Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, 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, 1939, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Health; including grants, a grant-in-aid and other expenses in connection with housing, certain grants to local authorities, etc., a grant-in-aid to the National Radium Trust, grants-in-aid in respect of national health insurance benefits, etc., certain expenses in connection with widows', orphans' and old age contributory pensions; a grant-in-aid of the Civil Service Sports Council; and other services.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Bernays)
This Supplementary Estimate is to meet a grant-in-aid to the National Radium Trust. The circumstances were fully explained by my right hon. Friend on the Second Reading of the Cancer Bill, and I am sure the Committee would not want me to repeat what he said on that occasion. Clause 3 of the Cancer Bill contains provisions for the Minister to lend money to the National Radium Trust for the purchase of radium and other radio-therapeutic elements. The Trust have arranged to purchase 18 grammes of radium which they now hold on loan from a Canadian company, and to pay for it by 12 monthly instalments. The amount to be provided by this Supplementary Estimate is the sum needed to enable the Radium Trust to pay four instalments which will become due before the end of the year.
§ Mr. Foot
I think we ought to have a little more explanation. At the bottom of page 17 there is a Note which says that this is a Supplementary Estimate of the amount required for the year ending the 31st March, 1939. On page 18 there is a Note which says:Clause 3 of the Cancer Bill provides that the Minister may lend money to the National Radium Trust within a limit of £500,000 and on conditions to be determined by the Treasury.Apparently, it is in anticipation of that particular Clause of the Bill that this sum is to be voted. But the Cancer Bill has 1850 not yet received the assent of Parliament. Why, then, are we asked to vote this sum of money in advance of the Bill being passed? It is surely not the business of the Department to anticipate the decision which this House or the other place may come to on any Bill now before Parliament. There ought to be a further word of explanation on Note 2, which appears on page 18. That Note says:Expenditure out of this grant-in-aid will not be accounted for in detail to the Comptroller and Auditor-General, but the accounts of the National Radium Trust are audited by him in accordance with Treasury directions given under the Royal Charter of the Trust.Surely, that is a departure from our usual practice, and we ought to have an explanation about it. It is provided that the accounts of the National Radium Trust are to be audited under Treasury direction, and it is necessary that the Committee should know why expenditure under the grant-in-aid is not to be accounted for to the Comptroller and Auditor-General in what I take to be the ordinary way. I think the Minister should also say something in regard to the last sentence of Note 2, where it says:Any balance of the sum issued from this Vote which may remain unexpended at 31st March, 1939, will not be liable to surrender to the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Bernays
The auditing point is a very technical question and I am afraid I could hardly answer in detail on that very complex matter. The accounts are, in fact, audited by the Comptroller and Audtor General. With regard to the main point of the hon. Member, that we are asking for money in advance of the passing of the Bill, I think that is made clear in the Note at the end of the Vote, which says:The provision in this Estimate is subject to statutory authority being obtained in accordance with the terms of the Cancer Bill now before Parliament.We have also the Financial Resolution which has been passed.
§ Mr. Foot
The Financial Resolution is only brought forward to enable the Bill to proceed. Is there any precedent for asking us to vote money in this way before a Measure has received Parlimentary assent? On the point in regard to the Comptroller and Auditor-General, it is perfectly obvious from the Note that the two accounts will be audited by the same 1851 person, who in each case is the Comptroller and Auditor-General. If that be so, why should he not audit these accounts in precisely the same way as any other expenditure by a Government Department?
