§ 2. £36,000 (Supplementary), Temporary Commissions.
§ MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
said he desired to give the Financial Secretary an opportunity of giving the Committee any information he might have with regard to the work of the War Stores Commission and the prospect of the presentation of a Report. It was appointed by the late Government to investigate into and report as to allegations made by the Committee presided over by Sir William Butler; and it was also entrusted to inquire as to the responsibility of persons concerned in the waste of stores in South Africa. He understood that the Commission had appointed some representative of its number to go to South Africa to take evidence, but up to the present time they had not had anything in the nature of an interim Report. He wished to know whether any such Report had been presented. The right hon. Gentleman had, no doubt, some information to justify the arrest a short time ago of a number of non-commissioned officers, but he should be glad to know what further action the Government proposed to take in the matter. The Commission dealt with a public scandal, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to assure them that the matter was present in the mind of the Government, and that a Report would be soon presented. He had another question to ask. He understood the Motor Car Commission had concluded taking evidence, and he wished to ask whether they could have any information as to whether a Report would be presented. Another very interesting Commission was the Local Government Board Redistribution Commission, appointed by the late Government, without any authority from the House, with a view to obtaining advice as to a Redistribution Bill to be presented. At the time their conduct was very much criticised, and it was generally recognised to be a political expedient and nothing else. He therefore thought they were entitled to ask how the money had been spent and whether the Commission was still in existence.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOHN BURNS,) Battersea
said the Motor Car Commission had completed its labours and the Report was in course of preparation. The Redistribution Commission had also concluded its labours, but he thought the subject of its investigations was of a confidential nature, and he could not give that fuller information which hon. Members would like.
§ MR. MORTON
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us the Members of the Commission, whether they are going to Report, and what they have done with the £1,200?
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
I do not know their names; I have not seen their Report; I understand the last Government have dissolved them; and I would suggest that there the matter should rest.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin County, N.)
said that in his opinion it was infamous to demand that the public should be asked to pay for this device for prolonging the late Administration. In the very last stages of the existence of the late Government they were looking about for some pretext for living a few minutes longer, and one of the devices hit upon was to start the question of redistribution, with special reference to the Irish representation. The whole object was to cut down the representation of Ireland and not to reform the system in either England or Scotland; and was it reasonable that the public should have to pay for the designs of a mere political club organised in the Conservative interest? It was a most extraordinary thing that the President of the Local Government Board should not know anything about the Commission. He could understand documents relating to foreign affairs being kept private, though they were always made known to successive Ministries, but by what right had the late Government withheld the documents of this Commission from the present President of Local Government Board, and how was it that he regarded them as deserving of being treated as confidential? He did not object to the late or any Government keeping private their documents if they did not ask the public to pay for them, but to compel the country to pay for a partisan document seemed to him to be the most impudent thing he had known 1039 since he entered the House twenty years ago, and, as far as he was concerned, he had no intention of allowing the documents to remain private, so long as the demand was made that they should be paid for by the public purse. If Mr. Balfour would arrange with the right hon. Gentleman to pay for this out of the funds of the Carlton Club, he would raise no further objection. He might then keep the documents for they would interest him no more, but they would interest him very much if he found the demand that they should be paid for out of the public purse was persisted in.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said he thought the House was entitled to some further information from the President of the Local Government Board. Why was this called a private document? The appointment of the Commission was announced in the House, and the names of its Members were read out by a Minister, one of them being an officer of the Local Government Board, who gave his public time for the preparation of the Commission's Report. He could not understand the ground on which they were told that the document was a private one, that they had nothing to do with it, and that they were not to see it. There was at least one if not two officers of the Local Government Board on the Commission, and it could not surely be fairly argued that the House was to have no knowledge of the Report.
§ MR. MORTON
said that what they ought to know was who had had the money and how much they had each had; and, if the right hon. Gentleman could not that day give them the information, he thought they should postpone the matter. The transaction must be known to somebody in the Local Government Board, and they ought not to pass it over without receiving the fullest information, especially as they were told that it was a mere electioneering dodge. If anyone could prove that it was not, they would have the opportunity, but no one had risen yet on the Opposition Benches. He had no doubt that they were ashamed of the expenditure themselves. They had now a Liberal Government in power, pledged to economy, and he consequently hoped that they would have the fullest information on the matter, otherwise 1040 he should feel obliged to vote against the Estimate altogether.
§ MR. LEIF JONES (Westmoreland, Applehy)
said there was one point which had not been cleared up by the President of the Local Government Board. Had the Commission completed the work for which it was appointed, and had any member of the Government a complete Report as to the work? They wanted to know whether the country had got anything at all for the £1,200 they were now asked to vote. There might be schemes of redistribution hereafter. Would the findings of this Commission be of any further value? Would they be any contribution to any such scheme?
