HC Deb 06 March 1947 vol 434 cc777-87

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [28th February], "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the Second Resolution:" That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £750,000, 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 salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Health, including grants and other expenses in connection with housing, certain other grants to local authorities, &c., a supplemental grant in respect of medical benefit, salaries and expenses of. the Local Government Boundary Commission, a grant in aid of the National Radium Trust, a grant in aid of the Women's Voluntary Services; and other services.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)

During the Debate in Committee on 11th February on the Ministry of Health Vote. there arose the question of an item of an additional £800,000 required as a contribution by the Ministry of Health to the cost of houses ordered by the Ministry of Works. I asked if we could be given any explanation of the reason for the increase in the cost of these houses. The right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Works was then speaking for the Ministry of Health, having been Parliamentary Secretary to that Ministry. He said: I still want to submit that the request should be made to the Minister of Works and not to the Minister of Health… Questions about the reasons for that extra cost should be directed to the Ministry of Works, and dealt with on the Estimates of the Ministry of Works and not on the Estimates of the Ministry of Health."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 11th February, 1947; Vol. 433; c. 279.) The point on which I respectfully request guidance is this. I asked the Ministry of Works if they could indicate to me where I could find from their Estimates anything about these particular houses, and through the courtesy of the Parliamentary Secretary I have received a reply stating that no charges for these houses appear at all on the Ministry of Works Estimates. Therefore, I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that a considerable proportion of that sum of £800,000 does not appear on the Estimates of any Government Department; and as far as I ant aware it is impossible for hon. Members of this House to ask any Minister of the Crown to explain why there has been this very large increase in cost. I respectfully ask your guidance as to the action we on this side of the House could take in order to secure that this should be ventilated and a proper account given to the House by the responsible Department for the need for this greatly increased sum.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman has asked my guidance on this. It appears to me at first sight to be possible that this might be dealt with in the Supplementary Estimates of the Ministry of Health, and I should like to hear any thing that the Minister has to say on this point.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)

There was a considerable discussion about this matter on 11th February, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works was performing his last functions as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. I have gone into the matter very carefully since that discussion but I am sorry that I cannot take it any further than my right hon. Friend did on that occasion. The position as I see it is perfectly plain. We have here a Supplementary Estimate in part due to an increased cost of Swedish houses, in part by an entirely new amount covering the Howard houses. But the amount covering the Howard houses is an amount which the Ministry of Health is required to put into the fund, to make up the difference between what the local authorities pay, and what it costs the Ministry of Works. In those circumstances it seems desirable that we should not have any question of divided responsibility here, and the right Department to deal with this matter is, I believe—and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works agrees with me—the Department that made the contract. The part of the Ministry of Health in this matter is restricted, first, to the allocation of the houses as between the local authorities and, secondly, to paying such sums as the Treasury determine, in the way I have already indicated.

If it were a matter of merely trying to "pass the buck" from one Department to another, the responsibility being left in the air, then I would regard it as quite unsatisfactory, but that is not the position. The position is—and this is the advice given me, and I am authorised by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works to say—that he accepts the responsibility for the contracts made by his Department and will be answerable for them. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that I am in no position to take the discussion any further than, did my right hon. Friend on the last occasion when this was discussed.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

If I may be allowed, with the leave of the House, to speak again, Mr. Speaker. I think what the hon. Gentleman has said is quite right judging by what we heard last time. But he has not got over the difficulty, that as far as I know, according to the information courteously given to me by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, there is no Estimate at all before the House, either an original or Supplementary Estimate, by the Ministry of Works, providing for this additional expenditure. It is true that the Minister of Works gave the contract for these houses and that in the course of their construction the cost went up very considerably. What we want to know is, without any Estimate, without any item for this occurring in any Estimate of the Ministry of Works, how on earth we can find a proper occasion to discuss this problem.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman has asked me a very difficult question. To start with, we have passed the Supplementary Estimate of the Ministry of Works, and it appears to be a matter for the Ministry of Works and not for the Ministry of Health. I can only say that in view of the right hon. Gentleman having raised it and made it public, I hope that the Department concerned will look into the matter and, if there is a discrepancy, and if the matter has not appeared properly in any Supplementary Estimate, while I have no power in the matter, no doubt some steps will be taken to rectify it.

Mr. Hudson

In that case perhaps they will produce a Supplementary Estimate?

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

May we have a definite answer to that, because we are in a rather difficult position in not knowing where we are?

