HC Deb 24 July 1946 vol 426 cc162-72

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

10.13 p.m.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again." on the ground that we cannot take a Treasury Bill of this kind without either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury being present. That is something quite out of precedent.

The Deputy-Chairman

I do not propose to accept that Motion now.

Captain Crookshank

Then, when can you accept it, Mr. Beaumont? If we are to have no explanation of the Bill, and no responsible Minister is present, it will not be any better in five or ten minutes' time. This, I submit, is treating the Committee with great discourtesy, and I hope that the Prime Minister will take note of the absence of his lieutenants.

The Deputy-Chairman

There are Ministers present.

Captain Crookshank

I did not say that there were no Ministers present. There is a wonderful array of Ministers here. I am complaining that this is a financial Measure, and that neither of the Treasury Ministers is here.

The Deputy-Chairman

It is not the duty nor is it within the right of the Chair to insist on any particular Minister being present.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I should like to know, so that every hon. Member of the Committee may know, what this Clause does. It would be awful if an hon. Member were to be asked in his constituency, during the weekend, what this Clause, the heading to which is "Coffee and chicory extracts, etc." really means. This Clause, I think that I am right in saying, although I have no authority except my own memory, has something to do with the Budget Resolutions. I would not like any hon. Member, particularly any hon. Lady, to think that because the hon. Member for Torquay said something, he claimed to know more about it than the Members of the Government, though, of course, I may know more about it. So far as this Clause is concerned, it will be noticed that it lays down that the duty on preparations not being Empire products is to be 9d. the lb. dry weight, and where the preparations are Empire products the duty is to be 7½d. I believe that I spoke on this subject on the Budget, and I believe that what is contained in this Clause was carried out in the Finance Bill. If that is not so, perhaps some hon. or right hon. Gentleman on the Government Front Bench will explain wherein it differs from the Finance Bill. That is a point on which I should like to get some information.

This seems to be a rather extended Clause. I cannot remember ever having dealt with an Isle of Man (Customs) Bill before in which a Clause had to be inserted to deal with the subject of coffee and chicory extracts. Of that I am almost certain, and that being so I would ask some hon. Gentleman or hon. Lady, or even some right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite, to tell us precisely why we have this Clause in the Bill. Is it really carrying out a system of Imperial Preference? If so, then it is excellent. We have on the back of the Bill the names of those responsible for it, and I should hope that some of them would give us an explanation of this Clause, which seems to be one of considerable importance since it occupies nearly a whole page of the Bill. Though it is nearly a one Clause Bill, it is an important Bill.

The Deputy-Chairman

I do not wish to interrupt the speech of the hon. Gentleman except to indicate to him that he is in danger of repeating himself.

Mr. Williams

I admit that I said something in error and I apologise most sincerely. I used the word "Bill" where I should have used the word "Clause." I think I should ask, too, why Subsection (3) is included. It provides that the section shall have effect as from the first day of September, nineteen hundred and forty-six. That seems a curious date to choose. I should have thought that it would have been much better if we had chosen 1st August, or some day closer to the time when this Bill goes through the House. I respectfully ask that some hon. or right hon. Gentleman or Lady, or even the Prime Minister himself, should tell us what we are really doing in this matter.

The Solicitor-General (Major Sir Frank Soskice)

Yesterday I moved the Second Reading of this Bill, and I am still the Minister in charge of it. Although hon. Members opposite seem to think it extremely unlikely that I shall be able to do so, I propose to try to give some explanation of Clause I of the Bill. What I asked the House to do yesterday and what I ask it to do today is simply this. The Isle of Man is a separate financial entity and passes its own customs duties, but those customs duties are subject to the approval and affirmation of the Imperial Parliament. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. Williams) has asked a number of questions. Those questions were no doubt asked and fully debated in the Tynwald during their debates and the reason for this alteration in the Isle of Man customs was explained. All I ask the Committee to do is to pass this Clause, which represents what the Isle of Man wishes to have as part of their legislation, with regard to coffee and chicory extracts.

