HC Deb 21 March 1873 vol 214 cc2055-63

(In the Committee.)

(1.) That a sum, not exceeding £26,338 11s. 8d., 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 1872, viz.:—

Class I.
£ s. d.
Furniture of Public Offices 67 12 0
Industrial Museum, Edinburgh 220 16 2
British Museum Buildings 541 6 3
Portland Harbour 2 12 8
British Embassy Houses, Paris and Madrid 1,106 18 0
St. Paul's Cathedral: National Thanksgiving 378 1 6
Class II.
£ s. d.
Foreign Office 81 9 11
Charity Commission 69 10 10
Poor Law Commission, England 408 19 4
Office of Works and Public Buildings 1,038 14 4
Household of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 100 19 0
Class III.
Court of Chancery, England 4 2 0
County Courts 16,172 17 8
Land Registry Office 2 8 1
Court of Probate, Ireland 123 19 10
Registry of Judgments, Ireland 18 16 10
County Prisons, Ireland 1,537 7 9
Class IV.
Universities, &c. in Scotland 121 0 3
Class VII.
Temporary Commissions 4,340 19 3
£26,338 11 8


objected to the money being obtained without explanation after so long a time had elapsed.


said, the Vote was rendered necessary by the Exchequer and Audit Act. The Committee upstairs had recommended that these Excesses should be voted.

Vote agreed to.

(2.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £209,551 8s. 1d., be granted to Her Majesty, to make good Excesses of Expenditure beyond the Grants for the following Revenue Departments for the year ending on the 31st day of March 1872, viz.:—

£ s. d.
Post Office 37,775 10 0
Post Office Telegraph Service 171,775 18 1
£209,551 8 1

said, he felt it his duty to call attention to the first Report from the Committee on Public Accounts which had been delivered that morning. In connection with this Vote, and after the issue of the Report named, the Treasury Department ought to repent in sackcloth and ashes. There never was a more startling testimony to the inefficiency of our Administrative System in relation to a Departmental disbursement of public moneys than the Vote now asked for. A sum of £171,775 was required to make good the excess expended by the Post Office Telegraph Department for the year ended the 31st of March, 1872. That excess was attributed by the Post Office to an under estimate; but it was, in fact, the amount of an unauthorized expenditure or net deficit. It would seem from the Report that the existing elaborate and costly check of an Audit Office and Comptroller was practically valueless, the position of the Postmaster General was compromised, the National Debt Commissioners and their subordinates were all asleep, and that the control and responsibility of the Treasury for the due and regular conduct of the Revenue Departments were wholly illusory—indeed, an official figment. That was strong language; but it was entirely justified by the words of the Report, a few passages of which he proceeded to read. The Committee reported that the Comptroller and Auditor General observes— That transfers of £644,936 had been made from the Telegraph Vote to capital account; that, by this means, the Department has escaped the necessity of submitting estimates for extensions and improvements, and the control of Parliament has been avoided," and further add that "having made inquiry of Mr. Scudamore on this point, it appears from his replies, that the proceeding thus commented upon with respect to previous transactions had been repeated during the last twelve months, and that the whole of the additional million of capital granted in 1871 having been spent, the Department, instead of applying to Parliament for a further grant, has continued its payments for extensions, &c., defraying the cost out of the balances in the hands of the Postmaster General; that £656,000 had been spent up to the end of November, 1872, and that a sum not far short of £800,000 will have been so expended before the end of the current financial year, and that a large proportion of this had been derived from Savings Banks Deposits. Your Committee do not hesitate to express the opinion that this wholesale expenditure out of the balances in anticipation of the Vote is in the highest degree irregular and objectionable, and appears to be in conflict with the provisions of the Telegraph and Savings Bank Acts, nor can they admit the plea of urgency, seeing that four years have now elapsed since the Telegraph Service was taken over by the Government; but further and still more important considerations arise, to which, though less directly within their functions, they desire to call the attention of the House of Commons. The unanimous decision of the Committee of Public Accounts was that—

