HC Deb 04 June 1918 vol 106 cc1539-46

Considered in Committee.—[Progress, 3rd June.]

[Sir D. MACLEAN, Deputy-Chairman, in the Chair.]

Adjourned Debate resumed on Amendment to Question (3rd June), That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of all Expenses of the Central Emigration Authority constituted under any Act of the present Session to provide for the establishment and powers of a Central Emigration Authority, and for other purposes relative thereto."—[Mr. Hewins.]

Which Amendment was, at the end of the Question, to add the words "not exceeding two thousand pounds in any year."—[Mr. Holt.]

Question again proposed, "That those words be there added."


When the Debate was adjourned last evening I was about to point out that the Leader of the House had admitted the principle that in these Resolutions there should be a limit where possible. On the occasion in question the right hon. Gentleman was dealing with the expenses of local authorities, and it was not practicable to put in a limit, but he said that where practicable it should be inserted, and we have done so again and again. Therefore, I would appeal to the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill whether he cannot suggest a sufficient amount. I am not at all clear that the £2,000 suggested by the hon. Member for Hexham is sufficient. I quite think that there is no idea of spending any huge sum, but the Minister in charge is quite capable of naming a sum which is quite safe. This is more than a formal stage. This is the chance which the House has of saying whether the money will be spent or not. It would be quite feasible to accomplish the bulk of the objects of the Bill without spending money. If it were done by a Department of the Board of Trade, which could act as a sort of information bureau, the bulk of what is aimed at in the Bill could be accomplished without expenditure. The practice in Government offices is that officials disagree about these things until one or two salaries are put in, and this has a wonderful effect in getting the thing agreed to by the permanent officials. If the Minister says that two officials are necessary for his scheme, surely some computation of what is required could be made. A reasonable sum might be £20,000 or £25,000 in any one year. I am not prepared to go to a Division on £2,000 a year, but I am prepared to divide the Committee unless the Minister explains why it is impossible to put in a limit or— which is a more straightforward course-suggests a limit inside which he could work. Subject to that qualification, I support the Amendment.


I quite agree with the view that there should be a limit in resolutions of this kind. We are always creating new changes. New Ministers, new Departments, new authorities, and we are always passing money resolutions for them without any limit whatsoever. I have already put down some Amendments to-the text of this Bill, and on the money question I suggested that the Bill ought to be worked for £5,000 a year. I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary for the Colonies has already perused my Amendments, and he will be able to arrive at an opinion as to the cost of working this Bill and as to the reasonableness of my limit. I hope that he will give his attention to this and that he himself wilt consider the amount of money that it is necessary to spend to work the Bill. I suppose this proposal has been before the Treasury and has been considered by that Department from the point of view of national finance, and some sort of estimate of the limit formed. Some Departments do try to do their duty on these lines, and I believe the Treasury is one of them. Though our confidence in a great many things is shaken, yet I have every confidence in the Treasury, and believe that they do examine things before they pass judgment. If that is so, the Treasury, I presume, has been in communication with the Under-Secretary, and there is no reason, I conceive, why he should not make a clean breast of any transaction between himself and the Treasury, and tell us what the Colonial Office proposed in the first instance, what was the Treasury's reply on the first suggestion, what was the second, and what was the Treasury's rejoinder to that, and how long the battledore and shuttlecock between the two Departments continued, and what was the result. It will not take very long, and there is a quarter of an hour in which to give a full account. I must press upon my hon. Friend to inform us what will be the charge to the public exchequer during the first year. If he limits this Resolution to that amount, it will be in the interests of true economy, and with economy always goes efficiency. I therefore greatly hope that this Amendment will be adopted in spirit, and if £2,000 is not enough I shall be glad to support £5,000, the estimate at which I, on independent lines, have myself arrived. I can assure the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) that if he wants a teller on behalf of our joint principles of economy and efficiency, I am quite ready to act with him.


I think we are entitled to a reply from the Minister in charge I have not always supported the last speaker in his crusades for putting a limit to these money Resolutions, because I have recognised that in many cases it is impossible to form an accurate estimate; but surely that cannot be the case here. Surely it is not unreasonable that we should be told whether an estimate has been formed, and, if so, what it is; and I think in this particular case the Minister would be well advised in yielding to the pressure brought to bear upon him. The Bill has met with an immense amount of adverse criticism, both inside and outside this House, and he stated in reply that the object of the Bill had been misconceived and that it was much more moderate than the object which its critics alleged it to have. If that be so, criticism will best be stilled if the hon. Gentleman is able to fix a reasonable amount and say he will be able to carry on in the next twelve months with that sum. I should hesitate to go to a Division on a proposal to limit it to £2,000, and I hope if a Division is to be taken it will be for some larger amount. I should be perfectly willing myself to support any reasonable figure that should be prepared to support a figure even considerably in excess of £5,000 if we were met, but I think some limit should be put in the Resolution.


I am very willing to give any explanations which are possible. I have often taken part in stopping Financial Resolutions myself, and I quite sympathise with the motives which actuate hon. Members in these circumstances, but it would be extremely unreasonable to ask me to give an estimate of the cost of working this measure in the first year. To form such an estimate, you would have to take account of normal circumstances, and if hon. Members would recall the Debate on Friday they would remember that one of the reasons for this Bill being brought forward at all is that it should deal with the abnormal conditions arising out of the War. We do not know how long the War will last, and we do not know the factors of which we should have to take account, but I can assure my hon. Friends that, as I said on the Second Reading, this Bill has been thoroughly examined by several Departments, and I do not know any one of them which is at all interested in increasing expenditure. Certainly the Colonial Office is not. We have a smaller staff there than when the War broke out, and we are doing a much larger amount of work, and I do not think that, looking at the facts of the case, it is reasonable to expect that there would be any large expenditure under this Bill during the period mentioned by my hon. Friends. My honest opinion of this Bill is that it will lead to economy of expenditure—that the simplification of machinery will save money. It is really a business measure— not a political measure—in which we are anxious to come to the best possible arrangement to suit the people involved, and I earnestly hope my hon. Friend will withdraw opposition to this measure and let us get on with it.


