HC Deb 28 March 1919 vol 114 cc833-6

Resolution further considered in Committee.

[Mr. RAWLINSON in the Chair.]

Question again proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."


I was giving an example of the difficulty of estimating how much money would be required. In connection with the pooling of wagons, there are 700,000 privately-owned wagons in this country of the value, probably, of from £80 to £100 each. It is possible that a large proportion of those could be used, and therefore it would be necessary, in order to effect the economies in working, to use powers to purchase those wagons in order to apply those economies at once. It is the same with regard to the permanent way. We all know that the permanent ways have got into great disrepair, and it may be that urgent repairs would be required which the companies are not financially in a position to carry out, and large sums of money may have to be advanced. Those moneys are all secured. The wagons would be the property of the Government and would afford a return, and, in the other case, if through the expenditure of public money a railway undertaking is improved the railway has to refund that money spent on the improvement. I do feel that the difficulties of giving a proper estimate or fixing a limited sum are much greater than the House at present appreciates, and I think the dangers which have been indicated are really far less than those who have suggested them believe, but I cannot be blind to the fact that there is a very strong feeling among those who have taken the trouble to come here that this is a matter which requires more careful consideration. I appreciate that, and while it would have been a matter of great satisfaction to us to have got this matter through this afternoon, at the same time I cannot act in absolute defiance of the freely expressed view of the large majority of those who are present this afternoon. Therefore, with the permission of the House, I will agree to the suggestion that we should report Progress, in order to give an opportunity, and an opportunity I hope to both sides, to those who support this Motion and to those who oppose it, for consideration, and I trust that the result will be that the opponents of this Money Resolution will see that their fears are really groundless, and that what they ask is more than is reasonably possible. I hope we may take the Resolution again on Monday.


I am glad my right hon. Friend has acceded to this Motion. I would like to point out to those who have been opposing it that their fears in regard to stopping the progress of the Bill are entirely unfounded, because the Bill can go on without reference to the Resolution. I am certain that in view of the very powerful body of opinion, not only in numbers, but in influence and status of Members behind this Motion, that the Government will be very well advised to meet the opinion expressed in the Amendment which is before the Committee.


As this is a very serious matter, will the right hon. Gentleman not consider, before it again comes before the Committee, whether there is not some method of laying down in regard to any expenditure over a certain amount, that they should ask the House by Resolution whether or not it is its opinion that such expenditure should take place. That would get rid of all that has been said as to the possibility of having to spend this or that. The House will never refuse an expenditure if it is put in possession of facts and figures that show care and thought and good reasons for the expenditure, but a Bill in which the right hon. Gentleman can establish au electric line of railway or a line of steamers without coming to this House is so preposterous that I do not think the Committee would ever agree to such a wide power. Therefore, I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether there is not some way by which the House could be allowed to maintain some sort of control over this large expenditure.


I heartily support what has been said by my right hon. and learned Friend opposite. I was one of the Members who put down the Resolution, and our object was to limit capital expenditure. We recognise the difficulty of making a general estimate which would be in any degree reliable. The confusion existing is financial confusion and no other. The two points raised are that the Treasury should not sanction issues on capital account unless they have a complete estimate of the amount to be spent out of capital account on a particular undertaking. The second one is that capital expenditure on new undertakings should be limited to a certain sum named. My Friends are not in any way particularly enamoured of the sum of £250,000. What we are concerned about is the principle of putting down a sum. If the discussion this afternoon does result in the House asserting some control over these Money Resolutions, some service will have been done.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not accept any Resolution limiting new undertakings to such a small sum. The necessary work in the development of the transport of the country will involve very considerable expenditure if agriculture, for instance, is to receive the benefits that are promised. And so in the matter of new undertakings, I would place no limit, or, at any rate, a large limit. But when I come to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman opposite with regard to the impossibility of furnishing estimates, it leaves me quite cold. Whether it be in the matter of an estimate for taking over railway wagons, or for the cost of repairing or reconstructing the permanent way, there is no difficulty whatever to any practical man in preparing an estimate for that purpose, and there is no operation, so far as I know, on public works—and I have spent the greater part of my life on public works—that is not capable of being prefaced by an estimate of the cost of the same. To that extent, I fail to grasp the right hon. Gentleman's views as to the impossibility of framing estimates.


I only rise to thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for acceding to my proposal to report Progress. In doing so, he has carried out the obvious wish of the great majority who are here to consider this Resolution today, and I am sure the Government will lose no further time in making progress with this measure.


The right hon. Gentleman has overlooked having promised to deal with the suggestion I made in the direction of taking a fairly liberal Vote on Account, and subsequently coming to this House with Estimates.


I thought I had said that would be a matter which we would consider when considering the whole question. I could not offer any opinion to-day.


When this comes before the Committee again, may I suggest that this is a matter on which the Government should pronounce some definite opinion, either in that direction or as regards enabling the House to control future expenditure by fixed amounts?

Question put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.