HC Deb 14 June 1910 vol 17 cc1208-28

"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 such Votes granting the supply to His Majesty as aforesaid, as shall then have been voted by the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in this present Parliament assembled, 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,"

In rising to move this Clause I hope I may disclaim any desire to embarrass either the permanent officials or His Majesty's Government. I hope I shall show the House before I have done that the insertion of such a Clause is necessary. No part of the Clause is new except the penalty. From all time up to the year 1870 both in Consolidated Fund Bills and in the Consolidated Fund Bill known as the Appropriation Act, which is only an enlarged Consolidated Fund Bill, there had been Clauses prohibiting the issue of public money for any other purposes than those for which it had been voted. The course of our finance is this. His Majesty the King asks for Supply. It has been said occasionally that the Lords cannot initiate Supply, while the Commons can. But the Commons cannot initiate Supply any more than the Lords. The only initiator of Supply is His Majesty the King. It must be made by a demand from himself, no doubt through the mouth of His Ministers. The Commons grant Supply in Committee of Supply, and then comes Committee of Ways and Means. When the money is provided, the settled rule of our finance, established by the Exchequer and Audit Act, 1866, is that every penny should go into the Exchequer. As a matter of fact, every penny does not go into the Exchequer, but that is for another reason. That is another story to which I may, perhaps, refer at another time. The major part does go. There are an infinity of specific clauses in Acts of Parliament with regard to the collection of taxes. Beyond those there stand the courts of law who construe Acts of Parliament, and they constantly discover that the Inland Revenue and other tax collectors have made the grossest mistakes in their notions of the taxes which they may collect. I need hardly refer to the Duke of Richmond case, in which the Inland Revenue thought they were entitled to levy duty on £1,000,000, and it was discovered they were entitled to levy on only £300,000. I bring that in in aid only to show that even the highest and ablest permanent officials are not absolutely perfect. Even they require some restraint upon their tax-collecting ardour. But that is not the ardour I propose to restrain now. My proposal deals with their issuing ardour.

As the Exchequer can only be filled by Acts of Parliament, so the money once got there can only be extracted from the Exchequer by Acts of Parliament, and the Exchequer can only be emptied of those specific sums already applied to specific purposes by votes of this House. In this instance the Bill proposes a general issue for the Civil Services. If I may use a homely simile, when the money has been collected it is put into the till, in separate parcels, each labelled with the specific purpose to which alone it can be applied. If I may pursue my homely simile, lam bound to say that the Treasury has been robbing the till. The seriousness of the matter will be appreciated if the House remembers what the Treasury is. The First Lord of the Treasury is the Prime Minister; the Second Lord is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Treasury is the culprit on this occasion. These eminent persons—I say it in a purely Parliamentary sense—have conspired together to rob the till of the Exchequer. They did it first secretly, quietly, in the back parlours of the Treasury in Whitehall, by the dark lantern method, and but for that excellent and admirable body, the Public Accounts Committee, it is probable that the secret of their misdoings would never have been discovered. But the Public Accounts Committee, not for the first time, found them out, and revealed in its Report the fact that a sum of £4,417 11s. 9d. had been improperly applied out of Post Office funds to the payment of old age pensions. My belief is that the misapplication of this issue really amounts to £69,000, but I recognise that there was a sum of £64,000 available under the Civil Contingencies Fund, which it was in the power of the Treasury to issue for this purpose. I do not apply my simile of robbing the till to the whole of the £69,000, although I think strictly I might. I apply it only to the £4,417 11s. 9d. This discovery was made, and when I confronted the Secretary to the Treasury with it last night he positively had the assurance to justify it. He allowed that it was illegal, but he said it was highly desirable that so illegal an act should have been done. Let the House fix its eyes on the culprit. He admits that he has broken the law, but, insteal of being ashamed of it, he glories in it. Two offences were committed. The first was an offence against the Exchequer and Audit Act, 1866, which ordains that the Post Office should pay the whole of its gross revenue into the Exchequer. That was not done. Instead of paying its gross revenue into the Exchequer, the Post Office paid £4,417 11s. 9d. into the pocket of old age pensions. The second offence—and this is the one with which I am more particularly concerned—was that the Post Office authorities, with the sanction of the Treasury—I am not sure that it was not by direction of the Treasury, but I do not think that that lessens the crime—issued this £4,417 11s. 9d. not only without lawful authority, but absolutely and positively against the law. My right hon. Friend pleads his good intentions. I acknowledge his good intentions, but the matter is not to be disposed of in that way, and if it continues it may not-be long before His Majesty's Government find themselves in that place which it is stated is paved with good intentions. What I should fear would be that possibly there it will be too late to learn wisdom. It is because of this that I venture to intervene in the interests of financial propriety. I think the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues of the Treasury must have been studying the Jesuit casuistry of Escobar and Suarez. Their doctrine was that if you see anyone determined to rob a poor man, it is lawful to turn him from his purpose by pointing out a rich man that he can rob instead. That is the attitude of the Treasury on this occasion. The right hon. Gentleman said: "Here is a poor old age pensioner; we desire to help him; if I am not to provide an old age pension which I have no power to provide under the law, I shall be robbing him. I will rob the Exchequer instead." That is what the Government did. Not only did they do so, but they proceed to justify their action. Let the House remember that this is the very same Treasury which authorises criminal prosecutions. Let the House, remember that if a humble man like myself robbed a Rothschild of a crown, or even half a Rothschild of half a crown, I should be prosecuted by the Treasury, and very shortly should make the acquaintance of a plank bed. I see no prospect of that before either the right hon. Gentleman or any of his Treasury colleagues. They continue to keep their eiderdown pillows, and come the next morning to this House and justify their wickedness.

