HC Deb 05 April 1967 vol 744 cc310-7

Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, it shall not extend to the Isle of Man until a petition has been received by Her Majesty from Tynwald asking for its provisions to be so extended.—[Mr. Ian Gilmour.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

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

New Clause 1 was concerned with reciprocal obligations the Government will seek to impose on other countries before the Bill comes into force. This Clause is concerned with the obligations of the Government towards the people living within the boundaries of the United Kingdom. The basis of the situation with which this new Clause seeks to deal is that the Tynwald has thrown out a similar Bill. It has refused to enact a Measure banning marine broadcasting ships. As the Assistant Postmaster-General said in Standing Committee: I will admit that there is considerable opposition to this legislation in the Isle of Man— I think that that is an understatement.

Mr. Dobson

Would the hon. Gentleman like to complete the quotation?

Mr. Gilmour

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) interrupted the Assistant Postmaster-General at that point to say: And in Britain. The Assistant Postmaster-General went on: —but this cannot impair the power to make an Order in Council …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G, 16th March, 1967; c.271.] That is a rather different point.

The point I am making is that there is considerable opposition to this legislation in the Isle of Man. I do not think that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson) disputes that. The fact that the Assistant Postmaster-General went on to assert a constitutional principle which is admittedly undeniable is not relevant to the remarks I am making. I fully concede that the power referred to by the Assistant Postmaster-General in that passage does lie within the constitutional right of this Parliament to make laws for the Isle of Man. I conceded that in Standing Committee. But I submit that this is not an occasion for the Government to operate against the Isle of Man.

Many descriptions have been flung at the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General, ranging from "sadistic" to "masochistic", to "stonewall" and "steamrolling". All of these expressions reflect insensitivity in one way or another by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman to our arguments.

The constitutional background to this position is fairly clear. The Isle of Man has been growing in independence over the last few years. In debate on the Isle of Man Act, 1958, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), then Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, said that it would restore … to the island its independence in fiscal and several other matters. He talked about the Measure demonstrating our interest in the future of that loyal and happy island which gave us generous help in men, lives and money during the last two wars."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1958; Vol. 580, c. 902.] Without making the point about "sadism" again, I hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General would not want to make that island unhappy now.

Two years later, in 1960, my right hon. and learned Friend, in a debate on the Isle of Man, said: It is the independence of the Isle of Man which governs the constitutional position with which we are faced. Her Majesty's Government are not the Government of the Isle of Man. Her Majesty is, of course, the Queen of the Isle of Man, as she is of her other possessions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April, 1960; Vol. 621, c. 850.] Even higher constitutional authority the same year came from the present Master of Trinity, when he said that … a Minister should listen and pay attention to the views of the House of Commons and, equally, I think, to the constitutional position of the desirability of retaining the independent power of the Manx Legislature to legislate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th May, 1960; Vol. 622, c. 1260.] That is the background to the constitutional position. The historical background is even starker, because this sort of conflict between the Westminster Parliament and the Isle of Man Parliament has not arisen for over 200 years. It happens by coincidence that this confrontation is arising just at the moment when the regions and outlying areas of the country are flexing their muscles. They are tired of central Government control and wish to be given freedom to manage their own affairs. The Government have felt the backlash of that feeling in recent by-elections, and the Isle of Man, in its action over the Bill, shows that it has the same feeling.

The new Clause is a test of the genuineness of the Government's intentions to pay attention to the susceptibilities and wishes of the outlying regions or outlying nationalities of Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and other places and not legislate blindly and dictatorially merely to satisfy their own ideological susceptibilities. The Clause is a test of the Government's attitude to localism and regional government.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Peyton

A voice from the distant past prompted me to search in the Library for some previous references to the Isle of Man. There was a debate in the House on 22nd July, 1952, on the Isle of Man (Customs) Bill. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) sought very properly to give the House some background information about the island, the affairs of which were under discussion.

I should be the first to admit that it is impertinent of me to raise this point in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), because it was he, with his normal courtesy and erudition, who answered the debate. He and the House will forgive me if I do not repeat all of my right hon. Friend's remarks. I did not propose to refer to them because, as always, they are unchallengeable and their value stands without need of commendation from me.

But some very interesting comments were made by the hon. Member for Old-ham, West, who intolerably annoyed your predecessor, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He pointed out that for the House of Commons to conduct legislation dealing with the island without abundant proof that opinion in the island had been consulted would be an intolerable insult to the Tynwald. He regaled the House with all sorts of interesting information. For instance, he pointed out that the Stanley family had at one time been owners of the island and that they had sold it to the United Kingdom. He said: I am sure the Financial Secretary will agree that it is a matter of great complexity, and the time has come when there should be some effort at clarification. Things in the island have altered very much since it was purchased by this country for £70,000 in the reign of George III. It is fair to say—and this is an important matter in considering fiscal issues—that there has not been a great deal of alteration in the population."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1952; Vol. 504, c. 458–9.] I wonder whether the Postmaster-General, who probably was present on that occasion since, if my memory does not fail me, he was a Government Whip at that time—

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

The Postmaster-General was then in opposition, as he will shortly be again.

Mr. Peyton

That was a slip of the tongue. My right hon. Friend's memory is almost up to his skill in prophecy.

I am absolutely astonished that on that occasion the Chair should have set such a tremendous example of tolerance, which I know you would always wish to follow, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although I would not wish to trespass upon it. Had I had this inspiration before, I could have quarried more deeply into the volume in my hand and no doubt would have been able to give from the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West a great deal more highly relevant information about the Isle of Man.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I recall the debate perfectly well; I think that I took part in it. I remember that the Chair had occasion to draw the attention of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) to the scope of the debate. My recollection is that that debate had a much wider scope and much greater reference to the history of the Isle of Man than would be permitted in a discussion of this new Clause.

Mr. Peyton

With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that depends on the angle from which one views the matter. However, perhaps I can conclude my remarks, in so far as they depend on this volume of the OFFICIAL REPORT, with this quotation: I suffered a deep sense of mortification, Mr. Hopkin Morris, when you said on an earlier occasion in our consideration of this Measure you were inclined to be bored."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1952; Vol. 504, c. 933.] I quote that only because, partly due to my brevity and partly due to your courtesy and generosity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have not shown the slightest sign of being bored.

I ask the Postmaster-General whether full consultations have taken place with the Isle of Man, or whether Tynwald opinion is being overriden in this Measure. I understand that there is local opposition in the Isle of Man, and I have a great horror of the idea that minority opinions should be trodden down ruthlessly simply because to do so is convenient to the majority. I recognise that the majority has rights, but, as I said in my opening shot in this engagement, I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman is not one of those who is always running to the argument of the national interest, the need for Ministerial discretion and the rest.

I accept entirely that he does not wish to override the rights of the citizen, but I hope that he will be able to assure us that he has consulted local opinion in the Isle of Man and has been able to placate objections to measures which he regards as necessary.

Mr. Edward Short

I think that the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) should withdraw his comment that I would shortly be in opposition. I have no intention of crossing the Floor.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Of course, it will be done for the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Short

That is rather obscure.

The position about the extension of the Bill to the Isle of Man was explained in Committee. It is, as has been said, starkly simple. No amount of opportunist propaganda by the Opposition or by the rather slick operators of Radio Caroline can change it. It would be better if hon. Members refrained from trying to provoke argument between the Government and the island authorities.

