[MR. J. W. WILSON in the Chair.]
The CHAIRMAN: Mr. Turton, being detained in the North, has asked me to take his place to-day.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £1,164,797 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 the expenses in connection with His Majesty's Embassies, Missions, and Consular Establishments abroad, and other expenditure chargeable to the Consular Vote." [Note.—£600,000 has been voted on account.]
Debate resumed on Amendment (15th July), which Amendment was "That Item 'K' [Special Missions and Services] be reduced by £4,000."
Captain STANLEY WILSON: I think the reduction in this item was moved in order to call the attention of the Committee to the Special Mission to the Vatican. It is, in my opinion, necessary that the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs should give us some assurance with regard to this Mission, because I understand that it was originally appointed solely as a War Mission. I have had several representations made to me with regard to it, and I daresay other Members have also received representations. Therefore, I trust that the hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some explanation with regard to the Mission, and will be able to hold out some hope that, now the war is over, the Mission will shortly be withdrawn.
THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Harmsworth): Since the Committee last met this subject of the envoy to the Vatican has been under the careful consideration of the Government. I can only regret that I am not this afternoon in a position to give the Committee the final decision of the War Cabinet on the subject. My hon. Friend is, I think, correct in saying that the Mission was originally intended to be a war-time mission. The Committee will perhaps remember that the first envoy was Sir Henry Howard and that he was sent to 198 the Vatican in accordance with the dispatch issued by Sir Edward Grey and dated December 16th, 1914. The first business of the mission was to congratulate His Holiness Pope Benedict XV. on his election to the Papacy, but more generally the business of the Envoy was to keep the Papal Court fully informed as to the objects of the Allies in entering into the war and to remove any possible misapprehensions existing at the Papal Court in regard to our object in embarking on the war. The message to Sir Henry Howard concludes by saying:— "You will also be in a position to give His Holiness from time to time exact information of the events which have already occurred and may occur during the period of your mission." It will be readily appreciated by the Committee that this is a matter that ought not to be decided abruptly and in no circumstances without very careful consideration. I much regret to say that I am not in a position to inform the Committee this afternoon of a definite decision by the Government, but that decision will be reached, I trust, within the course of a few days. If it should be decided in all the circumstances of the case not to continue the mission, then, of course, this item of expenditure or, at all events, a proportion of it, reckoned according to the time during this financial year that the mission continues to exist, will not need to be expended. I can only assure the Committee that my right hon. Friend, the Acting Secretary of State, and I have given the matter careful consideration and brought it to the highest authorities. Having regard especially to the feeling of the Committee at its last meeting, we have brought it up as prominently as possible and I hope that a definite decision will be arrived at in the course of a few days, in which case that decision will be recorded in the House. The Committee will understand that in those circumstances, supposing it is decided not to continue the mission, this item of expenditure would be proportionately less.
Mr. COOTE: While we feel strongly on the matter, it would not be the wish of the Committee to embarrass the Government in any way and, in a delicate matter of this kind, I should be glad to accede to the wish of the Under-Secretary. If it is possible to mention this matter we shall bring it up on Report if we are not satisfied with the decision at which the Government may arrive. We may not have the opportunity, but I want to assure the Committee and the Foreign Office that we are not going to let this matter die. The country feels very 199 strongly and we feel we have not got value for this mission and that the results of the Vatican influence in all the countries friendly to the Allies—especially in our own country and dependencies—have not been helpful to the cause of the war and we feel the mission should not continue. If it were only as a protest against the influences at work to defeat the Allies in the war we felt bound to raise the point.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Original Question again proposed.
Captain WILSON: I should like to call the attention of the Committee and of the hon. Gentleman in charge of this Estimate to the fact that the Estimate, in my opinion, and, I think, in his opinion, is far higher than it should be. I should like to call his attention to his remarks when we last sat here, with regard to certain items in the Vote which, he showed, were bound to show, during the present year, very large reductions. The words he used with regard to the blockade, for instance, were: "These are all people concerned with the blockade, which, as my hon. and gallant friend knows, was operative until two or three days ago, through Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Spain, and Switzerland. I have not carefully examined all those items for every place, but I think he will find that the same provisions prevail in all those countries which we call. for blockade purposes, the smaller neutrals. They will cease almost from to-day." If all these payments—payments on a large scale—in all the neutral countries for blockade purposes have already ceased, there will be a very big reduction in this Vote. I do not want to trouble the Committee, but I had intended moving a very large reduction of the whole of the Vote on these grounds. Through the whole of his speech on that occasion the hon. Member showed that there would inevitably be a very great saving in money. I am afraid the country will not benefit very much by this money. The money, I am seriously afraid, will only go in other extravagances which the Government have in view, and may be used in other Departments, but I should like some assurance that every effort is now being made with regard to this, and I hope we shall see, as the hon. Member foreshadowed, a very great reduction in this Vote and that the money saved will not be used for other purposes. I hope the hon. Member will give the Committee some assurance on this point, because I think it 200 is one of considerable importance on a Vote of this size.
