HC Deb 06 February 1945 vol 407 cc1896-8

At the end of Questions

Mr. A. Bevan

May I raise a point of Order with you, Mr. Speaker? I think it is a matter of some constitutional importance, but I appreciate that you have not had sufficient notice concerning it, and that you may not be, therefore, in a position to make a reply to-day. I want to raise the question of the relationship between this House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the operations of the Finance Corporation for Industry, Limited, and the Industrial and Finance Corporation, Limited. Questions on these have appeared on the Order Paper and, in the course of his replies to them, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that he was not responsible either for the establishment or for the administration of these corporations. I want to know, therefore, under what Rule these Questions can be placed on the Order Paper at all, because Questions can only be put upon the Order Paper to a Minister who is responsible. The Minister denies the responsibility; yet we have had Questions and a number of supplementaries to those Questions. The result is that the House is given the form of responsibility for the behaviour of these corporations, without the reality of control.

It is my respectful submission to you, Sir, that here is a position which requires to be cleared up. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced to the House, in the first instance, as a piece of information, that these corporations were to be established, I asked him whether he proposed to devise any instrument by which their activities might be reviewed by the House from time to time. The right hon. Gentleman replied that, as this was a private act of private persons, for which he was not responsible, there would be no such instrument, and yet, subsequently, we have had a number of Questions on the Order Paper concerning a matter for which neither this House nor the Minister is responsible. May I submit, Sir, that we ought to have this matter cleared up, and that we ought not to involve ourselves in public discussions about matters for which there is no precise and particular responsibility?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member realises, as he has said, that it is quite impossible for me to give an answer at short notice. I do not know whether the Chancellor has any explanation to make, but all I can say is that I shall make such inquiries as I can, and go into the matter.

Sir J. Anderson

Perhaps I might say, Sir, that it is perfectly true, as I made clear in the first instance, that I have, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, no responsibility for the establishment of these corporations or for their conduct. I have a general responsibility for capital control, the control of capital issues and the regulation of capital issues, and some of the Questions on the Order Paper did, quite definitely, involve matters within my responsibility. But, in regard to the point which the hon. Gentleman has raised, I think he was perfectly right in saying, as I myself made clear, that I have no re- sponsibility. I did, however, in the first instance, think it proper, as a matter of convenience, to give to the House certain information, and I believe that that is not infrequently done by Ministers.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

May I say that the position of the Bank of England is really anomalous, and that in many cases Questions relating to the Bank of England have been put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer? If I might suggest it to you, Mr. Speaker, the fact that the Bank of England is going to play a large part in this proposal does entitle this House to get a certain amount of information with regard to it from the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. A. Bevan

In reply to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in my submission to you, Mr. Speaker, for your further consideration, may I point out that a very difficult constitutional issue is raised because an institution over which the Treasury has a direct control participates in activities for which the Chancellor of the Exchequer denies he is responsible? We have growing up in this country a form of practice which does invalidate effective Parliamentary control over certain aspects of Ministers' activities and it is necessary to bring our constitutional behaviour into conformity with the actual facts of life and to put the responsibility upon the Minister on whom it lies, and not permit him to dodge it, whenever it is convenient for him to conceal what he has done.

Mr. Molson

May I point out that there has been a case—the case of the Unemployment Assistance Board and a number of other boards set up by this House—in which this House has expressly deprived itself of the power of asking questions?

Mr. Bevan

No, that was by Act of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker

I think, from what I have heard, I must have a little time to consider this point. It looks to me to be a matter of scrutinising rigidly Questions put in at the Table.