§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)
The humane sympathies of the House during the Debate on the Adjournment so far as it has proceeded have been directed to the welfare of the peoples of our Colonial territories, and, 1439 to some extent, elsewhere. Now I would bring the attention of the House to problems rather nearer home, which also involve human understanding. I refer particularly to the conditions of work in the Civil Service. I have for a considerable period of time taken trouble to investigate this subject, because it is manifestly something which ought to be brought to the notice of the Government on occasion, and particularly to the notice of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who is primarily responsible, I believe, for the welfare of the Civil Service.
As I see it, a Labour Government, representing the interests of the workers, should aim to be the best employer possible in all the circumstances. As seen through the eyes of the workers in the Civil Service, the Government appear sometimes as one of the worst employers. I realise that the Government have inherited all sorts of difficulties. The Civil Service has grown up under a succession of Governments, perhaps not renowned for sympathy with the workers' point of view. I realise that the Government inherit a Service which has withstood the trials and tribulations of war-time activities; that these, in some cases, involved the workers in the Departments in removals at short notice, and involved their being accommodated for their work in buildings which suffered war damage, and which are not to be judged as representing the standards of working accommodation that the Government approve. However, I also think that the Government have not given to these matters all the attention which they deserve, and which should be of special interest to Ministers in a Labour Government. I am sure the Financial Secretary will know of my interest in organisational matters generally, and as they affect staff working conditions in large organisations. He will recall the occasions which I have spoken to him and written him letters over the last few years, and raised Adjournment Debates on this or kindred subjects.
In the early days of this Government I made representations to the Prime Minister, and suggested that the working conditions of the Civil Service, its methods and its organisation, was a subject which should receive the attention of Labour Members, 'and a group of 1440 Members was set up to study this whole matter. When that group was first brought into being, some 40 or 50 Members showed an active interest in the question, but as the months and years have gone by, less and less interest has been shown. I think that has been due to the fact that almost consistently the efforts made by individual Members or groups of Members to bring this matter to the attention of the Government and of the Departments have been frustrated. That has been unfortunate, but understandable to some extent because, owing to the fact that we were bringing in many entirely fresh Measures, it was expected that under a Socialist Government Government Departments would be expected to function in a completely different way, and this seems to me to be one matter which ought therefore to have received a high priority in Government investigation.
I know that from time to time, some of my colleagues have thought my criticism unfair. But after all, it is the function of Members of Parliament to consider complaints that are brought to them. Very often Members get complaints brought to their notice, but it is very seldom that they get credit for the efforts they put in, individually or collectively. Therefore, if, from time to time, I have brought the more negative picture under review, I am sure my right hon. Friend will appreciate that it has been in no way an attempt to be unfair in my criticism, but has been with the earnest desire that matters requiring attention should be rectified.
I should like to assure my right hon. Friend that I have many very good friends in the Civil Service; and in the course of my investigations and contacts with the Departments I have made many more good friends. I think it is a fair comment to say that I find those who are the more vigorous in the Civil Service, those who look with interest towards the future, who have a pride in their service, are always thinking out means whereby the Service can be improved. They are likely to bring suggestions forward, and it is sometimes appropriate that those suggestions should be made by a Member of Parliament by letter to my right hon. Friend's Department. I still believe, as I think the House would agree, that, observing conditions in 1441 the world generally we can lay claim to the fact that the British Civil Service is still undoubtedly the best in the world. But that should not lead us into a sense of apathy and complacency. We should be prompted to see in what ways we can improve it still further.
I think it will be admitted that during recent years, particularly during the war when there had to be a very rapid increase in the size of the Civil Service, the standard has fallen to some extent. It is perhaps more from that cause than any other that I am prompted to bring certain matters before my right hon. Friend's notice today. I say quite frankly that I am actuated more by pity than by anger, and in asking my right hon. Friend to give attention to these various matters I would suggest that a little help is worth a load of pity. I am sure I can count on his giving these points his attention, and that he will give help wherever possible. I appreciate the help which I have personally received from various departments of the Civil Service. I have found great courtesy, and I admire the majority of those who are in the Service, at all levels, for the great sense of public service of which they give evidence continuously in their day-to-day work.
I would, however, ask my right hon. Friend to face certain facts. From my observations I think that other hon. Members who have been to the Departments as I have been from time to time, whether in their constituencies or in the offices around Whitehall, will be aware that if they really critically look at the conditions in which many of the civil servants are working they will agree with me that some half, and perhaps even a greater proportion, are working at far lower standards than we, or they, should be willing to accept. Some of the conditions that I have seen are only describable as really bad. It is in regard to those conditions that I would like the help of my right hon. Friend in putting matters right.
