Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to examine such of the Estimates presented to this House as may seem fit to the Committee and to report what, if any, economies consistent with the policy implied in those Estimates may be effected therein."— [Colonel Gibbs.]
§ Captain W. BENN
I should like to thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Wilson) for the act of good faith by which he has enabled us to take this Resolution at not too late an hour. The next remark I should like to make is to ask where are the 155 Members of Parliament who signed a petition pledging them to carry out a more rigid control over economy. We have here the most important Motion that has been made in this House for many a long day in the interests of Parliamentary control, but the leader of the Anti-Waste party, the hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. E. Harmsworth), I do not observe ready to take part in the Debate, nor do I observe very many of the signatories of the famous petition that was sent to the Leader of the House. The trouble about the anti-waste campaign is this, that it only exists outside the House of Commons.
§ Captain BENN
With some distinguished exceptions, of course, but why 1491 does it not flourish inside the House of Commons? The first reason is that many Members of this House are pledged to a personal loyalty to the Government owing to the distribution of what are called coupons. My hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Sturrock) is one of the fortunate recipients—
§ Mr. STURROCK
As it affects my political honour, may I say that I am not at all clear that I ever saw a coupon in my life.
§ Captain BENN
Of course I accept immediately what the hon. Gentleman says, but I must say that I am sure somebody will resent the implication that the acceptance of one of these coupons is an aspersion on their honour. The coupon system of election has secured a House of Commons which is a more willing servant of the Executive than any House of Commons we have seen for the last 50 years, and so I do not expect that we shall get a great deal of support for the Amendments which we have put down to-night to try and make the suggestion of the Government for an Estimates Committee a really effective weapon for the Parliamentary control of finance. If the House of Commons is really to tackle the question of the control of finance, there are three points at which the control can be applied. First of all, there is the administration of the Department. The most effective economist in the administrative sense is, of course, the head of the Department, and any reorganisation which should bring more rigidly under review by an experienced officer the expenditure of the Department is a step in the direction of economy. Next comes the control of the Treasury itself. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, if he does his duty faithfully, should be the most unpopular Minister in the House, in the country, and in every other Department of the State.
§ Captain BENN
Yes. The Financial Secretary is merely the watchdog and the executive officer of the Chancellor in this matter, but we find Ministers rising from that bench and explaining to Members, 1492 when pressed to make some expenditure, that they are very sorry but they have been to the Treasury and done their best, and they cannot persuade the Treasury to carry out the recommendation which they have made. How can a Financial Secretary hold his position or a Chancellor maintain his authority if he is liable to a sort of flank attack of that kind from his own colleagues in the House of Commons? One of the recommendations of the very important Committee presided over, I think, by the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), which reported, on this matter two years ago, was that there should be re-established the principle of Cabinet responsibility, that we should get rid of the system under which the Prime Minister was a sort of half President, and Members of the Government or heads of Departments were summoned from time to time to report to him and explain their Departments. If you are to have effective Treasury control you must have a solid Cabinet, each Member of which is responsible for its decisions, and, at any rate, prepared loyally to defend those decisions in the House of Commons.
What is to be the point at which control can be applied in the House of Commons itself? To this end the Standing Orders of the House provide a large number of checks and counter-checks. We have a rule that opposed business cannot be taken after a certain hour, the reason being that Members of Parliament who perform their duties in the afternoon and evening cannot be expected to be in that physical or mental condition at a late hour that will enable them to carry out efficiently the important examination of matters put before them. If we examine the practice of the present Government, however, we will find that they have consistently—I will only take the history of this year—either suspended the Standing Orders, or taken advantage of the loop-holes which exist, to force financial business through the House after proper hours, relying upon the desire of Members to get home. I have often risen to protest against this practice, which is becoming habitual, of taking financial business after 11 o'clock.
