HC Deb 22 February 1897 vol 46 cc931-58

  1. (1.) The Treasury shall issue out of the Consolidated Fund or the growing produce thereof such sums not exceeding in the whole five million four hundred and fifty-eight thousand pounds, as may be required by a Secretary of State for defraying the costs of the works specified in the schedule to this Act incurred at any time after the thirty-first of March one thousand eight hundred and ninety-six.
  2. (2.) Before any moneys are issued for the purpose of expenditure under any head in the schedule to this Act, a Secretary of State shall submit to the Treasury an estimate, with such details as may be required by the Treasury, of the expenditure under that head for which it is for the time being proposed to issue money, and shall therewith state the period within which it is proposed to expend the money so issued.
  3. (3.) There shall be no excess of expenditure under any head in the schedule above the amount stated therein for that head, unless the Treasury and Secretary of State are satisfied that the excess will be compensated by savings 932 on the expenditure under another head, so that no excess will be caused over the total expenditure specified in the schedule, and in such cases the savings may be applied in payment of the excess.

MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

moved, in sub-section (1), to leave out the words "five million four hundred and fifty-eight thousand" and to insert the words "three million." He said that one of the precedents on which the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill most relied was that of the Barracks Act of 1890. According to the statement made under that Act there was, on March 31st last, £1,143,000 unexpended under the Act, and if the expenditure this year had proceeded at the same rate as in the two previous years there would still be enough money in the hands of the military authorities for two years more. The amount asked for now was unnecessarily large. He suggested that the sum should be restricted to three millions, because the whole of this expenditure practically passed out of the control of that House the moment the Bill had passed through Committee. The amount for the purchase of the land on Salisbury plain, and about half-a-million for ranges, were the only precise amounts that had been mentioned, and which enabled them to see how the expenditure was built up. He protested against the small items being included, which should properly come upon the ordinary Estimates. If this Amendment were adopted, there would still be sufficient money left to the Government for everything that was wanted to be done under the Bill. The small items would then be excluded from the Bill, with the result that a great deal of waste and extravagance might be avoided. Loans of such great magnitude should only be made for large works, such as those in the Naval Works Bill. They had not been satisfied with the answers they had received on this subject, and he therefore begged to move the Amendment standing in his name.


said he did not think the hon. Member had made out a very good ease for the change he proposed. The hon. Member had had an opportunity of hearing what were the grounds on which they asked for the present sum, which, on two occasions, he had himself endeavoured to justify. The hon. Member's suggestion was that a sufficient allowance would be a million for barracks, a million for ranges (including accommodation for manoeuvring and mobilisation), and a million for defence works, and he tried to justify this proposal by stating that there were unexpended balances still left from the Barracks Act. His hon. Friend the Financial Secretary had already explained that, although a sum of about £780,000 was not actually expended, that sum had been already allocated to certain works which, if not actually in progress, would be in progress directly. That did not in the slightest degree relieve them from putting up barracks in other places provided for in the schedule. He did not think it was the ease at all, that there were many small works in the barracks item. It was desirable not only that large barracks should be erected, but that smaller barracks at the coaling stations should also be provided for by the Bill. He knew nothing that was more likely to conduce to waste or extravagance than the proposal of the hon. Member, which would compel them to get forward piecemeal with these works. The sum they now asked for was one which had been cut down to the smallest possible dimensions. It was stated that the Bill was without precedent. That was not the case. This Bill was absolutely in accordance with precedent, and he thought it was certainly the most convenient plan that the House should be able to criticise the scheme as a whole, and to decide upon it as a whole.

MR. D. F. GODDARD (Ipswich)

supported the Amendment, because it seemed to him they should take every opportunity of opposing the expenditure of money which ought not, in his opinion, to be covered by loan at all. It was admitted that the whole of the money asked for under this Bill was not to be raised on loan, but what he and his hon. Friends desired was a definite statement as to what part of the money was to be raised on loan and what part was not to be so raised. The right hon. Gentleman defended the system of terminable annuities by stating that it laid the whole scheme before the House. That was not a very satisfactory answer. He could not see why, if the Government had a definite seheme, they should not state whether they intended to carry it out by way of loan or in one year's Estimates. If they stated their scheme hon. Members would have an opportunity of judging of it without being pledged to a term of years, as now proposed. He was confident it would be generally conceded that some of the items in the five-and-a-half millions sterling ought not to be covered by loan extending over a period of anything like 30 years. £66,000 was asked for converting Woking female prison into barracks. He did not think that such an item for such a purpose should be raised by way of loan. Neither did he think that the item for the replacement of huts should be raised by loan. If any municipal authority were to come to the House of Commons or to the Local Government Board and ask for sanction to borrow money for such a purpose, and to spread the repayment over 30 years, sanction would be at once refused. The loan system was calculated to confuse the minds of the taxpayers as to the amount that was really being spent, and it ought not to be carried too far. There were some items specified in the Bill as to which they had but very scanty information. There were, for instance, the items of £1,120,000 for defence works, and £1,149,000 for ranges, including accommodation for manœuvres. The military charges were constantly increasing, and the House had, therefore, a right to ask to be supplied with the fullest details. On these grounds he felt obliged to support the Amendment proposed by his hon. Friend.


