§ [Queen's Recommendation signified]
§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 88 (Money Committees).
§ [Sir ROBERT GRIMSTON in the Chair]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That, for the purposes of any Act of this Session to enable the Minister of Transport to make loans for the purpose of providing finance for the construction or alteration of ships in shipyards situated in the United Kingdom, any of the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man and the equipment of the resulting ships, it is expedient to authorise—
- (a) the issue out of the Consolidated Fund of sums not exceeding seventy-five million pounds to enable that Minister to make loans under the said Act;
- (b) the borrowing of money for the purposes of the said Act in any manner authorised under the National Loans Act 1939;
- (c) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any administrative expenses incurred for the purposes of the said Act by that Minister and any sums required by him for making repayments of fees and other incidental sums received by him in connection with loans made or to be made under the said Act;
- (d) the payment into the Exchequer of any sums falling to be so paid by virtue of the said Act, and the re-issue out of the Consolidated Fund of such of those sums as fall to be so re-issued by virtue of the said Act.—[Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett.]
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
I should like to ask the Minister to clarify the content of paragraphs (a) and (b). During the Second Reading debate 297 on the Bill it was mentioned that most of this money had been disbursed in one way or another. I should like to have that specifically stated so that we know what is left. I wish to know how much remains of applications pending to 31st May, 1964, which could aggregate to this sum, or near to it. It is my view that the Money Resolution is drawn too tightly and may make nonsense of some of the applications which are outstanding, or the discharging of the duty which it was the intention of the Minister to achieve
Regarding paragraph (b) I wish to know whether it is the intention that it is to be included under paragraph (a). If this is a misunderstanding on my part, I should be grateful if I may be told to what extent money borrowed for this purpose can come under the National Loans Act in addition to the £75 million laid down in Clause 1(6) of the Bill. This is very important in relation to the possibility of amending the Bill. I should be grateful if the Minister would answer the points which I have raised.
§ Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Graigton)
I wish to support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon). We wish to know whether this Money Resolution is so tightly drawn that there may well be virtually nothing to discuss during the Committee stage. As was made clear during the Second Reading debate on the Bill, a number of hon. Members would like the Government to spend sums of money additional to the £75 million at present provided for in the Bill which, as the Minister has told us, has already largely been spent.
It seems clear from the content of paragraph (a) that if the Resolution is passed as it stands it will not be possible for us to move Amendments to increase the sums of money paid under the Bill during the Committee stage discussions, because the Money Resolution providing for £75 million, which is the sum provided for in the Bill, will effectively prevent discussion on this point. I repeat that it is virtually the only point which would be worth discussing during the Committee stage. I wonder, therefore—if that is the case—whether under paragraph (a) it would be possible nevertheless to discuss the kind of thing 298 which I have mentioned, because of the provisions of paragraph (b) which seem to give some additional power to the Government beyond the £75 million. If paragraph (b) does not do that, it is not clear to me what it does do.
It is rather interesting that the money has been spent without there being any legislation it all. It has been possible for the Government to commit themselves to spending £75 million without coming to Parliament for approval. The Government having done that, I think that it would be more than ironic were the Money Resolution so tightly drawn that we should not be able during the Committee stage of the Bill to press on the Government the necessity to go beyond a figure of £75 million. In this case the Government will have had it both ways. They will have spent the money on their own determination before getting Parliamentary approval, and then on coming to Parliament for approval, they will have drawn the Money Resolution so tightly that we shall be hamstrung when it comes to putting suggestions to the Government for improving the sums of money going to the shipbuilding industry under the terms of the Bill.
I hope that that is not the way in which the Money Resolution has been drawn, but it appears to be so from the content of paragraph (a). I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that it is not the case, and that under paragraph (b), or in some other way, additional sums of money may be available, if the Government wish to avail themselves of the opportunity of extending the scheme. In that case we could have a much more fruitful discussion during the Committee stage.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett)
I must confirm the worst fears of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan). He has correctly read the Money Resolution. The only term on which he was incorrect—as a matter of fact he corrected himself—is that none of the money has been spent yet, in the sense that the loans have not been made. The loans fall to be made when the ships are finished.
