§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. LAING
, in moving that the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply, said it might be convenient that he should explain the difficulty which had led the Government to ask for a Vote on account 1662 for Civil Services, and the extent to which they intended to ask the House to vote money on account. The House was aware that the system of keeping the accounts for the Civil Services was essentially different from that of the army and navy. In the case of the army and navy, where there were only a few large Votes, the Votes were taken for the service of the current financial year and if at the end of the year; there was a balance in hand it must be handed over to the Exchequer, but if there was a deficiency it must be met by a further Vote within the year, power being vested in the Treasury to transfer a surplus from one account to meet a deficiency in another. In the case of the Civil Services, where the Votes were much more numerous and of a more miscellaneous character, that system had never been adopted. In fact, where the Votes extended, as they did last year, to so large a number as 197, it was impossible to adopt such a system, especially as the House never found it perfectly practicable to pass the Votes for Civil Services previous to the close of the financial year, on the 31st of March. Those services had been conducted by having a balance in the case of each particular Vote, for as respected them no power was vested in the Treasury, similar to that which obtained with regard to the naval and military services, of transferring a surplus from one account to make good a deficiency in another; therefore in the case of the Civil Services, when there was a deficiency in any Vote in consequence of circumstances that increased the expenditure after the Vote was taken, recourse must be had to the House for a supplemental Vote, although there might be a surplus in hand on some other Vote, which, however, could not be transferred to meet that particular deficiency. The present was not an exceptional or isolated case. It would have occurred about this time last year if the Votes had not been obtained at an earlier period. The course practically had been to have recourse, when occasion required, to the Vote for civil contingencies; but that Vote had been limited to £100,000, and was not sufficient to meet the deficiency that frequently occurred in carrying out the numerous objects involved in the miscellaneous service. The necessity had arisen during the last five or six years of obtaining either a large sum of money on account, or of taking up and considering the various Votes at an early period of the Session. Last 1663 year the difficulty which then arose from the dissolution was got over by a sum of £1,854,000 being taken in March. In the previous year a sum of £1,952,000 was taken in April; in May, 1857, when the dissolution occurred, there was taken a sum of £1,500,000 on account; in 1856 and 1855, the large sums of £5,194,000 and £4,867,000 were taken also on account. This year it was known to the House that, owing to the state of public business, no money had yet, though they were near the end of May, been obtained for the Civil Service. The consequence was, that the balances of many of these Votes had become exhausted, while in others they were nearly approaching to a state of exhaustion. It became necessary, therefore, either to obtain a Vote on account, or to do that which was objectionable —overdraw particular accounts, and thus intrench on the provisions of the Appropriation Act. He had asked the heads of departments to go carefully over the various Votes, and to ascertain the outside amount that would be required to prevent the overdrawing of accounts, supposing the Session to be protracted to an unusually late period, and the Estimates not voted by the House of Commons till a very late period, as was the case last year. The result of their calculations went to show that a sum of £1,468,000 was required to prevent that course being taken on the supposition that the regular Votes were not passed till the month of August. There were several precedents for taking a large Vote on account in the way now proposed. Some of them he had already mentioned. In 1848, when the Committee on the Estimates was sitting, a Vote was taken on account, as it was not thought desirable to go on with the Estimates till that Committee reported. A similar Committee was now sitting, and therefore what was done in 1848 might so far be taken as a precedent; but the strongest authority for the course now proposed was to be found in the Report of the Committee on public moneys, which recommended that in difficulties similar to the present, a sum should be taken on account for such services as had been sanctioned by Parliament in a previous Session. When a sum was taken under that limitation the control of Parliament was to a great extent preserved, because, one the one hand, no new service would he begun under such a Vote, and on the other hand the Vote for the old services would never be more than was necessary to carry 1664 them on for the current quarter. In the Estimate now submitted to the House this principle was strictly acted upon. No Vote for any new service was introduced, and no more was asked than was required to carry on the service for the current quarter. The Government felt that there were considerations in the State of the public business this year which might render the present an expedient time to moot the larger question whether this system should be introduced as a general rule in future. They therefore limited the Vote to such a sum as was absolutely necessary to carry on the public service till after the Whitsun holidays. The Estimate had accordingly been accurately revised with that view, and all that the Government asked from the House was a sum of £400,000, which would be distributed over ten votes. These Votes were, on account of printing and stationery, £30,000; County Courts, £35,000; Irish constabulary, £82,000; Education in Great Britain, £100,000; consuls abroad, £54,000; prisons, &c, £20,000; sundry temporary commissions, £12,000; slave trade, £ 12,000; civil contingencies, £54,000; Dublin police, £7,000. On a close investigation of the accounts this amount was found to be indispensable in order to prevent the confusion that would arise from overdrawing the accounts during the holidays. He trusted there would be no objection to the House going into Committee of Supply.
