HC Deb 14 May 1958 vol 588 cc539-41
Mr. Willis

I beg to move, in page 8, line 37, to leave out from "authority" to the end of line 28 on page 9 and insert: for purposes authorised by statute shall be such period not exceeding sixty years as may be sanctioned by the Secretary of State". The purpose of Clause 12 is to extend the period for which the local authority can borrow money in respect of the services mentioned for sixty years. The Amendment seeks to give to local authorities authority to borrow for sixty years for all statutory purposes. That seems to me to be a very small thing to ask. I understand the local authorities themselves would like to have this general power, and I cannot see why the Government should not grant it.

There are no arguments such as the Government gave us in respect of the last Amendment as to why the local authorities should not have these powers. In fact, if the Government are trying to extend the freedom of action of local authorities, surely this is one way by which it can be done. I understood from the Secretary of State when he last spoke that he was patting himself on the back for having given them this degree of freedom. I cannot see why he should not give himself a bigger pat on the back and give the local authorities complete freedom within the confines of this Amendment. I do not know whether the Minister intends to accept this Amendment. If he does, I am prepared to resume my seat and let him have the pleasure of accepting the Amendment before half-past Ten.

Why do the Government want to continue to govern local authorities in certain respects? Is it because the Government think they know better than Glasgow Corporation, for instance, what is the most suitable period for them to borrow money? Is it because the Secretary of State thinks that he knows better than the City Treasurer, the City Chamberlain and the other officials of Glasgow Corporation what are the best terms on which to borrow money, the best period, and what is most suitable for that local authority?

I really cannot think the Government believe that, but this is what is implied if the Government do not accept the Amendment—that once again the Government believe that Whitehall and St. Andrew's House know best. That is the philosophy underlying the rejection of the last Amendment and it also underlies what I assume is going to be the rejection of this Amendment—that St. Andrew's House knows best. I am bound to say when I look along the Government Front Bench that it is a very sad reflection on the abilities of Scottish local authorities.

Surely that cannot be so. The officials, for instance, of Glasgow, Edinburgh and other local authorities are quite competent, and in Edinburgh, speaking from personal experience, they have a very shrewd sense of the money market. In fact, I suppose very few people have a better sense of it than the officials of Edinburgh Corporation, including the City Chamberlain. They know the requirements of the local authority and they know what is most convenient for the ratepayers of Edinburgh; and the same applies to the officials of Glasgow Corporation. They know how best to spread the burden, whether it should be spread over sixty years or a shorter period.

The Minister ought to give the local authorities this power. We are not asking a great deal. It is in accordance with what the Government have declared to be their policy. But, when we explore the Government's declaration of policy we find that there is very little reality about it at all. If the Government are sincere in this—

It being half-past Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress; to sit Tomorrow.

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