HC Deb 23 July 1934 vol 292 cc1609-17

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

7.7 p.m.


I would like to ask the Minister one or two questions on this Clause. Sub-section (1) refers to the appointment of a committee to be known as the Cattle Committee, and then, according to Sub-section (2), The appropriate Ministers may appoint a secretary to the Cattle Committee, and the committee may employ such officers, agents and servants as those Ministers, with the approval of the Treasury, may determine. I suppose that it is almost impossible for the Minister to say with any degree of accuracy how many people are likely to be employed, but, even so, before going into a matter of this description, a Department generally does try to get some idea of how many people ate likely to be employed, and I think that it would be a great advantage if the Minister could give us some information on this question. One last word. It does appear to me very curious that this party, which has always been accused of being the party which supports bureaucracy and of having officials by the thousand and score of thousands, which has been accused of creating officials in order to cure unemployment, should now be faced by a National Government which is creating officials much faster. What is more to the point is that it is not creating officials for some constructive effort, but in order to pay those officials to pay more Government money out of the public purse. We cannot stop them from paying that money, but we should like to know how many more people are to be employed in order to pay this subsidy.

7.9 p.m.


Clearly it would not be possible at this moment, when we are merely framing the proposals, to indicate to the Committee the number of persons whom we may have to employ. It is our desire to keep the number as low as possible, and we have taken steps to ensure that they are to be paid out of the Cattle Fund itself, so that the possibility of recovery which applies to other sections of the expenditure, applies here also. If it were desired that I should place the whole scheme before the Committee, I could not do anything before the new Session. We are faced here with the fact that we have to take swift action, and therefore I beg the hon. Gentleman not to press me on this point, because I shall inform the House as soon as ever it is possible to do so. Of course, the House will be informed when the money comes to be voted on the Supplementary Estimate, and it will then be informed what the administrative cost will he. As to the other point about the appointment of officials, I am afraid that the difference between my hon. Friend and myself is just the point which he stated. He arraigned us for not appointing officials to carry on the industry. We do not believe that an industry carried on by officials would be a good thing, but it does seem to us to be a good thing, both from the point of view of the country and that of the Exchequer, that an industry should be supervised in this way, given temporary assistance and helped by a proper quota to raise prices.

7.11 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman's reply is the most extraordinary that has been given in this House or Committee for a very long time. He tells the Committee that it is far better to have a body of officials appointed for the purpose of distributing a subsidy to the unfortunate farmers than it would be to have a body of officials helping and guiding the industry so as to make a real success of it. It really is a most extraordinary reply.


It is not what I said.


I should hate to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman, but that was my interpretation of what he said: That it is far better to have a body of officials—very efficient ones—distributing this relief than to have a body of officials guiding the industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Running!"] I know the difference between running the industry and guiding it. No hon. or right hon. Member could have justified with the same skill this £3,000,000 subsidy as the Minister himself has done. He has proved to this House over and over again the absolute inevitability of coming forward at once with financial assistance for this industry for a very definite period. I do not charge the farmers with having mismanaged their business. It may be that financial complications, the banks, or half a dozen factors may have had something to do with the livestock depression. The fact is that the industry cannot pay its way at the moment, and because of that the Government are pro- posing to assist it to the extent of £3,000,000. That may all be justified. If votes count for anything, the House has justified this proposal. But surely even the right hon. Gentleman would not argue that it is preferable to establish a body of officials to pay out a subsidy rather than to establish a body of officials to help to organise efficiently production, marketing, and slaughtering of livestock in this country.

It seems to me that while perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could not tell us how many officials are to be created, he might tell the Committee whether or not this is to be on the lines of the Milk Board, under which the country has been divided into areas for the purpose of administering the scheme, and whether or not each area is to be guided by a central body to be established by the Minister. If the Minister has made up his mind that the money must be administered efficiently, so that there shall be no person receiving money twice, and so on, then he should have made up his mind approximately into how many areas the country will be divided for the purpose of administering the scheme, and if the Committee knew that, they could apply their minds to the potential number of servants, officers and agents who would be required, and approximately the total cost of the administrative service. The right hon. Gentleman ought to take the Committee into his confidence to that extent in order to ensure that there shall be as few loopholes as possible and that the scheme will be administered on appropriate lines satisfactory both to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House. We ought, further, to ask him this: In administering the scheme there will be a good deal of information forthcoming to those responsible on the question of slaughtering. We want to know whether the officials who will be administering the fund will also be charged with the duty of advising the Minister as to how best cattle may be slaughtered. The right hon. Gentleman ought to take the Committee into his confidence on these material points before the Clause is passed.

