HC Deb 14 August 1919 vol 119 cc1623-6

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has made any estimate of the saving which could be effected in expenditure by a revision of the establishment of the Ministry of Munitions, in view of the termination of the War?


My right hon. Friend has asked me to answer this question. As the reply is lengthy, I will circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

The following is the answer referred to:

The establishment of the Ministry of Munitions has been under constant revision since the date of the Armistice. The numbers and costs of the Headquarters Staff on 11th November, 1918, and on 31st July of this year are as follow:

Head quarters Staff. Salaries and Wages per annum.
11th November, 1918 25,144 £4,778,817
31st July, 1919 13,884 3,150,000

These figures show that the number of staff has been reduced by 44.7. The reduction of the War Staffs of the Ministry is, however, greater than this figure indicates. Of the 13,884 persons employed on 31st July, 1,700 have been engaged since November last in connection with the disposal of surplus Government property—a new duty placed upon the Ministry since the date of the Armistice. In addition to this, the Ministry have, since the Armistice, taken over the staff engaged on supplies for the Army, which were previously administered by the War Office. The figure for July also includes 1,000 persons employed on a special investigation of the earlier accounts of the Ministry, in fulfilment of a pledge given in the House of Commons.

The Comptroller and Auditor-General attaches considerable importance to the completion of this work, and no reduction of this staff is immediately practicable. It will be seen that the cost of the staff does not show a decline corresponding to the reduction in numbers. Those demobilised have, for the greater part, been doing less responsible duties, remunerated on the lower scales of pay. The Conciliation and Arbitration Board have awarded advances in pay since November last to the staff whose services have been retained.

In considering the rate at which the staff of the Ministry has been reduced, it must be remembered that when hostilities ceased the Ministry had current over 34,000 contracts. These represented a Government liability of over £300,000,000. The liquidation of this large debt, with full regard to the interests of the taxpayer, necessarily require a large and expensive staff. Any attempt too rapidly to reduce the staff occupied on this work would result in the sacrifice of large sums of public money, and would inevitably lengthen the period of liquidation. No liquidation of this magnitude has ever previously had to be undertaken in this country or, so far as I am aware, in any other. The Comptroller and Auditor-General, in his last Report, more than once directed attention to the necessity of securing sufficiently large and qualified staffs for the financial work of the Ministry. The realisation of the Surplus assets is also a business of unprecedented magnitude and complexity. Surplus stores and property to the value of £156,000,000 have already been sold either on trading account or as surplus proper.

Every possible step is being taken to reduce the staff of the Ministry to the lowest number consistent with the protection of the interests of the taxpayer, and I hope that I shall be able to announce a further substantial reduction at an early date; but in view of the facts which I have here set out, it would be obvious that until the liquidation work and the disposal of surplus Government property have been completed, the retention of a considerable staff will be necessary. On the 11th November, 1918, the number of motor cars at headquarters was sixty-three. This number has been reduced to six. The number of cars at provincial centres and factories was 291. This number has been reduced to eight. These reductions represent a total annual saving of £173,460. Since the Armistice the surrender of premises occupied by the Ministry has effected a total saving in annual rental of £110,900.

Major NALL

Can the hon. Gentleman give a provisional date when the Ministry will be wound up?


No, Sir.


Will my hon. Friend consider whether it would be desirable to publish month by month the number of men employed by the Ministry and the approximate cost?


I will consider that, but I think in the Return called for by the House that will be included.

Lieut. - Colonel MURRAY

Will the statement include an account of the work of the Ministry of Munitions Supply Department?


Obviously the supply work carried on by the Ministry must be included.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he can give a statement of the number of men employed in all the Ministries monthly?


A Return is being made. I had the draft before me within the last two days.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

Will it be monthly?


I cannot say without refreshing my memory. It is the periodical Return that was promised. It is to give the House a view of the situation from time to time.