HC Deb 15 March 1892 vol 2 cc899-903

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

(1) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £907 2s. 3d., be granted to Her Majesty, to make good Excesses on certain Grants for Civil Services, for the year ending on the 31st day of March 1891.

MR. PICTON (Leicester)

I should like to have an explanation of the somewhat enigmatic statement in respect to one of the Votes on the Paper. The excess is said to have been incurred owing to the expense of an officer upon a Special Mission. Perhaps the Under Secretary for the Colonies will explain?


The excess was due to the sending of a Mission to Paris in connection with the West Africa Railway. It was difficult to see what the expense of that Mission would be.


It is precisely those arrangements with France that have given offence to many traders in this country. The right hon. Gentleman will know from his connection with Liverpool that the West African merchants are irritated and indignant at the hindrances to their trade arising from these very negotiations with France. They are of opinion that the Government has been remiss in its attention to the commercial interests of the country, and that the French have been behind our settlements all along and have cut off access to our branches in a manner in the highest degree discouraging to British trade. I should like to have some explanation of this, and also whether these grievances are being considered?


That is a question which only indirectly affects the Colonial Office. It is really a Foreign Office question, and to the Foreign Office the hon. Gentleman should address himself.

MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)

I think we ought to have more information on the point which has just been raised with regard to the West Africa Mission; but, Sir, I rise not for the purpose of emphasising that point, but in order to call attention to the next item on the Paper. I think, Sir, we should have some more efficient control over the system of these Votes in respect of the Police Courts in the Metropolis. They postpone payments, and then come to this House and ask for an excess sum. We ought to know as to how this extra sum was incurred, and we ought also further to know whether the recommendation which has been made from year to year by the Public Accounts Committee, who made especially last year a recommendation which was most distinctly against the practice of postponing payments from one year to another, is to be carried out?

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

No explanation of this Vote will satisfy me because of the principles involved, and I have often asked the House to divide in regard to that prin- ciple. I find these Police Courts not only in London but all around London are charged on the public expenditure of the country. The Police Courts in every other town in England and Scotland and in Ireland, except in Dublin, which shall meet with my opposition, are not charged in this way. Whether you take the Ordinary Estimates, the Supplementary Estimates, or the Excess Votes, the Committee will always find something put down for these Police Courts. I ask hon. Gentlemen representing divers parts outside London whether they can justifiably vote for a Police Court in Sheerness? In respect of the Sheerness Vote I beg to move its reduction by the sum of £6 7s. 11d.

Motion made, and Question put, That Item £6 7s. 11d., for Police Courts, London and Sheerness, be omitted from the proposed Vote."—(Mr. Labouchere.)

The Committee divided:—Aves 101; Noes 130.—(Div. List, No. 33.)

Original Question put, and agreed to.

MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

I do not know, Sir, whether it is too late to say anything about the first Vote.


The first item has passed.


Then with regard to the third item I should like to ask for an explanation. It appears that there is a sum of £888 16s. 8d. which is a fifth quarterly instalment paid by the Post Office in respect of the Aden and Zanzibar stamp service subsidy I want to know how so large a payment is made quarterly?


The matter is very simple; the payment was made on the 31st March instead of 1st April.


Are these payments ever made in advance?


No. On the last day of the quarter instead of the first day of the next quarter.

MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)

The matter referred to illustrates the inconvenience necessarily attending that system by which one Department acts as agent for another. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he could not make an arrangement to get rid of this system of agency altogether by making it unnecessary?


This matter was discussed by the Public Accounts Committee. They made a recommendation which was very carefully considered by the Treasury with a view of conforming to it. No doubt it is for the general convenience that one Department should transact its business directly, but it would be a mistake if I were to say that the Treasury would put an end to the system of agency, which has its conveniences. The matter will be further considered by the Public Accounts Committee.


The matter was considered by the Public Accounts Committee, and they could not get any definite information from the Treasury. We know the agency business has proved extremely unsatisfactory, as, for example, in the case of the relations between the War Office and the Admiralty, the Irish Board of Works as representing the Treasury in Ireland, and now in the case which has been brought under our notice. I should like to know how far this system prevails throughout the Public Service, and whether the right hon. Gentleman will endeavour to put a stop to it?


I cannot tell at a moment's notice how far this system does prevail. If the hon. Gentleman wishes for information I will get it after adequate notice.


Information on this subject was asked for, but full information was not obtained by the Public Accounts Committee. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that it would be well to thrash out this matter upstairs. I likewise agree with my hon. Friend behind me the Member for Edinburgh that the information given in the statement on excesses seems to be becoming more and more meagre. There is a theory that something is gained by printing the smallest possible amount of information, and in other cases giving information in a form which I will not say is untrue, but which certainly does not disclose the whole truth. After what has occurred this afternoon, I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury will arrange that for the future fuller and more accurate information is given about these excesses. But for an accident which placed me in possession of a proof copy of the Appropriation Accounts, I should myself have been completely misled by the statement now complained of.

Vote agreed to.