HC Deb 19 March 1841 vol 57 cc395-9

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved, that power be given to the committee to introduce into the Consolidated Fund Bill, a clause for appropriating a vote for the excess of the naval expenditure of the past year, which was agreed to.

The House having resolved itself into committee, a clause was accordingly inserted, appropriating 165,000l. for this purpose.

On the motion that the House resume.

Sir George Clerk

wished to ask a question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer relative to this sum. It appeared by a paper that had been recently laid upon the Table of the House that the whole amount of the naval expenditure for the last year was 1,421,000l., whilst the whole amount granted was 1,000,000l.; he would, therefore, ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how he accounted for this discrepancy, and whether he would not take a vote in committee for the whole excess of 421,000l., instead of the lesser sum of 165,000l.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that it should be recollected that the estimates which had been laid upon the Table were from 1st of January to 1st of January, and not for the financial year.

Sir George Clerk

urged that the account laid upon the Table of the House showed that the amount of outstanding demands against the naval service on the 8th February, was 1,421,000l., whilst the whole sum that had been voted was 1,000,000l., and he had asked how the excess was to be provided for after this vote of 105,000l. had been passed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that hon. Gentlemen ought to let him know beforehand what information was really wanted, for if he had known that this explanation would be required, his hon. Friend the Secretary of the Admiralty, would have been there to answer the question. It was not right that he should be called upon thus suddenly to give replies. It was but the other day that the light hon. Gentleman (Sir George Clerk) had complained that the naval returns which had been moved for had not been made, when, on referring to the course adopted when the right hon. Gentleman was himself in the Admiralty, it appeared that though the returns had been moved for every year, they had never been produced.

Mr. Herries

thought, that an answer ought to be given to the question that had been asked.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that if there were any difficulty in now proceeding with the report, he would move that the Chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again. Questions were put about accounts here and there, and if he were not able to answer immediately, an attempt was made to give his silence the appearance as if there was some unfair proceeding on his part, whereas there was no wish to have any concealment; and if he had known that the question was to be put as to this account, the Secretary of the Admiralty would have been there ready to answer it.

Mr. Goulburn

quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, that, in general, if questions were to be asked, it was but fair to pursue the usual practice, and to make an intimation to the party; but he would ask the House whether this was one of those questions on which intimation need be given? The Chancellor of the Exchequer came before the House asking them to provide, by a vote, for a certain excess of expenditure, and in the interval he laid upon the Table an account showing the liabilities at 421,000l. above the sum already voted, whilst he had only asked for a vote of 165,000l.; and was it more than he ought to have expected, that some question should be asked as to how he reconciled the discrepancy between the vote and the account.

Lord John Russell

was not aware, any more than his right hon. Friend, that this question was coming on, or that any explanation of the accounts would be required; but with regard to any explanation of the accounts of the navy and army, they depended upon the mode in which the accounts were made up. He knew that in the army, if sums were paid in 1839 for arrears due in 1836, they would not be entered under the year in which they were paid, but under the year fur which they were due; but with respect So the navy, he had always understood, that if any demands were paid in 1840, whether for the current expenses of that year, or for the back years of 1836, 1337, 1838, or 1839, they would be charged in 1840, without making any appropriation of the different parts to former years This showed that there was a distinction between the modes of keeping the accounts in the two departments, and when a question as to the navy expenditure was asked, it required that the accounts should be looked at. At the same time, he must observe, with respect to the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn), he had met with nothing but fairness.

Sir James Graham

said, that she distinction drawn by the noble Lord between the mode of keeping the accounts in the army and navy was anything but satisfactory to his mind, for that distinction had nothing to do with the present question. By the vote in the hands of the Chairman, it appeared that an excess of 165,000l. only was provided for, but by documents laid upon the Table of the House a week ago, the excess of naval expenditure for the year was stated to be not 85,000l., but 421,000l. That was the point on which he required explanation; that was, the explanation that the Secretary of the Admiralty might have been required to give if he were in his place, and winch, if' no Member of her Majesty's Government were prepared to afford, the progress of the present bill ought to be postponed.

Sir G. Clerk

said, that the noble Lord had no right whatever on the present occasion to charge him with being guilty of any want of courtesy against the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had not the least doubt, that there was no wish on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to mystify the accounts; but it appeared to him that it was a matter which required a few words of explanation how the discrepancy between the vote now proposed, and the amount of the out-standing demands had arisen. He was surprised, that neither the Secretary for the Treasury, nor the Secretary to the Admiralty were present; they could perhaps better give an answer to a question of detail than the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Lubouchere

could not help thinking, all bough the right hon. Gentlemen said, that his right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had no right to complain, yet, that if it had happened when the right hon. Gentleman was himself Secretary of the Treasury, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had, in his absence, moved such a vote as the present, he would have complained, that it was to be delayed because the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not answer a question on a mere matter of detail. It was quite new in opposition to such a motion, a question relating to the details of the naval accounts, and not a question of general expenditure; it was a novel course to postpone a bill on that ground, and his light hon. Friend had cause to complain of it.

Colonel Sibthorp

observed that, when he looked at the enormous sums paid to her Majesty's Government, it was their duty to be present. He bad frequently had cause to complain that there was not a single Minister present when important business was going on.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

regretted, that the time of the House had been thus taken up, because he had not been able to answer a question, but if he had been aware, that it would have been put, he would have been prepared to give a reply. It was technically true, that every return from the Treasury was supposed to come through his hands, but it did so happen, in point of fact, that he did not see this return before it was presented. Under the circumstances he would move, that the Chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

House resumed. Committee to sit again.