HC Deb 27 February 1917 vol 90 cc1872-83

Resolution reported, "That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, of an annual Salary not exceeding two thousand pounds to the Director-General of National Service appointed under any Act of the present Session for establishing a Ministry of National Service, and of other Salaries, Remuneration, and expenses which may become payable in pursuance of such Act."

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

4.0 P.M.


Before we agree to the Report of this Resolution, I should like to ask the Leader of the House whether he will give us some information with regard to the number of the proposed staff required and the salaries to be paid in connection with this Bill. I understand that the Director of National Service is being appointed at a salary of £2,000 a year, and I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether we are to have a Parliamentary Secretary to this Director of National Service, and whether that will mean an addition to the existing Members of the Government? In other cases which we have been made aware of recently there have been one or two additional Parliamentary Secretaries added to the Front Bench, and I think that, before the House agrees to this Financial Resolution, we ought to be told whether there is going to be attached to this Ministry a Parliamentary Secretary with salary. I hope there is not. My right hon. Friend is already well provided with Whips of one kind or another, and I should imagine it would be quite possible for him to find a member of the existing Government who would be able to look after the interests of this Department in the House, and thus avoid the necessity for any fresh appointment. I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that this is a perfectly fair and reasonable request, and I shall be glad to have an assurance from him on the point.


There cannot be the slightest doubt that the creation of new offices, with enormous staffs which are entirely withdrawn from the control of the House of Commons, is becoming a public danger. A great many Members of the House do not really realise what they are doing in passing this Financial Resolution, in view of the Bill which is being founded on it. In Clause 2, Subsection (2), of that Bill it is provided that Section ten, Sub-sections (2) to (5) of Section eleven, and Sections twelve, thirteen, and fourteen of-the New Min- isters and Secretaries Act, 1916, shall apply to the Minister and Ministry of National Service, and to the office of Director-General of National Service. This is the old system of legislation by reference. Very few individual Members of this House, when reading the Clause, realise what these Sections are. I have looked the matter up, and I find that Section (10) of the Act of 1916 reads as follows: Any Minister appointed under this Act may appoint such secretaries and officers to serve as the Minister may determine. In other words, we are asked now to pass a Financial Resolution which will empower the Minister of National Service to appoint any number of secretaries, Parliamentary or otherwise, that he may think fit without any reference to the House of Commons at all, and thereby to inflict upon the unfortunate taxpayer of this country any burden which, in his judgment, he may deem necessary. The public are rapidly awakening to the fact that each new Department constituted becomes so swollen with its own importance that it really imagines that it is its duty to show that it requires a larger staff and a more magnificent palace in which to house it than any other Government Department. The only result has been, as anyone with any practical knowledge of business life could have foretold, they are eating into one another's wool. We were told that these various new Departments were all to be co-ordinated, and that the co-ordination would be complete, but my observation has convinced me that, as each new one has been started, confusion has become worse confounded, and we now have this extraordinary effect that these offices are being multiplied in a most mysterious and really bewildering and alarming fashion. Buildings of a temporary character are cropping up on all vacant sites in the City and West End, and hotels, private buildings, palaces, and clubs are being commandeered and filled, or, as we are told, not filled, with staffs. The result up to the present has been extremely unsatisfactory, and all this time there has been no responsibility as regards expense attached to anyone.

The House if Commons has had no voice in the matter. Let me ask hon. Members to observe what has been done. I have always protested and shall continue to protest against the policy which has been pursued in this matter. When new offices are started we are asked to sanction such additions as the Minister may determine. What happens? All these officials are appointed at salaries of which we know nothing. In my House of Commons' experience, extending over a period of thirty years and more, it has been the practice before this for the salaries paid to officials of Departments to come under the review of Parliament, but under the system under which we are carrying on this War, there is no Parliamentary control. We grant a Vote of Credit, it may be, for £500,000,000 for the purpose, and under the new system, which I regard as absolutely indefensible and without precedent, we set up any kind of office in London for which it is alleged there is a necessity—I must confess I do not admit the necessity for a great many of these offices—and the salaries of the officials are fixed and paid out of the War credit. By claiming to be entitled to pay the staff out of the Vote of Credit, it is thereby withdrawn from the purview of Parliament. There is no limit at the present moment to the number of officials that may be appointed under this system. Already there are thousands of secretaries and clerks appointed in London. Nobody knows what they are paid. One Department may pay a man £1,000 a year for doing exactly the same work as another Department is getting done for £200 a year. These Departments compete with each other; they take efficient men from each other. There is no means in this House of ascertaining what these secretaries are paid. I say it is a monstrous thing, and although it may be necessary to conduct the Naval and Military Estimates by Token Votes, I submit it is absolutely preposterous and that there is no justification whatever in the War itself for adopting this system which is entirely without precedent. I therefore maintain that, before we pass this Resolution, we ought to have a list of the offices which it is proposed to create. We ought to have an estimate of the size and cost of the proposed staff, and we ought to be told in general terms what will be the expenditure on the new Department. There should be no difficulty in the Director of Public Service presenting such an Estimate. If it should be exceeded a Supplementary Estimate can be produced and that will give an opportunity for Parliamentary criticism.