§ MR. BYLES (Salford, N.)
said it seemed to him that they would be creating a rather dangerous precedent, if they voted money spent by somebody, they did not know who, and spent in some way, they did not know how. He considered the only way was to move that the Vote should be reduced by £1,200.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said he understood the matter did not come in the cognizance of the right hon. Gentleman, and that he was not in any way responsible for it. He did not think they could blame the Government at all, but this was the only opportunity they had of protesting against public money being spent in this fashion. The Commission originated in the failure of the late Government to pass certain Resolutions brought before Parliament, and it was appointed to give an indication to the public that they really meant business with regard to redistribution. It was evident that the late Government meant nothing by it; it was a Party expedient, and it was the duty of the Committee to protest against it. It was true that Mr. Gerald Balfour was nominally responsible for the matter, but he could not help expressing his surprise that no Member of the Front Opposition Bench had thought it his duty to say a single word on behalf of the late Government. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer must have some explanation as to how it came about that the expenditure was authorised. He would like to know the reasons which 1041 induced him to give his authority. Did he really believe the Commission was appointed in the public interest? The appointment of the Commission was an attempt to get round the House of Commons, and the matter was of importance from the point of view of precedent. How far was the Government going to be justified in spending public money without the authority of the House? This Commission was appointed to deal with a matter which was never accepted by the House. All that the House knew about it was that the late Prime Minister brought forward a series of resolutions before he had taken the trouble to study the procedure. The Commission was therefore an investigating Commission, just as if they had appointed a Commission of the Carlton Club; it was a mere fishing Commission appointed to gather sufficient information to justify the then Government in bringing in a Bill the next year. If they did not protest, where was the matter to stop? Would the Government be justified in appointing twenty Committees and in spending thousands of pounds without the authority of the House? He could imagine the protest that would come from the opposite side of the House if twenty Committees were appointed in connection with the Bills promised by the present Government. He thought the Members of the late Government, if they were not disposed to defend their own action in the matter, might give them the advantage of the information they had obtained. They were told that the papers were private, but why were they private? Perhaps the facts were against their own case, and that it was owing to that that the Report was to be kept secret. He would, however, appeal to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer as to whether he had not some information to give them with regard to the matter.
§ MR. VIVIAN (Birkenhead)
asked if it was not time that such questions as those relating to the redistribution of seats should be referred, not to a partisan Committee, but to some judicial Committee, representing all interests. There was a principle involved in the matter, and if they considered the question impartially and brought out a Report not partisan at all they would be taking a step forward. Then there was the question of spending money without the 1042 approval of the House. In extreme cases they might be inclined to excuse that sort of thing, but he did not see that this was an extreme case. He could understand also that if they were dealing with some great international question secrecy might be of vital importance in the public interest, but this was entirely a civil or domestic matter, and they ought to be placed in full possession of all the information.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN (Worcestershire, E.)
said he had a great deal of sympathy with the principles enunciated by the hon. Member who had just sat down, though he differed from him in the belief he had that they applied to the facts of the present case. The Commission could not be described as a partisan Commission, for it was composed, he believed, entirely of officials.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said that at any rate two members of the Commission were excluded by their public service from being active partisans.
§ MR. CORRIE GRANT (Warwickshire, Rugby)
The third gentleman is known to be an authority on local government.
§ MR AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN,
continuing, said that it would also be found, when the name of the third gentleman was mentioned, that his appointment was not of a partisan character. Therefore, although he agreed that it would be not merely wrong, but something of a scandal if they appointed a partisan Commission when they sought information on which to found legislation, he absolutely denied, and he was sure he would be supported by Gentlemen opposite who knew the facts, that the Commission appointed was partisan. If the hon. Gentleman opposite objected to the appointment of Departmental Committees, he must use his influence with the present Government to alter their ways, for, although they had been in office only a few months, they had announced an unusual number of Commissions and Committees, the 1043 expense of which the House would be asked to authorise.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said that as far as the Government could tell, the House was committed to the expenditure before it was asked for its sanction. He did not complain, but the hon. Gentleman opposite below the gangway, if he wished the principles he had named to be followed, must exert very active influence on the Government. The first principle the hon. Gentleman had laid down was, he understood, that when a Commission had concluded its work, the information should be made available for the House, unless the public interest necessitated its being withheld. It was a fact that every Government and every Department had from time to time to appoint Departmental Committees, and in some cases their Reports were necessarily of a highly confidential character, and could not be published without injury to the public interest, and without, in fact, making it impossible to conduct similar inquiries successfully in future; but the Commission they were considering was not a Commission of that kind. It was a mistake to say that the House of Commons refused to pass the Resolutions submitted by the late Government. The Speaker ruled that it would be necessary to break them up into such a great number of propositions that it was impossible to proceed with the matter in the then state of business, and the Government accordingly appointed the Commission, not for a partisan purpose, but for the sake of gaining information which it was necessary to have if the seats in the House were to be redistributed more in accordance with the claims of population in the country. They appointed the Commission to ascertain the facts upon which they could subsequently ask the House to act, and if they had retained office they would of course have asked the House to act upon the Report, and would have supplied the information upon which their Bill was framed to the House. The responsibility had now passed from them, and it was no longer for them to say 1044 whether the information should be forthcoming or not. He had felt it his duty to explain that they had acted not only in consonance with an unbroken line of precedents, but in accordance with the common dictates of common sense.
§ MR. LEIF JONES
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Commission completed its work or whether its work was broken off in the middle?
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
That is a question which ought to be addressed to the President of the Local Government Board.
