HC Deb 02 May 1951 vol 487 cc1375-8
The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I think the Committee might also discuss on the first Amendment the subsequent three Amendments:

In page 2, line 40, after "other," insert "lesser."

In line 40, after "other," insert "reduced."

In line 43, at end, insert: provided that such subsequent order shall not prescribe an increased charge.

1.45 a.m.

Mr. Messer

I beg to move, in page 2, line 40, to leave out "other charges," and to insert: charges (not being in any case greater than the charges so specified). I do not propose to speak at any length on this Amendment as it does not require a great deal of argument. The principle which underlies it can be understood very easily. The speeches we heard on Second Reading, and, indeed, the general indication which has been given, imply that this Measure is not intended to be permanent. The charges which have been made that this Bill constitutes a breach in the principle, can perhaps best be contradicted by the acceptance, in principle, of this Amendment. In any event, I feel sure that everyone will agree that it is quite wrong, and is a deception on the public, to put into a Bill definite charges while, in that Bill, it is left to a Regulation at some subsequent time to vary those charges. In effect, that means that certain charges are laid down by Statute, but the right is reserved to increase those charges, not by an alteration of the Statute, but by a Regulation.

I feel sure that the Government will not want the impression to be gained by the public that they are attempting to get this Bill through on the understanding that the charges in the Bill will be permanent, when it will not be generally realised that they will be variable by Order in Council. I have no desire to detain the Committee at this hour. There are several Amendments on the Order Paper which really embody the same point. I feel sure that with that moderation which characterises my statements at all times, I can persuade the Government to accept my Amendment.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I think it will save the time of the Committee at this hour of the morning if I indicate straight away that we are prepared to accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) to ensure that no increase can be made in the charges laid down in the Bill without legislation. Of course, that still means that reductions can be made by Order in Council, and I assume that my hon. Friend would not object to that type of variation if it should prove possible. But I can give an assurance that we do accept this Amendment.

Mr. Iain MacLeod

There is something which perhaps should be said on this for the record. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Tottenham on having had this Amendment accepted by the Government. It is, no doubt, purely coincidental, that the only speech during the Second Reading which mentioned this point was mine, and I spoke late in the Debate. An Amendment was tabled that night to insert the word, "lesser" in this Clause. The position remained like that for 48 hours. Apparently, deep thought was devoted to this matter by hon. Members opposite, because suddenly the Order Paper began to blossom like the rose with Amendments directed to this point. The hon. Member for Tottenham had an Amendment on the Order Paper—not the one we are now discussing—to insert the word "lower," a rather subtle distinction. Another hon. Member gathered to himself a small number of hon. Members who proposed to insert the word "reduced."

The difference between these three Amendments is extremely subtle, and I am pretty certain that the words which the hon. Member is presenting to the Committee are not his own. He has not that form of tortuous mind which the Amendment reveals, and it comes, I think, from that esoteric body, the Parliamentary draftsmen, who never use one word were twelve will do. I thought that perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would have mentioned that his hon. Friend had co-operated so successfully with the draftsmen, and to include in his amiable comments, the absurd lengths to which the Government will go to avoid accepting a Tory Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

The Deputy-Chairman

Does the hon. Member wish to move his Amendment in line 43?

Mr. Messer

I put that down, Sir Charles, so that if the first fell I could rely on the second.

The Deputy-Chairman

It is not actually complementary.

Mr. Messer

I beg to move, in page 2, line 43, at end, to insert: provided that such subsequent order shall not prescribe an increased charge.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I think it may save the time of the Committee if I explain that this raises a slightly different point, that of whether or not it is possible, having once reduced the charge by Order in Council, at some later date to increase it, although still keeping within the total specified in the Bill.

I do not feel that we can automatically accept any proposal that we must, as it were, reduce steadily the ceiling and not be able to increase that sum at a later date. The increase would still be limited to the figure in the Bill at present. I do not know if my hon. Friend had that particular point in mind. It may very well be that he was considering this as an alternative to his original proposal. But there is this complication, and I hope, therefore, that he will withdraw this second Amendment, especially in view of the acceptance of the first.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I hope the hon Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) will be able to withdraw his Amendment because its acceptance might well militate against a reduction, whereas one might be willing to try a reduction which could be restored if found impracticable.

Mr. Messer

When the first Amendment was put down, I was not to know that the Government would be so easy with me, but for no other purpose than to facilitate progress, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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