HC Deb 01 March 1886 vol 302 cc1631-9

(3.) £100, Warlike Stores and Works.


The amount expended in the year 1883–4 in this Vote was £1,429,000. The Estimate for 1884–5 was £1,619,000, less £356,500 appropriation in aid, leaving a total of £1,262,500. Now, Sir, in that year a Supplementary Estimate was brought in just as a Supplementary Estimate is brought in now. The amount was £370,000; but the Estimate was very different from the present Estimate in point of form. Hon. Members may possibly remember that in the ordinary Estimate for the Works and Stores Vote there is a very large and detailed statement showing the specific appropriations of money, and that it has been customary, when large Supplementary Votes are asked for in connection with such services as these, to furnish to the House some detailed information corresponding with the detailed statement which is set forth in the ordinary Estimate. In the year 1884–5, when an Estimate like this was presented to the Committee, the sum was set forth in detail under as many as 13 different headings. In the present case there is absolutely nothing of the kind. We have lumped together under Vote 12 sums amounting to £190,000, and under Vote l3 sums amounting to£74,158, a total of £264,158. There is deducted more than £250,000, which is put down as appropriations in aid from Vote 12. I defy anybody to make out from this Paper what are the services in connection with which this very large expenditure of money is to take place. In the Estimates for last year we had the total sum of £258,600 put down for stores; but from that there was deducted the sum of £559,182 on account of what are called appropriations in aid. That smaller sum was principally made up in this way—Value of stores on repayment, £433,000; proceeds of sale of old stores and material, £115,000. As I say, in this Supplementary Estimate we have absolutely nothing to show in what particular Department of the public expenditure it is necessary to come to Parliament for further money. As a matter of fact, when the War Office wants a sum of over £250,000, they are able so to juggle their figures that they appear to come to the House for the sum of £100, while in reality they want £264,000 over and above that for which it is not necessary they should submit any distinct Vote at all. The reason of this is that as the Army Estimates are now presented and prepared there is given to this large spending Department, the War Office, power to raise funds on its own account by getting rid of public stores. The stores which they got rid of, or intended to get rid of, during the financial year we set down at £115,000. Now, the getting rid of old stores to the tune of £115,000 in one year is a very considerable transfer of property, probably to the loss of the public. But instead of limiting themselves to that very liberal allowance, the War Office, for reasons which it does not set forth in this Supplementary Estimate, take a further sum of £264,000. I think the Committee will agree with mo that it is necessary the Government should, in the first instance, give some explanation of the reason why they have thought fit to draw up this particular Supplementary Estimate in the very obscure form in which it is brought up, without the least indication of the particular direction in which this extra money is to be spent in connection with stores; and, in the second place, that they should explain to the Committee how it is that they are able to raise so very large a sum as upwards of £250,000 to appropriate in aid of this Vote, especially when they have already taken a third of a million, as shown in the original Estimate. They have got now £359,000 to appropriate; and if to that you add £204,000, you get the enormous sum of £623,000 on this one Army Vote, which the Government are able to procure apparently by getting rid of stores. It is the old battle that was fought over and over again, not only in this Committee, but in the Public Accounts Committee, and by many of the best financiers connected with the House, when they insisted that there should be something like a check placed on the War Office in respect to its stores. Now, Sir, I know that under this Vote it may be said that the Navy has drawn a great deal more stores, more armaments, from the Military Service than is usual; but whether the Navy has drawn much or little, what I contend for is that the Estimate submitted to the Committee ought to show how much the Navy does so draw. And on this point I beg to remind the Committee that the Comptroller and Auditor General, in his Report on this very Vote last year, pointed out that the Appropriation Account did not afford information relative to the stores supplied to the Navy in that financial year which was desired by the Public Accounts Committee in 1880, and referred to again in the 56th paragaph of the Report of that Committee in 1884. Then, Sir, the Public Accounts Committee themselves reported in reference to this Vote— They are strongly impressed with the advantage of an audit independent of and outside of the Department, however careful and exact the Departmental audit may be. They consider that, in the public interest, more evidence should be afforded that the quantities and value of the Army and Nary stores are amply maintained from year to year, and that for this purpose a complete stock-taking should be undertaken. Now, no such thing as a proper stocktaking has been undertaken by the War Office, and the consequence is that they are able to get rid of Army stores to a very large extent, as may be seen by reference to these appropriations in aid of the Store Vote year after year. Before the Committee accedes to the present demand, I ask the Government to explain, first of all, what are the extra expenses in connection with the Stores Vote—Vote 12—which we now have before us, and what are the sources from whence they have drawn this extra sum of £264,000, described as an appropriation in aid.


