§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Major-General Seely)
It may be for the convenience of the House if I make a statement on certain points on which I promised to give the House in formation, notably with regard to the reduction in expenditure of the Air Ministry, and also with regard to certain specific complaints. I do not propose to deal with the questions raised yesterday with regard to Sir John Hunter, for I have nothing to add to or to subtract from what I then said with regard to my responsibility in that matter, which will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate at a later stage. With regard to the other matters, the House will remember that when I was appointed to my present office I was enjoined to pre side over the Council and to be responsible for all the business of the Council.
§ Major-General SEELY
I do not quite know when it was, but when the Council was formed. Therefore, I could not disclaim responsibility for what is happening now, even if I wished to do so, which I certainly do not. I do not propose to deal with any of the pre-war contracts or war contracts. I was away from the House, and, indeed, from this country, at the time. All that can be dealt with better by those who have knowledge of the facts. What I think the House will want to know is, is extravagance going on now, and if it is, why it is not checked, and are those who are responsible for such extravagance being properly punished? I propose to deal with that to-day in as short a time as possible. First, as to the charge of general extravagance levelled against the Air Ministry, let me say, although the point has not often been raised in this House, it is constantly raised outside, that we are extravagant in that we put up Estimates of £66,000,000. I stated to the House in the most explicit terms when I introduced the Air Estimates that a great 1131 proportion of that £66,000,000 was due to the finishing up of war contracts. It has been said again and again that the £66,000,000 has no relation whatever to the ordinary Estimates for the Ministry. When it is reflected that at the time of the Armistice we had more than 250,000 men, and we had arrangements to produce 50,000 aeroplanes per year, it is apparent that when the War stopped suddenly on the 11th of November you could not wash out the whole of that gigantic expenditure all in a moment. This £66,000,000—and I now every Member of this House knows this, though it is not sufficiently realised outside— is the charge which we have to bear, not for maintaining a nor mal Air Force— that is only a portion of it— but owing to gigantic expenditure due to the great War, in which the Air Force cost a great deal of money and in which, I venture to say without fear of contra diction, it contributed in large degree to the victory that we won.
What have we done to reduce since the Armistice? My right hon. Friend opposite asked me when I was appointed; I do not remember exactly, but it was some time in December or January, and, there fore, I may regard myself as responsible if not from the date of the Armistice, from a date shortly after. Here are specific figures which I will give to the House, and in each case in round numbers. At the date of the Armistice there were 30,000 officers; to-day we have demobilised 20,000 of those, so that is 20,000 out of 30,000. Of other ranks, including cadets, we had 264,000 at the date of the Armistice; we have demobilised 203,000 of those. So rapid a reduction in any force I should think there has never been, certainly in the history of this country. Of aerodromes and landing grounds we had, at the date of the Armistice, 386, of which we have given up 210. On that I may say in passing that the giving up of this large number makes it much more difficult for the airmen to find suitable landing grounds in some parts of the country. I would like here publicly to acknowledge the great assistance rendered to me and the Air Ministry by the lord-lieutenants of counties and the chairmen of county councils and others who are arranging emergency landing grounds to fill the gaps. To return to the reductions, the staff of the Ministry in all departments at the date of the Armistice was 806. Although we have great responsibilities, 1132 as I will presently show, that number is now reduced to 402— that is, reduced by half. Of hired premises and hotels, we had at that time the enormous number of 2,143, of which 1,927 have been given up and thirty-seven more are in process of being given up. I claim, taking the figures I have given, and I do not think they can be challenged, that so great an economy in a public service has never been made in the same time.
§ Major-General SEELY
As to the number of the Women's Royal Air Force, I cannot give the exact figure at the moment, but I can give the approximate number from my head. They have been reduced by not quite half, but they are going to be reduced much more, to about 3,000, including all the work of domestic service, for which women are more suit able than men, whether disabled or other wise. That is in process of being done. It will be apparent to the House, with this extraordinarily rapid reduction from 264,000 to 60,000 in a few months, that you want a large staff of clerical people to deal with that demobilisation. In this House sometimes— and more often in the public Press— general charges of extravagance against the Air Ministry are made in ever-increasing degree. I have shown the great economies that we have made, but on general charges of extravagance all that I ask is that specific cases shall be shown. I cannot get specific cases. People say, "The workmen are not doing a full day's work." I deeply regret that if it is so, but that is not under the control of the Air Ministry. The statement that the labourers are not doing a full day's work is a wrong criticism to charge to the Air Ministry. It has nothing to do with the Air Ministry as such. It is general war weariness, which is found in all walks of life. I want specific cases. No doubt the House will remember that three— I think only three— specific cases, have been ventilated in the House and in the Press, and I propose to deal with those three. The first was the statement in a letter to the "Times" that aero planes were being recklessly destroyed, and that the most horrible waste was being committed at Farnborough, and that comment raced throughout the length and breadth of the land, that we were burning aeroplanes and taking no steps to save money. One can speak best 1133 of what one has seen oneself. I went down there, and I can assure the House that, being familiar with salvage dumps—as many hon. and gallant Gentlemen are—I have never seen so well-organised a business as what is going on at Farnborough now, and what was going on then. Far from it being reckless destruction and haphazard burning, the officer in charge was a man who had made a speciality of salvage work, and had earned the thanks of his superior officers in France owing to his great skill and the saving of millions of money to the public by his salvage. He has organised the thing to such a pitch that not one penny-piece is lost. I invite any hon. Gentle man who has the time to go and look at it. Here we have this vast number of aeroplanes beyond requirements. It has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London's Committee that it might be cheaper to burn the aeroplanes. Indeed I am not sure that it would not be; but it would be a very bad example. We are trying our very best to get what value we can at Farnborough. This most expert young officer, with a staff of men who know the job, are taking out each particular little bit of the aero plane that can be sold, putting it aside in its appropriate box, selling it to those who will purchase to the best advantage and making a business which he assures me does just pay. I am not sure that it will be found, when the full accounts are made up, that it does pay to go through this elaborate business, but at least we have saved tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of pounds, by the meticulous care shown by these people at Farnborough in the difficult art of breaking up an aeroplane and salving the parts that are the most valuable, putting them in places where they can be put up to auction, and generally making a wise economy in every direction. I can only give the House my own word for this, be cause it is not a matter on which one can give figures; but I give the House my word that this place, Farnborough, which was said to be a big extravagance of the Air Ministry, is, in my judgment, and in that of others who have seen it, a model of what economical administration should be. I invite anybody who wishes to see it to go down and look at it, and they will see then what can be done in that way.
The next case is a small one; but if I deal with small cases it is because I can- 1134 not get hold of big ones. It is the cost of Air Ministry cars. My right hon. Friend's Committee investigated the question of the cost of the Air Ministry cars. He wanted to know how much they cost. The question of how many there should be is another matter. In point of fact, they have been reduced to a most extraordinary extent, so much so that I doubt really— leaving aside the question whether the Ministry should have cars— whether there are enough. There were sixty-eight; there are now twenty-two. There were thirty-three of what are called allotted cars, for officers going to particular places; there are now only six. The number is reduced, as will be seen, to one-third in the one case and to one-fifth in the other.
§ Major-General SEELY
It has been going on progressively all through. Apart from the numbers, which we have so reduced, I come to the cost, and my right hon. Friend need not be afraid that I am going to say anything unkind—
§ Major-General SEELY
No, but I have, and always have had, and always shall have, an objection to saying anything unkind to my right hon. Friend or to anybody else in this House. But I think the House will see that it is necessary for me to make that promise when I tell them the facts. My right hon. Friend asked for the cost of these motor cars. I have here the document that was presented to me. It deals with the R.A.F. Transport, London District, and gives the number of vehicles, with a statement of what these vehicles are doing. Most of them are clearing up— for example, the Cadet Distribution, Hampstead; the Technical Department, R.A.F., Stores; and so forth. There were about forty or fifty cars at the Air Ministry at that date. Turning over the page, in order to see what the cost was, we find that the cost per week worked out at £2,000. Now comes the mistake, which would be comic if it had not caused such very bad results to a Government Department which is trying to do its best to economise. The transport of the London district is known as the "Kennington Area." In the Kennington Area there are two garages, one known as the Kennington Garage and the other as the Belvedere Road Garage, Kennington. 1135 All this is set forth in the document. Turning over the page to see the total cost, you find the estimated weekly expenditure of the London Mechanical Trans port Section, Kennington. My right hon. Friend, by some extraordinary mistake, assumed that this expenditure was to be divided up amongst what are called the touring cars only, and not amongst the total of 238 vehicles. He so presented his accounts that the "Westminster Gazette," amongst other papers, said what an astonishingly disgraceful thing it was that the Air Ministry cars cost £2,700 a year to run, and they went further and said that they supposed that any garage would provide a car for £700 or £800 a year.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not want to interrupt, but while the right hon. Gentleman says that my Committee made an extraordinary mistake, the people who made the extraordinary mistake were his Department. The Committee only took the figures which the Department gave them in a detailed statement; we neither added to nor reduced any statement made in that document. I showed that to my right hon. Friend, and he admitted that the error was in his Department.
§ Major-General SEELY
No, Sir, I said nothing of the sort. Here is the document. I will have it printed and circulated as a Parliamentary Paper if anybody would like to see it. My right hon. Friend has come a terrible cropper. Any man with an ounce of sense in his head would, of course, have said that a sum of £2,700 for a motor car for a year looks very strange, and surely there must be some mistake. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend must have thought so at the time, but the Report went out, and every newspaper in the land deduced from it that the cost of running a motor car was £2,700 a year. It is the same as though you took the total cost of the payment of the Members of this House, and then divided it amongst the supporters of my right hon. Friend opposite (Sir D. Maclean), and showed that Members of Parliament received any sum from £2,000 to £3,000 a year. I really must ask the House, in all seriousness, to believe that we have been very ill-used over this, and I will go further and say that, directly I heard this, I arranged with my right hon. Friend to be called before his Committee. I dare say some of the members of that Committee may be here to-day and will bear out what I say. I pointed out that 1136 the error made was a ridiculous one, and perhaps might have been due to the fact that the word "Kennington" was not known to include Belvedere Road also; but I said I relied upon the Committee to make the point clear. In point of fact, I have been at some pains to get at what the cost of a motor car is, and I believe the cost of running one works out at £593. I think that, on the whole, having given a great deal of attention to it in the moments that I could spare from a busy life on other Air matters, probably that is about the right figure, and I should, think that the actual running of Air Ministry cars is well and economically done. I do hope that once and for all we have dispelled this extra ordinary mistake. I absolve my right hon. Friend, of course, but, as a result of his action, a Ministry which was doing its best to economise public money has been grossly ill-used.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I say that I have the shorthand notes— I have not them here, but I am prepared to produce them— in which my right hon. Friend said that the mistake was a mistake of his Department, and that he would have made exactly the same mistake if he had been in the position of the Committee? That is in the short hand notes.
§ Major-General SEELY
By all means, but it is a question of one man's recollection against another's, and it really is not a matter of any importance. I was anxious to avoid any appearance of being rude and unfair to an old Member of this House, presiding over a Committee which was anxious to get at the truth; but they have fallen into an extraordinary error, which I hope I have sufficiently explained. The words I used at the Committee were, that it might not be apparent at the first glance— and those words will be found in the shorthand notes— that the word "Kennington" applied to both garages. I do not think we can possibly carry the matter further. Here is a document which has been presented. I must repeat, in conclusion, that I am quite sure that no man ought to assume that a Government Department is spending four or five times what is normal on any public service without making further inquiry. Had my 1137 right hon. Friend taken the trouble just to ask any one officer in the Air Ministry, the whole thing would have been made clear at once; but he did not. I think honestly that he is to blame.
§ Mr. BRIANT
May I ask why the Air Ministry does include Belvedere Road in Kennington, when it is not in Kennington, and thus misled the Committee?
§ Major-General SEELY
The Belvedere Road garage and the Kennington garage are both in the London Transport Area, which is known as the Kennington Area. That is how it is universally known. I dare say it is wrong, but I am afraid we are not sufficiently ecclesiastical to know the parish boundaries. That, however, is really the only point, and it is not a point of substance. I am sure that everybody In the House will agree that we have done our utmost to dispel this illusion. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a speech to explain it on the first possible date, and yet it has continued to run all round. I hope I have sufficiently dealt with it.
The next specific allegation relates to Blandford. Blandford has been made much of by the Press, and especially by the "Times." The "Times" went so far as to say:The Air Force in particular squanders in a manner which deserves and should receive the severest condemnation. Only yesterday we published a letter stating that in a single camp at Blandford the Air Force is still employing a thousand girls, many of them are conveyed thither in railway trains and omnibuses. The permanent buildings in the camp have only recently been completed, together with a special railway. The story recalls the Slough scandal, and indicates that there is some ground for suggesting that parallels to Slough can be found all over the country.Can anybody imagine a more scathing condemnation, based on a letter written by a correspondent of the "Times" and published in every newspaper in Eng land? What are the facts? I found time to get down to Blandford on Saturday. I knew most of the facts, but I thought the House would wish me, in a matter of this importance, to give them first-hand information. The allegation made is that it is worse than the Slough scandal. I do not know that Slough is a scandal, but that implies that, in the view of those who wrote it, it is a disgraceful waste of public money. It is said that we should receive the severest condemnation. First of all, it is said that the camp ought not 1138 to be there at all, and next that there ought not to be the railway. Next, in the letter on which this is based, it is said that it costs 4s. 7d. a day to get the girls to their work; and, lastly, that there appear to be as many lorries as there were when the camp was full.
The Royal Air Force, as I have told the House, comprised at the Armistice nearly 300,000 men and officers. We must have a depot for them. It was decided to place this depot at Blandford. Was Blandford a good place to put it? It was. As the event proved, it is one of the healthiest places in England. In the severe influenza epidemic the death-rate was about one-fifth of what it was at a similar camp at another place. That is a justification for putting it there. Was it right to put the railway there? It would have been criminal folly not to put the railway there. This depot, feeding, as it did, this great force, had to equip and send out as many as 800 men a day. On one day they sent out 1,084 men fully equipped. One can imagine the amount of equipment and stores required for such a gigantic undertaking. The railway must have paid for itself as a continuous concern over and over again, when you consider the magnitude of the figures I have quoted. The next thing is that the girls are brought to their work, and you have to pay 4s. 7½d. a day for them. First of all, why are they brought there to their work? Because the record office is there. The record office should be at the depot. When the Armistice came, would it have been wise to get rid of the record office? It would have been madness. The whole of the pay, pensions, gratuities, and records of every kind in regard to every one of those 250,000 men depend upon accurate bookkeeping at the depot. As any ordinary clerk would not know it is not work that anybody can do. Of course, we had to keep the girls on, and we could not put them in the camp as there was no room for them. What was the alternative? It was to remove the camp to where the girls came from. We went into the facts and discovered that that would cost much more. There ought to have been a camp at Blandford and there was bound to be. Of course if we had to spend 4s. 7½d. on every girl each day it would have been more expensive. It is not so. In the same way as we are told that a motor car cost £2,700 when really it only cost £594, so here we are 1139 told that it cost 4s. 7½d. when really it cost only £4 5s. 3d. for three months, which works out at 11.3d. In other words, as I shall show presently, there is a distinct standard about these misrepresentations. Blandford is a well-run camp. It was bound to be there, and if it is said that the girls are not doing a day's work I answer that they are. They are not allowed to work overtime, and I am very glad. Many of them are very skilful, but there are not enough skilled staff to go round for the demobilisation of the Royal Air Force, and for the still greater demobilisation which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has directed.
Another statement is made as to the number of vehicles. It is said that there are nearly as many motor vehicles at Blandford as when the camp was full. It is not true. There were 133 in use, and now there are thirty-three. So that we come to this, that in what I suppose one might call, in biblical terms, the "higher criticism" you multiply the cost of a thing by four and a half and then you say it is extravagant. Three times over have big charges been made by multiplying a thing by four or five times and then we are told we were extravagant. If I have spoken with some heat it is because I do protest against this unfair method. It is neither good journalism, good sense, nor good for the country to base charges of a kind like this on letters from people who may or may not know something about it, without first making inquiry as to whether they are true. It must be something to do with the War. Before the War I am quite certain that the "Times" would never have placed a strong indictment against the Government without making some attempt to verify the facts. I have given the facts in all three cases, and in all three cases I leave the reputation of the Air Ministry with full confidence to the House of Commons. On the general question that is all I have to say.
§ Mr. RENDALL
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain whether the 11½d. is for lorries coming from Bournemouth— are these lorries War Office lorries or are they let by contractors?
§ Major-General SEELY
The statement in the letter on which the "Times" based the article was as follows— "the railway fare per head is 4s. 7½d.," but the railway fare per head is 11d. and one-third. It is 1140 a case where you multiply by four and five and then call it extravagant. If the question is about the cost of transport in lorries, the lorries only take the girls from the station to the camp and back. I have estimated the actual cost and on one computation it works out at 2¾d. and on another at 6d.
§ Major-General SEELY
No, Sir. This is the actual cost we pay. Here is the ticket. How much the Government as a whole have to subsidise the railways I do not know, but when a man says to me that the railway fare is 4s. 7½d., and there fore the "Times" says that the Air Ministry ought to be denounced, and I find it is 11d. I am entitled to protest, and I do So.
§ Major-General SEELY
I really have not the least idea, nor do I understand what is the point of the question.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
It is as to what the railway fare should be and would be for myself or any of my employés travelling from Bournemouth to Blandford.
§ Major-General SEELY
This is the ordinary ticket, which is being given to all these tens of thousands of munition workers, the ordinary season ticket. What my hon. Friend would get in the way of a third-class season-ticket I do not know, but the point is that I will not be led away. I do not think these interruptions are fair. It is not fair to take the point that the Government subsidises the railway as being an answer to this, because the statement on which the attacks are based is that the railway fare is 4s. 7½d. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the distance?"] I think it is about fifteen miles.
§ Mr. W. R. SMITH
Is not the point put by the hon. Gentleman that the fare of the civilian is 1s. 3d. pre-war rate, which, with 50 per cent, added, would come to 4s. 7½d.
§ Major-General SEELY
I cannot say; but that has nothing to do with the case on a general question of which is the cheaper, to remove the camp to where the ladies live or bring the ladies by train. 1141 I say we went into the cost, and we found it more expensive to move the camp, especially as the camp will very shortly be moved to Uxbridge, when the demobilisation is complete. On the specific point I claim I have a good case and am entitled to the support of the House. That is all I care about.
Sir J. WALTON
Perhaps it is only fair if I ask him if he can explain away the enormous waste of public money for the Loch Doon project?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member may take part in the Debate, and it is not right to interrupt with all sorts of questions.
§ Major-General SEELY
I am a very long way from the Loch Doon episode, and can not go into that. There is an exceptional difficulty in the case of the Royal Air Force in returning from a war basis to a peace basis. It is quite different to the other forces in that, first of all, so great a proportion of our costs is the cost of material, whereas, in the case of the War Office especially, the cost of the men is a much larger proportion. Secondly— and this is more important— we have not got a permanent Air Force. We are building up the new force at the same time as we are reducing the old. It is an extraordinarily difficult task, and I say frankly that the proper criticism to direct against me, and a thing of which I am undoubtedly guilty, is that, in desiring to carry out my duty, I have reduced too fast. I do not myself leave my office as a rule before eight. General Trenchard and his officers, and General Sykes, are always there still. These men have been working for the last few months ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day. I blame myself for having made this mistake. I must try and repair it I have made a great mistake in reducing the staff too fast. General Trenchard loyally, of course, accepted the general directions I gave, and the result is that all these officials are gravely overworked, but I must say that they have worked well. I saw General Trenchard this morning, and he said to me, "I wish you would tell those to whom you speak that I long to hear any cases of extravagance. I know there must be some, but I cannot be every where. Only this morning, he said, he received a letter from Mr. Dorien Smith in Syria, pointing out a considerable waste of public money. On his behalf and on my own I invite hon. Members who have evidence of waste to let me have it. We want to know all we can, and any help 1142 that my hon. Friends can give me I shall be most grateful for, and so will General Trenchard and all those who work with him. I have found time to go to a great many of these centres. If it had not been for the aeroplane itself I could not have done it, but its swiftness has enabled me to visit twenty-three of the different centres in the last two weeks. I will do my best to ensure that there is no waste; but it is difficult, and will take time to build up the new force, and at the same time to reduce the old, and in the third case to ensure that its work is being done efficiently.
§ Major-General SEELY
No time is being lost in dealing with any case of waste which is reported to me. One last word. Running through all these comments which have been raised not only in this House but in the Press, I see an idea—that, after all, the Air Force may not be worth while. It is sometimes definitely asked, "What is the good of this Royal Air Force? Is it worth while keeping it? It is fantastic to suppose that you must spend millions of money on an Air Force. "That is really to forget the immediate past. I know no one forgets it in this House. It is to forget the present and the future. Take the present only. The Royal Air Force, I can claim, has already this year saved millions of money and thousands of precious lives. Take the case of Afghanistan. Compare the late rebellion with what happened in 1879. Lord Roberts, than whom there was never a more efficient commander, especially in India, conducted that campaign with extraordinary skill, but it cost £14,000,000 to the Indian Government, let alone what it cost us, and thousands of precious lives. This year again the Amir was deposed and another proclaimed a Holy War, just as before, attacked our frontier posts and called on his subjects to drive us out of India, incidentally, of course, driving out, not so much ourselves, as others. I am not here to say that the Air Force stopped the War, but I am here to say that a great many wise men think so. I will only read what two of them have said. Sir William Bird wood, whose knowledge of India in recent years is unrivalled, said the other day in public:The moral effect of the aeroplane on the tribes (of Afghanistan) must have been tremen- 1143 dous, and it would probably save India scores of rupees and shorten what might otherwise have been a long war.Then General Sir O' Moore Creagh, the late Commander-in-Chie£ in India, on another occasion said:With regard to the effect of aeroplanes on war, it was no doubt perfectly true that had aeroplanes existed at the time of the Afghan War in 1878, instead of that war lasting two years, it would have lasted two months at the very outside, and much money and many valuable human lives would have been saved.I do not think anybody who studies the facts can doubt that the power of the air to save life and treasure is immeasurable, and we must have an Air Force, and a good Air Force. The parallel of Egypt is even more remarkable. We had a rebellion in Egypt, and the censorship was then on. The rebellion was of a most dangerous description, and all communications were cut, railways, telegraphs, telephones, and no communication of any kind was carried on for several days except by air. It was a well-fomented, well-organised rebellion, very much like the previous rebellion, though more formidable, when Lord Wolseley conducted what has been called the model campaign for swiftness and economy, the campaign of 1882—a man of extraordinary genius for that kind of war, and, as I think, for all kinds of war. He conducted that brief campaign, in which most of the troops were only there for a couple of months, and he crushed that dangerous rebellion, but in that short time it cost us £1,800,000. What did our Air Force cost us during the same period in Afghanistan and Egypt? It is difficult to compute, because they had to be there in any case, and in ordinary practise flying they do not use so much, but they use a great deal of the materials that they use in war, but I told those who engage in these matters, finance and other branches, to make me the largest estimate they could, and they put it at £43,000, against £14,000,000; £43,000 against £1,800,000. That would not be a just comparison, for, of course, other troops co-operated, but if it j be true, as is indicated, that it was the j bombing that stopped the Afghan War and that it was the aeroplanes that quelled the Egyptian rebellion, it is not too much to say that this country has been saved tens of millions of pounds by having a fairly efficient Air Force. I say fairly efficient, because I know that in India there was much left to be desired in the aeroplanes there. They had all been required on the 1144 Western Front, but had there been an efficient force, as we could have had had there not been a European War just before, the cost would have been far less and the result would have been far more decisive. In conclusion, I guarantee the House to make every effort to economise in every possible way consistent with the efficiency of the Royal Air Force, and I ask the support of the House for those, like General Trenchard, on the military side, and General Sykes, on the civil aide, apart from the question of economy, which is my responsibility and not theirs, to assist them in every way in the difficult task of building up this great force.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I have now got a shorthand note, and this is what the right hon. Gentleman says:or allow people to say you were to blame in making an error. I think I should have made the same error myself.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I shall be glad to do that—I do not wish to be drawn into a controversy with the Committee on what was obviously a mistake or allow people to say you were to blame in making an error. I think I should have made the same error myself.That is all the answer.
