§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
I rise to avail myself of the traditional right of a back bencher, when Supply is being discussed, to raise any grievance related to the administration and connected with the affairs of the area which he represents.
I do so on this occasion for two reasons, first, that for some time now my experience has been that in the area that I represent there have been a number of cases of breakdown of the administrative work of the Welfare State which call for a greater co-ordination, which call for an improved system of welfare work to eliminate overlapping and to eliminate the waste which arises when a citizen's problem is dealt with by one Department and could have been solved only in collaboration between several Departments.
The second reason I rise today is that last week I put a Question to the Home Secretary to which the Answer was unsatisfactory and I would have been justified in seeking leave to raise it at the earliest opportunity. The Question was whether the Home Secretary would supply, in his future reports on the number of children in child care, a much fuller return and a breakdown of figures. I asked him, in particular, if he wouldgive the most recent available figures, per thousand, of child population for the Borough of Paddington and, separately, for each ward of the borough; and how these compare with the national average.The right hon. Gentleman started by saying that he wouldnot feel justified in asking the councils of counties and county boroughs generally…." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1960; VoL 619, c. 39–40.]and that he understood from the London County Council that the information relating to children in care, requested in the second part of the Question, was not available. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Let there be a little less noisy conversation. That would reduce the strain on all concerned.
§ Mr. Parkin
That was a very odd reply by the Home Secretary, for two reasons. The first was that I was myself discussing these figures with the leader of the London County Council in a room upstairs in this building only two or three weeks ago. It is a little unconvincing to be told that they are not available. The second reason is that I am puzzled that the Home Secretary himself does not display a more restless interest in the breakdown of these particular figures, because I know that when he is investigating the question of delinquency he is very interested in compiling a map of the areas in which these troubles arise.
With permission, I shall now give the Home Secretary the information which he was unable to extract from the London County Council. The Home Secretary has already told us, in his annual return, the average number of children in care. That means those whose guardianship is transferred from their parents to local authorities. It will be clear why I am asking this question, because it forms a useful guide to the health of a community if we have the statistics of the number of family breakdowns in an area and have something on which to work when examining social problems of the area.
The Home Secretary told us last year that the figure for England and Wales was 5.2 per 1,000. He also told us that the figure for London was 11.5 per 1,000. The figure for Paddington, at a close estimate, is 22 per 1,000. That is to say, London has twice the national average and Paddington has twice the London average.
I should have thought this would be something which would interest the Home Secretary so much that he would ask for the further figures. The further figures are extremely interesting, and extremely alarming. In one ward of South Paddington the figure is as high as 115 per 1,000 of the child population. I think that I am justified on this occasion in calling the attention of the House to the fact that in certain areas in London one child in nine is no longer in the care of its parents; it is in the care of the London County Council. In one ward in my constituency the number is exactly twenty times the national average. A child who lives in Harrow Road, South, Ward, in North Paddington, is twenty times as likely to suffer from a breakdown of his family, so that he has 1304 to be taken away, as he would be if he lived elsewhere in the country.
In the rich and prosperous wards of Paddington, the Lancaster Gate wards, east and west, and in the Hyde Park ward, the Home Secretary will find that the figure is still four or five times the national average. To me, the most interesting figure of all is that in the ward next door to the Harrow Road, South ward—Harrow Road, South being part of the tenement house area very much like the areas in Westbourne Park stretching to Willesden, and so on—in the Queen's Park ward, which is an estate of artisans' houses built in 1881 without damp courses, with outside lavatories and no bathrooms, the poorest part of my constituency, the number is 13 per 1,000. That establishes that this is not a question of financial poverty.
There are some other factors, for in the Queen's Park ward we have a settled community. In the very next street we have this situation where the community is broken down and one child in ten has lost any sense of belonging. Those of my colleagues who have never given this matter a thought may well be shocked when they realise what is implied by these figures. When I think of the Derbyshire village from which my forebears came, the material poverty which I recollect there, I reflect that, bad as conditions were, we did not have that kind of breakdown—we belonged to something.
I look at the annual return and see that Derbyshire is proud of the fact that its figure is only 2.9 per 1,000 of the child population. This does, indeed, call for further research by the Home Secretary's Department and the Home Secretary himself as being the responsible Minister on the Government benches for the Welfare State.
While looking at these things, the right hon. Gentleman might have a look at the training of child care officers and inquire why, in Lancashire, which has only about one-third of the number of children which London has, there are half as many child care officers more in proportion. How are his training schemes going on? The Home Secretary must be aware that London County Council could straight away take the whole output of the training courses going on for the next three years.
1305 I mention the question of child care as a useful barometer and a test which can be applied equally to one area or another, but it will be understood that the child care officers are only a fraction of the departments of the Welfare State which deal with children. That is perhaps a slight confusion of terms. The care committees of the education committees are also involved. This is the reason for my raising the matter on this occasion, because it is only on the Consolidated Fund that one can make a consolidated criticism and suggestions for a consolidated remedy. The care committees are under the Ministry of Education, but the voluntary members of the care committees in my area face the same frustrating situation in that they cannot work entirely on their own. They cannot work adequately through the Ministry of Education, for they need to co-operate with others.
Their work reveals another aspect of the breakdown of society in those areas. It reveals how the breakdown often arises from the fact that the families concerned are paying too much rent for furnished rooms. May I quote one or two examples to the Home Secretary which were brought to my notice last week by a member of a care committee? She told me of a £9-a-week lorry driver, with five children, occupying two rooms and a kitchen and paying a rent of £3 15s. a week. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I agree that it is a shame, but I do not wish at the moment to discuss the rents of furnished rooms. I wish to present the picture of an interlocking chain of influences and circumstances contributing to family breakdown.
Another example was that of a family with five children, occupying two rooms and paying a rent of £4 15s. a week. The family said, "We are lucky to be here, because no one will take a family with five children". The man was a building worker who had been suffering from seasonal unemployment. When the representative of the care committee went there she found that the only food which the mother had available for herself and the children under school age was potatoes. That was the only food being eaten by that family in Paddington within a few days of a speech made by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount 1306 Hinchingbrooke), on the subject of agricultural subsidies, in which he said:… now we have a lavish and affluent society, many people could afford to pay higher prices for their food."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1960; Vol. 619, c. 944]That these things can take place in the same country at the same time and without people knowing is justification of the noble Lord's action in seeking to call attention in this debate, by Amendment, to some of the weaknesses of the methods which we employ to examine Government administration and the spending of the taxpayers' money. I am grateful to him both for threatening to raise the subject of the examination of the Estimates and for giving me this example of how one part of the country does not know how the other part lives. The woman in these rooms said, "I am lucky to be here. Do not say anything about it, or we shall be thrown out; and we can get no other accommodation."
I have another case of a family with two children occupying two rooms and paying a rent of £4 5s. The family income is £9 a week. This is an example of a family being thrown out of its accommodation after the end of the security of tenure granted by the rent tribunal. It was thrown out because the wife is expecting her third child. One child, aged 13, was forced to share a room and to sleep with an 80-year-old grandmother who was suffering from cancer of the throat. How long will it be before that 13-year-old girl comes to the Home Secretary's attention as a decimal of a point in a percentage figure on some other return from some other Department of the Welfare State?
From education, I turn to what happens when the child leaves school to seek employment. I have tried to raise in the House, very much on the periphery of the rules of order, the need for an employment policy for London. We have the extraordinary anomaly in London that the Ministry of Education and, in particular, its instrument, the London County Council, has the most magnificent system in the world of technical training over a whole range of jobs and yet there is no employment policy to secure that jobs are available in London for trained youngsters.
The newest industries are not allowed to move to London. Ford's was the last big factory which will ever be allowed 1307 to be built in the London area. Every time a new development, technique or industry arises, those concerned with it are talked into establishing it elsewhere. As a result, the London children who have had these opportunities of schooling and training seek in vain for apprenticeships. The Report of the Youth Employment Committees last year showed that it was ten times as difficult to get an apprenticeship in London as in the country as a whole.
It is difficult enough, with the alternative temptations in London, to convince young boys that it is worth while to take on apprenticeships, even if they can get them. The opinion gets around that only the "suckers" work for £3 or £4 a week when, by "spivving", a boy can get £10 or £15 a week. About three weeks ago one of my constituents appeared in the magistrates' court, having been pulled in for hanging around a car park, loitering with intent, at 1 a.m. The magistrate talked to him kindly about his possibilities of getting steady employment and suggested that the probation officer could help him get an apprenticeship. The lad replied, "Why should I rough it?"
These are the facts of life in London. These are the problems of the 'sixties. We must face them. If the Home Secretary makes a move to co-ordinate a drive first to analyse and then to tackle the problems of these special areas, as I hope he will, the Minister of Labour will have the job of dealing with apprenticeships, but only with the assistance of planning authorities will he be able to stop the constant build-up of small, unskilled industries in London.
That is one of the problems. Instead of skilled industries coming to London, we have seeping in, here and there, small industries which will employ perhaps only one skilled worker. For the rest, they employ married women who have to do part-time work to try to find part of the large rent which they have to pay for their rooms.
A new menace is creeping into London—I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).
§ Mr. Parkin
This is a menace which we thought we had dealt with many years ago—the menace of lowly paid out-work. West Indian women, unable to place their children in nurseries— because in some parts of London, such as Paddington, there has been a drive to reduce the number of nurseries for children—take work into their homes.
One example was an operation on a handbag for which they were paid 1s. a dozen. If a woman worked hard from morning to night she could do a gross in a day. Such work emanates, perhaps, from a warehouse or a back-street so-called factory which is occupying space in London which ought to be used for something else. The Minister of Labour will also have the problem of dealing with seasonal workers, because it is a much more serious matter to be seasonably unemployed in London than it is in an area where rents are not so high.
There are many other matters which the Home Secretary would find worth studying. I wonder, for instance, which Ministry is making a serious study of the impact of family allowances. Are family allowances something which were introduced and are then to be forgotten? Are they to depend upon the mood of a Chancellor of the Exchequer? Are they to be raised at some time when the country feels affluent and the lower income groups are to have a little rise? Or is someone trying to find out whether they are most helpful in their present form?
There is a good case to be made out for an allowance for the first child, even if the total allowances are reduced, because in some parts of the country the greatest difficulties which have to be faced are at the time when a couple are first married, when the wife has had to give up work and when the first child comes without their having had an opportunity to save to acquire a house or household equipment.
I want to read a letter which came to me last week which, I think, sums up the way in which the social services in some parts of London have been grinding to a halt and failing to meet the needs of the people for whom they were devised. It says:I wish to beg of you to help my family and myself to get rehoused as in the above 1309 address life is getting unbearable. My wife and our four children and myself live in one room, with the use of a kitchen that is shared with three other families; also the use of w.c., which is used by at least seven families, and which my wife has to clean daily; also a large passageway. My family also share a bath, with seven families which is overrun with heat beetles.When I received that letter, a gas fitter and his apprentice were working in my kitchen, and we had been talking about politics and the housing problem. I read out that bit of the letter and asked, "Who do you think is the landlord?" The apprentice answered straight away, "I know, a black". Let me read on:I work for the London Transport Executive as a charge hand, maintaining the electrified track. My work is all night and, as you may know, it is very hard for me to sleep during the day, especially when it is cold or wet and we have to keep the children indoors. The rent I pay here for the room is £2 4s. and 7s. 6d. a week for heating, which consists of one radiator which is heated by steam. My children suffer with coughs all the winter.The doctor told him to turn off the radiator, but he still has to pay for the heating.This building is a London County Council halfway house, and now I have been here for over three years. Before that my wife and my children were in Newington Lodge for two years, but I could not be with them as it was not allowed for husbands to be there. Before that I lived in a very nice, sunny basement flat owned by a doctor, but the Paddington Borough Council condemned it as the doctor could not see his way financially to do the work required by the council. As we had nowhere else to go, my wife and children were put into the L.C.C. rest home and I had to find lodgings elsewhere. I have also been on category A, urgent, since 1955 with the L.C.C. But on New Year's Day I had a white letter to say that I will not be housed by them for at least three years.There are several points arising from that letter which are worthy of the attention of the House. I will deal with one straight away. I went to find out what had happened to the basement from which he was thrown out six years ago. Nothing has happened to the basement. It is still there—not repaired, not reconditioned. I will come to that again in a moment.
The "white" letter referred to means that the London County Council cannot even discuss the matter. As the Director of Housing, who has sent a very helpful letter to some of us in London constituencies, says: 1310The Housing Committee have made it clear that I cannot deal with inquiries from Members about such applicants.He has very kindly sent duplicates of the sort of letter which it is useful to send to people who write to him on that. There is no appeal. I fully appreciate the difficulties. When the London County Council strikes 120,000 people off its waiting list it can expect 120,000 letters which cost a lot of money to deal with. One can appreciate the despair which arises from knowing that most of them cannot be dealt with.
I can appreciate what has led to this situation, but I do not think that there is any other function of any other Department of State where there is not some appeal. Traditionally, there is an appeal through a Member of Parliament now before Supply is granted to Her Majesty. That is why I am raising this matter here, because I see no other way in which I can raise it.
I went to see the dwelling. At the entrance there was a very nice notice which stated, "London County Council. Short stay accommodation." At the main gate the foundation stone is still there. It was laid by the Rev. Francis Cameron, in 1870, and the text still reads, "The poor are always with us". I think that it was a delicate touch of the architect to leave that undisturbed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The rules of debate no doubt are very wide in this context, but I am not sure that I follow how the hon. Member can relate matters for which the London County Council is clearly responsible to the Supply granted by this Bill. He must do that.
