§ [Queen's Recommendation signified]
§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 88 (Money Committees).
§ [Sir WILLIAM ANSTRUTHER-GRAY in the Chair]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make provision with respect to England and Wales for grants to rating authorities, it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament—
- (a) of any expenses of the Minister of Housing and Local Government incurred—
- (i) in making to rating authorities in the case of whom, in the year 1964–65 or any subssquent year, the number of persons over the age of sixty-five estimated to be included in the population of the authority's area exceeds one-tenth of the estimated total of that population a grant in respect of that year at a rate of five pounds per head of the excess;
- (ii) in making to rating authorities who have afforded relief for any year in accordance with the said Act to the residential occupiers of dwellings a grant equal to half the aggregate amount of that relief plus one-sixth of the amount, if any, by which that aggregate amount exceeds three per cent. of the gross rate income of the authority's area for that year within the meaning of the Rate-product Rules 1959 or the Rate-product (County Boroughs) Rules 1959;
- (b) of any increase attributable to the said Act in the sums payable out of moneys so provided under any other Act.—[Sir K. Joseph.]
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
There are one or two questions that we should ask about this Money Resolution before we give it our approval. The Money Resolution authorisespayment out of moneys provided by Parliament—of any expenses of the Minister of Housing and Local Goverment incurred—in making to rating authorities in the case of whom, in the year 1964–65 or any subsequent year, the number of persons over the age of sixty-five estimated to be included in the population of the authority's area exceeds one-tenth of the estimated total of that population a grant in respect of that year at a rate of five pounds per head of the excess;During the debate on the Bill, it was suggested that it might be useful to 1374 amend that figure, but as I read the Money Resolution it will not be possible to do so. This is something which Hon. Members should consider before passing the Resolution. Hon. Members ought not to have their hands tied and be prevented from discussing whether the fraction of one-tenth is correct. The Resolution seems to be very tightly drawn in that respect.
In sub-paragraph (ii) of paragraph (a) we have a curious formula for estimating the Government's contribution to the amount to be spent by local authorities in giving relief. Perhaps the Minister will say something about that.
Sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph (a) is the provision by which during next year and the year after, 1964–65 and 1965–66, £13 million is to be given to the ratepayers of England and Wales. I have to hesitate about supporting this Resolution when I remember that in Scotland we are to get only £1 million, and that in the year 1965–66. The sum of £13 million is to be spent in England and Wales to relieve hardship and I am reminded of the relatively small amount to be spent in Scotland.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member will find himself going outside the Resolution if he deals with Scotland, because we are dealing only with England and Wales.
§ Mr. Willis
I am very grateful for your guidance, Sir William. I was only quoting that as one of my reasons for finding it difficult to support the Resolution. I do not intend to develop any great argument about Scotland, but for Scottish Members this is one of the factors which must be borne in mind when we are asked to support a Resolution of this character.
Sub-paragraph (ii) is the provision by which authorisation is given for an amount which is not known, but which is to be over and above the £13 million which is to be spent during the first two years, so that the sum for England and Wales is to be more than £13 million compared with only £1 million for Scotland.
Paragraph (b) coversany increase attributable to the said Act in the sums payable out of moneys so provided under any other Act.1375 The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum says:Changes in penny rate products as a result of the Bill may increase the amounts of rate deficiency grant (and consequently Exchequer equalisation grant in Scotland) through their indirect effect on the distribution of general grant and on the incidence of precepts for purposes other than general county purposes.I assume that the extent to which that will affect the Scottish Exchequer equalisation grant is covered by sub-paragraph (b) of the Money Resolution. How much is it expected that the Exchequer equalisation grant for Scotland will rise as a result of the operation of the Bill? That is one of the factors which we must consider when deciding whether to approve this Money Resolution, because it must be remembered that Scotland receives only £1 million.
The Memorandum also says:The changes may also affect subsidies under the Housing Acts of 1919 and1961.…I do not know the extent to which that affects Scotland, because 1961 Act does not apply to Scotland.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I am sure that my hon. Friend realises that the Housing Bill, which is being considered in Committee upstairs, proposes to apply Part II of the 1961 Act to Scotland.
§ Mr. Willis
My hon. Friend, with his customary perspicacity has appreciated the point that I was about to make. When the 1961 Act becomes applicable to Scotland as a result of that terrible hotchpotch of a Bill that we are considering in Committee, to what extent will it affect Scotland financially?
