HL Deb 25 March 1919 vol 33 cc941-2

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, authorising the issue of certain turns out of the Consolidated Fund for the Civil Contingencies Fund and to make further provision in connection therewith, I think perhaps I ought to say a word. In normal times there is a small fund of £320,000 known as the Civil Contingencies Fund, which may be used by the Treasury to finance urgent services until such time as Parliament thinks fit to vote the money for those purposes. This Fund is a purely banking fund—that is to say, all advances from it must be repaid to it, and no final charge can rest upon it.

So small a sum as that which I have mentioned—£320,000—would, of course, be insufficient to provide for contingencies on the present large totals of expenditure. During the war no special provision for contingencies has been thought necessary because the Treasury could meet all war demands from Votes of Credit, but there will be no Votes of Credit for 1919–20 and Departments will be strictly confined each to its own Estimate. It is necessary to make some temporary provision for a larger fund from which the Treasury can meet contingencies. It should not be necessary to make a permanent increase, but provision must be made for the transition period to which I have alluded—namely, 1919–20.

It is accordingly proposed under this Bill to increase the Civil Contingencies Fund temporarily by £120,000,000, in order to provide the Treasury with the necessary financial machinery to finance the requirements of 1919–20. The special necessity arises in two main ways. During the war it has been necessary for the State to buy and sell large quantities of sugar, wheat, other foods and raw materials of all kinds, and to finance exchange operations in order to maintain the foreign exchanges. All these transactions naturally require working capital to meet expenditure pending the realisation of receipts. These services are being brought to an end as rapidly as possible, but in some cases advances for working capital must still be required.

Your Lordships will observe that these advances for working capital are definitely restricted to undertakings on account of exigencies arising out of the present war—in other words, they are purely winding-up operations and do not foreshadow large new trading operations. There is, of course, no intention under this Bill of financing such a measure as the Ways and Communications Bill, which will require Parliamentary Estimates in the ordinary way. The Votes for 1919 and 1920 allow for the issue of very large sums in receipts. Most of these receipts from the sale of stores, &c., will only be available towards the end of the financial year, and the Treasury must have power to make temporary advances in the earlier part of the year until receipts are available. The whole measure is purely a temporary one to wind up operations arising out of the exigencies of the present war. The fund remains, as before, a banking account, against which no final charge car be made. Safeguards are inserted in the Bill which provide that no issues can be made after March 31, 1920, and all issues must be repaid not later than September 13, 1920. In certain cases minutes have to be presented to Parliament. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Hylton.)

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.