This Bill gives legal authority to do what was announced by my right hon. Friend in two separate announcements in 299 this House. I suggest that the time to propose larger sums of money would have been then—either by a Motion or by a Resolution or some other means—and not now. My right hon. Friend made a clear statement of policy concerning the limits to be placed on these loans. Paragraph (b) will not help the hon. Gentleman to increase the amount being lent for this purpose, because it refers to Clause 2(2) of the Bill and authorises the usual procedure which is observed by the Treasury in providing sums to meet issues out of the Consolidated Fund.
The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon)—unless I misheard him—raised a question about paragraph (d)—
§ Dr. Mabon
I did not raise any point about paragraph (d). But may I be contented by getting an answer to my original question about paragraph (a)? How much money has been committed already? How much money would appear to be, or could be, committed in applications until 31st May, 1964? This is highly relevant in relation to whether the Money Resolution is wrongly drawn.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I cannot state precisely the sum committed at this date because I do not carry it in my head, but I can assure the hon. Member that the greatest care will be taken by the Department, and especially by its accounting officer, to ensure that more money is not committed than the sum mentioned in the Bill. On the other hand, we shall equally try to ensure that as near as possible the full sum is committed.
§ Mr. Millan
Under what authority has the money already been committed? Are the Government legally committed already to giving loans up to £75 million? What happens to that commitment if the Government do not get the Bill?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
In the hypothetical case of the Government not getting the Bill, I have no doubt that the money would have to be raised 300 above the line on a Ministry of Transport Vote. There is a certain amount of Parliamentary sanction. This point was raised at the time my right hon. Friend made the announcement about the loan. It was pointed out that an item was included in the Ministry of Transport Supplementary Estimate which covered the administrative expenses of the scheme, and in passing that, Parliament legalised the procedure under which the commitments have been entered into.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
We have heard some rather strange prognostications about what may happen if we do not pass the Bill. If we do not pass the Money Resolution, what chance would there be of having a Supplementary Estimate or some sum included in the Ministry of Transport Estimate being accepted by the House?
It is interesting that the last Money Resolution of this kind that we had was in respect of a ship which was never built. Now we have money committed but we have not the authority to spend it. We have not got the ships yet, and I wonder whether we are likely to get them. There may be doubt, certainly at the moment, whether the money will be available.
I am interested in this from the point of view of procedure. The Government could very well have permitted flexibility in the Money Resolution in the interests of hon. Friends of mine from Clydeside and elsewhere in Scotland who are anxious to have a greater measure of generosity from the Treasury and the Ministry of Transport in regard to the shipbuilding problem. If the Government had allowed more flexibility, it would have enabled my hon. Friends to seek amendment of the Bill. But the way this has been done means that, although we could amend the Bill as much as we liked and extend the provisions in connection with the kind of ships which can be built, the sizes of ships and so on, or limit the provisions, we cannot get any more money.
This makes a farce of the process of legislation in Committee. It means that the Minister can say, "I shall virtually be able to get the Committee stage through in record time." That will please the Chief Whip and his minions because it will mean less trouble for them, but 301 it is rather unfair in view of what has been said in this debate about not enough money being made available and the time limits being inadequate to the problem which the yards are facing.
It is not right for the Parliamentary Secretary to say that this is in the usual form and the Treasury has accepted it. I do not see any Treasury Minister present who is prepared to defend it. It is not for the Minister to defend it; it is a matter for the Treasury. We ought to insist upon someone from the Treasury being present. Are the Government convinced that this is the limit to what they can get from the Treasury? Ought they not to unburden themselves and tell us why the sum is limited to £75 million? We are entitled to an adequate explanation why they have tied themselves to this sum. There seems to me to be no reason why the Minister should not withdraw the Money Resolution and do battle with the Treasury to get more money and allow greater freedom of discussion in Committee. That would be reasonable in the light of the arguments which have been put forward.
I was interested in the remarks made about a Supplementary Estimate and a sum being included in respect of this. I presume that the Supplementary Estimate has already come before the House and that the House has accepted it. But, according to paragraph (c), we are being asked once again to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament for any administrative expenses incurred for the purposes of the Act. I presume that this is something which we have already provided for, according to the strange statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary. Presumably we are committed to spending money without any authority at all. Then we are told that we already have authority in respect of expenses, and now we are asking for it again. The Ministry of Transport has some strange ways.
