I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty under section eight of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, praying that the said Act, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-one.
I had intended to deal with that point at the beginning of my observations. As the House is aware, there are six Motions on the Order Paper for Addresses relating to the continuance for one year of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, and the various Defence Regulations. I would propose, with the permission of the House and of you, Sir, to deal with the whole ground in my opening speech, because I think that it would help the House if at the beginning we have a short general Debate. [An HON. MEMBER: "Short?"] It is within the will of the House. I was hoping that it might finish round about 7 o'clock or so, but it is a matter for the House. No doubt the hon. Member who interrupts is staking his claim to be called, and it will be a wonder if he is not.
I thought that this might be a useful course, and in moving the first Motion I propose to make a general statement of the policy of the Government. After the issue of the Supplies and Services Act is dealt with, I assume that you, Mr. Speaker, will bring forward the separate Motions and those Amendments which you may decide to call. I think that would be the best course. The House would have a picture of the whole state of affairs before them as a result of what I am afraid must be the somewhat comprehensive statement that it is inevitable I should make. Thereafter, we can deal with the general issue for such time as is convenient and then come to the Amendments to strike out particular parts of subsequent Motions.
I think that that would be a very convenient arrangement. We shall have to see how we get along, because the phrase "short Debate" is rather difficult to understand when one sees the size of the right hon. Gentleman's notes.
On a point of order. I am very sorry, but I am not quite clear whether the suggestion is, subject to your Ruling, Sir, that the Motion in the name of the right hon. Gentleman should be debated, and then after that the Amendment in the name of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies).
The Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, received the Royal Assent on 10th December, 1945. It was to last the period of five years which brings us to 10th December of this year, and the question of its renewal for a further year now comes forward in accordance with the terms of the Act itself, together with the question of renewing various other emergency powers.
I had better give to the House an indication of the powers ending on 10th December of this year. In addition to the Defence Regulations and emergency Acts continued in force by the Supplies and Services Act, a miscellaneous collection of regulations and temporary statutes have been kept alive by the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1947. Moreover, certain enactments and regulations relating to Patents, Registered Designs and Shops, have been incorporated, in the process of amending and consolidating the law on those subjects, in the Patents Act, 1949, the Registered Designs Act, 1949, and the Shops Act, 1950.
In all these cases the duration of the regulations and temporary statutes has been worded to bring them to an end on 10th December, of this year. The object was to secure that Parliament would have an opportunity this autumn to undertake a comprehensive review of most of the emergency powers surviving from the last war, and to take a general decision about their continuance for a further period, and that indeed is what we are doing in the course of this Debate today. We thought it right that the matter should not be dealt with piecemeal, but that the expiry of all these powers should be so arranged as to give the Government an opportunity to give an account of its stewardship, and to give both Houses an opportunity to survey the field as a whole.
The subject is a somewhat complicated one, as hon. Members will recognise, and therefore the Government thought it would be for the convenience of the House to circulate a White Paper showing the effect of the Motions which are before the House. In particular, the White Paper sets out the Defence Regulations which are continued in force by the Supplies and Services Act, since, unlike the Motions relating to the Emergency Laws Act, there is no occasion in the wording of the Motion relating to the Supplies and Services Act to set out the regulations which are thereby continued in force.
In discussions on the continuance of emergency powers dating from the period of the war, language is sometimes used which would suggest that the Government have retained power to govern by decree. There is no surviving power to make fresh Defence Regulations, nor, indeed, to revive any Defence Regulations which have been brought to an end. The Supplies and Services Act and the Emergency Laws Act did no more than continue in force a number of Defence Regulations. The Supplies and Services Act continued a limited power to make fresh regulations relating to the important subject of price control, but that power of making fresh regulations lapsed when the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act came to an end in 1946.
There is no surviving power to make fresh Defence Regulations, and, therefore, the only sphere within which Ministers can act is the sphere of surviving Defence Regulations. Of course, it is the case that many were brought to an end at the end of the war or have been brought to an end since, which I shall explain later. Nothing further can be done as the law stands in that respect. We can only act under these surviving Defence Regulations. Therefore, the allegation that the Government are free to do anything by decree is misconceived and inaccurate. We are discussing legal powers; that is to say, powers under which a Minister can lawfully act. We are discussing these legal powers rather than the manner in which they are exercised, which, of course, is always open to debate and should be so. There are ample Parliamentary opportunities for discussing the detailed administration of emergency powers by Departments, but I hope that, in this Debate, we shall keep clear of these detailed matters and concentrate on the wider issues which are undoubtedly before the House.
I should like, in the first place, to give some account of the Government's use of these emergency powers during the last five years, and then to set out the case for the powers which we wish to continue in force for at least a further period of 12 months. It was my privilege, when holding the office of Home Secretary in the war-time Coalition Government, to arrange for a substantial revocation of Defence Regulations after the end of the war with Germany. On 9th May, 1945, I came down to the House and was pleasantly able to announce that 84 Defence (General) Regulations had been revoked entirely and another 25 in part, and that five special codes of regulations had been dispensed with. The present Government have steadily got rid of regulations as they became no longer required.
In February, 1946, 104 Defence (General) Regulations remained in force under the Supplies and Services Act. Of those 104, no fewer than 35 have been revoked, and it is proposed to revoke seven more before 10th December next. Of the 48 Defence (General) Regulations preserved under the Emergency Laws Act, 1946, no fewer than 36 out of the 48 have lapsed, or will lapse when the present Motions have been passed and the necessary Orders in Council made. Thus, only 12 regulations will be left out of the original 48 under the Emergency Laws Act, 1946.
Taking the Supplies and Services Act and the Emergency Laws Act together, the position on 10th December next will be that, out of 152 Defence (General) Regulations in existence at the beginning of 1946, 78 regulations, or rather more than half, will have gone. An analysis of the other codes of regulations would disclose a similar position.
I thought it material to mention these statistical facts, because it is sometimes asserted that this is a Government that likes hanging on to regulations, powers of control and what-not for their own sake, and I think that these factual statements have completely demolished that allegation. On the other hand, the Opposition will have to clear itself of the charge that they want to get rid of control for the sake of getting rid of it, the consequences of which would be very grave indeed. These are the facts of Government administration, and it is clear from them that the Government have abandoned powers which are no longer necessary in the public interest, and, therefore, the allegation that we are dogmatic adherents to control for control's sake is one of those political exaggerations and assertions which we need not take too seriously.
Within the field of Government we have done two things in order to keep supervision and steady watchfulness over these powers and their administration. In the first place, there is inter-departmental machinery for keeping under steady observation the need for continuing in force the various emergency powers. Then, in the particular field of economic controls, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and other Ministers have, over the past five years, taken pains to ensure that no unnecessary controls are kept in existence and that the remaining controls are simplified to the greatest possible extent. All these matters are kept under scrutiny by Ministers. I can, therefore, assure the House that a real watch is kept on emergency powers and on the need for their continuance. We shall jettison what we do not need, but I wish to emphasise that, equally, we shall hold firmly to those powers which are required in the national interest.
It is sometimes argued that there is inadequate Parliamentary control over the administration of these powers and functions. I can only say that, in my view, events have abundantly justified the Government in asking and securing authority in Parliament for a continuance of the Supplies and Services Act, 1945, for five years, and I think that the Parliamentary checks are proper and appropriate in the circumstances of the case. When the Bill was introduced, the official Opposition proposed a period of two years for the duration of the Act. The Liberal Party got on the right of the Conservative Party and proposed a period of one year only. These motions and propositions have been shown to have had little appreciation of the extent to which world conditions would remain unsettled for a substantial period after the end of hostilities in 1945, because it is perfectly clear that these powers are still needed.
There have been ample opportunities for discussion of the administration of emergency powers in the last five years. In the first place, the Supplies and Services Act provided that orders made under Defence Regulations, which, I would emphasise, in the war period had not been subjected to Parliamentary scrutiny, should be laid before both Houses and made subject to negative Prayer. That was a very big move forward in the extension of Parliamentary supervision and control; that is to say, during the war, Defence Regulations could be made subject to challenge, and orders made under them were not subject to challenge, but under this Act of 1945, the orders are subject to challenge by negative Prayer.
This has meant, in addition, that these orders went before the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, and a perusal of their proceedings and of the action taken by the House upon them shows clearly enough the useful work that has been done by the Select Committee and by the House in this field. I think everybody would wish to join in a tribute to the work of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments which has been most valuable.
Then, again, the normal course of Parliamentary Business provides opportunities, of which Members have rightly taken advantage, for a discussion of administration in this field. Prayers have also been moved for the annulment of orders on several occasions, which is putting it mildly because there have been a large number of Prayers—entirely within the competence of the House—and that has afforded the House an opportunity of considering the policy underlying these orders.
I should now like to turn to the general case which the Government wish to put forward for the continuance of the various emergency powers which it is proposed to keep in force under the Motions set out on the Order Paper today. The various emergency powers which were taken between 1939 and 1945 were required partly because of war and partly because of changes in our economic and social circumstances which have persisted to this day. We are now living in a different world from the pre-war world, and a certain number of powers taken in the war years are needed, I submit, to enable the administration of our country to deal with the post-war situation in which we find ourselves. In the present economic circumstances of our country to which I shall refer in greater detail later, there is an overwhelming case for the continuance of emergency powers. Indeed, the rearmament programme has now put the need for the continuance of various temporary powers beyond all question. The general circumstances in which we shall be placed, as a result of the rearmament programme, were fully set out by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Economic Affairs on 13th September in the course of the Defence Debate.
By the way, I am sure it would be the wish of everybody that I should congratulate my right hon. Friend on his recent promotion which will be implemented shortly as Chancellor of the Exchequer and to wish him all good fortune and success in the discharge of the wide, responsible and important duties of this office. Perhaps I may also be permitted to pause and reinforce what I said on Saturday by way of tribute to the great debt which I think the nation owes my right hon. and learned Friend the former Chancellor of the Exchequer for his courage, his initiative and his grip on economic policy which has served our country well.
I do not think it is necessary for me to go in detail again into the matter into which my right hon. Friend then went, but I would refer to a similar experience, though within the field of defence at any rate on the face of it, in regard to the United States. The United States were somewhat more precipitate, no doubt in accordance with American traditions, in abandoning economic controls than was this country, and they got rid of emergency powers to the greatest practicable extent and as soon as they could. That, no doubt, was due to the different circumstances of the two countries, and, possibly, to their difference of tradition and, in some respects, of outlook. But it is interesting to note that the United States have now found it necessary to pass the Defence Protection Act, 1950, to enable the rearmament programme to be implemented.
Our purpose, it is true, goes wider than rearmament. Still, I would give to the House an indication of the United States' powers, and the following summary of the Act which has been approved by the United States Congress will illustrate the extent to which the United States have found themselves in need of wide emergency powers. The President under this Act—and I would ask the House to note it because these are pretty wide powers—is empowered:
I did not say that the powers were absolutely co-terminous with ours; I said they were pretty wide and destroyed the idea that the powers sought and obtained by the United States administration are hopelessly different from those possessed by this Government, and which we seek to continue.
But apart from abnormal circumstances, such as the rearmament programme, there are a number of important powers which will be permanently required. At an appropriate time these powers will have to be considered. I freely admit that the present statutory set-up is not fully satisfactory. These Defence Regulation powers are survivals from the war. They were framed, if I remember rightly, under the Emergency Powers Act which was passed at the beginning of the war—
Technically, before the war and subsequent legislation. That is perfectly true. Parliament did not then define the scope of these powers except in the broadest possible terms, and the body of the legislation as well as the detail was filled in by the Defence Regulations. Our statutory powers now are derived from the Defence Regulations which happened—there was an element of deliberation about it, of course—to survive from this war-time emergency legislation. They have not been much expanded. As it happened, they pretty well filled the bill, but it is not too satisfactory that we should go on with emergency powers fortuituously derived from surviving Defence Regulations which in themselves were framed under a somewhat skeleton legislation devised for war-time purposes.
At the appropriate time, I think it will be right for Parliament to face up to introducing permanent legislation in which will be laid down the sphere within which these regulations can be made. Parliament will have to determine the sphere and the nature of the powers within which regulations can be made, and will have to consider the matter deliberately and in a calculated way so that we have the fullest Parliamentary consideration of the matter. And at that time, whenever it may come, it will be for Parliament to determine the scope of these permanent powers and the purposes for which they are to be used.
But in the meantime we have to make a start, within the existing legislation, on the process of translating war-time controls to an appropriate peace-time form. The most notable example was the Exchange Control Act, 1947, which did transform Defence Regulation powers into a statute and into appropriate permanent Parliamentary legislation which the House did consider in detail. That gave permanent powers of exchange control similar to those powers previously contained in the Defence (Finance) Regulations, 1939.
Moreover, it is the case that the Defence Regulations are not all concerned with economic controls. They contain a great many minor, but useful, amendments to pre-war statute law and, as occasion affords, when a Department is promoting legislation, these improvements are put on the Statute Book and, steadily, we are transferring to statutory legislation former powers under Defence Regulations where the opportunity serves. This was done, for example, in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1950, which replaced Defence Regulations 45AA and 48B, and in Section 7 of the Milk (Special Designations) Act, 1949, which replaced Defence Regulation 55G. This process has been going on since 1945. It is the policy of the Government to press upon State Departments to take all available opportunities to lift minor improvements of a permanent character out of Defence Regulations and to put them on the Statute Book.
In the time at my disposal it is out of the question to undertake a detailed justification of the continuance of all the emergency provisions covered by these Motions. I propose, however, to deal with the main groups of powers which are still required. I shall refer, in the first place, to a group of regulations which provide a system for controlling resources in shipping and civil aircraft for the purpose of ensuring that they are available for essential purposes, and, in particular, to meet the requirements of any emergency that may suddenly arise. The regulations in question are 46, 46A and 47AE, together with the requisitioning powers under 53 and 54.
The system of licensing ships under Defence Regulation 46, coupled with the requisitioning powers, enables the Ministry of Transport to meet such urgent requirements as arose not very long ago when it became suddenly necessary to increase the strength of the garrison in Hong Kong. These are not powers which impose a tight control on the day-to-day use of shipping, but, rather, reserve powers for use in an emergency, and few people would advocate their abandonment in the situation that faces us today.
The next group of powers with which I should like to deal are the general requisitioning powers, apart from ships and aircraft, and the powers to do work on land. The Regulations concerned are numbers 50, 50A, 51, 51 A, 52 and 53, with which may be coupled the powers under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Acts, 1945 to 1948, the main provisions of which are also being extended by the Motion to continue the Supplies and Services Act. There is also Defence Regulation 16, under which powers to stop up highways are granted for the limited purpose of opencast coalmining and the building of generating plant.
We are asking Parliament to extend the powers under all these Regulations for a further 12 months and to allow the further two years under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Acts, during which an opportunity of permanent acquisition is given, to run as from the end of that 12 months. These powers are needed, first, for housing those in need of homes, and are a useful and necessary adjunct to the house building programme. They are also needed in connection with the rapid extension of educational services, particularly for the purpose of providing school meals. Then again there is the opencast coal programme which cannot possibly be discontinued at present. Moreover, there are the Service Departments whose requirements are expanding and who cannot possibly be expected to decide, in the circumstances of today, what are their permanent needs.
Apart, however, from Service needs, a considerable amount of requisitioned office accommodation is held by the Ministry of Works. It was hoped that the present powers under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Acts, which would enable the requisitioned premises to be given back during the next two years, would be sufficient; but, owing to the brake put upon Government building by the need for economy in capital expenditure, these hopes are not being realised. The greater part of this accommodation will probably be given up by the end of 1952, but a substantial part will still remain.
I now come to the main economic controls which are exercised under Defence Regulations 55, which is the most important Regulation, as hon. Members familiar with if will know, and deals with the general control of industry; 55AB, price control: and 56A, control of building operations. The Government, with the support of the people of our country, have been pursuing a policy which could not be continued for a day without the presence in the background of some of the powers which we are discussing this afternoon. I shall deal with the matter under four heads, namely, the balance of payments difficulties, the use of the national resources to best advantage and full employment, fair shares and price control.
Our balance of payments difficulties are likely to be with us for a long time. It is necessary to control imports, particularly from hard currency countries, and the main instrument for this purpose, namely the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, is not under discussion this afternoon, because it is not due to expire this year. Other consequential steps which have to be taken in regard to importing commodities which are in short supply do depend on the emergency powers we are now debating. Softwood timber is in short supply, and, therefore, it must be allocated to best advantage. This depends on Defence Regulation 55.
Then the export drive must be continued, and while we rely on and have secured the loyal co-operation of the great majority of firms in this matter, there has to be in the background, for the recalcitrant few, the powers to decide how much of a firm's production shall be for export and how much for the home market and, in some cases, that all of a particular manufacture, such as decorated china, must, in the ordinary way, go to export. This again, depends on Defence Regulation 55, an important and useful regulation.