§ Mr. Parkin
I am aware of that, Mr. Speaker, but there is a housing subsidy granted to the London County Council and other grants given to it. There are also various clerks employed by the Home Office and other Ministers of the Crown who ring up the London County Council. Of course, it is true that every Ministry must be in some way or other in communication with the London County Council, but, even if Chat were not so, I respectfully submit that the structure of local government was created by Parliament and it can be modified by Parliament.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is in two difficulties. One is the fact that a subsidy paid to a body would 1311 not bring what is the responsibility of that body within order on the Second Reading of this Bill. Further, the fact that this House, by other legislation, could alter some structure, for instance of local government or local government housing, would not bring the matter in order on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Parkin
I am basing my reliance on your tolerance, Mr. Speaker, towards me in relation to this, on the ground that if my constituents have a grievance against Her Majesty's Government it is a tradition of this House that grievances should be discussed before Supply.
Each time I take a party of children around the House of Commons I try to explain that to them, and it seems that I have sometimes been wrong. I think it right today to try to assert that right, not against any opposition, but to assert it on their behalf to show that there is one time and place at which one can raise the grievances of the citizens as they have been raised for centuries, always to be met by the kindly suggestion that Supply should be taken formally and grievances discussed afterwards. How many monarchs have said something like this to Parliament, "My heart bleeds for you. I am sorry that I am so busy getting ready to go to the Crusades. Just vote the money now. Actually, I was going to appoint an interdepartmental committee to look into this very matter".
Men have gone in jeopardy of their lives for the principle that that attitude of the Government must be resisted and grievances discussed first. But I do not want to elaborate too greatly. You, Mr. Speaker, have kindly allowed me to make my point that there is no right of appeal on this issue and that there should be. I hope that it will be put right.
There was a Question on the Order Paper today concerning World Refugee Year. We think with great sympathy about camps of refugees. The family whose circumstances I have so inadequately detailed is not a problem family. The man earns £13 or £14 a week as a skilled worker on the electrified track. He has done nothing wrong. It was the fact that the dwelling in which he lived was condemned and he was thrown out. He has gone into something worse. He 1312 is not clever enough to write a book and say, "I am a refugee from the Welfare State".
We are horrified when we think about what happens in refugee camps. Let us be horrified at the thought that that man will have children who will have no recollection of living anywhere except in an institution up to the age of 10 years —two years in Newington Lodge, separated from the father; three years in a workhouse in one room, paying £2 4s. a week, plus 7s. 6d. for the radiator, and now to be told that there are another three years to come. How soon will it be before the Human Rights Commission looks at this, before foreign tourists visit the Plumstead Strip to find out how and why these people have to live in these conditions? Yet no one is to raise a voice on their behalf.
That is why I feel that, inconvenient as it may be to the arrangements for a debate in the House, this is the chance to draw attention to these shortcomings and that it is my duty to do so. How can I—how can any of us—do as was suggested so many years ago, when draft letters were sent saying, "I am guiltless of the death of this innocent man. See ye to it"? But I am not guiltless if I remain silent. If I remain silent, I cooperate in the destruction of this family. It is still going on. There is a great need for co-operation.
If one is taken round ancient temples, or the Pyramids, macabre guides tell one how many people died in the building. How many families were broken because of the Cromwell Road extension? There is no provision in the Estimates, or through the departments of this House, for making any other arrangements for housing these families, except that they have to be rehoused in priority to the people on the waiting list. They have to be rehoused from the general pool of housing available to the London County Council. Therefore, each time the Minister of Transport cuts a ribbon or celebrates a flyover he should reveal not only the millions of pounds it has cost, but its price in human family destruction.
If I did not raise this now, the whole traditions of the House would be ignored, not only the ancient history, but the modern history, also. I will not go back over the centuries, but we only 1313 have to glance round the Chamber at the very Chair in which you, Mr. Speaker, sit and the inkstands in the Division Lobbies, with little labels on them saying that they have been given by a country in the Commonwealth, for that to be borne home with graphic force. They did not give them because they thought that we could not afford them. They gave them as their tribute to the building up of Parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary democracy is not expanding in the world, but shrinking. It is shrinking also in London.
Last weekend I was at a meeting in a part of London, outside my constituency, which was considerably interrupted. I am glad to say that neither the police nor the stewards got the bleached blonde girl in the middle, who was an attacking, screaming, virago. I am glad that they did not get her, because it was important that she should stay. I could have borne it better if she had used the conventional obscenities and blasphemies of abuse, but she employed the sophisticated obscenity of racial doctrines and the calculated blasphemy of the denial of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man which had been taught to her by a few evil men exploiting shocking social conditions.
When she and her husband came to see me after the meeting, when they had simmered down, he said, "I have never spoken to a Member of Parliament before". They are as good as gold at heart. Their only trouble is that they have to live in one room and they want to fight for their child. I do not know what advice to give them.
I had a similar case where the basement was insanitary and should be put right. This is the sort of confusion we are in. This is where we need the help of the Home Secretary in co-ordinating these matters. The sanitary inspector says that he will put a closure order on it. The tenant says, "Let him put a closure order on it. I will go to an L.C.C. home." Does he know what awaits him if he goes there? Should I have advised him to go there knowing what I do of the time that he will be there and what hope he has?
The landlord says, "Let the sanitary inspector put a closure order on it. That is just what I should like. Then I can sell the lease to a nice little nigger". 1314 It would be a nice little nigger, who would pool his savings and write home to "mum" saying that he had bought a lovely house in London when, in fact, he had been swindled into buying a filthy slum with only a five-year lease to run.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am breast high with the hon. Member in asserting his right to ventilate grievances before Supply is granted. I should not be faithful to my predecessors were that not my view. However, I must have the interests of other hon. Members in mind. For that reason, I have to require the hon. Member to keep within order in relation to this debate on the Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time". I have explained to him those matters which are the responsibility of the local authority. I do not at present understand how the hon. Gentleman gets within the rules of order.
§ Mr. Parkin
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for that Ruling and for your tolerance.
At this point, I was going to move to my suggestions as to what the Home Secretary might usefully do. I am sure that he will recollect this little piece of advice to him from the book of Genesis, where the chief butler went to Pharoah and said, "I do remember my faults this day". There is also a precedent for sending for other junior members of the Government, because he sent for Joseph.
What I hope the Home Secretary will do is, first, to agree to a scientific investigation. By "scientific" I mean as coldly factual as one can make it along the lines of the statistics I asked for to establish in which areas the Welfare State as we know it today has broken down and is a delusion, a sham and a whited sepulchre. If he can establish that, I hope that, next, he will lend his great influence to drawing the country's attention to the need for a very great deal more dedication to public service of all kinds than the country is getting at present.
These problems cannot be solved by legislation, or by force. They want a great deal of patient attention and understanding. The problem of my constituent who works on the railways and who came from the basement could no doubt be solved eventually if someone were able to give him advice, but it must 1315 be someone who is a co-ordinating welfare officer and who knows all the opportunities available.
Secondly, I hope that the Home Secretary will feel that the time has come now, in the 1960s, when he should designate certain areas which are socially distressed and in danger of breakdown, just as, in the 1930s, we designated certain economically distressed areas for special attention. Within those areas, much more flexibility should be shown in the co-operation among Departments. There should be some way of shortening the process by which it is decided not only how much can be spent but how much can be saved. I regret the stupidity of allowing a family to break down when that breakdown can be prevented by spending £2,000 or £3,000 on a building and when, as a result of the breakdown, the family may cost £50 or £60 a week over a period—a lengthening period—in which families sink into that substratum of society.
I appreciate that I have kept the House long enough. I make that positive suggestion to the Home Secretary, that he should seriously study the suggestion of designated areas of social breakdown and distress so that all the co-ordinated efforts can be brought against the mounting evils. I do not object to Votes on Account. There was a very famous occasion of a Vote on Account when the Samaritan took two pence and gave them to the host and said:Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.The Samaritan had the immense advantage over the rest of us that he knew the answer to the question, "Who is my neighbour?" I am very much afraid that in these days, in some sections of the community, we do not see our neighbour, we do not know who our neighbour is, nor what his difficulties are.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and and to add instead thereof:this House, before consenting to the Second Reading of this Bill, desires to be satisfied that no improvement can be made in the machinery for the control and limitation of expenditure, as well by the supervision of the Treasury as by the informed and effective exercise of the authority of this House.1316 The hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) has used an individual key to open the door of historical access to these debates, and in so doing has put to shame the desire of the leaders of his party to suppress our ancient constitutional usages and to overformalise our proceedings.
The hon. Member's speech, and the way that the House has received it, are part of our message to the world. There must be very few Parliaments where it is possible for a speech like that to be made without strong expressions of ill-favour by organised political parties, by the Executive, and by the authorities of the House. The hon. Member is to be congratulated on having restored some of our ancient practices.
Forty years ago, almost to this day, an Amendment was moved in exactly these terms. The debate began at 6 o'clock and ended at 10 o'clock, the Amendment being negatived. That was a four-hour discussion. I know that there axe other proceedings to which hon. Members wish to address themselves, and with which they want to proceed, and I only hope that this debate will not run as long as on that occasion.
I will deliberately discard a passage of my speech to enable the debate to be shortened. I had hoped to make quotations and rebuttals. I had hoped to deal with the reply given by the Leader of the House to the Leader of the Opposition at Question Time the other day, and to submit some considerations from the last twenty years or so in rebuttal of what was said by the two right hon. Gentlemen. I will desist from that and merely say that while the Opposition may very well have the right to choose subjects for debate on the Consolidated Fund and in Committee of Supply, in other words, to choose the business of the House on those days, what they have no right to do is to choose to do no business on the Consolidated Fund and in Committee of Supply. That is what is, in fact, the case when these debates are completely formalised and money is voted on the nod and the Opposition use the hours of their day to debate passing political topics of their choice.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The right horn. Gentleman is factually and technically correct. It was in 1947, when my right hon. and hon. Friends were in opposition, that the formal procedure began, the formal procedure of taking a Vote on the nod and proceeding to another debate. I regret to recall that it is the Conservative Party which started this practice and I hope that when my right hon. and hon. Friends reflect upon that they will be more zealous than ever to get away from it.
It is said by many people that we should not tamper with the procedure as it is today, because it suits the Opposition and might suit us when we are in opposition in the future. I point out with some passion that there is a constitutional, historical and philosophical difference between the political parties. We are not playing Box and Cox in debate and automatically, in opposition, formalising debates and in Government agreeing to that formalisation, because if we are in that Box and Cox position remorseless collectivism is inevitable, because the Opposition will always be voted down by the Government of the day and no persuasive arguments will be accepted by the Government of the day to reduce their impact on society.
Unless the party in power urges the difference which lies between the parties, the philosophical difference in our outlook on political events, we ourselves will be lost when we get into opposition, because we shall be unable to use these arguments at that time.
In the Second Reading debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on 24th March, 1920, an Amendment in exactly the same terms was put forward. The Civil Estimates then stood at £500 million per annum. Today, they stand at six times that figure and, if what I understand to be the increase which the Government have politically accepted in anticipation comes into effect, next year's figure will be seven times what it was when this debate was last initiated.
May I briefly look at some of the aspects of the Government and the House at that lime? The Secretary of State for War in those days was the father-in-law of the present Secretary of State for War. The Secretary of State for Air in those days—incidentally, the same man—was, father-in-law of the present Minister of 1318 Aviation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Was?"]— is the father-in-law. The Under-Secretary for the Colonies was father of the present Under-Secretary for the Colonies. Last, but not least, the most junior of the Assistant Clerks, whose name hardly appeared but did just appear on the list of Officers of the House, was none other than E. A. Fellowes, Esq., our most distinguished Clerk now. So quite a cosy atmosphere, reaching back over forty years, now envelops us.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
My Amendment is in identical terms to that moved by Mr. E. Wood, later Lord Halifax, father of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power, perhaps the greatest of all spenders in the Government.
There are two branches of this subject to which I should like to draw the attention of the House: Treasury control and policy control—taking care of the pence and taking care of the pounds. I have extracted from the debate of that time just two speeches, of the mover of the Amendment to illustrate what I want to say about Treasury control, and of the seconder to illustrate what I want to say about policy control.
At c. 511 of Vol. 127 appear these words by Mr. E. Wood:I am quite definitely of the opinion that the House of Commons is useless at detail in finance. When they attempt to raise it they can be beaten every time by the Minister, and the only thing they achieve by raising detail is not to save that year, but to have such an intimidating effect, perhaps, upon some officials in some Departments that they are very careful what they put into the Estimates another time. I do not put it higher than that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th March, 1920; Vol. 127, c. 511–2.]I respectfully agree with the father of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power that we in this House cannot control the amount that flows into the great spending Departments. We can only invent or perfect the machinery of control. I have one or two suggestions to make on this and questions to ask which I should now like to put on the aspect of financial control inside the Government.
There is need for an up-to-date statement on financial control within the spending Departments. I understand that there is a Committee at work upon this— the Plowden Committee. I hope that 1319 when it reports, its report will not be a report only to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but that it will be a report that is made public and made available to this House. We have already available the Report of the Public Accounts Committee on Treasury control, to which, I understand, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) will be referring.
Secondly, I ask the question whether the spending agencies of the Treasury should not now be hived off. It seems to me to be very bad doctrine for the left hand to know what the right hand doeth. In other words, if we have, inside the Treasury, agencies and civil servants concerned with spending on a lavish scale, through the University Grants Committee, the Arts Council, or whatever agencies it has under its hat, they are all the less inclined to take a severe, practical and austere view about the expenditure of money. Every effort should be made by the Government to divest the Treasury of these spending agencies and attach them to the other Departments concerned.
My third point arises from what was said by another father of a prominent Parliamentarian, Sir Arthur Michael Samuel, in that distant debate. He suggested that there should be a "pound per man" statistic so that the sheer administrative cost for each £ of expenditure voted to a spending Department could be compared with previous years. That is an aspect of affairs which should be looked into. Parkinson's law is at work—there is no doubt whatever about it—inside the Civil Service. Quite apart from policy decisions which generate a great deal of money, and make the spending of that possible inside the Departments, there must be a disposition to increase the size of the staff and the amount of money which it absorbs. What can we do to find out whether the throughput of this money under policy decisions is properly controlled by a limited number of people?