said that, although he supported the Bill and should vote with the Government in most, if not all, of the divisions that would be taken upon it, there was one point upon which they might reasonably ask the Government to give an assurance. Hon. Members experienced great difficulty in ascertaining the total military and naval expenditure in any particular year. Ultimately they knew how much had been spent in a given 12 months, but they did not know it for a long time afterwards. He, therefore, asked the Government to undertake that the Ministers responsible for the various departments should, when making their annual statements, mention the estimated amount to be spent out of loan money in the course of the year, and also state the sum which had been spent out of loan money in the past year. ["Hear, hear!"]


thought the point raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Islington as to the expenditure on short-lived work was one deserving of attention. Government compelled local authorities to pay off borrowed money according to a well-defined schedule, that was to say, they allowed local authorities to borrow money for buildings for a certain number of years, but they did not allow them to borrow money for furniture and many other purposes for anything like the same period. If the Government laid down such a rule for local authorities, they ought to adhere to it themselves. Much of the expenditure now proposed must be very short-lived. There was, for instance, the expenditure for barracks. That must be short-lived, and the repayment of the money borrowed ought not to be spread over so long a time as 30 years. There were many things for which money was to be obtained on loan which would be non-existent before 30 years expired. Much had been said about the schedule. As a matter of fact it was so much waste paper, for it would not appear in the Act of Parliament, and there was nothing to cause it to be adhered to in any way. Under Sub-section 2 of Clause 1, the money could be spent as it was thought proper to spend it. He proposed to move as an Amendment later on that the Estimate should be presented to the House rather than to the Treasury. If it were presented to the House, the House would have some control over the money; but, seeing that it was proposed by the Bill to refer it to the Treasury, the House would lose all control, and they were therefore entitled to ask the Government to diminish the amount of the loan.


said it had never been intended to include in the loan works that were not of a permanent nature. Barrack furniture, guns, or temporary equipments were not included. It was proposed to apply the loan entirely to permanent works, such as the structure of barracks, of defence works, and the purchase of land. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean he might say that, in regard to loans, it had always been the custom of the War Office to provide Parliament with a statement of the sums actually expended each year. In the present instance the War Office proposed to supplement that statement by another annual statement of what was proposed to be spent. The House, therefore, would have complete control over the money, and would be able to review the progress of the works from time to time. ["Hear, hear!"]


said the promise of the right hon. Gentleman to provide au annual statement of the amount proposed to be spent was satisfactory, so far as it went. But his main reason in supporting the Amendment was, that a sufficient justification for not placing this expenditure on the annual Estimates had not been given by the Government. The only excuse advanced was that contractors desired to be paid according as they proceeded with their work. But surely that could not be accepted as a valid reason for the course proposed by the Government. He was perfectly certain that any contractor would be quite willing to undertake any work in the sure faith that Parliament, on the application of the Minister responsible, would vote the money. He thought a protest ought to be made against this growing practice of withdrawing Army and Navy expenditure from the detailed criticism afforded by the Estimates, which, if persisted in, would lead to a complete revolution in the forms of the House.

MR. W. WOODALL (Hanley)

said he desired to call attention to the fact that the Act was intended to be retrospective.


That does not arise on this Amendment, but on a subsequent Amendment.


thought his hon. Friend was justified in moving the Amendment, both as a protest against this growing Army expenditure, for which no possible justification had been advanced by the Government, and against the withdrawal of the particular expenditure proposed by the Bill from the control of the House. The late Mr. Childers, who was a past master in all financial questions, had denounced as bad and improper the policy which the Government were now pursuing of attempting to oust from the control of Parliament the expenditure on those military works. The Barracks Act, which was passed when the Conservatives were last in office, afforded an ample illustration of the impropriety of the course which the Government were now pursuing. The Government had demanded under that Act far more than they had required. As large a sum as £778,000 had been left over, and no explanation whatever had been given as to the purposes to which it had been applied. He thought that a most objectionable method of dealing with public money. What guarantee was there that the same thing would not happen under this Bill? What guarantee was there that the Government, having obtained money on the pretence of wanting it for one purpose did not spend it on another? Anyone who looked at the schedule of the Bill must see the flimsy character of the proposed works. In truth, the Bill, like many more Bills of the Government, was a sham. He was sure the country would repudiate it in the most emphatic way on the very first opportunity.

MR. J. BRIGG (York, W.R., Keighley)

complained that there were not sufficient details forthcoming as to the new hospitals which it was proposed to build in Dublin, Edinburgh, and London. Had they no military hospitals there before? What was the cost to be? They had no information as to the items which they were asked to vote. He looked jealously upon these hospitals. It was the beginning of a very large and expensive item, which they might have to follow up for years. There was another item, and that related to Winchester Barracks, which had been destroyed by fire. Was there no insurance on Winchester Barracks?


ruled that the hon. Member was going outside the Vote.


asked what amount of work had already been executed?


I have already answered that across the Table. The sum is £86,000.


said it had been admitted that there was a sum of money from last year which had not been expended. They ought to know about that before they voted a further large sum. He thought the building of barracks might be done for a much smaller sum than the amount asked for. The point he wanted specially to make was with reference to temporary earthworks. These works would not last 30 years. The Palmerston Works did not last 30 years.