§ MR. AUGUSTUS SMITH
said, he very much regretted the Government proposed to take that Vote, as he greatly objected to the system of taking money on account. Complaints had been made in former Sessions that the Estimates were delayed; yet notwithstanding all that had been said as to the propriety of laying the Estimates on the table at an early period of the Session every Government that was in power adhered to the practice of bringing them in late in the Session, so late that it was impossible to give them the attention which they deserved. Her Majesty's Government should recollect that the Estimates were not to be considered as a reason for voting the money required as a matter of course. He should feel it to be his duty to oppose the Motion for going into Committee, and he should take the sense of the House on the subject.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS
said, he agreed that the Government were taking a most objectionable course, for when a sum was once taken on account any discussion upon 1665 the Vote afterwards was useless. That I was quite a new practice, which had only obtained within the last three or four years. A few nights ago the Government obtained a large sum on account for the Army Estimates, and now they asked for another sum on account for the Civil Service Estimates. He thought that as the Government knew at the commencement of the Session what the requirements of the service were, they ought to be prepared to bring forward the Estimates at a period sufficiently early to prevent any such contingency arising as the present. He should support the hon. Gentleman in opposing so objectionable a course as that proposed, although it would, perhaps, be better to do so in Committee. The House ought certainly to express its opinion in respect to so objectionable a practice.
§ MR. WALPOLE
Sir, I trust that the House will feel it to be its duty to give a strong expression of its opinion on this subject; but whether that expression shall be made on your leaving the chair, or when we get into Committee and know the particular reasons for proposing these Votes on account, I am not able to say. I think we had better go into Committee, but I am alarmed at the grounds put forward by the hon. Secretary to the Treasury for going into Committee of Supply with the view of voting this money on account. This is an entirely new proceeding on the part of the Government. The reasons given by the hon. Gentleman appear to me to be insufficient. The only precedents are two. One of them was made with the knowledge of the House when a great hiatus was likely to occur in the proceedings of the House in consequence of a dissolution. The other occurred when the House determined to take upon itself to examine the Miscellaneous Estimates, and when, therefore, the Government could not with propriety proceed with these Estimates until that examination was over. But what is it we are now asked to do? By the notice of Motion in the Supplementary Estimate recently circulated, the House was led to suppose that the Government was about to ask for not £400,000, but £1,400,000 on account; and I observed particularly that, when the Secretary to the Treasury was pressing this on the consideration of the House, he made out a case, not for voting money on account to meet a particular exigency, but to meet the possibility of the House sitting till August, and not being able to go on with them. This is what 1666 alarms me in the novel proceeding of the Government. I think it better not to oppose your leaving the chair, because the Government may have more reasons to give in Committee for voting this money on account; but when we get into Committee, we ought to scrutinize with the greatest minuteness the claims for these Votes on account. The Estimates ought to be proceeded with earlier in the Session, or this House will forfeit a much greater privilege than it is supposed to be about to hazard in another matter, for it is by these Estimates and by going into Committee of Supply alone that this House has an opportunity, before it grants a shilling of the public money, of demanding explanations with reference to all matters where they may be required. Postpone the Estimates and take money on account, and you deprive this House of the opportunity of bringing under the notice of Parliament any grievance that may require its interposition.
