§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.27 a.m.
§ Mr. Kinley (Bootle)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Owing to the fact that there are five Private Member's Bills to be considered, all of which should have an opportunity of obtaining a Second Reading, I propose to make a brief statement on this Bill, in the hope that an early decision may be reached and there may be time for the other Bills to be discussed.
We are all fully acquainted with what is an unadopted street, a street which has always lacked any sort of attention. It is a street that is always in need of repair, that is muddy in wet weather and dusty in dry weather and a danger to motorcars. There is nothing in existing legislation to deal with this problem, and it is because of that that this Bill has been produced.
The Bill is simple and straightforward. It declares that, as far as a private builder is concerned, he shall proceed as he always has done, that is to say, he produces his plans and submits them to the appropriate authority, and the authority takes the usual action, with the difference that it is now proposed to impose upon it the additional task that, before the plans are allowed to proceed, it must ascertain the individuals liable to street works under the plans. Having ascertained that, the local authority must then assess their individual liability. It is then the duty of those concerned to place at the disposal of the local authority an amount equal to the estimate for making up and servicing the road.
When this has been done in any of the various forms—it may not necessarily be in cash; it may be done through a banker's guarantee or some other similar method—the builder goes ahead and he has no further responsibility for street services. He has the satisfaction that he has no further liability except as a ratepayer. In the event of the plans being abandoned, which does sometimes happen, the whole thing collapses, and what has been provided for the local authority must be returned.
456 We agree that local authorities must be allowed some elasticity. We cannot call upon them to proceed at once with the making of a street if building does not warrant that step. So we have made provision whereby a bare majority of the frontagers, either by value or by price, when in their opinion building has proceeded to an extent which would justify the making of the street, can make representations to the local authority to that effect, whereupon the local authority must make up the street. It having been made up, automatically it becomes a public highway maintained by the inhabitants at large. In that way there has been added to the local authority an additional thoroughfare.
That really is the Bill, but we must have additions which are called for by various other requirements. For instance, it has been adjudged possible that the operation of this Bill might increase the amount due to the local authority from the Equalisation Grants Fund. That being so—it is a possibility for which I have not been able to find any reasonable ground, but I cannot contest it—provision is made to cover it in Clause 6. Clause 7 adds any provisions of the Public Health Act, 1936, which concern this matter. Clause 8 explains the extent of the Bill, mentioning the local authorities which will be involved, and also makes one important provision to which the House should have its attention drawn although it is not a matter for debate here—the possibility that in certain circumstances the field of operations of the Bill will be extended to include rural authorities and rural areas. That cannot be done except by Order in Council, and only after the consent of Parliament has been obtained. Thus, if any debate on that were considered desirable, I suggest that it should be at a later stage and not this morning. We may save much time thereby.
I have said that this is a simple, straightforward Bill. I have outlined the details of it, and I think I am now justified in asking the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)
When I first read this Bill, I was very uncertain of the purpose which the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) has in mind. It may be a desire to improve 457 the position of the owner-occupier. If that is his intention, we on this side of the House, who always desire to encourage the owner-occupier, are very glad of some evidence of change of heart on the part of hon. Members opposite. But it seems to me that one of its purposes might be to introduce a little surreptitious sniping against the private enterprise builder. We should certainly not agree with that object, because we on this side of the House are quite convinced that without the help of the private enterprise builder, we shall never solve our present housing problems.
But as I understand the speech of the hon. Gentleman—and here I should like to congratulate him upon the brevity with which he presented the Bill—the main purpose which he has in mind is to ensure that streets are made up expeditiously and that they do not remain in an unmade condition for an undue space of time before the local authority comes on the scene. My experience is that the reason why streets are not made up promptly by the local authority is usually because the frontagers, have a very strong objection to paying the frontage charges.
Under this Bill, the frontagers will still have to pay the frontage charges, but as part of the price they pay for their houses. The position so far as they are concerned remains unchanged. The position of the builder seems likely to be less satisfactory. He will pay the cost of making up the street before the work is done and without any guarantee that it will ever be made up, at any rate within any foreseeable period of time. Indeed, the position may well be that both the purchaser and the builder will find themselves in the position of having paid the costs of making up the street without acquiring any right to secure that the street is made up at all. That may go on for a very long time.
§ Mr. Kinley indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
The hon. Member shakes his head, but under his Bill the purchaser will have to wait until one-half of the total frontage of the street has been built up, and it is only when that point has been reached that the frontagers are given the right to call upon the local authority to make up the street at all.
I should like to put to the hon. Member another difficulty about this Bill which 458 occurs to me. The local authority will be required to calculate the road charges before the time when it will have to carry out the work. As I have said, quite a considerable interval may elapse between the time when the assessment is made and the time when the work is carried out. We all know that we are living in a period of fluctuating prices. Since the party to which the hon. Member belongs became responsible for the Government, prices have fluctuated upwards. The time may, of course, come when prices will fluctuate in the opposite direction. But our experience is that costs are rising, particularly the cost of carrying out works of this character. The result may be that there may be a considerable advance in the cost of carrying out the works, above the amount which has been assessed upon the frontagers. Who is to pay the difference?
§ Mr. Hutchinson
The hon. Member says that it will be the local authority. That is the conclusion to which I came. The hon. Member has wisely inserted in his Bill a provision which clearly contemplates that any increase in the cost of the works arising in that way is to be met out of moneys which may eventually increase the Exchequer equalisation grant. That is a very wise provision. Nevertheless, this is the first enactment I have seen which casts on the ratepayers of the district as a whole any part of the cost of making up a private street. Hitherto the principle has been that the frontagers were required to pay. That will be altered as a result of the Bill.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
There have already been cases where local authorities have very generously made a financial grant to help frontagers who were presented with very heavy bills of this character, in order to relieve the burden upon owner-occupiers. If the Bill is passed, the same spirit will presumably actuate the good local authorities.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Lindgren)
As a result of very good and wise planning at Welwyn Garden' City, the whole of the road charges have been on the rates through the whole-period of the town's development, and, none of them against any particular frontagers.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I was aware that local authorities, if they so desire, can make a contribution of that character. I said that I was unaware of any enactment which imposed the obligation upon local authorities to make a contribution without their consent. The hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) did not appreciate the point which I made.