Mr. HARMSWORTH: I should like to express warm thanks to the Committee for not bringing the circumstances to a conclusion with regard to the item relating to the Envoy to the Vatican. I said at a recent meeting of the Committee that we should, at the end of this year and before it, be able to make very substantial reductions in some of these Votes. The Committee will remember that these Estimates had to be prepared at the end of last year, and required to be in the possession of the Treasury some time in January. It is true our Estimates were a little delayed, but they were at the Treasury before the end of February. That is a matter, of course, over which no department has any control. They must conform to the Treasury regulations. At that time, as the Committee will remember, many important matters had not yet been decided, including the continuance or otherwise of the blockade. It is only within the last few days that the blockade has been raised on Germany, and the Foreign Office was, of course, under the obligation of budgeting for a continuance of the blockade, the situation being uncertain. Since the blockade has been raised it will be possible to make very substantial reductions in some parts of our Votes. As they are not as large as I anticipated, we have been making a provisional Estimate, and as far as we have been able to go, we see a saving made in consequence of the raising of the blockade already of £10,000 on general Votes. There is also the Washington Trade Department, connected with the blockade, which it will be possible, we trust, to disband as from now. Instructions are proceeding at once from the Foreign Office to our various Legations to do away as fast as they can with the machinery of the blockade, and so with the expense connected with it. I hope it will be possible to make reductions and economies in other directions. There are certain Commissions now in existence which it will be possible to do without, although I should warn the Committee that others may have to be instituted. We have taken credit in the Vote for unforeseen missions in view of contingencies, but taking the Estimate as a whole, in regard to items that follow from the existence of the blockade, the heavy telegraphing expenses—to which attention has been called—and other matters, I am confident that we shall be able to get a much better showing on these particular items next year. The sum specifically due to the cost of the blockade is not as large as I thought it would be, but every accommodation will be made for any possible delay. 201 As the money is definitely allocated under these Estimates for a certain purpose, if it should not be spent during the financial year, it cannot be deducted for any other Foreign Office service.
Captain WILSON: What becomes of it?
Mr. HARMSWORTH: It goes to the Treasury.
Colonel GRETTON: There are two small matters in connection with vote "K" on page 9, with regard to which I desire to ask for a further explanation. It is a very small item—only £450—for the International Court of Arbitration at the Hague. Of course the sum of money is hardly worth discussing, but it does raise a very important question in connection with the Hague Tribunal. I desire to ask my hon. Friend if he can inform the Committee whether the Hague Arbitration Tribunal is still in existence, whether the Government of this country is under any obligations or agreements with other countries in regard to that Tribunal, and if there is any immediate prospect of the Tribunal being continued?
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Colonel GRETTON: I mentioned the matter of the Hague Tribunal, which is of importance, because this country has entered into certain obligations in connection with the Peace Treaty and the League of Nations, and I want to ask whether the position of the Hague Tribunal has been considered and what steps have been taken to clear up any confusion that may arise in regard to the two sets of obligations. The other item is "Propaganda expenses abroad—£41,450," on the same page. I am not in any way condemning the expenditure of that amount of money; in fact I am one of those who believe that money judiciously spent on propaganda work will bring in a good return to this country. My only anxiety is as to the measures which the Foreign Office have taken for the adequate management of this money. During the war there was, in the recollection of everyone here, an elaborately organised and exceedingly active propaganda department in existence under Lord Beaver-brook, and I desire to ask—as possibly others may be interested—whether that department exists at present on a reduced scale, and also whether the expenditure of 202 this money is entrusted to experts in publicity and the whole series of operations which is collected under the perhaps rather unfortunate designation of propaganda, or is the expenditure of this money entrusted to the regular Civil Service staff of the Foreign Office?
