HC Deb 23 March 1948 vol 448 cc2782-99

Motion made, That during the present Session the Standing Orders and practice of this House relating to provisions authorising charges upon the public revenue shall not, in the event of Part I or Part II of the Local Government Bill becoming law, be deemed to apply to any provision of any Bill (whether public or private) which affects the rateable value of any hereditament in England or Wales or of any lands and heritages in Scotland or authorises any expenditure by a local authority in England or Wales or in Scotland, by reason only that that provision operates or may operate to increase the amount of any Exchequer Equalisation Grant under the said Part I or the said Part II."—[Mr. Glenvil Hall] [King's Recommendation' signified.]

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

The Local Government Bill provides for a new system of equalisation grants instead of the present system of block grants. Under the block grant system, as the House is aware, grants have normally been fixed for a period of five years. However, under the new scheme, which will come into operation when the Local Government Bill becomes an Act, new expenditure by a local authority is to have immediate effect on that grant made to that authority. Under the new method, grants are to be made to local authorities where the rateable value of the area or per head of the population falls below the average. The amount of the grant in each case will turn on two factors: first, the sum by which the rateable value in the area of the authority falls below the average; and, secondly, the expenditure of the local authority or local authorities concerned. In effect, the new procedure will mean that the Exchequer will pay rates on an imaginary property of a rateable value equal to the difference between the rateable value of the particular authority and the average rateable value.

This is quite definitely a change, in consequence of which you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled that when the Local Government Bill becomes law a Financial Resolution will be necessary to support any Bill, public or private, which, actually or potentially, increases the expenditure of a local authority, unless the Bill or the enactment concerned expressly excludes the additional expenditure from counting for grant. The Local Government Bill is likely to receive the Royal Assent within the next day or two, and it is, therefore, essential that immediate action be taken.

The Government, therefore, propose, as those who have read this Motion will have noticed, to amend the procedure of the House. Otherwise, we are advised that no Bill, public or private, now before Parliament, which contains provisions altering the law about rateable values or authorising expenditure by local authorities and which has not yet gone into Committee, cannot be considered in Committee until a Financial Resolution has been passed by this House authorising the increase in the Exchequer grant. In addition, no Amendment which would affect rate-borne expenditure can be made on recommittal at the Report stage of any Bill which has by now passed its Committee stage either on the Floor of the House or upstairs. Bills, of course, sent to another place can be amended there, but this House could not consider any privilege Amendments, which may fall in this category, until a Financial Resolution had been passed here. It might be possible to pass Financial Resolutions to cover the public Bills involved, but this would involve a grave dislocation of the Parliamentary timetable and seriously delay the proceedings between now and the end of the Session. The main difficulty of carrying through such a suggestion would be that it would virtually kill all private Bills affecting the spending powers of local authorities, and, as the House knows, there are a fair number of these now going through the House or about to proceed on their passage through Parliament.

The Government are, therefore, proposing purely as a temporary Measure that the House should agree to waive Standing Orders in order to allow both public and private Bills to be dealt with during this Session, and this Session only, as though the Local Government Bill had not been passed into law and the Exchequer grant system had not, in fact, been altered. Whilst this temporary expedient, which I am proposing on behalf of the Government, is in operation, the Government will undertake to examine this matter and take stock of the position and will make proposals to Parliament in the next Session to regularise the situation.

It may be asked why, if the object is not to stop the progress of Bills now before Parliament, we do not confine our proposals to Bills that have already begun their passage through this House or have reached another place but have not yet received the Royal Assent. That was considered, but in the end it was rejected, because, in the view of the Government, there would be practical difficulties if for the remainder of the Session, two different procedures were to apply to Bills according to whether they had been introduced before or after a Motion were agreed to.

Further, if the new procedure were confined to Bills now before Parliament and the Resolutions 'passed for all the rest where necessary, it is our view that it would prejudice the issue which will come before Parliament next Session. That issue should be judged in the light of the circumstances then prevailing and not prejudged by a procedure which has been in operation for a part at any rate of the present Session. So far as private Bills are concerned, I have already stated the difficulty. It would be impossible to overcome this, because the procedure which we might adopt for public Bills would be quite inapplicable to private Bills. I hope, therefore, the House will see that this difficulty is one which has to be overcome by a temporary expedient and that the suggestion made by the Government is reasonable in all circumstances.

