HC Deb 11 February 1941 vol 368 cc1264-8
Sir J. Lamb

I beg to move, in page 33, line 43, after "may," to insert "by regulation."

The object of this Amendment is not to hamper the Board of Trade or the Treasury in making these directions, but rather to assist the working of the Bill. The Bill provides that they "may" give directions, but I want the House of Commons and the public to have prior knowledge and information of what these directions are to be, firstly, in order that the public may know, and, secondly, in order that the House of Commons may have the right to discuss them and express the views of the public upon them. These views are likely to assist in the subsequent working of the Bill.

It may be said that there will be prior consultations with the interests concerned, which I regard as absolutely essential; but if there is one statement which has been made repeatedly during the proceedings on this Bill and which has become almost a classic it is, "We will give full consideration to what has been said." That phrase has occurred between 40 and 50 times during the Committee stage of this Bill so far, and it is piling up the responsibilities of the Department in relation to the next stage of this Bill and is not conducive to good legislation. If consultations had taken place prior to the introduction of this Measure, I believe we should have had less discussion on the Committee stage. They have not taken place, and consequently I want to ensure, if we are not to have these prior consultations, that, before these directions are given, regulations will be put before us so that we may have an opportunity of discussing them before they become operative and the public may know what they are. Therefore, my Amendment is, I think, in the interest of the best working of the Bill.

Major Milner

In the first place I should like to ask why we have no representative of the Treasury on the Front Bench, because this is a matter for the Treasury itself. As I understood it, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave an assurance at a previous stage, on a question I raised, that the term "direction" would be changed to "regulation." I am assuming, as a matter of course, that that undertaking will apply equally here. It is obviously just as important that those who insure under this part of the Bill should know precisely where they are, as it is for those who insure under the earlier part of the Bill. The particular matter to which the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) referred is extremely important because it affects the time at which payments are to be made where damage has been done. It is, therefore, most important that we should know what is to be done, and for the public to know at what time they may expect to receive payment. I had intended raising this matter on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" but it may be for the convenience of the Committee if an answer is given by the Government at this stage.

In my view payment should be very prompt indeed, I should like to see the time fixed at, say, 30 days after a claim is lodged. In any case I hope whoever replies to this Amendment will give us an assurance that this question will be dealt with by regulation rather than by direction, thereby insuring that publicity will be carried out by the Government. I feel that an enormous number of points are being piled up for later consideration. I should really like to see a White Paper setting forth all the questions upon which the Government have given promises for consideration, because it is impossible for us to keep a record of them, except by laboriously going through the OFFICIAL REPORT. We do not want to be put off now by a promise of consideration, to find the Government saying, when the time comes, that they are very sorry about this or that. I believe that it is the temper of the Committee that there should be substantial Amendments on several points of principle. This matter has already been dealt with on an earlier part of the Bill and I hope we shall have the same assurance as the Chancellor gave in that case.

Mr. Lyttelton

I have had an opportunity of consulting the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this matter, and we are agreed that this must be brought into line with the previous undertaking he gave, and that directions under this Sub-section should be published. The Government will consider, between now and the Report stage, whether the directions should remain directions, or whether they should be regulations. With regard to the complaints by hon. Members that the Government promise too often to give matters consideration, I think it would hardly be expected that the Government would say that hon. Members' points were to be disregarded.

Sir J. Lamb

In view of the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment on condition that we have consideration of the question of regulation, because publication by itself is insufficient. The Committee does demand a right to express their own opinions on these directions before they become law.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Brigadier-General Clifton Brown (Newbury)

I beg to move, in page 34, line 33, to leave out from "damage," to the end of the Clause, and to add: and interest at the said rate shall be payable periodically upon the twenty-fourth day if June and the twenty-fifth day of December in every year until the date when the payment is discharged upon such sum as the Board of Trade shall determine to be a reasonable estimate of the probable amount of that payment, any necessary adjustment being made upon the final determination and discharge of that payment. Sub-section (4) states, in respect of war damage, that interest at the rate of 2½ per cent. per annum shall accrue on the payment from the time of the occurrence of that damage and "shall be payable when the payment is made." I should like to know the meaning of these words "shall be payable when the payment is made." The first part of this Clause relates to the Treasury and the second part to the Board of Trade. But is the President of the Board of Trade the right person to assess damage to crops? Certainly the Board of Trade will have to consult with the Minister of Agriculture, but that is not stated. At any rate, the Minister of Agriculture will have to be consulted as to the damage. That will take time, and in the meantime the interest will accrue.

At present anyone who has a claim on the Treasury may have to wait months without hearing a word about it. It is a tricky business to get the right valuation, and a farmer may have to go without his interest for months. The Amendment suggests that, in the same way as interest on Government securities is paid twice a year, the amount of damage should be valued and interest paid at regular times. The farmer wants some assurance that, when damage is done, he will not be ruined before the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Agriculture have made up their minds, and that in the meantime interest should be paid on the amount of the damage.

Sir J. Lamb

I should like to support what my hon. and gallant Friend has said and to express my views very strongly on the question of valuation. Valuation of agricultural property is very different from the case of an ordinary business. This is a point that is not recognised by all. You may have a field of corn which has been ploughed, cultivated and sown, but is in an immature state of growth. If you value it at a particular time, you give nothing whatever for the whole value which may accrue later. The cultivation which has had to be done is done in the earlier part of the year, and, if it is spoilt by damage to the crops before they are fully matured, you find that the season has gone. That is a point which will have to be considered.

Mr. Lyttelton

The vital question is whether it is in the national interest to make the payments. Where it is, they ought to be made promptly, and no serious question of interest will arise. But it would be against the general intention to pay out interest on payments which have been deferred because they were not in the national interest. Wherever it is in the national interest to make payments they will be made as promptly as possible. When payment is not made, it means that to make payment then is not considered to be in the national interest.

Brigadier-General Brown

By whom—by the Board of Trade?

Mr. Lyttelton


Brigadier-General Brown

After consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, I presume?

Mr. Lyttelton

Certainly. On matters on which we have not specialised knowledge we naturally bring into consultation the Ministry concerned.

Mr. David Adams (Consett)

It seems unreasonable that we should hand over to the Treasury or the Board of Trade the right to say whether we will defer payment or not when the withholding of money due may be inflicting very considerable hardship. If there is an obligation that interest shall be paid in all cases, it seems that this Clause is essential to the Bill.

Mr. Lyttelton

I think there must be some misunderstanding. There is no suggestion that the interest is not payable and does not accrue to the person to whom the payment is ultimately due to be made, but payments are not to be made unless the re-establishment of the goods or plant is in the national interest. Any other system would be distinctly inflationary. Where payment is not made it is because it is not immediately in the national interest and interest accrues to the person to whom the payment is due.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.