§ £5,000, Mercantile Marino Fund (grant in aid).
§ MR. HANBURY (Preston)
I have given notice of a Motion to reduce the amount of the grant by £5,000. I think the time has fully arrived when inquiry should be made into the peculiar administration of this very peculiar fund. I do not know whether the Committee really understand the nature of the Mercantile Marine Fund. Up to 1842 all the lighthouses around our coasts were wholly under the administration of private corporations and private individuals. There were no fewer than some 50 private rights which had been granted by different Sovereigns and different Parliaments, and dues were levied under those grants out of which those private individuals made large fortunes. In 1842 those private rights were bought up by the Trinity Board, with the result that in future all the lighthouses around the coast were in the hands of the Trinity Board, the Scotch Commissioners, and the Irish Commissioners of Lights. Up to 1853 practically no control was exercised over their administration. Dues were levied at their will and pleasure, and the accumulations went into what was practically a private purse. But in 1852 Mr. Disraeli in his Budget statement called attention to the administration of these Light Dues and the complaints made by the shipping interest as to the way in which they were administered. Thereupon in the next year Mr. Cardwell, the President of the Board of Trade, allowing Trinity House to retain all its accumulations, invented what is now called the Mercantile Marine Fund, requiring that all Light Dues should be paid into this particular 1752 fund and that they should be used for particular and special purposes. But even then, as the money was not voted by Parliament, Parliament had not sufficient and direct control over the administration, and it was not until 1882 that the control of Parliament was actually brought into play. In 1882 Parliamentary control arose in the following manner. Certain new claims were thrown on the Mercantile Marine Fund in connection with shipping and the relief of distressed seamen, and it was calculated the extra charge on the fund would be about £40,000 a year. This being so, it was arranged that a Parliamentary grant in aid of £40,000 should be given for five years to inset the new charges thrown on the Mercantile Marine Fund, and if the £40,000 was not sufficient for that purpose the old Mercantile Marine Fund was to make up the deficiency. It must be remembered in regard to this fund that although the £40,000 was based on the fact that certain extra duties, which entailed extra expense to the amount of £40,000, would be thrown on the fund, this particular sum of £40,000 was in no way ear-marked. The voted and non-voted money was put into one purse. If the £40,000 was not sufficient to meet the new charges, then the old Mercantile Marine Fund had to make up the deficiency, and if it was more than sufficient then the Mercantile Marine Fund would get the advantage; but the moneys that were voted and those that were non-voted were all thrown into one purse and were under one management; they were not under the control of the Auditor General and not brought before the Public Accounts Committee. Therefore it depends on the general administration of the Mercantile Marine Fund. whether the House should go on voting this £40,000. There are many good reasons why at any rate this year we should carefully review the position. In the first place the five years, the term for which the grant in aid was arranged to be paid, expired in March, 1888, and yet we have twice had the same sum put on the Estimates. Not only have the grants been exhausted, but it looks as if the fund altogether will become exhausted, because not only were the grants of £40,000 not sufficient by £13,000 to meet the new charges thrown on the Mercantile Marine Fund, 1753 but that fund itself has run largely into debt in the last three years, to the extent of nearly £150,000. Therefore I think that before we agree to continue these grants we ought to have a clear idea of the way in which this Mercantile Marine Fund is administered, especially having regard to the important duties of the Commissioners in connection with the management of lighthouses all round our coasts. The administration of the fund I will venture to say shows almost every possible defect. It is in the hands of four large Boards, amongst whom responsibility is entirely frittered away. At the head of them is the Board of Trade, itself a very respectable Department, no doubt, but it has very little of this money to spend, and very little control over the other three Boards, who spend nearly the whole of it. The other Boards are Trinity House, with 31 Members, the Irish Commissioners, and the Commissioners of Northern Lights, each with 22 Members, and these three Boards are in no sense responsible to this House, and they conduct their expenditure in a manner that sends a shiver through the Auditor General and his precise staff of assistants. The two latter Boards more especially have not the most rudimentary responsibility, and freely indulge in dinners and yachting excursions at the public expense. I have had some difficulty in finding out who the Members of the Boards are, but this we do know, that the charges for