[MR. MACMASTER in the Chair.]
The CHAIRMAN: Before we commence our proceedings to-day, I must ask the indulgence of members of the Committee in order to make a short statement. You know that we have been subjected to some criticisms on account of our procedure. I do not complain of these criticisms at all, because there were difficulties about getting a quorum, and also some other difficulties. But I want to point out one or two things to you as regards these Estimates. There are two classes of Estimates. We are engaged on Class I now. There is another class coming later called Class II, relating to the salaries of Ministers and various departmental expenses. In the past it has been customary that matters of policy were settled in connection with the second class of estimates, and not on the class upon which we are at present engaged. I was so advised by those competent to advise me, and consequently I ruled that matters of general policy did not arise in connection with these Votes for buildings; though, of course, special questions of business policy would arise, as I think was pointed out by one or two members of the Committee. I am quite satisfied that that was the old and established practice. We are working, however, under somewhat new conditions, because we are a Standing Committee, who are substituted in respect to Supply for a Committee of the whole House. Though there has been no change in the procedure, there has been a certain change in the status of this Committee as compared with the Committee of Supply in the House. What is the function of this Committee? That is to be found in the new Rules which have been laid down. "New Rules, Business of Supply, Order applicable to the Session of 1919." The second of these Rules provides that— "The estimates shall be allotted for consideration of a Standing Committee of the House in such manner as Mr. Speaker shall determine, and shall be considered by the Standing Committee in accordance with the customary forms of procedure of Committee of Supply." 40 That is to say, you are entrusted with full consideration of these matters, and in considering them you are subject to the Rules which apply in Committee of Supply. This Standing Committee is empowered to make its Report after it has undertaken its consideration of the estimates. That Report afterwards comes before the House, and there are means by which criticism, or, if necessary, condemnation, can be expressed in regard to it, though, let me say, I am not for a moment anticipating that. On the contrary, I am dealing only with the immediate matter which we have in hand. I want to point out that as a Standing Committee we are exempted from certain of the ordinary Rules that prevail in Committee of Supply. That is regulated by the first article in relation to the Standing Order which we are working under now. I will read it:— "In the present Session the following provisions shall apply with respect to the business of Supply, notwithstanding any Standing Order or custom of the House." My interpretation of that is that, though under the former practice before the House it might be held, and could properly be held, that certain matters of policy fell under one class of the estimates or under the other, under the rule which has now been made it appears that a question of policy in respect to particular estimates which you are considering is not excluded.
Major NEWMAN: Not excluded?
The CHAIRMAN: Is not excluded. My ruling previously was given having regard to the ordinary practice in the past, but when we find that under the special Order we are not governed by any custom of the House with regard to matters of that kind, my opinion is—I give it to you for what it is worth, and subject to the better opinion of more experienced Parliamentarians—that when a particular estimate is submitted to you for consideration, although you have nothing to do with the general policy of the Government, which might be more or less controlled by legislation, you must take into consideration—if you think proper—the question of whether the policy in regard to that particular estimate is a right policy or not. At all events that is my construction of the rule, and I think I am bound to tell you that it is so. I have examined the rules of procedure and I have examined the statements of one of our greatest Parliamentary writers, Sir William Anson, and as a result of these examinations I do find a very large 41 degree of authority for a Committee of Supply, which this is, having the right, more or less, to consider questions of policy. If it is necessary, I can read the precise words of the author who has made this statement, because he states in broad terms that a Minister should submit his estimates, state his policy, which means his business policy, and then the whole matter is open to review by the Committee. But we must always remember that these are only estimates. We have no power to call witnesses, we cannot go into a critical examination, and to a large extent we have got to accept the statement of the Minister. We must also remember that later, on the Appropiation Bill and, I think, at some other stages, it is the right of Members of the House to move a motion dealing with questions of general policy. In the meantime, as regards these estimates, though we have no right to deal with the matter of general policy, I think we have the right to consider whether these sums of money should be granted or not.
Major NEWMAN: You have given a ruling of great importance, Sir, and it is one with which the majority of Members will agree. Undoubtedly, speaking for myself, when the Government make proposals and send estimates upstairs, I welcome it; because for the first time in my experience I see some chance of the Committee being able to devote itself, with a little detail, to a consideration of certain estimates. We shall be able to pick out something and get the opinion of the Minister responsible as to why a particular sum is wanted. I was disappointed to find in this Committee that that was not going to be so. The First Commissioner of Works gave an opinion quite contrary to yours, and the majority of the Committee disagreed with him. We want to do useful work, the public want us to do useful work, and unless you can get Ministers responsible for particular estimates to come before us we cannot do useful work. With your ruling this Committee will be able to do useful work. I am convinced that we shall not unduly encroach on the time or activity of Ministers. We can ask them to come before us and ask questions of them on definite points without wasting their time. I am convinced that unless we can have their presence here our work will be useless.
