§ (12.) 2,500 Men and Boys, Navy.
(13.) Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £308,400, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1886, to meet additional Expenditure for Navy Services.
Mr. Courtney, the Vote now before the Committee contains an item of £32,200 as a Supplementary Grant for Naval Dockyards at Home and Abroad. I propose the reduction of the Vote by this amount. Some weeks ago a statement appeared in one of the leading newspapers to the effect that another deficit, amounting to £200,000, 1286 had been discovered in the accounts of the Admiralty; and that statement was supplemented by another statement to the effect that it had hitherto been the practice of the Construction Department of the Admiralty to minimize the work done by contract, so as to insure a balance on the Contract Vote, with which balance they made up any deficiency that might arise in the Dockyard Vote. Now, the meaning of that statement, if it were true, would be that this House had been asked, year after year, to vote more money for work to be done by contract than was wanted for that purpose; that, systematically, less work than had been agreed to by the House was done by contract in private yards; that (he work was kept back in order that each year there might be a balance; and that that balance, instead of being handed into the Exchequer, had been appropriated to the purposes of another Vote altogether; that the Dockyards had been conducted is such a way that a much larger sum had been spent in them than was authorized by Parliament; and that the deficiency in them was made good by money which was saved off the Contract Vote. I asked my hon. Friend the late Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Eitchie) a Question in reference to the subject, and I ascertained from him that the statement as to the deficit of £200,000 was not quite correct. As a matter of fact, the hon. Gentleman had so pushed forward the contract work that £170,000 worth of work had been done more than had been estimated for and voted for by Parliament. I am not going to challenge the wisdom of pushing the work on. It would doubtless have been more regular had a closer estimate been made; but I am of opinion that it is much more profitable to the country to have its shipbuilding pushed forward rapidly. It is anything but an economic system to keep a ship on the stocks for six, seven, eight, or nine years, when it could be turned out in three years; therefore, I do not at all challenge that portion of the matter, and I do not intend in the least to find fault with my hon. Friend (Mr. Ritchie) for pushing forward the work by contract. But he went on to say, in reply to the second part of my Question, that for some years past the whole amounts inserted in the Estimates for contract work had not been so expended; but considerable 1287 sums had been utilized for the purchase of stores and for Dockyard wages. He added that in five years a sum of £300,000 voted by this House for work to be done by contract in private yards had not been used for that purpose, but paid to make good deficiencies in the accounts of the Dockyards. Now, that appears to me to be a very improper system. It was discovered, apparently, only accidentally. Had the permanent officials been allowed to keep back the work done on contract as usual, we should have had a similar excess in the Contract Vote forthcoming this year also to pay for the excess of expenditure in the Dockyards, and this sum now before the Committee would not have come under our cognizance. It is lucky that the energy of my hon. Friend (Mr. Ritchie) was the means of his discovering this irregularity. When we have this sort of thing occurring year after year—and it appears to have amounted to a system—I think we should take cognizance of the matter, and mark our disapprobation of the system by a reduction of the Vote. There can be no doubt we cannot have the smallest control over the expenditure so long as this kind of thing is allowed to go on. I do not mean to say that the transfer of this money from one Vote to the other has been illegal. I believe that the formal sanction of the House is asked every year; but it is asked at a time when no one knows anything about it. I am certain the statement of the hon. Gentleman the late Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Ritchie) must have been a revelation to most Members, even to old Members of the House; and I have no doubt that the discovery must have been a revelation to the hon. Gentleman himself when he made it. I move the reduction of the Vote by the sum of £32,200.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Item of £32,200, for Dockyards at Home and Abroad, he omitted from the proposed Vote."—(Dr. Cameron.)
