§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £38,023,000, be granted to His Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charges-for certain Civil Services and Revenue Departments for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1918, namely:
|Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens||42,000|
|Houses of Parliament Buildings||18,000|
|Miscellaneous Legal Buildings, Great Britain||24,000|
|Art and Science Buildings, Great Britain||22,000|
|Diplomatic and Consular Buildings||10,000|
|Ministry of Labour, Employ-men Exchange, and Insurance Buildings, Great Britain||80,000|
|Public Buildings, Great Britain||516,000|
|Surveys of the United Kingdom||55,000|
|Harbours under the Board of Trade||2,000|
|Rates on Government Property||420,000|
|Public Works and Buildings, Ireland||70,000|
|United Kingdom and England:|
|House of Lords Offices||20,000|
|House of Commons||85,000|
|Treasury and Subordinate Departments||50,000|
|Privy Council Office||4,000|
|Board of Trade||180,000|
|Mercantile Marine Services||55,000|
|Bankruptcy Department of the Board of Trade||3|
|Board of Agriculture and Fisheries||330,000|
|Civil Service Commission||17,000|
|Exchequer and Audit Department||26,000|
|Friendly Societies Registry||10,000|
|Local Government Board||275,000|
|Board of Control||65,000|
|Mint, including Coinage||15|
|National Debt Office||6,000|
|Public Record Office||9,000|
|Public Works Loan Commission||5,000|
|Stationery and Printing||700,000|
|Woods, Forest, etc., Office of||9,000|
|Works and Public Buildings, Office of||68,000|
|Secretary for Scotland, Office of||8,000|
|Board of Agriculture||25,000|
|General Board of Control||11,000|
|Local Government Board||18,000|
|Lord Lieutenant's Household||1,000|
|Chief Secretary's Offices and Subordinate Departments||11,000|
|Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction||75,000|
|Charitable Donation and Bequests Office||1,000|
|Congested Districts Board||64,000|
|Local Government Board||50,000|
|Public Record Office||3,000|
|Public Works Office||18,000|
|Valuation and Boundary Survey||12,000|
|United Kingdom and England:—|
|Miscellaneous Legal Expenses||23,000|
|Supreme Court of Judicature, etc.||140,000|
|Police, England and Wales||50,000|
|Prisons, England and the Colonies||400,000|
|Reformatory and Industrial Schools, Great Britain||170,000|
|Criminal Lunatic Asylums, England||24,000|
|Law Charges and Courts of Law||28,000|
|Scottish Land Court||3,000|
|Register House, Edinburgh||17,000|
|Law Charges and Criminal Prosecutions||25,000|
|Supreme Court of Judicature, and other Legal Departments||45,000|
|County Court Officers, etc||35,000|
|Dublin Metropolitan Police||65,000|
|Royal Irish Constabulary||675,000|
|Reformatory and Industrial Schools||60,000|
|Dundrum Criminal Lunatic Asylum||4,000|
|United Kingdom and England:—|
|Board of Education||5,450,000|
|National Portrait Gallery||2,000|
|Scientific Investigation, etc||50,000|
|Department of Scientific and Industrial Research||20,000|
|Universities and Colleges, Great Britain, and Intermediate Education, Wales||110,000|
|Intermediate Education, Ireland||1,000|
|Endowed Schools Commissioners||400|
|Science and Art||28,000|
|Universities and Colleges, Ireland||55,000|
|Diplomatic and Consular Services||330,000|
|Superannuation and Retired Allowances||360,000|
|Hospitals and Charities, Ireland||16,000|
|Ireland Development Grant||180,000|
|Old Age Pensions||5,000,000|
|National Health Insurance Joint Committee||75,000|
|National Health Insurance Commission (England)||1,800,000|
|National Health Insurance Commission (Wales)||115,000|
|National Health Insurance Commission (Scotland)||260,000|
|National Health Insurance Commission (Ireland)||150,000|
|Ministry of Labour||400,000|
|National Insurance Audit Department||50,000|
|Treatment of Tuberculosis (Special Grants)||150,000|
|Highlands and Islands (Medical Service) Board||2,000|
|Ministry of Munitions||100|
|Ministry of Munitions (Ordnance Factories)||10|
|Ministry of Pensions||100|
|Customs and Excise||1,100,000|
|Total for Civil Services and Revenue Departments||£38,023,000|
§ [NOTE.—The sum taken represents a provision for between four and five months' expenditure.]
§ Mr. KING
On a point of Order. I think with regard to a Vote on Account there is some special rule on which you go, by which the subjects which are raised in discussion have to come on in the order in which they stand on the Paper. If that is so, will you inform us, please, and give to those who desire to raise certain matters the opportunity to do so, in order that those subjects may be discussed?
The hon. Member is correct in stating that the subjects are taken in the order in which they appear on the Vote. As far as possible I should, of course, call Members in that order where they have given me any notice of their subjects. The rule is that we cannot go backwards on the Vote after an item has been discussed. We can go forwards, but not backwards.
§ Mr. KING
For the assistance of the Committee, could you not indicate, Sir, after a Member has raised the first point, what the number of the Vote is which is being discussed, or what will be the next discussed, so that hon. Members may not be kept waiting in attendance, if they have got a Vote on which they wish to speak later, as they can have no idea what Votes may be taken between that which is being spoken upon and that on which any individual Member may desire to raise points?
I am afraid it will be for hon. Members to attend to their duties. It is rather too large a responsibility to put on the Chair. If any Member approaches me, I will do my best.
§ Mr. BALDWIN (Lord of the Treasury)
I think it will be for the convenience of the Committee that I should in a few words explain the purpose of the four Token Items at the bottom of page 5. As hon. Members are well aware, the Vote on account covers expenditure arising—
The hon. Gentleman only desires to make a statement with regard to those Votes and their form, and his doing so is in order. It will not have the effect of preventing debate of any item. It is only an explanation.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I am sure the hon. Member has sufficient knowledge of our procedure as to be quite aware that we cannot discuss any Vote for new services on the Vote on Account. The Vote of Credit covers all expenditure arising directly out of the War. For purposes of appropriation there is no need why any specific Vote should be put down for such a service at all, but I think I am interpreting the feeling of the House rightly when I say it is naturally desirous of having some opportunity at some period of discussing the Votes for these new services. After careful consideration it seemed to me that that very proper object could be best attained by including these Token Votes in the Vote on Account, the result of which will be that, later on in the year, it will be possible for an allotted day to be given by arrangement for the discussion of any of the four services that appear on the Paper to-day. It is quite true we might have proceeded by means of Supplementary Estimates, but there was considerable difficulty about that course for the simple reason that it would not have been easy to have made anything like an accurate estimate within a reasonable period, and the practical result might have been that a further estimate would have had to be presented before the year was out. Having given close personal attention to this matter, I am quite convinced that the course I have decided to adopt is one that will be found for the greater convenience of the Members of this House. I will only say, in conclusion, it seems to me a matter of great importance that when services are financed out of the Vote of Credit the House of Commons should have full cognisance of the salaries that are being paid to the Ministers who are responsible to it, and I have therefore arranged that when the Votes are presented, the actual salaries for the Ministers and the Parliamentary Under- 600 Secretaries in the particular Departments shall be stated fully in a footnote to the account. I do not think there is anything else I need say beyond that I hope the course taken will commend itself to the Committee.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I want to raise a subject on Class II., No. 2 (a)—War Cabinet—in connection with which there is an Estimate of £10,000. I think we are entitled to some more information than has yet been vouchsafed to the House with regard to this Vote of £10,000. As hon. Members know, the War Cabinet is an innovation, and the Prime Minister, who presides over the War Cabinet, and, therefore, presumably directs the policy of this House, is not so accessible to the House of Commons as he was previously under the old arrangement, the result being that the House of Commons gets its answers to inquiries through the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is practically Deputy Prime Minister. I do not know whether on this Vote we are entitled to discuss the policy that is involved in this new departure. One would like, at any rate, to say a few brief sentences upon it. Personally, I desire to express my dissatisfaction with an arrangement which cuts the Prime Minister so absolutely off from this House. It is a matter of regret that it is impossible for us to get at him as directly as we previously could. In saying this I do not for a moment deprecate the Chancellor of the Exchequer's abilities in leading the House; but, after all, it is obvious it is not a very convenient arrangement to have questions addressed to the Prime Minister dealt with by some other right hon. Gentleman, and I submit that the House is entitled to insist on some arrangement whereby, on one or two days a week—even if we do admit that the Prime Minister's time should be wholly devoted to the work of the War Cabinet—on one day a week, at least, the right hon. Gentleman should be present in the House to answer questions which hon. Members might wish to address to him. After all, he is the head of the Government and the real Leader of the House. It has not been uncommon in the past for the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, when answering a question addressed to the Prime Minister, to reply that he will consult his right hon. Friend. I would suggest, however, that 601 the House of Commons itself has a right to consult the right hon. Gentleman in this House, and therefore I personally deprecate extremely an arrangement which is an arbitrary one, about which the House has not been consulted, and which has put into motion a policy which, in my view, is not the best policy, and does not really carry out its own intention.
We have been concerned recently with the shortage of potatoes. Only the other day a new Director of Food was created to look after the supply of potatoes. Questions on that subject have been put in the House of Commons, and we have been told in reply that the problem of potatoes has now been referred to the War Cabinet, and that the Food Controller who was set up definitely to control the food supplies of this country is not actually controlling those supplies so far as potatoes are concerned, but that the War Cabinet, which was set up directly to actively and vigorously prosecute the War, is being diverted from its purpose to the consideration of the supply of potatoes. I do not think that that is a good arrangement. I could conceive it would be a useful arrangement for a number of men to concentrate their minds upon a specific war policy and war measures, but if immediately any other problem arises upon which there is an acute difference of opinion—if it is to be referred back to the War Cabinet of five, then obviously the original arrangement must have broken down, and it would be very much better that questions of that kind should be considered, as they used to be considered, by what we have come to know as the regular Cabinet system in this country. For these and many other reasons I personally am distinctly opposed, and strongly opposed, to the present arrangement.
I did not rise to discuss this question of policy, although it is a very inviting topic. My purpose was to draw the attention of the Committee to the unnecessary waste of public money which has attached itself to the creation of the War Cabinet, and I hope my hon. Friend in charge of the Estimate will be able to give the information which I seek. The Committee is much obliged to him for getting back to the policy which he pursued to-day of making an explanatory statement with regard to any Estimate 602 brought before the Committee. I can assure him the adoption of that course always means much smoother procedure through the Committee, if explanations are given so that Members may not be taken unaware as to what they are being asked to vote, and so also that they may be assured that the Minister in charge has made himself cognisant with the Estimate which he is laying before the Committee.
The War Cabinet, I understand, have got offices—I make this statement subject to correction—in Whitehall Gardens where they have cleared out the people who were previously in possession. They have made great structural alterations and the rooms have been furnished at considerable expense. As a matter of fact some of the Members of the War Cabinet have not yet been in the rooms which have been furnished at this expense. There is attached to this particular habitat of the War Cabinet a large number of subsidiary rooms more or less occupied by the new staff. I make this statement to the House subject to any contradiction by my hon. Friend if he can offer one, that there are at least thirty-six to forty new paid members of the Secretariat attached to the War Cabinet.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am sure there are thirty-six, and I believe the number has been increased recently. At any rate, there are thirty-six new salaried appointments attached to this War Cabinet, and what has happened is that every new member of the War Cabinet, like other new Ministers appointed nowadays, seems to look upon his office as the only office in existence, and to ask for the purposes of that office such an abode as seems to be fitting to the degree of responsibility which attaches, or, rather, which he thinks attaches—which is another matter—to his particular Department. In every Department, before the material of the Department has been collected together, hotels as large as the Hotel Cecil or St. Ermins Hotel have been taken over long before it was really necessary to acquire such palatial buildings. Each Minister has his own room; and this practice has got to such an extent that it has recently been caricatured in "Punch," where a director has been depicted sitting in a very long and big room, and shouting to an office-boy at the far end to bring in some more coals. Each mem- 603 ber of the War Cabinet has got a suite of rooms and a separate staff. He has separate private secretaries, and I believe there are even Members of the House attached to that secretariat who have access, presumably, to what is going on in the War Cabinet. I protest against an extravagance which makes it necessary for five men to do work which was being done before. I confess I see no difference in the conduct of the War to-day as compared with three months ago. I see no more efficiency, no more vigour, no more active prosecution, no more genius or brains than existed previous to the War Cabinet being formed—
§ Mr. HOGGE
No more than existed three months ago. To use a phrase used by the late Prime Minister, the War Cabinet seems to be substituting bustle for business. If you put thirty-six secretaries round about you, of course you look busy. You attach to yourself certain Members of this House, mainly men of very large material possessions, who are supposed to be the go-betweens between the War Cabinet and somebody or other—whom precisely one does not quite know; whether it is between the "garden suburb" in 10, Downing Street or other Departments one has never been told. But you have growing up round that War Cabinet a perfect fungus growth of liaison officers and paid secretaries of one kind and another. The Leader of the House does not stay in the House, and this afternoon we have neither the Prime Minister here, nor have we got the Leader of the House, although we have got every penny that we are going to spend next year, with the exception of the Army and Navy Votes, to consider. Every one of these Votes is capable of being discussed at very great length to the benefit of the State; and I remember last year that some of the few of us who did stay in the House during the consideration of these Estimates saved, if I remember rightly, something approaching £1,000,000 on reductions on each of these Votes.
I am going to suggest to my hon. Friend (Mr. Baldwin) that this £10,000 is an absolute waste of money. You are creating a number of favoured positions, you are intensifying the struggle among people of one position and another to get their feet on the Civil Service ladder 604 and to try and get jobs for themselves—[Mr. PRINGLE: "National Service!"]—which will prevent them being enrolled under the National Service scheme. It is necessary to justify an expenditure of £10,000 on a War Cabinet, every Member of which has, at any rate, got a salary of £5,000 to begin with, or, if they are in the pool, they have about £4,000 each for the work they are doing. If it is true, as we are so frequently told, that there are so many capable men willing to do National Service if they are offered it to do, surely these men, with the distinction that they hold in public life, and with the opportunities that they can offer to ambitious Members of Parliament and others to "get on." as they say, could staff themselves quite well without this waste of public money! The Prime Minister previously, presumably, had access to all kinds of private secretaries. At least, I have always understood that while I have been in this House. I have always found it very difficult to get near a Prime Minister, on account of the horde of private secretaries surrounding him, and he has the advantage of bringing to his table, any morning he chooses, at any hour he chooses, the most competent and skilled Civil servants in the Civil Service. That is available for him now, and that ought to be available for the War Cabinet as a whole, and it ought not to be necessary for five men who are supposed to be actively prosecuting the War to waste this amount of public money on a new secretariat.
I was one of those who, long before the War Cabinet was set up, said this—and I say it again—that what we want is one or two men who could come down every morning to the work of the War as they come down to business, and to attend to that and to nothing else. I can see a great purpose that could be served by Ministers doing that, and I was under the impression that that was going to be done by the new War Cabinet; but ever since the new War Cabinet was created for the purpose of doing that, it has never been together. It has always been all over the globe, engaged in all kinds of occupations, and, as I suggested at the beginning of my speech, the most recent occupation is that of settling the difficulty of the potato supply in this country. Is there nobody, outside the War Cabinet, who knows anything at all about potatoes in the Ministry? There are enough members in the Ministry now, 605 in all conscience, to make one suppose that there is one of them who knows something about potatoes; and why the War Cabinet should have this elaborate secretariat, with this elaborate waste of public money, in order to discuss questions which are not War questions, and bluff the public into believing that they are sitting there every day and every hour of the day, carrying on the War, I fail to see.
