HL Deb 17 November 1920 vol 42 cc293-317

LORD GAINFORD rose to move to resolve—

That in the opinion of this House reductions should be immediately set on foot of the staffs of Government Departments so that all buildings which have been erected by the Government on spaces to which the public had access prior to the war should be removed, and that such spaces should be returned to the public for their use by June 30 next year, or that where such spaces are still required to be retained by the Government after that date Parliamentary authority should be obtained for their further use.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the proposal which stands in my name on the Notice Paper is, I think your Lordships will agree, couched in very moderate language, and errs, if it errs at all, on the side of moderation. Many of your Lordships would, I believe, be prepared to give much stronger expression to your feelings in regard to extravagance and in regard to the expenditure of the Government than can be found in the words of my Resolution. I suppose there is no place in the whole country where open spaces are more necessary for the health of the population, and especially of the children, than in the metropolis; and whilst there are a great number of places in the provinces where the Government have erected huts and occupied spaces which, I think, should no longer be occupied by such erections, yet it will serve my purpose if I confine my remarks to the buildings in this immediate neighbourhood, as I think they will afford sufficient illustration of the object which my Resolution seeks to promote.

The Government no doubt justify the occupation of these spaces by buildings on the ground that thereby they are saving public money that would otherwise have to be paid in respect of houses and property which they would have to lease. But my point is that the staffs which are now employed by the Government are far greater than are necessary at the present time, and that no accommodation is required by these staffs either in leased premises or in the occupation of buildings on open spaces which belong to the public. The attitude of the country immediately after the war was to be patient with the Government, to show a good deal of indulgence and latitude having regard to the abnormal situation in which we found ourselves, and not to criticise them unduly whilst they were framing terms of peace and whilst they had the opportunity of bringing to a rapid determination the War Departments which had been created solely for war purposes. But two years have passed since the last shot was fired. Eighteen months have gone by since peace was declared, and as time has passed there has been a growing disposition among the public to become irritated, and all business men appear to me to be indignant with the Government at the absence of adequate efforts to reduce the expenditure in connection with staffs required for the purposes only of the war.

I am going to suggest to your Lordships that much more might have been done than has been done by the Government in the reduction of those staffs, and if those who are now employed as temporary Civil Servants have to be dismissed owing to the reductions of staffs and distress occurs, I think the blame should be attached to the Government who have been somewhat dilatory in their action, rather than to those who are endeavouring to-day to place pressure upon the Government to dismiss the staffs which are no longer required in the financial interests of the country. The best way of securing employment for the masses of our people, I am convinced, is to allow business to expand. But as long as the Government fails to set an example of economy to the people, so long will there be a restriction of that expansion, owing to the heavy Government expenditure and the heavy taxation which must inevitably accompany it.

The Executive Committee of the Imperial Commercial Association, which is perhaps the most representative commercial body in the kingdom, only a fortnight ago passed a resolution which they sent to the Government. After alluding to the drastic measures which they believe ought to be resorted to for curtailing expenditure, they go on to say— The present financial position is wholly due to the over-expenditure of public money both on the part of His Majesty's Government and by local authorities throughout the country. Our industries are being slowly but surely incapacitated and in many cases destroyed, owing to the extreme measures which restrict credit and render the financing of large enterprises impracticable. This policy is followed by unemployment and acute industrial distress. As one of those engaged in industry I can only say that I feel very apprehensive in regard to the future, both in regard to unemployment and to the inevitable distress which must accompany it.

I do not wish to underrate the efforts which His Majesty's Ministers have already made. I know that there are great difficulties which have to be faced and overcome whenever any restriction of expenditure takes place. But the necessity exists to reduce all Government establishments to the lowest possible dimensions. The one Department more than another to which I have always taken exception was that after-war creation, the Disposals Board. I believe that Board was largely appointed owing to the fact that there were a large number of persons engaged in the Munitions Department—a Department which, perhaps, has been more extravagant in the war than any other Department of the State. I am aware that in France, under General Sir Travers Clarke and his very able Quartermaster-General's staff, arrangements were made for the disposal of all the war materials, which would have been efficiently, rapidly, and effectively carried out with enormous saving to the national purse; but instead of allowing him to pursue his Departmental work a new Department was created, and that Department has been slowly disposing of war material ever since.

It is alleged that this Department has been justified because it has realised upwards of £540,000,000 in respect of war material. Any reference to that really irritates me, because I am aware how much better most of those stores could have been realised. I had opportunities in Belgium to see how stores ought to be realised. When General Bruce Williams, who had great driving power, found himself possessed of an enormous number of barges on the Mosel and Meuse taken front the Germans full of war material of all kinds, they were dumped down on the banks of the rivers and within six months the whole of these stores were cleared away and sold. That was an example which should have been followed by us in France. Instead of there being several hundred dumps there should have been fewer dumps, and the whole of the war materials might have been saved and sold to better advantage.