I find that on no less than 25 occasions this year alone—I gather from his attitude that in this I shall have the support 1493 of the Leader of the House—very important Resolutions have been passed. There was the grant for housing. There was an immense amount of money connected with the Railway Bill—£60,000,000—which was taken at a very late hour. There was the money for two additional judges appointed. No doubt they were very necessary, but the charge upon the public is considerable. That matter was taken after 11 o'clock. Then we come to the loss of £21,000,000 on the Sugar Commission. That was buried, like a famous general, at dead of night, and the corpse deposited the next morning, so that the least amount of public attention should be paid to this enormous liability which was to fall upon the taxpayer. Bear in mind, too, that this is not a matter in which the taxpayer only is concerned, but also the ratepayer. The Committee recommended that when a Bill is brought forward involving a charge upon the rates—because the heavy incidence of the rates is a big cause of public complaint as also is the great growth of the taxes—that when a Bill of that kind went forward the Government should present to the House an estimate of the possible cost, so that Members should vote with their eyes open. The Leader of the House, however, intimated that a Standing Order must be altered for this to be done, although it is difficult to see how it is necessary for a special Standing Order to be made to enable the Government to lay a White Paper on the Table of the House.
The only real advance that has been made in the ordinary machinery of Parliamentary control in the course of the last two years was the concession made by the late Leader of the House (Mr. Bonar Law) in response to a request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), and following one of the recommendations of the National Expenditure Committee, to which I have referred. The Leader of the House undertook to lay a White Paper showing the probable cost of any money Resolutions laid before the Committee of this House. That has been done, and I think it has been of considerable value to the House. But the present Leader of the House, the right hon. Gentleman opposite, is not a believer in Parliamentary interference in finance. That we know from the answer he gave before the Committee to which 1494 I have referred. Perhaps it would be more convenient in connection with the suggestions I have put down to amend this Resolution to refer to the right hon. Gentleman's own views upon the question. He has gone so far as to say that an Estimates Committee should be set up with a view to examine the Estimates presented to the House, and to report what, if any, economies consistent with the policy implied in those Estimates, may be effected. My hon. and gallant Friend (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) is moving to leave out the words "consistent with the policy implied." I do not know I can support that Amendment, because I am well aware you must leave the policy to be decided to the Cabinet; but I do see considerable danger in the words themselves, because it is possible when the Estimates Committee begin to cross-examine the witnesses from the Department, or the Minister, that the latter will shelter himself behind the words "consistent with the policy," and reduce the deliberations of the Special Committee, and the examination of accounts to little more than—I will not say a farce—but a futility. The result of that would be that the Reports of the Committee which examined the Estimates, when presented to Parliament, and which Members expected would be of assistance in trying to effect economies, would be a shelter for the Government who desired to recommend further expenditure.
There are other omissions from the powers of this Committee which, I think, are of great importance. I shall not make any suggestions of my own. I shall confine myself entirely to the suggestions of the Committee—one of the strongest Committees of this kind ever set up—the Chairman of which was Sir Herbert Samuel. The first thing they said was that if a Committee of this kind had to examine estimates effectively it must have an independent officer. Obviously, the officials of one Department cannot be considered impartial judges in their examination of the expenditure or estimates of that Department. Such an officer would have to be experienced and have to work with that continuity which is essential in work of this kind. What you want is some officer who would be comparable in position and in independence to the Comptroller and Auditor- 1495 General. Not that gentleman, who is fully occupied with an entirely different side of the examination of public expenditure. There is no provision in this Motion for the appointment of any such officer. So far as I can judge there is no power resident in the Committee to appoint an officer of the kind. It seems to me that is a very important omission, and one which the House will be well advised—
§ Captain BENN
The hon. and gallant Gentleman makes an interjection which really is not very germane. If you are going to examine accounts of this kind of the House of Commons with a view to suggest economies you must have an officer of experience to help you to examine and to make your recommendations.
§ Captain BENN
I assume that if you have an officer of experience you will have to pay a salary commensurate with that experience and ability. It would be very poor economy if that were not done.
