§ (9.0.) THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. RITCHIE, Croydon)
In moving that the House do tomorrow, at 9 o'clock, resolve itself into Committee of 80 Supply is my duty to inform the House, as a Minister of the Crown, that exceptional circumstances have arisen which render it necessary for the Crown to apply to the House for a further grant in Committee of Supply, to the amount of eight millions, the Estimates for which I have laid on the Table of the House. As the House will no doubt know, the proposal which I make is one of a very exceptional character, and can only be justified by very exceptional circumstances. The exceptional circumstances which have arisen, calling for this exceptional proceeding on our part, are connected with the terms of surrender which were arranged at the conclusion of the war with the Boer leaders. One of these terms was that there should be an amount of three millions sterling given to the Boers for purposes of repatriation and 81 certain other purposes named in the terms of surrender. Now, I think it may be very fairly said in regard to this matter, why—if this was so—was not a Vote for the purpose proposed at the ordinary time when the Estimates were taken, before Committee of Supply was closed, and before the Appropriation Bill was introduced? Well, the reason why we did not propose this Vote at that time I will shortly state to the House. It was understood by his Majesty's Government, when these conditions were arranged, that this grant of three millions of money was not to be given out of the Imperial Exchequer, but that it should be part of any Transvaal loan winch should be floated on behalf of South Africa; and, of course, if that view had been so, there would have been no necessity at all for applying to Parliament for any grant; it would, of course, have been met out of the loan when that loan was put upon the market. But, while the Government hold that that would have been a carrying out of the agreement with the Boers, still we had to consider views placed before us in connection with the matter by the Boer leaders, and it was urged upon us that this would not be a compliance with the spirit, at any rate, of the terms which had been agreed upon at the time of surrender. It was urged, and I think not without force, that a free gift by His Majesty's Government meant that the money would be found, not out of the Transvaal revenue, but out of the revenue of the United Kingdom. Well, as I have said, we considered the matter, and arrived at the conclusion that this particular item of the conditions did undoubtedly lend itself to so me extent to that contention on behalf of the Boers, although I still maintain that the understanding at the time of the arrangement was that the money should be found out of the Transvaal loan. Well, that was the position of things when I assumed the office I have the honour to hold. In these circumstances His Majesty's Government had to consider what course they should adopt, and the House will see that one thing incumbent on us was to avoid, if possible, any legitimate feeling of dissatisfaction on the part of those who had been our enemies. The worst thing that could happen would be to give them a legitimate grievance, to 82 give t[...]m any solid ground for the contention that we had got them to agree to terms of surrender under false pretences, or that, having agreed to terms of surrender, we had interpreted those terms in the sense most favourable to ourselves and least favourable to the Boers. This would have been a grave risk to run, and a risk which His Majesty's Government did not feel themselves called upon to run. We believe we are acting most in accord with the interests of South Africa, most in accord with the feelings of the people of this country, and, I believe, with the feeling of the House, in taking this burden on ourselves.
That being so, the matter could no longer be disposed of in the way we originally proposed—namely, by taking this money out of the loan which was to be floated on behalf of the Transvaal; and it is therefore necessary for us to come to Parliament to ask Parliament to authorise us to pay out of the revenues of this kingdom the amount of three millions which we have undertaken to give to the Boers, and, although it formed no part of the terms of surrender, we propose to treat the loyalists of South Africa in a similar manner. I am sure the House would certainly not be satisfied with any arrangement by which the Boers were to receive a considerable sum for repatriation and other matters under the terms of surrender, and the loyalists would not receive a corresponding advantage. After consideration, we have come to the conclusion to appropriate to the loyalists two millions in a similar manner, and that this will meet the justice of the case. It therefore follows that, if a free gift should come out of the revenue for the Boers, then the two millions for the loyalists should also come from the revenues of the United Kingdom. Therefore we have to come to the House now, and ask it to go into Committee of Supply for the purpose of enabling us to pay over for repatriation and other kindred purposes three millions to the Boers and two millions to the loyalists. But, in addition to this, one of the terms of surrender was that a certain sum should be advanced at a low rate of interest for similar purposes, and we have estimated that sum at three millions. That sum is a sum to come legitimately out of the Transvaal loan when it is put upon 83 the market, but until that loan is put upon the market we have to find the money for this purpose, and this sum is also included in the Vote we shall ask the House to consider tomorrow. But that will not form any permanent obligation on the British Treasury; it will be merely an advance out of the balances of the Treasury to be repaid to the balances when the Transvaal loan is floated.
Oh, yes; where I have spoken of the Transvaal I must ask the House to take it that I also include the Orange River Colony. I may say in regard to this incidentally that the reason why we ask the House to go into Committee of Supply to vote the money which will he repaid is because we consider that the present time is not a good time for floating a Transvaal loan; we hope and believe that in the Spring there will he a much more favourable opportunity. Therefore, in the Vote we shall ask the House to consider we include this advance to the Transvaal and Orange Colony. Now, my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn, with whom on matters of this kind I always differ with great hesitation, because I know he makes a special study of matters of procedure, says:—This may be all very well; it may be quite right to do what you intend, but you are not adopting the proper mode of procedure. It is an unprecedented thing, or almost unprecedented, at any rate it has not occurred for 150 years, that the House of Commons has been asked after Supply is closed, and after the passing of the Appropriation Bill, to go into Committee of Supply for a purpose of this kind. Committee of Supply, he says, being once closed ought not to be re-opened by subsequent procedure such as we adopt. There has been no precedent for any such proposal for the last 150 years. I confess I think we shall be able to show, in justification of this procedure, that the circumstances are very exceptional. The present position of the House is exceptional. I do not think that such a combination of exceptional circumstances has arisen in the last 150 years. This House has met for an 84 Autumn Sitting, and there has been an exceptional demand by the Crown for a grant of money. I contend that these exceptional circumstances justify the procedure I now ask the House to adopt. One thing, undoubtedly, is necessary in matters of this kind, and that is that, whatever funds may be thought to be necessary, all grants of money ought to be based on a request from the Crown. I have made it my business to make inquiries upon this matter, and I feel sure that, having in my capacity as a Minister of the Crown made on behalf of the Crown such a request, I have acceded to the principle, and it has been practically complied with, that the Crown should, through the mouth of the Minister, state the demands of the Crown to the House. That is the justification which I have to make for the Motion I now make that the House should, at nine o'clock tomorrow evening, resolve itself into Committee of Supply.
