HC Deb 10 November 1919 vol 121 cc87-91

Resolution reported, That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of any Expenses incurred by the Minister of Labour in carrying out the provisions of any Act of the present Session to provide for the establishment of an Industrial Court and Courts of Inquiry in connection with Trade Disputes, and to continue for a limited period certain of the provisions of the Wages (Temporary Regulation) Act, 1918, including the expenses of the Industrial Court and of any Court of Inquiry. Resolution read a second time.


I beg to move, at the end, to add the words, "but such payment shall not exceed the sum of £10,000 in any one year."

I submit that at this moment, when we are spending millions of money, we ought not to commit ourselves to the expenditure of an indefinite sum for salaries to be paid to these various people without imposing some limit by the House upon that expenditure. There has been circulated with this Financial Resolution a Memorandum which says, first, that the Bill provides for the establishment of a Standing Industrial Court, consisting of persons to be appointed by the Ministry of Labour. It describes who they shall be, but there is no limit as to the number to be appointed. It is left entirely in the hands of the Ministry of Labour to decide how many shall be appointed. Then there is to be, apparently, a Court of Inquiry, and all the expenses of this Court are to be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament. Further, it says that the fees and salaries of the members of the Industrial Court and of the Courts—and I beg the House to observe that this word is in the plural— of Inquiry, and also the expenses incidental thereto, such as travelling expenses, the cost of shorthand notes, and so on, will also be paid out of moneys to be provided by Parliament. The Memorandum goes on to say— The possibility of inserting in the Act itself a fixed sum as a limit for expenditure has been considered. That is a very desirable thing to consider. It is a pity that the Government did not do more than consider it. They should have acted upon their first thoughts, which were the best. The Memorandum further says— It is not practicable to do this in a permanent Act such as the present. Why is it not practicable? If this were to be a temporary Act, it could only last a short time, and the expenditure would be limited; but, as it is to be a permanent Act, it is all the more reason why the expenditure should be limited. We do not want to commit ourselves permanently to a great increase in expenditure. The Memorandum adds— particularly having regard to the fact that, as public confidence in the Courts set up under the Act increases— That rather looks as if the Government did not expect there was going to be much confidence in the Courts which are to be set up— the work thrown upon the Courts will become greater. That may be quite true. But what is to prevent the Government coming down to the House and asking for an increase in the expenditure? If a limit is set upon the expenditure, and we presume that the Courts will be a great success in a year or two, and the limit is exceeded or ought to be exceeded, what is to prevent the Government coming down and asking the House to increase the limit which has been already set upon the expenditure? That is the business-like way of doing it, instead of coming down and asking the House for a blank cheque. Only last Thursday week we had a Debate upon expenditure, and we were told that the Government were perfectly alive to the necessity for retrenchment and not adding to our expenditure. Here, almost within live or six days, it is proposed to pay more chairmen and more members of an unlimited number of Courts of Inquiry, and the Government refuses to say what that expenditure is going to be. Instead of seeing any signs that the Government feel they must cut their coat according to their cloth, we find that they are going on spending I money as if the Income Tax were 6d. in the £ and Consols stood at £100. I trust I that hon. Members opposite, and all hon. Members who are really desirous of compelling the Government to be more economical, will put some limit upon this expenditure under this Resolution. It is perfectly easy, when these Courts have been set up and have proved to be a success and more money has to be spent upon them, for the Government to come down and ask the House to give the money. Then there will be no difficulty about it, but the House ought not to sanction an unlimited expenditure of this sort.


On behalf of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, I desire to say that we acknowledge that some public expenditure is essential if this public work is to be done. The new or transformed machinery to be set up under this Bill will not involve new expenditure, but a continuation of the corresponding expenses already incurred. While we understand that, the Minister of Labour must not conclude that, if we do not resist this Amendment in the Division Lobby, it must be taken as indicating that we agree to the Bill which hereafter is to be generally considered. On this Expenses Resolution I think it desirable to make that plain.


