§ Clause 7, page 6, line 16, leave out from ("Sections'') to the end of subsection (5).
§ The Common disagree to this Amendment because it is consequential on the Amendment made by the Lords in page 4, line 37, to which the Commons have disagreed.
§ VISCOUNT SANDHURST
My Lords, I beg to move that the Reasons for the Commons disagreeing to certain of the Lords Amendments be now considered.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ VISCOUNT SANDHURST
I have to ask your Lordships now to consider the Reasons for the Commons disagreeing to certain Amendments, and I move that you do not insist on your first Amendment. I tried my utmost on two occasions to make out my case for the second Parliamentary Secretary, and I do not propose to repeat what I said on those occasions. But I should like your Lordships to allow me. to say once more that I recognise clearly the objections which were very forcibly put forward to the multiplicity of posts, and as I then said—although I am not quite certain that I carried very much the belief of your Lordships—I really sympathise with the desire for economy which was endorsed by two majorities. I have only to say that I believe in the truth of what I then said as to the fact, as I considered it, 902 that the exclusion of this second Parliamentary Secretary would not tend to real economy of time and labour. I believe now, as I did then, that he is necessary for the proper devolution of the work of the Ministry, and as regards the efficiency and the expedition of that work; because the area of control and the volume of work will be difficult to estimate. The Minister was engaged for two years and more in constructing this Bill, and I respectfully submit that he should know and be the best judge of what, is the necessary help that he would require. Your Lordships will, of course, readily believe me when I say that I consider it to be most presumptuous of me even to suggest that I should advise you, but I may perhaps remind the House that the proposal was in the first instance carried in the House of Commons without any dissent whatever, and a night or two ago the same proposal was carried by a majority of seven to one. I would venture to express the earnest hope that your Lordships may be satisfied with your sincere and vigorous protest, and not insist on the Amendment.
§ Moved, That this House doth not insist upon the said Amendment.—(Viscount Sandhurst.)
§ LORD DOWNHAM
I ask your Lordships to be resolute in the opinion to which you came, after two very full debates, that no case whatever had been made out for two Parliamentary Secretaries in this new office of the Ministry of Health. The noble Viscount in charge of the. Bill has just said that the Minister of Health was engaged for two years in constructing this Bill, and therefore, after two years of deliberation, ought to know whether or not two Parliamentary Secretaries were necessary. I, too, was engaged for two years in constructing this Bill, and the Minister of Health, Dr. Addison, and I came to exactly the same conclusion after two years deliberation—namely, that only one Parliamentary Secretary was necessary. When Dr. Addison presented this Bill to the House of Commons and sent it up to Grand Committee there was no clause in the. Bill enabling the Minister of Health to have two Parliamentary Secretaries. Therefore during the whole of those two years the Minister for Health had come to the conclusion that he did not need more than one Parliamentary Secretary, and it was only by an afterthought that a clause was slipped into the 903 Bill at a later stage by which the Minister for Health should, for his convenience—as it was put, and that was the only argument given—have an extra Parliamentary Secretary.
I think I may say that after three and a half years in the Local Government Board I know that Department "inside out and outside in," and I say that there is no case whatever made out for another Parliamentary Secretary. The Minister for Health can appoint as many Secretaries as he likes so long as he can get leave from the Treasury to finance them. For what is a Parliamentary Secretary needed? The main use of a Parliamentary Secretary is to carry Parliamentary work through the House of Commons are the Committee stages of that House. I know that during the time I was at the Local Government Board we carried through litany more first-rate Acts of Parliament than any other Department, yet it was not necessary to have more than one Parliamentary Secretary.
Let me remind the House that the Government is not only asking for an additional Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Health for England and Wales, but has obtained in a Bill for Scotland another Parliamentary Secretary for that, part of the country. Further, they are about to ask both Houses of Parliament for another Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Health for Ireland. So that we shall have no less than five Parliamentary Secretaries for Health in the House of Commons. I think I may take it from the concession that was made to us the most magnificent concession that was made to us that the first Parliamentary Secretary for Health is to be, in your Lordships' House in the first instance. But how long is the "first instance" going to last? When that period is over, probably in two or three months, there will be five Parliamentary Ministers for Health in the House of Commons, all paid salaries, all having private secretaries who are also paid salaries; and I do say that it is surely time, if the other House will not make any protest., that this House should make some protest against the wasteful and wanton expenditure that is constantly going on.
