§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Sir WILLIAM MITCHELL-THOMSON
Before we part with this Bill, I feel bound to make, from this side of the Table, a respectful but none the less firm protest against the circumstances which compel us to enter upon this stage of the Bill after eleven o'clock. I do not say that such a course is unprecedented, but I do say that it is highly exceptional and it is even more exceptional when one reflects that in the case of a large part of the money with which we are dealing, no consideration will have been given to the Estimate by this House at any time other than after eleven o'clock. In respect of about £3,500,000 out of the £5,400,000 comprehended in the Bill, every stage has been taken after eleven o'clock.
As this is the first Consolidated Fund Bill which some hon. Members have put through their hands, I may be permitted to observe that this is not an ordinary Consolidated Fund Bill. In the ordinary way such a Bill covers the supply of all the services of the country and gives wide opportunity for debate, enabling Members to discuss the whole conduct of those services and indeed all administrative matters. In this case the field is more restricted because the subjects comprised in the Bill are limited in character. Limited though they are, they range from such matters as the purchase of pictures for the National Gallery, a grant to the Radium Trust Fund, and a grant to the Unemployment Insurance Fund, to the cost of a county court at Harlesden and of diplomatic buildings at Riga. That is a sufficiently wide field to cover, but I propose to offer some observations only upon the largest item, namely, the £3,500,000 applied for the purpose of filling up the Unemployment Insurance Fund. For the benefit of those who did not take part in the proceedings in Committee, I may say shortly that we there ascertained that this money was necessary because the £3,500,000, added to the £2,500,000 unexpended borrowing powers, making a total of £6,000,000, would be necessary in order to prevent 1570 the Fund from running into deficit before the House met again next year. It was rather an involved subject, but I feel bound to say that personally I am much obliged to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury for the way in which he explained it. He was perfectly frank with the Committee, and I cannot do better than tell the House exactly the way in which he put it. He said:The position is this, that if the live register remains at about what it is, this Vote will enable the fund to carry on until about the end of February. A corollary is that, if the live register is more, the fund will not last quite so long. But it will last quite long enough to endure into that part of the Session which begins in January. Unless, however, there is a very considerable fall in the live register, it will not last until the end of the financial year. That is why the Minister of Labour made it clear that there would be need for a further Supplementary Estimate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1929; col. 1157, Vol. 232.]As the House will have seen, the hon. Member who gave that explanation very fairly said that the whole question of whether this £3,500,000 is too large, is enough, or is too little, depends upon the trend of the live register of unemployment.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence)
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
Let me put it this way, that the point of exhaustion varies according as the live register increases or decreases.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
There are two amounts in question. There is the Fund and its power of meeting its liabilities, and there is the amount which the Exchequer pays into the Fund. During the last Administration there was no additional amount paid in, but the late Government borrowed £12,000,000 in the last year. This amount of £3,500,000 will be paid in order to fulfil the principle adopted in July, the principle of the equal third. The £3,500,000 is not paid as an Estimate in order to make the Fund last till the end of the year, but it is paid in accordance with the principle to which I have alluded.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I am not going to quarrel over any pernicketty point, but what the hon. Gentleman said was that a corollary was that, if the live register was more, the fund would not 1571 last quite so long. The period at which a further Supplementary Estimate is required, or some means of filling up the gap, at any rate, will vary according as the live register increases or diminishes. We are at one about that, and I only mention it because I want to say that I was really accurate in assuming the hon. Gentleman having now confirmed that assumption, that it is the question of the trend of the live register that matters. He said, quite properly, that the balancing point, the point at which the fund began to go into deficit, was 1,090,000. Perhaps it would be germane to call attention to the fact that, by an error in the OFFICIAL REPORT, that figure appears as 1,900,000, instead of 1,090,000. It is an obvious misprint, but it ought to be corrected for the purpose of the record. Oddly enough, that balancing point is almost precisely the point at which the live register stood on the 3rd June, when the late Government went out of office. The balancing point is 1,090,000 and the live register at that date was 1,200,000. Having regard to the trend of the live register, and its implication with regard to the question whether this money is adequate or not, I feel bound to refer to an answer given yesterday by the Lord Privy Seal. The right hon. Gentleman was asked by my hon, and gallant Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Colonel Howard-Bury) this supplementary question:Is the Lord Privy Seal satisfied with the results of the schemes, seeing that unemployment figures are rising so rapidly every week?To that question the Lord Privy Seal made this answer, to which I call the special attention of the House:I am never satisfied while there is any unemployment. It is quite true that the figures have risen, but it is equally true that they are nearly 200,000 better than they were on 31st December last year."— [OFFICIAL, REPOPT, 17th December, 1929; col. 1174, Vol. 233.]I have had some experience of dealing with statistics. Twenty-five years ago, in this House, I was in the middle of the Tariff Reform and Free Trade controversy, and I remember how we used to throw statistics at each other. I know something of what can be done with statistics, but never in the course of my experience have I seen such an exhibition of brazen effrontery as this statement of 1572 the Lord Privy Seal. I propose to ask the attention of the House to the facts. I am not dealing with the question whether the right hon. Gentleman's policy is right or wrong, but let the House realise what his statement was. It was that the figures are nearly 200,000 better than they were on 31st December last year. So far as the figures are concerned —and this is why I said what I did about statistics—the statement is perfectly true. In fact, it is rather under the truth. If the Lord Privy Seal had quoted absolutely accurately, he would have said the figure was something like 218,000. What was the implication of that answer, what was what the lawyers call the innuendo which the right hon. Gentleman desired to convey to the House? What he desired to convey was that he was not satisfied with the progress as a whole, but that the results compared favourably with the results of last year. That is the meaning which hon. Members opposite attached to it, because they cheered the statement. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is what they are here for"] My hon. Friend has a curious conception of his duties. It is idle for the Lord Privy Seal to expect to get away with a statement like that.
