Recommendations: general provisions

Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 30th January 2018.

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11A (1) The provisions of this paragraph apply to all recommendations made by the TRA under this Schedule.

(2) In any case where the TRA makes a recommendation to the Secretary of State, the TRA must, at the same time as making that recommendation, provide any relevant select committee of the House of Commons with—

(a) a copy of that recommendation, and

(b) an account of the evidence on which the TRA has based that recommendation.”

This amendment requires recommendations made by the TRA under Schedule 5 to be made available to relevant select committees of the House of Commons, along with an account of the evidence basis for the recommendation.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

These amendments have been grouped because they both refer to making recommendations by the new Trade Remedies Authority, and the evidential basis for those recommendations, available to the relevant Select Committees of the House.

Clearly, how the TRA operates is essential to our future trade policy. We know some things from the Bill about how it will operate—schedule 5 refers to the procedure that will be followed where an increase in imports of goods causes serious injury to UK producers, so there is more detail than we had previously—but the intention is for further detail about the interpretation of what constitutes a significant increase to be set out in secondary legislation. The TRA will also have considerable discretion in many areas of its operation.

Given the stage we are at with the Bill, we are being given a fairly limited set of options in terms of addressing the lack of accountability in key parts of how the framework will operate. These amendments would introduce an additional layer of scrutiny and consultation, which is needed to ensure that the interests of UK industry are properly represented. Select Committees provide vital checks and balances, and given their policy specialisms and ability to call relevant witnesses, they are best placed to scrutinise decisions by the TRA.

These amendments would not only allow us to address the democratic deficit, but provide a platform for engaging with the wide range of inputs needed fully to understand the implications of TRA decisions on different parts of our economy and different segments of UK industry. That might include the Transport Committee, the Treasury Committee, the International Trade Committee and, of course, the Exiting the European Union Committee. The amendments would provide an important democratic backstop to the new process that avoids concentrating too much power in the hands of the Secretary of State or the TRA. In the absence of greater detail in the Bill, I urge members of the Committee to support the amendments to bring some much-needed future accountability to the TRA and to our trade defence policy.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

New paragraphs 12A and 11A, introduced by amendments 39 and 70, would require the recommendations made by the TRA under schedule 4 to be made available to relevant Select Committees of the House of Commons, along with an account for the evidence base of those recommendations. Let me begin by stating that transparency is one of the four design principles set out by the Government for the trade remedies framework. The inherent assumption of a lack of scrutiny implied by the amendments is simply untrue.

To protect the TRA’s status as an independent public body, its recommendations to the Secretary of State should not be subject to political influence before a decision to accept or reject them has even been taken. Those recommendations will be made on the basis of the framework set out in this legislation and underpinned by technical and procedural details to be set out in secondary legislation. Giving the Select Committee a role in that process will undermine the impartiality of the process—an impartiality which is supported by industry. Publishing the recommendation in advance of the decision by the Secretary of State could also further undermine impartiality by increasing lobbying of Ministers by the affected parties, and could also lead to unnecessary disruption of the markets affected.

The Bill provides for public scrutiny of both the TRA and the Secretary of State’s decisions. Whether the Secretary of State accepts or rejects the recommendation, the evidence base for the TRA’s recommendation will be made available to the public, as is required under the terms of the WTO agreements. Furthermore, if the Secretary of State rejects the TRA’s recommendation to apply measures, he or she must lay a statement before Parliament setting out the reasons for that decision. Parliament will then be able to hold the Secretary of State to account if it considers the reasons to be unsound.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader

It would be lovely if the Minister could explain how parliamentarians can hold Ministers to account if they make a written statement.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

The hon. Lady has been a Member of this House for some time and will know that there is a series of means by which that can be pursued. Making a statement to the House provides the initial spur to start that scrutiny, if that is what the Select Committee or others decide. There are urgent questions, Adjournment debates, Backbench Business Committee debates—I will not list them all, as the hon. Lady is probably rather better on parliamentary process than I am. She will know that there is a huge number and they can all be used. Her Majesty’s Opposition or the SNP and their spokesmen have other means by which to raise the issue.

