HC Deb 27 February 1917 vol 90 cc1958-62

(1) The Minister of National Service may adopt an official seal, and describe himself generally by the style and title of the Director-General of National Service; and the seal of the Minister shall be officially and judicially noticed, and shall be authenticated by the signature of the Minister or of a secretary or some authorised by the Minister to act in that behalf.

(2) Section ten, Sub-sections (2) to (5) of Section eleven, and Sections twelve, thirteen, and fourteen of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916, shall apply to the Minister and Ministry of National Service and to the office of Director-General of National Service and to Orders in Council made for the purposes of this Act and powers and duties transferred by virtue of this Act, as they apply to the Minister and Ministry of Food and the office of Food Controller and to Orders in Council made for the purposes of that Act and powers and duties transferred by virtue of that Act.

(3) Notwithstanding anything in any Act, a Member of the House of Commons shall not vacate his seat by reason only of his acceptance at any time within one month after the commencement of this Act of the office of Secretary in the Ministry of National Service.


I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (2), to add the words, "Provided that an Estimate should be presented to Parliament in Committee of Supply of any expenditure to be incurred under this Section."

This Amendment was sugested earlier in the afternoon as a result of the short discussion we had on the question of salaries, and I do not need to argue the point again. It was argued fully when the first Bill was before the House this afternoon, and I only want to point out to the Home Secretary that the plea which he made in the Debate that the presentation of an Estimate to the House might involve delay does not really prevent him from being able to present an Estimate, because the expenditure can go well ahead of the Estimate. It is open to the Department to do what the Army and Navy are doing at present—that is to present a Token Estimate. After all, if the Army and Navy in time of war can present their Estimates in the old form without giving the full details under the different Votes, surely this new Department can follow that example and present at least a Token Estimate upon which the doings of the Department could be discussed. The presentation of such a Token Estimate would have the natural advantage that it would be followed by the preparation of an Appropriation Account, and the expenditure would then be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General's Department, and it would come before the Public Accounts Committee. I suggest that with the necessary lack of control during war over financial matters we should not increase that evil when it can be avoided by the preparation of some form of Estimate which will enable the House to discuss these matters.


I think the object of my right hon. Friend is that there shall be an opportunity for a debate in Parliament upon the expenditure and proceedings of the Director-General of National Service. I sympathise with him, and there is not the least desire on the part of the Government to withdraw from the cognizance of the House the proceedings of the Director-General. I should now like to accept the words which he has put down; but perhaps he will take it from me—I make the statement after consulting my hon. Friend who represents the Treasury (Mr. Baldwin)—that we will put down a Token Estimate, and I hope that will satisfy him.

Colonel Sir C. SEELY

I really cannot see why there should not be proper Estimates presented to Parliament. There may be certain difficulties in drawing up Supplementary Estimates at the moment, but I cannot see why some reasonable Estimate should not be made for next year. We are having a very large number of Ministries of all kinds started. Anybody who has had any experience in this War knows that a large number of private societies Have been started and that they have had no difficulty in keeping proper accounts and forming some estimate of what they will require to spend. I cannot see, therefore, why it should be necessary to have a Token Vote, and why there should not be presented to the House a list of the officers with their salaries, because that is what it comes to, and an estimate of the probable cost of the Department, its housing, and everything else concerned with it.


I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will go a little further than he has done. All you can do on Token Estimates is to discuss the principles which underly the administration of the office, but in discussing the Estimates you find, as a rule, that the general Debate turns upon matters of detail, small in themselves, but very considerable when they are accumulated in one discussion. Such a debate really does inform the House of Commons what has taken place in regard to the administration of a Department. If you put down the salary of a Minister, or some sum, £2,000,000 or £1,000,000, or whatever the expenses of the Department may be, you cannot possibly get an informing debate on the actual administration of the Department. I quite see that it is very difficult in the middle of a war and in the case of a newly-formed Department to put down detailed estimates, but I do hope that we-shall have an acknowledgment from the Government that they will give us something more than a mere Token Estimate. I hope, at all events, that we shall get the expenditure of the different Departments in the office of National Service the salary of the Director and of the Sub-Director, and so on. I press for that, but I do not press for anything further. I do not wish to embarrass the new Department and cause delay, but I should like to have something more than a mere Token Estimate, on which we can only discuss the general principle of the administration of a Department. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us a little more satisfactory assurance upon that point.


We have got a Lord of the Treasury on the Treasury Bench and we should do well to give him an opportunity of marking the position quite clear. First of all, are we to have this Estimate on the Civil Service Estimates of the year, or is it to be a Supplementary Estimate? If it is to be in the regular Civil Service Estimates of the year, there may be some ground for making it a Token Estimate, but if it is not to come on for something like ten or eleven months and it is to be a Supplementary Estimate, then we are entitled to have an Estimate with fairly full figures. After all, the Director-General of National Service will have his office here in London, and most of his work will be done here. Will he not be able to keep an account of all the work that is done? I understand his policy is to ask the local authorities, at their own expense, to do all the work that will have to be done out of London. I imagine, therefore, that there will be no great difficulty in keeping accounts and presenting estimates for the work done here under the direct supervision of the Director. There are two objects in having estimates. One, of course, is that we may be able to criticise the work of the Department, and the other, and equally important object, is that we may control, and, as far as possible in the public interests limit the expenditure. We cannot possibly pretend to limit the -expenditure when there are only Token Estimates, but it is just in the limitation and control of expenditure, which is increasing to an alarming extent in every department of public life, that we, as a House of Commons, can do most service to our country at the present time. I therefore believe it would be the desire of Members in every part of the House and would be greatly in the public interest that we should have as full Estimates as possible, and not merely Token Estimates.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give a little further information than is conveyed in a Token Estimate. It is only a fortnight ago that a Supplementary Estimate for the Ministry of Munitions came before the House. It was a Token Vote for £100, and there was an item, Item A, for salaries and expenses of the head office and branch offices. I asked what it amounted to. It was a very simple and a very necessary request, and it would have given us some opportunity of knowing what was really the amount spent on the salaries and expenses of the officials at the head office and branch offices. I was informed by the Minister in charge that to comply with my request would give information to the enemy. I thought that was a rather farfetched argument, and after some considerable time—I believe three hours—the Government, finding that the majority of the House were in favour of the figures being given, gave us some hasty estimate. My recollection is that the figure was £837,000. It is quite evident that we now desire to know what is the cost of the officials, and what is the number of the officials in this Department. We want to have it in our power, at any rate, to make some observation on that point. If we only have a Token Estimate of £100, and if the information as to salaries is to be refused on the ground that it would give information to the enemy—probably that is the first reason that came into the head of the hon. Member who answered me—we shall be no better off than we are now. I quite see it might be difficult to make a regular Estimate which would come nearly within the mark. But still something more than a Token Estimate might be given, certain items might be particularised—the amounts put to these particular items; the salaries might be stated and the number of officials as well. It would really save time if this information were given to the House, because these questions are sure to be raised on a Token Vote, and the House ought to have an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon matters of this kind.


I think I have gone as far as I can to-night. This is a new point, and I should like to consult the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to it before saying anything further.


May I take it no words are required in the Bill for this purpose?




I hope the tight hon. Gentleman will give all the information he can. After all we here represent the taxpayers, and therefore the Government should make the information as full as possible. Under the circumstances I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 (Short Title) ordered to stand part of the Bill.