HC Deb 14 November 1917 vol 99 cc421-36
The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law):

I beg to move "That the Resolution relative to Air Force [Salaries and Remuneration] may be considered this day as soon as it is reported from the Committee, notwithstanding the practice of the House relating to the interval between the Report and Consideration of such a Resolution."

It may be desirable that I should explain the reason for this Motion. Owing to there not being a quorum two nights ago this Financial Resolution could not be carried. I understand there is no opposition in any quarter of the House to it. If, as I hope, the Committee stage and Third Reading of the Bill are concluded to-night it will not be necessary to sit on Friday. On the other hand, we shall have to have a Friday Sitting if they are not obtained.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys to be provided by Parliament of Salaries and Remuneration payable under any Act of the present Session to make provision for the establishment, administration, and discipline of an Air Force, the establishment of an Air Council, and for purposes connected therewith."—[Major Baird.]

4.0 P.M.


As the House has given the Government an opportunity of passing this Financial Resolution through both its stages this afternoon, I think the Committee is entitled to have some explanation of the financial charges which are likely to fall upon the country as the result of this measure. In particular the Committee should be interested in the salaries which are to be payable. We were told on the Second Reading of the Bill that the Minister in charge of the Department was to be raised to the status of Secretary of State, and certain technical reasons were put forward for this change. But it is the duty of the Committee to observe that a change of this kind means a considerable increase in the salaries of the Ministers themselves. At present the President of the Air Board is entitled to a salary of £2,000, although I do not think he draws it, and the Secretary of the Air Board, on the usual scale, is entitled to a salary of £1,200. But if we make the President of the Air Council a Secretary of State he immediately becomes entitled to a salary of £5,000, and the Under-Secretary is correspondingly raised in the scale to £1,500. When a change of that kind is made, we should not be satisfied with the explanation given by the hon. Gentleman, but should ask for something more substantial as a reason for this additional charge upon the revenue. I do not know whether this increase in salary is due to the personnel of the new President of the Air Council. That is a matter upon which we should receive some information before we part entirely with the Bill. Is the increase in the salary due not to this technical question which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, which could easily be got over, but to the fact that a very important person is to be made President of the Air Council, and that it is necessary that he should be appointed to an office of not less dignity than that equivalent to a Secretary of State? If it is a matter of personal consideration of this kind and of personal dignity and of the status attaching to the office, the Committee should hesitate to assent to this increase in the salary. We have heard statements made that the new Air Minister is to be no less a person than Lord Northcliffe. If that is so, it is perfectly natural that he should desire to be made a Secretary of State, because nothing less is in accordance with his merits and authority in the country, but a lesser person might be satisfied with a position of less consideration and less dignity. Under these circumstances, I think it would be well if the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill enlightened the Committee so that we might be informed upon matters which lead to this increase in public expenditure.


I cannot add very much to what I said on the Second Reading Debate. It is not a question of the personality of the Minister. So far as I am aware a choice has not been made. At any rate, I have heard nothing about it. The whole question is one of status. For the reason which I gave during the Second Reading Debate, it appears desirable to raise the political head of the new Air Board to the status of the political head of the Army and the political head of the Navy. It is for that reason, and for that reason only, that it has been decided to suggest to the House that the new political head of the Air Board should be a Secretary of State, and his pay that of a Secretary of State.

Commander BELLAIRS:

Is the head of the Navy a Secretary of State?

Major BAIRD:

It is a different organisation at the Admiralty, but he is paid the same.


No, no!

Major BAIRD:

There really is nothing in it. The question is, Does the Committee desire that the new head of the Air Service should be on an equality with the head of the Army and the head of the Navy? If so, he must be a Secretary of State.


Is he obliged to pool his salary?


We are discussing this Resolution, but no hon. Member ever seems able to discover a copy of it except the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), who seems always able to dig out a copy from some box behind the Table. The matter raised by this Resolution is one that requires further consideration. If we pass this Bill, and I hope we shall pass it, then certainly the Minister ought to be a Secretary of State; but while my hon. and gallant Friend (Major Baird) has made out a good case for that, he has not made out a good case to satisfy me that there is any meaning in the Bill at all. I want to see an Air Council started and and Air Force established, but there is nothing in this Bill, and there is nothing in what has been said from the Government Bench, which has at all satisfied me that this is a bonâ fide attempt to set up an Air Force.


