HC Deb 03 March 1930 vol 236 cc108-28

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £100,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1930, for a Grant-in-Aid of the Railway Freight Rebates (Anticipation) Fund.


This Vote deals with a simple matter, and I think the Committee can readily agree with the Estimate. The £100,000 is a re-vote of the unexpended balance of the amount voted in 1928–29. The Committee will remember that, in anticipation of the statutory rate relief scheme, rebates from railway carriage charges in respect of certain selected traffics were allowed by the railway companies from 1st December, 1928, and, in consideration of such rebates, it was agreed that the sum of £3,333,333, that is to say, ten-twelfths of the £4,000,000 which was the estimated rate relief for a full year, should be paid to the Railway Freights Rebates (Anticipation) Fund. Payments to the fund were to be made in such amounts and at such times as might be necessary to enable the Railway Clearing House to make payments out of it. It was expected that £1,000,000 would have been required for this purpose up to 31st March, 1929, but, in fact, up to that date the Railway Clearing House, who administer the fund, required only £900,000. The result was that £100,000 remained unused at the end of last financial year and had to be surrendered in the normal course of financial procedure. We are now asking for this £100,000 to be re-voted.

Colonel ASHLEY

I am glad to see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in his place, because, no doubt, he listened to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Leif Jones) in criticism of his absence while the previous Vote was under discussion; but I am afraid he has not arrived on that bench because of the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman but in response to a note which I sent him this morning saying that I proposed to draw attention to certain inconsistencies between his conduct now and on previous occasions. It will be noticed that the authorisation of the whole of these Supplementary Estimates is covered by the signature of the hon. Member himself on page 2. That signature indicates, I take it, that he expresses his approval of the various items in the Supplementary Estimates, wishes Parliament to give effect to the Votes, and, generally, wishes success to the various Ministers who have put their Estimates before the Committee. Without going deeply into the matter, I think we are entitled to ask the hon. Gentleman how it can be consistent with continuity of political policy now to ask the Committee to pass this Vote for £100,000 seeing that he denounced the scheme when it came up for consideration two years ago? I will not proceed any further on that point, because it would not be in order, but I am sure the hon. Member will not deny that he then said this scheme was bad from beginning to end and seriously affected the fortunes of the country. Perhaps he will later inform us how it is that he can now put his name to this Vote and ask the Committee to pass it.

I pass, now, to the consideration of the Vote itself, and would like the Minister to tell us how the scheme has worked. If hon. Members will turn to Command Paper 3215 they will see that important Regulations are laid down for the administration of this very important fund, which runs into about £4,000,000 a year. It is confided to the Railway Clearing House, which is an institution of such well-known financial rectitude, and in which everybody has such confidence, that it was considered that it might be given a certain latitude in the matter. In this White Paper £16,667 was taken as the administrative expenses for one year. That is a large sum of money, but, on the other hand, there is a tremendous amount of bookkeeping in connection with this scheme. I would like to know whether the £16,667 has been found sufficient, or whether a further grant had to be made out of the gross receipts towards the expenses. At the bottom of page 27 of the Supplementary Estimates there is this statement: The expenditure out of this Grant-in-Aid will not be audited in detail by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, nor will any balance of the sums issued remaining unexpended at the close of the financial year be liable to surrender. Those are two very important observations. It is my recollection that audit in detail was not insisted on when the Fund was started, because of the high position occupied by the Railway Clearing House. It was felt that it would be a work of supererogation to have the Comptroller and Auditor-General going into all these small details, and it would involve considerable expense; but in order to maintain proper inspection it was provided, as hon. Members will see on page 4 of the White Paper, that the accounts of the Fund should be kept in a form to be approved by the Minister and subject to such audit as he might direct. I would like to know the form of accounts approved by the Minister. Obviously, I am not asking him to give us specimens of the accounts, but I would like some idea of the form decided on. Even more important than that is the question of the form of audit. As it is not a Government audit by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, has the Minister got a well-known private firm to carry out the work, or is it being done by the railway companies themselves?