§ Captain BENN
The interjections of the hon. and gallant Member do not bear examination. Possibly he has never read the Report to which I have referred. Probably he has never read the recommendations of Mr. Speaker Lowther's Report. Before he comes into the House and interjects observations of that kind he would be well advised to arm himself with some slight knowledge of the facts. The second objection I have to the Motion which is on the Paper has reference to what evidence of the Committee shall be reported to the House. There is no objection to the Committee reporting to the House any evidence the Members think fit; but if you lay upon them the obligation to report all their evidence, it must hamper considerably the evidence which is given. If you have officers answering questions with the full knowledge that every word they say is going to be taken down and published in the House, you will invalidate the character 1496 and the real effect of their cross-examination.
I come to another point. I am not sure that it will be in order to move an Amendment to this Motion on the point, a most important point. I refer to the question of what is to be done in the House itself with the recommendations of the Committee. Sir Herbert Samuel's Committee made a perfectly definite proposal on this score, and it was supported by valuable evidence from persons of experience, including Mr. McKinnon Wood, who has been Secretary to the Treasury himself. Their proposal was that if the Chairman of the Estimates Committee reports to the House on behalf of the Committee that a certain economy is desirable the vote on that recommendation should be a free vote, and not taken under the compulsion of the party Whips. That is a proposal which would assist to make the recommendations of the Government effective. What are the intentions of the Government? I do not think there is any doubt about them. The Leader of the House has said in this House, in this Session I think—he certainly said in his evidence before the Committee—that he could not entertain any such proposal.
I am going to pass from the question of the Committee and its cause to the question of the form of the accounts. I said a moment ago I did not think the Committee could decide questions of policy. I think that is obvious. We could not relegate to any Committee the power to say whether we should advance in Mesopotamia, or occupy Egypt with troops, or questions of that kind. They could report on it, but at present they are not in a position to do that because with one very important exception they are not in a position to know what these things are costing. If the House has read the very valuable second report of that same Committee they will find the Committee set out a plan for remodelling the form of the public estimates on the basis of significance or objectivity, that is to say, instead of having accounts which show that a department has so many secretaries, and so many clerks, and so on, to have a system which would enable you to say this particular piece of policy is costing the country so much and that is costing the country so much else. Then the Committee, without dealing with policy, could at least inform the House what the policies were costing. Take the 1497 Russian expedition. For months we never knew what the adventures that were being urged by one side of the Coalition were costing the country.
§ Captain W. BENN
Well, I do not know. I do not understand what goes on in the Coalition. I understand that one side pulls one way and the other pulls the other, and there is either slight movement or complete inertia. Supposing the House had known the real cost of the Russian adventure. Surely we should have been better able to decide whether or not it was worth while. As it was, you had to go to one Department for the cost of troops, to another for the cost of munitions, to another for military missions, etc., and only the other day the Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs astonished the House by stating that we are still committed to an expenditure of tens of thousands of pounds a year by some promise made to the followers of the White generals who were driven out of Russia by the Bolshevik forces. That may be desirable or undesirable, but it is not unreasonable to say that a business man, or an Anti-Waste candidate, or a signatory to a Memorial to the Leader of the House—I see many of them present—would at least ask the cost of these expeditions before he sanctioned the expenditure. Why should we not have what it costs per head to administer pensions, so that we could say the cost of the whole administration of Army pension is so much per head? Instead of that, you have to go to the Ministry of Pensions to find out the amount of the pension, the Office of Works Vote to find out the cost of buildings, the Post Office Vote for the cost of postage, and to other Votes also before you can make up the total.
