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Clause 93—(Sums Which Are To Be Chargeable To Revenue)

Volume 440: debated on Wednesday 23 July 1947

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Lords Amendment: In page 101, line 9, leave out from first "for" to second "and" in line 10 and insert

"depreciation or renewal of assets and proper provision for redemption of capital."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—[ Mr. G. R. Strauss.]

I should like an explanation of this Amendment. It seems to me that all it does is to substitute the word, "depreciation," for the word, "obsolescence." That may be an important change, but I would be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary could explain whether the position is as I have stated, or whether the matter is more complicated. If I am right, I cannot understand why the Amendment does not merely say, "leave out, 'obsolescence,' and insert, 'depreciation.'" Does the change widen the meaning of that Clause?

There was a certain lack of clarity which it was desired to remove by this Amendment, and all this does is to make clear—where there was some doubt before—that it is not intended to make duplicate provision out of revenue for wastage of the Commission's assets.

I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to explain the distinction between the use of the words "obsolescence" and "depreciation" in the Clause. Will he explain that distinction?

I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary will have much to which to reply in regard to my speech. I was a little hard on him just now, and I apologise: I feel that now, at last, he has some little clarification to introduce into the Bill, and it would be ungenerous of me not to congratulate him on his sudden appreciation of clarity.

I do not think we can go into that. I do not think that any point arises on that matter.

With reference to line 27, we have the words "the publication of periodical statistics." How often will these returns be made? Will these be made available to the House? I hope that we shall have constant returns made of this kind. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how often these returns will be made, and whether they will be made available to us, although I do not promise to read them.

Can we have an answer? There is a very important point here, because in the Bill as printed the word "obsolescence" occurs, and, in this Amendment the word "depreciation." This context is very important because railway property, owing to intervention, could become obsolete without suffering depreciation in the way of wear and tear. Can we have an explanation?

If I may speak again for a moment, I would say that I am afraid I cannot give an explanation. This is a technical drafting matter, and I have not the answer with me at the moment. The Amendment was intended to clear up some doubt. I am assured that it is absolutely clear now. I could not possibly give any more detailed explanation at present. These accounts are, of course, prepared annually.

Does the hon. Member suggest that the definition of "obsolescence" and "depreciation"—

We cannot have another speech. The Parliamentary Secre- tary has quite frankly said that he is unable to answer that question.

We cannot have the Government coming to us at this stage of the Bill, and saying that they cannot answer questions. We have a Law Officer on the Front Bench. Cannot we ask him? I think the Parliamentary Secretary has done jolly well. He has been batting all by himself on a very sticky wicker Surely, a Law Officer of the Crown could come to the wicket now? We should ask him to take the Parliamentary Secretary's place, and tell us what the position is. It is a purely legal point I am told. I have not the slightest idea myself. I cannot understand it; nor can any hon. Member on either side of the House.

8.30 a.m.

I had hoped that the Debate had continued sufficiently long for the Minister to ascertain the answer to the question he has been asked. It is a point of real substance. There must be a good reason why, at this late stage of our proceedings, the wording has been changed, and there should be a Minister on the Treasury Bench who can answer this question. I do not know whether the Minister is now able to reply, but if no answer can be given, I hope the Adjournment will be moved is order to give the Government time to find out the meaning of their own Bill. After all, this Bill has been before them for a number of months, and it is fantastic that they should not be able to give an interpretation of their own wording. I will give the Minister another chance, but if he cannot get an answer for us, we shall have to divide against this Amendment

I only rise to give the Government some opportunity of collecting their reinforcements and clarifying this point. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman opposite desires to interrupt, and will rise to his feet, I will give way.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the hon. Gentleman who has just interrupted referred to what he described as "your party." I would like an interpretation as to whether that kind of thing is not a reflection on you in the Chair, and also a sort of back-handed reflection on his own party.

Further to that point of Order. Will the hon. Member opposite say what he meant by, "your party?"

It might be as well if I went back to where I was. I would suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that, in the absence of the Law Officers and his unwillingness to make any observations on this point, the hon. Gentleman might ask some of the distinguished Members behind him, who have not been unduly energetic during the night, to get together, so that they could give us the benefit of their collective information. From the variety on the benches opposite we might be able to secure some idea of what this alteration means.

I do not want to prevent my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) from acting as a kind of honorary Law Officer of the Crown, even in this Government, but I think we are entitled to receive some explanation. It is really not good enough for the Parliamentary Secretary to say that it is a technical point, that he understands it is all right, and that he asks us to take it on trust. He may be right, he may be wrong, but we are entitled to know the reasons, and if the Government are not prepared to go further with this Bill this morning, they know perfectly well what to do. After all, there is a Law Officer on the Front Bench—a Law Officer who has been, for a Law Officer, extremely silent, and I do not see why he should not give us the benefit of his ripe knowledge of Scottish law, which might even help us to interpret this Bill.

I will not offer my own legal knowledge to the House. The difficulties will be appreciated at this hour of the morning, but I am not obsolescent.

As there is not one hon. Member sitting opposite who knows the position—

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 101, line 12, leave out "Expressed" and insert "to be deemed."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—[ Mr. G. R. Strauss.]

There are two Amendments involved here on which I should like some information. I want to know why we are leaving out Subsection (1). It is usual when we have Lords Amendments of considerable length to have an explanation and I think when interesting changes are made, we should have a little information.

This series of Amendments assures that the accounts of the Commission, in conjunction with the periodical return of the statistics they will offer, will give, as far as possible, the full financial operating results of each activity of the Commission.

Question put, and agreed to.