I beg to move, in page 1, line 19, at the beginning to insert, "It is hereby declared that."
This Amendment, together with five other Amendments which, with permission, I should like to take together, is designed to give effect to a promise that I made during the Second Reading of this Bill that words would be inserted to make clear what I said was the intention of the Government, that there should be set up, if necessary, courts of a special character but not courts of a military character. There is in the principal Act no express prohibition of the establishment of courts of any special character other than courts-martial, but, as I explained on the Second Reading, it seemed to the Government, notwithstanding that what they have in mind is to provide in certain circumstances of emergency for special courts of a civil character, that it was right to bring the matter before the House of Commons before taking the steps framed in the Regulations. If words are to be inserted in the Bill in accordance with my promise, limiting the powers given by the Bill for the establishment of courts other than courts-martial, it is quite clear that the Bill must be recast in a declaratory form, because, as I have said, a provision by this Bill for the setting up of special courts of a civilian character does not on the surface involve any infringement whatsoever of the provisions of the principal Act. Therefore, we have to make the main provision in terms declaratory. All the provisions in the various Amendments that I have indicated are consequential upon that. I think that, with that explanation, I may leave the matter to the Committee.
I am sorry to have to intervene, but what exactly is the purport of this? Is it to make this Bill declaratory, instead of an amendment of the existing law? If it is declaratory, there is obviously a limit upon the Amendments which can be moved. If, on the other hand, it is not declaratory, but merely an amendment of the existing law, the scope of the Amendments that can be moved is much greater. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman, but it is rather important. One cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill in its original form. On that occasion I pointed out that if the existing law was as the right hon. Gentleman declared it to be, there was no need to bring in the Bill at all. He now finds it necessary to bring in an Amendment which makes it clear, as far as we can see, that the existing law gives him all the powers that he is asking under the Bill. Therefore, he wants to make the Bill declaratory of the existing law, rather than an amendment to it.
I just want the one assurance, that the nature of the Amendment does not in any way limit the Amendments that we can move.
No, that is not the intention; only some of them. The right hon. Gentleman, however, gave a sufficient explanation of all these particular other Amendments, so that, at any rate as far as he is concerned, he probably does not propose to do more than to move these further Amendments formally.
May I refer to this again? The first Amendment that I am referring to is the first on the Paper, in page 1, line 19, at the beginning, to insert "It is hereby declared that." The others are:
In page 2, line 2, to leave out from "engaged," to "include," in line 3; in line 10, after "such," to insert "special"; in line 10, after "courts," to insert "not being courts martial"; in line 16, after "courts," to insert "not being courts martial"; in line 23, leave out from the first "and," to "are," in line 25.
They all hang together, and they are necessary in order to give effect to a promise which I gave on the Second Reading. In answer to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), all I can say is that it is no design of the Government that, by the adoption of this form, which is forced upon us by the exigencies of draftsmanship, the scope of possible Amendments shall be in any way curtailed. I do not know whether the Chair can give any guidance on that.
I understood that, but this was the point that I wanted to make. There are certain Amendments to the Preamble, in the name of the Home Secretary. It will surely be that Preamble which will limit any Amendments which we might move. Up to then we shall be all right.
I am not clear what we are doing. I gather than the Home Secretary has moved the Amendment, to insert, in line 19, "It is hereby declared that." This is a declaration that we are passing an unnecessary Bill. You do not declare that this is the law unless you have doubts. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman has doubts as to whether he can do all this business under previous Acts which we have passed. Personally, I thought that on 24th August we passed all the emergency legislation which was necessary; but we go on legislating, and ultimately we produce this document, under which, if I understand it correctly, all sorts of people can be bumped off without trial. I put it in crude terms, because I think in crude terms with regard to this Bill. The Home Secretary really ought to tell us why his first Amendment is to declare that all that is in this Bill can already be done. [Interruption.] I think so, because it is really almost an impertinence to ask Parliament to pass a Bill to declare that we can set up all sorts of persons in certain circumstances to shoot other people because the powers are already possessed. I do not recollect any other Bill of this character. It is true that we have only one Hitler in the world, but that is no reason why we should pass this particular Amendment.
Can we have a statement, because this is really important? The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) is quite correct. On a previous occasion I was treated with some contumely by the right hon. Gentleman because I suggested that the first words of the Bill were plain nonsense if what he said was correct. When he moved the Second Reading he said that it was not necessary for him to bring the Bill to the House, as he had all the powers necessary to do what he wanted done under the Bill, but that as he proposed to do something which was an important departure from existing practice, he thought it necessary to give the House an opportunity of discussing the matter. I think that that lies within his recollection and the recollection of the Committee. That made plain nonsense of the Title of the Bill, which plainly said that he had not the power which he said he had. Having realised his mistake on that occasion, he now brings in a form of words which makes the Bill declaratory of the existing law.
I am sorry if I am being unduly suspicious. If I am, it is the right hon. Gentleman's own behaviour which is responsible. He now makes this declaration, and, as you have already said, Sir Dennis, we shall come to the Amendment of the Title of the Bill, which is, to "remove doubts as to the extent of." To remove doubts as to the extent of what? Of the existing powers of the right hon. Gentleman before this Bill is passed. That is the purpose of the Amendment of the Title, so that we are engaged, as far as I can gather, in an attempt to place upon the Statute Book an interpretation of the powers which the right hon. Gentleman says he has at this moment. That is surely a most clumsy and maladroit way of bringing it before the House of Commons. It is an attempt to sneak the consent of the House of Commons to proposals, which, had they been introduced by regulations, might have brought a storm down upon the right hon. Gentleman's head. We are very doubtful about this. You have informed us, Sir Dennis, and we are very grateful for it, that the Amendment now moved by the right hon. Gentleman will not in any way limit the Amendments which we want to move in the subsequent stages of the Bill, and that all the Amendments that we now want to move could have been moved if the right hon. Gentleman had not moved his Amendment. We are very grateful for this provision, but we would like to put on record our view that the right hon. Gentleman has befuddled and bewildered the House of Commons by a procedure which is entirely unnecessary instead of acting in a straightforward fashion.
I am in some personal difficulty. I do not want to anticipate a Ruling by you, Sir Dennis, but if we pass this Amendment and this Bill is made declaratory, will it influence your decision with regard to the Amendments you would call? In my particular case, if making the Bill declaratory is to rule out any Amendments that I have on the Order Paper, I should naturally vote against making the Bill declaratory, but if it is not going to make any difference whether you call my Amendments or not, my action may be quite different. In my Amendments I seek to establish the principle that this House should keep control of the courts. You have not indicated, Sir Dennis, whether you are going to call these Amendments or not, but it is vitally important to me.
That is why I rose to ask you, with great respect, whether, in view of the difficulty in which I find myself, through the Bill being declaratory, it would be in order for you to indicate whether you intend to call Amendments or not.
I think that the Amendment is rather unnecessary. Why is it that the right hon. Gentleman felt it necessary to introduce this Amendment? Either he has or he has not the powers. If he has the powers, this Bill is not necessary, and if he has not the powers, why did not he ask for them in the ordinary way by saying, "I want a Bill which will give me these powers"? Why introduce this particular and unusual form of saying, "I declare these things are necessary"?
May I put a point which might very properly be dealt with by the Attorney-General? It will be a question of draftsmanship, and there may be a legal point involved. If this Bill is rendered declaratory as the result of the acceptance of the first Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, does it not follow that all the Amendments on the Paper will be rendered null and void because the right hon. Gentleman will then have power, having regard to the declaratory nature of the Bill, if amended, to proceed by regulation on all the points that are raised in the Amendments on the Paper? That is what appears to me to be the position. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman can clear up the point, we shall be satisfied, but there seems to be a little dubiety on the point.
Would the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary also tell us when he realised that the position had altered? When this Bill was introduced obviously he had not these powers, and now, several days later, it appears quite plainly that he not only has them but he wants us to declare that he has them. When did enlightenment come to the right hon. Gentleman?
That point is a simple one to answer. The Bill as originally introduced removed altogether the bar in the original Act on the trial of civilians by courts-martial or any special court which might be regarded as analog
The result of that undertaking given by my right hon. Friend made it quite plain that the Bill, as amended, did not add new power, at any rate, to the letter of the original Act. It introduced something that necessitated putting the Bill into declaratory form, because it would have been unintelligible from the point of view of draftsmanship not to have this Bill in declaratory form when it was doing something that was conferred by the original Bill but which it was thought right should be made the subject matter of an amending Bill, with all the possibility of Parliamentary discussion and Amendment which a new Bill involves. Therefore, in the Bill amended by my right hon. Friend in accordance with his undertaking, it is certainly necessary that it should be declaratory in form. The question of Amendments is a matter for the Chair, but I thought the Committee had had an assurance from the Chair that the passage of this Amendment would in no way limit the Amendments which it was proposed to call for discussion.
We should be very much reassured if the Chair could find it possible to indicate the Amendments which it is proposed to call. In ordinary circumstances we get assurances through the ordinary channels, but they have now either been closed or temporarily suspended, and we have not those former facilities. If this Bill is declaratory, then it is declaratory of the existing law, and if an amendment of this Bill is construed to be an amendment of the existing law, then it would be presumed to be out of order.