Then there is the question as to what has happened to the railway companies under this scheme. An arrangement was arrived at which, I think, was very advantageous to the taxpayer. If at the end of the ten months in which this anticipatory scheme was to work before the permanent scheme came into existence there was a deficiency in the Fund, the railway companies had to make up out of their own pockets the amount of the deficiency; but, if there was a balance, then the one bright spot was that the Treasury were not to have the money, but that it was to be carried over as a Fund to start the scheme which came into operation on 1st October last. Did the railway companies have to find any money on 30th September last; or was there a surplus, and did the permanent Fund start to the good on 1st October?

For the information of hon. Members who were not in the last Parliament, I would like to say that this scheme, for what it was worth, was instituted to help the basic industries, which were suffering badly, and it was applied to three classes of traffics—industrial, agricultural and coal traffics. The rebates given by the railways in the case of industrial and agricultural traffics amounted to 10 per cent., and in the case of coal to no lees than 30 per cent., equivalent to 7d. or 7½d. per ton on coal taken from the colliery to the port of embarkation. I hope to be able to give the Committee some information, from what I have been able to glean from the public Press and other places, as to what has happened with coal, but I am absolutely in the dark as to what has occurred in the case of iron And steel and agriculture. In the case of agriculture there was a rebate of 10 per cent. on the carriage of feeding-stuffs, potatoes, manures and other items. Unfortunately, owing to the inevitable lag in the returns of public departments, the last returns we have for industry and agriculture are for 1928; but perhaps the Minister may have some information in his Department, and I ask him specifically to tell me what has been the result of this scheme during the anticipatory period and the three months of its permanent working, on industrial traffics and on agricultural traffics.

Has it had a beneficial effect on the coal trade? The increase in the export of coal is due not to this cause alone, but to many causes. The eight-hour day in the coal trade has helped to increase the export trade. This scheme of railway freight rebates is a most important secondary cause. Whereas in 1928 we exported only 50,000,000 tons of coal from this country, in 1929 we exported 60,000,000 tons. If you take bunkers, which are included in this scheme, bunkers and export trade together increased from 67,000,000 tons to 77,000,000 tons, and that is a very considerable increase. If we have increased the export of coal for ordinary consumption abroad and for foreign bunkers by 10,000,000 tons, that is a very considerable asset to this country. In 1920 there were on the average 35,000 more people employed in the mining industry than in 1928. Not only do we sell more coal abroad and in foreign bunkers, but there has been a very substantial increase in employment given to the people of this country. I do not want to press the Financial Secretary too far, but I should like him to give us some explanation on this point. I was, perhaps, misinformed as to the effects of the scheme. At first blush it did not seem to be so good, but now I am in a position of more responsibility than I was then and I really think this scheme is quite a sound one. It has given good results, and I hope the Financial Secretary will give his assistance to the Minister of Transport in carrying it out.

I do not know that I wish to raise any more points on this scheme as a whole, and perhaps I may be allowed to say that this scheme of anticipation for the 10 months from 30th December, 1928, to 30th September, 1929, has been a marked success. It is also greatly to the credit of the officials of the Ministry of Transport that their Estimate of £4,000,000 came within £100,000 of being accurate. It is not easy to make a guess of this kind, and it is marvellous that in their Estimate they came so near as they did. In October, 1928, we were not sure what the de-rating authorities would de-rate the hereditaments as in 1929, and we are fortunate in only having to find £100,000. I think I may congratulate the advisers of the Minister of Transport on their guessing. Finally, as this anticipatory scheme has been such a success, I hope the Government will continue it as a permanent scheme for what it is worth, because it has given a little more ginger to the export of coal, and I trust that the Ministry will make this scheme a permanent part of their machinery.

