HC Deb 29 October 1919 vol 120 cc743-5

The House will desire to know, and I think that this is the moment at which I should tell them, what we have done to secure control over finance, and enforce reduction of expenditure. Let me begin with what may interest the House less, but what has not been an unprofitable part of our task, the organisation which we have established for the purpose. Speaking not from this bench, but I think the benches opposite, I told the House again and again, in the course of the last fourteen or fifteen years, that the Treasury was understaffed for the work it had to do, which the House of Commons expected it to perform. But more It was not only understaffed, but, owing to circumstances for which I blame nobody, it was ill-organised. For years past it has had no single permanent head. The headship has been in commission. That is not a good system. By the common consent of all who have acted as joint Permanent Secretaries to the Treasury, it is an unsatisfactory method of organisation, and it has only worked as well as it has done because of the determination of those who held office in that capacity to make it work, and because of the admirable personal relations which have happily always prevailed between them. But it was a bad organisation, and the first thing my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury and I had to do was to reorganise the Treasury. We have established it again under a single permanent head. That permanent head, as is recorded in his appointment, is recognised as the head of the Civil Service, and the adviser of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in matters of Civil Service patronage and reward. For that office we have chosen Sir Warren Fisher, the very able chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue.

Under him we have appointed three Controllers: one of Establishments—a new branch to control establishments, a very necessary duty—one as Director of Finance, and the third as Controller of Administrative Services. Under them I have enlarged, and I am going still further to enlarge, the Treasury staff. It is necessary if you want the work done, and it will be bad economy for me to refuse Sir Warren Fisher or for you to refuse to me the staff that is necessary to enable the Treasury to resume its long-disused control, and to apply it effectively to our present position.

In the second place, by the desire of the Finance Committee my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has summoned periodical meetings of the finance officers of other Departments. He is considering with them in particular methods for strengthening the hands of the finance officers within their own Departments, and I hope we shall soon receive from him and them recommendations which the Finance Committee may be able to approve and carry into effect.

Then the third organisation is the Financial Committee of the Cabinet. When the Government was rearranged after the General Election my right hon. Friend, in asking me to accept the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer, informed me that it had been suggested to him I think by my predecessor, that the creation of a Cabinet Finance Committee might be of great assistance to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I warmly welcomed the suggestion, and that Committee was created. It assisted me in the preparation of the Budget. It has assisted me by advice in some of the difficult questions with regard to currency and exchange with which I have had to deal, and it is the proper Cabinet instrument for the careful survey of finance which is one of the first and most urgent needs in present circumstances.


Who are they?


It is not usual to give the names of Cabinet Committees, but in this case I am willing to do so, but it must be clearly understood that I must not be cited as a precedent with which to approach my colleagues on other occasions. These domestic arrangements are matters for ourselves, and are no more matters for public discussion than what passes in the Cabinet itself. The members of the Committee are the Prime Minister, s chairman; my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, until January last Chancellor of the Exchequer; Lord Milner; the President of the Board of Trade; and myself, and we call to our council, as required, others of our colleagues or permanent officials whose services we require.