superannuation for these three Boards is £15,000, although the annual salaries of the Boards are only £27,000. The Scotch Board consists of the Lord Advocate, the Solicitor General for Scotland, 5 Provosts, and 16 Sheriffs. Now I would ask the House to consider what amount of technical knowledge in relation to the important duties under the control of the Board can be possessed by these Gentlemen. The Irish Board consists of merchants and members of the corporation of Dublin, and it is only by accident that a single seaman is on the Board with anything like knowledge of lighthouses. There is another point about these Boards which increases their irresponsibility, and that is, that they receive no pay. I am one of those who think that if there are responsible duties to be performed, they should be paid for; if they are onerous they should be paid for in proportion. There can 1754 be no doubt that if payment is not made directly it is received indirectly in the shape of patronage for a large staff, and various pickings and perquisites of which the Boards know well how to avail themselves. The members of the Trinity House Board pay £7,000 a year in salaries. The Scotch Board can only get perquisites, and is quite willing to render accounts. The Irish Board likewise has its perquisites, but it does not care to render accounts. The Trinity House Board consists of 31 members, and 20 of these are considered practical men who do the work, but then these 20 make too large a Board, and, what is most objectionable, they are self-elected. Ten members of the Board are simply ornamental—Princes, Cabinet Ministers, and other persons. Now I strongly object to ornamental Members upon any Board of the kind; I object to it in connection with the Patriotic Fund, with the Queen Anne's Bounty Fund,or anything else of the kind. The Treasury it has admitted has no control what ever, absolutely no guarantee against wasteful expenditure. The Controller and Auditor General has shown how in many instances the Board have acted without any authority whatever, and that was clearly shown in the evidence of Mr. Stoneham before the Public Accounts Committee. The Board of Trade has no control over the accounts.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir MICHAEL HICKS BEACH, Bristol, W.)
Not the general account.
§ MR HANBURY
But it is in the general account and in the establishment charges that extravagances occur. For instance, had there been any control, the Commissioner would never have obtained permission to buy land in Ayrshire at £685 an acre. The Auditor General in his evidence complained of the unsatisfactory manner in which the accounts were made up. Up to last year items wore given is gross, and the Treasury backed up the Commissioners in refusing to give information. Four years ago the accounts were subjected to audit, and then strange revelations were made. In 1884 the funds in hand amounted to £ 429,000. When the Auditor General reported in 1886, the securities had decreased by £300,000, and the cash by nearly £20,000; in March of the following year, 1887, the Mercantile Marine Fund had already 1755 borrowed £150,000 from Greenwich Hospital, and the balance was reduced by £7,000, making a total loss of £157,000. By March 1888, £50,000 more had been borrowed and spent, leaving only £50,000 more to be borrowed on the Light Dues,and the cash balance had sank from £100,000 to £60,000. Nor do I feel sure that this can really be called the amount of assets, because there is a large amount of the money which consists of unclaimed wages belonging to deceased seamen, and this, I think, can scarcely be called assets. Nor do I understand why this is not advertized in the papers read by the working classes instead of in the official Gazette. While £200,000 had been borrowed and spent, and accounts were not rendered, lighthouses were neglected and necessary expenditure upon them not incurred because funds were lacking for the purpose. This appears from Mr. Stoneham's evidence. The Controller and Auditor General complains of the form in which accounts were presented last year, and he says that it does not bring receipts and expenditure under the notice of Parliament in a clear and satisfactory manner; totals are given without clear explanation of how they are made up. Although the Trinity Board and the Commissioners of Irish Lights do not furnish us with any details of this strange expenditure I find that the Commissioners of Northern Lights—the Scotch Board—are a little more frank in the matter, and the light they throw on the way the money is spent is not encouraging to the other Commissioners. I find this account rendered—they gave a dinner at the Waterloo Hotel, Edinburgh, in January, 1886. There were 47 people sat down to dinner, and the cost was £179, or nearly £1 a head. The dinner itself cost 30s. a head, but there was not a single bottle of wine drunk which cost less than 21s. 6d. a bottle, and, as more than two bottles a head were consumed, the cost of this item was more than £2 each person. In addition, 124 glasses of brandy were drunk. Next year the dinner bill was reduced to £142. In that year we have something to show us that if a strung hand were kept on these Commissioners and they were forced to render accounts a great saving might be effected