§ Mr. W. J. BROWN
If I do not pursue the topic dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir H. Young), I hope he will not regard it as discourteous on my part, but I rise to resist the logical application of his speech in a field which is of particular concern to me, I refer to the Civil Service. There is one sentence I should like to take out of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sevenoaks said as a prelude to what I have to say. The right hon. Gentleman said very rightly that the Government cannot shelter from its final responsibility behind the report of any committee or commission whatever, and that the Government must accept, the final responsibility regardless of the reports of committees or commissions. I agree with that sentence, but in a somewhat different sense. My purpose in intervening in this Debate is to request the Government to make some further statement in regard to their intention about, the Civil Service cost of living bonus before we adjourn to-morrow. In common with many other hon. Members. I have made repeated efforts to induce the Government to make a statement as to what they intend to do.
There is grave anxiety in the Civil Service. There is very grave poverty in the Civil Service. A further cut in 2585 bonus is possible in September; the House is asked to break up to-morrow without any information as to what the Government intend to do; and we shall not re-assemble until well after the 1st September, when there may be a further cut in the Civil Service bonus. In the last resort, the Civil Service is the responsibility of this House. Civil servants have to serve political parties of all kinds—sometimes we are inclined to think that there is not much difference between them—and I believe that the desire to do the right thing by the Civil Service is not confined to any one side of this House. I believe that there will be a general desire to see that the men and women who work for us are properly and adequately treated. At the moment they are being very badly treated indeed.
The remuneration of a civil servant consists of two parts, his basic salary and his bonus. The basic salary is more or less constant; the bonus fluctuates in accordance with the cost of living; and present difficulties in the Civil Service centre upon that part of the remuneration which takes the form of cost of living bonus. The basis of the cost of living bonus in the Civil Service is a sliding scale based on the Ministry of Labour index figure. That figure is based on budgets that were collected as long ago as 1904. That is to say, the index figure is weighted, in regard to the incidence of expenditure between one thing and another, on the basis of habits of life of 27 years ago, and habits of life have changed a good deal during those 27 years. I am prepared, however, to assume, for the purposes of to-night's discussion, that that factor may be dismissed. I am prepared to assume, further, what I think is open to grave doubt, namely, that the index figure, within the area which it purport" to cover—that is to say, the area of working-class expenditure—is an accurate figure. I think it is open to doubt, but, for the purposes of to-night's argument, I am prepared to accept it as accurate.
But, whether the figure is accurate or not in relation to manual working-class expenditure, it ceases to be accurate when you move out of the area of expenditure upon necessities of life like food and clothing and shelter, and come 2586 into a field where services enter largely into the picture. May I put it in this way? The weighting system which underlies the index assumes that 60 per cent. of the income is spent on food, that 16 per cent. is spent on rent, that 12 per cent. is spent on clothing, that 8 per cent. is spent on fuel and light, and that 4 per cent. is spent on other items. That may be a perfectly fair distribution of expenditure in a working-class family living upon a very narrow income, but, when you enter into the professional, salaried, clerical type of labour in the Service, that weighting system ceases really to represent the situation. For example, in the ordinary Civil Service budget there are items like expenditure on education, expenditure on insurance premiums, payments for house mortgages, medical and dental services, and so forth, and of these items it is broadly true to say that they have not varied one iota in cost during the last 10 years. But during the last 10 years the cost of living index based on a working-class expenditure has gone steadily down, until to-day it is only one-third of what it was in 1921 above pre-War level. There is a further grave disability from which the Civil Service suffers. Even supposing that what I have just said about the (inapplicability of the index figure to the circumstances of any but the poorest grade of civil servants were not true, and, even supposing that the index were a perfectly satisfactory index from the point of view of the entire Service, the fact remains that the civil servant does not even get the benefit of the index figure. I should like to stress that point, because there is a very common misapprehension in the public mind that, if the index figure is, say, 60 points above pre-War level, then civil servants get a bonus representing 60 per cent. of their salaries. That simply is not the case, and, if any Member of the House has that idea in his mind, I beg that he will dismiss it, because it is not true. The fact is that we only get the full benefit of the index figure upon the first 35s. per week of salary, or the first £91 5s. per annum. On any salary between £91 5s. and £200 a year, we only get roughly one-half of the full compensa- 2587 tion on the basis of the index figure, and on any portion of salary above £200 the percentage of compensation varies from 30 per cent. down to practically nothing when you reach the top of the scale.