In the Army, Navy and Air Force Votes, we vote the effectives before we vote the money. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) asked the pertinent question as to how many land-based admirals there were. Why cannot we ask, as regards the Civil 1320 Estimates, how many airborne executives there are in aviation, or how many floating inspectors there are in transport, and questions of that kind? In other words, what prevents Parliament devising a machine which requires the voting of effectives in the civil agencies of the Government as in the military agencies of the Government?
I would like to know whether there is in being an economy committee of the Cabinet. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will devote part of his financial statement on Budget day to an explanation to the House and to the public of what general apparatus of control of public expenditure is now available to him.
I do not feel very warmly about the Report of the recent Select Committee of this House. It dealt with a vast number of small topics. It took only a year or a year and a half to do its work. It threw aside a lot of material which was readily made available to it from outside. It concerned itself entirely with inner matters. It issued a jejune Report. It was inadequate to the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. I only hope that as a result of this debate and other attempts something will be done to enlarge these themes and get proper reforms made.
Unfortunately, the Government did not do with the recent Select Committee what the Socialist Government did with their Select Committee—that was, to send it a "hot" memorandum of what it wanted it to do. I remember very well, because I was a member of that Select Committee in 1945–46. We received a "hot" memorandum from Lord Morrison of Lambeth. He knew what he wanted to do. He knew what the Socialist majority in the House required the House to do. That Committee, although we gave his memorandum detailed consideration over a year or more—the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) must remember it all very clearly—accepted the general desire to transform the business of Parliament. And so it turned out that great reforms were made. Last year's Select Committee was left leaderless because it had nobody, either inside or outside it, who had the sufficient power to compel it to make cogent decisions on public business.
1321 I should now like to refer, in humble but devoted acknowledgment, to three great authorities on the subject of Parliamentary reform. The first is Dr. Paul Einzig, whose book many hon. Members may have read. I think that he has made an effective addition to a store of authoritative and erudite works on economics and constitutional questions. I am sure that hon. Members would derive great pleasure from reading this most interesting book. It is a mine of information on the subject.
Secondly, I want to refer to a very great constitutional reformer whose work has not been sufficiently recognised. I refer to Sir Gilbert Campion, later Lord Campion, a previous Clerk of this House. One of his proposals of many which I wish to bring before the House comes out best if I read very short extracts from the Third Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, 1946. In paragraph 36 the Report says:The passing of Estimates in the Committee of Supply is the formal procedure by which the expenditure of Departments is authorised, but, as is well known, this procedure has almost ceased to serve the purpose of financial scrutiny, and is used almost exclusively for the criticism of policy and administration.Paragraph 37 reads:As a consequence of this change in the predominant functions of the Committee of Supply, the House of Commons has perforce devised other means outside the House itself for the detailed examination of expenditure.Paragraph 42 states:The foregoing account of the different origins of the Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee indicates the difference in their functions. The Public Accounts Committee is primarily an instrument to ensure financial regularity in the Accounts, the function of the Estimates Committee is to criticise expenditure on the basis not of regularity but of economy and sound business principle.Sir Gilbert Campion suggests that these two functions could, with advantage, be combined in the work of a single committee to be called the Public Expenditure Committee.
The Select Committee seized upon the idea of Sir Gilbert Campion and confirmed it in its Report. In paragraph 43, these words appear:… Your Committee consider that the functions of the Committee of the Public Accounts and the Estimates Committee would be better performed by a single Committee. Such a Committee would have no powers beyond those possessed by the separate com- 1322 mittees now, and there would be no change in the position or duties of the Comptroller and Auditor General either in relation to the Departments or the Committee. The advantage of combining both functions in a single Committee working through sub-committees is twofold.There is a further quotation, and then paragraph 44 states:Your Committee approve Sir Gilbert Campion's suggestion that provision should be made for securing discussion in the House of the Reports of the proposed Public Expenditure Committee by giving them precedence on not more than two of the days allotted to Supply.Two points arise there. The first is the acceptance, fifteen years ago, by a Committee of this House of the major suggestion of a great constitutional reformer and a former Clerk of this House for the appointment of a Public Expenditure Committee and, secondly, a strong recommendation by that Select Committee that the Reports of this Committee should be automatically debated on two of the Supply days.
I am going as fast as I possibly can, so as not to take unduly the time of the House. If some of my points are not sufficiently cogently argued, perhaps the House will forgive me.
I should now like to refer to our present most distinguished Clerk and to the suggestions that he made in a memorandum to the Select Committee which sat last year on which the Committee questioned him but never saw fit to reproduce them in its Report. The more is the pity. I regard it as a great honour to be able to refer to them now. Our present Clerk took up Lord Campion's statement from paragraph 12 of his memorandum, the document to which I have just referred. These are Lord Campion's words:There is no form of proceeding in the House itself for the examination of expenditure with a view to securing economy, i.e. value for money spent".That is one of the most tremendous Parliamentary statements that has ever been made. There has never been an occasion in this House on which we could debate expenditure within its financial and tax-raising context. There is a strong recommendation by our present distinguished Clerk, derived from Lord Campion, that effect should be given to this.
I want to read the present Clerk's answer to a question which was put to 1323 him by the Select Committee. Part of his answer to Qn. 169 was:Supply tends to be neglectedin May and Juneand even more so does it tend to be neglected after July, when it practically disappears until the following February. Occasionally, the House has a financial debate, but there is no routine process by which the House considers any financial business between the end of July and the following February. One of my suggestions is that there should be opportunities provided in the autumn for a routine examination of the half-way stage in the course of the year, and one of my suggestions is that the only way I can see of absolutely ensuring that is not to grant all the money at the end of July, but to make that also a Vote on Account to carry up to the end of December, so that before the end of December the Government have got to come to the House to get more Supply. I suspect there will be many objections raised to that suggestion from the Treasury point of view, but it is put forward as a procedural suggestion for getting the financial state of the country debated for certain in the autumn.That Vote on Account in the autumn, recommended by our distinguished Clerk, would provide scope for what Lord Campion suggested about debating expenditure within its financial context. I firmly believe, and I hope that the House agrees with me, that we are morally obliged to take these weighty matters into consideration and that effect should be given to the considered view of two of our most eminent public servants in recent years.
Very humbly and quickly, I would venture to give what I was prevented from giving the other day for procedural reasons, namely, my own suggestion about the Estimates. I hoped that the House would bring itself to agree that 10 days out of the 26 should be devoted to an examination of the Estimates. That would not be a surrender of the Opposition rights. It seems to me that it would be a recognition of the Opposition's duties. In those 10 days, one whole day, or, maybe, a half day, could be devoted to each of the 17 great spending Departments. The time of allotting that half day could be easily arranged, as we arranged the times yesterday and the day before, by the usual equilateral triangle of power in this House, namely the Chair and the usual channels. That is a quite easy matter.
We could not do this until quite recently, because Supply Days were not 1324 strung out, as they are now, throughout the year. Until quite recently they were concentrated in the summer months and Parliament would have found it intolerable to go on discussing Estimates and public finance in the compressed period of June and July; but I suggest that now that these Supply days have been strung out, as it were, throughout the whole year, consideration of the Estimates will prove more agreeable to hon. Members.
The second main thing I want to refer to is policy control—taking care of the pounds. I give this quotation from a speech in that debate of forty years ago by the seconder of the Amendment, Sir P. Pilditch. He said:I refer to the questions of Government or Cabinet responsibility for economy. I cannot help thinking that we shall get economy when and only when we have a Government and a Cabinet into whose very bones the need for retrenchment has entered, which feels that it is carrying out a national mandate, and to that end overriding all sectional demands to spend money on this or that excellent thing. We shall only get economy when we have a vigorously economical Chancellor of the Exchequer—which I am certain we have at this moment"—Have we?backed by an economical Prime Minister— which I hope and believe we have got"—
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am not sure—and a Cabinet thoroughly seized of the fact that every member of it is expected by the nation to assist the Chancellor of the Exchequer in keeping every Department within proper financial bounds, and not working on the theory that if you will scratch my financial back I will scratch yours."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th March, 1920; Vol. 127, c. 516.]I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has left the House. I hope that he is to take charge of the debate and respond to it at the end.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Edward Boyle)
My hon. Friend the Leader of the House has told me that he will only be away for twenty minutes and that he is sorry that his time-table has made it necessary for him to miss part of my noble Friend's speech.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am not thinking of my own speech, but of the debate to come.
1325 Last year the Civil Estimates were £2,988 million. We are told that the Supplementary Estimates this year will amount to an extra £340 million. We understand that the question of paying the doctors an increase in their salaries is now before the Cabinet, and that if the salaries are raised it will cost £50 million. We understand that the total amount of aid now given to private industry and in prospect is another £150 million, making a total in the Civil Estimates of £3,528 million. This figure is 17.6 per cent. of the gross national product. I have omitted from it the budgetary consequences of the railway settlement. When the Conservative Government came into office in 1951, that percentage was 16.4 in relation to the gross national product.
I find this very disturbing indeed. I made a speech to my electorate in South Dorset, only six months ago, in which I said I would do my utmost to ensure that the Conservative Government realised their ambitions of lowering the cost of living I was fortified in that statement at that election by the speeches made during the autumn and winter months by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which seemed to show that a slight reduction in prices in the shops would be taking place shortly, consequent upon the high productivity of industry today.
We had some very serious events in 1955 and 1956. The Government injected a tremendous amount of money into the public economy. The Leader of the House, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, by his autumn Budget of 1955, helped to increase the cost of living, and a raging inflation was being experienced by this country nine months later. A large number of Conservative supporters in the country defected and joined the Liberal Party. Fortunately, owing to a very rapid change of events and the courageous actions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft), the Conservative Party entered the General Election with its full contingent of troops and supporters intact, and those defections to the Liberals returned to us.
There is, however, a fundamental difference between the present situation and the situation at that time. We could say and did say, in 1957, that we were 1326 stopping an inflation caused by the war and the irresponsible policies of members opposite. But if there is to be generated now, as a consequence of actions taken in the last year—we cannot go too deeply into the causes of them now—a very serious inflation in the next nine or twelve months, with the cost of living going up, and a great deal of pressure resulting from the aggregate of public and private spending, then the voters from the Conservative Party will not go to the Liberal Party, but to Labour, because, for the first time since the war, an inflation will have been deliberately brought about by the actions of Conservative statesmen.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I do not want to enter into controversy with the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinching-brooke) about political statistics. If we lost all the Conservatives who came to us at one time, we got back far more votes from somewhere else and still have them.
I do not want to delay the following debate on pensions. It is proper to raise the question of pensions today, because the state of pensions is a matter of grievance to many people who might well claim to have that attended to before Supply is granted. The noble Lord has raised, however, a very important matter—indeed, a variety of matters. He said that he was critical of the last Report of the Select Committee on Procedure because it did not go far enough. I agree with him, and I said so in the debate on that Report; but I doubt if he goes far enough, either.
What we have to face at some time— though this is not the time today—is that the fault is not the Government's in this matter of lack of financial control, but Parliament's. The noble Lord can pray for an economical Prime Minister, he can ask the gods for a mean-fisted Chancellor of the Exchequer, and look with misgivings on members of the Front Bench —such as the present one—who look well fed and are unlikely to be stingy, but it is hon. Members, under pressure from their constituents, who demand large expenditure.
During the next few weeks, in the Budget and Finance Bill debates, the pressure on the Government to spend 1327 money will come from Members of Parliament. The Treasury is in the position, not of trying to dish out more money, but to curb demands on it. This is a situation Parliament has not faced. It is something needing far more drastic attention than at present. The time will come and must come when Members, apart from being able to suggest new expenditure, will also be bound to give an indication as to how the money is to be raised. I dare say we might have to hypothecate some taxes to some purposes. I know that would be of no real economical significance, but it might have a psychological effect when people bought something which was taxed. They would be made aware of the fact that some part of the cost of what they were buying would be due to some subsidy or other expenditure. That might be a slight incentive to economy. We want, too, to relate the taxation to the Estimates. To do that, we should have to alter the whole Parliamentary year. The noble Lord spoke of taking a vote on account in the autumn. That certainly might go some way towards it, and I too support that suggestion of the learned Clerk; but I think it would have to go a great deal farther than that if we really want to examine current Estimates before the expenditure is decided. Too much of the examination is at present too late and unrelated to the Budget.
One other point, and that is that a great deal of spending today arises from the reports of committees, the Guillebaud Committee being the latest and the one freshest in the public memory. It may be that these committees are essential, but I do not believe that Mr. Gladstone himself in the height of his economy campaign could have arrested Government expenditure if he had continually faced public announcements of recommendations from committees advocating further expenditure. I think it might well be considered that in the first place the reports of these committees should be made privately to the Government for their consideration in relation to all other relevant matters.
If we are seriously to tackle major matters of control over Government expenditure, I do not myself want to see the time which the Opposition has to raise policy matters much curtailed. I 1328 think it is an important part of Parliamentary work. If we are going to curtail anything, I think it should be the detailed consideration of legislation by the House as a whole sitting in Committee. I share the views of both Lord Campion and our present learned Clerk that the time has probably been reached when the House of Commons can consider legislation in its wider aspects only and must delegate detailed consideration of it to specialised committees.
§ Mr. Nabarro
On a previous occasion the point was very powerfully made from this side of the House that the initiative to challenge these matters should not repose in the hands of the official Opposition. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that my hon. Friends and I on this side of the House should also have appropriate initiative to challenge the voting of these huge sums of money, and that it should not be entirely in the hands of hon. Gentleman opposite?