Major GLYN

I quite agree with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for New Forest and Christ-church (Colonel Ashley) in regard to the necessity for the presence of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman in his place. When this question was under discussion in the last Parliament, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said: This scheme, on the contrary, is a pettifogging scheme, a muddling scheme, differentiating capriciously between one and the other in a way which is bound to be detrimental to many interests."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November. 1928; col 1976, Vol. 222.] That was the view of the Financial Secretary during the last Parliament, and I ask him if he still holds those views about this scheme. In the last Parliament the Financial Secretary moved a reduction of the Vote. Now we find that he is supporting the very able Minister of Transport, and he is giving the Minister that moral and personal assistance to which, I think, he is entitled under this scheme. In these circumstances, I think that the Financial Secretary ought to withdraw those words in which he described this as a pettifogging and a muddling scheme. It may be that it is not necessary for the hon. Member to withdraw those words, because he has been convinced by experience that he was wrong, and perhaps he will be the first to say that this scheme has been very properly worked by the Railway Clearing House.

It will be agreed, in fact it has been proved, that the Railway Clearing House has worked admirably. It ought to be mentioned that the railway companies will have to contribute, approximately, £66,000, and the railway companies have no intention of operating on that in any grudging sense. The idea was that it would help certain basic industries, and some interesting figures which I have obtained show that the export coal trade has been helped by this scheme to the extent of 52,500,000 tons and the rebate on that amounted to £1,637,000. Those figures seem to me to prove that the scheme which was attacked so strongly by the Financial Secretary has proved to be a great success, and it has shown that the policy of the late Government was justified when they brought the scheme before the House.

With regard to the agricultural community, there is one thing which I am very anxious to say. The farmers of this country do not seem to realise that they are themselves entitled to this assistance if they will use the machinery which has been laid down. It is extremely difficult to get this fact known to farmers. I am not saying a word against the dealers or the manufacturers of fertilisers. It is the dealer who makes the claim for the rebate on the railways. When the farmer consigns his produce to the market, he does it through the dealer, and the dealer claims the rebate. The farmer himself could get the rebate if he would consign it himself. The farmer has only to go to the stationmaster and ask for the particulars, and he will get them. What happens when the produce goes the other way? You find that the dealers who deal in manures and seeds again take charge and consign it to the farmer, and get the rebate. Of course the farmer is credited with that. We want to encourage rural traffic in regard to the agricultural industry. It is of the utmost importance that that excellent object should be made known to the farmer, and I hope that the Minister of Transport, in his reply, will emphasise the importance of providing working machinery to assist agriculture, and if he does that I am sure a great deal of good will result.

I want to mention one other fact. Since the Measure with which we are dealing was introduced, a great change has come over the transportation of milk in glass-lined railway tanks. That is a most important matter for the health of the nation, and for the distribution of clean milk. I hope that the Minister and his able advisers at Whitehall. Gardens will make the advantages of this form of traffic widely known, and then I am sure a great deal of good will be done as far as the health of the country is concerned, and it will be a great advantage to the milk producers of this country. Under the scheme I have mentioned, 178,000,000 gallons of milk have been conveyed, and there has been a rebate of £107,125 paid in respect of that traffic passing. If we can do a little more to assist the bulk transport of clean milk, it will reduce the cost of milk. The scheme is justified by that fact alone. I am sure that the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) will be the first to recognise that instead of this being a pettifogging and a muddling scheme, it is one of the most beneficial Measures that was ever passed by a wise administration. I hope that when the Financial Secretary replies to this Debate he will not only withdraw the words I have quoted, but will give this scheme his blessing, and promise to give his colleague all the support he can in carrying it out.


I will not follow what has been said on this subject by previous speakers further than to say that I shall do all I can to supplement the request for information in order to enable us to understand what is the progress of the scheme in respect of which we are voting money to-day. I wish to raise a question which appears on the face of the Supplementary Estimate which, I think, ought to be raised, and that is the use which has been made of the Civil Contingencies Fund. Perhaps the Financial Secretary will be able to assist us in understanding this somewhat technical Treasury matter. The Committee will understand the importance of exercising a sharp control over the use of the Civil Contingencies Fund, which is a reserve fund by which the Government are able to escape for a time from the restrictions of Parliamentary control over their expenditure. We should always raise this question whenever it is not perfectly clear on the face of the Estimate that the use of this fund has been resorted to. On the face of this Estimate it is not clear at all what use has been made of the Civil Contingencies Fund. It seems to have been an elaborate transaction, and one in regard to which the Note gives us no information. We are dealing with two years, 1928 and 1929, and we are repaying £100,000 which was short of the sum voted in 1928.

