§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he must appeal to the Prime Minister upon this matter. Yesterday he received from the right hon. Gentleman a distinct promise that the Local Government Board (Scotland) Bill should not be touched then. On the strength of that promise, he left the House; but he found that, late last night, a Resolution was passed, of which no Notice had been given, fixing to-day for the preliminary Committee on the question. When he mentioned the matter earlier in the present Sitting, he received an answer from the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in the right hon. Gentleman's usual style, informing him that he did not understand the Forms of the House. With regard to that, all he knew was that, on the strength of the Prime Minister's promise, he left the House last night, and, therefore, did not oppose the Resolution that was brought forward. But that Resolution had advanced the Bill a stage, inasmuch as if it had been brought forward to-night for to-morrow, that stage would have been delayed a day; and he would, therefore, now appeal to the Prime Minister to carry out the distinct pledge he gave, and not to press this Motion.
said, he had nothing to say to the hon. Member as to the Forms of the House; but the carrying of this Resolution was an absolute necessity, as a money clause in the Bill. The promise he had given referred to the Bill itself, and not to this Resolution.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, there was a point in connection with this matter upon which he thought some information ought to be given. The other day he asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department for some detailed estimate of the charges 1943 which this Bill would entail on the country, and he was told that there would be nothing, as he understood, except the salary of the President himself, and that that charge would be provided by the salaries of officers in the other Boards, which would supply all he would want. He did not think that was at all a satisfactory state of things, and he should have supposed that before this money question was settled the Government would have furnished some estimate of what would be the cost. He would remind the Government that if they appointed an Officer with £2,000 or 1,500 a-year, whatever his powers might be to take away the salaries of other Officers in Scotland, he would not be able to provide a staff unless an Act of Parliament gave him power to do so. They were now on the money stage of this Bill, and he understood that no estimate had been made except for £2,000, which would have to be paid to the Officer proposed; while for his staff and for other matters there would have to be economies in the arrangements of the different Boards in Edinburgh. He should like a little more information before this Vote was passed, because it would be impossible for this Officer to destroy the Boards he would find in Scotland, and appropriate the salaries of their Officers to pay his own staff, without coming to Parliament for authority to do so. Therefore, before this scheme was entered upon, the House was entitled to some definite information as to what Offices were to be done away with, and how the new staff was to be obtained. The right hon. Gentleman had stated the other day that the President would require an office in Edinburgh and an office in London. If that was so, he would require a staff of clerks. And the House would like to know where he was to get authority to suppress officers in the existing Boards, and appropriate them to himself; which of the Boards he was going to suppress; and whether he would come to Parliament next year for an Act for this purpose? If that was to be done, it would be much better that the matter should stand over to another Session, in order that the House might have the matter fairly before them, and that, before they established this Office, they should know definitely what the expense to the country would be. In his opinion, this would be a 1944 useless, an expensive, and an anomalous Board.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he was afraid he could not give the right hon. Gentleman any more satisfactory information than he had given the other day, nor did he think it necessary for the progress of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that this would be an anomalous Institution, which was to have an expensive staff. As to the anomaly of the Institution, that, he thought, was rather a question for the second reading of the Bill, which had been decided by the House a few days ago; and he did not think the right hon. Gentleman had recorded his vote against the second reading establishing this anomalous Institution. As to the expensiveness, he did not think that was as all likely to be the case; and it was not the intention of the Government that the Office should have an expensive staff. There were many Offices which did good work without an expensive staff. Some hon. Members opposite, who voted against the second reading, were of-opinion that the whole thing would be better done by the Lord Advocate himself; but then the Lord Advocate had no expensive staff at all; and why they should suppose that the duties, which they said were so admirably discharged by the Lord Advocate, could not be done by the Lord Advocate plus the Minister to be created by this Bill, unless he had an expensive staff, he really could not understand. The new Minister would require some assistance, and that was referred to in the Bill; but he had mentioned the other day that that assistance might be obtained without any additional charge to the country by economies on a review of the existing Boards of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman said the Government were going to suppress these Boards, and that they could not do that without Parliamentary authority. First of all, it was not the intention of the Government to suppress these Boards; but where there were a number of Boards, as there were in Edinburgh, it was possible that they might be efficiently worked by a staff which was less expensive than that which already existed; and the question to be considered, when it was decided what should be done in the way of economies, would be whether it would be necessary 1945 or not to come to Parliament for authority. If it was necessary, of course they would come to Parliament for authority to deal with the matter; but why should it be necessary to wait for that in order to take the steps which had been agreed upon by the House the other day? Surely it was more wise and reasonable that, when a Public Office was to be created, it should first be seen how far it was necessary to give assistance to the Office so created, and also to see in what way economies might best be effected in the existing Offices. That seemed to him to be a very sensible plan, and a straightforward proposition, which would satisfy the House that there was no reason to go into a consideration of this matter before they proceeded with the present Resolution.
