Orders of the Day — Clause 3. — (Appropriation of Sums Voted for Supply Services.)

– in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 25 Gorffennaf 1955.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

3.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

This is a little unfair. The Clause deals with the appropriation of sums voted for supply services, and raises the whole issue of how the debate will be conducted.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

As the hon. Member knows, the Committee stage of the Bill usually goes through without debate. On the Third Reading we might have a debate.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

Yes, Sir Charles, but I would make a submission for your consideration, based upon several points of order. If you agree, I propose to make the submissions together rather than to make them separately, as that will facilitate business and will enable most hon. Members to understand the basis upon which the Bill will be conducted in Committee. Will it be better if I submit them together?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The hon. Gentleman should not address that question to the occupant of the Chair in the House.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

That is what I am doing, Sir Charles. I want to raise a number of points together, and to guide myself and other hon. Members on how to conduct ourselves when the different Clauses are put to us.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I gather that that ought not to be done at this stage of the Bill, but on the Third Reading.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

I hesitate to differ from one so long-experienced. The Bill is being considered in Committee of the whole House. We are dealing with millions of pounds. I admit that I was very slow in letting Clause 1 go through, and I am very critical of myself on that account. We have reached Clause 3 and I want to safeguard our rights in debate upon it. I therefore submit the following points for your consideration.

This Bill provides ways and means to supply grants for the financial year. It provides for increased grants to be made to the extent of £35¾ million. Does it not mean that, if we sanction this issue today we shall be entitled to consider it and ask how it is to be used and what it is intended to cover?

4.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

On a point of order, Sir Charles. I am in some difficulty, because I am in charge of the Bill. The matter to which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) is now referring is dealt with in Clause 1 of the Bill, which I understood the Committee had already agreed to.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

That is quite true. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South said that he had not been quick enough, but, in any case, if he refers to Erskine May, which he knows so well, he will see that it says: On the clauses dealing with the issue of money from the Consolidated Fund, subjects involving expenditure cannot be discussed.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

But the Bill deals with how men in the Services are to be allocated. I take it that we can discuss that? If you read further, Sir Charles, you will find that even the state of Europe has been discussed. Surely, if we could rove all over the world like that, we could discuss our own internal subjects?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I have Erskine May before me and I do not see that in page 725.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

It is stated in Erskine May that at times the state of Europe had already been discussed. I hope that you will bear that in mind, Sir Charles. In addition, it states that while the debate will be restricted, and we cannot rove over the whole administration of the Army, at times the occupant of the Chair—

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

I am rather handicapped. We find in Erskine May that a debate on the state of Europe had been allowed. While, today, we do not want to raise questions of such a wide nature we do consider—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

We are at cross-purposes. The point is that these matters cannot be discussed when we are in Committee on the Bill.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

Surely, on each Clause, within limits, we can discuss what the Clause deals with, Sir Charles. I am not asking that there should be a wide debate, but that within the limits of each Clause we should be allowed a debate on the purpose for which that Clause is to be used. For example, when we reach the Schedules may I have a word or two on those, Sir Charles? Under the Schedules increased grants are to be made to various Services and those grants have not been discussed by the House. Surely when increased grants are to be allowed it should be legitimate to discuss what they are to be used for.

Another point is that, within limits, the Treasury has the right to vary what has already been debated, but even the Treasury has not the right to deal with financial matters in the way intended by this Bill. Later, I want to raise that question, because it is laid down very clearly in this most informative book that virement can only be used now by the Treasury within limits. Unless this Committee or the House is on its guard it would be possible for the Treasury to broaden those limits. In my view, according to the latest edition of Erskine May, it is very limited and this House should decide to what extent deficits or surpluses should be dealt with in the Schedules. I think we are dealing with a very important matter and establishing most serious precedents. In my view, we should take a stand on this matter. That is why I am raising it.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

I am, of course, anxious to help the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, but I must ask the Committee to observe that if it is allowed to be the practice to debate afresh on the Committee stage of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill all the ground over which we have gone in Committee of Supply and subsequently on Report—

