(6.) £8,500, New Palace at Westminster, and Embankment of the River Thames.
That a sum, not exceeding £8,500, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge that will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1874, for the Acquisition of Lands for the purpose of the New Palace at Westminster, and for the further Embankment of the River Thames.
§ On Question? That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution,
§ MR. BOUVERIE
I think, Sir, there are some circumstances with reference to this Vote which require a little explanation from Her Majesty's Government. 1260 I understood the right hon. Gentlemen the First Commissioner of Works to say the other evening that he was not responsible for the expenditure of this sum of money, whereas the House considers that he is responsible to it for this kind of work being properly done. It is a most extraordinary thing that the head of a Department should know nothing about the work undertaken by his Department. He is a Minister of the Crown who is responsible to this House in regard to the duties imposed upon him by Act of Parliament, and the main portion of his duties is the superintendence of buildings erected at the public expense. The right hon. Gentleman is clearly responsible to this House for the business of his Department being transacted in a right and proper way. This is a Vote for the commencement of a great building operation; but the Minister upon whom rests the responsibility of doing the work properly, gets up in this House and disavows having anything to do with it, adding that he is not the person to be applied to for an explanation. This is altogether a now theory of Ministerial responsibility, and is not the proper position in which the matter should be placed before the House. Suppose the matter comes up again, as it must do, and suppose the right hon. Gentleman still continues to be the First Commissioner of Works, and is called upon to explain either what has been done or what is going to be done; he would probably say—"I told you from the commencement I had nothing to do with the matter. It is true I am the First Commissioner of Works; but over these particular works I have no control, and in regard to them I incur no responsibility." if the right hon. Gentleman has undertaken to discharge these public functions which are cast upon him by Act of Parliament, he must discharge them to the best of his judgment, and according to his notion of what is right; but he is not entitled to stand up in the House of Commons and say—"I will do this work as a mere instrument of the Treasury; but I am not responsible for its being done, for it is entirely contrary to my view of what ought to be done, and somebody else must bear the blame, if any blame is subsequently imputed." Though this is a small matter, it shows the way in which the transaction had 1261 arisen between the Post Office and the Treasury, which had been discussed the previous day. The Postmaster General had certain public functions and duties to discharge to this House and the country; but another great Department stepped in over his head, and undertook the management of the business which he ought to have done. And when the Department had got the Postmaster General into a mess—which was to be expected from the way in which the transaction was conducted—we were told there is a divided responsibility, we cannot exactly say who is to blame, and that no blame attaches to anyone at all. I implore the House not to allow this state of things to grow up. The duty of this House is not to approve plans, or to constitute itself a Committee of taste. Its business is, as our ancestors stated, "to bring ill Ministers to account," and we can never do that, or keep the responsibility for bad work improperly done on the shoulders of a Minister, unless when we commence an operation involving the expenditure of public money we take care that the Minister is clearly responsible for what is done. Unless a more satisfactory explanation is offered than was given the other night, I shall, if I got any support, take the liberty of dividing the House on this Resolution.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
pointed out that a sum of £35,000 had been asked for for the Embankment of about 200 feet, and bethought that that was an enormous sum for the purpose. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said it was required for that purpose; but the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner had stated that it was more than sufficient, and he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) wished to know which statement was the correct one?
said, he should go into the Lobby with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock if he divided the House, unless he heard a satisfactory answer as to who was responsible in the matter.
said, there was a general feeling that the sum of £8,500 was not too much for the Embankment; but as to the buildings referred to, he wished to point out that they knew nothing of their details, nor of their ulterior object, and he thought that the House was entitled to more information respecting those buildings. It could 1262 hardly have escaped the notice of any hon. Member that there was a want of accord between the Treasury and the Board of Works. If the right hon. Gentleman felt himself at liberty to declare the real state of the case, it would probably appear that this disagreement was at the bottom of the explanation he gave to the House the other night.
