HC Deb 26 February 1932 vol 262 cc735-42

9. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £34,750, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March,1932, for sundry Colonial and Middle Eastern Services under His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies, including certain Non-effective Services and Grants in Aid."

First, Second, and Third Resolutions agreed to.

Fourth Resolution read a Second time.

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


I wish to ask a few questions on this very large Supplementary Estimate of £85,000 which has been caused by additional expenditure upon stationery and printing. I wish to know how much of this additional sum is required for the Government Stationery Office, which, I believe, turns out a very considerable amount of the stationery which we use. It was thought at one time that the Stationery Office might effect a saving, but apparently we are now to have increased Supplementary Estimates in respect of it, and I think the House is entitled to have an explanation on that point. Under paragraph (E) there is apparently a very large increase in the expenditure upon Parliamentary publications, etc. I do not wish to ask for details, but I would like an assurance from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that he is doing his level best to secure economy, and hope he will give us a real assurance that on every occasion he will oppose any unnecessary expenditure on stationery and printing. Members often make demands which mean an increased expenditure for printing and I ask him to take this opportunity of saying that he and his Department would like to see the demands of the House for additional printing limited as much as possible.


I would like to support the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) in one thing, and that is in his plea for a saving on the amount of printing. Perhaps we might get out an estimate of the total cost of printing the remarks of the hon. Member for Torquay in this House in the last few years, and it might then be presented to him for his observations.


I feel that the greater the publicity which our Debates here secure the better it will be, and I ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to consider whether it is not opportune to reduce the price of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Debates from 6d. to 3d. It would mean that more would be printed and more would be sold, and in the long run we should not be out of pocket.


I am ready to give the assurance which the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) desires. We shall supervise very closely as all hon. Members would desire us to do, any demands for printing and publication. As to the suggestion that we should charge less for the Parliamentary Debates it might very well be that greater circulation would simply mean increased loss, and that we should not make the increased revenue that the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) suggests. I shall do my best to reduce the amount of printing necessary. I have already taken the opportunity to call the attention of hon. Members to the desirability that Questions should be submitted rather by letter to the Department than by Questions involving the preparation of long printed returns, which simply swell out the OFFICIAL REPORT and are not of great interest except to a very limited number of persons. I am sure the House will be desirous, in the future as in the past, that 'due publicity should be given and that a reasonable amount of the printing and publication of its OFFICIAL -REPORT is available for the use of hon. Members.


May I have an answer to the other point I raised as to bow much of this increase is due to your Stationery Office?


As a matter of fact, the expenses of the Stationery Department cover themselves, and there is a slight surplus. No part of this increase is due to the Stationery Department.

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

Fifth Resolution read a Second time.

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


This Supplementary Estimate passed through Committee and we had no explanation as to the reasons for the increase in the salaries of the Inland Revenue Department. I do not know whether the Financial Secretary will give us a reason for the increase in the original estimate by something like £295,000, and will say whether it is due to the great efforts that have been made to collect Income Tax, or what it is. The point I would like to call attention to is under Sub-head A, a saving of £204,000 for the Land Valuation Office. This saving is due to the strangling of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer's baby, the Valuation Department. Incidentally, it is interesting to know how the Department has made this saving of £204,000. I will draw the attention of the Financial Secretary to what really happened. It is a rather peculiar thing, this saving of salaries. Everybody knows that the Valuation Department was abolished by the clamour of hon. Members of this House.

12 n.

I have particulars of a ease where a post in the Valuation Department was advertised by an employment exchange, and a certain individual applied. He was informed that the job was for two years. That was before the General Election. During the election the matter was held over, and the Valuation Department said that they could not come to a decision until after the election. Eventually this man received the appointment, and within a month of receiving the appointment he received a month's notice to quit. It must have been clear at that time that the position of the Valuation Department was extremely dangerous, if we are talking of estimates, perhaps I might observe that it seems as though somebody overestimated the influence of the Lord Snowden in the present Government. Most people with any Parliamentary knowledge must have known that, with a House composed as this is, the Valuation Department would not be permitted to survive. Yet the offer of appointment was held out to a number of 12 n. persons. In this case, the clerk went to the Employment Exchange and was offered this appointment, and on the very day on which he was offered that appointment, he was offered another; but because of the prospect of getting a job lasting some two years, he sold his home and moved to some distance to another town, which cost him £16. He has now to break up his home and go back to the original town which will cost him another £16. His salary for the two months was only £4 7s. 6d. That is all he got out of it, and I think it is an absolute scandal. It must have been perfectly well known that the position was in doubt and the letter might very well have been held over for a week or so. It was only a, week or so after that the decision was made to turn down the Valuation Department.

