Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £15,323,000, 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, 1921, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Munitions."—[NOTE.—£12,000,000 has been voted on account.]
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of MUNITIONS (Mr. lames Hope)
In presenting the Estimates of the Ministry of Munitions to the House, I must first express my regret that the promotion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Kellaway) and the pressure of his new duties have prevented him from undertaking this task. My hon. Friend has been connected with the Ministry of Munitions, I believe, for a longer time than any other man, whether inside or outside this House, and he can speak with an authority and with first-hand knowledge which I lack. I must therefore ask the indulgence of the Committee, having at comparatively short notice to take his place. There is a difference between the form in which these Estimates are presented this year from those of last year, and it will have a very misleading effect if some few words are not said about it. Last year we were still working under the War system of Votes of Credit, and, whatever receipts we took, did not go to the Exchequer, but were used in the way of appropriations-in-aid to be set against our expenditure. The result was that last year we came to the House, not from any want of cash, but solely from the constitutional necessity of getting our policy approved and being allowed to spend the money which We had earned. This year the rigidity of the financial system has been restored in its full vigour, and the result is that on the face 1866 of the Estimates there is an apparent increase of some £27,000,0000. This, however, is a merely nominal increase, the truth being that last year we spent £185,000,000 and received £254,000,000. Therefore, at the end of the financial year, on March 31st, we gave the Chancellor of the Exchequer £69,000,000. This year we ask leave to spend £27,323,000, and we budget to receive £200,000,000, so that this really is a credit Estimate, and, as the Estimate was drafted, we budgeted to give the Chancellor of the Exchequer on March 31st, 1921, something over £172,000,000.
Since the Estimates were framed, however, certain things have occurred which makes us think that this Estimate is too low. Certain payments which were expected in last year have been thrown into this year. The prospects of receipts from disposals are better than when the Estimates were framed. We can now count upon certain smaller payments—£3,000j000 in one case—which we could not count upon before, and, unless our expert advisers are very strangely misled, we can say with confidence, even allowing for the unexpected, that at the end of this financial year we shall be able to give the Chancellor of the Exchequer a sum of £190,000,000, either for the relief of the taxpayer or for the reduction of debt. At the same time, I feel, however much the balance, that the Committee will want a full justification of the £27,000,000 which has to be voted in any case. This sum falls under three heads: First, liquidation of war commitments, which accounts for £17,270,000; secondly, the Disposal Board, £8,350,000; and, thirdly, normal supply, £1,703,000. The first of those two heads, taken by themselves, are really credit estimates. We estimate to pay out on liquidation £17,270,000 and to recover some £39,000,000, leaving a credit estimate of £21,730,000. In the same way, the Disposal Board expenses are set down at £8,350,000 and the receipts at £100,000,000, showing a credit estimate of £91,650,000. That, as I have explained before, will, in all probability, be Very considerably exceeded.
While I am talking of disposals, it would be well to say a few words about the Disposal Board, because they have been the subject of very severe and continuous criticism, partly in this House 1867 and partly outside. Who are the Disposal Board? They consist, or did consist, because there have been one or two recent resignations, of fifteen members. Twelve of them are business men, one is a civil servant, one is a soldier, and one is a gentleman connected with the Road Board who has had a large experience as a road surveyor. I do not dwell upon all their qualifications, because that would weary the Committee. I may mention that two of these gentlemen are Members of this House, and, while being Members of this House, I hope they do not cease to be men of business. One is the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. Chad-wick) and the other is the hon. Member for Waterloo (Lieut.-Colonel Buckley). They have had great business experience. Then there are Sir Howard Frank, who is acknowledged to be at the head of his profession; Sir Robert Connell, Shipowner, of Liverpool; Mr. David Currie, late partner of Lake & Currie, Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, London; Major Philip Dawson, partner in the; firm of Eincaid, Waller, Manville and Dawson, Consulting Engineers; Mr. Ellinger, partner of the firm of Ellinger Bros., of Manchester; Sir William Ellis, Managing Director of John Browne and Company, Limited, of Sheffield; Sir Sydney Henn, late of Messrs. Duncan, Fox and Company; Mr. W. J. Larke, member of the Iron and Steel Institute, chief executive engineer, of British Thomson-Houston and Company; Brigadier-General Sir H. P. Maybury, Chairman of the Road Board; and Sir Lindley Byron Peters, partner of G. D. Peters and Company, Railway Contractors. Those are the men of business, and beside them there are Major-General Sir Alban R. Crofton Atkins, a very distinguished soldier; Mr. D. Neylan, a civil servant to whose ability I wish to pay a special tribute; and Major Tuds-bery, who, beside having had a military career, has qualifications as a barrister-at-law. These gentlemen, therefore, are not bureaucrats—that is the point that I wish to make—they are men with outside business experience who have been called in by Lord Inverforth to help him to solve the enormously difficult problem which confronted him when he took office in January, 1919. I omitted to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Kellaway), who until lately was 1868 Chairman of the Board. The problem, if not unknown in kind, was at least quite unprecendented in degree. A prodigious mass of stores had been accumulated, not in this country or in France only, but practically in every scene of operations, as well as in the United States and Canada. They were of a size for which the most prodigious organisation could hardly be improvised and certainly not an official organisation. France, Belgium, Italy, East Africa, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Macedonia, and elsewhere—in all these places there were stores of an infinite variety, all of which had been prepared and ordered on the supposition that the War would last much longer, and for all of which it was the duty of the Ministry to find the best price for the nation.
What other course was open to him? If he had appointed any committee purely of officials, I think it is easy to imagine what would have been said of them. If he, on the other hand, had appointed one single liquidator, can anyone doubt that that unfortunate man would have been the shaft of every arrow that ignorance or malice, or it may be disappointed cupidity, could have shot at him! I would ask the critics of the Ministry to say what better course the Minister could have taken than to call to himself a committee composed largely, though not entirely, of business men to help him in this most abnormal and stupendous task? I would not, indeed, suggest that it should have consisted wholely of business men. Some addition on the political and administrative side was necessary. It may be that politicians and civil servants do not always understand business. I have no doubt it is also the case—it occasionally happens—that men of business do not quite appreciate questions of Government and administration, and certainly not Parliamentary amenities.
The combination, therefore, that Lord Inverforth called to the task was a very happy one. I want to make one point clear. The operations of the Disposal Board depend in the first instance upon the action of other Departments. It is not the business of the Disposal Board to range about Government Departments and say: "I see you have so many stores here, and so many stores there; you must hand them over to us, and we will sell them." The functions of the Disposal Board begin when the other Departments 1869 say to them: "We have so many stores which we do not need, and, therefore, we will hand them over to you to get the best price you can for them." When, as very often happens, you hear criticisms from those who have seen large numbers of lorries, it may be, or shells, or other material accumulating, you hear them blame the Disposal Board for not getting rid of this. What probably will be found on inquiry is that, for some good reason or another, the Department concerned thinks they have need of these stores, or have not seen their way to do without them. The policy of the Disposal Board is simple. It is to make money for the State, and to relieve the taxpayer. In doing so, of course, they are subject to the most contradictory criticisms. If they get the fullest price on their sales there is immediately a shout raised: "Accursed are ye, profiteers, ye are exploiting the necessities of the people." If, on the other hand, they get less than the critic thinks they ought to get, the criticism is: "Go to, ye incompetents; ye are throwing away the assets of the nation." So that, whatever happens, the critics get it both ways and the officials neither way. But that is the usual course.
However, the point I want to make is that the disposal Board are not philanthropists—[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"]—and do not intend to be. Other departments may be philanthropists. The Board of Trade and the Coal Controller may be philanthropists. The Food Controller may be a philanthropist. The Ministry of Health, with its Housing schemes, is, I suppose, undoubtedly a philanthropist. But we—the Department I represent—repudiate the charge. Our business is to ask the full price and to get it, and if there are one or two apparent exceptions they are not really so in fact. For instance, it may be that we have handed over huts to the local authorities, but that is all credited to us by the Ministry of Health. It is they who give the subsidies, and not we. In other instances where we have made concessions—and very properly, I think—with respect to soldiers' huts, the transaction has been one of discounts for large sales on a business basis so far as we have been concerned.
1870 The Disposal Board have had certain difficulties which have confronted them from the first. When I said they wished to get the full price I did not mean they were to hold up stocks as speculators or cornerers, but that in all the circumstances they wanted to get the full market price. Take the case of metals and chemicals accumulated at the time of the Armistice. They were in some—not in all—cases stocks large enough for three years' normal consumption. What was their duty in a case like this. Were the Disposal Board to unload the whole of the stock at any price they might obtain, or were they to hold back for the utmost price and by restricting the goods coming into the market subsequently obtain that larger price? They judged they ought to do neither. To have unloaded the whole would have discouraged production, and the result would have been that when a further supply was needed there would have been a shortage. In the meantime opportunity would have been taken by speculators to acquire an immense volume of the material concerned and themselves to do the cornering which the Disposal Board was unwilling to do. Therefore the policy they have adopted was to unload, through trade channels, in moderate quantities, and to follow and steady the market price in each case. This was adopted in the case of metals and chemicals; there has not been given that opportunity for speculators which would have been given by a hasty unloading. The result to the Exchequer is that £50,000,000 have been realised from metals, and £24,000,000 from chemicals, and that by no means completes the sales.
There was another question which the Disposal Board had to consider; whether they had to attempt to dispose of their very numerous and varied stocks by retail. This occupied them at considerable length before they came to a decision upon the point. They took the evidence of those who were most likely to know, and considered it up and down and came to the conclusion that such a policy was impracticable. It would have meant, in the first place, an immense hiring of new buildings, and we all know the difficulty that the Government have had in getting new buildings, and the discontent that their acquisition has caused. I think the Committee will appreciate that 1871 point. Then it would have been extraordinarily difficult to get an efficient staff for retail distribution. In retail and large distributing businesses, the percentage of leakage and loss is very great, and by the time the Disposal Board, if they had embarked upon this enterprise, had got under way, a great deal of their material would have been disposed of. Besides, I think the Committee on the whole will agree, though there may be exceptions, that it is not the business of the Government to go into retail trade. They have not the organisation, and I am quite certain, whatever may be the criticisms levelled at the Disposal Board now, if they had attempted to go into retail trade, those criticisms would have been more than doubled.
If you do not go into the retail trade you must sell in bulk, and if you sell in bulk you must not begrudge the distributors their legitimate profit. Therefore, when questions are raised about deals like that of Mr. Martin and the linen, I say that the alternative of selling by retail would have involved far greater loss to the State. If Mr. Martin acts as an efficient distributing agent—and his case is one of a number—it is folly to begrudge him such profits as he may or may not have made. Since the Armistice the Disposal Board, apart from trading accounts, which I will come to presently, have realised £200,000,000, and in this year we budget for net receipts of £91,000,000. The present position is this: Of the stores abroad, Belgium is cleared. East Africa is cleared. Italy, I believe, is cleared, or will be in the course of this month. In Egypt and Mesopotamia a great advance has been made, and it is only in Macedonia, and in consequence of the unique state of affairs in the Near East, that stores are not yet fully disposed of. In France, besides the stores which have been brought home and sold, or kept in reserve—I think some £15,000,000—£40,000,000 worth have been sold, and perhaps some £25,000,000 worth still remain. The staff guarding this stores in France is now reduced to 150 at headquarters, and 1,500 soldiers. Having regard to the cost at which these sums have been received by the State, it appears to work out, on the figures I have given, at a trifle over 8 per cent., and if 1872 that seems to be high, £8,000,000 on £100,000,000, I would remind the House that in that figure of £8,000,000 there is included expenses which are really expenses of production, which were budgeted for, in the Government establishments at Richborough, Slough, Lancaster and elsewhere. One of these establishments have been disposed of. About that I will say a word in a moment.
I am quoting from figures I have extracted. I am endeavouring to show how the £27,000,000 is arrived, at. It does not, I admit, appear on the Vote itself.
For the present financial year, yes. It includes all the repairing expenses at Slough, all the expenses which were budgeted for at Slough in the estimates prepared, for Lancaster, a comparatively small amount, and for Richborough. So that the actual expenses of disposal, when you take these away, come to £5,000,000, and the receipts to something which are put down in the estimate at £100,000,000, but which, I think, may be taken at not less than £110,000,000.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
This is an important point, and we must endeavour to follow it. If the hon. Gentleman looks at pages 7 and 8 of the estimates, the Disposal Board figures are dealt with in detail. As I understand the hon. Gentleman, he is—and I do not use the words offensively—mixing up the cost of the administration of the Disposal Board, and other things in connection with the disposal or upkeep of such undertakings as Slough and Richborough.