  1. "(1.) Under the present system, the Post Office would appear to have the uncontrolled power of dealing with balances to the extent probably of a million in excess of its legitimate requirements.
  2. "(2.) So far as those balances consist of Savings Banks Deposits, such dealings must be held to amount to misappropriation of a peculiarly serious character.
  3. 2058
  4. "(3.) If, as is understood, the National Debt Commissioners are constantly kept informed of the sums due to them, some strange defect of power or activity would seem to have interfered with their obvious duty of calling for the balances with a view to investment.
  5. "(4.) The check of the Audit Office, which is also supplied with monthly statements of receipt by the Postmaster General, must be imperfect, if not altogether nugatory.
  6. "(5.) The position of the Postmaster General is compromised if the secretary in his office can carry on such enormous operations by means of moneys for which he, as chief, is liable to account to the public.
  7. "(6.) Finally, what becomes of the control of the Treasury over a Revenue Department, for the due and regular conduct of which it is in the highest degree responsible, if such things can happen, not once, but repeatedly, and if the abstraction of such enormous sums from their legitimate destination can continue to be unnoticed throughout the whole of a financial year, even up to the time when the statement of the year's income is formally submitted to the public? The Treasury state they had no knowledge that the authorised capital had been exceeded; but it must be observed that the evidence taken by your Committee last year brought out the fact that such would inevitably be the case, while it was known to them that similar though less extensive transactions were covered by the grant of the additional million in 1871."
So long as the House of Commons claimed and exercised the exclusive guardianship of the public purse this question was one of the highest constitutional importance, and he felt confident that the Government would institute forthwith a searching and complete investigation into this flagrant default.


said, he had no intention to bring the subject before the House at that moment, but to have done so when the Vote on account of the Telegraph Service was taken, when he should have asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to cause immediate inquiries to be made into the subject, and lay the result with any proposals he had to make before the Committee of Accounts, that they might inform the House what the right hon. Gentleman proposed. The Committee felt themselves bound to express their opinion in strong terms of the course that had been pursued in the Post Office Department—a Department that had large sums of money at its command, and which could be used without the knowledge or consent of Parliament.


promised that a thorough inquiry should be instituted, and that the result should be laid before the Committee.


suggested that the Vote be postponed, as the question which had been raised was of a grave character calling for inquiry. He moved that the Chairman report Progress.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Fawcett.)


was of opinion that the subject could be more satisfactorily dealt with by the Committee sitting upstairs than by a Committee of the Whole House. At all events, this was not the proper time to raise the question.


said, he thought these excesses ought to be voted at once. The question now under consideration had no reference whatever to the large amount of expenditure which had been improperly incurred.


said, that in deference to the opinion expressed by the Committee, he would not propose the Vote on Account that evening. The question now before the Committee related solely to past expenditure.


said, he hoped the hon. Member for Brighton would press his Motion to a division.


said, the passing of this Vote would not preclude discussion on the question raised by the senior Member for Brighton (Mr. White).


said, that the great financial scandal disclosed in the Report of the Public Accounts Committee was sure to excite attention as soon as it came under the knowledge of the House. The Government had, however, given a fair and proper assurance that the whole matter should be the subject of a departmental inquiry. The Committee would therefore do well to pass the present Vote, which had been approved by the Controller and Auditor General, and in regard to which no irregularity was alleged.


said, that it was just because a great financial scandal had been disclosed that he objected to vote an excess in the accounts of the Department which rested under that scandal. He should persist in dividing the Committee, because they ought not, at 1 o'clock in the morning, to vote a single penny to a Department thus discredited.


said, if the Committee refused the Vote they would be casting a slur not only upon the Audit Office, but also on the Committee of Public Accounts, which raised no objection to this Vote.


appealed to the Government not to press this Vote at 1 o'clock in the morning, after the great scandal that had been disclosed.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 23 Noes 64: Majority 41.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

(3.) Motion made and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £1,842,000, be granted to Her Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charge for the following Civil Services, to the 31st day of March 1874, viz.:—