I think we are getting into a seam of extravagance which is going to lead this country, not to financial ruin, but to financial stringency in many respects. The right hon. Baronet who sits opposite (Sir F. Banbury) is one of the watchdogs of finance in this House, and he knows perfectly well that the more appointments of that kind that are made the more difficult it is to get rid of them and the more excuses are offered for them being continued. Therefore, unless the House of Commons protests at the beginning against these new appointments, these what I call unnecessary appointments, we shall be led into extravagance, and I think it is the solemn duty of the Members of this House to keep their finger as tightly as they can upon the public purse. We have had all sorts of waste during the War, and we shall have a great deal more before we are done, although certain Departments are making an effort to control expenditure and to save as far as possible. This is not showing them a good example. When the Prime Minister was Munitions Minister he also went to Whitehall Gardens, but he did not require a newly furnished room, and he did not require a secretariat. The great merit of the present Prime Minister's work at the Ministry of Munitions was that he went to Whitehall Gardens with a table and a chair, and I remember it being paraded from the Front Bench, as an evidence of the way in which things could be done if you put energy behind the table and the chair, that you could make a Munitions Department, and it was made. Now here is a War Cabinet. Why have we departed from the table and the chair? Why have we got to the Turkey carpet and the upholstered rooms and the secretariat of thirty-six to look after five members of this extraordinary Government, some of the members of which have not yet even been introduced to each other? I protest against this extravagance, and I hope my 606 hon. Friend (Mr. Baldwin) has some reasonable excuse to offer why this money should be spent.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think my hon. Friend who has just spoken has been under some misapprehension as to this Vote. I notice that the sum that is estimated for the year 1917–18 is £10,000, and an arithmetical calculation leads me to the conclusion that that covers solely the two Ministers on the War Cabinet who are without portfolios. Some weeks ago we had a discussion as to the peculiar and anomalous position of these Gentlemen, and there was a good deal of criticism, in Committee on the Supplementary Estimates, of an arrangement whereby, while there were sinecure offices without any administrative duties available for these Gentlemen, you had specially set up two Ministers without portfolios at a cost of £10,000 a year to the country which was totally unnecessary, and that, too, in the midst of a great war, when the strictest and most vigorous economy was desirable. That leads me to the main criticism I have of this Vote, and that is that it does not cover the cost of the War Cabinet, but only the cost of the salaries of these two Ministers. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Baldwin), in opening the Debate to-day, made some explanation in regard to the Token Votes at the end, and he said that, while it was quite true these were presented as Token Votes, and that at the end of the year, in the main Vote, the greater part of the expenditure would be represented by token, nevertheless the expenditure upon salaries, upon officials, and so forth would be accounted for in the main Votes.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
But that is no explanation at all. We might as well not have had it. We know exactly what that is at present, because in the case of the Ministry of Munitions it is provided by Act of Parliament, so that the hon. Gentleman is parading a great concession to the House of Commons of a great increase of Parliamentary control by communicating to us information which we already have. That is another instance of the confidence trick which is so often worked upon this House. We are not going to be satisfied with that, 607 and I give the hon. Gentleman notice that unless he puts down a Vote which not only covers the salary of Ministers and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries, but also the salaries of officials appointed in these Departments, the House of Commons will not tolerate it. That brings me to the main criticism which I have to make of this Vote. It is no good putting down simply the salaries of the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson) and of Lord Milner. We are not concerned about that at all. The real question is as to what is the cost of this new War Cabinet. There is no reason in relation to the War for concealing this information. It will not be giving any information to the Germans to tell them that there are thirty-six gentlemen appointed, partly in Whitehall Gardens and partly in a new building at the garden at 10, Downing Street, to help the Prime Minister and his colleagues. The nondisclosure of this cannot be excused on any ground of public interest, and the failure to reveal it can only be accounted for by a desire to conceal extravagance. There is a secretariat, and there is a body which is known as the group of liaison officers—a most objectionable name—and I understand that the Departments to be supervised by them look upon these gentlemen with so objectionable a name with no friendly eye. What is the cost of all this? You have a number of men, some of whom are in the permanent Civil Service already and a number who have come in by nomination. The number of appointments by nomination at the present time is, I think, a matter which will require very considerable supervision.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not know that we can discuss that on this Vote, but undoubtedly there are a number of men appointed by nomination, many of them of military age and of good physique. When we hear about ploughmen being combed out, why should men be combed out of the Army to become liaison officers over Departments? These are all matters which deserve the attention of the House of Commons and require a reply from the Government. Then there is a still further point as to the constitutional position of a number of these gentlemen who are Members of Parliament, as to whether they have not vacated their seats, 608 but I will not speak on that subject at the present moment. I think, however, we are entitled to receive from the hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench an account of the expenditure involved in this new Department. We ought to know how many officials have been appointed, and how many are in prospect of being appointed? We ought to know what salary is to be paid to them? How many of them are to be unpaid? What duties they are likely to discharge? We only gather from the public Press an account of these great constitutional changes.
It is true, indeed, that we were told on the first day in a sketchy way when the Prime Minister came into the House of Commons, of the new constitutional arrangements that were to be set up. We were told that there was to be a new War Cabinet, and that he himself was not to come to the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman, however, left it in obscurity as to whether his position in the new Government was to be that of a veiled prophet or an imprisoned Pope! That is a matter which deserves to be elucidated. He never mentioned for one moment the creation of these new Departments. First of all, as to the new secretariat. We have been told that the Prime Minister's secretaries have to be largely reinforced. I have no objection to that, but I think the House of Commons ought to be told what is the nature of the reinforcements, and what they are going to cost. We should then be enabled to form for ourselves some idea as to the value and competence of the reinforcements. We were all aware of the great difficulty which was likely to arise in respect to ordinary administration. There is or should be a bond between the heads of the great departments. In the days of the old Cabinet the heads of the great departments at least met together periodically. You had the Secretaries of State, the Presidents of Boards, and so forth; they met periodically in the Cabinet. If and when there were differences between departments we know that they thrashed them out somehow or other, however unsatisfactorily, when these Gentlemen meet in the Cabinet. What we want to know now is how are the differences between these Departments settled?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
My hon. Friend has not been reading the Press. The Press has 609 been filled with these differences. It would be much nearer the truth to say that there are no agreements. Apparently this War Cabinet is not called in until these differences reach the size of a public scandal.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
We know that the potato is a somewhat contemptible root, but it has been the root of a great trouble to the present Government, and is likely to be even a greater trouble in the future. We have all these questions between the War Office, the Board of Agriculture, the Food Controller, the Shipping Controller and the Admiralty, and we know that they are all pulling in opposite ways. We do not know how they settle their differences. To resume. We are told that we are to have a secretariat; that we are to have a body of liaison officers. I do not know what these liason officers are intended to do, or whether they are intended to reconcile differences. I rather understood that they were intended as spies. The phrase "officer" is understood to be a polite and courteous designation for one who was in the past known as a spy. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman who represents the Treasury has any knowledge of these things or not. We know that he does not occupy the position that we were accustomed to in former days, when a reply was given in these matters by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury who consequently was the Minister responsible at the Treasury for checking the Estimates. The hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench is here merely as the mouthpiece of the Treasury. As to whether or not he is conversant with any of these strange and extraordinary Ministerial arrangements we have had up to the present absolutely no indication. I think that it is well at this stage, when we are merely busy with a Vote on Account, and before the Estimates have been made up for the year, to let him know that the House requires from the Treasury an account of all the officials appointed in connection with the War Cabinet, a statement of the salaries to be drawn by these Gentlemen, and a full statement of the duties which these Gentlemen are understood to perforin.
§ Mr. KING
I am rather surprised that after the vigorous criticism of my two hon. Friends of the War Cabinet no defender of the War Cabinet has risen 610 to reply. The War Cabinet seems to assume that they have the whole House of Commons and the whole country behind them. When however, there is any criticism, whether in public or in private, so far as I know it is very hard to find a defender. I object to the War Cabinet on rather different grounds to those of my two colleagues. I object to the members on the ground that neither their character nor their achievements seem to me to be at all equal to the great position in which they have suddenly found themselves. I am reminded of the aphorism that "Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." Further, some have greatness thrust upon them worthily, and some unworthily. In my opinion, three out of the five right hon. Gentlemen in the War Cabinet—I exclude the Prime Minister, and, I think also, the Chancellor of the Exchequer—have most unwisely and unworthily had greatness thrust upon them. I must not make accusations without giving some extracts to support them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle is a very familiar figure in this House, and has been for a long time. There is one thing clear about him, the right hon. Gentleman has an extraordinary versatility in his opinions. Probably he does not remember—but others will—how on 2nd August, 1914, he, along with the late Mr. Keir-Hardie, with the present Minister of Pensions—who, I dare say, has long forgotten his pacificist opinions—with other Members, joined in a meeting in Trafalgar Square to protest against our coming into the War. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I should like to go a little further. These are the words of their resolution on that occasion. I believe—
The hon. Member, I think, must keep to the point. His remarks have nothing to do with the Estimates now before the Committee.
§ Mr. KING
I wish to say, Sir, most briefly but most clearly, that I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle is utterly unworthy of the position in the War Cabinet because of his frequent and extraordinary changes of opinion. If you want to give a man £5,000 a year, do so. I would give him £5,000 or £50,000, a year if I saw him winning the War. If, however, you give a 611 man that, do let us get something which you can call a steady and consistent character. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order," and laughter.] I hope I may be allowed to come down to very recent months—a time of four months or so ago—when the right hon. Gentleman was addressing a great meeting at Northampton. On that occasion he used these words:I come here to say that in my opinion Mr. Asquith is the indispensable man to lead us to the end of this War.
§ Mr. KING
I am very sorry. I do not quite understand what I may or may not say when I object in toto to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle occupying the position he does. I hope I am not going very far wrong in giving the instance only four months ago, where he acted, as I think very repre-hensibly. I pass from that. I also strongly object to Lord Curzon and Lord Milner as members of the War Cabinet.
The Prime Minister is responsible for recommending to the Sovereign these persons who form the Cabinet. It is not a matter for discussion here on a Vote of this kind.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
On a point of Order, Mr. Whitley. Is it not a constitutional doctrine that every Minister is responsible to this House, and that if any Member of this House considers that a Minister is unfit for his office, he is entitled to move a reduction of his salary in order to obtain the removal of that Minister?
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
On a point of Order. Is the criticism on the fitness of a Minister to discharge the duties of his office, and for which his salary is paid, limited to his actions in his office?
That is so; to the exercise of the functions in the Department or office for which the Committee vote the sum before them.
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
Is it not a fact that this Vote has nothing whatever to do with the salaries of the War Cabinet?
Order, order: This is the third time I have had to draw the hon. Member's attention to his irrelevance, and I must now ask him to resume his seat.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I have only one or two words to say arising out of the speech of the hon. Member for North-West Lanark. The hon. Gentleman opposite stated that all the information he was going to give, when allusion was made to the Token Votes, was in relation to the salary of the Secretaries and Under-Secretaries. If I am wrong, I have nothing more to say.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is all right then. I only wanted to clear up that point before we went any further. The matter was discussed on the National Service Bill. On that occasion i myself distinctly said that what I wanted to know was the total expense of the secretaries and the whole expense of the Departments. I gave instances when we were discussing the Supplementary Estimates for the Munitions Department. So long, however, as the matter is understood, that is all I want.
§ Mr. D. MASON
I think my two hon. Friends have raised a very interesting discussion this afternoon. We are entitled, in my view, to have some reply from some member of the War Cabinet, particularly with regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanark with respect to the status of members of the War Cabinet. When we are asked to vote these large sums of money we ought to have a definite statement from a member of the Cabinet as to what exactly constitutes the authority of such members. Recently we have had speeches by members of the Government. I think I am right in stating that Mr. Gladstone laid down the precedent in days gone by that what was stated by an Under-Secretary did not bind the members of the Government or the members of the Cabinet. I think, therefore, we ought to have some statement as to whether we are to regard that as applying to the pre- 613 sent Cabinet, and whether we are only to look to statements from the Cabinet as being authoritative, and that statements coming from other members of the Government, even when important members, are not to be regarded as responsible. But I would like to say something on another question which the representative of the Treasury may perhaps be able to answer. It is in relation to the National Debt Office. Perhaps, Mr. Whitley, you will tell me whether, as there are other hon. Members who desire to speak on an item previous to that, if I discussed Item No. 20 now, it would prevent my hon. Friends speaking on the previous item? I see there is an hon. Member who wishes to speak on Item 3. I do not wish to prevent his doing so, and if my speaking now would have that effect, I will rise later.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I think that a few words are due from me now on Item 2a. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) did not treat this subject with his usual brevity, and it may be I shall omit some of his points. I think I can divide the substance of what he said into two parts, with the first part of which I myself am in pretty thorough agreement. I sympathise entirely in the desire for economy. I watch, naturally with considerable interest, and sometimes, I may say, even with apprehension, the growth of new services; but I think it is only fair to remember, especially with regard to the development of the system of government by the War Cabinet, that we are entering on a good deal of new ground. The whole system is really in a process of devolution, and if hon. Members will throw their minds back to the first day of Supplementary Estimates they may remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Leader of the House, spoke on this very subject, and in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the late Presi- 614 dent of the Board of Trade, said that the system of government by the War Cabinet was a vital feature of the present Government. Perhaps I had better read his words:It is one of the vital factors on which this Government is formed. If the House of Commons declared that they disapproved of the War Cabinet, that would be an end of this Government. We would not alter the arrangement, for we consider it vital.Then my right hon. Friend went on to say:If the system on which the Government is carried on is to be challenged, that is precisely one of the occasions on which I think the Prime Minister ought to be here to defend what is in fact thesvstern."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1917, col. 494, Vol. XC]If I may suggest to my hon. Friend, I think this is a much more suitable subject to pursue on an occasion of that kind, when we can get an answer from the only authoritative source, rather than raise it on an occasion like this, when the greater number of Members of this House would not, I think, consider it reasonable that the Prime Minister himself should be here, in view of the arduous burden he has to bear at present.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I am sure my hon. Friend will understand that on points of detail it would have been of great assistance if we could have had some notice that this question was going to be raised. Although I have inquired at my office each morning as to what specific points have been raised which require investigation, I have been assured each morning that no points have been raised. I may point out to my hon. Friend that I think it is possible to elicit a considerable amount of information by means of question and answer. I would just add, with reference to another point, as to which I feel a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend, and that is the extension of buildings for offices, that my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works has appointed a small Committee, as hon. Members have probably observed, to investigate specially the question of accommodation for those who are working in the new offices. I may say that the Vote we have on the Paper, as has been correctly described by one speaker, is a Vote put down to cover the salaries to Ministers of the War Cabinet who have no portfolio.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Will the hon. Gentleman give us no hope that this question will be considered? Will they put a Vote down for all officials of the War Cabinet?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I do not desire to conceal anything of that kind from my hon. Friends. I would only remind them, what I am sure they realise, that this Department, in common with all the new Departments, is probably not yet completed, and any information given on one day might become invalid a week later. That is a difficulty which we have to face all through in trying to give any Estimate until the Department has taken its final form.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, I would just like to ask him a question on one point. I quite understand that he really is not in a position at present to tell us the estimated cost of the officials either of the new Cabinet or the various new Directorates and Ministries that are set up, and for which he has given Token Estimates here.
§ Mr. JONES
I want to thank the hon. Gentleman for having given us these Token Estimates. I raised the question the other day, and he promised to do what he could, and to-day he has put down Token Estimates for Munitions, Pensions, Food, Shipping, Air Board, and Ministry for National Service. That is useful as far as it goes, because I suppose we can get allotted days for discussion. The hon. Gentleman cannot tell us what the staffs and the officials of the different Departments, the salaries, and so on, are going to be, but he will know some day, and I want to ask whether the House will know some day and whether we are going to get full Appropriation Accounts, not only of the token sums, but now the money is expended out of the Vote of Credit. Is care being taken that the new Departments are keeping their accounts with as much scrupulousness as the old Departments of the Civil Service? We cannot possibly get Estimates. I understand that, but we can get full accounts, and I want an assurance from the responsible Finance Minister—the only one we have responsible now. I think it is something of an outrage to the House of Commons that we are discussing these Estimates without a Financial Secretary.
