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Orders Of The Day

Volume 476: debated on Wednesday 28 June 1950

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Miscellaneous Financial Provisions Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

4.5 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill is a harmless, necessary creature with four legs and a rather abbreviated tail, as the House will see. It pretends to very little in the way of claws or teeth or to the glamour of a Finance Bill proper, nor will it, I trust, keep us awake so long. Its four legs are almost entirely unrelated to one another and that is one reason why we give the title, "miscellaneous" to this rather piebald animal.

Clause 1, the most important in the Bill, replaces Section 3 of the Miscellaneous Financial Provisions Act, 1946, which gave power to increase the Civil Contingencies Fund to £250 million, but only to 31st December, 1950. The present Clause re-enacts the power to raise the necessary sums but reduces the maximum from £250 million to £125 million and continues the period for only two years, i.e., up to the end of 1952. In effect, therefore, the Government are proposing to set a maximum to the Civil Contingencies Fund for the next two years at one-half of the figure at which the maximum has stood since 1946. The purpose of the Civil Contingencies Fund is, as its name implies, to provide for foreseen contingencies, of which the most common example is the case of a Department which has to undertake some new service, or expansion of an existing service, before opportunity occurs for a Supplementary Estimate to be presented to Parliament.

It may perhaps be argued that a cut to one-half from the figure prevailing in the last four years is an excessive cut and that a long enough period has not yet elapsed, following the financial disturbances of the war and the post-war period for it to be possible to settle down to a figure that is so much smaller. We believe, however, that we are now moving nearer to a situation in which new or additional expenditure can, to a much greater extent, be covered in advance by Supplementary Estimates. On the other hand, of course it could be argued that £125 million is much too large when compared with the £1,500,000 at which the maximum stood from 1921 until the last war. I think the House will agree, however, that the figure of £1,500,000 has very little relevance by way of comparison with today.

First of all, this Fund was increased to £120 million after the first war up to 1921. Secondly, today very large trading operations are undertaken by Government Departments and the flexibility which must be given to those Departments for raising working capital and so forth represents one of the main calls on the Fund in present conditions. We are not of course this afternoon debating the rights and wrongs of Government trading on this scale. For the purpose of this Debate, we must assume that as a fact, and as long as it is a fact the necessary financial provision must be made. For instance, the Ministry of Food have a total turnover in their trading operations of something like £1,500 million annually. It is therefore not surprising that when, for instance, the £100 million loan was made to Argentina under the Andes Agreement in 1948, a large call on the Civil Contingencies Fund had to be made. Indeed, I notice that the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley), when the Fund was discussed on the earlier Bill in this House in March, 1946, said that the use of the Fund for this purpose was quite legitimate.

Again, temporary advances have been made out of the Fund, as the House knows, to the Intra-European Payments Account to enable payments out of that account to be made in advance of payments in. As an essential part of the O.E.E.C. payments machinery, we have in the last two years made payments to certain European countries, members of O.E.E.C, before we received the equivalent payments from the United States Government. I think everyone agrees that this has been a useful piece of inter-European economic machinery, and the Civil Contingencies Fund has played its part in that.

Taking all these arguments into account, we came to the conclusion that £125 million is a reasonable total at which to strike the balance for the next two years. This will give us further time to determine what the more long-term figure should be.

Will the hon. Gentleman inform the House when the accounts of the Civil Contingencies Fund were last published?

They were last published in October. I will give the hon. Member the exact reference presently if he wishes.

Before this Debate began, I did inquire of the Vote Office when these accounts were last published, and I was assured that the last published accounts were on 8th March, 1949, in respect of the year 1947–48.

I have the Paper here, and the date is 27th October, 1949, and I think that is correct.

So far as I know, the information is available to hon. Members.

Clause 2 gives the Treasury power to advance, on such terms as it determines, up to £15 million to the Northern Ireland Exchequer. The purpose of this Clause is to ensure that loans may, if necessary, be available to finance housing and other capital expenditure by Northern Ireland local authorities. At present, as hon. Members know, we make advances to local authorities in Great Britain through the Public Works Loans Board for these purposes and thus ensure to them the finance they need. Since Northern Ireland pays the same taxes as Great Britain, it is plainly fair on the principle of parity of treatment that, if Northern Ireland cannot herself finance the capital needs of her local authorities on suitable terms, we should, in the last resort, be able to come to her assistance. In that country as in this, it is in the national interest that housing costs should be kept to the lowest possible limit. I do not imagine hon. Members will dispute that.

