§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading road.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT WOOLTON)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time. I think we have discussed this Bill until it is almost threadbare, and there is little that I have to add to what I have already said in commend- 940 ing it to your Lordships, except to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for not being in my place yesterday, owing to the fact that there was a Cabinet meeting, when he chose to refer to me and to decide that the Government had thrown me over. If the noble Lord will forgive me for saying so, I think there was perhaps a little confusion in his mind about what had happened. I am sure he will be glad to know that the Government have not thrown me over. I hope I can convince him that not only is there no confusion in the mind of the Government but, what is perhaps even more important that there is no confusion in the mind of the trade. They understand quite clearly what is going to happen. And I was gratified to find that there was no confusion in the mind of the Press, which has been so helpful in this matter. But I must not let there be any doubt about the position, and perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I occupy a short time in reciting the facts of the position, which is really a repetition of what I said before.
The issue is based on a number of words— winding up, liquidating and dissolving. The noble Lord opposite probably knows more than I do about the technical meaning of these words, but this is the position. The Raw Cotton Commission will have bought sufficient cotton of the current season's crop to meet the stated needs of contracting-in spinners until they can buy for themselves the new crop of the 1954–55 season. The Commission will have sold this cotton to these customers on firm contracts before August 31, firm contracts as regards bulk, although the price may be left "on call." When the Commission itself ceases trading its liquidator will effect delivery under outstanding contracts. The Commission. of course, will not be formally dissolved until liquidation is completed.
The second point on which I should like to satisfy the noble Lord Lord Ogmore is this. The liquidator will honour the Colonial contracts until they are transferred to the Government, to the Minister of Materials or his successor in title, if it is necessary to transfer them; that is if they have not already been taken up by other people.
I hope that I have made the situation clear. The Commission remains in existence for a time; it will then cease 941 to trade, because the liquidator will be appointed. When the liquidator has finished his job, then the Commission will be dissolved; and the Commission will not be dissolved until the liquidator has finished. The comparison is, of course, entirely in line with the liquidation of a company, and I hope I have made it sufficiently clear that there is no confusion in the minds of the Government as to what we intend to do. I hope that I have made it abundantly clear that we intend to honour the Colonial contracts in which the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, was particularly interested. I do not think I can usefully occupy your Lordships' time by talking any more about this Bill. I therefore beg to move that it be read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3.— (Viscount Woolton)
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lard Woolton, both for clearing up this point and for satisfying our anxieties that we may not see him for long on the opposite Front Bench. We on this side of the House should like to assure him that we should be disappointed not to see his face there so long as this Government remain in power. This point was a matter of some concern, not only for myself, who know comparatively little about the subject, but to those who know a great deal about it, as he will no doubt have seen if he has read the Report of the proceedings in another place. There is no doubt from those proceedings that, on the face of it, the explanation given by Mr. Heathcote-Amory, the Minister, in,another place, appeared to conflict with a statement of the noble Viscount in this House. In view of the statement to-day, I think there is now no doubt about the position, and I am grateful to the noble Viscount for clearing it up.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, as one who, like the noble Viscount, has withstood the heat and burden of the debate on this Bill in all its stages through your Lordships House, I think it would he appropriate if I said a few words before it leaves us to become the law of the land. The noble Viscount said that the subject had got a little threadbare. Perhaps the appropriate phrase would be that it is in threads and patches. 942 I should like to thank the noble Viscount for his great good humour right the way through what has been a rather controversial measure, and also for the very valuable concessions which he made in the statement he read on the Committee stage and for the elucidation to which he has just referred.
When we were on the Committee stage, and the noble Viscount read out that statement, which gave us all— and. indeed, if I may be allowed to say so, a little more than— we asked, and certainly a lot more than we expected, I was perhaps a little hesitant, which drew from the noble Viscount the remark that I was being ungenerous. I retorted that it was not my desire to be ungenerous but that I did not quite understand what he meant. I think my defence must be that we on this side of your Lordships House, who do our best to provide Her Majesty's Government with an Opposition, have had a navel experience in finding that our arguments are listened to with respect and, still more, to have a member of Her Majesty's Government meet our arguments with the commonsense concessions which the noble Viscount brought forward. Therefore, if I happened to look at the back teeth of his gift horse a little more than he thought I should, that is my excuse. The concession which he gave safeguarding the interests of contractors- in has given, as he already knows, great satisfaction to Lancashire. It is a great satisfaction to know that not only did the noble Viscount listen with respect to the argument from this side of the House but also to the very forceful arguments in another place during the Committee stage of the Bill in that Chamber.
Having said that, it is with some regret that I have to take leave of this Bill with some criticism. And considering that this Bill already includes retrospective legislation to correct the illegalities of certain of the Liverpool cotton merchants, I think it is not perhaps conforming to, shall I say, the niceties or the proprieties for the Liverpool Cotton Association to anticipate the will of Parliament by sending out, before this Bill is passed, invitations to the reopening of the Liverpool Cotton Exchange. I am quite aware that there is nothing in this Bill that mentions the Liverpool Cotton Exchange. I do not say there is anything illegal in their action. But I think it is 943 as well—I know the noble Viscount will not condone their action—to point out to the President and directors of the Liverpool Cotton Exchange that Parliament is not yet the tool of big business, and that the Royal Assent and Prerogative is not quite a rubber stamp. I think it would have been appreciated by everybody— and I do not leave out the noble Viscount in this if these invitations to the reopening of the Liverpool Cotton Market, which we now understand is to take place on May 18 and not at the end of August, as we all thought. had not been sent out until after this Bill had passed through your Lordships' House. I think it is as well to say that. It may sound a note of criticism—
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
No, Her Majesty's Government have no jurisdiction over this matter— I thought I made that quite clear. I thought that perhaps the friends of the noble Viscount in Liverpool might have had a little greater concern for his position in the matter. After all, there is such a thing as the niceties or the proprieties—I have left out the words "good taste."
With that mild protest, all that remains for me is to join with the noble Viscount in wishing the Lancashire cotton industry every success. We were, and still are, opposed to this Bill. For my part, quite frankly, I am opposed to it because I think it is ill-timed. There may be a time in the future when this would be a useful contribution. My opposition to it all the way through has been that I do not think this is the right time. However, it is the will of Parliament, and therefore I hope that everybody concerned throughout the cotton industry in Lancashire will use their best endeavours to see that the Lancashire cotton industry benefits from it, and will, at least in some measure, regain its former great position in the industry of this country.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
My Lords. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for the extremely kind remarks that have fallen from him regarding the way I have tried to present this Bill to your Lordships— he was most generous. If I accused him of lack of generosity on a previous occasion, he 944 has to-day heaped coals of fire on my head. He will not expect me to make any comment about the invitation which I understand an honourable Member in another place inadvertently received, because that had nothing to do with me, and I cannot take upon myself any errors of judgment of other people.
§ On Question, Bill read 3, and passed.