I beg to move, in page 4, line 7, at the end, to insert:
subject always to any such Order in Council being laid before Parliament not later than 21 days before the date on which it is brought into operation, and provided that no such Order shall be made at any date beyond six months after the date of the Armistice.
As I understand it, this Bill is dealing primarily with post-war planning, but this Clause at it stands confers abnormally wide powers on the Minister, giving him the power to legislate, without reference to Parliament, by Orders in Council. The House has agreed on many occasions that for war needs Orders in Council are imperative, but this Bill is not a war Measure, and therefore there is no such urgency. The Bill is more concerned with after the war, and I cannot see why the Minister desires to have these rights instead of giving the House the right to discuss such matters or know of the Orders in Council in the ordinary way.
The Committee on Ministers' Powers proposed a series of safeguards, but this Bill includes none of those safeguards, although they have been introduced in the case of nearly every Bill since the recommendation was made in 1932. It is unfortunate that this new Ministry should ask for these special powers. To my mind these special powers are not needed, and I hope that the Minister will look favourably upon this Amendment and will not create a precedent by insisting upon this privilege which will, I believe, be undesirable in the eyes of this House.
I wish to support this Amendment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone has said, this Bill proposes, and rightly proposes, to give tremendous powers to the Minister of Works and Planning. I hope that the Minister will use these powers to the full, but these rights will mean infringing the personal and corporate rights of concerns, persons and administrations throughout the country. Local and small administrations, as well as rich and poor, will be affected. It is obviously of great importance, when exercising such totalitarian powers as this Bill gives, that not only shall you do right, but you shall seem to do right, and I am afraid that, if this Amendment is not passed, many of the proposals which we planners are keen to have will be misrepresented by those who take a short-sighted view, and will be discussed in the Press, in correspondence and in articles as proposals violently infringing personal rights. Therefore it is right that we should be able to raise these matters in the House of Commons, and I hope that some such provision will be made, so that Orders in Council can be discussed before they become law.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) is wrong in attributing tremendous powers to the Minister, because it seems to me that the powers conferred upon him under this Measure are already enjoyed by the Commissioner of Works and the Minister of Health. I desire, however, to support the Amendment, because unlimited powers can be imported under Orders in Council or under Defence Regulations, which, I submit, ought not to be done.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) and other Members who have supported his Amendment have overlooked the qualifying words which govern this provision. I explained at length on the Second Reading why it was proposed to carry out these transfers by means of Orders in Council, and I referred to the great number of minor Acts and instruments which will have to be revised in order to substitute the Minister for the former Commissioners of Works and to make consequential changes. The powers sought under this provision are limited to what is necessary or expedient having regard to transfers effected under the Act. The Subsection says:
His Majesty may, by Order in Council, make such incidental, consequential and supplemental provisions as appear to His Majesty to be necessary or expedient having regard to any transfer effected under this Act.
It repeats in sub-paragraph (a) the words:
to such extent as appears to be necessary or expedient as aforesaid.
Its purpose is to incorporate in various documents the change of name and to make various consequential changes rendered necessary' by the transfer. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) attributes powers to the Minister which are certainly not conferred by the Bill. In fact, that was one of the criticisms directed against it on the Second Reading. It does not confer, either by this or any other Clause, such powers on the Minister as my hon. Friend suspects. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone suggested that something unprecedented was being done. That is not so. There are numerous precedents for conferring power to amend Statutes by Order in Council. It is perfectly reasonable that, when a Bill transfers main powers, subsidiary machinery should be worked out at leisure and effected by Order in Council.
It will appear in the Statutory Rules and Orders. It is a common practice, once a general principle is enacted by Parliament, to give power to effect consequential changes by a subsidiary instrument. This was done in the Ministry of Pensions Act, 1916, the Ministry of Health Act, 1919, the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919, the Ministry of Supply Act, 1939, and the Ministers of the Crown (Emergency Appointments) Act, 1939. In all of them power was given to effect these subsequent adaptations of Statutes and to make consequential changes by Order in Council. There is, however, one respect in which the powers that, we seek go somewhat beyond the precedents that I have mentioned. That is in including the word "repeal." The reason for that is that "enactment" does not necessarily mean the whole of an Act. There are actual Sections the whole of which we may want to get rid of because they will become obsolete by virtue of the transfer. For instance, there is a provision in the Crown Lands Act, 1851, which provides that any two Commissioners or the First Commissioner may exercise the functions of the Commissioners of Works, a provision which will be meaningless when the Commissioners of Works cease to exist. The right way of dealing with such a provision is to do away with it, and therefore, although it would have been arguable that such treatment would have been covered by the word "adapt," for which there is ample precedent, it was thought proper to put in the word "repeal" to make clear that the whole of a Section might go in that manner.
