Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:59 pm on 6th July 1983.

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Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Cunninghame South 6:59 pm, 6th July 1983

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) on a thoughtful speech, which well becomes a former member of the Conservative party research department, who follows in the traditions of his famous predecessor, Sir Angus Maude. We shall listen to him often on similar themes, because we know from experience that he comes from an area that always sends Conservative Members to the House.

Representing a constituency in which one man in three is unemployed, I look upon Stratford-on-Avon as a heaven on earth where there are no problems, beautiful scenery and long traditions of culture, and where the only difficulty is how to spend one's money and live well. I hope that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon, as well as reading and quoting Shakespeare, will read the person whom we in Scotland always quote—especially those of us from Ayrshire—Robert Burns. If he does so, he will realise that those of us who represent Scottish constituencies are more worried about man's inhumanity to man than about the pomp and circumstance of Shakespeare and all that he stands for. However, I congratulate the hon. Member and hope to listen to him often in the House.

My speech will be about one of the items that has been omitted from this Finance Bill, but which we were told would be inserted in the previous Finance Bill. In the Budget statement earlier this year the then Chancellor of the Exchequer said: On 3 March I informed the House about the publication of the report of the working party on free ports, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. I can now tell the House that the Government accept the report and will implement its recommendations. Legislation will therefore be introduced in the Finance Bill to enable selected free port sites to be designated."—[Official Report, 15 March 1983; Vol. 39, c. 154.] Unfortunately, when the Finance Bill appeared it did not contain a free port clause, but we were informed that the Government intended to introduce an amendment in Committee.

I was disappointed today, when listening to the Financial Secretary, to hear no mention of the Government's intention to introduce an amendment in this Finance Bill, as promised on the previous Bill. dealing with the principle of free ports. In answer to a question from the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie), the Minister of State, Treasury said: The Government remain committed to the establishment of free ports in the United Kingdom on an experimental basis. Guidelines will be issued shortly setting out the criteria by which applications for free port designation will be judged. All bids received will be fully and carefully considered." — [Official Report, 27 June 1983; Vol. 44, c. 32.] The recent press statement listing the items that will not be in the Bill simply included free ports without comment. Various lobby correspondents have suggested that a provision will be included in the Finance Bill that follows the Budget in the spring of next year. That delay will cause great concern to those hon. Members who, in the previous Parliament, campaigned actively for the principle of free ports.

I was Chairman of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs in the previous Parliament and we inquired into the future of Prestwick airport and came out with a unanimous decision that the future of the airport could be safeguarded by introducing a free port on the land owned by the British Airports Authority and Kyle and Carrick district council. We sent a report to the Secretary of State for Scotland who accepted its principal recommendation on free ports. That is understandable because he is also the right hon. Member for Ayr and the airport at Prestwick is in his constituency.

We also sent a copy of the report to the Department of Trade and convinced Ministers there that they should accept the principle of free ports and campaign against the Treasury opposition to that principle. Lord Cockfield was the Secretary of State for Trade and Mr. lain Sproat, a former colleague in the House, was the Under-Secretary with special responsibility for the future of airports in the United Kingdom. Thanks to pressure by Lord Cockfield and lain Sproat against the opposition of the Treasury, the Government set up a working party under the chairmanship of Mr. Jock Bruce-Gardyne, who unfortunately is no longer in the House. Although he was the chairman of the working party, he told me—I am sure that he will not object to my saying this—that free ports would be introduced into the United Kingdom over his dead body. That must have been his political dead body as he is no longer here. In spite of his statement, the working party came out with a unanimous report in favour of the principle of free ports, and that was accepted by the Government.

I have been an hon. Member for some time and I have seen parties move from the Opposition to the Government side of the House and back. I have seen Treasury Ministers and Chancellors of the Exchequer move from the Government Front Bench to the Opposition Front Bench. but I sometimes wonder whether it makes any difference which party sits on which side of the House, and which Chancellor sits on the Treasury Bench. At the end of the day, the longer one remains an hon. Member the more one realises that the only people who consistently win are the mandarins at the Treasury.

When the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs carried out its inquiry into Prestwick airport, the first paper we received was "Portcullis", the departmental paper of the Customs and Excise. It had a big leading article, which reminded me of The Sun newspaper, with a headline about four inches deep saying that free ports were a non-starter. That was before we started our investigation. The Customs and Excise view was that free ports were not on.