Public Works Loans Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th December 1947.

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Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities 12:00 am, 5th December 1947

We on this side of the House are not satisfied with the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. It is true that we have the important Paper on Capital Investment in 1948, and it is true that it is to be debated, but I should have thought that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury would have taken every opportunity of enlightening the House on at least some of the issues contained in that White Paper. It will not be possible, without repeated Debates in this House, for hon. Members and the country to grasp the implications of that formidable document, and the repercussions it may have on the life of this country.

As I understand, the Financial Secretary said that he was asking for a sum considerably less than the Government asked for last year, that the last Act asked for £500 million, whereas this Measure will empower the expenditure of £400 million, of which commitments amount to some £200 million, allowing only some £200 million of fresh money. I appreciate the difficulties of the Financial Secretary under conditions such as this. I myself, when Financial Secretary, had to introduce the Public Works Loans Bill following the financial crisis of 1931. On that occasion a good many questions were asked about the shrinkage which was to take place, and to what extent the Government measures were adequate to deal with it.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that a considerable proportion of the commitments made were in respect of housing, and that the housing programme would continue until the run-off began to show. The period of the commencement of this run-off, and the effect it will have upon our circumstances, is of vital importance not merely to individuals in this country but to the local authorities and to the great building trade—the trade with a million people—which is looking anxiously to see how this run-off will develop and what preparations they will have to make to transfer a considerable quantity of their labour to other fields of activity. If the runoff which is predicted takes place in the second part of next year, a considerable diminution in what one might call the carcass construction of houses is almost bound to take place if efforts are to be concentrated on finishing the houses. As I understand it, a considerable restriction is being made upon the proposals to commence construction, so that again an imbalance will take place during that period. Every effort was first directed to finishing the hulls of houses and those whose work lay in the later stages were relatively in difficulties. Now, as the hump passes, the carcass builders will be out of work—though not necessarily out of employment, if they are transferred to other employment—and great pressure will fall upon those trades engaged in finishing the hulls already constructed.

It is quite true that these are general considerations which will be reviewed in the Debate, but they will require more than one Debate before they are fully appreciated. This Bill involving £400 million has an appendix showing the unfortunate circumstances which overtook a farmer of Nettlehill Farm, Uphall, Westlothian, Mr. Thomas Cook of Saltaugh Grange Farm in the County of York, Mr. Ernest William Nickerson and Mr. Charles Alfred Peck of the Glebe and Rectory Farms, Thoresway, in the County of Lincoln, and of Mr. Thomas Ford Robinson of Nuthill, Wranglands, and Weghill Farms, Burstwick and Preston, Hull, in the East Riding of the County of York——