HC Deb 15 October 1918 vol 110 cc65-9

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—[Mr. Baldwin.]


This is the only occasion on which we can ask the Government with regard to the connection between this delightful island and the United Kingdom. The Channel Islands do not send a Bill like this forward, and it has never been explained to the House why, and I propose to ask again if any explanation can be given, but I would first like to ask the Minister in charge of the Bill whether he can take this opportunity of informing us whether the Isle of Man has contributed financially to the burden of this War. I take it the Government answers were quite complete and satisfactory in regard to Jersey and Guernsey, but no statement, I believe, has been made as to what part the Isle of Man has taken, and we should like to know what the response has been from the loyal Manx people to the financial need of the country during the War. Secondly, I want to ask the Government if they can now make a statement why this Bill is constitutionally necessary. I have asked now for seven years, and this is the eighth year on which I have raised this question, and I am told by an hon. Member, who is well up in these matters, that it is the only autocracy in the British Dominions. I do not think that is a correct description, but there is no doubt it is in a very unique position. I have thought sometimes whether it would not be an appropriate time for the Government to review in some way by an inquiry the position of all these islands. We have a Bill later dealing with education, and the Island of Jersey is in a unique position in regard to education, but with regard to Customs the Isle of Man is in the same unique position. Jersey and Guernsey do not send a Bill like this; and they have Houses of Parliament. The Isle of Man has its House of Keys, but it does send this Bill here. I have no doubt the Treasury simply preserve the ancient form. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend can make a statement upon the constitutional position, but I was told that the Law Officers of the Crown would give their attention to this subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) assured me that there is filed somewhere a special document, which he took great pains in preparing, to make plain to the Government and to the House what the position is between this country and this House and the Isle of Man. I have mentioned this for the well-known reason that when the Insurance Bill was before the House I put an Amendment on the Paper to make that Bill apply to the Isle of Man, because of its contiguity to the Lancashire coast. The Chair ruled that that Amendment could not be put, but at that time, in my youthful innocence as a new Member, I thought the Chair was in error, but I am bound to say that I now think the Chair was quite right and that I ought not to have been allowed to move to extend the Insurance Act to the Isle of Man on the well-known ground that they have no representatives here. At that time, though, a reason was given that was not quite correct—namely, that we were not entitled to legislate at all for the Isle of Man. We are doing that to-day; but why, this House has never had properly explained. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has distinguished himself with a desire to inform the House on many points that have come up. He has multifarious duties and is practically the maid of all work of the Government, and if he could explain to the House the constitutional position of this island I should be deeply obliged. With these inquiries, I offer no opposition to the Second Reading.

Mr. BALDWIN (Joint Financial Secretary to the Treasury)

I think, perhaps, it would be travelling rather outside the confines of this Bill if I attempted to go into the constitutional position of the Isle of Man in relation to the United Kingdom; but I think it is a perfectly fair request and one to which I will endeavour to reply—that I should try and explain what is the constitutional position in regard to the matter contained in the Bill, namely, the Customs of the Isle of Man. The governing Act is the Isle of Man (Customs) Act of the year 1887, and by that Act such Customs as are imposed in the island by their own Legislature have force without further authority from the Parliament of the United Kingdom for six months, or until the end of the Parliamentary Session, but they then lapse unless confirmed by such an Act of Parliament as the one which I am presenting this evening as a Bill to the House. The island has complete power to vote its own Customs. It may select the same articles for taxation as we do in the United Kingdom, or it may select other articles. It may have the same duties as we have, it may have other duties, or it may, if it so elect, fix its duties on a different basis. This Bill which we have before us this evening is in common form a ratifying of the action of the Manx Parliament, and will give when it passes through Parliament statutory effect for the whole financial year to the duties that have been proposed.

6.0 P.M.

But I should like at this stage—because I shall ask the House for permission to take the Bill this evening in its stages unless there be any objection—to call the attention of the House to the fact that we have introduced a new Clause this year, namely, Clause 3, and to explain to the House why we have had to introduce it. The Isle of Man have raised their duties considerably on various articles about which I shall say a word in a minute or two in answering the first part of the question put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth). The Act of 1874 referred to in the third Clause of this Bill stipulates that when beer is imported into the Isle of Man the gravity of that beer must be declared, and if it be not declared it becomes subject to the highest rate of duty, which at that time was 11s. a barrel. The rate of duty has now been raised this year to 44s., which brings it much nearer to the rate in force in England, and the legal advisers of the Board- of Customs have informed them now, in the absence of any evidence as to the gravity of imported beer, that such imported beer is liable to this high duty of 44s., a figure which was never contemplated in addition to the duty that has been paid in this country, and have advised that the time had come when this Regulation of 1874 should be withdrawn. At the same time, they called the attention of the Board of Customs to a phrase which appeared in the same Act, where the words "and not drawn back" occur. Those words, as they appeared in the Act of 1874, limited the Excise duties payable to British goods and not foreign goods, and if those words are still allowed to stand it would mean that imported foreign goods which, in normal times, consist mainly of imported liquor, would be subject to both the duty in the United Kingdom and the duty in the Isle of Man. It is for those reasons that these two small alterations, which have been suggested by the legal advisers of the Board of Customs, have been inserted.

I should like to say, although I do not know it is strictly within the purview of this Bill, a word or two in answer to my hon. Friend's first question, as to what the Isle of Man has done since the beginning of the War. I think I should say in preface that the island is not a wealthy community and we must bear that in mind. It depends very largely on what I believe is known as "tripper traffic."

That traffic, of course, during the War has been reduced to a minimum, and in its place there are a large number of interned German prisoners. The result on the social life of the island has been that while those engaged in agricultural pursuits have probably clone very well, those in the urban areas have suffered a good deal; and when I remind the House that the island has contributed, as a gift, a sum of £10,000 in cash, that they have paid out of their revenue grants in aid of rates for distressed persons to local authorities, and have also made arrangements, by the imposition of an Income Tax for the first time, this year to meet the rent subsidy in the island, I think the House will see that they have made an effort not incommensurate with their needs. But, to my mind, more important than that, I think the House must recognise that the island has played its part with the United Kingdom in that it has given its full toll of manhood, and that, of course, is a far greater sacrifice than any pecuniary sacrifice which they might make.

I hope these few words of mine have explained satisfactorily the object of this Bill, and that what I have said will convince the House that the island has made an effort to stand in with the United Kingdom to carry out the objects of the war in which we are all engaged. I might mention, before I sit down, that, just as hon. Members know, we in this country have increased our taxation to an enormous extent, so in the island they have, in a great degree for them, followed suit, for if I take two or three articles of common consumption, I find on beer the duty was only 5s. 6d. a barrel in 1914, and it has now been raised to 44s; on sugar they have raised the duty front 1s. 10d. a cwt. to 9s. 4d.; on unmanufactured tobacco from 3s. 8d. a lb. to 8s. 2d.; and on the proof gallon of spirits from 13s. 9d. to 27s. 6d. When you add these increases to the imposition of the Income Tax, I think that the House may feel satisfied with the efforts which the island is making.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time.

Resolved, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill."—[Mr. Baldwin.]

Bill accordingly considered in Committee, and reported, without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.