in these personal 1756 expenses. Take the Trinity House. Attention having been called to this extravagance, in 1877 a diminution was made from £4,900 to £2,614 in one head of expenditure, and in another from £ 2,327 to £800. And in the case of this £800 they declared that if they were left alone they would still further reduce the expenditure, and the Treasury, I believe, came to terms with them on that condition. The management of these three Boards still costs £66,000 a year, or a great deal more than 20 per cent on the total expenditure. There is a deficit altogether of £155,000 a year; but of this, £72,000 is attributable to the remission of certain dues by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), when he was in office; and £12,000 is attributable to the £40,000 granted by Parliament for certain extra charges being deficient by that amount. There still remains a deficit of £70,000. Whatever the explanation may be, the facts which Parliament has to deal with at the present moment are, that there has been a loss of nearly £160,000 a year for nearly 4 years; that £200,000 has been borrowed; that there remain only borrowing powers to the extent of £50,000; and that, as I have shown, the work on the lighthouses is largely in arrear. That being the case, it is clear that the lighthouses cannot continue to be administered by these Boards as at present constituted. We must have some new arrangement in the future, to ensure not only that the necessary work is done and nothing is left undone, but that the whole system of this Mercantile Marine Fund shall be simplified and improved. Now, although these Commissioners and the Mercantile Marine Fund are bankrupt for all public purposes—and I should like to have information from the Board of Trade in regard to this—they are rich in private funds derived from public money. In 1820 the interest on the stock they had invested in the public funds was newly £7,000 a year, and I gather that they had £230,000 invested. Their receipts from estates amounted in the year to £2,316, and they had a total income of £65,568, only £38,000 of which was spent on lighting and repairs. I cannot find what was done as to this money during the next 12 years, but we get some in- 1757 formation by a side-wind in regard to the enormous profits made out the lights in the hands of private individuals. The right to levy Light Dues had been given to Court favourites and others as a source of income. In 1832 these private persons collected £79,690, and spent on the lights only £19,000; and a proof of the enormous funds at the disposal of the Trinity Board is to be found in the fact that in the year 1842 they bought up all the private lights for £1,250,000, and paid off the whole amount out of their surplus Light Dues in 12 years at the rate of £100,000 a year. In 1853 these Light Dues were paid into the Mercantile Marine Fund. The Trinity Board seemed to be aware of the fate coming on them. They thought they should set their house in order, and during the four years previous to 1853, through putting by a surplus of £100,000 a year to pay for private lights, they were able to reduce the Light Dues to the extent of £118,000, showing what an enormous surplus they must have had in preceding years. In 1853, Mr. Cardwell, then President of the Board of Trade, was able still further to reduce the Light Dues by the sum of £100,000 a year. The question is how far the accumulations, which it is evident they possess, should be drawn on to meet the deficiencies of bad years. I think a good case can be made out for asking, what are the funds of the Trinity House at the present moment? In 1824 a Committee, of which Mr. Hume was chairman, went carefully into the question. They denied the right of the Crown to grant any of these dues, and declared that the whole of the money should be appropriated to the maintenance of the lights, and that the Trinity Board had not even the right to devote any of it to charitable purposes. The Trinity House, however, went on devoting £30,000 or £40,000 a year to charities, and so gross did the scandal become, that another Committee sat and condemned the practice. Coming to the question of how these funds should be administered in future, there are two ways of meeting the existing difficulty. One is by increasing the receipts, and the other is by reducing the expenditure. I do not think it would be a good principle to try and increase the receipts, and even if it were good it would be insufficient. 1758 They were increased last year by 16 per cent, which only brought in £62,000, and in that increase, according to the best authorities, they have reached almost the full limit of their tether. Instead of increasing the receipts, what ought to be done is to decrease the expenditure, and bring about better administration. We ought also to decide whether this is to be in future a tax on our shipping, or a tax leviable on the whole of the people of the country. I am inclined to think that the latter principle is the correct one. I do not think the tax should be levied on the whole of our trade—
Order, order! The hon. Member has taken a very wide latitude. It is going altogether outside the limits of the discussion to argue whether or not the dues shall be levied on the commerce of the country.