I can give the most explicit assurance that no sinister use is going to be made, or in my opinion could be made, of the powers contained in this Section of the Bill. It is absolutely governed by the limiting words. The consequential changes in various instruments that we seek to make under the sub-section which my hon. Friend quoted are in all cases changes made necessary by the transfer of powers which is effected under the Bill. They are minor consequential changes. The object is to translate the language of old Statutes and instruments into language made appropriate by the transfers. To effect any major reform in any of those Acts, or any reform other than translating them into appropriate language, we should certainly have to come back to the House. There is no sinister intention whatever behind the provision.
Another matter that my hon. Friend raised was a proposed limitation of time during which these changes could be effected by Orders in Council. I think that that, again, would be inappropriate. Such time limitations may be appropriate in a war-time Act, which itself is coming to an end after a certain period, but it would be without precedent in a piece of permanent legislation. If my hon. Friend says, nevertheless, that these adaptations ought to be effected within a reasonable period, the time limit should obviously be from the passing of the Act rather than from the Armistice. Everyone is anxious, however, that civil servants and Parliamentary draftsmen should give priority to urgent work. There are a certain number of Statutes which will undoubtedly be dealt with by Orders in Council at a very early date in order to effect the necessary changes, and that will be done very quickly, but there is a vast body of legislation which really has to be gone through at leisure and to which no one would desire that any civil servant or Parliamentary draftsman should have to give urgent attention now under the necessity of a time limit. There is really no urgency in the matter at all, and, having regard to the amount of revision of minor Statute law involved, I think there is an overwhelming case against any limitation in time.
I want to give the most explicit assurance, but I am not sure that the words my hon. Friend asks me to repeat would be entirely appropriate for the purpose. The whole Clause is purely subsidiary machinery. It is for rewriting various documents in appropriate language made necessary by the transfer.
I do not think there is anything between us on this. I thought that I had made clear that the word "enactment" does not necessarily mean the whole of a Statute or document. There may, of course, be some Order the whole of which is rendered obsolete. The whole of the powers given by this sub-clause are limited by the words to which I have drawn attention, namely, "necessary or expedient having regard to any transfer effected under this Act." There are four classes of transfer: from the Commissioners of Works, from the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, from the Minister of Works and Buildings—although that does not apply in this case because he has his powers under Defence Regulations—and the town and country planning powers of the Minister of Health under the Act of 1932 and various minor Acts. In some of these minor Acts where the Minister of Health has planning powers and where in future the Minister of Works and Planning will exercise planning powers, a certain amount of rewriting or revision may be necessary. I gave some examples on Second Reading. There are the London Squares Preservation Act, 1931, the Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act, 1938, the Allotments Act, 1925, the Middlesex County Council Act, 1934, and other Acts. In all those a certain amount of rewriting will be necessary in order to substitute the Minister of Works and Planning for the Minister of Health. That is a comparatively simple matter, but in the case of ancient documents, deeds and Acts where the Commissioners of Works are concerned there are rather more complicated changes. It may not be a mere substitution of one name for another, but there are certain provisions, one example of which I gave the Committee, which have become wholly inappropriate and are no longer necessary. My undertaking is that nothing will be done under this provision except the rewriting of these documents in appropriate language in order to carry out the transfers I have mentioned. For any Amendment of the law me must, of course, come back to the House.
Why "of course" when you have such a sweeping Clause? I am here as a detached person and I have listened with interest to the Minister's defence against the Amendment. This Clause gives the most sweeping powers to some official somewhere in a backroom to repeal or rewrite the law in any way, not for a week or two, but for a long-term period. All that we have to limit the great power which we are handing away is an undertaking from the Parliamentary Secretary. We accept it as coming from him for the period while he remains in office and has some influence on the matter. It is, however, a pretty weak limitation.
