§ Mr. GINNELL
asked the Under-Secretary for the Colonies if he will inform the House by whom the staff is employed and controlled, orders placed, rebates and private commissions received, and patronage exercised in connection with large engineering works in the Colonies, if not by the Crown Agents; whether their operations, income, and expenditure are free from control, scrutiny, audit, and the inspection to which the business of other Government Departments are subject, on the part either of the Colonies or of the Home Government, in matters in which the Imperial Parliament votes money and incurs responsibility; if he will state the original estimate of cost and time for the completion of the tunnelled portion of the Kowloon Railway, the untunnelled portion, and the entire line' respectively; whether a responsible firm was willing to construct it efficiently within those limits; the actual expenditure by the Crown Agents to the date of the latest accounts; the present estimated further cost and time for completion; the difference in cost and time compared with the original estimate; and whether he has read the intimation in the Governor's address to the Legislative Council of Hong Kong on 13th May last, that further supplementary estimates for this railway may be necessary?
§ Colonel SEELY
In engineering works in the Crown Colonies carried out depart-mentally the staff is employed and controlled by the Colonial Government concerned. Orders other than those placed locally are placed by the Crown Agents. Appointments are made either by the Colonial Government or by the Crown Agents acting on the recommendation of the consulting engineers. No rebates or private commissions are received, and any discounts are credited to the Colonial Government. All the operations of the Crown Agents are subject to the control of the Secretary of State. Their income 212 and expenditure are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and moneys expended by them on behalf of a Government for which they act are audited precisely as other Colonial expenditure. In matters in which the Imperial Parliament votes money the Comptroller and Auditor-General audits the expenditure. As regards the Kowloon Railway, the original estimate of time for the tunnel was three and a half years, within which period it was thought that the rest of the line would be completed. The estimated cost of the one tunnel which alone was required on the original alignment was 1,833,200 dols., and that of the remainder of the work was 3,166,800 dols., making a total of 5,000,000 dols. As it was decided to construct the line departmentally, no tenders were invited, and I am not aware that any offers were received from private firms. The actual expenditure by the Crown Agents up to date has been £127,575 0s. 3d. It is hoped that the line will be open for traffic throughout by August, 1910. The latest revised estimates have not yet been received from the Colony, and I am therefore unable to state their amount. During construction it has been found desirable to make considerable alterations in the alignment, including four additional tunnels and other works, and to provide increased accommodation at the terminus, involving extensive and costly reclamation on the sea front. The address referred torn the concluding part of the question has not yet been received by the Secretary of State.
§ Sir T. A. BRAMSDON
I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether there is; the slightest foundation for the suggestion contained in the question that private commissions are received at the office of the Crown Agents for the Colonies?
§ Colonel SEELY
I am glad that question has been asked. I assumed that no suggestion of improper conduct was conveyed in the phrase "private commissions." The exact contrary is the case. The Committee over which I had the honour to preside, and containing men of such financial ability as Sir Francis Mowatt, decided unanimously that there was no possibility of the suggestion of anything but the utmost financial probity on the part of the Crown Agents, I was confident that no hon. Member of this House would make charges against public servants who by the rules of the Service are prohibited from defending themselves.
§ Mr. REES
When will the recommendations of the Committee referred to by the hon. and gallant Member come into effect? Do the Colonial Office discern any disposition on the part of the Crown Agents to think that railways made by others than themselves at a less cost than they make them themselves are less efficient than the railways they make at a greater cost?
§ Colonel SEELY
The recommendations of the Committee will be carried out in due course. With regard to the last part of the hon. Member's question, I am so stupid that I cannot apprehend the long words he uses in putting these supplementary questions.
§ Mr. GINNELL
Are the Crown Agents under the control of the Colonial Office to the same extent, and in the same respect in which Government; officials are under control in this country?