HC Deb 09 March 1891 vol 351 cc494-519

(In the Committee.)

1. £350,000, Supplementary, Navy Services.

(4.0.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord G. HAMILTON,) Middlesex, Ealing

I think the Committee will expect me to make some explanation of this Vote. When I introduced the Naval Defence Act I pointed out the extreme inconvenience of paying large balances into the Exchequer at the close of the financial year, whilst liabilities were carried forward to the following year. That system caused considerable disturbances in the continuity of finance. Therefore, an arrangement was made under the Naval Defence Act, by which all unexpended balances appropriated for specific purposes should be carried forward from year to year, and paid to the credit of the Naval Defence Act. In the interval between the making of my speech and the introduction of the Bill, the measure was in parts revised, and one or two alterations, which seemed to be only of a verbal character, were introduced into it. This year we had to put ourselves into communication with the Treasury for the purpose of asking them to allow us to make use of the unexpended balance of last year for the purpose of meeting the liabilities which fall upon the present financial year. Under Clause 3, Subsection A, of the Act, it was provided, that for the purpose of dock-yards, &c.— The sum £2,650,000, or such less sum as may be required by the Admiralty, may be devoted in any one year, and so on. In the same clause it was also provided that if any portion of the sum that could be applied in pursuance of the section was not expended, that portion should be transferred to the Naval Defence Act. As the Act "was passed, the words "or such less sum as may be required by the Admiralty" were omitted from the section. To my simple lay mind it appeared that the omission was of no importance. The Treasury, however, who are the prime Authority in this matter, decided otherwise, and they ruled that no part of the unexpended balances could be appropriated in any one year in which a less sum than £2,650,000 had been voted. In the present financial year we have not taken the sum of £2,650,000, and, therefore, the Treasury ruled that the unexpended balances could not be utilised, and any excess that was required must be voted on a Supplementary Estimate. That is the reason why we ask the House to vote the sum of £350,000 and at the same time carry forward a balance of £542,000. The person who suffers is the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because it diminishes this year the amount of his realised surplus, which otherwise would have gone to the reduction of debt. I will take care that next year the maximum sum is voted. I ought to add that there is an excess of £50,000 under the head of coals for steam-vessels. This is due to the Navy having had to perform a far larger amount of blockade work on the east coast of Africa than was anticipated, and also to the fact that a large number of ships of the latest type have been this year placed in commission, and that the amount of coal consumed by the triple-expansion engines has been larger than was anticipated. One of the merits of the triple-expansion engines is that they economise coal. But our experience in the Navy is that when these engines are used at a low rate of speed there is, comparatively, a larger amount of coal consumed. This, combined with the extra amount of work we have had to do, is the cause of this excess of £50,000 for steam-vessels. I have thought it right to make these points clear.

(4.47.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

I think the noble Lord has made a very clear and valuable statement. I have no reason to complain of the fulness of his statement in any way, but at the same time, looking back to last year, it seems extraordinary that the Admiralty should have fallen into the mistake he now admits they did as to the meaning of the Naval Defence Act. Bearing in mind the construction of that Act, I cannot understand how the Admiralty could suppose that they could resort to the unexpended balances of the previous year, or to paying for work of the current year out of the Estimates of future years, until the £2,650,000 provided for in the Naval Defence Act had been expended. I have always contended that the course the Admiralty have pursued is calculated to confuse the Navy Estimates and prevent the possibility of yearly comparisons being made, and what has taken place has shown that I have been right. The fact is that the House was not told last year that the Admiralty did not propose to take in the Vote the total sum of £2,650,000, contemplated by the Naval Defence Act. The House was led to believe that the Estimates for the current year would include that sum. Although the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the Act provided that either the £2,650,000, or a less sum, might be expended, yet the statements and tables placed before the House at the time the Act was under discussion indicated that year by year that sum would be proposed and voted by the House. Now it appears, a less sum than the £2,650,000 is actually provided in the Estimates for the current year, but the amount is not stated, and the effect is, I repeat, to confuse the finances and to prevent hon. Members from following or comparing them. I hold that last year the Navy Estimates ought to have been increased by £300,000 at least in order to bring up the anticipated expenditure under the Act to a total of £2,650,000. Not having done so the noble Lord was not entitled to look forward to the unexpended balances of previous years, or to the Votes of years to come. What is certain is that the Navy Estimates last year were less by £300,000 than they ought to have been, and to that extent comparisons with past and future years are disturbed.