Clause 3 gives statutory authority for the payment of the Exchequer grant in aid of police expenditure. At present the rate of Exchequer grant in aid of approved police expenditure is 50 per cent. in the normal case. The only existing statutory authority for the payment of this grant for expenditure in England and Wales at present is the annual Appropriation Acts. The Pupblic Accounts Committee has laid it down as a principle that where continuing functions involving expenditure are exercised by a Government Department, the powers and duties should be exercised by a specific Statute; and indeed the Committee recommended in particular that these grants should be so regularised. We are thus by this Clause fully legitimising the relations between the Treasury and the Home Office.

Clause 4 formally winds up the Czechoslovakia Financial Claims Fund. This is not really an act of policy, but merely a recognition that this Fund has no money left in it, and has not in practice operated for nearly two years. The Fund was originally set up by the Czechoslovakia (Financial Claims and Refugees) Act, 1940, to assist British holders of certain Czech obligations which were naturally not then being met. The Fund started in 1940 with about £3,500,000, and was used, in accordance with the Act, throughout the war to meet obligations on Czech debts for the benefit of the creditors. After payments which fell due in June, 1948, the Fund was virtually exhausted and it is therefore now desirable formally to wind it up. I hope, therefore, that the House will approve this necessary, if not very exciting Measure as adding a few useful cogs to our financial machinery.

4.18 p.m.

The Financial Secretary told us that this Bill stood upon four legs, which is a very good number of legs, provided they are all sound. I have no complaint about legs 2, 3 and 4, but I should like to say a word about leg or Clause 1.

The Financial Secretary sought to explain to the House why it was necessary to continue the temporary increase of a very large amount in the Civil Contingencies Fund. I hope the House will recollect what is the purpose of the Civil Contingencies Fund. The hon. Gentleman referred to a speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley) on the occation of the 1946 Bill, when there was a discussion on this subject, and I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I quoted a few words used by my right hon. Friend on that occasion. He explained that we were all familiar with the workings of the Civil Contingencies Fund in the old days and he said:
"It was limited to £1,500,000 and gave Departments an opportunity for immediate expenditure of money on a service which had not been covered by Estimate on the understanding, of course, that it would eventually be covered by a Supplementary Estimate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 2267.]
My right hon. Friend illustrated the use that was made of the Fund by quoting the case of a hurricane in the West Indies, when it was desirable very quickly to make some contribution for which there was no provision in the Estimate. We all understand that, but I want the House to consider very carefully the position today.

The Treasury are very accomplished in the art of myosis. They introduce a Bill looking small and harmless, but if we examine it we find that it contains important things. There is no doubt that, in the interests of Parliament, we have to watch very carefully what the Executive are doing. I suggest that this is one of the occasions when we must examine it closely. Parliament has very largely lost control over the borrowing powers of the Executive, and it is essential that it should retain its control very closely over the spending powers of the Executive.

If I may go back into the past for a few moments, I would recall that in 1861 the whole of this matter was examined by the Public Accounts Committee. They made certain recommendations which have been accepted ever since. In fact, they were implemented in the following year by a Treasury minute and a capital sum of £120,000 was then placed at the disposal of the Civil Contingencies Fund. That worked satisfactorily until 1913, when an increase of that Fund was made to £300,000. No doubt in the course of years the business of Parliament had increased and rather a larger sum was thought to be desirable.

Then came the 1914–18 war. That was financed by Votes of Credit, just as was the last war. As long as Votes of Credit are continued, the Government do not need to bother with the Civil Contingencies Fund or anything of that kind. There are entrusted to the Executive wide powers which, in times of peace, this House would not be likely to entrust to them. After the 1914–18 war, the same sort of difficulties cropped up as those which arose after the last war. It was considered proper at that time to increase the capital of the Civil Contingencies Fund by a very large amount. It was increased in 1919 to £120 million.

That lasted until 1921, when the difficulties associated with the period of transition from the war-time financing under the Vote of Credit system to the peacetime financing under our old Estimates system, had been successfully passed. In 1921 the Fund was reduced to £1,500,000. In view of the great increase of the business of Parliament and the depreciation in the value of money, perhaps that was not out of relation to the old Fund of £300,000 which we had before the war.

