Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £610,000 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, 1947, for the cost of the war services of the Home Office.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Oliver)
I would have preferred to answer any questions which might have been raised on this Vote; but I can say that, in the main, though not wholly, the money which is asked for is due to arrangements made by reason of the concern expressed by the Committee on Public Accounts about the delay in the payment of wartime expenditure to local authorities. As a result of that, the Department, in consultation with the Treasury, made arrangements for putting in operation certain measures to expedite the payment of expenditure when the local authorities had made their submissions. As a result, requests were made, first by the Civil Defence circular in March last year, and then again by letter in July, to local authorities asking them to expedite their claims to the Home Office for the expenditure which they incurred mainly as a result of Civil Defence. There has been, accordingly, an influx of claims much in excess of that contemplated by the Department when the Estimate was made.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
We are obliged to the Under-Secretary of State for his statement on these Supplementary Estimates for the War Services of the Home Office—what used to be called the Ministry of Home Security—but I have one or two comments to make upon it. There are some nine items in respect of which increases on the original Estimates are demanded. The original Estimates for these items were for a total of some £20 million. The additional sums required amount to nearly £7,500,000, that is to say, something like a 35 or 40 per cent. increase on the original Estimate. A great deal of these increased requirements are offset by anticipated savings on other items which are set out in the Supplementary Estimate. The savings appear to be about £6,500,000 on a number of 1296 original Estimates which totalled £13 million. It therefore appears that out of some 18 items which made up the original Estimate there is on the one side—on nine items—an excess of £7,500,000 now demanded, an excess averaging 35 or 40 per cent., whereas on the other nine items of the original Estimates there are savings amounting to some 48 per cent. of the original figure. It seems to show what a complete farce it is to endeavour to produce Estimates for the War Services of the Home Office at this time.
The variations are stupendous in almost every case. Some of the items for which the original Estimate was submitted to the House on 18th February are mistaken by 100 per cent. or more, and it is the same with the anticipated savings. The Treasury had the duty of going through the original Estimates. They look at them carefully and they are supposed to pare them down where unnecessary expenditure is provided for, but it appears on these figures that the Estimates were almost wholly worthless, for in every instance they have been belied by the events which have occurred. Next year, I presume, there will be very small services required of this character, but it is most unfortunate that these figures should be so far from accuracy. In these circumstances I really do not think it is worth inquiring as to the details. Much of the expenditure, I suppose, is due to the difficulty of transition from war to peace; events have occurred more rapidly in some cases and more slowly in other cases than the Home Secretary anticipated. There is, of course, a tremendous lag between the actual spending of money and the passing of the accounts. As far as I remember, the accounts for these war services are two or three years behind, and the Estimates are rendered nugatory by the speed or lack of speed at which accountancy progresses. In this case we are bound to accept the Supplementary Estimate, but to observe in passing that the original Estimates were hardly worth the paper on which they were written.
§ Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)
I want to ask a question with regard to Subhead P, which is headed "Miscellaneous Recoverable Expenditure by Local Authorities."
§ Mr, Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
On a point of Order, Major Milner. Would the 1297 hon. Gentleman let us into the secret he is telling the Minister?
§ Mr. Oliver
A point has just been raised with regard to Subhead P. It relates to expenditure by local authorities on the cleansing of shelters and is recovered through the medium of a claims grant. It relates also to the storage of property which has been salvaged. Those are items on which the local authorities have expended money and, as a result, it is necessary to reimburse them to the extent of £725,000. The Home Office have been rather defeated by their own efforts in asking the local authorities to expedite their claims. It has been necessary, by reason of these claims coming in at such a rapid rate, to call for this Supplementary Estimate.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £610,000, 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, 1947, for the cost of the war services of the Home Office.