HC Deb 02 June 1921 vol 142 cc1389-93

Resolution reported, That it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of grants under section one of the Housing (Additional Powers) Act, 1919, in respect of houses in Scotland completed, in the case of houses as respects which any assistance is provided by the Board of Agriculture for Scotland, within three years and six months, and in the case of any other houses within two years and six months of the passing of that Act, or such further period, not exceeding four months, as the Scottish Board of Health may in any special case allow, and to limit the aggregate amount of such grants in respect of houses in Scotland.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Captain W. BENN

I should like to ask the Under-Secretary for Health for Scotland, who, I understand is in charge of this Resolution, one or two questions with reference to the expenditure involved. I repeat what I said on a previous occasion, that it is an extremely undesirable practice on the part of the Government to introduce these Bills and Resolutions, which involve large expenditure, at an hour when it is quite impossible for hon. Members to give the attention to them which they deserve. When we attempt to criticise the Money Resolutions of the Government, and attempt to show what amount of expenditure they involve on the public purse, we do not get very much support from hon. Members who, on general occasions, pay lip service to the cause of economy, and I think it is a mistake for the Government to insist on the practice of taking such a Resolution as this after Eleven o'clock. It is permitted by Standing Order, but it is extremely undesirable, because it is impossible to give it proper examination. A White Paper has been laid, as a result of a demand made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), giving what is estimated to be the expenditure under the provisions of this Bill. I need hardly say that, as regards the Bill itself, I am heartily in favour of it. I believe the expenditure is a good expenditure, but I believe, even in respect to good expenditure, it is the duty of the House to examine it with care, otherwise we shall never achieve reductions we have in mind. The White Paper says in the second paragraph:— The Bill does not affect the aggregate amount of the Grant which, as provided by Section 2 of the Act, will not exceed £15,000,000 for the United Kingdom. I suppose no one reading that would imagine this was merely a matter of machinery, and that in point of fact the Budgets of this country would be unaffected by this Resolution. That is far from the case. The aggregate amount spoken of is £15,000,000, and the amount mentioned in Section 2 of the principal Act is not an estimate at all, or a sum which has been voted by this House. It is absolutely no more than a pious aspiration of the framers of the original Act. Do not let the House go away with the idea that this particular Resolution does not involve additional expenditure. It does involve additional expenditure, though on one of the few objects for which it is justified.

Here is another point respecting this Resolution, which hon. Members really ought to give attention to if they wish comprehensibly to follow this matter. We are faced with two sorts of proposals. In the first proposal of this kind the Government say: "What is the good, whatever you are, economists or others, of objecting to such a Resolution, because the Estimate laid before the House is in effect for one year, and there is nothing in it? "What is going to happen next year? The Government will come down and say: "How can we cut down this expenditure? We had a statutory obligation laid upon us last year by Parliament, and, therefore, this is the rock bottom, and we cannot go below it." By giving statutory authority for future years we are really passing outside the control of this House that firm grip of the public purse strings that we must have if we are in earnest about trying to get expenditure reduced. I do not wish to detain the House, but I am acting in the interests of public economy, and with a determined attempt to point out where we think there is need for it, so that in the end we may get the aggregate amount reduced. The Vote for this Grant will be found in Clause 7, Vote 3, of the ordinary Scottish Board of Health Vote, in item F (Grants for deficits)—£80,000 this year, £400,000 this year (increased estimate), and for next year, if we pass this Resolution, the amount will be—well, I do not know, but considerably larger than the amount in the estimate for this year. I think the expenditure is justified, but it is at least one that we should have some explanation of. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman opposite was waiting for criticism before speaking? Circulars from the Treasury advising economy will be of very little use if items of this sort are not watched, and we have to see to it that we do not by Statute allow the spending of money in excess of the burden that the taxpayer can fairly bear. By passing this Resolution to-night we are taking a definite, final, and irrevocable step towards increasing the estimate laid before the House in the Budget statement of next year.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman complains that this matter should be taken at this late hour. We were able two nights ago to take this rather earlier, and I am sorry that we did not have the assistance of the hon. and gallant Gentleman on that occasion. He might have gained information that he has asked for to-night.

Captain W. BENN

When was it taken; I rather think about midnight?


I do not think it was any later than now. However, I am delighted to see the hon. and gallant Gentleman here now, and we shall be glad to have his assistance. The sum mentioned was laid down in the Act of 1919, and all that we are asking the House to-night to do is to agree with the Committee to this extent: that the proportion due to Scotland for the further period shall be allowed. The period, so far as the general scheme of providing subsidies is concerned, has already been granted for England and Wales, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree that, having been granted by the Bill which has received a Third Reading, it ought also to be granted to Scotland. We are asking that there should be a further period of twelve months. That is all we are asking for. We are not asking for any more money than was indicated in the principal Act of 1919, but we are asking for an additional period to claim the money, and I trust my hon. and gallant Friend will assist us in that object.

Bill ordered to be brought in upon the said Resolution by Mr. Munro, the Lord Advocate, the Solicitor-General for Scotland, and Mr. Pratt.

  1. HOUSING (SCOTLAND) (NO. 2) BILL, 70 words