§ Sir John Wardlaw-Milne (Kidderminster)
I beg to move,That the Special Report from the Select Committee on National Expenditure be now considered.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I suggest that we take this Motion as formal and have the discussion on the Motion which embodies the Committee's recommendations.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
May I ask your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? I understand that I should move the first paragraph of the Motion, and that we should have a general discussion, if it is desired, on all the recommendations.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Perhaps the hon. Member will move the whole Motion, and the Chair will put it paragraph by paragraph.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
May I suggest that a general discussion should take place on the whole Motion and that, if no satisfactory answers have been given to points raised, there should be a right reserved to hon. Members when each paragraph is put to raise points which have been omitted during the general discussion?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is really my intention. The general discussion will take place on the first paragraph. Hon Members will have the right, as the other paragraphs are put, to raise questions on those paragraphs if they have not been satisfied during the general Debate.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Special Report considered accordingly.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I beg to move,That the Select Committee on National Expenditure have power to appoint a Co-ordinating Sub-Committee to review, co-ordinate and direct the work of the investigating Sub-Committees, and to refer to such Sub-Committee any of the matters referrred to the Committee.That the Co-ordinating Sub-Committee so appointed shall have power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House; and to adjourn from place to place; and shall report any evidence taken by them to the Committee.That the Committee have power to give such Co-ordinating Sub-Committee power to alter 1336 the order of reference of any Sub-Committee, to appoint such further Sub-Committees as may seem to them desirable and to refer to such Sub-Committees any of the matters referred to the Committee, to nominate Members of the Committee for service on any Sub-Committee, to appoint the Chairman of any Sub-Committee, to discharge the members of any Sub-Committee and to appoint others in substitution for those discharged: Provided that any action taken by the Co-ordinating Sub-Committee in the exercise of any of the powers referred to in this Order shall be invalid unless approved by the Committee within twenty-one days.That where the Committee have nominated any Members of the Co-ordinating Sub-Committee to serve also as additional Members of all other Sub-Committees, the number of such additional Members shall not be taken into account for the purpose of determining the quorum of any Sub-Committee, nor shall any such additional Members be counted for the purpose of establishing the presence of a quorum at any meeting of a Sub-Committee.That when two Sub-Committees sit jointly they shall constitute a single Sub-Committee whose quorum shall be one-third (any fraction counting as a whole number) of the total number of persons (exclusive of additional members) who are either Members of both Sub-Committees or Members of one or other Sub-Committee only.The Special Report which the Select Committee brings before the House gives clearly the reasons for the Motion which I have moved. I do not want to go over all the matters set out in this Report, because, to the best of our ability, we have set them out clearly. It may be desirable, however, to say that it has been made clear during the work of the Select Committee for two years that certain changes in procedure would be desirable to enable the Committee to carry out, in the best possible manner, the duties which the House has placed upon it. The Committee originally set up, under the powers conferred by the House, a number of subcommittees, each of which was attached to a spending Department of State. For example, we had a committee connected with the Army, another dealing with the naval services, a third dealing with aircraft construction and the work of the Air Force, and so on. But it became clear as time went on, that certain operations carried on by the Government in war are of what we call a horizontal character, that is to say, they cover many Departments and yet are all very much of the same type. In Clause 2 we give examples of that:the economic use of labour and the construction of new works may be cited.Those are very good examples of the kind of operations which spread themselves 1337 over more than one Department. Consequently, to enable the Committee to carry out their task in the best possible manner they have decided, after appointing at the beginning of this Session a special subcommittee to go into the matter very carefully, to set up sub-committees which will cover these various operations. For example, we have set up a Production Sub-Committee which will cover production of all kinds, that is to say, production not only of guns for the Army but production of ships and everything else. In the same manner, there is a sub-committee on Works which will be concerned not only with the works of any one Department but with works of all kinds. In that way, one hopes we shall have Members who, from the knowledge and experience they get from one Department, will be the better able to inquire into the operations of another Department carrying on very similar work.
