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Sir  Richard Valentine Nind Hopkins (1880–1955), by Walter Stoneman, 1941Sir Richard Valentine Nind Hopkins (1880–1955), by Walter Stoneman, 1941
Hopkins, Sir Richard Valentine Nind (1880–1955), civil servant, was born in Edgbaston on 13 February 1880, the son of Alfred Nind Hopkins, a businessman, and his wife, Eliza Mary Castle. He was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham, and at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was a scholar, played rugby and cricket, and obtained a first class in part one of the classical tripos (1901) and in part two of the history tripos (1902). He entered the Inland Revenue as a first division clerk in 1902 and spent his spare time at the Bermondsey Mission, where he lived for a time. While he was working on Lloyd George's land values duties his ability was noticed by Sir Robert Chalmers, chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue. With the outbreak of the First World War Hopkins and Josiah Stamp designed and administered the excess profits duty, which proved a triumphant blend of the former's theoretical talents in taxation with the latter's growing administrative capacity in allying expertise to traditional civil service values.

With the reconstitution of the Board of Inland Revenue in 1916 Hopkins became a board member and in 1922 chairman, having been appointed CB in 1919 and KCB in 1920. He gave valuable evidence before the royal commission on the income tax (1919–20); was chairman of a departmental committee asked to devise a scheme for a levy on war wealth which, in the event, was not imposed; and advised on methods of dealing with the avoidance of supertax. In 1923 he married Lucy Davis MB ChB (d. 1960), daughter of Francis Cripps; they had one son.

As chairman Hopkins was renowned for his skills as a negotiator and for the goodwill he generated among junior and senior colleagues alike. His work at the board taught him the practicalities of taxation, and especially the two great secrets of this department: what could be managed, and how far taxpayers could be pushed. This was vital knowledge and critical for the next stage of his career. In 1927 ‘Hoppy’ transferred to the Treasury where the two branches of finance and supply were combined under his control. This was therefore a key appointment in the reorganization of Treasury functions and personnel initiated by its permanent secretary, Sir Warren Fisher, who had known Hopkins from his Inland Revenue days. Hopkins became second secretary in 1932 and permanent secretary in 1942, retiring three years later. He was thus for eighteen years the chief Treasury adviser on all matters concerning financial policy and the control of government expenditure. At a time when the scale of national finances and the economic role of government were transformed, he served six chancellors of the exchequer and confronted policy problems which ranged in time and scope from negotiations on reparations and war debts to the financial crisis of the early 1930s, rearmament, and finally a second war.

It was said of Hopkins that his personality was particularly well suited to the Treasury at this time:
Never attempting to dictate or to overrule, he proceeded to build his own conception of his duties as a ready and sympathetic listener, a student of men and their doings whose impartiality and objectivity was shaded only by an innate desire to assume the best and not the worst in his fellows, and finally as a wise counsellor whose advice was never forced on his colleagues but was always available when required. (Public Administration, 119)
Of the many warm tributes to Hopkins, and of the fund of stories about him, the sense of the man and the civil servant is perhaps best conveyed in his answer to a 1943 parliamentary inquiry as to where the ultimate authority lay in a disagreement over the expenditure estimates. He replied that he would ‘write to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry. If he doesn't do what we want, I'll ask him round here for tea and a chat. If it's an obdurate case, I'll send out and get a small piece of cake with the tea’ (Chapman and Greenaway, 113). He was likened to one of the great Elizabethan servants of the state, who ‘inclined to his master's views, but held him clearly to the basic national traditions’ (DNB). It was in that combination of attentiveness to politics but unwavering commitment to the realities of economics and finance that his counsel was sought and privileged, notwithstanding the diverse politics and personalities of his six chancellors. In addition to politicians Hopkins also worked closely with Montagu Norman, the governor of the Bank of England: together they hammered out policies on foreign exchange and monetary policy; ‘and it became a feature of London life to see the governor's car outside the Treasury shortly before six o'clock each evening’ (DNB).

Hopkins came into the public eye as an official witness in January 1931 while giving evidence before the royal commission on unemployment insurance. The meetings of the Macmillan committee on finance and industry in 1930 attracted rather less publicity. On that occasion Hopkins became locked in battle with J. M. Keynes, who was challenging the precepts of Treasury finance. The issue of this conflict was characterized by the committee's chairman, Lord Macmillan, as ‘a drawn battle’ (DNB). Similarly Keynes's first biographer, Sir Roy Harrod, went so far as to describe Hopkins's testimony as a ‘great masterpiece’ and to draw attention to his being unique in his generation in meeting Keynes on the latter's chosen ground of economics, without Keynes having the better of the argument (Harrod, 373, 420, 422). Although their views were at this time widely divergent, Keynes generally excluded Hopkins from his condemnation of the dead hand of the Treasury and of its orthodoxies. He acknowledged that Hopkins did really understand public finance. The respect was mutual, and after the outbreak of war Hopkins provided Keynes with a room at the Treasury, where Keynes could ensure that his point was properly put.