the hon. Gentleman has anticipated by his rising the explanation of this Vote which I had intended to make. I can easily understand that, without explanation, the Vote may be somewhat misleading. There is nothing in it, however, connected with the sale of old stores, or with the Navy. The fact is this, that a larger amount of repayment services than were calculated upon have arisen in the course of the year. Demands have been made by India and the Colonies for supplies of stores to an extent greater than was anticipated last spring. The Committee will easily see it is difficult to anticipate exactly how large such demands may be. In this year they have greatly exceeded both the repayments from the Colonies, and also the demands made by them, for the manufacture of stores has exceeded the calculations formed. The result has been that the Manufacturing Department has been put to the expense of £190,000, shown in the first column, for the production of stores demanded on repayment by India and the Colonies. On the other hand, we have received larger appropriations in aid of that expenditure. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken knows very well that we are allowed to take to the credit of a Vote any receipts which we expect to receive during the year. It is really only in order to bring the matter within the knowledge of the House of Commons that we have brought this Vote forward; and the only way in which we can do so is by asking for this small Vote of £100. The nature of these services is explained on the other side of the page in the Estimates. The hon. Member complains that the Vote does not explain itself; but I would call his attention to the note at the end, which thoroughly ox-plains the matter. I need hardly say that the present Government is not responsible for the Vote; but I believe it to be perfectly regular.


said, that he was one of the earliest proposers of crediting Votes of money to be expended with the receipts derived from the respective Votes. He might be justified in saying that he had been in communication with the Treasury, and he had received a distinct assurance that the greatest caution would be exercised in preventing abuses in the manner of using these receipts; but, in this case now before the Committee, the very abuse which he feared was perpetrated. Here they had two Votes lumped up, and the receipts from one made to apply to both. It was obvious, however, that instead of £100 being asked for in this Vote, the real amount demanded was £74,000, and the whole sum needed to meet the expenditure on Vote 13 and the sum for Vote 12. He wished to protest against this mode of voting the Supplies of the country, and he earnestly hoped the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. A. O'Connor) would press his objection to a division.


I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) has given us a fair indication of the nature of the Vote before us. I quite understand that £195,000 was estimated for stores that might have been required for India and the Colonies, and that £264,000 is in excess of what my right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State for War (Mr. W. H. Smith) expected to receive. I am, therefore, quite satisfied with the explanation; but the question which I wish particularly to raise to-night is a question which more intimately affects the late Secretary of State, or his Predecessor (the Marquess of Hartington), and relates to the purchase of the Small Arms Factory at Sparkbrook, near Birmingham, which I believe the late Secretary of State made, and I believe he made an exceptionally good bargain for the country; for I understand the original cost of the factory was £175,519, and the right hon. Gentleman purchased it for £50,000. But, having bought these premises, I should like to know what use is the Government going to make of them? We want to know whether they are going to make a central arsenal of them? I believe that Sparkbrook is within about two miles of Birmingham, and is situated upon a canal, so that it would be a very good place for a central arsenal. I believe that all our small arms could be made there, if they will remove the Enfield Factory to Sparkbrook. I think that about 20 to 30 per cent might be saved in the manufacture of small arms if the Enfield Factory were removed to Sparkbrook. I have always been one of those who have contended that there ought to be a central arsenal as well as a central place for the manufacture of small arms; and I think this is a convenient opportunity for establishing one. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what is to be done in the matter. I believe my right hon. Friend made a good bargain, however, under any circumstances; for if the factory came to be re-sold, it would fetch a great deal more than has been paid for it. I am also told that there is another good site in the same neighbourhood—Holford—which originallycost£130,000, but which could be purchased at the present time for £30,000; that it is situated by the side of a river, and that it would be a magnificent place for storing powder or other materials, and has a range of 1,000 yards. It may be well for the present Government to consider whether they could not with advantage secure this other site. I merely call attention to this matter, however, because I should like to know, when we have purchased these places, what are they going to be applied to?


