HC Deb 25 March 1835 vol 27 cc225-32
Lord Ashley

said, he wished to explain to the House the difficulty in which the Government found itself, in consequence of certain votes in the Navy Estimates not having yet passed. On Friday next, it would be necessary, in accordance with the usual custom, to give notice in the Gazette, that the half-pay of officers in the navy and royal marines, the civil and military pensions, including the Greenwich out-pensioners, would, at a certain lime next month, become payable. But it would be impossible to give that notice, unless the Government should be provided with the necessary money to pay those pensions. The notice was usually given fourteen days before the day of payment, which happened to be the 10th of April, and consequently, the latest day for publishing the notice would be Friday next. Therefore, unless the House would permit him to take the necessary votes tonight, so that he might be in possession of the money before Friday next, it would be impossible for him to publish a notice promising the payment of the pensions in question; and if that were not done, he believed that great confusion in the country would be the result, in consequence of the persons to whom the money was due being led to believe that it would not be paid to them at the appointed time. He was aware that it might be said, that a certain sum of money had already been, voted, and that the Government might apply a portion of that money to the payment of these demands; but it should be recollected, that that money had been voted for specific purposes, to defray the charge for the wages and victuals of the sailors, the expense of the Admiralty, scientific branch, &c. He therefore thought, that the Government would not be justified in taking money from that fund which had been voted for one purpose, and applying it to another, to which the House had not assigned it. He had thought it his duty to state these circumstances to the House, and having explained the difficulty in which the Government found itself, he trusted the House would consent to resolve itself into a Committee of Supply for the purpose of passing the necessary votes.

Mr. Labouchere

would be sorry that any such inconvenience as that alluded to should arise; but he must say, that after listening to the statement of the noble Lord, he could not understand in what way the votes asked for were more necessary than any other votes relating to the army, or any other public service. It was undoubtedly intended by the arrangement entered into last year, that all the Estimates of the year should be passed before the 1st of April, but he repeated, that he did not think the passing of the particular votes in question more necessary than the passing of any other money votes. He believed about 1,000,000l. had been already voted for the Navy Service, and that sum might be made applicable to the purpose mentioned by the noble Lord. He knew that the votes had not been reported yet; but he should make no objection to that step being taken, and then the money might be rendered available for the Navy Service generally. He really thought that the noble Lord had made out no case for the course he proposed to take. The late First Lord of the Admiralty was in his place (Sir James Graham), and that right lion. Member would be able to state whether the view he took of the question was correct.

Sir James Graham

said, that when the alteration was made in the Appropriation Act, it certainly was the desire of the officers of the Crown that the estimates for each year should pass before the 1st of April; but it was at the same time foreseen, that great difficulty might probably arise in attaining that object; and in the first year the experiment altogether failed. However, he could not see any constitutional impediment in the way of applying money to one great branch of the public service generally to the use of that branch, after the passing of the Resolutions, and before the passing of the Appropriation Act. The hon. Member for Middlesex would recollect, that the objection which he had taken to the application of the public money to a different purpose than that originally intended, did not refer to such an application as was made in the interval between the passing of the money vote, and the passing of the Appropriation Act. What he objected to was, that after money had been appropriated by Parliament to one service, that money, so appropriated, should be transferred to another. But he never had contended, and never could contend, that in the interval between the passing of the vote, and the final appropriation by Parliament, there ought to be the least difficulty on the part of the Executive in carrying on the service during that interval by the aid of the monies voted. With respect to the present case of the Navy Service, the sum voted the other night amounted to 2,000,000l. ["There is nothing voted."] The hon. Member who made that observation was quite wrong, because the first five votes of the Navy Estimates had passed, though they had not been reported. Now if he were at the Admiralty, he should not hesitate to apply the money so voted to the general necessities of the Naval Service, including certainly the half-pay due to officers. In such a proceeding he saw no violation of the Act of Parliament, and no departure from the accustomed usage; and though it was desirable in ordinary cases that exertion should be made to pass the greater portion of the Estimates before the 1st of April, yet he was bound to say, that the control which that House had over the estimates, was a legitimate control exercised over the Executive.