The only other matter of any importance is that the Committee, to enable its work to be carried out in the way I have described, has set up an enlarged Co-ordinating Committee. The Co-ordinating Committee has been set up in two different Sessions of Parliament, and the House gave it a special right to make direct representations to the War Cabinet. In the past, that Co-ordinating Committee consisted of the chairmen of the various sub-committees, but for the reasons set out in paragraph 5 of the Report we have thought it better that it should have larger directing powers, always, of course, as will be seen from the Report, subject to approval by the full Committee within 21 days, or, rather, powers which will not be operative, if not confirmed within 21 days. These powers are to be exercised by a larger body, and therefore we have attached to that Co-ordinating Committee five members of the full Committee who will sit upon it and who are not chairmen of the other sub-committees. Those five members will be ex-officio members of all the sub-committees. They can visit any sub-committee they like and keep the Co-ordinating Committee in touch with what is going on in each sub-committee. That will be a great advantage.
In the past one of the difficulties has been fiat there has been a tremendous amount of work for the members of each sub-committee. Naturally, and very rightly, they have become greatly in- 1338 terested in the special work of their own sub-committee. When they come to consider the draft reports from the sub-committees which are put before them as members of the full Committee they often find themselves in the difficulty that, having been so busily occupied with their own sub-committees, they have not been able to follow exactly what has been happening in the other sub-committees. They have to get explanations and they have, perhaps, to accept the views of their fellow members more conclusively and with less examination than would have been the case if they had been able to follow the work of those sub-committees. It is with the object of helping Members who are busily engaged with the work of one sub-committee to know something about the work which is going on in other subcommittees that these extra Members have been attached.
The only other matter which I need mention is a technical one connected with the question of the quorum. The quorum in the last two Sessions, as set down by Orders of the House, has been two. It appeared to some of us that, as a result of recent Debates in the House, there seemed to be a feeling, though perhaps not very strongly expressed, that there ought to be a larger quorum. On that account, when the Orders of Reference were set out on the paper in November of last year for the setting up of the Committee for the present Session, it was suggested that the quorum should be raised to one-third of the number of Members on the sub-committee. It will be clear that that would be all right if there were no additional Members. When we attached additional Members we got a situation which made it impossible to carry out the wishes of the House in a practical manner. I think this matter is set out clearly in paragraph 7 of the Report, which states that the quorum will remain at one-third, but will not include the additional Members, who will neither form the quorum nor count as part of the quorum. The situation, therefore, is that the quorum of the specified Members still remains at one-third. They still have to be there, but the additional Members will not count for the purpose of the quorum.
There is only one other small point, a branch of the same subject. It is that when two committees sit together, as occasionally happens, it is desirable that 1339 the quorum should be one-third of the total number of Members. Sometimes Members serve on two committees, and it might well be that when two committees meet together the total membership, on paper, would be much larger than the actual membership. One name might appear twice, for two different committees. In that case we suggest, the quorum should be one-third of the total, excluding again the additional Members. It is not very easy to make these matters clear in a speech. We have tried to make them as clear as possible in this Special Report, and the Committee feel that there is no division about these matters. These changes are desirable to enable the Committee to do the best work possible for the House, and I hope the House, as a whole, will believe that the Committee are the best judges of the best way to arrange the work. The House has shown satisfaction with the work that the Committee have done, and I hope it will now give them power—if "power" be the right word—to make the changes in procedure which are indicated in the Motion.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
In order that we may appreciate the differences which are now suggested, will the hon. Member say whether the House has, at any time, had an opportunity of discussing the Report?
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
The House has had ample opportunity, as far as I am aware, but perhaps has not taken advantage of it. Speaking from memory, I do not know that the House has ever exercised its power to discuss the Reports of the Committee in full. Of course, there have been many Questions on the subjects raised in Reports.
§ Sir P. Harris
I beg to second the Motion.
I do so as an old member of the Committee who served upon it for the first two years. Unfortunately, owing to the call of other duties, I am now deprived of the advantage of membership. I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said. To be effective, a Committee like this must adapt itself to the changing conditions of war. As the war has gone on, Government duties have spread over larger and larger spheres and if the Select Committee—which, incidentally, has the confidence of the House in a re- 1340 markable way—is to go on doing its job, it should have the opportunity, at any rate for the present, of exploring the ramifications of Government in a cross-sectional way. That is to say, the Departments should be grouped and such problems as labour and production, which affect half a dozen Departments at once, should be explored as a whole.
