§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £485,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1921, for Expenditure in respect of sundry Public Buildings in Great Britain, not provided for on other Votes."
§ The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (Sir A. Mond)
In presenting these Estimates, it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I explain shortly some of the main items, and the reason why they are introduced now. The largest amount falls under Sub-head A "New works, alterations, additions, and purchases." If hon. Members will look through the details which make up the total of £311,000 under this sub-head, they will see that with one or two exceptions the amounts are small. The first item, £3,425, is in connection with the reinstatement of the Ministry of Agriculture in buildings which were vacated by the Ministry of Munitions. It is an item for cleaning and redecorating which were absolutely necessary. It was impossible to know when this, change would take place. The next item, £14,675, the purchase of 24, Old Queen Street, S.W., relates to premises which were held on a temporary tenancy. The premises were offered for sale and are now occupied by the clerks of the Board of Education. This transaction was carried out over a year ago, and it is owing to delay in legal formalities that the purchase price has not been paid until now. The next item, £4,550, is again an adaptation of premises. They were premises held by the Road Board, and when that Board was absorbed by the Ministry of Transport the lease was automatically taken over by my Department, and £4,000 was paid to the Road Board for their interest in the lease. The rent under the lease was £150 per annum.
§ Sir A. MOND
I cannot say off-hand. It is being occupied by one of the Government Departments, and an economy has been effected by getting them into more central premises. It may be occupied by one of the remnants of the Disposal Board. The next item, £5,100, is for the alteration and improving of the old Army Post Office buildings in Regent's Park, which are now occupied by a staff of 4,000 of the Ministry of Pensions. We had expected that this work would have been finished in the last financial year, but additional work was done in order that a larger staff might be put into the building. The next item, £4,800, is in connection with the regional headquarters of the Ministry of Pensions and has been made necessary owing to increase of staff. With regard to the lease of Victory House, Kingsway, I should explain that it was required for the expansion of the Public Trustee's Department. It was absolutely necessary to enable the Public Trustee to carry out his additional work. The expenditure on this has been taken into account in the recent revision of the charges of the Trustee, and I have no doubt that that item will be covered by the additional fees to be charged. We are acting in that matter in an entirely executive capacity, and that is why it comes on this Vote.
§ Sir A. MOND
It is at the rate of 4s. 6d. a foot for the upper floor, and 12s. 6d. a foot for the down floors. The total rent is £13,800 a year. As I said, this will be covered by the revised fees of the Public Trustee. The next item, £22,150, I would like the House to couple with Item No. 38, £185,000, because they are both items in connection with the Stationery Office. My Department is not responsible for the policy of the Stationery Office, but we are responsible for providing accommodation to the best possible advantage and with the greatest economy that we can achieve. The Old Ford Works, for which I am asking a sum in these Estimates of £22,150 out of a total Estimate of £160,000, is a factory of modern type and recent construction; the acreage is 2½ and the floor space 3 acres. The building is utilised for the production 1313 of official publications, binding, etc. One of the main objects in acquiring these premises is to concentrate the extremely scattered staff of the Stationery Office at the present time, and to evacuate a number of buildings, some of which are held under requisition and cannot be permanently retained. In carrying through this scheme, we shall evacuate no fewer than seven premises which are being occupied to-day at a total rent of £7,270 a year.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what these buildings are that are being evacuated?
§ Sir A. MOND
I have here the list of buildings. The rents are as follows: £950, £650, £140, £1,950, £505, £1,000, £1,375, and £700, giving a total of £7,270.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Are these premises which are going to be evacuated all pre-War premises? That is to say, is it his proposal to carry on greater business under the Stationery Office than before the War?
§ Sir A. MOND
In answer to my Noble Friend (Earl Winterton), those are not all pre-War premises. A certain number of them were requisitioned premises acquired during the War.
§ Sir A. MOND
I can find out, but I am not quite sure. I am not responsible for the policy of the Stationery Office. The Treasury is responsible.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
As the Treasury will answer for this Vote, could not the right hon. Gentleman now, while he is speaking, ask someone to inform the Treasury that their representatives are required here?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury at the end of the Treasury Bench; I hope he will take a more prominent place.
§ Sir A. MOND
I have no doubt that on that part of the case the Treasury will be able to give a very good explanation, but we are really dealing here with the question of buildings, and I want to make one point quite clear. We anticipate a reduction in rent of £7,270 in carrying through this scheme, but that of course is not a complete statement of the case. Assuming for the sake of argument that this accommodation is required by the Stationery Office, I must point out that some of these premises, being requisitioned, cannot be retained by the State, and therefore it is apparently compulsory to acquire additional premises as far as I am concerned. Further, if these premises had to be taken at a peace-time rent instead of under requisition conditions, I have very little doubt that the sum would be very considerably increased. It must be a good deal more economical for the staff of any authority to do all their work in one well-equipped modern place, than to have the staff and equipment scattered over a dozen different premises.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
Is it not a fact that the Hollinwood factory is near Manchester? The right hon. Gentleman has told us about these buildings in London, but surely it is not very economical to take things from buildings in London, and send them to Manchester?
§ Sir A. MOND
I was just coming to Hollinwood. The proposal is to keep Manchester as a centre of its own. During the War, the Stationery Office established a branch headquarters in Manchester, and found it a very satisfactory centre for stores, for supply and distribution in the North of England and Scotland, instead of getting everything from London.
Can the right hon. Gentleman effect any reduction in London on account of that?
§ Sir A. MOND
I am not in a position to answer that myself, as I have already pointed out, but I have no doubt a considerable reduction must have been effected since the War. During the War in Manchester we had to provide for the Stationery Office a considerable number of buildings, most of which were requisitioned, if not all of them. Their total rents amounted to £5,286 per annum.
1315 These are war-time values, and the owners of the premises in most cases are unwilling to continue the tenancies on any terms, and want to get back the use of the buildings. The trouble was to find other accommodation. The United States Government erected a factory for making aeroplanes at Hollinwood, and when the War came to an end they were anxious to find a purchaser. The factory, I believe, cost something over £350,000. It is a very fine modern building, and it was purchased from the United States Government, through the Disposal Board, for £185,000. It is a very much lower sum than that at which it would be possible to erect a similar building at the present time. The purchase money was included in the general settlement account between His Majesty's Government and the American War Department. That is the history of the purchase. The building has a total of 300,000 square feet, and affords ample storage accommodation for the heavy stock of war material, in addition to Stationery Office goods. Here, again, the policy of concentration, both of building and of administration, has been carried through, and, assuming it is the fact, as I have no doubt careful examination has shown, that this is the best way of administering this work, again I say with the greatest confidence that the purchase will pay for itself as a reasonable and economical proposition.
I have been astonished myself to find how difficult it is to obtain at these centres buildings of a character required for warehousing and storing large quantities of material, and that kind of building of course always commands a very considerable rent. If I give the figure of £5,285 being paid now, I should not be surprised if that figure had practicallly to be doubled if alternative accommodation had to be found, and then I could not be certain that alternative accommodation could be found. Therefore, the proposition resolves itself into this, that either the Government has to erect a new building, or engage in the purchase of a building which, through the exigencies of the War, comes into our hands at a cheap price. It is really, in a way, fortunate for us that a very fine building was available at a price far below its value, and far below the cost of erecting a new building of that class.
I suppose these premises are absolutely freehold—there is no ground rent to be paid on them?
§ Sir A. MOND
Certainly they are freehold. I think that deals with really what I may call the large items in these Estimates. The other items are of a small character, and come in with alterations and adaptations. Changes of different Government offices carry with them, as a rule, necessarily, a certain amount of expenditure in re-decoration and adaptation. Item 41 is a small building which has been fitted up for technical research work. It has been done by my technical officers, and is of a very interesting and an important character. It is research on building material and various kinds of work of that character.
§ Sir A. MOND
I think we want very much more information than we have at the present time with regard to the very important question of all forms of building material. There has been no subject so important that has been so little studied, and a great deal of money has been spent in using materials for houses in a very inefficient manner, at some considerable expense to the community, and any work that can be done by competent people in studying questions such as concrete construction, strain, and temperature are of a very vital character.
§ Sir A. MOND
Prices, of course, become an element when you ascertain the suitability or non-suitability of different materials under different circumstances But I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that very important work is being achieved on these lines.
Colonel LAMBERT WARD
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any indication as to the saving which is likely to be effected by the expenditure of this rather unnecessary amount?
§ Sir A. MOND
I do not agree that it is unnecessary. If I thought it unnecessary, it would not exist. I cannot say what saving is likely to be effected. That is one of the questions asked about research work. If successful, it may result in the saving of millions of pounds, but if un- 1317 successful you may get no result at all. Really, at the present time, it is astonishing how people come with schemes for new houses which, if more research work had been done beforehand on the material and the way they were going to last, we should not have, to put up a few hundred houses and wait to see whether they will fall to pieces in a few years' time, as there are houses being put up to-day which will fall to pieces. Having been trained and engaged all my life in working on a scientific basis on a large scale, and having secured a certain measure of success in my own line, I am naturally inclined to look favourably on a relatively small cost like this.
Is it not a fact that there is a staff already engaged in research on this very subject in the Ministry of Health?
§ Sir A. MOND
I am not aware that there is a staff engaged in this particular work at the Ministry of Health. Possibly there is, but there is room for this work, and the people who are doing research work in my Department are doing very good work. After all, the amount is not a very large one. I assure the Committee that the money has not been uselessly spent.
§ Sir A. MOND
They are leasehold, and the lease cost £4,200. The rent was reserved under the lease until 1934 at £250 per annum.
§ Sir A. MOND
The other item I want to say a word about is Sub-head II. (Purchase of Freehold Site in Bloomsbury for the erection of public buildings; original estimate £435,000; revised estimate £455,000.) I would point out that the purchase was sanctioned in principle by the Committee on the Main Estimates and passed last Session, so that the only point with which I have to deal is the £30,000 required to meet interest on purchase money and stamp duty on conveyance. I am not going into the policy or argue the matter of the purchase of this freehold site. My Department have been acting solely in an executive capacity. The policy, I suppose, could be raised on 1318 the Vote of the Board of Education, which is responsible for the work.
§ Sir A. MOND
Six per cent, on £425,000. There are between £4,000 and £5,000 legal charges. The other items on this Vote are largely, in fact mainly, due to the rise in wages and materials which have increased the amount of the Vote beyond the anticipation when the main Vote and the last Supplementary Vote were submitted to Committee. The rise in the cost of labour and material and for maintenance and repairs during the financial year has been something between 35 and 40 per cent, on the original Estimates. The difference is £300,000. Owing to every effort to economise and to curtail work that was not absolutely essential we have effected very considerable saving. It is satisfactory to be able to effect economies of that character. As regards rents, insurance, etc., the excess asked for is due to the transfer to my Department of the premises of the Ministry of Food. The Committee will be glad to hear that these offices have-now been closed.
§ Sir A. MOND
I hope so. This item accounts for £17,000. In regard to Item D (police, caretakers, etc.—increased cost of safeguarding public business) we have been endeavouring to effect economies. The reduction has not proceeded so quickly as was anticipated, and the position today is, and with the organisation of Sinn Fein, I feel myself compelled really to stop the policy which I was anxious to pursue in order to prevent the possibility of Government premises being destroyed by reason of their not being adequately protected.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENW0RTHY
Does this item include the cost of the barricades put up in Downing Street, at the entrance to Whitehall, and so on? In the matter of the safeguarding of public buildings, does it include the cost of the special police around the House of Commons?
§ Sir A. MOND
I have not got these details. I do not think the special police of Westminster are under my Department. They are under the police, if not the Home Office. I am not sure about the barricades, whether they come under my Department or not. In these matters we have effected considerable economy. I think it will be more convenient if I deal with the other items after the discussion.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100,000.
The spectacle which my right hon. Friend has presented in placing these Estimates before the Committee seems to me to be like a very good business man struggling with adversity trying to defend a really unbusinesslike and inefficient administration. I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to these Estimates. If hon. Members look under letter E. they will notice some words, in rather small letters, which give some interesting information. From that it is clear that this is the third Estimate which this Department has had to present to the House in the course of the financial year. The total original Estimate was for £5,323,300. The second item for July was for £315,000 and now they have come to the House to ask for £485,000, making a total for this Department of £5,323,300.
When the original Estimates were submitted my right hon. Friend took the precaution on page 41 of the original Estimate of foreseeing as far as he could what urgency would arise which they had not covered in the original Estimate, and on that page we find this item, "For unforeseen and urgent works, £26,900." The result of that miscalculation is that we are now faced with an item "New works, alterations, additions and purchases," quite apart from maintenance for the sum of £311,000. What are we to think of an administration which makes such a gross miscalculation as that? Why did they take the figure £26,900. It shows that they have gone into some sort of detail. The precise figures are given and they must have had some idea that there was something which they could not quite defend, and by making some sort of 1320 preparation and calculation as to what happened in the past they have arrived at the nicely calculated sum of £26,900. The whole thing goes by the board. A merely nominal figure has been put in and we are now faced with this huge Estimate.
I will now deal with particular items. First, there is the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. There is one item, "Provision of accommodation in Whitehall Place, £3,425." There has been no case shown at all for that expenditure. Somebody has evidently thought, "We must have a Supplementary Estimate of some kind or another and some alterations are going to be made; let us have some more building and some fresh accommodation." No case at all was made out for that expenditure in the first place. Then there is an item for the Board of Education, "Purchase of premises at 24, Old Queen Street, S.W." In answer to a question, my right hon. Friend said: "I cannot say what these premises are for, or the policy which lies behind it." We ought to have the Minister of Education here. I do not know what this accommodation is for. The Committee is entitled to know, and I suggest that my right hon. Friend should ask the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education to be here, and give the Committee the information as to what this item is for, and the immediate policy which lies behind it.