§ MR. HANBURY
Very well, Sir; all I will say is that the present system of levying the dues partly by taxes on the shipowning interest and partly by grant in aid is a system which should be brought to an end. I think the grant in aid should be largely increased, and that the whole of the funds should be paid to one body, the members of which should be fewer than at present. There should be no ornamental members, and the body should be a responsible one. Perquisites ought to cease, and we ought to have a statement of accounts in future showing how the money is expended. The Controller and Auditor General ought to make a more exhaustive audit of these accounts than he is able to do now. The matter is an important one, involving as it does the safety of our Royal and Mercantile Marine and the lives of our sailors; and I trust it will have the serious attention of the Government. I beg to move the reduction of the Vote by £5,000.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
As representing a mercantile constituency, I beg to support my hon. Friend in his observations upon this somewhat remarkable Department, which appears to me to unite the eccentricities of the Metropolitan Board of Works with the peculiar finance of the Pension List. In 1882, as my hon. Friend has said, this Department came under the observation of the Controller and Auditor General, and for reasons best known to 1759 himself it was four years before he took notice of the accounts brought under his supervision. When he did notice them his Report was of a startling character. He pointed out that the Department has gone to the bad to the extent of £300,000, and that an enormous sum was being spent on uniforms, travelling expenses, and dinners. At one of the dinners to which my hon. Friend has referred, while £100 was spent on wine, only 6s. was spent on mineral waters. If the taxpayers are to pay £40,000 a year, this Department ought to be put under strict control; and if there are to be no more pensions, no more dinners, no more uniforms, it is possible the country may get more value for its money.
§ * SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The hon. Members who have spoken on this subject have somewhat wandered from the precise object of the Vote before the Committee. The Vote is for £40,000 in aid of some expenditure thrown by Parliament many years ago on the Mercantile Marine Fund. Not one penny of the money is given to the Trinity House, the Commissioners of Northern Lights, or the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The purposes for which this £40,000 is voted by the House are for the survey staff employed in surveying ships, for the expense of casualty returns, and for the relief of distressed seamen, and all the expenditure is under the Board of Trade. My hon. Friend went into the general questions of the Mercantile Marine Fund, the Light Dues, and the circumstances antecedent to the Act of 1854, by which the Mercantile Marine Fund was placed under the Board of Trade. With respect to the Trinity House, that is a very ancient Corporation, something like 600 years old, and acting under different charters. The whole matter was investigated by various Select Committees before the passing of the Mercantile Marine Act of 1854. What the private property of the Trinity House has to do with the Vote before the Committee I cannot imagine. That property was obtained from Light Dues, and from other sources under ancient charters and patents. These charters and patents were examined into by Parliament, and it was found that the property of the Trinity House belonged to them just as much as property belongs to any other 1760 Corporation. I, as President of the Board of Trade, have no knowledge of the property; I have no control over it in any way, and no authority to make any inquiry into it. If my hon. Friends wish to attack the property of the Trinity House they ought to do so by definite motion in the House, and not by speeches on this Vote, with which it has nothing to do whatever. My hon. Friend has spoken of the Mercantile Marine Fund and stated that the financial control of the Board of Trade is of no use. But in the course of his speech my hon. Friend showed what the Board of Trade has done to reduce the expenditure of the three Lighthouse Boards and what I did last year in order to clear the Mercantile Marine Fund from that bankrupt state in which it was a year ago. My hon. Friend charges the three Boards with extravagance in entertainments and matters of that kind; but he admits that much has been done to diminish that expenditure, and I think he ought to have read the paragraph in the Report of the Controller and Auditor General, in which he deals with the subject of diminished expenditure, and states that the charge on the Mercantile Marine Fund for the maintenance of the Trinity House appears to be satisfactory. I do not think it is fair after that conclusion of the Auditor General to charge the Trinity House with extravagance in this matter.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
