HC Deb 08 March 1916 vol 80 cc1667-78

Resolution reported,

10. "That a sum, not exceeding £414, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Salary of the Vice-Chairman of the Statutory Committee of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation."

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


I hope that the Government will get all these Supplementary Votes, but I think this is a case in which the House ought to exercise economy. When this Statutory Committee was being set up, the Chancellor of the Exchequer definitely stated, after this House had refused to pay a Chairman, and had agreed to pay a Vice-Chairman, that the salary should not be more than £1,500. On the Estimates that now appears really as £1,750, of which we are now voting £414. The arrangement is that the Vice-Chairman has been appointed for three years at £1,500 a year, with £250 extra, making £1,750, and this in view of the fact that he cannot have a pension. I submit that if a man has a three-years' engagement at £1,500 a year, no question of pension ought to enter into the matter at all. If this gentleman was going to be maintained as Vice-Chairman afterwards, then the question of a pension might arise, and if the particular occupant of this post is continued after the three-years' engagement, I think that would be the time to consider whether he should have a pension or not.

I put on the Order Paper a notice to move a reduction because I thought it would be sufficient that the salary should be £1,000, and that we might allow the other £250, seeing that the President of the Local Government Board made a point of it. We could allow that to stand for the pension, and make the amount £1,250. This is a new post. It is not a very onerous one which demands the setting up of a pension scheme, the details of which are very well known to most Members of this House. I know that the Chairmen of some of our bigger permanent Boards are getting salaries of this kind, but it seems to me that we are in the throes of an attempt to economise, and when we are setting up a new post the position should be reviewed again in three years, when presumably the War will be over and we can then address ourselves to the question how much the nation can afford. For that work I think £1,000 a year is enough. You can get a thoroughly competent man for that sum, and I do not see why we should, under the present circumstances, incur a bigger salary. If the salary starts at £1,000, it will be easy for us to increase it, but you cannot do this if the salary begins at £1,750. This is an opportunity where we can economise if hon. Members will only show that they are willing to support us in these matters. If we economise in such matters as these, I think we shall find, before the allotted days for Supply are over, that we have been able to save something.


I wish to associate myself with my hon. Friend in protesting against this particular salary. At the time when the Bill was passing through this House the question of the salaries to be paid under it was raised both on the Committee and the Report stages of the Financial Resolution. I am not certain, but my recollection is that on that occasion the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), acting in his usual role, made a request for a limit to be placed upon the salaries to be paid under the Act. Ever since I came into this House the right hon. Baronet has pressed that claim on every Financial Resolution connected with any Act that was being passed. As a rule, he has been unsuccessful, but my recollection is that on that occasion the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Government did not contemplate paying more than £1,500. He mentioned the figure of £1,500 as a maximum, but as a matter of fact the intention of the Government was to make the commencing salary £1,000 and to leave the figure of £1,500 as a possible maximum to which the holder of the office could rise. That is my recollection of what passed in the House, and even in those days, when we did not hear so much of economy, the assurances which were then given had considerable effect upon the Members of the House. Now, however, without any warning, without any justification, and without any excuse, we have this Supplementary Estimate brought before the House indicating that the first Vice-chairman is to receive a salary of £1,750. Surely in these days, when we hear so much of economy, this was an opportunity of cutting down a salary? Surely some gentleman quite competent to discharge these duties could have been found who would have willingly undertaken the office for a less sum than £1,750?

I do not wish to enter into any question as to what inducement had to be offered to the gentleman who has been appointed. Any such question, of course, is invidious, but I am certain that there are many gentlemen, both in the Civil Service and out of it, who would have been amply satisfied with a less salary than that which we are now being asked to vote. The right hon. Gentleman has given an explanation of the extra £250, but, after all, it is only a three years' appointment, and surely it is unnecessary in a temporary appointment to make any provision for superannuation purposes. We see no necessity for the £250 allowance for superannuation, and we think that it is absolutely unnecessary to go to the full extent of the maximum mentioned when the Bill was passing through the House. In these circumstances, unless something better is said than was said on the Committee stage, it may be necessary once more to put the House to the trouble of a Division. There are some superior people who think it is an act of high treason to divide this House during the period of the War. Apparently this Government can commit the most outrageous absurdities, and the only answer given is, "We are at war." When I passed through the Lobby I met a right hon. Gentleman who seemed to think it was a monstrous thing that we should be dividing on a question like a racing stud in the middle of a great war, but upon whom does the responsibility rest? Is not the monstrous thing that in the middle of a great war the Government should be making such preposterous proposals? It seems to me that the only check which we have upon the Government repeating these proposals and continuing this course is that when the opportunity offers Members of this House should divide against their proposals. That is the only way in which we can see that sanity is exercised in the administration of our finances. I am perfectly certain that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who has some instincts for economy, does not in his heart approve of this thing. He has been chairman of the Retrenchment Committee, he has been one of the fleeting shadows that have passed across the chair. I do not know whether he was consulted about this or whether it came before the Retrenchment Committee which sat to consider the question of economy in the Civil Departments. Surely the question of the salary to be paid for this office might appropriately have been discussed by that Committee. It might have formed a subject of harmonious discussion, and on this question there probably would have been unanimity on that Committee. It is possibly because of the risk that the Committee would be unanimous that this question was never submitted to it. I am quite willing to wait and hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say. If his explanation and defence are no better than the defence he gave at an earlier stage, then, as a protest against the grant of salaries of this description, it may be necessary to divide the House.