§ Major-General SEELY
I did try to impress the Committee over which my right hon. Friend presides with the fact that I did not wish, as it appears from these notes, to say that they had made a very ridiculous statement. To say that I thought I should have made the same error myself was, I think, extraordinarily kind on my part, because having the facts before me, and as my right hon. Friend challenges me, I cannot help thinking that even in my most unwise moments I could not have assumed that a car would cost £2,700. I find here a great deal which shows the impression I gave to the House is not entirely wrong. I said, "It is an extraordinary misunderstanding; that is the cause of the trouble." If I hurt the right hon. Gentleman's feelings, I am sorry, but I repeat that it is an extra ordinary misunderstanding. I cannot think how he did it, and if I said that I might have made the error myself, I can only say I was anxious to let him down easy.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The closing sentences of my right hon. Friend's speech 1145 were, if I may be allowed to say so, rather a work of supererogation, because no one in the House at all differs in the least degree as to the debt we owe to the Air Force for their great assistance generally and in the campaigns which are at present going on. On that there is perfectly common agreement, but the only point that we are trying to elucidate here is as to whether this £60,000,000 or £66,000,000 which has been granted to the Air Force is being wisely and economically spent. That is the real issue before us. I am quite sure my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London will be well able to take care of himself when he intervenes in this Debate. I will only say one thing with regard to the matter at issue between him and my right hon. Friend, and that is on the Report itself, which is in the hands, I should imagine, of most of the Members of the House, the Third Report on National Expenditure from this Committee. My right hon. Friend said that these touring cars, cars for personal use, have been cut down to somewhere about six. We are delighted to hear it, and I only want to know when that reduction took place, because I find in this Report, which has been issued as late as 7th August, that there is an estimate as to what it cost up to March, 1919, and it gives the total cost and also the total number of cars. At the risk of wearying the House I will read the particulars. It says that in March, 1919, there were: Crossley touring cars, 19; Ford touring cars, 19; Rolls-Royce touring cars, 2; Daimler touring car, 1; Rolls-Royce Limousine, 1; Rolls-Royce landaulettes, 4; Crossley landaulettes, 27; Ford landaulettes, 6; a total of 79. The estimated cost was in round figures £71,000, excluding spare parts (other than tyres) and materials used for repairs and renewals of vehicles, maintenance and repair of buildings and plant, and depreciation of vehicles. What that amounts to I do not know, but I am pretty sure I am well within the mark when I say it is at least £10,000. Therefore, for this Motor Transport Section in London, there was an estimated cost of at least £80,000 up to March, 1919, and there were no less than seventy-nine touring cars used for the personal convenience of members of the staff of the Air Force.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I withdraw the words "personal convenience" then. This is the 1146 point I want to make. Ever since my right hon. Friend issued his Reports—and I think the country and the House are very much indebted to him for the three Reports which have been issued—many questions were asked here which raised a great deal of amusement with regard to the personal details as to the user of these cars, but all the while we never heard of this remarkable reduction which we have heard of to-day, and this is the deduction from it, that owing to the action of my right hon. Friend and his Committee, and this House asserting itself, very slightly indeed compared with what its powers and its sense of responsibility ought to be, we now have these cars cut down to such a minimum that the right hon. Gentleman thinks it his duty in the interests of efficiency to raise the number. But luxury is cut down, and that is what we are after. I repeat that we are much indebted to those who have taken the trouble to elicit these facts, and the result has been a reaction at once to publicity. That is what we want. To go on to the matter which is dealt with in other parts of this Third Report, if they are substantially correct, I am certain I am well within the terms of moderation when I say that it shocked the House and the country very considerably. There are just three points I shall endeavour to make as briefly as possible, and they appear to me to be these. First, that this work carried on at Renfrew was carried on under conditions which, to put it mildly, have given rise to the deepest suspicion, so much so that my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate, in the official communication which was sent on his behalf on the 6th of March, 1919, said:Further, a prosecution would reveal what appears to be inefficiency and absence of control on the part of the representatives of the Ministry on the spot.There is no doubt at all of inefficiency and absence of control. This Select Committee have heard the witnesses, and what is their decision? With regard to this undertaking, Sir John Hunter made a general statement that 70,000 men were not earning their wages, and he goes on further to state that so much was his sense of public duty aroused, that he got a firm of measurers to measure up the work. I would explain that measurers in Scotland correspond to Clerks of Works or surveyors here in measuring up work. He said:A firm of Measurers was engaged by me, and their work is now practically complete, and it 1147 appears that already there is a sum of about £60,000 charged by the contractors to the job which cannot be accounted for.There are other points in connection with this matter with which I do not propose to deal. I now come straight to the complaint of the Committee with regard to the want of action on the part of my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate. I want to say at once with regard to him, that he has been for many years in this House, and, if he will allow me to say so, a personal friend of mine, and I am quite certain, whatever action he took, was animated solely by bonâ fide motives. Of that I am quite sure. We are all liable to mistakes, and I dare say he will be able to prove he was quite right in what he did. At any rate, I agree that he acted honourably, and with a full sense of his public duty to the House at the time. He said:The evidence available is insufficient to afford any strong probability of obtaining a conviction. There is no evidence at all that any of the accused applied to their own uses any of the money said to have been improperly obtained from the Ministry. This circumstance, though it does not in itself provide an answer to a charge of fraud, makes the insufficiency of the evidence more formidable than would otherwise be the case. Further, a prosecution would reveal what appears to be inefficiency and absence of control on the part of the representatives of the Ministry on the spot.On that the Committee expressed their regret that the Lord Advocate gave the advice which he did, and did not take action as requested by those who were responsible, and knew, as they thought, the facts of the case. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate will agree with me that that requires an explanation, which he is going to give to the House this afternoon. I leave it there until we have heard what he has to say, only promising this, that the duty of a Law Officer of the Crown, I understand, is not to find out whether there is an overwhelming case for a prosecution, but, as I have always thought—although I may be quite wrong—that where a clear primâ facie case is made out, and there is a reasonable chance of any jury convicting, then, in the public interest, no matter who the offender may be, great or small, especially in the circumstances in which we are living to-day, at any rate the public ought to have the opportunity of hearing what the facts are with regard to a charge of that kind. That is the only statement I would make with regard to that.
I pass on to the other part of the case. It seems to me extraordinarily difficult to 1148 avoid the conclusion that here, at any rate, we have come upon something which requires an immense amount of explanation. I quite agree with what my right hon. Friend said, that it is rather difficult to bring specific cases. The whole machinery lies with the Government, and it is a very difficult job, as I know from this side of the House, to get together material upon which one feels justified in making a charge, or even asking for an investigation. The public is at a great disadvantage in these matters. But what is the statement of the case here? A contract was required for 30,000 coat frocks, and 30,000 overcoats for women. Two firms are concerned in the matter—one of them in Manchester (Messrs. Cohen and Wilks) and another in London (Messrs. Kenneth Durward). Messrs Kenneth Durward's pattern was unanimously selected by the Committee. As it turned out in the evidence, so far as I can see, that pattern never came before the Assistant Director of Army Contracts, but the contract goes direct to this Manchester firm, and there is all through the statements made in this Report the suggestion of sly and underhand dealing which wants clearing up, and if any people are anywhere near the meshes of the law, they ought to be prosecuted.
The position which is taken up with regard to two ladies, Miss O'Sullivan and Miss Douglas-Pennant, is also one which requires very adequate explanation. They took a very proper view—this is a woman's job dealing with the question of women's clothing; why not let women inspect? It was even said that twelve women could do what forty men were not doing very well. No satisfaction comes from protest, and the whole thing is finally left in a way which, to put it mildly, is unsatisfactory to the last degree. The question I want to address to the Government in regard to that point is this. The matter cannot be left where it has been left by this Report, or even by any statement made in this House. It ought to go much further, and it can. There are a lot of public-spirited Members of this House who are quite willing to give up something of the Vacation to take up the matter here and get to the bottom of it. And, whatever happens, I beg again, let us have publicity. If there is nothing in these things, that will satisfy the public, but if you have a half-shade of semi-privacy, you will not allay suspicion, and labour and other unrest. If you do this in the open air, that 1149 is the right way to deal with it, and I urge that very definitely and strongly on the Government.
I want to pass on from that, because, after all, these scandals—and they are scandals—are things apart. I want to make a reference to what is going on at present at Slough. Hon. Members will remember the Debate which we had in this House, and the fact that a Joint Select Committee sat. What was the ease that I endeavoured to make in the House? It was a very difficult' matter indeed to get material such as it was, but the real point I endeavoured to make was that at the date of the Armistice, on November 11th or 13th, the Committee on National Expenditure was sitting, had actually reported to the Government, and suggested that a halt should be called. Yet that very time was selected by those who had the power, and those who were in office, to start the whole thing on a scale and at a pace which it was impossible to stop. So far had the thing gone when the question was raised in this House that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said it really did not matter much what was said, they were going on. And what, after all, is the conclusion to which this Committee has come? I will read it.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I cannot read the whole, but I will read it as fairly as I can. If the hon. Member is satisfied with this Report, he does not want much satisfying. I say, if this is the hon. Gentleman's standard of how public money should be spent, and how public plans should be made for peace-time—if that is the standard of Government, then I say it is quite time there was a change all round. Let me read one or two of the paragraphs which excite pleasure, I should imagine, in the hon. Gentleman's mind. In their Report the Joint Select Committee on Government Works at Cippenham state, on page 11, paragraph 4:The Committee consider that these estimates should have been subjected at once to the independent scrutiny recommended by the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and postulated where public money was at stake. Had this scrutiny taken place at the proper time, which was when the Armistice was signed, a different light would have been thrown upon these estimates, and the whole future policy might have been different.At the present time it is obviously too late to turn back. The same was the case at the date widen this Committee was appointed nearly five 1150 months after the decision to proceed with completion. The result is that the nation is in possession of an elaborate and costly factory, partially completed. It carries with it a commercial undertaking of which the financial aspects have, in the opinion of this Committee, been insufficiently considered. And this undertaking is based upon a calculation of profit which was-represented to the Committee as its justification, but which, in fact, is unlikely to be realised.I will read the first paragraph in the summing-up. There are qualifications, but, in my judgment, they do not amount to-very much.To sum up, the Committee are of opinion that the decision to continue the works after the Armistice was taken without sufficient consideration of the altered conditions and without any trust worthy estimate of the financial results of the undertaking, and, presented as a commercial proposition, has not been justified by the evidence given before the Committee.What is going on to-day? Tens of thousands of motor vehicles have been drawn from all parts of the country—thousands of them by rail. Anyone who knows anything about the railway haulage in these days, the block on the lines with this heavy traffic, will know what that means. And there they are, standing by tens of thousands, although the expert Committee recommended that it was quite useless, in the commercial sense, to spend more than £150 on one of these vehicles for repair. The vehicle that has to be sent by rail is probably not worth sending. It should be repaired on the spot, or left. The whole place is pretty well choked up with these motors. It is estimated that at the end three years' repair work will have been done. What are they doing? Getting out plans for 400 or 500 houses, which, it is estimated, they require for about 3,000 men. It is estimated they will cost about £750,000, or say, £500,000. Three special trains are to be run from London every day, and one from Reading. The men are being paid the highest wages—about which I do not grumble—and what does it all amount to? This undertaking is being driven on with all the speed, power, and the vast resources of a Government Department, and, all the while, where is the Government turning to to-day for the money, men, and material for housing? Wherever you go, it is the same thing. This is to cost the country £2,000,000. Undoubtedly, I should have thought the right thing to do in these days was to cut your loss even if it was £500,000, £600,000, or £700,000. My right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Churchill) made an observation. The Committee said it was too late, far too late at that time- 1151 The thing should have been done at the Armistice. That was the time for it. I say it is too late. It has gone too far-There is evidence here of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day, that Ministers have no time to think. If they have not got time—I do not know—what is the thing coming to. The whole project is, as I say, being driven along as if we were dreading an attack from the Germans. It would appear that, having spent all this money to get this thing together, the Minister in charge must go on and make the best of it. If hon. Members care to go down and look at this place they will find it is twice the size of Hyde Park. It is a constant answer to anyone who wants to know whether the Government has been efficiently run and economically administered. Well, it is as my right hon. Friend says, or suggests: these cases break down when you examine them? One after another the Departments get up to speak in their own defence. After all, where is the money going?
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
You are getting it primâ facie by borrowing. It is being spent. We are taking it at its face value, anyhow. Where is it going? The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister both spoke on Thursday. The Chancellor admitted, very properly and rightly, I think, that his estimate of expenditure at the present rate is to be exceeded by at least £180,000,000 by the end of the financial year. Taking his new money, about £400,000,000 or £500,000,000, and by adding that the deficit which he already comtemplates, there will not even be the sum of £150,000,000 or £200,000,000 at the outside left at the end of the term to redeem our short-dated obligations. We want more than half the new money to balance the difference estimated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to arise between his revenue and his expenditure.
Wherever we turn it is the same story. There is no breadth of vision. Departments proceed on their own. There is no central controlling power. It is our supreme duty, as the Prime Minister, very rightly and properly, said the other day, to be careful as to the basis of our existence. Finance is the basis of our existence. The liberties of the House of Com- 1152 mons have been bought in the struggle over finance with kings. The liberties of this House will have to be got back in the struggle with the Finance Minister who usurps the power of this House. Wherever we turn it is no use. We can get answers put up against us. We know it. Of course, they can beat us nearly every time. But the people feel the hard realities of the taxes. These pretty explanations about these matters fade away before the whole of the facts. I lay this indictment against the Ministry to-day: That in this supreme crisis of the financial history of the nation, and its existence, it is failing to do its duty, to effect retrenchment of expenditure, which can be easily done. Until some effort is put up in this House it will be with great difficulty that they will be able to act on what the nation is demanding—that is, the simple, ordinary costom of an individual who wants to pay his way. We should be able, in connection with our great spending Departments, to know where we are once again. There was a very great Chancellor of the Exchequer. Whatever his views may have been in other respects everybody agrees that he was possibly the greatest Chancellor who ever stood at that box. I refer to the great Gladstone. What did he say?All excess in the public expenditure beyond the legitimate wants of the country is not only pecuniary waste, but a great political and, above all, a great moral danger. It is characteristic of the mischiefs that arise from financial prodigality that they creep onwards with noiseless and stealthy tread, and that they commonly remain unseen and unfelt until they have reached a magnitude absolutely overwhelming.That is a description of our position today—absolutely overwhelming ! We have financial, political, and moral evils rampant amongst us. There is no doubt about it. Will the Government, before we pass away from these things to an Autumn Vacation, rise to the height of their responsibilities? What chance have we got in the existing condition of business? We cannot bring them to a single issue. If we vote against this Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill we have got to bring in all the services, and we cannot get that opportunity. We can only implore them, in the name of our existence as a nation which is desirous of paying its way, and to stand upright before the rest of the world, as a great and honourable trading community—implore them to get fully seised of the danger of this thing.
1153 The Chancellor of the Exchequer has proved himself a brave man. He has sacrificed office more than once for what ha believed to be the right course. I would ask him here and now—if he were sitting opposite—to do what he has done; and if those concerned do not respond to his appeals for economy—and I know he has been making great efforts—if his Departments will not cut down their expenditure, if they will allow this molluscous, parasitical growth which is choking us to continue—I say, let him take a strong line and the whole people will be at his back.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Clyde)
I propose to confine my remarks to the topic which was alluded to in the discussion by my right hon. Friend who opened this Debate, and which was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last in terms as kindly to me as his own temperament usually is. It was only yesterday, when I admit I was still enjoying the remaining hours of a prolonged week-end in the country, that I first heard of the comment and criticism which have been publicly invoked in the Sunday papers in the first instance, and in the Monday papers as well, by the publication, I understand, late on Saturday, of the Third Report of the Committee on National Expenditure, and particularly the last part of it, in which the discharge of my official duties is made the subject of remark and comment. I dare say that it may have been inevitable. It is possible that some misconception in regard to the position should be created by the publication in the report of a letter from me in connection with my Department in reply to a communication of the Air Ministry from Sir John Hunter, and without a fuller and more exact presentation of the facts which surrounded both these documents. It may have been inevitable. My letter in particular may have raised some misconceptions either in the minds of members of the Committee, or, still more, in the minds of those outside this House, who make it their business to comment upon public affairs.
This, however, I am certain of, that a true appreciation of what took place, a true understanding of the position, can only be arrived at when the facts surrounding these documents are placed before this House. That is what I propose to do now. The Renfrew Aerodrome was contracted for. There were 1154 really two separate parts of the contract, though I am not going into any of the details. The Renfrew Aerodrome was contracted for under a contract originally made by the War Office, and subsequently taken over and retrospectively reconstituted by the Air Ministry. The original contract was somewhere in 1917—I think near the end. I am not sure of the exact date. But the reconstitution of it was on 8th February, 1918. That I do know. By the end of the year 1918, after the work had gone on for something like a year and a half, the Air Ministry, or the administrator on its behalf, became aware that the affairs of the contract were in a state of extreme mismanagement. The information put before me was that as a result of inquiries which he made at that stage— the work having been going on for about a year and a half or more—he had satisfied himself that there was some £50,000 or £60,000 of public money spent for which there was no work to show. I had that information presented to me about the end of 1918. The matter upon which my Department—the Criminal Department in Scotland—was approached by Sir John Hunter had, however, no direct connection with that situation at all. I am afraid that almost anyone who read this Report would imagine that the £50,000 or £60,000 of public money, which Sir John Hunter complained of was lost, was then the subject of, or was to be the subject of, contemplated criminal proceedings. That is altogether a misunderstanding of the situation. The only information lodged with my Department in reference to criminal proceedings had regard to two paltry sums of £89 5s. 2d. and £196 19s. 3d., or in all £286 4s. 5d. It is upon the fate of the contemplated proceedings in reference to these two sums, and to these two alone, that the whole of the matter of the second and third pages of the Report of the Committee is devoted.
What was the information laid before my Department? It was that these two sums have been fraudulently misappropriated by four subordinates on the Renfrew contract. They were persons who had to do with the cash and business management side of the contract, and the charge was that these four, or one or other of them, had pilfered the cash of the contract and had fraudulently misappropriated to themselves these two sums. As soon as that charge was lodged with my Department I immediately instructed a full criminal investigation through the 1155 ordinary channels of criminal inquiry commonly used in Scotland, and the four persons accused were immediately arrested. They were, as usual, required to make a declaration. They all did so, and none of them confessed anything whatever with regard to the charge. The investigation was carried out sometime between the middle of December and early in February, and what were the facts that that investigation disclosed?
The Committee will readily understand me when I say that to bring a criminal prosecution it is not enough to bring a vague criminal charge, or support it by vague evidence. It must be a specific change, and it must be supported by specific evidence relative to particular sums with regard to which the abuse is said to have arisen. By the middle of February, when these investigations were complete, it became perfectly clear that with regard to the first of the two sums in question any idea of prosecution must be abandoned. The reason was that it was not possible to obtain evidence by which you could define particular entries in the accounts as being ungenuine, false or inaccurate. Let me explain this. The suggestion by those who made the charge was that there were included in the wages sheets certain entries of wages paid which, in fact, were not paid, but, on the contrary, had been misappropriated by those who made up the wages sheet. The first problem was to identify those alleged false entries.
With regard to the first of the two sums in question, the evidence necessary for that purpose was wholly wanting. With regard to the second of the two sums in question, the evidence was exceedingly thin, although there was some evidence; the difficulties in regard to identification were very great, but there was just some evidence. I therefore had the inquiries exhausted. I think I ought to explain at this stage one feature which the affairs of this contract presented. Its accounts and its bookkeeping were in a state of confusion; they did not look as if they had been kept by experienced persons, and they certainly bore no sign of having been inspected, supervised, or checked by experienced persons. The result was that a great deal of the material for which one ordinarily looks for the purpose of checking the statement and showing it to be correct was in this case unavailable.
1156 I have said that at the outset the difficulty was one purely of obtaining evidence to make the charge specific. That was fatal to the charge in regard to the smaller sum and very nearly fatal with regard to the other sum. With regard to this charge the evidence which was obtainable and was obtained by us completely disposed of the idea that the money in question had been pocketed by any one or more of the four persons charged, and accordingly the whole basis of the information, which was that these two sums had been pilfered by those in control of that part of the cash and business side of the contract, disappeared. That, of course, did not absolutely conclude the question of whether there had been some fraudulent practice in relation to the contract or not, but the Committee will realise how even that hope—if one ought to hope for a prosecution or conviction at any time—was dashed to the ground when I say that even those who were able to say that they understood there were entries in the wages sheet that were not reliable, coupled that evidence with the explanation that the entries made, and which were open to criticism, represented money actually paid, although not in all cases to the men whose names appeared opposite the sums.
I will explain how that arose. There is a practice, I think, in contracts on both sides of the Border where work has to be done sometimes under very dirty and disagreeable conditions, by which the men obtain what they call dirty money, and it is very often paid. In this work dirty money was asked for when there was dirty work to do, and it was paid. In order to get the dirty money which was paid to the gang which actually performed the dirty work through the wages sheet it had to be entered up in the wages sheet of the week succeeding the week in which the payments were actually made. It was so entered, but care was not taken to enter the money opposite the name or names of the men who actually got the dirty money pay. There were a very large number of men employed on this work. I do not think it was a businesslike method, and it should have been different in order to make these entries accurate, but they were not accurately made. We were told that there were instances in which names were put in and names selected at random in order to cover the money paid as dirty money to somebody the week before.
1157 That was a very reprehensible practice, and nobody would commend it; but the only question I had to consider, and by which I must be judged, is, What was left of the criminal charge? I came to the conclusion that nothing was left of the criminal charge, and accordingly, in the beginning of the month of March, after having carefully and personally gone into the whole of the papers in this case, because I knew the Air Ministry were exceedingly anxious that a prosecution should be raised, and having made up my mind—and I see no reason whatever to alter it—that there was no ground whatever for my raising criminal proceedings which I regarded as hopeless, and that there was no evidence that would have enabled me to identify the sums with regard to which my charge would have to be made, I made up my mind to communicate to the Air Ministry the fact that I did not see my way to raise any proceedings which I could hope would have any useful result.
I must explain one thing more before I come to my letter of the 6th of March. There were three reasons which guided me in coming to my conclusion. The first of them was that I had not available evidence which would enable me to present a case to the jury; the second was that I had no evidence whatever, but quite the contrary, that the persons implicated had pocketed any of the money; and thirdly, even if there had been a glimmer of hope of presenting a prosecution, I had learned from the evidence obtained that the representatives of the Air Ministry on the spot, if they did not know, certainly ought to have known of the whole matter with regard to the practice of paying the dirty money and the way in which it was entered up. If experience has taught me any lesson it is that if you are asking a jury to convict somebody of fraud, and you have to disclose to your jury that the persons whose business it was to check and control did not exercise supervision and control, but that, on the contrary, by their own neglect they had facilitated looseness and laxity, you are certain to fail. Those three things were all in my mind, and each of them confirmed the other, and when I wrote my letter of the 6th of March to Sir John Hunter I told him each of the three. I will ask the House to listen for a moment to what I actually said:With reference to your telegram of the 9th of December last to the Crown agent, and confirmation thereof regarding fraudulent practices 1158 in connection with contracts for the Renfrew Aerodrome, I am directed by the Lord Advocate to inform you that, after full inquiry and consideration, he does not see his way to order a prosecution. The evidence available is insufficient to afford any strong probability of obtaining a conviction.I do not in the least cavil at the form in which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir D. Maclean) put it as "a fair chance." In my letter I proceeded:There is no evidence at all that any of the accused applied to their own uses any of the money said to have been improperly obtained from the Ministry. This circumstance, though it does not in itself provide an answer to a charge of fraud, makes the insufficiency of the evidence more formidable than would otherwise be the case. Further, a prosecution would reveal what appears to be inefficiency and absence of control on the part of the representatives of the Ministry on the spot. In view of these considerations, His Lordship regrets that he cannot come to any other decision than that intimated above.I have nothing to add to or withdraw from those three reasons. I have no reason to think that any one of them is other than good. I was well aware, however, that the Air Ministry was exceedingly anxious for proceedings, and within a few days of the writing of my letter of the 6th March I had communicated to me from the Air Ministry, on the 19th March, a communication to that Ministry by Sir John Hunter, which occupies the bulk of page 3 of the Report of the Committee. I saw from it, and knew, that Sir John Hunter was grievously disappointed. He was, to my knowledge, exceedingly vexed by the state of things which, after eighteen months of work, he had discovered to exist in connection with the Renfrew contract, and, although I think his communication in some respects a little unguarded —I will have something to say about that in a moment—I quite appreciated the vexation of mind and annoyance in which he found himself at that time. I accordingly thought it proper to see Sir John Hunter, and we had a meeting with Sir John Hunter accordingly. I did not deal with the detailed criticism in his note. I dealt particularly with that part of it in which he said that he thought a refusal to prosecute created an awkward position for his Ministry and increased their difficulties.
What I pointed out to him was this: I said, "You are grumbling in connection with this contract that £50,000 or £60,000 of public money has disappeared without work to show for it. Even if I raise a prosecution about this £286, and 1159 that prosecution ended in success, which it would not, it will carry you no distance at all to the recovery of the public money which you think is lost—the £50,000 or £60,000. Moreover, if you want to show the public what mismanagement there will by the contractor at the Renfrew Aerodrome, your best plan is to raise civil proceedings for the recovery of that £60,000." I told him that I thought it could be done, and I said, "If you want to get at the real thing, the £50,000 or £60,000, do not waste your time and waste public money in a futile attempt to prosecute these underlings for a paltry £286, in which I think you will fail, but expose the whole affair in Court in civil proceedings for the recovery of the £50,000 or £60,000." I said more than that. I said, "I cannot see my way to go on with this prosecution, which you want. It will not do, but if you take civil proceedings and the result of inquiry in the civil proceedings is to reveal evidence which I have not got into touch with now or to put a different complexion on the reports of this £286 which are before me at the present moment, I will reconsider the question of criminal prosecution when the civil proceedings are over."
I cannot help regretting that the only indication in this Report that I had any meeting with the administrator at all is at the very end of paragraph 6 on page 3, where the matter is dismissed with the statement, "Later, the witness saw the Lord Advocate personally, but he refused to alter his decision." I think it is to be regretted that the actual position in which this matter was left in the month of March was not distinctly stated, for I think if that had been stated a very different complexion would, for outsiders, who knew nothing of the circumstances, have been put upon the events which have occurred. I ought to add this, that I saw the administrator personally more than once. So far as I am aware, I treated him and all his representations with the greatest consideration I could show to him. I confess that I thought he was perfectly satisfied with the advice I had given him. I had not the remotest idea that when his own administration of the Air Force affairs was inquired into, he was going to flourish in the faces of the Committee my refusal to prosecute these poor underlings for £286 for alleged peculation, and his 1160 somewhat violent letter of protest as a kind of smoke screen behind which to avoid any further discussion of the matter.