That is wrong. The index figure upon which the bonus is calculated is based upon budgets that were collected in 1904, but those budgets themselves went up to about 66s. a week. In other words, the index figure purports to represent the rise in the cost of living in respect of family budgets up to 66s. a week. In these circumstances, there is no case whatever for limiting the area of full compensation in Civil Service bonus to the first 35s. of the civil servant's wage or salary. I would like to give one or two figures to illustrate this point, because it is essentially important to my purpose that the House should understand how-small is the percentage of compensation actually paid on Civil Service salaries. If the index figure stands at 55, a man with 35s. a week basic salary would get as bonus 55 per cent. of his basic salary. A man getting 45s. basic would only get as bonus 48 per cent. A man at £150 a year would get 43 per cent.; a man at £250 a year would get only 35 per cent.; and a man at £400 a year would get only 29 per cent., or roughly one-half compensation in respect of the rise in the cost of living as measured by the index figure. Because we have an inadequate bonus, and because for some years past the index figure has been coming down, and the bonus has come down with it, we have now reached a stage where the civil servant is relatively, as well as actually, badly treated by reference to comparisons with almost every other section of the community. I do not deny—I would like to make this plain—the solid advantage of security of employment; I do not deny the solid advantage of other aspects of Civil Service employment; but, in regard to this issue of bonus and inclusive remuneration, the plain truth is that we are now being worse treated than either the manual workers of the country on the one hand, or the professional workers of the country on the other. Only a fortnight or so ago, the right hon. Lady the Minister of Labour, in reply to a question in this House, gave the following information about wage levels in the manual working class as a whole. She said: 2588The information in my possession is insufficient to provide a basis for precise calculations, but it is estimated, from such particulars as are available, that for workpeople of corresponding grades weekly full-time rates of wages are about 70 per cent. and hourly rates of wages are about 90 to 95 per cent., on average, above the level of July, 1914. At 1st June, 1931, the average level of working-class cost of living, as indicated by the statistics compiled by the Ministry of Labour, was approximately 45 per cent. above that of July, 1914. On this basis, the average increase in 'real' rates of wages would appear to have been about 17 per cent., in the case of weekly full-time rates of wages, and between 30 and 35 per cent., in the case of hourly rates of wages."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1931: col. 1438, Vol. 254.]I accept those figures, and they mean that, taking the working-class area as a whole, there has been a definite increase in real wages as compared with pre-War. [Interruption.] I take the figures as they are given by a Labour Minister, and they are the only figures that I have available to quote. At any rate, they do not reveal a decline in the standard of life as compared with pre-War, nor do the figures reveal a decline in the standard of life when one takes the professional classes in the country generally. If one takes doctors, lawyers, accountants and professional workers generally, one finds that wages have stabilised at anything between 70 and 150 per cent. above pre-War. If you take the civil servant, you will find that he is definitely down in standard of life as compared with pre-War.
I should like to give one or two figures to illustrate how far the process of wage reduction has gone in the Civil Service and to show the definite decline in the standard of life as compared with pre-War which has taken place. If you take a civil servant at £200 a year, you will find that there has been a definite reduction in the standard of life as compared with pre-War of about 10 per cent. For a man of £300 a year there has been a definite decline of 14½ per cent. and for a man at £400 a decline of 17 per cent. as compared with pre-War. In other words, while the standard of life of the manual working-class has at least not fallen below pre-War and, according to the Minister of Labour, has actually risen by comparison with pre-War, and while the same thing is true of professional workers generally, and while it is even more true that the standard of life of the rentier 2589 class, by virtue of the gold standard policy, has gone up very much more than in the case of the Civil Service, you get a definite decline in the standard of life as compared with pre-War by virtue of the operation of the cost of living bonus agreement.
May I give one or two other figures? A wage of 45s. in 1921 has sunk till it is only 26s. 5d. A wage of 79s. 6d. in 1921 has sunk until it is now only 46s. 6d. A wage of 110s. in 1921 has fallen till now it is only 66s. 11d. per week. These are positively appalling reductions, and, if I am reminded, as I shall be, that the period 1920 to 1931 includes the years 1922 and 1923 when wage cuts were general in the country, I reply that there is still the same disparity if one omits those years altogether and takes the period 1924 to 1930.
