HC Deb 08 July 1915 vol 73 cc549-54

Resolution reported, That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, of expenses incurred and allowances payable in pursuance of any Act of the present Session to provide for the compilation of a National Register.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I beg to move, at the end of the Resolution, to add, Provided that the expenses for the year 1915–16 shall not exceed a sum of £100,000 for England and Wales, of £20,000 for Scotland, and of £10,000 for Ireland. This Amendment is part of a similar Amendment previously moved by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London. He has moved Amendments of this kind on principle. It is a perfectly sound principle that we should know how much we are going to spend upon the various matters that we pass through this House. This principle is adopted by all local authorities. No chairman of a finance committee would be able to make any statement unless he knew exactly how much money he had to provide. I certainly was staggered the other night when the Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared to think that he could give a blank cheque to the Local Government Board with regard to this Bill. This is not the time to give blank cheques to any Department, as we learned in a debate the other day in another place, where they were very anxious that all the spending departments should be overhauled so that wherever possible expenditure should be curtailed. It would have been better if the Government had made a frank statement and estimate as to how much the administration of this Bill is likely to cost. As they have not done so, we have had to help ourselves to try and form some idea as to how much it will cost. The National Register is a sort of Census, and it will be in the recollection of the House that I put a number of questions, consequently, as to what the cost of the Census would be, or rather what the cost of the last Census was in 1911. I asked that question of the President of the Local Government Board, and he replied that the cost approximately of England and Wales was £147,000. The Member for the College Division of Glasgow then asked how that would compare with the cost of the Registration Bill. The right hon. Gentleman replied that the cost of the Registration Bill would be infinitely less now. He reiterated that opinion when we discussed this Motion in Committee on Tuesday night. The right hon. Gentleman said:— The expenditure usually incurred in connection with the Census is somewhere about £200,000, spread over a period of four years, and is mainly expended in paying collectors and distributers: whereas, in this ease, there is every reason to believe that a great part of the work, if not the whole of it, will be done by voluntary agency. Therefore the cost will be infinitely less than what has been customary in the case of the Census. So that the right hon. Gentleman adheres to his opinion, and he uses the same favourite adverb. I asked the question also with regard to the cost of the Census in Scotland. The Secretary for Scotland said that the cost of the Census was £37,243, and in reply to a supplementary question from my hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland said that he hoped the cost of the National Registration Bill would be considerably smaller than has been the case with regard to the Census. Then I asked the Chief Secretary a question with regard to Ireland. He informed us that the cost of the Census in Ireland was £18,945 4s. 10d. Evidently he knows to a penny what it costs now. My hon. Friend then asked if he considered the expenses of the National Registration Bill would be considerable or infinitely less, and the Chief Secretary replied that he would be much disappointed if it were not considerably less. After those replies from these right hon. Gentlemen I consider that I have put very reasonable limits into this Amendment with regard to the expenditure on this Bill; in fact the reasonableness of them were acknowledged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself on Tuesday night. He said:— I certainly should not expect anyone to go to the Treasury and say that the object of the limit proposed by the House was that we should expend anything like £25,000 for Scotland or that £12,000 be spent in Ireland. I am not sure that £50,000 would be sufficient in England. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Long) thinks it will."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1915, col. 340.] Those were the figures I had in my Amendment in Committee, but I have made them more generous. Since then with regard to England the amount for which I have increased to £50,000, and as the Chancellor said that £25,000 for Scotland and £12,000 for Ireland were not required, I have reduced them to £20,000 and £10,000 respectively. It is quite evident from the Chancellor's statement that my limits are generous. The question now is what is the meaning of the language of those right hon. Gentlemen. One of them tell us that it will be "considerably less" with regard to this Bill than with regard to the Census, and another says "considerably smaller," and another "infinitely less." The Chief Secretary for Ireland will be disappointed if it is not considerably smaller. With regard to Ireland he knows that as a matter of fact the inclu- sion of Ireland in this Bill is a bogus inclusion—it is a make-believe, and consequently there will not be anything like £10,000 required. I would appeal to the Government to accept this Amendment. If they do not it is perfectly clear to the House that they have no faith in their own declaration. These limits are generous to a fault. If it works out that they are not sufficient they have their own remedy by coming to the House later on with a Supplementary Estimate.