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. HIBBERT)
I do not find fault with my hon. Friend (Dr. Cameron) for raising this question; at the same time, I think that he has made rather more of the complaint than he is justified in doing, considering that no excess is transferred from one Vote to another without the matter going through a very 1288 careful process of examination. In the first place, the Department cannot apply money which has been voted for contract work to any other work without the consent of the Treasury, and then the transfer has to be passed by the Public Accounts Committee, and placed in the Appropriation Account. Therefore, there are three different processes through which the matter has to go before it can receive public assent. At the same time, I quite agree with the principle my hon. Friend has enunciated—namely, that it is not a desirable thing, supposing it is done intentionally, that the Department should put down for any particular Vote a larger sum than they know will be employed, with the intention of using the surplus for other purposes. It is desirable that, with regard to every Vote, the fullest information should be obtained by the Department, and that the Estimate should be prepared is accordance with that information. Now, upon the particular point to which allusion has been made, and which has given rise to the application to the House for the payment of £32,000 upon the Contract Vote, I must say that I do not find fault either with the Admiralty Department for any mistake they have made to cause this excess—I do not find fault either with the late Liberal Government or with the late Conservative Government in respect of it, and for the very reason that I believe the whole cause of this increased demand for contract work is entirely owing to the depression in trade which exists in the country. There are very few of the shipbuilding yards to which these contracts have been given where there is much work going on except Government work; and I am informed that it has been necessary for the different contractors to push on our work more rapidly than they would have otherwise have done owing to the fact that they have no other work, or very little other work, in their yards. Well, I do not think we should find fault with the contractors for getting through the work as rapidly as they can; and I do not think that it is anything but in the interest of the nation that the ships which are being built should be completed as soon as possible. Of course, it is very unpleasant not to have calculated or taken a sufficient amount for what we require. Now, the facts are these. For the machinery of the various 1289 ships which were given out by contract —the large ships of the Scout class— there was estimated a sum of £72,000, and for the first-class torpedo boats it was reckoned that £55,000 would be spent. The expenditure has turned out to be—on the first class of boats £126,606, an excess of £54,606; and on the second class £64,000, an excess of £9,000, showing a total excess of £63,606. But there are surpluses upon the machinery contract for other ships which brings the deficiency down to a sum of £14,000. When we come to the hull of the ships we come to a very much larger question. We find that in building the hulls of five different ships—fivelarge ships—the contractors have earned during the year £176,625 more than it was estimated they would earn; and, therefore, we have been obliged to come to the Committee for an increased grant to make good the contractors' demands. Well, now, it may be said that when the tenders were accepted we might have calculated what the amount would be which would be earned in the year. I have taken a great deal of trouble to inquire into the matter; and, as far as I can gather, no accurate information as to the earnings upon the ships in course of construction was obtained at the Admiralty till the month of November in last year. When the amount earned was discovered the noble Lord (Lord George Hamilton), who was then the First Lord of the Admiralty, very properly approved of the payment of this excess, and decided that the progress of the ships, though this excess was being earned, was not to be impeded. I think it is quite right that no attempt should have been made to check the progress of the ships, if we consider first of all the desirability of having the ships completed as soon as possible, and, in the next place, the un-desirability of placing the contractors in the position of having to discharge a large number of their workmen. On these grounds, as I have said, I have no fault to find either with one Government or the other; but place the whole fault, if there is any fault at all, upon the unfortunate state of the trade of the country. Well, owing to the suddenness with which the information in regard to the earnings on these ships was sprung upon the Admiralty, I inquired as to what was the system which was adopted to ascertain the earnings on the ships 1290 which were to be built by contract; and I found that we have overseers in all the yards of the country; that it is the duty of these overseers to report, from time to time, to the Admiralty what amount of work has been done; and also that in the month of October it is usual for the Admiralty to send down an officer to inspect and report upon the amount of money which has been earned. Well, this year that was done, and the Admiralty received a Report from their officer, which showed that this large additional sum was due to the contractors. Now, what I have to say upon the system is that the Controller has very properly laid down a more stringent system of report with respect to the earnings on ships, a system which will enable him to know from month to month, more accurately than he has hitherto been able to do, the amount of money which is earned. But I do not think it ever will be possible to estimate closely the exact amount which the contractors will be able to earn during any particular year. You can only do it by making a contract subject to the condition that the contractor shall only do work in each year which amounts to a certain sum of money. If you make a contract for the ship