HC Deb 28 February 1906 vol 152 cc1199-210

6. "That a supplementary sum, not exceeding £500, be granted to His Majesty to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1906, for the Expenses in connection with His Majesty's Missions Abroad."

7. "That a sum, not exceeding £54,683, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1906, for paying to the French Government the Compensation awarded to French Fisher men on the Treaty Shore of Newfound land."

8. "That a sum, not exceeding £8,567, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1906, for the Settlement of the Samoa Arbitration Claims."

Resolutions read a second time.

First Resolution agreed to.

Second Resolution.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

said he again called attention to the item included in the Vote for the purposes of the Redistribution Committee. There were one or two points on which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had promised them information, namely, how was the £1,200 expended, for what purpose it was permitted, and whether any Report had been issued. Right hon. Members opposite had never seen the Report, and no information could be extracted from the late Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to it. He submitted that the House was entitled to know where the matter stood, and if the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board could give any information with regard to the matter he would prevent the necessity of any discussion.


said, in reference to the Departmental Committee appointed by the late Government to consider the question of redistribution, that the Committee consisted of Colonel Johnstone (who was now in South Africa) as Chairman, Mr. Glen, a lawyer, and Mr. Thomas, an able official of the Local Government Board. The Committee prepared tables and maps and the information as to population and boundaries which was necessary in order to carry out the work submitted to them on the lines of the Resolution discussed in 1905. They were to prepare a scheme to submit to the Government, and, after the expenditure of a great deal of time and money, a scheme was submitted to the Government. Shortly after the Committee reported, however, the Government went out of office, and on going out, for reasons he did not dispute, they wished that the Report should be regarded as confidential. In similar circumstances, possibly, he would have done the same. The officials of the Local Government Board were informed that the Report was to be so regarded. Until that embargo was removed, he thought no other course was open to him but to take the line he took yesterday and to decline to give publicity to the contents of the Report. He had communicated with the late Prime Minister, whose illness they all deplored, and with his predecessor at the Local Government Board, with the result that they removed the embargo of confidence, and therefore he would do his best to have the document made public as soon as possible. He wished to take that opportunity of thanking the late Prime Minister and his predecessor for the courtesy and promptitude with which they had acted in the matter. He was pleased that the document was to be made public, and he hoped that would satisfy the House; but, in saying that, he trusted that this particular instance would not be taken as a precedent, for he could well understand that circumstances might occur in which the continuity of confidence between one Government and another ought to be adhered to.


expressed the indebtedness of the Members of the late Government to the right hon. Gentleman for the perfect courtesy and frankness with which he had treated them. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke yesterday, he did not appreciate the motives which induced him to treat this Report as a confidential document, and he then said that the responsi- bility for keeping the document confidential or making it public must rest with the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. He did not then understand that he was maintaining the secrecy of the document out of a feeling of loyalty to his predecessor, and he desired to acknowledge the motive which actuated him and to make it quite clear that he was not in any way improperly criticising his action. Both his right hon. friend the Member for South Dublin and himself were quite certain there could be no objection to the publication of the Report, and he was glad to hear that that was the opinion of the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. MORTON (Sutherland)

was very glad the Government had given way on this point. When public money was expended in this way the result ought to be made public—at least to the Members of this House. He desired to ask the Financial Secretary of the Treasury if he I could now give the information asked of him yesterday with regard to the London Locomotion Commission. He also hoped the President of the Local Government Board would give fuller particulars as to who had had the £1,200 required for the Poor Law Commission. The House had a right to know whether gentlemen in the employ of the country and already receiving large salaries were being paid additional sums without the consent of the House.


said that the expenditure on the London Locomotion Commission to 31st March, 1905, was£15,048 11s. 11d. and the expenditure in the current year had been £2,267, making a total of £17,315 11s. 11d.