Official documents in the Public Record Office relating to Hopkins's eighteen years at the centre of British government reveal the key role he played in the transition from an essentially laissez-faire to a modern managed economy in Britain. These documents show that, while most of the innovations in Treasury thinking in the 1930s originated with Hopkins's deputy, Sir Frederick Phillips, it was Hopkins who was ultimately the decisive influence on policy. This was primarily due to his capacity to take up, develop, and above all express in simple but compelling terms new ideas in a manner which persuaded chancellors that Treasury policy need not be ultra-orthodox but could be more experimental, providing the niceties of fiscal prudence appeared to be maintained.

Hopkins's role proved particularly decisive during the Second World War. This began with his efforts to bring Keynes into the Treasury as a wartime adviser, from which ensued many critical domestic and external economic policy decisions. There were three particular strands to his influence on wartime, and above all on post-war, economic policies. First, Hopkins was instrumental in persuading the chancellor, Sir John Anderson, that beginning in 1941 budgets should be framed in a much more explicitly quantitative manner. This was made possible by the compilation of national income statistics by J. R. N. Stone and James Meade, who were themselves inspired by Keynes's How to Pay for the War (1940) and his analysis of an inflationary gap that had to be met by higher taxation and/or savings. The resulting white paper, An analysis of the sources of war finance and an estimate of the national income and expenditure in 1938 and 1940 (1941), was described by Keynes as a ‘revolution in public finance’ (Collected Writings, 22.354). Second, Hopkins chaired the official steering committee on post-war employment which, proceeding from a document first prepared by Meade, drafted what eventually became the 1944 employment policy white paper which committed government to the maintenance of a ‘high and stable level of employment’ after the war. Hopkins's report was described by Keynes ‘as an outstanding State Paper which, if one casts one's mind back ten years or so, represents a revolution in official thinking’ (Collected Writings, 27.364). Historians have generally concurred with this judgement, although the diffusion of Keynesian ideas into the practice of British economic policy is now judged to have been a more drawn out process, and Hopkins's draft was, in many respects, a classic civil service ‘fudge’, drawing upon incompatible Treasury and Keynesian views in different chapters. Third, in 1945 Hopkins chaired another official committee, the national debt inquiry, which laid the foundations for the post-war cheap money policy and marked a further stage in the absorption of Keynesian ideas into official thinking. During its deliberations Hopkins is on record as having twice read Keynes's The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) and of having used arguments and quotations from it in writing the inquiry's report. For some historians this marked the completion of the conversion of the Treasury to Keynesian ideas, a conversion all the more poignant because of Hopkins's earlier defence of the Treasury view before the Macmillan committee in 1930.

Hopkins worked in harmony with politicians, bankers, and economists, and as the Treasury's permanent secretary (1942–5) avoided the atmosphere of controversy which had marked the periods of office of his predecessors Fisher and Sir Horace Wilson in their management of the civil service. Most unusually, he was appointed to replace Wilson, who was two years his junior. He retired in 1945 and, again unusually, was sworn of the privy council; he had been promoted GCB in 1941.

After his retirement Hopkins served the Church of England as a member of the central board of finance of which, in June 1947, he became chairman. He was seen going with delight to its conferences, and said: ‘I have guided or tried to guide eighteen budgets in my time, but this afternoon I shall introduce my own budget’ (DNB). He was also a crown member of the court of the University of London, a member of the Port of London Authority, of the Imperial War Graves Commission, and of a number of government committees, and a director of several companies. He was elected an honorary fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1946 and was Alfred Marshall lecturer in 1946–7. Hopkins died in London on 30 March 1955.

Roger Middleton

Sources  

DNB · The Times (21 April 1955) · ‘Sir Richard Hopkins’, Public Administration, 34 (1956), 115–23 · R. F. Harrod, The life of John Maynard Keynes (1951) · G. C. Peden, ‘Sir Richard Hopkins and the “Keynesian revolution” in employment policy, 1929–45’, Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 36 (1983), 281–96 · S. Howson and D. Winch, The economic advisory council, 1930–1939: a study in economic advice during depression and recovery (1977) · R. A. Chapman and J. R. Greenaway, The dynamics of administrative reform (1980) · The collected writings of John Maynard Keynes, ed. D. Moggridge and E. Johnson, 22 (1978) · The collected writings of John Maynard Keynes, ed. D. Moggridge and E. Johnson, 27 (1980) · P. Clarke, The Keynesian revolution in the making, 1924–1936 (1988) · A. Booth, British economic policy, 1931–1949 (1989) · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1955)

Archives  

TNA: PRO, official papers, T175 · TNA: PRO, papers relating to his appointment as commissioner of Imperial War Graves Commission |  BL, letters to Albert Mansbridge, Add. MS 65253


Likenesses  

W. Stoneman, photograph, 1941, NPG [see illus.] · photograph, repro. in The Times · photograph, repro. in ‘Sir Richard Hopkins’

Wealth at death  

£15,712 5s. 11d.: probate, 20 June 1955, CGPLA Eng. & Wales