HC Deb 29 January 1897 vol 45 cc843-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £255,300, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for Capitation Grants and Miscellaneous Charges of Volunteer Corps, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897.

MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)

moved to reduce the Vote by £20,000, which was approximately the Irish contribution to that sum. He took this course for this reason. This was a large Vote for the physical education of the English people, and there was no similar provision for the physical education of the Irish people. This Vote was placed among the Army Estimates, but they knew that that was not a correct description of the Vote. From the military point of view, no one could seriously contend that the Volunteers were a great advantage to the country.


said the hon. Member would be quite out of order in discussing the general question on this Vote. The hon. Member must strictly confine himself to the limits of the items of the Vote which was now presented to the Committee.


said he saw the Vote related entirely to Volunteer Corps. These Volunteer Corps were entirely in Great Britain. There was not a single Volunteer Corps in Ireland, and he took objection to that distribution of Imperial expenditure. This expenditure was confined solely to one part of the United Kingdom.


Order, order! That argument is applicable to the original Vote. It does not apply to this part. The hon. Member must confine himself strictly to this Supplementary Estimate. He must not discuss the general principles of Volunteers Corps or whether the money applied to Volunteer Corps should be applicable to Ireland or not. It does not arise on this Vote.


said he should postpone the greater part of his remarks until they came to the Army Estimates. On that occasion he should go into the whole subject. He wished merely to move, as a matter of protest, the reduction of £20,000. He wished to ask why it was that this extraordinary course was taken every year in succession, of presenting an enormous Supplementary Estimate for the Volunteers. He wanted to know why this payment, which was really made in April, should not be included in the original Estimate, and why there should be an entirely fallacious decrease shown on the original Estimate. Surely it was known that the Department would have to propose this additional sum before the close of the financial year? It was a false principle to proceed on the basis of first bringing in an estimate which they knew would not do them, and then bringing in this fresh Estimate, having got some sort of apparent credit for having kept their Army Estimates down. He saw nothing in the items of this Supplementary Estimate which could not in the ordinary course have been foreseen in the original Estimate that was set down by the Department. The present course was not, in a financial sense, being quite fair with the House. This Supplementary Estimate was vicious in principle, and it was entirely contrary to the financial principles which ought to guide that House. It was not right to cut down at the beginning of the year and to claim credit on a ground which they knew was baseless, and on these grounds he moved to reduce the Vote. They knew it was usually done; they knew it had become customary, and he would like to ask this simple question—whether it is contemplated by the Government to make this an exceptional arrangement, or whether they intended to repeat it year by year?

SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

said he desired to offer his hearty thanks to the Government for the enormous deal they had done for the Volunteer Force. In reply to the hon. Gentleman opposite, he would like to ask how was it possible for the Government to foretell what was the number of efficients in the Volunteer year before that year was completed? The Volunteer year only ended on the 31st of October, and it was quite impossible for the Department to tell what would be the number of efficients at the end of the Volunteer year, be was sure the Committee would be delighted to see the great increase in the number of efficients in the Volunteer Force, and the diminution of those earning the third-class grant. There was one point on which he would like to ask his right hon. Friend for information. That had reference to the matter of Sergeant-Majors of Volunteer Corps.


said it would not be in order to discuss this matter, which was not included in the Vote.


submitted that there would not be a capitation grant at all without sergeant-majors.


said it was not the capitation grant that came under discussion, only the Supplementary grant.


said he would not trespass further on the time of the Committee; he simply gave this indication of the desirability of giving attention to the matter.


asked the right hon. Gentleman in his reply not to confine himself to meeting the argument advanced on behalf of Ireland, but to give some explanation of what this increase of the capitation grant meant. If it was to provide more efficiently for the Volunteers in order that they might be an economic substitute for the army, then he would be very glad to hear it. He would far rather vote for better provision for the Volunteers than add to the extravagance of the regular army.


said there was one item in the Vote he did not quite understand, and it seemed to him to be original, and if so, it raised a question of principle, and that was the additional capitation allowance for engineers efficient in submarine mining. As this stood, it would seem to be, not a continuation of the original Vote, but a new additional grant. All the other portions of the Estimate were continuations of the original Vote, but with regard to this item, as it was described, it looked as if it were not in the same category. He only wished to know whether any new method was to be adopted for promoting efficiency of engineers in submarine mining. His own idea was that this duty ought not to be confined to engineers, but, should be entrusted to sailors. Did this involve a new grant?


said he thought, perhaps, the description was not the best that could have been chosen. The intention was that it should be a special allowance for efficiency in submarine mining. The fact was, engineers had to spend considerable extra time to make themselves efficient, and bad greater wear and tear of clothing than other Volunteers, and in consequence it was found extremely desirable at the ports to offer inducements to Volunteers to enter this particular service, and about ten years ago the War Office offered this special capitation allowance, enabling these corps to be kept up. His hon. Friend, who was continually taking the Navy under his charge, thought that sailors would do the work better, and he could inform him that sailors did undertake the work at some ports, and did it very well. As to the general criticisms offered by the hon. Gentleman opposite, there was nothing in the nature of that evasion the hon. Member assumed there was in presenting these Supplementary Estimates. The fact was, that last year about this time the Government asked Parliament to give the whole capitation grant to the Volunteers, in order to bring up to date payments they considered, in some eases, remained in arrear, and such, according to the War Department's view, were made in advance. The hon. Member was of opinion that the Volunteers began their year with the financial year, but the Volunteer year began in November, and consequently in paying them in April they were paid when live months of the year had run, and some of the officers said they were paid only half way through the year. For this reason, the Chancellor of the Exchequer assenting, and it being convenient, public funds permitting, the advances were made at a rather earlier period this year than in other years. There was no fetish about the 1st of April, and this was done in the present year because it was convenient to public funds, and there were economies also allowing it, and so it was arrange the payments should be made in January and February. It was, he understood, convenient to the Volunteers, and there was no reason whatever why it should be withheld until the month of April.


said the right hon. Gentleman had not met the point raised. He could not see any reason why this should not have been estimated at the time the original Estimates were drafted. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, who invited him to join his regiment, took the ground that it was impossible to foretell how many Volunteers there might be to come in for these grants for efficiency, but he did not understand it was the view of the War Office that there was this extraordinary fluctuation in the Volunteer force. Their point was, that certain capitation grants were due on April 1, and they asked Parliament to allow them to adopt the course of paying them in the same year before April 1. That was a bad principle. If the Volunteers ought to get payment in February before it was absolutely due, then this ought to be done every year. The Volunteers were not more hard-up this than another year. Naturally they wanted it every year, and if there was a good reason for it then the payment should be made in advance every year. What would happen if this were not paid now, but allowed to go over? The payment would come into the new Estimates for a new year, and probably at the end of that year there would be another payment to meet because it was convenient, and working out this it would be found that the Volunteer Estimate for one year might be double what it was the year before. He did not suppose that would be done, for it was perfectly clear that if the Treasury adopted the principle of allowing payments to be made in advance they must follow it out every year, or there would be loud complaints from Volunteers of going back on the arrangement. It must have been known at the beginning of the year that this would have to be paid out before April, and therefore provision should have been made for it in the Estimates.

MR. J. G. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

was not at all satisfied, and did not think that a satisfactory reason had been given for not including this in the original Estimates. He was quite sure that if a board of directors in a commercial enterprise were to make such a blunder in an original estimate they would be bundled out of office by the shareholders. Why did not the War Department conduct its affairs in a businesslike way?

Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £235,300, be granted for the said Service."

The House divided:—Ayes, 23; Noes, 127.—(Division List, No. 8.)

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.

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