§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,000, 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, 1911, for sundry Grants-in-Aid of Scientific Investigation, &c."
§ Mr. MALCOLM
When we turn over the next page in the chapter of accidents, called the Supplementary Estimates, we find quite a different item of expenditure, which is not due to unforeseen circumstances or to the want of temporary assistance or to the result of new legislation, but which is, in fact, a piece of brand new expenditure. I am afraid it is weary work both for the Minister and for the Member to keep asking and to keep giving information upon different items which come in Supplementary Estimates, but I am afraid it will always be so so long as Supplementary estimates are provided with absolutely the minimum of information, and the Minister leaves one to guess the real reason for the expenditure which is put before us. I think a very great deal of time would be saved if, when Supplementary Estimates without any explanation are before us, it could be made possible for the Minister to give a slight explanation of the reason why the Estimate is asked for, and a number of people would not be asking for information which the Minister could, but does not, give us. This is a new departure. It is a grant of £2,000 for the sub-department of biology or zoology, for which, in the large Estimate, I see no kind of grant at all. We want, of course, to know why this British Ornitho- 1810 logist Union has been picksd out of all the other zoological or ornithological unions of the country for this grant. Why have birds been chosen? Personally, if I had anything to do with it I should have preferred a grant for dogs, or still more I should prefer a grant for the study of tropical diseases in London. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us why they have been chosen, and who it is who settles that the Ornithological Union is chosen. I will pass to the footnote, and ask what is, I expect, an elementary question to many members of the committee, but one which perhaps a good many of us do not really know the answer to. I observe that the expenditure out of this Grant-in-Aid will not be accounted for in detail to the Controller and Auditor-General, nor will any outstanding balances be surrendered at the close of the financial year. That does not seem to make for economy, but rather for extravagance, if the money is not accounted for, but can be splashed about without anyone knowing where it is going, or why. We should like to know why it is not to be accounted for, and where it goes.
I want to raise a point of a financial nature. It was raised by the hon. Member (Mr. Malcolm), but I want to put it in rather more expanded form. The hon. Member has read out that the expenditure out of this Grant-in-Aid will not be accounted for in detail to the Controller and Auditor-General. I wish the Committee would take notice first of all of that note. It seems further that this sum has been advanced out of the Civil Contingencies Fund and the present Vote is required in order to recoup that fund. It is clear, therefore, that this sum is not paid directly from the Treasury, but has been previously advanced out of a sum called the Civil Contingencies Fund, and the present Vote is simply to fill up the gap made in the Civil Contingencies Fund. On the Estimates themselves there is a note that, taking the other objects of scientific investigation for which Grants are made, as in this case, the expenditure of the Grants-in-Aid will not be accounted for in detail to the Controller and Auditor-General, nor again will any unexpended balance be surrendered by the payees at the close of the financial year. But, curiously enough, in the case of the Meteorological Office the expenditure, though not liable to the surrender of balances, will be subject to audit by the Controller and Auditor-General. For some reason there is a special sort of 1811 exemption made in the case of the Meteorological Office, and there, in contradistinction to Grants for public departments, though the unexpended balances do not go back to the Treasury, yet there is an audit of accounts. The point to which I wish to call the attention of the President of the Board of Trade, who is to reply on this point is that he should have regard to the history and position of the Civil Contingencies Fund. I do not know whether hon. Members are fully aware what that Fund is. I must explain what the fund is in order to make my point clear to the Committee. The Fund was established in 1816. Before that time all these advances were made from the Civil List. Various changes were made from time to time with which I need not trouble the Committee. The Vote for Civil Contingencies is described as one for purposes of a peculiar and distinct character. It was intended to meet unforeseen contingencies m the Civil Service, and to defray the expense—
The hon. Member is not entitled to give us the history of the Civil Contingencies Fund when dealing with this Supplementary Estimate.
I was careful to say that I was not going to do that. I cannot put my point before the Committee without giving a general description of the Fund. It was to defray the expense of executing works while Parliament was not sitting which could not be postponed and which could not be put on the Estimates. There were certain changes made in the Fund through the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee in 1861, and as the result of those changes the capital of the Fund is constantly maintained at £120,000, and an audited account of all the transactions is annually laid before Parliament. It is a most remarkable thing that while an audited report of the Fund is laid before Parliament, there is no audited report, on this sum of £2,000, which was advanced from the Fund. After all it is the repayment over which this House has control, and upon that there is no audit at all. That is the point I wish the President of the Board of Trade to explain to us. There is an audit in one case and no audit in the other. Apparently this money can be expended so far as this House is concerned without control. I think that is of some importance, for, we are largely ex- 1812 tending in principle and practice these grants to what I may call semi-public societies. Last year the grants increased from £64,000 to £74,000.
The hon. Member is really raising a question which should be raised on the Civil Contingencies Vote, and not on this Supplementary Estimate.
