HC Deb 14 June 1860 vol 159 cc450-5

House in Committee.


said, he rose to move that a Vote of £654,000 be granted to Her Majesty on account for the purpose of defraying certain expenses for the Civil Service. In doing so, he would take occasion to say that it was by no means the wish or the intention of the Government to have recourse to the practice of taking Votes on account, or to lay down any new system with respect to the voting of the Estimates. The present Vote was proposed under exceptional circumstances, inasmuch as, while a certain amount was immediately wanted for the Civil Service, it was not thought expedient, nor probably would it be the wish of the House, that the discussion on the Estimates for that Service should be at once proceeded with, to the exclusion of those for the army and the navy, the debate on the organization of the Indian army, and other important subjects which claimed immediate attention. The amount, he might add, for which he asked on the present occasion was only sufficient to tide the Government over salaries and other payments due next month, and by no means so large as to preclude the House from exercising to its fullest extent their judgment with respect to Civil Service Esti- mates as a whole, the discussion on which the Government did not wish to postpone a single day beyond the time necessary for the despatch of more important business. It had been said that those Estimates were in a state of constant and rapid expansion, but it would be found that when the whole of the items of the revenue—class 7—were before the House—which would be the case in a few days—they did not exceed the amount which had been stated by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in February last, and that upon the whole of the Civil Service Estimates there was a diminution, as compared with last year, of at least £320,000.

1. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £654,000, be granted to Her Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charge of certain Civil Services, to the 31st day of March 1861.


said, he had great objection to the system of voting sums on account, but seeing the difficult position in which the Government were placed, as they had no moans of going on without these Votes, he should not offer any opposition to that before the Committee. He wished, however, to know how long the present Vote would enable the Government to go on?


said, that the Votes had been taken to carry the public service over the payment of the quarterly salaries due at the commencement of July. The Government, if those votes of credit were granted, would have to come to the House again for money about the middle of July.


said, the Committee must be convinced that, if the Votes on account were granted, there would be an end to all discussion on the Civil Service Estimates. They all knew that by the middle of July the House was in a state of dissolution, and no reduction could then be made in the Votes. He should, therefore, offer a few observations on the first item, the Vote for the Treasury, and, as the Gentlemen representing that departpartment had not done their work this year, and had not got these Votes discussed and passed, they were not entitled to their salaries. The subject was one of importance, as a very unsatisfactory mode of conducting business at the Treasury had recently sprung up, and some fresh organization of that department was much wanted. Formerly the Lords of the Treasury sat as a Board. Everything went before them, and their sanction as a body was required. But of late years he un- derstood the business was transacted by the Secretary and the Chief Clerk of the department. More important matters were arranged between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary, and then the clerk wrote the determination that had been come to in the name of "my Lords," although "my Lords" knew nothing of the matter. The Lords of the Treasury ought to be really active and responsible officers. The inquiry before the Packet Contracts Committee showed the necessity of bringing the business of the Treasury into one focus, so that one department might know what another was doing. The Lords of the Treasury were very active in and about that House, and hon. Members were sure to find one at the door, but they were less entitled to their salaries this year than ever, because on two or three occasions they had been active in counting out the House, and preventing it from proceeding with the business before it. He would move as an Amendment that the Vote of £15,000 for the Treasury be postponed until the whole Vote for the Treasury was before the Committee.


said, the hon. Member could not move the postponement of a Vote.


said, he would move, then, that the Vote be reduced by the sum of £15,000.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £639,000, be granted to Her Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charge of certain Civil Services, to the 31st day of March 1861.


said, it was absurd to suppose that the House could properly discuss the Estimates if they were put off to a late period of the Session. The Civil Service Estimates were those upon which their only hope rested with regard to economy. It would be impossible to economise on the Army and Navy Votes, the only fault of which was that instead of being too high they were too low. The increase in the Civil Service Estimates during the last six or seven years was out of proportion to the apparent requirements of the country. The House would do well to make it imperative upon the Government to lay the Estimates before the House at an early period of the Session. If a Resolution of that kind were passed, marking the sense of the Committee upon the delay which had occurred, they would do more towards economising the finances of the country than had been done by any previous House of Commons. The difficulty in which the Government now found themselves was one of their own creation. Still, he did not see that any good would result from refusing this Vote on account; but if the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Augustus Smith) chose to divide the Committee upon it he would go into the lobby with him.