§ MR. AYRTON
The Question is put to me whether the report in a newspaper of what I said the other evening is correct or not. After reading that report I looked at several other reports of what I said; but they so entirely differ from one another that it is difficult to say whether they were reports of the speech I am supposed to have delivered. What I stated was this—and I stated it clearly, because when the hon. Gentleman was addressing the House I interrupted him in order to make it clear that what I said was quite consistent with what I Stated to the House some years ago about the Embankment. I then said I thought it necessary, in order to protect the Houses of Parliament against fire and other injury, that there should be a clear space on the southern side of this building, and that this space should be embanked from the Thames so as to separate this building from any other which might be subsequently erected. A Bill had been passed before I took office for reclaiming a much larger space of ground and for embanking that ground; but, in my opinion, it was not necessary to reclaim so much land unless the House desired to embark on what I may term a metropolitan improvement. I thought it better to take my stand on this—that metropolitan improvements ought to be undertaken by the Metropolitan Board of Works at the expense of the ratepayers. It was my opinion that this great city ought not to go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have its improvements effected, instead of carrying them out itself. Such are the views which. I expressed to the House two or three years ago. Having stated that view I did nothing more when this Vote came before the House than repeat the opinion I had previously expressed—namely, that a certain portion of the Embankment mentioned in the Vote was necessary and desirable for protecting the southern side of the Houses of Parliament, and that any further extension of the Embankment and the purchase of 1263 land for building was a project disconnected with the Houses of Parliament, and that it ought to be so treated by this House. With regard to the particular Estimate, I stated that I had prepared an Estimate consistent with that view; and on the face of the Estimate I stated that a part of the Embankment was proposed for the purpose of public buildings. The Treasury, however, altered the Estimate, which was laid on the Table on the authority not of the Office of Works but of the Treasury;—and the Treasury has an undoubted right to alter any Estimate which I may prepare. It has before exercised that power without my knowledge, and such was the case on this occasion. I only acquired the knowledge of what had been done in the same way as every other Member of the House. Therefore, I stated that I did not hold myself responsible for this Estimate, because it appeared to be entirely at variance with the Estimate I had prepared. I had not changed the opinion which I had formely expressed, and accordingly I disclaimed the Estimate. The hon. Gentleman who addressed the House the other day (Mr. Rylands) challenged me with acting at variance with opinions which I had repeatedly expressed, and his challenge amounted to a suggestion that I was, in fact, deceiving the House. I replied to the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman that nothing of the sort had occurred, for I entirely adhered to the opinion I had often expressed that it was the duty of the Office of Works never to submit to the House any proposition for the commencement of expenditure without frankly stating to the House the conclusion to which that expenditure might lead. On one occasion when Lord Palmerston was at the height of his power I nearly carried a Motion in a large House on a question of this kind, and we never heard any more of the project which led to that division. I think myself, therefore, committed to this opinion. And I think it essential for the due conduct of public affairs. I have witnessed in times gone by that the House has been induced to pass comparatively small Votes, and that the Government has afterwards come forward for further Votes on the ground that they were absolutely necessary in consequence of what had been already 1264 done. I have always resorted to the opposite course. I have always endeavoured, since I have been connected with Her Majesty's Government, that every transaction involving public expenditure should be explained fully to the House in the first instance. As soon as I took possession of my present Office, I drew up Instructions which were delivered to every person employed in the Office of Works, by which Instructions he was required to state in his estimate, not only the mere work then proposed, but every collateral work to which it might lead, in order that I might know the full extent of the expenditure which the Office might ultimately have to adopt. Now, that being my view, it was right that I should state exactly what I thought when my hon. Friend (Mr. Rylands) imputed to me a departure from the views which I was known to have entertained. I must now state my position in regard to the present Vote. I had to explain to the House, as regards the Embankment, that, so far as it was necessary for the protection of the Houses of Parliament, I thought it a desirable work; but that as to any buildings on the Embankment I did not know the nature of them, and declined to have anything to do with them. That, I think, put the matter plainly before the House. But the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) says he cannot accept such a divided responsibility; and this gives rise to the following extremely complicated question:—"What is the responsibility of the First Commissioner of Works?" That is just what I myself should very much like to know. I am obliged to suggest this definition—he is responsible exactly to the extent and degree to which his communications with the Treasury make him responsible. I am unable to find any other definition of his responsibility, for the Act of Parliament under which his Office was established is so singularly drawn that I believe it defeats the chief purpose for which the Office of Works was established. Well, the legislation being of this character, the First Commissioner of Works looks in vain to discover what his responsibility is. In order to be responsible to the House of Commons for everything done in connection with public works the First Commissioner must hold his appointment under some Act of Parliament which gives him a 1265 power negative or affirmative in connection with public works, and which so vests that power in him as to make him the head of a Department independent of the action of the Treasury—as separate and distinct from them. But the Act of Parliament says the Office of Works shall do whatever it is ordered and directed to do by the Treasury:—therefore, the Treasury is by law an executive and not a controlling Department. The Treasury in regard to the Office of Works constitutes itself an executive Department, and when it does so you cannot have two executive Departments. You may have a controlling Department having a negative; but if it can also direct anything to be done with or without assigning any reason even to the First Commissioner of Works, it is quite clear that the First Commissioner of Works can have no responsibility in regard to what is so directed to be done. As I understand, we are going next year to have a Select Committee re-appointed to inquire how the public Departments are managed; what I have stated are matters of fact, to which I hope the attention of the Committee will be drawn. What I stated the other day, and what I now wish to repeat is this—so far as this money is required for the acquisition of land necessary for the protection of the Now Palace of Westminster, and for embanking the land so acquired, I think it necessary and desirable; but I know nothing, officially or otherwise, of the object or destination of the land beyond that which has been purchased and is proposed to be embanked, either as to the application of the land itself or of the buildings to be erected on it, except what has been stated in the Committee of Supply.
