HC Deb 30 May 1848 vol 99 cc127-33

Dr. BOWRING moved the following Resolutions:— That this House cannot be the effectual guardian of the Revenues of the State, unless the whole amount of the Taxes, and of various other sources of income received for the public account, be either paid in, or accounted for, to the Exchequer. That no department of revenue ought to be allowed to stop any portion of its gross receipts in their progress to the Exchequer, without the previous authority of Parliament. That no department of expenditure should be permitted to appropriate to the public service any other sums than those sanctioned by previous votes of Parliament, and that all receipts from sales of stores, or other sources, should be paid into the Exchequer. That whereas the expenditure of many departments escapes Parliamentary control, either wholly or in part, in consequence of paying their expenses out of fees or other resources, and of accounting to the Exchequer only for the balances of such receipts; and in other cases of applying to Parliament for grants to make up the deficiency of such fees or other resources, it is necessary, as a check upon abuse, and a security for the proper appropriation of the public monies, that such receipts should be paid into the Exchequer, and not be disposed of without the preliminary sanction of Parliament. That it appears by returns on the table of this House, that in the year ending the 5th day of January, 1847, the amount of 5,904,690l. 17s. 4d. 5–12ths. was deducted from the gross receipts by the various revenue departments in its progress to the Exchequer, and disbursed without the previous sanction of Parliament; and by sundry previous Parliamentary returns, that a sum of about the same enormous amount is yearly retained by the said departments, and is not paid into the Exchequer, nor subjected before its disbursements to Parliamentary control. That it appears by the said returns, that in the year ending the 5th day of January, 1847, the sum of 1,099,747l. 14s. 2¾d. was received by the various other departments, independently of Parliamentary grants, or issues from the Exchequer. That the amounts thus removed from the direct authority and previous control of Parliament, and which were not paid into the Exchequer, average nearly seven millions sterling per annum, and that nearly one-eighth of the gross revenues of the nation are disposed of without the interference of Parliament to sanction their application. That such a state of things is most unsatisfactory, and requires the earliest attention of the House of Commons. These resolutions, which he submitted to the House, seemed to him to contain a proposition which was so self-evident, that it only seemed to him a wonder that the House of Commons, in the discharge of its first duty, should have paid no attention to the fact that one-eighth of the various revenues of the country were expended without any previous Parliamentary sanction or control. If anything appeared to he the primary duty of a representative of the people, it was surely to see that the money paid by the people reached the Treasury. But the fact was, that a sum of eight millions sterling was disbursed every year without the sanction or authority of Parliament. Since the passing of the Reform Bill a sum of from 110,000,000l. to 120,000,000l. sterling had been disbursed, without the consent of the House of Commons. He had moved from time to time for the production of various returns, showing what had been the amount of the disbursements of the various boards of expenditure. And he found that in 1837 the different departments had expended, without accounting for it, a sum of 6,155,000l. In 1843 they had expended, in a similar manner, a sum of 9,507,000l. In 1846 they had expended a sum of 6,152,000l. And in the last return ending the 5th of June, 1847, they had expended 5,904,000l. It appeared that some of the departments of the Treasury, including the Army, Navy, and Ordnance departments, had received, independently of Parliamentary grants, the following sums:—In 1837, the sum of 767,000l.; in 1843, the sum of 1,999,000l.; in 1846, the sum of 909,000l; and in 1847, the sum of 1,099,747l. What he had to complain of was this—and he considered that it was a disgrace to a commercial kingdom like England—that there was no department whatever, where by the means of books it might be shown at a glance what was the whole amount of the public expenditure, and what the amount of receipts. There was nothing called the great ledger, and there was no power of checking the expenditure, or of preventing a wanton extravagance. He was fully aware that the great claims which Ireland had upon the attention of the Government distracted them from a due consideration of this subject; but he did trust that some document or some department would be established, through the medium of which they could be able to arrive at a precise knowledge of the amount of their receipts and expenditure. The principle for which he contended was not a new one: it had been recognised again and again. The Committee which sat in 1831 did recommend, in the very strongest phraseology, that the various revenues of the country should pay the whole amount of their receipts into the Ex- chequer, and that the various departments engaged in its collection should have their expenses defrayed by annual votes and estimates. There was no reason why Parliament should not have a knowledge of the expenditure incurred; yet, out of that enormous expenditure of 7,000,000l. to which he had adverted, Parliament had no previous knowledge of the disbursement of a shilling. One might have supposed that the Audit-office would be the proper department for effecting the control of which he in common with so many others were desirous. But no such thing. It was an unfortunate fact that the Audit-office was wholly incompetent to perform that duty. He could refer to two or three cases in order to prove his assertion. The Audit-office had been obliged to assent to the approval of sums to the amount of some five or six millions, from an utter incapacity to examine the vouchers. Repeated resolutions had been come to by Parliament requiring that every public accountant shall return his accounts. But such accounts had not been given in. The Shannon navigation department had not returned its accounts for the last ten years; the Board of Works had not returned theirs either for several years; and many other departments were very much in fault. It would be well if the House and the country were in possession of a few facts. The Customs detained a sum of nearly 2,000,000l. in the progress of their receipts to the Exchequer. He wanted to know why it was that the amount of salaries and pensions paid in this department was not more fully stated, and made the subject of an annual vote. The Excise retained 550,000l. in the progress of its receipts to the Exchequer. The charge for collection was 940,000l.; for other payments, 94,000l.; and for the superannuation fund, 7,400l. Nothing could be stronger than the recommendations contained in the reports of the Committee appointed to inquire into the Excise. The Committee produced a series of very able and valuable reports, and they recommended in the strongest possible terms that the gross excess of the revenue collected in the Excise should be paid into the Exchequer. The Crown lands deduct in its progress to the Exchequer no less a sum than 325,000l. making deductions by the different revenue departments to the amount of nearly 6,000,000l. In other branches of the public service, the same state of things prevailed. Large sums were paid to the officers of the Houses of Parliament; and in the law courts the amount of fees was very considerable. Over these sums Parliament had no control whatever; but he hoped to see arrangements made by which all fees should be paid into the Exchequer. The receivers of these fees paid the amount to their private bankers, and when the disbursements on account of salaries and other heads were made, the balance was paid into the Exchequer. There were fee funds in most of the public departments—the Treasury, the Privy Council, the India Board, the Admiralty and Naval Departments. Out of this state of things great irregularities arose. He believed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had lately introduced arrangements by which the money received by the Naval and other departments for old stores was to be paid into the Exchequer—an improvement for which he felt grateful. He believed the wisest system to be pursued, if it were determined to maintain a rigid economy, was for Parliament to take possession of the whole bulk of the public revenue. If the public revenues were expended without previous Parliamentary authority, there could be no security for just economy, nor for a proper system of accounts. It might be said that it would be exceedingly inconvenient that Parliament should be called to vote the expenses of the public establishments, and that it would open the door to much Parliamentary jobbing, but he considered that publicity was the best security against jobbing. He knew no other country in Europe in which the gross amount of the public revenues was not paid into the Exchequer. The hon. Member concluded by proposing his resolutions.


