[MR. MACMASTER in the Chair.]
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.]
Major NEWMAN: My hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton), has a motion on the Paper to reduce Item B. on Page 34 by the sum of £50,000. He is unfortunately unable to be here this afternoon, and he has asked me to move the reduction on his behalf. I take it that I am in order in doing so.
The CHAIRMAN: Quite.
Major NEWMAN: I beg to move: "That Item B. (Maintenance and Repairs) be reduced by £50,000." Hon. Members will see that this Vote is a very big one, namely, £643,820, as contrasted with the sum last year of £94,710 and a pre-war vote of roughly £100,000 a year, or rather less. If we were to take this vote literally, that is to say, if we were to imagine that the vote is merely a vote for maintenance and repairs it would seem, of course, to be almost incomprehensible, because it would mean that this vote had nothing to do with new construction, with hutments and with new works, unless those new works were of a minor charcter not exceeding £70. It is only by turning to the Memorandum furnished to the Committee by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that we get some idea of how the money is actually to be spent. On page 8 of the Memorandum to which I refer we read as follows:— "The principal item of increase in this Vote is under the head of 'Maintenance.' Of the increase of £640,000 the greater part represents charges hitherto met from the Vote of Credit, £220,000 being for the maintenance of emergency accommodation for Government Departments, and £210,000 for the reinstatement 62 of such premises on their vacation. The balance is accounted for by the increased cost of labour and materials, and the necessity for carrying out arrears of work postponed during the war." That will give Members of the Committee some idea for what purposes this large sum of money is going to be voted. But might I point out that though £640,000 is a large vote, it does not represent the sum total of the cost for maintenance or repairs of buildings used as public offices. As a matter of fact, if the Committee were to turn back to Class 1, Vote 9, which we have partially discussed, they would find in the Vote for the Ministry of Labour a sum of £38,400 put down for the maintenance of buildings in connection with the Ministry of Labour. If they were to go through other Votes they would find the same kind of thing. The truth is that most Government Departments have a special item for maintenance, and therefore I should imagine that if we took the trouble to go right through the Estimates, and totalled up all those extra sums, and added them to the £640,000, we should get a very large sum indeed. Be that as it may, we have now got to ask the First Commissioner of Works to tell us, as I am sure he will, under what main heads this money is being spent? We are told it is for the maintenance of emergency accommodation for Government Departments. We have to try and visualise how this enormous sum can be spent on the maintenance of emergency accommodation. Let the Committee observe that it has nothing to do with the rent of these emergency offices; it has nothing to do with the furniture; but it is merely the maintenance of emergency accommodation. We will imagine that the Government take a block of houses. They pay rent for the houses, of course. That does not come under the head of maintenance. They put in furniture. That, again, does not come under the head of maintenance. Maintenance must consist in sweeping the houses, in keeping them clean, in dusting the furniture, in looking after the water works and so on in the houses, and generally in keeping the places in a state of repair. That accounts, we are told, for £220,000 of this amount Then there is £210,000 which is put down for the reinstatement of premises on their vacation. Surely, that is very high, unless, as may be the case, the Government have made alterations of a structural character in these buildings, such as taking down a partition wall here, putting up a partition wall there, putting in a staircase here, or a bathroom there, and so on, and these structural changes have to be put back when they 63 vacate the premises. Even so, it is a big sum, and it certainly needs some explanation. I should like also to get from the right hon. Baronet exactly what he can tell us about the Ministries which are now in process of dissolution, or have been dissolved. Of course, the maintenance of the offices occupied by those Ministries is in this Vote, but now that they are being dissolved, what is happening to these offices, and does the £210,000 represent the cost of giving up those offices? The Committee would like to have information on this subject, because the Ministries of Munitions, Shipping, National Service and Reconstruction, to mention only four, have either been dissolved or are in process of dissolution. That must represent a very great clearance in the way of Government accommodation. Those are a few questions which I should like the right hon. Baronet to answer, and it is for that reason that I move to reduce this Vote by £50,000.
THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Sir Alfred Mond): If my hon. Friend had not risen, I was proposing to make a general statement on the whole of this sub-head, because I thought it would have the effect of shortening the discussion. I would like to point out, in the first instance, that there is absolutely no guidance to be obtained by comparing the estimates for last year with the estimates for this year. As I have pointed out before, and as is stated in the White Paper issued by the Treasury, provision was made for a good deal of expenditure last year out of Votes of Credit, and therefore it is useless to compare an estimate which did not contain the amount provided out of Votes of Credit with the present estimates. It is no guidance whatsoever. Perhaps if I gave the Committee a few general figures relating to the problem with which we are dealing it would help them more easily to understand the magnitude of the task. Before the War, Government staffs which had to be accommodated and furnished were about 30,000. These have risen during the War to the number of 120,000. The number of Government staffs for which accommodation has to be found, furniture has to be found, heating has to be found, and all other incidentals have to be provided, has quadrupled. Before the War the Government Departments were housed in about 1,800,000 square feet; to-day they occupy 7,200,000 sq. feet. During the war some 1,800 requisitions and hirings were effected. That gives some idea of the magnitude of the task with which we have been faced. It is much more extraordinary that we have succeeded in housing and making provision for this great 64 staff, than that the money asked for is required for the purpose of paying rent, defraying the cost of maintenance, and so on Ever since the Armistice the War Cabinet Committee on Accommodation, which has been dealing with the matter, and myself have been doing our best in order to bring about reductions so as to provide for the release of accommodation. On that I would only like to say a few words, because I do not know how far I should be in order in dealing with the matter. What I have to say is this: It must not be overlooked in this connection, first, that up to the present time we are still under the reign of an Armistice, and that there are large staffs which will automatically be demobilised after the signing of Peace. Secondly, the fact that we have ceased hostilities has not enabled the Government automatically to close down the activities of huge departments dealing with vast contracts and liabilities accumulated over a number of years. The result is that, although undoubtedly a considerable reduction of staff has taken place, the reduction has been somewhat slow—slower than I and my colleagues anticipated. On the other hand, the very fact of demobilisation has brought with it a demand for the increase of certain staffs in connection with services such as the Appointments Board set up by the Ministry of Labour. That has a staff of some 400 or 500, which is engaged at the present moment in the very necessary duty of trying to find appointments for demobilised officers. Staffs of a similar character dealing with demobilisation matters have also had to be set up, and have occupied some of the accommodation which has been released by other departments. Still, we have succeeded, so far, in giving up 128 premises in London, including four hotels, three public institutions, one club, twenty-two business premises and private houses. At the present time there are still 9,000 members of staffs housed in hotels, some 9,500 in museums and other public institutions, 16,000 in requisitioned premises, 1,000 in clubs, and 7,000 in private houses. That is still a formidable number, but hon. Members may have observed from answers which I have given recently in the House that considerable progress is being made in moving these staffs out of the present buildings into either cheaper buildings or buildings already employed for other purposes. The buildings I mentioned as being put up at Acton will provide for from 5,000 to 6,000. Then 3,000 will be housed in the King George V. Hospital—that is the new Stationery Office—when it is re-opened, and, further, some 4,500 will be accommodated in the Alexandra Palace. This will enable us to release a much larger number of buildings 65 and hotels than it has been possible for us to do up to the present time. I understand from the Ministry of Munitions that a large portion of the staff on demobilisation, or a certain portion of it, will probably go to Earl's Court, as a kind of climax, and I think it is not unnatural that the carrying out of this work will be more rapid as we make certain progress. We all recognise it to be a very difficult position, a position that wants remedying as soon as possible. I therefore expect that in the next few months a very big change will have occurred. Turning to the Vote for Maintenance, it is a fact that the Vote is a very large one, but hon. Members must remember the number of buildings we have to maintain as a whole. A very large amount of this money is wages such as are paid to a stoker for heating apparatus, lift attendants, and the various people in girls' offices and in electric engineers' departments, etc.
Major NEWMAN: On how many buildings?
Sir A. MOND: We have 1,800 buildings to maintain. I would like to give an analysis, as far as I can give it, as to the cost in the pre-war days and at present. In these Estimates a large sum is accounted for by reinstatement. In some of the smaller cases we make the re-instatement. In many cases the people whose premises were taken do their own re-instatement and recover such sums as may be allowed by the Defence of the Realm Losses Commission. The Estimate for re-instatement in London in hired and commandeered buildings is about £140,000. Then there is an estimate of £22,000 as the cost of the re-instatement of rooms occupied in museums and galleries. There is an estimate of £30,000 for the reinstatement of some provincial buildings in England. That is about £200,000 for re-instatement work from the architect's point of view. These figures will be automatically reduced when the re-instatement takes place. Therefore, I would ask the hon. Gentleman not to ask to have this Vote cut down, because it will be subject to reduction when the re-instatements occur.
Major NEWMAN: The right hon. Gentleman, or rather the Government, has commandeered a house from me, but I am glad to know that when I get this house back I shall be compensated on re-instatement.
Sir A. MOND: I did not say so. Whatever the Defence of the Realm Losses Commission allows the hon. Gentleman we shall have to pay.66
Colonel BOWLES: Are we to understand that this £210,000 includes the re-instatement of all commandeered places? Could the right hon. Gentleman not give us something specific as to what it will cost?
Sir A. MOND: It will be about two-thirds. We have taken the amount that will have to be paid during this financial year. It will not cover all, I understand, but it is estimated that it will cover about two-thirds. I would like to point out that of the amounts I have mentioned there is a balance of £209,000 for maintenance of pre-war buildings. In 1914 the cost of maintenance was £123,000 compared with £202,000 now. In view of the rise in prices and labour costs—approximately 100 per cent.—there is actually a reduction on that basis of 20 per cent. on the maintenance charges on pre-war buildings. A great deal of the work has deliberately been left over. There is a number of these old departments which are getting very dirty, the painting is perishing and it will take some money to make them good again. I assure the Committee that the very greatest economy is being exercised in dealing with these works and some of them have been postponed with that object of view. No doubt hon. Members will agree that these buildings in which useful work has been done well deserve a coat of paint. We have deliberately cut down the maintenance costs as far as we possibly can.
Mr. MORRISON: May I ask for an explanation of the £150,000 proposed to be spent under the heading "Maintenance and increased accommodation at the War Office." Are we going to spend any more on that building?
Sir A. MOND: That is not a settled question yet.
Mr. MORRISON: I refer to Page 8 of the Memorandum submitted to the House by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, stating: "£50,000 is provided for the construction of two extra storeys in the War Office building, the total cost of this service being estimated at £150,000 the principal item in this Vote is under the heading of maintenance.
Sir A. MOND: That is not in this estimate.
Mr. MORRISON: Yes, £50,000 is provided for extra storeys at the War Office buildings.
