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ACCESS TO MOUNTAINS BILL.
Motion made, and Question “That the Committee do Report the Bill, so far as amended, to the House”—(Mr. Trevelyan),—put, and agreed to. Draft Special Report brought up and read the first time as follows:
“Having regard to the period of the year and the position of the business of the House, which makes it impossible that the later stages of the Bill should be proceeded with this Session, the Committee resolve not to proceed further with the Bill”
Draft Special Report read a second time
—(Mr. Trevelyan).—Question “That this Draft Special Report be the Special Report of the Committee to the House,”—put, and agreed vo.
Ordered, to Report.
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ORDER OF REFERENCE.
[Tuesday, 11th February, 1908]:—Public Accounts Committee.—Ordered, That the Committee of Public Accounts do consist of Fifteen Members.
The Committee was accordingly nominated, of—Mr. Cavendish, Mr. Ashton, Mr. Bowles, Mr. Brigg, Mr. Cameron Corbett, Sir Daniel Goddard, Mr. Hazleton, Sir Robert Hobart, Mr. Leif Jones, Sir George Kekewich, Mr. Kettle, Mr. McCrae, Mr Parker, Mr. Runciman, and Colonel Williams.
Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.
Ordered, That Five be the quorum.—(Mr. Whiteley.)
[Monday, 4th May, 1908]:—Public Accounts Committee,—Ordered, That Mr. Runciman be discharged from the Public Accounts Committee.
Ordered, That Mr. Hobhouse be added to the Committee.—(Mr. Whiteley.)
IThursday, 7th May, 1908] :—Public Accounts Committee.—Ordered, That Mr. MitchellThomson be added to the Public Accounts Committee.—(Mr. Whiteley.)
ORDER OF REFERENCE - - - - - - - - -
p. FIRST REPORT - - - - - - - - - - - - p. iii SECOND REPORT - - - - - - - - - - - - p. ix THIRD REPORT - - - - - - - - - - - - p. xviii PROCEEDINGS OF THE COMMITTEE - - - - - - - p. xxiii MINUTES OF EVIDENCE - - - - - - - - - p. 1 APPENDICES - - - - - - - - - - - - p. 470
THE COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS have made Progress in the Matters to them referred, and have agreed to the following FIRST REPORT:—
CLASS I. WOTE 1.—ROYAL PALACES.
1. The Comptroller and Auditor-General reports for disallowance a sum of £370 11s. incurred on the Installation of Electric Lighting at Hampton Court Stud House. This disallowance does not imply that the payment in question was an improper one, but merely that it ought not to be charged against the Vote. The tenant of the Stud House, Q. 26. which is technically described as a “Grace and Favour residence,” desired to have electric light, and agreed to repay the whole cost of installation, together with interest at 3 per cent. per annum, by instalments extending over a period of four years. The Comptroller and Auditor-General considers that this money, being repayable, should not be charged against the Vote, but carried to a Suspense Account. The Treasury, on the other hand, considered that the work was done for the permanent improvement of a residence in charge of the Office of Works, and that though the payment of the cost by the tenant Q. 14. brought certain receipts against the outlay, that was not a reason for omitting the charge against the Vote. Your Committee are of opinion that the course proposed by the Comptroller and Auditor-General is the correct one, and they recommend that the sum be disallowed and carried to a Suspense Account.
WOTE 3.—ROYAL PARKs, &C.
2. An expenditure of £400, for which no provision was made in the Estimate, was incurred on a Public Footway over a Bridge connecting the North and Middle Gardens in Regent's Park. After the Estimates had been passed, the Zoological Society, in Q. 135. consequence of a large consignment of animals, found it necessary to enlarge their ground on the opposite side of the Canal, and asked the Office of Works to undertake the construction of a new footbridge for them, and to contribute some part of the cost. The Office of Works having a small bridge near the place which it would have been in any Q. 143. case necessary to rebuild, found it would be an economical arrangement to contribute £400, and to build the bridge for the Zoological Society, reserving part of the bridge for the public footway. Your Committee consider that the bargain was a good one.
WoTE 6.—ART AND SCIENCE BUILDINGS.