had no great hope, more than his hon. Friend, of making this subject entertaining to the House. He quite agreed that the House was the guardian of the public purse, and that there was a considerable amount of the revenue which was not made the subject of a Parliamentary vote. It was, however, a mistake to suppose that this money was withdrawn from the cognisance of Parliament, since the public accounts were made out in such a way as to afford the means of investigation to any hon. Member who thought the inquiry called for. The late Earl Spencer, who had paid the greatest possible attention to the subject of finance, was of opinion that it would be quite impossible to carry out the recommendations of the Commission- ers, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred. He did not think that the plan which his hon. Friend advocated, if adopted, would produce any greater security to the revenue, or would make the slightest difference in the receipts or expenses to the public. It was evident that departments such as the Customs and Excise must have the means at their command to make the payments they were called upon to make from day to day. With respect to payments other than charges of collection, it was well known to his hon. Friend that many of them were made under Acts of Parliament. With respect to the Scottish revenue, it was one of the articles of the Union with Scotland that the expense of the Scottish establishments should be deducted from the revenue before payment was made into the Exchequer; but of course it would make no practical difference in whatever way the charge of those establishments was defrayed. With regard to the Shannon navigation accounts, he regretted to say that they were, and had been for a considerable period, in a very unsatisfactory state. He trusted, however, that these matters would be improved. He might observe that many improvements had recently been made in the mode of conducting the business of the Board of Trade, and of other departments of the Government. It was not his intention to meet the Motion of the hon. Gentleman by moving the previous question; but he trusted the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with the explanations that had been given, and that the object he had in view having been so far attained, he would withdraw his Motion.


asked the hon. Member whether he would support him in a Motion for doing away with that absurd and gross job, a sinecure of 2,000l. which was paid to the Comptroller of the Exchequer? If he did so, then he would believe him to be sincere in his opposition to the extravagant expenditure on the part of the Government. He must say he did not think that the hon. Member came into court with as pure hands as he ought to have done; for there was a report very generally current, that his son had recently received an appointment of 400l. a year. [Dr. BOWRING was understood to dissent.] Then he supposed he had been misinformed; but, at all events, he would have been much better pleased to have seen the hon. Member engaging in a tilt against the sinecure system, instead of submitting such a Motion as the present in the year 1848.


