HC Deb 09 March 1891 vol 351 cc519-25

2. £500, Supplementary, Colonial Office.

(6.20.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

I do not desire to raise the whole question of Colonial Policy on this Supplementary Vote, but I think I am entitled to ask for some information on important events that are now taking place. Two or three days ago there appeared in the Times an article in very large type headed "Outcome of the Negotiations regarding South Africa." I should like to know if the statements in the article were authentic.


The hon. Member ought to defer raising such a question until the Colonial Office Vote is reached. The only item in the present Vote is for telegrams.


Yes, Sir; but I submit that the sending out of telegrams is a very important matter.


The hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to ask as to any telegraphic charge, but not to discuss general questions of Colonial Policy.


Then I should like to know whether any part of the telegrams for which a charge is made in this Vote had reference to the passing of the Act giving Responsible Government to Natal? I am obliged to abide by your ruling, Sir, but I am afraid that ruling will tend to the discussion being confined in very narrow limits.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I think I might be allowed to ask this financial question: whether any of these telegrams refer to the Chartered Company of South Africa, because, if so, I imagine we might raise the question whether such telegrams ought to be paid for by the Chartered Company or by the Imperial Government?


The Chartered Company pay for their own telegrams.


No doubt, they do; but I apprehend that if telegrams refer to matters concerning the Chartered Company, for instance to the enlistment of persons like Colonel Carrington for the Chartered Company, the Chartered Company ought to pay for them. This is important because we have speculative companies established in South Africa, and I notice that little by little we are being called upon to pay sums in respect of them. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will clearly explain whether any of the telegrams apply directly or indirectly to the action of Colonel Carrington, or to any other English official, with regard to the Chartered Company—in fact, whether if the Chartered Company had not been in existence these telegrams would have been sent at all.


The Vote to some extent arises from the increase of questions in this House, necessitating inquiries to be made by telegram in all parts of the globe.


I think we may assume that the inquiries were on the subject of questions asked in the House, and therefore, probably, you, Sir, will rule that we may raise a Debate on those questions.



DR. CLARK (Caithness)

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many telegrams were sent to South Africa?


It is quite impossible to say.


How much of the charge is due to questions put in the House? It seems to me the Colonial Office are entirely ignorant of colonial matters, unless questions are put to them by hon. Members, because when we ask questions they immediately telegraph, utterly regardless of the expense. The ignorance displayed by the Colonial Office shows the great necessity of hon. Members putting questions across the floor of the House. The best the right hon. Gentleman can do is to promise us a return of the cost of the different telegrams and distinguish between the telegrams he has sent in the ordinary course, and those he has sent when stirred up by hon. Members. I shall certainly move to report Progress, and take a Division against the Vote unless the right hon. Gentleman will give us some information, some rough or approximate estimate, as to the amount under this head due to questions asked in this House.

*(6.30.) BARON H. DE WORMS

The hon. and gallant Gentleman must be aware that it is absolutely impossible for me to give such information at a moment's notice, but if he will put down a Question I will give all information I can obtain.


But the right hon. Gentleman has told us that the increase in this item of expenditure is mainly due to the questions asked by hon. Members in this House, so surely he must have in his mind some idea of the approximate cost of telegrams on this account. The expenditure on telegrams is increased by £500, and the right hon. Gentleman, putting it rather as a slur upon the conduct of hon. Members, says, this expense has been mainly caused by questions asked here. But we repudiate responsibility for any increase of the kind. We, in the exercise of our undoubted right, put questions to Ministers on public matters, and we naturally suppose that the public Department concerned can supply the information we desire, but we have never supposed that the Colonial Office is so absolutely ignorant on colonial matters that to answer a simple question they have to telegraph to the Antipodes.

(6.33.) DR. CLARK

It will be observed there is another Vote for £1,750 for telegrams for the High Commissioner alone. I should like to know if any portion of this was used for South Africa?

*MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)

I really think an answer is due to us with respect to this great increase in cost of telegrams. The right hon. Gentleman puts this extra charge as mainly due to getting answers to questions we, in the exercise of the privilege of Members, put in this House, and then, being further challenged, he says it is utterly impossible for him to say what amount is due to the cause he has mentioned. But surely he has some approximate idea of the number of questions asked, or telegrams sent? It is hardly business-like to ask us to pass a vote like this, the right hon. Gentleman only saving, in an airy manner, the increase is due to questions in the House. Surely he can give us an approximate idea of the questions upon which he makes his statement?

*(6.34.) BARON H. DE WORMS

I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me; I have not refused the information. I have explained that I am not prepared with it at the moment. I said that of this extra expenditure a great deal was due to receiving answers to questions asked in this House. The hon. Gentleman knows that it continually happens that upon the Notice Question being answered an hon. Member supplements it by asking that the information desired may be telegraphed for, and it would be considered extremely discourteous if I refused to obtain information in that manner. I can call to mind an instance when the Western Australia Constitution Bill was before the House in which a telegram was sent to West Australia, and the rate for such telegrams is 8s. a word. Several times during those Western Australia Government Debates the Government were asked to telegraph for information.