7.17 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman's statement about the administration to carry out the distribution of this largesse was really rather alarming. He said swift action was necessary. He apparently desired to give the impression that this crisis came like a thief in the night and caught him unprepared. I was under the impression that the country had long been conscious of a depression and that the right hon. Gentleman had been racking his brains to find a solution for months past. If we are to believe the newspapers, he has been wrestling with the problem for the last six months. Now he says he has no scheme. He has thought out no details. Re does not know what it will cost. He does not know the size of the staff. He does not know whether it will be a small or a big organisation. He cannot even tell the Committee the character of the officials who will do the job. During the War the Government took over the supplying of beef, when everything had to be done through the Ministry of Agriculture, and I have a vivid recollection that a very elaborate organisation was built up. Local auctioneers and agents were used for the purpose.

We have a right to know—especially the agricultural Members—what kind of organisation the right hon. Gentleman anticipates. He does not think his scheme will be ready before the Adjournment and we are to wait till next Session before he can tell us what organisation is to be set up. I understood from hon. Members opposite that the whole thing was to be at work by the end of next month. The latest date was to be 1st September. The right hon. Gentleman is embarking on the scheme without being in a position to tell the Committee what it will cost and how many men will be employed. I really do not think he is treating the Committee fairly or squarely. I am very glad to see at last the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the dim background. He ought to have been in the forefront of the battle. ft is his funeral. He will have to pay the bill, though it does not matter what the cost is, because it is to come out of the subsidy. It is rather hard on the farmers that a large percentage of the money is to be frittered away on officials.

There is a very bitter feeling among farmers all through the country at the cumbersome, elaborate organisation set up at Thames House by the Milk Board. Are we to have another Milk Board? Are we to have all these typewriters and mechanical machines to calculate the cheques that are to be paid out? Is it to be centralised or localised? Is another building to be taken for the purpose This Parliament came into being largely for the purpose of economy. Rightly or wrongly, the country was under the impression that there was a financial crisis, and it was necessary to keep a tighter control over public expenditure, and particularly over the multiplication of officials, but the Minister comes forward week by week with another scheme. It may be necessary. It may be that, owing to the general world depression in prices, it is necessary to give subsidies, but the right hon. Gentleman should think out his scheme in advance. Is it to be done by counties or through London? If it is to be done through London, does it mean the establishment of a central machine through which all the money is to go, like the Milk Board? I prefer localisation.

All these central boards are playing into the hands of hon. Members above the Gangway. The Prime Minister invented the phrase, "the inevitability of gradualness." [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It was a very skilful phrase. Hon. Members above the Gangway are enjoying the right hon. Gentleman's experiment in Socialism. It has all the kind of machinery which is the inevitable objection to any centralised organisation. This is the distribution of public funds to favoured individuals. The right hon. Gentleman comes here, with the Financial Secretary merely as a passenger, and tells us solemnly that he has not yet made up his mind how the money is to be doled out, how many and what kind of officials are to be appointed, and what they are to cost, and he cannot tell us till next Session when the money is to be handed out next month. If this is business by a business Department, I do not know how it is going to end. We are sorry for the right hon. Gentleman. We realise that he has so many irons in the fire that it is inevitable that he should burn his fingers. I hope that he will take us into his confidence before we part with the Clause. He must have something in his mind, and we are entitled to know what it is.

7.25 p.m.


The hon. Baronet has asked me a number of questions on be- half of the distressed agriculturists of Bethnal Green. This agricultural idea went to his head to such an extent that he totally failed to read the Clause that he was criticising. May I direct his attention to it? He does not appear to have a copy of the Bill. Perhaps he could borrow one from the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. Mason). He does not seem to have one either.


Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will stick to the Bill and answer my hon. Friend's criticisms.


If the hon. Member for East Edinburgh had read the Clause, he himself could have answered in advance all the criticisms that the hon. Member has just made.


I was answering the right hon. Gentleman's speech, in which he stated that he could not give us the information till the next Session of Parliament and that he could not tell us how many officials are to be appointed.


The hon. Baronet was able to answer my speech because he had not read the Clause. If I read it, it, will perhaps shorten the discussion: The appropriate Ministers shall appoint a Committee … whose duty it shall be to advise those Ministers … and to prepare and submit to those Ministers particulars of such arrangements as are mentioned in Section two of this Act. The hon. Baronet now splits the welkin in his denunciation of me, because 1 cannot give him the information in advance of the provisions of the Clause. If he had read the Clause, he would have said I was proposing to appoint a committee but that it was only camouflage. It was skilful of him to reply to me before he bad read the Clause. We ask the Committee to approve a Clause drawn up in careful and specific terms in which Ministers are to appoint a committee, and the committee is to submit to them particulars of the arrangements mentioned in Clause 2. In those circumstances, it would clearly be premature, and it would not be carrying out the simple purpose of the Clause, if I were to lay down what the arrangements and the organisation were to be, and to say whether it was to be a regional or a county organisation, whether it was to be done through London, whether type- writers were to be purchased, and whether the offices were to be in Thames House.

