HOUSE OF COMMONS.
STANDING COMMITTEE C.
Civil Services and Revenue Department (Estimates, 1919–20).
OFFICIAL REPORT.1 Standing Committee C. Thursday, 15th May, 1919.
[MR. MACMASTER in the Chair.]
The CHAIRMAN: Before we commence the regular work of the Committee I have to report that I have been in communication with the Speaker and the Chairman of the Special Committee which has to do with these matters regarding the question which has been raised here of a Report of our discussions. As the result I have to announce to you that the proceedings of this Committee to-day and henceforward will be Officially Reported. The next thing I have to say is that I am advised that this Committee is merely a subdivision of a Committee of the whole House, and its procedure is governed by the rules which relate to a Committee of the whole House. Therefore, smoking cannot be permitted, and I can only remark that I am very sorry it is so. In the next place, I have to say that it would be a somewhat unusual proceeding in Committee to ask the Minister in charge of a vote to produce witnesses and prove every item in his Estimates. We are, of course, living in very exceptional times, and I have no doubt that the Committee feel it to be their duty to scrutinise closely every item of expenditure. I would point out, however, that we have the advantage of the presence here of the Postmaster-General, and I understand that he will be prepared to give us all the information that is possible in regard to estimates which are to be submitted to you concerning his Department.
Major NEWMAN: I wish to make a suggestion in regard to our proceedings this afternoon. After Vote 8, which I do not suppose will delay the Committee very long, we come to the Vote for the Ministry of Labour, and what I want to say is that we shall undoubtedly want the presence here of some representative of that department in order that we may obtain the fullest information regarding various items in the estimates. I do not think that the First Commissioner of Works can give us all the information we want, therefore I venture to suggest that, if possible, he should request some representative of the Ministry of Labour to attend the Com- 2 mittee, as we shall be taking the Vote in question in the course of a few minutes.
The CHAIRMAN: I am not sure how soon it will be. It is for the Minister concerned to give such directions as he thinks fit in regard to the matter, and I am bound to say that I think that the Minister is in a very difficult position. He is in the position of having to answer inquiries regarding many Government Departments. I think if we get the Post Office items we may then take note of the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
Major NEWMAN: The right hon. Baronet (Sir A. Mond) may be in an awkward position. This is a new procedure—a new state of things. May I suggest, however, that we also who are members of the Committee are in a delicate and responsible position. Undoubtedly the country wants to know what we are doing and if we gloss over any part of our work because we have not had the courage to insist on a certain Minister being here, the country will hold us responsible. If the right hon. Baronet cannot give us an assurance that the Committee can get all the information that members want in regard to Vote 9, it would be much better for him to cut his losses now, so to speak, and send for a representative of the Ministry of Labour.
The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (Sir A. Mond): It is rather difficult for me to know at the moment whether I can satisfy the Committee on this Vote or not. I have not spoken yet and it is impossible to say how far the information I can give will be deemed sufficient until I know on what points the Committee wishes to be informed. May I say that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is an old member of the House. He is perfectly well aware, therefore, that if the Committee were to send for the Minister of Labour without giving him time to go into the question, it is doubtful whether he would be able to assist us very much. But an important question arises in connection with the matter. This is merely a Committee of the House of Commons transferred upstairs, and accordingly there appears to be no reason why an entirely new form of procedure should be set up. These Office of Works Estimates have been passed in the House of Commons for many years on the basis that it was the duty of the Committee not to examine the administration of the Departments in respect of which the provision is made, but the reasonableness of the Estimates put forward by the Office of Works for meeting the needs of those Departments. The hon. and gallant. 3 Gentleman has been present at the discussion of Office of Works Estimates on the floor of the House on many occasions. I would ask him on what occasion has any other Minister ever been requested to give any explanation in regard to those Estimates?
Major NEWMAN: As the proceedings in Committee downstairs have been alluded to, may I ask on how many occasions have the discussions concerned buildings at all? Such items have usually been agreed to sub silentio. On the Labour Ministry Vote the other day, did we discuss the estimates? Did we discuss personnel and the increase in the cost of buildings? No! When the Vote was taken we at once had a discussion on Demobilisation and the withdrawal of agricultural labour from the land. This is, therefore, the only opportunity we shall have of discussing the personnel and buildings of the Ministry of Labour.
