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Hbmc: Finanical Management

Volume 474: debated on Thursday 1 May 1986

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3.18 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, pursuant to Lord Elton's reply of 21st April [H.L. Debates, col. 1068], which referred to additional expenditure by the marketing division of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission to cover marketing expenditure which "had not been properly authorised", what changes have been made in the original budgets of the other divisions of the commission.

My Lords, the budget for the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for 1985–86 was £59 million. I understand that at the midpoint of that year the commission identified savings and underspends achieved in the normal course of business which amounted to rather less than 2 per cent. of that total. This was more than sufficient to meet the expenditure to which the noble Baroness's original Question referred.

My Lords, while I thank the noble Lord for that reply, I should like to ask him whether there has been any contraction in the other projects of the other divisions—for instance, in historic buildings or archaeology. The noble Lord in his reply said that the excess expenditure in the marketing division was £0.6 million, which represents a 50 per cent. increase over the original budget for that division. I should like to know who authorised this? Who was responsible for controlling it? Are those who were responsible for it still with the Commission?

My Lords, with regard to the first supplementary question of the noble Baroness, I think that on reflection she will find the reply implicit in my first and substantive Answer. The amount of money involved—which was £600,000—was substantially less than the contingency money available to the Commission at the half-year point. The virement between different vote heads at no stage breached the maximum which requires ministerial sanction.

With regard to the second supplementary question of the noble Baroness, the difficulty arose because the money was not properly authorised. That was revealed by the audit report to which I referred in my first Answer. I can tell the noble Baroness—as I believe I have already made clear—that our own auditors will be conducting a further audit later this year.

My Lords, I am sorry to press the Minister but the situation really is not satisfactory. The noble Lord has not answered the question which I put to him about who authorised this and who was responsible for this expenditure, which the noble Lord described in his Written Answer on 21st April at col. 1068 as not being,

"properly authorised or sufficiently rigorously controlled".
Moreover, if there were an underspend, and if this unfortunate excess expenditure had not taken place, am I not right in assuming that the money would have been available to be spent on other necessary matters instead of there being an overspend by the marketing division which I would certainly give the Minister credit for at no point trying to defend?

My Lords, it is always true that if you spend money on one thing it is not available to be spent on another. In this case the money was from the contingency amount made available at the mid-year in the way in which I have described. As to individual responsibility, that is a matter which has been looked into by the commission. I do not think that I should name in Parliament those who signed cheques, but I assure the noble Baroness that we are seized of the matter and that there will be a further departmental audit later this year.

My Lords, surely it is a question, not of who signed the cheques but of who authorised the signing of the cheques which involved expenditure which was 50 per cent. greater than the marketing budget. The noble Lord said in his earlier reply that it was not "properly authorised". Who authorised it?

My Lords, when a person signs a cheque without proper authority he authorises it himself, and that was the irregularity to which I referred.