(6.36.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

The ordinary Estimates for the year included a large sum for telegrams, and this is a Supplementary Vote. Reasons for the increase must have been sent to the Treasury; can my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury tell us upon what information the Treasury sanctioned this additional Estimate?

(6.37.) MR. H. HEATON (Canterbury)

I should like to ask the Under Secretary for the Colonies whether his statement, that this increase is chiefly due to questions asked in this House, is based upon information supplied by permanent officials at the Colonial Office, because my information in regard to these telegrams is of a totally different character?

*MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)

I would reiterate the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton. Does the Under Secretary mean that this large increase is mainly due to the increase of questions on colonial matters? I do not think that such a statement is in accordance with the general knowledge of hon. Members, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has, during the course of the Session, been called upon to answer an unusually largo number of colonial questions. This sum of £500 is a Supplementary Estimate. Will the Secretary to the Treasury say that when this increase of 14 or 15 per cent. on the original estimate was asked for the reason given was the unexpected number of questions requiring to be answered by means of the telegraph?


Perhaps I may be allowed to say a word on the subject, and before I do so let me say that my right hon. Friend had no intention of making this increase any ground for reproach on hon. Members for asking questions. I am asked, what statement was made to the Treasury which induced the Treasury to sanction this Supplementary Estimate? and to this I have to say that the original Estimate—which, as hon. Members are aware, was £3,500—was represented to us in December as being insufficient, there having been a great deal of telegraphing during the first nine months of the year. Having regard to the fact that the Estimate would almost certainly be exceeded, we thought it better to provide for another £500 to meet the expenses that might be incurred in the latter part of the year. It may be that this amount will not be expended; it may be that only £100 will be spent. I do not anticipate that the whole sum will be required, but I hope the Committee will agree that we do right in providing for contingencies that may arise.

(6.39.) MR. H. H. FOWLER

If this answer had been given earlier I do not think there would have been any difference of opinion. This is just the information we required; but when the Under Secretary put the increase upon such a novel ground that this House was responsible, he must not be surprised that objection was taken.


But may I ask what is the source of this: there is another Vote for £1,750?


That comes on a later Vote for the Colonial Service-That is a Vote by itself.

(6.40.) MR. H. HEATON

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my question as to the source of the information that the excess on the Vote is due to questions asked in the House. Is it derived from the permanent officials in the office? because my information is directly contrary to that.

Vote agreed to.

3. £10 Supplementary, Bankruptcy Department, Board of Trade.


I should like to have some information as to this expenditure. Though the nominal sum is £10, the expenses are really £700. I am very glad to find the Government find it necessary to spend £700 to give effect to the Companies Winding Up Act, and hope it may be the means, under that Act, of preventing those frauds such as we find daily brought to light in the Courts of Law in connection with the management of Joint Stock Companies. I should like to know what measures have been taken for the efficient working of the Act and the bringing to justice those who come within the clutches of the law.

*(6.42.) MR. JACKSON

Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to explain that. The only reason it is necessary to take a Supplementary Vote at all is that the Companies Winding Up Act has been passed since the Estimates were framed, and the Board of Trade could not incur any expenditure else, the expenditure being limited to the Bankruptcy Department. It is necessary to take this Vote as a matter of regularity and routine. My right hon. Friend anticipates that £700 may be required during the current financial year, and the fees are expected to cover that amount. The hon. Member may rely upon full effect being given to the Act.

Vote agreed to.

4. £455 Supplementary, Friendly Societies' Registry.

(6.45.) DR. CLARK

May I ask, is anything being done in reference to the Report of the Select Committee on this question, which made certain recommendations? There have been complaints that certain classes of tables, for which an expenditure of £10,000 has been incurred, are not ready. I understand the Government intend to bring in a measure; there seems to be some change pending. I should like to have some information.

*(6.45.) MR. JACKSON

The hon. Member is quite right. The Committee did make certain recommendations, and subsequently a Departmental Committee went thoroughly into all the questions of staff and recommended certain alterations, and it is to meet the increased expenditure that the Supplementary Estimate is necessary. The £300 is to meet expenditure in the current financial year which was necessary upon these tables. These have been in preparation for some years, and it was estimated the total cost would be £10,000 for 10 years. They ought to have been completed this year, but it was found they could not be completed, but it is expected they will be completed next year. Rather than delay the work, and to get the advantage of the tables at the earliest moment, we sanctioned an expenditure of £1,000 in excess of the original estimate. The work has taken 10 years, and will be of great advantage to Friendly Societies.

Vote agreed to.

5. £20,000, Supplementary, Mint, including coinage.

6. £1,150, Supplementary, Works and Public Buildings Office.

Forward to