When we were interrupted on the morning of 23rd July, we were discussing Clause 2, with particular reference to subsection (2), and I would like to pursue for a few minutes longer the discussion we had on that point, because I do not think the Financial Secretary had a full opportunity of dealing with the whole aspect of the matter which I raised in my previous intervention.
If the Committee will look in the Report of the proceedings, which is available now, for the morning of 23rd July, in col. 484 of HANSARD, they will see what appears to be an intervention in the speech of the Financial Secretary by the Leader of the House. The Financial Secretary was seeking to deal with the point I had raised, and then the Leader of the House got up and moved to report Progress. It would therefore be most unjust of me to criticise the Financial Secretary for not having dealt fully with the point I raised, because it is quite clear that he got cut short in his peroration or an earlier part of his remarks.
We all sympathise with the Financial Secretary in the embarrassing situation in which he found himself, and it was very much against the grain of many of us that we had to support the Motion which was put by the Leader of the House. The point I raised, which I do not believe was dealt with fully by the Financial Secretary, was this; end I apologise for having to recapitulate briefly. If we had proceded with the discussion at that time, it would not have been necessary to do so.
I see one or two hon. Members who were not here on that occasion, and so it is necessary to recapitulate the point to which the Financial Secretary did not direct his reply. My argument was this: that in this Clause, in subsection (2), there is the reference to 8th August and, coupled with that, there is a reference in the previous Clause to 18th June.
I will refer in a few minutes to another aspect of the question that has been raised on this matter. It is necessary to recapitulate in a few sentences the point that had arisen when we were interrupted by the intervention of the Leader of the House on the earlier occasion. I must say that it is something of a pity that we do not see him sitting on the Front Bench tonight, because, if he is to come along and make these startling interventions in the debate which have held up the proceedings on this Bill, he should be here to see what has happened, and to see whether he was justified on the previous occasion in interrupting the speech of the Financial Secretary by moving to report Progress.
The argument is this. We had drawn attention to the subsection which refers to the date of 8th August, and to the subsection in another Clause dealing with a similar point, which referred to 18th June. It had been suggested, both by myself and my right hon. Friend on the Opposition Front Bench, that this was a case of retrospective legislation, and we made a few comments on that subject.
The reply of the Financial Secretary was that this was not retrospective legislation at all, that this legislation was on all fours with the financial legislation introduced into this House, that Resolutions are passed through quickly and the business put into operation, and that it may be some weeks later before the actual Bill is put before the House. That was the argument of the Financial Secretary, and he said that the Parliament in the Isle of Man works on a similar basis, and that, therefore, there is an exact comparison between this Measure when it operates there and the financial legislation in this House. I think I have summarised the hon. Gentleman's argument accurately.
What I think he left out of account, and in which he failed to answer the questions I had put to him, was that it is all very well to have a process which cannot be described as retrospective, but in which, in order to get the system working at all, we have to have an arrangement whereby the Government introduce financial legislation and move Resolutions to put into operation immediately proposals which might be validated a few weeks later by the discussion on a Bill. That is all right in the case of a sovereign Parliament, but there is an entirely different situation when we have another Parliament superimposing its Measure on a Measure which has been passed through the Parliament of the Isle of Man. I am not discussing whether the legislation passed through the Isle of Man Parliament is passed at a time when the two Houses are meeting together, or by one House at a time—
It would be out of order for us to discuss the way in which they conduct their affairs in the Isle of Man. What we are discussing is whether the Bill presented to this House involves retrospective legislation, and it was in an extension of that argument that I went on to say that, if this is not retrospective legislation and if there is no taint of retrospective legislation involved here, presumably, it is not open to us to amend or alter any Clause of this Bill, but it was the very question that we put to the Financial Secretary which seemed to convince me that this did involve retrospective legislation.
It is perfectly clear from the answers which the Financial Secretary has already given, and from the discussion which took place in a previous debate on this Isle of Man (Customs) Bill, that it is almost impossible, or is considered to be impossible by the Government, to alter this legislation. Therefore, if it is not possible to alter it, and if that is the argument which the Financial Secretary used to prove to us that this is not retrospective legislation, let him answer the question which I have put to him as to what will happen if we did, in fact, here and now, decide that Clause 2 shall not stand part of the Bill. What would be the situation in the Isle of Man?
