§ Sir John Wardlaw-Milne (Kidderminster)
I beg to move,That the Sixteenth Report from the Select Committee on National Expenditure in the last Session of Parliament, on Organisation and Control of the Civil Service be now considered.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Report considered accordingly.640
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I beg to move,That this House recommends the Report from the Select Committee on National Expenditure on Organisation and Control of the Civil Service to the consideration of His Majesty's Government.The House will see that this Report covers a wide field in connection with the organisation and control of the Civil Service, and its expenditure. The examination by the Committee of the cost of Departmental establishments and the great expansion caused by the war have of necessity involved a survey both into the past methods of recruitment and organisation and also into the methods which it would be wise to pursue for the future. The House will also readily appreciate the impossibility of completely separating the examination of Government staffs, thus inflated by the necessities of war, from a consideration of the whole structure of the organisation and a study of the arrangements which exist for watching over and promoting the efficient organisation of the Service as a whole. This has led to an examination of the various recommendations which, since 1915, have been made by a series of Royal and other Commissions set up to investigate these problems. Proceeding on this basis, your Committee deal, in paragraph 56 of the Report and onwards, with the extent to which the advice which various Governments have received has been adopted—or perhaps it would be more correct to say the extent to which the advice has not been adopted, because, in reality it will be found that very few of the recommendations which have been made by those various Commissions have been put into operation at all.
Leaving aside for a moment less important matters, all of which, however, your Committee think are of importance, it may be said that the main recommendations in this Report deal with four matters: the necessity for staff audits as soon as may be reasonable when Departmental staffs have settled down after the rapid expansion of various Departments; the appointment of an officer at the head of each of these Departmental organisations to supervise methods and efficiency in each Ministry and to be directly responsible to the permanent head of each Department; thirdly, a new appointment as head of the organisation and methods division at the Treasury; and fourthly, reorganisation of the central control. 641 There, I would ask the House to note, the Committee have not followed the suggestions which have been made from time to time that the control of the Civil Service should be removed from the Treasury to a new Department, a newly-set-up organisation. The Committee have not approved of that change. They believe that the control should remain in the hands of the Treasury, but they do envisage the appointment of a new Parliamentary Secretary at the Treasury who should be exclusively concerned with the machinery of government.
These may be the main recommendations, but there are some other points which I desire to bring to the notice of the House. One of the important matters raised by your Committee is definitely stated by them to be beyond the question of war expenditure and administration, and that is the suggestion for the setting-up of a Civil Service staff college. The arguments in favour of this are fully set out in the Report. The other point which is worth bringing specially to the notice of the House in these introductory remarks is that your Committee make a special point of the suggestion that there should be a continual review of the machinery of government by Parliament itself. They propose that this should be done by the setting-up each Session by this House of a Select Committee charged with the duty of satisfying itself that the work of the Executive is being carried out efficiently and economically. I would like to explain that, unlike the Public Accounts Committee, whose valuable work is mainly to ascertain that the money voted by Parliament has been properly spent, the proposed new Select Committee would have the duty of seeing that the public service was provided with efficient and economic machinery to carry out its work. The details of this proposal and the reasons for it are clearly set out in the Report.
I would bring only one special point to the notice of the House. It is not suggested that the proposed Select Committee should in any way encroach upon the responsibility of the Executive for training and administrative efficiency. The function of the Select Committee would be to inquire, to observe, if necessary to criticise, and to submit the results of their inquiry to the House. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of 642 the Exchequer told the House on Tuesday that we were now spending £14,000,000 a day. None of us knows how long that expenditure may have to continue. We do not know whether we are dealing with periods of months or periods of years. But one thing was perfectly clear to the members of the Select Committee—I think I may say that there is not in the Committee one dissentient from this view—and that is that the only true economy in connection with this huge expenditure of money is efficiency. The whole object of the Report is to try to secure efficiency in the performance of the tremendous task which the Civil Service has to undertake at the present time.
I noticed a statement recently in the Press to the effect that we had 1,000,000 civil servants in this country to-day. I have no idea whether that figure is accurate or not, but I have no doubt that the number must be very large. Many of us may occasionally feel a sense of annoyance, frustration and impatience at the very deliberate methods by which the Civil Service carries out its tasks and the apparent impossibility sometimes of civil servants making up their minds and taking prompt decisions. At the same time there is throughout the country a strong appreciation of the high standards of the permanent Civil Service and of its devotion to duty. The whole country is very proud of the Civil Service's record of strict integrity. The Select Committee approached the problems which are dealt with in this Report in no spirit of carping criticism but with a full realisation of the immensely greater responsibilities and duties which are being borne by the Civil Service as a result of the war and with an anxiety to help the Service to achieve the best possible results in the altered circumstances of to-day.
As the House already knows from published documents, a Sub-committee of the Select Committee was specially engaged in taking evidence on this matter. It consisted of my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), who was the Chairman, and my hon. Friends the Members for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild), Bolton (Sir E. Cadogan), and Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson). I know that the other members of the Select Committee will desire to join me in paying a tribute to the members of that 643 Sub-committee for their industry and care. I have summarised very shortly the principal matters referred to in the Report, and I have dealt with them perhaps rather sketchily, because I understand that, subject to your approval, Mr. Speaker, this proposition is to be seconded by my hon. Friend who acted as Chairman of the Sub-committee, and I have no doubt he will deal in more detail with these proposals. I would only say in conclusion that the proposals put forward in the Report have met with the unanimous approval of the Select Committee and that they would wish me to ask the House, as I do now, for favourable consideration of the Report and for support of its recommendations.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I beg to second the Motion.
This House has debated on many occasions great problems connected with the war. The questions of man-power and of the production of munitions and of the war situation in general have been discussed time and time again. But I think this is the first occasion on which the Civil Service has been the subject of a Debate in the House since the war started. Yet the Civil Service is the pivot on which the whole management of the war and of war production really turns, and if that pivot had been weak or had failed, I am certain this country would have come to disaster. When, after the war, we come to assess the parts played by various sections of the community, it may be that the modesty and the silence of this great Service will leave it unrecognised. I think it ought to be said now that the Civil Service, perhaps not less than any other Service, has rendered one of the great contributions to our war effort and has helped in bringing us to the position in which we are to-day, looking towards victory, I hope, in the near future. That has been due, as my hon. Friend the Mover said, largely to the integrity of the Civil Service, to its great accuracy, and to its conscientiousness.
If, at times, criticisms are made of the Civil Service, I am sure those criticisms are not directed towards the personnel of the Service or their ability. They are directed rather towards the organisation and towards the ideas that have so far governed its working. The House of Commons requires that the Civil Service 644 should carry out its instructions. The Service has to be loyal to the Ministers. I think we must place the responsibility where is belongs, and it is my belief and opinion that where a Minister knows what he wants, there is never any difficulty in getting the Civil Service to carry out the job.
The Sub-committee of the Select Committee to which reference has been made approached this investigation, therefore, not with any idea of looking for faults or of discovering scandals. It is true that the inspiration of our investigation arose from many whisperings and suggestions that in the Civil Service there were overlapping, duplication, and waste of skill. The Civil Service has grown from about 370,000 to something like 670,000 by the addition of temporary civil servants, and we decided first to carry out some kind of investigation on the lines of Sir William Beveridge's inquiry into the use of skilled men in the Forces. On approaching this question, we discovered to our satisfaction that the Government had anticipated us and had set up a committee—several committees in fact, but one, especially, under the chairmanship of Sir James Rae, which had already been working on this problem. Since we have heard so much about Sir William Beveridge, I think a tribute should be paid publicly to the splendid work done by Sir James Rae and those who assisted him in those inquiries.
We thus saw that what we required to do was not so much to investigate, ourselves, the question of waste of labour in the Civil Service, which, indeed, it would have been impossible for us as a Committee to do, but to inquire first into the machinery existing in the Government itself for ensuring that efficiency was maintained. From that arose this inquiry, made quite objectively, in the course of which there was thrown up the solution of the very problems with which we were concerned. We first asked, "How is the Civil Service recruited?" We found, as explained in the Report, that the Civil Service Commission had gone out of business during the war as far as the appointment of permanent civil servants was concerned, but that they still assisted in the background and guided the Ministry of Labour in the appointment of temporary civil servants, the Ministry of Labour having become the main body of recruitment.
645 At the beginning of the war, admittedly, a great many people were brought into the Civil Service in the emergency without a close scrutiny of their qualifications, and many blunders were made, but we were satisfied that, by the time we came to make our inquiry, the number of such cases had been reduced, both by the Ministry of Labour and by the Government, as the result of a more systematic examination of those admitted to the Service. Recruitment, we found, was made from all sections of the population. If I may anticipate two points which arise later in the Report, our main criticism in regard to the higher appointments—the management of works and the management of Departments in the Civil Service—was that we thought rather too much stress was placed on academic qualifications. I spent 25 years in the engineering industry. It is true that that industry in Scotland is in smaller units than those which exist in some parts of England, the Royal Ordnance factories, for example.
I think that that is an advantage, and I think that the Government themselves realise that some of the very enormous factories which have been established have been a mistake from the point of view of administration. A man, perhaps one of the most experienced, in managing the big factories has said he is convinced that a factory of over 5,000 employees becomes almost impossible to manage efficiently. The engineering industry in Scotland has been built up very largely by men who served their apprenticeship perhaps as premium apprentices going from fitting shop to turning shop, to foundry and pattern shop, then to drawing office while in the meantime doing their studies at night schools, and outside agencies, taking their certificates as technicians, gradually qualifying in the school of experience, and eventually becoming men of stature in the engineering industry. At the end of the last war, during which many academic people had been brought in, when crises came and the engineering industry had to save itself, the poor academic recruits were pitched out again, and firms kept the men who had qualified in the school of experience. I take that as a tribute to the practical value of these men. I am not decrying Cambridge engineering degrees, but the tendency of Government recruitment has been to place far too 646 much stress on the academic side and neglect people who have qualified in the school of experience.
In the Civil Service we have to deal with a similar problem. The Civil Service has grown up rather like Topsy, and there is a tendency to divide it into strata, and it is very difficult for people to move from the lower to the higher strata. The inference is that the people who come in on the top floor from the academic side have far better and bigger brains than the people who come in at the bottom. That may be so, but not necessarily. It is very often a matter of the temperament of the boy. There are certain boys whose inclination is to study academic theory, and they will go on until they become academically proficient. Other boys, despite anything their parents may say, are so full of energy that they insist on going to work at the earliest possible moment, and they may enter the Civil Service on a low level full of energy. At the moment the size of the Civil Service blankets them, and there is no way up the ladder except in exceptional circumstances. Therefore, the Committee think, and have recommended, that the best people of all kinds should have the right to rise to the highest posts in the Civil Service. The Chancellor will no doubt tell me that people like Sir Horace Wilson and many others have risen from being boy clerks to the top of the Service. That is true, but we have to realise that these strata become like a crust that cannot be broken through, and some way must be found whereby the best in all branches of the Civil Service is utilised for the benefit of the nation. We examined the Ministry of Labour, and we made this recommendation, that in recruiting people for these higher posts they should keep in mind the existence of these reservoirs of men trained in the school of experience who have not been given the chance they ought to have in this war of being brought into the Civil Service.
After the last war the firm of Beard-more dismissed a whole army of managers, men with technical experience, and these men even now are probably running quite little engineering shops somewhere, and many of them could be recruited for more important jobs. We passed from recruitment to see what steps there were to ensure that the personnel recruited was not wasted. The first step 647 was to examine Sir James Rae's Committee. This committee and Sir James Rae had, we found, adopted an idea which I had recommended as desirable to our Select Committee as a result of an experience at the very beginning of its work. It is impossible for a committee to do detailed investigation in great industries and the Civil Service. Therefore the Government, not because I suggested it, but because the same idea had struck them and Sir James Rae, appointed assessors. He brought in men who were skilled in various industries, men of standing, and appointed them to go into these industries and various branches of the Civil Service and find out how this labour which had been recruited was being utilised. I want to pay a tribute to the work done by these men in seeing that the higher technical labour recruited to the Civil Service has been properly utilised. Some reports are quoted in our Report which hon. Members can consult.
We then passed to the question of what machinery there was for con-trolling the Civil Service. We found two kinds of control—Departmental control and Treasury control. The Topsy-like growth of the Civil Service is exemplified in the manner by which there was Departmental independence, and only a gradual coming into being of anything like Treasury control. This is one of the problems which face the House to-day, this question of the necessity for maintaining Ministerial responsibility for a Department with the consequent responsibility of the Permanent Secretary for the running of that Department, and yet somehow or other getting some Government authority to supervise all the Departments and see that to some extent they work in harmony and along the same lines and principles. Therefore, it is a question for some kind of compromise and its necessary machinery. The Treasury have only gradually been able to secure some kind of co-ordinating control. That has been largely by the power of the purse, and it is this, of course, which causes irritation and which gives rise to many troubles and resentment about the control of the Treasury over the Civil Service, and we in our recommendation have tried to solve this dilemma. We believe it would be quite wrong to set up a new Ministry to run 648 the Civil Service. I think that would be adding a third wheel to the cart, and would be wasteful and quite unnecessary, because, whether we like it or not, the whole machinery of government must work through the financial machinery and co-ordinating machinery of the Treasury, and that cannot be done away with. This being so, the Committee think that that machinery should be made use of. If there are not to be a separate Minister and Ministry governing the Civil Service, the question would arise, whether we would get that freedom from what is regarded as the parsimonious control of the Treasury over the Civil Service and whether we could get instead a harmonious control of the Service?
We recommended therefore that within the Treasury a separation can be made which divides the money side from the machinery of government side. We start from the fact that the Prime Minister, as head of the Government, is the First Lord of the Treasury, and suggest that within the Treasury, which is theoretically responsible to him, there shall be a part of the Department, or an aspect of its work, which would be clearly responsible entirely for the control of the machinery of government. That Department, we suggest, ought to have an Under Minister to whom civil servants could look as being independent of the money side of the Treasury, for the control of the machinery of an organisation of nearly 700,000 people, probably the biggest administrative organisation in the world, yet which has no official head except the accidental head who comes as a result of Treasury control. The Treasury has certain statutory rights of controlling terms of service and laying down rules of recruitment which we mention in the Report. It may be that this would avoid the necessity for a separate Department, and it would give a feeling to the Treasury that the Prime Minister was responsible. Moreover, although the Chancellor may not like it, there is a feeling that the Minister at the Treasury is the equal of the Ministers in other Departments and that the Permanent Head of the Treasury is the equal of other Departments, and there is a little diffidence about accepting any feeling of a subordinate position or of inferiority to any other Department. Moreover, the Permanent Head can 649 always say, "My Minister is responsible to Parliament for running the machine."
We recommend that under the Prime Minister there should be this machine and a Second Secretary responsible for the machinery of Government and that that Second Secretary should have two Departments, one responsible for organisation and methods and the other responsible for establishments. Perhaps it may be convenient to deal first with the second point. We found that a Department set up originally to look after typewriters and machines in Government offices had developed into an organisation for ensuring efficiency and the adoption of modern methods in Goverment Departments. It was very small, because the number of people who specialise in this work in the country is small, and at first it worked tentatively, but the Committee were very impressed by the excellent work accomplished by that Department. It has, however, so far only tickled the surface of the problem, so to speak. Therefore we are not recommending something of which the Government do not approve. We are saying to the Government that they have done very well to the extent that they have gone, but that it has not gone far enough. We recommend that this should become an established part of the machinery of Government for ensuring efficiency throughout the whole Civil Service.
