HC Deb 22 January 1980 vol 977 cc230-2


'If the Secretary of State is satisfied that—

  1. (a) the general advice of any body on matters of interest to users of goods and services would be useful to him in the formulation of policy concerning those matters, and
  2. (b) the body disseminates information of such interest,
he may make a grant to the body on such terms as he thinks fit.'—[Mr. Tebbit.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Tebbit

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The clause deals with an untidy situation which has come to light during the progress of the Bill and is not directly related to the other purposes of the Bill. It is designed to provide clear and specific statutory authority for a number of continuing payments of public money which, until now, have depended solely on the authority of the annual Appropriation Acts. In particular, it will provide much more satisfactory statutory cover for the grants-in-aid to the National Consumer Council and the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux.

Until now, the annual Appropriation Acts appear to have been regarded as sufficient authority for these payments. The annual grants to NACAB have been dealt with in this way for many years. The National Consumer Council was set up in 1975 by the previous Administration. It is a non-statutory body and no specific statutory provision for funding has been sought until now. No legal impropriety is involved in all this, I hasten to say, and there are, I understand, precedents for such arrangements. It is not, however, a completely satisfactory situation and, given my right hon. Friend's recent announcement of a doubling of the inherited public expenditure provision for NACAB, the Government's determination to continue to support the CAB movement and our view that there is a continuing role for the NCC, it would be inappropriate not to take the opportunity of this piece of legislation to make satisfactory and sufficient provision.

The power in the new clause is designed to allow grants to be made to bodies, first, to which the Secretary of State can look for advice on matters of interest to users of goods and services and, secondly, which disseminate information on such matters. Both the NCC and NACAB fulfil these conditions. The grants are not restricted to any specific purpose and thus the full range of NACAB's activities can properly be funded. Expenditure on grants to the NCC and NACAB next year is expected to total about £4 million. There will also be a small grant of some £7,000 to the National Federation of Consumer Groups which will also fall under this provision.

It is not expected that the new power will give rise to any expenditure above that already agreed and allowed for in the Government's public expenditure programme. In essence, the new clause is to make sure that we are providing for this expenditure to be made with specific statutory authority as opposed to the more general authority that has been used in the past. Since it is a continuing expenditure for this purpose, it is right that it should be dealt with in that way.

Mr. John Fraser

There is no objection to the new clause. Indeed, what the hon. Gentleman has said about support for the National Consumer Council is extremely welcome and, I believe, sensible. There are other bodies apart from the National Federation of Consumer Groups, the NCC and the Citizens Advice Bureaux. I believe that some grants have been made in the past to a consortium which included mainly the Consumers Association, which also advises Minister on European matters. That advice has been welcome. I am glad to have confirmation from the hon. Gentleman about the continued existence of the National Consumer Council, which is an extremely useful body, not always allying itself with the Government, as we learned in office. However, a body that is not prepared to criticise is not worth its weight.

I am slightly surprised that the new clause was not moved by the right hon. Lady rather than by the Minister responsible for aviation. It is nevertheless welcome.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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