HC Deb 04 June 1883 vol 279 cc1707-10

Postponed Resolutions [31st May] considered. (10.) "That a sum, not exceeding £57,263, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1884, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.


said, he should like another opportunity for bringing on his Motion with reference to Mr. Errington's mission. Perhaps it would be convenient for him to bring it on on Thursday, after the Corrupt Practices Bill?


said, if the noble Lord made that appeal he should at once accede to it.


I would press the right hon. Gentleman on the point.


Then let it be Thursday.

Resolution further postponed till Thursday. (13.) "That a sum, not exceeding £100,233, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1884, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Subordinate Departments.


said, he should like some explanation from a Member of the Government as to the amount taken under this Vote for Law Charges. As the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would himself see, these charges had grown very much of late. Early this year there was a Supplementary Estimate for the past year; and now they were asked for £22,550 for 1883–4, as against £18,300 for 1882–3. There appeared to be a growth in every item under the head of Law Charges, and he was sure the right hon. Gentleman would be glad of an opportunity of giving some explanation to the House upon a matter which was always regarded by hon. Members with considerable jealousy, and so regarded with justice, seeing that if a Vote was once set up, the House appeared to be totally unable to control it, however unsatisfactory the results attending it might appear. There was a legal establishment in the Office. There were items for legal charges in connection with the Merchant Shipping Acts and the Railway Passenger Acts, which were put down without any specification whatever; and it would be well that some explanation should be given upon the matter. The House should know whether the charge was for the legal establishment of the Board of Trade itself, or in respect of fees to solicitors and counsel for the various inquiries which were carried on in connection with the Board of Trade from time to time. This was a question upon which the Board of Trade would be able to give some information. It certainly appeared to him that the charges for inquiries—which were growing charges—were enormous. There was another matter also to which he should like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. He saw that under the head of the Survey Staff there was a sum for salaries and wages, and also for payments to officers and others, which was formerly paid under this Vote. That occasioned a decrease in the Vote, the whole of these salaries having been transferred and charged on the Mercantile Marine Fund. The sum estimated was sufficient to meet the charge made on the Mercantile Marine Fund—the charge of £40,000 on that Fund was paid out of the money voted by Parliament, and not out of the Fund. The items seemed to be of different amounts, and he should like some explanation from the right hon. Gentleman with regard to them. He should like to know whether, under the new arrangement, which entitled the Board of Trade to charge these expenses on the Mercantile Marine Fund, the sanction of the Treasury was necessary to all payments, or whether the payments were made at the sole discretion of the Board of Trade from time to time? Looking at the items in respect of the Mercantile Marino Fund, it would appear that large sums were dealt with under this regulation; and it would be satisfactory to the House to know that there was that Constitutional control over the question of salaries that was formerly exercised.


said, he should be glad to give all the explanation in his power on the subject raised by the right hon. Gentleman. With regard to the last matter referred to, he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that last Session an Act was passed, called the Merchant Shipping Fees and Expenses Act, which dealt with the purely administrative question—a question not affecting in the slightest degree the responsibility of the Department, but merely arranging for the accounting between the Mercantile Marine Fund and the Consolidated Fund. That did not change the responsibility of the Board of Trade as to consulting the Treasury. With regard to the sum taken from the Consolidated Fund—the £40,000 to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred—that was a sum which, if his memory served him right, was fixed for five years from the date of the Act. It was calculated as being the balance of various accounts under the Merchant Shipping Acts that had hitherto been dealt with by the Treasury. He believed the alteration which had been effected made no difference whatever in the expenditure on the public funds. The right hon. Gentleman also called attention to the growth of the legal charges in the Department of the Board of Trade; and he (Mr. Chamberlain) quite agreed with him that there was no expenditure that was less satisfactory, and that one would more gladly see diminished. However, he did not think the increase was so great as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine. During the last five years the charge had been £17,000 or £18,000—that was to say, the average per annum had been about that amount. For the present year, however, the Estimate was between £22,000 and £23,000. Of this latter sum about £3,000 was an exceptional expense incurred in connection with Crown Lands. That charge, and others which he could mention, which had been incurred with the sanction of the Treasury, and which had caused considerable expense, were ab- normal, and not likely to recur. Then there was a sum of £1,000 for damages awarded against the Board of Trade in cases where the Board had detained ships which it had been subsequently found necessary to release. The sum was one which must, in some form or other, always appear in the accounts. It was impossible that the Board of Trade could undertake the duty of stopping ships which they believed to be unseaworthy—and which was a very important duty—without occasionally incurring damages in respect of the detention of ships which were ultimately shown to be fit to proceed to sea. The real cause of the great expense was on account of the wreck inquiries. These last year cost £18,000, the expenses being calculated on something like 230 or 240 separate inquiries. The average cost of these inquiries, which were not necessarily held in London, but which very often took place in the localities, was only £76, which was certainly not an extravagant sum, considering that the Courts were always assisted by two assessors, and that many witnesses were sometimes called, whose expenses had to be paid. The reason of these inquiries would be found in a Return, of which he had seen a proof copy, which would soon be distributed, giving statistics as to loss of life from shipwreck. The loss of life had increased, he was sorry to say; but the present was not the proper time to go into that question. It had followed that, as the number of wrecks had been greater than formerly, the number of inquiries had also increased. He could not help thinking that these investigations had been very useful. They had thrown a clear light on many of these wrecks; and he did not think that either the House or the country would desire that there should be any stint in regard to them. He trusted the explanation he had been able to give to the right hon. Gentleman would be satisfactory.

Resolution agreed to.