Sir J. D. REES
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsinasmuch as expenditure upon public assistance has, so far as can be ascertained from Parliamentary publications, risen from £25,000,000 in 1890–91 to £332,000,000 in 1920–21, and will probably be not less than £400,000,000 in 1921–22, while 30,000,000 persons, exclusive of unemployed, out of a population of 48,000,000, have actually been in receipt of such public assistance in 1919–20, it is desirable that in order to safeguard the threatened financial stability of the United Kingdom, a Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into, or a Board appointed to take over the rationing of, all such expenditure, in view of its proper co-ordination, and reduction within such limits as the taxpayers and ratepayers can afford.When a Member has an opportunity, owing to the luck of the ballot, to put forward an Amendment of this kind, it becomes him to be chary in expressing his own opinions at large and to raise some question of general public interest and elicit some information of public value. I should lose time in showing that the finances of the country at the present time are in an exceedingly unfortunate position, and I shall not spend time in so doing. But there are two reasons for this. One is the War, and that is a waning reason. Every month it gets less and less, and will disappear. There is another reason, and that is the policy of expenditure at home upon what is known as the Civil Services. That is a waxing, perpetually increasing item, and it is to that we must look in future as the chief difficulty to be met in bringing the expenditure of the country within reasonable limits. This system, which is called Social Reform by those who like it, Socialism by those who dislike it, and Bolshevism or Communism by those who detest it, is practically, in 2064 its essential features, one and the same system. I am not attempting to attack any Government or any party on this score. Indeed, having had the curiosity to look over the procession of parties in this House, I find that during the last 35 years in which the cyclone of social reform has rushed along its furious orbit, that the two historic parties have occupied these benches for almost equal periods. Therefore, this is not a question that can be regarded as a party one.
This policy, in a word, is the substitution of public assistance for individual effort. It may be impossible to continue it in a poorer world, or it may be possible. That is not for me to say. It may be a great world movement, irresistible in its impact. It may be fairly argued by looking around us upon other nations that that is so. But what is the standard to which this policy looks? I have never discovered it. Knowing only one world, my habit, as one who has travelled a great deal, has been to compare the standard prevailing in different countries. But that is not the way of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who set up an ideal standard and then declare we should attain to it in some way or another. That may be a practicable or impracticable policy, but I believe it is their policy, and I only wish to make one remark upon it, that, having exercised observation as a traveller, I have never seen this ideal standard so nearly approached in any country in the world as in our own. However that may be, it is clear that the Socialist party—I do not know if I am speaking of the Labour party, and I am anxious not to say a word which would exhibit an opinion one way or another or show in what way my sympathies lies: but, whether it is good or bad, the party I have the honour to address opposite has always been in favour of higher expenditure, and even the Army and Navy are no exceptions to that movement, because the higher cost of the Army and Navy is entirely due to the higher level of wages paid in the Army and Navy, and those wages the hon. Members opposite would never think of reducing. These are facts which are not realised by the country. The situation would be comic if it were not so tragic, when we see the gross expenditure on the Civil Services believed to be the bloated emoluments of an overwhelming Civil Service! I do not suggest at all, though 2065 I said that the party opposite always favour this gross expenditure—I do not suggest that it is only due to them. Indeed, the Civil Service bonus was an effort made by a totally different interest, and to calculate pensions upon this bonus was really one of the greatest attempts made to increase the expenditure of the country in a permanent manner since I have entered this House.
The question is whether it is possible or not possible to maintain this expenditure. It is right, at any rate, to take stock now and again of the expenditure by which this policy is being pursued—the expenditure to which the country is being put, not only out of the taxes, but also out of the rates, and to urge that certain steps be taken for regarding that expenditure in a more practical manner and bringing it more frequently and more correctly before the country. There are not wanting signs that the stream out of which those social services are extended is running dry. Take the Super-tax, which is an annual capital levy, and the Death Duties, which are not an annual levy, but a levy paid by a man once in his life—when he dies! There are signs that these sources are to a great extent running dry, and I understand, though I do not know how the information leaked out—and I shall refrain from telling the House because I am not quite sure that I could indicate what the sources of this information are, but I understand that the chief inquisitor who squeezes the last drop of blood out of the super taxpayer is now confronted with an enormous number of people who have no blood left. Of course the increase of social services is no doubt exceedingly popular. It is most attractive with the unthinking masses, and it enables the individual candidate to go before them with a gift in his hands, in a manner which was familiar to me in the East where gift are very much given, though not at elections of course, because they have few elections there. One cannot help remembering various instances of this kind. I can never forget, for instance, the inscription on the bridge which a certain Mr. Jones built of his great bounty at the expense of the county. It is always done at someone else's expense. These are circumstances on which it is necessary to dwell—it seems to me to be extremely important, in view of the Motion which by a curious coinci- 2066 dence comes on to-day at a quarter past eight—but it is the fact at any rate that the large expenditure required does not come entirely out of the pockets of the Income Tax payer. It is paid also by indirect taxes on sugar, tea, beer and tobacco, and these are direct taxes upon wages.
I wonder whether these facts are appreciated when those perpetual advances in social reform are recommended and carried. It seems to me they cannot possibly be. It is impossible to support any of those social services and say that it shall fall upon a particular class of the taxpayer. It is no more possible to do that in a country, which is an aggregate of homes, than it would be in any one home to apportion different parts of the meal on the table to different members of the family and to say they should contribute to providing the meal in different proportions. My Amendment necessarily includes rates. These are in the Geddes Report, but my Amendment does not impinge upon the Geddes Report for the all-important reason that the Geddes Report does not include Poor Law and such subjects. My Amendment recommends no legislation; if it did so, it would not be in order, but it is relevant to my purpose to point out that local bodies, nominally independent are really the slaves of the central Government. They work under skeleton Acts of Parliament which are filled in by Orders in Council and the Departments have the conclusive power of giving or withholding Exchequer grants. Look at the case of the rates for housing. Anything over one penny falls upon the general taxpayer, but that does not save the ratepayer anything; it only empties his other pocket.
I do not propose to be historical for more than a minute or two, but if the House will bear with me it will serve my purpose to treat the subject in this way. When did this policy begin? There was a Report by a Commission on the Poor Law in 1834 which laid down certain main principles, the first of which was that the recipient of public charity should not be placed in a position more eligible than that of the poorest of the independent working men. Others were that destitution must be relieved, but that there must be some more or less disagreeable test; that there should be a central board to supervise these grants, 2067 and that powers should be localised, local action being the very life blood of the sound economic treatment of these matters. Under those rules there arose many highly important, powerful, and altogether beneficial bodies—friendly societies, trade unions, and building and co-operative societies. In point of fact, at that time private effort provided everything which has since been thrown back upon the tax and rate payers in the name of social reform. All that development of policy was entirely good, and it was kept within proper financial limits, but in 1905 a change set in. There then came along a different policy. I really do not know what to call it, but it would be simpler to call it Socialism, and we had immediately following one another—I remember them all—the following Acts: in 1905 the Unemployed Workmen Act; in 1906 the Provision of Meals for School Children; in 1906 the Education Administrative Provisions Act; in 1908 the Old Age Pensions Act; in 1911 the National Health Insurance Act, and since that there have been the late Unemployment Insurance Act, Housing Acts, the unemployment dole, the payment of Members of Parliament and, in some cities, at any rate, the payment of mayors.
By 1912, the failure of this policy which was begun in 1905 had already become apparent. That was evidenced by financial and economic disturbance in the country. It is perfectly clear, and we know it from experience, that it is quite possible for a State, and a prosperous State, to have two classes of citizens, namely the self-supporting, and the socially reformed. But they can only exist together when the socially reformed are a small proportion of the self-supporting. We have reached a point where they are no longer a small proportion, but are half, and over, and the fact of the danger point having been reached, is what induces me to put down this Amendment and to venture to trespass upon the indulgence of the House. In the nineteenth century Socialism or social reform—I do not know the difference, but let us call it Socialism because that saves time and saves one word—kept off doles, regarding them as dangerous. In the twentieth century Socialism in this country satisfies the private wants of millions out of the public purse, and no further stigma, 2068 hesitation or dislike attaches to the receipt of money from the tax and ratepayer. No class in the country, no section, grade or plane, no portion of the population has been so much affected by this as the wage earning class.
If you took the whole income of the Income Tax payer as you now take half, it would be quite unequal to continuing the stream of benefits which flows out into the country like a stream of gold, and on Fridays overflows into the most distant countries. What, then must be done? The first requisite in dealing with any financial situation is to have your accounts in order and to see how you stand. Every prudent man does that; very few of us can avoid doing it nowadays, to find if we can afford to pay our way. In pursuance of that, and in order to satisfy that need, a return has been granted by Parliament—a very valuable return—which is often called the Drage return, because of the efforts of the admirable public man who was chiefly associated with it. I beg that hon. Gentleman will not be alarmed when they see me opening this return. I do not propose to make more than a small draft upon it, and will endeavour not to weary the House with a mass of figures, though I, myself, when I found I was to have this opportunity of going into the matter, wallowed wearily in the slough of statistics for two or three days. I see here in the figures relating to the year ending March, 1920, that National Insurance (Health) Act represents £23,000,000, Old Age Pensions £13,000,000, and Education Acts £58,000,000. Education has moved up from £10,000,000 in 1891 to £16,000,000 in 1901, and to £29,000,000 in 1911, and it was £58,000,000 in March, 1920. It will not have been much under double that on the 31st March last, when the official year ended.
There are many other items which I could go into, though I think I should be better advised not to do so, but I may point to the figures relating to Old Age Pensions. In 1911 you had £6,000,000; it was £13,000,000 in 1920, and I think it was £18,000,000 or £19,000,000 at the end of the year just concluded. I do not know how many more millions will be added this evening—although this is not even a Friday—but a proposal in that direction will be before the House. Then we have the Acts relating to the relief of the 2069 poor, and I beg the House to note that though this item was to have been reduced proportionately with the increase in Old Age Pensions it has oddly enough mounted up in almost the same proportion because we have £8,000,000 in 1891, £11,000,000 in 1901, £15,000,000 in 1911, and £23,000,000 in 1920. The sum and substance of the whole matter is, and I now promise to put this Return away—that you had upon these social services an expenditure of £257,000,000 on the 31st March, 1920. This Return deals with expenditure under the following Acts, namely, National Insurance (Health); National Insurance (Unemployment); War Pensions and Ministry of Pensions; Old Age Pensions Act; Education Acts; Acts relating to Reformatory and Industrial Schools; Inebriates Acts; Public Health Acts so far as they relate to hospitals, etc.; Housing of the Working Classes Acts; Acts relating to the Relief of the Poor; Unemployed Workmen Act; and Lunacy and Mental Deficiency Acts. That is the ambit of this statement—?
§ Dr. MURRAY rose—
Sir J. D. REES
If my hon. Friend will so far minister to my weakness as to allow me to go on, I shall willingly submit to anything he may say as soon as I have finished. Then take the number of beneficiaries under these Acts. On 31st March, 1920, there were 28,000,000, and on 31st March, 1921, there were 30,000,000. These figures do not include the unemployed, and, of course, the numbers will be very much larger when the returns come out for 1922. The figures in the return I have quoted for 1920 show a total sum for all these social services of £257,000,000. For the year 1921–22, I gather from the Geddes Report, there will be a saving of £2,000,000 on War pensions. But there will be additions of £30,000,000 under the Education Acts; £10,000,000 for houses; £78,000,000 for the Labour Department; and £12,000,000 under new legislation, which will make the figure for these social services £385,000,000 on the 31st March, 1922. To that must be added a considerable sum for the expenditure of local councils on housing not yet ascertained; greater expenditure by guardians on distress this winter, not yet ascertained; and the large sums detailed by the Minister of Labour at the beginning of the Session, including £40,000,000 spent by the State and by the munici- 2070 palities on productive unemployment schemes since the autumn of 1920.
I think I am very well within the mark, in the figure given in my Motion, namely, £400,000,000, as the amount which will be found to have been spent on social services up to the 31st March. The figure of the recipients will be much larger than 30,000,000, because of the large numbers of unemployed and others who will come in. Anxious as I am to escape from figures—for which I have no love—there is one figure with which I must deal. The figure of £78,000,000 for the Labour Department is so large that it would not be proper to pass it over without some explanation. It is made up of the following items: £10,000,000 odd for the training and resettlement of ex-service men—[HON. MEMBEES: Do you object to that?"]—£7,000,000 odd contribution to unemployment fund, £55,000,000 odd unemployment benefit, and nearly £6,000,000 for administrative expenses. Therefore, to summarise what, I hope, has not been too long a recital, we have a total amount of something like £430,000,000, and when you take away a sum of about £30,000,000 for contributions under the Insurance Acts, it will work out to something like £400,000,000 on the 31st March. I recognise the responsibility which I have in addressing the House on this matter, and I did not venture to put these figures together without taking advice in the best possible quarter available, which confirmed my figures, though it did not supply me with any of the evidence. This Return to which I have referred does not, of course, deal with overlapping. There should be some register of persons in receipt of local assistance, for quite recently the Poplar Board of Guardians refused to communicate to the London County Council School-Care Committees, which are responsible for providing free meals to necessitous children, information as to persons receiving relief in their area. One can understand that in Poplar, perhaps, but it shows the urgent need of co-ordination, registration, and something to prevent overlapping and excessive expenditure.
