§ 8.30 p.m.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 25, at the end to insert:(4) (a) Where a council are willing to enter into an agreement under this section and a two-thirds majority (in terms of acreage owned) of the owners of land which would be benefited by the proposed agreement are likewise willing and so inform the council in writing, the council may subject as hereinafter provided thereupon carry out the improvement to which the proposed agreement relates and shall be entitled on completion of the necessary works to recover the expenses incurred by them in so doing summarily as a civil debt from the owners of the land benefiting from the said works;938(b) before proceeding to carry out any improvement under the foregoing subsection the council shall first serve on every owner of land which in their opinion would benefit from such improvement a notice of their intention to carry out the works and of their provisional apportionment of the cost thereof and in the event of any such owner serving within one month of the date of such notice written objection to the proposed works or to the provisional apportionment of cost the council shall not proceed with the said works until such objection has been determined either by agreement or by reference to a court of summary jurisdiction.This is another Amendment which we discussed in the proceedings in Committee. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary promised further consideration and consultation, particularly with the Council 939 for Wales, but again no Amendment has been put down by him or by the Minister, and I take it that we are not to get anything from the Government. Therefore, I suggest that the House should give consideration to what is put forward in this Amendment.
We do not want a minority of owners to hold up a scheme on which there has been a voluntary agreement. The words of the Amendment only mean that if two-thirds of the owners are willing to make a contribution but a minority does not want to give anything the minority shall come in. The Ministry of Agriculture has had experience of a minority of people not coming into schemes when the country was in need of food production. Because one owner held out against a scheme on common land the Ministry was not able to proceed with that scheme. This Bill is very necessary for food production in the livestock rearing areas, and we do not want that sort of thing to happen.
It is a question of the frustration by a minority. I would emphasise that the Amendment does not mean that hon. Members on this side of the House are in favour of a compulsory contribution. All these contributions are voluntary, but, in a situation in which two-thirds of those concerned are in favour, we cannot see that it is right that the minority should hold up a very important proposed road scheme. The Amendment has been put down in order that we may have the views of the Minister or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary after consultations have taken place.
§ Mr. Dye
I beg to second the Amendment.
Here again, I think we should try to see this Bill operating from the point of view of the elected representatives in the area. They are the people on whom the obligation is placed to propose schemes for road improvements, and in nearly every case there will be more than one landowner concerned. Inevitably, the question will arise how much these people are prepared to contribute towards the capital cost of a particular scheme. We may have six different landowners involved, and five of them may be very enthusiastic in desiring the scheme to go forward, while the sixth may be just an awkward kind of cuss. We might find them in Wales. I feel perfectly certain of that, and, if not, 940 maybe we can export one or two from Norfolk or somewhere else, but there they are.
We cannot always get all the people who are to benefit to agree to make a contribution towards the cost of the scheme. What is the county council to do? Is it to go forward on the basis that five will contribute and one will not, or will it put forward a scheme in which none of the six will contribute, but in which the amount they should have contributed will have to be borne by the ratepayers in the locality? We do not think that that would be a fair solution.
If, after the fullest possible consideration, there is one person—or more—standing out against a scheme which is designed for their particular benefit, and almost for their benefit alone, to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the local ratepayers are making contributions towards the cost, should the scheme be dropped and the five honest and upright farmers be prevented from having the advantage of a road improvement scheme?
To me, that situation does not seem to be met by the provisions of this Bill, and we want to assist and guide county councils in their work in this respect. We hoped that the Minister, in his further study over the very long vacation which the House has had, now that he has been to the uttermost parts of the earth—maybe from Russia, where the Parliamentary Secretary has been, or from other parts of the world—would have gathered the inspiration necessary to meet this particular point, but we are disappointed.
§ Mr. Dye
He leaves us where we left the matter in Committee upstairs without any guidance on this matter, and we fear that, because of this weakness, the difficulties of the local authorities which propose these schemes will be made greater. They will have no power to deal with the unwilling or unfaithful type of people in these areas who might improve their own financial position and increase the productivity of their holdings to the benefit of the nation.
That is the purpose behind this Amendment—to enable the people who are now hindered from making the fullest and best use of their land, because of the lack of 941 an adequate highway to it in order to bring in the supplies necessary for the farm and to get the products away, to benefit. It is because of the conditions of these highways that we wish to strengthen the arm of the local authority.
We do not want this for the sake of forcing anybody to do something against his will. We want to be able to deal with the awkward person who will not try to meet the needs of his neighbours by assisting in the preparation of a scheme. We want authority for the county council to deal with that type of person, and the Amendment would give the county council such authority. If the Amendment is not accepted and the Minister has nothing else to suggest, there will be a flagrant flaw in this small Bill which is designed to assist in the improvement of roads in parts of the country which have suffered long without the amenity of a modern highway.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
I am glad to be able to tell the House that we consulted the Council for Wales, as I undertook to do in Committee, and the Council confirmed the view, which it had expressed in a general way previously, that compulsory contributions of any kind would be inadvisable. I recollect that the right hon. Gentleman specifically asked me whether the Council had advised on this aspect, and I was unable to say that it had because the matter had not then been put to it. However, we have specifically put the matter to the Council, and the Council strongly advises us not to impose compulsory contributions of any kind.
The fact is that the practical difficulties would be considerable. I feel that I ought not to keep the House long in enumerating them again, but perhaps I might just mention them in order to put them on the record and to explain and justify the course I am now recommending to the House.
First of all, there is the very real difficulty of determining who are the benefiting owners. Some owners could easily be defined, but others would be much more difficult to define. Indeed, there would be the difficulty of those who had obligations in respect of unadopted roads which were to be extinguished by adoption under these schemes and who perhaps were not going to benefit at all from 942 the schemes. There would immediately be difficulty in determining who were the benefiting owners.
The next difficulty, which I think would be more formidable still, would be that of assessing contributions. I am certain that the acreage basis would be unacceptable because it would be altogether too inequitable. The land concerned might vary, as it does in the Welsh uplands, from rough moorland worth nothing to good farmland worth perhaps as much as £2 per acre per year.
There would, thus, be real difficulty in finding a satisfactory basis for assessment of contributions. Probably one would be driven to an independent valuation as the only fair method of doing it, and that would be an expensive thing to do and it would require some time. There would also arise the difficulty of an appeal, as provided for in the Amendment. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite have rightly foreseen that there would be objections from these people, and, consequently, they have provided for an appeal to the magistrates' court.
Undoubtedly the unwilling owners would wish to appeal, first of all on the ground that they were not the benefiting owners and should not come into the scheme at all. Secondly, they would wish to appeal against the basis of assessment. Those appeals would be contentious affairs. They would be considerably time-consuming and undoubtedly would have a disturbing effect on local sentiment. If an appellant succeeded in his appeal, what would the county council do, supposing there was a contributory scheme of this kind? Possibly it would have to drop the whole scheme.
It is for that kind of reason that we feel that the practical problem here is pretty considerable. Bearing in mind that in the upland areas the majority of owners and occupiers are people of very limited financial resources and that, more often than not, the unwilling minority would be people of limited financial resources, I have very considerable doubt whether it would be wise to coerce them—and that is what it would mean.
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) declare himself not in favour of the principle of compulsory contribution. The rights of the minority are important to all 943 of us. There are occasions when minorities must bow their heads and agree with the majorities, but if that obligation can be spared we are very glad. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) asked me if I did not find inspiration in Russia. I certainly found plenty of inspiration for ignoring the rights of minorities in Russia, but that is not the kind of inspiration that I have brought to inspire my work here. I believe that, wherever we can, we should not override and coerce minorities, unless there is an overwhelming case for so doing.
§ Mr. Nugent
The answer to the point is quite clearly in the Bill. Indeed, we have discussed it at length in Committee. The answer is that the Bill as drafted will provide that county councils or highway authorities can promote schemes on the basis that they undertake their part of the cost after having received the grant that we give. They can then receive voluntary contributions from the affected landowners in the neighbourhood. But it is undoubtedly within the discretion of the county councils to proceed without any contributions at all. Indeed, if in a poor area the county council thought that nothing would be forthcoming, it would be very wise to do so. I suspect that in some areas where the people had deeper pockets the landowners very likely would go to the county council and say, "We should be glad to make a contribution if you go ahead with the scheme."
The Bill, as drafted, is completely flexible on that point. Because one person is unwilling to contribute there is no need for the scheme to fail, but if the Bill were drafted in the way which is suggested by hon. Members opposite, the scheme might very well fail in the event of an appellant in a magistrates' court appealing successfully against the proposal, because the county council would have made its proposition on the basis that all the benefiting owners came in. Be that as it may, we feel that here is a case where, in the nature of things, we 944 are dealing with people who are in limited circumstances. Therefore, it would be most unwise to compel the unwilling minority to come in and contribute. It might make for very hard cases.