Sir A. MOND: Where is the amount in the estimate?67
Mr. MORRISON: I think I am entitled to ask for an explanation of this statement in the Memorandum.
Sir A. MOND: But we are dealing with the Vote now.
The CHAIRMAN: We are dealing with the specific Item B.
Mr. MORRISON: But it is included in this paper.
Colonel Sir ALAN SYKES: On a point of order, are we not on the Vote now?
The CHAIRMAN: We are dealing with the specific Item B of the Vote.
Major NEWTON: May I ask on behalf of the Members who have recently been added to this Committee that we should be furnished with a copy of the Memorandum which has been supplied to the old Members.
The CHAIRMAN: That is a very reasonable request.
Sitting suspended for Division in the House.
Lieut.-Colonel WHITE DALRYMPLE: Before we pass the Vote, I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what has been done towards reducing the staff at the Ministry of Pensions? In regard to the diminution of the staffs, it is no use trusting to the heads of a Department. I saw a certain amount of that in France when it was proposed to replace the men clerks and men cooks by women. When commanding officers were asked to replace these men they said, "We will do so as soon as we are able." But they never did. We found that the men were kept on as well as the women. I only mention that to show that it is no good depending on the heads of departments to reduce their staffs.
Sir A. MOND: May I ask my hon. Friend (Major Newman) whether he would not withdraw his Amendment.
Major NEWMAN: May I say that I would like to get some idea by how much this vote is going to be reduced next year? My right hon. Friend estimates that it will be reduced next year. If he gives me this information 68 it will afford the public as well as myself some satisfaction to know by how much the Vote would be reduced next year.
Sir A. MOND: I do not know whether my hon. Friend wants me to essay the rôle of a prophet. It is very dangerous to prophesy on a question of this kind. Certainly I think there will be very material reductions on a number of items, some of which will not reappear. Without binding myself to any figure, I think I can say that there will be a very large reduction.
Colonel GRETTON: There is a very general public desire that the Government should get out of some of the buildings they now occupy. I understand that some have been given up and that others are in process of being given up. It would, therefore, seem that there might be some substantial reduction in this Vote on account of those buildings which have been given up. There is one statement the right hon. Gentleman made which is not altogether clear. He said there was a sum of upwards of £200,000 to be paid for the reinstatement of buildings that are to be vacated. I certainly think that, in view of the fact that buildings are being given up, there should be some substantial reduction.
Colonel BOWLES: Might I say that one does not need to be a very great prophet to be able to give information of the kind that the Committee desires? The £210,000 for reinstatement is two-thirds of the whole reinstatement money that will be necessary. That is what I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say. Therefore we are estimating for this financial year the reinstatement of two-thirds of the buildings now in occupation. I should be glad to vote this sum of money if the right hon. Gentleman could assure us that the two-thirds of the buildings now occupied will be reinstated and used for other purposes during the current year.
Sir A. MOND: Allowance has already been made in this Vote for the evacuation of a number of premises. We have contemplated the evacuation of a certain number of buildings, and have made the necessary reduction in the Estimates. It was therefore not possible to cut down this Vote further. This is the amount which, as far as we can see, after careful consideration, is the amount which is absolutely necessary. I am very reluctant to give figures, which may for some reason which I cannot foresee now, possibly not turn out to be accurate, 69 and then next year either myself or some other Minister will be asked why these figures were given. It is possible that some of these reinstatements may cost more. Some of them may be delayed. These considerations deter me from stating a definite figure, but it is obvious that the very largest possible reduction will take place.
Major NEWMAN: In view of the explanation given that there will be a substantial reduction, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Original Question again proposed.
Viscount CURZON: I beg to move— "That Item C [Rents, Insurance, Tithe Rent Charges, etc.] be reduced by £250,000." I understand that under this sub-head comes all the rents for all the various hotels which have been taken over by the Government throughout London. The right Hon. Gentleman in charge of the Vote has already alluded to the necessity for the Government to occupy a great many premises. He has also alluded to the numbers of the staffs and also to the policy which his Department is carrying out in respect of the hotels; but I do not think that his figures are sufficiently clear. There are two great problems in London at the present moment. One is a question of traffic, and the other is a question of accommodation. I submit that so far as accommodation is concerned, the Government acted quite rightly during the war. They had to take emergency measures, and only desperate ones were likely to succeed. Now that we have got back to a state of peace, cannot the Government really make a move in getting rid of some of the great Government Departments housed in hotels? Since the Armistice the Minister has only been able to make a reduction of four in the number of hotels occupied by the Government. The point I want to make is this: We have a very serious traffic problem in London which is mainly caused by a vast number of people all endeavouring to travel the same way at the same time every day, and if it were possible to locate some Government staffs outside the inner heart of London, a great step would be taken to reduce the numbers of the travelling public coming the same way every day. I believe I am correct in saying that there is a large series of huts at Hayes, and up to a short time ago these huts were entirely unoccupied. I am glad to hear that the Minister has 70 already made a start by getting the Ministry of Labour to move into the country. I want to impress on the Minister in charge of the Vote the very great feeling there is in London with regard to the large number of hotels that are still being used by the Government—some of the most necessary and valuable accommodation right in the heart of London; and I want to urge him to see that the Government are really going to take steps to demobilise these Government Departments and to give the hotels back for the use of the public of this Country.