Motion made, and Question proposed:— "That a sum not exceeding £1,430,700 be granted to His Majesty to complete the sum 42 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.]
Mr. C. WHITE: Perhaps I can now speak on a point of order. I welcome that announcement of the Chairman. This has been the stumbling block of the whole proceedings, and as the first Member at the first Committee Meeting who moved a reduction of estimates I would like to ask—
Colonel Sir ALAN SYKES: On a point of order, is this a point of order?
Mr. WHITE: Perhaps the Chairman will say if I am wrong. The hon. Member who has interrupted does not know the question I was going to ask, but this is characteristic of him in the past few meetings. An estimate having been reduced by a certain sum, is it competent for the Minister in charge of this estimate to go downstairs and ask a Committee of the whole House or the House itself to refuse to allow this amount to be taken out and to re-insert it in the estimate?
The CHAIRMAN: I have sought the opinion of men with greater experience than I have, and I think that in a case of that kind the matter would have to be referred back.
Mr. WHITE: To the Committee?
The CHAIRMAN: Yes.
Major NEWMAN: I beg to move: "That item A [New Works, Alterations, Additions and Purchases] be reduced by £100,000." I do that in order to draw attention to the amount of over £300,000 which we are asked to vote in respect of the construction of flax factories. In the Memorandum which was submitted to the House, by the Secretary of the Treasury, on page 8, we read as follows: "Vote 10 [Public Buildings, Great Britain"], is increased by £2,283,450. Over £300,000 is provided on this Vote for flax factories for the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in connection with the extension of flax cultivation in the country. The Board have undertaken responsibility for dealing with the crop, and the construction of these buildings is necessary if this responsibility is to be carried out." Last July the Financial Secretary to the War Office brought in a Bill to enable companies and other bodies to give financial assis- 43 tance to flax producers. It was under that particular Act that we were asked to incur this expenditure. That Bill met with a certain amount of criticism in Committee, but certain concessions were made by the War Office, and the Financial Secretary to the War Office, who was in charge of the Bill, practically threw the onus of working the Bill on to the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade apparently put that responsibility on the shoulders of the Board of Agriculture. It may be said by those responsible for the Act that it was a war measure. In fact, it says so itself. The effect of it was that the flax industry was to be financed during the war and for twelve months afterwards. There was then a great danger of a shortage of flax. Our supplies were running short and supplies were also running short in Russia, where they used to grow over 300,000,000 acres on an average, and Belgium was equally reduced in growing capacity. There used to be 60,000 acres cultivated in Ireland. Therefore this Act was a war expediency measure, no more and no less. Then came the end of the war, and, I take it, that what the Government will tell us is that a good deal of material will have to be written off. I should like to know what position these factories will be in? We have acquired eleven of these factories in England and two in Scotland. Do the Government mean that we are going to complete these factories and then sell them for some other purposes, or do they consider that flax can be profitably grown in this country? I would like to ask the number of acres of flax under cultivation, and also when these factories will be put on the market? When the Bill was going through the House last July I imagined, and I know that others imagined with me, that this was to apply to Ireland, especially the North of Ireland. I know myself that in the South of Ireland flax was grown profitably and extensively 50 years ago. We have in Ireland the ruins of scutching mills, and these ruins show to what an extent this flax was grown. This money has not been spent in Ireland at all. These flax factories are not being built in Ireland; there are two in Scotland and eleven in England. I asked to-day, at Question Time, how much flax was under cultivation as the result of this Act, and how many factories were being built, and therefore I come before this Committee to ask my question as to how much flax is under cultivation in this country, and for that reason I move the reduction. I want to get that information from the Government.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Sir Arthur 44 Boscawen): I think it is necessary to make an explanation on the subject. If I had had any idea that information on this matter was required by this Committee, I would have been only too glad to attend, but it was only to-day that the statement was made that the Board of Agriculture would be required to supply this information. With regard to this flax experiment, under the Flax Production Branch of the Board of Agriculture, factories were started in December, 1917. We had three objects in view. We were asked to do it, as a matter of fact, by the War Cabinet. Of the three objects two dealt with War emergency. The first was that there was a great shortage of seed in Ireland. The ordinary supply of seed and flax from Ireland had been cut off, and we were asked, therefore, to grow for the purposes of supplying seed. In the next place it was pointed out that there was likely to be a great shortage of material for aeroplanes. So it was thought that it was most desirable, having regard to the international position owing to the War, to endeavour to grow flax in this country so as to secure an adequate supply. As to the third object, the body called the British Flax Growers' and Hemp Growers' Society, working