On that basis, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

I have two observations to make, the first of which is on impartiality. I would strongly refute that scrutiny by Select Committee would increase the partisanship or the partiality of the transparency of the process. The House’s Select Committees are to me the best example of cross-party working and cross-party accountability in the entire parliamentary process, and we should not shy away from using them when they can improve the process.

Secondly, there was reference to technical and political considerations. The decisions are not just technical. Of course they will draw on technical expertise and criteria, but they are inherently political. We saw that in the steel crisis, where frankly even with very clear technical evidence of dumping, there was a political point of view—not one I share—that the benefits to the UK of dumped steel outweighed the benefits of protecting the UK steel industry. That was not held by all parts of the Government, but certainly by some.

A transparent process that allows decisions to be analysed in that context would certainly add to the process, especially when we consider the lack of detail we have so far. I therefore press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 9, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 11:00 am, 30th January 2018

I beg to move amendment 40, in schedule 4, page 65, line 2, leave out from “goods” to end of line 3.

This amendment removes the requirement for the TRA to be satisfied that requiring a guarantee meets the economic interest test.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 58, in schedule 4, page 75, line 23, leave out from first “the” to end of line 24 and insert—

“economic benefits of the remedy to the United Kingdom industry within the meaning of paragraph 6 are significantly outweighed by the economic costs to the importers, users or consumers of the goods in the United Kingdom.”

This amendment provides greater specificity to the operation of the economic interest test.

Amendment 59, in schedule 4, page 75, line 29, leave out sub-paragraph (i).

This amendment removes the requirement to take account of the economic significance of affected industries and consumers in the United Kingdom.

Amendment 75, in schedule 5, page 93, line 22, leave out from first “the” to end of line 23 and insert—

“the economic benefits of the remedy to the United Kingdom industry within the meaning of paragraph 3 are significantly outweighed by the economic costs to the importers, users or consumers of the goods in the United Kingdom.”

This amendment provides greater specificity to the operation of the economic interest test.

Amendment 76, in schedule 5, page 93, line 28, leave out sub-paragraph (i).

This amendment removes the requirement to take account of the economic significance of affected industries and consumers in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

This group of amendments relates to the economic interest test in the Bill. It requires the Trade Remedies Authority or Secretary of State to consider an economic interest test before recommending an anti-dumping remedy. That means that the TRA or Secretary of State must take account of a number of additional factors when considering whether to apply an anti-dumping remedy, to determine whether the remedy will be in the United Kingdom’s wider economic interest.

This is a highly unusual measure. The Manufacturing Trade Remedies Alliance describes the application of an economic interest test as “unique” among WTO users of trade remedies. There are few precedents for a functioning economic interest test, as only a handful of Governments conduct them. This provision is not in the WTO agreement or in EU regulation. Furthermore, the economic interest test in the Bill is very widely drawn, allowing the TRA or Secretary of State to introduce a wide range of additional macroeconomic considerations into the determination of a trade remedy.

It has been only two years since the former Chancellor of the Exchequer stood on a platform of building a Britain

“carried aloft by the march of the makers”,

yet now we are being carried off in a different direction, hence our amendment. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will note that, despite that, we have not taken the step of seeking to remove the economic interest test entirely, to bring the UK into line with well worn national agreements and regulations. Instead, in the spirit of conciliation, we have tabled a number of amendments that would clarify the exact uses of an economic interest test and ensure that the Secretary of State could not overwrite the democratic process entirely.

