HC Deb 11 March 1880 vol 251 cc803-9

asked Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Why a Return, ordered by the House on the 27th of March last, as to the cost of bringing the Indian Troops to Europe in 1878, has not yet been furnished to this House; and, whether he will cause such Return to be forthwith laid upon the Table and printed and circulated?


in reply, said, that as his name was attached to the Return, perhaps he might be allowed to answer the Question. The figures ordered by the House in the Return referred to reached this country, he thought, in June last year; but doubts were expressed as to their correctness, and it was, therefore, necessary to make communications to the Indian Government on the subject. The figures were about to be presented to the House the other day, but appeared to require still further correction, and a telegram had been despatched to India asking that the figures might be verified as soon as possible. That was the reason why the Return had not been presented. With regard to the second part of the hon. Member's Question, it would be obviously inconvenient to present a Return the figures of which they did not know to.


said, he felt bound to press for a further explanation of this matter; and, in case of need, he must do what he had never done since he had been a Member of the House, and move the adjournment of the House. The Question affected somewhat the Privileges of the House, and it was only fair to state that he asked three Questions respecting this Return in the last Session of Parliament, and on the last day but one in that Session the Under Secretary of State for India informed him that he had laid the Return upon the Table. That announcement was received with a good deal of mirth from hon. Gentlemen behind the Under Secretary of State for India; and when he (Mr. Mundella) went into the Library next day he found a blank sheet of paper. He had been to the Library again and again; but no Return had been furnished. He had applied to the Under Secretary of State for India again, and had been referred to the Secretary of State for War. They were told that a Return, which was professedly laid on the Table on the 13th August last, could not be produced, and they were going to discuss this question in the country without the figures before them. Now, seeing that the Return referred to what took place two years ago—it was two years since the Indian troops were brought to Europe—he asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer why it was they could not have the figures, and how on earth the accounts were made up without them? He begged to move the adjournment of the House.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Mundella.)


said, he would take upon himself whatever blame there might be for the delay which had arisen. As the House would see, however, he had been actuated in what he had done by a desire to procure information of a perfectly accurate character. He was speaking without notes before him, as he did not know till a few minutes ago that he would be called on to answer the Question; but he believed the figures were ordered on March 27 last year. They were received in June, and it was then found that in some particulars they were not correct. Reference was accordingly made to India—he could not say at what date, but he believed immediately—and on the last day of the Session, no further information having been received, a blank form well known to hon. Members was laid upon the Table, in order that the Return, when it did come, might be issued without delay. He understood that the figures were presented again, but that it was necessary that there should be a still further correction; and he was in possession of a note saying that up to the 5th of March last communication was going on with the Government of India respecting the figures, and the last communication was by telegram.


said, this was really a very grave question, which absolutely demanded an explanation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. A Committee was appointed the Session before last to inquire into the cost of the Indian troops going abroad, and the appointment of the Committee was concurred in by the Government. He had the honour, together with others, of representing that side of the House on the Committee. They were informed that the figures had not yet arrived from India, but that, if possible, they should be presented in the next Session. On the receipt of that assurance from the Government, he consented, in spite of opposition from some of his Friends, to the adjournment of the inquiry till the following year. But that adjournment was assented, to with the distinct understanding that the Government would reappoint the Committee, and that the figures would be presented early last Session; whereas now, in the middle of another Session, the Government had so contrived as not to give any information whatever. A clear and categorical explanation ought to be given by Her Majesty's Government on the subject. He regarded this as one of the gravest cases of apparently withholding information for the purpose of avoiding inquiry.


The hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) have appealed to me specially in this matter. I must frankly own that when I saw the Question on the Paper I was not able to give any answer to it of my own knowledge. All I could do was to send an inquiry to the War Office and to the India Office on the subject; and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War undertook to answer the Question, so far as he was able to do so. There can be no doubt that the facts as mentioned in this discussion do show that there has been considerable delay in forwarding these Returns. I am unable to say how that delay has occurred; but communications from India to this country with regard to matters of expenditure generally take a much longer time than appears reasonable to many people at home. If information came in a form which did not appear to be correct, it was only natural and right that inquiry should be made, in order to render the figures accurate. I am informed that the position of matters is this—there is a small difference between the figures which have been sent from India and those which are believed here at the India Office to be correct; and although it might not be possible or proper to lay a formal Return upon the Table until the actual figures have been agreed upon, I believe my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for India will be quite prepared to state the approximate figures, as sent from India, so far as he is able to do so.


said, the Return could not be presented until it was absolutely correct, and the accounts between the War Office and the India Office were not finally settled. The approximate amount, he was told, was £470,000.