in collaboration with the Leeds University, had made certain experiments at Yeovil, and as the result of this it was the intention of the Board to endeavour to re-introduce flax growing into this country as one step in the policy of what I may call agricultural development and reconstruction. I am sure the Committee will realise that if we can introduce into the country, or rather I should say re-introduce—because flax was grown here years ago—a new kind of industrial cultivation into our midst by which a large number of men would be engaged in the handling of flax, that would be a great advantage. Therefore, we undertook this considerable expansion for War purposes. We undoubtedly had in mind, and we still have in mind, the setting up of this industry, as we hope, on a permanent basis in this country. The Department has set to work. It was difficult at the beginning. Farmers were sceptical as to the possibilities of the re-introduction of the industry. Flax had not been grown in this country for many years, and we had to offer some inducement to the farmers to cultivate it. An agreement was come to by which 12,352 acres were to be planted, and in the matter of 10,000 acres out of that 12,352 acres we succeeded, which shows that a great amount of energy had been put into the work. Of course, mistakes were made by planting on unsuitable land, but on the whole the experiment was signally successful. It was only in the Suffolk area that planting took place on unsuit- 45 able land. Another important point is that we had 12,000 acres under cultivation in 1918 and 12,600 in 1919, and we hope that the result of this experiment will be that it will be more successful financially and from every point of view than last year. On the whole, though of course we were doing it under War conditions, and had to contend with bad weather and every conceivable difficulty last year, we are generally satisfied with the results of that year's working. It is necessary for the purpose of cultivating flax growing in this country to have factories and to adapt mills for de-seeding, for the purpose of exporting it to Ireland and for ritting and scutching. I will not attempt to go into details, but I would ask the Committee not to reduce the vote, so that we may proceed with growing flax in different centres. To do this it is necessary, I will not say to erect, but rather to adapt certain existing buildings, as far as possible, for the purpose of setting up de-seeding and ritting and scutching, and the War Cabinet decided that it should be carried out by the Office of Works. It is true that the War emergency is over, and that the great necessity which existed in 1917 and 1918 no longer exists, but we can still work this industry on a permanent basis. In order to do this, it will be necessary to have materials for flax growing. I quite agree that the conclusion of the Armistice has to a large extent altered the position, but what we have done now is to appoint a special Committee to go into the future of the industry, as to the financial position and the necessity of building these works; and we hope we shall get the report of that Committee very shortly. We have also hopes that this estimate can be cut down somewhat. It may be that some of the buildings will not be required. It may be that another method of de-seeding will not require permanent buildings. I am sure the Committee is a strong one. It is composed of Mr. Garrett Campbell, Mr. Norman Boase, Mr. Gardner, and Mr. Cooper, the finance adviser to the Control Board. We believe that a report from them making certain recommendations will mean a very considerable saving on this estimate, but I am authorised to ask the Committee to give us this Vote on the understanding that the recommendations of this Committee will be considered by the Treasury, and the Vote will then be reduced according to the decision at which the Treasury arrives. The largeness of the Vote is due to the fact that less progress was made last year towards completing the buildings.
Mr. PRETYMAN: I see that you have under cultivation 12,000 acres of flax and that 46 the sum you will spend on the buildings is something like £323,000. That is £27 an acre, which is more than the value of the land. It does seem to be an experiment on a very large scale. If you could finish the expenditure on these buildings as they are contemplated until it is definitely proved that flax growing will be profitable I think it will be well. The question is whether flax can be grown in this country, and whether it can be grown at a profit. Of course these are matters into which we cannot go in detail yet. We shall have to take into consideration the question whether labour is available and whether we can get houses for the labourers. I would suggest that we should leave this point over until we get some further knowledge about it. I do not wish to press that too strongly, but I do think that we should have some more information.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN: It seems to me that the report of the expert Committee will supply the information required.
Captain ORMSBY-GORE: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take great care in proceeding with this matter. I have a farm of my own in Ireland and I may say that I discussed the matter of this flax business, and I was told not to undertake it. I understand that some people have gone in for flax growing with very good results. Before embarking upon a large expenditure of this kind, it is necessary to have absolute proof that the growing of flax is going to be profitable. The Committee should take the view that the control of this particular Vote should be retained, and that it should be postponed until we have the report of the technical experts. I hope the Committee will not pass this very large sum of money until we know from the report of the technical Committee how the flax business stands in this country.