Let the Financial Secretary tell us that. Of course, it is a quite different situation when one deals with legislation superimposed by one Parliament on the legislation of another, but the comparison which the Financial Secretary drew was not true.
It is because this Bill is presented as a Measure which we cannot amend that I asked the Financial Secretary the further question: what was the nature of the agreement reached between this House and the Parliament in the Isle of Man? All the Financial Secretary said was that it was just the normal type of agreement which had been made before, and that there was nothing new about it. But it is rather a curious procedure. We have been grossly misled on this side of the House during the past 24 hours, because we had the Leader of the House announcing only a few hours ago that this Bill is a pure formality, an un-contentious Measure. He gave the impression that it was a Bill that went through on the nod on all occasions. That is quite untrue.
There have been numerous occasions when there have been discussions, not merely in Committee but on Second Reading, and many of the most eminent Members of this House in the past 30 years have participated in these debates. Therefore, it was a shocking and monstrous thing that the Leader of the House should not merely say that it was a formality, but on that basis that he should attack some hon. Gentleman for continuing discussion at all on the Bill. Therefore, we want to know what is the reason for this Clause, and the whole Bill, if we are not allowed to discuss it, and if necessary to amend it.
We want to know what will happen to this Clause if we decide to vote against it, and whether in fact we have full authority to do that. Certainly we have every right to discuss this matter in detail, because if we look at the OFFICIAL REPORT, the Leader of the House said, after moving to report Progress after a discussion of an hour and a quarter:
It was part of the intention that this Bill should be reasonably debated.
One of our troubles is that we debated this the night before last for less than an hour when the Closure was moved. We are fearful, and it embarrasses us considerably, that at any moment someone could cut the argument short, and we are anxious to get some assurance that that will not happen.
I am not in a position to deal with that. What I am concerned with is that the Committee should deal with the Motion that the Clause stand part and not with cutting the discussion short.
Clause 2 deals with the question of hydro-carbon oils, the biggest revenue producer of this particular collection. Therefore, in my submission, two matters are eminently material to this point. The first—the matter we have sought to have from the Financial Secretary because of the very limited discussion—is what effect Clause 2 has on the finances of the United Kingdom.
That has nothing to do with the point I raised. All I have directed the attention of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) to is that what the Leader of the House said the other night about the general discussion of this Bill is not relevant to the Question that Clause 2 stand part.
There was a second point I was about to make, Mr. Hopkin Morris. I was first of all making the preliminary point, then I was going on to submit to you that when the Leader of the House comes here and says it is improper for us to ask about this at midnight, when he called the Bill on at midnight, and when the Leader of the House—who, I am afraid, is not present tonight—suggests that there is something wrong or improper in hon. Members pursuing inquiries which appear to be materially important to the finances of the United Kingdom, then we are entitled to ask for your protection in the matter. Surely these inquiries are proper and ought to be pursued?
The Bill is before the Committee; the Committee is entitled to discuss it and is discussing it. All I am asking the hon. Member to do is to keep the discussion to the Clause before the Committee at the moment.
Further to that point of order. With great respect, the point at which you pulled up my hon. Friend, as a I recall it, was when he was quoting the Leader of the House as saying:
It was part of the intention that this Bill should be reasonably debated.
Surely the greater includes the less, and the Bill includes the Clause?
When you intervened, Mr. Hopkin Morris, and said you wished me to keep within the limits of this Clause, I had reached a comma in the quotation that I was making from the speech of the Leader of the House, and if you would permit me to read the following part of the sentence that I was quoting, I think I can show quitely clearly how I was applying that to the argument I am presenting on this Clause. He said:
It was part of the intention that this Bill should be reasonably debated, but not at great length, and certainly not at this hour of the morning.
Then he went on to say:
This is a formal Bill, it normally follows the Finance Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1952; Vol. 504, c. 484.]
The whole of my argument is this. There is apparently—and this was the whole argument presented by the Financial Secretary—a new kind of legislation presented to the House of Commons, and that is what is called formal legislation. Formal legislation is apparently, according to the definition of the Leader of the House, something which cannot be debated at any length, or something that cannot be debated in the early hours of the morning, or something—
I am seeking to do exactly that, following upon the discussion that we had before, because the whole argument of the Financial Secretary, as I understood it, both on this Clause and on the previous Clause, as to the reason why he was asking the Committee to accept the Clause was that it had been approved in the Isle of Man Parliament. I am seeking to discover from him the way in which we could amend this if we wanted to. What would be the exact results if we did amend it? If it is possible for this Committee to amend it, what on earth is the reason for the Leader of the House telling not only this Committee but the whole House assembled, that this is a kind of formal Measure which cannot be scrutinised and amended in exactly the same way as any other piece of legislation which is presented to this House?