(4.54.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)

This is a very serious matter and is one of the first fruits of that extraordinary confusion into which the whole financial system we have built up with so much care has been drawn, by the new methods adopted by the present Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian alluded to the manner in which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has overthrown all those financial principles for which he was originally the greatest authority and the greatest stickler. The right hon. Gentleman has now introduced what I may call the abominable foreign system of ordinary and extraordinary expenditure—a system that has ruined the finances of France and other Continental nations; and, although formerly nobody protested more strongly against it than the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, he seems to have now adopted it as a fundamental feature of his Budgets. He seems to have departed from every principle laid down by his predecessor, Sir Stafford North-cote. Sir Stafford Northcote established a Sinking Fund, and devoted £28,000,000 a year to the service of the debt; but the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has reduced that amount to £25,000,000, and now he has adopted the principle of extraordinary Budgets, which in the year 1879 he denounced when on one occasion Sir Stafford Northcote made a slight departure from the principle of providing for the expenditure of the year out of the resources of the year. When, in 1879, the Government of that day having great difficulties abroad and heavy expenditure on hand, Sir Stafford Northcote proposed to make provision for £5,000,000, or some such sum, and to throw it over two years, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer loudly protested against it. What is the state of things now, when there is no extraordinary call for expenditure? There are £2,600,000 under the Imperial Defence Act, £10,000,000 or £11,000,000 under the Naval Defence Act, and £4,000,000 under the Barracks Act, which in successive years have been charged, not upon any provision of the year, but upon mortgaging the future resources of the country. That is what I call the new and vicious system of extraordinary Budgets. What did the right hon. Gentleman say about this in the year 1879—a little more than 10 years ago? He said— The fact was, the House had lost its power as to the expenditure of the country through the introduction of this distinction between ordinary and extraordinary expenditure. That is exactly our position now. I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question the other day to which he did not give me a very definite answer; but I venture to say that he has got the finances of the country into such a condition that it will be necessary to have three Budgets in order to clearly understand how we stand—the ordinary or old English Budget, an extraordinary or French Budget, and a local expenditure Budget—because every week, when the finance accounts are presented, you see "so much" received by the Exchequer and notes below, "so much paid over to the local fund "—so that we have now arrived at a point when it is impossible to know where you are unless you have three Budgets presented. That is a new system of finance on which we have entered. In the very speech denouncing Sir Stafford Northcote for a very mild offence compared with that of the present Government, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said— While they hunted with the hounds they ran with the hare. After singing 'Rule Britannia' at Conservative dinners all over the country, with might and main, they come down to this House, as the First Lord of the Admiralty did the other night, to confess themselves the devoted and convinced disciples and champions of 'Peace, retrenchment and reform.' That was the view the Chancellor of the Exchequer took of the Government of the day, and of this system of extraordinary Budgets. We know what these Budgets are meant for. The practise has been introduced by the Government in order that they may pose before the country as men who expend large sums of money in the defences of the country and yet escape the inconvenience of asking the people to pay for them. That was denounced as a vicious and cowardly policy by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Last year a Return was presented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford which showed that, at the very time that the right hon. Gentleman was pretending to take off taxes, he had failed to meet the liabilities of the year by £4,000,000. That is the policy laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, who said that the Government had not shrunk from the test of making those sacrifices which were necessary for providing for the expenditure of the year. He said, and I would commend his words to the attention of the Administration— It is an exhibition of an apparently strong policy carried out by weak men—I do not mean weak intellectually, but men wanting in the nerve and courage to face unpopularity. They had shown a want of confidence in the willingness of the country to bear the burdens, which were the result of their policy The whole secret of these extraordinary Budgets—this doctrine of spreading the expenditure of untold millions over a series of years, is to induce the people to agree to it, on condition that they shall not be bound to pay for it at present, but at some future time when it may be convenient. And the right hon. Gentleman said, of a system which was really microscopic as compared with this gigantic conversion of it, that he was anxious to protest against a Budget, which appeared to him to he shabby, flabby, and inadequate to the occasion. He was also good enough to pay me the compliment of quoting from a speech I had made to my constituents, and to add that he could but use the witty expression of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford about "Peace with honour, on tick." These were the doctrines of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer 10 years ago; yet since he has occupied his present position he has been responsible for the expenditure of millions which are net to be repaid until convenient. The fact is that the right hon. Gentleman has violated every one of the principles which he himself laid down. He has been a party to throe Acts of Parliament, in three successive years, which provide for the expenditure of millions of money which are not to be met out of the taxation of the year. Nor was this at a time of difficulty at home or abroad. The right hon. Gentleman has done this during a period of restored trade, when the resources of the country have been replenished to a degree they had not been for many a year. This series of financial arrangements has thrown the national finances into such confusion that it is absolutely impossible for any one to make out what is and what is not the expenditure during any one year. You have to look through all these Acts, and the greatest proof is that the Government cannot read their own Acts; they have to bring in these supplemental Estimates because they made a mistake to the amount of £300,000, and because the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Admiralty were at issue whether or not that £300,000 was part of the expenditure of last year. Could there be anything more conclusive of the financial jumble and confusion than this result of the policy of the Government? I venture to say that, under the circumstances of this financial juggle and confusion, the ordinary Budget becomes a senseless document. It is open to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to swell his Budget of expenditure this year and diminish it the next as he chooses, by throwing this year's expenditure on the last, or vice versâ. The House, for instance, was deluded by the Budget and the Navy Estimates of last year. This sum of £350,000 ought to have been provided for, and it was not. True, it is not a very large amount, but it affords an object lesson as to the present system, upon which, when the Budget comes on, we shall have more to say. If this money has now to be provided, why does not the right hon. Gentleman propose a loan such as Lord Palmerston proposed in respect of fortifications? As is well known, in that case the sum was to be spead over a number of years by terminable annuities, and before those years expired the fortifications were acknowledged to be quite useless. So it may be in regard to this expenditure. I have thought it right on this Supplementary Vote to call attention to the state of confusion into which the finances have now been brought and to show the reason for that confusion.