There is another result of this system to which I should like to call attention. We heard last night a Minister complaining in this House that influential newspapers were holding the members of his official staff up to ridicule and odium, representing them as rabbits ensconced in funk-holes of the Treasury. It has been suggested that the Government are encouraged by some of the Press to multiply officials, and then, when they have done it to a monstrous and indefensible extent, they are attacked for having set up a rabbit-warren in which the funkers of the country are ensconced. I do not believe, indeed, that all these officials are funkers, but I do say it is rather a scandal that this system should obtain, and that there should be no means by which a Member of this House can decide whether these officials are all necessary or find out what they are paid. I venture to offer this protest against the system, in the hope that we may get some information from the Government.


There is a great deal to be said in support of the objection raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), and I find myself in accord with him, not only on the broad principles which he has laid down, but in a small matter of detail in which I am closely interested, and which I intend to watch, as far as I am able, during any discussion that may arise on the main Bill. When the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was submitting these proposals last week I took the liberty to interject a question with-regard to agricultural labour, and the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that some provision was being made to avoid injustice being done to the agricultural labourer in the matter of the allocation of wages, and to ensure that the wholly inadequate provision of 25s. a week should be considered as a proper remuneration for men physically below the standard. The Prime Minister said steps were being taken to introduce some kind of court or some set of officials who would see that no injustice is done to the labourers, who were defenceless as against the employers, by the cutting down of the limit in the cases of those not so physically fit. Now, this is a question which is likely to affect at least half a million of men, and I hope that, whatever secretaries may be appointed, we, at any rate, shall have some distinct declaration of policy on the part of the Government with regard to safeguarding the promise made by the Prime Minister to the agricultural labourer. I want to secure that that promise shall be really operate, and that it shall not be in the power of anybody to withhold or cut down the advantages, slender as they are, of those who are entitled to receive them.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir George Cave)

I must say that most of the speeches that have been made upon this Resolution would have been more appropriate to the Second Reading of the Bill. I can quite understand that some hon. Members are not in favour of the principle of this Bill, but I would venture to remind the House that the Second Reading of the Bill was passed without a Division, and I cannot conceive, after that has taken place, that the House will deny the Government the usual Financial Resolution sanctioning the usual financial obligations. Having said that, I agree it is only reasonable that hon. Members should ask what is proposed to be done with regard to the officers. In addition to the Director-General of National Service, it is proposed to appoint a Secretary to the Ministry, who will sit in this House. The present Director-General, as the House knows, is occupied every day and all day with his duties, and he does not desire, at the present moment, to take a seat in this House. Therefore, it is only reasonable and fair that he should have someone to represent him in the House.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say who is to be the Parliamentary Secretary?


The hon. Member knows that it is not for me to state that.


What is to be his salary.


I think £1,200.


Is he a Labour man?


With regard to the staff, the hon. Member is not right in saying that there is no check at all on the Government. Of course, the Director-General appoints the officials, but the remuneration paid to them must be approved by the Treasury. That being so, I do not think I need answer the general arguments used in the speeches that have-been made. This is new work for war purposes only. It is hard work, and very important work. If the House agrees with us that the work ought to, be done, I am quite sure they will not have any desire at all to obstruct the passing of the ordinary Resolution, so that the proper remuneration may be paid. I am quite sure that neither the Director-General nor the Treasury desire that any extravagant expenditure should be incurred.