There must be authority given to the Treasury to supervise the work. We had an example of experts being sent to one Department which grew into a very big Department to see whether they could assist in improving methods and organisation, and in due course a report was presented. By chance the Permanent Secretary got to know about it, and he bundled the Treasury officials out of his Department, saying, "This is my kingdom; don't you show your nose in here." It is obvious that that cannot be allowed. While the Minister is the head of his Department, nevertheless it should be the business of the Prime Minister and his Department to ensure that there is no waste inside other Departments. Otherwise a Minister would be able to inflate his own Department to any extent he liked or to which the House would allow him money, and no one could check what he was doing. Then we come to another problem of organisation and methods. We 650 think it is important that it should be recognised that the questions of efficiency and organisation should be dealt with before the filling of the jobs. In other words, if you plan well, there will not be so many jobs to fill, whereas if you plan ill, the establishment officer will have more jobs to fill. We say that the man at the head should be called the Director of Organisation and Methods, and that establishment should play second fiddle to that essential first point.
Then a further problem arises. At the present moment nobody has any right to say that Departments are doing the same job and duplicating the same work. There is no one to clear that up. So far as we can see, it is possible, for example, for a working-class home consisting of grandfather, father, mother and children to have nine different investigations as to the income of their home, some by inspectors from the local authority and some from the State. On the face of it that is absurd. Therefore we suggest that some Department must have authority to conduct an inquiry into the multiplication of these investigations and to say, "We must cut all this cackle and get one investigation." I do not think even the Beveridge Report, though it may solve many problems, will solve this particular one. It is one which I recommend to the Treasury for solution. There is another example. The Treasury may have to investigate the affairs of a firm, and the Board of Trade may send its "G" men to investigate the books of the same firm next day. The result might be that both might be initiating prosecutions at the same time. There should be some co-ordination of the investigating agencies of the Government. Many of the investigations are concerned with Government expenditure, and I think a good deal of influence could be brought to bear on the local authorities to bring this about.
Another trouble is that while the civil servant is anxious to be as efficient as possible, he does not always know where to get knowledge of what is efficiency. The civil servant very largely picks up his knowledge of how to work after entering the Service. He looks around him to see how things are done, and in very few cases has he a background of experience to enable him to check up what is being done. Many civil servants do not know whether they are working in an 651 efficient way or not. The Committee think the time has come when he should have some way of finding whether he is efficient, and therefore we recommend some kind of staff college, so that the civil servant can know not only how the Civil Service works but how business works, and get some experience of the outside world. My hon. Friend has suggested that the establishment of a staff college should stand over until after the war. I do not think that is necessary. When a staff college is mentioned some people visualise some great building where civil servants will go to sit on velvet cushions for 12 months while they engage in academic study. That would be the worst kind of staff college. A staff college does not need a large building.
What is wanted is a director of studies to decide how people in the Civil Service could gain experience. There is no reason why they should not use the services of some of the big firms. In spite of the common idea that the Civil Service alone have to learn from the big firms, I am satisfied that the big firms could learn from the Civil Service. Experience shows that the real danger is that some of the big firms would pinch the civil servants, but you have to risk that. Let us take the Ministry of Labour. Is there any reason why a civil servant who comes from the university on to the top flat of the administrative grades should not go down into the kitchen, to find out how the Civil Service touches the ordinary public? If he does that and then goes back upstairs, he will know the problems that he is dealing with. There are so many experiences inside the Civil Service itself from which people can learn, without any building. In that way the civil servant could gather experience and become mote broad-minded, and in some cases more sympathetic. We, therefore, recommend that this Organisation and Methods Department should be set up in each Ministry of any size; that there should be a common one in the Treasury, for the supervision and the help of all Departments; and that they should work in common.
We also recommend that the people in them should circulate. They should not stay still for ever. Even the best of people get into a rut. By moving about, as Income Tax inspectors do, they will 652 carry their experience around to all Departments; and even the Treasury might benefit from experience gained in the Departments. The smooth running of any machine causes a disinclination to change. Nobody likes to disturb the machine when it is going well. We often forget in regard to production that smooth running means stagnation. There is a temptation to get a machine running smoothly, and to leave it undisturbed. The Committee felt that disturbance was not likely to come from inside the Civil Service. The general theory is that we ought to have business men coming along and telling the Civil Service every now and again how they ought to run their organisation. But I Was 25 years in private enterprise; I have known a great many civil servants; and I am not of opinion that in private business the standard of efficiency is any higher than in the Civil Service. I have seen business men just as stupid as any civil servants could be alleged to be. Some successful business men have just been successful gamblers. Their success has been due more to luck than to good methods. Sir Ernest Benn, who writes in defence of private enterprise, failed, I think, in one or two of his own enterprises to start with. Yet he lectures the Civil Service. [An HON. MEMBER: "He has been very successful."] But he started off on the foundations laid by his father before him. If a civil servant fails, the Minister has to stand at that Box and eat humble pie. He never can fail. He has to rise to a standard never demanded of a business man. The business man can cover up his mistakes by the next gamble.
Where is this impetus to come from that is going to direct the Civil Service forward in progress? We are of opinion that it ought to come from the House of Commons. One of the difficulties is that nobody can speak to the permanent head of a Department from within the Civil Service without infringing the independence of that Department, and so causing loss of face—which is a difficulty not confined to the Chinese. But we found out that we could examine the head of a Department with friendliness and helpfulness, and without any resentment being caused; and that we could even examine the hierarchy of the Civil Service, and have no resentment. But it is not the business of a Committee dipping here and there to perform an investigation of that kind. We recommend that the House of Commons 653 should supervise, and that it should instil into the Civil Service this breath of fresh air from outside. We recommend a Select Committee. It could take the place of the Estimates Committee, which, I understand, was appointed originally for a purpose of this kind, but which has not succeeded in carrying out that function. We considered whether the job could be put on the Estimates Committee, but our investigation convinced us that it would be better to have a new Committee, even if you then forgot to appoint the Estimates Committee in future—in fact, it is a sort of side recommendation that you would not have both Committees.
We recommend an assessor to assist the Committee, particularly as we have found an assessor helpful to us, and as even the Treasury found it useful under Sir James Rae—and we are happy to learn, even from the Treasury. There is a fear that this assessor would go about interfering with the work of the executive Departments. That is not necessary. The Comptroller and Auditor-General does not interfere with the executive work; he simply audits. This assessor would simply make it his business to know what is going on in the Civil Service, and to bring to the attention of the Departments such points as were necessary. The Select Committee need not report to the House of Commons unless there is something to report about. It will have the function of just asking questions and keeping the machinery moving in the direction of ever better and higher standards. Let me give one example of the value of such a Committee. Our own Select Committee has presented Reports to the House of Commons from time to time. I have been on it from the beginning; and while these Reports have performed a valuable service, they are only a small fraction of the service that this Committee has performed to the country during the war. The very fact that we were there, and that we were asking questions, has had a salutary effect on the machinery of production in the country. A prominent person wrote to us calling attention to what he regarded as a great production scandal. We naturally intimated that in due course it would be looked into. A month later we had an urgent letter from him, saying, "For God's sake come and look into it, because they have got word that the Select Committee is coming down, and unless you 654 come immediately the whole thing will be cleared up."
I would recommend very earnestly to the Government that they do not throw away this idea of a Select Committee because it might interfere with the Treasury, or because some permanent head thinks it might interfere with him. We have discussed this idea with all the suitable people we could find. The Chancellor, during the Debates on the War Damage Bill, said, "This is the best we can think of, and unless you can think of something better you must take this." If this is not the best idea that can be produced, we shall be glad to hear of a better one; but something must be done to bridge the gap between the Departments, and to bring in a breath of fresh air, which is not just interference from busy-bodies or anybody else. We ask the House to accept this Report, not as an indictment of the Civil Service, but to ensure the proper use and maximum efficiency of one of our greatest key services. The time has come when there should be conscious planning and direction for further development. The whole machine should be co-ordinated to get a harmonious whole, and at the top there should be some responsible officer of the Government to whom the Civil Service can look for fair treatment and just decisions and to represent them in the inner circles of the Government itself. We therefore recommend this Report, not only to the House but to the Government, in the hope that they will see their way to carry out some of the recommendations.
§ Mr. Magnay (Gateshead)
I have considered this Report very carefully—as I hope other Members have done—and I have read the two days' Debate in another place. It seems to me that the position is entirely different from what it was when the Committee's Report was presented, in the light of that illuminating Debate. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) say that he wanted to thank the Civil Service for what they have done in these dreadful times. I am sure we all echo that. As he was the Chairman of the Sub-committee, I would like to congratulate him on the presentation of this Report. We are much obliged to our Select Committees for what they do in the service of the House. It is easy, however, for these 655 Select Committees to take on extraordinary powers in their own minds, and to think that they are select in more senses than one, and that the preponderance of the brains of the House is incarnate in them. No doubt the Report and its detailed recommendations will be carefully considered by the powers-that-be in the Civil Service. I hope so. But I hope—and this is an unpopular thing to say—that they will hasten slowly. [An HON. MEMBER: "You can depend on that."] Speed is the motto of the age, but there are some things in regard to which you must not exceed the speed limit. Anybody with any sense at all can draft plans, but personnel—the most serious and imponderable thing about these plans—has to be very carefully considered and selected. The plans will never come to fruition unless the personnel is suitable. I hope that the Treasury, the predominant partner in the Civil Service, will see that every recommendation in the Report is carefully considered, and that the personnel selected is suitable.
I would like specially to thank not only the permanent staff of the Civil Service for what they have done, but the experts who have been brought in to assist the recruitment for the Civil Service, and who, by their expert and invaluable assistance, have made it possible for vast and complicated problems to be solved. But the number of such experts available is, I should imagine, strictly limited, and the Committee would appear to be right when they are considering that point in contemplating, in paragraph 120, that selected civil servants should be trained as organisation officers in order to supplement what is possible in the way of recruitment from outside, so that Parliament and the Civil Service will be ready to meet the tremendous problems that will confront us when victory has been achieved.
The main reason why I have risen to speak on this subject is because I am most concerned about the recommendation of the Committee in paragraph 125, that there should be a new Select Committee to conducta continuing review of the machinery of government with special reference to the economic use of personnel.I am not under-estimating the speech of the hon. Member for East Stirling. 656 I am sure he will agree, when I say that the appointment of this new Select Committee was the main theme of his remarks. Frankly, I do not like it at all. I am very jealous of the rights of the House of Commons, and I fear the delegation of the powers of the House to committees, Select or otherwise, to this new soviet—for that is what it is in effect. I am not enamoured of soviet government at all. It is against the political conscience of our people and against the prestige and traditions of this House, of which, I repeat, I am very jealous. This new soviet, with its assessor head, would go a-roaming into all departments and inevitably sap and undermine the authority of the Ministers and their chief administrators. In addition to that—and this perhaps is just as serious as the other—there would be the further danger of a weak or easygoing or incompetent Minister sheltering behind the Committee. When we in this House brought him to task for his in-competency or his easy-going methods, he could easily get up and say, "You are responsible for this Committee. They came snooping into my Department and said that they had this to do and that they had the authority of Parliament and were not an ordinary committee but a Select Committee of very important people specially chosen for their business and organising experience." The Minister would get up on that bench and say that, and what an easy get-out it would be. What a perfect shock-absorber that Committee would be for an incompetent and easygoing Minister in charge of a Department.
I want the House to remember that this is not a war-time measure. It is to be an integral part of the machinery of this House, and, when once they dig their toes in, these Select Committees will want some getting out. We have had an Estimates Committee and a Public Accounts Committee. I have been a member for some time of both these Committees of this House, but I had to leave them because, not being a bird of passage in my constituency, it was impossible for me to attend. I have been part of Gateshead for 40 odd years, and I go back to my constituency every week-end, and intelligent people come to see me and want an intelligent answer on these things. Therefore I could not do justice to these Committees, and I had to resign. I am not a thought reader, but I have watched the 657 heads of different Departments come for examination, "sweating on the top line" as we say in the North, and all hot and bothered. They were responsible for administration, the Minister for policy. We have had birds of passage on that Front bench, different Ministers, singing, "Oh, for the wings of a dove, that I might fly away and be at rest."
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
Is it not true that these birds of passage have changed the colour of their plumage rather frequently?
§ Mr. Magnay
That shows that, like the chameleon, they have to take up the colour of their environment. That is something that my scientific friends will appreciate. They come here and do the best they can, and they will not let their chief down, because they alone are responsible for administration. Policy is a matter for the Minister. We are very jealous of that. It is very questionable whether the arguments in favour of this proposal and the comparison with the Public Accounts Committee, as set out in the Report, are as clear-cut as they suggest. The special position of the Select Committee in war-time is understood by all, but that position, like that of the Public Accounts Committee, is founded upon this House's control of the purse. I will tell you who is boss in any house, whether it is the master or the mistress. It is the one who is in charge of the purse, and the Treasury, everyone will agree, must be in charge of the Civil Service. Those who followed the Debate in another place will remember that for the last 20 years the head of the Treasury has been the head of the Civil Service. The Lord Chancellor laid that down decisively the other week. It must be so. That constitutional practice must be upheld by this House. If we have a Committee that goes a-roaming all over the place, it will be bound to sap and undermine the authority of the Minister concerned and certainly of the Civil Service.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Will the hon. Member say which part of the Report gives the Committee power to go a-roaming all over the place?
§ Mr. Magnay
It is taken for granted. If you give a man the right and power of an assessor, you can reasonably assume that he is a competent man and a man of authority and address. He will go 658 about with the authority of this House and will not need to be told that two and two make four and that all the rest is nonsense. He would know that all these fundamental things would be considered before he was appointed to his high office. He would be bound to go to the different Departments and make what we accountants call a check audit. You have not the time in these days to go right through every invoice, but you search through different periods and make a general review of the accounts of the office with which you are dealing. The assessor would have the right to go from Department to Department and upset the whole atmosphere in the office. Some might say that that might be all to the good and might quicken them up, but in other cases it might interfere with the policy of the Minister. These people, the Select Committee, would come in with the authority of this House and go hither and thither. I suggest most strongly that we must be careful and very jealous of the rights and prerogatives of this House, and not allow anything to come between it and the Minister. Let him stand on his own feet.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Surely, the hon. Member is getting away from the Report altogether. The Report deals with the organisation of the Civil Service and not with the policy of the Minister. That is the fundamental flaw in the hon. Member's argument and vitiates the greater part of the speech to which I have been listening. I have been waiting until he came to the point of limiting it to the Report. He has failed to do that, and therefore has failed to make a speech which, under strict ruling, would come within the Rules of Order.