I am really going to give the right hon. Gentleman and other critics the benefit of every possible doubt. The real expenses of disposal are some £5,000,000 to gain £100,000,000, and that includes everything that is necessary to realise the assets concerned. I have taken the trouble to ascertain from a very eminent firm of accountants what they regard as the proper expenses of liquidation of any large concern, and I am informed that where a large concern with mixed assets has to be 1873 liquidated, 4½ or 5 per cent. is, in ordinary circumstances, quite an ordinary expense. If that is so in ordinary cases, how much more so must it be when the assets are of a large variety which cannot be found in any private concern and are scattered in every quarter of the globe. I may just add that the same problem has confronted foreign countries, and I have yet to learn that they have solved it with any greater satisfaction to their critics than we have. The French papers are full of allegations in reference to the sale of stores and to their being left by a negligent Minister on the ground, and I notice that the Minister of Finance said the other day in the Chamber that everytning the Americans had in France had been sold lock, stock and barrel for 400,000,000 dollars, and payment was not to be made for a number of years hence. If you consider what that means, and remember that we ourselves have sold £40,000,000 worth in France and brought back to England something like £15,000,000, and we estimate that at least £25,000,000 remains there still, and we are taking credit for that in these assets, I think that, compared with other countries, is not unfavourable.
The trading accounts is another point which has been raised. The War Office in 1916 found it necessary to buy great quantities of raw material which were distributed for direct and indirect war purposes among Departments and private consumers. The object was not to make money but to supply national needs for the Army, for our Allies and for civilians; and in order to get an adequate supply it was necessary for them to enter into contracts to buy well ahead. One of these contracts has not yet expired. We contracted with Australia to buy for a year after the War, and the supplies from that source are still coming in. The supplies were of various kinds and included wool, kips and hides, tanning materials, leather, flax and flax seed, jute, cotton, manila hemp, chemicals, food containers, and similar articles, and, of course, for a long time we were largely out of pocket on those transactions. For the first' year there was a debit balance of £30,000,000; in the second year the debit balance was £35,000,000; but in the third year there was a credit balance of £4,000,000, and in the fourth year a credit balance of £78,000,000. We are now budgeting for a credit balance to March, 1921, of £61,000,000. Of course, these 1874 figures are not profit. You cannot get at the profit until you take your liabilities into account.
We can say, however, what has been the profit on all the articles other than wool, and it is £15,000,000.; while on Wool there was a profit to the Exchequer it was a little under £3,000,000 for ourselves for the year ending 1918, and a little under £2,000,000 for Australia and a little over £600,000 for New Zealand. The next year I think you may double those figures. For the year ending March, 1920, it cannot yet be ascertained, and still less can it be ascertained for the year ending March, 1921, and it would be a rather rash speculation to say what the figures would be for that year; but when all the possibilities are taken into account there will undoubtedly on the whole of the transactions be a very substantial profit, part of Which goes to the Australian and New Zealand Governments under the terms of their contract.
The original object of entering into these contracts was not to make money but to supply urgent and imperative things; but, having the stocks and being bound by the contracts to take them, it would be folly not to take advantage of the fair market price. An attempt was made to lower prices, but it was soon found that the benefit would not get to the consumer, and we had to take the utmost care to see that there was no artificial bolstering up of prices or cornering. It is our duty to the Exchequer, and it is the policy of Lord Inverforth, to follow the market and get a fair price in the matter of wool as in everything else. This was a legacy from the War Office. These trading accounts were under Lord Inverforth as Director of Supplies. He has continued, with Sir Arthur Goldfinch and Mr. Cooper, to administer these trading accounts, and I think in so doing he has deserved well both of the War needs which his sagacity supplied in the first instance and of the Exchequer, which will get a handsome contribution from this source.
§ Mr. A. SHORT
Can the hon. Gentleman explain what were the actual steps taken which failed to lower prices?
It was a matter in which I had no personal concern, but I understand that a certain amount was put on the market at less than the prevailing market price, but it was found by experience that the benefit 1875 did not go to the consumer, and so the system was discontinued. Now I come to another matter. A little west of Slough, on the Great Western Railway, there is a mechanical transport depôt, and this has been a subject of comment both in this House and outside. It has been said that this undertaking at Slough was a vast monstrous and a panic act of extravagance on the part of the War Office. This matter has been the subject of inquiry by a Parliamentary Committee, and they say it was an excellent scheme for war purposes. It is true they said that when the War came to anendthey thought it ought to be sold, and they expressed a doubt as to whether it could be run at a profit or sold at a profit for the future. It has been run at a profit and it has been sold at a profit. On this point I will ask hon. Members to wait for the auditor's statement on these matters. The matter is now in his hands. I cannot say what the profit will be until he has certified it, but I am instructed to say with confidence that there will be a profit on the working up to date, and it will be a handsome one.
As to the capital profit on sale that has been ascertained by the Accountant-General, and it has already been given at £850,000. Apart from what has been published, probably the Committee will be anxious to hear a little more about the transactions of the sale at Slough. Besides the sale of the depôt itself there has been a sale to the amount of £3,650,000 for vehicles and parts in sight. I may explain what this sum involves. There are a considerable number, estimated at 15,000, of motor vehicles, and I am advised on technical authority that a great number of these are seriously crippled and could not be repaired without unremunerative expense. I am advised that these crippled 15,000 will, when repaired, make up 10,000 sound vehicles for sale which the purchaser may hope to dispose of, but more may be thrown up. It is on that basis that the sum of £3,650,000 has been arrived at and accepted. That was a minimum sum. There are conditions in the Articles of Agreement, which have not yet been put into the form of a contract, which carry the matter further. The Army may and probably will throw up more of these vehicles and all that are thrown up will be delivered to the purchaser on certain terms. The 1876 better they sell the more we profit. There will be a careful check on all vehicles that are thrown up and delivered to the purchaser, and monthly returns are to be made, and when he begins to realise, then the Exchequer will come in and benefit on the sales.
If my hon. Friend will wait a minute I think he will see what I mean. On all the vehicles thrown up, after the purchasers realise £5,000,000, the Exchequer will come in and share. Our technical advisers estimate that it is not until the purchasers have realised £5,000,000 that they will begin to get any substantial profit, and that may be easily understood when one takes into account the interest on the capital sum for the depôt, the price paid for the vehicles and parts thereof and the amount expended as wages. After the realisation of £5,000,000, what I venture to think is a very ingenious plan is to be adopted. It is based not on ascertained profits, but on the gross realisations. So much difficulty may arise and so many arguments may be put forward on the question of profits that the system which has been devised is based on the gross receipts. After £5,000,000 has been realised the State gets a proportion of those gross receipts as follows:—After they realise £5,000,000 we take 25 per cent. of the excess. After they realise £6,000,000 we take 40 per cent. of the excess, and after they realise £7,000,000 we take 50 per cent., and there is provision for monthly statements and proper checking by auditors. There is one other condition which I think I ought to mention, and that is that the purchasers are bound to repair all Government vehicles from whatever Department they may come at 10 per cent. profit on cost price. That is a system which was common during the War.
My recollection is that for two years everything thrown up is to be delivered to the purchaser, and we get these proportions on the realisation when that realisation takes place. Obviously it is not in the interest of the purchasers for the realisation to be unduly prolonged.
It is not a question of time or of the number of vehicles. It is a question of what receipts the purchaser gets from all the vehicles delivered to him. It is a question of what is realised.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I ask this question? I understand that a sum of, roughly speaking, £7,000,000 is involved. There is £3,300,000 for the site and buildings and £3,650,000 for the vehicles. It does not matter to the purchaser, however, how the £7,000,000 is divided. Is it not the case that the site and buildings have not been sold separately, but have been sold with the vehicles? May not a lower price have been paid for the vehicles in order to make up for an excessive price paid for the site and buildings in order to show a profit?
That is exactly what we are providing against here, because immediately the realisation exceeds £5,000,000 we jump in and take part of it.
But there is a profit over and above what we have spent on the site; the valuation will show that. I think my right hon. Friend will see, at any rate, that once the purchaser begins to realise the vehicles he does not get all the money received.
Certainly. It may be asked why, if the depôt is being worked at a profit, it should be sold. But there are good reasons why we should sell. A permanent profit on an establishment of this sort very largely depends on the permanence of the Ministry of Supply. Last year there was a profit. For this year it is more than probable there will be a profit. After that, there must be a certain amount of uncertainty. I think there will be a feeling in the House that when there is an opportunity for a profitable transaction, it is well, especially in the case of a Government, to take advantage of it rather than wait for something that may 1878 possibly develop. I think my right. hon. Friend will agree that in transactions of this kind a Government ought not to take risks. Here a chance has occurred of a profitable transaction, and I think the Government are rightly taking it. There will be some satisfaction at any rate to all individualists, as there will be one Government establishment the less. Every individualist should be pleased. And now I come to the case of Richborough. I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir A. Fell) may not be to some extent responsible for our difficulties here. I cannot help thinking that his Channel Tunnel activities may have done some harm to Richborough. It is for sale, but it has not yet found a purchaser. It started in May, 1916, to save double handling, and from December, 1916, to December, 1918, 13,000 tons were shipped there. Since the Armistice a great number of railway wagons have been brought back—probably 23,000—together with 12,000 motor lorries. Richborough was, of course, never started as a commercial proposition; it was a purely War measure. To carry it on we have taken £1,200,000 for it in the Estimates this year. But we think if we can get a fair price for it, we ought to sell it as soon as possible.
I must trouble the Committee with a few words about the liquidation of contracts. At the time of the Armistice there were running 34,663 contracts, involving a liability of £355,000,000. Of course, these contracts were entered into when there was reason to believe that the War would go on a much longer time. Of the 34,000 odd contracts, 3,721 were continued for the definite needs of the service. There remained 30,942, involving a liability of £338,000,000, and settlements have now been arrived at in all but 58 cases representing under £6,000,000. We have escaped liabilities to the amount of £171,000,000. It does not, unhappily, follow that on the conclusion of these settlements everything ends. There are claims and counter-claims which may arise in regard to many points, such as the payment of war bonus, issue of materials, advances during War, and so on, and before everything is finished a prodigious amount of work has to be done. Nearly 700,000 bills were settled last year, and I am afraid it must be some months 1879 before everything under this head can be finally disposed of. Next I have to say something about the staff. The Headquarters staff at the Armistice numbered 25,144. In June, 1919, it was 16,614. Now it is 5,927, and these include the staff taken over last year from the War Office. Comparing the Armistice staff with the present staff on the same duties (1,767), the relative reduction is 82 per cent. We had to take over extra staffs from the War Office.
§ 5.0 P.M.
What I am pointing, out is that the present staff represents but 82 per cent. of the strength of the staff at the time of the Armistice. It must not be supposed we claim all the credit for this reduction. I do not say that the pressure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury may not have speeded our activities, but quite early in his administration, Lord Inverforth set up a special Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir John Fergusson, of Lloyd's Bank, a man of great ability who might be expected above all others to be conversant with matters of this kind, and who was assisted by Sir Charles Davidson and Sir J. Mann. This Committee went into the matter almost meticulously with a view to bringing about a reduction of staff, and I could not help thinking that even in my own Department they went too far, because very often I could not get a settlement of a contractor's account owing to the fact that the services of the man who really knew all about the matter had already been dispensed with. I want to say a word as to the ex-service men. It is difficult to find places for ex-service men on military staffs. But we did our best. Compared with July last the percentage of women was reduced from 57 per cent. to 40 per cent., and of non-service men from 34 per cent. to 28 per cent., whereas ex-service men showed an increase of from 9 per cent. to 32 per cent. The percentage of ex-service men on the staff is now 53. I may say that we have been very greatly assisted by the ex-Service Men's Organisations, who have been very helpful in carrying out this arrangement.
It is not very easy to say what the permanent staff is. On this point I may just add that a great part of the work done by women is very ordinary clerical work, which most ex-service men would not care to take, and it would be very small kindness to give a post to an ex-service man within a short time of the abolition of the Department.
With regard to the future of the Ministry, I have already said that there will be no Ministry of Supply. It is not expedient to argue that; the decision has been taken, and it has to be accepted. In the second place, the War Office will take over the Arsenals and all the Government factories under the Ministry that are not for disposal.
At the earliest possible moment. They are those at Woolwich, Enfield, Gretna, Queensferry, Swindon, Watford, Sutton Oak, Perivale, Hereford, Banbury, and Lancaster. They include I Arsenal, I small arms factory, 4 explosives factories, I anti-gas factory, 3 filling factories, and I store for pivotal plant, now doing temporary work. Of course, when these go, our Estimates will be correspondingly lightened, but, from a public point of view, the burden will be taken by the War Office, so I do not particularly wish to dwell upon that. Whatever happens to the Ministry, there will not be two Parliamentary Secretaries in the future, as there have been in the past. For the rest, the matter has not been settled, but the Government are seriously considering in what way the remaining work of the Ministry can be most efficiently and economically dealt with. A very large amount of work still remains to be done. We budget to collect, in this year, in the nature of revenue—temporary revenue, certainly, but still in the nature of revenue—a sum very much greater than the whole revenue of the country used to be, well within my Parliamentary memory. To do that, it will be necessary to have an efficient organisation and a 1881 considerable staff. If we did not have that organisation, we could not do our best to give that relief to the taxpayer that we hope to show at the end of the year.