Let me give a short history of this matter. Our ancestors were well aware that they might conceivably be at the Treasury at the time Gentlemen professing the opinions of Escobar and Suarez, of Robin Hood, and of Rob Roy. They were conscious that officials might be found there capable of issuing moneys improperly and for purposes not voted by the House of Commons. Consequently they took precautions. From the earliest times that I have been able to investigate—I admit I have not gone beyond the beginning of the nineteenth century—I think that suffices—from the beginning certainly of the nineteenth century down to 1870 there was in every Consolidated Fund Bill a clause which provided:—

"That the Treasury might issue—"

And consequently that they might not otherwise issue—

"moneys for such purposes as shall then—"


"have been voted by the Commons of the United Kingdom."

Part of the right hon. Gentleman's case is that although these moneys had not yet been voted it was presumed that Parliament would vote them at some future time. That is no excuse at all. It scarcely amounts to the dignity and character of an evasion. It is neither an answer nor a reason. Then I find in every Appropriation Act up to 1870 there was—I take the '66 Act because that is the last form of it—this Clause:—

"The said Aid and Supply provided in the aforesaid shall not be issued or applied I to any use, intent, or purpose whatsoever other than the uses, intents, and purposes before mentioned, or specified, in the several Schedules referred to in this Act."

The House will notice that that is a specific prohibition. No issue was to be made except for the proper purpose. That prohibition remained, as I have said, in every Appropriation Act, and there was a corresponding prohibition in the Consolidated Fund Act up to 1870. In 1870, for the first time, these most necessary and proper clauses were omitted. No reasons that I can ascertain from "Hansard" were assigned for this. No reason was assigned for the omission except this, that Mr. Stansfield, an eminent gentleman, and Secretary of the Treasury, I believe, said. "That these Clauses were omitted in order to simplify matters." No doubt they did simplify matters. They made things very much more convenient for persons who desired improperly to issue public moneys, but they were a very great and serious injury to the financial securities and the financial proprieties of our system. If the right hon. Gentleman has done me the honour to follow me so far he will see that the Clause I propose does nothing more than restore the former practice; indeed, in the former words, with only this addition: That, having found by bitter experience that a mere empty prohibition is not sufficient, I venture to ask the House to add the prohibition of a penalty. That penalty is found in the last six words of my Clause. All the rest is old; that is, new. And even the penalty is not entirely my own invention. It is taken from the Appropriation Act. Every Appropriation Act makes certain offences against financial propriety a misdemeanour. Out of respect for tradition I have kept to the word "misdemeanour," although, if it would please the right hon. Gentleman, and induce him to accept this most necessary Clause, I will omit the word "misdemeanour" so long as I am allowed to retain some penalty, to terrorise misdoing officials.

The right hon. Gentleman tells me that even if I get this Clause passed it will not make any difference. So audacious is he, I may say so presumptuous, that he says that if you pass this Clause absolutely prohibiting the wrongful issue of money, it I will make no difference. I think it will make a difference—with my penalty. I think that not only will it make a very serious difference in the power to punish I any offender, but it will act as a bogey against offenders. If the right hon. Gentleman suggested to anybody, or anybody suggested to him, the improper issue of money, in face of this penalty, the prospect of losing his employment, and of becoming a debtor to the Crown, I think would undoubtedly make that person; either hesitate to break the law or sanction it. The Bill is a Bill for the issue of the sums mentioned for making good the Supplies granted in Committee of Supply. My Amendment applies to these sums, and no other. Let me remind the House of two things. In the first place, the ease with which the Treasury is filled has enormously increased; up to the year 1662 any Grant made by this House was an annual Grant. There was no such thing as any Grant that lasted more than for one year. Up till recent times the majority of Grants were annual only. It was only the small portion that was permanent. The thing is now wholly changed. So large is the amount that is permanently granted by permanent Acts of Parliament that there are more than £100,000,000 of money annually at the disposal of any Government without any Act of Parliament, without any intervention of any House of Commons, without any Bill, Budget, or anything of the sort. You have got that £100,000,000 constantly flowing into your Treasury, instead of having to renew either the whole or a greater part of it by an annual Vote. That, I venture to think, adds very seriously to the need of a check on the issue of all moneys. Formerly when money only came in in driblets, and was only disposed of by annual Votes, one might perhaps be careless as to the issue, as Parliament could always stop the supply. Now that there is a permanent flow of over £100,000,000 to any Government that sits upon those Benches, I submit it becomes increasingly important to guard the issues, in a proper and lawful way. It is impossible to forget that our taxes will probably vastly increase. The income is also increasing. Parsimony and thrift seem to have disappeared, and nobody: seems to care.