I am well aware of the answer of those who have not read the Report of the National Expenditure Committee. They will say it is a jejune suggestion, the outcome of inexperience. That is not true. Sir Charles Harris, as expert a Civil servant as there is in the whole Civil Service, showed the Committee that this was possible. He suggested a revised form of Army Estimates which is actually in use and now, so far from having to hunt under a general head for personnel, under another general head 1498 for stores, and under another general head for horses, we have neatly arranged in the Army Estimates, which are a model of clarity, the whole cost of the Egyptian force, the whole cost of the Constantinople force, the cost per head for the training of officers and the cost for the physical training of men. We have the total cost of a regiment, so that you are able to say that a cavalry regiment is costing £123, I think it is, per head per annum. We have what it costs to keep an in-pensioner in Chelsea Hospital, and many other useful commercial figures of that kind.
The purpose of one of the Amendments I have put on the Paper is to have an Estimates Committee which has got the necessary help, but not an elaborate staff, to enable it to make recommendations to the House on which the House shall be free to decide, irrespective of pressure brought to bear from the Front Bench, and above all an Estimates Committee which has before it really significant accounts, and can report to the House the cost of a policy which is being put on the country by the Government. I am well aware we shall get no help from the Leader of the House. Perhaps I should be more hopeful, but I am afraid my pessimism is based upon the replies we have had at Question Time, and the evidence he gave before the Committee. He takes a different view. There is a case for saying that the House of Commons has nothing to do with these details, that it should discuss general questions of policy and make its influence felt in that way; but we live in exceptional times. We live in times when the state of the national finances is a menace to the well-being of the country, and it is up to Members of the House of Commons to make an effort to tackle it, not by making speeches outside, but by applying them selves in the House to the intricate and assiduous task of the control of public finance. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House does not take that view. He said:I do not consider that Parliament exercises or is ever very likely to exercise an effective control over expenditure.And then there is this, which I cannot read without a smile:Real and sound economy will only be maintained, if at all, by the Government.It will not surprise the House to learn that the Leader of the House treats with 1499 contempt the suggestion that any Vote should be taken save with the guidance of the Government Whips, and also every suggestion put forward in Sir Herbert Samuel's questionnaire about the existing state of finance in the House, such as "Do you recommend the continuance of the money Resolution?" "Do you recommend that the Report stage should be abolished?" The gist of the right hon. Gentleman's evidence was towards curtailing all Parliamentary control. Somebody asked:Do you recommend an additional Supply day?His answer was:Not unless the Select Committee want to stop all legislation.Perhaps that might be a good thing. Certainly the kind of legislation we are getting we might be inclined to stop. I notice that Lord Chalmers in his evidence supports the idea of additional facilities as being of assistance to the House in the way of examining accounts. I have made a real attempt, I think, to point out how the machinery of this House in the control of finance can be made more effective. I suggest to the House, that the proposals for the Estimates in the form put before the House are of very little value, and I have put down certain Amendments, and I trust the Government in the real interest of economy, and in order to increase the control of the House over finance, will give favourable consideration to the Amendments I have put on the Paper.
I presume that the House would like me to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Leith in his interesting, sometimes impassioned, often humorous and always pleasant discourse which he addressed to us without waiting for the specific Amendments to be moved to which in the course of a speech as discursive as it was pleasant, he occasionally alluded. The hon. and gallant Member said he was struck by the absence from this House of some of those hon. Members whose presence on such an occasion he would naturally have expected. If the hon. and gallant Member had not had the misfortune to speak with his back to the Benches opposite, I cannot help feeling that if he could have seen the empty spaces behind him he would have 1500 been much more struck with the absence of his own colleagues. Where are any of his leaders?
Yes, for the moment. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite will see how short is his tenure of office. Then my hon. and gallant Friend fell foul of the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Sturrock), but there was something in his speech of the nature of the fox and the grapes which he could not reach. I would remind him that there are hon. Members who have got to this House with the coupon and then crossed the floor, but it is far more dignified to come here without a coupon. I am really very sorry and I tender on behalf of the Government and the Prime Minister and my predecessor our apologies for having allowed the hon. and gallant Friend to escape from the Coalition where he might have been so useful by the carelessness of a clerk who omitted to send him a coupon. Although the hon. and gallant Gentleman delighted the House and enlivened his speech by those references, that was not the purpose for which he asked for an opportunity of discussing this Resolution, and I will pass on to the graver matters before us.