I am sure that hon. Members appreciate that the Civil Contingencies Fund is a sort of petty cash at the disposal of the Executive. They can do what they like with it, and therefore it is most important that we should watch the amount which they have. No business worth talking about leaves too much money in the till for the use of those who have charge of the till.

In 1946 the same difficulty arose as that which had arisen in 1919, and a Bill was introduced providing for an increase in this Fund to £250 million. It was laid down in that Act, very properly, what that £250 million was for. The Act was to provide:
"…funds for making advances in respect of urgent services in anticipation of the provision made or to be made by Parliament for those services becoming available…"
That was one thing. Then it said:
"or for making advances in anticipation of the realisation of receipts in connection with any service…"
"for making temporary advances to any Government Department for the provision of any necessary working cash balances in connection with such services…"
That is what the Act of 1946 provided. In 1949 there was an Act relating to this matter—the American Aid and European Payments (Financial Provisions) Act—which authorised the temporary financing of the Intra-European Payments Account, and brought these advances within the scope of the 1946 Act. The present Bill reduces the £250 million to £125 million. The Financial Secretary argued somewhat ingenuously that there were some who might think that that was too great a reduction, whereas there were others who might think that it was too small a reduc- tion. I should like to make it clear now that we on this side of the House think that it is too small a reduction.

This Fund, though it is very necessary, gives to the Executive a great deal of power. It is only natural that Parliament should be cautious in extending the facilities offered by the Fund beyond what is reasonably necessary to meet unavoidable emergencies. I want to examine some of the uses to which this Fund has been put. I should like to illustrate my point by showing what happened in the case of the National Health Service Act. In March of this year, we were confronted with Supplementary Estimates by the Ministry of Health and the Department of Health for Scotland amounting to some £98 million. It appeared from those Estimates that a sum of £54 million had been advanced from the Civil Contingencies Fund as far as England was concerned. and £6 million had been advanced for Scotland.

I suggest that that was not the kind of use for which the Fund was intended. If the Financial Secretary would study the speech made by his predecessor in introducing the last Bill, I do not think that he would suggest that there was any contemplation of such a use for the Fund at that time, nor indeed do I think that there was. I think it will be helpful to refer again to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West. He was referring to the possibility—which, in fact, happened—of a great over-expenditure by a Department during the year. He said:
"But if a Department has estimated wrongly at the beginning of the year, the fact becomes apparent inside that Department long before the expenditure authorised by Parliament has' been exhausted, and it is perfectly simple for it then to come back to the House with Supplementary Estimate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 1st March, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 2268.]
What happened in the case of the Health Service? It must have been clear to the Departments concerned and to the Treasury, who watch these matters closely from week to week, that the amount voted by Parliament for the Health Service was being greatly overspent. That must have been clearly apparent to the authorities at any rate by September or October of last year But what happened? No Supplementary Estimate was asked for at that time, and money was borrowed, as we subsequently found out, from the Civil Contingencies Fund, to meet this over-spending by two of the Departments of State.

I ask the Financial Secretary why it was that a Supplementary Estimate was not introduced into this House before Christmas. I want to know. What happened was that no Supplementary Estimate was introduced until March, after the General Election. Therefore, it was not revealed to the public what an enormous over-expenditure there had been on this Service until after the General Election. The Fund should not have been used for a purpose of that sort. That illustrates the danger of losing Parliamentary control over the Executive by allowing such a large Civil Contingencies Fund to be at their disposal.

I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to put most seriously to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he should reduce this temporary increase of the Fund to a more reasonable figure. I do not think that anything which the hon. Gentleman said convinced me that there was any need for a fund anything like as large as £125 million. I admit that there was an exceptionally large payment made at the time of the Andes Agreement, but that was exceptional and there is little likelihood of its happening again. In any case, Supplementary Estimates can, and should, be asked for.

We do not, of course, intend to oppose the Second Reading, because three out of the four Clauses of the Bill are, as far as I know, quite inexceptionable. In fact, one of them—Clause 3—I am very glad to see in the Bill, because it is a matter which has been urged upon the Government by the Public Accounts Committee on more than one occasion and I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his part in seeing that it is put into the Bill. Clause 1, however, needs amendment. On the Committee stage we shall press for a very substantial reduction in the figure of £125 million, and I hope very much that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary will see fit to concede it.

4.31 p.m.

