§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £344, 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, 1917, for Criminal Prosecutions and other Law Charges in Ireland, including a Grant in relief of certain Expenses payable by Statute out of Local Rates."541
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I most strongly object to this Vote, and I will tell the Committee why. If the Committee will do me the honour of looking at the bottom of the Paper, they will see that the £344 is theamount required to meet the sum recommended for disallowance by the Public Accounts Committee in their first Report, 1916,in respect of the maintenance of certain Crown witnesses, which it is not proposed to recover from the officers concerned. Of a total expenditure of £550 7s. 8d., £207 0s. 11d. has been authorised as properly payable, leaving £343 6s. 9d. to be made good.Here we have a matter of principle. Here is a charge which the Public Accounts Committee say ought not to be borne by the public and ought to be borne by certain individuals. Some unknown person in the Government recommends that only £344 of this amount should be made good by the public. What is the use of having the Public Accounts Committee at all if their recommendations are going to be overridden by some Government official—I presume it is a permanent official—in this way? We might just as well have no Comptroller and Auditor-General or no Public Accounts Committee at all. At present the Public Accounts Committee is of very little use, and it always reports on things that are dead and gone. This is a matter of principle. The Public Accounts Committee have recommended that certain charges should not be borne by the public, and here the Government comes and asks us to override the Committee. May I ask hon. Members to bear with me while I read the Report of the Public Accounts Committee for 1916, and I think, after they have heard it, they will agree that the Public Accounts Committee are perfectly correct, and that we should not in any circumstances agree to this Vote. In their first Report for 1916 the Public Accounts Committee, who, we all know, are extremely painstaking and do their best to get at the bottom of things under extremely difficult circumstances, say:The Comptroller and Auditor-General drew attention to the following facts.That means to say that not only is the Public Accounts Committee overridden by this Vote, but the Comptroller and Auditor-General, who is put there to see that there is no extravagance. The Report reads:The Comptroller and Auditor-General drew attention to the fact that the Treasury had declined to give covering sanction for an expenditure of £550 7s. 8d. (being the cost incurred on behalf of five Crown witnesses in a certain trial) on account of the excessive scale of the payments made, having regard to the class 542 of persons to which the witnesses belonged, and that, therefore, he was unable to report that this sum was properly chargeable against the Vote.Here is what happened:It appears that the charges were first incurred ill the month of July, 15, and lasted until December, but although the Irish Office was aware in August that this expenditure was being incurred, it was not until the beginning of November that a newly appointed Accounting Officer for the Vote drew the attention of the Attorney-General for Ireland to the extravagant rate of the allowances with a view to a reduction being effected.Now this is the most extraordinary part of the Report of the Public Accounts Committee:The Attorney-General informed him that he had decided not to proceed with the case, so that the expenditure would shortly cease, but that in the meantime the present arrangements must continue, and this was accepted by the Accounting Officer without further action. In view, however, of the decision arrived at in 1889 on a somewhat similar case, that Treasury sanction should be sought for exceptional expenditure of this kind, the Comptroller and Auditor-General, when these charges were brought under his audit, requested the Accounting Officer to obtain the covering approval of the Treasury. This was then applied for, but refused on the grounds that the Treasury were dissatisfied with the excessive scales of payments and with the delay in bringing the matter to their notice. Your Committee, after taking evidence, are of opinion that the scale of payment was extravagantly high, and regret the delay in referring the matter to the Treasury. They, therefore, disallow any amounts beyond those authorised by the Treasury.The Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Public Accounts Committee recommended that a certain sum should not be paid by the public and that it should be borne by the individuals who sanctioned this high rate of payment. We are now voting Supplementary Estimates, and the Government come down and override those expressly put there to safeguard expenditure. There may be a very good explanation, and the Chief Secretary may be able to say that the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Public Accounts Committee think that this is the best course to take. I suggest, however, that the wisest thing to do is that we should have some explanation of this Vote.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
It is a most serious thing for the representatives of Irish Government to support a Vote of this kind, and I think the House should divide upon it. It is objectionable upon all the grounds stated by the hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley). It is a most serious thing to ask this Committee to pass a Vote sanctioning the payment out of public funds of a sum of money which the Public Accounts Committee deliberately after hearing evidence have surcharged against the officers responsible in Ireland. My hon. Friend is thoroughly justified not only in calling the attention of the Chief 543 Secretary to this matter but in pointing this out as a point of principle of the very first importance. This is a Vote for law charges and criminal prosecutions in Ireland, and in addition to the serious objections raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, I strongly object to this Vote on another ground—namely, the improper way in which criminal prosecutions are being conducted at; the present time in Ireland and to which this Vote applies. We have had in Ireland during the recent past recourse to a method of prosecutions which is most repugnant to the feelings of the overwhelming majority of the people of Ireland——
