§ Queen's recommendation having been signified—
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Postal Services Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred in consequence of the Act by the body to be known as the Postal Services Commission.—[Mrs. McGuire.]
§ Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire)
I am apprehensive about the money resolution. The Financial Secretary is busy today: he must tackle not only the money resolution to the Postal Services Bill, but also that to the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill. We can be justifiably apprehensive about granting permission for a blank cheque. In Committee, we spent a long time trying to determine the cost of the commission. We tried to glean from the Minister whether there would be some limit on the number of members. We later discovered that they would be paid £10,000 each for their work during the year. However, amendments to resist that amount of expenditure were blocked, and the Government used their majority to allow an open-ended position.
The Government stressed the figure of £400 million which would be saved through automated credit transfer, thus causing anxiety to sub-post offices. The Government were enthusiastic about that and did not wait for the report of the performance and innovation unit on what could be put in its place and the sort of revenue that would be available to mitigate the loss.
We shall debate new clause 1 later. We welcome it as far as it goes. We have no idea whether the commission will be part of the delivery mechanism that will follow from it. If that is the case, what sums will be involved—£20 million, £30 million or £100 million?
The Financial Secretary has glibly and easily slid in the money resolution, which is, in effect, a blank cheque, as hon. Members will see if they care to examine it. I ask the Minister to consider whether he can impose some limits on it. We want to know whether the commission will be the vehicle to fund new clause 1.
The Government's record on controlling the expenditure of new bodies is not good. I have only to remind the House of what has happened to the budget of the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets: it was intended to be £29.8 million, but it is now estimated that it will rocket to £64.5 million. An increase of more than 100 per cent. in one year is predicted. Given that we have a blank cheque and we do not even know the commission's estimated cost, I confess that I am exceedingly apprehensive. The Minister must put more flesh on the bones before the House will be prepared to sign the blank cheque.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)
We are slightly apprehensive about the money resolution, so, before the Bill completes its remaining stages in the House, the Minister should explain the unusual step of introducing it now. Money resolutions are nothing new, 835 but they are usually dealt with on Second Reading. As a result of changes in the previous Parliament, money resolutions are not debatable if dealt with on Second Reading—they merely go through on the nod—so the Minister should explain why the Government have used this unusual procedure.
If, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) said, that procedure has been used solely because of new clause 1, the Minister should explain, and possibly apologise for, the way in which the Secretary of State misled the House on Second Reading. He gave an assurance that the subject of new clause 1—which is the reason why the money resolution has been tabled—would be introduced in time to be dealt with in Committee.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
As Hansard reported, the Secretary of State said that amendments would be tabled in Committee. From a sedentary position, he says that I am wrong, but he should read his own words, as I did last week.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that clarification, but he does not disagree that, on Second Reading, he said that the subject of new clause 1 would be dealt with in Committee. He says that the money resolution has nothing to do with new clause 1, but it is wide-ranging and covers "any expenditure" arising from the Bill. Supplementary money resolutions are often proposed if the Government come up with new ideas. Perhaps he is telling us that the proposals in new clause 1 are not new. The Government should explain why they have introduced the money resolution just before we complete the Bill's remaining stages and why it was not introduced on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
Although I sat through the whole of the Committee stage on the Bill, I cannot recall the Minister explaining that there would be a need for a money resolution. It is curious that we had no mention of the new money resolution in Committee if there was a need for one on Second Reading.
The Secretary of State said that my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) was wrong to assume that the fact that new clause 1 has within it a subsidy is the reason for the money resolution, but the procedure this afternoon is curious. Many of us will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say in justifying the money resolution at this time. One can assume only that he has been advised by lawyers that, if new clause 1 becomes part of the Bill, he will require a money resolution.
836 Clearly, we will discuss new clause 1 shortly, but I am surprised. Perhaps the Minister will tell me if I have it wrong, but, so far as I can recollect, at no time in Committee did we ever discuss the need for a money resolution. Indeed, at no stage did the Minister give the Committee any indication of the sums of money that it would be necessary to find from the public purse, and, hence, of the need now for a money resolution.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alan Johnson)
First, I did say in Committee that there would be a need for a money resolution. The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) attended very—
§ Mr. Johnson
Assiduously, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not there on that particular occasion. However, as the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) will verify, I did say that there would be a need for a money resolution on Report.
The second money resolution is necessary to ensure that it is within the scope of the Bill to make provision for payment out of money provided by Parliament of expenditure incurred by the Postal Services Commission. As we explained in Committee, it is a new initiative in postal services. It is also the first time that we have had a regulator that consists not of one person, but of a committee. I think that, following a review of utility regulation some time ago, there was all-party support for that.
It is impossible to judge exactly how much money the commission will need, but its cost will be paid by the operators in the universal service area, which means that the Post Office will meet the full cost of that. Therefore, the cost that will be incurred as a result of the Bill will not be materially affected. Rather, it affects the financial systems and procedures.
The Government's intention is that the commission will be a non-ministerial Government Department with its own vote, putting it on a similar footing to the utility regulators in that respect. We will discuss an amendment on similar funding for the revamped consumer body. Technical amendments have been tabled for consideration on Report to effect that change.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in an intervention, the necessary authorisation on the subsidy clause was provided under the first money resolution, taken after Second Reading on 15 February. That, among other matters, authorised the payment of any expenditure incurred by a Minister of the Crown or Government Department in consequence of any Act resulting from the Bill. Any scheme under that clause as drafted will require the approval of Parliament, so I urge the House to accept the second money resolution.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Postal Services Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred in consequence of the Act by the body to be known as the Postal Services Commission.