As I have said, the Bill may be of some benefit to the house owner. It is clear that the advantage which he may get from it would be more readily obtained if it were possible to require that every purchaser of a new house should be separately advised by a solicitor at the time of the purchase. That would be a much more satisfactory way of securing for house owners the advantages of which the hon. Member spoke; but it may not be a practicable proposition.
But because this Bill may be of some advantage to house owners, I hope that on this side of the House we shall agree to give it a Second Reading. The Bill may very well have the effect of retarding the building of private enterprise houses when the time comes for private enterprise building to start again. In so far as the Bill is likely to have that effect, I hope that we shall make sure at a later stage that we have safeguarded the position. Although hon. Members on this side of the House are not likely for that reason to be unduly enthusiastic about this small Bill, I hope that they will at any rate agree to give it a Second Reading. Then let us see whether in the Committee stage we can get some of its obvious defects removed.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
I am very glad that this Measure has been introduced. In my constituency we have had, I think, the greatest number of new streets made up under the Private Street Works Act of any local authority. A former clerk of the council calculated that Hornchurch had 10 times as many roads made up under that Act as any other authority before the war. We were making up roads at the rate of two a month; I was surprised to hear the comments which fell from the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson), a borough which one would have thought would have the same sort of problem as Hornchurch. 460 What is really needed, as is recognised even by Conservatives who have been brought up against the practical facts of the situation, is some such method as is proposed in the Bill of controlling the private building industry, which hon. Gentlemen opposite think has only to be set loose to solve every possible building problem.
This position was realised by Conservative members of the Hornchurch Urban District Council. They promoted in 1936 a Private Bill for this purpose. In fairness to them I must say that those Conservatives were then described as "Ratepayers." Subsequently, the Conservative Party said that they would not support anybody who ran as a Ratepayer and then it happened that practically all those Ratepayer members found that they had been Conservatives all along. But even the few who held out, believing that the Ratepayers should be independent, have also written to me on this subject of private streets. But it was the Labour Party in Hornchurch, although in those years in a minority, who took the lead in trying to control private enterprise in some way.
In consequence what the Hornchurch Council tried to do in 1936 was to secure a Private Act containing very similar provisions to those in the Bill now proposed. Such was the regard that Parliament then had for private enterprise, that the proposal was thought to be too great a restriction on the right of the private builder to exploit the area. The council were only permitted a very meagre arrangement, by which they could see that some hard core or the like was put down. I should like to read to the House the Preamble to the Hornchurch Urban District Council Act, 1936, to show the sort of difficulty that local authorities have had to face. It reads:Whereas under and in accordance with the provisions of the Private Street Works Act 1892 the rural district council of Romford the predecessors of the Council executed in the year 1912 certain private street works in a road known as Queens Park Road in the parish of Hornchurch and under Section 13 of the Private Street Works Act 1892 became entitled to a charge on the lands fronting adjoining or abutting on the said road including certain lands the owners of which could not he found …That is the sort of problem that local authorities are up against all the time. Why cannot those owners be found? There are certain developers who, after 461 they have developed an area, feel that it would be a good thing if they could not be found. We have had a good deal of that sort of thing in Hornchurch.
The Bill will deal with three classes of fraud, all of which were largely practised in Hornchurch. The first was a simple one. The hon. Member is not here who intervened when I raised this matter in the House on the Adjournment, and who said that this first type of fraud was rather difficult to practise. That is true. That is the type of fraud which was practised by, I do not say all builders, and I do not even say the majority of builders in Hornchurch, and possibly not even all builders at present resident in Hornchurch, but by builders—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is so. I am sorry that hon. Gentlemen opposite should jeer at the builders of Hornchurch. I assure them that the most prominent of them is the chairman of the Conservative Association.
The first of the three types of fraud was that the builders represented that there were no road charges at all. That was a difficult one to get away with. People heard about road charges and heard about other people being in difficulties, and they went off to inquire about them. Early on in the development of Horn-church this simple fraud practically dropped out of use except among very small builders.
The second was to explain that the road charges were quite small. I have evidence about builders who made all sorts of representations--of course, carefully legally safeguarded so that they could not be held to them—that the road charges would only be 10s. or 15s.—this is pre-war—per foot frontage. In Horn-church, without sewers and so on, road charges even pre-war were never less than £2 per foot frontage, so that the person who owned the plot was left to pay the balance.
The third form of fraud, the one with which I hope the Bill will deal, was the simple one by which the developing company gave a guarantee to meet the charges. They said, "Here is your house. When the time comes to build up the road here is our guarantee "—with a bigger seal on it than on the patent medicines which we used to obtain in the old days, the seal of a company with a capital of at least £100 of which certainly 462 £2 or £3 were paid up—but when that time came the company had probably gone into liquidation. That happened time and time again in my area. The Conservative or Ratepayer Council of Hornchurch were so disturbed at this manifestation of private enterprise that they insisted in cases of this sort that there should not only be the company but also substantial guarantors. There is a case in the Harold Hill Estate of Hornchurch in which the council has come down on the guarantors because of the failure of the developing company to meet the charges.
Nevertheless, "Chase the developer" still remains one of the favourite sports in my constituency. It is a matter of considerable difficulty. I can give an example of the sort of thing that happens in my area. There is an avenue called Sussex Avenue, an unmade road. All the council did to it was to change its name from Dorset Avenue with the object, I think, of associating it more closely with Kent Drive which is not only unmade but has cesspool drainage as well. The state of Sussex Avenue became so bad that a war-disabled man who had lost a leg fell in the road and dislocated his shoulder and broke his arm.
The inhabitants of the road got together to approach the council to see what could be done. The council said. "All you can do is to get in touch with the developer." The inhabitants said. "How do you get in touch with the developer?".The council said "We do not quite know that, but there is a Mr. Hall who knows where the developer is." The deputation went to Mr. Hall and asked where the developer was, and Mr. Hall replied, "He is dead." He added. "But do not worry, he has a partner who is responsible and I can put you in touch with the partner." The deputation said. "Where is the partner?" Mr. Hall replied, "He is a Mr. Tilley. He lives in South Africa." A letter was sent to Mr. Tilley who replied, "Ah, yes, but that is done by my solicitors, a firm domiciled in Wales."