I must deal with his letter paragraph by paragraph. The first paragraph in the letter has the sting in the tail of it. It is on the top of page 3:Any question, therefore, of the possible effects of the prosecution in revealing inefficiency and lack of control on the part of representatives of this Department on the site should be ignored altogether. As the person most affected I cannot concur in the view that such a question should be allowed to affect the legal question in the case.If by that is meant that no regard must be had to persons in respect of criminal prosecution, I should agree with him, and unless he had misread my letter he knew from its terms that one of the reasons which led me to the opinion that even if there had been a charge, on putting some kind of a case to the jury I should have hopelessly prejudiced the case by revealing to the jury that any amount of opportunity was open to anybody on that contract through the negligence, irregularity, looseness, and failure of duty on the 'part of subordinates of the Air Ministry. The next paragraph says:I find it very difficult to understand how a criminal charge cannot be formulated and a conviction obtained, having regard to the admissions made and in some oases signed by persons charged.Here there has been either a lapse of memory or some complete misunderstanding. There was no admission or signed confession by any one of the persons charged. They have all emitted a declaration, but there was nothing whatever in the declaration. If they had made a confession or signed a declaration there would be a plea of guilty. In the next paragraph he says:It is admitted that the books and time sheets were falsified by entering thereon the names of men said to be employed on the job, but who did not, in fact, exist. Wages were drawn regularly and charged as having been paid to these men. Where did that money go? The Lord Advocate says there is no evidence that any of the accused applied to their own uses any of the money said to 'have been improperly obtained from the Air Ministry. But would not any jury on the facts above" stated draw the obvious inference that the persons responsible for putting these 'dead men' on the books and drawing wages regularly for them from Government funds, had, in fact, put the money in their own pockets.I dare say they would, but no case could have been brought which left the facts in that position. On the contrary, the facts brought out by the prosecution would 1161 inevitably have shown how that money was disposed of, and the inference which Sir John Hunter thinks might easily have been drawn would, when the facts were known, have been blown out of the water. In the next paragraph the letter says—But I wish to carry the matter further and to point out that the position, if no prosecution is attempted, is, in my opinion, more serious for the Air Ministry than if a prosecution should be started and fail.That was the matter with which I dealt when I saw him, and suggested the advisability of not wasting his time and public money by a criminal prosecution of the underlings, but that he should deal with the matter by raising civil proceedings. The next three paragraphs do not require any notice, but the fourth paragraph contains at the end this sentence, which deals with the same matter:Even if the prosecution should fail on whatever charge was formulated, the evidence must be such as to strengthen the position of the Government against the contractors and save money to the country.In my opinion it would have done nothing of the sort. Then there comes at the end of his communication the singularly bald statement,Later the witness saw the Lord Advocate personally, but he refused to alter his decision.The comments which have been made, not in this House but outside this House with regard to this matter, have been, full of the suggestion that my purpose, or at all events the effect of what I did, was to shield somebody in the Air Ministry from exposure. How baseless that suggestion is appears the moment it is known that my advice to the administrator when I saw that a prosecution must fail was to expose the whole matter in open Court in a civil action. I think I need say nothing more about that except perhaps this, that I was aware that the administrator would much have preferred criminal proceedings if those could have been raised, but for the reasons which I indicated I thought, and think, that that was out of the question. Lastly, I ought to say that the civil proceedings which I advised as early as March have been under instructions recently obtained and taken in hand and their commencement is now imminent.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think the House will understand that the work my Committee has been doing is neither agreeable nor pleasant and that it entails upon the members a very considerable amount of hard labour. The Subcommittee of which I have the honour to be chairman has sat two days a week ever since it was 1162 appointed last March, and in addition there are the meetings of the main Committee and other work the members have to do. It is very easy to say, "Why do not you make specific charges?" Anyone who has sat on one of these Committees, and who desires to do his duty to his country and the House of Commons, knows it is not possible to make specific charges unless evidence is brought before you to that effect, and it is not always easy to get evidence on these specific points. My hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary to the Air Ministry (Major-General Seely) had some little personal controversy with myself over the question of the motor cars. He got slightly angry when I said to him, "You yourself admitted that you had made a mistake." He denied that. I have shown by the shorthand notes that he was mistaken and that I was accurate in that statement. What took place over these special motor cars? Neither my Committee nor myself desire in any way to exaggerate what we have seen nor to make any charges or accusations which we cannot prove. We have been most careful not to come to any conclusion of our own, but our desire has been to put before the country and the House of Commons the evidence which we had before us. What conclusions the country or the House of Commons may care to draw from that evidence I do not know. It is not my business. It was the business of my Committee, and of myself as chairman, to put before the country the evidence we had before us and that is all we have done. It is an unpopular rôle to play, but we were bound to accept it. With regard to these motor cars, we asked the Department to give us an estimate of the cost. The Department said at first they did not know. We replied, "We do not ask you to tell us offhand, but we want you to find out what the cost was and submit a document thereon." They thereupon put in a document. They chose their own week. We never asked for an estimate for a week. That is a most misleading period. The expenses, in one week vary greatly from those of another week. A year would have been the only proper period to take, but they gave us their own week and their own month, and the document stated what were the expenses of motor cars at the garage at Kennington.
§ Major-General SEELY
May I again point out that the document did nothing of the sort? There were two garages and hence the error.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The document speaks of the garage at Kennington. There is another at Belvedere Road. But there was no estimate put in with regard to the latter. We were more concerned, therefore, with the motor garage at Kennington and we came to the conclusion that the estimate was for the motor cars at that place. We said nothing whatever about the 2,700 cars. We merely said it was at the rate of so much a year. We made recommendations, and one of those recommendations was that we thought that whatever was necessary during the War it was not necessary after the War, and that it tended to create an atmosphere of extravagance, when one went to the Hotel Cecil, to see a large number of heavy Rolls-Royce limousines and very nice-looking ladies standing about to drive them. We also saw a large number of motor cycles. The estimate had to be divided by the number of motor cycles.
§ Major-General SEELY
I cannot allow my right hon. Friend to misrepresent me unintentionally. The document which I have furnished to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and which I can circulate to the House, pointed out that we had to make estimates of the relative cost of motor cycles on the one hand and of heavy lorries on the other. The cycles, of course, cost far less than the cars, and some of the heavy lorries cost a great deal more. But all that is made clear in the Report.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
It was the second estimate which took a week in May, and which it was quite impossible for anyone to understand. We requested that a proper estimate should be put in for the year ending 31st March, 1918. That has been done and it shows the actual cost. But my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition did not, perhaps, quite appreciate the fact that the total for April, 1918, which includes heavy tenders, landau-lettes and touring cars, was 113 vehicles, whereas that for March, 1913, gave a total of 193. In order that there might be no mistake I made a special request for this estimate to be signed by the accounting officer (Mr. Bland), and he has signed it. There can be, therefore, no question of its accuracy. I do ask the House to recognise that all we wanted to do was to put facts before it, and if we have erred at all it has been on the side of not making known everything we have found out. My right hon. Friend alluded to the scrapping of aeroplanes. We made a recommenda- 1164 tion to which my right hon. Friend referred this afternoon. I understood him to say that we suggested it might be more economical to burn the aeroplanes, but we did not make a recommendation that they should be burned. The recommendation which we did make, and which we made with the approval and concurrence of officers on the spot, was that instead of having a number of women occupied in taking to pieces the various aeroplanes and making huge piles of wood, some other course should be adopted. We wanted to know what was the use of doing what they were doing. We saw a huge pile of wood, consisting of parts of aeroplanes, and we asked what was happening to it. They told us that they had been able to sell it at a very small price per ton, but the contractor who took away one ton then declared that he would take no more, but would prefer to break his contract, because he had made a loss on. that ton. It was not known what to do with the wood; they could not get rid of it. The Committee suggested that certain parts might be set aside, and the remainder, which was unsaleable, divided up and got rid of. What we wanted was to save the large amount of money which was expended by employing women on this work. I believe a considerable amount of money has been wasted because the Government dared not face the fuss which might have been created in sundry newspapers if they had decided on getting rid of the material by burning it; yet that would have been the most economical method of dealing with it, and they should have adopted that course, whatever the papers might say.
With regard to the cars, let me come back to that question for one moment. Is it necessary that certain officials in one particular Ministry should have cars to take them to and from their houses? We thought not. I go further. My Committee recommended in its Report that we should make a start with the very highest official, with the Minister himself. We believe we shall never get economy unless the very highest people give a lead. Why should the country be put to the expense of keeping a Rolls-Royce or some other big motor car to be driven by a lady, or, it may be, a man, to take a high official to and from his house? It is absolutely absurd; such a thing never took place before the War. Never in this country were conveyances found for Ministers. Let them find their own cars, or else travel 1165 by tube, or even walk, as I do on many occasions. Nobody in this House works harder than I do.
Let me next say a few words, and it shall be a few only, on what the Lord Advocate has said. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me, I should like to repeat what has been said by my right hon. Friend opposite. I have known the Lord Advocate for a great number of years. I have always thought myself fortunate enough to be on the list of his personal friends. I hope I shall always remain there. I should be the last person to impute any want of honour or any want of tact to say right hon. Friend, but I think he made an error of judgment in this particular case. I am sure my right hon. Friend will bear me out when I say I took a very great deal of trouble about this matter. I saw my right hon. Friend myself. I had a long conversation with him about the matter. I wrote him a letter in which I said we should have to allude in our Report to his letter. I gave him every opportunity of coming before the Committee to make any explanation he might think proper. My right hon. Friend did not come. As the House knows, a Committee has power to compel attendance, but that is never exercised, as I understand, in respect of those occupying the position which my right hon. Friend occupied. I understand it is the practice for the Chairman of Committees in such cases to suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman cares to attend he can do so, but at any rate we did not have the privilege of hearing my right hon. Friend. Sir John Hunter, on the other hand, did attend at very great inconvenience, and laid evidence before us. I do not know whether he was right or wrong in the conclusions at which he arrived. But I think there is one conclusion which the House will draw, and that is that the affairs of the Air Ministry at Renfrew were so inefficiently conducted that a very capable lawyer like my right hon. Friend could not find sufficient proof on which to found a prosecution. That there was a very large loss of money is evident, because there is a civil action pending for something like £60,000. Sir John Hunter told us, and I rather gather my right hon. Friend knew it also, that the accounts were in a most deplorable state of confusion, and that practically no accounts were kept. It was difficult to find out, at any rate, what had been done and what had not been done. My 1166 right hon. Friend said that the amount which these four people were supposed to have taken was only £286. What on earth does the amount matter? The point was this: Here was a specific charge, and supposing even it had failed, would it not have had an effect upon Government offices generally by making it known that whenever cases of fraud were found prosecution would follow, and if inefficiency and want of control were shown on the part of the representatives of the Department on the spot, then those representatives would either be dismissed or prosecuted? There was a fifth gentleman connected with this matter. He was at the War Office. He held a commission. He is a Canadian. He went to Canada, and I want to know what is going to happen in his case?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Oh, no! I suppose somebody will speak for the Department later. What I suggest is that all these things go to show that something had gone wrong in that particular case. They showed further there was a large loss of public money. How does my right hon. and learned Friend know that if he had instituted proceedings someone would not have come forward to give evidence in order to save his own skin? Once you begin proceedings you cannot tell what sort of evidence will come out as a result. Therefore I repeat first of all that the Committee were justified in putting before the public the evidence which was placed before them, and I repeat the regret, which I believe all the members of the Committee share, that the Lord Advocate took the view which he did under these circumstances.
The particular contract was a time and line contract. The Committee of which I was chairman last Session or the Session before investigated the Office of Works. Every single man at the Office of Works protested against a time and line contract, and we in our Report said, Do not go on with the time and line contract. The Ministry of Munitions and the War Office were, I believe, the only people who insisted on going on with this time and line contract. The result of it is that it is the interest of the contractor to pay as high wages as he can and to get as little work done as he can, and then he sends in a big bill on which he gets 5 per cent. or 10 per 1167 cent., or whatever it is. May I point out the very serious situation in. which we are, financially, at present? We have now a currency note issue—and this is at the bottom of a great deal of all this—of £340,000,000, whereas before the Armistice we only had £295,000,000, or something of that sort. We have all these high wages being paid which Sir John Hunter says are not earned, and consequently there is a fictitious prosperity in the country which the sight of Ministers driving about in motor cars encourages, and unless we take the bull by the horns and cut down expenditure and endeavour to reduce our currency notes we shall be following in the steps of all countries which have taken this course from the time of the Revolution in France in 1793, which did exactly what the Government is doing now, almost to bringing in a Profiteering Bill, which only resulted in a diminution of supplies and did not secure the punishment of the offenders. We devoted a very great deal of time and trouble to the matter, but all we did was, without any fear or favour, to put the evidence, however disagreeable and unpleasant it might be to our own personal friends, before the House and the country.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am sure the House is deeply grateful to the right hon. Baronet and his Committee for the great trouble they have taken to elucidate the facts and present them to the House and the country. I am sorry the Lord Advocate did not make the speech that he has made to-day to the Committee. I feel quite certain a different verdict would have been given. So far as I am concerned, judging as a layman, the Lord Advocate did his duty absolutely as regards a prosecution, but there is really no excuse for the curt way in which he treated the Committee. He said:Dear Banbury,—Yours of the 8th has reached me here in Edinburgh this morning. I cannot be in Town till Wednesday morning of next week in any case, and my Department's letter speaks for itself.I could understand that if it were some general or some admiral cursing the politicians, but I cannot understand it from a distinguished Parliamentarian. I hope, at any rate, this discussion will have the effect of showing gentlemen in high positions that they cannot neglect a summons that is issued to them by the Select Committee presided over by the right hon. Baronet. I want to get away now from the personal issue. We are really now rather befogging the grave financial posi- 1168 tion with personal matters. The right hon. Gentleman (Major-General Seely) brought in the question of railway tickets and one thing and another. The real point I want to put to him is this. He told us these Air Estimates of £66,000,000 are not peace Estimates. Will he be good enough to tell us—and we ought to have known that already—what does he expect will be the peace Estimates of his Department? After all, the Armistice was signed in November. The House of Commons has a right to know from the Air Ministry or the Secretary of State for War what are the peace Estimates to be. Sixty-six million pounds is a preposterous figure. I should cut it down, without the smallest hesitation, to a tenth of that figure. But, in reality, the trail of extravagance is over it all. Sir John Hunter's Report says that of 70,000 men who were employed not one was earning his wages. That is not a legal point. That is the point of a practical engineer skilled in dealing with labour. I have a case here. The Air Ministry employs unskilled labour in the Eastern Counties, attracting all the men away from the agriculturists, paying double wages. I want the men to get good wages, but how can you expect the farmers to produce food when officials of the Air Ministry persist in paying actually double the wages which are fixed by the Agricultural Wages Board? There is another point I want to put. The Air Ministry had large contracts for aeroplanes on 11th November. How many of these are being delivered now? I was actually told of a case, a few days ago—and I put it here plainly to the House—that aeroplanes are being manufactured to-day, the Air Ministry is taking delivery, material is being used, labour is being used, and the taxpayers' money will be spent in making aeroplanes which could be of no possible use whatever to anyone. Is that so? If it is so, eight months after the Armistice was signed, there is a serious ground of complaint on behalf of the House and the country against someone at the Air Ministry.
I want to deal, not only with the Air Ministry, but with the whole of the fighting forces. A question was put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon. Six hundred odd million pounds, I think, for the fighting forces! He tells us he is not going to reduce that, but it may be increased. I stand amazed, and the whole country stands amazed. To have anything like these Estimates for the fighting forces, to my mind, is betray- 1169 ing the country for which brave men have died, because the country cannot go on carrying this enormous burden of unproductive expenditure. We have here the Secretary of State's Report of 16th July, 1919. He has got, all over the world, something like 1,200,000 men. What are they doing? There are 420,000 in the Army on the Rhine; in the Army of the Black Sea, 41,000 men; the Army of the Middle East, 105,000; the Army of India, 76,000 men; the Home Army, including Ireland, and about 165,000 non-effectives, 534,000; detachments in Russia, 17,000; detachments in Italy, 7,000. It is no wonder the Army Estimates cannot be brought down if you keep these enormous forces all over the world. I really do not understand why it should be that the Army of the Rhine should be kept up at something like 420,000 men. It is said in this Memorandum that by 1st November it is hoped that the forces in France and Flanders will have been reduced by more than 100,000. That will mean a force of over 300,000 men to be kept on the Rhine, in addition to all these forces all over the world. There was no one more eloquent on this subject than Mr. McKenna, who said that the cost of these expeditions all over the world was positively prohibitive. I think the House and the country will want to know when these military adventures all over the world are going to stop. Again let me ask a question as regards the Admiralty. At any rate I think it is clear that Germany cannot recommence war. I have here a paper which I had not seen before, and which I would advise all hon. Members to read—a report on food conditions in Germany just issued—the most terrible state of affairs that I have ever read. I asked a question about the Navy the other day. The Admiralty are actually repairing warships. The whole of the dockyards are in full swing repairing warships which never can and never will be used in all probability. That is precisely the same form of waste as it is to have aeroplanes which will never be required. I put the point, Has not the Shipping Controller asked that merchant ships shall be repaired in the dockyards? Why should they not be repaired in the dockyards? Is it not far more important to repair merchant ships, which are urgently required for bringing food and raw material for the country, than it is to repair warships which will never be used? It is infinitely more important.
1170 A point which I must emphasise again is the disposition of the Government to add continually to Government expenditure. There is an enormous establishment at Gretna. The Ministry of Munitions cannot tell us even now what it is going to do with it. It was built for the purposes of the War, and it cost £9,000,000. What good is it to-day? Are you going to keep it on? To what purpose are you going to devote it? In every one of these establishments a number of men will be kept who are rendering no real efficient service to the nation. Not having made up their minds what to do with this white elephant they are putting up another at Cippenham. That will undoubtedly be a white elephant. Again, let us take the Admiralty. We were told the Chepstow national yards were to be sold and that the Government was to quit its liabilities. On the 1st of last month I was told that £80,000 a month was going to be spent at Chepstow on building these yards. That is nearly £1,000,000 a year. Why are you spending that money there? What are you going to do with it? Have you any clear intention why you are spending this £80,000 a month? Are you going to sell them? Will this £80,000 a month enable them to be sold more easily? Why have they not been sold before now? These are questions which I am entitled to ask. I do not ask them with any desire to make that slippery stuff, political capital. I really want to help the Government and the country, but it is no use disguising the fact that this Government came into power eight months ago with a practically unanimous vote of confidence from the nation. You cannot disguise the fact that the Government have largely lost the confidence of the country, principally owing to the wasteful, profligate expenditure in every Government Department.
I do not think we really realise how serious is the financial position to-day. The British taxpayer's pocket is supposed to be bottomless, but, judging from the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the bottom has been plumbed, and this expenditure cannot go on. We are asked to spend money upon everything. I was not fortunate enough at the General Election to be one of those who were selected by the Government to be their supporters. I therefore had to fight their supporters, but I remember at the time that we were promised in the country districts a house for everybody and a light railway to take away his produce and his 1171 goods. We may pass these Bills through the House of Commons, but where is the money to come from to carry out these election pledges? We talk very glibly of bankruptcy, and it is a startling thing to imagine that a rich country like Great Britain can be in a bankrupt condition, but when we see a £1 note produce only 8s. worth of goods the times are sufficiently serious. If this great Government expenditure goes on, it means an empty larder for a very large number of people in this country. There will be hunger, and there will be unemployment, and that is the most terrible thing that any country can face. It does not matter however much we may talk about it, and however much we may discuss it: we have to live in this country by importing food and raw materials. We must do it. Foreign countries and the Colonies are not philanthrophists, and they will not send us that produce which we want unless we can pay for it by producing something that they want.
The men in every one of the Government establishments are engaged on unproductive work. There is not one single Government employé to-day who is producing an ounce of food. He is producing no shelter, no heat, and no clothes or boots. They are all consumers and not producers. It is very unpopular to go down to one constituency and tell them that they have to produce more and consume less, because they always point to the extravagance that goes on in Government Departments. We shall all have to do it. I have done it. I did it during the late Loan; but it always comes back to the same point: "Look how the Government are spending money!" Indeed, it is very difficult to give an answer. We get splendid sermons from that bench as to the necessity for economy. They always remind me of a sporting parson in the West of England whose practice weekdays did not quite accord with his precepts in the pulpit. He used to tell his parishioners, "Look here, I am the lantern; you must follow the light and not the lantern. Do as I tell you, but do not do as I do."
Those are points that I wish to place before the House in all sincerity. Whenever any bit of trouble comes along, the Government appoint either a new Department or a Commission. Mr. Justice Sankey's Commission made all sorts of recommendations involving financial considerations Can the Government find the money to carry out these schemes? Dear 1172 coal in this country will mean dear clothes and high rents, and we have to remember it. I cannot help thinking that yesterday the Leader of the House was dallying with the question as to whether he should establish a new Ministry called the Ministry of Supply. I do not think, when we come back after the holidays, that there will be much chance of this House consenting to another Ministry being established in this country. These Ministries are barren fig trees; they cumber the ground, and we do not want to plant any more of them. There has been a Reconstruction Ministry. What has it done? Like a famous advertising agency, it has issued a lot of little grey books. I wonder who has read them. It was a Ministry to adumbrate a policy for reconstruction. It was called the Reconstruction Ministry. What did it do? When it came to the Armistice on 11th November, there was a brand new Labour Department and all it could do to relieve unemployment was to turn this new Labour Department into a gigantic dole distribution agency. Not a single constructive idea has come from this Ministry. According to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we are paying something like £505,000,000 a year for these Civil Service Estimates. That, with the Estimates for the fighting forces of the country, must be cut down. We cannot go on with it. I am sorry to say that the Government do not help us very much. There is trouble about the Welsh Church. How shall we settle it? Throw them £1,000,000. That is not the way for financial economy. Our total expenditure to-day, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us, is £4,420,000 per day, and £1,621,000,000 per year, against our pre-war expenditure of £200,000,000 per year. We are spending to-day eight times the amount that we spent in pre-war days. The nation cannot stand it. We must remember that we are a poorer nation. Our foreign investments have been sold, and I do not think sufficient notice has been taken of the fact that 600,000 or 700,000 of our young men just blossoming into manhood, who would have been great producers, rest beneath the soil in France. I ask the Government, not with any desire to criticise unduly, or to make any political capital, to show us the way to economy and to productive expenditure.
§ Mr. NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Debate took three specific charges against his Department, and he had no difficulty 1173 in showing in each case that the accusation was inaccurate, and in disposing of the charges with complete satisfaction to himself. But the greater the satisfaction on the part of the right hon. Gentleman and the more completeness with which he is able to answer these specific charges, the greater will be the dissatisfaction in the country, because the country is firmly convinced that there is gross extravagance on the part of the Government Departments. The only result of picking out these particular cases and showing that they are based upon false assumptions, is that the country thinks that the Government are incorrigible, that they have made up their minds that everything is for the best, and that they do not take any steps to cut down unnecessary expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) put his finger on the spot when he said that there was no central control. It is a well-known fact that during the War the Treasury practically lost all control which it had over the spending Departments in pre-war days. Heads of Departments who had to make decisions quickly, being hustled all the time, found it impossible to make progress if they had to refer to the Treasury at every stage, and they went to the Cabinet and to the Prime Minister, and said, "If you want your work done, you must allow us to go past the Treasury and give us carte blanche. I did myself, and the Treasury gave us carte blanche. I do not mean to say that we thereupon went recklessly into extravagant expenditure, but naturally, when one is embarrassed, and wants to get along with any work, one interprets a carte blanche of that kind in the widest possible spirit. I honestly think that in those strenuous days there was no other practical alternative. But things are different now, and, if the system of carte blanche were to continue in days of peace, it would be a disastrous thing for the country. I am quite sure that Ministers themselves recognise that, and do honestly intend to cut down all unnecessary expenditure so far as possible. But these good intentions and these hopes have a lamentable way of falling short of complete fulfillment. I should like, as a result of this Debate, to have an assurance that some step is going to be taken that will be a guarantee of permanent improvement.
I have on more than one occasion recently heard members of the Government criticise the House of Commons. Just 1174 now everybody is saying that expenditure must be cut down, and everybody is throwing stones at somebody else. It is said, "It is his fault that the expenditure continues." The Government, the House of Commons, the Press, and the public are each in turn accused of being responsible for this expenditure. I am not concerned to defend the Press or the public, but I should like to see the House of Commons put in the position where no defence is needed for it. I have known Ministers turn upon the House of Commons and say that they never get any proposals for economy from Members but only demands for increased expenditure. I am bound to say that I thought that there was a certain amount of truth in that accusation, but as a new Member I feel the helplessness of the House of Commons. We may set up Committees, and we may investigate matters, but they are always things that have taken place already. We can pass censure or acquit or make criticisms which are afterwards completely washed out by the replies of Ministers, but we are absolutely unable to stop the expenditure before it has taken place. That is a very curious phenomenon, because I am quite aware that Government Departments and Governments themselves are afraid of this House. When I was Director-General of National Service I noticed—I could not fail to notice—the difference in the amount of attention paid to Ministers who were Members of this House and to Ministers who were not; indeed, that is the reason why I am here to-day. But the House of Commons cannot always be prying into the routine affairs of Government Departments. It can set up Committees on national expenditure, and I am sure that all Members of the House are grateful to the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) and his Committee for the work which they are doing. These Committees can be held in terrorem over the heads of the Departments; but what we want is more knowledge, and, above all, early knowledge of what is going on.