The hon. Member was asking questions with reference to the explanatory statement made at the beginning to-day, I understood?
§ Mr. JONES
I was. I was not going to pursue the other point. The hon. Member will know I mean no discourtesy to him in presenting the Estimates. He has presented them in as full a form as he can possibly do. I only want to ask him, if he is responsible, whether he will see to it that the accounts are presented so as to show all the expenditure, not only of these token sums, but all the money expended out of the Vote of Credit. Then the House of Commons will be able to criticise what is done.
§ Mr. BOOTH
There are one or two remarks made by the Government representative to which I should like to refer. He made a complaint that hon. Members did not elicit more of the information they were now seeking by means of question and answer. I hope he will remember that that is entirely the Governments own fault—not one Government, but Governments in recent years. Their answers have been purposely evasive and cleverly framed so as to put a Member off the facts he wants. I am bound to say there has been a vast improvement in the last month or two. I take it that what the hon. Member means by eliciting information by question and answer is that we may be as sure of as full and courteous answers as we should get here? Then the hon. Gentleman says that they are about to appoint a Committee in regard to new premises. I was very sorry to hear that. There is substance in the complaint that is made. I was in one of these new offices this morning—a palatial building. I went through a grand entrance hall with marble pillars, and it might have been a social evening or conversazione. The number of young men of military age and young women, and so on, in this place rather astonished me. What I would suggest to the hon. Member is that if the Government were to appoint one resolute man to go round I think it would be far better than a Committee. You do not want a Committee sitting to receive Reports. You want some live man who knows what organisation is, and who should go round. I think then the State would benefit to the extent of many scores of thousands of pounds, and I am sure the work would be better clone. I am? not sure whether he could not comb out 617 a good deal more. From what I saw this morning, I think he could very easily do so. I do wish the Government would take a stand such as most business houses would take. They do not appoint a Committee when they are over-staffed or have too many new buildings. As a rule, they depute some man in authority, some one person, and he very often can effect reforms. I do wish the Government would do that. Why not adopt a change? If they could get hold of some one live person to look after these Government Departments in order to effect economy, I think we should have great results.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WATT
I wish to offer a few observations on the question of the new offices. The practice of the various Departments, and the Treasury in particular, has been to commandeer various clubs and hotels for new palatial offices. The money is supposed to be going largely in payment of the rents of those places. What I wish to call attention to is that the hotel proprietors whose hotels have been commandeered are spreading to the public the statement that the Treasury has never on any occasion paid a rent for any of these places. None of these hotels are aware of the money they are to get for rent, and consequently they are unable to present their balance-sheets, because the Treasury will not in any way indicate to them what they are to get for rent, and that is an extraordinary position of affairs. The same applies to the National Liberal Club and the Constitutional Club, for neither of those institutions can get a penny from the Treasury or state to their members definitely what they will get from the? Government as rent for the occupation of those premises. I think that is extraordinary, in face of the fact that £6,000,000 a day is being spent by the Treasury in conducting the War. When they are having as much money as that passing through their hands, one would imagine that they would be able to pay rent for the premises they occupy. I am told things have gone so far that when an agent of the Treasury approaches either a club or an hotel nowadays, the first thing he tells them is that there will be no rent paid. Of course, there is a certain amount of satisfaction in that, because the shareholders of that particular club or hotel know where they are, although it is a very unjust arrangement.
618 The owners of these hotels have been told that they will get substantial depreciation when the Treasury or its subordinate departments no longer have possession. In one instance I have in my mind's eye the claim for compensation has been relegated to the Commission which deals with such claims, and the work of that Commission is egregiously behind. It amounts to this, that the Treasury has a very bad reputation in the market, first of all, for making a bargain which is nebulous and difficult to interpret; and, in the second place, they do not pay any rent and do not give any information to the shareholders as to when or how much they will pay. I think the hon. Gentleman in charge of this Vote will realise that people cannot conduct their business on such terms, and he will see the absolute necessity for arranging that definite and fair rent be paid for all the new offices taken over by his Department. As for the necessity of taking over these new offices, I believe it does not exist to the extent to which they have been taken over. If you go in these places between three and five, I am told that the whole of the staff is at afternoon tea. If that is so there cannot be sufficient work for them if they have a long lunch hour and a tea hour as well. I know that is comparatively a small matter, but it goes to prove that the demand for new offices is much greater than the circumstances warrant.
§ Sir J. D. REES
The hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) in his speech encouraged hon. Members to proceed by question and answer. Some of us who are now reformed characters were in the habit of proceeding in that manner before the War began, but I wish to ask the hon. Member one question now. Can he not arrange that the War Cabinet shall have a close time and a period of incubation, during which they will be exempt from criticism while they are arranging their plans? The hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) said we wanted resolute men, but you must give them time to resolve and carry out their resolutions. At the present time they have only been in office five minutes. Is there a more resolute man than the late Leader of the Opposition who is a law unto us? Then there is Lord Curzon, a man who possesses in the highest degree, courage and capacity—a most valuable combination.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
On a point of Order. I would like to know if the hon. Member is 619 in order in discussing the personal qualities of the members of the War Cabinet as he is now doing?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)
Perhaps the hon. Member will put his point of Order in a little more detail.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) was putting a certain point about the members of the War Cabinet. He was stating his view of the qualities of Lord Curzon and the Leader of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset (Mr. King) has just been called to order by the Chairman of Committees for putting another view of a certain member of the War Cabinet. Under these circumstances, will it be in order for any hon. Member who takes a different view of the reputations of these Ministers to put that view before the Committee?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The rule that applies to a particular member of the War Cabinet of course applies to all of them.
§ Sir J. D. REES
May I say that the hon. Gentleman's point of Order amounts to this, that anybody at any time is out of order who ventures to take up any of the time of the House other than himself. All I can do is to express my deep indebtedness to the hon. Member that he actually allowed me to speak for some three minutes without interruption, for which I tender him my best thanks. I have no intention of discussing the qualifications of these distinguished members of the Cabinet, and I had said all I had to say on that point when the hon. Gentleman interrupted. Now that you have got this War Cabinet, let them carry on their work, and do not spend the time of the House nagging at them every day.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
On the original Estimate of last year in Item 3 is included the Committee of Imperial Defence. Obviously that cannot be included in this Vote this year, because that Committee, as a separate organisation, has ceased to exist, and it has not become absorbed in the secretariat of the War Cabinet. I observe from Item 3 that the Estimate of last year amounted to £122,057, and that the Estimate for next year, 1917–18, is £124,898. In looking at the Estimate for last year I see that the sum put down for the Committee of Imperial Defence amounts to £7,704. Obviously 620 this amount is now withdrawn from Item 3, because there is no such thing as the Committee of Imperial Defence. I think in those circumstances we are entitled to call for some reason for this great increase in respect of the expenditure for the Treasury and subordinate Departments when one of these Departments has been altogether abolished. The salary of the Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence is £l,500, and there are three assistant Secretaries who are paid £650. Then there is a Vote for the history of the War, which is included under the Committee of Imperial Defence Vote. As that Committee has now gone, I presume the expenditure for the collection of material in regard to the history of the War will now come under the Vote for the War Cabinet. In view of the notice which I gave to my hon. Friend, I hope he will now be able to give me some explanation as to whether the whole of this £7,704 is absorbed in the Vote for the War Cabinet, or is it merged entirely in the Vote of Credit? Perhaps he will say how he accounts for the increase in the item of several thousand pounds in spite of the fact that £7,704 less is to be spent owing to the change in respect of the Committee of Imperial Defence.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
The point the hon. Member raises is one that I happened to go into this morning. I was struck by the slight increase of the Treasury Vote. There is a very substantial increase in the collection of material for the history of the War, which is still included in that Vote, and I have just received the information, of which I was not aware, that the staff of the Committee of Imperial Defence is still charged against this Vote.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
This is a most extraordinary statement. We have had an express statement in this House that the Committee of Imperial Defence does not exist any longer. We were informed, I think first of all by the Prime Minister and latterly by the Leader of the House, that the Committee of Imperial Defence was absorbed in the War secretariat. It is therefore most extraordinary that we should be asked to vote money for a body that no longer exists. Would not it be more honest to put down a Vote for the secretariat of the War Cabinet, which has taken the place of the Committee of Imperial Defence, rather than to say that we are to vote money for a totally fictitious organisation? I think the hon. Gen- 621 tleman must be misinformed on this point, and that he would be wise to consult the usual sources, with a view to correcting the statement.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
The permanent staff are lent for War Cabinet work, and, as in other cases, their salaries continue during their present work to be charged on the Treasury Vote, to which they are normally chargeable.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I have always understood that one of the main points in the formation of the new organisation was that it would have a continuous secretariat; that the old Cabinet had minutes, that no records were taken, that apparently it was an informal consultation between the Prime Minister and his colleagues, but that now, particularly during the War, it was necessary to record the minutes definitely, and so the staff of the old Imperial Defence Committee, under Sir Maurice Hankey, in whom we have every confidence, was acting as the secretariat of the War Cabinet. If that is so, why are we switched back on to this Vote? I have tried to follow the hon. Member when the point was raised, because I think this process is very instructive from a political point of view, and we naturally watch very keenly the evolution, I think that was his own word, of the system of Government by War Cabinet. The one particular way in which we can follow this is by a close study of the machinery. We are not in their counsels and do not know what is done, and the way open to us is to gaze at the machinery. Now the hon. Member is rather confusing us. I do not suggest that he did it intentionally; I am sure he did not, but the impression left on the House is one of confusion as to whether this Vote will ever appear again. Can he tell us that? Will it appear next year, or is this its final shuffle off the stage? The announcements in public have been so clear that I should have thought the Vote would have borne some resemblance to the announcements.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I desire to ask one or two questions with regard to Item 8, Board of Trade, and I would also ask the hon. Gentleman (Mr. G. Roberts), unless this interferes with any other hon. Member, questions on Items 11 and 17. If my hon. Friend will look at Item 9 he will see that the total sum required this year for the Board of Trade is £418,000, whereas last year it was only £340,000. If he 622 turns to the last page but one he will see that there are two new Departments created, the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Shipping, which previously were administered by the Board of Trade. What I want to know is this. Why, as the Board of Trade has had some of its work taken away from it and that work-has been given to new Departments which have been created, is there such a large increase as £78,000 on a sum of £340,000? There is an increase of something like 20 per cent. upon the item for the Board of Trade, though its work has been reduced. If you turn to the Board of Agriculture you will see something of the same sort. The amount required for the Board of Agriculture, Item 11, is £469,000, whereas last year it was only £336,000. We know that the Food Controller and the Food Producer has lately taken, not a ducal house but an earl's house, Bridgwater House, the property of Lord Ellesmere, and that this gentleman has been installed in this enormous palace to produce food. In these circumstances there is much less for the Board of Agriculture to do, and yet notwithstanding that we see that there is an enormous increase of £133,000, which is a very large increase on £336,000, with regard to the Board of Agriculture. Then, if you turn to the Local Government Board you will see again an enormous increase. The Local Government Board sum has very nearly doubled. Last year it was £364,000, this year it is £657,000. I really do not know what the Local Government Board has to do more this year than last year, and why there should be such an enormous increase upon these Votes, I fail to see. I think this is a very important matter, because there is no question that the country's resources, I do not say are being exhausted, but are being very highly strained in order to find money for the War. If that is so the very first thing we ought to do is to endeavour to economise in these Civil Service Estimates and these Civil Service Departments, whereas, instead of economising, it would appear that we are spending more money this year on the old Departments. I do not say this applies to the Local Government Board, but it does apply to the other Departments whose work and function have been reduced and taken over by other Departments.
That brings me to the conclusion that the creation of these new Departments, and the taking away of the work from one Department and giving it to another, 623 does not make for economy, but for extravagance, and that we should have been able to have far more efficient work and very much better administration if we had left the work in the hands in which it was, and had not created new Departments. The creation of a new Secretary entails the creation of all sorts of Under-Secretaries, besides hotels, mansions, and palaces for them to live in, and the proper course would have been, I maintain, for the Board of Trade, if they had no one sufficiently au fait with the matter on which they required opinions, not to appoint a fresh staff, but to appoint an expert in these matters under the same Minister, and to make him responsible for the work that has to be done. If we had done that, no doubt we should have presented a certain number of people calling themselves a member of the Government, or controllers of this, that, and the other, but we should have saved the public from a great deal of harassing legislation and a great deal of trouble, and should have saved a very large amount of money to the State. I am glad that the Patronage Secretary (Lord E. Talbot) is here because perhaps he will be able to give us some enlightenment upon these matters. But I do think this is such an important matter that we ought to have had a Cabinet Minister here. We really have nobody, with the exception of my Noble Friend, except those of rather junior rank, if I may say so without any offence, and when it is remembered that while men and munitions are necessary, money is also necessary, and when we are discussing an important point like this I think it would be a little more courteous that we should have had someone whose rank was slightly higher than that of my hon. Friend opposite.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I think I can soon resolve the doubts of my hon Friend opposite (Sir F. Banbury), and, while I fully sympathise with his desire—nobody wishes more than I that there was someone of more exalted rank here—I can assure him that he could have found no one of lower rank, as my own is the humblest. The Local Government Board, of course, shows a very substantial increase, but this is accounted for entirely by two large sums of money, the first a Grant of £209,000 to combat venereal disease, and which appears under that head, and a Grant of £90,000 for child wel- 624 fare. The increase in the Board of Agriculture Vote is entirely accounted for by a sum that is set aside to provide small holdings for farm colonies for discharged soldiers. The Board of Trade increase is accounted for under two or three heads, the principal of which are a Grant of £17,000 for the provision of trade correspondents, £8,000 which has been set aside for the Standardising Committee which has been working on British engineering standards, and the largest item is that which we have discussed in this House before, for the British-Italian Corporation, but which did not appear in last year's figures because it only came in as a Supplementary Estimate the other day.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
It is a man who travels and makes inquiries about commercial conditions in the overseas Dominions.
§ Colonel YATE
Is that the Commercial Attaché, or someone acting separately from the Commercial Attaché?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
It is a similar kind of work to what is done by the Commercial Attaché. The hon. and gallant Gentleman probably knows that some of this work has been done in recent years under the Foreign Office and some under the Board of Trade. There has been an inquiry on that point very recently. This is to put work of that kind on the Board of Trade. As I have said, a sum of £8,000 has been set aside for the Committee that is reporting on the standardising of British engineering productions, and the largest item is for the British-Italian Corporation.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Some considerable time ago the Board of Trade, without consulting this House, raised all the railway fares in the country, and restricted the running of certain trains. That, obviously, was the cause of great inconvenience to a large number of people. Those people who are mainly inconvenienced are business people whose interests it must be to move about the country for business reasons. It must be obvious that 625 any artificial restrictions you place upon business men getting about the country in pursuit of legitimate trade is not likely to promote the accumulation of national wealth. It may be that my hon. Friend will reply that we are at war, and that it is a war necessity to make those increases in fares. But surely all the resources of ingenuity have not been exhausted if the conclusion of the Board of Trade is that the fares and restrictions must remain as they are at present. Presumably the object of increasing the fares is to prevent people travelling. I am sure the House is in sympathy with the Board of Trade in trying to put an end to unnecessary travelling, and I do not suppose any of us would argue in favour of doing anything to stimulate travelling which was unnecessary. But there is a considerable amount of travelling which is necessary and must remain necessary, and that, I think, deserves more consideration that it has got. One's own experiences in travelling makes one think it has not got all the consideration it deserves. The other day I was coming from Newcastle with a member of the Royal Flying Corps who was going to London on a fortnightly visit he was instructed to pay to visit a medical board. It occured to me there might be such a thing as a doctor in Newcastle which would save at least one railway journey every fortnight. That is a sample of the kind of thing one finds in travelling about. The restrictions are obviously a great handicap to particular classes of the community. For instance the commercial traveller has got to make his livelihood, and is one of the most delicate parts of the machinery of trade upon whose efforts a very great deal depends. It does seem a considerable hardship that such a man should be penalised because the Board of Trade cannot stop people travelling who ought not to travel. I suggest we are entitled to know what efforts the Board of Trade have made to deal with this question, and whether it is absolutely fixed and determined that they can make no suggestion with regard to the removal of these restrictions.