The hon. and. gallant Gentleman observed that there were three principal checks upon extravagence or waste and he stated them in the right order. There was in the first place the control which was exercised within the spending Departments. I have always held and have always tried to insist in this House and outside that the primary responsibility for economic administration rests with the head of each particular Department concerned with that particular expenditure, and during my tenure of office as Chancellor of the Exchequer it was my privilege to be the instrument for fortifying the position of the accounting officer within the Department, for establishing his responsibility, and also for giving him an effective voice upon all expenditure incurred. Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the next check was the Treasury. The responsibility of the Treasury is not lessened by one jot or tittle because of the responsibility of the 1501 Departmental officer or Departmental Minister. But it is equally important to remember that the responsibility of the Departmental officer or Departmental Minister is not lessened, because behind him and above him there is Treasury control. I speak now not as a prophet but as a recorder of the past. During the whole time in which I held office, and for as great a number of years preceding that, it has been the fact that Parliament has not helped any Government at any period within my recollection to reduce or restrict expenditure. I am not talking in a party sense, I am not talking in defence or excuse of any expenditure by the present Government which may be criticised, whether rightly or wrongly, but I am stating what I believe is a fact, that the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) would accept as historically true at any period within his knowledge. Hitherto, no matter what Government has been in power, for the last 30 or 40, or perhaps even 50 years, pressure on the Government of the day has always been, spend, spend. The cry of the House of Commons has been the cry of the horse leech's daughters, "Give, give," and resistance has had to be found in the Department, in the Treasury, or in the Government. The hon. and gallant Gentleman rightly insisted upon the solidarity of Cabinet responsibility, and I go to the full length in that respect. The decision to spend or not to spend is a Cabinet decision in every case. By that I do not mean that in every case it comes before the Cabinet, but it is decided by those who, with their colleagues in the Cabinet, have a corporate responsibility; and no Minister ought to shirk his responsibility or to thrust upon a particular member of the Government the odium of resistance to a popular demand. Let me just say, lest I should be misunderstood, that it may be quite proper for a particular Minister to urge the case of his Department, for the Minister responsible for the finances of the country to resist, and for both to concur in the ultimate decision to which a Cabinet discussion may lead. I do not mean to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Treasury are always to have their way. That would be perfectly intolerable. I do not mean to say that the other Ministers are always to have their way. That would be even more intolerable. But I do say that the 1502 decision ultimately reached, by whatever means, is a decision of the Government, and should only be discussed in terms of a Government decision.
So far I go with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Then he comes to the particular proposition of the Committee, if I may so call it, which I invited to assist me in the consideration of this matter. I sought the assistance, not of a Committee framed on party lines, not of a Committee which I thought peculiarly favourable to the finance of the Government, or likely to hide up any deficiencies in our procedure. I had the assistance, in the first place, and I gratefully acknowledge it, of Mr. Speaker, the present occupant of the Chair, then Chairman of Committees; of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir Donald Maclean); of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert); of my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury)—always a friend of the Government, but always a candid Friend—
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
It is a matter of very great regret to me that I have not been able to attend any of the meetings of that Committee. At the beginning several meetings were postponed, and when the first meetings began, unfortunately, so far as I was concerned, I was taken ill and was unable to attend.
I am obliged for the right hon. Gentleman's correction. What I had in my mind was that this was not a partisan recommendation. It was really a Committee of experts, who on the whole were critics. There was the Secretary to the Treasury, who was not a member of the Government when he was asked to join; there was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stourbridge (Mr. J. W. Wilson); and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Widnes (Mr. A. Henderson). It was not a Committee called to hush up or pass it over. The Motion I submit to the House embodies the proposals of that Committee.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will allow me to finish my sentence. It embodies the proposals of that Committee, subject to two reservations: first, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton 1503 (Mr. Lambert) desired the Committee to discuss policy—he stood alone in the Committee in that—and, secondly, that not all that is recommended by the Committee is in the Resolution, because a Resolution is not required to carry out all that the Committee desires. What are the points to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman drew special attention? In the first place, he said the Committee desired that an officer of special seniority should be at the service of this Committee for the purposes of this inquiry. He must be an officer of the House and not a civil servant in the service of one of the Departments. That does not appear in the Resolution.