I must say a word of appreciation of the extraordinary devotion and ability that has been shown, both by the business men and by the civil servants at the Ministry. No contrast could be greater, to anyone going into the Ministry, than that between what is actually done by the officials of the Ministry and what is said of them outside. I think it is necessary for me to pay a tribute to their ability and devotion, if for no other reason, just for this. We politicians are accustomed to get our hides in pretty tough condition, and to accept, not merely absence of appreciation, but criticism and sometimes, perhaps, even slander. Lord Salisbury once said that we could always find our recompense in our conscience or our salary, though the latter solace is considerably curtailed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, we are used to what we meet with. Still, we are accustomed to that. The men of business, and especially the civil servants, who cannot answer, are not; and it is only right that I should say that, whatever mistakes there may have been here and there, these men, under great stress, which continued long after the Armistice, have served the State well—both the business men and the civil servants, the former usually without reward, and the latter with a reward quite incommensurate with what they would obtain in ordinary business avocations. They have served the State with rare devotion and ability, and it would be most unfair, whatever deficiencies you may put on the Ministry of Munitions, to attempt to put them upon those men. Last year my hon. Friend-beside me (Mr. Kellaway) reviewed the work of the Ministry of Munitions, and passed a most glowing and eloquent panegyric upon it. It is not necessary for me to repeat that, although I stand by every word he said. It is enough for me to say that, although, if you like to review its history in detail, and examine it with a careful and malicious eye, you may find plenty that is wrong—bad contracts, faulty specifications, cases of carelessness, delay in doing what is right—still the fact remains, that it does represent a prodigious national effort to meet a prodigious national crisis, and I believe that 1882 the historian will review it with amazement. I am only too proud that, even in its declining days, I have been privileged to play some part in that work.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
I beg to move, that the Vote be reduced by £15,000,000.
I am sure the Committee will join with me very heartily in congratulating my hon. Friend on the clear statement which he has made to us, at very short notice, and the manner in which he has laid his Estimate before the Committee. As I listened, however, to his opening remarks, and remembering what a jealous and efficient critic he was of the Government in the piping days of peace economy, I thought how he would enjoy being on this side of the House, and attacking his own Estimate which he has laid before us to-day. He fairly took my breath away with his earlier sentences of congratulation to the Department, and his statement of the millions which he would be giving to the Treasury, and the percentages by which that would be done. If he had been dealing with a profit-making Department, and buying and selling in the open market, that would be quite a proper thing; but what is he doing? One is delighted to hear it officially stated that the Ministry of Supply is not to be proceeded with; and the other bit of good news which the whole nation will welcome is that the Ministry of Munitions is to be a vanishing entity, and that, at no distant date, it will be swept into the limbo of things which we shall be glad to forget. The total Estimate of the cost of the Ministry, for the year upon which we have now entered, is £58,190,000. By way of Appropriation in Aid, composed of realisations in the general sense, £30,867,000 is brought in.
They-are not realisations; they are returns from contractors and payments for services in the ordinary course.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
That does not alter my point at all. That leaves the net amount which they bring before this Committee at £27,323,000; but the question put from the Chair is that a sum of £15,323,000 be granted. The reason for that is that, when the Civil Service Vote on Account was before the House two or three weeks ago, £12,000,000 was allocated to this particular Ministry, and therefore the sum which we have now 1883 before us is £15,323,000. I have proposed to reduce that by £15,000,000, and the case I am going to endeavour to make is that, in view of the fact that there is to be no Ministry of Supply, and of the statement that the Ministry of Munitions is to be demobilised as speedily as possible, I say that, for the purposes in question, the £12,000,000 which they have in hand is enough. If it is not enough, let them come back to this House with a Supplementary Estimate, and the House will give them the money they want. I think this Ministry has been grossly extravagant in its management. We have only before us, as my hon. Friend truly said, the accounts of the completed year and an Estimate for the current year. I want the Committee to undersand that these figures are only for the 12 months up to the present time and the succeeding 12 months, that is to say, we have no information at all—or, at any rate, I have no figures, though they may be assessable in some other accounts—as to what it has cost the nation between the date of the Armistice and the commencement of the last financial year, namely, the 1st March, 1919.
I will let that go out altogether. I am not concerning myself with that. That is a thing to which we must, as practical men, just give the go-by. I am going to deal with the figures as we have them. What was the cost of the headquarters' staff and branch offices and the outside staff for inspecting stores and miscellaneous departments? The headquarters' staff and branch" offices last year cost this country £2,636,000. For this year, with no Ministry of Supply, with a demobilising department, they are asking for a headquarter staff grant of £1,370,000. What about the outside staff of inspection, stores and miscellaneous departments? Last year they spent nearly £5,000,000. This year under the same conditions, the Ministry of Supply gone, and a demobilising department, they ask, and I suppose the House will grant it, £2,056,000. The total for the last year and the coming year for A and B amounts to £10,888,000. There are one or two points I wish to make on details themselves. As there is going to be no Ministry of Supply the raw materials trading account and purchases must also go, and there ought to be a very much smaller amount for factory 1884 administration, because that is obviously also going to go, and the subsequent heads of stores and transport inspection departments and engineering department ought all to be reduced. The housing department will probably go right out also.
On all these points a very good case can be made for large reductions owing to the recent decision of the Government, but as other Departments will have to bear the expense, it will be rather a false point to make, because they would appear as supplementaries in other Votes.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I will deal with that in a moment. The outside staff of inspection, stores and miscellaneous departments, amounting to a total of £2,600,000, would be reduced by at least two-thirds, and then on the purchase of stores for other Government Departments, that has gone by the board, and we know that the Admiralty never consented to it. Attempt after attempt was made to get the Admiralty to allow this precious Ministry to buy for them. One of the best buying Departments which any Government ever had was the Admiralty. I have in other days had some experience at any rate of how they buy coal. The Admiralty always refused to be dominated by the Ministry of Munitions buying for them. The War Office had a prolonged fight, but ultimately had to submit, and all the other Departments objected. The whole of J1 goes clean out—£21,900,000. There is also the estimate for Slough—£300,000. That goes. The hon. Gentleman has told us that the Ministry of Munitions Ordnance factories are also going to be disposed of. So that goes.
It is no use our going on with this Estimate under these conditions at all. It is a wholly fallacious position. You ought to withdraw this Estimate to-day. There is no hurry for it. You have weeks of time and in three or four weeks you will know where you are, you will know what Departments are going to take over what portion of these different heads, and you will see what the cost to them will be, and you will know where you are in a fairly reasonable business way. We are discussing the thing in the air. None of these most important sub-divisions really have any practical bearing upon the present position. The use of Committee of Supply is that you deal with the present position in an 1885 Estimate which is going to continue for a year. We here have an Estimate based upon what the Minister himself tells us is not going to continue. That is not business. It is not treating the House of Commons in a business way at all. It is not common sense. I suppose it will be done, and that it is all settled in the usual way, but we have passed this in a way which would disgrace a parish council. I do not know what will happen at eleven o'clock, but I hope the country will take notice of the way this is being done. The Ministry must have known for weeks past what was likely to happen. They have six Director-Generals outside the Ministerial G.H.Q., and a Department of Finance. These Estimates do not show really what the cost was, because in several heads they have taken a number of assistant secretaries and otherwise, lent them from other Departments, whose salaries are partially paid by those other Departments. It does not represent the actual cost to the taxpayer even on these Estimates. Page after page, Department after Department, the same thing comes up. I listened to the hon. Gentleman with absolute amazement that the Government should have the audacity to make such a statement on the facts they themselves stated. That is the main point of the whole business. You cannot go on with this sort of thing. You are beating the air, and not dealing with a practical position.
I should like to say a word or two about Slough. I hope my right hon. Friend will develop the point which he made. I only mention it. This House is entitled to know what the real bargain is. The country wants to know. Hundreds of thousands of people who pass Slough on the railway will all want to know whether it is really the fact that the profit which they say has been made on the buildings and the land has no relation to the assets which they placed on it, because the point we made, when discussing these things before with regard to the motor vehicles, was that you do not want this great centre for it. Sell them where they are. That is the sound business argument which was made. What does it cost to bring them there? It they are able to go there under their own power they should be sold where they are, and if you have to bring them there to repair them under other power you are making a very un- 1886 businesslike proposal. But if it is the fact that any part of this cost of buildings and of land is mixed up with the assets brought there from the length and breadth of the land and from France, it is not a fair statement of the position. We want to know what the real position is. The hon. Gentleman has not given, in my judgment, sufficient particulars for us to form a proper businesslike judgment upon what the facts of the case are. And what a commentary after all on the case made for Slough! It was a splendid Government investment which was going to be carried on for years and be made a fruitful source of national profit. That great undertaking was practically, in its real essence, begun at least six weeks after any sign or suggestion of its case was possible. It was a very good case in July, 1918, when we were being driven back to the coast of France and were in dread of being driven back to our own shores. You must have a base near London to send all these tens of thousands of motor vehicles which might be driven over the Channel. From that point of view it was right. Then they suddenly turned it into what they call a business proposal, and the nation's money was poured out just to back some man's opinion on a business proposal. Now, under the pressure of facts, we reverse the policy and sell it. I am glad they have sold it, and I am glad indeed if they have sold it at a profit. I hope they have. I could go on elaborating a very large amount of criticism on the Estimates. I was prepared to do so if it was not for the statement the hon. Gentleman frankly made. Generally speaking, the whole of these Estimates are inapplicable to the present position. The right thing to do is to withdraw them and bring them back a month hence, and you will find we will do all we can to help you. But for the sake of national economy, give us a chance of discussing what is after all a business question as business men.
§ Sir R. COOPER
Circumstances prevented me from moving the Amendment which I have on the Order Paper for a very much smaller reduction than has now been moved, but I put it down before the Easter Recess, at a time when we had no Estimates relating to the Ministry of Munitions available. In other words, the Government put down the Ministry of Munitions Vote for discussion about a fortnight before any Member of the House 1887 had the slightest information of what it was going to be or what the details of it were and how the money was going to be spent. I have on a previous occasion expressed very strongly the view, which I think is shared by a great many hon. Members, that the case really is very much worse even than that, because the Vote on Account of £12,000,000 was voted without any Member of the House having any possible knowledge what that money could have been wanted for, and in view of that fact, together with the situation of this Ministry as we understand it to-day, it affords me very great satisfaction to support the Amendment to reduce the Vote by this much larger sum. I will not re-state the very strong case the right hon. Gentleman has made in favour of these Estimates being taken back and the House being given a really businesslike financial statement of the money which the Department, under the changed conditions at the beginning of this financial year, really requires. I shall presently make some reference to the statement by the Financial Secretary when he claimed, quite rightly, that when this Ministry was founded those responsible took the only businesslike point of view they could, and that was to summon to their assistance, and the assistance of the Government, the best commercial brains in the country to help them to carry through their task. On that same ground I would ask my hon. Friend if that aspect of the administration of this Department does not add force to the very strong case put by the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean). The Financial Secretary continually referred to the demand which is made in this Vote for £27,000,000, giving the impression, as I understand he desired to give, and as it is intended to give, that that sum really covers the administrative expenses of the Ministry of Munitions for the present financial year. I cannot understand how that sum of £27,000,000 can be referred to in this Debate as having the slightest reference to the finance with which we are dealing to-day. The amount of money that is asked for in this Estimate for salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Munitions is £58,190,000. That is the sum they are asking for, and not £27,000,000, and for anyone to speak of £27,000,000 in the sense that it fairly represents the cost 1888 to the country of the maintenance of this Department is deliberately to mislead this Committee and the country.
My hon. Friend claims that the policy of building up Slough was excellent for war purposes, and he was perfectly right, but the point of complaint that I have always made, and that the public has always made, with regard to Slough, was not that it was a mistake during the very black days of the war, but that two months after the Armistice was signed a contract was entered into, running into millions of pounds, for the building of this gigantic concern. The almost unanimous opinion at that time was that the Government were making a great blunder, and that they were taking an unjustifiable course. The reply was that the Ministry of Munitions, in expending money on the development of this place, were going to be engaged in one of the most wonderful and profitable developments that any State Department could ever embark upon, and that it was essential to the State. I am so contented to know that that policy has been reversed that I am not prepared to quibble or attempt to search out in any detail how far the sale, which I understand has gone through, is a profitable one or not. There is one aspect attaching to this transaction, however, which is most serious, and ought not to be allowed to pass unchallenged, and that is that as part and parcel of this bargain the Government vehicles in future are to be sent to the purchasers of Slough for them to repair, on the basis of cost of materials, labour, and over-head cost, plus 10 per cent. profit. I ask the Government whether, before that was introduced as part of the condition of the sale, any steps were taken to ascertain whether Government vehicles could be repaired by any other concern in the country on cheaper lines. That is essential because we all know that motor transport has now become a very large and essential part of Government and war administration, and this work is likely to be very voluminous and very valuable work to perform. It is my belief that the Government could get their vehicles repaired on this basis at a less profit than 10 per cent., provided that any contractor had the whole contract for the repair of Government vehicles. Is it or is it not a fact that his Department and the heads of Departments who were concerned in the production of munitions during the war, were 1889 forced to the conclusion, by their knowledge and experience, that the worst possible form of contract for any Government was time and line; but that, owing to the conditions of the war—I was concerned in the Department myself in one limited section in connection with transport—there was no alternative but to get the contracts placed as quickly as possible. Time and line in many cases was the only course we could adopt. We were prepared to go forward, because we had not time to quibble negotiating. The Army and the Navy wanted the goods, and they had to have them. But those, days have gone by. We had an experience at that time that that was a thoroughly vicious system of placing contracts, but from my knowledge and experience I know that it is taken advantage of by a large number of people in this country who regularly and systematically accept such contracts. I regard this part of the Slough bargain as one that has not been properly thought out and considered, as to whether it is right for the future. The hon. Member did not say whether this portion of the contract is limited for a term of years.