Amendment 40 would remove the economic interest test from the consideration of the Trade Remedies Authority at the preliminary stage of determination. Part 2 of schedule 4 gives the TRA powers to make an initial, provisional recommendation to the Secretary of State that dumping may have occurred and that therefore all importers of the goods in question should be required to give a guarantee in respect of any additional amount of import duty that would have been applicable, or may be applicable, subject to further investigation. The Bill requires the TRA to have considered first whether that requirement to guarantee is necessary to prevent injury and, secondly, whether it would meet the economic interest test.

As amendment 40 makes clear, we do not believe that it is appropriate for the economic interest test to be inserted at this early stage, when provisional remedies are being required ahead of a later full and final determination. The addition of an economic interest test at this point in the process places a large additional burden on the TRA when only provisional guarantees are being requested. It is impractical for the TRA to be expected to carry out a full economic interest test at this stage. It could also bear down on the speed at which all necessary provisional remedies are applied. That relates to the points about speed and pushing things on, as the Minister would like. Slowing the process will allow injury to producers to continue unchecked, reducing the efficiency of the system as a whole.

Furthermore, the application of the economic interest test at this stage in the remedy process goes well beyond WTO rules, which require only a consideration of injury. This would leave the UK with a higher bureaucratic threshold to rectify injury than most nations we hope to trade with. Surely the Minister must agree that a central ambition of any Trade Remedies Authority is responsiveness and agility, but this measure flies in the face of what he told us earlier. Our amendment removes the burden of the economic interest test being placed on the TRA at this early stage in proceedings to allow it to take swift provisional measures pending further investigation, and so that we can act quickly as and when necessary to protect our industries.

Amendment 58 addresses part 6 of schedule 4, which sets out the economic interest test in more detail. We hope to address the balance of priorities that the economic interest test attempts to juggle to give proper due to the interests of producers and, subsequently, consumers, workers and so on. The point was made in the evidence session that producers are also consumers, who will no longer be able buy anything if they lose their jobs due to dumping injury.

This amendment clarifies the exact circumstances in which the economic interest test is considered not to have been met. There is little detail in the Bill regarding what those circumstances might be. Instead, sweeping powers are given to the Secretary of State to make up his or her mind as he or she sees fit. That is in keeping with the Government’s wider approach to the Bill.

This amendment clarifies that the economic interest test will be assumed to have been met so that a remedy can be applied, unless the

“economic benefits of the remedy to the United Kingdom industry… are significantly outweighed by the economic costs to the importers, users or consumers of the goods in the United Kingdom.”

It attempts to clarify the balance of forces that should weigh up any judgment in that regard. That is a completely reasonable addition to the Bill, which merely adds necessary detail where it is lacking, and gives all parties concerned clarity about how different interests will be considered. I hope the Minister will accept this amendment, which will clearly improve the Bill without cutting across the established roles of different actors in the process being developed.

Amendment 59 looks a few lines further down the list of factors that the TRA or Secretary of State should take into account when

“considering whether the application of an anti-dumping remedy or anti-subsidy remedy is not in the economic interest of the United Kingdom”.

Our amendment seeks to remove the first provision that states that the TRA or Secretary of State should consider the economic relevance of

“affected industries and consumers in the United Kingdom”.

As it stands, schedule 4 gives preference to large enterprises over small and to established sectors over new. Without our amendment, the Secretary of State could stamp out a small, growing sector or extinguish an embryonic area of British entrepreneurship because they deemed it not of “economic significance” to the UK. That would be a travesty. It seems to be an incredibly short-sighted approach to the UK economy and, if I may say so, strangely interventionist from a party that claims not to believe in the state picking winners. By extension, it cannot justify allowing the state to forcibly create losers.

It is highly unusual and inappropriate to allow the Secretary of State to write off an infant industry or area of consumption based on a crystal ball prediction of its future significance. Amendment 59 removes this dangerous sub-paragraph from the Bill to ensure that Secretaries of State keep their minds on likely impacts across the different interests at play, rather than gambling with the UK economy. Again, this is not a radical step, but a sensible reduction in the scope of the powers being handed to the Secretary of State, tabled in the name of democracy and, for the Minister, good economic management, of which the Government are losing sight.