Colonel GRETTON: On a point of Order. A very important matter has been raised in the discussion now proceeding—that is, what information is this Estimates Committee up-stairs to have in order to enable members to judge whether the Estimates presented should be reported to the House of Commons or reduced? There is a very large Vote asked for, to quote one example, in respect of a telephone exchange in London, and another for the Ministry of Labour. If expenditure is passed it will have been passed by the Committee on such information as it can get upstairs. If the Committee is not to have all the information it requires, it will stand at a great disadvantage compared with a Committee of the whole House, because in Committee of the whole House any Minister who may have knowledge bearing on a Vote under discussion is called in to assist a colleague. If we cannot have such explanations here, I would suggest that the only course will be, in cases where the Committee think votes are high and require explanation, to adjourn those votes for the attendance of Ministers. In that case they would stand over until the explanations were forthcoming and we would proceed with other estimates. I am quite sure that the right hon. Baronet will not think that I am criticising his conduct of these matters, because that is the last thing I would wish to do; but the fact is that, through his office, he is connected with so many Government Departments that he cannot possibly know everything about the items in these estimates. We want to know what the money is wanted for and to be assured that it is to be expended economically. Therefore, I think my hon. and gallant Friend (Major 4 Newman) was perfectly right to raise the matter. We should, I consider, be well advised to look carefully into the estimates and insist on full explanations before we part with money.
Viscount CURZON: On a point of Order, Mr. Chairman, may I ask if this Committee is under the same Rules as a Committee of the House of Commons on the subject of a quorum? We have had great difficulty here with reference to a quorum, and one of the permanent officials of the Committee has had to draw your attention to the fact that we have not had a quorum. Do I understand that it is to be left in the future to a Member of the Committee to draw attention to the fact that there is not a sufficient number of Members present.
The CHAIRMAN: The Standing Orders provide that there must be a quorum of 20 in order to proceed with the business. If at the commencement of the sitting there are not 20 Members present, we cannot proceed. If at any time the number is diminished to less than 20 we cannot proceed—we must either suspend the proceedings or adjourn. A Member of the Committee can call attention to the fact that there is not a quorum present.
Motion made, and question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £590,900, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1920 for expenditure in respect of Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue, Post Office and Telegraph Buildings in Great Britain, and certain Post Offices abroad."—[Note: £270,000 has been voted on account.]
Sir A. MOND: On the question of the Post Office I understand that some criticism has been directed against the large sum of money required for the General Post Office, East London, and the Committee referred the matter to me, with a view of approaching the Postmaster-General and asking him to give some explanation as to this item. I communicated with my right hon. Friend, and he acceded to my request to come and give the Committee such information as they required. I will therefore ask the Postmaster-General to put his case to the Committee without any further words from me.
The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Illingworth): I understand that the Committee 5 want to know something about the necessity of having the General Post Office East erected now. I can give some of the reasons why it is necessary that this building should be put up with the least possible delay, and then perhaps hon. Members can raise points, and I will reply to them. This building is mainly wanted for the Accountant-General's Department, which is now—I am not sure of the number of the staff, but I am informed it is somewhere in the region of 3,000—scattered up and down all over London at present, and this makes the efficient working of the Accountant-General's Department very difficult. It is in nine separate buildings at present, and six of these buildings are on short tenancies. Two of them are in the Post Office, where the space is really wanted for other things, and the ninth one is in a telephone office which was taken over by the Post Office from the National Telephone Co. This telephone office, when it is cleared, will be sold. The rent which is being paid, in round figures, is £20,000 a year, without taking into any account any rent for the place occupied in the Post Office. With these buildings, and the staff such a long way apart, all hon. Members of this Committee will agree that it makes it very difficult and impossible to have proper and efficient management. I will give you a few instances. There is one in Chancery Lane, one in New Bridge Street, one in High Holborn, another on the Embankment, and so on, and there is an immense amount of time wasted in officials going from one to another, and not only that, but also in conveying various papers and documents from one office to another. These temporary buildings, which have probably been built for all sorts of purposes, certainly never for an Accountant-General's office, are really unsuitable and not comfortable to work