All this was done in an effort just to deal with the problem of clearing the gulleys and of cleaning up an unadopted road. There is not a single ward in my constituency which has not an unadopted road in connection with which 463 this sort of thing has taken place. This affects not only the working class part of the constituency. Even quite well-to-do people can be had in this way. In Upminster, the smartest part of Horn-church, where in the local elections the Labour Party can hardly ever muster 1,000 votes, there is a large estate where everyone has already paid the development charges, but, unfortunately, the company to which they paid the charges had only a very small capital and went into liquidation before the making up of the road could be completed. Those people paid sufficient development charges to make up the road at the old rate and they are now waiting for the council to assess today's cost of the development.
That is the sort of thing which the Bill will avoid. The Opposition would be very ill-advised indeed if they did not do something in a practical way to protect people against the frauds of the crudest form of private enterprise. However, it is only fair to say that in its crudest form in this respect, private enterprise operated at its best in the working class part of Hornchurch. Even in the centre of Horn-church, in Kent Drive and in Randall Drive, there are roads with no lighting and no sewerage, so that we can see the effect of private development in the centre of a town not 20 miles from Westminster. But it is really in the working class parts where the worst possible effects are observed. Probably the poor people living there in the years of depression were not always able to employ an independent solicitor, and they were probably people who bought a little plot of land on which they hope to build a house.
In the northern part of the Rainham area of Hornchurch the whole layout and the state of the roads are so bad that in the Abercrombie plan the only solution which that great architect and town planner could suggest was that every house should be pulled down and the whole area should be ploughed back again. There is complete confusion there and there has been a complete failure to provide roads. All sorts of promises were made and undertakings given to poor people who were obviously not in a position to know the state of the law. The state of the law is very complicated and 464 I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say a few words to clarify people's minds about it.
In one part of my constituency there is a completely made-up town, South Horn-church, which largely serves the workers in the Ford works area, and there is hardly a made-up street in the area. People who go along the bypass towards Tilbury cannot even tell where the roads lead off except that there is a morass where cars and vehicles have tried to proceed one way or the other. These people are forced to live in these conditions. It is possible to put up with an un-made road in rural areas because it may not be used very much, but such roads as these have to be used every day by people going backwards and forwards to work. These roads are unlighted at night and filled with great pools of water. It is an absolutely disgraceful and disgusting state of affairs.
I have a final word about private development in this area. In one case the private developers did not even bother to build a bridge over a stream which ran across the main road. There is only one thing I can say in order to give private enterprise its due; the stream is now spanned by a single plank. This plank, about which I have been making inquiries because it was washed away in a flood, is the result of private munificence rather than municipal enterprise. Except for that, I know of no single contribution by private enterprise towards doing anything at all to provide roads for the ordinary working-class people of my constituency.
Of course, this Bill does not cover the whole problem of the making-up of roads. One of the more difficult problems is that regard at the moment is not a question of the local machinery for it, but the capital expenditure required. However, we are not on that subject at the moment. There will be other opportunities of discussing some of the social consequences of the rearmament programme, but that does not arise on this Bill. This at any rate does provide machinery to prevent the sort of things happening which have happened up and down my constituency. Had this Bill been in existence 20 years ago or even had it been possible in the case of the Hornchurch Urban District Council to get a similar provision in the Hornchurch Urban District Council Act, 465 1936, then there would not be a single unmade road in Hornchurch today.
§ 12 noon.
§ Mr. Braine (Billericay)
As I wish only to make one or two very brief points, I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument, though I would say that I thought one so gifted as he is in picking holes in any argument would have devoted a little time to some of the obvious deficiencies in the Bill before the House.
My constituency comprises four urban districts. As the Parliamentary Secretary and I well know, it has a very large number of unmade roads. One district has some 30 unmade roads and another has more than 50; and therefore this Bill, if it becomes law, will have direct application to my constituency. The first point I wish to draw to the attention of the House is that the operative date is 1st July of this year. When I read the Bill I thought that was a little early, and I consulted my local authorities on the subject. The general consensus of opinion is that the Bill as at present drafted would require a local authority to have its plans prepared, and to be ready to carry out a large part of the private streets works procedure for all private streets in the area by 1st July.
I am advised that, however desirable are the measures propounded in the Bill, no urban district council will be in a position to do that by 1st July without taking on a very large number of additional staff. One authority tells me that in order to comply with the requirements of the Bill as at present drafted, they will need between 30 and 40 additional assistants. That, I think, is putting a rather heavy burden upon the local authorities at the present time.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
May I ask the hon. Member one question? These are practical points. Did he ascertain what these gentlemen would be doing either before or after 1st July—these 20 or 30 additional assistants?
§ Mr. Braine
It is quite clear from the Bill that the local authorities concerned would be under an obligation as from 1st July to put these measures into operation, and in order to do that—
§ Mr. Braine
I am reassured, but the object, surely, of a Second Reading debate is to elucidate these points.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Perhaps the hon. hon. Member will allow me to interrupt him once more, because I think he is on a false point which can easily be met. Of course, local authorities at present have to be prepared to operate the Private Street Works Act. They are all doing it. What I should like to know is, what additional staff would this impose on them, and why?
§ Mr. Braine
I am advised that in one particular instance it would require, as I say, 30 to 40 additional assistants. I can only assume that a local authority, faced with obligations of this kind—the possibility that a large number of frontagers living in a large number of unmade roads would require them to be made up when the Act becomes operative —would have to add substantially to its staff.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I agree with the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) that his constituency is one of the examples of all the things that ought not to have happened in the past; but he is evidently assuming that this Bill refers to the making good of that damage; whereas I am assuming, after reading the Bill, that it applies only to the future. If in fact it applied to what has happened in the constituency of the hon. Member under private enterprise in the past, it would take hundreds and hundreds of engineers, surveyors, workmen and everyone else. But it applies to the future, and not the past.