§ LORD HARRY VANE
said, he was glad that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) did not intend to support the Motion, which he trusted his hon. Friend would withdraw, against the House going into Committee. It was most desirable that the Estimates should be proceeded with at an earlier period of the Session, and that it should not become the habit of the Government to ask for Votes on account. But the Secretary to the Treasury had limited the amount of the sums he proposed to take on account, and the House would run no risk in voting only what was essential for the public service. The present proposal was so reasonable that he hoped there would be no opposition to it, since the House did not pledge itself to vote the whole of the money of which it was now asked to vote a part.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he thought that the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury had somewhat changed the position of this question. Since the Notice Paper had been presented the Government had determined to ask only for money on account of ten items, and for £400,000 instead of £1,400,000. But it was a question of principle, and the House ought to know the precise meaning of the alteration that had been made. If the intention was to ask for money on account merely to enable the Government to get over the Whitsuntide holidays, and if it were understood that after the recess the House were to be asked 1667 to consider the Civil Service Estimates, the proposal would be of a moderate character. But if these Votes were proposed merely to enable the Estimates to be postponed until late in the Session, it was not a question of £1,400,000 or of £400,000, but of principle and precedent. Although he should be most reluctant to throw difficulties in the way of the Government, they ought to understand on what principle this money was asked for. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) had correctly stated that there were only three precedents for voting money on account—the dissolution in 1857, that of last year, and the appointment in 1848 of the Committee to revise the miscellaneous expenditure. Upon the last occasion the Votes were taken on account, in order to enable the House to deal with the Estimates after they got the Report of the Committee. There was, however, this difference, that it was not intended that the Committee which was appointed this year should express any opinion on the Estimates of the year. Their duty was to examine and report upon the Estimates only of the past year. The truth was that in all those three cases the ground on which the Votes were given on account was one, not of convenience, but of principle. When the House of Commons was about to be dissolved it would obviously be very improper for the House to proceed to vote all the details of the expenditure, and commit the country to their views. That was a duty which should be reserved for the now House of Commons which was to be elected. He understood, therefore, that the principle on which the Votes on account were taken in 1857 and 1859 was simply that, as the House was about to be dissolved, it was necessary that the settlement of the expenditure should be left to the following Parliament. Such was not the case at this moment. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury cited the authority of the Committee on Public Moneys for the course proposed; but the report of that Committee was by no means applicable to such a case. That Report recommended that the same principle should be adopted in voting and auditing grants for the civil service as for the army and navy. The grants for the latter services were voted in large sums to be expended during the year, as had been explained by the Secretary to the Treasury. It was suggested that the civil service Votes were taken so late in the year that to adopt the same course with regard to 1668 them as with the other Votes would have the effect of involving the Government in difficulties. The Committee, therefore, with reluctance, suggested that Votes should be taken on account, as the only way of getting out of the difficulty. Considerable hesitation was exhibited by the Committee in coming to that decision. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir G. C. Lewis) submitted a very able paper, which, to a great extent, formed the foundation of the Report, and in which he expressed some doubts as to the possibility of making any alteration in the mode of voting the Miscellaneous Estimates, because there was great difficulty in getting Parliament to pass all the Votes before the 1st of April. The Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring), stated his opinion that to vote money on account of the civil service, without specific appropriation, would be open to serious objection, and that to take part Votes for one quarter on each separate head would lead practically to a double discussion. But although, as he had said, that decision was come to with much hesitation, a certain object was to be gained by it. In the present case, however, they were asked to take the same course without attaining any object. In truth, on looking at the circumstances of the case, and considering the course which was proposed, it would be seen that by adopting it the House would be exposed to one of two difficulties—either they must discuss the principle of these Votes now— in which case nothing was gained except that they would have to discuss them over again — or the principle of other Votes, which it was desirable should be discussed, would be withdrawn from consideration. They were told that the proposal now made was very moderate, because they were asked to vote money on only one or two Votes. But some of these Votes were in class 7, which was not before them. That was a very important class, and one in which very large reductions had been promised—reductions to the extent of over £200,000. If it was really necessary for the Government to get money for these two or three services in that class, they ought to have the specific Votes before them, in order that they might discuss them properly. But if they were to give these Votes on account and leave the rest till the end of the Session, the consequence would be that they would be brought before the House at a time when they could not re- 1669 ceivc proper consideration. He objected, therefore, to giving these Votes on account in class 7. It was not to the amount, but to the principle involved, that his objection chiefly referred. He was opposed to passing such Votes on account, unless on the distinct understanding that they would have the Estimates before them immediately after Whitsuntide, to be proceeded with in the proper manner.