I understand the hon. Gentleman has put a question to me, and I presume he wants it to be answered by me, and not to give the answer himself. I will answer the question so far as I can, but I thought I had already given sufficient answer by saying that if this Amendment were made, it would not alter my decision in any way with regard to any Amendments on the Order Paper or any of those handed in in manuscript. I do not want to go further, because the hon. Member will realise that in a case of this kind the Chair may have to depend upon what happens to certain Amendments as to whether others should be called. I can only give him the definite assurance that if this Amendment is carried, it will make no difference whatever to the selection or otherwise of other Amendments on the Order Paper. If I may put it a little more plainly, I do not consider that the insertion of these words would rule out of order any Amendment which would otherwise have been in order.
I do not read it so. I think it is perfect sense in the form in which it is on the Order Paper. The effect of the Amendment, if carried, would make the passage read in this form:
… and the efficient prosecution of any war in which His Majesty may be engaged, include power to make provision," and so forth.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 4, after "where," to insert:
by reason of recent or immediately apprehended enemy action.
I gave two assurances during the Second Reading, one that I would propose Amendments on the lines of the Amendment we have just passed, together with certain other consequential Amendments, and the other that I would consider carefully whether words could be inserted to make more plain the precise nature of the contingency we have in view as to the possibility necessitating the establishment of special courts. The Amendment, together with the further Amendment in page 2, line 5, to leave out from "require" to "persons" in line 6, and to insert:
that criminal justice should be administered more speedily than would be practicable by the ordinary courts,
goes as far as we have found it possible to go, after full consideration, towards meeting the second point. The object of these two Amendments is to make it quite clear that we do not wish to have absolutely unfettered discretion to introduce the special courts at any time and in any circumstances. We are quite willing that the power to set up these special courts should be limited in the manner implied by the words which it is proposed to insert by way of Amendment. That is to say, it is only
by reason of recent or immediately apprehended enemy action
that we seek power to introduce these courts and then only where the military situation is such as to require that criminal justice should be adjusted more speedily than would be practicable by ordinary courts. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentleman who asked for the assurance to which I have referred, during the Second Reading, may feel that we have at any rate gone some way, and in our view as far as was practicable—it is a matter of drafting—towards giving the assurance that was desired.
This is the first occasion on which I have intervened on this Bill, and I think I am the only lawyer who has not spoken on it. I am extremely sorry to have to criticise the Amendment in any way, but these are severely limiting words:
by reason of recent or immediately apprehended enemy action.
Part of my division is now a defence area, and it is quite true that it was turned into a defence area because it might be said that at the present moment there is "immediately apprehended enemy action." Anyone who has to deal with this Bill has to anticipate everything happening except what is most likely to happen, and although in one sense the South-East of England may be a part of the country to which the enemy may come very soon, at the same time, judging him always as likely to do what is least expected, it may be that we shall remain a defence area for a very long time and may not suffer anything more than we are suffering at present from enemy action. What is happening in the area at present arises as much from action taken by ourselves and our own Government and Government Departments as from enemy action. We have a large portion of the population immobilised there. They have little or no means of transport, the principal businesses all along the coast have been mined, there is very considerable suffering, and one wonders whether, with conditions continuing like that for a long time, it will be possible to continue the present system of administration of justice. I am inclined to think that there will have to he special arrangements made which are not available at the present moment under our present law, although they may be available under present regulations. I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether it might not be possible slightly to enlarge the words:
by reason of recent or immediately apprehended enemy action.
so as to include action taken in this country on account of recent or immediate apprehended enemy action. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen are frightened of something of that sort being done.
I am not frightened in any way, but I am concerned to see that in every large area it will be possible to carry on the ordinary administration of justice. It is difficult for hon. Members to realise the change that has come over these areas, a change very vital to the population. I do not want anything more than that my right hon. Friend and the Attorney-General should satisfy themselves before the Bill becomes law that they have not limited themselves too much, in the event of these areas remaining in their present condition, and perhaps getting into more difficult conditions for people to travel about and justices to hold their courts, in order to deal with a situation which may get more difficult as time goes on if we are not made the object of an immediate attack. At present, with this Amendment, the Bill may, in fact, turn out to be too limited to deal with the difficult situation around the coast in three, four or six months' time.
I do not think it very desirable to go too much into details and to specify conditions that may arise. I want to be quite certain that we may not want to have some elasticity in dealing with local courts possibly in the months to come.
I apprehend that the purpose of the Amendment is to introduce some limitation upon the right of the Executive to set up these special courts by regulation, and I understand that the limitation which is contemplated by the Amendment is contained in these words. I want to know who is to be the judge of the necessity. I want to know whether there is to be any control of any kind upon the power of the Executive to declare that the conditions contemplated by the amended Bill are such as to require the institution of these special courts. Are the ordinary courts of the land to have power at some stage, or in some conditions, to examine whether the right hon. Gentleman has acted correctly or incorrectly in declaring that in any particular area at any particular time the situation is such as to enable him under the Bill to set up the special courts which are contemplated? Unless there is some time at which the authority of the Executive can be controlled or checked by some impartial judicial authority, it seems to me that all this paraphernalia of definition is absolutely meaningless. If the right hon. Gentleman is himself to be the judge of whether the conditions are such as to necessitate the establishment of these special courts, it does not seem to matter a great deal what are the words under which he is authorised to act. I should like some assurance that any regulation that he may make setting up these special courts shall at some time be subject to review in the courts—that it shall not rest entirely on his declaration that the conditions contemplated by the Bill are satisfied, but that there should be some judicial determination as to whether these special courts have been properly set up or not.
I rise to put as shortly as I can a point which is so small that perhaps it ought not to be put, but it worries me a little. I do not feel clear that these words really add anything, but I understand that they were drafted to meet the desires and fears of some hon. Gentlemen, and I should not wish to stand in the way of their being inserted. I want to inquire whether enemy action may not be of three kinds. I quite understand there is never such a thing as the present, but only the past and the future. Presumably enemy action can be recent, or it can now be continuing, or it can be immediately apprehended in the future. I am not quite clear whether in logic, and perhaps even in law, something ought not to be done with these words, or some further explanation given on that point.
I disagree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens). Heaven forbid that we should give any further powers under this Bill. When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that these words would be a limitation, it struck me that the limitation would be more apparent than real, because there is no part of the country where one man, if the matter is to be decided by one man, might not say that he immediately apprehended enemy action; and there would be no means, as far as I can see, for the House ever to say whether they agreed with him in his apprehension or whether they did not. We are legislating for the future. I do not think anybody in the Committee would have any idea that my right hon. Friend would ever do anything that did not carry out the law honestly, justly, and fairly. We have to think about the future, and to realise what has happened in other countries.
It seems to me that the words of the Amendment give enormous power. One man—presumably the Home Secretary—is to decide whether he apprehends enemy action as likely to be immediate, and then he is also to decide whether he thinks criminal justice could not be administered under the conditions then existing. He is to decide that, and nobody is to be able to say to him, "Are you quite sure you are right about that?" By one stroke of the pen one man can turn every area of the country into a district in which the existing judicial system is swept away on the grounds that possibly enemy action may take place. To-night, enemy action might be immediately apprehended in the City of London, and it would be possible for the Home Secretary to take this action there. It seems to me that if these words are to be accepted—and I have no desire to stand in the way of their being accepted—there must be at the same time an undertaking that the House shall have an opportunity of saying whether they think the Home Secretary has acted rightly or not. That is the essence of the objection that I have to the Bill and the powers which it contains. If there is to be an opportunity for the House to maintain some control over the decision as to whether it is necessary to put these powers into force, and subsequently to have some control over the way in which the courts function, the words can be inserted in the Bill, and it will not matter very much.
In the Second Reading Debate on this Bill, there was obviously a desire that the executive should be entrusted with powers to modify the normal processes of justice in certain emergencies. What the House was suspicious about was the nature of the modification and the manner in which it was proposed to be carried out by the Home Secretary. As far as I could gather, no hon. Member suggested that it would be possible to carry out the normal processes of justice if there were an invasion in certain areas, and some hon. Members even suggested that if an invasion occurred in any part of the country, the w hole of the country might be affected by it. What the House was highly suspicious about was the sort of situation in which the modification would be brought about. The language of the Bill was far too wide, because it might be said by some Home Secretary that the existing situation justifies a modification of the existing processes of justice. I consider that the words in the Amendment are limiting words, and that they are less wide than the words originally in the Bill. In the original Bill there was a reference to the "military situation." Therefore, in the first place, the Amendment ought to he accepted because it limits the power of the executive to decide whether such a situation has arisen.
Who is to decide whether such a situation has arisen? I do not want to quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), but I am bound to say that I do not consider that anybody except the executive can decide such a matter. The executive is limiting its decision by the wording of this Amendment. It will be no good the Government coming to the House and saying, "We consider that the military situation justifies us in issuing an order under this Bill," because under the Amendment enemy action has to be immediately apprehended. The wording of the Amendment means that there must be local action about to be committed by the enemy, or apprehended to be committed by the enemy. I think the Amendment very considerably limits the power of the executive. Then, the action must be taken by the executive. It cannot be taken by the courts. It cannot be taken by the House, because the House might not be sitting, and the House would not have the information necessary. When the Bill was presented, I was filly conscious of the necessity for a modification of the existing procedure in an emergency. What I wanted was a chance to decide what the modification was to be. I suggest that the executive should have the power to determine, under these limiting words, when the emergency has arisen, and of course, the House will always be, and must be, the judge of whether the Home Secretary has exercised the power properly. The House will be able to ask, "Why did you issue the order in district A, B or C? What was your justification for doing so?"