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

I intervene to assist the Financial Secretary. We are not suggesting that. If the right hon. Gentleman had listened he would know that we are being very reasonable. We know the practice of the House sufficiently well not to make a suggestion of that kind. All we say is that, within limits, where increased financial grants have to be made before those grants are varied we should have the right to raise the point.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

I think that if the hon. Member had allowed me to finish my speech he would have found that I was about to say that, clearly, questions of financial procedure should be taken on the Committee stage of the Bill—

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

On a point of order. May I ask what Question we are now debating, because the right hon. Gentleman referred to his speech?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

We are now finding out how much can be discussed on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." My view is that nothing can be discussed on that Question, but others hold a contrary view.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

I would not seek to argue that questions of financial procedure which arise on a particular Clause of the Bill could not be debated, but I was given the impression by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South that he wished to examine a great many figures in the Schedules. Clearly, that would go beyond our scope.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

I am sorry to speak again. I like the way in which you are dealing with the matter Sir Charles, but there is a great deal at stake in this and I should like you to give a Ruling.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

My Ruling is that on the Committee stage we cannot discuss the Clause but that the Third Reading is the time at which to raise various points. The hon. Member will see, in page 725 of Erskine May: According to present practice the committee stage of such a bill is formal and normally passes without debate.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

What does "normally" mean?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

It means generally speaking, practice.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

Then it means that we are right because, if you will be good enough to look at the Bill, Sir Charles, you will see that millions of pounds are to be paid which have not been sanctioned by this House. Therefore, as increased financial allocations are being made—as the Financial Secretary suggested—surely we have a right to discuss them in Committee. Once we have parted with the Bill in Committee we shall not have a right to discuss these matters, except within narrow limits. On Third Reading, Mr. Speaker will see to that—I am not being critical of Mr. Speaker. The limits will be very narrow, whereas in Committee there is a little relaxation.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

It will be exactly the same; it will not be wider.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

In Committee, there is a little more latitude than on Third Reading.

Photo of Mr Moss Turner-Samuels Mr Moss Turner-Samuels , Gloucester

I am not taking sides, Sir Charles, but there seems to be an important element involved here. I understood you to say, Sir Charles, that, normally, the practice is that in Committee these matters are dealt with only formally. Does that necessarily mean that the practice is rigid, that there is no flexibility at all, and that, whatever the circumstances, it is only possible to take these matters formally? Subject to your decision on the matter, and with all deference to you, I should have thought that that would be rather a dangerous practice.

I can understand that, generally speaking, the normal circumstances may only require that the matter should be passed without debate, but surely there may be very grave occasions when this matter ought to be examined and more widely dealt with than by the narrow "yes" or "no" which the formal treatment would involve. Therefore, I should have thought that this question warrants more detailed consideration.

I can appreciate that the matters to which my hon. Friend has referred may contain among them items which could properly be dealt with summarily, in the manner to which you have alluded, but to cover that by saying that all matters at all times, of whatever they may consist, whatever their gravity and however much they ought to be examined, cannot be examined because of some recognised practice, might appear to be stretching the matter beyond what it ought constitutionally to be.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I do not stretch the matters one way or contract them in another. I have to follow the practice of the House. That is what I am here to do. I still adhere to what I said. Clauses dealing with money in the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill cannot be discussed at this stage, and, in addition, the common practice is for the Committee stage to go through without debate. I cannot say more.

Photo of Mr Moss Turner-Samuels Mr Moss Turner-Samuels , Gloucester

It has been said that this matter can be discussed on the Third Reading, but is not that a question of scope? Might it not be impossible on Third Reading to bring in as widely as might be required such matters as those to which my hon. Friend has referred?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

We have not yet reached the Third Reading, and when we do I may not be in the Chair, so that I cannot give a Ruling about a stage that we have not reached. I am dealing only with the Committee stage, and what I have said is quite clear. Although personally I would willingly let Members do what they like, I just cannot do it. That is my position.

Photo of Mr Charles Simmons Mr Charles Simmons , Brierley Hill

Can you say, Sir Charles, what is the use of having a Committee stage if no discussion is allowed on the Committee stage? Why not cut out the Committee stage altogether? It has been said that there are precedents to be found in Erskine May for this procedure. Why cannot precedents be made now, if they have been made in the past?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

We are guided in this House by what has happened in the past.