I take strong exception to the way in which the accounts have been presented. It has been said that the Munitions Department, now the Disposals Board, is spending £65,000,000 a year, but I notice that Mr. Hope has corrected that figure and stated that the expenditure is £19,000,000. I will take his figure; and I want to point out that it is a very illusory figure when it is a question of looking after dumps. For two years we have had an enormous number of dumps of different materials in all parts of France, and they have had to be protected. If you have one sentry you must have at least eight sentries in order to take turns in watching. If you have two or three sentries you must have sixteen or twenty-four sentries; and all these require non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers. You must also have arrangements for feeding them, you must have motor lorries and of course communications, necessitating an engineering establishment, a repairing establishment for your motor lorries, telephone communications, and so on, whenever you have to protect munition dumps. This expenditure, instead of being debited to the accounts of the Disposals Board, appears in the Army Estimates and is never debited to the right account. Therefore I say that when the Disposals Board has realised £540,000,000 and this expenditure, is not debited to their account it is an unfair presentation of the account. It is quite conceivable that the £540,000,000 might have been obtained a year ago if proper steps had been taken to realise the material, and much more might have been realised if the right men had been utilised for selling the scrap. Many of these men I know have made enormous fortunes by buying scrap from the Disposals Board and re-selling it at a substantial profit. Their services should have been utilised by the Government.

May I take another Department which occupies a large block of buildings with which your Lordships familiar—I allude to the Shipping Department. Captain Guest a few days ago, inThe Times, seemed to go out of his way to assume the duties not of the Patronage Secretary but of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and endeavoured to justify the existence of the Shipping Department on the ground that we were receiving this year £16,754,000 from the Dominions and Allied Governments and the proceeds of the sale of ships. His argument suggested that the expenditure of £16.279,000 was required in order to collect that sum. My suggestion to your Lordships is that the money which is due to us in connection with the sale of ships might have been collected by the Board of Trade, and the amount due from the Dominions and Allied Governments might have been collected by the Exchequer without the intervention of the Shipping Department costing the country £16,279,000 a year. I have the authority of a great shipowner in this country for saving that he sees no reason why the staff of this Department should any longer be required to be housed in buildings in St. James's Park, and that at the end of the year they might be removed, if not dismissed, from these buildings.

I take another Department. As an ex-Postmaster-General it is difficult for me to criticise the Post Office. but I see in the last Government Return that they are employing at present 28,000 temporary Civil Servants owing to the increased work which has fallen on the Post Office. I cannot understand the need for such an enormous increase in the establishment and resent very much the continued presence in Regent's Park of an enormous block of buildings, most unsightly and occupying large space, erected for the sole purpose of sorting and distributing parcels to the fighting troops. The Post office no longer requires those buildings, for I believe that any sorting of parcels done outside the pre-war establishment is now done on premises at Gloucester Gate. These enormous buildings which stiff remain in Regent's Park are not mere an eyesore but occupy a space which belongs to the public and which ought to be returned to it.

Then take the ease of St. James's Park. There are offices there alongside the Mall. I walked along there a few moments ago, and I saw that the first establishment was the War Office Mobilisation Department. Why the War Office want a mobilisation department there, when they did not want one before the war, passes my comprehension. The next two sets of buildings are occupied by Admiralty officials. Why we want an increased number of Admiralty officials when the German Navy has either been sunk or distributed, and there is no prospect of our requiring a large Navy in the immediate future, is again beyond my comprehension. Moreover, these buildings were erected under a definite promise made in 1915 by the then First Commissioner of Works that the space would be vacated immediately after the war. It is a direct breach of faith with the public for the Government to hold on to these buildings when a Parliamentary pledge of that kind was given to the country. The Admiralty by the last Return employ 6,251 temporary Civil Servants. It does seem to me that these Civil Servants are no longer necessary; these buildings ought to be vacated and the horrible excrescences too on the Horse Guards Parade pulled down.

On the Embankment there are a large number of offices. Just before coming to your Lordships' House I walked clown the Embankment in order to see what Departments are occupying these huts that exist in public gardens which in normal times are very much used by the public. The first is the Ministry of Munitions, a very large Department. Why it exists to-day seems to me to require explanation. It occupies a large portion of the premises. Passing to the end of Northumberland Avenue we come to War Office establishments—the Directorate of Organisations, whatever that may mean; next, the Director-General of Movements and Railway; then, in another block, the Ministry of Munitions of War, a separate establishment apparently in connection with munitions. I came also upon another office called the Railway Movement Branch. Occupying the old Board of Trade gardens are the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Labour, two new Ministries. They are not occupying public sites in the ordinary sense, and I do not want to dwell at too great a length upon buildings which are outside the purview of my Resolution. In the gardens of Montagu House there seems to be another war establishment, the Joint Substitution Board of the Treasury and Ministry of Labour. I do not know what the Joint Substitution Board is. It was not necessary before the war, and I should not have thought that it was necessary now.