Item No. 32 is for the Ministry of Munitions (Disposal Board). If there is one thing that the House hoped to see put an end to it was this Department, which has one of the worst records of any Department in the long roll of British administration, and we were hoping to see the end of it. We now find that here they are buying houses. They do not even lease them. They have acquired and are adapting 35, Cromwell Road, S.W., for the purposes of the Disposal Board at a cost of £4,500. This is going to be a permanent addition to our expenditure. Why do they buy property when they are supposed to be in their last stages? Assurances were given not only by the representatives of the Department in this House, but by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House, that this Ministry was going to end, and yet they have the audacity to bring before us this further Vote for the acquisition of fresh premises. They have 1321 already premises in Whitehall and other places all over London, and what reason can there be for buying fresh houses for the use of this useless Ministry? There ought to be someone present from the Ministry of Munitions to tell us all about this transaction.
We have present the Minister of Pensions, and I wish to congratulate him upon his attention to his duty. Apparently he saw this Supplementary Estimate, and said to himself, "I ought to be there." And here he is, and we award him a special prize. The expenditure under that item has been already authorised, but it falls in here because the total money was not spent in the financial year, and it requires re-authorisation. I cannot, under the rule, say very much more about it, but at any rate the Minister is here to answer any particular question. I want to ask one or two questions about the next item, the acquisition and adaptation of premises in Leeds for regional headquarters. Last year the Committee passed grants for regional headquarters at Manchester, Birmingham, and Newcastle, and of course we had the great grant for the premises at Acton. What reason is there for new regional headquarters at Leeds? What is the purpose of the acquisition and adaptation of these new premises? The time has arrived even in the question of pensions when the peak has been passed, and every year must happily see a decline in the cost of pensions to the community. Unfortunately, that will brought about by the death of the recipients, but, as far as the Treasury is concerned, the outlook is a declining charge. That being the case, why go in for this additional expenditure, even if it be only £4,800. Are they new regional headquarters?
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Well, we shall have an explanation. I say that that sum ought to be saved, and it can be saved if my right hon. Friend addresses his mind to it. I am pretty sure that unless he makes out a very strong case that will be the view of the Committee. I would 1322 like to take items 36 to 39, Stationery Office. They account for a sum of no less than £228,150 out of £485,000. What reason can there be for this expenditure? I do not hesitate to say that even in these specious days of prodigal expenditure it is a huge sum to spend on brand new premises. They are going to buy premises at Hollinwood in Manchester, and I suppose we shall have a large sum —no less than £185,000—in the new Estimates for the adaptation of those premises. The total Vote for that huge Department of the State last year was £4,844,104, which as compared with 1920 showed a decline of only £1,135,000. What were the War conditions with regard to the Stationery Office? There was, as we all know now, an unnecessarily large output of leaflets of all descriptions, and in the current year the expenditure has only been reduced by £1,135,000, whereas we ought to be swinging back to the normal. Nothing infuriates the ordinary citizen so much as this perfect snowstorm of leaflets of every description.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I feel bound to intervene at this stage. It is always a difficult matter, as hon. Members who have been some time in the House will recollect, to differentiate on this Vote between the policy of other Departments and the duty of the Office of Works. I have already allowed many references to some extent to policy, but it is not possible to criticise the Estimates of the various Departments on this Vote. The standard case put to me was one where it was attempted to discuss the policy of the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office under a Vote for telegrams. Perhaps hon. Members will bear that fact in mind if I give them the utmost liberty for extracting information as to the necessity for these buildings.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
May we not have a little latitude in discussing this question of the Stationery Office, because we have to allude to policy, owing to the very large expenditure, and there is no opportunity of raising the question except on this Vote?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The latter point does not appeal to me, because, if the Vote for the Stationery Office were not asked for on the main Estimates, it might have been. With regard to the other joint, I quite agree that the Committee is 1323 entitled to a statement from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury as to the policy behind this large expenditure on new buildings.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I quite admit the justice of your ruling, and I will confine my arguments more particularly, while at the same time bringing in to some extent the question of policy, because of this new development which is taking place in the country as distinct from headquarters in London. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury represents the Stationery Office, and I would ask him when he intervenes in this Debate to tell us why, in view of the passionate desire which I am sure he shares for economy in every possible direction, and the diminution for the need of a Stationery Office, this large expenditure of £185,000 for setting up a branch office in Manchester is now before the Committee? If when he comes to reply he can deal with that question, and tell me what reason the Department can give for this need having arisen—and it must have been an urgent case, it must have been an urgent and unforeseen contingency—I shall be glad to know why that urgency was not foreseen in the original Estimates.
I come to the item "Ministry of Transport—provision of accommodation in Whitehall Gardens." That, again, is a remanet of the original Vote granted by the Committee; it refers to work not fulfilled in the financial year, and for it they have to ask a further sum. I will only say, in view of the possibility, not that the Ministry may come to an end, but that its operations will certainly be very much curtailed, it is desirable we should have some explanation of the reason for going to further expense in connection with providing additional accommodation for it. They have taken over practically as much room as the whole of the Board of Trade used to occupy, and there seems little or no justification for the sum for which they are now asking. The next Vote connected with the Office of Works is for the purchase and adaptation of premises at 15, Carteret Street, S.W. This is really one of the most remarkable items. It is a, perfect flashlight upon the attitude which a Department like this is adopting in the 1324 present urgent need for economy. We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman that this expenditure is largely for the purposes of research. Research into what? Into the way of building houses? I thought the great search was for houses. But here there is going to be a research into the questions of construction and quality of building materials, with all the paraphernalia of pure theorists attempting to get on with practical jobs. To the extent that that is necessary it is already covered, I suggest, by the operations of the Ministry of Health. The right hon. Gentleman, interrupting an hon. Member, said that no doubt in time there would be co-ordination in the joint efforts at research in regard to building houses between the Ministry of Health and the Public Buildings Department. But what reason can there be, in the present urgent need for economy, for men devoting their energies at a great cost to an inquiry into the quality of cement and bricks and matters of that kind? The experience of the building industry in this country surely is sufficient for that for all practical purposes. It may be that in some halcyon days to come, when the Exchequer is overflowing with surplus money, it may be desirable to set up some such research department, but there never has been a confession made at that box more self-revealing of the attitude of the whole Ministry. My right hon. Friend, of course, is one of the heads of a great business founded on research, but in their researches they sought for things which were not in practical concrete existence. As far as I can gather all the country needs at present is a quite ordinary, reasonable, habitable house, and existing knowledge and experience, both public and private, should be quite sufficient for that object without spending more money in research.
I come next to Item C: "Provision for the continuance of Departments engaged in winding up war business for a longer period than anticipated, for increased cost of hiring, and for additional temporary services, £60,000." That, again, is an indication of the predicament in which the nation finds itself. All Departments are closely related to the Public Buildings Department and the Office of Works, and travelling over the whole wide range of public Departments, some such item must appear in the Estimates for each of them. I do not know 1325 how many other Departments are affected, but here is this item, and as it stands it is a confession of the inability of the Government to reduce their staff. In this connection I think I am entitled to refer to a return which the Government published in November last, showing that out of 400,000 civil servants, notwithstanding the appeals which have been made by the House, and the directions apparently given by the Prime Minister and everybody supposed to have authority in the matter, there is a net reduction of 390 only. What happens, of course, is that when prima facie dismissed from one Department they go into another, bolting about like rabbits from one official burrow to another, without the House of Commons getting hold of them. Here is another evidence of it. I am very much indebted to the Committee for having listened to me for so long, but I think I may claim that in the items I have mentioned I have justified to the full the reduction which I have moved.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
I am rather in a difficulty in this matter because I am now a member of the Committee set up last year to deal with the Stationery Office. I understand it is allowable for a member to criticise questions on which a Committee has been engaged, provided that the Committee has reported. On the question of the Stationery Office expenditure, the Committee of which I was Chairman last Session did report on the 22nd December last. They went into the discussion of the purchase of new premises for the Stationery Office, and I think I may be able to throw a little light on the question why these buildings have been purchased by the Office of Works. The Committee in question—the Publications and Debates Reports Committee—reported that the Stationery Office was setting up a Government printing establishment. This was a costly matter, and in the words of the Committee the policy of maintaining large printing establishments formed the subject of a departmental inquiry as to the extent of the work to be given to the office and the size of the establishment to be maintained. These points were to be definitely decided by an inter-departmental Committee. That Committee never had before them any evidence about this Hollinwood establishment. It is the first we have heard of this very large ex- 1326 penditure, amounting altogether to some £191,000. Apparently the Stationery Office are going on buying buildings all over the place, for the purpose of accommodating their 1,700 employes. Last year, while all other Departments were reducing their staffs, the Stationery Office staff was increased from 1,500 to 1,700, and they were costing something like £500,000 a year. The Stationery Office are now buying these buildings, right, left, and centre, and are asking for this very large sum of £228,000 for the purpose. It makes me feel very much inclined to vote against the Government on this Vote.
The Select Committee of 1906 reported in favour of setting up these vast Government establishments for printing, but that was turned down by an inter-departmental inquiry. In 1914 the Committee again said they thought that the Stationery Office might have a printing establishment, but on, they said, "a small scale," and they indicated that by that they meant the sum of £280,000, which was the modest sum suggested by the original Committee of 1906. Since then, during the War, the Stationery Office took over a great many establishments, perhaps very necessarily, but only for the period of the War and six months after, and that is why they are buying all these buildings. The only way is to get the Treasury to stop it. They are the people responsible. The Financial Secretary is here, and will probably say the reason is that it is thought that the Stationery Office may be able to effect some economy. I do not think, however, that this Committee or the House has ever given authority to set up new Government Departments in this way, and I hope, therefore, that other hon. Members will take strong exception to the granting of this large sum to the Stationery Office, over which there is practically no control except by the Treasury. The policy cannot be very easily discussed either, because these Votes are hidden away in little packets all over the Estimates, and it is very hard to get at the Treasury on the matter. I hope the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will give us very good reasons why this money should be voted. Otherwise I, for one shall have to vote against the Government.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Baldwin)
I am very pleased to respond to the challenge of my 1327 hon. and gallant Friend, although I had no idea, until he rose, that he was going to speak on this subject to-day. I only regret that the particular Vote which we are considering will not enable us to discuss the Stationery Office as a whole, because I should be perfectly prepared to meet anything that might be said on that subject. I hope, however, to give the Committee as briefly as I may the reasons which induced me to sanction the two items which have been so much criticised. I feel confident that, if the Committee will try and judge of this matter as a simple business proposition, and not merely jump to the conclusion that, because this item is large, it must be wrong, I shall be able to convince them, or at any rate to make out a very good case. I agree that it is very difficult, when you see an item in an Estimate, to know what that item is really for, and I think I might brush away at the beginning what is probably causing some confusion in the minds of hon. Members if I tell them what these buildings are for.
I have heard more than once in the Debate, so far, the term "printing" used. That would imply that in some way or other the purchase of these premises is connected with a whole burst of fresh development on the part of the Stationery Office. Nothing could be further from the fact. These two buildings are wanted solely and entirely for storage and warehousing purposes. The Stationery Office acts as the distributor of an enormous mass of printed matter. No one regrets that more than myself, but let us remember what is the reason. It is the result of the activities of Departments which have been set up with the knowledge and authority of this House, and is the result of legislation which has been passed in this House—generally speaking, of the social legislation which has been so prominent a part of our general legislation in the last decade. We have had, since the beginning of the War, the activities of the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Pensions, and, very largely, the Ministry of Health. The whole of the cards for National Health Insurance have to be dealt with, stored, and supplied by the Stationery Office; and the same applies to the cards for unemployment benefit. That will give the Committee some idea to begin with of 1328 the amount of stuff that has to be handled; and the problem before the Stationery Office is to see how this work for all the Government Departments can be handled most economically.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
If my hon. and gallant Friend will allow me to proceed, I think I shall be able to show him why, in my opinion, it is not economical to defer it. It is quite obvious that during the War there was no other means of getting the largely increased amount of room that was required than by getting what premises we could where we could, often by invoking the Defence of the Realm Regulations. It became obvious, however, to the Stationery Office, that, with the increased quantity of material for distribution, there was a great waste of money involved in maintaining London as the sole distributing centre. The North of England is, naturally, a vast recipient for the necessary papers that have to be issued, especially, of course, for National Health Insurance Cards, and, in the near future, for unemployment cards, and for the various publications of the Ministry of Labour in particular. In the circumstances, it was decided to try, as an experiment, storage in Manchester, as a convenient centre for the North of England, for parts of Scotland, and for Ireland. The immediate advantages of that were more than one. In the first place, a considerable amount of transport was saved. It is impossible to give figures for that, but I think hon. Members will see it. It jumps to the eye. There was another great advantage. The Stationery Office had been in the past in the hands of printers in the South of England, because the printers in the North of England were unable to enter into competition owing to the cost of sending goods from their printing works In the North to London, and therefore it opened to the successive efforts of fresh tenderers a great deal of the work which could be distributed in the North. That in itself was a good thing. It gave us a very necessary check on prices.