I am sorry I have not made myself clear. I gave that undertaking, but perhaps it was not necessary for the matter does not depend upon my undertaking. There are the words of limitation in the Bill itself to which I have drawn attention. It would be entirely contrary to those words of limitation if this power were used to alter the effect of any Act or instrument beyond what was necessary by reason of the transfer of powers which is mentioned in the limitation. I ask the hon. Member to read the Bill. I do not know whether his fear is that the limitation will be wholly ignored by a Government Department.
I am not making the case that it would be wholly ignored, but the Parliamentary Secretary might not be in office when these documents are rewritten and brought up to date. Whatever this fellow in a backroom writes will be the law and he will decide to what extent he recognises the limitation.
I have mentioned a considerable number of Acts where a power of this kind has been given, and I do not think any Member can quote an example of any such abuse as has been hinted at.
No. I do not know whether my hon. Friend was in the Committee when I quoted the previous examples, but there was one as recent as the Ministry of Supply Act, 1939, which covers the point as far as "adaptation" is concerned. The word "repeal" is novel, and that is why I thought it right to bring it to the attention of the Committee, but there is nothing in this Clause which takes the use of this power outside the limiting words to which I have drawn attention.
If the hon. Member wishes to know who is to be the judge and to discuss the more legal aspects of the matter, there is another hon. Member sitting on this Bench who is more qualified to speak. I do not think I can usefully add to what I have said except to repeat that, except with regard to the matter to which I have drawn attention where the words go beyond previous provisions of the kind—and I have given the reason for them—there is nothing novel in this power, which has been frequently used and never abused, and I do not think there is any substance in the fears which have been expressed.
The Minister has been subjected to criticism from all sides of the Committee on the ground that the powers which are given under this Bill are excessive. I wish to put the point of view that the powers given to him are not sufficient. He takes the powers which were given to the Ministry of Health under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, and later we had the Bill to prevent ribbon development. The purpose of that Bill was to prevent the destruction of the British countryside by indiscriminate building. What has happened? The law was passed, but this building along our country roads continues, and from year to year we have seen the progressive destruction—
I do hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not prove to be awkward upon this point, because the attitude he is taking up is in complete conflict with his instincts as we saw them expressed when he occupied a position of less responsibility. He has given us a hint that an hon. and learned Member may explain the position from the legal point of view, but I would point out what happens when His Majesty does something in Council. We read in the papers that a Council has been held, and we see a small list of those who were called to this Council and on whose advice His Majesty signed the documents. It is a very ceremonial way of making an Order, but when it has been made then, so far as I know, it cannot be challenged in any court. I think I am right with regard to that. If a mistake has been made, there is no power on earth to correct that mistake. If this were done by Order in Council, then not only would it be published in the "London Gazette," but it would be laid before Parliament. If it were a good Order no one would object and no more would be heard of it. If, on the other hand, a mistake had been made, this court of appeal would be available to correct the mistake. That is all that is asked. It involves very little trouble. Why Departments are so anxious to seize these autocratic powers and take away from us our democratic rights I cannot understand.
With great regret, I find myself in complete agreement with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in his contention. I regret it, because I think the Minister should have taken more powers than this Bill gives. If I saw in this Clause a reasonable chance of the fulfilment of the fears which have been expressed by some hon. Members, I should be only too delighted, but I am afraid there is no such chance, although I would add that if there were a chance of adding to the powers I should agree that the additions ought to be in a document that would lie upon the Table of the House and be subject to our criticism. I suggest, however, that it is quite unnecessary that we should go through that formality in this case, because the powers are very directly limited by the terms of the Bill. They can only do what is necessary or expedient "having regard to any transfer under the Act." That gives no power to modify to such an extent as to create fresh powers.
Did not the hon. Member hear the list, which was read out to us by the Parliamentary Secretary, of previous Acts in which the House had allowed this sort of thing, with its inference that there was no harm in adding just another little bit of legislation on the same lines? The essence of the objection is that Parliament is handing away its own powers. Every time it is asked to do so the statement is made, "It is only a very little thing; it does not matter." That is the point of view which the hon. Member is putting now. But this is going on and going on.