I think I am entitled to raise this question now. Here is an expenditure of £2,000, and surely I am entitled to deal with the way in which that money has been granted, and I am entitled to explain that there is no audit for the amount which is being asked. I submit that is an important point as regards the granting of the money. Surely it is relevant to ask whether the Committee should grant the £2,000.
You are not entitled to argue the whole question under this Vote. It is certainly not open to you to go into the history of the Civil Contingencies Fund. The question you are raising might arise on the Civil Contingencies Vote.
I think I have really stated all I have to say as regards the history of the fund. I think the question I have raised is one which in the interests of financial purity ought to be dealt with by the President of the Board of Trade. The only other question I wish to ask is: on what principle is this money handed out? Grants are given to a large number of societies. They comprise such various bodies as the Royal Academy of Music—
I hope I shall not have to call the hon. Member to order again for not confining his remarks to the Supplementary Estimates.
I am sorry I misinterpreted you on the matter of leniency. Here is a sum of £2,000 granted to particular societies, and I was only pointing out that the sum so granted are going to a great number of different scientific bodies, many of them among ourselves, and others existing all over the world. I though I was entitled to ask on what principle of selection these grants are made to particular societies. 1813 Why is the British Ornithological Union picked out? I quite admit that it is a body of considerable importance, and that it has subscribed considerable sums for investigations in North Borneo and other places. I am not in a position to say what is the state of the funds of that society. I do not know whether any investigation has been made into that matter. I do not know whether it has been ascertained what proportion the sums subscribed by the public bears to the sum granted from this fund. I think we are entitled to know something not only to the standing of this Society, but also in what direction the money is to be expended. I wish to know on what principle the British Ornithological Society should be provided with public money for the purpose of conducting investigations in North Borneo. We ought to know on what principle these particular societies are selected, and what security we have that the moneys granted are spent in the manner that the House of Commons would desire, considering that there is no audit by the Auditor General, by which we can afterwards check the manner in which the money has been spent.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. REMNANT
I quite agree with my hon. Friend as to the inportance of our having very accurate accounts of all the moneys granted by this House, and seeing that proper accounts are kept as to where the money is spent. This is also necessary in questions of big public interest, as in this way we shall get more readily the help of the general public towards these great objects. It must not be assumed because of our criticism that we are hostile to the grants, as we are simply showing our keenness in seeing that they are properly expended, and that the fullest advantage is taken of the generous treatment extended to those who promote these great objects. In the instances in which we make these grants are any conditions attached by the Government such as are attached by various societies—namely, that we should have for the benefit of the nation the first call, say, on any discoveries made by these different expeditions or of any advantages that may be said to accrue to these expeditions from their having our money at their back? In the case of many of these big public institutions in which the officials, through the means of the institutions themselves, have made various discoveries, the institutions have the first right of utilising those discoveries for themselves. Large sums of money have been given from time to time for these expeditions and 1814 societies. Last year there was £20,000 for the Antarctic expedition. The leader of that was also honoured by His Majesty by a knighthood. This year it is only £2,000, the half of £4,000. Until we had this Estimate before us, I do not think any Members of the Committee realised teat we were granting £4,000 towards this expedition in New Guinea. Why that would not be included this year in the Supplementary Estimate I do not know. I do not know how long the expedition is going to last. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us? At all events, something ought to be done to get rid of this incurable sloppiness in the finances of the Government, and steps should be taken by which sums of money which are devoted to these great purposes should be checked by the Auditor-General, and certainly where sums of money which are devoted for a specific purpose are not altogether utilised the surplus should be handed back to the Government. Otherwise there is nothing to prevent the expeditions being started and prematurely brought to a conclusion. Large sums of money might thus accrue to the originator of the idea, and the Government according to this would not think it its duty to ask for a return of the unused portion of the money, but would leave it in the hands of those to whom the grants have been given. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will inform us how these large sums of money are granted. To whom is application made for them? Are they before being actually promised the subject of criticism in this House, and are they made the subject of a condition that any benefit accruing from the granting of the money should accrue to the Government in the first place? We had recently an instance of what I mean. The present Home Secretary, who was then Under-Secretary to the Colonies, by utilising the advantages placed at his disposal by the Government for a very interesting expedition to East Africa was able when he came back to utilise the experience gained at the expense of the Government in publishing in one of the monthly magazines a very interesting account of what he had done, and I believe he got a very fine fee for doing so. I want to stop that if I possibly can. I do think that this is a very fine opportunity for the Government. I know that they are anxious to get the best value for their money, and I hope they will satisfy the House that in this case they are taking every means to 1815 safeguard the interests of the Treasury and to see that the money given is utilised for the purposes for which it was definitely given.