The first point I want to put is if it was known that this sum would ultimately be required for repayment of Civil Contingencies advances, why was it not included in the Estimates for 1929, and why has it come into a Supplementary Estimate? The first principle, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, of the use of the Civil Contingencies Fund, is that, whenever an advance is made from that Fund, it should be legitimated and repaid at the earliest possible opportunity, and it would certainly seem that the earliest possible opportunity for a legitimisation of that advance was in the Estimates for the year 1929, but we only get it now in a Supplementary Estimate at the end of the year. In order to assist us in understanding what we are being asked to do when we are asked to authorise this advance from the Fund, let me ask a question. When was the advance made? Was it made in the original year, 1928, and, if so, why was only £900,000 advanced, and not the full amount of £1,000,000? In the second place, included in this question of the time is the question of the amount, and I should like to ask what was the amount advanced? Was it only an advance of £100,000 from the Fund in the year 1929? If so, that would put a totally different complexion on the matter.

I ask these questions in order that we may judge as to the following points. The Vote was £1,000,000. What was the advance from the Civil Contingencies Fund? We do not get that from the Vote, and we want to know in order that we may judge as to the following points, on which the Committee is entitled to have information which will enable it to judge. In the first place, we ought to be assured that not a penny more was advanced from the Civil Contingencies Fund than was absolutely essential to carry out the purpose of the Government; and, in the second place, that not a penny was advanced from the Civil Contingencies Fund for any purpose for which Parliamentary authority had not been already received. That is the second great principle in the restriction of the rather dangerous powers which this Fund confers. In the third place, we want to know the amount and date of the advance, in order that we may know whether the Government have exercised the appropriately high standard of regularity in the use of the Civil Contingencies Fund, and whether they have come to Parliament to put the matter right at the earliest possible moment. Finally, I sincerely hope that the Financial Secretary will not be tempted—I am sure he will not—to ride off on any cheap party score by saying that this was an Act passed by the previous Government, or anything of that sort. I am sure that he will not attempt to do that, because he recognises as much as we do that in such a matter as this, whatever Government may be in office, the Committee is entitled to insist upon a high standard of regularity.

The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence)

I do not think that I need take up the time of the Committee by going at any length into the question raised by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who was Minister of Transport in the late administration, and by the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn)—


You ought to say something!


I am going to say something, but I was not proposing to take up a great deal of time. The position is perfectly simple and straightforward. I made a speech two years ago, and, as a result of the letter which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman sent to me, I have spent a very pleasant 10 minutes reading that very excellent speech again. In it I was attacking the whole policy of the De-rating Act, and this proposal in particular. I should be out of order if I were to go into the whole question of the De-rating Act or this particular scheme now, but any approval that I give to paying this £100,000 must not in the least be taken to commit me to any alteration of opinion regarding the whole policy which that Act of the late Government involves. This particular proposal for railway rebates involves a sum of £4,000,000, and it is hardly necessary to say that, if you spend £4,000,000, somebody will get the benefit of it. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman gave illustrations to prove that, but I should have thought that it was not necessary to prove that very great benefits have arisen from an expenditure of £4,000,000. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Certainly. Whether the disadvantage of paying £4,000,000 by the people who have to pay it exceeds the advantages to the people who get the £4,000,000 is quite another question, and lies outside this particular Vote entirely. The late Government having carried the De-rating Act, and it having become a Statute, this particular sum is going through, and I, naturally, have to sec that it is administered correctly; and in that sense I fully support my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. There is nothing in the least inconsistent in that. [Interruption.] I am quite capable of enjoying the joke which hon. Gentlemen opposite have put to the Committee, and they know quite as well as I do that there is no real substance behind the joke which they have so charmingly put forward.

