HC Deb 07 March 1887 vol 311 cc1519-31

(8.) £1,000, Adelaide Exhibition.


I find that no provision is being made for two other exhibitions. I have been informed this sum is charged in consequence of a similar Vote having been given eight years ago to Melbourne; but, on the other hand, we find that debt has been cancelled by the people of New South Wales voting large sums in support of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition and others held in London. Unless a similar large Vote is given for the great Centenary Exhibition to be held in Australia for Sydney and Melbourne it will cause great annoyance, and I would like to have an assurance that it will be treated similarly.


The time to consider the question whether a further grant should be made to Sydney and Melbourne will be when the Exhibi- tion to which my hon. Friend refers takes place. I may remind him that Government, on a former occasion, made a grant of £10,000 to Sydney and Melbourne, £2,000 of which was spent at Sydney, and £8,000 being spent at Melbourne. In regard to the Exhibition about to be held at Adelaide, the Royal Commission connected with it made an application to the Government which was backed very strongly by the Colonial Office. The Government agreed to make a grant of £2,600, and subsequently a further grant of £1,000 was made for the special purpose of having exhibited there a collection of pictures by English artists. I understand that Sir Frederick Leighton, who is the President of the Department Commission, is engaged in getting together a most excellent collection, the property of the artists, and that they are to be insured by them. We shall have no risk or further responsibility, and the Government, therefore, felt that, having on a former occasion given £10,000 to Sydney and Melbourne, they could hardly on this occasion refuse to give something. I hope the hon. Member will be satisfied with this explanation.

MR. O'HEA (Donegal, W.)

I do not think we should be asked to Vote money for such purposes as this. Other Exhibitions have taken place in various parts of Her Majesty's Dominions, and I am not aware this House was asked to Vote sums of money in consequence. There is no doubt the Vote is put rather speciously, and the money will ultimately go towards the funds of the Exhibition. Now, Mr. Courtney, in the City of Cork, three years ago, there was an Exhibition, in which the hon. Member for the Borough of Cambridge took an active part; but we in the City of Cork put our hands in our pockets and paid our own money, and thus raised the necessary funds for making that Exhibition a very great success. We did not send the begging-bag as far as Westminster, but the people of the South of Ireland gave all the expense; and yet we are asked to contribute our quota in connection with this Adelaide Exhibition. In a country in which gold is one of the chief products they ought to be able to pay all the expense of the Exhibition themselves. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury referred to works of Art. Well, Sir, I do not think any person would show any disposition against giving works of Art the greatest prominence; but the artists themselves, and the purchasers, may very well go to the expense of having their products exhibited either at Adelaide, Toronto, or anywhere else where works of Art are part of the show. I think this Vote unnecessary, and I must protest against undue favouritism being shown to one place as against another. So far as the City of Cork and the City of Dublin are concerned, no grant is ever made for the purpose of enabling the citizens to get up an Exhibition.

DR. TANNER (Cork, Mid)

It is not my intention to speak at any great length in connection, with this Vote. The subject, Sir, is one which does not admit of any great amount of debate; but I must thoroughly endorse the remarks which have just fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Donegal West (Mr. O'Hea). We have held Exhibitions in Ireland within the past few years, and no Vote has been passed by this House to try and assist our Exhibitions, although it is the fact that in our country manufacturers are scarce, and we require every stimulus that could possibly be given to us. In Ireland we certainly do require as much power as this House is in a position to bestow upon us in order to force Irish affairs on. Now, as to Australia, there is no reason for me to speak of the forwardness of Australia. Its motto, "Advance, Australia!" has been its leading characteristic, and it is to the fore. It is one of the most noble Colonies which any nation in the world ever possessed, and, for that reason, I should be the very last person in the world to say anything against it, or which could militate against this Vote; but what I would recommend is this, that when right hon. Gentlemen are able to put a Vote like this upon the Paper, and when they are able to promenade from one end of the country to the other talking about what they do for Ireland, they should not, when they have the power, turn their backs upon Ireland and kick her out of Court if they possibly can. That I tell them in their teeth. Well, Sir, if they do this for one country—a country that has got Home Rule, why do they not do it for Ireland? When an Irish Exhibition is brought forward—when the Cork Exhibition came on the tapis, or when the Dublin Exhibition was to the fore—right hon. Gentlemen studiously neglected such undertakings, and instead of putting down in the ordinary Estimates a few thousands of pounds for them, they passed our country by. Therefore, I say in connection with this Vote that—though I do not stand up to oppose the Vote—I do stand up to oppose the hypocrisy of these right hon. Gentlemen. They come here from time to time, and they call for Votes in connection with our country in order to supply us with extra police—


Order, order!


