Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [22nd June],
That a Select Committee be appointed to examine such of the Estimates presented to this House as may seem fit to the Committee and to report what, if any, economies consistent with the policy implied in those Estimates may be effected therein."—[Colonel Gibbs.]
§ Which Amendment was, after the word "Committee," to insert the words "and to suggest the form in which the Estimates shall be presented for examination."—[Captain W. Benn.]
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ Mr. ACLAND
The Leader of the House would shorten the discussion if he could see his way to accept the Amendment, the object of which is to allow the Estimates Committee to consider the form of the Estimates. In our last discussion this question got a little bit confused, not through the fault of the Leader of the House. The question of the form of accounts was brought in, and my right hon. Friend said, quite truly and rightly, 2080 that that question had always been a matter for the Public Accounts Committee, and he could not possibly allow the form of accounts to be considered by the Estimates Committee. I accept that absolutely. It has been the constitutional practice when the Treasury wish to alter the form of Estimates, to lay that question also before the Public Accounts Committee, because an alteration in the form of Estimates may alter the form of accounts.
If something of the kind that is proposed in this Amendment is not inserted, what will be the position? The Estimates Committee, I imagine, may be quite right in saying, "We examined the Estimates, and certain things occurred to us with regard to their better arrangement. We could understand them more clearly if they were arranged in a different form." Sometimes these alterations might necessitate the question of the accounts as well; sometimes they would not. It would be rather absurd that if the Estimates Committee wanted to suggest a modification in the form of Estimates they would have to leave it over until the Treasury consulted the Public Accounts Committee or until members of the Estimates Committee who happened to be members of the Public Accounts Committee raised the matter in the Public Accounts Committee. The Public Accounts Committee have not in my experience considered the form of the Estimates, but they are most jealous as regards the form of the accounts. It is part of the provisions of the Statute that the Treasury is to lay down forms of accounts, but before doing so it has been their custom to consult the Public Accounts Committee. It would be much more convenient if the Estimates Committee wishes to say anything about the form of the Estimates that they should have the right to do so, and thereupon the Public Accounts Committee could be consulted as to whether it would necessitate any modification in the form of accounts and their view taken upon it.
I consulted the present Comptroller and Auditor-General, without telling him the view of my right hon. Friend. I said: "Do you confirm the statement made in the Debate the other day that, normally, the only Committee which has been consulted hitherto with regard to the form of Estimates has been the Public Accounts Committee?" He said, "Yes. It has 2081 been the custom by courtesy for the Treasury in connection with any important modification of Estimates, because it may involve an alteration in the form of accounts, to put the matter before the Public Accounts Committee." I said: "How will that be affected by the Estimates Committee?" He said: "Assuming that there is an Estimates Committee, that would at once be the proper Committee to consult about the form of Estimates, and the proper Committee to originate any modifications in the form of Estimates, and they would get in touch with the Public Accounts Committee if any alteration or modification was necessitated in the form of public accounts." I have had the privilege of talking over the matter with my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, and evidently the attitude taken by the Government on the last occasion was because the question of accounts was brought in.
My right hon. Friend has put the case very fairly and cogently. He is perfectly right in the assumption that my opposition to the Amendment on the last occasion arose purely out of my desire not to impinge upon the admitted position and the acknowledged claim of the Public Accounts Committee, and not to have two committees with overlapping powers possibly getting at loggerheads. But since that discussion my hon Friend the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hilton Young) came to see me on the matter. He put very much the same case which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) has put, and I think it is a good case for accepting the Amendment and allowing this Committee the power which it is sought to give by the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Amendment. Of course, it must be admitted that in doing so there is a possibility of conflicting reports on the same matter from two committees, and even of a certain clashing of their inquiries and activities, but I should trust the judgment and discretion of the Chairman of the Committee and the good sense of the committees themselves to see that no ill-consequences follow from that. Accordingly, after consultation with my hon. Friend, and fortified by the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland), who has himself been a Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and would be jealous of its privileges and position, I withdraw the opposition which 2082 I offered the other evening and accept the Amendment.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I beg to move to leave out the words "consistent with the policy implied."
I may point out the very small number of Members who think that this question of the Estimates Committee is wórthy of attention. But for the fact that Standing Orders precluded, I am certain that some hon. Members would have drawn attention to the email number of Members who are present. The memorialists—I think that their number has risen to 185—who have been taking such a touching interest in Government extravagance and expenditure, and most of whom are gentlemen who consistently support that expenditure in the Lobbies, are conspicuous by their absence. As I look round I do not see one of them present, not even the organiser of the protest the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson). The Anti-Waste party, even the latest recruits who cause such a fluttering in the Government dovecotes, are absent, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) on the fact that these gentlemen who roared so loudly in Hanover Square and East Herts coo like doves in the House, or betake themselves to the recesses of the Smoke Room when any matter of expenditure comes before us. Emboldened by the result of the last Amendment, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find himself in a position to accept this. If not, from what I know of one or two Government Departments, the Admiralty in particular, the work of the Estimates Committee will be a farce.
Take the Admiralty. If the Estimates Committee is set up, and proceeds to examine one of the most extravagant Departments—because it is one of the Departments most immune from public criticism—and proceeds to examine the expenditure on dockyards, it may go into details as to the number of workmen kept, the amount expended on fuel for electric cranes or steam cranes, or the cost of scraping a vessel's hull, but directly it goes into a really important question—it is one which I am most familiar with—the number of dockyards that are being kept up, for example, the case of the dockyards on the East Coast, it will 2083 always meet, and quite properly, with the answer, "That is a matter of policy." Therefore, where real economies can be effected the Committee will be written off and unable to recommend anything. It will be able to go into the number of bootlaces a boy should be allowed in a free kit when he joins the Navy, but if it begins to say that the number of boys in a time of peace, with the present financial condition of the country, should be reduced much below what it is at present, it will be told that that is a matter of policy. If the Committee examined the cost of the upkeep of an individual ship, it would be within its rights, but if it questioned the amount of money on building a certain class of vessels, such as, for example, the useless class of sailing sloops which were laid down several years ago, and were scrapped a few years later by Lord Fisher, it would be told, "That is a matter of policy, and you cannot discuss it." I could multiply instances of this sort indefinitely. If these words are not taken out the Admiralty will be able to block all useful examination of expenditure. Everything will be policy, except mere matters of detail, as to which there is the utmost difficulty in pointing out where a reduction of expenditure is possible.
Then the whole policy of the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, and the War Office with reference to the Middle East, the retaining of troops in Persia at a great cost at the end of long lines of communication, extending the frontiers of Mesopotamia northwards up to the only defensible frontier, which I am afraid will be found to be the Caspian Sea on the one side or the Mediterranean on the other, will all be debarred if we are to leave these fatal words in the Resolution. The Government may say—I have seen this criticism already made in the "Times" and other journals—that if you allow this Committee to examine policy with reference to expenditure you will make it into a body which will be a rival to the Cabinet itself. That was referred to in his usual charmingly lucid manner by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) when introducing his series of Amendments, and I was hoping to see his name appearing above mine on the Order Paper to-day. I think that that is an unsound criticism of my proposal. This Committee is asked 2084 only to recommend, and it is for the Cabinet to invite the House to accede to or reject the proposals of the Committee, and the fact that the Committee may make certain suggestions with regard to policy does not relieve the Cabinet or the House of its obligation with regard to policy at all.
I cannot see how Ministers can fear that their dignity would be outraged or lowered in any way because their policy is questioned. I think it would be extremely healthy, for example, if the Admiralty officials and War Office officials, and particularly the Foreign Office officials, the members of the permanent staff, who are the real rulers of the country, could be summoned and required to explain policy. You would then get what is needed, a real Committee on Foreign Affairs, on naval policy, and on War Office policy, which could sit in camera if necessary, as at present in the United States and France and other countries. This Committee could be enlarged, if required, and it could cross-examine these permanent officials in a way that the House cannot do. I am certain that the members of it could be trusted to preserve secrets in the public interest, and their recommendations would be so worded as not to give away vital information outside the country.