Before I sit down I might perhaps give one or two instances of how our proceedings will affect the Bills before Parliament and would hold them up unless this Motion is passed. I should like to give one from the Representation of the People Bill. Clause 63 divides the responsibility for paying registration officers' expenses equally between the Exchequer and the local authority concerned. The Financial Resolution covers the direct Exchequer payment, but not the indirect payment which will be incurred because half the expenses are borne by the local authority. The Bill is now in Committee, and if tomorrow the Royal Assent is given to the Local Government Bill, it will be out of Order to discuss Clause 63 unless the Motion I now propose to the House is accepted and passed today.

The other instance comes from the Criminal Justice Bill which is through Committee and is now awaiting Report. Clause 68 (6) and (7) and the Fifth Schedule, paragraph 5, are three cases in which the provisions add to the rate-borne expenditure, and may impose an indirect charge on the Exchequer. If the Local Government Bill receives Royal Assent to-morrow and nothing is done by the Government, I am advised that it will be out of Order to discuss Amendments to t1his Clause and Schedule on the Report stage. It is even suggested that it might be out of Order to discuss the Bill on Report, but there seems to be some ambiguity about that. So far as my knowledge of the Bill goes, much of it can be discussed, although obviously Clause 68 and parts of the Fifth Schedule would be out of Order. That being the situation, I hope the House will realise that our proposal is most reasonable, and that it will agree to pass this Motion.

4.0 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)

The House has just listened to a very extraordinary statement indeed. It appears that the Government either did not foresee or did not make provision for the passing of a Measure which would stultify the whole programme of their legislation. That is a very odd thing. The first question is, did the Government foresee this result? Perhaps the Financial Secretary could give me an answer across the Floor of the House. If they did, why did they leave their present proposals so late?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am afraid I cannot discuss that matter. This Ruling is by Mr. Speaker. It would be quite out of Order and very improper for me to discuss whether what Mr. Speaker has ruled is correct or is not correct.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Not only would it be unwise, it would be impossible. The Speaker, like the Pope, is infallible. What the Speaker has ruled, is so. What I do not understand is that the Speaker's Ruling was not foreseen by the Government and that the rules of the House were so misinterpreted by the Government that they failed to foresee, when bringing forward their legislation, that they were doing something which would put an absolute bar to nearly all their programmes of legislation, to the two major Bills that were mentioned by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—the Representation of the People Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill—and would also stop a great number of Private Bills.

Of course, in those circumstances, some emergency step has to be taken. We do not wish to demur from the proposition that some step should be taken. We are as interested as are the Government in seeing that the House of Commons is enabled to operate, but we are entitled to call attention to the Government's bringing down of this statement saying that if we do not waive the financial rules of the House today, discussion of major legislation of the Session will be impossible tomorrow—tomorrow, so closely has it been run.

There was nothing unforeseeable in the position as we now have it, both on Second Reading and on Third Reading. The Minister in charge stated with emphasis, and indeed gloried in the fact, that the procedure of the block grant by which expenditure was determined in advance by the House was being swept away and that a new procedure was being adopted. On Second Reading, the Minister of Health said: The Exchequer will step in and become a ratepayer to the extent that the local authority's rateable value is below the average. Thus, the local authorities will precept upon the Exchequer in exactly the same way as upon their own ratepayers. In other words, the Exchequer becomes a ratepayer to the extent of the deficit. I continue with the quotation: Sir WILLIAM DARLING (Edinburgh, South): The taxpayer becomes the ratepayer. Mr. BEVAN: That is even a better way of putting it—that the taxpayer will become the ratepayer to the extent of the deficit of the rateable value."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c.994.] That is to say, the Bill puts it into the hands of local authorities to increase the charges upon the subject which have to be found by this House.