If the Minister of Transport would like to clear the matter up, we should be glad to have the information. Can he tell us what the administrative expenses are likely to be? Could he tell us what sum will be required by him for making repayments of fees and so on in connection with the repayment of loans? What fees are these, and how much is 302 involved? If we could have a breakdown of the moneys involved in paragraph (c), we could see more clearly whether or not the Parliamentary Secretary's statement about these things being already covered by a Supplementary Estimate was accurate.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
We are greatly obliged to my hon. Friends for raising a matter of considerable importance if we are to exercise the rights of the Committee in financial matters. We are in very real difficulty here. The right hon. Gentleman originally suggested £30 million. We understood that in due course we should have an opportunity to debate the matter. The £30 million was the right sum. Later the figure became not £30 million but £60 million. Later it became not £60 million but £75 million We have every right to challenge the right hon. Gentleman's judgment. Clearly he was wrong—
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)
Perhaps I may make that point clear. When I first announced the £30 million, I said that we would see how it went and if it proved to be insufficient we would increase it. It was the same with the £60 million. But I said that the £75 million was the final figure.
§ Mr. Willey
I am merely expressing the opinion that the right hon. Gentleman's judgment was not final. He expressed it to the House as not being final. Obviously, his original guess was hopelessly wrong. When he suggested £30 million, he indicated to the House that that was about right.
§ Mr. Willey
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's difficulty now. I am trying to help him. If he does not want to be helped he will not be helped. He is very stupid. He has a habit of upsetting the House quite unnecessarily. I will tell him what the difficulty is if he does not appreciate it. If there is any suggestion that this is not the final figure it will affect orders being put in because British shipowners will hold back, thinking that the figure may be revised. That is why the House should have an opportunity thoroughly to discuss this matter. We want to know what the figure is. That is why we want a 303 debate now. I referred earlier to the president of the Shipbuilding Conference who suggested that the sum was probably not right. We want to know whether it is right or not.
I am not unappreciative of the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties even if he himself does not appreciate them. At any rate, this is a greater reason for our trying to obtain a debate in order that we may discuss the matter now. We have reached the figure of £75 million which, incidentally, includes the Cunard project which we have not discussed. In fact, we have not discussed this sum on Second Reading. This is really a Committee point. One would accept that it was right to discuss the £75 million and the build-up of the £75 million, and, in particular, the money for the Cunard project in Committee.
I want some assistance from the right hon. Gentleman. I say that he is stupid because he ought to appreciate that he owes the Committee an explanation on this point. I should have thought that he would have been willing to accept the responsibility for seeing that in one way or another we could discuss it in the Committee stage of the Bill. I do not think that this is raising a matter which is unimportant. On the contrary, it is of considerable importance. I also think that it would assist the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary if we reached some finality about it, if we felt that it had been discussed and we had reached the conclusion that in present circumstances this was the right sum. The point having been raised, I hope we shall have some co-operation in ensuring that we shall have an opportunity to discuss the £75 million sum later in our proceedings.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I thought we had had a very considerable discussion over the last few hours on whether the scheme should be terminated now or extended. A great deal of the debate has ranged over that subject. If there is any doubt left about whether there is finality over this sum or not, I should have said that it is no fault of the Government side. My right hon. Friend and I have made it quite clear that we do not think it proper to continue the scheme beyond the present level, and that is why we 304 have published the Bill with the £75 million in it. That was a clear indication to the whole industry that the credit scheme had now reached its limit from the Government's point of view.
The matter raised concerning paragraph (c) is one of rather greater complexity. The administrative expenses, in so far as they involve Ministry personnel, are borne on the Ministry of Transport Vote, Class IV, Vote 10. The work of the Ship Mortgage Finance Company, which is employed by the Advisory Committee to act as its agent to go into all this, will have been completed, we estimate, by the end of the current financial year. We also estimate that the fees of the Ship Mortgage Finance Company and any expenses which the members of the Committee might claim—I understand that none has been claimed up to date—will have been paid this year and the charges will have been borne on the Transport (Shipbuilding Loans) Vote, the Vote which appeared on the Supplementary Estimate for the first time shortly before we rose for the Summer Recess. That Vote will lapse after 1963–64 because these fees and expenses, if any, will by then have been paid.