§ Mr. Magnay
I will read the paragraph concerned:Your Committee are satisfied that the detailed and continuing review of the efficiency and organisation of the Civil Service is not a function which can be fully and permanently discharged as a part of the necessarily wide activities of Select Committees on National expenditure.The detailed and continued review of everything. I may be wrong and stand to be corrected, but these people are not going to be stopped from asking questions that might lead up to another avenue of examination. Accountants and auditors like myself act that way. We get a line from something which is not said as well 659 as from what is said. We feel that there may be something behind an evasion, and we proceed to prosecute inquiries. We find out more about what is wrong by that means than by any other means. The duty of the assessor is to assess on things appertaining to the Civil Service, but we must be very careful. While we thank the Select Committee for bringing this carefully and properly considered Report to the attention of the House, we take exception—I do, at any rate, to this proposal. That is the only reason why I as an old civil servant for a short time, 25 years ago, have taken this line, realising that Civil servants have to stand all sorts of criticism which cannot be answered by them. When we say we are much obliged to them—and that means more than lip service—we endorse the integrity and ability of these men, who cannot answer for themselves, and I, as an old civil servant, am fortunate in having been able to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and put in a plea for them. They are not such duds after all.
§ Mr. Craik Henderson (Leeds, North East)
I find myself much in agreement with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay). I would like to congratulate the Mover and Seconder on the very able way in which they have put forward this Motion. They have put it forward soberly, lucidly and skilfully. There is no doubt that this question of the Civil Service is one which interests the man-in-the-street at the present moment to an extraordinary degree. Indeed, I will go so far as to say that there is no subject on which the man-in-the-street is so much interested as in the Civil Service. From all quarters one hears stories of all kinds, and while we know that a great many of them are exaggerated and untrue, it is right that these questions should be looked into. Undoubtedly, there are many people who regard the civil servant as an individual clothed with a little brief authority, not too tactful and with not too much knowledge of business, interfering just now with every man, from the cradle to the grave, in his home and in his business. There are, of course, many tens of thousands, indeed hundreds of thousands, of new civil servants who have come into the Civil Service and some cannot be as tactful as they should be, nor are they 660 so experienced. That is not to be expected, but, like all others who have spoken in this Debate, I want to pay a whole-hearted tribute to the standards of the permanent Civil Service. They have a standard equal to that of any other service; in fact, the Civil Service of this country is unequalled in the world for its incorruptibility and its devotion to duty.
Sometimes there is criticism of lack of initiative in the Civil Service, but I think it impossible to contemplate the Civil Service possessing an enormous amount of initiative. The Minister is responsible to Parliament. Everything that is done is subject to control by committees, and it is inevitable that the civil servant should play for safety, and also inevitable that the Civil Service should not take the bit between its teeth. If it did, instead of getting greater efficiency we should get chaos. That is quite obvious. Of course, we do not want to encourage an excessive amount of safety first, and that is one of the points in connection with this Report which rather disturbs me. We are to set up an enormous number of people who are to supervise civil servants. We are to have, if these recommendations are accepted, an O. and M. organisation in the Departments and in the Treasury, we are to have a new Under-Secretary, a new Second Secretary and a new Parliamentary Secretary. Where is it all to end? In addition, we are to have a Committee of the House and an assessor. It seems to me that the civil servant will not be able to get on with his own work for answering questions he will get from committees, assessors, O. and M's and Departments. There is a point beyond which checks can be carried too far. We in this House have a great responsibility in being responsible for legislation which itself leads to bureaucracy, and I am glad that Orders and Regulations are being so carefully watched now, because undoubtedly they are the food and tonic of bureaucracy.
I have one very severe criticism to make later, but in the meantime I would like to take the main points of the Report and offer some criticisms on them now. All through this Report the suggestion is for increased staff. I am far from satisfied that you necessarily get increased efficiency by increasing your staff. I go no further than that, but I do think that in this Report there is a tendency to imagine 661 that by increasing committees and staffs you thereby lead to greater efficiency. I criticise the suggestion that you will get better organisation by appointing civil servants to become members of this O. and M. section in the Departments. The Committee recommend, quite rightly, that a good many of these people should be drawn from the Civil Service. I thoroughly approve of what they say about that, so far as the Treasury are concerned, but I am not at all satisfied about the necessity for a larger group in the Departments. New brooms sweep clean, and somebody going into a Department will suggest improvements, but where a man has been responsible himself for improvements you do not get that freshness of outlook, and it is doubtful whether, by appointing a civil servant in his own Department or another Department and tying him up to this particular Department, you will get that freshness of outlook. He will settle down. I would much prefer that the O. and M. section was centred in the Treasury and sent out from there to the various Departments.
You have in this Report suggestions for a large number of people with divided responsibility. Personally, I think that is thoroughly bad. The persons responsible must be the Minister in charge of the Department and his permanent head, with the Treasury holding a watching brief over all Departments. Apart from that, you are liable to get confusion and do damage. I intend now to use a quotation which I think is applicable to the views expressed by the Committee. It is:Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.It seems to me that that is very much the principle which the Select Committee have adopted. They set up a body, then set up somebody else to bite them, and so it goes on. An attack by fleas does not always have a desirable result.
Now I come to the most serious part, and that is that the Committee—entirely through an excess of zeal, I am sure—have mistaken their functions. The Select Committee was appointed to examine current expenditure defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament for the Defence Services, Civil Defence and for other services directly connected with the war and to report what, if any, economies 662 consistent with the execution of the policy decided by the Government may be effected therein. I will go through these recommendations in detail in a moment, but if you leave out the first six there is not one which falls within the Committee's remit. In every case the Committee are doing something for which this House gave neither authority nor sanction. It may be possible to pass that over, but there is a very important point involved. If this Committee had come into existence quite recently and had not had time to consider its powers, that could have been passed over, but it has been in existence a long time, and if their remit was not large enough their duty was either to keep within the terms of the remit or come to the House and ask for an enlarged remit. This Committee was to examine current expenditure directly arising out of the war—I ask the House to keep that in mind—and to report what, if any, economies consistent with the policy decided by the Government could be effected.
I want to consider now in what two main respects the Committee have completely disregarded their remit. I turn to the recommendations. This economy committee, instead of recommending economies, recommends further expenditure.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
Surely the hon. Member does not suggest that to get economy you necessarily have to reduce expenditure? You might very well have to increase expenditure to get economy.
§ Mr. Henderson
I am quite prepared to admit that in some cases it might be necessary to incur further initial expenditure in order to effect economies, but the hon. Gentleman will realise that that, is not all there is to this remit. It is definitely stated that the purpose of the Committee was to examine current expenditure de frayed out of moneys provided by Parliament for services connected with the war. When I come to the recommendations I will ask the hon. Gentleman to consider how many of them are current expenditures. I will go further and say that the Committee undoubtedly may have had at the back of their mind the fact that some of those measures might result in greater efficiency, but a great many of the proposals can have nothing to do with 663 economy. I propose to leave out the first six recommendations and deal briefly with, the further recommendations. Recommendation (7) is:At the head of each of the existing departmental Organisation and Methods Sections there should be placed an officer of wide experience and high standing…That would represent an increased charge. Recommendation (8) gives a clue to the whole thing, for it says:This officer's duties should also comprise the direction of the present Establishment Division, and he should be responsible for negotiations with the Treasury for increased expenditure on staff.As far as I am concerned, that is one of the most innocuous recommendations, but it does involve further expenditure and it has nothing to do with the consideration of—current expenditure defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament for the Defence Services, for Civil Defence, and for other Services directly connected with the war.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I appreciate the very novel point which the hon. Member is making, but the purpose of paragraph (8) is to check proposals for increased expenditure on staff. The point there is that unless somebody verifies that the machinery which is to require the increased staff is necessary, the increased expenditure may take place without a proper verification of its necessity.
§ Mr. Henderson
I accept the hon. Member's explanation, but what the recommendation says is that this officer should also—be responsible for negotiations with the Treasury for increased expenditure on staff.I leave the matter there. It is for the House to decide which is the correct interpretation. Recommendation (9) states:A newly appointed Head of Organisation and Methods and Establishments should review the present Departmental Organisation and Methods Staff in order to ensure its adequacy in size and authority.When one turns to the body of the Report, one finds that the matter is put a little more strongly; paragraph 94 states:It appears to Your Committee that at present some of the Departmental O. and M. Sections are inadequate both in size and authority.Obviously, again, there is the question of further expense and a larger staff. In 664 Recommendation (10), the Select Committee advise the setting up of Organisation and Methods Sections in every Department. Thus, where the Minister has decided in his wisdom that the expense is not necessary, the Select Committee, an economy Committee, say, "Go on, appoint a Section."
§ Mr. Henderson
I come now to one of the most remarkable recommendations, Recommendation (15), where the Committee suggest that a Second Secretary should be appointed at £3,000 a year and an Under-Secretary at £2,200 a year. In Recommendation (17), which is a very extraordinary recommendation to come from an economy Committee, there is a suggestion to the Government as to what the Government should consist of; it is suggested that there should be appointed a new Parliamentary Secretary, surely a matter for the Prime Minister. Recommendation (18) suggests that the scope of the Treasury Organisation and Methods Division should be enlarged. Recommendation (21) makes the remarkable suggestion that a Civil Service Staff College should be set up. Nobody with any regard for the English language can possibly maintain that that comes anywhere within the remit. There can be no justification for this recommendation. It has nothing to do with war expenditure. It has nothing to do with suggesting economies. It concerns the setting up of something for the future, a thing for which the Select Committee have not one iota of justification. With regard Recommendations (23) and (24), the Select Committee very graciously, in paragraph 125, say:Your Committee are satisfied that the detailed and continuing review of the efficiency and organisation of the Civil Service is not a function which can be fully and permanently discharged as a part of the necessarily wide activities of Select Committees on National Expenditure.That is a very remarkable statement. It shows a self-denying ordinance which the rest of the Report would hardly have led me to expect, because I have come to the conclusion that the Select Committee believed that there was neither in the Legislature nor in the Executive anything with which they could not interfere; in fact, that they were an omnibus Select Committee. If one turns to the remit, where 665 does this come in? Is it the examination of current expenditure defrayed out of moneys provided for services directly connected with the war, or is it reporting on what, if any, economies consistent with the execution of the policy decided by the Government may be effected? No, it is exactly the reverse; it is expenditure inconsistent with the policy of the Government. It is a very serious thing for the Select Committee, with a definite remit and after several years, to come forward—as I have said, I have no doubt it is a question of well-meaning zeal—and take such responsibility upon themselves. According to Recommendation (24), we are to have a permanent assessor, and although the Select Committee do not say it in the recommendation, they say in paragraph 128 that he is to have a small and efficient staff. We know that small and efficient staffs, although they probably remain efficient certainly do not remain small.
I am quite convinced that the result of all these proposals would be to add a very considerable charge to the Exchequer. It is a most remarkable thing that an economy Committee should bring forward these proposals. But it seems to me that the Committee go further and take a more remarkable step when they, an economy Committee, proceed to consider the whole machinery of Government, to advise on the setting up of a Parliamentary Secretary on a Select Committee and of deciding on the relationship of the Treasury to Departments, and so on. It is remarkable that the Committee, with the very limited remit which they have, should proceed to roam into every Department and consider the machinery of Government in its widest aspect. If the House is prepared to allow its remits to be treated in this way, a very serious situation will arise. It must be remembered that the Select Committee are expending the State's money on these inquiries without either the authority or sanction of the House. It will be a very serious thing indeed if Select Committees are allowed to disregard the definite instructions of the House. Clearly, it may have happened in the past that Committees may, by inadvertence, have gone slightly outside the boundaries laid down by the House. I do not remember any examples, but it is possible that it may have happened. What is remarkable in 666 this instance is that the Select Committee, with a very clear remit, have claimed powers which are obviously and unmistakably quite beyond anything that was committed to them. Clearly, they were entrusted by the House with the duty of examining current war expenditure. By the way, with regard to that phrase, if anybody doubts what the Committee recommend, let him read paragraphs 114 and 115 and ask himself how much they have to do with current war expenditure. Paragraph 114 reads:It can, however, hardly be doubted that at a time which may not be far distant the problem of the distribution of Government services will have to be comprehensively tackled. It will indeed be inseparably bound up with the decisions, whatever they may be, concerning the extent and nature of Government control after the war."After the war." Is that current expenditure? The paragraph goes on:It is Your Committee's belief that the beginnings of such provision might at once be made within the reorganised Treasury, in order that, when the time for action comes, there may be ready an orderly collection, of data at the service of those by whom the decisions will have to be taken.Paragraph 115 reads:In the last three paragraphs emphasis has been laid on the preparations for post-war planning.If any hon. Member can say that those references have anything to do with current expenditure, I shall be very surprised. Clearly, the Select Committee, entrusted by the House with the duty of examining current war expenditure and reporting on what, if any, economies could be made consistent with Government policy, have expended public money on something entirely and unmistakably different, without authority or sanction. Instead of economies the Committee propose expenditure, and claim to themselves the right to roam over the whole field of the machinery of Government and over the whole field reserved to the Executive and the Legislature. This is indeed a most remarkable example of a new and dangerous despotism. We are faced with this alternative. Either this is a flagrant and premeditated encroachment on the powers of the House or, as I hope is more likely, it is the Select Committee in Wonderland; but whatever it is, I am convinced the House will agree that it must stop and that Committees appointed by the House must keep within the terms that are given them.
§ Mr. William Brown (Rugby)
I have spent some 30 years in and about the Civil Service, and the subject of its organisation and control is one which possesses for me, a very deep interest. I made no complaint that the Select Committee have brought us a Report not drafted within the narrowest possible interpretation of its terms of reference, for such a Report as a basis for a discussion on the Civil Service would have been entirely valueless. I am grateful that they have brought us a Report which permits the House of Commons, for the first time in the last 20 years, to have something like a comprehensive discussion of the virtues and the shortcomings of the Civil Service, and on what ought to be done with regard to those matters. I am glad that we are having that discussion, and I am pleased to have the opportunity of taking part in it.
I wish to explain, at the beginning of my remarks, the territory that I would like to cover in the course of my Speech. I want to begin by admitting that there are serious defects in the public service. I want to make myself the mouthpiece of public criticisms of the Service in order to be able to deal with the criticisms. I want next to ask a question: How far do the defects of the Service arise from the character of the relationship between itself, Parliament, and the public; that is to say, how far are they the inescapable consequences of our democratic system of government (in which case we may have to endure them), or how far they are remediable by changes in organisation and control? Next I should like to pose the question as to whether the recommendations of the Select Committee (some of which I agree with and some of which I dissent from) are adequate to remedy the defects in Service organisation and control. I shall answer that question by affirming that they are not. And I would then propose to conclude by making positive proposals to supplement those of the Committee.
Because Civil Service defects are bound to figure largely in the Debate, I hope the House will bear with me if I pay a word of tribute to the Service. I affirm that in three respects the public service of Britain is far and away the best in the world. The first respect is its tradition of probity and incorruptibility. Here is an organisation, 700,000 strong, which 668 gathers in and disburses thousands of millions of pounds a year. In time of peace it is the biggest employer in the country. In time of war it is almost the only employer in the country. Opportunities of corruption are bound to arise in such a Service, but in the 30 years that I have known the Service, there has never been an occasion when, as an institution, it has been the subject of any charge of venality or corruption whatever. Occasionally some poor underpaid devil of a postman—I am glad to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer colouring at this point—driven by domestic stress, may steal a postal order, or a temporary clerk do something he ought not to do. But taking the Service as an institution, its record of probity and incorruptibility makes it in that respect the finest Civil Service in the world. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Gregory?"] There was no question of corruption in the Gregory case. What was at issue was that an individual's private investments were a little less than judicious. There was no question whatever of Mr. Gregory being charged with misappropriation of public funds or anything of that kind.