I am very anxious to keep within the bounds of order, and to apply my remarks to the Question before the Committee, which is whether Clause 2 should stand part, but I think, Mr. Hopkin Morris, you would agree that in dealing with this question I must be entitled to refer to the speech of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, because it was that speech on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning which produced, to the complete surprise of the Committee, the Motion to report Progress.
In considering the merits of Clause 2 it surely cannot be irrelevant just for a moment, by way of preamble to what I hope to say, just to remind you, Mr. Hopkin Morris, of the circumstances in which the Leader of the House, I think to the consternation of the Financial Secretary and of the Committee, suddenly and very abruptly cut short the remarks of the Financial Secretary.
We were embarking on a very serious consideration as to whether Clause 2 should stand part. My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) and other hon. Members had raised very serious criticism of Clause 2, had posed questions which I want to elaborate in a moment. The Financial Secretary had attempted to give an answer, but it was so unsatisfactory that the Leader of the House at once got up and moved to report Progress. That, of course, has produced a very serious situation, because on Wednesday morning the Leader of the House obviously thought that this Committee could not possibly accept the reply which the Financial Secretary gave. There could have been no other reason for reporting Progress, except this, that the—
I am quite clear. What I am saying is this. On Tuesday we were putting certain criticisms to the Government, and I want to repeat and to elaborate them, and it is necessary to elaborate them for this reason, that, as they were put on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning they were apparently incomprehensible to, or, at any rate, were not understood by the Government Front Bench, so that the answer given from the Government Front Bench was so unsatisfactory that the Leader of the House thereupon interrupted the discussion and said, in effect, that we could not expect the Financial Secretary at 2 o'clock in the morning, to deal with them. I think that that is a perfectly fair summary of what happened. It is now only half past 11, and it is very desirable that we should give the Financial Secretary the opportunity on this occasion to give a clear and succinct and intelligible explanation of the problems which are of concern to the Committee.
To do the Financial Secretary justice, he is quite capable, I am sure, of understanding an argument at half past 11 at night, even though, in the opinion of the Leader of the House, he cannot understand it or deal with it at 2 o'clock in the morning, but so that there should be no possible misunderstanding, and no excuse for the Financial Secretary to the Treasury doing himself less than justice on the second occasion, I want to try to put once more, as briefly and as clearly as I can, the questions which are troubling this side of the Committee on Clause 2.
I do not regard this as "formal" legislation. It is novel to me that there is a distinction between "formal" legislation and other legislation. I have always understood that it is not merely the right but the duty of Members of the House of Commons to scrutinize the legislation which the Government of the day bring before it, and particularly so is that the case when it is legislation which affects taxation, whether it be taxation in the United Kingdom or taxation in the Isle of Man.
It is even more important that the matter should be subjected to close scrutiny where the legislation smacks of retrospective legislation, because we have heard over and over again from those benches, and, if I may say so with great respect, from you, Mr. Hopkin Morris, about how anything that smacks of retrospective legislation is abhorred by this Committee and the House. We had an assurance on the last occasion. It was the last and final sentence we heard from the Financial Secretary before he was interrupted and the debate brought to an abrupt conclusion. He said:
I can assure the Committee that there is no element of retrospection in this Bill any more than there is in the Finance Bill and the Budget Resolution.
As soon as he uttered those words up jumped the Lord Privy Seal, the Leader of the House, to move to report Progress. Obviously, the matter could not be allowed to rest there.
Let us look at Clause 2 and examine it in the light of what, at 2 o'clock the other morning, was obviously baffling Government spokesmen and putting them in such confusion. The Clause starts by saying
As from the eighth day of August, nineteen hundred and fifty-two, no heavy oils on the delivery of which for home consumption rebate has been allowed shall be used as fuel.…
Subsection (2) refers to 1st August, 1952, and subsection (4) refers to the 8th August, 1952. I quite agree that if the matter were left there, one would not know for certain if there would be retrospective legislation. But one does not know when this Bill will pass. There
is talk about sitting on August Bank Holiday, and all this must be read in conjunction with the date 18th June, 1952. This is a question on which we want clarification.