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentle man cannot get an answer from the Ministry of Works, because we have passed their Estimate. I have done what I could. It is not the responsibility of the Ministry of Health.

Mr. Marples (Wallasey)

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. The sum of £800,000 was put forward by the Minister of Health to be approved by this House, and questions were asked on that occasion by me as to the great increase in the cost of a certain type of house. The increase amounted to as much as 20 per cent. on the original contract price, and the Auditor General has some remarks to make about it. It was on the Vote of the Minister of Health, and on that occasion we received no satisfaction from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health who is now the Minister of Works. He said it was the responsibility of the Minister of Works. Would it be possible, Mr. Speaker, for the Minister of Works to reply at this stage and give some explanation?

Mr. C. Williams

I thought I saw signs on the Government side of meeting the point which has been raised. This seems to be one of the occasions when, as is natural, in the circumstances of the day, things are not quite so clear as they might be. I thought that although we had passed the actual Vote concerned, the Government might reply on this point.

Mr. Speaker

I suppose that if in the £1800,000 there is a responsibility accepted by the Ministry of Works, in the Vote of the Ministry of Health, the Minister of Works would be entitled to say some thing.

The Minister of Works (Mr. Key)

This is a matter which should be raised on the Estimates of my Department. When those Estimates are before the House, my responsibility is there, and my salary or anything else in the Estimates can be dealt with in the usual way.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

I submit that that would be a valid answer if in fact the right hon. Gentleman's Estimates contained any items covering this particular set of houses. But we are assured by the Parliamentary Secretary that in fact no detail of this has appeared or is going to appear in the right hon. Gentleman's Estimates. We have reached a position where a sum of £800,000 has apparently been expended by the Government, and has not appeared in any Estimates, of either of the two Departments. That is a very serious state of affairs.

Mr. Marples

I can only speak again by the leave of the House. I would like to add to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) has said. The £800,000 is asked for by the Minister of Health, who pays large sums to the Minister of Works, and then disclaims responsibility. But, the Ministry of Works actually pays the contractor and there are questions we want to raise as to how the money has been expended. The prime responsibility would lie with the Minister of Health, who is asking for the money. We had no satisfaction on the last occasion and I would like your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, as to whom we are to ask for an explanation of this £800,000 increase in the contract price.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot rule how an explanation should be made about the £800,000. I suggest that, the matter having been brought to the attention of the House, and to the attention of the Minister, no doubt it will be looked into but that is as far as I can go.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

May I appeal to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who, after all, has on behalf of the Treasury some overall responsibility for all Estimates presented in this House? It seems to me intolerable that this House tonight should be asked to vote the great sum of £800,000 and that no Minister is apparently prepared to take the responsibility for it. [Laughter.] It is all very well for the Minister of Works to laugh, but this is a large sum of money, even in these days. If one looks at the Act of 1945 one finds in Section 3: The Minister shall out of moneys pro vided by Parliament, make such payments into the… fund as the Treasury may determine to be necessary. for certain purposes. So that the Treasury has had some say in this matter, and perhaps it is to the Financial Secretary that we should address questions on it. If Ministers cannot decide tonight who is responsible, the best thing they can do is to withdraw this Vote altogether, make up their minds who is responsible, and present another Vote so that debate can arise.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

I am willing to do all I can to help the House in this matter. As I understand it, this is a transfer between one Department and another and what seems clear is that whichever Department is responsible for answering to the House for this sum, it is not the Ministry of Works. It is an appropriation in aid, and it is a receipt by the Ministry of Works for £800,000. Therefore, under the rules as I understand them, it is impossible for the Minister of Works at this moment and on this Estimate even to discuss an appropriation in aid.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

I quite agree, and I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. But can he assure us that a specific item will appear in the Ministry of Works Supplementary Estimates so that we can question the Minister on the reason for this increase?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am advised that it will be possible to raise this matter if the House is so minded on the next Ministry of Works Estimate. For my part, I hope this is so. If not, and if there is a method by which the House can discuss it, in so far as the Treasury are concerned, we will do anything we can to give the House this opportunity.

Mr. Hudson

I still think we have not got what the House is entitled to—the promise that an Estimate covering this item will be submitted to the House. It is suggested we should discuss it on the Minister's salary, but we cannot do that until we have an item in his Estimate on which we can raise a discussion. You cannot just say I hear the Minister has just spent some money, and I would like to question him about it." He has spent the money, and it ought to appear on his Vote, and in default of any satisfaction I beg to move "That the Debate be now adjourned."