May I now say a word in favour of a Co-ordination Committee? The House never liked the word "co-ordination," and no word has been more discredited in recent years. But the House need have no suspicion of the Co-ordination Committee. This Committee has been doing its proper work, and has really been co-ordinating. Its purpose, when I was a member—and I understand it has expanded in that direction—is to prevent waste of effort and overlapping, and to see that the whole business of Government is viewed as a whole instead of from a narrow point of view. In fact, I am not quite sure that it is not doing something that the Government might very well study with profit. There has been a suspicion for some time that some kind of co-ordinating committee is badly wanted in the Government. This Select Committee, not for the first time, is going to show the Government how things should be properly done.
There is, however, one word of warning I should like to give. I hope, in taking this wider view of the problems of Government from the point of view of expenditure, that it will not divorce itself from direct contact with Departments. My experience when I was with the Committee was that one of the greatest gains to Parliament from its operations was that Members for the first time were getting right into the Departments and making contact with officials, getting to know the working of the machine from inside, and that I venture to suggest is not only an education to Members of Parliament but also presents opportunities of assistance to Ministers which might well make a precedent for our post-war problems. I was a member of a similar committee in the last war, and we all wanted its work to go on after the war. Unfortunately, it was allowed to lapse and its machinery was stopped, its work being handed over to different organisations, and I believe Government suffered accordingly. I am most anxious that the valuable experience of this Committee, gained under the wise 1341 leadership of my hon. Friend, should be continued, not only during the war, but in our post-war Government. We have just had a Debate on another aspect of Government, perhaps a more controversial one, and it may prove rather fortunate that the two problems should have been considered on the same day. I strongly support the giving of these powers to the Committee, but, at the same time, I hope my hon. Friend will guide the work of the Committee back to the more humdrum but on the whole more efficient way of doing its work through sub-commitees directly in contact with the Departments, so that Members gain valuable experience and learn how the Government machinery works, what its faults are, and how they can be remedied and brought into contact with the changing needs of our expanding activities, not only in war but in peace.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
The hon. Member who presents this Motion to the House has, I am sure, earned the appreciation of all of us for the devoted work he has done for so long on this Committee, and therefore it would be very ungracious if we were to cavil unreasonably at any new proposals he brings forward for increasing its powers. At the same time, I would like to say that perhaps the Committee concerned is not always the best judge in all cases of how its powers should be exercised. Certainly, the proposals which are now on the Order Paper are new in the procedure of the House, and, in some respects, they are new to any procedure of committee control of which I have ever heard, or of which any other Member has ever heard. Those who have been following the Order Paper attentively may have noticed that during the last few months the hon. Gentleman has, from time to time, put other proposals of a similar character upon the Order Paper but, on second thoughts, those proposals have been withdrawn. The fact that they are second or third thoughts ought not to prejudice us unduly against them, but I would like all hon. Members, if they have the Special Report of the Select Committee before them to note one or two points in connection with it. The first is that it states:The object of this Special Report is to confirm the authority of the House.I do not wish to make too much point about the wording of the Report, but at the same time I thought that it was really 1342 the business of the House, and not the Committee, to ask for those powers. I thought that this wording showed, perhaps, a slight lack of propriety.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I am informed it is the correct wording to get the authority of the House. I do not pretend to be an expert.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I cannot quite see that it means what the hon. Member suggests. What do the proposals actually boil down to? They mean that the powers which were given by the House to a Select Committee, representative of all parties, and subject to a long-tried procedure, are now to be delegated by that main Select Committee to a very much smaller committee, not subject to any rules for proportionate membership, and that this new and strengthened sub-committee is to have the power "to review, co-ordinate and direct" the reports of all the investigating sub-committees which come before them. Those words, "to review, co-ordinate and direct" are very strong words. They mean that the sub-committee can revise the reports of sub-committees. They mean that this Co-ordinating Committee, which may or may not have been engaged in detailed investigations with the investigating sub-committees, may nevertheless completely bring to nought, add to or subtract from the investigations of those sub-committees. Moreover, there is nothing to prevent them from conducting parallel inquiries independently of the sub-committee because