HC Deb 14 March 1870 vol 199 cc1953-8

SUPPLY considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

(1.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £218,003 0s.7d., be granted to Her Majesty to make good Excesses of Expenditure beyond the Grants for the following Civil Services, for the year ended on the 31st day of March 1869, viz.: [Then the several Services are set forth.]


, in proposing a Vote of £218,003 0s. 7d., to make good Excesses of Expenditure on certain Grants for Civil Services for the year, ended on the 31st day of March, 1869, said that the Appropriation Accounts for 1868–9, though laid on the Table in due time and now in course of printing, had not yet been distributed among hon. Members in consequence of the heavy demands recently made upon the printers; and he must therefore ask for the indulgence of the Committee in proposing the Vote. Excess Votes did not imply a total excess in the expenditure of the year; on the contrary, the net saving in Civil Service Grants in 1868–9 was £314,826. These excesses had been already met by advances out of Ways and Means in the current year, and the Vote of to-night was, therefore, essentially matter of account. It was important that no time should be lost in passing it. It might be asked why he had not laid the Excess Votes before the House at an earlier period; but the fact was that they were found to include some excesses in the Consular Estimates for China and Japan going back so far as the year 1864–65, and when these came before him he felt that they ought to be subjected to a rigorous departmental audit. They had, therefore, been closely examined and audited at the Treasury, and he trusted that the Committee now sitting on consular and diplomatic expenditure, would take this expenditure into consideration. He could only say that all Papers should be at the disposal of the Committee, and that the officers employed to audit the accounts would be ready to give evidence if the Committee so decided.


said, the course now proposed would be a dangerous precedent, practically nullifying the operation of the Exchequer and Audit Act. There ought to be time to examine these accounts, and the right hon. Gentleman was presuming on the confidence of the Committee in asking for a Vote without any explanation being given of several of the items.


said, that a Vote by this House involved responsibility, otherwise proceedings in Committee of Supply would be a farce. As he desired an explanation of the item of £58,443 11s. 11d. for Services in China, Japan, and Siam—1864–5,1865–6, 1866–7, 1867–8,—he would move its omission.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Item of £58,443 11s. 11d., for Services in China, Japan, and Siam, 1864–5, 1865–6, 1866–7, 1867–8, be omitted from the proposed Vote."— (Sir Charles Dilke.)


said he must protest against the course which the Committee were asked to pursue. The Public Accounts Committee was useless unless it examined witnesses and investigated matters of this kind. It was a most startling thing to be ask to vote a lump sum to cover excesses that went back for so many years, and he hoped that this was the last time such a request would be made.


said, that undoubtedly these excesses for China and Japan were extremely unsatisfactory, and showed that there must have been great irregularity in the keeping the accounts of the Department. It was, however, necessary to vote them in order that the accounts might be settled within the current financial year, which would end on the 5th of April. The matter would not come before the Public Accounts Committee until they examined the accounts which could not be within the current financial year. It would be the business of that Committee to report whether any irregularities had occurred. He presumed the explanations appended to the Excess Votes were the same as those inserted in the Report of the Auditor-General, and therefore the Committee were in possession of the information that would be furnished by his Report.


said, it was only last week they voted £14,000 for excesses over Estimates in the Consular Department, and now they were asked to vote £63,000 more for excesses over the Estimates of the last six years. This was most unsatisfactory, and the more so because no particulars were furnished. If money were voted in this way similar demands would be made year after year. As to the Committee on the Consular Service, he had arrived at the conclusion that the Foreign Office was the master of the House of Commons and of the Treasury too, and, unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to the rescue, there was little hope of anything being done.


said, there was one item which he hoped they would never see again, and that was an increase in the salary of the Third Lord of the Treasury.


said, he could not accept the explanation given as satisfactory. He supposed the money had been spent without the items previously appearing in the Estimates. As it was admitted there had been irregularity, he should be glad to know where it had occurred. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would tell the Committee by what authority these sums had been paid. It would reflect great discredit upon the House if the system were allowed to pass without a strong expression of disapproval. It was a most unreasonable proceeding to bring on these excesses of expenditure at the close of a long debate, and at a time of night when public attention out-of-doors could not be directed to the subject.


said, those excesses were inconsistent with the theory that the sanction of the House of Commons was necessary for an expenditure of public money. The irregularity was the work of the late Government; and the present Government pleaded not guilty, and said they would not do it again.


said, he understood the irregularity was admitted and no defence offered, but there was a distinct promise that all information should be given to the Committee upstairs. The money had been expended, and the House must sanction it.


said, they might have to pay, but they ought to be allowed to grumble. It was all very well to say that this was "a matter of account;" he could not understand this way of keeping accounts, and he did not believe it was "a matter of account" at all. He thought it most irregular to apply in this way for the payment of such charges, and he trusted that in future matters of this kind would be brought forward at a time when they could be properly discussed.


said, that before 1866 there was no real audit for the Civil Service expenditure, but in that year the Treasury brought in a Bill to constitute an effectual audit. That Bill did not come into operation until 1869, and therefore the present Vote was the first under the Exchequer Audit Act. The object of that Act was to prevent the control of the House over the expenditure from being evaded by Votes being carried forward from year to year, and it had resulted in showing this expenditure to have been incurred. Nothing similar to that which was now complained of could occur in future years without the Treasury and the Departments concerned incurring serious blame.


said, he thought that some Return should be laid on the Table showing in detail how these excesses arose.


said, he must appeal to the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) not to press his Amendment. He was far from defending the irregularity which had occurred, but it arose under the system to which he had already alluded. The real question was in what manner and at what time these items could undergo investigation. They could not be investigated at the present moment, but they might be scrutinized by the Committee now sitting upstairs on the subject of the Diplomatic and Consular Services, and no similar irregularity could again occur to the same extent.


said, he felt that the only way in which the Committee could express an opinion on the subject was by a division. No process of voting or not voting could decide anything in reference to the matter to be objected to by his hon. Friend.


said, he thought some explanation as to the mode of payment—as to whom the money had been spent by—would be desirable.

Question put.

The Committee divided: — Ayes 21; Noes 47: Majority 26.


said, he hoped that some of the items in this Vote would never occur again. There had been an increase in sixty-nine items after the present Government came in. He was glad the post of Third Lord of the Treasury had not been continued, and that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) was now in his proper position.


said, the items for printing and other matters appeared to be unnecessarily large. Scotch Law was a very expensive item in the accounts, and so were "Temporary Commissions."


said, the last item had been raised considerably by the Coal Commission and the Commission on Railways in Ireland. This was always an item of uncertain amount. The other items were explained in the Votes.

Original Question put, and agreed to. (2.) Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £19,286 6s. 7d., be granted to Her Majesty, to make good Excesses of Expenditure beyond the Grants for the following Inland Revenue and Post Office Packet Services, for the year ended on the 31st day of March 1869: viz.

£ s. d.
Inland Revenue Department 17,728 16 8
Post Office Packet Service. 1,557 9 11
£19,286 6 7

House resumed.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow;

Committee to sit again upon Wednesday.