Mr. MORRISON: I rise to a point of order. This point has already been discussed at the meeting of the Committee a fortnight ago. The Under-Secretary has already answered this question.
Colonel GRETTON: If that is so, I do not desire to pursue this matter further. Unfortunately, I was not present at the meeting.
The CHAIRMAN: I thought the hon. Member alluded to another vote under "K."
Colonel GRETTON: The particular item is under "K." However, perhaps the hon. Gentleman, when he replies, will refer to the matter.
Mr. HARMSWORTH: I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend was present at the meeting last Tuesday when we discussed the question of the Propaganda Department of the Foreign Office. My hon. and gallant Friend was right in assuming that a considerable portion of the activities of the late Ministry of Information had been transferred to the Foreign Office, and on the last occasion when I mentioned this matter I expressed my regret that those duties now fall to be discharged by me. If the hon. and gallant Member will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT for 15th July, he will find that I did then give some information with regard to this Department. If he will confer with me, privately or otherwise, I shall be glad to amplify the statement in any direction he may desire. In regard to the Hague Tribunal my hon. and gallant Friend has raised a very interesting point, and one which had not at first occurred to my mind, that is, what change, if any, will take place in the status and functions of the Hague Tribunal now that there is about to be established the League of Nations. I confess to the Committee quite frankly that that consideration had not entered into my mind. I am not sufficiently familiar with the work of the Hague Tribunal to know whether it should or could be carried on usefully independently of the new great League which is about to be established. In point of fact, this small sum, so long as the Hague Tribunal exists, is our quota to the standing expenses, the maintenance charges of the permanent 203 Bureau at the Hague. I do not know that I have been kept informed of what business is transacted from time to time by the Tribunal unless the business is of international importance, but, quite obviously, the office expenses must go on, no matter how much business is being transacted by the Tribunal. This small item is nothing more than our contribution to the office and maintenance expenses of the Tribunal.
Question put, and agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £1,312 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 the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland." [Note.—£1,000 has been voted on account.]
Question put, and agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £34,757 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 the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Public Works in Ireland." [Note.—.£22,000 has been voted on account.]
Question put, and agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £30,000,000 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, to meet the cost of the Bread Subsidy." [Note.—£20,000,000 has been voted on account.]
Colonel GRETTON: I desire to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that the Bread Subsidy is a question before another Committee of the House at the present time. I happen to be a Member of the Select Committee on National Expenditure which has recently finished its exam- 204 ination of the Bread Subsidy, and the report of the Committee will be in the hands of Members of this Committee in a few days. I suggest to hon. and gallant Members that the consideration of this Vote would be advisably postponed, at any rate, until the Select Committee's Report has been received.
Colonel STEPHENSON: I should like to support that view.
Major NEWMAN: The Select Committee has already considered the Bread Subsidy and has published a Report on its working for 1918. The whole position has now changed by the fact that the Government is going to de-control the millers, although not wheat. I think it would be well to discuss this Vote now, and ask the Food Controller to give a general statement, with a view to the position in the last few days, of which the Committee is not cognisant.
Colonel GRETTON: As a matter of fact, the Select Committee was thoroughly aware of all the facts which have been stated and these matters are dealt with in the Report.
The MINISTER OF FOOD (Mr. G. Roberts): I think the hon. Member is correct in suggesting that until we have the Report of the Select Committee it would be well to defer this matter. I suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend who made reference to the notice of the intention to decontrol millers that this fact will have little or no effect on the subsidy. I have nothing further to add, except that I am here to give information to the Committee, if they wish to continue the discussion. I think it would be a waste of time, however, because when the Committee is in possession of the Report, they will have to consider the matter again.
Captain WILSON: I view of that, we cannot take the Vote to-day. Having regard to the Food Controller's statement, I beg to move, "That the Committee do now adjourn."
Colonel Sir ALAN SYKES: I beg to second that Motion.
Question put, and agreed to.
The CHAIRMAN: I propose to adjourn the Committee till next Wednesday, at four o'clock.
Mr. MORRISON: We are getting very near to the end of the Session, and the effect of 205 this procedure will be that a large portion of the Votes will go through under the Closure without any examination by the Committee. In the public interest, that is very undesirable.
Colonel Sir A. SYKES: On a point of order, have we not adjourned?
The CHAIRMAN: We have completed the formal business of the meeting, but I am consulting Members as to a convenient date for the next meeting. I should like to suggest Wednesday in next week.
