§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE MINISTER OF CIVIL AVIATION(LORD PAKENHAM)
My Lords, I need not detain the House for very long over this Bill, which I trust can be regarded as non-controversial. It enables the Public Works Loan Commissioners to make cash advances to local authorities for public works up to £500,000,000, provided that the aggregate of such loans actually made, and of commitments to make further loans of the same nature, does not at any time exceed £850,000,000. These maxima are to operate for the period from the passing of this Bill until the enactment of a further measure for similar purposes.
The last Act, which this Bill proposes to replace, came into force on December 16 of last year, and authorised advances up to £500,000,000, with a limit of £680,000,000 on advances plus commitments. By the beginning of November of this year, advances amounted to some £240,000,000, of which practically three-quarters—namely, £172,000,000-was for housing. In addition, commitments amounted to something over£230,000,000, giving a total of £570,000,000 lent and committed, out of the total of £680,000,000 allowed. At the present rate at which approvals are running, the saturation point would be reached in January. That is why we have the present Bill. The figure for actual advances in the present Bill is, therefore, the same as before, £500,000,000, but the ceiling for 730 advances plus commitments is increased from £680,000,000 to £850,000,000. I hasten to say that there are two reasons for this increase, which I hope will satisfy the House. First, local authorities are now able to plan their programmes further ahead than previously, which means that they submit more comprehensive and far-reaching schemes to the Commissioners. Secondly, local authorities are now pre-paring to carry out a higher proportion of schemes which take a longer time to carry out. School building, for instance, features more largely in these programmes than previously, and generally speaking a school takes two or three years to build, whereas most housing schemes are completed sooner than that.
I should like to assure your Lordships that the increased figure in the Bill does not imply any sudden expansion of investment by local authorities. The effective regulator of such investment, as the House is aware, must be the capital investment programme which is applied in practice to these schemes by the granting of authority to commence actual physical work. This means that local authorities can borrow from the Commissioners only with the sanction of the appropriate Department, and with the consent of the Treasury. The Bill, therefore, is only an enabling Bill, and docs not necessarily involve the expenditure of the maximum amounts provided. The sums specified are the best estimate we can make of what may be required, with a small margin in hand, before it is convenient to bring in another Bill. I hope and believe that the Bill can be regarded as non-controversial, and I beg to move that it be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Lord Pakenham.)
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.