HL Deb 22 May 1919 vol 34 cc792-5

My Lords, I beg to put the second Question standing in my name—viz.: To ask His Majesty's Government what is the estimated number of months or years required for the Munitions Ministry Account Department to complete their work; whether during the whole of that time Hertford House will be occupied by that Department and closed to the public; and whether for the same period it is proposed to allow the Wallace Collection to remain in the Tube where it is now stored.


My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend should have asked this Question, as it gives me the opportunity of showing what strenuous steps the Ministry of Munitions has taken in vacating all possible premises within the area of the county of London. The staff accommodated in Hertford House is engaged upon a systematic investigation of accounts for munitions supplies. The work is being carried on as a result of a pledge given some time ago in another place, and very considerable savings to the Exchequer will undoubtedly result from these inquiries. It is anticipated that the investigation will be completed about the middle of 1920. My noble friend Lord Inverforth has, however, made proposals to the First Commissioner of Works which, if given effect to, will release the Hertford House premises in a few weeks so far as the staff of the Ministry of Munitions is concerned.

As at present advised it would appear possible, by a more economical distribution of the staffs in certain of the existing Government Offices, to re-house the staffs now occupying Hertford House and also possibly the National Gallery. The whole question of accommodation in the Ministry of Munitions continues to receive the personal attention of my noble friend, who soon after he took office appointed a strong Committee of business men for the express purpose of continually investigating the question of the occupation of the premises of hotels and public institutions, as well as the reduction of staff.

I would like to call attention to the fact that the headquarters staff of the Ministry of Munitions was at the date of the Armistice 22,620, whereas on the 12th May it stood at 14,998—a reduction of 7,622. Of the present staff, 1,674 have recently been transferred from the War Office on the allocation to the Ministry of Munitions of the functions of the Surveyor-General of Supply, and on the other hand the Ministry has transferred 2,510 to the Ministry of Labour. The net diminution, therefore, is 6,756. Let me further add that a little time ago my noble friend gave instructions for the release of some thousands of the staff within the next few months—a certain number at the end of the current month, and certain numbers, in thousands, at the end of the following month.

It should be realised that whilst the Ministry's duty of supplying the troops with munitions ended with the conclusion of the Armistice, new and heavy tasks immediately devolved upon it, including the liquidation of the Ministry's contracts and the disposal of surplus Government property involving enormous sums of public money. Unless this work is carried out with efficiency and despatch, the work of assisting firms to turn over from war industries to peace industries and the revival of business will be greatly hampered. I am convinced that the whole question of accommodation and that of the necessity of the staffs employed continue to receive the fullest attention of my noble friend. Although it will be seen that the work of the Ministry still continues on a considerable scale a very appreciable reduction of staff has been effected, and concurrently the possession of a number of buildings by the Ministry of Munitions has been relinquished.

I will not weary your Lordships by giving the list of all these various buildings, but I would point out that amongst them are St. Ermin's Hotel, the Hotel Victoria, and, as I stated, twenty other less important buildings have been vacated since November 11, representing in all accommodation for 6,280. Arrangements are now in hand which will have the effect of releasing the Grand Hotel premises so far as the Ministry of Munitions is concerned in the course of a few weeks. I will even go so far as to state that my noble friend has already given an assurance to the First Commissioner of Works that; provided suitable alternative accommodation is put at his disposal, he will vacate without delay all the premises which it is understood that the public and business community are urgently awaiting.

As regards the last part of the Question, I have been asked by my right hon. friend the First Commissioner of Works to state that the Wallace Collection will be restored to Hertford House immediately those premises are again available. I hope my noble friend will agree with me that, so far as the Ministry of Munitions are concerned, they have done everything in their power to meet his wishes.


My Lords. I am sure your Lordships are duly grateful to my noble friend for the very interesting statement he has made of the activities of the Munitions Department; but only a very small part of it has any bearing on the Question which I have put relating only to the Wallace Collection at Hertford House. I understand that some proposal has been put forward by Lord Inverforth to the First Commissioner of Works, which will probably make it necessary for me to ask on an early day whether the First Commissioner of Works is going to do anything on the proposal which has been made to him. The noble Lord has informed us that several hotels and twenty other buildings have been vacated by the Munitions Department since the Armistice. I can only then express my deep regret that Hertford House and the Wallace Collection should not have been included very high up in the list of the twenty other buildings which have been vacated. The noble Lord made a curious offer on behalf of the First Commissioner of Works to the effect that, as soon as Hertford House could be vacated by the Ministry, the Wallace Collection would be reinstated in the building. That has nothing whatever to do with the First Commissioner of Works. The Trustees will see to that. They have charge of the Collection and will reinstate it as soon as their building is vacated. I must warn your Lordships that now for six months since the Armistice the very delicate and very valuable furniture of the Wallace Collection and invaluable armour—neither of them subjects for storage in a tube 60 feet under ground—have been left there at the mercy of atmospheric conditions which cannot be perfect in these circumstances. I am bound to say that the Office of Works has done everything in its power to render the danger as little as possible to a Collection which could never be replaced.


I may say that Lord Inverforth is quite willing to vacate Hertford House at once if he can be provided with sufficient accommodation for the special staff to which I alluded, and he does not even ask that that staff should be located within the area of the County of London. He is prepared to accept accommodation in a place within a reasonable distance of the metropolis.

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