HC Deb 07 March 1951 vol 485 cc575-8

Postponed Proceeding on consideration of Bill, as amended, resumed.

Amendment proposed: In page 3, line 18, leave out "fourteen."—[Captain Crookshank.]

Question again proposed, "That 'fourteen' stand part of the Bill."

9.59 p.m.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Before we were interrupted, the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) moved an Amendment, the effect of which would be to leave Section 14 of the old Act—if I may refer to it in that way—still in the Bill. I understood from him that the reason why he moved the Amendment was because he wanted to retain a position by which the Corporation would be able to build up a reserve fund. He referred to what is said in paragraph 35 of the White Paper.

I am sure that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate that in that statement the Corporation were putting forward the original plan, that that plan was to be financed out of the balance remaining at the end from their borrowing powers, and that in that way they would put £1 million to contingencies. But the new plan is to be financed out of Votes, and it was thought, therefore, unnecessary to retain Section 14 which makes provision for contingencies. The Corporation now have no power to borrow from the Consolidated Fund or in any other way. All that is required is that the difference between their expenditure and revenue will have to be met by Votes from the House.

If, therefore, we need any contingencies for a Reserve or Contingencies Fund, whatever the amount, we would have to vote in the House an annual sum which was provided in the Estimates. Because we have put the matter entirely on this new basis, we think it is unnecessary and rather undesirable and untidy to have a reserve fund of this kind. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman looks at paragraph 17 of the White Paper he will see that the estimated cost of the scheme—£6 million—does not allow for contingencies. That sum is an estimate of the balance that, we think, will have to be met when we come to balance revenue and expenditure.

In our view, since we are now putting the matter upon the Vote, and as all that is required by the Corporation to finance the new scheme will be met out of annual Votes by Parliament. it would not he appropriate to retain this provision. That is why we have deleted it. I hope that with this explanation the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will be willing to withdraw the Amendment.

Captain Crookshank

If I have the permission of the House, I should like to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I quite see his argument that the new method of financing through the Votes does make a difference. But quite often there are annual Votes which are not completely expended in a given year, and the balance is left at the disposal of the Minister or whoever it may be. For example, things like the Government hospitality fund are provided by grants each year but the unexpended portion accumulates, and in this case I think it is used to buy stocks, and so on. That was the kind of thing I had in mind, but it may be that that could be done by the form of the Estimate rather than by setting up a specific reserve at this stage. Therefore, I would not think it necessary to ask my hon. Friends to press the Amendment.

I would not have risen had not the right hon. Gentleman quoted from paragraph 17 of the White Paper, where it is said that according to the information of the Government, in the seven-year period the cost would be of the order of £6 million without allowing for contingencies or any bush clearing after 1954. The House was a little noisy at the time, but I understood the right hon. Gentleman to mean that that was without allowing for contingencies; in other words, that the Government did not mean to have a reserve fund.

I should not have thought that that was what the right hon. Gentleman intended to mean, and I should have thought that "without allowing for contingencies" meant that there might be emergencies which could not be forecast, as there have been ever since the scheme started, and which would bring the total beyond the original £6 million. I should have thought that a reading of the words "without allowing for contingencies" meant just that and nothing to do with the decision not to have a reserve fund.

However, it is not a point of any great substance, except in the clear understanding of the English language as interpreted by a Welshman. We do not find it necessary, at this stage, to press for a reserve fund in view of the new financing. As I said on an earlier Amendment, we shall wait and see how the new form of Estimates, as outlined earlier, works out in practice. On whatever side of the House they may sit, hon. Members must reserve to themselves at all times the control of the form of the Estimates. While, for the first year, we are prepared to accept the outline which the right hon. Gentleman has given to us, perhaps later, as a result of experience, we may find that there has to be running over more than one year some form of a reserve fund. After all, the organisation is to be a trading body to some extent and it may very well need to have a reserve fund. But I quite see the point which.the right hon. Gentleman has made, and if the House so desires, I will not press the matter.

Amendment negatived.