Because a fixed sum of £ 800 a year is now allotted to the Trinity House for this purpose, a large reduction as compared with former years. Well, then, my hon. Friend goes on to object to the constitution of these three Boards. No doubt their constitution is somewhat old-fashioned, but I believe I speak the opinions of those who have preceded me in office, and who have had more experience of the matter than I have had, when I say that the administration of those Boards, however they may be constituted, is satisfactory and valuable to the public service. If the lights were placed under the Board of Trade or some other Department of the Government, I do not believe they wonld be as efficiently nor as cheaply administered as they are now. But if my hon. Friend desires to 1761 make so radical a change as that, I do contend that it ought to be the subject of a Motion in this House, rather than mere criticism upon the Vote of £40,000 in aid of the Mercantile Marine Fund. The Controller and Auditor General, in the 10th paragraph of his last Report, says, "I think it desirable to call attentiion to the form in which this account is presented "—that means the whole of the accounts.It does not, in my judgment, bring all the receipts and expenditure of the Mercantile Marine Fund under the notice of Parliament in as clear and as satisfactory a manner as it might.Well, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself paid some attention to this matter last autumn, and we appointed a strong Departmental Committee, composed of Sir Reginald Welby, Mr. Godley, of the India Office, and Mr. Calcraft, of the Board of Trade, with the following reference:—To inquire and report upon—First, the present condition of the Mercantile Marine Fund; second, the system by which votes in aid are granted to that Fund, and into the administration and expenditure of the Fund; and third, whether, on the part of the Departments spending money out of that Fund, due economy is exercised, and whether any, and if so what, alteration seems advisable in any part of the work of the administration of the Fund.The Committee will see that the terms of the reference will secure complete investigation of the accounts of the Fund and its administration. Although the gentlemen I have named are full of work, they have devoted much time to this subject, but have not yet completed their Report. I have no doubt whatever, from what I have already heard, that as one result of their investigations there will be placed before Parliament a much better statement of the accounts of the Fund than has hitherto been presented. As to the condition of the Mercantile Marine Fund, my hon. Friend spoke of it as it existed last year, as in a bankrupt condition. No doubt it is true that the Fund borrowed £200,000, and was expending at the rate of £90,000 or £100,000 more than it received; but by the increase of Light Dues which came into effect a year ago there has been such a change that in the year ending 31st March, 1889, the Fund will balance itself within £5,000. And I have no doubt in my own mind that by the same 1762 time next year there will be a surplus, with part of which the Lighthouse Authorities may be able to undertake some of those works which I am quite ready to admit with my hon. Friend have been deferred longer than advisable. Some of them are already ordered; others will be undertaken as opportunity permits. I think my hon. Friend has rather exaggerated the necessity of these works. The existing service has been completely maintained, and I can assure my hon. Friend he is mistaken in supposing that it is not being well and efficiently administered. I admit that some fresh lights and some improvements may be required, and I have no doubt that without extravagance and with due regard to economy we shall be able to make those improvements by the improved state of the Fund.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I want to ask whether something cannot be done to make these Light Dues fall fairly on the various ports in the three Kingdoms? Glasgow is very heavily handicapped.
I have, in former years, laid down that the administration of the lights could not be entered into in connection with this Vote. This is a special subsidy of £40,000 under Act of Parliament given to the Mercantile Marine Fund, and afterwards such a sum of money as may be necessary to equal the receipts and charges of the Fund. Therefore, the subject matter of this Vote relates to the receipts and charges of the Fund to which this £40,000 is given.
