HC Deb 25 April 1983 vol 41 cc587-8
6. Mr. Archer

asked the Minister for Trade why he has not renewed the normal annual grant to the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux.

Dr. Vaughan

The Government grant that goes to NACAB increased rapidly under this Government. Since 1979 it has increased from £1.85 million to £6.04 milliom this year. That is a sign of the support that the Government give the organisation. With these figures in mind, I thought it advisable to examine the distribution of these large sums of taxpayers' money. NACAB was without a director from April 1982 to February 1983, and it seemed wise to let the new director settle in and to review the allocation of money after six months. I stress that NACAB is funded in full for the first six months of this year—that is to September—so its work can be maintained. I have given assurances that the funding for the second half of the year will be continued should the review take longer than I hope.

Mr. Archer

Does the Minister still not accept that the damaging allegations, apparently made by someone in his Department, that appeared in The Sunday Times will not be corrected by an inquiry into the very different issue of saving money? Does he further recognise that a half-hour Adjournment debate is no substitute for a proper debate on the subject in Government time? Does he not appreciate that those who have to budget on behalf of NACAB are entitled to know whether they will have the funds to enable them to continue their activity before the bills arise for payment? Does he recognise that budgeting on a hand-to-mouth basis is an impossible way of proceeding for NACAB?

Dr. Vaughan

I can understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman's anxieties. I made it clear in my statement last week, and again during last Friday's Adjournment debate, that am not responsible for what individual journalists put in their articles. My Department did not confirm what appeared in the article in The Sunday Times and no contact was made with me. The two main points in the article—first, that I have cut NACAB's funds and, secondly, that I am influenced by another person in another area of activity—are totally incorrect.

Sir Peter Emery

Are not the real matters the distribution of these funds, the exact way in which they are distributed and whether large sums of money should be spent on training or for a new headquarters? Surely those are matters at which my hon. Friend has a right to look to ensure that the funds are used in the best interests. Is he aware that if he intends to do that he will have the support of the whole House?

Dr. Vaughan

I hope that in this matter I have the support of the whole House. It would be improper for me not to wish to see how these funds are distributed and the basis on which the allocation is made. I share my hon. Friend's views on that. It is important that if people do not want to damage this marvellous movement — [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I have said so a number of times. If they do not want to damage it they should differentiate carefully between the funding of the citizens advice bureaux generally, which is done by local government, and the quality of work that they do, and the funding of the national association, a professional servicing body, which is funded by the Government.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is not the whole affair yet another disgraceful but unsuccessfull attempt to smear the CAB and Joan Ruddock and is it not similar to the attack made by his colleague the Secretary of State for Defence at the weekend? Mrs. Ruddock is a scrupulous worker for CAB who would not dream of committing the misdemeanours alleged. As this is, in my view, a libellous statement, should not the Minister resign?

Dr. Vaughan

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. If there is any question of smears and slurs, it seems that they have been directed much more at me and the Government.

Mr. Forman

While joining my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work that the CAB does locally throughout the country, through thousands of volunteers, may I ask him to confirm that the review will be truly independent and will report at an early date?

Dr. Vaughan

I urge other hon. Members to follow the line that my hon. Friend has just put forward. It is vital that these matters are kept in perspective. As the Minister responsible for funding NACAB, I have agreed with it the need for a review, and that is now being progressed as rapidly as possible, and I stress "rapidly".