HC Deb 09 December 1947 vol 445 cc923-7

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

7.32 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

This is a most interesting Clause, but I feel that we ought to hear something more about it and that the Financial Secretary would wish to add to his laurels by telling us. It will be noted that we are now being asked to grant a sum not exceeding £250 million to the Government. Some of us who are interested in this matter of public works loans took the line the other day that, although, quite obviously, the right hon. Gentleman could not say definitely how the whole of this amount would be split up, it would be quite possible for him to give us a general sense of direction whether, for example, a large proportion of this money would fall to be paid for the building of temporary houses, or for other purposes, such as general housing or other developments. We asked the right hon. Gentleman whether the recent capital expenditure cuts would have any effect?

Before we grant a very big sum such as this, we should have some idea of where it is going. The right hon. Gentleman, in his reply to me on Friday, said: It is, therefore, quite impossible for me to give the hon. Member for Torquay any indication of how the figures will be broken up, as the money has not yet been advanced."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1947; Vol. 445. c. 732.] That struck me as being a rather curious expression, even for this Government. It was curious that we should have no understanding of how the money was going until it had actually been advanced to someone. I have had some dealings in these matters one way or another, and I think that there must be a policy or some means of knowing whether the money is likely to be needed for certain developments. For that reason, even if no one else wishes to know, I venture to ask, in a perfectly friendly way, if we may have some further explanation before we actually pass this Clause.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

I dealt with this matter on the Second Reading stage, and I am sorry to find that I have not satisfied the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). I can only repeat to him that this is an enabling Measure. We have to pass a Measure of this sort because, no local authority can go into the market and borrow money for its own needs. Under the Act of 1945, it must come to the Public Works Loans Board, which is the organ dealing with this matter on behalf of the Government. The present Act, which this Bill will replace, is nearly exhausted. The amounts which were there allowed were £250 million for cash advances and up to £500 million cash advances plus commitments. There now remains only about £30 million under the present powers to advance actual money, and the powers to commit are, in addition, very largely used. It is, therefore, essential that we should get fresh powers to permit the Public Works Loans Board to advance money, or to promise to advance money, to local authorities who need it.

In the majority of cases, in so far as local authorities will come to the Public Works Loans Board, they will come for moneys for housing purposes, and they will not come until they have been through the appropriate Department, in this case the Ministry of Health. Therefore, any schemes which come forward will have gone through the proper channels and will have been completely vetted. Many of these schemes, as the hon. Gentleman knows, have already been agreed to, although the money has not yet been advanced. The Government, in turn, have decided to finish off the houses which are in a fair way towards completion, Therefore, to complete these houses as visualised in the White Paper, local authorities will need money, and some of this money will undoubtedly go to them. If it does not go to them, it will not be used.

Mr. C. Williams

On this matter of housing, will the right hon. Gentleman answer one question? There is also the position of the temporary houses, and I believe that that policy is running out this year. Will any of this money be used for temporary houses? I think the matter was raised the other day, and I should be glad if we may now have an answer.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Speaking from memory and without checking it, it is my belief that very little, if any, of the money which has been spent up to now, or the commitments entered into up to now, is for temporary houses. Temporary house building is largely coming to an end, but it is very likely that some of the money which has been advanced, and a certain amount of that which has been promised, may be for temporary houses. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that it is a very small proportion of the actual total.

Mr. Williams

Before we leave this Clause, I want to emphasise that this is a very large sum of money—over L200 million—which is purely inflationary, and which, at the present time, must be inflationary. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that part of his reply, but it has been pointed out repeatedly that at present we have to try to stop inflation. The right hon. Gentleman comes down here, after having had our position placed very fully before him as to why this precise sum is needed, and he says that he is unable to tell us. I am not taking the matter any further at the moment, but it is a matter of some consequence when we find that the Financial Secretary is completely incapable, even after long warning, of informing the country in what direction in housing this money will go. In other words, there is little or no direction, and very little policy, behind the demand for this money. I regret that, but I am glad I have had the opportunity of raising the matter.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

This is the second time I have tried to get into the head of the hon. Member for Torquay that this is only an enabling Bill, and that this money has not yet been asked for by the local authorities. I defy him or anyone else to know the purpose for which local authorities are likely, in the coming year, to ask for advances from the Board. I can assure him that, so far as we know—having some knowledge of what local authorities do—the most likely object for which they will want money is housing.

Mr. Williams

I quite appreciate that this is an enabling Bill, and I regret that the right hon. Gentleman took that tone with me. I know this type of Bill, and, if I may say so with respect, I knew about it long before the right hon. Gentleman came to this House of Commons, or had anything to do with the place. Quite frankly, I am objecting to the Financial Secretary asking for a sum of money in an enabling Bill, and, at the same time, not knowing why that sum of money is asked for.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

7.41 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

I do not propose to take up the time of the House with regard to the Third Reading, but, as hon. Members know, it is the last opportunity We have of speaking on a Bill dealing with a large sum of money. I do not propose to continue speaking in the same vein in which we ended the Committee stage. I merely wish to say, quite simply, that, so far as I am concerned—and as far as this House was concerned when we were dealing with this on a previous occasion—I regret that we were not given more precise information by the Financial Secretary. I will not take it any further than that, because I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has had a very busy day. I am not asking him for an answer now. I realise that he has borne with us with a great deal of patience, and I am not in the least worried about what he said just now. At the same time, I think it is a pity that there is not someone present who can help us a bit further, and who can give us more information about the very considerable sum involved.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

The hon. Gentleman has been given a good deal of latitude, and-he has repeated himself more than once. This is the Third Reading of the Bill, and he knows better than almost anyone in this House what questions he may raise on Third Reading. In my view, he Will be out of Order if he continues on his present line.

Mr.. Williams

With very great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I would point out that I am raising the question of the actual figures in Clause 2 of the Bill. Of course, there are the other Clauses, with which I do not wish to deal, and the Schedule to the Bill, all of which are within the Bill. The only point I had in mind at the time was to emphasise that I consider the whole purpose of Clause 2 is entirely and absolutely inflationary.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.