HC Deb 09 March 1916 vol 80 cc1827-9

I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman on the Government Bench in his remarks about economy, and I feel really that the Government have not the remotest idea what the word "economy" or the word "retrenchment" means. In every Department of the Service we see the same old extravagance to-day which existed in the days of peace. They do not know what economy means, and they do not know how to practice it. They talk about it, but nothing really happens. Now, my object in rising to-day was to offer a few observations on this subject in connection with the Vote which is before the House, and I venture to think that there are items in that Vote which have not been really considered at all. We have large sums of expenditure on the Royal palaces, on the parks and pleasure gardens, and on the Houses of Parliament. Looking through the figures of the Estimates for the coming year, of which the present Vote is the first instalment, we find that there is very little attempt to practice economy in regard to what one would have thought would be the first item—namely, maintenance and repairs. Taking the palaces not in the occupation of His Majesty—St. James's Palace, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court—on maintenance and repairs it is proposed to spend £17,000—a very large sum indeed. On the Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens Vote, there is another huge figure of £81,000 for maintenance and repairs. That does not include the park-keepers and people of that sort, but it is an item over and above all that for maintenance and repairs. One wonders how the money is spent, and one would have thought that in times like the present the repairs would have been limited to the barest necessities, and that everything in the way of maintenance works would have been cut down to the lowest possible limit, and only the repair of such things as a cracked slate or a leaky pipe attended to, while everything else would be allowed to stand over until the War is finished. Look at the Vote for this House. There is an item for the repair of the roof of Westminster Hall upon which it is proposed to spend £10,000. Surely that might have been left until the War is over. You are using skilled labour there which ought to be utilised in the munition factories, and that labour might very well have been diverted to that purpose. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has talked about economy, but when one looks at these Votes and the way it is proposed to spend money at a time when it is so scarce and when labour is so scarce, I feel that the Government do not really understand what economy is, or what retrenchment is. The Government recently appointed a Retrenchment Committee, but it set about its work with its hands tied behind its back, and they were not allowed to look into certain things. The Committee reported that they were restricted and that questins of expenditure on the Army, Navy, and munition services were outside their terms of reference. Another limitation was that they were not allowed to go into the questions of policy already decided by Parliament. In their Report, this Committee says: This latter limitation has precluded us from considering, except in points of detailed administration, some of the most costly services provided for in the Civil Service and Revenue Department Estimates. I feel that this huge sum which is being dealt with in the Vote on Account is really a most grave matter. I saw an estimate of the economies introduced into the Civil Service Estimates this year as compared with the Estimates of last year, and it was something like £3,500,000, but that is nothing, and it barely represents the salaries of the members of the service who have enlisted voluntarily or who have joined the Army under the Military Service Act. If that is the limit of the retrenchment which the Government see their way to introduce into the Estimate, then I say they are trifling and playing with the matter, and the sooner they realise that the House and the country is alive to the importance of economy the better it will be for everybody. The Government approach this question of economy with a sort of pruning knife, cutting off a little here and there, but what they want to do is to attack these Estimates with a chopper. That is the only way, and if it is true that economy in our expenditure is going to count as a factor in winning the War, then we should pull ourselves together, and deal drastically with this matter in the financial struggle with which we are faced. My object in rising was only to raise a vigorous protest against the expenditure which is going on and which is proposed in connection with these Estimates, and I trust that the Government will endeavour to do better than they have done in the past in this direction.