Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £14,000, 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, 1922, for payments under the Tramways and Public Companies (Ireland) Act, 1883, etc., the Railways (Ireland) Act, 1896, the Marine Works (Ireland) Act, 1902, and for other purpose connected with Irish Railways.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Several hon. Members in different quarters of the Committee addressed direct questions to the Colonial Secretary and the Chief Secretary for Ireland on the last Vote and received no answer. I waited before rising, after the Question on this Vote had been put for some spokesman of the Government to explain the Vote to the Committee. This is not the day or the time for the House of Commons to vote public money without some explanation from His Majesty's Government, and I hope, therefore, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who I understand will take charge of this Vote, will give us some explanation of the figures in the Supplementary Estimate, so that we may know the reason why the Government are coming to the House for this money.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
We asked several questions on the other Vote, but we got no answer. On this side of the Committee we are accustomed to put questions and not to receive an answer.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
It is so easy to say that. The Secretary of State for the Colonies made it clear that he would make a general pronouncement dealing with the points raised on the larger Vote. The hon. Member's leader, the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), laid down a line, to which the whole Committee agreed, before the hon. Member came in, and that line was quite clear. The question raised by my hon. Friend, whose questions everyone welcomes, because we know how fervent he is in all matters of finance, will be dealt with on the larger Vote. The present Vote is in charge of the Treasury, so that I, for once, am not responsible.
The Committee is asked to vote £14,000, consisting of two items, one of £10,500 and the other of £3,500 which are independent and have no relation to each other, although they come under this Supplementary Estimate. As regards the first sum of £10,500 it is in respect of certain railways constructed under the Tramways and Public Companies (Ireland) Act, 1883. This is an old business, as the Committee will see. Of the charges in respect of this Act—and that is the reason why the charge falls upon 2030 this Estimate—the Treasury recoups half of the interest charged, subject to a maximum of 2 per cent., if it is required. In the case of these railways it has not infrequently been required. Why does it appear on the Supplementary Estimate this year? For this reason, that owing to the political troubles in Ireland, and owing to the paralysis of the administration of business caused by those political troubles, no application for repayment of the portion for which the Treasury is liable was made by the parties concerned in the year 1920–21. The parties concerned under the original scheme of guarantees were called "baronies," an old Irish term. They are now called "county councils." The county councils who were entitled to claim payment of this guarantee from the Treasury made no application in 1920–21, owing to the political troubles then in progress, and the fact that those county councils took up a certain view in regard to their relations to the British Government. In consequence the money could not be advanced in the year in which it was originally voted, and there was a saving of £10,500 for the year 1920–21. Owing to the happy settlement arrived at it is probable, if not certain, that the request for this contribution to which the county councils are entiled will now be made, and it is eminently desirable that we should be in a position to meet the demands for such a contribution when it is made. For that reason, the Committee is now asked to give authority for the expenditure of this sum of £10,500 if and when it is asked for by the county councils who are entitled to it under this old Act of Parliament.
The second matter deals with a wholly different matter. During the War three mineral railways were constructed as a special war measure in connection with the development of the Irish coal industry, and they were maintained, being worked by the Irish railways as agents. That arrangement ran until the termination of the control of the railways on 15th August, 1921. After that it was necessary to make fresh arrangements for the period following. These companies which previously had been working the railways agreed to continue to work them on a new basis for a period of at least a year at the actual cost on condition that the British Exchequer would undertake any deficit that arose. It followed after 2031 control terminated that the responsibility for the administration of these lines was transferred to the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland and it was arranged that any loss arising from the working after the 15th August last should be charged on the Vote, and that is the charge which the Committee are now asked to authorise. I should explain in conclusion that this is a purely temporary liability during the interregnum and that this liability, which we shall discharge under this Supplementary Estimate, will terminate at the end of the financial year, when all such matters will become, under the Treaty, the financial responsibility of the Government of Southern Ireland.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
We are grateful to the Financial Secretary for his detailed explanation of the Estimate which is now under discussion. If I understood him properly, Government control of the railways in Ireland expired on 15th August, 1921, but, in the case of the three railways under sub-head C, it was found necessary to continue the guarantee for a limited time. Are there any further liabilities going to fall on the State next year owing to the period of control being extended in Ireland in a manner which was not granted in the case of the railway companies in this country? I think that it was generally understood that on 15th August, 1921, the total liability of the State, which was a very heavy one from month to month, should cease entirely. The Committee will understand that there was in Ireland, during that period and since its expiration, a condition which might tempt the Government for a limited period to continue that control, or, in other words, transfer money from the pockets of the British taxpayer to the share-holders of Irish railways. Whether it is justifiable in the circumstances that the British taxpayer should be taxed so that the shareholders in Irish railways should be guaranteed their dividends during the year 1921 is a matter as to which there will be divergent views in the Committee, but I would ask, are there any further liabilities on the State due to the period of control being extended so far as the railways are concerned, or in any other way, in the coming year?
