HC Deb 28 November 1922 vol 159 cc603-13

(1) His Majesty may, by Order in Council—

  1. (a) make such adaptations of any enactments so far as they relate to any 604 of His Majesty's Dominions other than the Irish Free State as may appear to him necessary or proper as a consequence of the establishment or the Irish Free State;
  2. (b) make such provision as may appear to him necessary or proper for effecting the severance of the system of National Health Insurance in Great Britain from that in the Irish Free State, and for giving effect to any arrangements which may be made with the Irish Free State for that purpose, and for inquiring such transfers of funds of societies and branches whose principal office is situate in Great Britain as may be necessary to give effect to any apportionments made in pursuance of the Order, and as to the application and disposal of the funds so transferred, and for extending to Northern Ireland and to societies and branches whose principal office is situate in Northern Ireland the like provisions as are made by any such Order in respect to Great Britain and societies and branches whose principal office is situate in Great Britain;
  3. (c) give effect to any reciprocal arrangements which may be made with the Irish Free State with respect to unemployment insurance;
  4. (d) make such provision with respect to the management of the National Debt and Government Securities and Annuities (including India Stock) as may be necessary to secure that the management thereof shall not as respects any part thereof be transacted within the Irish Free State;
and any such Order in Council may contain such supplemental, consequential, and incidental provisions as may appear necessary or proper for the purposes or the Order, and any such Order shall, subject to revocation or alteration by a subsequent Order, have effect as if enacted in this Act.

(2) Any Order in Council made under this Section shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament as soon as may be after it is made, and if an Address is presented to His Majesty by either of those Houses within twenty-one days on which that House ha* sat next after any such Order is laid before it praying that the Order may be annulled. His Majesty may thereupon by Order in Council annul the same, and the Order so annulled shall forthwith become void, but without prejudice to the validity of anything which in the meantime may have been done thereunder.

(3) Section one of the Rules Publication Act. 1893, shall not apply to any Order in Council made under this Section.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out paragraph (a).

I hope the Committee will forgive me if I move this Amendment in a very few words, purely with the object of eliciting an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman as to the meaning of Subsection (1, a). I quite understand that the Government may require some provision which will enable them to make certain consequential alterations in certain Acts of Parliament, but the wording of this Clause is so wide that, so far as I can see, it would give Ministers the power to make any Amendment in any Act relating to any Dominion. The broadness and looseness of the drafting is increased by the fact that the intention of the Government is expressed as that of adapting enactments relating to any of His Majesty's Dominions other than the Irish Free State. Put in that form, it almost expresses the intention of His Majesty's Government, to acquire rights to amend the British North America Act, or any Act of the kind. Of course, no one supposes that the Government has any intention of that kind, but, in the interests of what I may call water-tight legislation, and the proper drafting of a Clause like this, I do feel that we need some explanation as to why the Clause is drawn so broadly and loosely, and whether more exact wording, limiting the rights of the Government in this matter, would not he an improvement in the drafting of the Bill.


The reason why the Clause is worded in the way it is is because we are anxious to follow the golden rule, which we lawyers think is sometimes more honoured in the breach than in the observance, of trying to be consistent in our legislation. The wording of the Clause is copied substantially from the wording of the corresponding Clause in the Government of Ireland Act, which, of course, still governs Northern Ireland and which at the time it was enacted was intended to govern both Southern and Northern Ireland. Clause 69, paragraph (a) of the 1920 Act contains a provision that His Majesty may by Order in Council make any adaptation of any enactments so far as they relate to England or Scotland as may appear to him necessary or proper its the consequence of any change effected by the provisions of this Act. The word "adaptation" is one the effect of which, perhaps, escaped the Noble Lord. It is not a case in which the Government is taking power to amend Acts of Parliament, but many Acts of Parliament contain references to the United Kingdom or to the British Isles or to Great Britain and Ireland, and it becomes necessary, in view of the changed position of the Irish Free State, to define whether those terms do or do not include the Irish Free State in respect of each Act. In most cases, probably, it will be found that it will be necessary to say they do not include the Irish Free State now and in some few of them it may be necessary to say they do include it, but in each case some provision must be made, and this is the machinery provided in order that the necessary adaptation may take place. It has no further effect than that. It is merely to enable us to adapt existing enactments to changed circumstances and not in any way to seek to amend them.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in Subsection (1, b), after the word "and" ["and for extending to Northern Ireland"], to insert the words "subject to the consent of the Government of Northern Ireland."

This paragraph deals with the separation of the National Health Insurance systems in Great Britain and Ireland. Under it, in the case of Northern Ireland, the Government of Northern Ireland may have orders made over their heads without any right to be consulted. It is only reasonable that in such a case, where a society has its headquarters in Northern Ireland, the Government of Northern Ireland should be consulted in the matter.


I think I can give an undertaking which will satisfy my hon. Friend. I cannot accept his Amendment, because I cannot put it in that the consent of Northern Ireland is to be obtained before we can do anything, but we are willing to give the undertaking that Northern Ireland shall be consulted, and, in fact, the Order in Council which we propose to enact is to carry out a scheme which has already been framed by a Departmental Committee, on which Northern Ireland was represented, and which was approved by the representatives of Northern Ireland. The adjustments under the Order in Council will be carried out by the National Health Insurance Joint Committee, and that is also a body which includes a representative of Northern Ireland.


I can only say, after the right hon. Gentleman's explanation, that it shows how right my Noble Friend the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) was to ask for an explanation about the first part of the Clause, and it shows how extraordinarily undesirable is this legislation behind the back of the House of Commons. I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out paragraph (d).

I do not think I need apologise for detaining the Committee on this topic, because it concerns, or, at any rate, is alleged to concern, a question affecting engagements entered into by the Government with classes of investors in Government securities. I am quite convinced that the Attorney-General will be the first to agree that if such a matter has been alleged it deserves the most careful consideration. The effect of the powers contained in this Clause will be to transfer away from Dublin to London and Belfast all the business of the transference of Government securities. I am not raising any objection at all against the proposal to transfer to Belfast the business of the management of Government securities held in Northern Ireland. That is obviously desirable, and a reasonable arrangement from the point of view of administration. But now as to the transfer of the management of the debt from Dublin to London. That means that the possibility of transferring Government stocks through the Bank of Ireland will cease, and in order to transfer their stock holders in Southern Ireland will have to do business in London. As regards Government stocks, that is a very serious question of convenience. Government stocks inscribed on the register can only be transferred by the attendance of the holder in person or under Power of Attorney. If the business of transference is token altogether away from the Bank of Ireland and brought over to London, it means that the holders in Southern Ireland will either have to come over to London them- selves to transfer their stocks or execute a power of attorney to get them transferred. That is a very serious inconvenience which may mean seven or eight days' delay. That means the end of an active market in Government securities on the Dublin Stock Exchange. The result will be very much to reduce facilities for the transference of these stocks in Dublin. It may be said that is the inevitable result of separation. I know there is much to be said for that, but there is also this to be taken into consideration, and I cannot but think it merits the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When the prospectuses under which these Government securities were issued were put forth to the public, they contained a statement in respect to many of them that the securities could be transferred at the Bank of Ireland. If that was in the nature of an inducement held out to investors, on the strength of which they invested in these securities, it becomes rather a grave matter if the convenience is withdrawn from those investors at a later date. This needs the most serious consideration of the right hon. Gentleman before he finally makes up his mind as to the exercise of these powers, or at any rate as to the manner in which these powers are to be exercised.

Other considerations are involved affecting not so much the investors as the Government of Southern Ireland. I do not feel particularly interested myself to argue them, but I imagine they are matters which must naturally occupy the attention of the Government before coming to a decision upon this matter. The result, as I understand it, is that the transference of the management from Dublin to London will have a very marked effect on the Revenue from Income Tax and Death Duties. As I understand it. Income Tax and Death Duties payable in respect of stocks registered in Dublin will pass directly into the pockets of tin-Government of Southern Ireland. If the management of the debt is transferred to London, they will not pass directly into those pockets but into the pockets of the Exchequer. It would be a reassurance to know that so important a matter has not been lost sight of, and that there is no likelihood of any serious difference of opinion on this matter between His Majesty's Government and the Government of Southern Ireland.

It may well be that, in future, it will be a disadvantage to us to lose entirely the source of investment in Government securities from Southern Ireland. It may be said that it is little likely, after the separation of the Dominion, and the institution, as we will see instituted, of a Southern Irish Government security, that there will be any large stream of investments coming from Southern Ireland for British securities. Still, some hard-headed investors from Southern Ireland may be attracted by, shall I say, the more certain investment of British Government securities. In removing the management of the National Debt wholly from Dublin to London, would not there be some prejudice to the British Treasury in the loss of the freer command of facilities from the investing public of Southern Ireland? This further consideration appears to be of less importance than the first one, which causes me some misgivings. Might it not be seriously considered, before any decision is made by the Treasury, that we shall have, at least, the appearance of withdrawing from those who have invested in British Government securities on the strength of inducement in certain prospectuses, albeit a secondary inducement, something that was held out to those investors?

I am not aware of the attitude of the Government towards this question. The Clause is merely an empowering Clause. It may be that it is simply thought necessary to secure the powers. If that is so, I should not consider that it was an unreasonable thing to do; but in view of the arguments which I have suggested, it appears to me that it would be a reassurance to those who are anxious about this matter, if something could be said at the present time to show that these considerations have not been lost sight of, and that, before exercising any such powers as those conferred by this Sub-section, the matter will be investigated with a view to ascertaining whether some arrangement cannot be arrived at which would have the effect of preventing the slightest sense of grievance on the part of investors in Southern Ireland.


There are two points to which I should like to draw attention. In the first place, are there facilities in any existing Dominion for transferring Government securities to this country which are held in the Dominions, or have the holders of our Government securities who live in the Dominions to get stocks transferred to the Bank of England? If there are no facilities of that sort in the other Dominions, I cannot for the life of me see why there should be facilities of that sort in Southern Ireland, and why Southern Ireland should be given the privilege, if it be a privilege, which no other Dominion possesses. The second point is that we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that Dublin, at the present time, is not a very safe place in which to keep valuable documents. We know from the burning of the Four Courts that documents of the most priceless value were destroyed, and can never be replaced. I am sorry to say that the situation in Dublin at the present moment is not such as to preclude the possibility of similar destruction of property taking place. I hope that it may not be so; but the present situation of affairs is not hopeful. Therefore, I should be exceedingly sorry to think that books which ought to be kept at the Bank of England, where they are safe, ate likely to be kept in the Bank of Ireland, with the possibility of their being destroyed, thereby inflicting infinitely more harm upon the holders of those Government stock than any possible inconvenience to which my right hon. Friend has referred.


I do not agree entirely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Young) in regard to transferring the securities' side from Dublin to London. So far as the free market is concerned, you will get just as much a free market with the transference from Dublin to London as you would have if you left it in Dublin. It must be remembered that in the provinces investments are made in war stocks, and power of attorney is taken out, and the power of attorney has to be sent to London, and it takes about four or five days before the power of attorney can be exercised and turned into cash. It is the same thing if a person invests money in Dublin, and a power of attorney is taken out in Dublin and handed to the Bank of England here. You would get as free a market as if it were retained in Dublin. With respect to the Dublin Stock Exchange, you will get the same free market there, whether the power of attorney is exercised in Dublin or in London. As to the Southern Unionists or others who have invested in Government stock, I do not think it would affect them at all, because the chances are that if there was a Government issue it would be advertised in all the Irish papers, and they would subscribe through the papers if they did not receive a prospectus. I think the transfer of the office from Dublin to London would make no difference at all.


