HC Deb 27 June 1951 vol 489 cc1523-9

Considered in Committee of the whole House under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees). —[King's Recommendation signified.]


in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed:

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make provision for the appointment and functions of a Minister of Materials, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of the salary of the Minister appointed in pursuance of the Act and his expenses, including the salaries and remuneration of a Parliamentary Secretary and other secretaries, officers and servants and including any increase in the sums payable out of moneys provided by Parliament under other Acts, being an increase attributable to the application of provisions of those Acts to the said Minister.—[Mr. Stokes.]

10.27 p.m.

Mr. P. Roberts

I cannot let this Money Resolution pass without asking one or two questions. The Money Resolution does not state the amount of money to be expended. This could quite easily be worked out, and it is wrong that the Committee should pass such a Resolution without being told the amount of money involved. No doubt later on this week we shall hear the argument that the Treasury cannot afford this or that. The Committee ought to be told roughly how much this will cost. I understand that some 2,000 officials will be transferred from other Ministry's to the new Ministry. First, I should like to know what will be the total amount of their salaries and expenses, and secondly, what commitments the Bill envisages in extra civil servants and deputy Ministers and the total cost in this direction.

Mr. Stokes

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman all the details he requires, but an Estimate is being prepared and will be submitted to Parliament before the end of the Session. At the moment I am not in a position to give a precise figure, but, as I explained in my speech on the Bill, the bulk of the provision necessary for the new Ministry has already appeared in the Estimates of the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Supply, and this will be transferred to the Estimate for the new Ministry. The setting up of the new Ministry will, there fore, involve no major addition to the total provision for which Parliament has been asked in the field of raw materials.

I explained in my speech earlier that there would be small additions in the numbers of staff required to fulfil the activities envisaged in the Bill in order to give special attention to certain aspects of the work of the new Ministry. Reference to the existing Estimates will show that, although the turnover of trade in the materials which go to the new Ministry amount to some £300 million, the operations are expected to be self-financing. Parliament was asked only for a total vote of £10 for each of the two Departments in this respect. The first aim is to make the most effective use of the money for which Parliament has already been asked, and if experience shows that more money is needed and can be used profitably, the House will certainly be asked to provide it by means of a Supplementary Estimate. I cannot give any more information than that tonight.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Jennings

If hon. Members opposite wish to throw away public money, we on this side of the House feel it is part of our duty to the people who have sent us here to protect public funds. It is perfectly fantastic for the Minister to make the statement that he has no idea how much money will be involved in this Ministry. I think it shows from the start that the right hon. Gentleman has no idea of the duties he is to perform. I would say—[Interruption.] I have plenty of time. I wish the constituents of hon. Members opposite who sent them here would listen to some of these debates. [Interruption.]I have been too long here to be bamboozled by these interruptions. If this is the best protection of public funds shown by the opposite side, I hope the country will take note of it.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)

First of all, I should like to ask whether it is in order for hon. Members below or outside the Bar to take part in the discussion by shouting. It is a small point, but I should like to know.

The Deputy-Chairman

If I had heard them I would have reproved them.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I shall be brief in the few remarks I hope to make. This is something which amounts to giving a blank cheque. I say that in all seriousness. I do not know why the Home Secretary is looking so anxious. This is tantamount to saying that the Minister does not know how much he wants. Surely in his own business, in which I understand he is an expert and has had the happiest results all through his life, the right hon. Gentleman would not accept anything of this kind.

The right hon. Gentleman says that there will be some "slight adjustment" I think those were his words—and mention has been made of 100 extra civil servants. The fact is that if we add these to the 750,000 civil servants we have already, it does make a difference.

Then, what about offices? Where is this new Ministry to be housed? How much is it going to cost? The Department must be set up either by requisitioning premises or building new premises, which is going to cost a great deal of money. Are we not entitled to know how much it is going to be, or at least given a reasonable estimate? Would the right hon. Gentleman in his own business accept a proposal such as he is putting to the House tonight? Of course, he would not. He knows he would not, although I see him wagging his head, but I hope he is going to give a little more information about what the added expense may be.

Mr. Osborne

I should like to ask the Minister one question which I think the Committee ought to have answered. He has told us that something like 1,900 "bodies"—I think that was the term he used—will be transferred from the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Supply. I suppose we can take it that the expenses of these 1,900 people will be the same in his Department as they were in the other two Departments?

Mr. Stokes

indicated assent

Mr. Osborne

Can he also assure us that the two Departments from which they come will have their expenses reduced by the amount of his expenses? If he gives that assurance it will take some of the blankness away from the cheque.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

This is by no means the first occasion in this House, either in this Parliament or in the last one, on which we have been presented by this Government with estimates of this kind, in which the Minister comes down and says quite frankly that he has not the faintest idea how much it is going to cost. Let us have a shot at it. My shot will be just as good as his in the long run. Let us say an additional £500,000 will be required in the course of a year or so. That is the sort of thing the Government say on occasions like this. When a new Department is set up under this Government there has immediately to be a vast number of motor cars, secretaries and new buildings, especially new buildings. Does this estimate cover any sort of new buildings? If so, I would far rather that the money was spent on providing more homes for the people.

I am sure that I could find many examples from speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite of how they waste money on buildings of this kind. In the last few, largely due to the incompetence of the Government, and because the Treasury no longer keeps an eye on things of this kind, the House has been asked to agree to this sort of proposal. Here we are being asked late at night to agree to this Money Resolution after having discussed the Second Reading of a Bill which is entirely unjustified.

