HL Deb 15 June 1874 vol 219 cc1576-82

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


said, that as he was not present on the occasion of the second reading of the Bill, he wished to express his grave doubt as to whether the remedial measure proposed by the Government would effect its purpose. It was true that the original estimates of public works had occasionally been exceeded, but the revised estimates were the proper ones to consult. He complained that the Return obtained by the Government of the increase of ex- penditure over estimates for public works did not show the whole of the case. He was of opinion that the appointment of a public officer as Chief Engineer would not be advisable.


considered that the measure was one which would tend to economize the money granted for public works in India, for not only had many barracks in India been built on insalubrious sites, but also, after a very large expenditure had been incurred, the construction had proved to be so faulty and defective that in several cases it had been necessary to repeat this expenditure. Such occurrences would be prevented by the proposed appointment of a responsible head of the Public Works.


understood his noble Friend to say that, in his judgment, there was no great evil to be dealt with, and that if there was, this was not the proper remedy. He was prepared to dispute both those propositions. His noble Friend had gone into the history of the appointment of the Finance and Legislative Members of Council, and proved, he hoped to the satisfaction of their Lordships, that before their appointment a very unsatisfactory state of things existed, and that after their appointment that state of things ceased. He (the Marquess of Salisbury) was prepared to show that there was now an unsatisfactory state of expenditure on Public Works, and it seemed a fair presumption that a similar effect would follow from similar causes. His noble Friend seemed very much to doubt whether the Returns laid on the Table were a fair exposition of the short-comings of the Department of Public Works. He did not dwell upon this topic when he last addressed their Lordships—it was not a pleasant subject to speak on. Those Public Works officers were men of very high ability; they did their work to the best of their power; and when they went wrong, his belief was that it was the system that was to blame, and not they. The criticism the noble Lord had passed on the formidable list of excesses would hardly bear examination. He said that what we ought to look at was the revised estimate, and if it was not exceeded no harm was done. But, what was a revised estimate? A work was begun on an original estimate, which might be very moderate; it went on for years exceeding the cost of the innocent original estimate; and at last when the Secretary of State called for a revised estimate, it was found to exceed the original estimate five or six times. A certain work bearing an honoured name furnished an illustration of this——it was the Ootacamund Lawrence Asylum; and Lord Mayo's Government had given a graphic account of what had happened in the case of that work. The original estimate was £18,000; the revised estimate was £112,000; and the work was not finished then. The actual cost to the end of 1872–71 was £88,455—an excess of £70,440 over the original estimate. The revised estimate on which his noble Friend relied was not produced until a great deal more than the original estimate had been expended. In fact, a revised estimate was a confession that the original estimate had been exceeded. The Duke of Argyll, writing on the 18th of December, 1872, in reference to the expenditure on a tank near Madras, of which the engineer was Mr. Fraser, said:— It is apparently not so much himself as the system that was to be blamed. But if so, no condemnation can he too severe for a system, according to the ordinary routine of which it is possible for a project to be submitted with all the parade of detailed elaboration and of no less than 23 sheets of plans, for an expenditure thereon of 3½ lacs to be authorised on the assumption that the annnul return would be at least 9, and might be 20 per cent. and for the project to he, after an interval of three or four years, abandoned on account of its containing inherent defects that would inevitably cause the result of its continued prosecution to be, instead of high profit, heavy loss; yet not abandoned without more than £11,000 being-expended subsequently to the detection of the glaring and fatal defects. For that this is no exceptional case is clear from the fact of my having, within the last few months, found myself called upon to animadvert on similar heedlessness in the preparation of irrigation projects, in three several instances—those of the Moota Valley, the Madras Water Supply, and the Orissa Works, with regard to each of "which confident promises of signal financial success were at first held out, and of which one has already proved, and the other two threaten to prove, and long to continue, signal financial failures. There must plainly be something radically wrong in a system under which such results are of such frequent concurrence, and I must desire your Excellency's Government to give to the subject your immediate and most serious attention, with a view to the application of a proportionately radical remedy. The Duke of Argyll saw there was something radically wrong which required the application of a proportionately radical remedy. The late Lord Mayo, who had paid more atten- tion to Public Works in India than perhaps any other statesman had done, wrote to the Duke of Argyll on the 24th of August, 1869, and said:— That you should then, early next Session, pass a short Act enabling the Secretary of State to appoint by Sign Manual 3, instead of 2, ordinary members of Council, with a view of nominating a person who would fill the office of Minister of Public Works. This step is, in my opinion, indispensable. I am now discharging with great labour the duties of the Member in Council in charge of the Public Works Department. I am very strong and can work 12 hours a day; but I have seen enough to know that the Member in charge of what is now becoming almost the most important department in the Government, ought to be able to devote his whole time and thoughts thereto—ought to have much special knowledge—and, moreover, should from time to time visit, with the Secretary to Government, the various great works in progress.' Independently of these high authorities it seemed reasonable that matters so technical as Public Works should be supervised by a person of special qualifications—quite as necessary as that military matters should be superintended by a man of military experience. As to the fear that the presence of an Engineer in the Governor General's Council would lead to an increase of expenditure on Public Works, the real danger of undue expenditure was not in the Council. The Financial Member would there state how much money he had to spend, the Public Works Member would be required to submit his estimate; and the Viceroy would have the absolute power to say, "You shall go thus far and no farther." The danger of extravagance was not inside but outside the Council; and the root of the danger was that there was no one person vested with responsibility and power and whose reputation was pledged to the furnishing of proper estimates and seeing that they were not exceeded. This Bill had in view a remedy for this defect—a remedy which was supported by the high authorities he had cited, and by the large excesses of expenditure which the Returns displayed. As to the supposed intrusion of the Public Works Member upon the provincial Councils, he did not fear that it would provoke jealousy. The truth was their relations with the Governor General's Council were, in diplomatic language, "somewhat strained"—especially in reference to Public Works; and his belief was that the visits of the proposed new Member would produce a better understanding in two days than two years' writing of elaborate despatches—especially with reference to irrigation works. The idea of interchange between the Councils of these Presidencies was a new one, which required reflection, and he therefore proposed to omit that clause from the Bill, leaving himself free to renew the proposal at a future period. With that alteration he believed the Bill would introduce order where there was now something slovenly and disorderly, and would have the effect of restraining excessive expenditure in Public Works. His noble Friend objected to diminishing the number of the Council in order to make room for the Public Works Member; but he (the Marquess of Salisbury) made that proposal in deference to the suggestion of the Viceroy. As to whether the number should be afterwards increased, he should be very much guided by the wishes of the Viceroy. His noble Friend had taken some objection to his conduct in not having taken the advice of his Council in this matter. But a high authority had stated to him to-day that it would have been illegal to do so. The Council was appointed for a special duty. It was no part of that duty to supervise the action of the Secretary of State in Parliament, and he did not think it would be a constitutional improvement to give them that position. The Members of the Council were not only a check on the Secretary of State, but in the administration of the Office were a great assistance to him. When any one of his Colleagues in the Cabinet was about to introduce a Bill, he would naturally consult his Under Secretary, but would not tell what the opinions of his Under Secretary were. It was the business of the Minister to introduce a Bill on his own responsibility, having taken in his own Office such advice as he might have thought fit; but it was not his business to tell their Lordships whom or how many he had consulted. He should have violated a salutary rule if he were to throw on others a responsibility which he should have taken on himself.