Neither my hon. Friend nor I wish to obstruct the right hon. Gentleman in getting necessary powers. I suggest to my hon. Friend that surely it will lie within the functions of the House at the time to force the Home Secretary to justify the action he has taken. What we want to do is to limit the scope of his action, and I suggest that has been limited by the Amendment. I believe the Amendment will be a good one, and I shall support it.
I agree that this Amendment is a limiting one. What I am not quite sure about is whether there is any reason for inserting the word "recent" in the Amendment. Does it mean that the enemy action must have taken place recently, and must be expected to happen again, before the setting up of these special courts can be justified? Is that the proper interpretation?
I have on the Paper an Amendment dealing with the same point as that dealt with in the Home Secretary's Amendment. You have not selected my Amendment, Sir Dennis, on the grounds that it covers the same point as that covered by the Home Secretary's Amendment, and I believe that if I wanted to argue my reason for preferring my Amendment, I might be allowed to do so; but I do not propose to do that because I should be in the difficulty that, if I were to persuade the Committee that my Amendment was preferable, the Committee would have gone beyond the point at which it could make the Amendment. With your permission, Sir Dennis, I can make the points which I intended to make on my Amendment if you will allow me to move an Amendment to the Home Secretary's Amendment of which I have given you notice, namely, to leave out of the Home Secretary's Amendment the words "or immediately apprehended."
In support of that Amendment I would ask the Home Secretary to consider one or two points. I would ask him to consider how the whole of this Bill appears to many Members in all parts of the Committee, and, in particular, to Members on this side of the House. We are all, I am sure, anxious to do everything we can to safeguard the country from all possible forms of danger. One obvious danger is that the Government may not have enough powers to deal with a certain situation which may arise, but another form of danger, which this Committee must guard against, is that the Government may have too much power, and powers which in these days an Executive ought not to have. I submit that this is one of the cases where the Government is asking for just a little bit too much power. The right hon. Gentleman may reply by asking whether it is possible to give the Government too much power and whether we do not completely trust them. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that this is the third occasion on which this kind of thing has happened. First we had the I.R.A. Emergency Bill. Many hon. Members thought it went too far, giving the Government too many powers, and, as a result of debate, alterations were made which to a certain extent satisfied us. Then there were the emergency powers at the beginning of the war, and again it was generally agreed that the Government were being given far greater powers than they ought to have, and by agreement those powers were limited. Here, for the third time, the Government seek to secure powers which many Members in this Committee are of the opinion are more than any Government should have.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "or immediately apprehended."
I was trying to explain why these, words gave to the Government wider powers than they should have. If hon.
Members will look at the statements which have been made on this Bill, describing the situation it was designed to meet, it will be clear that the Amendment to leave out these words would give to the Government all the powers they need. I would draw attention to what the Attorney-General said on that occasion:
What, then, is the problem with which the Bill and the regulations made under it seek to deal? As I have said, it does not arise in the immediate battle-area. When the guns are going oil, when fighting is actually going on, there is no opportunity to apprehend people and deal with them by due process of law. It is the problem which may arise—and may not—not necessarily over the whole country but in certain areas, in the aftermath of an invasion or attempted invasion, when the enemy have been driven back but when there are small parties of men about"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1940; col. 138, Vol. 363.]
If that be the Government's case, what objection can there be to having this Amendment worded as it would be if these words were left out? If the Home Secretary is going to refuse my Amendment, as I gather he is, I would ask him to give one concrete example of the type of situation in which he might desire to use these powers and would not be able to do so if the words "or immediately apprehended" were left out. If he can give an example, I shall be prepared to withdraw my Amendment to the Amendment. If he cannot, I hope he will withdraw his opposition to my proposal, because I submit that if these words are left in they give to the Government powers which the House of Commons ought not to give to any Government, namely, to say "We apprehend that something will happen somewhere or possibly everywhere"—because there is nothing in the Bill to prevent them doing it everywhere at once—"which makes it necessary to wipe out our present system of justice."
Question proposed, "That those words stand part of the proposed Amendment."
The hen. Baronet was safe in one particular, and that was when he expressed the expectation that I should not be disposed to accept the Amendment to the Amendment. I do not see why the limiting words which I have already proposed to be inserted should be further limited in the manner proposed by the hon. Baronet. It is true that the state of affairs which we have mainly in mind is a state of affairs which might arise following an invasion or attempted invasion or enemy attack. I think, however, that the Executive ought to be armed with powers to deal with a case where, in a battle that might be ebbing and flowing, it is thought desirable that an area contiguous to one in which an attack had been suffered should, as it were, clear the decks for action. For that reason I think we ought to be content with the limiting words, that are proposed in my Amendment.
Two appeals have been made to the Home Secretary, but I hope that he will not accept either of them. The hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) wishes the limiting words which have been inserted to be taken out, so that in his constituency there should be, even without these safeguards, power to do away with the ordinary courts of law even now. That, of course, would be entirely contrary to the undertaking which the Home Secretary gave to the House on Second Reading. The hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) thought that the words "recent enemy action" were not necessary, but, if there has been fighting, I imagine that even though the enemy may have withdrawn from a particular area conditions there may be so disturbed that these courts, if they have been established, should be allowed to continue until the situation has been cleared up. After the undertaking which he gave on Second Reading the Home Secretary had a discussion with certain representative Members. We racked our brains to find a form of words which would suit the undertaking he gave. We came to the general conclusion that we wanted to put into words the idea that the conditions were such that the ordinary courts could not, somehow, be effective; and I am bound to say that we did not hit upon any better form of words to express what is wanted. I feel that the Home Secretary has made a very fair attempt to meet the undertaking which was given.
I will deal with one or two of the points which have been raised in the discussion upon this Amendment. As regards what fell from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens), has he observed that, apart altogether from this Bill, Regulations have recently been made under the principal Act which are designed to impart a greater measure of flexibility to the machinery of the ordinary courts? In the view of the Government, it is by way of such Regulations that any difficult situation that may arise, otherwise than in the manner contemplated by this Bill, can best be dealt with. If the amendments in procedure which have been made by those Regulations are not found to go far enough, there will be nothing to prevent further amendments of a similar character being made, and I think we may be satisfied that all contingencies that are likely to arise, short of the profound disturbances caused by enemy action of the kind that is in contemplation in connection with this Bill, can be met in the way I have indicated. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) referred to the use of the word "recent." As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) has indicated, there is virtue in that word. What we have in mind is that the establishment of these special courts should follow as soon as possible after the disturbances caused by enemy action, and therefore we wish to retain the word "recent" to mark that point.
That is the other contingency that we have in mind. We do not contemplate that the special courts should be introduced for the first time long after enemy action has been taken in any area.
I do not know whether "enemy action" means invasion or the dropping of bombs. I do not want to mention anything that it would be improper to mention, but I was in certain places where bombs had been dropped. That was recent enemy action. As a result of that, could all this machinery have been put into operation?
I was dealing only with the point that heavy aerial bombardment was covered. The only other point is that which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn). The words that we propose to introduce are, undoubtedly, of a limiting character, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) clearly pointed out.
Can the right hon. Gentleman deal with the point which was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Commander Sir A. Southby)? The point was that, in a sense, whatever form of words you used, you could not really limit, as is proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, the powers of the Home Secretary under a Regulation. As soon as war begins, enemy action may be apprehended. When enemy action is going on, a state of emergency exists. The right hon. Gentleman may not always be at the Home Office, and we should be much safer if we could have the Regulations brought to this House, before they were ratified and put into operation by the Home Secretary.
The point which was raised by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) was really answered by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman). I did not deal with that case, as I thought it was best disposed of by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, but the position is surely this: These powers, if they are granted, must of necessity be entrusted to the Executive. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because they are essentially powers of an executive nature. An hon. Member asked, who would actually exercise them? From my point of view I do not know that it is very material whether they are exercised by the Secretary of State or by the Minister of Home Security, but it will be one or the other. As regards control, the only possible way is that provided by an ever-vigilant House of Commons.
Every Minister who has to exercise executive powers of this character, as everyone knows, has in his mind the possible reaction of the House of Commons. If you sought to introduce any other form of control—a form of judicial control, for example—the whole purpose of this Bill would be defeated. I suggest that the Committee must make up its mind whether or not these powers are to be granted. If they are to be granted, they must be granted to the Executive.
I hope that the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) did not misunderstand the point that I made. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). At a time like this, the powers must be granted to the Executive and the Executive cannot be hampered in the use of their powers by having to come to Parliament. I want an assurance that there shall be some effective way by which the House can afterwards express its view as to whether the Executive have exercised those powers rightly or wrongly.
The Secretary of State told us that a vigilant House of Commons will make sure that everything is all right. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary or the Minister of Home Security—he is not certain which—will take action. The courts are set up. With great expedition they shoct a certain number of people. They any shoot them, or cause them to be shot. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is what we are talking about. We are talking about whether people are to be kilted who have not had a fair trial. That is what the Bill means. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I say "yes."
That makes it even worse. The right hon. Gentleman is going to make an Order, the, text of which I have not seen. He says that a vigilant House of Commons will take control of it. It will be laid on the Table. I am not certain whether it will mean an affirmative Resolution. [An HON. MEMBER: "No"]. I understand that it will not. It cannot be amended. We are talking about an Order—
Forgive me, but what we were talking about was the kind of Order which may be made after the Bill becomes law establishing particular courts in a war zone.
Perhaps I may add that I was about to call the hon. Member's attention to the fact that we are not discussing the making of the Regulations now. This Amendment does not deal with the matter. Perhaps if the hon. Member will look at the Amendment again, he will realise that.