§ Mr. Grimond
If I may get a word in edgeways, I would remark that I have always observed that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is so keen to hear what I have to say that he often cannot contain himself. I did mean to touch on that point later in my speech, which I hope will not be long any way.
I believe it is impossible for this House as a whole to conduct a sort of annual ramble through the Estimates, picking out oddments here and there without any guidance. I think the noble Lord would agree with that. I agree with him that the way to a more detailed examination has been pointed for us by Mr. Einzig and the two learned Clerks to whom the noble Lord referred.
It may be argued that, if these proposals were accepted, we should examine only a few items which might not be the most important, but I think there is something in the view that if the officials concerned knew that these studies were being made and these details were being given a great deal more attention, it would make them keep a close eye on their administration. There 1329 is a passage in Mr. Einzig's book describing trembling senior civil servants sitting outside Committee Rooms upstairs. I think he may possibly have mistaken English Members waiting to attend the Scottish Grand Committee, but assuming that he is right, I feel there is something in the view that a little more detailed examination will enforce considerable attention to the amounts of the Estimates.
If this is to be done, certainly I think there is something to be said for combining the Select Committee of Public Accounts and the Select Committee on Estimates, but even more necessary, surely, is that the Estimates Committee or any new Committee should have skilled assistance in the way that the Public Accounts Committee now has, and that it should draw more matters to the attention of the House earlier than it is now in a position to do. It is difficult to do this, but it is very essential that it should be set up early in each Session and should make more interim reports to the House drawing attention to matters which the House would want to consider. I agree with the noble Lord that a certain amount of the time of the House should be reserved for the consideration of matters to which our attention may be drawn by the Estimates Committee—or by the Public Expenditure Committee, if that is set up.
If this is to be done, it means finding more time for those matters with which both Select Committees are concerned. There is a certain schizophrenia among Members of Parliament nowadays, in that they want to get away from this place more and, on the other hand, want to do more work in it. It is difficult to reconcile the two. My own view is that we have to go in for more specialised Standing Committees. I think we could experiment, for instance, with the Standing Committee on the Colonies; but I will not go into that now. More work might be done by groups of Parliamentarians who really know about and are really interested in subjects under review. I do no: believe that we shall get proper attention given to these subjects till we focus the attention on them of the people who know about and are interested in them and who keep them continually under review.
1330 One of the things it is most necessary to keep under review is the provision of capital for the nationalised industries, but here again we are lacking in machinery. I myself believe that we ought now to have an investment board to consider not only the provisions of capital for the public industry, but the provision of public capital for private industry. If we cannot have an expert board, let us at least have a Select Committee.
Again, there is one related matter which I think it proper to mention, and that is, as I understand it, one thing which takes up a lot of time of Members of the House, the quite new development of all sorts of activities which go on in the Palace of Westminster which are not directly Parliamentary activities—party meetings, and related matters. There is an important party meeting going on now, I believe. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is over."] It is all over? Who won? [HON. MEMBERS: "Who won?"] Perhaps we shall be able to read about it in the "Stop Press". I believe that if we want Members of Parliament to attend Committees of the House and to have more time for all our business here, there is a saving to be made in the amount of their available energies which go to what I would call para-Parliamentary activities.
I do not believe we can go into all these matters in precise detail now. I believe that the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord for having raised this subject. I believe we have in this Report of the Select Committee some basis for immediate reform on matters of control and administration which could be brought in very easily now, but I believe that the wider issue of how in a democracy, in which the whole pressure is for more public expenditure, we are going to control the amount of national income which goes into that expenditure, is a very much greater matter with which it would not be appropriate to attempt at greater length to deal this afternoon.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that the House certainly owes a debt of gratitude—not for the first time—to my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, 1331 South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) for initiating the debate, and not only for initiating it but for the delightful and informative manner in which he has done so. I should also say that I fully understand what I should imagine are the feelings among the hon. Members who came here to speak in a debate upon pensions, but I should imagine also that they share that view of my noble Friend's speech. I would assure them that it has not been our purpose to try to push them out. It is unfortunate that that debate should come up at a somewhat later hour than we at first expected.
I would give expression to the view that we have not until comparatively recently taken quite so much interest in this subject of control of expenditure as we have in the subject of the Parliamentary control of taxation. Parliamentary control of taxation is, perhaps, generally more simple and less complex a subject. We have tended to be more concerned about the taxation levied in order to meet expenditure than with the way in which the money itself is to be spent, and I hope that the moving of this Amendment will at least reflect to some extent the growing uneasiness at the enormous national expenditure with which we are now confronted and the feeling that the House itself is not exercising that control which it is its duty to do.
Hon. Members will observe that the Amendment refers to the two springheads of control—the Treasury and this House—and I propose to say a few words about each. The most recent observations of the Treasury on this subject of the control of expenditure are contained, so far as I can tell, in the answer to the Sixth Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, 1957–58. This was printed in the Seventh Special Report from the Select Committee on Estimates on 17th June, 1959, and in it the Treasury shows quite clearly that it has been trying, as it were, to mend its ways over the past forty years and bringing its methods of the control of expenditure more into line with modern conditions.
A great deal of the expenditure of public money is now outside the control even of the Treasury itself. Already, 1332 this system of Treasury control of public expenditure is, as my noble Friend has already informed the House, now the subject of a special inquiry under the chairmanship of Lord Plowden. I think the findings of that Committee will be of particular value if, as he says, they are made available to the House, and, secondly, if in its examination of this subject, the Committee includes a thorough examination of the financial control now exercised by the major spending Departments themselves. After all, it is the proper control of the spending Departments that we are after, and the Treasury in this respect must have a very close link with the spending Departments.
An interesting thing was apparent from the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates of 1958 and the Treasury's observations in 1959, in which both emphasised the vital rôle of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is he who, on behalf of Parliament—and I underline those words "on behalf of Parliament"—must exercise the major control within the Executive over the total of Government expenditure. The Treasury put this particularly strongly, first in paragraph 15 of its observations, in which it states, and I quote:The second main factor—and it is of crucial importance—is the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer among his colleagues, and the weight that they are content that his views should carry among them.Again, in paragraph 16 of the Treasury's observations, it is stated:A review of the scope of Treasury control involves, in effect, a review of the Chancellor's conception of his own responsibilities.The Chancellor should not be alone in trying to control national expenditure.
The Chancellor and the Treasury are not the only essential features of the control on which we depend. There is also the Cabinet and such committees as it possesses, and I would add my support to the plea of my noble Friend that we should hear something of these activities of the economy committees, such as they are. In addition to the Cabinet, there is Parliament itself. Any review of financial control of public expenditure, to be worth while, must include some review of the system of Parliamentary control of finance. Here I would quote briefly from the speech, to which my noble Friend referred, made 1333 by Mr. Edward Wood, as he then was, in the debate of 24th March, 1920, when he said:If it be true that the Treasury is the keystone of this arch of financial control, it cannot be expected to do its work properly unless, in addition to being strong itself, it can count upon what I may call the twin supports on each side of it: on the one side the Cabinet and on the other side this House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th March, 1920; Vol. 127, c. 511.]It is upon the responsibilities of this House that I should like to turn my attention for a few minutes, and, in doing so, I want to ask the indulgence of the House itself, not only for taking up more time, but also because I am a comparatively new Member speaking on something which is really the prerogative of more senior Members than I am.
The House, in assisting it to exercise control of expenditure, has at its command two committees—the Committee of Public Accounts and the Select Committee on Estimates. It was in 1912, when the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Lloyd George, moving that the Select Committee on Estimates should be set up, said that it was the aim that this Committee should be a Committee to assist the House of Commons to discharge its functions.
Too often, it seems to me, Reports of this Committee, set up to assist the House in the discharge of its functions, are ignored by the House itself, and the House tends too often to debate subjects of other kinds, instead of following up the Reports of the Select Committee itself. This is equally the case in the discussions which the House has been giving to the debates on the Estimates in Committee. We have gone a long way from what should have been the original course of action in examining these things critically. If we cannot do it to the extent which my hon. Friend suggested, at least we could have a short period of quick in-fighting, as it were, when these Estimates are before us, so that hon. Members can get in a few short, sharp question and points in examining these things.
But the House turns to debate subjects of a much more general nature, such as the one we are going to discuss today. This is the practice which has grown up over the past few years—for a much longer period than that which my hon. Friend mentioned—and which has reached its nadir in the hands of the 1334 present Opposition. There must be something about the thrill of winding up a big debate on a big Parliamentary occasion, something which, maybe, I shall never experience, although I should much like to on one occasion.
§ Mr. Eden
There must be something about it, because hon. Members opposite are always most anxious to use their Supply Days for this particular purpose in order to stage a big Parliamentary occasion. It must be a very big temptation, but in not resisting this temptation they are, it seems to me, neglecting what, after all, is one of their very great responsibilities, namely, the careful scrutiny of the Estimates themselves and the exercising of ceaseless vigilance in regard to questions of economy and efficiency.
In fact, so far has the Opposition today departed from its proper rôle that, instead of pressing for economies, too many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are constantly urging on the Administration schemes which would involve the expenditure of ever greater sums of money. If we have in the Chancellor a Minister who is trying to curb and control national expenditure, it is not very much help to him, in his capacity as guardian of the public purse, to have a House of Commons which, apparently, is not the slightest bit anxious to examine and scrutinise with care the Estimates which are placed before it.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not spoil what is a very good case in principle by misunderstanding it. When he says that the House of Commons ought to exercise the strictest control over expenditure, that does not only mean that we should do so in order to cut it down. Parliament may very frequently think that the Government are not spending enough money, and is entitled to say so, which is every bit as much and every bit as important a part of House of Commons control over expenditure as mere economy.
§ Mr. Eden
I agree with the hon. Gentleman in what he rightly referred to as our duty, but it is the tendency of the Opposition to give attention solely 1335 to the need for the Government to spend more. It is a pity that when the national expenditure is rising to the extent that it is today, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not exercise the duty, if not as an Opposition, at least as unofficial Members of the House, as individual Parliamentarians, to scrutinise the Estimates and examine whether or not the expenditure is absolutely essential. I would dearly love to hear echoed from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer or any of his hon. Friends who may be replying for him today the words spoken by a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Robert Home.
§ Mr. Eden
He was already concerned in 1922 about the trend which is all too apparent today when he made this plea in a speech in a debate on 1st May, 1922:… I ought to get the support of the House, first, in resisting new expenditure, however laudable, as well as in cutting off branches of services which, good and useful as they may be, are of such a character as at the present time we cannot afford to keep up."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1922; Vol. 153, c. 1029.]That is what we ought to be doing today, and I emphasise "we". It is not for the Opposition alone but for the House, and I say to my hon. Friends, in particular, that it is the House that should be in close alliance with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
If we are to be able to support the Chancellor in his efforts to control expenditure, he must see to it that we have all the necessary information at our disposal. There is no suggestion that we should return to what has been referred to as the theory of candle-ends economy, and it has often been said that the House is useless at the detail of finance.
We need a comprehensive grasp of the whole financial picture, and Ministers must help us to secure it by fully informing the House, not just about the cost of a particular project, but on how that cost relates to the whole of the Department's expenditure and how it departs, if it does, from what we have always considered to be the normal expenditure of that Department.
The Executive must bring the whole House into dose co-partnership with it 1336 in this drive for economy. My noble Friend has made a number of suggestions, and I am very pleased that he has brought to the light of day Lord Campion's proposal for a Committee on Public Expenditure. We must bring the special Committees of the House into closer association with the House itself. Their reports should be more directly linked with our debates in the House. I would say to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that it is essential that, if the proposal he made to establish specialist committees is to gain acceptance, there must be some procedure whereby their reports are closely linked with debates in the House.
The main purpose of this debate is to invite a fuller expression of views on this subject than we have had in the recent past. We are not asking for the reincarnation of some ancient piece of machinery operated long ago at a time when it was probably easy to do that sort of thing and when Income Tax was only 1s. in the £. What we are asking for is that this problem should be looked at afresh in the light of modern conditions, of modern rates of expenditure and taxation, and that the procedure of the House should be adapted to suit modern needs.
As the Select Committee on Estimates said in 1958, at a time when… Government expenditure comprises a higher proportion of the national income, and because of the fundamental part it plays in the economy, the interests of every citizen … are all the more involved …it is essential that we should have some fresh inquiry into the whole of this problem.
My final observations are to endorse again what was said earlier—that whatever may be the technical devices we bring to the assistance of the House to help us in our task, the better control of national expenditure itself is well nigh impossible if, first of all, the official Opposition continues to neglect its responsibilities in this respect and, secondly, if Ministers of the Crown continue in the belief that we shall judge their performance the better the greater the sums they are able to secure from the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
There is need for a policy change. It is quite clear that not only should the need for retrenchment enter the very bones of the Government themselves, 1337 but that the House as a whole should be inspired by that same spirit if we are ever to be able to secure what is today so vitally necessary—a reduction in national expenditure.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I hope that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) will not mind if I say that he continually reminds me, charmingly though he does it, of the old story of the knight who dressed himself up in shining armour, mounted his horse and rode off in all directions. If he had confined himself to the point of principle of how the House of Commons is to conduct its affairs, I could have gone a long way with him. It is a pity that both he and the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) should have complicated the matter by all sorts of party points, charges against the Opposition, and all that kind of thing.
I am in no doubt that the tendency of my hon. and right hon. Friends when we are dealing with social welfare is to press the Government to spend more. That has always been our function and I hope that it will always continue to be, and it is within our rights. I accept from the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West that it is the tendency of his party always to oppose any increase in expenditure on social welfare. But, in principle, there is no difference between us, because these tendencies are reversed if we are considering, for instance, instead of expenditure on social welfare, expenditure on defence. Then, our tendency on this side of the House is usually to call upon the Government to bring it down, and the tendency of hon. Members opposite is usually to try to induce the Government to spend more.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
I do not think that the hon. Member has paid sufficient attention to the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) who constantly urges on the Government far greater expenditure on defence.