Photo of Mr Charles Simmons Mr Charles Simmons , Brierley Hill

But precedents have to be created first.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Yes, but they have been adopted after trial and error when they have been found to be the most satisfactory procedure.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

I am trying to act on what has happened in the past. Erskine May states, in page 725: The enacting words of the Bill are not open to amendment. I am not pressing that. It goes on to say: According to present practice the Committee stage of such a Bill is formal. … If it was intended to apply to the whole of every Committee stage of every such Bill, the sentence would have finished there, but it goes on to say: … and normally passes without debate. This is not a normal Bill. Proof of that statement is contained in page 8 of the Bill. I am now trying to adduce evidence to convince you that this is not a normal Bill, Sir Charles. The Bill says: … to meet expenditure beyond the sum already provided in the grants for Army Services for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1956. … That is only one example. If there are increased grants to be made, surely this is a matter for debate.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

Does that mean that all the proposals contained in this Bill have already been discussed?

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

What about the variation which is proposed?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the Monk Resolutions?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

They were all agreed to by the House. We had a debate on them last week, I think.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

If I remember correctly, the word that was used was "virement." Has the House been informed of the extent to which the Treasury has been carrying out the principle of virement? Has the House been informed of the full effects of that practice?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Yes, we had a debate on the Navy, Army and Air Force last week, I think.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

That means that the House has been informed of all these transactions which have been carried out by the Treasury?

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the third time.

4.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

I shall try to keep in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have the Bill before me and I shall endeavour to avoid creating difficulties, although, in my view, we are dealing with a very important matter. It is said in Erskine May that a debate on the state of Europe has been allowed, and if that is so, I am hoping that my observations will be strictly in order.

I find that this Bill provides for the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, for grants towards services connected with Her Majesty's Foreign Service, and the salaries and expenses of the officers of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade. It is on those matters that I want to speak in particular.

Before the war this House used to examine very minutely all the expenditure for which the Government were responsible. During the war that practice came to an end. We used to vote blank cheques. There was no interrogation. This House was responsible for the expenditure of millions of pounds. Let me make it quite clear that I am not complaining, and that I accept my share of responsibility. But I think that the time has arrived when there should be a tightening up. I think that during the past ten years we have been too lax about the large amount of expenditure for which we have been responsible.

That brings me to the Treasury's power of virement, and the expenditure to which that is applied. According to the Schedules, pages 16, 17 and 18, it evidently has been used to a very wide extent and, although I do not want to make too much of it today, I want to call the attention of the House to it in order to try to get it considered in the future. I want the House to consider whether, as we are voting these millions, the time has not arrived when the Treasury discretion in this matter should be more limited.

It is very limited when dealing with the social services, but it does not appear to be when dealing with matters of this kind, and it is to this that I wish to draw the attention of the House. In regard to deficits and surpluses, in which the power of virement has been used, has the Treasury been kept fully informed in each case by the various Services? There are a number of services mentioned in the Schedules, and, before we part with this Third Reading, I want to ask whether the Army, Navy and Air Force, and other Government Departments, keep the Treasury informed as well as they should do, according to Erskine May and other publications designed to enable us to understand the procedure on voting credit and dealing with finance in the House.

I admit that I have not played the game with the Financial Secretary by giving him notice of this, because it was only this weekend that I thought about it, but, since doing so, it has quickened my interest, and that is the reason why I am raising it. If I cannot receive a reply now, I shall understand why not, but I shall have had the satisfaction of knowing that I raised the matter.

Our people are the most highly taxed in the world and it is time that this burden was eased. Further, our capital investment—we have had another shock today, and although I am not going to raise that matter, it emphasises what I am saying—is far too low. Our percentage of national income in capital investment is the lowest of the industrial countries. Our National Debt is the highest in the world. Our overhead charges on productive industry are far too high, and, therefore, when we are voting millions of the kind mentioned in this Bill, we ought to raise these matters so that we can quicken interest in these problems with a view to easing the burden on our people.