The speech of the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) was most interesting as an historical survey of the growth of the Civil Contingencies Fund from its very modest beginning with a capital of £125,000. The growth of this Fund was a history of the growth of Parliamentary activity. We find, in our financial procedure in this House, the same relics of bygone days and necessities as we find in the ritualistic procedure of the House, and I think that much of the talk that we hear from time to time about the control of the Executive is really archaic language, and, to some extent, archaic language based upon archaic thought.

Financial control of the Executive 150 years and more ago was not so much control for a financial purpose as for a political purpose. Parliament carefully kept the Government of the day extremely short of funds in order that the Government would have to call Parliament together. It was not the financial safeguard that led to the starving of the Government of the day of those funds. It was rather the desire of the House of Commons to keep political control of the Government.

Exactly, but I cannot help it if hon. Gentlemen have not moved from the 17th century. I am merely pointing out the historical background.

During the 19th' century undoubtedly the Commons tended to keep the Government short of funds and grudgingly gave taxation because, financially, the Commons were always very strongly on the side of economy. Nowadays, however—and I am speaking from 20 years' knowledge of this House—I should say that it is the Government that have to enforce economy on the House of Commons, and that there is far more resistance on the part of the Government to attempts to spend money by Private Members than there is resistance of the House against expenditure by the Government. Our whole attitude to financial control and to the use of finance has undergone a very great revolution in the past 30 or 40 years, let alone the past century. When one looks, for instance, at the loans which have been made under the Civil Contingencies Fund and paid back, one finds that they range over a vast number of extremely important activities.

I am not saying that £125 million is the correct figure. The Government might be able to make do with £100 million—I do not know; but looking at the figures of the loans which have been made out of the Civil Contingencies Fund most of them temporary loans, looking at their size and variety, it is quite obvious that the capital sum of the Fund must be a very considerable amount. To limit it unduly on the grounds, not merely of Gladstonian, but pre-Gladstonian, financial principles, would be really to hamper very important activities of the Government, activities which the House of Commons would desire to have carried out.

The idea that we have to control the Executive in its expenditure by keeping it short of money might have been valid in the 17th or 18th century, and possibly at the beginning of the 19th, century, but we have adequate control and accounting now. The Government cannot spend money and get away with it if they have spent it contrary to the will of the House of Commons. The mere fact that the Government have a large fund for which they are compelled to account to this House does not really lead to any relaxation of the control of the House on expenditure. If we want to control Government expenditure, there are far more effective methods of doing it than by limiting the capital of the Civil Contingencies Fund.

4.37 p.m.

I am concerned with Clause 2 of the Bill, and I should like to refer especially to subsection (5), where it says:

"In this section the expression 'Northern Ireland Government Loans' means loans for the purposes of which the Ministry of Finance for Northern Ireland are, for the time being, empowered to advance money out of the Government Loans Fund established by an Act of the Parliament of Northern Ireland entitled 'The Government Loans Act (Northern Ireland) 1939'."
We suffered very acutely during the period between the two wars from most serious unemployment. The percentage of unemployment was far greater in Northern Ireland than in almost any other part of the country. This was largely due to the fact that we were dependent, and at that time almost wholly dependent, on two great industries—namely, the linen industry and the shipbuilding industry.

The linen industry was very hardly hit immediately after the close of the First World War by the overwhelming American tariff, which placed upon our linen export duties amounting, in several cases, to 100 per cent. The result was that more than 20 linen factories in Belfast alone had to close. With regard to shipbuilding, while, after the First Great War, there was a very great boom in this industry, it gradually fell off owing to the immense number of subsidised ships which had been built in America and in other countries.

The Government, therefore, were, and still are, greatly concerned to provide, as far as possible, other industries. To induce capitalists to come over to Northern Ireland and to take advantage of the excellent labour facilities, the Government have been prepared to give them sites to enable them to start these factories. That has been done by means of the Government Loans Act of Northern Ireland, which has been extremely successful.

To speak for my own constituency of South Antrim, we have growing up today a whole series of large manufacturing towns on the Northern shore of Belfast Lough. I am very glad that Messrs. Courtaulds have, in one of the principal towns in my constituency, Carrickfergus, established a large factory which gives employment to 3,000 people. In the south my constituency, consisting of 77,000 electors, stretches all round the City of Belfast and goes as far as Lisburn and Ballinderry. In and around Lisburn there, is another very large industrial area largely occupied with the linen industry. It is extremely desirable, therefore, that this Fund should be continued in order to give a guarantee to capitalists who are establishing the new industries.

