21 Standing Committee C. Monday, 19th May, 1919.
SUPPLY, CIVIL SERVICES AND REVENUE DEPARTMENTS (ESTIMATES, 1919–20).

[MR. MACMASTER in the Chair.]

The CHAIRMAN: I should tell the Committe that we have not got a quorum yet, and I think it will save time if I make a statement. In the first place, we cannot proceed with the business until we have a quorum. In the next place, under the Rules, if you wish to examine a Minister he must be made a member of the Committee by the Committee of Selection in order to qualify him to speak. We are in a difficulty in that respect as compared with some other Committees. We have no power to call witnesses or to examine them, and if we had that power there would be no limit to this sort of thing. It seems to me, therefore, that unless we get a quorum in a very short time it will be saving time all round to adjourn until to-morrow, and, in the meantime to have the Minister of Labour or any other member whom you wish to have here, added to the Committee by the Committee of Selection. I will arrange with the Clerks that they will take the responsibility of having that done.

Major NEWMAN: We were discussing Vote 9, which deals with the Ministry of Labour. This is divided into two Votes. I suppose that we shall be entitled to ask for explanations on either of these Votes.

The FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Sir Alfred Mond): On a point of order, I submit that it is entirely out of order to discuss two Votes belonging to a different set of Estimates and a different Ministry. On that principle, we might discuss the policy of the Foreign Office on the Vote for Consular and Diplomatic Buildings.

Major NEWMAN: I have an Amendment down to reduce Vote A, "New Works," by £50,000. I want to know whether these are new works in respect of "Civil Demobilisation," etc., or in respect of the Ministry of Labour, Class 7, Vote 7. Until I know that we cannot know for what service this money is being spent.

Colonel BOWLES: On the question of the adjournment it seems to me that there are members of this Committee who never take the trouble to attend, possibly because they have duties to attend to in other directions. 22 The Committee of Selection might be able to give us other members who may be able to attend regularly. I am also a chairman of an Advisory Committee and I am able to keep my appointments with regard to this one. It is rather a disgrace to us to be held up in this fashion and I think something ought to be done to remedy it.

Mr. MORRISON: It is rather hard that we should have to adjourn, and I would suggest that Ministers who have Estimates to put forward should be made members of this Committee. I do not think it is understood well enough that there is a very strong feeling in the country in regard to economy. It is the duty of every Minister to come here and defend his Estimates.

The CHAIRMAN: When the Committee expressed the wish to have the Postmaster-General here he came and made an explanation which was deemed satisfactory, because the Vote was passed unanimously. In the present circumstances the Minister of Labour has come here but, unfortunately, through some mishap, his name has not been added to the Committee. I suggest that, after a reasonable time, if we have not a quorum—it does not seem that we shall have one for some time—that we adjourn until to-morrow.

Colonel BOWLES: I would suggest if we have no quorum here to-day that means be taken to explain to the members the necessity there is for carrying on this particular work. I for one would like to ask the House to remove me from this Committee so that I may be able to do the useful work of another Committee.

Major NEWMAN: The really important matter is that the work of this Committee is thrown on a certain number of members of this House. A great many members have been appointed to serve on it. Many members make a great many excuses. One says he is a lawyer, and has to work until 4 o'clock in the Courts; another says he is a business man and has to sign cheques in the City, and other members have other excuses, with the result that the work is being thrown on the willing horses in this House. I am serving on two Committees. If the Chairman could get a list of all the members appointed to serve on it and a list of those who do not attend it would have a wholesome effect and would probably mean a proper distribution of the labour of this House. We all know that this new idea of Committees has meant more ardous work for 23 members, but some members prefer to stay downstairs where the Press will report them. It is not fair to the willing members of the Committee. I hope that the Chairman and his fellow-chairmen will get a list published of the members who are doing the work, of those members who are not doing the work, and why those members are not doing the work.

Viscount CURZON: Would it not be within the province of the Chairman to make some recommendation to the Speaker on this matter? We always have here about 15 or 20 members who come every time and who are very keen about the question of economy. That means that these members are kept rather busy. Could we not reduce the quorum, so as to enable us to get on with the work, because every time these 15 or 20 members are held up for a quarter of an hour because of the lack of the requisite number to form a quorum. It is a great pity that the Minister of Labour could not have been present at the last meeting of the Committee because then we had a good quorum. It is a great pity that so much time is taken up in waiting for a quorum.