There is also a large number of other buildings with which your Lordships are familiar. If you go over the bridge in St. James's Park you see on the right the Ministry for Shipping, and on the left a horrid, offensive eyesore, a sort of restaurant in which waitresses appear to be waiting upon each other at all times of the day. It hides one of the most beautiful pictures which we possess in London, and the building seems to me to be one which ought to be quickly removed. A little nearer the Westminster end is another establishment which was not required before the war. We were then able to issue passports under a system by which undesirable aliens were prevented from coining into this country, without having to put up a building, and occupy it in the lake of St. James's Park. It seems to me that we ought to revert to the pre-war system rather than continue to occupy with a Passport. Department a space in the middle of St. James's Park. I do not wish to reflect on the Board of Works. That Board is controlled by Sir Lionel Earle, a permanent official for whose ability and organising power I have the greatest respect. Anybody who saw the arrangements on Armistice Day must realise that in him we possess a very valuable public servant. I think he has only been carrying out the directions of Ministers, and if he has an Engineering Branch in St. James's Park, in one of those objectionable huts, it is because of these very extended Departments which involve an increase in his staff, for the expenditure upon which he is really not directly responsible.

The Motion which I have on the Paper, of course, deals with only a fringe of the whole question of expenditure, but I think it is a fair criticism to make on the Government that it is for them not only to show the country a disposition to retrench but also to put it into practice effectively and rapidly. I am afraid I do not see all the signs that I should like to see in regard to diminished expenditure. These various Government Departments, the Control Departments, in my opinion are all unnecessary and night have been abolished ere this if the right steps had been taken by the Government. They ought to be abolished within the next few months. When, in connection with a Department such as the Control Department of the Minister of Mines, a new official is appointed—I am not saying a word against Mr. Brace as an individual —it seems to me not to show a disposition for economy that a new Labour Adviser, whose services so far as I can see are not required at the present moment, should be added at a salary of £2,300 a year.

When one reads in the newspapers that there is a War Vessels Production Department still in Liverpool and a Transport. Department of the Admiralty still there, which was formed for the transport of American troops across the Atlantic, one wonders why steps have not been taken to get rid of these superfluous Departments long before this. I am told that there are to be Supplementary Estimates introduced into another place. In my judgment, Captain Guest would be much better employed if he refused Parliamentary time for Supplementary Estimates instead of writing letters toThe Timesjustifying the expenditure of £50,000,000 a year in connection with the campaign in Mesopotamia. I believe a lot of that money might have been saved if the Arab lead been properly understood by the Government. Having lived among them for a certain portion of my life I know something of the Arabs, and I know that if you treat them with courtesy and in good faith you can quickly acquire their confidence and make them your friends, instead of your enemies.

I am aware of the great pressure placed upon Ministers by members of Parliament in connection with social reforms, but it is for the Government to resist all increases at the present time and to set an example to every local authority. The public are feeling not only taxation, but also the very heavy burden of the rates. I see that nine. London boroughs are already rated at over 21s. in the £, and the rates have risen from £82,000,000 seven years ago to over £200,000,000 a year now. In other words, this is an increase of 4s. per week to every householder throughout the country. I hope that the Government, in replying to my Motion and criticism, will not allude to such Departments as the Pensions Department, which is admittedly necessary. I am sorry it has been placed in a public position such as Burton's Court, because I think that space belongs to the public. Permanent buildings ought to be found for a Department so necessary as the Pensions Department.

I move my Resolution because I feel that so long as these huts and housing accommodation are in existence so long will the Government occupy them with staffs which otherwise they would be forced to reduce, if not entirely abolish. We all know the history of the invasion of Mexico by the Spaniards, when the Spanish leaders burnt their boats behind them with a view to securing the conquest of Mexico. Exactly in the same way, with a view to securing progress in the policy of economy, it is necessary for the Government to get rid of the superfluous huts as a step which will force them to reduce their staffs to those dimensions that we believe to be necessary. Throughout the war I was always anxious, and I am anxious still, to help the Government in any practical way I can rather than to criticise them, but I feel that, whilst I am moving this Resolution in no party spirit, the time has come when pressure ought to be placed upon the Government, and I am doing it actuated only by a sincere desire to promote national economy.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House reductions should be immediately diately set on foot of the staffs of Government Departments so that all buildings which have been erected by the Government on spaces to which the public had access prior to the war should be removed, and that such spaces should be returned to the public for their use by June 30 next year, or that where such spaces are still required to be retained by the Government after that date Parliamentary authority should be obtained for their further use.—(Lord Gainford.)


