Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1921, for the Salaries and Expenses of the National Debt Office.
I should like to have some explanation why the increase asked for is required. I can quite understand that with the great increase in the National Debt additional accommodation and staff must be required, but it does seem to me that before being asked to pass this Vote we might have a statement from some Minister responsible for it as to the nature of the increase and the particular direction in which the money that is being asked for is applied. So far as I am concerned, I should rather welcome some expenditure in this direction, if it resulted in the provision of some statistics which would, I think, be of a particularly illuminating character at the present time. For instance, I should like to know very much how the National Debt is held. I should like to know whether the additional amount for clerical assistance is to be devoted towards giving us some statistics, On this question of the National Debt, I think there is a great deal of interesting information which we ought to have, and which would have a very real bearing on the financial policy of the Government. I should also like to get information with regard to incomes—the number of people with an income of £100, of £1,000, and so on.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That cannot arise on the Supplementary Vote for £10. It is a matter for the main Estimates and general administration.
I thought £10 was simply a sort of Token Vote in order to comply with some form of procedure. I see there is an amount of £250 for additional clerical assistance, and I wish to know the direction in which it has 2117 been applied. I think a little money would be well spent in giving us some information as to the way in which the National Debt is held.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I beg to move, "That Item A (Salaries, Wages, and Allowances) be reduced by £550."
I see that the Comptroller-General is to have his salary increased from £2,000 to £2,500 per annum with arrears amounting to £50. Why should he have his salary increased at the present moment, because you could get any quantity of capable people who would be only too glad to take on the work at £2,000 a year. The sum of £2,000 per annum has been sufficient for this post for a considerable time, and I am certain, with the large number of people who are out of employment, it is absolutely unnecessary to give this official another £500 a year. This is a point which I think needs further investigation, and I shall divide the House against this proposal. I do not know who the Comptroller-General is at the present time, but £2,000 a year is a very large sum. The Labour Members very often say that the only people I wish to cut down are the working men, but that is not so. To pay a salary like this at the present moment is wrong in every possible way. It is a fixed salary, and the recipient is free from all the liabilities and anxieties which attend a man in business, who does not know whether he will have a profit or loss at the end of the year. This official receives £2,000 a year for work which is not very much, and I do not think his hours are very long. I think it is a gross waste to give him another £500 a year.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I wish to say a word or two in full support of what the hon. Baronet opposite has said. At the end of last Session the Financial Secretary to the Treasury brought forward a charge before this House of many millions for bonus to Civil servants, and although I considered that the lower paid ranks badly required this bonus, I protested against it being given to the officials in the higher ranks, and I voted against the Government. Here there is no talk of bonus, and it is simply an increase of salary. This £2,000 a year is the salary of an admiral who has spent his whole life in the service, and if this official gets £2,000 he is very well 2118 off. It is a very bad thing when wages are being cut down, I am afraid by the ordinary law of supply and demand, for it to go forth that a Government official, with a salary of £2,000, is going to get an extra £500, with £50, and probably bonus. If the right hon. Baronet opposite divides the Committee upon this proposal I shall certainly support it.
I rise to support this Amendment. During the War there was an idea that everybody's salary should be doubled, and in many cases that was probably necessary, but surely the Government know that prices are now tumbling down, and are likely to continue falling for some considerable time to come unless, by anti-dumping Bills, you make the cost of living much higher. I wonder whether the Government by such proposals as this are making provision to meet the additional cost of commodities under their prospective protective legislation. Otherwise there is no justification for it. The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir F. Banbury) tells us that you can get lots of perfectly capable men at the salary which a Comptroller-General is receiving, and why should he be paid £500 a year extra at this moment? If the Government are determined to keep up the price of commodities by their proposed legislation they ought to increase other salaries as well, and I am sure that I could make out a claim for increasing the salaries of Members of Parliament. There is no explanation as to why the broker's remuneration is to be increased.
I object to these big increases in the higher paid branches of the Service. I am advised, Mr. Chairman, by the authorities on procedure around me, that provision for the broker is provided for in item A, and therefore I think I was in order.
