§ Mr. BUTCHER
I beg to move, "That Item Class. IV., Vote 2 (British Museum), be reduced by £10."
My object in moving this Reduction is to call attention to the action of the Government in closing a large portion of the British Museum and of the Natural History Museum. I understand the present intention is to close a considerable portion of the Natural History Museum and the whole of the British Museum with the exception of the Reading Room and, I believe, the Manuscript Room. Let me say, at once that I do not desire in any way to challenge the action of the 1292 Trustees of the British Museum. They have no choice in the matter. It is the Executive Government, and they alone, who are responsible for this action. In this connection may I quote the words uttered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is one of the three principal trustees of the British Museum, in a speech he made in another place on the 27th of last month. He said:The responsibility in this matter is, of course, a Government responsibility and does not rest with the trustees.A little later on he said:It has not been without the greatest disappointment that the trustees have been obliged to acquiesce in the demands of the Government.My objection to the Government's action is twofold. In the first place, I dissent from their general policy, that is, the policy of closing a considerable portion of this museum, because we know the Natural History Museum is a part of the British Museum; and, in the second place, I would ask the Committee to say that if it were necessary to close parts of the Museum the Government have adopted an entirely wrong method of doing so. On the first point, I suggest the decision was an unwise one, and was not founded on any kind of reason. The importance of free public access to collections of unexampled value and interest which are found in the British Museum, great as it is in time of peace is, in some respects, greater in time of war. In wartime the opportunities for rational study and recreation are necessarily limited, and it would be very unfortunate if we were to curtail unduly those small opportunities which exist. Whether you regard the British Museum from the standpoint of a place of educational value or a place of rational recreation, it stands in almost a unique position in the world, far above and beyond any of our other national collections, with the possible exception of the National Gallery. A very strong case must be made in order to justify the closing of any part of that museum.
Consider the matter from the point of view of the public for a moment. Is it not desirable to place before the public the possibility of attending to some better occupation in their times of leisure than moving pictures which, I grant you, may be of value and interest but which, for the most part, although my experience of them is not wide, appear to be exceedingly trivial and very often mischievous. I am 1293 not sanguine enough to hope that all those who now frequent moving pictures will rush to the British Museum, even if it is open. I wish they would, children and all. But I think it is not unreasonable to hope that at any rate a portion of those who now spend their time in that way might be induced to attend the British Museum during war time if they had the chance of doing so. There is one special class of the community who ought to be given free access to the British Museum and every form of rational recreation, namely, our wounded officers and men, many of whom are in hospitals in London or in the neighbourhood of London, and many of whom would be delighted to have the opportunity of visiting these magnificent collections, which probably they have never seen and which they may never have another opportunity of seeing, that are housed in the British Museum. Indeed, if my information is correct, wounded officers and men have resorted to the British Museum while it was open in very large numbers lately. There is yet another class to whom I might make reference, that is, the men of our own race who have come from our Dominions. They are splendid men, many of whom we regret to know are now in our midst wounded. Those men, perhaps, will never have another chance in their lives of going into the British Museum. Therefore I trust the Government will see their way to reconsider their decision and give these men, as well as others, an opportunity of visiting these collections. May I quote the opinion of two men whose opinion is of the highest importance in this matter? The Archbishop of Canterbury said in his speech in another place:It would cause general inconvenience and a great? deal of serious disappointment.Lord Lansdowne, speaking on the same occasion for the Government, said:I think it is a misfortune that this museum has to be closed.What, then, are the grounds upon which the Government justify their action? It is not a question of the preservation of the collections in the museum. If it were that, I suppose there is not a man in this Committee who would dissent. That is not the reason they give and upon which they act. The main ground upon which they have based their decision is the ground of economy—I will examine that in a moment—and, as a secondary ground, they suggest the possible employment of some of the museum staff on other work. If it were a question of a large saving being concerned here the matter would 1294 assume an entirely different aspect. No one realises more than I do, and I suppose most hon. Members do realise, the immeasurable importance at this time of national and personal economy. If we could see a large saving resulting from this action I should certainly not be here to oppose the closing. But what are the facts? The truth is that the saving is of the most trivial description. I put a question to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on the 29th of last month as to the amount of the saving to be effected, and his answer was:The direct annual saving is estimated at approximately £19,000. In addition there may he considerable indirect savings from the employment of the museum staff on other work.I should like to put two questions to the right hon. Gentleman upon that. Does that £19,000 include economies which the trustees of the British Museum had already resolved upon before the closing, and which would be in no wise affected if the museum were kept open; and, secondly, can he give us the approximate number of the staff of the museum who are employed on other work, and who will not be able to be employed on other work if the museum were kept open? In other words, can he tell us how many of the staff now employed on other work would have to return to the museum if the Government decision was altered and it was kept open Further, I should like to ask, what economy, if any, is going to result from the employment of this staff on other work? We know where the proposal originated. It came from the Retrenchment Committee, who, I have no doubt, devoted the greatest care and attention to the question of economy and made very many admirable suggestions. I do not think this is one of their happiest suggestions. Their original proposal was to close the whole of the Natural History Museum and the whole of the British Museum, with the exception of the Reading Room. The Government were pressed by deputations and other influences, and they very rightly and properly abandoned the suggestion of the Retrenchment Committee to some extent, and promised to keep the Natural History Museum open. By so doing they cut practically the whole of the ground from under the feet of the recommendation, because they largely reduced the small economies involved in the other proposal. The saving suggested is £19,000, and no more. I am not going to decry small savings, but 1295 if you wanted to save £19,000 in order to keep the museums open there are many ways, and far better ways, in which you could effect small savings. Let me suggest one. If you were to cut off only half of the salaries of Members of this House and leave us in possession of the other half, you would thereby effect an economy seven times as great as that effected by closing the Museum. A proposal of that sort would be not only better in itself, but would be much more acceptable to the general public than debarring them access to these collections in the museum. The Retrenchment Committee supported their recommendation by one suggestion, the force of which has really entirely disappeared. They said, "They have shut up the museums in Paris." It is quite true that upon the near approach of the enemy to Paris the museums were closed—I doubt not for purposes of safety and preservation—but for some considerable time past the Luxembourg Museum has been open—not merely the Luxembourg Palace, where the French Parliament sits, but the museum, which is an entirely separate building where those treasures which most of us know are deposited. Only recently a decision has been arrived at to reopen many of the galleries of the Louvre, and that has already, I believe, been done or is immediately about to be done. In view of the state of things which I have recounted, I ask the Committee to say that no adequate case has been made out for closing a portion of the museum.