There is really a serious danger that the Executive may get too strong for the independent members of the House of 904 Commons. It seems to me, if we go on at this rate adding two more Parliamentary Secretaries to the nine already created during the war, that half the members of the House of Commons will soon be in the Executive and the other half will be wishing to be there. Therefore, when we were told that on a division the other night this addition of a Parliamentary Secretary was carried by seven votes to one, I am not surprised. There are a great many very ambitious men in the House of Commons, and it is a tempting thing to them no doubt to wish to climb the ladder by getting their feet on the Parliamentary Secretariat in the first place. It is becoming a real danger in the House of Commons that too many of the able and independent men will all, sooner or later, be having Government official rank. They will be tempted to join the Government and lose their independence in the House of Commons. I believe your Lordships may come to this conclusion—that the country is with you and not with the other House in this matter, and that the country is seriously disturbed at present by the multiplication of officials, not only in the House of Commons but out of the House of Commons. For these reasons I hope that your Lordships will be resolute in the position which you have taken up.
I am aware that sometimes, when your Lordships come into conflict with the other House and insist upon some Amendment that you have carried, you are in danger of losing a Bill. We are all in favour of this Bill for t he Ministry of Health. During its passage through this House it was received with universal sympathy, and I cannot help thinking that the Bill was strengthened by the Amendments which we put in. Surely there is no fear of losing this Bill because we insist on the attitude we have taken up as to a Parliamentary Secretary. I cannot imagine the Government dropping this Bill because your Lordships insist that no case has been made out, for a second Parliamentary Secretary. After all, we are told by the noble, Lord in charge of the Bill that in a very short time all the functions of the Local Government, Board will have to be redistributed among other Departments, and that the Minister of Health is going to part with a great portion of his work which relates to franchise, Poor-law, the oversight and supervision of local loans and of local authorities.
905 When the time comes and those duties are cast on other Departments, will not other Departments come to the other House and this House and say, "Surely if you are going to cast all these duties, say, upon the Home Office which were hitherto discharged by the Local Government Board, are we not entitled also to a new second Parliamentary, Secretary? So I say the game proceeds all along, and fresh demands are going to be created for Parliamentary Secretaries. If we insist upon the attitude we have taken up it is open to the Government at any time, if they really find that a second Parliamentary Secretary is necessary, when they are able to make out a case, to bring in a one-clause Bill making out their case, and, I am sure that we shall accept that Bill creating a second Parliamentary Secretary when we know how the duties are going to be distributed among different Departments and see that a case is really made cut. For my own part, if I can get anybody to divide with me, I shall divide your Lordships' House to insist upon the attitude that we have taken on two occasions after full and deliberate debates.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, it has very often been my lot, when sitting on the Front Bench opposite and also in former days from this side of the House, to deprecate a conflict with the House of Commons on Amendments to Bills which have passed through your Lordships House, and to ask your Lordships not to insist upon the Amendments yon have made. Rut on this occasion, unless some far stronger arguments are forthcoming from the Government Bench than any of those which we have heard or any which were used in another place when your Lordships' Amendments were considered, it seems to me that your Lordships will have no choice but to adhere to the conclusion you have reached.
The noble Lord who has just sat down has used one argument to which it appears to me there is no answer. We have no idea at present of what the Parliamentary needs of this Office in the future will be. It is impossible to state how far it may be necessary for the Minister of Health in the future to have the support of one or of two subordinates to assist him in his Parliamentary work. As Lord Downham has pointed out, nothing will be simpler, if it is found that the burden of Ids work proves to be heavier than that of kindred Offices 906 and is so recognised by the House of Commons and by the public generally, than to introduce a one-clause measure for the appointment of an additional Parliamentary Secretary, which, if the case is a good one, would pass through both Houses without difficulty. It is surely, noble Lords opposite must recognise, a very strong order to assume, before we know what it really is, that the Parliamentary work connected with this Office will be so heavy as to demand this very special treatment.