Mr. Williams

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his explanation. I think the customs duties in this case are the same as those which we introduced in our Finance Bill, but I should like to be absolutely certain.

The Solicitor-General

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman's memory extended as far back as that, but if it does not, then I can tell him that they are. The Isle of Man may have thought it proper to follow the example of the Imperial Parliament. These are the same customs duties, and the Isle of Man has decided to adopt them. The Clause is purely formal, an affirming Section of the Imperial Act which is necessary to enable these customs duties to become the law of the Isle of Man. I therefore ask the Committee to say that there is no reason for interfering with what the Isle of Man people 'have decided for themselves.

Mr. Drayson (Skipton)

I am not clear, from what the Solicitor-General said, when the Tynwald agreed to these new customs duties. My recent experience is that the Isle of Man Parliament, which recently held its elections, will not know the results of those elections until September, when they will open the ballot boxes after having waited three months for the Service votes to arrive in the Island. It seems that we discussed these measures ourselves at a period which did not give the Isle of Man Parliament time to consider the new customs duties. I would like to know whether the Isle of Man Parliament agreed to these new duties, which we ourselves agreed to in our Finance Bill?

Mr. Harold Roberts (Birmingham, Handsworth)

It appears to me that the Solicitor-General spoke rather from inference. I did not understand him to say that the Tynwald had, in fact, affirmed the amendment in Section 42 of the Statute of 1876 which is referred to in the Clause but I gathered that he thought that would be the case. I would like to get from him an answer to a plain and simple question which I put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer during discussions on Finance Bill. Is this change being made in consequence of any representation by any foreign trading interests?

The Deputy-Chairman

I have allowed the hon. Member considerable latitude, but he is now getting out of Order.

Mr. Roberts

Subsection (1) of the Clause states that these extracts reserve, and so forth, shall not be included in Section 42 of the Act of 1876, so far as the Isle of Man is concerned. I think I am in Order in asking whether we are being asked by any foreign trading interests to modify the Statute of 1876, so far as the Isle of Man is concerned.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

Instead of replying to the speeches that have been made by hon. Members, the Solicitor-General shelters himself behind the actions of Tynwald. Tynwald is an ancient legislative body, and its functions, as far as I understand, have never been clearly defined.

The Deputy-Chairman

The matter is not in Order now. What the hon. Member is now saying could have been said on the Second Reading of the Bill, but not on the Committee stage.

Mr. McKie

I was attempting to find reasons why the Solicitor-General should reply to the speeches that have been made, and I think I am entitled to say that he sheltered himself behind what Tynwald has said. This is an ancient legislative body—

The Deputy-Chairman

The Tynwald has nothing to do with this Clause.

Mr. McKie

With great respect, Mr. Beaumont, I want to ask the Solicitor-General whether the House of Keys have debated this matter.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member need not look so surprised. He knows that what he is saying is out of Order. That is a Second Reading point, and is not in Order in Committee. I shall not be able to allow the Solicitor-General to deal with it, and therefore, the hon. Member may not raise it.

Mr. Harold Roberts

On a point of Order, Mr. Beaumont. I asked the Solicitor-General whether or not foreign influences have been used to induce the inclusion of this Clause in the Bill. May I ask whether that question was in Order?

The Deputy-Chairman

That question was in Order.

Mr. Roberts

I hope I shall get an answer to it.

Mr. McKie

After that interlude, may I continue? Your Ruling, Mr. Beaumont, has proved that I am in Order—

The Deputy-Chairman

Is the hon. Gentleman questioning the Ruling I gave? I still rule that what he has said hitherto has been out of Order.

Mr. McKie

Am I entitled to ask the Solicitor-General whether Clause 1 was fully debated in the House of Keys and whether the Manx Government, on the advice of the House of Keys—

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member is not entitled to ask that. He might have been entitled to ask it on Second Reading, but he is not entitled to do so now.

Mr. McKie

I gather that your Ruling is that I may not ask the Solicitor-General whether the House of Keys debated the matter. We are now discussing Clause I, and I understand I am not allowed to ask the Solicitor-General whether the House of Keys—

The Deputy-Chairman

If the hon. Gentleman continues to repeat his remarks after the Ruling I have given, I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.