§ Captain W. BENN
I think the right hon. Gentleman perhaps misunderstood me. I am referring to the Report of Sir Herbert Samuel's Committee. I referred to the evidence of Mr. Speaker Lowther, who said an official corresponding to the Comptroller and Auditor-General is now essential.
I have two points to deal with where I thought I had one and I do not want to talk out my own Resolution, though it was produced to please the House and not because my heart is set on it. This Resolution does not translate that in terms. I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will find the authorities of the House will provide for the service of the Committee such an officer as those Gentlemen who sat with me desired to see appointed to the post.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
There are two points. The first is that we recommended that the Committee should have power to appoint a Sub-committee, not that it should divide itself into two Committees. That is the important point, but it would take too long to elaborate in an interruption. The second is that we recommended that there should be attached to the Committee an experienced member of the staff of the House of Commons whose function it would be to prepare material for the Committee's deliberations and to render advice and assistance to the Committee, and to the Chairman in particular. Being a servant of the House of Commons, this official would occupy an independent position in relation to Ministers. That was arrived at as a compromise. I was in favour of what was recommended by the Select 1504 Committee on National Expenditure, that there should be an official like the Accountant and Auditor-General. My right hon. Friend said, to begin with, at any rate, that he would prefer an official of the House of Commons. The official of the House of Commons is not in this Resolution, and to be put off with merely a clerk, who attends when we are sitting and does something else on another occasion, is absolutely ineffective and does not carry out our object.
I am glad to know the points on which I am challenged. I did not understand that the members of the Committee recommended an officer in the position of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. I would never have concurred in that recommendation. I do not believe that the members of the Committee meant such a recommendation. I have a very clear recollection that we discussed that proposal and that we turned it down. What is the Comptroller and Auditor-General? The hon. and gallant Member (Captain W. Benn) was a little annoyed by the interruption of the hon. and gallant Member (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward) when he suggested that the appointment of such an office meant the creation of a new Department. If you mean the appointment of an official of the standing of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, it does mean a new Department. The Estimates for the Department of the Comptroller and Auditor-General include salaries, wages, and allowances, £178,522; travelling and removal expenses, £6,500; or a total, after allowing for appropriations-in-aid, of £182,000. He has a large staff, permanently working inside the Departments, whose accounts he is investigating. It is quite impossible, and contrary to public policy, to duplicate that system, not in relation to the accounts for past expenditure, but as to the propriety of present or future expenditure. I am quite certain that if that is what my right hon. Friend the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury) desired, he stood alone in the Committee.
I am fired at by the right hon. Baronet behind me and by the hon. and gallant Member in front of me; but they are not united.