Let me refer to another point. I understand that all the railways are now under Government control, and therefore obviously it cannot matter very much on which particular line a man travels from one destination to another. I will give a personal experience to show what I consider to be rank official stupidity. I am a season-ticket holder and come up to 626 London every day from one of the suburbs. I used to come from a very convenient station which was closed down as one of the stations coming within the restriction, and therefore I had to find another station at a much further distance. That I did not mind very particularly, as everybody is quite willing to put up with minor inconveniences. But because the Government have closed down that particular station—on the South-Eastern and Chatham Railway it happened to be—they refuse to renew my season-ticket on the inter-available plan, so that now I am confined to one route, which is very much more inconvenient for me, particularly in the morning. I do not mind it so much in the evening. The distance is the same, but because the station which is eliminated happens to have the same name as a station on the other railway which is not eliminated, I am not to have my inter-available ticket. Did ever anybody hear such nonsense from any business concern as that? That not only affects myself, but two or three hundred business men in my neighbourhood who come to London every morning, and who have now to go by another route, although both belong to the Government. That is Government management of railways, or, as an hon. Friend below me suggests, is a specimen of State Socialism. My hon. Friend who is going to reply is a State Socialist, and I think it is up to him to defend this breakdown in the first experiment under his control. I ask him: Can he see any reason why I cannot get an inter-available any longer? It seems to me to be rank stupidity as well as putting members of the community to a great deal of unnecessary inconvenience. I do not mind the matter so much for myself, but I put it on general public grounds.
The Board of Trade surely have had now sufficient experience to enable them to devise some scheme whereby the increased rates on the tickets do not prejudicially affect men who are making money. All these new arrangements are making it increasingly difficult for businesses to get on, and I think every business man knows that to be true. It is perfectly obvious that the Government do not necessarily and of their own free will wish to put impediments in the way of as successful carrying on of business as can be done in the country under existing conditions. I honestly tell my hon. Friend that these restrictions are not only an impediment to the making of money, but a very great 627 inconvenience and considerable hardship to a very large number of men who week in and week out go about this country maintaining trade and industry. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to assure the House that this question has had the very mature consideration of the Board of Trade, and that they have now arrived at a decision as to whether they will be able to intimate to the House and the country substantial benefits.
Mr. T. WILSON
The instance given by the hon. Gentleman as to the restrictions could be multiplied a very great deal, and instances could be produced where people by taking three tickets on a railway journey can travel cheaper than by taking a ticket at the beginning of the journey right to the end. I thought one of the objects was to decrease the amount of man and women-power at the station, but if tickets are taken in the way I suggest it will lead to an increase. In parts of Lancashire a large number of men are engaged in small businesses and do their own travelling. The increased fares are affecting those business men very much. The same applies to commercial travellers working on commission, and they are very much handicapped. I cannot see why, if a man or woman can prove that he or she is travelling in the interests of business, they should not be allowed to travel at the old fare. Then, again, some people in connection with munition works at national factories have to travel anything from 80 to 200 miles. The fares are in the first place paid by the firm which is doing work on commission of from 5 per cent. to 12½ per cent., and actually commission is obtained on the extra fares. Surely the Board of Trade never want to be a party to anything of that kind. It is too stupid even for a Government Department to believe that that was their intention. I do say that the Board of Trade ought to carefully and seriously consider how the people who are compelled to travel are affected by the increased fares. If they want to stop travelling altogether, let them increase the fares to 5s. per mile. Even now, with the reduced train service, some of the trains are not full, and so long as a train runs you might as well carry people for the ordinary fare. Managers and superintendents connected with firms doing Government work travel home once a week or a fortnight on first-class fare on which the commission agent gets from 5 per cent. to 12½ per cent. com- 628 mission. There was a distinct hardship in connection with the travelling of relatives of dead soldiers, but I am very glad to learn that some modification has been made. I think some modification should also be made for men and women travelling in connection with their work; I hope the Board of Trade will go carefully into the matter, with the object of dealing justly and equitably with people who are compelled to travel for business purposes.
§ Mr. WING
I wish to associate myself with the remarks of the last two speakers, and I hope that the representative of the Board of Trade will be able to give us a better reply than he has hitherto done in answering questions put in the House. One feels that the reason given by the Board of Trade for the raising of these fares can hardly be the exact reason, because at the present moment there is an exhibition being held, and no less than 100,000 circulars have been issued inviting people to come up to town to attend that exhibition. It is a very serious thing that we should be tempting people to come to town to this exhibition, and at the same time be restricting the journeying of the commercial traveller, who really economises the passenger traffic. A commercial traveller will wait upon perhaps twenty or thirty people in a day, show his samples and take his orders, but the new Order of the Board of Trade means that these thirty people have to come to town and occupy the carriage space in place of the commercial traveller. I suppose that the Board of Trade had some difficulty in defining a commercial traveller. I am rather surprised at that. We used to talk about the blundering way in which the railway companies could not do this or the other, and we used to say that if we only had State control all these difficulties could be solved easily. The railway companies, however, have been able for years to define a commercial traveller, and have granted him special facilities at week-ends for his return home and a double journey for a single fare. Now you have doubled their fares, which has resulted in increasing the cost of a man's return home by some 200 or 250 per cent. That is a very serious charge, and the Board of Trade ought to give an exceedingly good reason why it should be imposed upon a section of people just because they happen to be commercial travellers. We have had kind words 629 from the hon. Gentleman, but no good reason given for the increase, and the interpretation we put upon the remarks made by him from time to time is that he gave an emphatic "No" to our requests. A commercial traveller has his samples taken to Newcastle, and spends £35 in having them sent by passenger train. I asked him how he managed to recoup himself, and he said, "The public have to pay it." In such a case you are penalising the public in an indirect way. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to send some message to the commercial travellers of the country, saying that the Board of Trade will revise the plan and will follow the principle adopted for many years by the railway companies in defining a commercial traveller.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I wish to put one point with regard to traders' tickets. It would be better if the Government allowed a little more elasticity in regard to them. Now that the Government have taken over the railways, the facilities given to holders of season or traders' tickets apply very unequally. You force passengers from one line on to another, and, as stated by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), in the case of a suburban station it operates to the extent of scores of pounds per annum to business men and long-distance passengers. You push them on to another line where they have no co-termini. One company does not want the passengers of another line pushed on to it, and that is leading to a great deal of confusion. Fortunately for myself, my own trader's ticket is fairly comprehensive, and I have evaded inconvenience, but I have been present at scene after scene when a journey has been interrupted, when men's tempers have been spoiled, and the station-master has been called in. These men are not actuated by fraud. In many cases even the railway officials cannot tell where the ticket takes a man. When you disturb a man from his usual route, upon which he has never travelled without paying for it, and force him on to some other line, there should be some give-and-take. For instance, in the case of a man travelling from Liverpool to London he may be forced on to another line and to break his journey. All I ask is that, at any rate until you get a more settled system, the Government should instruct the station-masters and officials to be a little more elastic, because while a man technically may be going over a mile or two which his 630 contract does not cover, he is probably losing an hour or two a day in order to oblige the Government. It is rather painful to a man who is compelled to spend two hours more a day getting home late at night to a meal with his family that he should be pushed on to another route, brought into an altercation about some little short cut, and find that his ticket is not available from this station or on that route. It is leading to a great deal of unpleasantness and making the scheme unpopular.
I have never had great faith in the State management of railways since an experience I had in Japan. I remember that one day we pulled up at a beautiful spot, and none of us could tell why. We had a chat with the engine driver, who said that that-morning he had received a message from the Government that they were using too much coal, and that they wanted them to economise. We therefore stopped at this wayside station and took a rest for two or three hours, so that the driver could show-that he had done his journey in so many hours and was consuming only so many hundredweights of coal. I said to myself, "This is the Land of the Rising Sun, but if this is State nationalisation, I do not want it in England." The same applies to other parts of the world. They do not encourage you at all on the State railways in Siberia. If we do get State management, I hope that we may improve upon all these mistakes. Frankly, I do not think there has been an improvement. There ought to be a little more elasticity. The same applies to working people. I do not claim to speak for them, but I have seen unpleasant scenes. A woman, with a lot of little children perhaps, does not understand the new Regulations or the process of going by a different route, and very often she goes back home. She may have been accustomed to visit her old mother or an invalid niece by a certain route. She finds she cannot go that way, and she thinks that something is wrong and that she will never get back again. I suggest that there should be a little more give-and-take in the administration. I am not asking for money, or that anybody should be sacked, or that any big change should be made, but simply that there should be a little more elasticity.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I wish to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to the peculiar case of London in regard to the curtailment of 631 the train services and the increase of fares. I join with other Members who have spoken as to the hardship inflicted by the increased faros, especially upon commercial travellers and small manufacturers, of whom there are great numbers in London. London is peculiarly hit by the increased fares and the reduction of the train services. In the central and west-end districts of London, where we have the main underground services and the main tube services, no increased fares have been charged. An arbitrary line has been drawn, and on the outskirts of London an increase of 50 per cent. is charged. In practice, in a great many cases the result is that the passenger takes an excess ticket until he gets into the inner ring, and then pays the ordinary fare in that inner ring, where there is no increase in the fares. There are parts of London in which there has been an increase not only in the ordinary passenger fares, but in the workmen's fares in the morning. That has caused very great injustice to the workers, particularly to munition workers. In the case of Woolwich, the South-Eastern and Chatham Company have increased all their fares, and in other parts of London men and women munition workers have had to pay the increase. The south of London, part of which I represent, has been very hard hit by this rearrangement of the fares. We have only one part of a very small tube in South London. On that there are no increases of fares, but on the overhead railways, the South-Eastern Company and the Brighton Company have increased all their fares by 50 per cent., so that people living in the districts where the overhead railways give them facilities for coming to London have to pay the 50 per cent. increase, while people living in Central London and the West End do not have to pay excess fares.
The curious thing about the excess fares is that while the electric tubes are charging no excess in certain parts of London all the overhead railways in South London are charging the 50 per cent. Another thing from which we have suffered in South London is the closing of a number of stations. The South-Eastern and Chatham Company has not only closed stations, but also a section of the line altogether. Since the new Regulations have been made, fourteen stations in London have been closed altogether, and seven stations and three halts have been closed in the suburban area. 632 The closing of these stations in many cases means the very greatest hardship to the workpeople who live in 6.0 P.M. some of these districts, and it has thrown the travellers, who formerly travelled by rail, on to the overcrowded trams and buses, and in some cases on to the tubes. I understood the attitude of the Government was that they were anxious to save time and anxious that workpeople should put in as many hours as possible at their work. The effect of closing the stations and driving people on to the tramway and other slower services, has been that it has increased the time of the workpeople in getting to and from their work, and they have lost a considerable number of hours per week in this way. It is well known that the Government is anxious to save rolling stock and to save machines in order that they may be used for military purposes. I think the travelling public is perfectly willing to put up with inconvenience where it is necessary but in South London we have overhead electric services and I have yet to know that electric cars or machines are being used for war purposes The peculiar part of it is that you have closed the stations through which these trains are running at all times of the day, and Bermondsey has suffered very great hardship, and I hope if the Parliamentary Secretary is going to reconsider this question in any way, he will give special consideration to the case of London, and particularly of South London, because taking off the trains and the increase of the fares has meant the very greatest hardship to a great number of people.
§ Mr. WATT
I sympathise with hon. Members who have brought forward the question of railway rates. In my experience, irritation against the companies from one end of the country to the other is most marked. No advance in price of any article has caused so much irritation as this question of railway fares, and I regret to find that that irritation is inclined to take the form of advancing the peace movement and people are inclined to wish in the most marked manner that the War would soon be over, which is an unfortunate thing. My purpose in rising, however, is to draw attention to the question of the import restrictions. I have put down one or two questions on the subject of the illogical preference being given to one town over another, and one firm over another. I asked a question, and the Under-Secretary suggested that I should 633 confer with him afterwards. I went to his private room and found it in darkness, and had the worldly wisdom not to go in. The point I desire to bring to his notice was the importation of marble for building purposes. The Department at 20, Carlisle Place, has given marked preference to several ports in Scotland, and has unfortunately shown a marked disinclination to give licences for the importation of marble to the great city of Glasgow, and my Constituents have drawn my attention to this, and I have sought to get a satisfactory answer as to why all licences for Glasgow should be refused, but I have had no satisfactory answer. Indeed, when I called at the offices I was told, with a sneer, that they did not consider it necessary to give any explanation to anyone. I think that is a very condemnable attitude, and I am certain the Under-Secretary would never have assumed it, I should be very glad if he will indicate what is the method that is adopted in that Department, and if he will state whether, in his view, it would be advisable to appoint Committees of the various trades to deal equitably with all the demands for these licences, and if that is an advisable line to take, whether he proposes to adopt it. It is certain that if he intervenes in the matter there will be an improvement, because his capacity for working improvements is well known both to the House and the country.
§ Colonel YATE
I wish to refer to what the Financial Secretary said about the expenses incurred by Commercial Correspondents under the Board of Trade. These men apparently are duplicating work which is already done, or ought to be done, by the Commercial Attaches, and I ask the Financial Secretary to take this into consideration, and if he could tell us anything now or later on as to what steps are being taken to co-ordinate the work of the Commercial Correspondents under the Board of Trade and the Commercial Attaches under the Foreign Office and to put them all under one head, and see what can be done to reduce expenditure in this respect, and get more satisfactory administration than there has been of this very important subject.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I should like to deal with the hon. Gentleman's explanation regarding the increased expenditure of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) asked why the expenditure had increased from £340,000 634 to £418,923, as in the Estimate for next year. The explanation which the hon. Gentleman gave covered a good part of the ground. It showed that, owing to expenditure on Commercial Correspondents and on standardising, £78,000 was accounted for, but he ignored the fact that the Board of Trade, for which these Estimates are presented, is not the Board of Trade for which Estimates were presented a year ago. The Board of Trade for next year is only a fourth of the Board of Trade of last year. It is only necessary to remember all the Departments which have been withdrawn from the Board of Trade in the course of the last two months. The Board of Trade a year ago had control of food, of shipping, of Labour Exchanges, and Trade Boards. Now we find that a Department which is only a quarter of the Department of a year ago is going to cost £78,000 more, and I think some explanation is required With regard to the Trade Correspondents, I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Yate) has made a mistake. They are not new. They were there before, and it is simply an increase; consequently, the explanation which the hon. Gentleman has up to the present given is by no means adequate. When we hear of all these new Departments being created we naturally expect to find some retrenchment in the old Departments which formerly performed the same duty. But apparently not only have we this vastly increased expenditure owing to the creation of new Departments, but we have also an increase in the expenditure of the old Departments. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to say something to account for this extraordinary situation.