Of course, that needs a Financial Resolution. It is very nearly the foundation stone of our whole Constitution. When the Financial Secretary to the Treasury says, "Of course, it would be possible to deal with it according to the rules of the House by passing Financial Resolutions, but that would entail delay and trouble," I reply, "Of course, complying with the procedure of the House of Commons involves delay." It is for that purpose that the procedure of the House has been set up, so that these things will be considered. I have read to the House what the Minister of Health said as long ago as 18th November, 1947. We have since conducted a long examination of the Bill, and only parted with it in this House on Third Reading, on 24th February, 1948. On that occasion, the Minister of Health said: For the first time in the history of local government in this country, the Exchequer now becomes, as it were, a ratepayer. The local authority levies rates, not only upon its own ratepayers, but upon the Exchequer itself to the extent that the rateable value in the local authority's area falls below the average for the country as a whole. In order to show to what extent this is taking place in certain areas, the Exchequer will be a ratepayer in Cardigan to the extent of 66 per cent., and, in the Isle of Ely, to the extent of 55 per cent., and there will be variations of these figures in very many parts of the country. That is the first and most revolutionary act that the Bill does."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th February, 1948; Vol. 447, c. 1791.] I really think that to have introduced these proposals as long ago as r8th November and to have continued their consideration until 24th February—and indeed, until as late as last night, because it was only at 20 minutes past midnight that we finally parted with the Amendments brought from another place—and now to say today that the only way of getting out of the extraordinary emergency into which the House has been thrust by the action of the Government is to waive our financial procedure as an emergency measure from now till the end of the Session, has an importance that was a little glossed over by the very anodyne remarks of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He has asked us today to waive financial safeguards which have been found necessary and have been worked out over generations in this House, and to do so at 24 hours' notice, because, unless we do so, the programme of this House will come to a stop. The House is owed an apology by the Government for the position in which it has been placed.

It appears that the remedy which the Government have taken is a hypothesis of an almost unprecedented nature, The Minister knows that we have discussed many hypothetical aspects of the Bill during the many months passed. The Bill assumes the existence of a hypothetical tenant. The hypothesis to which the Minister drew attention is that on certain issues of valuation the Bill was not on the statute book. That is a very vigorous hypothesis to put on the statute book. Now the Government come here with a still more far-reaching hypothesis, that the only way in which we can escape from the position, in which we are now placed is on the hypothesis that the work of this House upon the Local Government Bill from 24th February until last night has not happened, and that the Bill is not on the statute book.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)

It is not there yet.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

No, but the hypothesis upon which the House, has to operate is that the Bill is not on the statute book.

Mr. Bevan

If the Bill is not on the statute book we do not require a hypothesis. It is not there.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

In that case we should not have required the white sheet in which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has draped himself or the proposition which he has placed before the House now. We, like the Minister, do not believe in fairy tales. We believe that it is very likely that the Bill will receive the Royal Assent, unless the still more extraordinary procedure is adopted by which the Bill will be held up at the last moment by the old formula, "Le Roy s'avisera." I do not think it is likely that that will take place. The Financial Secretary says: "What we now propose is that we are to act as though the Local Government Bill has not been passed." The statement made by the Minister of Health: "That is the first and most revolutionary act that the Bill does," is an understatement. A new and still more revoluntionary thing has taken place. A Bill passed by King, Lords and Commons is to be deemed not to have passed, and unless we deem it not to have passed we shall stop the whole procedure of Parliament.

The Government have done many un-businesslike things in their life and it has brought forward many remarkable proposals, but to say to us: "You shall work all the winter, and the result of your toil will be that we shall assume that nothing has happened at all," is an experiment with time which has not been paralleled since the days of King Hezekiah. He asked for a miracle, and it was suggested that the shadow might go backwards over the sundial for a considerable number of hours. That was regarded as the most extraordinary thing that could be asked for, and to grant it would be a proof of divine providence which would convince the King that the Lord really was going to overlook all his failings. It convinced him so, and that is what the Minister asks the House to do now—"Let, I pray thee, the shadow go back on the dial." To turn the shadow back on the dial from 24th February, 1948, to 18th November, 1947—that is the solution which the Government brings before us. Sooner than stop the procedure of Parliament, we will not divide against that proposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Indeed, we will not, because the Minister not only comes in a white sheet, but says that he is totally unable to bring forward any proposition now and that he will give an undertaking to bring forward propositions at a later date which will attempt to regularise the extraordinary position in which the present Government has placed the House.

