HC Deb 12 November 1888 vol 330 cc913-41

(1.) £5,000, to complete the sum for the Mercantile Marine Fund (Grant in Aid).

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

said, he wished to call the attention of the Committee to this very unsatisfactory grant, and to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) the desirability of placing the Mercantile Marine Fund altogether under the Board of Trade. This was one of the cases in which a deficiency had been going on increasing for years; it was a Department that was not under the Treasury, nor was it under the control of the Board of Trade. In looking over the accounts he found that the fees from surveys produced in 1885–6 £55,000, while the receipts front surveys were only £33,000. The surveys consequently cost £30,000 more than the fees brought in. In 1886–7 the survey fees amounted to £24,000, while the cost of maintaining was £57,000. He thought the proper thing to do in a case of this kind was that when public work was being done by a Government Department, such fees should be charged as would defray all the expenses without necessitating an appeal to Parliament for a Vote of this nature owing to the expenses having largely exceeded the fees. The Vote itself did not show the total expenditure, although he saw that a deficiency, which amounted to £9,700 in 1886–7, had been increased this year to £13,700. Now there was another point which he wished to raise again, and he was glad that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) was in his place, because in regard to the question he desired to raise he could not help feeling that the Board of Trade had acted like a dog in the manger. He referred to the case of distressed seamen who were sent home from distant parts abroad. Time after time various Governments of India had called the attention of the Board of Trade to the fact that distressed seamen were paid off in India at the rate of 2s. to the rupee. The Board of Trade were quite aware that in the articles that were signed between the seamen and the shipowners there were clauses by which the seamen agreed to be paid off in India under certain circumstances at the rate of 2s. to the rupee. Of course, the seamen knew nothing about the operation of the articles they signed, and even if they did know they would not trouble themselves about the matter, because they intended to go out in a particular ship and return in her, not calculating that anything might happen to them before they returned home; but when they got to India it was possible that they might be attacked by dysentery, fever, or something or other arising from the influences of the climate, which necessitated their being sent to the hospital. The result was that they were unable to return home in the ship, and they were paid off in the shipping office in India, which meant that they were deprived of one-third of their wages. It took a ship three months to go out, and a seaman received one month's wages in advance, so that they would not have more than six weeks or two months wages to draw in India; by being paid in rupees at the rate of 2s. to the rupee they were actually defrauded of one-third of their entire salary. Having been so swindled out of their earnings they naturally became distressed seamen, and required to be sent home at the cost of the Indian Government. Parliament was now asked to contribute a sum of money to make up a sum of £20,000 a year to be expended on distressed seamen, but a great deal of the necessity of this contribution would be removed if the Board of Trade would pay attention to the representations and protests of the Indian Government. If the Board of Trade would interfere and prevent the shipowners from taking this advantage of the seamen there would be no distressed seamen to be relieved, and it would not be necessary to have this Vote. The Board of Trade were practically responsible for the Vote, and for having it brought before Parliament in this form. Unfortunately hon. Members knew very little about it, although it was one of those Votes upon which they had a constant increase. He noticed that there was one item of decrease; it was the case of a well-paid policeman in Liverpool who had been in the receipt of £120 a-year for acting as policeman of the Merchant Shipping Department of the Board of Trade there. This year the amount of that salary was deducted from the Vote, so that the Board of Trade was richer by the sum of £120 a-year. He thought the Committee ought to have more facts upon these matters, not only in regard to the surveys and the grant to distressed seamen, but as to the reason why the fees of the engineers were continually augmented. He certainly hoped to hear from the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade why the old method of manufacturing distressed seamen, by which they were defrauded of one-third of their wages, was continued, and whether he was prepared to take any step to correct the evil?

MR. C. T. D. ACLAND (Cornwall, Launceston)

said, the Committee would observe that although the estimated receipts amounted to nearly £6,000 more than they were the last year given in the Vote—namely, in 1886–7, yet the Grant in Aid remained precisely the same—£40,000. He regretted that the Committee had so very little explanation about the Vote, and he thought they would derive none from the Appropriation Act which would be presented at the end of the Session. For a long time it had been known that this Fund was not upon a very satisfactory footing; but, nevertheless, there was no information before Parliament on the subject. He thought it would only be fair to the Committee that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in asking for this Grant in Aid, which was certainly not justified upon any statement now before the Committee, should give them some information as to the actual state of the Fund, which for a long time had not been in a satisfactory position.