I was wondering whether this power to take action is to come into operation when the military situation is such as to require the institution of special courts, or where by reason of recent or immediately apprehended enemy action, the military situation is such as to require the institution of special courts. What these words mean I do not know. I do not think they mean anything. I think they are pure unadulterated eyewash, because either the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the military
situation is such that he ought to do this or that, or he does it by reason of recent or immediately apprehended enemy action. We are trying to examine that interesting point which we used to examine in the days before the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen alongside me and behind me decided that "genuinely seeking work" was not a proper phrase, because you had to examine the state of mind of the person concerned. What we are doing now is examining the state of mind of the right hon. Gentleman. You have to examine his state of mind as to where the military situation is such as to require the institution of special courts, or the state of his mind as to
here by reason of recent or immediately apprehended enemy action,
special courts must be instituted for the trial of offenders, There is no difference in the state of the right hon. Gentleman's mind, except as indicated by this change. He hoped by these words, which mean nothing, to persuade a difficult House of Commons to take a more kindly attitude to this Bill than it took last week, when I was not here. I think he will be disappointed. I think that this eyewash will not in the slightest degree satisfy the Committee. We are at this moment engaged in fighting two enemies: an enemy without and an enemy within. I do not want to see the right hon. Gentleman including himself in the enemy within by taking stupid powers to enable other people to be killed.
I think that the point is somewhat simpler than some hon. Members seem to realise. The Bill, as originally drafted, gave the Home Secretary the power of decision. The Bill, as it will be drafted after the Amendments are carried, still gives him that power of decision. What, then, is the difference? I will try to explain what, in my view, the difference is. The Bill, as it originally stood, gave insufficient indication of the circumstances in which the Home Secretary would be entitled to use these powers. The Bill, if amended in the way that the Home Secretary proposes, will give a fairly precise indication, as the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) realises. It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Come (Mr. Silverman) says, that even if we insert these words, they do not give a legal remedy against an abuse of power by the Home Secretary, but that is not to say that they do not give a political remedy. The fact that the Home Secretary, by reason of this Amendment, explicitly declares some limitation on the circumstances in which he is likely to use those powers, puts this House in a very different position from what it would have been in if we merely left that understanding implicit. The fact that the Home Secretary, in accordance with the wishes of the House of Commons on Second Reading, and after meeting some of us the other day to discuss the matter, has seen fit to go as far as to give a definite indication of the kind of circumstances in which he is likely to use those powers, and is, therefore, giving the House, in future, time to round upon him if he uses the powers otherwise, goes a long way to meeting the wishes expressed by hon. Members and I shall vote for the Amendment.
I think, with great respect, that some Members of the Committee have been rather unfair to the Home Secretary. On Second Reading a great deal of anxiety was expressed lest these powers might be used in a very wild way, without any sort of definition as to the circumstances in which the Home Secretary would conceive that he should use them. It was in response to the appeal which was made on Second Reading that the right hon. Gentleman tried to meet that criticism. When I heard that criticism I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have great difficulty in finding words to meet it. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), who has just spoken so eloquently, has not, so far as I can see, put any Amendment on the Paper which would meet that criticism in better terms, and I do not know that any other Member has discovered better terms to meet the criticism. The point is that either we give the Government this power or we do not. If we are to give it, the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman has put down strengthens the power of this House in criticising, attacking, defeating, turning out of office and condemning.
My objection to this Amendment is that it subjects the action of the right hon. Gentleman to a political sanction always when in reality it ought to be subject to a legal sanction. It seems to me to attempt to meet the criticism by a form of words, without altering the actual situation in any degree at all. If you are to apply special courts, special laws and special penalties in a particular area, the circumstances in which you apply that power ought to be under the control of some judicial authority and not merely subject to the decision on political grounds of a particular House of Commons.
Coming as I do from an area near the coast I have been a little disturbed about this matter, but, on the other hand, I feel that the Amendment strengthens the hands of the Home Secretary. As I have listened to this Debate I have wondered whether "enemy action" means "non-British." I wonder what extra powers the Home Secretary needs to deal with the area from which I come.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 9, to leave out "the."
The purpose of this Amendment and the following Amendment—in page 2, line 9, at the end, insert:
made on or before the thirty-first day of July, nineteen hundred and forty"—
is to limit the power of the Home Secretary to the first set of Regulations under the Bill. He may quarrel with me about the date, and think that it is too early. I shall not worry about that. If he wants to put the date a little later, I do not think that my hon. Friends and I will
disagree. He might not have enough time before the end of the month to make his Regulations. When the Home Secretary moved the Second Reading of the Bill he was careful to explain what he proposed to do under the Regulations which he intended to issue in pursuance of the Bill. As hon. Members will recall, we were very suspicious because what he said he proposed to do under the Regulations was not, in fact, contained in the Bill. We said it would be far better if the Bill itself contained whit he proposed to do. But that cannot be done without an entirely new Bill, so we are faced with the fact that we are entrusting the Home Secretary with certain powers, and we are limiting, as far as we can, the kind of Regulations he will issue under the Bill. Nevertheless, the limitations we can impose upon him are not very considerable and, therefore, he may issue Regulations which are very wide in character. This business is fresh before the Committee, and we shall watch the next Regulations vigilantly, but unless this Amendment is carried, the right hon. Gentleman can afterwards issue a series of Regulations which may amend the first set of Regulations and the only limitation upon them will be the nature of the Bill we are now considering.
Everybody agrees that these limitations are not sufficiently narrow. Let the right hon. Gentleman embody all he wants to say in his first set of Regulations, and having done so, let his power to issue more Regulations die. If he wants more power he should have to come to the House. We do not want a series of Regulations which need not come before the House at all. They may need a Prayer, but by that time we may not be in a position to pray, despite the Foreign Secretary's broadcast last night. It seems perfectly reasonable that we should ask the Home Secretary to embody all he wants to obtain, in his first set of Regulations. I know this is unusual, and that it is customary to give the Executive power to issue Regulations in definitely in accordance with the terms of a Bill, but this is a very unusual piece of legislation and we suggest that the House of Commons should reassume its powers over the Home Secretary in respect of this Bill, if it can possibly do so. There is another thing which would be a safeguard. If the Home Secretary knew that his power to issue Regulations died on a certain date, he would try to put everything into the Regulations, and when he did so we who are on the alert would examine them much more closely than if he had his Regulations by instalments.
That is the technical aspect of the Amendment which, the Committee will agree, is of considerable importance. There are, however, one or two general observations I would like to make on this matter, and I do not make them with any desire to be offensive to the Home Secretary. We have given him great powers during the last 10 months, but I am bound to say that neither the House of Commons nor the country has been satisfied with the way in which his powers have been used. The right hon. Gentleman is a very able man indeed. He has had great experience abroad and at home, but he is not what I should call a good House of Commons man. He was not in the House long enough before he received his promotion to the Front Bench. It would have been infinitely better for us and the country had he served a longer apprenticeship as a back bencher.
Next time, I hope that you, Sir Dennis, will pull up the Minister as well as Members on the opposite side. We have been asked over and over again to entrust powers to Ministers because their record and their reputation entitle them to receive the confidence of the House. It is not enough that we should be set aside in this House because of a technicality in the procedure of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has no right, on account of recent events, to ask us to give him power to issue Regulations in perpetuity. He is asking for them so long as this situation exists. There is no limit at all in the Bill. Once his courts are established, they last. Once he has the power to make Regulations, there is no limit to the number of Regulations that he can make. The only limit is to their scope, and hon. Members have spoken of the difficulty of putting limitations as to their scope in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman should have all the powers he wants under the first Regulations that he issues. I am sorry that you, Sir Dennis, have interfered with what I wanted to say about the right hon. Gentleman because I did not want to make my remarks personal at all. We are dealing with a very unusual structure of legislation. Unlimited powers are being given to the Executive, and it is very necessary that we should have confidence that those powers will be properly exercised. Almost every major piece of legislation that the right hon. Gentleman has suggested has had to be altered.
The hon. Member is offending against the Ruling that I have given. If I may say so, it is quite clear that it would be absolutely intolerable, and would make debate and legislation impossible, if the personality of the Minister concerned and his conduct in other matters were to be the subject of debate whenever a power is proposed to be given to the holder of a particular office. The hon. Member must confine himself to dealing with the matter as it affects the Minister for the time being.
Then I shall have to alter my language to make it the Government and not the Home Secretary. It is time, in these days of emergency, that we should get rid of these silly fictions of procedure and deal with the realities of the situation.
I apologise, Sir Dennis, but I am in this respect suggesting that we are being asked to entrust to the Home Secretary and the Government as a whole powers to issue Regulations gravely affecting the safety and welfare of the citizens of Great Britain. I submit that it is perfectly proper for me to argue that the record of the Government and the Home Secretary is such that we ought not to entrust those powers beyond a certain date. If that is not in Order, I do not know what is in Order. I was suggesting that experience during the last nine months has taught us that, after the House has parted with powers to the executive, those powers have been gravely abused by the executive. I suggest, further, that the right hon. Gentleman, speaking on behalf of the Government, has over and over again obtained from the House powers which experience has shown have been abused, and only by agitation in the Press and in the House have those powers been modified and retraction made. I could give one piece of evidence after another to show that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have, in the exercise of these powers, caused grave injury, injustice and suffering to thousands of people in Great Britain, and therefore, it is time that the House reasserted its control over the executive. I had hoped—and I say this with great sorrow—that the inclusion of certain persons in the Government would have restrained the excesses of the Executive, but that has not happened, and the postbags of hon. Members in all parts of the Committee have been filled during the last few weeks with evidence that we are now slowly degenerating into a police state, and that the liberties of the subject cannot be entrusted to persons who appear to be unable to stand up to their own civil servants.
