HC Deb 06 November 1958 vol 594 cc1216-8

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).—[Queen's Recommendation signified.]

[Sir GORDON TOUCHE in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to continue certain expiring laws, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of such expenses as may be occasioned by the continuance of the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938, until the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-nine; and of the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act, 1943, the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, and Part II of the Licensing Act, 1953, until the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and sixty, being expenses which under any Act are to be provided out of such moneys.—[Mr. Simon.]

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I should like to ask why, on this occasion, the Minister estimates in his Financial Memorandum that: The continuance of the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938, will involve the continuance of additional expenditure of the order of £8,000 a year upon the salaries of the staff engaged in providing national statistics of fertility. Are we to understand that this is a static figure? Are we to understand that the Financial Secretary is quite satisfied that this very important operation of providing the nation with full fertility statistics under the Act of 1938 will not involve some increased charge on the Exchequer'? My recollection is that this figure of £8,000 appeared last year, and in previous years.

It is a long time since we have had any explanation from the Government as to how this money is spent. What results are produced by this research into fertility? We attach great importance to statistics of that kind. Parliament takes these Bills and Financial Memoranda somewhat too casually. We do not inquire sufficiently into the question whether the Government are asking for sufficient money for such objects covered by the Bill as we regard as worthy objects. I am all in favour of the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938.

We are entitled to know whether the Financial Secretary is satisfied that the staff engaged on the work requiring to be done is sufficient, and whether the salaries are adequate, and that it is reasonable that the figure should continue at the same rate as it has done ever since 1938. Has not the time come when the numbers engaged on this work should be augmented? Do their salaries ever rise? Before we agree to the Motion, we should have an explanation why the figure is so constant. I would also ask whether the Financial Secretary ought not to ask for it to be increased.

8.38 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)

I was provided with this figure as the best estimate that could be made of the additional expenditure called for by the Act in question. The staff who provide the further statistics is already engaged in the provision of statistics, and this is only additional expenditure required and called for by the Act. It is the best estimate that can be given. But the figures are audited post hoc by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the ordinary course of events, and I do not doubt that the Public Accounts Committee would already have remarked upon any discrepancy if such had appeared. This is an annual Bill.

Mr. Hale

The Memorandum states that there will be an additional expenditure of the order of £8,000 a year in respect of the Population (Statistics) Act, 1938, and that further expenditure will be involved in respect of the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act, the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, and so on. Many other Acts do not appear to involve any expenditure. Clearly the administration of the aliens law must involve expenditure. I take it that this is incorporated under the whole Home Office figures and would be a matter for debate on the Home Office Vote.

One of the difficulties about it is that if, for example, the Government implemented the proposal of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) and deported all the Northern Irishmen as undesirables, two questions would arise—first, whether a new Estimate would have to be presented, and secondly, whether, in the circumstances, the Northern Ireland Government would be prepared to contribute. The Financial Secretary might say something on the question of aliens and tell us how much of the present proposals are incorporated in existing charges and, therefore, not carried to the Bill at all, and how far these proposals arise from the somewhat sensational propositions that we listened to during the debates on the Gracious Speech.

Mr. Simon

I am advised that the Bill does not involve any additional expenditure other than that which I have set out in the Financial Memorandum.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received upon Monday next.