I am sorry to differ from my hon. Friend on this point. I should agree with him if there were any question of giving the Department new powers of legislation, new powers of adding to the planning powers already possessed by Departments, but this is merely consequential to what is involved in the transfer. No new power is created.
—and that is why it has seemed to me to be a little pedantic that we should trouble ourselves with so small a point. Let me add that I do not think the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) was correct in saying that an Order in Council cannot be challenged. Such an Order in Council would rest on this Bill—or Act—and if anything is done by the Order in Council which goes beyond the authority given by the Bill then surely a court would declare the Order to be ultra vires.
I certainly think that His Majesty's advisers could be haled there for putting before him an Order which went beyond the powers authorised under the law. However, we have a responsible legal authority with us and he can say whether my hon. Friend or I am right. As to the undesirability of a limited time, surely it is very undesirable that this process of transfer of property should have to be completed within a defined period. We know that the Commissioners of Works own property all over the world, and the process of transfer may be not only very difficult but also expensive, and I am not sure that it might not be advisable to maintain the Commissioners of Works in permanent existence merely for the purpose of maintaining the various Embassy buildings and other property which they own at present in different parts of the world.
I must confess that I am a little surprised to find that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in one of his early appearances in his new capacity, should come with a proposal which is against the whole spirit of his former attitude to these matters. We have looked upon him as rather the champion of Parliamentary control as against the pretentions of the bureaucracy, and I am a little concerned to find that the draftsman has vested in him such very considerable powers, powers which enable him to modify or adapt any Acts or Orders which the late deceased and much-lamented Commissioners of Works have had.
Perhaps it is taking him a bit by surprise to ask, but can he not find some other words which will protect the rights of the House of Commons? The hon. Gentleman who came as his champion reminded us that this late lamented Department had powers all over the world. Its properties were spread about in every foreign country and State, and, I might add, in every Dominion and Crown Colony as well. I suggest that the very fact that the hon. Gentleman has been able to quote precedents to justify his action in putting these words into the Bill makes the case stronger for some modification. We have got into the bad way during the war of rushing things through on the ground of emergency. We have granted powers which in normal times we should not have thought of granting. This is not a war Measure. It is an important Measure involving important repercussions in our post-war policy. It is one thing to give such powers in a Bill setting up a Ministry of Supply, but quite a different thing in a Bill relating to the reconstruction and planning of the country after the war. We ought to hesitate before putting these words into an Act of Parliament.
I entirely sympathise—if I may express a personal view—with the feelings expressed with regard to the secondary powers of legislation to which hon. Members have drawn attention, but I am rather surprised that they have chosen this provision as an example. If they examined it more closely, I think they would find that the reservation which my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) is so anxious to have is already contained in the words, and that the words have been drawn most carefully in order to secure that the Bill does not go further than the spirit of which the House approves, in addition to the letter. If I understood rightly, the hon. Gentleman asked for an undertaking. I think the undertaking which he wanted—and no doubt he will correct me if I have not got it aright—was that the Minister would not go further than the existing law in any matter which affected the rights of the subject or increased his own powers. Is that right?
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. I thought I had got the substance of what he wanted. The hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) has drawn attention several times to the words in paragraph (a) which I expect have been troubling his mind. I would ask my hon. Friends to read it. Note the words:—
repeal, modify or adapt any enactment, order, regulation, scheme, deed, agreement or other instrument.
If the matter stopped there, there might be substance in the various points that have been made, although I am not attempting to adjudicate about it; but there are the further limiting words:
relating to the transferors or their functions or property, to such extent as appears to be necessary or expedient as aforesaid.
Those words relate back to the old machinery which is being transferred, the powers or functions of the Commissioners. Therefore, we start by limiting the repeal or modification to any enactment, etc., relating to the transferors or their functions or property. As I understand it—and again I am prepared to consider any other legal interpretation that can be put forward—there cannot be any such extension of the powers, as has been suggested, because it is first of all limited to the transferors or their functions or property. Having that in mind, you come back to the second limitation contained in the Clause:
His Majesty may, by Order in Council, make such incidental, consequential and supplemental provisions as appear to His Majesty to be necessary or expedient having regard to any transfer effected under this Act.