May I look at that period for a moment, because it will bring out the point I am making? During the period 1924 to 1930, according to the Ministry of Labour, working-class weekly wages fell by only one point—from 100 to 99. According to Professor Bowley, who went into the same area, they fell from 100 to 98, a drop of one or two points, whichever calculation one takes as the more accurate. But during that same period, in the Civil Service a wage of £3 a week fell to £2 11s. 8d., a wage of £4 fell to £3 9s. 9d., a drop of 13 per cent., and a wage of £a a week fell to £4 8s. 2d., or 12 per cent. In other words, during a period when there was only a 1 or 2 per cent. drop in wage levels generally, the Civil Service employés with the salaries I have given experienced a percentage reduction in their remuneration of between 12 and 14 per cent.
I do not want at this stage to go into the proposals which the Civil Service made to the Royal Commission, nor do I want in any detail to discuss the recommendations which the Royal Commission has made. Whatever the merits or demerits of the Civil Service proposals to the Commission or of the recommendations of the Commission itself, it will be obvious to the whole House that these matters have got to be the subject of negotiation between the civil servants' trade union on the one hand and the Government on the other. I ought to say, in passing, that I do not regard the recommendations of the Royal Commis- 2590 sion as offering any real basis for a settlement of the bonus issue. I say that advisedly, because the House may be under the impression that, the Royal Commission having reported on this subject, it can now go home and forget all about the Civil Service bonus and that it will come back to find it all disposed of. I think there is a very grave chance that, when the House comes back, it will find itself still confronted with the same issue—a very grave chance indeed. I say that because the recommendation of the Royal Commission, when you strip it of all its tables and statistics, really comes down to this. It takes the present expenditure upon bonus, and it redistributes it slightly so as to give a small advantage to the people earning £130 a year basic or less and a larger disadvantage to those earning £130 basic or more. In short, their recommendations represent an attempt to feed the dog with its own tail. They possess a certain amount of scriptural authority, but only in the sense of embodying the saying that to those that have shall be given and from those that have not shall be taken away even that which they have. They do not, in my view, represent a basis for settlement. But I do not want to pursue that very much further.
I am most concerned about what is going to happen between now and the time when the House comes back. The bonus comes up for review again on 1st September. The commission itself has recommended that the cost-of-living bonus shall be consolidated with basic salary on a basis which they have set out and that, if some short period after 1st September, 1931, is necessary for consideration of this recommendation before consolidation is effected, bonus should meantime be continued at the present rate. In other words, what the commission says is, "Suspend the September drop and then go on to get rid of the sliding-scale basis altogether in regard to Civil Service remuneration." The Civil Service itself is not averse from getting rid of the sliding-scale basis, provided that the terms of settlement are reasonable, but it is impossible for men to negotiate properly with the Government on the broad issue of the future regulation of Civil Service wages with the threat of a cut coming along in September. If there are to be 2591 reasonable negotiations between the Government and the Civil Service, the first thing that is necessary is that the Government should announce the suspension of the September drop. For the life of me, I do not understand why they have not done that already.
There is the clear recommendation of the commission that if the negotiations go beyond 1st September the bonus drop in September should be suspended until they are completed, and the Government must know as well as I know that there is no human or reasonable probability of those negotiations being concluded by 1st September, affecting as they do some 300,000 people, and affecting long periods of time ahead. I was hoping that the Government would have made the gesture of saying at once that they did not intend to apply the September drop. I find it difficult to understand, and I will tell the House why. When we questioned the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day, and when my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. Bowen) pressed him as to whether the Government would not make a statement before the House rose, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in effect, "We have only had the report a few days, and there is no special urgency; we are considering it, and we shall act upon it as soon as we have been able to give due consideration to the matter."
I would like the House to notice that this week there has been sent out to the retired civil servants, the pensioners, from the Government who as yet have not had time to consider the matter, a notice that their pensions are to be reduced from a 55 level to a 50 level. The Government, apparently, have been able to consider and to take action upon the reduction in the pensions of the retired civil servants, but they have not been able to make to this House before it adjourns a statement of their intentions in regard to the recommendation that the September drop should be suspended. That I regard as profoundly unsatisfactory. I wish to warn the House of Commons, with great respect but with some firmness that there is in the Civil Service to-day more profound and bitter discontent than ever I have seen in it during the whole of my 20 years' connection with it. [An HON. MEMBER: "A 2592 testimonial to the Socialist Government."] No, I do not put it that way. We are finding not very much difference between any kind of Government with regard to wage issues. I make a qualification—in common honesty I ought to make a qualification—that the Socialist Chancellor did, in fact, treat us rather better than the Tory Chancellor, at any rate for a period, by not exacting the full force of the 1920 agreement, but even the Socialist Chancellor has now dropped that, and the agreement is being applied as it would have been applied if a Conservative Government had remained in power.