Mr. WHITE: Surely we must have an alteration. We have waited for a quarter of an hour. There are 100 Members of Parliament who do not serve on any Committees at all. It is not right for us to judge, but some of these Members should be asked to take a share in the Committee work instead of being so much in the limelight, as it were. A means by which this state of things could be remedied might be a return of those who serve and of those who refuse to serve.

Major BIRCHALL: Is it not necessary to reduce the quorum? A quorum of twenty is very high. It means that we may often be in the position in which we are today, that of being unable to conduct our business. I suggest that we get the membership increased or the quorum reduced.

The CHAIRMAN: We have no power to increase the number of members or to reduce the quorum. The quorum must be, for our purposes, twenty. The only way I can see that will secure a larger attendance is by the Committee of Selection adding to the number on the present Committee. The number on the Committee is fixed at 43. It might be enlarged to sixty. I am willing to make a representation of that kind to the Committee of Selection. I am afraid we cannot do much business to-day. The 24 Minister in charge has had to leave to attend to something in the House. The Minister of Labour, who has been here, has now duty elsewhere. It does not seem that we shall be able to get a quorum to-day. If we do get a quorum to-day, we should not have the advantage of hearing the Minister of Labour. Another way by which we could get a larger attendance is by the publication of the names in the Press. I do not know if the Press would oblige us by publishing the list.

Colonel Sir ALAN SYKES: That would be black-listing!

Colonel BOWLES: It must be obvious that there are many members in the House who do not serve on Committees, but who would be only too willing to attend. My suggestion is that it is quite useless for us to come here day after day if we are in danger of not having a quorum and of having to wait so long for the quorum. I suggest that we communicate with the Committee of Selection to have members put on this Committee who would attend.

Viscount CURZON: May members of the Committee submit the names of members they suggest?

The CHAIRMAN: Yes.

Mr. LUNN: We have come here five or six times at four o'clock, and it does not seem to be a suitable time. Perhaps most members who are not present could give a reasonable excuse for their absence. Why could not this Committee meet at 11 o'clock? Then we could get a quorum.

Mr. M'GUFFIN: There is no difficulty with regard to the quorum on other Committees. Probably the work of this Committee is against some members' inclinations. I suggest that there should be more care in the selection of members. I think perhaps they I should be consulted before being nominated.

Mr. HANCOCK If it is in order, I should like to move the adjournment of the Committee until to-morrow. I have been here 40 minutes, and I am not prepared to sit longer. If we did secure a quorum there would be a difficulty in retaining it. Is not 11 in the morning a better time? It would suit me better. If more convenient, I would move that we meet on Wednesday, at 4 p.m. Perhaps it will be taken for granted that Ministers concerned in the Esti- 25 mates will be made members of the Committee in the meantime. Steps might also be taken to put on this Committee other members of the House who might be very pleased to serve.

The CHAIRMAN: We have not a quorum, but I think we might have an understanding that the Committee adjourn. In the absence of a quorum the Chairman has the right to adjourn the proceedings. Is it your pleasure that the Minister of Labour's name be added to the Committee?

The Committee signified assent.

The CHAIRMAN: Is it your pleasure that I communicate with the Committee of Selection with the view to enlarging the Committee?

The Committee signified assent.

Major NEWMAN: You mentioned, sir, the name of Sir Robert Home. Surely there are names of other Ministers who might be added to the Committee in connection with the Vote. The National Health Insurance Commissioners should be represented, and I suggest that in connection with the Irish Vote either the Chief Secretary or the Attorney-General for Ireland should be here. The Treasury should also be represented.

Mr. BALDWIN (Joint Financial Secretary to the Treasury): That is me.

Mr. WHITE: If they come together, they will out-vote the Committee.

The CHAIRMAN: As we now have a quorum, we can now take a vote either on the Estimates or for an adjournment.

Mr. WHITE: Can we consider this Vote now that the Minister of Labour has gone?

Mr. MORRISON: Cannot we consider Vote 10 instead?

