HC Deb 23 February 1949 vol 461 cc1950-3

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84.—[King's Recommendation signified.]

[Mr. BOWLES in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to re-enact with modifications the Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act, 1919, to make permanent provision for preventing loss of food by infestation and for purposes connected therewith, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of—

  1. (a) any sums required by the Minister (that is to say, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries or the Secretary of State) for making to local authorities, subject to such conditions as the Minister may with the consent of the Treasury determine, grants equal to one half of the expenditure incurred by those authorities under Part I of the said Act, so far as not recovered thereunder;
  2. (b) any expenses incurred under the said Act by the Minister—
    1. (i) in respect of the exercise on behalf of a local authority of any functions of that authority under Part I of the said Act;
    2. (ii) in respect of steps taken for securing compliance with any directions given by the Minister under Part II of the said Act;
    3. (iii) in repaying to local authorities to whom functions of the Minister under the said Part II are delegated any expenses incurred by them in the performance of those functions;
    4. (iv) in the payment of compensation in respect of damage to land occasioned in the exercise of any power of entry under the said Act;
  3. (c) any increase in the Exchequer Equalisation Grant payable under Part I or Part II of the Local Government Act, 1948, attributable to any expenditure of a local authority under the said Act of the present Session;
  4. (d) any increase attributable to the said Act of the present Session in the sums payable out of moneys provided by Parliament under the Agriculture Act, 1947;
  5. (e) any administration expenses of the Minister under the said Act of the present Session; and
  6. (f) any expenses of the Minister in carrying out research in matters connected with the functions of the Minister and of local authorities under the said Act of the present Session;
and the payment into the Exchequer of any receipts of the Minister under the said Act of the present Session."—[Mr. T. Williams.]

8.1 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

After the singular lack of information in the speeches of the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary on this matter, I was hoping that we might have here the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to explain this Resolution to us. This involves the Minister of Agriculture being entrusted by the taxpayer with considerable sums of money, and I think we might have a rather fuller explanation than the one he gave us when he read out the explanation from page 3 of the Bill, which referred to the first part of this Money Resolution. I cannot imagine any Tory Minister getting away with that. If the Secretary of State for War were on the Front Opposition Bench he would have kept us up all night; he would have made a frightful row, quite rightly, and said that we did not know our job. We are here faced with an important Money Resolution running into hundreds of thousands of pounds, but with no adequate information.

There are now two hon. Gentlemen to do the work of the Financial Secretary, and neither of them has the courtesy to be here tonight; nor has the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not for one minute suppose that the Minister of Agriculture has any more information than he had a few minutes ago. I should like to emphasise that we, as a Committee of the House of Commons, have not got the right people present to deal with a Money Resolution. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give a little more time to the House of Commons, to seeing how his duties are carried out there, and to seeing that Money Resolutions are properly explained to the country and to this Committee, he could save vast sums of money, and also enable us to know what is really being done, instead of leaving us dependent on the sort of information we have just received. I do not for one moment blame the Minister of Agriculture or his Parliamentary Secretary; I should never suspect them of knowing what it was all about. I just say that it is merely the usual incompetence of this grossly incompetent Government.

8.4 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)

The hon. Member, who was himself for long in the Chair, knows that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is not expected to he here four nights every week. I am not at all sure whether I could add to the information I have already given. I have drawn attention to the financial provisions of the Bill. If the hon. Member has read the Bill, which I very much doubt, he must know that the expenditure can only be in the form of grants to local authorities as part of the costs incurred by them in carrying out their duties under this Bill. The 50 per cent. grant is, I think, the appropriate grant; but, as I told the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale), I hope— and I am sure the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) hopes so too—that these duties will be faithfully and fully carried out. It would be quite impossible for the best Chancellor of the Exchequer in the world to give anything like a reasonable estimate of what the increased cost may be. It would merely be a guess, and perhaps a very bad guess at that. All we can do, therefore, is to say that last year grants to local authorities were £255,000 plus £20,000 expended on research. We think that there will be some slight increase, but it would be quite impossible to say what that increase will be.

8.6 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his partial explanation. I realise that his mind has wandered far from the days when on these occasions the Government were not allowed by the Opposition merely to say "You cannot estimate this." That same excuse could be made on almost every Estimate which has to be made in the course of the year. I know, of course, that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is not expected to be here all night for four nights of the week. But it is now not all night: it is only eight o'clock in the evening. This is an important Money Resolution, and I can hardly conceive any time at which any Liberal or Socialist Opposition of the past would have allowed a Financial Secretary not to be here at this early hour to answer the questions which we ought to expect to be asked when the taxpayers of this country are finding the money. As to the right hon. Gentleman's concluding remarks, about hoping that these officers would carry out their jobs: we all hope they will do so; but the real fact is that it is much better to get natural means rather than to pay heavily by means of the Civil Service to have the job done.

Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.