When they come forward, we shall examine them very closely, because the difficulties in which the House has been placed are not likely to be easily escaped from. It would be quite wrong for us—the Minister begs us not to try—to do anything else but accept this temporary measure because it will prejudice the House when holding an inquest on the position, which it will do in greater leisure at a later stage; but I have seldom seen a more humiliating position for the Government of the day to find themselves in. I hope that not only will the Government tender to the House a sincere apology for the results of this action, but when they bring forward permanent propositions to deal with the matter, they will not again place the House in the same embarrassing position in which it has been placed this afternoon.

4.13 p.m.

Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)

I agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) that the Minister's white sheet was not really quite long enough, or very white. No doubt we are all of us to blame about this. No doubt every hon. Member of the House ought to have spotted the difficulty which was going to arise. There is blame, no doubt, from that point of view on this side of the House as well, though I think not as much as on that, but clearly the Treasury Bench were under a very particular duty to see the effect of what they were doing and this ought to have been foreseen sooner, and when it became necessary for the Financial Secretary to do what he has just done, it should really have been done more explanatorily and more apologetically.

I do not feel at all so sure as my right hon. and gallant Friend that this ought not to be divided against unless we are to be given more assurance than we have been given. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury spoke of "proposals to amend the Procedure of the House," and at that stage in his speech I had thought that he had meant to leave this proposal to be, if not permanent, at any rate sine die, lasting until some unannounced date; but later in his speech he said that this was purely a temporary measure. There is a proverb in French, and it is almost universal experience in our own country, that temporary measures are what last longest, and I do not think it is satisfactory to be told, as we have been told, that early in the next Session, whatever the Government here may then be—it may or may not be the one which at present adorns the Treasury Bench—something like permanent proposals will be made.

I should have thought that this is not really a party matter. This is really a House of Commons matter. This goes almost, if not quite, to the foundation of all House of Commons procedure and of all House of Commons power in relation to both the Crown and the Lords. In that matter, I beg hon. Gentlemen opposite not to be concerned merely with the difficulties which the Government have got into by their own fault and, in the strict sense of the word, their own incompetence—because that is what this is. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to think beyond that mere "Government versus Opposition" consideration.

This is what I wish them to consider: if this temporary measure is now necessary—and I am prepared to admit that it is, if it is admitted, as the Financial Secretary has admitted, that it should be a completely temporary measure—surely we should have in this Session, and we should now be promised for the earliest possible date after Easter, the Government's proposals, whether those proposals are to be brought before us as Cabinet proposals or whether they are to be brought before us from a Select Committee, for which I think there is a very great deal to be said. The whole of the House of Commons control over charges upon the public has now had a hole punched in it which we ought all to have noticed at the time of the Second Reading of the Local Government Bill. I take my share of the blame. However, we cannot all read all of the Bills. Still, we ought to have noticed it, and certainly His Majesty's Ministers ought to have noticed it, and it is evidence of gross incompetence on the part of His Majesty's Ministers to come down with something of this nature that must be dealt with before midnight. Today we are dealing with three such things, the matter with which we have just dealt, the matter on which we are now engaged, and the Palestine matter. This is planning, this is.

That is gross incompetence on the part of Ministers opposite, and the least they should do by way of purging their sins is to say, "We will not face a House of Commons in a future Session, whether of this Parliament or after a general election, with the difficulty we are now in." Otherwise, what is to happen? Suppose there is a general election this summer and there comes in a new Government, which may have as much difficulty—which will have as much difficulty—as the present one. It will have all the natural difficulties inherent in this year of grace, and also all the difficulties created by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It will have plenty on its hands to do. It seems to me most unfair that we should wish on to whatever Government is here in the Autumn, whether it is this Government or some new one, the duty of dealing with this fundamental matter of our procedure and Constitution and deciding what is to be done. I for one, if anybody will help me, am prepared to divide against the Government unless they are prepared to say that they will have permanent proposals put before the House with ample opportunities for full discussion, whether by Select Committee or otherwise, before the end of this Session.

