HC Deb 29 April 1847 vol 92 cc128-52

rose, pursuant to notice, to move certain resolutions touching the collection of the public revenue. He had sought various opportunities to bring those resolutions under the notice of the House, or at least a Motion similar in tendency; but he regretted to say that his labours had not yet been attended with success. The object which he had in view was best expressed by the resolutions on the Notice Paper of the House, and he should, before he proceeded much further, read those resolutions to the House. He need scarcely remind hon. Members that, with respect to the revenue of the country, there were two great sections—one connected with the receipt, and the other with the expenditure of the public revenue. The groundwork of his resolutions was, that receipt and expenditure should on no account be confounded; that, as the services of receipt and expenditure were in their nature of a separate character, so the functions of the two departments should be wholly and effectually separated. Parliament would not perform its duty unless care were taken that all the money which the people contributed to the exigencies of the State, found its way into the Queen's Exchequer. The Exchequer was an insti- tution which, as far as he knew, no other country possessed, and it was one from which the greatest possible public advantages might be derived; it might be made the banker of the State. Into the Exchequer every department of revenue should be required to pay all its receipts, without any deduction; and from the Exchequer all payments should be made, under Parliamentary authority, with the sanction of the Treasury derived from that Parliamentary authority. He should, however, now, with the permission of the House, read his resolutions, as the best text upon which to found his observations. They were as follows:— 1. That it appears, by official returns which have been laid on the Table of this House, that a sum exceeding 7,000,000l. sterling is annually expended in the different departments of Government, without being paid into Her Majesty's Exchequer, or subjected to any preliminary Parliamentary sanction or control. 2. That it appears, by the returns ordered to be printed in the last Session of Parliament, that sums amounting to 6,152,394l. 14s. 9½d. were deducted by the various revenue departments from their gross receipts, and intercepted in their progress to the Exchequer, for disbursements in the said revenue departments, in the year ending the 5th day of January, 1846. 3. That it appears, by the same returns, that in the said year the sum of 909,610l. 12s. 2d. was received by various departments of expenditure from sources independent of Parliamentary grants or issues from the Exchequer, and that such sum has been, or may be, expended without previous Parliamentary examination and control. 4. That for the security of the public revenue, and the accuracy, simplicity, and completeness of the public accounts, it is desirable that the gross receipts of all the departments of revenue should be paid into Her Majesty's Exchequer. 5. That no department of expenditure should be allowed to receive money from any quarter other than Her Majesty's Exchequer, under Parliamentary vote; and that all sums received for stores, fees, fines, or from any other similar sources, be paid into Her Majesty's Exchequer. 6. That every department of receipt be required to present an annual estimate of anticipated expenditure, and that such estimate be submitted to the sanction and approval of Parliament. 7. That as this House has, by its Resolutions of last Session, recognised and approved of the principle, and directed it to be adopted in the Crown colonies, that the gross revenues should in all cases be paid into the public Treasury, there is no sufficient reason for delaying the application of the same principle to the revenues of the United Kingdom; and that this House concurs in the recommendation made by the Commissioners of Public Accounts in the year 1831, 'that no portion of the public treasure should be arrested, on any plea or pretence whatever, on its way to the Exchequer; and that no portion of it should be issued from the Exchequer without previous Par- liamentary sanction;' and 'that it is only by the adoption of this principle that any really efficient and complete control can be introduced into the different departments of the public service.' Unless the resolutions that he had just read were founded altogether in error, he must take the liberty of saying, that after reading them no one could deny the obligation under which the Government of this country lay, not to allow a shilling of the public money to be paid away without the sanction of the representatives of the people. All financial abuses, in fact, were traceable to one of two sources—to the power of raising or applying funds without the authority of Parliament, in the departments of expenditure, such as by the sale of stores, or other appropriations in aid (as they were called); or, in the departments of receipt, by the detention of funds in their progress to the Exchequer; all which funds, he contended, ought to be paid in without any deduction whatever. It was the bounden duty of the Commons of Great Britain to see that all the taxes levied on the people of Great Britain were paid into the Exchequer; and, once collected, then that the money should not be issued until legislative authority was given for its distribution. Many years ago, a commission was appointed to examine into the state of the public accounts. In the year 1831, they made their first important report to the Sovereign of that day. In that report the Commissioners stated, that in order— To accomplish with perfect security and efficiency