I am afraid that on this Amendment I cannot allow myself to be as yielding as on the last. I am rather pained that the Mover of the Amendment should have assumed that I was so unstable as to be likely to back his proposal. The gentlemen whom I asked to be good enough to consult with me as to the form which such an Estimates Committee as this might best take were, with the exception of the right hon. Member for the South Molton Division (Mr. G. Lambert), unanimously opposed to conferring on a Committee of this kind the right to inquire into policy. And for a good reason. Let me take the first argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that this infringes, not upon the dignity of the Cabinet, which is not concerned in the matter, but upon the responsibility of the Cabinet and the power of the House. I do not think that the House will be willing to have policy decided by a small Committee upstairs instead of its being de- 2085 cided here in the House, where any Member can challenge the Minister and receive an answer from the Minister. There is another objection. Since we are setting up this Committee, I hope, though I am not very sanguine about Committees of this kind, that it will prove useful. If it is to be useful it must be a Committee like the Public Accounts Committee, into which party spirit does not enter—a Committee of judges anxious to do the best for the State, putting aside for the time all party considerations. The moment you confer upon the Committee the right to go into and challenge policy it is impossible for the Committee to be of that kind.
It is impossible that the Government could consent to send questions of policy to a Committee like the Public Accounts Committee, where the chairman is habitually of the opposite party and where the majority is sometimes of the opposite party. Indeed, I would say that in a very short time you would find that as much care would be taken to secure a majority on the Committee as is taken to secure a majority in this House when important questions of policy are discussed. You would in fact change the whole nature of the Committee. You would not get an impartial examination of the Estimates with a view to economy, but you would transfer to the Committee upstairs the kind of discussion which we have habitually on Votes of Supply downstairs, when party issues are raised and party votes are given, and economy is the last thought of any speaker.
You would have them upstairs. You do not want a Committee to duplicate the work done downstairs. You want a Committee to do the work that is not done downstairs. Downstairs we are not concerned with policy. Let the work of examining Estimates with a view of securing economy be transferred to the Committee upstairs and let us retain down here the discussion of policy to which the House is habitually addicted.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
How about the Estimates never discussed on the Floor of the House because of the Guillotine? The policy of those Estimates might not be discussed from Session to Session.
In the main, as the hon. Member knows, the subjects for discussion in Supply are fixed by the Opposition party. I do not think that that can be considered an indefeasible rule when parties are divided as they are now. You must have regard to the subjects which interest the majority of the House. Happily the gentlemen with whom these things are arranged take that into account and are generally able to meet the convenience of the House. In that way, if there be a desire to raise policy on any particular Vote, that Vote is brought before the House. Whether the opportunities of raising questions of policy are adequate or not, I submit that policy must be raised in the House and that to refer questions of policy to this Committee would be to destroy all possibility of the effectiveness of that work for which I am asked to set up the Committee. With the single exception of my right hon. Friend (Mr. G. Lambert), who is not able to convert us nor are we able to convert him, that was the opinion of the high and varied authorities whom I asked to assist me in connection with this matter.
There is one preliminary remark I have to make and it is a reply to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and so often said, about the House of Commons being responsible for expenditure. I have heard this many times from his lips and it may have been true in the past. He always seems to say: I am the watchdog for economy and I am being pressed by Members to spend money. The Question Paper shows that Members wish to have this and that done involving expenditure, but it would be much truer to say to-day that the House of Commons is the watchdog of economy—to some extent—and that the Government is responsible for having launched out on large questions of policy, involving enormous and unprofitable expenditure of public money. That should be said, because we are always told the House of Commons is responsible for expenditure, whereas really, in present times, the reverse of the statement is true. The second remark I desire to make is this. I do not think it is fair of my right hon. Friend to shelter himself entirely behind the Committee which met in May of this year because he is well aware that there have been two or three other Committees. I do not want to say anything derogatory 2087 about the important Committee which met this year, but it was to some extent an informal Committee, and two very important Committees went through this matter earlier. I cannot find any recommendation on the question of policy, but some of the best witnesses, including I think, Sir Charles Harris, pointed out that we could not have a Committee upstairs deciding questions of policy. What my hon. and gallant Friend (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has in mind, is that if you put in these words you may have a situation arising such as the following. A Member of the Committee may proceed to ask questions of a particular kind from a Departmental witness, or perhaps a Minister. He may ask such a question as: What is the full cost that will fall upon the taxpayer, in consequence of the decision which has been arrived at in regard to Russia? The Member who asks such a question may be pulled up on the terms of reference and told by the Chairman that the Committee is not entitled to inquire into matters of policy. That may be a real difficulty.
A Committee bound by a narrow interpretation of the terms of reference may not go into matters of the greatest financial importance, but when they have reported to the House or to the Supply Committee the Chancellor of the Exchequer may claim to be fortified in asking for a particular sum of money, simply because the estimate has been before the Estimates Committee, and they have made a recommendation thereon. At the same time, despite the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend, I cannot agree with him that a Committee upstairs is the proper body to deal with policy. Is the Leader of the House quite sure that the inclusion of these words in the terms of reference could not be utilised by witnesses to avoid answering questions, or in any other way to prevent the inquiry being a proper inquiry? It is quite true that the Floor of the House is the place where public policy should be debated, but the peculiarity about these Debates is that we never know what particular policies are costing. I have not had an opportunity of thanking the Leader of the House for accepting my previous Amendment, and I now wish to say I am grateful to him, and I think it is an important Amendment. I now suggest that if the Committee upstairs can insist on having 2088 a full account of all the financial implications of the Government's policy, and present a Report to the House on that, without saying anything as to the merits of the policy, the Supply Committee will be in a much stronger position. The Russian policy is a very good illustration. Nobody ever knew, and no one knows to this day, the full cost to the country of the excursions which resulted from the energy of the Colonial Secretary as regards Russia. The same is true of other things as well.
If the House of Commons is in earnest in desiring to control and restrict expenditure they must know what the costs of various lines of Government policy are likely to be. That is all I am prepared to ask for. I would support the Amendment on those grounds. If the words are left in, we may find the Estimates Committee an instrument too weak for its purpose; we may find witnesses, and perhaps even Ministers, refusing information which the Estimates Committee ought to have and ought to report to the Supply Committee, on the grounds that the terms of reference prohibit them from inquiring into such matters. If I thought that the acceptance of the Amendment meant that the Estimates Committee was going to go into the merits of every item of policy, then I could not support the Amendment. Would not the Leader of the House consider whether something could not be put into the terms of reference which would enable the Committee to examine fully the financial implications which the Government is responsible for, without going into the merits of the policy? If he would consider such a suggestion, it would meet the case. I would not, however, agree to the delegation of the authority of the House of Commons in matters of policy to the Committee, and I do not think it is necessary, but what the Amendment seeks is that the Committee should be one capable of getting all desired information on the finances of these matters.
Perhaps I may, by the leave of the House, add one word to what I have already said. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Benn) and I are at one as to what the Committee ought not to do. I do not think there is very much difference between us as to what the Committee ought to be able to do. I submit to him that we must have some faith in a Committee of this House 2089 and in the Chairman chosen by that Committee. We would be justified in having confidence both in our Committee and in its Chairman. A similar class of question may arise, as sometimes has arisen before, where a witness pleads that it is against public policy that he should answer a particular question or give particular information. I do not think a case has ever happened where that plea was improperly used.
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I am not speaking of answers affecting the public interest at all, but of answers to questions which are addressed with the object of finding out the cost of certain items of policy.
I have not misunderstood the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and if he waited longer he would see the relevance of my observations. That is the plea. A witness, wishing to escape from giving evidence, might use it improperly. I do not believe it ever has been used improperly, and I do not think there is any reason to anticipate that witnesses called in this instance will use improperly the plea, "You are now examining public policy; you are entering upon questions of policy." The Committee is entitled, once given a policy, to see whether that policy is being carried out economically or wastefully. That is the power which the hon. and gallant Gentleman really wants them to have. I venture to say that he should see the Committee at work with this reservation before he seeks to leave out the words now in dispute or put any other words in their place. To do so, might be an invitation to the Committee to do that very thing which both he and I agree should be done in the House and not in the Committee.
§ Mr. ACLAND
May I suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that he should do what has been suggested. Let the Committee have experience and see what they can do under their present references in the direction of finding out the cost of policy and whether or not that policy can be carried out equally thoroughly and rather more cheaply. If we hasten slowly in these matters we shall do well, and we might try it on the present basis for a year or so.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I hope the Amendment will not be pressed, because, speak- 2090 ing as the only Chairman of the Estimates Committee, I should very much deprecate any such power being given to the Committee. I was Chairman of the Estimates Committee during the whole of its existence. The Estimates Committee, like the Public Accounts Committee, was an entirely non-party Committee, composed of Members of the Conservative party, the Liberal party, the Labour party, and the Irish party.