*(5.10.) THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square

I do not complain of the right hon. Gentleman, as one who had once filled the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, laying down strict principles of finance, but in the remarks which he has made he has indulged in what, after all, is occasional with him—gigantic exaggeration.


Oh, no; the exaggeration is on your side.


The right hon. Gentleman has applied criticisms which might be applicable on policy, namely, a vast scale to transactions on a small scale. He says that no one can understand the expenditure of the country, simply by reason, I suppose, of this extra outlay of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000. I should say that that is a specimen of his exaggeration. He has attacked our finance on two or three grounds. He has attacked it as a system of borrowing, and he has attacked it because he says it leads to confusion. But he appears to have entirely forgotten what were the grounds which prompted the Government to deal in this particular way with regard to Naval and Imperial defence. It is, perhaps, not to be regretted that the right hon. Gentleman has now given me an opportunity of reminding the Committee and the public of those reasons. The right hon. Gentleman says we might have resorted to a loan, and he instances the case of the fortifications. He considers that a loan, the repayment of which was spread over a number of years, would have been better.


I did not recommend a loan. I said it would have been more straightforward and honest, though it would still have been a bad plan.


The right hon. Gentleman means to say it would have been more straightforward and honest to borrow and to spread the payment over a long instead of a short term. I fail to see that. It would, of course, have been easy for the Government to take a loan, as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, and extend the repayment over a long period of years. But Her Majesty's Government did not think that would be sound finance. We thought it ought to be spread over the shortest possible number of years and accordingly this expenditure was spread over seven years. The right hon. Gentleman has apparently forgotten the case of the Localisation of the Forces Bill in 1871, which is a precise precedent for the course taken on the present occasion. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to three Acts—the Imperial Defence Act, the Naval Defence Act, and the Barracks Act. I was a little surprised to hear all these Acts introduced into a Debate on a Supplemental Estimate, but I suppose I am in order in replying to the right hon. Gentleman. Then, let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Barracks Act is based on the precise line of the Act of 1871 or 1872. There was permanent work to be undertaken, and the Government of that day, of which I was a member, borrowed for the purpose, and did not think that permanent buildings ought to be dealt with out of the revenue of the year. Similarly the present Government has not thought that the £3,000,000 or £4,000,000, to be spent on barracks, under the Act of last Session, ought to be placed on the taxpayers of one given year. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby is of a different opinion, that opinion is in antagonism to the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in 1871. Then as to the Naval Defence Act, the right hon. Gentleman has quoted words which I used in 1879. He was perfectly entitled to do so. But why has the Government passed this measure? Because experience has taught them that under the system of finance existing previously, ships were not built within the time in which they ought to be built, and that funds intended for shipbuilding were diverted to other purposes, such as repairs. Under the old system there was a constant shifting in the Navy Estimates, which had a most dangerous influence on the shipbuilding programme. I am bound to say, I must personally take a great portion of the responsibility for that Act, for it appeared to me that unless we laid down that a certain sum should be set aside under Act of Parliament for shipbuilding, we should never have such a Fleet as the country wants. I admit that the system of finance now adopted is more complicated than the old system, but the country will forgive the complication when, at the end of the four years over which the expenditure will be spread, it sees the ships built for which the money has been voted. The right hon. Member for Derby has quoted words of mine indicating that it is a cowardly course to borrow. But we are not borrowing. We are only regularising the expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Government are borrowing £10,000,000, but this is not a loan of £10,000,000; it is rather the regularising of an expenditure of £10,000,000, spreading it over seven years, for every year a sum of £1,400,000 is put upon the Vote, and in this way £2,800,000 out of the £10,000,000 has already been voted, and another £1,400,000 will be put in the Estimates for this year. It cannot be said that this is borrowing the money. I must, therefore, demur to the charge brought against us by the right hon. Gentleman. This arrangement, be it observed, has not been made for the purpose of lightening taxation, but in order to secure that within a given number of years a certain number of ships shall be built. This end, I hope, we shall attain; and I again say, I feel sure the country will forgive a little complication of accounts if we succeed in doing what no former Board of Admiralty or any other Government has done. Who are responsible for the demands which the Government has had to meet? The right hon. Gentleman and his friends who did not make sufficient provision for the Fleet. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman himself said, "We have no money for guns," of which the consequence is that the present Government have had to supply them. The same thing occurred in connection with the coaling stations. In fact, within three or four years the Government have had to fortify the coaling stations, to supply the new magazine rifle, to build barracks, and to strengthen the Fleet. In these circumstances, the Government have thought it justifiable, with regard to a portion of this expenditure, to take the same course as was taken in 1871 in connection with the Localisation of the Forces Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has also spoken of Local Finance. That is a subject that would be more appropriately discussed on the Budget; but I must point out that, whereas, some years ago it was next to impossible to ascertain what liabilities we had incurred for local purposes, that department of finance has now been regularised and systematised, and will soon be intelligible to the country. But the main charge of the right hon. Gentleman is that the Government had borrowed. I answer, that so far as we have borrowed, we have followed the precedent set for us, and so far as we have withdrawn any expenditure from the control of Parliament, we have simply done so in order to secure that the shipbuilding programme of the country shall be undisturbed by any change of feeling in this or a new Parliament, and to ensure that our shipbuilding programme shall be carried out.

