Clause 1. — (Advances to Development Corporations.)

Part of Orders of the Day — New Towns Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th December 1957.

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Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay 12:00 am, 5th December 1957

I have no intention of detaining the Committee very long. No one would be more delighted than myself if the Minister were now to decide after my short remarks to take the advice given him by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) from the back benches opposite and reply to the debate when, perhaps, we could reach a decision.

I had not originally intended to intervene in the debate. When I first saw the Amendment, I regarded it as a perfectly legitimate piece of party political propaganda to try to gain votes in the new towns but I thought that it was something which would not be seriously pursued here. I paid the Labour Party the compliment of believing that it would not seriously subscribe to such economic nonsense as is shown in the Amendment. Hence I came only expecting to see the usual kind of party political fireworks, with every attempt to gain votes in the marginal constituencies of the new towns; instead of which we have been subjected to arguments by hon. Members opposite seriously advancing the suggestion that it is possible to pick out one section of the community for a particular rate of interest.

In my comparatively short political career, I have had representations made to me from constituents and others representing a great variety of interests. Particularly at times of economic crisis, people have often said that they regard their own industry or enterprise as so essential that it should have a favourable rate of interest. Shipping people, for example, have said that shipping is so essential to the export trade that money should be available to shipping at 3 per cent. or lower. Agricultural interests also have said that for similar reasons they should be able to borrow money at a specially cheap rate. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) could say the same thing concerning small farmers. Small farmers are among those who are often especially hard done by, even though their enterprise is particularly necessary for the national wellbeing; but we refuse them preferential treatment in this respect.

It is impossible for anyone in this Committee, of whatever political party, seriously to suggest that one section of the community should get its money at anything other than the prevailing economic rate. To do so would mean opening the flood gates to a large number of demands which would be embarrassing not only to the present Government but equally uncomfortable for the party opposite if and when they ever return to power.

In these circumstances, to argue that anyone who opposes the lending of this money at an artificial rate of interest is against the conception of new towns, is not only wrong, but grossly unfair to Members on this side, who have the interests of new towns just as much at heart as anyone in the Committee. It might equally well be said that my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster is against the interests of farmers in his constituency if he tells them that they cannot have their money at 1 per cent., 2 per cent. or 3 per cent.

If the Amendment were accepted, how would it be implemented? If at any moment money can be borrowed only at 5½ or 7 per cent., to suggest that the Government should lend money at a reduced rate could mean only that it Rust be done by a subsidy. That is what the Amendment means. The Government would be lending money at a rate considerably less than that at which they could borrow. Very often, we hear Members on the benches opposite suggest that the Bank Rate is far too high, but I have never yet heard Members opposite suggest the figure at which the Bank Rate should be fixed. The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who was present a short while ago, had recalled to his memory the time of the glorious song in his heart of 2½ per cent., but I have never yet heard a responsible Labour Party spokesman give a promise that when the Socialists return to power, the Bank Rate will he returned to 2½ per cent.