Mr. Herries

had heard, with satisfaction, the observations made by his right hon. friend, (Sir James Graham), and was glad to find, that he relaxed somewhat from that rigid rule which he had been formerly disposed to apply to the appropriation of public money; but he (Mr. Herries) confessed, that he did not understand the distinction now drawn by that right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman maintained, that after the passing of the Appropriation Act, all the monies appropriated to particular purposes should be strictly confined to those purposes; but he added, that in the interval between the passing of the votes (which was as much an act of appropriation as the Appropriation Act itself) and the passing of that Act, monies might be indiscriminately applied to the necessities of the service for which those monies were voted. He (Mr. Herries) always had maintained that that strict appropriation of money to separate parts of the same service, which had been so much urged on the Government, was in practice impossible. He thought his noble Friend had taken the only coarse open to him, in explaining the situation in which the Government was placed, and calling on the House for a vote of money. If it were to be understood now, as it had been formerly, that all navy monies might be applied constitutionally to any part of the Navy Service, then there would be no necessity for the proposed vote; but if it were not constitutional to appropriate public money to any other purpose than that to which it was specifically assigned, then it would be necessary for the House, in order to enable the Admiralty to carry on the current service, to furnish it with the means to provide for those payments, which the noble Lord had observed would shortly become due.

Lord Ashley

remarked, that there was a distinction in the words regulating the half-pay of the army, and the half-pay of the navy. In the one it was "to defray all demands for the half-pay of the army up to the 31st of March," while in the other it was "to defray all demands for the half-pay of the navy, which shall come in course of payment on the 31st of March." They were accustomed, in consequence of this arrangement, to defray the expenses of the old quarter out of the quarter which succeeded it, and at the pesent time, they had not one farthing in hand to pay these demands, and it was on this account, that he wished to go into Committee, for unless the vote was agreed to to-night, it would be impossible to insert the usual notice in Friday's Gazette.

Mr. Hume

said, that if the case was as the noble Lord had told the House, that the half-pay could not be paid until these votes were passed, he, for one, should be very sorry to stop the pay of any half-pay officer. But he could not agree in the propriety of such an arrangement, and he should be glad to learn from the right lion. Baronet who had made the arrangement, how it came to be made.

Sir James Graham

was decidedly of opinion, that until the Appropriation Act was passed, which was the final act of the Legislature, an application of the money which had been granted to different purposes from those for which it was designed, might be made without any violation of a constitutional principle. A vote of the House of Commons was certainly an indication of the manner in which the money would be appropriated, but until this was done, there was nothing to prevent a discretion being exercised in defraying the current, services out of the Appropriation Fund. This was the only way to meet such difficulties when they arose, unless the House would consent from year to year to pass the Estimates before the end of April. As the practice was now, Parliament did not meet till the middle or the end of February, and it was hardly constitutional to call upon the House to pass these Estimates within six weeks from their being first assembled, as it would go to weaken or take away the check which the House was enabled to exercise over the Executive. He attached, as well as the right hon. Secretary-at-War, the greatest importance to a proper strictness being observed with reference to the Appropriation Act, but publicity was the best preventive against abuse, and the best way would be to defray the expenses of the current services out of the money voted for those services, being somewhere about 2,000,000l. He saw no difficulty whatever in adopting this arrangement.