§ LORD FERMOY
said, he objected on principle to Votes being taken on account, and he did not think that the Secretary to the Treasury had made out a special case for this occasion. A great deal of time had unquestionably been thrown away in the early part of the Session, not without due warning to the Government from himself and others that delay in the introduction of the Reform Bill would lead to a deadlock in the business of the country. It did not matter that the proposition now made was a moderate one. Unless the House of Commons made a stand, and protested against the practice of voting on account, they would find one Government after another announcing that they were pressed for money, and asking for a small sum on account, on the promise that the Estimates would be brought on afterwards. Every hon. Member who had spoken had objected to the principle, but it was of no use objecting to the principle unless something was done to prevent the practice. No one who listened to the speech of the Secretary of the Treasury could resist the conviction that it was not the intention of the Government to bring forward the Estimates before August; and if they were delayed till then, what opportunity would there be for properly discussing them? Another view of the question was, that the Vote of so much money on account was virtually a sort of Vote of Confidence in the Government. Now, the present was a very critical time. An important step would have to be taken by the Government in regard to a matter pending between this House and the other; and, for his own part, he could say that the confidence he would be disposed to place in the Government would depend very much on the nature of the step they took. The country surely could not be so completely short of funds that the Votes of Credit could not be postponed for a week or ten days, by which time the Committee which was to be appointed to-morrow would be enabled to report as to precedents. He would, therefore, press the Government to defer 1670 the taking of the Votes on account till at least after Whitsuntide.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I have no wish to mix the question now before us with any other. I will confine myself, therefore, to the proposition which the Government have submitted to us. On occasions like the present, notwithstanding the constitutional suspicion with which the House ought to view propositions of this kind, I am myself always inclined to facilitate the course of public business, and to give any Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury bench that fair assistance in conducting the affairs of the House which they have a right to expect from Parliament. It is impossible, however, to assent to this proposition without some consideration. The House should clearly understand the proposition that is made, because I cannot at all agree with the noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord H. Vane) in his view. The noble Lord seemed to entertain objections of a very serious character to any course of this kind, provided the demand had been a large one; but as it was, comparatively speaking, so small in relation to that originally asked, and positively speaking, so trifling in itself, he did not see how the House could properly refuse the application. To my mind the small amount of the proposition would rather add to its objectionable character, in case I felt it my duty on the whole to offer no opposition to the plan of the Government. Because, what is the view of the public business given to us by the Secretary of the Treasury? He certainly, as has been observed by the noble Lord who spoke last, and as was generally felt by both sides of the House, conveyed the impression that there was no immediate prospect of the House forming itself into a Committee of Supply to consider the Civil Service Estimates. Well, what will be the position of the House if, a fortnight hence, when this supply is exhausted, a similar proposition, equally small, is made? The House may be occupied at that time with business, supposed to be of great interest and importance, and an appeal may then be equally successful if it is urged as to-night, that surely the House has sufficient confidence in the Government to supply them with funds to carry on the urgent business of the country for another week or fortnight? Therefore, although the application may be small, the precedent may be large; and therefore it is only as a precedent, involving a principle, that the House has really to decide upon the question be- 1671 fore it. I entirely assent to the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole. I agree with him in all his arguments, and the only part in which I do not agree with him is the conclusion at which he arrives. It appeared to me that every reason urged by my right hon. Friend would have induced him to arrive at a conclusion the reverse to that which he reached; and, so far from thinking that this is not the opportunity upon which the House should come to a decision, whatever that decision may be, I am of opinion that it is upon the question that you, Sir, shall leave the chair that—a principle being involved, and we being called upon to establish a precedent—the House ought to treat the matter frankly and fully, and arrive at their decision upon it. Upon the subject of precedent I need hardly touch, because I think the admission of the Secretary to the Treasury is conclusive. All the precedents which he adduced proved that it was a course which the House adopted only under extraordinary circumstances, such as impending dissolutions of Parliament, changes of Ministry, references to the House itself of the Estimates; and in the present Session none of those extraordinary circumstances exist. I therefore think that we may fairly throw aside all precedents. We are called upon to-night to make a precedent. On the subject of amount it does not appear to me that it is of the slightest consequence whether the application of the Government be for £500,000 or £1,500,000. As far as the Government is concerned it is a question of confidence. I and every Gentleman sitting on these benches are perfectly prepared to give them that confidence, provided there is a clear understanding of the terms upon which that confidence is to be given. If the public service is in such a state that there really are not in the Exchequer funds to carry it on from day to day, I am disposed to come to the assistance of the Government. I will not go out of the way to inquire whether a great deal of time has been wasted. I will not read the list of the meetings of the House to show that, although Parliament