But then we are given to understand that it is not Parliamentary work for which this official is required. We are told—the Minister chiefly concerned said as notch in another place that this gentleman is required, not for the ordinary duties of an under-Secretary in Parliament, but to act as a staff officer in the outside work, which has now apparently become so large a part of the conduct of Departments. When I spoke last time I said frankly that I considered this conception of the duties of an assistant Minister absolutely wrong. I do not believe it to be the duty of a Parliamentary Secretary to be perpetually working outside Parliament, whether it be in the conducting of private conferences or in the manipulation of public opinion through the medium of the Press. His place is in Parliament to defend the conduct of his Office there, and to assist the Minister in doing so.
This new system of the multiplication of Ministers who when they come into the House are naturally, as Ministers, bound and pledged to support the Government policy whatever it may be, but whose real duties lie outside in an obscure area of work unknown to the public, is in my belief a most unwise departure from the ancient practice. Unless it can be shown—and I do not believe it can—that the creation of this new official is necessary for strictly Parliamentary reasons, I cannot see why your Lordships should depart from the conclusion which, after a great deal of discussion and quite deliberately, you reached the other day.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, I think perhaps some reply is due to the noble Marquess and to my noble friend Lord Downham. My noble friend spoke with great vigour, and, as the House 907 will readily recognise, with great experience. At the same time his speech appeared to me to be inspired by a certain animus which rendered him not altogether a fair judge of the situation he was describing. There was quite evident in his mind the impression that this was a case of wasteful expenditure introduced without any sufficient reason by the Government, with a disregard for the public interest, the Government being only anxious to add to the number of-Ministers on whose votes it could rely, and to extend the sphere of official patronage even beyond limits which are already regarded as excessive. If that were so, I should not be standing at this box to defend it. I can truthfully say that a. stronger opponent of the multiplication of offices, or of pluralism, does not exist than myself, and in so far as I have had any influence in the proceedings of the Government during the past four years they have been steadily inspired by that feeling.
But is this altogether a fair description of the situation? My noble friend Lord Downham said that no case whatever had been made out for this proposal. I have had time before coming down here to run my eye through the debates which took place in another place, and also in your Lordships' House, where the matter has twice previously been discussed, and certainly tile impression has been left on my mind, and it. exists in the mind of the House of Commons although the noble Lord decided the majority by which the matter was decided, yet it did decide by a majority of 170 to 25 in the direction Opposite to the noble Lord that this Ministry, when created, will involve an enormous addition to the work which has hitherto been undertaken by the Department in which the noble Lord himself has borne a distinguished part.
A good deal depends upon What you mean by the term "Parliamentary Under-Secretary," and what is the work you expect such an official to do. The noble Marquess has quite fairly seized that point, and he has stated a proposition from which I confess from my own experience, which may not be as great as his, I wholly differ. The proposition laid down by him, and also by Lord Downham, is this—that a Parliamentary Under-Secretary is a gentleman appointed, not to take part in the main in the administrative work of the Office, but solely to make things easy for his Chief in Parliament, to answer Questions 908 and make speeches. However active he may be outside, in the Department he is to be a cipher. I altogether dispute that description of the proper functions and duties of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary. I was one myself. It is now many years ago. When I was Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Foreign Office, under the late Lord Salisbury, it is quite true that my main duties—and they were by no means easy—were to defend the Foreign Office in the House of Commons: but my Departmental duties were at least as heavy. I was head of the Commercial Department in the Foreign Office which had to discharge an immense amount of work, and I know of no case in which a Parliamentary Under-Secretary either confines or is expected to confine his duties merely to I answering Questions and making speeches. He is expected to relieve the Minister of a portion of his work and can any of us shut our eyes to the fact that, in the present position of affairs, the call upon departmental activity, interference, and supervision is increasing every day?
I have been a Minister for only four years in the war, but I can scarcely express to your Lordships the degree of rapidity with which the complexity of public business is increasing, and it will increase all the more rapidly in proportion as Parliament and public opinion are insisting that the Government shall play a further part in the management of our affairs. I, for my part, am prepared to take the opinion of the Minister—in this case Dr. Addison—that the functions which this Ministry will be called upon to discharge cannot be adequately performed if he has only one Parliamentary Under-Secretary.