in, and some of them are unhealthy. Under present conditions people insist, and quite rightly—I agree with them—that if they are going to work at all they must have proper rooms to work in and rooms that are well ventilated and suitable for the job. Unless you give them this necessary and proper accommodation, you do not get the best class of clerks, or whatever class of men or women you want. You get an inferior sort, and are unable to get the very best. It is not proposed that this building is to cover the whole vacant site, which I think has been valued at over £500,000. There is a part which is not going to be built on, and which the City of London wants for the widening of the street, and for this they are prepared to pay £126,000 when the building is put up. This 6 site has been vacant for seven years. Before the war it was dug out and got ready. The foundations were put in hand, but the proceedings were stopped when the war began, and we have had this derelict site lying idle for the last seven years. The building should be put up with the least possible delay. I need not remind hon. Members of this Committee that the country generally wants and insisits on better and proper management of the Post Office in every direction. During the war there has been practically nothing spent on it, and things have got out of order. We must now get things back into proper businesslike management, otherwise it is absolutely impossible to carry on in a satisfactory way. It is not as though only the business of the Post Office is concerned. It concerns every business and every man, woman and child in the country. The Accountant General's Department is a financial department, dealing with very large sums of money. There is over £280,000 in cash paid every day, and many other large transactions take place. Only this morning I received a very strong resolution from the London Chamber of Commerce, insisting that the prewar state of affairs must be brought about at once on account of the great inconvenience and suffering that the trade of the country, and especially the City, is undergoing at the present moment. If the Committee do not pass this Estimate it means the postponement of the paying by the Corporation of £126,000, and that we continue to pay £20,000 a year for premises which are not suitable for the job. I do not know that I have got anything more to say on this subject for the moment, but if any hon. Member has any criticism to offer I will be willing to reply later.
Sir J. WALTON: May I ask whether a contract was previously entered into for the construction of this building at £210,000, and, if so, how that contract came to be terminated, and whether there is a definite contract for the completion of this building for £525,000? I would also like to know whether the £126,000 that is to be obtained from the Corporation of the City of London for part of the land after the building is put up, will reduce the £525,000 to £400,000.
Mr. ILLINGWORTH: That will be taken off the total value. The total value of the site is £527,000 and £126,000 will be taken off that £527,000.
Sir J. WALTON: It would reduce the cost of the building?7
Mr. ILLINGWORTH: Oh, no, no. I am talking about the value of the land, not the building at all. The value of the land is £527,000, and when the building is put up £126,000, out of that £527,000 will be taken over by the City of London.
Sir J. WALTON: What will you do with the £126,000? Will it go to the cost of the building, and therefore reduce the total expenditure from £525,000 to £400,000?
Colonel BOWLES: Before we commence to put up this building ought we not, as a Committee, to satisfy ourselves as to the future further expansion of the Post Office? One knows perfectly well that this particular site in the City is enormously congested at the present time, and I think we ought to be told by the Postmaster-General whether he has any personal knowledge as to what useful purpose this building will be put. It is essential, before we proceed further, that we should know before we commence this work whether it is of a character which is best fitted to be put upon a site which already belongs to the Post Office. If it is to be the Accountant-General's office, one has naturally to ask is it, the Accountant-General's office over all the branches of the Post Office. The Post Office is centred in telephones and telegrams. If we are to carry out, as we all hope to see carried out, a more perfect system of telephones in this country, there must be development to a great degree. In this case there is no doubt that we should want room for extension and elbowroom in the buildings that are about to be put up. This building site is one of the most picturesque and historical spots in London, and we should know what kind of building it is proposed to put up on this site. We do not want erected right in the heart of our City a monstrosity with money. I have no doubt that the Minister in charge of the Bill would give us satisfactory information. I would not myself, as an individual, give a vote for this Estimate unless I could satisfy myself, first of all, that the site would allow for expansion, that it would be a great convenience to the Post Office to utilise one of the most valuable sites in the whole City of London, and that they were not about to erect a building that would be an eye-sore to those who passed there.
Mr. MORRISON: I would like to ask with regard to this valuable site whether there is not another part in London where we could buy land cheaper and allow for greater room 8 for expansion. If we could find such a part, it would mean that we would not have to spend such a lot of money.