these objects of safe custody, legal appropriation, and record, it is obviously necessary that all public moneys whatever should in the first instance be paid into the Exchequer. But it appears, from the accounts laid before Parliament, that the whole amount of the public income is not so paid, but that amounts derived from divers sources of revenue are received and disbursed without the intervention of this institution, or being in any way submitted to its control. It is also certain that considerable sums arising from taxes and other matters are deducted from the gross receipts, and retained and expended by several departments, which only account to the Exchequer for the net amount after such deductions. We think this practice should be discontinued; and we recommend that the gross receipts of public money, whether arising from taxes in each part of the United Kingdom, from the income or sale of Crown property under the administration of the Woods and Forests, from the sale of old naval, ordnance, or other stores, from unclaimed dividends, unclaimed prize-money, deductions from pensions, loans on Exchequer-bills, or from any other sources, should be placed without deduction in the custody of the Exchequer, and be accounted for to Parliament, whose authority should be necessary for the appropriation of the whole. The report then went on to say, that— A regulation upon this principle was introduced in France by an ordinance of the 14th of September, 1822, and appears to have been eminently beneficial in its operation. It provides, that under no circumstances can any branch of administration receive or dispose of any other funds than those which have been voted for its service by legislative authority; that, in case of any sale of public property, the proceeds of such sale shall be paid into the Treasury, and shall not be at the disposal of the department to which the property belonged. Now, what was the first signature which he found attached to that document? It was that of a noble Lord no longer amongst them, but whom they all well remembered—he alluded to the late Lord Congleton; his authority, in all matters of accountancy and finance, they would not he very ready to dispute. The next name that he found attached to the report, was that of the noble Lord now at the head of the Treasury; he called upon that noble person now to carry out his own principles. The power was vested in him; let it be exercised in the way which he had declared to be "obviously necessary for the security of the public." The third signature was that of Sir James Graham, who thereby avowed, that unless the principle recognised in that report were acted upon, the public revenue would be perilled. The fourth signature was that of a gentleman of very large experience—Sir James Kemp. The fifth was Charles Poulett Thompson, afterwards Lord Sydenham. The sixth was Francis Thornhill Baring, late Chancellor of the Exchequer; and the seventh was Edward Ellice, now Member for Coventry. Seven names of higher authority in matters of finance could hardly be introduced to the notice of the House. He had on those several occasions moved

CUSTOMS:— £. s. d. £. s. d.
Drawbacks, Allowances, Repayments, &c 301,380 14
Charges of collection 1,279,943 12 2
Other payments 325,118 10 1
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 11,850 16 3
1,918,293 13
Drawbacks, Allowances, Repayments, &c. 830,869 15 0
Charges of collection 968,382 6 8
Other payments 94,753 8 8
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 7,758 18 11
1,901,764 9 3
Drawbacks, Repayments, &c. 225,064 4 11
Charges of collection 165,346 17 1
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 851 5 8
391,262 7 8
Carried forward £4,211,320 9 11½

for returns showing to what extent the sound principles—the principles recognised by the Commissioners of Public Accounts—had been violated. Each of these returns showed that, annually, a sum of nearly seven millions escaped Parliamentary control—that the House of Commons had no cognizance of them—gave no authority for their expenditure until after they were disbursed. In the return the amounts deducted by the different departments of revenue were—

In 1837 £6,155,417
1843 5,507,147
1846 6,152,395
And in the departments of receipt the sums raised and expended without the previous knowledge or authority of Parliament were—
In 1837 £767,439
1843 1,199,376
1846 909,610
Making together, in these years, a sum of—
In 1837 £6,922,856
1843 6,706,523
1846 7,063,005
It would be seen how little practical difficulty there would be in obtaining Parliamentary sanction for the whole amount expended thus irregularly, inasmuch as the amount did not vary greatly from year to year; so that the objection that it would be impossible to predict by anticipation the amounts required had no ground whatever; nor was it found to be an objection in those countries which had adopted a sound system of national book-keeping. But he would, with the permission of the House, read from the last return the items of which those amounts were composed.

Brought forward £4,211,320 9 11½
TAXES:— £ s. d.
Repayments 128,268 0 11
Charges of collection 348,728 0 10
Other payments 21,794 0 11
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 1,122 8 1
499,912 10 9
Charges of collection 1,114,849 2 0
Other payments 10,745 2 6
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 2,032 19 6
1,127,627 4 6
Charges of collection 41,886 11
Other payments 258,570 3 9 11/12
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 232 6 5
300,689 1 6 8/12
Fines, Fees, Forfeitures 12,845 8 0
Total Amount of Deductions by Revenue Departments from the Gross Receipts, and not paid into the Exchequer £6,152,394 14 9 2/12
TREASURY:— £. s. d. £. s. d.