What is the real test of this matter? Let us brush aside all idea that the Government want to create positions and salaried posts, or to obtain Parliamentary votes upon which they will be able to rely. Let us look at it front the true point of view—that of the efficiency of administration. Is the Ministry justified or not in asking that it shall have two Secretaries instead of one? I have personally only two interests in the matter. One is the efficiency of the work in this new Department, on which so many hopes are based; the other is the due representation in this House of the interests of this new Ministry when it is set up. I do not think my noble friend is quite fair in what he said on that point. Lord Sandhurst, the other day, gave an 909 undertaking on the part of the Government that if these two Under-Secretaries were created one of them should have a seat in your Lordships' House.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
That is quite true. And upon that the noble Lord builds the hypothesis that we may have an Under-Secretary here for a few months and then he may go, and that the concession will only be a nominal and valueless one because he will disappear, and we shall have the three Ministers in the House of Commons. If that is the fear entertained, my recollection is that I got up in the debate, after my noble friend had spoken, and emphasised and expanded his remarks with a view of meeting that criticism, and I said that, given that the case for two Under-Secretaries has been established, your Lordships have a perfect right to ask that one of them shall sit in this House. I think yon would make a mistake if you reject an opportunity of having one; and I am prepared myself in so far as my word carries any value, to give an undertaking that one shall sit in this House, and to give that undertaking in a form which as far as possible shall pledge succeeding Governments.
I look forward with anxiety if, when this great Ministry has been created and is beginning to discharge its functions, your Lordships' House, so full of goon of authority, experience, and judgment, has to rely in debates connected with these matters upon the assistance of a noble Lord who is, perhaps, engaged in other duties, and whose connection with the Department is only secondary. I was talking to Dr. Addison this morning, and he said, "Pray believe me not only is such a situation disagreeable to your Lordships; I can quite understand your feelings about the matter. It is equally disagreeable to time Department, because the. Minister in charge of the Department has to take up his own time in coaching the representative of the Ministry in this House.''
I would like now and here to take an opportunity of establishing the proposition that in these cases your Lordships' House has a right to a fair and equal share in the representation of the great Departments of 910 State. It is impossible, of course, to lay down a definite law which shall apply to every ease, for practice has long since shown that there are certain offices which are always filled by members of another place; and I ask your Lordships, accepting the pledge which I give, and which is a pledge that if these two Under-Secretaries are appointed one shall sit in this House, and that that shall be a pledge which, as far as it is possible to make it, shall be incumbent upon succeeding Governments—I ask your Lordships in your own interests not to throw away the opportunity that is thus offered.
It is quite true, as the noble Lord, Lord Downham, said, that your Lordships can persist, if you please. What are the two alternatives? The Bill may be lost, or very likely my noble friend is correct in saying that the Ministry in the House of Commons, or the House of Commons itself, with not lo lose the Bilk for a matter of this sort. But that does not cover the whole ground. I wonder if it is really worth our while—you have the power to do so, and perhaps are going to exercise it to have a fight with the House of Commons over a matter of this sort, it is easy to brush aside a majority of 145, but after all it is a fact, and if the House of Commons, having heard the case, has decided by that majority that it thinks the Minister has Made out a. case, ask your Lordships if it is worth your while to persist in your attitude at the cost of a quarrel out of which we can gain very little credit., and which will possibly go some way to embitter the relations with another place in the future. Therefore I venture to hope, although I am conscious that I have been pleading a cause to a House which has not hitherto been altogether favourable to my views, that your Lordships may reconsider the matter, accept the pledge I have given, I hope in a sufficiently definite form—if it is not in a very definite form, I am willing to make it so—and not persist in the attitude which you have already twice taken up.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not complain of the speech of my noble friend. He has spoken with very great respect of your Lordships, and has shown how conscious he is of the very serious grievance which your Lordships have against the distribution of offices in the Government, which deprives this House of the proper organs of Government 911 with whom it can properly deaf in public business. We are very grateful to recognise that, and I do not think that I ever heard the grievance recognised in such terms before. We shall remember them for future reference. I just parenthetically remark of these kindly pledges as regards your Lordships' House that there was no trace of them in another place. When two Under-Secretaries were advocated in another place two nights ago no one would have dreamed that either of them was going to sit in your Lordships' house. I think the House of Commons would have been very much surprised if that information had been given.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
May I say that I make the pledge with the knowledge and approval of the Prime Minister and of the Leader of the House of Commons?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not question that the noble Earl does. But may I remark, in parenthesis, that it is rather a death-bed repentance so for as the Government are concerned, We really are engaged upon this matter on broader grounds. The noble Earl spoke of the majority in another place. I am not going to repeat what Lord Downham said about the enormous number of officials who formed part of that majority, although that must be taken into consideration, but what we have to remember is this, that the present Parliament is in a very special position. I am sure my noble friend the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition will forgive my saying that there is no real Opposition in the House of Commons at the present time. The Opposition that there is, although led by men of distinction, is of such dimensions as not to be of a very important character, and therefore I think it will be seen that yon cannot treat the present House of Commons—although we treat it, of course, with profound respect—as we should treat an ordinary House of Commons.
