HC Deb 06 April 1859 vol 153 cc1432-4

said, he did not wish to refer to the topic with which this discussion had commenced, but he had always understood that there was an Order of the House against referring to anything that passed in the House of Lords. He fully concurred in the wisdom of that Order. He thought that it was wise to pay such respect to "another assembly," and that they should not amuse themselves or embitter their proceedings by references to what had passed in other places. But he should like to see some reciprocity recognized in regard to that principle. Otherwise, he thought circumstances might arise to render it necessary for the House of Commons to make a revision of that Order. If accusations and attacks were to be made personally upon Members of that House, and when such Members rose in their places to defend themselves, they were to be prevented by the Order of the House from answering those charges, he conceived that such an Order then stood in the way of fairness and justice, and that it should no longer be maintained, he would now proceed to call attention to the subject of which he had given notice:— On going into Committee of Supply on Post Office Estimates to call the attention of the House to the 13th article of the contract entered into by the Government for the conveyance of the mails between England and Ireland, by which the Postmaster General engages to pay the contractors £105,900 out of the revenue of the Post Office, contrary to the provisions of the Act 17 & 18 Vict., c. 94. They were all aware that in regard to the management of the revenue it had been the old law and practice that all expenses should be paid out of the gross revenue. That, however, was a practice found to be attended with great inconvenience, and to be wrong in principle. In 1854 an Act was passed prohibiting any expenditure for the management of the revenue from being paid out of the revenue, and requiring that it should be paid by money voted by Parliament. Now, the contract to which his notice referred was framed in a way which, in his opinion, was entirely contrary to the Act in question, was wrong in principle, and, as he believed, in law. He had no wish to impute that this contract had been framed intentionally to evade the Act, but only that it was a blunder from copying some old form of contract. Having sat as Chairman of the Public Monies Committee, before which this question had been raised, he felt it his duty to call the attention of the House to it.


said, his attention had been already called to the matter, and he would confess that it was an oversight in the contract and had arisen in the manner alluded to. At the same time, it would not have the effect of withdrawing the money from the control of Parliament, because it would be certainly voted by the House. He quite concurred with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that the clause in question, being an obsolete one, should not appear in any future contract. Nothing was further from the intention of the Government than to depart from the terms of the Act of 1854. He regretted that the events of the Session prevented him from laying on the table of the House the papers, according to which they proposed to carry into effect the recommendations of the Public Monies Committee.


said, he was glad to hear the explanation of the hon. Gentleman, for he viewed the Act of 1854 as one involving a principle of the most important character, and he considered that any violation of it would be most unpardonable.


said, the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury made an observation which he believed was not intended by him to go to the extent its literal meaning implied. He understood the hon. Gentleman to say, although the Post Office, after the contract, might pay the subsidy, yet it would be necessary afterwards for the Government to come to Parliament for a vote on the subject. It was true that an Act was passed requiring the gross revenue to be paid into the Exchequer; yet, in point of fact, the practice was not so, for it was considered more convenient to pay the expenses of the particular department than to draw them from the Exchequer. Although monies were paid by public departments, and although the subsidy referred to might be paid by the Post Office, yet no such money could be paid until after it had been voted. The great distinction between the two cases was this. Although the particular department might pay the money that money could not be paid until after the vote was taken in the House. If this were not the case, it was quite clear, that the whole control of the House would he gone in respect to those matters.


said, he wished to ask the learned Lord Advocate when the Report of the Lunacy Commissioners for Scotland would be laid upon the table.