Many members of the Privy Council—I am including all parties now—have often spoken during the past 12 months, particularly in after-dinner speeches, about cutting down national expenditure. When is this to stop? Cuts have been announced today. This reminded me of the cuts announced in 1931. We are still suffering from those cuts, For example, there was a cut made in the proposed—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I cannot quite follow 'how the hon. Member brings all this into the Bill. He knows the Ruling, as well as I do, that only the sums which were voted as Supplementary Estimates are relevant to the Bill. It is not like the big Consolidated Fund Bill which comes at the end of the Session as a rule, and covers all Government Departments. That allows a very wide discussion. One has to stick, if I may use a common expression, to the Supply voted as Supplementary Estimates.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

I appreciate that, and I shall respect it, Mr. Speaker. We have discussed this a fairly long time, and I am sure that all my hon. Friends present very much appreciate the way in which the occupant of the Chair during the Committee stage dealt with the matter; therefore, I can well understand your Ruling.

I shall content myself by saying again that we are voting millions of pounds. Our people have a colossal burden, one of the greatest in the world, which they are carrying, and it is time that this House examined more carefully all the expenditure which is being proposed. It is also time that we took advantage of our Parliamentary rights to raise these matters whenever that is in order, so that we may play our part in calling the attention of our people to the burden which we are carrying, and in trying to reduce national expenditure where possible.

4.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) was endeavouring, at an earlier stage of the Bill, to argue that there were various abnormal features about the Bill which he felt would justify a more extended discussion during the Committee stage than has, in fact, been found possible. It is unfortunate that the argument to establish abnormality on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill has not been as fully discussed on the various stages of the Bill as it might have been.

It is a fact, of course, that detailed points were discussed in Committee of Supply when the Supplementary Estimates came before the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) did, I think, establish that the Supplementary Estimates involved were unique and unprecedented. To that extent he felt obliged to make reference to various features of the Supplementary Estimates now covered by the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill which, in his view, and, if I may say so with respect, in my view also, made them very unusual.

The point which he then made—and it was not challenged by the Secretary of State for War—was that we have maintained Armed Forces partly out of money not approved by Parliament but raised from occupied territories. When he made his very interesting disclosure, it was not challenged or queried in any way by the Secretary of State for War. To that extent, we are obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent for pointing out that the time has arrived to reestablish the rights of hon. Members to control expenditure when the Supplementary Estimates come before the Committee of Supply or, in the light of further information which may come to our knowledge, in Committee or on the Third Reading.

4.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I should like to add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), because on many occasions in recent years I have protested in Estimates debates on precisely this point. The Schedules at the end of the Bill demonstrate a shocking laxity in administration and a disgraceful negligence by the House of certain aspects of public expenditure.

In Part I of Schedule (C) we see surpluses of estimated over actual gross expenditure of £15 million. In the next page the surplus is £43 million and in the next page £83 million. We have here examples of the House having been pursuaded to vote hundreds of millions of pounds which were not required and which eventually have been devoted to other purposes which have not been discussed by the House or by any Committee.

Those who have followed the course of expenditure on armaments and the Armed Services in the last few years, and the budgetary reports upon it, know that this kind of expenditure has got completely out of hand. Not only has it got out of the hands of Parliament, because nobody can claim any longer that Parliament has any effective control over this kind of expenditure; but it has also got out of the control of the bureaucracy. Not even the bureaucrats know how many millions they require, or for what purposes.

One year they plan a defence programme of £4,700 million. The next year it turns out to have been £4,200 million. It is levered up and down according to the way in which the Estimate is changed. Never could there be better proof than in the Bill of the urgent need for a severe pruning of the defence Departments. Here is the overwhelming case for a violent cut in public expenditure on the defence Departments.

The Chancellor proposed today that such urgent needs as housing and educational building should be cut, but he said never a word about cutting the swollen expenditure on armaments and the Armed Services and never a word about stopping the Stock Exchange gambling in armaments shares.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

It seems to me that the hon. Member is now discussing defence expenditure in general and not the particular items which were passed by the Committee of Supply and discussed on Report. He must confine himself to those items. That is the rule.

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I am sorry if I stepped a little outside the limit for a moment, Sir.