On this fact, that there is need for a great, or at any rate for a considerable improvement in the Civil Service, I would refer to the published policy of the Labour Party itself. In the Labour Party programme that was put before the electorate at the last General Election it was one of the seven main points of our industrial programme to which we said 1442 we would give our attention. The point was dealt with on page 7 of "Let Us Face the Future," and in it we advocatedthe better organisation of Government Departments and the Civil Service for work in relation to these ends.The concluding words were a reference to the six points of our industrial programme. The policy was described a little further in these words:The economic purpose of government must be to spur industry forward and not to choke it with red tape.In the last few years, when we have realised that it would be a help to industry, we have set up certain working parties. The most important industries have thus come under review. At first there was a certain amount of cynicism on the part of industry and a certain amount of ridicule in the Press. I think it has now become generally recognised that the activities of those working parties have been of very great use to industry. In addition, more recently we set up a Local Government Manpower Committee to investigate the apparent wastage, or unnecessary use, of manpower in the relationship between national and local government. The various reports that we have had so far have drawn our attention to almost every industrial activity of the nation, but we seem to have failed to give our attention to the work of the civil servants and to analysing the methods of the service generally, as well as the methods in particular Departments.
My right hon. Friend may well reply that that Manpower Committee will, to some extent at any rate, review the central government organisation as well, but I believe that its activities will be restricted to Departments which have a direct contact with local government, and therefore there is a considerable number of Departments which it will not touch. I am suggesting to my right hon. Friend that an investigation should be made into the Civil Service as a whole. That investigation is called for by the evidence which I hope to give to the House in a few moments. I suggest that it should deal with matters under three main heads: the conditions of offices and buildings; the work and pay of civil servants, including methods of staff management; thirdly, the relations of the Civil Service with the public. Under the last heading I note that a memorandum has 1443 recently been sent out to Civil Service Departments from the Civil Service National Whitley Council, dealing with the training of those who have contact with the public. The memorandum has some excellent advice to offer. It suggests for example that every Civil Servant, whatever his grade, shall understand his position as a servant of the public and take a pride in his job. In some measure we are tending to prevent certain sections of the Civil Service from taking the essential pride in their work which is required for a high standard of performance from this public service.
I will give one or two examples. I shall first refer to the conditions in offices. I feel some concern when I see some of the rather dirty and slovenly conditions. My right hon. Friend would feel, I am sure, similar concern if he looked critically at the conditions in some offices. I want to ask him to what extent he feels a personal sense of responsibility to go around from time to time and look at the different Departments so that he can do the sort of thing that a commanding officer in charge of fighting units does. In peace time, in the fighting Services, it was usual for a senior officer to visit units at home and overseas. We know that there was a tremendous amount of window-dressing on those occasions, but the fact that a senior officer was about to visit a station, was a spur and it meant that stations would be spruced up for the immediate visit, and to some extent those efforts had a permanent value because the opportunity would be taken not only to make the station look attractive at the time but to do certain jobs, even though they were small ones, which had called for attention for some time.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to show that I am wrong in suggesting this, but I believe that he is inclined to assume without full justification that the Organisation and Methods Division of the Treasury, with its corresponding sections in the various Departments, is adequate to ensure that the standards of maintenance of the offices and other matters are kept at a level which we expect from the Government. I believe that is not the case. I believe that although the Organisation and Methods Division is doing some excellent work, it is not able to get at the over-all problem which I suggest should he looked into. 1444 It would require the Prime Minister, the Lord President of the Council or the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the lead could not come, from other than those three—to give authority to say that, particularly at this time when so many big changes have taken place in the Departments, the Organisation and Methods Division, perhaps strengthened by certain people from outside, shall constitute a committee of investigation into the working conditions and other matters affecting all Departments. If any big reorganisation was required in a Department now, it could only take place if the Minister in charge of the Department felt the sense of urgency in connection with the affairs of his Department and invited the Organisation and Methods Division to come in, like a firm of industrial consultants, to work right through the operations and methods of the Department from top to bottom. So far as I know, that has not yet happened. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong.
On the other hand, my right hon. Friend may assume that the Whitley Councils are adequate for putting forward suggestions, through that system, to show when things are wrong and to make suggestions as to how they might be put right. A great deal of good work is done by the Whitley Council system, but certain officials in the lower grades say that they have not come across any of the activities of the Whitley Council system, and some of those men have as much as from 18 to 20 years' experience in the various Departments. No doubt if they pursued the matter vigorously, they could become members of the Whitley Council organisation in their Departments, but they say they have no contact. In the higher levels, I have been told by senior civil servants that the Whitley Council system does not do all it might do, for the reason that nobody at the top, as they described it, was boss in such a way that when the recommendations came forward they could be implemented, with full power and responsibility being taken by one individual to see that suggestions were carried though.
My right hon. Friend may suggest that this matter is one for the unions themselves. That may be so, but from the standpoint of the amount of manpower absorbed in the Civil Service, even the trade union officials would agree that 1445 there is a certain vested interest which the trade unions representing civil servants have in maintaining their numbers. I know that problems of redundancy are placed before the trade unions; rightly so, but if there were to be a real scaling down throughout the whole Civil Service as a result of recommendations from a major investigation, there might be a certain amount of resistance by the trade unions which would have to be overcome.
