§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
then said, he had given notice of calling attention to a most important matter. The Resolutions before the House passed at one o'clock in the morning, and the House bad been entirely deprived of the opportunity of judging of the state of the finances of the kindom in consequence of the total absence of the accounts relating to the past expenditure. The House knew nothing of the financial transactions of the country up to the end of March last. The papers were laid upon the table so late as to be of no use to hon. Members during the Session. This year the papers were presented to the House on the 10th of June, but not in time to prevent the House voting money without any knowledge of the previous expenditure. Last year the papers were laid on the table in July, but were not printed and sent to hon. Members until the 6th of October, so that, in point of fact, the House decided questions without having accurate information. The delay which occurred in laying the accounts on the table of the House was productive of serious inconvenience, and gave rise to a most anomalous state of things; hon. Gentlemen voted away millions of money without knowing in what manner it was expended. He called upon Her Majesty's Government so to arrange matters, as to have the accounts printed earlier, and in 405 the hands of Members before they left town for different parts of the country.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, if the hon. Gentleman meant that they should return to the old system of financial accounts, he would be still further than now from getting the information he desired, for the accounts were then made up to the 5th of January, whereas the financial year did not end till the 5th of April. With regard to the production of the accounts, he might state that the whole of them were in the hands of the printers on the 4th of June with the exception of those of the Land Revenue Department. The Department of Land Revenue had to call in the accounts of the various Crown estates, a duty which was attended with delay and difficulty; and the Commissioners had not yet succeeded in making up their accounts. When they were completed, however, he could assure the House that no delay would take place in having the whole laid on the table.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS
must say, that the public accounts were in a most unsatisfactory state—in such a state as to render it necessary for that House to take measures for providing a remedy. He had endeavoured, time after time, to ascertain what had become of the enormous amount voted for the militia in 1855—a sum amounting to £3,800,000. Not more than 65,000 militia had been embodied—a number coming very far short of what had been voted by Parliament, and yet nobody could inform him what had become of the money granted by the House. It was high time for the House to take steps towards securing the necessary information as to the expenditure of the public money.
§ MR. DISRAELI
thought that what the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated, with regard to the importance of the finance accounts terminating at the end of the financial year was quite unanswerable. Any other mode of making up the accounts would be most unsatisfactory; but at the same time it did not appear to him that the other portions or the right hon. Gentleman's statement were quite so much to the point. What he should like to know was, why the accounts, if they were ready for the printer on the 4th of June, were not yet on the table? They might have been printed in a week. What the right hon. Gentleman said as to the Land Revenue Department not being prepared with 406 their accounts was by no means satisfactory, because the question still remained, why were they not prepared? The right hon. Gentleman had ample power in this matter, and he should have issued orders to have these accounts forwarded in due time. At all events, the House might have had before it other accounts which were of much greater importance than these connected with the Land Revenue Department. It was exceedingly important that they should have in their hands the various accounts in the form in which they were drawn up, and it was the duty of the Government to see that these were regularly laid before them, as every one must feel that the present state of matters was highly unsatisfactory. It would be out of the question to think of returning to the old system, as that would give them no information whatever, but there was no reason why in two months' time, after the closing of the financial year, the whole of the accounts should not be laid on the table.
SIR FRANCIS BARING
agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that to make up the accounts to the end of January would not afford the explanation which was asked for; but, at the same time, the present system was full of inconvenience. Last year the accounts were not produced till after the close of the Session, and this year the whole of the Supply had been granted, and the accounts were not yet on the table. This subject had not escaped the attention of the Committee for which he had moved, and he trusted they would be able to make some valuable suggestions on this subject.
§ SIR H. WILLOUGHBY
explained that he had been misunderstood by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He did not want to go back to the old system of finance accounts; but he thought the statesmen of the reign of George III. were wiser than the statesmen of the present day, for they always got their financial accounts by the month of May.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it was a mistake to suppose that the Government had any wish to withhold accounts and information from the House. Nothing, indeed, could be further from the truth. The Government were anxious to lay the accounts on the table at the earliest possible moment, but it was necessary to wait until they were completed. There was one important account—that of Land Revenue—which it 407 had not hitherto been in the power of the heads of departments to exhibit in a complete form. When it had been finished the other accounts would be presented to the House.
§ Resolutions agreed to.