HC Deb 16 July 1858 vol 151 cc1639-48

Order for Committee read.


said, he rose to call attention to the Report of the Pub- lic Moneys Committee. After the long inquiry of the Committee, he thought their Report should not be allowed to pass by without the attention of the House being directed to it before the close of the Session. He wished to call attention to the necessity of legislation on the points suggested by the Committee. It was impossible matters could be allowed to remain in their present position. The House had adopted the principle that the gross revenues should be paid into the Exchequer, and that no money should be issued for the public service except by the vote of Parliament. There were, however, exceptions to that rule. One great exception was the case of the Woods and Forests. About a quarter of the revenue arising from the Crown lands was expended without passing through the Exchequer. The Committee recommended that the same principle adopted with regard to the other departments should be carried out in respect to the Woods and Forests; but it appeared from a minute that the Treasury had not acceded to that proposal, and postponed the consideration of the subject until another settlement of the hereditary revenues. He hoped, however, that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer would come to a different conclusion, especially since the proposed alteration would not interfere in the slightest degree with the dignity or comfort of Her Majesty. The next point to which he would refer was the state of the Pay Office. The Pay Offices had been consolidated, which was a wise step, but considerable doubt existed as to whether the regulations of the office were consistent with the law. It was clear that the one or the other must be altered, and the Committee recommended that the difficulty should be got over by an alteration of the law. The tendency of late years had been to employ the Pay Office for the receipt of certain sums while on their way to the Exchequer, but the Committee thought that wherever possible the payment should be made at once into the Exchequer, and not by way of the Pay Office. So in regard to deposits. Moneys were deposited with the Pay Office, and employed for the public service without proper authority or control. The Committee recommended that this practice should be altered, and that the deposits should be kept in a separate account. This he thought would become a matter of serious imporance if the India Bill were passed and the revenues of India came into the hands of the Crown. The Committee recommended another arrangement of great importance. All the transactions of the Pay Office had not hitherto been very well known to that House. For instance, they did not know that the Turkish loan had come into the hands of the Paymaster. So, part of the money for the Duke of Wellington's funeral had remained in the Pay Office up to a very few months past, and it was clear that that would not have been allowed if the circumstance had been known; and the Committee very properly suggested that some officer should be appointed from the Audit Office who should be cognizant of all transactions in the Pay Office, and constitute a check upon the proceedings there. The officers of the Audit Board stated before the Committee that there were £2,000,000 of civil services with which they had nothing to do; and the Committee proposed that those accounts should be audited like other accounts at the Audit Office. An important part of the system was what was called the appropriation check,—that was a check on the part of the Audit Office to provide that the money voted by Parliament should be employed for the purposes specified by Parliament. A great part of the public expenditure was quite free from that check. The accounts of the revenue departments and pretty nearly the whole of the miscellaneous expenditure were audited at the Audit Board, but the Parliamentary appropriation check did not exist there, and the Committee recommended that they should be brought under the rule. With respect to the civil expenditure it was proposed on the minute of the late Government that the audit should take place at the Treasury, but he thought that a subordinate officer of the Audit Board would be placed in an awkward position if he were called on to check the expenditure of Secretaries of State and Lords of Treasury, with one Secretary of State on one side of him and another Secretary of State on the other. In his opinion, the check should be exercised at the Audit Office itself. With respect to the Votes for the Army and Navy there was the power to transfer the excess on one Vote to supply a deficiency on another; but this power might be to a greater extent than was ever intended, and ought to be used with some discretion. At one time there was a surplus of £600,000 on the Militia Vote, and there appeared to have been an intention, though very properly it was not carried into execution, to transfer that sum to other services in the War Department. An important recommendation was made by the Committee, to the effect that every year the Speaker should select a certain number of Members to form a Committee to examine the public accounts. The propositions he had submitted to the Committee were more stringent than the recommendations they had made; but they had offered many valuable suggestions, and he hoped the House would never consent to give up those checks which in olden times had been deemed of so much importance.