The CHAIRMAN: Now that we have a quorum and the Ministry of Labour is not represented, the best thing to do would be to pass over the Estimate with regard to the Ministry of Labour and take the following Vote in respect of Public Buildings, Great Britain:

26
PUBLIC BUILDINGS, GREAT BRITAIN.

Motion made and question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £1,430,700 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 on the 31st day of March, 1920, for expenditure in respect of Sundry Public Buildings in Great Britain, not provided for on other votes." [Note.—£1,628,000 has been voted on account.]

Sir A. MOND: This Vote provides for a large number of miscellaneous items, a great many of which have arisen out of the War, and will disappear in the course of about a year, and therefore will not appear again. Among these items is included a considerable amount of work carried out for the Board of Agriculture by my Department with regard to flax factories. This work was done at a time when there was a shortage of flax for aeroplane work, and we were asked by the Board of Agriculture to undertake the adaptation of a number of factories. I understand it is not intended to keep these factories, but to dispose of them to flax-growing firms. There is one other item to which I would like to draw attention, that relating to the erection of a fuel research station, where very important work has been carried out by the Research Department. This section was started last year, and investigations, to which great importance was attached by the Admiralty during the war, were very carefully carried out. That is now in process of completion, and I hope it will be in operation in the course of this financial year. There is a vote in connection with the Ministry of Pensions concerning buildings, and a number of other items which complete the various undertakings commenced during last year. The two largest amounts are one in connection with the National Physical Laboratory, where very important work is being done, and the other, a provisional item, provides for structural alterations for fire protection at the Wallace Collection, Hertford House, which will be taken in hand as soon as the Gallery can be cleared of the staff now occupying it. This is not a new work, but is a continuation of the policy laid down some time ago to endeavour to make our museums more fireproof. There is a considerable item on Page 33—£18,000—in connection with the Chelsea Hospital. This is consequent upon destruction caused by a German bombing raid, which resulted in the obliteration of about three houses and a great deal of other damage. This sum is required to reinstate those buildings. The Vote also provides for a scheme concerning the Scottish Board of Agriculture, which, I understand, is housed 27 in a very unsatisfactory manner. That deals with the New Works section of this Vote. The total amount is a considerable increase over last year, owing to there being a large number of new works, alterations, etc., put in hand.

Mr. HANCOCK: Can the right hon. Gentleman explain the item of "Urgent and Unforeseen Works—£24,500?"

Sir A. MOND: That relates to some of the work of the local committees of the Ministry of Pensions. There is an item of £2,700 for the rehousing of one local committee, and another item for the committee at Wakefield. There is an item of £1,000 regarding the committee at Doncaster, and also a number of small sums of several hundred pounds each relating to various buildings, for example, lavatory accommodation at the Board of Trade, alterations to entrance, Board of Trade, etc. These estimates were drawn up a long time before they came to the Committee, and a number of things have probably come in which were not then certain. I am referring to small amounts of from £100 to £1,000, and they are covered generally under "Urgent and Unforeseen Works." That is a very unfortunate system, and I hope we may be able to abolish it because the amounts were really foreseen, but we had not drawn up the exact items.

Mr. LUNN: I see among "Unforeseen Works" an item of expenditure for the purpose of providing a convalescent home at Doncaster. Has that home been provided; has the money been spent, or has it never come to anything?

Sir A. MOND: No, that is only the estimate.

Mr. LUNN: An absolute waste!

Sir A. MOND: That is not the case at all. It is necessary for the work to be done. It is included in money that is to be spent.

Mr. LUNN: I know of a case where you have got money for a convalescent home, and I thought this was the same.

Major NEWMAN: The Committee will want to hear more about some of these estimates. The First Commissioner of Works has spoken about the expenditure for the adaptation of flax factories. It is a very large amount if we take the complete figure. 28 I do not understand what it means. Did the right hon. Gentleman mean that the Board of Agriculture asked him to buy up a certain building or buildings and turn them into flax factories; or was he asked to erect new factories? Do I understand that many of these factories are to be sold at a profit to the highest bidder to be used for the manufacture of flax? In order to see the real effect of this matter we should have a credit side on this book, something the same as that which now appears on page 32. It may be that the Board of Agriculture wants to have a certain power and he wants to give in to them. These amounts are given on page 32, and come to a very big sum. One of these is £51,200 for Bunford (Yeovil). Then the Ministry of Shipping asked for £625,000 for the provision of accommodation at various ports for the storage of grain, and this year the right hon. Gentleman asks for an extra £2,500. Does this mean that we have to spend £2,500, or that this sum is necessary to work out the total of £625,000? Is this sum to be spent in providing accommodation for the storage of grain for all time, or is it merely for the duration of the war? Is this accommodation to be sold, in the same way as the flax factories, to the highest bidder in the near future?