It is time that hon. Members spoke in a forthright fashion. It would be far better if the House could be refreshed by contact with the constituents, but that cannot be. The 615 Members of Parliament are entrusted with very grave responsibilities, and we cannot hand them over to anybody else. We are expected by the country to be guardians and custodians of the liberty and safety of the people. It would be a very sad thing indeed if, after we had given to the right hon. Gentleman power to make these Regulations, during the next six, nine or 12 months, we found that a series of Regulations was gradually stealing away the liberties of the subject. Let me say this further. Whenever these powers are required from us, we are always asked to give them because the right hon. Gentleman or some other Minister tells us that he intends to do certain things and that he does not intend to do anything else; and we part with the powers because we have that assurance from the Front Bench. We then find that what the right hon. Gentleman has said is entirely out of accord with the actual circumstances. This afternoon, the Prime Minister rebuked indirectly the right hon. Gentleman—
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I know he did not do so himself; he may have done so on the advice of his advisers and the demands of other Departments. This is a very serious matter.
If I indicated more precisely what it is I wanted to say, I should be immediately called to order, and so I can in this case only use metaphors and illustrations to point an argument.
Then I am afraid I must tell the hon. Member that though I was very unwilling to interrupt him again I had just felt that I could not allow this discussion to go any further. I was about to point out, at the moment the Home Secretary got up, that I was afraid the hon. Member had already again transgressed my Ruling.
Is it not permissible, when an hon. Member has made certain allegations against another, and as in this case the right hon. Gentleman has questioned them, that the hon. Member should state the reasons for making them?
In my opinion, it is not only permissible but it is usual; but the hon. Member apparently does not propose to comply with the Home Secretary's request, and that caused me to rise.
I have not finished the evidence on which I base my accusations against the right hon. Gentleman. He denied it, and it will be now for the House of Commons to find out who was responsible for the Regulation. I am sure that Members in all parts of the Committee will have been astonished by what the right hon. Gentleman has said. In the second place, I would refer hon. Members in all parts of the Committee to their postbags and to the way in which the police, who are responsible to the right hon. Gentleman—
But I do implore that you should be a little more lenient, Sir Dennis. You said I did not propose to give evidence of my charges against the Home Secretary, and then when I propose to do so I am called to Order and asked to return to my Amendment. Which Ruling am I expected to obey?
I will accept your Ruling, but at the moment I was following your former Ruling. I shall only say one or two words in justification of my Amendment. I beg and implore hon. Members in all parts of the Committee to force the right hon. Gentleman to accept the Amendment, because it does put a period of time upon his powers, when it is so difficult for us in the terms of the Bill itself to put any other limitation upon him. The Regulations should be brought before the House when the legislation upon which they are based is fresh in the minds of hon. Members and they can examine the Regulations in their entirety and compare them at that time with the assurances the right hon. Gentleman gave when he introduced them to the House of Commons.
I regret that the discussion of this Amendment has led to controversy about other matters which, however important and relevant, tend to distract the minds of Members from the importance of the Amendment. I would ask the Committee to realise what the Government are asking us to do. They are asking no less than a blank cheque of unlimited power over the life and liberty of every citizen and to be allowed executive action without limitation or review of any kind. That would be the situation if the Amendment were not accepted. In justification of that demand, the Government have said that they propose only to exercise these unlimited powers in certain ways at certain times and on certain conditions, but those ways, times and conditions are to be determined by Regulations to be promulgated under the principal Act. There is no Member of the Committee, and, as far as I know, hardly any member of the public who would not be prepared to give the Government every essential power to meet the exigencies of the urgent situations which might take place. Nothing in the Amendment that has been moved, and certainly nothing in this Amendment, is designed to limit that power.
We say that if the Government have made up their minds what are the powers they require, and if they are ready, as we apprehend they are, to communicate through the usual channels the Regulations which they propose, there is no reason why the limitations upon those powers, which are to be defined by the Regulations, should not be in the Bill. The reason advanced by the Attorney-General in the Second Reading Debate against putting into the Bill the exact and circumscribed powers which the Government demand was that it would involve a long Bill in the nature of the judicature Act, which would be too long to pass and too detailed and cumbrous to deal with the immediate situation which is contemplated. We are endeavouring in the Amendment to meet that objection. We say that if there are reasons—which we do not admit—which prevent the Government putting in the Bill the exact limits of the powers which they seek and if it is necessary to limit those powers by the Regulations, we will concede the point, but let us know at some defined early date what the limits of the powers are to be. I cannot conceive why this Amendment should not be accepted. Unless I completely misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman's speech on Second Reading, he knows now what are the powers he wants. He is prepared now, and, indeed, I understand has already done it, to consult with representative Members in all parts of the House, about the delimitation which he requires under this Bill. He is in no difficulty, therefore, about telling us what he wants, and I find it hard to understand why the powers should not have been delimited in the Bill; but if there be some reason why they are not so delimited, if there be some inexorable reason why they should be dealt with by Regulations we say that there ought to be a limit—
There may be something humorous about this or about my way of putting it, and if there is, I apologise to the Committee, but I do not think there has been any occasion since 3rd September last year when we have been faced with a more important constitutional issue. It is something entirely new for the House of Commons to be asked to entrust the Executive with completely unlimited, undefined, uncircumscribed powers over the life and limb of every citizen, relieved of every one of the checks which our long constitutional history and experience have placed upon those powers. All we ask in this Amendment is that if they know now what are the powers they require, but are unable to put them in the Bill, they shall be compelled to define them in Regulations by some specified date, and shall not afterwards have the right to alter or extend those powers. It does not seem that that is too much to ask. If we do entrust to the Executive any entirely unlimited power by which citizens may be haled before courts not yet set up, upon charges not yet defined and be subject to penalties not yet specified, there will come a time when we shall bitterly regret having allowed ourselves to be stampeded in a moment of urgency—certainly not a moment of panic, I hope—into parting with every one of those constitutional safeguards against purely arbitrary Executive action.
I wish to say a word in support of my hon. Friends above the Gangway. If my interruption seemed to be humorous, it was not meant to be. I feel very strongly on this point, more especially in view of what we heard at Question Time, in regard to this rather odd, secret Gestapo, which has been formed under Lord Swinton with a couple of toughs named Crocker and Ball.
I was endeavouring to do so by illustrating my point as to the dangers which we am running. Apparently these powers will be available to this organisation of which this Committee knows very little, and in so far as the Amendment will tend to limit and to define the powers exercised by those people, I most heartily support it.
I am not sure whether this is the right way of further limiting and defining what is to be possible by the Executive. I did not put my question to the Prime Minister without serious deliberation. Like many other hon. Members, I have a score of letters in my pocket from citizens in this country describing conditions, which have been described outside by Mr. Nevinson and others, and which make one ashamed.
I am trying to confine myself to the Amendment. I have no wish to impede the right hon. Gentleman in the exercise of his legitimate powers, but we seem to need some point of check. I speak not particularly for those who come under this Clause, but I am alarmed that it is possible at this moment that a person who belongs even to some Anglo-German camaraderie to which I belong myself, can be put away and detained. Similar examples have come to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman every day, under powers for which the right hon. Gentleman has already said he is not himself responsible.
Is it not possible for hon. Members in this Committee to give instances to show that the power to issue regulations by the Executive should be limited because of the manner in which the same Executive has already abused that power?
Many hon. Members feel it is desirable that there should be some further safeguard of the rights of the House of Commons. If the Amendment which is taken in conjunction suggests too early a date, and if it is impossible for the Regulations to be put forward by 31st July, it could be possible for the Government to suggest an amended date, and to substitute August for July, leaving several weeks more in which to elaborate these Regulations. But it is surely desirable that the House of Commons should have final control, and we know from experience that if the Government issue a whole series of Regulations by Orders in Council, it is practically impossible for the House of Commons to exercise a vigilant oversight over the details of the Regulations. Only in exceptional cases, under the form of the Prayer, is it possible to raise questions and call the attention of the House of Commons to matters of great importance, and I therefore very much hope that although the Government may not be able to accept the particular form of the limitations suggested in this Amendment, they will see their way to accept some further measure of limitation which will assert, as I believe very many Members on both sides of the Committee wish to see, the fundamental rights of the House of Commons safeguarding the liberty of the subject.
I cannot but submit that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) was employing somewhat exaggerated language when he referred to this Bill as one which gave the Executive unlimited power over rights and liberties. What this Bill declares is that under the original Emergency Powers Act courts other than courts-martial can be set up to try, according to the law of the land, offences against the law of the land. I do not want to be unnecessarily controversial, but I think it is putting it a little high to describe that as a Bill which gives the Executive unlimited power over rights and liberties.
It is necessary that we should understand each other. Am I right or wrong in thinking that under either the original Bill or this Bill, which is declaratory of what the original Bill intended, the Executive have the right to create entirely new offences, to impose for those new offences entirely new penalties, to try those new offences and impose those new penalties before entirely new courts?
