Army Services (Excess), 1920–21.

Orders of the Day — REPORT [20th March.] – in the House of Commons on 23rd March 1922.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £100, be granted to His Majesty, to make good Excesses of Army Expenditure beyond the Grants for the year ended on the 31st day of March, 1921.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel George Stanley Lieut-Colonel George Stanley , Preston

As the Committee knows, an Excess Vote is not on quite the same footing as a Supplementary Vote, in that it has to go before the Public Accounts Committee to be examined before presentation in this House. This Vote has been before the Public Accounts Committee in the usual way, and I now present it to the Committee of this House. A statement has been issued showing the exact position, but I want to make clear to the Committee that we now present it in this form so that the House may maintain its control over expenditure. I think I can show there is a definite excess in the Appropriations-in-Aid for Army services for this year above the excess payments. If hon. Members will kindly look at the figures which are shown in three columns in the paper, they will see, only so much of the actual excess Appropriations-in-Aid has been deducted, as will leave a deficit of £100, in order that this Vote should be brought before the Committee. The actual excess expenditure amounted in round figures to about £5,250,000. The real excess in Appropriations-in-Aid came to something over £5,300,000. That excess of cash payments was due to insufficient allowance being made in the Supplementary Estimate of December, 1920, for the cost of the extra troops employed in Iraq, in consequence of the rebellion. The actual disbursements largely consisted of charges incurred for the assembling and despatching of reinforcements, and the War Office could not possibly accurately ascertain or estimate what the expenditure would be. The extra receipts did not come to light until some time later, and they are really the result of the sales of stores and other transactions between other Allied Governments and ourselves, and these did not take place until some time subsequent to December, 1920, when the Supplementary Estimate was presented. The actual excess of the Appropriations-in-Aid over the excess disbursements will be seen by the difference between £5,258,443 and £5,330,894. There really was an excess of Appropriations-in-Aid over disbursements, but in order to regularise the position and bring it within the purview of the Committee the Appropriations-in-Aid have only been taken advantage of to the extent of leaving £100 deficit which therefore brings this Excess Estimate before the Committee. That is the whole explanation of the situation.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £50.

I would ask the attention of the few Members who are present in the Committee to a remarkably complete example of locking the stable door after the horse is stolen. That is what the excess grant really is. There is one correction I would make in my hon. and gallant Friend's statement. It does not refer to this year; it deals with the year 1920–21 and not with the year 1922. What really happened in this case? It is set out perfectly candidly in the explanation. I am very glad to see this access of virtue. Evidently it is a sign not of mere reformation, but of a regeneration of spirit in the manner in which accounts are going to be dealt with in the future. There was, owing to insufficient allowance being made in the Supplementary Estimate of December, 1920, an excess of no less than £5,250,000. How did they deal with that? Did they come back to the House of Commons and ask for authority? Not at all. I hope I am fairly stating it and, if I am not, no doubt I shall be corrected. They saw they were in for a bit of luck, and how did it arise? It "came to light," as the very frank words of the explanation state, after December, 1920, in the process of clearing up war accounts. That process resulted in a windfall which was seized with great eagerness by the War Office. They promptly took £5,258,343 of it and said, "Go to! We will acquire this sum with the exception of £100, which we will bring before the Committee just to show what very honest gentlemen we are and to give them an opportunity for going into the whole matter." That is exactly the position to-day. I think this is a convenient opportunity of informing ourselves as to the basis as to which this Excess Vote moves, because there are no less than two more of them to follow. There will be Civil Service Excess Votes also, and those who are interested in the control of the House of Commons over finance will wish to see upon what basis these move. If hon. Members will turn, at some subsequent time, to Erskine May's "Law and Usage of Parliament" —the edition which we owe to the learned Clerk of the House—they will find the following. I am sorry if my hon. and gallant Friend objects to these elementary lectures.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

Everybody has not the very special knowledge which he possesses, and some of us require to be reminded of these matters—I certainly do. It will be found in the volume I have indicated that The Commons resolved on 30th March, 1849, that 'when a certain amount of expenditure for a particular service has been determined upon by Parliament, it is the bounden duty of the Department which has that service under its charge and control, to take care that the expenditure does not exceed the amount placed at its disposal for that purpose.' Thus, one of the greatest offences of which a Department can be guilty is the spending of more than they ask for. That Resolution was solemnly placed on the records of the House to make clear how important it was that these Estimates should be framed with the greatest possible care and particularity, so that due caution should be observed not only by those who spend the money, but by those who grant it—that is, the finance Committees of this House and the House itself sitting under the control of Mr. Speaker in the Chair. With regard to these Excess Grants, as my hon. and gallant Friend has stated, where this happens it all has to come before the Public Accounts Committee, and what we have now in the hands of Members is the result of the examination of the Public Accounts Committee of these accounts of the year 1920–21, and a very useful work that Committee does. The point about that is that the Public Accounts Committee is a Committee of this House itself. It is most important to remember that. Nobody serves on it except Members of the House, and there is this other most important fact in connection with it. The officer of that Committee is an officer of the House, a completely inde-

pendent official of any Department in the whole range of the civil or defence forces. That is a very important fact to bear in mind.