The Financial Secretary, in dealing with Clause 2, said on Tuesday night:
The Tynwald passes its resolutions expressing its wishes, and unless some very good reason affecting the United Kingdom prevents it, it has been considered for many years the proper function of this Government to present this Measure in the form of a Bill to this House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1952; Vol. 504, c. 483–484.]
My first question is this: Have the resolutions of the Tynwald the force of law as they stand at the moment either in the Isle of Man or in the United Kingdom, and, if so, whence do they derive their legislative authority? Does the Act of 1911 apply to the Isle of Man, or is there a statute of the Manx Legislature or of our own which gives a similar, temporary operative effect to the Tynwald resolutions as is given to Resolutions of this House that follow immediately after the Budget?
If that is the case how does that effect the position of this House? Is this House bound by the resolutions of the Tynwald, or are we free to amend this? For what period do the resolutions of the Tynwald have any temporary effect, if they have any temporary effect at all? What, in other words, is the last day when the Committee can competently either accept Clause 2 or amend it or reject it? One of the difficulties we in this Committee are in tonight is that as a result of the complete incompetence of the Leader of the House in managing Government business, we are being driven night after night in or around midnight, and, indeed, after it, to consider these very abstruse financial and constitutional questions. Whether it is necessary or not I do not know.
If I may respectfully say so, I agree with you, Mr. Hopkin Morris, rather than with my hon. Friend. There are some matters which I wish to raise on Clause 4, and when we come to it, I shall be very glad of his assistance; because that Clause is an elaborate one, dealing with ale, beer, and cocoa.
But this is what troubles me. We are entitled to know the view of the Government Front Bench; and may I here say that we are glad to see that the learned Attorney-General is with us, because I have no doubt that if we do get into legal and constitutional difficulties the assistance he can give will be most welcome. I feel that Members of the Committee are entitled to know, and to have a clear explanation—which we have not had—of what is the existing legal position in the island and here as a result of these resolutions. What, for example, will be the effect if the Committee, as it is entitled to do, rejects Clause 2?
That is my first series of questions. Secondly, before we pass from Clause 2 may we be told what is the real significance of this series of dates? Why 8th August in subsection (1) and 1st August in subsection (2) and then 8th August again in subsection (4)? Nothing has been said, either on this stage, or in second reading, to explain why those dates are chosen. Are they necessary, or are they arbitrarily fixed? Can the Financial Secretary explain their significance to us?
I think that anyone who has studied the accounts of the island, as some of my hon. Friends have done, will be struck by their curious incompleteness; and I hope that we shall have an indication under which heading in these accounts one will find the drawback which is the subject matter of this Clause. As I understand it, and I am sure the Financial Secretary will deal with the present arrangement of the accounts, one of the difficulties is that we are here discussing an effect at a decent interval of about six months from its cause. One is compelled to criticise the figures in this year's Finance Bill by last year's Budget, and that is not a very satisfactory method of approaching the accounts of the Isle of Man.
The first line of the Clause, as I understand, deals with the sum set out as the product of the Isle of Man accounts. This is quite different from the common purse account and is a calculation of the notional value of the whole of the customs of the United Kingdom, and what would be the value of those items in the United Kingdom. If the drawback is levied at a different rate—I suppose that is the reason for the Clause—then presumably this is due to a figure on the second line. The first line sets out a figure of £239,608 13s. 9d. for the year before last as the total sum due in all of the Customs which are Isle of Man type Customs, that is, where there is a different rate. Presumably, against that, and taken off that, is the drawback, to which I assume this Clause refers—though I must say that the whole matter is obscure.
Here, let me say that I felt it was a correct move that you, Mr. Hopkin Morris, should report Progress on an earlier occasion, because what the Financial Secretary was saying did nothing to clear up the mystery and fog which we were all in, due, possibly, to the absence of the accounts. There is a figure for the year before last of about £37,000, which is deducted from the total sum of the Isle of Man Customs, and therefore we get for the Isle of Man type Customs—leaving aside entirely the common purse arrangement, which I shall hope to discuss later—a total figure for the year before last of £202,000.
If we are to consider whether we ought to pass this Clause or not, we ought really to know what is the figure in this account. By how much does the total drawback alter that sum? Suppose we did not pass this Clause—what would be the difference to the Revenue? I hope I am not taking the Financial Secretary by surprise, because I am asking perhaps the most obvious question that could be asked. Will the figure be greater or less than it was in the last accounts that the Isle of Man has so far seen fit to submit to the House?