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
Does not the right t hon. Baronet mean the National Expenditure Committee, and not the Estimates Committee?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
No, I was Chairman of both—Chairman of the National Expenditure Committee during this Parliament, and Chairman of the Estimates Committee during the whole of its existence; it never had another Chairman. That Committee, which was absolutely non-party, was one of the best Committees I have ever had the privilege of presiding over, and its work was done, if I may say so, in a thoroughly efficient manner, but once you introduce the question of policy, you will introduce politics and party, and it will be absolutely impossible for any Chairman to keep the Committee in that judicial state which is so necessary. I defy anyone to sit on a Committee on which policy can be discussed and eliminate party feeling. Therefore, at once the utility of the Committee would be destroyed. My second reason is that you would take the responsibility from the shoulders of the Government and put it upon the Committee. Supposing the Committee were to advocate something which a large number of Members thought was wrong, and supposing the Government wanted an excuse to accept that policy, and they said, "We will act upon it because the Committee have decided upon it," at once the responsibility would be taken from the shoulders of the Government and put upon the shoulders of the Committee. I think it would be a fatal mistake, and I sincerely trust the Amendment will not be pressed, or if it is, that the House will reject it.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Ordered, That a Select Committee be appointed to examine such of the Esti- 2091 mates presented to this House as may seem fit to the Committee, and to suggest the form in which the Estimates shall be presented for examination, and to report what, if any, economies consistent with the policy implied in those Estimates may be effected therein.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Committee do consist of twenty-four Members."—[Mr. Hilton Young.]
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Captain W. BENN
I beg to move, after the word "Members," to add the words, "and shall be assisted by an officer of the House, especially appointed, with the title of Examiner of Estimates."
I think this is the most important Amendment of all. All these Amendments which I have put down are based upon recommendations of a very important Committee, which went into the whole of this matter, and I have not put a single Amendment on the Paper except in pursuance of one of the recommendations of that Committee, the membership of which comprised some of the most distinguished experts in finance in the House of Commons. We have passed the paragraph which sets up a Committee to examine the Estimates. If such a Committee is to work efficiently, it must have a continuous survey of the expenditure of the Government. It is useless to sit over a few Estimates of one Department, with an officer of that Department, and make a recommendation, and then to sit another time and make another recommendation in regard to another Department, with the assistance of somebody else from that Department. We require a continuous examination, which can only be effectively made if the Committee have the advantage of some officer especially trained and especially in a position to advise them as to any changes in the Estimates or as to any economies which may be possible in them. There is another important thing, and that is that the officer so appointed should be an officer of this House. It could not be anyone whose own salary was borne on the Supply Votes of the Departments, for we should not get the assistance of the necessary independence. The appointment of this officer is essential if the Committee is really to carry out its work properly, and I will quote the words of 2092 Mr. Speaker Lowther, than whom we could not have a higher authority, on this point. He says: "An officer corresponding to the Comptroller and Auditor-General is, however, essential." Some hon. Members of that Committee thought the work ought to be undertaken by the Comptroller and Auditor-General himself, but it was shown clearly in the course of the evidence that that would involve a confusion of offices, which made the proposal quite impossible. That an official of this kind should be appointed to advise the Committee in a continuous survey of the expenditure of the Departments, and that he should be independent of the Departments and a servant of this House, is, I submit, an essential condition of the Committee fulfilling its duties effectively. Therefore, it is with the greatest confidence and with the liveliest hope that the Government will accept the Amendment that I beg leave to move it.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I have much pleasure in supporting this Amendment. The Estimates Committee during the time of its existence always felt that their work was hampered by the fact that they had not an official in the position of the Comptroller and Auditor-General to look into matters for them. We had to find everything out for ourselves. The consequence was that a considerable amount of time was wasted, and a good deal which ought to have come to our notice escaped our attention. I think I notice an hon. Member of the Committee present, and I think he would bear me out in the statement I have just made.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The Select Committee on National Expenditure was set up in the last Parliament, and was presided over by Sir Herbert Samuel. The question of whether or not an Estimates Committee should be set up was considered by them, and they had a considerable number of witnesses before them, including the then Speaker of the House, and, I think, the present Speaker, and, I think, also the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They all, and the Committee, unanimously came to the conclusion that one of the necessities, should an Estimates Committee be set up—which 2093 they strongly recommended—would be that there should be an official somewhat in the position of the Comptroller and Auditor-General; that is to say, he should be an officer responsible to the House and not to the Government, and that he should give his whole time to the Committee. That does not mean setting up an expensive Department. It may mean two officers, especially if there is to be a Sub-Committee. Beyond that, for the present, there is no necessity to go. That being the case, what happened? The present Leader of the House, last February, promised the House he would set up an Estimates Committee. He appointed an informal Committee, of which I had the honour of being a member, to consider how the Estimates Committee should be set up, what the reference should be, what its procedure should be, etc. These were the recommendations of the Committee which were passed unanimously. I am quoting now from the OFFICIAL REPORT of 10th May last. In answer to a question, the Leader of the House said that perhaps the most convenient course would be to circulate a memorandum of the recommendations made by the informal Committee which he invited to assist him in considering the subject, and for whose advice and counsel he was very much obliged. I quote from the memorandum. Recommendation 7 of that Committee reads:7. That there should be attached to the Committee an experienced member of the staff of the House of Commons whose function it would be to prepare material for the Committee's deliberations, and to render advice and assistance to the Committee and the Chairman in particular. Being a servant of the House of Commons this official would occupy an independent position in relation to Ministers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1921, col. 1693, Vol. 141.]That was one of the findings agreed to unanimously by the Committee, the present Leader of the House, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, being Chairman of the Committee. I thought it was a mistake to limit the selection of this officer to the staff of the House of Commons. I need not go into the reasons, but some other members of the Committee were in favour of the official being a member of the staff of the House, and I therefore gave way. There is nothing of this in the Resolution on the Paper. It is left out altogether. It was the unanimous finding of the Committee. I cannot understand why this proposal 2094 was not put into the Resolution. It is important and it is absolutely necessary that it should be there. Unless something of the sort is put in, there is very little use in setting up a Committee. I cannot conceive why the Government should go back upon the finding of the Committee which they themselves set up and that they themselves agree with. I repeat I cannot conceive how it is possible that as this proposal is a proposal which the informal Committee agreed to, and which the Leader of the House himself agreed to, how it has been left out, nor can I believe that it is possible for the Government to object to it.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I should like to say a word in support of what has already been said by the right hon. Baronet and my hon. and gallant Friend. The leader of the House has entirely hardened his heart in this matter. We cannot do anything; but I am perfectly certain that the course of events and experience will lead to this Amendment of ours being carried through within a year or two at most. A point made by the right hon. Baronet is a good one. He has quoted the OFFICIAL REPORT of 10th May. Something very different from the recommendations appears to be contemplated in the Resolution now before the House. If the Resolution is passed as it is, there being no mention of any special qualification or special duties for the person attached to this Committee, the Committee will be assisted by one of the clerks of the House. It is not the business of the Clerks of the House to help the Chairman of a Committee at all. It is their business simply to arrange the witnesses, to see that, there shall be a shorthand writer, and arrange that the formal proceedings shall be properly looked to. These are the least part of the Committee's work. The clerks do their duties admirably, but there is not one of them who has ever opened a volume of Estimates, or who has had any experience—so far as finance goes—
§ Mr. ACLAND
Or has any concern in matters of financial detail, and so on, with which the Chairman of this Committee will have to concern himself. The Chairman of this Committee may, for instance, say, Let us accept the terms of our reference as laid down, and let us be very careful not to trench upon 2095 politics, but let us try to find out why Departments in many respects similar are in some cases more lavishly and in other cases more economically managed. It would not in the ordinary course of business be for the clerk attached to the Committee to help in any some of way by writing to the Departments or making investigations through the officers of the Departments, by arranging a questionnaire to the Departments, or anything of that sort, and it is very difficult, with the best will in the world, for busy Members of the House to engage themselves in that sort of detailed investigation on which really the success of a Committee of this kind must depend. I do not for a moment depreciate the excellent work done by the Estimates Committee when the right hon. Baronet was Chairman of it, and I am quite certain he was really understating the case when he said that they could do nothing that was worth doing without that assistance which he regards as so necessary. I make this point, that unless we can be given an assurance that something definite is going to be done in reference to this recommendation, we have every right to consider that there will only be the ordinary help provided by the attachment of a clerk, which does not carry out the terms of the recommendation, which says:There shall be attached to the Committee an experienced member of the staff of the House of Commons.There is not a single Member of the staff of the House of Commons who is experienced at all in this work, and therefore I hope that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be able to indicate that even if no special examiner has to be appointed ad hoc, at any rate there shall be included in the staff of the House of Commons some person having expert knowledge of these matters. It may not take his whole time, but he should be attached to the Committee.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Yes, he should do that if necessary. That seems to be suggested in the reference, but unless something is done to secure an experienced person the work of the Committee must, to a very large extent, fail of that usefulness which we all hope that it will attain.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I hope that the Government will not accept this Amendment at the present time. The object of this Committee is to examine and investigate estimates of expenditure of the different Departments with a view of economising. This Amendment is not going to bring about any economy when you are proposing to create new officers, because the suggestion made by the Mover of this Amendment is that this officer should be an independent expert, and should be paid so that he would be free and independent to express any view or give any information to the Committee. The right hon. Baronet suggested that the recommendation of the Committee should be carried out that this expert should be selected from the staff of the House of Commons. I sat with the right hon. Gentleman (Sir F. Banbury) on the Committee on National Expenditure where we have had these clerks present, but they have been of no use to us, and I pay the hon. Baronet this compliment that what he does not know about the expenditure of the different Departments or the Estimates is not worth knowing.
