§ Mr. H. Brooke
I beg to move, in page 4, line 35, to leave out from "and" to the end of line 46, and insert:the investments shall be placed to the Commissioners' account of unclaimed redemption moneys with the investments made by virtue of paragraph 6 of the Third Schedule to the Finance Act, 1921.(7) The dividends received by the National Debt Commissioners on the investments of their account of unclaimed redemption moneys shall be placed to their account of unclaimed dividends, and any repayment by the Commissioners in respect of redemption moneys whether under subsection (4) of this section or otherwise shall be made out of those investments or, if they are insufficient, out of the account of unclaimed dividends.I do not know whether it would be to the convenience of the Committee to take the other four Amendments to this Clause together, because they are all interconnected, Sir Rhys.
§ Mr. Brooke
Thank you, Sir Rhys.
This is a highly technical Clause which is designed for a fairly simple, and, I think, uncontroversial purpose, namely, to simplify the accounting and administrative arrangements relating to unclaimed dividends, unclaimed redemption money, and so on, on Government stock. Because the Clause is technical I fear that my explanation of the Amendments must be somewhat technical.
The present subsection (11) will make it possible to apply the main provisions of the Clause to stock on the Post Office 1353 Register by regulation, but until regulations for that purpose are made the old arrangements will continue to apply to unclaimed dividends, stock and redemption moneys from the Post Office Register. This would have an awkward effect, for the National Debt Commissioners would have to keep a separate account of investments representing the unclaimed redemption moneys derived from stock on the Post Office Register, instead of treating those unclaimed redemption moneys in the same way as other unclaimed redemption moneys under the Clause.
That would be necessary for two reasons—first, because, under the existing law the dividends from these investments of Post Office Register unclaimed redemption moneys would have to be accumulated in the unclaimed redemption moneys account instead of being placed, like other dividends from such investments under the Clause, to the unclaimed dividends account and secondly, because under the existing law, coupled with the Clause as unamended, late claims to Post Office Register redemption moneys could be satisfied only out of Post Office unclaimed redemption moneys, and not out of the general "pool" of unclaimed redemption moneys.
The five Amendments can be divided into two groups. The second and the fifth hang together, and also the first, third and fourth. The effect of the second and fifth Amendments will be that unclaimed redemption moneys derived from stock on the Dublin Register will be put in the same position as will apply, pending the making of regulations, to unclaimed redemption moneys on the Post Office Register. The existing law will continue to apply to the Dublin Register, and then a similar accounting problem would arise as in the case of Post Office Register moneys.
The effect of the first, third and fourth Amendments will be to make unnecessary this separate accounting for Post Office Register stock. The National Debt Commissioners, by virtue of these Amendments, will not have to keep separate accounts, or treat unclaimed redemption moneys according to origin. In fact, the two separate Amendments achieve the same result—one in the case of the Post Office Register, pending the making of regulations, and the other, without in any way affecting the activities of the bank, 1354 in the case of the Dublin branch of the Bank of Ireland.
I should like to explain why I believe it is best to take this action in relation to the Bank of Ireland in Dublin. As it stands, the Clause applies to the stock on the Register of that bank as well as to stock on the Registers of the Bank of England and the Belfast branch of the Bank of Ireland, exactly as do the pre-1922 Acts which the Clause amends. There would be practical advantages in applying the same provisions to stock on the Dublin Register as to the rest of the stock, but, as the Clause stands, it is open to the objection that it has an extra-territorial effect in altering the obligations of the Bank of Ireland in Dublin.
This is a question which affects the National Debt Acts as a whole, and this is only a little corner of that large field. We think that the right course is to consider at greater length, in the broader context, the whole question of what should be done about the impact of the National Debt Acts upon the Bank of Ireland in Dublin. If we amend the Clause as I propose, the existing arrangements will, in the meantime, continue to apply in Dublin, and the whole larger question can then be looked at at the same time, and we shall not be prejudicing or pre-judging it in any way.
I should tell the Committee that the amount of stock involved is small, and that no appreciable practical inconvenience is suffered by proceeding in this way. I think this is the more dignified and sensible way of proceeding.