§ Mr. Braine
I do not accept that for one moment. A large number of people came to my constituency to live seeking privacy, and unmade roads exist for the very good reason mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson), that they preferred not to pay the frontage charges. As I understand this Bill, as from 1st July any number of frontagers occupying an area of a length of 100 feet may make application to the local authority for the provisions of this Bill, once it has become an Act, to be put into operation. When one bears in mind that in constituencies like mine there are many unmade roads at least half a mile in length—some of them 467 longer—one can see certain other difficulties emerging.
Supposing, for example, frontagers at the far end of an unmade road which might end in a cul de sac, make application to the local authority for this procedure to be put into operation. As I understand it—and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—the local authority is then under an obligation to make up that part of the road. I do not know what the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) is laughing at. The Bill is so ill drafted and ill considered that anybody who will have the responsibility of putting it into operation must consider these things. It would be better for the hon. Member to contain himself for the time being until these matters have been threshed out. That, after all, is the object of my intervention. A local authority in such a case will be put to the additional cost of connecting up sewers through an area that is not made up. That will impose a heavy charge. These are difficulties which I suggest have not been foreseen by the framers of the Bill.
For my part, I think that the principle behind the Bill is an excellent one and I would certainly support it on Second Reading; but there are a number of points which need elucidation. For example, the powers given to magistrates seem to be far too wide. In Clause 2 (6) magistrates may specify some sum which has no relation to the probable cost and may well add to the burden of the local authority. Again, are the estimates which a local authority will have to prepare to be based on present-day costs, or are they to take into account continually rising prices? It may take many years before an unmade road is made up and the figures may be unrealistic. Yet a magistrate is given the responsibility, the power, to specify certain sums, which may have the result of placing additional and very heavy burdens on local authorities. I am wondering if the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply would make some reference to that.
§ Mr. Bing
Is the hon. Member for Billericay dealing with the point that when a road is made up, it is, of course, used not only by those who live in it but by the inhabitants at large, by people 468 from other areas? It is a little hard that the inhabitants of a road in my constituency should bear the whole cost of traffic backwards and forwards to Southend.
§ Mr. Braine
That, of course, is an argument which I at once accept, but it has no relevance at all to any criticism of the Bill which I have advanced.
§ Mr. Bing
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, surely, when the cost to the frontagers is being discussed, one of the factors to be taken into consideration in assessing whether any sum should fall on the rates or not is the other use to which the road will be put, other than use by the frontagers?
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Hargreaves (Carlisle)
I wish to speak in support of this Bill and to say that if any hon. Member who is concerned about the effect of the Bill on his own constituency, in which there may be a very large number of unmade roads, will read the Preamble to the Bill, he will see that it refers to the completion of streets in connection with new buildings. Surely that fully meets the point which the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) made when referring to roads which are unmade and unadopted alongside houses which have been erected for a considerable number of years. I understood that to be the point which the hon. Gentleman was making.
This is an attempt to legislate for the future in regard to any new building which is proposed, and it will not in any way meet the admitted difficulties which confront owner-occupiers, whose present difficulties are an argument in favour of the Bill and for eliminating these difficulties in future.
May I describe a typical case, of an owner-occupier, which was put up to me as soon as this Bill was printed? It is the case of an owner-occupier who erected a house in Carlisle less than 20 years ago. With her mother, who has since died, she built the house at a complete cost of £654. It is a very small house, and the road charges which she and her mother had to meet were paid at that time to an estate company. This case illustrates the circumstances described by my hon. and learned Friend 469 the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). Now, when new building is being carried on in that particular road, this lady, who has no other resources, having paid some sum which she understood was to cover the road frontage charges, is faced with the cost of making up that particular road. I have the figures provided for me by the town clerk of Carlisle in respect of this small house. The town clerk says:Her share of making up the road fronting her house—for a house which originally cost £654—will be £360.In addition to that, the owner of these premises, which are situated in Brampton Road, will be called upon—and I am quoting the letter from the town clerk:… to bear the cost of flagging the unflagged footpath in Brampton Road whenever the Corporation decide that it should he made up.That is the situation confronting this lady, and it means that, in all, she may be called upon to pay an equivalent amount to that which she and her mother paid almost 20 years ago for the erection of this house.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House what is the frontage of this property to be made up, because that is the important factor?
§ Mr. Hutchinson
The hon. Gentleman will agree that it is an exceptional case for a house of this size to have a frontage of 120 feet?
§ Mr. Hargreaves
I am making the legitimate point that this Bill, while being in no way retrospective, is attempting to meet an admitted need. I make the point that this kind of situation which confronts these owner-occupiers would be removed under this Bill, because it would be met at the time the house was actually built.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman, but of course the house would cost a great deal more than £650.
§ Mr. Hargreaves
I am not contesting that but, again, I am making the point that a payment in respect of road charges was made to an estate company. It was a separate payment when this house was 470 erected, and it was —[Interruption]—I could quote the full correspondence, which is available to the hon. and learned Gentleman. That payment was made to the company in respect of road frontage charges, and this lady is confronted at this time, when she is left alone, with this frightful charge.
Although, as my hon. and learned Friend and others have said, the Corporation of Carlisle, which is by no means ungenerous, has a discretion which it can exercise to relieve frontagers of the whole or part of the street formation charges, the council has decided—and I do not think it is unfair—as a matter of principle, that it cannot exercise this discretion.
Having made that case, which I could, duplicate—because I know of at least another similar case, and I am certain that other hon. Members are in possession of similar facts—I hope the House will give general support to the principle behind this Bill and help to remove for the future, shocking cases of the kind that I have indicated.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
I must confess that, when I listened to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), for whose ability in presenting a case I have great respect, I thought he was speaking about the contents of the Bill, but I was very much misled, because I realised afterwards that what he said bore no relevance to the subject matter which we are discussing, which is the question of roads which are to be built in the future.
§ Mr. Bing
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, all the Members of his party always take the view that we can never discuss the future in terms of the past, and in view of their record that is understandable. Surely, we ought to look at what has happened in the past and in the light of this see whether the Bill is necessary or not.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
The hon. and learned Gentleman has made the situation quite clear, and we recognise that he is now making an attempt to face the future, which he has so singularly failed to do in the last few years.
