HC Deb 11 June 1913 vol 53 cc1743-51

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. MACLEAN in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it is expedient to authorise the issue out of the Consolidated Fund of such sums, not exceeding one million one hundred thousand pounds, as may be required for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to enable the Postmaster-General to construct, for the purposes of the Post Office, certain underground Railways and other works in London, and for purposes in connection with such Railways and works; and of authorising the Treasury to borrow money by means of Exchequer Bonds or terminable annuities, such annuities to be paid out of moneys to be provided by Parliament and, if those moneys are insufficient, out of the Consolidated Fund."—[Mr. Herbert Samuel]


Before the termination of the previous discussion, I was unable to raise a point with regard to the finance of this Bill. I do not think it is a wise proceeding for the Resolution to give so much in excess, of what is estimated to be the cost of the railway. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General says he does not wish to come before the House in another year in case this amount may be exceeded. That is a reason for putting a direct, estimate, such as any business firm would have. He suggests that a certain amount should be allowed for contingencies. I should have thought that the practical precedent of a business firm would have been an excellent idea to follow. We are always accustomed to have estimates from the engineer or the manager when we sanction expenditure on work of this description, and in framing that estimate it is a most excellent check upon the engineer or the manager to know that he will need to come before the board or the heads of the firm, in case he has made a wrong estimate. As a matter of fact what we are now proposing to do is to give a margin of £140,000 for the Post Office Railway. That does not conduce to either exact estimates or economical expenditure. I think that is a margin of considerably over 10 per cent. I really cannot see that there is much force in the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, and I would appeal to him whether he is not prepared to sanction a smaller sum. I should have thought if the estimate came to £960,000 that £1,000,000 would be a reasonable amount to ask. It is that extra £100,000 which we are asked to vote which leads to mischief in the expenditure of money. I am very sorry there is really no Opposition in this House to criticise the Government proposals. It is not at all a congenial thing to me, whatever it may be to other hon. Members, to intervene in this matter. I have patiently listened for two years, and I have not intervened in a matter of this kind. I have come to the conclusion that the Opposition is apparently broken spirited, and it is quite unequal to its task and prefers scampering about the country instead of remaining here and subjecting the Government estimates to severe criticism. I do not say the Opposition ought always to oppose a measure because it is brought in by the Government, but it should be their duty to attack a proposal like this and show up its weakness and ask for safeguards. They take part in Tariff Reform dinners, and while this Bill was before the House they were conspicuous by their absence. Under those circumstances, as this Opposition has forgotten that it is the duty of an Opposition to oppose and criticise the expenditure of large sums of money, I make an appeal, and suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should see his way in the interests of economy and efficient administration to reduce this sum from £1,100,000 to the round million.


I am glad to find that the hon. Gentleman has begun to realise that the more popular attitude to adopt in the country is now to oppose the Government rather than to support it. He has got up to support a proposal, and I have great pleasure in supporting it, that it is in the interests of economy to vote for the reduction of this sum by £100,000. That is a very desirable thing for any Radical Member to propose, and I have very great pleasure in supporting him.

The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)

I do not know what the Motion of the hon. Member is. It has not been moved.


I beg to move as an Amendment to leave out the words "one hundred thousand."

Year after year we are asked to vote large sums of money without having proper time for discussion. What has happened with regard to the Post Office itself? The Post Office Vote has not been sanctioned for the current year. It was discussed for two or three hours, then a private Bill came on. At eleven o'clock no vote was taken, and I do not suppose that we shall have any further opportunity of discussing the matter. The evil of granting these large sums as margin is simply that the tendency on the part of engineers and architects is always to work up to the maximum. We have seen that year after year in the Estimates. A Vote for £1,000,000, which I consider too large, ought to be quite sufficient. That would give a margin, and the Department could come for the balance, if necessary. I object to the money being borrowed instead of provided out of the revenue of the year. We were told on the Post Office Vote that the right hon. Gentleman had not a shilling for the breakdown in Scotland, and he now comes forward with a proposal not only for £1,000,000, but for a margin of £140,000. For Scotland he does not care; for London a million and a half is nothing, although there is no breakdown in London, and there is a great breakdown in Scotland, involving serious loss to the commercial community every year. I do not think that it is fair or right that a Bill of this importance should be passed under the Closure, and then that we should be asked to raise this money on loan. That is a most dangerous form of expenditure, and one which when indulged in by the other side we repudiated, although we are now tumbling into it ourselves. If the Government will meet Scotland in a fair way, I am willing to come to a bargain. But I protest solemnly against voting a shilling more than is needed.