Then we must ensure that the national resources are used to best advantage and that full employment is maintained. In this field the obvious example is the use of building resources which must be employed to ensure that first things come first. This depends on Defence Regulation 56A, which requires all building work, with certain exceptions, to be licensed by the Ministry of Works if the cost exceeds, a financial limit imposed by that Department. Then, again, the utility clothing scheme, which plays a part in ensuring that adequate supplies are made available to the people at large at reasonable prices, depends on the Defence Regulation powers.
Next, fair shares in respect of goods in short supply involves rationing, and we could not do without it. We could not do without the scheme of rationing at present administered by the Ministry of Food. The great majority of the powers exercised by the Ministry of Food depend in turn upon Defence Regulation 55. Another example can be seen in the shortages of raw materials which may result, and to some extent are already being experienced, as a result of the demands of rearmament and stockpiling. If these shortages become critical it might be necessary to re-impose measures for controlling distribution and use of particular commodities.
Finally there is price control and all the steps which have been taken to curb inflation. Besides the Goods and Services (Price Control) Acts, 1939 and 1943, we have to rely on the Defence (Price Control) Regulations which make a number of important amendments to those Acts and which are made under Section 2 of the Supplies and Services Act, and also on Defence Regulation 55AB of the Defence (General) Regulations.
We have felt it desirable, though with reluctance, which is understandable, to retain Defence Regulations 58A and 80B relating to the control of employment. The Essential Work Orders and the Control of Engagement Order and all other instruments made under Defence Regulation 58A were revoked some time ago, and we have no present intention of reviving the use of this regulation. Therefore, we are not exercising powers in these respects at this time.
Since, however, it is the case that a regulation once revoked cannot be revived, we consider that as a responsible Government it would be prudent to keep the powers in existence under which orders could be made for a further period, as it is not possible at this stage to be certain that circumstances will not arise in which the use of some of these powers might be imperative. But if these powers were revived they would, of course, be open to the challenge of the House of Commons, and we can be tolerably certain that some talk would take place about it—indeed, possibly other things, too. I understand that and I quite accept that that should be possible and right.
Both sides of industry have asked for the continuance of the Conditions of Employment and National Arbitration Orders, 1940 to 1950, and that involves Defence Regulation 58AA. The Essential Work Orders prohibited employers from discharging workers in essential industries, and prohibited the workers from leaving that employment. They also secured basic standards of wages and other conditions of employment for workers in those industries. The Control of Engagement Order prohibited employers from engaging workers otherwise than through employment exchanges or other agencies authorised by the Ministry of Labour. The Registration for Employment Orders enabled the Ministry to require the registration of persons employed or seeking employment in particular industries.
Now I come to the Ministry of Supply sphere of responsibility and activity. The Ministry of Supply have wide powers, as the House knows, of buying and manufacture under Section 6 of the Supplies and Services Act, 1945, which we are continuing in force. The Ministry buys and sells centrally copper, lead, zinc, aluminium, and chrome ore. There was a debate in the House on 20th June of this year on bulk buying, particularly in relation to copper, and the reasons why it had been necessary to continue bulk buying since the war were very fully explained.
These reasons are, broadly speaking, applicable to all the five metals which the Ministry buys and sells. They can be summarised in the words, shortage and foreign exchange, particularly of course the conservation of our dollar resources by ensuring that the United Kingdom needs are met to the greatest possible extent from sterling and soft currency countries. These reasons are now reinforced by the increasing demands the world over due to the combination of a high level of industrial activity in America, the need of re-armament and stock-piling by the United States of America.
As regards the Ministry's manufacturing powers under Section 6, they have been used as authority for the manufacture of certain types of civilian goods in the Royal Ordnance Factories with the double benefit, first, of providing work for the skilled men and the plant which had in any case to be retained as part of our war potential, and secondly, by using those manufacturing resources to supplement the overloaded capacity of private industry. The other manufacturing activities of the Ministry, apart of course from manufacture for the Service Departments which is not done under the Supplies and Services Act at all, are four factories producing steel and ferro-manganese and magnesite which were kept in production after the war to augment supplies. These, I submit, are useful activities. Hon. Members opposite know that the Government have no intention of minimising what could usefully be done in this field of activity.
That is the description of the powers which we are seeking to renew, and that is the case for their renewal. It is, of course, for the Opposition to choose its own course of action. If they should propose to bring to an end these economic powers which, at any rate, since the war have been subject to Parliamentary supervision—certainly under this Government they will continue to be subject to proper Parliamentary supervision—let them say so. Indeed, the Liberal Amendment, which I presume the Leader of the Liberal Party and his friends have put down in all seriousness—
—if that were carried it would bring the whole of these powers to an end. If they were brought to an end certain consequences would follow. If the Opposition propose, as the Liberals propose, to bring them clean to an end, they will be supporting policies, as the Liberals are doing, which would undoubtedly lead to social anarchy, unemployment and economic confusion.
I wish hon. Members of the Liberal Party would think of what they are doing. If these powers did come to an end suddenly, undoubtedly prices would be out of control, unemployment would march and our export balance of trade would be all to pieces. They cannot have thought of what they were doing. However, they have put down their Amendment and the Leader of the Liberal Party says that they meant it. If they have their way these powers will come to an end and private capitalist anarchy will come back again. That is what it means. I think it is a wild and foolish thing to do. Still, it is their funeral and not mine.
The Opposition will choose its own course. I doubt if the Conservative Opposition will have the courage to act on their real convictions, for their real convictions are the same as the Liberal Party's, backward as they are. However, I shall be followed by a spokesman of the Opposition, and we shall see. We believe these powers are necessary for the well-being of the nation. We commend them to the consideration of the House. Clearly, if these powers were not renewed the gravest consequences would follow to the economic and social well-being of our people as well as to the re-armament drive.
The right hon. Gentleman crammed so much into his speech that it was very hard to see the wood for the trees. While we are very much obliged to him for his description of the various regulatory powers which are at present being used and of how they are being exercised, I must point out that there are bigger problems behind the case than he allowed to appear today. The fact is that the right hon. Gentleman certainly glossed over one of the most remarkable things of all: that was, he gave no account and no explanation of how it is that this Motion is before us at all. We were led to suppose, and the country was given to understand, from the speeches which he
himself has made, that the Socialist Government, if they were returned to power, would legislate to make the powers which are referred to in this Motion permanent Statutes. There was no question of renewing them for one year. Not at all, Sir.
It is an essential basis,
said the right hon. Gentleman, speaking of the Act,
of the organisation of economic planning and control, and, therefore, we shall place a revised and permanent version of that Act on the Statute Book if we are returned to power.
But, of course, there have been some changes since 8th June, 1949; and no doubt the very definite expression of views by the electors has made the Government think it wiser to proceed by one-year instalments.
Now, I take no exception to that in this regard today, because that is to carry out exactly what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition stated in May of this year. This is the policy we should have insisted upon having. If I may quote my right hon. Friend, in Edinburgh on 18th May he reminded his audience that the whole system of controls rested on this corpus of Regulations and Orders and Acts, and he reminded them that the right hon. Gentleman had said that this would be replaced by a permanent Measure, and then my right hon. Friend said:
I take this occasion of announcing that we should oppose the permanent extension of the Act, and insist on a continuation only on a year-to-year basis, in order to retain full Parliamentary control.
Naturally we on this side of the House, whatever we may think about the general ideas of control, are very grateful that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted my right hon. Friend's view. To that extent, we are discussing today a complete victory for the point of view which was expressed by my right hon. Friend—not only in May but in June this year—that this outrage of 1945, when the powers were taken for five years, and no general discussion allowed from year to year in this House, should come to an end. This point has been conceded.
I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman did say. He comes forward today with this issue and this Motion, and I am saying that he has come forward—and he cannot contradict it—with a Motion to extend the powers for one year.
That is exactly what my right hon. Friend asked for in May. I am merely saying that that is the point achieved.
This is, of course, an extremely complicated subject, and I do not propose to go into it at any great length; but I must protest that, when we come to pick it up again for the first time for many years, we find that the most recent issue of the regulations is two and three-quarter years old. The latest issue one can get from the Vote Office was printed as in force in January, 1948. I think it is deplorable that Parliament should have to discuss this matter, if it wants to discuss it in detail—as I think it can on this occasion—with a document as hopelessly out of date as that. While I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the White Paper which he kindly provided for this Debate, it is really almost stretching words to call it an Explanatory Memorandum, because it is extremely difficult to make much out of it, except that it is a list of a number of the regulations which are to be continued.
I think we can say that the issue which is raised by this Debate does show the big, fundamental gulf that there is between the two sides of the House on this issue. The right hon. Gentleman comes forward on this occasion with a one-year proposal, but we recollect so well what has been said before. He says that the Government do not want to have controls for the sake of controls; well, that may be all right if it is used as a phrase, but we all recognise, I am sure the Government themselves recognise—that the logical conclusion for a full Socialist administration and State must be government by control; and that is what they are working for, and if they do not agree I can only refer them to words of the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose departure we also wish to associate ourselves with the right hon. Gentleman in regretting, and in expressing the hope that he may regain his strength. But
the ex-Chancellor pointed out in a famous book, "Problems of a Socialist Government":
The Government's first step will be to call Parliament together at the earliest moment and place before it an Emergency Powers Bill to be passed through all its stages on the first day. This Bill will be wide enough in its terms to allow all that will be immediately necessary to be done by Ministerial Orders. These Orders must be incapable of challenge in the courts.
Now, that is how the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer envisaged the functioning of a Socialist Government, and the next year he carried it still further in his next book, "Where Stands Socialism?" in which he said:
The devising of the detailed administrative methods for the working out of the plan"—
the Socialist plan—
—are not matters with which the House of Commons need concern itself.
Need not concern itself!
Ministers, with the advice of their administrative staffs and experts, should handle the detailed work. Full powers to that end should be delegated to them.
None of all that has been repudiated by the Socialist Party; and, in fact, as time goes on one sees that it must be the logical end—if they go the whole way; though, of course, they did not need in 1945, when they came into office, to take the action the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer had suggested—to pass in one day a Measure containing emergency powers—because as a fortuitious result of a war taking place, though about to come to an end, the powers were already there; and so they were able to use them and continue them.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman, if he wanted to give us a complete picture of the history of the thing, should have pointed out that it is quite true that the 1939 Act, under which the Defence Regulations were made, was related to the prosecution of a war which was imminent. It was passed a fortnight before. It is also true that what governed at that time that general policy, and all the powers which the Executive could use, was the principal Act, in which were words as to what was, as it is called, intra vires, and, therefore, what could be challenged and what could not be challenged. Those powers were extended, because while the war regulations dealt with war problems, afterwards we got an extension for the immediate post-war matters.
I do not want to go into the whole story, but those powers were for immediate post-war matters such as demobilisation, relieving the distress throughout the world at that time, and so on. Then in 1947 another series of aims was introduced, and the Act became part of the authority for aims which were quite different, such as promoting the productivity of commerce and, as the right hon. Gentleman says, helping the export trade, and the like. That was extending the powers outside the sphere of war. They had nothing to do with war and with the objects which had been—and had been properly—agreed by Parliament when war was imminent.
I think that the point should be made with regard to the war powers that, though we were engaged in a life and death struggle at that time, they had to be renewed each year, and from that fact it was possible to have a general discussion each year; and a discussion did take place in 1942, 1943, and 1944—and that at a time when—[An HON. MEMBER: "In 1941?"] No. I can explain that. In 1940 we had extended powers when, as will be recollected, the present Prime Minister came to the House and asked for them. They were taken for 18 months because, with the imminence of the attack, it was thought quite possible that Parliament would not be able to meet in August of that year. Therefore, they were taken for an extra long period then. That was why there was not a Debate in 1941. It was not because people did not want a Debate, but for other overwhelming reasons. There were Debates, however, in 1942, 1943 and 1944. In spite of the fact that there was a Coalition all-party Government, and that there was no Opposition in any official sense, grave matters were then discussed.
In 1945, the right hon. Gentleman scrapped all that and the powers of Debate that Parliament had on these issues during the war were taken away from the whole of the last Parliament, and we were never able fundamentally to discuss this problem. I put that in evidence against the right hon. Gentleman when he says rather soothingly today that these things are necessary. He is by repute a good Parliamentarian, and we had always thought so, but today he has left that out of his argument altogether. He has not apparently conceded anything to the need for Debate, except that on this occasion these powers are to be renewed for only one year. To that extent he has conceded what we have so much wanted.
The trouble, which someone from Mars who had come here in a "flying saucer" would not have appreciated from listening to the right hon. Gentleman, is that it is not just a few regulations that we are discussing. There is involved in this argument a host of orders, statutory instruments, and decrees of another kind, running into thousands and thousands, which govern the detailed life of every citizen in this country. There is a whole mass of these things. It is not as if we were discussing only one or two. The right hon. Gentleman very properly picked out one or two of the more important regulations which come up, but for the ordinary citizen it involves quite a lot of other little things which affect him from day to day.
The right hon. Gentleman told us that Ministers were always carefully pruning these matters. I do not doubt that many of them are, but the fact remains that if power is delegated, delegated and delegated further down, all sorts of things happen which do not and cannot, owing to the press of business and to their number, come within the purview of Ministers. There is thus a growth of bureaucracy with ever-increasing powers, and that is one of the things to which most of us on this side of the House take exception. Just as the right hon. Gentleman, as a result of the election has had, for at any rate the time being, to recede from the proposition that the Socialist Party would make this permanent legislation and has had to make it for one year only, we can probably guess that as a result of the political situation in the House there will be a good deal less making of orders as a matter of convenience throughout Government Departments today. If a Minister can have the support of a 200 majority for any order that he brings to the House it is very likely that such an order will not be scrutinised quite so carefully as when the Minister says, "Well, you know what it is, and I do not think I want to risk this one at all." It may be that we shall get considerably fewer orders and better administration as a result. I hope so. But that does not deal with the principal issue of what is to be done today.
The other day the Minister of Transport was trying to accuse us of political dishonesty, or something akin to it. Well, there is a bit of that—one could use harsher words—when one has to discuss powers of this kind which cover so many different things, and which have either to be accepted or refused. As the right hon. Gentleman said, this is 23rd October; turn this down and what happens on 10th December? I say that the Government are very much to blame for not having gone into these matters much earlier, instead of at the last minute throwing that at us, in spite of our having won in asking that this should be enacted for only a year.
There are whole groups of controls lumped together, if I may use that phrase. There are the major controls which the right hon. Gentleman indicated, many of which are linked up with the political philosophy of the Socialist Party; it is what they want to do; they want the powers laid down in the first part of the 1947 Act for quite other reasons. Some are obviously there for the time being. The right hon. Gentleman specifically mentioned rationing. Well, I hope that even in their wildest moments the Socialist Party do not look forward to there being rationing for ever and ever, but merely say that, in order that in a time of scarcity there should be a reasonable possibility of everybody getting a fair share of what is available, rationing should continue. I hope that is their line.
There is another group which, as we shall show later on when we can pinpoint one or two in the Debate, might as well disappear altogether, but which are kept going for reasons which are quite inconclusive and unsatisfying. There is yet another group which, had it not been for dilatoriness on the part of the Government, might very well now have become part of the statute law. Again we do not particularise very much at this moment, but the Government can use, for example, the whole section which deals with the women's Armed Services. There may be a good reason for it, but I have no idea why that should not have been incorporated in the Army Act, or the instrument required for dealing with the W.R.N.S.
Other regulations, which were brought in during the war because they were needed at that time, throw up a difficulty which has always been there. The Home Secretary, who has been so long at the Home Office, will know some of those, such as unlawful gaming parties, the registering of clubs, and so on. But there is no reason at all why, 11 years after the outbreak of war, all that should be done by temporary orders under regulations. There is a variety of things. There are the great economic controls, of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke, which are really part of the vehicle in which he wants to bring Socialism into this country. There are the temporary controls, such as rationing, which are required in times of scarcity or difficulty. There are others which ought not to be there at all, and others which ought to be part of the statute law.
It is the Government's case that, as this is 23rd October, unless all this is passed there will be chaos. I must say, speaking for myself, that I agree. I think it would be extremely irresponsible for Parliament to say today that we should scrap everything in the expectation that within six weeks the Government could pass all that was necessary to carry on what is admittedly still essential. I do not think that is possible. Even if it were, I should want to be very much persuaded by the Government that it would be safe to do so, in view of the emergence of the difficulties about Defence. After all, it is only a month ago that we had a short Session, when the House unanimously agreed that we must get on with our defence programme. Sitting here, we obviously cannot pick out—at least, I cannot; some of my hon. Friends may be able to, but certainly we have not had much time since Thurs day, and we can absolve ourselves on that ground if no other—
I agree. I was referring to the date when it appeared on the Order Paper. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman was so quick with me. Whatever the time, it is difficult for hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Opposition benches and who have not access to the interior administrative arrangements of Departments to be able to pick out from this huge corpus, two and three-quarter years out-of-date, exactly which of these regulations are likely to be needed for the re-armament programme. That is all that I am saying. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me on that.
