HC Deb 15 February 1955 vol 537 cc319-37

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

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to repeal the power to requisition land for housing purposes under Defence Regulations and transfer to local authorities in England and Wales the right to possession of requisitioned houses for a limited period, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise—

A. The payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase in the sums payable out of such moneys under any other enactment which may be attributable to provisions of the said Act of the present Session—

  1. (1) transferring to local authorities the right to possession of land in England and Wales used or held for use for housing purposes under emergency powers, and enabling those authorities to retain possession of such land until the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and sixty;
  2. (2) regulating the use, retention and release of such land, and making provision for matters connected therewith, including pro vision for payments to be made by the said authorities to owners of such land, for the application thereto of enactments relating to requisitioned land, and for the purchase of the land by the local authority in certain cases;
  3. (3) requiring contributions to be made to the housing revenue account in respect of certain houses leased or purchased by the said authorities.

B. The payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of sums required by the Minister of Housing and Local Government for making the following payments in respect of expenditure of the said local authorities, that is to say: —

  1. (1) sums equal to any compensation paid by those authorities in respect of such land as aforesaid under paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of section two of the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, or under any agreement for the payment of compensation in lieu of compensation under that paragraph (including any such compensation which would be so paid if the local authority 320 were not at the material time the owners of the land);
  2. (2) contributions in respect of any deficit incurred by those authorities (as assessed by the said Minister) in connection with such land while in their possession under the said Act of the present Session, and in respect of payments made by those authorities to owners of such land under provisions of the said Act enabling such owners to accept as statutory tenant of a dwelling the person occupying it as licensee of the local authority, at the following rate, that is to say—
    1. (a)in respect of deficit incurred and payments falling to be made in the period beginning with the commencement of the said Act of the present Session and ending with the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and fifty-six, one hundred per cent.;
    2. (b)in respect of deficit incurred and payments falling to be made in the years ending with the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven to nineteen hundred and sixty inclusive, seventy-five per cent.;
  3. (3) special grants to such authorities, pay able at the discretion of the said Minister, with the consent of the Treasury, and of such amounts as he may, with the like consent, determine, in respect of the year ending with the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven or any subsequent financial year;
  4. (4) contributions in respect of any deficit (as estimated by the said Minister in accordance with the provisions of the said Act of the present Session) likely to be incurred in respect of houses leased or purchased by the said authorities and approved by the Minister in accordance with the said Act, of an amount equal to seventy-five per cent; of that deficit and payable for the following period, that is to say:—
    1. (a)in the case of a house taken on lease, the term of the lease or ten years, whichever is the shorter; and
    2. (b)in the case of a house purchased, a period of twenty years.

C. The repayment into the Exchequer, out of moneys provided by Parliament—

  1. (1) of the aggregate amount remaining outstanding on the first day of April, nine teen hundred and fifty-five, of all sums issued before that date out of the Consolidated Fund under subsection (1) of section eight of the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, 1944, together with interest on the said aggregate amount, by seven equal annual instalments;
  2. (2) of any sums issued as aforesaid after the said date, by payments made before the expiration of the financial year in which those sums are issued, and the issue out of the Consolidated Fund of sums paid into the Exchequer as mentioned in 321 this paragraph and the application of sums so issued in redemption or payment of debt, or, in so far as they represent interest, towards meeting such part of the annual charges for the National Debt as represents interest.
  3. D. The payment into the Exchequer of any sums received by the said Minister in pursuance of any provisions of the said Act of the present Session.—[Mr. Sandys.]

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I was hoping that we might have a word of explanation from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury about this Money Resolution, which is obviously long and complicated. There are many questions on which the Committee would wish to be satisfied before accepting the Motion in its present form.

There does not appear to be any Treasury representative on the Government Front Bench, with the exception of the Patronage Secretary. Perhaps he will deal with this Motion. There are many financial points of the greatest possible importance to local authorities on which we require satisfactory assurances. In the absence of the Financial Secretary I imagine that the Minister of Housing and Local Government, or the Prime Minister, will deal with the matter. Therefore, I will address my remarks to them.