Let me now come to the total expenditure of the year. In 1900 it was £90,000,000, in 1905 £150,000,000, in 1911 £178,000,000, and in 1921–22 £1,146,000,000. If I deduct from this figure of 2071 £1,146,000,000 the sum of £500,000,000, due for War pensions and other services due to the War, I have left £650,000,000, and that is the figure of the ordinary expenditure of the country which falls to be compared with the £150,000,000, for instance, which was the total in 1905. I think it will be found that that £500,000,000 is mostly expended upon social services, that is to say, upon the substitution of public help for individual effort. Of course, this increase in expenditure is due in part to the decrease in the value of money, but only in part. It affects wages and salaries, but it does not hold through all the figures with which I have dealt, and nothing can mend the situation but less expenditure and less taxation. Two shillings off the Income Tax is £100,000,000. The Corporation Profits Tax, if lifted, would be £30,000,000. Decreases, which are urgently desired in the interests of the wage-earning classes, in the duties on tea, beer, and tobacco should be at least £100,000,000 off the £320,000,000 now collected, and as the Leader of the House said £170,000,000 was required for other purposes, as far as I can make out £400,000,000 should be saved in order to produce anything like an equilibrium and safety, and the whole of that amount it is almost impossible to save except by reducing these very social services to which my Amendment applies. Yet, when you come to the concrete recommendations made, what do you find? I am not expressing any opinions upon any of these points. I am laying them before the House to the best of my ability, and I am very grateful to it for its patience in listening to me. The Select Committee on National Expenditure in 1920 said the Board of Education was characterised by financial laxity and seemed to think increased expenditure was increased efficiency. The Royal Commission on the Poor Laws said that outside the profession there was a strong general feeling that the education provided in the elementary schools at this very high cost was not of a kind which was helpful in after life. I express no opinion on that subject, having received no education at school which was of any use to me in after life whatsoever, and so I feel now quite unfitted to express any opinion on the subject, but whereas formerly parents were looked to 2072 to provide for their children and scholarships and university education were only considered to be necessary for exceptionally clever boys, the theory seems to be now that these opportunities should be provided for everybody, which really does not happen in the families of the richest people in any country. It is solely a question of cost.
Education in 1891 cost £7,000,000, and it was promised that it would not cost more than 3d. in the £. Now I shall not enter upon the question as to whether or not the system of making the family responsible is worth preserving, but an aspect of the case more immediately germane to my Amendment is that a Report of the London County Council in 1910 stated that necessitous children were not necessarily ill-nourished, but the Council provided food lest they should become so. It seems, then, that we have under education not merely the feeding of necessitous children, but the preventive feeding of children. I confess that this was to me a surprise, and without expressing any opinion about it I say it does indicate the enormous sweep which Socialism already embraces in its orbit. Education now not only deals with growth of character and mind, but with physical deterioration, with under-feeding, with bad homes, with dentistry, with the provision of a national nursery—which is naturally highly valued and which may be the best thing in the world, but is not education—with the training of domestic servants, with the higher education for officers—which, I gather, is to cost £8,000,000 and not £6,000,000, as the President of the Board informed me—and with many other similar services which must, I think, be described as social services. For instance, the education of youths from Serbia would be considered social, I suppose; I do not know what else one would call it. Then the women police is a social matter, and the special education provided in the Army, and British agriculture blushes to find itself in this list, and there is the National Health Insurance. I have only one sentence on each of these subjects, though, had I time, it would be easy to enlarge upon them all.
Under National Health Insurance, the Ministry of Health in 1920 cost about £25 for the administration of every £100. It was formerly done by clubs and club doctors, which were provided by the patients themselves. Under Unemploy- 2073 ment Insurance, it must have been a shock to many to find that the Bill postulates the presence of an army of unemployed of a million and a half at the end of this summer, which I confess fills me with alarm. Take the old age pensions, which, of course, are not really pensions, because it is not deferred pay given after a life spent in the service of some particular person or corporation so as to deprive the person receiving it of his or her individual liberty. The right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), the Leader, or one of the Leaders, of the party opposite, said in 1908 that no Chancellor of the Exchequer in his senses, having regard to the needs of the nation, would think of adding £3,000,000 to the very considerable sum of £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 which he proposed by this scheme that the country should incur. It has gone from £7,000,000 to £9,000,000, and from £9,000,000 to £19,000,000. Perhaps the hon. Member for Spen Valley (Mr. Myers) will remember these words of his Leader. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not his Leader."] Those receiving old age pensions are divorced from the Poor Law, but they are able under the Poor Law when necessitous to get help and medical treatment and comforts. One word only on housing, another of these social services. The Minister of Health stated that the Government had contributed £190,000,000 towards housing, and that no Government ever did this before. I should think not. He said:We assumed formerly that people would pay for their own houses, that houses were a commercial article and not a charity, but the Government, rightly recognising the difficulties that have arisen during the War, launched out in this scheme.Heaven knows I am not criticising them, nor have I expressed any opinion upon any of these items, not one—I protest I have not. If hon. Members think the figures I have given condemn the system, then by the figures and not by me is it condemned. Private enterprise made a profit out of this branch of business. The annual deficit on 300,000 houses now is £18,000,000, without subsidies, and the cost in 60 years is to be £700,000,000. Thy Poor Law has not gone down on account of the old age pensions. Social legislation has increased the demands upon the Poor Law at every turn, and there is every reason to suppose that what has been, will be, and that history will repeat itself in this particular. The 2074 transfer of the Poor Law to the county councils is contemplated. All I have to say on that is that the Chairman of the Poor Law Commission said it would result in complete administrative chaos and universal local bankruptcy, and would probably cost from £50,000,000 to £80,000,000. I very much hope it will not be done in my district at any rate, for the guardians there have done their work admirably well, and I should not like to see any change.
How is this state of affairs, supposing hon. Members think, as I gather they do, that there is something censorious, almost condemnatory, in the figures which, after much care, I have ventured to put before the House, to be prevented? It rests with the House of Commons, that wasteful body, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer called it, the body that forced the Government against its will to increase the pensions to the police, that gave it a beggarly majority of 12 when there was an addition proposed of £15,000,000 to old age pensions, that proposes every Friday some fresh expenditure, that is apparently willing that no recommendation of any of the Committees dealing with these subjects should ever get beyond the paper on which they are printed. What is to be done? In 1919 the present Leader of the House said:If we continue spending in this way we are heading straight for national bankruptcy,I suggest—it may be a very modest suggestion after the figures I have given—that an extremely important step would be, in proper housekeeping, to have your household accounts in order, to have this excellent statement. Command Paper No. 189 of 1921, brought up to date, and to have it include the whole of the vast, the growing, and the evidently uncontrollable expenditure under the Labour Department, in which the Employment Exchanges have now become the dole distributors and, having failed in the purpose for which they were created, now proceed to foster unemployment.
We should warn off that exceedingly expensive individual, the health specialist, who discovered that victorious England, which in its stride destroyed militarist Prussia, was a C3 nation. The gentleman who discovered that mare's nest at least should have no share in putting burdens upon the back of the ratepayer and the taxpayer. We should classify the re- 2075 cipients of relief, we should codify the law and the Orders in Council dealing with the subjects named in my Amendment, we should correlate, co-ordinate, co-operate, we should know, in the Estimates laid before the House, the amounts spent through rates as well as through taxes under each head of account, there should be local registers to prevent overlapping, and this Drage Return should be fuller, better, more quickly and more often rendered. I thank the House extremely for its great kindness in listening so patiently to what I am afraid must necessarily have been rather a dull discourse. It is exceedingly difficult to deal with masses of figures, and I know that very few conjurors can make them altogether acceptable for more than a very short time. All I can say is that I have not ventured to address the House on this subject without having taken considerable pains to inform myself upon it, and that I have refrained from having said a provocative word, indeed, from having expressed any opinion at all, and I am sure that no hon. Member I am now looking at can say whether I am myself a Social Reformer, a Socialist, or not, from what I have said this afternoon.
I beg to second the Amendment. The hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) has performed a real service in bringing this matter before the House, and I congratulate him upon the imperturbable mask which he has been able to wear during his speech and so preclude us from any idea as to what his views are on the matters referred to in this Amendment. It is because he has maintained so strictly neutral an attitude on the subject, that I am able to support the request that he puts before the House, which I understand to be that a Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into the expenditure which he has classed under the head of social services. I second this Amendment, not because I have any sympathy with the results that he hopes to obtain from such a Royal Commission, but because I believe that its appointment would lead to very useful results indeed. I think the effect of the War upon public expenditure in this country has been to produce a state of affairs which is distinctly confusing to all those who really want to understand 2076 on what it is we are spending money, and how we are raising money to meet that expenditure, and I should hope that such a Commission as is desired by the hon. Member would, if granted, do a great deal to clear up the confusion of thought upon that point.
We are facing to-day an expenditure of an infinitely greater amount than that which existed before the War, and the hon. Member has drawn our attention to the fact that one class of that expenditure has increased, as he says—I do not propose to vouch for his figures in supporting his Motion—from £25,000,000 in 1890–91 to £332,000,000 in 1920–21. Whether those figures are accurate or not, there has, no doubt, been an enormous increase on services which he classes together as social services. I think a great deal of confusion of thought exists on this question of social services. The hon. Member has spoken of them as being a substitution of public help for private effort, and the suggestion is that in all these services there is a preponderating element of charity, that, out of public money, is being given in one form or another something which is akin to relief. I gather from his speech that he leaves nothing outside that category, and that his sum of £332,000,000 includes public education, old age pensions, all that is provided by the Ministry of Pensions including war pensions, the Ministry of Health, Insurance, and the Ministry of Labour. I think it is just on this point that this confusion of thought exists. I cannot agree with the suggestion in any shape or form that the large majority of this money is in any sort of way akin to public relief or public charity. What, as a matter of fact, takes place here is that the nation is making a collective provision for certain of its wants, instead of private provision.
Take education, for example. Before the Act of 1870, people in this country were dependent for education upon private enterprise. What is taking place to-day is that the people of this country are providing educational facilities for themselves. They are finding the money to pay for it, and I cannot, for the life of me, see how, in any sense of the word, the money that is spent on education in this country can be regarded as charity or relief, or how the people who are in receipt of the benefit of that education can be regarded as being in receipt of 2077 public benefit. I should hope that a Royal Commission such as is desired by the hon. Member, and such as I would welcome myself, would clear up the confusion of thought on this question, and would bring to light not only the fact that there is this large sum of money being spent on these public services, but that this money is itself being found in the main by the very people who are receiving the benefits of the services. That is an aspect of the question, which, I do not think, was sufficiently brought out by the hon. Member in his speech, exhaustive as it was, and which I should hope would be brought out in bold relief by the Report of a Royal Commission, as is desired.
I am fortunate enough to have here the very Command Paper to which the hon. Member referred. In the table showing how the expenditure of 1921–2 compares with that of 1920–1, the amount shown as spent upon public education, old age pensions, Ministry of Pensions, Ministry of Health, Insurance, Ministry of Labour, civil demobilisation, etc., is £250,707,000. That figure falls somewhat short of the figure which the hon. Member placed before the House, but it is sufficiently large, I think, for his purpose.
I agree. I have not seriously challenged the hon. Member's figures, but I should be surprised to find that they exceeded the figures to the extent that they appear upon the Paper. I would like to draw the attention of the House to the figure of Revenue, and, looking at the figure for Customs and Excise alone, as against the figure of £250,000,000 which is being spent on this kind of services, £333,000,000 was received. My point is it is clear that if we the engaging on very large expenditure in the items referred to, we are also receiving very large sums from the same class of people who are receiving the benefit of that expenditure, and that, I think, is something which it would be well for the people of this country to realise, particularly the people who talk as if the whole cost of these services were falling upon the well-to-do classes of the community. I do not say that the hon. Member suggested that in his speech, but that is the idea often expressed, that the 2078 money spent on these services in the main comes out of the pocket soft he well-to-do.