I pass to my second point. Supposing there were a substantial saving to be effected and the Government desired to carry it out, what is their proper way of doing it? The mode in which they have done it, namely, by Executive action, is entirely wrong. The facts with regard to the foundation of the British Museum are these: Prior to 1753 the nation possessed certain collections of great value, for which the housing accommodation and the provisions for custody were inadequate. In 1753 the British Museum Act was passed, by which the museum was established and provision was made for erecting a building in which the then existing collections and all future collections which might be taken into the building by the trustees were, in the words of the Act,To remain and be preserved for public use to all posterity.Further, by that Act a body of trustees was appointed of which the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the 1296 Speaker of the House of Commons and other great officials of the State were made trustees and the buildings and collections were vested in them upon a special trust and conference, and the words of the Act were these:Upon this trust and conference free access to this general repository and the collections therein contained shall be given to all studious and curious persons at such times and manners as the trustees shall think fit.'The effect of that is to impose a statutory duty on the trustees to keep these collections open to the public use and inspection at all times subject, of course, to the power of the trustees to make rules as to the precise times and mode of access. Is it not clear that the duty of the trustees, as imposed upon them by Parliament, was to keep these museums open to the public and that the trustees could not, of their own motion, without a breach of their public duty, close the museum, or indeed any part of it, for an indefinite period. If Parliament said the museum was to be kept open, no less an authority than Parliament is entitled to say it shall be shut for an indefinite period. If, therefore, the Government were desirous of closing the museum, or part of it for an unlimited time they should have brought in a short emergency Bill saying it should be within the power of the trustees to close the museum for such time as might be necessary during the War. That is not what they have done. They have used their executive power to compel the trustees not to do what Parliament said they should do, and the way in which they have been able to use that executive power arises in this way. Parliament has for many years voted a substantial sum for keeping up the museum, and of course that Vote cannot be brought forward except by a Minister of the Crown. The Government have said, "We will use our executive power not to bring forward a Vote of sufficient amount to enable the trustees to do their duty." That is an abuse of the executive power. Their proper course was to come to Parliament and ask for an Act to alter temporarily, for an emergency, the Act of 1753. That this is so, and that the trustees acted under the coercion of the Government, is quite clear from an answer given me by the Financial Secretary on 21st February last. My right hon. Friend said:In view of the fact that the Government does not feel justified, in present conditions, in inviting Parliament to vote moneys sufficient to enable the trustees to keep the British Museum fully open, the trustees have obviously no alternative but to close the larger portion of the museum."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 21st February, 1916. col. 422.]1297 They used their power of the purse to force the trustees to do what they ought not to have done, and the truth of the matter is that the Government has, by executive action, coerced the trustees into a breach of their statutory duties and thereby compelled them to close the museum. They have adopted a wrong mode of carrying out a wrong policy, and I urge them to reconsider the position. The amount is very small to be gained by shutting it up and the advantage to be gained by keeping it open is very great, and I would ask them, if it is not too late, to bring forward at some further period of the Session a small additional Vote for the purpose of enabling the museum to be kept open and enabling the trustees to comply with their statutory duties under the Act of Parliament.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid I cannot put the Amendment the hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested in view of the Rule of the House that a reduction of a Vote or item must be a substantial and not a trivial amount.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I should like to support the appeal of the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is important that the Government should realise the extremely unfortunate impression that has been made on public opinion in this country and amongst our fellow countrymen from the Colonies, and also amongst the Belgians who are now staying in this country as our guests, by the action the Government have taken. This is a time when London is particularly full of people who are here for a short time, passing through on business and for other purposes, and London is not a place which is too hospitable in the number of public buildings which are open for guests passing through. It is a very unfortunate time for the Government to choose, when we have so many Colonials, so many foreigners, and so many soldiers and officers staying in London, to close what is one of the greatest prides of our country—the British Museum, the best possible place which could be selected for passing the leisure time which these men are forced to spend here in London. I am as much in favour of rational economy, and unsparing economy, as any man in the House. I have urged the Government to increase taxation with a view to enforcing economy, but this is an unfortunate beginning to make. The hon. and learned 1298 Gentleman says that £19,000 is the amount. I thought it was as much as £50,000. How much is the War going to be prolonged by that?
§ Mr. MORRELL
I had not worked it out, but it is ridiculous when we are dealing with such large figures. It is a little unfortunate that we should have to discuss this cheese-paring economy in the matter of public education when the Government is spending £60,000 in buying a racing stud.
§ Mr. MORRELL
The two are not connected, I agree. But if we can spend money in one way, it is unfortunate that we should be unable to continue what I believe to be a necessary part of the public expenditure at this time.
The Government is not spending, and has never proposed to spend, £60,000 in the purchase of any stud. You are completely wrong on the whole point.
§ Mr. MORRELL
At any rate, the hon. Member will not deny that the stud is going to cost the country £4,000 a year.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I will not discuss this, now. I am in the recollection of the Committee. I appeal to the Government to reconsider the decision they have taken upon this point. It is well worth their while to consider public opinion and the opinion of our friends and of our Allies, and not to do what I consider is something like dishonouring the country at this time by closing our finest exhibition when there is really no need shown for it.
§ Sir P. MAGNUS
I desire to take this opportunity of supporting the proposal of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Butcher) that the Government will reconsider their position in regard to the British Museum. It is difficult, if not impossible, to add anything to the arguments that he has brought forward. I must own that I did not attach as much importance as he did to the constitutional and historical argument in favour of this question. The 1299 trustees of the museum, of course, will be unable to keep it open unless they have the funds, and Parliament is quite justified in refusing to give them the funds if they think it is necessary for the purpose of economy. On the question as to whether it really is worth while for the sake of a small sum like £19,000 to deprive not only the inhabitants of this country, but all the visitors to this country, of the great educational advantage of being able to visit these museums, I think there can be no doubt that by closing them you are shutting out the public from enjoying what is a very great and important educational advantage. We have just heard a discussion in regard to the impropriety of allowing our school children to engage, in agricultural pursuits under the age of fourteen. If you close these museums you will be preventing our children from having an opportunity of visiting them and having facts explained to them immediately connected with the operation of the War, an opportunity the occasion for which we hope will never occur again. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of maintaining these museums open, not only for educational purposes, but also for the purpose of recreation. There are many persons who, at the present time, disapprove of going to theatres and to visiting moving-picture shows or any amusement of that kind. The persons who hold these views take the opportunity to a larger extent than at any previous time of visiting our museums and making themselves conversant with the splendid collections there. I do hope that on all these grounds the right hon. Gentleman will be able to induce the Government to withdraw from the position they have taken up, and not to allow this paltry sum of £19,000 to stand in the way of the great advantages which attendance at these museums gives.