Motion made and proposed, "That this House will tomorrow, at Nine of the Clock in the evening, resolve itself into a Committee to consider the Supply to be granted to His Majesty."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
(9.12.) MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I the trust House will afford me its indulgence while I address it on a question which I deemt o be of the most serious importance. The right hon. Gentleman, in his capacity of Minister of the Crown, has asked this House for Supply to be granted to the Crown. I know of no such proceeding as that which the right hon. Gentleman has asked the House to follow. The demand of the Crown for Supply is always, always has been, and always should be, a most formal and solemn act. It should be embodied in a Speech from the Throne, or, when that is not possible, by a Message signed, as the journals of this House always record, by His Majesty's own hand. It may be said that that is a formal matter. It is more than a formal matter; it is a testimony to the respect which the Sovereign himself owes to this House. It is not right to make a serious demand upon this House in an informal and slovenly way. If that is to be allowed, a Royal Message 85 superseded by a mere statement of a Minister of the Crown may be further superseded, and we may have the demand for supplies made merely by a newspaper paragraph. I attach much importance to the formalities of this House, and especially to those which testify to the respect not only of the people, but of the Sovereign of this country. They are none of them unimportant. Therefore I cannot admit that the statement which the right Hon. Gentleman has now made is sufficient to oust the necessity for a proper Message from the Crown.
The right hon. Gentleman tells us that this Supply was not asked for in May, only because His Majesty's Ministers had mis-understood the terms of the peace they had made with the Boers. That is what his statement amounts to. He says they understood that the three millions grant was to come out of a Transvaal loan, but that since then the Boers have explained to them that they were mistaken in their view, and that the three millions were intended to be, as no doubt it was, and as most people understood, a payment by Great Britain, recoverable, perhaps from the Transvaal, but certainly payable immediately by this country to the Boers. I really do not think that such a reason can fairly and properly be addressed to the House for the failure on the part of the Government to submit their demand for Supply, while Supply was still open, and while the Appropriation Bill was unpassed. There are still', more serious matters of question which I will pass by. But now as to the question of Order. There was a Sessional Order on Supply passed by this House on the 28th April. I must presume that since the Minister has made this demand, he has consulted the authorities of the House, and that they have admitted and allowed that it is not inconsistent with that Sessional Order. But I myself cannot reconcile the language of the Order wit h this procedure. The Sessional Order limits the number of days to be allotted, and provides that those days must end at the 5th August. Besides these, it allows for other days unallotted. This new service may be appropriate to the unallotted days, but allotted or unallotted, the rule clearly lays it down that any additional Estimate for any new matter not included in the original 86 Estimates shall be submitted for consideration in Committee of Supply on some day not later than two days before the Committee is closed. I cannot understand how, after Supply has closed, after the Report of Supply has been agreed to, and after the guillotine has fallen and brought to an end allotted and unallotted days alike, this new matter can be submitted now. if, indeed, it is to be held—as I must assume it is—that this Rule does not apply to present circumstances, if indeed we are held to be outside the Rule of Supply which was passed as a Sessional Order on the 28th April last, then the whole Rule goes by the board. For instance, the Rule limits the discussion of Supply to a certain number of days. That limit goes if the Rule goes. The Rule provides for the guillotine at the end of the number of days. The conditions go and the guillotine also goes, and we may engage in unlimited discussion on the Supply now presented to us.
But I am not careful to insist on the formal Rule or the interpretation of it. For I have a much more serious matter to submit. Will the House permit me to say what in my opinion the right method of Supply is? Standing Order 54 indicates the course which should be adopted. It provides—That this House will appoint the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means at the commencement of every Session as soon as the Address fins been agreed to in answer to His Majesty's Speech.I am far from saying that that precludes Supply being set up at any other time than that specified by the Standing Order; but I do say that that Standing Order indicates to the House the proper and only regular mode of procedure in regard to setting up Supply. There is a formal and solemn demand by the Crown for Supply addressed to the House of Commons, and power is given to move Amendments to the King's Speech in order to consider grievances. No Supply can be set up until those grievances have been disposed of and until the Address in reply to the gracious Speech has been agreed to. That is what enshrines the principle that Grievance shall come before Supply. And when the Committee of Supply has done its work it reports to the House, the Report is agreed to, and the final act of the Session is the passing 87 of the Appropriation Bill. The control of Parliament over national finances rests solely on the Appropriation Act. It is not Votes in Supply that gives the Government money to spend. It is the Appropriation Act, which is the only legal authority to the Ministry to spend a farthing of the money voted in Supply. Votes in Supply are after all only resolutions of this House, but the Appropriation Act is the Act of Parliament, not of this House only but of the other House as well, which has power it not to originate, yet to right it, and the Act of the Sovereign who gives his assent. So true is it that the Act and the Act alone is the authority, that if a session be prorogued before and without the Appropriation Act being passed, every Vote of the House of Commons becomes thereby voided and null as though it had never been passed. I desire to read a few extracts from the greatest authority on this most important constitutional point, because it is the foundation of my argument, that nothing is anything except the Appropriation Act. I will quote from the very best work on the constitution of this country. viz., "Law and Practice of the Constitution," by Sir William Anson, whose authority is not in the least lessened by his having left the uncertain emoluments of literature for the more secure position of Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education. He says—The sums voted to meet the army, navy, and civil service estimates cannot be legally paid until they are embodied in the Appropriation Act, and the House of Commons, in order to get the Supplies of the whole year into one Bill, reserves the Appropriation Bill until the close of the session.And again—It is not the need of Supply, but of the appropriation of Supply and of the Army Act which makes it legally necessary for Parliament to sit every year. If Parliament did not appropriate the Supplies of the year to specific purposes, the money which comes in on account of the various items of taxation could not legally he paid out to meet the services of the year, except in the case of such charges upon the revenue as are permanently authorised by statute.Let me for a moment ask the House to observe the extreme importance of this. I have said that the Government cannot spend a farthing legally without the authority of the Appropriation Act. It may receive very large revenues indeed 88 without the annual interposition of this House, and without its permission, but it cannot spend the money. Let us consider what revenue it does receive, without the annual consent of the House, through permanent Acts of Parliament. In this year, 1902–1903, the Government estimate to raise a revenue of £161,700,000; of that sum £112,500,000 is permanent revenue raised by taxes imposed on the nation by permanent Acts of Parliament, and for not one penny of which, therefore, the Government need come to the House. Why, you could run an Empire on £112,500,000. My belief is that the German Empire is run on less. But, although they obtain that £112,000,000, not one farthing of it can the Government spend without the sanction of an Appropriation Act. Were it otherwise the Government need never call Parliament together at all. I think I have shown, therefore, that it is the Appropriation Act and not votes in Supply that is important. Now, if the House will permit me, I will read one or two more quotations to show the importance of retaining the Appropriation Act until the end of the session. Here is what that great financial authority, Sir George Cornwall Lewis, said before the Committee of Public Accounts in 1857—The Appropriation Act at the end of the session gathers together the whole of the Votes in Supply and the grants already authorised out of the Consolidated Fund to meet in part the Supplies voted; the balance of ways and means required to cover all the sums charged on the Supplies of the year is set forth in this Act, which thus completes the financial proceedings of this session.