HC Deb 05 February 1856 vol 140 cc225-9

said, he rose in pursuance of notice to move for an account of the gross public income and expenditure of the United Kingdom in each quarter of the year 1855. During many years, it had been the practice to lay on the table of the House the net amount of the public revenue only after deducting the cost of collection and some other items. The subject had been brought before the House over and over again, and Motions made for the purposes of bringing the gross revenue into the accounts as well as the net revenue. At last the right hon. gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone), who, during his tenure of office as Chancellor of the Exchequer, manifested the strongest desire to improve the system of public accounts, brought in a Bill, which he passed through Parliament, requiring that the gross amount of revenue should be brought into the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman, when in office, also promised him that the gross amount of public revenue should be furnished to the House in the Quarterly Returns. When the right hon. Gentleman left office, his hon. Friend the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Wilson), who subscribed to the propriety of furnishing the House with the gross amount, promised that he would give it, but he had never done so. Last year, however, in consequence of a request from him, a quarterly Return had been furnished, but it was the most confused account he had ever seen, especially with regard to the expenditure of the Crown lands. The Return, however, proved that the gross annual amount of revenue derived from the Crown lands in 1854 was £383,700, while the amount brought into the revenue was only £272,000, thus showing that £111,700 was expended in that department, without any authority and without any knowledge on the part of that House. Had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford been in office, he was sure he would have accounted for every farthing of the expenditure of the Crown lands by Votes of that House. What right had any one to expend £111,700 a year of the Crown lands, which were as much public property as the income tax. In exchange of the Crown estates, the Crown received an income of £385,000 from the Civil List, and if they had been well managed they would produce nearly the amount of that Civil List; but in consequence of irresponsible squandering they had not produced one-half the amount, and if he said one-third he believed he should be nearer to the truth. He found, also, that the revenues of the Duchy of Lancashire amounted in 1854 to £42,000. Only £18,000 of that sum was paid to Her Majesty, leaving £24,000 to be squandered away in expenditure, which amounted to about 60 per cent for management. In the same year the receipts from the Duchy of Cornwall, which was the estate of the Prince of Wales, and ought to be looked after as public property, were £63,000, and only £39,000 were paid in, leaving a balance for expenditure and squandering of £24,000, which amounted to about 40 per cent for the management of that property. The amount paid to the trustees was laid out in the funds as property belonging to the Prince, which he would enjoy when he came of age, and the larger the amount of that property, the less would, of course, be required for his Civil List. The House, therefore, had a great interest in seeing that this property was correctly managed. Upwards of £16,000 were paid out of the public taxes for the Duchy of Cornwall, in consideration of a certain tax on tin which had been paid by the producers of that metal having been given up. These were considerations which made it imperative on the House to require such accounts as he now called for; and £111,700 ought not to be expended out of the Crown estates without any knowledge or sanction on the part of Parliament. He dared to say that he should be told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that these items were to be found somewhere or other in some book. He did not deny that, or that the money was expended, for he did not suppose it was pocketed; but his complaint was that any part of the money should be expended without the sanction of the House of Commons. The measure of the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford, showing the cost of collection of the revenue, was a most important financial measure; yet it was nullified and rendered nugatory because the gentlemen of the Treasury were afraid of the country knowing how much was taken from it.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That there be laid before this House, an Account of the gross Public Income and Expenditure of the United Kingdom in each quarter of the year 1855; stating the cost of collection in each of the Revenue Departments, including the Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues of the Crown (made out in the same form as the Account of the net Income and Expenditure in the quarterly Returns presented to this House).


said, he would not follow the hon. Gentleman through his numerous topics, but would confine himself to the subject to which the Motion referred. The hon. Gentleman was quite right in saying that the measure introduced by the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford, two years ago, was a measure of the very greatest importance, but its importance was not of that kind referred to by the hon. Gentleman, because the whole of the information respecting the collection of the revenue of each department had been for some time past stated in the finance accounts for the year. The great object of the Bill of the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford was to bring that expenditure annually under the review of the House in detail, in order that the House might know of what items it was composed, and impose such check as it might deem necessary. This had been done for the last two years, and he should in the present year lay similar estimates on the table. In its passage through the House of Lords the Bill was denuded of one of its important elements, for the supervision of the super-annuations of the Customs was struck out of the schedule, and if the hon. Member would move for the rectification of that defect he would receive ample support from the Government. He might remark that when, in the course of last year, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Williams) asked for an account in the gross, and not in the way he had asked for it now, the account was immediately furnished by the Treasury. He (Mr. Wilson) held in his hand an account for each of the quarters of the last year, and in the annual accounts, which would be published on the 30th April in the newspapers, every quarter's account would show the gross and net account of each branch of the revenue. He, therefore, hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press his Motion now, because he must see that his views were being carried out. He believed he might safely say, in point of truth, that the whole advantage which the hon. Member expected to derive from the Bill introduced two years ago had been derived—that was, that Parliament had the Estimates regularly brought before it, and had an opportunity of discussing each item, and rejecting any it might think improper. With regard to the Woods and Forests, he was not able to answer the hon. Gentleman's observations without notice. That department was considered to be exceptional, inasmuch as the Government only held that branch of the revenue in trust for the Crown, and it had never been dealt with in the same manner as other branches.


said, he observed that in the Department of the Woods and Forests there was a heavy expenditure of about £100,000 a year without any control whatever, and the accounts of the country could not be considered complete unless the same Estimates were framed with regard to the Woods and Forests as in respect to every other financial branch of the country.


said, that the two questions raised by the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. W. Williams) and the hon. Baronet the Member for Evesham (Sir H. Willoughby) were of a totally different nature—one relating to the mode of keeping the public accounts, the other to the check which Parliament ought to exercise over the public expenditure. With regard to the first question, as his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury had already correctly stated to the House, the whole amount of the revenue received, including the expenses of collection, had, for many years past, been annually laid before the House. As the collection of the revenue was thought to be part of the prerogative of the Crown, the Executive did not feel bound to propose an annual Vote to cover the charges thereby incurred; but the practice was to deduct them from the gross revenue, and to pay the net amount only into the Exchequer. Two years ago, however, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford introduced a measure by which it was provided that the expenses of collecting a certain portion of the revenue, including the Customs, the Post-office charges, and the Inland Revenue, were to be voted annually by the House of Commons, and the gross revenue derived from those sources was to be paid into the Exchequer; but this principle, however sound in the case of departments in which all the officers were paid by regularly fixed salaries, could not be made applicable to the revenue of the Crown lands, the expenses in the management of which varied of course very much, and could not be calculated beforehand with any certainty. The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, did not extend the provisions of his measure to that department. He would not fail to consider the question suggested by the hon. Baronet the Member for Evesham, but at present, he felt bound to say, that he did not think it probable that he should be able to submit any measure on the subject to the House this Session.


said, he thought there was no more difficulty in framing an estimate of the cost of the Woods and Forests than there was with regard to any other branch of the revenue. However, under the circumstances, he begged leave to withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn,