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Clause 120—(Interpretation)

Volume 436: debated on Monday 28 April 1947

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I beg to move, in page 113, line 30, at the end, to insert:

"borrow,' in relation to the Commission or any other body, does not include—
  • (a) the receipt of money by the Commission or that body in the course of the carrying on of a savings bank operated for the benefit of the employees of the Commission or that body, or the use by the Commission or that body of money so received; or
  • (b) the receipt or use by the Commission or that body of moneys received by trustees carrying on such a savings bank as aforesaid; or
  • (c) the receipt or use by the Commission or that body of moneys of a pension fund established for the purposes of a pension scheme in which employees of the Commission or that body are participants.
  • canal carrier undertaking,' means an undertaking consisting wholly or partly of the carriage of goods by canal or inland navigation."
    In Committee the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir H. Watt) drew attention to the fact that the borrowing Clause of the Financial Resolution would not enable us to carry on the practice of the railway companies in regard to the railway savings banks and the pensions funds. The Financial Resolution. No. 2 has put that in order, and this Amendment gives effect to it, in the Bill itself.

    I am sure we on this side of the Committee thank the right hon. Gentleman for being so scrupulously careful about the pensions funds, and transferring to the Commission the obligation of the railway companies in that respect. We. should like only to point out to him that we wish he had been as scrupulous in regard to the obligations to the debenture holders.

    I am a little intrigued by this proposal. I was not on the Committee on this Bill, as I was engaged on the Agriculture Bill at the time. But I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. O. Poole) that what the Government are now doing is to put themselves behind the existing pensions funds. That is one thing. But this Amendment talks of carrying on a savings bank. Is that intended, as well?

    May I explain? I was endeavouring to economise time, and I had already made the position plain on the new Financial Resolution last week. In Committee the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir H. Watt) raised the question of the savings banks that exist in the railway services. It has been the custom of the railway companies to use the funds of those savings banks in the general conduct of their business. The capital sums that are held by the savings banks, amount in round figures to about £45 million. Then there is quite a large number of pensions schemes and funds. Again, it has been the practice of the railway companies to utilise the funds of the pensions schemes in the general conduct of their business. I am informed that the capital amount involved is approximately £73 million. I undertook in Committee to move an Amendment to put that in order, so that the Commission could continue the practice of the railway companies in utilising these accumulated funds for the general purposes of their business and their undertakings. On examination, I discovered that the utilisation of funds of the savings banks or the pensions funds would come under the description of temporary borrowing. The original Financial Resolution limited the Commission's temporary borrowings to £65 million, and it would have been beyond their capacity to meet these grants. The new Resolution enables the savings bank fund and the pensions fund to be excluded from the temporary borrowings, and this Amendment regulates and completes that procedure.

    I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I was, perhaps, misled by the use of the words "savings bank," because there is a perfectly good savings bank already, the Post Office Savings Bank, behind which, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember from the Debate on the Budget Resolutions, it will be necessary to force the Consolidated Fund, owing to the rather unexpected effect in that direction of the cheap money policy. The use of those words led me to wonder whether, in future, we were to have a series of savings banks attached to one or other of these Com- missions, because, if so, we might get our national savings system into a rather complicated position. It may be that I have misunderstood the position, and, if so, I apologise to the Committee, but, if railways run savings banks in the ordinary way—about which I do not know—it seems to me that we may have to safeguard this position a great deal more than the Minister has adumbrated, in view of what is happening with the Post Office Savings Bank.

    I am informed that the sum involved in pension funds may reach a figure in the neighbourhood of £73 million.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

    I have a shrewd suspicion that this will be the only opportunity of mentioning Clause 120, and there is one point which I think should be brought to the attention of the Committee. That is the definition of "local authorities" and the omission from that definition of the urban district councils. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has had a communication from the body representing the urban councils, as a number of us have, and the point they make is that, under the definition, which includes the council of a borough, the Transport Commission will be compelled to consult all the smaller boroughs—and there is a considerable number with populations of under 5,000—but will not be obliged to consult the urban district councils such as Tondda and Enfield, which have enormous populations. As the definition under the Electricity Bill includes urban and rural districts, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider this matter, and, if he cannot do anything about it here, will do something in another place. It seems to me a reasonable point, and I hope the Minister may be able to meet it.

    Our object is that the Commissioners, when preparing an area scheme, should consult the county councils, and the county boroughs, and thereby cover the whole population or any local authority running a transport service. It would be undesirable if the Commissioners had to consult every local authority in the area before a scheme was devised, and, in the way we have suggested, only county councils, county boroughs and local boroughs who themselves run services would be consulted.

    There is another point which I should like to raise—the definition of "pensions." I shall be obliged if the Parliamentary Secretary will look at it again and see whether he can support the Amendment in page 115, line 21, which is down on the Order Paper in the names of some of my hon. Friends and myself. Perhaps, when the time comes, the right hon. Gentleman may see his way to put his name above mine to that Amendment and, therefore, get it taken in the final stages on Wednesday evening. I think the point I have in mind is known to the hon. Gentleman. As it is a complicated one, I will not trouble the Committee with it now.

    Can the Parliamentary Secretary say why it is proposed to consult a borough of, say, 900 people in Glamorgan, while it is not proposed to consult the urban district of Rhondda with a population of 120,000? If the small boroughs are to be consulted, it seems to me that the larger districts should also be consulted.

    I am afraid there are bound to be anomalies in any proposal of this sort. It seemed to us that the way in which to avoid most anomalies and to cover the interests concerned, was that which I have suggested—to consult the county councils, the county boroughs and every local authority which runs a transport service. I realise that anomalies arise, but I am afraid we cannot help that. We think that, on the whole, that situation is the most satisfactory. In regard to the point raised by the right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton), we will consider it. I may be able to communicate with him before we reach that stage.

    Question put, and agreed to

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.