During the last few minutes of the Minister's speech in the debate on the Second Reading we heard two very important announcements. The right hon. Gentleman attempted to clear up two matters which had been the subject of great speculation on both sides of the House about the powers of local authorities to acquire property, in view of what will almost certainly happen in many areas in 1960. It will then become necessary for some local authorities to purchase houses so as to complete the technique of derequisitioning. I would ask the Minister whether this Resolution is, in its present form, sufficiently wide to enable Amendments to be put down in the Committee on the Bill to ensure that the cost which will fall upon local authorities who have to purchase houses will be fully subsidised by the Government.

I am sure that the Minister fully appreciates this point. He conceded, in his winding-up speech, that there would be many cases in which the Bill could be implemented only by local authorities exercising their powers of compulsory purchase under the 1936 Act.

10.15 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Sandys) indicated dissent.

Mr. Fletcher

The Minister shakes his head, but I think we may take it that there will be, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has said, a number of cases, particularly in densely populated areas like Islington, where the provisions of the Bill will mean that if the local authorities are to derequisition all the requisitioned houses and are to provide alternative accommodation for the tenants of them, they will have to fall back on the powers of purchase. That will inevitably happen. If, in 1960, local authorities are driven to purchase houses, they will presumably have to do so on the assumption that vacant possession will be given. Therefore, the owner will get the full market price.

If that happens, a great burden will fall upon the local authorities, particularly those of boroughs like Islington, Deptford and West Ham, unless provision is made in the Bill for them to be fully indemnified by the Treasury for the cost which will fall upon them as a direct consequence of the Bill.

It seems to me—and I have done my best to understand it—that in its present form the Money Resolution is not wide enough to cover the Amendments which those of us on these benches who represent local authorities will wish to put down in Committee in an effort to ensure that local authorities are not penalised by the Bill. I think it very unfortunate that we have not had a word of explanation from the Minister or from the Parliamentary Secretary, and that the Committee has not been treated with the courtesy of the presence of a Treasury representative.

I am reminded that the Patronage Secretary is present, but we have not the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Financial Secretary or the Economic Secretary. I have no doubt that, before we conclude the Committee stage, we shall have the presence of one or other of those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. In the meantime, I have no doubt that the Patronage Secretary will do his best to understand what this is all about, and will deal with the matter.

My second question, which is an important one, is this: can the Minister elaborate the explanation which he gave in his speech on Second Reading by telling me whether or not I am right in assuming that, in cases where local authorities will be driven to purchase houses in order to complete the operation of derequisitioning, they will have to purchase those houses on the footing that there is a protected tenant under the Rent Acts in them, or whether they will have to purchase them on the footing that, in 1960, that protected tenant will become a trespasser, and, after a period of time. liable to eviction?

The Minister will realise that the cost to local authorities will vary considerably, and that there will be a large number of boroughs on whom the Bill will throw a very heavy and unfair burden unless something is done about it at this stage. I hope that, in view of the extremely vague and narrow form in which the Money Resolution is drafted, we shall have an opportunity, if we so desire in Committee, to put down the necessary Amendments.

It may well be that the Minister does not know the answer to this problem, in which event I think that the appropriate course would be for the Committee stage of this Resolution to be adjourned, because I think that the matter which I am now raising is of such importance that the Committee would not wish to part with it unless we get a categorical answer from the Treasury about it. The Resolution is thoroughly unsatisfactory, and in its present form I should not be prepared to support it. I hope that we shall have an answer to this, and to other points which, I have no doubt, will be raised by my hon. Friends before we part with the Bill.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

I, too, would like to protest at the Financial Secretary not being present to give the Committee the reasons for this Money Resolution. The Bill is very complicated and the least the Government could have done would have been to have arranged for either the Financial Secretary or the Minister himself to give the Committee a brief out line of its main points.

Under Clause 4, where an arrangement is come to between the local authority and the owner that the owner will take over the licensee as a statutory tenant, the local authority is under an obligation to pay compensation to that owner. There are, roughly, three categories of compensation. First, there is compensation for the loss of vacant possession value. Secondly, provision is made for compensation to be paid if the licensee pays a rent lower than the compensation rent paid to the owner under requisitioning arrangements. Thirdly, there is terminal compensation. It is upon vacant possession value and terminal compensation that I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions.