Let the House apply itself—still considering the question in the light of the trend of the live register—to the actual facts. When you are making comparison, the first essential is that you should compare like with like. Is the comparison made by the Lord Privy Seal a comparison of like with like? It makes no mention of the fact that this year there has come into force the system of de-rating which we introduced. Hon. Members may have their own views on the effects of de-rating on unemployment, and this is not the time or place to argue about it, because time will show whether we were right in our belief that this is a great contribution towards solving—or alleviating, at all events—part of the problem. Time will show, and as time goes on and we are able to build up a volume of testimony from employers and trade unionists hon. Members will be able to judge whether our forecasts were right or wrong. But I do not ask the House to look at the statement of the Lord Privy Seal from that angle. Anyone looking at the figures of the live register over a period of years will see that there are seasonal fluctuations. It tends to grow in the winter, of course, 1573 and to decrease in the summer, and there are also seasonal fluctuations which take place regularly in the weeks before Christmas.
If hon. Members will look at the figures over the past three years they will see that the point I am making is a good one. The hundreds are omitted, for the sake of easy comparison, and I am quoting only millions and thousands. I will take the year 1926. In the week ending 6th December, the number on the live register was 1,506,000; 13th December, 1,410,000; 20th December, 1,309,000. There was a progressive fall. After Christmas came a seasonal rise. On 3rd January the figure had risen to 1,495,000. The same experience is found in 1927: 5th December, 1,149,000; 12th December, 1,125,000; 19th December, 1,100,000. These are the figures for 1928 3rd December, 1,350,000; 10th December, 1,320,000; 17th December, 1,271,000; and on 31st December, the figure mentioned by the Lord Privy Seal, 1,520,000. The figures I have given for each of the three years show regularly a downward trend in the first three weeks of December. In 1926, between 6th and 13th December, the numbers on the live register fell by 96,000. In 1927, between 5th and 12th December, the fall was 24,000. In 1928, between 3rd and 10th December, the fall was 30,000. This year, the figure on 25th November was 1,285,000, on 2nd December, 1,302,000, on 9th December, 1,309,000. This year for the first time, the trend has been reversed. Instead of falling in the first weeks of December, the figures have this year risen. [Interruption.] That is a sufficiently serious matter, but that is not really the gravamen of the charge I am making against the Lord Privy Seal. What I am complaining of is that, knowing these facts, the Lord Privy Seal does not compare like with like. He compares last week, which ought to be one of the lowest weeks, where the curve is lowest before Christmas, with the week after Christmas, when the figure is at its highest. That is a thoroughly vicious comparison, rendered the more vicious when the House remembers that in that particular week last year, namely, 31st December, the whole of the West and South of England was afflicted with the biggest blizzard within living memory. For the Lord Privy Seal to come down and ask the House to believe that he is 1574 making a fair comparison on which the House can form a proper judgment, is one of the greatest examples of political mendacity which I have ever come across.
§ Captain BOURNE
I do not wish to pursue the subject raised by my right hon. Friend. As this Consolidated Fund Bill covers very few subjects, it gives one the opportunity to put certain questions to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury which might not be raised on an ordinary Consolidated Fund Bill covering a much wider range of subjects. I should like to call attention to Clause 1, which makes grants for Supply, and Clause 2, which authorises the Treasury to borrow certain moneys. There is a discrepancy between the amounts which are granted under Supply and the amounts which the Treasury is authorised to borrow. I believe it is due to one Supplementary Estimate which is covered by the Bill, namely, that for the Scottish Board of Health, but I should be very grateful if the Financial Secretary would explain the discrepancy when he comes to reply. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland read a statement on the subject at a- very late hour the other evening, but, although I listened very carefully to every word that he said I must confess that I was still somewhat uncertain on the point. Clause 2 says that the Treasury may borrow by means of Treasury Bills or otherwise, and that the Bank of England and the Bank of Ireland may advance such sums. I quite understand that the formula used is that which has been used in Consolidated Fund Bills for a very long time, but in recent years Southern Ireland has become a Free State. I wish to know whether, in point of fact, there is any modern practice which prevents the Bank of Ireland advancing money on Treasury Bills. I do not know whether it is still done, but I do think in view of the alteration in the constitution as between this country and the Irish Free State some explanation should be given.