said, that as a member of the Committee on Public Moneys he wished to say a few words in support of the views advocated by the right hon. Baronet. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he held the same office a few years ago, expressed his intention to bring before the House the state of the public accounts. Afterwards, during the administration of the noble Member for Tiverton, he (Mr. Bowyer) called the attention of the House to the subject, and he believed the consequence was the appointment of the Committee on Public Moneys, which had not produced all the results that had been expected from its labours. It appeared from the investigations of that Committee that there was a regular struggle between the Treasury and the Exchequer, and the then Secretary to the Treasury expressed his opinion that the checks which had been provided by the constitution for the safe custody and application of the public money were perfectly useless, and that the public money should be paid to the account of the Treasury, the Treasury having an unlimited power of drawing upon that account. He (Mr. Bowyer) regarded that as a very unsafe system, and deemed it of the utmost importance that Parliament should not abandon that ancient system of check with regard to the management of the public money which was the real security of the public. In his opinion the Treasury should be intrusted with the application of money, and the Exchequer should exercise a control over that expenditure, taking care that the provisions of the appropriation Bill were duly observed, and that the money should be expended in accordance with the direction of the House of Commons. He hoped Her Majesty's Government would give the Report of the Committee on Public Moneys their careful and attentive consideration.


said, that he much regretted the revival of this controversy, but he was quite prepared, if it were necessary, to defend the opinions he had expressed in the Public Moneys Committee on the subject of the Exchequer, and which had been reprobated by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just addressed the House. He could not accede to the doctrine of the hon. and learned Gentleman that the check exercised by the Comptroller of the Exchequer over the issues of money was an ancient constitutional check; for no longer ago than the reign of Charles II. there was no division between the Treasury, the Exchequer, and the Bank, but the Exchequer was the place in which the money was received, from which it was paid, and in which the then Lord High Treasurer held his sittings. Since that period, however, the Treasury had been separated from the Exchequer and the payments of public money had been transferred to the Bank of England, and now the function of the Exchequer was simply to exercise a sort of check upon the issues of money, the attempt being to establish an audit before payment. The Public Moneys Committee did not recommend any substantial alteration in the functions of the Comptroller of the Exchequer, and therefore it was unnecessary to enter into any controversy on that point. There was one observation of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) on which he wished to remark. The right hon. Baronet truly said that there was considerable doubt whether the present mode of making payments in the Paymaster's Office was perfectly in accordance with one provision of the Exchequer Act, and that the disuse of that provision originated during the late war.


No: I said that the difficulties arising from that disregard had only been made apparent during the late war.


All he could say was that the provision had never been complied with, that the practice which existed during the war was the same as had existed ever since the Act was passed, and that he was not aware that any particular inconvenience had made itself apparent during the late war. One word in defence of the Treasury Minute of the late Government respecting the payment into the Exchequer of the gross proceeds of the Land Revenue. The right hon. Baronet said there would be no difficulty in altering the law, and in making the practice regarding the Land Revenue uniform with that of the Customs and Excise. There was, however, this material difference between the two cases:—At the commencement of Her Majesty's reign an arrangement was made between the Crown and the public respecting the land revenue. That settlement was to last for the lifetime of the Queen, and all the public were entitled to under it was, not the gross but the net revenue. There was, in fact, in the Crown a reversion of the present property, and also a life interest in the expenditure necessary for the maintenance of the property. If the House, therefore, called upon the Crown to pay the gross revenue into the Exchequer, it would amount to a revision of the bargain made with the Crown at the commencement of Her Majesty's reign. Now, that was a matter which involved serious consideration; it affected the interest of future Sovereigns, and was not that simple question of the mere payment of gross revenue into the Exchequer which arose when we had to deal with Customs and Excise. But then the right hon. Baronet said, at present there was concealment, and that wherever there was concealment there was always a suspicion that something was wrong. Now, that was an axiom the abstract truth of which be did not dispute; but he did dispute the groundwork of its application, because there was annually laid on the table of that House, in the amplest form, the details of all the expenditure of the Land Revenue. First there were the national Finance Accounts, and then a detailed report by the Commissioners of the Land Revenue, in which might be found many more details on the subject of this expenditure than hon. Gentlemen generally would perhaps have the patience to examine. He could not, therefore, admit that there was the smallest concealment with respect to this branch of the expenditure.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman asserted that there was no concealment with regard to land revenues, but there was concealment in this way—that information did not come to the House as soon as it ought. As an instance, although the House had voted the establishment of the present year, the accounts of the land revenues of last year were not yet before them. The land revenues should be made up so as to be before the House prior to the Estimates being voted for the department. He demurred to the assertion that the public was only entitled to the net revenues. There had been shadowed forth an idea that these lands could be resumed by the Crown, and he had heard congratulations uttered that the revenues had so much increased as almost to be sufficient to provide for the Civil List. But these lands were originally bold by the Sovereign to carry on the whole civil government of the country, and the country had as much right to them for the support of the judicial, diplomatic, and other departments of the State as the Sovereign. Nothing was more dangerous than the notion that the arrangement which had so long existed could be brought to an end. The surrendering of the Crown Revenues at the beginning of a new reign was only a constitutional fiction, and it was impossible that they could ever be recovered by the Crown. The country had purchased them over and over again by the sums given to meet the deficiencies in the revenues of those lands. He was glad that the right hon. Member (Sir F. Baring) had brought forward the question, and he hoped that in future Sessions an estimate of the expenditure upon the Crown lands would be produced, and that the income arising from them would be placed upon the same footing as every other branch of the public revenue. The whole of the property belonged to the public, and therefore the House should insist upon having a control over the expenditure by placing it in the regular Estimates.