It is for these reasons that I strongly advise the House to accept the Clause as drafted. It really takes account of the practical nature of the problem. By leaving it open for highway authorities to accept contributions where they can be made but otherwise to bear part of the cost themselves, and bearing in mind that we shall make a pretty substantial grant, which, in many cases, will be 75 per cent., or even more for unadopted roads, we think that here is a proposition sufficiently attractive for many highway authorities in these parts to take advantage of it. In these circumstances, I hope that the House will accept the Clause as striking a sensible, practical balance and will not ask that the minority should be coerced.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Dye
On a point of order. Is it not your intention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to call the last Amendment on the Order Paper—Clause 5, to leave out lines 1 to 5—standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and other hon. Members? It is a matter in which we wanted to bring the definition of an area to benefit into harmony with the Title of the Bill. The Clause, as it now stands, relates predominantly to mountains, hills or heath. That seems to be quite out of harmony with the Title of the Bill, which was prescribed as being for agricultural purposes—and mountains, heaths and hills are not agriculture. During the Committee stage, I addressed arguments at considerable length to this definition, and on that occasion the answer was, in my view, very unsatisfactory. I should have thought that those were sufficient grounds for this Amendment to be debated on the Report stage.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
That argument might have been in order in Committee, but at this stage, the Bill having left Committee, the effect of the Amendment would be, possibly, to extend the charge, and the test is the form of the Bill as it left the Committee. Therefore, it is out of order.
§ 8.51 p.m.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill comes before the House for Third Reading very much in the same form as it was originally introduced. At the same time, I feel that we are indebted to hon. Members opposite for two Amendments, particularly the one which requires that schemes for road construction improvements be submitted to Ministers, and approved by them, within seven years.
Looking at the Bill now, I think that that is a useful Amendment, entirely in line with the broad intentions of the Bill, and that it should help to ensure that proposals are put in hand without loss of time. We have been unable, as we have explained to the House, to accept other Amendments, notably those providing for payments to persons liable for the upkeep of unadopted roads taken over by the highway authorities, and for compulsory contributions for improvements from the owners in certain circumstances.
Apart from the other difficulties which we have mentioned, we find that, however justified these changes may be in principle, we have definite evidence from those whom we think best qualified to judge the effects, that they do not feel that these particular changes would, in practice, help to further general aims of the Bill. That, after all, is the important thing.
Throughout the debates which we have had, I think that there has been general agreement that, so far as it goes, the Bill has been sound and useful. The criticisms which have been made have taken the form of expressions of disappointment that the scope has not been wider. I should like, in a few sentences, briefly to recapitulate the Government's view on that point.
The primary reason for assisting in the reconstruction of unclassified and unadopted roads in upland areas is to complete the work which was begun or could be begun under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts. In a number of cases a quite heavy expenditure under these Acts is in danger of failing in its purpose because of inadequate access on the half derelict roads serving farms which have been assisted under the hill farming schemes. In other cases useful schemes are not worthy of putting 946 in hand unless the roads are improved. The poverty of these upland area farms, which is, in part, the case for these grants, is also reflected in the limited resources of the highway authorities. They have not the resources in terms of rateable value to be able to carry out the improvements without some assistance from the Exchequer; and I think it is agreed that in Wales and other comparable upland areas in England and Scotland the effects of this poor access are particularly serious.
In its Reports for 1950 and 1953 the Council for Wales stressed the difficulty that was created for Welsh upland farmers by poor access. It has prevented them from using to the full the capacities of their land, and in many cases it has not been worth while for a farmer to take advantage of Government assistance for development. In these circumstances there has been a steady drift of population from these areas, with the danger that, if nothing is done, a good deal of land will gradually go derelict.
For these reasons these uplands areas, in our opinion, constitute a special case, and we are proposing to provide this special assistance for road reconstruction in the belief that it is one of the things particularly required to set these farmers on their feet, enable them to pay their way and attain new prosperity. My hon. Friend and I have stressed throughout our debates that this scheme is really a new departure and very much of an experiment. If it proves a success, as I hope it will, it may have many lessons which will be relevant to conditions in other areas. I feel that we must go ahead and see. For that reason—because of the experimental nature of this project—and also because the needs of the upland areas seem to us most pressing, we feel it wise to concentrate our limited resources in the way proposed in the Bill.
Hon. Members may ask, "Is not the object of this Bill, and the spending of £4 million in Exchequer grants, contrary to the wishes expressed by the Chancellor to local authorities to restrain their expenditure? I do not think that it is.
I do not believe that it is; in my opinion it is not. I do not know 947 what the right hon. Gentleman would like me to say. Perhaps he will suggest something.
§ Mr. Brown
Last night the Prime Minister told us that a lot of things were not to be cut, but that priorities in all these things were now subject to reexamination. The Minister cannot say that he thinks this will be in the first rank of priorities. He is the Minister, and a member of the Cabinet, and we are asking him to say whether the priority in this case is as strong now as when the Bill was introduced.
I wish the right hon. Gentleman would curb his impatience and let me proceed to my next sentence, because I shall be covering that point.
I have said that in my opinion this is not contrary to the expressed wish of the Chancellor. Provision is made for expenditure over seven years following the passing of the Act. The actual expenditure in the first year is bound to be light. It will take some time for local authorities to put forward their projects. We hope that they will begin doing so as soon as possible. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has put on the brake in order to curb excessive current expenditure and immediate projects. The developments and improvements will continue to go forward, though they may do so at a more moderate pace.
Secondly, this Bill gives local authorities new facilities, but it is the local authorities that are to be free to settle for themselves the priority of their expenditure within their total resources. The third point I want to make is that the primary object of this expenditure on roads is to increase agricultural production in these areas.
The passage of the Bill and the putting in hand of the work that will result from it will not necessarily mean that the overall expenditure of local authorities will be increased. Therefore, there is nothing contradictory between the provisions of the Bill and the existing economic and financial policies of the Government, as explained by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. If, as I confidently hope, this Bill becomes law, I trust that local authorities will put forward some projects as soon as possible. I wish to assure the House that I shall play my part in making 948 it effective with as much skill as I have. I hope that the House will give the Bill an unopposed Third Reading.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Brown
To the extraordinary things of which the Minister has just delivered himself concerning how this Bill fits into the announcement made in the Prime Minister's statement yesterday, I will return in a moment. Of course, we on this side of the House will give the Bill an unopposed Third Reading in the same spirit as we gave it an unopposed Second Reading and have tried, despite every obstruction by the Ministers, to improve it on the way through.
We think that the Bill is in many ways inadequate and that it is wrongly and even badly drawn. But, in so far as it is an attempt, albeit a very poor one, to deal with a very serious problem, we on this side, who care so much for the rural parts of our Kingdom and who realise rather more importantly than do Ministers the part that agriculture could play—were it allowed to do so—in overcoming the country's real economic difficulties at the moment, would certainly not wish to impede it, however inadequate we feel it to be.
As the Minister says, we now own a very considerable degree of parentage of the Bill. As a matter of fact, one of the best commentaries on the extent to which we have improved it is the fact that the Minister now comes down and deals with it. All through the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman was the most absentee Minister we have ever seen. He was obviously ashamed of the Bill. We had to talk at great length and resort to all sorts of devices to keep the Committee stage going until the right hon. Gentleman could pay us a visit. Even when he did come, he left again as quickly as he could. But now he comes along and speaks to the Amendments on the Report stage and says how much better the Bill now is than it was then, and how less ashamed of it he is. Of course, we had the assistance of the Secretary of State for Scotland, but his trouble was that he could not do his sums. Therefore, his attendance was not all that use, although we were glad to see him.
Another thing that shows how good the Bill has now become is that we have the presence not only of the "Third Man" referred to last night but of the 43rd man.
949 We now have with us the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) who, as far as I could see, was the forgotten man. We never heard from him before. The Bill has now assumed such proportions in the mind of the Ministry that it has now disinterred this unfortunate Parliamentary Secretary who was last seen in the basement where people who have nothing to do foregather. The hon. Gentleman has now come to the top storey and joined with us in the obsequies over the Bill, for the improvement of which Measure my hon. Friends and I must take some credit. I see that the forgotten man now wishes to be verbal as well as apparent. We are delighted to facilitate him.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Harmar Nicholls)
I merely wanted to remind the right hon. Member that upon this side of the House there are no first, second or third men; we work as a team, as one man. I can understand that that is confusing to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Brown
The only point I am making is that the hon. Gentleman has appeared during the Third Reading debate, whereas he has not been with us in the other stages. I thought I ought to draw attention to that fact.
Hard as we have worked to improve the Bill, I thought it a little unfortunate that the Minister began with the remark —I was not clear whether it was intended to be a boast or an apology—that he had not let us do even more good; that he had refused so many of our Amendments. All I can say is that he has been kind enough to observe that the Amendments to which he did agree have improved the Bill. The very great pity was that he, or his Joint Parliamentary Secretary on his instructions, so obstinately refused to accept the rest.
My hon. Friends will have something to say about the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will listen to them. I hope the Government will not be in too much of a hurry to get rid of it. There are other opportunities to think about this matter. It does not follow that because we are getting rid of it here it is impossible for the Government to have second thoughts.