(5.25.) MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

The right hon. Gentleman, in his closing words, referred in the most distinct manner possible to the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, when he attacked this particular system of finance. I venture to think that a more unconstitutional doctrine was never so audaciously avowed; and this is the doctrine which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself so courageously denounced in 1879.


I did not denounce it from the point of view the right hon. Gentleman suggests.


Surely. What was the avowal of the right hon. Gentleman? That it was expedient and Constitutional for the Government to withdraw from the control of a future House of Commons the expenditure upon Her Majesty's Navy. The right hon. Gentleman said, in effect, that he resorted to this new system, which he denounced in 1879, in order that, if his Government were superseded by a Liberal Government, the present naval policy of Ministers might not be thwarted. What more unconstitutional position could a Chancellor of the Exchequer take up? Surely the controlling authority of this House is based upon the constant, steady, annual supervision of the annual expenditure. That is the most fundamental of all constitutional doctrines; yet the right hon. Gentleman wishes to prevent a new House of Commons, that may disapprove the naval policy of his Government, from interfering with their plans, and in order to baulk the new House, and to frustrate the will and intentions of the constituencies, he resorts to this system which the right hon. Member for Derby has denounced. By his bold and audacious avowal the Chancellor of the Exchequer has shown that he must have forgotten what he said in 1879. He then said— The fact was, the House had lost power as to the expenditure of the country through the introduction of this distinction between ordinary and extraordinary expenditure. Now, the right hon. Gentleman tells us that he has adopted this new system because he wishes to deprive a future House of Commons of all control over the naval policy of the country.

*(5.29.) MR. GOSCHEN

The right hon. Gentleman is indulging in some exaggeration. I do not shrink from the just inference which may be drawn from my words; but the right hon. Gentleman does not draw the correct inference, when he says that what we did was to substitute au Act of Parliament for the estimate. We placed the item on the Consolidated Fund in order that it should not be made the subject of an annual Vote, but the control of Parliament remains. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, an Act of Parliament can be repealed. Therefore, the naval policy of the country has not been withdrawn from the control of a future House of Commons, for the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, if they should think right, will be able to repeal the Naval Defence Act. My own views may well have undergone some modification since 1879, for I have had experience of the difficulties caused in naval matters by the system ordinarily pursued. I have endeavoured to explain to the House the difficulties into which the Navy and our system of naval construction have got owing to the policy which has been pursued during the last eight or nine years. I have seen all the disasters that have resulted from that system. Sometimes it has happened that there were guns for which no ammunition was provided, and in other cases it has happened that there were ships for which no guns were provided; while with regard to the ships themselves, they have been so slowly constructed that in some cases they have been rendered practically valueless for times of emergency. I have also seen the results which have been pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), with regard to our fortifications, where the necessary work has been spread over a long time, so that had any necessity arisen in the meantime neither ships nor fortifications would have been ready. In answer to the right hon. Gentleman, I say that if these defences are essential to the national safety, it cannot be wrong for us to depart from the ordinary practice, and to propose that the naval expenditure should be safeguarded by a permanent arrangement such as we now propose, instead of that which has hitherto been customary. Now, I confess that I have laid myself open to some of the reproaches of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have laid myself open to the reproach that I have in some degree lessened the control of Parliament over the expenditure for the construction of our Fleet; but I say that if the results should be that three years hence this country will have a larger Navy and a stronger Navy than it has ever had before, that our ships will be found to have been built more economically, because consecutively, by funds withdrawn from immediate Parliamentary control, and that in addition to our ships, we shall also have provided the magazine rifle and have fortified our coaling stations, I trust that the House will forgive the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having secured these results by this system of finance, which may be termed complicated, and which right hon. Gentlemen opposite may consider they are justified in denouncing as they have done, but which I still believe will be proved to be more beneficial to the country than that which has hitherto been adopted.