MR. CRAIG (Newcastle)
Sir, the question was raised in 1887 by myself, and I find in Hansard that you said the discussion was "quite relevant to the subject matter of the Vote before the Committee." Last year you allowed the discussion on this same Vote, which is the only Vote which comes before the House.
§ DR. CLARK
I wanted to point out that by the charges imposed Glasgow is very heavily handicapped, and the Scotch trade very much depressed, the dues charged upon Glasgow being twice and three times as heavy as the dues of London, but it seems that I would 1763 be out of order in so doing. I take it that the whole discussion has been out of order from the very beginning.
§ MR. L. LYELL (Orkney and Shetland)
I think we are very much indebted to the hon. Member for bringing this question up, but the speech of the President of the Board of Trade was not altogether satisfactory. The point I wish to become acquainted with is the management of this Fund.
§ MR. S. STOREY (Sunderland)
I rise for the purpose of expressing the pleasure with which I heard the statement of the President of the Board of Trade, and the fact that the Departmental Committee which has been appointed may be instrumental in bringing the accounts of the Fund under the purview of this House. I want to direct the attention of the Committee to a point which has not been raised, and on which I, for one, would be glad to obtain considerably more information. In the Civil Service Appropriation Account for 1887–88, p. 188, there is Account C, giving details of the dues received, salaries and other expenses of administration in various ports of the Kingdom under the Merchant Shipping Act. In this account I find the net fees received from various sources, which appear as a credit of the Estimate for the £40,000, which Parliament grants to the Board of Trade. At the bottom of this account I find the net fees received by the Registrar of Seamen for inspection of the registers, stated at £348 8s. 7d. If the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hanbury) wants the House to get at any real information on these matters, he should urge upon the Committee to take care that in any future account the two sides shall be fully set out; because it is telling us very little to say that the net fees received for the registration of seamen were £348 8s. 7d. What I am concerned to find out is, how much did it cost to produce that sum? A similar remark applies to the next item, which is for net fees received by the Registrar General of Seamen for copies of documents and certificates. I say nothing of the incredible meanness of the arrangement under which fees are exacted at all in such matters, but 1764 I do say that if they are exacted from the poor seamen, we ought to have an account showing how the money is expended. Then we have £1,862 8s. 3d. as the net amount received by the Receiver of Wrecks, and I am curious to know what was the gross sum received, and what was expended under that head. Still more curious am I to discover what was the gross amount under the next head, where we are told that the net fees received for the engagement and discharge of crews was £2,084 9s. 10d. Then there is an item of £1,965 net as fees received for the examination of engineers, and here again, I should like to know what was the gross amount. In fact, instead of merely having this account telling us that there have been net receipts of £5,500, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take care that in the next account put before us, the two sides are set out, so that on the one side we may have the gross receipts, and on the other the expenditure to the officials in fees or other emoluments. I draw attention to these items because they make a total which goes to the credit of Parliament and diminishes our grant in aid by some £5,000 or £6,000. As far as I can judge, this represents about half the sum which the Trinity House and the various Boards waste deliberately every year. It seems to me incredibly mean —for there is not another adjective in the English language that will express it—that under this fund it should be possible for gentlemen to spend thousands of pounds unnecessarily in eating and drinking and amusing themselves, and that at the same time, in order to balance their accounts, they should exact these fees and other allowances from poor seamen and others, under exceptionally painful and difficult circumstances. I think it would be more to their credit to cease this extra expenditure, so as to render it unnecessary to exact these petty fees. At any rate, if the fees are to be exacted, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take care that Parliament shall see the whole of the accounts. I have not bestowed the industry on this matter that has been expended by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hanbury), but connected as I am with a shipping port, I feel great interest in it, and I think that if the whole of these things could only be 1765 brought under the attention of Parliament and examined, year by year, with a critical eye to all their details, a very different and much more satisfactory state of things would be produced.
