HC Deb 12 June 1947 vol 438 cc1329-31
45. Wing-Commander Hulbert

asked the Prime Minister if he is aware that it is the practice of Ministers of His Majesty's Government to decline to disclose to Parliament the salaries and allowances paid to members of the boards and executives of national undertakings, when they have power under the Statutes to obtain that information; and if he will issue instructions that this practice is to cease and full information be given.

Mr. H. Morrison

I have been asked to reply. Salaries and allowances of members of the boards of socialised industries have been disclosed to Parliament. Members of these boards are appointed by the Minister concerned, he determines the terms and conditions of appointment, and in respect of these he is responsible to Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is aware that information has been declined in respect of executive staff of such undertakings. They are appointed by the board concerned, and the Minister has no responsibility. Appointment and remuneration of staff are functions of management, and the Government believe that socialised boards should have the same freedom and privacy in this respect as does any other commercial undertaking.

Wing-Commander Hulbert

Is it not a fact that under the Companies Bill the salaries of all executives will have to be disclosed? Is not the maintenance of this secrecy entirely opposed to a democratic system, and is it not a scandal that Parliament are not to be kept informed on these matters?

Mr. Morrison

I understand that that is not so under the Companies Bill, but in any case it is not yet law. If the House wanted this information, they should have made provision for it in the Bills, but there was considerable pressure from the Opposition side that the Government should not have excessive powers of interference.

Mr. Harold Macmillan

Will the figures be given in the published accounts of these boards?

Mr. Morrison

I could not say. I do not think there is any obligation on the boards to give them. On the face of it, it is clear that there should be no more obligation put on them than in the case of any other commercial undertaking.

Mr. Macmillan

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain the combination of the words "desirability of privacy" with "expenditure of public money"?

Mr. Morrison

The right hon. Gentleman really ought to know better. These boards are not spending public money, but money which comes out of their revenue.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his colleagues, in the course of the discussions which took place on the Bills to which he has referred, definitely refused to allow provisions to be included for the publication of these figures?

Mr. Morrison

In that case, it shows how well they responded to the doctrines and policy of the Opposition, and hon. Members opposite ought to be grateful.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

To the extent that public money is involved in these undertakings, whether by subsidy or not, will the Public Accounts Committee and the Select Committee on Estimates have a right to make these investigations?

Mr. Morrison

It is clear that if public money—I am talking about money voted by Parliament—becomes involved then Parliamentary accountability arises.

Wing-Commander Hulbert

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Opposition not wanting the Ministers to have increased powers over these boards, but is he aware that this question suggests that the Minister should give to Parliament information which is already in his possession, or should be?

Mr. Hogg

Is not the real reason for the reticence in this respect the obvious discrepancy between the Socialist Government paying salaries of £40, £50 and g60 a week, and what they have been telling us for the last 50 years?

Earl Winterton

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any precedent, except in the case of members of the Secret Service, for refusing to Parliament information about salaries and allowances coming out of public funds?

Mr. Morrison

The noble Lord is hopelessly wrong. He really ought to know the first elements of this. These salaries are not paid out of money voted by Parliament, but out of the revenue of these business undertakings. Therefore they are in a different category from the Civil Service, where money is paid out of Parliament. These are not Civil Service undertakings, but commercial bodies.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any precedent for a Minister refusing to give information in the possession of his Department when the public interest is involved?

Mr. Morrison

I have no idea whether the information is in the possession of the Minister or not; in fact, in some cases Ministers have specifically stated that they have not the information.

Wing-Commander Hulbert

In view of the grossly unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the subject on the Adjournment.

Mr. De Ia Bère

It is thoroughly unsatisfactory.

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