Since requisitioning, quite a large number of these houses have had very considerable sums of public money spent upon them for conversion and adaptation for the families who have gone to live in them. Many of these houses have been converted almost into self-contained flats. As a result, their vacant possession value is today very much higher than would otherwise have been the case. I should like an assurance from the Minister that he will not give to that class of owners a vacant possession value which has been created by this public expenditure.

The basis of terminal compensation is that at the end of requisitioning, when the house is handed back to the owner, any compensation due to him should be offset by the amount of public money spent on improving the property. This Money Resolution does not say that that will, in fact, take place. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to give an assurance that the large sums that have been spent in improving this property and increasing its vacant possession value will be offset against the compensation paid to the owner at the end of requisitioning. We should have that cleared up, because very large sums of public money are involved. In his speech just now the Minister made very little reference to the financial provisions, and that, among other matters, needs to be made clear.

My second point arises from Clause 11, which provides for "Contributions to cost of lease or purchase." I am not quite clear—and the Minister left the House in a state of confusion on this point— whether the local authorities will be required before 31st March, 1960, to acquire by agreement or compulsorily all the remaining requisitioned dwellings that will not have been otherwise disposed of by other Clauses in the Bill.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that these powers of acquisition by agreement or by compulsory purchase are limited to the next five years, terminating on 31st March, 1960;or, when the houses become derequisitioned and when the owner receives back possession and the occupants then become trespassers and are liable to be put out, does the Money Resolution allow local authorities after that date to acquire such houses by compulsory purchase or by agreement?

If they do acquire such houses by agreement or by compulsory purchase after 31st March, 1960, will they then receive the benefit of Treasury contribution, namely, 75 per cent, of the deficit involved in the transaction, or will they, as they now have to do if they desire to buy a vacant house or even a house that is occupied, have to buy it at its market value with no contribution from the Treasury whatsoever?

That is a very important point, particularly for the local authorities. I assume that the Money Resolution is designed to tie up these points which we have put forward tonight. It is important that the right hon. Gentleman should shed some light on this question of compensation to be paid to owners of property. In the light of the large sums of public money that have already been spent to improve and increase the vacant possession value of property, are they allowed to get away with the advantage that would be created by the expenditure of public money? If not, how does the right hon. Gentleman propose to offset that expenditure of public money against the compensation that is being paid?

Finally, there is the point about the date 31st March, 1960. Are local authorities to be allowed to acquire compulsorily any houses then being derequisitioned but which are occupied by the licensees? May they acquire them by agreement or by compulsory power, and may they enjoy the Treasury contribution of 75 percent, which they would have enjoyed had they purchased the house prior to the date that I have mentioned? The Committee is entitled to an explanation on those points, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give it to us before we agree to the Money Resolution.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

I feel that the Committee is entitled to better treatment from the Government Front Bench on this very important Money Resolution. The debate on the Bill took a remarkable course, with the Minister keeping under his hat until the last minute some of the more important financial provisions of the Bill, namely, the formula for the grant. It was a most extraordinary procedure. It was as if the Minister had retained something of news value for himself, depriving the House of the benefit of that information, to which the House was entitled at an early stage.

On this important Resolution, there is no Chancellor of the Exchequer to assist the Committee, no Financial Secretary to the Treasury, no Economic Secretary to the Treasury, not even a Lords Commissioner sitting on the Government Front Bench. In view of the enormous amount of public money which may be involved in the passage of the Resolution, we are entitled to better treatment.

At the end of the Second Reading debate the Minister referred to the fact that in certain circumstances certain local authorities might be obliged to engage in very substantial purchases of houses to accommodate those who are licensees in requisitioned premises. I want to know whether provision is made for that contingency in the Money Resolution. Is the answer that provision is made under the 1936 Act? I do not know and I should like information on the subject, because I assure the right hon. Gentleman that that part of his proposals will give rise to considerable debate in Committee.

We are in the dark about what will be involved in compensation to the owners of houses which are so to be acquired by local authorities and we are entitled to know where, in the Resolution, reference is made to the Government's proposal. How many millions of pounds of national money or local authority money may be involved in carrying out this proposal? These are important matters, and I protest against the Treasury's conduct in leaving the Minister to his own devices and leaving the Committee to guess on highly technical matters of economics.

Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)

The theme running through most of today's speeches has been the impoverish- ment of local authorities. Hardly a month passes without the House of Commons placing heavy burdens, either in administration or in finance, upon local authorities.

