HC Deb 21 March 1922 vol 152 cc425-8

Resolution reported, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £1,737,600, 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 Salaries and Expenses in connection with Middle Eastern Services under His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies, including certain Grants-in-Aid.

Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I wish to call the attention of the House to the late hour at which it is proposed to grant this great sum of money to the Government. It is quite useless at half-past twelve to think that all these very large amounts can be adequately discussed. I am not going to take the task but I only desire to call the attention of the House to what is being done. The sums to be voted amount to £2,860,000, with an amount of over one million pounds deficit on the civil administration of Iraq before it was handed over to a native ruler. Then there is £890,000 representing the loss on exchange of goods supplied by India. We ought to have had some explanation of these. There are other large amounts involved, and as against this sum of £2,860,000 there are savings anticipated of £124,000. Not one single piece of information is given to the Committee or to the House as to what these savings would be. They come down out of the blue, and we get no information of any kind whatever. Mr. Speaker, I do not want to weary the House but I really think some protest ought to be made against the way in which the Government brings financial business before us. The House is not being treated with proper consideration in these matters. On the few opportunities we have had, hon. Members have endeavoured to do their duty, and to ascertain what the current expenditure is, but the Government have so arranged their business in order to get it through by the end of the financial year, and we have to deal with these large sums in this manner, and unfortunately, not only on money, but questions of policy, they have not treated the House or the country in a proper manner. I think the House itself has in years past been very largely to blame for the state of things that has arisen. We cannot go into all that tonight, but I only rise to make an emphatic-protest against trying to deal with this financial business at this time of the night, and I hope and trust some other protest will be made to reinforce mine, and to tell the Government that hon. Members in this House are not disposed to go on in the present way of doing financial business.


I only wish to emphasise what has been said. Even if we had a good many hours in front at us it is almost impossible to discuss an Estimate which is bound up with two or three other Departments. In order to discuss this Estimate you have to have the Air Estimates, the Army Estimates, and, I think, some others. Without them it is impossible properly to understand the Estimate, and I would say that I hope that in future a perfectly plain statement will be made by the Colonial Secretary as to what the actual expenditure upon his Department is. I am quite sure from the documents at our disposal it is impossible to say, because there are cross-references 'between the Air Ministry and the War Office and his Department, so that with the papers as they exist you really cannot understand what the actual expenditure is. I hope the Under-Secretary will do his best to see that the matter is rectified in the future.


The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson), when he complains of the system of account keeping, which now finds expression in these Estimates, should remember that a year or two ago exactly the opposite complaint was being made; that owing to the Estimates not being kept under the control of one office it was difficult for the House to say what Iraq was actually costing. It was to meet these complaints that this system of bookkeeping was adopted, under which the Colonial Office is responsible for the bulk Estimate, and, by a system of cross-payments and cross-bookkeeping, we pay the War Office and the Air Ministry for the services they perform. I do really protest against the charge that this system is designed to mislead Members.


I did not say that.


That, at any rate, was the tenour and the inevitable conclusion. In fact, this system was adopted in order to meet the protests of Members, and to place them in possession of the full thing in one view. If my hon. Friend studies the Estimates, he will certainly find cross-references and cross-payments, but he will also find a single charge under a single office.

Commander BELLAIRS

The House will never succeed in understanding these-difficult Estimates until the Financial Procedure of the House is altered. The Government are in no way to blame except in so far as they do not bring forward a different system of Financial Procedure. What we need is that these Estimates should be scrutinised by small Committees of three or four Members upstairs who will report to the House. Then we will understand from their Report what is involved. Question put, and agreed to.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after Half-past Eleven of the Clock upon Tuesday evening, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to, the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Sixteen Minutes before One o'Clock.