Sir A. MOND: I thought that in my general remarks I had fairly covered the ground which the noble Lord has just covered again. I need not assure him that the question of getting hotels free has been brought to my notice every day now for a good many months, and I have been pressing it. We are now in the position of having really few hotels of any magnitude left on our hands. The Hotel Cecil and the Grand Hotel are likely to be vacated quite shortly, and negotiations are in progress with regard to the vacation of the Metropole; and that practically will deal with the large hotels.
Viscount CURZON: What about De Keysers?
Sir A. MOND: I would not give an answer to that at the moment. This hotel was practically empty before the war. When I submitted a memorandum to the War Cabinet on the Government hotels I urged that they should be vacated first. The War Cabinet some time ago appointed Sir Auckland Geddes to go into the whole question of decentralisation. He has appointed a strong Committee on the subject and that matter has recently come before the War Cabinet itself, and I think I may say on behalf of the Government that every endeavour is being made and every energetic effort is being used to arrive at decentralisation. I personally do not think that decentralisation only is important; reduction is equally important. We want to achieve an actual reduction, and a large reduction is being made. I think that by the end of June the Ministry of Munitions estimate that there will have been a reduction in their department of 15,000 since the Armistice. That is a good reduction, and credit ought to be given where such reductions are being made. Hon. Members are, no doubt, very agitated in regard to this matter, but an acceleration has already taken place. Everybody is aware of the feeling on the subject, but I hope the Committee will 71 allow me to have these Votes, which are all really consequential, this afternoon.
The CHAIRMAN: Sir Samuel Roberts the Chairman of the Committee of Selection is here and desires to make a statement to the Committee.
Sir SAMUEL ROBERTS: Perhaps I may apologise for interrupting the Committee. We have had some difficulty in regard to the question of Ministers being in attendance on this Committee, and we are very anxious, if possible, to set up some procedure which will meet this difficulty. We have passed a resolution, and my object in coming here this afternoon is to ask whether the terms of this resolution will have the approval of this Committee in order to meet the point. If so, we shall propose it to the Whips and try to get them to take the matter up. The resolution is as follows:— "In view of the fact that the attendance of Ministers is often required on the Standing Committee which considers Estimates, and that it is not practicable for the Committee of Selection to make such provision as would facilitate their attendance, consideration be given to the expediency of appointing all Ministers who are Members of this House as ex-officio members of the Standing Committee to which Estimates may be referred, without the power of voting, except when the Estimates affecting their respective Departments are under consideration." It was thought that if all Ministers had the power to vote, they might swamp the Committee, but we thought the difficulty might be overcome by only giving a Minister the power to vote on the Estimates for his own Department, or when he is called in to explain some item. We thought the difficulty might be got over in that way. It would assist us very much in this difficulty if we could say to the Government Whips that some scheme of this kind would meet with the approval of this Committee. That is my object in venturing to intrude.
Captain ORMSBY-GORE: Does that mean that every Minister of every Department whose Estimates may come before this Committee becomes an ex-officio member—that is some 30 or 40 Ministers? In the case of the War Office, does it mean that the Secretary of State for War, the Financial Secretary and Major-General Seely are all Members of the Committee?
Sir SAMUEL ROBERTS: Yes, it refers to all Ministers, who are Members of the House of Commons. If the case the hon. Member refers to arose, it would be necessary for 72 Minsters to select one of their number to attend.
The CHAIRMAN: Is it the wish of the Committee that the proposal of the Chairman of the Committee of Selection be adopted?
The Committee signified assent.
Sir SAMUEL ROBERTS: I am very much obliged to you for allowing me to intrude.
Colonel Sir A. SYKES: May I ask the Committee to give this Vote to the Minister. He has told us—I think very clearly—the efforts that have been made in order to get the staffs of the various departments reduced in order to decrease the amount of accommodation. I think I am right in saying that he cannot enforce anything on the various departments. If we were to pursue this question of reducing the housing and staffs of departments, we should have to call each Minister before this Committee and ask him if he could not reduce his staff, so as to enable the right hon. Baronet to reduce his estimate. He has to make out his estimate in accordance with the requests that are put in. He has asked the various departments to reduce their requisitions as much as possible, and what we have to decide now, if we are satisfied that he has done this with the powers at his disposal, is whether he is asking us to vote too much money for the actual work he has estimated for during the coming year. I am satisfied that he has not asked us too much, and I ask the Committee to give this Vote.
Major NEWMAN: If the Committee were to listen to the hon. and gallant Member, the Committee would become a farce and Members would not attend. We have agreed to have Ministers before us and to listen to an explanation from them, and, after having had that explanation, we agree or not to pass the Vote. If that is not the agreement, I will not attend the Committee in future.
Mr. CLYNES: I would like to have a little more information from the right hon. Gentleman on what are precisely the powers of the Committee to which he referred. I would like to know whether the Committee has any sort of power to take action, or is it purely advisory to other State Departments? Is it a Committee which is ascertaining how far staff and hotels can be replaced, and how far new and suitable accommodation can be obtained for the various staffs? There is an aspect of this question which I should like 73 to put. It may be true that some four or five of the largest hotels are being liberated, but, according to a list I have seen, apart from these very large ones, there must be a large number of smaller hotels that are not anywhere near being released for public use. This is a matter of very serious importance to many thousands of men, who every night come to London from the country. In addition to the question of accommodation, the effect of keeping these hotels occupied has been to give such a monopoly to other places that prices have been enormously increased. On the grounds, then, of expense, accommodation and convenience, I should like to hear before we pass the Vote, what exactly are the powers of the Committee.