I have taken, Sir, the rather unusual course of presenting myself to the House, because, under the circumstances, and considering the nature of the appeal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), and the wide scope of the duties which he attached to the office of my right hon. Friend who has just sat down, I think it my duty, considering the position I hold, to give at once to the House my views upon the subject. In the first place, I must say I think my right hon. Friend behind me is perfectly sound in the principle he has laid down. 1266 It is the right and the duty of this House to hold the Executive Government to account in the strictest manner in regard to proposals for the expenditure of public money, and on that point I shall endeavour to give my right hon. Friend those assurances which appear to be required by the nature of the case. Therefore, I shall not commit myself in any manner, except in the manner in which the whole Executive Government is prepared to be responsible. I shall, however, endeavour to meet the right hon. Gentleman's very fair and equitable demand. The House has just heard the statement of my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works, which I will divide into its several parts. My right hon. Friend has stated—and I think in the exercise of a perfect right—that this is a question in regard to which he feels himself bound, and honourably bound, by declarations made on former occasions before he became a member of the present Administration. My right hon. Friend, acting with that manliness for which I must give him credit, and with which I may remark he constantly opposed me in this House while I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, set himself to maintain the perfectly sound principle that the metropolis ought to be called upon to defray the cost of metropolitan improvements. But it may be difficult at times to draw the line so as to say exactly what is a metropolitan improvement, and upon whom the responsibility as to such improvement should rest. I speak now as to the principle, and not as to the matter of fact. I myself, and I think my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in particular, and the other Members of the Government are entirely of one mind with the First Commissioner of Works upon that subject, they being distinctly of opinion that for metropolitan improvements properly so-called, which do not directly address themselves to the special duties incumbent on the Government in connection with the Government property and Government obligations, the metropolis ought to be called upon to pay. I must speak with frankness in regard to the other portion of my right hon. Friend's speech. I own I doubt whether my right hon. Friend has stated with perfect accuracy the law of Ministerial responsibility. I noticed when he said, in a passing ob- 1267 servation of good humour, that he should like to know what the responsibility of the Board of Works was, some hon. Gentlemen opposite applauded and seemed amused, and appeared to concur with him in the idea that there was something cloudy in the matter; and there is occasionally an idea entertained in the public mind that there is a doubt about Ministerial responsibility. I do not share that doubt. Sometimes a difficulty will arise, as, for instance, in the matter we were discussing yesterday, when there is a subject in regard to which various Departments are called upon to interfere, and when the law has not defined with precision how the several duties are to be discharged. But when the law has spoken clearly, or when the practice is well understood, I have never found any difficulty in fixing Ministerial responsibility. In this matter, in my judgment, the Treasury is not an executive Department, but a controlling Department; but occasionally, and, indeed, frequently, there are things to be done in the multifarious concerns of the country in regard to which the Treasury is compelled to act as a Department invested with the initiative, simply because there is no other Department to do so. Still, this ought not to be done when there is another Department which is able to take the initiative, and it is not in the power of a Minister representing a Department to remove himself from responsibility for the public expenditure of that Department, by saying that it had been ordered by the Treasury. The Treasury are invested with certain functions in these cases, and in this particular one the respective functions of the Treasury and the Board of Works were very clearly defined. The Act of Parliament passed in 1867 authorizes the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Works and Public Buildings to acquire lands for the purposes of the New Palace of Westminster and for the construction of the Embankment on the north shore of the River Thames in the parish of Saint John the Evangelist, Westminster. By the 2nd section they are invested with the power and the duty of carrying the Act into effect; but the 16th section provides that with respect to money matters their action is to be subject to the control of the Treasury, and that no charges should be made by the Commissioners 1268 without the consent of that Department. Here, therefore, is a statutory power placing the matter in the hands of the Commissioners of Works, and a power is also placed in the hands of the Treasury to limit and restrain the Commissioners of Works in the exercise of the functions which Parliament has intrusted to them. And now arises the question—What is the responsibility of an officer of the Government who is invested with certain statutory powers? Is he simply to look at the statute, and is he by the grant of such powers exempted from all control and interference on the part of his Colleagues other than that which the Act of Parliament gives; or is he, on the contrary, subject to the intervention of the Government as a whole? I answer that question without any doubt whatever. It constantly happens that for convenience sake this House and the Legislature find it necessary to intrust the discharge of a particular duty by statute to a particular Department of the Government; but it does not follow on that account that the whole Government is not responsible. In regard to this statute ay opinion is perfectly distinct. I hold it is not the Treasury as a Department which has or could have any power to take out of the hands of the Commissioners of Works any authority given to them by the statute; but I hold also, on the other hand, with regard to the First Commissioner—and with regard, indeed, to every Secretary of State who exercises statutory powers—that he must act as a Member of the Government, and be necessarily subject to the control of the Government as a whole. Therefore, I consider that my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Ayrton), in the exercise of the positive powers given to him by the statute, is subject not to the control