We have heard the arguments put forward by the once Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer in favour of what I call "ship-money." All the principles of the Constitution, all the control of Parliament over the National Expenditure, are thrown over by the right hon. Gentleman the Liberal Unionist Chancellor of the Exchequer. What, I ask, has become of the constitutional control of the House of Commons? The right hon. Gentleman says, "We put it into an Act of Parliament, which you can alter if you like." Yes, with the consent of the House of Lords. It is thus the control of the House of Commons over the Expenditure of the country is deliberately destroyed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and he does this because he fears a dissolution may come, and that another Government may sit in the places occupied by himself and his colleagues. That, I repeat, is the constitutional doctrine of a Chancellor of the Exchequer who was once a Liberal, and who made the speech in 1879 to which reference has already been made. Let me for a moment examine this doctrine. The policy of this House ever since the Reform Bill of 1832 has been to put upon the Votes of Parliament everything that could properly be put upon the Votes, and to take off everything that could be taken off the Consolidated Fund, in order that the control of the House of Commons might be more efficiently maintained. But now the Expenditure which has always by the Constitution of the country been expressly reserved for the control of the House of Commons—that is to say, the naval and military expenditure—is put for the first time by Her Majesty's Government upon the Consolidated Fund, so that it cannot be removed except with the consent of the House of Lords. This paltry sum of £350,000 contained in the Supplementary Estimate is as insignificant as the amount of "ship-money" itself when compared with the doctrine which is used to support it. Here we have the Chancellor of the Exchequer coming down to the House on a Monday afternoon and saying, "I have given away"—no, not given away, but, "I have filched away—filched away secretly—in a manner which the country has never previously known, and by a deliberate plan, the control of the House of Commons over the Naval Estimates, thereby placing the House in such a position that if there should be a dissolution of Parliament or a new Government who desired to alter this policy, it could not do it without the consent of the House of Lords." That is the object, and the avowed object, of the right hon. Gentleman, and the period is put at seven years, I suppose with a view to the Septennial Act, so as to make the Government perfectly safe against another Parliament or Government, which might disapprove of their proceedings, thereby saying, "Although the majority of the country and the majority of their Representatives in the House of Commons might desire another policy, we, a discredited Government, have taken care that the country, and the Government which enjoys the confidence of the country, shall not be able to pursue whatever policy they, under the circumstances, may deem fit." That is the doctrine of the right hon. Gen- tleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that doctrine cannot be too distinctly stated in this House, I think the country will be very much surprised to see it to-morrow—quite as much surprised as I was when I heard the avowal this afternoon. I had at first thought that it had been merely the result of a blundering policy, or what the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself spoke of as a "shabby, sloppy proceeding," arising from a blunder made between two Departments over a trifle of £300,000. But it is not so. It is a totally different thing. It is the result of the deliberate and well-considered policy of the Government for the purpose of removing this money from the control of the House of Commons for a period of seven years. Let us understand exactly where we are. This policy has been as distinctly avowed and defended by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as it is possible to conceive. I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who laughs at this, is as much the advocate of a Coercion Act for this House as he is of a Coercion Act for Ireland. I am not at all surprised at him; but in what I am now saying I am appealing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who once held views on financial principles which have been established in this country for the last 100 years. I have already referred to "ship-money." There is a youthful Strafford sitting by the side of the right bon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am reminded that Strafford was also a Governor of Ireland in his time when, I suppose, the government of Ireland was conducted on much the same principles and policy as those of the present Chief Secretary. I should not, therefore, think of appealing to him for anything like respect for constitutional principles. Nevertheless, I hope it is not too late to vindicate and affirm the old principle of the control of the House of Commons over the Expenditure of the country, which has been deliberately attacked by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We now know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has by a deliberate plan endeavoured to destroy that principle.


The right hon. Gentleman seems to forget that a Debate took place on this very subject on the Naval Defence Bill, and that the very same arguments were used and fully answered, the Government being attacked on precisely the same points as are advanced at the present moment.