There is really no opportunity in that House for the other side to the Government case being properly represented in the Division Lobby. No doubt there are some orators who make it good case, but when it comes to a Division the House is so enormously on one side that you really cannot rely upon the view which your Lordships' House has expressed being properly represented. Therefore there is 912 a very great responsibility thrown upon the Lords, when we know, as we do in this case, that we have the country behind us, that we are really representing public opinion, and that public opinion, for the reasons which I have stated. I cannot find its true expression in the House of Commons with the greatest respect, yet we feel the responsibility that there is upon us, and therefore we do not feel it possible upon a question of principle of this kind to give way so far as we are concerned.
I do not for a moment believe that there is going to be any difficulty in working the Ministry of Health because we do not give it another Under-Secretary. I do not want to repeat What has been said in previous debates, nor what Lord Downham has said this afternoon, but I would remind your Lordships in one sentence that the Local Government Board has been relieved, and is going to be relieved, of a great many of its functions, so that. although other functions are added, in the sum there is not much difference front what existed in former times. If in former times one Under-Secretary was enough, why in all conscience is not one enough now? That is the view which has been heard on previous occasions, and it is the view which we submit at the present time, and we believe that this multiplication of office, is a great and growing mischief. We believe that to a limited extent, but to some extent, it saps the independence of the House of Commons, and we believe that the country is determined if it can to reduce the number of officials and the number of salaries which those officials absorb. For these reasons, with great respect I ask your Lordships to adhere to your view.
My Lords, may I be pardoned if I say a few words in support of the view of the noble Marquess? I listened, as I am sure all of your Lordships listened, with the closest attention to the noble Earl the Leader of the House. I think he recognised, as we did, that he was advocating a cause which lacked popularity, and that he was doing his very best to make a case which upon the merits did not bear close investigation. One thing I was very glad to hear from his lips, and that was that if this is agreed to, one of the two Under-Secretaries should 913 permanently sit, in this House. I assume, of course, by that that he means it should be a term of the Bill, but the reason why it gratified me to hear it was this—that from the moment he said that, there must be removed from your Lordships' action upon this question any possible complaint that might be raised as to feelings of jealousy between this House and another place in regard to the distribution of offices.
If this Amendment is persisted in it is not because this House will regard itself as unfairly treated in the distribution of offices. It is for another, and, as I think, far more important reason. The real question is this. Has any sufficient case been made out to justify the unusual course of creating two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries in the constitution of a new Ministry, and it was for an answer to that question that I listened with attention to the noble Earl. But to that he gave no reply at all. All he said was that he was satisfied, after a conversation with Mr. Addison, that such was the case. The truth is that Mr. Addison cannot possibly know until the Ministry begins to work whether he will require this assistance or whether he will not, and the objection that is being taken to it is not that when it is found that an Office is over-crowded another person should not be appointed to discharge the duty, but that with the work as a whole unknown—and it must at best be nothing but problematical yon should start upon the assumption that two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries are required.
The noble Earl pointed out that the duties of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary were many and important. Nobody denies that, but the great part of the duties are undoubtedly duties that can be performed by somebody who is not in Parliament. The duty of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary is as a rule to stand between the Minister and the House of Commons. Why do you want two for that? The idea that there is work behind for them to do, and that one Parliamentary Under-Secretary might himself be unable to discharge it, can readily be met, if occasion requires, by appointing other people to do this work, but not necessarily by appointing a Member of Parliament to do it. The thing that strikes me about it is that it is difficult to see why two people are needed in the House of Commons, or one 914 in the House of Commons and one here, to discharge duties connected with this new Office, and to that difficulty I have found no solution in what the noble Earl has said.