Question put," That the Debate be now adjourned."

The House divided: Ayes, 122; Noes, 266.

Division No. 107. AYES. [10.33 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley) Pitman, I. J.
Aitken, Hon. Max Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge) Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)
Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Scot. Univ.) Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C. Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.
Baldwin, A. E. Hogg, Hon. Q. Raikes, H. V.
Barlow, Sir J. Hollis, M. C. Ramsay, Maj. S
Baxter, A. B. Howard, Hon. A. Rayner, Brig. R.
Bennett, Sir P Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport) Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Birch, Nigel Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W. Robinson, Wing-Comdr. Roland
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells) Keeling, E. H. Ropner, Col. L.
Bossom, A. C. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G. Langford-Holt, J. Sanderson, Sir F.
Buchan-Hepburnn, P. G. T. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H Scott, Lord W.
Carson, E. Linstead, H. N. Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Challen, C. Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Smith, E. P. (Ashford)
Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S. Low, Brig. A. R. W. Smithers, Sir W.
Clarke, Col. R. S. Lucas, Major Sir J. Spence, H. R.
Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.
Cooper-Key, E. M. Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Corbett, Lieut.-Col, U. (Ludlow) MacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness) Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight) Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col O. E Maclay, Hon. J. S. Studholme, H. G.
Cuthbert, W. N. Macpherson, Maj. N. (Dumfries) Sutcliffe, H.
Darling, Sir W. Y Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
De la Bère, R. Manningham-Buller, R. E. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A (P'dd't'n, S.)
Digby, S. W. Marlowe, A. A. H. Teeling, William
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Marples, A.E. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness) Marsden, Capt. A. Thorneycroft G. E. P. (Monmouth)
Drayson, G. B. Marshall, D. (Bodmin) Touche, G. C.
Duthie, W. S. Maude, J. C. Walker-Smith, D,
Eden, Rt. Hon. A Mellor, Sir J. Ward, Hon. G. R.
Erroll, F. J. Molson, A. H. E. Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)
Foster, J. G. (Northwich) Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury) Wheatley, Colonel M. J.
Fraser, Maj. H. C. P. (Stone) Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) White, J. B. (Canterbury)
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale) Mullan, Lt. C. H. Williams, C. (Torquay)
Gage, C. Neven-Spence, Sir B Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D Nicholson, G. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Gammans, L. D. Nutting, Anthony Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Gates, Maj. E. E. Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. G Osborne, C TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Grant, Lady Peake, Rt. Hon. O. Major Conant and
Grimston, R. V. Peto, Brig. C. H. M Lieut.-Colonel Thorp
Adams, Richard (Balham) Brown, T. J. (Ince) Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Bruce, Maj. D. W. T. Deer, G.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Burke, W. A. Delargy, H. J.
Alpass, J. H. Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Diamond, J.
Attewell, H. C. Byers, Frank Dobbie, W.
Austin, H. Lewis Callaghan, James Dodds, N. N.
Awbery, S. S. Chamberlain, R. A Donovan, T.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B Champion, A. J Driberg, T. E. N.
Bacon, Miss A. Cobb, F. A. Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)
Baird, J. Cocks, F. S. Dye, S.
Balfour, A. Collick, P. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Barton, C. Collindridge, F. Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E)
Bechervaise, A E. Collins, V. J. Edwards, John (Blackburn)
Belcher, J. W. Colman, Miss G. M. Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J Comyns, Dr. L. Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)
Benson, G. Cook, T. F. Evans, John (Ogmore)
Berry, H. Cooper, Wing-Cmdr. G. Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)
Beswick, F. Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N W.) Fairhursl, F.
Bing, G. H. C. Corlett, Dr. J. Farthing, W. J.
Binns, J. Crawley, A. Field, Capt. W. J.
Blenkinsop, A. Grossman, R. H. S Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)
Blyton, W.R. Daggar, G. Follick, M.
Boardman, H. Daines, P. Foot, M. M.
Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W Davies, Clement (Montgomery) Forman, J. C.
Bowen, R. Davies, Edward (Burslem) Fraser, T. (Hamilton)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Davies, Ernest (Enfield) Freeman, Peter (Newport)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge) Davies, Harold (Leek) Gaitskell, H. T. N.
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Davies, Hadyn (St. Pancras, S. W.) Gibbins, J.
Brook, D. (Halifax) Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Gibson, C. W.
Gilzean, A. McAllister, G. Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Glanville, J. E (Consett) Mack, J. D. Simmons, C. J.
