HC Deb 25 July 1946 vol 426 cc362-6

10.20 p.m.

The Minister of State (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 43, at the end, to insert: In paragraph 3 of Part II the words ' and rates ' shall be omitted. In Committee, I said that I had some difficulty about the proposal which was made by Members opposite, that these words should be omitted. In fact, the 1944 Act, which, by this Bill, we are amending, made it possible for the Government, by order, to exempt organisations, representatives, officials and so on, from rates, but I am advised that, under Section 19 of the Convention, it is not absolutely essential to include the words "and rates" in the Bill, as it refers to the higher officials of international organisation. Therefore, I have moved to omit those words so that we may perhaps reach more general agreement upon the Bill.

Mr. Harold Roberts (Birmingham, Handsworth)

My remarks will apply not only to this Amendment, but to several other Amendments which are to be moved. One would have assumed that the staff work of the Minister would have been good enough to ensure that, in moving these Amendments, he would get the support of his nominal supporters. This Amendment and other Amendments were distinctly foreshadowed by hon. Members on this side in earlier Debates on the Bill. Our forethought caused one of the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman, in a burst of piety, to thank the Almighty that hon. Members on this side were not in power, because we gave lip-service to valuable Bills of this sort and torpedoed them afterwards. Another one of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters, a merry wag, referred to these Amendments as being red herrings decorated with red flags. I do not know whether or not those hon. Gentlemen will cause embarrassment to the Minister or regard him as being subject to the condemnation which they were so eager to pronounce.

The truth is that the Minister brought forward this Bill very lightheartedly, without receiving due advice from the Law Officers. When difficulties were pointed out, those who pointed them out were immediately assailed as being criminals who wanted to injure or sabotage the Bill. We now have the humiliating spectacle of the Government having to ask for sanction for the very Amendments which were formerly said to be of a wrecking character. I am reminded of a remark made in the House a few months ago by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown), who said of the Government Front Bench that he admired their intelligence, but doubted their capacity. That remark can be extended from Ministers down to their supporters. It is not very easy to dispel complacency, but I hope that this present experience may do a little in that direction.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

As the right hon. Gentleman will recollect, an Amendment in precisely similar terms to those which he is now recommending to the Committee, stood on the Order Paper on the last occasion upon which we discussed this Measure in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Challen) and myself. I naturally welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is now moving our Amendment, but perhaps I might be allowed to say that had he taken the trouble, with the aid of his advisers, to consider this point in advance, he could have saved the time of the House and the Committee by accepting it on that occasion. Although that time, having been wasted, cannot be recalled, it is reassuring to discover from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is himself moving this Amendment that he recognises that great minds now think alike.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

I join in the expression of thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for having seen the wisdom of making this alteration even at this last stage and at the expense of recommitting the Bill. In the 1944 Act it is, I think, clearly implied that some individuals could be granted an exemption from rates; in various textbooks it it also clearly stated that individuals who have the privileges of an envoy of a foreign Power can be exempt from rates. Therefore the passages from those textbooks, the passage in the Act and the passage in this Bill justified, in my view, the inquiry as to the extent to which this privilege went. The right hon. Gentleman had this point raised at an earlier stage of our discussions but it was only after considerable debate and discussion that he revealed that in fact the individual did not get freedom from rates in respect of his own premises. It followed, once the right hon. Gentleman made that admission, that these words in the Bill were either completely meaningless or entirely misleading, and probably both. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman, even at this late stage, has taken steps to remove from the Bill something which is quite inaccurate, according to the interpretation that he has sought to give of the law of this land.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

It needs few words on my part to congratulate the Government and the right hon. Gentleman on the wisdom of this Amendment. There is a considerable amount of feeling in the Committee—especially on the other side if they have the courage to emphasise it—on the privileges which are being given, but if we are going to extend those privileges as proposed, it is only right that we should examine rates, one of the things which press most heavily on a large section of the public. I say quite frankly that it would cause a quite unnecessary dislike of this very worthy body which we are setting up if there was any unnecessary extension of privilege in this respect. It is seldom that the right hon. Gentleman has shown much wisdom in the course of these Debates. Therefore it must be a real pleasure, both to his supporters and to the Opposition, that an Amendment of this kind, which was, I understand, pressed by the Opposition earlier, should now be accepted by the Government. We congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his wisdom, or. this occasion at any rate, and I should like to say how glad I am that we have been enabled to make this improvement in the Bill. It will take away some of the possible privileges but, it will make the Bill less disliked by the ordinary people of this country.

Mr. Noel-Baker

In view of the orgy of congratulation which is going on, I think it is up to me to say a word. I am of course deeply indebted to the hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. Roberts) for the manner in which he received my Amendment. I do not think that my side of the Committee will have forgotten that in the early stages and the Second Reading the Opposition thought that they were going to have a general chauvinistic assault on this Bill and on international organisations. After a short time they found it was not a paying proposition and they gave it up. In the course of the Committee stage a better temper, as I think, developed, and a great many Amendments put forward from the other side, some of them of very considerable substance, were withdrawn. On that, I gave a pledge that on my side I would put forward any Amendments I thought I could make to meet them. This is a very small Amendment, and if I am asked to examine it, I do not think that it will make any practical difference at all. I thought it wise to make these Amendments in this form in an effort to meet hon. Members opposite, and I had hoped they would accept them in the spirit in which they are offered.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I regret that the right hon. Gentleman is being singularly ungracious and provocative in this matter. We on this side of the Committee have been congratulating him on moving such a reasonable Amendment, and it really does not lie in his mouth, so it seems to me, to minimise the effect of this Amendment, because many people on reading this Bill as it originally stood would have thought, and rightly thought, that the words "exemption from rates" meant something. They do not all read the right hon. Gentleman's speeches, but it was quite clear, as he has said in the course of previous Debates, that these words were meaningless. I am glad he is putting the matter right and I thank him for doing so, but I repeat that I think he is being singularly ungracious and provocative in the observations he has made.

Mr. C. Williams

I am sure hon. Members opposite will not mind hearing me again. I wish to remark that when the right hon. Gentleman used the word "chauvinistic" he did go out of his way to try to raise party politics on this matter. I have noticed over and over again that when we on this side are improving a Bill which is of vital importance, attempts are made deliberately by hon. Members opposite to try to produce worse feelings.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.