I also listened with great attention to the last speech in support of the Bill, but 471 there again, the only relevant subject was a similar sort of illustration, following on the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch, on the subject of what it was hoped might be avoided in future. In regard to that illustration, it must be pointed out that that was an exceptional case, and what it really illustrates is the tremendous difference between the cost of road-making at that time and today. In order to produce a road alongside a frontage of 120 feet today, the contribution from the frontager may even be approximately equivalent to the cost of the whole house 20 years ago. I do not really think that the matter was carried appreciably further.
The point I cannot understand about the reason for bringing this Bill forward at the present time is that, so far as I can see—and I am subject to correction on this—the Bill is intended to relate almost entirely to future building by private enterprise, and as I understood it the policy of the hon. Members who are promoting the Bill is that there shall not be building by private enterprise, but building by local authorities. The vast majority of the building which is permitted by the Government at the present time—and which is admittedly of a very limited amount—would not be affected by this Bill in the least. I may be wrong, but that is my interpretation of the situation as it stands at present.
If, as I think, that is so, then this is an even more modest little Bill than we originally anticipated. As far as it goes, I do not think it is likely to do any appreciable amount of harm, but I am very sceptical indeed about the detailed provisions in part of it. I do not think that they carry out the intention that the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading very clearly stated to be his object in promoting the Bill. I believe that the details will require exceedingly careful consideration, but, in so far as the hon. Member's intention is recognised, and in so far as it is clear that the Bill is a direct denial of the Government's policy to continue building houses purely through local authorities, and in the hope that it will reveal the possibility of our being able to get some private enterprise building, I for one, shall certainly not object to the Second Reading.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
I was grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson), for the support he was willing to give to the Bill, notwithstanding some of the difficulties he found about the details of it, and it is in no carping spirit that I will answer some of the objections which have been put forward. May I follow the hon. and learned Member's example, and that of other hon. Members, and take the three classes of people who are obviously affected by this Bill?
I was always told that theological hate was the worst kind. I thought there were today signs of a suburban hate which almost exceeded that of the theologians, and I rather deprecate that. I should have thought that builders were human unless they were limited companies. Of course, limited companies have a capacity for dying in a short time, which we would not wish to see emulated by the human race, but the majority of builders, no doubt, do their job. When they do their job, they consider it incumbent upon them to provide a proper road on a new estate which they are building or to provide access to a new house or group of houses which they are building.
If I may deal with the good builder first, when he does his work and sells the house to someone, he must include in the cost of that house the cost of proper street-building work. The intention of this Bill is, in fact, to secure that that shall be done in future. The hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North, has great experience in these things. With his usual clearness of thought—although he made one or two observations of a contentious character—he quite rightly stated that the effect of the Bill will be to do what is done by good builders at the present time, and to put the cost of the necessary road work on to the original price of the house.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
The hon. and learned Gentleman will not forget that I went on to say that, although the cost of making up the road should be added to the price of the house, there was nothing in the Bill to ensure that the road would, in fact, be made up in any foreseeable period of time.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Yes, the hon. and learned Member, with his usual sense 473 of logic, will see that that is not a question which affects the builder, but is one between the council and the house owner. If he will allow me, I shall come to that in a minute.
I entirely agree that there are bad builders. They may be bad by intention or bad through poverty, but it does happen that even a good builder, if I may so put it, bites off more than he can chew and embarks upon enterprises which he is unable properly to complete. Whether it is because he is deliberately fraudulent or whether he miscalculates the amount he can manage, it is, unfortunately, exceedingly common—and I think we all know it—for frontagers to be put in the position of having a nominal recourse against some builder or developer and being, in fact, unable to enforce it. That is another difficulty that we want to meet. Surely, the fairest way in those cases, and the fairest way to the good builder and to the building trade as a whole, is to make the payment of the proper road charge contemporaneous with and conditional on the actual house building, and that is the intention of the Bill.
Now I come to the owner's position. The trouble about the owner is, first of all, that he wants to know when he buys a house what he will have to pay, and under present conditions there are two reasons why he may fail to know this. He may be misled or mistaken as to the character and extent, and even as to the existence, of these road charges, which depend on a very complicated series of Acts, including not only the Private Street Works Act and other legislation, but also quite a number of local Acts, the existence of which, I rather thought, the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North, somewhat overlooked. It is really important for the private owner to know about such Acts.
Secondly, even if everybody's intentions are good, he does not, in fact, know what the charges will prove to be. It is perfectly true that the cost of the necessary road works may go up or may go down. I am not here today to speculate what is more likely in the immediate future, or to make party points about that, but as a matter of principle it is only fair that the risk of a rise or a fall in street work charges should not be placed to a very heavy degree on quite a small number of 474 people, as it is at present in that kind of case.
We were given an example just now of an owner having to pay a very heavy charge. I have had some share in suggesting the framing of this Bill and I have supported it because, like other hon. Members, I have had this kind of thing in my own constituency, which does not happen to be a London constituency. Sometimes the people concerned are not the original owners of the house at all. They bought it some time after it was built and they naturally concluded that they had met substantially all the expenditure they either desired or were able to pay.
Then the council, in the exercise of its public duty and under the Private Street Works Act or some similar piece of legislation, may call upon these people to pay what is at present an exceedingly heavy charge in proportion to the price of their houses. That does not seem to be fair or right under the ordinary principles of justice and a risk of that sort ought to be borne by the local authority who, after all, have to carry a similar responsibility and risk with regard to the ordinary public streets within their area.
I should have thought that, on all sides, we could agree that the continued existence of unadopted streets and of private streets is not a good thing from the point of view of the council. It is not a good thing from the point of view of the inhabitants. Though one or two remarks have been made to the contrary, I do not believe it is a good thing from the point of view of the frontagers themselves; and I should not think that any public-spirited person really thinks that private streets, at any rate in the vast majority of cases, have anything to be said for them. This Bill is put forward to facilitate the task of the local authorities in clearing up what has become a considerable hardship for quite a large class of people.
Therefore, I think that the good builder and the householder and the house buyer will be definitely better off for what is now proposed. I think, too, that the councils themselves, who, after all, are public-spirited bodies, will recognise, as I believe they do, the hardships involved in the present administration and the consequent difficulty upon the councils themselves and upon their officers in having to operate this, and that they will really welcome the Bill.