Poor pale Economy is out of date, And honest Penury dare not show her face.

That is Dryden slightly altered. All these old virtues have gone, possibly never to return. But, at any rate, let us put a lock upon the till, and fit a key. The lock, I submit, would be the new Clause that I propose, and the key the penalty which forms part of the Amendment. This really is a most serious matter. Public officers, temporary or permanent, have acquired an increased power nowadays such as never before was known. We are governed now mainly not by Act of Parliament, but by Provisional Orders. Orders in Council, and ordinances of that sort, made outside of this House, without this House having the slightest control over them, except a shadowy and pretended control, that these ordinances, shall lie upon the Table to give an opportunity to call attention to them on a certain day—which you can never get! The Government is passing into the hands of permanent officials, and it is therefore of the highest importance, it seems to me, that at any rate in their official doings they should be checked by some such Clause as I propose to restore. For again I remind the House that what I propose is not new. I say again that it is most important to put a check upon the permanent officials.

I have endeavoured to conceive the kind of answer the Government or the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury will make to my proposal. The only answer I can imagine is the cynical answer that the right hon. Gentleman is determined to go on breaking the law, and that it is for the public benefit that he should do so. I cannot accept that situation or decision. I have endeavoured to make my remarks as brief as possible, but I do submit that I have made out an unanswerable case for the new Clause that I propose to insert. If there was wanted an absolutely final clinching of the argument for this Amendment it lies in the fact that the right hon. Gentleman himself is positively not ashamed to come to this House and boldly, audaciously, and wickedly justify the unlawful action which he admits has been committed. I beg to move.


My hon. Friend, in moving the insertion of this Clause, is, I think, to be congratulated in the first place because he is the only Member of this House, so far as I know, who has, on two separate occasions, found an opportunity by his ingenuity to evade the ruling of successive Chairmen of Committees, and move an Amendment to the Consolidated Fund Act.


It was also done by the hon. Gentleman's son.


Well, where the son did not succeed the father has been successful. My hon. Friend has very good-humouredly charged me with being too willing to break the law. I confess that, as the hon. Member says, I stand here quite unabashed by the crimes that have been committed. I confess that I have some sympathy with the hon. Member in his effort to draw attention to what, of course, is a grave departure from the ordinary financial procedure of this House, but I am not asking for any great extenuation of the action of the Treasury. I must ask the House to take its mind back to the circumstances in which these acts were committed. The Old Age Pensions Act came into force on 1st January, 1909. The amount of weekly payments estimated as likely to accrue was about £125,000. The payment for the first week was, I think, as a matter of fact, £120,000, the payment for the third week had got up to £137,000, and by the time that 20th February came round I think it amounted to something nearer £150,000 per week. It was impossible to foresee how many people would be likely to draw pensions, and the number in the case of Ireland had largely exceeded the reasonable expectations of the Treasury in this matter. The House of Commons was summoned to meet on 16th February. It was not until February that any actual shortage in the cash available to pay these pensions was discovered. As I think every Member of the House is aware, it is impossible during the Debate on the Address to interrupt the proceedings for any purpose whatever. It was not, therefore, until the Address was concluded, which occurred on 25th February, that it was possible to take Supply.

Although it was found on 19th February that there would probably be a shortage, that shortage did not, in fact, take place until some time after, on the 26th or the 27th of the month, I think, when, what I may call, stragglers from previous weeks' payments, made up of money orders, came in. That was on Friday or Saturday, and on the Monday following, the first possible Parliamentary day on which it could be done, Supply was proceeded with. That was on Monday, 1st March, and on the 2nd Report stage was taken, and the payments made by the Treasury became regular ones. That is the financial position, and therefore it was only for a period of two days and in connection with a sum of something like £4,000 that this—and I deliberately use the word—financial impropriety took place. It was impossible to have foreseen the shortage, and the action of the Government was to remedy the financial position created at the earliest possible moment. My hon. Friend wants to prevent a recurrence of such an event as this, which occurred on only two occasions in times past. I think we must go back to the year 1882 or 1883 for a similar occurrence.


It is not only this special case I had in my mind, but scores of cases that have come before me.