Amount of Fee Fund 3,400 0 0
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 404 0 2
3,804 0 2
Amount of Fee Fund 916 14 5
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 502 4 3
1,418 18 8
Amount of Fee Fund 12,077 5 7
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 108 13 1
12,185 18 8
Amount of Fee Fund 12,077 5 7
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 474 19 10
12,552 5 5
Amount of Fee Fund 12,077 5 5
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 92 12 8
12,169 18 1
India Board 25,300 0 0
Admiralty and Naval Departments 190,461 0 0
Army and Military Departments, including Chelsea and Kilmainham Hospitals, Royal Military College, and Royal Military Asylum 110,053 7 2
Ordnance Department 179,453 7 3
Paymaster of Civil Services 19,062 9 1
Profits on Coinage, &c. 214 12 3
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 97 13 8
312 5 11
From Colonial Revenues, &c. 696 7 2
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 362 13 11
1,059 1 1
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 66 13 5
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 34 11 5
Repayments for Stationery, &c. 43,265 1 0
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 185 2 4
43,450 3 4
Carried forward £611,383 19 8
Brought forward £611,383 19 8
PRIVY SEAL OFFICE: Fees 1,478 10 2
SIGNET OFFICE: Fees 3,813 1 3
Rate levied by Commissioners, &c. 211,464 16 8
Fines, Fees, &c. from Police Courts 8,885 2 3
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 832 19 10
221,182 18 9
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 236 8 1
Interest on Money, Fees, and Contributions to Superannuation Fund 1,461 9 8
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 63 16 4
Amount of Fee Fund 2,276 18 6
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 100 18 11
2,377 17 5
Amount of Fee Fund 269 16 6
Contributions to Superannuation Fund 7 13 6
277 10 0
Privy Council Office, Ireland 340 11 8
Board of Charitable Donations and Bequests 48 6 3
Board of Works, Ireland 20,247 19 3
Board of National Education, Ireland 7,546 13 11
Dublin Metropolitan Police 39,151 9 9
TOTAL Receipts by all Departments (except Revenue) from all sources except Parliamentary Grants or Issues from the Exchequer £909,610 12 2
TOTAL of No. I. (Revenue Departments) brought down 6,152,394 14 92/12
Ditto No. II. (All other Departments) ditto 909,610 12 2
TOTAL Annual Amount expended which never reached the Exchequer £7,062,005 6 11 2/12

On these accounts he begged to remark, that since 1843 the amount stopped by the different departments of taxes had increased to the extent of nearly 650,000l.; that, since 1836, the amount stopped in the Stamp department had increased from 283,000l. to 391,000l.; that in the department of Taxes the sums detained had mounted from less than 230,000l. to nearly half a million; that in the Post Office, the amount detained was 400,000l. more than in 1836; it having been 1,127,627l. in the last year and 722,025l. ten years ago, so that the evil was one of growing magnitude. Now he doubted much, whether there was any legal authority for these detentions—whether any Acts of Parliament could be found to sanction the deductions of these enormous amounts. Sir Henry Parnell always asserted, that the power was not conferred, at all events, for the retention of a very large portion of them. And he contended, that under no circumstances ought Parliament to divest itself of the right and duty to control the expenditure of every farthing levied in the shape of taxes from the Queen's subjects. They were not called upon to authorize the disposal of the balances merely which were paid into the Exchequer, but the gross amounts received from the people. They were in duty bound, first, to take care that all was paid into the Queen's Exchequer, to require its being so paid as the preliminary step; and to see that as the whole was properly received, and placed in safe custody, so that the whole was properly disbursed under Parliamentary sanction. And with special reference to one great source of expenditure, the salaries of public functionaries, he wanted to know why the salaries and pay of the Army, the Navy, the Ordnance, the Foreign and Home Office, the Board of Trade and Control, and other departments, should be annually voted by Parliament; while the salaries of the officers of the Customs, of the Excise, the Stamps and Taxes, the Post Office, never were submitted to Parliament at all, until the expenditure had taken place, and Parliamentary inquiry came too late to correct an abuse, or to check an extravagance? He had seen with satisfaction one improvement in the estimates, mentioned in the extract he would take the liberty of reading from the very excellent report on naval and military establishments:— The appropriations credited on the estimates in aid of the votes, are to be the sums actually realized and brought to account during the year preceding the estimate, instead of the prospective receipts expected to be realized in the year for which the estimate is voted. The ' credits in aid' have already been put on this footing in the Navy, Ordnance, and Commissariat Estimates; and when a similar change shall have been made in the War Office Estimates, there will be nothing left to be desired on this point. But this reform must go much farther. There should be no appropriations in aid whatever. In 1843, the appropriations in aid in the Ordnance Department alone amounted to 535,925l. When the gallant Officer the Member for South Staffordshire had moved the Ordnance Estimates for the present year, he had acknowledged that it was desirable to get rid of the system, and had expressed a hope that no future estimates would exhibit that now-recognised defect; and he congratulated the House upon the avowal. Now, in order to introduce a satisfactory system, proper forms of estimates were most important, and uniform modes of proceeding were likewise of the highest value. From the reports on the French accounts laid before the House of Commons in 1831 and 1832, they learned —"that the whole of the public accounts of France, whether relating to income or expenditure, are kept on one uniform plan; that the processes of preferring, examining, admitting, and paying public claims, is the same in all departments; that their forms are framed on one model; that the principle on which the returns of all the departments are compiled being uniform, they are blended without difficulty in the general balance-sheet of the Finance Department; that the final account of every department requires the public ratification of the Court of Accounts as to its correctness; that the superintendence of that court reaches not only the cash agents who receive and pay away the public money, but those also who authorize the public disbursements; and that all the executive departments being required to lay before the Chambers accounts, showing how they have applied the credits granted to them, the control