475 It was suggested that there would be a long delay in making up these streets. I hope and believe the contrary. There is, of course, the delay in this respect that no one can really require wholly inordinate and disproportionate expenditure on streets at present. There are other matters to be considered, notably and obviously house building. One recognises that, and there is and there will continue inevitably a degree of Ministerial control on total expenditure. But within the limits of that expenditure, it will be open to a majority of frontagers, not merely of streets as a whole but of quite a short part of street, even 100 yards, to move the council to do the job, for which the money has been paid or secured. Moreover, the council's power to act on their own under the Private Street Works Act remains un-repealed and it is open to the council to operate in that way if and when this Bill becomes law, just as it has been open to them heretofore to do so.
I beg the House, therefore, to look at this matter, which really seems to me to be quite non-contentious as between one side of the House and another, as a sincere attempt to be fair to all parties concerned. I ask the House to look at it, as we all try to do, from a public point of view and to consider whether, even in its present terms, it is not a contribution on a not unimportant point towards local Government machinery and a real contribution towards alleviating some private hardship.
Many Committee points have been raised, and at the moment, when we are engaged on the Second Reading, one does not want to go into them too far. I welcome the general benevolence expressed from the Benches opposite and I hope the Bill will get a Second Reading, subject, of course, to Committee points which hon. Members may wish to raise afterwards. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will give full credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) for having done his best for all concerned and tried to remedy a public mischief and some private hardship.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Lindgren)
May I, first of all, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for 476 Bootle (Mr. Kinley) and those associated with him upon their initiative in regard to this Bill? The discussion this morning has shown that the Bill has arisen and its urgency for the future springs from the speculative building that went on, particularly in the 1930's. As a result of what went on in the '20's and '30's, practically all over the country, people are faced with excessive charges for the making up of roads. Although some hon. Members opposite rather twitted him, I thought that what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) said was true and could be repeated with regard to any other constituency up and down this country.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
When the hon. Gentleman said "excessive charges," does he mean to imply that the local authorities are asking for far greater charges than they ought to have done?
§ Mr. Lindgren
If the hon. Member twits me, I will give it him straight from the shoulder. These poor people are being twisted. They now have to pay again moneys already paid to builders who cannot be found now. These poor folk in and around London, in particular, were charged by speculative builders £50 and £100 road charges in 1928, 1929 and 1933, etc. It was quite obvious that for a period these roads could not be made up. All folk are reasonable and in a newly-developed area they do not expect the road to be made up within six months.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
The hon. Gentleman is making a very general charge against the building industry. Surely he recognises that the cases which the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) cited are exceptional cases?
§ Mr. Lindgren
I am not making a charge against the building industry. Sometimes it was the builders. More often it was investment trusts, mushroom companies which took the road charges and went out of existence or sometimes, within 12 months of completion of the site, went bankrupt.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Surely the hon. Gentleman knows that hundreds of thousands of houses were built in London where that never happened at all?
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Does, not the hon. Gentleman then consider that the general charge he is making against the developers of these houses is a very unfair charge?
§ Mr. Lindgren
No, I do not. I can quite understand hon. Gentlemen opposite getting touchy, because it is not a very creditable part of estate development in the inter-war years, and something ought to have been done by Governments during those years to prevent it. Year after year at Urban District Councils Association and other conferences we were pointing out the responsibility that was falling upon individuals and upon local authorities because of the failure of estate developers, and the hardship that it was causing to householders.
Reference was made by hon. Members opposite to private enterprise and the need of private ownership of houses. Private ownership is a very commendable thing and quite a number of people went in for it in the inter-war years. There have been these small weekly payments and all the rest of it. Very often there has been a bit of a racket with a second mortgage which the poor person who took the single mortgage did not know about. There were cases like that of Mrs. Border's in the inter-war years, and the then Government ought to have dealt with this problem. This Bill deals with the problem for the future.
Most of my activity in local government in the past 20 years has been at Welwyn Garden City, building the new town. There I think we did the logical thing. Under the 1892 Act we used our powers to spread the cost over the community and we made every road a direct charge upon the ratepayer. We could do that because we were fortunate. We started with God's green fields, with no buildings there. Local authorities could do it even today. But, of course, there is strong objection, particularly in well-developed areas, that we should be putting on to ratepayers who have already paid their own charges a charge in respect of new people coming into the area. From the general concept of fairness, there is a lot to be said against that. But to me, at least, this is the most logical and sensible way to do this work.
The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) mentioned the poor unfortunate person who had a corner site. His 478 case is an example of what I have just said. The heavy road charge on the corner site is left as a charge of £320 on the local authority. The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) started to twit us and to make play with the fact that road frontage charges had risen by an abnormal extent and he said that that was the cause of the trouble. If on this corner site the frontage is 120 feet, that works out at a cost of only £3 per foot. Even before the war a large number of road charges were at the rate of £2 per foot.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I agree. The Carlisle authority evidently do their work economically. From the point of view of Carlisle, it is not an excessive charge. But in view of that case, will not hon. Members opposite agree that one ought to take some measures to prevent a condition arising in which any individual has to pay twice for a service? That is the purpose of the Bill.
§ Mr. Bing
Does not my hon. Friend also agree that it is most important that there should not be any opportunity for a development company to make a representation, in order to sell such a site, that the building charge will only be a small amount, to charge that amount, and then leave, so that after they have disappeared the owner of the plot finds out that he has been dealt with in this way?
§ Mr. Lindgren
Certainly. I thought that I had said that a little earlier. This Bill prevents that, and it places upon the local authority the responsibility of collection of the dues before the work starts. At the moment private street works come under two Acts. In the main, under urban authorities they come under the Act of 1892, if the authorities have adopted it. Under rural authorities, they come under the 1892 Act by virtue of the Local Government Act, 1929. In urban areas which have not adopted the 1892 Act, or which have not varied it by reason of some local Act as Horn-church wanted to do, the Public Health Act, 1875, applies.