And with extra law and order so far as they can manage it; but they do not give us the remedial measures which are absolutely necessary for the benefit and welfare of our land.


Order, order!


I am not going to say a word more, Mr. Courtney, upon that point. I should be the last person to trespass upon your invariable courtesy and kindness to me. Sir, I speak the truth. I will say this much, that what I have remarked about right hon. Gentlemen is noted and known in Ireland, and some of these days it will have to be accounted for very dearly.


Just one word, Mr. Courtney, by way of explanation. I wish to inform the Com mittee that the Australian people have spent £100,000 on English Exhibitions during the last few years, and, therefore, this small sum ought not to be felt or grudged.

Dr. CLARK (Caithness)

You have spent over £30,000 in aid of the Colonies for which you are getting no return. What you have done to-night has added £1,500, whichmakestheamount £31,516, and this will now be £32,500 under this Vote for the Colonies altogether. Sir, on behalf of the British taxpayer, I strongly object to all this; and I hope and trust that the economic section in this House will aid us in trying to prevent the rich Colonist from putting his hands into the pockets of the poor Mother Country, and taking away so much money from her.

Vote agreed to.

(9.) £9,306, "Telegrafo" Claims.

MR. ARTHUR O'CONNORsaid (Donegal, E.)

I am afraid that hardly anyone would be prepared to believe in the really extraordinary character of this Vote. It is taken in connection with the ship Telegrafo, which was arrested in the year 1870 by the British Authorities at the instance of the Government of San Domingo. Anyone would imagine that by a careful reference to the Library of this House you would be able to ascertain something of the character of the proceedings, and of the history of our dealings with the Government of San Domingo in connection with this subject; but I am bound to say, that though I impressed into my service the assistance of the gentlemen in charge of the Library, we have been absolutely unable to discover in the Library any Parliamentary Paper or any Correspond ence or any document whatsoever to throw any light upon this matter. At last, I felt almost ashamed to trespass upon the time and services of these gentlemen, and it was only when I began to institute a search for myself, which I carried on with great trouble, that, after going through no less than 37 volumes, I did come upon some trace of the matter. I found that the earliest reference to anything which appears to relate to it is in the Civil Service Contingencies Fund account for the year ended March 31st, 1872. That is a document which very few hon. Members would be able to trace out or even to suspect. From that it appeared that, among the then outstanding advances on the Paper, a sum of £1,664 was due to Her Majesty's Government. In the cor responding account for 1873 the first entry appears of a sum of £12,000 as the amount of further expenses incurred by the detention of the vessel Telegrafo at Tortola. The expenses are charged against the Government, and a claim for repayment is made against the Govern ment of San Domingo, so that in 1873, taking the balance from the previous year's account, there was £13,900 still outstanding. From some Notes and Correspondence annexed to the Controller and Auditor General's Report it would appear that £1,864 had been paid before March, 1872. In June of that year £11,750 was paid, and in July a further sum of £299, and under the date of February 23rd, 1874, communications were still going on between Her Majesty's Government and the Governor with the view of obtaining the repayment of the claim, if possible In the financial year 1873–4 the matter was untouched; but in April, 1874, a further advance was made of £378 3s. 11d., making a total sum of £14,291; and at that time an offer was made to the Domingan Government with the view of settling the question; but it came to nothing, as that Government was not in a position to make any payment of any kind. In the years 1874, 1875, and 1876 matters remained in the same position, though Her Majesty's Government, through the Foreign Office, instructed the Minister to call attention to the claim, which was not abandoned. In 1877 the Treasury decided to accept, in full settlement of the claim, the following obligations from the Domingan Government:—One of 12,500 dollars, payable on the 27th June, 1877; another of 6,250 dollars, payable six months later; and a third of 6,250 dollars, payable a year after the second. In 1881 the Controller and Auditor General noted that the amount realized would be added to the Civil Service Contingencies Fund, and an Estimate was made to Parliament for the sum required to make good the balance. From the beginning to the end very nearly eight years had elapsed, and the Government had never brought the mat ter to the knowledge of this House. These bills were held by the British Minister at Hayti; but when the first of them was presented, in the month of June, 1877, it was dishonoured. After that Her Majesty's Treasury seem to have become alive to the fact that their position was not regular—at any rate, rather anomalous and somewhat absurd. On the 27th January, 1879, the Commissioners of the Treasury at last revealed the whole circumstances connected with the affair, and in a letter to the Controller and Auditor General they pointed out that during the insurrection in San Domingo in 1869 the Telegrafo, then belonging to San Domingo, was impressed by the Revolutionary Government for hostile purposes, and was afterwards sold at Tortola to a Mr. Mac-Reverdyfor 10,025 dollars. In January, 1870, she was arrested by the Colonial Authorities of the Virgin Islands, at the instance of the Government of San Domingo, and prosecuted in the Vice Admiralty Court at Tortola as a pirate vessel, under instructions from the Colonial Office, founded upon advice given by the Law Officers of the Crown to the Foreign Office. The Court decreed restitution; but gave no costs or damages. The Crown appealed from that verdict to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, though the proceeding was a purely vexatious one, and, in point of fact, it was an attempt to break Mr. MacReverdy, by causing him enormous expenses. In 1871 the Judicial Committee gave judgment that the sentence of the Vice Admiralty Court must be affirmed; and they further directed that Mr. MacReverdy should have the costs of his appeal, but not of his adherence to it—though why that distinction was made I do not know—and there were to be no damages. In the