MR. J. GILHOOLY (Cork Co., W.)

asked for information as to the proposed works in Bantry Bay—whether they were going to make the line of railway from Kenmare?


ruled that this was a matter which could not be dealt with at that time.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 147; Noes, 47.—(Division List, No. 41.)

On the return of the CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS, after the usual interval,


proposed, in sub-section (1), to leave out the words "at any time,' and to insert the words "within seven years." He said that as the Bill read at present it was provided that this very large sum of money might be issued to defray the cost of the works specified in the schedule, incurred at any time. He, therefore, proposed to substitute for that "incurred within seven years from the passing of this Act." His object was to oblige the War Office, if the money was not spent within a reasonable lapse of time, to come back to the House. Under the Bill as it stood the War Office might carry out the works in the Schedule or not, they might spend all the money or not, as they liked; in fact, they might do what they liked with it. The expenditure might be spread over 40 or 50 years. What was the effect of that? He believed that the money granted under the Act of 1872 was only exhausted a year or two ago—indeed, he believed there was even now some little balance of £50 or £60 still unspent. The money might dribble out of the Treasury in the same way under this Bill, and he proposed that there should be a limit of time fixed. The reason why he had suggested seven years was because the last Barracks Act was passed in 1890. The effect of putting in a limit was that if, for any reason, the War Office found it was not discreet or wise to spend all the money, at the end of seven years they would have to come back to the House and show what had been spent, and to leave it to the House to say whether the Act ought to be extended. The right hon. Gentleman opposite might say that they ought to trust the War Office, but he would point out that it was absolutely certain that the right hon. Gentleman and his Party would not be at the War Office at the end of seven years. So that he was really going a long way to meet the right hon. Gentleman by giving him time to spend the money.


said he hardly realised the ground on which the hon. Gentleman made this proposal. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the present Government would have quitted the War Office before the seven years he proposed had expired; but supposing that were the case, and supposing the suggested limit of time were put on this expenditure, it would be exhausted before the Party to which the hon. Gentleman belonged came into power, and they would have nothing to spend under this loan. The hon. Gentleman suggested that unless a limit of time of this kind were put upon the expenditure, the War Office would be in a position to spend the money or not as they pleased; but the hon. Gentleman seemed to forget that this money could only be expended for purposes specified in the Bill, and, therefore, it was not a matter in which the War Office could do as they pleased. He did not see how the hon. Gentleman could expect to gain anything by putting in a limit of seven years. No limit of time was imposed under the Barracks Act or under the Act of 1888. Reference had been made to the Cardwell Loan of 1872, and it had been said that up to a short time ago the purposes for which that loan was granted had not been fulfilled. That was rather an argument against the Amendment, as the delay that took place in carrying out the purposes of the Cardwell Loan proved that unexpected difficulties might be encountered in the execution of works, and that it might be impossible to complete them within a fixed period. A considerable amount of the money provided under this Bill had to be spent abroad. The acquisition of land and building operations abroad were often attended with long delays. If a limit of seven years were imposed the War Office would very likely find at the end of that time that some of the contemplated work was not completed, and it would then not be possible to finish it with the money provided by the loan. It was, however, the intention of the War Office—and he believed that that intention would be carried out—to spend this money within seven years, but it was not expedient to fix that or any other limit.

MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

supported the Amendment on the ground that Parliament ought not to part for an indefinite period with its right to control the expenditure of the War Office or of any other spending department. The Financial Secretary had rather given his case away by saying that it was the intention to complete these works within seven years. He thought his hon. Friend would be willing to substitute eight years or even nine for the number mentioned in the Amendment. It was undesirable to withdraw for ever large sums of money from the control of Parliament, whether there were precedents for such withdrawal or not. He admitted that it might not be convenient for the War Office to come to Parliament every year and to place a certain portion of this sum upon the Estimates. That might put the War Office in a very difficult position, and might interfere with the proper execution of the works. But it was a different thing to give the War Office absolute control over this money for all time. Supposing that at the end of, say, seven years, the money was not, exhausted, and that if should be thought that there had been wasteful and extravagant expenditure, surely Parliament ought to have an opportunity of interfering. There was no certainty that the hon. Member opposite would keep the position of Financial Secretary for seven years, or that his successor would have the same high reputation that he had. If they parted with ail control over this money, and if the barracks to be erected in Dublin should be built on an insanitary site, hon. Members who might wish to call attention to the matter would be told that they could not do so, and that Parliament was committed to this expenditure and had no right of revision. Circumstances might easily arise in consequence of a change of Ministry, or even of one Minister, or of a change of opinion respecting the works themselves, which would render it desirable and expedient to reconsider the sub-jest after the lapse of seven years or of some such period. If the work had been well done the War Department would lose nothing by coming to Parliament. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would consent to fix a time when Parliament could again be heard on this subject.