What I was saying applies with equal force to the broker because the proportion of increase is greater. No doubt the broker has to deal with much bigger sums of money. Probably he has the same number of hours to work, and I see no reason why these big 2119 officials should be paid this increase. I could suggest many ways in which the money could be applied much better and with greater benefit to the public than by increasing these salaries. If the right hon. Gentleman goes to a Division, I shall certainly support him in the Lobby.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
I merely wish to repeat a question to which I did not get, as far as I know, an answer last night. I observe that in the Vote we are now considering there are increases of salary of a very considerable amount to two relatively highly placed officials in the National Debt Office. What I want to know is this, whether these increases of £500 a year to the Controller-General and to the broker are isolated cases, or whether they are parts of a general increase of salaries all round the higher divisions of the Civil Service.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
Yes, that is another point. It was also a question last night whether these are intended to be permanent increases of salary or whether they are intended to be in the nature of a bonus. But in either case, I desire at this stage very strongly to protest against them. I think it is mere hypocrisy on the part of Member of this House to say what we have been saying at an early part of the afternoon unless we are prepared to carry out the principle as far as public servants are concerned. I do not know whether it is the case or not that these salaries form part of a general increase, but I can assure the Financial Secretary that if he would be good enough to give an answer to the question which I vainly put last night, and which I put again to-night, he would save a good deal of time as far as subsequent Supplementary Estimates are concerned.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I would like to join in that appeal. I am not at all sure how far we would be in order in discussing the question of the Civil Service bonus.
§ The CHAIRMAN
May I make that clear. There is a separate Vote for the Civil Service bonus, I notice, and therefore the discussion on that must arise on that Vote, but it is, of course, quite pertinent to ask for information whether these increases are in substitution of, or in addition to, any scale of that kind.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I am much obliged, and I shall reserve my general observations on that point. It has been a subject of questions from time to time, to which I have had very unsatisfactory answers. I protest vigorously against the salaries of the higher civil servants being advanced at this time by such large sums as these. It seems to me that these gentlemen really have been protected all through the War from suffering the common burdens. I speak on behalf of a very large community of pensioned civil servants who have returned to this country, particularly from India, who have limited pensions governed by the value of the rupee, who are suffering from all the increases in the cost of living, and who are obliged to keep up a certain standard of comfort as best they can, and I am sure that the stories that I could tell the House of the deprivations that these people undergo would form as harrowing a tale as anything told during the last week in relation to unemployment. They are suffering in silence, and I protest on their behalf against these increases. And not only these, but increases extending to other services throughout the country, the municipal service and even non-municipal bodies, who have been egged on to adopt certain provisions. I say it is wrong that this House should permit at this time, while taxation is so severe, increases of this sort without the strongest possible case being made out in support of them. I have always done my best to support the Government, but I will not support them in these increases which are removing burdens from a certain class of the community and putting them on those least able to bear them.
Mr. J. W. WILSON
Without going further into the points which have been raised already, I do wish to protest against these increases being wrapped up in this Supplementary Vote of £10. It is really a Supplementary Vote for £2,200. I fail to see the reason or desirability of including this Appropriation-in-Aid for a matter hardly ancillary to the Vote on the Paper. I contend that this £2,190 which is used to reduce the Estimate ought really to be an excess expenditure which should go to other purposes at the end of the financial year. It seems to me that if these Supplementary Estimates are going to be cloaked by any windfalls which the Department can rake in for the purpose of hiding any further 2121 expenditure, it is a very undesirable thing, especially in these days when there is a really genuine bonâ fide desire to economise and to get Government Departments to economise as far as they possibly can. Therefore, when my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary replies, I hope he will deal with the reasonableness of including this, item, (e) Appropriation-in-Aid, as a set-off against an increase of salary such as is proposed here. It is coming from an entirely different source, and I contend if there is a surplus it should go where other surpluses ought to go, and where they are very much needed at the end of the financial year.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Baldwin)
I shall do my best to deal with the points which have been raised. The first question on which most Members expressed their view is the amount of salary given to the Controller-General. I may say at once that this is a personal salary confined to the present holder of the office, and is not an increase which will be given in the case of his successor.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
Yes, as regards the present holder, and the reason he has been given £2,500 is this: The present holder is Sir Thomas Heath, a very distinguished Civil servant, who was a Joint Permanent Secretary to the Treasury throughout the period of the War. At this juncture we considered it of great importance to have a man of his eminence in the Civil Service at the head of this office when it is being re-organised, and during a few years when undoubtedly the responsibilities of that office are a great deal heavier than they have been in years past. In sending him from the Treasury to this very distinguished post we undertook that he should not have less remuneration than he would have had had he remained at the Treasury. In the natural course of events, Sir Thomas Heath's tenure cannot be a long one, because of his age, and I do not think that any Member of this Committee acquainted with him and with the work that he has done would grudge him as a personal salary the salary which we have put down in this Estimate.