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
When the two agreements dealing with the British rail- 2032 ways and with the Irish railways went through the House of Commons we understood distinctly that the settlement of £3,000,000 in the case of Ireland was final, so far as all claims arising from war circumstances on the Irish railway were concerned was final. I do not call this an extension of the period at all. I understand from the Financial Secretary that this is money spent in exceptional circumstances on three lines which were really a war development, and we are now called upon to vote this £3,500 at a time when it would be a limited liability but the Committee is entitled to have this point in the Estimate clearly related to the £3,000,000 settlement under the agreement affecting Irish railway, because, having had an opportunity of going into these matters at the Colwyn Committee, I am surprised to find a charge of this kind introduced now, and, unless there is adequate explanation, it will be very difficult to account for it..
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
With regard to the additional sum of £10,500 which is taken to pay to the county councils if they make certain claims for the interest guaranteed under the Tramways and Light Railways Act, is there to be any set-off against that, because the other night there was a deficiency on appropriations-in-aid of £196,000 which we voted, and it was explained that through the breakdown of local government in Ireland it has been impossible to recover that money? Is there none of that money which can be set off against the £10,500, because it would seem to be unreasonable that we should pay this £10,500 and yet lose that large sum for appropriations-in-aid which was to a very large extent money due from the local authorities in Ireland, and, I presume, a large extent from the county councils in Ireland?
Sir W. BARTON
Its there in fact been any claim made for this money? I rather understand that it is in the nature of a contingent liability. I assume that these are county councils which renounced British authority and gave allegiance to Sinn Fein. If that is so it is a very disputable point whether this is a liability which falls on this Parliament at all. If there has been no such claim made, and if the facts are as stated, I doubt the wisdom of making this Estimate at all.
To my knowledge there has been no actual claim for this money made as yet, but I submit that if you have an acknowledged claim you must be in a position to pay your debts. If we were not to take this Supplementary Estimate, and if this claim, which is an acknowledged claim, were made we should be in the unfortunate position of having no authority from the House of Commons to pay an acknowledged claim. That is a position in which no Government should be put. Most particularly is it a position which the Government should not be in as regards any acknowledged debts due at the present time to Irish authorities. It is, after all, the usual procedure to issue Estimates at the beginning of the year, and the House in Committee of Supply authorises the Government to pay claims which may not necessarily be made upon them. It seems probable, nay certain, that this claim will be made, and since the claim is not disputed, we are bound to ask the Committee for authority to meet it when it is made.
There was also a question put by the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham), and I think the same ground was covered in the question asked by the hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins). This sum is distinguished from the final general railway settlement by this circumstance: That settlement was to meet all claims accruing against the Government from the outside interests owning railway companies, up to the termination of control. This is in quite a different category. It is a claim in respect of three mineral railways, and these are not railways owned by outside authorities. These are our own railways which we work through agents. What we are asking for is for money to keep them going for the short period between now and the end of the financial year, when they will become a charge upon the Southern Irish Government. A question was put to me by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. A. Williams) as to whether there was not some set-off against this debt in the form of other liabilities on the part of the local authorities in Ireland. I do not know. It is very likely, or it may be that there are liabilities on behalf of the local authorities in Ireland which may have to be taken into account in some final settlement of accounts as between the British Exchequer and the Southern Irish Exche- 2034 quer. I do not know as to that, but our system of keeping national accounts and voting money does not allow of any such set-off being brought in against an acknowledged and definite debt. This is a debt under Statute which we are bound to pay, and we must meet it, whatever other charges there may be, and in order to meet it, even though there were counter claims, we should require the authority of the Committee on this Supplementary Estimate.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I confess I do not feel very happy about this £10,500. In the first place, since we are dealing with Supplementary Estimates, may I say I do not think there should be a Supplementary Estimate for anything unless it cannot possibly be avoided? A Supplementary Estimate is a thoroughly unsound thing, and should not be allowed if it is possible to avoid it. The case for a Supplementary Estimate should be overwhelming, and it should be quite clear that the demand is urgent, that it is unavoidable, and that it could not be dealt with in a previous Estimate. I am sure I shall have the assent of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary in saying that Supplementary. Estimates are a thoroughly bad expedient in finance. What is the case put forward by the Government for this Estimate? They say: We must have this Estimate, because it may be that we shall be asked by the county councils to pay £10,500 before the 31st March. It is said that no such demand has been addressed to the Government yet, and surely, if there is any such demand addressed to them, can it not be dealt with in the Estimate for the coming year? It seems to me doubtful whether it is good policy to have a Supplementary Estimate at all. After all, the county councils can wait for a few weeks to receive their money, if that is the only difficulty.