MR. WILKIE (Dundee)

called attention to the composition of the Poor Law Commission. It might be fitting, if unfortunate, that he, as the first Labour Member returned to this House from Scotland should have to voice the keen disappointment of the Scottish workers that so far their claims to representation on this Commission had been disregarded. Considering the composition of the present Government, so many of its Members hailing from beyond the Tweed, the Scottish workers felt their exclusion all the more. This matter affected the workers directly, and was one in which they were vitally interested. No one could truly say that any one of those appointed in any sense represented the industrial community of Scotland. He understood the Commission was originally appointed because of the pressure of the unemployed question. If that were so it was all the more necessary that representatives of labour who were in close touch with the workers should be appointed thereon. He might be told that the Government had appointed a direct representative of labour in the person of his friend, Mr. Chandler. They appreciated that and knew he would worthily fulfil the duties placed on him. But the fact that the Government had recognised the advisability of the workers of England being directly represented on this Commission simply accentuated and punctuated the claim of the Scottish workers to similar representation. That fact, to them, was— Like the salmon wriggling on the spear, which made the deadly wound the worse. Why? Because there was considerable difference in the Scotch and English Poor Law. It might be that the Scottish workers' views would be voiced by those appointed; but their experience was that such work was best done by those thoroughly acquainted with and in touch with the people requiring relief. They respectfully contended that this was one of the matters on which Labour representation would be both beneficial and profitable to the people and the nation as a whole. During the election hon. Members' candidature speeches fairly bristled with sympathy for labour, and they now asked them to put their contentions and promises into practice, and join in appealing to the Government to right this wrong and remove this just cause of complaint of the organised Scottish workers.


said he was sorry that he could not comply with the hon. Member's request that this Commission, which in the judgment of many was large enough and in the opinion of others was too large already, should be added to. The only reason advanced for adding to its numbers was that Scotland had not its share of representation. He did not think that plea could be urged with regard to any appointment of the Government. Scotland had very little cause to complain about the number of distinguished men it had sent to this House, the distinguished men it had added to the Government, and some said the disproportionately large number it had added to the Cabinet. In the House, in the Government, in the Cabinet, and in the ranks of the Labour Party themselves, Scotsmen were very numerous, and, in the judgment of some, were almost the predominant partner. He did not think that the claim of Scotland for a larger representation was so strong as the hon. Member seemed to think. This Poor Law Commission was appointed to make a report upon this serious and complex subject as soon as it could possibly do so. It was seriously considered by the late Government, and he had only to read the names of the very large Commission of eighteen, which had now been made into nineteen, and which the hon. Member wished to make twenty, in order to prove its representative character. In the first place Lord George Hamilton was made the Chairman, and he thought everyone would admit that the right hon. Gentleman would make a very good chairman. Then there was the Right Hon. The O'Conor Don and Sir H. A. Robinson who represented Ireland. There was also the Right Hon. Charles Booth, than whom a better name could not be found. Then there was Sir Samuel Provis representing the Local Government Board, Mr. George Lansbury, Mr. C. S. Loch representing the Charity Organisation Society, Mr. P. J. P. Macdougall, Mr. T. H. Nunn, the Rev. L. R. Phelps, Professor William Smart, the Rev. H. Russell Wakefield, the Chairman of the Central Unemployed Committee, Dr. Downes, the Rev. T. G. Gardiner, Mrs. Burnard Bosanquet, Mrs. Sidney Webb, and Miss Octavia Hill. He thought, with those names, the Commission was sufficiently representative to undertake this work. The Prime Minister not long ago received representatives from the British Trades Union Congress, and they represented that the trade unionists of the country were not adequately represented on the Commission. The Prime Minister listened to their representations and considered that there was great force in the claims put forward by them, and consequently he added to the eighteen the name of Mr. Francis Chandler, a member of the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress, a J.P. for Manchester, and a gentleman who for many years had been Chairman of one of the Lancashire Boards of Guardians. The Government thought, and he fully endorsed their view, that looking at this Commission from the point of view of size, ability, and the various representative sections embodied in the nineteen names, that all sections of the country would be adequately represented, and out of regard for efficiency and the prospects of this Commission completing its labours within two years, they had concluded that it would be a mistake to add to its size. Therefore, he regretted they were not able to accede to the hon. Member's request. If hon. Members for Scotland were smarting under any sense of injustice he had not seen it particularly displayed, but the hon. Member could rely upon it that either by question or discussion when the Report was before the House, Scotland would have an opportunity of making its voice heard.

