HC Deb 26 November 1912 vol 44 cc1037-44

I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to extend the powers and duties of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and to amend the Law relating to the examination of National Accounts."

The object of this Bill is to establish an examination of public expenditure, and to give extended powers to the Comptroller and Auditor-General acting under a Finance Committee. It may be said that we have already the Public Accounts Committee, but the Finance Committee in dealing with money matters would act in no party spirit, and would deal with them purely as a matter of business. There would be no censure on the Government, and such a Committee would have power to go into the National Accounts. At present we cannot go into a study of the Estimates because, even if we do, we cannot bring the results before the House. If there were a Finance Committee sitting upstairs these matters could be brought before it, and some good could be done in the way of control of expenditure. In county councils, such as the County Council of Lancashire, and in corporations, such as that of Manchester, they have a finance committee; the Dock Board of Liverpool have a finance committee, and other and similar bodies also appoint finance committees. I do not suggest that these committees have any power over policy, but they can see that money is spent to the best advantage. I can understand that permanent officials would be against this change, and that, in certain quarters, the measure may not be popular, but we are tired of listening to lawyers hour after hour with their interminable claptrap. I have said that this will not be a party Committee, and business men amongst Liberal Members opposite would be able to serve upon it, and I believe the result would be that very large sums would be saved to the country.

4.0 P.M.

I have gone into this matter carefully, and I estimate that in the first year there would be a saving of a million of money, and similarly in the second, third, fourth, and fifth years, so that by the end of five years, by checking extravagance and by effecting reductions, there would be a total saving of £5,000,000. After that period I cannot say what would be the amount saved. I think that with the appointment of this Committee a great deal of good work would be done for the public welfare. I believe that if business men or chambers of commerce will agree, that large sums could be saved to the country by the adoption of my proposal. I do not think that this should be a party question, and my hon. and gallant Friends behind me need not fear that the appointment of such a Finance Committee would at all interfere with the Naval and Army Estimates. All that the Finance Committee would be able to do would be to see that the money was well expended, and that soldiers, for example, did not go into battle with bayonets of soft steel. Our accounts and contracts would be examined by such a Committee, and this cannot be done at the present time, as we have no machinery to do it; and I think that if we adopt the plan that I submit it would work well, as it has already done in the case of county councils, municipal councils, and other bodies. Official answers given to questions on these business matters do not suffice, because there are so many lawyers and professional politicians who give them; but upstairs, before a Committee, such answers would not be tendered. In future if you should decide to have an aerial fleet, the Committee would be able to find what was the cost of an aerial fleet in France, and we would in this way be enabled to get the benefit of the experience of other countries. At present there is no system of finding out these facts. The War Office have financial advisers, but we find that, in effect, they have as much influence over finance as intelligence officers have over the Intelligence Department. We are the only great nation who adopt our methods. The great nations on the Continent have an Estimates Committee somewhat similar to what I am suggesting. Those great nations like Germany found out that there was great waste, and questions were put by that Estimates Committee to the German officials. If those great Continental nations, who are supposed not to be so astute in business as ourselves, have found by experience that those Committees helped them to save money, then I think it is well worth our while to consider the matter.


I would remind the lion. Member that the Rule under which he is bringing in his Bill limits him to a brief explanatory statement.


I beg to move.


I would point out that we have already two Committees which deal with the examination of accounts—one is the Public Accounts Committee and the other is the Committee set up last year. I desire to ask you, Sir, whether the Bill is in order. It is a Bill "to extend the powers and duties of the Comptroller and Auditor-General." That part of it is. I venture to say, in order, but it goes on to say, "And to amend the law relating to the examination of national accounts." That, I venture to say, is not in order, since, as far as I know, there is no Statute regulating the examination of national accounts, and this House, I understand, has always held that any Committee which is set up for that purpose is to be set up by this House, and not by Statute. Hon. Members opposite will probably agree with that for the reason that this House does not desire its pro- cedure to be controlled or interfered with by the other House. If there is a Statute it must go to the other House. I would ask whether the second part of the proposal is in order.