Mr. A. DAVIES: May I ask what is the area of this site?
Col. GRETTON: It would seem that it is proposed to extend the Post Office in this area with a view to centralisation. There is a point of some importance brought forward, and that is that as to the extension, the Committee would like to know on what basis the estimate is made. Is it based on a contract or is it an estimate based on the present very unstable prices. My hon. Friend has made an important point in recommending the particular part of London where it is proposed to erect these buildings and the great value of the site which might also be realised if it were possible to erect these buildings in a part of the town where buildings would be less expensive and at the same time would suit all our business purposes.
Mr. ILLINGWORTH: As regards expansion, I am informed that the building is to be of such a size as to admit later on of a very considerable increase of staff. It is proposed to make this a centre or a general headquarters for all the accounts of Post Offices in the country.
Sir J. WALTON: Has an actual contract been entered into?
Sir A. MOND: I am informed that there is no contract at all.
Major NEWMAN: Is there a contract for £210,000?
Sir A. MOND: No, it was an estimate, but no contract has ever been entered into. Any-one in the House should know that these estimates would be prepared long before a contract could be entered into, and it is obvious that no contract can be entered into until this Committee has had an opportunity of discussing the estimates.
Major NEWMAN: But what about the money that has already been spent?
Sir A. MOND: That has been spent on foundations. I think it only right to point out that the House of Commons sanctioned the scheme as long as seven years ago.9
Major NEWMAN: The old House!
Sir A. MOND: I always say that the House of Commons is eternal. Hon. members will be well aware of the change in the cost of material. The increase in material is very heavy. Bricks, for instance, which were purchased in 1914 at 25s. per 1,000, are now costing anything up to 90s. per 1,000. Stock bricks alone have increased 74 per cent. Sand has increased 134 per cent., ballast has increased 187 per cent., portland cement has increased 98 per cent., timber has increased 160 per cent., switches have increased 137 per cent., and hose 210 per cent. The increase in the price of electric light installation per point in conduit is 100 per cent., steel work which before the war cost £14 per ton erected is now costing from £35 to £40 per ton erected, and the price is still rising. Simple steel joists, apart from erection have gone up 120 per cent. in cost. Lead has gone up over 100 per cent., solder 162 per cent., sheet glass 153 per cent., linseed oil 243 per cent., and distemper 96 per cent., while all other materials have gone up in similar ratio. You must admit that that is more than double the pre-war estimate, and I do not think myself, looking at it from a business point of view, it is unreasonable to conclude that this erection will tend to economy. The question will have to be tackled somehow, and we are anxious to effect greater efficiency in management and increased economy in the working of a department.
Major BOWLES: My point is that you have here a building which you find of a very extensive and a very expensive character. We know that the land there is extremely valuable, and that it is in a central position, but the point upon which I want to be satisfied is whether we could not take another site further up which would provide more room, he procured at less expense, and have good surroundings. I want to know whether the Post Office and the Office of Works have taken these matters into consideration before the matter was brought before the Committee?
Mr. ILLINGWORTH: Yes, we have taken it all into consideration. As to the question of another area it must be remembered that the Controller, the Accountant-General, and the Head Staff must be at the heart of the Post Office. It is essential that they must be there. There are many committees that have to deal with questions that come up from time to time, and they cannot deal with them without the expert advice of the higher 10 officials. If these higher officials were somewhere else you would be no better off than you are now. You would perhaps be worse off, because of the time occupied in travelling backwards and forwards. If they are not concentrated in this way, there will be nobody to supervise the staff in an efficient manner. More than that, there is a very large business done in ready money which has to be brought from the banks into the City by messengers. The average ready money transactions amount to £280,000 a day. £860,000 is received through the bankers, the amount received in cash from the bankers is £120,000, and £110,000 through other means. Local offices make unexpected demands and telegraph for money to be sent down. A cheque is sent to the Head Office of the Bank in the City, this is sent to the branch in the country, the local Post Office deals with it, and the money is enabled to be drawn. It is very desirable to be near to the General Central London Post Office, so that time can be saved in regard to the earlier despatch of letters and their arrival at local offices the next morning. Banks pay into the Post Office on an average £150,000 a day, and we pay to the Post Office and Bank of England £117,000 a day. We draw from the Bank of England £180,000. You will see from these large transactions that it is very desirable to be near the head banking districts of the City, because the further you send money by road the greater the risk, and the greater the inconvenience and time lost. If hon. Members had experience of the Accountant General's Department they would say that it would be better to spend this money in the City, if it conduced to efficient and proper management, rather than have the site of the building somewhere in the suburbs.