We are not here in any way to jeopardise the decisions reached so unanimously less than a month ago in this House. If the Government say nothing else than that they must carry this on for another year because they have to govern and cannot guarantee the orderly progress of the re-armament programme unless they do carry it on, in spite of my first reaction of wanting to throw it all out and to say how ridiculous it is that five years after the end of the war they have to carry on with the same powers, I would have to concede to the Government that it was necessary, and probably say, in the words of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland), whom I do not see in his place, when he spoke from the Liberal benches on the occasion when the Government introduced the Act on 24th August, 1939:
The Government … asks for … a Bill which contains Clauses every one of which we would be bound to oppose, and rightly oppose, in normal circumstances."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th August, 1939; Vol. 351, c. 79.]
I think that is the situation so far as rearmament is concerned. If the right hon. Gentleman asked me to tell him what my view is, and what I advise my hon. Friends to do, I would reply: that we cannot hold ourselves responsible for taking any action which, on the one hand, would possibly injure rearmament, and, on the other hand, bring about complete administrative chaos within the next six weeks in directions in which we are still convinced that it is necessary to carry on with some controls.
I do say, however, having gone so far, that I think that all parties of the House of Commons, not only those who sit on these benches but those who sit below the Gangway and those who sit opposite, ought to serve notice on the administration—I do not know what administration will be here in 12 months' time but the machinery will go on whatever the political heads—that we expect the administration to make a very firm review of these orders, rules and regulations and to say which ought to be made at once a matter for legislation—some very important legislation, and some eminently suitable for Fridays—and which should be scrapped altogether. If there is no change at all in 12 months' time, then the House of Commons will be very critical of the administration. I think that the right hon. Gentleman brings to this House of Commons a point of view—[Interruption.] It is no use the right hon. Gentleman laughing.
I dare say I could guess. I have gone from the point of the Opposition and the Government, and I am now on the point of the House of Commons. To have a bureaucratic administration with vague powers in the background, is obviously an easy way of governing the country through administrative action, and much easier for a large majority than for a small majority, as I said at the beginning of my remarks. Even so, all this corpus has to be looked at and has to be pruned down, and we serve notice that in our view this has to be done within the next 12 months; but because of the difficulties and dangers with which we are faced, we do not propose to vote against this Motion.
To me it is very sad to notice how little interest is taken in this matter by Members of this House. I am not speaking of any one party but of the whole House, because what is involved is the sovereignty of Parliament, its authority and power, and whether we should go on delegating that authority and power to Departments of the Government. Very little interest is being taken in this subject by Members of all parties in the House. I do not think that I have ever heard the Lord President of the Council so unreal and so facetious as he was this afternoon, when he practically dismissed the whole question of the sovereignty of Parliament as of no importance whatever. I think that the number of Parliaments in the free countries of the world has increased in recent years, but I am quite sure that the power and authority of each of those Parliaments has tended to diminish.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the fight was against the Executive, to wrest power from it and to give the power to the people as represented in Parliament. That continued right down into the present century. Unfortunately—certainly during the last 30 years—the tendency has been to surrender back to the Executive powers which, at one time, had been won from them. In the main, so far as this country is concerned, undoubtedly this is due to the two World Wars in which we had to engage.
When war comes and the enemy is threatening we surrender to the Executive all those liberties which we have treasured. We surrender them to the central authority temporarily in order that they may defend those liberties. They are surrendered in trust to them so that when the enemy is defeated, those liberties may be handed back to us in full and not diminished. Unfortunately, when the war is over the tendency of Governments and executives is to hold on to those privileges which we have handed to them; so much so that the liberties which those of us who were alive on 14th August, 1914, enjoyed are not now enjoyed by the people of this country. They were not handed back to us in full at the end of that war.
So it was that this tendency grew to put into the hands of Departments the power to legislate. Not only have they the power to legislate, but they do something else as well. There is the tendency in every regulation which they make to initiate a new judicial power in themselves, and to create what was entirely alien to this country but very well known in France and in other parts of the Continent, namely, administrative law, making themselves, to a large extent, the judge in their own case, and putting themselves outside the ordinary jurisdiction of the courts of justice.
That power was increased in the 1930's, and then came the war of 1939. Once again this House surrendered its liberties into the hands of the Government of that day, so that full power to legislate was given to the Government Departments. Again, following the precedent of 1914, all that the Government of the day asked for and all that Parliament surrendered to them was temporarily limited to the duration of the war and six months afterwards. It was felt that the powers which had been given in 1939 were insufficient, and in May, 1940, a far more comprehensive Act was passed, although limited in time—to the duration of the war and six months afterwards.
We had no hesitation in time of war in passing that legislation. Those of us who were present will recall that it took only half an hour from the moment the Bill was introduced to the time it became the law of the land. We realised that the powers were being given to the Government for the express purpose of defending our liberty, and that the freedom would be again handed back to the House in full when the war was over. What happened? It was realised, probably in 1945, as the war was coming to an end, that we could not return to a peace footing within six months, and the Government came to the conclusion that they would like the powers extended for two years. The Caretaker Government took that view, and they would have come to the House to ask for this extension had they continued in office.
When this Government came into office, however, they asked for an extension of five years—the full lifetime of the Government. The Conservatives were content to give them two years, but I, on behalf of the Liberal Party, said "No." I said that they should have another 12 months, when the Government should come back to the House to give an account of their stewardship. Then, if it were absolutely necessary, Parliament would agree to this war-time legislation being continued in time of peace. I said that the Government should explain the reasons to the House for the extension, and that the House would probably agree to it.
Because I did that, I am now accused by the right hon. Gentleman of being to the right of the Tories. I am accused of that for having dared to defend the House of Commons against the Executive. That is the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman. It is all very well for him to laugh, but in a few moments I shall give a quotation from one of his speeches to show his attitude towards the House of Commons. Of course, they got the Bill through the House with the majority they had at that time. We are now in the position, nearly five and a half years after Germany and Japan were defeated, of being asked by a Government which has already been in office for five years to continue this wartime legislation.
Let us see how these regulations have grown. They have been turned out at the rate of roughly six a day. Statutory Instruments, which are the children of these regulations, were turned out to the extent of 2,271 in 1946, 2,916 in 1947, 2,858 in 1948 and 2,467 in 1949, and they are still going on at that rate today. The right hon. Gentleman then pats on the back the Committee of this House which scrutinises these regulations. Has he forgotten that the chairman of that Committee has said the Committee is so overwhelmed that it cannot possibly scrutinise them all properly? That is the position and all these regulations are now the law of the land. They are as much the law of the land as a Statute, and all of us are supposed to know them and understand them.
The right hon. Gentleman has criticised us for having put down this Amendment—in line 1, to leave out from "That," and to insert:
this House declines to continue in force measures which enable the Government to legislate by regulation without prior reference to Parliament of any matter affecting the economic life or freedom of the whole nation and which deprive Parliament of all opportunity to amend such legislation.
My reply is that had the Government not been so enamoured of this Act, they would have set about bringing in legislation in time and in the proper way, to deal with these matters which are still being dealt with under legislation passed for war purposes. There is a world of difference between these regulations and an Act of Parliament. Regulations are Acts of Departments—no one else—and all that can happen in the House, in spite of the right hon. Gentleman saying that they are under the control of the House, is that we can nod or shake our heads in assent or dissent, being unable to amend them or touch them in any way.
The right hon. Gentleman then compares them with Bills passed through the House. I shall refer to a quotation in a moment where it is pointed out that a Bill is the work of the whole House. Even those who oppose a Bill in principle do their best to help to make it workable, and I cannot remember a single occasion when a Bill, properly and carefully prepared by the Minister and his Department and thought to be perfect, has not been
amended from one side or the other. The right hon. Gentleman does not want that. He wants full powers, and because we have criticised him he says, "You be careful of your language," and talks about "Throwing the country back into a chaotic state." This is what the right hon. Gentleman said in Blackpool on 8th June, 1949:
The Executive and the Government have no intention that the Supplies and Services Act, 1945, shall come to an end. It is an essential basis for the organisation of economic planning and control.
"Planning and control" by whom? By the Executive without the control of Parliament; not the "planning and control" of the people through their elected representatives, but by a dictatorial Government without the authority of Parliament. He continues:
Therefore, we shall place a revised and permanent version of that Act on the Statute Book if we return to power.
I do not know what the Government wish to revise. They regarded those powers at that time as rather limited—as being required merely for war purposes—so they widely extended them in the Bill which became law on 13th August, 1947. These two Acts are so wide in their powers that, if they had been passed by the Parliament of 1628, Charles I need never have called the Short or Long Parliaments. The right hon. Gentleman is 300 years behind his time. He should have been adviser to the King in those days.
The right hon. Gentleman commends these regulations as being just as good as an Act of Parliament, but I am glad to find that the Prime Minister does not hold that view. In fact, the views expressed by the Prime Minister are such that he certainly could sign the Amendment which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friends. I would very much welcome if he did. I have not much doubt which side he would be on, and I crave his support in this matter. May I refer to the words of the Prime Minister? They are so apt, they describe the position exactly and are a complete answer to the right hon. Gentleman. They are in language which the Lord President of the Council warned me not to use. Speaking in this House on 8th March, 1937, the Prime Minister said:
This House has never been a mere assembly for registration. It has never been a mere debating society. It has never merely been a House which the Government use as an instrument of registration.
That is what we are being asked to do today:
It has never been a House to which the Government say: 'Here is our suggestion. You may take it, and say "Aye" or "No."' This House has always taken an active share in legislation. The Members have shaped legislative proposals. A Bill is brought in, it is discussed in principle, it is taken to Committee, it goes through the Report, and by the time it has been through these various stages, although it is the Government's Bill, it has been framed by the co-operation of the Members of this House. Where certain Members oppose the Bill in principle they take an active part in trying to make it workable. Therefore, every Bill that goes through the House becomes in that way the work of the whole House.
The importance of that procedure is that the experience and ideas of the Members of the House are brought into the common pool. That is the traditional British method and the democratic method. There is another method that obtains in other countries. In some countries a Dictator frames legislation and submits it to a Grand Council, but the Grand Council has no right to say anything but 'Aye' or 'No'; and it always says 'Aye.' There is a danger that this House may be turned into the equivalent of a Fascist Council… ."—[OFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1937; Vol. 321, c. 815–816.]
Those are the words of the Prime Minister in 1937.
I really forget the particular ones at the present moment, but it was on the principle that these regulations could be brought in and not amended, and that the House could only say "Aye" or "No." The words are applicable today.
I should now like to turn for a moment to the White Paper itself. Why could not the Government, who have been in office for five years, deal with many of these powers which they want to retain by putting them in the form of Bills, so that they would become in the ordinary way Acts of Parliament? There is one entitled, "Taking Possession of Land." Was it not possible to legislate for that? There is "Requisitioning of Property other than land," "Power to Permit Nuisances where Necessary," "Power to give directions to Local Authorities," and "General Control of Industry." Then, of course, there is the one that was mentioned, 58A "Control of employment," 58AA "Avoidance of Strikes and Lockouts," and there is 68B and 68BB.
Where was the Secretary of Scotland all this time? Because instead of bringing in an Act to deal with Scottish housing, the reconditioning of housing accommodation for agricultural workers in Scotland and for Scottish homeless persons, he acts under wartime legislation, and regulations were brought into the House to deal with those subjects, to which the House could only assent or dissent, and which they could not amend. That is my objection.
The sovereignty of Parliament is certainly involved in this. All the time we have been called upon to surrender our rights and privileges more and more to the Government of the day. This continuous erosion, done bit by bit, is far and away more dangerous to liberty than any attack from outside. We are all awake to that and we are ready to defend our liberties, but this "drip, drip, drip" of erosion is gradually destroying the House more than anything else. It was for those reasons that I put down the Amendment, which I understand will not be called, and I do not propose to move it. But I want to express the view which I strongly hold that the sovereignty of Parliament should not be interfered with, and that the time has come to stop such interference.
If the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who has just addressed the House so earnestly and eloquently, had confined his criticism of these regulations to the fact that the House can only reject them and cannot amend them, there would have been considerable force in his argument. It would be a wise extension of Parliamentary procedure to provide that a Prayer could be introduced in a suitable case, not merely for the rejection of an order under review, but for its amendment in some specified respect. That would be something for which a great deal could be said in principle, and whatever difficulties there might be in practice, I should think that the ingenuity of the House would not be inferior to the task of overcoming difficulties of that kind.
But the right hon. and learned Gentleman was very far from limiting his case to that. As I understand him, if the House of Commons had complete power to subject every word, every letter, every comma, the dot on every "i," and the crossing of every "t" to scrutiny, he would still be against this Act and against delegated legislation of any kind. The right hon. and learned Gentleman complained that the House did not seem to take very much interest in a matter in which the sovereignty of Parliament was involved. It may be that that is because he is the only remaining Member of this House who believes that the sovereignty of Parliament is involved in these regulations or that this House at any time, either in war or in peace, either permanently or temporarily, either on an emergency basis or on any other basis, ever tendered to the Executive the sovereignty of Parliament. Certainly not.
We are asserting the sovereignty of Parliament in this very Debate; otherwise, why are we here? The right hon. and learned Gentleman himself could have moved the Amendment which stands on the Order Paper, and could have appealed to the House and to the sovereign powers of Parliament to repeal this Act and the whole of these regulations. Can that be done if the House has parted with its sovereignty to the Executive? Of course, it could not.
I do not know what the importance of that interruption is—about as important as the hon. Gentleman himself, I presume. Let us get back to the argument. In his whole attitude to delegated legislation it is the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and not the Government, that is 300 years behind the time or is going back to Charles I. It is the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is going back to King Henry VII. The right hon. and learned Gentleman recited the number of regulations which had been promulgated, and which had the force of statutory law, during the past four or five years. Every one of those regulations was deemed by the Government of the day to be necessary. Every one of them involved an extension or modification of the law. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had had his way it would have been necessary for the Government to introduce a Bill into Parliament on each one of those several and specific occasions.
That would have been quite right, then. In other words, the Government could not possibly have pursued the policy of economic planning for which it derived authority from the electorate and from the House of Commons.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, if he had his way, would not be ensuring the freedom of Parliament. He would be bringing about the complete stultification of Parliament. He would have the House of Commons choked up, day after day throughout the whole of its working time, with the detailed, formal, literal discussion, word by word and line by line, of every administrative amendment of the law necessary to put into operation the economic planning for which the House of Commons had already given the Executive authority.
Yes, but the urban district council has the capacity and the time to deal with things of that kind. That is what the urban district council is for—to superintend the local administration of powers delegated to it by Parliament. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must make up his mind what powers he wants the House of Commons to have.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman ought really to take more care to do himself greater justice. He knows perfectly well that there is a whole range of colours in the spectrum and that it is not true that everything in the world is either black or white, or that we must either delegate all policy to the Executive or delegate no authority. Those are not the alternatives before the House. The great obligation of Parliament is to see that there is delegated and entrusted to the Government of the day such authority, and no more, as is necessary to give effect to the general policy which the House of Commons wishes to see put into effect. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman deny, that if his Amendment had been moved and carried, economic planning in this country would come to an end? Would it or would it not come to an end?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman must really bring his mind to bear more seriously on the principle which he wants the House to accept. He has told us how many regulations have been necessary in the last five years. Is he complaining that this Government of all Governments did not bring in more legislation?
How did the right hon. and learned Gentleman want it done? He agrees that the Government had the authority, first of the country and then of the House, to put into operation such controls as were necessary—as has been done in war-time, periods of emergency, and re-armament periods, for limited purposes or special purposes—so that our economic, financial and industrial affairs could be planned, a target be fixed and all the resources of the country trained in the direction of accomplishing that target and that plan.
In his loyalty to the principle of the sovereignty of Parliament the right hon. and learned Gentleman presumably believes that the Government ought to have the power to do that, if the House of Commons wants it done. In order to get it done, he has told us how many amendments of the law had been necessary in the past five years. I think they came to about 5,000.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that the only proper way to do it would have been to have 10,000 Acts of Parliament? Is he really saying that if we had 10,000 Acts of Parliament that would be enhancing the dignity and ensuring the authority and sovereignty of Parliament? This would be turning the House of Commons, not into a Fascist Grand Council, but into the most petty of committees.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his party must learn that times change and that the needs of society change with them. As society becomes more complex and the needs of society become more complicated, so does the task of government become more intricate and complicated. So we have to alter the forms of Parliament in order to make sure that the House of Commons preserves its sovereignty and freedom. We create the necessary machinery to enable it to have its way and its will to be done. That is what the Prime Minister surely had in mind in 1937 when he said that this House was not merely a debating forum, but was a place where we considered what we wanted to have done and how we were to create the necessary machinery to have it done.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition was quite right: we are not concerned in this matter only with a handful of regulations here and there, but with the whole apparatus of economic planning to which this side of the House is committed and which we believe the country accepted in 1945 once for all. It is not possible any more to go back to the days when there was no delegated legislation. There is not anybody, apart from Rip Van Winkle—and not even Rip Van Winkle, once he wakes up and rubs his eyes—who believes that we can do without delegated legislation in the modern society.