It seems to me that the only way to get that is to have what does not exist now—that is someone in an independent position in every great spending Department whose business it is to review and check expenditure, to question it, to say whether it is necessary, to make representations to the head of the Department if he considers that it is not necessary, and if he does not get satisfaction from him to make representations to some outside authority, 1175 and that outside authority it seems to me should be the Treasury. I noticed that the Select Committee in their Third Report spoke favourably about the financial part of the Air Force, but they said that the Assistant Financial Secretary had not got sufficient powers. He had not sufficient powers, and he never will have sufficient powers so long as he is subject to the Secretary of State for that Department. So long as he is in that position he must always come up against the serried ranks of the Civil Service, who are bound together by esprit de corps in each Department, and are on their defence the moment any criticism of the Department is made. What we want, it seems to me, is a man independent of the Secretary of State, who belongs to another authority altogether, but who, nevertheless, is authorised to be present in the office every day and to see the routine that goes on, so that he may do what no casual Committee of the House of Commons can possibly do, and may be able to say, "Here you have fifty clerks doing work which ought to be done by forty." If you make some rearrangement of your system, you should have a man with this inside knowledge who would be able to withstand the answers always made by the Department
Such a man would be the first witness who would be sent for by the Select Committee on National Expenditure when they wished to review the expenses of a Department. He would have at his finger-ends all the information which they desired, and there would be the advantage that he would not have that interest—I hope I am not saying anything offensive— in minimising any dubious expenditure which is taking place which must necessarily accrue to a man who is a member of the Department, and, therefore, in some sense is himself being criticised. The suggestion which I make would not cause any increased charge. There is already in the Air Force an Assistant Financial Secretary. All I propose is that his salary should be paid by the Treasury instead of by the Air Ministry. He would then be a Treasury servant and would be responsible to them. He would be doing his duty by them and by the House of Commons too, when he made representations, and if they were not listened to be could say, "I shall have to report this to the Treasury or the Select Committee on National Expenditure when they come 1176 to review the affairs of the Department"; then I think that it would not be necessary to give him any further powers or influence, because his words would have greater weight in that Department than those of anyone else except the Secretary of State himself. This suggestion is not a new one. I understand that in the new Ministry of Ways and Communications such an officer is to be introduced, and all I ask is that my hon. Friend would represent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a system which is about to be initiated in the Ministry of Ways and Communications should be extended to all the great spending Departments. I believe that if that were done, without in any way impairing the responsibilities of the Ministers in this House, something would be achieved in the direction of restoring the control of the Treasury and the control of this House.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Churchill)
The very important and helpful speech which has just been delivered by the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Chamberlain) will, I think, make the House feel that much is to be said for both sides which have, I think, so far been represented in this discussion. I think that the Government is entitled to some sympathy from the House, and I think that the House is also entitled to a sympathetic comprehension of its difficulties and its position on the part of the Government. My right hon. Friend opposite (Sir D. Maclean) and the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken both said in effect, "We have had very good answers, very effective answers, but however good the answers are, the Government will acknowledge, with its preparations, its officials, and its organised apparatus of public information in marshalling the facts, that the expenditure goes on. We are still being drawn steadily along the path which no one can doubt must ultimately, unless our progress is arrested or deflected, result in very grave public and administrative disaster." That has been, I am sure, the feeling in the House during the whole of this Debate. Let us be quite fair with one another. I agree that Government answers on points of detail are no answer to the grave feelings of anxiety, and the undoubted mass 'of substantial facts which support the view, that our expenditure at the present time is a grave public danger. On the other hand, I think that we are entitled, when definite specific points of policy are 1177 attacked, when allegations of a very injurious kind are made, to make precise and definite answers.
If a Government makes bad answers it is said it is incompetent. If it makes good answers my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood says that that only shows it is incorrigible. But the House has a right, and the country has a right, both to definite answers on specific points of detail and also to answers which deal with and cover the whole scope and range of the great public issue involved in expenditure at the present time. Let us have the answers first. Various questions have been raised in the Report of my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London, and these points have figured in the speeches of various Members who have taken part in this Debate. There has been the clothing contract which was referred to, I think, by my right hon. Friend opposite, and which acquires a special interest because of its association with the activities of Miss Douglas Pennant. On that the House will remember that from the very beginning of the year I have been engaged in a correspondence with Miss Douglas-Pennant, inviting her to make any charge of corruption or immorality which could be brought to the test of judicial investigation, and I have published to the House reams of correspondence which have taken place with that lady, in which I have been endeavouring to induce her to state a case for inquiry into a definite matter of a criminal or highly culpable character. Any hon. Gentleman who likes to read that correspondence will see that no suggestion of any kind has been put forward which constitutes a fulfilment of that requirement.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am in possession of the House, and Members can read the correspondence for themselves, and form their own opinion. However, late in the day charges have been made by a Miss O'Sullivan in regard to a particular contract, and the moment those charges were made, the very same day, I think, that they assumed a definite form, an official inquiry was ordered, and that inquiry is now taking place, and until that inquiry has taken place I do not feel that it would be an advantage, and certainly it would be improper for me, to take any part in the discussion. But this I do say, that the 1178 results and process of the inquiry shall be made public and laid before the House, so that everyone may judge for himself.
Then there are the allegations connected with the Renfrew Aerodrome. Those allegations centred round an attack upon my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate. I can only wish that the same publicity will be given to the answer which he has made in this House as has been given in the Press, widespread throughout the country, to the original charge. I fear that it will be absolutely impossible for the defence, the answer which convinced every fair-minded Member in this House, to acquire anything like the same publicity or popularity that the original allegations have attained. But still I am entitled, speaking at this stage in the Debate, to say that after the statement of my right hon. Friend no further reference to the question of prosecution is required from me. There was only one by-product which arose out of this, of which I must say one word. One of the allegations was that a military officer who was involved in these proceedings was not tried by court-martial on the demand of Sir John Hunter. The officer was a Canadian lieutenant. He was not employed under the War Office. He was employed under the Air Ministry in Sir John Hunter's Department. Sir John Hunter wrote to the Adjutant-General to demand that the officer should be placed under arrest, but the reason he gave was this: "I am unable to formulate any definite charge against him under civil or criminal proceedings, but I demand that he shall be placed under arrest.'' The Adjutant-General, not unnaturally, refused to take such a step against a Canadian officer, who is to a very large extent, except in case of emergency, outside the War Office jurisdiction, unless there is the prosaic formality of a definite charge in the first instance.
But this officer was detained by the Canadian authorities at our request for upwards of three months in this country until the Crown Counsel in Scotland and the Lord Advocate's Office had definitely reported that there was no material charge against him which could be made the subject of a criminal investigation. As I say, for my own part there is nothing which would give me greater pleasure than to order a criminal prosecution against a person guilty of fraud at the present time. There is nothing which 1179 would be easier for a Minister at the head of a Department to do, if the facts warranted it. He has nothing to lose by it; he has everything to gain. Public opinion would applaud the most ruthless severity. It is well it should be known in every part of our widespread public and administrative services that Ministers and high officials of every Department at the present time have no greater object than to find some occasion for bringing home criminal proceedings and fraudulent proceedings to those who are guilty of them. So much for the criminal aspect. Before it is possible to take such action we must have the advice of legal authorities that prosecution is likely to be successful.
I read the Report of the Select Committee with the greatest interest and I must say that I know how very hard their task has been and how much we owe to them for their devotion to their work and for the long hours they have spent in laborious investigation. At the same time, in regard to this question of the aerodrome contracts, it does seem to me that they have very largely missed the main issues. Let me take the House back to the autumn of 1917 and the early spring of 1918. What was the position? Aeroplanes were being made in great numbers; they were coming forward; pilots were being trained; but aerodrome construction was lagging heavily behind. Everything was being concentrated on a supreme effort for the years 1918–1919, and I think it is only fair to those who were then responsible for the Air Ministry to say that had the War not come to an end when it did, the exertions that they made —exertions conducted under the conditions of war, which led to great financial improvidence—it is only fair to remember that those exertions would, in all human probability, have placed us in a position towards the end of the present year to be absolutely supreme in the air, and possibly to terminate the struggle from the air alone. We must not forget that. In those days, when only the dregs of adult manhood remained for ordinary outdoor labour and construction, when our labour market was completely disorganised by continued war-time grants of wages, when there was the most supreme urgency to get on with the work, Sir John Hunter was appointed—I think by Lord Rothermere, or else by Lord Weir—to look after the aerodrome construction of the Air Ministry, and to bring that great element in our air policy 1180 abreast of the aeroplane and the pilot. Sir John Hunter addressed himself to this task with the very greatest energy and with immense personal force, and I do not think it was possible to have chosen a better man to have got the work done. At the same time, he is a man who is accustomed, like many of these big business men in their private affairs and businesses, to act on his own responsibility with a very free hand in giving orders of all descriptions, and not always to bother about the formalities of Treasury finance and accounting.
When in January of the present year I became responsible for the Air Ministry. I confess to the House that I had a good many misgivings about the state of the aerodrome works finance and contracts of the Air Ministry. My attention was drawn at the end of February by Sir James Stevenson, who belongs both to the Air Ministry and to the War Office, and who is advising me on business matters, of which he has great experience—my attention was drawn to the state of the finances and accounting for the whole of this great area of work. After much consideration I saw clearly that matters could not be left where they were, and I was advised to appoint Messrs. Price, Waterhouse and Company, probably the best firm of chartered accountants in the country—one of the best firms, a firm with a reputation second to none—to make a special expert investigation into the whole of this subject of aerodrome contracts and finance They have been engaged on that task for five months, and several of their reports have already come to hand. The Comptroller and Auditor-General shortly after this began to move, and he drew attention to the unsatisfactory state of affairs in this branch of the Air Ministry's finance. I should like the House to realise that the constitution in these matters may not work as quickly as hon. Members may desire and as the times may demand, but the constitution and machinery of Government work steadily and faithfully. The Comptroller moved the Treasury, and the Treasury wrote to the Air Ministry, and we then told them what we had already done. They approved the setting up of this expert inquiry, but, in addition, they had an inquiry of their own, under Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, and they asked that Sir Gilbert Garnsey, who is a partner in the firm of Price, Waterhouse and Company, and whose admirable work I 1181 had become acquainted with during my tenure of the Ministry of Munitions, should be co-opted on the Treasury Committee as well as continue expert investigation on behalf of this firm.
All that great process has been in operation for four or five months, and I am bound to say that it was this topic which I expected would form the staple of the Report of the Committee on National Expenditure. I did not consider that they would so easily have been led into occupying nearly the whole, or a very large proportion, of their Report with the somewhat sensational evidence given by Sir John Hunter, which, as the Lord Advocate has shown, related not indeed to £60,000, as was apparent from the Report, but only to very much smaller sums. I appreciate their difficulties in the matter. Criticism is very easy. There never was a time when it was more easy. Administration is very difficult. I can assure the House there never was a time when it was more difficult than it is now. While I do not in the least complain of what figured in the Report of my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London, I do express surprise that his Report has not been found more adequate to the real issues which are open at the present time in the whole field of aerodrome finance, and that he and the Committee should apparently have been unconscious alike of the grave and widespread informalities which have occurred over that field of finance and unconscious of the vigorous measures which the Government had already taken on their own initiative, both from the Treasury and from the Department concerned, to have matters investigated, and, if possible, cleared up. That is the only comment I have to make on that point.
I have now given all the answer which I think it necessary to give to supplement what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary, and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, but I quite agree with the feeling expressed by the Leader of the Opposition that answers, however good on points of detail, do not cover the main case. I am going to address myself, in the very short time I will trespass further on the House, to some of the more general aspects of Army and Air Force finance. After all, we are the great cause of expenditure now; we are one of the greatest causes. We are spending £400,000,000 or 1182 £500,000,000 in this year after the War has ended. We can say the War is over. Is it not? Why does expenditure not come to an end too? —a very reasonable and very obvious reflection to arise in the breasts of any man. The War may be over, but expenditure at the present time is still governed by events; policy is only now gradually beginning to reclaim its control over expenditure. We are still, and we shall be during the whole of this present financial year, in a state where our expenditure is mainly fixed, not by what we decide to spend, but by what happens. There were the long delays in making peace with Germany, delays in demobilisation of the Army of the Rhine. That demobilisation has now begun. We have arranged with France that by the 31st October our forces on the Rhine may be reduced to the dimensions of a strong brigade.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Four thousand or 5,000. Our Air Force will be reduced to the dimensions of a singles squadron. The great Army we have had to maintain until we compelled our enemy to settle with us will now be demobilised, subject only to the limiting factors of railway transport and sea transport, both of which raise considerable difficulties now, when troop movements have to compete with the clamorous demands of the civil population in the reviving countries through which the troops have to pass. There is the still longer delay in making peace with Turkey or Bulgaria, which has prevented the dispersal of what is called the Army of the Black Sea. More than 400,000 German and Turkish prisoners are still on our hands, requiring more than 100,000 British soldiers to look after them and to feed them. Permission to repatriate the Turkish prisoners has now been granted. Permission to repatriate the Germans has been repeatedly sought by the War Office, but I regret very much that we have not yet been able to obtain from the Supreme Council the authority to begin that task. Until we can begin to liberate these men, of course, their guards, feeders, and the transport on which that all depends—all that has to be maintained. I should think the expense of that far exceeds any advantage which could possibly come from the labour of those prisoners in a productive sense.
We have more than 100,000 men in Mesopotamia, of whom 20,000 are British 1183 Nevertheless there have been several risings—Kurdish and Arab risings; and every attempt to reduce this force—and, although I am looked upon as the principal mainspring of profligate expenditure, I can assure the House that I have made repeated attempts—every attempt to reduce this force is met by warnings and protests from responsible officers on the spot. It would be very easy to reduce the force to a point where disaster would occur. That would throw back fatally the whole process at once of the establishment of order and of demobilisation. It is a very serious thing to demand that the force shall be cut down below the limits of what those in the country consider absolutely safe. It does seem that, if we are ever to make our administration in Mesopotamia float in an economic sense, we must contemplate military methods in that country which will enable the country to be kept in good order without burdening it with the enormous charge of an Army of these dimensions. It never would pay if it had to support the expense of an establishment of that kind; and the kind of inquiry on which we are now embarked is to see whether, by the use of armoured cars, by judicious arrangements of railways and aeroplanes, by tanks of a very fast-moving kind, it is not possible to organise the kind of force which will maintain order in those wild regions without employing a large number of highly-paid British soldiers, as they will be in the future, and burdening the whole province with a charge under which it could never stand erect in an economic sense.
We have more than 90,000 men in Egypt and Palestine. I am asking most urgently that they also shall be reduced to much less than half that figure by the adoption of methods similar to those which I have indicated as appropriate in regard to Mesopotamia. We have 60,000 men in Ireland, whereas we only had 30,000 before the War, but the Irish Executive offer the strongest opposition to any reduction of that force at the present time. It is a matter in which the War Office must be the servant and not the master of the interest and policy of the State.
We have at the same time on our hands the Army in India, and also the battalions and batteries which are forming to relieve the Army in India, and which are just beginning to go out. We have also behind them battalions and batteries forming to make the link cadres to feed the new bat- 1184 talions when they have gone out and taken their place as the permanent peace-time garrison in India. All that is running at the same time. Until the end of the year, when we can bring home the troops from India, we shall be forced to maintain, as it were, a duplicate Indian garrison at home, preparing to go out.
We have to keep more than 100,000 men in France and Flanders on salvage work. I have repeatedly asked to be relieved of that work, which imposes an enormous addition on the Army Estimates, and the fruits of which are not credited to us in any way. I am scolded for keeping up expenditure, and I have to pay the Bill, while my right hon. Friend gathers the fruits into his coffers. It is, of course, a mere matter of accounting. The alternative would be either to leave valuable assets rotting on the ground or, on the other hand, to raise a temporary civilian, and presumably very expensive, force to look after them, which force could not be raised without competing with all our recruiting for the voluntary Army which we are determined to substitute for our present conscript system. We have many thousands of seriously wounded men still in our hospitals, above the ordinary sick-rate of our Army, and it is, of course, necessary, and it is our duty, to continue to take good care of them.
I could extend this tale were it necessary, but I think I have said enough to show the House the truth of what I say in making the statement that expenditure at the present time has not yet returned within the controlling domain of policy, but is still governed by brute facts and by the course of events proceeding in many parts of the world as a part of the after math of the great War. However angry people may become, the fact remains that our War affairs have got to be wound up. The men have got to be brought home and paid their gratuities. Twenty million pounds are being paid this month in gratuities alone. The provinces which have come into our hands have got to be administered and kept in good order. The services of the Empire and the safety of the country have to be maintained, and we have to pay the bill.
There is only one way of diminishing expenditure upon the Army. Naval expenditure, and, to a considerable extent, Air Force expenditure, depend not only upon the number of men, but upon materiel. Naval expenditure is regulated 1185 by Vote A and Vote 8, and Air Force expenditure conforms broadly. But Army expenditure can always be governed by the number of men on the pay and ration strength of the Army. To bring home the men at the earliest possible moment, and discharge them from sterile occupations under the care of the State into fruitful industry, private industry, civil industry, throughout the country, that is the greatest remedy that you can apply in the sphere of Army finance to the problem with which we are confronted. It is on that that I have concentrated and am concentrating my efforts. I am doing everything in my power to accelerate, now that we have got peace with Germany, the release and discharge of men from the Army. When I say men, I mean, of course, officers and administrative services, and commands and staffs in a proper proportion to the men. Everything turns on the number of men. Reduce the men and you reduce the cost. Therefore, that is the great crying need; all other economies, however desirable they may be, are almost inappreciable, almost insignificant, compared with the effect which follows from a reduction in men. That means a reduction in food, pay, doctors, generals, transport, and all the innumerable supplies and stores upon which an Army lives. I hope the House will permit me to guide their enthusiasm and their right and legitimate anxieties on the subject of expenditure on to this one central point, the acceleration of the diminution of men who are kept on the pay list and on our ration strength.
I do not ignore the value of other economies. There are horses in addition to men. Horses include mules, but do not include camels or donkeys. Horses, including mules, amounted to 800,000 at the time of the Armistice; they are now 300,000. I have received from the Quartermaster-General his assurance that this number shall immediately be greatly reduced. I hope it may be reduced to one-half of what it is at present, within the next month or two, by local sales on the spot. What is the use of keeping a horse standing, with a man grooming it, when the charge for feeding that horse and the cost of that man for three or four months would more than equal the value you would get for the horse even if you made an extremely good sale for it? [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"] The same applies to aeroplanes and all kinds of stores and Government properties that 1186 are at present—[HON. MEMBERS: ''Agreed!"]—I hope it will be agreed; and afterwards, when these State properties have been disposed of rapidly, and possibly on terms which do not look extremely favourable, which do not seem to make a very fair return for the cost and value at which they might have been written up in our accounts on the credit side, I hope the House will remember that they were agreed upon this, and that we shall not be exposed to a formidable attack from another quarter.
The Quartermaster-General has been directed by me to examine into the question of Army and War Office motor cars in the United Kingdom. There were found to be 640 of these motor cars in the commands about the country and here at headquarters. Directions have now been given to reduce them to eighty-seven in the course of the next two or three months, as rapidly as may be. I hope it may be found possible to put the whole of the coast defences of the country into what is called in the Navy a "care and maintenance" state. I cannot conceive that there can be any such danger in the next few years as to make it necessary for us to have our coast batteries even in the reduced state of maintenance which was thought necessary before the War. We ought to be able to economise substantially in this sedentary form of defence. Take the case of antiaircraft defence. It was ordered a long time ago that this should be reduced to a skeleton. I saw that someone in the Debate—I had not the good fortune then to be present—referred to the ease of Nottingham, where it was said that far the first time a gun had been placed in position. Has the hon. Member seen the gun?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am glad there is no dispute as to the facts. I am assured, though I have not seen the gun, there is no gun there, and that the following are, the facts about the Nottingham defence. In no case has any of the anti-aircraft defence been kept up to full strength. To give an example of the reduction, the number of officers and other ranks employed on the Nottingham anti-aircraft defence, in November, 1918, was thirty-one officers and 591 other ranks. On 29th July last eleven officers and ninety-six other ranks —[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—and they 1187 are employed as care and maintenance parties. It may be stated that this number is growing less every day. It is very easy for hon. Gentlemen to say why should they be there, but I am not prepared at the present time to take the decision to wipe out altogether not merely our anti-aircraft force, but also the skeleton organisation which would enable us to reproduce it and to put it into activity. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I may be wrong, and the moment may well come when that decision may be taken, but up to the present time it has not been thought to be wise to scrap and break up in all parts of the country this organisation which we built up under such difficult circumstances, with such care and pains, and which it would be an enormous difficulty to revive if it were altogether swept away. I think it is a matter to which reasonable consideration must be given. In the meanwhile the demobilisation of this force is proceeding at a greater rate than any of the other forces, and these matters can undoubtedly be considered in view of the Peace which is about to be ratified.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
Will the right hon. Gentleman say if it is not the fact that a gun has recently been mounted in the neighbourhood of Nottingham?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is quite untrue. The report states with regard to the alleged incident at Wilford, no additional gun has been mounted there. The only possible explanation is that owing to the abolition of all but three of the station in the Nottingham anti-aircraft defences and by an order to clear out one of those stations a gun was temporarily accommodated at Wilford until such time as it could be removed.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us the total number of officers and men employed in the United Kingdom on these anti-aircraft defences now?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I cannot answer a great number of questions at the same time without notice beforehand. I am told there is no question of mounting another gun at Nottingham. Obviously, such a thing would be absurd and any superior officer responsible for it would deserve severe censure at the present time. But a gun may have been brought there for storage and for care during its period of 1188 collection. I cannot say off-hand what the numbers are in the anti-aircraft defences. The House must remember that we have not yet ratified Peace and there is no form of attack which would be more easily prepared in secret than this aeroplane attack. And while I quite agree that the whole of this organisation is to be cut down, we must have it done in such a way as to preserve the art and scheme and conception so that we are not left in the course of years to come entirely defenceless against a form of attack which will become infinitely more easy as every successive month passes by. I saw also references to the Weekly Review of the Foreign Press, and I am obliged to the newspapers for drawing my attention to this matter. I made inquiries about it, and I found that it had been intended that this organisation to survey all the newspapers of the world, which came into being during the War, should be continued. The proposals which have been made by other Departments to abolish it were resisted by the Department on the ground of its great value to trade and for many other points of view. However, I agree with what I think is the general feeling of the House, that we have not only got to get rid of superfluities but of necessities, and that we have got to get rid of absolutely desirable schemes, and that desirable items of expenditure have got to be cut out, because there is simply no money to pay for them. I have consulted with the Foreign Office on the subject, and directions have been given which will ensure the extinction, without leaving a trace behind, of this admirable Department, which had done most excellent work, and which I am sure is an organism, the lack of which and the loss of which we shall live to regret, but which we simply cannot afford to keep going at present.
I do not underrate all these forms of economy and reduction, but they are all quite small compared with the main principle—one of reducing the numbers of men on the strength of the Army. Our policy is to get rid of the men, but let us be careful that in getting rid of them we do not get rid of the Empire and of victory at the same time. Then there are those who say, Keep all the men who are needed, and pick up all the stores which are worth anything, and account most carefully for every penny, and answer all our letters punctually, and treat every man with the greatest consideration and generosity, and act with the strictest 1189 economy and also with energy and decision, and on no account overstep legitimate Parliamentary and Treasury authority, and at the same time get rid of all those redundant staffs at the War Office. So far as the War Office is concerned, their work has not only not diminished since the Armistice, but has increased. A great part of the work which in time of war was done at headquarters overseas has been coming to the central office here. In addition, you have the whole demobilisation problem, with its infinitely varying complexities and aspects which absorb the energies of the Department. I am told that in one single week the Department of Demobilisation had dealt with 800,000 individual communications. Let me give the House a few other figures. It is estimated that in the months preceding the Armistice, when the War was raging, that the War Office was dealing with about 250,000 new letters every week, in addition to the ordinary circulation of the important files in the office itself. At the present time this number has risen to upwards of 350,000 letters per week, in addition to the whole current of the ordinary work of the Department. About 4,000 Parliamentary questions have been answered during the course of the present Session, exclusive, of course, of at least an equal or possibly a greater number of supplementaries. The Member's Friend, my hon. Friend the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Mr. MacCallum Scott), to whose indefatigable energy I am sure the House would like me to pay a tribute in the closing days of the Session, has dealt with over 20,000 letters and 22,000 individual cases which were brought to him by Members of this House in the discharge of their duty to their constituents.
I say it is quite absurd to expect a Department to deal with business on this scale, affecting the complicated personal affairs of millions of individuals, and to deal with it expeditiously, courteously and efficiently, and at the same time to complain that the Ministry's staff had not been reduced to pre-war level or to something like the level of the old pre-war peace-time staff. Such a claim has only to be preferred to be rejected by common sense. But in spite of this the staff of the War Office has been reduced from upwards of 19,000 at the time of the Armistice to about 13,000 at present, and further very considerable reduction will be in force 1190 continually during the ensuing months. Similar facts could I believe be adduced on behalf of the Air Ministry, and indeed I believe it is true to say that the reductions effected in the Air Ministry by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Undersecretary and by Sir Luke Fletcher have exceeded the achievement of any other Department, although the Air Ministry, not having a permanent foundation, has been much more weakly situated in dealing with this problem than other old-established Departments. There are no doubt many instances of waste and mismanagement, and no doubt there are cases of fraud and corruption, but I honestly believe that, compared with the immense volume of the transactions and of the scale of our business, those are remarkably few, and I believe they account for an almost infinitesimal part of the expense to which we are subjected. I think the system of control is a good one, and that it is honestly and vigorously worked, and that fraud and corruption are systematically and automatically hunted down wherever they show their heads. I also believe that in spite of mistakes and waste and muddle, and in spite of what no one would deny are instances of absurdities, we are getting through our troubles and difficulties in a manner which will challenge comparison with any other nation in the great War, not excluding the United States of America.
