§ SIR JAMES WOODHOUSE (Huddersfield)
I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether, in view of the issues involved for the public and the contractors, and the officials who are concerned, he will appoint a Select Committee of the House to make an immediate inquiry into the admitted and alleged deficiency and wastage of stores, etc., supplied to South Africa, and as to what has become of the money expended thereon.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
The proper machinery for dealing with these questions is, in accordance with constitutional 1213 usage, the Public Accounts Committee; and I think an additional reason for leaving these matters to that machinery arises from the fact that the Committee has been appointed, has sat, and actually begun the inquiry.
§ SIR JAMES WOODHOUSE
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this Committee did not last year issue its Report until after the rising of Parliament?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have no reason to think that any other Committee would be quicker in the presentation of its Report.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
Has the Public Accounts Committee the same power as a Select Committee to procure papers and command the attendance of witnesses?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If there is any difference in these powers, the difference is in favour of the Public Accounts Committee.
§ *SIR A. HAYTER (Walsall)
May I say that the Public Accounts Committee met on Friday and proceeded to inquire into the matters referred to in the Question. General Sir William Butler, the Chairman of the War Office Committee, attended, and stated that he had six particular cases upon which he desired to lay a statement before the Committee, but that it would be impossible for him to do so before the end of April. It would be impossible, he said, to hurry the officers and others, and though the cases were different, most of the witnesses were the same. The Committee thought General Butler's reasons were unanswerable, and proceeded to inquire into one or two other and smaller cases. I hope the Prime Minister will understand that it will be impossible for the Public Accounts Committee to present any Report before Easter, but immediately General Butler presents his Report the Committee will proceed to deal with it, and issue an interim Report.