to be completed not later than a certain date you must leave the contractor at liberty to work rapidly or slowly according to the state of business in his yard. I do not think that unless we have a very stringent contract —a contract very different to that we have been accustomed to make—we can with any certainty say what is the exact amount earned from one year to another. At the same time, if you put contractors under very stringent conditions the probability is that in the end you will have to pay more for the building of your vessels. The more liberty you grant your contractor as to the rapidity of the work, the cheaper you get the work done, and that is an object which the Admiralty and the nation should have in view. I have only one thing more to say. My hon. Friend (Dr. Cameron) was quite right in saying that for five years previous to the present there had been surpluses in the Contract Vote. I find that there was a surplus in 1880 of £86,000; in 1881 of £36,000; in 1882 of £81,000; in 1883 of £103,000; and in 1884–5 of £199,000. Therefore, I think the fact that there have been these surpluses in 1291 past years shows that the Department were quite justified in not estimating for a larger amount than they did. I should have thought my hon. Friend would have been pleased that the Department had not estimated for a larger amount, because it has been the means of bringing this matter under the notice of the Committee. I can only say, in conclusion, that this matter is one which entirely depends on the state of trade, and that I do not blame the Department, and I do not blame any person who has had anything to do with the building of the vessels.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
Mr. Courtney, I desire to offer a correction to the statement of my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Hibbert), in regard to the form in which Treasury sanction is given to the transfer of surpluses on some Votes to meet deficiencies on other Votes. I admit sanction to be officially required. I also allow that without Treasury sanction the Auditor and Comptroller General would refuse to pass accounts of the Army or Navy in which transfers have been made. I, however, say that the mode in which this sanction is given is delusive. In former Parliaments I endeavoured to expose these defects; but, having failed, I have of late years been silent. In now again urging my views, I do so in the hope that the present Parliament may contain financial reformers more numerous and more earnest than those found in former Parliaments. I therefore respectfully request the new Members to study the Reports of the Auditor General on the accounts of the Army and Navy. There they will find that not a year passes without transfers of large surpluses on some Votes being allowed by the Treasury to cover excesses on other Votes. This sanction was a check established 40 years ago, intended to enable the Treasury to enforce correctness in estimating. But in recent years it was neutralized by the War Office and Admiralty applying for transfers towards the end of the year. Indeed, at times the application is made after the close of the financial year. This facility of obtaining at the end of the year funds to cover the expenses incurred in previous months led to laxity in calculating at the beginning of the year. And thus the Treasury has been deprived of the power of enforcing ex- 1292 actness in the provision of stores and ships, by pointing out the incorrect estimating. Another objection to this delay in applying is the opening given for under-estimating the charge for some Votes, in the full expectation of covering deficiencies from over-estimating other Votes, which may be expected to be readily passed by the House of Commons. A tabulation for some years of such excesses and deficiencies might be usefully furnished to expose the bad practice. We have just heard of serious defects in the Naval Accounts, where the outlay on ships built by contract has largely fallen below the estimated amount, and that the surplus has been used in covering excesses on other Votes. This is a source of great danger, because the country has been deluded into the idea that the Naval Estimates provided more vessels than were paid for by the accounts. In alluding to this serious defect in the Naval Accounts, I wish to express approval of the useful reform initiated by the noble Lord the late First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord George Hamilton), and carried out by the late Secretary to the Admiralty, the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie); and if I venture to allude to a defect in the new system, I am confident the noble Lord will believe that I fully appreciate his good work. The defect I alluded to is not clearly defining the respective amounts of the outlay, or the respective liabilities in the current and coming official year. In carrying on the business of two great Departments of the Army and Navy, it is not only essential that the greatest possible freedom should be allowed the heads of branches, to issue orders for work or supplies of stores, but that the amounts to be expended should be clearly known. To this end, these heads should be required to specify as closely as possible the extent of the orders to be in force for and the sums to be expended in current and coming years, and thus enable the Accountant General to calculate the funds needed in the respective years. In this way the danger of having financial blunders, in the form of surpluses and excesses on Votes such as we so often hear of, would be in part guarded against, or at least lessened. This full freedom to heads of branches to open orders for expenditure ought, however, to be exercised with care. This can 1293 best be done by specifying clearly the data as to the amount of work or stores to be provided, and within what period, and the Accountant General can thereby estimate the liabilities of the year, and be able to bring to the notice of the First Lord and Parliamentary Secretary the sums falling due on certain dates in excess of the grants. The next reform I have always advocated at home and in India has been in requiring all surpluses of Votes to be relinquished, in the same way that surpluses on the total Vote are given up at the close of the financial year. And on any Vote requiring additional funds for meeting this necessity immediately it is discovered, a Supplemental Estimate should be prepared, and submitted for the sanction of the Treasury, with a statement of the dates on which the amount previously granted by Parliament had been expended. But, like all other official arrangements, success or failure will depend on the mode of carrying out these conditions. A close and functional scrutiny by the First Lord and Parliamentary Secretary over the monthly or weekly statements of financial results and Estimates of the Accountant General can alone secure correctness in accounting.