I am very 10th to refuse the hon. Member's request to get on with this Bill, but he must realise that in asking for a sum without any limit at all he is putting forward a strong request to the Committee. We had a very interesting but a very unexpected Debate on Friday, and in the course of that discussion the hon. Gentleman found there was a great deal of what he called misapprehension as to the Bill, but he himself will admit that he did not tell us what was the exact method in which the very extended powers of the Bill were going to be used. He said that in the nature of the case he really did not know.


My hon. Friend is mistaken. I said we cannot give on estimate of the money when we are dealing with all these uncertain factors; but, looking at the cost which is proposed, and the way in which it has been worked out by the Departments, I can assure the Committee that the object of the Bill is to simplify things.


If it has been worked out by the delegates, then my hon. Friend ought the more easily to be able to give some limit to the expenditure intended, and it is no consolation to those who are a little suspicious both as to the objects of the Bill and the expenditure when he tells us


One hon. Member has mentioned £50,000 a year as the cost. There is not the slightest intention or expectation or desire to go anywhere near that, and if the expenditure in the first year runs into £10,000 it would be greatly in excess of what is considered likely.


Will the hon. Gentleman put that amount into the Resolution? I must press the point that after the consultation of seven Departments it makes us extremely anxious. Government Departments are not economical in these days. The hon. Gentleman has not told us what the seven Departments are, but seven Departments point to expenditure seven times magnified, and that is a prospect from which I think the Committee might well shrink. I think we have a right to press the hon. Gentleman. We do not know the purpose of the Government. The words of the Bill are "to advise and assist." "Assist" might cover a great deal of expenditure on passages and settlement.




The hon. Gentleman did not say "No" on Friday, but he kept it vague, and to the end of the Debate I did not know—and I took some pains to find out—what was going to be done under the Bill. I do say that with a vague Bill in general terms and a new Department to be set up, it is rather unreasonable for the hon. Member to come forward and say he will not put in an upper limit to the expenditure. If an emergency arose and there was need for extra expenditure it would be quite easy to come to Parliament for power. There is no reason why we should part with Parliamentary control in this matter, or give a free hand to the working Departments in this new Bill. The hon. Gentleman says that he does not intend to spend more than £10,000 in the year. I should be perfectly ready to let him have that amount, but we are entitled before passing the Bill to have some idea as to how it is to be worked. This House has been complaining for a long time of the expenditure of Government Departments. Here is a new Department which is being set up. It is suggested that the work of the Emigrants' Information Bureau will be destroyed—work which has been very successful. The hon. Gentleman tells us on another occasion that this is part of the Government's man-power policy, and suggests that it is a great development of the Imperial part of their programme. Some of the newspapers, in dealing with the matter since Friday, have pointed out that this is the first action of the Government in carrying out their great Imperial policy.

Mr. HEWINS dissented.


My hon. Friend says "no." He says he is merely getting this Department into shape. He says they do not propose to spend more than £10,000. It is he who is unreasonable in refusing to put that £10,000 in his Resolution. It is not we who are asking for that limit. We are in the dark. We do not know what he intends to do. If the hon. Gentleman will accept the £10,000 limit which we suggest he will meet our views, and the views, I think, of most of us who at present oppose. If he will not I think he must expect us to continue our protest against the action of the Government in this matter. I may tell him that the Government, of which he is a member, has not earned the confidence of the House in the matter of expenditure.

It has continued to set up new Departments and to go into expenditure on new Departments during the War. It has been my duty during the last six months to sit on a Committee to go into this kind of expenditure of new Departments which have been spending money in all directions. This expenditure is very extravagant, most lavish, and on a most experimental scale. Large sums of money, mililons, have been spent in the making of experiments. I do not know of what experiments the hon. Gentleman is thinking. But we will give him £10.000 to play with. If he will take that, that will be a reasonable sum. It is not reasonable to ask us to make an unlimited grant of money for the unknown purposes of this Bill. I, for one, under these circumstances, still continue to oppose it.


Since Friday last I have received letters from two very big trade unions asking whether the Emigration Bill interferes with the liberty of the members of their associations. I have not been able to answer this question on the information which has been given to the House, because that has not been sufficient to enable me to decide whether it interferes with their liberty or not. I am surprised at the innocence of the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King), when he says that we should put our trust in the Treasury, because the Treasury is always helpless—and hopeless—in regard to controlling the national expenditure. In reference to the establishment of one of the new Ministries, the House was led to believe that the expenditure would be some £50,000 or £60,000 per year. We found that three or four months after this Department was spending £1,250,000 a year, and if the hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill is not prepared to give an estimate of what they propose to spend, I think the House would be well advised to refuse this measure. I think this Bill is entirely unnecessary. Anyone who looks through it will find that we have all the powers that are required at the present moment without passing another Act of Parlia- ment. This Bill will enable the Colonial Office to expend money extravagantly and lavishly.

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Deputy-Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."


May I ask the Patronage Secretary whether he can give any information as to the course of business on Friday, and can he indicate the business to toe taken?

Lord EDMUND TALBOT (Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)

The business will be the Trade Boards Bill.

Adjourned accordingly at One minute after Eleven o'clock.