HL Deb 28 July 1931 vol 81 cc1273-7

Clause 20, page 21, line 18, after ("sums") insert ("not exceeding in the aggregate ten million pounds.")

The Commons disagree to the above Amendment for the following Reason:

Because it imposes a limit on the sum which may be expended on holdings to be provided under the Bill, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting the above Reason may be deemed sufficient.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on this Amendment.

Moved, That this House doth not insist upon the said Amendment.—(Earl De La Wan.)


My Lords, I think this was one of the most important Amendments that your Lordships put into the Bill. We put a limit on the expenditure of the Government on small holdings. When the Bill came to your Lordships there was no limitation at all to the capital expenditure which might be made on small holdings, although there was a limit to the capital expenditure under a good many other items. I understand that another place has said that they will not have this limitation of expenditure to £10,000,000, and the reason given is that it would limit the number of small holdings. Surely that is not the right way to look at the question. It is a question of how much we can afford to spend on small holdings.

I do not want to repeat the arguments that I used before, but I remember stating on the Second Reading that a very reasonable estimate of the expenditure of small holdings would be that it might amount to £200,000,000, and I see no reason for changing that figure. We have had a warning from Mr. Snowden on the financial position of the country, and he asked the whole country to come to his aid, to help him and to practise economy. We have tried our best in this House by putting a, limit of £10,000,000 to this expenditure, and we have just now passed an Amendment saying that the Government shall have eight years in which to run this Bill. But how many million pounds will they spend on small holdings during eight years? It seems to me that the limit of eight years is going to encourage the Government to go in for an enormous number of small holdings at once and get them through before the eight years have passed. I shall be very sorry if we let the Commons objections stand in this House and allow an unlimited amount of expenditure under this Bill. I hope I shall get some backing, and I should like to hear what your Lordships have to say.


My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord in his contention that we should not agree to the proposal of the Commons. The arguments used when we inserted the limitation of £10,000,000 have all the more force to-day, considering the lack of improvement, and in fact the deterioration, of the financial state of this country and of Europe as a whole. Your Lordships will remember that your principal reason for inserting the Amendment was that we did not wish to give any Minister a blank cheque for expenditure in this direction. After all, £10,000,000 is a biggish sum. It might, perhaps, be reasonable to consider some slight increase, in view of the number of years over which the Bill is to run, but surely, should small holdings be a financial or a social success, there is no doubt that, when the Bill comes to an end, there will be no difficulty in obtaining from Parliament the necessary additional moneys to spend on their extension; whereas if they are not a success, then under the proposal of the Commons, with the blank cheque that it is proposed to give to the Minister, there is no limit to the money that he might spend in the pursuance of a will-o'-the-wisp attempt to make them a success. I hope your Lordships will insist on your Amendment and will leave the limitation in the Bill.


My Lords, I earnestly desire to support the proposal of my noble friend, which was supported by the noble Earl who has just spoken. Let us consider for a moment the financial position of the country. The Budget did not balance; since the arrangement has been made with Germany there is a further deficiency of £11,000,000; and further sums have been spent in addition. Therefore the next Budget must meet a deficiency of something like £20,000,000. In those circumstances we propose to give a Minister power to spend an unlimited sum of money. As my noble friend says, it might be £200,000,000. Even in the most prosperous times I have always contended that it was not business-like to give any Government unlimited power to spend. Parliament has always reserved to itself the right to sanction and limit expenditure. The Minister and the present Government—I am not at all sure that the Liberal Government was not somewhat of the same opinion—have held that the Government should have power to spend other people's money to as great an amount as they desire. In fact, as I once told a Liberal Financial Secretary, that power which Parliament refused to the Kings we would not give to a Radical Government. Nor would I agree to give power to spend unlimited money, either to the present Government or to my noble friends who sit below me, if they were sitting opposite. I should be just as insistent upon not giving them unlimited power to spend money.

This is really a very serious thing. Only two or three days ago I saw in the Press a notice from several eminent people—mainly, I think, Liberals; I should like to draw the attention of the Liberal Peers to this—pointing out the vital necessity for economy at the present moment, and saying that unless we were very careful we should go the way of Australia. Yet here, at the present moment, after your Lordships have put in a limit which, after all, is a very large sum of money—£10,000,000 is a very large sum—I understand that further powers of spending to an unlimited amount are to be given to the Government. I think the noble Earl who spoke last raised the possibility that in two or three years time, if the small holdings turn out to be a success and there is no financial loss, it would be perfectly easy for the Government to come down and ask for further sums; but at this moment to grant them unlimited power is, to my mind, disastrous, and if my noble friend goes to a Division (I do not care if there is nobody in the Lobby) I think this is such an important point that we ought to show that there are at any rate some of us who, understanding something of financial matters, view with dismay the position of the country at the present moment.


My Lords, I very much hope that my noble friend Lord Dynevor will not press his objection, for this reason. Your Lordships will remember that, when the Bill was discussed in Committee, Amendments were put down, first of all to limit the time during which the Bill should operate and in the second place to limit the amount of money that might be spent under it. When these Amendments were first brought before your Lordships' House I took it on myself to ask the noble Earl in charge of the Bill whether he would give us a time limit or a money limit, because I thought one or the other was most important and we were anxious to meet him as to which it should be. At that time the noble Earl was not in a position to give us either. Since that time, I will not say wiser counsels but different counsels have prevailed, and he has at any rate met us to the extent which we have just seen.

The difficulty which I ventured then to point out to your Lordships was that any limitation, certainly of money and I think of time, was obviously a Privilege Amendment, and I called your Lordships' attention, I think in Committee, and afterwards on the Report stage, to the fact that that Amendment was clearly privileged. It was one of the difficulties which confronted us. We have now what is a substantial concession on the part of the Government in accepting the limitation of time, and I think it would be unfortunate if we then insisted upon a limitation of money. The objection taken by the House of Commons is constitutionally a good objection—namely, that as a Privilege matter, not under the Parliament Act but under a constitutional rule which has existed for a great many years, it stands outside the powers of this House. I think it would be very unfortunate to come into conflict with the other House on a matter in which clearly we should be claiming to infringe the Privileges of that House, and I hope the Amendment will not be pressed.


After what has been said by the noble Viscount, it is not necessary that I should add much. If the Amendment is pressed, in addition to the fact that it is really dealing with a matter of Privilege, purely on the question of merits the Government regard this matter as absolutely vital to the Bill, and it would virtually mean the loss of the Bill if an Amendment of this character were carried. We intend to push forward with this smallholdings policy, as far as circumstances permit, and by circumstances we mean choice of applicants, choice of land, and fully adequate arrangements being made for settlement and training. Those are to be our only limits apart from the matter of time, which has already been discussed and settled, and the Government could not accept this Amendment.


With the leave of the House, may I say that, as my noble and learned friend has said, this is not a question of the Parliament Act. It is a question of a statement made some two hundred years

Resolved in the affirmative: the said Amendment not insisted upon accordingly.