I hope that I have not transgressed the rules of order too much, if at all. I do not like this Money Resolution, for two reasons: first, because it is so tightly drawn, it precludes a great deal of useful discussion; and secondly, because I am not in favour of voting these large sums of money for England and Wales in view of the small amount that we are to receive in Scotland. This is a monstrous state of affairs, and I think that the Scottish Ministers, who are skulking at the end of the Front Bench opposite, ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for not being able to do better than this for Scotland. They ought to resign.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has done a service to the Committee in raising these points. We ought to scrutinise the Money Resolution as carefully as possible to ensure that it is discussed in detail and to enable us to make desirable changes when the Bill goes to Committee.
As a Scot, I deplore the fact that I am to be denied the opportunity of making vital changes in respect of Scotland. The Money Resolution says:That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make provision with respect to England and Wales for grants to rating authorities…That means that neither in Committee nor on Report will I be able to move an Amendment suggesting that the words "to Scotland" in Clause 10, page 7, line 24, be left out. In that line it is provided that the Bill shall not extend to Scotland or to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland people can look after themselves, but I am concerned with Scotland.
We have a right to suggest that this is unfair to Scotland. On the day the Bill was issued we had an answer from the Secretary of State for Scotland which related to it, and in which he said that he was going to take parallel measures. I should have thought that the best way to take parallel measures would be to ensure that similar legislation to this was brought in separately for Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman is not going to do this, but owing to the way in which the Money Resolution is drawn back benchers will be denied the chance of doing anything about it themselves. I do not know whether the Treasury Ministers are responsible, but I should like to know whether this action was calculated to stifle the justified complaints of Scottish Members.
My second point is on similar lines to one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East, but I want to link it up with a paradox which he omitted. Not only is the Money Resolution tightly drawn; it is also very loosely drawn. Sub-paragraph (a,i) could not be tighter, but sub-paragraph (a,ii) could not be looser. There is little hope of my hon. Friends who represent English and Welsh constituencies being able to provide for an increase in the grants paid 1377 for elderly persons; the wording is so completely tied up. The age is there—65—and the figure of one-tenth of the estimated total population of the area is laid down, as is the rate, of £5 per head. Not a thing can be changed in Committee if we pass this Money Resolution. It deprives us of any discretion.
Mention of the word "discretion" immediately brings me to sub-paragraph (a,ii). I thought that we were coming to the end of open-ended subsidies and grants. The Minister has not been able to tell us his estimate of what this sub-paragraph will cost, and I am entitled to ask the Treasury what it thinks will be the cost. We are dealing with money, and I am entitled to ask how much is involved. Surely there were discussions between the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Treasury on this matter before the authorisation of the payment out of these moneys.
The sub-paragraph says that the amount that will be paid out of moneys provided by Parliamentin making to rating authorities who have afforded relief for any year in accordance with the said Act to the residential occupiers of dwellings a grant equal to half the aggregate amount of that relief…We have not a clue what the amount of relief will be. It is entirely at the discretion of local authorities. What will the Public Accounts Committee say about us if we pass this Resolution so blindly? I can remember that Committee becoming all worked up and the Government deducting nearly £1 million from Scottish local authorities' grants in respect of what it thought were too low rents.
Here we are giving open-ended discretion to local authorities in England and Wales. So far as I know, no sum has been quoted as to what it will cost. We in Scotland are taxpayers, too. But the Ministers who clamped down on Scotland last year—with a subservient Secretary of State for Scotland doing their bidding—are the people who are presenting this to the Committee tonight—the Treasury. I should like to know what this will cost, and I want an answer. There is a wonderful Clause in the Bill giving the Minister power by Order, not an affirmative Motion but only an annulment, to give an estimate of what it will cost and to come back with a 1378 corrected estimate. For the proper processes of Parliament, and in order to know what we are passing, this is the time for an estimate to be given. Surely when they went to the Treasury the Ministers had some idea of what it would cost. We have had an estimate, a rough one, in respect of sub-paragraph (a,i) of £6,500,000 in the next year.
§ Mr. Willis
I am sure that my hon. Friend has noted that this amount could be well over 3 per cent. of the gross rate income which, according to my calculation, might be £25 million in the case of England and Wales.
§ Mr. Ross
This is additional. It is one-half of what is discretionary, plus one-sixth. The total may be very high; but there is no point in Hon. Members on this side of the Committee making blind guesses when we have present an array of Treasury Ministers who can tell us what is involved.
