HC Deb 27 March 1956 vol 550 cc2025-8

6.0 p.m.

Mr. H. Nicholls

I beg to move, in page 14, line 25, to leave out from "the" to "without" in line 26 and insert: income of the Board, for a period of not less than six months from that time, is likely to be sufficient.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

If it meets the convenience of the House we might consider, with this Amendment, the next three Amendments, which cover the same point; in page 14, line 40, at the end to insert a new subsection (4); in Clause 14, page 14, line 41, after "Where," to insert: at any time after the appointed day"; and in page 15, line 2, to leave out from "Board" to the first "the" in line 4, and insert: for a period of not less than six months from that time, is likely to show a surplus.

Mr. Nicholls

All these Amendments are in substitution of the words "for a substantial period", which appear in the Clause. Hon. Gentlemen who were members of the Standing Committee will know for how long we discussed the meaning of these words, which it was suggested were indefinite and did not reflect what it was felt the Minister meant. We promised to look into them. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) pointed out what administrative, legal and other difficulties would arise if the words were left unchanged.

We always pay much attention to what the hon. Gentleman advises on matters of this kind. Upon things to do with administration he is recognised as one of the authorities in this House. He suggested that references to "a substantial period" in both Clauses should be omitted. We said at the time that we put in those words because we wished to leave it so that the Board had considerable room for manoeuvre in his matter. We wanted to retain as much flexibility for the Board as we could, because it would have all the knowledge and day-to-day information. What we did not want was—I used these words in Committee— violent and frequent fluctuations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 31st January, 1956; c. 382.] We felt that that would be the worst thing that could happen.

Having taken into account what the hon. Gentleman said, and having heeded the words that I used, we have been able to put down Amendments which will ensure that before the surcharge is suspended and before the distribution payments are brought into use the district auditor must be sure that the Board can balance its accounts, with the aid of the surcharge, for six months. That seems to be a period which will fit in with the actual working of the Board.

These Amendments put into precise form the way in which we think Clauses 13 and 14 will come into play. We think that is the view which hon. Gentlemen opposite expressed in the Standing Committee. We are concerned that the operations of the Board shall be balanced over a period and not in day-to-day transactions. The hon. Gentleman said a few minutes ago that he had again read the proceedings in the Committee. I also have read them again, and I think the Amendments fully meet the objections put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Mr. Willey

Again we are obliged to the Government for the action which they have taken. I am not making any comment about the delayed action, but I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the kind words he said. I hope that as time goes on he will pay equal regard and attention to the broad political considerations that I have put before him.

If he had been as reasonable on other matters as he has been on this we should by now have an excellent Bill. We hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary realises that we are constructive in our approach to these matters. Our only complaint is that the Government have not been so open to reason on some of the broader issues of the Bill.

Mr. G. Jeger

Discussion on the Clause took place in the Standing Committee, and it was only when we called into question not merely the common sense but the honourable or dishonourable intentions of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that he was persuaded to have second thoughts about this matter. I am glad to confirm his statement, My intentions are perfectly honourable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 31st January, 1956; c. 388.] which he made in the Committee. His intentions in this connection were honourable and he has confirmed that by his action today.

Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)

I should not like to give an impression of there having been happy working in the Standing Committee. If the Joint Parliamentary Secretary had responded in Committee as he is doing today to many of our proposals, we should have done our work much more rapidly. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary worked in Committee on the basis of "one up and one down," meaning one up for the Government and one down for the Opposition. He continued in that way throughout. The comments which he made in Committee whenever the Opposition presented a formidable case were on the lines of, "We agree with it in principle, but we should like to give consideration to it," and then he would carry the matter to a Division.

I am glad that the Government now recognise that the Opposition played a very constructive part in Committee. We are grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for his response this afternoon, and I should like, on behalf of my hon. Friends, to add to the gratitude expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who did such constructive work on this particular proposal. It would be wrong to give the impression that harmony existed in the Committee proceedings, which were unnecessarily protracted because of obstinacy on the Government side of the Committee.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 14, line 40, at end insert: (4) For the purposes of this and the next following section the income of the Board for any period shall be taken—

  1. (a) to be sufficient, if it is not less than the amount of income required to be earned by the Board in respect of that period to enable the Board to balance their revenue account, and
  2. (b) to show a surplus, if it is more than the amount of income so required to be earned by the Board.—[Mr. H. Nicholls.]