Mr. E. HARVEY
I desire to support the able and overwhelming arguments of the hon. and learned Member for York. I had the privilege of being a member of the staff of the British Museum for some years, and I feel that it is due to my former colleagues that I should say a few words in support of this plea. I think the whole country received with real regret the announcement that the first economy to be made by the nation was an economy of this character, so small in amount, and yet so far reaching in its 1300 consequences. I support to the full all that the hon. and learned Member said as to the value of the British Museum as an educational institution and as a means of enlightened recreation, especially to the poor, and also at this time to those fellow subjects of ours from the Dominions, whose only opportunity it is to see these great national treasures. It is shutting up very large educational capital entirely without interest, when the Government decides not to make use of these collections in any way. I want to make two practical appeals to the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Treasury. I hope he will be able to withdraw from this policy, but if he is not able to indicate any hope of withdrawal from it, will he at least consider the possibility of opening on one or two days in the week the British Museum for the benefit of the, public? He could make use of wounded soldiers, who have had to leave the Army, as commissionaires, and he could make use even of volunteer labour in connection with the gallery. It would be a very trifling expenditure, but if on one or two days, or on two afternoons in the week, the galleries could be open for the use and enjoyment of our wounded soldiers and the public generally it would be a very great advantage. The other point I want to make is also a practical one. The library of the British Museum has been resorted to in the past by large numbers of poor students. It is only open up to five o'clock.
My point is that a large number of poor students can only make use of the library during the evening. If the library could be open on one or two evenings in the week, or if some selected room could be open, through which there would be no danger of light from above—and it is possible that that could be done—poor students could write in advance, as they have done in the past, asking for certain books to be reserved for them. This room, which might be a basement room, could then be made available at certain hours, and it would be maintaining the poor man's privilege of sharing in this great store-house of knowledge. I think if any practical arrangement of that kind is possible it ought to be 1301 adopted. I would especially appeal to the Treasury to reconsider the possibility of reopening at least on certain days in the week the main collection of the British Musem for the benefit of the public at large.
§ Mr. BRYCE
The announcement of the closing of the British Museum has created a great deal of dissatisfaction throughout the country. As hon. Members have said, immense numbers of persons from the Colonies are here—not only wounded soldiers, but soldiers in the course of training, and their relatives who have come over to look after them and be near them—and they will not have the opportunity again of seeing collections which are held by this country in trust for the whole Empire. We have a duty not only to our own education, but to the education of the whole Empire. It would be a very great misfortune if this chance, which will never occur again, should not be taken advantage of by these visitors. If, unfortunately, this proposal to close the museum is carried out, I would like to know what arrangements have been made for the discharge of the commissionaires, who, I think, are mainly employed in the British Museum. A great number of them are disabled soldiers who have been disabled in this War and who have been discharged. I understand that they have actually suffered pecuniarily, because by joining the Corps of Commissionaires I believe they have parted with certain rights of remuneration in pension as disabled soldiers. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Duchy can tell us what is going to be done with these men who are going to be discharged if this proposal is, unfortunately, carried out. I do hope that the protest which has been made by the hon. Member for London University (Sir P. Magnus) and the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Butcher), and other hon. Members, will produce the desired effect with the Treasury. I think the Treasury can be assured that the country at large does not think that a saving which only means a few minutes of war expenditure is worth while. If they could get the Admiralty Transport Department to send off a ship a few days sooner, it would save three or four times as much as the whole of this saving by the closing of the British Museum.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly consider a proposal, which is not mine, but which I have been 1302 asked by capable ladies serving in public offices to represent to him, and that is that if he adopts the arguments made by my hon. Friends—which, I am sorry to say, I do not adopt—will he consider the propriety of keeping the museum open, or keeping more of it open, and substitute female for male labour? So keenly do many of these ladies feel on this subject that they propose to take up the duties of the men who are now employed at the museum, without remuneration, rather than that the museum should be closed. I find myself, with pride, but with some surprise, the representative of ladies in this respect, and I am bound honestly to say, while I have got up to make this proposal, I do not share the argument myself. I support the Government with my vote in far more drastic proposals in this or in any other direction. I do not regard £19,000 as a paltry sum. I regard it as a very large sum, and I would prefer the Government to stick to their guns. If, however, they make a change in their present plan, will they take into consideration the proposal of these ladies? It should be remembered that the Reading Room is open. There is no question of closing the Reading Room, which is an educational advantage. However, it is very dangerous to say a word about education without being hopelessly misunderstood and misconstrued, so I will say nothing further.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Montagu)
I must acknowledge the great weight and earnestness with which the hon. Members who have spoken on this subject have put their case. I recognise that so far as the Debate has gone, with the exception of the qualified support from the hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) I have not succeeded in obtaining any commendation of the Government's proposal from any quarter of the House. I can only take to myself some satisfaction at the fact that although it is a very representative and distinguished assembly it does not number very many Members of this House. Let me say, first of all, that there is no question of a compensating economy somewhere else which would find us this £19,000. If I could find an economy somewhere else I would make that also, so as to have a bigger saving. If my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Butcher), who brought this subject forward, succeeded in doing what he suggested in regard to what has 1303 come to be part of our Constitution, namely, the payment of Members, that would be an economy—
§ Mr. HASLAM
Is recreation given to wounded soldiers not a real advantage in bringing about their health, and does the right hon. Gentleman take note of the fact that the museum is used by nurses and others?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is not entitled to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman except on a point of order.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
