HC Deb 24 February 1898 vol 53 cc1574-6

On the Supplementary Estimate of £34,500 for the Expenses of Her Majesty's Embassies, Missions, and Consular establishments abroad, and for Expenditure charged on the Consular Vote,


said: I call attention to the first item in this Vote—£6,000 for telegrams. That is £6,000 in addition to the £17,000 already voted for this service of telegrams. Generally, Sir, I lay down this as a settled principle, that the Vote for the whole service of the year should be provided for in the estimates for the year, and that this should not be supplemented by other estimates unless subsequently to the original estimate being presented some new and unexpected emergency has arisen. I am commenting on the sum of £6,000 Supplementary Estimate for Telegrams, in addition to the £17,000. I lay down this proposition, that the estimates given for the service of the year should be sufficient for the service of the year, and this House should not be called upon to vote any supplementary estimates unless it can be shown that, after the original estimates were presented, some contingency has arisen which renders them inevitable. No such contingency has been shown to have arisen. We are told that this extra sum has been rendered necessary by the state of affairs abroad. The state of affairs abroad has not materially changed since the Estimates for last year were presented and passed. All the matters in China, in Tunis, in Madagascar, were foreseen, and could have been dealt with at the time the estimates were presented. Again, there are matters in India which, perhaps, may be considered to be new, and matters in Africa, but the Indian Government have to do with the former, and the Colonial Office with the latter. This is not the first time that this extremely bad practice on the part of the Foreign Office has come to the knowledge of this House. Year by year there has been a demand for an additional sum for telegrams, and not for a moderate sum either. Having had £17,000 granted, the Foreign Office comes now with a demand for another £6,000; that is to say, more than one-third of the original estimate has been added to it. If you were to deal with the whole of the Supplementary Estimates in this way, the Supplementary Estimates would amount to £30,000,000 or more. I think, however, that it is incumbent upon some hon. Member of this House, who takes an interest in the regularity of finance, to protest against this practice. I cannot help suspecting that this has something to do with the largeness of the surplus. ["No."] I am glad to hear that that is so. I am bound to say that this is an important matter. If the Foreign Secretary can show that the means were not at hand when the estimates were presented for estimating the additional sum demanded, if he can show that there has been an emergency of unexpected change which justifies the additional vote, then the case falls to the ground. I hope that the Foreign Office will take means to inform itself of its liabilities, and that it will in future take a larger sum for the telegrams, and will not bring us face to face with the necessity for voting so large an additional sum as £6,000.


I think I can satisfy the hon. Gentleman on the grounds of the principle he has laid down himself. That principle is, that no extra sum shall be asked for by the Foreign Office, unless we can satisfactorily demonstrate to the House that some new and special emergency has arisen. He says we are not in a position to state that now, and that, therefore, there are no good grounds for asking the sum of £6,000. But has not the situation changed a great deal since last year? Is it true that the situation in China, at the time the estimates were framed, had assumed anything like the importance it has now? The Chinese problem and the financial questions that have arisen are responsible for a great part of this increase. As much as £6,000 will be required for telegrams to and from Pekin during the last year. I trust this explanation will satisfy the hon. Gentleman.


I do not complain of the money spent in sending the telegrams. What I complain of is, that my right hon. Friend has not obtained sufficient information by means of these telegrams. I would suggest that he should send one or two more telegrams to find out the position the Russians now exactly occupy in Manchuria.