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Supply—Civil Service Estimates

Volume 203: debated on Friday 29 July 1870

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SUPPLY considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

(5.) £208,520, to complete the sum for Consular Services.

said, he had given Notice of his intention to move a reduction in the Vote of £7,850. As the Committee on the Diplomatic and Consular Service would not report before the end of next Session, and as it was quite clear that before the Estimates of 1872–3 their recommendations could not fully come into effect, he deemed it his duty to place that Motion on the Paper; but though he had studied the subject most carefully he found that he could not do justice to it without occupying too much time at that late period of the Session. He hoped that next year a desire would be shown to make a reduction in this extravagant expenditure; he believed that there was no Department of the State which more required the vigilant scrutiny of the House of Commons than the Consular Department. Unless the Estimates of next year showed a very marked decrease it would be his duty to call the attention of the House to the subject, with the view of its requesting the Government to reconsider the Vote. It was also his intention to have illustrated the manner in which the public money was thus wasted by referring to such Consulates as Venice, Corunna, Seville, Leipsic, Warsaw, and Janina, which were either of minor importance or altogether useless; but he trusted that there would be a large reduction on this Vote by another year. He wished the Consuls to be well paid; but there were dozens of Consuls more than were required.

said, he agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Holms) that some of the Consuls might be reduced, and a practical proof of the soundness of that opinion lay in the fact that some of them had been already reduced, and that one or two others would not again appear in the Estimates. Although he could not accept the statement that Venice was no longer an important port—for Gentlemen who were keen reformers sometimes allowed themselves to be led into exaggerations on these matters—it certainly was not as important as before the Italian War. And, accordingly, the present Consul General Perry, one of the best of our civil servants, had been informed that he would be relieved next year, and in future our consular representative there would be an official with a comparatively small salary. Corunna was a station of considerable importance, owing to the trade of the district with Great Britain, and the pay, £650, was not large, remembering that it included the allowance for office, &c. Seville was one of the stations which would require consideration; but with regard to the determination of this or other questions, it must be remembered that just at present the time of our own Foreign Minister was occupied by pressing questions of much greater magnitude. The Consulship at Leipsic was established at the time when the Zollverein acquired importance, and it was still a valuable centre of information; at least, if it were terminated some other Consulship would have to be established. Some posts might be considered semi-political. For instance, from the nature of things, the Consul at Warsaw discharged functions quite as much of a diplomatic as of a consular character. That post was not one which would be maintained for purposes of commerce, but we were obliged to have a representative there, who could only be of consular rank, owing to the relations of the place to the Russian Government. He had now touched on most of the points to which his attention had been called. But he might add that a Commission was going to Constantinople next year, which would take the opportunity of inquiring as to some of the consular stations in the East. He might also point out that upon the China Consular Estimates this year there was a saving of £9,903 as compared with last year, which had been effected mainly through the zeal and knowledge of one gentleman, Lord Tenterden, who was a clerk in the Foreign Office.

said, he hoped the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would seriously consider the very great and, in his (Mr. Monk's) opinion, unnecessary cost attaching to the Consulships in the Ionian Islands.

said, while believing that there were Consulships which should be dispensed with, and some where the salaries should be reduced, he was of opinion that there were others in which the remuneration was inadequate. The British Consul in New York occupied a position which was hardly second to any Minister in any country. Yet his salary was a very moderate one, and he was not dignified with the rank of Consul General. He returned fees to the amount of £3,000 a year. Why should he be placed in a second position, and why should not his services be more appreciated? While reducing where services were not required, he hoped they would not act in a manner which would lead to the inference that they were not prepared to reward liberally good service when rendered.

said, having been recently in New York he thought it right to add his testimony in support of what had been advanced by the hon. Member who had just sat down. He had been in communication with our Consul in New York, and he knew how valuable were the services he rendered to this country.

said, he did not think that a general and indiscriminate onslaught should be made on the Consuls, who had often much to endure in the discharge of their duties. Some distinction should be made, and a Consulate like that of New York, which promoted commerce was one which was worthy of the consideration suggested by the hon. Member (Mr. Chadwick).