Major NEWMAN: Why this Committee should only sit once a week I do not know. We have the big Bread Subsidy Vote, the Coal Vote, Naval Estimates and so on. We should meet three times a week. I beg to suggest that we meet again next Tuesday, if not next Monday.
Mr. MORRISON: Our proceedings are being reduced to a farce. The result will be that the Votes will go through without any examination. The Votes have gone up enormously, and I do not think the Committee realise the feeling of the country on the matter.
The CHAIRMAN: Perhaps Members will allow me to convey that expression of opinion to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who, I think, is responsible for the business of this Committee, and to leave the date undecided. If I can arrange an earlier date, I will so do.
Major NEWMAN: Could we not take the Votes which we wish to discuss? For instance, I want to discuss the £26,400,000 Coal Subsidy Vote. We were told that we should have an opportunity of discussing the Vote in the House, but we have not had that opportunity. Why are the Charitable Donations and Public Works Office (Ireland) Votes on the Notice Paper? We did not want to discuss them.
Captain WILSON: The Committee's convenience is never consulted.
The CHAIRMAN: The Secretary to the Treasury gives notice to the Clerk what Votes are ready, and the Votes mentioned have already been once or twice on the agenda. The way to work off the Votes is to pass them quickly and cry for more. Obviously, small Votes can be passed in a few minutes, and the Secretary to the Treasury can be asked to provide further Votes for discussion.206
Captain WILSON: They provide so many innocuous Votes, which no one wants to discuss. I think the Committee should be on the same basis as the House, and the convenience of the Committee should be consulted as to what Votes should be put down. It appears to me that the Secretary to the Treasury is very autocratic in this matter, and puts down what Votes he likes, without considering what we want to discuss.
Major NEWMAN: If the small unimportant Votes are put down, hon. Members do not turn up on the Committee. If they knew that the Bread Subsidy, Coal Subsidy and other contentious Votes were put down, they would turn up; but you cannot expect people to give up valuable time for the Votes for Charitable Donations and Public Works Office, Ireland. I suggest that we should have important Votes which the country wants discussed.
Mr. MORRISON: Would it not be possible to take it out of the hands of the Treasury and have the order of discussion settled by the Chairman of this Committee? That would be far more satisfactory. The whole thing is settled downstairs in a sort of secret manner, and this Committee has not the least idea what is coming up. I have not seen any other body where business is conducted in such a slip-shod manner.
The CHAIRMAN: With regard to the question raised by the hon. Member, I will certainly do what I can to represent that we should follow the ordinary procedure of the House, where it is a time-honoured custom that the Opposition has a right to call for certain Votes. If there is a valid reason why that should not be done it should be given. The ordinary forms of the House should be adapted to the proceedings of this Committee, and it is for the Committee to give its time and attention to the work.
Captain WILSON: This Committee is ineffective. I think the Votes will be taken in the House next Session.
The CHAIRMAN: I have already taken note of the Coal Subsidy, and if hon. Members will give me a list I will do my best to bring it before the authorities.
Major NEWMAN: The Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic).
Mr. MORRISON: We have not had the Ministry of Munitions, and that is very important.207
Captain WILSON: The Unemployment Vote.
Mr. MORRISON: The Ordnance Factories.
The CHAIRMAN: That comes under the Ministry of Munitions. I prefer that Members should address me standing. I do not know whether the Official Reporter is taking this, as it is a rather informal discussion I do think, especially as the Committee is nearing the end of its first session—which, to a certain extent, has been experimental—that it is very reasonable that they should at this, one of the concluding meetings, express their views and have them taken down, so that 208 Ministers may take them and see whether they can be improved upon.
Colonel BOWLES: I believe the Unemployment Vote is now on the list and I hope it will not be passed over.
Major BARNES: There is the Purchase of Housing Materials for England and Scotland.
The CHAIRMAN: The Committee will stand adjourned until such time as is fixed by the Chairman, not being later than Wednesday next.
Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes after Five of the clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE—
Wilson, Mr. J. W. (Chairman)
Attorney-General for Ireland, Mr.
Coote, Mr. William
Davison, Mr. J.
Green, Mr. Joseph
Greenwood, Sir Hamar
Harmsworth, Mr. Cecil
Morrison, Mr. Hugh
Roberts, Mr. George
Sykes, Colonel Sir Alan
Wilson, Captain Stanley
Wilson, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Mathew