My Lords, during the war a great increase in Government staff necessitated, of course, a corresponding increase in accommodation. This necessity was met to a great extent by requisitions of buildings and hirings, but in addition by the erection of temporary buildings in the Royal Parks. After the Armistice, when it became possible gradually to dispense with some of this accommodation, it was laid down by my right hon. friend the First Commissioner of Works that the buildings requisitioned and hired on war tenancies should be released as follows: Hotels first; then museums and picture galleries; next, business premises; then clubs and private houses; and, lastly, the temporary buildings. A good deal of progress has been made in that direction, partly by reductions of staff and partly by more economical use of the existing office buildings. Excluding the temporary build- ings, 85 per cent. of the buildings acquired for war purposes have been surrendered. The staffs accommodated by the Office of Works grew from 13,000 in 1914 to 98,000 at the time of the Armistice, and at present they number 62,000. Of these; 35,000 are housed in buildings belonging to or leased by the Crown, compared with 18,000 in 1914—that is to say, nearly double. The balance of 27,000 is distributed as to 16,000 in temporary buildings in the parks and public places, 5.000 in requisitioned buildings, and 6,000 in buildings held on short or insecure leases. Provision for 14,000 of these 27,000 will be made in buildings for which Treasury authority has been given, and which will become available at various dates before December, 1924. Those include the present County Council buildings, which will revert to the Government, and the buildings which are being erected at Acton. There remain 13,000 to be accommodated, and though reductions of considerably more than this amount should be effected within the next year or two it is obviously impossible to give up the buildings in the parks at the present juncture.

The alternative to retaining these buildings in fact would be a large expenditure of public money. The rental value of the temporary buildings is roughly £164,000 a year. In St. James's Park alone it is £70,000. Even if this amount were voted, it would be impossible to hire the necessary accommodation for some time to come, and the buildings would be less suitable than those now occupied. It would also interfere with buildings required for commercial expansion. To erect new buildings on the area required would be very expensive, the amount being estimated at about £800,000, and they would compete for the labour that is required for building houses. It is obvious, therefore, that the continuation of the present occupation of buildings which are thoroughly suitable and convenient, and for which no rent has to be paid, is the better policy.

My noble friend referred to the buildings in Regent's Park, which I think he himself was responsible for as Postmaster-General, and where such a great work was done during the war. He thought those buildings might now be removed. They are however, occupied by 4,000 of the Pensions staff. My noble friend also referred to the buildings in the Horse Guards' Parade. These will all have been cleared away within the next few months. The Embankment Gardens buildings are to be placed first on the list of the temporary buildings which are to be surrendered. Next will come the buildings in the Victoria Tower Gardens, then the St. James's Park buildings, and lastly those in Regent's Park. My noble friend also referred to the question of health. But I would point out that the space occupied by temporary buildings in the parks is only 3.8 per cent. of the space, and much of this was never actually available to the public. The systematic pressure on Departments by constant inspection on the part of Committees of Inquiry is effecting a steady, though naturally not a fast, reduction in the numbers of staffs, and such pressure will be maintained by the Establishments Division of the Treasury.


My Lords, the form of the Question upon the Paper directs attention simply to the occupation of buildings, and its apparent purpose is that the sites of those buildings should be at once restored to the public and the private owners from whom they have been so long withheld. But, although that is in fact the form of the Question, I cannot help thinking that even the most indurated officialism might have understood that the real purpose of the Question was to complain of the numbers of the staffs that the Government had retained, and that there was no intention on the part of the noble Lord, nor on the part of those by whom he is supported in this Motion, to complain of providing adequate accommodation for people who were properly employed. The real object, of course, was to call attention once more to the fact that public opinion is getting increasingly alarmed at public expenditure, and that the only way in which they can see that this question can be constantly brought before the public notice is by calling attention to the inflated staffs of the Government Departments, and asking what is the reason for their continuance.

I think the first thing that one recognises in such a question is that a reduction of every Government Department must come, as it has always come, by pressure from without. You cannot possibly expect Civil Servants to exhibit in their occupation the same devotion that the soldier does on the field of battle, and say, "I know quite well I am not wanted. Will you please take me away?" He is bound to cling with the utmost tenacity to the place that he holds, and he can only be dislodged by firm, strong, and sometimes almost heartless action on the part of the people who have the control of public affairs. The figures given by the noble Lord, who did answer as far as possible the actual words of the Question, did not appear to me to be very reassuring. As far as I could understand from his answer, as soon as we have chased these Departments out of one building they will be safely and comfortably housed in another. That really is not what the Motion desires at all. We want them chased permanently out of the Government service. We want to have these Government staffs reduced because we are convinced that it is not merely the actual expenditure involved in paying their salaries but the work with which they are associated that is so largely accountable for the growing and increasing difficulties with which we are undoubtedly met. I understood the noble Lord to say that there was at present a balance of 62,000 temporary people over and above the pre-war staff.


It is not above the staff; the whole of the Government staff accounted for by the Office of Works.


That does not help us very much, because you cannot tell what the others were. Let us see if this 62,000 is in contrast with the previous 18.000, because that shows a balance of 44,000. Let us just assume that each one of these is employed at £3 per week.


Ten pounds.


Well, if you put it at £10 per week the amount becomes alarming because that is £400,000 a week, and £400,000 a week when multiplied by fifty-two weeks goes into something which the taxpayers do not like to meet. But that is not all; it is apparently only a portion, and at any rate if this debate has done nothing else it has given some publicity and prominence to a fact which it appears to me it is well to publish.