I said that the expenditure of this year depends upon what is happening, but that of 1920–21 depends on policy—should depend on policy—and that is still in the hands of Parliament and of the Cabinet. They can decade the size of the Army and the size of the Royal Air Force, or alternatively—and I think it might be the better method—they can decide, after making inquiries in this country, how much they will spend on each, and then let the Ministry then concerned have a freer hand to make the best use they can of the money whch is entrusted to them. But next year there will only be two nations in the world, two great nations in the world, which will be free from Conscription, Britain and Germany, and of these two there will only be one which will be voluntarily free from Conscription. France, Italy, Russia—both Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik—Japan, and the United States, to say nothing of the small Powers of the world, are at present to continue compulsory military service, and the United States is proposing legislation em- 1191 barking on that system for the first time in regard to its peace-time policy. I think my right hon. Friend opposite will agree with me those are sombre facts, and in saying that I do not wish to induce him into any damaging admission. Our policy—our wasteful, spendthrift, scandalous, ambitious, sensational War Office policy—is to go back in principle to the little British volunteer Army of previous days, subject only to such modifications and improvements in organisation and materiel as the War has suggested. But what do you think this little pre-war Army will cost us in the post-war era on the basis of post-war pay and post-war prices? It cost £29,000,000 in the year before the War. That meant we had an Army in those early days of the War, equipped as it was, possessing heavy artillery, measured by only one single experimental 9.2 howitzer, and an Army the result of the most searching, sustained, remorseless economy prolonged year by year by both great parties in this House. To come back to that little Army at the present time, let me give what I am told is a provisional estimate. I am not at all prepared to accept it as a final estimate, and it is an estimate which requires to be subjected to severe criticism in every detail. Still, I give the statement to the House for what it is worth. I am told on high expert authority that to reproduce the prewar Army, which cost £29,000,000 before the War, would now cost, having regard to the reduced purchasing power of money and the increased pay, between £65,000,000 and £75,000,000 a year. In addition, there is the question of Mesopotamia and Palestine, which have been newly acquired, and which have to be held or done something with, and there is the state of serious unrest in India, Egypt, and elsewhere. I am very sorry to mention such very disagreeable things to the House, and no doubt I shall be much scolded for doing so, but I think it just as well that people should know where we are as far as possible, and not suddenly wake up and find themselves confronted with whole rows of facts, the dimensions of which they have been altogether unprepared for.
Then there is the Air Force. We had, practically speaking, no Air Force before the War, and at the end of the War we had the finest Air Force in the world. This year the demobilisation of the Air Force follows and keeps pace with the demobilisation of the Army; as a matter of fact, it 1192 has gone on somewhat in advance of it. The Army has been reduced to about a quarter, and the Air Force has been reduced to about a fifth, of its Armistice-figures, and that process is going to continue. What of next year? I see statements in the papers and from various high authorities that we are planning the permanent structure of the Air Force on the basis of it costing twice as much as the whole of the Army before the War. Twenty-nine millions multiplied by two would be £58,000,000, and if you were to allow for prices it would be £116,000,000 at least, but that, I presume, is not intended. We will say, therefore, £58,000,000. Who has ever suggested this? Who in a responsible position at the Air Ministry or in the Government has ever suggested such a scale for our air defences in the future? Personally, as a provisional decision for us to work by until the whole question of our defences can be considered in relation to our financial situation, I have pursued the following policy. I have instructed Sir Hugh Trenchard that he must provisionally frame his scheme within the limits of £25,000,000 a year, which is equal to something lees than £12,000,000 a year on the pre-war basis, and I have offered him all possible support in the measures which ho has recommended. Here let me say that this is a matter of policy which Parliament and the Cabinet may review. I am telling the House quite frankly the course which I am now pursuing, so that it can be criticised and argued on both sides. I observe-that the Committee presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London, in its third Report, after taking-two pages to deal with the Renfrew episode, and two more pages to deal with the clothing contracts, and two more pages out of the seven to deal with the cases of the motor-car garages and the complexities of Kennington and Belvedere Road, include this small but very significant paragraph, No. 28:The Sub-committee examined Major-General Sir H. Trenchard (Chief of the Air Staff), and are of opinion that he is doing all that is possible to cut down expenditure while having due regard to the efficiency of his Department.''I think I am entitled to take my stand on that. I hold most strongly that an earnest and resolute effort must be made to reduce the cost of national Government, even if it involves the abandonment of cherished schemes and of many projects which are desirable and useful in themselves. I am of the opinion that the risks of the financia situation are such that risks in other direc 1193 tions must be faced. I believe that it will be found, in these four or five years after the War, that the best course for the armed forces of the Crown is to aim at scientific progress and quality rather than mere numbers or instant readiness for action. Reduction of expense, as I have said, can only be obtained by discharging officers and men from the Army and Air Force as quickly as the situation allows. Every effort will be made to obtain the decisions of world policy, which in some cases are necessary before we can proceed upon our path. I go all the way with the House and with those out of doors in feeling that this question of the reduction of our expenditure upon armaments, after making due allowance for the absolute change in nominal values and the decline in purchasing power which has occurred, is the first need which we have to face in this House and on this Bench, but I shall not myself become responsible, whatever the pressure may be, for the maltreatment of the Army during the years which follow immediately after the War, nor for any policy which denies to the Royal Air Force a permanent and an effective and an independent means of existence.
§ Colonel MILDMAY
We have just listened to a speech of the greatest importance, and I think I may say, on behalf of all present, that we have greatly appreciated the frankness of the right hon. Gentleman, and especially have we valued his strongly-expressed determination to put down expenditure. I should like, also, to endorse what he has said as to the way in which the hon. Member for the Bridge-ton Division of Glasgow (Mr. MacCallum Scott) has at all times done his utmost to meet hon. Members who have plied him with questions. He is entitled to the greatest credit. We have listened to a good many weighty speeches this afternoon, and not the least weighty was the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. N. Chamberlain), who was heard with pleasure, I think, by the whole House. I also listened with considerable interest to the speech which was made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who began the Debate (Major-General Seely). I think he was a little hard on the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) and his Committee in saying that he ought to have gone abroad, after hearing the evidence he received from the Air Force, to find out whether such things 1194 could have been possible. I am afraid we have all learned of late that we can be surprised at no extravagant expenditure. I frankly admit that, when we heard of £66,000,000 as the Estimate for the Air Force in the coming year, we were appalled, but the explanation has been, I think, fairly satisfactory, and in particular the further explanation offered us by the Secretary of State for War. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who opened the Debate said it was largely due to the winding-up of old contracts, and he described the estimated figure as being four or five times the normal; but I sometimes ask myself, when I look back, whether a mistake was not made—as many high authorities in the Army have made me think—in making a separate entity of the Air Force and in making a separate Air Ministry. I know that it was done at a moment of great difficulty, because of the jealous competition between the Army and Navy for the raw material of aeroplanes, but it docs seem to mo that the difficulties could have been overcome in some better way. Should not service in the air be regarded as ancillary to the Army and Navy, just as are gunnery in the Navy and service in connection with the Artillery in the Army? We do not create a separate gunnery for the Navy or Artillery for the Army, and by creating a separate Air Ministry you stimulate expenditure and you induce those in. high authority in the new Ministry to think they must support their importance in the eyes of the public by a considerable staff and a considerable expenditure.
I do not press this view, because I am far too ignorant in these matters to be able to dogmatise upon them, but I wish to make one thing quite clear. I am the last to decry the importance of the services rendered by the Royal Air Force. No one knows better than myself, for I have watched them for four years, how invaluable those services have been. In a certain sense, I have been an onlooker at the front, because I have had no heavy responsibility in connection with tactical movements of men, and being an onlooker, I think I have seen most of the game. I have had, too, more opportunity for close observation, and I know how through all those four years British supremacy in the air has become more and more unchallenged. When the Armistice came, in consequence mainly, I think, of the startling developments in wireless telephony in 1195 which we so outstripped the Germans, there was evidence of a real panic at German General Headquarters—and I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman below me will bear me out—at our advance in this respect, and I am quite certain, from what I heard then and from what I know now, that our advance in this respect had a large influence in compelling the German General Staff to realise that all was up. We had a demonstration in a Committee Room of the House of Commons, which was kindly provided for us by the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, when he made a series of quite impressive orations to a gentleman in an aeroplane, and all who were there were greatly impressed at the advance which had been made in this Department of Air Service. Although I have said this, I still ask myself whether the policy which created an Air Service separate and independent from the Army and Navy was a right policy.
Before sitting down, I venture once more to say a word as to quite another matter and to renew the representations which I made at the time when the Army Vote was discussed, as to the treatment of the Wessex Division and the Home Counties Division, which went out to India at the beginning of the War. These two divisions of Territorials were composed of men who patriotically expressed their readiness to serve on any front. I am not going into all these particulars again, but Lord Kitchener came down to address them before they went, and he made to them two promises. He gave them a pledge of priority of demobilisation. We all know that it has been impossible to fulfil that pledge, and for reasons which are very obvious, but I should like, if any representative of the War Office were here, to ask whether, seeing that the difficulties of demobilisation from India are largely due to the deficiency of transport, they could not find it possible to demobilise some of those who are ready to be demobilised in India. I put aside that pledge, because it was not possible to fulfil it, but as to the other pledge, I should like to quote Lord Kitchener's speech. He said:You are going out to India. You must not feel yourselves slighted by being sent to India instead of to France. I can assure you you are rendering far greater service to your King and country than you would be by going to France, and I promise you that you shall lose nothing of the honours and rewards by going to India and that you shall have the first chance of getting employment at home when war is over.1196 Could anything be more definite than that pledge that they should lose nothing of the honours and rewards? I say that, if one pledge has been impossible to fulfil, all the more reason is there that this other pledge should be discharged as it was meant by Lord Kitchener that it should be discharged, for I cannot see that the War Office can find it possible to be absolutely false to this definite pledge, because is there any public interest which prevents its fulfilment? There is none that I can see. There is no consideration which could justify the Government in ignoring it. Since I last spoke the Lord Lieutenant has sent to me a resolution which was passed by the Territorial Association of Devonshire, which declaims against the unfair way in which the men of these divisions are being treated. Copies of this resolution have gone, I believe, to the War Office. I am speaking for the moment for Devonshire Territorials, and I may add in no county of England have the Territorials played up more heartily than in Devonshire. The resolution states:The Association fears that recruiting for the Territorial Force in Devon will be very unfavourable if the spirit of the pledge made by Lord Kitchener to the Home Counties and Wessex Divisions when proceeding to India in 1914 is not adhered to.I am perfectly certain the right hon. Gentleman (Major-General Seely), who has very close ties with that Home Counties Division, will, in his heart of hearts, be convinced that my plea is strongly justified, and all I can say is that such a deliberate breach of faith as is contemplated is, to my mind, absolutely indefensible.
Mr. AC LAND
I was encouraged—I think the House generally was encouraged with regard to the subject of expenditure, to some extent, by the tone of the speech of the Secretary of State for War, but the figures—the very much reduced and modified figures—which he held out to us as being the probable figures for the future set of War Office and Air Ministry Estimates are still, I venture to think, very alarming. The prophesy made, with all due and proper safeguards, with regard to the Estimates was a sum of £65,000,000 for the War Office and £25,000,000 for the Air Ministry, or a total of £90,000,000 a year in all. I want to say only one thing about that. I believe a very large number of people in this country will only be willing to regard that as purely an interim, temporary, provisional figure, because in all that the Secretary 1197 for War said—and he was evidently trying to impress the House and country as to his desire for economy—he did not refer at all to the relief from expenditure on armaments that we, in common with all the other countries of the world may surely expect to gain from the progressive policy of disarmament to which we are pledged as members of the society of the League of Nations. There must be an absolute change of view with regard to expenditure on armaments, not only from that which prevailed during the War, but from that which prevailed before the War, because before the War we were getting to a stage when Army and Navy expenditure was eating us up, and a return to the same sort of standard, at the enormously increased prices which now prevail, cannot satisfy the aspirations and hopes of the country. He said truly enough, of course, that what really happened has set the standard of expenditure or the number of men on Vote A of the Army and Air Force Estimates. There is just one question I should like to ask. I have some friends and correspondents in Woolwich, survivors of the day when I was Financial Secretary, and in charge, to some extent, of matters at the Arsenal, who tell me that since the Armistice was declared there has been carried on, largely in the Royal Carriage Factory, something very like a brand new programme of artillery armaments. I should like to know, sometime or other, whether it is a fact that, to a very great extent since the Armistice was declared, we have gone in for a now and very expensive programme of re-armament of our field artillery? That sort of expenditure does not depend on your manpower.
I want to turn to another subject, and speak for a few moments as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. In normal circumstances, the House at this period of the Session would be in possession of the Report of the Public Accounts Committee on the Air Ministry, and the reason that they are not in possession of our Report was partly explained by the Secretary of State for War, when he said that the Comptroller and Auditor-General, in facing his duty of reporting to Parliament on the Accounts of the year of the Air Ministry, had found it so difficult to report fully and properly with the material at. his disposal, that he had, after consulting the Public Accounts Committee, moved the Treasury to cause a special Committee to be set up to go into this matter of aerodromes and other matters, and that the 1198 Treasury had appointed a Committee, presided over by Sir Maurice FitzMaurice, which would report in due course. That Report will be brought before the Public Accounts Committee in the Autumn Session, and it will be the duty of the Committee to report to the House on the matters dealt with in that Report, and other matters which may be of interest. I ask the House to suspend judgment until they are in possession of that Report, and if it is necessary, and when the time comes when there is a careful Report, as there will be, by the Public Accounts Committee before them on these matters arising out of the Report of the FitzMaurice Committee, again to take the matter into careful consideration with a view to considering whether there has, or has not, been avoidable extravagance. One thing only I would say, that if there is good will on the part of Ministers—and I am glad to notice, and I think the House must have been glad to notice, a very great difference of tone between the speech of the Secretary of State this afternoon and some other speeches we have heard him deliver—if there is good will on the part of Ministers in favour of economy, then the Secretary of State has at his hands a very excellent instrument for securing economy. I refer to the system of financial control existing at the War Office, as exercised by the extraordinarily able hands of Sir Charles Harris, the Assistant Financial Secretary in that office. I am sure every member of the Public Accounts Committee will agree with me that we regard that system of financial control, as exercised at the War Office during the War and still in existence, as being far better than that which exists in any other of our big Departments, and we believe that if it is left untouched, and if it is imitated and put into equally capable hands at the Air Ministry, then undoubtedly there will be a system for securing due economy in the administration of public funds which, as I say, if Ministers are really sincere in desiring economy, will be a most efficient instrument to obtain it.
I hear possibilities of changes. Naturally a man with so active a mind as the right hon. Gentleman who represents the War Office and the Air Ministry must be always considering changes, but I hope that, whatever is changed, there will be no change in the framework of financial control at the War Office, and that that may be extended and copied in the other 1199 Ministry of which the right hon. Gentleman has control. But with regard to the question of expenditure by the Air Ministry, there will be before the House later on in the Session a Report which all the members of the Public Accounts Committee will do their best to make as careful as possible on the question of expenditure there, and I hope judgment will be suspended until we have an opportunity of discussing the Report when it is presented.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, whenever he is on the defensive, always assumes the attack—a practice which, I suppose, he inherits from his illustrious ancestor the Duke of Marl-borough, and I must say he usually goes over the top very well. To-night he has drawn a veritable shoal of red herrings across the line of attack which has been developed by previous speakers, but I think the main criticism which one can make of his defence, and also the defence made by the Under-Secretary of State for Air, is that they seem to be entirely satisfied with the conditions which have been exposed by the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and the Under-Secretary for Air especially seems to consider that he has entirely blown away the charges or criticisms which were made by that Committee. I fail to see that he has made out a case for his defence of the efficient administration of the Air Ministry in their task of cutting down the expenses of the nation at the present time. He made a great deal of the fact that 20,000 officers had been demobilised from the Air Force, but in doing so he admitted the fact that we have now got 10,000 officers in the Air Force. Although I am not one of those who wish by any means to see the Navy, Army, and Air Force cut down to very, very small portions, yet, at the same time, I do consider that to have 10,000 officers in the Air Force at the present time is far too great a number for this country to have, having in view the fact that we are, in ordinary language, very hard up. He also seemed to think that the reduction in the number of women employed by the Air Ministry was satisfactory. Again there, the reduction from 25,000 at the time of the Armistice to 16,000 the other day, seems to me a totally inadequate reduction of the numbers employed. He has said that 1200 the number will be reduced to 3,000in the future. I for one fail to see why discharged and disabled men, or partially disabled men, could not be employed to do the work which these women are at present doing. I am quite sure of this, that there is a very strong feeling in almost every constituency amongst the discharged men about this matter.
Women who have done so splendidly in the War only came in to fill the places of men in order to help us in our man-power during the War; now that the War is over a reduction should be made, the most possible, and as soon as possible they should be replaced by disabled men. Although this is not an Air Ministry Department it is a Department of the Secretary of State for War. He has alluded to the fact that we are still keeping up anti-aircraft defence all over the country. He said that that policy was going to be maintained. I should like to know if any other Minister is going to speak later. If so, will he give us some further defence of what appears to me to be an absolutely indefensible policy. We have guns all round London. We have a staff of men occupied—they are looking at the moon ! They have nothing to shoot at, and are not at all likely to have for the next fifty years. Supposing a war did break out within ten or fifteen years all these guns would be absolutely obsolete in view of the developments in gunnery and air man œuvres. We should have to have an entirely new set of guns to deal with that situation. On that alone, on the anti-aircraft defences, we are spending a very large sum.
There are many other email points in connection with the Air Ministry, such as the number of motor cars. In this I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not make a good case. He alluded to the Report of the Select Committee and pooh-poohed it. He said that this Report showed that a large reduction had been made in the number of the cars. He omitted to state the fact that the number of cars and motor cycles used in the London area was actually 70 per cent, more six months after the Armistice than was the number six months before! I also think that he did not make any case whatever in defence of the extraordinary amount of joy-riding which goes on in the Air Ministry cars throughout London, and in other parts of the United Kingdom. All these matters of extravagance have 1201 been shown up by the Select Committee on National Expenditure. It shows the tremendous necessity of keeping a continuous watch on national expenditure and over the Department by means of Committees such as that which has just reported. I agree entirely with the criticisms which were made by the hon. Member for Ladywood, who made the suggestion that there should be in every Department a financial expert who should not be responsible to that particular Department, but who should be responsible to the Treasury, and who would act as a sort of watchdog and keep an eye on the expenditure of that Department. I should like to add to that by suggesting that, in addition to that financial expert in each Department, there should be a development of the existing, and only temporary, Committee on National Expenditure; that there should be a permanent Committee on National, Expenditure formed from Members of this House, who should delegate small Sub-committees to deal with the affairs of each of the big spending Departments in the country. Then this House would almost directly obtain control, and get to closer grips and more control over expenditure. We shall never get that proper organisation of our Departments, nor shall we get that control of the purse which from time immemorial the country has expected the House to exercise, and without which the stability of our Constitution is gravely threatened unless we adopt some such measure as that which I have ventured to put to the House.
§ Mr. WALLACE
This Debate has lasted a long time, but I should like to refer to one or two matters of interest before it finishes. We are on the eve of the Recess. Many of us in a few weeks' time will be speaking to our constituents in an attempt to render an account of our stewardship. Since the advent of the Government various by-elections have taken place. The result of these has shown that a certain tide is setting against the present Government. I have no hesitation in saying that the fact is largely owing to the present expenditure of the Government. In no subject is the country interested more than in that of national economy. I desire to have some guidance from the Government as to the line of defence which I am to adopt in the autumn when I have to face my Constituents. We have emerged as victors from the greatest 1202 War in the world's history. Something has been said in this House about conserving the fruits of victory. What are they? The Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement in this House last week, and in what I may describe as a grave speech he told the House that unless expenditure was reduced and production was increased we as a country would have to face the crash of national bankruptcy. No more serious statement has been made in this House by any Chancellor. He spoke from first-hand knowledge. He himself must shoulder first-hand responsibility for the serious financial outlook of the country at the present time. He told us that we are spending £4,500,000 per day. He pressed on us a grave warning. Had he been on that Front Bench now I should have liked to ask him what he is personally doing to restrict and reduce this expenditure? No reasonable man could expect that when the Armistice was signed on 11th November that war expenditure would automatically cease. The Leader of the House told us last week that when the tornado of war swept over the world its effects in many forms prevailed, and that war expenditure was one of those forms. With every desire to be fair and reasonable, I should like to know how any man in this House would in the present state of the country's finances defend a war expenditure of £4,500,000 per day! How is the money spent?
We were told this afternoon by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that £1,874.000 is spent every day on the Army, Navy, and Air Services. There is a general disposition in the country and in the Press at the present time to criticise the Government. We all know that the Government is vulnerable to frontal attack. I do not seek any cheap notoriety to-night in calling attention to this national expenditure. I do not possess that attitude of mind which considers any stick good enough with which to beat the Government. There is too much of that tendency to-day in both the Press and country. We had a very good example here this afternoon of how the flamboyant charge in the Sunday papers and yesterday's papers was disposed of in a most effectual manner by my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate. Though that be the case there is, unfortunately, very much room still to criticise the Government in a perfectly legitimate way. I suggest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should long ago have taken up a most uncompromising position regarding 1203 public expenditure. He has told us that he is no seeker after office, fund that the exalted position he now occupies he did not ask for. I believe he is occupying his present position from a sincere desire to render public service. What should his attitude have been when the Air Ministry came along and demanded over £60,000,000 in a year of peace for the Air Service? I suggest if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken the right attitude he would have said something like this to those who asked for the money: "Are you aware that in a year of peace you are demanding a greater sum than we spent on the combined forces of the Army and Navy before the War? So far as I am concerned, I decline absolutely to give you this sum. You must reduce it by at least 50 per cent., and if I am not backed up in this demand for reduction by the Prime Minister I shall resign my office." Obstacles always clear from the path of resolute men of inflexible will. I am sure that he would have brought the gentlemen of the Air Ministry to book and to common sense by adopting the attitude that I suggest.
I read wonderful accounts in the newspapers of what the Air Ministry is doing. I saw the account the other day of a wonderful new airship which the Air Ministry had ordered. It took 200 men to bring this airship safely to land. A statement of that sort leaves me very cold. I am not uninterested in the development of aviation. It would interest me more, however, very much more, if I saw 200 men in this House banded together determined to bring to earth Government Departments who at the present time are floating, complacently and buoyantly, in an atmosphere of extravagance! The right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Air Ministry this afternoon asked us to quote individual cases of extravagance. My complaint is against the general policy of Governmental extravagance. It is the policy I wish to see overhauled. I hope that the Prime Minister, now he is relieved from the herculean task which he has discharged so admirably, will take this matter of retrenchment in hand, and if flying is to be developed by way of a great commercial system or scheme, let it be left to commercial firms; let the Government leave it alone.
On Army expenditure I just want a single word. I must be very brief. I have asked several times in this House for 1204 certain returns from the War Office as to the stock of cloth held by them. Figures were put into my hands a few minutes ago. I have not had time to analyse them properly, but I must call attention to one extraordinary figure in the Return. The total stock of cloth is put at over 13,000,000 yards. I shall take another opportunity of bringing this before the House. But one of the extraordinary items is for tartan for trousers. There is said to be 5,109,625 yards in stock at the present time. Tartan can only be meant for Scottish consumption. After all, the population of Scotland is somewhat limited. I imagine that if this tartan were new converted into trousers we should be able to produce something like 4,000,000 pairs of trousers for Scottish wear. We do not want them, Sir! After the rebellion of 1745 a law was passed forbidding either the wearing of the kilt or the wearing of tartan. His Majesty's Government, it seems to me, will now have to reverse that ordinance. They will have to arrange to make the wearing of tartan compulsory. It would certainly make it for more picturesque if His Majesty's Ministers appeared in the Scottish national garb. Even since the beginning of the War or the Armistice if this country had observed the most rigid economy we should still have been in a most serious financial position. We have borne the burden and heat of the day in this War. We have carried practically the world on our shoulders. Of men, money and material we have contributed far more than our share, and we entered this War with a lofty purpose and without the hope of any material gain.
It seems to me that there ought to be, so far as the Allies are concerned, equality of sacrifice in the War. We were in the War in August, 1914, but America did not come in until three years later, although I agree that the entrance of America was the deciding factor in the ultimate victory. It is also true to say that America's financial obligations in this War started long before she became an active belligerent. I know that it was not possible, for a variety of reasons, for her to enter sooner, but during the three years that she was a spectator we were without stint pouring out blood and treasure for the very purpose which ultimately induced America to come in, and that was nothing else but the freedom of the world. It is not too much to say that while we 1205 Were being drained of our resources America had a period of phenomenal prosperity. I may be treading on delicate ground, but I suggest that the expenses of this war, so far as the Allies are concerned, should be pooled, and America's financial obligations should start from August, 1914.
The position is very serious for this country to-day. At the present time the English sovereign commands an exchange of 4.30 in New York, or, in other words, we can only purchase 18s. Worth sterling with an English sovereign. I do not think any of the countries who have been engaged in this War, having entered into it with the highest ideal, should emerge from it in a better financial position than: any of the other Allies. I put that position with all respect to His Majesty's Government. This is no appeal to America ad misericordiam, but it is an appeal in equity and justice to a great, chivalrous nation who stood beside us in the world's need to share equally the financial burdens from the beginning of the War. It is an appeal to the high soul and sincere sentiments so frequently expressed by President Wilson, and it would be an appropriate finish to the work done in the War in the sacred cause of liberty and freedom.