§ Mr. Brooke
The right hon. Gentleman is asking me about the Clause as a whole. I cannot say why it was not done in the time of the right hon. Gentleman's Government. I can say that it has now come to my notice, and that it seems to me a very desirable action to take, because, so long as we go on being governed by these old Acts of 1870, which lay down conditions and regulations which may have been quite proper in the state of affairs which then existed, we are now, in modern times, giving a 1355 great number of people in the Bank and the National Debt Office unnecessary work. As I explained during the Second Reading Debate, the Clause will in no way impair or alter the rights of members of the public—and that is what we need to be most concerned about. It will effect a considerable saving in clerical work and manpower.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
I find this a most surprising procedure. I not only do not know why this was not done for four years, but why it was not done in the Bill as originally drafted. Why has this matter been left until the Committee stage? During the Second Reading debate the Financial Secretary said:Finally, Clause 5, which is the longest Clause, deals with perhaps the simplest matter of all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1955; Vol. 543, c. 668.]Now, a few days later, he moves a series of complicated Amendments, couched in the most obscure language, with a verbose explanation which I doubt whether he or anybody else understands.
The right hon. Gentleman is not treating the Committee with consideration. This is a Bill of considerable importance, and in such a case the Government should treat hon. Members with courtesy by considering the Bill before introducing it, and getting Government spokesmen to explain it fully during the Second Reading debate. It is not fair to ask the Committee to consider a complicated series of Amendments of this kind after the very curious explanation we have had from the Financial Secretary. We shall have to do the best we can to try to understand it.
Has the Bank of Ireland been consulted about this matter? How does this provision affect depositors in Eire, in Post Office savings accounts? Have the Government of Eire been consulted in any way? Are they affected by the Amendments? Do they affect English people living in England, or their relatives, who may have Post Office accounts in Ireland? What about these unclaimed balances? Suppose they are to be claimed at some future date? Why should they be accumulated in this way? What difference will 1356 result from this amendment of the Clause, from the point of view of those who may have some unclaimed money in a Post Office account, in England or Ireland, which he had not known about but had discovered at some future date? We want a far fuller explanation from the Financial Secretary before he asks the Committee to accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendments made: In page 5, line 26, at end, insert:
(11) Subsections (2) to (6) of this section shall not apply to stock entered in the books of the Bank of Ireland kept in the office of their Accountant-General at Dublin or moneys due on any such stock, and, subject to subsection (7) of this section, Part VII of the National Debt Act, 1870 (except sections sixty-three and sixty-five), and paragraph 6 of the Third Schedule to the Finance Act, 1921, shall continue to apply thereto.
§ In line 33, leave out "(7)" and insert "(6)."
§ In line 35, after "section" insert "except subsection (7)."
In page 6, line 1, leave out "subsection (11)" and insert:
subsections (11) and (12)."—[Mr. H. Brooke.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
It is impossible for me to do justice to this Motion in view of the unexpected and very complicated Amendments that have been proposed, and as I have not had the benefit of the Financial Secretary's replies to the questions I put to him.
I do not want to be misunderstood. I acquit the Financial Secretary of any intended discourtesy in not attempting to answer the questions I put to him. I realise that he is a very courteous Minister and that if he had been able to answer the questions he would have undoubtedly done so. Presumably, he did not know the answers. The only course we can adopt is to reserve our right, after considering what the Financial Secretary said when we have read it in HANSARD, to examine it further on the Report stage.
§ Mr. H. Brooke
I am very anxious to be courteous to the hon. Gentleman and to the Committee. The purpose of the Clause is to simplify the procedure regarding the keeping of accounts on unclaimed dividends and redemption moneys on Government stock. I explained that on 1357 Second Reading. The Committee has been good enough to accept a group of Amendments which I have moved, all of which I submitted because they concern matters which had come to my attention, and I felt that they would improve the Bill.
One group was intended to ensure that for these unclaimed sums standing on the Post Office register there would not have to be separate accounts kept, pending the making of regulations, The other group concerned stocks on the Dublin Register of the Bank of Ireland. I endeavoured to explain that it seemed to me that the right thing to do was not to start cutting up this little bit of the field of the application of the National Debt Acts, which were passed long before 1922, to the Dublin branch of the Bank of Ireland. It seemed better that we should handle the whole of this big question in an integral way when we come to it rather than take off a little bit of it here.