Mr. MORRISON: Would it not be better first to take Item A?

Major NEWMAN: I am taking a general survey of the £3,058,700, but if my hon. Friend would rather take a discussion on Item A, "new works," I am quite prepared to agree to the suggestion and, having made these remarks on these works, to take the other items of expenditure afterwards.

Colonel BOWLES: With regard to the in crease of £741,500 for rates, insurance, and tithe-rent charges may I ask why should we have this enormous increase of the rates when we have all these new buildings?

Mr. MORRISON: May I ask whether these flax factories have all been put up? With regard to the item for huts in Regent's Park, etc., does that mean that we shall evacuate some of the large hotels?

Sir A. MOND: Perhaps it would be better to deal with one or two of the points as we go on. I did not pretend to cover the whole Vote when I spoke last. The flax factories are not works in the same way as some of the others. They cover a great number of places, and some of them, I think most of 29 them, were adaptations of old buildings. Some others were put up on suitable sites, where there were no buildings. Naturally in dealing with the flax factories I also mentioned the accommodation for grain storage. I do not think the flax factories are yet all complete; they are being completed in the course of this year. I understand that when these factories are completed and got going it is the intention of the Ministry to dispose of them to the best advantage. It is their view that it would be impracticable to dispose of them at the present stage, and they think it would be best to build them and then sell them to an organisation which I understand is going to take over the flax crops of this country and make expert use of them. The work on these factories was done at a time when we could not get flax from the north of Ireland. Then the war came to an end before the flax, for which we had provided in this way, was actually wanted. The view of the Board of Agriculture seems to be sound. It is that it would be better to finish off these factories and then sell them to the best advantage. The same question arises in the case of the grain stores. They were put up at a time when the Shipping Controller had to guard against a stoppage of our grain supplies by sea, and it was necessary to provide for grain storage at a number of ports, such as Newport, Avonmouth, and at various places on the Bristol Channel.

Major NEWMAN: Have they all been put up?

Sir A. MOND: They were put up during the war, because the Shipping Controller decided that we ought to have this accommodation. Some are still being used by the Shipping Controller, and some are being used and taken over by the dock authorities. One, I think, was taken over by a private firm. In some cases they only appeared on the vote this year, but in other cases they were paid for out of the Vote of Credit during the war.

Mr. LUNN: What about the huts?

Mr. PRETYMAN: I understand that it is expected to be able to save money by completing certain of these works and selling them at a profit, but when the building is at a comparatively early stage, it seems to me that it would be wiser to cut the loss. In one case only £11,200 had been spent up to the 31st March, 1919. Nothing had been spent when the Armistice came, and we are now being asked to spend £40,000. That is the case of 30 Bunford (Yeovil). It might be an advantage, if it were necessary, to grow flax if we could grow it at a profit, but it is extremely doubtful whether you can grow flax at a profit in this country. We ought to have some information on this point. We cannot pass a Vote like this until we are satisfied that it is more economical to spend the £40,000 than to scrap the work. I understand that the job of the First Commissioner of Works (Sir A. Mond) is only to act as a contractor. He is asked by these various departments to do certain constructional work, and it seems hard that he has to come here and explain the work of any Department with which he has really nothing to do. He has to read a description of that work sent in by any of these Departments and put into a book for him. We could as well read it for ourselves. How is it got up, and how can he know anything more than he finds in it? He has plenty to do in looking after his own job. Does he know, or can the Secretary to the Treasury tell us, whether or not it is economical work; whether, for instance, it is wise to spend £40,000 in this manner at Bunford? I might take the next item on the list, there are several of them. We cannot go on and vote these estimates for £40,000 until we know whether they are economical works or not. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that some of them are going to be sold at a loss?