of the Legislature extends over every branch of the public finances. As to the abuses growing out of the present system, only imperfectly reformed, he need but read extracts from the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester, to whose services in the field of financial reform he must pay a grateful and cordial, however humble, tribute. On moving the estimates of the Navy for 1831, he explained to the House of Commons that, "Works of great extent in the department of the Naval service had been begun, completed, and paid for, without the knowledge or sanction of Parliament, or without the subject having been once brought under the notice of the House of Commons; that those works were paid for out of the surplus of other votes which were greater than was needed for the purposes to which it was intended they should be applied." The following works were then cited, as instances in which the votes of Parliament had been exceeded, or in which no vote had been obtained:—Weevil, expended without a vote, 155,534l..; Cremill, expended beyond the vote, 225,441l.; Ascension, expended without a vote, 10,000l.; Woolwich, expended beyond the votes, 141,443l.; Leith, expended without a vote, 7,908l. It was further shown, that since 1820, the sum of l,243,100l. had been expended for "sea wages," beyond the sums voted by Parliament, and that this excess was caused by employing year after year a larger force than Parliament had sanctioned. To meet these excesses, it was explained that larger sums than were needed had been voted for naval stores and for army provisions; the excess of grants beyond the expenditure for those services having amounted in four years to 1,835,000l. His proposition was, "That the Admiralty should, on the 30th November, transmit to the Board of Audit the accounts of the Treasurer of the Navy closed up to the 31st of March; and that the accounts, together with all vouchers, should undergo an effectual audit; and that it should he the duty of the auditors, on the 31st January of each year, to lay on the Table of the House of Commons a report. That the report would embrace a balance-sheet, comparing the expenditure with the estimates; that it would show what surplus remained unexpended, and what had been expended beyond the estimates under each head. That the auditors should also state any discovery of improprieties they might have made, and submit any interrogatories which they might think ought to be put. That, within the period between the 30th November and 31st January, it would not be possible to make a full and effectual audit; but that it would be sufficient to enable Parliament, first, to convert what was now a nominal responsibility in the officer who brought forward the estimates into a real responsibility; that the interrogatories, secondly, would enable Members to ask questions; and the person who moved the estimates would have to give answers to those questions, and explain the interrogatories of the auditors." The second principle is laid down in page 19 of the Report—a principle the non-recognition or abandonment of which had led to various and grave abuses:— No executive department is authorized to exceed the sum appropriated by Parliament under each general head or vote in their respective estimates, or to apply any surplus which may exist under one vote to supply the deficiency on others, without the express previous sanction of the Treasury to be given on a written representation of the circumstances which render the adoption of such a course indispensable for the public service. There was one other subject connected with the reform of public accounts to which he must refer at some length, namely, the general introduction of the system of double entry. He deemed it so important that he must quote from the Report of the Commissioners of Public Accounts their emphatic recommendation:— As we have not the slightest hesitation in advising the employment of the commercial system of book-keeping in its purest and most simple form in all the public departments, and as we consider its application as forming the necessary ground-work of any really important improvement, we shall refer somewhat in detail to the reasons which have induced us to recommend it so decidedly and urgently to the approbation of your Lordships. The peculiar excellency of what is denominated the mercantile system of book-keeping by double entry consists in the facility with which it embraces accounts, however complex, various, and extensive, giving to all their differences of detail a unity of result, and cencentrating them at last in the most condensed shape, while it enables the examiner to trace them without difficulty to their remotest ramifications. In the initiatory or auxiliary books of account, a correct system will admit of all the modifications suited to the particular service; but as soon as the principal or double-entry books take possession of the facts of an account, however intricate and varied, they become subjected to its general and harmonious law. Its machinery is employed to obtain an ultimate balance-sheet which will present in a concise, correct, and intelligible form all the centralized facts of receipt on the one side, and of expenditure on the other, under their special heads. Of the efficiency of this system, the trading world in its infinite variety of commerce and concerns gives unanimous evidence. Into every well-regulated manufactory, into every extensive mercantile establishment in every part of the civilized world, it has gradually, but peremptorily, forced its way. The revenues of no Government have been safely administered, the accounts of no Government have been intelligibly kept, the business of no Government has been promptly and satisfactorily despatched until the commercial system has been introduced with its order and uniformity into the different departments. Several of the Governments of Europe have adopted this method, after repeat- ed and vain attempts to accommodate, by other means, the dissimilar usages of their various public offices to one general system; and there is no instance of a Government having abandoned the mercantile practice after having once employed it. On the contrary, every Government that has introduced it, has borne testimony to its adaptation to national concerns, and its complete efficiency for all fiscal and financial operations and records. It is the system adopted by the East India Company, both at home and in the dependencies abroad; and we need only refer to Mr. Bowring's report on the public accounts of France for irresistible proofs of its value, practicability, comprehensiveness, clearness, and efficiency. Indeed, it appears from his statement that a succession of Ministers of Finance have borne unanimous and cordial testimony to the excellent workings of the commercial system of accounts in all the departments of Government; that the objections originally suggested against it by persons who have not attentively