HC Deb 21 April 1969 vol 782 cc213-5

Order for Second Reading read.

11.12 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Arthur Irvine)

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

This is a useful consolidation Bill which consolidates our statute law on dumping and subsidies. The law on these subjects is at present contained in the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Act, 1957, the Import Duties Act, 1958, and the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Amendment Act, 1968.

The Select Committee on the Consolidation of Bills has considered the Bill and has heard evidence upon it. It reports that it considers that the Bill is pure consolidation and represents the existing law. In these circumstances, and having regard to the character of the matter, I recommend the Bill to the House.

11.14 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

As the Solicitor-General said, this is a consolidation Measure which seeks to consolidate three Acts—one of 1957, one of 1958 and one as late as of 1968. Again as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, the Select Committee on the Consolidation of Bills has reported that the Bill is pure consolidation and represents the existing law. Therefore in general the House must accept that what is contained in the Bill is the law and is not debatable in the House.

But Erskine May tells us at page 553 that certain Amendments may be moved to a consolidation Bill which is pure consolidation or is recommended as such, and one of the Amendments which Erskine May said could be moved to such a Bill is An Amendment which seeks to bring the Bill into conformity with the existing law, if the chairman is satisfied that the Bill, as drafted, would effect an alteration in the law. I shall seek in Committee to satisfy the Chairman that in Clause 15 this Bill does effect an alteration in the law. Therefore it is as well that I should indicate that on Second Reading.

The existing law is that any power of the Board of Trade to make Orders shall be exercisable by Statutory Instrument, but that where an Order imposes an increase in the duty the Statutory Instrument shall be laid before this House after being made and the Order shall cease to have effect at the end of 28 days after that on which it is made unless at some time before the end of those 28 days the Order is approved by Resolution of the House. But where the Order of the Board of Trade has the effect of altering the rate of duty on any goods in such a way that the new rate is not directly comparable with the old, if the Treasury certifies that it has not increased the duty, then it does not have to go through the affirmative procedure but only through the negative procedure in the House.

Where this Order alters the law is to substitute the certificate of the Board of Trade for the certificate of the Treasury, and evidence given to the Select Committee on the Consolidation of Bills clearly stated—and I am quoting from page 2 of the report of the evidence of the draftsman before that Committee—that: What the subsection says"— and he was speaking of the existing law— is that if the Treasury certify that the order imposing an import duty is not basically increasing the level of the duty, then you can treat it as an order, not a charging order, and therefore not subject to an Affirmative Resolution but subject only to a Negative Resolution. He goes on a few lines later to say The plain sense of it is that a certificate of the department making the order is required … and he then goes on— … I thought it was justifiable to substitute the reference to the Board of Trade. So he recognises in his evidence before the Select Committee that an alteration in the law was being made here and that the Bill substitutes for the opinion of the Treasury the opinion of the Board of Trade, so that in future the Department which makes the Order, the Board of Trade, shall decide whether or not that Order shall require an affirmative Resolution of the House. If the Order increases the duty, it is right that it should come before the House to receive the affirmation of the House to keep it alive longer than 28 days.

At present, as the quotation which I have given shows, under the existing law the Treasury decides whether a Board of Trade Order requires that affirmation. But in Clause 15 of the Bill it will be the Board of Trade which will be the judge and jury in its own cause and will be able to certify whether this House shall be permitted to consider the Order in an affirmative Resolution, or whether it should be merely subject to negative procedure.

The House may well feel that it is the proper thing to do, to deal with it in that way, but at least the House should be made aware of what is being done under the guise of consolidation.

It is therefore right for me to indicate that I shall seek to take advantage of that passage in Erskine May which permits an Amendment to be put down on the Committee stage.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Ernest G. Perry.]

Committee Tomorrow.