I hope that the noble Earl will permit tile to add that I listened with great sympathy to the statement that he made about his efforts, which we all realise have been sincere to limit, the growing crowd of officials in Government Departments. I listened with sympathy because no more forlorn adventure has ever been headed by any one, not oven by the noble Earl in the course of his long and distinguished career, He has been struggling in vain against this increasing multiplication of Offices, and at this moment all we are going to do is to try and strengthen his hands. This is the moment, it seems to me, when the House can assert that the one thing, as far as it lies in its power, to do is to secure that the minimum of public money shall be spent upon public Offices, and that the government shall set in every detail and in every respect an example of strict and rigid economy, by the observance of which alone the future of this country can be secured.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
My Lords, I hope that this House will remain tenacious in the matter of principle. For my part, I should not like this House to abandon the position it has taken up because it has received the offer that one of these Under-Secretaries should be a member of this House instead of both Under-Secretaries being members of the other House. My position is that I think there ought to be only two officers representing this Department in Parliament, and that one of those should always be in this House. Any other arrangement is an innovation. It is a recent innovation. It is a bad innovation. It is an innovation which tends to undermine and to neutralise Ministerial responsibility, which prevents the proper fear of the House being put into the Ministerial action.
I said it was a new innovation. I bear in mind, in the years not long before the war, that when a certain Party had a very large majority in the House of Commons it thought that it was safe in deputing everything to Under-Secretaries. There occurred a week in the House of Commons during which the head of a great Department disappeared from the House. We 915 none of us knew where he had gone. His Under-Secretary, Of course, sat in this House at that time, for we had not then got into the bad practice of modern times, so the Minister could not answer in the House of Commons through his Under-Secretary. His questions, therefore, were answered by a popular Lord of the Treasury or holder of some similar kind of office. Unfortunately for the absent Minister, in one of the illustrated periodicals there appeared a photograph whirl; showed this distinguish head of a Department engaged during the week in the congenial task of killing pheasants. I may be wrong, but I think that the head of a Department when he sits in either House of Parliament ought to answer the Questions of that Department. It was the old practice, and it was the best practice. If he has need to be assisted by an Under-Secretary on account of the work of the Department, by all means let him be so. He will be none the less well assisted by one Under-Secretary because that Under-Secretary is a representative of this House. But when it is proposed to create two Under-Secretaries, as in the present case, we should bear in mind that we have already, given the Minister large consultative assistance by creating a whole constellation of Consultative Committees. In view of this it is very doubtful whet her any great responsibility can ever be exercised even by the new Under-Secretaries. I hope, therefore, that we shall not be diverted from the position that we have taken up, even after the promise which, with full loyalty to the traditions of this House, the noble Earl has made that one of the two Under-Secretaries shall sit in this House.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
My Lords, before the House goes to a Division I would like to put very briefly the reasons that influence me in recording my vote. I shall certainly vote for the maintenance of the decision come to by this House the other day. I do so on two grounds. First, because I believe that this House will be discharging a great public duty in diminishing as far as it is able this growing tendency for an inflated bureaucracy. It will also although it is but a drop in the ocean be discharging its duty in diminishing as far as it can this stream of extravagant expenditure which has become a very serious aspect of our public life.
I listened with interest to the speech of my noble friend who leads this House, 916 and I am bound to confess that with all the persuasive power he possesses on ordinary occasions, I could not gather front any remarks that he made to-day that he produced any very convincing arguments in favour of the proposal for two Under-Secretaries for this new and untried Department. If his argument meant anything it was an argument, and a very forcible one from his point of view, for the allocation of a second Under-Secretary for all great Departments of State. That is a proposition from which I differ strongly, and I would like to state my reasons very briefly for making that statement.
This Ministry which is now being created by Act of Parliament is merely machinery. It is hoped that in days and years to come it will expand itself in all kinds of directions for social ameliorations. Its duties may become very numerous, and may be so divergent that then two officials of the character of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary may be justified, but I would venture to say, as other noble Lords have said, that that day has not now come, and can only come after years of experience. It cannot be until then that one can consider any justification for two subordinate spokesmen in this new Department.