I ask the Financial Secretary whether he or the President of the Board of Trade, who is more directly responsible, has visited any of the 46 different Board of Trade offices throughout the London region. I remember I.C.I. House before the war. I go to it from time to time now and, recalling what it was like when the directors of the I.C.I. were on the same landing as the President and his immediate officials are now, the contrast is amazing. Of course, one has to allow for the war years, when it was difficult to maintain the same conditions in any offices, used either by industry or by the Civil Service. Nevertheless, the deterioration in general standards of cleanliness and repair, and the general appearance of the place, do not bear comparison with the standards which still persist in the equivalent offices of large-scale industries. Now the building might be described as a dowdy and dirty edition of its former self, and there is an air around the place that nobody really cares. When that atmosphere is permeating a Department, it is bound to some extent to seep into the minds of the people working there, and adversely affect their work also.
If one goes to Shell Mex House where on one side of the building are the Shell Mex oil interests and, on the other side, are the offices of the Ministry of Supply, again the contrast between one side of the building and the other is only too noticeable. One has only to compare in that building the Government messengers, with their dreary appearance and downtrodden attitude to life, with the attitude of the men in the Corps of Commissionaires. It may be that the rates of pay are vastly different, but at least in the Corps of Commissionaires there is real pride in that service which seems so sadly lacking in the case of those who work as messengers in Government Departments.
1446 Take, for example, Regent Street, where there are some of the best and most expensive offices in London. I visited the offices of the Board of Trade recently; probably I was not supposed to be there, but it is the responsibility of a Member of Parliament to know the conditions under which public servants work. I had an opportunity of going round and I took it. I was very depressed in making even a short visit and the effect must be similar on the attitude of those who have to work there. It was quite appalling to me and I think the attitude of those who are there becomes depressed through the depressing conditions in which they have to work. The Carlton Hotel was the height of luxury before the war. It is now in the occupation of the Ministry of Food and one can only describe it as having been converted from a luxury to a slum.
In the Ministry of Health, where there should be a specially high standard of cleanliness, the walls do not seem to have been cleaned since before the war and there are still broad blue arrows indicating the direction to take to shelters underground in the event of air raids. They are still there with dirt and dust around them, which seems to indicate that the walls have not been cleaned for a long time. It seems a relic of wartime conditions and it appears that no great change has taken place since the war—four years is too long. I do not know whether the broad blue arrows are intended as a warning since the Lynskey Tribunal, but that may be one of the reasons why they have been left there.
The earlier Adjournment Debate this afternoon was on the subject of the Colonies, and I wish to refer to conditions in the Colonial Office. I visited certain offices in Victoria Street to which Colonial students go when they arrive in this country, or if they have particular problems to be dealt with by the welfare officer. They go to the most dreary and unsuitable offices in Victoria Street. A few months ago they went to a rather better building Kinnaird House near Trafalgar Square, which was more adequate for the purpose; but now their first impression is of a building which is dreary and quite inadequate for its purpose. I am told that within a short time of their arrival these students are contacted as a matter of course by 1447 members of the Communist Party. If the reception they have when they come to this country is so indifferent, one cannot wonder that the seeds of Communism can be easily sown in their minds. When I visited some of these other offices I found the usual things; lights slung about on strings, appallingly bad ventilation and the smell of stale bodies. The windows had not been opened perhaps because some woman objects to a cold draught down her neck. That may be a good reason for closing the windows, but someone should be responsible for seeing that they are opened at the beginning and the end of the day and possibly at midday. There were old dirty milk bottles about and the conditions under which tea was made were far from clean.
I was talking to the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown), who takes a personal interest in these matters affecting the Civil Service. I understand he could not remain for this Debate. He made the point that the regulations concerning offices do not apply to the Crown. If they did it would be an obligation on those responsible for the Departments to see that those regulations were observed. When we impose regulations upon industry to see that there is a minimum standard of office conditions, the Government should set a standard and see that its own office conditions are in no way inferior. I had a case brought to me in the last few days by a member of the Inland Revenue Department at Somerset House. The offices admittedly have now been painted and cleaned up quite a bit, but that did not happen until a case of tuberculosis probably brought about by the conditions was taken out of Somerset House. If we are to wait to be prompted by conditions having that sort of effect in the Departments, it is a sorry story.
I was shown the filing conditions in one office and the racks on which files are dispersed. When one sees them one understands why there is delay in answering Members' letters and why the public experience such delay in getting replies to their letters. I spoke to the man who has to handle these matters and he described precisely how he had to find letters in these files. He referred to one letter which was lost for six months and was eventually found on the table of 1448 the senior officer in charge of the Department, who was ill. It was a letter from a firm about a matter affecting its export programme and the firm had not been able to get a reply by following up the lost letter. The civil servant said that he had to make some lame excuse to the firm concerned and say that this was an important matter which took a lot of investigation. That sort of excuse is not good enough, particularly when matters affecting our export trade are concerned. I suggest that poor conditions in the offices inevitably result in poor work and also in the falling off of morale in the lowest ranks.