If it does not suit us to send all the Government vehicles to be repaired by the purchaser of Slough, we need not do so. We are under no obligation whatever, but the purchaser is under an obligation to do the repairs on these terms.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I understood from the hon. Member's statement that it was part and parcel of this bargain that Government vehicles of all kinds should go there to be repaired on that basis, but I could not gather for how long that system was to prevail. He has now made it clear that the Government are not bound to this part of the contract, but if they choose to send the vehicles there the purchasers of Slough are bound to carry out the repairs on these terms. That being so, the case is very much less unsatisfactory than I thought.
The conditions are these:The purchaser undertakes to repair, on behalf of the Ministry or any other duly authorised Government Department, any and all motor vehicles being the property of the Ministry or any other said Government Department as may be required, and in respect of such repairs shall be paid by the Ministry or any other said Government Department a sum equal to the ascertained net 1890 cost of such repairs (including all overhead expenses and establishment charges), plus 10 per cent.There is no obligation on the Government whatever.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I am much obliged to the hon. Member, and, incidentally, I have done a good thing in getting the point made clear, because there would be a strong and influential feeling in the country if it had been allowed to go out generally that the case as I stated it represented the facts. It is very natural that my hon. Friend and his colleague who has just left the Department as Deputy Minister should feel a good deal of resentment at the constant criticisms that are levelled against the administration of the Department. But in speaking of Slough an illustration occurred to me which has occurred during the last few weeks which justifies criticism of the administration. Two miles of fencing, 8ft. high, composed of galvanised iron, has been put round the whole of that place within the last few weeks. This is brand new material, although the Department has in its possession hundreds of tons of galvanised iron that they are intending to sell or actually selling. If you visit the South Coast, as I have done, you will see derelict buildings, surrounded by galvanised iron fencing, belonging to the Government, all of which is rusting and rotting, and yet at a time then industry wants to get going and requires large quantities of galvanised iron, the Government, possessing hundreds of tons of galvanised iron, which is rusting and rotting, and which they want to dispose of, step in and buy brand new galvanised iron for Slough, thereby adding to the difficulties of industry, and, incidentally, adding to the cost of living, and acting, so far as the administration of this Department is concerned, in a thoroughly unbusinesslike and unsatisfactory manner.
It is my desire not to trouble so much about details of administration as to point out the lesson which we have all got to learn from our experience of this Department, which I trust will disappear shortly. My hon. Friend asked, very rightly, what better steps could any Department take than to get the best brains into that Department to help them to administer in such times of crisis. They did the right thing, but I do hold the view that in all the administration of the State during 1891 the War, of the thousands of business men of one kind or another who were got in to assist the Government and the administration, it is hard to find one who has been a real commercial success in that position. Many of us, Members of this House, had personal direct experience at the time of working under one Department or another, and, seeing how these business men carried on, got their plans out, tried to put them into operation, and sooner or later found that their ideas were worthless, and they seemed more or less to lose heart. I do not know one leading business man, including even the late Lord Rhondda, who took an important position in the State during the War who in the public estimation was a complete success.
No Member of this Committee would suggest that at least the majority of these men did not go into the State service in a time of crisis and do their level best to help. We knew and the public knew that they had the best qualifications for doing the work. Yet they were not a success. My point is that it is the system on which the State is administered and on which the Ministry of Munitions has been administered that is at the bottom of the trouble, and has been the cause of the loss of many millions of pounds to the people of this country. Just before Easter I and one or two others brought before the House the case of Mr. Hankinson. There are numbers of these cases of good men who have gone in to help in the Ministry of Munitions and who afterwards, when they have been free men, have told their friends something of the difficulties with which they had to contend. There was the case, which has happened since this Vote was last before the House, of a Mr. Philip Bright. It was stated in a letter in the "Times" of the 13th of August last year. I have had careful search made as to whether this matter was ever followed up, and I am told it was not.
Here is a man who was paid by the State to do responsible work. He was the head of a Department. He was told to go to examine a factory or business which happened at that time to be controlled by an unnaturalised German. He was sent to report on it. He made his report to the proper official who had sent him, and he made five recommendations. Nothing was done; no notice was taken, 1892 no alteration was made, and the usual Minute for further consideration was put up. A third application was made by him to get this matter dealt with, and nothing was done. Then, in despair, finally he wrote a letter to the Minister of Munitions at that time, who is now Secretary of State for War (Mr. Churchill), and because, after making three attempts to do his duty that he is paid for by the Government, he went to the head of his Department as a last resort, the only thing left to an honest and able administrator, fault was found with him for acting contrary to Regulations, and he was driven, ultimately, to resign from his post. That case is analogous to the case to which I drew attention three weeks ago. There are hundreds of these cases in the Ministry of Munitions, but even where you can get sworn evidence, where you can get eight witnesses in a Department to swear to the truth of an allegation, the Department systematically sits upon everyone concerned and, whenever it can, penalises them. The result is that people in the Ministry of Munitions, and State officials in other Departments, are driven by this system actually to become parties to unbusinesslike methods, and ultimately in some eases to become parties to sheer corruption.
That is one of the reasons why there is so much loss of money and so much public discontent. I am glad that the late Deputy-Minister (Mr. Kellaway) has come in. After I spoke three weeks ago in this House he showed, in my judgment, no proper spirit. During the time he has represented that Department in this House he has shown a distinctly arrogant spirit in dealing with complaints that have been made. In the case of everything which we put up in dealing with his Department during the last eight or nine months he has always turned round to fight it and not once has he shown any special desire to find out whether anything was wrong or not. I can excuse him as I excuse the business men who went in to assist the State during the War. He is the victim of the system. The business men are the victims of the system. Half the complaints which we make in this House on this or other Votes are due to the system being at fault. I have put this point again and again and I will do it as often as I can in future. 1893 If we want more businesslike administration in the Ministry of Munitions and every other Department we have got to see that the system is right. There is no use in complaining or finding fault with the hon. Gentleman or anyone else when we all know that probably if we were in his position circumstances would almost force us to do what he did, although it was absolutely wrong to do it. I want to drive home on this occasion the pressing need of learning from this Vote the lesson that if we want in this House to do the best we can for those whom we represent we have got to start putting our house in order as a necessary part of reconstruction after the War. We have got to tackle the system, the political system oven, but especially the system on which the business of the State is administered.
§ Mr. CHADWICK
I am the last person to oppose any organisation or Department, especially a Government Department, merely for its own sake, but I have listened to my hon. Friend's statement with interest and I ask the Committee to vote the sum for which he asks. Unless there are less flimsy arguments put forward by those who are opposing this Vote, his mind may be easy on that subject. The right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) is amazed at the Government coming; to the Committee with an estimate of this kind. I wonder, is he amazed after the speech which has fallen from his supporter (Sir E. Cooper)? If he is not, as I am, I shall be surprised. I will not deal with the figures which were referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, because my hon. Friend no doubt when he replies will deal with them better than I, although I could answer on one or two points. I will not deal in great detail with what has been said by the hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Cooper). It is typical of what takes place in regard to the Ministry of Munitions. He spoke of surrounding buildings with fences, and asked, why put up a corrugated iron fence? What other kind of fence would you put up?
§ Sir R. COOPER
I said nothing of the kind. I said that having determined to put up a corrugated iron fence the Ministry of Munitions went on the market and bought brand-new corrugated iron when they had hundreds of tons of their own in other places.
§ Mr. CHADWICK
I beg my hon. Friend's pardon if I have misunderstood his statement, but I believe that he was absolutely wrong and that the Ministry of Munitions held this material and made the fence of the most convenient material that they had. That is a specimen of the misinformed, ill-directed criticism which the Ministry of Munitions gets. I will not say anything about the sweeping condemnation of the business men who were working for the Ministry of Munitions during the War, as I happened to be one of them. Sound criticism and rigorous scrutiny of Government administration are desirable, but we seem to be drifting recently into the habit of abusing Government Departments rather than criticising them. That I consider to be very harmful. We see the harm in every direction. I am not saying that the Ministry of Munitions has been all that one could have wished. I have very strong views on that point with regard to labour, but do let us direct our criticism impartially and usefully.
We are fully aware of this peculiar frame of mind, which is more apparent to most people in the bitter vendetta of a section of the Press against Government administration and against the person of the Prime Minister. I would not mention it now except that it is assuming such an aspect as to be, to my mind, a grave national menace. No one will object to healthy and vigorous criticism, but this particular section of the Press which sees red in every conceivable department of Government administration, seems to be so affected that there is no depth or length to which it will not go in distortion and misrepresentation. Under the influence of this it is deplorable, and it is surprising that men will get up and make statements, even in this House, without the most elementary effort to do what they would be most careful to do in other circumstances, and that is to obtain reliable information. They will launch out into assertions which under examination are disposed of by a mere statement of fact. I claim some right to speak with authority on this subject of the Ministry of Munitions. A few days ago I resigned my position at the Ministry after four and a half years of continuous service. When I resigned I was senior officer of my rank and class with continu- 1895 ous service in the Ministry, if not in the whole Government service.
The Ministry of Munitions may be divided under three heads—disposals, supply and liquidation. However much you may dislike it, the Ministry has supply responsibility until other arrangements are made. I understand they are now made. My hon. Friend has described how this £27,000,000 is to be divided between the three sections. There are hon. Members who seem even yet to think that it is going to be absorbed by the winding up of the Ministry of Munitions, that is the expense of winding up apart from liquidation, which is mainly the expense of the Disposals Board. Nothing of the kind. Only £8,250,000 or a little more has, I believe, any direct or indirect relationship to the work of disposing of surplus stores. A great deal has been said about the Disposals Board. My hon. Friend has anticipated some of the criticism, no doubt. It was even suggested the other day in this House by the hon. Member for the Wrekin Division (Mr. Palmer), a distinguished journalist, that a super-Committee of three Members of this House should be appointed to examine the activities of the Disposals Board For my worst political enemy I could not wish a more thankless mission or one that would be more barren of useful results. It is so characteristic that I will quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT. The suggestion was put to the Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister did not agree to it, and then the hon. Member said:May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it has come to his knowledge that there are seven bye-elections pending and that this question is gravely influencing the minds of the constituents?Seven bye-elections pending and the minds of the constituents gravely influenced, not by the short-comings of the Ministry, but by the kind of nonsense that is talked in this House and written in the Press about the Ministry! The Leader of the National Party (Brigadier-General Croft) said:Is it not in the present as well as in the permanent interests of the country that the Ministry of Munitions should be abolished and the work put under the Board of Trade?My hon. Friend is asking for £27,000,000 this afternoon to abolish the Ministry 1896 of Munitions. The whole business is to abolish the Ministry. The hon. Gentleman wants to put this business under the Board of Trade. I wonder what the Board of Trade would have to say about it. This is typical of the peculiar twist-ings which come to an otherwise well-ordered mind when dealing with Government administration. Here is an hon. Member prominently associated with the one journal in the country which has been the advocate for many years of a business government, and he suggests, quite solemnly, that we should appoint three politicians to sit on a Board, which consists as to eleven-twelfths of business men, to keep them on the rails. The Committee is aware of the constitution of the Disposals Board. It was founded in 1919, and I think the record of the transactions of that Board dispose at once of the grotesque suggestion to appoint a super-Committee of three politicians, business politicians if you like. There are two main groups of critics of the Disposals Board. There are those who criticise the Board for the unwillingness to sell retail and those who criticise it for not selling wholesale, or not selling at all and holding up material and putting up the cost of living, and so on. With regard to the first class, one need only say that the attempt to sell hundreds of millions of pounds' worth of material retail would be madness. With regard to the second point, the holding up of material, one need only point to the record of the Board since its formation, which as a business enterprise surpasses, for any one concern, anything in history that I have heard of. The Disposals Board receipts up to the present equal the total revenue of this country shortly before the War, and that has been secured to the country by a Board of a dozen men and an improvised staff of some 1,500. The average critic of the Ministry and the Disposals Board continually brings to my mind the resentment of the midge when it was jostled by the elephant going into the Ark:The animals went in Seven by seven;Said the midge to the elephant, Who are ye shoving?