I know the clerks cannot teach him anything at all, and with the right hon. Baronet as Chairman or as a Member of the Committee they will be able to carry out their duty far better than if they received any instruction from any expert that might be appointed. On a previous Amendment it was stated that the Committee was in its initial stages, and would have to set to work before they would be able to make any recommendations. I suggest to the right hon. Baronet that the Committee should set to work first of all with the right hon. Baronet's experience and the experience of others who have been in the House of Commons for a large number of years, and I believe they will be able to do their work to the satisfaction of this House without getting any expert knowledge at all. If they find the work is too much and they require experts, that will be the time to come here and ask for this increased expenditure. The first thing the Committee should do is to try and cut down expenditure, and not increase it by appointing this expert. I hope the Government will not accept this Amendment at the present time.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
It is a great mistake to think that a small sum expended in saving a great sum is a loss. That point seems to be entirely forgotten. 2097 We spend a great deal on the Comptroller and Auditor-General's Department, but it is not a large sum compared with the duties he has to perform, and it saves itself many times over, and the actual recovery of moneys in consequence of these services more than pays the actual expenses of that Department. It is not now proposed to set up another Department, but only one official. We do not know what his salary would be, but it probably would not amount to more than £2,000 or £3,000 a year with expenses, and by that expenditure we may be able to save ten or twenty times that amount on the Estimates each year. For that purpose it would be a very small expenditure for a very big profit, in fact, it would be throwing a sprat to catch a whale.
It would be foolish to say now that we are not going to spend that small sum. It would be like a man in business saying that he could not afford to have ledgers or cash books. I have had experience on the Public Accounts Committee and I lave had previous experience on the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and I am able to appreciate the entire difference in the two ways of working. The two Committees were engaged largely in the same work, that is, overhauling the expenditure of the country, but in the case of the Public Accounts Committee the work comes before us after the accounts have been carefully audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, an expert servant of this House, and we have his report and we proceed straight to the points of importance and exercise our functions to the best possible advantage. On the Select Committee on National Expenditure, in spite of the great ability with which the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) presided over that Committee, I am sure he will admit that it was with the utmost difficulty that we could get really to business there because we had not got an expert official to help us to become familiar with the accounts and documents before we met. We had very valuable members of the staff of this House who did their work admirably. But that was not their work, they were not trained for it, they had not the time for it, it was not to be expected that they should do it. If you appoint an Estimates Committee and give them a trained official, however, who will make a study, say, of the Army. Esti- 2098 mates, which will be coming out this year and have come out during the past two or three years in an entirely new form requiring very elaborate study to understand them and still more elaborate study to draw the lessons from them which ought to be drawn as to the comparative expenditure in this and other similar services, if you have an official who can give the time and bring the necessary knowledge for thoroughly mastering Estimates of that sort you may hope to save thereby hundreds of pounds for every pound that it costs you in paying the salary and expenses of that official. Therefore, I have great pleasure in supporting the Amendment.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
I served for a considerable time on the Estimates Committee under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury). I have no hesitation in associating myself cordially with all that he said about the experience of that Committee pointing to the urgent necessity of having an addition in the character suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Benn). What happened in that Committee? My right hon. Friend devoted great attention and care and an enormous amount of time to the work of the Committee. We had to work, however, in the dark. The Committee would meet, and say, "What Estimates shall we take this time? There was nobody there to collect any information about any Department, or to put any agreed scheme before us. All the Members of the Committee, amateurs themselves as to the working of the Departments, had to fish about to find what the Department was likely to furnish them with most material for the working of the doctrines of economy. That was a most unreasonable thing to expect of any Member of this House, and of any Member of capacity, because anyone of capacity has a great deal to attend to, and cannot give up his whole time to investigate the accounts of a Department. If, however, the Chairman of the Committee had an official whom he could instruct to get information about the Departments and make reports to him, the Chairman would then have some practical proposals to put before his Committee.
I agree that this official ought to be independent of the Ministry. Some of the greatest difficulties in the investigations on that Committee came from 2099 Ministers themselves who objected to investigation into their Departments. We had to get several Cabinet Ministers before the Committee to explain why objections were being taken in their Departments. I think the salary ought to be on the Consolidated Fund and the official ought to occupy a position analagous to that of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will adhere to his Amendment. For no other reason than that it is now proposed by the Government that this Committee should have power to divide itself into two parts. No provision whatever is made for the co-ordination of the two Committees when they are at work. Four members will constitute a quorum on each of those Committees. How are you going to work that, unless there is some system of co-ordination, and who is going to do the coordinating? Is a Member of the House to do that work also? Surely the simple and obvious course is to have an official, who will devote his whole time to this work and will be able to supply to these two Committees the information of which the chairman of each will necessarily stand in need.
I do not know what the objection of the Government is to this Amendment. The only objection I have heard was put forward by my hon. Friend (Mr. T. Griffiths), who suggested that this was not the time for creating new salaries. Such an official, however, would save a great amount of his salary in a very short time. He would save it in the working of one Department alone, immediately he got to work on the investigation of the accounts. If there is one thing squandering officials do not like it is going before a House of Commons Committee. If they know they have to go before a Committee they will take care to cut down their expenditure before they come, and they will come prepared to submit economies for the Committee's consideration. You cannot discover these things unless you have an official who will go round the Departments on the instruction of the Chairman or Chairmen. Therefore, on the question of co-ordination alone, the case is abundantly made out for the appointment of an official of this sort.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
This Amendment raises the question of the House of Commons and its powers month by month and year by year. If the House is going to 2100 exercise any effective and efficient control over finance it is vital that the Committee should have at its disposal one of the best brains in the Civil Service. There is no necessity for any large staff, and I am sure my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) would be the last to ask the House for any large number of officials. The total number required would not exceed ten, probably six would be sufficient.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Let me submit to the House several wide considerations why I hope the House will adopt this Amendment, even though it is opposed to the wishes of the Government. I had, as the right hon. Baronet will know, considerable experience on the Expenditure Committee until illness laid me aside. If that Committee did any effective work during the War it was because the Sub-Committees had placed at their disposal first-class civil servants—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being present—
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Before attention was called to the number of Members in the House I was directing attention to the vital necessity of an official being attached to this Committee. I was endeavouring to show that if the Expenditure Committee, at any rate during the War, when I was closely occupied with that work, did any effective work it was because the several Sub-Committees had officials attached to them, who, hour by hour, carried out the wishes of the Committees, and went closely into matters.
What is the object of the Government in withstanding the wishes of the House of Commons in this matter? Let us try and realise what must be in their minds when they refuse this very natural and small request by the House. It is because they are anxious to keep the House of Commons ignorant of the administration of Government offices. The only object the Government can have in withstanding this simple request is that they want the House to be ignorant of what is going on in Government Departments. Vast sums of money are being spent to-day. The 2101 taxpayers are being heavily taxed throughout the country, and I submit that the Government have no right to levy taxes on the subjects of this Realm if they deny to this House the power to control expenditure. A little while ago an hon. Member sitting on this Bench representing the Labour party (Mr. Griffiths) spoke against this Amendment. Let me address an appeal to him and his colleagues on this subject. They are anxious that the House of Commons should be supreme. They stand for representative Government in the fullest, freest, and widest sense of the term. I will ask them, Will the House of Commons stand better in the eyes of the electorate if they are unable to go through Department after Department to examine week by week the expenditure which is going on? I put that question in all sincerity. Criticism to be effective must be well directed and must be informed.