I wish to draw attention to subparagraph (b) of the Money Resolution, authorising the payment out of money provided by Parliament:of any increase attributable to the said Act in the sums payable out of moneys so provided under any other Act.Nothing could be very much wider than that. I wish to know something about the £1 million which has been promised to Scotland for the relief of hardship. We have had revaluation on current values since 1961 and so we are getting speedy and urgent relief—there is a promise from the Secretary of State that he is going to add £1 million, not this year, not next year, but in 1965, to the general grant. But we do not know what the general grant is, and so we shall not know whether £1 million has been added and £1 million taken away to make room for it. I wish to know whether the £1 million is attributable to this Act. On 9th December, the Secretary of State said:Meanwhile, in parallel with interim measures for Exchequer assistance which are being introduced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, in the Rating (Interim Relief) Bill published today, I propose to provide temporary assistance to Scottish local authorities."—[Official Report, 9th December, 1963; Vol. 686, c. 37.]Temporary assistance in 1965 for hardship that started in 1961—well done, thou good and faithful Tory! And someone said that it has no relation to a General 1379 Election. May we be told whether this £1 million is covered by this Bill? May I query the use of the word "provide"? I have studied Money Resolutions over a number of years and I should have thought that the proper word would be "payable". I wish to know exactly why it is so indefinite. There is another Money Resolution on the Order Paper where this formula is much more definite.
It says:any increase attributable to that Act in the sums so payable by way of Exchequer Equalisation Grant under the enactments relating to local government in Scotland.It would have been far better if the Minister of Housing and Local Government had spelled out the main Acts from which he expected to have to pay out more moneys. We have had reference to the increased administrative expenses of local authorities. They are to be attributable to this Act. He might have given us information about that.
There are to be increases in relation to rate deficiency payments in England and Wales. There are to be increases, I fancy, in relation to general grant in England and Wales. I hesitated to question your Ruling, Sir William, that this did not refer to Scotland, but we cannot make any increase in rate deficiency grant in England and Wales without also increasing the rate deficiency grant in Scotland. We find in all these Bills that whether Scotland is in the Bill or not it is always in the Money Resolution. It so happens that it is not mentioned in this Resolution tonight because of the way in which the Money Resolution has been drawn.
I ask, what are the Acts; what are the sums? There is also a question of the Housing Acts of 1919 to 1961 being affected by a change in the penny rate. This may well have a future reference to Scotland, but, if one of the rules of order is that we cannot discuss what is going on in Committee, I shall not go into that point. I shall be grateful if we can have these points examined and answered. Was it deliberate to leave out Scotland in respect of rating authorities? If England and Wales had not been mentioned, could Scotland have been introduced later? Was it deliberate so to specify in sub-paragraph (a,i) the age, the fraction and the 1380 actual amount per head to prevent any possibility of upward amendment in Committee? What is to be the cost under sub-paragraph (ii)? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what are the other Acts and whether they include the legendary promise of £1 million under the Scottish general grant in the year 1965–66?
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs(Sir Keith Joseph)
May I first take the opportunity to apologise to the Committee for an unintentional misstatement I made when intervening in the speech of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) on the Second Reading? I said categorically, getting my dates wrong, that I learned from Professor Allen after an early date in August that the Report of his Committee would not be available this year. I have checked on the dates and in fact I did know in the second half of July from Professor Allen that the Report would not be available. I informed the House of this and that the Government, in the light of it, were considering whether any interim steps would be necessary before the next rates were paid. I apologise to the hon. Member for unintentionally misleading him, but the letter I sent to the Standing Joint Committee was written at a time when my statement of the Government's intention to consider an interim measure had been made public.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
Of course I unreservedly accept the apology of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. MacColl
I think it confirms my suggestion that at the time the letter was sent to the Standing Joint Committee it was known that there was no possibility of the Allen Committee's Report being received this Session.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am grateful for the opportunity, slightly out of order, to put right that mistake on my part.
I turn with some relief to the technicalities of the Money Resolution. First, I must accept that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) paradoxically is right in saying that part of the 1381 Money Resolution is very tight and part is very loose. The Money Resolution in respect of Clauses 1 and 5 is very tightly drawn, and I understand that any Amendment to the figures in those Clauses would, subject to the Ruling of the Chair, be out of order. On the other hand, the figure in Clause 2 about the eligibility of a householder to be considered for hardship relief is not limited by the Money Resolution and therefore that part of the Bill is open to discussion with a view to amendment.
So much for the tightness of the Money Resolution. Unfortunately, in the nature of things I am not able to give a clear answer to the inquiries by HON. MEMBERS about the probable cost of Clause 5, which, in terms of the Money Resolution is paragraph (a,ii). The fact is that if we knew exactly how much hardship there was we should have been able to draw the Bill in quite a different way. But we do not know exactly how much hardship there is, and we are forced to rely on the local authorities' discretion.