§ MR. WHITLEY (Halifax)
said he thought the right hon. Gentleman had entirely misunderstood the force of what had been said on the Ministerial side of the House. They did not say that this was a partisan Commission so far as the individual members of it were concerned, but that it was appointed for partisan purposes, that it was in fact done to save the faces of the Ministers then in office. They did not dare face the House of Commons with their Resolutions, and they therefore held a meeting at the Carlton Club and decided to withdraw them. Then behind the scenes they appointed a Commission. What he wanted to ask the President of the Local Government Board was whether he would suggest that the £1,200 ought to be levied on the right hon. Gentlemen opposite instead of asking the House to vote the money.
§ MAJOR SEELY (Liverpool, Abercromby)
asked if there was not a precedent against the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Surely he was right in saying that on a previous occasion a Commission or Committee was appointed to inquire into redistribution proposals by a Liberal Government and that, although they went out of office before the labours of that Committee were completed, they left those labours, in view of the fact that they were performed in the public interest, to their successors. If that was so, it was a very strong precedent. He urged that when public servants were appointed to do public work their Report should be brought before the House, except when it was against the public interest that that course should be taken.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
thought that Irish Members should protest against this waste of public money. It was not necessary to raise the charge that this was a partisan Committee, but he said that the action of the late Government was of a partisan character. There was no question of urgency and no demand from Parliament, or any considerable section of Members, for the step. The whole thing was sprung upon the House at the fag end of a session without notice. It was part of the selfish and woeful mismanagement of the House that a Resolution on this subject should be brought forward which resolved itself into twelve or thirteen motions. He supposed that the money having been spent, all they could do was to register their protest, but if there were any practical means of securing it he would say that the members of the late Government who appointed this Commission without the assent of this House should be called upon to pay the money. This was a warning that Ministers should look before they leaped. The whole scheme was hastily and ill-considered and upon a partisan basis. It reflected no credit upon His Majesty's late Government.
§ MR. MORTON
said the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had not told them what they wanted to know, and that was, who got the money.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I have no access at the present time to the official records. Perhaps those who have access to those records can answer the Question.
§ MR. MORTON
said the money was paid by the late Government, and surely they had got receipts for it. He thought this was an illustration of the careless way in which the affairs of the country had been administered by the late Government, under whom the expanses had increased by £50,000,000 per annum. What they wanted to know from the President of the Local Government Board, or some other official, was who had this money. These permanent officials were enjoying a handsome salary, but they appeared in addition to have got this money. The Committee were 1046 entitled to know how every penny of the public money had been spent.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin County, N.)
considered that there was a much more important question to consider than where the money had gone to, and that was where the Report was to be found. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he knew nothing about its contents, but if it was not in the office of the Local Government Board, where was it? Had it been taken away by some of the late Ministers and was it now to be found in one of their houses or in one of the clubs they frequented; or was it in the possession of the hon. Gentleman who ought to have it, the hon. Member for Waterford?
§ MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)
said it was perfectly obvious that from time to time Governments must change, and that there were a good many matters of legislation which required to be looked into and upon which the different Departments of the Executive were bound to collect evidence and make inquiries. He desired to point out to the House how exceedingly inconvenient it would be if, whenever a change of Government happened, it were possible for the new Government to propose to leave hon. Members who had been acting upon a Committee of this kind in the position that their expenses would not be paid. This was a storm in a tea cup, and an attempt to cast discredit, upon the late Government for matters in which they were acting strictly within their rights. The desire seemed to be to call into question expenses incurred in a perfectly regular manner. Hon. Members had asked where was the Report, but it was conceivable that there was no Report, and their demands, therefore, were perfectly futile. It was perfectly obvious that there was no use in cross-examining the President of the Local Government Board as to where the Report was, becaus he said he knew nothing about it. The discussion, therefore, seemed to him to be altogether absurd.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
explained that whatever money was disbursed in connection with the investigations of this 1047 Committee, hon. Members could rely upon it that it had been properly paid by the Local Government Board. It would be a mistake to imply that anybody had anything to do with the expenditure in the way suggested. This Committee was appointed by the last Government, and the present Government was in no sense responsible for it. The Committee was appointed, presumably in the public interest, for a definite public object, to deal with the question of whether or not there should be a redistribution scheme. Of its scope he knew nothing, and that also applied to its object, although they might have their suspicions. As to its conclusions, he was a child in these things, and he knew nothing about them, and he could not tell whether the Report was at the Local Government Board or not. He had been otherwise and better engaged than in searching through the archives of his office to find out what the late Government had done in regard to redistribution, and he had not seen the Report. He believed the Committee sat and did some work, and reported in some way, though he knew not what way. The expenses they incurred were the amount included in the supplementary Estimate now submitted. If hon. Gentlemen thought that by postponing this question they would be able further to elucidate the questions which had been addressed to him, he should be pleased to comply with their request, but so far as he was concerned, and until he was released from what seemed to be his duty as President of the Local Government Board that afternoon, he construed that the document was confidential, and it seemed to him that it would be unjust to his predecessors, unless the Department was released from the confidence attaching to the document, to publish it. To publish it would be unfairand unbecoming, but in the event of the late Prime Minister's being returned that day for the City of London, and questions being put to him on the subject—he could not conceive that the right hon. Gentleman could have anything to hide in the matter—if the right hon. Gentleman was willing to assent to the publication of the document "Barkis is willing," and he was ready to assent to its production. He had nothing to add to what he had 1048 said to the effect that this document must be regarded as confidential, and pending further inquiries, he might ask to be allowed to adhere to the terms of the answer he made yesterday.
