Clause 14. — (Short Title Commencement and Transitional Provisions.)

Orders of the Day — Resale Prices Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th May 1964.

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Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill 12:00 am, 13th May 1964

I beg to move, in page 10, line 15, after "months", to insert: and not more than nine months". It may be characteristic of the way that we handle our affairs that at this late stage of our consideration of the Bill, and after so much time has been spent in discussing its merits and defects, we are now confronted with a doubt about whether it is made sufficiently clear that the Bill will ever come into effect. That is the point which arises on this Amendment. In Committee it was thought to be an odd provision that, as the Clause states, The provisions of this Act shall come into force as follows, that is to say … sections 1 to 4, on such date (not less than three months after the expiration of the last-mentioned period) as the Board of Trade may, by order, made by Statutory Instrument, appoint. It stops there. We know that something may happen not less than three months after the expiration of the period, but beyond that we are left completely in the dark.

Our real concern is to discover what is regarded as the purpose served by this method of proceedings. I should be disposed to accept it from the Secretary of State that it is intended that the provisions to which we have given such careful and long drawn-out consideration shall see the light of day and come into effect. But, as we are legislating in this fashion and to this extent upon a timetable, is it not desirable in principle that we should state in more precise and definitive language the date when these all-important provisions will come into effect?

I understand—and I should not wish it to be thought that I was blind to this—that it may be desirable to permit a certain margin of tolerance. No doubt all sorts of administrative matters are involved whose scale and scope may not, even at this late stage, be readily assessable. But, if it is thought desirable to provide that important parts of the Measure shall come into force not less than a certain period of time ahead, it seems to us desirable that there should be provision in the Bill clearly stating that before a certain date, which should, we think, be specified in the Bill, these Clauses shall come into effect. We are not content with the negative character of this provision as it stands, and we want a time limit spelt out in the Bill.

We think that, in the absence of that, the overall effect of what is proposed is untidy. I should have thought that practical consequences of importance would flow from accepting the Amendment, because surely there are large numbers of commercial concerns, businesses, suppliers and traders who want to know the position and who would welcome a clear indication in the Bill of what the timetable was. We therefore attach importance to this matter and hope that the House will consider that, by and large, it is desirable that the change which we propose should be made.

We have suggested nine months as an appropriate period, because it seems to us that that should be long enough to enable the necessary administrative processes to be undertaken and implemented and that it is a period not too far ahead for these important provisions to come into operation. As a consequence of the Bill there will necessarily be a good many changes in commercial transactions and relationships. It is desirable that these changes should not take place too quickly or suddenly and that, in the public interest, if they are to be made at all, they should not be made in too leisurely a fashion. It therefore seems to us—and I am bound to say that I feel there is a good deal of force in the argument—very desirable that the time limit which we propose should be inserted in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) that this is an important matter. I have given further consideration to it and have thought very carefully about it since he raised it in Committee.

The hon. and learned Member says that the Bill is untidy because in subsection (2,c) we have said that Clauses 1 to 4 shall come into force (not less than three months after the expiration of the last mentioned period) and that we should balance that by saying that they should come into force not more than a certain period after this. We have had to include the words "not less than three months" to cover the period allowed in the Bill for registration. I therefore think that that is inseparable from the Bill because of the provisions of Clause 1.

I turn to the question of laying down a time limit for bringing these Clauses into operation. The hon. and learned Member said that there were, no doubt, administrative questions concerned with this. That is true. The Registrar will have administrative work to do in the first few months after the Bill becomes law. To a certain extent, this is uncharted territory. We cannot estimate at the moment exactly what administrative work will be placed on the Registrar and his staff after this period. The hon. and learned Member would, perhaps, say that this was being cautious, but it is necessary that we should not put in a time limit.

I can, however, assure the hon. and learned Member and the House about this—and I give them these assurances on behalf of the Government. It is our intention to bring the Bill into force at the first practicable date. I think that the hon. and learned Member will accept from our conduct of the Bill that we are anxious that it should be brought into effect as early as possible. I can also assure him that I see absolutely no reason to suppose that we shall need longer than the time which he has proposed in his Amendment. Unless some completely unforeseen difficulty of a major kind arises, I do not think we shall want to overrun that time. Our endeavour will be to ensure that the necessary arrangements are made for the Registrar and his staff and that he can, in effect, allow us to make the order bringing Clauses 1 to 4 into effect at an earlier date. This guidance should, I think, meet the hon. and learned Member's last point about firms wanting to know broadly the time when they will be able to make the necessary changeover.

