HC Deb 25 May 1871 vol 206 cc1308-14

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


rose to call attention, in accordance with previous Notice, to the question of taking Votes on Account of the Civil Service Estimates, and to move a Resolution— That it is not expedient, at so late a period of the Session, to grant any further Votes on Account for Civil Service Estimates. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that those Estimates had been growing largely of late years, and he did not complain of that entirely, because a great portion of the money so spent benefited the country, and was to a certain extent reproductive expenditure. At the same time, this branch of expenditure required most careful watching; and they could not check expenditure unless they had the Estimates before them, and were able to discuss them Vote by Vote before all the money was granted by the House. Otherwise, they had a discussion on them at the end of the Session, when half the Members had gone out of town, and three-quarters of the money required had been voted. It was absolutely impossible under such circumstances for those independent Members who had regard to economy—however much the Government might talk of economy—to have a proper check on expenditure. He did not oppose the Vote on Account before the Easter Recess, because it was necessary to carry on the Business of the country, the balances remaining at the end of the financial year being handed back to the Exchequer; but he had the greatest objection to a repetition of the practice. The Civil Service Estimates amounted to upwards of £10,000,000, although a few years ago they were not more than £7,000,000. The Government now asked for a Vote on Account of £843,000 more, which, with the money already voted, would give £2,629,000, which was more than a quarter of the whole amount. He wished to secure from the Government a pledge that the moment the House met after the Whitsuntide Recess the Civil Service Estimates should be put down for one or two nights, so that they might be discussed in detail, and, further, that the Government would not ask for another Vote on Account until the Estimates had been thoroughly discussed from beginning to end. He believed that no one knew better than the Members of the Government themselves that this practice was most reprehensible and fraught with danger, and to show that the House was determined to put a stop to it, he would move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is not expedient, at so late a period of the Session, to grant any further Votes on account for Civil Service Estimates,"—(Mr. Cross,) —instead thereof.

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


observed that his hon. Friend was, no doubt, perfectly justified in bringing forward this subject; but his hon. Friend would not, he trusted, divide the House after the assurance they had received that the first night after the re-assembling of the House, and the morning of the following day, should be devoted to the consideration of the Estimates. There was no doubt a great tendency on the part of the Civil Service Estimates to increase with the increase of the wealth and the requirements of the country; but he desired to enter his protest against the doctrine that these Estimates, any more than the Army and Navy Estimates, were reproductive in their character. Under the circumstances, he thought his hon. and learned Friend would hardly be justified in taking the sense of the House upon his Motion.


said, he wished to ask the Government whether it was absolutely necessary to take a Vote on Account to-night, and whether, if any money was voted, it would be distributed over every item in the list placed in their hands on a former occasion? Unless it was a matter of Imperial necessity he hoped a Vote would not be taken.


said, he must concur in the view that it was objectionable to take Votes on Account, and particularly on account of the Civil Service Estimates, in connection with which there were more waste and jobbery than in any other Department. For this reason, these Estimates ought to be scrutinized with especial jealousy, and large Votes on Account of them ought to be resisted. They included a considerable item for the Court of Chancery; at the proper time, he wished to call attention to several flagrant misapplications of public money, in violation of Acts of Parliament; and he could not say whether the Vote proposed to be taken on Account might not be expended in some of the payments to which he wished to take objection. These requests for Votes on Account came with a bad grace from a professedly economical Government, which ought to arrange business so as to avoid the necessity for asking for them. For these reasons, he should vote for the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for South-west Lancashire.


said, he would admit it was unfortunate that the Government should be reduced to the necessity of taking Votes on Account of the Civil Service Estimates, and that the practice was objectionable, and ought to be avoided if possible; but it was a matter of Imperial necessity to take the Vote now asked for, because it was absolutely necessary, before the House separated, to provide for carrying on the Departments after the 31st of May. The sum now asked for, however, would obviate the necessity for taking a further Vote on Account, because it was proposed next week to take those Votes in the Civil Service Estimates that were not likely to lead to discussion, and consequently money would be obtained. He hoped, therefore, the hon. and learned Member for South-west Lancashire would not feel it necessary to divide the House.


