HC Deb 03 February 1960 vol 616 cc1056-9

Amendments made: In page 3, line 11, leave out from "any" to "towards" in line 13 and insert "development district".

In page 3, line 13, leave out "locality" and insert "district".—[Mr Maudling.]

Mr. T. Fraser

I beg to move, in page 3, line 23, to leave out "may" and to insert "shall".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think it would be convenient if we discussed this Amendment together with the next Amendment, in line 26, to leave out "including" and to insert "which may include".

Mr. Fraser

Yes, the two Amendments hang together.

It will be appreciated that subsection (3) permits the President of the Board of Trade to attach conditions to building grants which may be given to undertakers under the provisions in this Clause. We think that Parliament might wish to make it obligatory on the Minister to attach conditions to ensure that the purposes for which the buildings were provided and the grants made are fulfilled. Were the Clause amended as we propose, we think that we should be putting a reasonable obligation on the Minister and at the same time we should not make the thing so rigid as to be unworkable. Were the Amendments made, the subsection would read: The Board in making a grant under this section shall impose such conditions as they think fit for securing that the building or extension will continue to serve the purposes of this Part of this Act, which may include conditions for repayment of grant in specified circumstances. 6.15 p.m.

I think that all hon. Members would regard it as a misuse of a grant were it made for the building, for example, of a factory and then, shortly after being built, the factory was used as a store or for some other purpose. Yesterday, when we discussed offices in quite a different context, the President of the Board of Trade made it clear that he could give grants for the building of offices and the like. It would be a pity were a grant given for the building of offices or for an hotel, because it was believed that this work would lead to the solution of an unemployment problem in a particular area, and then the building ceased to be used for the purpose for which it was intended and for which a grant was provided—perhaps to find employment for 100 or 200 workpeople —and was used as a store. Such premises might be taken over by one of the new companies getting contracts from the Independent Television Authority and employment provided for perhaps only six or twelve people.

It would appear reasonable that in making these grants the Board of Trade should attach conditions to them all the time, not unreasonable conditions but conditions which would vary according to the circumstances of each case. It seems to us that the varying of the conditions would not necessarily lead to it being desirable that there should be a repayment of the grant, but in some circumstances the need to do that would exist. We propose, therefore, that the word "shall" should appear in the first line of the subsection to make mandatory the imposition of such conditions as the Board of Trade thought fit, and leave permissive the provision regarding the repayment of grants.

I hope the Government will consider that these Amendments represent a sensible and realistic proposition. We do not think that there will be a tremendous contribution to the solution of our unemployment problems by way of building grants. But this is a new thing, and we have to realise that when factories are built or owned by the Board of Trade, or owned and managed by the managements corporations, and if the properties are not being used properly the corporations or the Board of Trade should be free at any time to change the use of the building or, if the tenant is not making a proper use of the property, to terminate his tenancy.

If we are to spend the taxpayers' money in order to solve the unemployment problem in a particular area, by giving capital grants to an industrialist, we ought to be as sure as we can be that public money spent for this purpose will be used to provide a property which may not be disposed of for quite another purpose which might well be more rumunerative than the original purpose for which the building was erected. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will realise that these Amendments are reasonable and that he will be able to accept them.

Mr. Willis

I beg to second the Amendment.

I think it appropriate that another hon. Member representing a Scottish constituency should second this Amendment, because it is part of the Scottish ritual in the discussion of Bills that we should debate whether the word in the Bill shall be "may" or "shall". On this occasion, however, it is a little more than a piece of ritual because undoubtedly there is force in the Amendment.

I do not wish to repeat the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser). We desire to ensure that public money shall be spent properly and that the Board of Trade shall see that that is done. What would happen if a factory were built with the aid of a grant—say, 85 per cent. of the cost of the factory—from the Board of Trade and if within a year or two the factory were put to some other use? What would be the position if the Board of Trade had laid down no conditions, as might well be the case, under this subsection? We ought to have an answer to this question, because if there is not a satisfactory answer it seems to me that the Amendment ought to be accepted.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. John Rodgers)

I think it would be convenient if I gave the Government's views on this point right away. As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said, the effect of the Amendment is to make it obligatory instead of permissive for the Board of Trade, in making a building grant, to impose such conditions as are thought fit for securing that the building will continue to serve the purpose stipulated in the Bill. We propose in any event to do this, and I think that answers the question put to me by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis).

I agree with both hon. Members that it would be intolerable that someone who had obtained a grant of public money to enable him to erect premises to provide employment should be able to dispose of the premises so that they were put to a use which would not provide employment within the area.

Therefore, in so far as the use of "shall" emphasises the Board's intention that the money shall be paid out for the purposes stipulated in the Bill, we accept the Amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 3, line 26, leave out "including" and insert: "which may include"—[Mr. T. Fraser.]