Therefore this Finance Committee, in the course of its operations, has reported to the House what has happened, and we have the Excess Grant before us on this occasion. The trouble about that is that we are dealing with a set of facts which happened rather more than 12 months ago. It only happens, owing to the operation of business here, that we have an opportunity of dealing to-night with a most-important matter in connection with the control of expenditure by the House of Commons. The pity of it is that these Reports come into our hands 12 months too late to enable us to do anything at all, and we can only just see what has happened, observe the Reports, and, perchance, take warning for the future. That is all, really, that we can get out of these Reports. But most illuminating documents they are, not only for this Government, but for all Governments, because, from what I have seen in this House, they all require very careful guidance in these financial matters.

The sum asked for in this Vote is a purely nominal one. In the next Vote, to which I shall make reference when it comes on, a rather different state of affairs is disclosed, but here they have sufficient money to wipe out all expenditure by the Excess Appropriation-in-Aid. By way of pointing a practical lesson in these matters, therefore, I have moved a reduction of this sum of £100 by £50, and by that means I and those who act with me intend to mark our disapproval of the slipshod manner which has dominated the management of the country's finances by His Majesty's Government during the past year.

Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £50, be granted for the said Service."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 46; Noes, 125.

Division No. 63.]AYES.[9.31 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. WilliamEdwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)Hancock, John George
Ammon, Charles GeorgeEdwards, G. (Norfolk, South)Hartshorn, Vernon
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)Erskine, James Malcolm MonteithHayday, Arthur
Cairns, JohnGalbraith, SamuelHayward, Evan
Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)Gillis, WilliamHenderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Widnes)
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)Hirst, G. H.
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)Grundy, T. W.Hodge, Rt. Hon. John
Hoggs, James MylesMurray, Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen)Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. D.
Holmes, J. StanleyMurray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)Wignall, James
Johnstone, JosephNewbould, Alfred ErnestWilson, James (Dudley)
Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)Raffan, Peter WilsonWood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Kennedy, ThomasRichardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Kenyon, BarnetRose, Frank H.
Lawson, John JamesRoyce, William StapletonTELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)Swan, J. E.Mr. G. Thorne and Mr. W. R.
Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)Smith.
Mosley, OswaldWalsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)
Agg-Gardner, Sir James TynteFoxcroft, Captain Charles TalbotParry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry
Bagley, Captain E. AshtonFraser, Major Sir KeithPearce, Sir William
Baird, Sir John LawrenceGardiner, JamesPease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike
Balfour, George (Hampstead)Gibbs, Colonel George AbrahamPerkins, Walter Frank
Barker, Major Robert H.Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir JohnPerring, William George
Barlow, Sir MontagueGreen, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray
Barnes Rt. Hon. G. (Glas., Gorbals)Greenwood, William (Stockport)Pratt, John William
Barnett, Major Richard W.Greig, Colonel Sir James WilliamPurchase, H. G.
Barnston, Major HarryHacking, Captain Douglas H.Randles, Sir John Scurrah
Bartley-Denniss, Sir Edmund RobertHall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)Rankin, Captain James Stuart
Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C H. (Devizes)Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)Remer, J. R.
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)Henderson, Lt.-Col. V. L. (Tradeston)Renwick, Sir George
Birchall, J. DearmanHerbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)
Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith-Hills, Major John WallerSanders, Colonel Sir Robert Arthur
Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.Hinds, JohnScott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Brassey, H. L. C.Holbrook, Sir Arthur RichardScott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)
Breese, Major Charles E.Hood, Sir JosephSeager, Sir William
Brown, Major D. C.Hope, J. D. (Berwick & Haddington)Seddon, J. A.
Bruton Sir JamesHopkins, John W. W.Shaw, William T. (Forfar)
Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William JamesHotchkin, Captain Stafford VereSmith, Sir Allan M. (Croydon, South)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm., W.)Hudson, R. M.Smith, Sir Malcolm (Orkney)
Cobb, Sir CyrilJackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)
Cockerill, BriGadler-General G. K.Jameson, John GordonSteel, Major S. Strang
Colfox, Major Wm. PhillipsJephcott, A. R.Sugden, W. H.
Conway, Sir W. MartinJohnson, Sir StanleyTaylor, J.
Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Davies, Sir David Sanders (Denbigh)Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)
Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. GeorgeTownley, Maximilian G.
Edge, Captain Sir WilliamKidd, JamesWallace, J.
Ednam, ViscountKing, Captain Henry DouglasWalters, Rt. Hon. Sir John Tudor
Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)Locker-Lampson. G. (Wood Green)Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)
Edwards, Hugh (Glam., Neath)Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tingd'n)Williams, C. (Tavistock)
Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)Loseby, Captain C. E.Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir R. (Banbury)
Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M.Mackinder, Sir H. J. (Camiachle)Wise, Frederick
Falle, Major Sir Bertram GodfrayMacquisten, F. A.Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)
Farquharson, Major A. C.Mason, RobertWorsfold, T. Cato
Fell, Sir ArthurMolson, Major John EisdaleWorthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Fildes, HenryNeal, ArthurYoung, E. H. (Norwich)
Fitzroy, Captain Hon. Edward A.Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)
Ford, Patrick JohnstonNewson, Sir Percy WilsonTELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Forestier-Walker, L.Nicholson, Brig.-Gen. J. (Westminster)Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr.
Forrest, WalterParker, JamesDudley Ward.

Question put, and agreed to.