I was coming to a conclusion and was merely seeking to emphasise that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South has been right to draw the attention of a very thinly attended House—as it so often is thinly attended when we discuss these questions of expenditure—to the fact that here is an example of public expenditure which has become ever-increasing and for which no proper justification has been brought to the House. We have had no effective explanation of what we are doing, but any sensible person must be convinced that there is room here for tremendous economies by a Government determined to make them.

4.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

I hope that during the few minutes I shall detain the House I shall manage to keep in order. When we were in Committee I was very disturbed because, although from time to time I have tried to get grants for various purposes and have always been told that the Treasury was empty, I read in the Bill that the Departments of the Armed Services have had huge surpluses which the Treasury, by some mysterious manner, seemed to be able to transfer from one Service to another. When I tried to get a grant for a sewerage scheme at Kirkintilloch there was no money in the Treasury, but it seems that there was plenty of money in the Armed Services account which the Treasury could have taken back and sent to us in Scotland.

That is why I raise this point and support my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) and others who are as concerned as I am with the fact that millions of pounds are floating around the defence Departments and, at a signal from the Treasury, can be transferred from one Department to another and manipulated among them, while local authorities and educational authorities, particularly in Scotland, find it very difficult to get any money from the Treasury at all.

I hope that periodically in the future—not merely once a year—figures will be made available to hon. Members showing how much the Departments of State have in the coffers over their estimated requirements. We are asked to vote annually huge sums of money to the War Office and to the Admiralty. We give it to them and then every year it seems that they have asked for more than they wanted. It is very difficult for local authorities to do this sort of thing; they always get less than they ask for. Ever since I have been a Member it has seemed that the defence Departments get more than they need.

I suppose that when the Estimates for next year are put in we shall find that there are increased demands, and no doubt this Bill next year will show this sort of thing again. The Departments always demand more than they need, even though they had more than they wanted the year before. When local authorities make demands they always get less year after year than they need—and now they will get less still.

It will be a shock to any local authority interested in education, the arts and the social services to find that the Services have had £200 million more than they needed. The money is floating around amongst the generals, the admirals and the air marshals, and I suppose when we get the Army, Navy and Air Force Estimates next March they will ask for more than they asked for last year on the assumption that they will have millions with which to play. I think we should have an explanation of this state of affairs.

4.39 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek

I will not detain the House for very long, but I want to put what I hope will be regarded as a point relevant to page 15 of the Bill. We see Appropriations-in-aid, £1,300,000, for the supply, storage and distribution of petroleum products and certain other special services of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, including expenditure on Civil Defence and payments to recipients agreed with the United States Government of the sterling counterpart of dollars provided for the import of American coal. Can the Minister give us a little more information about that? Does it take into account the fuel debate the other day when we saw that the exigencies of the present situation were such that we had to deal with the problem of financing the import of coal?

May I link that to points raised by my hon. Friends on pages 16, 17 and 18, where we see surpluses over gross expenditure by the Armed Forces of £15 million in one case, £43 million in another case and £83 million in the third case in a society which is the highest taxed per capita in the world. If that is taking place, then calculations are being made lazily or in a leisurely fashion by the so-called experts without giving the House the respect which it deserves in dealing with the expenditure of public money.

This is no frivolous debate. It is right that this House should be the guardian of the public purse, especially in view of the statement made by the Chancellor today. The Appropriation-in-Aid in Class IX of £1,300,000 to the Ministry of Fuel and Power will, we know, have to be increased. The Coal Board has done a first-class job. I do not resent it a bit—one must take one's turn in the House—but I failed to catch your eye in the debate last week, Mr. Speaker. I feel that I get as fair treatment from you as anyone else, and I do not resent that, but I should like to say that here is an example where we are paying millions of pounds in interest, and we have a balance sheet from the Coal Board which is not really a true one.

Losses are attributed to the Board which are not losses at all. Here is an example where, if the Government want to apply a system of differential interests on capital expenditure, one could say "Why could not an organisation like the Coal Board, which is producing basic material for the good of the country, have a rate of interest which was very low or non-existent?" From military expenditure I could find £120 million or £130 million which could have been given to the Coal Board to improve standards of welfare of the miners, and so on.

