§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Assheton)
I beg to move,That the Clearing Office (Italy) Amendment Order, 1943, dated 8th October, 1943, made by the Treasury under Sections I and 3 of the Debts Clearing Offices and Import Restrictions Act, 1934, a copy of which was presented to this House on 12th October, be approved.In July, 1936, when sanctions were raised against Italy there were considerable arrears of trade debts which were due to creditors in the United Kingdom in respect of goods which had been imported into Italy before sanctions were imposed. The Anglo-Italian Clearing Office was set up under Section I of the Debts Clearing Offices and Import Restrictions Act, 1934, and into that was paid, in sterling, money which was due by United Kingdom debtors for goods of Italian origin imported into the United Kingdom. In November, 1936, an agreement was reached with the Italian Government which provided for the distribution of the sterling received by the Clearing. This was modified by a subsequent agreement which was made in 1938, and that modified agreement automatically came to an end when Italy came into the war, but the Treasury Orders giving effect to the agreement did not. No further distribution of sterling to British creditors took place, but the Articles of the Orders providing for payment for Italian goods to be paid into the Clearing still remain in force. They applied during the war only to debts voluntarily contracted before the war. The sterling amounts in the Clearing at the outbreak of the war, and subsequent additions to those amounts, must, under the Trading with the Enemy Act, be paid into the account of the Custodian of Enemy Property. The Order which is now before Parliament and which the House is asked to confirm is to exempt future transactions from the operation of the Clearing until it is possible to make further arrangements which may be suitable 483 in the change of circumstances for dealing with payments arising out of any renewed trade there may be between Italy and this country. Such trade at the present time is confined to trade on behalf of Government Departments.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) was good enough to tell me that there was a point on which he wanted an explanation, and he asked me if I could deal in my speech with the question of existing creditors of Italy. The question of prewar creditors whose claims were dealt with through the Clearing is part of the much larger question of the settlement of all outstanding claims against Italy. These are matters which will have to be taken up with the Italian Government in due course, and the interests of this particular group of creditors will be taken fully into account. It is clear—and this is the assurance I should like to give my right hon. Friend—that no arrangement for a settlement which may be devised could be brought into force without the consent of Parliament, and there will therefore be full opportunity for this House to discuss these questions at the proper time. Accordingly, the immediate action which is required is to remove, without prejudice at all to any future arrangements which may have to be made, the obvious anomaly which would arise from leaving the existing Treasury Order in operation. The Order now before Parliament has under Article 4 of the Debts Clearing Offices and Import Restrictions Act, 1934, to be laid before the House and must be approved by Resolutions passed by each House within 28 days in order that it may continue to have effect. I therefore ask that this Order be approved.
Mr. Pethick-Lawrenee (Edinburgh, East)
The assurance which the Financial Secretary has given does, I think, fully meet the point I raised, and, therefore, I offer no objection to this Motion.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Clearing Office (Italy) Amendment Order, 1943, dated 8th October, 1943, made by the Treasury under Sections 1 and 3 of the Debts Clearing Offices and Import Restrictions Act, 1934, a copy of which was presented to this House on 12th October, be approved.