HC Deb 30 January 1929 vol 224 cc1034-45

"It is hereby declared that it is the intention of this Act that in the event of substantial additional expenditure being imposed on any class of local authorities by reason of the institution of a new public health or other service after the commence- ment of this Act provision should be made for increased contributions out of moneys provided by Parliament."—[Sir K. Wood.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time.

This is another new Clause which we are moving in accordance with agreements which we have concluded with local authorities. The object of it is to make it clear that any further services imposed upon local authorities are not covered by the grants provided in the Bill. If any further services, involving substantial additional local expenditure, are imposed, it will be for Parliament to provide the further assistance required.


I wish I could accept this Clause with the same enthusiasm with which I accepted the preceding one. If the right hon. Gentleman assures the House that it is the result of an agreement with the local authorities, then either the local authorities are far more stupid than I think they are or the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have misled them. I defy any Member of the House to find in any Act of Parliament now on the Statute Book, or in any Act which has ever been on the Statute Book, any Clause which is similar to this one, I do not know how much paper and ink have been expended upon this Clause, but at any rate it is not worth either paper or ink. It is utterly useless, and more than useless. It deliberately misleads local authorities. I do not want to waste time by going into details about the drafting, though a good deal might be said about that. What is the purpose of the Clause? It is to declare that if Parliament should at some future time impose new duties upon local authorities which will involve them in expenditure that we think that Parliament really ought to provide more money. That is not legislation.

Mark you, this is going into the operative part of the Bill. This is not the preamble of the Bill, in which one can express nice sentiments; this is one of the operative Clauses, but it means nothing. Every Member knows that no Parliament can bind its successors. This Clause is not a pledge, it is the expression of a pious hope. It does not hind anybody; it does not even bind the present Government, should they be returned to power. It is not binding on any single person. I will be no party to legislation of this kind. I may have to submit to bad legislation, but deliberately to lead people up the garden, as the right hon. Gentleman does in this Clause, is really dishonest, and I think local authorities ought to be informed of the truth of the position.

Local authorities complain that a new service might be passed on to them without being accompanied by additional State help, on the ground that it must be regarded as a service already covered by the block grant, and they say "We should like to know whether, if there are to be such new services, we are going to get more money." The right hon. Gentleman does not know; nobody knows. He has no business to say what he is saying at the present time. He has no business to express any hope as to what those who will come after him are likely to do. It is not merely the dishonesty of it; the shoddiness of this legislation shocks people even more than the dishonesty of it. I have at least a little care for the substance of Acts of Parliament, and I should be sorry to see a precedent set now whereby, whenever a Bill is before the House, the Government of the day adds a new Clause expressing a beautiful hope for everybody's future. That is not legislation, and the Committee ought not to be insulted by the production of such a Clause, even though it purports to be the result of an agreement.

I sincerely hope that Ion. Members opposite will realise the folly of this new Clause, and will see that it is not being fair either to this House or to any future House, nor fair to the local authorities, because I say, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to deny it if it be not true, that this Clause means nothing. As a piece of legislation it has no meaning whatever. It can bind nobody, now or hereafter, and is a piece of mere word-spinning designed to throw dust in the eyes of people who, I regret to say, ought to have known better.


As one of those who, we have been told, ought to know better, and who is principally responsible for this Clause, I rather object to the very strong statements made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood). What the county councils desired was that the present block grant should not cover any future legislation imposing additional social services——


But this Clause does not give the right hon. Gentleman such a guarantee.


We cannot ask the Government to deposit at the Bank of England a sufficiently large sum to make it perfectly impossible for us to be at any loss under any future legislation, but this Clause is put forward as an expression of the honour of Parliament. [Laughter.] That may be a matter of derision to some hon. Members opposite, but we are prepared to trust the honour of Parliament, and this Clause is the most which we can possibly expect in the circumstances. We were determined, before we came to an agreement with the Government on this financial question, that the block grant should cover only the present social services, which are now grant-earning services. It is extremely probable that in the future legislation will impose upon local authorities further social services which, if it had not been for the new system of block grants, would have earned percentage grants. In order that we might make ourselves as secure as possible we asked the Minister to put in a Clause to this effect. I quite admit what the hon. Member has said. that it is not binding upon future Parliaments, but when you get an avowed declaration of the House of Commons on a Bill of this sort we have reason to expect that it will be honoured in the future by whatever party may be in power, and in that faith, and on behalf of the county councils, we accept this as going as far as we can get in the matter.