The first part "to extend the powers and duties of the Comptroller and Auditor-General" is clearly in order. With regard to the second part, I do not like to commit myself until I have seen the Bill. I do not know on the face of it which is the law relating to the examination of national accounts. I do not gather in what way the hon. Member seeks to amend it, but when I see the Bill, if the hon. Baronet will take objection before the Second Beading, I shall then be in a better position to decide.


I venture to offer an uncompromising opposition to this Bill. Its title may be good, but its methods, I am perfectly certain, are very bad. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City has-already pointed out that we have two Committees dealing with our financial relations. I find it very difficult to follow those Committees or to read the Reports they send in. If we have a third Committee dealing with a similar subject, I shall be quite bewildered, and I am perfectly certain if I am not the majority of Members will be. I have listened very attentively to what the hon. Member said in his speech; his remarks were attentively observed on this side, but they were not quite audible or connected. I gather from him, in the first place, that he is dissatisfied, and thinks that we are not getting real full value for the money we spend. If that is the case, I think he should begin by reducing expenditure. That would be a popular method, at any rate with the taxpayers, and certainly on the large items of expenditure it would be popular on this side of the House. That is a matter which certainly, in my opinion, ought to come before any new method of account. The hon. Member said that Germany and other countries had a Finance Committee of the kind which he proposes to set up here. I am a thorough Englishman, and, though I have a great admiration for many foreigners, I do not want to adopt foreign Parliamentary methods, and that is a very good ground for opposing the method he has proposed. The hon. Member also said it would only take about two hours per week for a Committee to put the accounts of this great nation in order.


I did not say that.


I am very glad the hon. Member did not, because it did seem to me an absurdity. What he did say was that by this method he would show how to save a million per year, or five millions in five years. In that case, if he had an interview with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am sure he would give him a warm and welcome reception. For those very good reasons I offer the strongest

opposition to this Bill, and if it goes to a Division I hope the majority of the House will support me.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to extend the powers and duties of the Comptroller and Auditor-General and to amend the law relating to the examination of National Accounts."

The House divided: 264. Ayes, 158; Noes,.264.