Then I think the hon. Gentleman should tell us under what powers the Board of Trade has increased railway fares, and I think the Committee is entitled to know whether the Department has any legal opinion which justifies it under the Defence of the Realm Act in overriding an Act of Parliament, The Solicitor-General might be induced to give some opinion on the point, and if he is unable to help us I hope my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, who in the course of the transfer from one office to another has not abandoned all his legal reputation, will come to his assistance. Laying aside the legal aspect of the matter, I wish to come to another point which is a real practical grievance with a large number 635 of traders, and that is the question of the conveyance of fish. I am quite disinterested, because it does not affect anyone in my Constituency. There is no fishing in my Constituency. The Rivers Pollution Act has not succeeded to that extent there. A new Regulation has been made by the Board of Trade to the effect that when a fisherman or a fish salesman desires to consign fish by train he has to pay the cost of the carriage at the time he sends the fish. That is a very serious grievance, because often fishermen come into different ports, and in many cases they have not the money available to pay the cost of carriage. I understand that in many cases very valuable consignments of fish have been lost.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
But the Board of Trade are insisting upon that. I agree that it is not his responsibility. This is another case in which the Board of Trade are disregarding everything. I think the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Roberts) when he replies ought to give some explanation of this Regulation or some defence of it. I do not see any defence of it at all. In these days when the country is in such straits for food, any Regulation which discourages the conveyance of food from the producer to the consumer is in the worst interests of the community. That this should occur in a Department like the Board of Trade, which formerly was concerned with food, I cannot understand It should not cast aside its former traditions because the control of fool is sent to another Department. That seems to be the situation now. The whole question of food control has been taken away from the Board of Trade, and apparently the Board of Trade is only encerned with railway regulations, railway freights, and railway restrictions. They seem to act on this principle: "It does not matter so long as we diminish railway travelling and railway traffic. We are not concerned whether people get food or not." I think I have made a case against the Regulation which the Board have made, and I think the hon. Gentleman should assure the Committee that his Department will reconsider the situation and reverse this Regulation.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. G. Roberts)
Previous speakers have stated that the restrictions which have been im- 636 posed on railway travelling have caused a great deal of irritation in the country, but I hope it is not quite so bad as that contemplated by the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Mr. Watt). So far as the evidence coming into my Department is concerned, it does not bear out that statement. Nevertheless, I make the frank admission that these restrictions have caused a great deal of irritation, and a large amount of inconvenience to the travelling public. I think it would be folly to deny that, and, whilst I have to make that admission, I have also to make the further admission that I see no immediate possibility of removing a large amount of that inconvenience. I will deal with the question addressed to me respecting the arrangement which has been made regarding the conveyance of fish. I think my hon. Friend (Mr. Pringle) has raised a point which is worthy of consideration. I agree with him that anything that hampers the facilities for the conveyance of food about the country is a matter that ought to be thoroughly examined. The question was brought to my notice by other hon. Members, and I am inclined to think there is something in it, and that it may account for delays in the transmission of fish. Therefore, this morning I requested that this matter be reviewed again with a view to ascertaining how far an acknowledged grievance can be removed. I hope that will meet the views of the hon. Members.
I hope the Committee will excuse me from embarking upon a legal dissertation as to the powers of the Board of Trade in regard to the imposition of restrictions upon travelling. I have had questions addressed to me on this matter, and I can only say that I am advised by those who are accepted as competent to advise, that under the Defence of the Realm Act the Board has power to make these restrictions. That is the opinion that I have to stand by. If hon. Members do not feel satisfied with that statement they should address themselves to other quarters. If my hon. Friends feel that the reply that I have given is not satisfactory and not in accord with the actual state of things, if they will put down further questions it will be my business to make further inquiries about them. The discussion very largely centred around the case of commercial travellers. First of all, I have to state that it has been found absolutely necessary, for military purposes, to restrict 637 travelling in this country. The purpose of the advance of fares was not to get revenue; it was purely a restrictive purpose. For my own part, I would have preferred some other method, if it had been equally practicable, for the achievement of that purpose. I recognise that the imposition of the increased fare must fall unequally upon various classes in the community. I recognise that people of my own class are compelled to travel, and that the burden imposed upon them is disproportionate to the burden imposed upon other people. Nevertheless, after a great deal of consideration and trouble, I am bound to admit that, having regard to the circumstances, I have not been able to advise any other method so simple in its operation, as will achieve the purpose that we have in view. The Committee is generally aware of the great necessity for restricting travelling. It has arisen out of the necessity to make provision for the Armies in France, and I am informed that it may be necessary to impose even further restrictions because of the great demands which are arising in that direction. I cannot conceive of any other alternative method.
It has been suggested to me from time to time that one might establish a permit system. I think everybody must realise that that would be an extraordinarily complex method of dealing with the problem. It would involve the establishment of bodies in every district in the country. Every public-spirited man today is so closely engaged that I do not think we could contemplate the possibility that we should be able to requisition sufficient services to carry out such a system properly. Thus it is that I am compelled very reluctantly to say that I see no alternative method. There is no question which has given me more trouble than this, because of the many cases of hardship which it is quite easy to make out in this connection. I would have liked, if it had been possible, to make some relaxation. We have found it possible to make concessions in one or two directions. I recognise that they are very small concessions, and I can assure the Committee that the smallness of the concessions is an indication of the impossibility of making large concessions. The case of the commercial traveller is one with which I have a great deal of sympathy. I recognise that in the case of groups who work exclusively on commission it is a thing which falls directly upon 638 them, but where they are representatives, in the broader sense, of firms, I do not think much hardship in involved, because the firms can very well meet the claim if they find it necessary that they should travel about in the pursuit of their business. Candidly I have to say, on behalf of the Railway Executive, that it is desired to restrict the travelling of this class as far as possible. I think it will be seen very clearly that no great hardship will be involved in diminishing the work of commercial travellers, having regard to the conditions under which we are at present living. Traders can transmit their orders direct to the firms with whom they have customarily dealt, and so long as the necessity for curtailing travelling exists I think the commercial travellers will have to accept it and must be subject to the same restrictions as other people. I recognise that the privileges they have hitherto enjoyed in respect of week-end travelling does involve a real hardship upon them, but our difficulty is that if we start making concessions to any class it is utterly impossible to restrict them.
We have had to consider the case of representative groups, and we were sympathetically disposed to a relaxation, but when we have pursued the matter we have seen that if we make a concession in regard to one group it is impossible to restrict it in respect of other groups, and it is because of the impossibility of restricting concessions to any particular section without undoing what we have already accomplished so far in what we find it necessary to retain for some considerable period longer, that we are unable to accede to the requests made to us. I admit that there is something to be said for extension of the principle of inter-availability of tickets. A number of cases have been brought to my notice, and I can assure hon. Members interested in this subject that the Railway Executive are even now engaged in a further consideration of this matter, in order to see how far that principle can be extended. It is not beyond the view of any hon. Member to see that some things have to be safeguarded. It seemed to me at first a very simple proposition, but I am not a railway expert, and when I go into the matter with those who do understand the problem, they are able to point out to me that it is not so simple as I at first contemplated. Nevertheless, in respect of the general principle of interavailability, having regard to the fact that all the railways 639 are now under Government control, I recognise that as far as practicable tickets ought to be interavailable.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
Yes. There is the question of facilities for munition workers. We have endeavoured to meet that group of cases as far as possible. Workmen's tickets are in no way prejudiced by what has been done. As far as my information goes, there is comparatively little hardship now, in view of the fact that those who are compelled to travel day by day have resorted to the expedient of workmen's tickets. The Railway Executive have been able to convince me that it is almost a matter of course now for workmen to take workmen's tickets, and thereby be relieved of the advances of fares which have been imposed. The hon. Member for West Newington drew attention to the special conditions of London. London, from the transit point of view, is a very complex proposition, but I think my hon. Friend will agree that the various grievances which were brought to our notice have in every case been investigated, and as far as we have found it practicable remedies have been applied. In reference to the closing of the Bermondsey Station, I may say that first it was closed altogether. On representations being made we agreed to have it opened for a certain time both morning and night. Further representations have been made to keep the station open continuously throughout the day, and I have requested that that possibility should be gone into to see if that can be done. Having regard to the restrictions which are imposed upon us by military considerations, we are desirous of limiting inconvenience as far as possible. Nevertheless it would be impossible to deny that inconvenience is caused, and will continue to be caused, and is, in fact, an inevitable corollary of the War.
The hon. Member for Pontefract looks on me as an advocate to justify the present Government control of railways. I have declined to embark on an academic discussion on that matter, and I will simply say that if the design had been to bring railways under State control in a manner suitable for this country, a most inopportune time was chosen for its adoption during this great War. It is impossible for me to give satisfaction to all who have griev- 640 ances. All I can say is that anything brought to my attention is considered on its merits, and if the grievance can be met we shall certainly endeavour to meet it. My hon. Friend the Member for the College Division (Mr. Watt) raised the question of import restrictions. I have had to reply to him across the House that, as far as I know, there is no differentiation between one place and another, and I have requested him if he has any specific cases which he can produce to do so, and the matter will be inquired into. We desire that these restrictions, which are necessarily irritating, should operate evenly as between one man and another and one place and another.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
My hon. Friend gave me an answer with regard to the increase in the Board of Trade Estimates a short time ago, but he did not entirely meet my point. He said that there was an item, Italian Bank, amounting to some £50,000—I think myself that it is about £40,000, but I do not want to take a small technical point—which was a new service. There was also £17,000 for certain correspondents, and £8,000 for something else, which made the difference. My hon. Friend has forgotten that my chief point was that the work of the Board of Trade was much less than before, and that, therefore, there ought to be diminution in the old expenditure which ought to have gone to make up the difference, or have made up the difference arising from certain new services. I do not want to go into the question of the Italian Bank. I think that it was a mistake, and I said so at the time. I would like some statement as to the effect produced by these people who are going about at a cost of £17,000, and as to what they have done. I understood that they were to capture trade. I do not believe in a Government Department sending officials out to capture trade. It seems to me only wasting money without doing any good. I would like to know how there has not been a saving in the Vote owing to the fact that certain Departments have been taken away from the Board of Trade and transferred to other Departments?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
My right hon. Friend asks me if I can account for the difference in the figures. Of course I have done so very roughly, I admit, because the Board of Trade Estimates, as he knows, are very large ones, covering a great deal of ground. I quite see the force of the point 641 that he raises, which is a perfectly legitimate point to make. My answer to it is that I think that he very much overestimates the relief in the Estimate that the Board of Trade have had from the creation of the Ministry of Labour. At the time of its inception in its early days the amount, as I understand—I have not got the exact figure in my head—was something under £20,000, which has been transferred from this Vote to the Ministry of Labour, and I think that when my right hon. Friend has detailed estimates at hand, and we come to discuss the Estimates of the Board of Trade as a whole, he may be able to see where the small difference comes in. I confess that I myself have not been through the Board of Trade figures with sufficient exhaustive care to be able to tell him exactly where every small detail of increase comes in, except in regard to these matters of which I have already given him some information.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Am I not right in thinking that the control of food and a great part of the shipping has been taken away from the Board of Trade?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
Services which have arisen directly out of the War are chargeable to the Vote of Credit, and the questions of shipping control and food control do not appear in the Board of Trade Estimates at all.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Undoubtedly the work in connection with the control of shipping was being done by the Board of Trade through certain Committees before the change. Officials of the Board of Trade were employed upon these duties. Now all these duties are transferred to the Shipping Controller and are borne by the Vote of Credit. Why should the Vote for the Board of Trade be increased if the officials who were performing these duties are no longer subject to the Board of Trade? That applies both to shipping and to food. I do not understand why, in these circumstances, the hon. Gentleman should not have insisted on a decrease in the Vote, rather than that his Department should have accepted a vast increase without any inquiry? This illustrated the whole difficulty of the present situation. In ordinary circumstances we have a Financial Secretary of the Treasury whose personal duty it is to examine every Vote and to be responsible to this House for the Votes 642 which he allows to pass? That system no longer prevails. The hon. Gentleman is not Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He undoubtedly does his best to explain these Votes to the Committee, but he tells us that he has not been able to go through the Board of Trade Vote. This illustrates how impossible it is to have any real supervision of Departmental expenditure in this House unless we have the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who is the responsible Minister, in the House itself to explain why he passed the Estimates and to defend them when they come up here. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been able to answer the questions relating to the Board of Trade, and he should be forewarned that when the main Estimates come up his Department should revert to their old functions in the State and really see that the spending Departments do give an account to them of the money expended, which is estimated year by year.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
There surely must be some further explanation to be got, because very many of the Department which the Board of Trade used to have they have no longer. I believe that the Labour functions which used to be performed by the Board of Trade are now performed by the Ministry of Labour. That includes the whole control of the working and of the expenditure in reference to Labour Exchanges. I believe Sir George Askwith's department dealing with conciliation has also been transferred from the Board of Trade to the Ministry of Labour. In addition, the control of shipping, and various departments and officials dealing with that subject, have been taken away from the Board of Trade, and so has the control of food, and it is very remarkable that instead of being less the figures are actually bigger than they were. I think that the Committee is entitled to some better explanation than we have got.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am not altogether satisfied with the explanation, but I do not wish to press the matter now. I will raise it later on. I wish to ask about No. 18.
§ Mr. WATT
I wish to ask a question about No. 12—the Charity Commission. Who represents that Commission in this House at the present time? As I understand the hon. Gentleman who represents the Commission in this House, the Member for Gloucestershire (Major Allen), and why 643 represented it for some months if not for some years, desired to resign in the middle of December, and sent in his resignation, which I believe has been accepted. Yet notwithstanding that fact he is performing the functions and duties of a Minister—that is to say, his signature is constantly being required for official documents and papers, although he sent in his resignation three months ago. I think it is essential that this Commission should have a representative in this House, and it is a most extraordinary condition of affairs that one man should have resigned three months ago, and that no substitute has been found for him during all that time. Are we to understand that this Government—this "do-it-now" Government—is so bankrupt of talent that it cannot get a man to represent the Charity Commissioners? As my hon. and learned Friend near me says, it is perhaps because the office is unpaid, and that therefore the demand for the position is not very widespread. Seriously, however, this is a point which does call for explanation, seeing that the House has no longer here a representative of the Charity Commissioners. I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman will make inquiry in regard to this matter, and give us some information on the point.
§ Mr. BOOTH
Having some interest in the work of the Charity Commissioners, I made inquiry of the hon. Gentleman who was representative of the Commissioners in this House, and he informed me that he did not know what was being done. But we know that a number of Bills were presented by the Charity Commissioners dealing with endowments, some of them with Nonconformist funds, and ten or fifteen of these Bills were blocked by the High Church party in connection with some small Bill for the endowment of an additional bishop. The hon. Member for North Somersetshire acted as the honest broker in these matters, but the House cannot rest satisfied without having here a representative of the Charity Commissioners, and I hope we shall receive some assurance from the hon. Gentleman that some gentleman will be found to fill the position.
§ Mr. KING
In the press of the War the Charity Commission has become more 644 or less defunct. I tried to see whether they could get anything done by way of putting as much of their funds as possible into charitable purposes connected with the War. In view of the circumstances, and seeing that the Charity Commissioners really have nothing to do, I submit that the amount of the Vote ought to be reduced to the least possible figure. I press the point very seriously that the Charity Commissioners are doing practically nothing, and that the amount ought to be reduced to the minimum.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman can give any explanation, or whether we shall have to wait until somebody appointed to his post is in our midst. My hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset has said that the Charity Commissioners have had nothing to do during the War. I should have thought that they could well have applied themselves to a review and examination of all the charities which come under their supervision. It is notorious that there are a large number of trusts whose objects have practically come to an end. The trustees have still very considerable funds at their disposal, and it is obviously the duty of the Charity Commissioners, in time of war, when there is so much need for all the charitable moneys of the country being put to the best use, that they should now, far more than at any other time, make investigations into all these accounts, so as to ascertain whether money is actually lying unused which, as far as possible, could be passed on to more important charities connected with the War. There are claims for charitable purposes in connection with former wars, or in connection with great disasters. There are many cases in which a considerable amount of money still remains, although the benefits of these trusts are gone. Surely these are-cases in which the money might now be very properly diverted to the support of numerous other charities organised for the relief of sufferers in the War. I trust that the representative of the Treasury, who is always very anxious to do what he can, will convey this suggestion to the hon. Member who may be fortunate enough to be selected from the large number of competitors for this unpaid post.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Certainly there is a number of Bills which the Charity Commissioners have to consider.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I suppose the explanation of this absence of the representative of the Charity Commissioners must be that all the capable men of the House of Commons have already been appointed to positions and there is nobody left who is capable to fill this office?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That may be so; but I think the explanation of this absence of a representative is that the Government have appointed all the best men and that there is nobody left to fill this position.