said, he was the Member who moved for the Committee, and he had been repeatedly assured that it would be re-appointed. He did not consider the answer from the Ministerial Bench satisfactory.


said, the gravest part of the charge was that at the end of last Session, not only was a dummy Report laid on the Table, thereby deliberately misleading the House, but for the purpose of catching a cheer and stifling a Question put regarding the Return, the Under Secretary of State for India declared it had been laid on the Table when it had not been. He ought to have explained at the time that it was only a dummy, and told when the real one would be produced.


hoped the House would allow him to make a personal explanation, after the attack made upon him by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson). The facts were simply these: When the Question was put to him he understood that his right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War had, the day before, laid the Report on the Table, in the way commonly adopted—namely, in dummy. It turned out afterwards that the information received was not altogether accurate; and for that reason, and for that reason alone, the delivery of the Return was delayed. The object of giving a dummy Return was that hon. Members might, at the earliest possible moment, be in possession of the information required. In this case, if a dummy Return had not been presented, and if it had turned out that the information in the hands of the Government was correct, the House would never have had it at all until the beginning of the next Session.


said, the hon. Gentleman had told the House that the approximate cost of bringing the troops to Malta was £470,000; but he understood the cost of freight alone was something like £750,000. He wanted to know the total cost of bringing the troops to Malta, and under what heads of expenditure the amount was to be distributed? With the telegraph at work, the accounts ought to have been obtained from India in less than 12 months. He asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to let the House have full and explicit information on all the points which had been brought under notice. They were not particular as to a thousand or two; but the statement for which he contended was one which would show the expenditure as estimated by the Government, showing the whole amount distributed under different heads.


was of opinion that this discussion had been got up altogether for electioneering purposes. The difficulty of reconciling questions of account between the Home and Indian Governments was very great, as might be seen from the fact that a sum had just been voted by Parliament towards the cost of the Abyssinian Expedition, which took place 12 years ago.


thanked the hon. Member for reminding the House of what took place in regard to the expenditure on the Abyssinian War. Possibly there might be the same differences and discrepancies as to the cost of the Afghan War. He wished to ask whether the £470,000 which had been mentioned was only for the journey one way, or whether it included the cost of taking the troops back? and he suggested to the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) that he should bring forward a Motion for the production of the Correspondence between the authorities in India and the Home Government, which Correspondence would show what was the amount claimed on either side, and what was the maximum of the figures in dispute between the two Governments.


thought this debate should not terminate without a distinct statement whether that £470,000 included the whole cost, or was merely the adjustment between the War Office and the India Office for extra pay to the Forces, and did not include the cost of the transport. If the cost of transport, which was understood to be £750,000, was in addition to this, it would be most unfair at any time, and especially on the eve of a General Election, when a great question of policy was coming on, not to state it.


observed, that he had been called upon suddenly to make a statement on a question of facts. He had no idea that he should be called upon to make such a statement that night, and he had not been able to refresh his memory by reference to documents. If hon. Members desired to act fairly, they should give Notice of a Question on this subject. He would then give them, without a moment's hesitation, such figures as he was able to produce. He had told the House already that he had given almost the exact figures.


said the Under Secretary of State for India must be aware of previous answers which had been given to him on the question. The hon. Gentleman also knew that he had spoken to him in the Lobby about it. What he desired was a detailed account, and he now gave Notice that to-morrow he would ask the Chancellor of the Exche- quer to order the complete Return to be laid on the Table of the House as soon as possible.


wished to ask the Government a Question with regard to the Belief of Distress (Ireland) Bill. That important measure was put on the Paper on Tuesday evening last, and many of the Irish Members remained in town at very serious inconvenience, in order to transact that business. They listened to a most interesting debate, or rather to an able and interesting speech from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester (Mr. Raikes); and immediately he had sat down the word went round that the House was to be counted out, although the Irish Relief Bill—the Bill which was to relieve the starving people of Ireland—was on the Orders. He had expressed his incredulity; but he was told that before another right hon. Gentleman from the front Opposition Bench could speak the House was to be counted out, in order that the railway employés might know that "Codlin was the friend, and not Short." From the Government side of the House two attempts were made to count out the House and the Irish Relief Bill; and, despite their efforts to keep the House, the non-action of the Government Whips was too clever for them, and the Irish Relief Bill was shunted. He now appealed to the Government to say when they were to have an opportunity of discussing the Lords' Amendments to the Bill, for many hon. Gentlemen were anxious to get away to their constituencies as soon as possible, and he asked the Government to let them discuss the question that evening.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.