To rehearse the constitutional position, the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) clearly informed the Committee that … when it is desired to apply United Kingdom legislation within the Island, it is done, not directly by provision in the Act itself, but indirectly by the insertion of a provision in the Act enabling it to be extended by Order in Council … The adoption of this procedure enables the Island to be consulted before Imperial legislation is applied to it, and this right to consultation is a matter to which great importance is attached in the Island."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G, 2nd March, 1967, c. 40.] I think that that answers the point of the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). That is exactly what is being done in the Bill. There is nothing about the Bill which would justify any departure from that standard practice in either direction. There is no justification for rewording the Bill either to prevent it from being applied to the island or to make its application to the island mandatory. We are following the standard form in Bills of this kind.

We cannot at this stage take cognisance of the current debate in Tynwald. We understand that these debates turn on the question whether Tynwald wishes to cover some of the matters covered in this Bill in legislation of its own. The eventual outcome of those debates will affect only the representations which the island may wish to make when the Bill has been passed and the island is formally notified of the intention to make an Order in Council under Clause 10. Nothing in the current debate in the island affects the provisions which it is proper for us to make in the Bill for the extension of the Bill to the island.

It is entirely proper for hon. Members to inquire of the Government's intention concerning the extension of the Bill to the island. Those intentions were explained in Committee when the Committee was told: … Her Majesty's Government are fully aware of the need to apply this legislation to the whole of the British Islands without delay, and intend that this shall be done …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G, 16th March, 1967; c. 270.] The absurdity of the wording of the proposed Clause illustrates how wrong it would be to depart from the standard provision. The proposed wording would have the effect that in giving her assent to the Bill Her Majesty would be ordering herself not to exercise her sovereignty over the island until the island specifically asked her to do so.

One can sympathise with the predicament in which hon. Members found themselves when framing the proposed Clause. However they worded it, the effect would be absurd for the perfectly simple reason that the only provision which it is proper to make in the Bill on this subject is the provision already contained in Clause 10.

Mr. Channon

I did a little research on the Isle of Man before the Committee stage of the Bill and the only serious question that I have has to do with the Postmaster-General making an Order in Council. Can this be prayed against in the House, or do we have no right to debate such an Order? My second question is can he give us any recent precedent for Orders in Council of this kind being imposed upon the Tynwald, when the Isle of Man has shown itself so unwilling to accept it? Can he give a recent example of any United Kingdom legislation being imposed on the Isle of Man when the Tynwald has been completely unwilling to accept it.

Mr. Rowland

I would like to refer to a statement made by the Assistant Postmaster-General in Committee, when he said that he could give my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) the assurance that this Order was now being drafted and would soon be effective. What stage has the drafting reached, bearing in mind that that statement was made on 6th March? Are we any wiser as to when it will be effective?

May I ask the Postmaster-Geenral for an assurance that, either by Order in Council under Clause 10, or preferably by the House of Keys approving this Bill, there will be no possibility of the Isle of Man being a haven for pirate radio stations, notwithstanding the unfettered rights of the Isle of Man to continue to operate Radio Manx, which is a legal station, ashore?

Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)

May I have clarification on one point, because in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman a moment ago he said that before an Order in Council was laid the island would be properly consulted. He added that it could make representations. This is really a bogus phrase, because he will already have made up his mind what the Order in Council is to do. This is not my idea, nor I imagine the idea of most hon. Members, of consultation. It is surely bunkum to use this idea of consultation. What he is saying is that the Labour Government would seek to impose their will upon the people of the Isle of Man against their wishes. He ought to clarify this idea of consultation.

Mr. Edward Short

The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) asked whether this Order could be prayed against. I do not know the answer, but I do not think that it could be prayed against. I will have to find out and let him know.

The hon. Gentleman's second point raised a hypothetical question. The Bill has not yet been passed by Parliament and when it has the Government will make an Order in Council and apply it to the Isle of Man. When it does so the Isle of Man will be consulted and be able to make representations. This is common form, and was done in dozens of cases during the time of the Conservative Government.

There is no question of a "Labour Government"—the United Kingdom Government will apply the Act, passed by the United Kingdom Parliament, to the Isle of Man by Order in Council, being exactly the same procedure as has been used for many years.

Question put and negatived.