That is wrong on two grounds. It is wrong, in my view, from the point of view of the Civil Service, and it is wrong from the point of view of the country. We have now reached a stage in the Civil Service—and the House of Commons would do well to give it its serious attention—when the Civil Service can be divided into three broad categories. First of all there are the higher grades. Those higher grades are removed from the pressure of actual physical want, but they are remunerated on scales of pay very much lower than those obtaining in industry and commerce for positions of comparable responsibility. That, in itself, is serious, and it is serious because that circumstance is leading to a slow drift from Whitehall to the City which is highly undesirable from a social point of view. Then you get the middle grades, and in the middle grades you get an area of real hardship and suffering. You get that real suffering because much of the expenditure of those middle grades takes the form of fixed standing charges, which a man has to meet however much his bonus falls down, and there, in an area where fixed charges represent a large part of a man's expenditure and where bonus is steadily going down, there is real hardship, even though it is hardship of the respectable, and more or less silent kind.
At the bottom—and I would like the late Prime Minister to notice this, because he has his share of responsibility—you have a condition of chronic and acute under-payment which is a disgrace to any Government in Great Britain. You have 150,000 civil servants in this country receiving, including their bonus, less than £3 a week, and of that 150,000, there are large areas receiving less than £2 10s. a 2593 week and large areas receiving less even than £2 a week, including their bonus. I regard that as a disgrace. I want to say to the House of Commons that unless it desires to put in jeopardy what I regard as an almost incomparable instrument, the British Civil Service, it will do well to give early attention to wage and salary grievances of civil servants in our country to-day.
Yesterday morning I spent in a police court. I saw there a young civil servant on trial, and the trial concluded by his being sent to prison, for accepting bribes from a contractor. In my view, the person who ought to have been in the dock yesterday was not that civil servant, but the man or men responsible for determining the conditions upon which he had been employed. For that civil servant, an ex-soldier, an ex-temporary brought into the established class at a rate appropriate to a boy of 18 years of age, with a wife and family to maintain, became corrupt very largely because of the economic pressure to which he was subjected to by the abominable wages he was receiving. I think that there ought to have been other men in the dock yesterday, and certainly we shall be in the dock of public opinion unless we give reasonable attention to these grievances. I conclude by saying that there are in the service, as the whole House knows, widespread discontent, chronic underpayment, and acute suffering and want, where men, after they have done a day's work for the State, have to go out and do another day's work for a private employer in order to keep their heads above water. There are men by the dozen having to accept all kinds of evening occupations in order to supplement the wage which the State gives them for a full day's work. I say that in those circumstances it is absolutely wrong to drive the level of those wages still lower, wrong from a Civil Service point of view, and wrong from the point of view of the House of Commons.
I ask the House to insist with me that before the House breaks up to-morrow and goes away for its holiday, there should be a statement from the Government making it plain that the September drop shall be suspended. To my hon. Friends on this side I should like to say this: They and I for the time being have parted company in regard to political 2594 parties, but we both have the same common interest in protecting the wage standards in this country. I submit that the very last way to deal with the national situation, which has been described in such grave terms by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others, is to go on cutting down the standard of life and the purchasing power of the masses. By doing that we do not solve unemployment or minimise the crisis. We aggravate it, and we intensify that gap between the power to produce and consume which again and again we have been told lies at the root of the unemployment problem. Therefore, both on the ground of broad politics and of the existing situation inside the Civil Service, I beg Members of the House of Commons on all sides to join with me in an urgent request to the Government that they will take an opportunity, either now or to-morrow, of making it plain to the 300,000 men and women affected that the September drop will not be imposed, but that the Government will come into negotiations with us with a view to finding a permanent settlement of the problem of the cost-of-living bonus in the Civil Service.