I think a Royal Commission would probably make very valuable suggestions indeed with regard to methods of presenting national accounts, and would lead to classification of these accounts in such a way that really the large classes into which they fall would be clearly separated in the public mind. They are in the main three—debt service, the amount required for these social services, and the amount required for soldiers and policemen. If through the operations of such a body as is suggested here, or any other body, the people of this country could come to a clear conception of what it is they are spending their money on for these three great services, and if, at the same time, there could be brought into relationship with their expenditure the different ways in which revenue is being raised, I think a very real service would be achieved, that there would be a clarity and lucidity introduced in the presentation of accounts, which would enable us, whatever our opinions, to achieve what we all want to see, and that is, get the best value for the money that is spent.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I feel quite sure that very few of us on this side of the House will quarrel in any way with the manner in which this question was raised this afternoon, much as we may differ from some of the conclusions which appear to emerge from the speech of the hon. Baronet. There are, in the first place, one or two errors into which, I think, he fell in stating his case. First of all, he indicated that on this and kindred problems it is the attitude of Labour Members merely to encourage expenditure at large. Many of us on this side of the House have repeatedly urged that in the interests of the working classes of the country themselves, it is very important indeed that we should have a drastic reduction of expenditure and of taxation at the earliest possible moment, and we are under no delusion whatever — I wish to impress this upon the hon. Baronet—as to the benefits derived from a great deal of the kind of social expenditure to which he has called attention. In point of fact, there is not the least doubt that much of it partakes of the nature of mere relief, designed to tide over an emergency or a difficulty into 2079 which sections of the people have fallen. We do not anticipate from it anything in the way of permanent benefit or constructive cure of the ills to which society is exposed at the present time. That is the first point I desire to make perfectly clear.
Then, in the second place, the hon. Baronet referred to this kind of expenditure on social services as Socialism. I do not want to embark this afternoon upon any economic discussion, but I think he will agree, on reflection, that Socialism means the reconstruction of our economic, or industrial, or commercial system in such a way as to lead to public ownership and control, as against the private ownership and control of the existing system.
It is perfectly plain, if that be an accurate definition, that the expenditure on social services has no connection with a fundamental change in the economic system of this country, or any other country, and for that reason it seems to me to be quite wrong to describe this form of public effort as Socialism, at this stage or any other. Having made these two preliminary points, I want to ask one or two simple questions of the House in discussing the vast expenditure to which the hon. Baronet has called attention. On this side of the House we do not dispute in the least that there has been a great increase compared with pre-War times, but it is the duty of the House to keep two considerations very clearly in view. When the present century opened, we in Great Britain were only beginning a definite effort to deal with great social diseases; and by social diseases I mean the mass of ill-health and inefficiency among the people, traceable to a variety of causes, the lack of provision for old age, the importance of extending educational and other-facilities, and the rest. It became inevitable that this century would not have advanced very far before public funds were called upon for much larger sums under these headings if we were to discharge our duty in anything like a faithful and representative way. Not only have we to keep that consideration in mind, but the hon. Baronet, in his historical review, appeared to forget entirely that we have now succeeded to the legacy of a great deal of short-sightedness and mismanagement during the last 2080 century. In its early phases, the industrial system of this country was allowed to grow up largely unregulated. There was a feeling that business people could do absolutely as they pleased, and that freedom was the essential condition if anything like economic progress was to be achieved. It was only towards the middle of the last century, and later, that we got even moderate interference with that state of affairs, through the Factory Acts and other legislation; and it was not until that century had closed and this century had opened that there was a definite effort, on anything like a large scale, to provide for the social needs and difficulties of the people. There had grown up a great mass of human disease; there had grown up also our hideous towns and cities; we had, in short, laid the foundations for great public expenditure if the difficulty was to be met, because, quite clearly, it had passed beyond the range of private enterprise or control.
These facts go a long way to explain the very great increase in the expenditure on social services, and they have been supplemented by the undeniable needs which have emerged from the War. Does any hon. Member, taking an impartial view of the situation, suggest that we could abandon our provision for a large number of people who have undeniably suffered on account of the War. Personally, I have frequently urged that the hugh expenditure on the relief of unemployment is, from many points of view, a hopeless national experiment. We admit that we are only meeting the immediate and urgent needs, if, indeed, it can be said that we are doing even that. For all the millions which have been expended on unemployment there is practically nothing to show at the present time, and I should be prepared to admit that from some points of view there has been even an aggravation of the disease. On this side we have suggested remedies, though hon. Members in other parts of the House have not agreed with us in those remedies. We have suggested a drastic reduction of the expenditure on armaments, amounting to hundreds of million pounds, since the War concluded. We have also argued for a better European economic policy, in order that markets should be opened and trade encouraged to revive, and the unemployed be taken from the streets. But 2081 I am not aware that the hon. Baronet has very often supported us in the Division Lobby in these enterprises, and I think I am well within the mark in saying he has opposed practically every scheme which we on this side have brought forward, good, bad, or indifferent. Therefore, it does not altogether lie with him to deplore the vast expenditure which has been necessary on schemes of relief which, in our judgment, are traceable to a large extent to the weak and, as I regard it, mischevious policy in economic matters which this country and other countries have pursued since the Armistice.
Having indicated one or two considerations of that description, I will now come to the question which is really before the House. According to reliable statistics from eminent medical men and others, there has been a grave deterioration in the physique of millions of the British people. At the same time it is admitted by industrialists and others that, after making all allowances for other causes, declining output is traceable to a certain industrial inefficiency born of the social conditions under which millions of people are condemned to live. We recognise, also, that while millions are being expended on education, we are probably not getting the best results from that vast expenditure, and that a certain internal reorganisation of the system of education is urgently required. All these things are recognised on this side of the House, and underlying them all is the plain question, "What are we to do as a nation to secure a healthy and, above all, an efficient people?" That is the one problem which is behind all this so-called social legislation.
If I may make a deduction from the speech of the hon. Baronet, it would be to this effect—that we should fall back upon private initiative, that we should rely upon the individual or the family, and reduce all forms of public provision to the lowest possible point. May I make it perfectly plain on this head that it is not the business and, as I understand it, has never been any part of the business of the Labour movement in this country to set the State up as a great provider of charity. Nowhere has mere relief as such been more denounced than on our platforms. We have repeatedly asked that people should be put in such a posi- 2082 tion, under a healthy industrial system, as would enable them to maintain their homes in comfort, become happy and efficient, and not have to have recourse to Poor Law and other forms of philanthropic relief. That has been our settled doctrine for many years, and I am at a loss to understand the hon. Baronet when he suggests that we are committed to a broad policy of assistance at large and of great expenditure of public money under these heads. We want to see a people efficient and independent in outlook and spirit. We want to see them with security and confidence in their homes and in their industry. It is no part of our business to send them to any agency for a recurrent relief, which can never bring any lasting or complete cure.
But when we have made these points perfectly plain, we must recognise that there are certain services which it is perfectly impossible in the present stage of development of the country to return to private initiative and enterprise. The old system of taking a few pence per week to the schoolmaster is very often held up as a kind of ideal to which we should try to get back, and the old Scottish system of the dominie has a kind of idyllic charm in every educational debate—it had a great deal to recommend it; but any system of that kind is absolutely inapplicable at the present day. The population has very largely increased. The importance of education to this country cannot be over-rated; above all, the importance of a sound system of education to the economic recovery which we are trying to promote, and without which other nations will inevitably beat us in the keen competition of the coming years. Education must be a matter of public enterprise; and I see no value in drawing attention to the outlay on education if the suggestion is that we are to go back to a private system. My cure would be to make the existing system much more efficient than it is, and if that be the form our economy takes, and it seems to me to be the only proper form, we will very soon realise that from our expenditure on education we shall at no distant date reap a return-of many millions of money, to put it on the material plane, and a far greater wealth in human life, which is more important.
The hon. Baronet drew attention also to the great expenditure on Poor Law 2083 administration and relief. What party in the State has consistently advocated the break-up of the Poor Law? Has it not been part of our programme for many years to bring out this truth, that more and more as the circumstances of people in receipt of Poor Law relief are investigated, they are found to resolve themselves into conditions arising from age, or ill-health, or some form of disease which could be met through another agency, but which obviously will never be cured by Poor Law relief as such. We have advocated that the aged should be properly provided for either by some scheme of industrial insurance or superannuation, or, at all events, by an adequate system of old age pensions. We have suggested that there should be provision for those in ill health under the Ministry of Health or through the local authorities, and that it should be accompanied by drastic schemes in housing and other reforms until disease itself is eliminated. We are spending vast sums in every locality in the country to cure diseases which spring from conditions that we hardly touch; in fact, the expenditure of money in our own leading Scottish communities has led to the public health assessments bounding up year after year, particularly in one thing, the cure of phthisis or consumption. That type of disease is traceable, as every medical officer's report points out, to the housing conditions under which the people live. Personally, I see no hope for a real permanent reduction of expenditure on these social services until Great Britain gets down to the bedrock of the matter and tackles the housing problem, and until, above all, it endeavours to make industry a healthy proposition in this country.
Take the other point. We are spending the comparatively small sum of money, £130,000 annually, on the Medical Research Council, under which the Industrial Fatigue Research Board and other bodies are investigating industrial conditions bearing on health. The reports which have been already published make it perfectly clear that we are spending millions and millions of money trying to cure disease which comes from industrial conditions that could be quite easily adjusted and remedied at a comparatively small expenditure if we could get the co-operation of employers and the trade 2084 unions—and I think I could pledge the trade unions on this point. But we are going to starve that part of investigation and to provide, through the local authorities and from the State, millions of money for the social services for treating ill-health while we fail, as I have said, to go to the root causes of the trouble. I suggest that as the discussion has been going on it is not going to lead us anywhere. I do not think even the Royal Commission which the hon. Baronet suggests would help, unless we were prepared to try and keep these things in mind. We have got simply to ask ourselves, in considering the social services in Great Britain, upon what form of expenditure are we going to get the maximum return. Will the mere cure of disease after it has grown up be of any real good to this country? Would it not be a thousand times better to get down to the bottom of the thing? I respectfully suggest if you do so that within 10 years a Motion of this kind would not be necessary in the House of Commons.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Hilton Young)
Our Debate to-day, I am glad to say, has proceeded in an atmosphere of philosophic calm. If that were to happen always in our discussions it would no doubt greatly contribute to their value. We have had, particularly, two speeches of exceptional persuasive force and exceptional interest. I refer to the Mover of the Amendment (Sir J. D. Rees), and the speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham)—in the way that we are accustomed to listen to him They have advanced two different theories in respect of the relations of the State towards the individual. The hon. Baronet believes, I think, from the bottom of his heart that no State intervention in any of the affairs of life was ever of any good, or for the expenditure of any money for any purpose you got money's worth, whilst at the other extreme of the bow of the argument we have the hon. Gentleman opposite, who finds no hope for humanity except such as can be administered by the State—
§ Mr. YOUNG
Well, sometimes the picture may represent much more truly the attitude of mind than the 2085 actual words of a speaker. I could not but receive from my hon. Friend's description of his views an impression of that nature. He is far too sceptical of the good that can be done by the enterprise of the individual. What I say-about it is this: from this box it is not necessary for me, surely, to commit myself to either philosophic extreme, as in the practical affairs of life it is hard not to see that there is useful sphere for the action of the State and a useful sphere also for the action by the individual. It would be idle to profess, much less to believe, that the amount which we spend upon the social services at the present time is necessarily an ideal and perfect amount to spend, neither too much or too little; it would be quite idle to profess that the manner in which it is spent is ideal at present or that not a penny of the money could be better spent. It is not necessary to maintain that. This is an imperfect world and one struggles towards perfection, arriving at it by slow stages. It will be apparent to anybody who reflects upon the manner in which this expenditure has grown that it has grown more or less from year to year in relation to the steady growth and change in public opinion. I would certainly draw the attention of the House to this fact that in any case what is being spent now is being spent as a result of the decisions on policy taken by this House, that nobody is responsible for it except this House itself. It has guided the nations towards such standard of expenditure on social services as we have at present.
It is, of course, recognised that expenditure on these services at the present time has grown enormously in comparison with the past. I would not say for a moment that it does not suggest the most serious reflection as to whether the expenditure might have grown too high considering the financial state of the nation at present, nor is it necessary to maintain that what is now being spent on these social services is not so great as to cause the most urgent anxiety for a searching inquiry into the origin and direction in which the money is being spent—at the call of absolute necessity or of common prudence. Let that be said. At the same time let not the House be terrified by the excessive 2086 differentiation between the two figures produced by the right hon. Baronet, produced from that useful return which he has obtained, the Drage Return. He quotes from it in 1920 the figure of £257,000,000. Against that figure he gets that of 1891, which is only £25,000,000, so that the amount spent on the social services has increased tenfold. It is, of course, impossible to arrive at any true judgment or explanation unless one remembers to survey the circumstances. I know the House is apt to be somewhat impatient at the whittling away of the startling effect of the figures; still, how can we arrive at any principle of comparison between 1891 and the present day in those matters unless one remembers, first of all, the increase in prices and the increase in wages which have made it, roughly, twice as costly to carry out the social services, and which has made £2 now the equivalent of £1 in 1891. How is anyone to arrive at a proper judgment, how is it possible to arrive at a true judgment, without remembering the increase in the population since that time? The population of the country in 1891 was 38,000,000. At present it is 47,000,000. The maintenance of the services has increased with the increased population.