There can be no question in my mind that, having regard to the work to be done, and having regard to the distribution of population in these 1329 islands, the right policy is to distribute from London and from Manchester. I am quite convinced of that. But having got so far, the point was bound to arise when the War came to an end, what permanent provision could be made where we had only the temporary provision of these buildings which have been enumerated by the First Commissioner of Works. I do not know whether the Committee followed him—I hope they did —but the case that he had to make financially was to my mind a very strong one. I hope I shall not be considered to be saying more than I ought to say in my position as merely Financial Secretary, but my experience during the four and a half years I have been at the Treasury is that there is no more careful office among the Government Departments than the Office of Works. I think to say more would be presumption on my part, but I always find that in the acquiring of premises, in the calculation as to prices that you can pay to make a good bargain in acquiring fresh premises, and sweeping away a number of smaller ones, or leasehold premises, their calculations are always done with very great care and very great accuracy. This matter of the cost of the premises to be acquired was most carefully balanced by them as against the cost of the premises to be given up, and they convinced me, when the case was put to me, that on financial grounds alone the exchange was one that ought to be made. But when you add to the figures the other considerations, I think the case became overwhelming.
The other considerations were those I have enumerated, the saving in transport, and the saving in transport from one building to another where you have 7, 8 or 9 buildings with stuff being carried about from one to another, to be carted perhaps all over London or all over Manchester. It is obvious what the saving is when you have everything in one building. Again, by concentrating in one building you get a reduction of staff, and when I sanctioned the purchase of the Old Ford premises I had an undertaking from the Stationery Office, which I have no doubt will be fulfilled, that they would guarantee me a saving of £10,000 a year on the warehouse staff as then existing. They assure me that in Manchester, when the work is completed, they can guarantee a saving of 10 per cent, on the staff employed there. More than that, you 1330 get security of tenure when you are doing your most necessary work, work that cannot and must not be interfered with, when you are carrying it out in premises some of which were held under Defence of the Realm Regulations and in others of which the leases were coming to an end.
Perhaps I may repeat the figures which were saved in the rent. They were given by the First Commissioner of Works. The Old Ford premises saved us just under £10,000 a year in rentals, and I have £10,000 a year guaranteed to me in the saving of the warehouse staff. I think it is extremely likely that there will be in addition a saving on the clerical staff, and I get an undoubted saving in efficiency and an undoubted saving in transport. In Manchester the figures are not so remarkable in saving as are the London figures. The London figures are extraordinarily good. In Manchester the rents were very low—far lower than they would be if they had to be renewed to-day. They only came to something under £6,000, but then the owners of the Peter Street premises, the lease of which expires in two years, and for which we were paying only £2,000 a year, refused to renew it or to give a lease on any terms, but said they would only sell, and they gave us the lowest price they would take—£100,000. To secure the premises we have done at the price we have got them at is, in my view, not a bad bargain. They were built during the War, and cost more than double the price we are paying for them. We shall, I am convinced, be able to conduct this work of distribution with more efficiency and at considerably less expense.
With regard to what fell from the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Remnant), the problem which he put to me in one word is one that faces me continually, and is one of the most difficult with which I have to deal. He said: "Can you not put off this expenditure?" I cannot tell the House how much expenditure in the last two years I have put off. It would be a very interesting matter when I leave office to get out what I have turned down. Over and over again opportunities arise where in the long run large amounts of money can be saved by capital expenditure, but we cannot afford to do it, and it is expensive not to be able to afford to do it. But we cannot do it, and as far as I am concerned, when one or two things like this 1331 get through, I give my undertaking to the Committee that, in my view, the need for this expenditure is overwhelming. I cannot go here into general questions with regard to the work of the Stationery Office. I have dealt as far as I am able with those matters which are directly germane to the Vote before us.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
With reference to these premises at Hollinwood, may I ask whether no portion of them will be used for a printing establishment as apart from storage? Secondly, is my right hon. Friend aware that Hare Street, Bethnal Green, is one of the printing offices of the Stationery Office, and lastly, as regards Hollinwood, whether it is not a fact that this is not net expenditure? They have to build roads up to the premises, and so on. Can he give us any idea?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
To taka the last point first. As far as I am aware at present— I cannot pledge myself to these figures, because I was not aware my hon. and gallant Friend was going to raise the point—but I think that a sum not exceeding £50,000 will be all that is required for Hollinwood and London. It is not the policy of the Stationery Office to develop further printing. I cannot go into the reasons that induced us to do the printing at Harrow, but with regard to the works in Hare Street, I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend that we have given up the other printing works in London— Dugdale Street and Farringdon Road. Hare Street now is the only works in London except the small departmental press at the Foreign Office and work done at the Meteorological Office. Printing has been done, and must continue to be done, in London. That is where all the urgent work is done, such as the printing of the Parliamentary Debates.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Is it not in order for my right hon. Friend to tell the Committee on a vote of these dimensions whether he has come to the conclusion that there is any likelihood of diminution in the activities of the Stationery Office? More than once he has checked himself on the point of Order by saying that he could not go into that question of policy. It is really that question of policy which underlies the whole Debate. If you would permit my right hon. Friend to elaborate that side of the question, we should have 1332 some information that would be of value to us.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that that question would involve the possibility of discussion on every single Department of the State. We must confine ourselves to the responsibilities of the Office of Works. I think the Financial Secretary dealt with everything that was peculiarly germane to this Vote. The question has been asked whether this may not involve a new departure in the way of Government printing. So far that would be quite right, but I understood that the explanation given had satisfied the hon. Member who raised the point.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
You, Sir, have given the answer which I should have given. My right hon. Friend must remember that the Stationery Office is the servant of all the Government Departments, and through them the servant of this House. When I am asked to say whether the activities of the Stationery Office are to increase, I ask, "Are you going to pass such legislation as will mean an increase in the work of the Stationery Office?" There is no question, in regard to the matters which we have been discussing, of any fresh policy being involved or any fresh work being done except in so far as it may be involved in the distribution of such literature and cards as may be imposed upon the Stationery Office by Government Departments.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Stationery Office are going to be allowed to go on increasing their printing establishment, which now numbers. 1,700 employes, That is all since the War, and it is costing the country a tremendous amount of money. Can he say whether the Treasury are going to do what the Select Committee ask for in their Report, and that is to have a Departmental Inquiry to fix the limit up to which the Stationery Office should act?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I cannot answer that question now, because I have not the knowledge. A conclusion has not been reached on that matter, and it is a question that I should have to consider before I reply.
Any criticism which I may make on these Estimates will not be made with any intention of deprecating the value of the 1333 contribution to the Debate which we have had by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. There can be very little doubt that if only the Treasury had more power and the Departments less power we should not be in the position to-day of having to find the money which we are asked to find. In inquiring into these matters I remember not only the speech which we have just heard from the right hon. Gentleman but more particularly the speech which we heard two years ago from the Chancellor of the Exchequer urging that this House should take very close interest in all forms of expenditure. I regret that the leader of a section of the Liberal party in opposition thought fit to lump the whole of the details of this particular Estimate into one, and only move one reduction instead of dealing with each part individually. I am perfectly convinced that the House of Commons in dealing with this class of Estimates, immensely wide in its detail and immensely complicated as regards its figures would be far better employed by sub-dividing the figures under the different subsections A, B, C and D and going into each sub-section carefully and critically and at less length than some speakers we have heard today. We require more concentration on the details and less expansion as regards the length of speeches.
I should like to emphasise once again the extraordinary seriousness of this total Vote, added to the fact that we have had already earlier in the year a Supplementary Estimate of over £300,000. As regards Item 30, we have a very sketchy idea that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries wants some form of reorganisation in accommodation. It is quite possible and likely that you may take this in conjunction with the previous Vote where the Minister of Agriculture for Scotland also had additional development on these lines. So far as we are able to see from these Estimates, there is a general force moving each Government Department to try to improve their offices, trying to build up their staffs and trying to develop wherever possible. I am afraid that we do not realise and that Ministers do not realise, but the Treasury must realise that although the Treasury is continually urging Members of this House and putting pressure upon the individual Ministers to develop on sound lines, it is very often the case that 1334 we do not do so. The Debate yesterday' will cause more pressure to be put upon this particular Ministry.
The Secretary to the Treasury made a very good case as regards the Votes numbers 38 and 39 for the Hollinwood site. I see under 39, "Adaptation of new premises." Are those premises for which this sum of £6,000 is required now wholly adapted, or will the Government be obliged to come to us at a later date for more money for additional adaptations. Of course, there may be some expansion, probably in a few years, but I would like to know if they are final as regards that particular point. We were given to understand that we have now got the entire freehold site of these premises. Is that absolutely correct? Is there no question of lease or anything of that sort in connection with the premises under number 38, because we did have some little argument on number 41. First, the Minister told us he had got the freehold. Then it gradually came out that he had not, and I would like to be quite certain that there is no question of a lease behind in this particular case. It is a matter as to which we should be absolutely certain. On Section 2, with regard to what is known as the Bloomsbury site, we have got a revised Estimate involving an addition of £30,000. Many of us have great sympathy in reference to this particular site and its object, but I would like to know with certainty whether there is any more interest to pay or any more details of legal expenditure or anything of that kind which will have to be dealt with?
In Sub-section B you have the curious statement—Maintenance and Repairs. Reductions effected in the amount of work carried out have been absorbed by the increased cost of wages and material.It is fairly obvious to anyone that you have got this increased cost of wages and material, but though we are being asked for £35,000 there is not, I believe I am right in saying, any reference to page 42 of the earlier Estimates in which we have already been asked for an increased Vote for over £200,000 on a total Vote of something approximating £1,000,000. Last year it was £790,000. What real reductions can be effected in a comparatively small amount of money of that kind when over the whole area you have got to have an addition for wages and material of nearly £250,000. That par 1335 ticular item requires very much more detailed explanation than the right hon. Gentleman has given. As to Section D the Government is absolutely justified in the steps which have been taken to guard public buildings at this particular time. I am not one of those who criticise the Government blindly, and I believe it right to give them absolute support when they have had to expend money on what clearly has been necessary.
As regards Subsection E you have got on the face of it not a very large Estimate, but if you refer back to previous Estimates you will find that in spite of any economies which the Government may have made there is an enormous increase in the price which we have had to pay. The right hon. Gentleman told us that, thanks to a system of very careful administration as regards coal and light, enormous economies have been effected. No one would be so foolish as to imagine that there would not be increased cost, but when he tells us that there has been a great increase in the efficiency of administration of coal and light in Government Departments, I would like to know what is the amount not in value but the amount the Government has been able to save in light and coal in these Departments and how the saving has been effected? Some of these points are of considerable interest to this House and an explanation of them would enable us to know whether we can go into the Lobby in support of the Government or shall be obliged as some of us may be to oppose them on this particular Sub-section.
Sir SAMUEL ROBERTS
My long experience in this House has convinced me that procedure by Committee of Supply on Supplementary Estimates is not satisfactory. It is not an effective Committee. This afternoon is an example of what I mean. There are various items in our Supplementary Estimates. I think that most of them ought to have been included in last year's Budget. In my judgment all Supplementary Estimates are wrong. They ought to be anticipated by Government Departments and included in the Budget. If not, they upset the Chancellor's calculations. Of course, there may be exceptions where it cannot be foreseen what the expenditure may be, but generally speaking I think that Supplementary Estimates ought not to be 1336 brought forward. This year they are so very large and numerous that I think that the Committee ought to take advantage of this opportunity to express its opinion that in future the amount of the Supplementary Estimates should be materially reduced. What happened this afternoon? Most of us were unacquainted with this expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman beneath me (Sir A. Mond) made a statement, but he is not a witness, and what we should have liked would be to have before us the gentlemen who are responsible for the expenditure. My right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London Sir F. Banbury) was appointed Chairman of an Estimates Committee, and all Estimates ought to have been brought before it, but the War intervened, when money was voted on credit with no Estimates, and therefore that Committee was not renewed. But this House is going to continue the National Expenditure Committee, which, in my judgment is doing excellent work, and it could do even better work by having the Estimates brought before it, or before a Sub-committee, and making a report to this Committee of Supply. If we had today an official Report from that Committee dealing with these various items, and explaining them in full after they had heard official witnesses and experts, we should be able to come to a judgment upon them, but as far as I am concerned I am not able to come to a judgment this afternoon, because I do not know. I have heard the explanation of my right hon. Friend (Sir A. Mond), and I have heard the statement of the Secretary to the Treasury. It is the business of the Treasury to go carefully through all the Estimates, whether original or supplementary, which are submitted to this House. If hon. Members will look, they will see at the beginning of these Supplementary Estimates the name of the Secretary of the Treasury, who has signed them and is responsible for them. I should like to ask him what steps have the Treasury taken to satisfy themselves, because they are responsible? Do they call witnesses?
