§ The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:
§ 56. Mr. ERNEST DAVIES
,—To ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether any relief to borrowers from the Local Loans Fund is in prospect as a consequence of the redemption of three per cent. Local Loans Stock.
At the end of Questions:
§ Captain Crowder
On a point of Order. May I ask for your guidance, MI. Speaker? As the hon. Member was not here to ask Question 56, does it not appear as a written answer?
§ Mr. Speaker
I was not quite sure at first about that, but I think it is in Order for an answer to be given to this Question.
§ Mr. Dalton
I would not have ventured to suggest answering this Question but for the fact that this is a matter of wide interest, and I thought that the House should not be deprived of the information because of the hon. Member's late arrival. I answer it with the permission of the House, of course. The answer is as follows:
Yes, Sir. The redemption of Local Loans Stock has created a disposable surplus of £15 million in the Local Loans Fund. This surplus will be used to reduce all rates of interest on outstanding balances from the fund, in excess of 4¼ per cent. to this figure. This does not affect the so-called "Addison" loans to local authorities, where relief is already given by the Exchequer. This reduction will take effect from 1st June, 1947. Two-thirds of all the local authorities concerned, numbering nearly 2,000, will benefit from these reductions of interest rates. Most of these are small authorities, with very limited financial resources. This relief will, therefore, be both widespread 2188 and substantial. It is a further practical example of the benefit to the nation of cheaper money.
§ Mr. Drayson
Does not the Chancellor of the Exchequer agree that this benefit to local authorities will be completely nullified by the fact that local authorities can no longer earn any money on the balances they may deposit in the banks?
§ Mr. Dalton
I think that all the local authorities will get a very definite net advantage from these operations.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer continue to pursue this policy until local authorities are completely free from interest payments to the moneylenders?
§ Sir I. Fraser
May I ask for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, in regard to this innovation on the part of the Government Front Bench in the matter of dealing with Questions? This is a serious question. I am putting it to you that the rights of Private Members as regards Questions are to some extent infringed upon by the Minister, in that Question No. 89 was not called because the right hon. Gentleman preferred to answer Question 56. That may or may not be the more important Question, but this does affect the rights of Private Members in regard to Questions.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not quite follow the hon. Member's question. The Minister always has the right to answer any Question, whether it is reached or not, if he thinks it is of public importance. I have protested against this habit being pursued too frequently, but there is the right. Question 89 was not taken because the Chancellor of the Exchequer wished to answer Question 56, but because we have spent so much time on the previous Questions.
§ Mr. Eden
May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on this matter? I am not objecting to what has happened, but I do not think I have heard of this Ruling before. My impression was that a Minister always has the right to make a statement if he wishes. I did not know that any Minister had the right to answer any Question on the Order Paper; otherwise Ministers might be answering Questions which on second thoughts Private Members might think ought not to be put.
§ Mr. Speaker
According to Erskine May, page 339:If the Member responsible for a Question does not answer to the Speaker's call, a Minister may rise and make such statement upon the Question as the public interest demands.Owing to a technical error I said that a Minister is entitled to answer a Question, when I should have said that Ministers are entitled to make a public statement.