was called together in January, a fortnight passed before any business was transacted, or that even on one or two nights the Government did not take advantage of opportunities to go into Committee of Supply. I will not stop to inquire why we have not yet been regularly in Committee of Supply. If the service of 1672 the country absolutely requires it, I will not enter into any discussion whether the sum shall be £500,000 or £1,500,000. The condition which I make with the Government, and which I think it right to make, and which I think the House of Commons ought to make, is this,—If we are ready to extend this fair confidence, will they engage that we shall have fair opportunities and legitimate occasions of entering into that criticism and examination of the Estimates of the Government which is our right and privilege? To ask us to enter into an investigation of the Estimates in August, as the Secretary to the Treasury tells us, or even in the month of July, is not a fair constitutional fulfilment of the conditions which, I think, the House in giving its confidence to the Government has a right to demand. That is the real point, and if the noble Lord or the right hon. Gentleman will rise and tell us that it is impossible, for want of Supplies, to carry on the business of the country until next Thursday, when we meet and can, if the Government please, go into Committee of Supply, every one will be perfectly willing to grant that which they require; but we ought to make a constitutional condition. When they ask this unusual assistance from the House, they ought to say: When the holidays are over we will go as early as possible into Committee of Supply, continue to take Supply, and give to the House the legitimate opportunities of investigating the expenditure of the country and of bringing before the consideration of Parliament those grievances which it is the privilege of the House of Commons to bring forward under those circumstances. If Her Majesty's Government frankly tell us that they are prepared to do that, which I conclude a Minister of the Crown cannot hesitate for a moment in doing—if they will enter into a clear engagement that when the holidays are over, next Thursday, we shall go into Committee of Supply, that these Estimates shall be submitted to us, that we shall not be deprived of our constitutional right to examine the Civil Service Estimates, and to see whether in our minds they are of the proper amount and character, and that we shall have the opportunity on those occasions of bringing subjects under consideration which it is usual to bring forward when Estimates are moved, I shall support the proposition of Her Majesty's Government. But if that offer be not accepted—if we are called on to establish a most dangerous precedent, 1673 and to go on through the remainder of the Session voting aids and credits without the advantage of going into Committee of Supply, thereby risking the loss of those privileges which are most valuable, and of which we are most proud, then I shall feel it my duty to support the hon. Gentleman. I only ask the House to remember the position in which it is placed. Certainly two-thirds, if not more, of the usual Session has already passed, and we have scarcely gone into Committee of Supply as far as the exercise of any real control over the expenditure of the country or of the privilege of obtaining redress of grievances is concerned. There is also, from the admission of the Secretary to the Treasury, a prospect that the remaining portion of the Session will also pass without the House having the enjoyment of those advantages. I trust that I have placed the question fairly before the House, and treated it in a constitutional point of view. As I have said, I shall support Her Majesty's Government if they enter into that engagement, but otherwise I shall support the hon. Gentleman who has moved the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, it is quite true, as the hon. Gentleman says, that there is a financial necessity for a Vote for these services,—not that the Exchequer is empty, but that we have not yet Parliamentary authority to apply the money; and unless Parliamentary authority is given the services must suffer great inconvenience, and the public interest be seriously prejudiced. That is the simple ground upon which, we apply to Parliament for these Votes on account. I cannot admit that an application to Parliament for a Vote on account of Estimates already presented is at all a matter without precedent. It is a matter of almost annual occurrence. Nor do I see any great distinction between these Miscellaneous Estimates and Estimates for the Army and Navy, except that perhaps the latter are more important and present a greater number of subjects upon which it is desirable opinions should be expressed. There is nothing unparliamentary or unconstitutional, when the necessity arises, to ask for Votes on account of the larger services of the army and navy; and I cannot see what Parliamentary or constitutional objection can be raised in principle to a Vote on account of consular establishments, education, or any of these different heads of the Miscellaneous Estimates, which are infinitely 1674 less important than those upon which Parliament by practice has acquiesced in the principle of Votes on account. It has been stated that the necessity for Votes of account on these Miscellaneous Estimates does not often occur, and why? Because these Estimates—and here I may appeal to the recollection of hon. Members to bear me out—come on late in the Session, and are frequently not finished till late in July, and the House has usually found nothing in that advanced period of the Session to prevent it giving the necessary attention to the details of these Votes. We are accused of negligence in not having brought these Vstimates sooner before the attention of the House, but I beg to recall to the recollection of hon. Gentlemen that we called Parliament together ten days earlier than usual. We showed no disinclination at all events to meet Parliament at the earliest possible period consistent with the convenience of hon. Members—in fact we were somewhat blamed for having anticipated the usual period for its assembling. Have we, during the period which has elapsed from that time to this, abstained from submitting to Parliament measures of importance and general interest deserving their consideration? Parliament, in fact, has been uninterruptedly occupied by measures of the greatest national importance. I am not at all disposed to cavil at the length of time which the House has thought fit to devote to the consideration of the weighty