§ * SIR M. HICKS BEACH
If the hon. Gentleman will turn to the Estimates he will see that they state the actual receipts from survey fees, engineer's examination fees, unpaid wages,salvage, and so on, in the years 1885, 1886, 1887 and 1888. If any alteration can be made in the account, of the nature to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, in order to make it more clear, I will have it done. The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken in supposing that these fees are levied by the Trinity House; they are levied by the Board of Trade under the Act of Parliament, and have no relation to the expenditure by the Trinity House to which he has referred. I am sorry that my hon. Friend (Mr. Hanbury) so much overstated the expenditure. It is not fair to blame the Trinity House for expenditure in going about in vessels engaged in their service. The Trinity House authorities are obliged to visit the various lighthouses, light ships and beacons from time to time, to see whether they are in proper order and also to arrange for supplying them periodically with the necessary requisites for maintaining the service; and my hon. Friend has mixed up the necessary expenditure for this purpose with what ho terms their personal expenditure on themselves.
§ MR. STOREY
May I ask is it not the fact that the grant in aid depends in part on the rate of these fees? If these rates are greater or loss, that would affect the decision as to the amount of the grant in aid. If the grant in aid were less, Trinity House would have less money to guzzle with. Trinity House is not able to balance the account without the grant.
§ MR. STOREY
I wish to put my point. I am talking of Trinity House as a whole. Their business is to administer public works, and they have to provide the funds for this.
§ MR. STOREY
I do not suppose I am putting the point as the right hon. Gentleman would wish; but I desire to 1766 put it in my own way. Trinity House is provided by Parliament with £40,000 on account of certain duties it has to perform, and this sum may be increased if the Treasury thinks fit. If the grant in aid were less than it is, it seems to me that Trinity House would have less money to spend in the way referred to. Of course I cannot convince the right hon. Gentleman, and I will not try to do so any further; but I should say that if I had money to administer and did not spend it in one direction, I should have more to expend in another.
§ COLONEL HILL (Bristol, South)
It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Storey) is under a misapprehension in thinking that the £40,000 has to do with Trinity House. The Mercantile Marine Fund is applicable to many purposes which Trinity House has nothing to do with. I think it would be a great pity if it should go forth that the lighthouses in this country are in a bad condition, owing to want of funds. I venture to assert that there is no country in the world whose lighthouses and light-ships and beacons are better managed and attended to than those of Great Britain.
§ COLONEL HILL
I must apologise for being out of order, but I thought it might be supposed that we left our sailors in danger by not having efficient lights.
May I point out that by Clause 5 of the Act the annual sum of £40,000 expired in the year 1888, and after that there was no obligation on the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury to pay the amount, although they were empowered with the concurrence of the Board of Trade having regard to the receipts and expenditure of the Mercantile Marine Fund under Sections 3 and 4 of the Act to continue the contribution or make it less. Now I wish to know whether, if this account has not been adjusted we are at liberty to discuss it? Why do not you adjust it right out? Is there a deficit? If so, why? These are questions of some importance, and we require light to be thrown on them by those who are the only persons responsible. Nearly seven months ago I complained of the scanty information given in this 1767 Estimate, and I am glad the President of the Board of Trade has given us an assurance that we shall have fuller details in the future. If, however, these details are not certified by the Board of Trade—
If you have no control over the details, on what ground do you ask us for a grant in aid? Further, why do not you ask for sufficient to prevent there being a deficit? I really think these questions ought to be answered.
§ * SIR MICHAEL HICKS BEACH
One of the objects of the reference to the Committee which I read to the House was to inquire into the amount of the grant in aid, and the Committee will say what sum they would recommend should be voted in the future. It was at first supposed that £40,000 would prove sufficient, but it did not; and I hope that as a result of the inquiry by the Committee we shall be able to make a proposal to Parliament which will place the contributions to the Mercantile Marine Fund on a fairer basis than at present.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
Am I to understand that before the Estimates come before us the question will be considered by the Committee?
"That a sum, not exceeding £23,000, 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, 1890, for Her Majesty's Foreign and other Secret Services."
§ Whereupon Motion, made and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again,"—(Mr. Jackson,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported to-morrow, at Two of the clock; Committee also report Progress, to sit again to-morrow, at Two of the clock.