With regard to the serious point which was put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir H. Young), I do not think he quite understands what exactly took place. The House of Commons did decide quite definitely that this money was to be spent in this way, and, therefore, there is no question at all of the general approval of the House of Commons not having been given. The House of Commons went through the ordinary procedure, culminating in the Appropriation Act, in deciding perfectly definitely that this money was to be spent in this way, and the only question involved is that, as the £1,000,000 voted for the previous year was not all spent, £100,000 had to be surrendered to the Treasury, and, therefore, it was necessary for the House to re-vote that £100,000 in order to implement the intention of Parliament. At the time when the Estimate for 1929 was drawn up by the late Government, it could not be foreseen whether the whole of the £1,000,000 would be spent before the 31st March, 1929. It was not possible to include in the Estimate for 1929–30 the balance of £100,000 which was not spent, and we have now to introduce a Supplementary Estimate for the purpose.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why the Civil Contingencies Fund was brought in. The Civil Contingencies Fund is brought in because, the sanction of Parliament for the spending of the necessary money having been obtained in the original Resolution passed during the last Parliament, the Treasury was perfectly entitled to allow the money to go out, and to introduce at the earliest available opportunity a Supplementary Estimate to reimburse the Civil Contingencies Fund, that is to say, to pay the money which Parliament had authorised, though the specific amount had not been voted. The time has now come to refund this £100,000 to the Civil Contingencies Fund. The money has not been needed until comparatively late in the year.


Can the hon. Gentleman say what was the amount of the advance, and the time?


I cannot say exactly. This covers the whole year ending on the 31st March, and before this Vote is finally through the House some part of it will have been encroached upon. I cannot say what is the exact amount at this moment, but the principle has been carried out meticulously according to the constitutional practice.

Colonel ASHLEY

Will the hon. Gentleman or the Minister of Transport deal with the point that I raised as to whether any money will be handed over for a permanent fund at the end of the year 1930?


I will deal with that point.


The Financial Secretary, especially in the first part of his speech, made some most interesting observations and expressed some very novel ideas about Ministerial and personal responsibility. I remember very well that one of the first questions put to the Government when they came into office was with regard to this particular scheme and to the Act generally. In view of the unmeasured denunciation which it had received from hon. Gentlemen opposite, including the Financial Secretary, they were asked whether they were going to repeal the Measure, because we naturally expected that, being men of their word and honest of purpose, inasmuch as this scheme was, as they used to tell us, a fraud, the first thing they would do would be to bring in an early one-Clause Bill repealing the whole Measure. But that was not the reply at all; the reply was that they had not the least intention of doing that. The Financial Secretary was then put in a great difficulty. He had been saying that this scheme, not only on this particular point but on many others also, was going to ruin the country and the trades affected, but, to the surprise of everyone who knew him as a man of purpose, he still remained Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Has he never heard of such a thing as Ministerial resignation when such a grave difference arises between a Minister and the Government of the day I Does he really think that he can brush it all on one side in the way that he has done this evening? The hon. Gentleman went much further than was mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn). He actually said that this particular scheme which we are now discussing was going to be a failure. He was a prophet, like most hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, and yet we find them actually coming to ask the House for further support in connection with that Measure, and the most prominent among them is the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will ponder over my words to-night, and we shall see whether or not there is an interesting announcement in the papers in the morning.

This particular matter is of considerable interest to me because I had the pleasure of supporting my right hon. and gallant Friend the late Minister of Transport in bringing forward the scheme, and I remember very well how hon. Members opposite used to come round to the then Minister of Transport and myself in the morning and ask that the scheme might be continued, while in the evening they used to denounce it very fiercely in the House. I think the questions that I am going to put to the Minister of Transport will elicit, if he answers them fairly, as I know he will, that this amount which we are asked to add to the sum already voted by the House has been fully justified. The scheme itself, which was a matter of some debate in the House, was anticipated in a White Paper entitled "Railway Freight Rebates (Anticipation)," and it came in for a good deal of criticism. Can the Minister of Transport, in justifying this particular amount, give us a little more information about the working of the scheme as a whole? For instance, can he tell me how many of the railway companies have sent in written notice accepting the scheme, because there was some doubt expressed as to whether this scheme would be accepted generally.

