HC Deb 02 March 1869 vol 194 cc536-40

Resolution [Feb. 26] reported.


rose to call the attention of the House to the Supplemental Vote passed last evening, and now being reported to the House. He alluded particularly to the large sum of £11,738 paid for public buildings, and to ask how it came to pass that so large a sum had to be paid for arbitration claims in connection with Westminster Bridge? He also commented on the increased charge of £17,200 for the constabulary force in Ireland, on the charge for new pensions and retiring allowances connected with Irish Law Courts, and on the addition of £18,000 to the outlay on printing and stationery, contending that some explanation of those items was required, and objecting generally to a Supplementary Estimate.


said, he should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman, in whose name Notice of a Question stood on the Paper that evening with regard to the supply of Australian preserved meat at 6d. per lb. to the Navy—the charge for English preserved meat being 11d. per lb.—was aware of his own experience that the Australian was better than the English meat.


I shall answer the noble Lord's Question when we come to discuss Vote 2 of the Navy Estimates.


remarked that the present discussion was irregular. He complained that Supply should have been taken on Friday evening, contrary to the spirit of the arrangement which he understood had been entered into some years ago, when Supply was fixed as the first Order, with a view to enable private Members to bring forward their Notices of Motion.


said, it was open to the Government, in accordance with the arrangement to which his hon. Friend (Mr. Dillwyn) referred, to take Supply on Fridays, unless they had given an intimation previously that they did not intend to do so; but that there might be no misunderstanding about the matter he had given Notice in the early part of Friday evening last that he intended to bring forward a Supplementary Estimate. In reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. Alderman Lusk), he had to state that, although, as far as he was concerned, he had, since he entered upon his present Office, endeavoured to carry out the wholesome rule that there should be a distinct understanding with any person who entered into a contract with the Government as to the amount of remuneration which he should receive, there had been some mistake made by former Governments on the point with reference to Westminster Bridge. The claims made in consequence on the Treasury in connection with that work had to be referred to arbitration, and the amount of the award was that which was set down in the Supplementary Estimate, besides which the Government, he was sorry to say, would have to pay all the costs of the reference, which amount would be embodied in the "general charge for the year. As to the charge for printing, he must admit that it was very heavy; but he must, at the same time, remind hon. Members that the expense under that head was one which they themselves in a great measure created, who were con- stantly asking for information which had to be printed and circulated. The only way to diminish the expenditure for printing was by a little forbearance on the part of Members themselves. There was always an indisposition on the part of the Government to refuse Returns, because it looked as if there existed a desire to conceal something. The mere preparation of the Returns cost a good deal, and when they were laid upon the table hon. Members might with advantage consider whether any urgent necessity existed for printing and distributing them. His own conviction was that a great many hon. Members did not pass their time in reading these Returns. That day, for instance, they had received nearly 500 clearly printed pages of evidence relating to two Election Petitions. He should be curious to know by this day week whether any hon. Members had read these through; if not, it was plain that a very large expenditure had been unnecessarily incurred. With regard to the Irish Constabulary, it was not surprising, in the state in which Ireland had been for some time past, that the force should have been brought up to its full complement, and. having to maintain this armed force, everybody, he thought, must agree that the best thing was to arm them in the best manner, so as to impress people with the conviction that they were efficient and capable of putting down disturbances. The last question put to him had reference to the re-organizing, under the Act 30 & 31 Vict. c. 129, of the Courts of Justice in Ireland. There was no process, he was sorry to say, in its immediate operation so expensive as that of reforming anything connected with the law. The legal profession had a great idea of vested interests and vested rights, and the moment any change was proposed, everybody insisted that he had a perfect right to remain as he was before. Whether his position had been one of idleness or of usefulness seemed quite immaterial; if he were touched in any way he demanded compensation. Unfortunately, in recent times there had been a disposition to comply very readily with this sort of claim, for the purpose, as it was described, of getting the Bill comfortably through the House. It would have been better very often to resist such claims, and to press the measure on the ground of public necessity. In this case, however, the Act, had been passed, compensation had been granted under it, and all that could be done was to carry out the arrangement. In some particulars the apparent increase of Estimate would be only nominal, for the increase of salary was in substitution for fees which would in future be paid, not to the officer, but into the Consolidated Fund. There was, also, a transfer of charge from other funds to the Vote. The three causes which he had now explained together occasioned a charge of £19,000; and it appeared to Her Majesty's Government that the best and most distinct way of bringing the matter forward was in the shape of a Supplementary Estimate, so that the House might have before it any increase in the expenditure. His hon. Friend viewed Supplementary Estimates with dislike. But if the House were to adopt that view, the only possible course would be to bring forward very outside Estimates in the first instance; and he was sorry to say that when once an Estimate was voted, everybody concerned in spending apparently thought it his duty to get rid of the money to the full extent of the Vote. The better course, therefore, was to frame the original Estimates as closely as possible to the probable requirements; and if afterwards it became necessary to provide for an excess, to bring it forward in a shape that admitted of its being examined and inquired into by hon. Members.


said, he hoped the warning just given by the Secretary to the Treasury with regard to the mania of moving for Returns would not be thrown away upon a new House. He might speak freely on this matter, for during the seventeen years he had been in the House he had only moved for one Return; it was contained on a single sheet of paper, and he would candidly admit that he believed it was nearly useless. The great body of the Returns published were not only useless but mischievous, for they produced a feeling of despair upon the Members. One very hard-working Member of the House told him that if fewer Returns were published he should read a great many more of them. The only way of checking the multiplication of these Papers would be the adoption of some salutary rule, under which the Member moving for the Return would be obliged to pay a percent- age of the expenditure involved in its production.

Resolution agreed to.