HC Deb 18 March 1885 vol 295 cc1586-8

asked Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, If he could make a statement as to what course the Government intended to pursue with regard to the proposed Committees of Inquiry into public expenditure? He observed that the right hon. Gentleman had dropped his Notice with respect to the Committee on the expenditure of the Army and Navy Departments; but the Notice with regard to the Civil Service Department was on the Paper last night?


said, that though he should have preferred Notice of the Question in order to make a careful statement, nevertheless, for the convenience of the House, he would now say, in a few words, what the Government proposed to do. They were fulfilling a very precise pledge which they gave to the House, especially to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, in proposing, on the very first day of the Session, to appoint Committees on the Army and Navy and the Civil Service and Revenue Departments Expenditure, which should sit during the present Session. He need not now quote seriatim the pledges which they gave, as he should have done in moving for the first Committee. But, in the first place, the Motions in respect to these Committees had been blocked, and the effect of the blocking had been to prevent their being taken after half-past 12 o'clock. These blocks had been persisted in; and hence it had been absolutely out of his power either to move for the Committees or to give any explanation. However, in answer to the Question, he might now say that in addition to these blocks the Government had learned from many quarters of the House that it was not, in the judgment of hon. Members to whose opinion they attached much weight, expedient during the present Session to have a Committee on Army and Navy Expenditure; and the reason was a perfectly simple one. The two Departments were so overwhelmed with business in connection with the military and naval proceedings now going on, that it would be most inconvenient if the principal officers of those Departments had to appear from day to day to justify the policy or answer Questions as to the business of their Departments, so far as expenditure was concerned; and that reason led the Secretary of State for War last night to object to there-appointment of the Committee proposed by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron), because even that limited inquiry would, in his opinion, have this effect. The Government thought great weight ought to attach to those opinions; and, therefore, with respect to the Army and Navy Expenditure they did not propose to move for the appointment of a Committee during the present Session. With regard to the Civil Expenditure, that was a different matter, and there seemed to the Government no reason why their pledge as to an inquiry into it should not be fulfilled during the Session. He had intended to move for a Committee last night; but, unfortunately, the House was counted out. He should, however, renew the Notice, and he hoped it would not be blocked; because he had received from many parts of the House intimations that it was desirable that their promise should be fulfilled in this respect during the present Session. He, therefore, gave Notice that either to-morrow or on Friday he should renew his Notice for the appointment of a Committee on Civil Expenditure.


wished to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, seeing that the Government had abandoned—and he thought wisely so—the idea of asking for a Committee of the House this Session on Army and Navy Expenditure, they would consider the expediency of appointing, not immediately, Committees consisting not of Members of the House, though perhaps with Members of the House upon them, but of experts capable of dealing with the very important questions involved in Army and Navy Expenditure, with specific instructions given to them, which should be printed and laid on the Table of the House, and with the understanding that their Report on the Expenditure of the several Departments of the Army and Navy should also be presented, with Minutes as to the course adopted by the several Departments upon those Reports. In asking this question he ventured to express the opinion that a Committee of that House, sitting but twice a-week, and only four hours on each occasion, consisting of hon. Gentlemen who had very little practical experience in the expenditure of the Army and Navy, occupying the attention and time of a number of officers of the several Departments affected, would not be so effective as a Committee of experts who would derive their information from independent sources, and would be better able to judge where greater economy could be obtained than was the case at present. He thought his suggestion, if adopted, would prove of great public advantage.


What I understand my right hon. Friend to propose is, that there should be appointed with respect to Army and Navy Expenditure, not a Royal Commission, not a Committee of this House, but something between the two—something like what is known as a Treasury Committee, but of a mixed character, containing partly Members of this House and partly other persons; and that the results of the inquiry of that Committee should be from time to time communicated to Parliament. That is a very peculiar suggestion, and one which the Government would have to consider with great care. More than that I will not say at present; but I will communicate the matter to those concerned.