Gooch, E. G. McKay, J. (Wallsend) Skeffington, A. M.
Goodrich, H. E. Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.) Smith, C. (Colchester)
Granville, E. (Eye) McKinlay, A. S Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield) McLeavy, F. Snow, Capt. J. W.
Grenfell, D. R Macpherson, T. (Romford) Solley, L. J.
Grierson, E. Mallalieu, J. P. W. Soskice, Maj. Sir F.
Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping) Sparks, J. A.
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly) Marquand, H. A. Stamford, W.
Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side) Marshall, F. (Brighlside) Steele, T.
Guest, Dr. L. Haden Mathers, G. Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Guy, W. H. Medland, H. M. Stokes, R. R.
Haire, John E. (Wycombe) Middleton, Mrs. L Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Hale, Leslie Mikardo, Ian. Summerskill, Dr. Edith
Hall, W. G. Mitchison, G. R. Swingler, S.
Hamilton Lieut.-Col. R Monalow, W. Sylvester, G. O.
Hardman, D. R. Morgan, Dr. H. B. Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Hardy, E. A. Morley, R. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Harrison, J. Morris, P (Swansea, W) Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Hastings, Dr. Somerville Moyle, A. Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Haworth, J. Neal, H. (Claycross) Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford) Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Hewitson, Capt. M. Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford) Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Ed'b'gh, E.)
Hobson, C R. Noel-Buxton, Lady Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Holman, P. O'Brien, T. Tiffany, S.
Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth) Oliver, G. H. Timmons, J.
House, G. Orbach, M. Titterington, M. F.
Hoy, J. Paget, R. T. Tolley, L.
Hughes H. D. (W'lverh'pton W.) Palmer, A. M. F Ungoed-Thornas, L.
Hutchinson, H. L. (RushoIme) Pargiter, G. A. Usborne, Henry
Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.) Parker, J. Vernon, Maj. W. F.
Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Peart, Capl. T. F. Wadsworth, G.
Janner, B. Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield) Walkden, E.
Jay, D. P. T. Popplewell, E. Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Jeger, G. (Winchester) Porter, G. (Leeds) Warbey, W. N.
Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E) Price M. Philips Watkins, T. E.
John, W. Pritt, D. N. Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley) Proctor, W. T. Weitzman, D.
Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools) Pursey, Cmdr. H Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow) Randall, H. E Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Jones, J. H. (Bolton) Ranger, J. West, D. G.
Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W
Keenan, W. Rankin, J. Wigg, Col. G. E.
Kendall, W. D Reid, T. (Swindon) Wilcock, Group-Capt C. A. B.
Kenyon, C. Rhodes, H Wilkes, L.
Key, C. W. Ridealgh, Mrs. M. Wilkins, W. A.
King, E. M Rebens, A. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth) Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Kinley, J. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire) Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Kirby, B. V Robertson, J. J. (Berwick) Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Lavers, S. Ross, William (Kilmarnock) Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Lee, F. (Hulme) Royle, C. Willis, E.
Leonard, W Sargood, R. Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J.
Levy, B. W. Scollan, T. Wilson, J. H.
Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton) Segal, Dr. S. Wise, Major F. I.
Lewis, J. (Bolton) Shackleton, Wing-Cdr. E. A. A Woodburn, A
Lewis, T. (Southumpton) Sharp, Granville Wyatt, W.
Lipton, Lt.-Col. M Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes) Yales, V. F.
Longden, F. Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)
Mr. Pearson and Mr. Hannan

Question put, and agreed to.

Original Question again proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

It is clear that the discussion has revealed that there is, apparently, a gap in the financial control of the House over expenditure that may be incurred by one Department in circum stances similar to these. It is not the desire of the Government to ride off on that kind of plea. We realise that this difficulty has arisen, and my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has already indicated that he will look into it. I give the House the assurance that we will examine the manner in which the situation now confronting the House has arisen, and take steps to ensure that it shall not arise again. If it is possible to find some means by which this particular Estimate, or this particular transaction, can be brought before the House so that hon. Members can effectively criticise it, ask for information and receive a reply, we shall take such steps.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

May we express our grateful thanks to the Home Secretary? If he can see that this kind of matter does not arise again, we shall be satisfied.

Third and subsequent Resolutions considered.

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