§ Mr. BOOTH
This Vote No. 17 is the most important Vote of the lot, in my opinion, because it refers to the Local Government Board. I want to ask why this great Department should have this enormous increase of expenditure. I do not think the explanation given is at all satisfactory. It used to be the complaint that the Treasury were too fond of economy. What has become of that fondness for economy? Where are the Treasury officials, those diligent custodians of the public funds? There is no sign whatever of them. They allow Department after Department to increase their expenditure. Such a thing would not be tolerated in any business house of the country in time of peace, and certainly should not be allowed in time of war. When such exactions are made, the people are entitled to see that the Departments husband their resources carefully. Lord Rhondda has tabled a scheme and a Bill to take over a branch of the work of the Insurance Commissioners relating to maternity benefits. Why does the Local Government Board think it necessary to put its nose into work under the Insurance Act? Here we have a Department coming before us with a large increase of expenditure, and yet we find them taking over the work connected with maternity benefit, which was one of the most satisfactory Departments of insurance work under the Act. It is to be taken away from those who were administering it satisfactorily. While I think that some parts of the Act might be administered by the Local Government Board, as, 646 for instance, health and the dealing with tuberculosis, with a view to stamping out that disease—a work which is more a health matter than an insurance matter—yet I would point out that the distribution of maternity benefits among the homes of the people is an undertaking that needs organisation, and the organisation which distributes a sickness pay of 10s. a week to men and 7s. 6d. to women is the proper authority to deal with maternity benefits.
Women have been on the sickness side of insurance for a long time before they were entitled to maternity benefit, and the approved societies have had to deal with sickness cases including maternity benefits; but when it comes to maternity cases, which was introduced for the first time under the Insurance Act, the Local Government Board seek to take over that branch. I would like to hear some pronouncement on this subject before it is carried into effect. I have gathered information and facts from the approved societies representing the whole of the 14,000,000 persons concerned, and I can state with regard to this proposal of the Local Government Board that it is one which they will all oppose. And for a very good reason. A large amount of the work of those connected with the societies is disagreeable, but there is no part of the Insurance Act which is more popular than that relating to maternity benefits, in connection with which there is no malingering, no fraud; it is not an award for sickness, it is a payment for health, an award for being in a healthy condition. I do not know why this Bill is to be brought forward. There has been no demand for it. The women do not demand it, and the approved societies who represent the women do not ask for it. Having been all over the country inquiring into this matter, and having gleaned particulars with regard to it, I am in a position to ask that we should receive further information with regard to a scheme which is certainly causing great concern and regret among all those interested. I hope before the Local Government Board takes over the work of another Department and before there is legislation, there will be some conference on the subject, that the views of the people concerned will be ascertained, and that the approved societies will be heard through a deputation. I dare say the Local Government Board have been already approached—in fact, I know they have—but what I am pleading for now is that before any legislation is proposed representatives 647 of the assured persons and the Insurance Commissioners should meet with the Local Government Board, so as to avoid any mistake, and perhaps arrive at a harmonious settlement.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WATT
I think we are indebted to my hon. Friend for having directed attention to this extraordinary increase in the expenditure of this Department in wartime. The expenditure of this Department has increased from £364,000 last year to an estimated expenditure of £667,000, or £300,000 more in time of war. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us some explanation as to this. Was it not the Local Government Department that sent out a circular to every local authority in the country asking it to economise in every form and reduce its expenditure here, there and everywhere? This departure brought pressure to bear on all local authorities to do everything to save money because we were engaged in a war, and a very expensive war, and yet in its own head office in London it has been incurring expenditure to the extent of £300,000 above its normal outgoings. We were told by the hon. Gentleman who represents the Treasury that £200,000 of this excess was due to the cost of the Commission which sat to consider diseases. Surely £200,000 is an extraordinary amount to have spent on any Commission. I hope my right hon. Friend who represents the Department will be able to give us some further information on this point. How was the £200,000 spent? Were the members of the Commission maintained in London all the time the Commission sat? But even that £200,000 does not account for the whole excess; there remains the sum of £100,000 still to be accounted for. Where has that gone?
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY ot the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
I understand that my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury has already explained to the Committee the reasons for the increase in this Estimate. The chief increase is due to the inquiry into venereal diseases, and I hope shortly to submit to the House an outline of the policy which we have already adopted and to state the number of councils, county and borough, which have accepted very large plans in connection with hospitals to be set up for the free treatment of sufferers by this disease, a course' which, if it can once be popu- 648 larised throughout the country, will do very much to stamp out the disease. This is not the time, however, for me to enlarge on that topic, more especially as within probably a week I shall be introducing into this House a Bill dealing with it. With regard to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) I quite thought the House, as a whole, had always been favourable to increased expenditure on matters connected with public health—maternity and children. I do not think my hon. Friend will expect; me to make any pronouncement now as to how far there should be a great Public Health Department which should absorb the work of the Insurance Commission and how7 far the great work connected with the public health of this country should be divided between different bodies which now operate in the same area of control. These are matters of first-class public concern. I know my hon. Friend takes a deep interest in them, and with many of the opinions he has expressed I am in agreement. The time will come, and must come, when one Department or the other must have control over all these matters. This, however, is a controversial question which can hardly be discussed at the present moment. At the proper time, however, I shall be pleased to discuss various questions concerning public health generally, and no doubt opportunities for so doing will arise later in the Session.
§ Mr. D. MASON
I wish to ask a question with regard to a charge of £30,000,000 in connection with the National Debt Office. It refers to the Depreciation Fund of the War Loan. I have given notice to the Treasury that I intended to raise the point, and what I want to know is how and where this charge is to be dealt with. Will it be in the forhcoming Budget or in the Consolidated Fund Bill?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
As my hon. Friend knows, the usual place would be a charge on the Consolidated Fund. As a matter of fact, in view of the special circumstances, it will be dealt with in the forthcoming Finance Bill, and as that will be introduced before long I think the hon. Member may well defer his observations to that occasion.
§ Mr. KING
I see under the head of Secret Service there is an item of £200,000, which it is proposed to spend in the next four months, and, curiously enough, only about £20,000 is provided for the rest of the year, whereas last year we not only 649 had £500,000 put in the Estimate, but £120,000 was voted as well in a Supplementary Estimate. Of course, I am pleased if the present estimate really represents the expediture that is to be incurred in the coming year, and am glad to see a reduction. I have always been a very strong opponent of this way of voting and spending money. I have given attention to this subject for five or six years, and am inclined to continue my efforts, although, of course, no information is ever given in answer to my questions; but I am encouraged to pursue my work by some words uttered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) the other night, when he said:The House of Commons, by not grappling with These questions, and by not following them up with intense attention and even ferocity, is allowing power to slip away from its hands.Whenever, therefore, I see a Secret Service Vote, I feel that we ought to follow it up with intense attention, and even ferocity, so that more power does not slip away from our hands. I hope to convince the Committee that my point of view is correct, and in order to do so I propose to give certain instances of expenditure in connection with Secret Service which have come to my notice. Some of them I am able to vouch for from absolute personal knowledge. Having given so much attention to these matters, and having had my name prominently mentioned in a book published since the commencement of the War—a book, the circulation of which, I believe, ran into a quarter of a million copies, a book, the first chapter of which was devoted to myself in connection with this question—naturally, whenever any matter of Secret Service comes up, the public have got into the way of writing to me, and I have thereby obtained a vast amount of information. An hon. Member asks is it reliable? I would retort, what is reliable in connection with the Secret Service? You are paying vast amounts of money, and you are absolutely uncertain whether you are getting any reliable and valuable results in return.
The first case I will refer to is that of the well-known man Graves, who was a journalist abroad before the War, and was convicted in this country. I am glad to see opposite to me the right hon. Gentleman who, after the present Secretary for Scotland had conducted a prosecution against this man, and asked for an exemplary sentence to be passed because he was a most dangerous person, released 650 the man two months after he had been sentenced to eighteen months' hard labour; and the reason for releasing him was that our own Government had taken him into their employ as a Secret Service agent. The man ran away to America, and when the War began he received money from both the German and the English Governments at the same time.
§ Mr. KING
I am certain of one thing, that the information I have is more reliable than any information the Government ever got from Mr. Graves. That I can say absolutely, and I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman will suggest that I am wrong in that. But let me take another case which the hon. Member can verify; it was one of the cases upon which a question was put by the hon. Member for East Herts (Mr. Billing) at a time when he was not so familiar a figure in this House as he is to-day. The hon. Member asked about a certain man of German descent, who, previous to the War, was carrying on in South America a newspaper subsidised by the English Government. The English Government is subsidising newspapers and, in fact, starting newspapers, nominally neutral, but which are very soon found out to be pro-Ally, and it is doing that at a vast expenditure. I say without hesitation that a vast waste of expenditure is going on in that way, of starting and subsidising newspapers in neutral countries. This was a case on which the hon. Member for East Herts (Mr. Billing) asked a very pertinent question, but, of course, he got no reply. It is no good questioning the Treasury Bench, because they will not answer, and they are incorrigible when you ask them to do away with waste. But if you see mounting up by hundreds and thousands wasteful expenditure of this kind, is it not right to get up and protest that some control of the House of Commons should be introduced?
I will quote another case which I think will certainly be known to some of the Gentlemen now on the Treasury Bench. I refer to the case of a spy condemned by a secret Court in this country during the present War, who had actually been in the pay of our Government and yet was condemned as a foreign spy. What does that point to? It points to the possibility of which, I believe, there are quite a number of cases, of officials in one country taking the pay of secret service from an enemy 651 country. In fact, it is well known that such a case as that has occurred, and I think I can fairly say they have occurred by the dozen in Russia, and a number of very highly paid officials have actually been executed in Russia, and their names in certain cases have appeared in the papers, for receiving pay from the enemy. What may happen in one country may happen in another, and what the clever Germans can do in Russia or here I have no doubt our Government try to do, with very much less success and much greater stupidity, in enemy countries; but my point is this, that if you are spending your money to bribe officials or officers in the enemy's camp you are throwing away your money in a most dangerous, unreliable and wasteful manner. There are some things which in time of war, I suppose, have to be tolerated, which in the ordinary relations of gentlemanly life in time of peace are contemptible, and the profession and employment of a spy is one of them. It may be possible, but I think the very greatest amount of care, and some control at any rate, ought to be put upon this practice, and I wish to protest against the lavish way in which Secret Service money is voted by this House time after time, and the extravagant and useless manner in which it is expended by the Government. I have got some cases here in connection with Japan and China, but I will leave those, because really my experience has brought before me a number of strange stories, but I do not want to overdo my case, and possibly I may have another chance on Report of adding another volume to this story.
I would like to refer, in this connection, to the recent letter I have had the pleasure of seeing from Lord Hardinge. Lord Hardinge's letter, which was read out here in the House the other day, showed one thing very clearly. I will not read it all again. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) gave it to us, and those hon. Members who have not had their attention drawn to it can look up the OFFICIAL REPORT for last Monday, and they will find in column 108 the letter to which I refer. It is perfectly clear from that letter that we employed in Roumania secret agents supplying secret and independent information. That is quite notorious, of course, and I suppose, to a certain extent, in time of war it is more or less inevitable that we should have to get information as rapidly and as fully as 652 possible from unusual sources; but let me say that a gentleman well known to me was approached some time ago—and I can give this from personal knowledge—with a view to his being sent out in the Secret Service to Roumania. Amongst other things that he would have had to do would be to pose either as a soldier or as a naval officer without being either, and various other things were told him in that connection, but eventually, I am glad to say for him and for the country, he did not go. The point is that, under certain circumstances, the Government were ready to send out a man whom I am certain could have been very much better employed by the Government in a more proper way. I know this gentleman as a man of great ability, but I do not hesitate to say that he would have been absolutely wasted and thrown away by being employed upon work which no gentleman ought to be called upon to do.
The matter does not end there. There is a new class of secret agents being employed, and on this I have had a number of cases brought to my notice, of men who pose as business men or travellers for science or for other purposes who are sent out by the Government to acquire information. For this case I can actually vouch. A gentleman was sent out by the Government to a scientific congress in Switzerland, apparently to take part in this congress, but really he was sent out by the Government to get some spy information. I know perfectly well that Mr. Basil Thomson, of the Home Office, sealed up his papers and gave him every facility before he went. I do not know how much money he got, or whether he got any at all, but he got great facilities and advantages through Mr. Basil Thomson for this purpose; yet, when he came back, he told Mr. Thomson he had been unable to get any information at all. The point is this, that you are giving great advantages and probably pay, to certain persons from whom you do not know whether you are going to get any information or any value at all, and in this case the gentleman told me that the information he went out to get he was unable to get, but that he had a pleasant fortnight in Switzerland, and that he had every facility given to him.
Mr. SHIRLEY BENN
On a point of Order, Sir. Is it in order for an hon. Member of this House to make statements I such as the hon. Member has just made, 653 where he has no proof to give, and to circulate a story that may be very injurious to the welfare of our country?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
It is not a matter which I can interfere with. It is a matter for the responsibility and discretion of the hon. Member who is now in possession of the Committee.
§ Mr. KING
I am glad to take the responsibility of what I say, and I may say that I thought over this matter for a long time, and that I look upon public life from so different an angle from the point of view of the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Shirley Benn), and my ideas of public right and wrong, of decency, and of responsibility, too, are so different, that we cannot expect to agree upon them. I am here to protest against this secrecy, this employment of immoral, disreputable, and ungentlemanly means, and if I suffer anything—[An HON. MEMBER: "You would rather lose the War!"]—I would rather lose my seat certainly than fail to protest against a scandal. I said that I should only give cases where I had some knowledge, and of the cases to which I have referred I have absolute personal knowledge. I am going to refer to one more matter in connection with the Secret Service. I am not mentioning half the cases that I could, but I am going to point out this that with the system of Secret Service as we carry it on we duplicate our agencies. There is one agency at the Foreign Office at the present time doing exactly the same work as another agency, quite independent, carried on entirely by the Secret Service. I say without hesitation that these two bodies, both well paid—one on the Estimates, another paid by the Secret Service—are doing exactly the same work with two independent offices, often, I believe, doing it in such a way as to jostle and interfere with one another. That is the natural result of secret service. You put up one set of men in secret to do just the same thing that you have got the ordinary set of men doing in public. Of course it is wasteful, inept extravagant, stupid.
I will not pursue that any more, though I might give actual instances, but I am coming to another branch of the Secret Service, which I am sorry to say has had a very large development during the last few months. I mean the way in which secret agents are employed, not abroad, 654 not to find out facts about the enemy, for which there is a moderate amount of justification, but who are used in our very midst, against our own people, to stir up strife and arouse suspicion. There is a great amount of this at the present time, and since I spoke upon this and protested against it a month or two ago in this House I have had a considerable number of letters on the subject. I have had people approach me personally, and I have had cases brought to my knowledge which I have inquired into myself, and I am able to say that at the present time there are quite a large number of men of military age, some of whom are trained men who have been let out of the Army, who are employed as police spies. A number of them are set to watch, and, if possible, to inveigle conscientious objectors into some breach of the law. All I can say about that is that if we are going to add another stupidity to the way in which the conscientious objector question has been handled in this House it is a very great pity, because it means more waste, suspicion, and incapacity. I myself wish emphatically to protest against the way in which conscientious objectors are subjected now to inquiries and temptations on the part of police spies. The system of secret police and police spies is, of course, a common one in certain countries. It has been a common one for generations in Russia. It has been a common one for many years in France, and it has given rise to a word in France, the term mouchard, which is a well-known term of reproach and a common word in abusive parleyings. I do not want to see, as a result of the War, any corresponding word come into the English language. Yet when I see and hear what I do see and hear, I am afraid that may be the case.
I would also refer to the fact of a very well-known educationist in London, a lady who was a prominent member of the London School Board some years ago. Since the London School Board was abolished she has acted in the cause of international education. It was her idea that if we could educate the men of France, England, Germany, and Russia together by an interchange of educational facilities, those concerned would understand each other better, and there would be better international relationships. During the last ten years that lady had been brought into close touch with a number of foreigners, and her sympathies and relationship with foreigners has 655 brought her under the suspicion of the secret police. For some time she observed that her letters were delayed or opened. For some time she found that she was actually being spied upon in the street. Suddenly, one day, she was arrested in the street, and kept in custody for thirty hours while a raid was perpetrated on her house.