I confess I am not aware of any other than those that are covered by the utilisation of the Civil Contingency Grant. There were six or seven such cases, and it was to meet these that the fund was instituted; but to get a similar case to this you must go back to 1882 or 1883. Therefore, the occasions when it is practically necessary, unless you are prepared to bring to a full-stop the payments authorised by Parliament, to do something of this sort are very rare. The question is whether the Amendment pro-proposed by my hon. Friend would not really in itself be a greater evil than the evil which it is designed to stop, and, in the second place, whether the words he proposes would really carry out the object he has in view. I contend that it is very much better to stand here in a white sheet, if necessary, to confess one's error, and to put the whole facts before the House, and to get an Act of Indemnity for this financial operation which has taken place than it would be to suspend the whole of the service which has been authorised by Parliament for something which it was impossible to foresee.

The words my hon. Friend proposes to insert are, "No part of the said sum 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 such Votes granting the Supply to His Majesty as aforesaid, and shall then have been voted by the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland." That is the first part of his Amendment. That might possibly cover the payment of any sum out of money which had already accrued to the Exchequer, but as the hon. Gentleman will see when he studies the evidence before the Public Accounts Committee, this payment was not out of moneys which had already accrued to the Exchequer, but out of revenue allocated, and therefore the words he suggests would not cover or remedy the case with which we are dealing. Then the second part of his Amendment would lay a penalty upon any person going behind the Act, but apparently he intends that the felony should operate rather against Civil servants than against Parliamentary Ministers.

The House has already power over Ministers who commit illegal action or undesirable action, and therefore the penalty which my hon. Friend desires to impose upon officials, so far as Parliamentary officials are concerned, is already met by the constitutional practice of this House. As regards the permanent Civil servants, I think my hon. Friend will agree the constitutional practice which enforces the obedience of the Civil servants to his Parliamentary chief, and lays the responsibility for any action upon the Parliamentary chief, and punishes his misdeeds by Parliamentary dismissal, would be very greatly infringed by any Act which would give a reason to the Civil servant to dispute the orders of his Parliamentary chief. I think it might lead to very serious friction in the ordinary business of the nation between the two sets of officials, and it would far more decrease the influence and the responsibility to Parliament for the action undertaken by Members of this House, than it would increase any power of this House.

If my hon. Friend will look at the Public Accounts and Charges Act, 1895, 2nd Sub-section, he will see that either his Amendment is in conflict with that Sub-section of this most valuable and important Act, or if it is not in conflict, the words he desires to insert are redundant words, because all the powers which he desires to put into this Section for the restriction of any acts of any person connected with the Treasury are at present covered by the words of the Act to which I have referred. Therefore his words are either in conflict with existing legislation or they are merely redundant. I think I have now dealt with all the points raised by my hon. Friend. I do not think he would be placing on the Treasury any greater restriction than is laid upon them at the present moment, and for the reasons I have endeavoured to present to the House, I trust the House will refuse to accept this Amendment.


The right hon. Gentleman does not, I think, quite appreciate the Penalty Clause. It is not as explained by the right hon. Gentleman. He says that the House has power of dismissing any Minister who does something that he ought not to do. I do not quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman, because the party will always back up a Minister against the House, and therefore the dismissal really is in the hands of the party. The proposal of the hon. Member (Mr. Gibson Bowles) says if any person does so-and-so, he shall be guilty of the misdemeanour, and shall, in addition, forfeit any office he holds under the Crown, and if the hon. Member will only make that retrospective I should vote with him with far greater pleasure than I shall do now. The effect of the Amendment would be an extremely good one. The only reason that the right hon. Gentleman has given for his opposition to the Amendment is this—and it is a repetition of the defence he made yesterday—that what was done was done with a good object and a good intention. I believe that the financial arrangements of all parties are made with a good object and intent, but unless something of this sort is put into the Bill there is a temptation to Governments to make incorrect estimates and then avail themselves of the power which has been availed of by the right hon. Gentleman and come here and say, "We have done something which is wrong, but we have done it with a good object." Their excuse will be that they consider that it is an excellent object. The right hon. Gentleman said this money had been spent upon old age pensions. The result will be that anything which is a good object to attain will be sufficient excuse for breaking the custom which has always obtained at the Treasury.


I coupled with that statement the proviso that anything of that sort should be rectified by Parliament as early as possible.