Major BOWLES: There are several sites right in the heart of London very considerably less expensive. May I suggest the Charterhouse site?
Mr. ILLINGWORTH: At the present time there is an annual turnover of £700,000,000 and it would be worth while, for the sake of say, £200,000, to have a place where the work can be efficiently carried on, instead of saving money to-day and annoying the rest of the population of the country for eternity by bad management.
Sir J. WALTON: How soon will the construction of the building be completed? It seems to me that it would be desirable for the work to be postponed and a building acquired later on at a smaller cost.11
Mr. ILLINGWORTH: I think the hon. Gentleman can see about as far through a brick wall as I can. What I want to do is to get on with the efficient management of the Post Office.
Sir J. WALTON: How soon do you expect to complete the work?
Sir A. MOND: In about two or three years.
Major CAYZER: While I agree that centralisation is very often essential, I am not convinced that it is necessary to spend such an enormous sum of money at this time. I presume that the items of expenditure are largely swollen as a result of the large buildings it is intended to erect, and if the erection is delayed for a time the figures would not be so big.
Mr. CHARLES WHITE: Would the effect of this building being erected here reduce the working expenses in comparison with the present expenses? Who sold this land to the Government? Is it paid for? Is any work being done now? In some of the estimates we are asked to find money for work already done. I refuse to be a registering machine for anybody. The most crying need in London to-day is houses for people to live in. People want to spend a lot of money when the war is over, but we are continually told downstairs that the war is not over, and until it is, I must vote against all expenditure of large sums of money.
Mr. ILLINGWORTH: It is estimated that there will be quite a considerable reduction in management expenses. The site was acquired in 1824, and I do not know who got the money. I dare say I could obtain the necessary information for the hon. Member.
Colonel GRETTON: I think the work is to be done in various sections. Will each section be let out by open contract?
Mr. ILLINGWORTH: Open contract.
Question put, and agreed to.
Resolution to be reported.
Motion made and question proposed: "That a sum not exceeding £436,700 be granted to His Majesty to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come 12 in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for expenditure in respect of Ministry of Labour, Employment Exchange and Insurance Buildings, Great Britain." [Note.—£300,000 has been voted on account.]
Sir A. MOND: The Committee will have some satisfaction in seeing that there is an actual reduction in the estimates for the Ministry of Labour, Employment Exchange and Insurance buildings, as far as new works are concerned. The figure for maintenance and repairs is up somewhat, but not much in comparison with the increased cost of materials. A serious increase is seen in the figure for rents. I think the reason for this increase is that the labour exchanges of this country have become continuously more important, especially during the war. They have had to deal not only with the work of the nation, but also with demobilised soldiers and sailors, and this extra work has necessitated the hiring of a large number of temporary premises all over the country. The question of permanent increase in the number of employment exchanges has been under consideration several times in the course of the year. The whole question of future labour organisation and labour exchanges is under investigation. The amount for the grant I have mentioned has been considerably increased, but I do not think it is excessive in view of the additional work which has been thrown on the Labour Exchange Department. Part of that is due to expenses incurred by the staff at headquarters for demobilisation work. With regard to the latter part of this vote, relating to Insurance (National Health) Buildings, I am glad to report to the Committee a very considerable reduction in expenses for the year. A large item in this vote is new works. The largest is on page 30, Sub-head 1. The National Health Insurance Commissioners' staff is housed in a number of different buildings, including a skating rink, houses in Kensington, and various other premises. These premises are not very suitable. Administration is difficult and there is a considerable amount of rent to be paid, and the department naturally is an increasing one. After consultation it has been agreed to find a site outside London and to place the new building there. We thought we should be able to carry this out in this financial year, but for various reasons we shall not be able to do so. I should like therefore to move a reduction of £100,000 in sub-head "F.," "New Works, the amount required in 1919/1920." That is really the only item in this vote. I hope the Committee will proceed with it and pass in this afternoon.13
Major NEWMAN: I have an Amendment on the Notice Paper to reduce this Vote by £100,000 in respect of "New Works, £115,000," and so on. Will the right hon. Gentleman's proposal preclude me from going back and moving my reduction on the preceding vote. I am moving a reduction of the vote by £100,000.