7.0 p.m.

There was also a criticism directed to that part of the scheme which stated that it was to be administered by the Railway Clearing House, and hon. Members suggested all sorts of alternatives and all sorts of bodies who were to be in control of this particular scheme. Has the administration of this scheme by the Railway Clearing House been found satisfactory, and is it a good tribunal? What have been the expenses of the Clearing House? Another criticism was that this was going to be a most expensive way of dealing with the matter. We were also told, in the words of the Financial Secretary, that the scheme was going to be a failure and that traders would not bother with it, because it was such a small amount. How many traders have had rebates under the scheme? Again, we made provision in the scheme for disputes arising, and provided that they were to be referred to the Minister under paragraph 8. Have any disputes been referred to the Minister and is there any provision in this Vote under that head? My right hon. Friend has put a question about the form of accounts. Has that form been now finally approved to the satisfaction of all the parties concerned? Has the information necessary under the scheme been given by the Railway Clearing House in that connection? In other words, is the scheme working well and is the machinery going as well as complicated machinery of this kind can be expected to work?

Obviously, in a scheme like this there may be a number of errors and irregularities, and we made provision for them in paragraph 10. In fact, we were told that there would be a very great number of errors. Have there been any of these errors and irregularities discovered for which we made provision? Under paragraph 12 provision was made for any deficiency which might arise. What has happened so far as that particular aspect of the scheme is concerned? The answers to these questions which I have put would elicit whether, apart from the undoubted benefits the scheme gives to certain traders, the machinery designed at that time is working well. We shall hear no one in the Committee this afternoon, except the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the halting words he uttered, get up and say that this scheme ought to be repealed. It was the policy of the late Government to give some relief to the traders in this way; it is the policy of the present Government to add to their burdens. You have there the distinction between the policy of the two Governments.


It was a pleasure to us to hear the Financial Secretary to the Treasury this afternoon. We can remember the speeches which he used to make in opposition merely carping and criticising the hard work of the Government of the day. It was a real pleasure, therefore, to-night, instead of a speech of that kind, to hear him tell us with all the zeal of a recent convert that there was something here of real value. He did not put it in that way but that was the tenor of his speech. My object is to ask the Minister of Transport a few questions on the administrative side of this sum of £100,000. He took the line that there was not very much in it, that it was just £100,000 that might have been spent earlier, but was not spent and had come up for discussion to-day. Earlier, the late Minister of Transport pointed out that the expenses of this scheme were very high indeed. Are those expenses tending to rise or to fall? Obviously, as a great scheme of this sort becomes better known, it ought to be possible to cut down the administrative expenses. This scheme is carried out by means of a Government grant, and I would therefore ask, if you succeed in lowering those expenses considerably, whether that means that the Government prosper or that the railways prosper, or does it mean that the agriculturist and the coal trade will get a further reduction in wages? That is a very pertinent question in connection with these expenses, because it leads one to believe that there is an opening for a further improvement in this respect.

When we were originally debating these sums, we were told, as is stated in the first paragraph, that this money was for certain selected traffics. Those traffics deal in the main with agriculture, coal and certain other heavy industries. What proportion of this sum goes to these different classes? It is of vital interest to the Committee to know which of them is getting most of the money. It is no use saying that one section gets a certain amount and another section gets another sum, because it is quite clear that during the last 12 months there must have been some change in the proportion of these goods carried by the railways. It is quite conceivable that there has been no very great increase of agricultural produce carried at the present time, and I should like to know if we are having to find an increased proportion for agriculture. Agricultural manures come under this, so it is a vital question, because, if there is a decrease, it means more land is going into bad cultivation. We are entitled, therefore, to an answer on that point.

I presume the increase in this sum is caused by a great increase in the amount of coal carried, and we are entitled to know what increase there has been in the amount of coal carried. If that is so, the Minister of Transport and some of his colleagues would be the first to say: "Yes, there has been a lot more coal carried under this scheme, and we, as members of the present Government, are once again only too glad to follow in the footsteps of our predecessors." They could show their wisdom in one small point, at any rate, by following out what has been done before.

