HC Deb 08 May 1967 vol 746 cc1187-9

Lords Amendment: No. 4, in page 9, line 42, leave out from first "the" to the end of line 2 on page 10 and insert: cost to the recipient authority of providing dwellings on the site would, in the opinion of the Minister, be unduly high in the circumstances of the case.

Mr. Speaker

I will call the attention of the House to the fact that Privilege is involved in this Amendment.

Mr. Robert Maxwell (Buckingham)

On a point of order. Will you please tell me, Mr. Speaker, in which way Privilege is involved in the Amendment?

Mr. Speaker

It is not the duty of Mr. Speaker to explain to an hon. Member what he ought to know. Mr. Speaker's duty is to advise the House when any Amendment from another place involves Privilege. If the House decides to agree with the Amendment which has come from another place, then the House will waive that Privilege. But it is Mr. Speaker's duty to protect the House of Commons against infringement of its rights by another place.

Mr. Mellish

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The best way to explain the Amendment is to explain the general provision which we want to secure. The last few lines of Clause 10(1) provide that the expensive site subsidy which is payable shall not exceed a certain limit unless the Minister determines that it should be higher. The limit is set out in subsection (2). It is the point at which the expensive site subsidy plus the basic land-cost subsidy would exceed 75 per cent. of the loan charges.

The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) will remember that in Committee we had long debates on this issue in an argument about individual authorities. The need for the Amendment has arisen because when we worked out the detailed rules for administering the Minister's discretion under the subsection, we found that it was not practicable to relate the cost of providing dwellings on a particular site to the total rate fund or to the general level of rents charged by the recipient authority, as the original wording of the Bill required. The only type of case in which these conditions might apply would be that of a very small authority which proposed to develop a site so expensive that it would upset the whole of its rate account or rent structure, and if that were the case, then almost certainly that type of authority ought not to be developing that site anyway and we should not approve it for subsidy.

The type of case which we want to help and which this Amendment will make it possible for us to help is that in which an authority is obliged to build on very expensive sites—for example, in inner London or on difficult redevelopment sites in the course of slum clearance. Generally speaking, a combined subsidy of 75 per cent. of the loan charges is a generous and sufficient subsidy, but there are authorities which face very high site costs and there are others whose general housing costs are high in relation to their resources, who may benefit from the subsidy payable under Clause 5(1), in either of those cases it might be reasonable to allow subsidy on site costs in excess of 75 per cent.

We have therefore struggled—and I admit that frankly—to find a form of words which would enable the Minister to exercise his discretion in a reasonable way, and we have also tried hard to find a form of words which would not be thought unnecessarily vague. I do not know whether we have succeeded entirely in the latter respect, but there is a genuine difficulty in adopting any more percise definition, since the point at which the combined subsidies exceed 75 per cent. will vary in relation to changes in the representative rate specified under Clause 2. We cannot therefore confidently write very specific tests into the Bill as to what is right or reasonable, because what is right today might not be in a year or so.

The alternative words we propose now at the end of subsection (1) will enable the Minister to determine what the qualifying test should be and to revise it as necessary from time to time. We have consulted the local authority associations on the detailed application of the subsidy, and I am very glad to say that they have accepted our proposals.

This really is the whole point of the Amendment: in general, the subsidy will apply on a sliding scale, running from 75 per cent. at £70,000 an acre to 90 per cent, at £200,000 per acre. In the case of local authorities which qualify for subsidy under Clause 5(1), however, the limitation of 75 per cent. will not apply.

Mr. Channon

This is a substantive point raised in another place and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will agree with this Amendment. It was raised by my noble Friend Lord Brooke. We accept that in certain cases it will be of great help to some local authorities. We also accept that a small site might be very expensive but nevertheless might not show up considerably in the total rate burden of a large local authority. I am delighted that we have taken out the words about an unreasonably heavy rate burden, or very high rents, because at no stage in Committee or on Report was either Joint Parliamentary Secretary prepared to define that. Therefore, taking those words out of the Bill must be an improvement. The Amendment is desirable and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Speaker

As the House is willing to waive its Privileges, I will see that an entry is made in the Journal to that effect.

May I add, and resist the temptation to give a lecture on the British constitution to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell), that it is the sole right of the Commons to direct, limit or apply all financial provisions under a Bill. If the Commons from time to time wishes to waive its Privileges, it does so. I hope that that explanation will reassure the hon. Gentleman.

Subsequent Lords Amendment agreed to.