Mr. McKie

I would not dream of trespassing against your Ruling, Mr. Beaumont. I pass from that matter. Will the Solicitor-General be good enough to tell us what the position is, and whether undue pressure was used? Was this a question freely discussed in the Isle of Man? I hope very much that the Solicitor-General will see fit to make a further explanation.

10.30 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

I am in a difficulty because of the Ruling which you, Mr. Beaumont, have quite properly given, that the Tynwald—[Interruption]. The Solicitor-General is asking the Committee to pass this Clause, on the ground that it is the consummation of an agreement between H.M. Government and the Tynwald. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] If that is not so I am greatly surprised, and I think hon. Members would be grateful if the Solicitor-General made it clear what he did say. I am not suggesting that there is anything necessarily repugnant in the Clause itself. My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has pointed out that we are delighted to see that the Government are implementing the principle of Imperial Preference in this Clause. I am glad to see that the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food is here in case any question on chicory should arise. She may be able to elucidate the point and perhaps she holds a watching brief in the general interest of the Isle of Man and the Tynwald. What we do not understand is the connection so far as this Clause is concerned, between this Committee, which is now being asked to pass the Clause, and the Tynwald, with whom the Government have apparently made some arrangement. I think, in view of what the Solicitor-General has already said, we are entitled to some further explanation on that point.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

I would repeat the question which has already been addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) to the Solicitor-General and to which I certainly have not heard any reply. What is the reason for Subsection (3) of the Clause? This Subsection provides that the Clause shall have effect as from 1st September, 1946. We have not had any explanation of that at all. For some peculiar reason this Clause is to start on 1st September whereas the next Clause is timed to start on 1st August. There does not seem to be any reason for that curious disparity. As I understand the principle of this Bill, it is that this House should have some general control over the customs duties of the Isle of Man so as to ensure that their customs duties and ours will not be so much out of step, as to permit the possibility of smuggling. If, indeed, that is the proper explanation I should think it essential that when they make a change in their customs duties, that change should take effect on the same date in both countries. If the Solicitor-General can assure the Committee that this is precisely the same provision as that contained in our own Finance Bill of this year—and my recollection is that this is not so—there is nothing more to be said. On the other hand, if there is a difference in the dates, I think the Committee is entitled to know the reason for that difference.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

I should like to ask the learned Solicitor-General to look at the last sentence of Subsection (2): In this subsection the expression 'Empire product' has the same meaning as in section five of the Act of 1919 as amended by any subsequent enactment. May I ask, Mr. Beaumont, what Act of 1919?

Mr. C. Williams

I am sure every Member of the Committee would expect me, as a matter of courtesy, to thank the Solicitor-General sincerely for the answer he gave me, as far as it went. I appreciate his courtesy, and I thank him very much indeed, but I would emphasise once again that he has not yet explained why 1st September should be inserted in Subsection (3) when there is a different date later in the Bill. There is a further point which I think should be explained. In line 16, and elsewhere, the term "dry weight" is used. That, of course, is a common term, but I would like to ask him whether it is a usual term in connection with this particular commodity, and if it is exactly the same term as we would use in our own legislation. I notice a great deal of indecision on the Government Front Bench as to what they are going to do on this, and I feel I must help them in this matter so they can really understand what they are doing.

The Solicitor-General

I think the Committee is under a misapprehension about this, and I will try to clear it up. The customs duties are imposed in the Isle of Man, with the exception of certain duties, which are immaterial, by resolution of Tynwald. That resolution is almost exactly analogous to our Budget Resolutions. That resolution remains in force for six months or until it is cancelled by a subsequent resolution, or until the resolution is replaced by an affirmation by the Imperial Parliament. In other words, the way these particular customs are imposed is as follows. The Isle of Man makes its own resolution, it discusses it and decides what it wants for the Isle of Man, and then the Imperial Parliament affirms that resolution. That is the effect of Imperial legislation which relates to the imposition of customs duties in the Isle of Man. This Bill, as I explained yesterday on the Second Reading, is an annual Bill, and on previous occasions has gone through without discussion. That is no reason why it should not be discussed on any occasion but all that the Committee is being asked to do today is what it does annually, namely, to affirm a resolution which Tynwald has itself taken. I assure the Committee that this customs duty was fully discussed in the ordinary way in Tynwald. That is to say, it has gone ' through the ordinary legislative process in the Isle of Man. What is done every year has been done in this case and the only question before the Committee in considering this Bill is: Is there any reason why the Imperial Parliament should disagree with the resolution of Tynwald. Tynwald decided this, and they had their own reasons for it.