Amendment 75 addresses one of the strangest lines in the Bill: sub-paragraph 2 of schedule 5 part 5, on page 93. For a Bill with very little detail, it is incredible that the Government managed to include a sentence of such baffling circularity. It bears repeating, so the Minister may hear it read aloud. It is reminiscent of Danny Kaye in the film “The Court Jester” saying:

“The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.”

It is well worth watching, and this pales into insignificance—I am sure Danny Kaye would do a better reading of it than I. It says:

“The economic interest test is met in relation to the application of a safeguarding remedy if the application of the remedy is in the economic interest of the United Kingdom.”

It is remarkable—I think it is wonderful—that somebody produced that phrase. Perhaps the Minister would like to elaborate on it, while using the words “economic interest”, “application” and “remedy” just once each. I eagerly await his explanation of the useful addition that the clause makes to an otherwise rather slim Bill.

Nevertheless, amendment 75 may help the Minister by adding the wording that I tried to add to schedule 4 of the Bill through amendment 58. Amendment 75 is therefore effectively a consequential amendment, in that it adds much-needed clarity to the balance of interests that the Secretary of State should weigh up when assessing the economic test in schedule 5, to match the amendment that we have set out in schedule 4 already.

Similarly, amendment 76 removes the requirement that the Trade Remedies Authority or the Secretary of State consider

“the economic significance of affected industries and consumers in the United Kingdom”.

Again, we seek with the amendment to adjust schedule 5 of the Bill to align it with the changes that I outlined in my comments on schedule 4, this time to reduce the scope of the Secretary of State to predict the future success or otherwise of sectors of the British economy, or to preference large-scale industries over emergent or otherwise vital forces that might just end up giving our ailing, low-productivity economy a much-needed boost.

In summary, as hon. Members on both sides can see, we are engaging with this vital section of the Bill fully and constructively, to ensure that the right balance of interests is properly considered when trade remedies are investigated, and to construct a properly efficient process for doing so. I look forward to the Minister engaging with all the amendments on similarly constructive terms, and I hope that Committee members will carefully consider supporting them to ensure the best level playing field for UK industry, fair regard to producers and consumers alike, and an agile and efficient means of remedying any disputes that might arise.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

Let me start by explaining that the objective of the economic interest test is to ensure that measures are in the best interests of the UK. It ensures that measures are not imposed where they might have disproportionate impacts on wider groups such as downstream industries or, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, consumers. Let me take the amendments in turn and set out why they would undermine our objective of a balanced and proportionate trade remedies framework.

With amendment 40, the Opposition seek to remove the application of the economic interest test before the imposition of provisional anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures. It would mean that the test is considered only at the final stage of imposing definitive measures. Given that provisional measures can have profound wider economic impacts, we believe that the test should be met before they can be imposed, just as before definitive measures. That ensures consistency between the two stages of the investigation, and operates in the same way as the existing Union interest test in the EU’s regime, thus providing continuity for UK businesses.

I understand the concerns of UK industry that the inclusion of the test at the provisional stage could delay the application of measures. However, that will not necessarily be the case. In practice, the TRA will have the ability to gather evidence on the economic impacts of applying or not applying measures in parallel, rather than sequentially, to other aspects of the investigation.

Turning to amendments 58 and 75, the Government are clear that the economic interest test operates on a starting presumption in favour of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures. This is because the test is applied only once the TRA has found that dumped or subsidised imports have injured UK industry and that measures would be needed to correct that injury. This presumption can be rebutted only where the wider economic impacts of applying measures are disproportionate or outweigh that need to correct material injury to UK industry. This is reversed for safeguarding measures, which tackle unforeseen import surges that may be injuring UK industry but reflect fair trading practice. Safeguarding measures are not targeted and can be imposed on all imports of a particular product, so can have a much more wide-ranging impact on the country’s economy. Accordingly, the burden of proof on the TRA in rebutting the presumption is reversed. The presumptions and the way in which they operate are already reflected in the Bill.