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Hibbert) has explained so much with regard to this Vote that it is not necessary for me to supplement to any great extent what he has said. But the hon. Gentleman did not explain one point. There is a natural reluctance on the part of the House of Commons, which I assure hon. Members that I fully share, to assent to any large sum, either in the Original or in the Supplementary Estimates, which will lead to a permanent addition to the annual expenditure. Now, this sum of £200,000 which is under discussion, so far from being a permanent addition to, is an absolute reduction of, existing liabilities which will have to be met in a subsequent year, and which have not in any way during the current year been replaced by a sum of corresponding amount. What was done was simply this. Members of the late House of Commons will recollect that the Earl of Northbrook, on behalf of Mr. Gladstone's Government then in Office, undertook, in order to bring up the strength of the Navy to the requisite level, to spend in a period 1294 of five years the sum of £3,160,000 in the construction of ships put out to contract, and that he and his Colleagues made an Estimate of the sum which for five years would be incurred under contract. Well, Sir, their Estimates were carefully made at the time, no doubt but they had no accurate calculation of the cost of similar contracts which had been made before by the Admiralty. And in the first year, owing to the unusual depression of trade, there was £200,000 worth more of work done by the contractors than had been contemplated—in other words, they have reduced the liabilities which would have had to be met in another year by £200,000. Again, by this the contractors were enabled to keep a larger number of men employed during a time of pressure, while the Naval Service and the nation gets the benefit so much sooner of the ships in course of construction; and it should be remembered, in these days of rapid improvement, that this is a most important point, because a new ship, with all modern appliances, is in the early years of existence a most formidable fighting machine. I agree very much with the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron). He alluded to the fact that he had the result of three years' Estimates of the Admiralty to show that there had been a considerable surplus on the sum of money devoted to contract work, which surplus was devoted to meet deficiencies in Dockyards. I agree that if you wish anyone in the capacity of an official at the Admiralty or in the House of Commons to exercise proper control over the expenditure, the Estimates should be framed with the utmost care, and that no new Estimates should receive the sanction of the House or Committee until the consent of the Treasury is obtained to the transfer of the money from one Vote to another. But the excess in this year is easily accounted for. The Estimates were based on the assumption that the contractors would be able to earn in a given time all the money to which they were entitled. It was unusual for them to perform all the work which would entitle them to claim all the money. Now, however, for the first time, the circumstances are reversed, and the contractors are very consider-I ably in advance with the work. The I Admiralty had to consider the question 1295 whether they would sanction that excess, or insist on the contracts being more slowly executed, which would have involved the discharge of a certain number of men, and added to the number of unemployed men at the present moment; and, inasmuch as there was a call for ships to add to the strength of the Navy, we decided that the extra work should be done, having confidence that, when it was explained that the sum of £200,000 would be deducted from the liabilities of future years, the House of Commons would come to the conclusion that we were right in the judgment at which we had arrived. Well, Sir, the alterations made in the last few months will, I hope, insure more accurate Estimates in future. I do not say that they are perfect; but the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Hibbert), as is well known, is a man of business; and if any defects in the system were found by him there is no doubt that he will do his best to remedy them. The Inspectors of the Admiralty used to report every three months; but the Board under the late Government altered that arrangement, and required them to report every month; and if they think that the work done in any of the yards is in excess of that contained in the Estimates they are at once to report. I do not think a similar error is likely to occur again but I believe that the present Board of Admiralty will find that they under-estimated the cost of arming the ships, and the sums of money necessary to meet contracts already entered into. I think it only right that they should have a distinct warning of this, because, although I cannot tell what may be the ultimate sum Which the present Board of Admiralty may decide upon in presenting to the House the Estimates for the forthcoming year, I am certain that they will find large liabilities hanging over them which must be met sooner than they anticipate, and which will cause a temporary increase in the Naval Estimates for the next two or three years. But I do not think that increase will be permanent, and I trust it will be succeeded by some considerable reduction.