The right hon. and gallant Member who spoke for the Opposition had different complaints. It was not always easy to see what his main complaint was. At one moment he was saying that my right hon. Friend had accepted his policy, and in the next breath he was saying that there was a fundamental gulf between them. Which is it? I take it that what he meant on the first leg of his argument was that it is proposed now to extend these powers for one year but we are not being asked today to make them permanent. He assumes that that means that the Government have accepted the principle that we shall always do it on a year to year basis. I did not hear my right hon. Friend say that. The fact that we do it on one occasion for one year, does not concede the principle of doing it on a year to year basis or from year to year. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman may have had other reasons. I do not know. On the other hand, he may agree with my right hon. Friend. I do not know that either.
All I am saying is that there is nothing in the proposal made this afternoon to lead the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) to suppose that what my right hon. Friend said in the quotation from a speech at Blackpool a little while ago is not still the Government's policy. Once the principle is conceded that we cannot have economic planning without delegated legislation, and once it is further conceded that we want economic planning, we have accepted for all time the principle of some delegated legislation. It must be so, and we cannot oppose the principle of delegated legislation without setting ourselves lock, stock and barrel against the whole principle of control of our economic affairs. I see hon. Members on the Liberal Benches nod their heads. They are against the control of our economic affairs. They do not want any economic planning at all.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that this is the only method of securing the welfare of the country? What controlled planning is doing is gradually impoverishing the country.
I really think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is evading the point, however unconsciously. I asked whether the hon. and learned Gentleman wanted any food rationing or not. Presumably he does sometimes want food rationing, at any rate of some things.
We cannot have more plentiful distribution unless food is more plentiful. Supposing food is not more plentiful and we want fair shares of what we have. Presumably the hon. and learned Gentleman wants the Government to do something about that?
I do not want to be too long but I cannot leave that where it is and I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman would not wish to leave it there. There is now in force a sweets rationing order. It may not be because there is insufficient sugar. It may be for wholly different reasons. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman, like everybody else in the House, wants the sweets rationing order to continue. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman wish to abolish it?
If the hon. and learned Gentleman says that he does not want a policy of fair shares, obviously he does not want any regulations, any Supplies and Services Act or any economic planning. He wants nothing but the law of the jungle in which the man with the most money in the longest pocket will get all there is. Is that the new Liberalism? Is this what the Liberals will put in their election manifesto?
That is a very cheap rhetorical question. The whole issue is very much more profound than that. I do not want to take the hon. Member's time for arguing but at the proper time I shall argue it.
The question is neither cheap nor rhetorical. There is still economic difficulty in the world. The cost of rearmament will not make those difficulties less. The necessity for a positive policy, if fair shares are to be secured will be greater in the next year or two than it has been in the last year or two, not less than it has been. Therefore, it is not by any means a cheap thing to ask, in the light of the expectation of renewed economic difficulties due to rearmament all over the world, whether the hon. and learned Gentleman wants a policy of fair shares or not.
When he says that the question is rhetorical he is quite mistaken. A rhetorical question is asked when one does not want the person questioned to answer. I asked the question because I am vitally interested in the answer, and so is everybody who may some day be called upon to vote for a Liberal candidate anywhere in the country. It is quite clear that we cannot have any of these things unless we have delegated legislation and unless the Government have the powers in this Act. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery conceded it in war-time. Why? Because it is necessary in war-time?
Very well. Then the test of it is not the war-time but the necessity. We do not have it in war-time for its own sake. We have it in war-time because it is necessary in war-time. Therefore, if it is necessary in peace-time we have it in peace-time as well.
The hon. Gentleman is getting most confused. He draws no distinction between war and peace. There is no distinction in his mind between war and peace. Tell the people that.
I draw a distinction between what is necessary and what is unnecessary. It seems to me the only reasonable distinction to draw, unless the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that in war-time he would give the Government these powers whether they were necessary or not. He says that he would not give them to the Government even in war-time except on the ground that he believes that in war-time they are necessary. Thus he concedes absolutely that it is not war or peace that makes the difference; it is necessity or no necessity that makes the difference.
Therefore, if the Government discharge the onus upon them of proving that the things are necessary to the welfare of the community, then the question of whether they are necessary for war reasons or peace reasons becomes entirely irrelevant. The onus on the Government is to prove the necessity for these powers, and if they can prove that they are necessary in particular circumstances or in all circumstances in peace-time, then they have discharged the only onus that rests upon them. The distinction between wartime and peace-time is artificial and irrelevant unless the argument is that the powers are always necessary in war and never necessary in peace.
Does the hon. Gentleman disagree with the statement of the Lord President of the Council and the statement issued by the Labour Party that it is desirable to supersede the whole of these Defence Regulations and have a permanent Act for peace-time which will give the necessary powers for economic planning?
—or did not pay sufficient attention to it. If he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow, he will find that I answered the question before he asked it.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough in opening for the Opposition went a stage further. He too said, "Yes, in war-time but not in peace-time," but went on to say, "We will give the Government the powers it asks for today because, although it is not war-time, they are necessary for rearmament." My right hon. Friend said in fact that they were necessary for rearmament and for a great many other things. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said, "Never mind about the other things. We are not interested in the other things—fair shares, the necessary controls for a planned economy, the rationing, and the winning through from the economic catastrophe which the war caused to solvency and economic independence in the world." All that means nothing to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite.
If the hon. Gentleman was here when my right hon. and gallant Friend was speaking, all I can say is that his hearing must be singularly defective.
The hon. and learned Member thought it was useful to intervene to say that! My hearing is all right. I heard every word. What the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said—I am sorry he is not here; if he were, I am sure he would confirm that I am not misrepresenting him in the least—was, "Never mind all the other things for which the Lord President thought these powers were necessary; he said they were necessary for rearmament and that is enough for me."
He did say so. The hon. Gentleman can go on saying "No" from now to doomsday, but the fact is that it was said, and when he looks in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow I have no doubt he will tender the apology for which his intervention calls—I do not mean to me, I mean to his right hon. arid gallant Friend whom he seems to be repudiating at the moment. That is what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said—"We will do it for war, we will do it for re-armament, but no matter what the necessities are"—this is my inference—[Laughter.] It is a very fair inference—"No matter what the necessities are in any other set of circumstances, we are against those powers. Let us have a review from year to year so that we can end them at any moment, if ever the need for rearmament purposes or for war purposes comes to an end." And by saying that, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman established that there was a deep, unbridgable chasm between the two sides of the House.
We are ready to do whatever it is necessary to do in war. We are ready to do whatever it is necessary to do to prevent war. But we do not limit our interest in the nation to that. We say that the powers which the House can safely entrust to the Government for the salvation of the people in war can equally safely be entrusted, at any rate to this Government, for the salvation of all the people in peace. Therefore we support the Motion.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is a formidable debater but I have noticed on occasions, of which this afternoon is one, that the discomfort he induces in other hon. Members is most noticeable on the Treasury Bench. Indeed, that impression was fortified by no less a person than the Lord President of the Council who, after the preliminary three quarters of an hour or so of the hon. Gentleman's speech, departed for an engagement elsewhere. I will put it to hon. Members why.
The Lord President this afternoon, in his most reasonable vein, put these proposals forward as being necessary as the result both of the grave aftermath of one war and the possible risk of another. That was his case. Then the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne stood up and said remarkably little about international emergencies. So far as he was concerned—he was quite frank about it—these regulations are the vehicle for the particular kind of economic planning which he favours. Before we have concluded our discussion on this Motion we should have it put clearly to the House, since it is a matter of some interest to many hon. Members, whether the real reason for these proposals is the reason of the Lord President, the overcoming of an admittedly serious international situation, or that which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne gave, that this is the necessary technical machinery of Socialism. I think we should be told.
Before I pass from the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, may I protest at the travesty in which he indulged of the argument made from below the Gangway? So far as I know, nobody in this House has ever suggested that there should be no delegated legislation at all.
There was no such suggestion. I will give way in a moment, but the hon. Member may save himself the trouble of rising if he lets me finish my sentence. I understood the suggestion was that statutes should deal with these general subjects such as rationing and, under them, limited powers to deal with small matters by regulation should be conceded. Now I will give way.
So far as these statutes are concerned, certainly; but the hon. Gentleman will also recall that from below the Gangway—although I do not speak from there, I must in fairness invite his attention to this—it was suggested with what I thought was unnecessary repetition, that it would be necessary to have statutes to deal with these matters. Of course, those statutes would themselves give a limited power of delegated legislation and, obviously, nobody will say that every change, say, in rationing made under a rationing scheme requires a statute. Nobody wants an Act of Parliament to arrange the points value of snoek. All that is needed is precise legislation on these issues, giving strictly limited delegated powers such as were given by many Acts of Parliament in the years between the wars.
I know that is the point of view of the hon. Gentleman and of many of his hon. Friends. I know they do not care for the more extreme views below the Gangway. When, however, I asked in the course of my speech, "Does that mean the end of all delegated legislation?" the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) said "Yes, certainly, it means that." Then he subjected me to a five-minute cross-examination to make it clear that was indeed his view.
My impression was that the cross-examination was the other way. I do not think any responsible person ever suggested that we could get through in a modern society without some delegated legislation. Where we differ strongly from the point of view of the hon. Member is the degree and extent. I do not think the hon. Gentleman will quarrel with me when I say that the present proposals are examples of delegated legislation in its widest form. The powers given are virtually unlimited. The Parliamentary control is largely illusory. There is none of that strict limitation of the powers of Ministers which in more or less degree was imposed before the war.
I felt that the Lord President of the Council used an argument which will not stand up to examination. The tenor of his speech was that this was a small, almost a technical matter. He began by saying—and I made a note of it—that no power to make new Defence Regulations survived. That is perfectly true. It is also almost completely irrelevant, because no one knows better than the Lord President that the real powers are not exercised directly by the Defence Regulations. They are exercised by statutory instruments made under powers given by the Defence Regulations concerned. And as the Defence Regulations cover practically every sphere of human activity and give almost unlimited powers, the fact that no new ones can be created is completely irrelevant to our discussion. What is material is that the power to make new statutory instruments under Defence Regulations remains and will be preserved in full if this Motion is carried. I do not think that the Lord President was being quite fair with the House when he suggested that there was some advantage to be gained from the admitted fact that no new Defence Regulations could be made.
Another very significant thing in the speech of the Lord President—which, perhaps, again to his embarrassment, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne underlined—was his interruption of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) when he said that, although this Act was being renewed for one year, there was no guarantee for the future. We are really entitled to be told a little more of what the Government mean. After all, it is one thing at a time of emergency like this—no one seriously, I think, disputes the emergency—to concede the power for one year, but if that concession is intended merely to be the foundation upon which the permanent structure forecast last year at Blackpool by the Lord President is to be erected, that puts a totally different complexion on the matter. It would be a little shabby for the Lord President to seek the assent of this House to the extension of these powers for another year if at the back of his mind there was, not merely that extension for another year, but that permanent structure to which he referred at Blackpool, as a basis for the economic planning to which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne referred.
The other issue that seems to me of great gravity arises from what I tried to say a moment ago to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne: the importance of the issues that can be handled in this way. After all, Regulation 58A is to be continued, and under it, therefore, it is completely open to the Government to introduce control of engagement at any moment that suits their convenience. That is a very grave matter indeed. I do not want, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—indeed, I am sure you would rule me out of order, if I tried to do so—to discuss the merits of the order, but surely all hon. Members can agree about this: that control of engagement is not a matter which should be effected by statutory instrument.
It is a matter which, if it is to be imposed at all, is so grave a matter that only the full procedure of statute, with all the full possibilities of amendment that alone arise when we can deal with the matter by statute, should be employed. If it is done by statutory instrument, there is no possibility of amendment, nor, indeed, is there any certainty that there will be Parliamentary discussion at all before the instrument comes into effect. If the instrument is laid in the Recess, it can come into force at any date then stated and can be in force before the House can be recalled. I beg hon. Members to think, at any rate, on this. If we are to give to any Minister the right to say to any British citizen where he is to work and at what, it surely is the least we can demand that that should only be done after an Act of Parliament has been passed after full and untrammelled debate.
Regulation 58A, under which that order is made, and which it is proposed by the Motion to keep in force, is really one of the most tremendous potential instruments of tyranny ever handed to a Minister of the Crown. I do not know how many hon. Members are familiar with its exact terms. Let me read just one paragraph:
The Minister of Labour and National Service … or any National Service Officer may direct any person in Great Britain to perform such services in the United Kingdom or in any British ship not being a Dominion ship as may be specified by or described in the direction, being services which that person is, in the opinion of the Minister or Officer, capable of performing.
These are tremendous powers, yet it is proposed to keep them in being under this Motion merely on the Lord President's assurance that at present he does not propose to exercise them.
That is not good enough. Indeed, the very intention not to use it at present is one of the strongest arguments for not giving this power, because that emphasises its wholly unnecessary character at this moment. Any hon. Member who knows the flexibility of Parliamentary procedure knows perfectly well that, should it become necessary in some regrettable emergency, it would be perfectly easy to get the necessary powers in a Bill which could be passed in a day.
The other statutory instrument that strikes me as far too wide in its powers is No. 55. I am fortified in that view by no less a person than Mr. Morgan Phillips, who a little time ago committed himself to the view that publicly supported enterprises, to compete with private enterprise in any industry, could be legally set going on the basis of this Regulation. That observation of Mr. Morgan Phillips seemed to have remarkably little to do with the international emergency to which the Lord President referred, but seemed to have much more to do with the Socialist proposals which are so much dearer to the heart of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. One has only to look at the extraordinarily wide powers given by that Regulation to be forced to one of two conclusions. Either it is unnecessary that those immense powers should be given, or, if they are to be given, they should only be given after full debate on the Floor of this House.
Then, says the Lord President, none of these things matter very much because there is Parliamentary control. With the greatest respect to the Lord President, I would adopt that phrase which is always associated in this House with the late Minister of Defence: "It is poppycock." The Lord President knows perfectly well that of the 3,000 statutory instruments produced now every year, it is not physically possible for this House to deal with more than a handful. Nobody knows better than the Lord President the difficulty of dealing with complex Measures that cannot be amended. I agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne in suggesting that we should not have to deal with these enormously complicated matters without being able to amend them in one way or another. Surely, the Lord President knows perfectly well that that Parliamentary control is quite inadequate.
The right hon. Gentleman paid a tribute to the Scrutiny Committee, which I would support. He did not, however, point out that by the terms under which that Committee was set up it cannot deal with the most important aspect of all—the merits of the orders it reviews—but only with certain technical details relating to their form and presentation. I do not believe that any hon. Member really believes that if important matters of this sort are to be dealt with by statutory instrument, the Parliamentary control which the Lord President so praised begins to be adequate to deal with the task.
We are put in an intolerable position by this Motion; it is a method rather like the procedure of the orders made under it. We are asked either to accept or to refuse—"Aye" or "No"—the continuation of a whole mass of powers, some of them vitally necessary, some of which it is not even proposed to use, some highly oppressive and some highly beneficial, all lumped together in one Motion with no possibility of putting down an Amendment to delete one or another—it is the whole mass or none. The Lord President says, "You will throw the country into confusion if you refuse this," saying it, as the result of the situation he himself has created, with perfect truth because, owing to the refusal of the Government to put the necessary powers into statutory form, what the Lord President now says is completely true.
It is really an intolerable way to treat the House of Commons to put the pistol at its head in this way and to say, "Economic confusion on 10th December, or give us powers which many of you think grossly excessive." When the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne then says that that process is the assertion of Parliamentary sovereignty, he fails to understand the meaning of words. One of my hon. Friends pointed out to the hon. Member that this House has never been sovereign, anyhow; but to suggest that, if it had been, to pass this vast blanket Resolution, conferring all these powers, is an assertion of sovereignty, is simply playing with words. Hon. Members know perfectly well that the power and authority of this House must be smaller if we concede these powers than if we retain them; if we subtract from our own control the right to mould and to amend the legislation of the Government and leave that process to Ministers in their offices by the simple process of signing a scrap of paper, we have given up much of our power.
There is a certain rather bitter irony in the fact that this proposal comes forward in the very week in which this House is about to go to its new and more splendid quarters. There is a certain irony that at this moment this House should be handing over so much of the authority for which our predecessors struggled. There is a great deal of irony that this should be done in this brisk way by a Lord President of the Council who seeks to conceal behind a jaunty manner his contempt for Parliamentary institutions.
I wish to enter this discussion because I have listened to it from the beginning and have been rather interested in some of the conclusions at which many hon. Members have arrived. There has been a great deal of discussion about sovereignty, the powers of Parliament and the question of whether this is a suitable occasion or time to renew these special powers of the Government. When one saw the emergence on the Order Paper of names of Liberal Members, one expected a very vivid picture to be painted of the tremendous evils which had happened in the last five years during which these special powers had been operating. But, one of the chief weaknesses of the speech of the Leader of the Liberal Party was that he could point to very little that had been done under the regulations which was abnormal or against the interests of the country.
