HC Deb 28 October 1949 vol 468 cc1697-701
Mr. Blenkinsop

I beg to move, in page 11, line 8, at the beginning, to insert: All expenses incurred by the Council with the approval of the Minister which are attributable to defraying expenditure incurred by standing nurse-training committees shall be defrayed by the Minister out of moneys provided by Parliament, and.

This is another privileged Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I beg to move, in page 11, line 14, to leave out from "defrayed," to the end of line 15, and to add "by the Council."

The powers given to the Council by paragraph 8 of the First Schedule in relation to disposal of property, and their spending powers over proceeds of fees and contributions, seem to us too narrow. They should, for example, in certain cases, have power to spend money arising from disposal of property—a power which they do not at the moment possess. In normal circumstances one would desire the Council to be able to meet current expenditure out of current income, but there may be good reason why from time to time they should have, at least, power to spend money arising in these ways.

Mr. Diamond

I appreciate the action of the Parliamentary Secretary in removing words, and so automatically removing the restriction upon the financial action of the Council, but I have the fear that from the removal of these words misunderstanding may arise. I fear that the removal of these words may be interpreted as an invitation to anyone who so desires to put pressure on the Council to do other than meet its current expenditure out of current income. I am sure, especially having regard to the remark which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) was so incautious as to make on Second Reading of the Bill with regard to the finance of the Council, that it would be the wish of all sides of the Committee that this Council should carry on its financial affairs as any other well appointed body, on the basis of meeting its expenses, as far as humanly possible, out of current income. If there appear to be good reasons why it could not, over a couple of years, say, meet its expenses, then it ought to consider varying its main income. Here we have what may be interpreted as an open invitation to the Council to mortgage its substantial property, and out of its capital accumulated in the past—I do not know exactly how it has been accumulated, but at all events it is there—to meet ordinary outgoings. That, I am sure, would be a very bad thing.

1.0 p.m.

In order to appreciate the size of this problem I have looked at the figures, and I think the Committee would be interested to know that the Council has at present some £120,000 worth of property. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is already aware of that. That is, of course, capital. On its accumulated income and expenditure, however, it has a minus figure of some £10,000, so that the net figure is about £110,000. In short, this Council has no funds other than current income, out of which to meet current expenditure, unless it were to eat into the capital so accumulated—which it may have to do, but which it would only wish to do as a last resort. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will make it clear that in proposing the deletion of these words he is merely wishing to extend the financial freedom of the Council, and is not by any means inviting the Council at any time to do other than conduct its finances in the most proper fashion.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I must confess that I am really shocked by this Amendment. The Government are quite blatantly empowering the Council to live on capital. There is no question about that. I do not want to strike a discordant note, and I do not think this is a matter we would wish to press so far as a Division, but this is an Amendment which we on this side of the Committee cannot welcome. I can see no reason whatever why the Council should be empowered to spend capital other than for income purposes. That, I think, is the only effect of this Amendment.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that this might be a power which it would be desirable to exercise in certain circumstances. Well, that is a little vague. The House ought to be told what kind of circumstances he contemplates. After all, any charitable concern is very strictly controlled by the law; no charity can expend a capital sum for income purposes without either a special Act of Parliament or the sanction of the courts. This is a power we should give very grudgingly, and if we let this Amendment go without strongly protesting the Government must understand that it is in no way a precedent, and that we do so only because we think this is not a Bill on which we should raise needless contentions.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

Mr. Diamond

On a point of Order. Before the Committee agrees to the insertion of the words "by the Council," would it be in Order for me to speak on the possibility of adding certain alternative words?

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Bowles)

I have considered this matter, and I thought that the next Amendment, standing in the name of the hon. Gentleman—in line 14 to leave out from "defrayed" to the end of line 15, and to add: by them out of sums received by them by way of fees and contributions"— was covered by the Government Amendment. It was therefore my intention not to select it. The hon. Gentleman can certainly speak on this Question, but he cannot now move an Amendment.

Mr. Diamond

I appreciate that. I am grateful to you, Mr. Bowles, and I apologise for detaining the Committee yet a second time on this Amendment. On the first occasion on which I spoke I did not, of course, deal with what I thought would be a preferable form of wording to the form put down by my right hon. Friend in this composite Amendment. It is proposed to add simply the words "by the Council," whereas it is clear that there might be another form of words which could conceivably have reference to sums received by the Council by way of fees and contributions, which form of wording might be better than that which my hon. Friend has put before the Committee.

Perhaps in this connection I might refer to the form of wording used in the 1919 Act, which refers to defraying out of the sums received by the Council by way of fees. I, as an accountant, would understand that to mean that where fees received in any particular year are not expended in ordinary current expenditure for that year, then at a subsequent period the unexpended balance would be described as "sums received by way of fees," and it would be open to the Council to spend that money, because the money would not be fees but would be coming out of sums received earlier by way of fees. Those words, of course, do not refer to any Amendment which you, Mr. Bowles, have not selected. I am referring to the words used in the 1919 Act.

The Deputy-Chairman

I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to make a speech on this question, on the understanding that he is not trying to move an Amendment in the course of it. The Government will, of course, take notice of what he is saying, and if they are influenced by it will no doubt make the necessary arrangements later on. The hon. Gentleman can certainly refer to the words which he wants to have inserted.

Mr. Diamond

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Bowles. It will be helpful if, instead of the words proposed by my hon. Friend in this Amendment, there were substituted the words: by them out of sums received by them by way of fees and contributions. That would have the effect of altering the emphasis, which is all I seek to do. It would be within the power of the Council in an emergency to apply capital funds for ordinary current purposes, but the Council would not be invited to go on in a reckless extravagant way, using capital for current expenditure, as might be misunderstood by the mere deletion of these words to which the Committee has agreed.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I do not want it to go out from this Committee that we want in any way to encourage the General Nursing Council to embark upon some form of profligacy. It was our intention, and still is, that the Council should not be prevented—as it is our view that they are at the moment—from applying, for example, rents or interest to defraying their expenses. Indeed, we are giving power for them to mortgage their property, and there is not much sense in their having power to mortgage if they have not the power in an emergency to use the funds they receive from it. I appreciate the general point that has been raised, but I do not think there is anything between us. At the moment we are not satisfied that the words suggested in my hon. Friend's Amendment, which has not been selected, really meet the case adequately; we are not satisfied that they do give the power in an emergency which my hon. Friend himself would desire that they should possess.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 19, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.