said, he thought the action of the Committee which had been appointed should not relieve the Government from the responsibility which properly pressed on them to see whether a considerable reduction could not be made in this Department. He was afraid that there was a disposition on the part of the Government when a Committee was appointed to throw off the responsibility which was proper to them, and not to take any steps in the direction of economy. He believed reductions might be made in various parts of the globe, and he should be glad if the Foreign Office would assist the Diplomatic Salaries Committee which would sit next year by making independent inquiries with a view to the same result for which that Committee was appointed.

said, he entirely concurred in what had been said in regard to the Consul at New York. The expense of living in New York was enormous, and, although the salary of the Consul was high, he was bound to say they had most satisfactory evidence for concluding that it was hardly possible for a gentleman to live on the salary assigned to him. There was also a consular officer at Monte Video, to whom an allowance was assigned of £150 per year for a clerk, which he was obliged to keep, though it was clearly established that no suitable clerk could be engaged there for a less sum than £200 per annum. He did not believe that it was the desire of this country that those who served it should be put to expenses out of their privy purse, and that they should not be able to discharge their duties unless they had private means. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) complained of the expensiveness of the Consulates in the Ionian Islands. But in these consular establishments there had been a reduction from £3,475 to £2,010, and further reductions were in progress. In time most of these Consulates would be done away with. He was not aware that there was any officer extravagantly paid, although he was not prepared to say that every consular office which now existed was necessary.

In answer to Mr. CHADWICK ,

said, he had no authority to promise that the Consul at New York should be made Consul General. That question rested with the Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He (Mr. Otway) knew of no reason why the Consul should not be advanced in rank.

Vote agreed to.

(6.) £38,116, to complete the sum for Colonies, Grants in Aid.

said, he wished to call attention to the painful position of Colonial Governors while waiting for a new appointment. During intervals of that kind no provision was made for them, and he wished to suggest that they should either have larger salaries which would enable them to save competences, or, in lieu of that, should be entitled, after serving, say, six or seven years, to a certain amount of pension, which would place them in positions similar to those of half-pay officers. If the Colonial Office did not agree to the proposition, he should bring in a Bill to carry out some arrangement of the kind.

said, he thought the salaries of Colonial Governors were quite large enough, especially when compared with the payment received by the President of the United States.

said, he feared that he could not hold out any hope to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) that the Government could comply with his request. He believed there was no difficulty in getting men of high rank and standing to accept the office of Colonial Governor; and he had heard no complaints on the subject to which the hon. Member had referred.

said, that the Vote this year was less by £16,000 than that of last year; but this reduction was merely in respect of an accidental circumstance. The fact that many of the Colonies now paid their Governors was a sufficient answer to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Baillie Cochrane). He wished to have an explanation of the item of £1,000 for the Gambia, and to point out that from two other items it appeared that our West Coast of Africa possessions, which were of little use to us now that the slave trade had ceased, cost us £14,000 a year. He desired to know also whether a fort on a small island in the Gambia had been abandoned, in accordance with a recommendation made some years ago in anticipating tribal disturbances? He would ask further, how far the principle of consolidation of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Bodies in the West India Islands had been carried out? These islands would, he believed, be better governed if there were fewer Governors. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Monsell) would also give some explanation of the items relating to Heligoland and the Falkland Islands.

said, he wished to know if £1,800 had been granted for a new house to the Governor of Heligoland?

said, that there was no medium between giving up Heligoland altogether and maintaining the present establishment. The Government having, after consultation with the Admiralty, determined to retain it, the expenditure set down in the Estimates was absolutely necessary. With reference to the Governor's house at Heligoland, it was necessary for the Governor to have some place to live in. As to the Falkland Islands, the expenditure had been much reduced, the Estimate now being only £3,400, and these islands afforded a secure station to which vessels passing round Cape Horn might resort in their course through those stormy seas. With respect to the West Coast of Africa, the expenditure was greater than his right hon. Friend (Sir Charles Adderley) had stated. There was a very strong feeling in regard to abandoning any possession there; but, if it were considered politic to maintain those possessions, the cost of them must be maintained. He hoped part of the cost of Gambia would in future be borne by the colonists. The M'Carthy Island had the military withdrawn already, and he hoped it might be possible to do away with the establishment there altogether. In consequence of recent political occurrences, the negotiations for handing the Gambia over to France had been suspended. Looking to the prosperous state of the finances on the Gold Coast and at Sierra Leone, he hoped that in future years they would be able to greatly reduce the Estimate. As regarded the West Indies, the consolidation of the Government and judicial staff of the Leeward Islands was proceeding very rapidly, and that policy would be pursued to a greater extent as opportunity offered. When the different local Governments had agreed to a Resolution on the subject, it was proposed that one single Governor only should be appointed for these islands.