of a particular Department, otherwise than is laid down by the statute, but that he is subject to the control of the Government as a whole, and to no other control whatever. However, a question arises which all Members of all Governments have to put to themselves in the inner forum of conscience from time to time. If they are men of sense, as they sometimes are, they are occasionally obliged to forego their individual opinions on particular questions for the sake of avoiding greater evils, or for realizing less benefit than they personally deserve, or think attain- 1269 able. I apprehend that happens to all Members of the Government, and therefore it must happen among others to the First Commissioner of Works, and my right hon. Friend, by acting on the same principle, can yet act with the power and responsibility of the whole Government. Every Member of the Government may adopt a measure which is not that which his own mind would have dictated, and which may yet accord with the inner mind of the Government on the subject; but this does not exempt him from Parliamentary responsibility, which remains whole and entire; and Parliament has a right to exact from him a perfect responsibility for everything which is done in his Department, equally with that which appertains to him as a Member of the Government. After what I have said, I hope my right hon. Friend will not think I have done anything to weaken or extenuate the doctrines of Ministerial responsibility, or to evade the responsibility which rests upon the Government individually, and as a whole. With regard to the particular Vote before the House, the First Commissioner of Works is of opinion that there is a certain duty incumbent upon the House which involves a limited project of Embankment with a view to secure the Palace in which we meet from danger, and possibly also with reference to the beauty of the site. He thinks that beyond that the Government ought not to go. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, looking at the Act of Parliament, observes that the Act appears—and the question, I admit, is one of some difficulty—to give the authority of the Legislature to the execution of a considerable work, while it does not appear to contain that provision which some might think necessary for the division of the charge between the Government and the Metropolitan Board of Works. That involves a matter of very considerable difficulty, and one upon which no person can be greatly blamed for holding either one opinion or the other, but with respect to which the rights of this House are perfectly clear. I believe that the Vote which is now asked is a Vote which, so far as actual money is concerned, would be required by the limited view of the First Commissioner of Works. I do not know that it is precisely so, but it is substantially so. The Vote is within what the limited plan will require; but nothing can be 1270 done under this Vote which in any degree, great or small, will tend to commit the House to the larger plan. The question of that larger plan, which is of some importance and difficulty in connection with the terms of the statute, is one which shall be reserved entirely and absolutely for the future judgment of Parliament. That my right hon. Friend may fairly claim of me, and I give to him and the House the distinct pledge I have mentioned with reference to the execution of these works.
§ MR. HUNT
We have had to-day one more addition to the many curious revelations we have lately witnessed as regards the Treasury and its subordinates; but I think the episode of to-day exceeds in curiosity all those which have preceded it. I take no exception to the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility laid down by the Prime Minister. He says truly that any subordinate Member of the Government may be overborne by the opinion of his Colleagues on any matter under their consideration; but that so long as he consents to remain in the Government and acquiesces in its decision he must accept a part of the responsibility. The Prime Minister has alluded to the period when the First Commissioner stood up in a manful manner in this House and opposed him as Chancellor of the Exchequer on some proposal which he made. That, no doubt, was a very proper course to take so long as he was an independent Member of this House; but now we have the extraordinary spectacle of the First Commissioner of Works standing up from the Treasury Bench and protesting against the proposition made by his superiors at the Treasury and by the Government as a whole. In all the experience I have had in this House, I certainly never remember such a course being taken. The nearest approach to it was when the Prime Minister himself was continually protesting against the military expenditure which had received the sanction of the Cabinet of which he was a member. I am speaking of former years, before the right hon. Gentleman occupied his present position. The First Commissioner of Works says he sent an Estimate to the Treasury, and the Treasury, without consulting him, altered the Estimate, and that he is not responsible for the Estimate as it now stands.
§ MR. AYRTON
What I said was that the Estimate was altered—not that it was altered with reference to the amount. The Estimate was made with reference to the particular work which the Treasury desired to have constructed. But, as I said before, the Estimate was altered with reference to that work, and the matter imputed to me was that I had not disclosed the purpose for which the work was undertaken. I simply said that the Estimate had been altered, and therefore the charge as regards myself was without foundation. ["Oh!"] Perhaps the House will allow me to explain, as the right hon. Gentleman rather misunderstood what I said. What I said was that I did not oppose any part of this expenditure or impugn it, but that I was not acquainted with the circumstances, and therefore I expressed no opinion upon the matter. That was the fact.
§ MR. HUNT
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's correction, but it really comes to much the same thing. What I understand is that in his view the acquisition of the land required only a limited portion of the Embankment to be made, and that he sent in an Estimate to the Treasury with that view; but that the form was altered, and that he never knew it was so altered as to embrace the larger scheme. I understand further that he had no opportunity of consulting with the Treasury, and that he only received information on the point in the same manner as other Members of this House.
§ MR. AYRTON
The particular accusation made against me was that this Estimate did not disclose the purpose for which this money was required. In the Estimate I sent to the Treasury a Note was put for that purpose. The Treasury altered the Estimate, and struck out that Note. That Note had nothing to do with the amount of the expenditure for the Embankment.