said, the right hon. Gentleman opposite had spoken a considerable time, and he (Mr. Gorst) was certain the House had derived no information. He thought they had a right to complain now, as they had on Saturday, when the Bill was read a second time, that the Government, however large a majority they had, had no business to read Bills of this kind in the House of Commons without giving that information to the Representatives of the people which they were entitled to ask for and to receive. The right hon. Gentleman boasted of the House having read the Bill a second time; but the Government ought to be ashamed of the way in which the Bill was read a second time. Before that was done, hon. Members had asked a simple question—and they meant to ask some questions at every stage of the Bill—as to how much this new organization in Scotland was to cost the country? That was a simple question, which he thought ought to be answered; and when the Government came down and proposed schemes for the administration of the country, the duty was thrown upon hon. Members of watching Public Expenditure, and they were entitled to ask how much such schemes would cost. He believed the proceeding in connection with this Bill was entirely unprecedented, and that nothing like it had been seen in the history of the country. Alterations in the personnel of the Government had grown out of public necessities. We began with a Secretary of State; but, as the business grew, fresh Departments 1946 were constituted by necessity, and Heads were found for them; but, in this case, the Government had reversed that process. They were, first of all, going to find a Head, with a salary, and then, at some future time, some work would be found for him, and subordinates and offices would be provided. He protested against that proposal as a reversal of the proper course. The Secretary of State for the Home Department spoke of the Lord Advocate, and observed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman could do the work perfectly well. That was exactly what some hon. Members thought on Saturday; but exactly what the Secretary of State for the Home Department would not allow the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate to say, although he was ready and anxious to speak. He (Mr. Gorst) thought the House had a right to hear what the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate had to say before they read the Bill a second time. Now, they were asked to provide this salary; but he protested that he would not assent to that until he knew what the expense would be. All the Government did was to pitchfork into the House a Bill to give employment to a Gentleman who was to be called President of the Local Government Board of Scotland; and when the Representatives of the people asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose special duty it was to inform the House on these subjects, what this new arrangement was to cost, and how much additional cost was to be thrown upon the taxpayers, he maintained a gloomy and obstinate silence. He must protest at that stage; and he hoped other Members would protest at every stage, and offer all resistance to the progress of the Bill, unless the Government stated what the scheme was to cost.
§ MR. DALRYMPLE
said, he would not follow the example of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) in delivering what had been described as a second reading speech; but would keep strictly to the subject of the salary. As in other respects, so in this—the whole question of this now Minister and Department for Scotland had clearly not been thought out. There had been no calculation made of the expense which the Department was to cost; and although he would not go so far as to say that never in the 1947 history of the country had there been such a case, he would say that he doubted whether, within recent memory, there had been a proposal made for granting money without some estimate of the expense to be involved. He did not know what class of persons were to be gratified by this thing being done on the cheap, and he did not think it would reconcile those who particularly disliked the creation of this Department to find that it was to be done in a cheap manner. The Secretary of State for the Homo Department said there was to be some assistance given to the new President of the Local Government Board in Scotland; but what did that mean? It might mean a clerk, or a shorthand writer, or a charwoman. The term "charwoman" was not known in Scotland; but assistance might mean almost anything. He remembered that when Lord Rosebery was appointed to the Home Office, it was said that he was to give some assistance to the Secretary of State. That was a different thing altogether; but it was equally wide-fined. On the last occasion of discussing this Bill, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) asked a question as to the expense of this new Department, he received an answer which was certainly calculated to make people in Scotland think twice before they assented to this Bill—that was to say, if he (Mr. Dalrymple) knew anything of the feeling of the people in Scotland—for it was stated that it was proposed that this new functionary should scrape money together from the existing Boards in Edinburgh, and so pay for his staff. It took some time, when people had once given their confidence to Her Majesty's Government, to shake that confidence; but it seemed to him that if the people of Scotland once comprehended that the assistance to be given to this new Office was to be paid for by economies in the existing Boards, the proposal of the Government would not be so popular as it now appeared to be. He wished to know whether, when the right hon. Gentleman the President of this Local Government Board had made his investigation, he had to report to Parliament? If not, how was the Treasury to determine how the officers of the Board should be paid? If a saving could 1948 not be effected in the manner contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir William Harcourt), where was the money to come from? If it was to come from the Treasury, the House ought to have some calculation of the amount which was to be asked. There was no mention made as to whom the officers