The second respect is its non-political character. I do not deny that the average civil servant is as interested in politics as the next man, but nowhere in the world is the dividing line between personal political inclination and public duty drawn more precisely, or more honourably observed, than in the case of the Civil Service. It serves Government after Government of different complexions with the same fidelity. In America they have not had that advantage until recently, and, when President Roosevelt came to apply that vast body of legislation covered by the generic title of the "New Deal," one of the first things he discovered was the necessity of having a permanent, non-political, service to take the place of the Civil Service appointed on the basis of the political "spoils" system.
The third respect—it is time someone paid this tribute—is in the tradition of public service, which it renews from generation to generation. There is a sense in which the Civil Service is a vocation. If its members do not take the vow of chastity, at least they take the vows of poverty and obedience. On salaries which in the lower ranges represent nothing but the merest pittance—Shame on you!—and even in the highest, represent no more 669 than a modest competence, the civil servants of Britain have given this country a record of devoted labour of which the country does well to be proud.
Nevertheless, having paid that tribute, I admit that, particularly in this war, more so than in the last, the Service has not shown itself to the advantage which I and its other admirers would like to have seen, and preceding speakers are right when they say there is a good deal of public criticism of the Service to-day, more than I have been aware of at any earlier time in my connection with it. What are the charges that are made against it? Because unless we know what they are, we cannot judge whether these recommendations of the Select Committee are going to put us on the right track or not? Substantially, there are four charges. The first is that civil servants run to paper—that there are all sorts of transactions which in an ordinary commercial office would be the subject of oral or telephonic decision, but which in the Civil Service become the subject of meticulous, elaborate, detailed, paper record.
Criticism No. 2 is that in our accountancy arrangements we carry checking and cross-checking auditing processes to a quite unnecessary degree of elaboration. The third charge is that the Civil Service has developed to a fine art the technique of avoiding individual responsibility or, in popular language, the technique known as "passing the buck." Fourthly, that as the result of those things, the pace of the whole machine is slowed up, and we have a static and negative Civil Service at a time when war conditions demand that we should have every ounce of possible drive and energy. I think hon. Members will agree that that is a fair summary of the charges made against the Service. I am not going to deny those charges, but I ask hon. Members to examine how far those defects lie in the nature of things.
Let me put it in another way. If I am a private capitalist, as indeed I am, running a business, it is within my unfettered discretion as to how far I carry the process of recording and minuting. I am only answerable, at the end of the year, to a meeting of shareholders, many of whom probably will not attend. Certainly, I have to keep accounts in sufficient detail to satisfy statutory requirements, but, 670 subject to those limits, I am a free agent. But suppose I had a shareholders' protection committee of 615 members, meeting three days a week, with every member free to interrogate me on every aspect of my policy and every detail of any transaction within my control, obviously I should find myself compelled to maintain records in the same degree of detail that the Civil Service does, burdensome as that responsibility may be and costly as it is, and slowing us down as it does. I affirm that democracy in Britain is never better than it is at Question time in the House of Commons. And it would be a poor exchange to sacrifice the right of individual Members to interrogate Ministers in the utmost detail for the sake of a few hundreds of thousands of pounds which you might save by taking away that right.
Again, the civil servant when he does a financial transaction, has not only to think of the accounts section of his own Ministry. He has to think of the Exchequer and Audit Department, he has to think of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he has to think of the Public Accounts Committee, and he has to think of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. And if that lot has not bowled him out, there is the House of Commons as a whole in reserve. Inevitably under those conditions you are bound to have a degree of detail in accountancy which goes much beyond what you might expect to see in private enterprise.
The third criticism, that we "pass the buck," again illustrates this difference between democratic and autocratic government. In a dictatorship you are not obliged to treat all citizens as equal before the law. In a democracy you are. And it follows that the civil servant must not give to one member of the public one sort of treatment and to another different treatment. He has to treat all alike, and he has to consider, in deciding each case, whether he is not creating a precedent which will subsequently be acted on in other cases. In those circumstances there is bound to be a degree of cross-referencing which is much greater than needs to be the case with a private concern. But I notice that, simultaneously with being charged with dodging responsibility, there is a school in Britain, of which Lord Hewart was a very able spokesman, which conceives of the civil servant as 671 being so thirsty for responsibility that he is continually grabbing powers that do not belong to him, and separating and subtracting them from the powers of Parliament. I do not mind which charge we have to face—but they cannot both be true. And that perhaps is the best answer to the Lord Perry's who attack us. With regard to the last point, that we are slowed down, I agree. But I hope that what I have said will indicate that to a degree those things are inherent in the democratic structure of Government. They are part of the price we have to pay for being able to call Ministers and civil servants to account. But, allowing for that, I would agree that there is room for reform in the Service, and that brings me directly to the recommendations of the Committee.
The first three recommendations relate to the improvement of recruiting, and in regard to them I have nothing to say, but a word of strong commendation. I think the proposals are sensible. The Civil Service organisations agree with them. On top of that, you have my personal blessing. Recommendations (4) and (5) relate to the level of salaries paid to the technical staffs, as to which the Select Committee recommends an immediate investigation. I am delighted with that recommendation. There has been no comprehensive review of the conditions of the technical and professional grades of the Civil Service for the last 20 years. I do not happen to represent them, but I want to see justice done to them, as well as to the clerical section, with which I am more closely associated. There is a great disparity in the reward given to professional and technical knowledge as compared with clerical and executive capacity. I may illustrate that by taking the lowest grades on the technical side and on the male clerical side. A clerical officer will rise to £350 as a maximum. The lowest grade of technical officer has a maximum lower than that of the clerical grade. The technical officer can only get as much as a clerical officer by being promoted out of his basic grade. That is a complete disparity of reward, which I am glad the Committee have fastened on, and I strongly endorse their recommendation that the matter should be inquired into. The trouble about the clerical and professional grades is that from the trade union point of view they are badly organised, and 672 when you get a body of civil servants badly organised, the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes the utmost advantage of it. He has been doing that for 20 years with the technical people and this review on the matter is long overdue.
The 6th recommendation is that when staffs have settled down after a rapid expansion there should be a review of the new arrangements to ensure that the numbers of staff are not excessive, and that the form of organisation is appropriate. I wish to support that recommendation, but I want to add a word to my support. What the Committee draw attention to is part of what I would describe as the "man-power problem" in the Civil Service. In my opinion the Civil Service to-day is at least 50,000 larger than it ought to be. I will go further and say that it is 50,000 bigger than it needs to be. Here I want to criticise the Treasury for the handling of the man-power problem during the war. At the beginning of the war the unions went to the Treasury, and offered full collaboration with the Departments and the Treasury in running the war on the Civil Service side with a minimum of staff. We tried to get the Treasury to take action. Nothing was done for 18 months. Even to-day we cannot get the elementary principle, that there should be in each Government Department a joint committee between the unions and the administration to keep staffs down, accepted by His Majesty's Government. I imagine that any employer who was approached by the unions representing his men with an offer on their part to collaborate in reducing staffs to the minimum would leap at the offer. The Treasury, however, has resisted it for 2½ years. Although it is true that one or two Departments have set up committees, they are not genuine joint committees, and the Department appoint both sides. That is no way of getting collaboration with the unions. In one or two Departments where there is a genuine man-power committee, such as the Assistance Board, the proposals of the Committee have already reduced the staff of the Department by no fewer than 1,206 men and women. I want to urge on the Chancellor to welcome the collaboration of the unions and to see that this problem of man-power, involving, as I think it does, the waste of the labour of something like 50,000 people, 673 is radically dealt with. I support the Committee's recommendation, although it is more limited than I would like it to be.
Recommendations (7) and (8) propose to set up a departmental organisation and methods sections in each main Department, with an officer at the head subordinate only to the permanent head of the Department. It is further recommended that this officer's duties should comprise the direction of the establishment division of the Department. I agree with the Committee that there is room for an organisation and methods officer in each of the Departments. I agree, further, that if he is to do his job properly, his position vis-a-vis that of other officers of the Department must be a high one. I dissent sharply, however, from the view that he should be superior to the establishment officer. The consequence of that would be that the human aspect of the administration would at every stage be subordinated to the mechanical aspect.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The actual problem arose where such a person was equal to the establishment officer, and after he had made recommendations for reorganisation which the permanent secretary and the directors in the organisation had agreed to, the establishment officer raised so many difficulties in carrying them out that the whole thing was frustrated.
§ Mr. Brown
I understand the point very well, and I am not disputing that the Organisation and Methods officer has to be "a man in authority." What I am saying is that we have to deal with the mechanical and human aspects together. And that the way to do that is to see that the Establishment officer and the Organisation and Methods officer are one and the same person, with power to take decisions. That is the solution which I recommend to the Committee.
Recommendations (12) to (17) propose that the seat of the central control for organisation and establishment generally should remain with the Treasury, and that the existing Organisation and Methods division at the Treasury, which is now a small one, should be incorporated in the Treasury machine, and placed under an Under-Secretary whose entire time, should be devoted to this work. Another Under-Secretary would be concerned with the machinery of government. I want to discuss a little later the important 674 question whether the Treasury should be the seat of the central control of the Civil Service, and I shall advance powerful and conclusive reasons why it should not. All I want, at this stage, to say is that the proposal to have a separate Under-Secretary, and to have another one exclusively to control the machinery of government, both of them under the Chancellor, does not touch the root of the problem. If Treasury control of the Civil Service be a good thing, then the dividing of functions and the multiplication of functionaries may be all right, but if it is in principle a bad thing then no division of functions or multiplication of functions, will make it a good thing.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I think that the hon. Member has misunderstood that recommendation, because it is made clear that the proposed Under-Secretary would be responsible not to the Chancellor, but to the head of the Government, the Prime Minister as the First Lord of the Treasury.
§ Mr. Brown
I am much obliged, but we know that the function of the Prime Minister as First Lord of the Treasury is merely a polite fiction to enable the Prime Minister to draw a salary, which as Prime Minister he would not be entitled to, because there is no such job in the British Constitution. We have to make him First Lord, so that he can have a salary, but you cannot expect the job to be done by anybody but the Chancellor. If the Prime Minister made a regular habit of calling at No. 11, Downing Street every morning, and doing any detailed supervision of the work of the Civil Service, the relations between No. 10 and No. 11 would rapidly become strained.
Recommendation (21) is for a Civil Service staff college. I am against that recommendation. I do not think that such precedents as we have to go upon are encouraging. The last staff college I remember was the Hendon Staff College for policemen, which did more to demoralise the London police than even the Home Secretaries are able to do. It is true that we have not formally abolished it, but we have allowed it to fall into practically complete desuetude. I do not want a repetition of the Hendon Staff College in the Civil Service, while I have any degree of responsibility for it. I suggest to the Committee that the first problem when you get people in the public service is to get the square pegs into square holes and 675 the round pegs into round holes. The fact is that there are a lot of square pegs in round holes, and round pegs in square holes. The first thing to do, before we start further educating civil servants in a staff college, is to draw out of them the best work within their capacity.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
Is it not possible that a college might result in square pegs becoming round pegs and round pegs becoming square?
§ Mr. Brown
It is possible, but the number of holes in the upper divisions is very small compared with the total number of pegs among the number of civil servants. I want to keep the square pegs in square holes all the way through. Therefore, the first thing we should do, is to have a system of classes within the Departments—in accountancy, in audit work in clerical work, in typing and shorthand, and the rest—so that an individual's bent may be found out, and he may be given a hole that roughly fits his peg. When you have done that you may consider further education. The second stage of education is education in the work of the Department as a whole, so that the individual can understand the relation between his own little function, and the functions of the Department as a whole. Beyond that, if you can carry education further, I beg that you try to give to the civil servants an education, not in dissociation from the outside world, but in association with it. One of the troubles about the Service, which Members will immediately recognise, is that for the clerical, executive and administrative trades the appointments by open competition are for people between 16 and 24. They come into these grades direct from school or college, without any prior experience of outside commercial or industrial life. That is one of the blind spots of the Civil Service. It is part of the contributory cause of the bureaucratic mentality, and whatever further education schemes we consider, I would like to see them considered on the principle that the thing to do with the civil servant is not to make him more intellectual—we are bursting with brains in the Civil Service!—but to make him more human, more understanding, and with a greater contact with the problems of life.
§ Mr. Brown
If there were any suggestion to institute that, I would instinctively swerve in the hon. Member's direction.
I come to the final recommendations of the Committee, Nos. (23) to (25), providing for a Select Committee. When I came to the House this morning, it was with the intention of opposing that recommendation. I take the point made by another hon. Member that the wording of the paragraphs is rather vague and contains the idea that we should have a select committee roaming about Departments testing them for inefficiency, testing them for the adequate use of staff; in short, a sort of permanent committee of shareholders keeping the business up to scratch. The trouble with the Civil Service is not that it wants more control, but that it wants a bit less. Too many controllers and super-controllers make it impossible for a civil servant to show initiative or those dynamic qualities for which a great war calls. As to having a Committee of this House in control—unpolitical as it would be, and utterly free from partiality, and judicial to the nth degree, granted all those qualities, which I and every other hon. Member of this House possesses—the very existence of still another body going round, looking after the Service, would further increase the negative mentality from which we want to get away. To the sort of committee suggested by the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), namely, somebody to keep the Civil Service in line with the general development of the life of the community, necessitated as time goes on, I would agree, although whether the best means of doing that would be a Select Committee of the House of Commons is a different matter.
§ Mr. Woodburn
May I supplement what I said by giving another example? You may have a Department which wants to make improvements but finds it difficult to move the Treasury. That Department could convey to a Select Committee its intentions, and the Select Committee could ask questions even of the Treasury, in order to remove the bottle-neck. The Select Committee might thus become the assistant of the Department to improve its efficiency. On the other hand, some of the Departments fear that the Treasury might go to the Select Committee about some rather resentful Department not 677 coming up to scratch and the Select Committee might do a similar service there. Its main idea is to improve the efficiency of the Service.
§ Mr. Brown
I agree that there is need for the discharge of that function; but whether the best instrument is a Select Committee, or whether it is the kind of Committee that we had after the last war, the "Machinery of Government Committee," is another matter. But do not let us put any more supervisory bodies over the Civil Service. While some of the proposals of the Committee are good and some not good, I do not regard the proposals as an adequate solution of the problems of the Service, and I wish to make three concrete proposals to the House. The first is that control of the Service should be taken out of the hands of the Treasury. I do not mean, let me hasten to say, that there must be no central control of the Civil Service, or no central financial control. But, in my opinion, the Treasury is not adapted, in personnel or function, to the task of running the establishments of the Civil Service. As a result of putting the Treasury in charge, every administrative problem in the Civil Service is judged almost solely by the financial criterion. Now, finance is only one of the elements involved in good administration. Take, for example, the treatment of those Civil Service pensioners who, after 40 years of service, have been left for 3½ years during this war without a penny by way of relief, although we have given relief to almost every other kind of recipient of State money, because of the increase in the cost of living. If that issue had been handled by a Personnel Department of the Civil Service, a different reaction would have taken place from the reaction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I want to see a properly constituted Personnel Department, based on the Civil Service Commission. I would extend the functions of the Civil Service Commission beyond mere recruitment, to which it is confined at the moment. I would make it a proper Personnel Department, with control over the establishments of the Service. It would be answerable to the Treasury in terms of a block grant which it would require from year to year to carry on its work. I would take away from the Treasury the power to interfere with the most meticulous detail of the day-to- 678 day work of Departments. A Minister of the Crown cannot give a typist in the Civil Service an increase of half-a-crown a week without getting express consent from the Treasury. There is a case to be made out for strong centralised financial control, but not in the meticulous detail which I have just illustrated. The Commission would have its block grant from the right hon. Gentleman year by year, just as every other Department does, and it would be free to administer it in a way calculated to produce the best possible Civil Service.
