HC Deb 25 April 1961 vol 639 cc372-82

Question again proposed, That those words be there inserted in the Bill.

Mr. Mitchison

I was engaged in saying, with not unusual eloquence, that if the Government ask us to believe that nobody would undertake the work of construction or of management on the basis of getting a fair return by way of interest on his expenditure and fair payment for his managerial and supervisory purposes, I, for one, did not share the Tory Party's views about the business world and I did believe that it was possible to find people who would do it in that way. I am confirmed in that opinion in that no representative of the Government has ever told us that they have tried to find somebody on that basis and have failed.

Therefore, if that were the position, I should be happy and confident that the Government, did they so choose, could find a contractor on that basis. That, however, as I pointed out when moving the Amendment, is not the whole of the story. I have deliberately left room in the Amendment for the inclusion of a percentage to the contractor. I have left it to the Minister to deal with what that percentage should be. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) obviously knows the Minister very well. He pointed out to us that the Minister could be trusted to deal with the contractor. I agree. I have left the Minister power to do so in the Amendment, subject only to the safeguard that the final lucre should go to the Crown and not to the contractor.

On the other hand, we were told that the right hon. Gentleman could not be trusted to fix the maximum charges. The suggestion was made that they should have been specified in the Amendment. I assure the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South—

Mr. Cole

What I said was that I should have thought it characteristic to have found such a point in the Schedule, not that I wanted to see it there at all.

Mr. Mitchison

That is a speculation about my character or the character of the Opposition which is a little broad for the purposes of the Amendment. All I can say to the hon. Member and to the House is that we have left it, as, in my belief, we should, to the discretion of the Minister subject to a Treasury check in certain cases. That is the position.

Having heard what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary had to say and what was said in support of him and having listened to what was said in Committee, I remain of opinion that the only question between this side of the House and the benches opposite is whether the final lucre, which may be considerable and which the right hon. Gentleman thinks will be considerable, is to go to the contractor or to the Crown. There is nothing else. There is nothing that I can find in the Amendment to tie the right hon. Gentleman's hand, nor did the Joint Parliamentary Secretary point to anything.

The practice in the service stations, which I mentioned earlier, is often to take a percentage rate. There is nothing in the Amendment that would prevent a percentage rate, but the percentage is only a matter of 10 per cent. or 12 per cent., which was the highest figure in the instances given by the right hon. Gentleman in Committee. It is a quite small figure. We are asking, not merely that there should be a fair return—we agree to that; not merely that there should be proper remuneration for supervision and management—we agree to that—but also that at the end of the day the profits from dealing with Crown property in the public interest should go to the Government and to the people and not to a contractor.

Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Bill:—

The House proceeded to a Division; but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Ayes, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Noes had it.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

On a point of order. I should like to have your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on the way that you took the view of the House on the last two Questions. On the first occasion you asked those here in favour to rise in their places. I did so. I would like to ask whether my dissent could be recorded in the proceedings of the House.

My second point is this. I understood you to adopt a different procedure in the second place, as compared with the procedure in the first place. I think that the new Schedule is a very good Schedule. I believe it to be an attempt to secure—

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry, but I am not able to allow the hon. Member to argue the merits about this. I will listen to what he has to say about the point of order.

Mr. Hughes

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I should like to have your guidance because these circumstances may arise again. I support the Opposition's official Amendment. So far as I can see I am the only one who is prepared to vote for it. As this situation is likely to be repeated I would submit that this is a most unprecedented situation. I was convinced by the arguments of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who made an excellent speech and who completely convinced me.

Then I proceeded to what I thought would be additional arguments of my own which, I thought, would completely convince hon. Members opposite. Then I discover that I am the only person who is prepared to vote for the excellent new Schedule. In view of this procedure, which may be repeated, and as one procedure was adopted in the first place and a different proceeding adopted in the second, and as I am interested in the protection of private Members, I would ask you, since, in the last quarter of an hour, we have had two different procedures, which will be the proceeding of the House in future?

Mr. Speaker

I should like to express sympathy with the hon. Member for finding himself in a solitary state in supporting some proposition on the merits, but that, of course, is not a matter for me. What is for me is the choice of the procedure which should be adopted in certain circumstances. The House has conferred on me the power to say that a Division is unnecessarily claimed if, in my view, that is so. Without any discourtesy at all, I thought that the circumstances in which the hon. Member alone in the House rose to require a Division was an instance of that kind and I so declared, as a servant of the House. Being slightly an enemy of monotony, and the circumstances being at the first Division that there were no Tellers on that side of the House, I did not mention the fact.

On the second occasion I relied upon the other limb, when there were no Tellers on the side supported by the hon. Member. The House confers an option upon me and I adopted, in the one case, one method and, in the other case, the other, I hope without irregularity.

Mr. Hughes

I gather that this is a very interesting constitutional precedent, that two different kinds of procedure may be adopted within a quarter of an hour. I should like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, what remedy an innocent private Member like myself has on these occasions who wishes to record his vote for a Schedule. For example, I rose and it was obvious that by rising I had voted—

Mr. Speaker

I hate stopping the hon. Member, but I have a duty to other hon. Members. In the first place, by reason of what the hon. Member said to me, it will be apparent, on the face of history as recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT, that he was the only hon. Member who rose in favour of this proposition on the first Division.