§ MR. RYLANDS
I am sure that the explanation given by my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Hibbert), and by the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex, is perfectly satisfactory. Allow me to remind the Com- 1296 mittee that in this case we have absolutely reversed the policy of former years. Government has before comedown to the House with the Naval Estimates, which provided for considerable expenditure for the purchase of vessels, and, instead of insisting upon those vessels being completed in the shortest possible space of time, have allowed the contracts to hang fire, so to speak. We have paid very large sums of money upon unfinished vessels which it has seemed to me are, until completed, useless to the country. I have from time to time urged upon successive Boards of Admiralty that the great and most essential point in dealing with moneys paid for construction of ships for the Navy should be, that we should construct our vessels in the Dockyards in a shorter time, and that in giving contracts we should bind down the contractors by heavy penalties with regard to the time of delivery; and rather than have delay I would give them a bonus for completion before the time. You had formerly several million pounds worth of property which in the event of war would be utterly useless. During the long periods in which the vessels are building, discoveries are made which render our arrangements obsolete; and so, after spending seven years perhaps in building, we find ourselves in possession of vessels which are not at all equal to the vessels purchased by foreign Governments, and built in a much shorter time than they can be by us. But I understand the matter of which the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) complains is that large sums of money have been used for purposes not contemplated by the Vote of Parliament. I think it an objectionable, although it is a legal arrangement, that these sums should be so diverted with the consent of the Treasury. But there was a greater mischief than that; and my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty knows as well as I do that when this sum of money was in hand at the close of the financial year the Admiralty anticipated claims from contractors. What for? Not in the interest of the public; but this money to the extent of, perhaps, £250,000 was paid to the contractors at an earlier period, because if that had not taken place before the end of the financial year, it would have had to be surrendered to the Exchequer. My hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty 1297 tells us very correctly, no doubt, the case of these vessels. The late Board of Admiralty found that the contractors were getting on more rapidly than was expected with work which it was considered would extend over several years; and it would have been simply an act of idiotcy to say to the contractors—"We will not allow you to get on with the vessels sooner than we contemplated." As I have said, it is better that in making contracts the Admiralty should bind the contractors to finish the work as speedily as possible; but even then, if the contractors are able to complete the ships sooner than the time fixed, they should be encouraged by a bonus to do so. If my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow goes to a division I shall be bound to support the Government.
§ SIR THOMAS BRASSEY
My hon. Friend seems to imply that in former years the Admiralty systematically over-estimated the amount of work to be executed under contract. I can assure my hon. Friend that the greatest disappointment was felt when the contractors failed to perform their duties as rapidly as was expected. In consequence of the enormous expansion of the shipping interest of the country, the contractors were formerly placed in great difficulties, both as to the supply of materials of shipbuilding and the supply of labour. Last year, owing to the condition of the shipbuilding industry, the conditions were entirely reversed, and we found ourselves necessitated to deal with the excess expenditure by means of a Supplementary Estimate. My hon. Friend will now, I think, admit that there was no intention to exaggerate the amount of work to be done by contract with a view to transfer portions of the money to the Dockyard expenditure.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
I think the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) has been entirely misunderstood. The hon. Gentleman (Sir Thomas Brassey) speaks as if my hon. Friend complained that a large portion of the money voted was paid over to outside contractors. That is not his complaint at all, and he did not propose to reduce that item in the Vote. It is the sum of £32,000 for the increased cost of Dockyards that my hon. Friend objects to; he complains that the increase is not exceptional, but that 1298 it has been going on for the last five or six years. Not only has the Admiralty every year over-estimated contracts; but they have, at the same time, under-estimated the expenditure on the Dockyard Establishments, and the money voted for building new ships under contract has been diverted to pay for the increased outlay on Dockyards. Now that cannot be done this year, because the contractors have executed a larger amount of work than has been expected, and the Vote for work done by contract has not been available for Dockyard work. That is the reason why the Board of Admiralty come to the House for this increased sum of £30,000. My hon. Friend objects to and challenges this permanent increase of charge for Dockyard expenditure. There is no challenge of the amount for payments to contractors for building vessels under contract; the amount objected to is, as I have said, £32,000, for a permanent increase of the Dockyard Establishments. I hope hon. Members will show their appreciation of the principles of economy by calling this Vote in question. The increase has been going on for years, and I think the Committee ought to show their opinion on the subject by going into the Lobby against it.