§ Resolutions reported.
- "1. That a sum, not exceeding £1,430,700, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for Expenditure in respect of sundry Public Buildings in Great Britain, not provided for on other Votes.
- 2. That a sum, not exceeding £176,700, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March. 1920, for Expenditure in respect of Public Buildings in Ireland, for the Maintenance of certain Parks and Public Works, and for the Maintenance of Drainage Works on the River Shannon.
- 3. That a sum, not exceeding £436,700, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for Expenditure in respect of Ministry of Labour, Employment Ex change and Insurance Buildings, Great Britain."
- 4. That a sum, not exceeding £82,340, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for payments under the Tramways and Public Companies (Ireland) Act, 1883, etc., the Railways (Ireland) Act, 1896, the Marine Works (Ireland) Act, 1902, and for other purposes connected with Irish Railways."
§ First and Second Resolutions agreed to.
§ Third Resolution read a second time.
§ Sir A. MOND
I beg to move, to leave out "£436,700," and to insert instead thereof "£336,700."
In accordance with the pledge which I gave to the Standing Committee upstairs, I propose to reduce the Vote by the sum of £100,000.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
Some of us were not upstairs in Committee, so possibly the right hon. Gentleman would give us some explanation.
§ Sir A. MOND
The reduction is in Sub-head (f), Insurance (National Health) Buildings. A long discussion took place on this subject upstairs, as it did on most of the expenditure under this Vote. The money to be spent under that Sub-head was for a new scheme which was proposed in a suburb of London for buildings to be put up for the staff. I am assured by my technical advisers that it will be impossible in this financial year to spend the amount which we placed on the Estimates for this year, and I therefore assured the Committee upstairs, who were very anxious to get a reduction in the Estimate, that I would move the reduction of this Vote by £100,000 now, rather than not spend the money and surrender it to the Treasury at the end of the year.
§ Captain W. BENN
I should be the last and all of us on this side of the House would not wish to complain of the Government for thus proposing to reduce their own votes, but it is impossible to let the occasion pass without pointing out the most remarkable state into which we have come. The Government, at a time when economy is the one thing that is required to save this country and when every penny should be saved, is still pursuing a course of profligate expenditure. Attention has been called to this matter many times, and sometimes we are told that the 736 instances which are brought forward are too small to matter. It may be motor cars for Ministers, it may be a small and unauthorised expenditure upon a residence for a Member of the Government— these matters, we are told, are too small to be mentioned. But now we find that, under the pressure by a Committee of this House, the Government itself is constrained to come down and propose to take the very considerable sum of £100,000 off the Estimates which they presented to Parliament, and on the basis of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to the country asking them to subscribe to an enormous Loan. No one will dream of opposing the reduction, but it is impossible to let it pass without calling attention to the fact that at this moment, when expenditure is the one real enemy we have to face, the Government itself is forced by a Committee of the House to come forward and reduce its own Estimates by this gigantic amount.
§ Sir A. MOND
Really, the hon. and gallant Gentleman will never encourage another Minister to reduce an Estimate if his only thanks are a violent attack, of a perfectly uncalled-for and ridiculous kind, on the question of expenditure. It was impossible during this financial year, owing to the fact that the scheme has been delayed, to spend the whole of the money in this year's Vote.
§ Sir A. MOND
The Estimates are made for a new scheme a long time beforehand. A long delay has taken place in selecting and acquiring a site; the building was expected to be done during the year, and the money will not be spent till next year. A reduction on the Vote is not necessarily a saving in the Estimate. All it is the postponement of expenditure anticipated in this financial year which will undoubtedly have to be made to complete the scheme in the next financial year. It would have been quite possible to leave the Vote where it was and surrender the money at the end of the financial year. But I promised the Committee upstairs that I would move reduction.
§ Colonel GRETTON
Members of the Committee were under the impression that a real saving of £100,000 was made. I am much disappointed by the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. But it is due 737 to him to say that the position of the Office of Works in regard to these Votes is profoundly unsatisfactory. The Office seems to be a kind of contractor or maid-of-all-work to various Government Departments. When they present their Votes to Parliament they say, we are not responsible for policy. We are not responsible for this expenditure in any way. All you are entitled to do is to criticise the items of our expenditure as to whether we are getting good value for the money we are ordered to spend by another Department. These Votes are not brought up on the expenditure of the Department which on that explanation is really responsible. The right hon. Gentleman, in this case at all events, is ordered to provide certain buildings— Labour Exchanges and National Insurance offices—and brings forward a Vote which in the opinion of his Department is necessary, and the House is asked to criticise the expenditure. The whole position is profoundly unsatisfactory. I think the right hon. Gentleman has explained too much. The Government is apparently unrepentant. The money is not to be paid, and in some future year the whole sum will be demanded by the Government of the day in order to complete the expenditure already approved by the House of Commons. The House is empty, and there is no one prepared to understand it on this occasion. The House of Commons is in a very foolish position in regard to the view held by the Committee upstairs and the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman. I am not in any way blaming him. He is very helpless in the matter. The whole system 738 is wrong, and, apparently, on the Votes of the Board of Works we can never find the real culprits who are responsible for the expenditure which the House may or may not consider to be extravagant.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I wish to make a suggestion to my right hon. Friend with regard to complaints I have had from poor people who go to Labour Exchanges to register their names. They have no waiting list, and they have to stand about in cold rooms with no benches or chairs. Many of them are women, and very often they have been out of work. I should be very glad if he would give an assurance that the suggestion would be passed on with such backing as he can give it—I am sure his backing would have great effect—and some little simple comfort provided, especially in large towns, for these people who apply to Labour Exchanges.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Resolution, as amended, agreed to.
§ Fourth Resolution agreed to.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Five minutes before Nine o'clock