Clause 2. — (Capital Expenditure for Purposes of Post Office Savings Bank Not to Be Paid Out of Post Office Savings Bank Fund.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Post Office and Telegraph (Money) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th June 1952.

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Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton 12:00 am, 13th June 1952

There are one of two questions which I feel it my duty to put to the Assistant Postmaster-General. I am the more induced to do so because on Second Reading the hon. Gentleman had little or nothing to say about the Clause. His explanation of it was given in two sentences, and, as his remarks were so brief, I should like to refresh his memory by quoting them. He said: Under Clause 2, the Post Office will be able to finance the capital cost of Savings Bank building in the same way as it finances other capital expenditure of the Post Office. This point has already been brought to the notice of the Public Accounts Committee, which have accepted the expansion recommended in the scope of the Post Office Money Bill."— [OFFICIAL REPORT. 31st March, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 1192.] That is all the hon. Gentleman said by way of explanation of the Clause, and I submit that is so meagre and unsatisfactory that the Committee is now entitled to a much fuller explanation.

Clause 2 (1)says: …any capital expenditure incurred after the passing of this Act for the purposes of the Post Office Savings Bank shall be deemed not to have been incurred in the execution of the said enactments. As the Bill deals generally with capital expenditure, the Committee is entitled to know, first, what the Assistant Postmaster-General has in mind and what kind of commitment he envisages in regard to capital expenditure incurred after the passing of the Act for the purposes of the Post Office Savings Bank. Does this capital expenditure represent £1 million, £10 million or £15 million, and over what period, and for exactly what purposes? Those are details on which the Committee is entitled to be informed before it allows the Clause to be accepted.

Reference is made on more than one occasion in the Clause to …enactments relating to the Post Office Saving Bank. … "Enactments" is a loose word, and I do not see any definition in the Bill of what is comprised in this vague and somewhat general term. What are the enactments relating to the Post Office Savings Bank? I concede that reference is made to the Savings Banks Act, 1929, but it seems to imply that some provisions other than those of the Savings Banks Act, 1929. are included in the vague term: …enactments relating to the Post Office Saving Bank. … The Committee ought to have very much fuller information on this than has so far been provided.

3.0 p.m.

It may well be that no major point of principle is involved in this Clause, or no point of principle of the same magnitude as was involved in the previous Clause. It is a pity that there is no Law Officer present. We have now reached a point where the representatives of the Treasury are no longer required. In any event, they have disappeared. At one moment we had present in the Chamber not only the Chancellor of the Exchequer but the Minister of State for Economic Affairs and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. But now they have all flown and we are left with the Assistant Postmaster-General, and also an important official of the Royal Household whose presence we welcome though I very much doubt whether he will make any constructive contribution to our discussion.

It may be that the Assistant Postmaster-General will be at some disadvantage in dealing with the legal point I have raised as to the exact meaning of, "enactments relating to the Post Office." There is obviously more than one, otherwise the word would not be in the plural. I do not know how many there are. I have not had the opportunity of looking up all the legislation relating to the Post Office. Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) may be able to supplement the information which I have not found it possible to obtain for the benefit of the Committee.

Some capital expenditure is envisaged but no indication was given to the House by the Assistant Postmaster-General on Second Reading of what was this capital expenditure relating to the Post Office Savings Bank. I hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General has had time to collect some information on the subject and that it will be possible for him to supply the information I seek. Regarding the legal point I raised, I suggest that arrangements should be made for the early attendance of one of the Law Officers of the Crown to help the Committee in its deliberations on this Clause.