Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. BENSON
I shall be glad if the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give an explanation of what the Resolution really involves, and why it is necessary. It is a breach of an important constitutional point that out of the Consolidated Fund any sum shall be paid which has not been definitely ascertained, and no sum should be paid save on the certificate of the Auditor and Accountant-General, who is an officer of this House and not of the Government. The Resolution, as drafted, suggests that payment 814 shall be made at the instance of the Treasury and of the amount which the Treasury considers fit, not for a sum definitely ascertained or certified but before the sum can be ascertained and certified, and at the instance of the Treasury, and I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to give a defence of this proposed breach with the constitutional practice.
§ 7.22 p.m.
I do not think that that question really arises upon this very harmless Resolution. The Resolution is in two parts. The first part merely fixes the contribution for another year, and the second part, which is the one which the hon. Gentleman has described, is merely a device intended, as I explained in my Budget speech, to simplify and accelerate the present procedure. What happens at present is that the receipts from the Post Office come into the Exchequer and a fixed sum is retained. The remainder goes back to the Post Office Fund for the purposes of carrying out developments of Post Office work. There are some minor adjustments, but on broad principles that is what happens. The amount which has to go back—that is, the surplus—to the Post Office Fund at present, is made only in one payment on 815 1st November in the year following the end of the financial year in which the surplus accrues.
The result of that may be some considerable confusion in the accounts, because it might happen that in the course of the financial year the. Postmaster-General might give away a considerable part of his revenue in concessions on charges or otherwise. That, of course, would reduce the gross receipts in that year. It would also reduce the amount which has to go to the Post Office Fund, but, as the hon. Member will see, that would not take place until the following year instead of in the same year that the reduction of receipts had taken place. Although that is not happening now and the amounts in question are very small, it is conceivable that that might be an awkward matter. Therefore the effect of the provision which is covered by this Resolution is that the amount of the sum which would go to the Post Office Fund is in no way changed. It merely gives the Treasury power to authorise payment to the Post Office Fund within the year the surplus arises, instead of in the following year as is the case at the present time. It can only be for the amount of the surplus.
§ Mr. BENSON
I take it that the surplus must be ascertained and that the payment out will be before the surplus has been correctly ascertained? It will be an estimated amount, and it is in regard to that matter that the change of constitutional procedure arises.