meantime, Mr. MacReverdy brought an action against the officials of the Virgin Islands for demurrage on his vessel, amounting to £30,000. The trial came off in the Civil Court at Tortola in October, 1871; but although the Law Officers of the Crown were of opinion that the judgment was a bar to obtaining damages, that was not set forth, and the jury gave damages to the amount of £18,000, although the original cost of the vessel was only 10,000 dollars. The Colonial Government moved for a new trial; but the Chief Justice, before whom the matter came, repeatedly expressed his opinion that the plaintiff was entitled to substantial damages, and counsel agreed to a compromise, under which Mr. MacReverdy was to receive £11,500 damages and £250 costs. Now, the San Domingan Government had, in July, 1869, undertaken that the British Government should be held harmless for the arrest of the vessel; so a claim was made for that sum and expenses, which raised the amount to £14,259. As to the bills which were ultimately given by the San Domingan Government; on the pre sentation of the bill which fell due on the 27th of June, 1877, Her Majesty's Eepresentative at Port-au-Prince was informed that the Government were unable to meet their engagements, and that the President owed 200,000 dollars to the Domingan Government. In reporting these circumstances, Mr. Stewart observed that the Customs Duties for the City of San Domingo alone amounted, for the first six months of 1877, to 45,000 dollars; but all salaries were in arrear, and he appeared to be of opinion that the President had carried 70,000 dollars out of the country, and suspended all payments, in order to obtain enough to buy an estate when ever the inhabitants refused to obey his rule any longer. Other payments were also dishonoured; and Her Majesty's Government were then informed that the late President having left the Treasury empty, the present Government of San Domingo had no means of meeting the claim; but they proposed to set apart one-tenth of the import duties as a reserve fund, out of which to pay the amount which Her Majesty's Government had agreed to accept, and the Treasury there fore inquired what steps the Secretary for Foreign Affairs would take. Lord Salisbury, who was then Foreign Minister, said it was not possible to judge then what was the probability of recovering from the San Domingan Government the sum awarded, or whether any measures were to be taken to enforce pay ment. The Lords of the Treasury de clared that they had little hope that the Government of San Domingo would experience any anxiety to discharge its obligations; but they were unwilling to ask Parliament to vote the money until the Secretary of State informed them that, in his opinion, the Domingan Government would not pay, and that he was not prepared to enforce payment. In the last paragraph of their letter, which I confess I do not understand, the Lords of the Treasury declared that the Imperial Government had itself been guilty of no laches in harbouring a piratical vessel or otherwise; but, un fortunately, it endeavoured to oblige a friendly Government without demanding a deposit to cover expenses. Excessive damages were given, which the Imperial Government did not feel able to resist—and the result was a loss of £14,000 to the Imperial Exchequer, which was likely to prove a bad debt. So that, eight years ago, the Treasury were well aware that there was no pros-spect of recovering the money. Under these circumstances, the House ought not to have been kept so long in ignorance of the state of affairs. If this is a kind of thing which can be allowed to go on, hidden away in documents little known, and to which few people have access, we shall find some fine day that the Government have embarked intransactions of a very extensive character, in regard to which the House is altogether without information. The next thing ' we find is, not any payment on account from the Government of San Domingo, but a further sum of £9 12s. 0d., notary's charges for protesting the dishonoured bills of the Government. In March, 1880, the Treasurer informed the Controller and Auditor General that the Domingan Government had proposed to pay all foreign claims, including the liability of £14,300, by means of an extra tax of 2 per cent upon imports. The Lords of the Treasury consented to that arrangement; but the Government which proposed it since fell, and upon its fall disposed of the amount collected upon that extra tax. The whole of the story is one long series of absurdities on the part of Her Majesty's Government in trusting what they must have known were parties utterly unable to meet the obligations which they had undertaken. Since then a proposal has been made by the Controller and Auditor General, and supported by the Secretary of State, that upon some security, the proceeds of the suggested tax should be placed in the hands of certain merchants, to be by them distributed to the persons entitled, and the Lords of the Treasury agreed to that; so that it comes to this, that be tween such high contracting parties as the Government of San Domingo and Her Majesty's Government there were intermediaries—private persons—upon whom they had no check whatever, who were not to be responsible, with whom they make bargains on percentages to collect bad debts. If that is proper or becoming, we have got into days when nations are very different from what they were. In 1880, the patience of the Government was rewarded by obtaining a sum of £891 5s. 0d., and so it went on in a hand-to-mouth fashion, small sums being repaid, and the payments were varied occasionally by additional liabilities for notarial fees on dishonoured bills. The end of the whole story is that we now have a charge of £9,000 on the taxpayer which ought not to appear now, for it should have been paid off years and years ago as soon as it was found that the Domingan Government could not possibly meet its obligations. You have had this carrying on of a fic titious balance to the Civil Service Contingencies Fund, which you must have known you would have in the end to wipe off. I do not think it reflects very much credit upon any of the long series of Official Secretaries or Treasury Officials, who are responsible for it. I should like very much to ask, not only in regard to this Yote, but in regard to a previous Vote of Compensation due to certain American vessels seized in 1854 on suspicion of being slavers, whether there are still upon the Treasury account books any outstanding claims of this kind which will have to be written off sooner or later, as due to injured parties, or balances looked upon as quite irrecover able?