§ Mr. Silverman
I was talking of general tendencies rather than individual exceptions. I have even heard hon. Members opposite asking for more expenditure of a constructive kind, but it is the exception rather than the rule.
§ Mr. Robens
It is not the case that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has been asking for more money for defence. It is that he wants more value for the money that is being spent.
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not want to enter into a defence debate now, and I am sure, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you would not encourage me to do so.
I want to deal with one or two practical suggestions. I do not propose to follow the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South into an examination of the speeches made forty years ago. There is today a certain sensitivity about documents forty years old, and it is thought in some quarters that if one goes back longer than that one is really going back to the days before the Flood, into a primeval age. I cannot share that opinion. Perhaps I am a little too old to look at it in that way. But the problem which we are dealing with today has always been a problem of Parliament, as much forty years ago as it is today. I want to make a few practical suggestions before the Leader of the House replies, as I hope he will, to what has been a very interesting and I hope useful debate.
My first point is that whatever may be thought of the practice which the Conservative Party, then in opposition, started in 1947 and which my right hon. Friends are now following, it does not prevent any single hon. Member on either side of the House from raising any point which he thinks ought to be raised before Supply is granted.
I am very glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) coming back into the Chamber. He gave a classical illustration of the fact that that was still possible and that it still remains our duty. If I can do so without impertinence, I should like to congratulate him on what I thought was an outstanding Parliamentary performance for which all of us ought to be grateful to him.
Anybody can do that. The fact that the official channels have agreed to take the Measure formally is not binding on the House. It never has been binding on the House. We have now spent two hours deploring a situation which prevents hon. Members from raising questions, grievances and other things before 1339 Supply is granted, when in fact they are not prevented at all. In my humble submission, the same two hours could have been much better occupied in dealing with their grievances, instead of crying out for other opportunities for dealing with them when the opportunities are here present under their noses.
The debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill—Second Reading, Committee stage, Report and Third Reading—have always been battles. They have been the occasion for private Members to raise a variety of points. It will be remembered that, but for the decision to take the Bill formally, it is exempted business. We can go on all night. We need not grant Supply until every Member of this House who has a grievance and wants to raise it, has raised it and has got a reply and is satisfied. That is still within our power.
That is the first practical point I want to make. Now I come to my second practical point. Though what I have said I believe to be true, it does not mean that we are not to some extent inhibited by this formalising of the procedure and taking the Parliamentary stage, as it were, on the nod. The noble Lord fairly said that this practice was started by the Conservative Party when in Opposition in 1947. I do not know whether the party regrets it. I know the noble Lord does, and some others; I hope they all do. I certainly do. Of course, they had an excuse. It is clear that they had much more confidence in the financial probity of the Labour Government of those days than they have in their own today—[Interruption.] Well, they must have had, otherwise why did they throw away voluntarily all these opportunities? They had nothing to complain about, no grievances, no charges of extravagance, no suggestions for further economy. That is what they are asking for now.
Whatever may have been their excuses, and however justifiable in the conditions of those days, I am prepared to go along with them. We should not continue that procedure now, and I will say why shortly. There is no need for it. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West deplored the fact that these occasions were always taken by the Opposition as occasions for raising a major battle. That has always been so, and would still be so without this formal procedure of 1340 taking the various stages immediately and passing them without further discussion and debate.
The difference was this: in the days when we did not do it in that way, under the misguided influence of the Tory Opposition of 1947, it was still true that the official Opposition chose the subject which would be debated first, and debated it as long as they wished it to be debated. There is nothing wrong in that. It becomes questionable only if it interferes with the rights of other people. In those days it did not interfere with those rights, because as soon as the major debate had been concluded, the rest of us could come in with any points or questions we wanted to raise, and we could go on all night if we wished.
That is the harm that is done by this procedure: not that we have the general debate, not that the official Opposition have the first choice of subject. Those are right and proper and there is no room for legitimate grievance about that. The grievance occurs because if we pass the Consolidated Fund Bill first and then raise the general question on a Motion, it means that the rights of everybody else are taken away. The suggestion I make is that, in any reconsideration of the matter, all that is necessary is to dispense with this procedure and restore the rights of back-benchers on what is essentially a back-benchers' occasion. That is my point and I hope it will be considered.
I agree with what the noble Lord said about the Select Committees of 1945 and 1946, of which we were both members. It is a pity that the House of Commons of that day, and subsequently, did not accept the recommendation of the Select Committee based on Lord Campion's Memorandum. I hope that, too, may be reconsidered some time.
Finally, may I make one trivial point for the consideration of hon. Members? I raise it with some diffidence and I do not do so by way of criticism of anybody. It is perhaps rather a pity that the Select Committee of last Session contained hardly anybody who had been in the House of Commons before 1945, and hardly anybody who had been on either of the Select Committees of 1945 and 1946. There is, or should be, a continuity of thought about these matters before we reach practical achievements.
1341 I am sorry to have taken so long, but I hope the House will agree that I have tried to confine myself to practical points.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
I shall detain the House for only three minutes. Public expenditure is something in which I have always taken an interest, and at one period I took a rather intense interest in it.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) spoke about the difficulty of the control of expenditure in a democracy. Here we have a situation where the Opposition is 100 per cent. in favour of more expenditure on everything—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes, and a very large part of the Government supporters are also in favour of more expenditure on most things. I think it is remarkable in some ways that any control is observed at all. Things might be a great deal worse.
Is there any remedy? Here I disagree with many of my hon. Friends. I do not think it is much use having more Select Committees or rehashing the ones we have, for the simple reason that under our system Select Committees can deal only with administration and not with policy. When we are spending thousands of millions of pounds, while, of course, it is right to do all we can to get administrative economies, the total we can ever get is relatively so small as never to be decisive. It would be interesting to know how many admirals are not awash, and so on, but, having that information, we are not much further on than we were before.
It is policy that matters. Can Parliament exercise any influence on policy? There is only one way and that is the suggestion contained in the speech of my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinohingbrooke). I cannot remember whether it came from Lord Campion or his successor. It was the suggestion that we should split the Vote on Account and have debates in the autumn. A debate in October might be very valuable; a debate in November might have some value, but by the time that December is reached the battle is lost —the Estimates are through.
I would like to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer getting up and saying, 1342 "All right, I have been pressed to spend all this money, but if my Estimates go up by a certain amount then the following effects will be seen in taxation in my next Budget." Of course, he could not say exactly what he would do about individual taxes, but he could give a pretty clear indication. Something which everyone knows but often tends to forget when asking for more expenditure is that if we spend more money we pay more taxes.
If we have a debate in October, at the moment of decision, then, I think, some effect might be produced. People have talked a great deal—
§ Mr. Grimond
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am extremely interested in what he says. As I am sure he will agree, it is the pressure of the public which is behind many of the policy decisions for higher expenditure. I would like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman if he thinks there is any way by which we can relate the Estimates and the estimated expenditure to taxation. Even if we had the debate in the autumn of which he spoke, we should still have the position that although the Chancellor would talk about the taxation which he proposed to impose, the two would not be directly related and the public would not feel the effects of it for six months or a year afterwards.
§ Mr. Birch
I think the hon. Gentleman is under-estimating the intelligence of the voters. That is the mistake which the Labour Party made at the last election. It said that it would spend thousands of millions more but would not raise taxes. The voters knew that that was nonsense. It is necessary for hon. Members, particularly if they want to be honourable with their constituents, to realise the position.
As regards the Cabinet, the point is, of course, that the great majority of the members of the Cabinet are heads of spending Departments. They have interests in more roads and more everything. Anything that they spend builds up their own ego, their own reputation. There are only two possible people to stand up against it, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, and the Chancellor, if he is alone, can do nothing. Therefore, I think that a debate earlier in the year, strongly supported in this House, 1343 in which it was said that people do not want their taxes to go up and do want some curtailment in spending, would strengthen the hands of the Chancellor and of the Prime Minister in the task of keeping us on an even keel.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
The right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) has played two roles in the House, the usual, familiar roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We have been so interested in his recent speeches on the need for public economy that we are apt to forget that at one time he spoke from the Government Front Bench as the spokesman of the Minister of Defence in charge of one of the Ministries responsible for the overall expenditure of a very vast sum of public money.
It is quite unfair to argue that hon. Members on this side of the House are not concerned about expenditure. During the last fortnight I have been trying to draw attention to the vast expenditure on the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. What assistance did we get from the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke)?
§ Mr. Hughes
He was not here. Where was the right hon. Member for Flint, West? He was not here. I suggest that the vast sum of £1,600 million, which is such a large slice of our public expenditure, has been allowed to be voted with very little criticism and few pleas for reduction from hon. Members opposite.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
When the hon. Member is recalling who was present during the debates on the Service Estimates, I hope that he will bear in mind—I can vouch for this because I sat through most of them— that at no time during the detailed discussions on those Estimates were there more than five hon. Members on the benches opposite.
§ Mr. Hughes
I deplore and deprecate that as much as anyone, because if my 1344 policy were accepted by the Labour Party we would vote against every one of those Estimates. That would bring about a three-line Whip and that would bring hon. Members to the House. I believe that once that course were adopted by the Labour Party we should get full-dress debates. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, these Service Estimates debates have been a scandal from the point of view of the attendance of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I admit that he has been present, and he knows that I have been here.
How many hon. Members were present during the later proceedings of the debate on the Air Force Estimate of £500 million? Less than would fill the Viscount aircraft in which I travelled down from Prestwick. How many hon. Members were present to watch the expenditure on the Navy? Less than would be in an ordinary dinghy. How many were present watching the £400 million to £500 million expenditure on the Army? Less than would be in an ordinary bus. The foremost critics who have put their names to this Motion were not present continuously on any of those occasions.
I suggest that in debates on the Service Estimates there is a great need for hon. Members who are specialists to be present. The most searching criticism of the Navy Estimates did not come from me. It came from the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). The hon. and gallant Gentleman not only made the point about a few admirals—the right hon. Member for Flint, West does not want to listen to this—but he made certain criticisms on the whole range of naval policy. He made searching criticisms of the whole concept of aircraft carriers in modern warfare.
I submit that if we had a Standing Committee dealing with the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, hon. Members who have had experience of those Services and who do not agree with my point of view would be able to contribute concrete and practical proposals which would result in a reduction of expenditure.
My first experiences in watching expenditure were in a very small town council where the bills and the receipts 1345 used to be passed round the table of a committee of nine. Many hon. Members who have had experience of the working of municipal authorities know that there is far more scrutiny of municipal expenditure at the local authority level than there is at the national level, even when much smaller sums are involved.
I was also a member of the finance committee of a town council and then became a member of the finance committee of the county council. We used to receive with our agenda a foolscap list of all the main items of the various spending committees. The result was that in a procedure of that kind the party lines very often became blurred with the result that a real attempt was made to scrutinise what was waste and what was justifiable expenditure. Local authority, town council and county council administrations are absolute models of public administration compared with what goes on in this House.
I am all in favour of increasing the number of Standing Committees which would help to reduce expenditure when it was wasteful and would be able to encourage expenditure which was in the interests of the general community. Until we get the adaptation of the committee system to the affairs of the House there will never be any attempt at real democracy.
Everybody knows what (happens in this place. I represent a mining constituency, and, especially on this side of the House, we see a very large number of hon. Members representing mining constituencies coming in. After they have made their maiden speeches, what is left for them in the way of carrying on the general work of this House, except the rare opportunity of taking part for a few minutes in a debate perhaps once or twice a year? There are hon. Members who have vast experience of local government work and vast experience of the administration of the trade unions whose time is absolutely wasted as a result of the medieval and late nineteenth century traditions of this place.
I suggest that—perhaps not from the same motives as I have—the Motion contains the germ of very sound common sense, and that until we get the committee system of government as against the Cabinet system of govern- 1346 ment we shall never get real democracy. The Cabinet system goes back to the time of William, when he wanted money for his Continental wars. It is absolutely incapable of dealing with the day-to-day problems and the ramifications of our modern society and modern industry. Until we get the committee system, in which all hon. Members will be able to use their experience and knowledge, democracy will be thwarted and handicapped in running our affairs.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Bromley -Davenport (Knutsford)
All sections of the community are becoming very worried about the huge increase in national expenditure which is now automatic and goes through on the nod. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mon-mouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) said the other day that there is hardly any opportunity for discussing these huge sums. We cannot do so on the Budget because the Budget is concerned solely with raising revenue with which to meet these gigantic Bills, and indeed, nobody seems to care any more. Except today and the other day when my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) protested, nothing is said at all and these vast sums are passed through on the nod. A little later on we get the Budget and the taxpayer is then told how he is to meet these huge bills and the taxes he will have to pay —or else. The procedure is always the same. After the Budget we spend the whole summer arguing among ourselves how we are to decrease taxes, and we have all-night sittings in the process, and then during the rest of the year we plan how we are going to spend still more money.
Take today, for instance. If it had not been for the intervention of my noble Friend, instead of our discussing how we are to cut down these huge expenses and get better value for our money, or even just maintaining the present level of expenditure, this huge sum would have been slipped through on the nod and we should be discussing for the whole afternoon the subject of retirement pensions and other National Insurance benefits.
We all know that these are most worthy causes. Nevertheless, during that debate the Government will be urged 1347 to spend still more and more money. The proceedings will follow the usual pattern. Her Majesty's Opposition, with one eye on the local Press, one eye on the national newspapers and both eyes on the ballot box in the far distance, will criticise Her Majesty's Government for not having done more. At the end of the debate, Her Majesty's Government will reply, saying what they have done and how much they have spent, how much more they have done and how much more they have spent than the Socialist Party spent, and how much more money they intend spending in the future. All parties are invited to be here at 9.30 p.m., and there will be a Division at 10 o'clock, and once again Her Majesty's Government will have a resounding victory and everybody will go home satisfied. This is just an example of how the Government are continually urged to increase expenditure. How often do we hear any voices raised or any suggestions made about how the money is to be obtained?