Mr. CLYNES: I rather share the view that has been expressed that we should not leave the subject until we have the report. I would also ask that the Committee should view the matter in the light of the larger problem of unemployment, in which the Minister of Labour is a great deal concerned. The expenditure of this money might appear to involve waste, but there would be greater waste still in continuing the course which would throw a considerable number of people on the unemployment market. The whole of these war time experiments should be considered in the light of the general policy 47 of the Government, with regard to what the Government felt compelied to do in between abnormal war conditions and the normal conditions that follow the conclusion of a war. I, personally, could trust the Government in this instance to do the right and economical thing, pending the report referred to.
Mr. BALDWIN (Joint Financial Secretary to the Treasury): With regard to the remarks that fell from the hon. Member, it shows the practical difficulty we have in raising discussion on the wider policy of the Vote of the Office of Works, because, from the fact that there is no mention of any factories being built under this estimate, we are debarred from debating the question of Ireland. If my right. hon. Friend were able to give any facts, I do not think he would be in order in so doing. As a matter of fact, the development of flax production in Ireland comes under another Vote altogether.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN: The whole question of flax production can be debated on the Vote for the Board of Agriculture. This is merely a question of capital expenditure on the erection of flax factories. It is quite true that the cost of the buildings is rather high and works out at about £27 an acre, but the value of the crop is about £600,000 a year. Taking this into consideration the figure is not so high as would appear.
Major NEWMAN: There is another point I should like to raise with regard to the future of the factories. Are they to be owned by the Government, or, when the mills have been erected, are they to be sold to private individuals?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN: So long as flax growing is in its experimental stage, the Government must take charge. If, as we confidently hope, the experiments are successful, we shall sell the mills to private individuals.
Mr. M'GUFFIN: Does the Government intend to enter into competition with a great nation like Russia, for instance? It goes without saying that we are up against a great problem if we are to supply all the flax for Belfast. Flax producing has been a paying industry in Ireland, where farmers have been able to purchase two or three farms with the proceeds of the industry.
Major BIRCHALL: Is there any reason why this Vote should not stand over for a fort- 48 night, in order that we might have the report of the expert committee? It does not seem a businesslike method to pass the Estimate and then to have the report in the next fortnight. Is there any difficulty in postponing the Vote?
Mr. WHITE: I shall vote against the passing of the estimate until the Committee is satisfied that there is a necessity for the work to continue. It is not a question of employment or unemployment. It is a question of principle. You, Sir, have given us a most important ruling that we can discuss questions of policy to a certain extent, and I am not prepared to vote for handing over to the Treasury the power to spend this money with a pious recommendation from this Committee that the expenditure should be restricted as far as possible. I want as far as possible to take the power to spend money out of the hands of Government departments and to put it into the hands of the elected representatives of the people, as we are here. We have power to refuse or to pass these Votes, and I hope the matter will be deferred until we have had the report referred to.
Mr. MORRISON: It appears that certain of these factories may not be successful. What policy will be adopted in such cases?
The FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Sir A. Mond): It seems to me that the work will continue, otherwise we should have to cancel contracts. Contracts have been let for this work and it is going on. If a change of policy takes place we shall have to do our best with regard to the running contracts. A considerable amount of the work is already under contract. In the case of some of the smaller schemes, very little has been done, and they could probably be abandoned without any serious financial difficulty. I take it that when the expert committee sits, they will have regard to all these questions. I do not see that the Committee loses much by passing the Vote now. After all, the expert Committee will have to deal with this matter, and their recommendation will be accepted. If they recommend the abandonment of these different factories, they will be abandoned. One or two hon. Members, perhaps, do not quite realise the difference between estimates and expenditure. Of course, the fact that you put in an estimate for a certain amount does not compel you to spend the money if afterwards there is a change of policy, and the expenditure is not necessary. It is exceedingly difficult to proceed with this work if you do not know where you are and if you are continually held up. It would 49 have been very much easier if this Committee had been sitting last November when these estimates were framed, instead of this May. The best building time of the year is now coming on.
Mr. C. WHITE: Is it the custom to get estimates out in November, to spend a certain amount of the money, and then to come to the Committee in May and ask them to pass the estimates?
Sir A. MOND: Once Parliament has approved the principle of a scheme involving, say, £200,000, £50,000 may be taken for one year, £50,000 for another year, and so on. Obviously, the conclusion to be drawn from the fact that Parliament has granted the whole £200,000 is that the expenditure is to go on, otherwise you might be in the absurd position of spending £50,000 one year and having to scrap the scheme the next. No money is spent on any new service, however, until it has been passed by the House of Commons.
