That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for the registration of common land and of town or village greens, it is expedient to authorise—
- (a) the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by the Minister of Land and Natural Resources in paying to the Commons Commmissioners and assessors appointed under that Act fees and travelling and other allowances and in providing those Commissioners with services and facilities for the discharge of their functions;
- (b) any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable out of moneys provided by Parliament by way of Rate-deficiency Grant or Exchequer Equalisation Grant under the enactments relating to local government in England and Wales or in Scotland.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)
I wish to continue what I was asking the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources yesterday. I do so because I believe that the answer which he gave was erroneous.
The House will recall that yesterday I asked why it was necessary to have the sums of money payable out of the rate deficiency grant. I said that this was a clumsy way of using the rate deficiency grant or Exchequer equalisation grant for paying money for such sums as were necessary to the local councils who would be engaged in dealing with the Register. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that this was the only way of getting money to the councils concerned. I think there are other methods and that this is not the best or the easiest way to see that this function is carried out by the county councils or county boroughs which are the authorities designated under the Bill. I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary why he gave me the reply that he did.
My second point, which is very short, is that in the last line of the Money Resolution which we are discussing there are the words, "or in Scotland". As I understand, there is no common land whatever in Scotland and neither do town greens come under this designation. It would seem that the drafting of this subsection in the Money Resolution is loose and that these three words should not appear. I should like to know why they have been put in.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) gave me a run yesterday so that I could check the information which I could then 764 give without very much consideration. Those who advise me say that the answer I gave was correct. Perhaps it would have been clearer if I had said that it was the only practical way in which sums from the Exchequer could be made available to the local authorities. The history of the matter is that in 1960, in the period of the previous Administration, there were negotiations with the Treasury over the method of paying towards what was a new burden on local councils. At one time, the Treasury was prepared to consider the possibility of going back to a percentage basis grant, but, on reflection, that view did not prevail. The decision was taken more than twelve months ago.
Consequently, one is left now making financial provision within the general grant orders. The position is that, in the case of those authorities whose average rateable value does not come up to the general average of all authorities, that difference is made good by the rate deficiency fund, and there is a very complicated formula for calculating it, which I do not think that the hon. Member would want me to go into now, even if it was my province. I am advised that it is necessary, if we wish to ensure practical assistance to poorer authorities which may involve a contribution from the rate deficiency fund, to word the resolution in this way.
It is calculated that the sum to be required over five years which will fall upon all the authorities is so small that it probably will not affect rate deficiency grant.
I was asked also about the last line in the resolution and the reference to Scotland. The reason that the financial memorandum has to refer to Exchequer equalisation grants, the Scottish equivalent of the rate deficiency grants, even though the Bill does not apply to Scotland—as the hon. Member said, there are no common lands as we understand them in Scotland—is that under the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1954, the Exchequer equalisation grants are calculated in total at a sum equal to 11/80ths of the grant payable to the local authorities in England and Wales in the corresponding financial year. Thus, any increase in the rate deficiency grant arising out of the Bill would affect the Exchequer equalisation
765 grants. Therefore, they must be set out in the resolution or the calculations could not be made accurately.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, would he not agree that this is a terribly complicated way of doing it? His speech, for which I am grateful and which is as clear as it can be, demonstrates how terribly difficult it is. It is absolutely nonsensical, when we have no intention of spending any money in Scotland, to bring Scotland into the Resolution. It is almost the wrong way of doing it. I would add that there are other more practical methods. What the hon. Gentleman says is that the sum should be small, that therefore it will not affect the rate deficiency grant at all and that the ratepayers should pay for this.
This was not the intention of the hon. Gentleman in his speeches yesterday. Will he look at this once again? It should be possible to find a method of direct payment—direct hiring perhaps—for the 147 county councils and county boroughs. It would not be a vast sum. This would be by far the most satisfactory method.
§ Mr. Skeffington
In the financial arrangements, we shall look at that question. In so far as making reference to the rate deficiency grant is concerned, the only practical way of making them is the way in which it has been done in the Resolution. On the Scottish point, this is a formula which generally applies. If the Scottish equalisation grant is a fixed mathematical proportion of the grant for England and Wales, there is nothing which this Department can do to alter it. I will see that the points which the hon. Member has made are conveyed to the right quarter.
§ Question put and agreed to.