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Clause 23—(Abolition Of Duties)

Volume 466: debated on Thursday 23 June 1949

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

I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again."

I move this Motion in order to ask the appropriate right hon. Gentleman opposite what are the intentions of the Government in regard to our sitting tonight. With Clause 22, we have reached the end of one part of the Bill and I am sure that, although a good deal of this discussion has been highly technical, it has been dealing with matters of considerable importance and subjects related strictly to the business before the Committee. We come now to a wholly new and extremely important part, which deals with Death Duties and the increase which is proposed by this Budget and the whole consequences of the abolition of the old Legacy Duty.

It seems to me and my hon. Friends that it would be much more convenient if a subject of that importance could be discussed not at this late hour of night, but at the beginning of another sitting. Incidentally, I might add as an extra inducement to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, because he no doubt will be replying in his usual speech, that he would hate to deliver it at a time of night when it is unlikely that it will be reported. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the Order Paper he will see that once we have passed Part III, we have, as far as we on this side of the Committee are concerned, very few Amendments to the rest of the Clauses in this Bill. Although I can give no pledge—I do not know what points hon. Members opposite may wish to put or, indeed, some of my hon. Friends on subsequent Clauses—but so far as I can see, there should be no difficulty once Part III is out of the way, in disposing of the remaining Clauses of the Bill in a comparatively short time and allowing us to proceed to the important matter raised in the new Clauses and the Schedules.

It would be for the convenience of the Committee and in the national interest that a subject of the importance of that contained in Part III should be discussed not at this hour of the night, but at a time when we all come fresh to our work and when it is quite right that matters of this importance can be reported in the public Press. The Chancellor will also be back then and no doubt he will be anxious to deal with the Death Duties question.

1.30 a.m.

Naturally we surveyed the work that we had to accomplish over the period of four days set apart for the consideration of the Committee stage of the Bill and we had to take account not only of what is in the Bill, but the Amendments and new Clauses that had been, very properly, put on the Paper. It did appear to us reasonable that we should, by the end of the second day's labour, have reached the end of Clause 48, that is, the end of the Bill proper, leaving the Schedules and the new Clauses to be dealt with when we came freshly to the matter on the two days set aside next week. So far, the progress made has not been all that we had hoped and we have, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, only now reached Clause 22.

It is perfectly correct, of course, to say that Part III of the Bill is an important part of the Bill and possibly when we reach Clause 29 at the end of Part III we may have broken the back of what is in the Bill. We have, however, consulted our hon. Friends on these benches and we do feel it would be unsafe and unfair to Government business; and, in the light of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) that he can hold out no promise—

I expressly said I did not pledge myself, but on the other hand, I think the Patronage Secretary will agree that when I made a statement of that kind it had some substance behind it.

What I was going to suggest—and I want to be reasonable over this—was that it is absurd that we should be working at night on this important part of the Bill. I know that hon. Members opposite do look upon this part of the Bill as something to which they, at any rate, want to give a great deal of attention. It appeared to us that Part III will take up a great deal of time and it is not unlikely that we should visualise that if we left Part III till next week we should probably spend practically the whole of the first day on it and, that being so, it seems to me unlikely, to say the least of it, that we should get the rest of the Bill, with the Schedule and the new Clauses on the second day. Therefore, the suggestion I would make—and I hope it is not an unreasonable one—is that we should deal with Part III tonight before we separate and if we agree to that, I should imagine that with good will on all sides it should not take us long.

If in fact, the right hon. Gentleman is going to reject our plea and insist on taking these matters which we regard as important, and on which we have Amendments, at this hour, it would be just as well that we should subject the rest of the Clause to a more elaborate and, therefore, a more prolonged investigation than I envisaged when I first moved. I should like to say that when the right hon. Gentleman says it would be probable that we might spend the whole of the day on Part III, I can assure him on behalf of all my hon. Friends that we should have no intention whatsoever of spending such time upon Part III. I, personally, would have thought that the principles, important though they are, could perfectly well have been raised and discussed by us in something like three or three-and-a-half hours on Monday; leaving a comparatively short time for the rest of the Clauses in the Bill and ensuring that in fact we should get on to the new Clauses with still plenty of time left on Monday, even if we rise at a comparatively late hour.

If I understand what the right hon. Gentleman has said aright, the suggestion is that we should now "call it a day." Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite visualise, if that is agreed, that we come fresh to this on Monday and by, say, seven o'clock or thereabouts we shall have finished the main part of the Bill—as far as Clause 48—leaving the Schedules and the new Clauses for the rest of Monday evening and Tuesday.

Actually, what I said was that I thought we could conclude Part III in three or three-and-a-half hours, say, by seven o'clock, and that the remainder of the Bill, so far as I can see, would not take very long after that.

No; I am sorry. I meant the remainder of the Clauses of the Bill. I was regarding the Schedules and the new Clauses as the opening of the new discussion.

I speak under correction, but it appears to me that once we have passed Part III there is very little in the Bill proper. I am acting for my right hon. and learned Friend, and we do not want to make a ragged job of this matter. It would be unfair to those who wish to raise matters on the new Clauses which they think important. Therefore, I think we can come to some arrangement. If I understood correctly the noises made on both sides of the Committee it is generally realised that there is very little left to which to object after the Bill proper, that is up to Clause 48. Therefore, it would seem that up to seven o'clock for the Bill, apart from the Schedules, would not be an unreasonable timetable to which to work. That would leave the Schedules and the new Clauses for the rest of Monday and Tuesday. If that is agreed to we shall raise no objection.

The Financial Secretary realises that the Schedules follow the new Clauses?

I was taking the Bill as it runs here. It would be fairer to both sides of the Committee and lead to no misunderstanding if we did say that the suggestion I have made, and to which the right hon. Gentleman himself agrees, should be worked to as far as possible.

I think that on behalf of my hon. Friends I can say we attach considerable importance to being able to discuss the Death Duties at a reasonable hour. They would co-operate with me in an attempt, which I am sure would be successful, to finish the Clauses of the Bill by dinner-time on Monday. With regard to the length of time that the new Clauses and Schedules will take, and how late we may have to sit on Monday and Tuesday, I cannot really say, because I have no information as to which of these new Clauses are to be called. Many are in the names of hon. Members opposite and I do not know how long the discussion will take. I think on behalf of my hon. Friends I can say that if we could take the Death Duties at a reasonable hour we could finish the Clauses of the Bill by dinner-time on Monday.

Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again." put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.