HC Deb 20 January 1948 vol 446 cc126-32
Mr. Diamond (Manchester, Blackley)

I beg to move, in page 8, line 42, at the end to insert: Provided that no person shall be qualified to be so appointed unless he is a member of one or more of the following bodies:

  • The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales;
  • The Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors;
  • The Society of Accountants in Edinburgh;
  • The Institute of Accountants and Actuaries in Glasgow;
  • The Society of Accountants in Aberdeen;
  • The Association of Certified and Corporate Accountants, Limited."
I must first declare my interest by pointing out that I happen to be a very undistinguished member of this distinguished profession. In Clause 16 (3) the Bill provides: The accounts of the Corporation shall be audited by auditors to be appointed annually by the responsible Minister. The purpose of this Amendment is to make it clear that those called upon to do the audits shall be well qualified to accept that appointment. The words used in the Amendment follow a long list of precedents in public and private Acts. They go back at least to 1930 in regard to public Acts. In view of the interest which I gather attaches to this unimportant Amendment, it might be helpful if I refer to the Acts where these identical qualifications are used. They are the Municipal Corporations (Audit) Act, 1932, the Local Government Act, 1933, the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934, the Workmen's Compensation (Coal Mines) Act, 1934, the Herring Industry Act, 1935, the Housing Act, 1935, the Housing Act 1936, an Act entitled the General Cemetery Act, 1937, and, to come to more modern times the Electricity Act of 1947.

Having regard to that formidable list of precedents, I hope I shall be excused if I say in regard to any bodies which happen to be omitted from the list that it seems reasonable that we should adopt care and caution in varying the list so as to include perhaps one body, and, by doing so seem to be excluding certain other bodies who might feel equally entitled to be included. The difficulty about any list is not those who are included, but those who are left out. I hope I shall not be misunderstood when I point out that the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland has 10 members practising in this country, and when this matter was considered before no fewer than 11 hon. Members supported an Amendment on their behalf. I hope I shall not be misunderstood in suggesting that they and other institutes, not in the list, if they desire to be included, should go through the normal procedure, which seemed fit to this House in past years, of having their claims examined by a Select Committee.

I hope that the general purpose of my Amendment will not displease the House, and that the words I have used in regard to the Irish Institute will not displease them. It is perhaps worth while mentioning that the list has remained completely unchanged for more than 50 years and any change in it would be bound to lead to a number of similar applications. Without full inquiry it would be impossible to distinguish between the merits of the various claimants. It is anticipated that perhaps in the lifetime of this Parliament a Public Accountants Bill may be brought forward dealing with the status of members of the profession generally. That would be an appropriate occasion for dealing with any difficulties which might arise as between different bodies. But this Amendment affects only two audits, and it seems to me this is not an occasion to undertake a large-scale inquiry into inclusion of other bodies, which have not seen fit to request inclusion.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Heywood and Radcliffe)

I beg to second the Amendment.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Rees-Williams

We did not, in the first place, include any list of accountants in the Bill, but during the Committee stage I said that we would consider the matter on Report. We have done so, and we feel, in view of the numerous precedents that have been quoted to us today by my hon. Friend, that there would be no objection to the inclusion of these bodies in the Bill. I have therefore much pleasure, on behalf of the Government, in accepting the Amendment.

Mr. Gage (Belfast, South)

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 6, at the end, to insert "Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland."

I should make it clear that I and those of my hon. Friends who support me do not quarrel with the original wording of the Clause, because I feel that no responsible Minister of the Crown would appoint to such an important task one who was unqualified or perhaps improperly qualified; but an Amendment has been moved by the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond) which makes one serious mistake, in that it omits the Irish Institute. Perhaps I should tell the House something about the Irish Institute of Chartered Accountants. In the first place, it holds its position by virtue of a Charter from Queen Victoria enrolled in 1888. That specifically gave to the Irish Institute equal rights, powers, privileges and authority with the English, Welsh and Scottish Institutes. It is these powers and privileges which the hon. Member for Blackley, by his Amendment, now apparently seeks to restrict.

It is not disputed, and I notice that the hon. Member for Blackley did not attempt to dispute, that the members of the Irish Institute stand at least equal to, if not higher than their English and Welsh colleagues in professional ability and integrity. The other point I would make is that the Irish Institute embraces the whole of Ireland; it always has done and still does. When Ireland was divided, the profession, who took no part in politics, but whose sole concern was to elevate and keep elevated the standard of their profession, did not divide, as did many other professions. Consequently the original Amendment would debar both the chartered accountant from Down as well as the chartered accountant from Donegal. It would keep out the chartered accountants of Antrim and Armagh equally with the chartered accountants of Cork and Kerry, because over there they all belong to one profession on both sides of the border.

It seems to me entirely wrong that where reciprocal rights are granted in Ireland to members of the English and Welsh institutes, those rights should be denied them or a restriction placed upon them in this country. The hon. Member for Blackley said there were only ten members practising here. My information is that that figure is entirely incorrect. There are very many more than that. But that is not the point, because if one member, otherwise properly qualified was a person whom the Minister might desire to elect, it would be utterly wrong that that member should be debarred simply because he was a member of the Irish Institute and not the English or Welsh Institute.

