MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
I desire to ask permission of the House to make a few observations—a permission which I think it never refuses when claimed for the purpose of making a personal explanation. The occasion for the personal explanation arises out of a speech made on Friday afternoon by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am not going into any matter which involves either argument or opinion. This I should not be justified in obtruding upon the House, and I desire to confine myself to an issue raised involving a matter of fact. On the Consolidated Fund Bill I drew attention to the fact that in my opinion the question as to how certain Estimates had been framed, and the Rules regulating such framing, were involved in doubt; and I went on more specifically to allege that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that no provision was made in the Supplementary Estimates for the Evicted Tenants Commission. The Chancellor of the Exchequer intimated dissent. I proceeded to say that the circumstance had passed out of the right hon. Gentleman's recollection, but that the right hon. Gentleman, in reply to a question put across the floor of the House, had said that there was no provision in the Supplementary Estimates for the Evicted Tenants Commission. The Chancellor of the Exchequer again intimated dissent. That intimation of dissent is recorded in the newspapers, and it took a form, audible to myself, of a very definite and distinct kind. The right hon. Gentleman said in reply—I have never been asked the question before, but I am prepared to say now that I take the responsibility of the way in which these Estimates were framed. As to excluding the Evicted Tenants Commission. I was always of opinion that the proceedings of that Commission could properly be discussed under the Estimate, and they have been discussed.1199 I think the House will see that the statement which I attributed to the right hon. Gentleman, and from which he pointedly dissented, and which he distinctly contradicts in his reply, involves a very serious discrepancy between us as to a matter of fact; because I take it that it cannot be denied, and I was certainly informed by the Chairman of Committees, that if the Evicted Tenants Commission had been excluded from the Supplementary Estimates no discussion upon the subject could have been permitted in Committee.
§ DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
I rise to a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to ask whether a personal explanation of observations justify the continuance of an argument as to a discrepancy between the right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman, as I understand, is now dealing with a charge that he had made an inaccurate statement to the House, and the House under such circumstances generally allows an hon. Member to make a personal explanation.
MR. J. LOWTHER
I wish to deal only with the issue as to a matter of fact between myself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I wish, with the permission of the House, to read from the "Parliamentary Debates" exactly what was said on the subject of the Evicted Tenants Commission and the Supplementary Estimates by the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the 24th February. The following question was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Mr. Bartley):—I beg to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether any further Supplementary Estimate will be submitted to the House for the costs of the Evicted Tenants; and, if not, out of what Vote the costs have been defrayed?The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his reply, said—I have to say that no such Supplementary Estimate will be submitted. The cost has been defrayed out of the Vote already taken for temporary Commissions.The hon. Member for North Islington then said—Am I to understand that the expenses of the Commission will be paid without any investigation, inquiry, or discussion in this House, and without the House having any knowledge of the circumstances?1200 To that the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied—I imagine the House is aware of the circumstances. I have answered the hon. Member's question, and have said that provision for the expenditure will not be made by Supplementary Estimate.That involves, as I contend, a distinct issue upon a matter of fact between myself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I thought it my duty to bring the matter before the House, as the contradiction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer involved a suggestion that I had been guilty of making a charge in the House of great import with imperfect research. I thank the House for allowing me to make this explanation, and I think I have shown that I have been justified in bringing this matter under its attention.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I am extremely loth to occupy one moment on a matter which seems utterly undeserving of attention. The right hon. Gentleman is very anxious to get up an issue of fact between him and myself. There is no such issue of fact at all. It is perfectly correct, and I repeat the statement that no provision in the Supplementary Estimates was made for the Evicted Tenants Commission. The confusion is-in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman himself, and it arises from his not being acquainted with the manner in which the Estimates are framed. In the present case there were 25 Commissions, and there was a Supplementary Estimate for £1,000 or £2,000. How were we to divide that? The universal practice has been that where there is an overplus of that kind it is contributed to the Commission which has the largest sum and covers the Supplementary Estimates. But I never said, and the right hon. Gentleman cannot show, that I said that that prevented the Vote for the Evicted Tenants Commission being discussed upon the Supplementary Estimates. I never said it. I always was of opinion that it could be so discussed. But what I denied, and what I deny now, is the charge brought against me by the right hon. Gentleman in these words—Upon a future occasion, when an attempt might be made to withdraw some important subject from the cognisance of Parliament, and when the Government might not have a 1201 wise adviser at hand in the presence of the Prime Minister, who promptly disavowed the unconstitutional action of his Colleague, this proceeding might be quoted as a precedent.For that statement there is not the smallest foundation. None of the Prime Minister's colleagues ever made such an attempt to follow an unconstitutional course. That is a charge which I can only suppose the right hon. Gentleman made through ignorance of the subject. It is utterly unfounded. I denied it when it was made, and I deny it now again.