I was asked whether I could say what the total expenses would be. I cannot give the figure offhand, but I think the amount will be well under £100,000 for the entire scheme from beginning to end.
§ Mr. Millan
In the last paragraph of the Explanatory Memorandum, the figure of £280,000 is given. How does that compare with "under £100,000"?
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
It arises from a different source altogether, I was about to explain that under the terms of the loan the shipowner borrowing has to pay an engagement fee of three-eighths per cent. on the value of the loan and a commitment fee of 1 per cent. on the total amount of the loan. These fees are paid immediately the acceptance of the loan offer is made. The engagement fee of three-eighths per cent. is retained by the Government, the object being to repay administrative costs. The commitment fee, on the other hand, is repayable to the borrower provided that he does not fail to honour his agreement to take up the loan. In 305 other words, it is repaid at the time the loan is made.
The moneys received from borrowers by way of engagement and commitment fees have been credited to the Appropriation-in-Aid of the Transport (Shipbuilding Loans) Vote, 1963–64. Provision for the repayment of the commitment fees will be made in the Transport (Shipping and Special Services) Vote for 1964–65 and thereafter.
The engagement fees which are being paid will reach about £280,000 and should be more than sufficient to meet all the administrative costs, including, incidentally, the fees paid to the Ship Mortgage Finance Company. It is not the Government's intention to refund any proportion of the engagement fees which may eventually be found to be in excess of the actual administration costs.
This is a matter which could be raised when we reach Committee, but it is not our intention to refund this money because the administration costs over the next 12 or 14 years, when the scheme requires administrative work, are not easy to estimate with any accuracy. Furthermore, we have made no financial provision at all for bad debts in calculating the lending rate of interest. The lending rate is the minimum Government lending rate. We think that any margin in the £280,000 could justly be retained as some small offset against that risk.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
Is it not unfair that the hon. and gallant Member should be able to say all that about paragraph (c), which covers barely £500,000, and yet be unable to tell us anything at all about paragraph (a), which concerns a figure of £75 million? He says that he does not carry that in his head. He did not carry the other information in his head, either; he carried it in his brief.
The whole burden of my inquiry rests upon whether that figure is adequate. Are we not entitled to be told the breakdown of the commitments into which the Government have already entered within the £75 million? One of my hon. Friends said that these commitments involve £17 million—I do not know whether the figure is accurate—for the Cunarder. How much has been committed in actual contracts and how much is in the so-called pipeline? We are entitled to 306 know those figures. If the Government cannot provide us with essential information on paragraph (a), then the Financial Resolution ought to be withdrawn and resubmitted
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I do not understand the hon. Member's argument. The reason I spent some time on paragraph (c) was that I was asked about paragraph (c) and I did my best to reply. Although the sums involved are relatively small, they are rather more detailed.
The question which he asked me, and which I did not answer offhand, was how much of the loan money had been committed to date. I now have a note of the exact sum, but if I may say so, it is quite irrelevant to the matter and I am not at all sure whether I shall not be ruled out of order if I give it. At the moment it is £73.8 million.
What I have told the Committee is that we intend eventually to commit the full amount allowed for in the Bill and the Money Resolution. As I understand it, it would not be in order to move Amendments to that figure in Committee, but, unless I am very much mistaken, it is not out of order in Committee to discuss the exact way in which the moneys have been divided up.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
We have now extracted from the Minister—and I am sure, Sir William, that you are as glad as I am—that the commitment is £73.8 million, which leaves a balance, if the Committee agrees to put the figure at £75 million, of £1.2 million. That is the margin of our manœuvrability. It is not a very substantial margin. How much of the £73.8 million is involved in the commitment to the Cunarder? We are entitled to know, because it is very relevant to the full assessment of this so-called short, sharp help to the industry.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The figure has been stated publicly. It is between £17 and £18 million, which is included in the £73.8 million. That loan has been accepted by now. As to whether we go any further, I think that it would be in order, if the hon. Member wished, in Committee, to move that the scheme be halted at the present stage.