The truth of the matter, as between this time and that, of course, is that between the two dates, as to which the startling comparison is produced, some of the greatest and the most expensive of our services have been undertaken. What is also true is that neither the hon. Baronet or any Member of this House confronted with those services would suggest for a moment that we should discontinue them! What are the biggest figures in this growth. First of all, there are the war pensions and war training £110,000,000. I will not insult the intelligence of the hon. Baronet by even asking him the rhetorical question as to whether he desires to reduce provision for war pensions? Old age pensions, nothing in 1891; £29,000,000 to-day. Is any hon. Member proposing to economise by discontinuing old age pensions? The question is an idle one. On the contrary, a case is being made to-day as to whether or not another £15,000,000 should be spent on old age pensions. In this startling comparison of figures between 2087 the two dates there is such a figure as this. Health Insurance, £27,000,000. Is it suggested that we should wipe out the whole of the national scheme of health insurance? No such suggestion has been made. Let it be remarked in that figure of £27,000,000 of health insurance the money comes from contributions and no comparison can possibly be fair unless it takes into consideration that included in the main amount spent now you have very large sums by way of contributions—
§ Mr. YOUNG
I have no doubt hon. Members listened with great care and attention to the hon. Baronet, and are likely to consider the Drage Return in reckoning the figures. It is necessary to bear that consideration in mind. It would be quite unfair to the recipients, to the millions who receive these benefits, to suggest that it is all in the nature of a charitable dole, if there is anything in the nature of a charity in the payments by the State of these services. I will now deal with unemployment, housing, and education. Take unemployment. Is this a time to suggest a long step backward in State provision for unemployment? In normal times I can imagine the argument being raised with great force for and against any provision for unemployment by the State, but once the system has been adopted, I cannot imagine anyone suggesting its abolition now, in view of the state of the trade of the country, and when the country is reeling under the blows of a great war. The other increases mostly relate to hospitals, medical treatment, maternity benefits, housing, and lunacy. One is not accustomed to hear in this House or from the hon. Baronet (Sir J. D. Rees) arguments, at any rate, supported by votes, against any of those proposals.
Let me pass from that consideration of actual comparison of the figures to another aspect of this question which has presented itself to me in the course of the Debate. As one engaged from day to day in the pursuit of the elusive prey of economy, I have made, at any rate, one discovery, that it avails little to sit in horror and astonishment before globular 2088 totals and compare them with other globular totals and say, "With regard to these disastrous increases, something must be done." I suggest to the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment that whatever warrant there may be for disquiet in these comparisons, the region in which they should look for a remedy for any undue expenditure which there may be in such directions is not to be found in new inquiries or new tinkering commissions, but in practical economy on the Estimates with which we have been very much concerned lately, and with which I think the House will continue to be concerned for the ensuing weeks. It is there that we have to see whether we are putting an effective check upon the progress of expenditure upon our social services, and to find any expenditure that may be unwarranted or unnecessary. I will not now give any large or detailed narrative of the reduction effected in the Estimates this year, tout I claim that much has been done in the direction of checking expenditure and of reducing such expenditure as is unwarranted, in view of the grave situation of the country's finances.
Let me mention a few of the more effective instances this year. There is a reduction in the Education Vote of £6,000,000, a reduction not universally acclaimed in this House. There has been a corresponding reduction on account of the Scottish Education Department of £890,000. In regard to administrative matters there has been a reduction in the Ministry of Health Estimates of £1,700,000. Economy has been effected in National Health Insurance to the amount of £500,000. The Scottish Board of Health Estimates have been reduced by £1,600,000, and the Ministry of Labour by £7,600,000. Finally war pensions, not as the result of any reduction of the pensions, not as a result of any less generous appreciation of the services of those who receive pensions, but as a result of a closer estimate and administrative economies there has been a reduction of £21,000,000. That is an example of what can be done in the direction of the checking of expenditure, and that is the true remedy.
Let me look for a moment to the alternative remedies proposed by the Amendment before the House. May I preface my remarks with the observation that the word which appeals to me most strongly 2089 in the Amendment is the word "co-ordination." It is constantly to be remembered that in the region of public services where there are such widespread, intricate services as those which are now being administered by modern States there is a constant danger of the lack of co-ordination on the part of the various Departments, and a constant necessity for keeping the means of co-ordination of the most efficient sort possible. Co-ordination is necessary in two regions. First of all, in the region of planning, and, secondly, in the region of executing. In the first region it is comparatively easy to co-ordinate your plans, but the coordination of the execution of the plans and the actual administration after the plan has been made is a much more difficult matter, and needs constant application, constant watching, and great care on the part of those responsible for the Government. I would say that for the purposes of such co-ordination special organisations and officials and deliberate plans are ineffective, and true coordination can only be obtained if it is a habit of mind and a practical part of the living organism of the public service. That has been the direction in which development has taken place very largely even within the short period of my own observation, and that I believe to be a wholesome direction in which the organisation of co-ordination should be directed.
At the present time the central instrument for co-ordination must be the Cabinet, and to adapt that instrument to meet the change and development and increasing work of the Government there has been the great development of the work of the Cabinet Committees. Nothing whatever but co-ordination is their special function. Constantly in the progress of this work there are and must be special inquiries and special Departmental Committees sitting to keep in touch with this section of the work. It is by this process alone that co-ordination can achieve efficiency in Government Departments by cultivating the habit of communication and cross references in the mind of the administrators, and encouraging them to frequently institute special joint bodies which are necessary for the work of co-ordination.
What is the alternative suggestion? First of all, a Royal Commission is sug- 2090 gested. I cannot believe that there is any subject matter whatever for inquiry in the Debate which has taken place today which is suitable for a Royal Commission. All the matters we have been discussing, the bearings of which are well known, are matters upon which much information is available as a result of previous inquiries and Royal Commissions. The only Royal Commission that could usefully inquire further into the subjects we have been discussing would be that one consisting of all the Members of this House which sits from day to day actually here on these benches.
The other alternative is that of the establishment of a Board. The Board proposed in this Resolution appears to me to be a very unsatisfactory one. Is it to be a concentration of the Ministry of Health, the Board of Education and the Ministry of Labour and half a dozen other Government Departments, a sort of super-Department over the administration with executive powers? If that is so, I believe that the experience of anyone who has come in touch with our public administration will be that there could be no instrument more calculated to produce paralysis and inefficiency in all our public services than a body such as that. They are separate in nature, and surely, in carrying out their administration they should be separate also.
As I understand it, the Board is proposed as a means of rationing all our expenditure. There again I fail to understand what the work of such a Board is to be. Is it to make itself responsible to us? Is it to say how much every Department is to spend? Is it to be a Ministerial Commission? If it is, it will most probably share the same fate as other similar proposals, and have no useful existence. Such an institution is irreconcilable with any theory of Ministerial responsibility to this House and Ministerial authority over each Department, and it cannot possibly work satisfactorily. For the provision of money for a Department one authority, and one authority alone, in the long run must be responsible, and that is this House. The answer we have to give to such a proposal as this is that the rationing is done at the present time by this House in the Estimates, and if any further rationing is desired, it must also be done by this House in Committee on the Estimates. 2091 It is for these reasons that the actual wording of the Amendment does not appear to provide any very useful solution of this problem.
Sir J. D. REES
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman deal with my suggestions for making the Drage Return more complete and issue it more frequently?
§ Mr. YOUNG
I shall be very happy to consult my hon. Friend who takes so much interest in this matter as to any method by which it is possible to improve the Drage Return. I have always looked upon it as imperfect. We want to get a more scientific and full return. Let my last word be this. There has been a very great increase in our expenditure, and that increase must needs be, in the present state of our finances, a cause of disquiet requiring attention in order to see that no funds are spent unnecessarily and that no money is wasted. The true direction in which to look for economy is by work on the Estimates—work which is already reflected in the Estimates now before the House.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
The closing words of the Financial Secretary will, I hope, find an echo in the breast of the Leader of the House and those who cooperate with him in so arranging the time still left this Session that we may really achieve the object of the Amendment and meet the desires of almost every Member in the House. How much time are we going to get in this Session for that work? Twenty days is perfectly ludicrous. If any real work is going, to be done, what I hope lies behind what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said is that we must have at least 30 days. If we can get that, and if hon. Members are in earnest, I have no doubt that very great public service can be rendered with regard to checking the Estimates, in the co-ordination of Departments, and in teaching a lesson which they have yet to learn in habits of economy to the Cabinet itself. The true co-ordinating authority in all these things is, after all, the Treasury. Unless we can re-establish full, complete and strenuous Treasury control, so long will unjustifiable expenditure proceed. There are two words in the Amendment now before the House which suggest topics 2092 with which I will deal very briefly indeed, before the House goes to the Main Question. The Amendment brings in words of which we hear very little in this House, far too little, and that is "the ratepayer." It talks about the taxpayers and ratepayers and what they can afford. Let me remind the House what the unhappy ratepayer, who is, of course, also, in 90 cases out of 100, the unfortunate taxpayer, has to bear as his share of the burden. In 1914 the total sum raised by the rates in this country was £71,276,000. In 1921 we raised no less than £149,000,000, and that was raised on an assessment which was only very slightly increased from that of 1914. The assessment on which it was raised in 1914 amounted to £211,500,000, and that assessment last year had only been increased to £223,656,000. Therefore, the capacity to pay was not by any means increased in proportion to the burden which the ratepayer had to pay. My hon. Friend said a little while ago that a large amount of the additional cost was owing to the inflation of high prices, and that we had to get the same services rendered for the same return, while those who rendered the services had to be paid a very large increase in their salaries. That is true, but, after all, what about the test of the capacity to pay on the part of the ratepayer? His capacity to-pay is certainly no greater; it has emphatically gone down. The average of the rates in the £—I am speaking for England and Wales, but I am sure the same position obtains in Scotland, if not in a more, acute form—in 1914 the average rate in England and Wales was 6s. 8¾d. In 1921 it was 13s. 3½d. In very many instances the rate amounted to 20s. and even 25s. in the £, but I am speaking only of the average, and the average increase ranges from 98 per cent. to 100 per cent. These are very startling figures.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman unnecessarily, but how can the question of the ratepayers' position be in order on an Amendment which has to deal with Civil Service Estimates?
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
With all respect I think I can show that it is in order. The Amendment asks for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire or a Board 2093 to take over the rationing of all such expenditure in view to its proper coordination and reduction of expenditure within such limit as the taxpayers and ratepayers can afford. Still I am not pursuing this point any further. I was simply bringing it in as an illustration of the heavy burden which the ratepayers have to bear and claiming that, consequently, consideration should be given to them in that respect. I was going to suggest for the ratepayers a remedy similar to that which my hon. and gallant Friend foreshadowed, I mean co-ordination. He is at present burdened with a vast amount of detail and a very large number of different authorities. I think that very briefly comes within the scope of this suggestion for co-ordination.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I would like to point out that this might develop into a Debate as to the burden on the rates in different areas, and that would be completely out of order.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I was not going further than that. I was simply pointing out the great need for co-ordination in so far as the ratepayer is concerned. There are at the present time seven different public authorities intervening in any service which requires public assistance. I think it might be just as well to state a very few heads from the report I hold in my hand—the Local Government Committee's Report on the Transfer of Functions to Authorities in England and Wales. For dealing with infants and maternity there are no less than five different public authorities; for children of school age there are three. For persons of unsound mind and mentally defective there are no fewer than six. For sick persons there are four. For aged persons there are five, and for able-bodied persons there are also five. Not only is organisation but the spirit of co-ordination is required, and very great savings, undoubtedly, could be effected. I hope that the result of the reiterated requests that have been made to the Government in their schemes for economy, both with regard to the taxpayer and to the ratepayer, and in this respect to the ratepayer in particular, they will see what economies can be effected, not only by restraining and jealously guarding against any further additions being put on the rates, but also by seeing what steps can be taken as soon as possible to co-ordinate 2094 these numerous authorities and the burdens they are imposing.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I think it would be very valuable if some investigation were made into the astonishing figures which have been laid before the House. The Financial Secretary said it was just a question of criticising and dealing with each Estimate in detail. I submit it is something deeper than that. The Geddes Committee was for the first body to educate the person commonly known as the man in the street—the man who really bears the burden of expenditure—as to what the nation spends, and it did more in that direction than all the Debates and Budgets that had gone before. I think another body of a somewhat similar nature to inquire into this expenditure would be very valuable in teaching the ratepayers and the taxpayers where the money is going, and enabling them to come to a conclusion as to whether the services given are worth the expenditure. It is very easy to persuade this House and to persuade particular individuals and particular classes of individuals that expenditure is desirable, but it is a very difficult thing when you come to investigate to see whether real value for the money is being given. The Financial Secretary suggested that nobody would think of repealing the National Health Insurance Act. I can assure him that if this Government wants to be popular it could do nothing more likely to meet the views of the ordinary man in the street—who is the taxpayer—than to repeal that Act. It was conceived more or less as a stunt. It has done very little good to anybody except to enable the Sixpenny Doctor to keep an American motor car. His West End confreres have used the National Health Insurance contributions as a sort of beginning for a more aristocratic practice with, in many cases, I may add, very perfunctory medical attention for the panel patient. If you were to have the same principle applied to the profession to which I have the honour to belong, if you were to say to the public that they shall pay so much per week and hand the money over to a panel solicitor or barrister for the purpose of getting advice, I should be very sorry for the legal advice obtained under such circumstances. It would be the same kind of advice, I should imagine, as the medical 2095 advice which is given by the panel doctor.