Let me briefly, if I may, examine the position of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary in one of the great Departments of State. I have occupied that position just recently, and for some time past, and I am speaking before many noble Lords who have also occupied that position. It must be remembered that a Parliamentary Under-Secretary is very rarely appointed by virtue of any intrinsic knowledge of the Department which he enters. He is appointed as a promotion for Parliamentary work. Again an examination would show that in recent years the life of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary is a very transitory and a very brief one. I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say that a fair computation of the average life of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary in a Department of State during the past few years is probably between two and two and a-half years. Therefore it is obvious, looked at from the point of view of efficiency to the Department, that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, through no fault of his own, possesses little practical executive experience and, with that little practical experience, he possesses, as many gentlemen who have occupied the position 917 well know, very little power in the Office. During most of the time he holds office he is really merely the complacent spokesman of the Minister: and the Minister, mind you, in his turn is very largely influenced by the decision of the experienced and skilled officials in his Department. The influences that. those officials bring to hear are naturally based on long and continuous experience as against the very transitory experience of an Under-Secretary. The real value and effectiveness of an Under-Secretary is very largely confined to the manner in which he is able to interpret the opinions of his chief as advised within his Department.
And in saying this I do pot in any way desire unduly to disparage the office of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary, but, merely to answer I he arguments advanced by the noble Earl, that two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries in a new and undeveloped Department must be created in order to assure its immediate efficiency. I merely ask this question of your Lordships. Is Parliament, in the interests of the country and the taxpayer, justified in duplicating in this new Department the office of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary? I am bound to say emphatically I do not think that Parliament is so justified. It is, I think, incumbent on your Lordships' House to cheek this ill-considered and really unnecessary extravagance. A few years ago the functions and the powers of this House were very materially curtailed. The power of veto has been removed from this House, but this House still retains the power of revision. I would urge upon your Lordships that we are very dangerously approximating to the position when we find ourselves unable to carry out those circumscribed duties that still pertain to us, namely those of revision. It is absolutely within our rights as a House to revise measures that are sent to us from another place. If, in that revision, we come into direct conflict with public and democratic opinion then, as a House constituted as we are, we are taking a serious responsibility upon our shoulders.
But I venture to say that in this case, in maintaining our decision of the other day, although running in conflict with another place we are, I believe, coming to a decision in complete accordance with public opinion, and the more public opinion is enlightened upon this position the more 918 public opinion will realise that we are deciding in accordance with their interests. This House should insist on the omission of this provision, which will cost the country £1,500 a year, Which neither by precedent nor experience can be shown to be of the slightest use, at the present time at any rate, to this measure. Therefore, this is a peculiar, occasion when, with perfect right and in accordance with the full democratic sentiment of the country, we should assert our revisory powers.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I should like to say, with great respect. that I cannot see how the noble Earl the Leader of the House can pledge the Government, and it is quite certain that it is not within the power of any man to pledge any succeeding Government. I have never been an Under-Secretary myself. I have worked in a Department among the rank and file, and I can say with great confidence that the general view in Government Departments is that Under-Secretaries do not actually help on the work of the Department. I know there are great and brilliant exceptions, of which the most conspicuous—I say it in all sincerity was that of the noble Earl the Leader of the House when he was at the Foreign Office. But that is not usually the case, and it is quite certain that a second Under-Secretary in any Department would be regarded by the members of that Department as an unmitigated nuisance.
I think it is to the point to ask to whom this second appointment has been promised. If it is not your Lordships' opinion it is certainly the opinion outside that this appointment has been promised to somebody, otherwise the Government would not be so insistent upon creating the office. We know that it was an after-thought; it was not put in the Bill as originally drafted, it was not thought of during the two years that the Bill was under consideration. Before this discussion closes hope we shall have an answer to that question: it would certainly be a matter of interest to your Lordships and to the general public. But I do hope that your Lordships' will insist, and I am perfectly certain that if you do you will have public opinion behind you. And it seems to me equally certain that if we do not we may as well give up our last remaining shred of claim to be regarded as a Second Chamber.
§ On Question, That this House doth not insist upon the said Amendment,
§ Resolved in the negative, and Amendment insisted upon accordingly.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I move that the Lords insist on the next Amendment. It is consequential.
§ Moved, That this House doth insist upon the said Amendment.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)