§ MR. HUNT
What I understand is, that the right hon. Gentleman sent to the Treasury an Estimate with a Note defining the purpose for which the Vote was taken. Is that correct? [Mr. AYRTON: Yes: it stated the purpose.] I also understand that without consultation with the right hon. Gentleman the Treasury struck out that Note, and therefore altered the statement of the purpose for which the work 1272 was undertaken. We have heard that a certain incompatibility of disposition existed between the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works and the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but I thought the interposition of a broad street between the two right hon. Gentlemen would produce that amicable disposition which would allow the public service to be carried on. What I want to know is, whether it is the case that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not on speaking terms with the First Commissioner of Works? [Laughter, and "Oh, oh!"] Well, what is the revelation that the First Commissioner has made? What could be the relation between the right hon. Gentleman and the Treasury, when, without any communication between them, the Treasury altered the form of his Estimate, and that the right hon. Gentleman only learned it through the same channels as other people. Such a mode of administering affairs at the Treasury I never heard of before in my life. What is the practice of the Treasury? Is it that the subordinate Departments send in their Estimates to the Treasury, which exercises its control in cutting them down? But when any serious alteration is made by the Treasury communications are held between the Treasury and the head of the Department, the Treasury having the ultimate decision, and it is after those communications that the Estimates are finally prepared and laid before Parliament. In this case no such practice was adopted, and therefore such an exposition as that of the right hon. Gentleman might be left without further comment. But when the right hon. Gentleman stands up and protests that he cannot be held responsible for this Estimate, I will call the attention of the House to the form in which the Estimate is presented. The right hon. Gentleman is there described as the accounting authority for the spending of this money; and yet he stands up in his place and protests against any responsibility resting upon him with regard to that part of the Estimate applying to the project of extending the Embankment beyond where he thought it ought to be extended. I now leave the matter as it stands.
I have to ask the indulgence of the House for a moment to say a word of personal explanation. 1273 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt) has found it necessary to illustrate the matter by stating that some seven or eight years ago it was my practice as Chancellor of the Exchequer to denounce the expenditure proposed by the Cabinet to which I belonged, and to deny my responsibility for it. I beg to meet that statement with the most explicit and unequivocal denial.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, it was due to the House that it should not be asked to embark upon this expenditure without knowing what it would amount to in the future. He regretted that relations of a more friendly character did not exist between the Treasury and the Board of Works. He had listened to the speech of the Prime Minister; but he had by no means made it clear what the responsibility of the First Commissioner really was. If the law were hazy the House had a right to expect that the Government would take some steps to make it clear and distinct. It was a sound principle that the House should look to the Heads of Departments as responsible; but if the Treasury had the power of controlling the expenditure or plans of the Board of Works that responsibility was taken away from the First Commissioner. What had occurred to-day involved a very important constitutional principle and was very deplorable in itself, revealing as it did a lamentable state of affairs.
§ MR. BAXTER
said, that neither the buildings nor any part of the plan to which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had referred the other night formed any part of the plan for which the present Vote was asked. It was simply for the Embankment of the Thames, and that Embankment would be very much longer than had been at first thought necessary. It would now be nearer 300 feet than 230 feet, and would cost every penny of the sum now asked for. Under no circumstances would anything be done under the present Vote to involve the House in any expenditure except for the Embankment.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he was afraid he was one of the Members referred to by the Primo Minister as having derived amusement from the very extraordinary scene which had just been witnessed. When the House saw considerable discord arising between the Treasury and the Board of Works, it seemed that the dramatist was not very far wrong in his idea that Ministerial existence was spent in a Happy Land from which, however, the ordinary vicissitudes of human life were not entirely eliminated. He would, however, say, with regard to the First Commissioner of Works, that he had never shared—he would not say the general, but the not inconsiderable condemnation which had been expressed in regard to his proceedings, a condemnation arrived at in ignorance of many circumstances connected with the facts of the case. He (Mr. Lowther) had had occasion before now to mark by his vote his opinion of the right hon. Gentleman's manner of proceeding upon certain architectural matters, and wrangles upon such affairs as lighting fires in hot-houses and gardens in the metropolis and elsewhere, and he believed that the right hon. Gentleman had always been considered by a discriminating section of that House—and a not inconsiderable portion of the public—as having watchfully exercised most important executive functions in controlling the excessive desire on the part of many subordinate public functionaries to gratify the hobbies, and even the crotchets, of a limited section of society at the expense of the public purse. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman had been somewhat precipitately thrown over by the Prime Minister. The First Commissioner had stated explicitly and clearly his view of the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility, which had been confirmed by the Postmaster General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer at no distant period; and whatever might be the views of the Prime Minister on the point—and for the most part they were sound—he had not during five years succeeded in inculcating those views upon those Colleagues with whom he was most closely identified. He trusted that the House would not allow this occasion to pass without expressing its deep sense of the importance of the question of Ministerial responsibility. No more important 1275 question could be submitted to it, and he hoped that the House would not allow the Session to close without recognizing the grave public danger of allowing Ministers to shift from one to another the burden of Departmental and Ministerial responsibility.