HC Deb 11 April 1927 vol 205 cc71-3
The CHANCLLOR of the EXCEQUER (Mr. Churchill)

Suggestions have been made, notably by Lord Oxford in another place, that the new Departments created since the War should now be abolished. This question has been considered by His Majesty's Government every year. The post-War Departments are the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Pensions, the Ministry of Transport, the Department of Mines, and the Overseas Trade Department. We felt that it would be out of harmony with the spirit and requirements of these days to abolish the Ministry of Labour, and that it would be premature to liquidate the Ministry of Pensions, the efficiency of whose proceedings is increasing, and whose staff and overhead charges are diminishing with every year that passes. On the other hand, the Prime Minister has authorised me to announce a decision with respect to the other three post-War Departments. During the present financial year, arrangements will be made to abolish the Ministry of Transport as a separate Department, while retaining the Road Department in full activity. The Prime Minister has also decided that arrangements shall be made during the present financial year to distribute the functions of the Mines Department and to terminate the separate existence of the Overseas Trade Department. These changes will require legislation, and their consequences must be carefully adjusted. Parliament will have a full opportunity of considering them. I should like to add, although I am sure it is hardly necessary, that the selection of these three Departments for absorption in no way reflects upon the Ministers at their head. I doubt whether there are any other three Ministers who, in the discharge of their duty, have won a greater measure of approval and good will from their fellow Members of the House of Commons.

The growth of the staffs of Government offices since pre-War time is also an object of criticism. It must be remembered in bare justice that Sir Alan Anderson's Committee in 1923 reported as follows: After examining the changes in the number of staff employed by each department the increase in the staffs since 1914 is fully accounted for by the extra work that has been thrown upon the Civil Service since 1914 and the average individual output is certainly not less than in 1914. His Majesty's Government endorse this verdict. We do not think it practicable, moreover, to make a rigid rule restricting or arresting for the time being further entrants into the Civil Service. If new legislation be passed by Parliament, if complicated taxes are imposed, if the improved collection of the revenue is to be effected, increases of staff must follow. The extension of Old Age Pensions to men and women at 65, which comes into operation in January next under this reactionary administration, alone requires a substantial increase at the Ministry of Health. Therefore it is impossible to deny a reasonable latitude, or to prescribe a mathematical quota. Nevertheless we intend to effect a marked contraction in the numbers of new entrants into the Civil Service for the remaining years of this Parliament. But the Committee and the public must not delude themselves into supposing that either of these particular changes, the absorption of Departments or the restriction of new entrants, will in themselves lead to any large or sudden diminution of expenditure during the next few years. They will strengthen the hand of the Government in coping with expenditure in every field, and they must be taken as an earnest and an example of a renewed effort to curb expenditure—an effort which, in spite of every difficulty and disappointment, it must be our ceaseless endeavour to make.

I should like to go further. It is essential to the finances of next year that there should be definite reductions, apart from the increases in the Post Office and the Road Fund, in the total expenditure, and also that there should be savings this year. We have a programme of economies upon which we are working. If that programme produces £8,500,000 of effective economies in 1928, it would reduce our expenditure of that year to the lowest level of any year since the war—that is, leaving out of account the Post Office and the Road Fund. But, after the use which has been made in certain quarters of my modest expression of the hopes and desires in 1925, I am sure that the Committee would not advise me to offer any assurance to the House, to give any pledges, or enter into any undertakings, explicit or implied, and I can only say that we will do our best.