§ MR. WALTER LONG (Dublin, S.)
thought that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had made a very fair proposal, namely, that until the late Prime Minister returned to the House he should not be released from what he considered his obligation of honour towards his predecessors. He was sure that everyone would respect and sympathise with the feelings which led the right hon. Gentleman to adopt that view, although with great respect he took a somewhat different view from him in regard to this matter. He knew nothing more than the right hon. Gentleman about the Report. He did not know what it contained, nor did he know if the Report was a concluded one. The suggestion, however, that the Report was to be of a partisan character was one, however, which must be repudiated at once. It was a Report asked for by the Department, not in a partisan sense, but in order to obtain information which was necessary, if redistribution proceedings were to be continued, and the suggestion that it was partisan in any way must fall upon the gentlemen composing; the Committee. He could say of the Local Government Board that there was no Department in the country to which one could go with such confidence to get not an ex parte, but an independent statement. Therefore he was convinced that there could be no reason whatever why, if there was a Report, it should not be made public. He gathered that the President of the Local Government Board had been occupied in very important duties and had not had time to ascertain whether this Report was in the Department or not. He suggested that the right hon. Gentleman should make inquiries in the Department. He would find whether the Report was there, and it was in his own discretion and that of nobody else to decide whether that Report was to be made public. There were many Reports prepared in our public Departments which, in the public interest, could not be published, 1049 but he did not know whether that consideration applied to this case or not. He was quite sure that Mr. Balfour was not desirous of any secrecy whatever in the matter.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE (Bristol, E.)
said the valuable suggestion had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board that the Committee should postpone the further inquiry into this Estimate. He hoped it was not proposed to postpone it for an indefinite period. It might well be postponed until the President of the Local Government Board had found out whether the document was supposititious or whether, if it was in existence, the right hon. Gentleman could see if it was to the advantage of those by whom the Commission was appointed or those who sat upon the Ministerial side of the House. The question for the Committee was what was the object for which this £1,200 was paid. It was a mere flea-bite to the last Government, but in the present Government they were all financial reformers, and they desired to check all these extravagances; and unless they commenced with these little items of £1,200 here and £3,000 there, presented on this Estimate, they would never accomplish that financial retrenchment to which they were all pledged. Another point was that there were two gentlemen put on this Committee who were public servants, and were earning salaries in other directions. If some one on the Treasury Bench who was responsible for the conduct of the Government would look into all the payments the Committee were now asked to consider, they would see that all the people put into these Commissions were public servants. It had become almost a scandal that public servants should be withdrawn from the ordinary business of their departments and put on Committees or Commissions and made the arbiters upon questions which were closely connected with the duties which they themselves were called upon day by day to discharge. It appeared to him that the whole of the expenditure of the State was controlled by persons whose business was not to decrease the expenditure but to take 1050 charge of the services of the State themselves.
§ SIR HENRY KIMBER (Wandsworth)
said he did not believe for one moment that any hon. Member of the Committee would suggest that he had received any of this money, in spite of what his hon. friend had said, and so far as the Report was concerned he would very much like to see it himself if it existed. The late Government originally intended to proceed by way of Bill for redistribution, but they ultimately decided to proceed by Resolution. That Resolution was brought forward in the form of an en bloc Resolution, but it was found that it could not be put en bloc and it was abandoned, because there was no time to discuss it. In justice to an absent Member it was due to Mr. Gerald Balfour that he should recall to the memory of the Committee the fact that that right hon. Gentleman stated several times that the course the late Government proposed to take was to appoint a Committee of three, of whom two were members of the Local Government Board staff and the third an eminent King's Counsel. Mr. Gerald Balfour stated distinctly that the result of the inquiries of those gentlemen would be confidential to the Government, and that on the information the then Government would be able to modify or mature the Resolution before the House into a Bill, and that then they intended to appoint Boundary Commissioners whose Report would be public property and would be brought before the House. In his recollection the propriety of the Government's course was not contested, and it was only fair that the course pursued by the Government of the day should be at the public expense
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said that what the Committee were now asked to do was to pay £1,200 for a Report which no one knew anything about, or whether it was in existence. In his opinion the only way to deal with this item was to postpone further inquiry till the Report stage, and if it were then found that there was no such document in existence, he for one would refuse to pass it. The point put forward, that this document was confidential, was not sound. 1051 It would have been if this had been a departmental Committee, but inasmuch as this was not a departmental Committee it could not be said that its Report was confidential.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said the suggestion made by the hon. Member was a reasonable one. There was an obvious desire in some quarters of the House to know more of this Report if it existed, and a desire upon the part of those who sat on the front Opposition bench for further investigation, and therefore, if the hon. Member would withdraw his Motion to reduce the Vote, he would agree to postpone its consideration.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said that as he had not yet moved his reduction he had nothing to withdraw. When the Vote came up for Report he hoped and believed they would have an opportunity given for its discussion. He had asked another question which he thought the Financial Secretary to the Treasury would be able to answer with regard to the War Stores Commission.