… The final grant of ways and means to cover the whole of the Supplies voted in the session is always reserved for the Appropriation Act; thus, although the House of Commons, at an early period of the session, might have voted the whole of the Supplies of the year, they could still hold their constitutional check upon the Minister.Another eminent authority, who has also been removed to a higher sphere, Sir Courtenay Ilbert, says in his work "Legislative Methods and Forms"—When all the Supply of the session has been voted, an Appropriation Act is passed providing the balance of ways and means required for the session and appropriating in detail the various sums voted out of the Consolidated Fund to the different purposes specified in the Resolutions passed in the Committee of Supply as agreed by the House. The Act includes all the Supply voted in the session for the service of whatever year may be intended.89 Finally I may quote what the Speaker of this House said in 1841—The Appropriation is always reserved for the end of the session, tend it is irregular to introduce any Clause of Appropriation into a revenue or other Bill passing through Parliament at an earlier period.Of course, the House is aware that what are called Consolidated Fund Acts are often passed before the Appropriation Act, but not one of those Acts appropriates; they are merely Acts to enable the Treasury to issue money, and the money so issued and all other moneys are brought into the one final Appropriation Act for the reasons I have given. The House, so long as it has the control of the Appropriation Act, has control of the Ministers. Now let me give one last quotation as to this from "Hallam." He says, in language which I can ill approach, but which I earnestly commend to the House—A House of Commons would be deeply responsible to the country if, through supine confidence, it should abandon that high privilege which has made it the arbiter of Court factions and the regulator of foreign connections.My argument is that that is virtually what we are asked to do. We are asked to abandon that. The Appropriation Act, as I think I have shown, always has been and always should be, if this House is to retain its power over the Ministers, the very last Act of the Session. It is, as it were, the sessional last will and testament of the House; and just as the testator reserves to the last moment of his life the power of varying and changing his will and thus retaining his control over his own property, this House should retain its power over the Appropriation Bill to the end of the Session.
Now it may be said, "If there be such virtue in an Appropriation Bill, why should we not have two, and thereby increase the virtue?" That argument reminds me of the young lady who was asked whether she would not have a nice decent husband of fifty, and who replied that she would rather have two of twenty-five. It is a trifling illustration, and I hope the House will pardon it. But why not have two Appropriation Bills? If I were endeavouring to persuade a convinced Tory permeated with sound constitutional feelings and full of reverence for the forms and traditions of the House—without which no man ever became a great Parliamentarian—I would 90 reply to that question by saying that the answer is sufficient that the House had never done otherwise than have one Appropriation Bill, and one only. But if I were trying to persuade those who are children in these matters I would say that the reason why we can not properly have two Appropriation Bills in the same Session is because it is absolutely essential to the financial control of the House that the whole finances of the year should be submitted to Parliament in one complete scheme embodied in one Appropriation Bill. Without this the House loses all control. Let the House consider. The Budget presents in one picture all the financial needs and all the financial resources of the year. It is upon that picture that the House judges whether it will agree that to new taxes or to the remission of old taxes; whether it will submit to new burdens being placed not only on itself, it may be, but on posterity. It is upon that one financial statement that the House judges of the financial affairs of the nation. The Budget is, as it were, a Pandora's box, full of taxes, evils and miseries; yet at the bottom is Hope, in. the shape of an Appropriation Bill. But if this Pandora's box, has a false bottom and we find that below the false bottom there are other taxes, miseries and evils and no complete Appropriation Bill covering all of them, then you have not only extorted the taxes on false grounds, but have also departed from the invariable and most necessary practice of finance in this House. Of course I admit at once that there are emergencies which cannot be foreseen in the Budget. Wars may arise and new expenditure may become necessary, that could not be foreseen. But there is proper provision made for dealing with those. There are well-known provisions. There are Votes of credit. Votes of Credit have been indulged in more than once, but never after the passing of the Appropriation Act. Then there is the system of the Supplementary Votes—a most nefarious system. I know of nothing more calculated to enable a Minister to destroy the system of finance of this country than that of Supplementary Estimates. But these are the methods which can be resorted to before the Appropriation Act in Committee of Supply. One Committee of Supply, one Budget and one 91 Appropriation Act. Depart from that, and you immediately come into financial chaos and the loss of all power of this House over the Ministers.
No doubt, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, we are sitting here at this time under very unusual and extraordinary circumstances. This has been called an Autumn Session. I submit it is nothing of the kind. It is a series of supplemental sittings tacked on to the ordinary session, which, as I say, expired for all practical and certainly for all financial purposes when the Appropriation Act was passed. There is no doubt that a bisected session, with a second half devoted to supplementary sittings after the passing of the Appropriation Act is a very rare thing indeed. So far as I can trace it, such a thing has only, occurred three times in the last 100 years. There were supplementary sittings in 1820 in order to pass a Bill of Attainder against Queen Caroline; there were supplemental sittings in 1882 in order to pass the Procedure Rules; and in 1893 in order to pass the Local Government Act. Now, Sir, on all those occasions—and I believe they are the only occasions that can be found in the last 100 years or in the last 200 years—the same conditions were observed. Each one of these series of supplemental sittings was reserved to the sole, single and specific purpose for which it was intended; and in none was an attempt made to set up a new Committee of Supply after the Appropriation Act had been passed. Therefore what is proposed to be done now is an entirely new thing; new to the ordinary practice of the House; new even to the exceptional practice of the House under which we are sitting here today; entirely new and entirely unknown. In 1882 so strongly was it felt that you could not properly proceed with matters of this kind after the Appropriation Act had passed, that the very first thing that occurred on the meeting of the House in October, was that Lord Randolph Churchill moved the adjournment of the House on the ground that it was the settled Constitutional principle that when once the Appropriation Act had been passed the House could not proceed to do any other business whatsoever. The noble Lord was followed into the lobby by 92 my right hon. friend the Member for Cambridge University, my right hon. friend the First Lord of the Treasury—whom I am sorry not to see in his place—the present Lord Chancellor, and by my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were all of opinion that it was impossible to do any business of any kind whatever after the Appropriation Act. It is true that that was in the young and enthusiastic days of the first Lord of the Treasury, when he was a shining light and a Member militant of the Fourth Party. It is true that in those days the right hon. Gentleman did not hold quite the same views he holds now, for he denounced these sittings and also denounced the closure as a reckless tampering with the Constitution, and especially the closure by the Chairman of Committees as a provision which struck deep at the dignity of Parliament. Of course the right hon. Gentleman has reformed now. He has, I believe, entirely repudiated his connexion with the Fourth Party; he has turned his back on his poor relations, and the last of them is now relegated to a seat below the gangway. But at that time, in 1882, it was the view of the great legal authority who now presides over the Courts of the land, it was the view of the Fourth Party, and it was the view of Sir Stafford North-cote, that no business whatever should be done after the Appropriation Act was passed. Now, Sir, I do not go so far as that. I am a moderate man; I am not like my right hon. friends the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not claim to stop all business, but I do go this far—that with regard to these irregular supplemental sittings, you ought to limit them strictly to the purposes for which they are called; in this case the passing of the Education Bill. I call upon the First Lord of the Treasury to support me here, because—on the very ground that these are sittings for a special purpose—the right hon. Gentleman refused the Irish Members a day to consider the undoubtedly important matter of the suspension of Constitutional guarantees in Ireland. and I equally claim his adhesion to my other proposition that if any other than the special business is to be taken in such irregular sittings as these, at any rate no business in Supply ought to be taken. I say that for financial 93 purposes the time has gone by, and it is contrary to the very safety and power of this House to attempt to set up Supply afresh, after the Appropriation Act has been passed. It is sufficient for me to say, having regard to the special character of these sittings, in reply to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that never in such a state of things as this has Supply ever been attempted to be set up.
