HC Deb 22 March 1841 vol 57 cc455-60

House in Committee on the Consolidated Fund (8,000,000l.) Bill.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that it had been remarked by the hon. Member for Stamford, on a former occasion, that by the returns there appeared to be an out-standing claim to the amount of 1,421,000l. There remained to be issued from the Exchequer 1,034,000l., and he asked the question why, with so large a deficiency, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not take a further vote of 161,000l. He thought the hon. Gentleman had not adverted sufficiently to the order in which the returns were made. The hon. Member had asked for an account showing the total amount of grants of Parliament issued, and remaining issued, on the 8th of February, 1841, together with an estimate of the demand out-standing, or the charges out-standing, under the several heads. The hon. Gentleman asked for all the demands outstanding, but did not ask for all the funds; he only asked for part of the funds, for the funds unissued in the Exchequer. Any sums which might remain unavailable were not included in the hon. Gentleman's return. It was clear that his return did not include the whole sum which was available to meet the demands. If the returns had been asked on the 1st of April in every year; if the hon. Gentleman had asked for all the expenses likely to be incurred in the year, and the sum remaining unissued in the Exchequer, the House would have found that the sum in the Exchequer would have been insufficient for the expenses likely to be occasioned. In the navy estimates the gross expense for 1841 was 6,043,000l., whereas all the sum voted was 5,847,000l. For this reason there was 1,958,000l. for credits in aid were taken. Consequently, when the hon. Member compared the sum remaining in the Exchequer with out-standing demands, he had compared two things, which it was impossible to compare. He should have compared the sum which was disposable to meet the demands, and the demands which were outstanding. The estimate of the amount of the demand was 1,400,000l. The deficiency to make up was 386,594l. The House would recollect that they had already voted 191,104l., and there was a sum due of 195,000l. One word as to China. He observed, that they had returned only the estimated amount of the demand outstanding, 23,000l. It was true, so far as the Treasury was concerned, that that was all the amount, but there was a much larger sum outstanding than that.

Sir G. Clerk

said, the right hon. Gentleman had not given a distinct answer to the question why, with an apparent excess of 386,000l., he had only estimated that excess at 161,000l. To that was to be added 29,694l., which the House, by a separate vote, voted to supply the deficiency. Perhaps, when he went into the details, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would explain why he had not included a sum of 30,000l. in the account of the excess of demand outstanding as compared with the money of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would allow him to put a question to him as to the reasons which induced him to state the amount of the naval vote of last year. The gross amount of the estimate last year was 6,043,000l. That was the amount of the estimates of the House, but that included a sum of 23,442l., which it had been found more convenient to take as a balance remaining unissued on the China vote. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid before the House an estimate of 216,000l., he said it was sufficient for his purpose to take 150,000l. Instead of six days, it would be more likely six months before the estimates were brought to a termination, the amount demanded exceeding four or five times the amount of the estimate He did not wish to offer any objection to the progress of the bill.

Mr. M. OFerrall

It was true, that a sum of 23,000l. was included in the estimates of 1841 and 1842, and it was included in the returns made by the Admiralty and to the Treasury. It was under the same heading in the estimates, and he thought it was sufficiently clearly stated.

Mr. Herries

should not have been satisfied without the explanation just given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The main object in moving for the returns was to obtain some clue to the expenses of the China expedition. The Chancellor of the Exchequer could not furnish the particulars, alleging that the East India Company had not sent over any documents officially relating to the subject. This was wrong on the part of the East India Company. He was bound to say that the House was in an extraordinary, in a deplorable, state of ignorance on the subject of the China proceedings. It was the duty of Government to supply all the information in their power, and he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would furnish the House with some statement approximating as near as circumstances would admit to the amount of the expenses of the expedition. He was of opinion, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer put into the hands of the Chairman a vote for money, it was his duty to be prepared to answer any questions or give any explanation on the subject that hon. Members might require.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he had no official source of information with regard to the expenses; but all the information he could give he was willing to render. The reason why he had not laid an account before the House was, because he thought it better to wait until he was in possession of complete information.

Mr. Hume

wished to inquire of the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether or not he was now applying money belonging to the savings' banks to carry on the expenses of the country? He asked this question because it was believed in the City that a very large sum had been applied in this way. On a former occasion he (Mr. Hume) had asked a similar question in the House, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer evaded; but, in the end, it appeared that he had borrowed money in this manner, and funded it to the amount of more than two millions. He therefore wished to know, whether, in the present state of the finances of the country, this course was again resorted to, as, if so, he considered it to be highly improper?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

hoped a wrong impression would not go forth, in consequence of the hon. Member's question, that the savings' banks' money was less safe than before, because a por- tion had been token by Government. The only question, he apprehended, that could be with regard to savings' banks' funds was as to the security. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, he said, that undoubtedly he had had recourse to savings' banks' money to a certain extent, but to nothing like the amount of the former year. He had recourse to the expedient of taking out a certain sum and funding it to meet the deficiencies under which the revenue laboured.