§ MR. MCKENNA
said that Mr. Justice Farwell had unfortunately been ill, and, in consequence, certain delay had taken place in issuing the Report. He was expecting that the Commission would finally report about the end of March, but it might be delayed a little beyond that time. Their investigation in South Africa had been undertaken by a barrister, Mr. Reeve, who had, he believed, executed his work with extreme skill and energy, and certain arrests had been made in consequence. There had been, however, no official communication yet received upon this or as to whether the trials of the persons charged had taken place.
§ MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD
said he had gathered that a large number of people had been prosecuted, and he would like to know whether in each case the individual who was responsible for giving or conveying bribes was also going to be prosecuted, because it seemed to him that that person was very much more guilty than the poor non-commissioned officer who might have received a bribe.
§ SIR W. EVANS GORDON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
said the hon. and learned Gentleman had stated that various arrests had been made.
§ SIR W. EVANS GORDON
said he understood certain officers were placed under arrest in this country. Could the Financial Secretary of the Treasury find out who they were and whether arrests were still being made, and, if so, whether any decision had been arrived at?
§ MR. MCKENNA
said he had been informed that there had been certain soldiers suspended, but he did not understand that any soldier had been placed under arrest.
§ SIR W. EVANS GORDON
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give fuller information on the Report stage?
§ MR. MCKENNA
said he could not promise that, because the Commission was a statutory one, and there was no authority for asking them for information on the subject.
§ MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD
called attention to the item of £100 for travelling expenses for the London Locomotion Commission. Were they expected to believe that the expenses were exactly that sum? It was time that with regard to a number of those items the House should have some information as to the basis on which they were framed.
§ MR. MCKENNA
thought the hon. Member would agree that it would be very undesirable to introduce a supplementary Estimate, say for £60 or £70, which might not be certain to cover the 1053 amount, which was, however, not very [...]arge. It referred to a considerable number of people, and although each item might be small the total was roughly put at £100. Of course, if the money were not spent it would be surrendered at the end of the year and would go to the reduction of the National Debt.
§ MR. MORTON
said, regarding the total cost of the London Locomotion Commission, that the £1,700 was, of course, in addition to the large sum of money previously voted. What had been the total expenses of the Commission? Who comprised the Advisory Committee, the fees and expenses of which on the supplementary Estimate amounted to £850. These Commissions of Inquiry, especially Royal Commissions, were very expensive, and it would be advisable, if they were to economise public money, that more details should be furnished as to how the money was expended.
§ MR. McKENNA
said the Advisory Committee was appointed early in 1904. A provision was made in the Estimates of last year of £10,000 for the expenses of the Board, but the whole of that was not expended. This £850 was a re-vote of the sum not exp[...]nded last year which was carried to the Sinking Fund. As regarded the total cost of the Commission he would give the figures later on.
§ MR. MORTON
asked what was the Feeble-Minded Commission referred to in the Estimate. How had the sum of £3,450 against it been expanded.
§ MR. McKENNA
said that the expenses covered the investigations of doctors receiving £3 3s. a day for a day's work of eight hours.
§ MR. MORTON
said he observed an item of £1,200 for the Poor Law Commission, but there was not the slightest explanation of what it was for. The supplementary Estimate also showed that the total original Estimate for temporary Commissions was £32,804, and a further sum was now required of £36,000. It was an example of how the money of the country was spent, and how to a very large extent it was wasted.
§ MR. MCKENNA
hoped his hon. friend would understand that these Estimates were prepared by the late Government and the information for which he asked was to a certain extent not in the hands of the present Government. The policy of the appointment of these Commissions would be better explained by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Poor Law Commission was appointed List year, and the Chairman was Lord George Hamilton.
§ MR. CLAUDE HAY
asked if any fresh appointments had been made to the Feeble-Minded Commission since the present Government came into office.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said a number of requests had been communicated to the Government to enlarge the scope and personnel of the Commission, and these requisitions had been considered by the Government. The additional names had not yet been decided upon.
§ MR. CLAUDE HAY
Has any fresh appointment on the Commission been made since the present Government came into office?
§ Vote agreed to.
§ 3. £10,000 Vote, Milan Exhibition, 1906.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said that there was an extraordinary note at the bottom of this Estimate which stated that—The expenditure out of this Grant-in-Aid will not be accounted for in detail to the Comptroller and Auditor - General. Any balance of the sum issued which may remain unexpended on the 31st March, 1906, will not be liable to surrender on that date.That was rather an unusual note. This Grant-in-Aid was given and they were not to have access to inhumation as to the way in which it was to be spent. He hoped the present Government were not responsible for this Estimate. He did not think that a proviso of this sort ought to be inserted in any Estimate, and it was a perfect farce to ask them to take an interest in the Estimates if they prevented the officials of this House from taking the necessary precaution to 1055 see the money was not wasted. He hoped they would have a satisfactory explanation.
