HC Deb 29 July 1975 vol 896 cc1729-32
Mr. Ridley

I beg to move Amendment No. 44, in page 2, line 35, after '(3)' insert 'or (4)'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

With this it is proposed to take the following amendments:

No. 40, in page 2, leave out lines 36 to 39.

No. 41, in page 3, line 1, leave out subsection (6).

Mr. Ridley

There is a curious procedure here which is the reason for this group of amendments. The Bill can continue until 31st July 1976 and thereafter be extended by order for a further year. At the same time, and understandably, although I do not agree with it, the various provisions of the Counter-Inflation Act 1973 mentioned in subsection (4) can equally be extended for the same period as this legislation is current. All the extensions, either to the Bill when it becomes an Act or to the provisions of the Counter-Inflation Act as specified, must be made by affirmative resolution of both Houses. That seems to be right and proper and as it should be.

However, there is the curious exception that the provisions of the Counter-Inflation Act can be prolonged by negative resolution under subsection (6) provided, as I understand it—I stand to be corrected—that none of those provisions comes to an end after 31st July 1976.

Those provisions automatically come to an end on, I think, 13th March 1976 when the Counter-Inflation Act 1973 automatically expires. Therefore, the Government have given themselves power to enact the various provisions of the Counter-Inflation Act—namely, Sections 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10—for the three months from 13th March to 31st July 1976 by negative order.

I cannot understand the point of this complex manoeuvre. It seems that the Government hope to save half a parliamentary day by getting some of those provisions extended for three months by the negative order procedure. But, after that, they would require the affirmative order procedure to extend them past 31st July 1976. Therefore, little, if anything—indeed, nothing—would have been gained.

Furthermore, there is the point about honourable behaviour. These provisions of the Counter-Inflation Act are highly contentious. A great parliamentary battle was fought to bring them to an end on 13th March 1976. Parliament is very jealous about granting such powers lightly. They are powers which many hon. Members—curiously enough, myself included—find extremely obnoxious. If the Government want to be fair by saying that in normal circumstances they will prolong or bring these powers into force again only by means of the affirmative order procedure, about which I could not complain—indeed, I am not complaining about that; it seems right and proper—it is a little odd that they should give themselves the opportunity of bringing them in at this short notice by negative order.

I should have thought that any sensible Government would rest content on the clause, as amended by my amendment, whereby any prolongation of the powers would require the affirmative order procedure. They could then prolong the powers for as long a period as if they first used the negative order procedure until 31st July and then invoked the affirmative order procedure thereafter.

This is a very odd provision. I may have misinterpreted it, but I understand that my amendment will save a certain amount of paper and a great deal of complication and bring the Government into the position of being entirely straight with the House by using the affirmative procedure for any prolongation. I hope that, as a means of bringing this session to a slightly earlier end, the Government will feel inclined to meet this point and to accept this modest little amendment.

3.15 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page

My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) has drawn attention to an extraordinary position in the Bill.

The Bill alters the procedures under the Counter-Inflation Act 1973 for the sake of three months. Under Section 4 of the Act, any extension or renewal of powers has to be made by affirmative order. That is recognised to be the right form if one wishes to extend beyond 31st July 1976. I cannot see why we need to alter the Counter-Inflation Act for the sake of extending it for three months. It will obviously be extended beyond July 1976 and it could all be done in one draft order laid before the House.

We shall get into some confusion over this. It is not a matter of great principle. It is rather petty and serves no real purpose. I hope that the Bill can be simplified. We are doing a bit of de-legislating rather than legislating if we accept the amendment.

The Paymaster-General (Mr. Edmund Dell)

I would have thought that the Bill was in a rather helpful form from the point of view of parliamentary control of proceedings under the Bill. The situation was perfectly described by the hon, Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) except that the date of expiry of the Counter-Inflation Act is 31st March 1976. The intended duration of the Bill is pointed out in Clause 2(1) where it says that it will cease to be in force at the expiration of the period ending 31st July 1976. We are thinking in terms of a minimum of one year, that is of one wage round during one year. It is a period that can be extended after 31st July 1976.

The sanctions in the Bill are based on the Counter-Inflation Act, which expires on 31st March 1976. The two pieces of legislation are out of phase and we are suggesting that, for this period of four months, continuation should depend on the negative rather than the affirmative resolution procedure. It there were to be an extension after 31st July 1976, it would depend on the affirmative procedure, but for the four months to bring the Counter-Inflation Act into phase with the policy of this Bill, it is sensible to use the negative procedure.

Mr. Graham Page

Why should the right hon. Gentleman clog up the Bill with even the negative resolution procedure? If the provisions of the Counter-Inflation Act have to be brought into phase with this Bill why not do it in this Bill? That seems such an obvious answer and it is clearly what is intended in view of the terms of subsection (1).

Mr. Dell

I should have thought that we were being helpful on the question of parliamentary control because we are not extending the powers under this Bill. We are saying that it will be open to the House, through the negative resolution procedure, to question the extension of the Counter-Inflation Act for the extra four months. The main issue for the House to consider is whether there should be an extension of the Bill, and that is the objective of the affirmative resolution procedure.

Mr. Lawson

Since the right hon. Gentleman wishes to be helpful, will he consider whether it would be right to introduce an amendment in another place to extend the 1973 Act for four months so that the two Acts could be brought into phase? Will he think about that?

Mr. Dell

If the House wishes this extension to take place, I shall consider the matter. There is no reason why I should not, and that I shall undertake to do.

Amendment negatived.

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