§ Mr. BOWEN
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown) on his very excellent review of the case of the Civil Service on the bonus question. I wish to address myself to one simple yet important point. It is the question which immediately concerns the Civil Service as to whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer will or will not make a declaration that there is to be no cut in bonus next September; 300,000 civil servants have been waiting for him to say something like that for a long time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer on two occasions suspended the drop in bonus but he did so, on the statement of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury subsequently, because this question had been referred to the Royal Commission on the Civil Service. The Financial Secretary at that time gave the House to understand that this question was really in suspense because the principle of it had been referred to the Commission for examination. That was our point of view, because, whether we liked it or not, the Government did submit this question to a Royal Commission two 2595 years ago, and we have been, therefore, endeavouring to have two things done—first, to get a satisfactory understanding of the position and recommendations from the Royal Commission; and, secondly, to get the Government to agree that while that was being considered, the whole question should be regarded as sub judice.
I suggest that we who are interested in the Civil Service have not been unfair. I can quite conceive that if it were a large industrial question, or something analogous, it would be regarded as sub judice and consideration would be given to the claims of the people affected. In this connection, however, we have not been able to convince the Government that that is the right line. It is not my purpose to condemn the Government. I can simply and easily condemn the system under which civil servants have been working for a very long time. It-is not sufficient to remind us—and I am not complaining that it has been done—that the civil servants, on this bonus question, have been working under an agreement established in 1920, when at that time there was little basis upon which to appeal for anything, and we had to take the very best we could get and the only thing which was available, anticipating that before very long we should have a review of the whole question in order to get down to a more stabilised or concrete basis.
The hon. Member for West Wolverhampton has already indicated to the House the weaknesses of that agreement and how in its incidence it has worked unfairly to a very large number of civil servants in our attempt, therefore, to get the Government to review this question, we have been engaging our minds as to the best suggestions we could make to the Royal Commission in order to put to the Commission what we conceived to be a not unreasonable ease. I am not going to say anything to-night about their recommendations, except that they have profoundly disappointed the Civil Service. What I do wish to emphasise is that if the speeches we have heard to-night about finance are to be taken as indicating what is required of people in the country, and if those speeches suggest that there are to be sacrifices, then I am entitled to say that 2596 the civil servants in the last 10 years have made sacrifices unequalled in any other industry; at least, if I am not to be accused of exaggeration, they have made sacrifices of such a nature that they can rightly turn to the House of Commons and say, "You should not demand further sacrifices of us."
Last March, notwithstanding the very eloquent appeal made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—eloquent as expressed by the desire of hon. Members and supporters of our own side—he was unable to meet our request that there should be no cut in the bonus in March. He did it at that time on national grounds, I presume. At least, I am prepared to say that he could probably find justification for anything of that nature on national grounds. I did hope, however, that he could admit the strength of the appeal that was made to him cm that occasion. He was unable to meet our request, and the Government saved £1,000,000 or £1,500,000; the Civil Service lost it. But now we have come to the point when it must be said that the refusal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a statement any more definite than he has up to now is the subject of grave disappointment throughout the service. I make this appeal to him to-night, through the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, that before the House rises he will say that there will be no further cut in the bonus of civil servants.
The Royal Commission recommend consolidation forthwith. We have had no consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the terms of consolidation. The Royal Commission recommend that until we can get that discussion, the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall suspend the drop in the bonus, which shall continue to be paid on the existing rate. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer is looking for authority from a Committee, there is one for him. If he is looking to the Economy Committee for some suggestion on the point, we cannot regard the reports that we have teen in the Press as being very encouraging to us. The cuts suffered by the Civil Service already have been heavy. Any suggestion of a further cut in bonus, plus a further cut of 10 per cent., which, it is suggested in the Press, is in the report of the Economy Committee, is fantastic. That would not be economy; it would be robbery. There- 2597 fore, I am bound to say that we should regard it as such. In these circumstances, I do not think that we are unreasonable in asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after all that has been said, to suspend any further cuts. It does not need a long speech from me to tell him the facts of the case, because he and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury know them full well. Hon. Members on this side of the House know them full well. Hon. Members on the opposite side, in both parties, know the facts and individually have expressed their sympathy with the claim of the Civil Service that there should be no further cuts. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will find a general appeal from all quarters of the House that there should be no cut in September.