I wish to mention the subject of personal problems of the work and pay of the staff. Some attempts have been made to improve the position in regard to human problems in the Departments by appointing certain officials to go round and speak to the people employed in the Departments. I am told that the methods of investigation do not inspire a great deal of confidence, and that visits by these officials are therefore treated rather as a farce, with the result that the real problems are not ventilated and little is said by those who still feel a keen sense of frustration. They are deterred by a sense that if they are critical, or perhaps what may be considered to be unduly critical, they will be labelled as "difficult," and there is nothing more damning to a civil servant's own progress than to have that label of "difficult" put on his secret dossier. It means that from then onwards his chances of promotion are practically nil. This is a real fear. I do not wish to exaggerate it, but there is a real inherent fear in the minds of civil servants, particularly at the lower levels, that things can get on to their dossiers which may be far from complimentary but which may not be sufficiently adverse for them to see and comment upon—that they are damned by faint praise from making progress.
One temporary civil servant told me he felt that his class were without a hope in the world. He said that they are continuously made to feel inferior to the established civil servant, that they have a feeling that there is little or no chance of promotion and that the established civil servant seems to have all the chances of making progress. There is a strong sense of class distinction between the 1449 established and the unestablished civil servant. This man, with a family consisting of a wife and two boys, was trying to exist on a mere six guineas a week. When temporary civil servants are living under these very adverse conditions of work and poor pay, the first thing they see is an increase in the salaries of the senior civil servants, some of £1,000 a year, whereas these poor fellows are having to count every penny and halfpenny.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)
As it will be impossible for me, when I reply, to deal with every point Which has been made by my hon. Friend, and as I do not wish to miss this one, will he give an instance where this has happened—where the salaries of senior officers have recently been increased, in some cases by at least £1,000? I do not know of one instance.
§ Mr. Cooper
I am referring to Cmd. 7635, which is the report recommending that increase. I have questioned the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this matter and I understand that this report is to be implemented at an early date. If I am wrong in that assumption, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will correct me.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
The situation is that the senior civil servants are very badly paid compared with their opposite numbers outside. A committee was set up and recommended that, at some time, their salaries should be brought up. The Chancellor has agreed that what was said was right and proper, but no date has been fixed.
§ Mr. Cooper
I stand corrected. The precise wording which I used was incorrect, but I think that the point I was trying to make still stands. The impression amongst the lower ranks is to the effect that those who receive attention first—no doubt they are not undeserving of it—are those in the higher salary scales. The increase is very considerable, though admittedly applying to comparatively few members of the Civil Service; but those in the lower scales feel that, at the same time, their own case merits some reasonable consideration.
The particular civil servant who showed me round, resigned recently after a period 1450 of 17½ years and, I think, rather tragically, he says that he leaves with a sense of hate in his heart. He is not the sort of man who would not respond to reasonable treatment if he felt there were a chance of getting reasonable and better treatment; but he has been pushed around from one job to another and he feels that it is not worth while carrying on any longer.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Heston and Isleworth)
Would it be too much to ask my hon. Friend to give a few more details about this very pathetic case, having regard to the thousands of people who remain in the Civil Service? I should like to know a little bit more about the circumstances that drove this poor desperate man to leave the Service in complete distress.
§ Mr. Cooper
I appreciate my hon. Friend's question and I think I can put the case to him fully. It would be unfair to mention the name of the man or any details to enable him to be traced. The case is not an isolated one. He introduced me to others in his Department. One man, for instance, had been a major in the Army in the First World War and he described the type of work he was doing, which was the sort of work that could have been done better by an office boy of 16. That was the sort of work he had been doing continuously over a period of time and he felt equally distressed at the type of work and the hours of boredom that he had to put in in doing routine jobs which gave him no scope or any sense of keenness and initiative. I have quoted two cases now, and if my hon. Friend wishes to hear further examples quoted I can give them.
§ Mr. Williams
It is not important whether I know it as an individual, but rather serious charges have been made in this House, and I think that it is only right and proper that hon. Members should have some idea of what are the difficulties. These generalities are hardly conducive to a complete investigation by this House of the point raised by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Cooper
I shall be specific in one instance, which will give an illustration. This particular individual showed copies of the letters he had written dealing with problems affecting our trade in the Far East. He received continuous reports 1451 which had to be analysed, the information extracted from what were very wide reports, and then condensed into terms which could be absorbed and digested by other Departments. The work required quite as high a standard of intelligence and sense of proportion and initiative as that shown by those who were being paid far more than he was. He tried to make this case to those outside the Department but he could make no progress against what seems to be the real stumbling block in the case of temporary civil servants which is that until they become established, they cannot obtain any chance of making progress. I could enumerate many other cases and I should be only too happy to do so to my hon. Friend. This man felt he was doing important work and was being paid a very great deal less than the work justified.
