and Ireland, the expense of the establishment of custom-house officers amounted to twice as much as the whole of the Customs collected in them. The cause of this, he believed was to be discovered in the practice, formerly followed, of giving to such of the Representatives of those places as voted with the Administration of the day, the power of appointing to all Government offices in them. He hoped that the time for such practices had now passed by. Since the year 1797 a considerable increase had taken place both in the expense of the public establishments and the number of officers employed. He was ready to admit that a great reduction had been of late years effected in several of these establishments; but he was of opinion that, with regard to the departments employed in the collection of the public revenue, a much greater approximation might be made than now existed to the scale of 1797, if a detailed account of their expenditure was annually laid before Parliament. It was his object to obtain, in one account, a statement of the gross revenue and expenditure of the country. The papers on the Table stated that expenditure to amount to 46,300,000l., which sum was 3,000,000l. or 4,000,000l. less than the amount actually expended. 1,315,000l. were annually paid away to defray the expense of the Custom-house department and the preventive service, not one shilling of which was under the control of Parliament. In like manner, 1,140,000l. were paid to defray the expenses of the Excise department; 238,000l. for the expenses of both Houses of Parliament; and 212,000l. as allowances to the junior branches of the Royal Family, without the sanction of Parliament being annually obtained for such payments. When pensions were once granted, they were placed on the Consolidated Fund, over which that House had no control, nor any particular knowledge, unless when a detailed account was called for. He considered that an account of all pensions and all allowances made to the civil officers of the Government, as well as the salaries of the Judges, ought annually to appear in the Estimates, together with a reference to the several Acts of Parliament by which they were authorized to be paid; so that hon. Members might be able to know whether they were such as should be reduced in amount, or altogether discontinued. There was a gross sum of 412,000l. paid for judicial services, and, if Members had an opportunity of seeing how that large sum was appropriated, he was sure many of them would agree with him in thinking that some of the Judges were paid too much. Every item of the 51,000,000l. expended should be laid before the House, and an estimate might also be produced of the supposed produce of every tax. Even when a tax was partially repealed, there could be no difficulty in estimating what it was supposed the part which remained might produce. When the expense of printing for that House amounted to 100,000l., he could not understand the reason why these accounts were not given in detail; it surely could not be on account of the cost. It was true, that after these pensions and salaries were paid, some statement of them was laid on the Table, but what he wanted was, that a detailed account should be presented before a single shilling was voted; and that they should have the whole number of men in the service of the country, and the expense attending them, stated in one sheet. The House was to be called upon to vote 27,000 seamen and marines for the current year. Now, of that number, 9,000 were marines; and out of that 9,000, 5,000 were always on shore. That was a circumstance that was entirely overlooked when the House was called upon to vote the number of the army. He therefore contended that the amount of the expense and force of all these different establishments should be laid before the House in one sheet. Why, he should like to know, could not the Estimates, in all their details, be made out by the 15th of January? If they were prepared at that period, the Members of that House would have time to consider what reductions could be effected. He repeated that, until they had a statement of every shilling of the public expenditure and receipts before them, their accounts would never be in a satisfactory state. He did not think that to be an honest account which stated the whole expenditure of the nation to be 46,000,000l., when, in fact, it amounted to 51,000,000l. His object was to obtain the means by which the people might be enabled to judge of the whole amount of taxation to be raised, and the whole amount of payments to be made in the course of the year; as well as the number of individuals employed in the naval, military, and civil establishments of the country. The hon. Member concluded by moving—"That there be laid before this House estimates of the gross receipts of the public income of the United Kingdom, under separate heads, for the year 1833, in order to show the total public income for that year: of all payments to be made for the public service, in every department, under separate heads, under any Act or vote of Parliament, stating the several Acts authorizing the same, in order to show what will be the total public expenditure in 1833:—Estimates, in detail, stating the number of each class of persons employed, and the rate of pay and emoluments of each class, under separate heads; of the charges of management for the collection of the revenues of Customs, Excise, Post-Office, Stamps, Land and Assessed taxes. Crown lands, and other small branches of revenue, for the year 1833; stating by what authority those payments are made: Estimates, in detail, of all payments to be made out of the public income of the United Kingdom in its progress to the Exchequer, other than charges of collection, for the year 1833; distinguishing each kingdom, and the authority by which such payments are made."

Colonel Davies seconded the Motion.