I now turn to national expenditure and why the people, and indeed all parties, are so deeply concerned. To go back to the dark days when the Socialists governed this country, in their penultimate Budget, that of 1950–51, their total expenditure above the line amounted to £3,804 million, but in the pre-election Budget they very wisely put up their expenditure by £800 million and increased the total to £4,685 million. They then went to the country, having called for a General Election.
But the Conservative Budget for 1959–60 is for an estimated expenditure of £6,428 million. That is nearly £2,000 million more than the Socialists spent in their last year in office. The same is true of the expenditure below the line. That is only the start. Let us examine some of the other bills that the taxpayer is being called upon to pay. He has to fork out an extra £181 million for the Supplementary Estimates, and, to sweeten him up and keep his eye in next year, he has been asked to pay a further £440 million. After that will come the Supplementary Estimates. So it all goes on ad infinitum.
That is bad enough, but worse is to follow. Look at the thousands of millions of pounds that the taxpayers have to pour into the nationalised industries. 1348 Here, if anywhere, is an instance of throwing good money after bad. As far as I can see, there is no check at all on the expenditure of the nationalised industries. Indeed, the public are not allowed to know how they are spending their money. I have an excellent example of what has happened in my own constituency. I take the example of Mere College, which is happily situated within sight of the Knutsford Division Conservative headquarters. This building—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Bromley - Davenport
It is not done to interrupt your own side. My hon. Friend should listen.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Bromley - Davenport
I would merely reply by saying that the remark which my hon. Friend has made to me is highly infra dig.
§ Lieut. - Colonel Bromley - Davenport
Let me take the instance of Mere College at Knutsford. This is a building which has been purchased by the Gas Board as a staff college—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot go into matters concerning the nationalised industries on this Motion.
§ Mr. Nabarro
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I intended to raise this matter at the beginning of our debate so that there could be no possible misunderstanding. Are you aware, in making the pronouncement that you have just made, of the contents of Section 42 (1) of the Finance Act, 1956? The final words of the subsection in the context of the capital investment programme of the nation are:and the Treasury may issue to those Ministers, out of the Consolidated Fund, such sums as are necessary to enable them to make the advances.1349 Section 42 (2) contains the words:Advances made under this section shall not together exceed the sum of seven hundred million pounds …from the Consolidated Fund. As I have been waiting here for three hours to make a speech on the nationalised industries, I hope that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will not rule me out of order.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Do I understand that you rule that my interpretation of the position is correct?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have given no Ruling on the subject. I shall wait until the hon. Member makes his speech.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport
If I may continue, what usually happens when I speak here is that there are more columns in HANSARD taken up with interruptions than with my own speech. I hope that hon. Members, at least on my own side, will allow me to continue.
To return to the subject of Mere College at Knutsford, so happily situated. As I explained, this building was purchased by the Gas Board as a staff college for advanced meter readers. Here the pupils have advanced from the peaked-cap stage, with notebooks and pencils, measuring therms, or whatever they are called, and watts—they have to be versatile—and have graduated to the higher and broader strata of the gas world. I do not say that this college is not a good thing. It is, indeed, a very good thing, since the gas industry is here copying private enterprise, and anything which can be done to make the nationalised industries more efficient is certainly more than justified.
The Gas Board has a lovely house there, lovely gardens and drive, beautiful furnishings and everything decorated in first-class style. All that is as it should 1350 be, but the point is that the taxpayer wants to know how much the building costs to buy, equip and furnish and how much it costs to run and maintain it, with its staff and all the rest of it. It may be of interest to all hon. Members, whatever their party, to know that the taxpayer has no means at all of finding out. The Gas Board refuses to divulge the information.
For eighteen months or so I have tried to obtain this information from the Minister. In correspondence, I asked him point-blank how the public can ever find out how much this building cost, and what the other expenses are. The reply I received this morning is that the publichave no statutory or prescriptive right to the information.
§ Lieut. - Colonel Bromley - Davenport
That may be so, but I feel, and I am sure my hon. Friends feel, that the public having paid for it, have a perfect right to know how much it costs. This is just one instance which can be repeated over the whole range of the nationalised industries, and, in my opinion, it shows clearly that there is not a proper check on expenditure.
What return do the taxpayers see for all the money they pour into the nationalised industries? Worse services, more and greater losses and increased costs. Then we have demands for higher wages—quite right, of course, in the case of the railways—and then up goes the cost of the end-product. Next, people start asking for more money to meet these increases, and up goes the cost of living. Once again we have the vicious spiral of inflation upon us. No Government in the world, no matter of what party, can keep down the cost of living when the price of fuel and transport keeps rising.
We are told that our standard of living will double over the next twenty years. I hope that that is true. I have every confidence that it is. But at the present rate of expenditure the taxpayers of this country feel that their rate of taxation will certainly go up twice more. They can see no prospect of it ever coming down.
1351 I have some very constructive suggestions to make about how we could cut down the amount of money which we are spending. I have time for only one constructive suggestion which came to me from someone who was a Cabinet Minister and who used to sit on the Front Bench, one of the most able Conservative administrators we ever had. I cannot say what he told me word for word, but I will put it in my own way. He said that we should consider our own Front Bench. All our Ministers are extremely able, extremely hard working and highly intelligent people. All of them, quite rightly, are intensely ambitious. They want to make a success of their Departments and, in doing so, they want to get hold of as much money as they can. They spend it, and then they go cap in hand to the Chancellor at the end of the year to ask for more and more money. The result is that, every year, we have huge Supplementary Estimates.
It was suggested to me that that procedure should be stopped. I know that there must be exceptions, of course, but Ministers should, on the whole, make correct estimates and stick to them. If a Minister goes cap in hand to the Treasury to ask for more money, instead of receiving what he asks for, having a pat on the back, being promoted and receiving the Order of the British Empire, he should be given a "raspberry" and the "order of the boot." Let us reward those who spend the least and make the greatest success within their means, not those who spend the most.
I have here three pages of the most wonderful further constructive suggestions, but I will make just two more points. I ask the Government, when they are faced with further demands for more of the taxpayer's money to be spent, to remember that they have truly said that the taxpayer prefers to spend his own money in his own way rather than have someone come along to spend it for him. Taxpayers bitterly resent being asked to spend less all the time just as the Government go on spending more and more. I should like to hear the Government say, in reply to requests for more money, one short sentence, which I have never yet heard used on either side of the House, "Sorry. You cannot have it because the taxpayer cannot afford it".
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) has delighted the House with the speech he just made. In the course of it, he fulfilled a dual role. On the one hand, he aired a genuine grievance from his own constituency, and, on the other, he drew attention to the machinery whereby we in this House control expense.
I congratulate my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount HiracMngbrooke) on the opportunity he has given us for this debate by putting down the Amendment, to which I was very glad to add my name. He has enabled us to have a fairly non-party debate on the basis that this is primarily a House of Commons matter. Two points have been made from the benches opposite which are perfectly legitimate points and, certainly in this debate, perfectly fair.
Perhaps we have tended to overlook the machinery available to us at present. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was absolutely right; hon. Members simply are not taking full advantage of the opportunities open to them on voting on the Estimates. They have not taken the best advantage there—on the Service Estimates particularly—and my noble Friend and some others of us have been working over the last couple of weeks— I think without collusion; certainly on my part—to probe the Estimates that have been put before us.
I was horrified yesterday to hear the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) allege that as we had carried out this process we had automatically turned ourselves into rebels. I think that I know as much about being a party rebel as does any hon. Member in the House, but, from the Parliamentary point of view, I certainly do not believe that it is right for anybody to assume that an hon. Member on the back benches on the Government side who chooses to ask questions of the Minister introducing an Estimate— Supplementary or otherwise—at once becomes disloyal to his right hon. Friend.
I should have thought that it was the primary duty of the official Opposition 1353 to do that probing—the primary duty— but if, in our judgment—and it is my belief at present—the Opposition of the day are completely failing to carry out their duty as an Opposition, because of internal divisions and interests lying outside the House altogether, it automatically falls to Government back benchers to do the job for them.
My own small efforts in this matter over the last two weeks have disclosed two rather surprising facts to me and, I believe, to the House. In the first instance, I discovered that a Minister introducing an Estimate did not know the meaning of the explanation given in the Estimate he was introducing.
Secondly, I discovered only yesterday that a certain payment being made in one of the Colonial Territories would be made only if certain other things happened. There was no indication of that in the Estimate, beyond it saying that the payment was subject to an agreement that had not yet come about. It said that so much money would then be required, but there was no indication of where the money would go if it was not required. As a result of probing, we managed to get the answer to that one. Hon. Members are not at present using the opportunities available to them for probing the Estimates for the coming year.
Turning to the expenditure that has already been incurred, I should particularly like to take up the point made by my noble Friend today, when he suggested that we might consider the recommendation of Sir Gilbert Campion, as he then was, of a Committee of Expenditure. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) also followed this up. It may have escaped the memory of the House that, during the war, the Select Committee on National Expenditure presented to the House its Sixteenth Report, which dealt with matters akin to those of which we have spoken today. I understand that there was no Select Committee on Estimates throughout the war; that during those years we had this Select Committee on National Expenditure.
I am a little doubtful whether Lord Campion's recommendation about amalgamating the Estimates Committee 1354 and the Public Accounts Committee would achieve quite what hon. Members desire. My own belief is that it is very important that there should be hon. Members common to both Committees. That is very important. Were we to amalgamate the two Committees I am a little concerned lest the one Committee should find its task too great to fulfil successfully within one financial year.
It is most important that that should be capable of achievement. If we were to have a joint Committee on Estimates and Public Accounts that was unable within a financial year to report in time for any of its information or recommendations to be of the slightest use before the money was actually spent, we might just as well not have it at all.
That brings me to my principal point. I do not believe that the difficulties so clearly put forward by my noble Friend and by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West can be solved by altering the procedure of Parliament, as Parliament at present exists. I believe that as fast as we altered the procedure of Parliament, and especially of the House of Commons as it exists today, so we should create new difficulties and anomalies.
The truth of the matter is that the burden of State affairs today is so enormous that Parliament, as now constructed, is incapable of carrying out all the probing and the examination that it ought to carry out if the taxpayer is to be properly protected. In other words, we must have constitutional reform before we can hope to get a sensible procedural reform.
I am very glad to see that both my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary are present, because I believe that both of them have paid some attention to matters I have raised on this subject in the past. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will remember, but I hope that the House will forgive me if I remind it that, in the past, I have taken interest in the machinery of Government. As recently as 1956 I raised the whole question of a periodic review of the machinery of government.
In the Report to which I have just referred—the Sixteenth Report of the 1355 Select Committee on National Expenditure, Session 1941–42—there is a recommendation in page 38 that reads: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. So important and extensive is the task that it would demand the individual attention of a special body. Your Committee, therefore, recommend the creation of a new Select Committee, to be appointed sessionally under Standing Orders, which should conduct on behalf of the House a continuing review of the machinery of government with special reference to the economic use of personnel, and should report to the House from time to time.The Report also said that:The new committee would require an Assessor comparable in status with the Comptroller and Auditor General …It is obvious that it would need some officer of that kind. The Select Committee said:The Assessor would have to maintain close touch with the O. and M. Division of the Treasury …At that time I reminded my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who was then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, of these recommendations. He said that sufficient was going on inside the Civil Service itself— but not Parliamentarily—on the machinery of government to make it unnecessary for those recommendations to be implemented. My belief is that if we are to have a hope of improving our procedure we have, as a House, to consider the whole machinery of Government, and in particular that part of the machinery of Government which concerns the Treasury.
I want to put one specific detailed question about this. My right hon. Friend will remember that in July, 1956, an important innovation took place inside the Treasury when Sir Edward—now Lord— Bridges retired from being head of the Civil Service. The then Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, presumably after consultation with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is now my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, made an important statement during Questions on 26th July. He announced that the duties of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury were to be split into two, and that there were to be two Joint Permanent 1356 Secretaries to the Treasury, the one to be Secretary to the Cabinet, Sir Norman Brook, and the other, Sir Roger Makins, to be official head of the Treasury.
It was an innovation, and I believe that it ought to have led to an improvement in the general supervision of Government Departments, and in particular the spending Departments. I hope it did, but we see that Sir Roger Makins has already been given another position, and we have not yet been told whether it is proposed to replace him with another man, or again to combine the job under one man. I should like my right hon. Friend to say whether it is proposed—as I hope it is— to continue the duplication, and not to restore the unified position.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I can deal with that point now. Sir Frank Lee has succeeded to Sir Roger Makins' position, and the position of Sir Norman Brook remains as it was during the time of Sir Roger Makins.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and delighted to hear that. I am sure that is a wise decision. It enables me to go a little further on the question of constitutional reform about which I want to talk.
The State now intervenes in so much of industry, and in many of the activities outside the House, very often in an executive position, that the time has come when we ought to try to hive off the responsibility of this House for the detailed actions of the Civil Service Departments concerned. The proposition to which I have given considerable thought over the years, and which I am not expounding purely for the purpose of producing something novel, is based primarily on the concept that at present exists between the Established Church of this country and this House. There we have the Church Assembly with an Ecclesiastical Committee reporting to Parliament, and on the whole Parliament accepting the Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, although having the right to question hon. Members who are on that Committee and who introduce the Orders into this House. It is that sort of concept which I have in mind to deal with such bodies as the nationalised industries.
The time has come when we must set up something in the nature of a third 1357 House of Parliament. When we were debating Members' salaries some time ago I mentioned that over the years we had seen Parliament develop, but the moment we had universal franchise and the "flapper" vote in this country no more progress took place in the constitutional reform of Parliament. We have now reached the stage when we are no longer able to control the estimating and expenditure of Government Departments as we should and the position this year is worse than in any other year that I can remember. It is because this matter has come to a head in this way that I feel obliged to put forward some constructive proposals.