4.18 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I should have been inclined to agree with what the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) said, in opening his remarks, that this is really not a party matter but a matter in which all hon. Members of the House of Commons are interested in order to see that the ordinary constitutional safeguards are observed. That part of his remarks seemed quite inconsistent with his later remarks and with the remarks of the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) who seemed to be trying to make this an opportunity to pass strictures upon His Majesty's Government which were entirely undeserved.

Mr. Pickthorn

They made the opportunity.

Mr. Fletcher

I am prepared to approach the matter as the hon. Gentleman suggested when he began, not as a party matter but as one in which the House was entitled to consider what were the natural consequences likely to flow from the passage into law, which would take place within two or three days, of the Local Government Bill.

This House, by an overwhelming majority on Second Reading and on Third Reading, has accepted the proposition that in future the Exchequer should take its place as a quasi-ratepayer in the majority of municipalities in this country. That carries with it the corollary that the local authorities, when this Bill is passed, have under their existing powers the possibility of increasing, by their own decision, uncontrolled and unfettered by anything we say in this House, the amount of the contribution the Exchequer shall in future pay to local authorities. As a general proposition that —be it right or wrong, and I think it is right—is something which this House has decided and which another place has agreed, so that in future local authorities, in the ambit of their existing powers, which are considerable, will themselves, unchecked by this House, be able to determine the amount of the contribution from the national funds which will be payable as a contribution to the rates.

All we are concerned with, as I understand it, in this Motion, is to consider what is necessary in the way of Financial Resolutions in regard to Measures which come before this House where, either directly or incidentally, local authorities are given new powers. I do not think the Financial Secretary to the Treasury or the Government need appear in a white sheet or, indeed, make any apology to this House. If, in future, additional powers are given to local authorities to do this or that, I am not at all sure it is necessary that there should be any specific provision in a Financial Resolution covering that. That is a matter which I should have thought ought to be worked out in this House. However, if it is eminently sensible and eminently necessary that the House of Commons should meet today to consider the new situation which may or may not have been present in our minds when we considered the Local Government Bill—and, if not, it is a matter for which we should all take responsibility—I should have thought that the sensible, normal and natural course to follow was to pass this Motion so as to preserve the existing rights of the House in the matter, to enable the Government to consider what is appropriate in the Bill. As I have said, I doubt whether it is necessary that Financial Resolutions in future should make specific reference to this matter.

I should also have thought it was necessary that in this present Session, in the case of any Bill now in Committee or that will be sent to Committee, the power of the Committee, which is considerable, should not be fettered by the absence of any Financial Resolution. I hope that the Minister of Health, who I gather will reply, will make it clear that one effect of this Motion will be that in respect of the Bills in Committee which are governed by it there will be no objection to the Committee enlarging, if it so desires, the powers conferred on any local authority. As I understand it, one effect of this Motion will be that any Committees sitting for the remainder of this Session which are considering any Bills will be able, notwithstanding any limitation in the Financial Resolution, to enlarge powers, if they so desire, which are given to any local authority under any Bill which it may be considering.

4.24 p.m.

Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)

When I listened to the Financial Secretary I had at first some difficulty in following exactly what he was trying to get us to agree to, but from the point of view of the Opposition the position which arises is very disturbing, and it must be disturbing to the whole House. If I understood the Financial Secretary correctly, this affects not only the Local Government Bill but all the legislation we have passed. If that is the case, then one can quite easily accept the explanation given by my hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) ——

Mr. Bevan

Not all; only the legislation which involves local government expenditure.

Mr. Scollan

Which means more than the Local Government Bill.