What does the hon. Member move? The only ques- tion before the Committee is the question that I have read. The hon. Member for Tewkesbury did not answer my inquiry as to what his Motion was.


I was under the impression that the hon. Member for Pontefract had moved a reduction of £100,000. If he did not, I shall have very great pleasure in doing so.


I take it the hon. Member (Mr. J. M. Henderson) moves to leave out the words, "one hundred thousand."


The hon. Member, who, like the hon. Member for Pontefract, gets up in this House—for he really was the Mover of the Amendment—and says, as a business man, that it is wrong to give the Post Office a 10 per cent. margin on a big contract, takes an inadequate view of the situation. I always double estimates, and then have a 30 per cent. margin. The Postmaster-General should ask for at least 30 per cent. margin.


I want to support the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. M. Henderson). One labours under some kind of misunderstanding, as a private Member, as to how business is got through here. I was always under the impression that His Majesty's Opposition were opposed to this great expenditure of money, and here we find them quite docilely agreeing to this expenditure of money of over a million pounds. The money might serve a very much better purpose than is suggested. We have only certain occasions when we can make our requests known to the Government—either by deputation or in this House. The Scottish demand is a very simple one.


Is it in order to discuss a Scottish demand on a Motion for the provision of a tunnel in London?


That is the first sentence in which the words "Scottish demand" occur.


I am very much obliged to the premature interruption of a private secretary of the Ministerial Bench. On the few occasions on which they do speak in this House it is to support the Front Bench. Our suggestion is that this money, this million odd, is more than is required for the purpose on the statement of the Postmaster-General himself, and we suggest to him that, instead of being used in that way, it would be better that at all events a portion of it should be used on another part of the postal service. We have a continuous recurrence of a situation which is alarming to the commercial portion of the community in Scotland. I do not know whether Members of the Front Bench confine their reading entirely to London newspapers, but if they look at the Scottish rack in the News Room they would find there complaints over and over again from the community in Scotland interested in the development of the postal service, which should be continuous, and for which the Government make—


The hon. Member cannot air a Scottish grievance on the Question before the House.


I was coming to the point. We must bear in mind that everybody does not require this enormous margin. I suggest to the Postmaster-General there is no great hurry for getting this money to-night. He can come back to this House again after he spends the million—that is a large enough sum to play with—and if he makes out as good a case for the spending of the margin as he has made for the spending of the million no one will grudge him that sum. And, in addition, we shall have the opinion of the Estimates Committee, which will guard against anything that might otherwise require to be criticised. We will then be in a better position to judge, and probably by that time he will have money for meeting Scottish opinion.


I wish I could see my way to accept the suggestions made by hon. Members from Scotland, and so to economise so as to provide £100,000 for underground cables to Aberdeen. But I am afraid such a suggestion would not be accepted in the interests of the tax