We are therefore limited, in the first place, to the transferors or their functions or property as they exist, and we are limited, secondly, to making any change which is necessary for the transfer.
I agree with all that, but suppose the officials decided, in common parlance, to chance their arm—they sometimes do so—with their existing powers. Suppose they administer them in a way which is, in fact, illegal. If somebody goes to court and they are challenged, all is well, but suppose somebody puts in something which is an addition to the powers of the transferors, saying, "This is our chance to get this little power," and they put it in. Can it then be challenged in the courts?
I want to be quite frank with regard to challenge in the courts. Since the case of R. v. the Comptroller of Patents, as reported last year, it seems very doubtful whether it can be challenged. The Committee will bear in mind that I am not giving an absolute opinion, because it is very difficult to know whether exactly the same principles apply in regard to different subject matters. I would say, for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), that this is quite a recent view and that the view which he put to the Committee, although it has great authority, is not the view in favour in the court's latest decision. He need, however, feel no regret about having misled the Committee.
I should like to come back to the main point. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has not met the point which I am seeking to put to the Committee, which is that if you searched for words by which to circumscribe and limit this power, you could not find words more apt or better to make the circumscription and limitation which you wanted. That is the real answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). Let us, by all means, face the fact that a great deal of consequential work has sometimes to be done, such as going through old documents and rolls and so on, in order to bring them up to date. Do we as a House desire that in every case this bringing up to date should be a matter entirely under the discussion and control of a Chamber like this? Do we want to do that, or do we want to say that there are certain fields of activity where we genuinely think there are matters for revision, while we try our hardest to find words which will limit that field of activity so as not to interfere with the liberty of the subject or enlarge the powers of Ministers or officials? I am sorry to have got on to a very general question, but that I think is the best view. As I understand it, the words in the Bill accept the point which I was most careful to note and most anxious should be answered.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making a mountain out of this. He is assuming that these Orders in Council will necessarily be debated, but they will not. All that will happen is that when the Orders have been printed in the "London Gazette"—they are bound to be printed—a copy will come into the possession of the Clerk at the Table, and the fact will be noted in the White Paper which is issued once a week. Then anybody who is interested will have his attention drawn to it and will read it; if he thinks there is anything wrong, then there will be a Debate. If, however, the Government are innocent, there will be no Debate; it is only if they are prospectively guilty that there will be a Debate, and I cannot understand what the objection is.
I tried very hard to follow the argument of my hon. and learned Friend, and while I agree that
there must be considerable sympathy in the Committee for the suggestion that we do not always want to discuss trivial or inconsequential arrangements, the argument cuts both ways. It would not be right for Members of this House to hand over the very important act of repealing or in any large sense modifying or adapting any legislation or enactment that we have passed. But that is exactly what is asked in this Clause. I would like to point out to the Parliamentary Secretary that the Measures to which he referred as "minor legislation," such as the London green belt and other local legislation, are not minor legislative enactments at all. They are very important to Members of this House and to the community as a whole. The Government are to-day asking powers that have not been asked for in any previous Bill. For instance, in his own statement the Parliamentary Secretary accepted the Amendment and said he had given an assurance that under no circumstances would anything be done which would in any way seem to be infringing upon the powers of the House, or words to that effect. But that is exactly what Hitler said to the German people when he was asking for powers in Germany. That is exactly what any Minister promises to the House, but all that the ordinary Member has to deal with is the cold print, the Bill as it is placed before us, and the legal interpretation that can be placed upon it. Here it is:
His Majesty may, by Order in Council "—
and I re-emphasise this—
repeal, modify or adapt any enactment, order, regulation, scheme, deed, agreement or other instrument, …
Mark the wideness of the Clause; it covers anything at all that relates to this particular question. I warn my hon. Friends in all parts of the Committee that this would place strong organisations such as the Church Commissioners, who are strong property owners, in a position to bring to bear upon the Government the great influences they have always brought to bear upon them in the past. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, who is well known in legal circles in this and other countries, has himself in many speeches from this side of the House pointed out the great influence of many of these vast property-owning companies and other associations. It is therefore
certainly within the understanding of most hon. Members that the hon. Member opposite should have supported this Clause.
