HL Deb 28 July 1921 vol 43 cc68-80

LORD GAINFORD rose to ask His Majesty's Government what further steps it is intended to take to carry out the desire of this House as expressed in a Motion passed on November 17 last in regard to reductions of the staffs of Government Departments, and to the removal of buildings erected by the Government on spaces to which the public had access before the war.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on November 17 last I asked a Question in regard to the policy of the Government in connection with the reduction of Government staffs in the various Departments, and I also pressed for the removal of the huts which were on vacant spaces to which the public had access before the war. Your Lordships then supported me in the Resolution which was passed. On many occasions since then, attention has been called to the expenditure of His Majesty's Government, and it is quite impossible to deal with the matters in this Question without referring for one moment to the great Expenditure, as well as the considerable Revenue, which is immediately in front of us. It is obvious that you cannot secure increased economy in the public Administrative Services without reducing these expenses, and you cannot get rid of the huts in which these Departments are now housed until you have made arrangements for the diminution of the staffs. It is unreasonable to suggest that the country should be called upon to pay for hiring buildings when they can get them free.

The expenditure can, perhaps, be best outlined in a few words by referring to the Treasury- circular which was issued in May of this year. From that circular I find that the Revenue anticipated next year is £950,000,000. Debt interest amounts to £365,000,000, and the amount necessary to meet War Loans to £100,000,000, which leaves a balance for Services of only L185,000,000. The expenditure in connection with the Supply Services at the present time has reached the figure of £603,000,000; so that a reduction of 20 per cent. is obviously necessary in order to being down our expenditure to meet the anticipated Revenue. There were a few figures given in another place, a day or two ago, which I assume to be accurate. One statement was that £3,000,000,000 had been raised by taxation from the people since the Armistice, and, as we all know, the people are now groaning under the rates and taxes which are being imposed upon them, and trade is suffering accordingly. A sum of £250,000,000 has been added to the National Debt, and the Government have incurred an expenditure of £137,000,000 in connection with Palestine and Mesopotamia. These figures speak for themselves.

I now come to the obvious justification for a great reduction in the cost of the Administrative Services. Last November, when I addressed your Lordships' House on this subject, the number engaged in the Government ex-headquarter Departments was 283,614. I am not speaking about the headquarter Departments, but what they call the ex-headquarter Departments, because it is in those that I think the greatest reduction is possible. The number now is 292,537; so that instead of diminishing, the numbers of the staffs have since that debate increased by 9,000. I think some statement ought to be made to justify such an increase. I believe that the greatest portion of that increase has been due to an increase in the Labour Department, but for what reason it was made I do not know. The number of individuals in many of the Departments still seems to me to be excessive. The Munitions Department has been abolished for some months, and yet there are 2,500 people still employed in that Department. It was pointed out in another place two nights ago that the recent reduction had amounted to ten only.

In the Shipping Department, which was also abolished some months ago, there are 677 officials, and the only excuse for their employment which the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave in another place was that they were collecting money. I think that any business man would find it unnecessary to have a staff of 677 people employed in merely collecting certain arrears of payments due from those interested in the shipping industry. As to the Food Ministry, another Department which has been abolished, three different statements were made in another place as to the number who are now at work there. One figure given was 1,700; another was 1,517; and another, 1,344; and the recent reduction in the staff of the Food Ministry has reached the figure of 82 only.

If I take the permanent Departments which existed before the war, I need only illustrate the excessive numbers in three of them. In the Ministry of Agriculture there are now 84 officials who receive over £1,000 per annum; before the war there were only eleven. This seems to me a very great increase in connection with the management and control of an industry which, I believe, thrives best when it is left alone. In the Admiralty, there are 11,238 on the staff, as against 4,400 before the war, and there is no German fleet at sea, and most of the German ships have been sunk. In the War Office there is a staff of 7,400, as against the pre-war staff of 1,600. With figures of that kind before one, it does seem necessary to point out, not only that there has not been an adequate reduction in Government staffs in the last few months, but that it is absolutely essential that the numbers should be further reduced in order that we may get the benefit, first of all, in our national expenditure, and next, in being able to secure the public spaces upon which the huts are built.

I do not think it necessary for me to refer to the various buildings which are immediately adjacent to your Lordships' House, in various positions in the parks. I alluded to them at some length in November, and, except for those which have been removed from the Horse Guards' Parade, I see no difference. The huts which occupy land in Regent's Park, which were built for the sorting of parcels to be sent to the troops, are still there, to the prejudice of the public. There is also that most unsightly building occupying the pond in St. James's Park. The greater portion of that pond is built over, and instead of having a beautiful view from the bridge over the lake, we have a horrid canteen, which is disagreeable to many senses when one passes from one side of the park to the other. There are such buildings as the Passport Office. Perhaps it is essential that there should be a Passport Office, but I think it should be removed from a public place like St. James's Park. Many Departments, I understand, are housed in these huts, including the Board of Trade Medical Department. A large number of Departments also occupy premises in the Victoria Embankment Gardens.