said, that the whole of the Crown Revenues were surrendered in consideration of the grant of the Civil List, but it was the gross and not the net revenue which was given up. There had been great extravagance in the management of the Crown Lands. The House ought to have some control over that expenditure, of which there ought to be an annual Estimate. He hoped the Government would take the subject into consideration.


said, that before the House went into Committee of Ways and Means he wished to make a few observations in reply to the remarks of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) He was not at all surprised that the right hon. Gentleman who had presided over the Committee upon Public Moneys, with that knowledge and ability which he brought to bear upon all subjects, should be unwilling that that labours of that Committee should be passed over without notice. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that he was under a misconception if he supposed that the present Government had treated the results of that investigation with neglect. He could exonerate also those who preceded the present Government from a similar charge, for when he first entered upon the duties of his office he received an earnest and friendly admonition from his predecessor to give particular attention to the Treasury Minute which had been drawn up under his superintendence. There could be no doubt that the recommendations of the Committee and the Treasury Minute drawn up in consequence were entitled to the gravest consideration, and, he might add, generally speaking, to the adoption of the House. But all who had paid attention to the subject must be aware that the necessary measures were of too great importance to be adopted without a laborious investigation into questions of detail connected with that department of the public service. And not only inquiry, but legislation would be required in order to carry out the recommendations of the Committee and the terms of the Treasury Minute, and he would put it to the House impartially to say whether the position of the Government had been such as to afford them or the House sufficient time and opportunity to devote the attention necessary for the consideration of such a subject. The establishment of an independent and complete audit was, in his opinion, a necessary measure. The present Government had had a measure with that object under their consideration, which they had hoped to be able to introduce this Session, but which he trusted to find, next Session, an early opportunity of laying before Parliament. In order to carry into effect the Treasury Minute, with some modifications which he deemed advisable, would require, not one Act merely, but several Acts, and therefore the subject was not one to be lightly disposed of. He could say generally on the subject which the right hon. Gentleman had brought forward, that there was no part of the Treasury Minute, and of the investigations of the Committee on Public Moneys, which had not received the attention of the Government, and on which they had not formed an opinion; and they would be prepared, at the right time, to introduce measures accordingly. With respect to the management of the revenues of the Crown lands, he could not agree with the observations that had been made by several hon. Members. He concurred with the right hon. Member for Radnor (Sir G. C. Lewis) that it was not for the advantage of the country to criticize too severely the terms of the agreement entered into between the Crown and the country upon Her Majesty's accession. He hoped the time was far distant when the subject would have again to be laid before Parliament; bnt, in the meantime, he must express his opinion, after a laborious and complete investigation of the matter, that the agreement which had been entered into was certainly not to the disadvantage of the country. There were two ways in which the agreement could be considered, first with reference to the general independence of position of the Crown, which was considered as better secured by the Sovereign being in possession of a certain estate than by receiving a mere allowance for life therefrom; and, secondly, as to the position of the Crown in a mere pecuniary point of view. He need not enter into the discussion of the first point, upon which every one could form an opinion. As far as the pecuniary advantages of the Crown were concerned, that was a point upon which no one could form an opinion without going into details, but his was clearly that it was not for the interests of the country to carp and cavil at the contract that had been made, for, having regard to the increased value of property and other considerations, he believed it was greatly to the advantage of the country.

House in Committee.

Account of Unfunded Debt [presented 22nd June] referred.


said, it was proposed, to make good the Votes for the service of the year, that a sum of £11,226,255 1s. ld. be paid out of the Consolidated Fund.

Vote agreed to.

The next Vote that a sum of £4,327,292 18s. 11d. for the service of the year be issued out of the surplus funds of the preceding year, was also agreed to.

  1. 1. Resolved, That, towards making good the Supply granted to Her Majesty, the sum of £11,226,255 1s. ld. be granted out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
  2. 2. Resolved, That, towards making good the Supply granted to Her Majesty, there be issued and applied to the service of the year 1858, the 1648 sum of £4,327,202 18s. 11d., being the surplus of Ways and Means granted for the service of preceding years.

House resumed.

Resolutions to be reported on Monday next.