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, although on many occasions he had differed from the right hon. Gentleman, yet he himself, and he thought they all, believed that the First Commissioner of Works was one of the most valuable of public servants. He never lost his head, and before committing himself to any expenditure he always liked to see before hand how much it would amount to. He trusted that this remarkable discussion would be attended with beneficial results. It had been found that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had great powers of silence, but a policy of that kind would not always be successful. The House of Commons was not likely to vote a large sum of money because the Chancellor of the Exchequer chose to override the First Commissioner of Works and then refused to give him any information. He felt much indebted to the Prime Minister for having taken a course which would prevent the House from being compromised on this Vote. His opinion was, that the Board of Works was not an executive Department in reference to its own business, but was under the control of the Treasury; and that if there was to be a control Department it should have distinct statutory powers to enable it effectually to control the expenditure and preparation of Estimates by the subordinate Departments.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that he felt much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) for having raised the question; because, although he (Mr. Newdegate) did not wish to undervalue the Vote which the House was asked to pass, a much graver question was involved in the discussion which had been promoted by the right hon. Gentleman, and that was, what was Ministerial responsibility? There was a collective responsibility on the part of the Government; but it would be a very great misfortune if, in that collective responsibility, the individual responsibility of Members of the Government were to be submerged or ignored. The Government existed 1276 through confidence, and it was a confidence extended to them collectively, and not merely a confidence reposed in the head of that Government; and as a Member of this House, he begged to thank the First Commissioner of Works for having refused to ignore the pledges he gave to his constituents, and his position as a Member of the House; or to evade, or seek to evade his responsibility for the opinions he had expressed, and by the expression of which he gained the confidence of his constituents, and established his position in this House; because he (Mr. Newdegate) held this—that when the right hon. Gentleman found himself unable to give the explanation which was demanded as to the purpose for which this space of ground and Embankment was eventually intended, the right hon. Gentleman behaved much more respectfully to the House, and much more consistently with his position, by at once avowing that he was unable to give that information, than if he had invented some excuse or put forward the idea of some project for the validity and carrying out of which he was fully conscious that he had no security to offer. Under these circumstances, he (Mr. Newdegate) rejoiced that this discussion had taken place. In his opinion, the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works had vindicated his position not Only as a Minister, but as a Member of the House.
§ MR. COWPER-TEMPLE
thought the House had been fortunate in having elicited from the Prime Minister so clear and constitutional a statement of the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility. The practice of that House had, however, more weight than any theory, and the practice of the present Government had differed very widely from the doctrine laid down by the right hon. Gentleman. The head of the Department which had charge of the Vote found fault with it, and the scene of that day was unexampled. When the First Commissioner undertook to justify the Vote, he should have acted on the theory of the Prime Minister, and accepted his share of the responsibility. The Board of Works was by Act of Parliament subordinate to the Treasury, and if the Treasury had interfered with the right hon. Gentleman, and if the Estimate was really that of the Treasury, why had not the Secretary to the Treasury taken charge 1277 of it, and explained it to the House? As it was, the House was between two stools, and had neither the responsibility of the First Commissioner nor the Treasury. It was the first scene of the kind the House had ever witnessed, and he trusted it would not be drawn into a precedent. The First Commissioner of Works should have done one of two things. If the Estimate was so contrary to the right hon. Gentleman's convictions, he should have declined to propose it for the acceptance of the House. If, on the other hand, he took the official charge of the Vote, he ought not to have come down to the House to complain of the Treasury, and endeavour to attract the sympathies of the House on the ground that he had been ill-used. That; was not the way in which the business of the public ought to be clone. Such a course deprived the House of its fair right to know who was responsible for the Estimates, and what was to be done with the money to be voted. The statement of the Prime Minister, that this money was not going to be laid out in the manner against which the First Commissioner protested, was satisfactory to the House; but this was a most improper way of bringing the Estimates before the House, and he repeated that he hoped it would not be brought into a precedent.
§ MR. WHITWELL
said, that it was not the First Commissioner of Works but the Secretary to the Treasury who moved the Estimate. He did not see how the First Commissioner of Works could do otherwise, under the circumstances, than to say that he knew nothing about the Vote. He trusted that the result would be that these Votes would be drawn up in a more precise and definite form for the future.
I will ask the indulgence of the House to say that I may have spoken rather too sharply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt) when I denied having denounced expenditure which I myself proposed. I intended to say that I had pursued the same course in the late and in the present Government.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ The next Resolution agreed to.1278
(8.) £5,000, Supplementary Sum for the superintendence of Convict Establishments, and for the maintenance of Convicts in Convict Establishments in England and the Colonies.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £5,000, be granted to Her Majesty to defray the Chance which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1874, for the Superintendence of Convict Establishments, and for the maintenance of convicts in Convict Establishments in England and the Colonies.
§ On Question? That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution,
§ MAJOR ARBUTHNOT
thought the House ought to have further explanations upon the Vote before it was passed.
said, that Millbank Prison, owing to faulty principles of construction, cost £3,000 a-year more for its maintenance than a properly constructed prison would cost. £3,000 a-year capitalized would amount to some £90,000, and for this sum he would undertake that an efficient prison should be built by convict labour, and a valuable site of 24 acres would then be at the disposal of Parliament. With the ulterior disposition of the site he had nothing to do. Parliament would have the subject in its own hands, and was in no way pledged to snake use of Millbank for the purposes of cavalry barracks, in place of those at Hyde Park.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he had no faith in the value of forced labour. The proposed new prison might be cheaply built by convicts; but he doubted whether the work would be good work, and whether the prison would not in the end be more cheaply built in the ordinary way.
knew his hon. Friend to be one of the most candid men in the House, and could show him additions made at Pentonville and a chapel built at Portsmouth entirely by convict labour which would convince his hon. Friend that the work could not have been better done by the most skilled labour in the country.