Another point has exercised my mind considerably. During the Debates about this rebate there is always an idea in the minds of some people that a certain amount of this money may be going for the building of new trucks. I believe I am right in saying that none of it is used for that purpose, but, as some people are not clear on that matter, perhaps the Minister would make it clear that this money is only being used for rebates on certain classes of heavy goods. I would like to put a further point which has not been dealt with. Now that he has had time to find that he wants more money for this scheme, has the hon. Gentleman, in considering what additional sum he has had to find, made up his mind in any way that that sum is justified to such a degree that he will have to find it again in the future? I am giving him an easy way of saying whether he will make this permanent or not. After all, we are voting for a given sum now, and we ought to know whether it is temporary or whether the hon. Gentleman has anything else in his mind in this respect.

It is stated here that the expenditure out of this Grant-in-Aid will not be audited in detail. This question was raised by the late Minister of Transport, and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury did not make the least attempt to answer it. Of course, he has not acquired that skill in answering questions which comes with long practice to some people, like some of my right hon. Friends below me. But I think in a matter of this kind, where there is a very large sum involved, we should have clearly explained why it is that this sum is not fully audited. From what was said earlier, it looked to me as if this was handed over to the railways, and that in due course it was paid out by these various reductions. We ought to be told whether the scheme is working in such a way that we are getting real value for the expenditure and that too much of it is not going in administration.

This sum goes in proportion to various railways. I do not ask the Minister tonight to tell us how much goes to each of the four great railways, but I should like to know approximately what proportion of it goes over the border. I should not like it to be thought that we were neglecting one part of the United Kingdom, and I think I am entitled to ask what proportion goes to the various countries. I should like to protest against the system by which we have an Estimate of this kind. It is a very great pity that this comes as one in a large series of Supplementary Estimates, all of which are thoroughly bad, although this happens, through the circumstances of the case, to be considerably more excusable than some of the others.


I have been asked whether the administration expenses have been paid out or not, and whether there is a surplus or a deficit. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the White Paper, paragraph 5(a), there is no argument about the point at all. It says there was to be paid out of funds so provided in respect of administrative expenses, in giving effect to the provisions of the scheme, £16,667, and that sum was to be divided between the Railway Clearing House and the individual railway companies. As far as I can see, that was a fixed payment. If, in fact, the railway companies have been paid more than they ought to have been paid, it is not I but the previous Government, that is responsible. If, on the other hand, they have been paid less than they have actually incurred in the administration of the scheme, the last Government made a good arrangement. The point is that it was a fixed sum provided for in the scheme, and I am afraid that is conclusive. The form of audit is a running audit of the accounts as they come along by the officers of the Ministry of Transport. That is the arrangement that was come to.

The late Minister of Transport asked how things had worked out. The final accounts of the Anticipation Fund, which should be kept in mind separately from the Permanent Fund which exists under the Statute subsequently passed, have not yet been audited, but we are informed by the Railway Clearing House that the rebates allowed in respect of traffic passing up to 30th September, 1929, after which the arrangements under the Local Government Act, 1929, came into force, exceed the sum to be paid by the Government by £78,000. As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, if there was a deficit in the fund it had to be borne by the railway companies, and, therefore, that £78,000, if such proves to be the amount, will be a charge against the railway companies and not against the Government. Had it been the other way, had it been a surplus, it would have been credited to the permanent fund and carried forward. There is a deficit to the extent of £78,000. I think it can be said fairly that the scheme has worked smoothly and, substantially it has been adopted by the Railway Rates Tribunal who are the body concerned with the permanent scheme under the Local Government Act, 1929. The scheme has worked smoothly, and I think the officers of the Ministry of Transport deserve great credit, and I am sure they would acknowledge the willing co-operation they have received from the officers of the railway companies and others who cooperated in order that the scheme should be effectively administered in accordance with the intentions of the Statute. It is no part of my duty to defend or criticise the Statute. Unlike my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, I was not a Member of the last Parliament. I have never sat in opposition in any Parliament, and, therefore, I have nothing to answer for. My record is a blameless one. Nothing said in opposition can be quoted against me. May it ever be so. I am not concerned with defending or criticising the system of de-rating and rebates and so on. The Act was passed, and we have to administer it as we find it.