I would like to ask the learned Attorney-General whether there is any precedent for the use of the word "intention" in an Act of Parliament in the sense in which it is used here. You can discuss the intention of an Act when you are trying to find out what the Act does and what effect should be given to it, but it cannot be supposed that that is the meaning of the word "intention" in this case, because the following words are altogether inapt in that case. The Clause goes on to talk about Substantial additional expenditure. Of course, no Act of Parliament could be left as vague as that. We cannot speak of the intention of this Act; it must mean the intention of some people. Who are those people? Is it the intention of the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary? If BO, why are their pious aspirations, their psychological ideas, to have the signal honour of being recorded on the Statute Book? It is an extraordinary situation. This is a memorandum attached to the Act to say that the people partly instrumental in passing it held certain opinions at the time. Beyond that it does nothing whatever. One might just as well collect the opinions about the Bill and the future of the Bill of the Opposition—either the official Opposition or of us on these benches. I should like to know whether there is any actual precedent which would enlighten us as to the effect which can possibly be given to a phrase of this kind.

The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)

The hon. Gentleman has asked me a question which a little research would perhaps enable him to answer as well as I can. I should require a little time to make a research in order to see whether there is any precedent for this form of Clause. I rather think I remember something very much like it in the Housing Act which was passed by the Labour party, and I remember moving an Amendment to omit it. It was the first Amendment moved in Committee. I remember saying that the Bill was becoming something rather more like a manifesto than a Bill intended to be an Act of Parliament.


Why follow a bad example?


I was not asked whether it was a good or a bad example, but whether there was a precedent. The Act I refer to is the Housing Act, known as the "Wheatley Act." Then the hon. Member asked me whether the intention referred to in the Clause is the intention of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. The purpose-of asking the House in Committee, and subsequently the House itself, to assent to this new Clause is that there shall be an expression of the intention of Parliament as a whole, including the hon. Member himself.

8.0 p.m.


I was surprised to hear the hon. Baronet the Member for Thirsk (Sir E. Turton) say in his speech—I think he is chairman of the County Councils Association—that they trust the Government. I submit to him that this Clause has been put in just because they do not trust the Government. The hon. Baronet who is the chairman of the County Councils Association, and the body over which he presides, are afraid that under the new system of block grants they are not going to get new money for new services, and they have been able to extract the promise contained in this Clause. I want to ask the hon. Baronet, if he is afraid that under the new system of block grants money will not be forthcoming for services which may be developed in the future, what reliance can be put on a promise of this sort? I do not think the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) was at all too severe. This is absolutely scandalous.


The learned Attorney-General says that this Clause is in the nature of a declaration; a "Declaration of Rights," I suppose, issued by this Government. There is already evidence that they will have to put this to the test, and that there will have to be a test of their sincerity or insincerity before this Parliament rises. Let me give an illustration of what I mean. By reason of the new public health services and other services, it has become necessary to grant some sort of relief for another class. It will be necessary to give Government relief to a large number of traders in this country who will become bankrupt as the result of the effects of the new assessments under the Bating and Valuation Act, 1925. The Bill proposes to give relief to the coal trade, among others, in connection with the export of bunker coal. The Government, in reply to questions put in this House, has said repeatedly that the total relief for the coal industry in that direction will be about 1s. a ton. In South Wales, it will work out at about 7½d. per ton on the carried coal, and at about 5id. per ton by way of rebate by the 75 per cent; reduction of rates. Already, as a result of the new assessments, it has been found that colliery rates will go up 3d. or 4d. in the ton on the total output, so that at least one-third of the so-called relief under the present Bill will be taken away before they have been given as the result of the provisions made by this Government. Everybody concerned in local government is aware that the Rating and Valuation Act of 1925 is simply the financial foundation of this Measure, and that this is the logical fulfilment of that Act. The Government will have to put this declaration to the test immediately, within the next few weeks, or they will be bombarded by colliery companies and owners of industrial hereditaments with regard to the effect of the new increased assessments whittling away a substantial proportion of what is to be given under this Bill.