I therefore hope that, with those firm assurances which I have given on behalf of the Government, namely, that we intend to bring Clauses 1 to 4 into force at the first practicable date and that we see no reason why a longer time should be taken than the time which he proposes, the hon. and learned Member will accept that it is perhaps necessary within the bounds of caution and discretion and without wanting to cause unnecessary inconvenience to the House if there were some unforeseen problem that we should act in this way rather than put a firm timetable in the Bill. I have given the hon. and learned Member very firm assurances on both points, and I hope that the House will accept that it is our earnest endeavour to act as speedily as we can on Clauses 1 to 4.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

By leave of the House, may I say that I have listened with great care to what the Secretary of State has said. We are interested in the assurances which he has given and, of course, we accept them without cavil.

However, we are particularly concerned about two things. First, despite all the pressures no doubt involved there has been time within which it should have been possible to determine the nearest practical date for putting these important Clauses into effect. If some degree of uncertainty were still felt about that, we would have raised no objection or difficulty if the period specified in the Bill was one which allowed a margin in that respect.

5.30 p.m.

Therefore, in all the circumstances, whilst we welcome the right hon. Gentleman's assurance about the "earliest practicable date", we think that by this time the Government should be able to define that date within the Bill. The public advantage would be served by so doing. Although one accepts the right hon. Gentleman's assurance, the phrase "earliest practicable date" means little to commercial and trading enterprises who are affected by this matter. It will mean one thing to one firm and something quite different to another. This is an element of doubt and uncertainty which it is desirable that this House should remove. That is my first ground for not feeling quite content with the assurances which have so far been given.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I gave a connected assurance that we saw no reason why the period should be longer than the ten months which the hon. and learned Member's Amendment covers. The difficulty is not so much that we have had time to consider this matter—and that is true—but it arises from making an estimate of the number of goods which will be registered with the Registrar, which will involve him in making out lists which are necessary to deal with Clauses 1 to 4 so that all those concerned know exactly the position. We are not in a position at this stage to make a valid estimate.

For that reason, in case there should be any unforeseen snag, I have suggested that a limit should not be written into the Bill. It might be either so long that it was of no great value and might mislead industry, or, in the event of it being short, if an unforeseen snag arose we would have to come back to Parliament with another Bill to amend this one Weighing all this up, I think that it is better to have the firm assurance.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

I am grateful for that explanation and for being reminded of the content of the right hon. Gentleman's original assurance. For my part, however, the element of uncertainty is still present, is undesirable and could be easily and desirably removed by acceptance of the kind of Amendment that we have put forward.

The other consideration which weighs with me is really one of drafting. When this matter was considered in Committee, the Committee readily acknowledged the odd characteristic of the provision as it stands. In terms of legislative expression, it is an odd way of doing things to spell out in this way that the provisions of an Act shall come into force not earlier than a certain date, and to leave it at that. Where a Bill has resort to the procedure of saying that certain of its provisions are to come into force according to a programme which is set out in its terms, it is desirable in principle to make clear in the Bill what is the last date by which, in the determination of Parliament, the provision should come into effect.

These are my opinions and the opinions which are held by my hon. and right hon. Friends on this issue and we hope to be supported in the matter in the Lobby.

Photo of Mr Norman Cole Mr Norman Cole , Bedfordshire South

I entirely understand my right hon. Friend's caution in this matter. As he said, this is uncharted ground, even though we have some sort of experience from the 1956 Act. As a layman, I am puzzled by the following. No illegality is created by the Bill when it becomes an Act until Clause 1 comes into force. Therefore, if there is no illegality in respect of which one claims exemption under Clause 6 what is the point of Clause 6 coming into force one month after the passing of the Bill if Clause 1 has not yet constituted the offence until the expiration of an indeterminate period which is longer than three months?

I may be naive about this, but I cannot see how one can set up a court and have the gateways in Clause 5 and the exemption procedure for registration in Clause 6, which will come into force after one month, if the whole background of that is not yet law until such time as my right hon. Friend and his Department decide to bring it into force. I may be wrong about this, but I cannot see how it will work.

Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 153, Noes 214.

Division No. 95.]AYES[5.37 p.m.
Albu, AustenEdwards, Robert (Bilston)Kelley, Richard
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Edwards, Walter (Stepney)Kenyon, Clifford
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Evans, AlbertKing, Dr. Horace
Awbery, Stan (Bristol, Central)Fernyhough, E.Lee, Frederick (Newton)
Bacon, Miss AliceFoot, Dingle (Ipswich)Lubbock, Eric
Barnett, GuyFraser, Thomas (Hamilton)McBride, N.
Beaney, AlanGinsburg, DavidMcCann, J.
Blackburn, F.Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.McInnes, James
Blyton, WilliamGourlay, HarryMcLeavy, Frank
Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics, S. W.)Grey, CharlesMacPherson, Malcolm
Bowles, FrankGriffiths, David (Rother Valley)Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Boyden, JamesGriffiths, W. (Exchange)Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield, E.)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M.Grimond, Rt. Hon. J.Mapp, Charles
Bradley, TomGunter, RayMarsh, Richard
Brockway, A. FennerHamilton, William (West Fife)Mason, Roy
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)Hannan, WilliamMayhew, Christopher
Callaghan, JamesHayman, F. H.Mellish, R. J.
Chapman, DonaldHealey, DenisMendelson, J. J.
Cliffe, MichaelHenderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)Mitchison, G. R.
Collick, PercyHolman, PercyMonslow, Walter
Corbet, Mrs. FredaHoughton, DouglasMoody, A. S.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)Hoy, James H.Moyle, Arthur
Cronin, JohnHughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)Mulley, Frederick
Cullen, Mrs. AliceHughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Neal, Harold
Dalyell, TamHunter, A. E.Oswald, Thomas
Darling, GeorgeHynd, H. (Accrington)Paget, R. T.
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Hynd, John (Attercliffe)Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)Paton, John
Deer, GeorgeIrving, Sydney (Dartford)Pavitt, Laurence
Dempsey, JamesJanner, Sir BarnettPeart, Frederick
Diamond, JohnJay, Rt. Hon. DouglasPentland, Norman
Dodds, NormanJenkins, Roy (Stechford)Popplewell, Ernest
Driberg, TomJohnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)Prentice, R. E.
Duffy, A. E. P. (Colne Valley)Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech (Wakefield)Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)Probert, Arthur
Pursey, Cmdr. HarrySmith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)Thornton, Ernest
Redhead, E. C.Snow, JulianWade, Donald
Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)Sorensen, R. W.Warbey, William
Reynolds, G. W.Spriggs, LeslieWatkins, Tudor
Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Steele, ThomasWeitzman, David
Robertson, John (Paisley)Stewart, Michael (Fulham)Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)Stonehouse, JohnWilley, Frederick
Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)Stones, WilliamWilliams, W. T. (Warrington)
Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Short, EdwardStross, Sir Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Silkin, JohnSwingler, StephenWinterbottom, R. E.
Silverman, Julius (Aston)Symonds, J. B.Woodhouse, C. M.
Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)Taverne, D.Woof, Robert
Skeffington, ArthurTaylor, Bernard (Mansfield)Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Small, WilliamThompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)Mr. Lawson and Dr. Broughton.
Agnew, Sir PeterGlyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)Markham, Major Sir Frank
Anderson, D. C.Godber, Rt. Hon. J. B.Marshall, Sir Douglas
Atkins, HumphreyGoodhew, VictorMathew, Robert (Honiton)
Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham)Gower, RaymondMawby, Ray
Balniel, LordGrant-Ferris, R.Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
Barlow, Sir JohnGreen, AlanMills, Stratton
Barter, JohnGresham Cooke, R.More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Beamish, Col. Sir TuftonGrosvenor, Lord RobertMott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Bell, RonaldGurden, HaroldNeave, Airey
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)Hall, John (Wycombe)Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Bevins, Rt. Hon. ReginaldHamilton, Michael(Wellingborough)Noble, Rt. Hon. Michael
Biffen, JohnHarris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard
Biggs-Davison, JohnHarris, Reader (Heston)Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Hendon, North)
Bingham, R. M.Harrison, Brian (Maldon)Osborn, John (Hallam)
Birch, Rt. Hon. NigelHarrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Bishop, Sir PatrickHarvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)Page, John (Harrow, West)
Black, Sir CyrilHarvie Anderson, MissPage, Graham (Crosby)
Bossom, Hon. CliveHastings, StephenPannell, Norman (Kirkdale)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. JohnHay, JohnPearson, Frank (Clitheroe)
Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir EdwardHeath, Rt. Hon. EdwardPeel, John
Braine, BernardHenderson, John (Cathcart)Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Brewis, JohnHendry, ForbesPitman, Sir James
Brooke, Rt. Hon. HenryHiley, JosephPitt, Dame Edith
Brown, Alan (Tottenham)Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)Pounder, Rafton
Browne, Percy (Torrington)Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch
Campbell, GordonHobson, Rt. Hon. Sir JohnPrice, David (Eastleigh)
Carr, Compton (Barons Court)Holland, PhilipPrior, J. M. L.
Carr, Rt. Hon. Robert (Mitcham)Hollingworth, JohnPrior-Palmer, Brig, Sir Otho
Channon, H. P. G.Hopkins, AlanProudfoot, Wilfred
Chataway, ChristopherHornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P.Pym, Francis
Chichester-Clark, R.Howard, John (Southampton, Test)Quennell, Miss J. M.
Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral JohnRamsden, Rt. Hon. James
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)Hughes-Young, MichaelRedmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Cleaver, LeonardHulbert, Sir NormanRees, Hugh (Swansea, W.)
Cole, NormanHutchison, Michael ClarkRenton, Rt. Hon. David
Cooke, RobertIremonger, T. L.Ridley, Hon. Nicholas
Cooper, A. E.Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Ridsdale, Julian
Cooper-Key, Sir NeillJames, DavidRippon, Rt. Hon. Geoffrey
Cordle, JohnJohnson, Eric (Blackley)Robertson, Sir D. (C'thn's & S'th'ld)
Costain, A. P.Johnson Smith, GeoffreyRobson Brown, Sir William
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)Kaberry, Sir DonaldRussell, Sir Ronald
Crawley, AldanKerans, Cdr. J. S.Shaw, M.
Dalkeith, Earl ofKerr, Sir HamiltonSkeet, T. H. H.
Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F.Kershaw, AnthonySmith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Digby, Simon WingfieldKimball, MarcusSmyth, Rt. Hon. Brig. Sir John
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M.Kirk, PeterSpearman, Sir Alexander
Doughty, CharlesLambton, ViscountStainton, Keith
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hon. Sir AlecLancaster, Col. C. G.Stanley, Hon. Richard
du Cann, EdwardLeavey, J. A.Stevens, Geoffrey
Eden, Sir JohnLegge-Bourke, Sir HarryStoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Storey, Sir Samuel
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. EvelynLilley, F. J. P.Summers, Sir Spencer
Errington, Sir EricLinstead, Sir HughTapsell, Peter
Farr, JohnLloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)
Fell, AnthonyLongbottom, CharlesTemple, John M.
Finlay, GraemeLoveys, Walter H.Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Fisher, NigelMcAdden, Sir StephenThomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMacArthur, IanThomas, Peter (Conway)
Fraser, Rt.Hn.Hugh(Stafford & Stone)McLaren, MartinThompson, Sir Kenneth (Walton)
Gammans, LadyMaclay, Rt. Hon. JohnThompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Gardner, EdwardMacleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Gibson-Watt, DavidMcMaster, Stanley R.Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)Maddan, MartinTilney, John (Wavertree)
Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)Maitland, Sir JohnTouche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Turner, ColinWatkinson, Rt. Hon. HaroldWolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Tweedsmuir, LadyWebster, DavidWood, Rt. Hon. Richard
van Straubenzee, W. R.Whitelaw, WilliamWoodhouse, C. M.
Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir JohnWilliams, Dudley (Exeter)Woodnutt, Mark
Vickers, Miss JoanWilliams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)Woollam, John
Walder, DavidWills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)Worsley, Marcus
Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir DerekWilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Ward, Dame IreneWise, A. R.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Batsford and Mr. R. W. Elliott.