I hope the House will not be content with the mere assertion on the part of the Government that no extravagant expenditure will be incurred. It would be a very new departure if the House of Commons accepted that assertion from any Government. At the present time it is especially important that we should not part with full control over the expenditure upon the Civil Service of this country. We have lost control over expenditure for the Army and Navy necessarily, because we have to bow to the war necessities of the country, but it is not reasonable or right on the part of the Government to ask us to give up one atom of the control we have hitherto possessed over the Civil Service. There is a supplementary reason why the Government should be exceedingly careful in placing before the House its full intentions with regard to the expenditure of money upon a new public service of this kind. We have now no Financial Secretary to the Treasury in this House. That is an entirely new position for the House to find itself in. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury is our man at the Treasury. He is there to watch proceedings on behalf of the House of Commons and to see that extravagant Grants are not made by the Treasury. We have no such guardian at the Treasury now. The Financial Secretary is a gentleman unknown to this House. He has never been in the House, and, apparently, has no desire to come into the House. In that unprecedented situation, as he is the gentleman who will frame Estimates and sanction expenditure, when the right hon. Gentleman or any other representative of the Government asks the House to sanction expenditure he should explain to the House quite clearly what expenditure is contemplated. I have no desire to oppose the Financial Resolution, which is a necessary part of the Bill, but I do regret that the Government are taking the course in one thing after another of withdrawing matters from the House of Commons, not on account of any war exigency, not on any stated ground that I can understand, but simply and solely because they do not care to follow the long-established practice of presenting full Estimates and full information to the House of Commons.


I wish to protest against the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary to this Ministry. I do so mainly on the ground taken by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). There are at the present moment on the Treasury Bench a number of men who, in the main, are unemployed. They are understood to be Whips. In the last Government, which had a large number of officers, the greater number of the Whips had subsidiary duties. I believe the majority of them had to reply for other Departments at the same time. I see no reason why, under this Government, the same practice should not be followed. Obviously a Junior Lord of the Treasury, who does nothing but sit at the end of the Treasury Bench or sit for a few hours in the evening at the door outside to prevent men from going away when there is no occasion to keep them here—a Gentleman who has those easy duties to perform might well be put up at Question Time to reply for the Director General of National Service. Had I been here when the Committee stage of this Resolution was being taken I should have moved to limit the amount by £1,200, in order to prevent the appointment of this additional Under-Secretary. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do it now!"] I understand that it is impossible to do that on the Report stage. I am glad to say the House has already prevented the appointment of superfluous officials for the Food Controller. There is yet an opportunity on this Bill to prevent the appointment of an Under-Secretary here. There is the additional point to which reference was made by the hon. Member for the Rush-cliffe Division (Mr. Leif Jones). Are we to have this expenditure for this Department on the Estimates? That is of the utmost importance. Nobody can suggest that there is any reason for keeping the expenditure of this Department off the ordinary Estimates. We have appointed already a large number of new Controllers and new Ministers, but up to the present the Estimates for only two new Departments have been presented—namely, the Ministry of Labour and the Pensions Ministry. We have a Food Controller's Department, the Air Board, the Shipping Controller, and the Ministry of Blockade. All of those Ministers have been appointed under the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916, yet apparently no Estimates are to be presented to this House of the expenditure in connection with those Departments. We should refuse this Resolution unless we get an assurance from the Minister in charge of the Bill that the Estimates for the Department are to be presented to the House. That is only fair to us. There can be no reason whatever for concealment. The only motive for concealment must be a desire to conceal their extravagance. No national interest and no public interest can be served by withdrawing this from the confidence of the House of Commons, and as no national interest can be served by such action, I hope the House will refuse this Resolution unless it receives an assurance from the Home Secretary that the Estimates will be presented for the Department, so that the House may have its check upon its expenditure.


My hon. Friend who has just sat down based his argument upon the understanding that there would be no Estimates presented for this Ministry. I should like to ask the Home Secretary whether that is so? I do not understand it to be so. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will enlighten the House as to what the procedure is to be, and what the Government contemplate with regard to the expenditure of this Department?


I understand that the expenditure of this Department would be War expenditure, and will fall upon the Vote of Credit. The figures will be put before the House in the ordinary way. I do not think that these Estimates will come before the House just as the annual Estimates would from time to time. I will make sure of it, but that is my impression.