As the hon. Member rightly said, the expenditure under Clause 5 will depend on the use which local authorities make of that discretion. All I can say is that from the best evidence I can get—and in the nature of the things I fear that it is scanty evidence—the order of magnitude of the cost of Clause 5 and therefore of paragraph (a,ii) will be something under the cost of Clause 1 or of paragraph (a,i)—something under £6 million. That is the nearest I can get to guiding the House. I cannot say that it is accurate even to within 50 per cent., but that is the order of magnitude which I think will obtain.
I was asked to give some information about paragraph (b). Here the words are fairly broadly drawn in reference tosums payable out of moneys so provided under any other Act.This is both because they include by that phrase reference to the well-known link between the rate-deficiency grant in England and Wales and the Exchequer Equalisation Grant in Scotland and because there are two other Acts which are known to be influenced by the 1d. rate product in England and Wales. The 1d. rate product in England and Wales may be minutely altered by 1382 the operation of the Bill. It may be that because the distribution through the precept of some expenses falls differently as a result of differences in rate remissions of county districts, the total of rate deficiency grants might be minutely increased. This would occur if a larger share of expenses were borne by county districts receiving rate deficiency grant at higher percentages.
Because of the Bill we must bear in mind the possibility that a 1d. rate product, which is a factor in two other Acts—the Housing Act, 1919 and the Housing Act, 1961—might be slightly altered. These possibilities are covered in paragraph (b).
The hon Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), in a brilliantly imaginative intervention said, "But the current Housing Bill before the House introduces Part II of the Housing Act, 1961 to Scotland and there is, therefore, implicit reference to Scotland in paragraph (b)". I must correct him. He was very nearly right. But what the current Housing Bill which is in Committee upstairs does is to make it possible for Part II of the Housing Act, 1961 to be introduced into Scotland at a later stage.
The last question raised concerned the Secretary of State's announcement. Although the Secretary of State for Scotland has announced his intentions in connection with a £1 million for Scotland, that does not come within the ambit of this Bill, which is limited to England and Wales. I think that I have answered all the questions which were put to me, and I hope that I have satisfied Hon. Members.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Willis
I am grateful for the Minister's reply. As the debate proceeds, it becomes clear that under paragraph (a,ii) the amount that can be spent is very substantial. I cannot see any limit to the amount which can be spent. A local authority can spend any amount it likes. It will be guaranteed half by the Government, plus one-sixth of the amount by which whatever it spends exceeds 3 per cent. of the gross rate income.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I should like to put the hon. Gentleman right straight away. Local authorities are free to remit only in cases of hardship and subject to the 1383 two hurdles—that is, the 25 per cent. increase over the 1962–63 level or at least a £5 increase. Hardship must be established. Then the remission must not exceed the excess over the 1962–63 level, plus 25 per cent. There are these limits.
§ Mr. Willis
I accept the correction that there are limits. One is the £5. Speeches I have heard about conditions in England had led me to believe that everyone has suffered a far bigger increase than this. Most people in Scotland have, but we have not the benefits of this. One reason which makes me dubious about supporting the Money Resolution is that, as I understand it, when a Scottish local authority remits rates it does not get a contribution towards it. This is utterly preposterous.
Why the Secretary of State for Scotland sits there and allows this to go through without saying a word about it is beyond my comprehension. Has he no consideration at all for Scottish ratepayers? He allows ratepayers South of the Border to obtain benefits of this kind which do not operate in Scotland and which are likely to involve considerable expenditure, expenditure which might well make his £1 million look like chicken feed. I feel angry about this. If it were advisable I should like to vote against the Resolution, but I do not want to deny my fellow Englishmen the benefits they might get under the Bill. I should like to see steps being taken by Scottish Ministers to ensure that some of these benefits are brought North of the Border.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
Scottish Members are bound in doing their duty to try to probe the rating reliefs which will affect in some way allocations of general grant and Exchequer equalisation grant in Scotland. As my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) pointed out so ably, paragraph (a,ii) is drawn very wide. It says:in making to rating authorities who have afforded relief for any year in accordance with the said Act to the residential occupiers of dwellings a grant equal to half the aggregate amount of that relief plus one-sixth of the amount, if any, by which that aggregate amount exceeds three per cent.1384 The Minister tried to ride this off by saying that he cannot give us a figure, because it depends on the amount of hardship. We cannot accept that. The yardstick of hardship among the English and Welsh local authorities could have very little to do with the actual on-cost and moneys paid out.