Mr. Wynn

, with all possible deference to the opinion of the right hon. Baronet, who had had so much experience in the department to which these votes related, would contend, that by yielding to the argument, which the right hon. Baronet had employed, the House of Commons would surrender their most powerful means of control over the Executive. If money voted for one purpose might at the pleasure of the Government be applied to another, there was no saying where such a principle might lead to. There had been a declaration made by the House of Commons, that if money which had been voted for one service should be applied to another, the party making or authorizing that application should be guilty of a misdemeanour. If it was allowable to apply a sum voted for wages and victualling to defray the demands made for half-pay, on the same grounds it might be applied to the use of the army, the Colonial Department, or any other purpose. He did not believe that there would be the slightest opposition to voting the half-pay and the money to be paid to pensioners. There was no objection which could be raised against the House going into Committee, particularly as the necessity for it had arisen from circumstances over which the Government had no control, and it was the safest and best course which could be pursued.


would ask whether this embarrassment did not arise from the late dissolution of Parliament, which had driven off the assembling of the Parliament till the latter end of February, instead of admitting of their coming together in the beginning of that month, or the end of January? He would not throw any obstruction in the way of the House going into Committee, but he would remind the House, that this was one of the many evils occasioned by the dissolution of the late Parliament.

Dr. Bowring

concurred in the opinions expressed by the right hon. Secretary at War, and the right hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. There was very great difficulty in administering the expenditure with regularity, and this difficulty would be enhanced if the plan of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Cumberland, was acceded to. If money which had been voted for other purposes might be applied to meet the demands made for half-pay, this kind of application, without the au thority of Parliament, might take place to an extent, which could not be overtaken by Parliamentary opinion. The House could not entertain the question of public accountancy in all its details, but it was in its power to determine that the money it had given for one object should not be applied to another.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said that the Question for the House to consider was, whether the more advisable course to pursue was to vote the money for the half-pay and the pensions together, or pass the one first, and leave the other to a future occasion. His noble Friend would leave this altogether to the discretion of the Committee. It was in conformity with all practice that on Friday next a notice should be inserted in the Gazette, stating that the half-pay of officers would be paid. His noble Friend did not wish to publish such a notice without first obtaining, as the more regular mode of proceeding, the sanction of the House, for otherwise the effect of that publication would be to pledge the honour of the Government to a vote, which the House might not authorise. He (Sir R. Peel) certainly thought that the most prudent and the safest course for the House would be to sanction the vote asked for to-night and not leave the payments necessary for the public service to be made out of money intended for other purposes. He certainly should not like to lay down as a rule that this should never be done, but the question was, which was the safer course? It might undoubtedly happen that the exigencies of the public service might require an appropriation by the Executive of money to other heads of service than those for which it had been designed, but this could only be justified by necessity. If a different principle were admitted, it might occur that the Government having got a vote for the payment of men, and thinking that the erection of particular fortifications would be very desirable, it might apply the money to that purpose. Now, he thought the House would pause before it laid down a principle so broad as that. The question was, on which side lay the balance of inconvenience?

Lord Stanley

had no wish to stand in the way of the right hon. Baronets arrangements with the House, but he could not help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman had a little misunderstood his right hon. Friend, near him (Sir J. Graham). What his right hon. Friend said was, that if there was any surplus, it was perfectly competent for the Executive to apply it to the service of the State. No abuse could arise, because the application of it could easily be checked. His right hon. Friend did not think it competent to the Government to apply any monies to any purposes they might think fit. This would be open to great abuse undoubtedly. He did not think the constitutional difficulty was at all serious. He was afraid that if the House was disposed to entertain these extreme scruples, both the present and every future Government would be placed in much greater difficulties than those in which they were at present.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

had stated that he should be unwilling to lay it down as a principle that no exigencies of the public service would justify such an arrangement as that proposed by the right hon. Baronet. The Question was one of the balance of inconvenience, and there could be no doubt that the danger to be apprehended from the precedent that would be thus established would be an inconvenience much greater than the course which he wished to pursue.

Lord John Russell

did not take a very different view of the Question from that entertained by the right hon. Baronet, and he should consent to go into the Committee of Supply, with the understanding that no other vote should be brought forward than those which had been mentioned in the course of the discussion.