950 In letting it go myself, I want to make one or two observations. First of all, I repeat that it is silly to delude ourselves that the Bill is other than totally inadequate. It provides for public grants of £4 million to be made available to assist in this important work. I give the Government full credit for bringing it forward, even though it is obviously open to me to claim that during the six years when the Labour Government were in power we did so many good things that we were bound to leave some undone. The fact that the Government have done something which we left undone, however, clearly entitles them to take a bow, and I am not one to refuse it. When I say that £4 million is inadequate, I am not without recognition of the fact that, anyhow, they are providing that sum.
Even so, if one starts to do a job it seems to me that a vital part of the business is involved in calculating how much the job really requires if it is to be done properly. During the Committee stage we had a lot of fun trying to see what this £4 million would achieve. Apart from the calculations of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who could not do his sums, a variety of different figures was put forward by the Minister. During the Second Reading debate he said that he guessed there were between 2,000 and 3,000 miles of roads, and that he thought the cost would be about £2,000 or £3,000 a mile. That amounts to a cost, at the minimum, of £4 million, and at the maximum, of £9 million, and a guess of £6 million or £7 million would seem to be about right. That worried us a little, because the bulk of that cost—where it is not met by the Government—is clearly going to fall upon the very county councils who, by definition, are least able to find extra money.
The Minister just now said—I took his words down—that he did not think it at all necessary that local authorities' expenditure would increase. I do not understand what the words he used are supposed to mean. Even upon his first figures—I shall refer later to some subsequent ones which he used—here is a job which will cost well over £4 million; it may even cost £9 million, which is £5 million more than the Government are voting. If the expenditure of local authorities is not to be increased, who is to find the other £5 million? It must obviously come from the local authorities.
951 It cannot come from anywhere else. It must come from the Merioneth County Council, the Montgomery County Council, the Scottish county councils and the English county councils.
It may be that £5 million—several millions of pounds anyway—will be unloaded on to the ratepayers of what are inevitably poor county councils with a penny rate bringing in only a few hundred pounds. In some cases a penny rate produces only £500. One hon. Member mentioned £600 in the Committee. Where a penny only brings in £600, and we are talking about an extra expenditure of £5 million, it is no use—let us face it—the Minister trying to slide away. This will be an enormous addition to the money which these counties have to find.
In Scotland we find that the extra is more extravagant even than the figure quoted. One county council, with about 24 miles of road which may qualify for this grant, can bring in with a penny rate only about £60 with which to do the work. Obviously its expenditure must go up. We have felt from the very beginning that the Minister, on his own figures, was asking county councils that were already hard pressed to take a very large share, a much bigger share than they were likely to be able to afford, of this scheme.
Now the Minister comes down here and says that he does not think it will be so. He is very good at not thinking, and many of the things he does in this House give evidence of that. He had told us that the £5 million would not put up the expenditure of local authorities, but he now says that he did not say it. I do not want to be unfair, and I do not want to make this point at any length, but I took down the words as he said them. He said, when he was talking about the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "Local authority expenditure may not necessarily be increased." Then where is the £5 million to come from? He cannot find it, because his grant is not big enough.
It is within the option of local authorities, when considering their expenditure on the highways, to decide how much they allot to one type of road and how much to another.
§ Mr. Brown
Now we get a very different song cycle. I look a kindly fellow, but I am not without guile, and I suspected this. We are now told on the Third Reading that this is not a new job to be done on top of the others, that this is not £4 million extra to be provided by the Government, but that the Government expect that this grant will take the place of some other grant.
I repeat that it is at the option of the local authorities, who are free under the Bill to decide these things for themselves. We cannot say what decision a particular local authority will reach.
§ Mr. Brown
So that a local authority which says, "We want to do this job and we want this grant," may be told, "I am sorry, but you must knock something else out or we cannot approve." The Minister, having been voted this money, says, "I do not think that it clashes with what the Chancellor told us. It may not necessarily mean the expenditure of local authorities going up." When he is challenged he says, "I mean that if they don't do the job, or some other job, their expenditure will not go up." We knew that all along, and it does not get us anywhere if they do this job at the expense of some other job.
What other jobs are they not to do? It means they will make unclassified roads under the Bill, by disregarding the needs of classified roads in the county. What a contribution to the improvement of agriculture.
This really will not do. All along we thought that it was inadequate, and when the Parliamentary Secretary just now said that of course in the case of many authorities it means grants of 75 per cent. or even more, he does not tell the whole story. On the Minister's own 953 figures, the money being provided can only mean something less than 50 per cent. overall. If some authorities are to have 75 per cent. or even more, others will get a good deal less than 50 per cent. and be down among the 10, 15 and 20 per cent. grants. That must be so. Four million pounds out of £9 million leaves £5 million. Therefore a 50 per cent. grant in aid on the average cannot be granted.
If someone gets 75 per cent. or more, someone else has to have 50 per cent. or less to even things up. In this wicked world one cannot have things both ways. One of the harsh economic facts of life which the Minister has to learn is that in this world there is no way in which one can have all of this and all of that also. There has to be something of this and something of that—and something in the middle turns out to be your lot. Sums have the most awkward way of having to be done in the end so that the figures in the margin all add up to the total at the bottom.
I think that this is inadequate, that the Government all along have known it to be inadequate and that it has been "sold" at the very top of its appeal. Always the references have been to the very lucky people, without really saying, quite frankly, that a lot of them are not to get it. At one stage we were told that Wales was to get half of the money. The Secretary of State for Scotland, in the passages with which he entertained us, told us that there were 1,000 to 1,500 miles of roads involved in Scotland. If we go on with this essay in figures, which the Ministers find so difficult to follow, the Ministers say that there are between 2,000 and 3,000 miles of these roads in the whole Kingdom. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland says there are between 1,000 and 1,500 miles in Scotland—that is a half. Half the money is to go to Wales and half to Scotland—yet it applies to England as well. It really is the most incredible performance.
As I said before, the Bill really has not been thought out on this basis at all. There has been tossed in £4 million—and it will do some good; I give credit there. But it is silly to "sell" it on this very high note, when the slightest examination of any of the figures shows how ridiculously inadequate it is. Every time the Minister makes an essay in this 954 direction his figures change. In Committee, he did not talk about 2,000 to 3,000 but about 4,500. In column 153 of the Committee Report, he says:The total mileage of roads that we think might be in need of improvement in this category is about 4,500 miles."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A. 19th July. 1955; c. 153.]For some reason, he assumes that 1,500, or one-third, are not to be put in at all. When the Bill was "sold" to us it was on the basis, not that a lot were to be ruled out, but that this was a genuine attempt to deal with a very great need in the upland areas—and all these figures relate to upland areas.
I therefore say that it is inadequate, and Ministers ought to accept that it is inadequate and ought not to mislead in this way. After all, there is no Election in front of us next month—we have had that. There is no need to defraud, to cheat and distort now. They have some time before the next Election, so they really ought to tell the truth now; and as we are past the Election no doubt they will—as the Minister just now did— "come a little cleaner" about it.
Another point I want to raise is this. Even suppose that the Government say, as I think they should, "That is all we can find, but it is £4 million more than you provided, and there it is," quite clearly we have established our case for the moment that it is inadequate. I want to ask the Minister what I proposed to ask him anyway, but I am all the more bound to ask him now in the light of what he said: where does this stand in the light of the Budget?
I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary will be replying to what I have said so far. What I am now going to say —and this implies no personal unfriendliness to the Parliamentary Secretary—is that I think the Minister ought to ask the leave of the House to speak again, simply because the Minister is a member of the Cabinet and the Parliamentary Secretary is not. The Minister knows what the discussions have been on this matter and he alone can commit the Government, whereas the Parliamentary Secretary cannot. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will intervene again by our leave, which I am sure we shall be glad to grant, to clear up the ambiguity which he has introduced.
955 We have been told by the Chancellor, the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Prime Minister that local authority expenditure is to be drastically reduced. There is no equivocation about that. Everyone understands that to be the case. Last night the Prime Minister gave a long list of things already announced that were not to be cut, and among them, he said, was the road programme already announced. He said that would be proceeded with. Then he introduced ambiguity by saying that the priorities would be looked at again. In other words, "We will not cut them but shall put some of them back." Of course, if they are not done, that is tantamount to a cut, but it is a rather nicer way of saying so.
I hoped that this paltry little provision was covered by the assurance that the road programme that had been announced stood. I cannot understand how the Minister would not know that if it was true. But the Minister did not say tonight, "I assure you that this is one of the things that will stand because it was announced before the cuts." He said, "I think it will be all right." What Ministers think may be evidence but it is not conclusive. He thought I was unduly impetuous in asking him to clear this up. But, after all, he must know. The Cabinet has settled this. I asked him to tell us, and he said, "In my opinion, this does not clash with what the Chancellor has said." What we want to know is, what is the Chancellor's opinion about this?
The Minister says, "If it is passed unopposed, the House can be assured that will do all in my power." That sounded to me like a Minister warning us that the rest of his colleagues were not going to let it through but that he was a good chap. Otherwise, why the words, "I will do all in my power to get it through; in my opinion, it is all right," unless the Minister is indicating some difference?
