HC Deb 29 April 1937 vol 323 cc553-7

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

3.59 p.m.

Mr. Oswald Lewis

On a point of Order. May I ask whether the second Amendment on the Order Paper in my name—in page 3, line 4, to leave out "of the War Office"—is out of order, or whether you have not selected it? It you have not selected it, may I ask the reasons for your decision, on the ground that the Amendment raises a specific point as to whether there should be one or two Under-Secretaries to the War Office, and that that point is not specifically raised in any other Amendment?

The Chairman

I confess that at the moment I am not quite clear about it as I have not yesterday's papers at hand. I understood that the Amendment was consequential on something else that we had debated on a previous Clause. Since looking at the matter I find that the subject was debated on another Amendment last night, and as a result it has not been selected to-day.

4.1 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams

This is a Clause of very considerable importance and it would hardly be in keeping with the dignity, either of the House of Commons or of those personages who are mentioned in the Clause, if the Clause were allowed to go by without any notice. The Clause refers to a number of persons whose salaries will be raised as holders of certain offices. It enumerates the number of persons at the Treasury and at the Board of Trade. In the course of the last few years we have had a considerable accession to the number of Ministers and we are under this Clause dealing with the position of those Ministers. There is the Secretary for Mines. No one would dispute that he is a very important person, performing a work of immense value, but I am not so sure of some of the other Ministers mentioned here.

I would draw attention Sub-section 2 (c), which refers to the Foreign Office, the War Office and the Admiralty, and two Under-Secretaries. Some of us had hoped that when we got a Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence in addition to an Air Ministry, both of which have taken some of the work which in the old days was done either by the War Office or the Admiralty, and that as there were now four offices dealing with Defence instead of two, with a great expansion of cost, there would be some reduction in the numbers of junior Ministers who are serving in the War Office and the Admiralty. It should not have been beyond the wit of man to have done something to save the taxpayer. It may be said that £1,000 here or there is not a matter of very great importance in these days, but it would be showing a spirit of good will on behalf of the Government, at a time when they are placing additional burdens on the taxpayer, if they could see their way to reduce by one or two the number of these minor offices. I shall not go back to the days of 10 or 15 years ago, when there was a fairly strong feeling in the House that a number of these offices might go, sometimes one and sometimes the other. I am not going to indicate which particular offices might go. We always know that one Member may feel a particular interest in a particular Department and another Member an interest in another Department. I would rather that the Government on this occasion had taken the opportunity to reorganise some of these offices and to readjust them as Departments.

As far as Sub-section (3) is concerned, we there have mentioned a most excellent body of individuals, numbering five. After the brilliant speech of the leader of the Socialist party who sits below the Gangway, I shall not attempt to add anything to his much more attractive remarks. I am sure that he, at any rate, would get up and go into a full defence of the Junior Lords of the Treasury. Obviously it was one of the offices in which his ambition was thwarted in 1929. But I will leave that subject alone. I do regret that in bringing forward a Clause of this kind the Government took no opportunity whatever of reducing the rather large number of junior Ministers and others mentioned in the Clause.

4.7 p.m.

Mr. Stephen

I wish to draw attention to Sub-section (1), which states: The number of persons holding office as Secretaries of State to whom salaries may be paid under this Act shall not exceed eight. When the Government decided to introduce this Bill they might have considered themselves under some obligations to see whether it was not possible to decrease the number of offices. With regard to the Secretaries of State, there was the obvious case that they could have made a saving of £5,000 a year by once again combining the Colonies and the Dominions.

The Chairman

I have listened to the hon. Member, but I do not think that this subject has anything to do with the Clause.

Mr. Stephen

I am suggesting that there might be seven instead of eight Secretaries of State.

The Chairman

Where does the Clause deal with Secretaries of State?

Mr. Stephen

Sub-section (1) contains these words: The number of persons holding office as Secretaries of State to whom salaries may be paid under this Act shall not exceed eight.

The Chairman

The hon. Member is quite right.

Mr. Stephen

I was about to point out that the separation of the Dominions and Colonial offices occurred because of the need of the Government to have two people in the Cabinet and not because of the amount of work to be done. There have been very many occasions when one individual has carried out the work of both the Colonies and the Dominions. It is absolutely shameful that party exigencies should be responsible for the separation of these offices. I am sure that the present Secretary of State for the Colonies could quite easily take over the work of the Dominions Office. I was quite at a loss to understand, when the General Election provided the Prime Minister with an opportunity of getting rid of the burden of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, that he did not seize the opportunity, and that instead there had to take place all the manoeuvres in order to get the Secretary of State for the Dominions back into this House. With regard to the Dominions Office there is a new position in reference to the Irish Free State. We have also now got the Statute of Westminster, as a result of which the office of Secretary of State for the Dominions becomes practically unnecessary. A very junior Minister could do all that is necessary, with a second division clerk of the Civil Service. The Dominions now are in a similar position to this country and there is no oversight of them from Whitehall. It is going a little too far in the present state of the country, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has alarmed the City to the extent that he has done, that in order to give the appearance of the Government being a National Government we should be compelled to include as a Secretary of State the present individual who represents no body of Labour in this country.

4.14 p.m.

Mr. Petherick

I wish to raise a small point of drafting. I did not notice it in time to put an Amendment on the Paper. Sub-section 2 (c) reads: The number of Parliamentary Under-Secretaries to the Departments of State to whom salaries may be paid under this Act shall: 'In the case of the Foreign Office, of the War Office and of the Admiralty, not exceed two.' Should it not be "two each"? It reads as if there were to be two in all the three Departments.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Lewis

I am sorry that the Government propose in Clause 2 to perpetuate the system whereby we have three separate Members of the Government representing the War Office in Parliament. I have long thought that the Fighting Services as a whole are over-represented in the Government, and the worst case is that of the Army. Obviously there are advantages in any Department having two representatives in the Government, so that if the senior representative be in one House the other can be in the other House. It needs arguments of some weight and substance to justify the addition of a third Minister in any Department. We have, for reasons into which it would not be proper to go now, made it our policy for many years to maintain a very small Army, and I cannot see how there can be sufficient work in the War Office to justify—

Whereupon the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod being come with a Message The CHAIRMAN left the Chair.

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.

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