Sir A. MOND: No.

Mr. PRETYMAN: Can he guarantee that they are not going to be a loss?

Sir A. MOND: All I can say is what the Board of Agriculture has said. They think they can complete these factories and sell them at a profit.

Mr. PRETYMAN: Are they going to run them at a profit?

Major NEWMAN: We are told that this £300,000 is for flax factories for the Board of Agriculture in connection with the extension of flax cultivation in this country. What we want is an explanation from the Board of Agriculture as to what exactly they are going to do with this big sum of £300,000.

Mr. PRETYMAN: £400,000!

Major NEWMAN: We find ourselves in a difficulty in trying to raise a matter of policy. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what was the undertaking given to the flax producers at the time the arrangements were made during the war.

31

Mr. BALDWIN: What I suggest is that the Committee should accept these figures as far as the First Commissioner of Works is concerned. They would have an opportunity of raising the question of policy on the substantive Board of Trade Vote, or, if I am correct, it should be raised by my hon. Friend when we get to the Second Reading of the Government War Obligations Bill. It would be quite in order on the Second Reading, which will take place very shortly, to raise a discussion with the Board of Trade as to the policy that they are going to carry out.

Mr. PRETYMAN: Do you mean the Board of Agriculture?

Mr. BALDWIN: No, I said the Board of Trade, and I meant the Board of Trade.

Mr. PRETYMAN: That will mean that the money will be spent?

Mr. BALDWIN: Exactly. Let me remind hon. Members, as regards the money being spent, that these are works that are at present in process of going on, all of them, and until the House of Commons say, "No, we decline to go on with this flax production," the work will proceed.

Mr. MORRISON: I beg to move "That Item A [New Works, Alterations, Additions and Purchases] be reduced by £300,000." The whole of the factories started have been unsatisfactory, and this Committee would be doing its duty by bringing about some reduction.

Mr. PRETYMAN: I cannot support that actual reduction. We are not in a position to say how much of this money will be spent. This organisation was started at a time when there was an urgent demand for flax. First of all you had to get people to grow flax, and then you had to deal with the flax when it was grown. Now that the war is over, we are told that all this money is to be spent in order to make good our pledges to the flax growers. It may be that now the war is over the flax growers may not grow flax. It is quite possible that money may be spent on some of these buildings, and then it will be found that the flax is not there. Before we sanction this expenditure, we ought to have some definite knowledge of the circumstances in which this bargain was made, or how it can be carried out or departed from in the cheapest way. It may possibly be cheaper to compensate the flax growers or let them grow another crop. Is it considered 32 that in the future we can grow flax at a profit as a permanent industry in this country? If we can, it would justify this expenditure. It will be exceedingly difficult to get money in the future, and really I do not know where it is all going to come from. These things must be looked into from the point of view of seeing how much money can be saved. I would not go so far as to vote for reducing this vote, but we should have some explanation, and if the explanation is satisfactory, we can then pass this Vote.

Major BIRCHALL: Might I suggest that consideration of this Item be adjourned until we have an official explanation? I understand it would be wrong for this Committee to discuss a question of policy. On the other hand we are justified in deciding not to spend a large sum of money until we know that someone has a policy and that it is a reasonable policy. I should like to move that the decision be adjourned on this particular Item until we can have an authoritative statement.

Mr. M'GUFFIN: I should like to know where Ireland comes in with respect to this policy? It seems to be another instance of flax growers having exploited the nation.

Mr. WHITE: We cannot pass all this money without having some further explanation. We have had nothing. This seems to be the policy of the Board of Agriculture. They say "we want so much money," and the First Commissioners of Works then says to the Committee, "I want you to pass this," and we get no further explanation. It is inconsistent with my ideas of business methods. In other estimates we have had a revised total estimate. This is not shown at all here. The right hon. Gentleman has said that some company was taking over these buildings. Who are they? Is the Government taking it over or not? If we are not entitled to discuss a matter of policy, we are entitled to discuss matters of expenditure. I am not satisfied that we are justified in voting all this money. We have got to make a stand at some time, or it is all a case of being governed by Government Departments.