payers. The answers to the complaints of hon. Members was supplied by the hon. Baronet the Member for Mansfield, who pointed out that in any transaction of this character it is necessary to have a certain margin for safety. Estimates have been prepared by an exceedingly competent engineer, Mr. Dalrymple-Hay, who was called in as consulting engineer in consultation with the Post Office engineering staff. The work will be done by contract and will be put out to tender. Until the engineer ascertains the tender he cannot tell with any certainty, but it is necessary to have a sufficient margin. We cannot accept the suggestion that we ought to ask Parliament only for the precise sum, and then come back for a further Grant, because we should be unable to accept the tender in the first instance supposing that the amount of the tender was a larger sum than the engineer estimated it probably would be. This is not a question of merely voting money. A Bill has to be passed for dealing with money of this character. You cannot come to this House of Commons and put down the amount on the Estimates. One has to have a Bill for the issue of annuities of this character which must pass through all its stages, and must have a money Resolution subject to considerable discussion. I am quite certain the House would object and would condemn me roundly if after a year I came back and said I was very sorry that the money I asked for in 1913 was inadequate and I must now ask for another £80,000 or £100,000. For this reason I trust the Committee will agree it is a sound businesslike proposal, not merely to take the close estimate made by the engineers, but to allow a safe margin.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 262; Noes, 42.

