HC Deb 27 July 1908 vol 193 cc1003-10

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill."


said he felt bound to look with the greatest suspicion upon Bills brought in like this in the middle of the night, and he should move to leave out Clause 1. His object was to get some explanation from the Government as to how the money was made up which was mentioned in paragraph (a), and that for Ireland referred to in paragraph (b). It seemed to him that to ask the Committee of the House to pass a section like that without any discussion or any explanation from the responsible Minister was an unreasonable proposal. The section involved no less than £3,000,000 for England and £700,000 for Ireland. These were large figures, and the Committee were entitled to some details before they agreed to the clause.


said that the explanation was a simple one, and could be given to the Committee in a few words. The mention of the sum of £3,000,000 in the clause did not necessarily mean that the amount in question was to be spent in its entirety. As a matter of fact, it was a sum within which the Commissioners could borrow and beyond which they could not go without the resent of the House of Commons. The sum was the same as that taken last year, and £500,000 less than the sum taken in the year before that. The amount mentioned in the Bill had, in fact, always been about the same. Of course the figures were inverted as the result of the knowledge possessed by the Treasury, who had some anticipations of the demands which were likely to be made by local authorities and others in the course of the year. These sums were put down in the Bill with the idea of leaving a sufficiently wide margin to meet all reasonable contingencies.


asked whether in lending the balance of the £3,000,000 the House of Commons had in any way to be consulted. Who were the authorities that had to decide whether loans were to be made out of this money? Was there any control exercised by the House of Commons over the money? These were points that needed to be explained for the information of the Committee.


said there was no actual expenditure of money at all. It only meant giving authority to public works.


remarked that the House of Commons had no control over the works on which the money was spent.


asked whether any portion of the money related to the Housing and Town Planning Bill.


thought there was a section of the Bill now in Committee upstairs which referred to housing, but the Bill under discussion at that moment did not cover that.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2:

MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD moved to omit the clause in order to ask whether the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill could tell them the meaning and effect of the clause. He gathered they were absolutely writing off sums, some of which were exceedingly paltry, but at the same time there were large sums. Under Clause 2, in fact, considerable sums of money lent from that Department in past years had been lost or were now to be wiped out. Tha was to say, the money had disappeared. These sums when they were authorised did not come before the House in detail, the House simply authorising a limit of £2,000,000, and it was found every year that a considerable portion of that money authorised to be borrowed had been, lost, and the House was asked to write it off. What did they see in the list of items that were being written off? He found when he looked at the schedule to which the section referred that they were asked to write oil a sum of 2s. 9d. No; the gentleman in question had 13s. 6d. lent to him and had paid 2s. 9d. off the money. It was a very praiseworthy thing on his part, but being an Irishman he could not help paying the money. He owed 10s. 9d. more, but that 10s. 9d. the Government had found out, having instituted an inquiry no doubt, was not recoverable. It was a bad debt. Therefore they were to lose it and they were to pass an Act of Parliament now to say that it was gone. When they looked at the next item they found——


This is not the time to discuss the items of the schedule in detail.


said he bowed to the Chairman's ruling. He regretted that he was betrayed into discussing the items of the schedule, but that was not done for the purpose of picking out an item and saying it should or should not be disallowed. It was really done, if he might respectfully submit, for the purpose of illustrating the clause under discussion, which said that these amounts were to be absolutely wiped out. It was not only trivial matters such as those to which he had referred, but there were enormous sums which were to be similarly dealt with. It would be out of order for him to give the exact figures of these amounts, but they totalled upwards of £100,000, and it was a very serious matter indeed that they should be kept there at twenty minutes past twelve at night and asked to wipe out all these sums with practically no explanation, or chance of explanation, or discussion in that House. He did not know whether it was part of our Constitution that these loans should come before the House for confirmation or not, but certainly when they were lost and the House was asked to wipe them out they should know what they were and why the amount should be written off. There fore he wished respectfully to insist on moving his Amendment that Clause 2 be omitted from the Bill unless he could get some reasonable explanation from the hon. Gentlemen in charge as to the items which had been lost and how the amounts to be written off were fixed. He thought it was most unreasonable. When he looked across the House he saw Members on the opposite side who came in pledged to economy, and then voted with their mouths practically closed on matters touching over £100,000.


said the whole reason for the position was that the clause was a clause repeated in every Act of a similar character every year. It wrote off in one column or another of the schedule either the principal or the interest of the money advanced. The whole details of transactions were stated in a paper circulated in the House two days ago.

Clause agreed to.


said that he had no desire to waste the time of the House and he would reserve further observations for the schedule except in regard to Clause 6. With regard to Clauses 3, 4, and 5, as to which he had given notice of Amendments he would not move.

Clauses 3, 4, and 5 agreed to.

Clause 6:


said he moved an Amendment the object of which, he said, was to make quite clear the purpose of the Act.