I am talking about this Bill, and I thought the hon. Gentleman was. Under the original Act, as hon. Members know, there is power to create offences and to impose penalties if they can be justified for the efficient prosecution of the war, the maintenance of public order and so on. This Bill declares that courts can be set up—not only civil courts but special courts—to try offences in circumstances with which the Committee are familiar. Of course, those new courts will involve a new procedural code, simple but, we hope—in accordance with the general principles of justice as understood in this country—expeditious. A good deal has been said or indicated on grounds on which I shall not trespass in regard to powers of the Executive as exercised since the outbreak of the war. One of the purposes of the House in war-time, and one of the services which it performs, is to bring up matters in which it thinks the Executive have made an excessive or wrong use of their powers. But of all means of limiting the power of the Executive in a particular matter, this Amendment seems to me the worst. I suggest that this is exactly the area where a provision of this kind would be the last thing we want. These Regulations would set up the courts on the main lines indicated by my right hon. Friend, which my right hon. Friend had arranged to discuss.
I am very sorry about that, but it is not my fault. In the Second Reading Debate certain Members pressed my right hon. Friend to enter into discussions of the kind that he has entered into before. Obviously he could not meet 600 Members of the House, and I am sure that he would consider any representations from any part of the House, provided that it did not increase the number beyond the normal possibilities of such a discussion. However, that is not directly relevant to the point I am making. The Regulations laid down the broad points. They also had to deal with procedure. Anybody who has had anything to do with procedure knows its complexities, and knows the need for elasticity in revising it in the light of experience. Procedure in the courts can be revised by Rules, which, of course, do not require an Act of Parliament. Starting, as we were here, with a clean slate, and having to do our best to think out appropriate and fair procedure, it is inevitable that amendments of that procedure will be necessary, as they always are in dealing with legal matters of this kind. As I pointed out, the existing procedure of the courts is laid down generally, but there is a flexible power of making amendments of this kind.
The effect of this Amendment would be that the whole procedure would be petrified in the form which our foresight, such as it is, was able to provide in the first Regulations dealing with the matter. But suppose that in August, September, or October one of the learned judges says that it is quite obvious that something will have to be provided which was omitted in the original draft. If this Amendment is carried, we cannot do that without coming back and getting a Bill. It is quite certain that before these courts are actually functioning they will have to consider the Regulations and get the whole scheme working, foreseeing, as far as possible, eventualities that will arise. The smallest amendment could not be made, the best suggestion, possibly of a kind wholly parallel with the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, could not be adopted, without our coming back and getting another Bill. In the case of Regulations which are going to deal with procedure
Is not this surely the worst possible device for limiting the power of the Executive, even if in other directions they may desire this Amendment? For these reasons, I am afraid I cannot advise the Committee to accept the Amendment. It would, I think, be quite impracticable. There is a greater danger. In debate it is one of the rules of the younger debater that if a Minister gives any indication of what he is going to do, you attack him. If he is honest and takes the House into his confidence and gives assurances, they say, "What are your assurances worth? You may not he here in the future." Do the Committee desire a particular assurance or not? [An HON.MEMBER: "We want it in the Bill."] It obviously cannot he put in the Bill. Do the Committee desire and welcome assurances from Ministers? My right hon. Friend, having said he was quite prepared to discuss with persons particularly interested the original lay-out of the Regulations, naturally any undertaking which he had given would not have been given without having discussed it with those who were interested. The Amendments which will be necessary will he Amendments in procedure which I know will he inevitable and will be required to he made, possibly, at short notice.
It is true that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary gave certain assurances to hon. Members in the Second Reading Debate, and he has fully complied with the spirit of those assurances. That much ought to be said. He met what may be described as a representative body of Members in that they represent all quarters of the House. [An HON.MEMBER: "No."] It may be that some of my hon. Friends behind me are more representative than those who were met. That is a debatable point, but the right hon. Gentleman agreed to meet several hon. Members, and he did. It must be noted that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), in a speech of characteristic eloquence, supported the Amendment placed on the Paper by the right hon. Gentleman as a result of the discussions in which this so-called body of Members participated. [Interruption.] Goodness knows, there have been irrelevancies in discussion. Of course, this is a bad Bill. We have recognised that from the start. But we are up against a very serious situation, and we have to make the very best of a bad Bill in a serious situation. I do not say that my hon. Friends behind are not trying to make the position better, but let us face the realities of the situation. We do not in any way add to the force of the argument by retailing all the evil characteristics of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, facts with which we are all familiar. I am concerned about the Amendment that is before us.
I am as much concerned about safeguarding the liberty of the subject as any Member of this Committee. We got an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman would meet us, and he did. He also gave us an assurance that when he came to the Regulations he would submit them to a representative body of Members. I want to ask whether he stands by that assurance?
He does. We have that assurance, and I accept it. I cannot always pretend that assurances by right hon. Gentlemen should be something which should be completely ignored. At any rate we can hold them to such assurances in the course of debate; we have done so and will continue to do so in future. I attach considerable importance to the assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman, that before the Regulations are on the Paper, a representative body of Members will have an opportunity of expressing their views upon them.
I was coming to that. Let us take the thing in its proper sequence. First of all there are the Regulations which arise under this Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman has given an assurance that he would submit them to a representative body of Members. This House has the right to reject them in spite of the discussions with a representative body of Members. It is true we have no power to amend Regulations, but I take it that a representative body of Members, having expressed their views on them, will be able to convince the right hon. Gentleman that some are unsatisfactory and should be amended. We hope, therefore, that when the Regulations do finally come before us they will be more satisfactory than they might have been when they were discussed with a representative body of Members of the House.
Then I come to the second set of Regulations. The Amendment envisages a situation in which circumstances undergo a drastic change. The right hon. Gentleman can construct a set of Regulations which are suitable to a particular situation, but in these rapidly changing days they may be out of date almost before they are on the Paper. Then the right hon. Gentleman prepares a new set of Regulations, and I take it they would be submitted, also, to a representative body of Members. The second set of Regulations must be placed on the Table of the House and can be voted against, or accepted, by the House. So we have a double safeguard.
I come now to what I regard as the reality of the situation. I have said that this is a bad Bill in a serious situation. Something has been said about not trusting the right hon. Gentleman. Well, I will put my cards on the table. If I had to choose between the military authorities—and please acquit me of any discourtesy to those in charge, because I had to work with them at the War Office —and the right hon. Gentleman, in a critical situation, I would prefer the Home Secretary. It may not be the same Home Secretary. You never can tell. I prefer to leave myself and, what is more important, to leave my friends who may be affected by the provisions of the Bill, in the hands of the civic authority rather than in the hands of the military in such a situation. Ordinarily in peace time the military are to be relied upon in matters such as this, but in such a situation as we envisage I would rather the Home Secretary.
On several occasions we were pulled up because we were irrelevant. Are we now discussing whether power should be entrusted to the War Office, the Navy, or the Air Force or to the right hon. Gentleman? We are discussing no such matter at all. We are discussing whether the power to issue Regulations should die on a certain date or not and not to whom they should be entrusted.
You are quite correct, Colonel Clifton Brown. Then are some people who do not like a Roland for their Oliver. Many of my hon. Friends, keen as we are about safeguarding the liberties of our people, and anxious as we are to protect ourselves against Regulations of a severe character, feel that the Amendments which have already been accepted as a result of our submissions, and other safeguards, such as the assurance which the right hon. Gentleman has now reaffirm ed—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, he has not."] I asked that he would submit all subsequent Regulations to a representative body of Members.
I was asked by the hon. Gentleman whether I adhered to the assurance which I had given to the House on the Second Reading. I said "Certainly." I have been asked whether the assurance applies to all subsequent Regulations. No Minister would give assurances running indefinitely, but I will tell the Committee frankly how I, as an ordinary person, interpret the sort of obligation one undertakes when one gives the sort of assurance I have given in regard to this matter. If I undertake to discuss a body of Regulations with Members of this House and if, as a result of those discussions, certain understandings are arrived at, I should not regard it as honourable conduct subsequently to make Regulations involving a departure from those understandings without similar consultation.
Leaving out any considerations of political partisanship, I accept that. It may be that we shall find ourselves on the wrong side of the street in consequence, but I accept that assurance. [Interruption.] My hon. Friends can take one course, and we can take another. This House is split up into all kinds of sections now. Anyone can take a line of his own. I have expressed my view of the situation as a result of consultations with my hon. Friends beside me, at our party meeting and in our party administrative committee, and as a result of our participation in discussions with the right hon. Gentleman, and by that view I am prepared to stand.
Although the consultations to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sea ham (Mr. Shinwell) referred have taken place, and although the hon. Member has spoken with considerable eloquence and a remarkable degree of irrelevancy, he did not in the course of those consultations obtain the assurance which has now been obtained as a consequence of the Amendment on the Paper. The fact is—and I want to put this on record, because I would like to have this binding not only on the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, but on any successor who may follow him in that office—that not only will he consult about the Regulations he is now going to bring in, but he will consult about any subsequent Regulations which may be brought in under the Bill, and those subsequent Regulations will be presented to the House after consultation in exactly the same way as the first set of Regulations. [Hon. MEMBERS: "No."] Let us know what is the assurance which the right hon. Gentleman has given. Has the right hon. Gentleman given an assurance that subsequent Regulations will be brought in after consultation with hon. Members in all parts of the House, and will he subject to the same procedure as the original set of Regulations? Is that the assurance?