Of course I am the first to admit, even though we are in a very irregular and unusual position, and even if it be proved up to the hilt that the fault of our being in this position lies with the Treasury Bench, that it is absolutely necessary for the honour of the country, that these £3,000,000 should be paid to the Transvaal—not out of the Transvaal, not out of some doubtful loan, but out of our own pockets; out of our own money. I fully agree to that, and in this irregular situation in which I find myself, I ask myself what could he done. I think the resources of procedure are not yet exhausted. I think there are methods by which the necessary money might be found for meeting this pressing expenditure. There are two methods of meeting the difficulty. The first is that the expenditure of this money should be sanctioned by an Address originating in the House—a method such as was adopted in the case of the retiring allowance to Mr. Speaker Peel—an Address to the Sovereign requesting that the money might be provided and undertaking that it should be made good. That is not I think for this purpose a good method. But there is another. The King may send a Message setting forth some new necessity, and then there may be an Address to the King requesting him to authorise the issue of the necessary sums and undertaking to make them good. Then they would be made good in the Supplementary Estimates of the next session and so appear in the Appropriation Bill of next year. That is the clear and the right way to provide such sums. Let me point out to the House that these £3,000,000 have been pledged by an Act of the Prerogative of the Crown. The Crown has made a treaty and undertaken to do the things under that treaty necessitating this expenditure. It is a natural thing 94 under these circumstances that the Sovereign should, in a proper and formal way, notify these engagements to the House, and call upon the House to make them good, and that the House should address a Message in reply, and say it will make them good. That was the procedure adopted in 1721, when the King made a treaty with Sweden, and came under some financial engagements. That was the course that was pursued then; a Message came to this House and it was printed in the Journals, where it can be seen, and thus it was in the year 1748, when the hereditary jurisdiction of Scotch Lairds was abolished. As I am speaking here, somewhat presumptuously I am afraid, as a financial purist, I may say that I am not enamoured of dealing with these matters in this way, by a sort of Parliamentary promissory note. It is only in my endeavour to assist the Chancellor of the Exchequer that I suggest this way out, and it is owing to the right hon. Gentleman insisting upon going his own wicked other way that I am obliged to make this speech tonight.
It will be seen that my objections to the course pursued tonight are objections not to the form, but to the substance. Not only is it contrary to all the usages and the settled practice of this House, but it is calculated to diminish the power of the House of Commons itself. It not only completely abolishes the doctrine of grievance before Supply, but it is Supply without any grievance at all. There is no King's Speech, no proper demand for Supply, so far as I can admit, and it is therefore Supply without grievance. Standing Order 56, which I presume will be followed, says that whenever Supply stands as an Order of the day Mr. Speaker shall leave the Chair without Question put, unless on first going into Committee of Supply an Amendment is put down or a question raised with regard to the Estimates. As you, Sir, are "first going into Committee of Supply" again, I presume a Motion will be made that you leave the Chair, and that any Amendments limit down or questions raised will he duly debated.
But I have yet another objection to this fresh practice. It sets up a new precedent, and you never quite know where new precedents are going to lead 95 you. I can see one direction in which it must inevitably lead. At present you have in one session one Budget, one Committee of Supply, one Appropriation Act. Once agree that there should be two Budgets, two Committees of Supply, and an unlimited number of Appropriation Acts in one session, and there is absolutely no reason why you should prorogue Parliament at all; there is no reason why you should not go on adjourning time after time, and keep the one session open during the whole continuance of a Parliament. That might mean a session of seven years. That is conceivable, and would be very inviting. See what a revolution it would mean: one King's Speech, one only in seven years, and in seven years one set of grivances only to be raised on Amendments to the King's Speech! In the hands of the casual occupants of the Treasury Bench an unlimited opportunity would be afforded for passing the most revolutionary measures, which could not possibly, be entertained in one ordinary session, but which then might be passed in sevenths, one-seventh this year, another seventh next year, and so on. In the next Parliament, or the next session consisting of one Parliament, the next casual occupants of that Bench would have the same facilities for repealing the Act of their predecessors. A nice sort of see-saw might go on! Let not the House think that finance is a mere form. Finance lies at the bottom of all government. When you have had finance you have had everything. Bad finance brought about the fall of Rome, and led to the French Revolution. Bad finance always leads to either ruin or revolution.
Let me beg the House to beware how they agree to this proposal. During the last thirty years one financial security after another has been pared away, and you now have false accounts of your expenditure, an entirely incomplete control of your issues and receipts, a system of audit which I believe to be altogether illusory, and a very much diminished control by this House over expenditure. It is time to make some stand in regard to this procedure. Our rules are in a very chaotic condition. Some are in a fragmentary state, others have been proved to be wholly ill-considered, and, although perhaps adapted to the exigencies of the Government at the time they were 96 adopted, calculated to lead to very serious results under other circumstances. Let not this House agree to be formalists for Members and anarchists for Ministers. If there are pit-falls consisting of inverted commas, references to newspapers, and so forth, which trip a Member up when he wishes to ask a Question, let us not disregard the settled traditions of this House when it is a question of keeping Ministers in order. Of course, I can understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Allowance must be made for him; he is a "sturdy beggar" by profession; it is his business to be so. But the First Lord of the Treasury—where is he? He is the Leader of this House, the proper guardian of its rights, privileges and powers. He is also the head of the Conservative Party, pledged to resist every innovation not justified by necessity. That he should be a party to what I consider to be a very serious infringement of the rights and powers of this House, and yet be absent when the matter is being discussed, is, I think, somewhat surprising.