Major NEWMAN: It is evident that a great amount of this money is not going to be spent, and therefore it is perfectly obvious that we should be safe in reducing the Vote by £100,000. That would still leave the hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Agriculture with £200,000 odd to play with, and that is quite enough to spend on this experiment, at any rate until next year. I do therefore press my Amendment and hope that it will be adopted.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN: I would appeal to my hon. and gallant Friend not to press his Amendment. We have not the facts before us—an expert Committee is enquiring into them—and for us deliberately to pass judgment and say £100,000 is to be knocked off would really be to make our financial control perfectly foolish. I have given a pledge—and I am sure the Committee will believe my word—that if the Committee reports that a certain amount of this work should be abandoned, it will be abandoned, and that the estimates, therefore, will not be spent as they are passed. It would, however, be a most ludicrous proceeding for us now, without knowing the facts, to knock off £100,000. It would be condemning the scheme in advance of the report of the expert Committee. It is really immaterial to me, but I suggest that the better course is to pass the Vote as it stands on the clear understanding that it will 50 be revised when we get the expert Committee's report. The whole policy of flax production and of this experiment in flax production, having regard to its economic results, the labour that it will employ, and all the rest of it, can be fully considered when we take the Board of Agriculture Vote.
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir MATHEW WILSON: It seems to me that the control will pass from the House of Commons if we allow the expert Committee to become the sole arbitrators and if they do not first report to us.
Colonel GRETTON: We are really in an unusually difficult position. Apparently, these buildings were commenced out of Votes of Credit, and the House of Commons has not had this matter before it. A large expenditure has been incurred, and this Committee is already faced, during the present financial year, with the expenditure between March 31st and some date in May. We are not experts, nor, constituted as we are, are we in a position to go into the expert evidence. I think, therefore, that the undertaking given by the hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Agriculture is a very fair one. We can only either accept that undertaking, or, if we are not satisfied, postpone the Vote for future consideration. If we postponed it, however, we should be in a difficulty. The Government could bring the Vote under the closure at the end of the Session, when it would go through without debate, because we all know what happens when the closure night comes, and when all the outstanding Votes are put. I think we should be wise, irregular as the proceedings are, and unsatisfactory as they would be in an ordinary year, to rely upon the undertaking which the hon. Gentleman has given on behalf of the Board of Agriculture, that the matter will be most carefully revised and that any possible saving will be made upon the estimate.
Major NEWMAN: The Government really ought to speak with one voice on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman who represents the Office of Works (Sir A. Mond) said that £90,000 would certainly not be wanted, and if it is not wanted on the further extension of the buildings which are being erected—
Sir A. MOND: My hon. and galland Friend misunderstood me. I said that there was £92,000 worth of work not yet ordered. I did not say that it was not wanted.51
Major BIRCHALL: If the Vote is not reduced, will it be in order to move to postpone it?
The CHAIRMAN: I do not want to anticipate any question of that kind.
Original Question again proposed.
Mr. WHITE: I desire to move that in so far as Items No. 1 to No. 13 are concerned—those dealing with flax factories and buildings—that consideration of these shall be adjourned till the Report of this Committee is received. I did not vote for the reduction of the Vote by £100,000 because I want to know what I am voting for. I cannot see the value of a reduction by £100,000 and I do want to understand what I am voting for, and I beg to move that in so far as these items are concerned, I do not want to stop the others, the discussion of them or the consideration of the estimates shall be adjourned until we get the report from the Committee which has been appointed to consider the question.
The CHAIRMAN: You desire to move in respect of Items 1 to 13?
Mr. WHITE: Yes. I want to confine it to them. A Committee is sitting that is going to report, and I want to know what that report is. I am not prepared to give a blank cheque or a free hand to the Treasury or any other Government Department while there is a Committee sitting.
The CHAIRMAN: I am inclined to think that that is included in the Motion that has already been submitted. [Hon. Members: "No, no."] I am inclined to think it is.
Mr. WHITE: You are ruling my Amendment out?
The CHAIRMAN: Yes, I am inclined to think that that is included in the question which has already been determined.
Mr. WHITE: I may say, with all respect, that when the question was asked, you did not give this ruling. It might have affected our votes. That entirely rules an important principle out.
Major NEWMAN: What are we exactly doing now? I want to ask a question about Items 15 and 16. May I ask it now?52
The CHAIRMAN: I do not know exactly what your motion may be. When I know what your motion is, then I will consider it. In the meantime what has been decided is that a reduction of £100,000 should be rejected.