I am afraid I rise with little hope of satisfying the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, for I can add very little to what I said when the salary was attacked. What happened on that occasion? The Bill presented to the House as first framed enabled a salary to be paid both to the Chairman and Vice-Chairman. A Debate took place on that matter, and, after considerable discussion on one or other of the stages of the Bill, we arrived at the conclusion that the power ought to be limited to paying a salary either to the Chairman or to the Vice-Chairman. The acceptance—most beneficial to the fund—of the Chairmanship by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales settled the question as to which of the two posts the salary should be paid. The Bill was passed enabling but one salary to be paid, and the salary went therefore to the Vice-Chairman. Many gentlemen undoubtedly would have been glad to have taken the post not only for £1,000 a year, but very likely for £500, but I do not say that those gentlemen would have been competent to discharge the duties. I wonder how much time the hon. Gentleman has spent in thinking over the kind of duties which will have to be performed by the Vice-Chairman of this very important body? The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) said that the duties would not be of an onerous description. I think I may really say that I have given as great a study to the question of the administration of pensions as anyone in this country. For fifteen years I served on the principal bodies engaged in the administration of pensions, and I can assure hon. Gentlemen I can conceive no duties more onerous and more continuous than those which ought to be discharged if this body is really going to give the satisfaction to the country which I hope it will do in administrating these supplementary pensions.


It is quite true the Vice-Chairman will have these duties, but I am perfectly certain the right hon. Gentleman cannot assure this Committee that there will not be a great staff created with a secretary with large salaries. This man has a larger salary than my right hon. Friend, whom the House knows to be the better man in view of the great attention he has given to this whole question.


At present not a single salaried officer has been appointed, as since we started the work in the middle of January we have carried it on with a staff lent us by the Royal Patriotic Fund. It is obvious if this House passes the Bill it will place £1,000,000 sterling at the disposal of the statutory body to be distributed and then its duties will become exceedingly onerous. They will have to be discharged certainly by a paid secretary and a paid accountant and a considerable staff of clerks, and I am convinced that the work of the Vice-Chairman in directing the operations of this body will be extremely onerous. They will have to administer not £1,000,000 or £2,000,000, but it may even be £5,000,000 sterling. We have no idea of the length of the War, of the enormous number of men who will go out, of the enormous number who will come back disabled, or of the enormous number of widows that will have to be provided for. I am confident that £5,000,000 of money may not suffice to carry on the work of this patriotic body if it is to perform its duties to the satisfaction of the public. Therefore any man who has to administer these funds and administers them satisfactorily must be a really first-class administrator and a man who will give the whole of his time to this work.

The salary was fixed not by me. It was fixed, as it is bound to be under the Act, by the Treasury. It is quite true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned in this House, and I have no doubt that he did contemplate the sum of £1,500, but at the same time I am quite sure he had in his mind that this would be a pensionable office, as, indeed, most other offices of this kind are. Then it occurred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in talking the matter over with the Treasury, that the gentleman who would take this position, Mr. Jackson, was not of pensionable age and would hardly be expected to contribute to a pension fund, and he was offered a sum of £250 a year in lieu of pension. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) said, "Oh, this is only an appointment for three years." This is an appointment for three years, it is quite true, but obviously Mr. Jackson in taking this appointment hopes that he will satisfy the body of which he is Vice-Chairman, that he will satisfy the country, and that he will be reappointed from time to time for further periods of three years. Obviously no man with Mr. Jackson's attainments and experience as an administrator would take an office of this kind for three years unless he thought he would satisfy the Committee of which he is Vice-Chairman and the country and that he would be reappointed. Therefore the question of pension does arise, because Mr. Jackson, like everybody else, would naturally expect to retire from his office after a certain number of years, perhaps at the age of sixty-five or whatever may be the age.


What is his age?