MR. CRAIG (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

said, he also thought that the Committee was entitled to have something beyond the scanty information contained in the Estimate, which was altogether inadequate, and in some cases absolutely misleading. This was a sum which the Board of Trade seemingly put before the House as a matter of duty by a certain Act of Parliament, and the 45 & 46 Vict., c. 55, required the Department to deposit its accounts year by year. He would read to the Committee what the Auditor General said upon this matter in his Report upon the state of the Accounts for 1886–7, the last statement with which Parliament had been favoured. The Auditor General pointed out that under the Act 45 & 46 Vict., c. 55, a certain sum of money—namely, £40,000, was to be annually voted by Parliament for five years; but that period of five years expired on the 1st of April, 1888, and it would be possible then, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General, to review the operations under the authority of the Act. Notwithstanding that statement of the Auditor General, notwithstanding the debate which took place on this very question in August, 1887, and notwithstanding still more the promise given by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in answer to a Question from himself (Mr. Craig), the Mercantile Marine Fund was still in a most unsatisfactory position. "The question of the Mercantile Marine Fund," said the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer— Is a matter which was brought under my attention some weeks ago, and I think that these accounts require to be most thoroughly examined."—(3 Hansard, [318] 1664.) He (Mr. Craig) certainly failed to see any symptoms of a thorough examination in the present Estimates. It was quite the reverse. The right hon. Gentleman, however, in continuing his remarks, gave an undertaking that the subject should be thoroughly examined, and intimated that it was possible a very important decision might be come to with regard to it. "There can be no doubt," added the right hon. Gentleman, "that the Mercantile Marine Fund is in a very unsatisfactory position." He would ask what had been done in consequence of that statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer? What was the examination which had taken place? Where was the Statement of Accounts? The Statement put before the House dealt only with a very scanty and paltry portion of the Mercantile Marine Fund. The hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) seemed to think that this Fund referred only to surveys; but it referred to all the payments for lights, for maintenance of new buildings, and a variety of other subjects connected therewith, the survey being only a small portion of the Fund. The entire question of the light dues and the lighting of our coasts was solely bound up with the Mercantile Marine Fund. Last year the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the Fund was in a very unsatisfactory position, and the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade read a Paper which professed to explain the condition of the Fund. It appeared from that Paper, singular as it might be regarded by the Committee, that the Board of Trade had actually engaged in a large loan transaction for the purpose of lending money borrowed at a not very reasonable rate of interest—namely, 3¾ per cent per annum, in order to fill up the void in the Fund. The expenditure of the Fund for 1886–7 was something like £600,000, while the income was only £400,000, and a difference of £200,000 was made up partly by a loan of £150,000, or a portion of a loan to that extent, partly by selling the property of the Fund, and partly by spending the balance taken over from previous years. It did seem to him a most extraordinary thing for the Board of Trade, after what occurred last year, to present these accounts again in the same unsatisfactory and almost misleading form. Under the Act of Parliament he had already cited, the details of the accounts were required to be given to the Auditor General, so that they might be examined and audited. Had they been examined and audited? [Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH: Yes.] The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said that the accounts had been examined and audited; but what did the Auditor General say? That gentleman reported that they had not been examined at all. Perhaps it was necessary to explain that under this Fund came the expenditure on lights. The expenditure by the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House for English lights amounted to £262,000, and the expenditure on the Irish lights was £96,000 more. What did the Auditor General say in regard to that expenditure? That officer said that no due and adequate details had been furnished to him of the expenditure of the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, or the Commissioners of Irish Lights, nor was he in any way cognizant of the distribution of the considerable sums expended by those Bodies. Now, if the accounts were audited and examined, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade seemed to think they were, why did the Auditor General make such a remark as that? Then, again, why was there not a detailed account of the expenditure in connection with the Mercantile Marine Fund set before the Committee on this Vote? Were the lights of this country—the greatest mercantile country in the world—to be entirely withdrawn from the purview of the House of Commons? Had Parliament no duty to discharge in respect of the efficient lighting of our coasts, and also in regard to the economical manner in which the work was done? Were the Mercantile Marine to be saddled with the burden of these lights in perpetuity without having any right to exercise control over the expenditure? Where was the proof of economy in these matters? Parliament did not know what this money was spent for or what it went for, except under a short and narrow head. Last year, when they dealt with the subject, there was a great outcry about some trifling expenditure on the part of the Northern Lights Commissioners, who appeared to have spent some portion of their money upon a dinner. They were found out only because they sent in detailed accounts. Apparently the other Commissioners did not, and therefore nothing was known of the doings of the Commissioners of Irish Lights or of the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, although it might be perfectly well believed that the Elder Brethren occasionally banqueted and entertained Her Majesty's Ministers and distinguished guests. If that were so, he wanted to know from the right hon. Gentleman why the accounts of those Bodies had not been examined, because it would appear from the Report of the Auditor General that they had not been dealt with at all. It was all very well to be told that there was no finer Body in the world than the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, and that their lights were perfect and efficient. What he wanted to know was whether the funds were economically administered and the maintenance of the lights properly provided for? For his own part he did not think they were. A friend of his, a practical shipowner, told him that the expense of the English lights, light for light, having regard to the quality, was about four times as much as the lights on the French coast. Why should that be? Would the Board of Trade say that we got value for our money? It was all very well to say that we had raised the light dues. Yes; but had they secured the economical administration of the Fund? Certainly he did not think that we got full value for our money, and he thought the time had come when we ought to deal with the question from a national point of view and insist on the perfect lighting of our coasts and the proper maintenance of the lights, together with the erection of new lights. His own opinion was that the whole of those matters should be administered by some Government Department, or by some other body directly responsible to the House of Commons. He did not propose to make any Motion at the present moment, but he would await anxiously the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in order to ascertain why the promise of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year had not been fulfilled. When that explanation had been given he should be prepared to take such course of action as he might think fit.

