HC Deb 18 May 1950 vol 475 cc1454-6

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

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Renton

I hope that we may have some explanation of the Clause. I have been puzzled by it and so have hon. Friends with whom I have discussed the matter privately. No very large expenditure from public funds is contemplated as a result of the Bill, and the last paragraph of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum states that the total costs are not expected to exceed £10,000 a year. It seems, therefore, rather as though the Clause makes heavy weather from the financial viewpoint.

As one who tries in a humble way to follow what goes on in the House of Commons in the financial machinery of Government, and who tries not to take it all for granted, I find it very difficult to understand the Clause. We find, first, that it refers to the Development and Road Improvement Funds Act, 1909, which enables the Minister to make grants to highway authorities. Section 8 of that Act, it is stated, shall have effect as if references to a highway authority included references to any appropriate authority"— that means presumably, although I should be glad of enlightenment, an authority which is given power under the Bill—"

Mr. Barnes indicated assent.

Mr. Renton

and as if the exercise of powers conferred by this Act were one of the matters in respect of which the Minister may make advances under … Section 8 of the 1909 Act. That is reasonably clear now that the Minister has indicated his assent to my query. What puzzles me, however, is what follows. Subsection (3) states: There shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament—

  1. (a) any increase attributable to the provisions of this Act in the sums payable out of the Road Fund."
That, also, is clear, and would follow naturally from subsection (1). What is most puzzling is that in addition, apparently, it will be possible for money to be found out of the sums provided by Parliament under the Local Government Act, 1948. No doubt there is a reason for this, but on the face of it, it seems unnecessarily cumbrous to have to take such a small sum of money out of two separate funds which are provided by Parliament when it might fairly be assumed that it would all come out of the Road Fund.

Mr. Barnes

I do not quite understand the point which the hon. Member is making. There is nothing complicated about this. Subsection (3, a) deals with any payments out of the Road Fund— that is a Ministry of Transport payment. Subsection (3, b), which refers to Part I or Part II of the Local Government Act, 1948, covers, and is necessary for, any assistance which local authorities may receive in the form of Exchequer equalisation grant. It appears to be quite straightforward, therefore, that if any expenditure on cattle-grids and by-passes, the acquisition of land and matters of that kind, is likely to fall on one or other of these funds, provision should be made in the Financial Resolution and in the Financial Clauses.

Mr. Renton

If I may be permitted, Major Milner, I should say that the Road Fund, as we all know, exists for the improvement of roads. The Bill is being introduced for the improvement of roads. The Bill requires the expenditure of only a very small sum of money in relation to our total Budget. Would it not, therefore, be much more simple from the administrative point of view to have one fund operating in respect of the Bill instead of two?

Mr. Barnes indicated dissent.

Sir A. Hudson

Subsection (1) uses the words shall have effect as if references to a highway authority included references to any appropriate authority. … Does that mean that the Minister could, if he wished, make advances in respect of unclassified roads? In Clause 1 (7) the appropriate authority for an unclassified road—or what is called "any other road"—is named. It seems, therefore, that the Minister could, if he wished, make advances for unclassified roads.

Mr. Barnes

Basically, that is not possible. As I said earlier, this matter of grant has been settled in a very established form with all local authorities, and to depart from established procedure would be a major change of policy, and could hardly be undertaken on a Bill of this kind. That is the point which I have made, and I do not wish to go beyond that.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

There is one point which I wish to raise and as the Clause deals with money it is perhaps appropriate to refer to it now. Certain county councils are concerned about reimbursement to their highway departments for the necessary costs of removing statutory undertakers' pipes and cables, Post Office wires and things of that kind. Could the right hon. Gentleman give now an assurance, which those concerned will be able to read in HANSARD, that where grids and by-passes are provided which necessitate the removal of ducts, pipes, underground telephone cables and the like, the costs will be recoverable from his Department or from the statutory undertaker involved?

Mr. Barnes

I should hardly have thought that cattle-grids would have affected things of that kind. I should wish to look into that question to see if that eventuality is likely to arise before I commit myself. I should assume that it was very improbable that that would occur.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.