Lord Althorp,

before he proceeded to reply to the hon. Member's observations, begged to remind him, that the terms of the Motion which he had just made were in direct contradiction to the arrangement which was made last year, with respect to the commencement and termination of the financial year, and which arrangement was also made with the hon. Member's approbation. By that arrangement the financial year extended from April to April in each year, and not as the hon. Member now apparently wished to fix it, from January to January; and with reference to what he himself had said on a former occasion relative to this matter, the hon. Member seemed to imply that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not understand the nature of the change which had been made in the financial terms. Now, what he had understood the alteration to amount to was, that the House agreed to vote a part of the Estimates for the then ensuing year, before the year had commenced; but he certainly did not imagine that the House meant, by its decision, to sanction the hon. Member's demand for an estimate of the expenditure of the ensuing year before the present year had expired, for he could not see how it was possible for that to be done. By the present mode of making out the financial accounts, the expenditure and receipts of the past year were first furnished at the close of the financial year, and then the Minister proceeded to state what the estimated expenditure was for the current year. Now, if he were to attempt to make any such financial statement as the hon. Member's Motion would, if agreed to, require from him, before the April quarter completing the year had expired, the effect would only be, to elicit from him a most confused and unsatisfactory statement, and such as would have the effect of defeating the hon. Member's object. The hon. Member had made a complaint, at which he thought the House would feel considerably surprised. The hon. Member had asserted that the Ministers practised a delusion on the public, in furnishing the yearly retrospective balance-sheet. Now, he must say, that he was surprised to hear such a declaration from the hon. Member, for the balance-sheet was furnished solely in consequence of his own suggestion. The hon. Member had also complained that a part only of the yearly expenditure came under the observation and control of Parliament—namely, that which was included in the votes of the Committee of Supply. Now, it certainly was very true, that the money which was paid out of the Consolidated Fund was not voted every year; but that fund was at the disposition of Parliament, and the House had the power, at any time, of repealing the Acts by which the Consolidated Fund had been devoted to the purposes to which it was now applied, and the only reason why that part of the expenditure which was provided for by the Consolidated Fund was not brought before the House, together with the Estimates was, because the Act of Parliament had fixed the exact amount of that payment, whereas the supplies depended upon the expenditure from year to year. It was his intention, and indeed a bill was in preparation, which would be ready when the immediate press of business had been disposed of, whereby the Exchequer would in future be put under such a regulation as he trusted would be satisfactory; by that arrangement the whole amount of the gross revenue would be carried to the account of the Exchequer on the one side, and the gross expenditure on the other; and when this change was effected, he should have no objection to furnish every one of the accounts in detail. He should also think it proper that the House be called upon to vote all the Estimates in one gross sum, but as the accounts were at present made up, the contingencies rendered it impossible to say prospectively what amount of expenditure would be necessary. The hon. Member had complained that there was at present no account furnished of the gross revenue of the country. Now, the hon. Member must have said what he did not mean, for it could not have escaped his observation that the very first sheet of the financial accounts contained the gross amount of the revenue: [Mr. Hume—Yes; but not the gross amount of last year's revenue:] So the hon. Member wanted the Estimates of the present year—even before the past year's services were brought to a close. However, to pass to the hon. Member's other objections, the only data from which any Estimates could be prospectively calculated, must be taken from those of the preceding year; but he did not know that the gross revenue of the preceding year could form any basis for a calculation as to the receipts of any subsequent period. The hon. Member was well aware that Ministers were always ready to give him whatever accounts he wished for. The hon. Member had observed that the expenses attendant on the collection of the revenue at some of the out ports exceeded the amount of the revenue received, and that the establishments exceeded the value of the services rendered by them. Now the hon. Member had totally laid aside the consideration, that the Custom-house officers at these ports were placed there as much for the prevention of smuggling as for the purposes of collecting the revenue, and though he was perfectly ready to admit the amount of revenue collected by them did not equal the cost of their maintenance, yet they must continue to support those establishments or else smuggling would be carried on to such an extent as to injure the fair trader, whom the Government was bound to protect. The hon. Member had referred also to the expenses incurred by the two Houses of Parliament, and had expressed a desire to have the accounts of those expenses laid before the House. Now he had no objection whatever to comply with the hon. Member's desire, and as some remark might be made relative to the large charge incurred for printing, he would in particular specify the exact sum paid to the printer, and if the hon. Member wished for it, the exact expenses to which each individual Member had put the country, by calling for printed documents. The hon. Member had also observed, that the House ought to have the whole force of the country brought at once before them when the estimates were produced. Now that part of the hon. Member's wishes was already complied with, and if he wanted to have the numbers stated in one sheet, he could easily have his desire gratified. But he must say, that the hon. Member's desire for accounts often led him to make such demands as, when complied with, were totally useless and very expensive to make up. Whilst on this subject he would take the opportunity of stating, that the present Lord Chief Justice had agreed to perform his duties for the reduced salary of 8,000l. a year, instead of 10,000l., which his predecessors received, who had also enjoyed the advantages of a place, from which he received something very considerable. The present Lord Chief Justice, his hon. friend, had readily consented to accept the office on the reduced salary, and they thought that the opportunity for reducing the scale of salaries was now come, and ought to be seized. He had already stated the intentions of the Government to bring forward a bill regulating the Exchequer, so as to show the gross revenue on one side, and the gross expenditure on the other, and when that Bill was brought into operation the House would have a check over the income and expenditure which it did not now possess; and also an opportunity of criticizing the accounts more narrowly. He admitted, that at present the House had no check over the expenses incurred for the collection of the revenue, but by the arrangements which he proposed to effect by this Bill that evil would be remedied.

Mr. Hume

wished to make one observation. Some hon. Members had indulged in a laugh on hearing the noble Lord assert, that the commencement and termination of the financial year, as at present arranged, had met with his approval, supposing most probably, that the alteration had originated in a proposal of his own. But he would beg to recall to the noble Lord's recollection, that the proposition which he made in the Committee on this matter had been negatived, and he and his hon. friend (Mr. Warburton), who sat near him, were over-ruled upon this matter, the recommendation for altering the period of the financial year to its present duration having been subsequently suggested by the hon. member for Abingdon. If the noble Lord, however, felt it to be in- convenient to furnish the Returns comprised in his Motion, he would not press for them.

Motion withdrawn.