It seems to me that the position of the right hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Young) has been some what misconceived, particularly by the hon. and learned Member for York (Sir J. Butcher). The case which he made was that an undertaking was given to investors that facilities should be given in Dublin, and, apparently, those facilities are now to be withdrawn. As this was an inducement offered to these investors, it is unfair to withdraw it now. It is not a question of giving facilities to the Irish Free State which are in excess of facilities enjoyed in any other community. It is purely a question in relation to certain individual investors in Government stock, and whether they are to have the benefit of the promises that were made to them when they invested. My right hon. Friend has put forward a perfectly fair contention, and one which the Government ought to meet. It may be, as the hon. and learned Member for York has said, that Dublin is not a very safe place in these days, and that nobody who has valuable documents will wish to have them kept in Dublin. The investors, I have no doubt, considered these things at the time they made the investment. It is rather strange that the hon. and learned Member for York, who cheered the Prime Minister last night in regard to the great red plot in London, which was to produce riot here and was likely to bring about revolution, should now contrast the condition of security existing in London with that of Dublin. When we hear hon. Members speak their own minds, we see that really they do not believe in these sensational reports. When you get them speaking on other topics, they reveal their true view, and we see at once that when they talk about risk of revolution in this country and the machinations of men from Moscow—


Will the hon. Member confine his remarks to the question of the management of the National Debt and of Government stock?


I was merely dealing with one single argument put forward by the hon. and learned Member for York. The argument seems to be decisive in his mind, but no doubt my object has been attained, and he will now agree with the right hon. Member for Norwich.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Baldwin)

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Young) who first spoke truly said, this is an empowering Clause. I am sure that he will agree with me that it is desirable to have such an empowering Clause, because it is conceivable that circumstances might arise in which there would be an apparent necessity to remove the register from Dublin, but, although it might seem that the removal of the register would be a necessary consequence of the withdrawal of Southern Ireland from Great Britain, I am advised that there is a very strong sentimental feeling, and I recognise, for what they are worth, the arguments which he used. There are some on the other side, but I do not think it necessary to press them to-night, because my right hon. Friend spoke as though action was at once contemplated under this Clause. That is not so. We take powers, because after the passage of the Free State Act it would be much more difficult to get powers that might afterwards be necessary, and we think it well to be armed with these powers, and to have them under this Bill, but it is not our intention at present to make a move, and I will give an undertaking to my right hon. Friend that no move will be made until, not only has the matter had careful consideration, but that representations shall be heard, not only from the Irish Government, but from interested parties, by which I mean stockbrokers or stockholders.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Sir J. Butcher) said that no one is compelled to remain on the Dublin register, because he is free to remove from Dublin to London or from London to Dublin, and there is nothing in this Bill which prevents that being done. There was another point as to the danger of any document remaining in Dublin. I think that the only answer which I can give to that is, that if any stockholder registered in Dublin is really apprehensive on that score, it is open to him to | transfer to London. Of course, stock- holders resident in Northern Ireland will desire to transfer from Dublin, because the registered stocks, as my right hon. Friend knows, are assessable for Death Duties in London or in Dublin, as they happen to be registered in either of those places, and it seems unfair that the heirs of citizens in the North of Ireland should find their estates assessed with estate duty in territory under another jurisdiction, and if they find that there is no power under this Clause to make arrangements for those domiciled in Northern Ireland to be able to remove the registration to Belfast, if that be more convenient than London, then I shall have words suggested in another place, and they will come before the House of Commons again.


I wish to express ray thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for the very sympathetic manner in which he has met this Amendment. As he says, this is an empowering Clause, and the matter would come before the House in the ordinary manner as an Order in Council which it is to carry out. I am convinced that a question affecting an obligation between the State and an investor would be in no safer hands than his, and would receive from him most sympathetic and careful consideration, and owing to the manner in which he has undertaken to go into the circumstances, I would ask leave of the House to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.