Division No. 325.] AYES. [4.10 p.m.
Agar-Robartes, Hon. T. C. R. Fleming, Valentine Morrison-Bell, Capt. E. F. (Ashburton)
Agg-Gardner, James Tynte Gardner, Ernest Morton, Alpheus Cleophas
Aitken, Sir William Max Gastrell, Major W. Houghton Newdegate, F. A.
Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud) Gibbs, G. A. Newman, John R. P.
Amery, L. C. M. S. Goldman, C. S. Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)
Anson, Rt. Hon. Sir William R. Gordon, Hon. John Edward (Brighton) O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid)
Ashley, Wilfrid W. Gordon, John (Londonderry, South) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William
Baird, J. L. Goulding, Edward Alfred Palmer, Godfrey Mark
Balcarres, Lord Gretton, John Parker, Sir Gilbert (Gravesend)
Barnes, G. N. Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne) Parkes, Ebenezer
Barnston, Harry Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight) Pearce, William (Limehouse)
Barran, Sir J. (Hawick) Hall, Fred (Dulwich) Peto, Basil Edward
Barrie, H. T. Hamersley, Alfred St. George Pole-Carew, Sir R.
Bathurst, Charles (Wilts, Wilton) Hamilton, Lord C. J. (Kensington, S.) Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)
Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence Remnant, James Farquharson
Beckett, Hon. Gervase Harrison-Broadley, H. B. Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth) Helmsley, Viscount Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)
Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish- Henderson, Major H. (Berks, Abingdon) Rose, Sir Charles Day
Bigland, Alfred Hewins, William Albert Samuel Rutherford, John (Lancs., Darwen)
Boles, Lieut.-Col. Dennis Fortescue Hill, Sir Clement L. Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)
Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith- Hills, John Waller Sanders, Robert A.
Boyle, William (Norfolk, Mid) Hill-Wood, Samuel Sanderson, Lancelot
Boyton, James Hoare, S. J. G. Sassoon, Sir Philip
Bridgeman, W. Clive Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Smith, Harold (Warrington)
Bryce, J. Annan Hope, Major A. (Midlothian) Spear, Sir John Ward
Burn, Colonel C. R. Horner, Andrew Long Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)
Butcher, John George Hunter, Sir Chas. Rodk. Stewart, Gershom
Campbell, Rt. Hon. J. (Dublin Univ.) Ingleby, Holcombe Strauss, Arthur (Paddington)
Campion, W. R. Jones, Lelf (Notts, Rushcliffe) Sykes, Mark (Hull, Central)
Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred Jowett, Frederick William Talbot, Lord Edmund
Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H. Joynson-Hicks, William Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)
Cassel, Felix Kimber, Sir Henry Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Down, North)
Castlereagh, Viscount Knight, Captain E. A. Thynne, Lord Alexander
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Larmor, Sir J. Touche, George Alexander
Cecil, Lord R. (Herts, Hitchin) Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle) Tryon, Captain George Clement
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Worc'r.) Lawson, Hon. H. (T. H'mts., Mile End Tullibardine, Marquess of
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Lewisham, Viscount Valentia, Viscount
Chappie, Dr. William Allen Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury) Walrond, Hon. Lionel
Clive, Captain Percy Archer Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsey) Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent, Mid)
Clyde, James Avon Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R. Wheler, Granville C. H.
Clynes, John R. Low, Sir F. (Norwich) White, Major G. D. (Lancs., Southport)
Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston) Wills, Sir Gilbert
Cooper, Richard Ashmole Lyell, Charles Henry Winterton, Earl
Courthope, George Loyd Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. A. (S. Geo., Hon. S.) Wolmer, Viscount
Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.) Lyttelton, Hon. J. G. (Droitwich) Worthington-Evans, L.
Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe) MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-
Craik, Sir Henry Maclean, Donald Wright, Henry Fitzherbert
Dalziel, Davison (Brixton) M'Laren, Hon. F. W. S. (Lincs., Spalding) Yate, Col. C. E.
Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. Scott McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's) Younger, Sir George
Dixon, C. H. Magnus, Sir Philip
Esslemont, George Birnie Malcolm, Ian
Eyres-Monsell, Bolton, M. Meysey-Thompson, E. C. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.
Faber, George D. (Clapham) Mildmay, Francis Bingham Kebty-Fletcher and Mr. Stanler.
Fetherstonhaugh, Godfrey Moore, William
Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour) Ainsworth, John Stirling Banbury, Sir Frederick George
Acland, Francis Dyke Allen, A. A. (Dumbartonshire) Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)
Adamson, William Arnold, Sydney Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)
Addison, Dr. C. Baker, H. T. (Accrington) Beauchamp, Sir Edward
Agnew, Sir George William Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark) Beck, Arthur Cecil
Benn, W. W. (T. H'mts., St. George) Holmes, Daniel Turner Power, Patrick Joseph
Sentham, G. J. Holt, Richard Durning Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)
Bird, Alfred Hope, John Deans (Haddington) Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)
Black, Arthur W. Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Priestley, Sir Arthur (Grantham)
Boland, John Pius Hudson, Walter Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)
Bowerman, Charles W. Hughes, S. L. Pringle, William M. R.
Boyle, D. (Mayo, N.) Illingworth, Percy H. Radford, G. H.
Brace, William Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh) Rattan, Peter Wilson
Brady, J. P. John, Edward Thomas Raphael, Sir Herbert H.
Brocklehurst, William B. Jones, Rt. Hon. Sir D. Brynmor (Sw'nsea) Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)
Burke, E. Haviland- Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil) Reddy, Michael
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth) Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East) Redmond, William (Clare)
Byles, Sir William Pollard Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)