This is not the occasion for discussing that point. This is only the Financial Resolution which will enable us to consider that question when we come to the Bill itself.


It is very difficult for an ordinary Member to understand what he can discuss on this Resolution. The Committee is being asked to pass the Resolution, and, as I understand it, to, allow the expenditure of public money. I am discussing whether it is right to spend that money, and my point is that if there is no Air Force created by this Bill, then there is no necessity to pay a Secretary of State to control that force. I submit that in the Bill there is nothing to say that there is to be a force at all; on the contrary, it is very remarkable to notice in the Bill that there is to be no force, and that we are merely playing with the whole business. Therefore, I consider that unless we get some satisfactory explanation from the Government that we should not pass this Resolution.


That really would be a point to be taken on the Second Reading of the Bill. This Money Resolution deals solely with finance. The question is whether the Committee will authorise the financial proposals so far as to enable the Committee on the Bill to entertain them.


I am trying to give reasons why this Committee should not give that permission, or that they should not give that permission until they have received some assurance from the Government to satisfy them that it is good business to give that permission. Of course, I wish to bow entirely to your ruling, as I am bound to do, but I think my point is a legitimate point to make.


If the hon. and gallant Member will consider the point he will see that what he wants to do would mean a double Second Reading Debate on the Money Resolution. That has never been allowed.


Then may I talk about the amount of money, and not on the question whether there is any money to be given at all? That is what I am trying to discuss, namely, that it should not be given at all until we have got satisfaction. We have got no satisfaction. If I may not talk on what money is to be spent, then there is nothing to discuss in the Resolution.


If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will read the Bill and look at Sub-section (2) of Clause 9 he will see that it is printed in italics. In order that that can be considered in Committee this Money Resolution is required. What we are considering now is really limited to that point, as to what salary is to be paid to the Minister referred to.


Shall I be in order in asking the Leader of the House whether this Secretary of State will have to pool his salary or will he have the option of retaining it?


That does not arise.


When discussing the amount of the salary to be paid to the Minister, is it permissible to discuss the duties of the Minister or the personnel of the Minister?


Certainly not. That clearly would be an abuse of the procedure of the House.


Those who understand Parliamentary procedure know that hardly anything is in order on a Money Resolution. It is, of course, as has been pointed out by the Chairman, in order that the Committee may be able to insert the words,

"There shall be paid, out of moneys provided by Parliament, to the members of the Air Council, and to the secretaries, officers and servants of the Council, such salaries or remuneration as the Treasury may determine,"

that this Money Resolution has to be passed. That is obviously a very narrow matter. The question whether the Minister should be a Secretary of State and be paid the salary of a Secretary of State is on the very border-line of relevancy, and it is upon that point that I wish to say a few words. I think it is of real importance that the office should be one co-ordinate with the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty. My hon. and gallant Friend (Commander Bellairs) has pointed out that the Admiralty is not ruled by a Secretary of State. That is due to the circumstance that the Board of Admiralty is Lord High Admiral in Commission and some very special powers belong to the Admiralty. They exercise powers which in the case of the Army are only exercised, I believe, by the Crown, because these important powers at common law belong to the office of Lord High Admiral. In starting a new Air Board you cannot create a Lord High Aerial; therefore the method of the Admiralty is ruled out. If you are to make the new Air Force co-ordinate with the old Army and Navy you must have the new Air Minister a Secretary of State. There are reasons which are more than technical reasons.

There is the impropriety of the Crown being advised in its relations to the subject by any official less than a Secretary of State. The new Air Minister may, exercise the prerogative of mercy, and if you do not have a Secretary of State one Air Minister would be in the absurd position that whenever the prerogative of mercy had to be exercised in relation to any man in the Air Force it would be necessary to go to some other Secretary of State to advise in that case. Therefore it is really necessary that the new Minister should be a Secretary of State, and I hope that we shall get on with the Resolution and get on with the Bill, which I am, very anxious to see passed.