If that is not the assurance, then it does not meet the arguments that have been made. It may be all right for hon. Members opposite, who are now, as far as I can see, running away from the position which they took on this matter in the Second Reading Debate, but I want an assurance that the first set of Regulations will not be subjected to erosion by a subsequent series of Regulations which will be brought in when the House is not as vigilant as it will be about the first set of Regulations. It will be remembered that when we discussed this matter on the Second Reading, the thing upon which hon. Members in all parts of the House seized was the fact that the content of the Bill consisted in the Regulations and not in the Bill itself. It is that content which we are now discussing. If we cannot have an assurance of the kind I have suggested, and which I think is quite reasonable—because it is merely that the same procedure will be followed with the subsequent Regulations as with the first Regulations—we shall have to divide.
If assurances such as I have given in this matter are not to be accepted in the spirit in which they are given, I think it will be very difficult for Ministers to give assurances at all. I thought I had made my meaning and intention sufficiently clear to the hon. Member on the Front Bench opposite and to the Committee as a whole.
I thought it was sufficiently clear. I would like to remind the Committee that a similar question arose some time ago. There were discussions on Regulation 18B, and certain connected Regulations. As a result of those discussions, certain Amendments were made. The war then entered upon a new phase, and I found it necessary to contemplate further Amendments of those Regulations. I took the initiative and promoted with the co-operation of hon. Members further discussions for the reason that I did not wish Regulations which had been settled after discussion to be modified in matters in which an understanding had been arrived at. I do hope that after what I have just said there will be no room for-misunderstanding as to what I have in mind. I cannot and will not give a formal undertaking that every single Amendment which may hereafter be made in respect of Regulations under this Bill will be subject to discussion. It would be absurd to give an assurance so absolutely rigid in form as that. I have given an assurance which will be found on record, and which I venture to think all reasonable people will regard as sufficient.
Can we understand exactly what assurance the right hon. Gentleman is giving? If the Amendments in the Regulations are purely formal points of procedure such as those referred to in the speech of the Attorney-General, then I suppose most of us would be content to leave it to the Executive. But the Regulations contemplated under this Bill may be either purely formal in procedure or they may be something far more im- portant. They may be, as we have repeatedly stated during the Debate, creating entirely new offences.
Undoubtedly. What we are asking is whether the Minister assures us that any Amendment of the Regulations under this Bill which are matters of substance and not purely matters of form will not be made without discussion already promised with regard to the first Regulation. We are prepared to allow a certain latitude on formal points but not on matters of substance or fundamental points.
As Mover of this Amendment may I say that it may conceivably have happened in the course of the Debate that there have been temperamental differences? I cannot see why the right hon. Gentleman should not have accepted the language which I suggested, which was not in any way intemperate. He would merely be applying to subsequent Regulations the procedure he applies to the other Regulation. I did not put this forward to be obstructionist and difficult. I thought it was, in the circumstances, quite reasonable. But the right hon. Gentleman has with Scottish obstinacy refused to accept that form of words for another form of words which amount to almost the same thing, but with more circumlocution as befits a follower of Dun Scotus. I think it would be unwise to divide the Committee on so narrow a point, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 17, after "Regulations," to insert:
such Regulations to provide for legal representation before all such courts by barristers or solicitors.
On Second Reading the Home Secretary gave an assurance that the courts would be of a civilian character, that the ordinary rules of evidence would apply, and that defendants should have legal representation if they were able to obtain it. It is essential to enable those who are brought before these courts to obtain legal representation. The powers of the courts are extraordinary, the procedure is new, particularly in that there will be no preliminary inquiry before courts of summary jurisdiction, courts may be sitting where there is a good deal of feeling, the penalties which it is within the power of the courts to inflict include the extreme penalty of death, and no appeal is provided for. I press the matter more particularly because recently there has been a number of instances where legal representation has not been granted. There has been the case of aliens, the procedure before the hardship committees and the procedure before the Price of Goods Committees. Curiously enough, the only persons who have latterly been permitted to have legal representation are conscientious objectors. It is essential in this important matter that it should appear in the Bill that legal representation would be permissible.
I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that it is intended to make provision in the Regulations whereby persons accused and brought before these courts will have the right of legal representation. I do not think it would be appropriate, having regard to the general structure of the Bill, to make a specific provision on a matter of this kind, but there will be provision in the Regulations.
I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will press the Amendment. We have recently had cases of people who have been detained for six weeks without any charge being brought against them. In difficult circumstances and with strained nerves, they have come before the Advisory Committee without any opportunity of having anyone to represent them and put their cases. It is essential that in this Bill, under which capital punishment may be inflicted, people who appear before them should have the right to be represented legally. I do not think it is a matter that should be left in the hands of the Home Secretary.
The Home Secretary has given us no reason why these words should not be inserted in the Bill. I should like to bear out what the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) has said, that there is a great deal of feeling on this matter not only among the legal profession, but among ordinary laymen. It is felt to be essential that in these courts people should have legal help, especially as the charges may be serious and may carry the death penalty. Although the Home Secretary has up to now refused to accept Amendments I hope he will realise that this is a reasonable one and agree to its insertion in the Bill.
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to include my proposal in the Regulations. It has been suggested that the Regulations may be altered subsequently, but I assume that the right hon. Gentleman will, both in the first instance and afterwards, honourably carry out his undertaking in the spirit as well as in the letter. That being so, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Leave to withdraw has not been given yet. I have no desire to be ungracious, and would have no objection to accepting the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman both as to putting the Amendment in the Regulations and keeping the obvious obligation there would be upon him not to alter it afterwards; but I do not regard either this Government or the right hon. Gentleman as being immortal. Times change and Governments change with them, and Members may change even without the Government changing. We have had experience of that in the last few months and I hope we shall have more of it before we are through with this business. If the right hon. Gentleman accepts the principle that there should be a right to have legal representation, then it is difficult to see why it should not be inserted in the Bill, so that no subsequent Government or Minister could alter it without the specific leave of this House.
I would ask my right hon. Friend whether he cannot reconsider his decision. There is no doubt that the setting up of these courts has given rise to a considerable amount of misapprehension, not only in the House but outside. If these courts are to be regarded with confidence by the public I think it is essential that the public conscience should be strengthened by the knowledge that persons who come before them they will be assured of legal representation. My right hon. Friend has said that he will put the provision in the Regulations, and of course we know that that undertaking will be honourably carried out, as all his undertakings have always been honourably observed, but the Regulations are subject to subsequent amendment, and it will be very difficult for an amended Regulation to be turned down by this House. If it is put into the Bill then any amendment taking away the right to legal representation will have to come specifically before the House. In the interests of giving people confidence in these courts I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his decision.
I support the appeal to the Minister to accept this Amendment, or, if he cannot accept this precise Amendment, to give us an assurance that words to the same effect will later be inserted in the Bill. He has said that he will make provision for this proposal in the Regulations, but no one knows what may happen in the future. Though he asked us not to insist upon the Amendment going into the Bill he gave us no reason why it should not be in the Bill. All he said was, "I hope he will not insist upon putting it into the Bill." There may be reasons, as I gather from the Home Secretary, but I notice that the Attorney-General is ready to explain the point.
This is a manuscript Amendment, and I think that, for several reasons, it would be a mistake to accept it. The Regulations which are to deal with this matter must of course deal also with the representation of the prosecution. In these courts it is contemplated that a solicitor should have the right to appear, in addition to a barrister, unlike the High Court. It is clearly intended that the prosecution should be represented not only by counsel or solicitor but, possibly, by a superior police officer. You have to work under emergency conditions. It may be desirable to see that it is done. So far as the defence is concerned, you may contemplate instances in which a soldier might be represented by an officer or personal friend. It is also proposed to give to the court a general overriding power, if solicitors are not available, to allow representation by some other persons. My right hon. Friend has given his assurance that, so far as these words are concerned, it is better to keep them.
I am not satisfied with the reasons. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that while his assurance is accepted by all of us, with regard to the Regulations, Governments are not immortal, and we are entitled to ask for statutory provision. I should be satisfied if the Home Secretary would agree to consider words which would give a statutory provision to include all the Regulations for the future.
I hope the Home Secretary will consider the suggestions that have been made. His argument was addressed to the words of the Amendment and to their place in the Bill, but not to the underlying principle. The Home Secretary has made it clear that he accepts the principle; surely it ought to be possible to find words which can be inserted in another place. It is not beyond the power of the right hon. Gentleman, given a little time, to devise words to carry that meaning.
I was in favour of withdrawing the Amend rent until I heard the right hon. Gentleman speak. I am bound to say that his speech has made me very uncomfortable. The right hon. Gentleman has introduced an entirely new element. He gave us the first inkling of any Regulations that are likely to be made under this Bill, and that inkling was that there were technical difficulties about the procedure; he said that they might have to decide who should be the representative for the prosecution—a barrister or a policeman.
It is appearance that we are talking about. If it is so important to state in the Regulations who should be allowed to appear for the prosecution, whether he should be a solicitor or a police officer, it is also very important to decide who should appear for the defence. When courts are set up with these extreme powers, I beg of the Government to make absolutely sure that every accused person shall have the right to be represented by a qualified legal person. I know of many courts in which a person can appear by a friend, and the friend often acts in a very capable way, but when you have courts of this sort with the power of imposing death sentences or sentences of a very grave character, and when the courts themselves are not subjected to the ordinary procedure of courts, I ask the Government to accept the position that it is essential that all persons who appear before those courts should be entitled to appear by persons who understand the ordinary rules of procedure.
I am afraid I did not make myself clear. I did not mean to suggest for a moment that every person accused and brought before a court would not have the right to appear by a barrister. Take, for example the assizes. An accused man is not allowed to appear by a solicitor there. What I was dealing with was to see how wide the right should be to be perfectly fair.