Major BARNES: This is an excellent illustration of what has been described recently as "nursing the baby." I understand there is a company in being which proposes to run the flax industry when it is created by the Government. We might be told whether any approach has been made to this company to know what price they are going to 33 pay for these buildings when they are completed. That would be an obvious precaution to take. Before this work goes much further this company should be asked what price they are prepared to pay for these buildings. That would help us to come to some decision.

Sir A. MOND: I quite see the difficulty in which the Committee is placed. I have no wish at all to ask the Committee to pass a vote until it is satisfied as to the expenditure. The point is, what is the best way of dealing with this matter? The difficulty is that these buildings are going on. It is not as if we were starting a service. Contracts have been made and workmen engaged. It would be difficult to carry on a building department on the basis that at any moment the whole of its works and services which have been commenced are to be stopped suddenly. You have got this service already going on and a considerable amount of money has been expended and is being expended daily. If you do not know from day to day whether you are going to get that money, I do not see how you are going to carry on.

Mr. PRETYMAN: Postponing this Vote would not stop the work?

Sir A. MOND: No. If the Vote is postponed the work will go on and more money will be spent. That is quite simple. It seems to me that it might be more convenient to the Committee if they were to pass this Vote now and wait till the Report stage—

Mr. PRETYMAN: No, no.

Sir A. MOND: Would the Committee prefer to adjourn and endeavour to obtain the presence here of those responsible for policy in this matter? [Hon. Members: "Yes."]

Mr. PRETYMAN: I should like to ask the Chairman whether, when a question of this sort comes up, the Committee are precluded from discussing the question of policy which is to justify the erection of these buildings? It is not business, and I think the proper course is that we should ask for an early day for somebody here who can explain the policy.

Colonel BOWLES: There is no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right, and that we have no right to vote that this money should be spent upon these buildings 34 until we have decided the principle whether or not these factories are to continue. What the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Vote says is true, that this work has been begun, and that it is very difficult for us to stop work which has already been put into operation in the way of buildings. In connection with the whole of these votes, the right hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that we have just emerged from a war in which we had to undertake emergency work necessary for the carrying on of the war. Now we hear so much downstairs about the reconstruction of everything. Surely this is more important than many other things. It is a question undoubtedly of reconstruction. We have now got to determine whether it is better in the interests of the country that flax growing should be cultivated or whether it would be better in the interest of the country to scrap the whole thing as a war loss. We have got to decide one way or another before we decide on further enlargement.

Viscount CURZON: I contend that we have no right to spend this money unless we hear from a member of the Government some further explanation on the subject.

Col. Sir ALAN SYKES: On a point of order, before we come to the point of debating whether it is right for the Committee to discuss the policy of the Government, because that is apparently what we are discussing, I maintain that this Committee has not the right to discuss the policy of the Government, and that the policy of the Government ought to be discussed in a larger area, say a Committee of the whole House.

The CHAIRMAN: I laid it down on the last occasion that it was not open to the Committee to discuss questions of policy. Since then I have conferred, on the discussion of individual items, with the Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Whitley), and he gave me his assurance that it was not open to the Committee to discuss questions of policy, that questions of policy should be raised on another and larger occasion in the House, such as the discussion on Ministers' salaries. So far as I am advised, the general question of policy is not open to us. I must admit that there is the business point of view and its natural meaning, and that there are questions of policy as to whether you will scrap an establishment or whether you will build it and then sell it. But I am advised that, having regard to the principle of the discussion of questions of policy, it is not in the power of this Committee to enter on such a discussion.

35

Major NEWMAN: Then it appears to me that this Committee is absolutely a farce.

Viscount CURZON: With reference to what you, Sir, and other hon. Gentlemen have said, it seems that the position resolves itself into this: that we merely come here to register the Government's decrees. If I am right in that, personally I should decline to serve on this Committee. We have no right to spend this money until we hear from the Minister in charge of the Vote whether we are justified in entering on the expenditure, otherwise we would be in the same position as they are in regard to Slough. I maintain that we lose our power over this money if we pass it now, and I am not prepared to vote for it at present.