He is over fifty at any rate, and he would expect that. It is quite reasonable that if no pension were offered to him that some such sum as £250 a year should be offered to him in lieu of a pension. I can only express the hope that hon. Members will be satisfied with this explanation. I can make no other. It is a salary which has been fixed by the Treasury after full consideration, and I believe, looking at the fact that you have obtained a gentleman of first-class attainments as an administrator and with great experience both in the Civil Service and after he left the Civil Service in performing much voluntary work of a very wide character for the State in various ways, that you have obtained him at a salary which, even in these days when we all want economy, does not err on the side of generosity.


I do not think the right hon. Gentleman's explanation is a very good one. The question of economy is a very serious one at the present time. A pledge was given distinctly by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because I was in the House at the time, that it would not amount to more than £1,500 a year, and it was generally understood at the time that it would be something less than that. When these pledges are given to the House I do not think it is quite fair for the Government to come forward afterwards and practically break them completely.


I hope the hon. Member does not accuse me of breaking a pledge. Perhaps he will refer to whoever it was who gave the pledge. I am quite confident that the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave no pledge.


I withdraw the words "gave a pledge," and will substitute the words, "gave an assurance." In this House we have been accustomed to take the assurances of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a pledge. It was a distinct assurance that this sum would not come to more than £1,500 a year at the outside. There was considerable feeling, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed to it that the salary was to be something less. The only reason that has been given for the salary being more is that this fund was to be vastly increased. None of us at the time thought the fund was going to be limited to £1,000,000. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman thought so him- self. I think the right hon. Gentleman said in the Debate that it would be a great deal more than £1,000,000. Would it not be better when you are fixing a salary to fix it according to what you are proposing to do at the time? What will happen now will be that there will be great complaint. There is always complaint on the question of pensions from poor people who think they have been illtreated. They will point to the man at the head, and they will say, he is getting £1,750 a year, and you will not give me the 3s. or the 4s. a week, or whatever the sum is, that I ought to have. I think it is not only a mistake, but that after the assurances that were given to this House, that it is really verging on a breach of faith to propose this larger sum now. I do not wish to make any difficulties in time of war. None of us desires to make difficulties for the Government, but what we do say is that the Government ought to be economical, and that when Bills are brought in in this way, assurances ought not to be given if they do not intend to stick to them.


I think that the explanations which have been given from the Front Bench to-night are very far from being satisfactory. This is one more illustration of the sort of skeleton legislation that takes place in which the House of Commons writes a kind of blank cheque, hands it over to the Government, and allows the Government to fill it up just as it thinks fit. We have had a good deal of that kind of legislation, and very often we have had assurances, guarantees, and smooth words from Ministers whilst the legislation was going through the various stages, but their tone changes, and very often their method changes when they get the Bill through and there is no longer any need for using these smooth words and phrases. The hon. Member (Sir Courtenay Warner) said very truly that the purpose of setting up this Committee is to see that pensions are going to be levelled up as far as many of these poor people are concerned. The first step taken is to set up a paid office. In a time like this, when there is every need for real economy, they set up a paid office at £1,750 a year. That is a salary which was never contemplated by this House when this Act was going through. I think that the salary is altogether too high, and I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong when he says that he thinks it is doubtful whether people with ability in this country would have been willing to do this work for, say, £700 or £1,000 a year. I am quite sure that many people of real worth and ability, and commanding general confidence, could have been found willing to do this work in this way. I know very little about Mr. Jackson from the standpoint of his experience and work of this character. I know he is the Moderate leader of the London County Council, and it is only in that connection that I know his name, but I should like to ask, if this enterprise is going to absorb so much of his time, what is he giving up in other directions? What part of his other work is he giving up? Is he giving up his work on the County Council itself?




I am glad to get that because that in itself would mean for many Members sixty or seventy hours a week hard work. I am very glad that is being done, and that to a large extent his whole time will be given up to this work. We come back to the question of the salary itself. I think it is too high, and I am quite sure that again and again, when poor people find it difficult to get a pension of a few shillings a week, the matter will be raised that the Vice-President of the Society commands a salary of £1,750 a year. There is bound to be, side by side with that, a large salaried staff gradually built up round this man. The work cannot be done otherwise. You cannot handle £5,000,000 of money without building up a large salaried staff, and in regard to so many questions of this sort you always get the idea that round the doing of charitable things you build up vested interests, you build up large salaried interests that become in themselves a danger very often to the object they have at heart. From that standpoint the start is a very bad start. The salary is far too high, and side by side with the amount of the salary paid there ought to be a larger claim made upon the patriotic endeavour of the man who is willing to do that, because I am quite sure there were many people from the standpoint of doing good to the soldiers, the wives of the soldiers, and the children of the soldiers, who would have been willing at a far more reasonable salary than that to have done the work efficiently and well, and I am sorry the matter should have been fixed in the way it has been.


I desire to ask my right hon. Friend whether Mr. Jackson is receiving any pension as a retired Civil servant?