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I think that the object of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) is thoroughly understood by the Committee. I imagine that the hon. Member, in moving his Amendment, was not seriously challenging this Vote, but that he wished to call attention to the practice which has been followed during many years of paying less money to contractors for contract work than was put down in the original Estimates. If the course proposed by the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) be adopted, and the Committee were to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow, it would practically amount to a censure on the Government for having decided to employ in the Dockyards of the country a number of men whom they found there when they came into Office. Looking at the importance of expediting the building of ships and of not throwing out of employment a large number of men during a time of great depression, I am satisfied that the Committee will consider that the late Board of Admiralty did right in follow- 1299 ing that course rather than keeping within the Estimates of the year. I am sure that all those who desire the efficiency of the Navy will be pleased to have heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) tonight. The hon. Member has been for many years one of the staunchest advocates of economy in this House; and, therefore, the fact that the hon. Member has risen to support the extra payment we have made to contractors during the current year must be a great inducement to the Government to maintain the present policy, that whether our ships are being built under contract or in the Dockyards of the country they should be completed as quickly as possible. It is evident that what the hon. Gentleman states is correct—namely, that the sooner necessary and desirable works are completed, and the sooner the money spent is brought into fruitful operation, the better it is for the country and the economy of the Public Service. I desire that there should be no misunderstanding with reference to the particular sum of £200,000, which has been spoken of by some hon. Members as a mistake, and by others as a sum required owing to a discovery made by the late Government that the money had been spent. But, Sir, it was neither the one nor the other. When the subject came to our notice the money had not been spent. It would have been in the power of the Board of Admiralty, if they had chosen, to take extreme measures, not to have spent the money. In the month of November it was known that if the work were to go on at the same rate as before, the liability at the end of the year would be in excess of the amount estimated; and, looking at the fact that it was not desirable to have the men discharged, and that it was necessary to have the ships built, we felt we should do what we believed the House would justify—namely, allow the shipbuilding to go on. With regard to the practice during the past two or three years, no doubt every year has shown that the whole amount voted had not been paid to contractors. In some years the amount has been extremely large; in others it has not been so large; but always considerable. Now, Sir, I admit that the fact of this occurring looks rather as if very little effort was made by Boards of Admiralty to see 1300 that contractors proceeded with due rapidity to execute the work they had in hand, and that they were not unwilling that they should be provided with a surplus on one Vote in order to meet a deficiency on another. I say that in a matter of finance that is an unsound principle—it is distinctly so. Of course, it cannot be contended that the prophecies at the beginning of the year as to the amount of money to be earned by the contractors should always he fulfilled; but it certainly has an awkward look when they are never fulfilled in one particular direction, and it would rather look as if contractors regarded the work of the Government as a sort of convenience, and that they felt they were justified in taking whatever work came to their hands, even though they retarded the work of the Government. Now, I am of opinion that this is a principle which ought not to be admitted. The work at the contractors' yards ought, in our opinion, to be inspected monthly; and not only do we think that the Admiralty Inspectors should report, month by month, to the Government that the contractors are proceeding with the work, but that the contractors themselves should be called upon to proceed with the work as rapidly as they ought; and I believe, by the arrangements made at the Admiralty by the late Government, that it will be in the power of future Boards to keep more within the Estimates than has hitherto been the case. In conclusion, I venture to express a hope that the policy of the present Government with regard to the Navy will be the policy of their Predecessors, the cardinal point of which was that all work necessary for the country, whether executed in public or private Dockyards, should be proceeded with as expeditiously as possible.
§ MR. LANE
On this Vote I wish to call the attention of the Committee for a few moments to another branch of the Dockyard question. At Question time this afternoon I asked the Secretary to the Admiralty for information with reference to a particular Dockyard in course of construction. In reply to my Question the hon. Gentleman stated that the Dockyard, which was comparatively small, had been in course of construction for 22 years; that upon it there had been expended already the sum of £490,000; and that the work was intended to be 1301 completed about the end of this year. The hon. Gentleman supplemented that information by stating that there were originally plans and estimates for the erection of workshops in connection with the Dockyard, but that it had been discovered that the plans required alteration, and that it was not the intention of the Admiralty to proceed with the construction of the workshops until the Dockyard was completed.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I must call the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that the item under discussion relates to work in Dockyards, and not to work in connection with them.
§ MR. LANE
I was under the impression that I might be out of Order in raising the question on the present Vote; and I asked an hon. Friend, more experienced in the House than I am, whether I should discuss it on Vote 11. If I shall be in Order in doing so on that Vote, I will postpone my observations until it comes forward.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Brunner.)