At any rate, I am very much surprised that we have had the avowal from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the whole policy of the Government has been deliberately adopted for the purpose of keeping the control of the naval expenditure out of hands of the House of Commons. I protest against any such doctrine. I think that this Debate is thoroughly justified, inasmuch as it has brought out before the country and the House of Commons quite clearly what is the object of the policy of the Government, namely, to destroy the control of the House of Commons over our naval expenditure, and that for seven years, whatever the country or the House of Commons may say or desire, or whatever the Government which enjoys the confidence of the country, may think Parliament has determined the matter by an Act which we cannot vary except with the consent of the House of Lords. I have always thought the principle of control by this House was accepted by both Parties; bat it now appears that it is only the Liberal Party that will have to maintain for the future the doctrine of the supremacy of this House over the National Expenditure. At any rate, that doctrine is repudiated by the Party which is represented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I had thought that the doctrine of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was sufficiently laid down in his speech of 1879; but he says he has shunted that doctrine just as he has abandoned a great deal more since that time. The doctrine which has hitherto been upheld by this House has been that, as a general rule, the money wanted to meet the expenditure of the year should be provided out of the resources of the year. There are exceptions to that rule, where the particular circumstances or exigencies may require a different course; but where it is necessary to vary the rule, the necessity ought to be frankly and fairly stated to the House. I have never yet heard any Government or Administration avow that they have deliberately adopted a plan by which, for seven years, they intended to defeat the control of the House of Commons over the Expenditure of the country, and I venture to say that I, for one, protest against this doctrine, and express a hope that when the country has had an opportunity of considering it, it will repudiate it quite as strongly as we do.


The right hon. Gentleman has just made one of his usual appeals to the principles of the Liberal Party; and in justification of that appeal has given us a short sketch of English History, beginning with Charles I and coming down to our own time. But there is one principle which he seems to have entirely forgotten. I always thought it an essential principle of the Liberal Party that a practice was not to be adhered to merely because it was old, but that it was possible to re-consider even the most ancient and traditional custom when it was thought it might be amended. I have believed also that that principle was not the absolute monopoly of either Political Party, although, if it were claimed more by one Party than by the other, it was by the party to which the right hon. Gentleman belongs. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that this Debate has been sprung upon us, and that now, at the very last moment, the Tory Government, led by a Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, intends to subvert the beneficial liberties of the country and to destroy one of the principles upon which the financial policy of the Government has hitherto been based. The right hon. Gentleman, who poses as a vigilant guardian of the public purse, seems to have forgotten the Debates that took place upon this subject some two or three years ago. It may aid the right hon. Gentleman to refer to those Debates, in which some very eminent colleagues of his took part, although possibly he may have taken no part in them himself. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) took part in them, and so, also, did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone); and well do I recollect the constitutional views which they put forward, and which received a certain amount of support from the speech made by my noble Friend the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill) from this side of the House. Therefore, to say that these questions are now for the first time sprung upon the House, and that the dark and nefarious design of the Government is only now made apparent, is to prove that the right hon. Gentleman, so far from being a careful guardian of the liberties of the House, has not taken the trouble to follow the discussions which have taken place on the subject upon which he has spoken so strongly. After all, Mr. Courtney, what the Committee have to determine is not whether the plan is subversive of the old plan, but whether the new plan is a good plan, and whether it is not justified by the facts of the case. The right hon. Gentleman said perfectly truly that the practice of voting money for an Expenditure which is to extend over more than one year is a new plan which was never thought of by our forefathers. But this is to meet a new exigency in shipbuilding. It did not take four or five years to complete a ship in the old time.


It took more.


The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. The model of the wooden ship changed less in a century than the model of an ironclad changes now in five years. Therefore, the object of this change of policy is to meet what never existed before. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Harcourt) apparently supposes that we have in mere lightness of heart adopted this new method. He must know, if he has followed the policy of naval construction during the last 10 years, that it was forced upon the Government by the evils which were brought to their notice, and the right hon. Gentleman did not show throughout the whole course of his speech that he had the slightest appreciation of what those necessities are. The Government adopted this plan, to which the House gave their deliberate sanction, with the view of carrying out a complete and economical programme of shipbuilding; and before we can abandon that plan, we must have much stronger arguments than the flimsy and shadowy constitutional pretences brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman. Of course, if the Government were to withdraw from the consideration of the Committee money to be expended on a policy to be carried out within the year, that would be very gratuitously violating the traditions of Parliament. The Army expenditure is of that nature. But the peculiarity of modern shipbuilding and modern fortifications is this: that alterations of design are so rapid, and inventions are pressed forward at such a speed, that, if you followed the old plan of taking a long time to build, your ships would be more costly and less efficient. Are you prepared, in order to lay the ghosts of Charles I and Hampden, to have worse ships under the old plan than you will gain under the new plan? Let the right hon. Gentlemen show that our plan does not come up to the naval necessities of the case, and he will show us ample reason for abandoning that plan. They do not do that. They rely upon these Parliamentary practices which are perfectly justifiable in dealing with ordinary matters, but which are not justifiable in an expenditure on ironclads, which take years to build.

