§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Sir P. Sassoon
I beg to move,That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £42,200, 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 expenditure in respect of Customs and Excise. Inland Revenue, Post Office and telegraph buildings in Great Britain, certain post offices abroad, and for certain expenses in connection with boats and launches belonging to the Customs and Excise Department.Hon. Members will observe that the gross initial sum required is £113,010. This is reduced to £42,200 by anticipating savings. Out of the gross total, £74,500 is required for air-raid precautions services, and covers structural work in connection with refuge accommodation, fire precautions, provision for dark blinds and sacking and removal of records to clear basement space. A further sum of £30,000 is found to be necessary to meet the demands of the Post Office for minor alterations and additions. The main Vote is based on past experience, but for 1938 it was found to be insufficient. An anticipated saving of £33,000 on new works for Inland Revenue and Post Office buildings is mainly due to anticipated progress on various schemes not having been realised, or to their postponement. For the same reason there is a saving of £10,000 in rents. Hon. Members will be interested to hear that, as a result of mild weather last autumn, there has been a saving of £9,000 in the fuel sub-heads on this Vote. There is an additional sum of £14,800 in appropriations in aid, being the estimated amount to be recovered from the Post Office Savings Bank for air-raid precautions.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn
I will not comment on the weather. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with that. I am taking something far more serious. If the right hon. Gentleman will please turn to sub-head (b) and sub-head (i) and sub-head (d), he will find on all those sub-heads supplementary sums required for air-raid precautions. In the 1846 main Estimate for 1938 no sums were tabled for air-raid precautions. I would ask the Assistant Postmaster-General why, with all this talk last year about the necessity for air-raid precautions, all these things being done and so much being said about our schemes for air-raid precautions, the Government did not take in respect of his buildings—I think it comes under, "P, Post Office and Telegraph Buildings"—one farthing of money in order to protect these buildings. That certainly requires some explanation. People got the impression, when we had the discussions on air-raid precautions last year, that the Government were getting busy. We thought that they were slow, but we believed that they were doing something. Yet it is the fact that in March, 1939, this is the first farthing, as far as I can make out, asked of this House under this Vote for the purpose of protecting either in a general way or in particular, Post Office and Telegraph buildings. That means to say, if I am right—and the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that until this Estimate was presented and this authority of Parliament was obtained, he had not any Parliamentary authority for protecting his servants in the Post Office and Telegraph buildings. Am I right in supposing that that is the fact? If so it is certainly a most remarkable dereliction of duty. [Interruption.] I do not think that it is a laughing matter at all. It does not seem to me to be funny when the Government come for the first time to ask for money from Parliament in order to protect public servants who are doing their duty in the Post Office and other buildings. I may be wrong, and I may has misread it, but I would ask the Minister definitely whether this is the first sum that has been taken for air-raid precautions in public offices, and I ask the Assistant Postmaster-General in particular whether this is the first time that Parliamentary money has been asked for to protect the postal servants in his Department.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Sir P. Sassoon
I would certainly not say that this is the first time that money was being asked for this purpose. There has always been a sum of money under the maintenance sub-heads which could be allocated for this purpose. Last September we were able to use that money 1847 for A.R.P. services. It is obvious that since last September and the decision then taken that air-raid precautions should be pushed urgently forward to the maximum, we should have to spend more than we had intended in our original Estimate.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us the amount of the original Vote of which this £20,000 in paragraph "P" is excess expenditure? I understood him to say that there was a sum, which was shown in greater detail in some particular Vote in his Department but was not submitted to the House which was sufficient for the ordinary running of air-raid precautions prior to last September, and that as from last September, and after the Government realised the magnitude of the work required, they found it would be necessary to exceed that Estimate. Can he tell us what the figure was?
§ Mr. Ede
I want to be quite clear on this matter. I gather from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that in the main Estimates there was such a sum, but that it was regarded as being so small a total that it was lumped with other sums, and nobody could complain about that. If we had every sub-head against which the right hon. Gentleman's clerks of works had to show their costs the books that would have to be presented to us would be too voluminous for even my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) to study in his spare time, although I have no doubt he would do his best to do so. Was this figure of £18,500, which the right hon. Gentleman now tells us was the figure of which this £20,000 is the excess Vote, disclosed in any form which made it clear to the House that the Post Office had been expecting an expenditure on air-raid precautions. If we can get that statement from the right 1848 hon. Gentleman, I am sure we shall be able to assess how far the Post Office had anticipated this kind of expenditure having to be incurred.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I am very much interested in the saving of £2,000 under sub-head "M—Fuel, Gas, Electric Current and Water." I would like to know whether it has been an actual saving in consumption or in the price per ton of coal that has been purchased.
§ Mr. Griffiths
At our house we have been burning a lot more coal than we did before, because it has been as cold as death. I cannot understand it. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman has not been starving the Post Office workers. I hope not. He says that they have saved £7,000 in consumption. I am pleased that they have been a little economical this time, but I am sorry that it has been economy at the expense of the colliers.
§ Mr. Ede
May I have an answer to the question which I put to the right hon. Gentleman perfectly courteously and explicitly? I continued speaking, as a matter of fact, so as to give time for the information to be brought to the right hon. Gentleman from that Box. I tried to help him to that extent, and I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman will say which item is the one in which the £18,500 was to be found?
§ Sir P. Sassoon
It does not actually appear separately, but it is included on page 78 of the main Estimates—"Post Office and Telegraph Buildings. P.—Maintenance and Repairs, £564,875." The provision of £27,000 was made in the original Estimates for Customs and Inland Revenue and Post Offices. In addition an expenditure of about £180,000 is being met from the Post Office Loan.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £42,200, 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 expenditure in respect of Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue. Post Office and telegraph buildings
in Great Britain, certain post offices abroad, and for certain expenses in connection with boats and launches belonging to the Customs and Excise Department.