With respect to the point raised by the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Pringle), there are, I am told, precedents for announcing the name of a proposed new Minister. I was not in the House at the time, but I understand that was done in the case of the Shipping Controller. If the Government are determined not to make an announcement in this case, I will say nothing, but I do think that perhaps in an exceptional matter of this kind it would be advisable to do it.


I raise no objection to all the stages of this Money Resolution being taken on one day, but I would point out to hon. Members, who apparently do not know how to discuss it, that there is a very simple way of discussing it, and that is to put down an Amendment as to the amount of salary to be spent. I do not intend to do that, but I must say that I do not think that the creation of an Air Council, however necessary it may be, necessitates such wide powers as are asked, or that the Committee should be asked to pay an unknown amount to an unknown number of secretaries, officers and servants. It is true that the Treasury has control over salaries or remuneration, but the control of the Treasury has been very lightly exercised in this matter. I know, as a member of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, that every day when we meet to consider this question that the control of the Treasury in these matters is of a most shadowy description. In fact it came out the other day that they do not control salaries at all, unless they are above a certain amount. I think some words ought to be put in as to the amount of money to be spent upon secretaries, officers and servants of the Council, as there is a tendency to multiply these officials very much.

Lord H. CECIL:

There will be a Vote in Supply.


The serious point in this proposal is that to which the right hon. Member (Sir F. Banbury) has just referred. The only security under the Resolution before the Committee is the security supposed to be provided by the necessity of the sanction of the Treasury to the amount to be expended; but every Member of the Committee knows that since the inauguration of the War, Treasury control over Departmental expenditure has practically ceased. The only argument adduced by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Baird) in support of this proposal is that it is desirable on the question of status that the new Minister shall be a Secretary of State, but that argument falls to the ground because the analogy is unsound and misleading. The Air Minister, under the terms of the Bill associated with this Resolution, is not to have the sole responsibility and the undivided control of the Secretaries of State of which we have experience. He is to have limited control compared with the autonomous control of the two other important Departments of State mentioned. Therefore, he has not the duties and responsibilities of a Secretary of State to carry the ordinary emoluments of a Secretary of State. I have a very disquieting feeling as to the continued evidence on the part of the Government that questions of status and questions of emolument should count for so much in this period of War. I believe the country is thoroughly sick of this insistence of Ministers who are leading in a great war campaign upon these niceties of precedent and status. My own feeling is that under the proposals of the Bill, for which this Resolution is sought to give support, you have no case made out for the creation of a new Secretary of State which involves, as I understand, further legislation subsequently. Since the salary in this Resolution is only under the nominal control of the Treasury, the Government might reasonably reconsider their proposal in this regard.


Am I in Order in calling attention to the threat of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who says that unless we rush this Bill through to-day we shall have to sit on Friday, as if we were schoolboys, who are to be kept in if we do not gallop through the Bill?


Clause 8 of this Bill provides for the establishment of the Air Council, and Clause 9, Sub-section (2), the portion for which this Resolution is necessary, provides for the payment to members of the Council and secretaries, officers, and servants, of such salaries as the Treasury may determine. What salaries are to be paid to members of the Air Council? It is important to know that, now that we are elevating this Department into a Secretaryship of State. The Secretary of State is entitled to two Parliamentary Secretaries. Is it intended to appoint two such secretaries at £1,500 a year? To my mind in present conditions there is no case for having three Parliamentary officials in connection with this organisation. We are flooded with Parliamentary officials. The Front Bench has overflowed, the Second Bench is overflowing, and shortly there may be an encroachment on the Back Benches. Is the Government going to limit the number of members of the Air Council? Are there to be any men with trade interests on that Council? We sometimes have on these Councils men who take no salaries, and I give all credit to them for that, but sometimes they are connected with companies which are working for the Government Department of which they are members. Their refusal of remuneration is patriotic from a superficial point of view, but when we come to subsequent transactions the matter bears a somewhat different aspect. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to answer these questions.