My Lords, it is not any mere desire for fault-finding that prompts these Motions. I always try in all the criticisms and complaints that I have made to bear in mind the extreme difficulties in which the Government found themselves when hostilities were ended. But two years have elapsed, and we do that further progress should have been mad and that the Government should be proceeding now at a far more rapid rate towards restoration to something which, if it be not the normal conditions we enjoyed before the war—and they will probably never return in our lifetime—at least will enable us to measure in definite fixed terms the extent of our liabilities and know what ate the sacrifices that we must make to meet them.

One thing is certain. This country is going to be called upon to make even greater sacrifices than it has been called upon to make in the past. I am not, speaking of sacrifices in lives; I am speaking merely of sacrifices in money. Everyone seems agreed that the present scheme of finance cannot be continued. There are ominous signs of depression in trade and slackness which will block the sources of revenue for the Government and render it necessary that further burdens should be imposed in order that tie irreducible minimum of expenditure should be produced. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with figures on that point, but I believe nobody can doubt it. And how is it going to be met unless people are confident that the Government have made every effort on their part to check the public bill?

I have been forcibly reminded in the last few days of the position of our national financial affairs. This House has been sitting for three weeks trying the question of responsibility for a vast land slide in South Wales that demolished a large quantity of buildings apparently firmly founded at its base. The cause and origin of that this House is still considering, and upon it I will say nothing. But the thing that has struck me as most significant is this, that one of the first signs of the impending disaster was nothing but a mere slight snagging in the outline of a hill passed by unnoticed by everyone but a skilled observer. I am uneasy lest there are signs of a snagging in the outline of the fabric on our national finances, and unless we take warning in time we shall be on the verge of an overwhelming catastrophe from which we shall be unable to escape.


My Lords, I am sorry to intervene in this debate, but the Minister who answered the Question referred to the Ministry of Pensions having to find rooms for 4,000 men in temporary buildings. I know it is the custom to say that whatever number of staff the Ministry of Pensions has on the list it is absolutely necessary that they should be kept on and that nobody is to dispute the numbers. I have been watching the Ministry of Pensions for five years as Chairman of the East Riding War Pensions Committee. During that time they have instituted a system of dividing the country into different regions, and they have started a separate Ministry of Pensions in each of these regions. They have started all the office expenses and all the official salaries; they have multiplied a large number of officials, and the whole thing has not resulted in any quicker administration in soldiers' or sailors' pensions. It only means that the country is paying for a separate Ministry in Yorkshire and in other regions as well as this horde of officials in London. It is quite time that each of these departments was looked at seriously by the Government to see whether they can retrench. The country cannot afford this squandering that is going on. I have always had the pleasure of supporting His Majesty's Government in the intervening period between the Armistice and up to now, thinking that the Coalition was the only- thing to save the country, but they have had a free rope, they have been allowed to do what they like for two years, and some of us are getting very tired of the way they are wasting the country's money.


My Lords, I have very little to add except to reinforce one or two of the things that have been advanced. My noble and learned friend tells me what the real intention of this Motion is. It is not very obvious from the terms of the Motion in view of the fact that the general question of staff was discussed in this House three weeks ago. We took Lord Gainford's Motion at its face value, and prepared our speeches to deal with that specific point which is raised not once but three times in terms in Lord Gainsford's Motion. The noble Lord says that where Government buildings are erected on spaces to which the public had access—that is, commons and parks—these spaces should be returned to the public before next June, and that where such spaces have to be retained Parliamentary sanction must be secured. It is obvious that if we can get these horrible and ungainly buildings out of Regent's Park, St. James's Park, and elsewhere, and restore our incomparable chain of parks in London to the public use for enjoyment and recreation, and incidentally get rid of the horrid eyesores, as Lord Nunburnholme calls them, so much the better.

The gravamen of the charge is that public spaces which should be used for the recreation of the public are being utilised for these tiresome buildings instead and should be returned. Certainly no one has more sympathy with that plea than myself. For many years past, sometimes single-handed, I have fought the battle of our London parks, and I desire more than anything to see these buildings removed. But Lord Buckmaster must forgive us if, on this very restricted Motion, we are not prepared to give a comprehensive statement about the general staffing question. Unfortunately, I was not able to get here in time to hear the early part of Lord Gainford's speech, but I listened to him from five minutes past four until a quarter past four and it was only at 4.15 that he reached the question of the parks. He dealt with Mesopotamia. He said that our passport system should go back to the pre-war method in order apparently—


The Passport Office is in St. James's Park.


—in order, apparently, to reduce the staff employed upon it. I cannot agree that we should revert to the pre-war system. Very serious abuses were connected with the passport system, or rather its absence, before the war, and I cannot say off-hand that we are going back to pre-war negligence in order to reduce Government staffs.

Then the noble Lord said that all control should be abolished, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, observed that heartless action was required to displace these people. I am engaged in one form of control, which is my daily work. I do not know whether I can give a personal assurance to your Lordships, but I firmly believe that my passionate desire to end the control of the particular object with which I happen to be connected is as deep and sincere as that of any of your Lordships, and when I say that, I speak for the staff as well.