I wish also to raise the question of the denomination of Treasury Bills. Under the Sub-section in Clause 2 dealing with this matter, Treasury Bills can be issued to be repaid not later than 31st March, 1930. I have looked up the Treasury Bills Act of 1887. I presume the Treasury does not expect that any of the bills which are issued under this Act 1575 will be redeemed much before 31st March, 1930. Therefore, there is no point in regarding any of these bills as re-issued from the point of view of this financial year. I understand that it is the custom of the Treasury to issue bills in denominations of not less than £5,000. Why do not they issue bills in rather smaller denominations! There is no statement in this Bill as to the rate of interest at which the Treasury borrows on Treasury Bills. Sub-section (3) says:Any money borrowed otherwise than in Treasury Bills shall be paid interest not exceeding £5 per cent. per annum.I cannot help thinking that, especially on a very short-dated security like this, the Treasury might very easily borrow money at a very much lower rate than 5 per cent. if they issued the bills in much smaller denominations. After all, a very large number of hon. Members have had experience in these matters. A sale takes place, and we are paid, say, 10 per cent. We cannot invest that money in long-term securities, and it has to be put in the deposit banks at a rate of 2½ per cent. There seems to me to be a large number of cases of trustees who want to put money at what I should not call a very short call and who would like to invest in Treasury Bonds and save 3½, per cent. These are excellent securities; and I think that we might do something to relieve the very heavy strain which is placed upon this country and the taxpayers if Treasury Bills were issued in small as well as large denominations.
I do not know why a much smaller sum has not been issued available for those who want to put a small amount on deposit for periods like six months. If the Treasury had done that, it would have been a great convenience, and I think, if the Treasury adopted that course, they would be able to relieve the rate of interest on Treasury Bills. I would like to ask if what is proposed includes borrowings through Ways and Means advances, and, if so, what is the amount outstanding at the present moment? If this means borrowing through Ways and Means, it seems to me that one Department might borrow from one account at 5 per cent. in order to finance another Department. That is one of the things which we have not had an opportunity of discussing, and 1576 therefore some explanation from the Financial Secretary is desirable.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I share the regret which will he felt in many parts of the House that we have to deal with this Bill at this time of the night. That is not a subject of complaint from this side of the House alone, because political fortunes are uncertain, and hon. Members opposite will find that it is unfortunate that an important Bill of this kind covering many very important subjects is being considered under such adverse circumstances. This is the only opportunity which hon. Members will have of raising the important questions which are covered by this Bill, and it is very unfortunate that we should be obliged to deal with them so late at night. I want to say a word or two in reference to the statement made in regard to the amount of money required under this Bill in respect of unemployment.
I was surprised when I heard that statement across the floor of the House, and one might easily go away with a wrong impression of what was the exact state of affairs. I do not think the Lord Privy Seal need apologise or endeavour to put forward anything but the real facts of the case. I have often thought, when I have endeavoured to put myself in his place, that really the only thing he has particularly to apologise for at present is the misrepresentations that were made as to what he and his party would do in reference to this matter, and in that respect he has inherited a very unfortunate legacy, but as regards his methods or that sort of matter, that is not a subject for criticism on my part to-night.
In aid of what my right hon. Friend has said with regard to these figures, I should have thought that in the week that is approaching there ought, if there is any sign of revival at all, to be a very large drop in the unemployment figures, because we are approaching the time when a larger number of people are taken into temporary employment. During the next week or so the General Post Office will be employing a very large amount of additional labour. There will be something very wrong in the existing condition of affairs if the unemployment figures in a week's time do not show a very considerable drop indeed. When you compare the figures with last year, 1577 and remember the great suffering that the country underwent, particularly the unemployed, by the very severe storm of January last, you find that immediately after it there was a very considerable fall. The more you examine the figures, the more unfortunate it is that the Lord Privy Seal should not take the very highest point of employment and compare it with a totally different period of the month. I do not think it was creditable or desirable from the point of view of the office he holds and the efforts he is making.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
That seems to me a very serious charge to be made against a Cabinet Minister by an ex-Minister. May I ask you, Sir, if that is not a slanderous remark?
§ Sir K. WOOD
I chose my words very carefully indeed. The statement which my right hon. Friend has made, and which I have supported, has been simply a statement of the figures as they are, and we are simply relying on those figures to speak for themselves in order to correct what may be a very grave misapprehension caused by the statement of the Lord Privy Seal. I only regret that we are doing it at this time of night in such a small House. I hope the OFFICIAL REPORT will be read and circulated throughout the country.