2122 With regard to the broker's remuneration, I hope that in saying this I shall carry my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) with me. The remuneration paid to the Government broker is a ridiculous figure for the work done. The reward that the Government broker gets is in status. It is a great thing to be a Government broker. He has a highly honourable position in the City. Any firm would be glad to have it; but as far as pecuniary remuneration goes for the work done, the sum is perfectly ridiculous. I think it would be good for the Committee to know what the broker has to do to-day compared with a few years ago. I take the year 1908–9. I got the figures taken out for that year. The accounts for which investments had to be made were then 26; now the number is 50. The cash invested in 1908–9 amounted to about £30,000,000. In 1918–19 it was £168,000,000, and whereas in 1908–9 the isolated transactions were about 3,000, in 1918–19 they amounted to no fewer than 15,000. So the exceedingly moderate increase that appears in this Estimate bears no relation at all to the increase of business, let alone any relation to what would be the remuneration for the amount of business done were it not for the fact that they really take their reward from the satisfaction which they derive from being able to act as Government brokers in the City of London.
With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for the Stourbridge Division (Mr. J. W. Wilson) there is no attempt to camouflage these accounts. As part of the National Debt Office Vote, the expenses of the Pensions Commutation Board have always been included. Against these expenses always come the fees that are paid to the Pensions Commutation Board by those whose pensions are commuted. It does so happen that in this year the sum is larger than it is on the average, because there has been a great demand for commuting pensions in the last year or two, and it may possibly last for a year or two longer. That accounts both for the additional fees paid to the medical officers and for the increase in the Appropriation-in-Aid.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down might I ask him whether he will deal with the point I 2123 raised, namely, whether these increases are part of a general increase?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. They certainly are not on this Vote. The increase for the Controller-General is a purely personal increase, and arises out of circumstances I have tried to describe. The increase to the broker must be of course permanent until such time as there comes a reduction of business which would warrant a reduction of salary.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
What I wanted to ascertain was this. Whether this increase, although a personal one to the Controller, is part of a general increase in the salaries of Civil servants all round England, or whether it is peculiar to the Vote which we are discussing to-night?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I did my best to make myself plain. What my hon. Friend wants to know now is what is being done in the higher Civil Service salaries? That question can be raised when we come to the question of bonus. It does not arise on this Estimate, nor is the instance of the rise here attributable to any general rise such as he suggests.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman quite grasped the criticism of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Mr. J. W. Wilson). It was not suggested that there was any intention to deceive the Committee in the way in which the Estimates were drawn. I should not associate myself with any such suggestion, and I am sure my right hon. Friend would not make it. But, whereas this appears to be only a Vote for £10, it is really a Vote for £2,200. That is the real point. I daresay it is in accordance with the ordinary practice, but it is quite an important item, for it is really an expenditure of £2,200 If the £2,200 had not been incurred it is evident that the appropriation in aid would have gone to a reduction of debt or some other purpose, and it would have been available for the relief of the taxpayer which it is not now. I want to say a word on what seems to be a general principle raised by my right hon. Friend. He said we paid Sir Thomas Heath on account of his great distinction, which I would be the last person to 2124 question, an exceptional salary of £2,500. He did not tell us whether that was the same salary as he was getting at the Treasury or an increased salary. I should think it is an increased salary.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
Because he left the Treasury during re-organisation, so that he would not lose by the change.
