§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. EMMOTT in the Chair.]
§ (IN THE COMMITTEE.)
§ Mr. GIBSON BOWLES
I beg to move to insert the following new Clause:—
"No part of the said sums authorised to be issued and applied as aforesaid shall be issued or applied to any use, intent, or purpose whatsoever other than the respective uses, intents, and purposes specified in the several schedules to this Act, and any person who issues or applies or is privy to the issue or application of any sum whatever to any other use, intent, or purpose shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and shall in addition forfeit any office he holds under the Crown or in the public service, and shall be a debtor to the Crown for the sum so issued."
The first portion of the proposed new Clause was always in this Bill for hundreds of years up to the year 1870. I have further strengthened the old Clause by the additional words beginning with "and any person," which set up a terror to evil-doers in the shape of a punishment, but I may say at once that if His Majesty's Government would accept the Clause without the penalty, I would, in the interests of the Amendment, omit the penalty from the Clause. That would leave the Clause exactly as it was in every Appropriation Bill up to 1870. I regret very much that I have not been able to give the House due notice by putting this Amendment on the Paper. But the Committee will remember that we only got this Bill at two o'clock yesterday, which I think is very inconvenient, and I happened not to be in the House after the Second Reading was concluded. But I may remind the Committee that on 14th June last I gave the House notice of my intention to move this Clause, which I then moved to insert in Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill. I was then supported by a large number of true economists and true constitutionalists, and was only beaten by the very small majority under the circumstances of eighty-four. I hope that I shall 1688 receive adequate support upon this occasion. As I have said, every Appropriation Bill up to 1870 contained the Clause I am now moving, with the sole difference to which I have referred. It was only in 1870 that it was left out without a word of explanation, except that Mr. Stansfeld, Secretary to the Treasury, said that it would be simpler to leave it out. No doubt it is simpler to have no kind of check upon your expenditure of public money and no prohibition and no punishment, and then you would be allowed to take your fill of public money and do what you please with it. But that is what I object to. As a result I mentioned six weeks ago that the Post Office had unlawfully issued £69,000 of public money without its being voted at all, for old age pensions. My justification, I think my sufficient justification, for introducing this Clause is the reply of the Secretary to the Treasury when I made that complaint. He admitted the illegality, and that it was an improper issue, but I think he said it was clearly desirable from every point of view to commit this illegality. I cannot really accept that. To commit that illegality in a Department, and to have it justified in this House, is the way to bring all law and order in finance to an end. I think it is perfectly shocking to see a Minister of the Treasury stand up in his place and openly avow the illegality, but yet propose that it should be continued. These illegalities in the Departments are becoming more and more shocking every day. There are the Income Tax Commissioners openly supporting perjury, and telling us they are going to continue doing it. They are sworn to secrecy, and they break their secrecy to assist their colleagus in the Estate Duty Department, and when they are questioned, they, forsooth commissioners, not judges of the land, not the House of Lords, tell us they do not consider that this is perjury so long as it is confined to responsible officials. I only mention this in order to show the extreme importance of putting a bridle into the mouth and a curb under the chin of these presumptuous officials. It is they and they alone who will be checked, who will be brought up, and who will be confined to their proper functions by a clause like this. As to the Government, whatever Government sits on that bench, it would only derive from the Clause I am proposing further strength in dealing with restive officials. The 1689 House is thoroughly possessed of the merits of the case. The Clause is an old one, it is one which appeared in every Appropriation Bill up to 1870, and it is one which I believe would never have been omitted had not its omission been smuggled through in a silent way by Mr. Stansfeld and his colleagues. It ought to be restored. I defy anybody to give any good reason against it, and if His Majesty's Government, as I hope they will be, are convinced by such arguments as I have advanced to-day, and still more those which I used at greater length on 14th June, and will accept this Clause, I am perfectly willing to leave out the last portion of it which is of my own introduction. I believe the very prohibition contained in this Clause would bring such a sense of fear and proper regard for the law to public officials without punishment, that it would have a very definite effect. I beg to move.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Herbert Lewis)
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has asked me to express his great regret that another important meeting absolutely prevents his being present to hear and to reply to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member has already stated that there is no notice of this important Amendment upon the Notice Paper. The form of the Appropriation Bill is one which has been followed, as the hon. Gentleman himself has stated, evere since 1870. That is the form for the last forty years. My hon. Friend rightly attaches very great importance to the form in which this Bill is presented to the House. I would venture to appeal to him to allow the Government sufficient time upon proper notice given and appearing on the Paper to consider the momentous change that he proposes. It is true that the Clause appeared in the Appropriation Bill which preceded the year 1870, but circumstances, I think the House will admit, have changed to a considerable extent since then. All that is sought to be done now is to enable transfers to be made from one account to another. I entirely agree that if those transfers go beyond certain points, it is quite right that attention should be drawn to them, and that the Minister who may be responsible, or whoever may be responsible, should be called on to account in the proper way for them. I do press the inadvisability of changing the language of the Appropriation Bill— 1690 language which has now been sanctioned by forty years' usage. Whatever case there may be for a change of that kind, I am certain that the House will consider that it is a matter which ought to be considered with every advantage of time and with careful deliberation. I trust, under those circumstances, my hon. Friend will not pursue the matter further. I can assure him that the Government will give full consideration to considerations which he has stated to the House, with his usual force and lucidity. I trust, therefore, he will consent to withdraw the Motion.
§ Mr. GIBSON BOWLES
If His Majesty's Government could assure me that they will be in office this time next year, at the time of the next Appropriation Bill, I should take the assurance immediately. As it is, I think it is extremely unsatisfactory, and I confess, if I can get a Teller, I shall go to a Division.
§ Mr. MORTON
I think my hon. Friend is right in looking after these matters. I have no doubt that presently all Governments, and especially the Liberal Government, will have to have means taken to prevent extravagance.
Question put, and negatived.
Schedules A, B and C ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Bill reported without Amendment; to be read the third time upon Monday next, 25th July.