Yesterday the Secretary to the Treasury had the effrontery to unblushingly admit what he had done and claimed that he had done right. Today he winds up his remarks by saying that he is standing in a white sheet. I do not know whether it occurred to him that it would be a little wiser to take up rather a humbler attitude. It became clear that on 19th February a shortage was likely to occur, and on 27th a shortage did occur, and the right hon. Gentleman says:— That is not our fault, because the House did not meet until 15th February, the Address could not be interrupted, and we could not do anything until 10th March. Why did the Government not call Parliament together before 16th February? All these sort of things ought not to have become clear on 26th February, but long before, and it is because I believe that unless some Amendment of this sort is adopted this kind of thing will not become clear in the future that I think the proposal of my hon. Friend is necessary. The other justification of the right hon. Gentleman was that the original estimate was £120,000, and it rose to £150,000. Personally I think that is a very bad estimate. I am speaking now of all Governments, and I say that if the officials think they can get out of their difficulty by making a bad estimate, and taking money belonging to one department and handing it over to another, and then standing in a white sheet declaring, "We have made a mistake, and we will not do it again until the next time." If that is to be allowed, there is no way of stopping the diversion of money from one Vote to another. This sort of thing grows. I told the President of the Local Government Board the other day that he was desirous of emulating Julius Cæsar, and that is the hope of the head of every department, for he desires lo become an emperor in his own sphere.

Mr. BURNS dissented.


The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I suppose he is a little modest for the moment; but what I have stated is the desire of all heads of departments. As I read the new clause proposed by the hon. Member opposite, it would be possible for the Treasury to sanction the transfer of sums from the Army to the Navy.


This proposal concerns only the Civil Service. In the case of the Army or the Navy, you would have the same security and the same provision in the Appropriation Act when it comes as you have now. That really legalises what may have been done under Clause 4, and this would not affect it. When, as I intend to do, I introduce a corresponding clause to this in the Appropriation Bill, I shall insert, "Save as provided by Clause 4."


The Secretary to the Treasury said this sort of thing had been done in 1882 or 1883, but it is rather curious that where something of this sort is wrong, the right hon. Gentleman has to go back to another Liberal Government. This sort of thing happens when Liberal Governments are in power, and this fact induces me to support the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite. I do not want to make it too easy for my own side on the Front Bench or for any other Front Bench to spend money recklessly, which all parties are inclined to do.


I may say that I have not been convinced by the hon. Member for King's Lynn as to the merits of this clause, but I was so shocked by the defence made by my right hon. Friend that I have been converted to its merits. I think anyone who looks at the Bill will admit that the clause proposed by my hon. Friend is desirable. The desire of the Mover of this Amendment is to insert a provision to protect the taxpayer. I admit the difficulties put forward by my right hon. Friend, but what has he given us in defence of the course which has been taken? Simply an elaborate series of excuses about one trifling mistake, and that is the particular case of £4,000 with regard to old age pensions. My right hon. Friend does not see that this is only an illustration of a great principle, and that we are struggling for that principle. We are not to be laid aside by the right hon. Gentleman saying he is willing to come down to this House and stand in a white sheet. Let me repeat one phrase used by my right hon. Friend, and it is one of the most shocking I have ever heard from a Minister. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be inconvenient for Ministers not to be allowed to tell their subordinates to break the law.

Mr HOBHOUSE dissented.


But the whole argument of the right hon. Gentleman was that it is convenient for Ministers to use their autocratic powers, and tell the unfortunate people in their Departments to obey them to the extent of breaking the law. I say that is a bad argument, and it is not a sound one. I think very often the officials know the law better than the Ministers, and they point out the difficulties they would get into if an illegal step is taken. The only argument used against this proposal is that it is badly drawn. How can the right hon. Gentleman expect the hon. Member for King's Lynn to draw up a clause properly, because he has not a Government draftsman at his disposal?


The words contained in this Clause have been adopted from time immemorial. The only part which is my venture is the penalty.


I know if anybody could draw up a clause it is the hon. Member for King's Lynn, but if this Clause is wrong my hon. Friend is not tied to these particular words, and I am sure he is prepared to accept an Amendment. We want the principle to be accepted, and I think I the right hon. Gentleman ought to be willing to accept a clause which will afford I this protection. I will support any necessary alteration of the words submitted which the right hon. Gentleman thinks is necessary, and if he will agree to this course it will save us from differing from him upon this question. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to recognise the principle involved in the Clause.


I desire to say a few words in support of the Amendment of the hon. Member for King's Lynn, and I wish to ask the Secretary to the Treasury whether the inference he has drawn from the Public Accounts and Charges Act is one which can really be sustained? The objection taken by the hon. Member for King's Lynn was that money should not be diverted in the way it has been diverted, and this Clause is intended to prevent that taking place in the future. The Public Accounts and Charges Act was never intended to authorise the diversion of money at all. Its whole object was merely to prevent this money being paid into the Exchequer, and so appearing in the accounts twice over.

5.0 P.M.

The legitimate inference is not so much that this Amendment should be refused because it is at all in conflict with the Public Accounts and Charges Act, but rather that the Public Accounts and Charges Act itself should have its scope diminished and restricted so as not to allow the loophole which it at present gives for the payment of money without authorisation by this House.