These do seem practical points, and I repeat what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), that these Clauses should not be dealt with formally. There is a number of Bills, so constructed by Parliamentary draftsmen, that anything said upon them is out of order, but that is not true of this Bill; and, therefore, it is the duty of hon. Members to try to discover what such a Measure as this means. Possibly, we need not do that this year. For instance, we gave the Army Act a good examination in the early part of the year. Next year we might spend a few days clearing up and modernising this Customs Act.
I was much impressed by what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) said. It does seem that at this stage of the Session we might well limit our inquiries to a few practical points and to the eliciting of the information we need. Then we might make a fuller examination of the fiscal question of the Isle of Man at a more appropriate time next year.
I suffered a deep sense of mortification, Mr. Hopkin Morris, when you said on an earlier occasion in our consideration of this Measure that you were inclined to be bored. That may have been due to some of the preceding discussions, or to the fact that you had to rule out of order some of the more fascinating aspects of this subject, which, for my part, I was inclined to approach not only fiscally but sociologically and geographically.
I flatter myself that I have discovered some of the questions that require an answer. The curious and somewhat recondite wording of the subsection (1) of this Clause appears to tally very closely with Section (2) of the Finance Act, 1935. The dates 8th August and 1st August appear in that Act, too. Apparently for hydrocarbon oils, for some recondite reason, these are the dates selected as appropriate for preparing the computation. I do not know why. No doubt the Financial Secretary will tell us. I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend for the advice that we can discuss the common purse arrangement under Clause 4. I was about to discuss that now, but in the circumstances I will not.
I should like to know whether the Financial Secretary has been able to check on the two or three points we indicated in the earlier part of the debate. We should like to know whether the resolutions have been passed by the Tynwald and whether the Treasury letter of December, 1949, which varies the arrangement so far as the Tynwald is concerned, has now received legislative sanction in the Island. We also want to know whether we are now on the basis of 5 per cent. payment instead of the lump sum payment which operated earlier In the accounts there appears to be a substantial provision for that eventuality.
I hope that the Financial Secretary will respond to the invitation of my hon. and learned Friend and see that the Acts of the Tynwald are available in the Library of the House of Commons. Clearly, we are entitled to them. It is important that we should have the material available. Clause 2 (6) provides that
The Commissioners may by statutory instrument make regulations for giving effect to this section, including regulations for any of the purposes mentioned in subsection (5) of section two of the Finance Act. 1935 …
I am glad to see present my right hon. and learned Friend the former President of the Board of Trade and Attorney-General. I know that he will reinforce my view on this. It is rather surprising that the Commissioners themselves make instruments to enforce their own powers. They are instruments which appear to give the power to impose, pecuniary penalties. One would have thought that there would have been some provision for supervision and that this power could not be exercised administratively by the Commissioners on their own behalf.
Section 2 (5) of the Finance Act, 1935, provides powers covering:
… a person licensed under this section of owning or possessing a heavy oil vehicle … regulating the storage of heavy oils by such persons as may be so prescribed; … empowering officers of customs and excise to enter any premises occupied by a person dealing in hydrocarbon oils …
I am sure that that last power will recall to the Financial Secretary his observations made very often about snoopers in the years when we were in power. There are also powers
empowering such officers to examine any heavy oil vehicle and any goods carried thereon …
This raises the question "Who are the Commissioners who exercise these powers?"
I am anxious to help my hon. Friend, who is most knowledgeable on these matters. Perhaps he can get a reply from the Financial Secretary on one point, that is, if the Financial Secretary knows the answer. The Commissioners are not defined in the Bill. They may not even be the Commissioners of Customs and Excise. For all I know they may be the Lunacy Commissioners. Nowhere in the Bill are they referred to otherwise than as "the Commissioners."
I am obliged. That is an essential point. The Bill seems to have been written in a somewhat haphazard manner. That is one of our difficulties. That is why the Lord Privy Seal says that we must not look at it. We can well understand that he may have looked at it himself and decided that it does not bear examination. Our duty is clear. These might be the Turf Commissioners or any other commissioners. I am deeply grateful to my right hon. Gentleman for the generous compliment he paid to me about my knowledge of the Island in view of the fact that I have never been to the Isle of Man.