I feel exceedingly obliged to the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. A. O'Connor) for having stated so clearly and so conclusively the whole of the facts of this case. I think, however, that he stated that the vessel waa arrested at the instance of the Colonial Government. Now, according to my information, it was arrested at the instance of the Government of San Domingo, but in reference to the other portion of his statement, the hon. Gentleman has stated with complete accuracy the full history of the case; and the only point I disagree with is his conclusion, that it would have been better if we had wiped the claim off years ago. If that had been done, we should not have got the £5,000 which we have received. Really it comes to this, that in 1872 the Government for whom we had acted, and who were responsible, avowed their responsibility and their intention to pay. In 1874 negotiations were carried on, and at that time the British Government thought so badly of their claim of £14,000, that they agreed to accept in full discharge a sum of £2,500. That £2,500 was not raised in consequence of financial em barrassments; and subsequently, in 1876, it was agreed between the two Governments to accept a sum of £5,000 in full discharge. That ought to have been paid in 1877–8, but it was not paid in consequenceof finaneialembarrassments. In 1880, however, they commenced to pay, and in 1886 they completed the last payment, making up the £5,000; and, immediately on the completion of that, the question was brought forward to wipe off the balance so far as the Trea sury were concerned. They have now brought this to a satisfactory issue, and I do not think I need detain the Committee any further on the sub-ject.