Carr-Gomm, H. W. Jones, W. S. Glyn- (T. H'mts, Stepney) Rendall, Athelstan
Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich) Joyce, Michael Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)
Cawley, Harold T. (Heywood) Keating, M. Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Clancy, John Joseph Kellaway, Frederick George Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)
Clough, William Kennedy, Vincent Paul Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)
Collins, G. P. (Greenock) Kilbride, Denis Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)
Condon, Thomas Joseph Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. (Devon, S. Molton) Robinson, Sidney
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade) Roche, Augustine (Louth)
Cotton, William Francis Lardner, James Carrlge Rushe Roche, John (Galway, E.)
Crawshay-Williams, Eliot Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West) Roe, Sir Thomas
Crooks, William Levy, Sir Maurice Rowlands, James
Crumley, Patrick Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas Rowntree, Arnold
Cullinan, J. Lundon, T. Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.
Davies, Ellis William (Eifion) Lynch, A. A. Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth) Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester) Scanlan, Thomas
Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.) Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs) Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)
Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan) McGhee, Richard Seely, Col. Rt. Hon. J. E. B.
De Forest, Baron MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South) Sheehy, David
Delany, William Macpherson, James Ian Sherwell, Arthur James
Denman, Hon. R. D. MacVeagh, Jeremiah Simon, Sir John Allsebrook
Devlin, Joseph M'Callum, Sir John M. Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)
Dickinson, W. H. McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald Smith, H. B. L. (Northampton)
Donelan, Captain A. M'Laren, Hon. H. D. (Leics.) Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)
Doris, W. M'Micking, Major Gilbert Snowden, P.
Doughty, Sir George Marks, Sir George Croydon Soames, Arthur Wellesley
Duffy, William J. Meagher, Michael Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert
Duncan, J. Hastings (Yorks, Otley) Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.) Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, W.)
Edwards, Clement (Glamorgan, E.) Menzies, Sir Walter Sutherland, J. E.
Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor) Middlemore, John Throgmorton Sutton, John E.
Elverston, Sir Harold Millar, James Duncan Taylor, John W. (Durham)
Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.) Molloy, Michael Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)
Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.) Mond, Sir Alfred M. Taylor, Thomas (Bolton)
Essex, Richard Walter Money, L. G. Chiozza Tennant, Harold John
Falconer, J. Mooney, J. J. Thomas, James Henry
Farrell, James Patrick Morgan, George Hay Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles Morrell, Philip Thorne, William (West Ham)
Ffrench, Peter Morison, Hector Toulmin, Sir George
Fitzgibbon, John Muldoon, John Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Flavin, Michael Joseph Munro-Ferguson, Rt. Hon. R. C. Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander
Gill, A. H. Murray, Captain Hon. A. C. Verney, Sir Harry
Ginnell, L. Nannetti, Joseph P. Wadsworth, J.
Gladstone, W. G. C. Needham, Christopher T. Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)
Glanville, H. J. Neilson, Francis Walton, Sir Joseph
Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford Nolan, Joseph Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)
Greenwood, Granville G. (Peterborough) Norton, Captain Cecil W. Wardle, George J.
Greenwood, Hamar (Sunderland) Nugent, Sir Walter Richard Waring, Walter
Griffith, Ellis J. O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay
Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.) O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.) Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)
Gulland, John William O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)
Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway) O'Doherty, Philip Webb, H.
Hackett, John O'Donnell, Thomas White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Hall, Frederick (Normanton) O'Dowd, John White, Patrick (Meath, North)
Hancock, J. G. O'Grady, James Whitehouse, John Howard
Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.) Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas f.
Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire) O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N.) Whyte, A. F.
Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, W.) O'Malley, William Wiles, Thomas
Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N.E.) O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.) Wilkie, Alexander
Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth) O'Shaughnessy, P. J. Williams, J. (Glamorgan)
Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry O'Shee, James John Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)
Hayden, John Patrick O'Sullivan, Timothy Williamson, Sir A.
Hayward, Evan Outhwaite, R. L. Wilson, Hon. G. G. (Hull, W.)
Hazieton, Richard (Galway, N.) Parker, James (Halifax) Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Helme, Sir Norval Watson Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek) Winfrey, Richard
Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Pearson, Hon. Weetman H. M. Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glas.)
Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W) Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham) Young, Samuel (Cavan, E.)
Henry, Sir Charles Philipps, Col. Ivor (Southampton) Young, William (Perth, East)
Higham, John Sharp Phillips, John (Longford, S.) Yoxall, Sir James Henry
Hinds, John Pirie, Duncan V.
Hodge, John Pointer, Joseph TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.
Hogge, James Myles Pollard, Sir George H. King and Mr. Booth.

Motion made and Question, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Police Acts, 1839 to 1909" [Sir Charles Schwann]—put, and agreed to.