In November of last year the Minister who then replied to me stated that after the removal of the huts on the Horse Guards' Parade these buildings occupying public spaces would be dealt with in turn.

He said that the Victoria Embankment Gardens would be the next thrown open to the public, and that these were the first on the list of temporary buildings to be surrendered. There seems to be no sign of their removal, however, and it is because I am anxious that the Government should disclose their policy in connection with the removal of the huts, and the reduction of the staffs, that I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name.


My Lords, I propose to say only a few words upon the Question raised by my noble friend. This is no new form of question. It has been put to the Government on many occasions during the past two years, and I think it has often been regarded by them as an expression of some irrational sense of perverted ingratitude on the part of the members of the Opposition. The Government are constantly complaining that we, on this side of the House, do not sufficiently appreciate, and make allowance for, the difficulties in which they stand. Personally, I have always tried my very utmost to give full weight to that consideration, and my complaint is, and always has been, that it is not we who fail to understand the position in which the Government is placed, but that it is they who fail to understand it themselves. Had they understood what I think must have appeared obvious to many people two years ago, it is incredible that they could have embarked upon the extended schemes of ambitious bureaucratic Government which constitute the explanation for these buildings which my noble friend deplores.

Little by little, the truth is coming home to the people of this country, and the truth is that this country is bleeding to death from excessive taxation. I deny that anyone can look forward with confidence and hope to the future, and he able to base that hope and confidence upon the proved and accepted basis of financial considerations which will show that this country can bear, without danger to its stability, the burden of the expenditure under which it groans. We are accustomed, in answer to this Question, to receive pleasant and always courteous answers from noble Lords who represent the Government in this House, who have, of course, on every occasion, been carefully informed by various Government Departments as to the kind of answer they should make. But you cannot stanch the wounds of this country by pleasant answers and plausible sophistries. The country has to face the position in which it stands, and resolute, firm, courageous, and even unpopular action must be taken, if we are going to save ourselves from the difficulties that lie ahead.

There have been two courses open to us during the last two years. There has been the course of seeking to change the Government and the course of seeking to change its policy. We have adopted the latter. We have sought to change the policy of the Government, and we have utterly failed. There is only one course left for those who believe, as I do, that the continuance of this policy means grave danger to this country, and that is to concentrate their energies on a change of Government. I hope no one will think that I am speaking with any desire or expectation that the Party to which I belong might be restored to power. That is not my feeling. I do not believe it is an immediate possibility, but I say that any Government which will take in hand with courage, with consistency, and with unflinching sincerity and truth, the conduct of our administrative and financial affairs at this moment, would be a Government which every loyal citizen ought honestly to support. That the present Government has shown from time to time that it is insensible to these considerations must be plain to your Lordships, and if any of your Lordships have not fully realised what I have said, I invite your consideration of the matter which will come before your notice on Tuesday next.


My Lords, I listened with some trepidation to the remarks of my noble and learned friend, that he has now changed his policy towards the Government, and is going to cease to be a critic and to become an advocate of a change of Government.


It is not a change of my policy but a change of the policy of the House. I have always been against the present Government.


At any rate, such an announcement is not a very unusual ambition to be expressed by a prominent member of the Opposition, and, clearly, I cannot complain of the announcement that he despairs of changing the policy of the Government and therefore proposes to change the Government itself. But I make this one observation. I do not believe that if Lord Crewe became responsible for the Government to-morrow, or a prominent member of the Labour Party, that they could do what Lord Gainford suggested, and that is to polish off any remanent of the Ministry of Shipping or of the Ministry of Munitions. Lord Gainford indicated, for instance, that no business firms would keep so many hundreds of people engaged after their actual executive and commercial functions were concluded. I think he is wrong in practice, and I think he is wrong in law.

The Ministry of Shipping—I carry no figures in my head—during the war engaged in transactions which amounted to hundreds of millions of money. He said:"Why should they go on collecting money?"It is not merely when transactions of that magnitude have concluded that one party is trying to collect money. There is another party—namely, the private shipowners—also trying to collect money. Such questions arise as damage, demurrage and despatch money, all matters incidental to the commercial life of shipping, which must continue until an agreement is reached, or by the lapse of time potential questions of litigation or arbitration have come to an end.