I suggest that the aim should be an ever-increasing standard of efficiency, ever-increasing opportunities for good pay in good jobs and ever-decreasing numbers in the Civil Service itself. It seems to me that at present, in the case of some Departments, the reverse is taking place. Sir Percival Waterfield, who is the head of the Civil Service Commission, in reply to a question put to him and as reported by the Select Committee on Estimates said that there was a considerable increase in the size of the Department over which he had direct control, and that it was due to the fact that there was a lowered standard of performance. It does seem, in fact, as if more and more people were doing less and less effective work, and I suggest that a 10 per cent. reduction, which the Prime Minister was willing to consider about two years ago, is quite inadequate to deal with this highly important situation.
I could quote a considerable number of examples on this question, but I will pick out only two. One concerns the Ministry of Works. During the war, a woman architect was put on to a job under a man who had been a senior official of the Ministry of Works before the war. It was realised that he was not quite suitable to cope with the war situation, and so he was superseded and was put in a department of his own to work on post-war plans. In due time, when the post-war plans needed consideration, 1452 a completely fresh department was set up to look into that question, and then somebody remembered that there had been a certain amount of work done during the war years on this very subject. These plans were therefore called for, put up, displayed and considered, and it was found that they were entirely useless, as they had been considered in a vacuum without any adequate realisation of the conditions which would apply after the war.
During the period of this qualified woman architect, the Department had been increasing in size, yet the work which had been done was later found to be of no use. The woman architect said that she had been brought into the Civil Service from the profession outside, and she said that it was not overstating the case to say that, once one went into a Civil Service Department, things became almost completely "Alice in Wonderland," completely divorced from reality, and that people seemed to act in a way quite different from the way in which they would act if they had been engaged in industry and had come up against the hard realities of industrial and commercial life. She also said that nothing was too fantastic or "Alice in Wonderland" for it to happen in a Department.
The other case which I shall quote concerns a man who had been in the Civil Service for 19 years who has moved about among various Departments, and who has given it as his opinion that it is not overstating the case to say that, in the Departments in which he worked, a reduction of 50 per cent. could actually take place with the only effect of showing a considerable improvement in the service given. This man had even written to the papers about it, and it is such an unusual thing for a civil servant to express himself in public, that I think what he said is worth noting. He had done an extremely fine job during the war as a civilian in one of the Fighting Forces. He had done this overseas, and had been commended for having done fine work in a situation which many another man of the Fighting Forces would agree, only a brave man could have faced. This man said he realised now that, before the war, he had not done an honest day's work in the Department in which he had been employed. He had now been moved into a new Department which had been set up by the Labour Government, and 1453 which had recruited its staff very largely from the friendly societies and other insurance bodies.
§ It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Snow.]
§ Mr. Cooper
He said he fully realised that he was now doing an average day's work, and he felt that was, by comparison, an adverse reflection on the conditions which, in the main, prevail in other Government Departments.
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman a question? His is an extraordinary speech, and rather an unfair one. Will he say whether, when he was making these inquiries, he consulted any of the trade unions associated with those employed in the Civil Service in order to justify or corroborate the statements he is now making?
§ Mr. Cooper
As my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will recall, I had conversations with people in his Department. In addition, I consulted with trade union officials who are associated with the Civil Service.
§ Mr. Cooper
I have not approached the actual executives, because I believe that to be outside my sphere. My approach must be either to the Financial Secretary or to colleagues in this House who have associations with the Civil Service trade unions; they are the channels I have used.
I wish to make one final point in regard to relations with the public. I say first, however, that my experience with the Ministry of Labour is that there has been a great improvement in the way contact is made with the public and those who go to the employment exchanges. I find that my relations with officials in my local employment exchange are excellent. On all occasions I have been given the greatest help by those officials. I think that, in a large measure, the same applies to the Ministry of Pensions, where a great deal more human understanding is expressed by the officials than there was under previous Governments. But, when 1454 interviewing constituents last weekend, a case was brought to my notice of an approach made to one of the other Departments where the official volunteered the suggestion—the man concerned was simply trying to get quite normal information relative to the problem he was discussing with the official—that the question he was asking was an insolent and an impertinent one. That sort of thing is not good. The man in question gave me this information in front of other people, and stated it in such a way that I have no reason to doubt its accuracy.
