We have listened to a careful description of the Bill from the right hon. Gentleman. I was looking forward to the argument that he would put before the House for this drastic Measure, because I was not quite certain what real reason he would produce for this Bill. I shall comment briefly on what he has had to say, but I would like to say this on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, about the position we take up in regard to this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out how grave the fuel position is. He has also pointed out that in actual saving of coal, this Bill will have negligible results, but that from the point of view of the staggering of daytime working and double day shift working—he gave us a rather technical description of what was involved—it was of great importance to have this Measure at this time of crisis. That is the whole issue—that this year is a year of crisis. Whose fault it is is another matter. We need not be acrimonious upon that subject this afternoon. Let us in this House accept the fact that, through one reason or another—good or bad management by the Government—we are in a position of really serious industrial difficulty. Therefore, it is up to the Government to make proposals, in so far as they can, to mitigate the position.
This is the first of the proposals that they have made. For all I know, it may be the only one they are ever going to make. But it is the first, and it is brought before us as being due, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman, to the fuel position, and the need of guarding against a similar position in the future. In so far as it deals with the year 1947 and its difficulties, then as such, hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House will not oppose the Bill on its Second Reading. We recognise, as the right hon. Gentleman has recognised, that there is a lot to be said for and against an extension of summer time or double summer time. There is a lot to be said for the point of view of the educationist. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I have had letters from people telling me the difficulties that may be involved there.
There is, of course, the much greater interest of agriculture which comes in here. When the right hon. Gentleman made his announcement the other day, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) asked whether consultation had been taken with the appropriate agricultural interests, and the right hon. Gentleman answered that the Government
has been in touch with the agricultural community and with their appropriate representatives but my right hon. Friend"—
that is the Minister of Agriculture—
that is the Home Secretary—
that they recognise the national situation and in the circumstances of the times they do not press their protests."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1947; Vol. 433: c. 2084.]
That, I must say, is a great contribution to aid the nation in its emergency. Let no one be under any misapprehension. The difficulties that this causes to the agricultural industry are immense, particularly when according to the dates which have been selected in the Bill summer time is to begin as early as 16th March, and is to last until 2nd November. No doubt some of my hon. Friends will explain in greater detail some of the difficulties, involved. I merely assert that the agricultural community by accepting this proposal through its representatives—whether it was the National Farmers Union or the Agricultural Workers Union with whom the Minister has been in touch—are making a great gesture of self-sacrifice in the interests of the nation, and that should be recognised on all sides. I do not know that I can put it in any better words than those which the National Farmers Union itself employed in this matter when they said:
Accordingly the Union feels that they have no alternative to acceptance of that decision and to asking their members, in spite of these added difficulties to do their utmost to minimize their effect upon production and to continue with unabated or even extra effort, the struggle to provide every ounce of food possible for the nation.
That is the position, as I understand it, of the main agricultural interests. We can only be thankful that they should have put their own views aside on this occasion and not pressed their very
natural hostility to this Measure, but called upon all their members to rally round and do the best they could in the circumstances, looking upon it as an extreme measure to meet a great crisis. That is the present situation. The right hon. Gentleman just now said that the Bill was inevitable—I quote his own words—in order to give industry opportunity, in the next few months, to make up the lost ground. That is all right for 1947, but I very much abject, and so do my hon. Friends, to making this a permanent Act. I have no idea of how long the crisis is going to last. I imagine it will last, at least, as long as the lifetime of the present Government, but after all, the Minister of Fuel and Power, in one of his usual weekly prophecies when the trouble first started, did say on 7th February that he expected the trouble would not last longer than three or four days or, at the most, a week. That was the difficulty arising out of the shortfall of coal.
One had hoped that the Government would be sufficiently optimistic to think that this particular emergency with regard to power could be dealt with within the next 12 months and that there would be no need for a permanent enactment. The right hon. Gentleman has, however, put before us some considerations to the effect that the shortage of generating plant is such that it cannot be made good this year or next year and, therefore, we must have a permanent Act. On the spur of the moment, without taking any advice on the subject, I am unable to comment on the question of whether new generating plant can or cannot be provided in a sufficient amount to deal with the situation next year. But that does not alter the argument which I would like the right hon. Gentleman to consider. He is taking power under the Bill to extend and alter summer time and double summer time in future by Order in Council. I think that if he will consult the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, who is sitting beside him, he will find that the farmers agreed in the national interest not to carry their protest any further with regard to this Bill, but they did express the view that the machinery should be such that an affirmative Resolution procedure should be adopted and that it should be the business of the Government every year to see that this matter came before the House. We have some Amendments on the Order Paper upon that point, and we propose to discuss them later.
Apart from that, I should like to direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman also to the proposition that if the Government have to have a Debate, as they may have to have a Debate every year, if they make this a permanent Act, they might just as well make it a 1947 Act and come next year, or the year after, and ask, as they are doing today, for a Bill to be passed. It does not really make much difference in the length of time, where the Government ask for all stages to be taken on the same day, as they are doing today because there is a crisis, or whether the Government have to have an Order of one kind or another. But it is a much greater safeguard to us all that it should be done by legislation. Therefore, I hope that before we finish with the Second Reading, the right hon. Gentleman can give us an indication whether he is liable to accept that position.
I have nothing more to say except to sum up our point of view. We recognise—unfortunately we cannot help recognising—that we are in the middle of a great crisis. We feel that the Government are entitled, if they think it is going to help, to ask us all to assist in this respect. The agricultural industry, which is the industry most concerned, have taken that view. We do not take any contrary view, but we do say that this is requiring a great deal from the industry and, for that reason, we do not think they or the nation should be asked to give the Government these powers in perpetuity. We do not believe that this crisis will go on for ever. Why should we? Surely, we must have some hope left for the future, in spite of the terrible times through which we are living because of the maladministration of His Majesty's Government. Surely, we can hope, at least, that at some time in the 'fifties—or even in the 'sixties or 'seventies, if we live as long as that—we may get back to a state when we do not need to have double summer time because of the fuel crisis. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept our assistance in facilitating the Bill today for this year, but also to look kindly upon the Amendments which we shall propose later particularly those which seek to make this a Bill for 1947 only.