Mr. PRETYMAN: I do not think that an Adjournment of the Debate on this particular Vote would be effective, because it would never came before us again. That is the point. Once it passes this Committee, I take it that it will go into the hotch-potch and be passed at the end of the Session with the other Votes under the guillotine rule, and therefore we should not get any effective discussion of this Vote again. The Minister in charge of this Vote has given us his pledge that he will have this matter gone into by a Committee. We are now at the end of May, and as it has been known since before Christmas, and as circumstances have now changed, something should have been done at an earlier date. We are now spending this money rapidly on these buildings. I should like to know if this money is only for buildings, or does it include machinery as well?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN: Machinery is included in the Board of Agriculture Vote.
Mr. PRETYMAN: How much is that?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN: I cannot say. It is in the Board of Agriculture Vote, and therefore the whole question can be raised again then.
Mr. PRETYMAN: It would have been better if the Board of Agriculture had moved earlier in this matter. We might then have been able to form an opinion as to whether it would pay to stop the work or whether it would not. They now say it is quite conceivable that some of the items may be stopped. The First Commissioner of Works says he cannot stop any of them without large financial loss. Putting these two Votes together, it seems that it would have been wise to have found out at the earliest possible moment whether a particular contract should be stopped. When you look at the sums which have been actually spent—Bridport, £2,300; Glemsford, £5,000; and £5,000 at Yeovil—it does seem that this must have been begun since the beginning of this year, when a new situation had arisen. It should have been clear, that whereas in war-time it was necessary to start a large flax production, now it is purely 53 an agricultural experiment. The scale of expenditure is entirely different. That position was apparently not taken up, and it looks very much as if money is being spent which is not sanctioned. That is inevitable where work was begun by the previous authority of Parliament or under war conditions. This is a thing that will not arise again in this form. In peace-time no work can be begun unless its start is approved by Parliament. Once it has started it is obvious that it must go on. In this case there has been no specific authority of Parliament to start any of these buildings. This arises out of war conditions, and we cannot find any fault with it. We take it up now for the first time under peace conditions, and we find the work begun on the same basis. I do not think we shall do any good by refusing the Vote, and on the undertaking that we shall have this item discussed on the Board of Agriculture Vote and shall be able to raise questions, the best thing we can do is to pass the Vote.
Mr. WHITE: I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says. It may come up on Report in the House, but the House is not constituted as this Committee is. It will be a Government thing, the Whips will be put on, and there will be no possibility of defeating anything there
Major BIRCHALL: Is it not possible to accept the Vote subject to certain items being deferred? That will probably meet the wishes of the great majority of this Committee. It cannot do any harm. If we pass, it now we are stultifying our action.
The CHAIRMAN: What is before the Committee is this: There was an Amendment to reduce Item A by £100,000. That has been rejected, and that leaves the original motion for the whole item for consideration. The proposal that you make, as I understand it, is that further consideration of Item A be deferred until we get a further report. Perhaps that is substantially what Mr. White—
Mr. WHITE: That is exactly what I want.
The CHAIRMAN: I cannot see that a motion of that kind would be advantageous. The whole question is that once an Amendment has been rejected we have reverted to the whole original question, and the question now is: What shall be done, whether or not we shall pass or reject it?
Mr. WHITE: Then we commence the thing all over again?54
Mr. M'GUFFIN: My suggestion is that we vote this money and then reserve to ourselves the right to say what amount of it shall be expended, and I would move that, in spite of what we have voted, we still ask the Committee to reserve the right to defer the payment of £100,000.
The CHAIRMAN: One thing hon. Members must remember is that they cannot have real accuracy with regard to these votes. They must to a certain extent rely upon the statements of Ministers, who must make their statements upon their own responsibility. It will be better if we can hear the statements of Ministers, take their assurances, and, where they are reasonable, put the Vote through. If we have to postpone these Votes until we get I greater knowledge, the inevitable effect will be to defer all these estimates to a day when we shall absolutely lose control of them.
Viscount CURZON: Is it a fact that any of this work has been started since the beginning of this year?
Sir A. MOND: The factories were all started last year. Part of them were in operation in 1918.
The CHAIRMAN: The original proposition is now before the Committee. Once Item A was disposed of, we reverted to the original Vote.
Mr. MORRISON: I thought that at our last meeting we were told that we should go through each item separately.
The CHAIRMAN: At the last meeting I read the first original proposition. Then it was competent for the Committee to move either a reduction of the whole Vote or to move a reduction in respect of any of the items. The Amendment that we had and that we disposed of was an Amendment to reduce by £100,000 Item A. The defeat of that Amendment left the original motion standing, and that is what we are on now.