I have been a critic of my own party as well as of the party which is now in power. The duty of a Member of Parliament, whatever his party, is to protect the taxpayer. The method followed in the Bill is a higgledy-piggledy way of bringing Estimates before the House. I warn the Minister that some of us, in the four years of what hon. Members opposite hope will be complacency, will be fighting harder than ever to protect the taxpayer from the kind of financing that we can expect in the future.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

On a point of order. I know that I am not entitled to speak again, but I should like to quote for your consideration, Mr. Speaker, a passage from Erskine May. I do not expect a Ruling today, but I should like you to consider, for our future guidance, what is said in page 724: Debate on Consolidated Fund Bill. I will not read the whole of that, because it is not necessary, but it continues, after the word "founded": In general terms, any questions of administrative policy may be raised which are implied in such grants of supply. Thus, whereas the field of debate on the main Consolidated Fund Bill … is normally commensurate with the whole range of administrative policy, debate upon a Consolidated Fund Bill introduced for the express purpose of providing funds for some newly undertaken service is limited to that service. Debate on these bills is thus limited to relevant questions of administration … All that we have been trying to do today is to keep in order in accordance with that last sentence.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I can answer the hon. Member straight away. If the hon. Gentleman studies again the passage which he has been good enough to read, he will find that it is exactly what I said to him when he invited me to interrupt. This is one of the limited kind of Consolidated Fund Bills, a Consolidated Fund Bill which is founded upon a number of Supplementary Estimates. That restricts the scope of debate to that Supply. That was what I ventured to point out to the hon. Gentleman, exactly as it is stated.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We were handicapped because you were not in the Chair. We are trying to raise questions of administration within the amount set out in the Bill.

4.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

I should like to show courtesy to the House by replying briefly to what has been said, though there is other business to be completed today. I say at once on behalf of the Treasury that I warmly welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent. South (Mr. Ellis Smith) in his scrutiny of the Bill and the figures it contains. So far as the Treasury is concerned, Parliament cannot interest itself too closely in public finance. It is not for me to hold myself up as a judge of the House in passing any comment on the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that, since the war, the House has not been scrutinising expenditure sufficiently closely.

Speaking as a Treasury Minister, I say that we have nothing that we desire to withhold from the House. I consider that the House and the Treasury, in alliance, can be the most valuable joint watchdog of all over the public Departments. The hon. Member inquired about the Treasury's exercise of its power of virement. He asked, in particular, whether the War Office, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry kept the Treasury fully informed. I can assure him that they do.

The procedure is, as he may know, that before the end of the financial year the Treasury has to lay a Treasury Minute saying that it will exercise this power given in Clause 4 of the Bill, and that later it must lay another Minute indicating in detail how the power has been exercised. That is examined by the Public Accounts Committee which then reports to the House. Then the Monk Resolutions are taken and they are, finally, enacted by this Bill.

That is what we are doing and, though it would be wrong of me to go over again the ground covered in our debates on the Monk Resolutions, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the way in which the Treasury exercises its power under Clause 4 of the Bill will be such as to satisfy him that money is not wasted; that powers of virement are not allowed to be exercised arbitrarily; and, finally, that the Treasury always takes great care —perhaps that was not appreciated by some hon. Members—to see that the provision of the Bill is observed that the aggregate expenditure of the Service Departments must not exceed the aggregate in their Estimates.

This power of virement is exercised within the Estimates and, on some occasions, substantial surpluses have emerged. Perhaps one or two hon. Members who spoke did not realise that Schedule (C) refers to the year 1953–54 and to events which took place two years ago. I hope that I may be forgiven if I do not go into detail there, because those matters have been taken in Committee and in the House and perhaps it would be wrong if I were to go over them again. I think that the House would be wise to criticise if the Treasury were allowed to exercise its power of virement to allow any surpluses on, let us say, the Navy Vote to be used for a sewerage scheme in Kirkintilloch. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) may pursue that idea, but I doubt whether he will get support from the Public Accounts Committee.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

I would from Kirkintilloch.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

Finally, on the point raised by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) about the Supplementary Estimate in Class IX, I would say that that is a token Estimate for £10 only, that it was laid before the House long before the recent debate took place on coal, and that there is nothing in it which could have any effect on the policy debated last week.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.