My hon. Friend has referred to the remuneration of members of the Air Council, and I would point out the necessity of getting men of professional capacity who are outside the contracting interests. I have raised the question in the House before, by question, as to the presence on the Air Board of members of firms which are contracting for aeroplane supplies. We must get away from such a system as that. I would be very sorry to see it perpetuated in connection with this new Air Service. I would call it a scandal that there should be men in any way connected with the supplying of aeroplanes or anything connected with the Air Service who are themselves connected with firms contracting for supplies at present, and are thus virtually connected with the granting of contracts to their own firms. We see these terrible accidents taking place. Sometimes it may be that a machine falls, the engine of which has been supplied by the firm in which a member of the Air Board is interested. I do not know whether that has occurred. It is quite conceivable that it does occur, and that the Board, which should be concerned with finding out whether there was a defective engine or not, has as one of its members a contractor who supplied the defective engine.


That will arise on the Bill itself. It can be raised quite properly on Clause 9.


I only express my hope that no question as to the limitation of expense will affect the matter of making such provision that members of the Air Council shall be provided with such salaries as will enable independent men, outside contracting firms, to take seats on the Council.


I presume that if this Resolution is passed I should still be in order in moving the Amendment in my name to Clause 8, to limit the number of members of the Council to nine.


At the proper place, when discussing the Bill, a limiting Amendment can be brought up.


Are we not to have a reply to the questions which I have asked?


All these matters can be discussed on Clause 9, when my hon. Friends can state their opinions. Their suggestions will be carefully considered, and also any information which would enable the Government to come to a conclusion. The matters to which reference has been made cannot be discussed until we get to Clause 9 of the Bill.


That is a most unsatisfactory reply. Surely the Committee is entitled to know how many secretaries there will be and how many members of the Air Council, how many members will be paid, and what their salaries will be. Moreover, a most important thing for this Committee to consider is the point brought forward by my hon. Friend regarding the remuneration of these gentlemen who are upon this Board, who ostensibly do their work for nothing, and who, it is well known, direct the orders of this Department into the companies with which they are associated. Though they are not paid directly they are certainly paid indirectly. Then there are other interests, such as the petrol interests, which are concerned, and though members of the Committee are receiving no remuneration, they are indirectly influencing contracts, and so they are remunerated. The Committee should not pass a financial Resolution of this sort without knowing clearly and distinctly how the money is to be expended. We should get some explanation from the hon. Gentleman as to what is to be done.

Question put, and agreed to

Resolution reported.

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


If there had been any desire to delay the progress of this Bill it was perfectly possible to do it by raising the question as to whether facilities should be given for taking the Report stage of this Resolution to-day. Nobody lifted a voice against that suggestion, but it was on the understanding that the Government would be entitled to give all the relevant information to the House. A perfectly reasonable question has been put to the Front Bench regarding the Financial Resolution, and going to the root of that Resolution, as to the number of men who are to be paid, and the salaries which they are to receive. The Attorney-General has endeavoured to put that matter off by saying that when we come to Clause 9 of the Bill we will get all sorts of information. But as that Clause must be taken to-day the right hon. Gentleman should be in a position to answer the question now at the appropriate stage. It is perfectly true that we shall be able to raise the question again to-day, but we do not want to do that. We want to have done with it now, and not to have to raise it again in Clause 9. It is a most unfortunate arrangement. It is not at all consulting the convenience of the House. It is certainly not likely to encourage anybody to facilitate the proceedings. If the Government want speedy progress with the Bill, it is surely their duty to give information at the appropriate stage. If that information is given, we shall get on. They know, or ought to know, the number of members of the Air Council to be appointed, and they ought also to know the salaries which these people are to receive. If they do not know these things, they are not entitled to get this Bill, and, if they do know, there is no trouble in giving us the information to which we are entitled.