there is a very strange and new procedure. Paragraph 2 states:The Co-ordinating Sub-committee so appointed shall have power to send for persons papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House; and to adjourn from place to place.It is proposed to give the Co-ordinating Sub-committee power to send for persons, papers and records. They can conduct investigations, which will set them up as a rival body to the investigating subcommittees. I do not know whether any amendment of these proposals would be in Order. I do not propose to divide against the Motion, but I shall ask the House at a later stage to consider, if possible, an Amendment to the second Motion, to prevent powers being given to the Co-ordinating Sub-committee which have hitherto been given only to the parent Committee, so that we shall not find our- 1343 selves in the position that the Co-ordinating Sub-committee will have nearly all the powers of the parent Committee, special powers of its own, and, in addition, the powers of the investigating subcommittees. I am afraid that if these proposals are carried—as I have no doubt they will be—they will lead the parent Committee to feel that their powers are successfully delegated. There has already been difficulty in getting a quorum of the parent Committee. Its total membership is 32; its quorum is only seven—a very small number—and, even so, it has found considerable difficulty in getting sufficient members on all occasions. If all its powers are delegated to this Co-ordinating Sub-committee, its members will feel that it is not so necessary for them to attend as it was before.
There may be even more serious consequences. It may lead members of the investigating sub-committees, who really do the bulk of the work, into a feeling of discouragement, and even of futility. Their unanimous reports can be revised or blue-pencilled, and the members of those subcommittees can be discharged, by a body which may or may not have taken evidence on the subject-matter of the reports. Paragraph 5 of the Special Report contains an explanation of the new duties. I find nothing in paragraph 5, or in any part of the Special Report, to tell us why it is necessary to empower the Co-ordinating Sub-committee to send for persons, papers and records, to adjourn from place to place, and to sit notwithstanding the adjournment of the House. I have nothing against the last two of those three additional powers, but I am unable to see why the Co-ordinating Sub-committee should have power to set itself up as a parallel body, equally empowered to take evidence, with the parent Committee and the investigating sub-committees. I hope that my hon. Friend will be good enough to say something about that.
I respectfully ask the House to look at Motions 3 and 4, which give power to appoint additional members of all the subcommittees. These will be roving members, if I understand the position aright. There will be five additional members of the Co-ordinating Sub-committee, who will have power to descend upon any investigating sub-committee, in small numbers or in large, up to the total number of five, and to engage actively, if they 1344 so desire, in the work of those investigating sub-committees. They would certainly be in a very powerful position. They are not to be taken into account for the determining of a quorum despite the existing order that a quorum should be not less than one-third of the total membership of committees. I confess that the hon. Member gave a very complete explanation of the reasons why he wanted that change. But mark this. These visiting, roaming members are to have a vote on this subject. Whereas you have four members of the investigating sub-committee who may have sat for months and travelled all over the country in order to arrive at their conclusions, they might find, when they came back to the committee room, that they were visited by five members of the Co-ordinating Sub-committee who could outvote, review and turn down all their recommendations.
I feel that the House ought to take the long view. There is no precedent to give us confidence that a system like this will work. I would ask the Chairman of the Committee certainly to give an assurance on these matters, and particularly in regard to the quorum. As far as I have been able to observe the proceedings of these Committees they are not to be punctilious in the matter of a quorum. There have been difficulties on occasion in obtaining a quorum, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether some of these sub-committees, small as are their numbers and their quorum, have ever sat and conducted official business without a quorum being present, or, if they have not, whether he can give an assurance that, as far as his authority goes, he will see to it that they do not sit without a proper quorum being present.
In asking the House to look at Motion No. 5, I find myself in some difficulty. I do not understand it. I tried last night and I tried this morning, but I have been unable to uncover the obscurity of Motion No. 5. The only conclusion to which I can come—and I have read it in the light of the explanation in the Special Report—is that it does not carry out the suggestion contained in paragraph 10 of the Special Report. If it does, I must confess my bewilderment. I will not go into that very complex proposal, but I would ask what the machinery for these general meetings is to be, and who is to take the chair, and how is he to be elected? I 1345 cannot hope to persuade the House to send these proposals back for further consideration, but I do not believe they are wise, or that all this new complexity is necessary or advisable. It will certainly take the procedure of the Select Committee outside the apprehension of most Members of the House.