§ Mr CHADWICK
No, seven by seven. The critics are completely unable to realise the magnitude of these trans- 1897 actions. They talk and write airily in terms of scores and hundreds of millions, who probably, at the most, have never had to administer the same number of thousands, and the most noisy and most persistent of them have had no kind of administrative experience. My hon. Friend has described the reasons for asking for this amount of money, and I need not elaborate his arguments. But I do want to recall the Committee, for one moment, to the conditions which made it necessary for the Ministry to ask for this money. At the time of the Armistice the whole of the munitions output of this country was at its greatest; the armies of the Allies were at their greatest strength; expenditure and wastage had never been so high. Suddenly, in an instant, the outlook is changed. You could not stop this immense flow of material coming from all over the world to feed the great British Army; you could not stop the arsenals from pouring out munitions with anything like the speed at which you stopped the consumption. I think we might have been better prepared, but no human agency could have prevented this great overflow. Do hon. Members suggest that this climax could have been avoided? I have heard it said that the Government should have known that the German collapse was imminent. It was clearly foreseen, more dearly by those of us who were actively concerned in the supply of munitions than by the general public. But we had to maintain pressure; we dare not relax. What Government would have been justified in allowing the Minister of Munitions to lower his pressure by one fraction before complete victory had been secured? The Ministry was hurriedly established at a time of unexampled national peril under the administration of the Prime Minister, but for whose long vision and rertile imagination we could never have hoped to reach the immense equipment and supply of the Allied Armies in 1917. Is it to be wondered at that the flow took time to stanch? Is it surprising that it is taking time and a large staff to liquidate the £145,000,000 of contracts that were in being at the time of the Armistice, having regard to the infinite complexity and the enormity of the task in assessing compensation due for work partially produced? Moreover, in the staffing of that Ministry the Civil Servants formed a 1898 mere sprinkling, and were not enough to go round. All honour, I say to them, for the magnificent work they did in a staff which consisted mainly of people drawn from the commercial and professional classes, and which at headquarters numbered 25,000 people.
Reference has been made to the question of accounts. I admit that the early records were not such as one would wish, but we must have regard to the conditions under which we were working. I speak as one who has been through it, and I tell the Committee we had the choice of helping to win the war without complete records of our transactions, with the alternative of having complete records of how we lost. The Committee will perhaps forgive me for saying so much on the subject, but I have done so because I have been smarting for so long against the unjust attacks made upon the Ministry, and I felt it was my duty to mention every point of importance. There is one strong criticism which I intend to make, and I could probably make twenty for every criticism hon. Members made here. It is not a criticism of the Ministry of Munitions, but of the Government, and it is that there have been five successive Ministers of Munitions. The Prime Minister was the first, and we then had the present Secretary of State for India and the present Minister of Health for seven or eight months, and the present Secretary of State for War for 12 or 14 months, and then the present Minister, Lord Inverforth. When the Ministry was once on its feet and there were other calls for the energising vigour of the Prime Minister, I say that the Ministry should have been put in the charge of a commercial man. I speak with the highest respect of the distinguished statesmen whom I have mentioned, but I do not think they were the men for the position. What happened? This Ministry, to use an Alpine simile, became a kind of rest house for political mountaineers ascending or descending the political mountain. I think that that was really a bad administrative blunder on the part of the Government.
There were plenty of men of good business acumen who could have taken charge of the supply of munitions undiverted by political considerations and who would have secured greater efficiency with less costly results. That kind of man would have continued in office without the temptation to use the position as a point 1899 from which to march to a more permanent political position. It was not till the War was over that this was done, and then a shrewd, experienced business man heroically undertook to clear up. He did so with his eyes open. He knew what he was facing and the thanks he would get, and I say it was very courageous of him to undertake the task. It was almost superhuman, and immensely increased both as to cost and complexity by three relays of politicians. The Ministry of Shipping was entirely in charge of a business man, and I think it has been the great administrative success of the War. There was also the case of the Ministry of Food. The brilliant success of Lord Inverforth's administration, not only in the present Ministry, but in his previous Government activities as Surveyor-General of Supplies, has culminated in the last few weeks in the sale of Slough, which has completely confounded his critics in both Houses of Parliament and in Fleet Street. Who is to say that a better bargain might not have been made in Slough? Here I am speaking entirely on my own. I know nothing about the transaction, but I have a shrewd suspicion that the gentlemen who have bought Slough know that they are going to make a very fine thing out of it. Lord Inverforth has been justified in his manipulation of the Slough problem. He sold it to-day because the Government had to sell it. Who is to say, if he held it, what would have happened? I believe he could have made a far finer bargain if he had held it for a considerable time.
The business of the Ministry is proceeding in an orderly and business-like manner to completion. The Financial Secretary has told us how it has been done. I take the impotent fury of a section of the Press and others as a testimony to the efficient administration of this Department. I am taking part in this Debate because I think it is my duty to do so. The Minister is certainly not aware of a single word I am saying, and what I have said is entirely on my own responsibility. I do so, not on behalf of the Minister or the Department, but in the interests of efficient administration of the business of the country, and in the interests of our splendid Civil Service. Hon. Members generally speak in eulogistic terms of our Civil Service, but we have just heard the 1900 suggestion of maladministration by officials in the Ministry of Munitions. We have the case of Mr. Hankinson and Mr. Bright and others brought up. I know nothing about the details of those cases, but they are cases which arise very largely and inevitably from the stress of demobilisation, where thousands have been turned out of work. Many of them are disgruntled about losing their job, but in nine cases out of ten they can be disposed of if you go to the man who knows all about them. Let us criticise by all means that are fair, but in the name of commonsense and expediency let us avoid malicious criticism and harassing methods, which do no good and only obstruct sound administration, and which shakes the confidence of the people in the Government on which they depend and which contribute to unrest, which is manifested in the kind of documents which we receive asking us to pay particular attention to extravagance of Government Departments, and stating that that is the entire cause of the rise of prices, and assuring us that the people who send the documents will watch our political future in accordance with our stand on this question. That is the kind of nonsense we are getting. It does not matter for us here so much who understand what it all means but it is a serious matter in the Member's constituency when he finds all this talk of Government extravagance as mainly being the cause of high prices. It takes a great deal of time to dispose of it, and it is shaking the confidence of the country. I think it is about time that we got on to another tack and that we should speak to the people about this country standing to-day on a pinnacle of fame and potential prosperity such as it has never been on before. We talk about our debt of 8,000 millions, but what is our potential capacity for liquidating that compared with our capacity for liquidating the debt of 800 millions of the Napoleonic Wars. Do not hold out the bait of Government extravagance or reduction of debt as being a short cut to low prices, because there is no short cut to low prices. If you allow your tradesmen and your workmen to work undeterred you will soon get back your £8,000,000,000.
§ Colonel BOWLES
I listened with some disappointment to the remarks of the last speaker, who was so closely connected 1901 with this Ministry, because I had hoped he would have given us further enlightenment. What I suffer from is not a desire to make unfounded statements, but rather to glean what is likely to be the future of the Ministry. The Financial Secretary, in a very clear way, gave us a very full statement of the work the Ministry performed during the past year, but what concerns me most is to know what is really the devolution that is going to take place in the Ministry in the near future. We heard of the sale of Slough, not with' any surprise on my part, because after a conversation I had some time ago with Lord Inverforth, I was certain that Slough would turn out to be an official asset to this country. But there are other matters connected with the very wide scope of this Ministry that I must honestly admit I want some enlightenment upon. We are told there are certain works that are going to be handed back to other Deparments. I want to know if those other Departments have been considted as to whether they are the exact and particular institutions that they most desire, and whether there have been any committees or meetings between the War Office and Ministry to decide as to whether they would prefer to carry on at Waltham Abbey or at the other large works at Gretna Green. I, have been shown a very short resume of a Committee that was appointed by the Minister of Munitions to report upon Gretna Green, but I fancy that, although we have had only a few days in which to consider these estimates, we ought to have some fuller understanding as to exactly what is going to take place in the immediate future before we pass this Vote.
It is not very often that I sympathise with the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), but on this occasion I feel that we are asked to give our vote for a sum of money which we do not clearly, as individuals, understand. I am naturally interested in one part of the work which the Minister of Munitions has under his charge, and that is the factory in my own constituency, and I should like to know if the ordnance factories are going to be handed over to the War Office, who is to take the responsibility for what is going on, and what is being carried on at these factories at the present moment. quite appreciate the difficulties of explaining this Vote, and I cannot blame the hon. Member for Sheffield for not giving us wider information than he has done, 1902 but I cannot help feeling that if the hon. Member who was the Secretary for this Ministry before could have given us fuller information we should not have at this moment to seek for information which ought to be in the hands of the Committee before the Vote comes up for consideration. I hope the hon. Member for Sheffield will be able to give us full information before we are asked to give our vote this evening, because otherwise I am afraid I shall have to follow the right hon. Member for Peebles into the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. ROBERT YOUNG
I desire to get some information in relation to some of the factories that are still in existence. In all this criticism of the Ministry of Munitions we on this side, if we criticise it at all, criticise it from quite a different point of view. We do not agree that the Ministry has not accomplished a very great work in its time. In fact, I think the Ministry of Munitions has in many ways, not only in the production of those things necessary for war, but even from a business point of view, been a remark able success. I remember asking my hon. Friend across the floor of the House, in relation to the costings department of the Ministry, to tell me the expenses of that department and the amount of money that had been saved by the Ministry to the State in contract prices as a result of the work of that department and I was surprised at the figures that were given. The cost of the costings department was £75,000, and the saving to the State on contract prices was stated to be £300,000,000. That, in my estimation, was in itself a very great success on the part of the Ministry, because if contract prices had not been checked in that way, probably the debt of the country would have been considerably greater. I do not suppose that anyone expected that the Ministry of Munitions was going to be a permanent institution in this country, but some of us did expect that the good work that it had accomplished in establishing national factories in this country would be retained, that they would be utilised for necessary work connected with other Government Departments, and it is with some regret that we now learn that Slough has been disposed of. I have had the pleasure of visiting-Slough, and I felt greatly impressed by the possibilities of that place, and I was hoping that it would 1903 continue to be a Government factory. I do not agree that there was anything to be said of a critical character about them putting a corrugated iron fence round Slough.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Is the hon. Member aware that there was a high wire fence, which had been in existence for some months there, and that all that the corrugated iron fence has done is to be put outside the wire fence to protect people from the barbed wire?
§ Mr. YOUNG
Whether there was a fence before or not, the fence put up was put up for a purpose, the purpose of making Slough like what every other factory should be, immune from any individual getting in except by the correct entrances, and I would not object to them using new corrugated iron for that purpose, seeing that they had it in their possession. Why should we build Government institutions with second-hand or rusty materials? If we are going to have Government factories, they ought to be the best in every respect, whether they are being built for retention or for sale, and I have no doubt that having a good fence round Slough has contributed considerably towards the deal that has taken place. I rejoice to know that in this deal it has been done with a profit to the State, but I would prefer that it should have been retained and worked profitably for the State, and therefore we on these Benches do not criticise the Ministry because they have not been in a hurry to dispose of these factories. We believe they can be utilised in many ways. For instance, I want to know what is being done at Enfield Lock, at Waltham Abbey, and at Gretna Green. At Enfield Lock, I believe, before the War there were some 1,800 employees. They rose during the War to 10,000, and they have again dropped to about the pre-War figure. I understand that 600 or thereabouts of those are discharged men, and I also understand that the factory is likely to be handed over to the War Office, but if so, I should like to know if the hon. Gentleman can give us any idea of what is going to be the minimum number of people who are to be employed 1904 at Enfield Lock, because I understand there are something like 2,000 machines, maybe more, in that establishment, including, of course, forges and steam-hammers, and I believe they are all out of use now except about 200 of them. Are they being kept in good condition, or are they rusting, or are you going to sell them, and if so, why? Why is it that you cannot, seeing you appeal to us on these benches to do what we can on behalf of discharged men, use these factories in the interests of the discharged men, and not do what you are doing at Enfield Lock to-day, calling the discharged soldiers up for medical examination and giving many of them intimation that they will be discharged? That is a very serious thing indeed.
At Enfield Lock you have a factory which is well equipped. It is a factory which turns out, I believe, rifles, bayonets, and swords, and all along the line it has been of great use to the nation, and that being so, I think it is absolutely necessary that we should have some information as to what is going to become of Enfield Lock. What is also going to be the minimum number of men to be employed there, and have you taken into consideration the fact that round that district at the present moment there are thousands of men on the unemployment fund who, as I say, could very well be occupied by doing work for other Government Departments, such as the Post Office? There are motor parts which could be attended to, and small engine parts, and there are various other things that could very well be done to keep Enfield Lock going without in any way depreciating its value or lessening its possible use. Then I want to refer to Waltham Abbey and Gretna Green. If we cannot retain some of these factories, and they have to be disposed of, let us at all events put those which are to be retained to the best use possible. Gretna is a very large establishment. It was put up in a hurry. Some parts of it will have to be reconstructed in a few years. To transfer work from Waltham Abbey to Gretna Green seems to me to be anything but the correct method to pursue, because the Waltham Abbey factory is an excellent one for turning out cordite, black and brown powder, gun-cotton and, I believe, also some chemicals. At Gretna they have only turned out one kind of cordite, but there is a rumour—I do not know if it can be substantiated—that much of the 1905 work that has been done at Waltham Abbey is going to be transferred to Gretna. There may be very good reasons, but I want to know what they are, if there are any. I want to know why we are taking work away from Waltham, which is a factory well equipped for the work, and transferring it to Gretna Green, and especially that work for which the factory at Gretna is not really the correct kind?