I want the Minister to give an assurance that the allocation to be laid down will be reconsidered when the Bill is in Committee. The requisitioning of houses was introduced because of national circumstances and the responsibility and the cost should therefore be a national charge. I want an assurance from the Minister that the charge will be entirely a national charge and not a charge falling on the already impoverished local authorities. If he will give an assurance that the matter will be reconsidered in Committee, some of us will be satisfied.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

Even at this late hour, the Committee should not allow this important Money Resolution to pass on the nod. I saw the Patronage Secretary moving about in his seat when my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) rose to say a word on the Resolution, but we should not allow a Resolution involving such large sums of money to pass without some consideration. We know that a lot of money is involved. We know that the cost to the Treasury over the years since the war has been heavy. Both parties have regretted that high cost.

I also agree that something should be done to reduce as much as possible the amount of expenditure on requisitioned houses, with due fairness to the interested parties. To that extent, I welcome the Resolution, though I must make some reservations about it. It places rather too heavy a financial burden upon some local authorities. Some authorities are not very much affected. Others who have large numbers of requisitioned premises are very much involved.

I know that the Minister is not only taking powers to pay a75 per cent, contribution towards the net deficit of the local authorities, but also special powers to give special grants. The Resolution refers to special grants to such authorities payable at the discretion of the said Minister, with the consent of the Treasury, and of such amounts as he may, with the like consent, determine,… The Minister, at whose discretion these grants are to be made, said something today about the formula which had been discussed and upon which he would base the special grants.

The Minister should have enlightened us earlier on this rather important aspect of the Money Resolution. At the close of the Second Reading debate, the right hon. Gentleman gave us some figures which he and the local authority representatives had discussed. Presumably, the formula had not been finalised. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say on Second Reading that he would consider whether he could insert the formula in the Money Resolution.

Mr. Sandys


Mr. Evans

The right hon. Gentleman certainly seemed to suggest that he would consider whether he could make a specific statement about the formula at some stage in our discussion of the Bill. I hope that at some stage we shall have the final formula from the Minister. It may be that when my hon. and right hon. Friends have decided that the Resolution has been sufficiently discussed, the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us the formula in detail. It is very important to the "hard core" authorities. Undoubtedly they will be heavily burdened by the operation of the Bill.

The Bill provides that the owners of requisitioned property are to receive compensation payments in lieu of their right to vacate possession. I hope that the Minister will give us the basis upon which compensation payment is to be made. This is very important, because public money is involved. Many owners will, I suspect, receive a rather nice capital gain out of their houses, free of tax, when these compensation payments are made. I think that the Committee is entitled to ask, before this Resolution is allowed to go through, on what basis the compensation payments in lieu of the right to vacate possession will be made.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

I do not know whether the Minister intends to reply, but I can assure him that on this side of the Committee we have no intention, if we can help it, of allowing him to sit there dumb, making no comment whatever on what, after all, is a very long and complicated Money Resolution. It runs to one and a half pages, and, having had some small experience of Money Resolutions when I sat on that side, I find it hard to charge my memory with any instance when a Money Resolution so long and so complicated was expected to go through, as it were, on the nod.

The Government which preceded this one were only too eager to give the Committee all the explanation the Committee needed; in fact, they would go out of their way, frequently at a very late hour, to explain carefully and fully just what was involved in any particular Resolution of this sort which was moved from that Bench. I take it that hon. Gentlemen on that side find nothing unusual, nothing wrong, in a Resolution of this kind going through apparently without comment. I cannot understand their attitude. I can only assume that they can trust their Front Bench, and I can tell them that is more than we do.

Within the last day or two we have had a woeful exhibition of the fact that the Government are not even to be trusted to deal with cheese—much less money of the volume which is indicated by this Resolution.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

They have even been beaten in another place.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

The Minister left until the very end of the Second Reading debate any indication of what the financial commitments in the Bill were, and now apparently we are to wait until the end of this debate on the Money Resolution before we get any inkling whatever of what are the amounts involved. We have not the faintest notion what the total amounts indicated in this Resolution may be, and I think we are entitled to know, within limits, just how much is involved.