The degree of hardship is to be assessed by the English and Welsh local authorities. But the compositions of local authorities are different. Some local authorities may be hard-hearted in their outlook and may not have the regard for extenuating circumstances in the case of old-age pensioners that other local authorities have. The Minister has an intimate knowledge of local authorities, and thousands of representations have flowed in to his office from local authorities in England and Wales about the hardship which will be inflicted by these rate increases. Surely he must have some idea of the amount of money involved. If I were to mention a sum of £14 million, could he not say that that would be something near it? He cannot say that is not a reasonable sort of figure. The Minister has already told us that he does not know the degree of hardship involved, so he is in a cleft stick. He cannot answer. Our case is as good as his.
§ Sir K. Joseph
If the hon. Member is asking whether I can confirm that Clause 5 of the Bill—that is, paragraph (a, ii) of the Money Resolution—might cost £14 million, I can say categorically that the answer is "no".
§ Mr. Manuel
This is a remarkable situation. I took down the Minister's words very carefully. He said he could not say how much hardship there is; it could not be measured. Would he agree that it is the measuring of this hardship by the local authorities which will decide the figure, or have I misconstrued the situation? I think the amount could be much more. I think I am making a conservative estimate in suggesting this figure.
We are in a cleft stick. We have a feeling that something wrong is being perpetrated in Scotland and that it can cause great injury to local authorities and the work that they carry out because of the application of the general grant.
§ Mr. Willis
If we take the first two years, which brings us up to the time that Scotland gets the £1 million, it is quite possible under these two provisions that England and Wales would get £20 million.
§ Mr. Manuel
My hon. Friend is so accurate in his assessment of the position that I am bound to agree with him. I think that figure is very moderate. It could be £28 million, and we do not get our grant in Scotland for two years yet. I know it is fashionable these days to lump all sorts of things into United Kingdom Bills. The English Minister is having quite a job with the Housing Bill, because he does not know much about Scotland.
§ Mr. Manuel
I would not say that. We are not talking about geography here. The Minister has admitted in Committee that he is not competent to deal with the Scottish application of the United Kingdom Bill, but I think my hon. Friends will agree that we would welcome some more references to Scotland than we have had. Why, when there is something of real value, is it applicable to England and Wales only?
The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill lays down quite clearly thatChanges in penny rate products as a result of the Bill may increase the amounts of rate-deficiency grant (and consequentially Exchequer equalisation grant in Scotland) through their indirect effect on the distribution of general grant and on the incidence of precepts for purposes other than general county purposes.This is very confused, of course, but the Government actually have an alibi. Two years from now they can tell us that they indicated in the Memorandum that there could be repercussions in Scotland.
All we are trying to do tonight is to try to wring some information out of Ministers responsible as to what the repercussions are likely to be in Scotland when this comes fully into effect. So far we have been signally ineffective in getting any real information. I would hope that the Minister will tell us, or the Secretary of State for Scotland will tell us, and perhaps relieve our anxieties, that he will make up this leeway if we 1386 have lost it in two years' time, when this is applied in Scotland. If the Secretary of State would make that statement we should all be happy to let the Money Resolution pass.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
I think that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite think we are just having a little joke. We are very much concerned. We represent Scotland. We wish to see Scottish interests upheld. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite think that this is a matter merely of passing some time, they ought to get rid of the idea. The Patronage Secretary is sitting there. The Secretary of State for Scotland is sitting there looking at the ceiling. He started knowing nothing about if. He is asleep, or at least showing no interest whatever [...]n what is going on—
§ Mr. Lawson
—although he is the Minister with the primary responsibility for Scottish interests. My hon. Friends have asked legitimate questions. If they had not asked legitimate questions, you, Sir William, would have ruled them out of order. They have asked those questions and they are entitled to get answers.
It is quite obvious that the Minister of Housing and Local Government cannot answer those questions. It is possible, though I doubt it, that the Secretary of State for Scotland may be able to answer them. He might at least have a try. Since the Patronage Secretary is sitting there, in control and command of these things—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—he might suggest to his right hon. Friend that at least he gets up and has a try. I have not interrupted at all, but have listened to the right hon. Gentleman hazarding a guess what the cost might be under paragraph (a,ii). If I did not misunderstand him, it was very much a guess—very much a guess. How can he get up and say categorically it cannot be £14 million? When the right hon. Gentleman hazards a guess how can be mock other guesses? One guess is as good as another—unless the right hon. Gentleman can bring forward some evidence to show that his guess is an informed guess. I have not yet heard that evidence. He is telling us that in 1387 that guess he may be 50 per cent. out. That is something. We should like to learn how he arrives at the 50 per cent. We want to know how Scotland will be affected by the Measure and the related Measure. We want to know the implications and consequences.
§ It being a quarter to Eleven o'clock, The Chairman put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2 (Exempted Business).
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received Tomorrow.