I am not going to enter into details of this expenditure. This is only the first of Supplementary Estimates amounting to over £9,000,000, a very serious thing indeed, and one which, no doubt, must upset the Chancellor's Budget, and in my opinion every detail of these Supplementary Estimates ought to be criticised 1337 to the full by this Committee. I deeply regret that I have had to make these remarks, but I have felt it my duty, as an old Member of the House, to express in Committee my opinion on the Supplementary Estimates.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I should like to endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for the Ecclesall Divisions of Sheffield (Sir S. Roberts) has just said with regard to the Estimates Committee. Somewhere about 1910, I think, an Estimates Committee was appointed, and that Committee sat until the War broke out. Then, in 1915, Mr. Gulland, who acted as Chief Whip, came to me and suggested that, if the Committee desired it, the Estimates Committee should be set up again. I said, "What is the use of setting us up when there are no Estimates?" because, as this Committee knows, in 1915 there were no Estimates, everything being done on a Vote of Credit. Therefore, the Estimates Committee was not set up again. Then there came the Select Committee on National Expenditure, which, when it was first set up, was presided over by Sir Herbert Samuel. Under his chairmanship that Committee made a very strong report to this House, suggesting that the Estimates Committee should be set up again. They suggested, in fact, that there should be two Committees, because it was perfectly evident during the time the first Estimates Committee was in existence that it had not time thoroughly to go into all the work. Therefore, the Select Committee on National Expenditure recommended two Estimates Committees, consisting of 15 members each, and recommended the appointment of an official of the House, to occupy the, same position as the Comptroller and Auditor-General, to assist them. As far as my memory goes, Sir Herbert Samuel made that recommendation in two separate Sessions. Then came the General Election, and Sir Herbert Samuel was not returned, and I became Chairman of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. I made the same recommendation, but the Government has hitherto ignored it. My hon. Friend now says he hopes something may be done in that direction with the Select Committee on National Expenditure. I am not sure whether or not our terms of reference ought to be ex- 1338 tended, but, much as I am of opinion that an Estimates Committee should be set up, I very much doubt whether the Select Committee on National Expenditure could undertake much more work in addition to what it is already doing. I hope my hon. Friend will press for the appointment of an additional Committee, and further that it should have an officer. I do not wish to use a slang phrase, but it has been said that there is not very much use in setting up an Estimates Committee if there is not someone "to put the game up," and that is what we feel. We had no one "to put the game up"; we had to grope in the dark and find out what was going on; and if we could have, as the Public Accounts Committee have, an officer responsible to this House—the Comptroller and Auditor-General is responsible not to the Government but to this House—I think very great good would be done. The Committee ought to be very much indebted to my hon. Friend (Sir S. Roberts), who is a very old Member of this House and has served in important positions on Committees of the House, for the suggestions he has made.
As to the particular Estimates before us, allusion has been made to the fact that already there has been a Supplementary Estimate. Casting my mind back over what has occurred during the time that I have been in the House—I have not been able to look it up, and therefore I am not sure that I am quite right—I do not remember any Session in which there has not been some Supplementary Estimates, but during the greater part of the time when I was first in the House it was always considered a mark of inefficiency on the part of a Department to bring in Supplementary Estimates. Here, again, I hare not looked it up, and I should not like to say definitely, but I should think it is a very unusual occurrence for a Department to bring in two sets of Supplementary Estimates in one financial year. The right hon. Gentleman has brought in two sets of Supplementary Estimates in the financial year. Unfortunately, I did not hear anything said by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but I gathered that with regard to the Hollinwood site there was still a further sum of £50,000 to be spent. If the Committee will look 1339 to the footnote on page 5 they will see this statement:
If you add £485.000 to £315,000 you get £800,000. It must mean one of two things. It is either careless budgeting, or—I do not use the word in an offensive sense—practising deception upon the House of Commons. You bring in an Estimate, knowing perfectly well that it will not provide the money you require, and you bring in the rest later as a Supplementary Estimate. One of these two things must have occurred, and they are both equally bad. I hope the Committee will show its disapproval of this system by supporting the right hon. Gentleman opposite if we go to a Division. I would like some information with regard to the item "Board of Education—Purchase of Premises at 24, Old Queen Street, £14,675." I understood that that was a freehold purchase. If so, I suppose it is not a very bad purchase, but what on earth do the Board of Education want with more buildings? The Select Committee on National Expenditure presented a Report to the Board of Education last December, and, if I remember rightly, the Estimate then of the expenditure for Great Britain and Ireland, including local expenditure, came to the vast sum of £97,000,000. That may be all right. It would be out of order to inquire as to the policy of the Minister of Education, and I do not propose to do it. But I do say that we are not in a position to spend further money over and above that vast sum, however right the policy may be. I had hoped we should see a reduction of the expenditure of the Board of Education.
"Total original net Estimate, 1920–21, for public buildings, Great Britain 4,523,300 Add, Supplementary Estimate (H.C.148) 315,000 Sum now required 485,000"
Another item is "Ministry of Munitions (Disposal Board): Acquisition and adaptation of 35, Cromwell Road, S.W., £4,550." Unless I am very much mistaken, that was the original habitation of the stone department, or something of that sort. A well-known Member of this House told me that he once telephoned there at 12 or 12.30 and was told that the gentleman in charge had gone to luncheon. He left his secretary at the telephone until the gentleman in charge came 1340 back. It was not until nearly four o'clock. Some inquiry was made as to who was responsible for the place. The suggestion was made that it was the War Office, but they knew nothing about it, and another Department told the same story. All we could ascertain was that the gentleman in charge went out to luncheon from 12.30 to 3.30. I think that eventually the War Office found that the place belonged to them. In the House we were told that the place was to be abolished, but abolishing seems now not really to be abolition, but a turning over to some other Department or calling a place by another name. For instance, we are told that a staff is to be reduced by 1,000, but we find that 900 are transferred to another Department. What on earth does the Disposal Board want with more buildings now? It ought to have disposed of nearly everything it had. It has waited until it has missed its market in most cases. It had better get out with what is left for what it can get. The Ministry of Pensions is also spending more money on houses. Possibly that may be necessary, though I cannot say. Another item is £5,100 for the purchase and adaptation of premises for the Office of Works. We have been told that these premises are to be used for technical work and research. The right hon. Gentleman said that if we did not have this technical research, houses might fall to pieces in 10 years. I do not know whether he means houses that the Department have already built, or houses which have been built under the auspices of the Ministry of Health. But I would point out to him that hundreds of years ago people built houses which did not fall to pieces in 10 years. All over England you can find substantial houses built 200 or 300 years ago. It would have been cheaper to have copied the example of our predecessors in the art of building, rather than to have established another Department. In Egypt many years ago they understood the art of putting up strong buildings. I believe my right hon. Friend has recently been in Egypt, and therefore he knows something about it.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Yes, I thought they were. That proves that it was not necessary in those days to have research experiments going on to see if they could make them last for more than 10 years. Then I come to the item: "Purchase of 1341 freehold site in Bloomsbury for erection of public buildings. Original Estimate, £425,000; Revised Estimate, £455,000," and the note says: "The additional sum is required to meet interest on purchase money and stamp duty on conveyance." I asked the right hon. Gentleman what the interest was, and he said it was 6 per cent. That, I suppose, is not bad. The Great Northern Railway had to pay 5¾ per cent, the other day, and I do not think, therefore, it is out of the way for the Government to pay 6 per cent. He went on to say that the balance was legal charges, but here it says, "stamp duty on conveyance," and I should like to know which it was. The next item is: "Maintenance and repairs," with the note: "Reductions effected in the amount of work carried out have been absorbed by the increased cost of wages and material." The right hon. Gentleman took credit to himself for having saved £350,000, but he did not say how it was made. If you were going to build houses and did not build them you would save the cost. That is a very simple way of reducing expenditure, and it is not altogether a bad way, for I should not be at all sorry if the right hon. Gentlemen would not build houses at all, but I do not call the cutting down of the work an actual saving. With regard to the cost of material, as far as I know in the first part of the year the cost went up, but during the last three or four months it has fallen considerably. I myself have bought galvanised iron roofing at half the price I was asked a few months ago. I always give too much for a thing, for I have not the ability or the knowledge or the means for making research in these matters, and if I could buy this roofing at half the price I was asked three or four months ago, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman ought to be able to buy materials much cheaper. Then we come to the item: "Rents, insurance, tithe rent charges, etc. Provision for continuance of Departments engaged in winding-up War business for longer period than anticipated." Why was it a longer period than anticipated, and how much longer is that going to go on? Are we never to have these Departments reduced? That comes to £60,000, which is a very large sum indeed.
§ Mr. KILEY
The Committee find themselves in somewhat of a difficulty in coming to a decision on the Stationery Vote 1342 owing to the lack of information. If the Committee could have some figures showing what is the present expenditure of this Department as compared with the last two or three years, we should then know whether this Department are really exercising economy, but from the information we have before us we are led to assume that not alone is this Department maintaining its former expenditure, but it is adding enormously to it. In the circumstances I think the Committee will be justified either in asking the Minister in Charge to take this matter back or in refusing the money for which we are asked. I am not making any attack, personal or otherwise, on the First Commissioner of Works, because I have a great deal of sympathy with him in the position in which he finds himself in having to defend something about which he knows very little. That Departments exercise every care with regard to their own expenditure in small matters is generally admitted. There was a matter indeed in which my firm got the worst of it, and if I had not been a Member of Parliament I should have challenged it. The Secretary to the Treasury explained to us that so far as London was concerned the Department were closing down a number of small premises, and he claimed that they were therefore entitled to rent or acquire a very much larger establishment. He went further, and I thought it was very daring of him to say that that would result in a saving of labour and other expenses. I have always found that when you take one large place instead of a number of smaller ones, you need a larger staff to occupy your larger premises, and then your staff immediately proceed to fill up their place with the usual stock, and my experience has been that that has not resulted in a saving.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury made several points in justification of the expenditure of a very large sum indeed on premises in Manchester, and, in order to induce the Committee to pass that figure, he mentioned the necessity of the buildings because of the need to obtain more health and unemployment cards. Of course, those cards must be obtained, but I cannot understand why it is necessary to purchase premises for nearly £200,000 in order, not to print these cards, but merely to distribute them. Members of 1343 the Committee who are business people usually go to the printers and tell them to print so many thousands of this, that, or the other, and if they have no convenience on their own premises for dealing with the material which is printed they give instructions for the material to be distributed direct. The Financial Secretary overlooked the point, therefore, that there is no saving in this proposal, because when the printing is done the material has got to be transported somewhere, and so, instead of transporting it to its destination, it is taken to this large depot in Manchester, and then has to be transported again, whereas a printer of any standing is quite willing to direct it to its destination, either when printed or at any date that is given to him. Therefore, I am not convinced there is any complete justification at the present moment, at all events, for incurring this very heavy expenditure.
There is one other point with regard to London. We were given to understand that the taking of these very large premises meant the closing down of smaller ones. Then the First Commissioner gave us several of these small places, but there were quite a number of other places which the Stationery Office had in their possession during the War. There was no mention of this. Are we to understand that the taking of these large places in London will mean the closing down of all supplementary places which the Stationery Office have now in their possession? If so, I think that might reconcile us somewhat to this large expenditure; but if they still intend, as I have reason to believe they do, to purchase further premises in London, then I think the Committee ought to be in possession of a full statement before they make any commitments.
With regard to item 32 (Ministry of Munitions), I think the Committee should insist upon a little further information. We are given to understand that on 31st March the Ministry of Munitions ceases to exist. I understand the Ministry of Munitions means the Disposal Board, although I know they are practically two distinct organisations under two distinct staffs, apart, of course, from the cost. In my judgment, that is very wrong, and the sooner this Committee insists upon taking away their premises, the sooner I 1344 think will the Department cease to exist. At all events, there should not be two distinct Departments running, each doing more or less the same work, namely, the disposal of property. The Ministry of Munitions have not handed over all these assets to the Disposal Board to be disposed of, and therefore they must of necessity retain the staff. I think the Committee would be wise to insist that on the 31st March being reached, instructions be given that anything not disposed of should be put up to tender, and got rid of at once, and then the necessity for the premises and many others they are occupying will cease to exist. Then, again, with regard to the Public Trustee, the First Commissioner says that the charge to be imposed on people who use that establishment will be increased, so that there will be no necessity for the House to provide that money. If that is so, what is the necessity for our voting the money this afternoon? Might I have a little further explanation on that?
There is the question of the police protection in Government buildings. One or two speakers have passed that as being of no great importance, or in any event, as justifying the expenditure. I am not against proper protection being given to Government property. I visited one of the Government offices the other day and was accosted by three men in the lobby. Having satisfied them, I was taken to a room where there were two more, and then to an upper room where there were another two. That necessitated seven men in one office. In my judgment, two or three would be ample, and although, in principle, I am not objecting to proper precautions being taken and proper expenditure being made to protect our buildings, I would like to be satisfied that in every office you go into seven men are necessary.
The position which the Labour party has taken up on these Estimates is the same position that it takes with regard to all expenditure. We believe that these Estimates today either prove bad budgeting or reckless expenditure. If the right hon. Gentleman could have shown today that there were circumstances which had arisen since the Estimates were first made that could not have been foreseen at that time, then the House generally would have appreciated the position, but, as a 1345 matter of fact, we are in this difficulty. These Estimates are for the 31st March next. This is the third Estimate. The first showed £350,000 miscalculation, because it is bound to be that, or, I repeat, reckless expenditure. But you come along now and, notwithstanding that you were that amount out only a few months ago, admit you were nearly £500,000 out. Therefore the only way to test it is to turn to the items themselves, and I submit that the public can draw only one conclusion from these Estimates. Nearly the whole of this expenditure is for new buildings and new premises, and what are the people of London saying at this moment? If they go into any park they see nothing but public buildings which have sprung up like mushrooms. They have been asking, "When are we going to see the end of these things?" That is what everybody says, because not only are these buildings a hideous sight, but people know perfectly well that first they have to be paid for, and, secondly, while they are there, there is some excuse for maintaining them. Then in February of 1921 the Government say they want nearly £500,000 because these places, which were assumed to be redundant and unnecessary and would shortly be put out of use, are totally insufficient for the expansion which the Government contemplate. I was looking for some explanation, and I think we find a key to it a little further on in another Estimate, where they anticipate Cabinet offices. I can only conclude that that gives the key to their anticipated expansion, but, so far as we on these benches are concerned, we see no justification whatever. It is a mockery to talk about curtailing expenditure. It is absurd to put in the mouth of His Majesty in the Gracious Speech from the Throne the statement that the Government intend to economise in every way, and then a few days afterwards they come here with an Estimate of this sort. For those reasons, we do not believe that the reduction of £100,000 is too much, and even if we succeed in cutting it down, there will be too much left for the extravagant ambitions of the Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury Bench.