The second thing I propose is the ending of the undemocratic and inefficient caste system of recruitment to the public services. Roughly, there is for an elementary school boy an avenue into the public service as messenger boy in the Post Office, or as an auxiliary postman. For a secondary school boy there is an avenue into the clerical grades. For the product of the advanced type of secondary education there is an entry into the executive grades. For the product of the university there is entry into the administrative grades. Now hon. Members know very well that the stage at which a person's schooling ceases depends upon the economic condition of his parents. In spite of all our scholarships, that is still true. The facts are that only about one elementary school boy in 10 gets to a secondary school. Only about one secondary school boy in 10 gets to a university. Therefore only one in 100 poor children have the opportunity of getting a university education. Now there is a certain trickle of promotion from one grade to another in the Civil Service. But the chance of a boy getting from the clerical grade to the top grade is non-existent, for all practical purposes. A man's education mark will follow him through his life.
It is very fortunate that the Prime Minister never came into the Civil Service. His educational qualification would have kept him in the clerical grade all his life, because he was a very bad student. The only examination he would have been capable of passing at that age would have been for the clerical class. He and I might have been colleagues. Take another Minister, the late Minister of Aircraft Production. That Noble Lord's educational qualifications were very low, but he is obviously a man of amazing 679 drive, force, and capacity, which are not, to be assessed in terms of narrow educational qualifications. If he had ever come into the Service, he would not have been my colleague, because he would have been thrown out! The Service would not have been able to accommodate itself to his dynamic and inspiring presence.
A person coming in from a university goes straight into the administrative class. He may be well educated and well trained. Many of them can turn a very pretty Latin verse, but they know practically nothing of life, commerce or industry. Nevertheless, from the beginning, such a man is an administrator. I say that no business man would run his business on those lines. He would say, "If you come into my show, you have to know the kitchen as well as the drawing room. You have to understand the consequences to other people of the orders that you give, and you can know that only by learning their side of the job." I do not want to keep out the university man from administrative posts, but I deny his right to occupy, from the beginning of his career in the Service to the end, a privileged administrative position, whether he is fit for it by comparison with his fellow men or not. I want to make him start level with the others. If he is a better man, he can have his promotion. Other men, with less education in the narrow sense, but with vastly greater aptitude for handling men and affairs, should not be pushed below with no hope of promotion. That system is the antithesis of democracy—and you cannot have a democratic community without having a democratic public service.
Next I want to end that silly Superannuation Act which says that any man who leaves the public service, or is dismissed, for any reason other than ill-health, before reaching the retiring age of 60, must forfeit the whole of his acquired superannuation. I cannot imagine a rule more designed to prevent efficiency in the Service. Not all of those who enter the Service have an aptitude for it, and I am certain that many who come into the Service would go out, if they did not have to forfeit the acquired pension rights that they have earned. What makes it more unjust is that the Treasury takes the pension into account in fixing the wages, so that men have paid for their super- 680 annuation rights. Nevertheless if they go, they forfeit them.
§ Mr. Cluse (Islington, South)
Do I understand that they pay for their pensions out of their salary?
§ Mr. Brown
When the Treasury fixes the salary of any class, it takes into account the hypothetical value of the superannuation rights, and assumes that they are 12½ per cent. of the salary. That salary is lower than it would be but for the pension scheme. Thus the civil servant pays for it himself, but if he wants to get out, and start afresh, he has to lose the whole of his acquired rights. That system operates to inhibit voluntary resignation, and also to inhibit dismissal. It is a very hard-hearted head of a Department who is prepared to say to a man, "I am throwing you out after 30 years' service without a penny of pension." There are people who ought, long since, to have been compulsorily retired in the national interest, and many of them would probably have been willing to go if dismissal had not involved, as it would have done, the loss of every penny they had accumulated over perhaps 30 years by way of pension rights. I say that this is a crazy provision. I ask the House to insist on its being altered so that a man, either on dismissal or voluntary retirement, can take with him a proportion of the pension rights he has acquired by his earlier approved service.
I come to the end of what has, I fear, been a very long speech. I want to say that we shall not get the dynamic Civil Service we need while the Treasury is in control. We shall not get the dynamic Civil Service we need while educational classification, and not character or capacity, determines the place a man shall occupy throughout his life. We shall not get the dynamic Civil Service we need while the Superannuation Acts remain unremedied. I want to urge these three things on the House, in addition to such recommendations of the Committee as those of which I have spoken and to which I have given approval. I thank the House for listening for so long to what I hope may be regarded as a contribution from one whose whole life has been spent in and around this great institution, and who has a profound regard for it.
§ Mr. Summers (Northampton)
It is difficult to follow a speech such as that to which we have just listened when it must, I think, in the opinion of all of us, be described as extremely well informed, extremely reasonably argued and lightened by that touch of entertainment which is characteristic of the hon. Member. It may be said that one who is a civil servant, even though temporary, is not a person who should take part in a Debate such as this. An alternative view is that that very fact makes it appropriate that a contribution should be offered, and in seeking to decide which of these points of view was appropriate I came to the conclusion that as it is not policy which is under review but machinery for the application of policy, it would not perhaps be out of place to offer one or two very brief observations on the experience of the last three years, and a comment or two on the Report.
I cannot hope to equal the tributes which have already been paid to the work of the Civil Service. I am glad that others more eloquent than I have preceded me in doing that, because that enables me merely to endorse those tributes, which are so very well deserved. There is just one point I would add by way of tribute, which is to draw attention to the extremely long daily and nightly hours which the senior members of the Civil Service spend at their work, which many of us in this House are responsible for putting on their tables. They spend nights in their offices, their homes are frequently divided and their hours frequently longer than those in comparable positions in industry. Even in the very limited time I have had in contact with the Civil Service I have had numerous illustrations of the allegations of defects in the system with which people are familiar, of delay in coming to decisions, unwillingness to accept risks, and matters of that kind. But, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown), and in my opinion very properly, a great many of the defects to which attention is drawn are inevitably associated with the system which prevails in this country and which none of us wish to change.
Not only is it necessary for uniformity of treatment by civil servants of members of the public to be maintained, but a record must be taken in case some inquiry or investigation is subsequently called for, 682 and the exact steps which are in fact taken can thus be made available. Only the other day a great song and dance was made about an anonymous civil servant over an error of judgment in wrongfully keeping a request from a prisoner to a court. Great complaint was made, and it was urged that drastic steps and more control should be introduced to see that such a thing did not occur again. It seems to me absurd for there to be complaints week after week of dilatoriness and lack of responsibility and unwillingness to take action on the one hand and then, when an error of judgment occurs, for there to be a demand for still further tightening up leading only to further time and energy being taken up. It is true that individual freedom is affected, but the matter seems to me to indicate a lack of sense of proportion in view of the nature of the system under which we work.
Apart from the right treatment which civil servants have to give to the public, in the outside world the record of an individual is assessed over a period, each action that he takes is not tested, of itself. A managing director or a foreman or office manager, or what you will, has his record over a period taken as a criterion of his abilities. It seems to me that every single action a civil servant takes is assessed on its merits, with comparatively little relation to other actions and decisions he has taken, and one error of judgment may be found to be thought to outweigh entirely any number of the wise, sensible progressive decisions he takes and an entire loss of perspective follows from that system. So many of the defects met with in the Civil Service are in the nature of things inevitable in the system with which we are familiar. It is quite proper we should not seek to do away with the responsibility of this House for the expenditure of money and the working of the Civil Service, and I listened to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) attempting to justify the proposal to set up a Select Committee to review the operations of the Civil Service. The main justification, as I see it, which he has advanced for that step is in the name of efficiency. I question whether, judged by that standard, the setting-up of such a Select Committee as I read of in the Report—and whatever may have been said to-day the Report is presumably the considered opinion of a number of people and cannot be detracted from by a speech in this 683 House subsequently—I question very much whether it will achieve the results which are desirable. It is necessary that a review should from time to time be made of the machinery of Government to see whether in fact it is best adapted for carrying out the wishes of Parliament.
But that feeling of safety first, of unwillingness to take risks, to which I have already referred and which has been referred to previously is to a very large degree the result of having to be prepared to face criticism from committees and questions in the House et cetera, and to add another investigating body could, to my mind, lead only to still further care, of looking over one's shoulder to see who is coming next to criticise what is being done. Therefore, if it is to be something quite different from something which is recommended in the Report, maybe it would be proper to take a different view, but judged in the light of the wording of the Report, I for one question the results and expectations which may be had from it.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Since the hon. Member seems to see some conflict between the Report and what has been said, would he point out where the Report recommends anything different from what has been said in speeches?
§ Mr. Summers
I do not wish to take up the time of the House in searching the Report for justification of the words I have used. If I have drawn a false impression from my reading of the Report, I am perfectly willing to consider the matter afresh, but I have put forward my impression on reading the Report on one hand and listening to the comments to-day on the other. Apart from the inherent difficulties which are attributable to the system with which we are familiar, there are undoubtedly difficulties which are not attributable to the system and which are therefore more easily dealt with by different ways of improvement. It has been suggested that there should be a review of the control by the Treasury of the activities of the different Departments and have this done by a Financial Secretary responsible for that side of the work. I do not feel competent to express a view as to the degree of control which should be exercised by the Treasury in this matter, but the occupant of that position would, in 684 my view, be in an almost untenable position, through on the one hand a. Minister taking one view and the Financial Secretary in charge of this responsibility taking another. It will not be two equals who are dealing with the matter under dispute, and though he may be said to have the powers of the Prime Minister behind him, nevertheless I should have expected it to be an extremely difficult task which he was being asked to discharge.
Now it is suggested that another way of dealing with the training and so forth of the Civil Service is by means of a staff college. I agree with the previous speaker that the essential thing to improve the qualifications for public service, of the personnel now in it, is to bring them into greater contact with the outside world. I doubt very much whether that object would be achieved by approved opportunities for lectures, for tours of factories, which is what I presume would be the main methods applied by the staff college which is recommended. I should very much have preferred to have seen a real interchange in positions in industry and commerce for months at a time, so that they could really have a chance to get the atmosphere and the chance to know people in the outside world, rather than keep them in a theoretical lecture-room type of atmosphere, which seems to me inseparable from the idea of a staff college. I believe there would be advantage in interchanges between those in London and those in outstations. Particularly is that so with members of the public service concerned with overseas activities. I have had occasion to travel a good deal in connection with my own family business and have found it quite impossible to understand the mentality of the person at the other end, however many letters are written, unless there is a visit of that person here or one pays a visit abroad.
Although the gap in the foreign field may be much more obvious than the gap at home, nevertheless it seems desirable that there should be a similar interchange in the home field between London and the outstations. There is one other detailed point to which I should like to call attention. The hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) alluded to the need to promote proper standards and to make it easier for people to rise in the Service and be judged on merits. I do not want to criticise anything he said on 685 that matter. I am concerned not so much with promotion as with demotion. I have heard of cases where a person thought to be inadequate to fill a post was transferred to some other work. That work was likely in the ordinary way to carry a salary lower than the man had enjoyed before the change was made. In carrying out his new work—work graded at a lower salary—it might be presumed that he would have less responsibility, but still he retains the higher salary to which he has been accustomed. That feeling of assurance that, regardless of the work to which a person is put, it is practically impossible for him to get a lower salary than the one to which he had been raised, must in itself detract from the ability and enthusiasm put into the work.
The last speaker made a point which I would like to emphasise. There are unquestionably individuals in the Civil Service—this does not detract from any of the tributes paid to the Service—who in the public interest ought to be retired. One cannot blame those responsible for retiring such people if they think of the sacrifices and hardships which would be imposed on the man's family. It seems essential that there should be some opportunity of recognising long and faithful service by giving a proportional pension and thereby facilitating the removal of people who, it may be through no fault of their own—there is nothing vicious about it—ought to make room for others. That seems to me the most urgently needed reform.
I would conclude almost where I started. I return once again to the need, in my view, to restrain the natural desire to check this and control the other thing because that type of approach to the public machine inevitably produces carefulness and unwillingness to run risks. You cannot have it both ways. There is a popular song entitled "Praise the Lord and pass the Ammunition." The author seems to me to be trying to have it both ways, and that seems to be so in this instance. I doubt if it is possible to get the best of both worlds. It is better to give full scope for the criticisms of Ministers we already have—Estimates Committees and Questions, form ad hoc committees if you like—but the boss is the proper person to be criticised if persons under him are not carrying out their duty. That 686 should be the line of approach, and I believe it will give better results than the duplication of Select Committees and the like which appear to run through the recommendations of the Report.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I think perhaps it will be convenient for the House if I make one or two observations' upon the speeches that have been made and indicate the views of the Government upon certain of the recommendations of the Select Committee. I think everyone who has listened to the Debate must have been struck with the fairness and what I would venture to describe as the well-informed contributions on this subject which have come from almost everybody who has taken part in the Debate. Their tenor was a very strong contrast indeed to some of the observations one hears from time to time on platforms or sees in the Press concerning the Civil Service of the country. I would like to express the indebtedness of the Government to the Committee and to the Sub-Committee for what they have done. I will not follow up the inquiry of one hon. Member as to how my hon. Friend and his colleagues managed to bring all this within the terms of their reference. The hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) said he had been engaged 25 years in private enterprise. No doubt he acquired some experience there which enabled him successfully to produce the recommendations which he has now put before the House Be that as it may, without assenting to everything that is in the Report and without committing myself to particular recommendations, I would like to tell my hon. Friend that the Government regard the Report as a sincere and valuable contribution to the improvement of the efficiency of our great Civil Service.
Questions which have been raised in that Report and questions which have been raised to-day by many of my hon. Friends are of great importance, particularly when we come to visualise the task that is going to fall upon Departments of the Civil Service after the war. In that respect I think it may be said that the Select Committee's Report stands out from the general series of Reports that we have received from Select Committees, because upon this occasion they have dealt not only with problems which arise from day to day under war conditions, 687 but also with the situation which will confront us with the advent of peace, in regard to which it is most important we should think ahead early. Hon. Members will not expect me to comment on every detail of this long Report. There are seven Parts of it, with six Appendices and I think altogether some 54 pages of print. I do not propose to make any comment on Part I of the Report, which is purely introductory, or on Parts II and III, which deal with war-time recruitment in the Civil Service and the use which is being made of professional and technical staffs. They do not raise any real question of principle.