If the hon. Member can assure me on these points, I shall certainly be very much obliged, because, as he can realise, we on this side of the House get communications from these various places, I suppose because we belong to our trade unions, and we learn from the men what they think. I, therefore, earnestly ask that we may have, before this discussion ends, some clear indication of what is going to happen with Enfield Lock, with Gretna Green, with Waltham Abbey, and, here I may say I do not think I heard my hon. Friend say that Waltham Abbey is going to be handed over to the War Office, and, consequently it seems all the more necessary that we should be told what is going to be done with it. In conclusion, I say again I think that the criticism against the gentlemen who helped the Ministry of Munitions during the War is very much to be regretted. I think we are very much indebted to them in many directions. We were all expected to give what little contribution we could to the country at that time, and I think it is a little bit unkind to make criticisms against men who have undoubtedly rendered great service, and did it with the best intentions in the world. I feel it would be unfortunate if it were thought that we on the Labour Benches joined in aspersions on those gentlemen.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down rather misunderstood the question of the fence at Slough. I travel to Slough certainly once, if not twice, every week, and I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that it was necessary to have a fence. But there was a most excellent fence, at least seven feet high with barbed wire, six inches, if as much, apart, and that fence was erected some months ago. Standards were made for creosoted wood to be close together. Being made of barbed wire, with stranded wire only a few inches wide, and having a sort of crook at the top of the fence, anyone 1906 trying to get over the fence hit his head against the barbed wire coming down. Lately they have put up, outside that barbed wire fence, about six or seven corrugated iron sheets, about six or seven feet in height, so that now the barbed wire, so far as I can see from the train, is hidden by the corrugated iron. It may be that a corrugated iron fence is better than a barbed wire fence. I should not have thought so, but I may be wrong. At any rate, you do not want, first of all, to put up a barbed wire fence, and afterwards put up corrugated iron, outside. It looks to me as if the corrugated iron is quite new,
I hope we shall get thin corrugated iron out of the way of the discussion. It was already the property of the Ministry, and they would have had to sell it if it had not been used in this way.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Then they had much better have sold it, and got the money for it, instead of putting it up unnecessarily. I, as an economist, do not wish to see people employed doing unnecessary work. May I deal with the question of Slough? I offer the hon. Gentleman, if he will allow me to do so, my sincere congratulations upon the sale of Slough, and I sincerely trust the Government have made a profit out of it. But I think it is a little premature to arrive at the conclusion that a profit has been made. I hope my hon Friend did not mind my interruption a short time ago, but the sale seems to me to have been of this character. I am a purchaser desirous of buying Slough—the site, the buildings and the motor vehicles upon it—and I go to my hon. Friend and say, "Will you sell it to me?" He says, "What do you want to buy?" And I say, "I want to buy the whole thing, lock, stock and barrel, including the corrugated iron." Says my hon. Friend, "What will you give for it?" I say, "I will give £7,000,000 for it." My hon. Friend says, "Yes, but does it matter to you how that £7,000,000 is divided? I shall make it a condition of the sale that you give me £3,600,000 for the site and buildings, and £3,500,000 for the motor vehicles which are there." I say, "I really do not care. I have eventually to give you £7,000,000, and it is a matter of perfect indifference to me how you arrive at it. Therefore I agree." I do not say that has been done, but before 1907 we arrive at any certainty as to whether a profit has been made upon the buildings and the site, we must know what is the real value of these motor vehicles which are included in the sale. My hon. Friend tells the Committee—I think I am right in saying—that the motor vehicles were sold for £3,600,000, and that there was to be a further sum—I have not a word to say against this—given to the Government if the motor vehicles realised more than a certain sum. But this sum which was to be given to the Government was not to begin to accrue until the motor vehicles had realised £5,000,000, after which a certain proportion of that £5,000,000—I think my hon. Friend said 40 per cent., but it does not matter what it was—was to be given to the Government. The statements in the papers—I do not know whether they were authorised—and I might almost venture to think the statement of my hon. Friend, led the House to suppose that there would be a further sum accrue from the sale of the motor vehicles. I hope there will be, but, in order that that further sum may accrue, it is necessary that the motor vehicles realise more than £5,000,000. They are to be sold at £3,600,000, and to begin with there is a profit—
More motor vehicles, probably, will be thrown up in the future, and they will swell the amount coming to the purchaser. When he begins to get his profit we come in, and we take a share of the realisation, whether he has made a profit over the £5,000,000 or not.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not wish to contradict my hon. Friend. He knows more about it than I do. But that is how the matter appears to me, and I really do not quite understand it. However that may be, is it not a fact that we were told that the spare parts of these motor vehicles which are included in the sale were something like fifteen millions? I will not be absolutely certain, but my recollection is that there was some statement of that sort made. My hon. Friend told us that there were 15,000 motor vehicles in the place, and, so far as I 1908 understand, they are to be sold for £3,600,000. A simple calculation will show the Committee that that is £240 a piece for the motor vehicles, which is not a very large sum.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Was it worth while to bring hopeless cripples from Rich-borough to put behind this beautiful fence at Slough? However, I do not want to raise any criticism upon this, because I hope I am mistaken. I daresay I shall know something more about it when I do my duty on the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and I hope I shall find that there is a large profit upon this particular transaction. I want to ask one or two other questions. This is a very small thing, but I think I had better raise it now, because it does really show the difficulties which people, who are desirous of assisting the State in realising these various properties, have to put up with. I happen to be chairman of the Great Northern Railway, and we erected, at the request of the Government, a platform of sleepers during the War. As the Committee know, the railway companies were very short of sleepers, and when the Armistice took place my general manager came to me and said: "We have got this platform "—it was composed of very good sleepers—" do you not think we might get the Disposal Board to allow us to buy these sleepers and put them in the road? The platform is not being used, and they would be far better in the road than standing doing nothing in the platform." I said," Certainly." We never could get an answer from the Disposal Board until a fortnight ago. We have got the letter; I told my general manager to keep it. They said: "We have had all your letters, and will set up a committee to consider it." I can produce that letter. I am sorry to say this in the presence of the hon. Gentleman who is so very keen to eulogise the business acumen of the Department, but is it conceivable that, in a small matter like this, concerning a respectable company like the Great Northern Railway Company, it should be necessary to set up a committee to consider whether or not these things should be taken out of the platform and put into the road?
I see there are five new private secretaries appointed, with salaries ranging 1909 from £500 to £950. Why have five new-secretaries in a dying Department? If the work is decreasing, surely these are not wanted? One ranks, I note, as an assistant secretary, and of the others apparently there are two Civil servants on loan. I do not know why these two Civil servants require to be borrowed. In any case I should like to know what is the reason for appointing five more private secretaries. I rather agree with the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir D. Maclean). This Department is going to be done away with. These Estimates were prepared before it was settled that the Department was to be done away with, and we should really know why it is considered necessary to go through all these Estimates, and whether it would not have been much simpler to have had a short Estimate showing what the cost of the Department will be under the altered circumstances. I presume it will be very much less. There is an item of £950,000 for the inspection of armament, small arms, mechanical transport and mechanical warfare, steel building materials, and so on, and the wages alone come to £550,000 (page 9). This seems an enormous expenditure for people in a Department which is going shortly to be demobilised. There is a note here to the effect that the figure is based on a personnel of 4,211 persons, and that the establishment is under review at the present moment. I am glad to know it is, in view of all the circumstances.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Probably there will be a reply on the discussion when we shall know more precisely than we have yet been told what is the actual position of the Ministry of Munitions and the Disposal Board. A great deal has been said about this being a dying Department, but nobody has mentioned the exact date of its funeral. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman who introduced these Estimates if it is the case that the Disposal Board and the Ministry of Munitions will definitely come to an end on 31st July, or 1st August, or 31st August, or what is the actual date, because, after all, if he will tell us straight away, it means a great difference in the amount of criticism. Can my right hon. Friend say?
No, I cannot. The work of liquidation and disposal means going 1910 on as long as there is anything to dispose of. The other functions of the Ministry, manufacture and purchase, will be got rid of to the appropriate departments at the earliest possible moment. How the rest of the work is to be carried on is a matter the Government are now considering and about which I am not authorised to make any statement.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My hon. Friend has in three sentences given the exact and complete case for the Government taking back this Estimate now and coming again afterwards to the House. It is perfectly obvious that we are going on until there is practically nothing to liquidate, but surely my hon. Friend does not mean by that that he would never keep in being such machinery of organisation to liquidate a few hundred thousand pounds worth of goods. If, on the other hand, as he says, the question of purchase and so on will be stopped at the earliest possible moment which presumably might be to-morrow, if it can be achieved, or next month; if in addition, as he says, the Government of which he is at the present moment a Member is considering what shall be done with the Ministry of Munitions, whether its work shall be altogether devolved on other Departments, say on the War Office and the Admiralty, surely, in these circumstances it is folly to ask the House of Commons now to discuss in detail and to invite criticism which can have no real relevance to the position. After all, it is useless for my hon. Friend and his hon. colleague beside him (Mr. Kellaway) to reply. Surely what I have stated is the case as we find it now.
Personally I am going to refrain altogether on that account from discussing in detail many of the items that are set out in these pages before me. I am perfectly certain that that is the view which is taken by this Committee. The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Chadwick) read us a lecture on criticism and said that we should not attack the Ministry of which he himself was at one time a member. I do not think we want to make that kind of criticism. What he said was, it was all nonsense, for instance, for Members to talk about rising prices, as that kind of language was leading to revolution in the country.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Well, unrest, or revolution would follow. It was the duty of this House during the War, while knowing that the Ministry of Munitions had made, or was bound to make mistakes and to waste money, not perhaps to criticise too harshly. You cannot take that attitude now that the War is over; now that taxation is high and now that everybody has got to contribute to that taxation. It is now the duty of the House of Commons to examine the Estimates in such a way as to achieve a reduction in these charges on the taxpayer. That is a much more salutary exercise to engage in than to make a lot of stir, either in this House, or outside of it, or in the Press. I want to confine myself entirely to one point, for in the position in which the Committee finds itself we are really not discussing the Estimates. The Slough depot aspect of the case has not been tackled this afternoon, if I may say so, from quite the right angle. The Government have adopted what I may describe as a Box and Cox attitude towards the Slough depot. The House will remember that the Government wished to acquire Slough. They acquired it on certain grounds. They proved their case to this House by means of certain arguments, every one of which denoted the policy by which the Government sought, through Slough, to set up an effective organisation which would operate in such a way that the nation would make money from it year by year. I have in front of me a quotation from a speech by the Minister of War who was defending on this occasion the Government attitude in regard to Slough. He said:—The central purpose and policy which has been pursued by the Government are the same, and the great bulk of the needs to meet which that policy is designed are the same, namely, that there should be in peace, as in war, for the future, whether under the War Office or under the Ministry of Munitions and supply a large central Government depot for the storage, repair, and maintenance of Government mechanical vehicles."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1919, Col. 678, Vol. 114.]The Government ought in this Estimate to defend the policy by which a few months ago, March, 1919, they came to this House and insisted, in spite of the Committee which then reported to both Houses of Parliament, that we should have Slough. Either the case was sound 1912 then or it was not sound. If it be true that the Government require this depôt for these purposes, if it be true that as a result of acquiring that depôt and carrying on there this business they were were making a profit for the State, then it is up to the Government to-day to prove to us that the bargain which they are proposing to make, which is not yet completed, is going, at any rate, to result in as good if not a better profit to the State.
I asked the Leader of the House the other day whether we should be put in possession of the actual contract for this Slough depot before we discussed these Estimates. The House was told that as a matter of fact this would not be available, but that we should receive the heads of the agreement. I very respectfully suggest that we have not up till to-day received the heads of the agreement. I wonder if the House realises what is being done. Is it possible, for example, that we should rise to-morrow morning and read in our newspapers that the War Office had sold the War Office in Whitehall for the purposes of an hotel, or that the Admiralty had sold the buildings in the Horse Guards for a lodging house? This House of Commons and the rest of the world wakes up one morning and reads for the first time, that Slough, which belongs to the nation, upon which the nation has spent any amount of money, the proposal to spend which money was attacked at the time as unnecessary, has been sold. At that time we were browbeaten by the Government for suggesting it was not a good undertaking. We were told that everything in the Slough gardens was perfectly lovely. What right, and on what principle, has the Ministry of Munitions the power to sell Slough, either through Lord Inver forth or any other member of the Disposal Board, without the consent of this Committee? If a Government Department can sell undertakings of that size at their own sweet will without the consent of this Committee, which at the moment is looking after the interests of the taxpayer, then a Government Department can do anything. The Government made Slough a question of policy. Lord Inver-forth, in giving evidence, made it quite plain that there were substantial reasons in his mind why Slough should be retained. Here is an answer given by Lord lnverforth in cross-examination by Earl 1913 Russell, in which, talking about the future of Slough, his Lordship said that he understood that the Minister of Ways and Means (now the Minister of Transport) had in contemplation the buying up of the railheads for motor transport. The Government had a policy which they scrapped in a night, and the only intimation which the Government gets about it is an announcement in the "Observer" newspaper in an interview with Lord Inverforth on a Sunday morning. That is not the way to do national business, and it is not fair to this House. Morn-over, it is not in consonance with the promise given by the Leader of the House that we should be discussing Slough this afternoon without the heads of the agreement.