I understood that they were very extensive owners of property, and I am therefore suggesting to the Government that they are placing themselves in a very weak position in asking the Members of this House to accept any such proposal. Why cannot they simply accept the Amendment? What does the Amendment ask? It asks that within a reasonable period, whenever the Government make any serious decision—the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) has not asked the Government to bring forward any trivial or inconsequential points, but only serious points involving serious factors, such, for instance, as the complete repeal of a large part of an enactment—that decision should be brought forward to the Members of this House. Surely the Government have confidence in themselves. When they bring forward such a proposal, a short explanatory speech by the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary would suffice for the common sense of the Members, and would also keep the legislation in this particular matter within the orbit of the democracy which we all desire.
The Government are very anxious that there should not be a difference between us" which is really of little substance when we have the same desire animating practically all our minds. Therefore, I have tried, after listening carefully to all the speeches that have been made, to find a formula, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) suggested, would meet the wishes of the
Committee and especially the point which, as I have said, I do not think is seriously challenged, because the words have been carefully chosen, namely, the question of altering enactments which are already in force. Therefore the course I suggest, if I may mention it now, would be to add another Sub-section (8):
Any Order in Council under this Act repealing, modifying or adapting any enactment shall be laid before Parliament as soon as may be after it is made:
Provided that no such Order in Council shall be deemed for the purposes of Section one of the Rules Publication Act, 1893, to be a statutory rule to which that section applies.
The proviso means, as the hon. Member for South Croydon knows, that the additional six weeks' delay and the publication of many hundreds of copies so that public bodies and persons may get a copy if they want it, are avoided. I am sure that none of my hon. friends would desire that that cumbrous machinery should operate in times of stringency like the present. If that appeals to my hon. Friend as a reasonable way of meeting the situation, then I suggest that he might withdraw his present Amendment on the understanding that this Amendment will be moved in due course to take its place—
The Solicitor-General, on Sub-section (3), pointed out that the action of His Majesty's Government would be governed by things affected under this Bill. May I point out a previous paragraph which says:
provided that any such powers duties property rights or liabilities conferred, imposed held, enjoyed, or incurred under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts, 1939 and 1940 …
That alters the whole situation, because if you look at Clause 6, Sub-section (3), page 4, line 25—
Amendment made: In page 5, line 6, at the end, add:
(8) Any Order in Council under this Act repealing, modifying or adapting any enactment shall be laid before Parliament as soon as may be after it is made;
Provided that no such Order in Council shall be deemed for the purposes of Section one of the Rules Publication Act, 1893, to be a statutory rule to which that Section applies."—[Mr. H. Strauss.]
I wish to put to the Minister in charge of the Bill a point which has been broached to me and which has occurred to me, too. It has reference to the transfer of powers from the Minister of Health to the new Minister of Works and Planning. The point is that some years ago the Ministry of Health delegated a large part of its powers of administration, so far as Wales is concerned, to the Welsh Board of Health. Included in the powers delegated—
I wish to call attention to Sub-section (3). The Solicitor-General explained that the Order in Council would be limited by anything which arose out of the transfer of present powers to the new Minister. If you look at page 3, lines 31 to 35, which precede that Sub-section, it says:
Provided that any such powers duties property rights or liabilities conferred, imposed, held, enjoyed or incurred under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts, 1939 and 1940, shall be transferred to the Minister by Orders in Council made under those Acts.
What is there to prevent an Order in Council giving power under the Emergency Powers Acts to empower the Minister to do certain things? These Defence
Regulations make up a huge volume of 400 pages, and in that you find one little paragraph, I think it is 46 (a), which gives unlimited power to the corresponding Minister, namely, the Minister of Works and Buildings. What is there to prevent an Order in Council to give like power to the Minister of Works and Planning? Would the Solicitor-General enlighten the Committee as to that, because if, as I read this, an Order in Council may give power under the Emergency Powers Acts, then the powers of the new Minister will be unlimited.