§ Captain LOSEBY
It is my intention to bring the House back from the air to earth. I am anxious to call the attention of the House to the administration of the President of the Board of Education. I should like to commence by saying that this is the first opportunity since the beginning of this Parliament that I or anyone else have had of discussing educational matters. In view of the fact that some of us have had something more than considerable difficulty in raising certain educational grievances and bringing them before the notice of this House, I intend to take this opportunity of raising the whole question of the Parliamentary control of the Education Department. Does Parliament control the Education Department, or has Parliament delegated its duties to the President of the Board of Education? I cannot help thinking that this is a matter of great interest, not only to the right hon. Gentleman himself, but to all of us who are anxious to see the government of this country in the hands of Parliament and not delegated to a bureaucracy, a trades council, or, indeed, to anything else
1206 I can perfectly understand that in a time of emergency and crisis it is necessary for Parliament to delegate its duties to an extent which at other times would not be considered, but I cannot believe that it is right to delegate important and vital functions involving decisions of far-reaching magnitude in the manner in which they are delegated to the President of the Board of Education. I am most anxious not to bore the House, but I am anxious once and for all to get a protest placed on record. I will give the House the history of my own dealings with the Education Department. My own grievance is a matter of small importance compared with the fact that I do believe that I have got a genuine-grievance against this Department, and in the course of five months I have not been able to bring it before this House. The House is aware that it has been for many years a principle—at any rate ever since 1907—that money granted from State funds in aid of schools, and in particular of secondary schools, was given upon certain conditions. It was given upon the condition that these schools-should be controlled, in regard to the money granted to thorn, by representatives of the State; that there should be-on the councils of these schools a majority of State representatives, provided in some cases by the county councils and in others by the town councils and district councils. I do not discuss the point whether it was a good rule or a bad rule. I merely make the assertion that it was a principle, and it was a safeguard, and that principle was approved by Parliament. This rule, in its operation, was most disagreeable to those schools in this-country against whom it was used. I refer to the grammar schools who, in order to entitle themselves to receive Grants from State funds, were compelled to alter their councils and their constitutions, which in some cases had been in force from 400 to 500 years. Whether they liked it or not, they did accept the restriction that was put upon them by the Board of Education. What happened? Certain denominational schools in this country were anxious to receive Grants from State funds and to come under control—the main point was to receive funds—of the Board of Education, and they approached the President of the Board of Education The right hon. Gentleman appears to have approved—again I will not say rightly or otherwise—of their contention that these restrictions were unnecessary. Did the 1207 right hon. Gentleman come to Parliament and say, "There is a principle and a rule upon which State funds have been granted from the coffers of the State in the past, but I find that that principle and that rule stand in the way of the interests of true education in this country, and we want it removed." I am convinced that Parliament would have removed it, but the right hon. Gentleman did nothing of the kind. With a sweep of the hand he swept it away. He swept away a principle approved by Parliament, without the knowledge of Parliament, and behind the back of Parliament. He abolished this rule in regard to newcomers, but he did not abolish it in regard to schools which had been under the Board of Education for a considerable time.
I make three points against the right hon. Gentleman. First, that if the abolition of this rule was necessary for certain Roman Catholic and denominational schools the rule was also unnecessary for Church schools and Nonconformist schools, and it is highly inequitable to abolish it for newcomers and retain it as. Against those who have borne the heat and burden of the educational fight. Secondly, it is wrong, and it is a dangerous precedent, for the right hon. Gentleman, behind the back of Parliament, and unknown to Parliament, to abolish a rule and a principle by Parliament approved. My third point is that when a Member of this House asserts that there is some principle of vital importance which requires attention, and ho is anxious to call the attention of the House to it, there is something wrong in our Parliamentary procedure when it does not facilitate him in that task. This matter is of vital importance, because many of us, in our constituencies, have one fight more than another to wage, a fight upon which the safety of this country depends, and that is a fight for Parliamentary government as against direct action. I go to my Constituents and I tell them on various occasions, "Why do you talk about direct action? I have never heard anything so silly! You can have what you like in this country. You. are ruled by the majority. There is no grievance that you cannot settle through your own representative Government." What is the answer? Here is a case. For five months I vainly endeavour to raise this matter, and not only am I not assisted by the right hon. Gentleman, but every obstacle is put in my way. I 1208 could not put a question to the right hon. Gentleman orally because I found on the Question List it was 125 or 126, and it was impossible at any time to get an oral answer from him, until I discovered that one could put questions to the Prime Minister I chose a time which I thought would be least inconvenient to Members of this House—namely,the Adjournment before the Recess. I possibly made a mistake in announcing the subject I was going to raise. Somewhere about three-thirty in the afternoon I discovered a most highly respected hon. Member trotting up and down the corridors urging other hon. Gentlemen to leave the House, because there was a certain matter which they did not want to have raised. The mistake made by the hon. Member was that he came to me and asked me to get out side as quickly as possible. I said, "Why?" He said, "Because someone wants to raise something or other; I do not know what it is, but we do not want it raised." Then he said, "Oh, I know what it is; it is about education. Who wants to talk about education?" He was so earnest and so excited that I sympathised with him, but I pointed out that as I was the person that it was 'to be done upon, I could not on that particular occasion be expected to assist him. That is the reason why—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
This is quite irregular. There is no compulsory listening in this House. The hon. Member is not entitled to attack his colleagues for not coming to listen to his speech. He can attack the Minister of Education in his administrative capacity.
§ Captain LOSEBY
With all respect, I thought the House would understand me. I am attacking the practice which stifles debate in this House, under which officers of this House vainly endeavour to shirk certain points, because there is some kind of possibility that that point if raised would be a difficult point for the Minister to answer. That was the point I was endeavouring to make. No doubt I put it badly, but this particular form of pressure is at the present time not desirable in the interests of this country. But I will move on. I have dealt with the abolition of the democratic control of governing bodies in secondary schools in order to meet the objections of certain denominational schools in this country. The only point I endeavoured to make is not that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong, indeed I believe 1209 he is right. I for one, have no kind of fear of denominational education in this country. But I venture to criticise the light hon. Gentleman in regard to the constitutional methods adopted. If the right hon. Gentleman had trusted the House, if he had come down to it with all his persuasive powers and with the prestige that he possesses in this House, I think he would have had the House behind him, and a highly dangerous precedent would not have been established. In order to make further my point in regard to the necessity of Parliamentary control may I say that while we have the utmost respect for the right hon. Gentleman as an educationist, we hold it is necessary to have something in the nature of Parliamentary control over his actions, because there is frequently political intentions behind the action taken on this. I want to refer to another point.
Ever since 1907 one of the conditions upon which Grants have been made to the grammar schools in this country was that they should receive 25 per cent of their pupils from primary schools free. In the first instance, as I understand, that rule was not strictly insisted upon, but after two or three years it was rigidly adhered to until, as my information goes, it was relaxed by the right hon. Gentleman and the result is we find in the same town in England two grammar schools, one of a higher social status than the other, one of which is compelled for the same Grant to receive 25 per cent of its pupils from primary schools free, while the other has to find places for 10 per cent only. I am utterly unable to understand the reasons for the difference. I know something of the matter. I know perfectly well there are certain schools of the original type of the Select Academy for Young Gentlemen who believe their social prestige will be damaged by the admission of pupils from primary schools and who, therefore, prefer to come in on the 10 per cent basis rather than on the 25 per cent. I know how in the past, these schools have jeered at and derided those grammar schools which undertake the burden and heat of the educational day. There is no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman is admitting them on an entirely different basis. I am prepared to acknowledge it is necessary at times to have something of a margin, but surely that margin ought not to be so wide as between 10 per cent and 25pet-cent. Surely that is unreasonable. I could understand if it were a difference 1210 of between 20 per cent and 25 per cent. There are two points I would like to urge in this connection. The first is the point of equity. I claim it is most inequitable to make one country grammar school find room for 25 per cent of pupils from the primary schools, while the other is compelled to find room for only 10 per cent. We cannot afford to make this differentiation
Here the political point comes in. The reason why, I think, it is impossible to delegate even the functions of education to such an efficient Minister as the right hon. Gentleman is because the political party to which I belong has, as the most important plank in its political platform, the doctrine of free education from the board school to the university. It was a step in that same direction which led the right hon. Gentleman or his predecessor to insist on the 25 per cent basis. The State has in the past insisted on getting its quid pro quo for State Grants in the shape of free places to secondary schools. I venture to assert we shall never arrive at our ideal if we make the Grants from State funds subject only to the condition that one-tenth of the pupils are carried on the back of the fee-paying pupils. I hope I have been able to establish that point
My last point is this. The right hon. Gentleman has on public occasions declared himself in favour of subsidising the great public schools of this country on an entirely different basis. I am referring hereto such schools as Eton, Harrow, and Rugby, and schools of that nature. The right hon. Gentleman has declared himself in favour of subsidising those schools on the basis that they should, instead of receiving their pupils direct from the private schools, take a certain proportion-direct from the secondary schools—rom the grammar schools of this country. I would be the last man in this House to wish to attack or in any way to cast a slur on the valuable work done by the public schools of this country. I had the privilege of being educated at one myself, and I do not think that the work of these schools can be over-estimated. But there are innumerable difficulties against a system of subsidy and bringing these schools under State control. First of all, there is the financial difficulty. To educate a boy in the ordinary grammar schools of the country costs something like —.To educate a boy at Rugby, or some 1211 of the excellent public schools costs ó50 and therefore, even if the return given to the State for the subsidy in the form of scholarships from secondary schools was ample, the fact remains that we should, for every boy who was being educated in that public school, be paying something like ó50. Most assuredly, under the system as suggested, we should have more clearly divided the schools of the country than ever before. We should have them divided into the schools of the classes and the schools of the masses, and I cannot believe there is anything that we more earnestly wish to avoid. I shall be satisfied if I can secure that the House must guard its control over the Department as administered by the Education Minister as earnestly as over any other Department. I believe I voice the opinions of something like 80 per cent of the grammar schools of this country, which would stand behind me on this particular point. I should like to have it also clearly understood that it does not follow that in raising this point I do not appreciate as fully and as completely as those schools themselves the wonderful work as an educationist that the right hon. Gentleman has performed. I have fulfilled a most difficult and unpopular task, because I am supposed to have attacked one of the most popular Ministers of the Crown. I have not liked the task. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to make me two or three concessions. If I could get the concession as to democratic control, that it should apply to the schools which accepted the State Grant prior to the Secondary School Regulations Act,1918, and, secondly, that he will restrict more clearly than has been restricted in the past the percentage of free pupils, so that in the same town you have not two schools being treated upon entirely different principles, I should be more than glad, because otherwise this is only the first shot fired in a campaign against what I believe to be the inequitable treatment of the grammar schools of the country, which have deserved well of the country
§ Major HURST
I welcome this opportunity of voicing the claims of the women teachers in elementary schools, a class which has a very great claim upon the gratitude of the country and the sympathy of the House. Their complaint is that in the local administration of education they do not receive equal pay for equal work 1212 With regard to the facts of their grievance there is no dispute. There is no national scale of remuneration for teachers in this country, but in every single district the women engaged in teaching in elementary schools only get a fraction of the pay which is received by men teachers, a fraction varying from two-thirds to three-quarters, and a fraction which is not only applicable to the pay they receive but also to their pensions after service. Even in Manchester, where the scale is a generous one, I find that in schools where the numbers of children range between 200 and 300, the maximum salary for principal teachers, who are men, is ó280, and for mistresses ó200. In schools with over 600 children the disparity is between ó360 and ó240, and so in every branch of the profession, both head teachers and assistant teachers. The demand which the women teachers make is that where their training is equal to the training of men, where their qualifications are the same, and their aptitude for teaching is the same, there should be no difference in the remuneration of the two sexes, and where their skill or training is less than the skill and training of men, their pay should bear the same ratio to the pay of the men as their efficiency bears to the efficiency of the men. There is nothing extravagant whatever in this demand. The principle of equal pay for equal work is in fact enshrined in the Peace Treaty itself. That document, signed amid so much glory on 28th June, contains Article 427, which lays down that the principle that men and women should receive equal remuneration for work of equal value is one to be followed, and that its adoption will confer lasting benefits upon the wage earners of the world. The issue which the education authorities have to decide is whether that principle is simply to be treated as a glittering generalisation or is to be taken as a living principle of conduct to be applied in daily practice and in the daily working of the life of the country. I hope to induce the Board of Education to influence the local authorities so that the money they receive for education is so expended that there is no longer this great disparity between the remuneration of men and the remuneration of women who do the same work. It is not only a question of an ideal or a principle; it is also a practical question, and the adoption of this principle will be of very great benefit to the teaching world.
1213 No profession has got a greater duty in front of it or performs a more useful function to society than the teaching profession. How are you going to attract the best women into it unless you are going to remove from them the sense of injustice under which they labour? Years ago I was told that in the towns of East Lancashire the brightest girls in the schools will not teach. They prefer to go into the mills, and the reason is that the reward offered for working as spinners or weavers is greater than for the work they do as school teachers. In order to induce the best women to go into the teaching profession you must remove this sense of injustice. Eighty per cent, of the women teachers of the country receive less than ó5 a week for work which is at least as exacting as manufacturing or industrial work. That is one reason why this principle of equal pay for equal work ought to be supported by the House. Another reason is that its adoption would be a means of recognising the splendid work that is done by women teachers through-out the country at present. These elementary schools, where the great bulk of the work is done by women, are like the beacon lights of civilisation in the dark places of our great towns. Some of the classes which these girls teach run up to something like sixty in number. The children who go to the schools very often come from homes which are unable to provide them with a healthy home life, with good food, or with good clothing. They are homes which are without knowledge and without intellectual curiosity. No finer work is being done than that which is being done by these women, who for poor pay and reward carry on the work of teaching in these schools. There can be no better way of showing our sympathy with the work which they are doing than by giving them their due and rewarding them according to their labours
What is the obstacle to the adoption of this Report? The only obstacle that I have ever heard suggested is that men teachers will be irritated if the practice is adopted of giving equal pay for equal work, and that they will not come readily into the profession. I cannot see the force of that contention. I receive no stimulus in my work from the knowledge that other people who perform work of the same merit receive less remuneration nor does it deprive me of an incentive to do my 1214 work if I know that others who do the work equally well get equal pay for it. The obstacle to this reform is to be found rather in the obscurantist ideas of people who are engaged in departmental life and who do not come face to face with the realities of the teaching profession. There are signs even in the Board of Education that those who are running the teaching system of this country are behind the times. There are such signs as the curious habit of starving the teaching of geography in the schools and the undervalue that is placed upon such really educational subjects like history and English subjects, whereas undue importance is attached to dull and uninteresting subjects like mathematics, which to an old Oxford man indicates the hidden hand of a Cambridge reactionary. There is this want of initiative and want of insight on the part of the Board of Education, despite the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is the President, and I believe it is in that want of insight on the part of the education authorities, both central and local, that we can find the real obstacle to the reform that I have advocated. I would like to remind hon. Members that a large proportion of us owe our return to this House to the influence of women voters. I believe the support they afforded to the present Government was not only because of their patriotism, but was also because they believed, and, I hope, rightly believed, that they could look for sympathy and understanding among the supporters of the Coalition Government with the aims and aspirations of women workers. In this particular question relating to educational matters we have come to a point where that sympathy and understanding are tested, and I hope that this Parliament, now that the time of test has come, will not be found wanting.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. T. DAVIES
I should like to reply to the points which have been raised by the last two speakers. May I point out to the hon. Gentleman who spoke last that it is perfectly useless to appeal to the Board of Education to pay the same salaries to women as to men, for the simple reason that the Board take absolutely no side? If the particular education authority to which he refers or any other refuses to pay the same salaries to women as to men, the Board will pay three-fifths of their salaries exactly as if they were all men or 1215 all women. The Board are absolutely neutral, or, if not quite neutral, they are prepared to pay, and do pay, three-fifths of the total salaries of teachers, whether they are men or women. I would, therefore, remind my hon. Friend, if he sees this great disparity, that it depends upon the composition of the authority which is carrying out the Act. The same thing applies whether it is a county council or an education authority for a borough. If a. particular authority likes to pay women better salaries even than the men, the Board of Education will still pay three-fifths. If it likes to say that the women shall have equal salaries, the Board of Education will take the same attitude. If it likes to say that it will pay the women less salaries, the Board of Education will say that it is a local matter and they will pay three-fifths, whether the salaries are higher or lower. That is perfectly clear and well known to all of us who have anything to do with educational matters
I have been a pupil teacher. I served my five years apprenticeship in the seventies, and I hold my certificate as a master, so that I can go and teach if I get hard up. I have also been a member of an education authority since the Act was started, and at the present time I am chairman of one of the largest county education committees in the Kingdom. I think, therefore, that I have had a fair apprenticeship in this kind of thing. I have had frequent interviews with the Board of Education and with the permanent officials, and I have had several interviews with the President of the Board who is here to-night. On every and any occasion I always met with the greatest possible sympathy. Every time that I have wanted to try an experiment, they have said, "Go back and try your experiment. We shall watch it with the greatest interest." With regard to the grammar schools, there are two Grants. If a school likes to go on in the old way and admit no free scholars it can do so, and the Grant is about 50s.per head less than it would be if it did give free education. Having made that distinction the Act goes on to say that they may insist on not more than 25 per cent, of free places but they can give as much less as they think fit, 5, 10, 15, or 20 per cent. It is absolutely in the discretion of the Board. Why should not it be in the discretion of the Board? I have the over- 1216 sight of a good many grammar schools. We have one which has never admitted any proportion of free places. The pupils have all had to pay fees. The Board have dealt out even-handed justice to us, but they suggested some years ago that it would be rather a good thing if we did have a proportion of free places. We did not see our way to do it then, but we have since agreed to give 25 per cent. of free places, and we shall get the extra Grant for doing it. I think, therefore, that the attack upon the Board of Education and the right hon. Gentleman, personally, is absolutely uncalled for. It can only have been made by people not quite au fait with the facts of the case.
While in the old days I have not the slightest doubt that the Board of Education was as wooden a Department as you could find, I do say, without fear of contradiction, that to-day there is no Government Department that is so willing to try experiments, that is so willing to allow every education authority to develop to the utmost on the right lines, and that is so willing to place the advice of their permanent officials and inspectors at the service of the education authorities. I am perfectly certain that the Board are anxious that the poorest child in the country shall not be debarred from getting the very best education in the land. That being so, I wish to say again that I do think that the Board is one of the most progressive Departments of the Government to-day, and is not overstaffed as many of them are.
There are two or three other points in the way not of destructive, but of constructive criticism. The President of the Board will remember that I have called at the Board live years ago and two and a half years ago, and that I put a question to him in June last in this House. I pointed out five years ago that the teaching profession, so far as men were concerned, was becoming a dying profession. The number of men going into it five years ago is less than it was ten years ago, and the number to-day is less than it was five years ago. I pointed out to him several of the reasons. He very kindly listened to them, and said that as soon as the War was over he would try and remedy that state of things, and he has remedied that state of things. I pointed out to him that there were two principal reasons why men did not enter the teaching profession. I have-been in the teaching profession, and I. 1217 left it because there is practically no hope of promotion in any sense of the word as compared with the promotion which you may expect to get if you go into a mercantile office, where you may expect to get on and obtain a big salary. Until recently not 10 per cent of the teachers of this country got £250 a year, and their pension when they became sixty-five was miserably poor. The consequence inevitably was that men with any grit and go in them who entered the teaching profession would not stop there, because they did not see their way to get any "forrader" I left it I know for that reason, and I know many men who did so. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty cleared out of it and he got a better job, as we all know. A great many others cleared out for the same reason.
This has been brought home very forcibly to the President of the Board. He called together a Committee to go into the question of the payment of teachers, and I am glad to say that, through his action, I do not think that there is a teacher to-day who is not getting two-thirds more than, or possibly twice as much more, as he was getting five years ago. In addition he has brought out a far more generous scheme of pensions than was known before, and whether we belong to an education committee or to the National Union of Teachers, we all agree that so far as the President can do things—he is hampered of course by the Treasury—he has done his level best for the teachers. We are extremely grateful for what he has done, but it is not enough even to pay better salaries and give better pensions unless you go one step further. There is a certain number of education authorities in this country who deliberately decline to train any teachers. It is a strong statement, but it is borne out absolutely by a publication of the Board of Education five years ago, in which it is pointed out that certain local authorities in counties and boroughs actually had not got a single teacher in training.
When you inquire the cause you were told that those particular education authorities saved the time and the money which they would have spent on training teachers and gave better salaries to the teachers trained by other committees. The consequence was that authorities which had been training teachers saw the teachers whom they had trained at great trouble and expense lured off by other authorities who paid better salaries. 1218 what we want the Board of Education to do in future is to insist that every education authority shall train at least enough teachers to make good its annual wastage, which has been reckoned up to be between 6 per cent and 10 per cent. The Education Act of 1918 laid down for the first time that it shall be the duty of education authorities to maintain and train a sufficient staff of teachers. I want the Board to say to every authority at the beginning of every financial year" We want to know how many teachers you have got in training," and if the figure is below the percentage which they ought to have, then that they will reduce the Grant to that particular authority. If you do that, every authority will do its utmost to get a sufficient number of teachers trained, and we shall see many people come into the profession and shall then be able to pick the best, instead of being bound to take everybody who comes forward, whether he is good, bad or indifferent
I asked a question a little while ago as to how many teachers in training had been stopped because they were not likely to prove efficient teachers, and out of some 4,000 or 5,000 in training they have stopped, I think, only thirty-four. That is absolutely ridiculous. One of the saddest things that come before the education committee is when they get a poor report on a school from an inspector who has gone round the locality. As I have been a teacher I am asked to go and take someone with me to examine the school ourselves, and we find that the inspector's report is absolutely justified. The first thing that our committee does is to say to the manager of that school, "We shall give you another year's grace." There is a chance that the teacher has got a bad report. There may be something the matter with the school. Perhaps they had measles or mumps or a weak or an insufficient staff, but at the end of a year we find exactly the same thing, because that particular teacher has picked out the wrong vocation. But having been allowed to get a certificate, having been allowed to teach a school, say, for ten, or twenty, or thirty years, his education authority dislikes to say, "You must go." But he ought to go, because the schools do not exist for the teachers, but for the children,* and if the children are to be damnified because they are not intelligently taught the harm which the, teacher does is so dreadful that he ought to be suspended.
1219 It would not be a bad thing if we had in this country a system which they had in Germany, though it is difficult now to introduce anything which they had in that country. I have ascertained it from schoolmasters on the spot. They are extremely particular as to whom they admit to be a certificated teacher, but if in spite of all their care it happens that a teacher who is unfit does get a certificate and is declared qualified and it then turns out that he is not qualified, that teacher is not allowed to go into the school and teach, but he is given, a pension for the rest of his days to go out of the school, because they say, "It is our fault that he got in." Very much the same thing ought to be done in this country. All our teachers should look forward to in time either going to a university or to a training college, but a very large proportion—indeed, varying from one-third to two-thirds in some counties—of young beginners cannot afford to go to a training college. The amount paid used to be ó100 for two years for men, and ó70 for two years for women. It is now slightly increased. But the expenses are greater, and the consequence is that our training colleges charge fees.
Take my own county. There we have a training college, and if the men want to go there, in addition to the money which the Government give, they charge the men ó30 for two years and the women ó35, and in addition to paying the ó30 there is money for outfit, railway fares, and pocket money, with the result that from one-third to two-thirds of the teachers are prevented from going into a training college. I would make this suggestion to the Board of Education. I do not ask them to go in for any more expense for the training of teachers, but they might advance to those teachers, while in a training college, such sums of money as would pay these extra expenses, and railway fares up and down, on condition that during the first three or four years after those teachers go out and are earning a good salary they would repay that money by instalment. I have spoken to teachers about this, I have spoken to our association of teachers and to our committees and our county councils, and they all agree that it would be a good thing to do. They suggested it to the Board, and the Board quite approved of it, but they think that they ought to do it themselves, but here is the difficulty. The Board of Education can trace every certifi- 1220 cated teacher, because when they go from one school to another they know at once of the transfer. If we train a teacher in Gloucestershire we advance the money. That teacher goes first of all, say, to Cornwall, then to Middlesex, and then to Northumberland, and we cannot trace him. If the Board of Education will give us a guarantee that in the case of every teacher to whom we advance money they would see that we were made to get that money back, I think that practically every local education authority would willingly advance the money, because they would know that they were encouraging good teachers and that they were doing it at comparatively small expense.
I agree very cordially with having the very best possible education for the poorest child. I think that the tendency nowadays is not to have the ordinary elementary school, the continuation school, the central school, and the secondary school, four types, but rather—if I gather correctly what is the policy of the country and the trend of feeling amongst the working classes, and especially among men of my own standard—that there should be only two classes of schools, a primary school for boys and girls up to ten or eleven, and secondary education for everybody over ten or eleven. Why should a man or a woman be penalised because he or she cannot afford to send a child to a secondary school? But with the present shortage of building material and the expense of building, I hope the Board of Education will not force education authorities to begin the building of central schools. We have made up our minds in my own part of the country that though we cannot build all we want we will concentrate our efforts in covering the county with good secondary schools. We are running up to over six figures in the next few years. While we are engaged in that task I hope the Board will not worry us about continuation schools and central schools, for we cannot do that too. We have neither the men nor the money nor the material. I am encouraged to hope that the President thinks that we are on the right line in perfecting the secondary system. If we are going to have only two types of school I hope it will follow that the working classes will be able to keep their children at school till the age of fifteen or sixteen. If that is done, I want to go one step further. We have agreed in Gloucestershire that half at least of the endowment of every secondary school shall be given to scholarships for 1221 boys and girls. First of all, if they are from the poorest homes they are to be kept at the secondary school, even if they have to be boarded and lodged and fed; and next, and if the boy or girl from the poorest homes in the land has shown great promise of benefit from a course at the university, they shall be sent on to the university. In Cirencester we are putting down ó150 a year to keep a boy at Oxford or Cambridge, or Bristol, or Leeds, or some other university. We have made up our mind that if a boy has the brains and ability those brains shall be developed to the utmost, no matter what it costs. That, I hope, will commend itself to this House and to the Education Department.
The undeveloped brains of the working classes are one of the greatest assets of this country, but just because they are undeveloped they are as useless as is coal in the ground until dug out. We want to develop that asset to the utmost. There is plenty of brains amongst the working classes, if only you can get at them. I am a governor of Cheltenham Grammar School, among other things. A fortnight ago to-morrow I had twelve boys from that school on a visit here from eleven till one, and they went over this House. They were twelve of the best boys from that school. Sort them out. Seven of them were free-placers, they were the sons of parents who had to get their living by manual labour. Seven out of the twelve have actually won scholarships at the universities, to which they are going in the autumn. In this time of storm and stress, when we are confronted in trade and commerce with the competition of the whole of the civilised world, we cannot afford to let any raw material go untapped. I hope that this House and the Education Department, and every educational authority, will see to it that no boy or girl is debarred from doing his or her best by reason of poverty.