The words I used were not my words, but the words of the Treasury, under date January 3, 1879, and they are signed, "R. R. Lingen." They state that the Telegrafo was arrested at the instance of the Government at San Domingo. I read out these words, and the letter goes on to say that— She wag prosecuted in the Vice Admiralty Court at Tortola as a pirate vessel, under instructions from the Colonial Office, founded upon advice given by the law officers of the Crown to the Foreign Office. My complaint is that when in 1877 the Government agreed that on payment of the £5,000 they would forego their claim or reduce it to that £5,000, it was their duty to let this House know it, then and there, and apply to Parliament for the necessary balance.

Vote agreed to.

(10.) £147, Treasury Chest Robbery.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I should like to ask the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) for some explanation respecting this Vote. Why should the Imperial Government pay for losses oc casioned by a breach of duty on the part of the officials of the Indian Government? Our charges in regard to India are so many that I am certainly astonished that the Imperial Government should ask us to pay any fresh Indian charge. I must admit that if I could pay money cheerfully for any of our Dependencies it would be for India, but I should like to know what is the reason why India should not pay this sum herself?


I think that when the hon. Member knows the facts he will see that this is not a charge which ought to be borne by the Indian Government. The occurrence took place at Trincomalee, in Ceylon, and the circumstances are these. An official went down to the strong room and brought up 2,000 rupees, with which to pay some accounts. The men to whom the money was due did not call for it on that particular day. The officer therefore locked the money up in a safe of which he supposed he had the only key. It was discovered the next day that the safe had been opened, and the money was gone. An investigation took place, the result being to show that during the term of office of the officer's predecessor there was a duplicate key to the safe. That duplicate key was lost on the death of the predecessor. Put shortly, therefore, the explanation amounts to this, that somebody had the duplicate key, opened the safe with it, and stole the money. The Government feel that the officer who put the money in the safe was not to blame, and they, there fore, ask the Committee to agree to the Vote.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

Mr. Courtney, this is a very small item, and the whole affair appears to me to be very simple. But with regard to the duplicate key, it appears to have been brought into existence during the term of office of a predecessor of the present holder of the post. Surely if the money was stolen through that predecessor's want of capacity, or through any negligence on his part in allowing the duplicate key to pass out of his possession, the loss ought to be made good—


I think the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied if I tell him that the officer to whom he refers is dead.


I can assure you, Mr. Courtney, I was not acquainted with the poor gentleman. I am sorry he is dead. At any rate, even granting that point, I would ask what would happen if a sum of money were stolen in the same way from the Treasury chest in Ireland. In this case the event occurred, as I understand, in Ceylon. But suppose it had occurred in any other portion of Her Majesty's Dominions—say in Ireland—what would be the result? Why, the local rates would have to make good the loss. It appears that there has been a certain laxity in connection with the management of these affairs. [Ministerial laughter.] I am delighted that Gentlemen opposite take so much interest in this case as to laugh at it. I would, however, re mind them that it is no laughing matter for the taxpayers of the country. It appears, I say, that there has been a certain amount of laxity in connection with the proceedings which led to this robbery, and I should say that, instead of asking this Committee to pass this Vote, the Government ought to have levied it upon the district in which the robbery took place. I would, without any hesitation, recommend the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury to refer this matter to the local authorities, and ask them to pay the money.

Vote agreed to.


I beg, Mr. Courtney, to move that you do report Progress.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Edmund Robertson).

THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

I hopo the hon. Member will be so good as to allow the next Vote to be taken. I think I may say that there was an understanding on both sides of the House that it should be disposed of to-night. The understanding has been most fairly carried out by hon. Gentlemen hitherto, and I am exceedingly obliged to them for it. I am sure the Committee will see that it will be for the convenience of the Public Service if the understanding is carried out in its entirety.

MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

I have a suggestion to make as to the Post Office Vote. The Vote is almost always taken at a very late hour, when no proper discussion can take place. I would venture to suggest that the Vote should be taken first in the coming year, so that it can be fairly discussed. If such an arrangement can be made, I think it will be possible to take that Vote to-night.


I think the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman is a reasonable one, and I will endeavour, as far as I can, to carry it out.

MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)

Mr. Courtney, I wish to put a question to you on a point of Order. I am desirous to know whether any hon. or right hon. Gentleman in this House is entitled to ask in an audible voice, "Who is the animal?" referring to another hon. Member?


Does the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Robertson) press his Motion to report Progress.


No, Sir.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.