Again, quite recently, I had brought to my notice the case where an industrialist had been discussing a problem affecting his export trade—the possibility of starting a completely fresh production with a new model, and one which is earning foreign exchange—but when he tried to fix an appointment with the official he was told on a long-distance call, that the official was too busy to speak to him. Eventually the official did speak to him, when he was told that he was too busy to fix an appointment for 10 days or a fortnight, even though it was known that it was a question that should be settled right away because important matters were affected. If in moments of urgency, industry cannot get rapid decisions on reasonable matters, or if the individual who is trying to get the matter cleared up is unable to state his case at an interview to the official concerned, it tends to undermine the confidence of the public in the way Departments work. I asked him why he did not complain straightaway. I understand that there is a fear in the minds of some industrialists that if they do make requests in strong terms to officials, reprisals might be used by those in the Department. I know that I am using strong words, but I have heard these complaints on so many occasions that I think it right and proper to say this here and now. I want to give a final example which again is of a serious nature. I fully realise—
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
My hon. Friend has made some very serious allegations, and I think the House is entitled to ask him to give a specific instance in order that it can be traced, because if it is true, obviously there is responsibility upon the Financial Secretary to go after the individual or the department concerned.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
I hope no other hon. Member will interrupt the hon. Gentleman's speech, which has now been going on for a long time. I understand other hon. Members want to take part in the Debate.
§ Mr. Cooper
I am about to bring my remarks to a conclusion. I fully realise that some of the remarks I have made are of a serious nature. I have made them advisedly and with all the evidence, written and otherwise, available, if need be, to substantiate every point I have made. I am not mincing my words because I realise the situation is serious. That is the reason why I have taken up so much of the time of the House in making these points. I know it is unpopular with some hon. Members when highly critical matters are brought forward, particularly if there is some reflection upon them because they may be associated with some of the trade unions concerned.
§ Dr. Morgan
I am sorry to interrupt again, but I must object. I was one of the interrupters. I object to the suggestion that it is because one is associated from a professional point of view with a trade union which is connected with a Government Department, and because one hears a carelessly made speech alleging a possible reprisal by a Government Department on an industrialist who makes a long-distance telephone call, such remarks are unpopular. The suggestion is that because the civil servant does not put everything aside and take up the industrialist's case, that is a reflection on the way in which the Government Department works. I would say that it is a good example of the way in which a Government Department should do its work. Civil servants cannot be expected to give a decision at a moment's notice when someone telephones them. We must object to the tone of my hon. Friend's speech.
§ Mr. Cooper
Let me explain one further point. Evidently I did not make myself clear. I said that the man made a long-distance call asking for an appointment. At least the man at the other end could have given a clear indication as to when he could be contacted, instead of a vague reply which simply added to the difficulties of the situation.
I make this last point with due regard to its implications. I know it will cause 1456 objections in certain quarters, but I make the point advisedly. I have the evidence and if need be it can be given in the proper quarter when required. I believe that the right place for any of this evidence to be considered is only in front of a properly constituted investigation into the whole of the working of the Civil Service. Various committees which have been set up—for example, those dealing with Communist activities in the Civil Service or the activities of contact men—are dealing with the matter piecemeal. These are all parts of a total problem. The total problem is the way in which the Departments are functioning.
My concern, and I think the concern of others on this side of the House as well as in other quarters of the House, and in the country generally where these views may also be held, is that there has grown up voluntarily—I do not think it is at all part of the Socialist policy but that it has happened in spite of it, and to some extent it is a hangover from the war—an ever-increasing power and influence on the part of bureaucracy. We must see that under Socialism it does not happen. In some places it happens because Socialist Ministers are preoccupied with big problems involving Labour policy, and introducing Bills which we promised the electorate we would do. It has been very difficult for Ministers to apply the time they should have devoted to matters concerning the organisation of their Departments.
An insurance company was very concerned because its income which was derived from property was seriously affected, and it could not get the property put in order because of the enormous delays, difficulties, obstructions and refusals which it met with when applying for licences and sanctions. The board of this insurance company met together to ask themselves, "Where does our loyalty lie—to our policy-holders or elsewhere?" They decided that it lay to their policy holders and the decision of the board was to contact what was euphemistically described as a syndicate—not just one man named Stanley, but a syndicate. After that they had no trouble with their licences or sanctions. The obvious is implied—and I realise that this is a serious charge. When the Lynskey Tribunal was held, the board asked the syndicate "What is your position now?" They made this point: "It does not matter 1457 because we realise that Stanley was a clumsy fellow; he was contacting Ministers and in that way was found out. We contact those in the Departments." This is a serious matter, and I believe a matter of that sort cannot be investigated as an individual item; it must be investigated as a matter affecting the whole of the Civil Service.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I wonder whether now, openly in this House, my hon. Friend will undertake afterwards to give me privately the name of the board of the insurance company so that I may follow this up?
§ Mr. Cooper
Yes, I am prepared to give the evidence to my right hon. Friend, but obviously I should have to ask for an undertaking from him. From time to time I have given evidence to individual Ministers who have passed the evidence to their Departments and in due time, after some delay—obviously required to investigate the matter fully—I have received an evasive reply. I have not had satisfaction. What I suggest is this, and it is the point I have been trying to make in my speech this afternoon; the only way to deal with the matter is to investigate the Civil Service as a whole and not to investigate individual items. It is in investigating individual items that we have failed to obtain results and to make the deductions which otherwise we should have made.
