HC Deb 07 March 1884 vol 285 cc873-5

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether he is aware that the Estimate for the expenditure involved in strengthening Her Majesty's Forces in the Mediterranean in connection with the Expedition to Egypt in 1882 was presented to this House in the form of a Vote of Credit, by Her Majesty's Command; whether this Estimate was not presented by Her Majesty's present Government subsequently to the recent Report of the Committee on Public Accounts on the subject of Votes of Credit; and, whether he can state to the House the reasons which have led Her Majesty's Government to depart from this and other precedents in submitting the Vote for the Red Sea Expedition as part of the Supplementary Estimates for Army Services on the present occasion?


Sir, I find no fault with the Question, and I find no fault with the answer given yesterday by my right hon. Friend. But I answer the Question because it refers to an act of my own as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Question has three paragraphs. In regard to the first two, they are recitals of fact, and I believe they are accurate. With regard to the third paragraph, I think I may state very briefly what the history of these Votes of Credit has been. It is not going back very far, for 15 or 20 years ago Votes of Credit were unlimited in all respects. In the first place, the sums mentioned in them were disposable among any of the Military Services, thereby entailing a great abridgment of the power and privilege of Parliament; and, in the second place, they might be spent at any time. When I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the second Government of Lord Palmerston I think, I remember paying money under a Vote of Credit for the Russian War, which had closed, I believe, six or seven years before. The first reform was, I rather think, when Lord Sherbrooke was Chancellor of the Exchequer; and that was that Votes of Credit, instead of being available without limit of time, were confined to the year in which they were voted. That removed one objection to Votes of Credit. They still remained, however, available for any of the Services. Then came the investigation of the Committee, and the Government read the Report of the Committee, to the effect that it decidedly prefers the form of Estimates to be adopted with reference to Votes of Credit; and, consequently, the Treasury had proceeded upon the principle whenever it could be done. In this case the Vote was for a limited service, and for a service to be performed in a limited time, inasmuch as this Estimate is only available to the 31st of the present month. The Department, under these circumstances, were able to estimate with the usual degree of accuracy required in an Estimate of this kind; and, in conformity with the distinct recommendation of the Committee, the form of Estimate was preferred. In 1882 the sum was very large, and the service to which it was applicable might have extended to a period of no less than eight months. It was not possible, then, to frame an Estimate with sufficient accuracy to justify us in asking Parliament for money in that form. On that account the shape of the Vote of Credit was taken; but the rule which may be said to be established by the Treasury is, that whenever an Estimate can be framed by the Departments, this form of Estimates is preferred, as it would be by the Committee. Where the money cannot be asked in the form of Estimate on account of the magnitude or the indefiniteness of the service, the form of a Vote of Credit is necessarily the result.