Sir A. MOND: I will endeavour to explain what has happened. The War Cabinet asked Sir Auckland Geddes to go into the question of staffs, and to deal with it. He appointed a very important Committee to advise him, and, of course, he has full power to act himself or to recommend action to the War Cabinet. That Committee deals with the question of de-centralisation and reduction of staff, and, incidently, the Committee has a representative from my department who advises on the subject of accommodation. In that way the Committee keeps in touch with the War Cabinet on the question of accommodation. As regards the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, I quite appreciate the point he made, and it may be some relief to him and to the Committee to know the hotels we shall be able to give up as soon as we get into the King George V. Hospital. We expect then to give up the following hotels: De Keyser's, the Goring, the Holborn, Horrocks', St. Ermin's and the York Hotel. That makes a considerable sweep of the smaller hotels, in fact, the bulk of them. Two or three of the smaller hotels have already been given up. The Belgrave Mansions Hotel is still the American Army Headquarters, and there is no information as to when it will be released, but I imagine it will be liberated when peace is signed. That leaves us practically with no hotel accommodation.
Major NEWMAN: May I point out that the Hotel Windsor was in the occupation of the Ministry of National Service, which is now defunct? Why is not that hotel given up?
Sir A. MOND: The Ministry of National Service is not defunct, but is in process of dissolution, and I understand the hotel will be required for the purposes of further ac- 74 commodation. Other people have been put into it. The proprietors did not wish to continue it as an hotel, and have leased it to the Government for purposes of accommodation which we shall badly require. Hon. Members must remember one difficulty we shall have to face. During the war and since the war we have established something like six new Government Departments, which have no permanent headquarters of any kind. The Ways and Communications Department, for instance, has a very large staff with no headquarters. The Ministry of Pensions have no headquarters. The same remark applies to the Air Ministry. When the war cloud has passed away, possibly we shall have to find a considerable amount of accommodation in this year for permanent Government Departments set up by this House, which are now temporarily housed.
Captain ORMSBY-GORE: As long as you have Government offices all over the place, in private buildings, you will have chaos in the administration. There are only two possible things to do: either have the Ministries housed in permanent offices in London, or clear them out into the suburbs. Probably you will have to do both, and have a small central office where the Minister can be got at for Cabinet meetings and things of that kind, very near the House, and have as large a proportion as possible out in the suburbs. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is this year beginning to make plans as part of the rebuilding, say, of the Westminster War Memorial, or the like, or if he is taking steps to provide for the vastly increased amount of Government buildings for the accommodation of the new Ministries?
Sir A. MOND: I have already had a scheme prepared of a preliminary kind for the utilisation of the very valuable site of Montague House, which would be very suitable for the purpose. This is a preliminary scheme, but I am afraid that this Committee will think, when the estimate is produced at some future time, that it is very large. The whole question of the future organisation of Government offices and of decentralisation is now being very carefully explored by Sir Auckland Geddes and his Committee for submission to the War Cabinet, who are fully alive to these questions, but it would be premature to announce any policy.
Mr. C. WHITE: Is it a Committee of officials and fellow Ministers, or are there any members of Parliament included?
Colonel BOWLES: There is very strong feeling on this question in the country, We were 75 told that a large number of officials were going to be dispensed with. There is a general feeling that those officials, as soon as their work ceases, should be dispersed with the greatest rapidity. It is found that the best way to get rid of that peculiar little bird called the sparrow is to disturb its nest, and I have no doubt that the noble Lord in bringing this forward will agree that a very good means of dispensing with these departments with dispatch would be to disturb their nests. Now that we have urged the necessity of this upon the Minister in charge, I hope that he will be able to represent to his colleagues in the Government that there is a very strong desire in the country that these Ministries should be dispersed at the very earliest opportunity possible. I think that the noble Lord has been perfectly justified, and I hope that we will now allow this Vote to go through.
Viscount CURZON: Before withdrawing my Amendment, as I intend to do, I desire to ask one question in connection with the remark made by my hon. Friend about the Hotel Windsor. He said that as fast as they got rid of one party of Government officials another party sprang up. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman by how much war service has been diminished since the armistice and by how much Civil Servants have increased, and whether there is actually an increase in the total number of Government staffs since the Armistice?
Sir A. MOND: I do not know that I have got figures here, but up to the present we have arrived at a kind of a balance. That is to say, there has been an increase corresponding to the number who have decreased. The difficulty is in reference to war services. The increased staffs are dealing very largely with war services, such as pensions and demobilisation.
Viscount CURZON: The Ministry of Munitions is a case in point. They are a war service. They occupy at present three hotels, the Institute of Civil Engineers, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Hertford House, and the National Gallery.
Sir A. MOND: Yes, they occupy these buildings and others, but they have diminished considerably and they will diminish very much more rapidly, I am assured, within the next few weeks. The fact that the War came to an end enabled them to diminish to some extent, but the great bulk of their huge business machine went on automatically, because there was an enormous amount of contracts and accounts to be 76 settled. The Liquidation Branch of the Production Department is only one branch. At the end of the War there were £26,000,000 of contracts to liquidate. The Disposal of Surplus Stock Board of the Ministry of Munitions have something like £700,000,000 or £800,000,000 of stuff to sell. It is obvious that very large staffs have had to be switched from one service to another, but you may take it that to hasten the dispersal of these staffs too quickly would not be very economical. You can very easily do it, but you can very easily lose a good many millions of pounds in a liquidation of this kind, by cutting things down in too great a hurry. It is possible to get staffs, which it is proposed now to concentrate in one body, out of their present premises into districts adjoining London, where they will not occupy space that is valuable from the point of view of the citizens or as land.