I do not believe that it is fair to expect any Chancellor of the Exchequer successfully to administer his Department, or to protect the public purse, if he can never know what additional demands will come from certain quarters. I have always believed that there is no surer way of making people act responsibly than to give them responsibility. If this Industrial House—perhaps that is the best way to refer to it—to deal with the nationalised industries and other kindred bodies, were to be voted a lump sum each year by Parliament, and there ware no question of any more money being voted during the year, the Chancellor would know where he was. He would be able to budget more accurately and in the end be able to protect the taxpayers' interests far better than he is able to do now.
I realise that this could be regarded as a revolutionary proposal. It could also be regarded as a proposal likely to lower the stature of this House. There is a trend for the House to be very jealous of its dignities and privileges, and, with all humility, I do not think that the House is ever more ridiculous than when it is trying to stand on its dignity. We have to be humble enough to realise that the task we are trying to perform is beyond us.
As has already been said, there are too many committees and far too little implementation of the recommendations of many of these committees. If we set up any more committees it will complicate the task and make control remoter 'than it is today. For that reason I believe that I was right when, the last time Members' salaries were increased, I said (hat I would agree to that increase 1358 so long as I was assured by my right hon. Friend that full consideration would be given to the question of constitutional reform. I have yet to get that assurance. I have yet to see any signs of any constructive work having been done. I do not wish my patience to be exhausted, and I am only sorry that I have so nearly exhausted the patience of the House this afternoon.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Having sat here for three hours and fifty minutes, and being of a fairly observant nature through having had to accept great responsibility in one of the largest industrial establishments in this country, I am able to look round and remember who was in the House when the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) spoke, who came in afterwards, who spoke, who went out again, who has come in from another place not many yards away from here, who is prepared to make a speech and who has since left the Chamber.
I am not complaining, but we ought to approach the subject of the proceedings of this House with a greater degree of responsibility. There can be no cut and thrust, and if anyone doubts anything that I am about to say I hope that he will be good enough to say so. I want to make it clear that I am not asking for legislation. I am taking advantage of Parliamentary procedure for the purpose of raising one of the deepest burning grievances of our people. In order that no one should misunderstand where I stand—because I have never tried to ride two horses, or even three, as they do in the circus—I want to say that I remember the roots where I come from. We should try to be true to our people. That should be our duty in this House.
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Dorset, South said, provided that those who support him do so because they believe that there is a need for scrutinising expenditure, especially in these days when we are spending more money than ever in the history of our nation, and also provided that they will join with us in examining and scrutinising the gigantic arms expenditure—amounting to £1,600 million— which none of them has mentioned during this debate.
1359 This country is now treating its sick, disabled and unemployed in a relatively worse manner than any other industrial country in the world, with the exception of three. If any hon. Member doubts that, I hope to carry him with me by producing official figures, reports and statistical evidence, and quoting from The Times and the reports of the International Labour Office. This country has embarked upon a gigantic expenditure of £1,600 million on arms at a time when millions of pounds are being made by take-over gamblers and by rich directors, in the form of compensation, and when we are treating our sick, disabled and unemployed in the way that I have already indicated. It is because of this that I placed upon the Order Paper a Motion which my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), who is in close touch with the miners and the working classes in the Wigan area, was eager to second. We sat here during the whole of one Friday without being able to speak. I am not complaining, because when a Member has had a few years' experience of this House he learns to take things philosophically, and providing that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are playing the game with each other, within reason, we learn to take a good deal of what we had to contend with on that Friday. That is the end of that as far as I am concerned.
I shall produce official figures to prove that during the past fifteen years this country has been left sadly behind most other European countries, the United States and countries in other continents in the matter of the relative amount of the national income spent upon the sick, disabled and unemployed. If there is an accident on the road most people who see it will rush to help whoever is involved. During the last war, whenever a bomb dropped nearby I went as quickly as I could to see what assistance I could give. I found that most other people were very decent, and they wanted to give all the service and assistance they could.
If it is right for individuals to act in that way, surely the time has come, in the mid-twentieth century, when those individual righteous motives should find a collective expression in assisting the sick, the disabled and the unemployed 1360 who are in their present position through no fault of their own. This philosophy has been preached for 2,000 years. Some of us who have taken part in two world wars—not in mere talking but in action —cannot help but remember the promises which were made, and our indignation begins to burn within our blood because these promises have not been implemented.
The first principle that I want to set out in bold type is that in the mid-twentieth century, especially in a country like Britain which claims to be the most democratically developed in the world, it should be the State's duty to do collectively what most men and women will do individually, namely, to assist to the maximum those who are sick, unemployed or disabled. We all worked together to win two world wars and to maintain full employment. Most people made their contributions to save this country and to maximise its exports, and if they suffer through sickness, domestic accidents and unemployment, or disablements in the pits or the potteries, we ought to go to their assistance as we promised to do in two world wars.
If any hon. Member doubts what I am saying I would refer him, first, to the reply given by the Financial Secretary to a Question I asked with regard to expenditure on the social services in 1950, 1955 and 1956. The position has become even worse now than it was then. I am going to refer to the analysis made in The Times on 16th June last year. That newspaper has made constant criticisms in leading articles, but it was not prepared to print a letter setting out the facts in order that our people could consider them. According to the Financial Secretary, the total expenditure on the social services in 1950 amounted to 18.2 per cent. of our national income, in 1955 it was 176 per cent., and in 1956 it was again 17.6 per cent. According to figures I shall produce later the position has worsened since then. Well might The Times say:Real disposable income a head of population has grown by a quarter since 1948 (when, however, it was still below the 1938 level), but the real standard of public subsistence has remained virtually static.The pre-war standards about which The Times writes were a legacy of workhouse standards, when the people of the class to which I belong were treated as 1361 criminals and had to apply cap in hand for the mere pittance they were given in those days. In the mid-twentieth century we allow our sick—who are as good as any of us—our disabled and our unemployed, to live on pre-1914 Poor Law standards. If any hon. Members doubt this, I shall produce official figures from the National Assistance Board Report to prove every word that I am saying.
Some of us are still smarting under the blow struck against the workers in 1931. I am friendly with some of the employers, as individuals, and I respect the contribution which they make, but as a federation that is the policy for which they have been responsible in my lifetime. The British employers struck a deadly blow in 1931. Now they have the audacity to suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Surtax and many other taxes upon them should be eased. But in the memorandum which they submitted there is nothing about the sick, the disabled, the unemployed or those living on retirement pensions.
Hon. Members on this side of the House should rouse themselves and examine the situation in order that we may be worthy of those who created our party. At the present time the sick, unemployed and disabled people in this country are endeavouring to manage on benefits based on pre-war standards which, in turn, were based on the Poor Law conceptions of the Elizabethan period. Our standard of benefits is the lowest in the world, with the exception of three other countries. During the past fifteen years, since the Report of the Beveridge Committee, we have been left behind by other countries. I do not believe in just speaking about these things. It is my desire to reason in such a way that my arguments will convince right hon. and hon. Members. Therefore, if any hon. Member doubts what I am saying I hope he will be good enough to say so and give me the opportunity to produce official figures to support my arguments.
Germany was supposed to have lost two world wars and we were supposed to have won them. Yet the proportion of the national income in Germany which is apportioned to the social services, especially for the sick and for retired pensioners, is far higher than in this country, and it is for that reason that I 1362 raise this matter tonight. My hon. Friends will agree that seldom do the justifiable grievances of the organised workers find expression at the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress. But, despite that, it is now only six months ago that a resolution was carried with complete unanimity. It was moved by the National Union of Mine-workers and seconded by the Inland Revenue Staff Federation. Here is an extract from the Resolution:This Congress calls upon the General Council to make urgent representations to the Government;—(a) pointing out the completely inadequate level of benefits under the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries Acts; (b) calling for a fundamental examination so as to establish a decent level of subsistence …I am not speaking for myself, but recounting what was said at that conference of industrial workers by the representatives of the people who have maintained the maximum amount of exports from this country in order to keep us going.
According to figures which I have in my possession, in 1959 the average earnings of directors in this country was £90 a week. For industrial workers the average is £11 8s. 6d. and for a man £13 19s., which represents an average increase over the 1947 figures of approximately 120 per cent. I do not think those earnings are high enough. But listen to these figures. A man who is sick receives £2 10s. a week. With a small number of exceptions, unemployed men receive £2 10s. A man may be injured in a coal mine, it may be through a fall of coal, because that kind of accident cannot be avoided no matter how perfect be the organisation. The maximum amount such a man would receive is £4 10s. a week. All these people have paid their insurance contributions, plus taxes, and they have worked hard at the same time.
I feel bitter about the fact that because of this scandalous treatment, 68 per cent. of those people on National Assistance already receive National Insurance benefits. Have I made that clear? Is it crystal clear that 68 per cent. of those who receive National Insurance benefits receive National Assistance? Those benefits are low and they have to apply for National Assistance which is on the degrading scale to which I have already referred.
1363 Those who have shared my experiences will agree that credit should be given where it is due. The administration of National Assistance today is heavenly compared with what it was when I was a boy. Under no circumstances would we speak critically of the officers of the National Assistance Board. We are criticising, first, the Government and, secondly, the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance who have been prepared to acquiesce in this scandalous and disgraceful treatment of our people. This Parliament has been in existence for five months, but no action has been taken to remedy these matters. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but I would remind them of the promises which they made during the General Election campaign. I would remind them that he who laughs last laughs longest, and that includes those hon. Members near the Dispatch Box. We have had a little too much of them.
The logic of what I am saying is that most people in our country have been compensated because of the change in the value of money. The inflation during the past fifteen years has been eased by increases in income, or something of that kind. But those who exist on benefits have not received the same assistance.
I know that the Minister will compare what was done by a Labour Government and tell the House that this Government have done so and so. I accept that and I plead guilty, and therefore that absolves me straight away. Those who spoke in this way when other Governments were in power are in a strong position to make similar speeches today. I wish to emphasise that many people are enjoying increases in wages and salaries, but, relatively speaking, those who exist on benefits have not received an increase which compensates for the change in the value of money.
In my view, by their acceptance of the Beveridge Report, all parties undertook to fix a Plimsoll line. The Leader of the House will remember that all parties agreed to fix such a line and to say that no one in the country should be expected to have to live below it. The Poor Law and Elizabethan standards were the Plimsoll line for those who were sick, unemployed and disabled. As the 1364 benefits were fixed too low in 1946 and are still too low as a result of inflationary effects, and because of the increase in productivity and living standards, the time has arrived when we should demand 100 per cent. increase in the benefits for the sick, unemployed and disabled.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member began by assuring me that he was not going to seek legislation. That is the trouble, for he has now gone over his own Plimsoll line. Those benefits could not be increased except by legislation.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I shall not answer in the way another hon. Member whom you were good enough to guide answered. I respect your Ruling, but I am asking for an inquiry into these low standards. That would not need legislation. I am asking the Leader of the House to accept responsibility and, if he thinks there is anything in the figures I have produced, to make an immediate inquiry with a view to taking action later.
Approximately 70 per cent. of those on National Assistance are now receiving National Insurance benefit. This is after all we have said for so long about the need for caring for the sick, the aged and the widows. In case anyone should doubt what I have been saying, I wish to pay tribute to the Statistical Department of the House of Commons. We have some very fine servants working behind the scenes. Occasionally we ought to give them a pat on the back—[Laughter] Does any hon. Member want to interrupt?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Then we can apply the spirit of mutuality, because we all accept that. Those of us who are a little younger are trying to be worthy of the kind of man referred to.
I went to the Statistical Department and told the people there of my problems. I have never been better treated nor more courteously. As a result, I was given certain facts which I have here. Unlike a Minister, I cannot say that I shall have those facts circulated 1365 in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I will show them to any hon. Member who would like to see them. Our case is so strong and unanswerable that if only hon. and right hon. Members take the trouble to do a little research work they can find that everything I have been saying is true. I also have The Times newspaper of 3rd December, 1958, giving more evidence to show the correctness of this reasoning In The Times Engineering Review of February 1955, will be found more concrete figures.
Finally, there is the work of the Statistical Department of this House showing that, in proportion to the national income, this country is now spending less on the sick, the unemployed and the disabled than any country in the world, with the exception of three. It is on that that I want to speak. Benefits as a percentage of national income amount, in Italy, to 13.7 per cent., in France to 11.7 per cent. and in Norway to 7.6 per cent. In the United Kingdom they amounted to 4.3 per cent. in 1949 and to 4.2 per cent. in 1955. The position in the United States is not so bad as figures suggest because, in the United States, there are not only national Government benefits but Federal Government benefits and the trade unions also negotiate what are known as "fringe benefits." I must mention that in order to put these figures into correct perspective. Public expenditure on the social services in Britain as a percentage of the gross national product has been worsening during the past fifteen years. For these reasons I have spoken in this way.
Those of us who have seen dilettantes appearing both on the B.B.C. Television and I.T.V. from time to time often wonder why problems of this kind are not dealt with. It was with thoughts of that kind in mind that I considered that the proceedings of this House should be televised. I know that at present most hon. and right hon. Members are against me on that question. I do not mind that. That kind of thing has been my lot throughout life. I have seen proposals made and rejected, but ten or twenty years later, as a result of the slow process of evolution in democracy, I have seen those things come about.
I remember the days when there were very few like me in this House. I have seen the change take place and now we 1366 are producing men and women worthy of the class to which we belong. I have seen many who, because of their outlook and ideas, are now beginning to play their part. I hope our party, as part of our movement, will be worthy of those who have built it and worthy of the historic role it should be playing in the history and development of life.