measures submitted to them—the French Treaty, the Reform Bill, the Budget, and the financial measures springing out of it. They were perfectly justified in discussing them at length, but a great deal of time has, in fact, been occupied by these discussions, and they have so far interfered with the ordinary course of public I business in regard to the Estimates, that at this moment we have not been able to give to the Army and Navy Estimates, which generally take precedence of the Miscellaneous Estimates, sufficient time to enable us to complete them. If the Miscellaneous Estimates, therefore, have been postponed to the present time, it is not our fault, but the result of that course which the House of Commons in the performance of its duty has thought fit to adopt with regard to the measures of first-rate importance which were submitted to it, and which deserved all the attention bestowed on them. Blame ought not to be thrown on us for a result which is no fault of ours, but which has arisen from the length of time the House 1675 has, in the discharge of its duty, thought fit to give to important business. The right hon. Gentleman opposite made very light of the observation of my noble Friend, that the objection to this course is diminished in proportion to the diminution of the sum asked for; but I think, even in his own view of the case, that observation had great force. The amount of money to be voted is equivalent in meaning to a certain portion of time, and those who object to these Votes on account to carry on a certain service, on the ground that they place the remainder of the Vote in a certain degree out of the control of Parliament, ought to feel that the diminution of the sum voted on account, as it involves the necessity of an earlier recurrence to Parliament for the remainder of the services, very much removes the objection to this course. The right hon. Gentleman says he is quite willing to agree to this Vote provided the Government will undertake that the details of these Estimates shall be submitted to the House at a time and in a manner which shall enable it to give to them the full and fair consideration which is necessary for the due discharge of its constitutional functions. Undoubtedly that is an undertaking which we are perfectly ready to enter into. Indeed, it seems to me to follow as a matter of course from that power which the House of Commons has over the Government. It is an engagement to which we can scarcely be said to be parties, because the House has the matter entirely in its own hands. The Votes now asked for will enable the Government to carry on the services till about the middle of June, and beyond that time nothing can be done without the sanction of the House. When the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, asks us to enter into such an arrangement, he is rather derogating from the constitutional power of the House, because we are in the hands of the House. No further money can be issued without the authority of the House, and that authority, of course, the House will not continue to give, unless it has an opportunity of entering fully and fairly into a discussion of all the details for which the money is required, and exercising their undoubted right of control.
§ MR. BENTINCK
It would be more satisfactory if the noble Lord would state in what manner he understands the engagement into which he professes his readiness to enter. When does he propose that we should go into Committee of Supply?
§ SIR FRANCIS BARING
The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir S. Northcote) referred to some suggestion of mine in reference to the Public Moneys Committee; but the Report of that Committee has, in reality, nothing whatever to do with the point before us. It related exclusively to certain arrangements which were proposed, but which would have necessitated a change in the mode of voting the Estimates, and the question with the Committee was how to get over that difficulty. But the real question before the House is this:—The Government state to the House that they require certain sums for the public service to carry them on till after the holidays, and I confess I am surprised to hear from hon. Gentlemen opposite that their principles are such that they refuse to go into Committee to ascertain whether those moneys are actually required by the Government or not. If the Government were prepared to ask sums which would throw off the consideration of the Estimates to an unreasonable extent, I can understand that sum being cut down in Committee to a proper amount; but, when the Government have stated that the public service requires certain sums to be granted, I would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they will take on themselves the responsibility of refusing to go into Committee for the consideration of the votes asked for.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
The right hon. Baronet has misunderstood the feeling which prevails on this side of the House. My right hon. Friend made it perfectly clear that we have no desire to cause any public inconvenience. The speech of the noble Lord was directed entirely to an attempt to draw the House from the fact that the proposal of the Government is intended to establish a precedent, and that one of a very objectionable and dangerous character; and in guarding against that precedent, the language of my right hon. Friend and the general feeling on this side of the House showed that we had no desire to cause any public inconvenience. We have asked the Government to state distinctly whether there will be any injury to the public service by delaying this grant to Thursday evening next, and, if the Government will give us that assurance, we are ready to go into Committee at once; but they ought not to call on us to go into Committee without some assurance of that 1677 sort. If there is any necessity for the grant being made immediately, it is the Government who are to blame for bringing us into that condition. Parliament certainly did meet earlier than usual this year, but for the first fortnight nothing was done. We rose every night at eight or nine o'clock for the first fortnight, and, therefore, we have a right to blame the Government for making this Vote on account necessary, if necessary it be. Without some assurance of the sort, I should object to setting a precedent, for I deny that one already exists. The only way in which we can guard against that precedent being established, is by voting now against the Motion that you, Sir, do leave the chair, unless the Government will promise that they will bring these Estimates before us on Thursday next.