§ MR. HERMON
said, he wished to point out that convict labour in those cases was congregated. Did the right hon. Gentleman propose to bring up troops of convicts to build the new prison, and had he considered the difficulty attending such an operation?
having watched the results of convict labour, agreed with the Home Secretary that the work thus done was equal to anything done by unforced labour.
said, all the circumstances of the case had been considered, and no difficulty was apprehended in the case.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ The next Eleven Resolutions agreed to.
That a sum, not exceeding £10,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1874, for the enlargement of Dover Harbour,
read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House cloth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, the Vote was brought forward late on Monday night, or rather Tuesday morning, and it was only by mistake that a division was not then taken upon it. He thought no sufficient excuse had been offered by the Government for having put off to this late period of the Session a Vote of this character, and he objected to the large expenditure which the project was likely to involve. The history of it was this—Originally a Bill was prepared by the Dover Harbour Board, by which certain improvements were to be carried out for the benefit of the trade of the port and of railway companies who had their termini at Dover. The Bill came under the notice of the Admiralty and War Departments, who thought it afforded them an opportunity of reviving an old scheme for making a large harbour of refuge and strengthening the approaches to Dover. Two eminent engineers—Mr. Hawkshaw and Sir Andrew Clarke—were engaged to report on the subject. Their estimate was that the scheme would cost some £850,000, of which the South Eastern and the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway Companies were to bear a certain proportion. A most absurd balance-sheet was prepared by the Harbour Board of their estimated receipts and expenses, and it showed that in the course of 20 years they would have a surplus, in addition to paying interest to the amount of £30,000, of £60,000 a-year. The Trea- 1280 sury condemned these calculations as being delusive. They also condemned the scheme, on the ground that the railway companies had not agreed to terms which would render them contributory parties, and on the ground that it was immature. However, on June 13, 10 days after pronouncing this condemnation, without any change of circumstances meanwhile, the Treasury assented to the scheme, apparently for no other reason than that the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Board of Trade had sanctioned it. This was an instance of the weakness of Treasury control. The Treasury were pertinacious in small matters; they tried the temper of the House by this pertinacity in small things; and it was therefore most disappointing that the Department should, allow their convictions to be over-ruled, and that the Government should at the end of July place upon the Table an Estimate for £10,000, which would commit the House to an expenditure of at least £850,000, and in all probability of a much larger sum. He would express no opinion upon the merits of the scheme; but upon the ground that according to the Treasury's own admission the scheme was immature and the Estimates unreliable, he appealed to the Government to postpone the Estimate until next Session, when there would be an opportunity of discussing it.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, he thought the Government could have no difficulty in coming to the conclusion advised by the hon. Member for Warrington. Since this Vote had been determined upon, some definite plan must have been formed in reference to the scheme by the heads of the Admiralty, the War Department, and the Board of Trade; and, if so, the whole plan should be laid on the Table. That should have been done, in fact, at the commencement of the Session, and he protested against the course which the Government were taking in the matter. The House ought not to be asked to vote £10,000 in this manner for a work which would cost £850,000, and might, before its completion, cost £1,850,000, but ought to have a definite plan before it to decide upon. He protested against a subject of this importance being brought forward at the very end of the Session.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
said, that the hon. Member for War- 1281 rington (Mr. Rylands) and the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) could not have read the Report and studied the plans for the extension of the harbour at Dover, which had been laid before Parliament for the last 10 days, or they would not have spoken on the subject as they had. That Report and those plans were the fruit of the labours of Mr. Hawkshaw and Sir Andrew Clarke. There could be no higher authorities. The latter had carried out most important harbour works; his estimates had never been exceeded, and he had every confidence that he had not made any miscalculation in the Estimate before the House. The reason why the Vote had been brought forward so late in the Session was, that a private Bill had been introduced dealing with Dover Harbour from the point of view of private interest. The three Departments were thus compelled to look into the matter and see what should be done; and they were unwilling year after year to continue what might be called a dog-in-the-manger policy, by raising objections to private schemes for improving Dover Harbour, without being able, on the part of the Government, to suggest any plan of their own. The negotiations entered into with the promoters of the Private Bill led to a prolonged correspondence, and necessarily delayed the Vote. With regard to the resources of the Dover Harbour Board, upon which it was proposed that a loan should be made by the Public Works Loan Commissioners, it was intended to increase those funds by enabling a passenger duty to be levied upon passengers making use of Dover Harbour. The Treasury had satisfied themselves that the surplus revenue of the Harbour Board would enable the Public Works Loan Commissioners to advance a very large portion of the funds required for the construction of this work. Parliament had already laid out £750,000 upon the Admiralty Pier at Dover, which was only a fragment of the intended works, and supplied only a partial advantage to the harbour. He believed that from every point of view it was desirable, in the public interest, that the scheme now proposed should be carried out through the instrumentality of the Dover Harbour Board, and it would be a pity not to make a start in the present year.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he wished the House to pause before granting the Vote. In the case of the Harbour of Alderney, it was only to cost £500,000, but in the end the actual expenditure upon the work was near £2,000,000; and now they had to choose whether they should let the harbour go to decay, blow it up, or put it in repair. That experience should teach them to be careful how they embarked in a similar course of expenditure; and he urged that the Government should not persevere with this scheme at the present period of the Session.