§ Lord R. CECIL
In point of fact it was an increase of salary on what he was getting at the Treasury. He said it was owing to the great desirability of getting Sir Thomas's services, and also to facilitate the re-organisation of the Treasury which was going on. He also told us in the same way about the broker, that it was a reasonable payment of £500 extra considering the immense addition of work. If we were in a pre-War period the Committee would have listened to this explanation with a great deal of sympathy; I should have for one. I think quite definitely that the Civil Service has been rather underpaid in this country, and if we were in a position to-day to do so, no one would be more in favour of raising the salaries of the civil servants than I should be. But we are not in the position of pre-War days. That is the essential thing for the Government to realise. We have not now got to be told that this is a desirable expenditure, but that it is an expenditure which could not have been avoided without very serious evils to the public service. It is a different atmosphere we are living in altogether. We have got to go much further than any casual criticism of Estimates, and you must lay down the principle of a definite sum which is not to be exceeded. That is the only way in which you will get back or rather reach a position which is comparable, which is suitable to the real facts of the existing situation. I do not doubt that it is in itself a desirable thing to give Sir Thomas Heath £2,500 a year. I do not doubt that he is a most desirable civil servant; I have always heard so. I do not doubt that the broker is not overpaid, but the question is, could we have avoided this expenditure without serious evils to the public service? I am not convinced that my right hon. Friend 2125 made out a sufficient case for these expenditures. That is a point which we have to deal with in this Committee. For that reason I hope we shall have some definite assurance from the Government as to their attitude in this matter.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I say in response to what my Noble Friend has said that with regard to the brokerage I must say my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary is right. I do not think the Committee understands what really occurs. The brokers receive no commission at all. I did not quite gather the figures which my right hon. Friend mentioned, but I should say that if he had received a half brokerage, not full brokerage, the brokerage would amount to something like £20,000 a year, if not more, and that is to be remembered when you are considering the position as to whether or not he is to be paid £1,500 or £2,000. It must be remembered that the broker has to pay expenses out of this sum, and there are very considerable clerical expenses arising.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
The right hon. Baronet is quite correct. Clerical assistance is only in the National Debt office. The brokers only get this sum.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The broker has to find a very considerable sum for clerical assistance, and I should be inclined to think that instead of there being any profit there might be a loss. It has been with them for eighty or ninety years, and they have always taken an extraordinary low price, and I suppose they do not like to break the connection that has lasted for so long. I really do not see what is the necessity, on this question of £2,500, for picking out a particularly expert civil servant and putting him in this position. He has nothing very much to do; it is merely ordinary routine work. He has not got any very great decisions to come to, and he is assisted by a Committee of very eminent bankers and others in the City who work for nothing. If the Controller-General is assisted by some of the most eminent bankers and financiers in the City, what on earth is the necessity for appointing a super-man and losing 2126 another £500? I happen to know something about this office, and I do not think it is at all necessary to appoint an exceptionally good man. What has happened at the Treasury? Have we made a saving at the Treasury? Has Sir Thomas Heath's successor received a less salary? If no saving in that direction has been made I do not see the object of this. It rather looks as if an easy berth had been found for a Treasury official who had done very well, and was getting on in life.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is not so, then. I understood from my hon. Friend that owing to Sir Thomas Heath's age he would not be very long in the service, that he was near 60, or something like that. Personally, I should think that the increase to the broker was necessary. There is more work to do, and the pay is small, but I do not see any necessity for the increase to the Controller-General from £2,000 to £2,500.