The Government have a large number of first-class civil servants who can prepare statements and clever replies when the Government expenditure is attacked in any Department, and hon. Members who desire to safeguard the public purse will be unduly handicapped if the Government refuse to agree to this simple request which would enable them to render great public service. If hon. Members are willing to attend morning after morning, as many hon. Gentleman have done for years, in order to examine into these matters, surely the Government should take note of the desire that there should be placed at their disposal the small staff they think necessary, and which experience has shown to be necessary, to enable them to conduct an effective examination. The House of Commons ought to take this matter into its own hands, and should insist on its wishes in this respect being given due effect to. The record of the Government on this question is quite in keeping with the experience of this House in 1917. My right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) will recollect a Motion being brought forward to appoint an Expenditure Committee. It was moved on a Friday afternoon in July, 1917, and the Government en-deavoured to side-track it by a very clever move. But the House of Commons of that day was determined to carry the appointment of the Committee. I well recollect how on that particular Friday 2102 afternoon just before 5 o'clock two or three hundred Members pressed the matter so strongly that the Government-were forced to give way, the House showing that it was in earnest and was determined to get some grip over public expenditure. By the appointment of that Committee and as a result of the Reports it issued from time to time, although we may not have succeeded in securing any great reduction of expenditure, we did succeed in directing public attention to the fact that millions of public money were being poured out from the public purse. The Anti-Waste party are also trying now to attract public attention to this matter, and I hope they will support us in this Motion.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
At any rate, we can-hope for their support, and we can hope, too, that the papers they control will take note of the action of the Government in withstanding this desire of the House to secure control over expenditure. If they will do that, they will certainly do valuable public service, and they will help us to secure the object we have in view, namely, the more efficient and effective administration of public money. I have spoken with some heat on this matter. I feel strongly on it. I would suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment that if the Government are not prepared to meet us in this matter, the Committee will be of very little use, and the House of Commons would be well advised not to accept the appointment of a Committee on the terms of reference outlined by the Government. There is one other point which I think should be stated in support of this Amendment. By refusing to accept it the Government are seeking to evade the light of publicity. They are seeking to deny to this House power to go into Government Departments to find out how public money is being spent. They are afraid of publicity, and in refusing this Motion they are showing themselves to be supporters of bureaucracy. The amount of money involved in the adoption of the proposal is a mere fraction. At the utmost the salaries of the officials who would have to be appointed would 2103 not exceed £6,000, but their appointment would place the members of the Committee in a position to do their work much more effectively. They would be better informed as to what was going on, and they would thereby be encouraged in the work they are doing in the public interest. Those who have spoken against the Amendment on the score of expense should realise that this would be a good investment of public money which would bring in a large return, because it would enable the House of Commons to be informed more fully and more accurately on questions of public finance, and that would be of great benefit to the public service as a whole.
§ Mr. KILEY
We are justified in asking whether the Government are justified in setting up this Committee, and, if that be so, one is entitled to ask why they have not thought it necessary that at least one of the numerous Cabinet Ministers whom they have at their disposal should think it worth his while, in an important matter of this kind, to be present on the Government Bench. One might also inquire what has become of that great party of which we have heard so much in the Press lately, and which is known as the Anti-Waste party? I notice that there is one hon. Member present who is prominently connected with that party. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am sorry if I give him credit for what he does not claim. I certainly thought that he was a leader of that party, and I am sorry if I have done him any injustice. Is this a serious proposition, and is it to be considered in a serious way? It is proposed to set up a Committee to do something to stem what is supposed to be—and I think there is some foundation for the belief—the enormous wastage that is going on at the present time. The Committee is to consist of 24 Members of this House, and they are to devote their time and energies to investigation. It has been my privilege to serve on the Public Accounts Committee. I have devoted a good deal of time to that subject, and I am bound to say that I have found the task a very difficult one indeed. If this Committee is really to be of any use to the House, it must have some assistance.
What is the procedure in such a case? Hon. Members assemble in a room upstairs, or in one of the Government Departments, and they invite the atten- 2104 dance of the financial head of some section. They are then told that that gentleman is at the moment engaged in having his books and accounts overhauled by, let us say, the Treasury auditor, or that he is engaged with the Public Accounts Committee, or that he is wanted at some special Cabinet Committee. The day may arrive when the Committee gets hold of him, and he brings his staff and books. It may be the first, second, third, or fourth investigation into his accounts, all more or less incomplete. Then a number of hon. Members of this House sit round a table, and this gentleman deluges the Members with figures in putting his case before them. Unless that Committee have some skilled investigator at their disposal, I venture to assert that not only their time, but the time and energy of that chief accountant and his staff is wasted. No business firm could conduct its business as the financial head of a Government Department is supposed to manage his, being at the beck and call of any body of people who, without any skilled assistance, can call him and his staff before them. That is one of the reasons why I urge upon the Government, if they are sincere in their desire to appoint this Committee, that they must give the Committee such skilled assistance as will ensure that the time and trouble and expense entailed shall result in something useful, not only to this House, but to the nation at large. Moreover, it is only fair to those hon. Members who give their time to the matter.
I have devoted, as I have said, a good many hours to this subject, and have always come away with the feeling that I have done so without any satisfactory result. Those of us who have anything to do with these matters know that, unless we have a skilled official at our disposal, we must ourselves go into the Department and endeavour to find some clue. There should be no difficulty in appointing someone to do that, such as one of the numerous Treasury Auditors who go round the Departments, and are able to get at the inside working, and can make suggestions as to the directions in which reform may appear necessary, and advise the Committee beforehand as to the line of investigation that might be pursued. To bring before a number of Members of this House a skilled accountant to play off his skill upon them, with their lack of 2105 knowledge of the working of the Department, is not likely to be effective. If the Government desire effective results from this Committee they should take steps to enable it to achieve the object which they and the Committee have in view.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Hilton Young)
A body of opinion of exceptional weight, experience, and knowledge has been brought to bear on the discussion of this Amendment, and the nature of the opinions expressed has been very wide in its range. It has ranged from the opinion of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Griffiths), who is totally opposed to the Amendment and will support what I shall have to describe as the attitude of the Government, to that of the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. A. Williams), who is prepared to envisage a state of affairs which, although he might not admit or realise it, would inevitably lead to the erection of another office as large and as expensive as that of the office of Exchequer and Audit. I believe that the intentions, both of the Government and of its critics in this matter are absolutely identical, namely, that the Committee should be a success, and should constitute a practical and effective means of exercising a new form of control over public expenditure. We are working towards the same end, though there may be some difference as to the means to be taken to that end and as to the elaboration which is necessary in preparing those means. I doubt whether it be as much as appears at first sight, but let me say this single word in an attempt to put a somewhat different view from that which has been expressed generally by hon. Members of great experience speaking from the opposite Benches.
I have thought at times, in the course of this discussion, that hon. and right hon. Members were entirely forgetting the existence of the Treasury. Why does the Treasury exist? It exists for the single and sole purpose, in this connection of which we are speaking, of exercising from day to day and all through the year a constant and steady pressure and criticism upon the preparation of Estimates.
§ Mr. YOUNG
There is a certain consequence in these remarks. That is a very great difference in this way, that, when this Committee meets, no doubt, it will be proposed for its consideration—because, of course, it will be entirely for the Committee to decide its own methods of procedure—that it should have, whenever it requires their presence, sitting, with it, just as the Public Accounts Committee does, representatives of the Treasury who are best qualified to give it such information and assistance as it may desire upon the particular Estimates which it is at that time considering. In that way the Estimates Committee, if it requires it—and I hope it will require it—will be able to have the advantage of the assistance of those officers of the Treasury who have been exercising, throughout the year upon the preparation of the Estimates the forces of economy and control. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain, Benn) asked why have a Committee at all. Have a Committee, of course, for the reason that a Government Department which has striven for economy can-have no better help than a Committee of this House to use in terrorem over any official or force which it suspects of being spendthrift. It is to that, I believe, that all the advocates and supporters of the Committee look as its greatest use, just as we know so well the Public Accounts Committee acts in the same capacity over the region of account keeping post-mortem. It has appeared to me further that there has been a certain misdirection given to the current of criticism by a too close comparison of the future Estimates Committee with the Public Accounts Committee. As I take it, the great difference is that the Public Accounts Committee works postmortem on expenditure after it has been made in the review of accounts. Let me recall the attention of the House to the difference I have already noticed. In that region it has got no Treasury to work for it in the review of the Appropriation Accounts, and therefore it is essential for it to have the Exchequer and Audits Office to do the detailed work.