Division No. 111.] AYES. [10.55 P.M.
Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour) Beauchamp, Sir Edward Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)
Acland, Francis Dyke Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth) Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred
Agg-Gardner, James Tynte Bentham, George Jackson Carr-Gomm, H. W.
Agnew, Sir George William Bird, Alfred Cassel, Felix
Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire) Black, Arthur W. Cave, George
Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud) Blair, Reginald Cawley, Harold T. (Lancs., Heywood)
Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury, E.) Boland, John Pius Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Boles, Lieut.-Colonel Dennis Fortescue Chapple, Dr. William Allen
Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple) Booth, Frederick Handel Clancy, John Joseph
Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset) Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North) Clough, William
Barnes, George N. Brace, William Clynes, John R.
Barnston, Harry Brady, Patrick Joseph Collins, G. P. (Greenock)
Barran, Rowland Hurst (Leeds, N.) Brocklehurst, W. B. Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.
Barton, William Brunner. John F. L. Condon, Thomas Joseph
Bathurst, Charles (Wilts, Wilton) Burns, Rt. Hon. John Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.
Cotton, William Francis Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth) Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)
Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe) Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East) Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)
Crichton-Stuart, Lord Ninian Jones, Leif Stratten (Notts, Rushcliffe) Primrose, Hon. Neil Jame
Crooks, William Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney) Radford, G. H.
Crumley, Patrick Joyce, Michael Raffan, Peter Wilson
Cullinan, John Keating, Matthew Rawson, Colonel R. H.
Davies, Ellis William (Eifion) Kelly, Edward Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)
Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth) Kilbride, Denis Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)
Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.) King, Joseph Reddy, Michael
Dawes, J. A. Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade) Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Delany, William Lane-Fox, G. R. Redmond, William (Clare, E.)
Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas Lardner, James C. R. Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)
Denniss, E. R. B. Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rld, Cockerm'th) Randall, Athelstan
Devlin, Joseph Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert Richards, Thomas
Dillon, John Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury) Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)
Donelan, Captain A. Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsey) Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Doris, William Lundon, Thomas Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)
Duffy, William J. Lynch, A. A. Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Macdonald. J. Ramsay (Leicester) Robinson, Sidney
Duncan, J. Hastings (Yorks, Otley) Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs) Roche, Augustine (Louth)
Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor) McGhee, Richard Roe, Sir Thomas
Edwards, John Hugh (Glamorgan, Mid) Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J. Rowlands, James
Elverston, Sir Harold MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South) Rowntree, Arnold
Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.) MacVeagh, Jeremiah Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.
Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.) M'Callum, Sir John M. Salter, Arthur Clavell
Esslemont, George Birnie McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)
Falconer, James M'Laren, Hon. F.W.S. (Lincs., Spalding) Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Farrell, James Patrick Manfield, Harry Sanders, Robert Arthur
Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles Markham, Sir Arthur Basil Scanlan, Thomas
Ffrench, Peter Marks, Sir George Croydon Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)
Field, William Marshall, Arthur Harold Seely, Rt. Hon. Colonel J. E. B.
Fitzgibbon, John Mason, James F. (Windsor) Sheehy, David
Flavin, Michael Joseph Meagher, Michael Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook
Furness, Sir Stephen Wilson Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.) Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)
Gelder, Sir W. A. Meehan, Patrick 1. (Queen's Co., Leix) Soames, Arthur Wellesley
Gill, A. H. Middlebrook, William Stanier, Beville
Gladstone, W. G. C. Molloy, Michael Stanley, Albert (Staffs, N.W.)
Glanville, H. J. Molteno, Percy Alport Starkey, John Ralph
Goldstone, Frank Money, L. G. Chiozza Steel-Maitland, A. D.
Gordon, Hon. John Edward (Brighton) Morgan, George Hay Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)
Grant, J. A. Morrison-Bell, Capt. E. F. (Ashburton) Sutherland, John E.
Greig, Colonel J. W. Morison, Hector Sutton, John E.
Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.) Muldoon, John Talbot, Lord Edmund
Guinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury S. Edmunds) Munro, Robert Taylor, John W. (Durham)
Gulland, John William Murphy, Martin J. Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)
Hackett, John Neilson, Francis Taylor, Thomas (Bolton)
Haddock, George Bahr Newton, Harry Kottingham Thomas, James Henry
Hall, Frederick (Dulwich) Nolan, Joseph Thorne, O. R. (Wolverhampton)
Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham) Norton, Captain Cecil W. Toulmin, Sir George
Hardie, J. Keir Nuttall, Harry Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander
Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire) O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.) Verney, Sir Harry
Harvey, A G. C. (Rochdale) O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Walrond, Hon. Lionel
Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West) O'Doherty, Philip Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)
Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N.E.) O'Donnell, Thomas Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay
Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry O'Dowd, John Webb, H.
Hayden, John Patrick O'Grady, James Weston, Colonel J. W.
Hazleton, Richard O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.) Whaler, Granville C. H.
Henderson, Arthur (Durham) O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.) White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Henry, Sir Charles O'Shaughnessy, P J. White, Patrick (Meath, North)
Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, S.) O'Shee, James John Whitehouse, John Howard
Hibbert, Sir Henry F. O'Sullivan, Timothy Whyte, A. F. (Perth)
Higham, John Sharp Outhwaite, R. L. Williamson, Sir Archibald
Hills, John Waller Palmer, Godfrey Mark Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)
Hodge, John Parker, James (Halifax) Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Holmes, Daniel Turner Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek) Winfrey, Richard
Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington) Wing, Thomas
Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Peel, Lieut.-Colonel R. F. Yate, Colonel C. E.
Hughes, Spencer Leigh Perkins, Walter F. Young, William (Perthshire, East)
Illineworth, Percy H. Peto, Basil Edward Yoxall, Sir James Henry
Ingleby, Holcombe Phillips, John (Longford, S.)
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. Sir Rufus Pointer, Joseph TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.
Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East) Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H. Wedgwood Benn and Mr. W. Jones.
Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)
Adamson, William Bowerman, Charles W. Dairymple, Viscount
Anstruther-Gray, Major William Boyton, James Daziel[...], Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)
Ashley, Wilfrid W. Bryce, J. Annan Denison-Pender, J. C.
Baird, John Lawrence Campbell, Captain Duncan F. (Ayr, N.) Doughty, Sir George
Barlow, Montague (Salford, South) Clive, Captain Percy Archer Fell, Arthur
Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks Cooper, Richard Ashmole Fletcher, John Samuel (Hampstead)
Beckett, Hon. Gervase Craik, Sir Henry Gibbs, George Abraham
Goldsmith, Frank Malcolm, Ian Skyes, Sir Mark (Hull, Central)
Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight) Martin, Joseph Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)
Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) Newman, John R. P. Touche, George Alexander
Helmsley, Viscount Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central) Watt, Henry Anderson
Hope, Harry (Bute) Pringle, William M. R. Wood, John (Stalybridge)
Hope, Major J. A. (Midlothian) Remnant, James Farquharson
Kyffin-Taylor, G. Staveley-Hill, Henry TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr
Lewisham, Viscount Stewart, Gershom J. M. Henderson and Mr. J. Hogge.

Question put, and agreed to. Adjourned accordingly at Thirteen minutes after Eleven o'clock.

Main Question put, and agreed to; Resolution to be reported To-morrow (Thursday).