HC Deb 23 February 1915 vol 70 cc230-2

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £441 13s. 9d., be granted to His Majesty, to make, good an excess on the Grant for International Exhibitions for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1914."


This is an excess expenditure brought before the House for its approval in accordance with the usual custom. It arises on the year 1913–14 owing to a mistake which was made in one of the Government offices, where mistakes, although they happen very rarely, do happen sometimes. It is the rule that when any Department spends more money on any Vote than has been granted in the Supplementary Estimates for the year, the matter must be brought before the Public Accounts Committee before it can be brought before the House. This matter has accordingly been brought before the Public Accounts Committee, which has reported that it sees no objection to the sum being provided by an excess Vote. I believe they have been into the matter quite carefully and they have pointed out, what the Treasury certainly pointed out with considerable force, that it was very regrettable that mistakes of this kind should be made. It was clearly and simply a mistake, I suppose owing to someone forgetting to charge certain items which had been paid under the proper sub-head. As it has been brought fully before the Public Accounts Committee and they report that they see no objection to the sum being provided, it perhaps may be wise and desirable that the House should accept the Public Accounts Committee's Report on the matter, and therefore approve an Excess Vote, so that it may be included in the Consolidated Fund Bill.


I think this is extremely serious, because it does not apply all round. I have in my mind at the moment a circumstance which happened to a man who is now serving in the King's Army: £100 was credited to his account through the War Office bankers, out of which he immediately spent £50 in providing instruments for the band of the battalion to which he was attached. The War Office discovered that it had made a mistake, and announced to the bankers that he only ought to have £50 instead of £100, and they refused him the £50 which he spent on the instruments. Here is a Department which does the same kind of thing, and the hon. Gentleman asks us to make good the mistake that his Department has fallen into. I do not see why we should make good to a Department of the State what we refuse to make good to an individual, who is as much entitled to be repaid as the Department.


There is no question of any payment having been made which was not a right payment to make. It is only a question of its having been made in the wrong year, so to speak. Authority for the spending of it was not obtained in the year for which it should have been obtained. No money has been paid which ought not to have been paid, and therefore there seems to me to be no parallelism with the case which my hon. Friend has mentioned.


I am sorry the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) is not in his place. I do not think we can accept a doctrine like that. Surely this is unauthorised expenditure. I certainly think the rule is a very healthy one to make each Department stand on its own revenue and expenditure. You may say it was sanctioned in the wrong year, but the expenditure was unauthorised at the time it took place. It is frankly owned and it may be allowed to be put right, but let us not admit a principle which is contrary to all the Standing Orders and customs.


As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I may say what really happened in regard to the matter. As I understood the question, it was simply a mistake in the matter of the Estimate. The expenditure has been sanctioned as part of the Grant for the exhibitions, but it was supposed there would be enough money left over from the Ghent Exhibition to pay all that was required under this Vote. It was afterwards found that the surplus estimated for from the exhibition was less than the expenditure, and therefore there was a small excess expenditure, but the whole expenditure made on these exhibitions has been sanctioned by the House, and that was the reason which influenced the Public Accounts Committee to recommend the House to accept this Excess Vote.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported to-morrow (Wednesday); Committee to sit again Tomorrow.