Major NEWMAN: Can I discuss Items 15 and 16?
Sir A. MOND: I submit that Item A is disposed of.
Colonel GRETTON: I submit that any hon. Member has a right to discuss this question on the whole vote and on the items.
Mr. PRETYMAN: It is quite competent, I submit, for any hon. Gentleman to move a reduction in respect of a particular item.55
Major NEWMAN: May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a few questions on Items 15 and 16? These relate to work at Burton's Court, Chelsea, and I would like to know if, in taking this over, anything has been taken away from the open spaces for children in which to play? In view of the necessity which has arisen for this work I want to ask how much of the open space in Burton's Court is going to be covered over, and has the right hon. Gentleman got the consent of the local authorities there to do this?
The MINISTER OF LABOUR (Sir Robert Horne): May I be forgiven for going? I spent an hour on a previous day and have spent nearly two hours to-day waiting to be called on to give some information in regard to my department, and I hope the Committee will not think it any discourtesy if I go now. I have missed two important appointments, and have important business to attend to now.
Major NEWMAN: The right hon. Gentleman was to have made a statement on Vote 9, but that is now passed over and we are on Vote 10.
Sir R. HORNE: I hope you will forgive me, I must go.
The CHAIRMAN: It is most unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman has been asked to attend here to-day.
Sir A. MOND: There is generally some impression that Burton's Court was open to the public. It was never open to the public and was never a public space. I am sure my hon. Friend knows that. This question arises out of the fact that at a time of great importance we had difficulties with regard to the staffing of the Ministry of Pensions, and the Ministry made arrangements to get the sites which were most readily available. The buildings have a more permanent appearance from the outside than they have in reality. The fact is that owing to the shortage of timber at that period we could not put in a great deal of material or make the buildings of a permanent character. The additions, £22,000, are all huttings, which can be more readily removed. A great deal of money has been spent. £180,000 has been spent in this connection, and I do not think that this Committee is anxious to readily abandon this very large expenditure which is spent on an important service. The buildings will disappear in time as pensions diminish and reorganisation takes place.56
Viscount CURZON: I am anxious later on to have a discussion on Item C, and I want to make sure that in passing this Vote I am not prevented from discussing that item.
The CHAIRMAN: The original question is still before the Committee. If the hon. Member wishes to raise a question with regard to Item C, I understand he will have to do it on some special motion.
Viscount CURZON: Can I discuss it on the motion now?
Mr. PURCHASE: On a point of order, can we not discuss the rest of Item A before we arrive at Item C?
The CHAIRMAN: Yes.
Mr. PURCHASE: May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question in regard to the huts in Regent's Park? I would like to ask whether the particular part covered by the hutments has been taken from the public.
Sir A. MOND: No. It is my intention to have these buildings in Regent's Park cleared out as soon as possible. As a matter of fact, I have made representations to the various military authorities and others with a view to getting them out of the buildings and restoring Regent's Park to the sylvan beauty it once possessed.
Viscount CURZON: On the subject of the Pensions buildings at Burton's Court, I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the staff of the Ministry of Pensions is increasing or decreasing? I want to know exactly what accommodation the Pensions Ministry is occupying in London in addition to Burton's Court. With regard to the general question, I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be very important to get these temporary offices away from places like Burton's Court and Regent's Park. I understand that at Burton's Court the work of erection is still going on, and that a tower is being built there. I would like to know if that tower is being built. I would like also to point out that it would seem to be a congested area.
Sir A. MOND: The Pensions Department was one of the institutions going on at the time of the Armistice, and it is still going on. It is still an increasing Department. Naturally, the number of offices which will be needed has nearly reached the limit. When the scheme was instituted the Minister had to take premises at Baker Street, Victoria 57 Tower Gardens, Marylebone Town Hall, Regent's Park Huts, The Tate Gallery, Chelsea Hospital, the Duke of York's School, big premises in Portland Street, the headquarters of the Imperial Tobacco Co. across the road, and a number of other premises. The staff is an enormous one, and it will take some years to diminish it. A scheme has been recently approved for the erection at Acton of accommodation for 6,000 of the staff. That, I hope, will enable us to clear out a large number of the staff in buildings situated in London. Acton does not stand in quite the same position as Regent's Park. When the buildings were first put up it was made quite clear that they would be required for some time.
Viscount CURZON: Does the right hon. Gentleman think that we have arrived at the summit of increase with regard to the staff of the Pensions Ministry, or that the figure will increase much more? What is being done to utilise the hutments at Hayes, near Acton?