Certain figures have been requested as to the actual rebates that have been made. The latest information available is substantially in correspondence with the predictions that were made by the late Minister of Transport, and the Committee will be delighted, as I am sure will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself, to hear that it has worked out very much in accordance with the statistical predictions of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am sure that will be accounted to his credit by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. The latest information available shows that there were allowed under the scheme rebates averaging approximately as follows: Agricultural traffics, except livestock and milk, 1s. 2¼d. a ton; exported coal, 7½d. a ton; coal for iron or steel works, 9.6d.; other selected traffics, 4.6d. Now I will indicate the prophecies that were made. In a Debate on 24th July, 1928, on unemployment, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer said the relief would amount to 7½d. per ton on export coal, and 10½d. per ton on coal for iron and steel works. On 1st February, 1929, when the Local Government Bill was being considered in Committee, the late President of the Board of Trade stated that the relief on coal would be anything from 7d. to 9d. per ton. It will be seen that these estimates were generally, if not exactly, realised.

Colonel ASHLEY

I gave figures which I thought were accurate showing that it had been successful in stimulating the export of coal and coal for bunkers. I wanted to know whether the hon. Gentleman had any information to show that this anticipatory scheme had helped industrial and agricultural traffics.


I am sorry I did not come prepared to deal with that point, which possibly would be more properly put to the President of the Board of Trade. There was a point put to the Financial Secretary as to the date when the £100,000 was paid into the appropriate account from the Civil Contingencies Fund. The date was 16th December, 1929, when the whole of the £100,000 was paid over. I do not think I need deal with the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood). It was a speech in defence of consistency when in and out of office. Consistency is a desirable thing, but, from what I have seen of the right hon. Gentleman, I should not choose him as a model of consistency. He frequently puts questions in opposition pressing Ministers to do things which he steadily refused to do when in office. But that is the ordinary by-play of debate which we need not be serious about.


The Minister has given the amount of relief on coal. Can he tell us whether it has had any definite effect in increasing the amount raised for export, and can he state the proportions in which this £100,000 is spent as between coal and agricultural produce and other forms of food?


I am sorry I cannot state that.

Viscount WOLMER

The hon. Gentleman said that the relief accorded to agricultural freights was 1s. 2¼d. a ton, ex- cluding milk and livestock. Can he tell us what was the relief per ton on milk and livestock? Those are two very important traffics which were entitled to rebates under the scheme, and I do not understand why he specifically excluded them.


The exact comparative figures could not be given at that point in that form, but the particulars as to milk and livestock are as follow: There was a rebate of 10 per cent. off the carriage charges on livestock conveyed by freight trains, and the sum amounted to £141,000. As regards milk, rebates were allowed on 180,000,000 gallons, and the average rebate was equivalent to 14d. per gallon.

Viscount WOLMER

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what the agricultural industry has received altogether in rebates as the result of the working of the scheme up to 30th September last? If we knew the amount of tonnage carried, we could do the sum ourselves from the figures he has given, but I cannot help feeling that he must have the information, and it would be a convenience to the Committee if he could tell us.


I cannot give it in money values. The figures apparently are not recorded. Of agricultural selected traffics, except livestock and milk, the tonnage was 5,948,907, and the rebate per ton was 14.27d. on the average. The figures can be arrived at by multiplying the tonnage by the amount.

Viscount WOLMER

I think it is a little unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman did not make a full statement in that respect both in regard to agriculture and to the heavy industries. My right hon. Friend gave us the figures about coal and they have not been challenged. It would have been very much for the convenience of the Committee to know in round figures what the relief for these great industries for which it was designed amounted to. Perhaps after I have had an opportunity of reading the hon. Gentleman's speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, and if I have not, by the aid of multiplication, been able to extract all the information which I want in that respect, he will allow me to put down some questions, which I am sure he will be able to answer.

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