I want to deal with another matter which has aroused a considerable amount of interest, not only in the House, but outside, in relation to a considerable sum of money for the National Radium Fund. There has been a great deal of interest in connection with this effort in respect of the National Radium Trust. In the time of the last Government, following the report of a very expert and representative Committee, it was decided to form a trust to the maximum of £100,000 for augmenting the supply of radium for use in relation to the treatment of the sick and the advancement of knowledge of the best methods of rendering such treatment. It says a good deal for the national sympathy of large numbers of people that, almost immediately after the "Times" newspaper opened its great appeal, this large sum of money was subscribed, and we are deal-ling with the matter in this Bill because the Government of that day—in this respect the policy has been adopted by the present Government—said that for 1578 every £1 subscribed voluntarily the Government itself would put By that means this very considerable sum of money has been brought together. This is almost the last opportunity we shall have for some time of putting questions about the administration of this fund before we finally pass it in the Bill. A large number of people have looked with the greatest hope, many of them with a good deal of anxiety, to the use to which this fund will be put. I am not questioning the belief that a great deal of good may be accomplished by the use of this large sum of money. I suppose cancer is one of the most terrible diseases that afflict mankind. The use of radium in the treatment of cancer, at any rate in its early stages, is one of the most hopeful methods that we have. To a large extent medical men are able, in many cases, to put the use of the knife on one side and to adopt the use of this almost miraculous substance in order to alleviate and, in early cases, to cure this very dreadful disease. This considerable sum of money has been vested in the hands of specially constituted trustees. I think they have been very carefully chosen, and I have not seen a word of criticism in relation to the men who are serving as trustees of this great fund. The purpose for which the public subscribed this sum of money was very largely to purchase, on behalf of this country, sufficient radium in order, by means of this provision, to make it available to the poorest people in the country. That was the object of the appeal that was made, and, indeed, one of the main reasons why the fund was raised. I admit at once, in putting the question as to what has been done and what purchases of radium have been made, that there is very great difficulty in relation to the purchase of radium in this country at the present time. Not only is the substance very rare, but it is consequently very costly. I understand that the only place to which the trustees can go in order to purchase radium for use in this country is the Belgian Congo. That raises a very important point of view as to the limitations of the trustees. I agree that unless they are very careful they may very well be held up and have to pay a very high price for radium.
§ Sir K. WOOD
That is one of the difficulties of the position. It stated in the report upon which this question was largely founded that attempts were being made to find radium in other countries in the world, and hopes were held out that radium might be found in some of the British Dominions. I think that there could be nothing better for mankind, especially mankind suffering from a terrible disease of this nature, if it is possible to find radium in other countries in addition to the one I have mentioned. [ Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members will give me their attention for a minute, because this is a matter of considerable importance, and this is the only opportunity that we shall have of discussing it. If the hon. Gentleman who interrupted does not feel any sympathy with, or interest in, the subject he need not stay. I say that it would be one of the finest things in the interests of suffering humanity if radium were discovered in other countries than the one to which I have referred.
I want to know how much money has been expended in the purchase of radium in this country and whether it has been possible to obtain radium in any of our Dominions or in any foreign country other than the Belgian Congo. I do not want anything to be disclosed that should not be disclosed, but if any radium has been purchased on behalf of this country I should like to know whether it has been purchased at such a price as the Trustees think not unreasonable and not unduly high. The danger of the present situation is that we have raised this very large sum of money for this particular purpose and there must be a natural anxiety to obtain for Great Britain a sufficient supply of radium, consequently there must be considerable pressure upon the Trustees to purchase it. I can well understand that when there is only one source of supply from which to make our purchases we may be held up so far as price is concerned. It may be that the Trustees have been able to make other arrangements in regard to securing a sufficient supply of radium without having to make a purchase of the kind to which I have referred, but I do not think that hon. Members will complain that I am raising this matter, even at this late hour, because a very large amount of public interest has been taken in the matter and 1580 a very large sum of money has been subscribed by the public. Moreover, there is natural anxiety on the part of large numbers of people who themselves or some member of their family are afflicted with this disease.