Colonel BOWLES: There is the question of the general policy and the individual policy. I have been a Member of this House for many years, and I have noticed the marked difference between the general policy and the individual policy because every item must have a policy. The hon. Member (Viscount Curzon) means that it was the general policy we were going to discuss.

Mr. BENNET: Although you, Sir, have ruled that we have no right to discuss the question of policy, this is essentially a question of finance. The question arises whether or not we are going to complete these flax factories at a loss or a profit. These things we cannot discuss in the absence of the Minister of Agriculture. In my opinion, and I believe it is the opinion of people in many places, it is very difficult for flax cultivation to be properly pursued in England. On the question of the wisdom of pursuing a policy of that kind, I strongly support the proposal of an hon. Member that we should go no further into this matter until we have heard from the responsible Minister the prospects of this policy being pursued or otherwise.

Mr. PRETYMAN: The ruling which you, Sir, have given and on which you have consulted the Chairman of Ways and Means—a very important opinion—means that we can pass this expenditure, but that this Committee is not entitled to discuss the question of policy. That being so, it is the duty of the Government to bring before this Committee its decision on the question of policy. In the present circumstances we cannot be asked to vote on it. I for one would not come to this Committee at all if we could not vote on the spending of this money, and we cannot vote on it unless we know some- 36 thing. On the questions raised here it seems that we must adjourn. If we cannot decide the policy, it is useless for us to vote for spending the money. If that is the position I, for one, cannot attend here any more.

Sir A. MOND: The right hon. Gentleman knows that these Votes have always been taken first on the Estimate and he knows the ruling laid down by the Chairman, of Ways and Means. I am entirely in the hands of the Committee. I hope that the hon. Member will not press for the reduction of £300,000. It would simply disorganise entirely the completion of services, some of which are of a most urgent character.

Mr. DAVISON: Would the reduction of the Vote by £300,000 imply the stoppage of the work? Some of the arguments in favour of not passing the Vote at all can also be adduced in favour of the reduction. I would like hon. Members to realise that, if the reduction implies the stoppage of work now in progress, trouble would arise on account of a number of people being thrown on unemployment benefit. There are 65,000 people in the building trade already receiving this benefit, and I hope the hon. Member will not press his Amendment to a Division.

Mr. WHITE: There is nothing for it but to adjourn. Each Government Department should be made responsible for all matters, including buildings, which they advocate as matters of policy, instead of passing them on to another Department.

Mr. MORRISON: I withdraw my Amendment in view of that appeal.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Major BIRCHALL: I beg to move "That consideration of Item A be adjourned." My object is to obtain an authoritative explanation from the Ministry concerned.

Sir A. SYKES: It is clear from the discussion that we are too small a Committee to discuss the questions of policy which must arise in going through these Estimates in the future.

The CHAIRMAN: I understand the proposal is that further consideration of the matter be deferred until our next meeting?

Mr. MORRISON: Only Item A.

37

Major BIRCHALL: Until we have the authoritative explanation of the vote.

Question: "That the consideration of item A be adjourned."

Put, and agreed to.

The CHAIRMAN: I understand the Committee of Selection does not meet until Wednesday, but probably they will be able to increase the number of the Committee in sufficient time for our purposes.

Sir A. SYKES: In these circumstances I suggest that it would not be advisable for us 38 to meet until next week. The notices for the next meeting cannot be sent out until Wednesday night, and probably if the Committee met this week there would not be a quorum.

The CHAIRMAN: What is the wish of the Committee?

Major NEWMAN: I agree that it would be better to adjourn until next week.

Committee accordingly adjourned at twenty-three minutes before six o'clock till Monday, 26th May, at 4 p.m.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:—

Macmaster, Mr. (Chairman)

Baldwin, Mr.

Barnes, Major

Bennett, Mr.

Birchall, Major

Bowles, Colonel

Cockerill, Brigadier-General

Colvin, Brigadier-General

Curzon, Viscount

Davies, Mr. A. (Clitheroe)

Green, Mr. Frederick

Hancock, Mr.

Jones, Sir Evan

Lunn, Mr.

M'Guffin, Mr.

Mond, Sir Alfred

Morrison, Mr. Hugh

Newman, Major

Pretyman, Mr.

Purchase, Mr.

Sykes, Colonel Sir Alan

White, Mr. Charles