So far as the second Division is concerned, I say only this—that the responsibility of the hon. Member who is apparently the only one desiring to support the proposition is to try to procure someone who will tell with him. If he cannot find one, I am powerless to assist him in the matter, because there are not two Tellers, not sufficient Tellers, to provide for a Division under the ordinary procedure of this House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

There is one matter which I desire to mention and which I hope to get cleared up before we give this Bill a Third Reading. I was struck on Second Reading and when I saw the text of the Bill by the omission of any provisions about the money which the right hon. Gentleman is to receive in respect of the works in Hyde Park. A grant is made in a case of this kind for money, and the right hon. Gentleman, as appears in the text of the Bill or by necessary inference from it, is to receive sums of quite a substantial character.

If I understand the procedure as it is at present, what is to happen to the receipts in question is that they will not be paid into the Consolidated Fund, but that they will be received by the Department and will be subject to directions by Treasury Minute under the Public Accounts and Charges Act, 1891. Under these directions, they may be appropriated in aid of the Department's Estimates. This is not the position when there is, in what I believe is the more usual course, a Money Resolution and money provision in the Bill itself.

I asked the right hon. Gentleman on Second Reading and again in Committee why it was that the usual procedure was not followed, and the right hon. Gentleman has waved me away and has said that he was told that it was not necessary. One reached the conclusion that whatever may be necessary for other people, the right hon. Gentleman thought that he could get away with anything when it came to money provisions. Let me be perfectly clear—and let there be no doubt about it—that I am not for one moment suggesting anything but that the right hon. Gentleman will deal with this money perfectly properly, but he will have to deal with it, as I see it, under the Statute which I have mentioned—the Public Accounts and Charges Act, 1891, which was intended to deal with fees and sales and so on and hardly ever with receipts of this magnitude arising out of the disposal of very substantial rights over Government property.

I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope we are to get a proper answer on this point this time, that if in fact this kind of procedure is to be followed in this case, then Parliamentary control is quite considerably removed. There is no question of being able to go into the appropriations-in-aid, which are matters beyond inquiry in Committee of Supply of this House. Assuming that the Treasury and the right hon. Gentleman were to be so minded, the Treasury could direct him to spend the receipts as appropriations-in-aid for some purpose or another of which the House as a body would not at all necessarily approve. This is an encroachment, as I see it, by the Executive on the Parliamentary control of money, and, therefore, it is something to be criticised, and, if I am right in my suggestions, to be deprecated.

I take the passage about the Public Accounts and Charges Act from page 711 of Erskine May, but, as I see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury opposite, the same information could no doubt be obtained more fully and with equal authority from him. It may be that he is going to tell us what is the answer to the conundrum which I am putting now.

On the remaining parts of the Bill I have little to say. I share, with great respect, the sympathy which I can now express in his absence with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) who was so anxious to have a Division on the last Amendment. I may be a little out of order in saying so, but my feelings are too strong for me and I feel bound to express my sympathy.

Substantially, there the Clause is, and we are now left in the position that we have to trust the Minister and the Treasury between them rather further than we on this side of the House would nave wished to trust them in a matter of this character. It is not because we think the Minister of Transport is untrustworthy. The right hon. Gentleman is looking pained, but there is no need for it. This is simply a matter of constitutional propriety.

As to the object which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind as a whole, we have always supported the Bill and have taken no steps whatever to delay it. We have tried to raise proper criticisms of it, but with its object to deal with the essential long-term parker we are in full sympathy. As for Clause 2, which deals with the amenities in Hyde Park, in view of what was said in Committee—and perhaps I am trespassing on the Rules of Order in mentioning them—and in view of the terms of the Bill which I may mention, we are broadly satisfied that all possible steps are being taken and, as we believe, will be taken, to protect the amenities of Hyde Park and to defend the interests of the public in the matter of aesthetics, even if they cannot be properly defended in the matter of contracts. Therefore, we shall certainly not oppose the Third Reading, subject to the point which I have mentioned and which I hope some member of the Government will elucidate.

Will the Government spokesman say at the same time whether the practice in the Bill will be followed in other cases or whether there will be proper Money Resolutions and proper arrangements for Parliamentary control in those cases? It is the Appropriation-in-Aid aspect that frightens me.

10.18 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Edward Boyle)

It is not that I wish to shirk the point at all, but I am not certain how far I should be in order in replying to the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) on Third Reading. The question whether a Money Resolution is or is not required in a particular case is not, as I see it, strictly for the Government to decide. It is a matter governed by the rules and practice of the House of Commons and it is thus really the responsibility of that part of the House which, Mr. Speaker, falls within your jurisdiction. I should like to ask your guidance, therefore, before I speak further on that subject.