Class I.
Great Britain:— £
Royal Palaces 5,000
Royal Parks 17,000
Public Buildings 25,000
Furniture of Public Offices 2,500
Houses of Parliament 5,000
New Home and Colonial Offices 10,000
Sheriff Court Houses, Scotland 2,500
National Gallery Enlargement 7,000
Glasgow University 3,500
Industrial Museum, Edinburgh 1,500
Burlington House 5,000
Post Office and Inland Revenue Buildings 26,000
British Museum Buildings 1,000
County Courts 6,000
Science and Art Department 3,000
Surveys of the United Kingdom 22,000
Harbours of Refuge 3,000
Portland Harbour 50
Metropolitan Fire Brigade 2,500
Rates on Government Property 6,000
Wellington Monument 750
Natural History Museum 13,000
Metropolitan Police Courts 2,000
New Courts of Justice, &c. 11,000
Anstruther Harbour 1,500
Public Buildings 26,000
Lighthouses Abroad 4,000
Embassy Houses, Paris and Madrid 200
Embassy Houses and Consular Buildings, Constantinople, China, Japan, and Tehran 10,000
Class II.
House of Lords, Offices 7,500
House of Commons, Offices 8,000
Treasury and Subordinate Departments 9,500
Home Office and Subordinate Departments £
Foreign Office 10,500
Colonial Office 5,300
Privy Council Office and Subordinate Departments 5,600
Board of Trade and Subordinate Departments 17,000
Privy Seal Office 500
Charity Commission 3,000
Civil Service Commission 3,500
Copyhold, Inclosure, and Tithe Commission 3,000
Inclosure and Drainage Acts Expenses 1,500
Exchequer and Audit Department 7,200
Registrars of Friendly Societies 400
General Register Office 9,300
Local Government Board 68,000
Lunacy Commission 2,500
Mint 8,500
National Debt Office 3,000
Patent Office 5,000
Paymaster General's Office 4,000
Public Record Office 3,800
Public Works Loan Commission 800
Stationery Office and Printing 73,000
Woods, Forests, &c., Office of 4,000
Works and Public Buildings, Office of 7,000
Secret Service 4,000
Exchequer and Other Offices 1,000
Fishery Board 2,000
General Register Office 1,500
Lunacy Commission 1,000
Poor Law Commission 3,000
Lord Lieutenant's Household 1,150
Chief Secretary's Office 5,000
Boundary Survey 50
Charitable Donations and Bequests Office 400
General Register Office 4,600
Poor Law Commission 18,000
Public Record Office 900
Public Works Office 4,500
Class III.
Law Charges 9,000
Criminal Prosecutions 32,000
Court of Chancery 28,500
Common Law Courts 10,000
Court of Bankruptcy 6,300
County Courts 73,000
Probate Court 15,000
Admiralty Court Registry 2,000
Land Registry Office 900
Police Courts, London and Sheerness 2,300
Metropolitan Police 38,500
County and Borough Police, Great Britain 20,000
Convict Establishments in England and the Colonies 75,000
County Prisons, Great Britain 18,000
Reformatories and Industrial Schools, Great Britain 37,000
Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum 5,000
Miscellaneous Legal Charges 3,000
Criminal Proceedings 11,000
Courts of Law and Justice 10,000
Register House Departments £5,000
Prisons 4,000
Law Charges and Criminal Prosecutions 13,000
Court of Chancery 7,500
Common Law Courts 5,000
Court of Bankruptcy and Insolvency 1,400
Landed Estates Court 2,000
Probate Court 2,000
Admiralty Court Registry 300
Registry of Deeds 2,500
Registry of Judgments 500
Dublin Metropolitan Police 19,000
Constabulary 164,000
Government Prisons and Reformatories 6,500
County Prisons 13,000
Dundrum Criminal Lunatic Asylum 900
Four Courts Marshalsea Prison 400
Miscellaneous Legal Charges 9,500
Class IV.
Great Britain:—
Public Education 216,000
Science and Art Department 44,000
British Museum 17,000
National Gallery 1,000
National Portrait Gallery 500
Learned Societies 2,000
University of London 1,600
Endowed Schools Commission 1,500
Public Education 26,000
Board of Education 1,000
Universities, &c. in Scotland 2,000
National Gallery, Scotland 350
Public Education 90,000
Commissioners of Education (Endowed Schools) 100
National Gallery 400
Royal Irish Academy 350
Queen's University 650
Queen's Colleges 700
Class V.
Diplomatic Services 46,000
Consular Services 41,500
Colonies, Grants in Aid 8,000
Orange River Territory and St. Helena 600
Slave Trade, Commissions for Suppression of 50
Tonnage Bounties, &c. 2,200
Emigration 900
Treasury Chest 800
Class VI.
Superannuation and Retired Allowances 106,000
Merchant Seamen's Fund Pensions, &c. 6,700
Relief of Distressed British Seamen 5,500
Hospitals and Infirmaries, Ireland 3,100
Miscellaneous Charitable Allowances, &c. Great Britain 1,000
Miscellaneous Charitable Allowances, &c. Ireland 1,000
Class VII.
Temporary Commissions 3,000
Deep Sea Exploring Expedition 500
Miscellaneous Expenses 1,000
Total £1,842,000

moved that Progress be reported, on the ground that so many public Departments, and indirectly the Treasury, had been discredited by the financial scandal that had been brought to light, that he must object to a single shilling of public money being voted on account until the matter had been cleared up.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Fawcett.)

The Committee divided:—Ayes 24; Noes 62: Majority 38.

Original Question again proposed.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Monk.)

The Committee divided:—Ayes 24; Noes 59: Majority 35.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next;

Committee to sit again upon Monday next.