I do not think my right hon. Friend said that. I did not mean to read the heads of his agreement, but I will if hon. Members wish it. It will take a long time, and hon. Members will not understand half of them.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Now we are told that we should not be able to understand half of the heads of the agreement if they were road out to is. That does not seem much appreciation of the intelligence of most of us who have to criticise the things which the Government attempt to do. I am perfectly certain that at any rate we could not make a worse attempt at trying to untierstand them than the Disposal Board in disposing of many of the things of which they have had control during the last few months. My hon. Friend is in charge of this Vote, which again is not fair to the House of Commons. The Minister of Munitions has been sitting on the Treasury Bench this afternoon, and he is a man who knows this subject from top to bottom, and he could have been at the disposal of the House but for the fact that he had been sent to the Department of Overseas Trade. You have here the hon. Member who represents the Overseas Trade Department, and who has worked out all the details, and yet another Member of the Government is placed in charge, and the smartest thing he can say is that if he reads out the heads of the agreement on the Slough bargain that we shall not be able to understand half of them.
I do not want to know the heads of the agreement. This House asks for the 1914 terms of the contract. We were promised the heads of the agreement, and might I respectfully suggest that there was a perfectly simple way of acquainting the Members of the Committee as to the terms of the agreement by giving us the document that we could not understand by reading it out. The hon. Member could have circulated the agreement as a White Paper, and then we should have been able to appreciate the arguments used by the Government. All the hon. Member has said is that there are 15,000 motor vehicles, of which he thinks 10,000 can be made sound, and those along with any other vehicles that are to be thrown out by the Army, and I presume the Air Force, are to be sent to the purchaser, whoever he may be.
No. We get our price, £3,650,000, and if the purchaser realises more than £5,000,000, then we take a share.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Then £5,000,000 must be reached before a profit can be made. Extra vehicles may be thrown out and the percentage increases as the amount of money realised increases, and after £5,000,000 you are to have 50 per cent. of the extra. That cannot possibly be all he knows about the heads of this agreement. We want to know what has happened at Slough since the Government took it over. Have the figures set out in this Report been realised? What money has been drawn from sales at Slough, and where is it? Where can we see it? The Committee reported that they were unable to fix the probable cost of the works, but they feared that the estimate of £1,750,000 plus 15 per cent. would be exceeded. Has Slough cost more than £1,750,000? What has it cost for administration? On the other side, we want to know what has been received from the sale of these resuscitated and revived motor-cars, the chief product of the factory, and which, if I remember 1915 rightly, I think we were told that the number of vehicles there would be no fewer than 36,000 lorries and 2,600 motorcycles. My hon. Friend mentioned 15,000 vehicles, which is obviously a much less figure. We would like to know what has happened in the interval.
Those are vehicles thrown out mostly by the War Office for disposal, which they do not want to keep. The other was an estimate of the gross amount in the Army and other Departments at the time.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I quite agree. Before you can say that the profit proposed to be made at Slough is real we want to be put into possession of the facts. That is the kind of argument one could develop if it were really appropriate to do it at this moment. If I remember rightly, the hon. Member opposite took a great interest in these financial discussions, and frequently intervened, and I want to appeal to him as to whether he cannot see his way now to move to report progress. After all, there are 20 Supply Days before we dispose of our financial business. My hon. Friend has got £12,000,000 already at his disposal out of the Vote on Account, and therefore he does not require this money to-day, next week, or next month. He admits that the Government are dealing with the question of what the Munitions Department should do. He has also agreed that other, services may be transferred which may mean a re-arrangement of certain Estimates, and in view of these facts there is no urgency. We want to discuss these matters with the actual figures and circumstances before us, and my hon. Friend will lose nothing, and will not lose any prestige by taking this course, and he will be meeting the wishes of the House and the Members of the Committee.
In this Debate the actions of the Disposal Board have been submitted to some criticism, and it has not been answered. Under 1916 these circumstances I think it would be very unfair to allow it to go out that with regard to disposal of Government property there is no answer to those criticisms.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My hon. Friend will have an opportunity of replying to those criticisms on a later occasion, or he may be able to do it to-night. When I say that we should report progress, I do not mean at once, but we might report progress soon. Certainly some reply is required to the criticisms which have been made. That reply can be made, and then we can report progress, but I want us to get down to the position of debating these things on a solid foundation with the facts in front of us. I make that appeal to my hon. Friends.
I should be very sorry to deprive any hon. Member of an opportunity of replying to the criticisms which have been made, but if I accept the suggestion of my hon. Friend at this moment it would imply the presentation of new Estimates. Without further careful consideration, I am not sure whether that can be done. Exactly what the extent of the transfer would be, and what extra staff will go to the other Departments, I cannot say. But if the discussion can go along for a little while longer I will make inquiry of my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury, who, of course, is responsible to this House for presenting the Estimates, and see if it will be possible to do as has been suggested. But I must not be understood to make any promise. Of course, the auditors' report as to the position of Slough, and the capital and working profits, will be laid if my hon. Friend insists. I cannot help thinking that hon. Members would prefer to wait, however, until the whole matter has been examined into.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I think what my hon. Friend has just said is very reasonable. It would not be fair to expect him to give a definite promise here and now to present new Estimates on any specific date or within a period which may be named. It is quite possible that the decision which the Government has come to will need a large measure of careful accommodation between the numerous Departments concerned. But after a general discussion has taken place it might be as well to report progress on the 1917 understanding that the hon. Gentleman is going to consider carefully, with his colleagues, and with the Ministry, whether it may not be practicable at no distant date to present to the Committee new Estimates, so that hon. Members may consider them with the actual position before them. I think my hon. Friend's proposal is a very reasonable one, which the Committee ought to accept.
After my interruption of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) I rise with a certain amount of diffidence, as I am afraid the Committee may be under the impression I feared I might be deprived of an opportunity of making a speech. I can assure the Committee I am not at all anxious to do that. But I have had to deal with the work of this Department, and there are certain matters to which I wish to refer. There has been a great deal of criticism of the Ministry of Munitions and of the Disposal Board, and much of it has been very unfair; indeed, much of it has been ignorant criticism. No sensible man objects to criticism; in fact, he welcomes it. But the art of criticism is the art of coming to a sound judgment, and if one contemplates what has been said of the Ministry of Munitions and of the Disposal Board, one is forced to the conclusion that criticism is rapidly becoming a lost art. I hope the House will forgive me if I indulge in a short personal reminiscence of which I am always reminded when I hear these charges made against this Department. Some years ago I was a member of a deputation which visited a great engineering undertaking belonging to one of our principal municipalities. It was a water undertaking, by means of which a small stream running through a deep valley had been converted into a vast lake supplying a million of people with excellent water at a distance of over 100 miles. I was vividly impressed by the greatness and vastness of the undertaking. But from contemplation of the immensity of the task accomplished I was brought back to earth by another member of the deputation who had espied an old donkey engine rusting in a field near by, and who cried, "That is the way in which the ratepayers' money is wasted." That is the spirit in which a great many people approach the work of the Ministry of Munitions. They lose sight of the 1918 immensity of its task and forget that the Ministry is one of the wonders of the War. When the full history of the War comes to be written, I believe the Ministry will rank as one of the greatest achievements of the time, and I venture to think that not the least successful part of its work has been the manner in which surplus stores have been disposed of.
We have heard a great deal about Slough. We have heard from the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir R. Cooper) of the sale of hundreds of thousands of the essentials of industry. We have heard of the injustices suffered by some of the officials. There may have boon a certain amount of injustice, but remember we have had to deal with a temporary organisation, and while I do not admit that the allegations are correct, I do admit there is a possibility of injustice having happened when dealing with people of that class. But I venture to suggest that far too much has been made of Slough. It is no doubt a very important place. After all, however, it is a mere incident in the work of the Department. We have sold it for £7,000,000. For the week ending Feb. 21st we sold stores to the value of £7,000,000, and we have recently been selling at the rate of from £3,000,000 to £5,000,000 a week, further we have had to deal with an immense national problem. The manner in which we disposed of ferrous and non-ferrous material has not been made the subject of protest here, but the moment we touch upon Slough it catches the eye of a great many people. It is a striking instance, according to them, of Government mismanagement and neglect. I was not at the Ministry myself when Slough was purchased, and I do not propose, therefore, to deal with that portion of the incident.
If I deal with Slough generally, I hope the House will realise that I only do so because this is the kind of thing which does much harm and hinders our work. Instances of this kind are distorted in the public mind. The public do not want to believe we have managed successfully, and a certain section of the Press have used this as a whip with which to beat the Government. We were blamed for buying Slough; we are now blamed for selling it. We were blamed for not protecting our property, and when we sought to protect it, we were blamed for 1919 doing so. We were blamed for establishing a Government workshop. We are blamed now we are handing it over to private hands. Soma of the points put forward are very small, but still they stick in the public mind, and I want to reply to them. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) criticised us for placing a corrugated iron fence around the property at Slough. We only did it because we found it necessary. I have had experience in dealnig with barbed wire during the past four or five years, and I say that no barbed wire is adequate protection in a case like this, and that is why we put a corrugated iron fence around the property. The hon. Baronet says that we ought to have sold the corrugated iron. Well, we have sold it. It is included in the sale of Slough, and I maintain that we have done very good business for the country in selling Slough. We have realised a substantial profit, and we have also entered into arrangements with the purchasers which will enable us to get a percentage of profits after the realisation has produced certain figures. I am sure that the realisation will be very satisfactory.
I have had a letter from one of my constituents in which he complains of the shamefully inefficient manner in which the surplus Government stores have been handled. But I want to try and get into the mind particularly of the business community which I represent that in this matter we have had an immense and difficult task, and I suggest that on the whole we have performed it with extraordinary efficiency. The House has heard this afternoon about the Business Committee which was appointed to deal with this matter. May I explain how that Committee went to work? It proceeded first to organise. It arranged for the disposal of the property by different sections. It established a special section for finance, another section for dealing with export trade, another for advertising, and still another for dealing with the requirements of Colonial Governments and local Government authorities in this country. Each of these sections was represented by a group Member. Each section was divided into sub-sections at the head of which was a controller, an expert, and under the controller were sectional directors who managed the affairs of the De- 1920 partments. Most of these sectional directors were civil servants. Some were experts. Many of them gave their services for nothing. There was nothing wrong with our organisation, and if it has ever failed it is because organisation will fail from time to time when it depends on the human element.
Having decided upon its organisation, the Board set to work to fix upon its policy. That policy was to sell quickly, to sell at home, and to sell at the market rate, and that policy has been consistently carried out. I am going to ask this Committee to exercise a little imagination in considering the task which this Board had to deal with. Although the task of the Ministry of Munitions was a great task it was comparatively simple until it came to the disposal of its surplus. The essentials of war had to be bought, and those essentials were passed immediately to various Government Departments—the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and so on. There was an outlet for them. We, on the contrary, had to deal with stores that were manufactured for the purposes of war, and for the purposes of war only, and we had to find an outlet for commodities which, in the great majority of cases, were not marketable. It is an open secret that, if the War had lasted, as it was expected to last, for another year, we were going to have an immense spectacular offensive in France, the greatest the world had ever seen. It would have been an offensive compared with which the fighting as Passchendale and on the Somme in the early part of 1918 were mere skirmishes. The preparations for that offensive naturally left the Ministry of Munitions with enormous stores in every theatre of war—in France, Belgium, Egypt, Salonika, and many other places. There were stores on order in America, Canada, and other countries, as well as at home. There were stores in isolated districts. There were millions of yards of cloth at Bradford, and of cotton goods at Manchester; there were stores in works, on quays, in factories, and even under railway arches. Those were the stores with which the Disposal Board had to deal. I maintain that, in the liquidation of those stocks, which has been constant, steady, and is approaching completion, the Board has carried out its duty with extraordinary efficiency.
It has been said that we should compare ourselves with business under- 1921 takings, but I suggest that there is no business undertaking with which you can compare the Disposal Board. Our task has been completely different. In our case the problem of ordinary industrial enterprise has been reversed. Most of the large industrial undertakings which I know of, and I know of a good many, deal with commodities for which they have established a market. They have established that market with an organisation of long standing, which has taken years to build up, and the directors of nearly all those undertakings would be the first to admit that, after years of work, their organisations are by no means complete. We are an organisation of mushroom growth, and we have to deal with an exceptional class of commodities. We have to deal with those commodities with an improvised staff, and we have dealt with them remarkably cheaply. The total headquarters staff of the Disposal Board is only 1,500, and its salaries amount to barely £400,000 a year, or less than 6d. per cent. of its turnover. Is there any undertaking which can show a record like that? Can any of our allies show it? America practically gave away her surplus stocks. France, Belgium, and even Germany, have failed to grapple with the problem in the same manner as we have. It has been suggested, and rightly suggested, that this was a process of liquidation, and I think the expenses of that liquidation have been estimated by the Financial Secretary at about 5 per cent., which he said was in fair ratio with the expense of winding-up undertakings in ordinary commercial life. That is not my experience. It has been my misfortune to be interested in one or two liquidations, and, if my experience is any criterion, there is very little left for the creditors after the process of liquidation has been completed.