Mr. LUNN: I suppose that so long as there are a hundred and twenty thousand persons employed in Government Departments they must be housed somewhere, and the point is whether the Government have instituted any inquiry other than the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman to see if these staffs can be reduced. If they can be reduced, then there is the possibility of releasing some of these establishments which were spoken of this afternoon. One hears on going about that in many of the places they are doing nothing or, worse than that, that they are doing useless work in these Departments, and there should be some enquiry into this. I am no lover of unemployment doles, but I would rather give them the money for doing nothing than for doing absolutely useless work, and if that is the position there ought to be an enquiry, not simply the opinion of a Minister as to whether it is a case of economy or not, but an enquiry as to whether there is a necessity for all these people being employed in all these Departments as they are to-day. It seems to me, without the fullest explanation being given, which we have never had yet, that there is a great deal of waste in these Departments at this moment and there ought to be something done which will enable staffs to be reduced. I hope that steps will be taken, as a result of this discussion, not only to release the hotels but to reduce the numbers that are employed in these Departments.
Sir A. MOND: I do not know whether the hon. Member was here earlier, because I stated that the matter was under the consideration of the War Cabinet. They appointed Sir Auckland Geddes to represent the War Cabinet and make an enquiry, and he 77 has appointed a very important Committee, which is dealing with this matter.
Mr. WHITE: Of officials, I suppose?
Sir A. MOND: Yes, of officials, but people who understand these matters.
Mr. WHITE: People who are interested?
Sir A. MOND: No, people of some experience of administration of Government offices. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that that Committee will advise him as far as he wants their advice. The result of their labours undoubtedly will be acted on by the War Cabinet. The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that I am the person to be consulted on this question. I can assure him that it has not been any part of my duty to investigate the size of the staffs. All I have been interested in is to make the staffs occupy the minimum of space.
Mr. C. WHITE: I asked a question a few minutes ago as to the constitution of this Committee. I suppose it means some fellow Ministers or other Civil Servants who are enquiring as to whether these employés should continue in their employment. I want to see some Members of the House of Commons on that Committee that is set up to enquire into this. It is no good our having these Committees over and over again to determine whether this shall continue. We are here pledged to economy, and I think that there should be some resolution from this Committee that we desire that the Committee which is set up shall be strengthened, because, even with Sir Auckland Geddes at the head of it, there is the possibility of strengthening it. I do not suppose that he thinks so himself, but, after all, there may be. We want to be able to visit these places and see the staffs at work or at play—at play very often. The right hon. Gentleman may laugh. I am perfectly sincere in what I say, and I am not prepared to leave it in the hands of a Government Department or of officials, or of a Minister, even if it is Sir Auckland Geddes, and I want a recommendation from this Committee that we should strengthen its composition by the inclusion on it of some of the Members of this House.
Mr. BENNETT: I cannot support the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, because he proposes a reduction by a block sum and I am opposed to that method of dealing with finance, as it is not discriminating, but if we could find out how much of the Vote is intended to pay for hotels which are con- 78 tinued to be used as Government offices I shall be glad to propose that the Vote be reduced by half that amount. It is necessary to stimulate the action of the Government in the direction of economy in this matter. If they have only half as much at their disposal for the payment for these hotels there will be a greater desire shown and a greater readiness to reduce the number of these offices.
Viscount CURZON: On a point of order. May I withdraw my Amendment on the understanding that the Minister will use his best endeavours to press upon the Government the feeling of this Committee on the matter?
The CHAIRMAN: You certainly have been very well advised.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Original Question again proposed
Major NEWMAN: I would like to ask one question on Item G "Furniture." It is a very big Vote. The total Vote for furniture in Government buildings amounts to well over £190,000. We know that the way in which an estimate is arrived at is something like this: Sometime in October or November of the year preceding the year for which the Vote is wanted the Ministers go to the Treasury, who sanction certain estimates. They then go to my right hon. Friend and tell him what he has got to do in the way of bricks and mortar and in the provision of furniture. There is one item of £99,360 in respect of the supply of new furniture and fittings, such as tables, chairs, presses, racks, etc. That was before the war came to a termination. Things have moved rapidly since then, and I should like to know something about this great sum of £99,360. Again, there is an item in respect of £15,000 for brushes, brooms, baskets, etc. I would like to know how much of these have been bought and how much of them it would be possible to sell
Sir A. MOND: I shall be very pleased to explain matters. The estimate as it stands is somewhat misleading. The language of it does not convey what it means. The hon. Member is not correct in his statement of the way estimates of a Department are framed. Many people make demands. It does not in the least follow that those demands are acceded to. What does happen is that estimates are framed—
Major NEWMAN: At what time of the year?79
Sir A. MOND: Demands come in at all times of the year. I preside over the Estimates Council of my officials, and we cut them down as much as we can. We go to the Treasury, who cut them down, and it is in the power of this Committee to still further cut them down. As to the item of £99,000, the largest amount in this Vote is the sum of £45,000, which is in respect of the equipment, for the Ministry of Pensions, of hospitals, hostels, homes, and orthopædic clinics. This is not really furniture in the real sense of the word. It is more a provision of medical and surgical appliances which are provided at the request of the Ministry of Pensions for hospitals and hostels which they are fitting up. The only new furniture for which an estimate is made is in respect of a sum of £5,000, which we may not be able to supply out of stores we have in hand. We had, of course, a considerable amount of furniture on hand, but it was mostly of a character unsuited for higher-grade office furniture. The sum of £45,000 includes such items as wages, workshop repairs, repairs to furniture and internal removals. That explains really how that Vote is made up.