Those are the circumstances of the Irish Institute, and I say that it would be completely wrong for the Government to accept the original Amendment and to reject the Amendment to that Amendment which I am moving, because that would be discrimination in its basest form. It would be discrimination which, in my submission, would be wholly unjustified. Indeed, I am amazed at my own moderation in putting the Irish Institute at the bottom of the list instead of at the top where, so far as I am concerned, and many of the hon. Gentlemen on both sides of this House are concerned, they should be. We may be divided internally in matters which we look upon as private, but when the whole of our country is affected, and the whole of one of our most honoured professions is discriminated against, then I think we can draw support from all quarters of the House. I do ask the House to bear in mind the rights of these people and to accept my Amendment to the original Amendment.

Major Haughton (Antrim)

I beg to second the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.

The mover of the proposed Amendment considers it right that in this Bill there should be an indication of the qualifying bodies or institutions from which the auditors should be drawn. I entirely agree with him. The exact standing of auditors called upon to deal with such very important business should be known. The standing of the Institute in Ireland is as high all over the world as any of the others which he has named. Irishmen are always accused of revelling in past history, but I take considerable pride tonight in going back over the history of this Institute of Accountants in Ireland to the year 1888. While I am not going to weary the House with a long recitation of the facts which have marked the joint action with the English, Scottish and Welsh accountancy bodies, I am going to cite two cases. In 1932, when the South African Society's Chartered Accountants proposed to make alteration in their bylaws, the Irish Institute was in joint action with the English, Scottish and Welsh bodies in opposition to that Measure. Again, in 1935, action was taken with the English Institute and the Scottish societies in connection with the India Bill. Each and every one of those pages in accountancy history marked one fact—that the Irish Institute was of equal standing with its two comrade bodies on this side of the channel.

It may be thought that a very great deal of fuss is being made by some of us on this side of the House about what may be considered to be rather an unimportant matter, but I think it should be understood that an accountant who is going to practise in different parts of the world has, by examination, and by the merit of passing his examinations, the right to put the letters "A.C.A." or "F.C.A." after his name. That is a very important matter. I think that the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond) said that there were 10 members. It would be quite salutary to give him the exact number on 31st December, 1946. At that date the disposition of accountants who are members of the Irish Institute showed that in Great Britain there were 63; in Northern Ireland, 225; in Southern Ireland, 267; abroad, 27; and serving with the Forces, 24. That is a total of 606. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept those figures as being correct.

Mr. Diamond

I am in a little difficulty. The figure of 10 was given to me by the Institute of Chartered Accountants. Of course, what the Institute of Chartered Accountants says must be right.

Major Haughton

I am quoting precise figures which I have received from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland. I do not propose to withdraw any one of those figures. At present 63 members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland are practising in Great Britain and not 10. The closest possible relationship and comradeship has existed between these bodies. That is most desirable. I cannot understand why there should have been what seems to be the most deliberate attempt to discriminate against the Irish Institute which is a very honourable body. I am reluctant to pursue that topic, but I repeat that there has been a very deliberate attempt to discriminate. This Institute holds its head high. For many years it has worked in the closest harmony with the other bodies. Just as I have said that there are 63 Irish chartered accountants practising in Great Britain, so I am glad to say there are many members of the English and Scottish Institutes practising in different parts of Ireland. That is a most desirable thing.

Mr. Rees-Williams

We had not made up our minds on this matter. We preferred to hear the case put to the House by the hon. Gentlemen whose names are on the Order Paper. I must say that, having listened to their remarks—and my hon. Friends on the Front Bench agree—I consider that the hon. Members for South Belfast (Mr. Gage) and Antrim (Major Haughton) have made a good case. They put forward a well-reasoned convincing case. In the circumstances we feel that we must accept the Amendment to the Amendment. We do not hold ourselves out as being able to discriminate between one body of accountants rather than another, but in view of the many arguments they have put forward we cannot but think that there is no case to discriminate against this distinguished body. It is a pleasure to meet our friends the Irish on these matters, particularly when they are all of one mind, and when they seem to have the support of a Welshman and a Scot in their submission.

Sir P. Hannon

May I say how grateful I am to the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies for the concession he has made? It would be very unfortunate from the point of view of public opinion in Ireland, both North and South, that there should be what might be regarded as discrimination against public bodies such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland. I am particularly grateful that the speeches of my hon. Friends have convinced the Minister of the rectitude of the course which we invited him to pursue. He has done a very charming service this evening to Irish public opinion. This Institute has reached just as high a level as any other institution in the country. As an old Member of this House who is still profoundly interested in the welfare of my own countrymen, I am glad that this position has made its appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary, and I congratulate both the Minister of Food and the Secretary of State for the Colonies on the concession which they have given.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. William Teeling (Brighton)

Might I add a further word to what my hon. Friend has just said, and from another Irishman's point of view? I would like to thank the Government for having accepted this request. Quite frankly, there are a large number of Irish people, both in the North and the South, who are deeply interested in the whole development of the Colonial question and in the future of all the Colonies, and who would feel very strongly that, if the Irish Institute had been deliberately left out in this case, it would have been almost a slur on their own position, since many of them are actively taking part in the development of the Colonies. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Great Britain and other bodies are now trying to come together to form a united whole, and they have been worried over the whole of this question whether the North and South of Ireland would come in under the Irish Institute and be united with them. I think this action by the Government will be further proof of the necessity for the Irish Institute being brought in on any matter with which the other bodies in Great Britain are concerned. I would like to say how grateful those of us who are interested in this matter feel to the Government for this concession.

Amendment to the proposed Amendment agreed to.

Proposed words, as amended, there inserted in the Bill.