Having said that, I want to give the House my last and strongest reason why I think, if the House gives these powers, they ought to be brought up again for reconsideration in the light of a short experience. Hitherto, as the Special Report there clearly says, these investigations have been conducted on the foundation of Departmental expenditure. All new investigations are to be conducted in increasing measure on the lines of what is called a horizontal experiment—that is, a thread of common subject runs through many different Departments and they want the investigating Sub-Committees to follow that thread to its end. Well, I am inclined to think—although I have never been in favour of the whispering criticism we hear from time to time that the Select Committee is exceeding its terms of reference—that some of the administrative difficulties in which we now find ourselves are due to the fact that the Select Committee may be taking too expansive a view of its terms of reference. I have read carefully paragraph 3 of the Report and I want the House to look carefully at the last sentence:There are, it will be understood, certain broad heads of expenditure which are common to several Departments and which are described therein as horizontal subjects for examination. As examples of such the economic use of labour and the construction of new works may be cited.That means the economic use of labour is to be a subject coming within the terms of reference to the Select Committee. But the economic use of capital equally can come within those terms. I am speaking only from the organisation point of view. In fact, the whole administration of industry can come within the terms of the Committee's reference. They can take up the question, "Is our industry so organised as to produce the economical results which we desire?" There is no limit whatever, because even the Government have said on this important point that the effective prosecution of the war is to be the sole criterion of whether the industry should be nationalised or not, so 1346 it is conceivable that even the Select Committee might find themselves with that bone of contention.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I will come to that in a minute. It is said that these proposals give greater fluidity to the organisation. What does that mean? Organisation is already very fluid. Its investigations flow into innumerable channels in ever smaller streams, and I think that in the area now being covered with such small organisation, the flow of inquiry looks like losing itself in the desert. That is the answer to my right hon. Friend. If I dislike the expansion of the powers of the Select Committee, it is not because I have any fear of them criticising the Government unduly, but I must confess that I am rather astonished that the Government have allowed this expansion of the Committee's powers. They will lead to broader inquiries and inquiries will not, in future, be related to Departments. I much prefer that inquiries should be related to Departments. That enables the House in Debate to focus more effectively on their reports than if they have to conduct these large horizontal abstract inquiries.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) interrupted to ask when the Reports of these Select Committees had been properly considered by the House. We know they have done an enormous amount of valuable work—work out of all proportion to the time which the House has found for the consideration of their Reports and out of all proportion to the weight which these Reports are receiving in Government Departments. The fruit has not been proportionate to the toil. I believe that if these proposals are carried out, the difficulty will not be lessened, but exacerbated. I consider that the Select Committee is already a piece of clogged machinery—active machinery, capable machinery, but entangling itself into too broad inquiries with an inadequate machine to organise them. In my view, the hon. Gentleman and his Committee would do a better service to themselves and the public purse if they confined their inquiries to the inspection of Departmental waste, which has been the traditional and effective task of the Select Committee on National Expenditure.