considered its bearings, on the ground of its not being adapted to public official accounts have all given way before the evidence of its sufficiency and superiority, in the words of Count Chabrol (the late Minister of Finance): 'Simplicity and rapidity in the progress of the public accounts have been accompanied with clearness and regularity of result. Incompleteness and delay have been succeeded by publicity and promptitude.' And again:— We have said thus much in recommendation of this system, from the strong conviction we entertain, that its general adoption in the public departments is the great, prominent, all-important, improvement, without which every other will be necessarily and essentially imperfect. This system, properly understood, leaves nothing to the caprice of the accountant; it subjects all the elements of an account to an undeviating self-corrective operation, the result of which is, as we have said, their centralization under their appropriate heads. It provides against all confusion between contingent and positive claims, between payments ordered and payments made—in a word, compels the grouping together of all facts which are of a similar or homogeneous character. The late Board of Treasury in their Minutes of the 14th of July, 1829, recognise the plan of double entry as the principle proper to be adopted, and state the propriety of substituting for the numerous account books now in use a regular cash-book, journal, and ledger, as the foundation of a system of book-keeping upon the plan of double entry; and again they declare "that a thorough knowledge of book-keeping by double entry is above all indispensable to the success of the new measures." One would have thought that recommendations so urgent would have led to the introduction of the double-entry system into all the departments of Government. He had moved in 1844 for a return of the changes which had taken place in the different public offices in the manner of keeping the public accounts, and of the Treasury orders to the effect to the recommendations of the Commissioners. He was glad to see in that return new evidence of the value and desirableness of the improved system. He found in the Treasury Minute of 27th of November, 1840, the following words. Sir H. Parnell observes— I am somewhat surprised that the Committee should have entertained the notion that the establishing the double-entry system in the War Office would be attended with an increased expense. In appearance, the introducing of new duties, and the keeping of new books, naturally may lead to the conclusion that new expenses must be incur-red; but experience has fully proved that, in all instances where the double-entry system has been substituted for any other system of accounts, it has always been attended with a large reduction in the expense of account keeping. This has been the case in my office; the quantity of clerks' work has been very much diminished, and the establishment considerably reduced. The attention I have bestowed on the difference of expense of keeping accounts between the old office system and the double-entry system, leads me to think that, with proper management of the change from one system to the other, a saving could be made of at least one-fourth of the expense now incurred in keeping the whole of the public accounts. Mr. Anderson, in his valuable practical answers to objections, says— There is a strong opinion in many quarters, that the chief obstacle to the introduction of the double-entry system lies in the want of proper persons in each department for keeping the books; and that the clerks on the several establishments do not possess sufficient practical knowledge of the system to give a hope of their carrying it out with success: an equally strong opinion prevails, that there is a disposition to offer unfair opposition to its introduction; and these opinions appear to derive confirmation from the fact, that among the attempts made to establish the system, some have proved unsuccessful, and the failure has been supposed to have arisen from these causes. I am quite prepared to admit that strong prejudices against the system do exist; but I should attach by far too much importance to them were I to apprehend that they could oppose any formidable obstacle to the introduction of the double-entry system in any department, if the Treasury were to make a serious attempt to establish it, and adopt the proper measures for that purpose. Is it not surprising that the Home Department, the Colonial Office, the Board of Control, the Customs, the Stamps and Taxes, the Post Office, and the National Debt Office, should hitherto have turned a deaf ear to the communications from the Treasury? In the case of the Stamps and Taxes, they give the copy of a Treasury Minute, dated in 1840, requiring that "all clerks shall possess a competent knowledge of the mercantile system of book-keeping by double entry," and yet themselves report that "no changes have been made in the system of keeping the accounts of their department since 1832." It was impossible there should be any central accounts kept in a satisfactory manner at the Treasury, unless the subsidiary accounts of all the departments were kept in one uniform double-entry system. He had to apologize for the length of a speech on so unattractive a subject; but its importance must be his excuse, and he submitted his resolutions to the approval of the House.


conceived, that after the case which had been made out by his hon. Friend, it would be impossible for the Government to resist the resolution. The principle on which it was founded had been approved, among others, by the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Dorchester and Portsmouth, and by Sir H. Parnell. Few questions were of more importance; and the wonder was, that the improvement now suggested, had not long ago been adopted. Millions were annually interrupted in their course to the Treasury, of which no account was rendered to the House; and even if it were said, that the Treasury exorcised some sort of control over these vast amounts, it was clear that no proper or efficient control could be secured until the change now recommended took place. During the last three or four years, upwards of forty new places had been created in the Office of Stamps and Taxes alone, at an annual expense of 30,000l.; nearly 100 in the Customs, at an annual expense of 60,000l.; while in the Post Office the increase had been actually astounding, for upwards of 4,000 new places had been created. In 1790, the present Lord Lansdowne (then Lord H. Petty) had stated that each department had absolute power over the national funds; and really this appeared to be the case at present. He thought that it would be advisable that all the different departments should form a joint board, assisting each other by their united advice in the management of the respective offices. He pressed the subject most earnestly upon the attention of the Government.


