§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, he did not wish to detain the House; he rose simply to protest against a third Vote on Account being taken on the present Estimates as a matter of course. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite had, on former occasions, protested against even a second Vote, and even right hon. Gentlemen now on the Treasury Bench had so protested. The Government had strongly protested against the late Government in that respect, but were far worse offenders themselves. He never remembered Supply being driven to such a period of the Session, seeing that adequate discussion of the important questions involved was impossible.
said, that the present Government were only following the example of all previous Governments in this respect since he had a seat in Parliament. It was very rare that Members of the House had the opportunity of discussing in Supply the most important expenditure of the country. With regard to the Navy, for instance, it had been the practice with most Governments, but especially the present one, at the beginning of the Session to take a Vote for the Navy, and then leave the remaining Votes till the middle of August, in a weary and half-empty House. They appealed to the patriotism of the Members at the commencement of the Session, and got a Vote on Account; but after that nothing was heard till the end of the Session. The Navy Vote was really the most important of all the Votes, and he must protest strongly against the course which had uniformly been followed.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, that he also endorsed the protest of his hon. Friends, and had to complain that, contrary to opinions expressed in past years by the Prime Minister, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and head of the 472 greatest spending Department, was not a Member of the House of Commons. Not only was the First Lord in the Upper House, but the Navy suffered from the kaleidoscopic manner in which successive Secretaries to the Admiralty had come and gone. First, there was the present Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), then the present Chief Secretary (Mr. Trevelyan). Both those right hon. Gentlemen had done their work admirably, and now there was a third. As soon as a Secretary began to know his work and to become competent, he was transferred to some other Department. The Secretary to the Admiralty, in his (Sir H. Drummond Wolff's) opinion, when, as was at present the case, the First Lord was in "another place," ought to occupy a more prominent and responsible position in reference to his duties in the House of Commons. He should occupy a similar position to that of the Secretary at War in old times.
I cannot say that the hon. Member who has just spoken has added anything by his criticisms to what has been already said on the subject. He complains that the First Lord of the Admiralty, as the head of a great spending Department, should be in the House of Lords. The fact is that the vast proportion of the Business of the country is done in this House; but it must be remembered that a fair proportion of Ministers must sit in the House of Lords, and the exact distribution must be regulated according to circumstances. The hon. Gentleman complains of the selection of three Secretaries to the Admiralty in rapid succession; and although he was kind enough to speak of them personally in high terms, he said it proved the weakness of the administration of the Department. Now, I think, on the contrary, that it is an argument in favour of the Gentlemen who have been selected to fill the post, because it only shows that we have appointed such admirable men to be Secretaries to the Admiralty, that, when higher posts have fallen vacant, looking around for the best men we could get, we have felt it our duty to offer them to Gentlemen occupying that position; and, at the same time, we have taken the utmost possible pains to have the Admiralty dealt with efficiently. You cannot have the head of every Department in this House, and if 473 it is inconsistent that the Secretary to the Admiralty should represent the Admiralty in this House, is it not also inconsistent that the Foreign Office and other Departments of the State should be represented here by an Under Secretary?
They may not be spending Departments; but I cannot admit that the distinction is of such a character as to require us to draw a line, and say that what is right in the one case is wrong on the other. The distribution of the Business of the Administration between the two Houses has always been a matter of considerable difficulty, and it is obvious that it cannot be placed under any inflexible rule. In regard to the protest of the hon. and learned Gentleman below the Gangway (Mr. Gorst), who preceded the last speaker, I admit that there is force in what he has said. I regret extremely the state of facts under which is has become necessary for us to take the discussions upon the Navy Estimates at intervals very widely apart; as to the year 1880, it must be remembered that that was an exceptional year, because there was a Dissolution in the early part of that year, and it was necessary that some of the Navy Votes should be taken before the Dissolution. But the criticisms of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen fairly apply to other years. It has not been possible, however, for the Government to apply itself at once to the business of prosecuting Supply, as was the custom, in former years. The present state of things is due to the exceptional circumstances in which we have been placed—first, to the general obstruction to the efficient discharge of the Public Business in every branch and Department of the Public Service which has existed; secondly, to the special difficulty which arose this year of being compelled, not altogether by our own choice, to devote almost the whole of the available resources of the House to Irish legislation; and, thirdly, to the peculiar arrangements which at present exist for the conduct of Business, under which it has become almost a matter of absolute necessity to take Votes on Account, whereas, in former years, Votes on Account were comparatively rare. What was formerly the exception has now become the rule, and this is the second Vote on 474 Account we have been compelled to ask for during the present Session. These exceptional Votes are, no doubt, a grave and serious matter, and I commend the subject to the consideration of the House; at the same time, I am bound to admit that the subject is influenced to a considerable extent by our system of accounts and balances, the date at which our financial year begins and ends, and the period of the meeting of the House. So long as these three conditions exist the difficulty will continue, and until we are able to make a change in the form of our general business arrangements, complaint, and I am afraid a good deal of reasonable complaint, will continue to be made. I have thought it right to make these observations, because it is only fair to make the admission that the present state of things is unsatisfactory, and that I should express an earnest hope that hon. Members will co-operate with the Government, with the object of mitigating the evil as much as possible.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
With regard to the question of Votes on Account, I am glad to hear the Prime Minister admit the great difficulty under which any Government labours in the present state of our accounts, because it is a difficulty under which not only the present Government, but every Government, has laboured now for some years. Right hon. Gentlemen who now sit on the Front Ministerial Bench, when in Opposition, protested with great vigour against the late Government's request for Votes on Account.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
Other right hon. Members sitting on the Front Bench certainly did so, and the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister cautiously abstained from saying a good word for our proposals. The protest, indeed, was made with greater vigour because it was not made by a person in the responsible position of the present Prime Minister. My only object in rising now is to enter a protest against its being supposed that a second Vote on Account is generally necessary, although there can be no doubt that a first Vote on Account is required. This, however, is the second time this year we have been asked for a Vote on Account. I admit the extraordinary difficulties under which the Government are labour- 475 ing, and I have not a word to say against their proposition; but I wish to enter a protest against the proceedings of this year being considered a precedent for future years, because I think the House would do wrong, as a rule, to put off the consideration of the Estimates until a time when it is impossible to discuss them fully.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.