said, he thought the suggestion of the hon. Member (Mr. Bentinck) for an earlier production of the Civil Service Estimates was a good one, and he trusted it would engage the attention of the Committee up-stairs, and form one of their recommendations. As, however, it was not through any fault of the Government that the present delay had occurred, he trusted the hon. Member for Truro would not press his Amendment.


said, he wished to know whether any part of the money voted would be applied to the Art and Science Department Vote of £94,000, and the Vote of £34,000 for works and repairs about the Palace of Westminster. It was his intention to move a considerable reduction in both these Votes.


said, he hoped it was not intended to postpone the consideration of the Estimates till the middle of July, because what had happened before might happen again, and when very few Members were present, except those he-hind the Treasury bench, many very important Votes might be taken.


said, he could assure the House that there was no intention to postpone unnecessarily the discussion of these Estimates. All that his hon. Friend asked was that there should be a Vote on account to meet the wants of the service up to a particular period. It was desirable to go on as soon as possible with the Navy and Army Estimates, as those related to services of great magnitude and importance to the country; but as soon as those Estimates were gone through, which he hoped would be next week, the House would be able to discuss in the fullest manner all the items of the Miscellaneous Estimates.


said, the statement of the noble Lord would give great satisfaction, as the impression might have gone abroad that the Government had no desire to give the House an opportunity of fully considering these Estimates.


said, he thought they could not conscientiously refuse this Vote, as the Treasury was at a very low ebb. The state of the public business bad given the Government an excuse for asking Votes on account that Session; but he considered the principle of such Votes to be highly objectionable. He was glad to hear the noble Lord say that ample opportunities would be given for discussing the Estimates.


said, he wished to ask whether any architect had been appointed as the successor of Sir Charles Barry; and also whether any considerable works were to be undertaken with reference to the Houses of Parliament during the ensuing year?


said, it was not intended to apply any portion of the money then asked to the expenditure upon the Houses of Parliament, the money already taken for that purpose not being yet exhausted. A sum of £12,000 would be appropriated on account of the arts and sciences, the total Vote for which was £94,000.


said, the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary had, a few evenings ago, spoken of the consideration of the Miscellaneous Estimates as business that might be put off without much detriment, and that on an average of years the reductions made in them were very trifling. That was not a position in which the Civil Service Estimates, which were growing in importance every year, ought to stand. It had also been said that the principle of voting on account ought to be acted on by the House, and that it should be the rule— not the exception. When that was laid down as a rule, it was high time for the House to look into the question. He thought that they should act on the principle of no money being spent till it was appropriated, and in order to carry out that principle, the commencement of the financial year should be on the 1st of July, instead of the 1st of April. It was his intention to bring the latter proposition more prominently before the House on a future day.


said, he agreed with the hon. Member opposite (Mr. A. Smith) that a reorganization of the Treasury was required. That had been shown by the evidence given before the Public Moneys, Miscellaneous Expenditure, and other Committees, for the way in which it had been thereby proved that the Treasury transacted their business was far from satisfactory. The Lords of the Treasury were all very able gentlemen, and he could not understand why more use was not made of them in departments where their ability might be of service. He thought the financial secretary of the day exercised too much power. A remarkable instance of the unlimited exercise of power in that direction occurred when Mr. Wilson was financial secretary, for during that period he alone, without consulting any single functionary, or the Treasury, entered into a most important contract, involving the outlay of £185,000, of which 92,000 had to be paid by one of our colonies. That contract had given great dissatisfaction in the colony, for it had proved to be a complete failure; and Mr. Wilson had avowed that though my Lords were stated to have done this and to have done that, no one but himself had had the least share in the matter. That was a very wrong mode of conducting public business, and Her Majesty's Government and the Treasury should look to it, and be made responsible for all the transactions that took place. He thought the hon. Gentleman had done good service in calling attention to the subject.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.