I do not think that is satisfactory. Do I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind considerations whether a barrister or solicitor may have a right of audience? In a court of this sort, called at short notice possibly, it is essential that either or both should have a right of audience.
Surely the objection made by the Attorney-General could be met by a form of words agreeable to the Government and put in the Bill, unless it be that the right hon. Gentleman has made up his mind that in no circumstances should an Amendment moved in Committee be accepted by him. That appears to be the attitude taken by him. There will be a Report stage—
This is entirely unreasonable, surely. We have a large number of Amendments on the Order Paper, and this is a very important matter indeed. We were told by the right hon. Gentleman on the Second Reading that the method of procedure was to extend and not limit the time in which the Committee could consider this Bill. I think he is a victim of his own maladroitness. Surely, on the Report stage language can be put in the Bill to give the assurance that is asked for here. Can we have an assurance of that kind?
We are asking for something very small. We are only asking that the Bill should secure for an accused person the right of legal representation. The right hon. Gentleman may decide by Regulation what form that right should assume, but what we think important is that the Bill itself shall reserve for an accused person the right of some legal representation at his trial. Cannot we have that assurance?
I do not want to appear in the least obstinate. I have no objection to accepting Amendments which would improve the Bill. In regard to this question of legal representation, I thought I had made it perfectly plain that there was no intention of making Regulations which would deprive accused persons of their right to have, at their option, representation by a barrister or a solicitor or, possibly, certain other persons. But if you provide for legal representation of the accused person, you have to provide for legal representation of the prosecution, and it seems to me that this is the sort of matter which could be more satisfactorily dealt with, after discussion, by provisions which would be of a more deterrent character, in the regulations themselves. I really think the Committee might he content to leave the matter there.
May I respectfully suggest that we are concerned at present with the defence and protection of the accused person? We are perfectly satisfied that the Executive will be able to protect itself. We are not anxious to be obstructive, but surely the right hon. Gentleman is now—I was going to use the un-Parliamentary expression "pig-headed"—giving us a master piece of obstinacy. There is no reason why the language of the Amendment should not be put into the Bill on the Report stage. If he does not like the language of the Amendment he can alter it, but it is humiliating to the Committee to suggest that reasonable Amendments cannot be put into the Bill because the Minister insists on their being put—into the Regulations. If the right hon. Gentleman persists in the mood of which he is now the victim he will find himself up against the wishes of the Committee. He ought to be a little more resilient and to accept reasonable Amendments when they are agreeable to other Members of the Committee.
I merely want to ask the Minister a question about his intentions in regard to participating in this discussion, apart from the point which has been engaging the attention of hon. Members for the last five or 10 minutes. The right hon. Gentleman says that the accused will have a right of being represented by a barrister or solicitor. Does that mean that he will have a right to be represented by a barrister if he can get one: if he can pay for one or find one in the time and the circumstances, or does it mean that under the Regulations that right of being represented by somebody experienced in the law will be guaranteed to him, so that no man will, at least, be tried for his life without being legally represented? It is a poor consolation when a man is brought under this quick procedure, arrested and brought into a dock in some emergency court, for him to read in the OFFICIAL REPORT that the Home Secretary said that he had the right to a barrister, when the authorities of the court say, "Where is your barrister? You have the right to one if you can find one."
May I deal with the point that has been raised although it is rather different from the one raised on the manuscript Amendment? The speech to which we have just listened is a very good illustration of the case that I think there is for reserving this matter to be dealt with in the Regulations. We propose to provide in the Regulations for the application, with suitable modifications, of the poor persons' rules, or what ever the technical phrase may be. I still think that to reserve the whole of this matter of legal representation, including the question of representation of poor persons, to be dealt with in Regulations will in practice be found to be the most satisfactory method. The hon. and gallant Member who moved the manuscript Amendment expressed a desire to withdraw it, and I hope he will do so.
Obviously I am in some little difficulty because a number of hon. Members clearly desire the matter to go to a Division. I wonder whether it would be possible to effect a compromise on some such lines as these. If the right hon. Gentleman would agree to consider the matter and, possibly, to insert this proposal in the Bill in another place, it would give him time and opportunity to look into the points which have been raised. If he did that, I think it would facilitate matters and I should be happy to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. It would not put the right hon. Gentleman under an absolute obligation to insert this in the Bill but would give him an opportunity of considering the matter and perhaps of meeting the obvious wishes of a large number of Members of the Committee.
What the Attorney-General said, satisfied the objection which I had in mind. I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman to have an objection to putting these words into the Bill here, because under the Regulations he would have to provide for circumstances in which it might not be possible to get legal representation. Would the Home Secretary look into the matter, taking some time about it, and, if he thought he could do it reasonably in the Bill, have it inserted in another place without giving any particular undertaking to the Committee? If he could find suitable words, which he and the Attorney-General wanted to do, the Committee would prefer to see them in the Bill rather than in the Regulations.
I think the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General are possibly misunderstanding what some of us want. We are not asking the right hon. Gentleman to put into the Bill the specific matter which he is proposing to include in the Regulations, with all the various alternatives, but surely it is not outwith the mind of the Attorney-General to get a different form of words which will give a statutory right to legal representation. We are asking that a general right to legal representation should be included in the Bill, and then afterwards, when the Regulations are made, the particular matters that are in the mind of the Home Secretary and his advisers can be put into the Regulations to satisfy the general right that is in the Bill itself. I hope I have made that distinction plain. So much time seems to have been wasted because the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary seem to think that the whole of what the right hon. Gentleman is proposing should be put into the Bill. All we want is the insertion of the principle in the Act. Surely it is not beyond the competency of the Attorney-General to draft such words. If he has any difficulty about it, I think I could do it for him myself.
I am always glad of any help I can get, but I must say that I think the proper place for this is in the Regulations. I think if you come to deal with it you will find a difficulty in that the words would be so wide as to mean nothing or will be specified, like the Amendment, and suggest that other forms of representation must be excluded. However, I will undertake, and my right hon. Friend has authorised me to say that he will undertake, to see whether the difficulties can be overcome and some words inserted in another place. That is not a pledge that we will insert words but perhaps the hon. Gentleman and the Committee will be content to leave the matter like that.
On a point of Order. The Committee proceedings started much later than Members expected because the Debate on the Budget was far longer than was expected. Now, in view of the late hour, and having regard to recent experiences—there has been no obstruction—is it not possible for us to take the rest on the subsequent day?
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not ask the House to proceed further to-night. It is obvious that the Committee stage as such will not be completed for a considerable time yet, and I hope the Government will give us an opportunity of considering whether to press the manuscript Amendments we wish to move on the Report stage.
I feel very diffident in expressing a view which I know the Committee will not really like, but this is really a most urgent Bill. Those who represent certain parts of the country are anxious that it should not take day after day in the House. It affects our ordinary procedure in the courts and our ordinary administration of justice. Everyone is expressing the desire that the ordinary courts should function as long as possible, but it would be wrong to leave the Committee with the view that there are not reasons why the Bill may be required at a very early date in certain parts of the country. The only alternative is that certain parts of the country will, or may, find themselves under courts-martial both for civilians and for the military. In these circumstances I hope the Committee will see their way to get the Bill through as early as possible.
There are at least a dozen Amendments on the Paper and some are extremely important and will take some time. We all wish the Bill to go through as quickly as possible, subject to safeguards which we think essential. I hope the Government will see their way to give us what we want and give an opportunity at an early date to proceed with the rest of the Amendments.
I think we might finish the Committee stage to-night. The Bill is urgently required, but I also think the liberties of the people require a little time for discussion. We are not so afraid of Hitler that we cannot take time to discuss things quietly. I suggest that we finish the Committee stage to-night and leave the other stages for another day.
The Government asked that the Bill should be passed through all its stages as a matter of urgency last week and it was on Thurs day, when some difficulty arose over the Second Reading, that the Government decided that they would not push forward any further on that day. Consultations took place with little groups, and we were assured that we should be saving time in the long run and that we should proceed much faster when we next took the Bill up. The House was informed that we proposed, after a discussion on the Budget Resolutions to-day, to take all stages of this Bill, and no objection was raised in any quarter. I made some inquiries to-day and was informed that two and a half or three hours would see it through all its stages. We entered upon its discussion at 8 o'clock, and it is now 11.25. The Government do not wish to force the Committee. There is no good in doing that. The Bill is urgent and should be got on to the Statute Book as quickly as possible. Progress is difficult when you have a section of the Committee determined to hold up a Measure.
The only thing to do is to try to find some ways and means of getting this Bill on to the Statute Book as early as possible. The suggestion I make to the Committee is that we should now report Progress and ask leave to sit again, and that to-morrow, instead of entering upon the discussion of the outstanding Budget Resolutions in Committee, we should proceed with the remaining stages of this Bill; and if to-night we could make some agreement that by, say, 7·30 to-morrow we should be able to conclude the Committee stage, the Report stage and the Third Reading of the Bill, so as to get it completed, I think the Government would be generously meeting the wishes of hon. Members in all quarters of the Committee. I should like to feel that the Government are carrying all sections of opinion in the Committee with them, and that it will not be said to-morrow that we are trying to hustle and bustle the Committee.
I am very grateful to the Patronage Secretary. May I suggest that in order to facilitate further proceedings, it may be possible for the Minister to get into communication with those who have Amendments on the Paper so as to try to get some agreement by consultation before the Amendments are reached