HC Deb 21 April 1959 vol 604 cc260-6
Mr. Simon

I beg to move, in page 5, line 9, at the end to insert: (3) No regulations shall be made under this section unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before the Commons House of Parliament and approved by a resolution of that House.

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Robert Grimston)

I think that it will be convenient to discuss with this Amendment the next two Amendments to page 5, line 11.

Mr. Simon

The first thing I ought to do is to apologise to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) for appearing to hog the Notice Paper, because this Amendment differs only technically from that of the right hon. Gentleman. Since, however, we wanted to make quick progress with the Bill, I thought it right to put down an Amendment in the form which we were advised was the technically correct one.

The distinction between the two will be immediately obvious to the Committee, but in that of the right hon. Gentleman, although the approval is by Resolution of the Commons House of Parliament— which I am advised is correct in what is purely a money Bill—the Statutory Instrument has to be laid before both Houses of Parliament. This means that one would merely lay a piece of paper before another place, which would merely have the right to look at it and not do anything further about it. I am advised that this would be inappropriate, and that the proper form is in my right hon. Friend's Amendment, namely, that it should be laid before the Commons House of Parliament and approved by a Resolution of the Commons House of Parliament. The second Amendment is consequential.

The effect of the Amendment is to substitute the procedure by way of affirmative Resolution for that by way of negative Resolution in the Bill as drafted. That is in response to the plea made by the right hon. Gentleman during the Second Reading debate, supported by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). My right hon. Friend considered the matter. Although there are precedents both ways, it seemed to us, on balance, that where it is a question of the repayment of large sums of money from the Exchequer. which is certainly the case this year, and which is inherently likely to amount to a large sum whatever class one chooses for subsequent repayment, it is reasonable that one should proceed by affirmative Resolution to give the House more immediate and tangible seizure of the matter.

It would have been possible and, indeed, reasonable either to say that this time it should be a negative Resolution, or that we should have no Resolution at all, in that the Committee has had a very adequate opportunity of discussing the classes which are due for repayment and has shown whole-hearted approval of the classes that we have chosen. I think that we had a slight and unfortunate difference of opinion as to whether they should be exclusive, hut, on the whole, it was felt that if only for the constitutional form, it was better this year as well as in the future to proceed by affirmative Resolution.

It makes the timetable really tight, and that was one of the reasons why we originally chose and put in the Bill the procedure by negative Resolution. I am advised that, with the co-operation that has been shown, it will still be possible.

even proceeding by affirmative Resolution, to adhere to the timetable which my right hon. Friend indicated and which the House has approved.

Mr. E. Fletcher

I do not think that the Financial Secretary need in any way to minimise the importance of the Amendments we are discussing. As he pointed out, this is a substantial matter, which is contained in the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). It stems from the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend that this was the appropriate constitutional way of dealing with this matter, but it was damned with faint praise by the Leader of the Liberal Party, who, on the Second Reading of the Bill, seemed to suggest that, although this was the better way of dealing with it, So much is improper that this tiny impropriety is a very small illegitimate baby indeed." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1959; Vol. 603, c. 1064.] The Leader of the Liberal Party did not, therefore, attach very much importance—

Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a matter of proportion, though still illegitimate, but, compared with the whole subject of the control of expenditure and the way in which this repayment of post-war credits has been introduced and has been dealt with during and since the war, it is a minor evil, which we are glad to see rectified?

Mr. Fletcher

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's intervention has improved it. Bastardy is not a matter of proportion, and it does not help to make reference to a "very small illegitimate baby" I think that the hon. Member's intervention has underlined what I think is a lack of constitutional appreciation on the part of the Leader of the Liberal Party.

I want to emphasise that it is, in fact, the Labour Party, belatedly supported by the Liberal Party, which has insisted upon the constitutional importance of this matter, and, therefore, it is no use the Financial Secretary to the Treasury trying to claim any credit for this Amendment, which he moved in such engaging terms.

The credit for this Amendment is entirely due to a suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick. I think that this is not an unimportant occasion for us to underline the importance of what we are doing in this matter. The original intention of the Government was to make this matter subject to a negative Resolution by both Houses of Parliament, which, in my opinion, would have been fundamentally wrong, for two reasons.

In the first place, as has now been realised, this is a matter which does not concern the House of Lords at all. It will be quite wrong, in a financial Measure of this kind, to have legislated in such a way that any provision for the acceleration of the payment of post-war credits could have been frustrated by resolution of the House of Lord. That would have been quite wrong, and, therefore, I am very glad to see that, both in my right hon. Friend's Amendment and that put down in the name of the Chancellor, we have got rid of that particular constitutional anomaly.

5.45 p.m.