Finally, amendments 59 and 76 seek to remove the first economic factor that must be considered under the economic interest test. In order to consider the wider economic impact of measures, it is only logical to build a factual picture of who could be affected by measures, and of their size and significance to the UK economy. This will not be limited to direct impacts. The integrated nature of our markets means that many businesses are deeply integrated into supply chains, and may be relied on by a significant upstream or indeed downstream market. This first factor of the economic interest test ensures that those wider interests are properly identified in a comprehensive way, which then forms an important context for the other elements of the test. In my view it would be a mistake to delete it.

Any determination under the test must be based on relevant considerations under all the economic factors taken as a whole. I hope this clarifies that the test clearly operates on a presumption in favour of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures, and is not intended to deny protection for markets or businesses based on their size.

On whether the economic interest test is unusual or unique, I would say it is not. We have sought to learn from and improve the Union interest test, which industry is already familiar with through the EU. The EU Union interest test is based on

“an appreciation of all the various interests taken as a whole, including the interests of the domestic industry and users and consumers.”

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons) 11:15 am, 30th January 2018

Can the Minister clarify whether we will have more tests, fewer tests or the same number of tests at the end of the process?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

What I can confirm is that our system will be much more transparent. It will allow those who apply to it, or might be affected by it, to be clearer about how the system will work. That form of transparency is one of the fundamental principles on which we have built this structure.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

That was a valiant attempt to show why the Government are taking a hammer to crack a nut.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

I would appreciate my hon. Friend’s view on whether there are more tests, fewer tests or the same number of tests, transparent or otherwise. The Minister did not answer that question.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I am not privy to the details, but I believe there will most probably be more tests. I think those tests will be more bureaucratic and will lead to inflexibility. By the time we get around to designing them, they will be more complicated than they need to be. The Government’s position, as I have indicated, is to take a hammer to crack a nut. They are not fleet of foot enough on this issue. I have tried to lay out where we think the Government should give careful consideration. Though I hear what the Minister says, and his concern about transparency, this is so transparent that we can see through the Bill. That is the problem: there is nothing there. Though the Minister has tried to reassure us, I think he has missed the point. The Government are going into potentially dangerous territory and poking their fingers into all sorts of places that they do not necessarily need to poke into. We will therefore push the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 9, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I beg to move amendment 41, in schedule 4, page 66, line 1, leave out from “dumping” to “in” in line 2.

This amendment removes the reference to the amount of the subsidy as an upper limit on the anti-dumping amount in the recommendation under paragraph 14.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 42, in schedule 4, page 66, line 6, leave out from “dumping” to end of line 7.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 41.

Amendment 43, in schedule 4, page 66, line 7, at end insert—

‘(3A) The provisions of sub-paragraph (3) are subject to the provisions of sub-paragraphs (3B) and (3C).

(3B) If the TRA finds that the dumping has been fully or partially caused by market distortions affecting the prices of raw materials or other industrial inputs paid by the exporting producers, the estimated anti-dumping amount shall be the margin of dumping as determined in accordance with sub-paragraph (3)(a).

(3C) If the TRA finds that there is an inadequate level of social and environmental protection in the exporting country, the estimated anti-dumping amount shall be the margin of dumping as determined in accordance with sub-paragraph (3)(a).”

This amendment provides for the anti-dumping amount to be the margin of dumping in certain specified circumstances.

Amendment 44, in schedule 4, page 66, line 8, leave out paragraph (4) and insert—

‘(4) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (3)(b) the TRA shall, in determining the amount which it is satisfied would be adequate to remove the injury described in that provision, take account of all elements of the material injury being caused to the UK industry, including, but not limited to, the impact of reduced sales volumes, price suppression and curtailment of investment.