Sir A. MOND: I am a sanguine man, and I hope we have arrived at the summit of the figure the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I understand we are taking the hutments at Hayes.
Viscount CURZON: Are those the hutments you referred to?
Sir A. MOND: Some of them.
Major NEWMAN: With regard to this Vote for the accommodation and storage of grain, I take it that this is for the hiring of premises and that, after a period, the premises will be handed back, and that this Vote will, accordingly, disappear. I take it that they will not be permanently required, but were hired for the duration of the war.
Sir A. MOND: They form some of the finest storage in the country. £625,000 was spent on them at Cardiff, Swansea, Barry, Avonmouth, Plymouth, Falmouth, and Newport. I understand that at present they are being disposed of partly to local port authorities, partly to other people, whilst some are being used by the Admiralty and others by the Grain Committee.
Major NEWMAN: When you say "handed over," you mean "sold"?
Sir A. MOND: Yes.
The CHAIRMAN: I think questions of that sort are involved in the motion. If you move 58 for the reduction of Item A, that refers to the item we are dealing with.
Major NEWMAN: If you will look at the Motion on the Notice Paper you will see that I moved the reduction of this particular Vote by £100,000 in respect of the adaptation of buildings for flax factories. That is on the Blue Paper. You, Mr. Chairman, ruled that I must move to reduce Item A by the sum of £100,000, but my original motion was to reduce this particular Vote in connection with the acquisition of property to the extent of £100,000. I had no intention of moving the reduction of the Item for the Ministry of Shipping.
The CHAIRMAN: My understanding was that Item A was under consideration. The reduction in respect of Item A was the original motion, and that was the one before the Committee, so that anything in the way of reduction of part of the Vote must be included in the general reduction. I must ask if the Committee is ready to deal with the original proposition?
Viscount CURZON: On a point of order, does that include Sub-head "C" or not?
The CHAIRMAN: Yes, it does.
Viscount CURZON: I want to say a little more with regard to that.
Colonel GRETTON: Will you explain to the Committee where you found the sum you have just put to the Committee, because some of us are not conversant with the papers, and find it difficult to see how the figure is arrived at?
The CHAIRMAN: Vote 10, Page 31, the amount there specified, less the amount already voted on account, i.e., £1,628,000.
Colonel GRETTON: I beg to move "That the Committee now adjourn." May we be informed how that sum has been arrived at? If the Minister in charge cannot explain and the Chairman cannot, an I explanation is clearly necessary.
Mr. BALDWIN: These estimates and subsequent estimates are submitted every year in this form. Just before the end of the financial year it is customary for the House of Commons to pass the Vote on Account. Probably Members were present in the House when the Vote was passed. The reason for that is that there may be sufficient sanction given by Parliament for the expenditure on account of 59 money for the Civil Services for the next four or five months before the subsequent estimates come before the House.
Major NEWMAN: Could we pass Item A, and when we next sit proceed with Items B and C, which raise two big questions concerning the evacuation and retention of hotels? If we cannot get an explanation now, I will support my hon. and gallant Friend opposite that the Committee adjourn.
The CHAIRMAN: The question is on the main motion, and that is the sum proposed less the amount already voted on account. After that there is nothing to discuss, unless there is an Amendment moved.
Colonel GRETTON: I moved the Adjournment of the Committee. I think the explanation of my right hon. Friend is quite satisfactory, and I therefore withdraw my motion.
Motion for Adjournment, by leave, withdrawn.60
Viscount CURZON: At the last meeting I handed in a notice of motion with regard to Sub-head C of this Vote, and I should like to know how I stand with regard to that.
The CHAIRMAN: I have never received it. Your statement is sufficient and the motion will come forward.
Colonel GRETTON: I beg to move "That the Committee do now adjourn."
Major NEWMAN: Do we go back to the Ministry of Labour Vote at the next meeting?
The CHAIRMAN: We are dealing with Vote 10.
Major NEWMAN: After that do we go back to the Ministry of Labour Vote?
The CHAIRMAN: Yes.
Question put, and agreed to.
The Committee accordingly adjourned at Six p.m. till to-morrow, at Four p.m.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:—
Mr. Macmaster (Chairman)
Boscawen, Sir Arthur
Davison, Mr. J.
Falle, Major Sir Bertram
Green, Mr. Joseph
Horne, Sir Robert
Jones, Sir Evan
Mond, Sir Alfred
Morrison, Mr. Hugh
Sykes, Colonel Sir Alan
White, Mr. Charles
White, Lieut.-Col. Dalrymple
Wilson, Lieut.- Col. Sir Mathew