The second thing upon which we are now agreed is that by this Amendment it is recognised that any Motion on this subject should be by an affirmative Resolution. It is important to pause for a moment so that we and the country can understand the difference in this connection between affirmative and negative Resolutions. The Financial Secretary must realise that this Bill dealing with the repayment of post-war credits is very largely an agreed Measure. It was not opposed on Second Reading; in fact, it was warmly supported. Furthermore, the introduction of the Bill was very largely the result of consistent pressure from this side.

Therefore, I think it is very important that the country should recognise that, when we come to deal with any particular Statutory Instrument making provision for the repayment of post-war credits to the particular classes of hardship on which we are now agreed, it is an agreed Measure supported by the whole House. That could only be done if we adopt the form of the affirmative Resolution, because the essence of an affirmative Resolution, as distinct from the negative Resolution, as I understand it, is that the affirmative Resolution expresses the will of the whole House. It means that a representative of the Government has to get up at the Treasury Box and propose it. If it is supported by the Opposition, it is carried as an agreed Measure of the whole House.

That is very different from a negative Resolution, where we have the machinery originally contemplated by the Government, but which I am now glad to see abandoned. If we have the affirmative Resolution, we have an executive act, not an act for which Parliament is primarily responsible, but an executive act of the Government, which takes effect immediately and remains operative unless and until the initiative is taken by the Opposition, either in this House or in another place, of trying to stop it. The negative Resolution produces great procedural difficulties, apart from anything else, and if we have a measure subject to a negative Resolution it means that the House has no opportunity of being able to say that it is an agreed measure, voted upon and approved by the whole House.

I therefore welcome the fact that in this Bill that procedure has been adopted, and I personally hope that the procedure on the affirmative Resolution in all matters, and most certainly in all matters of finance and matters affecting taxation, will come to be adopted in the House as a matter of major constitutional importance, and not, as the Liberal Party appears to think, as a matter of complete insignificance. I am very glad to think that my right hon. Friend, in the Second Reading debate, pointed out the weakness in Clause 5 as it stood. It is important that we should once again underline the fact that the credit for urging the Government to deal, as belatedly as they have done with this matter of post-war credits, is due to the Opposition. The specific Resolutions and measures laid before us under the Bill will together constitute an agreed act of the whole House.

Mr. Gordon Walker

I thank the hon. and learned Member for moving the Amendment, because it means that he accepts the principle of ours. I willingly accept the form of his Amendment, especially as it seems to assert more strongly than ours the rights of this House over another place in financial matters. I am especially glad to do this so soon after the attacks which Lord Hailsham made in another place, upon myself and other hon. Members of this House, which were of such a nature that had they been made in this House about Members of another place they would unquestionably have been out of order.

Our reason for wanting the affirmative Resolution procedure has been made clear by my hon. Friend. In financial matters we want the House to maintain the maximum amount of control which is compatible with the rapid repayment of post-war credits and adjustment of hardship cases. We have not much sympathy for the desire of the Liberals to have it both ways, but if that pleases them it does not worry us.

The hon. and learned Member has said that there might be a little difficulty about the time-table, but I can assure him that in carrying out an agreed policy in this matter no delay will be caused by hon. Members on this side. I am glad that we have been able to end this little debate on that note. We were quite right to divide the House on Clause 1. Nonetheless, we are in complete agreement over the broad field of policy. I am glad that we end with the Government following the lead and example of the Opposition.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 5, line 11, leave out from "instrument" to end of line 12.—[Mr. Simon.]

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

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Mr. Gordon Walker

On a point of order. Do I understand that the Bill is said to be reported without Amendment?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

There were no Amendments on Report.

Mr. Gordon Walker

We amended the Bill in Committee.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We are taking the Report stage now, and as far as I know there are no Amendments so we can go straight on to the Third Reading.

Mr. E. Fletcher

I do not wish to dissent from the proposition that we should now proceed with the Report stage and, subsequently, with the Third Reading—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

There are no Amendments on Report, so I have to go straight to the Third Reading.

Mr. Fletcher

I would not wish to dissent from the proposition either that we should proceed to the Report stage, on which there are no Amendments, or to the Third Reading, but it is right to say, merely for the record and in the interests of hon. Members, that as I understand Erskine May and the Standing Orders—although I have not looked at them recently—it is in accordance with the doctrine of the House not to proceed to the further stages of a finance Bill on the same day, except by agreement. I wish merely to make it clear that this appears to be a departure from precedent.

I make these remarks only to underline the earnest desire of the Opposition to expedite in every possible way the passage of the Bill into law.

Mr. Simon

I should not like it to be thought for a moment that hon. Members on this side of the House were either discourteous to right hon. and hon. Members opposite or careless of the conventions and rights of the House of Commons. In fact it was agreed through the usual channels that we should proceed through all the remaining stages of the Bill today.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.