asked the Secretary of State for War how long Messrs. Deloitte, Plender, Griffiths and Company have been engaged in the preparation of the trading accounts of the Navy and Army Canteen Board for 1919 and 1920; and when their Report will be available for the information of the House?
The firm in question has been employed as auditors of the accounts of the Navy and Army Canteen Board since the inception of the organisation in 1917. I am unable to give a date as to when the accounts for the years in question will be available for the information of the House, but I can assure my hon. Friend that they are being pushed forward as rapidly as possible.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that answer has been returned for months past and that at the end of last Session we were told we could hope for the accounts in eight days?
Are we to understand that the accounts for 1919 are not yet completed?
Can the right hon. Gentleman definitely state what is the trouble, and why these accounts are being withheld?
I am sorry if anyone thinks they are being withheld. I am not suggesting there is not some justification for the thought, but I can assure the House I am getting the accounts pushed forward as quickly as possible. They are extremely complicated and complicated also by the fact that there were three organisations, each of which went into liquidation and each one passed some part of its assets and stocks to the next organisation. I hope the accounts will be available for the House in a short time. It is no use my saying eight days or a month, because I really cannot give a guarantee.
May I ask whether, in view of the great public interest in this matter, the right hon. Gentleman will give the House an assurance that these accounts will be presented in ample time for a discussion, if necessary, to take place on the Floor of this House with regard to them?
Is not the delay due mainly to the difficulties of realisation?
I do not want to take refuge in that. There has been great delay in apportioning the current stocks between each one of these organisations, and it has been due also partly to difficulties of realisation. But I may say this: I shall have to come to the House presently either for a Vote on Account or for a Bill to implement the undertaking to the Ex-Service Men's Associations to hand over the profits of the canteens, and at that time there will be an opportunity for the fullest discussion of this question. I do not want to deprecate questions, but I have half-a-dozen every week, and to them I can only give the same answer.
Will the Report be available on that occasion?
It is obvious the House must have the information which will enable it to come to a decision on that occasion, and before then the accounts must be available in some form or other for the House.