That applies equally to the Ministry of Food. There is the Wheat Commission of the Ministry of Food, employing a large number of people. Are they to be abolished or given notice to-morrow? What would be the result? Transactions, amounting roughly say to twelve or fourteen hundred millions sterling, would be, so far as the main party to them is concerned, namely the British Government, written off out of existence; but everybody who made a contract during the last five years in North America, Australia, South America, India, where-ever grain has been bought, could raise questions which would go to arbitration. And therefore it is impossible to say that these things have just been written off as though there were no liability left. And. it may be very easy to say:"Do away with the Ministry of Munitions; do away with the remnant of the Shipping Department"; but I undertake to say that nobody could do that, whatever be his views about economy or about the general growth of what is called bureaucracy.

Let me deal with other purely general questions before I come to the specific points raised in Lord Gainford's speech, on which I will give your Lordships careful figures. Lord Buckmaster, of course, dealt more with the financial import of the staffs than with the staffs themselves, and he said that it was all caused by ambitious bureaucratic schemes. I do not want to enter into a general argument which is irrelevant to the immediate subject before me. It is quite true that in some cases one can argue, perhaps plausibly, that there have been ambitious bureaucratic schemes. But the staff engaged upon Pensions does not take its origin in anything of the kind. The control of Shipping was an absolute necessity to win the war: there was nothing ambitious and bureaucratic about that. Likewise, the Food Department: without it neither we nor our Allies could have held our own. Finally, Munitions. I therefore recall to Lord Buckmaster's memory four Departments—Munitions, Food, Shipping, and Pensions—which, between them, cost an immense sum of money in salaries, in accommodation, and in any other direction you may mention, each one of which gives the denial to his statement that all this has been caused by ambitious bureaucratic schemes. Nothing could more seriously misrepresent the origin of these four Departments.

Lord Gainford wants figures to show the progress, or the reverse of progress—I am afraid in some respects there is a serious absence of progress—since the last debate in your Lordships' House in November. I have a careful table here which I will read to your Lordships. I am afraid it will be difficult to follow, but I will hand it to the official reporters, and an accurate I statement will be reproduced in to-morrow's OFFICIAL REPORT. [Videcolumn 80.] In some ways the reduction of staffs has been decidedly satisfactory; in other ways, owing to the increase of unemployment consequent upon the coal strike, the increase in Government employees has been not only unsatisfactory, but very alarming indeed. So great, in fact, has been the increase in staff during the last four months in the Labour Ministry, caused by the unemployment arising from the coal strike, that all the reductions—and they are considerable—in other Departments have been more than counter-balanced. The total reduction of staffs since November 1 of last year in headquarter offices, that is, in London, has been 6,500. The total reduction outside headquarters, that is, in provincial Departments, has been a little over 1,500. I will give your Lordships the actual percentage reduction in nine of the principal Government offices. Taking first headquarters staffs, the Admiralty shows a percentage decrease of 15 per cent.; the Air Ministry, 14 per cent.; the Health Ministry, 11½per cent.; the Labour Ministry, 12 per cent.; the Pensions Ministry, 5 per cent.; the Ministry of Transport, 6½ per cent.; the War Office, 23 per cent.; Disposals and Liquidation (which covers Munitions), 42½per cent.; the Food Department, Board of Trade, 34½per cent.; the Shipping Department, Board of Trade, which covers the old Ministry of Shipping, 26½per cent.

In ex-headquarters, that is in provincial centres, these are the percentages:—Admiralty, 5 per cent. reduction; Air Ministry, 16 per cent. reduction; Health Ministry, 20 per cent. increase; Labour. Ministry, 92 per cent. increase; Pensions Ministry, 6 per cent. increase; Transport Ministry, 5 per cent. decrease; War Office, 13½per cent. decrease; Disposals, 43 per cent. decrease; Food Department, Board of Trade, 701 per cent. decrease; Shipping Department, Board of Trade, including the Ministry of Shipping, 60 per cent, decrease.

The last table of figures I shall give will be those two combined, in percentages:—Admiralty, 10 per cent. decrease; Air Ministry, 15 per cent, decrease; Health Ministry, 4 per cent. decrease; Labour Ministry, 73 per cent. net increase; Pensions Ministry, 1½per cent. net increase; Transport Ministry, 6½per cent. decrease; War Office, 19½per cent, decrease; Disposals and Liquidation, 43½per cent. decrease; Food Department, Board of Trade, 47 per cent. decrease; Shipping Department, Board of Trade, 33 per cent. decrease.