of the second class were to be. Indeed, it was altogether a scheme of the most inchoate and unsatisfactory character; and, as the House professed to take charge of the Expenditure of the country, they were entitled to a little more information as to the expenditure which it was likely would be incurred by this new creation. He believed the right hon. Gentleman opposite was extremely sanguine, if he thought any saving could be effected in Scotland. It had often been said that it was an extremely hard case, that savings which were effected out of such Departments as the Register House, Edinburgh, were not expended in Scotland, but were brought into the Treasury; and while the hardship was felt by many of them, it seemed a particularly unfortunate circumstance that further economies were to be made, if possible, in Scotland, out of which salaries for an undefined and fantastic Department were to be provided. It was very unsatisfactory that they should be asked to pass this Resolution, when they were completely in the dark so far as the expenditure contemplated under the Bill was concerned.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, there was some substance in the objections which had been taken to proceeding further with this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir William Harcourt), or the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate (Mr. J. B. Balfour), should either now, or at some early date, give the House the information sought. They were asked by the Resolution to assent to the salaries of the President, Secretaries, and other officers of the Local Government Board for Scotland. Now, they were entitled to some information, he did not say of a very minute character, but of a rough description, as to what was in the minds of the Government when they asked for the salaries of the Secretaries and other officers of the new Board. The Government ought to tell hon. Members whether the salaries in question would amount to £2,000, or £3,000, or £4,000, or £5,000 sterling 1949 a-year; they ought to take the Committee generally into their confidence. The Secretary of State for the Home Department said the other day, and again to-night, that there might be some saving effected out of what he called a consolidation of Offices. He (Mr. Gibson) affirmed, in the presence of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, who, he presumed, was not doomed to perpetual silence, that there was not one syllable or line in the Bill which would enable him to consolidate or re-organize a single Office mentioned in the Schedule of the Bill; and that it would be necessary if, in the new Office, the services of a single officer in any one Department in Scotland were utilized, to come again to Parliament to get Parliamentary sanction for the purpose. He affirmed that in this Bill there was not one line to warrant the person the Government were going to appoint to walk into a single Office in Scotland to lessen or re-organize the staff of that Office, and say—"I will take this, or that, or the other officer, and use him in the new Office." Now, that was a fair and clear statement; and if the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate controverted it, he (Mr. Gibson) would ask him to point to a line of the Bill which would enable him to save the services even of a charwoman in Scotland. There was another point to be considered. At what time, before the passing of the Bill, were they to be told who the President of the Board was to be? It was not usual to create an Office without giving some information, or some indication, as to who the new official would be. He would give an illustration. At the time the Irish Church was Disestablished there were three appointments made of three very eminent persons. They were not named in the Bill originally, they were not named in the second reading; but on the Committee stage of the Bill they were named, and they were put in. That was a distinct precedent for confidence being reposed in Parliament. Other precedents there were in the cases of the Irish Land Act of 1881, and of the Arrears Act of last year. Under the Land Act of 1881 there were three Commissioners to be appointed with supreme power; they were officials whom it was intended to invest with far greater jurisdiction, patronage, and 1950 authority than was to be given to the President of the new Board. Neither on the introduction of the Bill, nor on the second reading, were they told who the three Commissioners wore to be; but on the Committee stage the Prime Minister informed the House who the Commissioners were to be; and in doing so the right hon. Gentleman said he was following Constitutional precedent. Last year, in the case of the appointment of Viscount Monck, the Prime Minister did not volunteer the name of the new Land Commissioner until the last moment. He (Mr. Gibson) remembered perfectly well that the right hon. Gentleman was pressed by hon. Member after hon. Member—himself (Mr. Gibson) amongst the number—to state who was to be the new Commissioner, and he said be "would name him tomorrow;" but, finally, under the pressure of questions, the right hon. Gentleman said that the person who it was intended by the Government should fill the place was Viscount Monck. It had been assumed that the Government had in their mind who the President was to be, and what his duties were to be. If, in addition to not knowing what duties would be performed by the new official, they did not know who the President would be, he (Mr. Gibson) failed to see the slightest justification for the Bill.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. CHILDERS)