§ LORD BALCARRES (Lancashire, Chorley)
said that applications of this kind were constantly made to the Treasury, and very constantly they had to be refused. The number of exhibitions during the last ten years had been large, and the amount of money expended was serious. He wished to suggest to the Secretary to the Treasury that the sporadic and irregular manner in which grants were made to these international exhibitions ought to be made a subject of inquiry by this Parliament. He noticed that the Treasury were responsible for the granting of this £10,000, but he could not help thinking that the Treasury was the wrong Department to deal with these grants. Such matters ought to be accounted for to the Treasury by the President of the Board of Trade or the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who was most in touch with the Consular service. The Treasury was essentially the wrong Department to deal with expenditure of this character. Matters relating to international exhibitions ought to be arranged almost entirely by the Board of Trade. When an application of this character was made to the British Government, it generally came from an irresponsible body of merchants in the particular country where the exhibition was being arranged. A Commission was appointed which contained a great number of ornamental names of persons who never attended, and they had no records before them and no continuity of policy. Sometimes it was the Chamber of Commerce, and in another case it was the Royal Engineers, and so on, and he thought the Government would do well to consider if some small permanent body could be set up to whom all such applications might promptly be referred. They would then have a body to whom all these applications could be made, and from whom applicants could receive skilled and professional advice. These applications often come late in the day, and then there was a scramble for sites, with the result that the commercial and industrial activity of this country was seldom shown to advantage. He would no doubt be told that he 1056 was asking the Government to set up a new department which would cost money, but if the Secretary to the Treasury would investigate this question he would find that the unbusinesslike way in which the Commissions had been managed was such that the waste of expenditure would run into scores and scores of thousands of pounds. If they had a small permanent body, he could name three or four competent people who would undertake to do the directing work gratis, and for the sum of £150 or £200 a year, they could allocate specially some skilful clerk from the Board of Trade for this purpose, who would record all the information, keep the accounts, be in touch with all these matters, and who would be able to advise the Treasury whenever these applications were made. In nine cases out of ten the applications ought to be promptly refused. He did not ask the hon. Member for an answer at the present moment, but he trusted that he would undertake to look into this matter in a sympathetic manner, because he was convinced that it was the best measure they could adopt to prevent extravagance in this matter of international exhibitions.
§ MR. PAUL (Northampton)
asked why this money should not be accounted for to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. He should like to know what right the Government or the Treasury had to withhold any information from the Auditor-General, who was a public officer, quite independent of the Treasury and responsible only to this House.
§ MR. R. DUNCAN (Lanarkshire, Govan)
thought they ought not to spend the taxpayers money upon exhibitions in countries which kept our goods out by prohibitive tariffs.
§ MR. MCKENNA
said he entirely agreed with the general observations of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs and the hon. Member for Northampton with regard to the advisability of all public accounts being submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. But the circumstances in this case were very exceptional. The grant of £10,000 had been made, and he did not take any 1057 responsibility for the expenditure of the money and the grant was a final one. As a rule a certain method was adopted. They usually retained control, and if the amount granted was not found sufficient there was generally a fresh demand made upon the Treasury to increase the amount. That course had been adopted in the case of other exhibitions. In the present case they had decided once for all that the grant should be £10,000 and no more, and the grant having been made it was entrusted to the Commissioners to expend the money. As a matter of fact they had stipulated that an audit should be made and shown to the Treasury, but they did not ask that the accounts should be audited by a department of the Government. The noble Lord made some ingenious suggestions as to a department being set up for the special consideration of applications for grants for foreign exhibitions. He would remind him that at the present moment foreign exhibitions were in the Department of the Foreign Office, and Colonial Exhibitions in the Department of the Colonial Office. Neither, he thought, were in the Department of the Treasury. They were accounted for by the Treasury, but the applications were not primarily settled or decided by the Treasury. The expenditure was controlled by the Treasury. He did not quite gather from the noble Lord whether he proposed that the department which he would set up should be independent of the Treasury with regard to control of expenditure, because if he made any such proposal as that, he could not even pretend that it would be considered with sympathy. There could be only one department of the State to control expenditure. If they were to sub-divide control it would be impossible for any Chancellor of the Exchequer to make up his Budget for the year.
§ MR. McKENNA
said that in regard to the suggestion to appoint a special officer of the Board of Trade to take control of the management of exhibitions, he would submit the matter to his right h m. friend the President of the Board of Trade who, he had no doubt, would 1058 give it his most sympathetic consideration. A grant to the exhibition of Marseilles was refused on the ordinary lines regulating the Treasury procedure in granting these sums. In the present case Milan was made an exception to the ordinary rule. As a general rule a grant was sanctioned only in a case where a foreign exhibition was conducted by the Government of the country where it was held and where it was held in the capital of the country. The Milan Exhibition was not primarily undertaken by the Italian Government and it was not to be held in the capital of Italy. Special representations were made to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer who, for reasons which the right hon. Gentleman thought were sufficient, and which he himself had no doubt were sufficient, agreed to this special grant's being made. He thought the House would be perfectly agreed that the sum in question was not excessive. In the case of Marseilles no special reason was shown why the Government should depart from the usual rule, and accordingly the request was refused.