§ Major GRAY
With several points raised by the hon. Member who has just spoken I shall be most happy to associate myself. In particular I thoroughly agree with him that there is no Department of State at the present time less open to attack than the Board of Education. The progress made by that Board, the development of popular education during the last twenty-five years, are among the most remarkable features in the development of national life. It is just twenty-four years since I first ventured to address this House 1222 on an educational question, and I can bear witness to the remarkable progress which has been made in the intervening period under the skilful guidance of the Board of Education. At no period has that progress been more remarkable than during the months that the Presidency of the Board has been occupied by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fisher). I should like, however, to separate myself from one sentiment expressed by the last speaker, and that is his contention that there should be only two types of school. I disagree with that entirely. I believe that we require a much larger variety. Children ought not to be compelled to conform to a particular type of school, but rather the education authority should find that form of intellectual development best calculated to meet the requirements of the child. In earlier days we fell into the error of trying to force every child into one mould. We are wiser to-day, and we try to construct our educational machinery to meet the varying needs and the different capacities of the children, rich and poor. If the hon. Member wishes to suggest that there should be no bar to the poor child making full progress from the elementary to the higher type of school and the university, then I am entirely at one with him. I believe that what we used to call the ladder to the university has not only been constructed, but has developed during recent years into a broad avenue rather than a ladder, and that along that avenue the child of promising parts may well hope to travel.
In the discussion on the Consolidated Fund Bill it is not customary to deal with small questions of detailed administration, and if I depart from that unwritten rule I must plead in extenuation that we have had no opportunity during this Session of discussing Education Estimates, and that one has to take advantage of such opportunity as arises. The first question that I want to submit is a small question, but it gives rise to a great deal of discontent amongst a number of men who have deserved well of their country. An enormous number of, teachers joined His Majesty's Forces. Directly they entered the Service this House at once recognised that they ought not thereby to be deprived of the benefits of the Superannuation Act, then in existence, and the House passed an Act enabling the Board of Education to recognise the period of military service as service for the purpose of superannuation. But in passing that Act there was one small 1223 omission. Not only did men who had already secured their certificates join the forces, but there were men in the training colleges who were training for the teaching profession and were preparing to secure their certificates. Many of them were already in Territorial battalions, and were mobilised at once; others voluntarily enlisted. Numbers of them have served for four and a half years at the front, many with great distinction. They now return to the schools, but, owing to the fact that they did not secure the certificate of the Board as qualified teachers before they joined, those four and a half years are lost to them for the purposes of superannuation. The grievance is more acute by reason of the fact that, side by side with them, a certain number of young men, reluctant to respond to the country's call, hesitating, delaying, waiting, maybe, until they were conscripted—they secured the certificate of the Board, they entered the schools, and were then perforce required to join the Army; and the period they have served in the Army is counted for teachers superannuation. In other words, the man who came willingly is penalised, while the man who was reluctant to join secures the full provision made by the Act of Parliament.
I know very well that the right hon. Gentleman has no power under the existing Statutes to remedy that grievance, but it would be a source of great comfort to a number of these men, and to many who are interested in their welfare, if he could see his way to-night to give a promise that this matter shall be considered during the Recess, and a short measure submitted to this House to remove what I am sure the House will realise is an undoubted grievance. We all desire to deal not merely justly but generously with the young men who unhesitatingly responded to the call of the country, and I am sure that no one here would desire that anyone should be penalised by reason of his patriotism
In the Education Act of last year—one of the landmarks in the educational history of this country—the right hon. Gentleman provided that there should be established in the country a number of central schools or classes for the higher education of young people who might be able to remain at school until they we're sixteen, and who in years gone by would have left at the age of fourteen. These are spoken of 1224 in the Act as central schools. I have been surprised to find, during the twelve months that the Act has been in existence, that a large number of local authorities-up and down the country have not the faintest idea of what a central school means. I am not quite sure that my hon. Friend (Mr. Davies) who spoke a minute or two ago is clear as to the distinction, because I notice that he used the phrase "central continuation schools."
§ Major GRAY
I misheard the phrase, and I apologise. Nevertheless, it is the fact that members of education committees are seeking right and left for information as to what constitutes a central school. I happen to be associated with educational work, and I have had members down here from the North of England asking for some description of a central school. Central schools, in fact, seem hardly to be known outside London, and I think I am right in saying that probably the term "central school" was introduced into the Act by the right hon. Gentleman as the outcome of pioneer work by the London Education Authority. Manchester may have a few now, but I think the central school system is mainly known in London. I saw the draft of a. scheme drawn up by a county education authority a few weeks ago, in which it was proposed to remove all the children at the age of eleven and a half from the ordinary elementary schools and place them in schools, geographically central, to carry on their education up to the age of fourteen; and the authority thought that they were thereby complying with the terms of the Education Act—that they were establishing central schools.
I understand that the central school has very distinctive attributes. It must provide for full-time education to the age of at least fifteen and a half or sixteen. It must be specially equipped, specially staffed, with a four years' course of study. Indeed, it must be a school designed to promote the higher education of children who at the age of sixteen will be driven by social conditions to earn their living at once. They cannot look forward to higher secondary school work; they cannot, the majority of them, progress to the university. Their school career will close at the age of sixteen, but up to that time; 1225 they require a higher form of education than can be normally given in the public elementary school. I believe that some years ago the Board of Education had a branch of the nature of a bureau of information. I am wondering whether it still exists and, if so, why it does not issue some descriptive matter for the enlightenment of local education authorities as to what constitutes a central school! I happen to be a member of the London Education Authority, and have been in close touch with the London central schools since the day of their initiation. I know the splendid work which has been accomplished in them, and I say, without hesitation, that there is no type of school in this country more popular with the parents. I believe that no schools have called forth higher praise from the inspectors of the Board of Education, and I am anxious to see such schools established throughout the country
I can assure the President, however, that much difficulty is being experienced by local education authorities, and they show considerable hesitation, owing to their want of a clear idea of the requirements of the Board in regard to these central schools. The right hon. Gentleman makes many excellent speeches, and I wish one or two of them could be devoted to this subject. I wish some paper could be issued by the Board which would give to local education authorities such information as I suggest. Probably the right hon. Gentleman is familiar with the need, and I hope he may be able to tell us that he is preparing to recognise that need by the issue—I will not say of definite Regulations, because I am not anxious to see those authorities bound down by cast-iron Regulations in the formulation of their schemes of local education—but I should like to see some idea given them as to what is required. The central school is designed to carry on full-time education to the age of sixteen, but in a very short time a large number of children will be leaving school at the age of fourteen, and will then come under the provisions of the Education Act of last year, whereby they will be required to attend part-time continuation schools.
Day continuation schools for boys and girls between the ages of fourteen and sixteen are almost unknown in England. It is a great experiment destined to produce beneficent results, but at the present time it does not enter into our scheme of 1226 national education save to a very limited extent in some of the large towns. I know that the Board recognise that one of the great problems which they have to face in establishing these day continuation schools is the finding of a proper staff of teachers. It is admitted that something like 30,000 teachers more will be required for the staffing of these continuation schools, which are not now obligatory, but may be at an early date when the appointed day is fixed. Here is the suggestion which I wish to make. The Board have issued a Circular, very praiseworthy in all its details, with regard to teaching in these continuation schools. In the last paragraph they have set up what is apparently a paradox, because they say you must have the teachers before you can organise the continuation schools properly, and at the same time you cannot have the teachers properly trained unless there are continuation schools for them to be trained in. You cannot have the teachers unless you have the schools, and you cannot have the schools unless you have the teachers, and with great naïveté the Board state that they leave it to the local authorities to find their way out of this difficulty. May I ask whether this would meet with the approval of the Board? It is possible before the appointed day is fixed to enter into agreement with the employers of labour whereby those employers require their young people between fourteen and sixteen to attend continuation schools established by the local authority. Those continuation schools will be on a voluntary basis so far as the employers are concerned, but on an obligatory basis so far as the pupils are concerned, the obligation being enforced by the employers. Such day continuation schools will be very few in number, and will be experimental in character. They can be staffed from some of the existing teachers, and those schools could be used as administrative schools, as training colleges as it were, whereby young people with academic qualifications of a satisfactory character might receive that training in professional service which is necessary in order to become a satisfactory teacher. This may appear a small detail, but those of us who are engaged in educational work in the country, anxious as we are to see the appointed day fixed as soon as possible, do realise that we are in a hopeless condition at present if the appointed day be fixed soon, because we have not teachers to carry on these schools. I can assure my right hon. Friend I separate 1227 myself entirely in what I have said from any hostile criticism or attack upon him. My only desire in all these matters connected with popular education is that in whatever type of school it may be, whether elementary, secondary, central, or continuation, we shall be doing our very utmost to train the boys and girls for the adequate discharge of those great privileges and duties of citizenship which lie before them.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Fisher)
The administration of the public system of education during the last year presents so many features of interest and importance that I am very glad that an opportunity has presented itself of making some remarks upon the subject. I confess, however, that I was a little disappointed with the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for East Bradford (Captain Loseby), because in the very wide range of subjects he directed his attention upon one small and insignificant portion of the area. That hon. and gallant Member dealt with two points in connection with the administration of our secondary schools. The main part of his speech was, if I understood him aright, directed against the arbitrary and unconstitutional practices of the President of the Board. What do they amount to? The Board issued some amended draft Regulations for its secondary schools. They are not bound to present those draft Regulations to Parliament, but, as a matter of fact, they did present those Regulations to both Houses of Parliament. The hon. and gallant Member will see from the title-page—"Draft of Regulations for Secondary Schools for 1919. Presented to Parliament by Command of His Majesty" Not only were those Regulations presented to Parliament, but in an explanatory note which prefaces our Regulations for this year the Board goes out of its way to point out the alterations made in Articles 23 and 24, and goes on to explain in considerable detail the reasons which led the Board to adopt those alterations, and in effect invites the opinion of every Member of Parliament upon the changes which it sought to introduce. I do not see how I could have done more to invite the attention of hon. Members of this House to the two changes which were introduced. I understand, however, that the hon and gallant Member has no objection to the substance of 1228 those changes or to denominational secondary schools receiving Grants, but that he concentrated his criticism upon the manner in which those Regulations had been made, and implied that the President of the Board was anxious to burke discussion of those reasons. I am very sorry that the hon. and gallant Member did not obtain the opportunities which he desired in order to ventilate his views to the-House. I can assure him, and I am sure he will accept my word, that I in no way interfered between the hon. Member and the House. I am only too anxious to multiply the opportunities for educational discussion on the floor of the House, and nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to have heard the hon. and gallant Member on a previous occasion.
§ Captain LOSEBY
I am sorry to interrupt, but the right hon. Gentleman has omitted to refer to my main criticism, which was that the restrictions were not being enforced in regard to schools of one kind, but were being enforced in regard to others.
§ Mr. FISHER
I was coming to that We came to the conclusion, after very careful consideration, that these Regulations, which date in their present form, roughly speaking, from 1907, did require some amendment in one respect. It may be said they were framed almost entirely from the point of view of one kind of school. It may also be said that they were so drafted as to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for certain schools—certain quite good schools —to apply for Grants. The cathedral schools felt themselves debarred from applying for Grants, and the Roman Catholic schools felt themselves debarred, with the exception of those schools for whom the Regulations of the Board had already made provision prior to 1907, and it seems tome that the Roman Catholics, who as a small community will be compelled to bear very considerable burdens-under the operations of the new Education Act, had a certain grievance under the Regulations as they were drafted until this year. The Roman Catholics, a very patriotic body of English citizens, paying rates and taxes, assisting the secondary education of the Protestant part of the community by their contributions to the taxes, felt debarred by reason of the manner in which our Regulations were framed from applying for these Grants for existing unaided or 1229 new schools. They felt that very keenly, and they represented it to me. There has been no time in our history in which the Roman Catholic element in this House has been less powerful and less influential than it is now, by reason of the state of the Irish representation, and, consequently, if I had been merely considering this question from a Parliamentary point of view, there was no Parliamentary or political inducement which was calculated to influence my mind. But I came definitely to the conclusion that in view of the fact that we had in this country thousands and thousands of Roman Catholic children educated in elementary schools, taught by Catholic teachers who were educated in Catholic secondary schools, we had an obligation to those children, and part of our obligation was that we should so frame our Regulations that Roman Catholic schools could come to the State for Grants and receive assistance in the same degree and measure as other schools of the country, and that they could consequently afford to their teachers that type of training which is really required.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman, so far as I could gather from his argument, quarrelled with the Board for its administration of what is known as the Free-place Regulation. His view was, so far as I could ascertain, that the Board had laid down a rule that any school receiving Grants should admit 25 per cent of free places, that the Board had departed from its rule recently under my administration, that it had frequently sanctioned a very much smaller percentage of free places, with the result that the opportunity open to public elementary school children to pass into secondary schools had been unduly restricted, and that some schools had been unduly favoured as compared with others. What is the rule of the Board in respect to these free places? It is that "in all fee-charging schools free places must be offered at the beginning of each school year to pupils entering from public elementary schools under conditions laid down in the Appendix to the Regulations. The numbers to be offered must be ordinarily 25 per cent of the total number of pupils admitted to the school in the previous year, but this percentage may be reduced or varied by the Board on sufficient grounds in the case of any particular school." The House will note the adverb "ordinarily" The Board from the very first has reserved to itself the right of using its discretion as to the percentage 1230 of free places. It has never at any time since this Regulation Was issued insisted upon the full number in every case, always using its discretion, and there has been no departure from the general principle governing the administration of the Board in this respect since I came into office. Now on what principle does the Board administer this rule? A White Paper has recently been issued by the Board which gives to hon. Members a general indication of the Board's proceedings. In some 904 State-aided secondary schools the full 25 percent of free places has been insisted on. In 112 cases the Board have for a variety of reasons contented themselves with a lower percentage, and the reasons are given in the White Paper. In some eases the reasons are financial. A secondary school comes to the Board and submits a claim for Grant. The Board looks into its financial position, and finding that if the school were compelled to offer the full 25 per cent, of free places the financial loss would outweigh the benefit, sanctions a reduction. In other words, if one-fourth of the scholars were to be received free of charge, then the school would be better off without the Grant than with the Grant, and consequently it is to the interests of scholars from public elementary schools that the Board should in such a case as this relax the rule.
As a matter of fact, the avenue into the secondary school is broad and is daily broadening. No lese than 67 per cent of the scholars in our State-aided secondary schools at this moment have come up from public elementary schools That is satisfactory, and the percentage of free places in our State-aided secondary schools, so far from being under 25 per cent., is over 25 per cent it is 30 per cent, a very clear proof that the Board is not exercising its discretion in any way adverse to the interests of secondary education or of elementary education in this country
Let me put another point. A school is a very delicate and composite organism. You cannot at once introduce a number of pupils, educated upon different lines, into a school which has hitherto been recruited from pupils whose educational antecedents are entirely different. Whether it be good or whether it be ill, we must acknowledge the fact that the course of education in our public elementary schools differs very considerably from the course of education in the preparatory schools. In the public elementary schools the educa- 1231 tion is principally in English —no foreign language is taught. In the preparatory schools, on the other hand, boys of the same age are brought to a very high pitch in Latin and Greek, and, consequently, if you have a secondary school which has hitherto recruited its pupils entirely from preparatory schools., and you say to that school that it is at once to receive 25 per cent of its pupils from elementary schools, you at once dislocate the whole teaching machinery and the whole curriculum of that school. The Board, recognising that, very frequently in making its Regulations in respect to the free-placers, informs a school that it will be temporarily content with a small percentage, but by degrees it will expect that percentage to be raised. I ask hon Members, Is that a reasonable or an unreasonable exercise of discretion? I am convinced myself it is entirely reasonable, and anybody who understands the elements of secondary school problems in the country will come to the same conclusion. So much for that point. But the hon. and gallant Member went further. He informed the House that I had pledged myself—although in another part of his speech he took another view—to give State Grants to the great public schools. Nothing is further from my thoughts. The great public schools can get on very well without a State subsidy, and I do not propose to subsidise them with Grants
An hon. Member raised a point of very great importance, namely, the remuneration of our teachers in elementary schools, and more particularly the remuneration of women, and urged the Board to give a very strong lead to local education authorities based on the principle of equal pay for equal work. I am well aware that, owing to the devaluation of money, owing to the great increase of currency, the rise in prices and also the great rise in industrial wages, very considerable unrest has been raised in the teaching world on the subject of salaries. In spite of all the efforts which have been made by the Board to improve the position of the teacher—efforts to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester, who has so much experience in education, has alluded —in spite of the fact that the system of elementary school finance is now based upon a principle definitely framed to encourage educational authorities to be liberal in their salaries; and, in spite of the very liberal superannuation which 1232 has now been granted to teachers in elementary and secondary schools, there is still considerable unrest, and this unrest has been giving me very serious consideration. There have been strikes here and strikes there, and the work of the local educational authorities, whose attention ought now to be engaged in tackling the very difficult problems created by the Education Act, is greatly embarrassed by these salaries disputes. I have accordingly endeavoured to find some means by which these disputes may be minimised, and the atmosphere generally sweetened. I have invited the representatives of the local education authorities to meet the representatives of the National Union of Teachers, and I am glad to say that a joint standing committee has now been formed for the exploration of the salaries question, and with a view to its progressive solution, and I have every reason to hope that this joint standing committee, which is fully alive to the great responsibilities which are devolved upon it, will be the means of settling this most difficult question.
Of course, a strike of teachers is unlike any other strike. A strike of teachers makes a very painful impression on the community. It tends to lower the esteem in which a liberal profession is held by the inhabitants of this country, and if strikes. of teachers can be avoided, we shall, I think, be in a fair way to secure for the teachers of this country, in a satisfactory manner, that improvement in status and in remuneration which they undoubtedly deserve, for, although it is true that there has been a considerable improvement in the position of the teachers in the country, we have to remember that that improvement only amounts on an average to 37 per cent, of their pre-war salary, and that that does not make up for the devaluation of money. The hon. Member thinks that the problem can be solved by the application of the principle of equal remuneration for equal work. That is a very large proposition, and I venture to think that when an economist applies his microscope to the salaries paid to men and women, he will find that they consist of two elements—first of all, the payment for work done, and, secondly, the acknowledgment of responsibilities and liabilities borne; and that one of the reasons—I do not say it is decisive—why the pay of men and women has been different in the past, is. 1233 the plea that men have responsibilities which do not in the same measure devolve upon women. I know it is said on the other side that in many cases women have as much dependence on them as men. That is true, but I am merely indicating to the hon. Member that the principle of equal pay for equal work, if it is to be carried out on any large scale in any part of the industrial field, does involve a much more far-reaching reconstruction of the principle upon which remuneration in this country is based than the hon. Member apparently seems to apprehend. It involves, I think, a recognition of the fact that remuneration has to be divided into two parts—'one, a reward for work done, and, another, payment for dependants—children, and so on. The hon. Member for Cirencester, who knows so much about public schemes and systems of education, raised a very important point in respect to the supply of teachers. The supply of teachers does give cause to the Board for great anxiety. It was short before the War. During the War 21,000 teachers from our elementary schools have served at the front. Two thousand have lost their lives. It is yet too early to discover how many of these returned teachers will elect to take up their old work in the schools. But I have every hope that the improved conditions of the profession will act as a powerful inducement to teachers to re-enter the profession and resume the work.
It is not enough for the Board to recognise its responsibility, which it does very fully; it is not enough merely to improve the material conditions of the teachers. That is important; but it will not carry us the whole way. We must also make the life of the teacher more interesting than it has hitherto been. We have been too much in the way of thinking that when the teacher obtains his certificate, has passed out of college, and gone out to the schools, his education is finished. On the contrary, that teacher's education has only just begun. I hope that the local education authorities all over the country will make serious efforts to provide improved and fuller training opportunities, and pleasant opportunities, and otherwise look after the intellectual progress of the teachers.
The hon. Member is, I gather, a two-school man. He thinks that the Board of Education is, perhaps, unduly perplexing the public mind by the variety of educational alternatives which it has placed 1234 before the British public. I agree with him that the primary need of the present moment is a multiplication of the secondary schools of the country.
The number of children going into our secondary schools has increased very largely since the beginning of the War. It is a very remarkable indication of the way in which the working classes are taking advantage of their improved remuneration to give their children better educational opportunities. All over the country I find the cry goes up: More secondary schools, and, again, more secondary schools We cannot build them fast enough to hold the pupils who want to go into them. Consequently, I think the hon. Member for Cirencester was very well advised to lay special stress upon secondary schools. The population of this country is a varying one. The needs of this country are very varied. In any big town you will find the boys and girls wishing to go into different lines of life, possessing different aptitudes, and requiring different forms of training. Some require training on commercial lines, others on industrial lines, others again require that good staple form of general information which is ordinarily given in the, secondary schools. I believe that when the scheme, which is outlined in the Education Act of 1918, has been fully worked out—and it will take at least a. generation to work it out—we shall find ourselves equipped with all the types of schools which are required to give every section of the children of the people that education which is best adapted to provide them with a good start in life, and furnish them with that measure of culture of which they are capable.
There are only three further points to which allusion has been made The hon. Member for Accrington, who speaks with authority on these matters, referred to the Teachers Superannuation Act, and suggested an Amendment. This, of course, is a matter of some interest. The Act, as the hon. Member will recall, was very carefully considered by the House last Session, and although it is perfectly true that there are hard cases under the Act, that is a proposition which applies to any Superannuation Act that can be framed. There will always be hard cases—cases of people who stand just outside the zone of benefit which is prescribed in an Act. While I sympathise with the cases to which he has alluded, I am afraid I cannot hold out any hope that the Act will be 1235 amended in the present Session. The hon. Member also made some allusion to our central schools. He said that local education authorities did not in many cases understand what a central school was, and they would like further enlightenment. I am very glad that the hon. Member mentioned this, because I will undertake to see that something is done to bring illumination into dark places.
In conclusion, my hon. Friend appealed to me to undertake some steps to encourage the establishment of voluntary continuation schools, mainly that they might serve as a training ground for teachers before the appointed day arrives, and before the enforcement of Clause 10 of the Education Act of 1918. I have already acted upon my hon. Friend's advice. I have taken the step of writing to the chairman of every local education authority in the country, urging the establishment of voluntary continuation schools before the appointed day. A number of such schools have already been established. I believe and hope in the course of next year we shall have a considerable number of voluntary schools established in advance of the obligation of the Act, and that they will furnish examples which may be followed with advantage by local education authorities when the Act comes into full operation. Such schools have been established by a number of local educational authorities and by some private employers. We welcome a variety of type. As the hon. Member for Accrington said, this is a great step. It is an experiment which is being watched by educationists all over the civilised world with great interest and attention, and I feel convinced that, with the good will of the local education authorities, with the enthusiasm of the teaching body, and the support of the general public, the chief experiment of the Education Act of 1918 will prove a conspicuous success, and will mark a great epoch in the history of education in this country.
§ Mr. SEXTON
The Consolidated Fund Bill, like the Motion for the Adjournment, evidently covers a multitude of sins, not the least being the impecunious orator who is always anxious to illustrate to his constituency bow fortunate they were in the choice of a representative. I shall be numbered, I suppose, amongst them myself. It is a peculiar thing, however, that a Bill of this character covers 1236 every subject under the sun, and, if I may say so, from pitch-and-toss to manslaughter. We have had an example of it here tonight, and really I sympathise with the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is not a more heroic or pathetic figure in this House than the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. On the one hand he is preaching and trying to practice economy, and on the other hand his colleagues and the Members of the House are milking the cow dry. Take the example we have had just now. We have heard the Minister for Education, in a most eloquent and interesting speech, telling us of the claims upon the Education Department, which is spending mil-lions of pounds in the development of the human brain. About an hour and a half ago we had the Minister for War asking for more money to blow out the brains of humanity. On the other hand, we have all over the House hon. Members getting up and pointing out where expenditure ought to take place, and yet when we are discussing expenditure the same Gentlemen vigorously criticise our expenditure. I am not going to deal with the question which has just been before the House, although I may be permitted to say that I know of no greater tragedy than a young boy or girl compelled to leave school at an early age, and having to grope about in the unsympathetic atmosphere of the world, looking for the knowledge which he or she does not possess. Some of us on this-side of the House know something about that.
The point I want to deal with is that all through this discussion the tenor of the song has been that we are in a very grave difficulty; that the nation is drifting into bankruptcy, and that the only solution is increased production, in order to secure increased wealth. I want to subscribe-heartily to that policy. There is no other solution. We cannot go on as we are going on to-day demanding money for this that and the other, increased wages or any-thing else, I do not care what you call it, without in proportion supplying the necessary funds to meet the demands that are made. That can only be done by increasing production in this country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has his difficulties, but I want him and his colleagues on the Front Bench to recognise our difficulties. There is not a man belonging to the party with which I have the honour to be associated who has not subscribed to the policy of the 1237 necessity of increasing the production and wealth of this country. If a copy of the very serious statement and the excellent speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week on the Second Reading of this Bill could be sent to every employers' association and every workman's association in the land it would not be a bad investment. Our difficulties are, comparatively speaking, as insurmountable as those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I agree that any advance in wages simply means an increase in the cost of living. I agree that any advance of wages without a comparative increase in production is simply intensifying the vicious circle in which we have been living for the past four or five years. Let the right hon. Gentleman recognise our difficulties. During the War we had an example, for the first time in the history of our nation, of the unity of classes. We were all patriots; but I regretfully have to say that since the signing of the Armistice, when profiteering came in at the door, patriotism began to fly out of the window.