The only other point I would wish to make is that this Amendment should be supported not only because of particular cases which have been brought under the review of the House by the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Gibson Bowles), but also because those cases are really somewhat symptomatic of various small irregularities which have taken place this Session and which took place last year. There has been a certain irregularity with regard to teachers' bonuses under the first Vote an Account. Having no direct proof, I would not like to say there have been cases of the manipulation of finance by not exactly postponing payments, but by rather insisting upon extra tests being applied under Government contracts so that the money on Vote 1 for the Navy should be eked out for rather longer than naturally would be so. There has also been a certain amount of irregularity by the Admiralty pressing for accounts to be sent in for last year's Budget in order that the amount might be swollen, and I believe that hon. Members opposite might be induced to vote an extra sum than they would otherwise be inclined to do. This irregularity which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for King's Lynn does not stand by itself, and the object of my support of this Clause is really to show that some stricter conduct should be observed with regard to the control of finances by this House.

If there ever was an occasion when the spending Departments, and especially the Treasury, should, like Cæsar's wife, be above suspicion, it seems to me just this precise minute. This irregularity which this Amendment is devised to meet occurred at precisely the time when it was being loudly claimed that this House should have sole control over the finances of the Kingdom. Surely it is just at such a time that those who have the control of the finances should be most strict in their conduct of them. These irregularities, together with others, have taken place just at this juncture of events. They not only affect the House which is to have the control of the finances, but also the question whether this House is really itself to be able to know exactly what is going on; and, if this is allowed to pass without an Amendment of this kind or without some vindication of the principle, it can only mean the multiplication of these irregularities in the future. For my own part, I feel just a little inclined to congratulate the Secretary to the Treasury. He appears to me to be like one of the rather celebrated Italians of the Renaissance, Fra Lippo Lippi. He uses the great protestation for virtue which the Government have made with regard to their financial procedure in the same way in which that painter did the tonsure—the rather better to indulge in certain peccadilloes without public attention being attracted to them. But at this precise minute, when this House is to have sole control of the finances, it does seem rather more necessary that at least the claim of the House should be vindicated and that all matters concerning the finances of the country should be brought before it.

Mr. J. D. REES

I should like to refer to one point made by the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir F. Banbury). Referring to one of the excuses of the right hon. Gentleman's, he said that there was no reason why the House should not have met before 16th February. I submit there is every reason, and it is the limitation of human strength and endurance. Everybody is not like the hon. Baronet. Everybody has not his indefatigable zeal and gigantic strength. I think the House meets early enough, and sits long enough to despatch the public business. To-day I asked a question of the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies which seems to me really very pertinent to the point raised by the hon. Member for King's Lynn. I asked whether a railway is being constructed from Jinga to Kakindah on the Victoria Nile.

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. J. H. Whitley)

I do not see how that arises on this new Clause.


In proposing this new Clause my hon. Friend referred to a series of iniquities to be charged to the right hon. Gentleman. I am not going to charge him with another iniquity. I asked how this railway is to be financed. The right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies said the amount necessary for the construction will be advanced as a loan from Imperial Funds. I respectfully submit that to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is the authority who decides to what railway money should be granted and to what railway money should not be granted would be in order?.


I am afraid the hon. Member must wait till to-morrow. It might be in order on the Third Reading. It is certainly not in order on this new Clause.


I cannot claim to be a financial authority, but only a common and garden Member of the House, who mainly looks on its proceedings. I have been impressed for many years by the over-readiness with which the House votes away public money, and by the equally careless manner in which the House appears to watch the money after it has been voted and raised. My hon. Friend, as I understand, only desires to secure that the money which the House votes shall be devoted to the purpose for which the House votes it, and the only defence, as far as I have been able to gather, that has been offered is that there are times when it becomes necessary to depart from that rule, and when, at any rate, it is a great convenience to Ministers.


Not a convenience to Ministers, certainly not. My plea was that it might be of vital importance to the recipients.


My right hon. Friend says that when money has been voted to A, it is very convenient when B is short of his money he should be able to take it instead of A. That appears to me to be the line of defence he has assumed. I do not think it is a good defence, and in the interests of greater strictness in the disposal of moneys which are voted by Parliament, I propose to join my hon. Friend in the Division Lobby.


I only wish to clear up one point. My hon. Friend is under a misapprehension. I daresay it is my fault for not making the point clear. What I meant to say was that cases may arise—I can only trace two or three in twenty-five or thirty years—in which the intentions of Parliament are clear that certain payments should be made and where the funds provided by Parliament are in the aggregate sufficient, but where it is impossible under ordinary circumstances to issue money from the Exchequer to make any payment. The cash is really available, but it is impossible for the moment to turn the key and get the money out of the Exchequer. That is the only case in which I ventured to represent to the House that it was better to make a slight, a very temporary, and a fleeting infraction of the law than to put a stop to the whole machinery of payments and disbursements. With regard to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington (Mr. Lough), the real protection of Parliament is not in any way added to by the words of the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Gibson Bowles). The real protection is the Exchequer and Audit Act, 1866, and the words of the hon. Member for King's Lynn do not add in one single particular to the protection of Parliament in this matter. The protection afforded by the Exchequer and Audit Act still remains the same, neither diminished nor increased by the proposed Amendment. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington were to compare the words contained in the Amendment and those in the Act, he would see no extra protection is afforded by the amending words, and that the protection afforded by the existing Act is really sufficient.