A very serious point is raised by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. A. Williams) when he points out that very large counter-claims have to be settled between the British Government and the local authorities of Southern Ireland, and that in many respects we have claims against them as a set-off against those claims which they have against us. Surely, before we actually vote money to pay one of their claims, as these settlements must be arrived at in the course 2035 of a few months, it would be more reasonable to see how the accounts really stand. It may be we shall have some little difficulty in obtaining our due from the county councils. For all I know there may be one or more of them, Republican in complexion, who quite honestly think it improper to pay the debts due to this country. It would be far better to await the final settlement of accounts between the Government and the local authorities. I confess I am not at all moved by the grave official reply that it is the ordinary practice of the British Government to pay whatever is due from it, irrespective of any counterclaim.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Then I am afraid I did not understand the hon. Gentleman. I am anxious not to misrepresent him, but I understood him to say that this was a claim due from us by Statute, and that according to the national system of keeping accounts we must pay it. Why should we vote it unless for the purpose of paying it? The only excuse for voting it is that we are going to pay the money away. If we are not, it is absurd to vote the money. Therefore I assume we are going to pay. If we are going to pay I submit, subject to correction, that the real meaning of the hon. Gentleman is that since this is actually due, we are not entitled to take into consideration any counterclaim which we may have against the local authority.
May I clear up this point. The impression which I would convey to the Committee is this, that you can rightly take into account as a counterclaim, any claim against your creditor, but all that is suggested here is that there may be claims against the Southern Irish Government or possibly against Southern Irish local authorities. I have no reason to suppose that there is any counter claim of any sort or kind, against these particular county councils. This is a simple, straightforward debt to these county councils and we cannot afford to allow that claim to be made without being in a position to meet it since it is not disputed.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I am very averse, as I believe are other 2036 hon. Members, to this present Government having any surplus of money to play with. It is extremely dangerous to give them this money, human nature being what it is, and especially debauched as it is in the case of the present Government. Having this money they would say: "We do not like to let it go." We know that this happens in every branch of accountancy. They will say: "It we cannot use it in this way we will use it in some other way—of course, for the good of somebody." It is a very dangerous thing to let them have this money until it is absolutely and imperatively needed. I suppose they will be forced presently to introduce a Budget and to bring forward proper Estimates for next year, and there is no reason why this sum should be put in. I am certain the Irish Authorities will be prepared to wait for their money until it is passed by this House. It is not a large sum, but there is a principle involved, and this should not be brought forward at a time when the money does not even exist. There will, in all probability, be a deficit this year, and it is wrong to ask for this money until it is absolutely required.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
The Financial Secretary gave the Committee to understand that I had suggested that money which was due from County A should be set off against money which was due from us to County B. Of course, I did not suggest anything so ridiculous as that, and I did not imagine that anybody would come to any such conclusion, but if there is £196,000 due from various local authorities in Ireland to us, it would seem a very fair guess at any rata that some of that is due from the particular county councils for whose benefit we are now voting this £10,500, and I wanted an assurance that neither the system of national accounts nor any other reason would prevent us making a proper setoff of any such amount.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The footnote on page 4 of the Estimates says:Sum which may be required before the 31st March, 1922, to meet arrears of payments of contributions towards guaranteed dividends which remained over from the year 1920–21 owing to the political conditions then prevailing.What guaranteed dividends, who guaranteed them, and why is it that they were left over for a year? This is 1921–22, so that these are apparently more than a 2037 year in arrears, because they are dividends which remained over from the year 1920–21, and that brings me to the point raised by my Noble. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord It. Cecil) with regard to Supplementary Estimates. If this payment remained over from 1920–21, why was it not put into the Estimates for the year 1921–22, and what were the political conditions then prevailing which prevented the guaranteed dividends being paid? I am glad to see the Chief Secretary for Ireland here, because he might be able to inform us what the political conditions were which necessitated the withholding of these sums in the year 1920–21.