Mr. Bevan


Mr. Scollan

There is quite a lot of legislation that affects local government expenditure, apart from the Local Government Bill.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)


Mr. Scollan

It appears to me that what is wanted is a comprehensive, omnibus resolution that would cover all the omissions from the legislation that operates with regard to finance and local government. That is a fairly hefty thing to bring forward at this late stage. I shall not go into sackcloth and ashes, but I am prepared to admit that somebody has blundered. I do not know why, but if my right hon. Friend comes forward at this late stage and says, "Oh, no, we foresaw all this," then why were we not told about it? Obviously somebody has slipped up, and the Front Bench evidently are not going to become the penitents for them. I think the Government might take steps to see that comprehensive legislation covering a Bill is announced to the House at the time it is brought forward, and not in this fashion.

4.26 p.m.

Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)

I support the principle underlying the speech of the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan). I was astonished that the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher), with his legal attainments, should have looked at this proposition on the Order Paper and have seen nothing exceptional or peculiar about it.

Mr. E. Fletcher

I did not say I saw nothing exceptional or peculiar about it; I said I thought it was a perfectly proper and natural Motion——

Mr. Pickthorn


Mr. Fletcher

—for a Government to bring to this House in view of the terms of the Local Government Bill which has been accepted by this House.

Mr. Strauss

I understood the hon. Member to use the word "normal," but the OFFICIAL REPORT will speak for itself. He certainly said there was nothing improper in letting it go through with the minimum of discussion this afternoon——

Mr. Fletcher

If the hon. and learned Member will permit me, I said nothing whatever about getting this through with the minimum of discussion. I said nothing about a minimum of discussion. I have no objection to the House discussing this all night.

Mr. Strauss

The point is that it has to go through today. The hon. Member seemed to see nothing improper, and thought that the Government ought not to be accused of any lack of foresight merely because they are in this position, and must have this proposition agreed to this afternoon.

I want to make an appeal to the Minister of Health, who has nothing to lose by being reasonable in this matter. What I shall, ask, and what the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) has asked, is in no way inconsistent with what is on the Paper and with what the Government wish us to adopt. It is a plea which was made also by the hon. Member for West Renfrew, that an undertaking should be given, if we pass what is now proposed, that a permanent Measure will be announced at the earliest opportunity, and that we shall not have to wait until next Session.

I should like to make one other small point which, again, is not in opposition to the Motion we are debating. It is a little point of draftsmanship, which may or may not be relevant to the more permanent Resolution which is to follow, and which I should like the Attorney-General and his advisers to consider. There are some words two lines from the end which are so clumsy as to be difficult to construe, namely, "by reason only that that provision operates." Strictly speaking, I think the additon of the words "of the fact," is required after "only," so that it would read, "by reason only of the fact that that provision operates." Alternatively, if it is not wished to add three words, it could read "solely on the ground that." This is a point worthy of attention when something more permanent comes to be considered.

4.30 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)

I have been present in the House of Commons on many occasions, sitting on the opposite side of the House, when the Government of the day have had to bring forward Motions indemnifying themselves, or some Member of the Government, from very heavy damages or for spending millions of pounds of public money in error. We always accepted the fact that that situation arises from time to time but, in my submission, no attempt was made to make party politics out of it. We have a Constitution and Standing Orders which are capable of being construed in several ways. It was one of the most interesting diversions of Parliamentary life to consider the various ways in which our Standing Orders can be construed. It is because they are capable of being construed in many diverse directions that our Constitution is so flexible and we do not get ourselves into too much trouble and can extricate ourselves out of difficulty by a simple instrument such as the Motion we are discussing.

As the right hon. and gallant Member for Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said, this position has been made perfectly clear, and there was no attempt to obscure what the Local Government Bill does. But the relation between the Local Government Bill and the Standing Orders of the House were not in doubt we thought, because, in fact, there is a precedent. The Agricultural Rates Act, 1923, provided for some similar grants, although on a smaller scale, but, as authorities on the situation will agree, the amount does not matter. The Exchequer paid one quarter of the actual rates levied on agricultural land, so, in point of fact, this has been done. Mr. Speaker, in his discretion, said that in his opinion it was necessary for Financial Resolutions on Bills to make provision for this expenditure in the future where the expenditure involved the action of local authorities, and would involve money from the Exchequer.