Colonel BOWLES: Why does not removals come under Item 1. You have a distinct Item 2.
Sir A. MOND: It is largely a question of account keeping. Of the £50,000 for removals, £31,500 is for removals on a large scale. There is an item £18,000 in respect of a certain amount of repairs to secondhand furniture and also in respect of the supply of brushes, glass, china, etc.
Colonel BOWLES: What about carpets?
Sir A. MOND: The carpets item is entirely one of wages. The cost of the carpet stores staff is £6,000, and of the window blind staff, £6,000. There is £4,000 for making up and altering second-hand carpets. There are very few new carpets estimated for at all. I have always endeavoured to discourage the use of new carpets, and I have had a certain amount of success. New linoleum is £1,000. There is a decrease on this Vote compared with the money spent last year, of £20,000. Everything we buy has gone up. We are not buying anything we can avoid buying, because prices are very high. People will have to put up with what they can get until prices become more normal.
Question put, and agreed to.
Resolution to be reported.
Motion made, and Question proposed: "That a sum not exceeding £176,700 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 March, 1920, for Expenditure in respect of Public Buildings in Ireland, for the maintenance of certain Parks and Public Works and for the maintenance of Drainage Works on the River Shannon."
Note.—£95,000 has been voted on account.
Mr. BALDWIN (Joint Financial Secretary to the Treasury): It is rather curious in that the Treasury has been accustomed for many years to answer for the whole of the Public Works and Buildings in Ireland. All civil buildings in Ireland, five Royal Harbours, Phœnix Park, Curragh, purchase of sites, payment of rents, cost of furnishing public buildings in Ireland, the building of schools, are administered by the Board of Public Works and the channel of communication is direct between the Board of Public Works and the Treasury. The head of the Public Works in Ireland is a very well-known and highly respected public servant, Sir George Stevenson, who was formerly a Treasury Official, so that the link between the two services is maintained fairly close. The presence of Sir George Stevenson at the head of this Department in Ireland ensures careful consideration being given to the estimates of that department. They are closely scrutinised by the department in London, which I have the honour to represent. I can assure the Committee that, so far as the careful consideration of the accounts is concerned, they may take it that these public works and buildings are cut as fine as they may be. During the war we succeeded in cutting expenses down to a very low figure. The increases have been caused by the same causes which have operated in the case of all the estimates of my right hon. Friend, the First Commissioner of Works. Looking at details, at the bottom of page 45, there is an item A.a., "Annuities." You will find that this is an annual sum to be repaid under Statute. That cannot cause any comment. On the next page we have one or two large items. The Civil Departments represent the building of the new Local Government Board, the Department of Agriculture and Technical Institute in Ireland. This work has been going on for some time. It was practically suspended during the war and is now being proceeded with. The grants for schools have been cut down very much during the war. 81 They have to be sanctioned by the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland. The request for the grants is made by the Board of Public Works, and the grants have to be examined and sanctioned by the Treasury in London. The grant for the Dublin Post Office, which was destroyed during the rebellion, is an item of £5,000. The plans of the new Post Office have not yet been passed, but this item is put in according to Parliamentary practice. The money will be expended in clearing the site and making the necessary preparations. By putting the item in it authorises the Department to proceed with the scheme for the rebuilding of the Post Office, which of course will have to be submitted.
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 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.]
Major NEWMAN: I beg to move: "That Item A. [New Works, Alterations, Additions and Purchases] be reduced by £50,000." I hope that the Ministry of Labour will give us a statement on this Vote.
The MINISTER OF LABOUR (Sir Robert Horne): This Vote includes items for new works, maintenance and repairs, furniture, rents, etc., amounting to £415,000. Off that £164,000 is for new works and purchases, as the Committee will see. £40,000 of that is in connection with the extension of office accommodation at Kew, and the remaining portion of it for additions to offices in various parts of the country. Might I say first, with regard to the office accommodation required at Kew, that that arose in the first place in connection with extensions that were made necessary by the increased number of people who came under unemployment insurance. I do not now refer to the unemployment donation, but to the extension of the Insurance Act in 1918. At Kew we keep six million ledger accounts for people insured against 82 unemployment at the present time. Hon. Members will understand that the amount a man gets in the shape of insurance benefit under the Act depends upon the number of payments he has made into the fund, and therefore you have got to keep a complete record of all his payments in. That requires an extension of the premises at Kew. More has recently been required in connection with keeping the necessary particulars in regard to the unemployment donation. While that I will be temporary, the Committee will realise that no Government can live if the question of unemployment insurance is left where it stands to-day. We must look forward to some universal scheme of unemployment insurance on some basis or other. With regard to the other portion of the money which is proposed to be spent, it is taken up with additions and alterations to the employment exchanges throughout the kingdom. I am sure that hon. Members who have visited these exchanges will agree that they do no credit to this country. They have never been properly housed. One of the reasons why the exchanges have never been popular has been that they have never been housed in proper premises. In many cases they are in the very lowest parts of the town, where the accommodation is bad and the surroundings unhealthy. I am certain that nobody who talks with knowledge on this matter will say that the £115,000 to be spent upon these exchanges is adequate to the purpose. I think the country will seriously have to take in hand the whole remodelling of the exchanges in this country. As compared with those of some of our Allies in the present war, our exchanges are absolutely a disgrace. It is hopeless in the exchanges at the present time to try to deal with the domestic servant problem, because there is no privacy. It only requires some of the Members of this Committee to look at the exchanges to come to the conclusion that the sum mentioned is not really adequate to the purpose.