I think the hon. Member for Holborn (Sir R. Tasker) has really confused two matters with which the Committee was dealing. On the Amendment of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), we were dealing with Sub-section (3) (a), and with regard to that, I was pointing out, in view of the matters which were exercising the minds of a number of Members, including the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson), the dual limitation that was inherent in subparagraph (a) and the parent Clause. When we come back to the point which my hon. Friend has now raised, you will see that he has in mind the proviso to Sub-section (1). Sub-section (1) sets out that:
the functions, property, rights and liabilities transferred to the Minister under this Act shall be so transferred by such Orders in Council as may from time to time be made by His Majesty for transferring to the Minister, as from such dates as may be specified in the Order,—
—and then sets out the functions, etc. To that general provision there is the special proviso that the powers, duties, property rights, or liabilities conferred under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts, 1939 and 1940, shall be transferred to the Minister by Orders in Council made under those Acts. That is, if the Minister gets his powers under the Emergency Powers Act, then the transfer shall take place under those Acts. That is not in any way derogating from the scheme put forward in this Bill, to which the Committee has just added by general concurrence in order to make assurance doubly sure.
Could the Minister give a slight explanation of paragraph (b)? The paragraph is to
provide for the transfer to the Minister of any powers conferred or duties imposed on the Minister of Health by or under any enactment
other than the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, to such extent as appears to be necessary or expedient as aforesaid.
Does that mean that the Minister of Works and Planning has the right to get an Order in Council to take away, or transfer, from the Minister of Health any of these duties or functions, which the Minister of Health does not want to give up? Is the Minister of Health in agreement with these transfers?
I am glad that this particular sub-paragraph has been mentioned. It gives me an opportunity of making a slight correction of some previous remarks of mine, to which allusion was made by the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson). I think that such Statutes as the London Squares Preservation Act and the Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act fall more naturally under sub-paragraph (b), and not under sub-paragraph (a), with which I was then dealing. Most of the matters dealt with under (a) are the old powers of the Commissioners of Works, although it is possible that there are Statutes—and I do not say that the ones I mentioned may not be among them—which may need to be dealt with both under (a) and (b).
To turn to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), it is scarcely necessary for me to assure the Committee that the Government always act with one mind. My hon. Friend will have noticed that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is one of those who back the Bill. It would be most improper constitutionally, as I think everybody agrees, if, when the Executive is acting, questions should be asked whether a particular Minister agrees. I need hardly say that my Department acts in these matters in close association with my right hon. Friend's Department. It would be constitutionally improper for the Committee to try to insert any provision saying that particular Ministers should agree to actions of the Government as a whole.
The Minister must be careful of his statements, particularly having regard to the fact that he is at the beginning of his career. He said that the Government always act with one mind. We were very much criticised for making that statement a couple of weeks ago.
Could I again raise a point which I raised at an earlier stage? I want to ask, what is to happen to the powers which, under the Town and Country Planning Act, were delegated by the Minister of Health to the Welsh Board of Health? Is it proposed by the new Ministry to set up some regional organisation, and will these powers be vested in that organisation? Speaking for all my colleagues from the Principality, and for all who are interested in the subject, I want to say that we valued very much the delegation of powers to the Welsh Board of Health. It was a recognition of the entity of Wales, and it certainly led to better administration. I would welcome an assurance that steps will be taken to preserve that small measure of devolution.
I am not in a position to give any assurance at this moment, except to say that I am well aware of the importance attached in the Principality to this question. The exact form of our organisation is one on which I would rather not speak until I have had the opportunity of talking to hon. Members like my hon. Friend, from whom I hope to get valuable advice on the position in Wales. We certainly desire to work in the closest association with those who are interested in this matter. I can say—indeed, it is obvious—that our officer in those parts will certainly be a Welsh-speaking gentleman. At the present moment I think it will best meet the wishes of my hon. Friend, as well as the proprieties, if I do not go beyond that, but merely assure him that his suggestion will be considered and that I hope to have a word with him and his colleagues.
Of course, I live full support to the Government in their good intentions in this matter; but it seems curious that, at a time when the rest of the community are doing everything they can to economise labour and to cut down superfluities, the Government set up a new Ministry. When the Government are making such great appeals to the country, they might well refrain from setting up new Ministries of this kind.