I beg to support the Amendment. What has been said by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) obviously means that the Government is putting the cart before the horse. The right hon. Gentleman has said that if the Labour party do not go into the Division Lobby on this Amendment they must not be taken as agreeing to the Bill. The House will observe that the Labour party's Motion on the Paper proposes to divide the Bill into two parts and to cut out the Industrial Courts portion of it and to deal simply with the other portion which it is necessary to deal with in consequence of the pledges given by the Government. Before we proceed to spend public money on the setting up of the Industrial Courts we ought to know the policy of the Government, and whether they are prepared to go on with the Industrial Courts section of the Bill.


The hon. Member is not entitled to go into that question on this Amendment.


I will reserve my remarks on that for the next Motion. I would only say in support of the Amendment that we are not told how many chairmen are required. If the Resolution is passed in the terms in which the Government have set it down, they can set up an indefinite number of chairmen, and can give each of those chairmen any salary. There is no maximum sum placed upon the salary which will be earned by the chairman of any one of these Industrial Courts. He may get £1,000 or £2,000, or he may got more or less. In view of the urgency of the public financial situation, the House is entitled to know what the Government has in its mind before we agree to any such Resolution. It is only in the interests of prudence, financial integrity and solvency that the Minister of Labour ought, before he takes the Report stage of this Resolution, to acquaint the House with the number of chairmen ho proposes to set up and the amount of salary they are to get, whether they are to become permanent Civil servants, with rights to pensions, and all that sort of thing; in fact, whether we are setting up the paraphernalia of another Civil Service Department attached to the Ministry of Labour, or whether we are giving the Government carte blanche to do these things. This kind of thing is done in far too slipshod a fashion. These Resolutions-are taken in Committee and on Report with undue haste. It is not the fault of the House that we are forced by the Government to try to give them the Committee stage of this Bill this week. The Government are the arbiters of their own time. They come down and force the House, by a series of Motions of this kind, to agree to any kind of expenditure, because they cannot arrange their time better. They are taking the Committee stage of this Bill to-day, and have already suspended the Eleven o'Clock Rule for that purpose, and they are taking the Report stage on Wednesday. One part of the Bill is entirely unnecessary, so far as the Government are concerned. I shall go into the Lobby in favour of the Amendment, unless the Government agree to put. in a maximum amount.

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir-Robert Home)

I do not propose to reply at all to the, remarks which my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Hogge) has made of the Governments use of its time. If he were aware of the whole of the circumstances he would readily recognise that the Government was not master of its time in connection with this particular matter. With regard to the Amendment, I confess that I always listened to the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), when he talks upon finance, with the greatest possible respect and attention, and sometimes even with awe I have endeavoured during my time in this House to learn as much as I possibly could from his lectures upon his favourite subject. I am free to confess that I took into account the lessons I learned from him before I proceeded to draw the Financial Resolution in connection with this Bill. I did my best to try to arrive at a lump sum which I might set before the House as the sum which would be required for the expenses of these Courts, but I entirely failed to come to any conclusion upon it. If there be one point about which I am clear, it is that if you cannot make a reasonable estimate and are therefore forced into the realm of guess-work, you always give yourself a very wide margin, and you always give the people who have to work the machine the temptation to extravagance rather than to economy. I came to the conclusion that it was impossible to arrive at any really accurate estimate of what these Industrial Courts would actually cost. The matter is going to be upon a permanent basis. One cannot tell the extent to which they will be resorted to. You have to hope for the best and believe that they will be a complete success, but you are not in a position to estimate, to what extent that success will go. Industrial Courts of Inquiry are a new thing. The House will agree that nobody can say the precise amount we shall have to spend on Courts of Inquiry. The House will have the whole matter completely under its own control.


Only after the money is spent.


No. We have a certain amount of money provided by Parliament for the conduct of the Interim Arbitration Court this year. I do not propose to submit any Supplementary Estimate; I propose to work out this year on the amount granted by Parliament for the conduct of the Interim Arbitration Court. The first time the House will have to deal with this matter later will be on the Estimates for the expenses of the Industrial Courts and Courts of Inquiry next year. Then it will have the whole matter completely within its control, and be able to decide whether the amount for which we ask is extravagant or economical. I hope that with this explanation the House will be satisfied with the work we have done.

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and negatived.