§ Mr. Brooke (Lewisham, West)
Perhaps, as one who, for the past two years and more, has had the honour of sitting under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) on the Select Committee, the House will allow me to say a few words in reply to the speech of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones). The hon. Member examined very closely the Report and the recommendations. He called special attention, for instance, in the action of the Select Committee in seeking power from the House to permit the new Co-ordinating Sub-Committee to send for persons, papers and records, to adjourn from place to place, and so on. I speak subject to correction, but my strong impression is that the old Co-ordinating Sub-Committee, which has existed in the last two Sessions, possessed those powers, given to it by the House, and therefore the House would be under a misapprehension if it supposed that in that respect any change was proposed.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
It is not in accordance with my recollection that the Co-ordinating Sub-Committee ever had powers to send for persons, papers, and records, at any rate until the last few months, when these new proposals were already being considered.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
The hon. Member is mistaken. The Co-ordinating Sub-Committee has always had these powers. What is probably in his mind is that the Sub-Committee has not used these powers because, if it confined itself entirely to the work of co-ordinating, it would not require them. There was always the possibility, and ocasionally the use, of these powers in making the Co-ordinating Sub-Committee part of the investigating section of the work.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen raised an interesting point when he suggested that the machinery of the Select Committee was already clogged, and that in attempting to extend the inquiries in a horizontal manner, it would only overload the machine still further. There are two points I would like to make in that connection. First, although I was not one of those who outstandingly advocated this change to a horizontal organisation, I had, from my previous experience as a member of the Sub-Committee over which the 1348 right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) ably presided in the last two Sessions, reached the conclusion, as I think he had, too, that there was important work for a horizontal Sub-Committee to do in dealing with such matters as the building programmes of the various Service Departments, all engaged to a large extent on much the same kind of work, with much the same kind of purpose, but work which could not be adequately and effectively brought under review by three separate Sub-Committees, each dealing with only one of the Services. I give that as a particular instance, but I think a powerful instance, of the work which is waiting to be undertaken by a horizontal inquiry. Secondly, if the hon. Member suggests that the machinery is clogged, he may be right to this extent, that the Select Committee does not consist of 75 Members as he stated, but of only 32, and most of those 32 Members are feeling somewhat overworked. But these recommendations, it appears to me, have been brought before the House in order to lubricate the machine—
§ Mr. Garro Jones
When I said 75, I did not mean 75, but 35. Therefore, my error was not more than two or three.
§ Mr. Brooke
It is my considered view now that this experiment—I am sure the hon. Member was quite right in his suggestion that the whole matter should be looked upon by the House as experimental—is worth making, and, if it does not bear fruit, then I think there is little doubt that the majority of Members on the Select Committee will vote for its abandonment. So far as I am aware, that is the way in which every Member of the Committee approached the subject, and there has been no feeling among its Members that something which is in any way unpleasant is being forced upon them. I understand, if these proposals are accepted by the House, that I have been nominated as one of those five suspicious characters to serve as additional Members of the Co-ordinating Committee. Frankly, I do not think that the majority of Members of the Select Committee would have agreed to bring forward these new proposals had they felt they were exposing their selves, in their Sub-Committee inquiries, to five individuals, such as myself, who, in the words of the hon. Member, would descend on any Investigating Sub-Committee and 1349 possibly out-vote it. The chance of outvoting I should have thought was negligible. I should like to put it on record—and in this I think I am speaking for the other four Members—that I shall regard my duty as in no way that of interfering with Members of the Investigating Sub-Committees who may have had a better opportunity than I to take evidence all round the country and to study the subjects in detail. More than one of the Members, already elected chairmen of the Investigating Sub-Committees, has definitely asked me to take an interest in the work of his Sub-Committee when it comes to deal with this or that subject on which he thinks I may be able to give assistance. I am sure that every one of the other four Members has been so approached. Therefore I hope that the hon. Member will not press his point in suggesting that any power of the Co-ordinating Sub-Committee to "review, co-ordinate, and direct" the work of the Investigating Sub-Committees will be abused.
Finally, the House will keep in mind that these proposals come forward to-day with the unanimous support of all Members of the Select Committee. So far as I know, there has been no division on that. Certainly there has been no sign of division on party lines. The hon. Member is absolutely right in insisting that the House and not the Committee should be the final judge of the way in which this work is carried on. These are proposals unanimously presented to the House to facilitate the furtherance of the work of the Select Committee. I hope that hon. Members will be convinced that they are put before them in good faith, and that when they have heard, as no doubt they will, detailed replies from the chairman of the Committee on some of the other points that have been raised they will give their approval.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
I should like to say a word or two on this interesting experiment of the Select Committee. I worked for two years on the Committee, and it was for a long time almost a full-time job. I do not think there has been a single occasion on which the House has shown sufficient interest to devote a day to discussing its work, therefore I could not see my way to continue on a Committee which got so little response from the House and practically 1350 none from the Departments. I can recall no action taken by any Department as the result of the Committee's Reports. We never got a reply in less than four months. If the Committee is to continue its very important investigations, which no Government Department could take on, and it is going to be four months before a Department even acknowledges it, what kind of committee is that in time of war? When I had to consider economy in the Departments I could not separate that from efficiency. You cannot separate efficiency and economy. Some of the fears expressed on this question are entirely covered by the last words in Section 1 of the Report, that any action must be subject to confirmation by the main Committee and the main Committee's Report must be confirmed by the House.