The purpose of the Bill is to enable a sum of up to £15 million to be advanced to the Government of Northern Ireland for these guaranteed loans. Judging by past experience, the Government—this Government certainly not—and not even the Government of Northern Ireland are really running any great risk because the loans which have been advanced for the establishment of factories and for assisting the laying down of further ships have been repaid in the most wonderful fashion.

Speaking on behalf of my constituency especially, and of Northern Ireland in general, I know that the Ulster Members of Parliament welcome the Bill. We express our gratitude to the Labour Government for their kindly co-operation with the Government of Northern Ireland. We welcome this as an example of the entente cordiale which has existed for a long time between the two Governments. I am very glad to have this opportunity of expressing the gratitude which all of us, feel towards the Government for having introduced the important Clause 2.

4.43 p.m.

I want to ask the Financial Secretary a number of questions about Clause 2. The Treasury are given authority to raise the necessary money in any manner in which they are authorised to raise money under the National Loans Act, 1939. Those of us who remember the tension which prevailed at that time, will recall that we agreed to practically anything which would facilitate the carrying through of business. No questions were asked and no speeches were made—though there was a fair amount of intolerance about and I accept my share of responsibility for it—because at that time we wanted to do everything we could in order to play our part in prosecuting the war in which we had become involved.

Clause 2 is based upon the Act which was passed in those days, and we cannot now allow a repetition of what took place when that Act became law. Before we agree to this further authority, we ought to ask some questions, especially from the English point of view. We hear much about Scotland, much about Wales and much about Northern Ireland, but we very seldom hear anything said about England. I do not wish to carry this too far, but England is the real centre of the large industrial population of these Islands.

If I understood the Financial Secretary rightly—I hope he will correct me if I am wrong but he was speaking rather hurriedly; I am not complaining about it but it was difficult to hear him because the House was dispersing after Questions—he said that if Northern Ireland could not finance loans on satisfactory terms, we should go to their assistance. According to the Act, the Treasury are empowered to grant loans for local purposes for development, housing and other authorised capital expenditure. In this country large schemes of development are held up—it is due to our difficult economic position arising out of the war—because of the need to conserve our resources so that we can get the best return. Therefore, before we agree to a further £15 million loan, we ought to ask how it will be used and for what purpose. When we consider the urgent development schemes which are being held up here, we should be given more information about this.

In addition to that, I find myself in the same difficulty as my hon. Friend. The Librarians of this House are very fine men and women. They go out of their way to assist us when we want information, and, in the main, the services which have been placed at our disposal during the past few years would not be realised by Members of Parliament who were in this House years ago, and had to work night and day to get the sort of information which is now placed at our disposal by the librarians. In view of the comments which I am about to make, I felt that that was the least I could say while I was touching upon the matter.

I have been through a number of publications and documents, but I have had great difficulty in satisfying myself about the total amount of the loans which have been granted under the principal Act. We might, therefore, consider ourselves entitled, before agreeing to the further £15 million loan, to ask what are the outstanding amounts; what annual payments are made by the National Exchequer and what income we receive in return from Northern Ireland.

This is the position, according to what I have been able to ascertain. I would point out to the Financial Secretary that there is great interest about this matter in the country, and it would be good if we could get the real facts on record. I examined the Financial Accounts for 1948 and 1949, and I found on page 34, under the heading "Payments to Northern Ireland Exchequer," that the gross proceeds of reserved taxes are approximately £52,500,000. We also find that other issues are made by the National Exchequer under a series of Acts of Parliament, for this is not the only Act involved. It will be seen from an examination of these Financial Accounts that we making contributions to Northern Ireland for various purposes and that they add up to millions of pounds. I hope I shall be corrected if I am wrong. When the income from Northern Ireland is subtracted, the Exchequer grant made is approximately £32¼ million.

I share, from another angle, the views which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim, South (Professor Savory) expressed—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is not right hon."] If he is not a right hon. Gentleman, he should be because of his very fine record when he served this country under great difficulties, in Paris and other places, when manliness was put to the test. I share his difficulties and his concern, though from another point of view. He has been expressing concern, rightly, because he represents Northern Ireland; but I think the time has come to raise this whole matter of our relationship with Ireland.