As my hon. Friends have indicated, the local authorities are heavily involved in this Bill, and I think that for their sake, and certainly for those who will have to find a great deal of money, it is our duty, as an Opposition, to insist on the Minister giving us some explanation of just what these various provisions mean. I therefore rise only for the purpose of assuring the right hon. Gentleman that we are not just being factious in our opposition. We really do feel it is our duty to get him to indicate this; we do not mind how long he stands at the Box. We are willing to stay all night if necessary.

We think that not only this Committee but the country at large is entitled to know what this long and complicated Resolution means, and how much it will involve the taxpayer, the ratepayer and the local authorities, who will come under the provisions of the Bill, the Second Reading of which we have just completed. I can see that the Minister is anxious to get up, and now that the Parliamentary Secretary has, I think, finished his visits to the officials under the gallery I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman is now fully armed with the answers to the questions put by my hon. Friends.

Without more ado I will sit down, in the full hope that we shall now get a complete explanation, such as we should have, of this very long and involved Resolution.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Sandys

I shall try not to keep the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) up all night, although he seems anxious to stay up. First of all, let me say there is nothing unusual about the framing of this Money Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had some experience of framing such Resolutions, and that was no doubt when he was Financial Secretary to the Treasury. If he casts his mind back he will remember that Money Resolutions on housing Measures of all kinds, which involve the expenditure of substantial sums of Government money, are always framed in this lengthy and detailed fashion. We followed the normal precedent adopted by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues when they were responsible for the finances of the country.

Various points have been raised, and I think I can briefly and clearly reply to them. The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) asked what would happen in a case where a house had been improved and then, later, was derequisitioned in the ordinary way. Judging by most of the houses that I have seen, I am afraid that the majority have not been improved at all, and anything that has happened has been in the other direction.

Mr. Sparks

That is not an answer.

Mr. Sandys

I was prefacing my answer with that remark.

I think they would be rare cases, but in a case where that occurs I am able to assure the hon. Gentleman that any increased value which accrues as a result of improvements made and works done while the property was held under requisition will be taken into account and offset in calculating the terminal compensation for dilapidations which will be due to be paid at the end of the requisitioning. There is nothing new in that. It is not a provision of the Bill, nor is it our intention to depart from what is actual practice.

Mr. Sparks

On that point, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question? He says that this amount will be offset against the compensation due for dilapidations, but my point is that the vacant possession value of such premises would be greatly enhanced by such expenditure of public funds and my query is whether that expenditure would be offset against that enhanced vacant possession value, as well as dilapidations, which may be lower than the increased value accruing to the house?

Mr. Sandys

I am not conversant with that particular point, but I do not think it will ever arise, because in a case where a house is being bought there will still be compensation to be paid. These houses, for the most part, had been requisitioned for 10 or 15 years already, and it may be another five years when this happens. So, for the best part of a generation, they will have been held by the Government, and I think it will be very rare to find that the improvements that have been done are of greater value than the dilapidations which have taken place. But I will certainly watch that point, though I do not think it is one of great significance in the financial considerations.

I would point out to the hon. Member that this is already provided. We are not beginning anything new in the matter of compensation. There is nothing new about purchasing houses when they are requisitioned. That is all provided for in the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, and in Clause 2 of the Bill these provisions are specifically retained in respect of houses which are no longer held by the Government and which are transferred under the Bill to the local authority. I am sorry if I am not familiar with all the details of that very compli- cated Act, but I can say that it will continue to apply under the provisions of this Bill in exactly the same way as it has applied during all those years.

I was asked about the price in the event of these houses being purchased. As I explained earlier, I do not expect that it will be necessary to use compulsory powers because I think there will be sufficient houses whose owners are willing either to lease or to sell them. But in the event of a house being bought compulsorily, the price to be paid is defined and governed by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1954. In most cases this provides for market value with vacant possession.

There are circumstances in which the price will be less than the market value with vacant possession—that is to say, in cases where the property has some special development value other than for its existing use. If, however, the owner asks for more than the price which it would be permissible to pay if the house were compulsorily purchased—I am talking now about a purchase which is made voluntarily—in practice the purchase will not take place.

Mr. Sparks

The right hon. Gentleman can expect that he will ask for more.

Mr. Sandys

No, I do not expect that the owner will ask for more than he would get if he had the house released and sold it on the open market. There is no reason why he should.

