HC Deb 19 February 1917 vol 90 cc1074-7

Resolution reported, "That a sum, not exceeding £3,075, 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, 1917, for the Salaries and Expenses of the War Cabinet,"

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


I want to ask again with regard to this line at the bottom of page 4, "The salaries of the Staff of the War Cabinet are paid out of the Vote of Credit." I have been making some inquiries between the date on which we last discussed this Vote and now, and I find that at No. 4, Whitehall, where the War Cabinet is housed, extensive alterations have gone on, partitions have been broken down in order to make better rooms for members of the War Cabinet, rooms have been provided for various members, and various members have not been in those rooms, and the building has been remodelled. I have also found out that there are thirty-six members of the secretariat of the new War Cabinet, and I want to know if there is any responsible Minister who can say definitely if that is so. It must be an extremely costly business to set up a War Cabinet of five members if you have attached to it already thirty-six people ail in receipt of salaries. Really, there ought to be some limit to this appointment of Secretaries, with their attendant clerks and other officials, and if it is true, as I am informed, that they have now grown from thirty-six for those five members of the War Cabinet, I think attention ought to be drawn to it, and some explanation offered.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)

If the cost is borne on the Vote of Credit it cannot be here at the same time.


Why is one part of this put down in a Supplementary Estimate and the suggestion made that the efficiency part of the War Cabinet is borne on another Vote? I do not think this is fair to the House, because how are we to ascertain what secretariat is attached to the War Cabinet? You cannot get it on the. Vote of Credit, when there is no opportunity for asking this kind of question, and I submit that we are entitled on Report to get the information with regard to the method in which our money is spent. This was asked while we were in Committee, and if I remember rightly somebody was going to find out and give us the information. Surely, even though it were not strictly in order, some Minister can tell us whether it is true that inside this short space of time there is now a secretariat of thirty-six members attached to the War Cabinet at No. 4, Whitehall, and if that is an indication of how the nation's money is to be wasted.


I do not know whether the silence which prevails among the nine Gentlemen who now occupy the Front Bench is due to the same reason as when this Vote was put from the Chair on the last occasion. Then the reason was the absence of all information on the subject, but I had hopes, after the discussion we have had already, that on the question which my hon. Friend has put the hon. Gentleman who acts as Secretary to the Treasury would have been able to say something. It seems to me to be a very irregular proceeding to put down a new sub-heading in the Votes—"War Cabinet"—and when that new sub-heading is placed in them to find that the main service of that War Cabinet on which the bulk of the expenditure would arise is not to be accounted for on the Vote at all. I desire to protest against that proceeding. I think there is no reason why the salaries of the staff of the War Cabinet should not be included in this Vote; and, further, I wish to say that if, when the main Votes are put down for the new financial year, the salaries of the staff of the War Cabinet are not included in the Votes, just as the salaries of the staff of any other Government Department are included in the Votes, a strong protest will be made and means will be taken to have a complete statement made by moving a reduction of the Vote.

I wish to revert very shortly to one matter which was closely argued in Committee and which, I think, ought not to be lost sight of by the Government, and that is that this system of having Ministers, without portfolios should come to an end as speedily as possible. It was then forcibly pointed out that we have in the past been able in this country to dispense with Ministers without portfolios because there are certain sinecure offices in the Government without Departmental duties to which statesmen could be appointed whose services were required in council rather than for administrative purposes in any Department. The question will not be allowed to rest. If an opportunity is not speedily taken to reduce the apoplectic proportions of the present Government by dispensing with Ministers without portfolios and assigning them to these sinecure Departments, and by other pruning processes, then the matter will call for strong criticism in the future. I hope, however, that, apart from this point, the hon. Member who acts as Secretary to the Treasury will be able to give us an assurance that we will have in the Estimates for the new financial year a detailed Estimate of the whole staff of the War Cabinet.


The only reason I have not risen before is that this is not a Vote which deals with the salaries of the staff of the War Cabinet. It is a Vote that deals solely and entirely with the salaries of two Ministers without portfolio at a rate of £5,000 a year.


It says "and expenses of the War Cabinet."


But it docs not include salaries. The information at the bottom of the page is information that the House is entitled to have as to the source from which the salaries of the staff are taken. I think, with respect, that it would be out of order for me to enter on the subject on a Supplementary Vote of this nature. The hon. Member who has just spoken is fully competent, if I may say so, to find any and every opportunity that may arise to raise this question, and when he has that opportunity and raises the question, which is one that is quite proper to be raised, it will be met at due time and in due place.

Resolution agreed to.