We are simply going back to the old position that we were in previous to the War, of the employer trying to get the most out of the workman, and the workman the most out of the employer and being suspicious of the employer. I will point out one or two cases. The Ministry of Labour is a very extensive Department for endeavouring to settle disputes. We have arbitration and we have Whitley Committees, but when we go back to the locality to endeavour to put into operation an award of the Arbitration Court, we find the old spirit coming back again, the employers waiting to pounce upon some little technicality in the wording of the award, in order that they may take something out of the worker, while on the other hand I frankly admit that sometimes when the workman gets an award he will not accept it. The point I want to make is that the spirit that existed during the War is gradually working itself out, and we are getting back into the old position.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when Members on this side were complaining, endeavoured to lay at the door of the working classes of this country the blame for the trouble, because he said the men were not increasing production. I want to subscribe to that. But then I also want to point out that if they are only to in- 1238 crease production in order that people may make huge profits it can only intensify the spirit of the direct actionists, which is making it so difficult for us on this side of the House to do anything at all. You must take your share of the responsibility for the blunders of this Government since the signing of the Armistice. They have been going from one blunder to another, and they have made our position much more difficult than it was. There are, in my opinion, two schools of thought today who call themselves direct actionists. There is the whole-hogger—he who believes in the abolition of Parliament entirely, and the substitution of an. Industrial Union of Workers, taking the control of industry. Then there is the Red Actionist, who would combine political with direct action and would use the weapon of direct action in order to compel Parliament to hurry up and concede its demands. I prefer the whole-hogger. We at least know where he is. The other man is a kind of hybrid. He is the creation of conditions for which the Government as well as other people-must take their share of responsibility. He has been bred in conditions created by them. There is no one living to-day who more than myself sees the folly of the policy of direct action. I need not point out where this thing is leading. The second school of thought is the young enthusiast. We have all been there in our time. It is a very healthy thing to have the young enthusiast in any movement. I was highly amused and much interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) the other day, when he was telling us about the conditions in Hungary and the efforts of an enthusiastic believer in Karl Marx to put his ideas into operation on the virgin soil of Hungarian revolution. I remember myself that in my budding enthusiasm I was a follower of Karl Marx. My first political fight for Parliamentary honours was in 1895, when I had the honour of crossing swords with a brother of the Deputy-Speaker of this House. Full of enthusiasm, I went out, but I came back a sadder and a much wiser man. I think I got 400 votes out of 14,000.
But we retired to the Committee Room and we sang, "England, arise! the long, long night is over." At that time I believed in Karl Marx. I believed that usury was wrong, that banks and bankers ought to be abolished, and that the medium of exchange ought to be the commodities. 1239 which the people themselves created—the bootmaker to exchange his boots for flour, and the miller to exchange his flour for coal. I remember giving a lecture in the Ashton market-place against this pernicious doctrine of interest, and at the end of the lecture a man came up, and in the broad Lancashire dialect said, "Look here, master, I have been listening to you for a long time, and you talked some gradely good stuff. I could agree with everything you said except on the point of doing away with money. Take my case. I am a tripe-dealer, and I want to go to London and back, and I take a yard of tripe and slap it into the ticket office and ask for a return ticket to London." I need hardly say from that day to this I have been disillusioned of the theories of Karl Marx. But you still have that kind of man cropping up, with full faith in the belief that he has the solution of the thing in his own hands. This is the kind of material that the direct actionist has been trading upon during the War, until now the climax has come that every man with a grievance— even the soldier coming back with a grievance about his pension or gratuity is the most difficult man we have to deal with to-day in the trade union movement— all these men are being exploited by the direct actionist. Our difficulty is to dissuade the men from taking advantage of their petty grievance in order to follow a will-o'-the-wisp—because that is what it is—which will lead them up to the neck in the bog of destruction if they attempt to follow it. It reminds me of a story I heard the other day. The one bridge we have to cross for the future of this country is constitutional action. If the keystone of the bridge is decayed, the best way to mend it is to take it out and put a new one in its place, but if you ruthlesly took out the keystone, which, though it may be decayed, is binding the bridge, the whole structure collapses, and you have no bridge to cross over. There is a danger, and I would seriously ask direct actionists, even now when things have quietened down, to take a journey to Liverpool and inspect the result of this pernicious doctrine of taking direct action. We have not been helped by the Government. On the contrary, everything they have done, intentionally or unintentionally, has made it more difficult for us. First of all, we have the pernicious 12½percent., and even now it is alleged 1240 that in the workshops to-day there are spies dogging the footsteps of the workmen to see and hear what is going on. What foundation there is for that I do not know, but these complaints are coming to me every day in the week. So far as I am concerned—and I am only speaking for myself —I refuse to subscribe to the new policy that in order to bring about legislative enactment it is necessary to declare a general strike. By that method we are letting loose an element that we cannot control, if we want to control it. Instead of being helped by the Government, they are jumping about from one thing to another, going about like a dog looking for its bed before it lays down. The last example we had was in their dealing with profiteering. First of all, a Select Committee of the House of Commons is set up to inquire into it, and then, before the Committee has reported, they introduce a Bill which aims at everyone, but gets nowhere at all. There is only one solution and that is increased production, but, if the working classes of this country are to increase production, they must have some guarantee that they are going to get their fair share of that which they produce. I am merely speaking for myself, but, if there is set up in this country or in any other country a system which challenges the authority of the State, then those who do it, in my opinion, are riding for a fall, and they deserve, and will get, the male-dictions not only of the present generation, but of posterity. As a citizen, I want to enter my protest against the introduction into the Labour movement of any such pernicious policy as challenging the State by direct action.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken will allow me to congratulate him—because, although I am younger than he is in years, I am an older Member in the service of the House—on the robust common sense of the distinguished pronouncement that he has made with regard to his attitude towards the policy of direct action. I should like to take up the theme which he has opened and say a word or two on the question of how far this talk and these threats of direct action are affecting, in the first place, the future of our export trade, and, in the second place, the present position in Europe generally. I ask the indulgence of the House in saying something about this, because I feel that I 1241 ought to say something about it, as I happen to be in a position to speak with some knowledge, having, with my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil), been sitting for seven months as British representative on, the Supreme Economic Council in Paris, dealing precisely with the problems which have been dealt with by the hon. Gentleman who has just eat down. I do not believe it is realised, or can be realised, except by those who have had to deal with the actual problems of administration face to face, how very near an economic catastrophe Europe has been since the Armistice. Europe since the Armistice has been spoon-fed, metaphorically and actually. There was a time, in April, or at the beginning of May, when it literally did not seem possible to us to get through to the harvest without a catastrophe. We scraped through—only just.
The general economic position in Europe is still just as serious as it can possibly be, and while it is true that trade relation with Europe are vital to the new countries of Europe, they are equally vital to us, and you have only to look at to-day's New York exchange to see why. I am not going to talk about the theories of exchange. Mr. Goschen once said that there was only one man who really understood the theory of foreign exchanges, and he was in a lunatic asylum! I think Mr. Goschen was speaking with more than his usual pessimism. At the moment the pound sterling, as everybody knows, is at a big discount in New York. That produces very serious effects, if on nothing else, on the price of food in this country. It is at a discount because we have been compelled to go on overbuying our credit in America. We cannot hope to ' get the pound back towards parity to any very great extent by selling things to America. We shall be lees able to restore it than we have been in the past by doing services for America, because, for one reason or another, the Americans are going to do more of their own carrying trade in the future. The only way in which we can restore it towards parity is by trading with the new countries in Europe, and by using the profits which we make from that trading gradually to liquidate our indebtedness to the United States. That is why I say in the first place that trade with the new countries in Europe is so particularly vital to us.
In order to trade we must have three things. We must have customers— 1242 customers who can pay; we must have goods to sell that those customers want; and we must be able to sell those goods at a price which is reasonable in competition with our other commercial competitors. As regards customers there is not so much difficulty, because the whole of Europe are buyers at the present moment. There is, however, the difficulty that, owing to the interruption of communications during the War with these new countries and with neutrals, we have lost a certain part of the business connections that we had before the War. We have lost those connections with the new countries because many of them were actually part of enemy States; and we have lost them with the neutrals because, for various reasons of rationing and control of shipping, we were unable to export to neutral countries to the full extent, while for reasons of exchange we were unable to import from neutrals. We have to re-establish those connections, and I know that the Government are taking action towards that end. I believe that the Federation of British Industries, for instance, have a vary admirable system of trade commissioners, but I think it is possible for private traders in this country to display a little more initiative in pushing their goods abroad than they are displaying at the present minute. It is all very well, but the private trader ought not really to be sitting entirely with his hands folded and waiting for the Government to take action. There are some firms which are, I know, pushing their trade. Broadly speaking, the Americans are much more active at this minute in pushing private trade on the Continent than are our private traders. It is all very well to have customers, but the difficulty is to get customers who can pay. The trouble about that is this that before these new countries can pay us, practically all of them have to start producing, because very few of them have actually any goods which they are in a position to be able to barter with us for the goods we sell to them. There is a little flax in the Baltic countries, and a little timber, too, but most of them are not in a position to offer goods in exchange. They want to import all sorts of things—coal, railway materials, even clothing and boots. In the spring coal production in Poland was very seriously held up because the miners were short of boots; they had no boots in which. to walk to their work. They want to import 1243 those things. They can only import them against promises to pay. In other words, they have to get credits from somewhere.
I know that the question of credits is a very difficult one, and I have no doubt that in due course the Government will be making some pronouncement upon it. I know they have taken it into consideration. In the meantime, I, personally, have more faith in the power of private credit than I have in the power of the Government to create credit. I think the position is, perhaps, rather beyond the scope and power of private credit entirely at present, but I believe private credit could do a great deal more than it is doing. It is not my business to, and I would not, lecture British bank managers on the method of conducting their business, but I can say with certain knowledge that the policy which is being pursued by British banks with regard to making trade advances to British firms to trade with new firms in Europe is very much more conservative Than the policy of the American banks. It is not for me to judge which is right, but that is the fact. It is not only necessary to have customers, and customers who can pay, but goods to sell, goods which the customers want, and goods which you can afford to sell at prices which will reasonably compare with those of your competitors.
It is on this point that I want to take up what the hon. Gentleman said, and address a word specially to the Labour interests. The policy of "ca-canny" in present circumstances is nothing less than commercial suicide for this country. We had three great trades, broadly speaking, in our foreign trade. I am looking at the question purely from our own national point of view. We had our trade in manufactures, our entrepot trade, and our coal export trade. The wild men, of whom an hon. Gentleman spoke, are going up and down the country talking, and what is the result? I could give the House half a dozen cases brought to my own knowledge within the last fortnight, some of them very big cases, one of them the case of something like £1,000,000 sterling, of contracts which were to be placed by buyers in the new countries of Europe. Those contracts have all gone to the United States, not because the buyers did not want to buy British goods—they did—but because the British manufacturers either could not, or because it was believed by the buyers that they could not, 1244 guarantee satisfactorily early delivery. That is the first instance of what the present unrest has done for our foreign trade.
As regards the entrepot trade, the plums are not going to fail into our laps in the future as, they did in the old days. Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hamburg, and now Copenhagen, are all out to capture the entrepot trade which used to be conducted largely by the Port of London, and those who are at work in our ports have got to realise that fact. As regards the coal export trade, frankly from our point of view, this, which was one of our great staple trades, is in a position of most serious jeopardy. I do not know whether the House realises to the full the great importance which our coal trade was to us not only from the commercial point of view, but actually from the military point of view. During the War the fact that we had a foreign coal trade and foreign coaling stations was of the utmost importance to us for this reason, if for no other. We certainly could not have beaten Germany in the time without the blockade, and one of the greatest weapons in the armoury of the blockade was the fact that we had through our practical monopoly of coaling stations the power to establish a system of business control under which we were able not only to prevent vessels which did not belong to us at all from engaging in trades which we did not like, but were actually able to regulate their movements, in some cases from voyage to voyage.
I read a speech the other day by Mr. Henderson, in which he had a great deal to say about the international solidarity of labour. Coal production in this country has been, and is being, very seriously reduced. The first persons whom your reduction is hitting are not the coal-owners, not the consumers in this country, but the industrial classes of Europe who were drawing their supplies of coal from us. In the spring we had the threat of a big coal strike. The Sankey Commission sat, and we had a. big drop in output. Every ton of coal which was short-produced then meant want and misery and starvation and, in some cases, even death to people in Italy, Czecho-Slovakia, to say nothing of Germany and Austria. The reason is perfectly simple. We had a coal programme which we had worked out for supplying coal to Italy. We fell far behind with that programme, and Italy not only could not move her trains to transport her own foodstuffs, but still less could she 1245 afford the trains to transport foodstuffs for the revictually of Czecho-Slovakia and Austria. What was the result? During all these anxious months of the summer we had to revictual Czecho-Slovakia by river transport right up the Elbe and across Europe, and that was the first direct result of a short production of coal. Those gentlemen, some of those wild men who speak about the international solidarity of labour and who are rendering lip service to the ideal of the League of Nations, ought to realise, by preaching and counselling the doctrines which they are preaching and counselling in the country, are bringing want and misery and even death to those whose interests they profess to serve.
Speaking from the international point of view, all over Europe at the present minute there is a tremendous shortage. Europe is hungering for coal, and for rail gear, and transport is at the root practically of all the difficulties of Europe at present. Some countries in Europe have got labour and no raw materials, and other countries, some of them hit by the War, have access to raw materials but have no labour or not sufficient labour. We are the one country in Europe which has got both available labour and access to raw materials, and it is up to us to be producing to the full extent of our capacity. If we are not doing that we are falling behind in a duty which we owe to humanity in Europe, and we are burying our talent in the earth. If we do that, then, looking at the matter even from the selfish point of view, sooner or later retribution will overtake us, if for no other reason, because of our competitors. America is a very formidable competitor in European countries, and our competitors are doing their best to get their goods and manufactures and productions into the European markets. May I say, with reference to America, that I have made a pretty close study of wages in America. The wages per day and per week are still higher than they are in this country, but the wages per ton of output in America with the staple trades, and that is the real test, are immeasurably lower than in this country at present. If we continue in this policy I can see nothing but disaster ahead. We have two great advantages over our American competitors now. We have, in the first place, the permanent advantage of geography; we are so many 1246 days nearer our markets. We have, in the second place, the advantage of reputation. To say that goods are of British quality is still a great asset, and a great recommendation in the markets of Europe. But neither, of those advantages is going to avail us unless we can increase production to a far greater extent than we have attempted to do. If the policy of Ca Canny is to dog our footsteps, and if those wild men, with their talk of direct action, are to be like maleficent spirits over British industry during the next few months, then I repeat that I can see nothing but disaster to British trade and nothing but trouble, difficulty, and distress in Europe generally.
§ 11.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RAPER
I endeavoured to secure an opportunity to-day to speak in reference to the Air Force, but on reconsideration I have come to the conclusion that it is my duty to endeavour to take this opportunity of speaking on a still more serious subject, of which I have a certain personal experience and knowledge. I refer to what is commonly termed Bolshevism. So far as the Air Force is concerned, I will simply say that I hope the Government will see their way to allow ex-Air Force officers and mechanics to volunteer for service with General Yudenitch, and that the Government will see their way to grant these officers and men the necessary facilities and permission and to supply General Yudenitch with the necessary machines and equipment. I suggest this as one means of assisting Finland and of strengthening her position as the bulwark of Western Europe against the poisonous flowing flood of Bolshevism. I am tempted to draw an analogy between the position in Petrograd to-day as compared with the situation in Buda Pesth not more than two weeks ago. So strongly did Bela Kohen seem seated in the saddle of his authority two weeks ago that he entirely ignored and paid no attention to the instructions which were issued to him from Paris by the Allies. In fact, so strong did his regime appear that, for reasons which it appeared very difficult to understand, the Big Four in Paris, I think about three months ago, sent to negotiate with him a most eminent representative in the shape of General Smuts. What do we see to-day? We see that Bela Kohen and the Bolsheviks, before the determined advance of our small but gallant Ally, who recog- 1247 nised the Bolshevik Government for what it really is, a band of irresponsible anarchists, and who had not to pander to the susceptibilities of a few intellectual extremists, could not even rally to their support any sort of force to defend their capital, but incontinently dispersed, taking care, however, to preserve their own skins and secure for themselves before leaving as much of the people's portable property as they could carry away.
At the other end of Europe we see Petrograd—the former seat of the mighty Russian Empire—and the North-West part of Russia in the power of another Bela Kohen—Herr Appelbaum, alias Zinorriff. There were several occasions in the course of this year when, were it not for the lamentable absence of a definite policy and of a modest measure of moral and financial support on the part of the Allied Governments, another small and gallant nation was ready to assist General Yudenitch in clearing Petrograd of the parasites who were battening on the life-blood of the Russian people. Does this House realise that the liberation of Petrograd would form the very best method of removing the pressure on our troops on both the Murmansk and Archangel fronts? It is only necessary for hon. Members to glance at the map of Russia to appreciate that the relief of Petrograd would have as a logical consequence the capture of that most important junction Zvanka. The occupation of this railway junction would mean that we should entirely cut off Bolshevism from the Murmansk Railway and the Vologda-Archangel line.
I may be asked why I contend that the British Government should interfere with the domestic policy of another Government. I contend most strongly that the Russian Bolshevik problem has long ceased to be a domestic one. Its tide of poison has already broken the bounds of the Russian frontiers, and its effects have extended to Afghanistan, and to-day we find the very foundations of civilisation and democratic institutions are seriously threatened. Where Bolshevism is concerned, for some inexplicable reason, the statesman who, a short time ago, fought so stoutly to overcome, and happily did overcome, another great danger, now appear to be suffering from some form of paralysis. These Allied statesmen would appear to be intimidated by a group of international extremists, who have endeavoured to show by their 1248 pernicious propaganda that it is only by Bolshevism that they can ever accomplish the best fruits of Socialism, and they consider the Soviets constitute the highest expression of democratic Government. Although Bolshevism clothes itself in the Marxian cloak, it cannot be contended that it is in any way related to Socialism. One of the first principles of Socialism is evolution, and that is quite contrary to Bolshevism. Another point which is also important is that Bolshevism has entirely abrogated one of the most important tenets of Socialism, and that is the rule of the majority, and they have substituted the rule of the minority, and the rule of minority to-day in Russia is not even representative of Russia, but mainly consists of a band of discredited international Jews. As regards democracy, the Russian Soviet Government has entirely proved that their regime is contrary to anything which really savours of proper democracy. As an example of this, let me point out that whereas in this country certain representatives of Labour have from time to time threatened direct action in the event of our taking action to overthrow the Russian Soviet Government, we all know the workmen in Russia are not even allowed to strike in defence of what they consider better economic conditions, far less for political reasons, and any attempt to secure better economic conditions is promptly dealt with by wholesale shooting, or, in better instances, by the people being drafted into labour battalions. The Russian Soviet Government has even failed in their object of a dictatorship by the proletariat, because no one can suggest to-day that Russia is governed by the proletariat. We have seen how Russian industries and agriculture have been entirely destroyed and the entire financial structure of this once great Empire has now become entirely submerged by an ever-increasing avalanche of worthless paper money. To-day Bolshevism is nothing more than a desperate thirst for power, no matter at what cost or at what sacrifice of its proclaimed ideals.
I have surely shown enough to prove the urgent, the imperative viscosity for preventing this poison virus from penetrating further into the veins of the world. In our own country, at this very moment, not far distant from this House, there are Bolshevik propagandists at work endeavouring in various and insidious ways to introduce this insane system into Great 1249 Britain. Are hon. Members prepared to allow our tried and truly democratic form of government, based upon the will of the majority of the people, to be sup-planted—with the aid of foreign gold—by what could not but prove a similarly disastrous experiment to the one we have witnessed in Russia? I most earnestly beg this House to realise that there can be no real peace in the world, either industrial or political, the world cannot be made safe for democracy, the high aims of the proposed League of Nations can-not be attained, and we cannot adequately deal with the many grave post-war problems facing us to-day until this spectre of Bolshevism has been laid. This can only be done, as in the War we have just won, by a definite and united Allied policy. We must come right out in the open. We must call this danger by its proper name, which is anarchy. We must be neither gulled by the intellectual apologists of this creed, or be intimidated by any threats of direct action by its more violent exponents. Unequivocal and courageous actions on the part of the Government will rally to its support all those forces of law and order which, I am sure, preponderate in all classes of our nation, and are not confined to any particular party. We must attack the evil at its root, which is in Russia, in Petrograd, in Moscow.
I must not be understood to advocate the compulsory employment of Allied troops in Russia, but what I do advocate is unstinted support—morally, materially, and more especially economically, of the elements of law, order, and democracy, as represented by Admiral Koltchak, General Denikin, and General Yudenitch, who are striving to re-establish in Russia a democratic Governmnet through the verdict of a Constituent Assembly. Bolshevism in Russia will fall sooner or later, as it has fallen in Hungary, but for our own sake it must be sooner rather than later. Those who assist in dealing the death blow to Bolshevism will be regarded by the regenerated Russia of to-morrow as its saviour, and will reap the reward of its political friendship and economic co-operation. Are we, I ask in conclusion, to stand by with folded arms and allow Germany, as she undoubtedly wishes, to garner both these rewards, or shall we be farseeing enough to secure these advantages for our own people?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I venture to make an appeal to the House to come to a decision now. We have had an unusually interesting Debate, and I am sure the House realises that unless we can get through the very large amount of business fixed for to-night there is not that prospect there should be of Bills getting to another place and returning. Under these circumstances I appeal to the House to come to a decision.
Can the Government tell the House whether they are going to undertake any prosecutions in connection with the Bolshevists? We hear and read from day to day about money being spent by Bolshevists. It is very important in the interests of the working classes that if the Government have private information, as is alleged, and they know there is a plot on foot, and if they are satisfied that bribery has taken place—as we read—and of some Bolshevist conspiracy, that they should take hold of the thing and prosecute and let us know? Why I ask that is because the latest information is that this Bolshevist conspiracy is attached to the name of a man called Watson. The latest that I read in the Press is that this man has been found in possession of documents of all kinds. Now Watson persistently followed me about all over the country during the last three years of the War, denouncing me in my meetings, interrupting meetings, and doing all he could both to cause mischief, to encourage strikes, and to lead the people to believe that the War was wrong. That is Watson! Imagine my surprise when I find from that Bench opposite the admission last week that this man, who is now in gaol doing six months, during all that period when he was creating this agitation, and following about those of us who were taking the line we were about the War, was paid and subsidised by the Government. He was doing this work. What I am speaking about is causing trouble at this moment. This man is in gaol at the present moment. All these sinister suggestions are losing their effect because the workers are beginning to believe that lies are being told. If there is a plot or conspiracy let the facts be made known and then the public will be able to judge for themselves. At present we are constantly having all these suggestions and no action is taken on the part of the Government.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I would gladly give all the information I could in reply to the appeal made by the right hon. Gentleman, 1251 but nobody knows better than he does how difficult it is to get proofs that will justify an action in a Court of law. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and the House know, and the Government know, that a great deal of literature of a most pernicious kind is being circulated which the right hon. Gentleman himself as well as the Government would put an end to if they could. The Government are trying to do it, but we must have clear grounds for any action we decide to take. The dissemination of opinion cannot be punished by law, and the offence must be something that is treasonable and can be proved. In regard to this matter, I only wish to say, further, that it is not the Government in any sense whatever which is circulating this statement in the Press. If we get information on which we can take action we shall take action.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Shortt)
I have had no notice of his case.
The Home Secretary may not have had notice of my intention to raise it, but he must know that an answer was given admitting that Watson was paid sums by the Government for conveying information, and he is now in gaol. My own secretary said to me, "Are you aware that Watson, who followed you about two years ago because you were not revolutionary enough, was paid by the Government for reporting speeches?"
§ Mr. SHORTT
That is quite right. He gave certain pieces of definite information, but he was not regularly in the pay of the Government. He volunteered certain information, and when it was found to be accurate, and could be acted upon, it was paid for, but not otherwise. He was not paid to follow people about, but he gave certain information, not about my right hon. Friend (Mr. Thomas) or anybody connected with him, but about certain people against whom proceedings could be taken.
Mr. J. JONES
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the names of all these people who are being paid by the Government?
§ Mr. SHORTT
Supposing there were such people, could anything be more preposterous than to ask me to give the names?
These are the men who are making the rows in the trade union branches, and they are getting money from the Government.
§ Mr. SHORTT
There is not the faintest ground for that suggestion. If my right hon. Friend had given me any sort of notice I would have had the information ready.
I had no intention of raising this question to-night, but an appeal was made to these benches. Of course, I know that the Government could not give the names of the individuals who had given them information, but I am simply pointing out that they were paying people who themselves were causing mischief and doing all the damage they could do, and who were acting as spies and at the same time stirring up strife.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman is trying to get at, but if he will put a question down I will get him all the information I can.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I would not have spoken, but a great deal has been said about constitutionalism. Constitutionalism means, among other things, that you should take notice of genuine grievances which can only be remedied in this House. For a long period men who are suffering under the Workmen's Compensation Act have been making, through Labour Members, repeated appeals to this House to make some change in that Act. There has been, I believe, a tentative agreement arrived at between the colliery-owners on the one hand and the workmen's representatives on the other. I cannot speak authoritatively, but I believe in the main I am speaking correctly when I say that they are prepared for some change to take place in regard to this very burning question. I can assure the Home Secretary that there is in the mining community seething unrest amongst the great majority of the men who have met with accidents, and have to exist upon compensation which is only 25 per cent. over and above the pre-war compensation. It must be clear to every hon. and right hon Member that to expect men after serious accidents to exist sometimes for long periods of six or twelve months upon 25s. a week, especially when they have large families, is to expect the men to exist upon an amount which is totally insufficient to 1253 meet their requirements. I urge the Home Secretary, if he wants to prevent direct action being taken by the men, to give ear to genuine grievances of this kind, and if he can hasten a change in legislation to meet this pressing grievance I am sure he will be taking a step which will do a great deal to prevent in the mining industry that undesirable step being taken.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.