§ MR. AUSTEX CHAMBERLAIN
said the Financial Secretary of the Treasury had perfectly correctly stated the rules upon which the Treasury had been accustomed to act in this matter, not only during the short time he himself presided over that office, but also under his predecessors. He thought the hon. Gentleman would find, as he and his predecessors had found, that there was considerable difficulty in dealing with the applications received for grants to exhibitions. The Treasury had tried to limit the number of applications it would receive and to maintain the rule under which grants were made. The rule was that the exhibition was to be national and held in the capital of the country where it took place. But it had been recognised that to the rule there must occasionally be exceptions, and exceptions had sometimes been made for political and other reasons. By political reasons he meant where it was thought desirable in the national interest that there should be the interchange of courtesy which representation at such an exhibition involved. This led to special grants being made for the exhibitions at St. Louis and Chicago. 1059 The exhibition at Milan was a national exhibition, the first national industrial exhibition held in the Kingdom of Italy. Although it did not fulfil the other Treasury condition of being held in the capital, it was pointed out with unanswerable force by parties interested that Rome was not the natural place for an industrial exhibition, that Milan was the industrial capital, and that for an exhibition of this kind must be considered the capital of Italy. Therefore, though in the first instance he refused to make any grant to this exhibition, because it did not literally fulfil the regulations they had endeavoured to maintain, he, on the further representations which were made to him, and on receiving assurances both from the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade of their interest in the matter and of their desire that the British Government should be officially represented, and especially on being advised by the Board of Trade that this was a matter that concerned the trade of the country, he undertook to allow a grant and not to present a Supplementary Estimate this year as the hon. Gentleman had done, but to propose to the House of Commons in the regular course of the Estimates in the next Parliamentary year a grant similar to that which had now been laid before the Committee. He took no exception to the very natural course which the hon. Gentleman had pursued. He supposed that the hon. Gentleman desired as far as possible to wind up all the liabilities of the late Government in these Supplementary Estimates, and he did not for a moment criticise that decision. He need not say that if the Vote were challenged he would give it all the support in his power, for it embodied a proposal he had intended to make to the House. As to the procedure which had been commented on, he thought the hon. Gentleman opposite had fairly explained the reasons which had led him to adopt it. It was customary to treat a grant-in-aid in this way. A grant-in-aid was not an Estimate in the ordinary sense. It was a definite contribution made once and for all, and with that contribution the liability of the Government ceased.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said it was limited to representing British trade in a particular Exhibition—in this case Milan Exhibition. If the whole of the money was not required for the purpose for which it was voted, the balance would be surrendered to the Exchequer. What was more likely to happen was. that not only would the £10,000 be spent in securing a fitting representation of British trade, but that a considerable sum would be raised by Chambers of Commerce, or from private sources, for the same purpose. In regard to the general question as to whether the Treasury was or was not the best Department to deal with these applications, he entirely concurred with the hon. Gentleman opposite that the financial control of the Treasury must remain complete. It must be for the Treasury to say whether they would give a grant in any particular case or not. The suggestion of his noble friend was not to traverse that control, but there was something in the suggestion that when applications of this kind were made—and they were not infrequently received—it might be of service to the Treasury to have a small permanent Committee who would examine the claims put forward in support of each exhibition and digest the cases for the Treasury. Probably the Committee would themselves be able to decline to submit a considerable number of the applications to the Treasury. He thought that generally the Treasury would not go behind their Committee, but the responsibility and control of the Treasury to grant or refuse applications would still remain complete. He viewed this expenditure for representing British trade in foreign exhibitions with very considerable suspicion. He shared the view of his hon. friend, who expressed doubt as to whether the money was well expended in securing the representation of British trade where heavy tariffs were constantly limiting the trade which that expenditure was intended to promote. He was inclined to think that the money spent for this purpose was of little use except in cases where the exhibitions were of a character, or situated in places to attract visitors on a large scale from what were known as neutral markets—South American markets for instance. He did not pretend to dogmatise on this 1061 matter, but it was a conclusion which he had been tempted to arrive at through communications he had had at different times—long before he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, as well as when he held that office—from gentlemen engaged in British industry and commerce. He thought, for instance, that our participation in an exhibition in Paris probably did not lead to any great extension of our trade in France—certainly not to any permanent extension. If it led to a momentary extension, local manufacturers very soon found out what was going on, and they undertook to supply their own market. But an exhibition in Paris was visited by possible customers from other countries where we did not suffer from the same restrictions. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would consider the suggestion made by the noble Lord in no unfriendly spirit, and with no idea of depriving the Treasury of any of the control it possessed now, and which it must always possess over the national expenditure.
§ MR. MCCRAE (Edinburgh, E.)
said the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had dealt with the matter of this grant in a fair way. The suggestion of the noble Lord was very absurd, and he was surprised that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer should have given it his support. The Treasury must take the responsibility of dealing with applications, and if they wished to get advice they could get it from the experts of the Departments. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer wished that advice he could get it without putting the responsibility on any such sub-committee. He thought that the control ought to be complete; but his hon. friend behind him misunderstood the present situation. If a grant were given by municipalities, as was sometimes the case, to an exhibition of this kind, it was donated on a certain ground; he did not think the municipality could ask for the details as to how that sum was expended, but they must be satisfied that any amount not expended for the purpose for which the original sum was voted would be returned. He must say, however, that the foot-note was misleading.