Despite the public attention which this item of economy has attracted, it has never been dealt with as an isolated proposal. This is not the first step in the direction of economy. It happens as an instance, important or not, as hon. Members may think, in the preparation of the Estimates for this year. Never have Estimates received so much attention from the Treasury and from all the spending Departments concerned. By rigorously scrutinising every single Department or branch of a Department, cutting off one salary there, where a man could be spared, or postponing some activity elsewhere, where it would not suffer by postponement, we have rigorously set ourselves to propose to Parliament nothing that was not necessary, in so far as we could without disturbing the settled practice of the country or prejudicing our development on the restoration of peace. We have succeeded, by large and small economy, in cutting down the Civil Service Estimates by something like £3,500,000. This £19,000 is one item out of this larger sum. I have tried during the two periods I have had at the Treasury, but I find that you never can make any economy or attempt an economy without finding at once that you have far more enemies than friends, and without finding that economy is the easiest thing to talk about in the abstract but the most unpopular thing in the world to bring about in practice. This is one instance which on the highest possible plane you cannot say it is necessary in order to beat the Germans; which on the highest plane you cannot say will materially affect the well being of this country in time to come. I venture to suggest that the Committee will endorse the Government proposals for the moment. I say "for the moment," because this decision is a decision of the moment, and is. meant 1304 as a temporary expedient. If the trustees of the British Museum found that they could defend their invaluable treasures with voluntary woman labour instead of police, if arrangements could be made later on without materially increasing the cost of the library, such as my hon. Friend suggests, and if the trustees do suggest an extension of the reading room these decisions could be reviewed. But at the present moment I am treating this as one of a series of separate economies, and I venture to suggest that we should not be justified in asking the House of Commons to vote the money. One of the arguments which my hon. and learned Friend brought forward was that this was a measure for which the Government were responsible and not the trustees. I accept that. The trustees have acted in response to the suggestion of the Government that they should close, because we did not feel justified in asking Parliament for the money necessary to open. There is nothing unconstitutional in that. It is one of the most ancient constitutional privileges of the House of Commons to exercise its control of bodies which otherwise it could not control by refusing to grant money for particular purposes. When the statute which the hon. and learned Member quoted was passed, we did not give a grant to the trustees, and I have the best of legal advice that the trustees are in no way bound to do what their funds from the Trust do not permit them to do, and which the House of Commons refuses to vote them the money to carry out; so that the legal position is quite clear.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I do not think that that would be a proper course to adopt. You would have to put a definite time in the Bill. It seemed to us that the presentation of Estimates on behalf of trustees—which falls to my lot—who are not responsible to Parliament in any other way, affords us an opportunity of controlling the action of trustees. If my hon. and learned Friend says, "Why make the distinction, which has been made between this and the other museums?" I will explain why. It is quite true that a distinguished body of men, who have attempted to consider the question of retrenchment, recommended that the whole of the museums of London and elsewhere should 1305 be closed. We have not acceded to that suggestion, because, in the main, of the argument which hon. Members have used this afternoon. It is true that many Colonials and soldiers, who are now in London for the first time in their lives, want to visit museums. I do not think that there is any evidence to show that because of the presence of these forces there is any great influx of visitors to museums, because I find that during the last three years the number of visitors to the British Museum has consistently and continuously declined; but what we felt was, that there ought to be some places where the soldier and the visitor could go, and that, therefore, some museums should be kept open, and we are keeping open the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Gallery, as a concession to the very argument which has been used. With regard to the Natural History Museum, large exhibits have been prepared for the purposes of the War, in order to give soldiers certain information which is valuable to them in the War, such as the causes of diseases conveyed by parasites. These exhibits have been specially designed for the War. It was, therefore, suggested that those galleries which were particularly interesting to the public, and contained these exhibits, should remain open. I do not think that it is likely to distress our friends that we have taken this step, because the French have closed some of their collections, and the fact that they have opened one of them, and that, as my hon. and learned Friend told me, they intend to open another, shows that they, like us, have taken steps to close some of their museums and open others.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
My hon. Friend must not forget that there was a certain element of safety in this matter. If the British Museum were open to-day it would not be the British Museum of peace times. Many of its treasures would not be on exhibition. It is far easier to safeguard a national collection when closed than when open. I do not say that that was one of the main reasons, but it certainly was one of the reasons, which affected the Cabinet in coming to this decision. Therefore, after paying the tribute, which I hope I may be allowed to pay, that I thoroughly recognise the strength of the arguments brought against this proposal, I do think that, viewed in its proper perspec- 1306 tive as an item in very large Estimates, we ought to persevere for the present in the course which we have undertaken, and not simply because the amount involved is small Vote money which it is really unnecessary to vote at the present time.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
Does the £19,000 include any economies which have been resolved upon by the trustees, and which can be carried out without closing the museum? Also how many of the staff are engaged on other work which would prevent the museum from being kept open?
§ Mr. MONTAGU
The number of persons who attended the British Museum, including the Reading Room, during the twelve months of 1915 was 733,000. In answer to my hon. and learned Friend, the whole of this £19,000 is made up of savings consequent on the closing. I can give my hon. Friend the figures. I have not with me to-night the number of people who have found employment elsewhere. We estimate that the total saving on the closing of the museum, not only on this Vote, but on the others, will be altogether £10,000, in addition to the estimate of the direct result of closing the museum.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I wish to thank my right hon. Friend for the sympathetic spirit in which he has replied to the criticisms which have been made, and he will forgive me for saying that it marks a great. advance on the reply which he made on this subject when it was first raised in the House a month ago, when my right hon. Friend went so far as to suggest that, so far from regarding institutions like the British Museum as places for the purpose of education, it would be more accurate to regard them as places of pleasure resort. The truth is, as I think my right hon. Friend recognises now more fully than he did before, that the educational value of the British Museum and the picture galleries is being recognised more and more, and that these places are being regarded more and more as adjuncts to our schools and other educational influences. I wish to associate myself with what has been said in support of the opening of these museums, and to say that, in time of war especially, it appears to me that it is a poor sort of economy to check any of the intellectual and spiritual—I use the word in the 1307 broadest sense—influences that act upon the lives of individuals in the nation. I will make a suggestion to my right hon. Friend. I understood him to say that if he could save the money and still keep the museum open, his objection would be met. I think there is a very simple way of doing this. I speak with some reluctance in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rutherford).
Yesterday we were told, when voting a large sum of money in connection with the Hall Walker stud, of the acquisition by the State of Night Hawk, which, we were told, is worth quite a fabulous figure. We could well dispense with Night Hawk, and if we disposed of him it would provide funds for keeping open the whole of the British Museum, if the price given for Night Hawk was equal to the figure which we heard, of which I have some doubts; but if we could get anything like the amount stated yesterday as the value, we should have ample funds to keep open the British Museum and the picture galleries also.