Because of these ideas, I thought the time had arrived when the I.T.V. and the B.B.C. should be democratised so that people could see who sit on these benches, how they play their part, how they speak and how they are received. Honest men fear nobody. If the limelight were to be directed on to this House at present constituents of hon. Members would be able to see who is speaking, who is listening, who is smiling cynically and who is listening with great respect. I do not mind that idea not being accepted because, as sure as I stand here, that will eventually be done. We have seen great changes in this country.
If changes do not come in in one way by evolution they come another way. Those of us who have not much to lose, who live in the same kind of houses and have the same standard of life as the people we represent, know how the people are thinking. We cannot do much at present about unemployment, but the burning grievances are there.
When an accident occurs people rush to the rescue, as I saw people rush to rescue a child drowning in the canal the other day. The time has arrived when Britain should be doing that collectively. We ought to be saving those who are sick and those who are unemployed and disabled, and we ought to be assisting the retirement pensioners to a greater extent. We have promised this in two world wars. Our party stands for it. It is for these reasons that I have taken advantage of the opportunity to speak on the Bill which provides us with a Parliamentary right to submit the grievances of the people for the consideration of the Government before we vote Supply.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)
The major part of my remarks will be devoted to the Amendment of my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South 1367 (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) but before I refer to that, to his speech and to other speeches on the same subject, I should like to refer to the speeches of the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith).
While I should like to feel that all the matters to which the hon. Member for Paddington, North referred were the responsibility of the Home Secretary, in fact a great many of them fall outside my purview, and all I can undertake to do, after examining a note which he has been kind enough to give me, is to examine the possibility of further co-ordination of social policy. This I will do, not so much in my capacity as Home Secretary as in my capacity as a member of the Government. That I shall be glad to do.
I have examined the situation in a preliminary way by a rapid contact which I made with the L.C.C. this afternoon. The L.C.C. says that it accepts the Young-husband Committee's Report on the importance of the co-ordination of social policy and that it sees nothing in this field which it could not itself help to meet. I have similarly made a rapid inquiry about the position in North Paddington. There I find that certain cases of difficulty are examined in a co-ordinated way, as the hon. Member wishes. But I think that this is rather too big a subject to raise further on the Bill and therefore, if he permits me, I will send him a report after studying his contribution to the debate.
We are always glad to see the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South. It is indeed a marvellous reinforcement of his sincerity that he has the Statistical Department of the Library of the House to support his arguments. I hope that some of us will have the opportunity, if not in the OFFICIAL REPORT at any rate in a private capacity, of reading the material which he has collected. It is voluminous, as is quite apparent, but 1 observe from the immense amount of material that he has collected that he appears to have reserved some for another occasion, because his speech did not seem to go quite to the length that some of us had expected after seeing the material which he had in his hand. That is a 1368 very human thing to do in addressing the House—always appear to have more notes than the ultimate speech which one delivers.
The hon. Member's speech included a reference to the efficiency of the National Assistance Board, and that I should like to acknowledge. The administration of the Board has been revolutionised in recent times under a variety of Administrations, and this is a good occasion to pay tribute to its work. Apart from that, I should like further to study the comparisons, the statistics and the information which the hon. Member gave with his usual sincerity.
I come to the Amendment moved by my noble Friend which, as he said, reproduces much of a debate of which, for greater accuracy, I have obtained a copy. This was the debate of 24th March, 1920, almost exactly forty years ago. The Amendment which my noble Friend has put down is the same as an Amendment put down then by Mr. Edward Wood. I think it has been apparent to many of us who have been taking part in the debate that there is some substance in what the noble Lord says. I think we all feel—I am sure that this is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House—that there is something not quite right in the manner in which the House of Commons examines Supply. Had there not been so many points concerned with House of Commons procedure, the debate was to be answered by the Financial Secretary. I do not intend to make a speech on financial policy but will confine myself to questions on procedure of the House, which I hope will satisfy my noble Friend.
The first point he made, about Treasury control, is contained in his Amendment. As he knows, a Committee has been appointed under Lord Plowden to inquire into methods of Treasury control. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot designate the date on which it will report, but it will report not too far from now. As this Committee is sitting, with some capable assessors and aided by officials, and as it is going very thoroughly into the matter, I hope that my noble Friend and the House in general will await the report of this inquiry before we take further the question of Treasury control. 1369 I come to the main question which my noble Friend raised, which is to be found in the second part of his Amendment:… as well … as by the informed and effective exercise of the authority of this HouseIf hon. Members examine the report of the debate and Mr. Chamberlain's reply to the debate almost exactly forty years ago, they will find that he refers to the great difficulty of the House applying its mind to the details of the Estimates.
§ Mr. Butler
It was Austen Chamberlain. He referred to the great difficulty of the House controlling the details of the Estimates. He said:… and the Government, with such influence as it had, kept together a majority,—that sounds very familiar today—and that majority beat down at length the persistent inquiries of certain inquisitive Members as to the number and salaries, say, of the Rat-catchers at the Royal Palaces, the expenditure on the Royal Yacht, and things of that kind, which took up an infinite amount of time."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th March, 1920; Vol. 127, c. 522.]He went on to say that there are distinct limitations to a general control of expenditure by the House sitting as a body. He said that, nevertheless, the Government would look into the matter and set up some kind of machinery which might help the House in general in this task.
The first problem to which we must apply ourselves in response to my noble Friend, therefore, is the extent to which the House as a whole should undertake this task of Supply and the extent to which we should delegate it to one of our existing committees, either enlarged or amalgamated, or the extent to which we should create a new committee which should report to the House.
In this connection I must take up a reference to myself by my noble Friend, when he referred to some answers which I gave at Business time when he intervened to ask a question. I then drew attention to the fact that the Opposition had for many years themselves had the right to choose the subject on Supply Days. The Opposition has had twenty days since 1895 upon which they have had this right, and I think that we should 1370 consider very carefully before we alter any such system.
That does not deal with the fundamental point made by my noble Friend. After the Report of our own Select Committee of 1946, eight extra days were suggested, to take in the A Votes, the Votes on Report for the Services, the Civil Estimates and those other extra Supplies which are now included in the six extra days allotted by the Labour Government at the time. Six extra days were allotted when Mr. Herbert Morrison, now Lord Morrison, was Leader of the House.
Those days are now not as free as was expected, because they are taken up largely by the A Votes and the other financial business to which I have referred, with two days for Supplementary Estimates. There are now, therefore, twenty-six days on Supply, the extra six days being somewhat taken up in the manner I have suggested, two by Supplementary Estimates and the others by the Navy, Army and Air Force Votes, etc. It does not look as if there is very much hope there, unless we go back to the eight days suggested by our own Committee of the House in 1946, for latitude to the House for a day on Supply.
It looks as though, in approaching the matter of what opportunities there are for the House, we should turn to the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch). That suggestion was to the effect that there should be a split Vote on Account and possibly a debate in the autumn, half-way through the financial year, his point being—he having served at the Treasury, as I have done—that we all know that by Christmas the Estimates are decided and that by October and November they are beginning to be decided; and that that is the critical time.
I do not intend to come down on any final decision in this speech. I am only indicating that we must have some general conversation on what we should do next year. I should like to point out that the learned Clerk to the House, in his evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure, also suggested that something might be done about splitting the time, that is to say a half-way house for consideration of Supply. As this idea 1371 also arose in the evidence of Lord Campion, to part of which the noble Lord referred, I think that we should bear in mind in any conversations that we have the possibility of considering Supply at an earlier date, before things are finally decided, in order that the House of Commons as a whole may be brought into the matter.
I must point out that this must be a matter upon which the Opposition point of view must be considered as well as that of my hon. Friends, as fundamentally they have, or should have, the same objective, namely, to consider Supply. I suggest that if we have any conversations we should have them with the Opposition as well as with some of my hon. Friends and that we should see how we can find an easier opportunity for a general day to be given earlier for a general consideration by the House, in general, of the Estimates.
That, I think, is not enough. I think that we have to apply ourselves to the question of how a more detailed consideration of the Estimates can be made by this House. After our debate on procedure, I discussed the matter with the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), now sitting on the back bench, who has taken an interest in procedure, and I listened with interest to his and the noble Lord's references to Lord Campion's evidence and views.
The suggestion has been made that we should amalgamate the Committee on Estimates and the Committee on Public Accounts. At first sight I should like to say that I do not think that we should take away from the excellent work which the Committee of Public Accounts now does, post hoc, that is, after the date. I do not think that it would be very easy to amalgamate that with the Committee on Estimates and to make a job of it. I would rather examine the possibility of either some enlargement of the Committee on Estimates or of some variants under which the Committee on Estimates or, as was suggested by Mr. Chamberlain in 1920, a Committee on Expenditure, should have an opportunity of considering administrative policy earlier in the year.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that in the debates on the evidence that we had 1372 as to the Select Committee of 1945 and 1946 arising out of Lord Campion's suggestion, two points were made with which perhaps the Leader of the House could deal. One was that we had some experience of the kind of thing he had in mind in the committee on war expenditure during the war. As I understood his evidence, he saw a flaw in our present procedure in that the Committee on Estimates considers money before it is spent, the Committee of Public Accounts considers money after it is spent, but there is no authority, apparently, for reviewing public expenditure.
§ Mr. Butler
As far as I know from examining the terms of reference of the Committee on Estimates, there is no body which considers what I described as administrative policy, and that is a gap which we are gradually working towards in the course of this debate and in the course of other considerations which we shall have later.
In my view, there ought to be three matters reviewed in the exchange in these discussions. First, whether the House of Commons can have an opportunity as a whole of considering Supply, as recommended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West, at an earlier period of the year. Secondly, whether, by discussion with the Opposition, any alternative method can be found for Supplementary Estimates or consideration of Supply under the general allotted scheme for an increased allotted scheme. I think that is quite fair. The third consideration is whether a more detailed examination could be made, preferably not by spoiling the work of the Committee of Public Accounts but either by considering the work of the Committee on Estimates and having it either larger or having it given some delegated powers, or by an alternative Standing Committee on Expenditure, based more on the Campion model and on the evidence of 1946–47. I suggest that if we were to look at this we would then make some progress.
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
Suppose that an additional Committee is set up or that the Estimates Committee gives more time to considering this matter of Supply, that merely increases potentially the number of reports that this Committee or these Committees will make. It leaves untouched 1373 the problem of finding occasions when there will be a right to discuss the content of those reports on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Butler
I was coming to that as my last point. It is a fact, and we must acknowledge it, that the House of Commons really prefers discussing policy and politics. That is the experience which I have derived after thirty years here, and it is undoubtedly true. Nevertheless, if we are to have more detailed examination in a Committee, there must as a pendant or balance to that be some method of giving a greater opportunity in the House for discussion when we receive the reports. I suggest that if we have this discussion about a more detailed system of looking at the reports, there should be some chance of their being considered on the Floor of the House. Then we should have a detailed consideration and the grand jury of the Commons would examine them in detail.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
If it is possible to arrange for a discussion of these reports on the Floor of the House, I think that it was accepted in the 1920s that if the Government were forced to reduce the Estimates as a result of these reports they should not treat that as a matter of confidence; it should be a House of Commons matter. On small matters they accepted certain reductions in the Estimates as a result of House of Commons opinion. Would it still be the opinion of the Leader of the House that this would still be accepted?
§ Mr. Butler
I think that one would have to examine the instance on its own merits, because I can imagine certain matters being very much matters of confidence, and I can imagine other matters being matters for more lenient treatment of the Minister of the day. Therefore, I should not like to lay down a general rule ahead on that particular issue.
I hope that my noble Friend, my hon. Friends and those who have raised this matter and those other hon. Members including the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who have spoken on this matter will realise that the time has not been wasted. The Opposition have tabled a Motion for consideration, which I hope may be reached shortly, which is 1374 perfectly within their legitimate constitutional rights. I think that it is reasonable, while paying regard to everyone else's susceptibilities, that we should give time for that as soon as possible.
If there are any other points which any of my hon. Friends or any hon. Gentlemen want to raise within the legitimate span of a short period, I hope that they will do so. Otherwise, I hope that we may come to a conclusion, on the understanding that it is too late this year to reach a satisfactory conclusion on how best to consider Supply.
We are reaching the time of the Budget. There is no doubt that during the Budget those who are interested in finance will be able to make the most detailed speeches. When the Budget is over and during the rest of the Session, let us consider how better to improve the situation in the next Session. I hope that my noble Friend, will, therefore, feel that his intervention, couched in felicitous, family, baronial and altogether traditional terms, relating to the various families whose relations are here present today, thus tying the past with the present and the present with the future, has been worth his while and ours. I feel that it has been worth while and I hope that the House will accept it in that spirit.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies(Merthyr Tydvil)
Before the right hon. Gentleman disposes of this, will he consider this aspect of the contribution he has just made? Has he not, for all practical purposes, admitted to the House this evening that the burden of work on this Chamber is far greater than it can democratically cope with? Is not the answer a large measure of devolution along the lines of self-government—I am very serious about this—to Scotland, Wales and England?
§ Mr. Butler
The Government are putting a Motion on the Order Paper concerning the Welsh Grand Committee. That should be a good start. The Scottish Grand Committee is already doing very useful work.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
In a very few words I want to express the appreciation of several of my hon. Friends for the very sympathetic way in which the 1375 Leader of the House has received what has been said, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give serious attention to what my hon. Friend said. The evidence submitted by my hon. Friend of events taking place in 1960 shocked not only most hon. Members on this side, but the whole House. As the Home Secretary has told us that he will look into it, we can go on to our Motion on pensions. I pay my tribute to the Home Secretary for the sympathetic way he received what has been said already on the two points.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
In view of what my right hon. Friend has been good enough to say to the House, in view of the inquiries which he intends to make, and in view of the kindly and benevolent, if not baronial, way in which he has responded to the debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.
§ Committee Tomorrow.