§ Mr. Cooper
I am prepared to give that to my hon. Friend provided I can have an undertaking from him—and I think this is a reasonable request for me to make—that he will not only safeguard the individuals concerned, but that he will make it part of his promise that there shall be an investigation of the whole Civil Service rather than on this one item.
§ Mr. Cooper
At least he can consult the Prime Minister over this matter and see whether it cannot be done. Finally I ask, will he at least give consideration to the points I have tried to make, probably very badly, probably inadequately and probably sketchily? In every instance I can give him the fullest infor- 1458 mation required to substantiate every single point I have made
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Houghton (Sowerby)
If I may say so, I think my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) has spoiled his case by recounting to the House a lot of irresponsible and unsubstantiated tittle-tattle. I cannot really believe that much of what he has brought before us represents the evidence of responsible people of the Civil Service. If it does, then the proper place for these allegations is where they can be thoroughly investigated, with all the evidence and the identity of those who are making these statements and in a full investigation of all associated with them. When my hon. Friend rose to speak I thought that he was about to make a constructive and helpful speech about working conditions in our vast and important public service, but he gradually descended from the high note upon which he started to the sort of speech which I have just criticised.
My hon. Friend divided his speech into three parts—first, the chores of the Government Departments; second, work and pay; and third, relations with the public. Let me remind him that there is elaborate machinery already in the Civil Service in the National Whitley Council, in the Departmental Whitley Councils, and in an array of lesser Whitley Councils throughout the public service, to which matters of the kind he has mentioned can be referred for full consideration and constructive investigation and constructive action. I trust that he will advise those who bring these complaints to him that there is that machinery for dealing with them. The trade union organisation of the Civil Service is very proficient, and fully competent to make representations to proper authority when members bring their grievances to it. I do not want to take up more of the time, which should be at the disposal of the financial Secretary, whose indignation at some of the statements made by my hon. Friend I am sure we can understand. I only voice the protest of one who has been connected with the Civil Service for a lifetime; who has served on important Whitley Councils in the Civil Service. I voice my protest at the irresponsibility of the allegations which my hon. Friend has brought before the House.
§ Mr. Cooper
Before my hon. Friend sits down, may I make a comment? These were not irresponsible statements—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has already exhausted his right to speak or make any comment.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I want to intervene for only one moment to say that I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) has made a most unfortunate speech. I came here prepared to listen very sympathetically to what he had to say. I had hoped to have an opportunity to try to elaborate one or two points which I believe would have been regarded as fair, reasonable, and proper criticisms of the Civil Service, and to make one or two constructive suggestions. I think my hon. Friend has fallen into error in trying to draw false conclusions from a few individual cases, and as a result has painted a totally false picture of the situation. I think this country is justly proud of the integrity and the efficiency of its Civil Service.
However, having said that, I would say that I think there is room for considerable improvement in organisation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech recognised that economies could be made in the administration of our affairs. He said that those economies might only be measured in fractions of millions, but I believe that there is room, by a properly undertaken effort to make very considerable economies. I was going to try to elaborate—I shall not as there is not time—the wide scope for economy with the preservation of efficiency which would result from a complete overhaul of the relationship between the central administration, by central Government Departments, and local authorities throughout the country. My right hon. Friend has very wisely taken that matter in hand by the appointment of a committee.
There is a great deal of overlapping at the moment, both on the administrative level and on the technical level, in all the social services that are administered by local authorities and are subject to control by central Departments in Whitehall. The local authorities themselves have published a memorandum, from which I was going to quote, although 1460 I shall not now, in which they put forward many constructive suggestions for the elimination of the duplication that exists at the moment, and thereby for the introduction of very considerable economies in the administration of social services. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will give attention—his own personal attention—to the working of that committee, because I think that in that way very considerable economies in the administration of our central and local affairs could be achieved.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Heston and Isleworth)
All I want to say at this stage is that I very much regret that my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper), in his wisdom, has not allowed others of us the opportunity to discuss some of the very important statements he made today. He took an inordinately long time to make these allegations, some of which I should have liked to challenge in detail had I been given the opportunity. There were points in his speech which, could they have been enlarged upon, would have been helpful to this House and to civil servants themselves. I therefore very much regret that he did not give others the opportunity to make those things known to the House.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)
First let me say in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) that I have taken the point he made, although unfortunately he had to make it in a rather truncated manner. I agree with him that there is a good deal of overlapping between the central and the local authorities at the official level. As he knows, we have a committee sitting on this, and I hope that as a result of its deliberations something may be done both to make the machinery more efficient and to release staff. I am also grateful for the very few words which my hon. Friend the Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. W. R. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) were able to say, in spite of the shortness of time. I think it would have been an excellent thing if, on an occasion like this, when we had more than the usual half-hour for an Adjournment Debate, more hon. Members could have taken part, for in my view that 1461 would have made this a much more satisfactory occasion.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) spoke for nearly an hour, and it is obvious that in the space of eight or nine minutes it would be impossible for me to deal with a tithe of the points he made. He himself admitted that he made some very serious allegations, and when I asked him to promise that he would give me chapter and verse so that inquiry could be made he attempted in return to make a bargain. Well, I was not making the allegations; he was making them. I wish to say, here and now, that I hope he will be good enough to let me have all the details he possibly can about this insurance company which apparently, because it could not do business with a Government Department in a proper way, had to go to somebody in the black market, to what is commonly known as a contact man. That is a serious allegation, particularly as I drew from the rest of his remarks on that particular point the inference that what the company could not get directly from the Government Department they got quite quickly through this contact man, which definitely implies that the contact man was able to gain from civil servants certain advantages which other people could not get.