Now let me trace out what I think to be the very logical consequence of this difference between the Estimates Committee and the Public Accounts Committee in another direction. Supposing you were to institute an officer such as 2107 has been described by some hon. Members who have sketched what they think should be the right sort of officer for the Estimates Committee. It would be impossible for him to perform such functions as those which have been described towards the end of the year after the presentation of Estimates to this House. Time would not avail for elaborate labours such as those which have been described. He must needs exercise them all the year round. He will have to exercise them by interposing his inquiries—I will not use the word interference because it has a derogatory sense, but his inquiries—as between the Treasury and the Department in the preparation of their Estimates throughout the year for reference to the Committee. The result must be that this official, working on behalf of the Committee, must needs divert out of the hands of the administration and the Executive a substantial part of the executive power into the hands of a Committee of this House. Some might be prepared to advocate and to face that consequence. I submit that it would be at any rate a consequence which is very contrary to the principle of sound administration and is quite contrary to any principle, even constitutional principle, which this House has been prepared to contemplate in the past.
Let me pass from these more general considerations to the more particular questions which were addressed to my right hon. Friend as to the intentions of the Government. The intentions of the Government are exactly to carry out the recommendations of the Committee. An experienced member of the staff of the House of Commons will be allocated to the Committee to assist it. I think some speakers have very much underrated the experience and the particular ability—no one would underrate the general ability—of experienced members available on the staff of the House. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith feared this might result in the officer attached to the Committee not having a sufficient permanence in his position. Certainly, the Government contemplate that the officer so attached to the Committee shall be attached to it with such permanence as is possible in human affairs, so that by the gaining of experience his utility for the work of the Committee may no doubt be increased as time proceeds, and, further, that, in the 2108 words of the Recommending Committee, he shall be a senior officer of the House, with status and authority commensurate with the importance of the Committee he will be serving.
§ Mr. YOUNG
I will deal with that question and with the series of inquiries put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland). As I take it, he expressed his apprehension in this manner. He said it may be found that there is no senior member of the staff of the House who is qualified to perform these duties. I believe that fear to be unfounded. Surely it need not be feared that if recommendations are advanced by the Committee as to the species of assistance which it needs from the members of the staff of the House, those representations will be disregarded by the Government. Of course they will not. Of course any recommendation from a Committee of this importance and status as to the species of officers which it requires to serve it must receive the most serious consideration and to it must be given the greatest weight, and I can picture that if it were found necessary by the Committee at some future time, though I do not believe that necessity need be apprehended, to recommend the appointment of someone more qualified, that would be a matter which will of course be taken into consideration as and when the recommendation is received. For these reasons I believe the necessity for this Amendment has not been shown. As between some of those who have spoken in support of it and the views of the Government, the difference is very slight; it may be only a matter of name. In particular, the point was made that the officer to serve this Committee should have the status of an officer appointed by Patent. Let me point out that in so far as a formality of that sort is a serious consideration, and no doubt it is a serious consideration, the officers of this House, serving as they do under the sole control of Mr. Speaker, enjoy a very special independence. I believe when the House takes into consideration that we are dealing here with a ranging inquiry which is totally different to the inquiries conducted by the Public Accounts Committee, they will see that the true analogy for the services rendered by the Comptroller 2109 and Auditor-General to the Public Accounts Committee will be the services of Treasury officials, which I hope will be accepted and received by the Estimates Committee. I believe also the House will see that the officer suggested is an officer of such status and experience as will be most adequate to the services of the Committee. This is a question which can be best worked out after the Committee gets into practical working order, and if when it is in practical working order any representations have to be made on behalf of the Committee to the Government that it requires this or that other special assistance, these are recommendations to which the greatest weight will necessarily be attached by the Government.
§ Captain BENN
Perhaps I may be allowed to say a word in reply to what the Financial Secretary has said. The real fact is that the House of Commons is struggling to get control of public expenditure. This is not a movement inaugurated by various sections. It is a movement which expresses, although it does not always receive public support by their presence, the opinions of the large majority of this House. We want to get to grips with public expenditure. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says, you can have the Committee, but its powers, in my judgment, are inadequate. What are you going to give it in the way of some machinery by which it can become an effective examining body? Whatever the hon. and gallant Gentleman may say it comes to this, that the Committee is not going to be distinguishable from any other Committee despite the very capable assistance which it receives. I again quote the opinion of Mr. Speaker Lowther, who said that such a Committee must have its own officials for the examining of Estimates. I come to the second part of the argument of the Financial Secretary—a very weak spot in his armour, if I may say so. What are we going to do with this Committee? We are going to give it the full assistance of the Treasury. This is a Committee which is intended to be an additional check to the Treasury. I was surprised to hear the Financial Secretary say the Treasury were very glad it was to be appointed. The Committee is going to be a claque or a chorus to accompany the Treasury on their raids on the profligate expenditure of the Departments. Supposing the Treasury supply the officials, and supposing 2110 by some chance the Committee hit upon something where a reduction is possible, can they be supported by the officials of the Treasury? They would be convicting themselves of being careless watchdogs of the public purse. I think the case made by the Secretary to the Treasury is inadequate, and I shall be forced to bring this matter to a Division.
§ Colonel GRETTON
The position revealed by this Debate is very interesting. This is a new Committee, and it requires some assistance to prepare the work for the consideration of the Committee. Clearly the official for this Committee must be independent. He must have a status which will ensure that he does not return to any branch of the Civil Service where he may be prejudiced or suffer for his zeal on behalf of the Committee. He must be an entirely independent officer. On the National Expenditure Committee we had most excellent officials. We got a very great deal of assistance from them, but they were, after all, officers who were primarily engaged on the business of the Departments to which they belonged, and they did not give full time or full attention to the work of the National Expenditure Committee. To-night we are asked to consider an Amendment to appoint a full-time official. A very excellent case has been made by the Secretary to the Treasury that a House of Commons official should be appointed. That at any rate has the merit of complete independence of any Government Department. But in addition to that the Secretary to the Treasury admitted that the Committee will require some further assistance, and he made a very interesting statement, which was perfectly true, that the public Departments have a great respect for the Public Accounts Committee, which is an independent body with an independent officer, who do exercise a very real influence over the final making-up of accounts. We want something of the kind here, but the Secretary, to the Treasury proposes nothing of that kind. He suggested by his remarks what is really quite true, that this new Committee might be a kind of a bull in a china shop, and he proposed that it should be led around by a Treasury official. That is exactly what we do not want. We want something independent of the Treasury.
§ Mr. YOUNG
I am quite sure my hon. Friend does not wish to give a mis- 2111 direction to my observations. I was proposing no directions for the Committee of any sort or kind. It would be wholly and completely, of course, within the power of this Committee, as it is within the power of any other Committee of this House, to determine its own procedure and to determine the assistance it requires. If it requires the assistance of the Treasury, the assistance of the Treasury shall be put at its disposal in every possible way.
§ Colonel GRETTON
The last thing I desired was to misrepresent my hon. and gallant Friend, and I accept his explanation. That was not the impression made upon me by some of the remarks made by the hon. Member. The Treasury, of course, will give assistance, but the Treasury should not be the main factor and investigator. We want something independent of the Treasury. The Treasury itself has been the subject of very considerable criticism. It has lost its grip or part of its grip over public expenditure during the War, and it is struggling to re-establish the old control which it did exercise before we embarked upon lavish and largely unnecessary expenditure during the War. We are in a dilemma as to the course we should take. Clearly this Estimates Committee should have power to appoint a competent and experienced accounting officer to give whole-time assistance, to prepare subjects, and suggest lines of investigation. The hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins) suggested a somewhat alarming extension of these functions. He said the Committee might require ten officials. That is setting up a new office and a new little bureaucracy, which is hardly within the intention of the House. If the Committee has the assistance of a competent official of the House of Commons, and a competent accounting officer, who will not be prejudiced in his position in the Civil Service owing to his faithful and competent service to the Committee, it will be fully manned and will have all the assistance it requires. The House would resent the establishment of a new series of salaries and new officers, and if the Amendment means the appointment of more than two officials I shall vote with the Government.