The opposition to the Government's attitude today is admittedly based on the fact that this is a peaceful period and that what we passed during the war should be abolished now because we have peace. Such ideas, expressed at this period, are influenced in the same way as those of the pacifist when discussing the whole international situation, but to my mind this is not a period of peace. How can anyone describe the present period as a peaceful period when we are piling up, and working to pile up, tremendous armaments for the future? That is an absolute denial that we are in a period of peace. We are far from it. To my mind the whole attitude, principles and viewpoint expressed by the Leader of the Liberal Party are inapplicable to the period in which we are living.
Because we believed in certain principles in the past, in time of peace, it does not follow, even if we had full peace now, that we must continue to believe those things for evermore. I always understood that, as time went on, we changed our viewpoints and we changed them on a progressive scale with a view to meeting new conditions under which we are living. That is the position in which we are today. We are in a position where we have no peace. There is the question of international disputes and industrial disputes which would probably arise if it were not for the special emergency powers.
At present, for instance, we have demands for increased wages arising throughout the country in various industries. As I understand, one of the things arising out of these emergency regulations is the fact that in all these big industrial disputes 21 days' notice must be given to the Government before a strike can be called. The workers, being forced to do that before they can legally strike, the Government are given time to institute an inquiry and there is almost compulsory arbitration established. I presume that if we did away with all these emergency powers, we would do away with that regulation also. Would we not then be in a serious plight with all the big trade unions looking at the rise in prices and the lower wages in some industries? What would be the position if all these people were allowed to give immediate notice to strike? It would be a serious position. I presume that is one of the factors in the present situation underlying the present discussion.
To my mind nothing very serious will happen if this Motion is passed, but as the Leader of the House mentioned, if we do away with these regulations and allow absolute freedom in the industrial world and all economic fields, there will be real chaos in the country. Therefore, taking all these things into consideration, this is a wise thing to do at the moment, to keep our hands upon the country and not to give absolute freedom in a way which would lead to industrial disputes, perhaps unnecessarily, and other evils of which we well know. I am quite in harmony with the views of the Government on this occasion.
All the speeches made from the other side of the House this evening have had this in common, that they have contained various propositions which I could only describe in the most moderate terms at my command as shocking. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) was no exception, as I understood that in a part of his speech he asked the House to believe there were certain things which one grows out of in the way of progress and he seemed to include in their number liberty and Parliamentary institutions. The hon. Member must not think that because he can find one or two, or perhaps many more, good things in the whole of these Defence Regulations that those good points could not be enforced by any other machinery. They could, of course, if they are valuable, on a long-term basis be included in Acts of Parliament. The same applied to the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who was a little more frank, perhaps, than the Lord President of the Council in the sense that he said that of course the Supplies and Services Act and the Defence Regulations were part of the apparatus of economic controls. He was saying today what the Lord President said in the plenitude of power in the last Parliament in 1949.
The speech of the Lord President of the Council was particularly disappointing because, in spite of his position, he never rose above the low level of administrative convenience. He never got to grips with the questions of principle raised by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) and the Leader of the Liberal Party; he never got to grips with the question of the effect of the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law on the continuance of this procedure. I wish to address myself to that.
I suggest that there are three basic principles by which this House should be guided in these matters. The first is that in times of emergency the Executive must have the powers required for the defence and security of the country. In those circumstances it is the duty of Parliament, first to give the Executive those powers and then to prevent the abuse of those powers by the Executive. The second basic principle is that such powers are part of the machinery of emergency only and are not for continued use in normal times. The third basic principle is that the long-term requirements must be met by legislation and not by Defence Regulations; they must be met by statute and be subject to all the opportunities for detailed scrutiny and debate thus afforded.
Those are, in my submission, the three principles upon which we should judge this matter. It is a fair deduction from those principles that it is possible, at all events broadly, to separate matters affecting defence and security from matters affecting long-term economic considerations. Matters affecting defence and security may require to be dealt with by emergency powers such as Defence Regulations. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), in addition to a large number of more subtle matters which pass his comprehension, seemed to be unable to see any distinction between war and peace. There is the clear distinction that in matters affecting defence and security, in the proper sense of those words, immediate action may well be necessary and anticipation may be very difficult. That is the justification for emergency powers in respect of defence on the basis of the maxim:
Salus populi suprema lex.
The long-term requirements of economic control must normally be met by statute. From that it follows that there is a duty on any democratic Government to distinguish between the two, to specify what in their view is long-term and what in their view are emergency requirements; and to reduce the long-term requirements to statutory form and submit them for the consideration of this House and for the judgment of those whom we here have the honour to represent.
Nor is the task particularly difficult, because the Defence Regulations themselves made that distinction. Parts I and II of the Defence Regulations deal specifically with matters which can properly be called matters of defence and security. Part III and particularly Part IV deal with matters of economic control. The effect of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, was, as the House knows, to continue all the major economic defence regulations of Part IV with greatly expanded scope. The Lord President of the Council seemed to doubt it when I suggested that the scope was expanded, but the House has only to take the obvious illustration of Regulation 51, which was originally a regulation for requisitioning for purely defence purposes. Enormously expanded powers of requisition are exercised today under its authority.
The real indictment against this Government is that for five years they have clung to the powers of Defence Regulations and have not attempted the duty of segregation. They have not attempted to put their long-term requirements into statutory form for the consideration of Parliament. That I can consider only as an offence against democracy and against Parliamentary institutions. The memorandum which was quoted by the Lord President of the Council refers to 35 Defence Regulations as having been revoked. But it is not the numbers that matter; it is the sort of Regulations which have been revoked. No major Regulation has been revoked. I would challenge the Lord President on that, but he is not in his seat. He has all these matters at his finger-tips and would be able to reply at once.
I challenge the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is to reply, to specify regulations of major importance within Part IV which have been allowed to lapse. The sort of regulation which has gone from Part IV is Regulation 57AA, which deals with the relaxation of enactments relating to the deficiency in the calorific value, pressure, or purity of gas. The right hon. Gentleman knows a good deal about gas; he had experience of it in the previous Department of which he was Minister. But even he would hardly suggest that that is one of the major Defence Regulations. All the major Defence Regulations in Part IV continue as Defence Regulations without any attempt to put them into statutory form or to specify whether, in the words of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, they are part of the apparatus of economic planning, or whether they are emergency measures.
We have in fact the unhappy paradox that regulations which are really necessary for defence and security have lapsed, whereas it is proposed to continue regulations which ought to have been put into statutory form, if they are to be retained at all. Those required to rivet Socialism are retained and strengthened; those required for the safety of the State are allowed to go. Would not Regulation 2B, with its power to deal with sabotage, be very useful today? But it has gone. There might be need of such a Regulation as 39A, which deals with the seducing of persons from their duty and the causing of disaffection; but it has gone. Where the Government should have been firm they have been feeble; where they should be magnanimous they are vindictive.
The Government are using Defence Regulations to apply the so-called planned economy. The Lord President of the Council admitted it last year. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, who on an objective appreciation has perhaps come to the conclusion that he has less to lose, still pronounces that view today. Of course he is right. The Defence Regulations are a suitable instrument of an arbitrary policy, because these emergency powers operate to depress the right of the citizen and to restrict the discretion of the courts. The hon. Member for Wallsend said that there had been very little reference to the matters in which Defence Regulations had caused harm. It was a fair point, and deserves a fair answer. Here are some of them.
Reference has already been made to the basic disadvantage that these Regulations are not subject to the detailed scrutiny of Parliament, and cannot be amended by Parliament. That was admitted even by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, for which dangerous piece of deviationism he will no doubt be sharply rebuked by the proper quarters at the proper time. Even when the Defence Regulations are in operation, they often operate in an anti-social sort of way, a way which is unsuitable to our constitutional traditions. For example, it is not necessary in the ordinary way that there should, under the Defence Regulations, be any guilty intent to establish an offence. In these Defence Regulations minimum penalties are specified as well as maximum penalties, thereby tying the hands of His Majesty's judges.
These regulations greatly enlarge the jurisdiction of the courts of summary justice, with the effect that great matters are dealt with by courts of petty sessions far beyond what was intended to be the jurisdiction or practice of such courts. Finally, the courts may not question the reasonableness of any Ministerial direction given under these instruments, however low in the bureaucratic scale may be the source from which that direction may really emanate. That was made clear in the case of Horton v. Owen in, I think, 1943, when the then Lord Chief Justice had to rule that the courts were not concerned with the reasonableness of the direction so long as it was given in due form.
As an ounce of illustration is worth perhaps a pound of theory, may I give the House, very quickly, two cases of which I have personal knowledge to illustrate that point? The first arose under Defence Regulation 58A, Control of Employment. It was a case which attracted some attention at the time, because it was a case in which a great company, whose name is very well known, were concerned in regard to a stenographer. She was a young girl of British citizenship but foreign extraction; and perhaps for that reason was not, in popular parlance, everybody's money for the purpose of getting a job. The Ministry of Labour in their wisdom directed this girl successively to six different employers, none of whom were willing to employ her. But the company did give her a job, and a useful job, was prosecuted for the offence of providing employment for a worthy person who would have been unemployed if the successive efforts of the bureaucrats had not been reinforced by that voluntary action. That is the first case to which I draw attention. Because, as the reasonableness of the direction could not be called in question, the court had no alternative except to find the offence proved.
The other illustration I should like to give the House arose under the First Census of Production Order and concerns Defence Regulation 55A. In that case it was not a great company; it was a small company whose business it was to recondition boilers. Their job was to take old boilers and make them into new boilers; and in doing that in the year for which the census applied they reconditioned 175 boilers but used no raw steel at all, because they simply took the old ones and made them into new. When they looked at the census of production of the Board of Trade they found they could not fill in the census except by supplying answers which would have been identical with a firm which had made 175 new boilers and used 965 tons of raw steel. What happened? They said, "We are conscientious men. We will not make an entry which is not only valueless but misleading." What did the Board of Trade say? They said, "Go on, fill it in, get it done." Because they were conscientious men they preferred to be prosecuted for failing to comply with the requirements of that order.
As I say, they were not like the other company. They were not a great company, they were small men—the modern equivalent perhaps of the village Hampdens —who preferred to be prosecuted under this regulation—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh. Perhaps the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), would say what he would have advised? Would he have taken the advice of the Board of Trade and filled in these misleading and valueless statistics? On which side would he have stood? The hon. Member is quick to cackle, but slow to answer.
The hon. Member is perhaps more easily misunderstood than understood. No doubt all suitable assistance will be given to his constituents at Preston to form a suitable view of the attention which the hon. Member gives to Parliamentary debates.
May I pass very quickly to refer to two other Defence Regulations? The first of these is the very important one, 56A, Control of Building Operations. In my view the time has come to decide first, whether that control is still required, and if so, how long and in what form it should be continued? I ask the House to believe—I have not the time to enter into this in detail—that the system of control by cost as laid down in that Defence Regulation leads to endless difficulties in practice, and leads to a good deal of hardship upon the building contractor. It is proper, if that regulation is to be continued, that it should be put in statutory form so that the necessary amendments may be made for its improvement in the future.
Then there is the case of Defence Regulation 51, the requisitioning regulation. It is a constitutional doctrine in this country that there should be no requisitioning in time of peace. In war it has always been accepted, not because it does not create hardship and difficulty in time of war, but because, in time of war, such hardship is much less than death and suffering and bereavement which may be suffered by us all. But today the Government appear to be viewing requisitioning as part of the permanent peace-time machinery of this country. The earliest possible end of requisitioning when this Motion is passed will be the end of December, 1953.
All over the country there are cases where property has been transferred from requisitioning by the military authorities to the civil authorities with the consequence that there may be 14 years continuous deprivation of land or property suffered by the citizen. It is the duty of Parliament to recognise that hardship exists and face this situation squarely. We have to ask ourselves the question, how long are these powers required for and how long is it proposed to continue them?—[An HON. MEMBER: "A year."]—An hon. Member said one year—for the moment. But it was clear from the speech of the Lord President that it may well be more than that. And we know that as long as the present housing programme is not more successful the Government will require requisitioning to bolster up their ineffective housing results.
If the power of requisitioning is required much longer it will become very much like permanent compulsory acquisition with this great difference; that in requisitioning there is no right of objection or of inquiry, as there is in cases of compulsory acquisition. There is not even the right of the test of the balance of hardship that exists, for example, under the Rent Restriction Acts. That is not the sort of procedure which either can or should be part and parcel of the permanent peace-time machinery of this country.
If requisitioning is necessary for any protracted period then it should be governed by a proper code which will allow the rights of the dispossessed to be taken into account in a way in which they are not today. That regulation must either end at the scheduled time, or not far from it; or, if the Government believe that is not possible, then it is their duty to work out a code of procedure and bring it in statutory form for the consent of this House.
I have referred to two or three Defence Regulations only, but examination of most of the others would lead to the same conclusion, that this duty of segregation does exist and it is the duty of the Government to put long-term requirements into statutory form. After all, this was a country in which every stick and every stone was wont to speak of liberty and respect for the law. Both liberty and respect for the law are endangered by the mechanical prolongation of emergency powers.
I should like respectfully to echo what was said by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) to the effect that this House should give express notice to whichever right hon. Gentleman may be seated on the Treasury Bench in 12 months' time that no automatic renewal of this Act will be granted if peace prevails at that time. Parliament and people will not tolerate a cloaking of long-term political objectives behind the machinery of emergency powers. They demand a return to the sound and seemly constitutional doctrines which gave us our laws and our liberties.
I agree most profoundly with the closing remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith). I remember only too well in a Debate in 1945, on the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, venturing to ask the Lord President of the Council what was meant by the word "Transitional" in the Title of the Bill. Did it mean, as we were led to believe by the Debate, transition from war to peace or from shortages to reasonable supply; or did it mean, as appeared only too likely even then, the transition from the condition the country used to live in to a Socialist State?
I have heard nothing today from the Lord President or anybody else which denied my fear at that time that these powers are not really required only because of the emergency and for the purposes which sounded so reasonable when the Lord President was talking; today's discussion has only gone to confirm that they are a convenient cover for the Socialist Party to do things which otherwise they would have had great difficulty in selling to the country, quite apart from the House of Commons. That is what must make us view the Debate with a great deal of suspicion.
I noticed, as I have noticed before in this Parliament, that I agreed with almost everything said earlier this afternoon by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). We could not fail to agree with his arguments. I only hope that the process will continue and that we will find ourselves agreeing more and more in the months and years to come. I am sure that it will, because both of us believe profoundly in the essential liberties of this country and in the constitutional position of Parliament, both of which we believe to be threatened. We are bound to work increasingly close together for that reason if for no other. The right hon. and learned Gentleman emphasised the tremendous dangers which we run in allowing these powers to continue indefinitely.
I cannot resist quoting briefly from Regulation 55 to which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) referred. He dealt most effectively with Regulation 58. It should be realised that this is what Regulation 55 says:
A competent authority… may by order provide—
(a) for regulating or prohibiting the production, treatment, keeping, storage, movement, transport, distribution, disposal, acquisition, use or consumption of articles of any description;
And then it says:
(e) for any incidental and supplementary matters for which the competent authority thinks it expedient for the purposes of the order to provide;
The Lord President made a good deal, in his opening speech, of the regulations that had been allowed to disappear. He went on to cover fairly briefly those which remained. When one was listening one realised, even from his brief speech, that the powers he was taking cover every part of our life. There is no part of our life which is not touched by the regulations which still survive.
The trouble we on this side of the House are in at this particular moment is that we could not agree with the extreme view expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris), that at this moment we can sweep away all controls. My real charge against the Government is that probably we could have swept away a great many of these regulations in the period between 1945 and 1950; now, faced with this new world situation there may again be need for some of them because we are now in a period of possible shortages and of stock-piling, and defence must be our major thought. The trouble is that the Government, in the last five years, have created an excessively rigid economy.
One of the reasons for this may well be—we believe that it is—that under the regulatory powers which they have maintained, without having to bring legislation to the Floor of the House, they have carried on for far too long a tight system of control without which we would have been infinitely better off. The Lord President mentioned that balance of payments difficulties are likely to be with us for some time—I think that those were approximately his words. I wonder if it has occurred to him or to the Government that the rigidity of structure in our economic life which they have created may account for balance of payments difficulties remaining with us for much longer than would have been the case if we had had a much more flexible economy. I do not say that all controls could have been thrown off in the last five years. That would be folly. Nor do I say that they should all be thrown off now. But there is no shadow of doubt that we enter this most difficult period with an economy which is far too rigid, and I think that these regulations are as much to blame as anything for that.
What is more, if the Lord President visualises, as I think he does, exchange control as a permanent part of our life, then I think that exchange and balance of payments difficulties will be with us for ever more. These controls must come off in time or we will never know what our productive ability is. We will be so tied down and rigid that our chances of ultimate flexibility will decrease as the years go by.