The CHAIRMAN: That is the whole vote.
Major NEWMAN: Yes.
Col. STEPHENSON: I am on a Sub-committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and we spent an hour and a-half last night at the Finance Department of the Ministry of Labour on this same question of the rents of labour exchanges. We were informed that a good deal of the functions of the Ministry of Labour at the present time are in the melting pot. A new scheme is being formulated, although we understood it was not exactly permanent. We discussed at some length how these exchanges were run and how people were paid. They appear to be paid on results—on the amount of work passing through their hands. Even the Labour Department themselves have considerable doubt as to whether this multiplicity of branch labour exchanges has been a success.
Viscount CURZON: I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman, first of all, what offices are now in the occupation of the Ministry of Labour. I should like to have a statement—
Major NEWMAN: On a point of order. What have we before the Committee?
The CHAIRMAN: We should first have to pass this motion.
Major NEWMAN: Will the Committee then confine themselves to item F., new works?
The CHAIRMAN: We have not reached item F.
Major BARNES: On a point of order, I suggest we are in difficulty this afternoon because we are really taking this vote for public buildings at the commencement of our work—a vote which should be taken at the end. This point with regard to the Ministry of Labour will come before us at a later date. If we had the estimates for the Ministry of Labour before we had the estimates for the buildings they require, then points could be raised that we desire to raise. In taking the 14 question of the buildings wanted before we have heard the estimate of the Ministry, we are really putting the cart before the horse.
Viscount CURZON: In view of the remarks of the last speaker, perhaps I had better address myself to the staff of the Ministry of Labour.
Major NEWMAN: On a point of order. Might I say that I have got an Amendment down? I understand we are now debating a motion to reduce by £100,000 a particular item—I think it is "F.". If that be so, why do we not debate that? If we do not debate that, might I not put—
The CHAIRMAN: This being an amendment in respect of a specific item it must be dealt with by itself. After that is disposed of, then you will have the right to make the motion you mention—
Major NEWMAN: Supposing we agree to reduce that by £100,000, that reduces it from £250,000 to £150,000. Will that debar us from reducing it by another £150,000 and knocking it out altogether?
The CHAIRMAN:I think it would.
Major CAYZER: Some of us might want to knock it out altogether.
Col. BOWLES: Might I suggest that it depends very much on the way in which the question is put from the Chair? If we want to get through our business it is far better to go through the estimates as they are upon the paper.
Sir A. MOND: It is merely a question of procedure. I can withdraw my motion and we can proceed with the previous one.
Major BARNES: I have got here the Civil Service Estimate for 1919–20, page 20. At the foot of the page there is an item "Ministry of Labour, Civil Demobilisation and Resettlement, £31,443,000." Is that estimate coming before this Committee?
The CHAIRMAN: That is over.
Sir A. MOND: I will formally withdraw my motion and make it again later.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Major NEWMAN: I wish to move that the Vote be reduced by £100,000. If my Amendment be carried and the right hon. Gentle- 15 man accepts that in view of his subsequent motion, of course we can defeat him on that.
The CHAIRMAN: If this Amendment be carried, the Committee will be debarred from moving a reduction of any particular item later on.
Major NEWMAN: Would I be in order to move a reduction of the vote for the Ministry of Labour, Insurance and Unemployment Exchanges on items A, B, C, D, and E?
The CHAIRMAN: You must move on one item.
Major NEWMAN: I beg to move "That item A be reduced by £50,000." I have really done that in order to open a discussion on this very large vote. This is the first opportunity which the House of Commons has had either downstairs or upstairs of discussing a vote of the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry of Labour has only been established in the course of the last couple of years, and it is practically certain that the Ministry of Labour Vote has never been discussed before or in any degree of detail. There are hon. Members who may say that we had a discussion on the subject a few days ago, but in such a discussion there is no such thing as going into the details of the finances of the various Ministries. When we had that matter before us the other day we did not discuss for one moment the finances of the Ministry of Labour. What we did was to discuss the unemployment insurance, labour and agriculture, and, therefore, this vote was not discussed at all. The Ministry of Labour vote is £433,450.
