§ LORD STRACHIE rose to ask the Lord President of the Council whether His Majesty's Government intend to adopt all or any of the suggestions of the Speaker of the House of Commons for reducing national expenditure which were made by Mr. Speaker on the 27th August at Parliamentary War Savings Committee meeting at Penrith.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I desire to explain the reason why I have put this Question on the Paper. No doubt like other noble Lords who happen to he chairmen of Parliamentary Recruiting Committees and War Savings Committees in the various constituencies, I have found myself in the same difficulty as apparently Mr. Speaker was in when addressing meetings, at which awkward questions have been continually put to the speakers who tell the working men that out of their comparatively small incomes they ought to save. I cannot help believing that it would have been very much better if, before inaugurating this campaign, the Government had themselves given a lead in this matter to the speakers and to the people of the country generally. The Lord President of the Council may say, "is a Retrenchment Committee." That is quite true; but that Committee has not reported, and probably will not report—certainly no real action will be taken—until after all these meetings have been held and these appeals made to the working men to come forward and assist by contributing their savings.
§ I submit that His Majesty's Government should have dealt in a drastic way with this question of retrenchment in national expenditure before starting the present 793 campaign in the country. We should not then have had such questions asked as these—"Why did the Government spend thousands of pounds on a new tea-room in the House of Commons?" "Why was it necessary, there being very little work in the House of Commons at the present moment, to appoint a Chief Whip at £2,000 a year?" "Why have the salaries of some of the Ministers been increased?" Those are awkward questions to answer. The feeling in the country, certainly in the part in which I live, is very strong on this question of economy in national expenditure. The people strongly deprecate the absence of any attempt on the part of the Government to bring about economies. Instead of doing that the Government have created fresh offices and given large salaries to new officials; and under the Naval and Military War Pensions Bill which your Lordships thought fit to suspend—I believe entirely with the sanction of the country, for I have never heard one word against the House of Lords on the ground of interfering with the people's will in this matter—it was proposed to set up further new offices carrying with them large payments to officials without, as my noble friend Earl St. Aldwyn pointed out at the time, any Treasury control. In addressing the meeting at Penrith Mr. Speaker expressed the opinion that something ought to be done in connection with the payment of salaries to Members of Parliament, and I have constantly heard protests made against gentlemen receiving salaries as members of the House of Commons and also pay as Army officers.
§ I would also draw attention to the farce, which is still going on, of valuing houses in London under the Valuation Act of 1909. Is it not ridiculous that this should continue when we all know that house property has practically gone to nothing in this country? With the heavy taxation which will have to be imposed, and rightly imposed, house property in London cannot be half the value that it was in 1909; yet there are Government officials still going about carrying on this work of valuation at great public expense. Only the other day I received a notice that my house had been valued at a perfectly ridiculous figure, and I was told that I could appeal, not at present, but "later on," thus creating more work for Government officials. I venture to say that before telling working men earning, perhaps, 26s. 794 or 30s. a week that they ought to save, it would have been better had the Government put their own house in order, got rid of these redundant officials, and given the country a lead in this matter by a reduction of national expenditure.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, the House, I think, will hardly expect that I can give anything like a complete answer to the Question which my noble friend opposite has asked. He himself spoke of the work of the Parliamentary War Savings Committee, and he added, quite truly, that that Committee has not so far reported or made any specific recommendation. It is therefore not possible for me, as I think the House will perceive, to attempt to anticipate any recommendations that they may make. Still less is it possible for me to anticipate to-day any part of the financial statement which my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make in a few days in another place. In these circumstances I fear that I must ask to be excused from replying to the substance of my noble friend's Question. I need not say that any observations made after consideration by one of so much knowledge and experience as Mr. Speaker would naturally always receive the respectful attention of the authorities. But with particular reference to what has just fallen from the noble Lord, I hope he will not take me as agreeing with his statement that no attempts had been made to economise in public directions, but that rather—as he stated, I confess somewhat to my surprise—there had been an increase of public expenditure in various directions. As a matter of fact, close attention has been paid to this question of public economy. I am not going to attempt to indicate the various ways in which that has been, is being, and will be brought about, but. I am obliged to enter this passing protest against the assumption made by the noble Lord that carelessness, or, indeed, something worse, has been shown by His Majesty's Government in respect to public expenditure.
§ EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, I think your Lordships are greatly indebted to the noble Lord who sits by me for having again called attention to this matter. This is not the House naturally where such questions would be primarily discussed. They ought to have been discussed long ago in the House of Commons. I ventured, 795 when this subject was last before your Lordships' House on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Midleton, to speak my mind as to the conduct of the late Government with regard to this matter. It is all very well for the noble Marquess to say that the Government have not failed to give it their attention. All I can say is this. If they had given it their attention as they ought to have done as soon as the war broke out, if they had foreseen as they ought to have foreseen the gigantic cost of such a war as this, and if they had then devoted their minds and energies to a reduction of the civil expenditure of the country, they would have done their duty. But they have failed absolutely to do their duty. The result is that we are now face to face with Civil Service Estimates framed on the extravagant footing to which this country has become accustomed in peace times, and which has really no reference at all to the present position of the country or of its financial affairs. I quite understand that the noble Marquess cannot say anything to-day either with regard to the views of the Committee which was appointed to consider this matter or with regard to the financial proposals which the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have to place before the House of Commons next week. I do not know why that Committee was not appointed long before it was, and I do not know why, when it was appointed, it took a holiday of a fortnight before it held a single sitting. This whole subject of public economy appears to me to have been neglected by the late Government and to have been approached by the present Government in a manner which fails to show that they really appreciate its importance and its urgency. I hope the noble Lord who has asked this Question to-day will keep his eyes open to the matter, and will continue to press His Majesty's Government as to the action which they ought to take at the earliest possible date.