The matter is quite clear. If my right hon. Friend (Mr. Tennant) will look at Subsection (2) of Clause 2 he will see it reads: Section ten, Sub-sections (2) to (5) of Section eleven, and Sections twelve, thirteen, and fourteen of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916, will apply to this Bill. That apparently means that the Government can do exactly what they, like, and that the control of the House of Commons does not exist. I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Pringle) did not take advantage of the opportunity he certainly had, if he had not allowed you, Sir, to put the Question, to move, as I have often done myself, sometimes with success, a limiting Amendment, That, however, was not done. It would have been a very reasonable course to pursue and would have achieved the object which the hon. Member and other hon. Members have in view. In the circumstances, as we have already passed the Second Reading of the Bill, would it mot be a little irregular to refuse altogether the money which is required to give effect to the Bill? Would not the proper course be, when we get into Committee, to move to omit Sub-section (2) of Clause 2, so that the matter must come before the House of Commons, and the money be voted in the ordinary way in the Estimates? Personally, I think that would be the proper course to pursue. If the Government do not make that concession I shall certainly divide upon it. That course would be much better than pursuing the present discussion.


I sympathise very much with the protest which has been made from both sides of the House. The present Government, which is formed by entirely novel methods, seems to be able to create a new Ministry whenever it likes. I remember that a friend of mine who used to sit on the front seat below the Gangway on the Government side, used to say to me, "We have Ministries enough; we want, no new Ministers." I agreed with that. Yet some half-dozen new Ministries have been formed, and they all have a staff of under-secretaries, messengers, typewriters, porters, all sorts of clerks, involving the nation in considerable expense. I was very glad to hear' the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) say that there is a way of bringing this expenditure before the House of Commons, so that we may govern it ourselves. I protest against this method of creating new Ministries and new staffs and throwing them at the House of Commons.


I listened with great attention to what the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) had to say, and to the methods he suggested to the House by which the omission of limiting the amount of money which is to be voted under this Resolution might be rectified. But the carrying out of the advice he gave to the House, which I should have been glad to see accepted, will, if he looks closer at the Bill, prove much more difficult than he imagines it to be. The only possible way of limiting the amount of money under this Resolution upon the Committee stage of the Bill would be to move to omit the words applying Section 10 of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916. You could not move out from the operation of this Bill the whole of Section 10 of that Act, because if you did so you would take out certain provisions which are necessary to make this Bill workable. It is a matter for great regret that when the Home Secretary defended this Resolution he should have suggested to the House that all the Resolution did was to provide a salary for an Under-Secretary.


I did not suggest that.


I certainly thought that to be the right hon. Gentleman's meaning.


I made no such suggestion. I said, in terms, that it provided for the whole expenditure.


I am sorry I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. The fact of the matter is that there is no limit to the money which can be provided under this Resolution. Judging by the expenditure which is taking place in connection with other Ministries that have been established, there will be no limit to the money to be spent under this Bill. There is practically no check by the House of Commons upon the expenditure of the Government, and there has not been for the last three or four months. If the hon. Gentleman opposite goes to a Division upon this point I shall most certainly follow him into the Lobby as a protest against the absolute want of attempt on the part of the Government to exercise any economy whatever in the expenditure of these Departments. I put a question the other day to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the expenditure of the existing Departments. I was told practically that the number of officials was so great and the number of salaries paid so large that it would be impossible to present a calculation to the House as to what that expenditure and those numbers would be without a great waste of public time. I do not believe there is any waste of public time in economising money at the present crisis. The whole conduct of the War depends upon the ability of this country to finance it, and you can just as easily lose the War by extravagance and want of economy and control as you can by any other method.


My right hon. Friend has attempted to make this an issue as to the control of the House over the manner in which the Estimates are presented. So Jar as he takes that view I am entirely with him, because I think there is a danger of all Governments trying to get as much powers as they can to themselves, and gradually it appears to be the custom that the House of Commons is getting less and less power. I hope the Home Secretary in any further proposals he has to put forward will be able to give us an assurance that the House of Commons will retain its old authority even over new Departments in time of war. As far as I can see, they are following some precedents which have recently been set in asking the House to pass the money and giving the Treasury authority to fix the various salaries which are raised. Therefore there is no violent precedent being created to-day. I hear the suggestion from the right hon. Gentleman opposite that we ought to go to a Division. Mr. Neville Chamberlain has been called by the Government on behalf of the nation to give his services at a moment of great crisis, in order to solve a very important question, and I cannot find myself giving a vote which means a vote against his salary and those who are to assist him. I think he has got to have his opportunity, and after he has had it then will be our time to give a vote as to whether or not he and his assistants are to be paid that salary. If it goes to a Division I shall therefore find it my duty to vote in the Government Lobby.