Sir A. MOND: Surely it is out of order to discuss the Ministry of Labour.
Major NEWMAN: As compared with the sum we are discussing at the moment the Department is a comparatively small matter. We want to ask questions on that sum. The right hon. Baronet told us that the question of the labour exchanges was under investigation, and that the question of expenditure was postponed. It is a curious way of doing it, when we see on page 29 "additional accommodation for Employment Exchanges: England and Wales, £105,000; Scotland, £10,000." and then a note, "This provision is inserted to cover expenditure in connection with the improvement of Employ- 16 ment Exchanges throughout the country, the details of which are not yet settled."
Viscount CURZON: Are these sums not yet settled?
Major NEWMAN: The vote that we are discussing at the moment is obviously a British vote. It is a vote for the United Kingdom, and does not apply to Ireland. As an Irishman I may say it is always understood that a certain ratio of expenditure runs; it is 80 per cent. for England, 11 per cent. for Ireland, and 9 per cent. for Scotland. All Ireland gets out of this is that provision is made in the estimate for public works up to the sum of £3,374 in connection with services in 1919–20. I am told there is some reason for this. It is a very curious thing, that from this great vote, this alarming vote, this comparatively small sum, this tiny vote is all that is offered to Ireland. I have a shrewd suspicion why this vote has increased to this alarming extent. It is simply, of course, because labour has now the dignity of a Ministry and the staff of that Ministry has got to be housed somehow. Its business is to house the staffs. The Minister says "I have a staff of 5,000 or 10,000 and I must have accommodation for that staff," and when he says that, we are really beating the air in discussing this. We ought to have the Labour Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary here to tell us why he should have this enormous increase in the expenditure of the Ministry, and why his bureaucracy has grown to such an alarming extent. I move this Amendment very gravely. Personally I believe that these unemployment exchanges run by the Ministry of Labour are largely failures. I certainly know they are unpopular, and while I do not know that the Government want to run them, they are certainly giving them additional power. I believe that these labour exchanges will be the fall of our civil hold of labour. I am not alone in the country in believing that. Therefore I look with the gravest suspicion on this vote, and I would beg the Committee, before they pass it, to consider seriously whether this is the time to make these large additions to these labour exchanges. We hear the cry of better housing for the people and better housing for these people who are running the labour exchanges. We should remember that these men who are carrying out their work, perhaps efficiently, in the labour exchanges, are already housed. Yet we are now told by the Postmaster-General, arguing on the principle of the Minister of Labour, that unless you give your staff first-class accom- 17 modation you will not get the best labour. Surely, first of all, we should devote some of the money which we are asked to devote to the labour exchanges to providing accommodation for those whose need is greater. That is the object I have in moving that this vote be reduced by £50,000, and I trust I shall get some sympathy and support from hon. Members of the Committee.
Viscount CURZON: I should like to ask whether I am in order on this Amendment in debating the whole question of the staff of the Ministry of Labour?
The CHAIRMAN: I should think not. We are not dealing with a question of policy.
Mr. BENNETT: May I ask if we are not put in the same position as the Postmaster-General was in the other day when we are asked to deal with the Ministry of Labour. It seems to me that these questions cannot be fully discussed unless the Minister of Labour is present. On the question of rents we have not had any proof that these increases were necessary, and we cannot know until we have it from the Minister of Labour. I would suggest that the Minister of Labour be invited to give some explanation of these matters.
Colonel STEPHENSON: I understand that a Sub-committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure will be submitting a report on these questions. I think until this report is ready the Ministry of Labour cannot help us.