§ Mr. CHARLES BATHURST
I wish to support the protest which has been made with regard to this Supplementary Estimate, subject to any explanation which the right hon. Gentleman may give to justify it. I would like particularly to ask what are the principles upon which the Government moves in selecting these objects for special consideration? I ask it particularly because there is not a country in the whole of Europe in which so little money is devoted to a particular kind of research work as is devoted to the greatest industry of this country. Only yesterday we were told that £1,200 is all that is devoted by the Government to agricultural research in this country, and yet to certain branches of geographical research alone a sum of £4,000 is to be given. I should like to find out what are the great broad principles on which the Government moves with regard to these grants? I should have thought that those lines of research are worthy of most support which will advance the interest of a great industry in this country rather than the efforts, which may be appreciated by a section only of the community, of some organised section to advance the study of birds in some remote part of the world. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give the Committee some idea of the principles upon which these grants are made.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Buxton)
Perhaps the Committee will allow me to answer the various questions that have been put. My right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury asked me that I should undertake this task. All Members will recognise that the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is exceptional. The first question I am asked is in what way these various sums for expeditions of scientific research are selected for assistance by the Government? I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn state that he was content, and I am quite sure that the same feeling influences other Members—to have these grants for various scientific matters given if they were justified. I need hardly say that a Department like the Treasury has a very large number of applications for assistance of various sorts.
They go into the matter as carefully as 1816 they can, and a reference to the reports of the British Museum and other authorities specially interested in the matter shows that we would be justified in making this grant. The reason for this particular grant is that it is for the scientific exploration of New Guinea, the largest island, we are informed, excepting Australia, in the world. Till now there has been no opportunity of exploring it. The Dutch Government, a year or two ago, came to an amicable arrangement with the natives, and the result was that a scientific expedition started last year for the purpose of the exploration. They did a very considerable amount of work, and they expended something like £5,000. The value of their work would have been largely thrown away if it had not been possible to give them some further help. The Treasury proposed, after going very carefully into the matter, that they should make a grant of £2,000 this year, and £2,000 next year, in order that the expedition may be able to carry out, complete, and extend its scientific researches. The conditions were, in addition to the sum of £5,000 already expended, that they themselves shall contribute an amount equal to that given by the Government. The second condition is that the whole of the scientific results, as far as the British Museum may desire to have them, shall be offered to that institution. Therefore, the expenditure will add very materially to the value of the British-Museum, and I hope that is a justification of this particular grant. The difficulty of the Treasury is to distinguish between the various claims for grants. My hon. Friend mentioned objects in which he is particularly interested. In these matters the Treasury always exercise caution and makes inquiry. In the instance we are discussing, the Treasury took the greatest possible trouble to see the direction in which the money was to be expended, and they thought that they might very well give £2,000 this year. As I understand, the Treasury in these matters take great trouble by consulting the authorities of the British Museum, the Royal Society, and other scientific bodies in order that the money granted may be expended in the direction which well-known experts would desire it to be spent.
§ Mr. W. R. PEEL
Can the right hon. Gentleman state whether anything was contributed by the Dutch Government?
§ Mr. BUXTON
The Dutch Government provided a gunboat for escort and a river 1817 launch, and they have given what are called "free rights of exploration." The Dutch Government have assisted the explorers in every way they can. I do not know that they have given an actual money grant, but they have done their very best to facilitate the expedition.
§ Earl WINTERTON
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, as to the original report published on a former occasion, when the right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary went to Africa, there was a good deal of feeling on this side of the House—
That is not a grant in connection with scientific investigation; it does not come under this case at all.
The Noble Earl may take it from me that the grant to which he refers does not come under this Vote.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Am I in order in asking a simple question where there had been a grant for an expedition, and where a report had been published and laid on the Table of the House?
§ Mr. BUXTON
The Noble Lord will understand that I am not able to give an answer on that subject now. What I have pointed out is that the valuable results of the expedition will be available, and, if desired, will go to the British Museum. With regard to the points raised by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. W. E. Peel) I understand these allowances are not subject to the audit usually made in other cases, and this is only carrying out what is the ordinary policy in regard to these grants.
§ Mr. BUXTON
The Treasury have taken the greatest care to obtain the best information they can that the money will be properly expended, and I will undertake to say that a grant of this sort carried out under the auspices of those who receive it will be spent in the best possible way. As to the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Croydon (Mr. Malcolm). The method adopted is that which has always been the rule. It is impossible, say with the particular case under discussion, to know that the grant for the past financial year will be spent within the financial year. In those cases it seems obviously 1818 the better thing from the point of view of economy, that the grant should be given as a lump sum to be expended in the best possible way within the limits of such time as is at the disposal of those who receive the grant.
§ Mr. REMNANT
I have to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his extremely courteous and most interesting explanation which I am sure will give the keenest satisfaction to everyone interested in scientific investigation. I only wish he would look into the question of expedition to which I have referred, and from which the Government derived great benefit.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.