Can these controls be removed offhand? Lord Gainford said that the Coal Control should be removed. The noble Lord can tell us better than most Peers what the result of that would be upon the price of coal. Would domestic coal go up to £5 a. ton? That is my information. Anyhow, it would go up to a very high figure compared with the present price. I do not know really whether the public as a whole—I mean, the consuming public—would welcome such a decision. In any case, I do not think we can argue these very large points of policy from the very restricted aspect of the number of people employed in their continuation.

What I ask your Lordships to consider is the alternative. I hope the House noted the figure given by the noble Lord, Lord Stanmore—that the rental value of the buildings on public spaces for which the Office of Works is responsible is £165,000 a year. If the duties carried out by those staffs can be dispensed with so much the better; all the sooner will it be possible to remove these eyesores; but at the moment it is not possible. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, dealt fully with the Ministry of Shipping. It is true that shipping is no longer controlled as it was, but the work of adjusting very complicated accountsex post factois somewhat lengthy. Your Lordships must remember that they are not accounts dealing with Great Britain alone. Most of them cover six, eight, or ten different foreign currencies, and on each single point which we cannot settle for ourselves discussions with our Allies and with neutrals have to take place. It is essential, therefore, that this huge service, the liquidation of accounts which has to be carried out should go on for some time to come. It is no good saving, "We will do away with the whole thing." The accounts have to be finished. Large portions of these staffs, whether superfluous or not—I do not for the moment argue that point—are housed in these buildings erected on public spaces to which the public had access. The rental value in all is, as I have said, £165,000 a year, and the rental value of the parks alone is between £60,000 and £70,000 a year.

I am afraid the Government cannot accept the Motion that all these spaces have to be cleared by June 30, because it is no good saying we will accept it and then find it impossible to carry it out. It cannot be done unless Parliament is prepared to face the alternative, and that is to go into the market and compete with other persons for alternative accommodation. I do not think anybody recommends that as a feasible course. Still less would Parliament desire that permanent buildings should be erected. The assurances which have been given by the Government that great efforts should be made to clear away these buildings have not been quite so disappointing as the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, indicated. Apart from these temporary huts, 85 per cent. of the accommodation taken by the Government has been surrendered by the Government and returned to its previous owners. It is not only the earnest desire but the determination of die Government to bring these huge Government offices to an end as soon as they are convinced that the efficiency of the public service makes my such course possible.

As regards what the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, said I confess I am not sufficiently acquainted with the history of the Ministry of Pensions to continent on his remarks. He has been concerned with this particular question in very large and closely populated county, and I am quite sure I can say on behalf of my colleague the Minister of Pensions that if, with his experience, he will prepare a Memorandum showing how the work can be done with equal promptitude and efficiency and at what I imagine will he one-half or one-third of the cost, the Government as a whole and the Ministry of Pensions is in particular would be more than grateful to him for any assistance lie can give them in that direction.


My Lords, I think the noble Earl's speech a very disappointing one. When my noble friend Lord Gainford brought up this question again, I confess I was struck with his hardihood in endeavouring to drag from the Government assurances which they have already given on a question on which I believe we are all agreed in principle. Look back at the history of this question in your Lordships' House, and you will see how extremely difficult it is for us to accept the sort of explanation which has been given by the noble Earl who has just sat down. In March last, eight months ago, my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster brought forward the whole question of expenditure, and his speech was treated by the noble Viscount who spoke on behalf of the Government as having been full of dismal auguries which would not be made good. He spoke much more of the great expenditure of the country, and he anticipated that before the end of the year there would be real grounds for apprehension as regards even the exaggerated estimates which were then before us. Those expectations, I much fear, instead of being dismal auguries, have actually been realised as he put them forward. I would go even so far as to say that we have no reason to feel that even the immense sum which the noble Viscount, opposite put as the high-water mark of the Debt—£7,870,000—may not be exceeded at the close of the present year by the issue of a fresh loan. That is a matter which we know lies on the knees of the gods, and I only mention that because the remarks made on this side of the House have been met by assurances that the Government were fully in sympathy with us, but that our fears were exaggerated.

Four months ago this very question was brought forward in another form. What did the Lord Chancellor say about this I He admitted that it was incumbent on the Government to take immediate steps to reduce this very expenditure which is challenged by my noble Friend. But he pointed out that the Chancellor of the Exchequer lies given an undertaking that seven Committees were to be set up, consisting of business men and members of Parliament and experts, to deal with the Departments of the Board of Trade, the Department of Overseas Trade, the Board of Agriculture, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Pensions, the War Savings Committee, and the Sugar Commission. We might really have expected to hear front the noble Earl some account of what these Committees have done.


A full account of the attitude of the Government to the staffs and of anything else of which notice is given shall be placed before your Lordships most willingly, but I have got no notice of that, and therefore I cannot give it.


What does a Motion of this kind mean? What is it intended for?


What it says.


It is intended to reduce the exaggerated staffs. Unquestionably that is the whole object of the Motion.


I must apologise to your Lordships if I misread the Motion. I read it to mean that these accretions on the public spaces should be removed as soon as possible.