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)
The hon. Member has noted but apparently has forgotten that this is a Supplementary Estimate and must be confined to the particular items in it and not to the general question of prosecutions in Ireland.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
On the question of the detention of witnesses for prosecutions I think we are entitled to discuss the conduct of the prosecution and the methods of prosecuting.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
On page 12 of this Report we see the reason given for asking for this sum set out in detail, and it is only in connection with that item that debate can arise.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
It is still implying that the items making up the £550 comprise the cost of prosecution, and under that I submit that we are entitled to complain to the Committee of the way in which criminal prosecutions are being conducted in Ireland at the present time.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
That is the general point, and the hon. Member must confine himself to the item with which the Supplementary Estimate is concerned.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
There is a series of items making up this sum, and the first is £340. What is if? I merely ask in a rhetorical way, and I am sure, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, you will not blame me for calling your attention to this, in order to put my point. The Estimate says, "amount required to meet the sum recommended for disallowance by the Public Accounts Committee in their first Report, 1916, in respect of the maintenance of certain Crown witnesses, which it is not proposed to recover from the officers concerned." 544 This surely is in connection with prosecutions in Ireland.
§ Mr. DUKE
On a question of Order. I wish to point out that the hon. Member for Blackpool stated what this matter is. This item is to meet the disallowance of certain expenses in one prosecution, on the ground that the scale sanctioned was an excessive scale, and there was no-Treasury sanction for that scale. Therefore it became irregular for the reasons stated by the hon. Member for Blackpool, and I submit that that alone is the question before the Committee.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
On that point I accept the ruling of the Chair coupled with the explanation of the Chief Secretary, although in the terms in which this Supplementary Vote is asked for I think it is clear that the conduct of the prosecution by officers who took upon themselves to make charges which the Treasury disallow and which the Public Accounts Committee-condemn involves the consideration by this Committee of the conduct of the official responsible. It was in that respect that I meant to raise the much more serious question of the introduction of coercion into the prosecution in Ireland. However, I bow to the ruling of the Chair, and I submit in conclusion that it is most unreasonable to ask the Committee to pass a Vote for a sum even so small as this which has been disallowed after the fullest investigation and consideration by the Public Accounts Committee.
§ Mr. FIELD
In paragraph 10 of the First Report of the Public Accounts-Committee, it says:—The Committee, after taking evidence, are of opinion that the scale of payment is extravagantly high, and regret the delay in referring the matter to the Treasury. They, therefore, disallow any amounts but those authorised by the Treasury.I am not going to dispute the ruling of the Chair on the point raised by the hon. Member for North Sligo (Mr. Scanlan), but I want to emphasise the point brought forward by the hon. Member for Blackpool. The Chief Secretary for Ireland is about to take up an extraordinary position. The Public Accounts Committee was appointed by the Government in order to safeguard this House from any undue extravagance in public payments. Here we are solemnly asked by the head of the Government in Ireland to do—what? To override and condemn the very Committee appointed by this House in order to safeguard public expenditure. If that position was taken up by any of my hon. 545 Friends who represent Ireland it would amount almost to disloyalty, but apparently it is a perfectly correct act because certain permanent officials in Ireland, and also certain removable officials in Ireland, take another view. I would urge the Chief Secretary not to give us a bad example in this respect. I am perfectly serious, because I have studied this question of the Public Accounts Committee, and so far as I can understand it the Public Accounts Committee is really the only body in this House that goes carefully into expenditure. Nevertheless, we are asked now by a responsible authority of the Government to disregard the findings of that Committee. This House has practically no control over financial matters, because the Government bring in their measures, and, having their majority behind them, we have got to pass those measures. The private Members have really no control over expenditure, and the result is that the only safeguard we have in this House in regard to the expenditure of money is the Public Accounts Committee. It is, therefore, strange that we are asked now to override that authority. It is a transaction that is unworthy of the occupants of the Front Bench, unless they have an explanation which has not been given.