§ Colonel Sir J. GREIG
I have an Amendment on the Paper which raises 2112 the whole question we have been discussing. My Amendment is to add, at the end of the Amendment now before the House the wordsbut without salary or other emolument and without any additional official or officials to assist him in his duties.That is perhaps a rather drastic way of raising the point. The point I want to raise by my Amendment is, what is to be the size of this new office. During ten years' experience in Parliament I. have had some acquaintance with the manner in which officials of the Treasury do their duty. In pre-War times I had the honour of sitting on one Departmental Committee, on which we had at Treasury official, and I can assure hon. Members that he acted very much as a watchdog of public expenditure. Tonight we have had a discussion on the Scottish Housing Bill, the question of a subsidy and a scheme for ex-service men now in operation in Scotland. The point which was taken as an objection against the Government policy, which was embodied in the Bill, was that the Treasury were opposing expenditure, and the whole pressure of hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) was against the action of the Treasury, who were acting as the watchdog. What is to be the-exact position of the new official? What is his salary to be, and how many other officials will he have to assist him? If there is a large number to make the work effective you will have divided responsibility and redundant responsibility, and you will have this new officer working with a bureaucracy of officials of his own, and you will have the expense of this new body in addition to the existing expense We have not even an estimate of the additional cost. We have demands constantly from the other side, when there is any little Bill brought in, that there should be a White Paper Estimate. Hon. Members opposite to-night have not suggested any Amendment. They have used vague phrases about one officer being sufficient. What do they mean? What is to be the size of the new Department? How much responsibility are they going to confer on it? If they are going to confer any large responsibility you will have a redundancy of officials working on counter lines, whereas under the present system the Treasury is an ample watchdog of the public interest.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think that the hon. Member's proposal on the Paper cannot be taken properly as an Amendment to the present proposal, but it could be moved afterwards, should the House accept the Amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn).
Though our procedure may be that which you have indicated, the argument of my hon. Friend who has just spoken is worthy of consideration. Hon. Members are, I think, misleading the House by their analogy of the position of Comptroller and Auditor-General, and the underlying assumption of those who support the Amendment is that the new officer ought to be a new Comptroller and Auditor-General attached to the Estimates Committee. The primary functions of the Comptroller and Auditor-General are to examine the accounts of past expenditure and to bring to the notice of the Public Accounts Committee anything which, in the opinion of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, calls for comment, any point as to which in their opinion the money has been expended without proper authority, or as to which the intentions of Parliament have not been complied with; and the primary function of the Public Accounts Committee is to examine the accounts in order to see that no money has been expended without authority and that the money has been expended for the purposes which Parliament intended. In the course of time the Public Accounts Committee has, with the consent of the House, somewhat extended its functions, and the functions of the Comptroller and Auditor-General have expanded in like measure. That is dealing with what I may call dead expenditure, past expenditure. There is no question of policy about it. There is only the question of whether the Government of the day or a Department of the Government has exceeded the authority which Parliament gave to it. How does the Comptroller and Auditor-General get the information for that purpose? What is the staff which he uses for that purpose? What is the cost to the public? My right hon. Friend says the Amendment means one thing and the hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins) says that he wants ten officers employed by the Committee.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I ventured to come down to business, and eventually reached the figure of six officers. When I spoke of officers I meant two or three first-class civil servants and two or three clerks at £5 a week.
I really do not want to reduce the question to the terms of a Dutch auction, ten, six, and three. Take whatever figure you like, and you see at once that the work is not comparable with that done by the Department of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. The staff of the Comptroller costs about £250,000 a year. All the year round he and his officials are working in the Department, auditing and investigating the accounts, making tests of them, and preparing the matter which is the basis of the Comptroller and Auditor-General's report. Does anyone wish to support a new Department on that scale? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I agree. I do not believe anybody wishes that. To suggest that the officer of this new Committee with one or two men can do a work comparable with that of the Comptroller and Auditor-General is ludicrous. Therefore, that may be dismissed at once from our minds. The work of the Comptroller and Auditor-General and of the Public Accounts Committee is work which it is easy for a civil servant to do. The work of ferreting out extravagance in the conduct of Government Departments—if that is the object—is work which it is very difficult to do. To entrust to a civil servant—whether he be in the service of the Treasury or of the House, he is yet a servant of this House and of the public—that kind of work, would be to put the officer in a very invidious position, and one which would make the relation of Government and House and the Civil Service almost an impossible one. On the other hand, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) said, I think with general agreement, that he desired that the person at the service of this Committee shall not be in the direct employment of any Government Department, but shall be in the direct employment of this House. You secure that by the proposal of the Committee over which I preside, that the officer attached to the Committee should be one of the officials of the House. Do you mean he should 2115 go into each Department, reading confidential minutes passing between officials and their chiefs? Then I say at once, you and I do not mean the same thing. I think that would be a perfectly intolerable position. That is the opinion of the Committee over which I preside; we did not recommend a proposal of that kind, and on behalf of the Government I cannot accept it.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
If I may interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, I would remind him we had a discussion upon that very point—and we came to the conclusion, as he says, that this would not do—but we came to another conclusion, that it should be in the power of the Chairman, if he thought it right, to direct any Department to give any information required to the official of the Committee.
I am not quite prepared to accept the exact phraseology used by my right hon. Friend.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the memorandum of the findings of the Committee, published in the Official Report of 10th May? Recommendation No. 8 is as follows:That this official should not be empowered to call for information from Government Departments, except on the instructions of the Chairman of the Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1921, col. 1693, Vol. 141.]
Yes, Sir, and if that be exactly what my right hon. Friend means, then he and I are at one. I am not disputing that for one moment, but that means that the official will be the servant of the Committee, and the servant of the Chairman of that Committee, as the Clerk to a Committee always is; that he will examine Estimates at the direction of the Committee or the Chairman, submit features which appear to him worthy of examination, and then, at the request of the Chairman, acting for the Committee, seek information from the Departments. It does not mean—I do not mean, and the report of the Committee does not mean—that he is to be turned loose like a ferret, to hunt through all the Departments on his own and produce whatever extracts from the Department papers he thinks fit. That is not possible. He should carry out his duties as defined in the 2116 Memorandum published in the OFFICIAL REPORT. That is what my right hon. Friend and I think, all the other Members of the Committee agreed to. I believe in that way a very useful work will be done.
I desire to refer to the speech which has been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn). I do not think he has ever sat on the Public Accounts Committee. Will he forgive me for saying that, if he had, he would not have made the particular observations about the Treasury, which he made just now. The Treasury has never tried to cover up a scandal.
§ Captain BENN
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that I suggested the Treasury would try to cover up a scandal? I made no such suggestion. What I did say was that if the Committee made recommendations, the Treasury should assist them.
I really do not want to quarrel with the hon. and gallant Gentleman or use any words which would offend him at all, but he must permit me to say he shows a complete misapprehension of the attitude of the Treasury in matters of this kind. The Treasury welcomes bona fide assistance in the public interest and without party feeling. The Treasury accepts that help as readily as it will give help to the Committee. My right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) will bear me out in that. They have themselves from time to time deliberately, through the Auditor-General, brought matters to the notice of the Committee which they thought were subject to reprobation or objection, and they have never adopted the attitude suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that to encourage economy is to confess themselves in fault, and therefore a thing which they cannot do. I cannot help feeling that much of the discussion which has taken place arises from the fact that hon. Gentlemen who discuss these matters have had no experience of administration and no experience of the working of the Public Accounts Committee, which has been the most successful of all our Committees in these matters. I suggest that if hon. Gentlemen would have a little more faith in a Committee of this House and in the Chairman of the Committee, their faith would be justified, and they would find that the Committee does more than they are ready to give it credit for.