(4A) Regulations may make further provision for the purposes of sub-paragraph (4).”

This amendment makes provision on the face of the Bill for the main factors to be considered in determining the amount for the purposes of paragraph 14(3)(b).

Amendment 49, in schedule 4, page 69, line 18, leave out from “dumping” to “in” in line 19.

This amendment removes the reference to the amount of the subsidy as an upper limit on the anti-dumping amount in the recommendation under paragraph 18.

Amendment 50, in schedule 4, page 69, line 22, leave out from “dumping” to end of line 23.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 49.

Amendment 51, in schedule 4, page 69, line 23, at end insert—

‘(4A) The provisions of sub-paragraph (4) are subject to the provisions of sub-paragraphs (4B) and (4C).

(4B) If the TRA finds that the dumping has been fully or partially caused by market distortions affecting the prices of raw materials or other industrial inputs paid by the exporting producers, the anti-dumping amount shall be the margin of dumping as determined in accordance with sub-paragraph (4)(a).

(4C) If the TRA finds that there is an inadequate level of social and environmental protection in the exporting country, the estimated anti-dumping amount shall be the margin of dumping as determined in accordance with sub-paragraph (4)(a).”

This amendment provides for the anti-dumping amount to be the margin of dumping in certain specified circumstances.

Amendment 52, in schedule 4, page 69, line 24, leave out paragraph (5) and insert—

‘(5) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (4)(b) the TRA shall, in determining the amount which it is satisfied would be adequate to remove the injury described in that provision, take

(5A) Regulations may make further provision for the purposes of sub-paragraph (5).”

This amendment makes provision on the face of the Bill for the main factors to be considered in determining the amount for the purposes of paragraph 18(4)(b).

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the organisations that sent in further written evidence today; that was very helpful. The TUC, among others, gave us information that helps with the amendments. Amendments 41 to 44 and 49 to 52 concern the removal of a mandatory lesser duty rule for estimating the injury of state-sponsored dumping. This is a potentially contentious area, and we have to get the balance right. Schedule 4 rightly defines dumping as imported goods priced below their normal value, where “normal value” means the domestic price, or another value if that is appropriate. I touched on this earlier. This definition recognises that the injury margin of domestic prices here does not always reflect the actual injury to UK manufacturers when dealing with goods from distorted economies such as Russia or China.

UK manufacturers are rightly concerned about leaving the methodology for these specified cases to regulation created by the Treasury and/or the Secretary of State, with little parliamentary input. The Opposition’s amendments on the trade remedies and Trade Remedies Authority seek to address this concern and ensure that the methodology by which the TRA calculates the injury caused to manufacturers by dumping sufficiently protects UK manufacturing and industry. I refer hon. Members to the TUC document, which gives the examples of aluminium foil, aluminium road wheels, coated fire paper and continuous filament glass fibre production. One of the biggest concerns that UK manufacturers have with the trade remedies Bill is outlined in schedule 4—that is, the introduction of a mandatory lesser duty rule. That requires the calculation, in dumping investigations, of the level of injury to domestic industry, in addition to the level of dumping. The duties correspond to the lesser of the two indicators, which means that they might not necessarily properly reflect the damage to British industry. That is important in a whole range of areas. My hon. friend the Member for Scunthorpe referred to this in relation to steel; and we heard about ceramics. It is important that we get this right. In other words, it is relatively straightforward to calculate the cost of dumping, but less easy in relation to injury, with a full investigation, which may be an appropriate action. I think that Dr Cohen was pretty clear about that in her evidence.

As witnesses from key industries, including steel, ceramics and chemicals, pointed out last week, the best estimate of the distortion to trade is the dumping and subsidy margin. The creation of a mandatory lesser duty will result in lower duties that in some cases may not reflect the actual injury. It is labour-intensive for the investigating authority and does not reflect the full—

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.