There is scarcely any family in the land which has not been in some shape or form affected because of some relative suffering from a disease of this kind. I hope that we may have some statement from the Government, although it may have to be circulated later, as to how we stand in this matter. The Trustees will have the support of the House and the country, and I feel sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will give us the information at her disposal in order that the House and all those who are interested may have up-to-date information, this being the only occasion on which we can raise the question for some time.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Miss Lawrence)
I cannot reply at any length on this question. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that the Radium Trustees are not appointed by the Ministry of Health but by Royal Charter. Therefore the Ministry of Health is not responsible for the work of the Radium Commission in so direct a way. It is an independent body set up by Parliament, and will present an annual statement and accounts in a short time. In reply to the specific questions which have been put by the right hon. Gentleman, we have agreed to purchase ten grammes of radium at fifty dollars per millegramme from the Union Minerale of Belgium, and we have another four grammes already in our possession, with option to purchase. All the radium has been purchased from the Belgian company.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
The right. hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) gave the Government a warning from which I hope they will profit. It was that if it was known that it is possible to find radium anywhere in the Colonies the owners of the land would take advantage of the public demand and "spoil the Egyptians." When we use that argument in another connection the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to see it quite so clearly as he does now. His speech was interesting, especially when 1581 he referred to the pathological condition of a cancerous growth, but I was amazed that he was not called to order for ambling into the realm of unemployment. There is one item of expenditure which has not been discussed. Strangely enough I get the feeling that hon. Members opposite have not referred to it because they are responsible for throwing this little debit at our heads. It is a sum of £106,000 to the Trustees of the National Gallery. Nothing has been said about that. [HON. MEMBERS: "We are going to discuss it."] Perhaps my intervention now will allow us to get home early. The responsibility for that little account rests with hon. Members opposite. It is the contribution which the State had to make towards an enormous sum for the purchase of two pictures in the National Gallery. The purchase was made and the money paid before this House was consulted. We were told at the time that the pictures had to be purchased in a secretive manner because, like radium, if the owners of the property got to know that the State were after them the price would have been exorbitant. Despite the fact that the deal was said to have been carried out in a secretive manner, the fact remains that the picture dealers knew all about it and sky-high prices were demanded. Hon. Members opposite are responsible for this amount of money and I am intervening now in order to make sure that no succeeding administration will enter into any more of these secret agreements enabling picture dealers to foist on to the State at exorbitant prices so-called masterpieces. The Canaletto picture is not a masterpiece; and in my opinion is dead now. I hope the present Government will not pursue the same policy. I am told that there are something like half a dozen masterpieces in this country and so terrified are the picture dealers that American connoisseurs may take them out of the country at exorbitant prices that they are hoping that secret negotiations may be commenced between the Government and the sellers in order to keep them for the National Gallery.
I hope that this process will not be adopted, because it is putting the taxpayer's money at the command of a crowd of charlatans in Bond Street and elsewhere. I should like to go into the question of the so-called masterpieces of art foisted on the State at exorbitant 1582 prices, not only in the National Gallery, but also in the municipal galleries of the country. There is only one subject that makes me more afraid to hear politicians discussing than art, and that is the fiduciary issue. Poor politicians who like to talk deliberate nonsense about art are easily taken advantage of. I hope, therefore, that those responsible for the Treasury now will cut short these secret arrangements. If these things come to light again, I shall have something stronger to say than I am saying now. It is a scandal, and I hope that it will stop. It was done in a most unconstitutional manner, and I hope that it will not be pursued. As this is the last opportunity for saying anything on this item, I have said what I have said, not with the same venom as if I thought those responsible for their actions knew what they were doing.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I propose to speak on another subject, but I cannot leave altogether aside the very interesting remarks of the hon. Member who has just spoken. So far as he is protesting against the unjustifiable prices levied by the middleman in artistic production transactions, I am entirely with him. There is not a single department of trade in this country in which we do not find that this country is a paradise for the middleman and exactly the opposite for the producer. If, on the other hand, the hon. Member is going to raise the large and difficult question of how far the resources of the. State, even in these troublous times, should be devoted to the preservation of great artistic products, I rather fanny that I should be at cross purposes with him. My own view is that these opportunities of getting into permanent safety and the national possession all these great gifts of artistic geniuses of past times are opportunities. that the State cannot afford to miss. Though I am rather inclined to think that his view of an artistic masterpiece is more futuristic than my own, when you have an artistic masterpiece it is worth while spending some of the resources of the State on it.
§ Mr. SKELTON
We have been told from the opposite side of the House that the country can afford anything it wants. The other point is the very interesting question raised by the hon. and gallant 1583 Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), the question of Treasury bonds and bills. If he is right that they are issued only in very large denominations, it would be a question well worth the attention of the Treasury to consider and, if necessary, to alter. I do not suppose that any social change which has occurred since the War is more remarkable than the expansion of the investing public. Before the War those who interested themselves in the investment of capital were restricted to a very narrow class of the community. That investing public has enormously increased, and I venture to suggest that it is worth while the Treasury bringing itself up-to-date and giving that enormously increased investing public the opportunity of investing in Treasury bills and such like securities. To-day, when a large proportion of the population—the size of which we do not fully recognise—is interested in investing, it is of not inconsiderable national importance that they should have the opportunity of investing in comparatively short-term absolutely secure investments of a national sort.