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

said, he desired to ask for an explanation of an item of £156,000, which appeared in the Vote at page 176, in reference to Queenstown.


said, the item in question appeared, through a misprint, as if it had been on the Estimates for the year 1887–8; but that was not the fact. The item referred to the year in which certain charges were first put on the Mercantile Marine Fund, and did not refer to the last year. In regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. Craig), he thought the hon. Member was perfectly justified in asking him to give the Committee some account of the administration of the Mercantile Marine Fund, and in referring to the promise which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year in regard to it. In the discussion which took place on this subject last year, the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) brought the condition of the Mercantile Marine Fund under the notice of the Committee. It was then pointed out that the Fund was practically in a state of bankruptcy, and the Government were asked to look into the matter, and to take some steps, either by lessening the expenditure or increasing the receipts, to restore it to a state of solvency. That was the point he thought to which the promise of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred. The Mercantile Marine Fund was only incidentally touched by the Vote now before the House. Under the Act 45 and 46 Vict. c. 55, certain charges, formerly borne by the Votes of that House, were imposed on the Mercantile Marine Fund, which was mainly derived, as the hon. Member opposite stated, from light dues. In return for the imposition of those charges a grant of £40,000 a-year was promised by the Treasury for five years, to recoup the Fund for the expenditure charged upon it. He might say upon that point, in passing, that the result had been anything but satisfactory to the Mercantile Marine Fund; the charges then imposed upon it were under-estimated by a considerable amount, and the Mercantile Marine Fund had lost £9,000 a-year by the arrangement. He should be glad if the Committee could assist him in persuading his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) to look into the matter, with a view, if possible, of placing the Vote on the footing it was intended to occupy when the legislation of the 45 & 46 Vict. c. 55 was passed. He came now to the question of the financial condition of the Mercantile Marine Fund. In the year 1884 a reduction of no less than one-fourth of the amount of light dues paid was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), who was then President of the Board of Trade. The Fund was then considerably in credit, and it was anticipated that the light dues would increase. He did not think, however, that sufficient allowance was made for the increase in the expenditure which subsequently arose. The result of that diminution of light dues was that in the subsequent years the Fund got heavily into debt. It appeared, from a statement he had before him, that in 1886–7 there was an excess of expenditure over income of £157,000. When he came into Office at the close of February last he found that in 1887–8 there was an excess of expenditure over income of £98,000, and that the defficiency of 1888–9 was estimated at the same sum. The deficits incurred had been made up by borrowing £250,000 from the Trustees of Greenwich Hospital, and a large portion of that money had been expended in making up the deficiency of the years 1886–7 and 1887–8. He did not wish to go back on the policy of his Predecessors. No doubt, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Mundella), who would be able to speak for himself, had felt that, in spite of the condition of the Mercantile Marine Fund, there was a great difficulty in increasing the amount of the light dues, owing to the depressed condition of the shipping interest. He thought it a mistake that the light dues were not increased; and as soon as he came into Office he had to consider the promises which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and what course he ought to take in the matter. He soon decided that it was absolutely necessary that an increase should be made in the light dues for the current year. By an Order in Council, which took effect on the 1st of June last, the light dues were increased by adding to them half the amount taken off in 1884. The result would be that the deficiency in the accounts of the Fund for the year, instead of being £98,000, as estimated, would be less than £20,000; and from the natural increase of light dues there would be a balance to the good in 1889–90. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Craig) said they ought not merely to consider the receipts but the expenditure. He quite agreed with him, but he did not think that the hon. Member was correct in his interpretation of the answer which he quoted from the evidence of the Auditor General. Accounts were submitted to the Auditor General for the purpose of audit. The point to which the answer referred was, he thought, merely the expenses of the Trinity House in management, dinners, and matters of that kind. But it was asked why these details were not submitted. It was because the Trinity House had a private Fund of their own in no way subject to the Government, out of which they bore those expenses, with the exception of a small allow ance, also made to them, of £1,000 a-year. It was considered impossible, therefore, to call upon them to sub mit the accounts of that Fund to the Auditor General. So far, however, as the public receipts from the light dues and the expenditure of that Fund were concerned, he believed that the Auditor General had the matter fully before him, and that the results were published and submitted to Parliament. If anything could be done which would bring this subject more completely under the cognizance of the Auditor General he should be glad to see it done, because he agreed with the hon. Member that the expenditure of the Fund should be closely criticized, in order to see that the light dues were properly applied to the purposes for which they were intended. As to the administration of lights, he was not at present disposed to agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member that they should he administered by a Government Department, rather than by the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, the Northern Lights Commissioners, and the Commissioners of Irish Lights. He very much doubted whether the lights would be better or more economically administered by any Government Department than by those who were at present intrusted with their care. Of this he was pretty clear—that, at any rate, one of his Predecessors of the Board of Trade, who entertained a strong opinion in accordance with that urged by the hon. Member, when he came to look fully into the matter was converted to the opposite view. He thought he had now answered the questions which had been asked by hon. Members opposite, and if any further information were required he should be very happy to give it.

MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

said, the right hon. Gentleman had correctly stated to the House the position of the Mercantile Marine Fund, and it was deplorable that the Fund should have been allowed to fall into a practically bankrupt state as that in which it was in at the present moment; at the same time he must certainly refuse to take any responsibility for the condition of affairs when he was at the Board of Trade, because he found when he went there that the Estimates had been settled by his Predecessor and the Heads of the Departments, and the Treasury for the time being, and he had nothing to do but to submit them to the House. They had already been settled by the right hon. Gentleman himself, and no Estimates were submitted by the new Government. In respect of the old method, one thing was quite clear—that if the shipping of the country was to bear the heavy burden of the light dues, there ought to be some careful and accurate statements made up annually to show how the money was expended, and that the Fund was being economically administered. Grave doubts prevailed generally on that point in shipping circles. It was believed that the money was wastefully expended. He did not make any charge at all against the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, and he did not know how far the shipping interest was satisfied with their administration; but at least they ought to be quite clear about it. There ought to be no keeping back of accounts. The accounts ought to be carefully audited, and subjected to the same criticisms as the other accounts submitted to Parliament. He did not quite understand how the right hon. Gentleman was justified in assuming that the paragraph from the Auditor General's Report did not apply to this Fund. The Comptroller and Auditor General said that he had not been made cognizant of the distribution of considerable sums allotted to those bodies. Surely the Auditor General ought to be cognizant of the matter, and the expenditure of these very considerable sums ought to be submitted to him and subjected to the same rigid scrutiny as all other public expenditure. It had always seemed to him that the lighting of our coasts was a National question, and in no other instance had the charge been placed on the shipping. It was most essential for the Admiralty itself that the lights should be efficiently maintained, yet he believed that the Admiralty contributed nothing towards the cost. At any rate, this was a most un satisfactory mode of managing the accounts, seeing that at one time they had a surplus collected from the Mercantile Marine Fund, and at another time a deficiency which had to be made up from the Consolidated Fund. He thought that what was required was some better system of administration. It ought to be administered in such a way that Parliament could obtain more complete information as to the contributions to the Fund and the mode in which the Fund itself was administered. He thought the whole matter was one which ought to be subjected to the strictest scrutiny at the hands of the House.


said, there was one point upon which he should like to say a word. He thought the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade was mistaken in the explanation he had given in regard to the answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Question put to him last year. The Question itself was put to the then Secretary to the Board of Trade (Baron Henry de Worms) in these terms— It has been been stated that an account is presented to this House showing the state of the Mercantile Marine Fund. I do not see where the cost of administering the lighthouses is stated."—(3 Hansard, [318] 1663.) On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in reply that— The question of the Mercantile Marine Fund is a matter which was brought to my attention some weeks ago, and then the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to give the other answer which he had already presented to the House.


said, he did not question the accuracy of the quotation made by the hon. Member from the evidence of the Comptroller and Auditor General. But if the hon. Member would refer to the evidence given by Sir Charles Ryan at a later date, on the 28th of June, he would find that the Chairman asked Sir Charles whether, on the whole, he was satisfied; and the answer was— I am satisfied that the main principle on which the Comptroller and Auditor General was appointed was that he should have full accounts submitted to him of the expenditure. That I believe has been done, but there are other arrangements which did not come so fully under his cognizance. However, so far as I am able to form an opinion, I am quite satisfied with the arrangement the Board of Trade has made.

MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)

said, the damaging statements contained in the Report of the Auditor General were that considerable sums of money were paid out of a Fund over which he had no control, and that he had not audited them.


said, the accounts in question were paid out of private property.


asked, whether the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House published any accounts, and whether such accounts were accessible to the House?


said, he could only answer that Question to this extent. The accounts of the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, to which reference was made, which were not audited, and which were not to be audited, and which, so far as he knew, were not furnished to Parliament, related only to certain small items concerning small expenses incident to the management of the business of the Elder Brethren. It had been argued, after the Comptroller and Auditor General had called attention to the matter, that in future a certain sum should be set aside, and placed at the disposal of the Elder Brethren for these purposes. It was, however, limited distinctly to a certain sum. So far as the accounts themselves were concerned, the general accounts for lighting, &c., they were all submitted to the Secretary to the Treasury, and forwarded to the Public Accounts Committee. The hon. Member would find in the evidence taken on the last Committee that the Auditor General expressed himself quite satisfied, not only with the general accounts, but also as to the propriety of the arrangement that had been made in reference to those items.


Are those accounts published?




said, he wished to pursue this matter a little further. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said, in reply to a Question which he (Mr. Molloy) had put, that the money which was spent was the private property of the Corporation. He wished to know where that private property came from? Did it come from subscriptions and private contributions of individual members, or how did it arise? If it did not arise from private subscriptions, he did not see what excuse could be made for keeping the accounts secret. It was evidently a large sum of money which was expended, over which they were told that they were to have no control, or to know anything. He maintained that if they were not private contributions given by individual members, the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House had no right to keep the accounts secret, or to spend the money in feasting, which, the Committee was told, they did to a considerable extent. He, therefore, asked why the distribution of the money arising from that property was not made public, and audited so that Parliament could have some control over it, or, at any rate, offer some advice upon it? The least they were entitled to know was the source from which the money arose.

ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)

said, that no answer had been given by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to the very grave statements made by the hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) as to the complaint that merchant seamen were discharged in India, and, when discharged, were paid off at the rate of 2s. per rupee. It was the duty of the Board of Trade to protect our seamen, and to see that no injustice was done to them. He presumed that the statement of the hon. Member was made after careful inquiry; therefore he thought that some answer was due, and that some explanation was necessary. If such a practice existed, it was certainly a great scandal, and it was the duty of the Board of Trade to call the attention of the shipowners to such an infraction of the law. Everybody knew that the officials in India were paid in rupees; but then the engagement and contract was made in rupees. The merchant seamen were dealt with very differently. It now seemed that they were paid off in India at the rate of 2s. a rupee, whereas the value of the rupee was only 1s. 5d. or 1s. 4½d. If they were paid in gold, they would be able to obtain cash according to the currency of the country. He hoped that the matter would not be passed over in silence.


said, that he should be very sorry to pass it over. The difficulty was that the seamen signed a contract note to the effect that any sum due to them in wages in the event of their being discharged in India should be paid at the rate of 2s. per rupee. What he had endeavoured to do was to warn seamen, so far as he could, not to sign such a contract note at all; but to insist upon being paid in India at the proper rate of exchange.


said, that, in his opinion, to call that practice by its right name it was little short of a swindle.


said, the facts had been placed before hon. Members in Blue Books, and he had been somewhat astonished that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had not said anything about it. Perhaps the best course would be to move the reduction of the Vote, in order that be might take the opinion of the Committee upon the matter. In the first place he was prepared to admit that the Peninsular and Oriental Company and other large Companies did prepare a contract note which the seamen were supposed to hear read before they signed it; but everybody who knew anything about the matter knew that a clerk mumbled something of which nobody knew the purport, and the seamen afterwards signed it without knowing what it was about. If they did know, they invariably thought that it was not likely to affect them. It was under such circumstances that a seaman signed a note; the ship left this country, and on its arrival in India he found that it was necessary for him to go into hospital, and then when he was discharged, and the ship went away, instead of obtaining wages at the rate of £3 a month as it was agreed to be paid, he was only paid £2 a month, owing to being paid, not in gold, but in a depreciated currency. He thought that in this matter the Board of Trade ought to have carried out the wish of the Indian Government, who had asked Her Majesty's Government to pass a short Bill to compel the seamen to be paid off when discharged at the current rate. It was the red-tapeism of the Board of Trade, both under the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) and others, which had prevented that being done. From time to time during the last seven or eight years the Bombay Government, in particular, had petitioned the Government in India on the subject, and the Government of India had sent Memoranda to the Board of Trade asking them to do something, but hitherto nothing had been done. The Indian Government complained that these poor people were placed on their hands. Now, under the Truck Act an employer was prevented from paying for labour in kind, and under that Act this occurrence could not have happened. Whenever a seaman was left behind in India he was swindled by the shipowner, and the Board of Trade did nothing to protect him, and the result was that a sum of £30,000 had to be contributed by the State in order to enable distressed seamen to be brought back home. His only object in calling attention to the question was to ask the Government to prevent such a disgraceful scandal in the future. He had called attention to the difference between the fees for surveys and the sums which were paid for such surveys. In 1885–6 the expenditure was £55,000, while the survey fees only amounted to £33,000, leaving a deficiency of £22,000. The same thing occurred in 1886–7, when the survey fees amounted to £24,000, and the salaries and expenses to £57,200, showing a difference of £33,000. He, therefore, thought he was justified in mentioning the circumstance, and maintaining that the survey fees ought to bear the whole cost of the survey. He regretted to say that under this Vote the Committee were unable to get any information in regard to the survey. The public work done by the State purported to be done by fees, but in this instance it was done partly by a grant from Parliament. He thought that it should be done entirely by fees, and that the public, who got the benefit of the work, should pay the cost.


said, he was sorry to say that whatever might be the effect of charging insufficient survey fees, when they came to consider the expense of the surveys, the Government had no power to raise the fees while the law remained as it was now. At present the fees were, with one or two exceptions, as high as they were authorized to be charged by the existing law; whether the law should be altered in order to enable higher fees to be charged was another question, and he promised to give consideration to it. On the other hand, he hoped the hon. Member would not divide the Committee. Nothing could be done by the Board of Trade with respect to the payment of wages of the exchange value of 2s. per rupee unless Parliament invested the Board of Trade with power to interfere. The hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) accused him and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) of red-tapeism in the matter, but the hon. Member had himself admitted that it was impossible for the Government to insist that the seamen should be paid in any other way after they had signed the contract note. So far as the law at present stood, they could do no more than they had done already—namely, endeavour to warn the seamen against the contract note.


said, the same hardship was suffered with respect to the Mexican, Chinese, and other currencies. He thought that a short Act might be easily passed to remedy the evil, by compelling payment to be made at the current rate for the time being.


said, there was one point in the questions he had put to the President of the Board of Trade which the right hon. Gentleman had not answered, and that was, why the Grant in Aid was kept at exactly the same proportion—namely, £40,000, while the receipts were estimated to be considerably in excess of what they were in previous years? He might call attention to the fact that, by the Act under which the payment of £40,000 had been sanctioned for the last five years, it was stated that the accounts of the Mercantile Marine Fund should be deemed Public Accounts, and examined and audited accordingly. The last Report of the Auditor General complained that no details were furnished as to the expenditure incurred by the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, the Northern Lights Commissioners, and the Commissioners of Irish Lights, nor was he cognizant of the expenditure of considerable sums allocated by those Bodies. He contended that full accounts ought to be furnished, and that under the Act of Parliament they were entitled to demand them. It was clearly the intention of the Act that they should be furnished.


said, that an account of the Mercantile Marine Fund was furnished every year, and he thought the hon. Gentleman could not have been in the House when he had entered into an explanation of the matter. He understood the statement of the Auditor General to be qualified by a later statement, from which it appeared that all that was not submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General was the private expenditure of the Trinity House in entertainments and other matters. That expenditure, with the exception which he had mentioned, was defrayed out of their private funds, and not from money derived from lights. With respect to the £40,000, the sum was fixed for five years, and the period expired last Session, when the accounts ought to have been balanced. The Treasury, however, did not take the same view of the question as he did. He would endeavour to put the matter on a better footing before the next Estimates were framed.


said, that the Treasury stated that they had no control over this Vote.