said, he thought that in the present juncture of affairs it was necessary to consider what protection should be afforded to our more distant Colonies. He must insist on the duty of this country to protect the Colonies, and on the propriety of a confederation embracing them and the mother country.

Vote agreed to.

(7.) £2,869, to complete the sum for Orange River Territory and St. Helena.

(8.) £2,930, to complete the sum for Slave Trade, Commissioners for Suppression of.

(9.) £19,785, to complete the sum for Tonnage Bounties, &c.

(10.) £8,545, to complete the sum for Emigration.

said, he thought that two Commissioners for migration were not required, and he hoped that it might be arranged that there should be only one in future. He also hoped that room would be found for the Emigration Office in the new Colonial Office.

said, that the Emigration Office would be placed with the new Colonial Office. They were absorbing the clerks of the Emigration Office into the Colonial Office as rapidly as possible; but he did not think it was advisable to do away with one of the two Commissioners. That would be hardly any saving to the country, as théir superannuation would nearly equal their salary.

Vote agreed to.

(11.) £600, to complete the sum for Coolie Emigration.

(12.) £12,759, to complete the sum for Treasury Chest.

(13.) £264,783, to complete the sum for Superannuation and Retired Allowances.

complained that there had been an enormous increase in this Vote, and that the whole sum the country now paid for superannuation was more than £1,000,000. If the Government proceeded on the principle that all officers should retire compulsorily at a certain age they might get rid of this charge, though perhaps at an increased salary. There was no reason why the various public servants should not, by means of assurance societies, or by devoting a portion of their pay to the formation of a superannuation fund, provide for their old age, without putting the country to such a heavy expense.

said, that the increase on this particular vote was this year £59,000, which was more than accounted for by the Bankruptcy and Chancery compensations, given in consequence of recent legislation. He admitted that the charge for superannuation was heavy, but he did not think that the suggestion of a compulsory retirement at a certain age would meet the evil; and he would remind the House that the system of superannuation by deduction from the salaries had been already tried and failed. There were some elements of hope. Many of the superannuations were the result of recent arrangements in the direction of economy, and there would be a gradual diminution of the total amount. The Civil Service was now on a better footing, and he hoped that in the course of the next year or two a scheme would be developed which would still further promote economy and efficiency by diminishing the number of established clerks, and introducing clerks on the ordinary footing of commercial clerks.

Vote agreed to.

(14.) £31,550, to complete the sum for Merchant Seamen's Fund Pensions, &c.

(15.) £24,000, to complete the sum for Relief of Distressed British Seamen.

(16.) £13,545, to complete the sum for Hospitals and Infirmaries, Ireland.

(17.) £4,714, to complete the sum for Miscellaneous Charitable Allowances, &c. Great Britain.

(18.) £4,324, to complete the sum for Miscellaneous Charitable Allowances, &c. Ireland.

(19.) £23,090, to complete the sum for Temporary Commissions.

(20.) £31,147, to complete the sum for Local Dues on Shipping.

(21.) £480, to complete the sum for Malta and Alexandria Telegraph, &c.

(22.) £1,300, to complete the sum for Flax Cultivation, Ireland.

said, he would beg to ask whether it was the intention of the Government to continue that Vote?

replied that the Vote was last year £3,000. This year it was only £2,000. The Government had determined on reducing it £1,000 a year until it ceased altogether.

Vote agreed to.

(23.) £3,465, to complete the sum for Miscellaneous Expenses.

