HC Deb 24 March 1955 vol 538 cc2295-7

Order for Second Reading read.

4.30 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry Brooke)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I think that I am right in saying that an Isle of Man (Customs) Bill has been introduced into this House every year since 1898, and upon frequent occasions before that date. This one has the distinction of being different from any of its predecessors, and I hope that that at least may be accounted unto me for righteousness.

The Isle of Man has its own Customs tariff, but the tariff itself is contained in Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament. That is a situation which might seem liable to the reproach of being taxation without representation, but the normal course is that Tynwald first passes resolutions concerning the island's tariff and then this Parliament validates them by legislation.

Resolutions having temporary validity are passed when necessary by Tynwald to give immediate effect in the island to changes in duties corresponding to changes announced in the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer here. It is also the practice of Tynwald to pass resolutions renewing the annual duties for a year at a time, from August of one year to August of the next. That is why an annual Isle of Man (Customs) Bill is introduced into this House each summer and has to be passed into law before we rise for the Summer Recess.

The islanders for a long time have wanted their de facto right to fix their own Customs duties recognised, by Tynwald being given power to legislate upon them with no intervention at all by Parliament, the Treasury or anyone else. They also have other desires—not connected with Customs matters—upon which, as the House knows, negotiations have been in progress for some time. Full agreement upon all those other matters has not yet been reached, but with regard to Customs duties it has been agreed that we can move a stage forward towards meeting them. Hence the presentation of this Bill.

We could have waited and kept this back until a general and entire settlement had been reached, but we are anxious to go forward step by step rather than to stand still. The Government therefore recommend that this new step be taken. The main purpose of the Bill, which is contained in Clause 1, is to provide that henceforward a resolution of Tynwald upon Customs duties can be validated by Order in Council. It will then have full statutory authority. The whole of the island's tariff will no longer be contained in Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament; it will come to be contained in Tynwald resolutions confirmed by Order in Council. Hon. and right hon. Members will appreciate the satisfaction that that will rightly give to the island's pride.

Clause 2 deals with a separate matter, which is also based upon agreement between our Government and that of the island authorities. Under the Isle of Man Customs, Harbours and Public Purposes Act, 1866, a payment of £10,000 a year has to be made by the island, out of Customs revenue, to the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom. In 1949 an agreement was reached that for five years from 1950 this contribution should not be one of £10,000, but should be fixed upon a new formula which recognises the growth of Customs revenue. Tynwald has so resolved, but a Tynwald resolution cannot over-ride an Act of Parliament. The 1866 Act is, therefore, still binding. That Act provides for the payment of £10,000 a year—no more and no less. So, since 1950, in addition to paying over its £10,000 a year, the island has put the rest of its agreed contribution into a suspense account.

Clause 2 will, therefore, amend the 1866 Act, to make it clear that it is possible for this extra sum—or, indeed, any other extra sum—to be paid over to us. The House will be interested to know that at the end of the last financial year—31st March, 1954—the amount payable to us was about £300,000. It will, of course, be more now because nearly a whole year has since passed. I hope that the House will raise no objection to our receiving this money; equally, I feel sure that the House will wish to express its appreciation to the island.

I have tried to be as brief and as clear as possible. The Bill is a practical measure of advance. I understand that the island authorities favour, in principle, what the Bill seeks to do. In case any hon. Member thinks that Parliament is being asked to give up anything which it ought to retain, let me assure the House that nothing in the Bill derogates from the existing right of Parliament to pass legislation upon matters affecting the Isle of Man, including the imposition of Customs duties in the island. The rights of Parliament are preserved, and, at the same time, the Bill is welcome to the island. As a sensible step forward, I commend it likewise to the House.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

I do not intend at this stage to go into the details contained in the two Clauses to which the hon. Member has referred. We shall come back to them when we reach the Committee stage, when it may well be that my hon. Friends will wish to raise points of interest.

It will be a matter for regret to some hon. Members that Isle of Man (Customs) Bills are now to cease. We have become used to having one every year. These Bills have rarely aroused strong feeling. Occasionally we have had a strenuous debate, but normally they have gone through in a calm atmosphere. Some of us regret that one more landmark to which we have become accustomed will disappear.

I understand that the passage of the Bill will cause great satisfaction to the people of the Isle of Man. The Financial Secretary has told us that they are in agreement with what is now proposed. We do not oppose the Second Reading, but we reserve our right to raise points in Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]

Committee upon Monday next.