If it was open to them to invest in these short-term Government investments, issued in small denominations, it would raise, in a way that has never been raised before, the question of the ludicrous return given by the Post Office. If you had these Treasury bills issued in amounts of £10 or £50, the Post Office could not continue its vicious policy of returning to the small investor of this country a return of only two-and-a-half per cent. Although this is not the time for a full discussion of the subject, I do most earnestly appeal to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to look at the question from a modern point of view. There are administrative difficulties and, I believe, it is said that if you did do what I propose there would be a collision between these investments and National Savings Certificates. I do not believe that that would be the case, because those who invest in National Savings Certificates are a totally different class. I believe that it is an example of the close liaison that, even in these democratic days, exists between the Treasury and high finance.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Yes, it is an important matter and one on which it is 1584 worth speaking up. In my judgment—and, indeed, times without number I have ventured to say so in this House—one of the main problems in this assembly is in every way to secure the development of a property-owning democracy. The wider and more extensive the relation of the bulk of your people is to property-owning, the more secure are the foundations of your State, and that kind of consideration should not be absent in the financial administration of the Treasury. To give to the small investor a more open opportunity of investing in these short-term investments is another method of arriving at that result. For these reasons, I have risen, and I am glad to have had the opportunity also of saying a word in consonance with the hon. Member on the other side whose artistic skill and interest are well known to the whole House.
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
I do not want to keep the House very long from the reply of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. [ Interruption.] I am quite prepared to do so. I want to ask him whether, on another occasion, he will adopt the suggestion to make the text of the Bill a little more clearer to hon. Members who have not time to make extensive researches in the Library. The first Clause asks for a grant of supply of £5,416,670. If you look you will find that the total of the Supplementary Estimates for this year is in excess of that sum. The reason is that some of these estimates have already been dealt with, and the Estimate for the Lord Privy Seal's Office does not come in this Bill, because it has not yet passed its Report stage. Therefore, hon. Members must have either very accurate memories or else add up these various figures themselves in order to decide which Estimates are covered.
I put it to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury for his consideration that, whereas the main Consolidated Fund Bill of the year covers the great bulk of the ordinary Estimates, when we came to these smaller Bills, it should be done in another form; there should either he a schedule or an explanatory memorandum, pointing out the sum total of the Supplementary Estimates as covered by the sum mentioned in the first Clause of the Bill. That would be very helpful to many hon. Members when these Supplementary Estimates come up for discussion. The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore- 1585 Belisha), I know, gave notice yesterday that he proposed to raise a question today as to the non-reception of a deputation by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but that is a matter that is quite out of Order. It was done under a complete misapprehension. It would, therefore, be very helpful if we had this explanation for which I ask.
Hon. Members who are here now, are aware, for example, that the National Gallery Supplementary Estimate is one of those which comes under this Measure. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) has gone from the House, as I should have liked to have said a word in reply to his speech.
Other hon. Members will also be aware that the Supplementary Estimate for the National Radium Trust is covered, and the £3,500,000 Supplementary Estimate which we discussed, and on which I had something to say, the night before last. Over and above that, there are still four more Supplementary Estimates covered, on which nothing is said; £500,000 for the Dominion Services, covering the whole question of the Irish Grants Committee; Miscellaneous Local Buildings (Great Britain), and Public Buildings (Overseas), and also Grant to Rating Authorities (Scotland)—a rather technical subject which was explained in some detail the other night. That leaves actually, the Estimates that I have mentioned, plus the Unemployment Insurance Estimate and the Department of Health (Scotland) Estimate, which has already been fully discussed this week. If the Financial Secretary to the Treasury would help us in future, we would be grateful, and I would be grateful, personally, if he would explain a purely technical matter as to how it comes about that when you take merely token Votes of £10 they are brought into the total only at that sum. It is hardly necessary to do that.
I want, again, to enter my protest against taking these large financial commitments at this hour of the night. This is the third night this week that this has been done. We had a Supplementary Estimate for £3,500,000, which has to be found by the taxpayer. Although some hon. Members seem to have considerable disregard for the hardship inflicted on the taxpayers, they are, after all, the only representatives of the taxpaying community. We had the Committee stage, 1586 the Report stage, and now we have the Consolidated Fund Bill, Second Reading, after Eleven o'clock. It is incumbent upon those who have any pretence to financial purity to protest. The Financial Secretary himself has the highest credentials in that direction for he has served his apprenticeship to his present office in those Committees which deal with Estimates and public accounts. Il e has now reached the office he holds, and I put it to him that he should exercise his influence so that in future sessions there is no recurrence of this sort of thing.