3. By an error in the Estimates, provision for the cost of engineering services at the Victoria and Albert Museum was made under Sub-head D (Fuel, Light, Water and Household Articles), and not, as it should have been, under Sub-head B (Maintenance and Repairs). The expenditure was, however, properly charged under Sub-head B. As a result there is an excess expenditure under Sub-head B, and an under-expenditure on Sub-head D. Your Committee were informed that the Engineering Department had not been long started, and that the mistake was probably due to inexperience. They trust that no similar error may occur in future.
VOTE 7.—DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR BUILDINGs.
4. The Comptroller and Auditor-General notes an excess expenditure of nearly £5,000 Q 249. on the acquisition of a new Embassy House and alterations at Madrid. The Treasury declined to give their covering sanction to this expenditure, and your Committee had Q. 287. to decide whether this charge against the Vote should be disallowed. Formerly there Q. 255. was attached to the Office of Works a highly-skilled architect who was paid £1,000 a year to take charge of all buildings abroad, and to supervise personally all new works on the
spot. This office was abolished some years ago, and the duties were handed over to the principal architect of the Board. At the time of the purchase of the Madrid Embassy the principal architect was too busy at home to be able to go to Madrid, and the work was entrusted to a man who had previously worked for the Department, but who was not one of the established officers. This man was very capable in the practical work, but had not the necessary financial training and capacity to deal with the accounting side of the business, and though repeatedly pressed to send in his accounts as the work progressed, he did not do so till this unauthorised expenditure had been incurred. The Department have taken steps to avoid the employment of such partly trained superintendents in future by appointing architects at various central stations—e.g., Constantinople, where the same man superintends the work in that city as well as in Smyrna, Egypt, and Athens. The new system is said to be working well. In these circumstances your Committee recommend that the excess be allowed as a charge against the Vote.
GAOL, &c., AT ICHANG.
5, An excess of £120 is explained as due to the cost of superintendence being greater than had been anticipated. In order to prevent bad workmanship, European Clerks of Works have to be employed to supervise the Chinese workmen. There is some difficulty in finding these superintendents, as “the Chinese persist in poisoning them.” Your Committee consider that this contingency was not unnaturally overlooked in framing the Estimate, and do not think the remuneration extravagant.
VOTE 8.—REVENUE BUILDINGS.
6. In the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General appears a long list of some of the most noticeable instances of variation between the sums granted for works in progress and proposed new works, and the actual expenditure. The difference is remarkable; for example, on post and telegraph buildings in the country, apart from London, the Vote amounted in round numbers to £247,000 and the expenditure to about £201,000, showing a difference of £46,000. Other examples might be quoted, and your Committee have endeavoured to find some method by which Parliament should be placed in a position of greater control over the sums voted. It must be admitted that various causes contribute to the difficulties of the Department in carrying out any contemplated work on the lines of the Estimate; thus a period of bad weather may delay building operations, difficulties arise with local authorities as to the site or the elevation of the proposed building, and the soil may necessitate unexpected outlay. The present practice is that when the progress of a building is delayed by the above or similar causes, application is made to the Treasury for sanction to divert the money saved in this way to other works which, to avoid undue inflation of the Estimates, had to be cut out at the beginning of the year. The Treasury examine carefully every case thus presented, and only pass it if they are satisfied that the service is one of urgency; but the fact remains that large sums of money are thus spent on works which have never received the sanction of Parliament. A certain amount of elasticity is necessary for the working of the system, and your Committee draw a distinction between the diversion of money to a building already sanctioned by Parliament, and its diversion to one which has never been on the Estimates. They therefore recommend that the Treasury shall exhibit the utmost jealousy of any proposal to use savings for the commencement of any new work.
PUBLIC OFFICEs, ACQUISITION OF SITES ACTs, &c., AND LAND REGISTRY (NEw BUILDINGs)
7. Your Committee have examined these Accounts, but offer no observation upon
WOTE 6.—COLONIAL OFFICE.
8. Your Committee last year expressed a doubt as to the advisability of continuing the grant for the Emigrants' Information Office, and directed the attention of the Colonial Office to the matter. The Department consider that the Information Office renders services not performed by any other agency, and very valuable to the poorer class of emigrant, and they would like to see the work of the Office extended rather than diminished. *