The hon. Baronet wanted to know a great deal. I refer him to the simple words of the Clause that he was criticising. If I had appointed a committee without the consent of the House, or if I had submitted to the Committee particulars of the arrangements which I am directed by the Clause to receive from the committee, no one would have been louder in his denunciations than the hon. Baronet. I beg hon. Members to adhere to the criticism of the Clause itself. Shall there be a Cattle Committee? I ask the Committee to say there shall. Shall the Cattle Committee prepare and submit to us arrangements? I beg the Committee to say that it shall. Will the committee have officers, agents and servants? It will, and they will be paid, not by the Ministers alone, but by Ministers with the approval of the Treasury. The hon. Gentleman was very sarcastic about the presence of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and suggested that he was a mere passenger on this bench. Let me assure him that in the words The appropriate Ministers may appoint a Secretary to the Cattle Committee, and the Committee may employ such officers, agents and servants as those Ministers, with the approval of the Treasury, may determine the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has secured all that he wants and does not need to be a passenger on this Bench. He is the gaoler of the people who are in the prison van. Surely, the proposals are simple. They are businesslike. They have to be put through, once the Committee approves of the Clause and indeed of the Bill which we are now asking them to pass. I suggest that the hon. Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) has invented some of those questions, and he will find the best answer in the simple statement that this Bill deals with an emergency. The emergency is not because we have not considered these matters which he has suggested to the House. The emergency is because we are waiving our undoubted right to impose heavy restrictions upon imports into this country and on that account only, and, having decided to waive what everybody admits to be our legal right to impose restrictions on imports into this country, we are acting at short notice to find another way of meeting the problem upon which we have been working for the last six months, and, indeed, for the last 18 months. It is that which produces the necessity for short-term legislation, and in reproaching us for that hon. Members below the Gangway, who, in season and out of season, press these considerations upon us, are, I submit, making a totally unworthy use of a genuine attempt by the Government to make the least interference with trade as possible. On both these grounds, I hope that the Committee will allow us now to have the Clause.

Clauses 5 (Interpretation, and provisions as to orders and regulations and as to accounts of Cattle Fund) and 6 (Short title) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the Third time To-morrow.

No. of Vote. Navy Services, 1932, Votes. Deficits. Surpluses.
Excesses of actual over estimated gross Expenditure. Deficiencies of actual as compared with estimated Receipts. Surpluses of estimated over actual gross Expenditure. Surpluses of actual as compared with estimated Receipts.
£ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d.
1 Wages, etc., of Officers, Seamen, Boys, and Royal Marines, and Civilians employed on Fleet Services. 10,800 15 2 1,723 5 11
2 Victualling and Clothing 52,467 11 11 145,836 5 10
3 Medical Establishments and Services. 951 11 6 20,422 19 2
4 Fleet Air Arm
5 Educational Services 8,187 10 8 2,770 3 9
6 Scientific Services 7,179 4 5 27,830 13 9
7 Royal Naval Reserves 225 8 7 3,673 15 6
8 Shipbuilding, Repairs, Maintenance, etc.:
Sec. 1. Personnel 56,935 18 2 5,332 15 0
Sec. 2. Matériel 165,881 9 6 439,846 9 2
Sec. 3. Contract Work 232,028 17 2 3,819 14 10
9 Naval Armaments 60,476 13 8 229,791 2 2
10 Works, Buildings, and Repairs 62,998 10 0 65,451 11 5
11 Miscellaneous Effective Services. 67,936 17 11 11,284 0 3
12 Admiralty Office 17,866 3 9 252 5 2
13 Non-Effective Services (Naval and Marine), Officers. 35,734 2 9 3,814 17 11
14 Non- Effective Services (Naval and Marine), Men. 19,811 10 8 5,757 11 1
15 Civil Superannuation, Compensation Allowance, and Gratuities. 17,093 6 5 40 4 7
Balances irrecoverable and Claims abandoned. 2,455 4 11
380,922 7 1 356,493 10 5 1,018,327 16 1 30,934 19 1
Total Deficits £737,415 17 6 Total Surpluses £1,049,262 15 2
Net Surplus £311,846 17 8