§ Major ENTWISTLE
The right hon. Baronet who has just spoken has the reputation of being the greatest economist in the House, but I am afraid his armour is not exactly proof, and we have instances where there are limitations to his economical principles or proclivities. We had it the other day when it came to a question of payments to the railways, under their claims, and we have it now as soon as he realises that the broker is a city man who perhaps comes within the ambit of his particular associations in the city. I am sorry he can make any exceptions at all, and I would be much more pleased if he had held to his original speech and moved a reduction in both items. I am all in favour of paying men an adequate wage, but I object to this piecemeal and individualistic way of paying certain salaries. I presume, in addition to his salary, this gentleman would receive a war bonus. If there is any ground of hardship, on account of the cost of living, that would be compensated for by means of a bonus. Why should this salary be increased for this particular individual, if his predecessor was supposed to be sufficiently remunerated by a salary he then received? There are innumerable cases of inadequate salary. We have a scandalous instance in the case of High Court Judges, and a still more scandalous instance in the case of Members of Parliament, and these injus- 2127 tices are not remedied because of the sore financial straits of the country at the present time. Why should we depart from this principle without looking at the whole thing on a broad basis, instead of giving it to an individualistic case, which is tantamount to a reflection on his predecessor in this office, and of his successor. I presume if this had been dealt with purely on the ground of the merits of this particular individual, his successor will have to revert to the old rate, which is a reflection on his successor. This is not the way to deal with these things. If the salaries of Government officials of this type are inadequate, let the Government deal with it fairly and see whether any suggestions they have to make are reasonable at the present time. I heartily support the Motion for a reduction moved by the right hon. Baronet, and wish he had not modified it by his second speech.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
My right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) has withdrawn his opposition to this Vote, as far as the broker is concerned, and that was due probably to the operation of that human kindness of which he is so distinguished an exponent, for he was dealing with what is called a "comrade in arms" in the City, and, naturally, he did not feel inclined to do anything against a gentleman with whom no doubt he has had close business relations in the past. But I would point this out to the right hon. Gentleman, that he and the Secretary to the Treasury both agree that quâ remuneration on the business done, this is a ridiculous sum to allocate to the office. On that we are all agreed. But it should be borne in mind that the position of Government broker in the City is one very much sought after by stock-brokers. It not only increases his status among his follow men, but it has the not inconsiderable advantage of bringing business. Why then should there be a solatium of another £250. I can see no justification for that at all. If my thesis is right—
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The post of Government broker is not unlike the position of a great physician or surgeon at one of our hospitals. The work is undertaken 2128 in accordance with the traditions of an honourable profession, and the positions are accepted, not only without any remuneration, but often at a cost of great addition to personal expenses. Nevertheless, it makes a very great difference in their professional standing, as well as being evidence of the way in which they do good work for the whole community. Therefore I say I do not see any justification for this particular increase, and the objection to increasing the salary of the Comptroller-General—so well voiced by the right hon. Baronet—surely should apply in the same measure to the increase to the broker. This increase has to be read, for some mysterious reason, with a note in very small lettering, to which I have several times drawn attention on Supplementary Estimates, and which reads:A further sum of £6,100 has been provided in the Supplementary Votes for War Bonus (H.C. 148 & 219) in respect of charges falling on this Vote.May I tell hon. Members what these mysterious figures relate to. They relate to previous Supplementary Estimates, one brought in last July and the other dealt with last November, and that may be a useful piece of information in dealing with Votes as they arise. I should like my right hon. Friend to tell me what relation that note has to the increase he is now asking for. I also wish to support very strongly the protest made by two of my right hon. Friends on this Bench within the last few minutes on the question of Appropriations-in-Aid. I want to emphasise once more how unfair a way it is—I do not say it is a trick at all—of placing Estimates before Members of the Committee. The real increase is not £10 but £2,200, and the beauty of this Appropriation-in-Aid only appears when one reads the exact words—Amount of fees expected to be received by the Pensions Computation Board in excess of the amount anticipated at the date of presentation of the original Estimate.They have not got the money. It is no realisation by the sale of stores. It is merely an expectation of fees which may be received by the Pensions Commutation Board. Although dragged in here it has no relation at all to this particular Vote. I suppose these are medical fees.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I hope that my right hon. Friend in the re-organisation of the Estimates will take into consideration the views that have been expressed in all parts of the Committee on this question of Appropriations-in-Aid.
§ Whereupon, the GENTLEMAN USHER OF THE BLACK ROD having come with a message, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair.