HC Deb 10 March 1899 vol 68 cc503-8

6. £350,000, Supplementary, Navy.

*SIR U. KAY SHUTTLEWORTH (Lancashire, Clitheroe)

I desire to ask for an explanation as to the substitution of the Supplementary Estimate now before the Committee in place of that first issued to Members. The Supplementary Estimate introduced earlier in the Session and then withdrawn was for £450,000, but the Estimate now before the Committee has been revised, and is £100,000 less than the original Estimate asked for. Not only is this Estimate considerably different in the total amount, but the details are also different. I find some new items in the Estimate produced on the 1st of March which did not appear in the original Supplementary Estimate. I find that there is an entirely new item under Vote 9, Naval Armaments, for which £100,000 is asked. I think, for these reasons, the Committee may fairly ask for more information than that which is given in the Supplementary Estimate. I gathered from the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty that some of this expenditure on guns was needed in connection with the Supplementary Naval Programme, and I should like to know whether that money is to be spent at Woolwich. Then, with respect to coal, an answer was given yesterday which leads me to think that £316,000, in addition to what was taken in the Estimates of last year, has been expended on coal. That is rather a large amount. I should like some further explanation on that point, especially as it is a very large excess. The total amount which was voted in the original Estimate was £605,000, so that it looks as if more than half as much again had been spent in coal during the current year than was provided for in the original Estimate. There is one further question I would like to ask, and that is: Whether there is anything in this Estimate in relief of the Estimates of 1899–1900? We have had an Army Supplementary Estimate before the House, in which a large amount of the sum asked for was in relief of the Estimate of next year. In other words, the Estimate was framed and the money was asked for in order that the Estimates for the coming year might be reduced. I will not go into details on this question, but I should like to know if there is anything in this Estimate of that character, because if there is, some remarks should be made by way of protest against this growing practice. I hope serious notice will be taken by the authorities in this House of the growing practice of introducing Supplementary Estimates, not with the object of providing for some additional expenditure incurred within the year, but for items which really belong to the expenditure of another financial year. I do not think I need trouble the House further except to ask for these details of information, which I have no doubt the Secretary to the Admiralty will be able to furnish.


I can assure the right honourable Gentleman that not one penny is taken in this Supplementary Estimate in relief of the Estimates for this year. The money we are asking for entirely applies to the expenditure for the current year. The right honourable Gentleman has asked me to explain the reasons which led to the substitution of the present Supplementary Estimate for the one previously laid before the House. In the first Supplementary Estimate the amounts were prepared from the information which was then at our disposal with regard to the earnings of the contractors, but subsequent to that Supplementary Vote having been prepared, we were informed that the earnings of the contractors during the present financial year would fall short by £100,000. Under these circumstances, I will say at once that it would have been not only inexpedient, but improper, to ask Parliament to give its sanction to a Supplementary Estimate so largely in excess of what we had reason to believe would be required. With regard to the new items, alluded to by the right honourable Gentleman, which did not appear in the original Estimate, I may say that these sums have been put down as the amount which we shall require to make up the total of £350,000, and there was no special design in the substitution of these particular items. The reason Vote 9 was taken was that I desired to make use of the Appropriation in Aid. It would not have been quite a proper course of procedure from the accountant's point of view, to utilise the Appropriation in Aid in relation to a Vote which was not in the Supplementary Estimate. For this reason I took £100,000 on Vote 9. With regard to coal, the expenditure for the current year would be, roughly, £900,000. Of that total, £140,000 represents the demand made very early in the financial year, in the month of May, at a time when we could not expect to have any savings, and this expenditure was for the North American station, the ships in Chinese waters, and the Cape station, the details of which are £97,000 for Chinese waters, £16,000 for the Cape station, £17,000 for the North American station, and £10,000 for other stations.


I am not quite sure that the honourable Gentleman has made it clear to the ordinary intelligence why this second edition of the Supplementary Estimate was required. There is such a material discrepancy between the two successive editions, that it makes one wonder upon what principle the Supplementary Estimates are framed at all, and it gives rise to all sorts of natural suspicions of somewhat careless financing. I think the right honourable Gentleman opposite will admit that we do want a little more explanation on this subject. The right honourable Gentleman said something with regard to the guns, but there was no item of guns at all in the first edition, and here there is an item of £100,000; and in order to explain it, the honourable Gentleman says that there was a miscalculation with regard to the earnings of contractors. That only amounted to £20,000, therefore there was a discrepancy of £80,000 suddenly discovered.


I desired to utilise the Appropriation in Aid.


That would justify the Vote for £20,000; but there is a large margin of £80,000 for guns. I daresay this is all necessary and required, but if that was found to be the case, and found to be true when this second edition of the Supplementary Estimate was issued, why was it not known when the first edition was issued a few days before? That is the point as to which we express some surprise. We seem to be providing now in this Estimate for something which has been known for weeks and months before, and what has not been made clear to us is that there was a Supplementary Estimate issued by the Admiralty and circulated amongst Members of the House of Commons, and then a few days later a totally different Estimate with different figures and new items is circulated. It may be all right, but it looks as if there has been an amount of carelessness of a haphazard character about it which I think deserves a little more explanation than we have yet reached.


The point is this, that the first Supplementary Estimate was withdrawn and another substituted in its place because we found that the contractors could earn by £100,000 the amount which we asked for in the Supplementary Estimate.


And that was discovered in this short interval of time?


That is so. I am sure that the right honourable Gentleman will see that over these vast sums we cannot know exactly what will be earned, and it does not seem desirable if we did not want £450,000, to ask the House of Commons for it. These guns were ordered and instalments paid upon them, and during the previous months we knew all about it. But originally these guns were paid for out of the savings of the Supplementary Estimate. There has been no miscalculation except so far as this £100,000 is concerned, as to which we are dependent upon the information of the contractors.


The right honourable Gentleman has not alluded to the point of coal to which his attention was called, and as to which I do not understand the reply of the Secretary to the Admiralty. As I understood him, there has been a large additional expenditure in coal over the normal expenditure, and that has not arisen, I understand, in consequence of the mobilisation of the Reserve Squadron, but has arisen on the China, South African, and North American stations. Therefore, I cannot myself quite understand how so large an additional expenditure on coal can have arisen at stations like those I have mentioned.


I think I explained that the sum of £140,000 only went to these stations, but that does not account for the whole of this expenditure, and as the right honourable Gentleman is aware, large sums are spent upon other important stations. We are now asking the consent of the House to the sum which was specifically allocated to the Fleet in those waters on the 24th of May.


I must congratulate the Admiralty on having done a very clever thing. They do not wish to have an item appearing in the Supplementary Estimates which will give us the opportunity of raising a discussion on the Soudan and Fashoda policy in connection with this Vote. But as a matter of fact the Admiralty are asking for a considerable amount for coals. These coals were consumed during that time, and yet we are assured that these were not the particular coals that the right honourable Gentleman is asking for, and for which an excess Vote is required. The Secretary to the Admiralty gave a list of the stations where they were consumed, and then it suddenly struck him that there was still a little more coal to be accounted for, and he simply waved his hand and said, "The Committee will understand that the balance has been expended in other stations." I should have liked to raise the whole question, and I regret that the right honourable Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench have not given us some clear explanation in regard to these coals. At the same time, I am bound to say that I think they do not want to discuss this matter.

Vote agreed to.