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National Expenditure (Ministerial Responsibility)

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 8 March 1962

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asked the Prime Minister what further proposals he has for a reorganisation of the system of Ministerial responsibility in order to enable more effective control to be exercised over the level of national expenditure, in view of the failure of Her Majesty's Government to fulfil their declared policy in this regard.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) on 13th February.

I know all about that, but does not my right hon. Friend appreciate that in the years that the Conservative Party has been in power we have collected four ex-Chancellors, including my right hon. Friend, who, most unhappily, dismally failed in this task? Does not he appreciate that unless and until the Government as a whole and the Prime Minister in particular control and manage policy, expenditure will not be controlled but will continue to control them?

These difficulties have been discussed and the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement about them on 27th February. I am happy to think, however, that, in spite of the difficulties over thees years, we have had the support of my hon. Friend throughout.

Is the Prime Minister aware that, as a result of the statement of the Minister of Defence this week, we have a Supplementary Estimate for the next financial year before that year has begun? Does he think that that is a good start?

I understand the right hon. Gentleman to be referring to the pay of the Forces. I do not know whether he is opposed to that.

Does not my right hon. Friend think that he should have reread some of the correspondence which I have sent to him concerning expenditure before he let off that broadside a few moments ago? Perhaps my support has not been all that he might have liked in detail, but I have been happy to support the Conservative Government in principle.

Perhaps I should have said that my hon. Friend has given us his support almost throughout this time. However, this has been reciprocal, because he will remember that he asked me to go to speak for him, which I did.

Has the right hon. Gentleman studied the criticisms which have been made lately about estimating by various Ministries? If so, has he any proposals to improve it?

Of course, the right hon. Gentleman knows that there are great difficulties about Estimates. After some experience, I think that the remarkable thing is the accuracy which our officials achieve in these Estimates. Certainly they are as accurate as any estimate one is able to make in any large industry. There are, perhaps, variations of 1 or 2 per cent., but the sums concerned are very large. Often in the past, especially in the Service and supply Departments, we used to estimate and find that we were not able to get delivery. Now delivery is better, and sometimes it runs more rapidly than the Estimates.