I ask the Minister to clear this up with an authoritative statement. Is this exempted from the announcement about the ban on local government expenditure? Is this exempted from the cut, or is it not? The Minister called it a brake. Perhaps the Minister would like to interrupt me and reply. Is this exempted from the brake on local authority expenditure? Has the Minister no comment? 956 The Minister does not say that I am wrong. The Minister has no comment, and that is the position. The Minister does not know whether it will be possible to put the Act into operation when it has been passed. I see the Minister has a comment to make.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman knows that what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said refers to current expenditure and projects which are on hand or proposed. We are talking about a Bill which has not yet been passed, and there are no projects on hand.
§ Mr. Brown
The Minister is going along with me. The Chancellor said that current projects can continue but that projects not yet started will be subject to the brake. This is a project which has not yet started and, presumably, it is subject to the brake. Therefore, Merioneth, Anglesey, Brecon and Radnor, Montgomery, Cardiganshire and the Scottish county councils had better be told that this may be just so much window dressing which will never start. The Minister of Agriculture tells us that he cannot give an assurance that it will come into operation because it is a project not yet started and he is not clear about it.
What about the increased cost to local authorities? We have already been told that up to £5 million will fall on the local authorities as increased expenditure, but that was at the rate of interest then prevailing. Now the Chancellor has said that local authorities are to be forced into the market to borrow money instead of borrowing it from the Public Works Loan Board. We have heard a lot about the credit-worthiness of local authorities, but when it comes to going to the market I wonder how credit-worthy a local authority will be counted in which a ld. rate brings in £600 and which has a rate already of well over 20s. in the £.
The rate of interest of some of them will rise considerably and the cost to local authorities of carrying out this scheme, by the time the Bill becomes an Act, will be very much more than seemed likely when the Bill started on its journey. Should I be wrong if I guessed that the total cost for the local authority section alone may be inflated by up to £2 million simply through the increase in interest rates on money which they will have to borrow in order to do the job.
§ Mr. Brown
They will not get this out of rates when a penny rate brings in only £600. They would be saving up for years, and the Government are against the never-never principle. The authorities will have to borrow. That is the only way local authorities carry out schemes of this kind.
The position is that, even if the scheme starts at all, it will cost local authorities a great deal more than Ministers have yet been frank and honest enough to say. We have said that if the Bill is carried the £4 million will do a limited and meagre job—if it ever gets started. The Minister is unable or unwilling to give a specific assurance that the Bill will become an Act and that the Act will be implemented and not subject to a brake by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has not told us what he intends to do about the increased costs to local authorities. In those circumstances, this may become just one more in the long list of frauds and deceits about which we have been talking this week.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
Before we part with this Measure, I think the House should consider briefly its origins, because the intention of the Bill as it stands has much to do with those origins. The original intention of the Government was to introduce a Measure to deal with the position in the Welsh uplands.
The Council for Wales, a Government-established body, reported in 1953 on the serious decline of economy and population in the Welsh rural areas and made a number of recommendations. Of those recommendations, the only one the Government accepted was that a special Measure should be brought forward to remedy the state of the access roads to Welsh hill farms. Even that recommendation has gone by default in the event, and, instead of a Welsh Bill specifically attending to a special Welsh need we have this portmanteau Measure, which tries to cover the needs of three countries—England and Scotland as well as Wales.
The result, I fear, is that the Bill as it stands may well not meet to any considerable extent the needs of any one of those countries as it is a comparatively 958 small sum of money which will have to be spread over a very long mileage. How much that mileage is we really do not know. It is substantial enough in Wales, I should say, to dispose of the £4 million in the Principality. In my constituency of Caernarvon, there are one or two quagmires into which the whole of this sum could disappear without trace. The sum of £4 million spread over seven years, allowing for the fact that in the initial year very little will be spent, will not yield more than £600,000 per year to deal with 3,000 miles of rural roads, many of which are in a terrible state. That is the problem.
Welsh Members are bound to ask whether the Bill as it stands can possibly touch the fringe of the very real social and economic problem in rural Wales. Nothing that has been said by the promoters of the Bill, either on Second Reading or in Committee, has really enlightened us as to the extent to which the Principality, which originally was to be the sole beneficiary of such a Measure, will in fact benefit. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has dealt with a point I raised in Committee about the statistical peculiarities which attend this Bill and the fact that the Minister on Second Reading undertook that one-half of the sum would be devoted to the needs of Wales. In fact, the Minister said:about half, or perhaps a little more than half, of the money will be devoted to the Principality."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 22nd June, 1955: Vol. 542, c. 1326.]If we add "a little more than half" for Wales to the half for Scotland, the plight of England will be even worse than as described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. In Committee the Scottish statistics were even more peculiar.
This is the central weakness of the Bill. The Minister has tried to squeeze everybody into the Bill knowing, I suspect, that those who will have to implement the Measure will have to squeeze somebody out of it. There is the main criticism of this Bill, that in the event when it is administered it will not achieve its object. Somebody will have to be thrown overboard, and I am afraid it is not difficult to imagine who that somebody will be. It will be the poorer authorities, the very counties which most need the assistance which a Measure of this sort could give. The Bill cannot help the upland 959 counties of Wales unless the grant approaches almost complete parity. We know we cannot get more than 85 per cent. or 75 per cent. according to the kind of road involved. To find the remainder of 25 or even 15 per cent. will tax to the uttermost the resources of most of the Welsh counties for which this Bill appeared in the first place.
The product of a penny rate in the neighbouring county to my ownMerioneth—is barely £500, and, unless the grant is very high indeed, that county 41 find it impossible to provide its share of the money, unless it does what my right hon. Friend has suggested it might have to do, that is to say, economise on other expenditure on other roads in its care.
I am afraid that the Minister, in intervening to reply to my right hon. Friend, seemed to indicate that he rather thought that is how these counties would work; that, in order to make use of this Bill, they would dip into the monies which, notionally, they would be setting aside for other roads for which they are responsible.
Then there is the problem of maintenance. The poorer the authority, the more inhibited it will be from availing itself of the provisions of this Bill, even though the initial grant may be very high indeed, and these are precisely the authorities and exactly the counties where the problem of access roads is most urgent.
I suppose we must hope for the best. We are dealing with a section of the population which enjoys very few amenities indeed, as compared with the people who dwell in our towns. The vast majority of these hill farmers, at least in Wales, know nothing of the blessings of electricity or of a piped water supply. They live and work in remote, lonely and often stormy places. They and their children have to walk miles to church or school. The onset of a sudden illness means that they are trapped there, very often without hope of medical assistance, and, in many cases supplies of coal, fodder or other necessities have to be dumped at great distances from the homesteads and carried by hand over ditches and quagmires.
We really ought to be doing something more for this class of people. This is rather a mean little Bill. It cannot help 960 a most deserving section of the population to any great extent. I would end by making this appeal to the Minister. Let him not wait for seven years to see how this Bill works out. If, within a year of two, he finds that the intentions of this Bill are not being achieved under its provisions, let him come back to this House and ask for more powers and new finance, and hon. Members from rural areas on both sides of the House will unite to see that he gets them.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
This Bill is designed for the improvement of certain roads situated in or affording access to livestock rearing areas, and a livestock rearing area is described in page 4 of the Bill asan area consisting predominantly of mountains, hills or heath, being an area in which the principal industry, or one of the principal industries, is the breeding, rearing and maintenance of sheep or cattle;".I begin to wonder just where Cornwall comes in here. We have heard a lot about Wales and Scotland and about some parts of England, but I am wondering whether Bodmin Moor, in Cornwall, would qualify under this definition of a livestock rearing area. If it does, and if, as the Minister has said this evening, the money which may be set aside by the county council for the purposes of this Bill may have to be taken from the vote for highways expenditure, I would remind him that, a fortnight ago, I met representatives of the Wendron Parish Council at the very spot where he, when he took up his position as Minister about 14 months ago, met the representatives of Cornish agriculture.
At the very spot where his car was parked, there are crossroads, and the parish council has been petitioning the county council for years to improve the vision at these crossroads and at others close by. The Cornwall County Council tells me that the Minister of Transport cut its estimate for this year from £100,000 to £45,000 for all the roads in Cornwall. What hope is there for the improvement of the crossroads? Further, there is no provision, even in the Bill, for the hundreds of miles of unadopted farm roads in Cornwall, let alone the thousands of miles of unadopted roads in the rest of England; and these are a problem already because of heavy transport to and from farms, and they will become a greater problem as time goes on.
961 We cannot help remembering the debates of the past few days, and that heavier burdens are being placed upon local authorities because of the great increases in interest rates and on other accounts as well. Although we give the Bill a blessing, we hope the time is not far distant when there will be a realistic approach to the whole problem of farm roads.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye
I rise to speak on the Third Reading of the Bill in order to express the very great disappointment which the farmers and others in Norfolk will experience at the failure of the Government to allow amendments to the Measure which will enable them to benefit.
At the time of the General Election the Norfolk Branch of the National Farmers' Union called together the candidates of all political parties in the county and asked them, among other questions, what effort would be made, in view of the need for some special contribution for farm approach roads and fen roads, to induce the Government to extend the provisions of this Bill to include them.