regretted that the hon. Member for Islington had named in his Amendment so long a period as seven years. He did not admit that the War Department had made out a good case at all for this Works Loan Bill. He did not see why the Government should not ask every year in the Estimates for the amount of money they intended to spend in the year, and thus give Parliament an opportunity of criticising their polity and plans. He was in favour of the Amendment, but thought that two or three years ought to be the limit instead of seven years. They had heard that day of a loan under the Barracks Act passed in 1890, which was not nearly expended at the present hour. [Mr. POWELL-WILLIAMS: "It is all appropriated."] Yes, but it was not spent. He held that every man who was in a responsible position and intrusted with the expenditure of money should be viewed with suspicion by Parliament. That was the principle upon which the Estimates were submitted for discussion. No Minister had a right to plead that the same trust should be put in him as would be put in him were he dealing with private affairs. The way in which the Barracks Act Loan had been used supplied the strongest possible argument against the course which it was now proposed to take. It afforded the strongest illustration of the evils that might arise from giving a free hand to a Minister for a number of years. In the case of the Royal Barracks in Dublin the original proposal was to construct—


asked whether the question of the Royal Barracks in Dublin could be raised now. He thought it could only be dealt with on the Vote for the interest on the Works Fund in the Estimates of the year.


said that he understood the hon. Member for East Mayo was only referring to the subject by way of illustration.


said that was so. The Financial Secretary had, quoted the Barracks Act as a precedent for granting this new loan without any limit of time, but it really ought, to be a warning to them not to do so. Although the immense sum of £160,000 had been paid over, the barracks were still in the most unsatisfactory and insanitary condition. Then, again, the proceedings in connection with the Royal Barracks had been most extraordinary. Some portions of the barracks had been floored at great cost and then pulled up, but after an enormous expenditure of money the barracks were still left in a very unsatisfactory condition. He did not think that a stronger argument could be offered for having those sums on the annual Estimates than the fact of the Committee being asked now to sanction this large sum for an unlimited period.


thought that the Amendment was a reasonable one. It appeared to him as if the Government had not much confidence in the country supporting their proposals when they objected to the insertion of so reasonable a time limit. He believed that there was not a work mentioned in the schedule which could not be carried out within the seven years mentioned in the Amendment. It was unreasonable to ask for a long extension of time in these matters. The Financial Secretary had referred to the works that were carried out in foreign stations. There might be some difficulty as to completing purchases of land abroad, and so on; but surely, when the Government put forward a programme of certain works, they had formed some conclusion as to whether they could carry them out, and none of them were of so extensive a character as to involve the acquisition of a very large tract of land. Most of the works were in the nature of enlargements, replacements, and additions to garrisons; and he asserted that there was no weight in the argument that in connection with those parts of the works situated at foreign stations there should be any real difficulty in acquiring land. Though, as he knew, there might be some slight difficulty in acquiring land in foreign places, men of business were enabled to overcome that difficulty with comparative ease, and no negotiations, according to his experience, had taken seven years. Therefore a time limit should be inserted with regard to works of a definite character, because it was undesirable to lay down a programme which might not be completed within 20, 30, or 40 years.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said that if he were disposed to find fault with the Amendment it was that seven years was too long a period. He understood that this was a matter of urgency, and he thought that five years were long enough. The Committee had voted 5½ millions, but in his judgment the best plan would be to vote annually that portion of the sum which had not been spent in the preceding year. He believed that all those works, however urgent, could be carried out in a year or two years. He noticed that there was £59,000 for hospital accommodation at Sierra Leone; but knowing as he did that station, he could see reasons why perhaps in time the military authorities should abandon Sierra Leone as an hospital centre; and in a year or two they might suggest a healthier spot. After being half way through the alterations which were contemplated, sanitary conditions might prompt an abandonment of Sierra Leone. He objected to money being spent on a site and buildings that could not be permanently guaranteed. The same remark applied to Aldershot, which was, on the other hand, a healthy place. £150,000 were to be spent for continuation and replacement of huts in peramanent materials; but 40,000 acres were to be acquired as a manœuvring ground on Salisbury Plain. Perhaps in a twelvemonth a large portion of this £150,000 might be justifiably diverted to Salisbury Plain instead. Again, St. Lucia was to be put into a stronger position; but there was no guarantee that strategists would not alter their opinion six months hence; and therefore he objected even to one-tenth of the £250,000 in 1897 being spent on St. Lucia. The money might be invested, and the House of Commons ought to be in a position to review this expenditure every year. If the Committee gave the Government a blank cheque, they deprived the House of Commons of opportunities of effective criticism once a year as to how the money was being spent or wasted. Why the Government opposed this Amendment he could not understand, except that possibly some of the War Office authorities were a bit doubtful of some of the sites for barracks and hospitals which they had recommended, and hoped by this blank cheque to do what they would not attempt to do if they were tied up to an annual, or a three, five, or seven years' limit. As matters stood, the House of Commons was simply asked to hand over 5½ millions to the military authorities to do what they pleased with it.


on the point of order, said the Amendment did not require the Government to spend the whole of the 5½ millions within seven years. On the contrary, if they did not spend it all, the portion which was unspent they should account for to Parliament.


said the Committee had only had one answer from the Government, and that of the most unsatisfactory character. The hon. Member gave away his case. He said the Government intended to spend the whole money within seven years. But, mark what the staple of the answer was. It was, We want no limit of time, because the money can only be spent on the purposes specified. If the hon. Member looked at sub-section 3 of the clause he would see that the specification had not a shred of meaning in it. If the Government spent more on the barracks they might spend more on the ranges; or, if they spent less on the ranges they might spend more on Salisbury Plain. They might throw it into the sea, as they pleased. There was no guarantee that the money should be spent in accordance with the schedule. If the Government wanted to shorten the proceedings they should accept the Amendment.