said, he would be sorry to obstruct the Government; but on a recent occasion, after a Vote had been taken on Account of the Army Estimates, when he wished to object to certain items, he was told that there was no redress. ["No, no!"] It was understood to be a Vote on Account; and all he wanted now was an understanding that if they voted the sum required on account they should not be precluded afterwards from discussing any particular item.


said, he quite concurred in what had been said about the Civil Service Estimates, and thought that the remarks made applied also to the other Estimates, and that all Estimates ought to be brought forward at a time of the Session when they could be fully and fairly discussed; and he therefore wished to ask the Government whether they were prepared to give an undertaking that fair opportunity should be afforded for the discussion of all the Estimates? It was said that this was a case of Imperial necessity; but how had it been brought about? By the manner in which the Government had conducted Public Business. It was the duty of the Government so to arrange public affairs, that these necessities should not occur; and the House ought not to be called upon to interfere in this manner with the course of Public Business for the purpose of preventing the great abuses which must necessarily arise from deferring the full consideration of the Estimates. This course made the economical professions of the Government and of their supporters mere mockery.


said, he agreed in what had been said as to the great disadvantage of taking Votes on Account, without opportunity being afforded to discuss particular items. There was one item in respect of which he hoped no more money would be expended until the House had sanctioned it, and that was the Wellington Monument. The Estimates relating to it were not yet delivered, and he should like to know what was to be done before any further expense was incurred.


said, his vote would depend upon the answer the Government gave to the question whether the House would have an opportunity of discussing the items before any more money was taken on account.


said, it was the duty of the House to vote money, and it seemed they had got into the habit of putting off that duty until the fag-end of the Session. Before Government brought on such Bills as the Army Regulation Bill and the Ballot Bill, they ought to ask for the money required for the services of the country.


said, that whatever abstract opinion might be entertained about Votes on Account, they were a working part of the financial system of the country, and with the financial year regulated as it now is, and with the alteration of system under the new audit with respect to balances, which could not be transferred from one item to another, it was absolutely impossible to dispense with Votes on Account. Indeed, they had been recommended by the highest financial authority in the House—namely, the Committee to whom was committed the regulation of these matters. Of course, such Votes ought not to be extended beyond what was necessary, nor to such an extent as to limit the control of the House over the Estimates. He admitted that all the Estimates ought to be submitted to the House, when they could receive a reasonable degree of attention; but the Government was under a pressure of different kinds. Sometimes they were coerced, or what the Scotch called "concussed," into bringing in measures; at other times they were urged to press forward those measures, so as to send them up to "another place" in good time; again, they were occasionally prevented from obtaining any additional time for the discussion of their measures; and, further, they were urged to let the Estimates be discussed at the very time when they ought to be expediting measures in order that they might go to the Lords. It was not, however, the intention of the Government again to ask the House for a Vote on Account of the Civil Service Estimates unless there should exist very special grounds for doing so.


said, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had endeavoured to throw blame on the independent Members of the House rather than on the Government. [Mr. GLADSTONE said, there was no blame attached to anyone.] Perhaps he was wrong in using the word blame. He should have said that the right hon. Gentleman said he thought the inconvenience resulted from the conduct of hon. Members rather than the Government had caused the postponement of the consideration of the Civil Service Estimates to so late a period of the Session. There was no doubt a certain amount of truth in it; but the delay had been greater of late years than formerly. He attributed it to the ambition of the Government to carry each Session an immense number of important measures. Instead of their being content with bringing forward such measures only as they were likely to have time to pass, they had brought forward, in fact, double the number, and measures of the highest importance, that must take up a considerable time in discussing, and three-fourths of them afterwards had to be abandoned.


said, the House ought to be obliged to the hon. and learned Member for South-west Lancashire for having brought the subject under the consideration of the House. The practice of late had been to discuss them at go late a period that they might be said to be shuffled through the House rather than properly discussed; but it also was a temptation to bring them forward late, so as to shut the mouths of private Members who wished to bring forward Motions in connection with the Estimates on going into Supply. He regretted to say the practice had been growing very much of late years, and the consequence was, that when they came on for discussion, there was no disposition to do so, everyone being anxious to get away as fast as he could.


said, that after the assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, he would not press his Motion; but that if the course was persisted in next Session, he should take the sense of the House upon it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.