§ Sir A. M0ND
I think the time is opportune when I may make some reply to a number of speeches which have been made. [HON. MEMBERS: "There are more to come."] In the first place let me refute 1346 the allegations which have been made by a number of speakers, and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), who unfortunately at the moment is not in his place.
§ Sir A. M0ND
The right hon. Gentleman made a somewhat severe attack on the manner in which these Estimates have been framed, and he was speaking, as I understand it, on behalf of the Labour party. He attacks the Estimates on the ground of extravagance. At the same time he objects to de-control, which means the keeping up of a large establishment and a large number of expensive premises. The Department is very largely involved in the question of control or de-control. Still I do not want to raise that as a side issue, but I confess I am a little surprised that of the hon. Members who have spoken nearly every one who has attacked me on the ground of efficiency has not gone into the question as to whether or not I was justified in the Vote I have brought forward today.
§ Mr. WATERS0N
Are we to assume when de-control takes place that the Department of the Ministry of Mines will be dispensed with?
§ Sir A. M0ND
I do not think we can assume one thing or another in regard to that. Let me, however, deal for a moment with the Vote that I am taking to-day, Supplementary Estimates for £485,000, which, it is said, proves one of two things, either that my Estimates last year were hopelessly inadequate and carelessly drawn, or knowing that they would be large I got the House of Commons to pass the smaller portion first. No Minister, however, would be foolish enough to adopt a course of that kind. No Department desires Supplementary Estimates. It is better and easier to get one set of Estimates than two. Hon. Members do not appreciate the difficulties that arise in the preparation of Estimates. So far as nay Department is concerned the Estimates are prepared in November for the next twelve months. My Department caters for every other Department of State in the way of premises and accommodation and a hundred and one other things. Probably in November or December we 1347 have to make up our minds as to what is likely to be wanted for the next twelve months, and we spend a good deal of time and trouble in getting together all the information we can, and then we endeavour to bring it forward in the best possible form we can. We endeavour to produce the closest Estimates we can. May I tell hon. Members that there are two ways of preparing Estimates? You can either say: "Oh, well, knowing we are going to spend more money than at present, we will prepare Estimates on that basis and in a generous way, in that way avoid coming to the House of Commons for a Supplemental Estimate, and so take credit for ability and economy, having deliberately weighted the figures in our own favour; or you can cut your Estimates to the lowest point honestly and come later and say: 'We have spent more than we anticipated.'" I know the first kind of Estimate, I have seen it all my life. Geniuses estimate too low in order to suggest a surplus, whilst others estimate too high in order that they may suggest economy. My idea of Estimates is that they ought to be as nearly accurate as possible. My right hon. Friend opposite in a magnificent oration took exception to certain items. Other speakers have also pointed out what they believed to be wrong. It is perfectly true had they dived a little more into detail they would have found that the Supplementary Estimate presented to the House of Commons does not deal with other subjects as well as the one immediately before us.
§ Sir A. MOND
I cannot understand this kind of sanctity as between Estimates and Supplementary Estimates. No one except a Government Department is ever supposed to undertake the task that we are asked to perform. A Government Department has to try to make out to the best of its ability what is going to happen during the next twelve months. Other things come along, and so knock that Estimate out. Take this Estimate we are discussing, the purchase of premises at Hollinwood. I am asking for £311,000 for new works, alterations, additions and purchases. Of that amount £185,000 is for the Hollinwood purchase. But when the 1348 Estimates were framed in November the question of this purchase had not arisen. It arose in the course of the financial year.
§ Sir A. MOND
Why did we let it come in? We had the chance of making what was considered a very profitable purchase. Had we left it over till the next financial year, the probability is that the United States Government would have sold this aircraft factory, so we had to decide to buy or not to buy the premises which have produced this Supplementary Estimate. If the transaction was good, as I maintain it was—and the Treasury thought it was, and so did the people who were investigating it—could anybody suggest a more unbusinesslike procedure than to leave it over and run the risk of missing it merely because of a matter of form? No business man in the country would let such an opportunity pass, or if he did, would not be accounted much of a business man. A Department like mine has to purchase property when the property is available and when the purchase can be made. How can I know what property is coming into the market, or when or where it will come? Almost the whole of this £311,000 falls entirely under these circumstances. Take the question of the Board of Education and the purchase of premises. There occurred an opportunity of acquiring these premises, and we had to decide either to buy or let the opportunity go. We decided to acquire them, and how could we possibly have known eight months ago that these premises were coming into the market? The same argument applies to quite a number of these cases. Take the case of the £30,000 for the purchase of a freehold site in Bloomsbury. That matter has arisen because the legal documents were not completed when it was expected they would have been, and how could I tell in November or December, 1920; whether or not the solicitor would have these documents completed by a certain date?
If hon. Members like to look at these items one by one, what do they amount to? They are merely a few questions of re-painting and re-doing up of Government premises. Take the case of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. This includes Armament Buildings, which, for a long time, was occupied by the 1349 Ministry of Munitions, and they were in a deplorable state. The Ministry of Agriculture wished to go into those buildings, and, of course, some painting work had to be done to make them presentable. Then we were asked by the Board of Education to find them some more premises, and there is also the case of the Disposal Board. For two years back now, I have been adopting the policy of trying to get Government Departments to move their offices from expensive premises in the West End to more cheaper premises in the suburbs, and I have to a certain extent succeeded. The premises I have alluded to were bought on the principle of trying to divert branches of Government offices in the West End to more suburban premises, whereby a great deal of economy can be effected.
§ Sir A. MOND
That is not quite as easy as it sounds As regards this particular building for the Disposal Board, I believe that body is about completing its labours.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say who holds the lease of these premises, and are you not paying rent for them?
§ Sir A. MOND
They were held by the Road Board and were afterwards absorbed by the Ministry of Transport, and this was really a transfer from one Government body to another.
§ Sir A. MOND
I have not got that on my notes, but I will find out. What I was going to point out was that the Disposal Board may continue for some considerable time in some shape or other, because it has many important matters to deal with. So far as these premises are concerned, when they become vacant I have other use for them. Hon. Members no doubt can realise in this matter what the position of a Minister is who has to provide accommodation for all these Departments. We are not yet through all the difficulties caused by the War in this respect, but if I cannot obtain the transfer of some staffs, who are now occupying expensive premises, to more reasonably rented premises in the suburbs, surely the Committee, instead of blaming me, ought to support me. Naturally everybody prefers to be at 1350 Whitehall. One hon. Member asked me whether all the premises which the Stationery Office had in London, beyond those I have read out, were going to be given up, and I understand they are not. I was asked about Underwood Street premises. I understand that they have been retained in addition. I have been asked a question about the adaptation at Hollinwood, but those premises are entirely freehold.
Has the adaptation of these premises been completed, or is this only a small instalment?
§ Sir A. MOND
This is only an instalment, and I understand that further expenditure will have to be incurred, but I cannot say what it will amount to.
§ Sir A. MOND
I have not gone into the figure myself. I want to say a word or two about the testing station. I ought to point out that this is not a separate establishment. It is part of the ordinary establishment and carries on not merely a certain amount of theoretical work, but also very good practical work. We have to test all kinds of electrical stores of which we buy large quantities, lamps, radiators, cables, and general engineering. These things are supplied to us under contract. It is essential to keep a check and they are dealt with at this testing station. There is nothing new about it. It is merely an extension of size. We have always kept a careful check on materials and stores, and it has paid us and the taxpayer to do so. This item is only necessary because the premises have become too small for the work, and we have had to take larger premises in order to do the work efficiently. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) spoke of my visit to Egypt and asked if I had been to see the Pyramids. I have seen them, and they are a fine example of building. I can imagine the amount of research work necessary before anyone would undertake that work. It must have lasted a great many years. The method employed in lifting the stones was one of the most ingenious the world has ever seen. That, however, is getting rather away from the subject. This testing work is very important, because all kinds of new methods in 1351 building are being brought forward, many of them involving the use of new material. It is very necessary to be able to use them to the best advantage, and we must know whether a thing is sound or not. I do not say that you can do all this in a testing station, but you can do a great deal. You test steel and iron at testing stations, and a great deal can be done in testing new building materials.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)
I must ask hon. Gentlemen to allow the right hon. Gentleman to continue his speech.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Sir A. MOND
I would like the Committee to understand that this is not a new establishment and that the work is mainly being done on supplies and stores, although a certain amount of interesting homework is being accomplished. I was asked some questions about Bloomsbury. As far as I can see, this will be the final figure as far as the site is concerned. The Stamp Duty is included in the figure of £4,500 which I gave for Stamp Duty and legal charges. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London raised the question of maintenance. The chief items of maintenance with which we have had to deal are bricks, slates, tiles, and paint, and, although reductions are beginning to take place, there has been no reductions during the year to which I am referring. These items were framed in November and December originally, and there has been a considerable rise in prices since that day. Therefore, over the year there will be a considerable increase, something like 25 per cent, on the original Estimate. I was asked a question about the barriers in Downing Street. They come into the item of maintenance. I do not know how much they actually cost, but it cannot amount to very much in money. It was considered very necessary. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Well I am carrying out the instructions of people who are responsible for the safety of the public, and it must be for them to judge whether they are necessary or not.
There is the general question, into which I do not suppose I can enter at any length. I was a member of the first Estimates Committee, and I sympathise 1352 very much with Members of the House in wishing to establish a closer check on Estimates. Speaking as a Minister, I can only say that it would be to the advantage of Ministers' Departments. It is extraordinarily difficult on occasions like this to supply all the information required by hon. Members, who naturally want to be certain that the expenditure is thoroughly justified and that the public money is being well looked after. Therefore, I hope that we shall proceed again perhaps on the lines of this Committee, on which I served for something like three or four years. I do not think there was much in the point about police and caretakers. My Department are not responsible for the special constabulary. I was asked whether the special police in the House come on this Vote. They do not come on my Vote at all. I think I have covered as far as I could the principal points.
§ Sir A. MOND
At any rate I have endeavoured to cover all the points, and if any further information be required, I shall be happy to give it.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
The right hon. Gentleman has made out something of a case in his reply to the attitude adopted officially by the Labour party. It is quite clearly impossible, on many of these items, for the Commissioner of Works to get an estimate beforehand of what other Government Departments are going to demand. In criticising the Estimates this afternoon, and in supporting the reduction, I am not actuated by any malevolent feelings towards, the Commissioner of Works. One realises the way in which other Departments put their burdens on to the First Commissioner. They do not come down to this House, when the matter is debated, in order to explain to the Committee why it is their Departments are making the demands. We must make an honourable exception this afternoon in the case of the Ministry of Health. Both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have been here, but the Ministers for Food and Education —and especially the latter, whose new house in Old Queen Street forms one of the larger items in this Supplementary Estimate—have not had a single repre- 1353 sentative here in order to explain why at the end of the financial year, in addition to the thousands of pounds they are spending on buildings up and down the country, as well as the cost of the enormous staffs they maintain in London, they are going in for further buildings and further staffing. That item alone justifies Members of this House in supporting the Motion for the reduction of the Vote. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Major Hills) reminds me, the Minister of Education has one of the most sumptuous offices in Whitehall and is still occupying part of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Why does he want to acquire the premises in Cromwell Road, and why must that course be adopted in this financial year?
There is one particular item for which the right hon. Gentleman is partly responsible, and that is in connection with the testing station at Carteret Street. Why should the country be put to all this expense for the testing of electric bulbs and such things? I know my own experience. I go to a shop and buy an electric light and if it turns out bad I send it back and get a new one. I do not have an elaborate testing station maintained at the public expense. I think it really is time for Ministers to look round their respective Departments, in view of the enormous burden now imposed on the country, and to see what items are absolutely essential to the national well being, I do not believe it is for the national well being that you should have, not only the existing testing departments, but a further expansion into larger premises. I want to come next to what, to my mind, is the major point in this Debate, and that is the way in which these Estimates are presented to the House of Commons. This Estimate has obviously been prepared by an official, and I would ask the Committee to pay special attention to Item C and to the explanation given of it. That explanation is that it is "Provision for the continuance of Departments engaged in winding up War business for a longer period than anticipated, for increased cost of hirings, and for additional temporary services." These words cover a multitude of sins. We are not told what Departments are concerned. The footnote is one of those generalisations to which we are becoming accustomed, and I venture to assert that if we had an Estimates Committee, 1354 a sentence of that kind would never be allowed to come before Parliament. Anybody who reads the explanation of the Estimate must be aware that the writer of such an explanation is not fulfilling his duty. £60,000 of the taxpayers' money is being asked for without any sort of explanation which can be looked upon as adequate. We do not know what Departments are concerned. Is it the Ministry of Food? Is it the Disposal Board, or is it the Passport Office? I believe it will be quite impossible for this House of Commons to secure once again effective control over finance, such control as it had some time ago, if this kind of thing is allowed to go on.
