HC Deb 27 February 1919 vol 112 cc2027-30

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £150,000, 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, 1919, for His Majesty's Foreign and other Secret Services.


I regret to say that this is the seventh time I have had to stand at this Box, and introduce a Supplementary Estimate in connection with this Vote. Why I used the words "I regret" is that the expenditure of this particular Vote is withheld from me. The Vote, by its name, is a secret Vote. The Committee of the House of Commons, by sanctioning the passing of the Vote under the title it bears, surrenders its claim to inquire into the purposes for which the money is issued. It may, however, be of interest to new Members amongst us to know that no money is parted with under this Vote except under a certificate from a responsible Minister of State to the effect that the money has been properly expended, and that certificate is examined and certified by the Controller and Auditor-General, who reports in due course that he has satisfied himself and the Public Accounts Committee as to the authenticity of the payment. I may also say that in this Vote any money not expended at the expiration of the financial year, 31st March, is surrendered to the Exchequer. I noticed that in last July, when I introduced the first Supplementary Vote for half a million pounds I said, that, although I hoped that that sum might be sufficient for the latter part of the year, I could give no undertaking that it would be so, for it might be necessary to introduce a further Supplementary Vote. Such a proceeding is not a matter for surprise when one considers the period through which we have passed, nor that this Vote is a large one. There may be some satisfaction in hoping and feeling that this may be the last time on which I shall have to introduce a Vote of this dimension.


Probably the hon. Gentleman will remember that in the course of the life of the last Parliament, during the period of the War, there were many rumours current regarding the employment of spies in our workshops and in our industrial centres. Can he tell us that none of this money is being used to-day, for the purposes then stated, in connection with industrial purposes and industrial unrest?


We have already been told that we cannot get special details. There are many items, no doubt, which are justly and properly expended in a Vote of this character. One cannot but express a profound sense of disappointment at the ever-increasing demands from time to time, yet one cannot very well press the point for some information. I think, however, one is justified in expressing the desire that this will be certainly the last, for a considerable time to come, of any further demands upon the taxpayers of this country for a Secret Service system.


I fully sympathise with the remarks of my hon. Friends opposite. As to the point put to me by my hon. Friend opposite, the reason I am unable to answer him is that I have absolutely no knowledge of the question, or as to where the Secret Service money goes. That is not within my province. I should, however, like, very earnestly, to point out this, that there is nothing easier than to make allegations as to where the Secret Service money does go, because confirmation one way or another cannot be given. If it were possible for me to stand up here and to explain in a measure where Secret Service money is expended, then, by a process of exhaustion, hon. Members would be able to find out exactly what it is meant they should not find out. Questions might be asked as to whether the money was used for this, that, or the other, and thus particulars might come out. I myself feel perfectly confident as an individual that no use of the kind suggested by the hon. Member is ever made in this country.


Only in Ireland!


It is against the spirit of our people. Last year the hon. Member for East Mayo made a number of charges, but I do not believe such practices as suggested would be sanctioned by any of the Ministers who have the spending of the money. I give that as a personal opinion. It may be that I have said too much. I only hope, however, that hon. Members will realise what this Vote is—that it is one upon which money is granted under the age-long practice of this House, and that rumours of all kinds may be raised reflecting upon the Executive which the Executive, from their very position, are not able to contradict.