§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.
§ [Mr. JAMES HOPE in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is expedient to amend the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919, by substituting other provisions for those contained in Section 27 of the said Act, and to
authorise the payment out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of any expenses that may be incurred by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, in pursuance of the provisions to be substituted as aforesaid."—(King's Recommendation signified.)
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Guinness)
The object of this Resolution is one which should commend itself in all quarters of the House. It is to carry out the promise which was made to local authorities in 1919, that the State would hand over to them on a self-supporting basis the small holdings which were bought for the settlement of ex-service men. The reasons why this Resolu- 401 tion is necessary are set out in the White Paper which is obtainable in the Vote Office, and I need, therefore, only say a very few words. Under the Land Settlement Act, 1919, it was provided that county councils and county borough councils should act as agents for the Government in land settlement schemes for ex-service men, and during the first years, while conditions and values were unstable, it was arranged that the Government should pay year by year the ascertained losses. On the 1st April, 1926, a valuation was provided for, to enable the State to assume the excess charge over the economic return on these holdings, so as to hand them over on a self-supporting basis. Unfortunately, the Act provided for this valuation on a capital basis, and it merely provided that if the local authority's liability exceeded this capital valuation in future years the State was to pay the proportion of the loan charges represented by that capital excess. Six years ago no one could foresee the fall in money rates, and if a local authority has this valuation now carried out on the original basis, they would have to bear the difference between the present day money rate at 4¾ per cent. and the 6½ per cent. rate at which a local authority could originally borrow money.
That is the main object of the Resolution and the Bill to be founded upon it, but there is another point I must mention. Under Section 26 e£ the Act payments were to be made in arrear up to and including the current year. Section 27 is rather obscure, but it would appear that the State contributions, after the valuation at the end of this year, should be paid during the year in which they fall due. That would involve a double charge next year, but for convenience it is proposed to defer it till 1929-30, when the beet sugar subsidy is automatically reduced The Amendments to Section 27 are necessarily rather technical and complicated, and I thought it much better to set them out in a White Paper rather than detain the Committee with a formal exposition which they might find it difficult to follow, but the provisions of this valuation have been agreed with the County Councils' Association, and they merely embody the undoubted intentions of Parliament. It is very urgent to regularise this position because 402 the county councils are already beginning to collect the data for this valuation, and it is to save unnecessary cost and inconvenience that I ask the House to let us have this Resolution to-night and the Bill that is to be founded upon it at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
I only rise to say, after the explanation of the Minister—whom we are all glad to see back at his post—that we shall be glad to postpone discussion of the matter until we see the actual details of the Bill which are foreshadowed. Obviously, any debate that will arise will centre round the actual proposals to be substituted for Section 27. The only thing is that in passing the Money Resolution to-night I am wondering whether there is any possibility of getting a statement whether the Minister knows roughly what the additional charge is likely to be.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I think it will really save money. The existing basis of valuation is absolutely unworkable and if we do not pass the Bill local authorities will be faced with chaos. It is most important from the point of view of economy that we should get this valuation at the earliest possible moment because we believe we shall effect a considerable saving. At present there is no incentive to local authorities to administer economically. Under the new valuation any saving they can bring about will accrue to their own finances. We believe we shall be able to bring about a considerable saving owing to administrative economics. By passing this Bill we shall also be able to avoid a double charge next year.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
On behalf of the County Council's Association I should like to tell the Committee that this matter has been the subject of negotiation and most careful consideration extending over many months between representatives of the county councils and of the Ministry of Agriculture, and as a result the proposals submitted are all agreed, I think, in every particular. We believe that these proposals will be equitable, and fair both to the taxpayers and to the ratepayers.
§ Mr. FENBY
I congratulate the Minister and his advisers. There are certain technical details of the proposed 403 arrangement, but if hon. Members will study the White Paper they will find all the information they desire. The county councils, or some of them, are anxious to make a move forward with regard to settling men upon the land as smallholders, and unless this settlement is arrived at before the House rises for Christmas, it will be almost impossible to carry out the settlement for April next between the county councils and the Ministry. What I am anxious about, as a member of a county authority, is that this settlement should be effected as early as possible, so that a forward movement may be made in regard to small holdings in getting more men upon the land.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.