As one who is jealous for the good name of the Civil Service, which is unable to answer for itself, I must say that music hall jokes are one thing and are taken in good part, but serious allegations by a Member of Parliament, who is supposed to realise the responsibility both of his position and the place in which he speaks, are an entirely different matter, and I hope—as I am sure he will—that my hon. Friend will give me details of these cases, if there is more than one, so that we can go into them, and if necessary make the whole thing public, as I think most of us would desire should be done.
My hon. Friend has said that this matter has been raised by him on more than one occasion. When he said that he was understating the position. Not only has he on previous Adjournment Debates raised the type of question of which he spoke again this afternoon, but he has also done so frequently in both letters to me and talks with me within the precincts of the House. Up to now nothing that I, or others for that matter, have been able to say to my hon. Friend has 1462 eradicated from his mind the opinion that the Civil Service as an organisation is grossly inefficient and completely out of date. I can hardly expect within seven or eight minutes—perhaps not even within a century—to get him to believe that the Civil Service is not as black as he paints it, and that it is not true to say that it has not changed its methods for many years.
Much of what he said about working conditions, buildings and equipment found an answering echo in my heart. We are very well aware, without his telling us, how poor and how out of date, many of the buildings are and how necessary it is to bring the equipment up to modern standards. We want all kinds of labour-saving devices in the Civil Service, both to increase efficiency and to lessen the numbers that we otherwise would have to employ. I can assure my hon. Friend that, although we are very grateful for his reminder, we had not overlooked the fact that these are some of the things we ought to do as soon as they become possible.
I would ask him to remember that, at the moment, this country has had to concentrate on production for overseas, and that people in the Civil Service would prefer that houses should be built rather than that they should have new and up-to-date offices. My hon. Friend looks young and healthy. I hope he will live to see those offices go up and the day come when they can be a credit to the country and certainly a credit to and an amenity and comfort for those who work there. Therefore, on that point, we are all with him.
So far as the physical working conditions are concerned, I should have thought that one who follows these matters so closely would have read the report which was published in 1948 and which dealt with this matter. The committee was set up in April, 1943, under the then National Coalition, to consider the physical working conditions in the Civil Service. It has made a report, and we are doing our best to implement the findings of that committee. But these things take time. We shall have to wait for some of them, at any rate until we can leave other things which at the moment are more important; then we can concentrate upon doing something in the directions mentioned.
1463 I cannot of course deal here with the cases that my hon. Friend gave us. That is the difficulty about cases mentioned in the course of a Debate. Few details are given and it is impossible to know straight away what the answer is. I have found during a fairly long experience that there are two sides to most cases. It might well be, even if what my hon. Friend said is true about the long distance call to a department he mentioned, that they knew the gentleman who was ringing, and that the last thing they wanted to do was to fix an appointment with him. Such things happen, and that may be the answer.
§ Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)
In regard to the allegation that has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) about contact men, is it not a fact that there is a committee now sitting, appointed by the Prime Minister? Surely it is my hon. Friend's duty to send the evidence to them?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I should be quite happy if the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough would do that. I dealt with the matter in the way I did because the allegation has been made here, but if my hon. Friend cares to write directly to the Prime Minister I should be delighted. I have no desire to handle it at all. If it came to me I should in any case pass it on to the proper quarter. So serious and definite is it, that it would eventually, I 1464 imagine, reach the Prime Minister himself.
Let me say finally that the Civil Service always lives under a very fierce light. Publicity is bent upon it, and the slightest slip can and does give rise to paragraphs in the newspapers and sometimes streamer headlines; whereas a business may be as inefficient as you like and nothing is ever said about it in the Press. At the same time, the Civil Service is by no means perfect. It is an enormous organisation. It has a very extensive job to do. It would be a curious thing indeed if it never slipped up and was completely efficient throughout. On the whole it does a good job. I think it is going to do a better one when we can give it the equipment that is its due.
I do not think we help our country or assist the Civil Service to give its best if we make charges such as we have heard this afternoon and which, if I may say so, have done my hon. Friend no good. His allegations have been far too sweeping. If he had been a little more generous in his references to the Civil Service than he has been, and had realised what a fine job it is doing, we should have been more inclined to listen to what he had to say.
§ The Question having been proposed at Four o'Clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.