§ The CHAIRMAN rose to put the Question—2038
I am sure the right hon. Baronet will acquit me of any intention of discourtesy, but I was not sure that it would not be more discourteous to the Committee as a whole to be guilty of repetition in answering his questions. I think I have dealt with all the questions raised by my right hon. Friend.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 129; Noes, 63.2039
|Division No. 14.]||AYES.||[9.20 p.m.|
|Amery, Leopold C. M. S.||Gilmour, Lieut. Colonel Sir John||Prescott, Major Sir W. H.|
|Armitage, Robert||Green, Albert (Derby)||Purchase, H. G.|
|Armstrong, Henry Bruce||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Sir Hamar||Rae, H. Norman|
|Atkey, A. R.||Greenwood, William (Stockport)||Ramsden, G. T.|
|Bagley, Captain E. Ashton||Greig, Colonel James William||Rankin, Captain James Stuart|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Raper, A. Baldwin|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Hancock, John George||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Barker, Major Robert H.||Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)||Renwick, Sir George|
|Barlow, Sir Montague||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Haslam, Lewis||Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes., Stretford)|
|Bartley-Denniss, Sir Edmund Robert||Henderson, Lt.-Col. V. L. (Tradeston)||Rodger, A. K.|
|Birchall, J. Dearman||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill)|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Norwood)|
|Bruton, Sir James||Hood, Sir Joseph||Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock)|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Hope, J. D. (Berwick & Haddington)||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hopkins, John W. W.||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Hudson, R. M.||Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.|
|Carew, Charles Robert S.||Hunter-Weston, Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. G.||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Carr, W. Theodore||Hurd, Percy A.||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm., W).||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Sugden, W. H.|
|Cheyne, Sir William Watson||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Lianelly)||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beate||Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk George||Taylor, J.|
|Coote, Colin Reith (Isle of Ely)||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Thomas, Sir Robert J. (Wrexham)|
|Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L.||Lloyd, George Butler||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Lloyd-Greame, Sir P.||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell (Maryhill)|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Lorden, John William||Tickler, Thomas George|
|Davison, Sir W. H. [Kensington, S)||Lort-Williams, J.||Townshend, Sir Charles Vere Ferrers|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Manville, Edward||Walton, J. (York, W. R., Don Valley)|
|Dixon, Captain Herbert||Marks, Sir George Croydon||Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Dockrell, Sir Maurice||Martin, A. E.||Waring, Major Walter|
|Edge, Captain Sir William||Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S.||Warren, Sir Alfred H.|
|Edwards, Allen C. (East Ham, S.)||Morison, Rt. Hon. Thomas Brash||Weston, Colonel John Wakefield.|
|Edwards, Hugh (Glam., Neath)||Morris, Richard||Whitla, Sir William|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir R. (Banbury)|
|Elliott, Lt.-Col. Sir G. (Islington, W.)||Murray, Hon. Gideon (St. Rollox)||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Murray, William (Dumfries)||Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald|
|Evans, Ernest||Neal, Arthur||Wise, Frederick|
|Farquharson, Major A. C.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.||Nicholson, Brig-Gen. J. (Westminster)||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Ford, Patrick Johnston||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Young, E. H. (Norwich)|
|Forrest, Walter||Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Younger, Sir George|
|Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Hugh|
|Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Perkins, Walter Frank||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)|
|Ammon, Charles George||Bromfield, William||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchin)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)|
|Barton, Sir William (Oldham)||Cairns, John||Davies, A. (Lancaster, Clitheroe)|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Cape, Thomas||Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Sexton, James|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Kennedy, Thomas||Sutton, John Edward|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Kenyan, Barnet||Swan, J. E.|
|Gills, William||Lawson, John James||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Lunn, William||Tootill, Robert|
|Graham, R. (Nelson and Colne)||Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D.(Midlothian)||Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. D.|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Malone, C. L. (Leyton, E.)||Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Mosley, Oswald||Wignall, James|
|Grundy, T. W.||Myers, Thomas||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Guest, J. (York, W.R., Hemsworth)||Naylor, Thomas Ellis||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Hayday, Arthur||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Stourbridge)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Widnes)||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Hogge, James Myles||Robertson, John|
|Holmes, J. Stanley||Rose, Frank H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Irving, Dan||Royce, William Stapleton||Mr. W. Smith and Lieut.-Com-|