said, that with the greatest deference to the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Gibson), he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) felt bound to say he was entirely mistaken as to the matter of precedent to which he had referred. It was very customary, when a Royal Commission was being constituted by Statute, to ask before the third reading, or at some convenient stage while the Bill was passing through Parliament, that the Commissioners should be named. Sometimes they were actually named in the Bill; sometimes they were not named in the Bill, but Parliament was informed who they were likely to be. But there never was an instance, where an additional Minister 1951 was to be appointed under an Act of Parliament, of that Minister being named either in the Bill or when the Bill was passing through the House. What was the difference between a Commissioner and a Minister? A Commissioner did not hold a political Office, and he was not liable to go out of Office when a change of Government occurred. He held Office either until a certain work was done, or for a certain number of years. But whoever might be appointed by Her Majesty, when this Bill passed, would be a Member of Her Majesty's Government, and would be liable to leave Office the very next day after his appointment. He would, therefore, stand on a totally different position to a Commissioner or a Judge; and to name the first of such Ministers in the Bill constituting the Officer would be most anomalous.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he did not think that it was necessary to press any further the point which had been raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Childers), because they could all form a pretty good idea of who the person was who was to be selected, although it was by no means so easy to ascertain what were the duties he would be called upon to perform. He (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) did not wish to discuss that question further; and he merely rose for the purpose of asking the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate for some answer to the question put by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson). The Secretary of State for the Home Department had laid great stress upon the fact that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to re-organize certain Offices in Edinburgh, and that material would be derived from that re-organization for framing the staff whose salaries they were now called upon to vote. The question his right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gibson) had asked the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate was, how it was possible that that result could be attained, and whether there were any powers in the Bill under which that suggestion could be carried out? It appeared to him that they were asked to vote money in a manner it which it ought not to be voted, and that the staff was to be formed under powers which 1952 did not exist. Was that a position in which it was fair to place the House? He hoped that the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate would deal with this point, and that, in doing so, he would give the House such necessary information as to the duties of the new Minister and the new Department as the House had a right to demand.
THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)
said, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir William Harcourt) did not state, and the Government did not assert, that in the Bill, as it stood now, there was any provision made for amalgamating any of the Boards which now existed in Edinburgh. Undoubtedly, it would be one of the duties of the Minister who would be appointed under the Bill to review the whole situation and position of the different Boards, and to form an opinion as to whether any of those Boards could, with advantage to the Public Service, be re-organized or amalgamated. If it was found fitting that any of them should be re-organized or amalgamated, no doubt application would be made to Parliament for the necessary powers. He might point out that without any re-organization it would undoubtedly be within the competency of an official, such as it was proposed to appoint by the Bill, to review the existing staffs of the different Boards. If it appeared that minor changes could be made in the existing staffs without re-organization or amalgamation in the larger sense, and without Parliamentary sanction or authority, he supposed there would be no difficulty whatever in making them. Resort to Parliament would only be had in case it proved to be necessary.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir William Harcourt) had stated that he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had not voted against the Bill. That was the case; but the right hon. Gentleman must know perfectly well that he spoke against the measure on Friday, and that in consequence of the "Count-out" on Friday evening, the Bill was put down for Saturday. He had, however, no notion that it was coming on on Saturday, and he therefore left town.
§ Question put, and agreed to.1953
§ MATTER considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of the Salaries of the President, Secretaries, and other Officers of the Local Government Board for Scotland, which may become payable under any Act of the present Session for constituting such Board.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he would move, as an Amendment, to leave out the word "Salaries," and to insert the word "Salary" in its place. He made the proposal in order to incur the disdain of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir William Harcourt). He was accustomed to the disdain of that right hon. Gentleman, and rather liked it. He should subsequently move to leave out the words "Secretaries and other Officers." At present, any number of officials might be appointed; in fact, the Committee were now asked to vote away money completely in the dark.
Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "Salaries," in order to insert the word "Salary."—(Sir H. Drummond Wolf)
Question proposed, "That the word 'Salaries' stand part of the Question."
said, he hoped the Government would inform the Committee even now, at the eleventh hour, whether there were to be "Secretaries and other Officers." The Committee, very properly, desired to know what officials there were to be in this new Department.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate, whether he had ever advised the Government that the Boards at present existing in Scotland might safely be amalgamated, or have their staffs reduced; or whether, in his opinion, they might be safely reduced; and, also, whether he was of opinion that the Bill would work for the benefit of Scotland, and would not lower the dignity of the Office which he now held?
THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALEOUR)
, in reply, said, that such experience of public affairs as he had had induced him to believe that that was hardly a proper question to ask. He 1954 had always understood that communications between Members of a Government in regard to such matters were strictly confidential.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, he thought the Committee ought to know that, although a silent support on the part of many Representatives on that side of the House had been given to the Bill, as bad been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and as many hon. Members had found out on reference to the Notice Paper, there were a very large number of Amendments. The greater part of those were to be moved by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, who themselves had not yet spoken on the question. Nearly two pages of those Amendments were to be moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kincardineshire (Sir George Balfour). It was necessary that many of those Amendments should be put forward; and, no doubt, some of them, if accepted, would entirely alter the character of the Bill. [Cries of "Order!" and "Question!")
The right hon. and gallant Baronet is not in Order in referring to Amendments to be proposed in Committee which are not yet before us.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, of course, he should not presume to argue further on that point; but, as it was known that considerable changes were suggested, to which he could not further allude, with reference to the character of the officers who were to be appointed, he thought it desirable that they should have some information as to the amount the Government calculated they were likely to spend on the new Department. At present, they were called upon in Committee, blindfold, he might say, to support a proposal for creating Offices for which there was no employment, and to give clerks to assist the eminent person who was to preside over the Board without salaries. At any rate, it was proposed to pay salaries out of money which had not been voted, and which it was not at present proposed to vote by Parliament.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he must complain of the studied discourtesy with which the right hon. Gen- 1955 tleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department treated every appeal. Certainly, if the right hon. Gentleman wished to get the Bill through quickly, he was not going the right way to work about it. He should confer with the noble Lord the Member for Flintshire (Lord Richard Grosvenor) with regard to these appointments, and ascertain, if possible, what Secretaries were to be employed. If the noble Lord informed him that there were to be none appointed except those who could be scraped up from the existing Boards, then he should like to ask why they were to have these salaries for Secretaries? If there were to be no Secretaries, it was an absurdity to vote the salaries. To settle the matter, would not the right hon. Gentleman agree to his (Sir H. Drummond Wolff's) Amendment, to the effect that there should only be a salary for the President, who was the only official mentioned in the Bill?
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he did not rise for the purpose of treating the hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) with the disdain which he seemed to expect; but, at the same time, he could not agree to his Amendment. At that hour in the morning (1.25), he was indisposed to say the same thing over and over again; and he would, therefore, say that he had no other answer to give than that he had already offered, in spite of the hon. Gentleman's threat to appeal to the noble Lord the Member for Flintshire (Lord Richard Grosvenor). The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gorst) had said—"You have almost put in the Bill what you are going to give to the Secretaries." [Mr. GORST: I never said anything of the kind.] They could not do more than they had done in the Bill, as they had to suit the pleasure of the dragon of the Treasury, who kept guard over the national purse. From his experience of the Treasury, there was no one so slow to part with public money for any purpose as the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to that Department (Mr. Courtney). The reply always made, when the Secretary was appealed to, was that nothing could be given of which the Treasury did not approve. In his (Sir William Harcourt's) opinion, there was no circumstance more fitting for an economical guar- 1956 dianship and protection of the Imperial Funds than in connection with such a proposal as this, where a new Office was proposed without definite knowledge as to what would be finally required from it.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, he would point out that the security the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir William Harcourt) had just referred to was a perfectly worthless one; because, notwithstanding the severe character of the guardianship of the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Courtney), the Budget for the year had been larger than it had ever been before. He (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) did not, therefore, think there was much security that the salaries paid under this Bill would not be enormous. They were called upon to vote salaries for Secretaries who were not yet described, much less appointed. They did not know what the Offices would be, or what functions their holders would be called upon to discharge, or how many of them would be appointed, and yet they were told they must adopt this proposal without inquiry. To his mind, this was a sham measure, introduced late in the Session to enable Her Majesty's Ministers to go to the Scotch people, and tell them they had done something for them. The Government did not know what they were going to do, and yet they had the assurance to call upon them to vote these salaries.
A Division being challenged,
named as Tellers for the Ayes, Lord Richard Grosvenor and Lord Kensington; for the Noes, Mr. Arthur O'Connor and Sir H. Drummond Wolff.
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||O'Donnell, F. H.|
|Aylmer, Capt. J. E. F.||O'Sullivan, W. H.|
|Biggar, J. G.||Scott, M. D.|
|Burghley, Lord||Sullivan, T. D.|
|Fowler, R. N.|
|Hay, rt. hon. Admiral Sir J. C. D.||O'Brien, W.|
Original Question put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of the Salaries of the President, Secretaries, and other Officers of the Local Government Board for Scotland, which may become payable under any Act of the present Session for constituting such Board.
Resolution to be reported To-morrow.