The control is passing to the Treasury, and nowadays the Treasury glory in letting the House of Commons down. We know it is the practice of the Treasury to sanction anything which has Cabinet authority. That practice has grown up within the last few years. It is a new doctrine this "Cabinet authority." If only a Minister wants to expend money he merely has to get it approved by the Cabinet. That strikes at the root of the authority of this House, and we shall never get back our authority until we have an Estimates Committee which, before the Estimates are presented to a Committee of the whole House, will go through the items and be able to point out to Members of this House exactly who has been responsible for the demand, and which can also assure the House that the exact amount asked for really cannot be further cut down. At present we have to take every one of these items on trust. We are unable to call evidence. The right hon. Gentleman may tell us that a certain thing will cost £6,000 and another £14,000. How do we not know that those two items could not have been obtained for £5,000 and £13,000 respectively? It is utterly impossible in Committee of the whole House to get any definite information—it is not the fault of the Minister— which will enable us to check individual items in the way this House ought to check them. I would urge the right hon Gentleman to press on his colleagues in the Cabinet the urgent necessity of setting up an Estimates Committee—a body of this House that will take the Estimates and examine and report upon them and make certain that in future we do not have these quite useless paragraphs put in under headings which really tell us 1355 nothing that we want to know. We have, as it were, to drag it out of the Minister by question and answer in Debate. The course that I have suggested would save the Minister immense trouble, and would restore to the Commons of this country effective control over finance.
I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will also impress upon his colleagues the necessity of not putting so many of these items into the Vote of the First Commissioner of Works. Cannot we have all the pensions' buildings in the Ministry of Pensions Vote, and all the Board of Education buildings in the Board of Education Vote? Until we are in that position again, it will be most unsatisfactory, and there will be no real responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman's responsibility is to find premises for these various Departments. He cannot challenge them, or say, "You have too many," but he has to find sufficient accommodation. Then the Board of Education, for instance, escape their responsibility, because the person who has to defend the Estimate is the First Commissioner of Works. Consequently, there is no responsibility, because there is divided responsibility. Until we can get these items, which ought not to be in the right hon. Gentleman's Vote, back into their proper classes, and until the Estimates are thoroughly recast, we shall go on having two and three Supplementary Estimates from the First Commissioner of Works each year. I hope the House of Commons will take this opportunity of showing the Government that they are in earnest on these necessary reforms. Without meaning any personal ill-will towards the First Commissioner, or to the different Departments for which he has to provide at the present moment, I want to impress upon the Government that these reforms are not de minimis, and that they must be attended to at once. Therefore, I shall support the reduction which has been moved.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works has the sympathy of the whole Committee. He is the whipping boy. All his colleagues ought to be here to hold his hand.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Yes, one on each side. I am very sorry for him. Outside the Government, in his own business, he is really a splendid business man, but 1356 directly he comes into the Government his brain becomes like Government wool. My right hon. Friend has told us that he really represents the policy of the Government. He has to house all the officials of the Government, and consequently he represents the policy of the Government, or shows what it is. If that be so, we must have had an enormous number of useless officials kept on since these Estimates were prepared in November last. That is the real point which comes out in these Estimates. My right hon. Friend says, "I am catering for all the Departments," and he said in another phrase, "I am trying to get these Departments housed elsewhere." It would be far better for the Government, instead of housing them elsewhere, to get rid of them altogether. I feel very strongly the force of what was said by my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), namely, that we ought to have some responsibility on the part of the Departments themselves. It is impossible now to criticise the Department, because it is out of order. Those Gentlemen who are extravagant should be here to face us. I hope the House of Commons will read the Government a lesson this afternoon. It is really time that they did.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am not so sure. I should like to make a comparison with my right hon. Friend's Estimates before the War. The Estimates for the year, as far as I can make out, were presented for £12,173,000. Since then, there have been two Supplementary Estimates for £800,000, making a total of £13,000,000 for the Office of Works. I have looked up the Appropriation Account for 1913–14, and the actual amount spent was, not £13,000,000, but £3,620,000. Why cannot we get back to something like pre-War figures? We have got to do it at some time. People have a sort of notion that we are going on with this orgy of expenditure, but we cannot do it; it is impossible. Therefore, I suggest that the Cabinet, or whoever may be the proper authority, should apply the principle of rationing, and should say to the Office of Works, "You may have double what you spent pre-War." That would give my right hon. Friend £7,000,000, which is a good deal of money. There are many of us who cannot be accused of wishing to 1357 extend Government Departments. We have protested against that. I myself have protested from this bench over and over again against the setting up of these new Departments. I wish we could get rid of them all. Then there would be no necessity for housing them, and that would be the greatest reform of all. Therefore, there is no lack of consistency in the attitude of many of us. I want to impress upon the Government, and upon my right hon. Friend—who, I am sure, sees it— that, in incurring the great expenditure exemplified by these Supplementary Estimates, you are pursuing a vicious circle. Yesterday we were discussing unemployment. Heavy and extravagant expenditure leads and conduces directly to unemployment. You have the vicious circle going round—unemployment benefit voted on the one hand, and large Government expenditure, of which this is an example, on the other.
The Ministry of Health is engaged in huge housing schemes. My right hon. Friend has what he called a "Research Department," which, by the way, is in Carteret Street, close to Westminster. I understood that he was engaged in moving these officials from Whithall out to South Kensington, but this Department seems to be very close to Westminster. Evidently his own officials like to be near Whitehall. May I ask him whether this Research Department is available for the Ministry of Health?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
That is the trouble. There is really no co-ordination between all these Government Departments, and consequently we get extravagance. I have not the smallest doubt that there is great warfare going on, with fixed bayonets, so to speak, between the right hon. Gentleman's Department and the Ministry of Health Department. I would ask him, do they exchange information?
§ Sir A. MOND
I thought I had made that point clear. The bulk of the work which is done in this testing station is the testing of engineering materials, electric lamps, cables, and other things which my Department uses. The Ministry of 1358 Health is not an executive Department, and does not buy anything. The work to which I was referring was the testing of materials which we use. I do not know anything myself as to the details of the Research Department of the Ministry of Health, although I know that they have set up some kind of Committee. I know, however, that they could not possibly do their work in conjunction with the day-to-day work which we do. Every big railway company, for instance, which buys large quantities of stores does test its materials. The hon. Member behind me (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) said that, if he went and bought six electric lamps, he did not have them tested. Of course he did not; I do not myself. But if he were running a department buying thousands of lamps or miles of cable, he would be extraordinarily foolish if he did not spend a few pounds in having them tested from time to time.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say which railway company keeps two departments without knowing they are both doing the same thing?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I thought the right hon. Gentleman had got up merely to give an explanation to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lambert).
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The right hon. Gentleman has made a very lengthy explanation, but he has not added much to our information. I wish he would bring the business methods of Brunner, Mond amp; Company into the Government. I am certain that in his great research in which he has been so successful—and I congratulate him and his firm—they never had two departments doing the same thing. Really, we ought to get business aptitude into the Government. I am not really making the point needlessly or factiously. Really the Government ought to co-ordinate their information. It is not enough for the right hon. Gentleman to say, "I do not know what the Ministry of Health is doing. I believe they have appointed some sort of a Committee." It is not business. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see his colleague, the Minister of Health, and ask him whether his own Research Department cannot do the work for him. But speaking upon the general question, I warn the Govern- 1359 ment, in their own interest, that these charges of extravagance are ringing up and down the country and they are well founded. You complain of the Anti-Waste party and the Anti-Waste Press. Take away the real cause of the agitation by economical administration and then you will have no charges of extravagance. The Leader of the House said yesterday, "We are endeavouring to deal with extravagance." But you are not dealing with it in these Estimates nor in any of the Supplementary Estimates which have been introduced. I wish to ask a question just to know what the right hon. Gentleman is going to do. He is framing his Estimates for 1921–22. Will he please take into account the criticisms of the House of Commons, will he take into account the feeling of the country, and will he cut down his Estimates? If so, this discussion will have done some good. I believe economy is the first essential for the country at present. I am not speaking in a political sense at all. I ask Members of the House of Commons if they are friends of the Government to give the Government a real lesson in this matter, for I am certain it will be their salvation, and vote for the reduction.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I shall not imitate the prolixity of the First Commissioner of Works or digress, like him, into the history of the Pharaohs. I have never seen in the course of my Parliamentary experience a Minister so largely obstructing his own Estimates. He began by taking up the question of Supplementary Estimates, and he laid down certain rules with regard to them. I have had 20 years' experience of framing Estimates. It is occasionally absolutely necessary to have Supplementary Estimates, but under what conditions? I prepared the Estimates for education. A Supplementary Estimate might be necessary then, because the attendance at schools might increase, and conditions utterly out of my power to conceive might come about. Almost all Estimates of that sort must necessarily be subject to contingencies, and those contingencies render Supplementary Estimates necessary, but we all have great sympathy with the proposal put forward by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lambert). Our Estimates should be measured by a rationing process, and if there is one Department to which that 1360 rationing process may be easily applied it is the Office of Works. There is no increase of population and there are no uncertain factors in framing the Estimates. You can spend upon buildings and the provision of premises just what you think necessary and no more, and if you go to the bottom of your purse for one year your additional premises, your additional accommodation, your buildings and your new experiments must be put off until the new year begins. That is the principle on which expenditure is regulated in ordinary businesses. There is an element in these Supplementary Estimates for the Office of Works which enters very strongly and is open to the strongest objection. I am certain, as I look over these, that these Supplementary Estimates are necessary simply because certain Departments have power and influence and can force their views upon the Office of Works.
I notice as a fact that certain offices that I could name can insist where poorer offices would be told, as we used to be told in my own experience in the old days over and over again, "You must make your premises do for this year as they now are. Sit a little closer. Do not be so extravagant in space for your men. At all events, you can go on for the present as you are," and with a firm First Commissioner that was insisted upon. Nowadays we have certain offices the heads of which are Imperialist and rather dictatorial. They go to the Office of Works and they insist, "I shall resign if I do not have sufficient accommodation for my staff. I insist on you providing it." It has been pointed out to the Education Department that they have the handsomest, the newest, and the most elaborate amongst public buildings—a building altogether out of comparison with that in which I worked for thirty-five years. They go into this, and now forsooth, because it is not big enough— go to the office and see whether it is not big enough, as I have done—they must have £14,000. I ask my colleagues in the representation of Scotland to note this contrast. In the Scottish Education Department, instead of getting £14,000 as a mere small addition, it has been driven two miles away from Dover House, where the Secretary for Scotland and the Head of the Department is, and is working in small premises in Oxford Street. Every document is carried from Dover 1361 House to that office two miles distant. The Head of the Department is absolutely divided from his staff. I never knew in the whole history of administration any greater scandal than this, and I hope it will not only be listened to by Scottish Members, but will be resented throughout Scotland. The accommodation that has been given by this small addition to the English Department would have been ample to satisfy the needs of Scottish education and to have kept the administration in some sort of connection with the heads of the Department. It may be that in certain Departments the persons at the head cannot obtain what they want, while those who can exercise a more dictatorial power over the First Commissioner get their own way.
Another point I wish to refer to is in regard to stationery. I do not wish to go behind the word of the Secretary to the Treasury with regard to the new operations of the Stationery Department which renders necessary this additional accommodation. He spoke with some doubt. I have the very strongest reason for supposing, and it is confirmed by the feeling throughout the printing trade and the publishing trade, that the Stationery Office do contemplate, and because they do contemplate it they require these new premises, an extension of their work which will interfere with the printing trade and the publishing trade. I would not have referred to this after what the Financial Secretary said, but he distinctly gave us to understand that he could not be quite certain. That was my impression. I think he is misinformed, and I know that there is alarm both in the publishing and the printing trades in regard to the new operations of the Stationery Office.
§ Major ENTWISTLE
The First Commissioner of Works made an extraordinary defence of the principle of submitting Supplementary Estimates and in not taking great care that the original Estimates should be accurate. He asked: "What is the particular advantage or disadvantage of having Supplementary Estimates? Why should one be too scrupulous in having the original Estimates accurate?" One reason why the Government might be induced not to make their original Estimates large enough to cover their expenditure is that when they introduce their Budget they 1362 will be up against the difficulty of too great an expenditure and, therefore, there is a temptation for the original Estimates to be left below the amount of expenditure which they contemplate for the year. We ought seriously to examine these Supplementary Estimates, and unless an absolutely sound reason is given for lack of foresight in foreseeing this expenditure in the original Estimate the Vote ought not to be passed. With regard to the purpose of the freehold site in Bloomsbury an additional sum is required to meet Stamp Duty on the conveyance. How is it that the right hon. Gentleman could not estimate for the Stamp Duty on the conveyance in the original estimate for the purchase price. The cost of the freehold site was £425,000 and there is an additional expenditure of £30,000, part of which is for Stamp Duty. He knew exactly what the amount of the Stamp Duty would be when the property was first purchased. He has explained that the interest on the purchase money is due to delay in the completion of the conveyance; but the Stamp Duty payable was not affected by the delay in completion. Why have we this additional amount of £4,500 placed in the Supplementary Estimate, when according to common sense one would have thought that anybody would have foreseen that the expense would have to take place?
We had also an explanation in regard to the acquisition of premises by the Ministry of Munitions. The right hon. Gentleman was asked how it is that the Ministry of Munitions, which is supposed to be in a moribund condition, has acquired new premises, and we were told that the Ministry of Transport is going to take over these buildings. There is a great temptation when Departments which are in the course of liquidation, and about to expire to purchase new premises, and the explanation given is that some other Department can take them. That is an excuse for keeping on Departments and staffs which otherwise would not odtain. It ought to be no excuse whatever for any Government Department which is in the course of liquidation to acquire premises, and then say that the buildings can be used for other purposes. The proper course for the Government to take is to get rid of the necessity for the use of existing buildings, and not find some excuse for the occupation of other 1363 buildings which are being acquired. All these items should come under the Votes for the particular Ministry in question. We have an example in regard to the item for the Ministry of Pensions. When the late Minister of Pensions was giving us the cost of the administration of pensions he gave a figure of £5,000,000, which sounded reasonable, seeing that it was less than 5 per cent, on the total expenditure. In that £5,000,000, however, there was nothing included for the cost of buildings; that comes under the Office of Works Vote. Here is an example where through this system of putting under the Office of Works Vote items which ought to come under the separate Ministry, we are unable to find out the cost of the administration of those Ministries. The cost of the administration of the Ministry of Pensions far exceeds £5,000,000, apart from this particular item of expenditure. It is the duty of hon. Members to vote in favour of the Amendment for the reduction of the Estimates.