There is another point which is a deplorable reflection of the Lord President's motives in keeping on these regulations. He said—and he will correct me if I am wrong—that it is very handy to have Defence Regulations available to use as interim amendments to pre-war statutes. That is a most shocking justification. I remember only too well in the early part of the last Parliament discussing the Distribution of Industry Act, which was passed by the Caretaker Government. I have forgotten how the occasion arose. We were discussing the controversial Clause 9 which disappeared because neither side of the House was satisfied with it.
In the original Bill Clause 9 gave powers to determine when to prohibit certain areas as unsuitable for future industrial development. On all sides of the House and upstairs in Committee great concern was expressed about that Clause and it was dropped in order to get the Bill through the House. When we came to the next Parliament the attitude on the Government benches was, "Clause 9 was very controversial and tiresome; we could not have got it through without holding everything up. Now we are in power it does not matter, because we have got the Defence Regulation." That is a shocking example. Under these regulations and the various controls which spring from them, discussion of the prohibition of certain areas from future development by industry has been evaded altogether. We have never had that discussion to this day. That is one of the reasons why this state of affairs simply must not continue.
Those of us who are really concerned about the international situation and our own position are in this dilemma. We admit that we need some of these continuing controls; but can we trust the Government to use the powers in the long-term interest of the nation and not of their own political party? That is what matters. We cannot trust them. We are, however, in the dilemma that we cannot vote against the continuation of these regulations because of the national need. Our position is in some ways comparable to that arising from being unable to amend a regulation but only to move Prayers for annulment. Not only does that make a bad position still worse, but hon. Members opposite use it against us.
I have had it thrown against me in my constituency that I voted against such and such a regulation. I have had to go to considerable trouble to correct a wrong impression, because all I have done has been to vote for a Prayer to annul, the whole motive of which was to get a necessary Amendment made to the regulation. Hon. Members opposite and their supporters use that kind of thing unscrupulously against us, and, at least, let the Lord President listen to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) when he suggested that that matter should be looked at, and, until then, will he get either Transport House or his own office to issue instructions—
The Lord President has accepted some responsibility by that remark for the really naughty things that have been done by the Labour Party. That is quite clear from his intervention, though I am not conscious of any comparable things done by those who sit on this side of the House.
Finally, may I say that I now sit down in the thoroughly unsatisfactory mood that I would like to vote against this Motion, but cannot in the present international situation? The Lord President knows very well that he has got us in a very difficult spot.
I find it difficult to follow the arguments employed by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), who has just sat down. Like many other people who have spoken, I find myself in sympathy with the dilemma of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). I listened to his speech, and I gathered that the prevailing theme was that he would like to see these regulations embodied in an Act of Parliament on the Statute Book, following the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Lord President himself some years ago, but, at the same time, in present circumstances, he would not himself recommend his party to vote against the Motion.
I think he was putting the matter pretty fairly. Many of us would like to see these regulations on the Statute Book, but I think the Lord President would be very wrong indeed if he was hurried into producing a Bill to do this very thing. One has only to listen to speeches like that of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), who gave us that curious history of the stenographer of foreign origin but British nationality. It seems to me that, only as time goes on, can we judge whether these regulations under the Supplies and Services Act are good in practice and whether they work out, but, of course, there are other matters to which I wish to draw the attention of the House.
Before I do so, may I say that, earlier this afternoon, I saw the Chief Opposition Whip go across and talk to the National liberal bloc, if that is the right term, and also to the Liberals, and I have not spent four years at the silent end of my own Front Bench without having a reasonable idea what that conversation was? I saw a grimace on the face of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and I have a shrewd suspicion what had caused it. Of course, when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough made his speech, I could see what was coming out and what the trouble was.
This is all very difficult. Somebody is always referring to someone who laughs and this kind of thing, but the answer has always been that the laughter had nothing to do with the point which the hon. Gentleman thought it had. As far as I am concerned, this Debate was not discussed at all this afternoon. I do not think that it was discussed below me either.
Far be it from me to create mischief between the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Churchill). I am not in all these high "You scratch my back, I'll scratch your back" consultations which go on between these two right hon. Gentlemen, but it seems to me that it was fairly obvious that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery was very displeased indeed with the attitude displayed by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough, and I could quite understand his displeasure.
Surely the real difficulty is that, if we are to argue this business on the purely legal basis suggested by the arguments of the hon. Member for Hertford, the question arises whether we are at peace. Technically, we are not at peace with Germany, Japan or Austria, but, technically, we are at peace with Russia. So far as the Defence Regulations are concerned, is it not a fact that we all envisage these Defence Regulations in terms of our relationship with Russia and her satellites? If we are honest, we know that that is the case.
But I have a quarrel with my own Front Bench as well. We are asked to approve of the continuance, for instance, of Regulation 55AB, dealing with price control on goods and services. During the last few months, we have seen disastrous increases in the prices of certain foodstuffs which were on points before, which were and which are imported on private licence, which have been derationed and from which price control has been removed. One has only to walk into the ordinary grocery store to find out the very great increase in prices which has taken place within the past few months. If we are asked for a continuance of these regulations, is it not right that the Government should be asked that they shall, on occasion, use them in such vital matters as price control of foodstuffs?
The great difference is that the raw materials to which the hon. Gentleman refers are raw materials considered by independent committees to be necessary for the industrial welfare of the country, and these are foodstuffs imported under private licence, with which, in fact, we could have used precisely the same policy as was in operation nine months ago.
These importers were told that they might import if they wished, but that they would be unable to sell over a certain price. The importers were placed in a very strong position when they went abroad to buy, and they could tell the exporters that they must be given a price which would permit them to sell retail in this country at no more than a certain maximum which was specified by the Ministry. As I understand it, that policy must have been given up, because we have had a catastrophic rise in prices.
I believe it was Pym who said that any assembly of Parliament which did not repair the breaches and the ravages of time, so far as its constitution was concerned, was not doing its duty. I will conclude by pleading with the Lord President not to be hurried into making an Act of these regulations, but to allow time to show how far they are efficient and which of them can, in fact, be removed.
I hope I can be brief. I think almost all the learning and the detailed argument required upon this subject have been offered to the House by various speakers, but I hope the Lord President, whom I am glad to see back in his place, will be kind enough to listen to me for a very few minutes if I try to explain why it is that some of us are very much disquieted by his Motion.
This is an old battle. If it matters to anybody but me, I can with justice say, and the Lord President will bear me out, that some of us have always been highly critical of measures of this sort when our own party was in office. It is, I feel, too, in many ways a sad battle. It has been a losing battle for long periods of years, and, then suddenly with luck we get back and start once again; because, whatever, party is in office, it tends on the whole to desire to have greater power for the Executive. We ought, therefore, to be treated with very great indulgence—those of us who are tiresome upon this point.
Secondly, none of us on this side of the House—I think, I can only speak for myself and do not pretend to speak for anybody but myself—would dissent from the words of the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition when he spoke of "insisting upon continuation only on a year-to-year basis"; but I do not think that can reasonably be taken to mean that we insist on everything being continued. What it clearly means is that whatever powers are continued, should be continued for no more than one year.
There are two points under this head which I would invite the Lord President to think about. One is that, wherever the Government can be shown to ask from Parliament greater powers than they themselves say are likely to be used, then the onus of proof must be very heavily laid on the Government. That is a rather complicated sentence, but I hope I finished it up plainly. It is certainly true—and it was much emphasised by several of the speeches from the Socialist side today—that very many of the powers hereby being continued for a year are, in fact, powers which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides find it difficult to imagine the Government using, for instance, extreme powers of direction of labour, extreme powers of Government intervention in industry, and so on. I need not go into the specific regulations because those have been mentioned already. There is a very strong onus of proof on a Government which ask for powers and yet themselves admit that those powers are much greater than they are at all likely to use. That is certainly asking for more powers than the House ought to let them have, and we really have had no answer to that at all.
The second point I wish to put—and I wish that some hon. Member opposite would try to think that those who speak as I am speaking now speak with very deep feeling in the matter—is that nobody likes being blackmailed. I do not know whether the Lord President has ever been blackmailed; I hope he has not. What is much more disagreeable than being blackmailed on one's vices is being blackmailed on one's virtues; and it is also much more wicked on the part of the blackmailer. The blackmailer who forces something out of somebody by playing on the victim's virtues does not do himself any good in the long run.
Surely, that is what the other side are doing to this side on this occasion. It is not doubted on the other side that the Opposition are extremely unwilling to do anything which might hinder or even seem to hinder the process of rearmament. That is the fulcrum or the lever that is being used in order to compel the Opposition to swallow what the Lord President well knows is a great deal more than the Opposition could bring itself to swallow if it were not limited partly by that Pickwickian blackmailing action on his part and partly by Parliamentary procedure, by the way this thing is being done today. That really gives us a right for resentment in this matter, and a right to try to appeal to the Lord President's better feelings, if he has any, that really he ought not to do the business he is doing this evening by rather jauntily indicating, "Boys, I am going to get away with it for a year, and on another occasion there will be a chance of getting away with it for longer.
We ought to be given some assurance that there is some indication in the long run—and not in too long a long run—of getting away from this kind of thing. We were nearly told by the Lord President, and we were told in very great detail by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), that the real point is that this is the way in which the changeover is to be made from an individualist to a semi-individualist, a semi-Socialist society, and then to a complete Socialist society, and one from which we could not get back—that that is the object of using regulations in this way.
The Lord President came near telling us that by implication and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne told us that in very great detail. I say it is not decent that that should be done under the pretence of an immediate patriotic urgency which no Opposition could decently question or criticise. That is really the case which it is necessary for them to meet.
Before I sit down, there is one very small point of which the returned Lord President has reminded me. Surely his argument about the United States is not fair. He says, "Look at the United States. They have had to go back to delegated legislation and government by regulation, and so on." But the whole difference is that in the United States the Executive has not always a majority of the legislature at its command whereas in this country it has, and that is why in this country it can trust to get the direct legislation that may be necessary when it wants it immediately, as it has done in the past.
Really, I do think it is open to doubt that His Majesty's Government are here asking for more powers than what, if we had the time and if there were Committee stages, they would then admit were more than, they expect to need. If that is true, then it is asking for more powers than any Government ought to be given. Secondly, there is no doubt that the Government are asking for powers based on patriotic necessities which they really do not need for those necessities, but need for the establishment of what they believe to be an irreversible Socialist State. If those things are so, then the Government owe it to us at least to give us some assurances about what is meant to be done when this present year period now being asked for comes to an end.
I wish briefly to refer to some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay). I do not propose to follow all the arguments of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, and I respectfully suggest that some of them were not entirely relevant to the subject we are discussing this evening. I am most anxious to point out what I believe to be the issue that we are debating tonight. For example, the hon. Member for Wallsend referred to certain regulations dealing with industrial disputes. I should like to debate that. I think there are flaws in the existing law, but surely they could be dealt with by legislation. That is not in itself an argument for legislation by regulation.
Again, the real issue is not whether or not we are in favour of getting rid of controls. The words which the Lord President used were, I think, "getting rid of controls for the sake of getting rid of them." That is not what we are debating, we are debating the best method of legislation. If I might quote from the Motion standing in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends, including myself, the words we use are:
to legislate by regulation without prior reference to Parliament.
I suggest that is the issue, and not the question whether or not there should be controls, although I should be delighted to debate that, as, I am sure, would my hon. Friends, on a suitable occasion.
Does the hon. Member mean that he and his hon. Friends would be perfectly satisfied provided all the regulations were introduced by way of affirmative Resolution? In that way there would be prior consultation of Parliament, and if that is the only point in which hon. Members opposite are interested, then it could be fully met by having an affirmative Resolution every time.
I cannot accept that, because the hon. Gentleman has not referred to the question of Amendments, to which I shall come in a moment.
Secondly, it is not a question of whether there should be economic planning or not. That, also, we would willingly debate. The point is who should do the planning. I remember many years ago taking part in a debate with a young lady Socialist who had passionate faith in Socialism and spoke of the day when everything would be planned by the people. But it is becoming more and more clear that the planning is not by the people. More and more, the planning is by the Executive, over which the people have less and less direct control. The point is, who should do this planning?
Thirdly, it is not a question of the time factor. It may be said that six weeks are inadequate time in which to introduce legislation if these powers are not granted, but it has never been suggested to us that, if these powers are granted, they would be only temporary and that in future, when the need arises for this or that change in the law, it would be introduced by legislation. Therefore, the time factor cannot be fairly used in answer to arguments from this side of the House.
Fourthly, it is right that we should consider the subject matter with which these powers deal. Reference has been made to the Control of Engagement Order. Surely we could deal with that by legislation. I repeat that that really is the issue. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne suggested that it might be advantageous if the House had power to make Amendments when these regulations are laid before it. He is very anxious to take matters to their logical conclusion. He made a debating point on that line of following the Liberal view to its logical conclusion. If we follow his argument to its logical conclusion, what is the difference between allowing Amendments to be put forward, Amendments to Amendments and so forth, and introducing legislation? If we follow that line to its logical conclusion, I suggest that we reach our Liberal conclusion that it is better to legislate than to introduce regulations.
I was very concerned with the phrase used by the hon. Member for Wallsend that what we believed in the past we do not necessarily believe in the present. That may be so, but to use the expression "progressive scale of change" is dangerous. It is a change in the wrong direction, a change in the direction of legislation by the Executive without reference to the House. It is on that matter of principle that this evening we make the protest that certainly needs to be made.
I only intervene towards the end of this rather long Debate because I think two points still ought to be made from these benches. One of the fallacies into which the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) has fallen, as also did the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn), who spoke from the Conservative benches, is that they both tend to assume that those on the benches opposite are the only people interested in Parliamentary control over the Executive. That is a great fallacy.
On the general question I think the sense of the House is clear that it is essential that these regulations should be continued for at least another year. It would be an intolerable situation if they were not. The whole machinery of government would otherwise come to an end. It is quite apparent from the speeches that have been made that the main argument with which we are concerned is the theoretical question whether, by giving the Executive these powers, Parliament is surrendering some of our democratic rights. But it is necessary that the powers the Government now enjoy should be continued.
I remember perfectly well taking part in the Debate in 1945 when the Supplies and Services Act was passed. I remember making my maiden speech on that occasion, and I remember that a number of hon. Members on this side of the House expressed some concern that, in giving the Executive these powers, we should be quite sure we did not diminish the traditional control by Parliament over the Executive. One of the great achievements of the last Parliament was not merely that it carried through the exceptionally large volume of legislation for which it had been returned, but that, at the same time, it also managed to preserve in such a high degree our traditional Parliamentary control over the Executive.
The method of control over delegated legislation which we developed in the last Parliament is very remarkable. Throughout the whole of that Parliament and this Parliament I have had the honour of serving on the Select Committee on statutory instruments to which the Lord President of the Council paid a tribute. It is sometimes forgotten that that Select Committee is manned, as are all other Select Committees, by hon. Members drawn from both sides of the House, with a preponderance of hon. Members from this side as being the Government party. That Select Committee looks at all statutory instruments—and there are several hundreds—quite dispassionately, as Members of Parliament.
That Select Committee looks at all these statutory instruments with regard to form and, incidentally, with regard to merit. In case the hon. Member for Carlton has not appreciated it, I think it ought to be made known that a great many of the Prayers that have been put down by hon. Members opposite have emanated from criticisms made by the Select Committee on statutory instruments, on which members of my party have a numerical majority. In that sense I feel that this party is entitled to claim its full share of credit as serving in the capacity of watchdog for Parliament on the use by the Executive of the delegated functions which this House has entrusted to the Government.
I do not want to reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne said when he pointed out what I think is now accepted, by the House and by the country, that delegated legislation is an essential part of the apparatus of government in modern conditions, and that our Parliamentary institutions are developing in accordance with the requirements of this period of transition. I believe that the method by which this adaptation of Parliamentary Control is taking place is welcomed by the country.
One other point. Hon. Members have said that, while they object in principle to the continuing of these regulations, they would not object to the substance of them if they were incorporated in legislation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, many of them. I do not think anyone could deny that, given sufficient Parliamentary time, it may well be desirable that some of these regulations should be incorporated in statutory form. But that would require a great deal of Parliamentary time. I do not think anybody would suggest—not even the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn) who now sits on the opposite benches—that Parliamentary time devoted in the last Parliament to preparing measures of Socialism should have been devoted instead to putting these regulations in statutory form. I hope the House will pass this Motion without a Division.
I venture to intervene at this late stage in the Debate, and my reason for doing so has already been stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn), who said that there are certain of us who feel extremely deeply about this question of the liberty of Parliament and giving greater executive power to the Government of the day, whatever that Government may be.
I could not follow the argument of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). As far as I could discover—I do not wish to misrepresent him—one of the things he appeared to be saying was that because more power was given to the Executive, that did not mean that we were giving up in any way the rights of Parliament. I do not agree with him. He then said that this is a period of transition. When exactly is a period not a period of transition? It must always be a period of transition. As for the question of emergency and all the rest of it, either a country is at war or it is at peace. We all appreciate that at the moment there is a desperate situation, but at the same time one can dwell too long on these points with regard to delegated legislation.