§ MR. MORTON
thought that these accounts should go before the Auditor-General, because, unless they did, how could it be known that the money was properly expended? He was sure that the understanding of the House was that the details of the expenditure of every sum voted, except the Secret Service Fund, should go before the Auditor-General, who was an independent official, and whose salary could not be discussed by the House, and that he should be allowed to see them. Even in regard to the Secret Service money there were certain officials who certified that it had been expended in a certain manner. It would not do to say that a lump sum was given to a Commissioner who was told "You can do what you like with it."
§ MR. PAUL
said he had followed the very clear statement of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on matters of policy, but even after the exposition of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh there was a constitutional point which he wished to put. If the Auditor General wished to see the details of the expenditure under these grants-in-aid, what right had the Treasury to withhold them or any part of them?
§ MR. DALZIEL
thought there had been very little defence of this Vote before the Committee. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that he had viewed the Vote with suspicion, and he was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, holding these views, had consented to it. At the same time, this country ought to be represented in all great exhibitions abroad, because they undoubtedly led to an extension of trade. What was the use of the Treasury making a rule which they were going to break on an occasion? The late Chancellor of the Exchequer broke it because certain strong representations had been made to him in regard to it; but up to the present time he did not see how an exception had been made in regard to the Milan Exhibition. He did not adopt in any respect whatever the suggestion put forward by the Treasury that it was their duty to give a grant-in-aid and then to have nothing more 1063 to do with it. Surely the Treasury was strong enough to say "We give a certain amount for a certain purpose; we will not give any more," and to adhere to that condition. If any money was given at all, the Public Accounts Committee should be able to demand of right to know how the money was spent. If that were not done a premium would be given to bad expenditure and a waste of public money.
§ MR. CHARLES DEVLIN (Galway)
asked to whom this grant-in-aid of £10,000 was to be paid? Who was to take charge of the money, and how was it to be spent? Was it to be expended on an exhibition of British industry in Milan, or was it going to cover the expenses of the Commission going to Milan? Was this a Commission belonging to the British Government, to represent British trade interests at that exhibition? Another question he had to ask was, whether among these exhibits there were any from Ireland? For Ireland would have to pay its share of the cost of the Commission. He wanted to know in what way Ireland would benefit by all this expenditure?
§ MR. McKENNA
thought that the hon. Member's Questions were reasonable. The fund was granted to a commission or committee, the members of which were nominated by the London and other Chambers of Commerce, the Chairman of which was Lord Brassey, and the hon. treasurer Mr. Felix Schuster. His hon. friend was a little mistaken in regard to the auditing of the accounts. It was quite true that the Auditor-General did not audit them in detail, but he would see that the £10,000 was given to the Commission in a lump sum, not to do with it exactly as they pleased, but for the purposes for which the Commission was appointed. The practice was that the details of expenditure were audited by an auditor appointed by the Commission itself, and that audit ought certainly to be sent to the Treasury.
§ MR. CHIOZZA MONEY (Paddington, N.)
asked whether it would not be a salutary rule if a public audit went with all Votes of public money in such cases?
§ MR. McKENNA
said that his hon. friend behind him had stated the usual practice of the House. In this case the Comptrolle and Auditor-General, although he would audit the payment of the £10,000 as a whole, would not audit the details of the payment, but the Treasury would accept the audit of the Commission itself, and if the whole of the £10,000 had not been spent, they would expect repayment. Where public money was going to be spent abroad, it did not seem to him undesirable that they should make the grant in a lump sum, and get rid of all responsibility, by keeping the audit to the persons to whom it was paid. Chambers of Commerce would be able to make representations to the Committee.
§ MR. McKENNA
said there was no limit upon the Chambers of Commerce who could make representations to the Committee. If Chambers of Commerce wished to make representations the would be communicated to the Committee.
§ MR. R. DUNCAN (Lanarkshire, Govan),
speaking with the most earnest desire for the industrial interests of England, Ireland, and Scotland, doubted the wisdom of facilitating the exhibition of the products of this country in foreign lands which were trying to exclude our imports by tariffs. We sometimes exhibited the results of long and painful trials and costly experiments, and so educated producers who would give us no chance whatever of effecting sales in their markets. This was not good business.
§ MR. BOTTOMLEY (Hackney, S.)
said he was very reluctant to intervene, and he did not know whether his hon. friend had moved a reduction of the 1065 Vote or not. If it had not been moved he hoped it would be, because a more unsatisfactory mode of audit could not be conceived than that which appeared to have been adopted in this case. They were told that the Commission would in due course audit the expenditure, but he did not understand that the gentlemen who would have the expenditure of this £10,000 would be under any obligations to furnish any vouchers to the Commission. It was most dangerous that a large or even a small sum of money should be paid for public purposes and to deprive the public of the protection of public audit.
§ MR. HAROLD COX (Preston)
said he did not quite understand the explanation. The hon. Gentleman, as he understood, said that if there was any sum over it would be surrendered. Did that mean that that amount would run over to another year, and if there was any money left it would be surrendered?
§ Vote agreed.