HC Deb 24 June 1872 vol 212 cc99-101

asked the Secretary to the Treasury, Whether it is true that two witnesses from America have been paid the sums of £283 13s. and £261 18s. respectively for their attendance as witnesses before the Select Committee on Habitual Drunkards; by what authority they were summoned to attend; whether the sanction of the Treasury has been given to this expenditure of public money; and, whether it is competent for Committees to summon witnesses from abroad apart from any such sanction; and, also whether the Gentlemen were in England or America when the summons for their attendance was issued?


said, it was quite true that these two witnesses were paid the sums of £283 13s. and £261 18s. respectively—["Oh, oh!"]—not for attendance, but for their travelling and other expenses in connection with the evidence they had given before the Select Committee on Habitual Drunkards. The Committee had no power to summon witnesses from abroad; but the Chairman, having obtained the assent of the other Members, invited the attendance of these two witnesses, who were in the United States at the time. It was absolutely necessary to obtain evidence from the United States, because it was the only country where the experiment proposed for habitual drunkards had been actually tried. The Treasury gave no previous sanction to the expenditure incurred by these two gentlemen, but as they had come over in consequence of an invitation from the Committee, and in the firm belief that all their expenses would be defrayed, he, after having consulted with the Speaker and with other authorities of the House, although somewhat startled at the amount of the expenditure, and regretting that the Committee had not seen fit to make arrangements with the gentlemen referred to, before sending them the invitation as on the part of the Treasury, sanctioned the payments. He could only express a hope that in the event of witnesses from abroad being required in future the Select Committee would hold a consultation with the Treasury, before issuing an invitation to give evidence.


said, he would suggest that a Standing Order of the House might be passed, requiring the consent of the Treasury in such cases.


asked if it was true that these gentlemen asked £1,500 for their expenses?


desired the hon. Gentleman to state more distinctly, whether the summons from the Committee had been sent to America, or whether it had not been issued till after they arrived in England?


said, the question suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Colonel Wilson-Patten) was, no doubt, well worthy of consideration; but it was a matter for the House rather than the Treasury. No such claim as was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman behind him (Mr. Bouverie) had been presented to him. An additional £100 had been claimed by each of the two gentlemen; and, after consideration, had not been admitted—so that the original claim had been reduced by the Treasury by the sum of £200. The gentlemen were in America when their attendance was desired; but he was not aware whether the summons had been issued before or after the gentlemen arrived in England.


asked if the hon. Gentleman would undertake that no such payment as this should be made in future until the authority of the House was obtained?


said, he thought the hon. Gentleman who brought this matter forward did good service to the public; and he hoped that what had passed would be a warning to other Committees, so that when anything of the kind was again proposed they would not fail to consult the Treasury before incurring expenditure on witnesses from abroad.