Though I make this suggestion, I cannot believe it possible that the Secretary to the Treasury and the Government will find it in their hearts to part with Night Hawk. Therefore, if that remedy is too heroic even for contemplation—and I observe the panic with which the hon. Member for Liverpool listens to my suggestion—then there is another way less heroic, not calling for the same amount of self-sacrifice: that is, that the British Museum should be open every day of the week, but that a charge should be made for admission except, say, on Saturdays and Sundays, which are the two days on which it is most convenient for the poorer classes of the community to attend, and I should like very much to know if any estimate has been prepared, showing whether the admission fees which might be expected on five days of the week would not entirely meet the cost of keeping the museum open.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I should prefer to have an official estimate, because this policy has been tried in another Department and has been successful. For instance, in Kew Gardens a charge of one penny was made. This charge, we learn, is going to bring in, I think it is said, 1308 about £20,000 per annum, and, according to the admission fees that are now coming in, it is producing at a rate which is greater than this amount. So I think the suggestion is worth consideration. It would have this advantage: that it would encourage local authorities, who own local museums, not necessarily to shut up those museums, but to consider the option of charging a small admission fee on some days of the week, always being careful to have one or two days in the week when the museum would be open free for the benefit of the poor. I should be very grateful if the Committee could learn whether any estimate dealing with that point has been prepared.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I regret the decision of the Government, but naturally I do not want at the present time to divide the House, though I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to do this: He has heard the almost unanimous expression of opinion from everyone who has spoken to-night in favour of opening the museum, and he has heard my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds on the question of opening at least some departments of that institution. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench to bring that expression of opinion before his colleagues, and ask the Cabinet to reconsider their decision with a view to seeing whether they could not at a later period of the Session bring forward a smaller additional Vote to enable some access to the British Museum to be obtained? I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
I desire to call attention to the next Vote, for the National Gallery. I think before we vote the amount we ought to have some explanation with regard to it. If it is money for keeping the National Gallery open, I shall be the very last to raise any objection to it, for I am delighted to know that when other places are being closed the National Gallery at any rate is being kept open. I think we should have some assurance with regard to the practice of 1309 economy by the trustees of the National Gallery. I notice that the Vote this year compared with last year's total Vote is down £4,000, an excellent thing in itself; nevertheless, the recent proceedings of the trustees of the National Gallery cannot, I think, excite any confidence in our minds in regard to their practice of economy at the present time. I wish to give, as an example of what I mean, the fact that has recently been announced of the trustees having purchased from Holland a picture by the celebrated painter, Pieter de Hooch. This picture was sold in Paris some three years ago for £3,300, or a little more. I put down a question the other day, and I was told that on this occasion it was bought for a smaller sum. If the rules permitted, I should have liked to ask how much war economy there was in buying this picture from Holland at the present time, even though it was got for a smaller sum than was paid for it some years ago. I do not know how much smaller the sum is; that information was not given; I presume very little less than the £3,300.
There may have been some special reason why this picture should have been bought even in war time, but I cannot conceive what it is, though I do think it is a matter on which we should have some explanation before we vote money for the National Gallery. Everyone is preaching war economy, but it is not very easy to see how the Departments of the State are practising economy. It is true that we are shutting up museums, and even withdrawing children from school, while making other minor economies in that direction. I do not wish it to be understood that I have any want of sympathy with the work of the trustees of the National Gallery. On the contrary, I am delighted that the gallery is to be kept open. In time of peace I should be one of the first to desire that we should be liberal and generous in voting money in order that the country might have the best collection of the best pictures in the world, but I do venture to say that in war time when we find the trustees buying pictures from abroad we are entitled to ask what is the explanation of it before we vote a sum of money for the National Gallery. I think also that we are entitled to make the suggestion that if the trustees have funds to expend on capital account at this time, it would be more to the point if they invested that money in War Loan or Exchequer Bonds 1310 or something of the same sort until the War is over, rather than sending it into a foreign country to bring back an additional picture when we are supposed to be so poor that we have to shut up some of our galleries, as we have already done.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for having given me notice that he intended to bring up this question. I would point out that we have no control over the trustees of the British Museum or of the National Gallery, except when they ask for Grants. This picture was; not bought with public money, and these purchases with public money for the National Gallery and British Museum have been practically stopped altogether during the War. The present purchase was made out of moneys that were available from some investment that had been made. I trust that my hon. Friend will not press this matter further, but personally I would like to express my own agreement with him, seeing that we are in time of war, when the difficulty to find money for foreign purchases, as the Committee well knows, is very great indeed.
I cannot allow Class V. to pass at this juncture in public affairs without saying a word or two upon the Consular service. I do so in no spirit of criticism of the administration, because I believe that with the material at hand in regard to the system that has been adopted, perhaps as good results are being-obtained as can be expected. But there are one or two outstanding facts which I think ought to be taken into our earnest consideration, and something ought to be done about them before this War ends. Therefore, to that extent the subject is extremely important, and the matter is very urgent. It has been my experience, during the last seven or eight years, to receive an object lesson as to how this service is worked in a neutral country, I find that on page 7 of the Estimates that in the case of Roumania His Brit-tannic Majesty's representative is receiving the salary of £2,400 a year, with £250 to his clerk; a second secretary mentioned on page 10 has no salary stated for him; and on page 20 the Consul General at Galatz is recorded as receiving £800 a year and a Vice-Consul £340 a year, and another £100, while there are four other Consuls altogether in Roumania, in regard to whom the figures are given. The 1311 total amount paid for the officers of the whole of our representatives in that country is £1,250.
I have taken the trouble to ascertain some general figures. We have to-day, according to these lists, 960 paid Consuls, altogether representing the United Kingdom in foreign countries, and 643 unpaid, of whom 286 were foreigners, and a considerable proportion of those were Germans. I suggest that now is the time to look at this system straight in the face and compare it with the German system, which has brought about such splendid results in trade for Germany in some of these countries before our very eyes. Instead of having something like less than two thousand Consuls paid and unpaid to represent the United Kingdom in all the countries of the world, we ought to have four or five times that number. If, instead of spending £2,400 on our representative in Rumania and permitting the paltry conditions under which he is housed there, and the absolutely disgraceful appearance which the Government compels him to make, we had put our representative on a level with the representative from Russia or from Germany or from Austria or any other country with regard to his appointments, salary, and therefore opportunities to effectively represent this country, I am one of those who think we should not have come to such an astounding diplomatic want of success as we have done in the Balkans. The persons appointed have not been given proper salaries and appointments and the money has not been spent on them that ought to have been spent. I desire to utter a word of protest in favour of the representation of our country in these foreign places being more effectively and more generously carried out.
Let us see how the German system per contra works. It starts with their schools of commerce upon which they spend large sums. A certain proportion of their young men are sent abroad at the expense of the central authority in Berlin. They are sent into merchants' offices and other offices at small salaries. Some of those Germans, I do not say all, who were in the United Kingdom before the War, were every three months sending confidential reports home to Berlin about their employer's business, the volume of it, the class of goods, the prices, and so on. There is many a merchant and shipowner and large dealer and manufacturer in 1312 this country to-day the whole of the secrets of whose business is to be found in the pigeon holes of Berlin. We have got five Consuls in Rumania, and we spend on them less than £2,000. The principal Consul in Rumania, a man I frequently met, is a German, a very excellent man to meet and have a little talk with, and perhaps the most intelligent person in our Consular service in that country. The fact remained that he was a German and had been our principal Consul in Rumania for over thirty years. I say it is a disgraceful thing to find when we are competing, and will have to compete again, with Germany in those markets when this War is over, that that is the state of the Consular service. The German Consuls in Rumania are four or five times as many as the British, and the money spent upon them is ten or fifteen times as much. The business of those Consuls is to find business and trade for the fatherland. None of our Consuls do anything of the sort. They ought to do it, and we ought to send our young men and pay them properly in order to get business for our British manufacturers and merchants.