It appears that the Bill has no enthusiastic support from hon. and right hon. Members opposite. I suppose they feel that it is too timid a Measure to take its place in the group of things which county councils will have to consider in making their future estimates. It looks as if we have failed to broaden the basis of the Bill, and as if those who come within its narrow ambit will find it difficult during the next few years to get any benefit whatever from it. After all, the county councils are now engaged upon their estimates for the year 1956–57. Therefore, they will not be in a position to include any schemes under the Bill in their estimates for next year. Consequently, I find it difficult to see how the Bill is to bring very early relief to the areas which really need it. That is its first weakness.
It was, of course, conceived last March and even then there were indications that there might be difficulties later on, but when the Bill was reintroduced in the new Parliament there was the prospect that something might come of it for the benefit of people in the hill and stock-rearing districts. As one who fought in the Election, and as one who has done his best 962 in Committee to improve the Bill and to extend its provisions, I must say, on behalf of my constituents and the farmers of Norfolk, that we are not satisfied.
We do not believe that we ought to be asked to wait and see how the Bill goes in Wales and Scotland and to assume that if it goes well we shall be considering, in seven years' time, doing something for England. I should have thought that in present circumstances, when we ought to be increasing production from the land so as to enable us to cut down imports, there should have been a greater sense of urgency about a Bill of this kind.
The Minister of Agriculture in moving the Third Reading, was very limited in what he had to say and did not hold out many prospects of improvement. I cannot help thinking that we must now look at the Bill as it stands against the background of the national economic position. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, referring to subsidies for agriculture, said the other day that economy with efficiency…will have to be applied at the right time to the range of subsidies which fall within the field of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 212.]Grants made under the provisions of this Bill, coming, as they will be, from the Ministry of Agriculture, will obviously fall under the searching eye of the Chancellor of the Exchequer before the Bill becomes law.
I notice that the Minister said that, in considering schemes, county councils, even if they did not increase their total expenditure on highways, might be able to do something under the Bill by reducing their estimates in relation to other roads. That, of course, will depend very much upon the percentage grant that they will receive. They are not likely to transfer money from roads which at present carry a 75 per cent. grant if the Minister is to give only 50 per cent. grants under these schemes, for the reason that then they would be at a disadvantage not only in the percentage of grants received but because, for each mile of road dealt with under the Bill, they would increase their annual maintenance charges for the future since they would have to maintain the roads without receiving any grants whatsoever from the Exchequer.
It may very well be, therefore, that when these hard-headed Welshmen and 963 Scotsmen get together on the county councils to decide whether they will put forward schemes on the basis of turning down work on classified roads, they will not make very much headway.
I think that we have to look at the Bill, now that it has nearly completed its course, against the background of other subsidies for the hill farmers. In the light of the statement recently made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it may well be that this Bill will prove to be a stillborn child, and that the Chancellor will say that the calf subsidies, the cattle subsidies and all the other subsidies which are now going to the hill farmers, will either have to be cut to make room for this one, or that, those subsidies having proved successful, there is no point in offering additional subsidies.
Are we coming towards the period when the subsidies to assist agriculture are to be cut? If so, then this Bill does not look like having a very healthy future. I think, too, that we must look at it against the background of declining agricultural output, because the purpose of such a Bill as this must be to assist increased agricultural production. In the light of more recent circumstances, it certainly looks as if that is not taking place.
As this is described as an experimental Measure, which cannot come into operation before 1957–58, we do not look like learning in this Parliament very much about how the Bill will operate before another Election comes along. Therefore, we shall be without that experience, and I think that the people in these areas of the Welsh hills, the Scottish hills, and the English hills will feel just as disappointed as those in other parts of agricultural England which are not getting any benefit from this Measure.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
As the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) said, this Bill was first mentioned in the White Paper on Rural Wales, which was adopted in this House as far back as 8th December, 1953. It has, therefore, already taken two years for the Bill to materialise. I hope that when it eventually becomes law the rural areas of Wales, England and Scotland will derive some substantial benefit from it.
964 We should remember that the Bill is the only concession which the Government have made to the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire. It will be recalled that the Council made many excellent recommendations in its second memorandum, in which it dealt with the manifold problems of rural areas in the Principality, and during which it called expert evidence. I am afraid that when the memorandum came before the House, the Government paid it very scant respect.
I was glad when the Minister said that the Bill would not fall a victim to the Chancellor's axe, although I was not particularly impressed with the emphasis with which he spoke. He did not seem to be quite certain what the effect of the Chancellor's message to local authorities would be. We have been told that their capital expenditure in 1956–57 must be the same as their expenditure in 1954–55. I think that the Minister should tell us quite clearly what the effect of this message will be. Can he, this evening, give us a categorical assurance that this message will not affect the provisions of the Bill and not affect expenditure under Clause 2?
I am particularly anxious about this, because, as hon. Members will see, in Clause 2 (1) there is a stipulation that the Minister may only make grantswith the approval of the Treasury.Exactly what does this mean? In the light of the Chancellor's present attitude, these words may have a very sinister significance. How quickly, if at all, will this approval from the Treasury be forthcoming? Will there be delays and postponements? For example, say the highway authority of Caernarvonshire puts forward a scheme next February, a modest scheme, involving an expenditure of about £5,000. How long would it take for the Minister to approve that scheme?
He will have to pass it to the Treasury. How long will the scheme lie in the pigeon-holes of the Treasury before being passed back to the Minister? And, after that, how long will it take for the Minister to pass it back to the highway authority? It is now, in this debate, that the House should be told exactly what is the position. I hope that there will be expeditious action and that the administrative machinery under the Bill will be smooth and efficient. We may as well face the position that if the Chancellor's message 965 to local authorities affects expenditure under this Bill, or if there be undue delays and postponements, this Bill will be a dead letter.
As was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), the Chancellor's message is also important for this reason, that under Clause 1 (5) all unadopted roads which are improved under this Measure will become unclassified roads and the responsibility of the local authority. The expenditure will fall on the council and that will be in addition to the existing mileage which it is already their responsibility to repair and maintain. This being so, their responsibility obviously will be proportionately greater than in 1954–55. It will be greater in 1956–57 by the mileage which they have adopted than it was two years previously. That is the year fixed by the Chancellor in his message.
Surely, therefore, it is clear that there will be no incentive for highway authorities to take advantage of the provisions of the Bill if they know that they will have to cut down their estimate. The Minister should consider that aspect most carefully.
Subject to these reservations, I think the Bill is a good Measure so far as it goes. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), it leaves out important rural areas which could do with a great deal of assistance, important counties like Anglesey, which has 281 miles of unclassified roads against 366 miles of classified roads. That is about the highest percentage in Wales, and probably about the highest percentage in the whole of the United Kingdom. We spend about 29 per cent. of our highway rates on unclassified roads. In other words, we could do with a great deal of assistance if we are to repair and maintain these highways.
When the Council for Wales published its memorandum, it envisaged that such assistance should be forthcoming to counties like Anglesey which, because they are not covered by the Hill Farming Act and the Livestock Rearing Act do not come within the provisions of this Bill. That is a great misfortune for us. I hope that the Minister will tell the House quite clearly what the position is, because, if he does not clarify the position, the highway authorities will be in great bewilderment. I trust that we shall have a 966 straightforward explanation from him that will make the position quite clear to all interested parties.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Jones (Merioneth)
Against the background of the events of the last few days in this House, I am prepared to say that this Bill "shines like a good deed in a naughty world." Tonight, the Government are giving something instead of taking, and I only wish they could give more. Indeed, I wish that when we were upstairs we could have persuaded the Minister to increase the amount that he hopes to spend from £4 million to £10 million. However, speaking as I am within 24 hours of the Chancellor's speech last night, I suppose that I must feel thankful even for small mercies.
We cannot but be glad for the advantages given to the farming community by the two famous Acts of Parliament passed by the Labour Government, the Hill Farming Act and the Livestock Rearing Act. This Bill has been framed to assist the same people, those hardworking and hardy individuals on the mountains of North Wales who eke out a living from the reluctant acres of our hill land. Furthermore, the Bill will no doubt assist our hard pressed county councils who are seeking with very inadequate resources to repair and maintain our rural roads. They are not the main arteries of the country, but, without them, our national economy would fail and falter, so dependent is our agricultural industry upon them.
I am rather concerned about the administrative details of the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will assure us tonight that its application is not to be stifled in red tape. I sincerely hope that we shall receive that assurance. I trust that when the highway authorities forward their schemes and applications they will be promptly and sympathetically dealt with so that they can get on with a long overdue job.
I would remind the House once again that in my county a penny rate does not produce even £600. Therefore, it is not idle talk, or even cloudy special pleading, to say that this is a vital matter for a constituency like the one which I have the honour to represent.