Now we, come to subsection (7), which says:
If any person contravenes or fails to comply with any provision of regulations made under this section, or obstructs, molests of hinders an officer in the execution of any powers conferred on him by any such provision.
Here, there is no mention of who the officer is. My right hon. Friend is well aware that we had an interesting discussion on the Home Guard Act about the constituting of the Home Guard in the Isle of Man. We do not yet know whether it has been constituted, but are they the officers who are to enforce this provision? They are not defined. Apparently regulations are to be made by the Commissioners, who are not defined, and one has first of all to read the regulations to find out who the commissioners are to find out what they think the officers are.
The subsection concludes:
he shall for each offence be liable to a customs penalty of one hundred pounds.
I am assuming that that money is to be paid to the revenue of Great Britain, but what I want to know is how it is applied. Are the Isle of Man authorities to get 95 per cent. of it, or how is the matter to be dealt with? It is rather
lamentable that, at a time when the whole fiscal policy arrangements between the two islands have been altered, though we have not had any information that the alterations have been confirmed, that the accounts give no indication of these matters. As I have said before they give precisely the amount of information the Tory Party accounts would provide of the amount they derived from the brewers.
I shall try to deal with the wide variety of interesting points which hon. Gentlemen have made during this debate, and perhaps I might begin with the point of definition of commissioners, raised just now by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). The word is used alone in this Bill by reason of the provisions of the relevant Section of the Isle of Man (Customs) (No. 2) Act, 1932, with which Act I am sure the hon. Gentleman is familiar. That Section provides:
In this Act and in any future Act relating to customs in the Isle of Man …
the expression 'the Commissioners' shall mean the Commissioners of Customs and Excise.
This is a matter of great importance, and one on which the Attorney-General may wish to advise the Committee. I asked about "officer," a term used in the Bill, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has pointed out, it is a matter of great importance that the public should know what "officer" refers to.
I shall try to get that information, but I shall not give the right hon. and learned Gentleman a snap answer on law.
If I may now pass to the resolutions on which this Bill was based, these were passed by the Tynwald on 17th June, and I will deal with the point the hon. Gentleman and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) raised about their availability. There is no secret about them. The Tynwald sits in public, and as I understand, the only reason the texts of the resolutions was not provided on this occasion, as on other occasions in the past when similar Bills have been debated, is the simple one that no hon. Gentleman has ever asked for them. If any hon. Gentleman had asked I would have provided them.
One of the reasons why the Motion of the Lord Privy Seal to report Progress the other evening was supported by hon. Gentlemen on this side of the Committee was that it would give time for the provisions of these resolutions. It is, with great respect to the hon. Gentleman, a little hard to expect the Committee to enact legislation merely on his view that some such resolutions were passed by the Tynwald. We are entitled to have copies of the documents to compare them with the Clause.
I do not put very much weight on the very small point which arises there. What I had in mind was that before the previous debates they were not placed in the Library because, frankly, they were not asked for. I hope the hon. Member will not get heated about it because I do not propose to. I know that he raised it in the early hours, but, frankly, there was not time for them to be provided. But they can be provided if there is any wish for it in the House. They can be provided in the next few days. If I can get this in before 12, for reasons which will become apparent, it will be a great pleasure to me to provide a copy to the hon. Gentleman as a birthday present.
My hon. Friends and myself did make inquiries some time ago in the Library for these things and there have been no documents from Tynwald ever since the advent of the present Government. A sudden iron curtain has descended from that day to this. I do hope that the Financial Secretary will see that the easy flow of communications between here and the Isle of Man is resumed even under the present Administration.
I do not think there is anything very much between us on this. If there is any general demand in the House either for the resolutions of Tynwald—and I agree that as this Bill is founded on them there is a case for that—or other documents that can be provided. But I should like to see which particular documents might be wanted as I do not wish to cause an unnecessary increase of the documents hon. Members receive.
In that case, what documentary evidence has the Treasury really for the compilation of this Bill? If it never sees these resolutions does it get its information from a telephone message that reaches the Treasury that the necessary resolutions have been passed by Tynwald or have they actual copies of them, probably signed by the Clerk and duly forwarded to the Treasury here? If so, could not copies of these be deposited in the Library?