§ Mr. Ross
We are told that the maximumis £75 million and that 73.8 million has been committed, leaving a margin of £1.2 million. The Minister told us that it includes something set aside for a Cunarder which is to be built on the Clyde. [Interruption.] If it is not to be built on the Clyde, then we shall speak a long time tonight. The Minister gaily tells us that that figure is between £17 million and £18 million—a margin of £1 million.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I never rely on my memory in these matters and I do not carry all these figures in my head. I am not as clever as is the hon. Member in this respect. The sum, in fact, is almost exactly £17 million.
§ Mr. Ross
Is it exactly £17 million or between £17 million and £18 million? One is not required to be clever in order to ask a Minister for information which, if he is properly briefed, he ought to have. When a Minister asks the Committee for authority to spend £75 million he ought to be able to tell us exactly what he wants it for and to break the figure down for us.
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman has attended many debates on Money Resolutions. Certainly in the not very distant past Ministers were kept at the Box for a long time to satisfy the Committee on such sums of money. Some of his hon. Friends who make speeches outside the House on money matters are never here when it comes to the point at which we can control expenditure. They are never here to use the opportunity which is available to find out exactly what has happened. We can do with a little less of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's sarcasm about how clever we are on this side of the Committee or any other side. He has to justify to the Committee the authorisation of this sum of money. We ask him reasonable questions and we expect a reasonable reply.
It is clear that the Government are not leaving much margin for manœuvre. It is not the first time that we have had miscalculations in the Government's estimate of the cost of a project. I was looking today at a comparison between the cost of the repairs to Downing Street and the original estimate. I hope that there has been no miscalculation about 308 the cost of some ships. If there has, £75 million will not meet the need.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
That is entirely incorrect. It would not matter how much more a ship cost. That would not affect the amount of the loan. The one figure which I am required to make clear at this stage is the maximum limit for which the Financial Resolution asks, which is £75 million. If the hon. Member is right in thinking that the debate on the Financial Resolution is the correct time at which to itemise the way in which all the proposed loans will be given, then all I can say is that I was under a misapprehension. I did not think that it was an appropriate time to itemise the way in which all the loans have gone. The total figure for which we are asking in the Bill is £75 million, and we shall not exceed that figure.
§ Mr. Ross
It is not a case of the hon. and gallant Member promising the House that he will not exceed the figure. Under the constitution, if the Financial Resolution is passed he cannot exceed it.
I do not know whether he appreciates that we on this side of the Committee have had some experience of Money Resolutions and know how far we can go in the debates. The hon. and gallant Member will be amazed how far we can go about the £75 million. I could ask whether the shipbuilding yards in Scotland were getting a proper share of the £73.8 million at present committed and refuse to pass the Money Resolution until I was satisfied. I could ask him—and expect a reply—how much of it has been committed in respect of ships to be built on the Clyde. If I am not satisfied, it is open to me to oppose the Money Resolution. If I feel that we are not getting our fair share for the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde, I can oppose the Money Resolution.
It may be a pity that the hon. and gallant Member has been landed with the responsibility for the Money Resolution. It is not the first time that I have complained that the name of a Treasury Minister appears as sponsoring a Money Resolution and then it is left to the Parliamentary Secretary dealing with the Second Reading of the Bill to give mumbled answers from a brief which he is probably reading for the first time.
309 In view of the history of this matter related by my hon. Friends, I think that the Government are wrong to tell the Committee that they are putting this figure in the Money Resolution and that we cannot alter it—that we can talk until we are blue in the face but it will have no effect because the Money Resolution has been passed by the Committee and no Amendment to it can be discussed. We could put down all the Amendments we like, but they could be ruled out of order because they conflicted with the Money Resolution, and it would simply be a matter on Second Reading of voting for or against a figure of £75 million with no scope for upward amendment.
I am not satisfied by the explanation given about this figure. If we pass the Money Resolution, the figure of £75 million is final. We may deplore it in Committee but we shall have no opportunity to do anything about it unless we persuade the Government to take away the Money Resolution and to return with one which will enable them to bend to the persuasions of hon. Members from both sides of the House that it may well be desirable to have a higher figure. It may be that my hon. Friends should continue the persuasion now. I am far from satisfied either with the hon. and gallant Member's replies or with the rather fractious way in which he suggests that we should not raise these matters at all.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I am grateful to my hon. Friends for raising a point which I had not noticed. During the last General Election in Scotland the Prime Minister made a statement promising the replacement of the Queens, and as a result a Bill was passed by the House. I well remember the Bill. We passed the Money Resolution providing £18 million advance to the Cunard Company to build a new Cunarder. That is now an Act of Parliament. It has never been repealed. The Financial provision was agreed by Parliament providing £18 million to finance the replacement of one of the Queens.