§ Mr. KING
With the result that this poor woman was hounded about—well, I will not say hounded about, but smelt out by police spies. I give another case. In certain munition works there have been difficulties discontent, and danger of strikes. Lately it has been the custom of the Ministry of Munitions and the Government to introduce men, presumably as badged workers to work, who were really there to spy out what was the feeling of the men, and even to foment and exaggerate the ill-will and discontent; then, having got evidence against men in that way—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
That question is in the Department of the Ministry of Munitions, and not relevant to this Vote.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I would remind the hon. Member that I have twice, within two minutes, called him to order for irrelevance.
§ Mr. KING
I am very much obliged, Mr. Maclean, for your warning to me. I shall now very quickly bring my remarks to a close, not because I am at a loss for a subject, but because I do not wish to press unduly upon the time of the Committee. I think, however, I have really said enough to show my point of view, and to show what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee called "intense attention" given to a point of view. I will only add this: That I have had during the last few days letters first, and then calls, from no less than three foreigners, who have all been the subject of domiciliary visits. On each of these persons having requested some paper or sign from the persons visiting they have been refused any paper or authority. That is, I be- 656 lieve, because these people visiting have been police spies, without any legal authority.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Under this Vote for Secret Service I think all Secret Service payments are made. Unless we get a declaration that it is not so, we are, I think, entitled to discuss the whole system of Secret Service. I am not going to follow my hon. Friend either in the very wide field that he has tried to cover or the type of cases he has brought forward. I would like to ask the hon. Member opposite who is in charge of this Vote whether he could not draw the line, so to speak, with those of us who have certain information on this subject, the conclusion of which is that he is not getting value for his money?
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I want to put it in a somewhat different form. I have nothing to do with any experience of foreign service. We are at war, and the nation, and the parties concerned, are entitled to get all the information they can through the ordinary channels. But I have got in my mind a branch of the service which is much more serious than that. It is where you are getting numbers of Secret Service spies reporting that certain persons say or do this, that, or the other. I have had several cases brought to my attention. I had one case the other day from a committee, a case of an absolutely grotesque and unreasonable character, that of a spy reporting upon a man of very great honour and worth. These men have got to earn their money, and unless they produce sensational statements—I say nine eases out of ten are absolute lies, exaggerations, and misrepresentations they are not acceptable to the Department that employs them. That is one type. I hope the Government is not going to start that method in this country. I hope, in so far as it has been resorted to up till now, that the Government will stop it.
There is another type of case, mentioned by my hon. Friend when he was called to order. It comes under this Vote. We know, as a matter of fact—and I will only give one case—that some of the Clyde trouble—I say "some"—was the result of these agents; men who go about palming 657 themselves off as men with a lot of wild ideas; revolutionaries of this and that kind. It is discovered later that they are really agents receiving pay from the funds that we are voting now. I hope the Government will be more careful about this matter. There is another type of case—that of the ordinary agent provocateur who goes to innocent people who are either spotted by the Departments or whom the Departments want to hunt down and the agents themselves know about. They pretend they are friends, they insinuate themselves into the confidence of these people; they begin to hint of crime and breaches of the Defence of the Realm Act, and so on. They have a plan in their minds all the time. They are not helping the country. They are not assisting the War. They press and press, and ask for interviews and letters. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to attend to what I am saying, for this is a very serious matter, and it relates to the expenditure of public money. I was saying that these people write letters, and if these letters are not replied to they use the telephone. I think the hon. Gentleman will see that cases of this sort have nothing whatever to do with some of the cases raised by my hon. Friend beside me.
These people, I was saying, use the telephone again and again, and if they are told you are out they still hang on to your coat-tails until they manage to see you. They make their proposals. They palm themselves off as innocent persons. If you are wise enough, you put secret service men of your own upon them, and then you discover the nature of the people with whom you have been dealing. What I narrate is being done now. Really it is too bad that any Government Department should countenance this sort of thing. That is the type of case I want to raise this evening. I want to ask the hon. Gentleman if he will not associate himself with us in this respect, and say that Secret Service money must really be spent in the interests of the State, and not for the purpose of marking down men and women who have no intention whatever to commit crime, but who inadvertently, and without thinking, say, perhaps, what they ought not, and without knowing to whom they are speaking—unless they have a tremendous amount of suspicion in their nature—as, I am glad to say, I have. These people go and got these things 658 done, and all the time they are agents of some department of the Secret Service. I am not going to say anything about the foreign service. That is not my concern. I know that must be done, and it cannot always be done with clean hands. These other things, however, ought to be stopped. They are unworthy of the Departments concerned. I am perfectly certain that by the check of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury upon this expenditure the hon. Gentleman can and ought to do his best to relieve the country of the danger of agents-prococateur who make their money by the manufacture of crime.
I want to raise a point on No. 28, the item for the Office of the Secretary for Scotland, because I think this is an appropriate moment for me to place before my right hon. friend a case which is rather difficult to discuss in question and answer at Question Time, and yet does really need clearing up. I refer to the large enterprise in the Rosyth area, a district with which I am closely connected, adjoining my Constituency. That area, which has been taken into the boundary of the borough of Dunfermline, is gradually developing into a very large naval base, as the Committee knows, but there has been considerable delay in getting forward with the town-planning scheme. The borough of Dunfermline, some years ago, got Parliamentary sanction for the extension of the borough boundaries to include this vast area, which makes Dunfermline now the third largest town in Scotland, and this vast enterprise has been undertaken by Dunfermline with a great amount of public spirit, but it is undoubtedly a business in which they require great help from the various Departments concerned, and I rather regret to say that, during the last few years, they have had to fight their battles somewhat alone and have not had the support which might have, been expected from the Scottish Office and from the Admiralty. As time has gone on the thing has hung fire. Meanwhile the Admiralty part of Rosyth has developed very rapidly. Everything that concerns the naval base itself has gone forward, and, as we know, Rosyth itself is being used at present, and is of considerable service from the naval point of view. But it is obvious that, if this area is really developed properly you must have housing accommodation for the people who are 659 employed there and who are going there in increasing numbers. It is a vast enterprise. What were, when I first went to my Constituency, ploughed fields and meadows, have rapidly developed into a town, which eventually will be probably a town of very first-class importance. What has taken place is that the borough of Dunfermline has had slowly to work its way with a town-planning scheme, which it drew up with considerable care and at great expense and for which it really received no advice or assistance till the scheme was finished, and then certain corrections were made in it. In the course of events, the proper procedure would be to submit this scheme to the authorities. This was done a considerable time ago, and it has been found that the sanction to the scheme is not yet forthcoming. The Town Council of Dunfermline are concerned, because it means that this scheme is held up. It means also that there may be considerable difficulty with the tramway company in laying the fresh lines, which, no doubt, they will want to lay down the road. Unless the scheme as a whole is adhered to, confusion will arise and there will be more delay.
What I want to ask my right hon. Friend is this definite point. They have waited for a long time patiently. They have made certain protests at the delay, first of all through my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife and then through myself. Recently I had occasion to see the Secretary for Scotland himself, and I know he is entirely sympathetic in the matter, and desires that there shall be no undue delay, but he fears that in present circumstances, and with the great stress under which the Government Departments are working, no hope can be held out of this proposal being sanctioned for the present. That is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, and it seems to me that the sanctioning of this proposal, after the various legal points have been examined, and the technical points with regard to the actual town planning have been looked into, cannot be a matter which should take up so much time, and I really would ask my right hon. Friend whether this evening he cannot give me some assurance that a time will be fixed by the Scottish Department concerned to indicate when their sanction can be given. So far as the question of the tramway company is concerned, I have no doubt that can be got over by compromise with the authorities inter- 660 ested, and the Dunfermline Town Council are quite ready to help in the matter, and to see that no confusion arises from any breaking-up of their original scheme; but, while that difficulty can be tided over for the moment, they do not want to think that the scheme itself will be indefinitely postponed, because their desire is that immediately the War terminates, they should set to work at once on building. It will be a most useful method of employing an enormous number of builders and carpenters and workers in the allied trades, and it is of great necessity that it should be in working order, sanctioned, approved, and set on foot directly the War is over. I would remind my right hon. Friend that, even after the sanction of the Department is given to the scheme, some months have to elapse in which other formalities have to be gone through before the work can be commenced. Therefore, although it may seem a small matter, rather large issues depend on it, and I feel justified in bringing this matter forward on behalf of the Town Council of Dunfermline, who have acted in such a public-spirited way throughout the whole of this enterprise, and who deserve, not only encouragement but support from the Scottish Office now.
§ Mr. WATT
Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, I would like to make a few observations on the office of Secretary for Scotland. The note I desire to strike is that of regret that an advocate holds now the position of Secretary for Scotland. I need hardly say this is not a personal matter, and that I have not the slightest objection, but quite the contrary, to my right hon. Friend holding the office. Indeed, his self-sacrifice in so doing has been most marked. He has sacrificed remuneration for the sake of his country, and has sacrificed in other ways, and no member of the Bar from one end—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I understand the hon. and learned Member is now discussing the personal qualifications of the Secretary for Scotland. That is not in order. He may discuss the administration of the office by the right hon. Gentleman, but not his personal qualifications.
§ Mr. WATT
I am sorry you have just called me to order, Mr. Maclean, as, having said the bad things, I am precluded from saying the good things. But what I was going on to say—and I hope this is in order—was that Scotland had been governed for 200 years by a Lord Advocate, a member of the Scottish Bar. The disadvantages of having a lawyer ruling Scotland have been historical, and are well known, and it was because of that fact, and because of the disadvantages of having a lawyer at the head of affairs in Scotland, that the Secretaryship for Scotland was instituted about thirty or forty years ago. That post of Secretary for Scotland is—
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. Munro)
With regard to what my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby) has said, I wish to say that I make no complaint at all either with regard to his raising the question at this time, or with regard to the manner in which he has raised it. His complaint really amounts to this, that the town-planning scheme of Dunfermline has been before the Local Government Board in Scotland for some time, and has not yet been approved. Now the reasons for that state of matters—and I am far from admitting that there has been any undue delay in the circumstances on the part of the Board—can be stated in a sentence. It is due, in the first place, to the complexity of the scheme which is before the Board, and it is due, in the second place, to the depleted staff with which the Board has now to conduct its work. As regards the complexity of the scheme, I noticed my hon. Friend described it truly as a vast scheme. That is a quite accurate description of the scheme. It is complex in itself, and it affects a very large number of different interests, and it is a scheme which it would be folly in the circumstances for any public board to approve of without exploring fully the various avenues into which it leads. But apart from that consideration altogether, I want the Committee to realise the conditions under which this Board is conducting its work at the present time. Owing to the patriotism of its staff, not differing in that particular from many 662 other Boards which we know; it is conducting its work under grave disadvantage. Many of its members are not available for their ordinary work, and, in addition to that, the Board has cast upon it in consequence of the War a large quantity of work which it did not have to undertake at all before the War. It is well known in Scotland, and my hon. Friend knows it quite well I think, that the Board is doing a vast amount of work both for the Munitions Department and for the Admiralty in the way of superintending buildings for those two great Departments. That is war work of the most urgent character, and, much as I respect the Dunfermline scheme, I have no hesitation in saying that, comparing the urgency of these two particular forms of work, there is no doubt that the war work is the more urgent of the two. With its depleted staff the Board is struggling with that work. My hon. Friend must by no means suppose that there will be anything in the way of avoidable delay in approving this scheme. I have urged upon the Board that all expedition possible shall be employed, and I have had a letter in reply assuring me that this will be done. I cannot possibly give any undertaking as to a day or week or month by which this scheme will be approved for the reasons which I have already given my hon. Friend, but he may take it from me that the description he gave that there is no hope held out of sanctioning this scheme is not really warranted by the circumstances. He may rest assured that the importance of the scheme is realised by the Board, and that all possible expedition will be exercised. With regard to the observations of my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Watt), as they were ruled out of order, I presume it would out of order for me to reply to them.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give some assurance that within so many months the scheme will be approved, because it has been before the Board for some considerable time?
§ Mr. MUNRO
I have asked the Board whether an undertaking with regard to a specific date could be given, and I am told that in the circumstances it is impossible to mention a particular date by which the scheme will be approved. I cannot go further than I have already done, and I repeat the assurance that there will be no avoidable delay.
§ Mr. KING
I want to call attention to Class III., Votes 8, 9, and 10. These are the Votes dealing with prisons, reformatories, industrial schools, and lunatic asylums. I think we ought to have some explanations of these items because undoubtedly, at the present time, these institutions are being used for very different purposes than their ordinary use. Take for example Wormwood Scrubbs. That is now full of conscientious objectors, and I am told that they are nearly all Quakers, and they say there never was such a large Quakers' meeting in any-country as is now held weekly in Wormwood Scrubbs. I should like a little information on this point. I want to know what use is being made of these prisons for war purposes, and whether any of them are being used as hospitals. There has been a good deal of disquiet and discontent in connecting these lunatic asylums with the nerve shaken men. Why should they be sent to the asylums, because that is against the distinct pledge given by the Government that they would not be sent there, especially in cases where a cure may be quickly affected. This is felt to be a distinct hardship, and even a slight upon those men. I hope some member of the Government will give an explanation on this point.
§ Mr. WATT
The subject I wish to call attention to is one which I raised to-day by question and answer. It is whether the Senators of the College of Justice in Scotland and other judges, such as sheriffs, should be permitted to occupy positions as directors in various trade concerns. It will be seen that that is an evil which Scotland suffers under because these particular trading companies in which the judges are interested are occasionally litigants, and they come before the judges in the Court of Session, and they are actually directors of the various concerns in which they are called upon to adjudicate. It may be that such an instance has not recently arisen, but if one searches the Law Reports one will find that these judges have been in the Law Courts during the hearing of such cases. There are three or four judges who are directors of various banks in Scotland. We all know that the banking business is such that they are constantly litigants in the Court of Session, and the judges who sit upon these cases are actually in the position of being directors of the concern which may be one of the litigants. That is not a satisfactory state of matters, and if my right hon. Friend were to bring 664 pressure to bear upon the judges they would see that it was incumbent upon them that they should be absolutely unbiassed in any case that comes before them. The purity of the administration of justice which Scotland and this country has been celebrated for during centuries should not be impugned in any way. It may be that the judges can rise against any partisanship in dealing with those cases, but the effect on the public- mind is such that the public are under the impression that it is beyond human possibility to be unbiassed in such a case, and the losing litigant in a case of that kind against a bank will certainly say that the judge had a predilection against him.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I cannot see how far the hon. Member's remark, although made generally, could be applied to specific cases of particular subjects. It seems to me that the hon. Member's later references amount to an identification of certain judges, and there is a well-known rule of Parliament that the only way in which the conduct of judges can be attacked is by putting down a Motion for discussion in the ordinary way. I do not think that I can allow the hon. Member to pursue his remarks any further on this subject.
§ Mr. WATT
Then I will leave that subject and make a few observations on a second point, which is the advisability of the Law Courts being shut up entirely during the war period. I believe it is considered advisable so to do. The public spirited men connected with the Court and the advocates at the Bar have gone forward to serve the nation in various avocations, and their business has been taken up by the less patriotic section who are left. Whether the whole machinery of this great work in Edinburgh should be preserved and continued at such great expense when the Law Courts have so little litigation to deal with is a matter for my right hon. Friend to consider. I know it is freely mooted in Edinburgh that such an idea ought to come to fruition, and, of course, it would remain in the jurisdiction of my right hon. Friend to say whether the Law Courts should be discontinued or not, arrangements being made for Special Courts to be held.