The rules and traditions of this House are the inheritance of the people of England, whose representatives we are. They have grown up out of experience founded on reason. It is most dangerous to touch them, or to set up new precedents in contradiction of them. The formalities of this House are not, and never have been, merely formal. They represent the necessities of the case and. embody the protection and defence of Members of this House. It is the formalities, traditions, and rules of this House that enable the minority to debate and persuade; it is they that ensure that in Parliament the Members should be allowed to parley with the Minister before the Act of State is done. One after another I have seen the opportunities of debate taken from us; one after another I have seen taken away the occasions upon which any Member might touch upon any other subjects than those the Government choose to put down. I have no hope whatever of prevailing in my argument tonight, but I warn the House-that if it allows its forms and traditions one by one to be broken down, and the sanctions of its power to be destroyed, it will end by being not the glory, but the reproach and the by-word, of the Empire. This House has resisted and destroyed 97 the tyranny of Monarchs, it has survived and emerged from the corruption of Ministers and of Members; and it has done so because, although sometimes it may have wanted virtue, it has never yet wanted spirit. If now it does want spirit its end as a useful institution of this country is near; and it will not merely have suffered, it will have invited and deserved the doom that will befall it.
§ (10.4) SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
It is a refreshing circumstance to hear constitutional doctrine preached from the Benches of the constitutional party. We seldom hear it in words; we never see it in practice. What the hon. Member for King's Lynn has said is perfectly true, that the proposal made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is an unexampled one. I do not say that we have not as much right to make precedents as our predecessors, and therefore I am not going to take any narrow ground upon that subject; but it is very useful and very necessary that the House of Commons should have respect for the practice which it has followed for generations and even for centuries. Above all, as the hon. Member has justly said, it is in matters of finance, which he at the root of all good government (and never was there a time when the expenditure of this country had risen to so unprecedented a height) that we ought to be the more careful in regard to any deviations from the securities which this House has established for their regulation and control. That is a proposition which I think will be accepted by both sides of the House. Therefore, if we are to enter upon a new and unexampled course we ought to be amply satisfied that there is some unexampled and exceptional reason for taking this course which is without precedent.
Now, what is the exceptional circumstance here? We are asked to go into Supply for the purpose of authorising the Government to expend money which they did not ask for before the Appropriation Bill. But all the circumstances which make them ask for it now were perfectly well known to them for months before the Appropriation Bill. This is expenditure which 98 arises out of the terms of peace made between the Government and the Boer generals. That was in the month of May. The Appropriation Bill was taken in the beginning of August, and during the whole of the time from the month of May to the beginning of August His Majesty's Government was in possession of all the circumstances upon which they now found this demand. Why was not this demand made in June, in July, or the beginning of August? In these circumstances there is no justification for departing from the established practice of the Constitution with reference to Supply and the Appropriation Bill. The demand was as urgent then as it is now. What account have they to give of their unintelligible neglect—I do not wish to say an offensive word, so I will not say blundering—in not taking that course in June and July, and in not taking the ordinary course in the House of Commons with reference to finance, and asking for the money in the proper manner and at the proper time? Let us see how the matter stands. In April, when the first Budget was brought in by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, he asked this pertinent question—Perhaps I may be asked what is to happen if peace should come in a few weeks, and if the Large sums of fifty-six or fifty-seven millions I have suggested should not be all required for the purpose of the war?Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated various things that would happen, but what is to the present purpose is this. Having provided for the immediate consequences of the war, he said:Means will have to be provided for something more, something which, I am sure, will be more agreeable to the minds of all of us than expenditure on war. Means will have to be provided for the relief and resettlement of the two colonies which have been so terribly devastated by the war; means will have to be provided for rebuilding and restocking the farms—the farms, I should hope, not only of those who have been our friends in the war, and who have fought on our side, but also of those who have boldly and honestly been our enemies in the war, and whom we hope to make our friends in future.That, is a contemplation of the very things which constitute the two principal articles of the £5,000,000 which is the Estimate we are now asked to go into 99 Committee of Supply to vote. Then he said:I think the House of Commons, if peace is made on terms which we believe will be satisfactory, enduring, and safe, will be generous in these matters, and yet I do not believe that they need involve any great charge on this country.Therefore, the contemplation of the Government from the first was that these matters so referred to were not to be a great charge on the country—that is, the British taxpayer.I am convinced," continued the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, "looking at the remarkable prowess which has been already made even during the war in the restoration of industrial prosperity in the goldfields, and in the more important centres of the Transvaal, that it will be perfectly possible for the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, if we were to advance to them a loan for the purposes have described (for railway extension, and so on), to repay such advances, both capital and interest, on terms which would be eminently satisfactory to the taxpayers of this country.Therefore, the policy of the Government on these points from the beginning of the war down to now, that it would cost this country very little, was in respect of these very particulars. In the Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer held forth the hope that, if peace were made these things would be provided for, but that they would not be provided for at the expense of the British taxpayer. But then the Chancellor of the Exchequer came forward in June, after the peace was made, after all these conditions were known, after it was known that this was to be a free gift on the part of the Government to the Boer generals with an amended balance-sheet. He made a speech on that occasion, and, having shown what would be the altered condition of things in consequence of peace, he said—I referred in the Budget speech to the measures in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony for the relief and resettlement of the population, for the rebuilding and restocking of farms, and for other purposes. We may very possibly have to make temporary advances of that kind, but as soon as the civil administration is established in the colonies, and the necessary arrangements can be made, we shall ask Parliament to aid in this matter, not by direct advances, but by guaranteeing a loan to be raised by the colonies for the purposes I have named, and such other objects," and so on.100 Therefore, here was the declaration of the Government by their financial representative after peace was made, after the terms were known, and more than two months before the Appropriation Bill, as to the course they intended to take. What is the meaning now of the Government coming forward and saying, "We did not know"? We have been told, at the beginning of the war, "How could we know?" so how could you know in June, July, and August what was the real meaning of the terms you were making with the Boers, and whether the charge was to fall on the Transvaal, or whether it was to fall on the British taxpayer. Now in October you come to correct the blunders you made in June and July.