I believe that the Government have brought forward the Bill in a sincere desire to help such counties as Merioneth, 967 and I am prepared to give them full credit for that. It is a great pity that the Minister could not see his way clear to increase the grant to the full 100 per cent., because it is obvious that these county councils will have to maintain the roads after they have been taken over. At least the poor counties could have been given the full 100 per cent. grant. As the Minister could not see his way clear to do that, I am pleading with him to ensure that when applications are received from the poor counties they will not take more than five minutes to be considered. The very fact that an application has been made from a county whose penny rate does not produce £600 means that it should be considered seriously. Such applications should receive the full grant promised, namely, up to 85 per cent. for one type of road and up to 75 per cent. for the other.
I should like to be assured that the number of applications will have no bearing upon the amount of grant given. I am hoping that no county council will be told, "Look here, we have assisted you before on one, two or three occasions. Take it easy." I hope that the principle will be "the more the merrier." If the Government act upon that principle, I shall be satisfied. It is a sound principle. Every county council, and especially those in North Wales, should be encouraged to submit all the schemes they can think of in the interests of the farming community and, incidentally, in other interests as well.
I would remind the Minister that Merioneth's scheme relates entirely to Snowdonia. It is the ramblers who come to see our park and spend some days there who will receive the benefit of these roads, providing the Minister is as generous as I believe he intends to be. I hope that he will not disappoint me. If he is as generous as I hope and expect, I am prepared to congratulate him in having brought the Bill through to the Third Reading stage so quickly.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) pointed out that this was a very ill-thought-out Bill. That is certainly true as far as it applies to Scotland. The Bill arose from a report from the Council of Wales, and it was not 968 until late in the proceedings that it was decided to include Scotland; in fact, during the Second Reading debate we could get hardly any information from the Joint Under-Secretary as to how it affected Scotland. It was not until half way through the Committee stage that we really began to receive any such information.
From the speeches made by the English Ministers, and also by the Joint Under-Secretary, during the Committee stage, it would appear that very few, if any, Scottish organisations were consulted about the Bill. That is all I can assume from the speeches which were made. We have heard much about the Council of Wales, the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association and the rest, but nothing about any consultations with Scottish organisations. Yet the Joint Under-Secretary tells us that under the Bill he expects 1,400 or 1,500 miles of roads in Scotland to be dealt with, which is one-third of the total mentioned by the Minister—if the Minister's figure includes Scotland. I do not know whether it did or not, because it was difficult to obtain that information in Committee. I assume that the Minister increased his figure from 3,000 miles on the Second Reading to 4,500 miles to include Scotland.
§ Mr. Amoryindicated assent.
§ Mr. Willis
So that is included and the one-third total provided under the Bill is for roads in Scotland. The matter has been given little consideration. That is not good enough. It is very cavalier treatment for the Scottish rural districts that are supposed to benefit by the Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper spoke of the finances of the Bill, under which £4 million is set aside for the purposes of the Bill. If 1,500 miles of road are to be dealt with in Scotland, the sum represented will be £3 million, and if the local authorities in Scotland are to receive an average of 66 per cent. more than half the grant will have to be for Scotland. That will still leave a burden of £1 million to be found by Scottish local authorities, some of them very poor.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) indicated how low rateable values were and showed that more than £1 million would have to be borne by Scottish local authorities, plus 969 £20,000 a year in interest charges—if they are able to borrow at 5 per cent.—while my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper pointed out the difficulties in regard to credit of some of the poorer local authorities.
What is the financial standing in the City of London of a local authority whose ld. rate produces only £65? Will it obtain its money at 5 per cent? I very much doubt it. If my right hon. Friend was right, the figure I have given is an underestimate. Therefore, the local authorities in Scotland, including the poorest of them, will be burdened by £1 million in capital charges, and by £50,000 at the very least—and probably much more—in interest charges each year. The Joint Under-Secretary knows what that will mean on the rates of the local authorities, plus charges in connection with raising the rates.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has spoken of a circular being sent to local authorities. Suppose a county council is considering one of these roads. There may be some doubt about the importance which the county council places upon a particular road because it serves five or six farmers out of a county population of 30,000. The county council now receives a circular from the Government telling it not to increase its capital expenditure and, in fact, to cut it down. It has to decide the priority to be accorded to the respective schemes of capital development it might undertake.
We are entitled to know what advice the Government will give to the local authorities concerned. The local authorities are entitled to know whether the Government think it is important work and should be accorded a priority. A local authority has to make its decision in accordance with the Government's instructions. As I have already pointed out, its inclination, by the very nature of the work, will be to decide that it is not of very great importance and that there are schemes of greater importance.
We are entitled to know the degree of importance which the Government attaches to these proposals. We are also entitled to know—although the right hon. Gentleman tried to shirk this when my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper was speaking—what priority the Government accord to these proposals when they 970 come up for Government sanction. Suppose the county councils act as my right hon. Friend hoped they would, and send in a lot of schemes. Will the Minister approve them? Is he intending to use his influence with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to obtain that right hon. Gentleman's approval? If the Government are serious about this Bill that should be done. If they are not then, in fairness to the local authorities, they should say so.
As the Bill stands, and in the light of the circulars issued, we should be foolish to expect a great deal from this Measure. I think that we shall get very little from it at all. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk South-West (Mr. Dye) was right in saying that we are not likely to see anything for two or three years. This is a Bill with good intent, but it is not capable of carrying out what it seeks to do. It is a miserable Bill. The intention is good, but the instrument is a very poor one indeed.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
I intervene only because I do not wish it to be thought that the Bill is not thoroughly welcome among back benchers on this side. I cannot claim that the area of my constituency can, by any stretch of imagination be brought within the definition, except, possibly, in the very narrow, electoral sense of being predominantly "hilly." I welcome the Bill because it enshrines a very valuable new principle in the Statute Book. The principle, once it is on the Statute Book can be put into effective action—not necessarily this year, but over the years—as the local authorities design their priorities to bring these schemes forward. We can then, if it has worked well, press for its extension to other parts of England where the need is great though not, in my view, as urgent as in these predominantly hill farming and mountain areas which are defined.
§ 10.19 p.m.
We are very grateful for the lone song from the opposite back Benches. It was short and to the point, but not really critical of what the Minister will do about the grants. We would have welcomed a really forceful voice on that. We regret that in this and our earlier 971 debates the back benchers opposite have taken no great part, particularly when a greater proportion of them on that side than on this represent rural parts. I cannot say that for Wales because all the Members representing constituencies in rural Wales have already spoken. I am very glad that they have done so. I congratulate my hon. Friends who have spoken in this debate. Their contributions have been forceful. They have asked the Minister for categorical replies on certain matters which are of great importance to the Bill itself.
In Committee, many of us were disappointed that the Amendments which we put forward were not accepted, but, at the same time, we are grateful for two Amendments which the Minister himself moved—one which allowed a period of seven years instead of ten years in which the £4 million should be spent, and the other with regard to the highway Clause interpretation.
There is an important paragraph in the White Paper on Rural Wales which was published last week. I refer to paragraph 97 under "Agriculture." This is the first attempt that has been made by the Ministry of Agriculture to deal with roads and make grants for roads in rural districts. I am glad that the Ministry has experimented first in the livestock rearing areas, and I hope that this experiment will be extended elsewhere.
Paragraph 97 says that the Bill embodies certain principles relating to the making of grants towards classified roads and unadopted roads. I hope that the contents of the White Paper will be put into effect. However, it is left to the Minister to decide. One cannot deny the Government credit for introducing this Bill, although, as has already been said, the Council for Wales has played a very important part in bringing these matters to the notice of the Government. Although I am a member of the County Councils' Association, I must say that they have done very little in connection with this Bill, apart from turning down any recommendations which have been made. I make that observation in spite of the fact that I may be scolded next time I attend a meeting of this association.
I suggest that when considering making grants to highway authorities for improving 972 classified and unadopted roads the Parliamentary Secretary should bear in mind the contents of the message which has been sent to local authorities by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Housing and Local Government in connection with local authority expenditure. Hon. Members ought to recollect that the fifth paragraph states:The aims of your review should be to ensure first, that your authority's total capital expenditure in the year 1956–57 does not exceed that of 1954–55, and, secondly, that no new works, even those already authorised, are undertaken unless your authority are satisfied that those works are urgently necessary to meet the needs of the area.I understand that the Minister is to send a circular to all the highway authorities. I should like to know whether he is going to suggest in that circular that these works under this Bill are an urgent necessity. This is important. In reply to a Written Question on 23rd March, information was given on the amount to be allocated for expenditure on classified roads and trunk roads in all the counties of England and Wales and in Scotland.
We find that there is an increased allocation for expenditure on classified roads for 1955–56 compared with 1954–55 in the counties to which this Bill will apply. I will give the names of the Welsh counties. In Breconshire the sum is £2,000 more in 1955–56 than in 1954–55, the year under review by local authorities. In Cardiganshire it is £2,500 more, in Montgomeryshire £3,000 more, in Pembrokeshire £3,000 more and in Radnorshire £2,000 more. How can local authorities respond to the Minister's advice to try to work in extra expenditure for this new Bill when they are already overspent on the 1954–55 figures?
May we have an indication from the Parliamentary Secretary of what he will say in the circular? Will he say, "Let us have the schemes irrespective of what is to happen"? Or will he take the point of view that this is the first time the Minister of Agriculture is giving grants towards roads and, therefore, whatever the Ministry of Transport is giving, this can be counted as an extra allocation towards roads? Will he say that?