Vote agreed to.

(2.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £19,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1889, for Her Majesty's Foreign and other Secret Services.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

said, that in rising to oppose this Vote he must say it appeared to him a monstrous thing that in a country like this they should have a grant for Secret Service at all. It was more monstrous when they remembered the fact that when, some years ago, a sum of £10,000, charged upon the Consolidated Fund, and since taken off by Parliament, was in full swing, the amount of the Secret Service money was absolutely less than it was now—that was to say, that the total for Secret Service charged separately on the Estimates, with this sum of £10,000 added, was much less than the sum the Committee were now asked to vote. The Vote showed a decrease of £10,000 on the sum they were asked to vote last year, but it was still many thousands more than it was even 10 years ago; and he thought it was not too much to ask what Department had the spending of the money, and why it should be possible to put such a question as that which was put to the Government early in the evening by his hon. Colleague (Mr. Labouchere). There ought not to be a possibility of suggesting that some Department used the money of the nation outside the knowledge of Parliament and beyond its control. Certainly, such a matter was one on which Parliament ought to express an opinion. It was not true that what was called Secret Service money had never been examined into by Parliament. There was one notable instance on record in the Journals of the House where very high personages were dealt with for the misappropriation of Secret Service money. Nothing of that kind, of course, was likely to occur in these times of straightforward honesty; but one would like to know what Secret Service money was intended for. If it were used by the Foreign Office, let there be a special record of the sum placed at the disposal of the Foreign Office; if it were required by the Home Office, let there be a similar record in regard to the Home Department. He objected to the putting down of one general amount when one Minister alone might have the disposal of it, so far as the House of Commons knew, and he protested against the Committee of Supply being asked to vote this Estimate blindly year after year. It used to be said that the £10,000 charged on the Consolidated. Fund was as necessary as any other part of the Secret Service money. But under the pressure of public opinion that sum was withdrawn, and it was then found that it was not necessary at all. He had heard that even within the last eight years the Secret Service money had been employed in bringing Members up to that House to vote. He should not have thought that the assertion could be true if he had not been told that one of the Members himself had boasted that he had his railway fare paid out of this Fund. Even then he was inclined to believe that the Member in question made a vainglorious boast that had not the slightest foundation, because he could not think any Minister would sanction such an improper transaction. The occasion was a Division in which, personally, he had taken considerable interest, although he was not allowed to take part in the proceedings of the House at the time. On another occasion, it was alleged that a portion of the Secret Service money was employed in connection with an election scrutiny. If money was to be paid at all for secret service, it ought to be paid openly so far as the Departments which employed it were concerned. He intended to divide the Committee against the Vote as a matter of principle. He thought, when the matter was under discussion last year, that there was some disposition on the part of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) to state what portions of this Fund were paid to particular Offices. He saw no reason why such information should not be given. He did not suppose that much of it found its way to the Board of Trade, or that that Department was ever likely to deal with Secret Service money. But it ought not to be possible for any hon. Member like himself, who happened to be of a suspicious turn of mind, to suppose that the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) could over have any portion of the £40,000 voted in the shape of Secret Service money placed at his disposal.


asked if the hon. Member moved the reduction of the Vote?


said, he made no Motion. He opposed the whole Vote.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

said, he had waited in the expectation of seeing some Member on the Treasury Bench get up to defend the Vote, and he only interposed because he saw that the Chairman was about to put it without a word of explanation from the Government. He did not go quite as far as his hon. Colleague in his objection to this Vote. He would not say absolutely that there ought to be no Secret Service money paid, but he agreed with his hon. Colleague that the Secret Service money ought to appear on the special Votes of the Departments which spent it. There used to be a notion that all the Secret Service money was spent by the Foreign Office; but he thought that notion was pretty well dissipated at the present moment, and it would be found that very little was spent in the Foreign Office. His hon. Colleague had just stated that it occurred, only a short time ago, that a Member of that House—he (Mr. Labouchere) presumed a Conservative or a Unionist—received his railroad expenses for coming up to that House to vote. A distinct charge was, therefore, made. Was there to be any investigation into it? Was the Vote to be passed without any explanation whatever? He had often heard it said about this Secret Service money that in days when the Irish Party were not united, as they were now, it was employed in securing the votes of the Irish Members by paying what was called their "expenses" in coming over to this country to vote for a particular measure. The Irishman was round the corner, but he used to write to say that he was at Galway, or Heaven knew where, and could not appear until his expenses were paid. The money was given to the man round the corner, and the Irish Member soon made his appearance in the House. There had been all sorts of abuses in regard to the employment of this Secret Service money, and, without insisting on knowing how every penny of it was spent, the Committee ought to know by what Department it was spent. He was now about to make another assertion. Hon. Members on the other side of the House would remember the numerous occasions on which O'Donovan Rossa had been abused in that House. It was said to be perfectly monstrous that O'Donovan Rossa should be receiving money here, there, and everywhere for the purchase of dynamite to destroy the Government of England. Now, he was prepared to assert, without fear of the Government being able to show that he was wrong—he was prepared to assert that Secret Service money was, at that very time, actually being given to O'Donovan Rossa, and that the funds which hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Benches opposite complained of being given to O'Donovan Rossa were supplemented by contributions from the Secret Service Fund by Her Majesty's Government themselves.

SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)

What was the date?


said, he made a general statement, and left the Go- vernment to deny it. Would they grant an investigation into the charge? Would they appoint a Special Commission? Not a bit of it. There could be no doubt that money had been expended in this way, nor could the fact be doubted that it had been thrown away. As his hon. Friend had stated, up to a few years ago the Secret Service Vote was supplemented by the payment of a sum of £10,000 out of the Consolidated Fund. That sum of £10,000 had now been docked off. It was never denied that the money was spent by each political Party, when in power, for its own Party purposes. As each was tarred by the same brush the abuse was allowed to remain, until his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), with his stern independence, belled the cat. [An hon. MEMBER: It was the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill).] He believed he was right in asserting that it was the right hon. and learned Member for Bury, supported by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, who came forward to bell the cat, and put a stop to this gross abuse. The consequence was a saving of £10,000 a-year. Personally, he desired to have some explanation of the sum which appeared in the Estimates this year under the head of Secret Service money. He wished to be informed if there was any reason in the world why it should not be put down in the Votes of each of the Departments to which it was paid under the head of "Secret Service?" Parliament would then know, in a general sort of way, what each Department spent. At present they knew nothing whatever about it.

MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)

said, there was one aspect of the question which was an exceedingly serious one, but which had not yet been brought before the Committee. When the discussion upon this Vote took place in Committee of Supply two years ago, it was found that the Secret Service money voted by Parliament had been set aside by each Party in turn, to a considerable extent, for its own electioneering purposes. When that fact transpired much indignation was expressed on both sides of the House that such misuse had been made of the Secret Service money of the country. How stood the matter at this moment? Every Minister who spent any portion of the Secret Service money voted by the House had to make a declaration that it had been spent for what he considered to be for the benefit of the State. The Comptroller and Auditor General touched upon that matter in his Report this year. He stated that the documents transmitted to the Exchequer and Audit Department in connection with this Vote consisted simply of the amounts which had been expended by the Officers of the State. In his Report upon the Public Accounts of the year 1884–5 the Auditor General stated that he was unable to accept the statement of the Minister as satisfactory proof of payment under the provisions of the Exchequer and Audit Department, and, for a similar reason, this year he was unable to certify to the correctness of the present account. He (Mr. Molloy) considered that this was a very serious aspect of affairs. It was distinctly stated that the accounts of money voted by that House for Secret Service of the most dangerous character in the hands of any Government, and which ought to be submitted to the Auditor General and audited year after year, were so unsatisfactorily presented that the Auditor General was unable to certify as to their correctness. Now, what did this mean? It meant that the whole control of the House of Commons over the expenditure of the Secret Service money had ceased to exist. The object of the audit was to prevent any misuse being made of it. Under this condition Parliament had, year after year, granted this money, and yet, year after year, the Comptroller and Auditor General told them that he was dissatisfied with the accounts sent in, and he refused to certify them. That fact, he thought, was serious enough, as far as it went; but the object of the Auditor General's certificate was this. It was admitted by Parliament, generally, that under certain circumstances, which had arisen from time to time, it was necessary to spend money for the benefit of the State, and to spend it secretly. In order to check the misuse of the money, Parliament had insisted upon this condition being attached to the Vote—that the certificate of the Minister by whom the money had been spent should be submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General, and passed by him. Did the House of Commons intend to continue going on to vote the money while the Government declined—he desired the Committee clearly to understand that he did not speak of any one Government in particular—while the Government declined to give any account in accordance with the conditions and agreement made with the House when the money was voted? He had said, when the subject came up in that House two or three years ago, that great indignation was expressed on both sides when it was discovered that the money had been used for electioneering purposes, and there was a clear understanding that no such gross misuse of the Secret Service money was to take place again. A form of certificate was prepared, and that form of certificate was assumed by the House to mean that the misuse of the Secret Service money for electioneering purposes would never occur again. What was the form of the certificate? He was sorry that he had not got a copy of it with him; but it was a declaration by the Minister that the portion of the Secret Service money spent by him had been spent, in his opinion, for the benefit of the State. Some hon. Members might remember a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer two or three years ago. The right hon. Gentleman, in addressing some enthusiastic Unionists, informed them that the salvation of the Empire depended upon himself and his Colleagues remaining in Office. That was the opinion which, no doubt, the right hon. Gentleman still held, and might be pretty accurate from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view. No doubt it was an opinion that was expressed honestly, and that if another Ministry were in power to-morrow a similar statement might be made from the same conscientious conviction. If it were a fact that the salvation of the country depended upon the Tory Party—for that was the Party with which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was serving in Office—then he maintained that under the certificate which a Minister who employed Secret Service money had to send to the Auditor General in which he declared that he was perfectly satisfied with the way in which the money had been spent, there was nothing to prevent it from being used in contesting seats throughout the country. It might be said that in the course of the debate there was an agreement that that was not to be. Quite true; but what had the Judges said two or three weeks ago in regard to a very public case, and the debates of that House? The learned Judges said they knew nothing of the debates which took place in the House of Commons; but that it was their duty to construe according to the language of the Act of Parliament. Therefore, he said that any Minister, without any dishonour to himself, could construe the form of certificate to mean that he was absolutely justified either in paying, out of this Fund, the expenses of his own election, or in paying the expenses of a contested election for any other Tory candidate who wished to enter Parliament. Under the circumstances, he thought the Committee would be acting wrong if there were not some more distinct and clear understanding and arrangement about the employment of the Secret Service money than would exist if they consented to pass the Vote as it stood. In regard to agreements made in that House, they were as much bound by the letter of the certificate as they were by the letter of an Act of Parliament. It had been shown that in the first instance the Auditor General had refused to accept the certificate, and had applied to Parliament to assist him in the matter, so that proper control might be had over the expenditure. It was further believed that the practices which caused so much indignation, two or three years ago, as to the misuse of this Fund for Party electioneering purposes, existed now to as great an extent as they ever did. It was of no use for a Minister to rise in that House and say that it was no such thing. He could not bind others. There might be a change of sides in the House; many things might happen; and, therefore, they were bound to have such a cut and dried agreement with regard to the expenditure of the Secret Service money as would prevent any gross abuse in future.