repeated that the Government could not accept the Amendment. They had undertaken to lay before the House every year, not merely a statement of the expenditure incurred during the past year, but an estimate of the probable expenditure for the subsequent years, thus giving the House, on two occasions an opportunity of investigating and criticising the performances and proposals of the Government. The Estimate for the year would, in every case, he stated by whoever was responsible for introducing the Estimates. The subject could be criticised upon that Vote, and it could be criticised again on the interest taken on account of the works voted, which would have to be charged each year.


pointed out that the House of Commons could not repudiate the interest due. That would be a most ungracious proceeding.


said the schedule showed that there was no practical difficulty in coming to the House for further money if the work was not completed. That was in fact the present state of things. The very note put into the schedule referred to "works not completed." But no inconvenience was stated to have been caused by such interruption to the carrying on of those works. Application was now made to increase the capital sum originally dedicated to particular works, and if there was no inconvenience in reference to the application there could be no inconvenience in coming, at seven years, for the purpose of applying for further money. It was more than possible that the defence works might get out of date in seven years, looking to the constant advances in artillery and military science. He had seen in his day works constructed at Gibraltar which were absolutely useless at the present time. In seven years time the whole system of defensive works might be so entirely changed that this House should be called upon to exercise a control over the capital expenditure. So in regard to barracks. There was a revolution every five years in sanitary arrangements. They could not tell what might be the state of science seven years hence in regard to military works and sanitation, and yet the House of Commons was called upon to hand over to the Department five millions of money without any specification except for a comparatively small sum. For these and other reasons, he submitted that the control of Parliament over the expenditure ought to be maintained, and if the capital had not been spent in the seven years, that then a further opportunity should be afforded to Parliament to review the situation.


appealed to the Committee to now come to a decision on the Amendment. He thought that what had fallen from his right hon. Friend should have had the effect of shortening the discussion.


had been satisfied to some extent, though not wholly, by the reply of the right hon. Gentleman when he said that hon. Members would have the opportunity of discussing the matter each year on the Estimates, as to the amount that had been expended or was to be expended. If that were so, and they were each year to vote upon it—


No, no, not to vote upon it. ["Hear, hear!"]


Then what was the use of discussing the matter if there was to be no vote. ["Hear, hear!"] On that ground alone he should be prepared to support the Amendment.


said that there could be no vote again on moneys that had been already voted by Parliament; but the work of the expenditure could be criticised on the Estimates, and it would be open to hon. Members to move a reduction on the Estimates or to move a reduction in the Under Secretary's salary if they disagreed with the action of the War Office in the matter.


said that that did not meet his main objection. One of the details of the Bill, as had been said, was to fortify London. Now, under the Bill as it stood the whole of the five and a half millions might be spent on that one purpose, if the Government chose so to decide. ["Hear, hear!"] If there had been an opportunity of voting every year on that work—


Order, order! That point does not arise on the Amendment, which is to limit the expenditure of the money within seven years. ["No, no!"] If this Amendment is carried the whole of the money would have to be spent in seven years. [Mr. LOUGH: "No, no."]


said the words were that the money should be expended as might be required by the Secretary of State, not necessarily that the whole amount must be spent in seven years. The object was to limit the works to seven years.


said the argument of the hon. Member was that every year this proposal was to be discussed on the Estimates, but that was not met by the Amendment.


granted that the point was not met by the Amendment, but he certainly understood that the right hon. Gentleman promised that hon. Members would have an opportunity of discussing the matter every year on. the Estimates. ["Hear, hear!"] One of the objects he had in supporting the Amendment was to put a check on the extravagance of the War Office. He had by no means been satisfied with the reasons the Government had given to show why the Amendment should not be accepted. Unless some limit of time was imposed the Committee would be giving the Government a blank cheque for five and a half millions to spend when they liked and how they liked. It would be possible even for them to devote the whole of the money to one purpose. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that when he entered the Chamber a short time before he ascertained by inquiry that an impression did prevail among many hon. Members on that side of the House that the Under Secretary had promised that the matter would be brought up each year in the Estimates, and that hon. Members would be able to discuss and vote upon it. ["Hear, hear!" and Ministerial cries of "No, no!"] But now they knew that was not to be the case. The proposal to place some limit of time on the expenditure of the money and on the works was a most reasonable and legitimate one. Supposing a General Election took place on the morrow and the Liberals got into power, though they were in for six years they would not have anything to do with this wasteful expenditure—no, not even to the extent of a shilling. [Cheers, and Ministerial laughter.] If they did he would as cheerfully vote against them as he intended to vote then against right hon. Gentlemen opposite. [Cheers.] Then supposing after this time that right hon. Gentlemen opposite again came into power, they would have the whole of this money at hand, but by that time the condition of things might have wholly changed. ["Hear, hear!"] He was fully of opinion that there ought to be some limit of time inserted in the Bill, and the only hesitation he had in voting for the Amendment of his hon. Friend was that seven years was too long a period. He should have preferred a much shorter period—say four or five years, for it should not, he thought, be so long as possibly to extend the matter to other Parliaments. ["Hear, hear!"] For those reasons he should vote for the Amendment.

