Orders of the Day — Clause 4. — (Annual Duties (Continuation).)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th July 1952.

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Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Reading South 12:00 am, 24th July 1952

I beg to move, in page 4, line 23, to leave out "August," and to insert "November."

I think I can deal very shortly with this Amendment, because I rather fancy that this was the one to which the Financial Secretary referred when, in an excellent speech, he was winding up the debate on Clause 2 stand part. He put forward certain arguments which led me to believe that he is so much in favour of this Amendment that he will either accept it or will give such undertakings as will permit me to ask to withdraw it.

What this Amendment seeks to do is to extract the Government next year from the dilemma in which they are this year. According to the account given by the Financial Secretary, this problem is tied up with the relative dates of the Bill and the presentation of the accounts. The Financial Secretary, defending the form of one of the earlier Clauses of the Bill, which appeared to have retro-active effect, said that this is, in effect, a Finance Bill following a Budget statement, and there must, therefore, be reference back to the Budget statement just as there is when we are discussing our own Finance Bill. But the great defect about that is that we are here discussing a Finance Bill, without having heard the Budget statement, and the difficulty that we are in is that we are asked to vote changes on duties without knowing what the changes are.

When the Chancellor of the Exchequer presents his Budget statement to the Committee, he not merely says, "I propose to increase the petrol tax by so much," but he immediately adds, "That will bring me in an additional revenue of so many million pounds." When he proposes to increase the allowances on Income Tax, he adds that that will cost the Treasury so much per annum. Because he says things like that we are the better able to consider whether we agree or disagree with what he is recommending.

Here we cannot do that, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that we are in somewhat of a difficulty over this matter. I am sure that the Financial Secretary recognises it, because he said on Clause 2 stand part—and I took it down, though I must confess I had to write very fast to get it down, but not as fast as I would have had to do had it been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale)—"I do not propose to argue that the timing of this Bill and the accounts is satisfactory, but so far as this Bill is concerned there is nothing we can do about it this year. We have no option in the matter." It seemed to us on this side of the Committee that if we put down this Amendment it would make it possible for us to deal with the matter more sensibly next year.

The accounts, because of the change made last year at the suggestion of one hon. Member opposite, are due to be presented not later than 31st December. We cannot hope that they might be laid somewhat earlier than that, and we propose in this Amendment that this date should be extended for four or five months longer until November, and by then the accounts will have come along. Therefore, in next year's Bill the Financial Secretary will be able to refer to the consequences of the Bill by reference to the Budget statement.

Some people may say we ought not to worry about the Budget statement and the accounts. It has been said several times that this is an independent body and can do what it likes. I am not a constitutional lawyer, and I hesitate to talk about these matters in the presence of the Attorney-General and other learned Members, but it seems to me that we ought to come down on one side of the fence or the other. If we have jurisdiction in these matters, then we ought not to pass legislation without knowing something about the effect of it; or we have no jurisdiction, in which case why have we got this Bill? This Bill is now before us, and we ought to know something about the effects of it.

I will say one last thing. It may very well be that the Financial Secretary may have one or two reservations about the Amendment. First, he may think that November is not the best month for the purpose which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and I have in mind, and also for the purpose which he has in mind.

The other reservation which he may have is that he would prefer not to commit himself firmly in this matter until the conclusion of the discussions which he tells us are in operation. Although, if he takes that view, it would have to be two years instead of one; but, if the Financial Secretary takes either view, I shall be happy to accept it. If, in other words, he says that he wants the same end as we are trying to get, but prefers a slightly different way, we shall not press the Amendment in its present form. But, in order to obtain his views, I beg to move the Amendment.