Amendment proposed— In page 4, line 1, to leave out the words 'any of the purposes for which,' and to insert the words' the acquisition of land or the purchase, erection, construction, alteration, or enlargement of any building or permanent work by.' "—(Mr. Hobhouse.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."


said that the words were inserted in agreement with the Opposition who had some doubt as to the meaning of the words of the original Bill.


Does this cover ranges?



Question put and negatived.

Question put "That those words be there inserted."

MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD moved to amend the proposed Amendment, so that it would read "the payment of monies necessarily required to be expended in connection with the acquisition," etc. He moved because he himself was the trustee of certain properties which had been occupied for the last twenty years by a battalion in connection with the Army. The lease of that property had been taken for all these years in the name of the colonel of the regiment. The lease expired just as the County Association was coming into power. A new lease was sought to be negotiated and what was the position? The Association said they had power to take the lease but no power to pay the paltry stamp.


Write it off.


said that what he wished to point out was that if County Associations were really to have proper powers of acquiring land as it was contemplated under the Act of last year they should be given powers not only to acquire land but to pay the cost of acquiring it. Difficulties had arisen all over the country in connection with the Territorial Force. All kinds of technical points had cropped up. To his know ledge property that had been acquired and taken over by these battalions had been hanging fire because of the difficulty that had been found in getting money. If they looked at the Act of last year they would find that the Army Council was empowered to provide these local County Associations with sufficient money to carry on their business. Why had they not done that?


That does not arise on this Amendment.


submitted that if they looked at the full meaning of these words which he suggested, "The payment of monies necessarily required to be ex- pended in connection with the acquisition of land," they would see that they were simple words which would enable business to be properly carried on and enable these County Associations to do what any public body ought in reason to have power to do, to spend any money reasonably required for the purpose of acquiring land.


thought that these words were hardly necessary. The question of payment did not arise. The proposal before the Committee was merely to extend the powers of the Public Works Loans Commissioners.


said that as the hon. Gentleman did not approve of the words he had suggested he would, in order to save the time of the Committee, ask leave to withdraw them.

Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD moved as an Amendment to the original Amendment to insert after the word "by" the words "or for." He said that if they referred to the original Act, to which this was supposed to be an. Amendment by way of elasticity, it was made clear that any of these transactions might be done by or for the County Association in each case. In each case he came across as a matter of business connected with the County Association the work had been done for them and not by them. The leases which they took were in the name of the principal Secretary of State, and were not taken by the County Associations at all. Under these circumstances he thought the Committee would see the reasonableness of his proposal that the section should read: "The acquisition of land or the purchase, erection, construction, alteration, or enlargement of any building or permanent work by or for a County Association." He hoped the Amendment would be accepted.

Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment— After the word 'by' to insert the words 'or for.'"—(Mr. W. Rutherford.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


thought a moment's reflection would make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that the insertion of these words would enormously increase the powers of the Secretary of State and defeat the restriction which in accordance with the wishes of hon. Gentlemen opposite was inserted in the original Amendment to the Bill.


said that he would not propose this Amendment if the Secretary to the Treasury put the matter in that way.

Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments proposed— In page 4, line 3, to leave out the words 'is for the time being authorised by,' and to insert the words 'in pursuance of.' In page 4, line 51, to leave out the words 'to borrow.'"—(Mr. Hobhouse.)

Amendments agreed to.

Clauses, as amended, agreed to.



said that he should certainly have been content to have allowed the schedule to pass without question if the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had given them some short explanation as to what the very different items contained in it were. He knew the hon. Gentleman had said that they were set out in some paper that had been published, but it was only in Committee that Members could go into these matters in detail, and especially when they came up, as they did now, in the middle of the night, it was important that they should not be allowed to slip through without some examination. He very much objected to some of the items in the schedule, and he contended that the Committee were entitled to an explanation on the subject.


said that the smaller items and the exact circumstances of each case were set out in the White Paper presented to the House on 20th July. He thought it would be taking up the time of the Committee unnecessarily if he were to read out from a Parliamentary Paper, which was available to all, the particulars connected with each of the items. The fact that these items were set out in the White Paper referred to only showed, in his view, how carefully the Treasury did its work.


explained that the reason why he asked this question was that, on reference to the White Paper, he found that the schedule was somewhat illusory. For instance, if they took the last two items in the schedule they found a loan of £53,000 to the Waterford and Wexford, now the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbour Company, in regard to which a sum of £7,053 19s. 6d. had to be written off. Not only was that the case, but some of the principal sum of £53,000 had already been written off, together with £13,980 17s. 4d. for interest. There was no clear statement of this fact in the schedule, and it was necessary to examine very closely into the Bill to get at the true bearings of the transaction, which, looked at from every point of view, was a very serious one having regard to the loss it had entailed. Then in regard to the Limavady and Dungiveen Railway Company, he found that £19,601 was advanced, and no less a sum than £17,601 hid to be written off, besides a loss in interest amounting to£12,232 3s. 1d. He thought that when the Minister in charge of a Bill presented them with a schedule of that description and did not choose to give them an explanation of what the items were, they were quite within their rights in making as effective a protest as possible.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, as amended, to be considered this day.