Question put, "That the words 'at any time' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 178; Noes, 68.—(Division List, No. 12.)


proposed, in sub-section (1), to leave out the words "ninety-six," and to insert the words "ninety-seven." He said he anticipated no objection to this Amendment. As the clause stood loans would date from the end of the last financial year instead of, as they should, from the end of the present financial year, 31st March 1897. He could hardly think that the figures 1896 had been inserted intentionally, he thought it must be a mistake or misprint and, if so, he would be glad that he interrupted, but if the date 1896 was intended then it appeared to him a monstrous proceeding. What was the position of the right hon. Gentleman at the end of 1896? He had an amount of £1,150,000 of the Barrack Loan of 1890 according to the average expenditure of the previous years, and yet with this large amount in hand he brought in this Bill giving it a retrospective character in regard to the date from which it should start. The Under Secretary had answered a question to-day, and probably that answer would enter into the reply now. He said that a certain amount of this money had already been expended, some £80,000 or £90,000. It was a most improper proceeding if any money had in this way been expended, it touched the point of the control of the House of Commons over the expenditure of the kingdom. It was a monstrous thing that any money should be expended under a Hill before that Bill had been discussed. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would say that the amount of £90,000 was wanted, and if that were so, then it might have been obtained in two ways. It might have been taken from the last loan, or, better still, it might have been placed on the Estimates, and then it would have come before the House in a legitimate way. To ask the House to give the Bill a retrospective character would be to set a bad precedent on these financial operations. He appealed to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and his predecessor to say if there was any precedent for such a proposal to meet a rash expenditure of the War Office.


said of the two courses the hon. Member suggested in regard to the expenditure since March 31, 1896, he was at a loss to know which was the more objectionable. First the hon. Member said the money might have been provided out of the balance of the Barrack Act 1890, thus diverting the money to different services altogether to those contemplated in that Act. The hon. Member's proposal was that the Government having judged themselves that the money under the Barracks Loan of 1890 should be applied to one service should deliberately apply it to another. That was a course the Government did not think it ought to take. An alternative suggestion was that the requirements should be included in the Votes for the year. The Bill was introduced last year and would have been carried had time permitted. The proposal to put the money on the Votes was negatived for the best of all possible reasons, that the House and the Public Accounts Committee should be able to judge of the expenditure on the different services, but to spread part of the expenditure over the Votes of 1896–7 and then subsequently to transfer the major portion of a large sum to the Bill would be an unsound system of finance and one that a Minister would adopt if he desired to hide what had been done from public criticism. It was a course that the Public Accounts Committee would certainly condemn and obviously would be a financial inconvenience. For these reasons the course proposed in the Bill had been adopted.

MR. T. R. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)

said though he supported the Bill he did not quite think this retrospective proposal was one to be commended. The right hon. Gentleman had not stated whether there had been a precedent for a Loan Bill being brought before the House when part of the money borrowed under it had been already spent. Was this £86,000 spent upon new works?


said the sum of £86,000 was expended entirely upon fortifications under the Imperial Defence Act. The whole of the money provided by the Estimates having been expended, the War Office was in the position last year of either absolutely stopping the works which were going on, and in respect of which some contracts had been made, or of having to anticipate by a month or two the sanction of Parliament to continue the works. The latter course was adopted, it being absolutely necessary to take that step, and the sum of £86,000—wholly for fortifications—was expended in that way.


Are we to understand that this £86,000 was spent in continuation works which had been undertaken by the Imperial Defence Act?




remarked that that answered his question as to whether these were new works or not, but he should like to have an answer to his query as to whether there was any precedent for bringing forward a Loan Bill borrowing money, and spending part of that money before the Bill had been passed?


replied that there was. In the autumn of 1895 the House of Commons sanctioned the principle of the Uganda Railway, and a small sum was voted to commence operations. On the basis of that sanction a certain sum, he thought over £100,000, was expended in the first eight months of 1896, before the Act of last Session authorising the loan of £3,000,000 for the purpose became law, and such anticipatory expenditure was included in that Loan Act. ["Hear, hear!"]


admitted that that, to a certain extent, was a precedent; but the assent of Parliament was given in the autumn of 1895.


So it has been for these works. The schemes of which the works comprised in the £86,000 form part, had all been previously sanctioned by Parliament.


The assent of Parliament to the grant of the money had not been given.


The money had been spent upon the strength of the sanction already mentioned.


asked whether, it being found this further expenditure was necessary, the regular method would not have been either to have obtained the money from the savings of other War Office Votes, or to have come before the House with a Supplementary Estimate on the subject?


replied, No. As his right hon. Friend had said, it would have complicated the accounts in a manner that would have made them absolutely unintelligible to Parliament. They thought it a more regular financial proceeding, as Parliament had sanctioned the works and a large expenditure upon them had been by loan, that they should be carried on by loan in the same way.


whilst recognising the force of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, remarked that the process which had been adopted weakened the control of Parliament over the expenditure of public money. He presumed that there was no more money left under the Imperial Defence Act for the completion of these works. It was thought proper, however, that the works should be completed, and money, not authorised by Parliament, had been expended for their completion, upon the trust that this Bill would be passed and the money made available. Surely that was a somewhat irregular process.


