HC Deb 18 December 1916 vol 88 cc1136-41

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Resolution of the Committee on New Ministries and Secretaries [Salaries and Remuneration] may be considered this day as soon as it is reported from the-Committee, notwithstanding the practice-of the House relating to the interval between the Report and Consideration of such a Resolution."—[Mr. Bonar Law.]


Before the Resolution is adopted, may I ask the Leader of the House for some explanation of this Motion; and is he aware that it is very unusual indeed? I understand that there is no precedent for it as far as this House is concerned, and my information from a responsible authority is that it ought not to be made save under very exceptional circumstances. The circumstances, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman, are hardly to be characterised in that way. So far not one word of the Bill has been considered by the House. It is rather an unusual thing, also, because the whole effect that the Bill may have upon the House will undoubtedly be determined by the indication of the scope and purpose of it given by the right hon. Gentleman who may be in charge of the Bill. I would remind the Leader of the House that it is not proposed to go further with this Bill than the Second Reading of it to-night, so that it is difficult to see where the question of urgency really arises. It is not, in my judgment, as if the progress of the Bill would be at all materially delayed if the right hon. Gentleman did not press this Motion; and in view of all the circumstances of the case, and in view of the fact that unquestionably the right hon. Gentleman can get his Motion, as a matter of form, next day, before the Committee stage, I do not think the Financial Resolution is one that ought to pass out of the control of the House until after they have had fuller information from the Government on the Bill.


It is not the case, I am informed, that this is unprecedented. There have been precedents for it during the War, and at least one before the War, but I quite agree that it is not a desirable course. The reason why I ask the House to agree to it is this: If my hon. Friend will calculate the number of days, he will see that it is necessary to get it through all its stages in time to pass. I would point out that the House will have power to stop the Bill in its later stages, if it so desires. There must be an opportunity for some discussion on the Second Reading, Committee, and Report stages. The putting down of this Motion is due to the fact that we want to get the Session ended before Christmas, but that is a matter which entirely rests with the House itself, and it is for it to decide whether or hot to take the exceptional measures necessary to secure the Bill passing in time.


I am not at all sure that this is going to help my right hon. Friend. As I understand it, the position is that in regard to this Money Resolution, which is now, I suppose, in the Clerk's desk, no one in this House knows any- thing whatever about it. In the ordinary way you cannot take two stages of the Money Resolution on the same day, and, therefore, when the Committee stage has been passed, on the Report stage you can go to the Vote Office and get the Resolution in print, and we should know something on the Report stage about what is being done. If you take the two stages of the Resolution to-day, the House will not in the least know what it is doing. I am not endeavouring in any kind of way to be unreasonable. It is not the whole Bill which is founded upon the Money Resolution. It is only one Clause of it, and if we were not to adopt the suggestion of my right hon. Friend my belief is that the situation would be as follows: We should pass the Money Resolution after the Committee stage, and that would not in any way interfere with the Money Resolution. To-morrow we could take the Report stage' of the Money Resolution, and the Committee stage afterwards. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I think that is so. You could go on with the Committee stage of the Bill until Clause 6 or 7, I believe—it is the Clause in italics—and then get the Money Resolution. You will not want the Money Resolution until you have got the Committee stage on Clause 7. If my right hon. Friend will allow me to say so, I do not think that he is losing anything, while he is preserving a custom or a tradition of the House which is very desirable.


I am sure the House knows that I do not pretend personally that this is the best course to follow, but I was informed that it was the best method of getting the Bill completed. I have made inquiry, and I find that there will be no loss of time in adopting the course suggested by my right hon. Friend, and therefore I do not in the circumstances propose to press the Resolution.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, of an annual Salary not exceeding two thousand pounds to any Minister, and to any Under-Secretary to a Secretary of State while he performs the duties of Minister of Blockade, appointed under any Act of the present Session for establishing certain new Ministries, and for the appointment of additional Secretaries or Under-Secretaries in certain Government Departments, and of other Salaries, Remuneration, and expenses which may become payable in pursuance of such Act."—[Sir G. Cave.]


I think we should have some explanation from the right hon. Gentleman as to the amount involved under the Resolution. We find that under this Bill there are three separate Ministers: one of them permanent, and two of them axe temporary, being only for the period of the War, but in addition to that under Clause 7 there is a very wide provision made as to the possible appointment of new Under-Secretaries and Parliamentary Secretaries. I do not know exactly how many new Secretaries are to be appointed under this Clause, and I think it is obviously right that the Committee before passing the Resolution should, in the first instance, know exactly the salaries of those Ministers for whose appointment the Bill provides, and secondly, as to the number of Under-Secretaries which the Government intend to appoint under the Bill and the remuneration which will be paid to the Under-Secretaries. I hope the right hon. Genitleman will give an answer to this point.


It is almost impossible to give an exact estimate as to the cost of a Bill like this, but my hon. Friend can make a calculation for himself. The Bill provides for three new Ministers—


At £5,000 a year?


Three at £2,000 a year each.


That is £6,000.


As to Under-Secretaries and Parliamentary Secretaries their salaries will be determined by the Treasury, and my hon. Friend may feel quite sure that the amount of their remuneration will not exceed, but probably may be less than the remuneration now paid to Under-Secretaries and Parliamentary Secretaries.


Will the Under-Secretary represent the Controller of Shipping?


Yes; he will.


As the Controller is an expert in shipping, will he have an Under-Secretary who is an expert in shipping?


We are now on the question in relation to money. The House can make some calculation as to the amount involved, but it is impossible for us to know exactly at this moment what the Treasury will sanction. It will not be, as far as I can see, a very large sum. I hope with that statement hon. Members will postpone discussion on the financial part of the Resolution until we come to the Second Reading.


I desire to make a protest against the statement made by the Home Secretary that they have not yet made up their minds as to the scale of salaries. I wholly object to the principle underlying that statement. It reminds me of a system which always horrified me and which will yet come to be recognised as an evil precedent. This House ought to know before it votes money what is going to be paid to each servant of the Crown. I object on principle to the idea that we are going to do it on the cheap. The danger of the Bill is that it opens the way to an unlimited number of Under-Secretaries, and if a Member is to be invested with the power to appoint an unlimited number of Under-Secretaries at £500 per year or whatever the salary is to be, it would be a degradation of this House and a departure from the whole principle that has ruled this House for 200 years, and which was the result of great and prolonged struggles to put an end to Ministerial corruption in this country. I therefore could not allow this matter to pass sub silentio, and the idea that it did not matter how many Under-Secretaries were to be appointed, provided the salaries were cut down.


I wish to reinforce what has fallen from the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). I do think the right hon. Gentleman would do well to let us know the number of Under-Secretaries and what their salaries are to be. If we do not know those two things, what is the use of asking the House of Commons to pass the Resolution, since we would simply be voting money for an indefinite number of Under-Secretaries at indefinite salaries. I do enter a strong protest, but, if the information I ask for is given, I am sure there will be no objection to passing the Resolution.


I have not the least desire to withhold information from the House. I know pretty well what is proposed, and the number of Secretaries is limited by the Bill. In Committee on the Bill I will undertake to give the figures.


I do not want to oppose the Second Reading, but I do ask the Leader of the House to reconsider the question as to the Controller of Shipping. The Home Secretary said that he would be represented in this House by an Under-Secretary. If an expert is required in anything, he is required in shipping, and yet, according to the statement made, we shall have no opportunity of any intelligent replies here. It is one of the most vital subjects of the day, and the whole concern and welfare of the country and the prosecution of the War depend on the proper handling of merchant shipping. I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the decision as to the Controller of Shipping not having a seat in this House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.