They may be united in firing upon me, but not upon anything else. The hon. and gallant Member quotes Sir Herbert Samuel. He also spent a good deal of time in reading my evidence. I am very glad he did that, because I think my evidence contains a great deal of sound sense and practical administrative and Parliamentary experience. I only regret that he spent so much time over my evidence that he did not read the evidence of other Chancellors of the Exchequer, for example, the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) and Mr. McKenna. He will find if he looks again at that Report that there was a divergence of opinion between those who watch expenditure from their positions of independence and authority in this House and those who had borne the responsibility of administering the finances, and of endeavouring to administer them economically. He will find it very difficult on these questions, with all his ingenuity, and with all the will in the world, to put me and the right hon. Member for Paisley in opposite camps. We have practical experience, and a little practical experience is worth tons of theory from a gentleman who rendered great services to the State as what is commonly called a Minister without Portfolio, one who draws a salary with no Departmental duties attached. My hon. and gallant Friend must not suppose because he was a Lord of the Treasury that he realises everything in connection with the finances of the nation or that his experience as a Lord of the Treasury fully informs him as to the difficulties of the Department of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The view which he quoted was not the view of the Committee whom we consulted. Next the hon. and gallant Gentleman takes exception to the direction to the Committee to report the evidence to the House. We have heard a great deal about secret diplomacy. I believe that the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself is a vehement opponent of it. But he seeks to substitute for secret diplomacy a secret criminal trial. He will arraign the Minister and his administration, take evidence behind his back, publish the report condemning him, and refuse him access to the evidence on which he is condemned. That is what happened in connection with reports of the Committee. They appointed 1506 Sub-committees, and the Sub-committees reported. They considered the reports of the Sub-committees and issued judgment in condemnation on them, and not only did they not supply the House with the evidence on which the condemnation was based, but they refused to supply it to the officials whom they condemned. That ought not to occur.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is not so. I was Chairman of the Committee. The evidence of every witness was submitted, and the evidence to which my right hon. Friend has alluded was published by this Committee at their own desire, and without consulting the then Leader of the House.
My right hon. Friend's memory is at fault. His Committee refused the Minister access to the evidence on which they condemned him.
But after all I do not want to go on with a controversy. That is all past. Let us drop it. It is dead. Let it be buried. But is it right that anyone should be condemned by a Committee of this House in a Report to this House on evidence which is not communicated to the House or to the person condemned? Is that right or wrong? If it is wrong the Resolution which I move is right, that such evidence should be communicated to the House. The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked that those questions should be submitted to the House without any Government influence being exercised. That is a complete abandonment of Ministerial responsibility for the finances of the country. As long as I have anything to do with the matter that policy will not be adopted by the Government. Lastly, the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the form of accounts. The form of accounts is not a matter for that Committee. It has always been claimed to be, and is, a matter for the Public Accounts Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland), who has been Chairman of that Committee, will bear me out when I say that the Public Accounts Committee have more than once 1507 remonstrated against any change in the form of the accounts without previous consultation with them.
§ Captain BENN
The hon. Baronet (Sir R. Williams) himself recommended a change in the form of the public accounts.
The hon. Baronet is not the Committee, although he has been the chairman and has given very valuable assistance in that respect. That is a matter for the Public Accounts Committee. I think I myself was once responsible for some change by an oversight, without having obtained the assent of the Committee. I was called to account: I accepted the lesson: I recognised I was in error, and I will try to avoid that error in future. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has spoken of Sir Charles Harris's evidence. I have more than once spoken of the eminent services rendered by Sir Charles Harris, and, if I venture to utter a criticism, I hope it will not be taken as any reflection on a public servant for whom I have the highest respect, both on account of his zeal and his outstanding ability. But Sir Charles Harris's form of accounts is on trial; experiments are being made with it. It is not certain that it is going to prove satisfactory. It is quite certain that it is not going to prove inexpensive, and I think it would be rash for the House to decide that the accounts should be re-modelled on that basis until they have satisfied themselves that they get what they really want with the experiment now being tried and that they get it without undue cost. I have tried to deal frankly and fully and seriously with the questions raised, and if I have spoken at too great length I beg the House to excuse me for my good intentions.
§ say a few words in answer to my right hon. Friend, but perhaps the best thing we can do is to move the Amendments to the Motion at once without long discussion.
§ Captain BENN
I beg to move, after the word "Estimates" ["Estimates presented to this House as may seem fit"], to insert the words "Money Resolutions and the White Papers referring thereto."
Colonel Sir R. WILLIAMS
I hope the Amendment will not be accepted. It is quite a different matter to have a careful examination of the Estimates as presented to the House and to have to sit on any Money Resolutions that may come up from time to time. These Money Resolutions are not at all on the same basis, and the Amendment ought not to be accepted.