That is the situation of the Government in this matter. There is not a circumstance they know now which they did not know in June and July. The terms of peace were known, and the undertaking they had come to with the Boer Generals was that the payment should be by the British taxpayer and not by loan on the Transvaal; and yet they have been holding out the prospect that a good part of the expenses of the war would be borne by the gold mines and the people of the Transvaal. They now come round to the position I have always maintained, that the whole cost will fall on the British taxpayer, and the British taxpayer alone. But with reference to this procedure, the Government, through the late Chancellor of the Exchequer say:—These are to be temporary advances, and I would therefore ask the House to leave my hands tree in that matter, with the distinct understanding that if it is possible all these six millions shall be devoted to the reduction of our present Debt.How has the House been dealt with in this matter? You obtain in June, though the peace had been made, power to raise a loan of £30,000,000, on a distinct representation as to what was to be done with that loan—a loan far beyond what was wanted for the purposes of the war—and, on certain representations as to what would be done with the excess of that loan if the House authorized it. If there is anything perilous in this world, it is that the House of Commons should be induced by the Executive Government 101 to grant them money, whether in the form of Supply or a loan, on conditions which are not fulfilled.
§ MR. RITCHIE
The right hon. Gentleman will pardon me; surely that is a matter for discussion when we come to the Vote, it cannot be germane to the present proposal.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Certainly it is germane to the present proposal. What justification is there in the plea of exceptional circumstances when you knew everything two months before the Appropriation Bill, which would have called upon you to ask the House of Commons through Committee of Supply to get authority for this money? You got the money before the Appropriation Bill upon the representation that it would nut fall upon the British taxpayer, but that it would fall upon the Transvaal. I have in my hand the Paper laid before Parliament on June 9th, as the corrected Budget statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—a most formal, a most authoritative document—in which it is represented in dealing with the Supply and in dealing with the loan that the deficit is to be met out of the proceeds of the Consol loan of £29,000,000, and then there is this note—Leaving available for contingencies and redemption of unfunded Debt, £5,996,000.That is an undertaking to this House that that would be dealt with for the purpose of reducing the British Debt. Now this is a proposal that, instead of using that money, which was pledged for the redemption of the Debt, it is to be taken out of the revenue of the year. The Government pledged themselves to place this money on a loan upon the Transvaal, and, instead of carrying out their declared intention regarding the redemption of the British Debt, the charge is to fall upon the British taxpayer. That is the situation. I say it is a most formidable situation in dealing wit h finance at any time, above all at a time when you are adding £50,000,000 to your Debt and you have your taxation at the point which it has reached. Was there ever a time when a Government was less justified in departing from the 102 strict rules which govern finance? The Government came forward and represented to the House that it was represented to them that these particular charges would, if it were necessary to ask for them as temporary advances, be repaid by a guaranteed loan chargeable upon the gold mines of South Africa. I suspect very much that it is not so much the difficulty that the Boers have raised in this matter as the refusal of the gold mines to bear the charge which lay at the bottom of the whole thing.
For the last three years I have maintained that the idea that you were going to obtain the cost of this war, or any part of it, out of the gold mines which were to benefit, we were told, so enormously, was illusory. Day by day it becomes more and more clear that the idea that you were going to get any relief whatever for the British taxpayer from sources of this kind was a complete delusion. Then I ask what justification have the Government in this case? What do they say? They found out—when did they find out?—the truth in regard to these statements. Who was it who informed them what was the meaning of their own agreement with the Boers? How was it that they came forward in the month of June, and said, they were only bound to make a temporary advance, and that that would be recouped as soon as the regular Government was established and be available for the reduction of the British Debt. A regular Government had been established. When did this enlightenment come upon the Government as to the real meaning of the peace they had made That is the whole question. The Government say, It is true we contemplated this temporary advance, but we found that we had made a peace we did not understand, and we cannot fulfil the pledges which in an absolutely formal way were laid in an authoritative document on the Table of Parliament. You call this an exceptional situation. But the facts of the case are today exactly what they were in the month of June, when the statement was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to which I have called attention. But, if that was immediately after the peace, there was the whole of June, the whole of July, in which the Government might have devoted themselves to the study of their own peace. Then they might have 103 come forward with this Motion before the Appropriation Bill, and there would have been no departure from the constitutional financial practice of this country. That is the situation.
We must, of course, fulfil faithfully the terms of peace. We must do that, but what we do complain of is that the responsible Government should come to this House and misrepresent—I do not say intentionally but from their own ignorance—the terms of peace. The idea that the £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 would not fall upon the British tax payer, but would be raised upon a Transvaal loan, was a delusion and an illusion. I am far from saying that the Government intentionally misled the House, but it is the business of the Government to understand their own business, and they should know upon whom the charge falls, whether upon the British taxpayer or elsewhere. Now we have got to the present month, and we have gone on up to this time in the belief that the statement of the Government was true and that there would be out of the revenue of this year £6,000,000 capable of being devoted to the reduction of the British Debt. Now we have found, on the Government's own confession, that all that £6,000,000 is to go on the taxation of the year, and consequently will fall upon the British taxpayer. That is the history of this proposal. I agree with the hon. member for King's Lynn that it is very objectionable, when you are creating a new precedent, to proceed in the happy-go-lucky, slip-slop manner in which this proposal has been introduced tonight. You are creating a new Committee of Supply, because the Committee of Supply of the Session has been closed in the proper manner. Of course we all know that if there is a case of unforeseen emergency the House of Commons will always be prepared to meet it. But this is not an unforeseen emergency. The emergency was foreseen, and might have been foreseen by everybody—except His Majesty's Government; it was there and could easily have been dealt with. The proper course would have been that there should be a formal message from the Crown. These things are not unimportant. I am old-fashioned enough to believe that it is a great disadvantage to depart from the well-established relations between the Crown and the House of Commons. Trifling with 104 matters of this kind is not a sound doctrine and it is not good finance. But I am an old Constitutionalist. These are views which are now called "worn out shibboleths," which it is the fashion nowadays to despise. If you are going to establish a new financial practice, you cannot be too careful in preserving the principles upon which the established practice has been founded. Of course the whole of our Supply and financial proceedings rest on a Message from the Crown.