I am wondering why it has been found necessary in this case only as far as the local authorities are concerned to speak of the intentions of the Government. The learned Attorney-General stated that he wished to put into this Clause what was the intention of the whole House. Although we on this side of the House may have a very high regard for the learned Attorney-General, I do not think that he is entitled to speak for us when dealing with industrial matters or matters concerning a local authority. I cannot understand the County Councils' Association accepting this new Clause as being of any satisfaction to them in view of the doubts which they have had on this point. It does not seem to me that this Clause gives them what they desire. It only says that the intention of the Government is that if there is imposed by Act of Parliament, by the Ministry of Health, some further service which entails further expenditure, then Parliament should give consideration to the greater costs imposed upon them. There are many services in the counties and throughout the whole country which have not yet been fully developed. Such services are being developed now, and if, by such development, a greater expenditure is imposed by local authorities upon their districts, then this intention certainly will not cover that, because such expenditure will not be imposed by the Ministry of Health.


We have considered that point, and we have stated that we are fully safeguarded in regard to the advance of any existing service. We have got a Clause in the Bill to that effect.


If the Government have put that into the body of the Bill, they certainly have not put it into their intention, and it just shows how carefully hon. Members opposite have to watch their own Government. The hon. Baronet is relying upon the honour of the promise made to him. What does this carry with it? There is an assurance here that, if enormous expenditure is imposed by Parliament at any time upon a local authority, Parliament is bound to pay regard to the manifesto which is issued by this Government on the eve of a General Election. It almost looks as if this is one of the paragraphs that we shall probably see in the manifestoes that will be issued during the next few months. Local authorities will have to rely upon the honour of future Parliaments, and I am afraid that will not carry them very far. I see no use and no necessity for this particular paragraph. I cannot understand why it was put in in this part of the Bill, when the Government have not seen fit to mention their intentions in this regard in any other part of the Bill. If the Government are beginning to issue these manifestoes as to their intentions in the matter of local authorities, we are entitled to ask what are the Government's intentions in regard to the de-rating of industry and to those people who claim to come under this Measure and whom the Government have left out. If the Government are beginning this manifesto business with regard to this Measure, they had better go the whole hog.


I do not think there is any need for me to make any further observations on this matter. I understand from the hon. Gentleman that he is doubting the intentions of future Parliaments, and I am surprised to hear that, because I have always understood that it was the hope of the hon. Gentleman and his friends that the next Government will be a Socialist Government.


If it were, we should reverse this Measure.


In that event, I should myself share his anxiety as to their good intentions. This is a declaration that in the event of substantial additional expenditure being imposed on local authorities by the institution of a new public health or other service, it is the intention of Parliament in this Measure to meet the local authorities. Hon. Members opposite may vote against this Clause. I invite them to do so if they so desire. This Clause is being introduced at the desire of the local authorities, and J leave it to the hon. Gentleman and his friends opposite to join in this declaration.