I thought the argument of the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) was rather odd. He said, "It appears that hon. Members opposite"—referring to us on these benches—"would be content if all these powers were embodied in an Act of Parliament." I should like to correct that point. We would be content if these powers could be brought forward so that we could debate whether or not they should be embodied in an Act of Parliament; we have never said that all the powers should be embodied in an Act of Parliament. He then said, "Let us wait and see," suggesting that another hon. Member had said likewise. But this has been going on for 10 years already. For how long are we to wait and see? There is a limit to the time that we should wait in a matter of this sort.
On the first point, I have no quarrel with the hon. Member. If that is what he understood me to say, it is my fault for expressing myself badly. I did not mean to imply the sum total of the existing regulations. On the second point, however, the hon. Member's interpretation was not really what I said.
I thought the hon. Member said that it might be a good thing—and the point had already been made by another hon. Member below the Gangway—to wait for a further period to see which powers should be embodied in legislation.
That proves my point, I think. We have already had 10 years of these regulations.
The Lord President made one point which I could not understand. He said. "Do not let us do this piecemeal." There may be substance in what he said, from his point of view, but I wish to treat them piecemeal. I should like each one of these regulations to come before Parliament so that we could debate them. The Lord President was kind enough to give way to me when he was referring to American legislation. I asked him whether it contained the same powers as are contained in Regulation 58A. His answer was that he was not suggesting that the powers were the same, but he was giving instances of certain powers which were similar. Surely it is over Regulation 58A that a great number of hon. Members feel extremely deeply. In Regulation 58A lies the control of man.
When we have debated the Control of Engagement Order in this House, again and again, in reply to hon. Members in all quarters of the House, the right hon. Gentleman who was replying has said, "Why are you arguing about this? Already you have passed it with Regulation 58A." I am sure that that is within the recollection of hon. Members who were in the last Parliament. Therefore, if a protest is not made on this occasion, we shall once more be told that Regulation 58A has already been passed. I believe that in this emergency we cannot do anything but accept the Motion before us, but I do not like it; I do not like this rule by regulation. I detest Regulation 58A and I give notice that, although I will accept it now, I have no intention of continuing to accept it in this fashion, whatever Government may be in power.
I think hon. Members in all quarters of the House have recognised throughout the Debate that great issues of freedom are involved in what we are doing today, and I was glad that the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pick-thorn)—I hope he will forgive me for agreeing with him today—said that this is a battle that has been fought on many occasions in the past, not only against the Labour Government but against previous Governments. I should like to pay tribute to some of the battles which the present Minister of Health fought, even during the war, when he risked great unpopularity in fighting them. I believe the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has once or twice been on the right side in this matter, although I would say, with great friendship to him, that he has been very much on the wrong side today.
I am greatly embarrassed in this Debate because the speeches from the Government Front Bench are being made by the Lord President of the Council and, I understand, by the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, to whom I tender my very sincere congratulations. But the real villain of the peace has scarcely ever been here. He is the Attorney-General who has once or twice poked his nose into the Debate and then disappeared. I have no doubt that he has very important duties to perform, but neither the Attorney-General nor the Solicitor-General has been present during the Debate except when the Attorney-General listened to the speech of the Lord President on which, no doubt, he had already advised. The people responsible for this are lawyers, and I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) that I am not surprised that he supports these regulations, because they are a positive paradise for lawyers.
I beg the House to consider not merely the case of the large company and the small company but the case of the ordinary working man. The Minister of Labour himself had not the slightest understanding—and admitted it to the House—of the way in which Regulation 58A comes into effect. A working man receives a form and he may say, "What is the authority behind this form?" As a matter of fact, most of them do not ask that The Government get away with an enormous number of powers which they do not really possess. The working man looks at the form and is told that it comes under Regulation 58A. If hon. Members will turn to the blue book, which working men have not got, they will find that Regulation 58A is:
"S.R. & O. 1940 (No. 781) II, p. 31; amended: S.R. & O. 1940 (Nos. 828 and 907) II, pp. 36 and 49, S.R. & O. 1941 (Nos. 257, 1899, and 2052)"—
and so forth. I will not weary the House by reading any more. I invite hon. Members to look at it. It was then
continued in force with amendment under Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945.
Yet none of those are the authority under which Regulation 58A exists. The authority under which Regulation 58A exists is the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939. Really that sort of thing is not good enough, and it is time that this House decided that it was no longer going to put up with the inability of lawyers to enable ordinary people in this country to find out what the law is. That is the real issue which is raised in this Debate. I quite agree with the point which has been made that, as a result of this, we have very wide power which everybody admits to be far more than the power which is really necessary.
I am sorry the Home Secretary has left the Chamber, because I should have liked to give him a practical illustration of the advantages which might have accrued to him assuming that, instead of having power over direction of labour under seven different authorities, we had a specific Act of Parliament. If we had an Act of Parliament we should have very limited power of control of labour; and probably the party opposite and the trade union movement would have agreed only to a negative power over the direction of labour.
In fairness to the Government. I pay tribute to them for never having exercised the power of direction of labour which they took in 1947, and I must say that the Ministry of Labour have exercised the power in an excellent manner. I have no quarrel with them about that. But if we had a specific Act of Parliament, we might be able to deal with the rival gangs of thugs who are turning the City of London into an imitation of the City of Chicago, because most of them are British subjects born outside this country who engage in threats of acts of violence and live on immoral earnings; and we should have the power to deport undesirable people of that kind. That is a practical illustration of the point.
If we had an Act of Parliament considered by this House, we should be doing our proper job, giving the necessary powers—and here I answer the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne—giving the powers that are necessary and not giving powers that are unnecessary. I particularly ask the Government about this, as I believe I am only expounding Labour Party policy—I have no right to do so, but I believe I am only expounding Labour Party policy—because I recollect that the Labour Party did say that when they came into power they would introduce a revised Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill; and I believe that still to be the policy of the Labour Party.
The real question I want to ask the Home Secretary today is this. When do the Government intend to introduce normal peace-time legislation to which they have referred? It is so easy to say, "Well, the emergency continues." But what ought to happen is this. First, we ought to decide that we are no longer at war with Nazi Germany, and that Hitler and Co. died about five years ago. It is really ludicrous for the people of this country to be told, in effect, that we are still in 1939. I thought we had forgotten about that. I thought we were living in a new age. Secondly, we ought to have got peace-time legislation, giving to the Executive the power they need in a social democracy to maintain full employment and to enable fair shares to be made in times of shortage.
Then, over and above that, the Government, having done all that, should today come to the House and ask for special emergency powers, because we are dealing with a special emergency. That is what should have been done. We should have finished with 1939 in 1947 or 1948, and then have had the permanent powers on the Statute Book for peacetime, as the Lord President of the Council himself has declared is the intention of the Government today. Over and above that, we should consider what emergency power are now necessary.
We should entirely divorce power over persons from power over property. It is utterly wrong to include in the same Act and in the same regulations power, on the one hand, to regulate the right of landowners owning hundreds of thousands of acres to use the land as they like, and, on the other hand, power—as there is power in the regulations—to produce concentration camps in Britain. I wish that point to be quite clear, because it was made in the last Parliament, and the Attorney-General eventually had to admit it.
I will give the hon. Member the answer. I hope I am not wearying the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] Under Regulation 58A the Minister of Labour has power to direct
… any person to perform such services … as may be specified … in the direction, being services which that person is, in the opinion of the Minister "—
that is no protection at all—
capable of performing.
I am not saying that hon. Members opposite would, in any circumstances, do anything of the kind. I am merely saying the power exists. There is power there to direct the individual to perform such services as the Minister directs. There is power under Regulation 51 to requisition land for any purpose. The power exists under Regulation 51 and Regulation 58A combined to requisition land and to direct any working man of this country. I can assure my hon. Friend the power exists. It has been admitted by the Attorney-General already. Why on earth should a party like the Labour Party, which has resolutely set its face against totalitarianism of any kind, merely because of the idleness of lawyers—that is the reason: I am not blaming the Lord President or the Chancellor of the Exchequer; it is because of the idleness of lawyers—not have a proper Act of Parliament?
It is rather long to read out. It says:
Provided that in determining the terms upon which any such services … regard shall be had to any rates of salary, fees or wages"—
I really think the hon. Member should not be allowed to get away with the statement that Regulation 58A involves or might involve sending to concentration camps. He disregards altogether the carefully-worded proviso regarding the terms and conditions under which persons to be directed are to be employed.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is not trying to be unfair to me. I am not saying this involves the use of concentration camps. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I said quite specifically I did not think he or hon. Members opposite would have anything to do with them. I merely said the power exists. Everybody knows that it was always said that in Nazi concentration camps and in Fascist concentration camps—and that it is always said that in Communist concentration camps—some sort of payment is made. Payment should be made in these circumstances, too. However, I cannot continue this particular point any further.
I think it is only fair to the hon. Gentleman himself to give him the opportunity to explain what he means, or else to withdraw the very remarkable statement he has made. He has said that this Regulation, combined with another one, gives the Government power to create concentration camps. This is really an outrageous charge.
Yes, legal power. He admits that they would never do that. I accept that. We are asking him where it is that he says this power is given. I do not apologise for the length of this interruption at all. The proviso referred to says:
. . In determining the terms upon which any such services are to be performed regard shall be had to any rates of salary, fees or wages for the performance of those services which appear to be usual, and, in particular, in the case of services usually rendered under a contract of service, regard shall be had to any determination relating to the remuneration and conditions of service of persons employed in the district in the capacity and in the trade in which the person to whom the direction relates is to serve. …
Does the hon. Gentleman say that those are concentration camp conditions?
Really, I think the hon. Gentleman is advancing an argument which, on reflection, even he would not advance on this, because he knows perfectly well that under Regulation 58A the Minister of Labour may direct any person; and that subsequently regard is to be had to this, that or the other. But the courts of justice have no right to go behind the Minister's decision, and there is absolutely no doubt whatever that no court of justice in this country, once a direction had been made under 58A, would have the right to go behind the Minister's decision and inquire whether the Minister, in the exercise of his discretion, had had regard as provided in the proviso.
I am not wrong, and I can demonstrate that I am not wrong. In any event, the point was conceded by the Attorney-General himself in the 1947 Debate. I must not go into that any further, but I maintain that there is no doubt that under Regulations 58A and 51 legal power exists to create concentration camps, and I say that that power ought not to exist.
I do not desire to detain the House much longer, although I have been interrupted a great deal. The whole basis—which it seems to me some hon. Members opposite have not quite followed—of the main objection to what is being done today is that the difference between totalitarianism and democracy is that in time of peace totalitarians say, "We are at war." That was the justification for what Hitler did in Nazi Germany. That is the justification for the continuance of the police State in the Soviet Union, and in support of that I quote Stalin's own essay in 1938 on the whittling away of the State.
Totalitarian States always say, "We require these tremendous powers because we are, in effect, at war. We are encircled by the capitalist Powers" or by the democracies, as Hitler said. It is vital that the social democratic movement of this country—which does not contain only members of the Labour Party—recognising the need for some permanent powers for economic planning in time of peace, should draw a great gulf between time of peace and time of war, and should lay down—and it would be a great thing if they did—the permanent peace-time forms of legislation which, allowing for some delegated legislation, would be able to provide a combination of a planned economy and freedom.
That is all I desire to say, except for this final remark. The great danger to freedom inside this country does not come from people who wish to impose any form of totalitarianism; it does not come from the Communists, or even from the ex-Nazis or the Nazis: it comes from the insidious growth of bureaucratic authority. It is interesting to me to discover, looking at the Government Front Bench today, that this House of Commons is increasingly becoming a House of Commons of exceedingly efficient people with Civil Service background. The Chancellor of the Exchequer designate and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury both have very great records in the Civil Service. We are in grave danger of being run by officials, and of moving into that managerial form of society of which James Burnham warned us.
I therefore very much hope that in replying the Chancellor will answer this question: When do the Government intend to fulfil what they said they would do in their election programme, and what I think they repeated at Margate—namely, introduce normal peace-time legislation for the purpose of dealing with the machinery of economic planning? When will they bring to an end the absurd system under which our people are ruled under an Act passed by Neville Chamberlain's Government in 1939?
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn) on his last two points. In fairness to the Civil Service, we should bear in mind that if leading members of the Civil Service today were asked whether they liked delegated legislation, the great majority would say they did not; and I think that a great many would say that what they have regretted most over the last few years has been the increase in delegated legislation, the loss of anonymity in the Civil Service, and the increase in the executive powers of the Civil Service. I believe there is no section of the community that dislikes all those three things more than the more experienced members of the Civil Service. If this Debate has shown nothing else, it has shown that Members of Parliament feel the same way, and it is nice to think that there is that unanimity of view on this subject between both the politician and the civil servant.
There is no question that delegated legislation and Defence Regulations of this kind are bad—as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) so ably pointed out—for our constitution and for our parliamentary tradition, and I believe we should rectify the position as soon as possible. I was very interested in what the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) had to say in advising the Government not to make permanent legislation of too many of these regulations too soon.
I wish to draw attention to a particular regulation with which I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deal in his reply. Perhaps I might be allowed to take this opportunity of congratulating him on his appointment, and also congratulating Winchester on the fact that His Majesty's Government seem to have adopted "'Party Manners' makyth man" as their motto. The regulation to which I refer is buried in lines 37, 38 and 39 of page 2271 of the Order Paper. It is one of those regulations brought in as a result of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Act, 1939. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) will remember this, because it concerns the great fenways which were built during the war, and which he played such a great part in bringing about. There is a regulation placing responsibility for the maintenance of those roads upon internal drainage boards. Only one county is made an exception and that is the county of the constituency I represent.
The Isle of Ely has taken over all the roads, and they built them slightly wider than the regulation specified. The internal drainage boards have had to maintain those roads in other counties, and it is a growing burden which the drainage boards cannot by their rate hope to cover. I therefore hope that, if there is to be a regular annual review of these regulations, the Government, when next we consider them, will have done something about bringing forward new legislation so as to render that particular regulation unnecessary. I hope its form will be such that the county council road authority will be made responsible for these roads rather than that the internal drainage boards should have to continue that work.
I shall not detain the House any further, because the hour is late, but before sitting down, I should like to endorse everything said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) about Regulation 58A. I have a deep loathing of that regulation, and I deplore the terrible repetition we have witnessed over the last few years of His Majesty's Ministers coming to this House and saying "We are asking for great powers, but we shall never use them, so please do not worry." That is not in accordance with the tradition of this nation. Over the years we have tried to ensure that all these matters are properly threshed out before they become a permanent part of our legislation, and I hope to see Regulation 58A eliminated as soon as possible.
This Debate has indeed covered a wide range, ranging from the Control of Engagement Order affecting the liberty of the individual to the question of drainage rates. That in itself is an indication of the extraordinarily wide sphere covered by the Defence Regulations and the masses of Orders which have been made under them. I must say that, having listened to almost all this Debate I think it is one of the best we have had since we have debated matters such as this while I have been a Member of the House.
I must admit that the speech of the Lord President, in moving this Motion, reminded me very strongly of the speech made by the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, in moving the Second Reading of the Emergency Laws Bill, in November, 1946. We had the same scanty references to a mass of regulations; the same pride being taken—I think the Home Secretary had done it before—in the number of Defence Regulations which had ceased to be in force, although I would point out that while the number is in itself important, what perhaps is more important is the effect of individual Defence Regulations.
Then we had from the Lord President the mere statement that there was an overwhelming case for the Defence Regulations and the powers of the Government under them being continued for a further year. He did not really try to make out that case. He went on to say that some of the powers under the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act would be permanently required. He did not specify which. It would have been very interesting indeed to have known, in view of the many statements which the right hon. Gentleman has made in the past, which are the powers given by the Defence Regulations which the right hon. Gentleman now thinks should be made permanent. I do not think that his silence on that has really been as helpful to the House as frankness would have been. I do not think that his exposition of his case for this Motion was one of his best efforts, although, perhaps, it was one of his most facetious performances. It does appear that the more serious the matter is, the more facetious and lightly the Lord President treats it.
The issue which we are discussing today is a very serious one. The real issue that divides the House can, I think, be quite shortly stated, although it was not correctly stated by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). It is not a question whether food rationing or sweet rationing shall stop on 10th December, but whether the powers that a Government of whatever colour must have in the circumstances of the day should be granted to them by Statute after a Bill has been fully considered in both Houses, and possibly amended, defining precisely the powers of the Government, and with power, of course, for making some delegated legislation, or whether these powers should be taken by the Government to themselves by making regulations or orders on all kinds of things. That is the real issue—whether it should be rule by Regulation with wide powers taken by the Government of making laws on major matters, of making new criminal offences, indeed, of ousting the jurisdiction of the courts by imposing minimum penalties in some of the orders made under the Defence Regulations.
Our objection can be stated quite shortly. We believe that it is quite wrong in principle that we should have just an enabling Act and then power to legislate by regulation and order on matters of major importance affecting, as they so often do, the liberty of the subject. Our objection to this rule by regulation is that it gives far too much power to the Government and far too much freedom from Parliamentary control. It is quite true, as the Lord President said, that we cannot, by extending the Supplies and Services Act, add to the number of Defence Regulations, but there is no limit to the number of new orders that can be made under these Defence Regulations, and I think that it would be a most difficult task for any lawyer to find out what personal liberty and what individual right could not be taken away or diminished or infringed by some exercise by some Minister of his power of making a law under one of these Defence Regulations.