observed that, as he recollected the matter, it was stated, in reply to a Question last July or August, that this £86,000 had been spent upon Irish harbours. They now understood from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that that money was found partly under the Imperial Defence Act. But there was no authority in that Act to expend any money for the defence of Irish harbours, and there had never been any Parliamentary authority for the expenditure of a single penny of public money upon Irish harbours. In the case of the Uganda Railway the issue was brought before the House whether they would or would not sanction the expenditure, and the House agreed to do so. The principle was accepted, and the amount agreed upon, on a Supplemental Estimate, and the money subsequently ordered to be raised by loan, the expenditure since then having been defrayed out of the loan. In the case of the Uganda Railway there was a preliminary vote by the House for the expenditure of the money, but there had been no such vote for the expenditure of money in respect of Irish harbours, and no authority under the Imperial Defence Act for such expenditure. The money had been expended in the hope of the passing of a certain Measure. It was anticipated that the Measure would have passed last year, and upon that anticipation money had been expended without any prior authority as to principle or amount. In such a ease as that he submitted that the right hon. Gentleman was without any defence to the Amendment put forward by his hon. Friend that this Act should not be retrospective. He did not think that the procedure of that House in relation to the provision for the construction of the Uganda railway was analogous to that which had been adopted in the present case. In the present case a portion of the money asked for by this Bill had been already spent, and now the Government came down to the House with this Measure and asked that under it sanction should be given to their illegal expenditure. He should certainly support the Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. T. P. WHITTAKER (York, W.R., Spen Valley)

said that he had two great objections to this Bill. In the first place a portion of the money asked for under this Bill had been already spent before it was voted. There could be no excuse for the War Department having adopted such a course. They knew that the money would be required, and they ought to have come to the House and asked for sanction to spend it. Instead of taking that course they spent a portion of the money, and at the end of the financial year came to the House of Commons and asked for their sanction for an expenditure which had already been incurred. He regarded that as being a most irregular course of proceeding. He did not know whether the War Department had any experience of the principles which regulated local expenditure, but he might inform the right hon. Gentleman opposite that in case a local authority spent money in advance of their right to do so, the Local Government Board made the matter a serious cause of complaint. He thought that that was a sound principle of finance, and that it should be enforced against Government Departments as well as against local bodies. It was impossible under our present system to know precisely where we stood in the matter of these loan Bills, or to know whether they were sanctioning a past or a future expenditure. These loan Bills overlapped each other to such an extent that it was impossible to say when one loan was finished with or another began. It would be far better if one loan were to be cleared off distinctly and definitely before another was begun. From the Bill itself no definite information could be obtained. In his opinion they ought to vote money for future expenditure only. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that he regarded this question as a very serious one, involving as it did the financial procedure of that House. It was not the ordinary case of an Estimate being slightly exceeded owing to the absolute necessities of the work, and then the Government asking Parliament to sanction that overdraft. In this case the expenditure was made under two Acts, the Imperial Defence Act, 1888, and the Barracks Act, 1890. Both Acts devoted not merely a capital sum to the work in question, but, by express enactment, declared that although amounts might, under certain conditions, specified under certain heads, be amalgamated and applied to other heads or subhead of expenditure, yet that the excess should not cause the total expenditure to exceed the total sum specified in the Schedule. There was, therefore, only a vote of the capital sum, but an express statutory prohibition against any excess over that sum being paid without the sanction of Parliament. In his view no Government Department should be allowed to expend money without the express sanction of Parliament. In the face of distinct statutory prohibitions, it might well be that as Parliament was voting a capital sum to be raised on loan for the purposes of these sums, the House might in principle have stipulated that the Department should be expressly prohibited spending more over a period of years unless they came back to Parliament and obtained sanction. In these circumstances he should certainly support the Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Stafford, Lichfield)

said that he thought that the House was entitled to some more definite explanation from the Government as to the reasons that had led them to adopt the course they had done in reference to this matter, and why they had incurred an expenditure which had never been authorised by Parliament. The Government were endeavouring by means of this Bill to cover up the illegal conduct of which they had been guilty. He had never heard of any previous Measure founded upon the principles upon which this Bill was based.


thought they were entitled to some explanation. They had no information before them, it was all wrapped up in this mysterious policy of Conservative Ministries, which consisted of asking for vast sums of which no particulars were given to the House. They had no information as to whether there was or was not a surplus under the Imperial Defence Act. If they did not receive an adequate explanation they must record an emphatic protest against these items being withdrawn from control.

Question put, "That the words 'ninety-six" stand part of the clause."

The Committee divided. Ayes, 191; Noes, 75.—(Division List, No. 43.)


moved the Amendment which stood in the name of the hon. Member for Londonderry, namely, in Sub-section (2) to leave out the word "Treasury," and to insert the words "House of Commons." The effect of the Amendment would be that before any moneys were issued the Secretary of State should submit an estimate to the House of Commons. The Treasury were altogether unreliable in such matters. In the Barracks Act of 1890 there was a clause of which this was an exact counterpart— The Secretary of State shall submit to the Treasury an estimate of any expenditure proposed. There was a large expenditure upon the Dublin Barracks. The House of Commons were given to understand that about £60,000 was to be spent on those barracks, but, notwithstanding that the Act provided that an estimate must be submitted, the work was proceeded with without an estimate. When the work was measured up the contractor claimed £150,000, and, after protesting, the Treasury paid that amount. He cited that as a justification for objecting to the Treasury having control of these estimates. The proper people to whom these estimates should be submitted were the Members of the House of Commons. It would be argued that that would be inconvenient, and that the Treasury were the proper body. But the Treasury had grossly neglected their duty.