The right hon. Gentleman invites me in this way to join in this declaration. Let me put the matter to him in another way. I am not prepared to be a party to a declaration of this kind that means nothing. I feel very strongly on this point. We, on this side, would be a good deal more generous to the local authorities than are the right hon. Gentleman and his friends. Nobody on this side of the Committee would ever dream of imposing a new social service on a local authority without adequate financial recognition. In season and out of season we have been accused by hon. Members opposite of being squandermaniacs, and of wasting public money. No declaration is needed from Members on this side of the Committee. I am prepared to walk into the Lobby alone to-night. I know I shall not have to do so, but I would be prepared to walk into the Lobby alone and vote against this Clause, which is, I think, treating Parliament with contempt. There is no doubt whatever that the Clause means nothing. I would like to have asked the learned Attorney-General what the Clause means and whether it can have any operative effect at all. It has not, and hon. Members opposite know that it has not. It has arisen out of the suspicion of local authorities. It has arisen because they feel the ground slipping from under their feet, and because, in view of the new block grant system, they have, in their desperation, come to the Government and said: "Is it to be understood that if there are new duties imposed upon us, there will be new financial assistance?" Local authorities would fight to the death any new service unless they were getting satisfaction out of it, and no Parliament could deny some measure of public assistance for a new service.

I object to this Clause, because I think it is politically dishonest. It does not mean anything. It can only mislead people; it will be regarded as a kind of pledge, when everybody knows that we cannot pledge future Parliaments. Nobody can pledge beyond this Parliament, and this is a precedent to which I take the strongest possible exception. The best example of a similar kind which the learned Attorney-General could give was one which was no analogy at all. There is no precedent for legislation of this kind. This is a new form of declaratory legislation with no meaning; it is binding on no one. I know that if Mem-

bers on this side of the Committee vote against it, they will have their views misrepresented, but we are always having our views misrepresented. I myself am becoming quite thick-skinned. If the right hon. Gentleman's speech meant anything, it meant, "Vote against this Bill at your peril. If you do, we will tell the country that you are against Government grants for these services." This threat has no influence on me at all. So far as my hon. Friends and myself are concerned, we are prepared, as a protest against this method of legislation, to go into the Lobby against this Clause.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Committee divided Ayes. 188; Noes, 96.