§ Mr. Bernays
In regard to the hon. Member's point that there is no precedent for this, I do not think he can really substantiate that. There is a precedent for instance, in the Essential Commodities (Reserve) Bill, Clause 6, which says that it is:Subject to statutory authority being obtained in accordance with the provisions of the Essential Commodities (Reserve) Bill now before Parliament.I think the hon. Member will find that this has been frequently done before.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn
I think the Parliamentary Secretary has been most unfortunate in his selection of a precedent. The Essential Commodities (Reserve) Bill dealt with a flagrant defiance of the practice of Parliament. The Government spent money without authority and then came to this House for an indemnity. I do not know what the position is if the Bill is not passed, but I presume—I am not certain—that the money goes back into the Sinking Fund; I do not know whether the estimate itself would give authority for the money. Whatever the Government may have in mind, the fact remains that they are not only the most extravagant Government that ever was, but the slackest also as regards the control of expenditure, and the most flagrant so far as the defiance of Parliamentary rules is concerned. The hon. Member gives as a precedent a case where money was spent without any Parliamentary authority and a Bill of indemnity had to be introduced to indemnify the Minister.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I should like to reinforce the point made by my right hon. Friend. When dealing with the Essential Commodities Bill the Chancellor of the Exchequer assured the House that that action was owing to the exceptional nature of the transaction and the fact that it was necessary to get hold of these commodities without anybody in this country or outside knowing about it, and that it would never be quoted as a precedent for spending money without Parlia- 1852 mentary sanction; yet within 12 months of the Chancellor of the Exchequer standing at that Box and giving us that assurance, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health calmly brings that forward to justify this particular expenditure.
I would press the matter a little further. Do the Government mean to get the Cancer Bill? If they do not, this Vote to-night is a sheer waste of time. I have been asked to go to the Ministry of Health to-morrow morning to discuss Amendments to that Bill, and I have been told in advance that from the point of view of the Minister I can take the responsibility or not of killing the Bill, and that if I insist on certain Amendments the Government will not find time for the Measure, which must go through as a non-contentious Bill. If the Government are in the position of telling that to the County Councils Association, who have put down Amendments in the names of two. hon. Members opposite and two hon. Members on this side of the Committee, and if that is all the interest they have in that Bill, why should they come here to-night and ask for this Vote? Why not wait to see what the answer is to our Amendments to-morrow?
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)
The hon. Member wants an assurance as to whether we mean to get the Cancer Bill. Yes. We mean to get the Bill, and certainly we are going to get it. As to whether I am claiming this as a precedent, I am not. My hon. Friend was asked for an analogy. He was asked whether this had ever been done before, and he gave the analogy. I am ready to justify this Vote on the face of it and on the strength of it. I make no apology. It is money that will be well spent for the curing of disease, and I make no apology for it.
§ Mr. Elliot
Because I do not want to waste five minutes more than necessary. If I have the Bill on the Statute Book before the 31st March I do not want to 1853 waste five minutes before putting it into operation. Some 6,000 people died between the Second Reading of the Bill and the time that it got to the Committee stage, and I am not going to waste any time in seeing that these people get the assistance. I want to make sure that they will get it as quickly as possible.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Colonel Nathan
I am not sure whether I understood the Minister to say that he had obtained some sort of option over the radium. If that is correct, may I ask whether this sum of £27,000 is required in any way in regard to that option; and also what statutory authority there was for the Ministry to enter into an option and pay any money for it at all. I should like to know whether anything was paid for the option. I observe that in the first footnote there is power to lend money to the National Radium Trust on conditions to be determined by the Treasury. Presumably, before any of this £27,000 is expended the conditions will have been denned by the Treasury. I should like to know what those conditions are. Then there is one technical matter. Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to explain exactly the purpose, in this particular instance, of the statement in the last sentence of the second Note that the unexpended balance will not be liable to surrender to the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Elliot
On the last point, the technical point raised by the hon. and gallant Member, I will leave the Parliamentary Secretary to answer. As to the position of the option, the hon. and gallant Member will remember that when I spoke on the Bill I made it clear that the option had been obtained by the Radium Trust and not by the Government.
§ Mr. Bernays
The Note to which the hon. and gallant Member has referred relates to the contribution of the Treasury to the cost of sickness benefit under National Health Insurance. The Treasury's contribution is one-seventh of the expenditure in respect of men and one-fifth in respect of women, and the total sum varies with the amount of the expenditure required for the year. The amount required for the year is now known and proves to be slightly less than anticipated— £5,455,000 instead of £5,485,000. If the saving could not be used for the Supplementary Estimate it 1854 would, of course, have to be returned to the Exchequer.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, 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, 1939, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Health; including grants, a grant in aid and other expenses in connection with housing, certain grants to local authorities, etc., a grant in aid to the National Radium Trust, grants in aid in respect of National Health Insurance benefits, etc., certain expenses in connection with widows', orphans' and old age contributory pensions; a grant in add of the Civil Service Sports Council; and other services.