The right hon. Gentleman, in reply to my hon. Friend, said the money had been voted. That is not the fact; it has not been voted. I quoted from the Public Accounts Committee, in which they say on 28th February that the expenditure on old age pensions amounted to £1,269,000, being £69,531 in excess of the sum at that time voted by Parliament. How can you say the sum was voted by Parliament?


made a remark which was inaudible in the Press Gallery.


I am glad the right hon. Gentleman admits that is an error. Let me call attention to another error. It is not this relatively trumpery case of £4,000 to which I call attention. Had I chosen I could have cited twenty

cases drawn from my experience on the Public Accounts Committee. It is a great principle that I am affirming. It is a great principle that was formerly affirmed by every Consolidated Fund Act and every Appropriation Act. It has unfortunately been allowed to drop out for convenience. This accursed word was used as though we were to be the slaves of convenience and as though the law were to be made a convenience for permanent and temporary officials. It is in order to affirm a very great and necessary principle that I have moved this new Clause.


The statement made by the, hon. Member for Salford was absolutely correct. The only defence really made was that it was for the convenience of someone. I admit the right hon. Gentleman did not say it was for the convenience of Ministers, but the fact is it was for the convenience of a Department presided over by a Minister, which had not taken the proper estimate at the proper time for the proper sum, and did not find out that their estimate was wrong at the proper moment. Everything was put off until it was too late to obtain the money, because Parliament had been called together earlier, and, that being so, in order to avoid trouble, this course was taken. I venture to say it has been taken for the convenience of Ministers, and in order to save the heads of the Department taking the proper estimate at the proper time.

Question put, "That the Clause be now read a second time."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 101; Noes, 184.