Question put, and agreed to.

Third Resolution.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

MR. PAUL (Northampton)

again called attention to the footnote on the Civil Service Supplementary Estimates which provided that the sum voted for the Milan Exhibition was not to be accounted for to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. He endeavoured to elicit some information on this point yesterday, and the Secretary to the Treasury gave an explanation which was not intelligible to him, and he got no explanation at all from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That was not at all satisfactory. He understood that the pres nt Government were only technically responsible for these Estimates and that really they were the Estimates of their predecessors in office. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire would be able to explain this matter.


said he took no responsibility whatever for the form of these Estimates.


presumed that the Secretary for the Treasury or the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that case must be responsible. This was not a Party but a constitutional question. The Comptroller and Auditor - General was an officer appointed by statute in 1866 when Mr. Gladstone was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his duty might be described as keeping the nation out of the Bankruptcy Court. He was not responsible to the Treasury or to any public Department, but to this House alone. Although appointed by the Crown he was practically an officer of this House, and like a judge he could be removed only by an address of both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, he was under the special protection of this House and they were bound to see that his independence was recognised and preserved. The present Comptroller and Auditor - General was a man to whom this country owed a debt of gratitude, for it was owing to his energy and acumen that the scandals were discovered which were now engaging the attention of Mr. Justice Farwell and his colleagues. It appeared to be thought by some hon. Members that the duties of the Comptroller and Auditor-General were confined to taking care that the money voted by Parliament was expended for the purposes for which it was voted. But that was not the case. A very important Committee on National Expenditure was appointed by the late Government and it contained some very distinguished men. The Chairman was Sir James Fergusson, and amongst its members was the present Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, the hon. Member for East Mayo, and Sir Edgar Vincent. The Committee took some very interesting evidence and produced a very interesting report. Among the witnesses called was the late Comptroller and Auditor-General, and he laid it down that this official under the Exchequer and Audit Act of 1866 was completely independent of all Departments. The Comptroller and Auditor-General was a Parliamentary officer, and it was important that the House should preserve the independence of that Gentleman. It was, as stated in the evidence of the officer he had already quoted, his duty to report anything which in his judgment it concerned the House of Commons to know. How was the Comptroller and Auditor-General to report to this House if he was not supplied with the information on which his report was to be founded. All Governments had a tendency to extravagance. It was only a question of degree. The least extravagant Government of last century was the Tory Government of the Duke of Wellington. This was not a question of Party at all. The Comptroller and Auditor-General was the man in the country who had most power, if supported by Parliament, to prevent public money from being wasted, dissipated, and squandered. The Treasury, who, he presumed, were responsible for the Estimate now before the House, took it upon themselves to say that the particulars of the grant in aid would not be submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. He had brought this point before the House in vindication of a great public officer.


said that he took the entire blame to himself if the explanation given to his hon. friend was not intelligible to him. He admitted at once that he did not understand the case the hon. Member was laying before the House. He understood that the hon. Member was referring to the prudence of the Treasury in putting such a note as this to the Estimate, and to mean that there ought to be an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. He did not understand him to assert, as he did now, that the Treasury had no authority to do what they had done. If the hon. Member would refer to Class IV. he would find many cases where there was a footnote similar to this. He would find that it had been the practice for grants-in-aid not to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. That had been the case in regard to grants-in-aid for universities and colleges, harbours, and scientific investigations. In all these cases it had been the practice to put a footnote in the Estimates. His hon. friend would say that the repetition of an illegal practice did not make it legal. Whatever authority the Comptroller and Auditor-General had was acquired only by the Exchequer and Audit Act of 1866. His hon. friend had referred to that Act, but he had not carried his researches far enough. If he would read Section 33 he would find that the powers of the Comptroller and Auditor-General were strictly defined and limited. It would be seen from that section that the Comptroller and Auditor-General had no power to audit the £10,000 except by the direction of the Treasury. The Treasury, as a matter of fact, were not bound to have put in any such note in the Estimate at all. The Treasury had acted absolutely constitutionally and within the powers conferred by Section 33 of the Act of 1866. The audit in this case was undertaken by a body in whom the Treasury had perfect confidence. The Treasury could ask them to show the result of their audit whenever they had made it.