I would, however, like to make one observation about the statement of my hon. Friend that the Civil Service was divided into strata and that it was extremely difficult to pass from one level to another. That matter was commented on also in another able speech by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown). It is undoubtedly true that the Civil Service is organised in grades, as any large-scale organisation must be, but moves from one grade to another are not so infrequent as hon. Members seem to think is the case. Even before the war a substantial proportion of the administrative class started in other ranks in the Service. During the war the demand for administrative and organising ability has been such that large numbers of civil servants have in fact climbed to other levels, including, I may say, promotion to the administrative class. I would like to say, on my own behalf and that of the Government, that we do appreciate, and this has been emphasised here to-day, the need for an avenue of promotion of this kind. I hope it will be possible to take further steps to safeguard the position when we come to make our plans for the Civil Service of the post-war period. As regards matters in the other sections I have indicated, I want the House to feel assured that those suggestions will receive most careful consideration In fact, interdepartmental discussions are now taking place on a number of them. Therefore I hope my hon. Friends who have devoted so much time and given so much thought to these matters will not feel for a moment that they are being neglected. Their suggestions will receive proper consideration from the Government.
688 The main issues are dealt with in Parts IV, V and VI of the Report and relate to the important questions of the organisation and control of the Civil Service. If I do not refer to every detail, I would say again that my hon. Friend must not think they will be disregarded. Full consideration will be given to every recommendation that has been made. A good deal has been said in the course of the Debate about the control of the Civil Service generally, and the Committee, in my judgment, quite rightly have looked upon it from two angles. They looked at it first from the point of view of departmental control and then from the aspect of central control. I would call attention to the fact that the Committee emphasise the progressive changes that have in fact taken place and how they have reflected the gradual abandonment of the older view of the Civil Service as a congeries of relatively un-co-ordinated staffs of the various Government Departments and the substitution to-day of a unified Service based on common methods of recruitment, common conditions of employment, common standards of work, inspired by department allegiance, it is true, widened but not divided by allegiance to the larger whole. That is a most important, far-reaching, and valuable development, and my hon. Friends will agree that it has been carried out over a number of years with a minimum of friction and with a considerable and ever-growing volume of good will and appreciation.
The Committee record that, notwithstanding the growth of centralising tendencies, the control of each Department over its own staff is still a vital, vigorous, and salutary principle, and that in fact the Treasury—which has one or two commendations, I am glad to see, in the Report—has been foremost in maintaining this important doctrine of Departmental responsibility. As regards Departmental control, the Committee say, with great justice, that under Ministers and under the permanent head of each Department, this is focused on the principal Establishment Officers. I would like to make it clear that an Establishment Officer is not, as this Report might lead people to think, merely an overburdened official concerned with questions of office accommodation, engagement of staff, rates of pay, and the like. Many of those matters in a large Department are delegated to 689 members of an establishment officers' staff, and this officer is left free to exercise his responsibility on important questions of Departmental organisation which rank high, if not first of all, among the duties of an efficient Establishment Officer. I notise a letter in one of the papers to-day—I do not know whether it is really worth worrying about that sort of attack—on the Establishment Officers of the various Departments. The charges in the letter are not in line with my experience of these men, who occupy a very important position indeed, and who, I believe, are well able to carry out their work.
I am not surprised that the Committee, after again looking at the matter, recommend that central control should remain with the Treasury. The Committee note that the Treasury, under its powers, has introduced a large measure of uniformity into salary scales, superannuation arrangements, leave conditions, hours of work, the employment of women, and a number of kindred matters. They also note that, in order to meet the emergencies of war, large delegations of authority have been made to the Departments. I do not know that I need discuss the recommendation on that particular subject. It has followed recommendations made by practically every responsible Committee that has inquired into the matter. But it is interesting to observe in these days of complaints of Treasury interference, that the Committee, after giving an example of the Treasury's efforts in the organisation of Departments, say that they regard it as a form of interference which is wholly beneficial, and their main criticism is that the initiative taken by the Treasury has not been carried far enough. I have found, while I have been Chancellor of the Exchequer, and when I was the head of other Departments, that criticism of the Treasury has swung from side to side. Sometimes the complaint has been that the Treasury goes too far in control and interference; and then the wind has veered, and it has been said that the Treasury should go still farther. I prophesy that it will not be very long, especially if conditions continue as they are, if hard times remain with us and heavy burdens have still to be borne, before the wind shifts to the other quarter, and it is said that the Treasury should take more and sterner steps in supervision generally. My hon. Friend's Committee 690 give a number of reasons why central control should remain with the Treasury, and they sum up in these words:There is no evidence which would justify the transfer of the existing seat of control from the Treasury to any other existing or new Department.I think that in all I have said I have shown my good will towards the Committee and its recommendations. But they have made certain criticisms of the organisation of the Civil Service itself, particularly with regard to organisation and methods upon which I must comment. I would remind the House that even in the business world the scientific study of questions of organisation and method is comparatively new; and certainly the type of expert and the kind of technique which are favoured by the Committee have been adopted, on any considerable scale, in trade and commerce only in recent years. There is a suggestion in the Report that these matters were neglected by the various Departments during the 20 years before the war, with the implication that little or nothing has been done by way of modern reorganisation, and that what, if anything, has been accomplished in that direction has been "meagre in the extreme." I cannot accept such a presentation, and it certainly does not give the matter in proper perspective. I would call attention to an old Department of mine, which contains a greater body of civil servants than any other Department, the largest single Department of the State. I refer to the Post Office, which, in the years immediately before the war counted in its ranks about half the total number of civil servants. Will anybody say there was not a complete overhaul and reorientation of the Post Office? I remember well how in those days outside assistance was brought in, and expert technique played its part. I think it is generally admitted that the modern Post Office serves the country very well indeed, and it would be very unfair to say that nothing had been done in that Department for 20 years. [An HON. MEMBER: "Tell me another."]. I will tell the hon. Member another one.
I will take another Department with which I am very familiar, a Department which, if you read most of the papers, you would think would be the last to show any signs of modern advancement, but in which, as I know, so 691 much has been done. It is the Board of Inland Revenue, who have dealt so quietly and successfully with an enormously increased volume of work that no one thinks about it or gives them any credit for it. They have dealt with an increase in the number of Income Tax payers from 4,000,000 in 1919 to 11,000,000 to-day. That could not have been accomplished unless the Inspectorate and Collection service had been radically reorganised. If anybody cares to say, "Tell me another," I will. Take the Ministry of Labour, which in 1920 established a Director of Services and Establishments and set up an Inspection Branch charged with the duty of carrying out staff audits on the lines favoured by the Select Committee itself. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour can certainly claim on behalf of his Department that they have not been unmindful of the need for the constant review of organisation and method with which the Committee dealt so extensively in its recommendations. If anybody wants another example, I will go to another Department which has carried out the reorganisation recommended by the Committee. The Department, one with which I have not been personally familiar, is, as many of my Scottish Friends know, the Scottish Department, for which Parliament passed two reorganisation Acts in 1928 and 1939. The second Act entirely re-modelled the organisation as the result of the very thorough review of the Department by the Gilmour Committee.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
While I do not in the least wish to infer that that is not a satisfactory explanation in the cases of which he has been able to give an example, is it not really the case that what my right hon. Friend is telling the House is that, where the Committee's recommendations have been carried out, great satisfaction has resulted and that there have been excellent results, and in fact he is proving the case that what they say should be carried out?
§ Sir K. Wood
That is rather a curious way of looking at the matter. As far as I am aware, the Post Office 20 years ago certainly was not able to look into the minds of the members of the Select Committee of 1943 and anticipate what their recommendations were going to be. It 692 has also been suggested, I observe in the Committee's Report, that no proper preparations were made in the years immediately before 1939 for the type of organisation which would be required in the event of war. I think we can say in this connection, as in many others, that in certain respects preparations-were not as complete or as adequate as they might well have been and that some of them have not proved completely satisfactory to meet the actual developments of the war. That is not surprising. When the history of this war comes to be written, I fancy that that will be said of most countries that have taken part in the conflict, but in the various Departments in this country there were very far-reaching preparations. Each Department had its plans ready for the switch-over from peace to war, and when one looks at one of the conspicuous successes of this war, the establishment of the Ministry of Food and the institution of food rationing, one sees the result of considerable preparation beforehand. I would also point to the institution of a regional organisation under the auspices of the Ministry of Home Security which is another forceful illustration of advance preparation. One could quote, if one desired to do so, in repudiation of the suggestion that little had been done between the two wars towards the introduction of modern methods and more particularly of machine methods, the remarks of the famous "May" Committee when dealing in their Report with the substitution of mechanical devices for routine labour.We believe the Civil Service to compare favourably with the best organisations in British industry.I come to the various other recommendations which have been made and will make my observations and give the view of the Government concerning them. While it must be admitted that the Committee obviously went too far in some of their strictures and might perhaps have come to different conclusions if they had heard some evidence on these matters, that fact should not lead us to undervalue their main contention, that, taking the Civil Service as a whole, more attention should be given to the study of organisation and the use of outside experts. I and the Government agree with the chief desire of the Committee that there should be an upgrading in status of work on organisation, and methods and that there 693 should be an extension of that work. We are in full agreement with the Committee over this, and I am prepared to accept the recommendation that, when Departmental staffs have settled down after such rapid expansion, there should be a review—and that review need not necessarily be by the Treasury—of the new arrangements in order to ensure that numbers and organisation are appropriate to the objects in view, My hon. Friends may take it from me that I will see—if it remains with me—that that is duly carried out. But my hon. Friends, I know, will have regard to the fact that I must take into account, particularly at the present time, the demands upon the time and energies of the senior officials of the Departments at this period in our history.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will not carry out the suggestion of the Committee that outside so-called experts should be brought in on this matter, inasmuch as the Civil Service has available very much better brains?
§ Mr. Woodburn
Would the hon. Gentleman who put that question say where the Committee made any such recommendation?
§ Sir K. Wood
Perhaps my two hon. Friends will settle that matter between themselves. Where I feel I must join issue with the Committee is in their next recommendation, in paragraph 88 and the following paragraphs, where they make the basic assumption that Establishment work ought to be ancillary to Organisation and Methods work. They go on to recommend that in the Department an Establishment Division should be made subordinate to the highly placed Director of Organisation, who would be appointed mainly as an expert of wide experience and high standing in Organisation and Methods work. I think this flows from an under-rating of the personal aspect of Establishments work, the choice of the right man for the job and the settlement of recruitment and promotions policy, which, all experience shows, is just as important as the adoption of the right organisation and the right methods. What is really needed is a proper appreciation of both factors. While I agree that it may often be the right organisation in a Department to provide two lieutenants of equal rank, under the Principal Establishment Officer, one specialising in personnel 694 questions and the other in organisation and methods, each with his own section under him, I do not agree that it would be right to place proportionate emphasis on the Organisation and Methods side in the way the Report suggests. I would suggest that the Principal Establishment Officer should continue to be responsible both for personnel and organisation questions.
The Committee next proceed to make certain recommendations for changes in the organisation of the Treasury, and while I am not prepared to accept the suggestion that there should be a third Joint Second Secretary for establishment purposes, I agree with the recommendation that someone of higher status should be in charge of Organisation and Methods work in the Treasury and that there should be full incorporation of the Organisation and Methods Division in the Treasury machine. I would suggest, further that this can best be accomplished by arranging that while the Under-Secretary should remain, as a pivot of the day-to-day establishment work, he should have at his disposal two lieutenants of the rank of Principal Assistant Secretaries, one dealing with establishment questions and the other with organisation, each maintaining close contact with the other. There has been a suggestion—which, incidentally, did not receive a large measure of support—that there should be a new Parliamentary Secretary, a new Minister, who would exclusively concern himself with Civil Service questions. The suggestion was made that yet another Minister should be added to the ranks of the Government. I do not know how many there are now, but the suggestion is that there should be still one more. I do not comment on that aspect of the matter, because it is not within my functions or duties, but I would say that the suggestion appears to arise from some misconception of the function of a Parliamentary Secretary, which is rather to act as a deputy to his Minister than to assume himself full Ministerial responsibility for his work or even some part of the work of his Department. That is the constitutional position and always has been. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who is just now finishing his term of office on important work in America—
§ Sir K. Wood
But when he delegates it is on behalf of the Minister, and the Parliamentary Secretary acts on his behalf. As I was saying, the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury is away in America, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Assheton) is about to take over the post. The Financial Secretary is available, and always will be, to devote a considerable proportion of his time to Civil Service matters. In fact, he pays special attention to this side of the Treasury's work. Accordingly, the Government do not feel that any change is called for in the present arrangement. There have been suggestions that the changes that may be required in the home Civil Service after the war are being neglected or have been definitely postponed. Quite the contrary is the case. A great deal of time and thought have been given to this matter in the Treasury and elsewhere. The preparatory work which is so essential as a first step towards consideration of the problems of recruitment, training and retirement of the members of the home Civil Service is well in hand and has been carried out under the general supervision of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
There are two other suggestions about which I must speak—that there should be a Civil Service staff college and that there should be some measure of Parliamentary control of the economic use of the Civil Service. As regards the establishment of a staff college, that is a matter which in some form or another has been advocated in a number of quarters for some time. For myself and for my colleagues in the Government I welcome the general tenor of the Committee's observations. But that is only one aspect of the much wider question of the training of the Civil Service, a matter which is of enormous future importance. Notwithstanding the difficulties of war, the time has come when the preparatory work in this sphere can begin, and I propose at once to start an investigation into the general question of the training of civil servants, including the question whether a staff college could be established and, if so, the particular form and character that that establishment should take. I have not actually determined the final character of the investigation, but I hope to have the assistance of one or two people outside the Civil Service, people with particular experience in this field, and also, equally important, the assistance 696 of members of the staff side of the Whitley Council. As regards the other proposal, the creation of a new Select Committee which would be charged with the duty—I quote from the Report—of conducting on behalf of the House a continuing review of the machinery of Government with special reference to the economic use of personnel"—and which would have an Assessor comparable in status with the Comptroller and Auditor-General—a proposal which the Government have examined, it is, I may say, somewhat similar to a recommendation that was made by the Select Committee on Procedure in 1932. The views of Ministers at that time were that such proposals would definitely impinge upon the responsibility of the executive Government, and they were unable to accept such recommendations. The matter has not, perhaps, been put in this form in the Debate which has taken place, but one must examine the proposal in the terms in which it appears in the recommendation in the Report. I think, as do my colleagues, that it raises an important constitutional issue. It is true that the Select Committee say that the new Committee could not encroach on the full responsibility of the Executive for administrative efficiency, but it is, in fact, very difficult to visualise how the Committee could efficiently function without having that result.
I do not think the Committee appear to have appreciated the distinction between the activities of the Public Accounts Committee and the sphere of operations of the proposed new Committee, and I would like to put this distinction before the House. The activities of the Public Accounts Committee are founded on the House's control of the purse, and the answer to the question whether money voted by Parliament has been properly spent is, in general, capable of precise ascertainment; but when one comes to give an answer to the question whether the organisation of a Government Department is operating satisfactorily, that is obviously an entirely different matter. Therefore, while I would say to my hon. Friend opposite—and perhaps this will meet him, at any rate to some extent—that I am in favour of periodic reviews of the organisation and efficiency of Government Departments, my colleagues and I cannot but regard the proposal for a new Select Committee 697 as a novel and far-reaching limitation upon the powers of executive government which we do not think would be desirable.