§ Major BARNETT
I think, with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, that there is a good deal to be said for the Office of Works. As Government Departments go, the Office of Works is comparatively well managed. There is one item in the Estimates to which I wish to draw attention, and that is the item of £5,100 for altering the Army Post Office to serve the purposes of the Ministry of Pensions. One of the leaders of one of the official Oppositions rather slurred over this item on the ground that it has been voted already; but on this item it is competent to raise the question of the occupation of Regent's Park. We ought to have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that at the earliest possible moment Government encroachment in all the parks, Regent's Park in particular, shall come to an end. Hon. Members are familiar with the Regent's Park. Reference has been made to the unsightly buildings there, and certainly there is a very good case to be made out for the amenities of the park, but there is a better case in respect to the health of the population. To hundreds of thousands of people in Kentish Town and Camden Town, Regent's Park is the one lung and breathing space, and every square foot that is taken from Regent's Park and utilised for any other purpose 1364 is an intolerable interference with the rights of the people.
We have had criticism in this House of the commandeering of hotels and public buildings. It would be a thousand times better to commandeer every hotel in London than to take a square yard of Regent's Park. [HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] Anyone who has gone on a summer's afternoon to Regent's Park, as I have done frequently, has seen every square yard of that park utilised for games, and much more space could be utilised with advantage if it were available. The park to these people was a sort of earthly paradise until the War. Then the serpent of Bureaucracy crept in and Government Departments entrenched themselves in ugly hutments and "temporary" buildings. Will it be believed that a large part of the buildings now in Regent's Park have actually been built since the Armistice? I raised this question a year ago and protested against the encroachment on the rights of the people. This is a continuing trespass and a continuing scandal. We have had compliments paid to the Minister of Pensions and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions. I yield to no one in my admiration of the good work which they are doing, but I can tell them in the name of hundreds of thousands of London citizens that the sooner their thousands of clerks are removed bag and baggage out of Regent's Park the better. I do not care where they go. Let them go to some other place. Before we proceed to a Vote I hope that my right hon. Friend will give some assurance that this intolerable intrusion will now come to an end.
The right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Mond) has failed to supply the information which alone would justify us in voting this money. We have asked whether or not there is any prospect of going back to pre-war staffing in the various Government offices which are asking for further expenditure of money. I quite agree that the right hon. Gentleman is not responsible, but we are, and unless there is some machinery for telling us what the staff is going to be next year or the year after, it is unreasonable to ask the House of Commons to embark on these costly permanent schemes for the further housing of 1365 Government officials. As far as we could learn from the Financial Secretary's first speech, we are giving up requisitioned premises to the value of over £7,000 a year, and we are replacing them by permanent premises which are to cost £230,000. That seems to me to be a rather bad exchange. The Secretary to the Treasury tried to allay our uneasiness about the expansion of Government staff. He made a very persuasive case, as he always does, and said that the proposal about these offices was really a business proposition, and that this was in no way a burst of fresh development. He gave no information as to the decrease in the London organisation as a set-off against the great increase which is to take place at Hollinwood.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I must correct my hon. and gallant Friend. I specifically stated that there would be a reduction of £10,000 on the staff in London.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I said in regard to Hollinwood that so far as I could see at present we should have a reduction of 10 per cent, in the Estimate. I explained that we should have the advantage of having all the staff at Hollinwood in one building instead of a number of separate ones.
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for clearing that matter up. There is another matter in connection with Hollinwood which has caused a certain amount of disquiet. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that it was going to be used as a store where there would be a very large store of material. We have burned our fingers sufficiently over these large purchases in the past. I hope that this does not mean that we are going to buy stacks of paper at present prices and hold them on a falling market. Though Hollinwood may not mean, as the Secretary to the Treasury tells us, a fresh development, the printing development does mean a fresh development. During the War for the first time there was a printing staff taken on and it was repeated last year. In the evidence given before the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports last year it is stated that during the War they took on this temporary staff of over 1,500 people and 1366 they still employ them. According to Mr. Codling they are employed in 8 different premises and among the Estimates which we are asked to sanction there is one for Hare Street, Bethnal Green, £15,000. That presumably contemplates a permanent tenancy of this building in connection with this printing Department. Therefore it does seem to me that if we are going to spend this money on Hare Street where 534 printers were employed, as we understood, on a temporary basis, we are to that extent committing ourselves to a continuation of this State venture into the printing trade.
This matter has never been discussed in the House of Commons. The Select Committee reported last year:No Departmental Committee has inquired into the cost or the necessity of maintaining the present establishment, and we consider that the whole question of the policy of maintaining a large. Government printing establishment, such as is now in being, should form the subject of an inter-Departmental Committee.Surely in present conditions we ought not to go blindly into the permanent organisation of a State Printing Department. Apart from the bitter lessons we have had of the extravagance of State management in general in itself with the now arrangement under which the Civil Service may steadily go up even when the cost of living goes down, you are not likely under the wage condition which private enterprise enjoys to be able to compete on level terms with private enterprise in printing. We are not being treated fairly in being asked to set up, by a side wind as it were, permanent buildings for this Government Printing Department, which, so far, has been looked upon as only an experiment, and in the Report last year was stated to be only for three years at the most.
What on earth is this increase of £29,000 for police and caretakers for? Why are there any police in the Vote of the First Commissioner of Works? Are they gunmen or are they Metropolitan Police, and whichever they are, why are they on his Vote, instead of on the Home Office Vote? It may be, of course, that they are the people who sleep in offices as caretakers; but, if so, it is an astounding increase to spend another £29,000 after an original Vote of £64,000. An increase of 50 per cent, in caretakers is, surely, quite an inordinate amount. The 1367 only other matter on which I would like the right hon. Gentleman to give us a little information is about Endell Street. In this growing habit of putting forward Supplementary Estimates the word goes round apparently to Government Departments, "We have had two Supplementary Estimates, and a third round is now starting; what do you want? And they all put in what they think they can possibly justify. Endell Street is not allocated to anybody. Apparently the First Commissioner of Works thinks he ought to have Government offices ready in advance of the demand. Endell Street is not earmarked for anybody. It is just for Government offices, and apparently is being held ready for the installation of a Secretary of State for General Interference, when the Cabinet has decided to institute that Ministry. We are still left in a considerable fog as to the exact bearing of these Supplementary Estimates, and we have more than a suspicion that in regard to this printing department we are being committed to a permanent State Department in competition with the printing trade. We ought to have that matter cleared up, and I think we ought also to know why, on some of these Estimates, the eventual expenditure is so much above what was originally estimated by the Minister.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HURST
There are two points of criticism I should like to make, in the light of some local knowledge, on this amazing purchase of a factory at Hollinwood, near Oldham, for £185,000 There are two principles which, I should imagine, any Government Department would act upon in making a purchase in the interests of the country, assuming that the purchase ought to be made, which is a very large assumption, because it certainly has not been proved that we need any great storage place for stationery and insurance cards. The first principle is, undoubtedly, that you ought to buy in the cheapest market. That is a principle which I should have thought would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Mond) in view of his early association with free trade propaganda. Where will you get storage accommodation most cheaply? In some rural area, far from the great centres of population. You are not going to find it, in the period of the cotton boom, within a very few miles of 1368 the centre of Oldham. This property was apparently bought in 1920, at a time when there was a very great demand indeed for factories in that area, and it would be the very last place in the world where you would look for a bargain. I should like to know what the United States Government paid for the factory compared with the price which we paid to them. It seems to me the height of improvidence to have gone to a district of that sort in a time like that in order to get accommodation.
My second criticism is this. Before buying any storage accommodation at all, surely the Government should look round and see whether they could not get cheaper accommodation of the same character within the same area. There is in the neighbourhood of Manchester much cheaper accommodation for storage than at Hollinwood. Did the right hon. Gentleman consider the derelict Government aerodrome at Alexandra Park on the South side of Manchester? Hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent on that aerodrome, which has concrete foundations, and which at this moment is empty, as it has been for two or three years past—certainly since the War. There, surely, you have accommodation at hand, and already belonging to the Government, obviously more suitable for this stationery material than a great factory bought in the middle of the cotton boom. These are two criticisms which I think it would be very difficult indeed for the Government to surmount. This purchase and the purchase of other freehold sites at this period are a mistake. The Government has run counter to the whole current of public opinion. At the present time there is an absolute passion for decontrol, for getting rid of Government supervision and Government interference, and of what are called the tentacles of bureaucracy. We are told that all this bureaucracy is coming to an end. It does not look like coming to an end when these purchases are being made. If a man is on his death-bed, you do not find him buying new dwelling houses. If this is the way in which bureaucracy is dying in England, I think we can apply to it the last words of Charles II, and say that it is taking an unconscionable time in dying.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
I do not want to delay this Debate, for I should like to see it closed as quickly as possible. 1369 [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no!"] It has been going a long time, and I do not think we shall gain much by going further into details. I commiserate with the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Mond), who has charge of these Votes which do not belong to him, and I hope that in future they will be put down in the names of the Departments which cause the expenditure. When increased accommodation is required, the Department asking for it ought to be made responsible for the Vote. That is a principle of account-keeping which ought to be obvious to any Government, and I hope the gross negligence of that principle, under which the right hon. Gentleman is made responsible for Votes which do not belong to his Department, will be set right as soon as possible. I listened very carefully to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury speaking in explanation of this Vote. He made a very good statement, and told us all he could, but I cannot help thinking it was very inadequate in answer to the Debate which has been going on, and I think the best thing I can do will be to read a resolution that I drafted and put to a meeting in my Constituency. It was carried unanimously at the meeting, and I think it would be carried unanimously in this House. The resolution said that while we congratulated the Government on the economies they had already made, it was absolutely necessary that more drastic economies should be made in the future, and that we should press for them.
This Vote shows that there are drastic economies which could be made and are not being made. Several hon. Members have referred to the buying of a freehold which, according to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, might produce economy, but which is certainly not necessary for at least a year and a half. There is also the general statement that more premises are required for various Departments. We have been given to understand over and over again by the Government that all Departments are being reduced rapidly and that great economies are being made. If that is the case, not only should the houses and buildings commandeered during the War be closed, but the new and permanent buildings which have been put up since the War should be sufficient to house all Government Departments now or six months hence. I cannot see that the Government have 1370 made any case for this Vote. It points to continuous expenditure which ought to have been cut down last year, and which many of us pressed the Government to cut down two years ago. We must strengthen the hands of the heads of Departments and the hands of the Government in the task of cutting down Departments. All of us who have any experience of Parliament know perfectly well that the permanent official is more or less master of his master, unless the House of Commons shows its teeth. I wish the Government all prosperity in the work of reducing expenditure, because I look upon them as the best Government we could possibly have at the moment. Some right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite who laugh at me probably agree with me. Putting that out of the question, in order to give the heads of the Departments and to give the Chancellor of the Exchequer further power to do the work I have indicated, I think it is the duty of everyone to vote for the reduction of this Vote.
§ Mr. LYNN
The speech of the First Commissioner of Works filled me, not only with amazement, but with alarm, and if my right hon. Friend opposite goes to a Division, I will certainly vote with him. The First Commissioner of Works, in his usual jocular frame of mind, rather hinted that he intended to start the building of pyramids here. The Government are building pyramids, but not pyramids on which we can look with pleasure; they are pyramids which we carry on our backs in the shape of taxes. Instead of building new premises, it would be much better to reduce the Departments. I will refer especially to the Stationery Department, because that is a business about which I know something. I say without hesitation that these Departments cannot compete with outside firms. It costs at least 50 per cent, more to produce things in a Government Department than it would cost to produce them in a private concern. Why, therefore, go on adding this increase to the burden we already have to bear?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
The hon. Member is quite unconsciously misleading the Committee. The Supplementary Estimate for these warehouses has nothing whatever to do with printing. The whole of the contents of these warehouses is printed by outside contractors. It may 1371 be a perfectly good point he is seeking to make, were we discussing what he has suggested, but it is a point quite irrelevant to the Vote we are considering.
Lieut. - Colonel GUINNESS
What about Hare Street, Bethnal Green? On page 11 of the Select Committee's Report it is stated that Hare Street employs a staff of 535 people and that the work they do is general bookwork, some of the voters' lists and things like the "Labour Gazette," etc.—all printing—and the figure for those premises is £15,000.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I did not interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend while he was speaking, but I tried earlier in the Debate to explain Hare Street. Its principal work is the printing of the Parliamentary Debates, which must be printed in London, owing to the short time which is allowed in which the work can be done.
§ Mr. LYNN
I have no desire to misrepresent the situation. It is sufficiently bad already, without the supporters of the Government trying to make it worse, but on general principles I say that as far as the Government is dealing with the question, which I know something about, they cannot possibly produce material, or even store it, so cheaply as it can be done by private firms. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said printing is being done by private firms. Then why not let them do the storing as well? They could do it cheaper than he can, but really the whole question is one of general principle. The biggest fights in connection with our Constitution have taken place over whether this House should have control of the finances of the country, and, speaking as one who knows something of the Constitution, who has seen it practically working for the last two years, I say, and I say it deliberately, that the whole question of the House of Commons having control of finance is a huge camouflage. Really, the House of Commons has no control over it. It is its own fault, and for that reason I am going to vote this afternoon for my right hon. Friend (Sir Donald Maclean).