Is he prepared to say that if they cannot go to the Public Works Loan Board for loans, they can go to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and 973 that he will give every support to any loan from them? Can they go there instead of to the Public Works Loan Board? I hope we may be told when the circular will be issued, because it is a long time since we were told it was in course of preparation. There has been a Summer Recess of nearly three months. Surely the circular is ready for signature.
There may be some reactionary authorities—I will not say in Wales, but in some places—who will say, "There is a credit squeeze and we do not want to proceed with work under this Bill." Is the Minister prepared to send another circular, saying to such authorities, "We have not heard from you. Why have you not submitted schemes under this Bill, which are so important?"
In fairness to the Minister, I must say that the Bill has been welcomed throughout the country by those authorities and people who are really interested in this matter. I am interested in it and I am glad that the Bill has been brought forward. The only criticism I have seen is that the Bill will tremendously increase the value of the land to the private owner, all as a result of public money being spent on schemes of this kind. But does not that happen with all kinds of development work? I am certain that this type of improvement will be of great benefit to the countryside.
What does the Bill do? It will help to increase meat production in livestock rearing areas which provide large numbers of stock to be fattened or in the hill feeding districts. That is very important. I will give an illustration of a district in my constituency, Llanafan in Brecon-shire, where I travelled to seven farms which are receiving assistance under the Livestock Rearing Act. Not one of those farms in that area had a road to it. Children were going to school from all of those farms except one. Yet how difficult for them to go to school. How can the fertilisers be taken to the farms? How can the farms take part in the agricultural expansion programmes if there are no roads to them? If this Bill is passed and implemented it will bring such places into the first priority schemes in Breconshire.
I can think of another very important part of Breconshire. I recently visited a farm there and I was asked whether the Bill would apply to them. Naturally I 974 said, as a layman, it was bound to apply, because I wanted it to apply. That farm produced seed potatoes which are so urgently required. They are produced on a hill farm and are required in other parts of the country. For them these improvements would be of great importance.
We are not able to export those seed potatoes because there is no road there. This Bill will apply to this farm and will be of great assistance. It will certainly assist in the completion of schemes under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts. As I said on Second Reading, 19 per cent. of the schemes for the mid-Wales counties cannot be proceeded with because access roads to certain farms are not good enough to enable the contractors to undertake the work.
I hope it is realised that this Bill can even be a dollar saver for our great nation. Access roads are not only vital for agricultural improvement and afforestation, but they can be of great advantage to general amenities, which are urgently required, not only for the farmer but for the farmworkers. That applies particularly to the Forestry Commission which is establishing new afforestation communities; new villages are being born and they require roads, which will assist in the work of afforestation. As the White Paper on Rural Wales says, this Measure may also assist to solve the problem of rural depopulation.
While this is of special interest to Wales, I am sure it is of equal interest to some counties in Scotland, apart from the crofting counties, and to some in England. In Wales, however, it has great significance, because, there, sheep farming is so widespread, and the mileage of road per farm unit is proportionately higher than in other parts of either Scotland or England. The climate in the mountainous areas is abnormally wet, so that because of the demand on the roads the rate burden on unclassified roads is heavy. I hope that at least half the £4 million will be applied immediately to the Welsh counties.
We all welcome this Bill, despite all the forceful and vigorous arguments put forward in an attempt to improve it. We want the Bill, and I am certain it will add much to the Acts we on this side put through. We want this to be not only a good Bill but a good and successful 975 experiment, which will show that the Ministry of Transport and the Minister of Agriculture can, if they put their minds to it, be equally forthcoming in doing a good job of work in improving our roads. I wish it a speedy passage in another place, with the hope that immediate consideration will be given by the highway authorities to its application, with the good wishes of the Minister of Agriculture and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who will see that the good work is continued.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Nugent
My right hon. Friend and I much appreciate the words of welcome that have been given to this Bill by hon. Members opposite in giving it its Third Reading and speeding it on its way to another place. Although there were strictures here and there about what some hon. and right hon. Members felt it should contain and did not, or did contain and should not, on the whole it has received a welcome. I much appreciated the kind words of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) in his welcome, too.
There is no doubt that this Bill will do good, and do it in places where it is much needed. The farms described by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) are just the sorts of farms we want to help, where we know help is most needed. It is because we know that in these livestock rearing areas there is a special need, which is already defined and understood nationally, that we have felt it right to commit this large sum of public money to making a start on solving this very difficult problem.
I have been asked to go into greater detail on a number of these points, but I feel that I can deal with only a few tonight. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor asked about publication of the circular. That cannot come out until the Bill becomes law, when we shall send it out and I shall be very glad to have a copy put in the Library. I trust that it will meet with the approval of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.
I can certainly give the assurance that when my right hon. Friend receives proposals the administrative machine will be made to work as quickly as possible, with the minimum of red tape. We will 976 do all we can to help county councils and highways authorities, both at county level and at headquarters level, in the preparation of schemes and do all we can to expedite them. I am most anxious to see these schemes started. In Committee, we have discussed the rate of grant which my right hon. Friend and I maintain is a generous rate which will be sufficient to help county councils to deal with very difficult cases.
May I say how much I appreciate the words of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) who spoke of the Bill as "shining like a good deed in a naughty world." I think that a rather nice thought and I welcome his feelings in reception of the Bill. We do intend to make it work and we do believe that it will help both sociologically and commercially in industry to facilitate transport to and from the farm.
We have purposely kept the general arrangements for grant flexible because here we are doing a pioneering job. No one can tell for sure how the Bill will work, but we have indicated that in a great many cases there will be a rate of grant of 75 per cent. and 10 per cent. higher for unadopted roads. That is a very general indication of the sort of help which county councils can get.
To clear once again doubts and confusions about the amount of money to be made available, I should say that my right hon. Friend made it clear that the total mileage we estimate which could come within the scope of the Bill is about 4,500 miles in England, Wales and Scotland and to that we expect that between 2,500 and 3,000 will probably be proposed. That is only an estimate. It is impossible to be more precise, but it is obvious that county councils will not make propositions for all kinds of roads, both classified and unadopted. I am sorry that Anglesey does not come within this at all. Anglesey has a great problem, but does not come in a livestock rearing area and we must draw the line somewhere. We may be able to help Anglesey sometime in the future.
On the basis of £2,000 per mile, which we think will be the average cost, on a 75 per cent. grant hon. Members will find that the sum for 2,500 to 3,000 miles works out at about £4 million. Therefore, I think it is adequate provision for making a start on this big and difficult job 977 of assisting unclassified and unadopted roads in livestock rearing areas.
I conclude by thanking the House for the reception given the Bill and hope that it may be speeded on its way by the House giving it its Third Reading.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has omitted to answer the biggest question asked during the Third Reading debate, that put to his right hon. Friend as to whether the message which went out to the local authorities dated 26th October, some time after the Bill was introduced into the House, had any bearing whatever on the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins), in his excellent winding-up speech immediately before the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replied, actually read out the relevant passage in the letter sent to authorities in England and Wales. There was an exactly similar paragraph in the communication sent by the Secretary of State and the Chancellor to local authorities in Scotland.
There it is made abundantly clear that the total capital expenditure to be incurred by those authorities for the year 1956–57 ought not to exceed the expenditure for last year, 1954–55. There have been many increases in costs since then. Therefore, it is clear that less work of a capital nature is to be done in 1956–57 than was done in 1954–55.
Since this is completely new work which local authorities could not know was coming along, we are entitled to know whether a further exception is to be made to the letter sent out only a few days ago. If there is to be no exception and the letter is not to be superseded by another communication to state that this does not apply to schemes under the Bill, we have been wasting our time and might just as well not pass the Bill.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary did not reply to that question, which was repeated by all my hon. Friends who spoke after my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who put it directly to the Minister after his speech moving the Third Reading. It may be a little inconvenient for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister to reply to the question at this moment. However, there is another Minister on the 978 Government Front Bench who has an interest in the Bill. I have never known a Scottish Minister to play so small a part in an agricultural Bill having application to Scotland.
§ Mr. Fraser
I have never known a Minister get off so lightly. I will now give him an opportunity to say a last word and tell us, for Scotland at least if he cannot also speak for England and Wales, whether the letter of 26th October sent out by his right hon. Friend means what it says or not. If it means what it says, then the Scottish county councils are being told "No schemes under the Bill."
If they are expected to submit schemes—let the Joint Under-Secretary say tonight whether they are—they must be new schemes additional to any existing works which they have had in mind. It should be borne in mind that the circular says that they have to cut back existing work because the total capital expenditure for next year has to be no more than that for 1954–55, and that for 1955–56 exceeds that for 1954–55. We ought to get these matters cleared up.
While the Joint Under-Secretary is collecting his thoughts to reply to the most important point raised in the debate, perhaps I might say that it has been clear from the outset that the Bill was intended originally to apply only to Wales. That is not denied. Welsh local authorities have had a right for the last two years to expect that the Bill would come along and that there would be provision in it for Government assistance to the county councils and other local authorities in Wales for the improvement of agricultural roads in the hill areas.
