HC Deb 29 May 1935 vol 302 cc1205-10

7.16 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 77, line 9, at the end, to insert: (b) where the area chargeable with the expenses of a scheme or schemes is or has been altered by reason of the coming into operation of the provisions of an order made by the Minister under section forty-six of the Local Government Act, 1929, the Minister shall make such equitable adjustment by reduction of the amount ascertained in accordance with paragraph eight of Part II of this Schedule as is required by the circumstances in respect of each year subsequent to the date of alteration. This Bill contains provision for the consolidation of housing accounts. The Fourth Schedule deals particularly with the method of calculating or consolidating the amounts that have to be paid by a housing authority in respect of housing schemes that were started and carried out under Section 7 of the Housing Act, 1919.The House will remember that as an inducement to get local authorities to build houses under that Act, the Government stated that under the Act they were partners with the local authorities, and that the authorities need have no hesitation in building, because their liability was limited to a penny rate and the Government would help with the rest. As time is limited, it will be shorter if I explain a concrete case which occurred just outside my division in Sussex and which represents, in my view, a grave hardship; in fact, I go further and say a grave injustice. This has been brought about by the operation, no doubt unforeseen by anybody, of the review of county districts and the alteration by the county council of Sussex of the local authorities in that county. The Rural District Council of Eastbourne, shortly after the 1919Housing Act came into operation, built 68 houses for their district. A penny rate meant, roughly, £200. These houses have all been occupied since, and the contribution to the Treasury has met the whole loss on them over and above the£200 per annum.

Under the Local Government Act, 1929, Section 46, the Sussex County Council reviewed the county districts and reduced its local authorities very considerably. By an order which came into operation on 1st April, 1934, it abolished the Eastbourne Rural District Council altogether and changed the neighbouring Hailsham Rural District very considerably, adding to it the whole of the area of the Eastbourne Rural District Council and a portion, which came from my division, of the Uckfield District Council. The county council trebled the area and the population, and more than trebled the amount of a penny rate that had been produced by Eastbourne. The question then arose as to the payment of the contribution by the Treasury that had gone on for so many years in respect of the houses that were built by the Eastbourne Rural District Council under the Act of Parliament which said that they were to be paid for by a rate on the area that was then chargeable. To the consternation of the new inhabitants of the Hailsham district, where the penny rate produced £700,the Minister decided that in his view the £200 liability of the Eastbourne Rural District in respect of these 64 houses was to become £700.

When I say that this additional charge of £500 a year on this new area, spread over the whole period for which the existing loan for the housing scheme has to run, means a sum of£20,000, I think that the House will agree that my words are not too strong when I say that it is really a grave injustice to the new population of the Hailsham district. That district is a very large area. The Hailsham Dis- trict Council itself had under the 1919 Act and under subsequent Acts entered into housing schemes and were already paying more than a penny rate for them. Owing to the amalgamation, it is faced with this enormous additional expenditure. I am certain that everybody in the House will agree that it was never contemplated when the expenditure was incurred that such would be the effect of the amalgamation. It never occurred to anybody, and I have some doubts whether the Minister is legally right in giving this construction to it. We assume, how ever, that he is right, and we take it that he is right, and my Amendment provides that he shall have power to deal equitably with cases, so that the Treasury and the ratepayers shall not stiffer, according to the circumstances of the cases as they arise.

I was not on the Committee that cansidered this Bill, and I could not there fore argue this point when it was before the Committee, but I notice that the Minister stated he had not had any similar case. I accept that statement, but I am certain that other cases will arise, and must arise, if any other county takes the drastic steps that were taken by the Sussex County Council in reducing its 11 rural districts to five or six. I move this Amendment on behalf of the Hailsham District Council, but it is a matter of general public importance, and may affect every other local authority of the country some time or other.


I beg to second the Amendment.

7.25 p.m.


My hon. And learned Friend made his case so very clear to the House that the House will perceive that the Amendment he proposes is really an Amendment to adapt the provisions of the Act of 1919 to the circumstances which cover the review under the Act of 1925. It is, therefore, a little remote to the general purposes of the present Bill. I do not complain of that in the least; I only admire the ingenuity and promptitude with which my hon. and learned Friend has seized the opportunity of raising a most interesting case and one that deserves consideration. He has illustrated his argument by the case of the Hailsham Council, but indeed his argument is the case of that council, because it is the only case of this sort which has occurred. Now that the county reviews are approaching their conclusion, I think we may expect that it will be the only case that will occur. That, how ever, does not relieve me of the necessity of considering the case and the strong representations which my hon. and learned Friend has based upon it.

It is not, of course, the case that the manner in which the arrangement has been made in this particular instance depends on the exercise of any discretion on my part. It simply depends on my fulfilment of the duties imposed upon me by Parliament as they are interpreted by me and by my legal advisers. I recognise the prima facie case which is made by my hon. and learned Friend. If it were of frequent occurrence 'and led to in equities, it would deserve to be met, but, as a matter of fact, when we consider only the single case we are bound to look at the conditions of that particular case. In looking at the conditions, my hon. and learned Friend knows that there is the strongest reason to think that there has been no inequity in this particular case, because we have not only to consider the effect of the 1919 Act, but also the effect of the other housing Acts. It is a case of what you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts. The 1919houses 'are not the only houses whose finances are affected by the county review. There are houses under later Acts, and the point I want particularly to emphasise is that the ratepayers of the old Hailsham rural district, instead of bearing the whole loss of houses erected in that district under later Acts, will share the loss with the ratepayers of the other areas which are added to their own in the new district. In this case, if you setoff the advantages in one respect against the disadvantages in another, the result to the ratepayers of the old Hailsham rural district would be that they neither gain nor lose on balance.


Part of the added area is nothing to do with Hailsham.


The hon. and learned Member is slightly shifting his ground, because his grievance is based on the case of the old Hailsham district. If I am not dealing with that, I fail to under stand from his argument with what I am dealing. Up to the amalgamation the cost to Hailsham of its housing scheme under the Act of 1919 was a rate of 2½d.; now, when the cost of the schemes will be spread over the enlarged district, it will require a rate of only lid. One must look to the total result in order to see whether justice is being done and not pick out one instance. The Exchequer stands to lose just as much—


To gain, surely? The Exchequer gets £500 a year more.


The hon. and learned Gentleman did not let me finish my sentence. The Exchequer stands to lose just as much where a district is reduced as it stands to gain where a district is increased. The scales are weighted exactly evenly between the two. In this instance there is no injustice in practical experience, because the account for the ratepayers works out, as a result of the extension, exactly to what it was before, and we say that there is no case for a special Amendment of this character.


Does the hon. and learned Gentleman wish to press his Amendment?


I do not think it is any good pressing it, although the Minister has not convinced me that the ratepayers of Hailsham are not suffering a great injustice; but I leave the position as it is.


Then I will put the Amendment to the House.

Amendment negatived.