(5.50.) MR. J. MORLEY

I think the right hon. Gentleman was not in his place when the remark fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer which gave rise to this discussion. Upon the right hon. Gentleman's last remarks I would ask him one plain question. If you wanted £4,000,000 last year, why did you not ask Parliament to vote it then and there? Perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give a plain answer to that when the opportunity arises. What the Chief Secretary has just been saying about the Navy of the country is really beside the mark. First of all, and as a matter of fact, I do not believe the First Lord of the Admiralty would say that a ship takes longer to build now than it did in 1879, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid down these sound doctrines. But the point we want to get at is the avowal made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government adopted this policy not because ships takes longer to build, or from any point of view of that kind, but because, as he said, "We might be superseded by gentlemen on the other side of the House in the Government, and we want to anticipate that risk of supersession; and, therefore, in fact, we take out of you, the House of Commons, the power of saying what should or should not be done." The Chief Secretary was not here at the moment that avowal was made, but I doubt that he would defend that principle. What is the Chief Secretary's argument after all, taking it for what it is worth? It assumes that the House of Commons are likely to be so blind to all the naval necessities of the country, or to the conditions of naval construction, that they will deliberately waste and throw away what has been done by the preceding Government. The Chief Secretary has not dealt with our comments upon the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which stands absolutely accepted by the whole Government, namely, that the Government of the day by this policy deliberately intended, and acted with that view, to take from the House of Commons the power of altering this policy or of checking an expenditure in which the House of Lords is to join.

*(5.54.) MR. GOSCHEN

It would appear that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, as well as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, does not remember the Debates which took place on the Naval Defence Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian discussed this very objection to the Bill.


That is what I said.


The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby has asserted that this was not discussed.


I beg your pardon. I did not say the objection had not been taken; it has always been our objection. But what I said was that it had never been avowed before that it was intended to defeat the will of the country and of future Parliaments. It has never been said before, and never been answered, that it was in order to defeat the Government or the Parliament elected by the country.


The right hon. Gentleman has referred to future Parliaments. Why could not a future Parliament repeal the Act?


The House of Commons.


The right hon. Gentleman ought to be more careful in his language. He spoke of Parliament.


The House of Lords is not dissolved; the House of Commons is.


The argument was used on the last occasion, just as it is used now, but Parliament decided upon a certain programme. It settled that certain ships should be built and finished, and the money raised for them in a certain way. Was it desirable, after this solemn resolve, that we should be exposed to the contingency that a future Government—I did not speak of a future Parliament—should interfere with the continuity of shipbuilding for four or five years? Our whole argument, our whole policy, was this: that precautions should be taken by Act to secure continuity for our programme for five years. That is the great crime with which we stand charged. We pointed out that no guns had been supplied, or, if they were, that there was no ammunition for them, and that the ships were far longer building than was necessary. ["No, no!"] We have it on record, and it cannot be denied that frequently the Admiralty changed the plans for a portion of some vessel, and that delayed its construction, while money that was voted for building was devoted to repairs. We considered it wiser to have continuous building, and I do think the right hon. Gentleman has exaggerated the scope of our proposal. Of course, the new Parliament will be able to deal with this as with any other Acts. The whole crime, as I understand, is that we have put into an Act what we formerly brought before Committee of Supply.


Our charge is that you have destroyed the control of the House of Commons over public expenditure.


Then my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian, when he passed the Mobilisation of Forces Act, 1871, destroyed control over that amount of expenditure, just as we are said to be destroying control now. How does the right hon. Gentleman get out of that difficulty? The sanction of expenditure by an Act of Parliament has been done continually. It is done in every instance where there is a loan. The right hon. Gentleman says we have destroyed the control of the House of Commons. That is to say, nothing is to be done by loan. I admit to the full with the right hon. Gentleman that the control of Parliament ought to be maintained, as far as possible, but there are cases where it is advisable to proceed by legislation, and we think this is a case.

*(5.58.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E)

As Her Majesty's Government have fallen back on the plea of administration as an excuse, I wish to draw attention to this one fact, that in a very important speech delivered in 1888 the First Lord of the Admiralty, I think, in introducing the Naval Defence Bill, said the building of the Trafalgar had been shortened by at least a year and a-half, involving a saving of £75,000 to the Exchequer. This improvement in administration was therefore secured before the adoption of this procedure to which Her Majesty's Government have had recourse. The contention which has been laid before us, especially by the Chief Secretary, shows very small attention to the facts as to the construction of various ships. I was astounded at what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said with regard to guns and ammunition, and other matters of administration, which can be dealt with without the unconstitutional procedure which has been so justly and rightly denounced by my right hon. Friends.

(5.59.) SIR W. PLOWDEN (Wolverhampton, W.)

I think we ought to have some explanation of this sum of £350,000 extra expenditure in respect of steam vessels. The First Lord and his advisers, when they framed their Estimates, must have had a very accurate knowledge of triple-expansion engines, and they ought to have been able to frame them in such a manner as to avoid this extra expenditure of £350,000 being asked for. I would ask the First Lord whether there is any difference between the conduct of these triple-expansion engines in Her Majesty's Service and the conduct of such engines in the Merchant Service? If there is no difference, why are not the Estimates properly framed?