I want to ask the House to take some notice of these Reports and discuss them, and see that the Departments take some action. It is a very serious matter that no action worth talking of is being taken in any direction. There have been 46 Reports and one or two special ones, and not one has been discussed in the middle of the war, when we are spending £12,000,000 a day and the sole purpose of the Committee is to economise. I have given notice of a Motion asking for a discussion of the 25th Report, where the Government defend themselves and the Departments, and I would commend to hon. Members a careful consideration of that Report to see just what the Government profess to have done in response to the Committee's various Reports. After that I think they will find that the most important thing now is not just how the Committee is to do the work but what the House is going to do about it when it has done its work. I discussed the new method before I left the Committee. I was frequently asked to visit various committees. If I had knowledge of a subject, I was invited to help in the investigations. That has been the spirit of the Committee. There is no danger that anyone is going to use any undue influence. We frequently found ourselves making investigations which crossed right through the work of other Departments and committees. This idea of a Special Investigating Committee to deal with these horizontal investigations will be a great time-saver and of great assistance to the Committee, and I commend it to the House.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
With the leave of the House, perhaps I may answer one or two of the questions which my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) put to me. Some of them have been ably answered by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke). May I say a word about the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), whose loss through pressure of work in other directions the Committee deplores very much indeed? He spoke of the desirability of the Committee going back to the departmental system in course of time. I would emphasise that that is probably what will happen. The procedure of dealing on a horizontal basis with certain parts of our inquiries is definitely an experiment. We believe that it is necessary owing to the changed conditions of the war and that it will give the best results of our work to the House now, but it is quite likely that in time we shall return to the more ordinary procedure of a committee of this kind. My hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen spoke about the power delegated to the Co-ordinating Committee. In reality there are very few powers at all. The setting-up of the Co-ordinating Committee in previous Sessions came under the ordinary powers. The Committee set up other sub-committees, and there is very little that the Co-ordinating Committee is doing now in the sense of new work except that we are asking that Committee to make such necessary changes as there may be in the personnel of the sub-committees without always waiting for a meeting of the full Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards), whom we also regret to have lost from the Committee, for he did very valuable work upon it, has explained that everything done by the Co-ordinating Committee in this sense must be confirmed by the whole Committee within 21 days. The whole point in the question of changing personnel is that of saving time.
The power of sending for persons, papers and so on exists now as it always existed. Every sub-committee in the last two years has had it, and there is nothing new in the Co-ordinating Committee having the power.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
One of the most difficult things I have found in the last few weeks is to get these matters put upon the Order Paper in proper Parliamentary wording. I am informed that it was necessary to put it in that way. I would draw by hon. Friend's attention to the orders of reference as far back as 1940, when the House said that the sub-committees should have the power to send for persons and papers. The power has always existed. He asked me a much more definite question, which I can answer, about the difficulties of the full Committee in getting a quorum. In two and a quarter years I have never known of any case when there was any difficulty in getting a quorum for the full Committee, and I do not think he need worry about that point. The Committee may on occasions have had to wait a few minutes for a quorum, but that, of course, occurs everywhere.
In connection with the sub-committees, there has been, on the whole, little difficulty in getting a quorum. Occasionally there have been difficulties when, say, a sub-committee has met out of London to take part in investigations somewhere in the country. To begin with, not all the members of the sub-committee, perhaps only two or three or four at most, have gone, and then there has sometimes been a difficulty. Next he asked me the difficult question of whether a sub-committee had ever met without a quorum. My answer must be, as he would be the first to appreciate, that no sub-committee as such has ever sat without a quorum. I want to be perfectly frank, and I say that on occasions, though they have been very few, when a sub-committee has been busy and sitting in some distant part of the country, it may have been the case that through the illness or the absence from some other cause of other members of that sub-committee, the chairman may have sat alone; but in such a case he has not sat as the sub-committee and his evidence has not been taken as such for that reason. He has made such inquiries as he could and has reported to us.
