HC Deb 03 November 1954 vol 532 cc559-62

Standing Order 156A. Line 7, leave out from "borough," to end of line 8.

Standing Order 156A.Line 15, leave out "or Part II."

Standing Order 156A.Line 16, at end, add "or under the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1954."

Standing Order 156B. Line 5, leave out "or Part II."

Standing Order 156B Line 14, leave out from "four," to "of," in line 15.

Standing Order 156B Line 22, leave out "or the Secretary of State."

Standing Order 191. Line 11, leave out "or Part II."

Standing Order 191.Line 12, at end, add "or under the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Scotland) Act, 1954."—[Queen's Recommendation signified.]

I want to apologise to the House for asking it at this hour of the morning to consider what may look at first sight to be one of the most mysterious Motions that has ever appeared on the Order Paper, but let me allay anxiety by saying at once that all these Amendments spring from one point, and that if the House approves the general purpose, this, I am advised, is the technically correct way to give effect to it.

On 17th February this year, a Resolution was passed by the House without any opposition rectifying for the remainder of this Session certain difficulties that arose from the passage into law of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1954. The trouble arose because that Act changed the basis of the equalisation grants payable to Scottish local authorities. Under it grants in Scotland are based not on the formula laid down in the Local Government Act, 1948, but on the Goschen formula, making those equalisation grants in Scotland amount to 11/80ths of the total sum paid by way of equalisation grants in England. This means that expenditure by Scottish local authorities will no longer affect grants to Scottish authorities but expenditure by local authorities in England and Wales will now do that.

It will readily be seen how this must affect the scope of Money Resolutions. That Resolution of 17th February had the effect of correcting Money Resolutions and Bills already before Parliament at that time, and, indeed, covers anything that may happen in the rest of the Session, but as for the longer future, my right hon. Friend who was then Financial Secretary to the Treasury mentioned the probability that it would be necessary to make some minor alterations in Standing Orders. It is simply in fulfilment of that that I am now moving this Motion.

It involves one Amendment to Public Business Standing Orders and several to Private Business Standing Orders. The Amendments of Private Business Standing Orders are strictly consequential upon the passing of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Scotland)

Act, and they explain themselves. In effect, they just bring those Standing Orders up to date in the light of the new 1954 statute.

I ask the leave of the House to dwell for one minute on the Amendment to Public Business Standing Order 86A. That Order as it stood brought Private Bills under the sway of Public Money Standing Orders, subject to the exceptions provided in Private Business Standing Orders in the case of provisions affecting Exchequer equalisation grants. It is now proposed to omit the last three lines of that Standing Order. I will explain the effect of this.

It has the effect of applying the exemption to any exceptions prescribed by Private Business Standing Orders and it removes the limitation of such exceptions to those affecting the equalisation grants. This involves the broadening of the exemption in theory only, since there are at present no other exceptions. It has the virtue that it will avoid recurrence of the difficulties encountered in 1948, and now, in 1954; the difficulties of having to deal simultaneously with Amendment of Public and Private Business Standing Orders. It is true that the generality of this Amendment to Standing Order 86A in theory puts the Chairman of Ways and Means in a position to widen the extent to which Private Business may in future be exempt from money procedure; but the fact remains that any amendment of Private Business Standing Orders enabling grants to be increased without a Money Resolution would still need the Queen's recommendation. So the door is not held open too wide.

I apologise to the House if I have failed to make the matter crystal clear, but I trust that I have convinced hon. Members that we are trying to do something sensible, not sinister.

12.46 a.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

The Financial Secretary need have no doubt that he has made the matter clear. It is a complicated matter because it deals with one of those sacred cows of our administration, the Goschen formula, which no one has dared to criticise because to do so, and to suggest that it should be reviewed, would have caused such interracial controversy in the House that the task of conducting business with decorum would have become almost impossible. I understand that Mr. Goschen, as he was then, invented the formula for dealing with these local expenditures on the basis of 80 per cent. for England, 11 per cent. for Scotland, and 9 per cent. for Ireland.

The alteration of our relationships with Ireland has led to that 9 per cent. disappearing from the calculation. Therefore, we now get the amazing fraction of 11/80ths instead of 11 per cent. as the basis for the calculations. The Act of 1948, brought up, in the case of practically every Private Bill coming from a local authority, and of a good many coming from Government Departments, the question of this involving a possible increase in the grant to be paid from the equalisation fund. Although sometimes the matter was microscopic, I think that some Acts were passed before it was discovered that they had involved an increased charge on the Exchequer.

I understand that these Amendments of Standing Orders are devised to enable these matters to be dealt with in a way which will not give rise to the pernickety discussion of detail which perhaps strict application of Standing Orders would have entailed. No serious damage is done to the control of public expenditure by the House as a result of the proposed Amendments. Inasmuch as they ease the discussion of public matters before this House we can accept them. I thank the Financial Secretary for the way in which he has placed them before us.

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