I do not think that the noble Earl can have studied the form of the Motion— That in the opinion of this House reductions should be immediately set on foot of the staffs of Government Departments.… I ask what is the use of our debating questions in this House and of obtaining assurances from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack if the noble Earl thinks it competent for him to reply, and entirely to ignore those assurances. I really feel that we have a case against the noble Earl in regard to this.


I am very reluctant to interrupt again. I merely express my warm apologies to the noble Earl for my error of construction. That reductions should take place in order that buildings erected on Government property should be freed—that is how I read it. If Lord Midleton desires to raise the question either to-morrow or next week, of course it will have to be raised, and I shall have to answer. But that is how I read it.


The buildings are only a passive form of offence. What we are out for is those gentlemen who fill them, and who fill them unnecessarily. And it is difficult to treat with courtesy the explanation of the Government when they ignore the statement at the beginning of the Motion. They ignore the statement at the end of the Motion also, when we ask them to obtain Parliamentary sanction, and when some of the very Departments which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said were to be under investigation have been considerably increased since the date when he made that remarkable speech. I would point out that it is not very respectful to this House, who, by a majority of more than four to one, decided in July that an investigation should be set on foot by a special Commission who should have the right to reduce these staffs, when the Government say, "We stand on that, but that is a Cabinet matter. We are absolutely convinced of it"; or, to use the noble Lord's words, "There has never been a moment since the Armistice when the Government have not been as deeply alive to the gravity of this question as any one." And then when we come forward to ask whether further progress cannot be made the whole gist of the Question is entirely ignored.

I know that it is useless to bring a large number of instances, but I really am not using language of exaggeration when I say that this mania for the appointment of new public servants is growing daily. I think that one of the Departments specially mentioned by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry of Labour a short time ago had 4,400 persons employed. They have now 17,000, and, although they have so large a number of competent officials, only last week a Labour Adviser was appointed to the Ministry of Mines, and a new post of £1,500 to £2,000 a year was created.


Hear, hear.


These things do not bear examination. They sit lightly on the noble Earl, who comes down to discuss part of the Motion without ever giving his attention to this part at all. At the beginning of the noble Earl's speech my one wish was to feel that we were in sympathy, and that the Government were doing what they could to carry out these reductions. The real fact is that speeches of that kind have no value whatever, so far as regards giving effect to the policy which we desire.

Let me say one word on the subject of inspection. I came across a case the other day under the Ministry of Health, in which there are certain officials who are inspected at this moment by a county inspector. The county inspector is inspected by a Government inspector (all the county inspectors are), and that Government inspector is to be inspected, in his or her turn, by an official of the Ministry of Health. This chain of constant inspection, so that in the end you get four or five officials inspecting each other, glorifying and increasing this system, really reminds one of the old question in Plato, when it was decided that the people who wanted to marry must only be married according to the wishes of the State, and the question was asked, "But what will happen; how are you going to prevent them?" The answer was, "We must appoint guards." Then said the questioner, "And who will look after the guards themselves?" "Another set of guards." That is the principle on which in certain Departments at this moment the Government are proceeding. I really do not know whether it is any use to appeal to the Government.

There is no particular I pleasure to us in bringing forward these Motions. I agree entirely with Lord Buckmaster that the public mind is being very much roused on this question, and, what is worse, that public, confidence in the professions of the Government is being sap red. If we are to do any good in the cause of economy the first thing to be done is for the Government under no circumstances to allow the spending Departments themselves to be the judges and arbiters of further spending by local authorities. That is one reason why so severe a view has been taken of the present Health Bill. The realest traitors to the cause of economy are these new Departments who are spending enormous sums of money, and they are to be the judges as to whether the heavy expenditure on taxes is to be transferred also to the rates. I maintain that the Treasury is the proper Department to decide that, question, and that the Government should take back from the spending Departments the right to initiate other spending. That is one way towards economy and reduction of staffs.

I do not know whether after the discussion Lord Gainford will think it wise to go to a Division. After our experience of the effect of an important Division with a great majority foot months ago I ant afraid that whatever vote we may give will not greatly affect the Government. I know that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has not had an opportunity of taking up many questions which have arisen during his absence, but I do hope, having regard to the impressive speech which he addressed to the House some time ago as to the responsibilities of the Government and the feelings of the Cabinet on this matter, that before many weeks he wil1 be in a position to make a better statement and one more likely to carry confidence than the one we have just listened to from the noble Earl.


My Lords, I rise somewhat unexpectedly because the noble Earl has made a reference to a speech which I addressed to your Lordships some weeks ago. He has been good enough to say that it was an impressive speech. I thought it was an impressive speech, but your Lordships took an entirely different view of it and by a majority of four to one rejected what I had conceived to be an entirely adequate and powerful argument on the matter.