Mr. Sparks

There is such a thing as scarcity value.

Mr. Sandys

But the scarcity value creates the market value to some extent. The value is determined in the first in stance by the district valuer. Again we are not laying down any new procedure; this is the normal procedure. If these houses are compulsorily purchased they will be purchased for precisely the same price as they would be if this Bill did not exist. There is nothing new about that, and there is no problem with which we have to concern ourselves tonight in that respect.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

But would not the owner also have, in addition, the certain knowledge that the house would not only be his with vacant possession, but in a proper state of repair, whereas very often houses which come into the market in that way, although there is vacant possession, are not in a perfect state of repair?

Mr. Sandys

It does not much matter whether he sells it with an allowance for the assumption that it is in a proper state of repair or whether he gets terminal compensation for dilapidations from the Government. In point of fact, as the law stands, he will sell the house for what it is worth as it stands in its present state of repair. In addition, he is entitled, under the 1939 Act, to terminal compensation for dilapidations, and that will make up the difference.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Would the Minister be good enough to answer my question as to whether in these cases of acquisition the cost falls upon the local authority, or will that authority be fully reimbursed by the Government?

Mr. Sandys

That is governed by the Bill. It is over 20 years. Clause 11, which is entitled "Contributions to cost of lease or purchase," gives all the information that the hon. Gentleman requires.

I was asked about compensation for vacant possession under Clause 4. That is the Clause under which the owner is invited to grant a tenancy to the occupant. The amount that is payable there will, as the Bill provides, be reckoned as part of the net annual deficit which the local authority can reckon for grant; that is to say, the local authority will get the 75 per cent, and, if necessary, the additional discretionary grant in the case of a local authority which has a severe problem.

In general, all these points and the financial provisions of the Bill have been discussed and agreed with the local authority associations, so that there need be no anxiety that an undue burden will be placed on local authorities or on their rates. Then, we have this additional safeguard to which I referred earlier— this discretionary grant, which enables us to relieve the burden on local authorities where that burden might be excessive.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Might I put one further point to the Minister? He has just referred me to Clause 11 which, as he says, provides the contribution by the Exchequer towards the cost of purchase. That contribution by the Exchequer for purchase by a local authority is limited to 75 per cent, of the net annual deficit. What I wish to ask is this: when we reach the Committee stage, several of my hon. Friends and myself will be anxious to put down Amendments to Clause 11 to try to increase the Exchequer contribution to a local authority, and I am not at all certain whether this Money Resolution, in its present form, is sufficiently wide for me to put down such an Amendment. May I have an assurance from the Minister that this Resolution is sufficiently wide for such an Amendment, if put down, to be in order?

Mr. Sandys

I can assure the hon. Member that the Money Resolution is drawn in such a way as to make it impossible for him to do what he says he wishes to do.

Mr. Fletcher

Really. At the last moment we now learn that it will be impossible, within the framework of this Resolution, for an Amendment, which I think several of my hon. Friends think must be put down in order that justice may be done, to be put down. This is a most extraordinary situation. We have been denied the presence of any representative of the Treasury here tonight, and it is almost an insult to the Committee that that is so. This is the first time, at least within my experience, that, when the Committee is considering a Money Resolution, it has not had the benefit of the presence of a representative of the Treasury.

Now, however, we know the reason for this absence. This Resolution is so tightly drawn that we are unable to put down Amendments in order to increase the Exchequer contribution. There has been the greatest secrecy about what formula has been devised, and I cannot believe that it is acceptable to any local authority that the Exchequer contribution should be limited as it is limited under the definition in Clause 11. It is quite certainly not acceptable to the local authority at Islington nor, I suggest, to those in other parts of London. I feel that we are entitled to ask that this Money Resolution be taken back and redrafted so that it may be extended and widened in order that we may consider such an Amendment in Committee.

11.0 p.m.