said, the hon. Member for Bolton had brought forward the same Motion in former years, and had brought it forward with his usual ability. With regard to the report alluded to by the hon. Gentleman, he was disposed to pay great attention to the recommendations of the Gentlemen whose names were appended to that report; therefore he was not disposed to quarrel with the principles on which it was founded. But it had been referred to the late Lord Congleton—a man well versed in the details of accounts—and it was found impracticable to carry out, in a practical manner, the whole of the recommendations of that Committee. Although those recommendations had not been fully carried out, still from time to time the Treasury, whenever an opportunity offered, had made great advances in the right direction towards improvement in the mode of keeping the accounts of the country. It was only last year that a great improvement had been introduced, a Bill having been passed providing for correctly auditing the accounts of the Army, the Ordnance, and the Commissariat, on the same plan as the accounts of the Navy. He could assure his hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, that he and his Colleagues had not the slightest desire to impede the progress of such improvements; but the heavy duties which had of late devolved on them, and the extent to which they were occupied last autumn, had prevented them from carrying out many improvements which they had in view. He was far from wishing to object to the general principles of the hon. Member for Bolton with respect to this subject; but he thought that it would be more expedient if the public departments were allowed to carry out the improvements as they found them practicable. Having said that much, he could not agree in the calculations of the hon. Member for Bolton. There were many sums alluded to by him as if expended needlessly in costs of collection, but which really went to the public service. With regard to the present mode of paying drawbacks, he did not see that an alteration of the existing mode would afford any greater convenience. The hon. Gentleman complained that the House of Commons had not a previous knowledge of the items of expenditure in the departments of Stamps and Customs; but, for his part, he could not believe that it would facilitate the transaction of public business if the House of Commons were to examine in detail the salaries of all the surveyors, comptrollers, and similar officers. There were, indeed, very detailed explanations of the items of expenditure published in the annual accounts. He could not agree with the hon. Member for Bolton in thinking the expenses of collecting the revenue were so great as the hon. Member stated. If there were an increase in the expenditure of those departments, there was also an increase of income; but in the expense per cent of collection there had been a considerable decrease since 1836. The gross amount of revenue in the department of Stamps and Taxes in 1836 was 11,091,000l. whilst in 1846 it was 17,849,000l., showing a very considerable increase. The cost of collection in 1836 was, in the department of Stamps, 21. 1s. 11d. per cent, and in 1846 it was 21. 0s. 10d.; in Taxes, the cost was, in 1836, 5l. 3s. l½d. per cent, and in 1846 it was reduced to 31. 11s. 6d., whilst the cost of collecting the whole revenue in 1846 was but 61. 15s. His hon. Friend had spoken of the great increase of the expenditure in the Post-office department of late years; but he ought to recollect the change which had been made in the system of postage, the increased number of letters consequent upon that change, and the greater number of persons that were necessarily employed in order to give this increased accommodation to the public. His hon. Friend might recollect that if they were desirous to increase the accommodation of the public in the Post-office department, it was necessary to incur the expense of employing an additional number of persons over and above those who were employed under the old system. The cost of collecting the Post-office revenue was, in fact, 57 per cent. He might, if he pleased, go into large details in order to show that he could not agree with all the calculations of his hon. Friend, however he might agree with him on general principles. It was desirable to introduce improvements into the public accounts; but his hon. Friend would see that the best manner of introducing these improvements was to allow them to be introduced by the Government in the different departments, as the Government found them to be practicable. That was infinitely the best mode of proceeding, and would necessarily be a more advantageous course than pressing on those improvements before their introduction was found to be practical by the departments, consistently with their other duties.


said, that he had not heard one good reason from the Chancellor of the Exchequer why the wishes of his hon. Friend should not be complied with. The recommendations of the Commissioners of Public Accounts were either right or wrong; and if they were right, they ought to be carried out. The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. Graham) had introduced the system contended for by his hon. Friend into the Navy with great success; and he saw no reason why all other departments should not follow the example then set them; but the truth was, that the heads of departments found it gave them too much trouble. Did the Chancellor of the Exchequer know any merchant in the city of London who did not put on the credit side of his ledger all the money which he received? Why, then, should not the same course be pursued with respect to the public? The mischief arose from the complicated state in which the public accounts were kept; and if a simple debtor and creditor account were kept, it would immediately disappear. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it would not do to enter into details respecting the pay of clerks in the public departments; but did not the House enter into details respecting the pay of officers and sergeants? He thought that his hon. Friend was perfectly right in the views which he took; and he hoped that the Government would not be influenced to resist the Motion by the flimsy pretences put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given a perfectly satisfactory answer to the statements of the hon. Member for Bolton. The right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had shown that there had been a very considerable reduction in the per centage for the collection of every branch of the public revenue, with the exception of the Post Office, the cost of that department having increased in consequence of the great additional accommodation afforded to the public. The hon. Member for Bolton contended, that no department of the revenue ought to be allowed to expend any money whatever, but that the whole of the gross receipts of every department should be transmitted to the Exchequer, and that whatever payments were made should be afterwards re-issued from the Exchequer. To that proposition he (Sir G. Clerk) could not give his assent. If he could believe, as the hon. Member for Bolton seemed to think, that sums were intercepted by the public departments without the sanction and knowledge of Parliament, he would agree to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman, however, was altogether mistaken in his supposition; for no payment could be made by any public department except under strict rules and regulations, which were perfectly well known, and most of which were adopted under the direct authority of Acts of Parliament. The hon. Member for Bolton had expressed his surprise that there was no general balance-sheet of the receipts and expenditures of the year. He could only recommend the hon. Gentleman to follow the advice which had been given him by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to take a cursory glance at the financial accounts which were periodically laid before Parliament and the country. It was true, that at a period not very remote, there was no balance-sheet showing the gross revenue and expenditure of the country; but in 1822, a Committee of that House was appointed, including Mr. Tierney, Mr. Huskisson, Sir H. Parnell, the noble Member for Tiverton (Lord Palmerston), Mr. Vansittart, and other Gentlemen conversant with