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Clause 1—(Suspension Of Coal Rebates)

Volume 390: debated on Wednesday 2 June 1943

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Up to the present we have not had a word of explanation from the Government of the terms of, or the reasons for, this Bill. I make no complaint of that, because the Second Reading came on at a late stage, at the end of a long Parliamentary day, in a very thin House, and no question was raised about it. I would ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on this Clause to say a word or two, and in particular to explain whether this- is a Bill which has been agreed to by all the parties concerned.

I put down on Second Reading a reasoned Amendment for the rejection of the Bill, not because I objected to it but because I did not like the way it was drafted. The Bill proposes to use for other purposes money which became available to the railways under the Derating Act, 1929. I believe that about £1,500,000 per annum is involved, which was designed to reduce rates on coal for export and certain agricultural produce. For the moment, the money is not wanted for that purpose.

The ordinary way would have been to let it faIl back to the Treasury; but when the Ministry of Fuel and Power saw £1,500,000 lying about they thought they would like to have it, and, by arrangement with the Ministry of War Transport, they decided to appropriate it to do as they liked with, without any questions asked. I thought that to allow them to appropriate this money without any effective control by this House, was not good enough. It was black-marketing far worse than anything we have heard about on the Finance Bill, because it would be handed over to the Minister and to the very active and pleasant Parliamentary Secretary, whom I see opposite, and who, I understand, is to have the handling of this £1,500,000. I rejoice that an AmendMent has been put down defining the way in which the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are to spend this money. As they are not allowed to spend it on any form of junketing, without control by this House, I am not going to raise any difficulty about the remaining proceedings.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport
(Mr. Noel-Baker)

I think that perhaps it is right that I should say what I have to say on the point made by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) when I move my Amendment on Clause 2. It will perhaps be in Order for me to make an explanation of the general purposes of the Bill at this stage, if that is the wish of the Committee. The Committee will remember that under the Local Government Acts, 1929, all rates——

It really is not in Order to explain the purposes of the Bill on the Motion that Clause 1 stand part. If the hon. Member wishes to say that the main purpose of the Bill is contained in Clause r, and to explain that purpose, he can do so, but I do not think we should have a Second Reading speech on this Clause.

I very willingly bow to your Ruling. The main purpose of the Bill is contained in Clause 1. It is the basis of the working of the railway freights scheme. That scheme was introduced to help certain depressed industries in 1929 and modified by other Acts in subsequent years. Those industries were the coal industry, the agricultural industry, and the iron and steel industry. By a later Act the scheme was confined to coal and agriculture, the agricultural products being milk and livestock. The Act has continued to work as Parliament intended in the case of agriculture. For export coal it has not continued to operate as Parliament intended, because our export of coal has greatly declined. There is still, technically, some export of coal, for bunkers and fishing vessels and a certain amount, though very little, for foreign countries. The rate of rebate is very high, but even so all the amount has not been used, and there is a large balance in hand. For that reason, and because it is actually undesirable that the original purpose of Parliament should be carried out, that is to encourage coal export and the transport of coal by rail, my noble Friend thought it better to suspend the working of this scheme so far as coal rebates are concerned until the end of the present emergency, and, with the agreement of all concerned, not only in the Government but in the industry itself, this plan has been put forward.

The agricultural scheme continues to work as before the war, and it will continue. The hon. Member will see, if he examines the Bill, that coal is not to be damnified at the expense of agriculture, and vice versa.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.