HC Deb 22 February 1926 vol 192 cc257-62

1. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £7,500, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 3lst day of March, 1926, for Expenditure in respect of Diplomatic and Consular Buildings."

2. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £66,500, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for Expenditure in respect of Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue, Post Office and Telegraph Buildings in Great Britain, and certain Post Offices Abroad."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


Before the House agrees to this Vote, which many Members feel to be rather extravagant, I should like to take this opportunity of eliciting a little more information from the responsible Department as to why there should be this sudden excess of zeal which regards it as a necessity that this country should have, in every capital where we are represented, the largest and best Embassy. I think people in this country ought to have the best houses, but you want to give us rusty tin boxes. I have been wondering about this Vote, because although hon. Members opposite support the idea that we should spend all this upon an Embassy, they do not, when outside the House, support extravagance. They then preach economy. At a time when our own housing problem is so difficult, we should mark matters well before we spend money the country can ill afford on buying ambitious residences in any small capital in which we may be represented. The Ambassador was not in need of a house. He had a Very fine house which had been the residence of an eminent Polish noble. It had been bought not long ago for his occupation. Instead of saying "I should like a nice new house for the dignity of my country and the honour of my land, but as times are tight we will leave the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is in great trouble and having to raid everything he can find; I will not worry him this year "—instead of saying that, they say, "Buy this house." We were told on the Committee stage that after this house was purchased we would be let in for the expense of garages and servants' quarters. We are moving the Ambassador out of a commodious house, good enough for nobility, into a new house where there is no adequate accommodation and for which we shall be let in for further expenditure. I do not want hon. Members in their desire to get home to squander public money without taking the trouble to consider it. We have been accused on this side of being squander-maniacs, although we saved more money when in power than you have done. It is typical of the method by which the business of the country is being con- ducted at present that Members who make the loudest cry outside this House about economy make the loudest cry inside the House when they are asked to sit for an hour overtime to consider economy.


Trade union wages.


Many of you get more than trade union members—


Will the hon. Member please address the Chair?


May I ask that constant interruptions should not be made?


It will prevent interruptions if the Chair be addressed.


I regret, Mr. Speaker, that in my desire to afford hon. Members information I should have neglected to address the Chair. In the Debate we were told that the purchase of this house would save us rent. We were paying £1,200 a year for the house in which the Ambassador lives. This is a frivolous estimate at the present time and in the present financial crisis. It is a waste of public money, and I ask the House to regard it in that light. This Government will only make an effort to economise when it is convinced that its followers will not follow it into every kind of foolish extravagance and that they are determined to impose the iron heel of economy about which they preach so much to the country outside.


I think it is quite monstrous that every speech at this hour of the night is always greeted with loud jeers from Members who want to go home. Hon. Members are at perfect liberty to go home, and if they do not wish to take part in the serious deliberations of this House they might at least refrain from interrupting those who do. If there ever was an occasion when this House ought to be serious it is when they are trying to reduce expenditure in order to save the trade of this country. We have got to cut our coat according to our cloth, and here is an item which we really ought to scrutinise with some amount of care. I am glad to see on the Front Government Bench the Deputy-Chief Whip (Colonel Gibbs), because I believe that he has been having, even to-day, a somewhat agitated interview with some of his followers on a similar piece of extravagance. The Press happened to get hold of it and happened to be able to inspire the bulk of hon. Members opposite with a wholesome feeling for economy in Government expenditure, with the result, as I hope, that they have now persuaded the Government to drop that particular piece of expenditure of £200,000. But here is a case of expenditure of £7,500, as being part of an expenditure of £17,000, on buying a house for a Minister at Helsingfors, the minute capital of a State which is large but of which the population is extremely small—only between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000. We are asked by this Government to spend £17,000 on housing our Minister there. I would ask hon. Members to reflect for one moment what £17,000 will buy in this country in the way of a house, and then translate that into Finland where people are much more modest in the way they live than the ordinary run of rich people here, and think then that we are spending this money at a time when we ought to be looking at every penny, when we protest against spending £200,000 on a sports ground; and apparently any protest against that expenditure is to be met by a form of "barracking" to Which this House always inclines at these hours, when really the actions of the Government in passing Estimates of this sort need to be most carefully scrutinised.


Before the House decides this point, will the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, tell us whether, before this expenditure was incurred, they took steps to obtain from Lord Weir a quotation for a suitable house to be built for the Ambassador at this place?


It is rather discourteous to a colleague of mine for the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary not to answer. I can excuse the Financial Secretary, because he has had a hard day as compared with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His subordinate has earned his money, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has come in comparatively fresh, ought to answer a very simple elementary question. Has this eminent gentleman, Lord Weir, whom we have all heard praised for his great patriotism, been asked to tender, to see whether he could make or build a house cheaper than these others? A steel house evidently is desirable for the working people to live in, and I am sure that what the right hon. Gentlemen advocate for working people they would advocate for an Ambassador abroad. It is a very simple question, which I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will see his way to answer.

I disagree with my right hon. Friend (Colonel Wedgwood), who used to be on the Front Bench but is now relegated to the back benches, on one point only, and that was that he thinks this £200,000 is wasteful in regard to the sports of the Civil Service. I disagree. But if hon. Members can find reason to attack the expenditure of that money on people here, surely they can find a greater reason against spending this money abroad on a much less useful object than the object as proposed by the Government in the sports field. I hope the Government supporters will support us in our real economy to-night.


I am not guilty of any form of shirking my proper duties, for I would remind hon. Gentlemen that I have already worked one shift to-day and I am now coming on for the second spell. With regard to the important question which the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) has asked me, I am luckily in a position to give him a decided answer. The question to which he referred, whether Lord Weir was consulted as to the possibility of constructing a cheaper residence at Helsingfors, was not neglected, but on careful consideration of all the local conditions and the trade union customs of that country, it was decided, on the whole, that we should not at this stage embark on so dangerous an experiment.


I do not want to delay the Government in getting this Vote, but I certainly think, if there was not an honourable undertaking, at least the hope was created in our minds that the Government representative would at the Report stage answer a question which he could not answer at the previous stage of the discussions on this particular Vote. The price of this house was quoted to the Government in Finnish marks, and when we were discussing it there was no Member on the Front Bench who knew what a Finnish mark was. We understood that on the Report stage that information would be obtained and placed before the House.


I have the information here; 13,100,000 marks represents £16,146.

Question put, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

The House proceeded to a Division—

Major Cope and Captain Bowyer were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but there being no Member willing to be nominated as Teller for the Noes, Mr. Speaker declared that the Ayes had it.