I join in the view of my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir R. Williams) who has been a member of the Public Accounts Committee and has had great experience. This Amendment is wholely against the proposal out of which this Estimates Committee arose. It could transform this Committee into something totally different. If a Committee is going to be appointed to deal with all these matters it will be an entirely different Committee from that which has been asked for, and it will not be an Estimates Committee. I beg the House not to accept this Amendment.
§ Mr. ACLAND
There is one interesting fact, and that is that the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir R. Williams) himself recommended that money resolutions involving expenditure should be in the same category as those dealing with estimates.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 29; Noes, 131.1509
|Division No. 191.]||AYES.||[10 53 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis D.||Finney, Samuel||Robertson, John|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Hartshorn, Vernon||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hogge, James Myles||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Bramsdon, Sir Thomas||Johnstone, Joseph||Waterson, A. E.|
|Bromfield, William||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Cape, Thomas||Morgan, Major D. Watts|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Davies, Major D. (Montgomery)||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Colonel Penry Williams and Major|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Barnes.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Gregory, Holman||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin||Greig, Colonel Sir James William||Peel, Col. Hon. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)|
|Atkey, A. R.||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Hallwood, Augustine||Pratt, John William|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Rae, H. Norman|
|Barlow, Sir Montague||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Ramsden, G. T.|
|Barnett, Major Richard W.||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Randles, Sir John Scurrah|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel Dr. N.|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Hope, Sir H. (Stirling & Cl'ckm'nn'n, W.)||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)|
|Bennett, Sir Thomas Jewell||Hopkins, John W. W.||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Bird, Sir A. (Wolverhampton, West)||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)|
|Bird, Sir William B. M. (Chichester)||Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B.||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Blair, Sir Reginald||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Seager, Sir William|
|Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.||Jameson, John Gordon||Shaw, Capt. William T. (Forfar)|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Jodrell, Neville Paul||Smith, Sir Allan M. (Croydon, South)|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Joynson-Hicks, Sir William||Smith, Sir Harold (Warrington)|
|Brown, Major D. C.||Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander|
|Bruton, Sir James||Kenyon, Barnet||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Kidd, James||Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.|
|Cairns, John||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Surtees, Brigadier-General H. C.|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm. W.)||Lindsay, William Arthur||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell-(Maryhill)|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur||Lloyd, George Butler||Waddington, R.|
|Clough, Robert||Lloyd-Greame, Sir P.||Wallace, J.|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tingd'n)||Walters, Rt. Hon. Sir John Tudor|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Ward, Col. J. (Stoke upon Trent)|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)||Ward, William Dudley (Southampton)|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||McMicking, Major Gilbert||Waring, Major Walter|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||Mallalieu, Frederick William||Weston, Colonel John Wakefield|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Marriott, John Arthur Ransome||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Matthews, David||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Evans, Ernest||Mitchell, William Lane||Williams. C. (Tavistock)|
|Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Farquharson, Major A. C.||Morison, Rt. Hon. Thomas Brash||Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Fildes, Henry||Mount, William Arthur||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|FitzRoy, Captain Hon. Edward A.||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Wilson, Col. M. J. (Richmond)|
|Forrest, Walter||Murray, C. D. (Edinburgh)||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Nall, Major Joseph||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Gee, Captain Robert||Neal, Arthur||Young, E. H. (Norwich)|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Grant, James Augustus||Parker, James||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr.|
|Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry||McCurdy.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Captain BENN
I beg to move, after the word "Committee" ["as may seem fit to the Committee"], to insert the words "and to suggest the form in which the Estimates shall be presented for examination."
I move this with great confidence because this is one of the recommendations of the letter which was signed by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Western Dorset (Colonel Sir E. Williams).
I could not accept this Amendment, because it goes counter to the historical claims and privileges of the Public Accounts Committee of this House.
§ Mr. ACLAND rose—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.