said, the hon. and learned Member for King's County would perhaps pardon him if he said that the hon. and learned Member had confused in his mind two Funds. He had spoken—and the whole of his speech had been directed to the same point—as if the Secret Service money the Committee was now asked to vote might be used by the Minister for electioneering purposes. He entirely agreed with the hon. and learned Member that if any of this money was used for electioneering purposes such use would be not only immoral, but dishonest. When his noble Friend the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) was Chancellor of the Exchequer the possibility of that occurring was put an end to. Under his noble Friend's instructions, he (Mr. Jackson) had brought in a Bill which put an end to the sum of £10,000, which had hitherto been borne, not upon this Vote but upon the Consolidated Fund, and which could be spent, and had been unquestionably used, for electioneering purposes. His noble Friend decided that the money should no longer be so used and that the practice should cease, and consequently that sum of £10,000 was not brought under the cognizance of Parliament every year. As a matter of fact the Fund of £10,000 had ceased to exist, and none of the money now voted could be spent in electioneering purposes. The hon. and learned Member had referred to the certificate of the Minister through whose Department the money passed, and which he had said the Comptroller and Auditor General declined to accept. He might point out to the Committee that with regard to the certificate it was a question which had been in dispute, or in abeyance, more or less for two or three years; and the Government were of opinion that some arrangement ought to be made to meet, as far as possible, the Comptroller and Auditor General's views. As he understood, the objection of the Comptroller and Auditor General was not that he had reason to doubt that the expenditure had taken place on the part of certain Ministers, but that from an Auditor's point of view he could not accept the form of the certificate as a sufficient justification for passing the accounts, and therefore could give no voucher to Parliament in reference to the expenditure. This was precisely one of the cases in which, when the Government, upon its responsibility, came forward and said it was necessary that a certain sum of money should be placed at their disposal in the interests of the State, only to be used when the details could not be placed upon the Votes, the Government must appeal to the House of Commons to support it. The new form of certificate, however, had been laid before the Public Accounts Committee this year, and it must be borne in mind that the Public Accounts Committee was a Committee appointed by the House, and that Committee had reported upon it. Their Report was to this effect—that in reference to the Secret Service money, the Treasury had proposed that the Minister should be responsible for the expenditure, and should be required to give a new form of certificate as follows:— I hereby certify that the amount expended in Secret Service under my directions was so much, and the balance in my hands on the 31st of March was so much; and I further solemnly declare that the interests of the Public Service required the above payments out of the Secret Service Fund, and that they were properly so made. In their Report the Public Accounts Committee said that the Comptroller and Auditor General had not yet expressed his opinion on the sufficiency of the new form—in all probability he would do so on the first opportunity; but, considering the nature of the service for which the expenditure was incurred, they were disposed to consider that the certificate, as amended, answered all reasonable Parliamentary requirements. He thought, therefore, the Government had shown that they had been most anxious to bring this question into a proper position. They had done all that they could, and, at all events, they had satisfied the Public Accounts Committee that what they had proposed was reasonable.


said, he was sorry to obtrude himself again; but the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury appeared to have missed the whole point of the observations he had addressed to the Committee. He made no charge against any Minister—that was not his object at all—but he contended that from the form in which the certificate was drawn it might be conscientiously subscribed to by any Minister who had used the money for Party purposes.




said, he would ask the hon. Gentleman to point out what there was in it to prevent him? If the Minister considered, as he might fairly and honestly consider, that a particular purpose was for the benefit of the Public Service, even if it included elections in the interest of his own Party, he could honestly, under the certificate, spend the money in that way. What he maintained was, that there ought to be something in the declaration which would have the effect of preventing the possibility of any future misuse of the money, and there should be a distinct declaration that it had not been used for Party purposes. They knew that it had been used by every Government for Party purposes in the past, and to avoid that abuse in the future he would suggest that some words should be inserted in the certificate which should make it clear that the Secret Service money had not been used in any sense for Party purposes.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 214; Noes 94: Majority 120.—(Div. List, No. 282.)