The whole system requires to be completely altered. When those Consuls have got that business an emissary comes from Germany to carry it out. The moral of this matter is this, from my actual personal experience, we had eight years ago three times the trade of Germany in Rumania, and the year before the War Germany had three times the amount of our trade. I say that if in a neutral country that arrangements are such as to bring about an astonishing state of affairs like that, we ought, in this time of War, seeing that this competition is going to begin again after the War, take that lesson to heart and see if something cannot be done, because when peace is signed it will be too late to make the necessary alterations. For the past twenty or twenty-five years before the present War there has been a trade war going on which has been carried on with ruthlessness by our present enemy in the trickery and in the system which I have already described. The next stage is that the emissary sells the goods on credit if the German consul certifies that the purchaser is a respectable man. There is no Consul to help in a thing of that kind with regard to English trade. I know of a number of cases of that kind 1313 where the German consul had given the assurance that it was all right, and where the manufacturer took a six months' bill which was discounted in Berlin by a committee of bankers. Our bankers have been approached by the Government, who hoped that the bankers would be more lenient and helpful to British trade, but not at all. They said distinctly they would do nothing of the sort. This committee of bankers in Berlin discount those bills because the State has given a guarantee of 75 per cent. of the amount. Then a great deal of those bills are sent over to London and re-discounted here, and the money of the London City and Midland Bank, Parrs Bank, and other great institutions of that kind which has been absolutely refused to British manufacturers to enable them to sell goods on credit, is made use of for the purpose of enabling the German manufacturer to sell goods on credit to a Roumanian customer and cut out the British manufacturer in that trade. It is very interesting and important to see the sequence of events in this matter. It is necessary to look at it from the School of Commerce down to the time when, in London, our bankers find the money to enable the German manufacturers to cut the British manufacturers out of their trade. The whole of that has been carried out through their Consular Service, and if we are wise we will put our house in order in this respect now. It will be too late when the War is over. The whole Consular Service should be put under a Minister of Commerce. It should be the duty of those Consuls to get business for Great Britain, to ascertain whether the customers are worth trusting, and if they are to certify to that effect so that credit may be given. Then we shall have to have in this country—although it is nothing to do with the Consular Service, but it will be the completion of the idea—a proper bank of foreign commerce with a State guarantee, so that we can carry out all that system which has been adopted so successfully by the Germans, with the exception of the trickery, of which, of course, British young men sent out either as Consuls or into other persons' offices would not be guilty. I have not intervened for the purpose of raising a general Debate on an opportunity which is not adequate for the subject; but I thought that, when the Associated Chambers of Commerce are sitting and when we see in the newspaper columns with regard to what is to be done in reference to British 1314 trade after the War, it was my duty on this Vote to call public attention to this extremely important aspect of the matter.
§ Colonel YATE
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend (Mr. Rutherford) on having referred to the subject of the Consular Service, and to say how cordially I agree with him. I sincerely hope that we may have a Debate on the subject on the Report stage of this Vote. I wish to raise a question on Class VI., Vote 1, Separation and Retiring Allowances. I wish particularly to call the attention of the Treasury to the question of commutation payments, as the matter is so absolutely important to all servants of the State, especially at present on account of the War. I raised the question two years ago, when I pointed out that money was obtained for the commutation of these pensions on a 3 ½ per cent. basis, that the commutation by servants of the State was on a 5 per cent. basis, that these poor unfortunate servants of the State therefore lost a great deal of money, and that the Treasury was making money out of them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer acknowledged that he had made a profit of £200,000 out of men who had commuted their pensions. He told me that he would consider the question of the 3½ per cent. basis. The Government of India have issued a commutation scheme on a 3½ per cent. basis, and they have also passed rules for the limitation of the commutation of pension to, I think, one-third or one-fourth of their amount. There is no such rule in the Pensions Commutation Act of 1871, but there ought to be. As to the 5 per cent. basis charged now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed to look into the matter to see whether the difference of 1½ per cent. was not too large a margin. Two years have elapsed and nothing has yet been done. This year we have an enormous number of military and naval officers in addition to Civil servants who have been receiving pensions, and a large number of them will wish to commute those pensions. Therefore I hope the present Chancellor of the Exchequer will carry out the promise of his predecessor and see whether a fairer basis of commutation cannot be brought in, and also introduce rules limiting the amount that may be commuted. Unless something of that sort is done, we shall have great difficulty among those who commute their pensions this year or next.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
It is not in order to resume the Debate on that item, a debate having already arisen on it and a subsequent item having been discussed.
§ Mr. CURRIE
I beg to move, "That Item Class VII., Vote 5 (National Health Insurance Joint Committee, Scotland), be reduced by £100."