§ MR. KINNAIRD
supported the Vote, knowing that there was a most anxious desire on the part of France to improve the Channel communication, and when so small a sum was asked for to commence the work he did not think the policy of delay was a wise one. He thought the country would support the House in endeavouring to improve the means of communication between the two countries. With regard to the works at Alderney, he thought it would be cheaper to lay out more money upon the harbour there, so as to make it effective, than to blow it up.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, the French Government, if they were so anxious to improve the communication between the two countries, should set us the example by improving their own harbours. You could get into Dover at any time of the tide, but not into Calais or Boulogne. This was a most important matter, and as it would involve a vast expenditure he did not think the House ought to proceed with it on almost the last day of the Session.
reminded the House that the proposed works had nothing to do with the Admiralty Pier, which was now unfinished, but formed part of an entirely new scheme. In his opinion, the plans required more mature examination than they had yet received, for the Correspondence showed that up to a very late date the authorities themselves had not come to a conclusion as to what was the best scheme. From every point of view it was important that Dover should be made a first-class harbour; but at this late period of the Session it would be well for the Government to withdraw what seemed to him to be a crude and ill-digested proposal.
§ MR. GOSCHEN,
in reference to the assertion that the scheme had not received the mature attention of the Government, said, it had received the most earnest and accurate attention of the authorities engaged; and, speaking for the Admiralty, he would say that they attached the greatest importance to the carrying out of this plan. The Government thought it to be their duty to construct a harbour which would not only servo for naval purposes, but facilitate communication between this country and France; an object, he need scarcely say, most earnestly desired. The Government were not proposing a new scheme; but they were substituting a new terminus for the work which was originally designed. It had always been contemplated that the harbour was to have two piers, the Eastern and the Western. The Western pier had been completed; the Eastern remained to be done. Various plans had been proposed for improving Dover Harbour for commercial purposes; but the Admiralty and the War Office were under the disagreeable necessity of rejecting them, because they interfered with the completion of the Admiralty Pier. Under these circumstances, the Government thought it their duty to propose a plan which would combine the double object, and it had received the sanction of the local authorities and the railway companies, as also that of eminent engineers and the Hydrographer of the Admiralty. With respect to finance, the sum to be contributed by the public funds would not be considerable, as it would be supplemented by contributions from harbour dues and from the railway companies, and also from a passenger tax. He trusted the works would not be deferred until next year.
§ MAJOR DICKSON
expressed a hope that, as the proposed expenditure would be money well laid out, and absolutely necessary, in the interests of the town of Dover and of the navy and merchant shipping of the country, the Vote would receive the sanction of the House.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
believed that the Public Works Loan Commissioners, of which body he was a member, had made no Report upon the subject of the security for advances to be made for the completion of the work. [Mr. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE said they had not.] The House, then, was now called upon, in 1284 the absence of full information, to sanction a small loan; but it was one which involved the ultimate expenditure of £850,000. For his part, he thought, however advantageous it might be to complete Dover Harbour, it would be wiser to defer the Vote till next year.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
thought it very unwise to impose restrictions upon the passenger traffic between France and England, and inquired what the amount of the passenger tax would be?
§ MR. WHITWELL
also thought the House should be informed what the passenger tax would amount to, and whether a fixed revenue would be paid by the railway companies?
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that according to the new view of Ministerial responsibility, the Government wore not bound by the views of the First Lord of the Admiralty. He did not object to the passenger tax, and was not unfavourable to the Vote; but he thought the House should be informed to what extent it was proposed to tax passengers.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it was stated in the Treasury letter which was on the Table with the other Papers that the passenger tax would amount to 1s. a-head—6d. only, however, to be levied after the completion of the landing jetty, and the 1s. to be deferred until the completion of the works. It was not intended that the railway companies should escape from contributing to the expense.
strongly recommended the House to be cautious before they hurriedly assented to a Vote which involved so many serious considerations.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
gathered from the smallness of the Vote that the object in view was not so much to carry on the works as to commit the House to the future expenditure which those works involved. As to reference about Alderney Harbour, it was commenced in the days of a generation now passing away. If it were intended to secure peace by increasing the means of communication between this country and the Continent, the object was praiseworthy; but he would suggest that the Vote should be postponed.
§ MR. HERMON
observed, that the passenger tax would be an indirect way of taxing French shipping, and would probably interfere with the Treaty of Commerce.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 61; Noes 60: Majority 1.
§ The next Two Resolutions agreed to.