In answer to the appeal which has been made to me by my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), I have to say that the credit for the purchase at Sparkbrook was not due to me or to the Government of which I was a Member. The Sparkbrook Factory was purchased by the noble Marquess, my Predecessor in Office (the Marquess of Hartington), and all the matters included in this Vote were authorized by him. I understood from my noble Friend that it was a wise expenditure, that it was properly incurred, and that it would be a very good expenditure for the Public Service; but I am not entitled to any credit in the matter whatever. With regard to the other property which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has mentioned, I was advised that it was not necessary in the public interest that it should be acquired, and, therefore, when it was suggested to me, I declined to entertain the question. It will be seen that of this sum of £74,000 a very small sum indeed was authorized by the late Government, and that was necessary, as the Committee would see at once, owing to the exigencies of the Public Service. I should like to say, in reference to what fell from the hon. and gallant Member for Kincardineshire, (Sir George Balfour), that the system under which this Vote was now asked for was bad; it was necessary that the House should be brought to know thoroughly the expenditure which had taken place. It may seem absurd to ask for a Vote of £100 on account of an expenditure which amounts, perhaps, to £250,000; but the object of it is to show the House what the Government have been obliged to spend inevitably when the House was not sitting, and when they had to act upon their own responsibility. I think my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir George Balfour) was exceedingly anxious to be informed that under this system the House is put in full possession of all that the Government is doing. Well, all I can say is this, that every farthing that the Committee is asked to spend in this Vote has been unavoidably laid out, and I am perfectly willing and ready to justify every 1d. that I am responsible for.


In reference to what has fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), I should like to explain how the purchase of the Sparkbrook Factory came about. The Government had some premises in Bagot Street, Birmingham, which were used for the repair of arms belonging to all the Services. Those premises were a great deal too circumscribed for the work, and as there was a favourable opportunity of disposing of them they wore sold, and the Sparkbrook Factory being for sale, the matter was laid before the late Secretary of State for War, and he approved of its purchase. I believe that the purchase was a good one for the country; but it was made on no understanding that it was to be turned into a central arsenal. It was not made for the purpose of extending the number of the Government Factories, but merely for carrying out the work of repairing arms which had been done at the Bagot Street premises.


I think it is a very excellent idea, indeed, that the Government should improve their works by sending these small arms for repair to Birmingham. They have a great number of skilled artizans there; and, as far as I know, there is no place where they can supply better arms, or supply them more expeditiously, than in Birmingham. I think it would be a very good thing if the Government can get the small arms made at Birmingham; and I hope they will be able to adopt the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) in regard to extending their factories in Birmingham.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. H. Smith) would see that in this case of supplemental expenditure several Votes were lumped together—Votes 12 and 13—as if both needed to be increased, whereas only one of the Votes—No. 13—needed the grant, while it was clear that the appropriation of receipts solely belonged to Vote 12, and should not be applied to Vote 13. Unless they adhered to the principle that the money should be appropriated to those Votes for which they were asked, they would get into great confusion, and they would be establishing a very bad precedent.


I do not wish to prolong the discussion; but I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend will see that it was necessary that the Committee should be made acquainted with the demands made upon the Exchequer which have not been sanctioned by Parliament, but which have been sanctioned by the Treasury. My hon. and gallant Friend will see that when it becomes a question of account, the Auditor General will mate the matter perfectly clear, so that the amounts dealt with will be shown in each case.

Vote agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.

Committee to sit again upon Wednesday.