Division No. 72.] AYES. [5.17 p.m.
Acland-Hood, Rt. Hon. Sir Alex. F. Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford Univ.) Henderson, Major Harold (Berkshire)
Adam, Major William A. Chanring, Sir Francis Allston Hickman, Colonel Thomas E.
Arbuthnot, Gerald A. Clough, William Hill, Sir Clement L. (Shrewsbury)
Archer-Shee, Major Martin Coates, Major Edward F. Hope, Harry (Bute)
Baird, John Lawrence Colefax, Henry Arthur Hume-Williams, William Ellis
Baker, Sir Randolt L. (Dorset, N.) Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet) Jackson, John A. (Whitehaven)
Balcarres, Lord Craik, Sir Henry Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)
Baldwin, Stanley Dixon, Charles Harvey (Boston) Jowett, Frederick William
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- Kerr-Smiley, Peter Kerr
Baring, Captain Hon. Guy Victor Falls, Bertram Godfray Kimber, Sir Henry
Barnston, Harry Fell, Arthur Knight, Captain Eric Ayshford
Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.) Fleming, Valentine Llewelyn, Venables
Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks Fletcher, John Samuel Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)
Beckett, Hon. William Gervase Forster, Henry William Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsay)
Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish Foster, John K. (Coventry) Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R.
Brackenbury, Henry Langton Gardner, Ernest Long, Rt. Hon. Walter
Bridgeman, William Clive Gibbs, George Abraham Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas
Brunskill, Gerald Fitzgibbon Hambro, Angus Valdemar Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)
Calley, Colonel Thomas C. P. Hamilton, Marquess of (Londonderry) Lyttelton, Hon. J. C. (Droitwich)
Carlile, Edward Hildred Hardy, Laurence (Kent, Ashford) Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. A. (S. Geo. Han. S.)
Cator, John Harris, H. P. (Paddington, S.) Mackinder, Halford J.
Cautley, Henry Strother Heaton, John Henniker M'Arthur, Charles
Mallaby-Deeley, Harry Rice, Hon. Walter Fitz-Uryan Thompson, Robert (Belfast, North)
Mason, James F. Ridley, Samuel Forde Tryon, Capt. George Clement
Mitchell, William Foot Sanderson, Lancelot Valentia, Viscount
Mount, William Arthur Smith, F. E. (Liverpool, Walton) Ward, A. S. (Herts, Watford)
Newton, Harry Kottingham Stanier, Beville White, Major G. D. (Lancs., Southport)
Ormsby-Gore, William Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston) Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Yorks, Ripon)
Parkes, Ebenezer Starkey, John Ralph Wood, John (Stalybridge)
Peel, Capt. R. F. (Woodbridge) Staveley-Hill, Henry (Staffordshire) Worthington-Evans, L. (Colchester)
Perkins, Walter Frank Steel-Maitland, A. D. Younger, George (Ayr Burghs)
Pretyman, Ernest George Stewart, Sir M'T. (Kirkc'dbr'tsh.)
Proby, Col. Douglas James Sykes, Alan John TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Gibson Bowles and Mr. Byles.
Randies, Sir John Scurrah Talbot, Lord Edmund
Rankin, Sir James Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)
Abraham, William Harcourt, Rt. Hon. L. (Rossendale) Pirie, Duncan V.
Addison, Dr. Christopher Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) Pointer, Joseph
Ainsworth, John Stirling Hardle, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil) Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.
Alden, Percy Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N.E.) Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)
Allen, Charles Peter Haslam, James (Derbyshire) Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)
Anderson, Andrew Macbeth Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth) Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)
Baker, Harold T. (Accrington) Helme, Norval Watson Pringle, William M. R.
Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.) Hemmerde, Edward George Radford, George Heynes
Balfour, Robert (Lanark) Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Rea, Walter Russell
Barclay, Sir Thomas Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W.) Rees, John David
Barlow, Sir John Emmott Henry, Charles S. Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick) Higham, John Sharp Roberts, George H. (Norwich)
Barran, Rowland Hirst (Leeds, N.) Hindis, Frederick George Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs.)
Barry, Redmond J. (Tyrone, N.) Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H. Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)
Barton, William Hope, James Fitzaian (Sheffield) Robinson, Sidney
Beale, William Phipson Hope, John Deans (Fife, West) Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)
Beiloc, Hilaire Joseph Peter R. Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Roe, Sir Thomas
Benn, W. (Tower Hamlets, S. Geo.) Hudson, Walter Rowntree, Arnold
Bentham, George J. Hughes, Spencer Leigh Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)
Birreil, Rt. Hon. Augustine Illingworth, Percy H. Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Boland, John Pius Isaacs, Sir Rufus Daniel Smith, H. B. Lees (Northampton)
Bowerman, Charles W. Jones, Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea) Snowden, Philip
Brace, William Jones, Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil) Soames, Arthur Wellesley
Bryce, John Annan Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Soares, Ernest Joseph
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Stanley, Albert (Staffs, N.W.)
Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas King, Joseph (Somerset, North) Strachey, Sir Edward
Buxton, C. R. (Devon, Mid) Lambert, George Summers, James Woolley
Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North) Leach, Charles Sutton, John E.
Cameron, Robert Lehmann, Rudolf C. Taylor, John W. (Durham)
Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich) Levy, Sir Maurice Taylor, T. C. (Radcliffe)
Cawley, H. T. (Lancs., Haywood) Lewis, John Herbert Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.)
Chancellor, Henry George Low, Sir Frederick (Norwich) Thomas, Sir A. (Glamorgan, E.)
Chappie, Dr. William Allen Lyell, Charles Henry Thomas, David Alfred (Cardiff)
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S. Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester) Thomas, James Henry (Derby)
Clynes, John R. Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs) Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock) Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J. Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Compton-Rickett, Sir J. McCallum, John M. Vivian, Henry
Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow) M'Laren, Rt. Hon. Sir C. B. (Leics.) Wadsworth, John
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. M'Laren, F. W. S. (Lincs., Spalding) Walker, H. de R. (Leicester)
Crossley, Sir William J. M'Laren, Walter S. B. (Ches., Crewe) Walton, Joseph
Davies, Ellis William (Eifion) Masterman, C. F. G. Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)
Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.) Menzies, Sir Walter Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)
Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardiganshire) Middlebrook, William Waterlow, David Sydney
Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas Millar, James Duncan Wedgwood, Josiah C.
Dewar, Sir J. A. (Inverness-shire) Mond, Alfred Moritz White, J. Dundas (Dumbartonshire)
Dickinson, W. H. (St. Pancras, N.) Montagu, Hon. E. S. White, Sir Luke (York, E.R.)
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen) Whitehouse, John Howard
Ellis, Rt. Hon. John Edward Morton, Alpheus Cleophas Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.
Elverston, Harold Muspratt, Max Whyte, Alexander F. (Perth)
Esslemont, George Birnie Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncaster) Wiles, Thomas
Fenwick, Charles Nolan, Joseph Wilkie, Alexander
Ferens, Thomas Robinson Norton, Captain Cecil William Williams, Aneurin (Plymouth)
France, Gerald Ashburner O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Williams, John (Glamorgan)
Geider, Sir William Alfred O'Connor, John (Kildare, N) Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)
George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)
Gibson, Sir James Puckering Ogden, Fred Wilson, J. W. (Worcestershire, N.)
Gill, Alfred Henry O'Grady, James Wing, Thomas
Glanville, Harold James O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N.) Wood, T. M'Kinnon (Glasgow)
Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford Palmer, Godfrey Mark Young, William (Perth, East)
Greenwood, Granville George Parker, James (Halifax)
Greig, Colonel James William Pearce, William TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Master of Elibank and Mr. Guiland.
Grenfeil, Cecil Alfred Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A.
Hancock, John George Pickersgill, Edward Hare

Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time to-morrow.