You cannot work a profession in that way. It is merely a tax placed upon unfortunate people for the support of a profession. No doubt many doctors—in fact, I believe, the majority—have still got about them the traces of the old code, the old professional standard, and I believe that will last for many years. There is no doubt that the general effect has been to provide men who could not get practices in the ordinary competition in the medical profession with a very satisfactory living, but no sane person who could really afford it would ever dream of calling in, when seriously ill, his panel doctor, and the Act is carried on by inflicting a tax upon very poor people who get no benefit from it at all. For instance, the whole of the mariners of England get nothing out of it. They are all at sea, and are treated at the expense of the shipowners, and yet they are taxed for this purpose. The very nurses, again, who get all their medical attention free, have been brought in to pay a tax for the benefit of other people. It is all a monstrous imposition. It is very popular with these medical gentlemen, the huge parasitic staff of officials, and the immense body of clerical workers employed because of the Act, who may be supposed to be making a bit out of it, but most of the the unfortunate victims for whose benefit it is supposed to be conceived would be very glad to be relieved of it.
Then enormous savings might undoubtedly be made on what is miscalled education in this country. It is not education at all to a large extent. The expense has been enormously increased by the Act which was passed two days before the Germans broke through in 1918—I think it was on the 19th March—when the whole country was convulsed and the House was empty, and-the education authorities took the opportunity to make this enormous raid upon the pockets of the taxpayer and the ratepaper. Scotland has been devastated by the Education Act. There is not an agricultural estate in Scotland that is not bankrupt as the result of the Education Act. There is not a farmer who is not crying out under the agony of the burden which it has placed upon him. You find, in poor counties like Banffshire, 2096 indignant letters from people saying that they have seen a schoolmaster in full bodily vigour at 65 years of age, with all his faculties about him, retiring with what is called a lump sum of £1,000 in his pocket paid by people who are far poorer than himself, and a retiring allowance of £300 or £400 a year. How long do you think people will stand that sort of thing? It cannot go on indefinitely. We had a Reformation once in Scotland, which was due to the fact that the priesthood absorbed one-third of the national wealth. Their place has now been taken by the education authorities. They are the new priesthood, who are eating up a very large part of the national earnings. It cannot be tolerated for very long, and there will be an uprising against it.
I admit that the people who run these educational matters have the greatest propaganda in the world. The North-cliffe Press is nothing compared to it. When the Act was going through, they filled the newspapers with great pæans of praise as to the new Heaven and the new earth that was going to be brought about by keeping boys at school till the age of 18. Even recently, when the Geddes Report came out, they got up and created such a shout that they intimidated the Government, They went about through the constituencies shouting about the children being kept out of school till they were six. There has never been anything quite like it. I remember what was said by one of the Members on the Labour Benches the other day, with that curious desire which seems to obsess them to give a personal autobiography of their own early careers. They are so surprised at finding themselves here that they want to give a sort of Samuel Smiles' self-help account of how they rose in the world, as if that was a most amazing performance. This hon. Member said that, had he not obtained some scholarship at the university he might have had to go down a coalpit. What harm would it have done him if he had gone down a coalpit? I can assure him—and I know the miners well—that he would probably have found himself in just as good, if not better, company than that in which he is in the habit of sitting, and possibly he would not have taken the same views that he did at the time of the national extremity, or, at any rate, knowing what I do of miners, I should be very much surprised if he would have been allowed by them to do 2097 so. I was also surprised to find the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) also descending to the same level, and proceeding to give his personal reminiscences. He, too, told us that, without the scholarships and other things that he got, he could not have followed his professional career, and probably would not have been in this House. Taking those two statements together, I think they are the strongest argument I have ever heard for the total abolition of all bursaries.
It is a tragic thing, this superstition that there is in regard to education. I am told by education authorities that one of the evils that they find in connection with the bursary system is that they get the poorest type of boy—the boy who wishes to go in for the so-called higher education. The boy with a naturally vigorous, independent intellect knows perfectly well that the education of the battle of life is the only real education he can ever hope to acquire. He knows that he will learn very little from schoolmasters, and he desires to get out and earn his living at the earliest possible moment, because he knows that the greatest of all possessions that a man can have is the faculty and power to make his way and earn his bread. But the boy who wants to be a hanger-on, who wants to get a salary and a safe job, goes in, of course, for the higher education. The vigorous men who are going to do the real work of this world start life early and—[An HON.MEMBER: "Become lawyers."] No, lawyers are like those in other learned professions; they have to get up a certain amount of information which they repeat like a parrot on a piece of paper; otherwise they are not qualified. I believe that in the State of Wisconsin, in the United States of America, you can become a lawyer if you can get two respectable neighbours to certify that you are a man of good character. That is the only qualification, and they say that there are not too many lawyers there, because there is some difficulty in getting the necessary qualification.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I cannot see how the hon. Member is going to connect the, subject of legal education with the Civil Service Estimates.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I was drawn into my answer by the interruption. It is most 2098 disastrous that there should be this enormous expenditure. This education was, of course, promoted by specialists, but let us beware of specialists, even in national health and in education, because, when the Minister of Education introduced the last Education Act, I heard him state in this House that he had not calculated out what the cost of it was going to be. Imagine the possibility of a man who could make a confession of that kind being put in charge of the training of the rising generation. The highest point that you can reach in anyone's education is to teach him to count the cost and calculate what a thing is going to cost before carrying it out. I should have some hesitation in putting a man who would make a confession of that kind in charge of even a small hen farm, because I do not think he would count the hens or the eggs correctly. If you have a specialist in charge of a particular Department he never counts expense, because, just as the clergy are said to think that Sunday is the only day in the week that matters, that being the day on which they preach, so the schoolmaster thinks that the fact that he takes hold of little boys and, in a somewhat stuffy atmosphere, dulls their intellects over a series of years, is the most important event that can happen in their lives. The vigorous boys do not allow that to happen to them. Everyone knows that the main business, the main industries, in this and all other countries, are carried on by men who are much more indebted to their natural capacity than to any training or teaching they ever got. Mrs. Humphrey Ward once said that it took five years for a young man to recover from the effects of an Oxford career, and there is a great deal of truth in that.
I would urge that the extraordinary stupidity of the system of education pursued in this country is to be found in its compulsory character. Take away compulsion, and you will halve your education expenses at once. [An HON. MEMBER: "And double your ignorance!"] No, Sir; there are some people whose ignorance could not be doubled. Ninety-five per cent. of mankind express themselves by the work of their hands, and not in words or literary form at all. There is a vast amount of work to be done in this world which must be done by manual skill and handicraft, and people want to get to that at the earliest possible moment. The 2099 Chinese, who are perhaps the most educated people in the world, are an example of that. They begin with the particular and go on to the general; we begin with the general and end with the particular. The small Chinese boy begins to learn his handicraft at four years of age, and by the time he is 12 he is a fine craftsman. Then he goes to school, but he is an independent man when he goes there, and is able to earn his own living. Do no let us think that our system of literary education is the best. That is just as stupid as it would be to send every one to compulsory singing lessons. What sense would you consider there to be in sending people to compulsory singing lessons who could not tell one note from another and had a voice like that of a croaking raven? That is what is done, and that is where the money is wasted, because you have a huge teachers' union in this country, with a terrific propaganda and with its advocates in this House and in every other public body. You have appointed education authorities up and down the country, but there is no real control; they are only controlled by the central bureaucracy with the view of keeping them sweet. Money is wasted in paying for their travelling expenses and time, and there are all the evils that crept in when payment of Members of Parliament was instituted. Then you have educational directors at £1,000 a year, who run up and down the country seeing that the schoolmasters are doing their jobs. That is sheer waste of money, and it is inflicted on an impoverished country, where people are struggling and where there are 2,000,000 unemployed. How do you think they can tolerate looking on and realising that their want of work, and the high price of everything they have to buy, is increased by the rate sand taxes? How do youth think people with their wages diminished can stand this particular privileged class, this priesthood? Just as we used to be shocked by the Huns in Belgium fighting behind the bodies of women and children, so the Teachers' Union have used the little children and fought behind them ill the Press and elsewhere for the purpose of protecting the large increases in educational expenditure, without much result, which they have obtained through their enormous and costly propaganda. It may be necessary, it may have gone so 2100 far—I believe it has—that we should give gratuitously the keys of book knowledge into the hand of every child. The keys of book knowledge are reading, writing, and arithmetic. Take the compulsory continuation classes which are put upon the older boys in London. So far they merely go back to elementary education. The same things they learned when they were little boys they are being taught in the continuation classes. But they call elementary arithmetic applied mathematics. That is a fine sounding name. A close investigation of the system is simply appalling. Knowledge of the bookish type is, after all, a comparatively limited form of knowledge. The education of the so-called better classes, who are really the better-off classes, does not consist in books. It consists in the development of character. Character is the principal asset. What training for character can there be in State-aided education? You begin with the fact that it is eleemosynary. You begin with the fact that the children learn early in their career that this is something they are supposed to be getting for nothing. That is the worst possible training you can give to any child, and it will take ten years of real hard struggle with the adversity of life before they will unlearn that lesson. But it has been brought into being. We cannot turn back the clock if we wish to, but we can do a good deal to modify the evils of the present Education Act, and just as it got through this House in the middle of a crisis—it might have been passed when the Germans were landing at Dover—the whole thing should be overhauled and reconsidered in the light of the present crisis in our affairs.
I come to another body of expenditure. It is an extraordinary thing, but once the Government takes control of anything it becomes bad. All legislation is bad. It may be necessary as the lesser of two evils, but it is bad because it means third parties interfering with other people's business. That is the difference between legislation and custom. Custom is like a man's skin. It fits because he grows with it. Education is like a man's clothes. It depends on his tailor. All Government enterprise necessarily tends to corrupt. Look at the Public Trustee's Office. What a pæan of trumpets it started with, and now it is a hotbed of waste and expense. You have the Labour Bureaus. They were started, wholly unnecessarily, by the present 2101 Colonial Secretary and largely served the purpose of providing chairmen of Liberal associations with soft billets at the country's expense. They have grown into a perfect scandal. No responsible employer wants them. No responsible working man would go to them for a job, because he knows that the other fellow would have gone to the works and got the job while an official was filling up the form to send in. Business is not done in that way through employment bureaus, but do you think the employment bureaus are abolished? No fear. They seize on the unemployment dole at once. It was a splendid job for them. It was consanguineous to them. You cannot get them abolished. If the unemployment dole had been handed over to the trade unions they would have made a thorough job of it, and, I believe, made a profit out of it. I do not mean that they would have done anything wrong, but they would have made a so much more thorough job if it that they would have saved a good deal of money. Instead of doing that, they keep these wretched bodies called Labour Bureaus alive, and this House is helpless. There is evidently no way in which you can get rid of them.
I hope some thorough system of overhauling national expenditure, such as is suggested, will be gone into, because we are passing though a most extraordinary crisis. We had arrived, prior to the War, at an accumulation of wealth which really almost began in Elizabethan times. We suffered the loss of a lot of it in the Napoleonic Wars. If you look at the Annual Register for 1822, you will see exactly the same phenomenon repeating itself as we have now. You will find there accounts of enormous numbers of bureaucracies which had grown up. I was told by one man in the accounting department of one of the Government offices, that the moment the Armistice was signed all the capable men who knew they could make business for themselves took the wings of the morning and fled from Government employment and started afresh. No man of independent character wishes to be a Government official. He wants to stand on his own feet and to be a free man. He wants to be able to think of himself. He does not want to be filling up forms, with a senior officer, who is not as capable as himself, turning down his ideas or appro- 2102 priating them himself. There were left behind in the Government service all the duds, all the men who, for the first time, got what was to them a really satisfactory living. They are still there—vast numbers of them. A vast deal of social reform simply means looking for billets and appointing more officials to rest their heavy feet on other people's necks.
There are too few producers in this country and too many officials, and social reform means very largely an increase of officials and nothing else. Investigation into that, such as is proposed, would do an immense amount of good—investigation into public bodies, the teaching profession, what the retiring allowances are, why they retire in possession of full bodily health at 65. The other day I brought four old schoolmasters to the House of about 77 years of age, the last stragglers from the Waterloo of the grand old Scotch system, men who were engaged in the old Scottish school service before the compulsory Act of 1872. They were refused a lump sum because they had gone on for another 12 years after they were 65 years of age, and saved the taxpayer, and in the eyes of the bureaucracy it was an unpardonable sin to work for 12 years when they ought to have been learning to play golf. That is the wasteful spirit of bureaucracy, and the nation is to be bled to death. It cannot go on. There ought to be a complete overhaul of the expenditure of all these services. I am pleased to see that the pension service has had such a complete overhaul without in the least diminishing in any sense the awards which are given. All the other services should be equally overhauled, and the facts should be stated and set out in such a way that the man in the street can read them, and I believe there are many millions which could be taken off the shoulders of an overburdened people.