People say, "What does it matter what the Crown does or what the House of Commons does?" But this way- of dealing with such matters is very mischievous and dangerous, especially in the present financial position in which we find ourselves. Although I perfectly agree that we ought to keep faith with the Boer generals, I say that we ought to have kept faith with thorn before the Appropriation Bill was passed. I regret that we should appear tonight in such a ridiculous position, for which the Government are entirely responsible, having misled the House by laying down in a series of financial statements entirely contradictory representations in regard to the people on whom this burden would ultimately fall. I wish even now that the Government would take pains to present the matter in the proper form to the House, that it should be presented to the House as what it properly is, a new Committee of Supply, and that it should be presented in regular form as a Committee of Supply. It would then come before you, Mr. Speaker, upon the Motion that you leave the chair, and we should be placed in the ordinary and regular position of a Committee of Supply. That would be to show some respect for the fit uncial safeguards by which we have surrounded and protected the taxpayers of this country. I say nothing about the new Rule—because it has been broken almost as soon as it is made. I do not value the new Rule. You may break the new Rules as you please, and the sooner they are broken, I think, the better. A few months ago it was provided by the Rule—That any additional Estimate for any new service or matter not included in the Estimate for the year shall he submitted for consideration in Committee of Supply on some day not later than two days before the Committee is closed.Of course, this is a "new matter." This arose out of a peace made with the 105 Boers in the month of May last. There was plenty of time between the conclusion of peace and the month of August, before the Committee of Supply closed, to bring forward this "new- matter," and, therefore, this is a deliberate breach of the Rule you have made. I think you might have the grace to suspend the Rule for tomorrow, because your present action is in flagrant and ridiculous violation of your own new Rule. There does not seem to me to be any justification for the course you have pursued. In my opinion, the House of Commons, with reference to this matter, and, what is still more important, the people represented by the House of Commons, that is, the taxpayers of this country, have been deluded by representations that this was a charge which would not fall upon them, but would justly tall upon those whom we were told have so largely benefited by the peace that was made, and, therefore, it was only just that those men who had benefited by the gold mines should bear this burden. We were told even more emphatically by the Colonial Secretary that the mine-owners had ample means to bear this burden, and that they ought to bear it to a considerable degree. Now, apparently this very first item which you undertook to place upon the Transvaal alone is not to be so placed. It is a most unfortunate thing that the House of Commons, and the taxpayers as represented by the House of Commons, should have been misled in this matter, and that there should have arisen the necessity for this unprecedented proceeding in respect of the Votes in Supply of this House.
§ (10.40.) MR. RITCHIE
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has not lent any considerable amount of support to the argument of my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn. My hon. friend devoted the main part of his speech to the question of procedure. The right hon. Gentleman devoted a very small portion of his speech to the question of procedure, and a very large portion to the merits of the Vote.
§ MR. RITCHIE
But with special reference to the merits of the Vote, as to whether or not the Government were justified, after the declaration they had made, in coining down to the House and asking them to put on the British taxpayer a burden which they had understood previously to be on the taxpayers of the Transvaal. That was the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, and that is what I meant by saying that his speech was directed not so much to the question of procedure as against the lathes of the Government for having first stated t hey were going to provide this money in one way and then coming to the House and asking it to provide it in another. That was not the point to which my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn devoted his speech. The speech of my hon. friend, if I may he permitted to say so, was much more germane to the Motion which I have made tonight than was the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, which, I think, would more properly be dealt with when we come to discuss this matter in Committee of Supply. But before I sit down I shall devote some attention to the remarks winch the right Gentleman made. My hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn has, as we expected him to do, devoted his time to showing the House what an extremely careful and critical examination he has made of the historical circumstances which are in any degree analogous to the proposition which we are now making. Without entering into all the points which he has raised, I think I am right in saying that the main burden of his speech was that, after the Appropriation Bill, no further business ought to have been carried on, and certainly there ought not to be any further Vote in Committee of Supply.
§ MR. RITCHIE
But my hon. friend did make a considerable point about the taking of any other business after the closing of Supply, and I think he quoted some votes in 1882 which were given by myself, by the Leader of the Government, and by other members of the Government, as showing that we concurred in his view that no business ought to have been taken.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I beg the right how Gentleman's pardon, but I distinctly said that that was not my view. I did not go so far as the right hon. Gentleman himself. I did not say that no business should be taken.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Then I fail to understand why my bon. friend quoted our votes, because that was the particular question which was before the House in 1882.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I quoted them to show that the right hon. Gentleman went much further and was less moderate than myself.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I think my hon. friend will remember that he endeavoured to make a considerable point of the fact that we did give our votes in the direction which he approved of. If he had pursued his investigation a little further he would have found that the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman who sits next to him, and many other right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen who now sit upon that side of the House, voted directly against the proposition which my hon. friend is now supporting. Therefore, if he is able to quote our votes, I may quote the votes of nearly the whole of the Front Bench opposite against the proposition which my hon. friend has made—namely, that business ought not to be taken after the Committee of Supply has been closed.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
My right hon. friend is unconsciously entirely and absolutely misrepresenting me. I told the House, and I quoted the votes that 108 the right hon. Gentleman and the Fourth Party voted in 1882, that no business whatever should be taken after the Appropriation Act. I stated that I did not go so far as that, and what I contended was that only the special business for which these supplemental sittings were called should be taken, and certainly there should be no reopening of Committee of Supply.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I am sorry I did not take down my hon. friend's words. I confess I fail to understand why my hon. friend gave himself the trouble of quoting our votes. It is not important, and I need not carry it any further. What is my hon. friend's argument? It is that no Government, whatever may be the circumstances that require it, ought ever to come forward at an Autumn sitting and ask for further Supply after the Appropriation Bill has been passed, unless they adopt a particular course which he has set up—namely, that there should be a Message from the Sovereign. He explained that by that he meant a Message under the Sign Manual. He also went the length of saying that the Message ought to be replied to by the House by an Address to the Crown, and, in fact, that we ought to have a new session. In point of fact, what he intended to say, and what he himself believed in, was that Committee of Supply should not again be set up in one session after the Appropriation Bill had been passed. That means that, whatever circumstances might arise, however much might be the demand for Supply, if there is an Autumn sitting no Supply should be granted, but the session ought to be wound up and a new session begun with a Speech from the Throne and an Address from the Douse. Now, Sir, I think that is not borne out by anything which has happened in the past. My hon. friend has referred to some authorities. I will quote from Sir Erskine May—the eighth edition. He says this:When the supplies for the service of the year have all been granted, the Committee of Supply discontinues its sittings; but care must he taken not to close the Committee until all the necessary votes have been taken; 109 for, if designedly closed, it can only be regularly reopened by a demand for further supplies from the Crown by Message, or the communication of additional estimates.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
May I ask why the right hon. Gentleman makes a point of the date?