Measured in numbers of staff, there has been a reduction of 7,500 odd officials and an increase of 12,000 odd officials. Apart from a very small number in the Health Department and in the Pensions Ministry there is no increase of numbers anywhere, with one exception. The overwhelming increase of 12,000 occurred in the Labour Ministry.. That is entirely caused by the increased duties brought about by the coal strike, both as regards Unemployment Exchanges and as regards the payment of unemployment benefit.. On June 30 the total unemployment recorded by trade unions reached the colossal, the unparalleled figure of 23 per cent. And that is only half the story. There were large numbers of persons who were also unemployed, not returnable by trade unions, and likewise scores of thousands who were on half-time and quarter-time, some of them, indeed, only getting one day's or two days' work in the week. That has reacted on the Labour Ministry in a most serious fashion. The Labour Ministry itself, so far as headquarters are concerned, has not increased inpersonnel. The increase is entirely in the provincial establishments to deal with the emergency in its local capacity. I am told that the Ministry of Labour hope with some confidence that the trade situation will allow of something in the nature of a substantial reduction of this tremendous figure this month. I myself do not make predictions about the movement of trade. Few of us would ever have predicted the coal strike lasting thirteen weeks. I can only express the hope that the expectation may be justified.

Now let me turn to the question of buildings in which my noble friend, Lord Gain-ford, has always taken a great interest. There, again, I think that satisfactory progress has been made. It is true that very little is visible in the parks and open spaces, but I think Lord Gainford forgot that in evacuating buildings it was long ago decided, and I imagine must have been announced by my noble friend, Lord Stan-more, that the evacuation of permanent commandeered buildings, or those taken from private individuals, should precede the evacuation of temporary huts erected on open spaces. Lord Gainford rather indicated that nothing had been done since that date. It is true, and nobody regrets it more profoundly than I do, that very little has been done in the parks, but a great deal has been done in the way of giving up Government buildings which are not in the parks; that is to say, permanent buildings, either hired or commandeered from private individuals.

As regards London—I have no corresponding figures of measurement in respect of the provinces—I can say, broadly speaking, that since the last debate in November, my Department, the Office of Works, has surrendered—I should like Lord Crewe, if he is going to speak, to listen to this particular figure-500,000 superficial feet of office accommodation; that is, of rented and commandeered premises. In other words, since then a space more than twice as big as what is called the new Government building block, that is the block bounded by Great George Street, Whitehall and Storey's Gate, has been given up by the Government. That, in my opinion, is a very satisfactory measure of progress.


Might I ask whether the 500,000 feet are on the ground floor?


I said superficial.


But is it floor space? That is to say, taking the ground floor at so many feet, the first floor at so many feet, the second floor at so many feet, and the attics at so many feet.


It is all superficial feet.


I thought, in comparing it with this block, that the noble Earl meant the ground space. He is comparing two different things.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon.


As I understand it, the noble Earl is comparing two different things. He is comparing the area of a series of floors, from the ground floor to the roof, with the ground area which is covered by a block of Government buildings contained within the boundaries which have just been referred to. They seem to be entirely different things.


If the noble and learned Lord will read my remarks to-morrow, he will see that there is no ambiguity in them. The Office of Works has surrendered 500,000 feet of rented and commandeered office accommodation in London and its neighbourhood since last winter. That is equivalent to twice the space—and when I say"space"I am talking about similar things, namely, superficial feet—of the block of buildings which is known as the new Government buildings.


All the floors in those buildings?


Yes all the floors in those building.


The ground measurement—


I think I was quite clear; I am sure I was; I am clear now, in any case. This process is continuing, and now can - be applied, I think, pretty vigorously to the buildings which still occupy public spaces and parks.

The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, referred to the Horse Guards' Parade ground, which has already been cleared. As regards Regent's Park, a staff numbering, I think, about 800 has been removed from Regent's Park to the new Government offices at Acton, and I hope shortly to be in a position to begin the effective evacuation of buildings now occupying similar spaces elsewhere. I use the word guardedly; I say I am in hopes of doing this; I cannot give undertakings. Unforeseen circumstances are unforeseen circumstances, and cannot be provided against, and when, four months ago, people talked about reducing the staff of the Ministry of Labour, I presume they did not anticipate any more than I, and many of your Lordships did, that the coal strike would last thirteen weeks. I merely outline the policy on which I am working.