(24.) £989,837, for Customs Department.

said, he would remind the Committee that both the late and the present Government had made certain promises leading the officers of the Customs Department to anticipate an increase to their wretched salaries. Now, the Government ought to keep good faith with the small people as well as the great. The time had long gone by since those pledges were given, and he could not understand why the officers should be kept so long in this painful suspense. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick," and the officers of Customs he believed were now realizing that saying.

said, he was not sorry that the hon. Alderman had called attention to this subject, because it was quite true that the clerks in the Customs were led to expect more than two years ago an increase of salary, and especially that the disproportion between their salaries and those of the officers of the Inland Revenue would be taken into consideration. It was very well known that the right hon. Gentleman had been asked on several occasions why the Minute of the late Board of Treasury had not been acted upon. The reply given by the right hon. Gentleman was to the effect that the decision of the late Government had not been rescinded by the present Board. It was only suspended. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman opposite, that "hope deferred maketh the heart sick." When the present Government had suspended the recommendation of the late one upon this subject for more than one and a-half years, it appeared to him (Mr. Sclater-Booth) that their conduct amounted to something like a rescinding of it altogether. He thought that the time had arrived when it behoved the Government to state really what their views were on the matter. He had no wish to say anything to encourage complaints on the part of the Civil Service; but it was most unreasonable to expect that those officers would remain contented under the extraordinary treatment they had received.

said, he wished to know whether any progress had been made, or was likely to be made, in regard to the consolidation or amalgamation of the Customs and Inland Revenue?

said, he would beg to ask when the inquiry which had been going on in relation to the grievances in the Customs in London would be extended to the principal outports?

said, that when the present Government came into Office they took into their consideration the Treasury Minute of the late Government, but thought they would not be justified in acting upon it without further investigation. With reference to the question of increased pay, they came to the conclusion that they would not be justified in making any such proposal, unless they could succeed in devising some scheme which would enable them to do so without making a materially increased charge on the Revenue. The inquiry, which extended to every branch of the Customs in London, had lasted longer than had been expected. The Reports on each branch, after being submitted to the Board of Customs, had to be considered and decided upon by the Treasury. The last of the Reports—that on the Statistical Department—had not yet been received, but he would give the Committee some earnest of his desire to come to as rapid a conclusion as possible when he stated that to-day he had written a letter to Sir Thomas Fremantle, the Chairman of the Board of Customs, expressing regret that the final Report had not yet been submitted, and informing him and his Colleagues that he should be prepared to remain in town after the close of the Session in order to consider the Report of the Board, and would not leave the subject till he had arrived at a conclusion in regard to it. In reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Macfie) he might state that they had not as yet entered on the question of the amalgamation of the Customs and Inland Revenue.

said, he did not think the revision of salaries ought to be delayed on account of the want of the Report referred to. It ought to be in no way dependent on the condition of the Statistical Department.

said, that for the last two or three months he had had a Notice on the Paper with reference to the Statistical Returns of the Board of Trade, and had put down his Motion for Friday next. He hoped that some final Report from the Customs would then be forthcoming, so that the Secretary to the Board of Trade might be enabled to state the plans which the Government had in contemplation for the improvement of the Office.

said, he hoped, after the promises which had been held out for the improvement of the position of the Customs' officers, faith would be kept with them. He also hoped that a public saving might be effected by abolishing some of the minor bonding estabments.

said, he did not entertain the slightest hope that the House and the commercial community would tolerate the abolition of the bonding system. If the suggestion that whenever Customs ports did not pay their expenses they should be abandoned were acted on, an enormous stimulus would be given to smuggling. They were endeavouring to reduce the establishments in small ports.

Vote agreed to.

(25.) £1,592,751, for Inland Revenue Department.

said, he wished to ask whether there was any hope that next year the Government would allow the superannuations and pensions granted to officers in this Department to be commuted, as in the case of pensions granted to officers in the Army and Navy?

said, the system had been introduced experimentally in the case of officers in the Army and Navy, and the Government did not think that a sufficient time had elapsed to enable a judgment to be formed conclusively as to the propriety of extending the principle.

said, he hoped that in future the sub-heads under this Vote would be made more intelligible, as at present they were perfectly useless.

Vote agreed to.

