HC Deb 17 February 1862 vol 165 cc377-80

said, he understood the House was to be called upon that night to vote £973,000 by way of Supplementary Vote for the Army and Navy. It appeared to him that the House was in some little difficulty, because it did not know how the accounts stood for the present year. In the previous year £12,297,000 had been voted for the navy, and £14,607,000 for the army, making a total of rather more than 26¾ millions; but the House did not know whether these enormous Votes would prove sufficient, or whether, as of late years, it would be necessary to have a Vote to cover excess of expenditure; therefore, he should like to know from those Gentlemen charged with the management of those departments whether there was likely to be any Supplementary Estimate either for the army or navy, or whether there was a surplus, or was likely to be one, for either of these departments. But there was another and greater difficulty, which was, that the House had not the assurance that if it voted money for a particular purpose it would be applied to that purpose. This practice had run to such an extent that voting moneys upon estimate had become almost a farce. In the year 1857–58 no less a sum than £490,000 granted for one specific purpose was applied to another. In the last year of which the House had any cognizance they knew that on the mere dictum of Mr. Laing, then Secretary to the Treasury, £40,000 voted for wages was appropriated to the purchase of stores, showing that the authority of the House was in danger of being utterly upset. What on earth was the use of their spending time in debating the Estimates if such practices were sanctioned? The system of the transfer of credits, carried to such lengths, was fatal to the system of finance, and endangered the reputation of the House as the guardian of the public purse. He wished, therefore, to know whether the Secretary to the Admiralty and the Secretary at War were prepared to give an assurance that in the expenditure of the sum of £973,000, which was required to cover certain items, those items would be faithfully adhered to. Before the very able Committee on military organization, the state of the War Office accounts had been described as most unsatisfactory—indeed, he might say deplorable. He also wished to address another question to the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for War. He had an opportunity of seeing the state of the dockyard accounts, but from the very able Report of the Committee on the military organization of the country he believed those of the War Office to be in a much worse condition. Mr. Anderson, the chief financial officer of the Treasury, pointed out the errors to which the War Office accounts were exposed, and other witnesses exposed the danger of mixing up the Indian army accounts with those of the home service. The country was prepared to grant any Bums which might be required for its efficient defence, but, on the other hand, it expected that these large sums would be economically expended. A conviction was very general that value was not obtained for so large an outlay, and the House, if it did not take care that the money was properly expended, would suffer the entire blame of throwing it away. He would, therefore, conclude by asking the Secretary for War whether any action had been taken on the recommendations of the Select Committee to which he had referred, and whether measures were in progress for improving the system of accounts at the War Office.


Sir, I understand the hon. Member to ask whether the two Supplementary Estimates now on the table—one for the army and the other for the navy—will be sufficient to cover the entire excess beyond the expenditure voted last Session and appropriated by the Appropriation Act, or whether some further supplementary votes will be required. When an expedition has been recently sent out, the accounts for some time afterwards come in successively, and, perhaps, imperfectly; and it is impossible to say at the present moment what will be the exact amount of expenditure incurred with regard to that expedition. But I speak with the authority of my noble Friend near me (Lord Clarence Paget) when I say that the Supplementary Estimate now on the table is likely to cover the whole excess of expenditure for that department which will come in course of payment before the first of April next; and my information leads me to form the same expectation with regard to the War Department. The Government, therefore, have every reason to believe that this excess will be the whole amount to which it will be their duty to ask Parliament to agree during the current year. With respect to the transfer of items from one branch of the Estimates to the other, the hon. Baronet is well aware that the practice which he objects to is in ac- cordance with the existing law, and that in cases of urgency, where the Treasury permits the transfer, it is competent for a department to apply an excess upon one Vote in aid of the deficiency upon another. I am not aware that it is comtemplated at present to make any alteration in the law relating to these extreme cases; but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a measure in preparation with respect to the recommendations of that Committee on which the hon. Baronet and I served two years ago—namely, the Committee on Public Monies. I quite concur with him in thinking the recommendations of that Committee extremely valuable, and I trust, during the present Session, those which have not already been carried into effect will receive the sanction of Parliament.


observed, that it would be well if in his statement the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War would state whether the House were to understand that the sum of £11,000 for extra pay and allowances was for the extra pay and allowances for the service of the whole year or referred to Canada only.


It refers to Canada only.


said, that while approving the step taken by Her Majesty's Government in sending out in a prompt manner troops to assist the North American provinces in case of invasion, he was glad to find that what the Government now asked for would cover the whole of the expenses. There was an impression abroad that a considerably greater expense had been incurred.