Division No. 140.1 AYES. [8.15 p m.
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington) Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman
Allen, Sir J. Sandeman Elliot, Captain Walter E. Lumley, L. R.
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W Elite, R. G. MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen
Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W. England, Colonel A McDonnell, Coionel Hon. Angus
Atkinson, C Everard, W. Lindsay Macintyre, Ian
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Fairfax, Captain J. G. McLean, Major A.
Balniel, Lord Frece, Sir Walter de Macquisten, F. A.
Barnett, Maior Sir Richard Forestier-Waiker, Sir L. MacRobert, Alexander M.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Forrest, W. Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Fraser, Captain Ian Margesson, Captain D.
Bethel, A. Fremantle, Lieut.-Coionel Francis E. Merriman, Sir F. Boyd
Betterton, Henry B. Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony Meyer, Sir Frank
Birchall. Major J. Dearman Gates, Percy Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.
Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.) Gilmour, Lt.-Col Rt Hon. Sir John Morrison, H. (Wills, Salisbury)
Boothby, R. J. G. Glyn, Major R. G. C. Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive
Bowyer, Captain G. E. W. Goft, Sir Park Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph
Braithwaite, Major A. N. Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Nelson, Sir Frank
Brass, Captain W, Greene, W. P. Crawford Neville, Sir Reginald J.
Brassey, Sir Leonard Hanbury, C. Newman, Sir R. H S. D. L. (Exeter)
Briggs, J. Harold Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Oman, Sir Charles William C.
Briscoe, Richard George Harland, A. Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)
Brockiebank, C. E R Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Broun, Lindsay, Major H. Hasiam, Henry C. Pilcher, G.
Brown, Col. O. C. (N'th'J'd. Hexham) Headiam, Lieut.-Coionel C. M. Power, Sir John Cecil
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C. (Berks, Newb'y) Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian Preston, William
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Hennessy, Major sir G. R. J. Price, Major C. W. M.
Bullock, Captain M. Hilts, Major John Waller Radford, E. A.
Burman, J. B. Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard Raine, Sir Walter
Butler, Sir Geoffrey Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar) Ramsden, E.
Campbell, E. T. Honkins, J. W. W. Reid, Capt. Cunningham (Warrington)
Cassels, J. D. Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities) Rhys, Hon C. A. U.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Hore-Rellsha, Leslie Rice, Sir Frederick
Chapman, Sir S. Horlick, Lieut-Colonel J. N. Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y. Ch'ts'y)
Clarry, Reginald George Home, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S. Roberts, Sir Samuel (Hereford)
Cobb, Sir Cyril Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K. Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell
Cochrane, Commander Hon, A. D. Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd. Whiteh'n) Ropner, Major L.
Cohen, Major J. Brunei Hume, Sir G. H. Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.
Colfox, Maior Wm. Phillips Hurst, Geraid B. Rye, F. G.
Conway, Sir W. Martin Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose) Sandeman, N. Stewart
Conner, J. B. Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H Sanders, Sir Robert A.
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) James, Lieut,-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Sandon, Lord
Craia, Sir Ernest (Chester. Crewe) Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton) Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W)
Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Sheffield, Sir Berkeley
Crookshank, Cpt. H (Linasey, Gainsbro) King, Commodore Henry Douglas Shepperson, E. W.
Dalkeith, Earl of Kinloch-Croke, Sir Clement Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)
Davies, Maj Geo. F. (Samerset, Yeovil) Knox, Sir Alfred Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Lamh, J. O. Smith-Caringon, Neville W.
Daviet, Dr. Vernon Lister, Conliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Smithers, Waldron
Davison, Sir w. H. (Kensington, S.) Lloyd, Cvril E. (Dudley) Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Dawson, Sir Philip Long, Maior Eric Sprot, Sir Alexander
Drewe C Louqher, Lewis Stanley, Lieut.-Coionel Rt. Hon. G.F.
Edmondson, Major A. J. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland) Tomlinson, R. p. Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Steel, Major Samuel Strang Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement Williams, C. P. (Denbigh. Wrexham)
Starry-Deans, R. Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough Wilson, Sir Charles H.(Leeds, Central)
Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Waddington, R. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C. Wallace, Captain D. E. Withers, John James
Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn) Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull) Womersley, W. J.
Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Warner, Brigadier-General W. W. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Thompson, Luke (Sunderland) Waterhouse, Captain Charles Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Thomson, F. c. (Aberdeen, South) Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchall- Watts, Sir Thomas TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Tinne, J. A. Wells, S. R. Maior Sir William Cope and Mr.
Titchfield, Major the Marquess of Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern) Penny.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (File, West) Groves, T. Sakiatvala, Shapurji
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Grundy, T, W. Scrymgeour, E.
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Scurr, John
Ammon, Charles George Hardle, George D. Sexton, James
Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Hayday, Arthur Shepherd, Arthur Lewie
Baker, Walter Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Hirst, G. H. Shinwell, E.
Barnes, A. Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Barr, J. Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Batey, Joseph John, William (Rhondda, West) Stamtord, T. W.
Bellamy, A. Jones, T, I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Stephen, Campbell
Broad, F. A. Kelly, W. T. Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Bromfield, William Kennedy, T. Sullivan, J.
Bromley, J. Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Sutton, J. E.
Buchanan, G. Kirkwood, D. Taylor, R. A.
Cape, Thomas Lawrence, Susan Thome, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Charleton, H. C. Lee, F. Tinker, John Joseph
Cluse, W. S. Longbottom, A. W. Townend, A. E.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Lowth, T. Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Compton, Joseph Lunn, William Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Cove, W. G. Mackinder, W. Wellock, Wilfred
Dennison, R. March, S. Welsh, J. C.
Duncan, C. Montague, Frederick Westwood, J.
Dunnico, H. Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham. N.) Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.
Gardner, J. P. Murnin, H. Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. Oliver, George Harold Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Gibbins, Joseph Palin, John Henry Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Gillett, George M. Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Wright, W.
Graham, D. M, (Lanark, Hamilton) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Greenall, T. Ponsonby, Arthur
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Potts, John S. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Grenfell, D. R. ( Glamorgan) Purcell, A. A. Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr.
Griffith, F. Kingsley Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich) Paling.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.