That is a separate item from the subject which we are debating tonight. In this Money Resolution, attached to another Bill, the Shipbuilding Credit Bill, the figure is given of £75 million. 310 But we are told that in this Money Resolution is included the £18 million which was the subject of a Money Resolution in l960.
We sanctioned that Money Resolution in 1960 giving the Minister power to pay out of the Consolidated Fund £18 million or to borrow under the National Loans Act, 1939 in order to finance the replacement of the Cunarder. That is already there. Are we then entitled to move in Committee that this £75 million does not include the £18 million in the other Money Resolution? We voted one sum of money four years ago. We are now pretending or appearing to vote another sum of money for £75 million. Anyone looking at the records of this Parliament would say that, in l960, the House voted £18 million for Cunard and, in 1964, voted £75 million for the shipbuilding industry. Anyone looking at it would imagine that this Money Resolution excluded the £18 million, so that, over the four years, we would have voted £94 million. But we have not. We have voted only £73.8 million. It is really a crazy situation. I do not know the answer to it.
It seems absolutely ridiculous to bring forward a Money Resolution which relates to a sum of £75 million, authorising the Minister to pay such moneys out of the Consolidated Fund or to borrow for the purpose, when he has actually committed only £73.8 million and has, apart from this, according to another Act of Parliament, committed £18million four years ago which he wants to say is included in this. I refer again to my suggestion that it would be legitimate in Committee to put down an Amendment on the lines I indicated. I cannot see that it would be infringing any Money Resolution to do so. I have never heard that the Money Resolution passed in 1960 has been repealed or annulled because Cunard said that it could not afford to pay any money out itself. Did the decision of Cunard automatically nullify the powers we gave to the Minister? Is the Minister saying that, because Curard did not want to build the ship, the provision we made to provide £18 million for the purpose is thereby nullified and the Cunard Com- 311 pany repealed or made inoperative an Act of Parliament? If that is so, how can it be said that the £18 million is included in this? He cannot have it both ways.
I suggest that the £18 million is additional to this, a different sum altogether under a different Act of Parliament. This is a new piece of legislation. It is not a Bill to provide an extra £75 million; it is a Bill to provide an extra £55.8 million. The Money Resolution is false; it is a misstatement. It should refer not to £75 million but to £55.8 million.
The Minister ought to give us an explanation. I do not know whether I shall be a member of the Committee, but I hope that we shall in Committee put down an Amendment to exclude the £18 million or to have the £18 million added to the £75million. We want an answer from the Minister. I am not satisfied, and I am very grateful to my hon. Friends for directing my attention to this complication, which appears to be very serious. Once again, the House is much indebted to the lively attention of Scottish Members in raising the point.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
I do so on two grounds. First, there is the excellent point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) which raises—
§ The Chairman
I am not prepared to accept that Motion. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to address the Committee, he may do so.
§ Dr. Mabon
With regret, Sir William, I have to accept your Ruling, although I believe that I have a very good case. Perhaps I may try again later, if we continue to have the same reception from the Government Front Bench.
I sympathise very deeply with the Ministers in their difficulty. They have not all the information at their finger tips and, apparently, they are not able to obtain the necessary assistance from those who help them in the Ministry of Transport. It is a great pity. It is regrettable also that there is no Treasury Minister here because a Treasury Minis- 312 ter might be able to help on this point. If my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East, who seems to show more appreciation of the implications of Money Resolutions than Ministers do, is correct in his assumption that the £75 million does not necessarily involve the Cunarder and we can take that out of our consideration because it is already covered by the financial provisions of the North Atlantic Shipping Act, I can be much more content than I was before. This will be a splendid windfall of £17 million or £18 million.
§ Dr. Mabon
It is £17 million according to the Parliamentary Secretary, but my recollection of the North Atlantic Shipping Act is that it was £18 million.
§ Dr. Mabon
There we are. Members of Parliament are not expected to carry these things in their heads as Parliamentary Secretaries are. We are entitled to be told exactly what the position is.