I had no intention of taking part in the Debate, but there are one or two remarks which have fallen from the hon. Member, in his most interesting, philosophical and entertaining speech, which I cannot pass without a word of protest. I do not take him at his face value. He makes English people believe that he is a terrible fellow on education, and that in his view the whole country should be supplied with public-houses and all the schools should be closed. Any hon. Member who goes across the 2103 border, and goes to church in Edinburgh on Sunday morning, will find my hon. Friend a respectable deacon passing the plate round.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
May I correct my hon. Friend? He is apparently not familiar with the church in Scotland. There are no deacons.
Then my hon. Friend would have a higher post in the Scottish Church. He is not such a terrible fellow as he would make us believe. I admit that, because of the fact that he was never at school himself, he cannot understand how any person can derive any benefit from it, but he has tried to make up for that. He taunted some hon. Members near me with giving their autobiography when they speak. Perhaps there is no harm in my giving a little of my hon. Friend's biography. He has never been to school, but he is making up for it by sending his children to school. I am very glad that the loss which he himself sustained he is not going to have repeated in the case of his children. My hon. Friend's idea of a proper schooling is to send his sons to a school where they wear morning coats and tile hats. That is not my idea. I do not see any great value in teaching a boy to wear a tile hat and a morning coat. I am very glad to see that my hon. Friend's bark is worse than his bite with regard to education. With regard to his remarks about Scottish education, I do not say he has not a case, especially on the administrative aspect, and it is quite possible that in certain aspects some money could be saved. But any reduction of the expense of education which would arrest the progressive development of education in Scotland would be a disaster for that country. I am not going to speak for his constituency in Glasgow. The motto of Glasgow isLet Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word.He did not throw any doubt upon that to-day. But with regard to the rural parts of Scotland, there are no industries. There is nothing else for the boys and girls to do except to get into something through the school.
The only man whom I ever heard give expression to a sentiment of the sort that has been voiced by my hon. Friend as to these boys in the Highlands going to school was a Church of England tutor 2104 who had come there to teach a different form of religion. He could not understand the crofters' and fishermen's sons learning Greek verbs in school. I remember him saying that he rejoiced to see the boys standing on their heads in order that the Greek and Latin verbs might fall out of them. That is the sort of thing that you might expect from an English curate educated in a very narrow school who thought that the squire's son and the parson's son should be educated, but these are the sentiments of my hon. Friend, with whom I spent four or five happy years at the same university. I taught my hon. Friend something there. Even at the higher schools you learn something, and I expect, as the fruits of what I did teach him in those days, to see him yet come over to this side of the House. One of the splendid effects of education in Scotland for the last half century has been that at almost every General Election there has been a big majority of Liberals returned to this House. Perhaps that is what made my hon. Friend so angry with education in Scotland. But with regard to the rural parts of Scotland and the Highlands and islands, education is the only hope. There is nothing else for the boys and girls to look forward to. There is nothing else for them to do at home. I do not look down on fishermen or on crofters. I think that crofting is an ideal occupation, but they cannot all engage in it. The more vigorous of them go into schools, get bursaries, go to the secondary school, and enter the university. I should not be surprised if the son of one of these crofters or fishermen attends my hon. Friend when he is ill now and then.
Anything that will cripple education in these places would be a big disaster not only for the Highlands, but for the country at large.
The schools are for training the mind to enable the boy or girl to learn for himself when he leaves school. I agree with my hon. Friend as to the value of education in training the mind.
Yes. It is not simply the planting of knowledge in the child just as you would put pins into a pin cushion, and leave them there. I have forgotten all that I learned at school, but I am not going to say that on that account the school did not do me any good, for it trained my mind such as it is. The training of the mind, and the moral and spiritual character is the real education, and the schools in Scotland at the present time in that respect are doing splendid work. I agree with my hon. Friend that the old schoolmaster has to be revered. He laid the foundations of the educational system which we have in Scotland at the present time. He was the pioneer, and, of course, all pioneers are poorly paid. But I do not agree with my hon. Friend in the whole-sole condemnation of the present system of Scottish education. I think that the schools in Scotland, and in the Highlands especially, are doing splendid work, and the teachers there, living under social conditions that would not occur to my hon. Friend, are doing this fine work bravely, and I shall never see them attacked in this way without endeavouring to say a word on their behalf.
Sir J. D. REES
After the sympathetic speech of the Financial Secretary, and the promises which he made, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I desire to say a few words concerning the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees). We are indebted to him for having presented us with at least one significant admission, which I hope he will not be allowed to forget outside the walls of this House. He began his speech by saying that he had a very rooted objection to what is now called social reform, but that social reform was a term given by those who happen to support that particular kind of governmental and municipal activity. It was called Socialism by those who happened to dislike it, and Bolshevism by those who happened to detest it. So I take it, from that rather, shall I say, simple explanation, that after all what goes by the term of Bolshevism in this particular House is nothing more or less innocuous than a mild form of social reform. We are indebted, indeed, to the 2106 hon. Baronet for that kind explanation. I gather from him meanwhile that he is very disturbed in his mind by the fact that this movement towards social reform is becoming somewhat world wide. I believe that in that matter he is probably right. Speaking for myself, and, I think, my friends on this side, we have no reason to express any particular regret for that kind of movement. Indeed, when we look to the Antipodes we see that the party there, which is a counterpart to our particular party, has been responsible for introducing some of the most beneficial forms of social reform in any part of the world, and we on our side are hoping to see something of that kind happen in our own country.
I was much impressed by the catalogue of woes which the hon. Baronet produced for the edification of the House. Among those which he outlined for us was the provision for what is called education. In this I think he had the whole-hearted sympathy of the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Macquisten). The hon. Member made some curious animadversions upon the subject of what is now called education. He was good enough to say it was miscalled education. He referred to the brief remarks that I made in this House last week as to the particular difficulty in school nowadays, owing to which it is hardly possible to do much more than merely address your pupils. You certainly have very little opportunity to educate them in the true sense of the term, for, after all, the meaning of the word education, as I understand it from its Latin derivative, is that you have to try to lead out of the child, to elicit from the child as much as you possibly can rather than merely put into the child little tit-bits of information. I gather from the hon. Member that Scotland has been devastated by this kind of education, and I am bound to say that the result of the devastation seems to be fairly obvious on the opposite side. Anyhow, I can only hope that it is not as general as the hon. Member would lead us to suppose.
He was good enough to make reference, in a bantering way I presume, to what I said last week concerning my own unfortunate autobiography. I merely used the illustration last week to show what a scholarship scheme could do for poor people, who are as much entitled to the 2107 full benefit of education as the hon. Member opposite or his children. Incidentally I might present the hon. Member with another detail of my autobiography. I have worked in a coal mine, and I learned so much down there that I shall do as much as I possibly can to prevent other people having to go down there again. Incidentally the hon. Member himself seems to have used education to dodge it fairly completely. I gather from him that he is rather keen upon the training of character. In that I am at one with him, and, if I may say so very earnestly, I think he has done the National Teachers' Union, of which I happen to have the privilege of being a member, a very grave injustice, and incidentally he has cast a most unjust slur upon the members of that profession. They are as earnest people, and as good citizens as either the hon. Member or any of his associates on the other side. They have as great a regard for the work which they have to do, and for the training which they are expected to give the children, and they are entitled to have their activities held up to the country and to the world in a much more generous light than has been shown by the hon. Member this afternoon. It is time to protest against this impertinent habit of holding up other people, who do not happen to belong to the same profession as the hon. Member, to public ridicule and opprobium.
I gather that the hon. Member for East Nottingham objects to this world movement in the direction of social reform. May I invite the hon. Member to go through the list to which he treated the House this afternoon and examine the kind of people, who are obliged to become participants of the benefits of that social reform. May I ask the hon. Member whether it has ever struck him that a singular and significant fact emerges from such an examination as this—that the people who are expected to benefit most and in whose interest social reform has been undertaken happen to be in the main the men and women who do the work of this country. They are the working-class people. They are the people who, as far as manual labour is concerned, create the wealth of the country. Is it not rather a singular reflection upon the system under which we live that those who by their manual 2108 labour, and as far as manual labour is concerned, create the wealth of this country, have to call in the aid of the national Parliament, administrative bodies, and so on, throughout the country, in order to rectify the bitterness, the hard and difficult consequences for them, that accrue from what I am pleased to call the present capitalist system?
I will take one point to which the hon. Member has referred, the problem of housing. People who belong to the landed aristocracy of this country are not troubled with the housing problem. The trouble they have is not that they have too little room in which to live but that they have too much. Their trouble is as to which house they will live in for a few weeks of the year. Some of them have so many that they cannot manage to do it at all. On the other hand those who do the hard toil of the country, those who dig and delve in the bowels of the earth and those who go into the countryside to produce our harvests, are compelled to live in conditions which other grades of society are not called upon to endure. You have to embark upon social reform, not because the people who are participants desire it so much, but because that is the only way that society has yet discovered of correcting the unfortunate results in which an unrestricted capitalist system involves them. You have to undertake a national form of education. Why? Because you have so impoverished the workers that the workers cannot provide education for themselves. You have to undertake a national provision of housing. Why? Because you have reduced working class people to so low a level of earning capacity that they cannot provide houses for themselves. You have to provide for the working classes in various other social ways, to provide unemployment benefit, and so on. Why? Because you presume the existence under the capitalist system of a certain limit of unemployment. We say that you have no right in a well regulated society to assume the existence of unemployment at all. It is your business, not to presume the existence of unemployment, but to provide for the removal of unemployment altogether.
In the absence of a housing policy, what would the hon. Member opposite suggest? There are people in my own neighbourhood, not very far removed from my own door, who at this moment 2109 are living in houses which were built with three bedrooms, and they are now living 23 people to a house. That is not an isolated example. Such instances can be numbered by the score, and they do not concern merely my constituency; they concern everyone else's constituency. I ask the hon. Member for East Nottingham what is to be done. Is it not obviously necessary that because of the extreme poverty of these people the nation should step in and relieve them, not merely from the physical discomfort, but should relieve their young children from the moral dangers of such conditions? What is the justification for the provision of old age pensions? It is that you have so kept your workers in a condition of underpayment up to the time of their pension age that they have been unable during those days to provide for the time when they can no longer provide for themselves. Because of their lives of underpayment they have to call upon the State to save them from the effect of an old age spent in unemployment.
What does the hon. Baronet suggest should be done in my part of the country now? My constituency is in South Wales. I had the honour the other day of going with a deputation to the Minister of Health, and while we were waiting for the Minister to appear an old colleague of mine in the county council of which I was a member produced for mc 12 pay sheets duly signed and stamped by the representative of certain colliery companies in South Wales. The hon. Baronet who represents East Nottingham is opposed to social reform. Let me tell him what I saw. There was one pay sheet which disclosed the amazing fact, that one of these men had worked six days, had put in every hour possible in the day during that week, had paid his boy who worked with him, had had deductions taken from his pay to provide for the doctor and so on according to the standard and the ideal laid down by the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Macquisten), and what was the result? He had the magnificent sum of 1d. to take home to his wife that week.
That has not been the result of social reform. We have to call in social reform in South Wales just now in order to correct an absolutely unrestricted form of capitalism. We shall have to extend our hospitals and to undertake all kinds 2110 of public activity of that character. Why? Because the people who represent the same point of view as hon. Members opposite like to have absolute free play, laissez faire as they say, in industry, master and man settling their own affairs in their own way, and the masters, because they are stronger every time, winning every time, and because they win every time hundreds and thousands of my fellow-men in South Wales are now living on a wage that is not consistent with anything but semi-starvation. I invite the hon. Baronet, before he talks in such a glib way about social reform not being necessary, to come down to South Wales for a week, and spend his time, not upon the income he is now receiving, but upon the wage that South Wales people are receiving, and he will then be corrected of the silly notion that social reform is always wrong, and that the working classes should live their lives as best they can.
§ Mr. D. COWAN
I take part in this discussion with considerable diffidence, for two reasons. The first reason is that I had not the privilege of being present at the beginning of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Springburn (Mr. Macquisten). The second reason is that some of the comments I intended to make on that speech have already been made from the other side of the House. With other hon. Members of the House I always listen with enjoyment, and sometimes even with profit, to my hon. and learned Friend, and as one interested in education I always listen to him with a deep gratitude, because the oftener the hon. and learned Member gives utterance to the views he entertains the better it is for the cause of education; the more he seeks to put education back the farther it will go forward. In one particular, at any rate, I have derived a special sense of enjoyment not only from the hon. and learned Member's speech, but from his manner of delivering it, because ho seems to me to be the embodiment of the kind of person that we were told the old schoolmaster was. My hon. and learned Friend is an authority upon every subject that comes before the House. It may be health or housing or education or liquor or law or lunacy, on all those matters the hon. and learned Member speaks with the utmost authority, or at least with the utmost assurance.