accounts, who prepared the form upon which the public accounts were now made up. That form presented as clear a balance-sheet as could be made out by any mercantile house; it showed the total amount really taken out of the pockets of the people, the expense of collecting the revenue, the payments made by the authority of Parliament, and the sum actually remitted to the Exchequer. According to the theory of the hon. Member, it would give a more distinct notion of what the public receipts and expenditure were, if the whole money collected were remitted to London, and if whatever money was paid away were paid by orders from the Treasury, even to the smallest sums. He asked, whether that would be the system followed by any house of trade, or any Gentleman in that House who had property in a distant part of the country? Would he require his agents to remit to him in town the whole of the rents in the first instance, and then send down to his agent in the country the money for the necessary charges and outgoings of the estate? The gross amount of the whole sum collected was laid before Parliament; and they knew exactly what was the money taken out of the pockets of the people, and what were the payments made by authority of Parliament, and then they had an item of the amount paid into the Exchequer, which was applicable to the ordinary current service of the year. Any other system would lead to inextricable confusion. What, he would ask, was the system pursued at the clearing-house? According to the hon. Member for Bolton, a banker ought to re- quire that a draft paid to him, and drawn upon another hanker, should he paid in cash, while he himself paid in cash all checks drawn upon him. It was well known that that was not the plan followed out, because such a system would create a great additional degree of trouble and expense. But then the hon. Member said, that we ought not to have these appropriations in aid. Now, that was a point which engaged the attention of the Committee which sat in 1822. There was at that time no uniformity of practice in the different departments. The Naval Department followed that course which the hon. Member now recommended, and a whole sum was voted for the expense of the Navy, the receipts from the sale of naval stores being paid into the Exchequer as part of the ways and means for the year. In the Ordnance Department, on the other hand, the same course was followed which now prevailed; and whatever sums were received from canteens, &c, were deducted from the amount of the vote taken for that department. The Committee of 1822, therefore, had both systems under consideration, and they came to a unanimous recommendation that the system of the Ordnance was the preferable one. The practice had, accordingly, since prevailed in the naval service; and he thought that the principle was much sounder than that which the hon. Member for Bolton recommended. The hon. Gentleman said, that Parliament had no control over the expenditure or the collection of the different branches of the revenue. He apprehended, however, that if such a control were exercised, instead of leading to economy, it would tend to a great increase in the number of public officers. Upon these grounds he could not agree to the resolution, in which it was broadly stated that 7,000,000l. of the public revenue was intercepted, without having any Parliamentary sanction or control. The reason why the estimates for the Army and Navy were laid before the House every year, was the extreme variation which occurred in the amounts which circumstances rendered it necessary should he granted for the two services; but this was not the case with the Customs or the Excise. He might add, that since the recommendations made by the Commissioners of Public Accounts in 1831, very great improvements had been effected in the mode of keeping the public accounts; and under all the circumstances of the case he could see no reason for agreeing to the proposition of the hon. Member.


concurred in opinion with the hon. Member for Bolton, that the adoption of a system of book-keeping by double entry would be a great improvement. With regard to the other points he wished to say a few words, because he had been one of the Commissioners referred to by the hon. Gentleman, and he wished to explain the grounds why those recommendations had not been carried out. The first of these recommendations was, that all the gross payments of revenue should be paid into the Exchequer, and that from the Exchequer all payments should be made. This recommendation was fully considered by the late Lord Spencer and others; and in the conversation which took place he must say that the general opinions of the Commissioners were materially modified; for while there could be no question that upon paper such a system was the best that could be devised, yet in practice it was felt it would have no such advantages as would counterbalance the disadvantages and the expense attending it. The next proposition was, that the whole expenses of all the departments should be voted by Parliament. Now that in principle was a perfectly right proposition. He quite agreed with the old constitutional maxim, that no money should be spent without the authority of Parliament; but then the House must remember that this money was not spent at least without the knowledge of Parliament. It was perfectly clear that if they voted the expenses of these establishments at all, they must vote them in a very loose manner—they could not vote, for instance, that a certain number of officers should be sent to a particular post—they must vote them in the mass, and in such a manner as would hardly give Parliament any control over them. But he must further confess that his young notions as to the control of Parliament over the public money had changed somewhat since his experience of office. This question was argued as if, where there was no Parliamentary control, there must be a profligate waste of money. But what were the facts? In 1822 the expenses of those establishments which were not under Parliamentary control amounted to 5,688,000l., while in 1846 those charges had decreased by something more than a million, being only 4,639,000l. But when he looked at those establishments over which Parliament had control, he found that, so far from decreasing, they had increased from 18,000,000l. odd in 1822, to 22,800,0001. in 1846. He must, therefore, say to the lovers of economy that this state of things offered no temptation to bring these establishments under Parliamentary control. He believed the practice of bringing these establishments under the control of Parliament was constitutional; but then that gave rise to a pressure from different quarters which prevented reductions from taking place. Look, for instance, to the pressure that had taken place on the Post Office. He had been a party to carrying the benefits of the Post Office into every rural village, which was certainly a great convenience; but then it could not be done without greatly increased expense, so that the revenue of the Post Office was now nearly absorbed in its expenditure; and, indeed, such was the state of things that the Treasury now exercised a control over the expenditure of Parliament, rather than the Parliament over the Treasury. The last point was the question of appropriations in aid. Now, there was no difficulty with regard to this matter; for he believed there was no real advantage to the Treasury one way or the other. It was a mere matter of opinion; and the reason which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given for continuing the present practice was the real reason—that it acted as a stimulus to the different departments to sell their stores to the best advantage, if they received the credit of them, and were thus enabled to show that they kept down their respective estimates; whereas, if the produce of the old stores were thrown at once into the Treasury, and no credit given to the departments for their careful management, they would have no anxiety whether those stores sold well or ill. That was the real reason of continuing the system—that was the benefit which they received from continuing this practice; and not, as the hon. Member for Montrose appeared to suppose, because they were allowed to put any money into their own pockets. For these reasons he could not support the resolutions.


was not surprised that the hon. Member for Bolton (Dr. Bowring) should look upon the report that had been referred to with something like parental affection. With respect to the mode in which the public accounts should be kept, he most cordially and entirely agreed that the system of double entry was the right way of keeping the accounts generally; and he had taken the earliest possible opportunity of introducing that system at the Admiralty, after the report to which allusion had been made. He was much mistaken if the accounts of the British Navy might not now challenge comparison with those of any branch of any public service. The present Government, following up the example of their predecessors, had introduced the same system both into the Army and the Ordnance; and he believed it would be introduced progressively throughout all the great departments of the public service. If it was said that no such system had been adopted at the Home Office, he would observe, that in connexion with the Home Office there was a branch of the public service with very large and complicated accounts, viz., the Police; and in that department he had the satisfaction, aided by Mr. Anderson, of introducing that most approved system of keeping accounts. To the principles laid down in the report of 1831 he adhered. He had not, however, at that time, had practical and official experience; and when that most upright public servant the late Lord Spencer passed the whole subject under careful review, he came to the conclusion that the recommendations in that report were opposed by many and great practical disadvantages. With respect to carrying to the account of expenditure small receipts arising from sales in the different departments, that appeared to him (Sir J. Graham) a matter of minor importance; he could not conceive that there would be much objection to give practical effect to the principle in that matter, and, for one, he should not object to see the recommendations of the report of 1831 carried into effect as far as that went. There remained the great question whether the revenue departments should or should not pay the charge for their establishments before paying into the Exchequer the amount of their receipts; and, upon the whole, though his experience was not so extensive as that of the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. F. T. Baring), yet he must say, from the inquiries he had made, and from his general knowledge of the subject, that great inconvenience and expense would arise from the adoption of that recommendation. The matter was regarded by Lord Spencer with all his predilection in favour of the adoption of a sound system; and he was only deterred from adopting it by a regard to practical considerations. It would be impossible—time and space would forbid it—to go into minute details of those extensive establishments. A great deal, too, would escape notice; and, if a public department desired to conceal a job, it would be much easier to do so under a large annual vote than in the course now adopted, under which a most ample account was laid on the Table of the House year by year after the money was expended.


rose only to express his general concurrence in the view taken by the two right hon. Gentlemen (Mr. Baring and Sir J. Graham). On principle, the better way would seem to be, that the whole of the receipts should be brought into the Exchequer, and the whole of the payments made out of the Exchequer; but there was found to be so much practical inconvenience in that, and the expense and trouble would be so great, without any adequate countervailing advantage, that that plan, or that part of the plan, was given up, conformably with the opinion of Lord Spencer. The hon. Member (Dr. Bowring) likewise wished that all the departments connected with the collection of the revenue should present estimates to be voted in the House. For the reasons that had been already given, he (Lord J. Russell) conceived that that course would not be expedient; and that there would not be any equivalent advantage gained. It must not be supposed that it was the uniform and unbending rule that all public expenses should be agreed to by vote of the House on estimates; on the contrary, there were a great number of sums, such as the expenses of the Civil List, and pensions and payments out of the Consolidated Fund, which were established by Act of Parliament, and were not brought before the House in estimates to be voted year by year. However, he (Lord J. Russell) merely rose to state, with respect to the opinion of his which had been referred to, that although he entirely concurred in that view at the time when he signed the report, he had long since thought that Lord Spencer took the more correct view of the subject, and that he (Lord J. Russell) was in error when he signed that report.

DR. BOWRING, in replying, insisted that the departments of receipt and expenditure were kept separate in France, and ought to be so here also. No doubt, hon. Members might trace the 7,000,000l. after the money was gone; but he wanted to have the accounts looked into before the money was spent. But he would not divide the House; he thought this was one of those questions that were making progress.

Motion withdrawn.