§ Mr. DUKE
My hon. Friend has distributed his censure in advance, upon the supposition that there can be no explanation of this transaction. I think I can give him a statement which will show that what has taken place was, under the circumstances that exist, inevitable. The Public Accounts Committee disallowed certain expenses of a particular prosecution on the ground that they had not been sanctioned by the Treasury, and that in the opinion of the Public Accounts Committee they were at an extravagant rate. The administration in Ireland accepted that view, and the Treasury accepted that view, and they thought that if it were practicable to recover these moneys, that should be done, and in that event this supplementary sum would not have been asked for. What had happened in the case in question was that upon the authority of the Attorney-General for Ireland at the time—it was at the end of 1014 and the beginning of 1915, so hon. Members will be able to recall who was the Attorney-General—who was the public officer ordinarily exercising authority, certain payments were made out of public moneys by subordinate persons 546 who had no discretion as to whether or not they should obey the order. They were payments which were held to be on an extravagant scale for the maintenance and so forth of a body of witnesses.
§ Mr. DUKE
It was the trial of a case of the King v, Ryan and Another. The actual character of it I do not know, but it was a case where there was a body of witnesses, and expenses were incurred for a very considerable time, and on a scale against which the Treasury officials protested. When it came to the notice of the representative of the Treasury in Ireland, and the late Under-Secretary, Sir Matthew Nathan, the scale was thought to be inordinate. The Treasury disallowed the expenses, and thought they should be recovered from those who were responsible for the payment of them. The Treasury has found that the sum is irrecoverable. The Committee will not expect me to go into great details as to the circumstances. Here was a censure upon a dead man, who ceased by his death to be in the public service, and in the circumstances that exist the sum cannot be recovered, and the Treasury is satisfied that the sum cannot be recovered. What is to be done in that special case? There are certain public funds necessary for the administration of government in Ireland, and properly necessary, and being safeguarded by responsibility which is accentuated by the formal refusal of the Treasury to give its sanction to the expenditure and by the decision of the Public Accounts Committee disallowing it. The question is whether the balance in this fund, which has been depleted by an expenditure which the Treasury is satisfied is incapable of recovery, shall or shall not be made good. Though this does seem like a palliation of the matter complained of, and a disregard of the action by the Public Accounts Committee, it is nothing of the kind. It is necessary for the purpose of carrying on police administration in Ireland that there must be certain balances available, and to make good a deficit which the Treasury is satisfied cannot be recovered, and which the Treasury officials who procured this censure upon members of the Irish administration have found cannot be recovered. I think with that explanation the Committee will see there is no impropriety in the inclusion of this sum in the Estimate.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
So far as I am concerned, I am thoroughly satisfied with the explanation given. I think the right hon. Gentleman has made out his ease very properly, and I think the Vote should be allowed.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I agree entirely that as the officer concerned is dead we must accept this suggestion as regards him, but if hon. Members will look at the Report of the Public Accounts Committee, they will see great laxity of administration in the Irish Office, not only on the part of the Attorney-General. All through the Irish Office itself there was great laxity. The Public Accounts Committee say:It appears that the charges were first incurred in the month of July and lasted until December, but although the Irish Office—not the Attorney General, be it noted—was aware in August that this expenditure was being incurred, it was not until the beginning of November that a newly appointed Accounting Officer for the Vote drew the attention of the Attorney-General for Ireland to the extravagant rate of the allowance.Therefore, it is not the Attorney-General for Ireland who was primarily responsible, it is the Accounting Officer who is primarily responsible. Has he no money that we could recover from? Has he no estate?
§ Mr. DUKE
The Accounting Officer was included in the censure. Hon. Members who are familiar with the course of business in regard to the administration of justice in Ireland will know that the Attorney-General exercises a very high authority, an authority very much that of the Public Prosecutor. Sir Matthew Nathan, who was Under-Secretary, made a very complete explanation of the course of events which led up to this charge before the Public Accounts Committee, and he traced the process by which these extravagant payments were ascertained and brought to account. Sir Matthew Nathan told the Accounts Committee that the Attorney-General was well within what was understood to be his responsibility in a matter of this kind in directing payments of the expenses of witnesses, and that no subordinate person would have dreamt of questioning such an order as that. Those who know the mode in which legal business is transacted will well understand that if there is a highly responsible officer of he Government who has direction of a matter of this kind, and he certifies that certain payments are payments proper to be made, it is not in the province of a 548 subordinate officer to say, "I shall not make the payments." They were made, prima facie, with excellent authority. I believe the intention was to read a lesson to officers in the care of public money. I think those hon. Members who most properly interested themselves in this matter will be satisfied that the explanation which I have given is one which meets the case.
§ Question put, and agreed to.