I think the hon. Gentleman has hardly considered what this Bill aims at doing with respect to the Air Ministry. It is proposed to set up a new Ministry and to launch into an unknown country. It is impossible to say at this stage what exactly will be the extent of the functions of the Air Ministry. I do not know what answer my hon. Friend will give to the question that has been put. It is impossible to give an exact answer as to the numbers of the Air Council. The purpose of this Bill is to set up an Air Ministry, who will consider all these questions, and will then have to come to Parliament with a Vote. Upon that Vote all the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman can be raised, and salaries can be cut down or criticised. It is a mistake to suggest that this Resolution closes the financial control of the House. It does not. Not a penny of public money will be spent without a Vote in Supply. There will have to be an Air Vote, precisely the same as an Army Vote.


Every one of these Votes is now a dummy vote. The War Office Vote is a dummy vote. We get £1,000 for the War Office and £1,000 for the Admiralty, so that we have no control over the individual Votes. That is why I think we are entitled to know how many members are contemplated for the Air Council and what salaries are in contemplation.


I only desire to point out the difficulty which there is at this stage in going into great detail during the construction of the Ministry, and how much more opportune it is to raise these matters when the Air Vote comes before Parliament. This is merely an administrative question, and is not a legislative question. For the moment we are concerned with legislation, and when we come to the Vote in Supply I think that will be the moment to raise this point.


I think that hon. Members will appreciate, to a certain extent, the point raised by the hon.

Member (Mr. Pringle). All through this Bill there is practically taken away all the rights of control of Members of this House. It seems that everything in the Bill is to be done by Order in Council, or words to that effect. So far as private Members of this House are concerned, there is a feeling that they should jealously guard their rights of control and say to what extent public expenditure should go. The Noble Lord has suggested, after three and a half years of war, that the officials of the Government cannot yet make up their minds as to how many officials or what sort of posts they will create, and I would submit that this is a type of criticism so severe—and, I might almost say, so malicious—that I could not have been capable of making it myself.


I only rise to make some sort of protest, which I think is due, against the apparent determination of the Government to give the Committee no vital information on this matter. It is a gross indignity and affront to the House of Commons to treat us as though we had become accustomed to the Financial Resolutions of Bills being passed pro forma, as if they did not vitally affect the whole scope and efficiency of the legislation founded upon them. The whole value of this Bill depends on this Financial Resolution, and I am bound to say that, at a time like this, when the increased attention of the country, if not of the House of Commons, is directed to the growth of public expenditure and the laxity of control of Government expenditure, it is incumbent upon this Committee to seek for more detailed information of the possible scale of expenditure in connection with the proposal that we have received from the Government. The defence made by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University is really rather unfortunate, because he knows quite well that we have had no opportunity, as a Committee, of exercising the smallest control over Votes in Supply, owing to the system of Token Votes, and it is perfectly futile for him or any other member of the Committee to allow this matter to go sub silentio this afternoon because we shall have an opportunity in Supply of raising the issue which we are raising now. No Government, whether a war Government or any other, has any right to come down and propose legislation of this kind without telling the House or the Committee what are its intentions. It is an extremely reasonable request which has been made by my hon. Friend (Mr. Pringle) that, before we are asked to vote this money, we shall be told how many members of the Air Council there are to be in the first instance, whatever may be the subsequent arrangements made. The Government cannot make a specific proposal without knowing and telling us what it is to be. We do not ask for the number to be appointed in three or five years' time, but what we do ask is that, before we vote this Resolution, we shall be given the details which we are entitled to know, and what is to be the scale of expenditure.