I think that it would be very hard to say that the powers now given do not cover nearly every aspect of human life on this island. It is clear, too, that very much of what is contained in the Defence Regulations could be replaced by Acts of Parliament, by Statutes. I think that the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) recognised that, as the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) also recognised it. The hon. Member for Islington, East, in his argument, asked whether it was suggested that the Government should have given up preparing measures of Socialism between 1945 and 1950 in order to adhere to the constitution by making laws by Acts of Parliament. Food rationing could be brought in under Act of Parliament and so could Control of Engagement. Nearly everything that could be done by Defence Regulations or under them could be done, could it not, if an Act of Parliament were passed to that effect?
Of course, it is much easier and much less trouble for Ministers to act by making an order under a Defence Regulation, but it is not, I think, because they think that it is just easier and less trouble. Judging by their pre-war writings and judging by the Lord President's speeches, it seems to me clear that it is the desire and intention of those at the summit of the Socialist Party, notwithstanding their weekend lip-service to democracy, to disregard and by-pass, so far as they can, the democratic institutions of this country and to retain for themselves almost dictatorial powers.
It is curious to reflect that if the Lord President had had his way, we would have had now a Bill replacing the present Supplies and Services Act and making that Act, not something quite different, a permanent feature of our statute law. If that had happened, we would have had this curious situation. The more Socialists there were in the House of Commons, the less power the House of Commons would have had, because the right hon. Gentleman, with such a Measure, would take it away from the House of Commons.
It is our view that major matters should have to be dealt with by law and be contained in a Statute and not in Ministerial orders. It cannot be denied that a great deal of replacement could have taken place between 1945 and now. On unlawful gaming, the regulation in relation to that would not require a very long Bill. As to the regulation dealing with clubs, I think that we were promised some legislation about that. Then there is the Defence Regulation dealing with dogs straying on allotments. If that requires to be retained, surely that regulation could have been replaced by Statute. Then there is the regulation suspending the restrictions on the keeping of pigs and hens; the same would apply.
This Supplies and Services Act has been described by the right hon. Gentleman as the essential basis for economic planning and control. I do not know whether that applies to the regulation concerning stray dogs. We have certainly had plenty of controls: economic planning, groundnuts, petrol rationing, the fuel shortage of 1947 and the present fuel position. Those, I suppose, are instances of Socialist economic planning. We maintain that, wherever possible, economic planning introduced by the party opposite should be contained in and defined by an Act of Parliament, and that rule by regulation should be diminished to deal with minor matters.
There is one particular question with which I should like the Chancellor to deal, as I think it is one on which some further explanation is required. Some reference was made by the Lord President to the extension of the requisitioning provisions. I need hardly say how much that will adversely affect many people. I understand that there are now something like 90,000 requisitioned dwellings held by local authorities, which must mean that 90,000 owners of property are being kept out of their properties, and that there are 2,000 requisitioned properties formerly used for dwelling accommodation that are now being used by Government Departments for other purposes. The extension of the requisitioning provisions form one of the more serious features of this Motion, and it shows as clearly as anything can the failure of the Socialist housing policy.
The Select Committee on Estimates, in their 11th Report of 1948–49, stated that the county committees were to let as much as possible of the land which they held under requisitioning, and should decide what land was to be purchased and de-requisition the remainder by the end of 1950. That statement was, of course, based on evidence, which was not disputed, given before the Committee. As a result of the extension of Defence Regulation 51, coupled with the Requisitioned Lands and War Works Act, the power to hold on requisition extends until the end of 1953. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether or not this extension means any alteration in the policy of the county agricultural executive committees relating to the de-requisitioning of the remainder of the lands which have not been let or purchased. It is desirable that the right hon. Gentleman should say something about that to make the position clear.
Many Members have commented on the fact that the Motion is so framed that no Amendment can be made to it, either by limiting the extension to a shorter period, or by omitting certain Defence Regulations, with the result that the choice before the House is either of rejecting the Motion outright, or agreeing to the extension for 12 months. I entirely endorse the remarks made from this side as to the Parliamentary tactics adopted by the Lord President in regard to this matter. It should have been quite possible for the party opposite to introduce legislation to make permanent those parts which require to be made permanent.
The House should not be placed in this position, but, while I am opposed to unnecessary rule by Regulation and regret that the Government have not done what they should have done instead of wasting time on unwanted and unnecessary legislation much as I detest giving the Government such wide power, it must be recognised that it is impossible, between now and 10th December, to provide for food rationing and other things of that kind by legislation. Therefore, it would be quite wrong, in my opinion, for us to oppose the Motion, also having regard to the international situation.
But I reiterate what has already been said, that this Act will come up for further consideration in a year's time, and that the sifting process must go on in the interval to see, where it is intended to make Regulations permanent, that opportunity is taken to give them statutory effect. We shall certainly watch closely the exercise of these extensive powers, and, in the unlikelihood of right hon. Gentlemen opposite occupying their same position at this time next year, I warn them that, unless the situation has much deteriorated, they will not get a similar Motion so easily as they are getting the one today.
I should like to thank those Members who have been so kind as to congratulate me on being appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. Anyone who finds himself in that position must be filled with deep feelings of humility at the immensity of the trust that is being reposed in him and the responsibilities which fall upon him. In my case, these feelings are accentuated by the great qualities of my predecessor. Much has already been said in tribute to him, and I wish only to add that those of us who have worked most closely with him know how very deeply we shall miss him in the Government, and how much the country will lose by his enforced and, as we hope, temporary departure. We cannot afford for long to miss the services of a man of his intellectual and moral calibre.
We have had an interesting Debate that has ranged fairly widely. The issue with which we are concerned is, in itself, a fairly narrow one—whether or not we should continue these powers for a period of a further year. I confess to one surprise. I had supposed that the Conservative Party were opposed to permanent legislation of this kind. We were certainly led to expect, from what the Leader of the Opposition said during the Election, that the Conservative Party took the gravest exception to permanent powers at this time being given to Ministers. But now, I gather, not only from what the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) said, but from what other Members opposite have said, that that is not so, and they want to see these powers made permanent.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should begin by misunderstanding the speeches which have been made. We have said, and the Leader of the Opposition has said, that the Supplies and Services Act must not be made permanent, but that where Defence Regulations are intended to be made permanent, a Bill should be introduced for the purpose.
The fact remains that the powers enshrined in the Act are to be granted permanently to Ministers. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] At any rate, a substantial number of them. I realise that the hon. and learned Member seems to be more interested in the powers to keep stray dogs off allotments than in the powers to keep prices down. I should have thought he would have hesitated to remove the latter power from the hands of the Ministers. We have not had a clear line from the Conservative Party as to which powers they think Ministers should permanently retain. I suggest that they had better get their minds clear on this before they go much further.
We are not concerned today with this question of permanent legislation. We are concerned with the temporary situation, the question of whether we shall have an extension for the period of another year. As I understand it, the Opposition accept that that must be so. The Conservative Opposition quite willingly accept it, the Liberal Opposition, now a little more united than usual, not quite so willingly. There is to be no Division on this Motion. The reason why there is to be no Division, as put forward by the Opposition spokesman, is the defence situation and the rearmament programme. It is perfectly true that that is one of the main reasons why we have come to the House and said, "We must have these powers for at least another year," but it is by no means the only reason why we ask for these powers, and I should like to explain briefly why that is so.
Firstly, I must say a few words about the implications of the defence programme so far as these controls are concerned. All of us recognise, for example, that the requisitioning of properties and chattels of various kinds may be necessary in connection with the defence programme. One thinks of the various cases where it might be necessary to requisition machine tools, which might otherwise be exported to countries behind the Iron Curtain. The Opposition are in favour of that. One thinks of the necessities that might arise for requisitioning ships or cargo space, for requisitioning land for carrying out the necessary works in connection with the defence programme. That clearly is necessary.
Obviously control over raw materials will also be needed. I do not know how extensively that would be the case, but I can take two examples. There is at the present time a fairly serious shortage of sheet steel, and a fairly serious shortage of softwood timber. Clearly it is essential that in both these cases we should have powers to ensure that the firms that need these materials for armament purposes get them in the measure which is necessary. That cannot be done without control of raw materials and, therefore, it is necessary that there should be an extension of these particular powers.
Then again there is the question of building licensing, under Defence Regulation 56A, to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) referred. It is clear enough that one could not possibly give the necessary priority to building for defence purposes unless one had that licensing power. We shall use that power in the localities where building for defence purposes is necessary in order to put those defence works at the head of the queue, and ensure that they get the necessary priority. One could go on and take any number of other examples.
As I have said, while that is one of our main arguments in putting forward these proposals now it is certainly not the only one. In addition to the necessity for completing as rapidly as possible the building up of our defences, we have also to think of the main objectives in present circumstances. The first is to prevent inflation, and, secondly, to ensure that the improvement in our balance of payments position continues; in other words, that we continue to pay our way as a nation. I contend that the controls we are asking to continue are just as important for those purposes as they are for the defence programme.
I cannot follow the argument of those hon. Gentlemen opposite—not I think the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) and the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South, who spoke for the Opposition—but other speakers, particularly the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), the leader of the National Liberal Party, who drew a sharp distinction between the necessities of defence and the economic situation. On the subject of defence we speak about the common interest. Everybody agrees that national defence is a common interest, but nobody agrees about the economic position. I would have thought it was fairly commonly agreed that it was desirable to prevent inflation and also to secure a balance of payments, and if possible earn a surplus.
If that is not so, hon. Members opposite should make their position plain about inflation. The first control in that connection is that of price control, covered partly by these particular regulations and partly by the Goods and Services (Price Control) Act. I should not have thought that hon. Members opposite, who are so fond of talking about the dangers and disadvantages of the rising cost of living, would have been anxious to throw away these powers of control by price and, therefore, on this ground they should welcome a continuance of these powers.
The argument can be further extended by arguing that if price control is to be effective, then the necessity arises to have a utility scheme of one kind or another. Anybody who has any experience of this, as my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade can confirm, knows the great difficulty of controlling prices unless there are fairly clearly stated articles. It was one of the main purposes of the utility scheme during the war to ensure that there were such articles, that the price was fixed, and at the same time that the quality was guaranteed. Under Defence Regulation 55, we are able to administer a utility scheme and so secure price control.
Equally one could argue this—and there have been discussions about it—on the subject of rationing. It is an essential concomitant to prevent an increase in price, and it is obvious enough that if there is still scarcity then, if there is no rationing, sooner or later prices will rise through a black market or other means. Therefore, these powers are needed for that purpose. Control over building is an essential element in the control of investment, and there again we have to prevent inflation. In the field of the balance of payments much the same thing applies.
We are very delighted with the performance of the motor vehicle industry. It has done magnificently in raising the level of its exports. It was possible only because we deliberately cut down supplies to the home market, and unless we had said to the industry, "If you do not get your exports up then we shall have to give you a direction or cut off your steel supplies," it might not have happened. The power to do that has been in the background, though, happily, we have not had to use it to any great extent.
My right hon. Friend referred to the question of pottery. We have been obliged to ensure that all the output of decorated pottery should go to the export market. There is no doubt at all that in the United States there is a large unsatisfied demand for decorated pottery. Again, if we had not had the power to do that we would not have had the exports going into the dollar areas in the way they have. The case made out by my right hon. Friend is overwhelming. We need these powers not only on the grounds of defence, but on broad economic grounds. I am not arguing for the moment whether these powers should be permanent or not. That is a matter we can discuss on some other occasion.
The Liberal Party in particular have been most vehement opponents of this Motion and the most severe critics of the Government today. For that reason I should like to ask them whether they agree with what I have put forward. Are they seriously contending that we should abolish all these controls? If so, are they prepared to face the consequences or not? What, for example, is their attitude to the action of the United States recently in re-imposing all these controls? Do they really regard it as a matter of complete indifference whether we have these controls or not? I do not think it has been clearly answered from them this afternoon. I should like to refer to the brilliant speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), which I think shed a very vivid light on the confusion which still remains amongst the three Liberal Members still sitting on the benches opposite.
Of course, if they oppose these controls then they are logical in opposing the Motions, but then they must accept the consequences for our defence programme and for our economic affairs. If, on the other hand, they want the controls—and here, I expect, is the point where they will disagree most fiercely—then they must accept the need for delegated legislation. It is a practical impossibility to have these controls operating properly without delegated legislation, and it is quite out of the question to have all the instruments enshrined in what I must describe as normal legislation as contrasted with delegated legislation. Therefore, the logical argument is perfectly plain; if they accept the need for controls they must accept the need for delegated legislation.
Now it is said by various hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Kingston - upon - Thames (Mr. Boyd -Carpenter), "Yes, you must have delegated legislation but you need not have it in quite this form." We are not arguing about that at the moment. There may be something to be said for that point of view but, as the hon. Member will recognise, there are two kinds of stages between the extreme of no delegated legislation and the other extreme where, as one hon. Member said, "We give all powers to the Government in a single sentence and leave them to do everything else by orders." We cannot this afternoon discuss exactly where, between those two extremes, we rest.
All I would say on that is that we must be realistic about the question of whether delegated legislation, such as we know it today, involves either real hard ship on individuals or a serious inter ference with the liberty of the subject. I must confess that some hon. Members seem to me to be almost hysterical on this subject, and not with any good reason—
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt, surely he will remember that in 1929 a committee was appointed to consider that subject. I hope he will not set his face against the possibility of a repetition of that, 21 years afterwards.
I am not concerned with discussing the extremely complex problems necessarily involved in that. We should need a separate day for such a discussion. I want to make these few points. First, do not let us get into the habit of imagining that in reality all the delegated legislation we have had has meant serious hardship or interference with personal liberties. I do not believe it has for a moment.
It is quite true that the negative resolution procedure does not give precisely the same degree of control as a Bill going through Parliament. However, I would point out to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, who made considerable play with this, that on the one hand a very large number of these orders are of minor, even trivial importance. They are not really opposed by anybody, they are accepted, granted the necessity of controls, as an inevitable feature of them. That is the reason why no Prayers are ever made against them. On the other hand, on major issues such as petrol rationing and bread rationing, we certainly have major debates. Therefore, there is a large measure of Parliamentary discussion and debate when the issues are really important.
I concede that and it is, of course, a disadvantage in certain respects. On the other hand, one has to face the difficulties necessarily involved in allowing amendments to orders. Is there to be a Second Reading stage, a Committee stage, a Report stage, a Third Reading stage? If so, how much time will it take up? Will it be practicable in those circumstances to carry on with the necessary planning that we have this afternoon all agreed is necessary to some extent?
The right hon. Gentleman is looking at me. Is he inviting an answer? If so, I would suggest that if the Defence Regulations are to be kept, they should be cast in statutory form and have the full legislative procedure. The orders arising thereunder would not have the full legislative procedure but would be capable of Amendment in a single instance.
I want to make the point generally. One cannot have such a Parliamentary procedure as will frustrate the whole purpose of these controls. That is the real issue. Subject to that, there is everything to be said for ensuring as much Parliamentary control as possible. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) intervened on that point. We on this side of the House are equally concerned with the rights of Parliament as against, not the bureaucracy—I think that is a most unfair implication against the Civil Service—but against other necessary and inevitable tendencies—the necessity to establish and maintain controls not only in economic but in other affairs. We cannot brush this aside by saying we must have no delegated legislation, that we must restore the sovereign rights of Parliament and ignore, what is, after all, something that has been happening over a long period of years and is an inevitable feature of, one might almost say, a more advanced industrial civilisation.
So I say, while we should certainly watch the rights of Parliament, we must not clog the machine. We must recognise the practical needs of the present. The practical needs of the present have not been questioned this afternoon. That being so, I think the case for passing this Motion is overwhelming clear now, and I hope the House will proceed to do so.
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, will he deal with the point I asked him to deal with, with regard to the policy of the county agricultural committees in derequisitioning land?
There is no change in the policy there. The extension of the regulation does not involve any change in policy. There were many thousands of separate pieces of land under requisition and it takes time to sift each case, but no time is being lost in dealing with them.
Before the right hon. Gentleman finally sits down, is he not proposing to deal with the continuation of Regulation 58A and, in particular, with the argument that if labour controls are ever to be reimposed, they should be reimposed by statute?
I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council said on that matter. We recognise perfectly well that this is a matter of rather exceptional importance as compared with other regulations, because it involves an interference with the individual person and the individual subject. However, I must say this: I could not honestly and conscientiously say that within the next 12 months it is quite out of the question that we should need to make orders under this regulation. The reason for it, of course, would be in connection with the defence programme. We have no present intention of making any such orders—my right hon. Friend made that clear—but since there is the possibility which one cannot ignore altogether, we feel that the regulation must be left in its present form.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty under section eight of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945, praying that the said Act, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-one.