§ Mr. Woodburn
May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he reconsider this matter in the light of the fact that the existing Select Committee do all that is proposed for the new Committee without any such friction arising, and nothing more is proposed in the way of powers and interference than exists in the powers of the existing Select Committee?
§ Sir K. Wood
I will take note of that observation. I want to say to my hon. Friend, in conclusion, that I think I have shown him that I do recognise the extent of the labours of the Select Committee, and I do not want the Committee to be disappointed. It is pretty clear from the Debate, from the many questions that have been raised outside the recommendations of the Committee, including some points that were put by one of my hon. Friends on these Benches and by the hon. Member for Rugby, that it will be desirable at some appropriate time—obviously it is impossible to state the date now—for the question of the Civil Service generally, and various questions which have been brought up to-day and others of which we may think, to be made the subject of examination as at the end of the last war. I think it is in the interests of the Civil Service, particularly having regard to the new tasks which will undoubtedly fall upon them, that there should be some sort of examination, although I do not commit myself as to the exact kind. Therefore, it will be possible for the statements and decisions I have announced to be considered again.
There are only one or two things that I want to say in conclusion. I am very grateful, on behalf of the Civil Service and on my own behalf, for the observations that have been made from every quarter of the House about the way in which the Civil Service have discharged their task in this great conflict. I wish that very large numbers of civil servants throughout the country could have heard what has been said about them today. It is a commonplace to talk about the loyalty and integrity of the Civil Service; their loyalty and integrity really need no emphasis in this House. How has this great body of public servants 698 carried out its war-time duties? Most hon. Members will appreciate that not only during the actual period of war, but for some years before the war, many civil servants, and particularly those in the more important posts, have been carrying a very heavy responsibility. During the war the total sweep of Government business, whether in civil administration, in the tasks connected with supply, or in the management of the Fighting Services, has been enormously magnified. The Civil Service, after contributing over 100,000 of its members to the Fighting Forces and to Civil Defence, has still provided, and is providing, the core for this tremendously enlarged activity.
In these wholly abnormal conditions of stress and strain, obviously there must be shortcomings and much that would be capable of improvement in easier times. From time to time one reads various instances of how this or that thing has taken place. All I can say is that so far as there are shortcomings, I believe that no one is more conscious of them, or more anxious to secure improvements, than the Civil Service itself. What we want, and what I think we have received in this Debate, is a balanced judgment. I must say that I do not think that in many quarters the Civil Service have been given the credit which a just judgment would afford them. As was so forcibly said by the hon. Member for Rugby, one must have regard to the conditions in which the Civil Service have to carry out their work, and which have been imposed upon them by Parliament and by the Constitution.
If anyone is responsible for a large number of the defects that have arisen, I should say it is this House, and our Constitution itself, and the Public Accounts Committee and the Select Committee on National Expenditure. It is very largely they who ought to be in the dock. If all our day-to-day affairs were to be the subject of examination by the Select Committee on National Expenditure, I should have to order a very large number of books in which I would carefully record, as far as I dared, all that I am doing day by day, a very onerous task, and, if I were to neglect other duties on that account, you could not blame me, but rather these Committees which, like some Gestapo, swoop down upon the Minister or civil servant and demand to know what he was doing on this particular 699 occasion and why he was doing it. Hon. Members do not realise that under a Constitution such as ours, every Government Department is under a constant daily barrage of criticism, and, of course, while it is going on in the middle of a great war, civil servants are expected to achieve a war-time tempo while still subject to all these checks and balances which are regarded as appropriate by our Constitution and which in fact were imposed in time of peace. Again a civil servant, after all, has to act under Ministerial direction. He is not responsible for the policy which he is called upon to operate, and again and again one comes upon criticisms of the Civil Service which are fundamentally criticisms of Ministerial policy.
These remarks in justification of the Civil Service would not be complete if I did not pay a tribute to the men and women who have come in and worked side by side with regular civil servants since the war, and I think the permanent civil servants, who are in the best position to know, are the first to acknowledge how much of the credit for what has been achieved is due to the fresh ideas and methods which temporary civil servants have introduced. I am very grateful for what hon. Members have said, because I think they will appreciate that many of the attacks that have been made so unjusifiably have been very disheartening to the men and women who are doing this work, and in my judgment such attacks do nothing but harm to the war effort. As one who owes so much to the Civil Service, it is my strong belief that, when the period of storm and stress is over and the events of these hours can be surveyed in retrospect, it will be amply demonstrated that the Civil Service has shouldered its great responsibilities with credit and success and with greater efficiency than any similar organisation in any quarter of the globe.
§ Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)
Speaking as a member of the Select Committee, I think we can express our appreciation of the generous terms the" right hon. Gentleman has employed, and we may also congratulate the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn). The Report, of course, has the defects of its qualities, which have called forth some criticism insofar as the Committee did not find itself able to keep within the 700 straitjacket of its terms of reference. But that in a certain sense may be a defect of quality. It would be as well if critics read the Report as a whole. To read one isolated paragraph does not give a fair view of the whole picture. I am sure the whole Civil Service will be very grateful for the generous words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in recognition of their work in these difficult times. Like some other workers in other fields of industry, they have reason for feeling somewhat sore that they have been the target of criticism at a time when they have given unstintingly of their very best and have had very little praise in times of great difficulty, trial, and hardship. People will feel that they have in difficult times stood up to a hard job and have received a certain amount of criticism which was not justified. We can have a legitimate pride in the Civil Service, for its devotion to duty, its competence and its incorruptibility, which, I am sure, are not exceeded in any country in the world and are something of which we may be proud, and we should be careful not to do anything which will make us feel that we lose our sense of value in regard to it.
As a member of the Select Committee, in large measure I am bound to agree with the Report, and, of course, with the Chancellor's reception of it. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown) said he had been in and about the Civil Service for 30 years. I have been in and about it for a good deal longer than that. I can look back to the revolutionary conditions that obtained, particularly as far as the Post Office is concerned. There are in the archives of this House Reports of Select Committees before which I appeared as a witness when conditions were entirely different and when the whole position seemed hopeless, and I have seen colleagues who worked with me then reach high positions since, which shows how conditions have improved. There is still some room for further development and no doubt in the ordinary course of events that is bound to come. The criticism that I put up then was that the Post Office was a large trading concern. To a certain extent that has been met and modified considerably of late years.
That leaves an entirely different problem so far as the Civil Service is concerned, and I can see no better sugges- 701 tion than that the Head must be fixed in the Treasury itself. The Treasury has shown a great broadening of spirit in the last few years and no doubt they are going through a chastening process during the war period which will show further results later on. In the absence of any other suggestion I cannot see that there is a better one than that the Head of the Civil Service should be in the Treasury, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) has said, we cannot have the Departments running away unchecked in their expenditure and acting in a kind of rivalry one with another. There must be somebody to co-ordinate them and keep them in check. The hon. Member for Rugby said the Committee were not adequate in many of their recommendations, but that is inherent in the terms of reference. I am glad that the Chancellor has seen his way to give his blessing to the proposal for the need of a modern scientific approach to the organisation. I recognise that there are not waiting in the corridors a large number of experts ready to be brought in in order to do this work, but the acceptance of the principle is an indication that as and when that does show itself advantage will be taken of it.
I find it difficult to see any usefulness in trying to compare the organisation of the Civil Service with outside organisations. The two kinds of organisation are utterly different in every way. Profit-making organisations are concerned only with responsibility to their shareholders. The organisation of the Civil Service is for service, and we cannot make any comparison other than that which is necessary to bring out qualifications for businesslike equipment and for doing the work efficiently and well. It is to all of us a happy spectacle to see the Chancellor and the hon. Member for Rugby in such harmony as they have shown this afternoon in regard to many of the proposals.
I am partly a critic of a recommendation to which I have given assent, namely, that with regard to a staff college. It puts me in mind of the unfortunate position of some elementary school teachers who, in certain areas, have to take classes consisting of children of all ages, sizes and stages of development and try to bring the teaching of all into line. I hope that it will not prevent the opening of avenues of promotion to all from the lowest to the highest ranks in the Service. Perhaps in the re- 702 cruitment of members of the administrative staff it might be an advantage if they spent some time in the registry. I must take some note of the Chancellor's prophecy that probably there will be a tendency towards more and more Treasury control. A prophet who has some hand in bringing about the realisation of his prophecy is in an advantageous position. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out the number of Departments that had advanced considerably in their development in recent years, and I cannot refrain from pointing out that in those cases the trade union spirit and element have been most apparent. This spirit was strongly resisted at first, but later it was welcomed by the Departments with the effect that the staff, the service and the public have very much benefited.
This is probably the best Civil Service Debate we have had in the House, because those who have taken part have knowledge and experience of the Service and were able to talk about it with sympathy and understanding. This is the first time that the hon. Gentleman who is to be Financial Secretary to the Treasury has appeared on the Front Bench as one of the representatives of the Treasury in a Debate. The Financial Secretary is usually looked upon, in the Civil Service, as the Minister who replies on Service matters. We have appreciated the hon. Gentleman's qualities in offices which he has already held; we shall welcome him in his new post, and I am sure that we shall have good reason to say of him, "Well done."
§ Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South-East)
I have always thought it extraordinary that we have not had more opportunities for discussing the reports of the Select Committee, which has now been working very effectively for three years. This is only the second occasion on which we have debated one of their Reports. I hope that as a result more opportunities will arise in future, for, after all, the Select Committee is appointed by this House and the House naturally has an interest in its Reports. If we fail to do this it will be difficult to get very much from the Departments to whom the Reports are addressed. Members who have read the Reports showing the action that has been taken by the Departments may have noticed that the Departments to which the Reports are addressed have never shown themselves very active in 703 accepting some of the suggestions put forward and have always been able to avoid acting on suggestions which to them might be unwelcome, by simply stating that they disagreed with the proposals of the Committee. A Debate of this sort is likely to have" far more effect, for in it a broader view can be placed upon the implications of the proposals.
I have no connection with the Select Committee. I have read this Report and I find myself largely in agreement with what is says except for one or two points. To that extent I am grateful for what the Chancellor has said in those passages of his speech in which he accepted parts of the recommendations. I am a little alarmed at the timetable that he envisaged for putting the recommendations into effect, in view of the general agreement in the House, to which he acceded, that the needs of the post-war period were already looming large before us and that we must be prepared,' consequently, to deal with them in good time. There seemed to me, in another respect, to be a certain conflict between what the Committee said and the Chancellor's reply. That conflict relates to the keenness with which the Treasury does or does not accept the various recommendations for the introduction of modern or business methods into its own and other Departments.
The Post Office was cited as an example of very fine work in re-organisation, done many years ago, but the Ministry of Labour and the Inland Revenue were also cited, and these appear in paragraph 95 of the Report as the first two Departments that have no Organisation and Methods divisions. We have been told by the Chancellor that they have such divisions. The Ministry of Labour established many years ago something similar to the Establishment division, referred to in the Select Committee's report. In this connection there has been some slight misrepresentation, but I do not feel entirely convinced by what we have heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I rather lean to the view expressed in the Report that the Treasury have shown reluctance to introduce modern methods. This is rather borne out by the statement that at the outbreak of the war there was in the Treasury itself a very limited Establishments division and two Treasury investigating 704 officers, who were principally concerned with the supply of office appliances.
I am also alarmed at certain of the Chancellor's qualified acceptances, particularly so far as the organisation section is concerned. He is apparently not agreeable to placing Establishment under the Organisation and Methods section, which I regret, and he proposed that the officer in charge of O. and M. sections should be a principal assistant secretary, which is definitely a grade lower than is proposed in the Report. My own feeling was that they would require to be high officials in view of the very difficult tasks which they are likely to have to discharge and they should be, as envisaged in the Report, directly under the Permanent Secretary. I think they would have an invidious job, and unless they could gain the support not only of their own heads of Departments but of the Treasury, how many of them would stand up to the strained atmosphere likely to be caused by recommendations, unpleasing to their Department, though not necessarily unpleasing to the taxpayer? They would for the most part have to advocate economies and rationalisation or reductions in the importance and power of directorates. At the Treasury there should be an independent authority occupying somewhat the same position as an auditor in the business world. The greatest industrial concerns, although employing their own accountants, always find it necessary to go to outside auditors for confirmation and check.
Therefore I say, by all means strengthen the O. and M. sections in the Departments, but create a powerful Treasury division, not too much dominated by regular Treasury personnel which would help Departments and would take big decisions, while departmental O. and M. sections would have ample authority to originate proposals and discussions, but they would not all be on the same plane. I do not think that this suggestion in any way interferes with departmental autonomy for, while Ministers are responsible, as is pointed out in the Report, for the execution of policy, there is a distinction to be drawn between policy and the machinery to carry it out. Another difficulty which I foresee but which has not been mentioned in the Debate is where the Select Committee recommend that the departmental sections should deal 705 with redundant, overgrown or badly-organised directorates. That would prove to be a delicate problem. "Redundant" generally means overlapping another Department, in which case each Department would strive for the elimination of the other, and the assistance of the Treasury would be required. I think I can justify this supposition by citing the case which I have cited on a previous occasion in this House of two directorates, one at the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the other at the Air Ministry. I do not wish to go into detail at this stage, but I can assure the House that these two directorates carry out work which is very largely similar, yet it is remarkable that the two Departments are among the five referred to in the Report which actually have Organisation and Methods sections. In spite of that fact, the Departmental sections have not made any recommendations regarding them. It is extremely unlikely that they will do so.
If any of the Committee's proposals cause the business and Civil Service worlds to get to know one another better, they will be all to the good. The war has undoubtedly brought that about to some extent, and has rectified the oneway traffic which existed before the war of retired civil servants going into business. It is in connection with this better knowledge of the outside world that I heartily endorse the proposal for the staff college. I was particularly glad to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer say he was prepared at an early date to consider this aspect of the training of the Civil Service. In one of their felicitous phrases the Select Committee state that many civil servants are recruited at an early agebefore they have been brought into contact with the complicated realities of the outside world,which is another way of saying that they tend to view life through rose-coloured spectacles. I do not know why the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown) is so incensed with this proposal, which he tried to link up with the Hendon Police College. He omitted to refer to the great success of the Services staff colleges from which I hope one further idea will be taken in the future, that promotion will be dependent to some extent upon examination. I entirely agree, however, with the Chancellor's opposition to the last proposal of the Select Committee with 706 regard to the Parliamentary Gestapo, as he so happily phrased it. It seems to me that it would place us in an impossible position vis-a-vis the Civil Service. Comparison with the Public Accounts Committee is not of much value in relation to this matter. The Public Accounts Committee looks into dead matter. The proposed committee would consider the current activities of hundreds of thousands of people who, I think, would quite likely resent it.
To whatever extent these proposals are accepted and carried out, and excellent though many of them are, I cannot help feeling they are palliatives, for the real problem goes far deeper, and no permanent improvement is likely to take place until they are tackled. The hon. Member for Rugby concluded his speech by putting forward further suggestions extraneous to what was suggested in the Report. I propose to do the same. The fact is that civil servants, in spite of the fact that they are under no contract of employment, are virtually irremovable, and as has been pointed out to-day that factor has been very much exaggerated owing to the extraordinary superannuation conditions. Consequently, if a sufficiently important or obstructive civil servant exists in one department the only way to deal with him is either to promote him, or at any rate to remove him to a post where he will hold up business in another department.