2111 So to-day, although I came in rather late, I am not sure that I missed very much, because at the point when I entered he was just giving us a rehash—not a "tasteless rehash," as the Prime Minister said yesterday—of the speeches which we have had from him before. Those speeches are a travesty of the present and a misrepresentation of the past. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member was able to keep Knox out of his speech to-day, but on every previous occasion on which he has addressed the House on this matter he has referred to the great scheme of John Knox. If the hon. and learned Gentleman knew history as well as I presume he knows law, he would have known that the scheme of John Knox was never put into operation, very largely 6wing to the action of a class whose views are pretty much what his are just now—that class privileges should be preserved and that the masses should remain in darkness. The hon. Member who has just spoken referred to the lack of housing for the many and the excess of land in the hands of the few. It was owing to the action of the nobility at the time of the Reformation that many of them became possessed of the land in which their successors now rejoice. The hon. and learned Gentleman rails against the provision of scholarships in order to provide poorer boys and girls with some opportunity of receiving learning. In fact, he seemed to throw, if not a slur, at least some suspicion, upon the advantage of learning in itself. When I hear the hon. and learned Member speak, I wonder how much higher he would have advanced, politically and otherwise, if he had not been subject to the disadvantage of a university education. The fact should not be hidden from the House that anyone who takes advantage of a university education in Scotland or in England is receiving more in the way of subsidy and scholarships than any child in any elementary or secondary school.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. COWAN
I advise the hon. and learned Gentleman to look up the financial statistics of the University of Glasgow, of which I have the honour to be a graduate like himself. I remember him there as a very brilliant student, and 2112 I then looked up to him; I am not so sure that I look up so much to him now. I think that particularly those who have had the advantage of endowments given in the past should be very chary of questioning some endowments being made now. In that respect the least we can do is to be worthy of our ancestors. I am sure that all here who listened with great pleasure to the hon. and learned Member have asked themselves whether the hon. and learned Member really has the courage of his convictions, or, if not of his convictions, has he the courage of his utterances. Does he carry those plans as to education out in the circle in which he wields power to do so? I do not know—I rather think I do know that the hon. and learned Gentleman has at least one child in his family—there may be more. I should just like to know with regard to that particular one, or it may be more, whether he has put into practice the theories which he propounds with so much humour and acceptance in this House. If he says "Yes, I thoroughly believe in it and will not allow my children to continue at school for any length of time, but will make them go to the University of Adversity"—as he called it—"and let them learn everything there," then this House will pay some respect to the hon. and learned Member.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
If the hon. Gentleman does not want an answer, I will not give it. I certainly gave my children the education I have not time to give myself. I would have much preferred to educate them myself if I had had the time. I gave them an education, but it was entirely a thing done by myself and not by the State. I would as soon think of feeding people on Government bacon, such as we had in the War—cheap and nasty.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
It is because it is nationalised, under State control and State officials, that I object.
§ Mr. COWAN
The hon. and learned Member found fault with compulsion. Compulsion in many forms is disagreeable, but it is sometimes very salutary. Where the child is not able to do for itself we have reached the stage when the State should do something for it. You may not like compulsion as a policy in education, but you must remember that during the War we put on compulsion. The needs of the country demanded the lives of young men, and there was many a young man who did far more for the State in those days than the State ever did for him in his youth. I feel it is due to myself, to my constituents, and so far as I can speak to Scotland that I should try at least to assure this House that, to put it at the very mildest, there is another view of education in Scotland than that peculiar, I should -not like to say to Spring-burn, but to the hon. Member for Springburn. I hope he will take any criticism offered in the very best of parts, just as we take his. I do not think he really means to slander any great profession, as has been said. He simply is afraid that if education were more general than it is there would be, perhaps, less work for the legal profession.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Mr. G. LOCKER-LAMPSON
We have had a very interesting Debate, but as the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) was framed to deal with the Departments only concerned with the social services, the discussion has been of a rather limited character. I am anxious that we should be able to talk about the Departments of the Civil Service as a whole. I understand this is practically the last opportunity this House will have this year of surveying the Civil Service Departments as a whole. We now have an opportunity of reducing taxation. I do hope hon. Members will realise that, and will do their utmost to persuade the Government to reduce it. After all, when we come to the Budget in a few weeks' time—on the 1st May, I understand—it will be far too late, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer 2114 will have made up his mind what the taxation is to be and will know what expenditure has been allowed by the House. It will be too late. Last week we had an opportunity to reduce taxation, this week we have another opportunity, and next week, before the House rises, we shall have an opportunity of reducing expenditure, and thereby taxation. The Army and Navy, which we have already discussed, gave us very valuable opportunities, but, I Venture to say, there is still an enormous scope within the ambit of the Civil Service Departments for getting a very considerable reduction of expenditure. After all, the figures we are faced with at the present moment in the Civil Services are perfectly colossal.
Before the War, the whole of the Civil Services cost £57,000,000. To-day they are going to cost £317,000,000. That is to say that on the Civil Services alone we are spending over five and a-half times-what we spent before the War. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hilton Young) said a very short time ago that you must take into account, necessarily, the War pensions, and the various expenditures on War services, which have not yet run out. But if you take off the £90,000,000 of War pensions, and allow—I believe it is a very large figure—£100,000,000 for War services not yet run out, although you deduct those two very large items, you will find we still spend more than twice on the Civil Services what we spent before the War. My hon. Friend also said you must-take the cost of living into account, but if you compare the cost of living to-day with what it was before the War you will find that to-day it is only 86 per cent. more than it was in 1914. Then look at the enormous staffs we have to-day compared with our staffs before the War. We have now practically—within a few hundreds—350,000 Government officials, against 277,000 before the War. That is to say, we have to-day over 70,000 more Government officials than we had in the year 1914. What I am sorry to see is that if you compare the figures to-day with the figures last year, in spite of all this agitation for economy, all the agitation in this House, in the Press, and in the constituencies, Government officials during the last 12 months have only decreased by a little over 4 per cent. We really cannot in these days of difficult money afford to 2115 have over 70,000 more Government officials than we had before the War.
If you take the salaries as a whole—not individual salaries—the whole bulk of the salaries of Government officials, you find they are out of all proportion to what we can afford at the present moment. I have a very remarkable document here, comparing the salaries in bulk to-day with what they were before the War, and it gives a column showing the basic salary as well as the bonus. We find that in very nearly all the Departments the actual bonus now being paid to Government officials is very nearly as large as the whole of their salaries before the War. You find that in the Foreign Office. The bonus paid to Foreign Office officials is very nearly equal to the whole of their salaries in 1914. You will find similar figures—I have them all here—in the Post Office, in the Customs and Excise, in the Inland Revenue. I will give one figure. In the Post Office the bonus paid to Post Office officials costs over £14,000,000 at the present moment, and the whole of their salaries before the War were only a little over £14,000,000. In the Treasury—the Department, after all, which ought to look after expenditure more than any other Department in the State—the bonuses paid to Treasury officials to-day amount to a larger sum than he whole of the salaries paid to the Treasury in 1914. You will find in the War Office—I have the figures here—that the bonus paid to War Office officials is, within a few hundreds, equal to the whole of the salaries of War Office officials in the year 1914—
§ Mr. LOCKER-LAMPSON
A larger staff with, I believe, 20,000 less fighting men. This really cannot go on. We must reduce expenditure, because it means such an enormous lot in the reduction of taxation. I believe every single £4,500,000 you save enables you to take one penny off the Income Tax, or, if hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway prefer it, you can get more taxation off tea and sugar. Every single party in the State recognises, I think, that you must reduce the present limit of taxation. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer is never weary of stating it, you have the Liberal ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. McKenna, who is never weary of 2116 repeating it, and I believe hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway know perfectly well that the present large measure of unemployment is very largely due to the enormous pressure of taxation at the present moment. After all, taxation in this country is not comparable to taxation in other countries of the world. Do not take small countries, but take our great Allies. What do you find? You find that in this country our taxation per head of the population is nearly six times what it was before the War, you find that in Italy taxation is about half ours at the present moment, you find that in the United States of America taxation to-day per head of the population is only one-third of what it is in this country. In none of the countries which stood by us during the War and some of which suffered far more heavily than we did, has taxation increased in such great proportion as our taxation has increased since 1914.I should like to give a few instances of excessive expenditure in the Civil Service. The worst of it is, that if one gives instances they are called trivialities, but if one gives no instances at all, then the immediate retort is, "You have got no ease when you have not specified any item of expenditure." Any instances one may give must seem very small when compared with the enormous bulk of expenditure, but those instances in Civil Service are cumulative, and if, at very short notice, after looking into these Estimates this morning, I can supply a few, there must be thousands of others. I came across one this morning which I will give to the House. The Geddes Committee recommended that the Afforestation Department should be abolished. In their opinion it was doing no good and was wasting a good deal of money. I have here a report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General on the question of afforestation. I will quote from it a few lines regarding a case which was brought before him of the High-meadow Sawmill working account:I have been furnished with the accounts which show that £6,352 was expended in the purchase of machinery and plant and its installation. Of this sum £3,632 represents the price, paid to the Timber Supplies Department for the machinery and plant, and the balance, £2,720, was, for the most part, the cost of labour and materials, expended upon installation. The mill was in operation from August, 1919, to June, 1920, and the loss on working during those ten months amounted to£3,717. Upon the abandon- 2117 merit of the undertaking and the disposal of the machinery and plant, there was a loss on the total original outlay in respect of machinery, plant, and installation of £4,781, making, with the loss of £3,717 on working, a total loss upon the undertaking of £8,498, apart from any provision for interest on capital.That is one small instance. It may be called a trifling instance, but I maintain that it illustrates what is going on all over the Civil Service. I could produce instance after instance showing where expenditure can be cut down. I am only sorry the Civil Service Estimates are being produced so late. It has been perfectly impossible, for the purposes of this Debate, to cope with the flood of Estimates which has fallen upon one for the last few days. They have been much later than usual, and it is a pity that hon. Members have not had more time to look into these important documents before they are called on to debate the whole question. I believe that still only the feeblest efforts are being made by many of the Departments to reduce their staffs and expenditure, and many of the savings they do show are not real savings but automatic savings owing very largely to the reduction in the cost of living. Very often salaries in bulk show a reduction which is less than the actual automatic decrease in the bonus, and therefore, instead of there being an actual genuine reduction, there is an increase, when account is taken of the automatic reduction of bonus. I will give one or two instances in regard to the Board of Education, but in doing so I am not in the least criticising education as such. I am merely pointing out where it appears to me there is excessive expenditure on administration. I find that the administrative staff in the Education Office has actually been increased since last year. The total salaries of this staff have been reduced by £63,000, but of that reduction, which appears upon paper to be very considerable, the bonus amounts to practically the whole. The Inspector and Examining Branch has increased its staff and has reduced its charge for salaries by £42,000, but there again we find it is not a genuine reduction, because the automatic reduction of bonus amounts to £48,000, or more than the total reduction shown on the Paper. The payment to the Chief Medical Officer is increased by £200, although he already gets £2,200 2118 as Principal Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health. In the Geological Survey in the Education Department there was a fall of £5,200 in bonus. It was automatic and absolutely necessary. They could not have avoided it, but it produces a saving in the total Vote of only £1,500, and the travelling expenses are increased by 20 per cent.
If one chose to take these White Papers and go through them, it would become apparent that the same thing was happening in Department after Department. In the Customs and Excise there was last year one secretary at £1,370 per year. Now there are two secretaries at a cost of £2,800. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Safeguarding of Industries Act!"] I do not know whether it is due to that or not. My point is that at the present moment we should not be increasing the number of officials. In this Department also we find that the permanent staff has increased to the extent of 240 officials. This is set off by a reduction in the number of temporary assistants. That is a very bad plan because it is infinitely easier to reduce the number of temporary assistants than to reduce the number of people in permanent positions. I maintain that the present position is very grave. The Revenue Accounts for this last fiscal year show a surplus of about £45,500,000, but it is not a surplus of recurrent income because it includes capital receipts for war stores and items of that sort which we shall not have in other years. If we are really going to get a substantial reduction in taxation the Departments must do far more than they are doing now.
I feel strongly that the whole of the Report of the Geddes Committee should be reconsidered. Over and over again, in that Report the Committee not only specify particular economies, but say that in other respects many economies might be effected. I, personally, feel that the broom should once more be put over all these Departments. I am not satisfied that the Government has gone nearly far enough in the adoption of these recommendations. I believe there are thousands of barnacles still sticking to the side of the ship and every single one of these limpets is a little centre of expenditure only too anxious to increase its own importance at the expense of the British taxpayer. If this Report were 2119 very carefully gone over again that would be found to be so. I very respectfully submit that the Government ought to appoint a Select Committee of Members of this House to review the whole of the Geddes Committee Report, and that the Select Committee should be able to call witnesses. Until reconsideration has taken place, until we have a proper review, quite independent of the Government of what the Geddes Committee reported, I do not believe we shall get a proper reduction in taxation or get full value for the money we are spending.