I do so for the purpose of drawing the attention of the Minister responsible for the administration of the Insurance Act in Scotland to the urgent need for further economy. It is a matter of common knowledge that Sir James Leishman, the chairman of the Scottish Commissioners, has been able to conduct the business of his Commission with as much regard for economy as has been evident in any other part of the United Kingdom. In spite of that, the fact remains that if the extravagance associated with the Act and the lack of economy in its administration are continued in Scotland and elsewhere a state of insolvency or of partial insolvency and of deficiencies amongst individual societies is bound to arise. I referred the other night to a speech made by the chairman of the Scottish Commissioners in regard to the working of the Act in Scotland. I was not able then to quote what Sir James had said, but I am now able to do so. I wish to draw attention, in the first place, to two paragraphs of that speech. The first paragraph deals with the general question of solvency in Scotland, and the second with the deficiency proposals. I rely for the accuracy of what I say upon the report in the Scottish newspapers. I have taken some trouble by applying to friends of mine who were present at the meeting to verify its accuracy, and I have no doubt whatever that the report is a very fair résumé of what Sir James said. Dealing with the question of solvency, he said:If he were to take Scotland as a whole up to the present time the Insurance Fund would be solvent and would be able to meet its claims.Sir James went on to say:—He wished to make a reservation on that point. Societies were given the right of admitting or rejecting members, and for their own reasons certain people formed themselves into particular societies. Some selected very good lives and some accepted lives not so good. "What was going to happen was that some societies would have a considerable surplus, and some 1316 would scrape through, while some again would possibly have a deficit. That was inseparable from the operation of the option given to societies. There could not be any bankruptcy in the general sense.It appears to me that a certificate by the chairman of the Scottish Commission "that there could not be any bankruptcy in the general sense," is a very qualified statement indeed. I am not surprised to see that he also said:He had had insured persons calling on him in great distress and asking if their money was safe in certain societies.That is one of the results of undue extravagance. He came to the matter of individual societies and to deficiency proposals, and I beg to call the attention of the hon. Member opposite to the fact that, however confidently he himself repudiated the other night the bare idea that the Government would countenance wholesale robbery of the surpluses of solvent societies, the chairman of the Scottish Commission spoke with all the weight of his authority, and in a very much more uncertain accent. It is idle to pretend that insured persons who read what the chairman of the Scottish Commissioners said should not be perturbed. I hope most of them having read what the Government said the other night, are now feeling somewhat reassured. The chairman said:They had had suggestions from societies to deal with questions of this kind"—That is with deficiencies:There were people who argued that if societies had a big surplus they should devote the surplus to wiping out the deficits of other societies. The Act, however, was there; but even if they could adopt this course the surpluses might not be found to exist later on, because if people who were careful and managed their affairs well in the expectation of having a surplus to deal with, had that surplus taken away, they would not be so much inclined to husband their resources in the future. There were others who make a much stronger case for taking a small portion of the surplus. After all, it was a national system. Insurance was the principle of the strong helping the weak. He was not frightened in this connection by any such term as raiding the sinking fund.'Such language should now be repudiated, and absolutely repudiated, by the Government. However much it is not intended to mislead, it is very much calculated to do so. I think that the hon. Gentleman opposite might once more repudiate the idea of such conduct on the part of the Government. To pass from that point I do not propose—in fact I do not think I would be in order—to deal with the most obvious source of economy. I will say that in Scotland the insurance committees might be abolished, and the administration of tuberculosis benefit might be handed over to the public health authorities. But on the point of Scottish administration I 1317 think it is well to point out that a great deal of the extravagance results from the habit into which the Scottish Commissioners have drifted—I do not say it is entirely their own fault—of creating separate classes of insured persons.
I am quite sure it was never the intention of this House, and it was never realised by the country, that dozens upon dozens of separate classes of insured persons should be brought into existence. There is the cause of a great deal of the expenditure of money in Scotland which I wish so much to be brought to an end! I do not know how many classes there are. The hon. Member no doubt can tell us. I believe that at one time—possibly still—one separate class existed which contained one individual member. A number of other classes contained half a dozen members, or twenty or thirty, or some mere tribe. If so complicated an organisation is to be brought into being in this way it is impossible to be properly economical, and it is quite impossible to even think of doing without the Scottish Commission. I confess that if these complications could be materially reduced the establishment of the Scottish Commission could also be reduced and could, and should be rendered a great deal more economical than ever it has been. Can the hon. Member tell us whether he sees any early prospect of bringing about economy in the establishment of the Scottish Commission? I would like to know whether certain members of the Commission whe were not appointed for life but for a definite term of years, are likely to retire from office, and whether a smaller number of Commissioners, and consequently a smaller number of salaries, will be borne upon future Votes? I make these observations realising to the full that the hon. Member is as anxious as anyone could possibly be to see the Act, for which he is responsible, administered in as economical a way as is consistent with efficiency.
§ Mr. CHARLES ROBERTS (Comptroller of the Household)
If the hon. Member is going to pass from this Vote I should like—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I called upon the hon. Member under the impression that he was going to speak on the question before the Committee, which 1318 related solely to this item. Of course, if he makes any reference that is not relevant to this Vote, I shall regretfully have to rule him out of order.
§ Mr. KING
I am quite ready to obey your ruling as far as I can do so. From the course of this Debate, which I have followed with the most careful attention, and which has ranged over a great variety of subjects, dealing with the Defence of the Realm Regulations, payment of Members, the British Museum—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I would direct the hon. Member's attention to the fact that the Question before the Committee at present is Class VII., Vote 5.
§ Mr. KING
I wish just merely by way of prelimianry remarks to call the attention of the Committee to the point with which we are now dealing—the Vote we have reached. It represents the National Health Insurance Joint Committee of Scotland. Apparently what is required on account for the year 1916-17 is only £190,000. The total estimate for the year is £616,902. This is a very large sum, and I hope we shall have some adequate defence of these large figures from the hon. Gentleman who, I understand, is now desirous of addressing the House.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I hope that I shall be able to fully satisfy the natural curiosity of the hon. Member for North Somerset. He, I know, includes in his interests the affairs in Scotland as well as all other parts of the British Empire. I do not in the least regret the fact that the hon. Member for Leith Burghs comes forward again to-night in the interests of economy in Scotland, and that he proposes to reduce. the Vote for the Scottish Commission by £100. He paid credit to the Scottish Commission for their administration in Scotland but I think he might also at the same time have noticed that this Vote is a considerable reduction as compared with the Estimate of the previous year, and that we are already saving on the Scottish Estimates £101,250, so that the reduction which he is now asking is a very small addition to a very considerable saving. He said, with truth, that that saving in Scotland was characteristic of the savings in the rest of the country, and I am glad to draw his attention also to the fact that on the four 1319 Commissions and the Joint Committee, the total saving in these Votes is £875,000. Therefore, when he advocates the need of further economy in connection with the administration of national health insurance, I hope he will realise that the Estimates this year do show a very considerable reduction, and that it is not merely a reduction due to some changes of method, to some alterations in the basis of provision, but that there are real reductions in the cost of administration, in restriction of services, and in carrying on the existing services at a cheaper cost. That must be my defence, also, to the hon. Member for Somerset. I think he ought to give us credit for the work which the Commissioners are doing.
The hon. Member for Leith Burghs drew attention to a speech by the Chairman of the Scottish Commission to which he referred the other night. I had not then seen the speech, and he has been good enough to show me the report in the newspaper from which he quoted. I fully admit that that report does give him ground for asking me if there has been any change of policy on the part of the Government from the position I indicated to him in a previous reply which I made him. The report of that speech does give some ground for his apprehensions about it, but it is not a verbatim report. I have not had time yet to get a full report of the speech, and I am not sure that the summarised report though the reporter may think that it was perfectly accurate—does really represent the meaning of the chairman of the Scottish Commission if we had his verbatim words in front of us. I think the hon. Member will realise that when the Chairman of the Scottish Commission is not here, and is a Civil servant, unable to defend himself, it is not fair to attack him for advocating a doctrine which the hon. Member regards as amounting practically to robbery.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
No, but the policy which he advocates was described as robbery. So far as my own position goes, it has not altered. I regard that particular solution of the difficulty, as at present advised, as a solution which need not require serious consideration. The hon. Member is well aware of the Committee which is sitting to deal with questions of the kind, and, if I may repeat what I said the other 1320 night, I am bound to consider any arguments put before me, but I feel sure the speech quoted of the Chairman of the Scottish Commission cannot intentionally have deviated from the policy of the Government which I had to express in the answer which I gave to the hon. Member for Leith Burghs. Before I pass from this subject, may I ask the hon. Member for Leith Burghs, and other hon. Members, if they would moderate their apprehensions as to what they call the partial insolvency of the Act. The Act is not insolvent. It is at the present time piling up large reserves of money, and if any particular society does get into difficulties there are means, by levies and so on, by which it can be prevented from becoming bankrupt. That was, I understand, the point to which allusion was made in the speech of the Chairman of the Scottish Commission. I regret this talk about the bankruptcy of the Act, because it does give rise to misapprehensions by people who cannot appreciate the real financial position, and I am quite certain that these misapprehensions should be swept away. I regret very much that every now and then Members get up and in a spirit of gloomy pessimism exaggerate any flaw or defect that they can find in the Act, and I am sure leave a wrong impression upon the minds of the people, who cannot understand what the real financial position is.