This has meant that, in spite of all the work done in the past in the nature of public street works, people have the difficulty which I have tried to expound 479 with emphasis. To put it calmly, people have been up against a real difficulty, and sometimes there has been real danger to life and limb. This Bill will prevent that. On behalf of the Government, I commend the Bill to the House and ask hon. Members to give it a Second Reading. Despite the problems which have been raised about whether or not the Bill is clear, I think that it is a well-drafted Bill. There may be some matters to be dealt with in Committee. We will deal with them and try to improve the Bill and to put right anything which is not exactly clear.
I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) has returned to the Chamber. I wish to deal with the points he raised. Obviously he was under the impression that local authorities in his constituency would be asked to put right all the ills of the past. As I have said so often, though he may disagree with me from time to time, his constituency is one of the best examples that I know of where everything that it was possible to do wrong was done wrong. We ought to protect the public on this question. I could understand the local authorities in his area—or he himself—if they thought that all these things had to be put right under this Bill, getting a little alarmed.
In fact, we have decided to build a new town in his constituency with all the resources of the State behind it, because no local authority, not even the county council, could bear the financial cost of putting right the ills of his area. He has the honour of having the whole resources of the Treasury behind his constituency to put right the wrongs of private enterprise in the past. That ought to be something of which he should be proud. There are very few hon. Members who can say that their constituency is so favoured as to have the whole resources of the Treasury behind it.
§ Mr. Braine
The Parliamentary Secretary is entitled to make his points in his own way, and I accept his remarks in the spirit in which he has made them; but the fact is that at no time since the end of the war has there been any freedom for private developers to operate in the area concerned. Therefore, a new town was the only solution offered to the 480 people in the area. The point which I hoped he would answer is that in Clause 2 (2) of the Bill, it says:the local authority shall estimate the cost of carrying out such street works in the street on which the building will front (and throughout the whole width thereof) …In other words, that must include the cost of making up the road where buildings already exist.
§ Mr. Lindgren
No. I am not a lawyer and I will not attempt to define words. I would not attempt to interpret the words which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who has collaborated with my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle, has suggested. But this applies to the future and it applies to all the persons in the road—they get their apportionment of the cost. If, in fact, the apportionment means that there is a length of the road which is not chargeable to an individual, because there is nothing actually fronting it, then that lies as a balance on the local authority. It lies with the ratepayers at large, pending a capital payment later on, as and when some person takes advantage of the frontage which has been created earlier. So the individual is saved from paying a charge over and above that which ought to be borne in respect of his own frontage.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? In the case he has just been putting, if a new property is erected in the street the owner of the new property will pay the development charge before building starts, but there is no guarantee that the street will ever be made up within any measurable period of time, because the other properties in the street are existing properties, and the time when the street will be made up will be determined by the local authority under the Private Street Works Acts and not under this Bill.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I am not going to argue a technical legal point with a learned King's Counsel such as the hon. and learned Gentleman, but my assumption from this Bill is—and it refers to where one payment is made—that in this instance where the first payment has been made for the new house in the street there should be a requirement to make the road—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is my understanding of it. We can discuss it in Committee.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Will my hon. Friend allow me for one moment? Will he, with his great experience of local government, accept what seems to me to be the position about charges and the appeal to the court which troubled the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine), that, in fact, as regards the powers and the charges and the machinery for having them reviewed by the court—all that follows the Private Street Works Acts and long-established legislation and long-established rights of appeal? It is the timing that is changed by the Bill.
§ Mr. Lindgren
That is so, and I think it is politic. Of course, there are two different methods under the Acts of 1875 and 1892. Under the 1875 Act, the majority of persons in the road—the majority in number in the area—may ask a local authority to do up the road. Under the 1892 Act, it is the majority in value of the houses who can demand that the road be made up. But there is power even now, and from experience I should say that the vast majority of urban authorities are working under the 1892 Act, unless they have some Private Acts themselves, rather than under the 1875 Act; and there the greater number by value may require the road to be made up.
I ought to have said—and it may mitigate, perhaps, some of the criticisms in the earlier part of my speech about how it has been 20 years since the houses were built and the roads have been left and the people have suffered discomfort from mud, and so on—that there were six years of war in which nothing was possible at all. We have had a period since the end of the war when, by Defence Regulation, there has been a requirement for local authorities to get sanction to do the work. I should not like to create the impression by what I have said that nothing has been done by the local authorities.
§ Mr. Braine
Surely the Parliamentary Secretary will admit that since the decision to establish a new town in my constituency, that decision has frozen all developments in that part of the Billericay urban district.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Too many in what little shacks there are in that area, where before the war we ought not to have allowed building of that sort. Equally true, there was no such construction—
§ Mr. Lindgren
I would invite the hon. Gentleman's friends to visit his constituency, perhaps to speak for him, and so be able to see for themselves and judge between him and me to know which of us is indulging in exaggeration.
§ Mr. Braine
It is quite untrue. And the proof is that once there was a Labour controlled Council, but that has been completely turned out because of the disgust of the local residents with the Government up here at Westminster.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I do not want to get the hon. Gentleman into trouble with the hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) sitting behind him, because I can see she is looking anxious, but—
§ Mr. Lindgren
Well, I think she can, too. That anxiety which was created was very largely created by the hon. Gentleman and his friends, and it has diminished more and more as people in the area have come to see the light. I was delighted to see the local chambers of commerce passed a resolution of appreciation after they had had the real facts explained to them and had been disabused of the wrongly emphasised facts which the hon. Gentleman had put to them. That was when the general manager of the new town went and explained everything to them.
§ Mr. Braine
On the contrary, I must not allow these charges to be thrown across the Floor of the House in this fashion. They are, of course, utterly irrelevant to the Bill under consideration. However, the doubt and misgivings in the locality were due to the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary, on 15th May last, made statements in this House which he not since repudiated.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I have seen you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, looking rather anxiously at the hon. Gentleman. I do not want 483 you to look so anxiously at me. I think we had better leave it there, although I do not in any way accept the statements made. We can return to the Bill.
What I was about to say was that I should not like to create the impression that the local authorities up and down the country had not done all they could within the limits of the materials and labour available. Loan sanctions had been given to them, and, in fact, last year something like £1 million was spent by the local authorities in bringing the underdeveloped roads into a developed state, and making them chargeable to the ratepayers at large.
