HC Deb 26 March 1953 vol 513 cc888-90
Mr. Nugent

I beg to move, in page 3, line 34, at the beginning, to insert, "So much of."

This Amendment deals with a new point. It is not entirely a drafting point, so perhaps I may say a few words in explanation of it. There was a good deal of discussion of Clause 4 in the Committee, and I undertook to see what we could do to clarify the meaning of the words "working capital," in page 3, line 37. I am moving this Amendment and a further Amendment, to line 36, in order to make the clarification which I undertook. The Clause will then read: So much of any sums to be advanced to the White Fish Authority under subsection (1) of section seventeen of the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1951, as is required for the undertaking of operations involving the outlay of working capital, etc. The intention of putting the words in is to clarify the Clause. It shows that working capital is, in this context, something distinct from the general fund, which is brought into being by Clause 3, and which enables the Minister to issue finance to the Authority for the making of loans for boat building and other long-term projects, in contradistinction to the relatively small amounts, of the order of a few hundred thousand pounds, required for working capital.

To finance the current operations of the White Fish Authority for such purposes as purchasing fish, putting it into cold storage and sending it out, relatively small amounts of money will be wanted, and the money will be going in and out of the fund at fairly short intervals. I hope that the words proposed meet the point that was made during the Committee stage.

Mr. G. Brown

I am sorry that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has not gone further. In so far as the Amendments clarify the position we accept them. On this point we had a good deal of support from the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby). This is something on which he did come down, and he weighed in with what he calls "a very tough speech." We are glad of that. Even after amendment, the Bill will still give the right to the Minister to repay at any time the money that remains in the fund. It is absurd that that right should be taken, because it means that the fund can be denuded at any time when the Treasury want to get hold of a bit of money. If it remained in the fund it could go on being used.

The objection to losing the use of £200,000 is not as strong as the objection to losing the use of £20 million. Nevertheless, there is no Vote to enable us to increase the amount of money available for working capital. I see no reason for taking power to pay the money back into the Treasury before the term for which it was voted has run out. The objection in principle to doing that remains as strong as it was before.

The total sum voted under this legislation is £20 million. Why does the Minister want to bother about the right to pay back £200,000? If £19,800,000 can remain for the period of the Bill, would it not be much easier so to provide for the whole £20 million? It makes much more sense in that way. I suspect that the advisers of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary are not anxious to go the whole way to meet us. They have felt that the arguments which we put up were good in principle, and they have, therefore, sought to put in words which meet us as to 99.8 per cent. while seeking to leave out the odd.2 per cent. Surely there cannot be any possible objection to leaving out the whole £20 million. Otherwise it means that the money available for working capital can be reduced before the Bill runs out. That would be contrary to the spirit of what Parliament intended when it voted the money.

I do not want to say anything which seems ungrateful for the Minister's efforts to interpret the Clause clearly so that there shall be no misunderstanding, but the words "So much of" add nothing to the Clause. It could very well be argued that this is amendment for amendment's sake, because there is no real purpose in the words. The Bill has other stages before it. It has to go to another place, and the Minister has opportunities of thinking about the matter again. I urge him to think again, with a view to putting in an Amendment such as we moved upstairs, and which will be moved again later. That would be much more sensible. The Clause would look a little less absurd and would achieve what we really want. In order that the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire can return to grace, and in the hope that we shall have a compassionate speech from him in support, I shall now sit down.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Nugent

May I try further to clarify this position? The right hon. Gentleman has not made a sound point. The expression "working capital" is already well known in this context. It is in both the Herring Industry Act, 1944, and the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1948, and as an expression it is well understood. All that we have done in this Bill in distinction from those two Acts, is that, instead of moneys for working capital being paid direct out of the Treasury to the White Fish Authority or the Herring Industry Board, which is what has happened in the past, we have now put the accounting device of the marketing fund in between.

Under the other two Acts to which I have referred, the money was paid back direct from the White Fish Authority to the Treasury, so that the Treasury then had complete control. By putting in this accounting device we now have a fund into which the White Fish Authority can repay the money when they no longer want it and then, at the discretion of the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland, as distinct from the Treasury, they decide whether the fund is so large that they no longer require as much as they had before.

So, in fact, this device gives a lesser Treasury control of the money than existed in the two previous Acts. I assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that this is the practical effect of that device. It is purely an accounting device and, in the outcome, it gives Ministers rather more control over the money than they had before. I hope that the House will be able to accept it.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 3, line 36, after "1951," insert as is required."—[Mr. Nugent.]