I beg to second the Amendment. The object of it is to place a limitation on the expenses in connection with this measure. My hon. Friend in Committee proposed an Amendment to the same effect, except that the figures he then proposed were lower than those he proposes now. In Committee his total limit was £87,000 for the first year, and with that magnanimity which characterises my hon. Friend, he has raised his figure to-day to £130,000. He has reminded the House that the expenses incurred in the Census of 1911 were in all, during three years, £203,000. I therefore think the figure he has taken is certainly a fair sum. These Amendments proposing a limitation to Financial Resolutions are by no means new to the House. They have for several years been persistently moved by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury). Again and again he has sought to limit the figures, and on several occasions he has succeeded in getting limitations inserted. I have taken the liberty of turning up a page of the history of the hon. Baronet, that page which deals with Amendments as to limitations. I find that on several occasions during the last eighteen months he has not only proposed limiting Amendments, but he has insisted on the Government adopting them. I shall be very pleased to know, and the House I am sure also, what has brought about the change in the hon. Baronet. The page in his history reveals these facts. On the Appellate Jurisdiction Bill, in the year 1913, there was a limiting Resolution proposed and heartily supported by the hon. Baronet, who said:— I decline to give a blank cheque to any person, whoever he may be. This Mental Deficiency Bill, which was of much interest to many of us, he said: A few nights ago a limiting Amendment was accepted, and there are other precedents for that course within the last year. But the case which bears out my contention and calls most loudly for the sup- port of the hon. Baronet was one which deals with the Mall Approach Improvement Bill, on 28th April of this year, so that it is quite up-to-date. In Committee on that measure he himself took the initiative and proposed that the expenses should be limited to £38,000 and carried that Amendment. Thus we have the precedent of the guardian of the public purse, the hon. Baronet, to back us up in this. Unfortunately the mantle of looking after the public purse has fallen from his shoulders. I am glad my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Clough) has taken it up, but he is not in any way wedded to any particular figure. He simply desires a limitation of whatever figure the right hon. Gentleman wishes to put in. I think if the right hon. Gentleman will suggest a figure the House will acclaim his action. These are certainly not times for extravagance, and the Local Government Board and other offices should not be given blank cheques. My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton has pointed out that there has been this week, in another place, a very interesting discussion as to the extravagance of Governments generally, and a Motion was in in that place carried that in view of the War immediate steps to reduce the Civil expenditure of the country should be taken. During that discussion the fact came out that in the last twenty years the expenses of the office which the right hon. Gentleman now adorns have risen from £181,000 per year to £271,000, an increase of £90,000, or 50 per cent., so that he cannot claim that the office over which he presides is an economical office, because the expenses have risen to such an extent. I hope he will see his way to accept this Amendment or at least to accept a limiting figure.


I confess I am a little disappointed that this Amendment should have been moved, as the question involved has already been debated in this House, and, as far as I know, there is not a single remark made by either the Mover or the Seconder to-day which has not been made at least three times in the speeches delivered on the previous occasion.


The page of history of the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) is quite fresh.


I have no doubt that that is new matter, and I withdraw my remark as far as that is concerned. But although the hon. Member has succeeded in finding some fresh quotations, he has not altered the fact that the hon. Baronet has not placed any such limitation upon Financial Resolutions since the War began. [An HON. MEMBEH: "Yes."] Since the outbreak of the War the Government have had to incur very heavy expenditure, and this is the first protest we have had from hon. Gentlemen sitting behind me against the action of the Government in asking the House to trust them in this matter. We have had quotations from speeches made yesterday, and we have had the statement repeated that a blank cheque is being given to the Local Government Board. That is entirely an error. No blank cheque is being given to the Local Government Board, as the scale of expenditure has to be settled between the Local Government Board and the Treasury.

The Mover of the Amendment said again that the Government have not made a frank statement. That is not correct. There has been no attempt at concealment of any kind. We have told the House most frankly all that we know and what we believe. We believe the expenditure will be considerably less than that incurred when the Census was taken, and the proposed limitation was rejected by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. It is unreasonable to ask us to impose a limitation which might be inconvenient, although we believe that the sum named will more than cover the amount likely to be required. It is really a little difficult to carry on these Debates when hon. Gentlemen, on the same side of the House, professing the same desires, take entirely different lines. I was pressed yesterday by many hon. Members sitting behind me to make it perfectly clear that no part of the expenditure incurred in connection with this register by the local authorities or by the central authority would fall on the local rates. If I accepted this limitation, and the expenses exceeded the amount named, the rates would have to bear the difference, and the desire that rates should be protected could not possibly be fulfilled. I earnestly hope that we may now be allowed to pass to the practical consideration of the Bill, the passage of which is of vital importance, because we have to get it into operation, and the sooner it is passed the sooner we shall be able to do that.

Amendment negatived.

Resolution agreed to.