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)
I should not intervene in this Debate if I thought the question in this discussion was some detail of the Vote which is before the 1372 Committee, because it is obvious that it is impossible for me to know the details of every Vote or to stand at this table to give the Committee the explanation in regard to such details which it has a right to demand. That must be done by the Minister in charge of the Vote or by other Ministers whose Departments are particularly concerned. [An HON. MEMBER: "This is the Stationery Office Vote."] That is so, and because of the connection of the Stationery Office with the Treasury my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary made a very full statement on the subject, a statement which—I speak within the memory of those who were present—showed that we had a good case for the action which had been taken, but in any case I did not rise to defend particular items in the Vote. I rose rather because I thought the meaning of what underlay a good deal of the Debate was expressed in the concluding observations of my hon. Friend who spoke last (Mr. Lynn). It is not this or that item about which the House is really so moved this afternoon. It is the general feeling that the House has not sufficient control of finance, and that the Government, which ought to exercise that control on behalf of the House, and subject to the House, is itself not sufficiently alive to the necessity for economy, or not successful in securing the economies which are possible, and which therefore ought to be secured. I want the Government and the House to be partners. I want, and the Government want, all the help that we can get. My only difficulty is to secure the help of the House, or to convince myself how that help can best be afforded; neither is an easy problem. The Government yesterday afternoon was denounced, or opposed, by speaker after speaker, because, taking an attitude which we knew to be unpopular, we sought to protect the taxpayer against charges which may prove to be very heavy.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Because not one speaker rose to their support. [HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour) rose."] My hon. Friend only rose after the Minister of Labour said he would give way to what was the obvious sense of the Committee. So long as the Government were fighting the battle nobody co-operated.
§ Mr. G. BALFOUR
Really, I must interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. I rose at the earliest possible moment when it was clear to the Committee that the Government were giving way. Up to that moment a large number of Members had not engaged in the Debate having no knowledge that the Government were going to give way, and refrained from speaking so as not to prolong the Debate.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not wish to make accusations against individual Members, or to enter into controversy with them. I speak of what is within the knowledge of the Committee, that, so long as the Government were seeking to protect the taxpayer against this charge, the sense of the Committee in every quarter, as expressed by the speeches, was almost unanimously, if not quite unanimously, against us. It is quite true that, after my right hon. Friend had, in deference to the sense of the Committee, given way, one or two Members expressed regret that they had done so. But I do not wish to revive that. I only put it to the Committee that the intervention of the House is not always in support of the Government when they are trying to save money, and it has been proved by experience that Committees set up by the House to restrict expenditure may end in additions to expenditure. My experience with Estimate Committees in past Parliaments has not been wholly successful. They have not left the tradition of having effected great saving, or having been powerful means of securing economy, and that has led me to hesitate again and again, and to express my hesitation, to adopt the idea of an Estimates Committee under the circumstances. But the circumstances have changed. I think the House itself feels today—I hope it does—more than ever before, that it must husband the resources of the country, and that it must scrutinise expenditure. I want to meet and, if I can, satisfy the feeling of Members who hold that one of their first duties at the present time is to control expenditure, and be satisfied that they get the opportunities they desire to secure more effective control over expenditure, and so bring their influence to bear in the direction of economy. That will have two results. I hope it may assist the Government in making economies. I think it will also assist the 1374 House to understand the difficulty of making economies on a scale which everybody now desires. It may also give hon. Members a better appreciation of the amount of work and care which the Government have already devoted to this task. My right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) has more than once proposed an Estimate Committee, not so confined by the terms of its reference as the Public Expenditure Committee to simple matters of administration, and without power on questions of policy. I conceive that the kind of Committee he wants—
§ Sir F. BANBURY
This is rather important, if I may interrupt. May I say I have always protested against such a Committee having power to deal with questions of policy, because that takes responsibility off the Government? We always have protested against that idea. We do not want power to deal with policy.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to repeat exactly what it is he does want in addition to the safeguards or instruments already provided?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
It was recommended by the National Expenditure Committee, both in the time of the previous Chairman and when I was Chairman, that the Estimates Committee which was in existence in the years 1912–13–14 should again be set up, with the addition that it should have the right to have an officer of the House of Commons in the same position as the Comptroller and Auditor-General, with power to investigate into the expenditure of Departments and bring the result of those investigations to the notice of the Committee. I do not know whether I have made that clear?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Is that what this Committee now desires? I see no difficulty about granting such a Committee. I would make no difficulty about substituting such a Committee for the Committee on National Expenditure, for, obviously, you do not want two. I should make no difficulty in accepting the proposal if that is what the House wants and what will satisfy hon, Members.
§ Mr. J. MURRAY MACDONALD
Would it not be necessary in the first instance to have clearly defined what the powers of Committee and officer should be? It would be impossible now to consent to a proposal of that kind until we know precisely what are the powers and duties suggested.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am really trying to serve the convenience of the Committee. I find myself in great difficulty because I have felt cold shivers down my back lest you, Mr. Whitley, might be rising to tell me I am going beyond the limits of what is in order. There seems to be underlying this Debate not so much a criticism of any particular item as the criticism that there is a lack of power on the part of the House of Commons to exercise its authority. I was trying to meet that point in order that the Committee and the Government might co-operate to secure that object. I think it is quite clear that the suggestion put forward by the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) does not satisfy all the critics of the Government who have taken part in this Debate. I would suggest to the Committee that I should not promise now what we should have, or state its exact scope and form, because that is not a matter of common consent. I suggest that the Government should set up a Committee comparable in its character to that which dealt at the end of last Session with the precautions to be taken to watch over private Bills and money Bills, to consider what form this Committee should take and how it could be made most effective. If that meets the, general approval of hon. Members I will consult different sections of the House as to the terms of reference and instead of moving the reappointment of the National Expenditure Committee I would move for a Committee of this kind, which would in itself be in some form a Committee on Estimates.
I am anxious that the House and the Government should be at one in a work of first-class national importance. I do not believe, any more than the critics who have spoken, in the effectiveness of this kind of the discussion which we have had to-day, with its vast number of details presented in the constantly changing order because many hon. Members do not hear the defence, and a good many hon. Members do not get answers to the questions they have put in the discussion. I 1376 do not think that is satisfactory either to the House or the Government, and I do not think it conduces to economy. I am anxious, however, to give the Committee the assurance that the Government are endeavouring to reduce expenditure. I think if we get some of the more experienced Members of the House to suggest the form of the Committee I have mentioned and the scope of its reference we might get something that would greatly assist the Government, and which would at the same time give satisfaction to hon. Members.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think it is necessary for me to say a word on this subject. This is the first day during the present Session which has been spent on Supplementary Estimates, and I think it my duty to make a departure from the usual procedure and to say a word in regard to increasing the effectiveness of hon. Members in examining the Estimates. The intervention we have just had has been most useful, and as Chairman of Ways and Means, having responsibilities with regard to the matter, I would suggest that five or six Members of the House confer with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and probably some means might be devised of following the lead of the Chancellor of the Exchequer without taking away from the authority of the whole House as Committee of Supply. With the assent of the Committee I propose to allow a little further discussion.
As the Chancellor of the Exchequer is endeavouring to meet the criticism of the House of Commons this afternoon, I submit that in Committee we are dealing with definite expenditure, and this Committee can only protest against it this afternoon by voting. That can be only determined in the Lobby.
§ Major NALL
Would it not be possible for the Committee to take a decision on the Vote which has been under discussion all the afternoon? Hon. Members do not wish to be side-tracked. Then the discussion on the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion could be taken on the Motion for the adjournment.
§ Sir C. WARNER
Might I suggest, with all due deference to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that my arguments and the arguments of most of 1377 the Members would not be in any way met by the appointment of a Committee, because we were discussing the immediate expenditure and the immediate necessity, and the Committee would control any future Estimates and expenditure? We look upon this Supplementary Estimate as showing the lack of energy in the Government in carrying out the drastic retrenchment which is absolutely necessary for the country at once.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I have had a pretty long experience of the House, and I do not think that I have ever been present when a more unexpected intervention was made by a Minister of the Crown. It is an impossibility, as you, Sir, have indicated, to discuss across the Table such a proposal as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made. He has not been with us all the time. Had he been, I am sure that he would agree that underlying the discussion today has been, to our minds, the obvious extravagance of the Government in this particular Department. Here is an opportunity which the House of Commons has for control, and, if it allows the opportunity to exercise control over this one particular thing to go by, owing to the very adroit intervention of the right hon. Gentleman, then in the eyes of the public it will certainly abrogate one of its principal functions, which is to do a bit of straight business when it gets the chance. The suggestion of my right hon. Friend for dealing with the Committee is one which ought to be debated on the Floor of the House, and not by five or six selected Members sitting upstairs and talking about what they think is good for the House of Commons. It ought to be discussed here. I am glad that he has gone a good way to meet a proposal which I, with my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) and others, have been constantly pressing upon the Government for the past two years. I suggest to the
§ Committee that it might as speedily as possible go to a Division on this question, and let us see what the House of Commons thinks about it.
Sir S. ROBERTS
If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been here the whole of the afternoon, he would know fully the sense of the Committee on this question. Cannot he and his colleagues accept the reduction, leaving it to him and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to allocate the reduction among the various Votes?
§ Sir W. DAVISON
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has invited the Committee to co-operate with him in saving money. These Estimates show very clearly that the Government are not alive to the urgent necessity for economy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] I shall not sit down until I have said that which I am going to say. I represent a constituency, and my constituents have as much right to be heard as those of anyone else. I am going to show how practically the whole of this Estimate can be saved. This is an Estimate of £485,000, and one of the items, No. 12, provides for an additional expenditure of £30,000 in connection with the purchase of a site for public buildings. The total amount is £455,000. That is a site which is not required. It could be sold, and the money could be used, to provide the total expenditure of this Estimate. I think that is where, if the Government were fully alive to the urgent need for economy, this Estimate could be saved. I suggest that this site, which is not wanted by anyone, or by the University of London, could be sold, and money thus provided to meet the Estimate.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £385,000, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 78; Noes, 88.1379
|Division No. 11]||AYES.||[4 40 p.m.|
|Atkey, A. R.||Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H. Spender||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Hallas, Eldred|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)|
|Barnes. Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Widnes)|
|Barrand, A. R.||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hills, Major John Waller|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Doyle, N. Grattan||Holmes, J. Stanley|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Du Pre, Colonel William Baring||Hurd, Percy A.|
|Bennett, Sir Thomas Jewell||Entwistle, Major C. F.||Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Ford, Patrick Johnston||Irving, Dan|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Galbraith, Samuel||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Glanville, Harold James||Johnstone, Joseph|
|Burn, Colonel C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Glyn, Major Raiph||Jones, Sir Evan (Pembroke)|
|Cape, Thomas||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchin)||Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E.||Kiley, James D.|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Rees, Capt. J. Tudor (Barnstaple)||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Lowther, Col. Claude (Lancaster)||Remnant, Sir James||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Lyle-Samuel, Alexander||Richardson, Alexander (Gravesend)||Wignall, James|
|Lynn, R. J.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Macdonald, Rt. Hon. John Murray||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Molson, Major John Elsdale||Seddon, J. A.||Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)|
|Nall, Major Joseph||Spencer, George A.||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Newbould, Alfred Ernest||Spoor, B. G.||Winterton. Earl|
|Newman, Colonel J. R. P. (Finchley)||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Ormsby-Gore. Hon. W.||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Poison. Sir Thomas||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton||Townshend, Sir Charles Vere Ferrers||Mr. Hogge and Mr. Neil Maclean.|
|Adair, Rear-Admiral Thomas B. S.||Greig, Colonel James William||Palmer, Major Godfrey Mark|
|Amery, Lieut.-Col. Leopold C. M. S.||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Peel, Col. Hon. S. (Uxbridge. Mddx.)|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)||Pollock, Sir Ernest M.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S)||Purchase, H. G.|
|Barlow, Sir Montague||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel N.|
|Barnett, Major R. W.||Hopkins, John W. W.||Rees. Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Hunter, General Sir A. (Lancaster)||Reid. D. D.|
|Blair, Sir Reginald||Jodrell, Neville Paul||Renwick, George|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George||Roundell, Colonel R. F.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Birm.,W.)||Lindsay, William Arthur||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Lloyd-Greame, Sir P.||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Lonsdale, James Rolston||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)|
|Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South)||Lorden, John William||Simm, M. T.|
|Craig, Colonel Sir J. (Down, Mid)||M'Curdy, Rt. Hon. C. A.||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Davidson, J. C. C.(Hemel Hempstead)||M'Donald. Dr. Bouverie F. P.||Taylor. J.|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||McLaren, Robert (Lanark, Northern)||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell (Maryhill)|
|Evans, Ernest||M'Lean, Lieut-Col. Charles W. W.||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M.||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Turton, E. R.|
|Falle, Major Sir Bertram G.||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Vickers, Douglas|
|Flannery, Sir James Fortescue||Mallaby-Deeley, Harry||Waring, Major Walter|
|Forrest, Walter||Mason, Robert||Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald|
|Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Moles, Thomas||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, West)|
|Gardiner, James||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred M.||Wilson, Colonel Leslie O. (Reading)|
|Gardner, Ernest||Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir E. (Camb'dge)||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Young, Lieut.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)|
|George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Morris, Richard|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Neal, Arthur||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John||Nelson, R. F. W. R.||Lord E. Talbot and Mr. Dudley|
|Grant, James A.||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Ward.|
|Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||O'Neill, Major Hon. Robert W. H.|
Question put, and agreed to.