I am not anxious to prejudge what the final solution should be. These Amendments have been accepted, but everything will go on just as before with the stock on the Register of the Bank of Ireland. There is no great amount of these unpaid moneys on that register, so that no great harm will be done if we leave this matter for further consideration when we come to the larger question of the application of the National Debt Acts.
§ Mr. Hale
We have been asked to amend a very long and very complicated Clause by the inclusion of a substantial number of Amendments, some of which refer back to other Amendments. I have in mind subsection (11), which reads:Subsections (2) to (6) of this section shall not apply to stock entered in the books of the Bank of Ireland kept in the office of their Accountant-General at Dublin or moneys due on any such stock, and, subject to subsection (7) of this section, Part VII of the National Debt Act, 1870 (except sections sixty-three and sixty-five), and paragraph 6 of the Third Schedule to the Finance Act, 1921, shall continue to apply hereto.The Irish are a proud race. It is precisely this kind of matter over which we lost the American colonies. [Laughter.] Yes, it may be only a question of degree.
Perhaps no one will mind about this. The Americans did not object so much about the tea. They objected to taxation without representation. What right has this Committee to say, "We are 1358 about to legislate in regard to the Accountant-General at Dublin and what is kept on the books of the Bank of Ireland"? It may be that if we understood the Clause we should not doubt it, and that if we knew what we were discussing we should not be so concerned. If we had an explanation of precisely what was happening we might not have to raise it in this way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), who always speaks with moderation and courtesy, put questions to the Financial Secretary. He asked whether the Government of the Irish Republic and the Bank of Ireland had been consulted. I cannot imagine two more reasonable questions than these, "If we are legislating about entries in the books of the Bank of Ireland, have we consulted the Bank of Ireland? If we are legislating about what is kept in the office of the Accountant-General at Dublin, have we consulted the appropriate Minister in Eire, who is responsible for the conduct of the Accountant-General in Dublin?" Surely those are reasonable questions. If they are not to be answered I hope that we shall have an opportunity on the Report stage of studying more carefully whether we have the opportunity of sending an appropriate expression of regret to the authorities in Dublin in respect of this matter.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
Before we part with this Clause may I repeat my questions? Have the Government of the Irish Republic been consulted? Has the Bank of Ireland been consulted?
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Brooke
The Bank of Ireland is well aware of the meaning of the wording of the Clause. The Bill as originally drafted had extra-territorial effects. It was exactly that point which the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) was raising. In so far as it affected the Dublin office of the Bank of Ireland, the Clause, as it stood, had extra-territorial effects. As a matter of ordinary courtesy, we have been in touch with the Government of Ireland on this point. I am not wishing to suggest that the Government of Ireland carries any responsibility for these Amendments which I have put down, but in view of all our knowledge, and for the reasons which I have stated, we believe that the implica- 1359 tions of the National Debt Acts—which are pre-1922—for the Bank of Ireland should be considered altogether and not piecemeal. We commend to the Committee this Clause, as amended, as being the right way of approaching the matter.
§ Mr. Ede
The right hon. Gentleman has said everything except to give an answer to my hon. Friend on the quite simple point of whether the Bank of Ireland and the Government of the Irish Republic have been consulted. He said that in one case they were aware of it and in the other that the Government were in touch. Did this Government actually consult the Bank of Ireland and the Government of the Irish Republic?
§ Mr. Brooke
I think that the right course is for any Governmental contacts to be with the Government of the Irish Republic rather than with any bank within the territories of the Irish Republic. As I have said, we have been in touch with the Government of the Irish Republic. They know about this, and we have drafted this Clause, not at their request or under their direction—nor can I say whether this is exactly as the Government of the Irish Republic would wish it to be done—but we have done this now because it seems to us that the right thing is to take out of this Clause anything which might have extraterritorial effects or might raise these large questions which are in the right hon. Gentleman's mind.
I suggest to the Committee that it would be far better not to go further on this extra-territorial ground in this Bill but rather to withdraw from it, as is the aim of these Amendments, and then, at a later stage, to pursue with the Government of the Irish Republic the much larger question of what should be done about the National Debt Acts which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, date back very many years—long before the formation of Eire or the Irish Republic—in their relation to the Dublin office of the Bank of Ireland. That will need to be done, but we are not doing anything of that kind in this Bill. We are leaving the Dublin office of the Bank of Ireland exactly as it was.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ First Schedule agreed to.