HC Deb 29 October 1919 vol 120 cc745-6

What has this finance committee done? Take first the question of Staffs; not because they are the most important, but because they bulk unduly large in the public eye. It must be obvious that in respect of great machines like the Army and the Navy, demobilisation of the administrative staff must follow and cannot precede demobilisation of the fighting forces. The mere work of demobilisation is tremendous. Let me say in passing that every new bar accorded to a medal, and every medal that is issued involves an amount of clerical work of which the House probably has no conception. Your staff must be what is required for the services you expect them to render. If there had been, for instance, no increase in the Post Office staff the reduction shown in the total staff would be very great. But I do not know one, of the critics who press for economy, and more than that, for a reduction of staff, who does not speak as if that Were compatible with and to be accompanied by an increase in the facilities of the Post Office. If you must cut Clown staffs you must reduce your services to a size appropriate to the size of the staff it is desired to maintain. On the other hand if you persist in maintaining or enlarging services you must give the Ministers responsible the staff necessary to execute these services.

Let me say that with regard to the Revenue Departments, as in regard to the Treasury, I will not be responsible for a reduction of trained staff. I need more. I am losing revenue from want of trained men. It would be penny wise and pound foolish to grudge me an efficient and sufficient staff, who will pay for themselves many times over in the revenue which they will prevent from going to waste.

The reductions in this last month of September, after allowing for all increases, are 8,000 men. Further reductions have already been promised and some of them have already been indicated to the House in answers given by Ministers from this bench. We have not come to an end by any means: examination by the Finance Committee is not completed. Much more remains to be done. But I want the House to realise the limits within which such reductions are possible. I think it is well to point out that if the whole of the organisation created for the War or during the War, which includes the administration of soldiers' and sailors' pensions, food, shipping, munitions, unemployment donation, the training of ex-soldiers, and so on—if they could be all swept away by a stroke of the pen, and at the same time the staffs in all pre-war departments, including the Revenue Departments (which are now responsible for collecting a revenue four times as great as the pre-war rate) could be brought back to pre-war dimensions, the saving in money would not be more than £22.000,000. That would be the saving if you closed every new department and brought back every old department to its pre-war level. No one pretends that either of these two things can be done. Nobody pretends that such an economy as £22,000,000 could be effected. The fact is that while waste of staff is very irritating and very inexcusable, it is the duty of every permanent head of each individual department to adopt, having regard to our national balance sheet, all possible economies.

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