was understood to say that as he had been a member of the Council in India, and had been for 40 years well acquainted with the working of the Public Works Department in India, during 25 years of which he had had peculiar facilities for observation, he could not allow the Bill to pass without making a few remarks upon it. It struck him that as regarded the Return which had been laid on the Table of the House, there was something more to be said in favour of the Public Works officers than had been stated to the House. He did not think that many of the officers who had made the estimates referred to, were so much to blame as the noble Marquess seemed to think. He did not deny that the works had occasionally turned out to cost very much more than the original estimates. The Returns for 10 years from 1862–3 to 1872–3 were not a fair criterion of the cost of the works within those years. The estimates for the works mentioned in the Return between 1862–3 and 1872–3 could not be considered as a fair result for those works unless all the other works which had been constructed during those years were brought into consideration. It should be remembered that public works were often commenced in India under the greatest emergency, and that therefore the estimates were not sufficiently elaborated. Then he thought it would be found on examination that the great excess was in respect of the early irrigation works, when the engineers were not so well acquainted with the principles of hydraulics when applied to that description of works in India. It was impossible, in framing estimates, to take into account the dangers from accidents which often subsequently occurred through the overflow of rivers and the rush of waters from the mountains, which washed away bridges, embankments, and other works in a few hours. He mentioned these things to show that it was at times impossible to make original estimates which would prove reliable. These accidents did not occur through any fault of the present system. There was also also a great and peculiar work to be done during a period of years succeeding the Mutiny, and a number of the officers employed had had no special training for the work with which they were entrusted; and therefore it was no wonder that some of those works cost considerably more than the original estimates. Notwithstanding that, however, many of the works were well executed; and in other cases the officers learnt by experience. From the Returns for 1871–72 it appeared that, taking all the public works together, their cost had exceeded 3 per cent the original estimates. He thought that this was a very fair result. He admitted that there had been some grave mistakes made which required consideration; but he contended that the best way to remedy such errors would be to exact greater responsibility from the officers who committed them. If that were done, he believed very few errors would be committed. He desired to point out that the civil Members of the Council of the Governor General had been reduced by two. It was now proposed to have seven Members of that Council, and he feared that an increase of an additional Member would make the Council difficult to work and to control. Still, he preferred an addition to the Council rather than a reduction of one of the civil Members. He, however, believed that in the long run the engineer Member of the Council would make his influence unduly felt, and that there would be a greater expenditure on public works. It would be vain, he feared, to resist the Bill, but he hoped that its passing would be suspended until the India Office had received from the Governor General and his Council their opinion upon the subject.


ventured to confirm all that his noble Friend, the noble Marquess, had said in favour, not only of the advantage, but the necessity of efficient supervision of the Public Works Department in India. He spoke under the influence of five years' experience as Commander-in-Chief in India and as a Member of the Council of India. On the other hand, he quite agreed with his noble Friend (Lord Lawrence) that it would be wise to add another Member, rather than to displace one. The labours of the Council were so great that it could not afford to lose one of its present Members.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 3a accordingly; Amendments made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

House adjourned at a quarter past Nine o'clock, 'till To-morrow, Eleven o'clock.