The date 1st September is the date in the Finance Bill which the House discussed and passed not long ago. Whether that was the reason why Tynwald fixed upon the same date, I do not know. But, it is the will of the Isle of Man, and I ask the Committee to say that it would be most unfortunate, unless there is some compelling reason, for us to override what the Isle of Man has done. I am merely asking the Committee to approve what the Isle of Man has sought to do, and beyond the fact that the Isle of Man wanted these duties imposed, I cannot say more. I hope that the Committee will be satisfied that by the ordinary legislative machinery, this can be done. The Isle of Man has followed its ordinary legis- lative machinery through its ordinary processes, that there should be a resolution of Tynwald, which is, as I have said, analagous to our own Budget resolution. There is nothing unusual, and it has been part of the ordinary routine of the Imperial Parliament, to approve this, as a matter of course, for years past. There have been questions asked on rare occasions, but with the exception of a few debates, this measure has always gone through as a matter of course, and the House has always taken the view that it would be improper for it to alter the decision of the Isle of Man. There is no reason why the usual practice should be departed from on this occasion, and I ask the Committee, therefore, to confirm this proposal as an expression of the opinion of the Isle of Man.

Mr. Keeling

I must ask the learned Solicitor-General to answer my question. I repeat it for him. What is this Act of 1919 referred to in line 20? There is no explanation or definition of it.

Mr. Harold Roberts

I would like to point out that I asked a perfectly simple question, which you, Mr. Beaumont, ruled to be in Order. It was a very direct question, but I have had no answer. If the real reason for that is that it would be very embarrassing for the Government to give the answer, I am content.

Mr. Drayson

Could the Solicitor-General give the Committee the date of the decision promulgated by Tynwald?

The Solicitor-General

If the hon. Member had been present yesterday evening, or if, between last evening and this evening, he had looked up the official records, he would have seen that I told the Committee that the date was 16th April, 1946.

Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)

May I ask if the Solicitor-General proposes to answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling)? The Committee, having been asked to pass this Clause, should know something about the Act of 1919 to which reference is made. The question has been put twice by the hon. Member for Twickenham. Surely the learned Solicitor-General is competent to answer it. While it may be desirable that the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury should be present, surely on this point the learned Solicitor-General should be the competent Minister to reply.

10.45 p.m.

Lieut, - Commander Joynson-Hicks

Quite frankly I do not see how the Committee can pass a Clause which contains a provision like this: In this subsection the expression ' Empire Product' has the same meaning as in section five of the Act of 1919 as amended by any subsequent amendment. With all respect, Mr. Beaumont, there must be some meaning in this. If this were an Amendment the hon. and learned Gentleman would have been the first to tell us what this meaning was. Surely he ought to move a manuscript Amendment in order to give some explanation of this passage which at present does not make sense. He ought not to ask the Committee to pass a Clause which has no apparent meaning, and is simply inviting chaos and confusion. I understand from the Solicitor-General that this is not going to affect the finances of this country but affects the finances of the Isle of Man and if we put them in the position of passing legislation which means nonsense we shall be landing ourselves in great difficulties. I do seriously press the learned Solicitor-General for an explanation, or alternatively for some Amendment which will make sense of the passage I have quoted.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I think it would be gracious if the Solicitor-. General would say he will look into this point. We are not trying to make a fool of him. This is a serious point, and not a trivial one. I think there is an error in drafting. I think it should read "the Finance Act of 1919." Which is it? I do ask the Solicitor-General to tell us and not to blush like a maiden.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.