HC Deb 09 August 1860 vol 160 cc940-5

said, he did not bring forward the Motion in the spirit of complaint; the subject was in itself complicated, and the changes of Government since the Committee had made their Report would excuse delay. He feared also that the bad state of health of Mr. Anderson, a most valuable public servant, had increased the difficulty. He wished only to obtain a declaration of the House, that the question was in an unsatisfactory condition and required early attention. The Resolution included two points, the audit and the appropriation. As to the audit, the House were aware that there existed a Board of Audit kept up at considerable expense, invested with great power of inquiry, responsible to Parliament, and holding their places during good behaviour, and he might add, performing their duties with great efficiency and independence. Common sense would say that all accounts should be examined by this Board. But it was not so. The civil services were an exception. By a Return laid before the Committee, it appeared that of the civil service Votes in 1856, £63,000 were only partially examined by the Audit Board and above £2,000,000 not at all. Among these accounts was included the expenditure of the Treasury and of other high offices—just the departments to whom the audit of a Parliamentary and independent Board should have been applied, instead of which they now generally audited their own accounts.

The Committee, in their Report, recommended the application of the audit to these accounts. There were differences as to the mode of carrying this into effect. The Resolution did not commit the House to any opinion as to these details; hut, individually, he trusted that the audit might be carried on at Somerset House by the Audit Office, and not at the Treasury, as he thought with the Chairman of the Audit Board that it was not wise to entrust the check of the accounts of the Treasury to a subordinate clerk carrying on his business under the shade of those high authorities on whom his futurs might depend. With respect to the appropriation, there were many deficiencies in the present system, which were pointed out in the evidence; but he would only trouble the House by one example: A sum of £80,000 was voted for the Duke of Wellington's funeral. The whole sum was drawn out from the Exchequer before the 5th of April, 1853. But in 1856 it was shown, by Papers laid before the Committee, that £24,000 of this money had not been required for or spent on the funeral. It had remained floating in the Pay Office, and had been used for Army, Navy, and other requirements, by a system of payments and repayments, which was most confused and unsatisfactory.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'the appropriation and audit of the monies voted for the Civil Service Estimates are insufficient and unsatisfactory, and require early Amendment' —instead thereof.


said, that the difference between the Government and the right hon. Baronet in regard to this matter was really very small. It was undoubtedly true that the system of appropriation and audit was open to improvement according to the recommendation of the Committee on Public Monies. However, the difference between the cases of the Army and Navy Estimates, and the Civil Service was this: in the Army and Navy Estimates there were some fifteen or sixteen Votes of sums of a very large amount, with which it was very easy to deal; but in the Civil Service Estimates there were at least 200 Votes, many of which contained a very large number of minute items which were classed under different heads, and in consequence a rigid audit and appropriation of the moneys voted for the Civil Service was a matter of great complication and difficulty. A great many of the expenses were met from time to time by advances out of the Treasury chest, and as this expenditure was made in various parts of the world, it was only after long intervals that those accounts came in, and the appropriation of the sums traced to their final application. The matter was much more a question of detail than of principle. The Government had no objection to the Resolution, except on the ground that it was an abstract Resolution, and that abstract Resolutions, on matters of detail were not desirable, particularly when the Government themselves admitted the evil, and were anxious to apply the remedy. However, the matter involved a great deal of difficulty, owing to the multitude of arrangements that should be made. The illness of Mr. Anderson, at the close of last Session, prevented the matter being taken in hand at the time, but the question would certainly be attended to during the recess. One of the greatest improvements that could be effected, and which, above all, would facilitate the arrangements for the audit which was desired, was, if the Civil Service accounts could be wound up at the close of the financial year. One of the means which would facilitate that arrangement would be that those Estimates should be voted by the 31st of March. Another was, that large sums in account should be voted; but to this course the House had the strongest objection. As for voting the Estimates by the 31st of March, he feared in the present mode of conducting the business of the House that could not be done. He could assure the House that the Exchequer, from the Chancellor down to its lowest officers, would be only too glad to part with the auditing of those Estimates. One of the great difficulties, however, in having the work done at the Audit-Office was, that the items were so numerous and various that the audit had to he carried on from day to day and week to week. He hoped with the assurance which he had given, that the Motion would not be pressed.


thought the House was indebted to the right hon. Baronet for having introduced this subject to their notice, and for keeping it alive. He must say that he could not regard the answer of the Secretary to the Treasury as satisfactory. He said there was little difference between the opinion of the Government and that of the right hon. Gentleman; but he did not state what that difference was. He ad- mitted, in the very terms of the right hon. Baronet's Motion, that the system complained of was incomplete and unsatisfactory, but immediately thereafter he proceeded to show that there were all sorts of difficulties in the way of remedying the evil. He said the Treasury had no objections to the funds at their disposal being audited at the Audit Office, but concluded by showing that enormous difficulties stood in the way. The hon. Gentleman blew so hot and cold on the subject that he feared there was not much prospect of any satisfactory measure being adopted.


agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) in thinking the statement of the Secretary to the Treasury unsatisfactory. The observations of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Francis Baring) were so conclusive, that if he divided the House—and he trusted that he would press his Motion to a division—it would be the duty of hon. Members to support him.


said, he should certainly support the Resolution, the propositions of which, he said, no one denied. He thought the Resolution should be passed, in order that future Governments might be warned that some alterations in the present system were necessary. The balance of the moneys voted for the funeral of the Duke of Wellington had remained unaccounted for from 1853 to 1856, and had been applied to purposes of which the House had no cognizance. It had been shown by Mr. Anderson, and other gentlemen who were examined, that money was spent in other ways than it was granted for; that money was spent without audit, and that money was spent before it had been voted by that House. When Mr. Anderson was asked whether this was a right course, he replied, "It is a great question;" and that was all the answer they could get. It was a great question, which the House of Commons should set right.


hoped the House would not allow the right hon. Baronet to withdraw his Motion, for it might happen that the Government would not be in office next year; but this Motion, if passed, would remain as a record of the opinion of the House. The Report of the Committee on Public Moneys ought, in his opinion, to be carried out in toto. There was no difficulty in putting the Civil Service accounts on the same footing as shose of the Army and Navy. It had been said that a great deal of the Civil expeuditure was made in va- rious parts of the world; but that was quite as true of the expenditure of the Army and Navy. If any merchant in London were to keep his accounts as the Government did theirs, he would never know in what condition his affairs were. The system of going on from year to year with unexpended balances, was a wrong system. It was a matter of very great disappointment that the Government should have shown so little sympathy with the recommendations of the Committee, though he admitted that the Audit Office had done something since the Report was submitted to the House.


begged to say, with regard to the Civil Service Estimates, that any alteration effected could only be an alteration of account. There might be some improvement made in that respect, though he was far from thinking that the existing audit of the Civil Service money was either a dishonest or inefficient one. He admitted, however, that the present system was a defective one. He was, indeed, not quite sure that he fully understood it, though he had had a good deal of experience at the Treasury. The recommendations of the Committee on Public Moneys were such as he could not but approve, and it was, no doubt, matter of regret that those recommendations had not been carried out. Several reasons might be given for this, and one of these was the illness of Mr. Anderson. As he understood, the Resolution moved by the right hon. Baronet did not refer to a state of things that had recently originated, but to one that had been of long continuance. It was not, therefore, a censure upon the present Government, and he felt himself at perfect liberty to support it. If the hon. Gentleman thought proper to press the Resolution, he should not, on the part of the Government, think it necessary to oppose it.


said, he was a member of the Committee on Public Moneys and a party to all the Resolutions which it adopted. He believed that it was within the power of the executive Government to carry out a large proportion of the recommendations of that Committee, and the Government had given the House assurances that without loss of time they would be so carried out. He regretted that the pledge had not been fulfilled. He regretted the illness of Mr. Anderson, who was, no doubt, a very able public servant; but he could not admit that the business of the Treasury was dependent on Mr. Anderson. They had a very able Chancellor of the Exchequer and a very able Secretary of the Treasury, and he did not see why the recommendations of the Committee should not have been carried out before this. If his right hon. Friend (Sir George Lewis), with his official experience and great judgment, did not understand the working of the existing system be (Sir James Graham) might well feel a difficulty in expressing any opinion upon it. The right hon. Gentleman, however, admitted that the accounts of the Civil Service were not in a satisfactory state. That was a very large admission. What was of more importance than an account? An account was a record of anything that was done, and if it was imperfect it was worse than none at all, for it led to erroneous conclusions. There was no independent audit of the Civil Service Estimates; the audit was the work of those who spent the money. Now, he contended for the principle of an independent audit. That was one of the recommendations of the Committee, and he thought it was high time that the sanction of that House should be given to the recommendations. He was glad the Government had assented to the Resolution of his right hon. Friend, and he hoped it would not remain on the Votes a dead letter, but that during the recess the subject would receive the serious attention of the Government, and that early next Session some measures would be taken on the subject.


did not mean to say that the system of accounts now existing was incomplete, but that the method of accounting might be in some respects objectionable.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question,"

Put, and negatived. Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the appropriation and audit of the monies voted for the Civil Service Estimates are insufficient and unsatisfactory, and require early Amendment.