Reference has already been made to the application of a cut to the poorer people now outside the Civil Service—the pensioners. It has concerned me very much to have had dozens of letters during this week asking me the meaning of this little slip of paper—a cold-blooded "intimation to pensioners that they are to have a cut at the present time. It reads:The Controller and Accountant-General bogs to inform you that the supplementary portion of your pension has been based upon a cost of living figure of 50 for the quarter 1st July to 30th September, 1931.Obviously, that is just the automatic application of the old existing system. It was what was done in March for the pensioners, as for the active civil servants. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Middleton) a week or two ago what was going to happen to these pensioners in regard to the bonus issue in September. If my memory serves me correctly, my right hon. Friend replied that their conditions would be considered in the light of something that might be done for the active civil servants. He was very guarded about it. I had hopes, seeing that he had the report of the Royal Commission quite recently, that he would, as he could easily have done, stop this drop. He could have done that without very much difficulty. He could have stopped it in anticipation of acting upon the advice of the Royal Commission, and have said that payment should continue at 55 2598 for active civil servants until the question could be discussed. I hope that it is not too late for an assurance to be given to these aged people that their cut is not to be permanent, and that it will be restored to them.
The application of bonus to the Civil Service, even where bonus is applied to the full 100 per cent. of its value to people receiving pay of 35s. a week, basic, results in a very small return for many thousands of people whom I have the honour to represent, thousands of them, all ex-service men, who have come into the Post Office service, married men with families. These men have had to move around anywhere to find dwellings, and scorces of them have to pay in rent anything from 15s. to 20s. a week out of the meagre remuneration that they may be given in the Post Office. How can such men, even with the full 100 per cent. bonus, stand another cut in September? I suggest to my industrial Friends on this side that they could not justify it in their constituencies, and I am sure that they would not attempt to justify it. I know the feeling on this side of the House to be entirely sympathetic to the plea that no further cuts should take place.
One hon. Member opposite, this evening, said that in order to right things for the nation, we must stir up the blood of the people and stiffen their sinews. You cannot stir up much blood on Post Office wages. Instead of stiffening sinews, it seems to me that unless we have a suspension of the coming cut in September, there will be a tightening of the belt and an extinction of the individual. In these circumstances, I appeal to the Financial Secretary to give us some hope and encouragement so that we may tell our people that, having regard to the two long years of wait which the reference of this subject to the Royal Commission has caused, the Government will implement the understanding which he himself gave to the House 18 months ago, that in consideration of the Royal Commission's Report they would suspend the bonus cut. We hope that he will say on this occasion, now that they have got the Report and the recommendations in regard to consolidation of bonus, that he is prepared at once to say that there will be no cut this time. There will be no 2599 difficulty in understanding the implications of the report. They can wait. Many of them may take years to implement. We do not want to press the Government upon that point, but we do want to press the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary, and anyone else who may be influenced, that our people cannot stand anything more than they have had up to now.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence)
I quite understand the feeling that has been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. Bowen) and the hon. Member for West Wolverhamption (Mr. W. J. Brown), and I appreciate the way in which my hon. Friend, with great moderation, put the claim for an early decision on a matter which is so vital to large numbers of people. I can assure him that the points which he has put forward in favour of the suspension of the bonus cut will be taken into most careful consideration; in fact, they are already being taken into the most careful consideration by the Government. I appreciate further the distinction which the hon. Member has drawn between the points dealing with remuneration and those dealing with conditions, and several other matters affecting the Civil Service.
I appreciate the desire for an early decision, and in other circumstances the Chancellor of the Exchequer might perhaps have been in a position to give an answer within a few days of the publication of the report, but my right hon. Friend has been extraordinarily busily occupied during the whole of the last few weeks and has not yet had time to devote to this report that full consideration which under other circumstances he would have given to it. Therefore, although I fully understand the impatience of my hon. Friends, I am afraid that I cannot add anything to what he has already said on the subject. At the same time, my right hon. Friend and the Government will take this report into their most careful consideration and at the earliest possible moment they will be in a position to announce their decision. There is still some considerable time before the question of the September bonus has to be decided, and the Government will come to a decision of one kind or another before that time 2600 arrives. [Interruption.] I mean that the matter will not be allowed to go by default.
Can the Financial Secretary give the House any definite indication whether a decision will be reached in one week or two weeks from now?