objected to the present mode of keeping the public accounts, as they only deceived the country. For instance, a sum of 7,000,000l. was kept out of those accounts, in consequence of which the expenditure appeared to be only 51,000,000l. when in fact it was 58,000,000l. The Government had admitted that the system was wrong, but still they had not put the accounts in proper order. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that it would occasion a great deal of trouble to do so. He (Mr. Hume) never knew a house that had its accounts in bad order, that did not have a great deal of trouble to put them right. But what was the Chancellor of the Exchequer there for? He neglected his duty if he did not see that the accounts were kept as they should be, and thought the public had a right to expect that the Government should attend to this without further delay. The right hon. Gentleman had shown very insufficient reasons, he thought, for not adopting the resolutions; and he would counsel his hon. Friend (Dr. Bowring) to press them to a vote—let them be negatived if the House so pleased—in order that they might be placed on record as a witness against the Government for neglecting to do what they had admitted to be a right and proper thing to be done.


said, it might be imagined from the speech of the hon. Member for Montrose that no regular account was presented to Parliament, showing the total gross revenue, and the total gross expenditure; but the fact was, that a full statement on this subject was placed in the hands of hon. Members every year—in the month of March he believed—drawn up in such a manner as would satisfy any mercantile man. He would not say that the system at present pursued with reference to the public accounts was not susceptible of further amendment; but he certainly considered that it was not open to the objections which had been made by the hon. Member for Montrose. With regard to the question as to the payment of fees, he thought it extremely desirable that endeavours should be made to abolish the system of paying fees to public officers. He believed that that system had, to a great extent, been abandoned; but still there were some public officers whose emoluments were in a great measure dependent on fees that ought to he altered, and the salaries paid by fixed sums.


hoped the hon. Member would not press the Motion to a division. The subject was one of great importance, and well deserved the consideration of the House; but it was too much to expect that the nine resolutions involved in the Motion of the hon. Member would be all affirmed by the House, particularly as many hon. Members were not acquainted with the subject. To press the question to a division, would therefore defeat rather than promote the object which the hon. Member for Bolton had in view. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was desirous that all fees should be paid into the Exchequer. He therefore hoped the hon. Member for Bolton would not force those who were willing to adopt a great part of his plans to vote against the resolutions on the present occasion.


did not wish to embarrass the House by dividing on all the resolutions; he should content himself with taking its opinion on the first.

The House divided:—Ayes 55; Noes 54: Majority 1.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. M'Gregor, J.
Anderson, A. Masterman, J.
Baldock, E. H. Miles, W.
Barrington, Visct. Moffatt, G.
Bennet, P. Moore, G. H.
Blake, M. J. O'Brien, Sir L.
Brotherton, J. O'Connell, M. J.
Bunbury, W. M. O'Connor, F.
Christy, S. O'Flaherty, A.
Cobden, R. Packe, C. W
Drummond, H. Pigott, F.
Duncuft, J. Pilkington, J.
Forbes, W. Plowden, W. H. C.
Fox, W. J. Rendlesham, Lord
Galway, Visct. Salwey, Col.
Glyn, G. C. Sibthorp, Col.
Greene, J. Smith, J. B.
Grogan, E. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Hall, Sir B. Sullivan, M.
Henley, J. W. Thompson, Col.
Henry, A. Thornely, T.
Hill, Lord E. Trelawny, J. S.
Hodgson, W. N. Walsh, Sir J. B.
Hood, Sir A. Wawn, J. T.
Hudson, G. Williams, J.
Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H. Willoughby, Sir H.
Kershaw, J. TELLERS.
Locke, J. Bowring, Dr.
Mackenzie, W. F. Hume, J.
List of the NOES.
Baines, M. T. Clive, H. B.
Bellew, R. M. Conolly, Col.
Boldero, H. G. Cubitt, W.
Chaplin, W. J. Dalrymple, Capt.
Clements, hon. C. S. Douglas, Sir C. E.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Drummond, H. H.
Fordyce, A. D. Pinney, W.
Frewen, C. H. Pugh, D.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Repton, G. W. J.
Grey, R. W. Ricardo, O.
Hallyburton, Ld J. F. G. Rice, E. R.
Hawes, B. Russell, Lord J.
Hayter, W. G. Rutherfurd, A.
Heneage, G. H. W. Seymer, H. K.
Heywood, J. Shelburne, Earl of
Hobhouse, rt. hon. Sir J. Smith, M. T.
Hobhouse, T. B. Somerville, rt. hon Sir W.
Howard, P. H. Strickland, Sir G.
Jervis, Sir J. Talbot, C. R. M.
Lewis, G. C. Talfourd, Serj.
Lockhart, W. Townley, R. G.
Maitland, T. Vivian, J. E.
Matheson, Col. Westhead, J. P.
Maule, rt. hon. F. Wilson, J.
Morpeth, Visct. Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.
Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.
Ogle, S. C. H. TELLERS.
Paget, Lord G. Hill, Lord M.
Pigot, Sir R. Parker, J.

The House divided on the original question:—Ayes 56; Noes 51: Majority 5.

House adjourned at half-past One.