2117 One further observation. I frankly admit that I was not an advocate of this Committee. I have yielded in this matter to the opinion of this House, and I have proposed a Committee, not chosen because they were supporters of the Government, or were in association with me in that inquiry, but I have taken the form of committee which they recommended unanimously, with the single exception of one instance, which we have already disposed of. When one does that, and one is met with Amendment after Amendment, one cannot help thinking that a gift horse is being looked too carefully in the mouth. If the House do not want the Committee, I beg them to say so. I do not want to force it upon them. I proposed it because I believed it met with the wishes of the House, but I have no desire to carry the Motion if it does not.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
A word of reply is called for by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I understand that not only does the House want this Committee, but the House wishes it to be effective, and furthermore, I believe the great mass of our countrymen want this Committee, which is also rather important. When the right hon. Gentleman gibes at us on this side because none of those who have spoken have had administrative experience, I think he was rather unfair, considering that of the Members on this side who have taken part in the discussion, one is Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (Mr. A. Williams), and the other, the right hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland), is an ex-Chairman of that Committee. I think it was rather an ungracious thing for the right
§ hon. Gentleman to say, especially as he was one of those who was responsible for carefully bulldozing those who might have been in opposition to him at the last election. It was one of the most unfair political tricks ever played in this country.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
With reference to the right hon. Gentleman's appeal to us to trust in the Treasury, it is because we feel that the Treasury has, through no fault of the right hon. Gentleman, so largely lost its control that we are anxious to see this Committee set up and made as effective as possible. It is for that very reason, that the Treasury has failed to exercise control on so many matters in the past, and further, because the Treasury itself has become a spending Department. Since the present Prime Minister, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced, for example, the Insurance Act, which led to great expenditure, and the recent speculations of the Treasury in companies like the Cellulose Company, it is very necessary that some extra check should be set up. The Government contemplated a permanent Committee, but we want something a little more definite, and unless the Committee is assisted by some officer of the sort that we suggest, we feel that its work will be ineffective, and we hope that hon. Members will support that point of view.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 16; Noes. 218.2119
|Division No. 203.]||AYES.||[10.45 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis D.||Glanville, Harold James||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)|
|Bramsdon, Sir Thomas||Newbould, Alfred Ernest||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Mr. Kiley and Lieut.-Commander|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)||Kenworthy.|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Barnes, Rt. Hon. G. (Glas., Gorbals)||Bowles, Colonel H. F.|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Barnett, Major Richard W.||Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.|
|Allen, Lieut.-Colonel William James||Barnston, Major Harry||Breese, Major Charles E.|
|Ashley, Colonel Wilfrid W.||Barrie, Charles Coupar (Banff)||Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive|
|Atkey, A. R.||Bell, James (Lancaster, Ormskirk)||Broad, Thomas Tucker|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Benn, Capt. Sir I. H., Bart. (Gr'nw'h)||Brown, Major D. C.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Bird, Sir A. (Wolverhampton, West)||Brown, T. W. (Down, North)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Borwick, Major G. O.||Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hayday, Arthur||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Widnes)||Parker, James|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Cairns, John||Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike|
|Cape, Thomas||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Carr, W. Theodore||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Hickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Casey, T. W.||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Pratt, John William|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Hinds, John||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm., W.)||Hirst, G. H.||Purchase, H. G.|
|Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Ratcliffe, Henry Butler|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur||Hope, Sir H.(Stirling & Cl'ckm'nn, W.)||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel Dr. N.|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian)||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hope, J. D. (Berwick & Haddington)||Remer, J. R.|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Hopkins, John W. W.||Renwick, Sir George|
|Cope, Major William||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Cory, Sir C. J. (Cornwall, St. Ives)||Hunter-Weston, Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. G.||Roberts, Frederick O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South)||Hurd, Percy A.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B.||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)|
|Croft, Lieut.-Colonel Henry Page||Inskip, Thomas Walker H.||Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes., Stretford)|
|Davies, A (Lancaster, Clitheroe)||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Rodger, A. K.|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Jephcott, A. R.||Rose, Frank H.|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Jodrell, Neville Paul||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Dockrell, Sir Maurice||Johnstone, Joseph||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert Arthur|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Du Pre, Colonel William Baring||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Edge, Captain William||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)||Seddon, J, A.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George||Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock)|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Kennedy, Thomas||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Kenyon, Barnet||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Edwards, Hugh (Glam., Neath)||Kidd, James||Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)|
|Evans, Ernest||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Spoor, B. G.|
|Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M.||Lawson, John James||Stanier, Captain Sir Boville|
|Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Farquharson, Major A. C.||Lewis, T. A. (Glam., Pontypridd)||Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||Lindsay, William Arthur||Stewart, Gershom|
|Ford, Patrick Johnston||Lloyd, George Butler||Swan, J. E.|
|Forestier-Walker, L.||Lloyd-Greame, Sir P.||Taylor, J.|
|Forrest, Walter||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tingd'n)||Terrell, George (Wilts, Chippenham)|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Lorden, John William||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Gange, E. Stanley||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)|
|Gee, Captain Robert||Lunn, William||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||M'Curdy, Rt. Hon. Charles A.||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Wallace, J.|
|Gillis, William||Macleod, J. Mackintosh||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Weston, Colonel John Wakefield|
|Goff, Sir R. Park||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)||Williams, C. (Tavistock)|
|Goulding, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward A.||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Graham, R. (Nelson and Colne)||Magnus, Sir Philip||Wilson, James (Dudley)|
|Gray, Major Ernest (Accrington)||Manville, Edward||Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)|
|Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Mason, Robert||Wise, Frederick|
|Greenwood, William (Stockport)||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Gregory, Holman||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Greig, Colonel Sir James William||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Worsfold, T. Cato|
|Gretton, Colonel John||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Murray, C. D. (Edinburgh)||Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward|
|Grundy, T. W.||Murray, John (Leeds, West)||Young, E. H. (Norwich)|
|Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||Murray, William (Dumfries)||Young, Sir Frederick W. (Swindon)|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Myers, Thomas||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Nall, Major Joseph|
|Halls, Walter||Neal, Arthur||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hamilton, Major C. G. C.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr.|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Dudley Ward.|
|Hartshorn, Vernon||Norton-Griffiths, Lieut.-Col. Sir John|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered, "That the Committee do consist of Twenty-four Members."
§ Sir Frederick Banbury, Major Barnes, Lieut.-Colonel Spender Clay, Captain Charles Craig, Captain Viscount Curzon, Mr. Charles Edwards, Major Entwistle, Sir Edgar Jones, Major Christopher Lowther, Mr. Marriott, Mr. Martin, Mr. Mills, Captain Moreing, Major William Murray, Sir Philip Pilditch, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton Pownall, Mr. Rose, Mr. Arthur Michael Samuel, Lieut.-Colonel Stephenson, Mr. Waddington, Colonel Sir Robert Williams, Mr. Tyson Wilson, Mr. 2120 Wintringham, and Mr. Hilton Young nominated Members of the Committee.
§ Ordered, That Seven be the quorum of the Committee.
§ Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records, and to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Committee have power, if they so determine, to sit as two Committees, and in that event to apportion the subjects referred to the Committee 2121 between the two Committees, each of which shall have the full powers of the undivided Committee; and that Four be the quorum of each of the two Committees."—[Mr. Hilton Young.]
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I beg to move, to leave out the words "sit as two Committees," and to insert instead thereof the words "appoint one or more Subcommittees."
That will necessitate the leaving out of the word "two" ["between the two Committees"] and inserting the word "Sub." I understand the Government are prepared to accept the Amendment. It is only the recommendation of the informal Committee, which said that in accordance with the procedure that has been adopted in the past in the case of the Committee on National Expenditure there should be one Committee only, but that powers should be given to appoint Sub-Committees.
I think the Amendment of my right hon. Friend is the Amendment of the Committee over which I presided, and therefore of the Government. I have no objection to it, provided that the rest of the Resolution is made to read accordingly. That means that not only will the word "Sub" have to be inserted, but in the last paragraph the words "any of the Sub" will have to be substituted for the words "either of the divided." That is a necessary consequence of the Amendment.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Proposed words there inserted.
§ Further Amendments made: Leave out the words "two Committees" ["between the two Committees"] and insert the word "Sub-committees."
§ Leave out the word "each" ["each of which"] and insert the word "any."
§ Leave out the words, "each of the two Committees" and insert the words "any of the Sub-committees.—[Mr. Chamberlain.]
§ Ordered, That the Committee have power, if they so determine, to appoint one or more Sub-Committees, and in that 2122 event to apportion the subjects referred to the Committee between the Sub-Committees, any of which shall have the full powers of the undivided Committee; and that Four be the quorum of any of the Sub-Committees.
Motion made, and Question proposed
That the Committee do report any evidence taken by the Committee, or by either of the divided Committees, to the House."—[Mr. Hilton Young.]
It will be necessary to substitute the words "any of the Sub-Committees" for the words "either of the divided Committees."
§ Captain BENN
I take it, Mr. Speaker, you are not accepting an Amendment which would exclude one that I have on the Paper, and which I would like to move?
§ Captain BENN
I do not desire to do that wilfully, but there is a very large number of subjects which have never been discussed. There is the question of the free Vote of the House of Commons on the Reports of the Committee—
§ Captain BENN
I am aware, of course, that the whole question can be raised on the Motion for the Adoption of the Resolution as Amended. I am only saying that this is a very big topic, possibly the biggest this House has taken in hand from a financial point of view for a very long time. It is attempting to reconstitute our control over finance. As the Resolution stands it is useless. I am going to move my next Amendment, which is to leave out the word "any" and to insert instead the word "such." As the Motion stands the Committee is bound to report to this House every word taken down in evidence. There are to be Sub-committees It may be extremely desirable that some evidence should not be reported. It is, I believe, the practice of some Committees that the evidence shall not be taken down. If we give this Order to-day, and if the Committee is set up, it is extremely probable that witnesses who come before 2123 it, and who might give valuable evidence which would assist this House to cut down expenditure, would be precluded from doing so because they might think it might prejudice their position in some way. If the Leader of the House is inclined to accept the Amendment, I will at once sit down and give him an opportunity of doing so.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN indicated dissent.
§ Captain BENN
Then I shall have to go further into the matter. Hon. Gentlemen pretend to be economists, but when anyone takes upon himself the task of trying to effect some economy—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.