As I said at the beginning, this is a Bill which we think is quite a good Bill, worthy of consideration by the House and well worthy of consideration in Committee—a Bill designed to prevent the worst effects of things which happened in the inter-war years. I commend it to the House and ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
There is one aspect of this Bill which has not been touched on in the debate and is worthy of just one moment's consideration before the House expresses its view on the Bill. The Clause I have particularly in mind is Clause 6, which, as the House, will see, is printed in italics. Before I make the observation I want to make about Clause 6 let me say that, for myself, I commend the principle of the Bill to the House because it seems to me to be something eminently desirable in the public interest apart altogether from the interests of the parties immediately concerned.
This Bill, as I understand it, embodies the principle that the local authorities should have the wherewithal to enable them to make certain that new streets are made up at an early date rather than, as is sometimes the case, postponed for a variety of reasons for an inordinately long time. One knows from one's own experience the very considerable public inconvenience and sometimes public danger that has resulted from long delays in making up new streets. I am familiar with a number of cases in London—and there are many more outside London—where the public interest has suffered because of the delay after the building of 484 the houses before a proper highway has been laid out.
Therefore, the principle of this Bill affects not merely the frontages of the houseowners and the local authorities, but all members of the community who use new streets, and it is obviously very desirable that as soon as new streets are laid out and new houses built upon it the public should have the right to use those streets in a properly made up condition. I do not want to elaborate the reasons which in the past have militated against that desirable state of affairs, but I do congratulate those who have promoted this Bill upon their ingenuity and the skill with which they have thought out this device and this machinery, which will put an end to what I have for a long time past regarded as a serious public inconvenience.
It seems to me that, although it may well be that under this Bill local authorities and ratepayers may be out of pocket for a time, there is not a great deal of risk as far as local authorities are concerned because, as I understand the Bill, they are protected adequately. I gather that some are not entirely happy about that, and that is why I wanted to draw attention to Clause 6. I understand that Clause 6 is printed in italics because it is the one Clause of the Bill which may involve some public expense. As the House knows, a Private Members' Bill of this kind cannot normally make a great deal of progress if it involves expenditure out of public funds unless it has the backing of His Majesty's Government. That result only arises from the new system of accountability, equalisation and Exchequer Grants between Whitehall and local authorities resulting from the Local Government Act, 1948.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Surely the hon. Gentleman appreciates that under this Bill, in the event of an increase in costs during the interval between the time when the first assessments are made and the time when work is actually done, it will fall upon the local authority. It is for that reason that Clause 6 has been inserted.
§ Mr. Lindgren
The hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) is correct. Both he and the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) 485 put the point to me in regard to the portion of the road which would need to be financed by local authorities prior to there being frontages on it. It would mean that works were being carried out in advance of payment which would normally come to a local authority. This covers the extra cost an authority would have to bear on those two items, which naturally affects the possibility of an Exchequer Grant.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I think that exchange has clarified the extent to which the provisions of this Bill may involve some charge on public funds. Had this Bill been introduced prior to 1948 there would in no circumstances have been any risk of expenditure out of central Government funds, because before 1948 the whole of the resulting expenditure under a Bill of this kind would have fallen on the rates. It is by virtue of the new rating provisions of the Local Government Act, 1948, whereby the Government in effect become either a ratepayer or a potential ratepayer in a great many localities, that we now have a constitutional change which is important not only in connection with this Bill but in connection with all Bills.
The House will understand what has happened since 1948. Whenever local authorities are empowered to provide new services or to incur new expenditure, or whenever new burdens or possible new burdens, however limited in extent as in this Bill, are imposed by Parliament upon local authorities, one of the things that results from the Local Government Act, 1948, is that in the case of a certain number of local authorities that burden which previously would have fallen exclusively upon the local authority concerned is now shared by the contribution made by the Revenue.
I am not for a moment saying that that is a bad thing, because I support the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1948. But subsequently we found in the case of one Bill which came before the House soon afterwards that there was a considerable risk of the rights of Members of this House being thereby prejudiced, and that is why I want to ask those who are responsible for this Bill in its subsequent stages to make quite sure that the Financial Resolution is drawn in the appropriate form, because if this Bill is to make further progress there will have to be a Financial Reso- 486 lution. What I am anxious to ensure is that the terms of that Financial Resolution are drawn sufficiently widely to enable this particular point to be considered in Committee.
I have no doubt that when this Bill reaches the Committee stage, Amendments of different kinds will be put down, as they always are in Committee, and if may be that some Amendments will be made which, directly or indirectly, might have the effect of adding to the financial liabilities of local authorities, to which the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) has just referred. Under the constitutional position as it existed before 1948 it would have been perfectly competent, either in a Government Bill or a Private Member's Bill being considered in Committee after the necessary Financial Resolution was passed, for private Members to put down Amendments even though those Amendments would have had the effect of increasing the financial responsibility falling on the local authorities.
Soon after the passage of the 1948 Act, it was realised by virtue of this new system whereby the Government could automatically, in certain cases, increase the expenditure of local authorities, that, under the rules of this House, the previous right of Members of Parliament to put down an amendment to Bills of this kind was jeopardised, because under the new system introduced in 1948 any additional charge falling on the local authority automatically attracted some additional charge on the National Exchequer. Under our rules of procedure, no such amendment could be made unless it was covered by the appropriate Financial Resolution.
It will be within the recollection of some Members of this House that when this matter was first raised in 1949, I drew attention to it and obtained an assurance from the Minister of Labour, who was then the Minister of Health and who was put in charge of the Local Government Act and subsequent Measures dealing with local government, that the necessary alteration would be made to preserve the rights and privileges of hon. Members in the Committee stages.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
This seems to be rather outside the Bill. It is all about procedure on Money Resolutions.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I willingly accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I do not want to develop that matter any further. I wanted to make this point because I was hoping that as it is one of some importance it would be borne in mind by those in charge of the Bill at this stage or at the appropriate stage. I only mention it so that it should not be overlooked. I want to say how very cordially I support the principles of the Bill, and I hope that it will be given a Second Reading.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee.