HC Deb 22 April 1952 vol 499 cc344-8

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).—[Queen's Recommendation signified.]

[Colonel Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to increase the amounts of the annual exchequer, rate fund and county council contributions under the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1946, it is expedient to authorise any increase in the sums payable out of moneys provided by Parliament or into the Exchequer under any enactment, being an increase attributable to provisions of the said Act of the present Session—

  1. (a) raising the general standard amount of the annual exchequer contributions under the said Act of 1946 in respect of houses completed after the twenty-eighth day of February, nineteen hundred and fifty-two, to twenty-six pounds fourteen shillings;
  2. (b) raising the special standard amount of the said contributions to thirty-five pounds fourteen shillings;
  3. (c) raising the standard amount of the said contributions in the case of dwellings to which section four of the said Act of 1946 applies (other than flats described in the proviso to subsection (1) of that section) to a sum rising from fifty-two pounds sixteen shillings where the cost per acre of the site as developed does not exceed four thousand pounds up to sixty pounds eighteen shillings where that cost does not exceed twelve thousand pounds, and then increasing by one pound nineteen shillings for each additional two thousand pounds or part of two thousand pounds in that cost;
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  5. (d) raising the standard amount of the said contributions in the case of flats described in the said proviso to a sum ascertained in accordance with the last foregoing paragraph plus ten pounds ten shillings;
  6. (e) raising to two pounds five shillings the proportional addition to the standard amount of the said contributions authorised by section thirty-eight of the Housing Act, 1949, in the case of houses to which that section applies;
  7. (f) amending the law relating to contributions under section three of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1938, or improvement grants under section twenty of the Housing Act, 1949;
and any increase attributable to any provisions of the said Act of the present Session in the sums payable out of moneys provided by Parliament under Part I of the Local Government Act, 1948.—[Mr. H. Macmillan.]

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I do not intend to detain the Committee very long, but the Money Resolution, as drawn, raises a point of vital principle to which some reference should be made. There is no reason whatsoever why Her Majesty's Government should insert in this Resolution the whole of the detailed figures of the various grants which have been agreed to, reluctantly in most cases, by the local councils.

There is one reason, and one reason only, and it is well that we should make it clear: it is to make it impossible for any Member of the Opposition to move an Amendment to make any increase in the grant. The Minister knew perfectly well that the bone of contention about this Bill would not be about the Bill as drawn, but about the adequacy of the grant of money to be made to local authorities in view of the increased costs of building, for which this afternoon he has had to admit he has made no allowance.

In this House of Commons we are now in a state when, one by one, our fundamental liberties are going. [Laughter.] It is a sad state of affairs when that sort of remark should be greeted with fatuous cackle by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Let me recall the attention of the Committee to the details of this Resolution. Instead of being a general Resolution, as 99 out of 100 Money Resolutions are, giving the formal financial consent to such expenditure as shall be detailed by and contained in the Bill, it enumerates in six separate paragraphs every single figure which has been agreed to by the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

If I may take one as a sample, I will take paragraph (b), which is the one which has been mostly under discussion, raising the special standard amount of the said contributions to £35 14s. There is no reason for putting in that figure of £35 14s. A Money Resolution which authorises the contribution made by the Bill would be wholly sufficient.

In the course of the debate on the Bill my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said that this will be a matter which will function very largely in local council elections in the next fortnight, and I rise merely to make the point that the Minister has deliberately taken this course of limiting the Money Resolution so that in no circumstances can the House of Commons raise the grant to the local authorities to an adequate amount. That is a point which will be made in local elections in the next fortnight to very good purpose.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

And this determines the standard.

Mr. Hale

Yes, and it is right for the country to know that the Opposition have been deliberately prevented from making any improvement in the financial standard laid down by the Bill.

I have no desire to embarrass the Government. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman, if he takes the advice of his legal advisers, will find that in drawing the Money Resolution in these terms he may have made Clause 3 of the Bill inoperative, because it certainly involves expenditure out of local funds when it repeals that section of the Housing Act which makes it obligatory upon local authorities, if they do sell houses, to sell them at market value. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) makes so many interjections which appear to have no relevance, but if he wishes to intervene I will gladly give way.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

The hon. Gentleman is waxing synthetically indignant about this Money Resolution. Why do not he and his followers show the country how odious they think it is by going into the Division Lobby tonight and voting against it?

Mr. Hale

I have no objection to doing so. I propose to table an Amendment on the Report stage to try to put some of these things right. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the point he now raises was one which I left five minutes ago. I am now dealing with Clause 3 of the Bill itself and the effect of the Money Resolution on it.

I am sorry I have been interrupted, because it means that I must to a certain extent recapitulate my argument. The Bill purports to authorise local councils now to sell houses at less than their market value which inevitably involves a grant from the Exchequer. The Money Resolution is so detailed that it gives no authority for any expenditure incurred under the appropriate section of the Housing Act, 1936.

I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should consider that between now and the Report stage of the Money Resolution, and if he comes to that conclusion, I suggest he should table his Amendments early, so that we shall have the protection of these Amendments on the Order Paper when we come to consider the Committee stage of the Bill. With that sincere attempt to help the Government, I am prepared to close my brief remarks.

Mr. H. Macmillan

I do not wish to show any discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman, and therefore I think I ought to reply to the points he has made. I should like to start by thanking him for his assistance. I have a long recollection of his acute mind and intimate knowledge of our procedure and if, as I think is quite possible, I should find his advice is useful, I shall certainly not hesitate to take it. I shall look for his assistance in doing so.

With regard to Money Resolutions in general, as the hon. Gentleman knows, this has been a very long subject of discussion. I have heard it raised here on different sides for over 25 years. On the other hand, I think he will agree with me that since this Bill is almost entirely concerned with grants from the Exchequer, it is drawn in a way that applies the broad principles that we have always adopted in this House with regard to it being within the power of the Government to make proposals which add to the charge. I think that it is within the spirit of that very old rule of the House of Commons.

Since he says—and I was deeply moved by what he said—one by one our fundamental principles are going, I thought perhaps the wise thing was to follow precedent, and this Financial Resolution follows almost exactly the pattern of that which accompanied the Labour Government Bill which became the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1946, so that if our liberties went, they went five years ago.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.