The first buildings on open spaces to be removed, or probably the first, are the buildings on Victoria Tower Gardens, during the coining autumn. The next buildings which, in my opinion, ought to be moved are not in the Royal Parks at all, but are the huts at Charing Cross and on the Embankment. The buildings in the Royal Parks occupy about 3 per cent. of the area—that is to say, of the superficial feet area—whereas the buildings on either side of Charing Cross Station completely occupy ground which, in my opinion, is very badly needed by the public; more so, in fact, in a sense, than the ground in the Central or Royal Parks. I suggest, therefore, that these two gardens, which have been taken from the London County Council, should be evacuated soon after Christmas.

Coming back now to the Royal Parks, I hope it will be possible—I think it may be—to clear away the Lake Buildings in St. James's Park about the same time. But I am informed that the bed of the lake, after two or three years of being dry, is in rather a critical state, and when the buildings are removed, I do not know whether the lake itself would contain water. I point that out now because I daresay it will be necessary to invite Parliament to spend a good deal of money upon putting fresh concrete into the bed of the lake in St. James's Park. It may, indeed, be a very costly process. I very much dislike to see the lake with buildings upon it, but I think it would be even more offensive withdébrisupon it and without any water to remind us of the happy days before the war. Two large groups of huts in Regent's Park, which were erected largely at the instance of my noble friend, Lord Gainford, at Cumberland Gate and Chester Gate, will, I hope, be removed next spring.

With regard to what is called the smallish building, the Swan Lake Building in St. James's Park, I can give no clear expression of hope, or, at any rate, nothing more than an expression of hope, that that may be removed by March or April. I think it ought to be possible to move the large huts in St. James's Park, on the south side of the Mall, now occupied by the Admiralty and War Office, by March. There again, to some extent, applies what I said about the lake. The reinstatement of the ground, after the removal of these huts, will be an extremely costly process. Many of them have brick, and in some cases concrete, foundations, and I am afraid a great deal of money will have to be spent in restoring that broken land to the position of being true park land again.

There is only one other building to which I need refer, and I do not think it causes much trouble to the public as a whole—that is the group of hospital buildings in Richmond Park. I can hold out no hope of getting rid of these during the coming financial year, though I shall do my best as soon as it is possible, either by the recovery of patients or the provision of suitable permanent hospital accommodation elsewhere, to free that piece of Royal Park as well. I would add that my Department will continue to use its utmost endeavours to press for the expeditious removal of these unsightly buildings in public spaces and Royal Parks, and that the Government as a whole will likewise, naturally and inevitably, do its best to press forward a large and effective reduction of staff.

Following are the tables referred to by the Earl of Crawford:—

1st November, 1920. 1st June, 1921. Increase + or Decrease- Percentage Increase or Decrease.
Admiralty 6,198 5,259 -939 -15
Air Ministry 2,461 2,115 -346 -14
Health Ministry 4,735 4,192 -543 -11½
Labour Ministry 3,066 2,701 -365 -12
Pensions Ministry 10,062 9,539 -523 -5
Transport Ministry 710 664 -46
War Office 5,896 4,545 -1,351 -23
Disposals and Liquidation Commission (late Munitions Ministry). 3,156 1,807 -1,349 -42½
Food Dept., Board of Trade 1,786 1,170 -616 -34½
Shipping Dept., Board of Trade. 885 652 -233 -261
1st November, 1920. 1st June, 1921. Increase + or Decrease- Percentage Increase or Decrease.
Admiralty 6,263 5,943 -320 -5
Air Ministry *2,481 *2,083 -398 -16
Health Ministry 1,487 1,786 +299 +20
Labour Ministry 13,728 26,336 +12,608 +92
Pensions Ministry 15,780 16,703 +923 +6
Transport Ministry 78 74 -4 -5
War Office 3,264 2,828 -436 -13½
Disposals and Liquidation Commission (late Munitions Ministry). 1,151 654 -497 -43
Food Dept., Board of Trade. 948 279 -669 -70½
Shipping Dept., Board of Trade. 211 84 -127 -60
*Quarterly figures for Air Ministry Ex-Headquarters, October 1, 1920, and April 1, 1921.
1st November, 1920. 1st June, 1921. Increase + or Decrease- Percentage Increase or Decrease.
Admiralty 12,461 11,202 -1,259 -10
Air Ministry 4,942 4,198 -744 -15
Health Ministry 6,222 5,978 -244 -4
Labour Ministry 16,794 29,037 +12,243 +73
Pensions Ministry 25,842 26,242 +400 +1½
Transport Ministry 788 738 -50 -6½
War Office 9,160 7,373 -1,846 -19½
Disposals and Liquidation Commission (late Munitions Ministry) 4,307 2,461 -1,846 -43
Food Dept., Board of Trade. 2,734 1,449 -1,285 -47
Shipping Dept., Board of Trade. 1,096 736 -360 -33