HC Deb 21 November 1950 vol 481 cc239-42

Considered in Committee.

[Major MILNER in the Chair]


5.25 P.m.

Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)

I beg to move in page 1, line 11, at the end, to add: Provided that the expenditure under this section shall not exceed the sum of two hundred and twenty-seven million pounds. The object of this Amendment is not quite clear at first sight because it seeks to limit the expenditure under the Clause to the sum of £227 million, which sum in fact cannot be exceeded under the present arrangements. Therefore it is necessary to read this Amendment in conjunction with Clause 4 to which a further Amendment has been put down in my name and in the names of my hon. Friends, to leave out lines 18 and 19. That Clause says— Any reference … to the European Payments Union Agreement shall he construed as a reference to that Agreement as for the time being amended under the terms of the Agreement or by any subsequent agreement … In the Bill as now drafted there is no limit on the amount of money which might be outstanding at any time under the amended provisions of the Bill. This we think is a vicious principle because it is surely the duty of this House to see that commitments under this kind of Measure are subject at least to some controls by the House if they exceed the amount in the Bill in the first instance. If I may encourage the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to be accommodating on this occasion, I would tell him that if he agrees to the sum of £227 million in the terms of our Amendment that would take considerable force away from the financial parts of the Amendment we intend moving to Clause 4, although there will be some other points to be raised.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Edwards)

I find myself in complete agreement with the right hon. Gentleman in principle. If I want to put it in different words, I hope he will not think I am being pedantic, as I assure him I merely want it to be as effective as possible. When we debated this matter on Second Reading we were all agreed that we should support the European Payments Union in every way we could and I imagine that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that it would be a great pity, looked at in terms of Europe, if it were suggested that we were less than wholehearted in our intentions.

I would distinguish between, on the one hand, matters concerning procedure and organisation and, on the other hand, financial matters. I imagine no one would want to cramp the Union in its work or the representative of the United Kingdom on the Council in matters of organisation, or matters of procedure. I would, however, even on that point, make it plain that if any substantial matter of procedure or organisation were to arise, even if it did not mean extra financial commitment, my right hon. Friend would want to bring that matter to the House.

Mr. Lyttelton rose

Mr. Edwards

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree that I should deal with this matter comprehensively. He has referred to Clause 4 and I do not want to bob up again and again to make a point which is really relevant to what the right hon. Gentleman has said. 5.30 p.m.

It is this other type of matter, the financial, with which the Amendment is concerned and which is obviously bothering those who put it down. I have already made it clear that I have every sympathy with the desire to control the maximum amount of credit which the United Kingdom would grant to the European Payments Union. After all, it is one of the paramount duties of this House to safeguard the public purse, and it would ill-become a representative of the Treasury ever to suggest anything to the contrary. Nevertheless, the Amendment is wrong in substance and in form, and I do not think we can deal with this matter effectively and provide the safeguards which are clearly needed without referring specifically to the amount of credit to be advanced to the European Payments Union by the United Kingdom Government.

Therefore I suggest that the best way of doing what we are in agreement needs to be done would be to qualify Clause 1 at the end by inserting words to the effect that the total amount outstanding in respect of credit granted by the United Kingdom to the European Payments Union should not at any time exceed £228 million—I say £228 million because the precise figure is just above £227 million—unless the House has first given authority for a larger amount quite specifically by an affirmative resolution. I should like to think about the precise form in which that should be stated, but whether it is by way of draft order or by resolution, what I have in mind is an affirmative motion which would come before the House before we were able to go beyond £228 million.

Such a way of putting it would bite quite precisely at the point where it should bite, which is the total amount of credit to be advanced to the Union, and yet it would put the House in the position of being able to deal with any possible requirements for a higher amount of credit without having to deal with a separate Bill for such a purpose. I hope this proposal will appeal to the right hon. Gentleman as meeting his wishes. For my part I am sure that this is an adequate method of safeguarding the rights and duties of the House in its care of public expenditure. If this is done I hope that the mover of the Amendment to Clause 4 will recognise that this leaves Clause 4 to deal with matters which are really matters of procedure and organisation, because no matter of finance involving a higher credit could fail to be caught by the proposal I have just made.

Perhaps the most convenient way of doing this—though it perhaps sounds a little queer—is to accept today the form of words proposed in the Amendment, and to make the Amendment; it being clearly understood, however, that when we come to the Report stage later this week we will table Amendments, first to delete the form of words contained in the present proposal and, secondly, to provide for the limitation on the grant of credit to the European Payments Union in the way I have indicated. I have really tried to meet the intentions and wishes of the Committee in this way and, if the Committee will accept this suggestion, I shall see that on the Report stage the necessary amendment is tabled.

Mr. Lyttelton

I can assure the Economic Secretary that if on all occasions he is as accommodating as he has been this afternoon, he shall have little trouble with the Committee. I understand his reasons for wishing to accept these words now, because he does not wish to recommit the Bill. There are one or two much smaller points which will arise on Clause 4, but we can no doubt discuss those when that Clause is reached. Meantime I am satisfied, and thank the Economic Secretary for having discarded the policy of Winchester and New College and for having adopted the policy of what I might call Winchester and New Forest, which is a very different thing.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.