The hon. Member made certain suggestions as to further economies that might take place. Some of those economies I cannot deal with; they would involve legislation. He asked me whether there was any intention of filling up the vacancies which might occur on the Commissions, and on that point I might refer him to the Report of the Retrenchment Committee, which recommends that the vacancies on the permanent staffs should not be filled up without the concurrence of the Treasury. There are a number of points which he suggested, and I am quite aware that further economies can be made, but we have just had the Report of the Committee on Retrenchment which suggests certain lines of economy, and we have got a Committee sitting at the present time with a view to discover what means can be taken to reduce the cost of the Act and to simplify administration. As I am precluded from discussing changes of legislation, and as these questions of administration are being discussed and considered by that Committee, from whom I hope to receive 1321 real assistance, I find it impossible to go into those details, but I can assure the hon. Member that the question of economy and of simplification of the Act is receiving close attention. It will continue to receive close attention, and I have very little doubt, though a large economy is shown in the Estimates of this year, it is still possible to carry economy further.
§ Mr. WATT
The hon. Member for Lincoln has told the Committee the amount of savings exercised this year as compared with past years, but he did not explain one thing, and it is to elicit an explanation on this point that I have risen. I think the hon. Gentleman will notice that the proportion of saving in Scotland is much greater than in England, and if he will take the figures of the various nationalities under the Insurance Act he will see that Scotland, in regard to the Vote with which we are now dealing, there is a saving of £101,000 upon a turnover of £616,000. In England the saving is only double that amount, that is £200,000 upon a turnover of something like £5,000,000. This is the usual complaint as to the way the Treasury effect economies in Scotland which are not exercised to the same extent in England. England has continued her expenses in a larger degree than Scotland, and I should like the hon. Member for Lincoln to explain why he has been able to effect greater savings in Scotland than in England.
§ Mr. CURRIE
I wish to acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman in charge of the administration of the Insurance Act has met my criticisms very fairly indeed. I must, however, point out that, according to the report of a speech of his own chairman in Scotland, certain societies would only scrape through and others might possibly have deficits. If the chairman of the Scottish Commission makes use of phrases like that we cannot be blamed for making our criticism. I am sure that Sir James Leishman is the last man who would wish to misrepresent me or anyone else, and far be it for me to run the risk of misrepresenting him. The hon. Member for Lincoln, however, will be able to obtain a verbatim copy of the Report, and if it subsequently appears that I have by one jot or tittle misrepresented what Sir James Leishman said, I shall take the earliest opportunity of removing the impression so conveyed.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I think the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Watt) might wait until he sees the actual items before he makes up his mind, because I am afraid that Scotland looks rather better than it actually is in regard to this matter. Although there are apparent savings of £101,000, that is due to changes in the basis of the provision, and the savings which represent a real economy are about £51,500. That will appear more explicitly when the items can be scrutinised individually, and I can assure the hon. Member for Glasgow that the pressure of economy has been exercised not unjustly in the case of Scotland, and it has been brought to bear equally in all parts of the United Kingdom.
§ Amendment, negatived.
§ Mr. KING
I wish to suggest to hon. Members upon the Treasury Bench that when we are voting something like £36,000,000 we ought to have a Cabinet Minister present. It is really unreasonable, and I think it is quite impossible, to exercise due economy in this House if vast sums of this nature are voted without any member of the Cabinet being present. I am sorry to have to make this protest, because I know the members of the Cabinet are very hard worked at the present time. Nevertheless, I think one member of the Cabinet ought to be present when we have a great Vote like this before the House.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
All the Ministers have been present who were notified by any hon. Members of points that were going to be raised. The Secretary to the Treasury who is a Cabinet Minister, has been here for the greater part of the evening. He is very much overworked at the present time, and he left me in charge because no further points had been notified to him except the point about the Scottish Commission.
§ Mr. KING
I think that is a very poor explanation, indeed. I have heard a great many poor explanations from the Treasury Bench, but I think that is by far the poorest I have ever heard. We all agree that we have in the hon. Member for Lincoln a very able and courteous Gentleman, but to say that the Comptroller of the Household is able to give an answer to all the large questions dealt with under this Vote is most unreasonable. As a Member of the House of Commons who tries to understand the business and follow 1323 the discussions energetically, I protest against the way the Government is treating the House of Commons.
§ Mr. CURRIE
As I am the only Member left in the House of those who have moved reductions, I should like to say for myself—I think I may speak for others who moved similar Amendments—that I think the Government have treated us extremely fairly to-day, because every hon. Member who brought forward a proposal has been dealt with as fully and fairly as could possibly be expected.
§ Mr. KING
I do not know whether those remarks are intended for me or not, but I repudiate what the hon. Member has said with all the energy of which I am capable. I have not made a single remark derogatory to Ministers who have answered questions, because they have done their part admirably. I think, however, that we are entitled, when we are voting £36,000,000 of money in one evening, to have a member of the Cabinet present.
§ Mr. KING
We ought to try and carry out economy, and if we have practical suggestions to bring before the Committee, we ought to get some assistance from members of the Government. I believe if I were to move to report Pro- 1324 gress I should be well within my rights, but I am not going to do that, and I will content myself with protesting against the action of the Cabinet in this matter.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Tuesday next; Committee to sit again upon Tuesday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 21st February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at a Quarter after Nine o'clock, till Tuesday next, 7th March, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.
§ Mr. Speaker has, in pursuance of Standing Order No. 1, nominated
- The Right hon. Charles Beilby Stuart-Wortley,
- The Right hon. Charles Fenwick,
- The Right hon. John William Wilson,
- The Right hon. Willoughby Hyett Dickinson, and
- Mr. Thomas Power O'Connor