We spent Monday and Tuesday discussing the Schuman proposals. We hear a great deal about. Western Union and the need for unity among the many countries of Europe. The time has come when we ought to talk about a little more unity at home. I make all allowances for the national aspirations of the Scottish people and the Welsh, but fundamentally we are British people; and in these days of great change we ought to be working together and working within the Commonwealth to make a greater contribution to the economic development of our own country and the countries of the world at large.

I was delighted when the Prime Minister went to Ireland some time ago. He was followed by the Lord President of the Council. I thought that here, at last, an attempt was to be made to prepare a basis for improved relationship between our two countries. I was very disappointed that it came to nothing. The time has arrived again when this Parliament, and public opinion in general, should assert itself. The time has come to say that the generations of differences between our cousins the Irish people and ourselves ought to be swept to one side. We ought to begin to build upon a new foundation in order to play our part in a quickly-developing world.

I know it is easy to say that, and I know all the difficulties and the strong views held here and there. This is a test for courage and for manliness, and the time has arrived when the Financial Secretary ought to say exactly what the position is between our two countries. He should tell us what we are contributing to Northern Ireland and what income we are receiving from her. Has not the time arrived when this business should be reexamined? An examination of the kind, I suggest, would improve not only the economic position of Northern Ireland but the economic position of our two countries.

I felt that this opportunity should not be allowed to pass without making a few observations of that kind, so that they may stimulate interest in this House and outside, and among the whole of the British people, with a view to our doing something as soon as possible on lines that will improve the relations between the two countries.

4.55 p.m.

I understand that we have little time so that I cannot make the observations I intended to make but perhaps there will be another opportunity. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), may not have been quite fair to the Northern Ireland Government, possibly because he has not had the opportunity of obtaining all the figures. I understand that Northern Ireland has made a net contribution to us of something like £190 million since 1922.

It is not all a one-way traffic but, no doubt, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, says we ought to look at the position carefully.

When we last discussed the Civil Contingencies Fund three reasons were given for putting in the hands of the Government so large a sum of money as £250 million. The first reason was that if Departments failed to estimate correctly it was a good thing to have recourse to such a Fund. Before the war, that Fund was £1½ million. The question arises now of how much it ought to be five years after the war, when affairs have settled down. It ought not to be very large.

The argument of the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson), that we had plenty of ways of controlling expenditure of money other than by keeping the Government short will not bear examination. The Minister of Health produced an Estimate for £228 million. He then exceeded his Estimate by £89 million. Can we possibly say that is good estimating? How could he have kept us in the dark about the finances of the health service during the period of the election had he not been able to put his hands into this Fund to the tune of £54 million? It is not the same thing to come to the House after the money is spent and get a Supplementary Estimate as it is to have to come to the House first.

If, at breakfast time, one's wife says, "I am thinking of getting a new hat," it can be discussed across the table. It is very different if she says nothing and comes back at lunchtime with a hat and one has to pay whether one likes the new hat or not. The second method is exactly that which the Government can adopt because of this very large Contingency. However, I believe another opportunity for debate will arise on the Financial Resolution, when this matter can be gone into further.

4.58 p.m.

If I may, with the leave of the House, make a brief reply, I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) for the support he gave to at least three Clauses of the Bill. I should also like to thank the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Professor Savory) for what he said about the Clause relating to Northern Ireland. I was struck by what he said about capital development going on there. Very much the same might be said of large works going on in English, Welsh and Scottish development areas.

The right hon. Member for Blackburn, West, in his complaints against the proposed size of the Civil Contingencies Fund, rather neglected the fact that we did not rest the case for that solely upon the possibility of Departments overspending their original Estimates. There is also, of course, the need for working capital in the case of trading Departments, where it is not a matter of overspending but of spending in advance of receipts which will accrue later.

The right hon. Member raised the question of the National Health Service, which had to draw on the Civil Contingencies Fund last winter. There was a similar drawing in the previous year, against which, I think, no complaint was made by the Opposition. In any case, the use of the Civil Contingencies Fund for that purpose last winter was perfectly correct and in order. We remained within the legal maximum and, of course, a Supplementary Estimate was subsequently introduced to cover the sums involved. The right hon. Gentleman will also recall that a warning had previously been given publicly, in the autumn, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Health that a Supplementary Estimate would be necessary. The reason why that Estimate was not introduced earlier was, as, indeed, the right hon. Gentleman himself said, because the General Election intervened.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Royle.]

Committee Tomorrow.