First, is the money for the Cunarder within the £75 million or is it not? Second, exactly how much money is involved? I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary was rather unfair to me—perhaps he is annoyed with me, and I can understand that—when he suggested that the intention of our intervention here was to restrict the level of loans to £73.8 million. That is not our intention. Every hon. Member who spoke on the Second Reading of the Bill made clear that he regretted that the Government were putting a ceiling of £75 million on the whole exercise. I reiterate that. I deeply regret that there is this ceiling.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary confident that, between now and 31st May, 1964, the applications for loans can be satisfactorily dealt with up to the level of £1.2 million? The Resolution is put in such a strict way that he will have to refuse applications, perhaps applications approved as valid and desirable by the advisory committee, because of this arbitrary limit of £75 million. This is very important to those of us who represent shipbuilding areas. I represent a town which, like any other shipbuilding town, rejoices when an order 313 is received. In every home there is rejoicing even though not all the people are involved in shipbuilding. One order is a lot to a shipbuilding town.
We are not engaged in a trivial exercise in arguing this point. It is not at all a matter of dilettante Parliamentary tactics. It is a matter of bread-and-butter concern to the shipbuilding towns. I want the Minister to give us the information for which we have asked. I would dearly like him to tell us why he thinks that his judgment is so good that he can decide on £75 million. We have had not a scrap of argument or explanation to show why £75 million is the golden figure. I very much hope that we shall get more from the Front Bench than we have had so far. It is a very important matter and I assure the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. and gallant Friend that this debate on the Money Resolution may well prove to have been more important than the debate which preceded it because people will see now why the Bill itself was accepted rather reluctantly.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Taking, first, what the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) has just said, he made the same point during the main debate. He said that he thought that the sum should be larger, and this is, I quite understand, an opportunity which he has taken to protest against the fact that we are limiting the total figure to £75 million.
As regards the Cunarder, as I said before, this figure of £75 million will include the amount of the loan being given in respect of the ship commonly known as the Q4. When I was first asked what the sum was, I said that it was between £17 million and £18 million. Subsequently, someone whispered behind me that it was exactly £17 million, but I find that my original recollection was correct. The exact sum is £17.6 million, which, I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree, is between £17 million and £18 million.
This figure must not be confused in any way with the figure of £18 million which was quoted in the North Atlantic Shipping Act. That was an enabling Measure which permitted my right hon. Friend to make a loan for a Cunarder 314 which was commonly called the Q3. The North Atlantic Shipping Act could not be used as authority for making the loan in respect of the ship now intended to be built because that Measure was narrowly drawn and defined the purposes for which the ship had to be used. The purposes for which the Cunard Company is now prepared to build go outside that Act. That was why it was decided—in response, I may say, to a certain amount of pressure from the House and from the industry—to make use of this shipbuilding credit scheme to authorise this particular loan and thus save coming to Parliament with an entirely separate Bill, as would otherwise have been necessary.
As to the total sum—I do not know whether this answers some of the points made by the hon. Member for Greenock—I can only say that, of course, it is not necessary that we should end with exactly £75 million. What is necessary is that we should not exceed it. After all is said and done, the figure written into the Financial Resolution or the Bill does not relate to how much the industry may want to borrow—I am sure that many in the industry, like hon. Members opposite, would like to borrow a good deal more—but it relates to the amount which the Government are prepared to lend and are prepared to ask Parliament to authorise them to lend.
I can only go back to the debate we had on Second Reading. In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend explained at some length why we thought that this sum was about the right size. It is thought to have generated a volume of orders last year somewhat in excess of what we believe to be the normal rate at which orders will be received by our yards, and the Government's view, rightly or wrongly, is that it would not be a good service to the industry to have a tremendous artificially generated spate of orders, with all the attendant difficulties that that would produce. After all, it was such a situation which was so largelyresponsible, in the years after the war, for the difficult situation in which the industry found itself when orders fell off. I am sure that hon. Members with experience of these matters will agree that it is not in the best interest of yards to go through a period when, first, they are choked with 315 orders and then the reverse. However, I cannot enlarge on what my right hon. Friend said in explaining how we arrived at the general magnitude of the scheme.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received Tomorrow.