Mr. Speaker

Certainly, a Money Resolution is not required at this stage. We receive the Bill as it is on Third Reading. So far as I was not failing to listen to him, being occupied with other duties, I do not think that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) was out of order, because he seemed to be discussing the effect of the provisions in the Bill, which is in order. As to the necessity for a Money Resolution, that inquiry is out of order on Third Reading.

Mr. Mitchison

Further to that point of order. With great respect, Sir, I did not intend to suggest that a Money Resolution was required for the Bill. The suggestion was that this method of procedure and the use of the 1891 Act, while no doubt legitimate, was open to other objection on the grounds which I tried to indicate. I trust that the Financial Secretary will be able to answer that point of substance, which, I submit, arises on the form of the Bill itself.

Mr. Speaker

If I may help, I respectfully agree with that. I think that it is quite right. I think that on Third Reading it is possible to criticise the form of the provisions of the Bill which we discuss on Third Reading. I think that that is a permissible matter to argue.

Sir E. Boyle

I am not sure that I have quite understood the hon. and learned Gentleman's point—if I may say so, not through having failed to listen to him. Is he complaining about the procedure that has been used? I wonder whether he would put the point once again?

Mr. Mitchison

I am sorry to take up the time of the House. It was undoubtedly my fault. I am sure that I cannot have made myself clear. My point is—and here I am quoting from page 711 of Erskine May—that the receipts which arise in the course of business of a department (through fees or sales, etc), are, instead of being paid into the Exchequer, directed by Treasury Minute under the Public Accounts and Charges Act, 1891, to be appropriated in aid of the department's estimate as if they were money provided by Parliament for that purpose. What I am suggesting—I may be wrong—is that that is what is bound to happen in this case. We cannot just have a Minister receiving money and the disposal of it left absolutely at large. When we look for the appropriate statutory provision, that is the appropriate arrangement and that is the arrangement under which the miscellaneous receipts of departments, as I see it, are accounted for.

When we get to small things like fees and minor sales of calendars or something of that sort, one can have no objection, but when we get to the very substantial amounts which seem likely by the terms of this Bill to accrue to the Ministry, I suggest that it is regrettable that they should be so dealt with because, as appropriations in aid—quoting again from the same passage in Erskine May— …the Committee of Supply cannot discuss the application, or reduce the amount, of appropriations in aid. If they are appropriations-in-aid, I repeat what I said before: the Committee of Supply—that is the organ of this House for the purpose—cannot discuss the application. The result is that the monetary control of the House is very much loosened—indeed, somewhat absent in cases of this kind.

When we get a Minister asking for a free hand for negotiations, and getting an enabling Bill in these very broad terms, then I suggest that it is a really serious infringement of Parliamentary control if the practice is used—legally, no doubt, but from a Parliamentary point of view I would suggest somewhat wrongly—to get the money dealt with in this way. I hope that I have made my point clear.

Sir E. Boyle

I apologise for not following the hon. and learned Gentleman earlier. The short answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman is that the power to direct appropriations in aid does not depend upon whether the Measure as we now have it on Third Reading says specifically that the money is payable into the Exchequer, but on whether it is, in fact, so payable.

I have looked at this passage which the hon. and learned Member has quoted from Erskine May. It is true that the normal way in our procedure of accounting fox receipts is to pay them into the Exchequer, though it is possible for the Treasury under the 1891 Act to direct their appropriation in aid. It certainly is the case that many Acts make express provisions for the payment of receipts into the Exchequer. On the other hand, I can tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that there are some precedents the other way.

To give one or two instances, fees payable to the Board of Trade under the Patents Act, 1949, or under the Films Act, 1960, are not expressly directed to be paid into the Exchequer. Section 39 of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, deals with expenses, but not with the receipts arising from the provision of aerodrome facilities under Section 16.

There is also the case of the special roads which are now dealt with under Section 11 of the 1959 Highways Act, but were originally constructed under the Special Roads Act, 1949. Among the facilities provided for the M.1 by the Ministry of Transport as the highway authority are service stations and restaurants. These are leased to private contractors much as the garage under Hyde Park might be. Naturally, the rents for these places come in the first place to the Minister and then to the Exchequer, although there is nothing specifically in the Special Roads Act, 1949, which says so. While I take note of the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and agree that he can quote a number of precedents, there are also a number of precedents for dealing with this matter in the way proposed in the present Bill.

Mr. Mitchison

May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that the precedents which he quotes are neither close nor desirable? It is somewhat late at night to go into a subject which, I hope, will attract the attention of the Treasury in due course, not only in connection with this matter but with other Bills.

Sir E. Boyle

By leave of the House, may I say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that I certainly take note of what he says. I do not agree that the facilities which I quoted are not analogous to the present case. I should have said that they were analogous. I do not think that there is anything peculiar about the way we propose to proceed under the present Bill.

Mr. Mitchison

If I may, with the leave of the House, say one sentence to the hon. Gentleman, surely service stations on M roads, which, I think, was the instance he had in mind, are a very different matter from disposing of considerable interests in a very valuable piece of Crown property, and attracting large sums of money by doing so.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.