§ Sir GODFREY COLLINS
The House has listened with deep interest to the informative speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, and if he will excuse me, before I refer to the latter part of his speech I will ask the House to consider the broad aspect of the Civil Service Estimates. The consideration of these Estimates always raises acute differences of opinion on both sides of the House. In one quarter they are thought to be excessive, and in other quarters they are thought to be not large enough, but I think there is complete agreement in all quarters of the House that, where 20s. of the public money is being spent, whether it is raised from taxation or from the rates, there should be in return 20s. of value received. Let the House consider the method they have adopted to endeavour to secure some control over our national expenditure. During the last few years hon. Members in Committee upstairs, on the Floor of the House, and in speeches on the public platform, have endeavoured to impress on the Government and the public the necessity for securing reductions in national expenditure. When I say that hon. Members have done so, I include Members in all quarters of the House. I will endeavour to approach this subject from a non-party point of view.
Last year the Government appointed the Geddes Committee to review national expenditure. I think that Committee did excellent work, but their main work was addressed to the fighting services. Most of their time was spent in examining expenditure on the Army, Navy and Air Force. Their recommendations have been made to this House, and the Government has decided to accept certain of the recommendations and reject others. The 2120 hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson), in the concluding, portion of his speech, recommended that a Select Committee should be appointed, really to continue the work done by the Geddes Committee. Let the House consider the Civil Service Estimates in this connection. A large portion of the money devoted to the Civil Service comes from taxation, and a large sum is raised by rates. We have these two taxing authorities, the National Exchequer and the local exchequers.
In regard to services which are locally administered and which are receiving State grants, there should be some Committee appointed with power to examine into that expenditure. I know that the system of block grants is going to be inquired into by the President of the Board of Education, but the consideration of these Estimates, I think, opens up a much larger subject. During the course of the last few months, I have received more than one request from people in Scotland that the Government should set up some Committee to inquire into the expenditure of public money, whether raised by the rates or from taxation. Such a Committee would serve a very useful purpose. It would direct public attention minutely to the channels of public expenditure. The mere issue of the Geddes Report clearly revealed the extraordinary interest of the public in this subject, and if I might mention a factor to which I think the attention of the public might be directed mere particularly it is this, that throughout the Report they adopt the comparative method, they show that by comparison services to-day are costing so much, and services a new years ago were costing so much less, they compare the cost of a unit in one district with the cost of a unit in another district. A small Committee, which need not be a Select Committee, composed of Members of this House, Members representing the large rate-paying districts of the country, and presided over, it may be, by some leading official from the Treasury, would be very useful. There are to-day, I know, several leading officials of the Treasury who have retired from, that Department, whose services might be available for this work, and by the examination of expenditure in one district, by comparing that expenditure with expenditure in another district, and by publishing these facts to the ratepayers and to the taxpayers, I 2121 think you would set up at once a lively and more direct interest in this large expenditure of public money.
I raise this subject this evening in no controversial sense. I believe that hon. Members in all quarters of the House not only share equally in this desire to secure twenty shillings' worth of work for the expenditure of twenty shillings of public money, but realise that our present high expenditure cannot continue. One or two hours ago, in conjunction with my Scottish colleagues, we listened to a deputation of Edinburgh business men who have come to London to urge the Government and Members of this House to reduce expenditure with a view to lowering taxation, and they pointed out to hon. Members from all quarters of the House, in the Committee Boom upstairs, that the excessive taxation and the burden of rates are crippling industry and forcing men into the Bankruptcy Court. There is to-day a deep-seated feeling in the mind of every ratepayer, whether man or woman, that in regard to public money, whether it be expended by the State itself or by local authorities throughout the country, there is considerable room for big reductions of public expenditure without lowering the standard of efficiency in the local services. If that be the case—and I think that is the criticism directed from all quarters against national expenditure during the last few years—the issue of the Geddes Report is a complete justification of every criticism levelled against the Government of the day from all quarters of the House. I say that in no controversial sense, but, to point a moral. The moral is this, that a body of well-informed, capable, keen business men, directing their attention to the expenditure of public money, had but to sit a very few months before they were able to issue a Report which was a complete surprise to the British public.
If that be true in the national sphere, I suggest that it is true in the sphere of services which are locally administered, and which are financed partly by taxation and partly from the rates. I think that hon. Members who are in close touch with local authorities throughout the country will agree with my main contention that services which are financed from these two quarters could be better administered at a much smaller expense. Therefore, I hope the Government, maybe not this 2122 evening, but in the course of time, through pressure which will be raised in this House and in the Press, will agree that these services need examination. We compare our expenditure to-day with that of pre-War years, but I suggest that that comparison is an illusory one. We are to-day a much poorer nation than we were in 1914, and what this country could well afford in 1914 it is not evident that we can afford to-day. I do not on this occasion desire to question any particular figure, or to direct the attention of the House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green has done, to the particular expenditure of the Government, but this I will say, that the greatest social reform this country can perform to-day is to secure a reduction in our total expenditure, so that our yearly Budget will balance, and by that means enable Great Britain to return to some measure of prosperity.
The hon. Member for Wood Green reminded the House that the annual accounts do not balance. It is little realised that, although on Saturday the papers showed to the public that there was a surplus of revenue over expenditure of £45,000,000, the real truth is Very different, namely, that taking the total revenue from taxation in comparison with the total expenditure of the State, the total expenditure of the State exceeded by £140,000,000 the actual revenue last year. Under our system of bookkeeping the Government took credit for £140,000,000 through the sale of national assets, and they borrowed £15,000,000 through the Unemployment Act. The surplus is said to be £45,000,000, but in reality this nation spent last year £140,000,000 more than we raised by taxation. That we did in a boom year. To-day there are lean days before us, and the Budget of 1923 will be an unpleasant one for any Chancellor of the Exchequer. Let us in the meantime, while things are bad and before they get worse, take stock of our situation and, with the assistance of public men in this House and of public men associated with local authorities, and with the cordial assistance of leading officials of the Treasury, endeavour to secure some further development of the Geddes Committee along the lines of securing that the ratepayers' money, as well as the taxpayers' money, will be well spent in future years.
§ Mr. JOHN MURRAY
I wish I could take the view of the Geddes Report which was taken by the hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins), who has just sat down. The real truth is that economy is a thoroughly unpopular subject with the mass of the people of this country, and that what the mass of the people most like is Government expenditure. I am not condemning economy, but what I want to point out is that the economists, until the Geddes Report was published, had nothing definite to speak about. They could not get inside the Government Departments, and they could not possibly know where economies could be made, and they had to be given a bible before their labours could be of the slightest use. That bible the Government gave them, but I have not observed any particular measure of gratitude among the economists to the Government for giving them their shot and shell. Secondly, in order to persuade the people of the country that very drastic measures of Government economy were necessary, no party declaration, no Government declaration, no declaration from the Opposition, would have sufficed. The Government had to invent a way of demonstrating in large to the nation that economy was necessary, and it chose the method of the Geddes Committee and the Geddes Report, and it has been justified, as proving that there is a case for economy, proving it to the nation and in particular to the Labour party, and as giving the economists their chance to use facts and arguments which were outside their reach before, so that in a general way it is the Geddes Reports which have made possible all the economists' speeches and given edge and point to them.
I was much struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson), whose services to economy are outstanding, and by the long list of highly-paid Civil Service posts which he was able to bring before the House. It is true that the posts are there, that the salaries are being paid, and that these men are doing work, but the real question is not whether they are there or whether they are being paid and doing their work, but what is the work they are doing, and how do they come to be doing it. The question which I wish to put to the hon. Member for Wood Green is this: How does he suppose that all this work comes to be accumulated 2124 upon the central organs of government in London? I wish to suggest to the House that this is really a phase of highly centralised government, of over-centralised government, of over-centralisation of functions of government here, instead of the decentralising of them to local authorities elsewhere and also to voluntary bodies, that as long as we have the fashion of concentrating functions of government, functions of organisation, in the Government's hands in London, so long shall we have an inflated Civil Service, and that the only cure for this position is one that can be stated and proved, I believe, in perfectly general terms. We must get out of the way of doing so much in London, and in particular the country must unlearn a bad lesson which it has been learning hard for many years, namely, that the right way to get a thing done is to get it done by a grant from the central Government. That is really a principle of corruption. A locality may have an idea, a good idea, but it will not carry it out unless the central Government foots the greater part of the bill, or at least a good part of the bill, and the result is that business comes to London, bureaucrats are required to deal with the applications, more bureaucrats are required to administer the results, and more still to supervise with every form of inspection the work of all the rest.
The only cure is that we should accept it that centralisation has gone too far, that we should seek to build up and improve in every way the local government of the country, to extend the powers and responsibilities of the local bodies, and, in particular—and this is the point in regard to which I wish to protest most strongly—that we should bear our witness to the country against the general adoption throughout the land of the theory that the way to get a thing done is to go to the Government for a grant. The Government can only give grants if it first takes the taxes. Nobody wishes to pay taxes, but everybody hopes—and I have said it here before—to get more money back in grants than they send to London in taxes. They always get less, because bureaucracy costs so much. I want to suggest to the economists that what they ought to attack is the constant centralisation of the functions of government in Whitehall, and the not sending down to those bodies of functions which ought to be devolved upon them, and 2125 which could be far more efficiently and far more economically carried out by local bodies within sight and reach of the, people with whom they are working, in stead of by armies of bureaucrats in this quarter of the country.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I should like to say one word in support of the speech of the hon. Gentleman to which we have just listened. I think there is no question of economy which does not bring home the fact that the time is ripe for a reconstruction of local government, that we are at the stage at which we were on the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars, when reconstruction has to take place, and we are neglecting that most important point of reconstruction which concerns this country at the present moment. I feel convinced, if the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson) will permit me to say so, that however minute our perusal of the Estimates, however good the work of the Geddes Committee or the work of Select Committees or Royal Commissions, they cannot, as has been said by the last speaker, really reduce the scale of the Government's expenditure. That can only be done by a very fundamental devolution of all those tasks which are now carried out jointly by the central and local governments, and I cannot help regretting that in a Debate such as this, which hangs entirely on the administration of local government, we should have to discuss this question without the presence of the Minister of Health who is really responsible even more than the Financial Secretary to the Treasury for that work which can alone bring real economy in this country.
§ Mr. T. A. LEWIS
I have only one or two words to say, and I would not venture to say them, except for the interesting and original contribution made to the Debate by the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. J. Murray). I am very sorry to find that, having made so interesting a contribution, he has left the Chamber. He said that one of the cures for this over-expenditure was decentralisation. If I understood him aright, he said that the over-centralisation of administration in London is one of the causes of the high expenditure from which we suffer. I have been unable to attend during the earlier hours of the Debate this afternoon, because I had to attend a meeting of the Welsh 2126 Parliamentary party, and I do not think I am giving away secrets when I say that most of the time we were discussing a draft Home Rule Bill. Most of us, I think, being good patriots, agreed that Home Rule was a good thing in itself; but we met some very strong opposition from certain Members on the ground that they were convinced that Home Rule in any shape or form, particularly in the form in which we meant to bring it forward, was going to cost us a great deal of money, and the rock of difference this afternoon, as it has been before, was really the rock of extra expenditure. Therefore, I was going to give an invitation to the hon. Member for West Leeds, with whom on other questions I almost always agree, to come and address us, and show us how in the matter of decentralisation it is possible to bring about reduced expenditure. If any other hon. Member has any suggestion to make, I am sure I and any of my Welsh colleagues would be very much obliged to-receive any help out of the difficulty in which we find ourselves at present, and, when the Bill comes before the House, enable us to obtain support in quarters where we cannot now obtain it.
With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins), his speech was couched in general terms, as have been, if I may say so, a good many of his recent speeches on finance. We all thoroughly agree with him, I think, that economy is a desirable thing, and something devoutly to be wished for and to be sought. If I may parody the well-known dictum, we are all economists in these days. The trouble is that we find it so difficult to know which is the next step to take. The hon. Member made a remark which struck me as being not entirely fair to the Government. He said that the fact that the Geddes Report had recommended so many millions' reduction, alone amounted to a justification of all the charges that had been made in this House as to the extravagance of the Government. I am not prepare to accept that, and T would only make one reference to it. I wonder whether my hon. Friend agrees with the recommendations of the Geddes Report in regard to education, for instance, which is one of the biggest cuts they mentioned. The moment I mention that I find, to my delight, that my hon. Friend disapproves entirely of that 2127 enormous cut. If he will cast his memory back a few days, he will remember that the War Office and the Admiralty had in the same way rejected recommendations that were made, and have adopted others. I am not a business man; I am not a financier, and do not know half as much of the inner working of Government Departments as some hon. Members who have spoken; but I give way to none of them in my enthusiasm for economy. My difficulty, however, is as to how it is to be achieved. I have listened to previous Debates in this House, and to this Debate. Very good speeches in their way have been made, but they have not been exceedingly helpful. What I want to know is, how we can economise? Are there any suggestions forthcoming from hon. Gentleman of experience? If so, let them be handed over to the Government. The Government have made them a present of the Geddes Report. Now let them be magnanimous and reciprocate, and give the Government something to go on with. Let them make suggestions, and let them be considered and deliberated upon, and, if possible, adopted.
§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. JAMES HOPE in the Chair.]