Sir A. MOND: May I save time by pointing out that there is no enormous increase of rents. It is impossible to say how much money would be spent in the matter of the exchanges, but I cannot agree with the hon. Member in the remarks he made as to the Employment Exchanges not being successful. They are not successful in many places because they are so badly housed. If the Employment Exchanges are to be a success, they ought to be reasonably well housed and placed under fairly good conditions. You will never get workmen of the better class to use the labour exchanges if you house them in out-of-the-way back areas, and it is false economy not to spend a reasonable amount in erecting important Government institutions. I should say that the estimate is a very conservative one and it is a great deal smaller than the one which was at one time contemplated. After all, one must remember that all these estimates have been considered at considerable length by the Treasury.18
Mr. LUNN: It would be interesting to know how far a member is in order in discussing the work of a Government Department. If the privilege is allowed to any member of the Committee, it is due to any of us. I object to the right hon. Gentleman, who is a member of the Committee, dealing with the work of the Ministry of Labour just with the evidence of one witness and one remark. He has no knowledge whatever as to the spending of this money. I think there ought to be a Minister here who would be able to describe the necessity for the spending of this sum. The Ministry of Labour is a new Ministry and a growing one, and I think if we are to pass an opinion upon it, it would be as well if the Minister were present. I want to know the facts. As a member of that Sub-committee, I may know more than some other members. For that reason I could not vote for the reduction of £50,000 on the estimate. I think you ought to decide whether it is within our province to discuss policy, and, if so, we must demand the presence of the Minister.
The CHAIRMAN: I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Newman) exceeded the Rules a little in the speech he made, but he was not called to order. The question of policy has nothing whatever to do with this Vote. You have simply to consider whether it is wise to make this expenditure on these specific public works.
Col. GRETTON: I beg to move "That the Committee do now adjourn." We seem to have got into a difficulty. It seems impossible for us to give a considered judgment unless we know the reasons for which the money is to be expended. The people to give the reasons are obviously the Ministers responsible for the Labour Ministry. We cannot form that opinion unless we have that explanation.
Sir A. MOND: What more can the Minister of Labour tell us? The Ministry of Labour have a programme which it is estimated by the Department will cost £115,000. I am anxious that the Committee should have all the information, but I cannot see how they can expect more than I have already told them. They cannot say whether £115,000 is reasonable or unreasonable. It is a matter for this Committee.
Mr. DAVISON: Would not the Ministry of Labour be able to give statistical evidence on which the Committee could base their conclusions?19
Mr. WHITE: I support the proposal to adjourn. If we are not to discuss policy, we can discuss matters of necessity, and unless we have all the figures, we cannot say whether it is a case of necessity or not. I hope that we shall adjourn, and that the Ministry of Labour will state exactly why the buildings are required.
Col. Sir A. J. SYKES: This Committee does nothing but meet and adjourn, and no business is done. People will begin to laugh at us unless we are able to do business in a better manner. I shall vote against the Adjournment.
Viscount CURZON: I should like to support the motion for the Adjournment. How can we judge the necessity for expenditure of
|Division No. 1.]|
|Major Barnes||Viscount Curzon||Major Newman|
|Mr. Bennett||Mr. A. Davies (Clitheroe)||Mr. Purchase|
|Mr. Bromfield||Colonel Gretton||Colonel Stephenson|
|Major Cayzer||Mr. Lunn||Sir Joseph Walton|
|Brigadier-General Colvin||Mr. Hugh Morrison||Mr. Charles White|
|Mr. Baldwin||Brigadier-General Cockerill||Colonel Sir Alan Sykes|
|Colonel Bowles||Sir Alfred Mond||Lieut.-Col. Sir Mathew Wilson|
money unless there is an explanation from the Ministry of Labour to guide us
Mr. CAPE: I have had to deal with very many Labour Exchanges, and am rather surprised that the sum is not a larger one.
Major NEWMAN: Would it be in order to add to the motion that the Ministry of Labour be represented at the next meeting?
The CHAIRMAN: No.
Question put, "That the Committee do now adjourn."
The Committee divided: Ayes, 15; Noes, 6.
Committee accordingly adjourned at 15 minutes before 6 o'clock till Monday next at 4 p.m.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE—
Macmaster, Mr. (Chairman)
Davies, Mr. A. (Clitheroe)
Davison, Mr. J.
Mond, Sir Alfred
Morrison, Mr. Hugh
Sykes, Colonel Sir Alan
Walton, Sir Joseph
White, Mr. Charles
Wilson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Mathew