(26.) £2,376,979, for Post Office.

said, a Notice upon this subject had been standing in his name upon the Paper for months; but he would now compress what he had to say into the form of a Question. In every civilized country except our own great facilities were afforded for the posting of letters at railway stations and in railway letter-vans. In July last his noble Friend the Postmaster General gave an undertaking that an efficient service of this kind should be established; but four months later he had personal experience of the fact that this order, if given, had not been carried out. Perhaps his noble Friend would be able to say whether any and what orders had been given to all officers in railway vans to accept letters on the conditions stated last year. It would be more convenient if boxes were placed in the vans for the reception of letters. There were also very few railway stations where boxes for posting letters were to be found; and he could state that four or five months ago there was on the Great Western Railway only one post office at a station between London and Exeter. A few months ago he was honoured with an interview by the Postmaster General in France, who kindly prepared and gave him a report of the system which was adopted in that country. As time did not allow him to make the quotations from that report which he had intended, he would hand it over to his noble Friend for his information. He might state, however, that each of the communes into which France was divided might obtain permission to place a letter-box at their own railway station, on condition that they established this box at their own cost, which was very trifling. He knew the Post Office officials feared that difficulties would arise in sorting the letters; but if these had been got over in France, why not in this country?

said, the public had already the privilege of posting letters in the travelling mail vans; but they had not made use of it to any great extent. In June last directions were given that letters should be received in all travelling post-offices, on condition that they were delivered by hand to a sorter, and that an extra fee of 2d. was paid. The first condition was considered necessary on account of the difficulty that was apprehended of making the public aware of what letters could advantageously be posted in this manner. He believed that in some instances the directions had been misunderstood by the Post Office authorities; but he would take care that their memories were refreshed on the subject, and that it was made generally known to the public that there did exist this facility for posting letters in travelling post-offices under the conditions he had named. If there was any desire on the part of the House that these facilities should be more widely extended, he would take care that the necessary directions were given. There were already a considerable number of letter-boxes in railway stations, and the number was being continually increased. He could only say generally that his Department was anxious to give all facilities which might be considered beneficial to the public.

said, he would suggest that Bills should be placarded at the district post-offices and railway stations throughout the country, so that the public might be made aware of the existence of the postal facilities which the noble Marquess had described.

said, he thought means should be taken to enable persons to post letters from London to the country up to 9 or 10 o'clock at night.

Vote agreed to.

(27.) £807,153, to complete the sum for Post Office Packet Service.

said, he rose to ask a Question of which he had given Notice. He believed a provision had been inserted in the contracts, providing, in accordance with the recommendation of a Committee, for the conveyance of mails by way of Brindisi. He wished to know whether the Peninsular and Oriental Company had been notified that the time was at hand when they would be called upon to make arrangements for the conveyance of the Indian mails from Brindisi to Alexandria? The works were rapidly progressing at the Mont Cenis tunnel, and the headings were expected to be carried through early next year; and it was important for the interests of commerce that advantage should be taken of that route as soon as possible. He wished also to call attention to the high rate of postage charged between India and England. Letters from India were charged 1s. 3d., whilst those from Australia paid only 8d. He hoped that means would be taken to reduce the present rate of postage to India.

said, he wished to ask if the accounts of the Peninsular and Oriental Company had been so kept as to enable the Postal Department to make satisfactory arrangements with them for each year's working of the contract?

said, he must complain that much of the advantage accruing from the Fell Railway was neutralized by the delay of the trains at Susa.

said, the trains were also delayed on the French side owing to the jealousy on the part of the French authorities.

thought it could hardly be assumed that the service through the Mont Cenis tunnel could be as regular as by way of Marseilles. He wished to know whether the Vote now under consideration would meet all the requirements for the year's service?