§ Mr. MILLAR
The hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Watt) has raised a point of very great delicacy in his concluding remarks. I would suggest that in a matter 665 of this kind we may very well trust to the public spirit of the judges in Scotland and the distinguished President to consider the situation which may have arisen in Scotland on account of the War. I am perfectly certain that apart from their judicial duties they have each and all been engaged in important work connected with the War; and I think I may say with equal confidence that the members of the Scottish Bar have shown their great desire to associate themselves with war activities, and those who have been long on the floor of Parliament House pursuing their avocations have also been engaged in arduous work in connection with work outside the duties which they are still fulfilling in the Law Courts. The suggestion that the Courts should be altogether closed is one which I think would raise very great difficulties indeed, because there are important questions which require to be considered even during war-time in the Courts—matters which would involve very serious prejudice if they were not dealt with by a decision of the Court. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland will agree with me when I say that in a matter of this kind we may safely trust to the good feeling of the Senators of the College of Justice and other judges to take a course which is most consistent with the interests of the country at the present momemt, and I think this matter might very safely be left in their hands.
§ Mr. MUNRO
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the College Division (Mr. Watt) has raised two points. The first of these is with regard to the Scottish judges, and their alleged connection with banks and bankers. My hon. and learned Friend was really on the horns of a dilemma in this matter, if I may say so, because he either had to make his charges so vague and so general that one could not deal effectively with them in replying, for want of information supplied by him, or his charges had to be so distinct that they could only be raised in the manner in which you, Mr. Maclean, pointed out to my learned Friend. He has made in consequence of your ruling no specific charge, so far as I have heard, against any judge, and, therefore, I am absolved from replying on that particular point. But he made one or two general allegations with regard to judges, in the past rather than in the present, as I understood him, being directors of banks. 666 So far as I know, in Scotland the only directorships in banks which are held by a judge of the Court of Session are extraordinary directorships - purely ornamental posts carrying no remuneration, and not interfering in the slightest degree, so far as my judgment goes, with the performance of their judicial duties. Some judges may chance to be shareholders in banks, and if any case in which a judge is a shareholder comes before the Court he announces that fact, and in nine cases out of ten—I think I should be correct in saying in every case—a minute is put in by the parties, so convinced are they of the purity of the judiciary, in which they agree that, notwithstanding the fact that the judge is a shareholder in the company, he should try the case.
§ Mr. MUNRO
There is no pressure and no evil, so far as I can see, in that system. That being the only charge remaining of those made by my hon. and learned Friend, I think it has been answered. The other matter touched upon was of quite a different character. He asked, "Why do you not shut up the Courts in war-time?" That strikes me as a somewhat extreme-proposition on the statement of it. I welcome the opportunity of saying that I know of no part of the United Kingdom in which more patriotism has been shown than on the floor of the Parliament House in Edinburgh. The number of members of the Scottish Bar who are serving their country in one way or another is enormous in proportion to those at the Bar, and I do not exclude from my observations the other branches of the legal profession. But when it comes to a question of shutting up the Law Courts, one must go warily. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Millar) that there are important cases which ought to be tried in war-time, and I think it would be a misfortune if they could not be tried in the Supreme Court. Apart from that, however, there is this consideration. I have not any power in the matter, and I do not think anybody has any power in the matter under existing conditions. In other words, apart from legislation—and here, perhaps, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the College Division managed to evade the observation of the Chair on this occasion—I do not think it would be competent to close the Law Courts, and 667 I suppose legislation is a subject which you. Mr. Maclean, would not permit me or my hon. and learned Friend to discuss on this Vote. Accordingly, on the ground, first of all, that I do not think it would be judicious to close the judiciary in war time, and that even if it were desirable—which I do not admit and am disposed to deny—it could not be done without legislation, I apprehend that no further answer need be given to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the College Division on that point either.
§ Mr. CURRIE
I do not think the observations which fell from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary for Scotland entirely exhausted the point touched upon by the hon. and learned Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Mr. Watt). Personally, I wish to place on record my own view that judges of the Court of Session should not be allowed to occupy paid directorships in commercial companies. I do not wish to refer to any particular case, nor do I know what case—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I do not think this can be pursued because the hon. Member, by mentioning judges of a certain status, clearly pointed to the judges whom he means, and it cannot be raised. The only thing to do is to keep off the subject altogether. There is no doubt about that. As soon as that is not done, we trench upon a Rule of the House, and I think a very sound rule, which has been in existence for centuries, that the only way of criticising or attacking the conduct of judges is by a motion placed on the Order Paper of the House and a discussion taken I on that.
§ Mr. WATT
On a point of Order. I asked a question to-day as to whether these gentlemen were whole-time servants of the Crown or not, and that question was permitted to pass Mr. Speaker. If my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Currie) takes that line, as to whether judges are whole-time servants of the Crown, will he be allowed to proceed?
§ Mr. CURRIE
On the point of Order. I should like to say that nothing was further from my intention than to offer any criticism of any judge, but I did wish to be allowed to offer an observation on the 668 very matter which had fallen from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary for Scotland.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I had grave doubts as to whether I ought to have allowed the hon. Member for the College Division (Mr. Watt) to go as far as he did but I wished to see what his point really was, and then I ruled him out of order. I must very strongly uphold the rule that the only way in which to discuss the conduct of a judge is by putting a Motion down on the Order Paper of the House. I think the subject had now better be dropped.
§ Mr. CURRIE
I do not wish to discuss the conduct of a judge, and I will not pursue the matter any further.
§ [Mr. RAWLINSON in the Chair.]
§ Mr. KING
On Class IV., Votes 1 and 8, I wish to offer some very brief observations. The Minister for Education was in the House a very few moments ago, and I am extremely disappointed that he-has left. I observe one fact about this Vote 1 in Class IV., namely, that again the Estimate for the Board of Educations is to be reduced. I am sure that you, Mr. Rawlinson, as representing a great seat of learning, will sympathise with me, and regret that that has been found necessary. At the present time we are told that the Board of Education has great schemes for the development and improvement of education, for setting things right that have been wrong for years, and that all this will need a great deal of money. Then we look at the Estimates for the year, and we find that less money is to be spent even than last year. That does not look as if reforms were coming speedily to issue. There are thousands, tens of thousands of teachers at the present time who had inadequate salaries before the War started and who have received no war bonus in spite of the immense cost of living. If there is one class in the community which has suffered from the rise in the cost of living more than any other it is the teacher class, and they ought to have some help from the Board of Education. Moreover, the local authorities have recently been pressing the Board, but there has been no definite answer given, "Yes" or "No," to give additional Grants in order that the teachers' salaries of these low-paid men may be raised. It is quite impossible that that can be done if we are going to have a reduced Estimate. I 669 shall not pursue the subject further now, but I could not let the matter pass without a strong protest. In Vote 8 I notice there is an increase of about a million for science, industrial research and other matters. That, I think, calls for some slight explanation, and I hope the Government will at any rate give some answer to the points I have raised.
§ Mr. WING
I desire to raise a matter of some importance in connection with old age pensions under Vote 7. Recently the hon. Gentleman who represents the Treasury (Mr. Baldwin) has given some generous replies to questions that have been put to him in relation to increased payment promised to old age pensioners. But the administration is not as generous as the replies. The pension officers, I have no doubt, have rules and regulations, and I can assure the hon. Member they interpret them with exceeding accuracy and very seldom seem to lean towards the recipients. There have been many disputes between old age pension committees and pension officers as to the interpretation of income and balances arising from certain sources. For instance, a pension officer asks, "What have you coming in from your friends during the year," and puts down a certain amount. If the applicant has a little money in the savings bank, that goes down. Some of the disputes have been referred to the Local Government Board for decision. In a recent case in Scotland the committee and the pension officer disputed certain decisions, and a special investigator went down from Edinburgh to see if he could find out any additional income to that already disclosed. The only additional disclosure was that the pensioner kept six fowls, which was estimated to come to 3d. per week. In one of the replies to which I have referred the hon. Member said that any amount of money given at the present time by an employer or a society up to 5s. would not count against the recipient in these strenuous times. The other morning I had no less than seven cases brought to my attention where employers gave 2s. a week as a kind of war bonus, and that was taken into account and affected pensions to the extent of 2s., and in some cases 3s. and 4s. per week. That is entirely foreign to the interpretation I understood to be given by the hon. Member.
670 I can easily understand that these things may have happened just on the verge of the decision given by the Treasury. I would ask the Treasury to be good enough to issue instructions in every one of those cases, so that the old age pensioner can I make a fresh application, so that the 2s. or 2s. 6d. given by the employer or association shall not count against the pensioner and operate towards the reduction of the pension. Employers and societies naturally say that while they thought they were giving the old age pensioner an additional half-crown per week they were in reality contributing that amount to the Treasury. I readily admit that there has been a great extension on the part of the Treasury with regard to old age pensions. There are thousands of people who are enjoying the increased half-crown, and large numbers who are now earning additional money and receiving Army allowances. I fully acknowledge the advantage which is thereby conferred, but I do ask that the Treasury should concede what has been asked for ever since concessions were first mooted—namely, the giving of the extra half-crown to every old age pensioner who is not benefited by the forementioned concessions. Every person in receipt of an old age pension has had to undergo a most exacting examination, and that should suffice as a preliminary to the giving of the extra half-crown, since the cost of living has been equally severe on them all. By doing so they would simplify matters and save a great deal of friction between Departments and the pension officer and the committee. I feel certain that the State will not be much the loser by such a concession being granted. All classes in the community-are in favour of this request, including churches of all denominations, friendly societies, and trade societies. On the 24th of last month a conference was held in Newcastle, directly representative of 10,000,000 of people, and it was the opinion of that conference that we should not let the old age pensioner be a sufferer. The Treasury have not begrudged large increases in almost every Department, and I am sure that the country would strongly approve, if the hon. Gentleman were to get up and say that the Treasury, after investigation, have come to the conclusion that a case has been made out for this claim. The Leader of the House said the other day that the Treasury were as sympathetic towards the old age pen- 671 sioner as those who were putting questions. I ask that that sympathy and generosity should be interpreted by the payment of the extra half-crown to all who may ask for it and not benefited otherwise. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would be doing an act which would be commended by all the people if he were to make this concession, and an act which would not only be worthy of himself and of the Treasury, but which would be welcomed by the thousands of old age pensioners who very badly need it.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I should like to associate myself with what the last speaker has just said in pleading for a most generous interpretation of the administration of this reform. A considerable amount of money is spent in investigation and discrimination which might far better be spent upon the old people themselves. In other directions the Government is pretty reckless in the expenditure of money. We never wake up in the morning in these days without finding that some new Controller has been appointed, who is gathering a big staff round him, all of them being paid. But when it comes to these old people we find the utmost difficulty in securing even the slightest increase in the most inadequate income which they now receive. In many cases the pensions committee would like to do the more generous thing, because they themselves are brought face to face with the human facts in regard to the particular case, but the pensions officer seems very often to take a very strict and official view of his duties—what seems to me to be almost too cold blooded a view of the facts. There is no doubt at all that many of these people today are suffering very real hardship. Indeed, life for many of them is almost a long drawn-out starvation. People to-day in receipt of good incomes are finding it difficult to get along with the rise in the cost of living, and how some of these people getting 8s., 9s., or 10s. a week are managing to live at all heaven knows! The Government ought to do the best they possibly can for them.
Do not forget that the poorer people are, the larger the proportion of their income they have to spend on food. When food prices are high—they are nearly 100 per cent. above what they were in prewar times—the burden laid upon them must be grievous and terrible. I am sure it is one which is brought home to and claims the thought and consideration of 672 Members in every part of the Committee, irrespective of party. Because of that I should like to see something done. The Treasury might try to see whether the time has not arrived when it might make the increase all round, if it possibly can be done. Many of these people are too old to be able to earn anything for themselves. There is no doubt at all that some who have been old age pensioners are driven into pauperism. I believe the cost of the administration of pauper relief will be far heavier than if they were given a shilling or two shillings extra a week. I know that some of these people are brought down to a diet to-day far lower than any conceivable diet for any prison or workhouse. I was speaking the other day to a pensions officer, who told me of the actual facts brought before him, and who said that one old woman over seventy years of age had been living on nothing except a certain kind of prepared oats. She had oats for breakfast, oats for dinner, and oats for supper, until she hated the very sight of the box in which those oats were packed, so monotonous had the diet become. In many cases the people who used to help them by giving them an extra shilling or two a week are now serving with the Colours. Some of the grandchildren are now serving with the Colours. In view of these facts, I associate myself with the plea that the Government should give the most generous consideration to this matter and see whether the 2s. 6d., which is not at all an extravagant amount, cannot be extended all round, so that something shall be done to meet the very heavy rise in the cost of living.
§ Mr. CURRIE
The hardships which some old age pensioners have suffered are a matter of common knowledge. There is a good deal of what my hon. Friends have said with which I am in sympathy. With some of the modifications they have in view, into which I do not wish to enter, I am more or less in agreement. But I do not think I can go so far as to associate myself with any suggestion that the establishment of old age pensions was ever intended by this House to carry to these poor people an assurance that their future would be free from all financial anxiety. The sound view is that it was a substantial indemnity to help them in their troubles, but no more than that. Nor can I quite agree with my hon. Friend who is a little inclined to criticise the officials who administer old age pensions 673 for their exceeding accuracy, because it is the duty of those officials to guard the public purse against claims which will not stand investigation. The fact that few claims of that kind are put forward is a perfectly good voucher to them for exercising scrutiny over all claims. The real course of wisdom in this matter is to consider whether the age at which old age pensions at present begin to run could not be reduced. That is a matter of policy into which I cannot enter now, but if such a step were taken, together with modifications in the administration of National Health Insurance, I believe that a great many of these difficulties would not arise, and, if they did not arise, they would not be sources of trouble to all concerned.
§ Mr. KING
Having taken a great deal of interest in this movement, and gone personally into quite a number of cases of old age pensioners who have been refused the full increase, I should like to add my voice to the appeal made by hon. Members to the Treasury to give as generous an interpretation as they can in this matter.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
The subject which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Wing) and the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division (Mr. Anderson) is one in which they have been particularly interested for some time past. They have asked many questions upon it, and they were quite right to raise it upon this occasion. In regard to what the hon. Members said about administration, of course, in the administration of so large a matter as this you sometimes get little differences in practice and possibly sometimes get it administered with a little more sympathy in one district than in another. I am quite sure that the officials who administer this service do so, on the whole, with tact and sympathy. It is an office on their part which needs a great deal of both for its effective performance. But when we come to the specific point raised, Can the Treasury see its way to give the half-crown to everybody? I say with great regret that I do not think they can recede from the position taken up in recent answers to questions. If I may elaborate those replies in a few words, the position seems to me to be this: The late Government, recognising the justice of the claim that something should be done, agreed that to meet special cases of hardship an extra allowance up to half a 674 crown might be given, and I think, when they decided on giving the extra half-crown as a maximum with this limitation, that it should be given to meet cases of hardship, they had in their mind that the general need throughout the country for all old age pensioners to receive the increased allowance had not been made out to their satisfaction, and they thought that the Regulations they introduced at the end of the time would fairly meet the necessities of the case. The feeling of the Government to-day, so far as I have the right to speak for it, is that this scheme, prepared by the late Government, has worked, on the whole, satisfactorily, and that it is too soon yet, unless a much stronger case can be made out than has been made out, to revise these terms, and, after all, I think the Committee must bear in mind that to make what looks like a slight concession which the hon. Member has asked for and an object for which we all of us have sympathy, would mean an extra payment for the year of about £3,000,000.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
That is quite true. But we have, after all, to do what is a very difficult thing. We have, where we can, to oppose expenditure for which, in our opinion, a complete case has not been made out. The country is spending at such a rate now in every direction that people get in the way of thinking that one or two or three millions is nothing. But here we do feel that we are justified in maintaining the position that we have taken up since this increase was allowed, and in adhering to the terms upon which this grant was made by the late Government, and until we are convinced more than we are now of the necessity existing throughout the country we shall maintain the position that we have taken up.
§ Question put, and agreed to.