I should like to ask the First Lord one question. He will remember that the most important part of his statement last year related to the proposal to reserve a large number of ships which would be available on an emergency at very short notice. If I remember rightly, the large ships were to be available at once—the coastguard ships in 48 hours, and the principal part of the Naval Reserve in five days or a week. I think the noble Lord said, on the 1st of July 1890, that these ships would be all ready and available for war purposes, if they were wanted, within a less space of time than a week. I would ask him whether his expectation has been fulfilled, whether the vessels would be able to put to sea within a week, and whether they are all available for war purposes? I would also ask him whether he would have any objection to lay on the Table a Return showing the present condition of the mobilisation, and how far the actual condition of things corresponds with the expectations the noble Lord held out last year. Two or three days ago I saw in the Times newspaper a statement that none of these expectations had been realised, that hardly any of the vessels of the First-Class Reserve could be brought forward in a short space of time; that many of the vessels mentioned would take a year or more to bring forward; and that, in point of fact, the scheme of mobilisation on which all this extraordinary expenditure has been incurred has not been carried out. The writer of the article to which I have referred says that some of the Reserve ships are old wooden vessels, and some of the so-called ironclads are of so old a type that, practically speaking, they ought not to be regarded as available.


I shall be very glad to give the right hon. Gentleman the information he asks for. Last year I announced that it was intended that the large ships should be made available for service within twelve hours. That has been done. I said it was intended to convert the Channel Squadron into a homogeneous squadron of modern battle-ships. That has been done. As regards the Coastguard ships, all of them are in a condition to be ready for action within 48 hours. The criticisms of the writer in the Times, to which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded, were made in reference to ships in what is called the First Reserve. I read the article, and it seemed to me a very clear and business-like article, but the writer committed two mistakes. He talked of a great many ships as obsolete—and it is the fashion of a large number of people to say that a great portion of the British Navy is obsolete. But such persons have not mastered the fact that the question whether a ship is obsolete or not does not depend on the date at which it is built, but on the ships against which it will have to be used. If any other test were adopted, a large portion of the Foreign Navies would disappear. A certain number of our ships came back from the manœuvres of last year with very small and trifling defects, and these defects have not, owing to the pressure of work, been made good, so that technically a number of ships are still outside the First Class Reserve. I have, however, talked the question over with the Controller of the Navy, and the right hon. Gentleman will be glad to hear that practically all these vessels can be ready for Commission within a week. I have no objection to give the Return if the right hon. Gentleman wishes it. I know the right hon. Gentleman's interest in the Navy, but I wish every Chancellor of the Exchequer had had the advantage which my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has had of being at the head of the Admiralty for two or three years. Because when a right hon. Gentleman has had that experience, he finds out that a good many regulations to which the ordinary Treasury official attaches importance, as insuring economy, works exactly the opposite way. The present discussion has all originated on a Supplementary Estimate, and the right hon. Gentleman and his friends charge against the Government that they wish to deprive the House of Commons of its legitimate control over the national expenditure. Now, if it had not been for the Naval Defence Act, this large Supplementary Estimate never would have come before the House at all, because the Admiralty would have been able to meet it out of the savings on the other Votes; and it is because those savings are appropriated by Act of Parliament that this Supplementary Estimate comes before the House at all, and the House therefore has an opportunity of expressing its opinion which, but for the Naval Defence Act, it would not have had. The Debate has originated on the question whether or not it is wise that unexpended balances should be carried to the credit of next year. My right hon. Friend does not consent to those balances being carried forward, as contrary to accepted financial principles; but under the Naval Defence Act the Admiralty practically should be able to build these ships at a very small percentage over the original Estimate.


I do not quite follow the noble Lord in saying that, but for the Naval Defence Act, it would not have been necessary to take this Supplementary Vote, but I wish to point out, in answer to the statement made by himself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the system adopted under the Naval Defence Act is likely to have the effect of hastening the construction of ships, that experience is rather in the opposite direction. I find that in 1888–9, £300,000, which had been provided for by Parliament, was not expended in the year, and that in the current year £200,000 has been unexpended on shipbuilding in the dockyards.


That is for armament.


That is, I presume, for the ships. In respect to shipbuilding by contract we find that no less than £6600,000 is unexpended during the present year. By these amounts, therefore, vessels will be slower in building than was anticipated: in other words, the system adopted under the Naval Defence Act is having no better effect than the old system, in hastening ships. On the contrary, I believe the construction of ships is being delayed even to a greater extent than under the old system.

*DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)

I understand none of this money is intended to pay any of the expenses connected with the expedition to Witu in November last.


This is all for stores.

MR. DUFF (Banffshire)

Reference has been made to the statement in the Times with regard to the delay in the building of new vessels. I should like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether it is correct, as stated, that a great many of the new vessels, especially those built by contract, are two or three knots slower than was contracted for.


The hon. Gentleman will find the information in my statement. In certain instances there was a falling off in speed of about a knot.


I do not want to raise the question at length now. If the noble Lord is not prepared to go into the matter at this moment I will ask him a question on the Shipbuilding Vote.

Vote agreed to.