said, notice had been given to the Peninsular and Oriental Company that they would in a given time be required to establish a service by Brindisi. No Vote was necessary at present for the route by Brindisi instead of by Marseilles. Information had been received by the Post Office that the tunnel under Mont Cenis would be completed in the autumn of the next year, and when it was he did not know why that route should be subject to greater uncertainty than any other. The examination of the accounts of the Peninsular and Oriental had led to a considerable difference of opinion between the Post Office and the company as to the mode in which those accounts ought to be kept. The question was still under consideration, and, as it was possible the accounts might be referred to arbitration, it would not be right that he should say more on the subject at present. It would be impossible for him to give any assurance to the Committee that the Vote which they were now asked to pass would be a complete Vote for the purpose for which it was intended. He must remind the Committee that the contract was not entered into by the present Government, but by the Government of which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) was a Member, and which allowed the payment to the Peninsular and Oriental to vary from £500,000 to £400,000. It would not be wise to take a Vote for the larger sum. It was not yet settled what they should have to pay the company for the last year; much less was it possible to say what they should have to pay for this year. It was true that the postage to India was very high; but even with the present high rate the service was not a profitable one, nor could he hold out any hope at present that the rates could be reduced.

said, he thought it was time to report Progress. The Prime Minister himself had stated that measures which had not been discussed would not be taken after half-past 12.

said, they were now on the last Vote but one of the regular list, and he hoped the Committee would be allowed to go on. He admitted that he had said what the hon. Member had stated, but that applied to the business several weeks ago, and when they were come to within 10 days or a fortnight of the end of the Session, such a rule could not be adhered to.

hoped that an endeavour would be made to expedite the mails to Italy, so that a morning mail might be sent by the French Government.

Vote agreed to.

(28.) £270,000, to complete the sum for Post Office Telegraph Service.

said, he wished to inquire whether, in the re-arrangement of the Post Office Telegraph Department, it was intended to re-absorb those who had been thrown out of employment in consequence of the transfer of the telegraphs from the companies to the Government?

said, he desired to to know whether anything had been done to facilitate communication with Ireland by laying down new cables? A most important Question had been lately asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and answered by the First Minister of the Crown at six in the evening, and every newspaper in Dublin came out next morning without having a single portion of that answer given. It had been stated on a former occasion by the noble Marquess that the number of messages was now so great between England and Ireland that there was not adequate provision for sending them. But that was not a sufficient answer, because it was foreseen that the decrease in the cost of transmission would lead to a very large increase in the number of messages. Another complaint was that the city of Cork was cut off after seven o'clock in the evening from telegraphic communication with Dublin.

said, he wanted to know whether in the event of loss occurring from the miscarriage, faulty delivery, or blundering transmission of messages, there were no means by which the persons sustaining that loss could be reimbursed?

said, the telegraphic system was now worse than it used to be when performed by the private companies, and he wished to know whether the Vote now asked for it was less than the expenditure formerly incurred by those companies? If the Vote was not less, they ought to have the service conducted at least as efficiently as the companies had done it. He understood that the employés were now paid so much per message instead of per day.

said, in answer to the question put by the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse), with respect to retiring allowances, he had to state that that matter, which was rather complicated, was still under consideration. None of the pensions which had to be given under the Telegraphs Act had yet been awarded. The principle on which the Government proceeded was to employ, as far as was possible, every person who had been in the service of the companies. As far as he could form an opinion at present, the revenue from the telegraphs would be fully equal to that which was anticipated. In answer to the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Sir John Gray), he could not state that any new cable had actually been laid down, but tenders had been advertised for and received, and he expected that in a very few days the contract would be entered into for laying down that cable. The increased business arising from the diminished charge came upon them before they had the opportunity of making the necessary arrangements to meet it; and it was impossible for them to make the requisite preparations for extensions until the lines came into their possession. The complaint with regard to the city of Cork should be carefully inquired into. The Post Office held (subject to legal correction) that it was not liable for loss caused by delay in the delivery or the miscarriage of messages. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gourley) asked whether their expenditure exceeded or was less than that of the late companies. His own impression was that, taking into account the total expenditure of all the companies, the Post Office had, by concentration of the offices, succeeded in considerably diminishing the expenses. The hon. Member had complained that they paid their servants so much per message instead of per day, but exactly the opposite complaint was made when that subject was last under discussion. They had adopted the principle of paying partly according to the number of messages, and he did not think it was a bad arrangement for securing the proper delivery of messages.

Vote agreed to.

(29.) £1,300,000, to pay off and discharge Exchequer Bonds.

House resumed.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next;

Committee to sit again upon Monday next.