Then the hon. Member spoke about the five new members. My hon. Friend behind has dealt with the point, but I do want to assure the hon. Member that there is not the slightest idea in the mind of 1353 any member of the Committee, and certainly not in mine, that these five additional members should ever descend upon a sub-committee and out-vote them. On the contrary, it is our hope that the five additional members will take different branches of work and devote themselves mainly to their particular subjects, but at the same time be able to visit the other sub-committees and so help us to co-ordinate the work. They, of course, have a vote, but so has every member of the Committee. In fact, I think I am right in saying that no chairman of a sub-committee would have the power to exclude any other member of the Committee who chose to be present from voting, and we do not expect any difficulty on that score. Then the hon. Member asked me who would take the chair at joint meetings. As a matter of fact, that point has always been arranged between the chairmen themselves.
He spoke, also, about "the economic use of labour" which is referred to in paragraph 2 of the special report as enlarging the scope of the Committee's work. It may be, again, that my wording is not very good, but that is not what was intended. That phrase was put in only to give an example of horizontal subjects which require examination. I need not explain to him, but perhaps in view of his remarks he will allow me to explain to the House, that that refers to Government work. We are concerned only with Government war expenditure. We are not concerned with the economic use of labour in private industry, any more than with the use of capital.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
But it does, I take it, include investigation into the labour employed upon Government contracts.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
Yes, anything that the Government are paying for, if it is war work. I should like to say, in conclusion, that I do not dissent in any way from what my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough said regarding the desirability of the House in its wisdom giving perhaps a little more time to the examination of some of the Reports of the Select Committee. Naturally, I am in entire agreement with him on that point, but it is not a matter for me, but solely a matter for the House. I do not altogether agree with him when he said that he did not think that these 1354 Reports had had any effect upon the Departments. I should think that is hardly the case, because, as he must be well aware, the most valuable part of the Select Committee's work must be done across the table. A good many of the things which the Committee investigate—a certain number, at any rate—are put right before they come before the House of Commons at all.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
Just to keep correct, I would say this: What I intended to say was that I could not recall any important action having been taken by any Department. That is just a little bit different.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I certainly shall not cross swords with the hon. Member about the matter. The more he can press that point of view the more in accord I am inclined to be. I do not admit for a moment, however, that the work of the Committee has had no effect upon Government Departments, because that is not the case. It is difficult to explain to hon. Members who do not serve on the Committee the full extent of the proposals. It is not intended to demand from the House any wider powers of reference of any kind. From our point of view, these are merely matters of procedure for the better carrying-out of the work which the House has entrusted to us.
That the Select Committee on National Expenditure have power to appoint a Co-ordinating Sub-Committee to review, co-ordinate and direct the work of the investigating Sub-Committees, and to refer to such Sub-Committee any of the matters referred to the Committee.
put and agreed to.
That the Co-ordinating Sub-Committee so appointed shall have power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House; and to adjourn from place to place; and shall report any evidence taken by them to the Committee.
That the Committee have power to give such Co-ordinating Sub-Committee power to alter the order of reference of any Sub-Committee, to appoint such further Sub-Committees as may seem to them desirable and to refer to such Sub-Committees any of the matters referred to the Committee, to nominate Members of the Committee for service on any Sub-Committee, to appoint the Chairman of any Sub-Committee, to discharge the members of any Sub-Committee and to
appoint others in substitution for those discharged: Provided that any action taken by the Co-ordinating Sub-Committee in the exercise of any of the powers referred to in this Order shall be invalid unless approved by the Committee within twenty-one days.
That where the Committee have nominated any Members of the Co-ordinating Sub-Committee to serve also as additional Members of all other Sub-Committees, the number of such additional Members shall not be taken into account for the purpose of determining the quorum of any Sub-Committee, nor shall any such additional Members be counted for the purpose of establishing the presence of a quorum at any meeting of a Sub-Committee.
That when two Sub-Committees sit jointly they shall constitute a single Sub-Committee whose quorum shall be one-third (any fraction counting as a whole number) of the total number of persons (exclusive of additional members) who are either Members of both Sub-Committees or Members of one or other Sub-Committee only."—[Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne.]