The confusion that has arisen to-night is surely not from any point of view the fault of the Government. The confusion is entirely owing to the very difficult terms in which Lord Gainford has thought fit to put his Motion on the Paper. My noble friend Lord Crawford is quite right in his construction of it. What does the Motion say? It runs— That in the opinion of this House reductions should be immediately set on foot of the staffs of Government Departments so that all buildings which have been erected by the Government on spaces to which the public bad access prior to the war should be removed. … In other words, it would be entirely irrelevant to-day to discuss any reduction in any Department except such reductions as would have the effect of releasing the buildings erected by the Government on spaces to which the public had access before the war. That is the Motion. I agree that the discussion has by no means been so limited, but any one who had to apply his mind to the construction of the Motion would naturally ask what reduction of staff will have the effect of setting free these buildings, and it would be entirely irrelevant to this Motion to discuss any other reductions of staff.

When the noble Earl says that I gave certain information as to the committees that were set up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time I made the speech to which he has referred, it would only be relevant to-day to refer to the work of these committees in so far as the Departments into which the committees inquired were Departments such as were actually occupying the buildings and spaces to which the Motion refers. I for one always welcome debates that take place in this House on the subject of real or alleged extravagance. I pay taxation, very much heavier taxation than I think I can afford. In that respect I am probably the same as many of your Lordships. Whenever I hear that a debate is set down on the subject of taxation which may have the result of reducing excessive staffs I rejoice, because if it has the result of reducing these staffs it is all to the good, to the common advantage, and to my own individual advantage as well. Therefore I hope that noble Lords who put down questions which require an answer will put down their complaints, or their questions, in such a direct and unmistakeable form as will elicit such replies as it is possible for the Government to make.

I am quite sure that any fair-minded luau construing the Motion on the Paper to-day will agree at once that the Government could not be prepared to deal with a general indictment on the subject of extravagance, and certainly that the Government to be acquitted of the charge of disrespect which was put forward by the noble Earl. If such a debate takes place there who have spoken in previous debates will make such justification for any statements made by them which may be arraigned, and will not come unprepared, with such resources as they have at their command, to reply. There is no intentional disrespect on the part of the Government to-night in the action they have taken, and after the great sympathy which has been expressed with what appears on the Paper and the object of the Motion I am not sure whether the noble Lord will see fit to carry it to a Division.


My Lords, let me say with what pleasure we have observed the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack addressing the House with the same vigour and force of argument with which we are so well accustomed. I am hound to say that I cannot agree, on behalf of my noble friend, to accept the reproof which has been inflicted on him from the benches opposite, and to some extent by the Lord Chancellor, regarding the terms of his Motion. It certainly seemed to me self-evident that the purpose of the Motion was to call attention to the excessive numbers of the staffs in these temporary offices. He enforced that contention by drawing the attention of your Lordships to the buildings which we all see every day in the immediate neighbourhood of this House, and it surely was evident that the one purpose at the back of his mind was what he conceived to be the bloated numbers of these staffs and the new Ministries.

I cannot help thinking that it is a novel practice in your Lordships' House to take the wording of a Motion quite so literally as this. Undoubtedly in the House of Commons the precise terms of the Motion would have been regarded as limiting the need of a reply; but, having sat for many years on the Front Bench opposite, I can well conceive to myself the kind of reception I should have met with from the noble Earl opposite when he sat here or from other noble Lords then on this side had I attempted to get out of answering a Motion because the balance of its terms was not considered to be quite perfect and therefore it was possible to lay greater stress upon one part of it than upon another. It was quite possible for the noble Earl to say that what he really supposed was the burden of my noble friend's speech was that the pelicans in St. James's Park were walking about on land instead of swimming in water as usual; that it was a purely aesthetic complaint of my noble friend, and that he was not really thinking of these tens of thousands of officials. But even on the terms of the Motion as it stands we have not received by any means perfect comfort. I forget the precise number of persons who are said to be accommodated in temporary buildings. Was it 13,000, or 15,000?




It was something of that kind. We have had no promise that all these will have disappeared by June 30, as my noble friend asks. Therefore, even taking it in the most limited sense, my noble friend cannot say that he has had a satisfactory answer to the questions which he has put. It is entirely for my noble friend to say whether he desires to divide the House or not. If he does, it would probably give satisfaction to many of your Lordships who would like to enforce this view of necessary economies in staff by a vote in your Lordships' House. But that is entirely a matter for him.


My Lords, I am very glad that I have raised this question. So far as I did get a sympathetic reply I acknowledge the sympathy, but I am not at all satisfied. What it amounts to is that at the present moment, according to the last Returns, we have 117,000 temporary officials in the employment of His Majesty's Government, and 16,000 of them are housed in the temporary buildings; yet the Govern meat tell us that they are not prepared to reduce their staffs so as to liberate these buildings within the next eight months, which is the period suggested in the Motion on the Paper.

The noble Lord, Lord Stanmore, alluded to the fact that we should have to wait, for four years before we should expect to get rid of the buildings in Regent's Park, and that only just before then should we get rid of the buildings in St. James's Park. I feel that the Government have not made out a case in support of these enormous staffs. My Motion was intended to reduce the staffs, and incidentally, of

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.