No; he is receiving no pension. He was a Civil servant for many years. He was Chief Inspector of the Board of Education, and also Education Minister in Australia, but from neither post, or from any other source, has he any pension of any kind.


I raised that very point when I raised this question in Committee, and I am very glad to have the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that there is no pension attached to the previous post he occupied. From my point of view, I think he was more entitled to a pension for his services under the Education Department than he is in accepting a post for three years. It seems to me that the position of the Government in this matter is very curious. They are preaching economy all over the place, at the Guildhall and elsewhere, and here is a post which I deny they took proper precautions to see that they could get the right man before they appointed the leader of the Moderate party in the London County Council. I presume the Secretary to the Treasury accepts the responsibility for the appointment, because my right hon. Friend says it is a matter for the Treasury. Does he assure the House that after full and complete investigation he came to the conclusion that it was impossible to get a man to fill this place adequately at less than £1,750 a year? If he gives us that assurance, which I shall be surprised to receive, I shall be greatly disappointed, because I am certain you could at present get a man for a less sum than we are going to pay this gentleman. It is the touchstone of the policy of the Government. Whenever it comes to a good job going there is always a substantial salary attached to it, and all their fine precepts are thrown to the winds. In the ordinary course I would not say a word about a salary of this kind, but we are living now when every penny is supposed to count, and the Government refuse to do anything for the poor people with a 5s. a week pension, which is now worth about 2s. 6d. They cannot find a farthing for them, but they appoint someone for three years at £1,750 a year. I think it is too much. How much did the gentleman have at the Board of Education? I asked that before. If I am rightly informed it was only a few hundred pounds. I think that the Government ought to have been prepared to tell us that. I venture to think that the amount was not over £400. Then he served as leader and active organiser of the Moderate party in the London County Council, and immediately he jumps up to £1,750. I think that the Treasury had better say very little in future about economy. This is only one of the things which the Treasury have passed. Personally, I am getting tired of hearing their fine precepts when I see the example which they are putting before us from time to time, and I do not think the people of the country will accept the platitudes of the Government in bringing forward a proposal of this kind. I am certain that they could have got a man at a much smaller salary. There was a distinct understanding in this House that the salary would be £1,500. You cannot burn the OFFICIAL REPORT. You cannot get away from it by saying now that they did not think at the time that there would be no question of a pension. A pension for a man appointed for three years! The thing is ridiculous. Let them consider it in three years' time and give him the £1,500 which the Government promised across the floor of the House. I repeat, I think, that the Government are paying too high a salary in this case.

Remaining Resolutions to be considered To-morrow.


My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made this appointment after considering a large number of other men and believing this to be the best appointment. I can assure my right hon. Friend that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in no way influenced one way or the other by the fact that this gentleman had been connected with the London County Council. He was chosen on his merits. The salary was fixed by reference to analogous positions in the Civil Service. The salary for similar positions, as far as I could judge, was £1,500 a year. Then came the question whether it was proposed that the position should be pensionable or not. Speaking for myself, I for one would very much regret that a reputable man of considerable standing should have a temporary appointment without making some provision for a pension afterwards when the appointment comes to an end. It leads to all sorts of difficulties, unless you have made arrangements as to whether the position is or is not to be pensionable. In reference to the question of retrenchment, I may point out that the Retrenchment Committee considered this particular case and came to the conclusion, and it is a notorious fact, that the Civil Service of this country is one of the cheapest and lowest-paid services in the world for the work that is done.

Question put, "That this House doth agree with the Comimttee in the said Resolution."

The House divided: Ayes, 40; Noes, 12.

Division No. 2.] AYES. [10.59. p.m.
Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis D. Jones, Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil) Scott, A. MacCallum (Bridgeton)
Agg-Gardner, James Tynte Jones, Leif (Rushcliffe) Shortt, Edward
Beck, Arthur Cecil Levy, Sir Maurice Strauss, E. A. (Southwark)
Brace, William Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Bridgeman, William Clive Middlemore, John Throgmorton Toulmin, Sir George
Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth) Millar, James Duncan Wilkie, Alexander
Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.) Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S. Williams, Aneurin (Durham)
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Pease, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Rotherham) Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)
Fisher, Rt. Hon. William Hayes Pryce-Jones, Col. E. Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West) Richards, Thomas Wing, Thomas Edward
Hewart, Gordon Roberts, George H. (Norwich) Wood, Rt. Hon. T. M'Kinnon (G'sgow)
Hodge, John Robertson, Rt. Hon. J. M
Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Robinson, Sidney TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Gulland and Lord E. Talbot.
Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Rowntree, Arnold
Byles, Sir William Pollard Markham, Sir Arthur Basil Watt, Henry A.
Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirk'dy) Pringle, William M. R. Wiles, Thomas
Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy Roch, Walter F.
Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Rowlands, James TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.
King, Joseph Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T. Hogge and Mr. Anderson.