If I correctly understand the proposal of the hon. Gentleman it is that an estimate should be laid before the House of Commons in order that the House of Commons should decide upon it. Such a proposal would be clearly out of order, because that would be contrary to what the House has already decided. If the hon. Member merely proposes that an estimate of the expenditure should be laid on the Table of the House, for the information of hon. Members, that, of course, would be in order.


said that that, of course, was his proposal. [A laugh.] If an estimate of the expenditure was submitted to the House year by year, the House would be able to keep in touch with that expenditure, which for many reasons was most desirable. So far, no Amendment had been accepted by the right hon. Gentleman. He thought he had given reasons why his own modest Amendment at least should be accepted. It only made the moderate demand that the Estimates should be submitted to the House instead of to the Treasury.


said he had already given an undertaking that what the hon. Gentleman desired should be done. The Government proposed to give the Treasury control in the first instance. But they would lay before the House every Session a statement of the expenditure under the Act for the preceding year, and an Estimate of the amount required for the ensuing year, so that the House would have every year opportunity for discussing the expenditure under the Act. The hon. Gentleman was under a delusion in supposing that the original Estimate of £60,000 for alterations in the Royal Barracks, Dublin, was intended to cover the whole work. It was an estimate for only part of the work. For years the engineers had been baffled in their search for the source of the continual outbreaks of disease in the barracks; and it was only by removing the soil in all parts of the barracks and discovering cesspools of which there had been no previous knowledge that the evil had been got rid of. That, of course, was a work for which it would have been impossible to contract. The Public Accounts Committee would be able to comment upon it, and, therefore, having given that pledge he hoped the hon. Member would consider his Amendment unnecessary.


said he should vote with his hon. Friend. He thought the right hon. Gentleman opposite was hardly fair in raising an objection to the Amendment under consideration, by referring to another not before the Committee. Why was objection made to the return now proposed, and in a form approved by the Treasury? The Committee was already aware of the very large powers they were giving under the proposal of the Government. The power was given to divert money from works sanctioned to other works during the progress and expenditure over a long term of years. It was very important that the House of Commons should be constantly in touch with the expenditure of this money. Having conceded the principle he could not understand the refusal of the Government.


was very much surprised to hear that the hon. Member intended to support the Amendment. Really the Amendment did not carry out what the hon. Member who moved it desired. He did not understand that the hon. Member who had just sat down desired to get rid of the Treasury control. ["Hear, hear!"] The Amendment as it stood was intended to provide that the expenditure should be submitted as an annual Vote to the House of Commons. That was a different matter altogether. If the hon. Member desired to retain Treasury control, he ought not to press this Amendment but submit another at the end of the sub-section providing that the matter should be submitted to the House of Commons. He asked for the Chairman's ruling on the point.


said that was distinctly his view, but he felt that he could not stop the hon. Member.


said he had put down an Amendment which he understood had been accepted. What was the answer of the right hon. Gentleman? He said, because he objected to the next Amendment he could not accept the present one. He thought their contention was perfectly reasonable. The principle had been conceded, but the right hon. Gentleman had declined to give legal expression to it.


said that the Committee wanted to be in a position to know what the Government were doing. Under the Bill as it stood, there would be no control by the House, no power over what was spent, the objects on which it was spent, or the time that was occupied in its spending.

Question put, "That the word 'Treasury' stand part of the clause."—The Committee divided:—Ayes, 181; Noes, 65.—(Division List, No. 44.)


moved to omit Sub-section (3). He said that the sub-section was pure surplusage, and the Bill would be greatly improved if it were left out. The subsection dealt with excess of expenditure under any particular head of schedule, and said "There shall be no excess of expenditure under any particular head, unless." It was the word "unless" that he objected to. It invalidated the only useful provision the sub-section contained. The clause said: Unless the Secretary to the Treasury and the Secretary of State shall be satisfied that there will be a saving. It was a most problematical arrangement at the best. He thought that, the fact that there was a saving on one head should not sanction an expenditure of more than was required on another head. If something was saved in barracks it was no reason why another range should be built; and similarly, if, say, £500 was saved in defence works, why on earth should more than was required be spent on barracks? He thought that if any amount could be saved it should not be taken out of the Consolidated Fund at all.


said he found it rather difficult to believe that the hon. Gentleman was quite serious in moving this Amendment. In large works of this kind it was impossible to be certain that the contract amount would not be exceeded in some way or other, or that works in the way of foundations or otherwise would not require to be made good; and if such expenses could be met by a judicious saving in some other of the works contemplated under the Bill, surely there was no reason why it should not.

Amendment negatived.

Question put, "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill."—The Committee divided:—Ayes, 173; Noes, 55.—(Division List, No. 45.)

Clause 2:—