§ CAPTAIN VERNEY
I think the Committee is very much indebted to the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) for having recalled them to the real point of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron).
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
Mr. Courtney, I rise to Order. I understand that we are on a Motion to report Progress.
§ CAPTAIN VERNEY
I was about to point out that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House who represent and have represented the Admiralty have praised one another for their exceedingly good administration when they were in Office; and yet the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Hibbert) tells us that arrangements have now been made to prevent such slipshod management as has occurred taking place at the Admiralty in future. A large sum of money seems to have been wandering about, so to speak; no one seems to have been 1302 able to identify it, or to say where it came from or where it was going, and we are told that the Board of Admiralty were not aware that this large sum of money would come from a Supplementary Vote. I believe that the hon. Member for Glasgow, after the discussion that has taken place, would be perfectly satisfied if some assurance were given him, that the Admiralty Accounts would be so kept in future that a vagrant sum of £32,000 will not hereafter be found wandering about.
§ MR. BRUNNER
In moving to report Progress I only desire that the Prime Minister's undertaking with regard to the introduction of the Crofters Bill shall be fulfilled, or, if not fulfilled absolutely, then fulfilled as near as it can be.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. HIBBERT)
I hope that the hon. Member will not press his Motion for Progress. The introduction of the Crofters' Bill is a very important matter which we all want to hear; but I think in a very short time we shall be able to dispose of this Vote.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
If I had got any assurance that the state of things of which I complain will be remedied in the future I should not have pressed this Motion. But I have got nothing of the sort, although an attempt has been made to draw a red-herring across the path, and therefore I intend to take a division. My complaint is that for the last five years—and, in fact, every year—the contract work has been over-estimated systematically, and that the over-estimated money has been taken to meet increased Dockyard expenditure. That was a most vicious system, and it has been exposed simply by an accident. We are told that there are safeguards against it such as the appropriation on Public Accounts Committee and the audit. Well, Sir, for five years this most vicious system has been going on unchecked by any check, and I propose now to introduce another check in the form of a division in this House.
§ MR. JACKS
There is one cause for the deficit, which, as one connected with shipbuilding, I rather wonder has not been referred to; and this is the alterations which are made at the instigation 1303 of the Government officials after the work in the shipyard has been proceeded with. I would like an assurance that none of this deficit has arisen in this way. There should be some undertaking that such expense should be clearly stated, and not made up out of the over-estimate for contract work.
§ SIR DONALD CURRIE
In reference to the five years spoken of, I should like to point out that it is well known what difficulties contractors have had to deal with. It need not be a matter of surprise if estimated contract work was not delivered in those five years. Every shipowner knows the difficulties of that period. Why, I have had steamers nine months behind time in being delivered; and I consider that the pressing forward of contract work, and the speedy delivery of that work during the last year, is very largely to the credit of the Admiralty and of the shipbuilders. When we had doubts last year as to the efficiency of our Navy in the event of a naval war it was urged in that Admiralty that they should increase our Meet with as little delay as possible. The country is now in a much better position as a Naval Power; and I think the late Administration of the Admiralty deserves praise for what they have done. The present Administration also deserves the best thanks of this House for the energy they have displayed.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: — Ayes 67; Noes 246: Majority 179.—(Div. List, No. 11.)
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. HIBBERT)
There is nothing in the Vote before the Committee in respect to Haulbowline; but it is due to the hon. Member to say, in answer to what he has stated on the subject, that it is not the intention of the Government to lose sight of the workshops referred to. As soon as the works now in operation are completed plans will be prepared for the workshops, and the work will be carried out. Provision 1304 will probably be made for the work in the Estimates next year.
§ MR. LANE
I understand that it is not intended to erect these workshops just at the present moment, but that when the Dockyard itself is finished then they will commence to erect them. The question is of great importance to my constituents. There are a great number of shipwrights in Queenstown and there abouts, and who are in the greatest distress at the present moment.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
Allow me to point out to the hon. Member that although this Vote deals with Dockyards there is nothing in it with regard to Haulbowline; and, therefore, the observations he is making are not in Order.
§ MR. BRUNNER
I do not profess to be the Keeper of the Conscience of Her Majesty's Ministers; but I wish to remind the Committee of the undertaking of the Prime Minister, and I beg to move that we report Progress.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Brunner.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow;
§ Committee to sit again To-morrow.