All we are asking is that when we come to the Committee stage we shall have an opportunity of putting forward on behalf of the local authorities the case we want to put forward. I am not going to argue the case now. The Minister may want to argue against it. But unless this Resolution is changed, we shall be deprived of the opportunity of putting forward those arguments. I am quite sure that that is not what the Minister wants. I urge him to adjourn this debate so that the Money Resolution may be recast.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

A very serious situation has arisen. The core of the Bill is financial, and deals with local authorities. Now the right hon. Gentleman has risen and blandly assured us, to the great delight of hon. Members opposite—that during the Committee stage we shall not be able to do anything on a matter which vital. 1 do not know why they should dislike local authorities so much; so far as I know, local authorities have done them no harm; local authorities are doing a wonderful job of work in this direction and will suffer great financial loss and find it difficult to make ends meet, as we have been told in this debate. That will turn the Committee stage into a farce.

I must add my plea to that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). If no sums are mentioned in the Money Resolution, and we have not been told what the total cost is to be, why should the Minister put in a percentage of this kind which goes to the root of the main provision of the Bill? We must ask the right hon. Gentleman why he did this. It has undoubtedly hamstrung further proceedings on the Bill.

Today we have been treated in a very shabby fashion. The right hon. Gentleman did not speak until the end of the debate, and even then left to the fag-end of what he had to say any reference whatever to the formula of the financial provisions which underlie this Measure. 1 was not quarrelling with the length of the Money Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that that was my objection. My objection is that we got no explanation from the Government Front Bench and had to drag the right hon. Gentleman to his feet, and then got an inadequate explanation.

We cannot leave the matter where it is. The Opposition have been treated in far too cavalier a fashion. We owe a duty to the nation to demand that this matter shall be tackled with more seriousness than has been shown by the Minister. I want to ask him if he will rise in his place and assure us that he is willing to take back this Resolution to leave the percentage at large, so that we can at any rate discuss this with some reality when we reach the Committee stage.

Mr. Sparks

I did not clearly understand the answer which the Minister gave to me concerning the point I made about Clause 11. Am I to understand that the provisions included in Clause 11, which are financial provisions, apply only to purchases by local authorities of requisitioned dwellings before 31st March, 1960? I ask that because, in winding up the debate, the Minister frankly admitted that at that date there would still be a number of houses containing licensees not otherwise accommodated. He hoped that on that date, when the houses became derequisitioned and the licensees became trespassers, that the local authority would be able to persuade the owner either to take over the existing tenants, or trespassers, or that the local authority might arrange a tenancy with the owner, or take such a house on a lease for a period, or probably even purchase the house, to give security to the families already in it.

My point is whether the financial provisions of Clause 11 apply to cases where local authorities, after 31st March, 1960, take out leases, or buy houses, to accommodate families who will then be trespassers. I see no reason why these financial provisions should not be extended for a period, if the right hon. Gentleman wishes, after 31st March, 1960, because he has admitted that at that date there will still be a problem outstanding. It would be satisfactory if he could give an asurance that these provisions will apply to such cases. If his answer is in the negative, he will be making it far more difficult for these families who will be left to avoid the risk of being placed on the street. Therefore, I would beg the Minister to answer in the affirmative.

Mr. Awbery

May I put a question to you, Sir Charles? What procedure can we now take to ensure that the House has an opportunity to discuss the grant to be made by the Treasury to the local authorities?

The Chairman

I suppose the answer is by dividing against this Money Resolution.

Mr. Sandys

Perhaps I might answer the points raised. The right hon. Member for Colne Valley said that the party opposite might wish to increase the percentage of the grants in respect of purchases of houses by local authorities. He said we were denying his party the right to protect the interests of the local authorities. As I have explained, I think local authorities are able to protect themselves without assistance. We have had long discussions. There has been considerable consultation. These arrangements are satisfactory to both sides.

The local authorities attached great importance to one point. That was that the percentage grants in respect of these various transactions under the Bill relating to requisitioned houses should be on the same basis as the existing grants and subsidies for normal houses, which is 75 per cent., or three to one. That is the basis we have followed. It seems to me eminently reasonable, and there is a principle which is well-established to justify it. That is why we have adopted this formula.

The hon. Member for Acton asked me about a point which I would like to clear up. That was, whether purchases of houses after 31st March, 1960, rank for grant. I think it is unlikely that local authorities will wish to purchase houses after that date. I hope that any purchases they have to make will be made before that date because of the difficulty that the houses will be legally released on 1st April. Therefore it would be remiss of them if they left that over until then. But, should they do so, the Bill does, in fact, enable them to claim grants for the purchase of houses made after 1960, provided that those purchases are for the purposes of this Bill.

Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.