As I said before there is no trouble about that if it is the desire of the House. Naturally, copies of the resolutions are forwarded from the appropriate official in the Isle of Man. I would not care to guess what his title is; they have some peculiar names. But they are forwarded and are the necessary foundation for this Bill. As for the 1949 resolutions, agreement has not yet been arrived at. But discussions are at present taking place on all the topics relating to the financial position of the island and meanwhile the old position remains in force.
This was the whole substance of the argument the other night in respect of which the Lord Privy Seal said that we were pursuing something that we should not pursue. It meant an increase of the amount from something like £10,000 to something like £60,000 or £70,000. Will the Financial Secretary tell us why there has been three years' delay on that.
I do not want to go too much, for reasons which the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, into the reasons for what has been quite a long delay, but, so far as I am concerned, I am only answerable for nine months of the three years. I do not make any point about that. In fact, there have been discussions, proposals and counter-proposals going to and fro. There was an interruption by the General Election, both in these islands and in the other island, and the discussions have not, in fact, terminated.
They are still taking place, and I do not want to say anything which would seem to cast blame on the other party to the discussions, or to make any point that either the present Government or the previous Government were dilatory. We are extremely anxious that the long drawn out matter should be brought to a conclusion, because, as I have said, the present position is far from satisfactory.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shaw-cross) asked me about "officer." "Officer" and "collector" are defined in the Heavy Oils (Road Fuel) Regulations, 1935, as Officer of Customs and Excise, and Collector of Customs and Excise respectively; and
'Proper officer' means the Officer of the station in which the premises are situate, and includes a person acting for that Officer, and also any Officer superior in matters of Customs and Excise.
Clause 2 (6) provides that they shall only come into force with the regulations and the present United Kingdom Regulations, including the one I have quoted, will continue in force, and that definition affects this Bill.
The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) asked me a number of questions with which I will deal. First of all, he raised, as he did on a previous occasion, the question of retrospection. Frankly, I think the difference arising between us really depends on what we mean by retrospection. What I mean is a provision which changes the law at a particular date, and then deems the law to have been as changed at a previous date, when it was not so in operation. In that case, these provisions are not retrospective, because the Tynwald resolutions come into effect of their own force on the date specified in them.
Therefore, although, in a sense, this is a Bill which, in abstract law, as regards this House, may indeed alter the law retrospectively, the effect upon the people affected in the Isle of Man is not retrospective at all. It is mere confirmation of the existing law. I agree that both points are perfectly arguable, but the difference really depends on the point of view on retrospection. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's view may be more precise, where mine is more administratively practicable. That really is the difference between us.
My answer to the question about the resolutions is that they come into force on the date as they are expressed, and only remain in force for six months, and there is some obscure provision of the law under which, at the end of six months, if this House is still sitting, they continue to the end of that Sitting. The authority, for which he asked me, is the Isle of Man (Customs) Act, 1887, and the answer is that the Gibson Bowles provisions apply.
On the point of that Act, is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a very peculiar provision that the Treasury may by minute declare that there is no possibility of the House acceding to the resolution? That seems to me to be somewhat out of date, and a remarkable usurpation of the rights of the House of Commons, because I cannot see how the Treasury can, by minute, decide what the House will do. As the hon. Gentleman says, the proceedings of the House on the Isle of Man (Customs) Bill are very unpredictable. Has he dealt with that aspect of the 1887 Act?
The whole of the financial provisions are under discussion at the moment. There is no provision in this Bill dealing with it, and I would be out of order if I attempted to explain, but there is a certain amount in what the hon. and learned Gentleman says.
There is, of course, no agreement between this Government and the Government of the Isle of Man. All that has happened, as has happened over a great many years, is that when the Tynwald passes these resolutions—the constitutional position being that although they come into effect for six months, they subsequently require an Act of this Parliament to validate them—the normal attitude taken by all British Governments without exception has been then to put forward these provisions in this annual Act. There is no agreement. The Government and the House are perfectly free to alter these provisions, but as a matter of ordinary discretion and judgment it has been thought right by our predecessors over a great many years when the representatives of the Isle of Man decide that this is what they want then we acknowledge that this is a matter for them, and we use our powers to put into effect what they wish.
The hon. Member for Devonport asked me what would be the effect if the Clause is not passed. The provision in respect to the withdrawal of rebate would not come into effect, and the wishes of Tynwald would not be met. I want to make it clear that this House has complete rights in this matter. There is no agreement, in the sense the hon. Gentleman meant, which affects the rights of the Government or the House in the slightest degree. On the other hand it is a question whether we should follow the custom of a good many years, and doing what the Isle of Man wants in what are substantially their own affairs.