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I cannot give an exact time, it all depends upon my right hon. Friend, who has already taken the matter into consideration and will come to a decision early and announce it at the earliest possible date. With regard to the bonus for the purposes of pension, it was said by both my hon. Friends that since the production of the report the Chancellor has already come to a decision on the question of the bonus of the pensioners as distinct from the bonus of those in active service. That is not the case. What happened in regard to the pensioners took place before the publication of the report of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service, and, in a reply to a question, my right hon. Friend definitely stated the position. I am sorry that I cannot add anything more to what I have said. Owing to the great pressure on his time and on the time of the Government, it has not been possible to give adequate consideration up to the present to this very important matter.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I do not desire to speak at any length on this subject to-night, because, as a member of the Royal Commission, I have already taken my share in expressing my opinions at some length in the report, but I should like to remove a misconception which seems to prevail in the mind of the two hon. Members who have introduced this subject. Both hon. Members have spoken as if the Commission as a whole recommended the consolidation of bonus and salary and getting rid altogether of the sliding scale. It is true that the great majority of the Royal Commission recommended consolidation, and that changes should only be made two or three years hence if there has been a considerable movement in salaries outside the Service, but there were some members of the Commission who differed from that finding. There were two members of the Commission who thought that in view of the great instability, and continuing in- 2601 stability, of prices, it was not desirable at all to consolidate at the present moment, but they stated in paragraph 347 that they agreed that there should be a reconsideration of salaries in 1934, the date recommended as a possible date for consideration by the majority of the Commission.
There were two other members, of whom I was one, who recommended a sort of half-way house between the recommendation of the majority and the recommendation of the two members who did not wish any consolidation. My colleague and I recognise fully the reductions already made in the salaries of the Civil Service, and we join with the majority of our colleagues in wishing to see that readjustment of salaries which has been somewhat unkindly described by the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown). I will not quarrel with his description, except to say that I do not think his biblical illustration was quite accurately stated. He said that from him that hath was being taken away that which he hath, and from him that hath not was also being taken away that which he hath. That is not the correct biblical quotation, and it was not the suggestion of the majority of the Commission. We did suggest a scale which would have meant a little more for the lower-paid classes, and very little less for others, but a very small reduction compared with the reduction which will take place if there is a further drop in the bonus as from September next. If the hon. Member had had before him the alternative tables which were before the Royal Commission, and which they studied with great care, he would have seen a considerable difference between the proposals of the Royal Commission and the figures in September if the cut is allowed to operate.
I wish to say further that my colleague and I desire to see the September drop averted, and we join with our colleagues therefore in agreeing with the revised salary proposed. We also wish to ease the uncertainty caused by the full swing of the pendulum, which has existed for some years, but in view of the prevailing instability of prices we felt that it was difficult to stabilise fully and completely at the present moment. We had before us some very weighty evidence on 2602 that subject, which no doubt the Financial Secretary has noted. For instance, the Director of Treasury Establishments, when he came before the Royal Commission first in the autumn of 1929 advised consolidation, but when he appeared two or three months later before the Royal Commission reported he felt that in view of the instability of prices it was not the time to consolidate.
My colleague and I had in mind a scheme something like that proposed by the President of the London Midland and Scottish Railway, Sir Josiah Stamp, namely, that there should be no alteration in salaries unless there was a bigger drop or a bigger change in the cost of living than that of which account has hitherto been taken—no alteration in salary unless there was a larger change in the cost of living and it had prevailed for a longer period than usual. We should have liked to see some scheme of that kind worked out. But it is indicated only broadly and not very fully in the paragraph of the report that refers to it. I hope that the House will forgive me just mentioning this matter, because the subject is of great importance, and my colleague and I have been misrepresented in this matter along with two others who differ more completely from the finding of the Royal Commission. I think it is only right that the House should be informed quite clearly what the position is.
My colleague and I propose gradual instead of sudden stabilisation, a gradual slowing down of the pendulum that has swung from side to side from time to time. We felt hat something of that kind would be fairer both to the Service and to the country; that if prices recovered, as we all hope they may in the next two or three years, undoubtedly our proposals would be more beneficial to members of the Service than the proposals of the majority. But, of course, no one can say how prices will move. I only wish to say that there is that chance, that if prices recover, our proposals would be more beneficial to the Service than a complete stabilisation at the moment, which the majority of the Royal Commission did not wish to see disturbed for two or three years. I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will give all three sets of proposals their full consideration.