I wish to answer—if I may presume to do so and in the absence of any representative of the Foreign Office and with only the First Commissioner of Works present—one or two remarks which I had not the opportunity to answer when the Supplementary Estimates were before the House at an earlier stage, arid when it was not possible for me to rise. These remarks concerned the question of legation and embassy houses abroad. it comes within the token vote of £10 and is more especially connected with the legation at Riga. It is within the knowledge of the House that, when we take the main Estimates in Committee and on Report, it is, in fact, impossible to raise any question of detail. Any questions of detail which hon. Members may desire to raise, or to receive information about, have to be raised in Committee on Estimates or in the Public Accounts Committee. As Members of the House are well aware, when Supply does come on, and a Vote is put down, it is always—at least it has been in the last four years, and I do not think the present Government will break the precedent—an important question of policy that is raised. When the Foreign Office Vote is taken you do not begin to discuss salaries and whether there should be a legation here or there. One does not begin to discuss these details, but matters such as Russia, France, and Germany, or any other big matter of major policy. It is only when we are fortunate enough—if I may use the word—to have Supplementary Estimates on small matters that we are able to raise the principle behind the establishment of these buildings. On the Supplementary Estimate for legal buildings we had raised the question whether a county court should be renovated or placed elsewhere.
1587 It was contended that it was very wrong for us to set up an elaborate legation at Riga. I was astonished—having been five years connected with the service—to hear one of my hon. Friends speak of a "palace" at Riga. Those who have travelled abroad know that there have been no palaces raised anywhere for the sum of about £15,000. That is a fantastic use of words. As a matter of fact, those who have travelled the world over have found rather the other thing. I am not encouraging the expenditure of further money at the present stage, but, taken by and large, our missions, embassies and legations are not by any means all of them houses which are adequate to the needs of those who have to work there, or consonant with the dignity of those sent there to represent this country. We can on an occasion like this attract through the channel of a legation the attention of the Office of Works to the many criticisms elaborated time and again by all sorts of trade representatives and others, as well as missions which go to foreign countries. If we can do this, I think we shall have done something to justify this discussion on Riga. The First Commissioner of Works will correct me if I am wrong, but I think he said that in the legation being erected there there will be found an office for the Minister, for the diplomatic staff and commercial staff, and room available for such purposes as a temporary exhibition, for example of anything which the commercial secretary thought might be a good line in order to advertise British goods. They would be placed in glass cases and so on. That, I understand, was to be arranged for at this legation. I hope that will be his policy with regard to all other buildings where he finds it possible so to do. That is my point with regard to the different Capitals in which we have to keep these missions. This is the only opportunity that we have of putting forward such matters. I hope he will not create the sumum bonum of his work in Hyde Park. He should look for opportunities in Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Constantinople and such places to do what he says he is doing with regard to Riga, and concentrate in the mission building all the British activities of the city concerned. It has been tried. The Consul-General in New York tried to bring them together. 1588 I would particularly commend this suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
I was only trying to expatiate upon the principles. If you wish me not to do so I shall naturally bow to your ruling. The funds for Riga, he said, were going to be found on the savings at Washington and Tokio. But I will leave this subject. These problems, after all, are interesting, and hon. Members opposite do not seem to realise that British employés overseas, who have no representatives in this House, have no vote in this House. I myself have served on two of these missions, and we had large staffs in both of them, and they had no opportunity of bringing their views forward in this House. I consider I am entitled to bring them forward on their behalf in order to show the conditions under which these men live and have to work. In many places, and certainly at Washington, where he is seeking to effect savings, the accommodation is poor, and it is in order to direct his attention to that point that I have ventured to intervene in this Debate and trespass upon the attention of the House. The First Commissioner of Works with his very kindly and benevolent attitude towards those who serve under his auspices will perhaps take these matters into account. Having corn-mended this very necessary improvement in the conditions under which so many of our employees work to the attention of the First Commissioner of Works, I would merely ask, in conclusion, that the Financial Secretary—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crook-shank) is quite within his rights on the Consolidated Fund Bill.
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
The trouble is that we are being asked to take this Bill at this extraordinary hour of the night. If those responsible for business had put. it down at a reasonable time of day, am quite sure that hon. Members who are objecting to statements that are being made would have been only too glad to listen to them. It is not my fault that we have to consider the spending of over £5,000,000 of public money at this time 1589 of the morning. As hon. Members are so interested in the remarks that I have been making, I am prepared to amplify them almost indefinitely. I have, as a matter of fact, a great many notes on all sorts of subjects which are raised by these Estimates, but I do not want to take up the time of the House. [ Interruption.] I have always made it a practice of speaking definitely to subjects of which I have personal knowledge. That is why I ventured to intervene in regard to the buildings and legations of this country abroad. I hesitate to embark upon subjects of which I know little, and that is why I have refrained from speaking on the National Gallery, and so on. I do not intend to do so unless hon. Members opposite provoke me sufficiently, but, if they do, I am quite prepared to go into considerable detail concerning every single one of those subjects.
