HC Deb 21 November 1950 vol 481 cc249-53
Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 18 and 19.

If it meets with the approval of the Committee, I should like to deal at the same time with the following Amendment, also on page 3, in line 19, at end, add: Provided that no such amendment shall take place until a draft thereof has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. The Amendment is designed, as was the first Amendment which was moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), to check the very wide powers which are granted under the Bill. The Economic Secretary said—I think, rightly—that all of us on both sides of the House want to make the European Payments Union a success and that we want to do nothing which might show that we were half-hearted. On the other hand, that does not mean that we should give the Government a blank cheque.

Leaving aside all the questions with which we dealt on Clause 1—I do not wish to go back on that now—it will be seen from the Clause that even after the Bill has been amended the Government still have power to amend the existing Agreement. What it is proposed should be taken away from them, however, is the power to make any subsequent agreement between a new lot of members, as might happen if, for instance, the Government for one reason or another wished to change the whole fundamental structure of the European Payments Union; or if some great change was to come about, such as, for instance, a change which we should all welcome, Eastern Europe becoming a partner at some future time. Before such a change took place, however, the Government should have to come to the House and submit the broad basis of that change.

We do not want in any shape or form to curtail the powers for which the Government asked on Second Reading and which they obtained from the House, but we say that, the Government having got those powers, it is quite unreasonable to enlarge them in the way Clause 4 allows them to do in order to embrace any further permutation of countries and events which may arise. We want to see that the sums of money which we have voted and the confidence that we have given to the Government are used for the purposes for which such confidence and money were given. If, however, there is to be any extension or alteration in plan, then before such an alteration takes place the Government should come to the House to ask permission.

I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, in whose name the Amendment stands, would agree that where any such alteration has been proposed in the draft form which carries on or extends the principles to which we are committed on both sides, we would be the first to agree. The reason for putting down the Amendment is to have a check that at all stages Parliament has an opportunity of seeing how this great scheme evolves in the course of time.

Mr. J. Edwards

If I had not already gone a very long way to meet the wishes of the hon. and gallant Member and his hon. Friends on Clause 1, I should have thought that what he has just said would have had greater validity. Quite frankly I ask, is it the wish of the Committee that we should completely inhibit our representatives on the Council from making the sort of consequential changes which they may find necessary or that may become necessary as the result of experience? It is quite wrong for the hon. and gallant Member to say that we are asking for a blank cheque. I have made it perfectly plain that I am now prepared to write at the top of this particular cheque, "In no circumstances to be more than £228 million." Therefore, there is no longer any question of a blank cheque. The limit has been fixed, and I think that everybody was satisfied.

6.0 p.m.

I should like, however, to say this. Clearly, if there is to be an entirely new agreement at any time, it would involve fresh legislation; and if there are any substantial changes in the organisation or in the procedure under the present agreement, even though they do not involve any extra credits, I am sure that my right hon. Friend would bring those matters to the House. But I do not think any good cause would be served by seeking to amend the Clause in the way now suggested.

I have met the substantial point already on the limiting of the credits, and I hope that what I have now said would meet the other question and that we would really be able to face Europe in the knowledge that the House as a whole had said, "We recognise there may have to be changes here and there, and we leave those to be worked out." It may be remembered that I had a little to say about this on Second Reading. I think that the process of living and working together cannot be carried out if on every kind of occasion we have to come running back to the House. I have a good deal of sympathy with his view—it has been expressed in concrete form this afternoon—but I would ask the hon. and gallant Member not to persist with the Amendment.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

In spite of what the Economic Secretary has said, the Amendment raises a matter of the greatest importance. I admit that on one aspect the hon. Member has met us, and has done so quite fairly—that is, of course, in the matter of the amount to be written on his blank cheque; so far as the other aspect of the matter is concerned however, surely there should not be any radical change in the methods of calculating the amount of the credit, or in the strings that are to be dangled or anything of that sort, without the matter being brought back to the House. I agree that on any procedural matter, of course, it would be nonsense to say that every small detail has to come back to the House.

In spite of his opening remarks, the Economic Secretary has met us very fully by giving an undertaking that if there should be any radical change in the form of the agreement, he will induce his right hon. Friend to bring the matter before the House. On the basis of that undertaking, I suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that it is not necessary to persist in the Amendment.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I fully appreciate the terms, and the fullness of the terms, in which the hon. Gentleman has given his assurance. I ask him, however, to realise that when he talks about a blank cheque under Clause 1, although he may have limited that sum, by Clause 4 he has left the signature blank for anybody to sign. In lines 18 and 19 are the words: or by any subsequent agreement made between all who are then parties to the European Payments Union Agreement. It would be possible, theoretically, for the Clause to cover an agreement made by a whole new series of countries, none or only few of whom were members of the present Agreement. It would be possible for any radical alteration to take place.

Mr. J. Edwards indicated dissent.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I cannot conceive of any drafting to give wider powers in the application of an Act. I am prepared to accept the undertaking of the hon. Gentleman, but I should like it to be made quite clear that if, from what we have been told on Second Reading and today, any radical change is made in the constitution of the E.P.U., then it will be the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to inform the House and to give an opportunity to the House to debate such a change. If I understand that aright as the undertaking which the hon. Gentleman has given, then I should ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. J. Edwards

The undertaking I give is that my right hon. Friend will inform the House of any substantial or important change in the arrangements, quite apart from the question of the financial provisions for which we have made provision elsewhere.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

The Economic Secretary says that his right hon. Friend will "inform the House." I thought that the hon. Member went further than that and spoke of giving the House an opportunity for discussing the matter.

Mr. J. Edwards

I am sorry; that is something which I did say at the time. In the ordinary way, that is what we do. If something important happens, we have either a paper or a statement on it, and then discussions take place as to whether the matter should be debated or not. It is in that sense that I give the undertaking that my right hon. Friend will draw the attention of the House to any radical or substantial change in the arrangements.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I thank the hon. Gentleman, and in view of his assurance I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave; withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, to be considered Tomorrow and to be printed. (Bill 41.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Hannan.)