Mr. Pickthorn

I am trying to follow the right hon. Gentleman. Was that not an occasion where a Bill did it once, but did not authorise a muriicipality to go on doing it indefinitely?

Mr. Bevan

It was a continuing expenditure, where the amount of money attracted from the Exchequer would depend on the initiative of the local authority, and was therefore unpredictable. In other words, here we have exactly the same kind of thing although I admit the former instance was a microcosm. Mr. Speaker of those days did not insist that whenever a Bill was brought forward which involved local authority action attracting money from the Exchequer provision should be made for it in a Financial Resolution. I anticipate no difficulty whatever in so framing Financial Resolutions on public Bills in the future as to make provision for this.

The real difficulty we shall be brought up against is when we come to consider private Bills, and because it is not possible for us to hurry up the inquiry. I think hon. Members will appreciate that local authorities are entitled to be consulted in whatever alterations we find it necessary to make in private Bill legislation. If they are to be preceded by a Financial Resolution, they will be frustrated. Therefore, some means will have to be found to deal with private Bill legislation. Again, I anticipate no formidable difficulty; in fact, we envisage what it might be possible to do in regard to private Bill legislation. I see no difficulty at all. I do not accuse the Opposition of not having seen this——

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

Not to the same extent as the Treasury.

Mr. Bevan

—but the Opposition must not blame the Government for not having seen this, because we were perfectly entitled to believe that there was no essential conflict between what we were doing today, and what had been done before. But Mr. Speaker has determined otherwise, and it would be presumptuous and impudent for me to comment on what Mr. Speaker has decided. If I were giving a private view, I should have said that it was far better, as we are extending this practice, that the Financial Resolutions and procedure should provide for private Bill legislation and that in the future we should not rest on the slender precedent of the 1923 Act. I entirely agree with that. On many occasions in Opposition I have defended the financial procedure of this House because it is on that procedure that the control of the Executive by the Commons ultimately depends. It will be necessary for us to examine this matter and bring proposals before the House adequately to deal with both public Bill procedure and private Bill procedure.

Mr. Pickthorn

In this Session?

Mr. Bevan

It may be very difficult to consult the local authorities quickly, but there is no actual difficulty about it, because this Motion will provide an umbrella for legislation this Session and we shall have ample time to consider what protection is necessary for future occasions. I assure the House that the Government are as anxious as any hon. Member in any part of the House to regularise the position, and keep firmly the grip of the House of Commons on its financial procedure.

4.38 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

I am not impressed, although I would like to be impressed by what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He has related that he has been familiar in his extensive experience of the House with financial cover being given for unexpected or uncovenanted expenditure. But this is not such a case. The pride of the Minister and those who spoke for the Government was that this was a Local Government Bill which was going to make a new taxpayer, that is to say, the Government were to become the ratepayer. There was no suggestion that this was unforeseen. It was in the very texture of the Bill that there was to be brought into the new arrangement of local government a new pay out of rates and taxes, and that was the Government. Now the Minister tells us that this was something which comes into the category of the unforeseen for which indemnity was necessary. I fail to see any parallel. This Bill has as its central tenet that the Government of the day should become a contributor to local rates. If that were not foreseen, the Government have neglected their duty and fumbled and muddled the arrangements, and the Motion we are asked to pass at such short notice is the measure of the degree to which they have failed to appreciate the consequences of their own policy.

Resolved: That during the present Session the Standing Orders and practice of this House relating to provisions authorising charges upon the public revenue shall not, in the event of Part I or Part II of the Local Government Bill becoming law, be deemed to apply to any provision of any Bill (whether public or private) which affects the rateable value of any hereditament in England or Wales or of any lands and heritages in Scotland or authorises any expenditure by a local authority in England or Wales or in Scotland, by reason only that that provision operates or may operate to increase the amount of any Exchequer Equalisation Grant under the said Part I or the said Part II.