§ MR. RITCHIE
Because I think it is the last edition edited by Sir Erskine May. In accordance with that dictum I have conveyed to the House, as a Minister of the Crown, a Message to the effect that the Crown requires further Supplies, and I have also presented an additional Estimate, so that I have complied with both of the requirements set forth by Sir Erskine May.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Sir Erskine May does not say that there should be a Message under the Sign Manual. Well now, what is proposed by my hon. friend '? My hon. friend, after stating that, in his opinion, there was only one proper way of meeting the difficulty—namely, a new session—added that he could have told the Government two other ways in which they might have acted and which would have been proper ways. He named one—an address by the House—only to dismiss it as not being applicable, and as being open to many objections. The other was that the Crown should send a Message to the House, and that the House should then declare its readiness to make good the necessary Supplies. In that event I understand no Vote could be taken by the House until the following session. I ask the House whether they consider that that would be as satisfactory a manner of dealing with the question as that which I now propose. After all, this Vote is for part of the expenditure which has been made during the year. I maintain that either of the proposals of my hon. friend would have been open to ten-fold more objection than can 110 be legitimately brought against the proposal I have made, and although, as I have admitted at the commencement, this is a most unusual proceeding, yet, having regard to the unusual circumstances, I contend that it is the proceeding most in accordance with the best traditions of the House of Commons, and infinitely superior to the methods suggested by my hon. friend. It was essential that we should come to the House, If we had provided the money without coming to the House at all, we should have been properly condemned. We chose what we considered the right and proper course of immediately coming to the House and asking for a vote of money. The only other alternative was not to give the money at all till next session and to have delayed finding the money for these purposes would have been the most fatal course of all in the interests of peace and prosperity in South Africa. Therefore, though I do not pretend that this course is free from objection, I say it is freest from objection of any course we could have taken.
The right hon. Gentleman has objected to our proceedings on very different grounds. He said that we had no business to come to the House of Commons at all. He says that we made up our minds quite properly in May or June that this money was not to be got out of the pockets of the British taxpayer, but by way of a loan on the Transvaal; and that, having come to that decision, we ought to adhere to it.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I did not say that at all. I charged the Government with misunderstanding and misrepresenting to the House their obligations under the Treaty. I did not say that you must adhere to a statement which was contrary to your pledges. But I said that you had departed from the settled practice of the House by not having brought forward this Vote before the Appropriation Bill.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Then what is the meaning of the right hon Gentleman's 111 observation to the effect that the main reason why we have altered our minds was that we found ourselves unable to get the money out of the mine-owners of the Transvaal, as we ought to have done? I His opinion was that instead of asking the British taxpayers to pay the Money we ought to have got it out of the mine-owners of the Transvaal. I understand now that the right hon. Gentleman does not object in principle to the taxpayers being called upon to pay this sum.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I do not object, because you are bound to do it. While you were misrepresenting your obligations, you found out that you must charge the taxpayers.
§ MR. RITCHIE
We never found out anything of the kind. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman was in the House when I made a short statement at the beginning in bringing the Motion before the House. This course was not decided on because we thought that we had misunderstood or misinterpreted the terms of surrender. On the contrary, I stated distinctly that in our opinion the terms of surrender were perfectly compatible with the view that this money was to be paid out of sums to be raised by way of loan on the Transvaal.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
How could it be when they were the people on whom the loan was to be charged? I would be levied upon them in the way of taxation.
§ MR. RITCHIE
If a present is made to the right hon. Gentleman of a large sum from the Exchequer, will he say that it is not a free gift to him because it is paid for out of taxation? Surely, Sir, it was a fair interpretation of the terms of surrender that we were 112 to give a free gift to the Boers, who had suffered by the war, although it was raised out of the taxation of the Transvaal. I contend that the terms would have been amply satisfied if we had taken this money out of the Transvaal loan, and that was our understanding, and that continued to be our understanding. That was the reason why no Vote was asked for in June or July when we were in Committee of Supply. But it came to our knowledge that the Boers had understood this particular article of the terms of surrender in a different way, and that they had understood that this money was to be paid for out of the British Exchequer. That being so, I contend, that we were acting perfectly rightly—in order to avoid any misunderstanding of the action we took, and in order to take away from the Boers any feeling of a grievance which they might otherwise have had—we were acting perfectly right in saying, "In these circumstances we will not ask the taxpayers of the Transvaal to pay this money; we will ask the British taxpayers to pay it." And I understand that the right hon. Gentleman does not himself object to. that.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Of course I say that when you promise to do a thing you must do it. But I say that you ought not to misrepresent to the House of Commons the promise you have made.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Yes; but the right hon. Gentleman knew what the terms of surrender were. They were published. He knew as well as we did that the money was to be raised from the Transvaal.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I have always tried to believe what the Chancellor of the Exchequer says. I hope I always shall.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Well, my contention is simply this, that the right hon. Gentleman had these terms of surrender before him, and he, like the Government, believed that this grant which was to be made to the Boers was to be taken out of the loan which was to be raised from the Transvaal. That was what the Government believed, and that was what the right hon. Gentleman believed when he saw the terms of surrender. But I put this to the right hon. Gentleman. If he had keen in my position, and it had been represented to him and to his Government that the Boers had signed the terms of surrender in the full belief that this money was to be provided by the British Exchequer, whatever his own views and the views of his Government hail been, would he or would he not have imperilled the good feeling which we hope to establish between ourselves and the Boers by rigidly insisting upon Ins own interpretation of those terms, and by disregarding the view which the Boers took? I say if we had done so, and if in consequence we had created a sore on their part which was not likely to be healed for years, instead of establishing, as we hoped to establish, a feeling of friendship and co-operation, notwithstanding our full belief that we were right in our interpretation of these articles of surrender, we should have been deservedly blamed. We said "We will let you have the money out of the British Exchequer instead of putting it upon the Transvaal," and I am satisfied that we are taking a course which is right and which the right hon. Gentleman and those around him would themselves have pursued if they had been in the same position as we are. I maintain, first of all, there- 114 fore, that although the course which we have adopted has been an exceptional course, the circumstances are so exceptional as to have justified us in taking that course, and that any other course that we could have adopted would have been attended with the greatest difficulty and been open to as much objection as the course we have now taken. And I also contend that, as far as the merits of the case were concerned, we were perfectly justified in our original contention—that this money should be provided for out of the Transvaal loan, and also that we were perfectly justified in departing from that understanding of ours rather than create ill-feeling between ourselves and the Boers with regard to a matter upon which there was, we admit, a legitimate misunderstanding. I hope the House-will now come unanimously to the conclusion that the course we have taken ought to be approved, and that they will consent to the Motion.
§ Resolved, "That this House will tomorrow, at nine of the clock in the evening, resolve itself into a Committee to consider of the Supply to be granted to His Majesty."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)