Colonel BOWLES: I have been round the labour exchanges and I do not like this aspersion being cast upon them. We have never been given by the Ministry in London that free hand which, if it had been given locally, the exchanges would not have been described in such terms by the right hon. Gentleman.
Sir R. HORNE: That enforces my point, because the Ministry is controlled by the amount of expenses which is at their disposal. I am obliged for that interruption. One of the reasons why I am here to-day is to point out that we have not had sufficient money put at our disposal for rendering these 83 places adequate and suitable for their purpose. In connection with "maintenance and repairs," I do not think the Committee will require me to give any explanation. It is a small sum. We have now 415 permanent exchanges in the country. When you know how they are used, and the amount of service they have to perform, £38,000 is not a large sum for their maintenance. In regard to the item of £186,000 for rents, that arises entirely almost wholly out of the necessity of providing premises in which to deal with the question of unemployment donation. We have had to hire 496 premises for that purpose throughout the country. These premises have had to be expensively hired in many cases because the only accommodation we could get was in public halls, institutions, churches, church halls, public baths, and other institutions of various kinds and we were charged large sums for rental. We have the greatest possible difficulty in providing accommodation for the disbursement of unemployment donation. I heard it said yesterday that questions of policy were open to discussion in this Committee, but I do not think it is open to the Committee to say whether unemployment donation should be paid at all. That is a matter which I dealt with in the House. It being determined that unemployment donation is to be paid, the only question is to find adequate premises. These premises we are in now are no longer sufficient or adequate. The conditions under which the exchanges are being worked at the present time are difficult and the amount which is placed down here is the lowest possible amount which we can estimate as being sufficient to enable us to carry on this business. I am grateful to the Committee for giving me the opportunity of being present. It will have done good if it awakens at least some of the Members at the House of Commons to the conditions under which we are working at the present time.
Major NEWMAN: The Committee is indebted to the Minister of Labour for his explanation. It has removed some of the doubts which some of us had on this large Vote. I do not know who is responsible for the new premises in Ireland for out-of-work donation, but it is wonderful how economical Ireland has been in this regard as compared with England. I know that the population of Ireland is not as big as that of Great Britain, but it reflects great credit on the wonderful economy that has been shown in Ireland. I do not think that I have anything more to say and I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.84
Mr. C. WHITE: I am speaking now as a man who has worked in labour exchanges. I know something about them. I worked at Chesterfield and I know the exchanges in many towns in the north. What I say is that there should be stricter supervision in regard to maintenance and repairs. I was working at Chesterfield eight months ago, a man came round and said he had orders to remove my stove. He came to me and said would I go out. I said "no," and told him that it was not necessary to remove the stove, and that was the opinion of all who were there. I reported the matter to Mr. Tosh. It is quite possible that he may be known to some of you. I reported that I had a madman in my office wanting to remove my stove and that I had refused to allow its removal. I asked Mr. Tosh to write and tell him to stop or I would give him into custody. I got exemption for this same man at the local tribunal on the plea that he was engaged in work of national importance.
Colonel Sir ALAN SYKES: On a point of order, is not the amendment withdrawn?
The CHAIRMAN: Yes.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Original question put, and agreed to.
Resolution to be reported.
Major NEWMAN: I understood that on the Health Insurance vote the First Commissioner of Works said that he was going to move to reduce the Vote himself.
The CHAIRMAN: I am afraid the Resolution will have to be reported to the House. Probably the Minister may have some statement to make in regard to the intimation he made at a previous sitting.
Sir A. MOND: It did not strike me that the question would involve the whole vote, or the £100,000 by which I voluntarily offered to reduce the vote. I do not think we can do it now, and I am not sure whether I can do it on Report. If I can do it on Report I will. My hon. Friend (Mr. Baldwin) will be quite ready to receive the money at the end of the financial year. In any case the money will not be spent.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £82,340 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 85 on the 31st day of March, 1920, for payments under the Tramways and Public Companies (Ireland) Act, 1883, etc., the Railways (Ireland) Act, 1896, the Marine Works (Ireland) Act, 1902, and for other purposes connected with Irish Railways."
Note: £18,000 has been voted on account.
Mr. BALDWIN: It might be of interest to 86 the Committee to know that they have now dealt with 16 votes. There are 142 to do.
Question put, and agreed to.
Resolution to be reported.
The Committee adjourned at Fifteen Minutes after Six o'clock till Thursday at 4 o'clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE.
Mr. MacMaster (Chairman)
Davies, Mr. A. (Clitheroe)
Davison, Mr. J.
Falle, Major Sir Bertram
Larmor, Sir Joseph
Mond, Sir Alfred
Morrison, Mr. Hugh
Sykes, Colonel Sir Alan
White, Mr. Charles
White, Lieut.-Col. Dalrymple
Wilson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Mathew