The Disposal Board has established a vast improvised organisation, and has dealt with an enormous mass of correspondence. One Department alone has dealt, on an average, with 700 letters a day for the past year, and we have many Departments. It has held 2,400 auction sales, and has completed thousands of transactions by private treaty. It has realised nearly £200,000,000 worth of Government property, and is now selling at the rate of from £3,000,000 to £5,000,000 worth a week, I venture to suggest that that is not a bad record for what has been termed 1922 an inefficient and useless Government Department. The hon. Member for Walsall (Sir R. Cooper) referred to the thousands of tons of stocks which we held. Of all the criticism which has been levelled against this Disposal Board, there is nothing which appeals more to the perverted imagination of a certain section of our critics than the mental spectacle of an autocratic, bureaucratic Disposal Board, sitting like a dog in the manger on hundreds of thousands of tons—millions of pounds worth—of the essential commodities and prime necessities of life. When we point to our sales, we are told that that is nothing, that we do not know what stocks we have, that we have never had a stocktaking, and that there are still millions of pounds worth of stuff to be disposed of. We do know what our stocks are, but we do not always think it advisable to tell. It does not usually help people in business when they disclose what their stocks are, but our stocks are not nearly so large as has been imagined. I think I should be quite safe in telling the Committee that, instead of the figure of £700,000,000, which was placed upon them by one of our leading morning journals, they do not exceed one-seventh of that figure. We never quite know what we are going to have thrown up to us by the various Government Departments. Each Department, quite naturally, throws up stores as it considers it advisable to do so. Many of our stores, too, have to be reduced to produce before we can deal with them. We are charged with holding up millions of tons of the prime necessities of life, and I would like to read some of the items which we have sold during the past few months. They include 17,646 lorries; 8,843 cars; nearly 44,000,000 yards of linen; 17,000,000 yards of linen and cotton cloth; and 9,500,000 yards of serge. Those are transactions which are vast, even to people who have been engaged in large business transactions for a great many years.
The most vital and difficult problem we have had to deal with was, in my judgment, the disposal of the stocks of ferrous and non-ferrous materials, and I think that is what has been referred to by the hon. Member for Walsall. The Committee will agree with me that, if coal is the backbone of our industrial system, ferrous and non-ferrous materials are its life-blood. At the close of the War the Government held practically all 1923 the free stocks of ferrous and non-ferrous materials. It held the market in the hollow of its hand, and it held, not only the market, but practically the whole of our industrial system. There was a shortage of shipping, and manufacturers were anxious to resume operations; the whole country wished to get back to its pre-War industrial basis at the earliest possible moment, and we held the sinews wherewith it was to commence. A very great responsibility therefore rested upon the Department. We were urged to slaughter our stocks. It was known that some of the stocks which we held were sufficient to last the country for one, two, or three years under ordinary circumstances, and we were urged to sell them for what we could get. After anxious deliberation, the Board decided to do nothing of the sort. That policy, I venture to suggest, was the right policy, and has been enormously beneficial in the resumption of our ordinary work. If we had slaughtered those stocks, there would inevitably have been a deflation of prices, which is always an extremely dangerous thing. We should have closed down production and placed the markets at the mercy of speculators, with the inevitable result of a world shortage and a most pernicious effect upon the industry of this country. We were supposed to be hoarding up great stocks of food at a time when food was scarce and expensive. I am going to depart from the ordinary policy of the Board and tell the Committee the value of the food we actually held. We held food to the value of £2,250,000. The food bill of the country is £800,000,000 a year, so that our stocks were worth something less than one day's supply. It was stuff which was manufactured for the purposes of the War. It is war food, and people will not eat it, and we have found considerable difficulty in selling it. That disposes of the suggestion that any food supplies were held up that could be realised in order to reduce the cost of living.
One further charge made against us is that we might have done something to restore the balance of trade with foreign countries. Exchange is against us in about ten countries of the world, and four of these matter, in my opinion. The most important, of course, is the United States of America. The idea is 1924 that we should have exported to America and restored the value of the sovereign in New York. America held, at the end of the War, £300,000,000 worth of surplus stores in France, and sold them at a very much reduced price. It is hardly conceivable that America would have sold her own stores in France and purchased the same class of stores from us. As a matter of fact we had, ourselves, very-considerable stocks of new material in New York, and we decided that it would be to the detriment of British manufacturers, and to the advantage of American manufacturers, to sell in New York. We therefore sold them to an Englishman, on the understanding that he was to bring them over to this country. We have established an export office in the City, which is in touch with export merchants all over the world, and, wherever it is possible to export, we do so. We have evidence that some of the sales of textiles that we have made were ultimately for export, but it would be impossible for us to deal direct with the foreign export trade, because a lot of this material has to be redyed before it is fit for use.
I now want to say something with regard to those highly-paid, autocratic, bureaucratic "limpets." What are the facts? We have one gentleman on the Board who gets, I think, £2,500 a year. We have one controller who gets £2,000, and we have three who get £1,500. All the rest get less than £1,500, and the average rate paid by the Board to all its clerical staff is less than £300 a year. Nearly all of these gentlemen are experts. Expert knowledge has a market value to-day which it has never had before, and they are doing this work at considerable personal sacrifice, because most of them served in the Ministry during the War, and have now extended their service in order to wind up the job. It is very hard that they should be subjected to the severe and unjust criticism which is so common. They do not have a 44-hour week; they work all day and every day, and most of them work on Sundays, and I feel that it is only right that someone who knows and appreciates what they have done should say something on their behalf. I have spoken of the work of the Disposal Board because I am a member of it. It may seem that I have to some extent been blowing my own trumpet, but as a matter of fact I did not join it until a great part of its 1925 work had been accomplished, and I went there purely as an advisory member and to hold a watching brief for the House of Commons. But sitting there week after week I have been immensely struck with the great services which the gentlemen who compose that Board have rendered. An hon. Member has said that no business man of any eminence has served the Government during the War. I disagree with that statement. I have not very complete knowledge of the number of business men who have given their services to the Government during the War, but I can mention one or two. The head of the Ministry himself, Lord Inverforth, is one of the greatest business men in the United Kingdom. One has only to spend a few moments in his company to realise what great service he has done in taking on this work, because it is very uncongenial to him and very thankless. There is Sir Arthur Goldfinch, the head of the raw material section, whose name is of worldwide repute and who has rendered the greatest possible service. There is Sir William Ellis, a well-known Engineer and a member of the Board, and there are any number of these men. It is impossible to speak too highly of what they have done, and it is extremely wrong to depreciate their work in any way. But that is not all. It is the fashion to criticise the Civil Service and depreciate Civil servants. We owe a great deal to these business men who have given us their time. We owe a great deal to the expert controllers who are bringing their unique knowledge to our service, but the spade work has been done by the Civil Service, and it is going to be a very bad thing for the Civil Service if this practice of holding them up to ridicule and opprobrium is to continue. In my short experience of Government work I have been immensely struck with the absolute integrity, efficiency, and extraordinary devotion to duty of the Civil Servants, and I wish to take this first opportunity of publicly placing on record my appreciation of them.
In a few moments there will be an interruption of business, and I take this opportunity of replying to the invitation which the right hon. Gentleman opposite put to me. I have been able to consult my colleagues, and to get the necessary information on the point, and we hope it will be possible between now 1926 and June to prepare and put before the House a revised Estimate. Of course, I do not hold that out as a promise or a certainty, but we trust it may be possible and at any rate we shall endeavour to do it if it is possible. If it should not be possible, if the Vote will not be passed, the Opposition will have the usual Parliamentary opportunity of asking for it again, so that they will lose nothing by that. As to the discussion which has taken place, I have taken very careful note of all the criticisms and will see that they are attended to. In the meantime in view of the undoubted difficulties of the situation of discussing Estimates which are certain not to be carried out in the form in which they are presented, I am willing and hereby ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Gentleman has not made any statement as to the future of Woolwich Arsenal, and having regard to the importance of the subject some reply should be made.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is in the power of any hon. Member to object to the withdrawal. At present the question is the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean). I will hear what he has to say.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
In view of what the hon. Gentleman has said—and I should like to express our appreciation of his courtesy and frankness in the matter—I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Sir K. WOOD rose—
§ Sir K. WOOD
I only desire to object for the purpose of asking the hon. Gentleman to make a reply on the subject.
I can only say in regard to Woolwich that is a matter for the War Office and all questions as to the future policy in connection with the Arsenal must be put to the War Office.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Can the hon. Gentleman state the date, and whether there have been any consultations with the War Office on the matter?
Undoubtedly there have been a good many consultations. I cannot state the date, but it is the earnest desire of the Minister of Munitions that it shall be as early as possible.
§ Brigadier-General COLVIN
I should like some information as to the future of Waltham Abbey. It is in my constituency, as is also the Small Arms Factory, and naturally I am very anxious to know what the future of the employés is to be. I have seen the report on the question of retaining Gretna and Waltham Abbey, and I have seen the minority report, which does not agree with the finding of the Committee, and as it is signed by the Chairman it will naturally carry very great weight. I should like to ask what the hon. Gentleman really contemplates doing with Gretna Green. Is it conceivable that we want a factory of that size, which cost about £9,000,000 or £10,000,000, and which can produce about a thousand tons of cordite a week? Is it conceivable that we shall indulge in a war which will necessitate such a large amount of cordite? I understand the Poole factory will supply the Navy with all the cordite it requires, and Waltham Abbey is quite large enough to supply all the cordite, which is ever likely to be required. Years hence, no doubt, cordite will be superseded by some other explosive, and it will be the greatest extravagance and waste of money to keep up a huge factory like Gretna, which costs a tremendous lot in maintenance, when all the necessary cordite could be supplied at present from the old factories. I want to know particularly what is to happen to the employés in the factory at Waltham Abbey. There must be a humane view taken of their future. It is a very serious thing that a factory established in the 16th century, and which became a Government factory about the 18th century, should be closed. The town of Waltham Abbey has grown up and is dependent upon the factory. If the factory is removed many families will be thrown out of employment. Is it intended to transfer some of these men, if Gretna is decided upon, with their families, their baggage, and their furniture to Gretna? If so, what is going to happen to the rest? Are they going to be discharged and thrown out of work, or are they to receive gratuities? It is a very serious question. In addition, if it is decided to close Waltham Abbey and 1928 to keep Gretna, will the men who are employed at Waltham Abbey, or some of them, be sent to Gretna to inspect the country and the factory and to see under what new conditions they will have to live before they are called upon to decide?
With regard to the Small Arms Factory at Enfield, I should like to remind the hon. Member that it is the only rifle factory now in England, and according to the Estimates the staff will have to be reduced very considerably. The staff now consists of its pre-War numbers, all of whom are experts in rifle making. If they are reduced they will be dispersed all over the country and the consequence might be that if a war broke out and many rifles were required, these experts, having been dispersed, would not be so readily available. I hope we shall have an answer to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield as to whether the War Office has been consulted on the decision to close Waltham Abbey and to open Gretna, and whether they are in agreement with the report issued by the expert Committee of which the hon. Member for Limehouse (Sir W. Pearce) is Chairman.
§ Major PRESCOTT
I should like to endorse all that has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend in regard to the future of the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield. Of the two Labour Exchanges adjoining the factory, the one at Ponders End has 1500 discharged men on the books, while in the constituency which I have the honour to represent there are over 3,000 discharged men. At Enfield at the present time they are simply repairing a few rifles and three or four railway trucks. I understand that at Woolwich Arsenal a large number of men are engaged in making medals. The Secretary of State for War said that something like 14,000,000 medals are required in connection with the 1914 Star and the general European medal, and so on. At the present rate at which these medals are being made I understand it will take six or seven years to complete the 14,000,000. At Enfield there are over 3,000 rusty machines, and I am told on very good authority that at a very small cost a considerable number of these machines could be very easily adapted in order to turn out these medals at a much greater rate. I make that suggestion in the hope that it may be accepted.
What I have said as to Woolwich applies to Enfield. The present and future management is one for the War Office. I very much regret that the report referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend (Brigadier-General Colvin) has not been circulated. By some unfortunate misunderstanding it was not submitted in time to have it circulated, but it shall be circulated as soon as possible, and although it will not satisfy all that my hon. Friend wants he will see that we are doing our best to safeguard the personal interests of the workmen at Waltham Abbey. In view of the promise I made to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir D. Maclean) I now beg leave to withdraw the Vote.
§ It being a Quarter-past Eight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.