It would appear that the saving is being made at the expense of a number of people who have been offered employment, or the chance of employment. It is a very mean saving in that respect, and I think the Treasury should offer these people some compensation, because they have not only lost their money and time, but have had very great worry. In some cases, at all events, they lost the opportunity of other jobs which have been offered. These are the people who are really going to pay part of this £204,000 saving. I hope we are to have some explanation as to the reason for the increase and as to whether that increase relates to the latter part of the year, up to March, 1932, whether it is due to the tax extracting energies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and whether, apart from the saving on the Valuation Department by clamour of this Douse, there has been any other saving effected, or likely to be effected.


I readily respond to the request of the hon. Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee) for further information. I recognise that the Vote went through without discussion the other night. It is accurate to say that the Supplementary Estimate is due to the very considerable extra burden of work laid upon the shoulders of the Inland Revenue Department by the decisions of this House, in connection with the Supplementary Budget. Owing to the public spirit of the taxpayers, whose remarkable achievements have made it relatively easy to accomplish the task which this House set to the Department of Inland Revenue, the normal collection of the revenue went on at a rate almost unparalleled in the history of this or any other country. Our thanks are due to the direct taxpayer, and to the Department itself for the loyalty with which they have worked and the smoothness with which these remarkable results have been achieved. It was, of course, necessary for many of the officials to work longer hours of overtime, and, although that is criticised, I do not think that the same smoothness of working could have been attained by bringing in fresh, inexperienced people to do this extremely delicate and technical work. It is well that people in all parts of this House and in all parts of the country should realise that results superior to any that we had hoped for have been achieved, and that this tribute is due both to the taxpayers who responded and to the Department and its officers who have been responsible for the collection of these vast sums.

The savings, it is true, are obtained very largely by the discontinuance of the land valuation. It is not, as the hon. Member seems to suppose, due to a clamour in this House. It was due to a close and accurate investigation of the circumstances of the case by the whole Cabinet, and the new method, which in some ways is inconvenient, of Ministers opposing by vote and by voice decisions for which they take no responsibility, has the corresponding advantage that, when they do not oppose decisions by vote and by voice, they are committed in a much more thorough fashion than they have ever been before. The fact that no member of the Cabinet opposed either by vote or by voice the decision to suspend the land valuation, is a proof that it was not through clamour in this House, but by the sheer weight of argument and a recognition of the financial circumstances of the country, that the decision was taken. I assure the hon. Member, who has on many occasions paid tribute to the dissentient Ministers for their courage and public spirit in opposing other decisions—


The last thing that I would do would be to bear tribute to the dissentient Ministers. I think their position is perfectly ridiculous.


The hon. Gentleman has, on many occasions, paid tribute to the dissentient Ministers for their valuable assistance in enabling him to combat proposals of the Government to which he was opposed. Deprived of this assistance, his case in argument is very much weaker than it otherwise would have been. The excess is due to the great task that the Inland Revenue Department was set, and the savings on valuations are clue to the suspension of the land valuation, not as a result of party clamour, but as a result of careful investigation of the financial circumstances of the country and of the revenue which such valuation might be expected immediately to yield. Therefore, I hope that it will be possible for the House to sanction this Supplementary Estimate.


With regard to the suspension of the land valuation, and the saving resulting from it, I should like to ask the Financial Secretary whether, if it had been continued, it would not have paid the Government, in view of the money that would have been collected from the tax 1 If I may so put it, what they lose on the swings they would have gained on the roundabouts.


I can only reply to the hon. Member by the leave of the House, but I may say that, while what we lost on the swings we lost in this very critical and difficult year, what we should have gained on the roundabouts would not have been gained for a year or two, and, as prudent showmen, we thought that the show would not stand it this year.


I was rather surprised to hear the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say that every member of the Cabinet was in favour of suspending the land valuation. We have never been told that before.


The hon. Member must not take me as giving away Cabinet secrets. It is all the more difficult for me to give away Cabinet secrets since I am not myself a member of that august body, and do not know what they decided. I merely drew attention to the fact that no member of the Cabinet had opposed this decision.


I accept that qualification. I am very sorry for the position of many of those people who accepted these engagements, and turned down other expectations, because they believed that the continued presence of Lord Snowden in the Cabinet was a security that the new jobs would at least last for some time. It is very disappointing to find that the Government have washed their hands of these proposals, and are allowed to get away with it and be completely absolved from all responsibility towards people who in this matter have been very badly treated. I am sure that the sense of the House is with us when we point out that, while these people were induced to take up service under the Government and are now dismissed, the Government still goes on, and the authors of the Measure still continue in their offices drawing their salaries, while the poor dupes who were led to believe that this Government would continue the policy of land valuation, and were going to carry through this legislation, have been left out in the cold.


I do not think that I can allow the speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) to pass without comment. I can answer it in one sentence. The hon. Members who have been attacking the Government on this point were those responsible for the original mistake, and the Government are simply correcting their previous follies.

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

Remaining Resolutions agreed to.