said he did not wish to discuss the legality of the procedure; what they had discussed the previous day was a matter of principle. Now they were told that this determination to have no audit was taken by direction of the Treasury. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that there was practically an audit by the Commission or body to which the lump sum was given. Just imagine what would be said if the London County Council were to appoint their own auditor instead of the auditor appointed by the Local Government Board! He still maintained that these accounts should be audited by the Auditor-General, and he hoped the Government would give way on this point, and that an assurance would be given that the practice now pursued by the direction of the Treasury would be discontinued in future.


said that hon. Gentlemen opposite appealed to him as if he were the responsible Finance Minister, but he did not assume any responsibility for these Estimates. He, however, did not associate himself with any of the criticisms made on this Vote. He thought the course which had been taken was a wise one, and he hoped the hon. Gentleman would turn a deaf ear to the inexperienced opinion of his friends, and continue the usual practice of the Treasury. It was quite untrue to say that there was no audit. What Parliament was asked to do in regard to these various grants-in-aid was to vote a sum of money to a particular institution or body of men, to be expended by that institution or body. What the Auditor-General had to see was that the institution or body for which the House had voted the money had received it.

Question put, and agreed to.

Fourth Resolution.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

MR. LEIF JONES (Westmorland, Appleby)

said that, before the House passed this Vote, he wanted some information in regard to an item of £4,000, which was put down as an excess due to the increase of the staff in connection with the working of the Aliens Act of 1905. Why had this excess expenditure been incurred in the working of the Aliens Act passed only last session? The expenditure under that Act was left entirely to the discretion of the Secretary of State, and such expenditure was to be sanctioned by the Treasury. The Secretary of State was to appoint such officers and an immigration board as he might think necessary, and the expense was to be defrayed up to the amount approved by the Treasury. What he asked was what had been got in return for this excess expenditure of £4,000? Certain officials and medical officers drew salaries—


said that the hon. Member must limit his criticisms to the sum of £4,000.


said he presumed that the salaries had been paid out of the £4,000. What he asked for was information as to how that money had been spent in the administration of the Aliens Act. It was an excess expenditure, and he presumed that something unforeseen had occurred to cause the Treasury to exceed their Estimates. He contended that they were not getting their money's worth. The failure in the working of the Act justified the opposition which some of them gave to it last session.


said that the hon. Gentleman was criticising the principle of the Act, which he could not do. He must confine himself to this increased demand.


said he had wished to raise the question of political refugees being kept out of the country under this Act but in obedience to the ruling of the Chair, he would not pursue the matter further on that occasion.


said he might point out that of this money only £800 had been used for the purposes of the Aliens Act, and that was the first charge which had been made for setting that Act, which came into force on January 1st, in operation. Various officials had been appointed, but he believed that the greater part of this £4,000 would have been included in the ordinary Customs Vote. The sum which was in excess of the ordinary Customs Vote due to the passing of the Act of last year was in respect of the salaries and expenses in connection with the discharge of the duties of the immigration officers under the Act.


said he wished to call attention to the action of the unqualified members of the staff. There had been some gross cases of negligence in which passengers were prevented from coming into the country and were kept all night at Dover and then were allowed to proceed.

Question put and agreed to.

Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Resolutions agreed to.