In exchange for security, together with pension rights, the Civil Service has to accept a lower rate of pay than in corresponding employment in the outside world, and there is another way whereby the Government are able to obtain their services more cheaply. Perhaps the House will understand what I mean when I say that man cannot live on the Order of the Bath alone. I, personally, would prefer to support my family in a more comfortable and less austere manner. There seems no reason to me why Civil Service pay should not be as good as the pay in corresponding occupations in the outside world, but I also think that tenure of office should be on a time basis, which, directors or higher officials should have the power not to renew. Of course, in those cases pension rights would attach for the number of years of service. This, I think, is the business method which above all others needs to be introduced into the Service. Until it is, the nation 707 will get its Government service at a cut price but will pay for it by having to tolerate a certain degree of incompetence.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I welcome the opportunity of saying a few words on the Report and on the discussion which has taken place on it, because I was a member of the Sub-committee of the Committee on National Expenditure which heard all the evidence on which the Report is based. I accept, also, as a member of both the Sub-committee and the full Committee, my full share of the responsibility for the recommendations of the Report. I want to say at the outset that I have no reason to complain either of the discussion that has taken place in the House or of the reception of the proposals of the Report. I think that no member of the Sub-committee would expect that the Sub-committee's particular proposals should be regarded as sacrosanct. Indeed the chairman of the Subcommittee, the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) said in effect, "We have carried out an investigation within the limits imposed upon us by our powers of reference, stretched as far as we possibly could, and these are our recommendations. If you have any alternative to offer which will secure the objects which we all have in mind, we are prepared to consider them."
The appreciation which I have expressed of the general reception of the Report applies also to the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He did not accept all our proposals, but he did go quite a considerable way, further in fact than some of the other critics were prepared to go. Some of the instances in which there is a difference between what he is prepared to accept and what we ask do not appear, as far as I am concerned, to be fundamental. He is in favour of upgrading the organisation and methods of work generally throughout the Civil Service. That, I think, is a matter of considerable importance which will go some way towards securing the object we have in mind. We had suggested that the officers associated with this work should have priority over establishment officers. He is not prepared to do that, but I gather that his mind is moving in the direction of giving these new functions to establishment officers. I will not quarrel with that, if 708 the establishment officers who carry this responsibility are found to be equal to it. If he makes this change, I hope the appointments to these offices may have proper relation to the importance of their duties.
The essence of the Committee's Report is that there should be constant review of the organisation and methods of the Civil Service, and I do not think that anybody can possibly quarrel with that proposal. I think it is necessary for various reasons. I will mention two. In the first instance, the growth in the numbers of the non-industrial members of the Civil Service since the war, including the Post Office, we have been told is something like 700,000, an increase since the war of 72 per cent. If we exclude the Post Office officials, the increase is even more striking. It is an increase of 137 per cent. I think that the Chancellor foreshadowed in his speech what some of us have anticipated is likely to happen in the future, that though at the end of the war many temporary civil servants will go, undoubtedly in the post-war world, in which we are told there is to be much more planning of national life than existed in the pre-war world, there is bound to be a larger number of civil servants than before the war. Therefore, I think that is one very important reason why there should be a constant review of the organisation.
What has been abundantly clear during the war, and I think will obtain to a very large extent after the war, is that the Civil Service impinges more and more on the lives of the people. It has, of course, during the war gone on into trade and industry, and after the war I think the ordinary citizen is bound to come up against the Civil Service in some form or another to an increasing extent. If there is not to be unnecessary friction as a consequence of that, it is essential, in my opinion, for the good government of this country that there should be absolute confidence in the Civil Service on the part of the people and that that confidence should be justified. That is the reason why the general thesis of the Report, that there should be constant review of the organisation of the Civil Service, is one that is well worth the fullest consideration of this House and of the Government. What form is that constant review of the organisation of the Civil Service to take? In its Report the 709 Committee envisages two types of review, one carried out by the Civil Service itself and the other by this House through a special committee appointed for the purpose.
I would remind the House that what is proposed, so far as review by civil servants is concerned, is only an extension of work already being done. Some Departments already have their Organisation and Methods Division, and the Treasury has a staff of officers which is concerned with this work. What we ask is that what some Departments are already doing should be done by all and that the work should be strengthened by an increase in numbers and by an appreciation of the importance of the work. Of course, one cannot bring in a review of this kind without coming up against certain difficulties. It is the old story that you cannot make an omelette unless you are prepared to break eggs. Inevitably to a certain extent the proposals of the Committee may be regarded as a challenge to Departmental responsibility, but I think some hon. Members who have spoken have done so under a distinct misunderstanding of the function and purposes of the Committee that is proposed. We might have been spared that misunderstanding if those who are labouring under it had taken into account the Report we made ourselves. We were a Select Committee reviewing the Civil Service, but I do not think our worst critics could suggest that we took up the rôle of snoopers or that we did anything that would suggest that we were Gestapo men. We carried out our duties with a sense of responsibility, and I think we should expect any Select Committee of this House to carry out its duties with an equal sense of responsibility.
Honestly we can say that much of the criticism of the Select Committee is due to certain hon. Members having created an Aunt Sally of their own and then having proceeded to knock her down. The Select Committee recommended would be appointed by the House from Session to Session, and if the House is dissatisfied either with the constitution of the Committee or with the way in which it is performing its functions, it can always say so. Therefore, I feel that the criticisms made against it have been made because of some misunderstanding of its purpose. I would suggest that it is impos- 710 sible to get the objects we require without sacrifice on the part of somebody. It is suggested that there will be some danger to Departmental responsibility. My own view is that on the whole this proposal will not be a danger but a spur to Departmental efficiency. It is from that point of view that the question should be considered. Therefore, while welcoming the fact that the Chancellor has gone halt way to meet us, I hope he will look favourably on the proposal for a Select Committee of this House, which I regard as perhaps the most important of our recommendations.
I must say how glad I was that he differed from the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown) in his attitude towards a staff college. The attitude of the hon. Member for Rugby on this question seemed to me to be very obscurantist. He seems to have a wrong idea of a staff college. Most people, I think, would agree that there is a great deal to be said for giving the Civil Service some sort of specialised training. What would be the nature of that training and what would be the purpose of the staff college would depend on its organisation and those responsible for it, but what I think would be a most useful function would be to provide refresher courses from time to time. In the teaching profession, for instance, teachers find it a great advantage to get away from the classroom and go back to a university and get a refresher course. Equal benefit would be derived from a Civil Service staff college of this kind.
In conclusion, I would like to join with those who have paid tribute to the Civil Service. If we have suggested that methods and organisation should be reviewed it is not because we do not consider the Civil Service a good instrument of administration, but because we think it could be made a better one, that it could be made more fluid and that it could be used to the greater advantage of the nation. We had in the course of bur inquiry ample evidence of the extraordinary amount of ability, loyalty, devotion and disinterested service we get from our civil servants, and I hope that at least one result of our Report and one result of the discussion in this House will be that many of the ill-founded allegations made against the Civil Service will not be heard so frequently in the future. Our view is this. In our Civil Service we have an instru- 711 ment of administration which is of first-class quality, but we believe that it could be improved, and that if it is to retain popular confidence and meet the needs of the future, it must be adapted in various ways. That is the purpose which the Committee have tried to serve in presenting their Report.
§ Major Thorneycroft (Stafford)
I have listened to the majority of the speeches, and I must confess that in the process I have learned a lot about the Civil Service. We should be very grateful to the Select Committee for an able Report, which has made it possible for us to discuss this matter in some detail. In a Debate of this nature one inevitably draws attention to the shortcomings of the Civil Service, because they are the things that one is trying to put right. As a result, one draws a rather black picture, which is not a true picture. Fortunately, while we can debate the shortcomings of the Civil Service, they, owing to the traditions of the Service, are not in a position to debate our shortcomings. I agree with the majority of the suggestions of the Committee, although I am a little doubtful, despite the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson), about this Select Committee to inquire into the Civil Service and keep it up-to-date. The idea, in theory, is excellent, but anyone who has worked in an office, under the constant pressure of everyday affairs, knows how difficult it is to have the experts always at your elbow, seeing whether you are doing things the right way or whether you could possibly do them a little quicker. I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be careful about accepting that recommendation. As to the suggestion that there should be yet another Parliamentary Under-Secretary, I resent that very much. If we are to proceed on these lines, there will soon be very few of us on these Benches to keep an eye on the Government.
The main point with which we have been dealing is the creation of an efficient machine in the Civil Service. Obviously, reforms are necessary in the Civil Service; but, while I am not one to be slow in bringing about reforms if I can, I realise that to do so in the middle of a war would be extremely difficult. You cannot reform an organisation while it 712 is working at high pressure, any more than you can change the plugs in a motor car while it is going along the road. I have worked in the War Office, which is not held up as a model by anyone so far as I can hear, but I would not suggest that that should be reformed during the conflict. You would have to ask for an armistice before the reforms could take effect. But that is no reason why you should not discuss future reforms. Only to-day, on arrival at this House I found an admirable document awaiting me from the Foreign Office, explaining reforms which are to take place in that branch of the Civil Service. Would it not be possible for the Government, instead of making a few courteous and guarded concessions in Debate, to ask Departments to produce plans comparable to those brought forward by the Foreign Office, and to let us know how far the Departments are prepared to go in putting reforms into effect and what form those reforms will take in the future?
The last point I want to deal with—because I do not want to take- up too much time—is education. Here, I think, there is some slight misunderstanding. People talk about 700,000 civil servants, but those civil servants are of very different sorts. They range from those who are typing to technicians and the administrative grades. It is impossible to devise one system of education to suit them all. But, broadly speaking, there are three sorts of education. The first is that which is adopted at the moment, what is called going through the mill, being put into a Department, and having to find one's own feet; the second is contact with the outside world; and the third is the staff college.
Going through the mill, we need say no more about. With regard to contact with' the outside world, I want to emphasise this one point. It is more needed in the Treasury than in any other Department. That is not the fault of the Treasury. The Treasury in the main deal only with their fellow civil servants. They never meet deputations. It is not for them to defend inaction. It is for the other Government Departments, who have to turn round and say, "We cannot put through this necessary reform." These other Government Departments cannot even throw the blame back on the Treasury. These able men, living a more sheltered existence, might well be brought into contact more with 713 realities, and I think they themselves would be the first to appreciate it.
I suggest, therefore, that the Committee on National Expenditure is right there and that the Treasury officials might be brought out into other Departments and shown what goes on in the world outside. Reforms of this type, the introduction of earlier retiring pension schemes and so forth, will cost money, I think it is generally recognised, but it would save money in the long run if we could have an able and efficient Civil Service. If it is to go on without this reorganisation and without facilities for removing those men who are past their period of able work, if we are to go on like that, in the long run it will cost us much more. We should now be prepared to find the money in order to put reforms of this kind into effect.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I think it would be ungracious if I did not take this opportunity of thanking the House for the reception they have given to the Motion which I, together with my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Wood-burn), put upon the Paper, and also for the character of the Debate which has taken place to-day. Nobody who has listened to most of this Debate could say that it was anything else but helpful. We have had all kinds of different views, some of them entirely contradictory to each other. I have noticed with interest the support of certain Members to proposals which I would have thought they would have been the last to support and resistance to others which I thought they would be likely to support. Therefore, I cannot help feeling that this Debate must have done good. I also think that the Select. Committee will be grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his reception, on behalf of the Government, of the recommendations which are made in the Report.
There is one point to which I would like to refer in matters which the Chancellor himself raised. I certainly did not want to interrupt him unduly in the very pleasurable part of his speech when he was dealing with all the reforms which had been carried out in the last few years. I cannot help feeling that he was enjoying himself thoroughly, and it would have been a great pity to interrupt him except to point out, as I felt it my duty to do, that even if he had gone on with his cata- 714 logue a little longer the comparatively few cases in reality in which departmental reforms have been carried out over the last 20 years only went to prove the necessity of the case which the Select Committee has put forward. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his moments of greater ease after he has left the House, will look up again the Reports of the various Royal and other Commissions since the date of the last war and then ask for a statement from his officials as to how many of their recommendations have been put into effect, I think he will find that the House would be justified in saying that very little indeed has been done.
There is one recommendation of the Committee about which there has been curious misunderstanding, and that is the proposal for a Select Committee of this House. The last speaker seemed to me to miss the point of that suggestion completely, if he will not mind my saying so. The Chancellor, of course, gave him a lead with his description of this Committee as a Gestapo operation, but the curious thing is—and I think every member of the Select Committee would support me in saying this—that the investigations made by the Committee are not only not resented by Departments but are very often strongly supported and encouraged by them. That is a high tribute to the Civil Service. It may be that they are suffering all the time they are giving evidence, but, if so, they must conceal it remarkably well, because there is no sign of it. The senior members of the Civil Service show no resentment; rather do they think that these inquiries have been helpful to them.
The Chancellor spoke as if the proposed Committee would run all Departments. There is not one word of contradiction between what is stated on page 38 of this Report and the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling, who made, as. I think the House will agree, a most admirable speech. The statement clearly shows that the House of Commons would appoint an officer acting under this proposed Committee who would be in touch with the various Departments as to their machinery and organisation. It has nothing to do with the money they are spending in carrying out their duties. That officer would report to the proposed Committee any case 715 he thought needed inquiry, and evidence would be taken upon it. That is clearly set out in this Report. Therefore, the Chancellor's description of the proposed Committee as a sort of Gestapo is really a flight of the imagination for which there is no basis in the Report before the House. If the House will consider this matter further, I think they will find that there might be great advantages in the House of Commons itself having an organisation of this kind upon which lay the responsibility and duty of seeing that the organisation of the Civil Service is capable of giving us the greatest efficiency in the carrying-on of their work.
The situation is really amusing when one considers that the Chancellor went to the length of saying, "I do not like this idea of a Select Committee of the House of Commons, but I am quite in favour of a regular and periodical review." I do not believe for a moment that a Select Committee of that kind would interfere with Ministerial responsibilities. I am much more afraid—and I wish to speak frankly—that if the House of Commons did not think the Committee up to the mark, the Committee might resolve itself into a duplicate of something like the Estimates Committee of the past. I served on that Committee for some time, and I can tell the House that I considered it a complete waste of my time. I think a Select Committee working with an officer in the way suggested might do a great deal of good. I have not found, even in the case of Ministers themselves, that they feel that their responsibility is being usurped by the Select Committee, and undoubtedly the powers which the Select Committee have and are exercising at the present time are far greater than anything which is proposed for a Select Committee such as is set out in the Report.
Therefore, while thanking the House very much for the way in which it has received the proposals in the Report, I ask hon. Members to consider again whether it would not be of the utmost value both to the House and to the Civil Service that the latter should be in close touch with the House and that there should be between the two this link of a body which by remaining in being, from Session to Session, would know the difficulties of the Civil Service and in many ways be able to 716 smooth the path as between that great Service and the House of Commons. In conclusion, the Select Committee are grateful to the House for the way in which it has received the Report and recommendations. We are grateful to the Government for the consideration they have already given to the Report and hope that they will give it still further consideration and perhaps go even further than has the Chancellor in accepting the recommendations.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House recommends the Report from the Select Committee on National Expenditure on Organisation and Control of the Civil Service to the consideration of His Majesty's Government.