There is no intention on the part of the Government to conceal from hon. Members any information that they may desire to have. That, indeed, would be a very bad way of requiting the House for their indulgence in giving the Committee the two stages to-day, in order that we may get on with the Bill. The whole question turns upon what my right hon. and learned Friend said as to what is the proper moment to give this information, and he said that the proper moment was not this one, but on Clause 9 of the Bill. However, at the request of the hon. and learned Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle), I will give such information as in the circumstances is possible. As regards Under-Secretaries, power is taken in this Bill to create a Parliamentary Under-Secretary and a Parliamentary Financial Secretary, but there is no intention at present to appoint the latter, though it may become necessary. Nobody can tell how, eventually, the work of the Air Ministry will develop. At the present moment the work which would normally fall to the Parliamentary Financial Secretary falls within the province of the Ministry of Munitions, the War Office, or the Admiralty, and for that reason there is no intention at present to appoint a Parliamentary Financial Secretary. As to the scale of pay of the Under-Secretaries, we propose to pay them on the same scale as in all other offices; but it is the Treasury that must determine what the pay is to be. We have been working at a scheme of organisation, and we have made proposals with regard to what we consider adequate, based on the scale of the War Office and the Army Council. Roughly, what we propose, therefore, in regard to the Council, is that it shall consist of the Secretary of State, the Chief of Staff, and probably a sub-Chief, who will act in the absence of the Chief, and vice versa. Then we propose that there shall be an officer who shall have the control of the department of personnel, and also an officer to control materiel, in so far as that is not furnished by the Ministry of Munitions. This officer will take over part of the functions of the General-Director of Ordnance at the War Office. In regard to the Council, I would point out that it would be unwise to lay down a fixed principle in regard to that body, because, for the efficiency of the Service, it might easily be that it would be necessary to increase its number. Then there would be also a Secretary of the Board. Again, land is a question which plays so large a part in the organisation of the Flying Service in regard to aerodromes, and so forth, that it is desirable that these matters should be dealt with as rapidly and as efficiently as possible; and we find it desirable, therefore, to have as member of the Air Council one who will be able to deal with the subject of land. As regards the Ministry of Munitions, I can quite understand the reference that has been made to members of the Air Board who are connected with commercial undertakings, but I wish hon. Members would be quite frank in saying what they mean. Do they mean that, when we are asked to deal with a highly technical matter of this kind, on which depend not only the efficiency of this arm of the Services but the lives of our airmen, we ought not to be debarred or limited in any direction as regards the selection of men for the work? Nobody would think we were doing right if we did not avail ourselves of the services of those men who are best qualified, whatever their position in life may be, to take charge of this work. Obviously nobody knows better the difficulties and the complications of the aircraft industry than those who are familiar with it. I quite agree that in theory and in principle it may be wise to confine these appointments in time of peace to politicians and people of that kind, but it would be a very great misfortune if we carried that practice into war time. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Outhwaite) made reference to the personnel of the Air Board and to those connected with the aircraft industry, and he did so in somewhat disparaging terms.

Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has been drawn into discussion of a question which perhaps I ought not to have allowed to pass, but it is one that ought not to be further developed at this stage of the Financial Resolution, and the hon. and learned Member who put the question will be in a position to again raise it when we come to Clause 9 of the Bill.


I bow to your ruling, Sir, though I very naturally felt that I should make some remarks in reply to the hon. Gentleman.


The hon. Gentleman has referred to my remarks in reference to members of the Air Board. I did not refer to individuals specifically, and what I urged was that contractors should not themselves sit on the Air Board.


I do not think we need pursue that topic further. I trust hon. Members will be satisfied with the reply that I have made, and that they will realise that, without any desire to diminish the control of the House over expenditure, it is not possible to give all the details at this moment, for the very simple reason that I would not be justified in occupying the time of officials who are already overworked.


I do not see anything whatever in regard to the payment for land and building and materiel. Am I to understand that the Air Ministry will spend nothing whatever, and that the Ministry of Munitions will supply all materiel needed. Who will be responsible for the expenditure on land and buildings?


I think my hon. Friend will find that provided for in Sub-section (4) of Clause 8, which says:

"His Majesty may by Order in Council transfer from the Admiralty or from the Army Council or the Secretary of State for the War Department, to the Air Council or the President of the Air Council, such property, rights, and liabilities of the Admiralty or Army Council or Secretary of State, as may be agreed between the Air Council and the Admiralty, or the Army Council, as the case may be."

That refers to aerodromes and the establishments we now have. The Air Ministry will take them over, but, like everything else, it will be done gradually. With regard to the other point, money will of course be required directly the Air Council is formed, for the purpose of starting it. All that this Resolution seeks to do is to enable the Ministry to be formed, and, when formed, it will come to the House for a Vote.


The words "Air Ministry" are used. Have they any relation to the Air Council?


It is the same thing.

Question put, and agreed to.