A more hopeless waste of public money has never been put before us by any Government. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should come down to the Committee and say that he has no idea of the amount involved. What is the good of saying that some civil servants will be transferred from one Department to another? We have had that again and again. However many are transferred from one Department to another, the blank gaps in the other Department are also filled up, and something has to be found for those who come in.

In expressing my very firm dislike, not only for the Resolution we have in front of us, but also for the entirely slipshod administration of finance which has been only too clearly shown, I say that the sooner we get rid of this Government the better.

The Deputy-Chairman

Sir Peter Macdonald.

10.41 p.m.

Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)


The Deputy-Chairman

I called the hon. Member. If he does not wish to speak, perhaps he will resume his seat.

Sir P. Macdonald

I am grateful, Sir Charles, to be called, but I call upon you—

Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)

If the hon. Member is on his feet for two or three minutes and does not know whether or not he is in the Committee—[Interruption.]

Sir P. Macdonald

I am quite conscious of being called, but I was not conscious of being heard. I thought it was your responsibility, Sir Charles, to see that a Member who is on his feet, having been called, was allowed to be heard, but I heard nothing but guffaws and loud noises from the other side, and I waited for silence.

What I wanted to say was that I view with the greatest apprehension the way in which this Money Resolution, with which we have to deal tonight, is being dealt with, especially by the Government side. I have heard nothing but laughter and cheers and guffaws. Having been in the House for quite a long time, I am conscious that when we deal with matters of this kind, matters of great seriousness—[Laughter.]I was brought up in an old school [Interruption.]

I understand that what we are dealing with tonight is the question of voting a really large sum of money to set up a new Department, a new Ministry. I have been in the House long enough to see quite a number of new Ministries set up, and I can mention several of them. I remember that I resisted very strongly the setting up of the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

The Deputy-Chairman

This Resolution deals only with the Ministry of Materials.

Sir P. Macdonald

I have seen other Ministries set up. One of these was the Ministry of Production. And now we have the Ministry of Materials. What does it all amount to? [Interruption.]If I am allowed to reminisce a little, I remember the time when we in the House were invited to set up the Ministry of Production. Surely the Ministry of Materials today is the same as the Ministry of Production at the time of the war. It was set up to co-ordinate other Government Departments which were dealing with materials. The War Office, the Ministry of Supply, the Air Ministry, and all Departments of Government were dealing with materials. A new Ministry was set up, and we said at the time that we objected to new Departments being set up. I said myself at the time, "In no time you will have at least 1,000 more civil servants in that Department, and what will they do?" We were assured at that time that only 100 people—

The Deputy-Chairman

That is surely not the Department we are dealing with.

Sir P. Macdonald

Then let us come to this Department with which we are dealing. It is supposed to deal with materials. What materials?

The Deputy-Chairman

That was dealt with on Second Reading a short while ago.

Sir P. Macdonald

The question still arises: What are we voting money for? To set up a new Department. To set up a new Minister to deal with materials. Well, I am not opposed to that in these critical times; I am not opposed to having one man who could co-ordinate all the materials necessary for our great effort. That is very important. But what did I hear today from the Ministry? He is appointing himself as Minister over his own Department, and he told us he would be responsible for materials. What materials? I listened to the right hon. Gentleman; he seemed to have a very good grasp of the situation, but as far as I could see he is not going to be Minister of Materials at all. There are four other Departments involved: there are the Minister of Supply, the Admiralty, the War Office—

The Deputy-Chairman

I must ask the hon. Gentleman to keep to the point of this Money Resolution.

Mr. Logan

On a point of order. Is it not unfair to the hon. Gentleman to allow him to go on in obvious difficulties?

Sir P. Macdonald

We have all known the hon. Gentleman long enough to know that his interjections mean nothing at all — when he is here. They are just nonsense.

While I am on my feet I wish to express the view which has been expressed many times from this side of the House, that this new Ministry, so-called, means nothing at all. We are promised that there will not be many civil servants employed, but I bet that within three months there will be at least 1,000 more civil servants serving the right hon. Gentleman. What are they going to do in the meantime?

Mr. Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)


Sir P. Macdonald

Exactly. Nothing. And all the time, the people who are engaged in industry, whom we ought to be helping, who are trying to produce munitions and all the necessities of life, have to go to about four different Departments for what they require to keep their industries going. I protest most vehemently against this new Ministry being set up. I am convinced that in no time we shall have another 1,000 civil servants serving another Ministry.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Pargiter (Southall)

I find the reasoning of the Opposition difficult to follow. The Minister has made a reasonable explanation of the transfer of staff from other departments, and of the formation and initial running of the new Department. He gave a perfectly good reason as to how the Estimate would be presented, and I cannot understand the argument coming from hon. Members opposite, who presumably acquiesced when their Leader asked for a blank cheque from the electorate to run the country.


That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make provision for the appointment and the functions of a Minister of Materials, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of the salary of the Minister appointed in pursuance of the Act and his expenses, including the salaries and remuneration of a Parliamentary Secretary and other secretaries, officers and servants and including any increase in the sums payable out of moneys provided by Parliament under other Acts, being an increase attributable to the application of provisions of those Acts to the said Minister.

Report to be received forthwith.