Mr. Hume

thought, that the candid avowal of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to alarm the House, and call for an expression of its disapprobation that any Government should presume to add to the national debt without coming to the House. When the House was sitting, if there were any deficiency in the revenue, the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to come before the House and state fairly what it was, and let the House provide for it. No Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to be allowed to go into the market and raise money as he pleased without the sanction and knowledge of the House. He protested against it as being a most irregular proceeding, and it would be for the House to consider, whether it would place any more ways and means at the disposal of a Government which had adopted such an unconstitutional proceeding.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the law was clear upon the subject, and the exercise of it depended entirely on the discretion of the Government, and for which they were responsible. The same thing had been done before, and whenever the hon. Member thought fit to bring his (the Chancellor of the Exchequer's) responsibility under the consideration of the House he should be prepared to meet him.

The Speaker

said that before the question was put he was anxious to call the attention of the House to what appeared to him to be an irregularity in its proceedings. The clause now before them was a clause of appropriation introduced into bill to provide for the ordinary ways and means of the year. Now, it was quite unusual, and unprecedented, to introduce a clause of appropriation into a bill of this description at this period of the Session. He believed the object the Chancellor of the Exchequer had in view in proposing this clause, was to mark the sense of the House on an excess of expenditure, in the departments of the navy above the amount voted for that service in the past year that it might not be drawn into a precedent in future. Such clauses had frequently been introduced into the ordinary appropriation bill at the close of the Session, but since the year 1762 there was not a single instance of a clause of appropriation being inserted in any other bill. A very remarkable instance to the contrary occurred in 1790, when an extraordinary expenditure had been incurred in fitting out an expedition to Nootka Sound. When the attention of Parliament was called to this circumstance by Mr. Pitt, it was considered so desirable that it should not be mixed up with the ordinary expenditure of the year that special votes in supply, were taken to provide for it before Christmas, the ordinary votes of Supply for the current year being taken after Christmas, and yet; although the House evidently intended specially to mark these votes, it was not considered necessary to appropriate them: specifically in any bill until the general Appropriation Act at the close of the Session. There were other considerations as affecting the proceedings of the two Houses of Parliament, which ought not to he over-looked on the present occasion. But he was satisfied that it was only necessary for him to direct the attention of the House to the subject, for it to exercise a due caution and to avoid establishing a novel, and perhaps dangerous precedent.

Mr. Hume

said, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that the same course, as to applying the funds of the savings' banks to the public service, had been pursued before. Yes, it had, two years ago, by Mr. Rice, and a worse precedent for a Chancellor of the Exchequer could not be followed. He was quite aware that no injury could arise from the practice, because the money would be again replaced at three and a half per cent., but it was the irregularity of the practice he complained of, without consulting the House.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that what he had complained of on a former night was the estimates having been framed on so low a scale; but as to the course which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had pursued, he (Mr. Goulburn) had stated, that he would be quite satisfied with any mode, by bill or otherwise, that would mark the circumstances of the case, so as to guard against it as a general practice.

Sir J. Graham

said, that he foresaw at the time that the present difficulty would arise, and he suggested a Bill of Indemnity.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he was sure the only object of the House was to mark the circumstances of the case, and he had no objection to that being done in any way that might appear most satisfactory.

Mr. C. Wood

said, that after what had fallen from the Speaker, of which he believed no Member was before aware, he thought it would be better to withdraw the clause, and introduce it at the end of the Session, with the understanding on the part of the House that it was to be so introduced.

Sir R. Peel

had been entirely satisfied with the course which the right hon. Gentleman proposed, thinking it quite sufficient to mark the sense of the House, and to prevent this proceeding from being drawn into a precedent. He would have been satisfied, as he had before said, if in the Queen's Speech the Queen bad said, "I have departed from the ordinary course with respect to the expenditure of the navy. I have exceeded the estimate, and I foresaw that I should exceed it, but the circumstances were such as to justify me in taking the course which I did." That would have entirely satisfied him. It would have been a record of the circumstances under which the thing was done. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer's zeal outstripped his, and he said he would bring in a bill providing for the special case. Some objections, however, had arisen which he had not foreseen, to the course proposed. The object, he thought, would be equally answered by inserting the clause in the general appropriation bill, with some specific reference to it in the preamble. That would prevent its being drawn into a precedent, and avoid those inconveniences and possible dangers to which the right hon. Gentleman, the Speaker of the House, had so properly called their attention.

House resumed. Bill to be reported.