The Minister, however, has made it clear that he, as the Minister responsible for Welsh agriculture, could not very well do this for Wales alone without doing it for the hill areas in England. Therefore, we had it done for England and, for some strange reason that cannot be explained, the Secretary of State for Scotland decided to tag on to the Bill too. But the Government forgot to increase the sum of money available. In any case, we in Scotland hope that 979 hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies will do well under the Bill. We hope that they will have the first share of the money and that when they have dealt with the problem in Wales there will be no money left for any other part of the country. The Bill does not apply to the crofting counties, because we have this kind of assistance there already.
§ Mr. Fraser
They have not got the roads because the county councils in those counties say that it is not good enough to give 75 per cent. grant only towards the improvement of roads.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Are we not discussing something that is not in the Bill?
§ Mr. Fraser
There is provision in the Bill to exclude the crofting counties, and there must be a reason for that.
§ Mr. Fraser
The provision to exclude them is in the Bill, but I do not want to get out of order. In any case, I tell my hon. Friends who represent Welsh constituencies that a provision similar to that contained in the Bill has applied over a large part of Scotland for many years, but it has not been greatly used or widely welcomed there because it is not supported by a grant for maintenance.
I attended a conference of the association which represents district councils in Scotland in the constituency of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson), during the Recess. The hon. Gentleman had an invitation to attend that conference, but apparently he was employed elsewhere. I listened to councillors from all parts of rural Scotland dealing with this problem. I told them that this Bill was before Parliament. They said it was of no use whatever to them. They wanted a Bill which would enable the Government to contribute towards the maintenance of the roads. That has not been granted.
I say, therefore, to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that many of us think that when the Bill 980 becomes an Act it will be of little or no consequence in Scotland. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that. I should like him to tell us whether he disagrees with that proposition. The Bill might help a little in the initial stages in Wales, and then, of course, the problem of road maintenance will become larger than ever and the Welsh will have to ask for more money. Good luck to them. By that time there may be a change of Government and they will receive more generous treatment than they are receiving from the present Government.
The Bill does not face the problem of the real needs of Scotland. If the Joint Under-Secretary's right hon. Friend had not been so foolish as to attach his name to the Bill, we might have had a Bill dealing with rural roads in Scotland which would be of some use to the rural areas. We have not got it. It is a poor way to treat Scotland. We have got accustomed to giving a lead to our friends south of the Border in these matters. We took the initiative in bringing forward the Hill Farming Bill, which the hon. Gentleman's predecessor told me across the Floor of the House would be a failure. Now his right hon. Friend has come with this Bill and says that it is necessary because of the success of the Hill Farming Act.
I say to him that there is not much reason to believe that this Bill will have any success in Scotland. I make way for him now, and invite him to tell us whether this circular, or at least the one sent out to the Scottish local authorities, means what it says, and whether there is any expectation at St. Andrew's House that this Bill will have any practical effect in Scotland.
§ 10.51 p.m.
If I may have the permission of the House to speak again, I would say, in answer to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), that if we did not consider this Bill still important in its objects, we should not be asking the House to put it on the Statute Book. If we thought it would be a dead letter we should certainly not be going forward with it. I wish to repeat what I said earlier, that the decision about the priority which a local authority gives to the maintenance of its roads is a matter for the local authority. If and when proposals are put forward, I can assure the House 981 that they will be considered on their merits, and if a proposal is found to be within the objects of this Bill, and stands as a sound scheme, it will be approved.
§ Mr. G. Brown
May we get this clear, because I think that the Minister is now trying to help? The paragraph which has been read out by several of my hon. Friends and is directed to the local authorities states:The aims of your review should be to ensure first, that your authority's total capital expenditure in the year 1956–57 does not exceed that of 1954–55.and that no new works are undertaken unless they are urgent. The right hon. Gentleman says that priority is in the hands of the local authority. Suppose a local authority includes a scheme, but can do so only by allowing its total expenditure to rise above that of 1954–55. Will it still be allowed to go on with the scheme?
That is an hypothetical case and we shall have to consider [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] On the Contrary. I cannot add now to what I have said, that priority is a matter for the decision of the local authority. Each proposal will be considered by the Government on its merits.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I asked the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland some questions, and I wonder if he would be good enough to reply. It is customary for a Scottish Minister to speak.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I have been anxiously waiting to know how the Scottish Office regards this Bill. We have heard two English Ministers but, with respect to the Minister of Agriculture his rule does not run in Scotland. His Department has no power to interfere with the Scottish county councils. I do not wish to make a speech, but I want to listen to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland telling us how he interprets this Bill in the light of the message of his right hon Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Scotland which was sent to the Scottish local authorities. In that message they said categorically that no new works, even those authorised, would be started, except those of exceptional urgency.
982 How does he interpret anything that might be done under the Bill in the light of this recent circular? What will be the position? The Minister of Agriculture said that the Government felt that the Bill was important. It certainly is; that is why we supported it—but we want to know now when the work is to be done. My Welsh colleagues are anxious to tell the people who are vitally concerned whether anything is to be done this year, next year, or at some time in the distant future. I ask the Joint Under-Secretary a simple question. How are the people who are dependent upon the improvement of these rural roads to be affected next year by the Bill, in the light of the message to local authorities? Could we have an answer to that question?
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
It is rather unusual to have three Government Front Bench speeches on a Third Reading debate, but I certainly do not wish to be in any way discourteous to the House or to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), who has put some questions to me.
I associate myself of course with my right hon. Friend in what he said about the way in which this Bill will work. It must be a matter for the local authorities to judge. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) has made it quite clear that there is urgent necessity in Wales, and I have no doubt that local authorities in Scotland will judge where the urgent necessity lies there and will make applications accordingly.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I think it is fair to say that there is competition in well-doing between the Department of Agriture on the one hand and my right hon. Friend's Ministry on the other. I am quite certain that the arrangements for Scotland will not in any way be behind those which my right hon. Friend is going to make for England and Wales. I am sure that they will be dealt with as expeditiously as those my right hon. Friend has in mind, and we will certainly do the same as he is doing, if any hon. Members wish it, and lay in the Library of the House a copy of the circular that will be sent out.
983 I am asked whether the Bill will succeed in Scotland. I would just make the point that the origin of the Bill lies in the experience which has been obtained from the crofting counties of Scotland. I think the hon. Member for Hamilton will agree that it is the procedure devised for the crofting counties which is now being applied elsewhere. The hon. Member has said that no use is being made of this in the crofting counties, but he knows that £100,000 a year is being spent in that part of the world upon the improvement of roads. I believe that good use is being made of the facilities afforded, and I see no reason whatsoever why the same use should not be made of them in other parts of Scotland.
I cannot foresee just how much use will be made of the Bill in Scotland, but I say that we are sensible people. I welcome the Bill, and very much regret that it has not been more welcomed by Scottish Members opposite. I believe that it will be good for Scotland, as it will be for Wales, and for that reason I would say that the House—from the Scottish as well as the Welsh point of view—should give it an unopposed Third Reading and a thorough welcome.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
I agree with one remark of the Joint Under-Secretary, and that was when he said that we are sensible people in Scotland. We can all agree on that but it is because we are sensible that we are making these inquiries tonight. The Under-Secretary added nothing further to the information we have had from the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary. The question put was clear and concise, and there is no point in the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary saying that this matter will be judged by the local authorities—that they, in effect, will decide. During the whole course of recent debates it has been made plain that the Government have been turning to some method whereby they can escape responsibility.
The answers we have had tonight make clear that the Government are trying to escape responsibility. That is an indication of the difficulty into which the Government are getting. The Bill was brought forward in good faith after a 984 Budget in which everything was well and good, when we were given to understand that we could look forward to years of prosperity. Wonderful things were going to happen in Wales, and in England and Scotland, too, in connection with the taking over of these roads. During the passage of the Bill we had another statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then the White Paper was issued. The terms of the White Paper were a direct opposite to the speeches made by the Minister. The White Paper is clear. It says:The aims of your review should be to ensure first, that your authority's total capital expenditure in the year 1956–57 does not exceed that of 1954–55 …As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) pointed out, the 1954–55 figure was less than that of the present year. How are we going to say to the local authorities, "You have to prune the work you are doing, and at the same time you have to take advantage of this Bill and increase your expenditure, and also decide what is to have priority"? This is a clear indication of the difficulty into which the Government are getting. Frankly, we ought to have another speech from the Minister. I am sure we would permit him to make another speech, if he is prepared to say categorically that he will go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and say that the purpose of this Bill is going to be carried out.
It may be, of course, that the saving in subsidies for farmers will provide the money for this to be carried out. I appreciate, however, that that is not a matter we are discussing at present, but farmers are interested in this Bill, as they are in what is going to happen in February. It is understandable that they will probably have less money with which to pay the rates necessary to find the money for their contribution. We ought to have another speech at least to make clear that the Government have decided to go ahead. There is another Under-Secretary and even a representative from the Ministry of Food present, and the latter must have some interest in this Measure and might be able to enlighten us.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time.