I do not propose to argue for a moment that the present timing of the Bill and the accounts is satisfactory. I do not think it is, but so far as this year's Bill is concerned, we have really no option in the matter. Last year's Bill—for which I am bound to remind the Committee we were not responsible—included for the first time a provision, inserted by the late Administration on the suggestion of one of my hon. Friends, requiring that the accounts of the Island need not be rendered until the end of December.
At the same time, that Bill by Clause 2 continued the main revenue duties of the Island only until 1st August. The position left to us by last year's Bill was that it was quite unescapable that the Bill would have to be brought forward before the accounts were available. We have no option this year. That is clearly not a wholly satisfactory matter. There is an Amendment on the Order Paper dealing with certain of these points. I do not know whether it will be called, but, in any event, we are bound this year by the provisions of last year's Bill.
As regards the general position I am very ready to say that we are prepared to look at the timing of the accounts relative to the Bill in order to see if a more satisfactory arrangement can be evolved, and that will come appropriately in the discussions of the general financial problems of the Island which are taking place.
I think I have dealt with the main question of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) on the legal basis for the resolutions of Tynwald coming into effect, and their duration. That is really the position under this Clause. What we are seeking to do is at the request of the Isle of Man expressed in solemn resolution of Tynwald to withdraw the rebate on heavy diesel oils used in road vehicles. The effect is to put that part of the Island's taxation in precisely the same position as that of the United Kingdom. That is no doubt a reasonable thing to do.
I do not commend it particularly on those grounds alone, but also on the grounds that Tynwald has asked us to do so in accordance with established practice. It would be highly inconvenient to vary it this year when we are hoping to get our entangled relations with this Island in more reasonable, clearer, and more progressive form.
I do not desire to delay the Committee, but I think it will not come amiss if I follow, quite briefly, the speech now made by the Financial Secretary. I think he, and possibly other hon. Members on that side, will agree that the fact that we have had this discussion tonight has demonstrated that it was quite wrong that our debate the other evening should have been cut as short as it was. If I may remind the Committee, we had been debating Clause 2 for about 20 minutes: we had had one speech from this side, and a very good speech, from my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), and that was followed by the speech of the Financial Secretary, in not nearly so persuasive a manner as the speech we have had from him tonight.
The hon. Gentleman spent a fair portion of it saying that we on this side had talked a great deal about retrospective legislation and that this was nothing of the kind, but tonight he admitted that there were two views on that. I will not deal with that now except to say that tonight he has given far more information on this matter than he gave the other evening. Immediately he sat down his right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal jumped up and moved to report Progress. It would have been much more in keeping, I think, if tonight an hon. Member on this side had jumped up and moved that same Motion, because this Clause is tied up, partially at any rate, with the Schedule, and it would have been a good thing if we had had the Minister of Agriculture here, or at any rate his Parliamentary Secretary. Perhaps when we reach the Schedule he may appear. I do not know; that remains to be seen.
The real trouble here, of course, is that the Isle of Man is specially favoured. We on this side of the Committee are labouring under a sense of frustration, because this Bill, and this Clause in particular, deals with hydrocarbon oils, and the drawback on hydrocarbon oils used in road vehicles. It does not permit us to say what we really would like to say about the financial situation between this country and the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man is in a particularly favoured position. We all know why that is, but there is no reason why the people there should not pay as much Income Tax as other people do in, say, the Isle of Wight. At any rate, that is a matter about which you, Sir Charles, would pull me up if I pursued it.
Nevertheless, we are delighted to think that negotiations are proceding, and we should like to feel that before we debate another Bill of this kind next year that, not only shall we have the information the Parliamentary Secretary has tonight promised us in the way of the resolutions in form in the Library, but also a good deal of information in other directions, and perhaps legislation, too.
I make no apology for the fact that my hon. Friends have kept the Committee longer than we had expected, and very much longer than we had hoped. We have no desire to keep the Committee up at all, but we must do our duty by the electors who sent us here. This Bill is debatable. I do not know what an informal Bill can be if this is, as the Leader of the House said it is a formal Bill. It would be wrong of us to allow that observation by the Lord Privy Seal, who should know better, to pass without comment and some protest. We do not propose to divide the Committee and we are grateful to the Financial Secretary for the explanation he has seen fit to give us on this Clause tonight.