I recognise that in a Second Reading Debate it is only possible for hon. Members to speak once, and this is the only opportunity that I have of once again registering my protest at taking up the time of the House at this hour in the morning, with a Vote of £5,000,000 in connection with the Consolidated Fund Bill. I emphatically register my protest that this is the third night running upon which we have been called upon to deal with a subject like this. I would ask the Financial Secretary to see to it that we are not asked to do this sort of thing again. It is entirely without precedent. A great number of hon. Members cannot be heard on Wednesdays, and that is why the hon. Gentleman has been subjected to the criticism that he might easily have avoided. I also ask him, when he submits a Bill of this kind again, to put forward some memorandum as to details.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
With regard to the point raised by the late Postmaster-General the right hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson) and which has been referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), it will be agreed by hon. Members in all parts of the House that wherever business can be taken before eleven o'clock it should be taken before that hour everybody in the House understands that this Bill has come on after Eleven o'clock owing to pressure of business—
§ 1.0 a.m.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
This method of dealing with the Consolidated Fund Bill is not unprecedented. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir Kingsley Wood) himself reminded the House of that fact. It was because of exceptional circumstances that it was found necessary to take after Eleven o'clock matters which we all agree it would have been better to take earlier, but I do not wish to stress the point. I will deal with the point about Riga, raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). The hon. and gallant Member 'did not hear quite accurately what has been said. The position is that independently of this Embassy there is a Consul and Consulate in Riga. The building which we are discussing was bought for £15,000, and it will, if necessary, provide a room for a commercial secretary, if such an official is posted there. That is the long and the short of it. One word with regard to the question of unemployment: I do not complain at all of the speeches made, but, of course, in strictness the Vote which is embodied in this Consolidated Fund Bill has nothing whatever to do with the solvency of the fund, or any particular set of figures. This, as I have explained several times, simply embodies the principle, and that is all. There will be an opportunity to review the matter later, and that will be the proper time to raise questions with regard to the live register and the solvency of the fund.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
The hon. Member will realise that I was objecting to the Lord Privy Seal's figures being taken at their face value.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
All I say is that I do not propose to reply now. These are all the points other than the purely financial ones that I am called upon to answer. T will deal with two points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough, Who criticised the inclusion, in the total, of the token Votes.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I think, if the hon. and gallant Member will consider the matter, he will see that we have no option but to do it. If we had 1591 done it in any other form, we should have been taken to task. The other point raised is one of greater substance. It is as to whether by means of a Schedule or some other words in the Bill reference can be made to the particular Vote covered by the Consolidated Fund Bill. In reply, I will only say that this Bill is in the usual form, but the point will be considered, and, if it be found desirable to make the change which the hon. Member suggests, some such change can be made. With regard to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), who asked about the discrepancy in. the particulars in Clause 1 and Clause 2. It is the Vote for the Scottish Grants, and the reason for the discrepancy is simply this. He will remember that there was originally during the late Parliament a Vote taken for the sum of money required for the grant as it was originally proposed. Later it was decided to change the dates for which this sum of money would apply. In order to implement that, it was necessary to take a further Supplementary Estimate. But power to borrow the money had already been taken, and, though it was necessary to pass a fresh Supplementary Estimate, it was not necessary to take borrowing powers for the money for the second time.
The next point raised was with regard to the Bank of Northern Ireland. I am not prepared to say definitely that it will necessarily come in, but there are reserved services with regard to Northern Ireland which do from time to time require the Bank of Ireland to be joined with the Bank of England. The only other point is with regard to Treasury bills. The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford quoted the large sum of Treasury bills. I think the sum was overstated. It is certainly very much smaller than £150,000. But whether the amount should be reduced is a matter that no doubt can and will be considered. The hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) suggests that the amount of Treasury bills should be brought down to £5 or,£10. If he will bear in mind the kind of thing that Treasury bills are, he will see that any suggestion of that kind is quite outside the bounds of possibility. The point that will be considered is whether there should be some change or not.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Does the hon. Gentleman think it is possible to bring them within the range of the small investor?
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I do not think Treasury bills are suitable instruments for investors of the small class to which the hon. Member refers. The only other point is about Treasury bills being paid off by the 31st March. That is the end of the financial year, and the assumption is that they will be covered by the revenue of the year.
I would like to ask one point of the hon. Lady who represents the Ministry of Health, and that is with regard to radium. At the present time, we are spending vast sums of money on the unemployed, but I believe we are finding very little, if any, radium within the Empire. I believe there is a distinct possibility of finding it in Cornwall, and I would like to ask if the hon. Lady will get into touch with the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the organisation on the unemployed question arid see whether it might not be possible to put forward some scheme of work in that county so that we might endeavour to get a certain amount of radium in this country. The other question with which I wish to deal is the statement of the Financial Secretary of the Treasury that these things come on under exceptional circumstances. Well, the exceptional circumstances are these: It is quite true that you have taken one on other stages of these Supplementary Estimates at a late hour, after Eleven o'clock, and I am raising a formal protest on behalf of a great many of my party that these Estimates have been taken throughout all their stages late at night, and I can only say that the reason is the absolute incompetence of the Government.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow (Thursday).
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after half-past Eleven of the clock upon Wednesday, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order,
§ Adjourned at Twelve Minutes after One o'Clock.